Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Good Fences

     

      Good fences do make good neighbors, as Robert Frost argued. Ours, built twenty years ago, was dying. Part of it sloped over when an ice covered tree landed on it two winters ago; the back was twisted down by a freak gust of wind last spring. When a lively large dog with a Frisbee throwing owner—with poor aim, so the Frisbee landed in our yard several times—moved in next door, it was time to take action. One dog chasing after a toy could bring it all crashing down.
            The fence came down last Tuesday afternoon, when it was 98 degrees in the sun. For the most part, it took little effort. Luke, who wants to be a woodworker, was able to whack the fence boards off with a small crowbar and used his hands to bring down the rotten railings in small chunks. He piled the boards in the backyard to be denailed and turned into other, smaller, projects. The posts took a little more effort, but with a clever hand chainsaw, they were filed off at ground level. We could see into the neighbor’s weedy, dry yard. Their dogs wandered over for a dog treat and to watch the cats. Lucy came over to watch the dogs. It was an evening of stand-offs.
      
      The next morning, Mark Meyer began the rebuilding. He started with the posts around 8:30, struggling with rubble next door and some tight working spaces, until two. “I think,” he announced, “I’m going home for a few hours to take the dog down to the river. I’ll be back this evening when it cools off.”  Posts were done by dusk, the final hour of work supervised by the dogs. The next day was railings, on a similar schedule. Prep, we agreed, always takes longer than you think it will. The structure of the new fence was clear.
            Friday morning, I slipped out early to start watering the garden. The soaker hoses are old and there are gaps in the crop rows where we’ve eaten the plants, so soft jets of water shot into the air throughout the plot. I cat down with my tea and a cat in the cool morning. Birds arrived—bushtits and chickadees—discussing the water and insects, perching on plants and the fence frames. Slight sounds filled the air. Birds. Water. Cars a block away.  Cats purr.
            By Friday evening, the fence was completed. The fence boards alternate lighter and darker, six inch and eight inch, down the row, glowing against the darker posts and rails.  Mark Meyer climbed up on the end to attach cat steps to the roof, so that Kayli can still perch on the neighbor’s garage, even when she is an old kitty. There are shelves three and a half feet high all the way down to hold tools and bricks, garden poems and art. The plant life is enclosed;  the garden has a linear structure, rather than flopping  everywhere. The chickens and rabbit can run free. We are surrounded, once again, by protective wood.



Rhubarb and Red Currant Preserves


7.5 c rhubarb, chopped
2 oranges, zested
2/3 c of orange juice/water
3 c sugar

Place in the jam pot, stir, cover, and let sit 1-4 hours, until rhubarb releases its juice. Boil gently for 15 minutes, then add:

2 c red currants, stemmed
1t nutmeg

Cook until gel stage—either eyeball it or by temperature. This preserve is forgiving and jams nicely….

Place in jars with ¼ inch of headroom and process for ten minutes. I use the beloved steam canner.



Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ark Appeal

       
    “That guy just waved at you,” Mark pointed out as we left the elk viewing area.
            “Yeah, I waved back. It’s the Ark, you know. It attracts guys. You don’t believe it.” But it is true. The Ark, a 1984 VW Vanagon, brown and tan, attracts guys in the same way that Mark’s southern accent attracts women of a certain age. It’s amazing—he’ll hold forth on compost and chicken tractors during garden tours and the circle is spell bound, and I know it’s not the chicken poop they are thinking of.
            The Ark has always attracted male attention. Truck drivers smile at gas stops. Men wander over to discuss my “rig” in campgrounds and allow that they’d be just as happy with a van, but the wife….she needs a little more space, so they have a monster RV. (Yeah, I know, there’s a huge difference between my van and an RV built on a bus frame, but there you have it.) Mechanics give advice and even allowed my friend Sherrie and me to sleep in the back of the shop one night. They have even lent tools on occasion. 
            It is not a fancy rig. She drives like a truck, with a huge steering wheel and gear shift that requires a full arm motion, not a flick of the wrist, to operate. The view from the driver’s seat is excellent, even on a road full of SUVs. The engine and transmission are solid. There are newish tires and good brakes. I just replaced the windshield. There’s a bed with good pillows and bureau with a camp stove slid underneath in back, ready for camp cooking or afternoon tea.  But, there’s a dent on the sliding door because of a huge blind spot. There’s paint peeling from being too close to a house fire one night. The bumpers are wonky. The green shag rug is truly gross and there is often hay in the corners. The gas gage does not work—but the odometer does! She really needs a serious bath and the driver’s side window rattles in the breeze when open. But there is something about it, the sturdy, hard working, square body, that evokes the Open Road, Adventure, and Escape from Every Day Life.
            Later that day, we were about to leave the Umpqua Discovery Center. Mark was waiting patiently for two elderly couples to tuck themselves into their silvery late model car before he climbed into the driver’s seat.
            “How old is that rig?” one elderly gentleman inquired.
            “1984.” Mark answered, a little stunned. He’s not used to the attention.
            “Still does the job,” the  man nodded.
            “Yup,” Mark agreed and swung inside. He smiled.


