Solar Tracking

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

New Garden Beds


            We replaced three old beds yesterday! We’ve had three eight foot beds on the left side of the veg garden for about five years. The wood was recycled to begin with, sat in the back of our rental for three seasons, and was then walked down the alley and placed in our yard for five more. It’s been dying for three years now, but I wrangled one more year from them last season, promising myself that we would rebuild in the spring. They needed to go. Not only were they broken, but they were also two feet too short. The coop always perched on the edges, rather than firmly on the corners; the cold frame of old windows was two feet too long for the beds; the movable trellises did not fit. I was ready to make a change.

            Our local, independent lumber store sells cedar planks in the spring—1x16, which they will cut down to size. We decided to use the cedar, rather than fir, when we realized that it would last at least three times as long—just about the difference in price.  I dug through the pile for six, and had them cut ten, four, and two feet, so that each plank became half a bed (which some left over for the new bed out front). The Ark smelled of fresh cut cedar as I drove carefully home, which plank reaching over the passenger seat for company. While I was gone, Mark cut up a couple of old pressure treated four by fours which had been fence posts. Each post gave us six one foot blocks to attach to the boards for added strength in the corners.  I moved the wood into the back yard and the project began.

            First, we had to dismantle the old beds. The trickiest bit was moving a 18 foot long trellis than spans the entire south side of the garden, linking the beds together visually. It swayed and dipped as we carried over to lean against the neighbor’s garage. Once that was out of the way, Mark unscrewed one bed at a time to keep the chickens from tossing soil all over the back yard. When the boards were loose (mostly) I piled up the rotten boards near the chipper and dug out a little bit of the garden soil along the edges.  Mark attached  4x4 posts to the long sides. We brought the boards into the garden, laid them out, and screwed on the shorter ends. Mark moved onto dismantling the next bed as I pushed and prodded the new form into alignment.  Chickens had a field day eating exposed bugs and worms. I spread the garden soil into the entire bed so that it would not be kicked out.


The whole process moved much more quickly than we expected. We were reattaching the trellis that surrounds the entire space about three hours after we began.  The two small cabbages that were sitting under a milk crate to protect them from critters made it through the entire process unscathed, but will be eaten this week for dinner.         

Sunny Day Chicken

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February

 I was talking with a friend this morning. “What’s up?” she asked. “Not much,” I replied. “It is, after all, February.”  And it is true. After the holidays of November and December, the winterness of January, February is a very daily sort of month. Things happen, every day, but they are not earth-shatteringly interesting to the outside world.
 ·        There is bread in the oven, beans in the crockpot, huge mustard leaves in the greenhouse. Hot tea in the morning.
·        Rain, followed by drizzle, followed by a downpour, and then hail.
·        There is knitting on the chair. There is a cat sleeping on the knitting.
·        Early seeds are planted. Trees are pruned. Beds are being built and repaired. There are elaborate garden plans, but none are executed yet.
·        Snowdrops and daffodils bloom outside. Forsythia blooms inside.
·        There are meetings: teacher’s union, city council, small groups planning to rewrite the comprehensive plan…..Democracy in action.
·        We wash floors, and socks, and sheets on rare sunny days.
·        There is good focus in the classroom—even with colds and snuffles.
·        There are evenings by the fire, long nights of sleep, and quiet walks in the evening.
·        The solar panels are producing more electricity.


There is, truly, a lot of February in our lives. We need to embrace the month with open arms.

Nova Scotia Vichyssoise: February dinner

Chop a large pile of mealy potatoes and about half the volume of onions. Place in a pot, cover with water, and simmer for a long time. Hours. The longer they cook, the better. Mash the potatoes and onions. Add eight ounces of sour cream, salt, pepper, red pepper, and dill. Warm slowly.

Eat with fresh bread and hearty salad.



Sunday, February 14, 2016

            “This is the most beautiful place on earth.  Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mid the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.”  There are many such places. For me, it shifts. Some summer days, it is a trail through the High Cascades, a place that took fifteen years to enter. Some rainy afternoons, it is my classroom after everyone leaves and I am alone with the tomato starts. In the ark, walking along the coast at Seapoint beach…this week, it was the kitchen.

            I awake before sunrise, which happens around seven these days. Lucy has crawled under the blankets in the night, but wakes up at six AM, bored and hungry. When the alarm goes off, she bounds out of bed, running for her dish. Mark follows, fills the bowl, starts the teakettle, and heads for the shower. I stumble out several moments later to find Kayli perched on the table—a huge, sunny, furry sphere covering my napkin. Deposed, she stalks outside. I pour hot water into the cheery blue teapot, cover it with the cozy, find the newspaper, and toss Lucy outside as well. The golden walls of the kitchen glow. The lamp is reflected in the greenhouse window outside. Chickens wake up and discuss the morning. The front of the house is still dark—everything happens in the back early in the morning.

            Slowly, outside, the sun comes up. A gang of kids from Yes House amble by, trailed by the counselors, still half asleep. Three students, clutching coffee cups, earbuds firmly tucked under their hoods, staring at the ground, head silently for campus. Early morning classes…The morning is grey and quiet. A car swishes by on the damp pavement. A bike rattles along the sidewalk The cats charge in through the catdoors.

