Monday, January 31, 2011

Waiting for the storm

Yesterday a crowd of robins was in the front yard.
Today only the juncos and goldfinches are about.
Ice is on the ground and a blizzard is on its way.
The birdfeeders are full.
The bees are fed.
The new wood shed is keeping our wood dry.
A fire is burning.
The tea kettle is on the stove.
A bright orange amaryllis is blooming in the living room.
We're ready.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Into the Woods

The woods are full of stories, about the births and lives and deaths of numerous critters and plants. A blanket of snow tells me bits and pieces of the stories and I can see just how active life is on our "quiet" hilltop.
On my photo journey through the woods on Monday I saw tracks of birds and small rabbits on top of the snow. Deeper tracks by rabbits, paw prints of raccoons or oppossums, and many, many trails made by deer. Some tracks were made by either canine or feline wild ones. A little wind and melt had obscured those tracks enough that I couldn't determine which.
All of the bits and pieces of the stories I found in the snow left the rest of the tales a mystery.
Then there is the old car part way up the hill. It is very old, maybe from the 1930s. The engine is missing, as well as the seats and any trace of them. The top is open where canvas probably once kept out the snow.

It is likely that the hillside had very few trees on it when the car was left there to rust, as the woods are fairly young growth.
What is its tale? Why was it left HERE?
Nearby I found something that I had forgotten was there, an old farm implement.
A small cultivator of some sort lying on its back, its "claws" in the air. Fifty years ago, this spot would have been a really out of the way place. Why drag it all the way out here?
I leave the carcasses behind and follow the waterway at the bottom of the hill, passing a series of large boulders that seem to have slid down the hill at some distant point in time.
They were likely part of the rock ledge that runs through the hill. Heavy rains may have eroded the soil and they slid down. Another story. Another mystery.
The backbone of our homestead.
I then climbed toward their possible birthplace, the rocky outcropping that marks where the land suddenly drops down. The backbone of our homestead.
Through the woods and around the trees, fallen trees, black raspberry brambles, gooseberry bushes. Here the animal trails are fewer. In the snow I find another story. A sad tale. Black and yellow feathers where a bird met its demise, probably at the claws of a hawk or one of the barred owls that inhabit our woods.

I climb higher and over the rocky spine of the land, heading toward the redcedar grove. Near the rundown barbed wire fence that marks the edge of our property is another farm implement, an old disk partly obscured by tall, dead grass and snow... looking like the vertebrae of a large, long dead animal.

Through the quiet of the grove where redcedars grow so thickly that little undergrowth exists, creating inviting open areas beneath the fragrant branches. Places just tall enough for a child -- or a childlike adult -- to sit.
I move among the cedars, down the path that we keep mowed in the summer, and marvel at the many tracks and trails created by animals as they go about their business unseen by the human inhabitants of this place.
At the edges of the grove, cedar boughs sport crystaline ornaments, clumps of snow that had thawed and refrozen.

Emerging from the cedars I cross an open expanse and come upon the birdfeeders.
Again with the birds. I like the challenge of photographing birds and spent much time trying to capture them with my lens. I won't bore you with lots of bird shots, but here's one of a cardinal and his court of juncos.

Today, after whole week of thaw, the woods are still full of snow. Yesterday the weather was warm enough that I trekked down the wooded hill without my coat, on a route I rarely take. It turned out to be a shortcut to our beehive. Some of "the girls" were buzzing around just outside of the hive entrance, taking advantage of the unseasonable warmth. More snow -- along with freezing drizzle -- is forecast for the next few days. More white landscapes. The green is coming, however. So you don't go snowblind, I will leave you with a bit of summer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lettuce be happy

