Solar Tracking

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Raised bed in December


          Although I swore not to do any yard work in December, I could not stop myself when I woke up to a clear, bright, cold morning. Digging in the rain is vile—and counterproductive to soil structure—but tossing leaf mulch and weeding the fig tree on a sunny day is a different story.
            I started by turning over the soil in the two beds that had been chicken tractored already. The first, most recently occupied, bed had a layer of chicken straw and poop over the winter’s leaf mulch. It needed to be turned. The leaves, straw, spilled food, and poop will compact and turn anaerobic if left untouched all winter.  It smells nasty and nothing will grow in it come spring. But, if I give the whole bed a rough toss, mixing soil into the organic matter, it will all break down, slowly in January and February and quickly by April.  I turned the first bed and then gave the older bed, which had just a layer of leaves untouched a toss as well. All the while, the chickens were having a discussion; they wanted to dig around in the beds themselves. Before I moved on, I let them out.
      
      The second project involved prepping a bed for the coop. There were still a few top-less beets (Thank you, Bunzilla), a leek, and some parsnips hanging out in the soil. The beets and leek were harvested quickly, but the parsnips were a challenge. Several were huge, reaching down into the clay subsoil under the good garden dirt. I dig and scrambled and tugged until they came out.  Two required the pitchfork. Kayli the fluffy cat walked the fence line, calling me over to scratch behind her ears. I stopped to oblige, then gave the final bed a quick toss and went in for lunch.
      
      After lunch, I returned to clean up the hedgerow on the north side of the house. Our fig tree has been slowly growing in the strip of land between our house and the neighbor’s driveway, which is nice because it is an excellent screen in the summer. But, it also collects weed seeds and vines. I grubbed out small hazelnuts, a holly, several armloads of wild clematis, a nasty vine that was once a rose but is now a wiry green  thing with thorns, and some nightshades, filling a garbage can with rough compostables. I did NOT start to prune out the suckers, although I was tempted, because, after all, it is still December and I will not work in the yard during December.
           
           

     

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hike-u

 Saturday
Downpours and road lakes.
Good day for the library.
I love my rain boots.

Sunday
Merganzers spread wings.
Great Blue Heron stands silent.
Fruitcake and hot tea.

Monday
Veiws of Soap Creek.
Secret breeding ground of the newts.
Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain.

Tuesday
Calloway Creek trail:
Witches butter on a log.
Happy dogs in lake.

Wednesday
Wrong Boots. Wet, wet feet.
Great Blue Heron; fungi.
Mario’s Christmas lights.

Thursday
Water everywhere.
Moss grows fat in Winter sun.
Quiet Christmas walk.

Friday
Gus runs in circles.
Snapped tree tops—incredible.
Sun glows on fir branches.





Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Love about Life

     
      We have been studying the Beat Poets in Honors Intro this month and the final assignment is to create a Beat Journal of creative writing, which was due today. The back page, in homage to Jack Kerouac, is a list—what do you love about your life? This is mine, right now.

·        I love the sound of the street sweepers at night. It reminds me of snow plows and evokes Snow Days.
·        I love the way conversation in my room ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime when kids are engaged in a creative project.
·        I love the silence in the room when they all leave and the walls begin to speak.
·        I love Winter Break.
·        I love baking English Muffins on Tuesday afternoons after a long walk in the woods.
·        I love Christmas lights on rainy nights.
·        I love the way the sun breaks through the clouds and the hills glow in the slanted light.
·        I love the way the bunny runs around the back yard.
·        I love piles of blankets on cold nights.
·        I love the peace of Winter streets and trails after town has emptied out.
·        I love slow cooked beans in the crockpot.
·        I love the network of people who surround our home, near and far.
·        I love a pile of books beside the couch.
·        I love our blue teapot full of PG tips.
·        I love dreaming of yarn.
·        I love Kayli sitting on her perch.
·        I love opening a bag of greens from Sunbow when they are still wet from the rain and smelling their deep green, earthy smell.
·        I love baked potatoes.
·        I love the way everyone in my room loves Wallace and Gromit.
·        I love seed catalogs and hiking books.
·        I love living in a town where a more complex engineering problem is embraced, not rejected.

Whole Wheat Anise Cookies, a Winter Break favorite


1 c of margarine (half butter is ok)
¾ cup of white sugar
1 egg
1.5 c of white flour
1.5 cups of whole wheat flour
1.5 t of BP
1 t salt
1T anise seed

Beat sugar and margarine together. Add the egg, then the dry ingredients. Roll out between two sheets of waxed paper and chill until firm. The dough may be a bit wet.
Cut into star and moon shapes and bake at 350 degrees until done. Eat warm. Freeze leftovers for a nice surprise in Febuary.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chicken Run

         
Chicken Run away
  It is official. I am smarter than a chicken.

            Henny, our scrawny white leghorn, has been escaping from the chicken run for the last few weeks. It was annoying, especially after we closed all of the obvious escape routes, but not that big a deal. After all, chickens just want to be with the flock, so, after a few moments of running around and shouting “Free at last!” she would wander back to the coop and dig through the garden bed next door, waiting for the gate to open for her return. When I chased her around the yard, it was, really, a half-hearted chase on he part. However, when Gladys followed her out yesterday and found the collard patch, we had a larger problem. Half the flock was out.

