Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Last Push

Fun chairs. Before (center chair) and after (left and right).

It's time for that last big push of activities before summer hits. Everything that's going into the ground is in, except for some late lettuce and pumpkins (I'm behind about 3 weeks on pumpkins; it will be interesting to see if that makes any difference come harvest time).  I'm working on refinishing the chairs I bought at the party rental place for $2 each, so we have some nice seating outside for summer. And I completed a new barn quilt which the owner of the winery where I work requested for his tool shed. Those things were all fun.

Around the property, there is also some maintenance that needs doing.  These things are not fun. I paid out about $900 this week to have several double windows replaced where the seals had failed and they'd become cloudy in between the panes. I'm not sure if it will yield any energy savings but the windows certainly look better now that you can see out of them again!  And we'll also be hiring some painters to re-do the trim all over the house, which is peeling and will eventually get wood-rot if it's not fixed. So that clearly also needs doing.

Those are the kinds of things I hate spending money on, because they're not very fun and don't really give you the spending thrill that a more sexy $900 purchase would -- say for a new chair, appliance or some kind of farm machine for the acreage, like a rototiller or brush hog, both of which I'd like to have.  But keeping up with this place is a necessary investment, more so than the fun things we could contemplate buying. One of these days we'll need a new roof, and maybe even some electrical work done so the wires stay safe. 

Living in the heat as we do, everything has less of a lifespan than it might elsewhere -- it just basically bakes to death -- although I think everywhere you live, it's something, be it humidity, cold, etc. that takes its toll on your home. But as fun as homesteading goodies are (which are generally pretty inexpensive and homemade anyway), sometimes it's just normal home repairs that get our extra spending dough each month, and this month that is certainly the case.

Winery barn quilt.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

All Is Well

Garden growing strong.

Pumpkin and lettuce seedlings in the conservatory.

Well, it appears that we are done with crises for the week, today all the plants are growing strong, the two chicks that Ellen is raising are just getting to that adorable, jumping-around stage, and the two late hatches are in the brooder eating, drinking and generally resting after their traumatized start to life. To some extent, in the animal world there is often a decision made whether to live or die when a creature is tiny and new; a baby rabbit can be picked up and it will become so scared its little heart will speed up until it dies, with no trauma involved, and sometimes, a picked-on, motherless chick decides it's going to live despite its beginnings, stages a comeback, and thrives. 

Recovering nicely.

In the non life-and-death areas of life, there was an art show in town featuring a coastal artist I really like, and so I headed downtown this morning to snag another print of hers for the house. We already have one in our living room and wanted one more to round out the space. The painting is of  a barn we always see as we're driving home from the beach, meaning it's something I generally see late on a weekend afternoon (the same time of day the painting seems to have been done) when I'm feeling very content and happy. Since it reminds me of happy things, I figured why not look at it all the time?
Peaceful barn.

It's also time to harvest the lavender, which means lavender iced tea, lavender ice cream and the house smelling very lavender-y and perfumed (in the most natural way possible, not the AirGlade stink that modern life tells us is a good and clean smell. Blech.)  Every season has its challenges, but late spring especially also has its rewards. Lavender is one of them.

Life goes on in other ways, too. Groceries is two weeks into his Navy basic training and called us this morning very homesick, and Big Ag is learning the ropes at his new job as a vineyard manager, enjoying good days but also having some bad ones. 

Those things are just the stuff that life is made of, and I think the trick is balancing the not-so-good with the blessings, in order to remind yourself that although it's never perfect, maybe for just one day -- perhaps today -- all is well in your corner of the world, and it is  always appropriate and right to celebrate that.

Lots of lavender and some red hot pokers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A rejection and an injury

So Ellen's late eggs finally hatched yesterday (she already has two three-day old chicks from the first hatch), but she rejected the chicks, even going so far as to attack one of them -- the little buff chick.  Luckily I came home from work in time to save them both, and now they are brooder babies.  I will probably put them in my neighbors' brooder this weekend with several other chicks they are raising, since a flock socialization from the get-go is always a good thing.

I'm thankful I was able to save these little ones, especially the one Ellen attacked.  That one seemed on the brink of death when I brought her inside. It turns out she just needed some love, including water. food and most importantly, a warm place to nestle. Hopefully her wounds will heal in time and she can go on to live the life of a happy hen or roo. 

I've begun thinking I should re-name Ellen...maybe Joan Crawford might be more appropriate? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Garden Tour

This last weekend Big Ag and I took to the streets for the local gardens tour held in our city. We were out shopping for ideas on our backyard remodel (after lawn removal) and at the last house we went to, boy did we hit pay dirt!  A beautiful, drought-tolerant yard filled with interesting plants and hardscape with lots of smaller areas to sit and enjoy nature.

I think that's the solution to having a large yard -- break it into smaller spaces that invite relaxation and an intimacy with the plants and animals who you share space with. You don't need a huge lawn to enjoy your yard unless you have several children under the age of 10, and then I'd say it's probably a necessity for your sanity.

