Looking for Lunch in All the Wrong Places

Our newest neighbor is, I think, a Cooper’s Hawk, which feeds mainly on small birds and mammals according to the Audubon Society. I’m not sure our full-grown hens qualify as small birds, but he seems willing to try–and our girls certainly puffed up in that bravely hysterical way that chickens do when they feel threatened.  Tom always puts a chicken-wire roof on their run, which stops talons but not the calculating glare.

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Fall Forage Chop-Chop

We had the wettest September in Seattle’s history this year, so I didn’t garden much. (Some days I could hardly FIND the garden.) This month, I’ve been foraging for salad greens among the muddy leftovers–and look what I found!

A green pepper from the hanging pots, baby carrots (so small because they were planted next to Mike’s squash, which completely took over that part of the garden), leaf lettuce and cilantro planted in August, green onion, Swiss chard, spinach, and one last beautiful tomato from seeds Suzy gave us.

A dash of olive oil, one of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and chop chop!


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Writer’s Retreat

How lucky can a person be? I’m in Indiana at my parents’ farm, living in their log cabin, and working on my next book, tentatively titled “Murder Gets Your Goat.” The cabin was built in 1870 when Indiana was covered with forests of oak, walnut and poplar. The original owners kept adding on and built a house that totally enclosed the cabin. The next owners discovered it when they decided to remodel. My folks moved it to their farm about 30 years ago. Best of all, Mary-Faye’s goats are only a couple of miles down the road. Life is sweet.

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Garden Noir

Despite having a fabulous garden this summer, we also had some mysterious failures, as you can see in this picture of Red Ball cabbages. I started them all from seed at the same time. Some grew, some didn’t.(C’est la mort.)

On a visit to a friend (hey Jude!) in Pt. Townsend this week, I discovered Charles Goodrich, a poet who understands the soul of urban farming. Here is his poem “Garden Noir” from his book Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden, Silverfish Review Press, 2009. Order a copy from  http://silverfishreviewpress.com/?page=order

Garden Noir

Damn. The squashes have crossed again. This one is supposed to be an acorn squash, but it looks like a billy club with warts. How far apart do I have to keep these plants? Some vegetables have no shame.

And look at this: tell-tale spots on the tomato leaves. Under my pocket magnifier, pretty yellow rings with dead tissue in the center. Necrosis, caused by who knows what–a virus, a fungus, a mutant pathogen. Probably infectious. Better rip up the whole lot before it spreads to the peppers.

Listen, you’ve got to be tough to grow vegetables. Tough, smart, and a little bit mean. Because plants are headstrong and narcissistic, prey to all the sins of the flesh. They’ll strangle each other when you aren’t looking. Make no mistake–in the quest for food, beauty, and truth, a lot of creatures are going to get hurt.

You can watch Charles reading his poem at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsnTf9B61lE


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Corn & Soybeans

Summer 2012 was crazy, and I planted soybeans in the big garden as a cover crop because we didn’t have time to take care of real vegetables.

This year we planted corn where the soybeans had been and look how it’s doing in mid-July! The back rows are corn I started in the greenhouse on April 18, and the front rows Tom planted directly in the ground on May 4. It’s one thing to have book-learnin’ that soybeans fix nitrogen in the soil, it’s quite another to see the fabulous results. (Tom also top-dressed the plants with composted manure.)

Tom built the rain barrel stand against our tool/chicken shed, and the barrels fill from the shed roof. Because they’re six feet off the ground, they create enough water pressure so we can use hoses from the barrels to water that amazing corn.


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Mom’s Pie Recipe

We’ve had tremendous strawberries this year despite all the rain. And now the raspberries have started. (Thanks, Keri, for the lovely roses from your garden.)

Mom sent me a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb pie which is pretty amazing:

2 + cups strawberries, 2 + cups rhubarb cut in 1″ chunks, 1/2 cup broken (instant) tapioca, 1 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar packet firm, 1 cup water, 1 tsp. salt. Pour into a pie shell (it will look like a lot of water!) and bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour. And voila! Serve with homemade ice cream.


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Bag Lady Part II

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I generally pick up trash while I walk my dog around our neighborhood. Most mornings, I fill at least one bag, sometimes two, empty the bag into the garbage, and feel pretty darn smug. That was right up until last night when I heard Chris Jordan speak about his upcoming movie, Midway, at an event hosted by Sightline www.sightline.org.

The movie trailer for Midway at the beginning of this post is beautiful and horrifying–and the end of feeling smug. http://midwayfilm.com/Although Mr. Jordan cautioned against knee-jerk reactions and short-term solutions, I need to know what happens to all those bits of plastic I pick up. Are they making their way into the Pacific Ocean and into the bellies of albatross chicks? I’ll report what I find out.

The obvious first step, of course, is to stop buying products encased in plastic! Unfortunately that category includes the good stuff like vitamins, aspirin, and vodka besides the bad stuff like bottled water.

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The $247.06 Egg

We bought six-week old Rhode Island White pullets from a local farmer on March 15. Today, not quite three months later, one of our girls laid the first free-range, organic brown egg. (The two brown ovals at the top right hand side of the picture are ceramic “decoy” eggs to encourage the girls to lay in the nest box.) Total cost for the hens, food, and supplies so far is $247.06 from Portage Bay Grange, a very cool place to visit if you’re considering an urban farm. http://www.portagebaygrange.com/ That figure doesn’t include the hen house and fencing their run because this is our fourth flock of chickens in the same space (and because I didn’t keep track way back in the beginning). We’re hoping that by sundown our cost per egg will have dropped to less than $100.

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Sky Garden

I first started thinking about vertical gardening when Anna Mc experimented with upside down tomatoes.  www.upsidedowntomatoplant.com

I wasn’t very successful, but it got me thinking about all that “unused” sunshine on top of my garden, so I began growing peppers, hot and sweet, in hanging baskets around the deck. You can see them in the upper left hand side of the picture.

Our sugar peas and string beans grow on netting, of course, with the rows oriented north-south so they don’t shade the rest of the plants in the garden. Then Tom decided to become involved, and as frequently happens, he got carried away. He planted hops along the south wall last year, and this year they are climbing into our second-story bedroom windows. They die back after the hops are harvested in the fall so maybe they won’t strangle us while we sleep. Homemade beer anyone?

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H-2-OH NO!

Last night, the school in my neighborhood held an Eat Real Food event, which was a chaotic and wonderful mix of organic vegetable starts (from the school garden), garage band music, locally sourced food, and kids everywhere. The highlight, however, was this lovely, reusable, metal water bottle designed by the school’s “Green Team,”  inspired by my favorite 5th grader, and sold by the PTA.

I started getting cranky about plastic water bottles in 2008 when I read “the recommended 8 glasses a day costs about $.49 a year from the tap. As much ‘designer’ H2O purchased in plastic bottles equates to about $1,400 a year!” Source: Sightline http://daily.sightline.org/2008/06/04/the-price-of-water-and-other-wonders/

But the direct cost of  bottled water is only part of the story. Recently, Think Outside the Bottle announced that two of the largest bottlers in the US  (Pepsi and Nestle) are selling bottled tap water to consumers, that is, taking city water, bottling it, slapping on a label, shipping it across the country, and then selling it to folks who have equally pure water coming out of their own taps. And tax payers paid the cost of treating the water in the first place! http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/think-outside-bottle

Obviously I don’t begrudge the folks in Oklahoma or other disaster-impacted areas access to clean water in bottles. Or the troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. But for the rest of us? Come on, folks. Listen to the fifth-graders. It is, after all, their future we’re messing with.



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