            As anyone who has ever kept backyard chickens knows, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, even if the “grass” is actually the back alley or the neighbor’s dusty gravel parking area. You can give them free run of the entire backyard, but then they congregate (and poop) on the back stoop, waiting to stroll into the Big Coop. That grew old fast. When they are not chatting on the back step, they are roaming through the garden, digging up the just sprouted carrots or eating a collard plnat to the ground. They need to be restrained.

            Restraining a chicken is not as easy as it sounds. We learned this a few years into chicken keeping. Our first two ladies, George and Mrtyle, were full-grown barred Rocks when they arrived, and they required little restraint. They stayed in the back yard with a few pieces of chicken wire between them and the Big World. When Gracie, the Houdini of chickens, arrived, I would come home to find notes on the front door: “Your chicken was out. We chased her back in.” 

            Chickens escape by going over or under the fence. Both have their challenges and solutions. Over can translate into higher fencing, which can be expensive, or running a piece of yarn or wire higher up to create a thin barrier—cheaper, but kind of tacky. For years we banged together a complex fence from pieces of wire I had found along the roadside, but it was very tacky. I invested in some decent four-foot high hog fence two summers ago. It is a huge improvement.  It is also flexible and coils in amongst the beds in early spring, giving the ladies access to the compost pile, but not the young plants. Another solution, which we are working on, is to raise bigger chickens. Henny is a light and scrawny bird, who still flies easily. The Buff Orpingtons we brought home last spring are much bigger—and more peaceful—birds. They will be too big to fly over the fence in the spring. It is always easy to know when a chicken has escaped over the fence. She announces her landing and, if you look out quickly, you can see her shaking her feathers down before she heads for the collard patch.

            Under is more difficult to detect—but easier to solve. We eliminated the majority of under escapes by building a board fence around the back area. This stopped the chickens from even seeing the alley and neighbor’s parking lot, so they were no longer temptations. Now, when we have an under escape, we watch. Mark takes a book into the back yard as a decoy, sits down, and observes chicken behavior. Within fifteen minutes, he can find the weak spot, usually where the cats have pushed through near a fence pole. A brick in the gap, a good tug on the fence, a few staples to reattach the wire and we’re good. Toss the chicken back into the run and watch her head right for the gap once more. If she stays in the run, it is closed.

            There is a certain triumph to outsmarting a chicken, especially if she has been more clever at hiding her escape hatch than usual. This morning, when I opened the coop, I stood perfectly still and watched. Within two minutes, I had the answer. Henny was pushing her way out through a hole in the netting, which was big enough for her, but not for the larger buffs. When she was three quarters of the way out, I grabbed her and tossed her back in, then blocked the gap. She did not come out today. Victory has been declared, at least for now.

Pasta with Broccoli

Start a pot of water to boil.. While waiting, chop two big stalks of broccoli into small bite sized pieces.  Toss a handful of whole wheat spaghetti into the boiling water. When about two thirds of the way done, add the broccoli.

While this cooks, chop three cloves of garlic and cook in olive oil. Toss in almonds or walnuts and brown lightly. Also, grate some Parmesan cheese.

Drain. Mix olive oil, garlic, and nuts in. Top with cheese.

             It is official. I am smarter than a chicken.

     

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Willamette Valley Winter

MY Sorrow, when she’s here with me,

  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

  She walks the sodden pasture lane.
        5


Her pleasure will not let me stay.

  She talks and I am fain to list:

She’s glad the birds are gone away,

She’s glad her simple worsted gray

  Is silver now with clinging mist.
        10


The desolate, deserted trees,

  The faded earth, the heavy sky,

The beauties she so truly sees,

She thinks I have no eye for these,

  And vexes me for reason why.
        15


Not yesterday I learned to know

  The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow,

But it were vain to tell her so,

  And they are better for her praise.


     
       This poem by Robert Frost perfectly captures the essence of early winter in the Willamette valley. Because of our Maritime climate and layers upon layers of accompanying clouds, we often never see a solid frost and the grass remains green all winter long. But, we do have the heavy sky, the faded earth, the bare, the withered tree.  Days when we walk to work at dawn, stare out a dark grey skies, and come home in the damp dark,  can be challenging. But we have two, often opposing, desires on these days.

       
     The first is to “hermit up” with a pile of library books, a new knitting pattern, and a huge mug of homemade chai. The cats love these days. They sit in front of the fire and purr, then walk over our heads and chase figments up and down the cellar stairs when they are bored.  I love them, too, and happily spend hours on the couch, staring out at the rainy day. The world is peaceful and quiet and I may bake English Muffins in the late afternoon.

            The other response is to go out and Embrace The Day. We walk the miles of trails that circle town for hours. Or we will head downtown, where we can stop for cocoa in the local coffeeshop. No day is so bad that a decent raincoat, a wool hat, and some cheery waterproof boots  cannot counter it—at least for an hour or so. Days that look dreadful from the window are often soft and misty once we step outside. Even a dank cold day can be beautiful, as the water beads up on spider webs and the clouds pass over and around the pine tree tops. The damp air smells of deep pines and woodsy mulch.  Fifteen minutes after we step outside, the world is perfect.

     
       Winter is our inward season and, for this first month, there is no outside work. We take the time to settle into our place, grow our roots, and be, inside and out.

Chai:

In a non-reactive pot, combine:
2 cinnamon sticks
4 slices of ginger (fresh or candied)
10 smashed cardamon seed pods
1 t coriander seed
.5 t peppercorns
.5 t whole cloves
4 c of water
Simmer for about twenty minutes.


Add 2-3 t of tea and boil gently, then add 1 cup of milk and reheat. Add honey—or not—and drink.