Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I've been writing for myself for years, tracking the development of our days (it's handy to keep notes to resolve disputes and to remember NOT to bury the cucumbers in other plants next year). My friends read my posts and comment on them-- but, I must say, it's pretty darn exciting to have People I Do Not Know reading my stuff.  Thanks!

Monday, July 30, 2012

It has begun. Last Tuesday, one member of the book sorting team for the Friends of the Library book sale walked in with a plate of chocolate zucchini bread. “We’ve had enough sautéed zucchini,” he announced. “Great,” someone said. “Everything is better with chocolate.” The plate was empty by the end of the sorting. The next day, I saw a baseball bat sized deep green vegetable sitting on the counter at Sunbow. I nabbed it, hauled it home on my bike, and turned it into zucchini bread with fresh blueberries (seriously, the BEST addition ever. Better than chocolate.) and dried the rest for backpacking pasta dinners.

I don’t understand why people make fun of zucchini. We’re quite fond of it. What’s not to like about a bland, bulky vegetable that, like tofu, absorbs all flavors like a sponge and enhances everything? Maybe it is because we only plant six seeds: three lovely sleek raven plants and three long, funky trombochino, which produce 15 foot vines and fruits until November. We always have one waiting in the wings, but not a mound on the counter. Ok, so I occasionally break off a flower if we’re going away for a few days… When the plants are in full production mode, we might eat it five times a week.

Mon: Zucchini and rice frittata with basil and dill and fresh eggs

Tues: Green, Green Noodle soup (noodles, pesto, zucchini, onions)—total comfort food

Weds: Sautéed Zucchini with tomatoes and chard

Thurs: grilled zucchini on the little hibachi

Fri: Minestrone soup

Sat: Zucchini tucked into lasagna

Sun: Zucchini fritters with feta

And, probably, the drier is running, making zucchini chips for the winter, I’ve made a batch of Marrow preserves, and Mark brought a loaf of zucchini bread to work….

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


In a teacher’s world, June is like Friday—half anticipation, half wild freedom--, July is Saturday, when the time stretches out forever and you can stare into space without feeling any outside pressure, and August is Sunday, when the light shifts, freedom becomes precious, and the cold classroom looms.

Right now, we are in the middle of July, the middle of Saturday afternoon. Yesterday, I climbed Iron Mountain with four other teachers and one six year old, who boldly lead the way for the last mile, waving a walking stick, backpack bouncing on her shoulders. We spent the weekend at Da Vinci Days, listening to music and watching the Kinetic Sculpture races. Last week, we were on a week long trip to the Red Buttes and NPSO annual meeting. For the last two weeks, I’ve been reading Harry Potter for an hour or so in the afternoon. There’s been time to drink tea, poke at plants in the gardens, set up the greywater system, and can some pickled beets and plums. Dinner veg comes directly from the back yard. Life is good.

I know, I know there’s quite a bit of work lurking out there. The preserving season is coming on fast; I have a bookshelf and two benches to build, four front garden beds to dig out, a photo survey of neighborhoods to finish up, and I promised my boss I would try and find some international lit that tenth graders who don’t like to read might enjoy. We’re planning a fifty mile backpack around the Sisters in late August. I want to go to Portland and Eugene. I need to practice my perspective drawing, so sketches don’t look like they are about to fall of the edge of a cliff. And there are books to sort, and weeds to pull, and cakes to bake for friends. August is coming on fast.

However, today, it is still July. The sun is shining on my laundry lines. Gladys is basking, wings outstretched. The bees have calmed down from our incursions last week. Scarlet Runner Beans and nasturtiums weave through the back trellises, tempting hummingbirds. There is still time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Southern Oregon

Southern Oregon is the most ecologically diverse place in North America, rivaled only by the Smokies. It’s all about location and geology…

The land began around Mexico City and has been drifting northward for millions of years, picking up plants, mostly conifers, as it moved. It’s also full of sections of serpentine soil, barren hot patches on a trail hike where the soil chemistry is not good for growing plants. There is too much magnesium and not enough calcium in the dense hard rocks that came from the bottom of the sea. When the two continental plates rubbed against each other, the ocean’s did not slide below, as it usually does, but bobbed up to the surface “like a cork” and created long, slender patches of rough land, running parallel to the coast line from Southern Oregon down through California. There are plants that refuse to grow on serpentine soil and plants that only grow there and they switch off, back and forth, within a foot or two of the change. The lines between serpentine and not serpentine are really distinct; you can see them from a distance, from the road or across a valley. Geology directs evolution.