A frosty, misty morning.
Sunshine and temperatures in the mid-40s early this week have cause a lot of thaw.
Glaciers of snow slide down our metal roof, hanging over the edge, dripping icicles and threatening all who walk outdoors. Then they slide more and wet snow lands with a fwump on the ground.
A snow glacier curls over the edge of the porch roof.
On Monday I pushed snow away from the rocks anchoring the edge of the plastic covering the lettuce bed, so the sun could thaw the frozen snow sticking the stones to the ground. Then I went for a long walk through the woods, down the rocky hill, through a waterway and back up and through the redcedar grove.
I saw many things and took many photos.
But that is not the tale I will tell today.
A lavendar flower stalk bristles with icy crystals.
Tuesday morning brought a frozen fog that coated trees and plants with frost. When I stepped outdoors after sunrise, most of the fog had cleared from our hilltop, but still lurked in the woods and lay in the valley below us. The morning had an extra spell of enchantment over it.
Later that day, while the sun shone and the thermometer read 46 degrees, I ventured out into the slushy snow with baskets in hand.
Yes. That was the day I finally opened the lettuce house.
I shoved back the blankets that had been thrown over the top of the house.
I moved the now bare stones from the edge of the plastic.
I pulled the plastic back.
Then I dragged out the old comforter that lay directly on top of the lettuce.
What did I find?
Some definitely frozen mush of lettuce....
My late January lettuce harvest!!!
And some beautiful fresh, perky lettuce.
I harvested what was good and hauled the mush to the compost heap.
Last night we had salads made from our own lettuce, picked in late January after weathering a few nights of below zero temps.
All of the lettuce has been harvested now, but this is not the end of the story. Yesterday and during previous harvests I saw where some of the lettuce plants that had been cut were beginning to grow back. In the bed I opened yesterday is some lettuce that has not yet reached a harvestable size, but which was happy and healthy looking.
In a few weeks I will pull away the heavy hay mulch and let the sun warm the soil and tickle the little lettuces into growth beneath the plastic shelter.
And so the story continues...
What is this thing I found in the woods? All will be reveal in my next picture blog.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lettuce pause

Lettuce is under there somewhere.
 I know that you all are anxiously waiting for news of the lettuce.
I did go out to the garden yesterday with the intention of opening the low tunnel and harvesting lettuce -- if any was left to harvest.

Broccoli seedlings.
 We had 6 to 8 inches of snow a few days ago, but it was light fluffy stuff and not difficult to dig with my gloved hands. I uncovered a few of the stones anchoring one edge of the plastic and unstuck a couple that were frozen to the sheets and blankets draped over the plastic tunnel for extra protection.
The next large stone was not only covered with several inches of fluffy new snow, but was also encased in old snow that had melted slightly and refrozen into ice. This was going to take tools.
The moment of consideration was brief.
I did not feel like spending the time or energy it would take to accomplish this task.
You will just have to wait for a more definitive lettuce report. So far it looks like the high will be around 42 on Friday. Maybe...
Maybe I will be able to acquire some intelligence from the undercover lettuce then.

Okra stumps in the snow.
 For now, you must be satisfied (or frustrated, it's your choice) with this little song and dance I've devised to occupy you.
About a week and a half ago I planted seed of broccoli, lacinato kale, cabbage and cauliflower.
The flats were set by the wood burning stove and the seeds had sprouted within three days.
So I wheeled in the light shelves and put the seedlings under lights.

A gnarly hedge tree in the woods.
On Wednesday of this past week I planted onions and leeks in flats, which are now sitting by the stove. They have not yet sprouted. The onion family does not sprout as quickly as the cabbage family.
So, as I wait to see whether last fall's lettuce will provide an early spring crop, I've already started spring gardening. About the middle of February (not far off) I will start the eggplants and peppers. Then by the end of February, I will give serious consideration to planting peas in the garden. That depends on how the weather progresses.
Groundhog Day is a little over a week away. Then we'll see whether it's another month and a half of winter or whether spring weather is just six weeks away.

Over the next few days I'll take a walk or two through our woods and bring back more snow-covered photos. Some of the least travelled parts have interesting features. Until then, enjoy these.