But once the kids are grown and gone, or if you don't intend to have any, there is no reason why your garden space should not be a multipurpose living space where the business of growing food and the hobby of gardening can intersect with relaxation and entertainment beautifully.


One of the facts about humankind that I most enthusiastically subscribe to is that of archetypes. You may think you are original; a true one-of-a-kind, but according to sociologists, you might not be -- you might just be a personality type, a more or less typical example of someone living one story, but with enough in common with others throughout history that you may belong to a group you do not even know about.

One archetype that I have run into time and again in my life is the pseudo-expert/huckster.  It's usually someone who gets interested in a subject, quickly declares themselves an expert in it, and then begins the process of educating, promoting, and generally attempting to spread the word about their expertise to the world.

I knew an astronomer like that in the '80's, when I worked at a well-known observatory. We all knew about this guy.  Although trained as a planetary geologist, he took any chances offered to jump in front of a television camera or newspaper reporter and give his "expert" opinion on any number of science-related subjects. Nuclear war. Quantum physics. Archaeology.

My coworkers and I hated this guy.  We hated that he took attention away from legitimate scientists who had spent years studying and learning about the subject areas he was so inaccurately spouting off about on national television, just so he could get his 2 minutes of fame. We hated that the media actually called him to talk about that stuff, because they knew he was slick and knew how to make a nice sound bite. 

Some of us might have been jealous, some were just indignant at the misinformation he blurted out so regularly, and some were afraid if he ever became political it would be a bad, bad thing. But as I've gone on in years, I've met this man's fellow archetypes in a variety of situations, and it's the same thing over and over.

The hardest thing is watching what I think of as a very gullible portion of the public get duped into thinking these people know anything about the subjects they are talking about.  The so-called "cook" inevitably attempts to gain legitimacy by writing cookbooks, the so-called farmer holds workshops on farming, and the fact is, people are giving good money to a "cook" and a "farmer" who are nothing more than slick promoters.

It happens time and again. But I've realized that, other than putting the word out that there are better experts out there -- REAL experts, who have spent their lives dedicated to the exact subjects the huckster wants you to believe THEY know about -- there is nothing else you can do.  Hucksters are an archetype.  They sell a lifestyle, an idea, a subject, or a business model which they have no right to claim, but they do anyway.

But because it's an archetype, you can look at almost any field of interest and find someone like that.  And all you can do is close your wallet and watch from a distance. You can't change them and you can't ever seem to educate the gullible souls who give them their attention, their money, and their undying love.

That is a hard reality, but one I have come to see over my 53 years on this earth.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hatch Day!

Woke up to this today!

Today was Hatch Day, day 21 of Ellen's incubation of some of our neighbor's fertile eggs.  Both eggs hatched, right on schedule, the buff colored one a few hours older than the little black bantam. Needless to say, it was very exciting, actually more exciting than incubating them artificially because it is such a joy to see mother and babies interacting.  Ellen is, as I predicted, an absolutely wonderful mother.

And came home to this later on!

She still has four eggs under her, which are not due to hatch until Thursday or Friday, so I don't have much hope for them since she is off the nest quite a bit now, clucking and chasing after her already-hatched ones.  That is how it is with chickens (and humans as well).  Once the babies arrive it's hard to focus anything else. Its certainly hard for me to focus on much today; I keep sticking my head inside the coop to visit with mama and her small brood.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Nothing like shopping in the garden for dinner....which was a generous slice of frittata, made with freshly laid eggs, plus harvested-today spinach and onions.  Over the last decade or so, eating food that was collected or harvested 10 minutes before dinner has gotten a bit more routine for me, and I will admit I don't feel the same beginner's thrill I did when first doing it. 

But I'll tell you what: it's no less delicious than it was the first time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dying Nicely

Our summer project of killing half our lawn is already off to a good start. As you can see, much of it is brown and the good news is, everything that is brown is what we WANT to get rid of. In other words, the lawn we are keeping is staying green and the lawn we're removing is dying nicely. Some more will die as the summer wears on, but we're off to a really good start.

In a way it bothers me to kill a healthy lawn; that is the farmer in me whose job it is to keep things green and growing whenever possible. But sometimes having to kill something is inevitable.  I do not smile when I see my dead lawn, instead I tend to look down at those moments and remember why it is that I have to kill it: It's so we can plant some appropriate plants in the space, or add additional patio area.  It's also so I'm not throwing good drinking water on a crop that provides nothing for us but something to look at and walk on. And most importantly, it's because if everyone is cutting back -- and even if they are not -- using less water during a drought is the right thing to do.

A time to die.

Any good farmer or homesteader should have trouble with killing living things; the day it doesn't bother you is the day you need to pack it in, buy a condo in the city, and seek the services of a professional therapist, because taking pleasure or just not caring about the times when you have to be a participant in the taking of any life is just, well, creepy.  