            My face is no longer reflected in the window glass as I start oatmeal with dried blueberries, hunt through the refrigerator for the two jars of soup I packed for lunch, walk down the cellar stairs to find the last two Christmas oranges, small suns themselves. I set them on the counter where Mark will find his, dress, stir oatmeal, make a piece of toast with lemon marmalade. The house smells warmly of wheat and oats, tea. Breakfast. Democracy Now! plays on the radio—more talk of Bernie, politics, interviews. Morning.

            By seven forty, there is a small stream of people, all still sleepy, heading south towards campus. Parking spots on our street are full for the day. I gather my lunch, my bag, a raincoat and head for the door while Mark finishes washing the dishes. When I glance back, our little yellow house glows in the morning light. I head north and east, against the crowds, to the high school. The air is cool, damp, ocean scented. Mist on my face.  The clouds high and puffy. To the East, there is a bit of a cloud break. The sky is pink behind the tall ponderosas that line the baseball field on my way to work. Snowdrops, pansies, small daffodils bloom in front of the old houses.  Spring is coming.

            “That is the way it was this morning.”

With thanks to Edward Abbey, and Desert Solitaire

Blueberry Pancakes

¾ cup of white pastry flour
¾ cup oof fresh ground whole wheat flour
1 t of sugar
1 t BP
½ t BS
½ t salt

2T of oil
1 egg
1 cup of buttermilk

handful of frozen blueberries

Mix dry together, add wet, stir until three quartered mixed, and toss in the frozen berries. Let sit for a few minutes before cooking.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Veg Bags

            Twenty five years ago, I wanted a salad spinner, but did not have room—or the money—to buy one. So, I made one. I took one of the cloth storage bags I had made for backpacking (why buy fancy ones when you can sew them for free from scraps?), put the washed greens in it, took it outside, and swung it around my head by the drawstring. Voila— clean, dried  lettuce with a pre-soaked storage bag for the left-overs. And it was fun.I never looked back.

            Now, I have a whole series of bags. The old ones finally died, so I broke out the sewing machine last summer and made some new ones. I made several from old—or kind of tacky—dish towels that I was not using. The thicker terry cloth material works really well for salad greens. I have a large one from an old tablecloth with a hole in the middle that holds huge leaves of mustard and kale, as well as smaller cooking greens. And then there are some scraps of cotton cloth bags that corral carrots, beets, and mushrooms from market to table. I weave shoelaces through a tube in the top of the bag for drawstrings so that I can pull the bag closed.


            I have found that these cloth bags work much better than plastic. Greens rot and grow slimy in plastic bags because they cannot breathe. They dry out—or tumble out of the refrigerator at awkward times—when left unwrapped and held together by the wire wrappers, which bruise the stems. But in a dampened cloth bag, greens last for over a week—which is all I ask from a vegetable. Even root crops are happier.  If one does dry out, or grow nasty because it was pushed to the far back corner of the shelf, I toss the bag into the wash and use it again. And then, when we go hiking and I need one more bag to hold the last day’s food—there they are, ready and waiting to hit the trail.           

Shepard's Pie

Boil and mash four or five medium sized potatoes for the crust.

Saute two portbello mushrooms, a mediums onion, carrots, cauliflower, and peas or corn. Add salt, pepper,  and dried basil. Throw in a handful of grated cheddar cheese at the end, if you feel decadent.

Put cooked veggies in a casserole, top with the mashed potatoes, and bake until bubbly. Eat with salad.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tu B'Shevat and Seed Catalogs


          The season is changing. Snowdrops are blooming, the solar panels are working more and seeds are ordered.

            Last weekend, we gathered to order seeds—four friends, some tea and lemon bars, and our seed catalogs. It was pouring out. People ran for the door hiding under plastic bags, tucking seed boxes under arms, and shook the water off when they came in. It was loud on the roof in the dining room. No one m indeed. We had seeds on our minds. Several had already made lists, other lists were made during discussion.  Seed packets flew around the table. I tracked orders on my big yellow pad. We talked varieties, past successes, and big plans for the coming season. When we broke up, we had a master order together—and I placed it the next night. They should be here soon.

            After the seed fest, I went to the TuB’Shevat with my friend Maureen. It is a lovely ritual celebrating “the sap rising in the trees” and the very beginnings of Spring. There are readings, chants, blessings, and ritual fruits as we move from the hard-shelled world of the body to the world of pure spirit. The table is covered with various fruits, fresh and dried, and it combines a little of the harvest with hopes for the coming year. This year, there was an underlying concern about the impact of climate change on the human and plant communities of the world.


            When I came home, Mark filled the greenhouse tub with hot water. After dinner, I soaked in the tub, and watched the full moon rise through the foggy windows. I dreamed of seeds started on the shelves inside and planted in the beds outside my windows, then came in for a long, still winter’s night sleep.

I made the Whole Lemon Bars from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which I am loving for gatherings. It's a little fussy for every day!