Zucchini Rice Casserole – the season has begun….

Cook about a cup of brown rice, or use leftovers from the night before, if you are proactive in food planning.

Chop one nice onion and one medium sized zuke and sauté in olive oil. Add salt and fresh ground pepper, two or three cloves of garlic.

Beat 3-4 eggs, fresh basil or marjoram, and perhaps some feta cheese. Mix eggs, veg, and rice together and pour into a casserole dish or a large cast iron skillet. Bake in 350 oven until eggs are set and a little brown.

This can be eaten hot, warm, or cold. With salad and a blueberry pie—the oven is already on and heating up the house, after all—you are feasting. And there is one less squash in the bottom  of the fridege.

            

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Embracing My Inner Peasant

When I first started gardening in my mother’s back yard, she called me a Russian Peasant. It was not a compliment. I headed out back in the evening with my head wrapped in a scarf to keep the mosquitoes at bay, wearing old sneakers, and carrying a pitchfork. In the late summer, I brought turnips and carrots to her customers, who loved them. Years alter, when I actually met a Gardening Russian Peasant in Portland Oregon, I had to agree—I did look like a peasant. Maybe Irish, rather than Russian, but the general outline was the same. Same big grin. Same scarf around the head. Same old shoes and pitchfork. She raised cabbages and potatoes, chickens and a rooster, in her back yard long before urban farming was cool, even in Portland. We compared notes on our vegetables and the weather by waving our arms and smiling.

Since then, I have embraced my Inner Peasant.

·        I grow potatoes. We eat potato bread in the winter.
·        I raise chickens. (no rooster, though. Too loud.)
·        I wrap a floral scarf around my head in the winter and own an old wool coat with a sparkly brooch.
·        I can whatever I can glean from the streets of Corvallis.
·        I collect animal manure for the gardens.
·        I make soups with beans and root vegetables.
·        I wear old  hand knit cardigans and mud boots.
·        I knit by the fire.
·        We grow gooseberries and red currants as well as raspberries and blueberries.
·        Pickled beets are a preferred food in March.
·        I haul hay in my van.
·        I have bean seeds in my pockets, even in January.
·        I compost—everything.
·        We eat from the farms that surround us, worry about crops and weather, and consider the land a sacred place.


Pickled Beets—from the Joy of Pickling

Harry had two plus pound beets in the fields this week and they were not fibrous. It has been a year for gigantism. 
Making pickled beets turns our kitchen into a massacre site, with red liquid everywhere. Just be prepared. Do not use the new kitchen towels. This makes six pints of beets.

7 pounds of beets—peeled, cubed, and cooked until just tender.

2 cinnamon sticks
1T whole allspice
1t whole cloves
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
2t pickling salt
1 qt cider vinegar
2 cups of water

Simmer spices in liquids for ten minutes while you pack the beets into pint jars. Strain out spices and pour hot liquid over the beets, leaving  ½ inch of head room. Close jars and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before putting away.

Eat in the middle of winter on cold grey days.