Southern Oregon is also a geological bowl and a crossing place—plants (and people) come up from coastal and inland California, and from coastal and inland Oregon—four distinct ecosystems border this place. When the climate changes, plants migrate in and either adapt and stay or die out. There are species that can only be found here…and lots of plants that look familiar, but a just a little different. When we hike in the Red Buttes Wilderness, I can hear Mark behind me, muttering… “Coral Root orchid. Forget-me-not, a little taller….ahhh, bear grass! Oh, nice wall flower.” as he recognizes the blooms. But there is also a lot of questioning mixed in…”What’s that? It looks like some kind of lily? Or is it an onion? And that one—a mint? Smells like some sort of mint, but look at those bracts underneath? What do you think?” It’s a constant commentary as he bends over to examine yet another plant. He’s not the only one; there are dozens of professionals who have spent their entire lives bent over these plants and they all showed up for the Native Plant Society meeting last weekend and gossiped botany and geology for hours.

Southern Oregon is also a catchbasin for people. It is where the alternative left and right come together, live and let live, just keep out of my business. Small holdings line the roads through rolling valleys and up the hills—off the grid wooden cabins, trailers covered in blue tarps, tidy ranches and split levels with yard ornaments, and a few huge McMansions are all mixed together on the back roads. We are always amazed at how many people are tucked away in the hills. Signs indicate the variety of view points; there are as many supporters of Ron Paul as there are references to Buddhist teachings. Recently, the Applegate Valley has been discovered by wine growers, and their huge iron gates with stucco pillars add to the landscape, but little has really changed. People move in when the culture changes, some adapt and stay, some leave. It’s all about evolution, a constant slow change in the land and landscape.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bee Swarms-- Part Two

Bee Swarms—Part Two

We have a new hive….and Mark suggested it. This is huge, as he was adamantly opposed to beekeeping in the back yard for years. “What if some drunken idiot knocks the hive over and gets attacked by the bees?” he worried. My response was, always, that’s their own damn fault for trespassing and being stupid, but he never quite believed me. Since we’ve had a hive, he’s changed his mind and he’ll even peer into the comb and hold the smoker for me. He’s very interested in the theory of beekeeping and hive management so the idea of adding a new hive of a different style was appealing.
We ordered a Warre Hive kit from BeeThinking in Portland. The design combines the best of two types of hive—the familiar stacked boxes (known as Langstrom Hives) and the horizontal top bar hive that I have in my back yard. Basically, it is a series of smaller stacked boxes without foundation combs—it uses the same “top bar” technique that my other hive does and thus allows the bees to construct their own comb to their desired sizes and shapes. It’s easier to harvest and more natural—but does lead to some funky cross comb (which, by all accounts, I’m supposed to mold into straight comb every week or so…).

The hive kit was lovely. The cuts were sharp and we were able to assemble it on our own with no arguments. Maybe it was the American Dream pizza on one end of the table, or Lucy wandering through the stacks of lovely smelling cedar, or the chance to use Power Tools (the new drill), but it was a peaceful evening assembly. We constructed one hive box, the quilt box, and the roof in about two hours, pausing frequently for pizza and cherries.

Last Saturday morning was transfer time. Rich was in the back yard by 8AM, cup of coffee in hand, big box of tools beside him, sawing a piece of wood to fit over his Langstrom Nuc hive (basically, a same box about the size of the white cardboard one that had been bee home for a week now). The plan—place the swarm comb into the nuc hive and then stack mine on top, with a big hole to encourage upward mobility. Over time, the bees would leave behind Rich’s box and occupy mine. Quickly, Rich cut several pieces of wood to bridge the gap between the two hives, then moved to the bee yard under the hazelnut tree. The transfer went fine, except for a piece of comb, covered in bees, that fell to the ground—the merger of the two hives not so much so…He had not checked beforehand that the measurements were accurate, so the rigging didn’t fit. “No problem,” he muttered confidently, making the needed changes as bees swarmed around him, looking for their home, wondering what he was doing up so early in the morning. (The same question had crossed Mark’s mind…)

Once the attachment was complete, bees began to move in. The queen was inside, it was early in the morning….they marched from the old cardboard box into the new wooden one in a steady stream. A few flew around, bewildered, for an hour or o, but they were all re-hived by bedtime. Since then, they have been moving in and out, bringing in nectar and pollen, building lovely new comb—all in the lower box. No one was moved upstairs this week.