Tuesday morning Huck was late to school, Jemima was late to daycare and Stephen and I got a late start on our writing work.
A family of moose, a Mama and her 2 babies, decided to come over for breakfast. We couldn't very welll rush off without showing them some hospitality now could we?
They spent some time munching around in the front yard, then moved into the trees and around to the back. They breakfasted on aspens and mountain ash berries but never went after my garden. I'm kind of sorry, too since I'm just about to hoe it all down and turn it into the ground. It would have been a big help.
Then again, I don't guess I want them to learn that my garden is a good place to snack or next year might not turn out as well as this year.
From the upstairs guestroom window, we were about 15 feet from them. It's probably the closest any of us will ever be to a wild animal that big. At least I kinda hope so.
We finally peeled ourselves away from the action and they moved on to make someone else's morning. They spent the day wandering around our neighborhood.
Such a wonderful place to live.
Well, as I said, onions were one of my big garden success stories. I didn't plant too few, or too many, they grew well and didn't get any little buggies. I harvested 26 nicely sized medium yellow onions. Of course, then I had to figure out how to store them. Enter Google...
I brushed off most of the dirt, trimmed the root ends to about 1 inch, pulled off lots of the outer shoots, and left them in the sun to dry for a few days. Then I used this tutorial to braid the the onions. It was very simple and makes for a really lovely way to store them.
Don't you think?
Works with Garlic, too!
They'll stay out in the sunshine for a few days longer, then go down in the basement for a while since it's the coolest place in our house.
In a few weeks, when temperatures start to stay low during the day, they'll go into the garage for the winter. The two braids of 13 onions each won't last the whole winter but we'll certainly get to enjoy eating from our garden even as the snow is piling up outside! And that's pretty cool.
Pretty well, thank you very much.
This is my first garden bigger than a kitchen window sized thing. It took us almost 3 years to get the area ready.
Year one Stephen did most of the hard work of prepping the area...
...but I'm proud to say that I built the 3 raised beds all my myself.
We went with raised beds within an area of gravel over weedmat. Voles digging up under gardens is a big problem here so this was our attempt to thwart the little buggars. And to get a few weeks jump on planting by being a little above ground.
Last year, year two, we finally got around to spreading the gravel. Then we dug down into each bed about 18 inches and I stapled a very fine chicken wire down into each bed to keep the voles from coming through. Then we put the topsoil and compost in the beds.
Then we found out we'd be going to London to shoot the film and work stopped again. Everything always takes us longer than we expect.
But finally this, year three, was THE year. This happened about 3 days after I planted my first starts. I think it was the first week of June.
They were all hardy local varieties so I'm happy to report that nothing died.
And the weedmat, gravel & chicken wire combo have worked wonderfully against the voles. The deer generally don't come this close to the house because our dog goes balistic when they do but I planted marigolds at the corners, just in case.
It took forever, but we're finally enjoying the fruits of out labors. The Vegetable Gardener's Bible was my, well, Bible.
For my first year of gardening at altitude I did pretty well.
My downfall was in how much of different things I planted at one time. Too much head lettuce, fabulous but not nearly enough radishes or potatoes, too much broccoli all at once and I was out of town and missed harvesting the cauliflower on time.
Next year we'll get a jump on that and buy ladybugs. I'll have the kids build a little lady bug house to mount out there.
Besides more potatoes and radishes and less broccoli, next year I'll also add carrots, parsnips, peas, bush beans, beets, spinach and squash. And we might just add a small pumpkin patch out in the meadow and see what happens. I'll also do a better job of spacing my plantings to have things coming up at different times instead of all at once. Holy Lettuce Batman!
Learning to garden in this environment is challenging but I'm pretty happy with my first endeavors. Even if it did take me 3 years!
Before you call CPS about this, we don't actually drink, but I asked my Aunt to start saving her wine corks for us and just one week later we had ALL these!
Okay not really, it took her a long, long time to collect this many for us (thank you). In fact, I actually came up with the idea of making these little cork boats with the kids last year and it's taken this long for the harmonic convergence of enough supplies, running water in the creek and nice weather.
Hot Glue Gun
Small Eye Screws
Sticks or Bark
I'm pretty sure most of you can figure this out from just looking at the pictures, but just in case, here's a quick step-by-step.