Through the snowy woods...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rabbit control

About 8:30 this morning we saw four bobcats -- presumably mom and three young ones -- move across the open area in front of our house. I have seen bobcat prints in the snow, but until now had not seen even one of the actual critters.
The cats moved out of the woods that populate the hill south of our house, through the open areas and into the garden north of the house. These photos were taken with a 300x telephoto lens through glass on a cloudy morning. Yet you can still see the beautiful spotted pattern on their coats.
Bobcat kittens start learning to hunt by following mom when they are about five months old. Our mom was probably showing these kittens how to sniff out rabbits. I've seen one hanging around lately.
Bobcats eat rabbits, rabbits and more rabbits. Rabbits make up at least half of their diet. Perhaps this mama bobcat has claimed our homestead as her territory and will be on rabbit patrol this summer.
Bobcat kittens strike out on their own at seven to nine months. Sometimes siblings remain in a family group for a while.
I was surprised at how small these wild cats are, they didn't seem much bigger than a large house cat.
However, when the adult went past our Honda Civic that sits outside, its back was at the middle of the front bumper. So they are a bit bigger than house cats, more the size of a small-medium dog.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lettuce countdown

Minus 5 (that is FIVE degrees BELOW zero) this morning. The lettuce bed never fell below 22 degrees above zero, with no lights or anything providing extra heat. I do not know if the lettuce can take that for several hours. Tomorrow, when the high hits 31 I will open the tunnel and see if any lettuce is worth picking (that is my intention, anyway). Then I will pick it all.
With any luck, most of the roots will survive the winter. As it warms up in a month or so, I'll pull the mulch away from the plants so the sun shining through the plastic can warm the soil and get the lettuce growing again. I might even plant some lettuce When I cleaned out one of the other beds last week, I saw that some of the lettuce that had been cut earlier had started to regrow. This  gives me hope of an early crop this spring.
I will let you know what I find tomorrow (or whenever I finally open the tunnel). In the meantime, enjoy these birdies.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Low of 1 degree (that is ONE degree) overnight. The lettuce stayed a relatively toasty 27 degrees.
Maybe I will be able to check on the lettuce on Friday, which has a forecast high of 32.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day

One set of footprints upon the snowy trail,
Whose might they be?
Snow falls upon them, unconcerned
About the answer.
Who or what is not the question.
Soon the snow will cover the footprints.
No one will know that anyone has passed.

The trees stand naked but unshivering
As the icy crystals fall.
They raise their branches to welcome it,
Drinking in the beauty.

Snow covered rosemary.
Snow whispers sweet nothings
To the earth as it blankets her in white,
Hiding wounds and scars.
She is once again a beautiful maiden, pure and chaste.
Snow blankets the world in quiet,
A soft, gentle quiet.
The silence comforts and soothes.

I stand in awe, for however long
As the birds come and go from the feeder,
Titmouses (titmice?), chickadees,
Snowbirds and a cardinal or two,
Chirping and buzzing
In their talk,
Wondering if I am a danger or not.

I guess they decide that I am no danger,
For they flit and flutter
Between the balls of peanut butter and
A chickadee dining on peanut butter and sunflower.
Sunflower seeds and the branches of
The tree. "Be quick, be quick
If you want a pic," they say.

At last I abandon the walk.
Indoors, snowmelt drips off
The hood of my coat.

A cup of tea by the fire,
Watching the birds at the feeders,
Pretty red cardinals bright
Against the snow and evergreens.

A snow-covered turtle for my friend. (you know who
you are)

A cardinal couple.

Pretty snowbird.


The next few days will be a test for the lettuce nestled beneath the plastic tunnel. Late last week I picked clean one more bed, so only one is expected to feed us now. I put an old comforter directly over the lettuce, which is surrounded by hay. The plastic cover was put back over the hoops and sheets and blankets thrown over that. The temperature fell to 6 degrees last night, but the lowest temperature under the snow-covered tunnel was 32 degrees. A tolerable temperature for lettuce. That was without turning on the lights. The weight of the snow has the tunnels sagging, so I am afraid the lights might be touching the comforter. The next two nights will be below zero. The watch is on.
Where are the low tunnels sheltering living lettuce in this picture?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Full Circle