I find when I have to kill something, whether it's a plant or a creature, I go down  little checklist in my mind.  Question One: Is the killing necessary so that something else may live or so that something does not suffer? Question Two: Is there a better way to accomplish this rather than taking said life?  If the answer to #1 is yes, or the answer to #2 is no, then I know what I have to do.  But truthfully, there isn't a spider, ant trail, chicken or patch of grass I don't run through the aforementioned checklist with before commencing with killing it. 

Thankfully today it is only part of a lawn that has to die here, and I can honestly look forward to the things that are going to take its place.  But no matter what, I am cognizant of the fact that as the homesteader here on this particular patch of land, part of my job is deciding what lives and what dies. It's a responsibility I hope I never take lightly.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dorper Sheep

So our neighbors just bought four Dorper sheep, two ewes and two rams.  They think the ewes are probably pregnant.  This could work well for us; with the neighbors having a couple of lambs soon we could potentially buy them and would not have to take actual delivery of them until next fall or winter -- which would give  the lambs time to mature and be weaned and us plenty of time to get fencing and shelter taken care of. Hmm.  

The idea of owning some larger livestock seems to be creeping into our possible future, especially if it is just a couple of sheep. They don't climb like goats and don't bray like donkeys. I'm liking the idea. Big Ag is not so certain. I am working on that.

Friday, May 8, 2015

And the Daytime Drama Award goes to....

Here is our story, which we join already in progress:  Dear, sweet, fluffy and somewhat dumb Phyllis has been nursing a head wound for the last several days because her husband Col. Sanders got a bit rough with her when they were having sex one hot evening (or several).
Victim. (Portrayal by actress)
Basically, she is now bald and bleeding on the back of her head!  Also in the hospital ward, plump, predictable and very gentle Miss Shippy is on confined bed rest, due to her being attacked by a vicious dog from down the street.  
In the meantime, everyone is wondering what will become of that two-faced cad Col. Sanders once his crimes have become known, and they are nervous about Phyllis coming into contact with him before then.
Police artist's sketch of perpetrator, Col Sanders, also known to use the alias "Bucket o' Cluck."
Another favorite character, the tall, dark and ever-lovely Miss Hawk, has gone missing for several weeks now, only briefly reappearing at the neighborhood watering hole before taking off again.  Rumor has it, she may have several secret children and be keeping them and their identities under cover!  Because we all know Col. Sanders gets around when he's not busy abusing poor Phyllis. And if he's that cruel to Miss Phyllis, who knows what he'd do with little ones running around under his feet.  It's just too awful to think about!

Have you seen anyone resembling this chicken?  May be accompanied by 10 or 12 peeping youngsters.
Does this sound like a cheesy afternoon soap opera?  It's not. It's just the general plot points of my neighbors' chickens, who I have been watching while they go on a romantic cruise to the Bahamas. You know, I'm starting to realize that if you want peaceful farm animals, get sheep. If you want excitement and unpredictability, get goats.  And if it's drama you love, get some chickens. Holy moly.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cycling Through

Here on the Central Coast (and probably in other places where weather unpredictability is the name of the game), you learn to go with the weather patterns rather than fight against them.  We had our first heat wave of the spring season last week, with temperatures hitting the 90 degree mark.  It was also the week my cucumbers, which I grew from seed, were due to be planted. No go. Instead, I moved them outside into a shady spot to acclimate and held off on planting.
Can't wait to get these cukes in the ground. Mama needs relish.

Our weather tends to come in waves or cycles, and this week was a heat wave.  We also get "wind waves" which are possibly even worse for young plants than heat is. Most places around the country get "cold snaps" which are extremely cold temperatures which are temporary in nature. We get those sometimes, but extreme heat is usually what Mother Nature chooses to "bless" (!) us with.

And it all runs in cycles, for everyone. There are small cycles, such as heat waves/cold snaps, and larger cycles, such as drought/rainy cycles and possibly completely new cycles occurring due to global warming.

Success in growing things means learning to flow with the waves and snaps, not fight against them, whatever their reasons. It's, literally, the same thing as waves on the beach.  Fight the waves and the waves will always win.  Go with the waves and you can usually navigate within them to find your way either out to sea or to the shore, wherever you need to be.

I'm not saying to necessarily lay down and accept climate change without taking political action.  But in the garden, you can't fight it without losing your crop, so best adapt to what's happening and just get on with it. That also gives one a sense of productivity instead of helplessness. Work with what's happening and do what you can with what you have.  There's peace of mind to be had within that, whatever is going on.

So next week will be the time for planting not only my cucumber transplants, but also getting some pumpkins and summer lettuce started, because of course the heat wave also sent my spring lettuce into bolting. But next week the heat cycle breaks for a few days and we'll have seasonal temperatures once again.

In other news, one GOOD thing about the heat wave was that it gave us an advance start on killing most of our back lawn and kicked our baby squash plants into high gear.  Less water on the lawn means a bit more can be applied to the food crops. So, again, working with what's going on rather than against it, the heat does have at some advantages.

Global warming may NOT mean a world covered in water, but instead.....giant squash!?!