Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fells Walking

The Lake District was carved by glaciers. The valleys are deep and steep sided, the peaks rocky and thin soiled. The botany was carved by sheep and shepherds; there are few tress, close-cropped grasses, and sheep poop everywhere. The “trails” were not, as one older woman with a backpack and a thirty year old map informed us, built, but follow in the footsteps of early settlers, who took the shortest way between two points, which usually meant up and over. Switchbacks are rare. “There’s a reason,” she told us proudly, “that the British make such excellent mountaineers.” She’s right—I have not encountered such walks since I left New England, another glaciated mountain range with trails laid down before the switchback. The Lake District feels like Mount Washington.

Because all of the fells radiate out from a central point, there is no easy way to move across the Lake District, or from one valley to the next. You have to climb up, over, and down. The trail meanders along a stream for a bit, then turns drastically upward, following the “gill” or ravine of water.  Trails climb 1000 feet in a mile. A maintained trail is often a series of steps made from local stone, swaying back and forth across the stream. Unmaintained, they deteriorate into a mass of scree and wet gravel. Slow and steady brings hikers to the peaks, where you can see the trails winding out along the range for miles. If you loose the trail for a moment squelching through a boggy area, climb the hill and study the landscape. The trail will appear, as will tarns and bogs, wild places and sheep.

Ridge walking is popular in Britain. Walking through woods is just—boring. Nothing to see but…well, trees. When you climb the fells, the whole civilized world spreads out under your feet. There’s Grasmere, where we are heading for a cream tea. There, around that other peak, is the final glimpse of the Irish Sea and the windmills. And there’s Stonethwaite, where we spent last night, nestled in the wooded valley. There is where the trail come in from St Sunday—the recommended route for people who want views but not scary drop-offs. And there, in front of us, is the base of Helvellyn, highest point of the trail. We climb, slowly, steadily up the granite constructed path, stare in amazement when three mountain bikers attempt to ride down (all three quickly dismount and walk their bikes), emerge on the moonlike surface of the ridge.

The biggest, best, more scary ridge of all is named “Striding Edge” and it drops off of Dark Helvellyn, as the Romantic poets called it. It was not dark, but bright, on the quiet late afternoon when we crossed the ridge, but we did not stride—we climbed and crept. The trail down began with some very slippery scree and gravel, shale falling beneath your feet. We moved slowly down, using hands and poles. A couple was climbing up at the same time and paused for us to pass; I remembered that up is always easier up than down on these surfaces. At the base of the scree slope (the worse part, by far), Mark tied up his poles and broke out his old rock climbing moves, moving, spider-like across the rock face. “It’s not bad,” he called back, grinning. I dropped my pole down and joined him. The rock was solid here, with perfect hand and footholds. Not bad, indeed. We moved downhill. At the base, the rock changed once again to square boulders  and we clambered up like climbing a play structure. An older man appeared and assured us that we were on the right track, just keep going. We stood to  walk along the ridge, open air on either side, steep drops down to a tarn on the right – we could hear the voices of people wading echoing up—and gravel and rock on the left. But we were solid on boulders, five foot wide path, world open all around.

Hiking the fells brings back muscle memories from the White Mountains. I remember the “run” downhill, when the trail is large boulders which shift underfoot. It is easier to loosen your hold on the earth, shift weight to the insides of your feet, and move lightly, channeling a mountain goat, down the hill, rather than carefully placing every step, watching up for unsteady rock. Touch it and be gone. Trust to balance. In wet areas, the game shifts slightly to “taking the high road” and leaping lightly from high rock to high rock, once again, not pausing to think about footing. Touch and Go. I try and explain the movement to Mark, but he is burdened by heavy boots, not sandals, and moves slowly downstream. He is also unwilling, the first day, to try the other method of moving down hill—the Butt Slide. When the trail drops off the edge of the world, and all you can see is steep slippery rock heading down—toss the walking stick over the edge, sit down, and slide. It’s not dignified but it is highly effective.

