Monday, December 28, 2009

A Snow Dusting

Our house looked like a gingerbread house this Christmas! Complete with icicles and everything! It has been at least 10 years or more since we've gotten more than a few inches of snow so no one complain that we never get a white Christmas anymore. Can you guess which window is mine? I had run some rubber based ink prints off the vandercook and they were STILL wet after a week. Garrett Queen wisely suggested that I set them in the sun to set up with UV light. I was leering of doing it at first because I thought it might fade out my colored paper but the color was fine and it worked great. Of course, I didn't want to miss this wonderful opportunity to take the camera for a spin in this weather. Plenty of beautiful shots for reference for more art!

This one is the most picturesque I think as I shot it in a way that the trees make an arch of snow that I am so fond of. I love trees arched over a pathway. Then again, I seem to be in love with the arch shape these days regardless.

I didn't know until I had to write an essay for an art class that bamboo is one of the three friends of winter in China. Actually, having written the essay there are really four friends. Bamboo and Pine are guaranteed their place in the category of the Three Friends of Winter but Narcissus and Plum have to duke it out for the spot and you never know which one will pop up there. I LOVE the color of spring green and to see a pleasant frond of bamboo swaying in the snow is magical.
And speaking of magical....

This image comes close to echoing my favorite part about a heavy snow. That first day after the heaviest of the snow had fallen the air was quiet and calm. Normally, (and disappointingly) I can hear a leaf blower somewhere, a semi barreling down the mountain, or traffic humming up and down the roads. That day there was nothing but the light ticking of ice crystals falling to the ground from the breeze. For once in a long time, you could stare down this road and actually have some hope of seeing an elf traveller and his steed bedecked in bells and gold trudging through the snow or perhaps watch the snow fall heavily to the ground from the pine trees as an ice dragon churns the air for a landing with his wings.
But I left out one sound that merrily makes its way through the quiet at the end of this road...

Our creek was gurgling and flowing over its icy path and it's banks were fat with frosty fluff. Perhaps I will see that elf traveller one day. We'll offer him some hot tea and listen to the story of his travels while is pony takes a rest.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Has it really been since April last I wrote? Pity. But now comes a new chapter in my history that I hope opens up my horizons more and more. The time since April has been a bounty that until now has not been recorded and I hope to amend this! My time has been riddled with WAY too many things and that as we all know can have dire consequences but a true gardener knows that taking the time to thin and weed cannot only help the garden but also one's life as well.
Above is a photo of the mortgage lifter tomato flowers that my garden produced this spring. I didn't get them in the ground until mid June and they positively burst out of the ground and surged into the cages I had for them. I have to say that my garden in some respects surpassed all I had hoped for and I believe the land is fertile even though rocky. I had also employed the help of my worm compost and compost tumbler and am now a firm believer.

Here is a photo of some of my cherry bell radishes. Though I was excited about radishes and got quite a few, I don't think I'll be planting them again next year. I planted them too close together but still got some nice sized ones. They were really hot and I couldn't eat them all at once. The rest fell pray to slugs or didn't produce at all. My white icicle radishes either didn't get big or got ginormous and fibrous. The french breakfast radishes were nice but most of them grew into freakishly twisted knots.

My real pride and joy were my tomato plants. Here is an unripe shot of my mortgage lifter tomatoes. I was blown away at how massively big they got. They were rivaling the county fair sized fruits that my grandparents produced that I had not seen since I was a child! I was very proud of my tomatoes! Having not expected this success, I learned a few valuable lessons this year. I had purchased small cages that would've sufficed to hold up the small plants I had expected but not the weight of the monsters we produced. Thankfully, we have a stand of established bamboo and I kept having to reinforce the plants as they were toppled by their sheer weight and the winds that liked to play around the garden. At first I was swearing and cursing the deer because I thought they came in the middle of the night and trampled my tomato plants. I had gone down to water and most of them lay of the ground! I had just propped up two or three of them back into the ground when the wind blew and they slumped down again. I also noticed that there was not damage of trampled branches or nibbling so it wasn't the deer. (Though the bastards did get my lettuce!)