Summer sunrise 2010 at Cedar Springs Farm, Kansas
The seasons move 'round in a circle. Season flows into season, spring into summer, summer into autumn...
February 2010 at Cedar Springs Farm.
Yet everytime we come back around to the same point in a circle it is not the same... the same and yet not. We are at the same point on the circle, but it is as if the circle has moved. We are in the same spot, but not quite.
Even though nature moves in a circle (the earth around the sun, etc.) with no defined end or beginning, we human beings insist on assigning "beginning" and "end" to certain points on the earth's revolution around the sun.
And so here we are (again) at the arbitraty "beginning" of a new year. It is time, as tradition dictates, to look back at where we've been and look forward to where we're going. It is a beautiful day outside -- 73 degrees F., under the plastic covering my lettuce, anyway; 43 degrees elsewhere outdoors, but the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Living well means spending far more time in the Here and Now and not so much in the Past and Future.
Elderberries, summer 2010.
However, looking back helps us learn and looking forward is necessary for planning. So, with photos from the past year between the lines I will lay out some of my new year's "resolutions" (for lack of a better word) for the garden.
A horny tomato. How else do you
think we get baby tomatoes?
1) Improve my record-keeping. Every season I realize how helpful it would be to have certain information to look back upon for planning purposes and assessment. I will begin weighing, counting or otherwise measuring the harvest of each vegetable or fruit -- how much is harvested and how much is frozen/canned/dried or otherwise preserved.
All of this will be written down, along with the length of row or number of transplants put in the garden. This will help me determine the optimum amount of space to devote to each type of food crop to satisfy our needs each year.
Front flower bed, celosia, coleus, sage, lavender, thyme.
And it will help us determine what would be the most efficient crops to produce for sale, if we ever reach that point.
 To improve my record-keeping capacity, I recently purchased several comoposition notebooks and a packet of pencils. Even though these notebooks are for recording numbers and dates (when planted, when harvested, for example) I still felt thrilled at the purchase. I am a writer by nature and by profession and nothing thrills this writer more than new writing tools.
Full moon, Apirl 2010
One of the books will become the new garden journal, where I not only will write what I planted when in detail, but any other information and impression, even poetry, about the garden and orchard. The small spiral notebook that has been my journal is now full.
2) When the herbs (culinary, tea and medicinal) are ready for harvest and drying, freezing or tincturing that will be established as a priority. The weeding can wait a day until I have taken care of the peppermint. On top of this, I will use my tea herbs more often, instead of relying so much on purchased teas. I have vowed to do this every year, but this year I really will.
3) I will not be so reluctant to seek out information and advice, even when --expecially when that information or advice will come from someone who's experience in the garden is far less than mine. Everyone, no matter how little time they've spent in the garden, sees the experience from a different perspective and discovers different things. Novice gardeners often look up information that I think I know, or try out things that I haven't thought of. If I swallow my pride, my wealth of knowledge will only become richer.
4) Become a better beekeeper. This is like the herb harvest resolution, setting it as a priority, not one of those things to do when everything else gets done. These creatures deserve more of my attention. This resolution also includes finding ways to encourage native bees (such as mason bees) to establish homes in our orchard areas.

Well... that's all folks. While I plan to try new things -- new vegetable/flower/herbs species and varieties; new planting/growing methods, etc. -- this is it for "resolutions." You sabotage your success by making too many resolutions, or making resolutions that you cannot possibly keep. I am not going to resolve to do anything crazy like giving up chocolate for an entire week.

I will continue to work in the garden barefoot, to pause in my work frequently to look around and really see what's around me, to share my experiences, my thoughts, my lessons with you through this blog. Most important, I will strive to remain humble in the face of Mother Nature. My success in the garden depends on my ability to work with her. Without humility the garden becomes a battle field. That is not how I want to live.

Let peace, abundance, health and joy follow throughout this year.

Enjoy the rest of my 2010 album that follows here.

A frog in our pond.

Homemade sauerkraut!

Winter aconite, spring 2010.



The last roses of 2010.

Long beans and Moonglow tomatoes.

OK. So this sunset is from the end of November 2009. It's close. I
don't have any sunset shots from 2010. How can I start with a sun rise
and not end with a sunset? Happy New Year.