After a few days, I, too, am sold on the High Routes. It is clear that even the “low route” requires some serious climbing, so why not go a little higher and walk the ridge, rather than dropping back into the river valleys? Earn the cream scone? Come into town in the quiet light of late afternoon, head for dinner and a bath, and know that you have, once again, been to High Places? 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July Work List

July Work List

If June, after school is out, is the Friday afternoon of summer, full of anticipation, quick trips, and big plans, July is the Saturday, the time when the vacation feels endless, there is no pressure to finish anything, and  the world is free of stress and commitments. Like June, July is about maintaining existing patterns, not creating new ones.

·       Last mow and trim of the summer
·       Early Harvest of garlic and peas
·       Beets and plums are ready—pickle them for winter
·       Distribute surplus plums
·       Pick Blueberries for freezing and drying
·       Bake blueberry pies
·       Make gooseberry and red currant preserves
·       Read
·       Contemplate the growth of the pole beans
·       Find new zucchini recipes
·       Harvest honey
·       Integrate the chicken flock
·       Take long hikes to mountain lakes
·       Drink iced tea at Clear Lake
·       Water all of the gardens
·       Summer pruning of the suckering fruit trees

Summer Pizza:

Roll out half a batch of bread dough, arrange on the pizza pan, and allow to rest for half an hour.

Spread one jar of roasted tomatoes, sliced zucchini, shredded fresh basil, new garlic, and some walla walla onions over the base. Cover with mozzarella cheese and bake.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Great Weeding

We have been gone for three weeks, walking across England. Late June and early July is not a bad time to leave Corvallis or the garden. I missed the trash piles of students moving out, the last few grey rainy days, and the end of cherry and pea season. Other than that, the garden was all in and growing, but not producing anything I had to process for winter.  That being said, it did grow while I was gone and the innocent weedy plants, like nasturtiums and amaranth, which I often leave to keep the insects happy, took over several beds.
I have been hacking back for two days now. I have a system, developed over the years, for such occasions. I start in the back bed, weeding, transplanting, mulching, repairing the hoses, tying up the vines-- whatever needs to be done for that bed—and then I trim out the grass around it and move onto the next. It is very efficient. All of the tools are out at once, which reduces the wandering around factor. I can always tell where I left off, if I am called away for a meeting or phone call, because the bed is not trimmed out yet.  There’s immediate gratification that comes with seeing a neatly mulched and trimmed bed, even if it is only the first, that would not happen if I weeded all of them at once. And it reduces the number of blisters I get from too much aggressive trimming. When I have finished one side of the garden, I turn on the soaker hoses and move over to the other side, watching for leaks and sprays as I work. When the back gardens are done, I move to the front.
While I was working this morning, I was very aware of all of the other creatures that use my veg garden. The few old peas that were left on the vines had been nibbled out; someone had gnawed through the seams and eaten the peas. I found a small rodent nest behind the lovage, where someone else had dragged a few stalks of ceremonial wheat in for a snack. There was a small pile of possum poop in the back of the potato bed and a young pumpkin hidden in the grass between the beds, half eaten. As I trimmed, I encountered ants and spiders, pillbugs and the occasional slug. Honeybees and bumblebees where disturbed when I pulled out a huge borage plant. I could see where Bunzilla had chomped on a low hanging kale leaf and where the cats had been napping under the rhubarb. Fortunately, the chickens had been too interested in dropped cherries a few days ago when they were loose to wreck havoc on any plants, although there was signs of a dust bath up near the house. Life clearly goes on in the back yard when I am not around, perhaps even more so.
The back garden in now pretty much in order. The vines are tamed, the potatoes mulched, the beds trimmed for the summer. There will not be another spurt of rampant growth that will need to be reigned in again; the season is about to dry out, the grass is ready to go dormant for the summer, and I will be home to keep an eye on things. The leeks and parsnips are breathing a sigh of relief, but I don’t know about the other living creatures.