My amish paste tomatoes out produced my mortgage lifter tomatoes I'd wager. Even though the fruit was massive and plentiful, the paste tomatoes just kept coming, and coming, and coming, and coming!!! My sister and I were worn out this fall with canning but my husband was a bottomless pit when it came to homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese. Even now he asks if we can crack open the canned tomatoes for soup but I keep telling him that we'll need them in January or February when we need some cheerful tastiness from the garden!

These are the storm victims that I found on the ground when the storm initially knocked my plants to the ground. :-( But I put them on the blanket chest in front of the window to ripen and they came out just fine. I probably would have gotten a few more gallons of tomatoes this fall if the soggy weather hadn't come early. After a few days of sogginess the tomatoes that were still ripening began to rot. I went out to retrieve a particularly pretty mortgage lifter fruit that I had been waiting on only to find that it had split open with rot on the bottom and the ants had already moved in. I left it in the garden to feed the ants.

The other bounty in my garden was basil. I had grown two kinds and the variety in the picture is large leaf. As my tomatoes began to rot I decided that there was not much left to the basil but seed so I pulled up what represents 4 large plants and hung them upside down to dry in the wind. The other variety I had planted was genovese. At first, it was clear in their early maturing stage that the large leaf and genovese were different because the large leaf had broad leaves. Then, they both grew into a bush form and the large leafs leaves began to narrow as it bolted to seed. Pinch as I might, the large leaf was intent on bolting. The genovese took its time though and its leaves were as broad as the large leaf's. Granted, the large leaf was in more sun and the genovese was shaded by the bamboo. One plant on the end was really slow to bolt and it was from this plant that I tried to harvest the most seed so that I might achieve a slow bolting basil. Since the two have such similar properties, I'm going to sell or trade the large leaf seed and grow genovese exclusively for the moment.
I am excited to plan my garden for next year. Even though the garden was not as big as I had wanted it this year, it was very rewarding and still a lot of hard work! But next year I will have a few lessons under my belt and who knows what the future may blow in!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Toad Motel

I got home late from a hell day at my day job this past friday. It had been raining all day and when I went to go over the bridge in the driveway I realized at the last minute that the rock in the puddle near the bridge was not a rock. I hit the brakes and opened the door hoping not to see smeared toad. Stupid toad looked up and me and proceeded to try to hop under the car. Mind you it was night out and still raining. I reached down and grabbed him and we went to my house. I was lucky to nab him on the first try but then I realized that it was still rather cold outside and he was moving slow.
I found another use for a worm composter. It serves as a toad buffet in a snap! I made a little nest for toad in our small foot bath plastic tub and lots of dirt, leaves, and worms. It fit perfectly snug in an old paper grocery bag and there we left him for the night. I put the paper bag over the tub so the cats wouldn't get him and so he wouldn't do any midnight wandering. It must have been toad baby making season because about 4:00am the kitchen began to sound like a bizarro jiffy pop. I woke up to the sound of "Peep!Peep!"*POP*"Peep!Peep!*POP*POP* I went into the kitchen to see what the hell. He would sing a few peeps and then pop up to hit the top of the bag! He wanted out so I let him go.... but not before I had a photo shoot. Mwuhahahahaha!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Taking our Recycling to a whole other level!

Ever since I have been living with my husband we have faithfully recycled goods like paper, plastic, metal, and glass. Sadly, our local collection site has now decided that glass is no longer economical enough to recycle and has stopped accepting it. I guess I'm just glad that they didn't cut plastic because there is no where for that crap to go.
It never occurred to me to "recycle" our food waste to amend our soil until I read the "Chicken Tractor" book. We simply either threw it in the woods or put it down the garbage disposal in the sink. I cannot tell you how many times I've wanted to tear my hair out because a wad of wilted lettuce clogged the disposal drain. Shrimp shells were another culprit of such fiascos.
My initial efforts at composting were on the low end of the budget spectrum. I procured 4 half rotten pallets for free and bought some hardware fabric and planned to make a box to throw waste in faithfully and turn over with the shovel. Not...realistic. I dreamed of a Compost Tumbler system because that seemed so much easier than pitch forking things every few days. I finally decided to take the plunge this past winter when prices for a "small" one tanked out at around 200.00. I can't testify to the quality of compost yet but I will say that it is so much more convenient than walking down to the back shed in the cold. On the few warm days we've had when I've checked it, steam actually came out of the barrel when I popped the hatch! It is nestled right now on the near the edge of my current composted cow doo-doo heap.