1. Start collecting corks in a baggie in your kitchen. Every time you pop open a bottle just tell yourself,"This is for the little children." And if you don't imbibe, ask your alcoholic friends and relatives to help you out--they owe it to you for all those nights you drove them home safely while listening to their drunken babble.
2. Hot glue 3 or more corks together and let dry.
3. Screw an eye screw into the end of each tiny raft.
4. Cut out a small foam triangle or trapezoid and spear it with a toothpick.
5. Stick the toothpick into the top of the raft.
6. Tie a really long length of string or twine onto the eye screw. Tie the other end around another cork, a small stick or piece of bark. This is your handle/anchor.
7. Go find any body of water: a pond, a stream, a pool, even a filled bucket will satisfy very small children.
Unlike the Upcycled Garden Marker project, the kids (and the cat) really enjoyed this.
Today we just had a nice, relaxing float in the wide spot of the creek that runs through our property. Tomorrow, we're planning to send Huck several yards up the creek to a small waterfall to let some boats go while Mima and I wait downstream with a net to see if we can catch them.
We also plan to decorate some sails and have Cork Boat Races from our neighbor's house, above the waterfall, down to the wider pool below.
UPDATED TO ADD: For some awesome wooden boatmaking inspiration check out the Summer 2011 Edition of Living Crafts Magazine. Imagine my surprise when I pulled mine out of the mail box today. A timely post indeed! And if you don't want to pony up for a subscription, back issues are often available for trade on Blarter (an online community of bloggers who barter) or at your local library. The Living Crafts website and blog is also full of great free articles and tutorials.
I'm starting simple by starting with the ubiquitous Nettle.
We've had a huge patch of Nettle out behind our house since we first built here. I let Stephen pull and spray it for a few years, then started telling him to leave it alone. The last two years it ran wild but I successfully kept him (and the kids) away from it. It drives him crazy not to "deal" with it. But this year I'll be dealing with it by picking and cooking it!
Yes, once dropped in boiling water, those nasty little hairs are harmless. And then you can use the mild greens in place of baby spinach. Or dry it and make a wonderfully healthful tea. Checkout the post on Clean where Rachel describes how to harvest & use Nettle.
Now the question many of you may be asking is...why? Well, first of all, it's free. But many people consider nettles to be "superfood" like Acai, Maca, Kefir, etc. It's that good for you. See, there is a huge nutritional difference between wild and domesticated greens. Most plant varieties found in stores (yes, even organics) have been breed for certain qualities--mainly mildness and sweetness. The downside is that most of them are less nutrient dense than the same veggies were say 100 years ago. Plants found in the wild, that have never been mucked with, are just as dense with vitamins and minerals as they've always been. For instance, nettles are a HUGE source of iron and vitamins A, C and K.
I'll also be out hunting for Wild Ramps in the next week or two. Beyond those two, and dandelions of course which I'm not that fond of but are incredibly nutrient dense, I would need some professional help. I'll keep you posted on how this little foraging experiment goes for me.
We are a bird watching family. A ton of beautiful migratory birds come through our area throughout the year. We have big orange Bullock's Oreoles, small pink Cassin's Finches, little blue Lazuli Buntings and Bluebirds, giant Electric blue Stellars Jays, black-capped Chickadees, yellow and orange Western Tanagers.
Over the years we've created a little bird sanctuary in the backyard where we provide houses, a bath, suet, and an assortment of seeds in different feeders.
This year we also provided some colorful nesting materials.
I collected the little bits of trimmed yarn (natural fibers only) from my knitting all winter and spring. Then, about a month ago we put a big handful of scraps into an empty suet feeder. Yesterday we noticed it was already empty! The birds and squirrels seem to like it so we filled it up again.
I've also heard of people putting them in these Grapevine Balls that are available at craft stores. I love the natural look they provide. Might get my hands on a few of those for next year.
The kids and I are planning to get out the binoculars soon and go searching for nests. We really hope we're able to find some of the colorful yarn we provided woven in with the sticks and grass. We'll keep you posted.
Today we are all outside gardening, ALL DAY LONG. But yesterday Jemima and I went to buy starts from one of our local organic farms (also a CSA) called Cosmic Apple Gardens. We bought green & red lettuce, kale, collards, broccoli, yellow onions & basil. Plus we're direct sowing spinach, radishes, zucchini, carrots, beets and some more herbs.
We also got some giant cauliflower starts but that was later, out of our local mushroom grower's trunk. That's what our little valley is like. You pull into town and the guy who grows to-die-for Shitake's and Osyter Mushrooms yells out that he's selling cauliflower and broccoli starts out of trunk. So you go over and buy a few.