Summer Salad-- good for a warm day when you do not feel like cooking

Chop half a red onion and a couple of stalks of celery. Toss in the bowl. Add a can of garbanzo beans and a can of tuna. Toss with about a quarter of a cup of mayo, a gulp of red wine vinegar, some pepper and chopped basil (fresh is nice, but dried will do). Arrange on a bed of lettuce. You can get fancy and add hard-boiled eggs or sliced tomatoes around the edges.  Weirdly enough, french fries are a nice touch.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

June Work List

In some ways, June is the easiest gardening month. Everything is in the ground and growing, but nothing is ready for preserving yet.

This month’s tasks:

·      Mow and trim.
·      Clean up the canning area—evaluate jars, sharpen knives, purchase lids, make the list.
·      Clean out the larder.
·      Get the final seeds in the ground before the Summer Solstice.
·      Make ful from fresh fava beans.
·      Mulch the whole garden.
·      Repair hoses.
·      Set up the greywater system.
·      Clean out the outdoor shower.
·      Tie up rampant growth.
·      Pickle beets and make rhubarb preserves.
·      Eat peas.

·      Move classroom plants home for the summer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

One More Year

 I put in the soaker hoses today. It’s always an adventure. First, wrestle the hoses out of their winter storage place in the dead shower stall in the basement (don’t ask…). Then, lay them out, one bed at a time, connect to the Big Hose, turn it all on, cross your fingers, and wait for the inevitable geyser.  There it was, in the middle of the pumpkin and zucchini bed. Water spraying everywhere but on the plants. Deep sigh. Turn the hoses off, find the bag of hose repair parts which I bought in bulk a few summers ago, dig out the right screwdriver, cut the bad spot out, place the repair pieces in, tighten down the hose clamps on either side, and turn the water back on. Good to go for another year.

 The new beds are more susceptible to leaks because of the nature of the system.  Years ago, we had a community garden patch which we used for growing potatoes and dried beans. After the first year, we bought sweat hoses for the entire patch, which saved on water and time. When we left the community garden for more beds in the backyard, we brought the sweat hoses with us, but they were too long for the beds. Never ones to waste anything, we cut them in half, wove them through the beds, bridged the gaps with a truly ancient hose, also cut into pieces, and hose repair kits (and hose clamps), and went to work. It’s not a bad system, although the old beds, where each sweat hose branches off of a common tube and can be turned on and off independently, is better.  And, every fall, I vow to change the new beds over—and, every spring, I run the old hoses One More Year.
When I had finished the hoses, I turned to the brush pile, planning to side-dress the garlic patch with freshly sifted compost. Mark was working in the back and directed me to the half full barrel. I picked it up and the last little bit of handle fell off. It was a good trash can, twenty years ago, but after ten years of being battered by automatic garbage trucks, we moved it out back to haul leaves and brush—and compost. I wiggled it across the grass, through the garden gate, and over to the garlic bed, dumped the contents, and brought it back to the brush pile. It’s got at least One More Year, I thought.
I walked by one of the “new” garden beds and saw that the bottom board was rotting through, but I propped it up with an old piece of garden bed fencing and it was good for One More Year. After all, the beds will all need replacing soon. When it was dinner time, Mark carefully took down the picnic benches, which we had fixed last summer with a couple of solid planks across the top, for, of course, One More Year.
There’s a pattern here, one, which separates farmers, even small scale ones, and gardeners.  My friend Maureen has a beautiful garden, just lovely. She works on it steadily, striking just the right balance between casual floppiness and tidiness.  Something is always blooming. Trees are always pruned. She has pathways of different materials. She is a Gardener. There is no fraying binder twine gathered in a bucket, mixed in with the tail end of a ball of yarn. There is no HUGE pile of bio-mass in the back yard; they send dead hedge pruning off to the city composting system. She waters by hand, deeply, once a week and weeds while she works. When I go out to Sunbow Farm, with its amazing soil and huge plants, it looks more like home. Hoses everywhere, tilting garden benches, trellises held up with binder twine, old tarps, piles of leaves composting down…. everything used to the max and beyond.
 One More Year.