I've recently also started a worm composter. I was initially not going to invest in the compost tumbler because worm composting seemed like a good cheap alternative. A friend of mine said that no, worm composting is not the same as regular compost and that the worms digest out some nutrients that would otherwise rot into the soil. In hind site, I'm glad that I now have both! The worms have already made a rich compost in the plastic house that I made for them and you don't smell a thing unless you take the lid off. That's my cat, Logan, by the way. She 18 and has to inspect everything.
I got my worms from a wonderful girl named Angel! She hosted the first meeting of a local skill swapping club in Charlottesville, VA! It was awesome to meet other people and to learn about the worms! I've promised to give a tutorial on book making. It's going to be cool!
Anyway, the worm house cost a total of 10.00 to make. I bought the large plastic bin and drilled holes in the top for the worms to breath. I bought four smaller plastic bins to sit inside the larger one. I cut some styrofoam cups I saved from a local restaurant (I wish they didn't use those things) in half and put them inside one of the small plastic bins. I rested the bin containing the worms on top of them. This will act as a drain for moisture so the worms don't drown themselves. I've yet to get any liquid though. I've drilled holes in the inner plastic bins so that the worms can crawl from one level to another. They have filled their first level pretty much up and I'm going to pop a new bin on top and hope they will crawl up and make more compost.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Obamas are starting a vegetable garden! Yay! I'm so glad!
I started my seeds a few weeks ago and am amazed at how fast they have come up! In years past, the seeds had started after maybe two weeks with the help of a grow lamp but a few days after I had put them down in the egg cartons the tomatoes popped right up. This year instead of purchasing soil and plats like I had always done, I used the several styrofoam egg cartons I didn't have the heart to throw away. I had intended to use them for my brand new chickens but my finances didn't support that little venture this year. :( I will be enjoying some nice vegetables this year, though! :) I mixed my own soil from half of the red clay that the house is built on and half of the black composted cow fodder that I acquired from my mother and her husband. It appears that most of the seeds love it! The above picture is of the Cilantro and Spinach I have started.
Now, mind you, the Cilantro seed was purchased from Integral Yoga (a local foods supermarket!) from their Southern Exposure Seed Exchange stand ( a local seed saving company!) a few weeks ago and the Spinach is from a big chain store from a gift package for growers that is about a few years old! I think the Spinach seed is tired but it's coming up anyway.

My tomato sprouts are doing gang busters and I think that I'm going to have to take the plastic off of them soon! They are pressing against the top even as the plastic is three inches away from the surface! I am starting two kinds of tomatoes. One kind is Amish Paste and I received them from a swap with a wonder lady we'll call J on the PiedmontGardenSwap Group on Yahoo. The other variety is good ole Radiator Charlie from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange stand.

I am voraciously reading "Carrots Love Tomatoes" and "Garlic Loves Roses" and have decided to plant basil between my peppers and tomatoes. Here is my Large Leaf Basil (Gurney's) and my Sweet Genovese Basil (SESE) perking along. They aren't growing as fast as the tomatoes but they are definitely doing better than my ancient spinach seed. The Gurney's brand is a few years old and it is still growing about the same time as the SESE seed so I think they are both viable, just not as fast growers as tomatoes are.
Okay, now is the time to note my one failure! I planted a carton of Ademame beans from Jung Seed Company. I was beginning to worry after about a week and a half when the beans were not sprouting. They were in the same plastic as the spinach and cilantro. Upon inspection my fears were confirmed. A white patch of mold was spreading in the corner of the carton. Now, there were bits of mold on the soils of the sprouting plants too but I cleared those off and the cilantro and spinach continue to progress. All of the beans that I unearthed had rotted. I through the whole container out. I'm not worried. I bought two large packets of the seeds to sprout and that carton only held twelve beans out of one packet! I wanted to see if indoor sprouting were possible. I have a feeling that they are more suited to straight planting in the ground. Something tells me that temperature affects their germination and that maybe they need a little more heat to start out and stave off mold.
Notice anything about the plants I'm growing? MOST of them are heritage breeds that open pollinate. My ultimate goal is to have a diverse collection of seeds to sew of different varieties. Some people collect coins, some collect figurines, but I'd like to start collecting seeds. After all, diversity in crops is attractive and the Hobbits did it well!
I also saw the "Future of Food" film last night on LinkTV. It's directed by Deborah Koons Garcia and you can learn more about by checking out I'm not an alarmist. I've read and enjoyed the book "Genome: The autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters" by Matt Ridley and my husband is currently enrolled in the Bioinformatics class at UVA. Knowledge is power but unregulated GM products unintentionally cross contaminating the flora and fauna of the natural world is irresponsible..... like a lot of other things that human beings do.
Anyway, if you want to walk with me on the journey to Middle Earth start taking responsibility for your own food. You don't have to have a massive garden. Start a small pot of herbs for the kitchen in a southern window or find a local farmer's market to go to and purchase ORGANIC crops from. Remember, at least try and find a local seed saver or choose an open pollinating breed.
With all those tomatoes and basil I am going to make one heck of a pizza this summer! Now I need to learn how make mozzarella cheese!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Beginning of the Journey