While we were out at the farm got to see the spring piggies, and the big ole hogs.
I hate to be crude (okay, I don't hate it that much, that was for mother) but get a load of the set on that hog. Even Mima noticed. How could you not. She pointed and said. "What that Mommy?"
We had fun at the farm and then went to pick up some Steer Compost. Today we are putting it all to good use getting the beds ready. I promise updates once the garden is planted. It's a short season up here at 6500 ft above sea level, but Alpine Gardening isn't impossible. And I aim to prove it!
This is Jemima's smile right now. Please tell me why kids do this.
Yesterday I was parent helper on the preschool field trip to a local family farm. We met two shy Aplacas, Buster and Louie. We fed the horses, fed a pond full of "pet" trout, and released the ducks from their winter home in the barn out into the pond. We also met an interracial farm couple--a widowed Canada goose who had mated with a bachelor mallard. He must be a tenacious little bugger. They even had an egg and were awaiting the arrival of their first little guckling.
My kids are the blue-hooded and green and purple pompomed heads in the extreme foreground.
And in a stroke of genius, I wore a handspun cowl that I knitted from local alpaca. So the kids were able to see what the wool can be used for and feel how soft alpaca yarn is.
Details for this knitting project are on my Ravelry page. The yarn was given to me FOR FREE by the woman we buy our milk from--used to buy our milk from I should say since she has since sold all her wonderful Jersey girls and is moving to Denmark.
Handspun Alpaca can be very expensive yarn so it was quite a treat. But if I'd just learn to card and spin I guess I have a new source. Not sure if that's in my future. So much to do, so little time.
Anyway, the field trip was chilly but a huge success.
The birdwatching is in full swing at our house (I started this post in May, things have waned a bit but it's still pretty good).
Over the last few years we've been adding to the area outside our backdoor to create an inviting place for the local birds. They liked the area already because it offers shade, wild berries and lots of bushes and trees to hide in. But by adding a few more enticing elements we have really created a little backyard bird sanctuary right outside our living room window.
That's right, we have a home aviary. Doesn't everyone?
We've got a variety of hanging feeders for different kinds of seed and suet, including this great stand feeder that Stephen, Huck and my Dad built last summer.
Lazuli Buntings, Black-headed Grosbeaks & either an Evening Grosbeak or a Western Tanager underneath
And we made this birdbath with a log, a rock and a galvanized tray. So far the birds don't seem to interested in it, but I think it's lovely and try to keep it clean and fresh to eventually entice them.
And here's our indoor birdwatching perch on the back of the couch...
Binoculars are hard!
Huck is very into identifying the different birds this year. He's finally able to use the binoculars correctly so that really helps. We talk alot about the different sizes, shapes, beaks types and colors, and have our Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds handy to look up what we see. Those guides are wonderful as they are divided into bird types (perching birds, water birds, etc) and then by color as well. Besides the Western region guide linked above, they also have a version for Eastern Region Birds so be sure to get the one that's right for you.
He's been having so much fun doing this that I suggested we hang some poster board by the window and fill it with cut out pictures of every different kind of bird we see. He loved the idea. I was thinking we'd just print bird pictures from the internet but Huck immediately got a sheet of paper and asked me to DRAW the birds.
Huck: Then I'll color them!
A brilliant idea. Challenging, yes. But so much better than my concept. So, out came the Audubon Guide and out popped my tongue as I diligently drew the birds we had seen.
My drawing skills and Huck's coloring skills were really stretched to the max for this, but I have to say that I am totally impressed with both of our efforts on this very fun nature project.
Bird watching has been our activity of choice right before breakfast and right before dinner lately. So we'll keep adding to "Our Backyard Birds" as we see new species throughout the year. It's filling up so fast we may have to make a second poster for summer!
Even if you do just print pictures from the internet or magazines of the birds in your area, birdwatching and making a poster of your local birds is just a really fun way to get your child interested in the natural world.
For more information on activities to do along these lines check out the Great Backyard Bird Count. The next official count isn't until February 2011 but the site is brimming with cool stuff--check lists of birds in your area to "collect", feeding tips, backyard activities, quizzes, coloring pages and more. I haven't even shown this to Huck yet, but we will definitely be participating and having a poke around their website!
For more cool projects like this one...