Cardamon Cake—from the 1977Moosewood Cookbook

This is best the same day or the next morning for breakfast. I’ve made it with margarine and non-fat yogurt, and it is still yummy, but…

2 cups of butter
2 cups of brown sugar
Cream together until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl a few times, just to be sure.

Add: 4 eggs and 2 t vanilla.  Beat in well.

Sift together:
4 cups of flour
2t BP
2.5 t BS
1.5 t cardamom
.5 t salt

Add and mix. Put half of the mixture in a tube pan and even out. Then sprinkle .25 c of brown sugar, 1T cinnamon, and .5 cups of chopped walnuts in. Add the rest of the cake. Spread out evenly.

Bake until done in 350 oven, a little over an hour,

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Permaculture is organized around  the concept of zones—putting things most often needed closet to the house. It works best, of course, when you have a clean slate to work with (which we did) and when the “zone three” of your yard is not also the floodplain for the entire neighborhood.  However, we have done the best that we could with the concept. Raspberries, Sungold tomatoes, and the bay tree are right outside the door. The dining table is in the back alcove, protected from sun and wind, five steps from the kitchen. Blueberry bushes catch your sweater when you walk by after putting your bike away. A little further out into the yard are the vegetable gardens and the afternoon reading seats, and then the chickens and bees occupy the far corners of the yard, which would be zone three. Then we move further outward; work, library, movies, and groceries are all a short walk from home.

We visited a further zone this weekend. I think of it as zone five--the trails that ring Corvallis. MacDonald Forest, Fitton Green, Finely Wildlife refuge, and the arboretum are a huge part of our lives and we walk through them in all weathers. This weekend, we climbed to the top of Mary’s Peak, our local four thousand foot mountain, highest point in the Coast range, and indicator of when to plant beans (when the snow is no longer visible from the soccer fields).

The hike leaves from Conner’s Camp, about 2500 feet high on the shoulder of the mountain. It leads through a Cathedral forest of tall straight Douglas Firs with a heavy understory of vine maple, fairy bells, and ferns. From the trail, we can catch glimpses of the hazy valley below, but the walk is silent. The trail climbs steadily  for several miles and we know every step. As we walk, we watch for the patch of coral root orchid that lurks in the shadow of one huge tree, the first monkey flowers of the season at a seep, and the anemones that wink in the darker shadows. I keep the plant list and each flower is, after ten years of this hike, an old friend. There are other landmarks as well, like the bench where the chickadee eyed Maureen’s hair for a nest last year and the steps right before the last steep ascent before the parking lot.

It is always a shock to climb from the woods to the car-filled lot near the peak. There is a road to the top, which we have taken several times, and it is a popular afternoon drive. The wind whips across the empty spaces and everyone scrambles for a jacket. Right where the trail emerges, yellow and purple violets mingle. After a quick stop at the outhouse, we head for the alpine gardens of the peak. Red penstemmons, purple phlox, and yellow wallflowers huge the ground in a carpet of color. We join the groups at the top, settle into a protected area, dig out lunch and plant books, and settle in for a rest. Some days, we can see the ocean and Mount Hood; other days, we can barely see the trail. Sunday, it was partly cloudy, so the valley lay before us on one side, the clear-cut patchwork of forest on the other.  We could see, however, our entire watershed, which is always a deeply rooted feeling.

After lunch, we descend. There are always a few plants we missed on the way up to be noticed and recorded, but the mood is more subdued. We have been to High Places once more, looked over our corner of the world, and are heading downhill towards dinner. Life is good.

 Beet Greens and Ricotta Pie

Make a pie shell. While you are at it and covered in flour, make two so you can have a rhubarb and blackberry pie as well.

Chop a large bunch of beet or chard  greens fairly finely. Chop an onion. Satee both until tender. Add salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg.

Mix about four ounces of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, and about half a cup of milk. Mix into the veg. Pour into the pie shell and bake at a 350 degree oven until done, about 45 minutes.