This blog has been a long time in coming. I have read the Hobbit but not the Lord of the Rings series. We watched the Hobbit animation as kids (god, that music was horrible). But I fell in love with LOTR movies directed by Peter Jackson for the obvious reasons that they were well done works of art from the visuals to the soundtrack. I am obsessed with the concept of middle earth not because I want to dress like a hobbit or an elf on the weekends or because I want to lose myself in the fantasy world "I belong in" but because every single piece of that movie is a direct inspiration from an already existing culture. Right away I could almost step into the world of the Shire that Gandalf rode into. The grass was shiny and green and small insects flitted back and forth between the fields and the forests. Patch works of glittering sunshine are strewn about the forest floors. Thick green leaves and fat healthy fruits and vegetables positively burst from every corner of land. This was not only the Shire. These were memories of where I grew up. I was seeing all the touched up carefully rendered images of a movie but from experience I could smell the sweetness of hay and remember the shifting feel of a warm breeze.
Other things that I reveled in experiencing were treats of our past cultures. I am glad that the movie series makers didn't try to reinvent the wheel and used imagery that echoes from ancient civilizations to create a sense of grandeur. Examples are the great hall of the Steward of Minas Tirith (Mosque of Cordoba, Spain), the banners and architecture of Rohan (a mix of Celtic and Chinese aesthetic), and accouterments of the Elves (a heavy blend of medieval Europe and the Art Nouveau movement) just to name a few.
I have to say one of my favorite scenes is Gandalf and Bilbo in the kitchen of Bilbo's house. I remember from reading the Hobbit that when Gandalf first came to visit with the dwarves that they had cleaned out Bilbo's stock of almost everything in his pantry. There was a list of cakes, breads, jams, meats and other stored beverages. Nothing fascinates me more than the way humans used to store their food before the industrial revolution. Nothing is more rewarding to me than experiencing it for myself. Though I don't do it often, I love guests. When someone comes over to the house, southern tradition mandates that you offer the person a drink or snack.....a meal if you like them :)! Producing a box of crackers, some cheese from the package, and a glass of wine from the store is great but if you can produce a loaf from your counter top, a cheese from the goat or cow in the corner of your field, and a bottle of blackberry wine from last years briars....THAT is REALLY something spectacular. I am proud of things that I am able to make and sharing them with friends is an even bigger treat! I was so in love with Bilbo's kitchen with its various herbs, pots, and iron kettle in the fire place! I also love the old worn wooden table they sit at. I grew up in the country and remember the stout butcher block tables in my grandmother's house and at our general store. They were knurled cranky pieces with massive iron bolts holding them together. When you were done butchering meat on it you scrubbed it down with a large brush with steel slats instead of wires for bristles and boiling water. The result was a soft wooden work surface that really showed the progress of time.
I digress, I look around at my current life and decided to make changes. Some changes will be easy and some hard but I figure if I make small steps one after another my life experiences will be driven to where I want them to be! This blog is dedicated to documenting my journey to preserve and renew a way of life I remember and to wrap it in the aesthetic that l fell in love with!