Monday, July 8, 2013

July Abundance

Bunny on the run.

Summer produce

Garlic Harvest

freshly painted table


plums


red currants

plum branches


potatoes








Roadside find

Bees in the mist.
 Blueberry Zucchini Bread:

This is yummy without the berries-- or could take any kind of fruit (apples are good)-- but the blueberries are just about perfect.

3 c flour (half whole wheat)
1 T bp
.5 t BS
1 t salt
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
.5 t cloves

.5 c milk
2 eggs
.5 c oil
1 c sugar
2 c shredded zucchini
2 c blueberries

Mix wet together. Dry together. Both together-- two pans and bake until done. So easy. So fast. So yummy.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Hikes


When I was younger, I loved hiking alone. I loved setting my own pace, the silence, the moving inward with my steps, the lack of inane conversation on the trail. I loved the hours long drive to and from trail heads, even camping  alone  before heading up. Alone was good.  And I still love moving through the woods alone, in silence. However, I’ve changed my mind about group hiking….

            For the past three years, I’ve been hiking every Monday with a group of women, all teachers, all with the summer off. I gather email addresses right before the end of the year and send out a reminder every Monday. We meet at school, figure out cars, and head off. And I love it. We head for the prettiest spots in Central Oregon—Clear Lake in late July, Cape Perpetua on the coast on a warm August day, Iron Mountain with over 80 varieties of wildflowers in bloom…The list is endless within a morning’s drive. Lakes and lava, woods and wildflowers—we see them all and we check out the bakeries and small restaurants  on the road. It’s always good.

            As we head out, gossip flies. Occasionally, we have a moment of school fussing, but, after the second hike, we are done with that. It is summer, after all. As the trail climbs, conversation slows. Someone drops behind to examine a plant, take a photograph, tell a story with a little more gusto. The lead hikers pause and wait until all heads are visible before heading further on. Pairs come together and separate, conversation flows like a mountain stream. At the top, everyone gathers, spreads out lunches, encourages sharing. “Here, I picked blueberries this morning.” “There’s a few extra cookies.” “Someone needs to finish the pretzels.” “Dried figs, anyone?”  “Chocolate?”  We consider the view, discuss which mountain is which, stretch out our feet in the sun.

            On the way down, peace falls on us all. I am often in the lead, a little ahead of the group. Behind me, I can hear an art and a primary teacher discussing art in the classroom and making chapbooks. Further back, someone is describing a foible of her husband.  Feet pad along the pine needles. Backpacks shuffle and sigh. Water bottles, nearly empty, slosh quietly. In the distance, birds sing softly, a stream tumbles downhill, a car engine echoes up the valley.  When we are nearly down, someone brings up the ever popular topic of dinner and we come together on the trail for the last half mile.

  
          I used to hike to get way from people, to create space, to see wild animals and far vistas that the car bound will never know. It was a private enterprise, shared, usually, with just one other person. I pitied the people traveling in packs, talking all the way. Too loud to see anything, I thought with a bit of contempt. And I still love being ten or twelve miles in from the trailhead, knowing that it takes some serious effort to see what I am seeing, to hear the deep silence of the wind in the woods. But, in the middle of the winter, when rain and fog have settled over the valley, I remember the sound of women’s voices, mingled with the soft pad of sneakers on the trail, and smile. Summer is coming, I think, and we’re heading out.


Backpacking Biscotti—from the Sunlight CafĂ©


3 eggs
1/3 c brown sugar
¼ white sugar
1/3 c canola oil
1 t orange zest
1 t vanilla
1.5 c flour
¾ c rolled oats
½ c soy powder
¼ c cornmeal
½ t salt
¾ c finely chopped nuts

Mix wet ingredients. Mix dry ingredients, then mix them together.

Divide the dough in half, shape into two logs, flatten them a bit, and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree oven until done.  Let them cool a bit, slice, lay them on their sides, and rebake until lightly browned.

These cookies keep forever and can ride in the bottom of a backpack for a week and keep their shape. Eat with tea or cocoa early in the morning for first breakfast on the trail. Or while  grading papers in January….