Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ok! NOW I'm in the Christmas Mood!

No pictures with this post, because I didn't think to take along the camera last night, but we had such a marvelous time, that I just had to share my thoughts with you. We’re in the Christmas mood after a terrific concert last night. We live out here in the country in northern Indiana, and the closest town to us is across the state line in Michigan. It’s a tiny town, with one stop light, two bars, four churches and one gas station.

Lately it’s been having a changeover from sleepy little farming town to an artsy community. Part of the energy in the change came from one place, the Acorn Theater. Two men from Chicago, with lots of experience in theater, bought an old factory that used to make corset stays out of turkey feathers, and changed part of it into a theater. It’s a good sized stage, a huge Barton pipe organ with pipes hung all around the room, and seating that changes with the shows from some intimate tables and theater seating to all the chairs they can squeeze into the place and it holds about 250. They have all kinds of amazing acts come in to entertain, plus open mike nights, videos and special celebrations that are such fun.

Living nearby are singers with the Chicago Opera Company, and they’ve started doing Opera at the Acorn, a series of Opera based events that bring world class entertainment, out here in the middle of nowhere. Last night was their 5th Annual Christmas show, billed as the Jolliest Christmas Show Ever. They brought along a harpist, classically trained pianist from the Ukraine, a guitarist and a violinist, to accompany the incredible singers.

When we arrived, someone was outdoors roasting chestnuts, grown on their own trees, and handing them out to everyone. It was such fun to see an event like this in a small town, because everyone was there, from the moneyed lady in the full length chinchilla coat, to the teenaged goth girls, in their black hair and lipstick. Hugs everywhere, and everyone visited so that it was tough to move through the theater to our seats. They started with songs from Handel’s Messiah and ended the first part with a sing along of the Halleluiah Chorus, accompanied by the booming organ. They handed out the sheet music, but like most, we can’t follow it, so we just picked a singer we liked, and sang along with that one as best we could. It was a wild musical romp and somehow sounded goosebump-raising great!

After that they took a break, and an older gentleman climbed up onto the seat of the organ wearing a peaked elf hat, and played traditional carols. The second part of the evening was a mix of all the performers favorites, some great, O Holy Night, and I Wonder as I Wander, to the ridiculous, like I Saw Daddy Choking Santa Claus. What fun that was. They ended the night by bringing their three dogs out onto the stage wearing antlers while we all sang along to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We feel so lucky to have this kind of crazy, talented people in the area, and glad we can afford to spring for tickets now and then.

Seems like each year, I need a good strong dose of Christmas music to get me jump-started in the holiday mood. That sure did it. I'm in the mood now, and think I'll probably get those presents wrapped today. Merry Christmas, and God Bless us All!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Lessons From the Greenhouse

We're having such fun trying to extend the growing season in our little unheated greenhouse. Now I know that tomatoes are heat-lovers, but with dreams of savory home-grown tomatoes in winter, I snipped the tips from some growing plants in the garden, and rooted them in soil to bring inside to try.
They rooted well and started to grow, but just couldn't make it. Two of the plants took on the strangest coloring. Their leaf veins started turning purple! We also had aphids and whiteflies on some of the plants, so I thought that there was some kind of infestation going on there too, but finally found that it was just too cold for the poor tomato plants. When the soil gets too cold for them, they can't take up the calcium they need and they turn purple, starting with the large leaf veins, and spreading out into the edges. So the tomatoes have now come inside to the living room bay window.The green beans were a semi-success. They did well for a while, blooming and actually growing a few small beans, but as it's gotten colder, they've now given up and will have to go.
The hot peppers seemed to be aphid magnets, and no amount of soapy water would discourage them, so they had to go too, as did the other plant with whiteflies.

So, with those out of the way, we now just have cold loving plants in the greenhouse and they're doing well. Slowly, but well. The pea pods are doing very well, growing out of their pot and down the wall of water filled heat storage buckets. I'm so looking forward to picking pods off of them for winter salads.We have spinach, collards, onions, three different kinds of lettuces, herbs and some radishes and beets. The radishes seem to be all tops, and the herbs are doing just fine. The greens all seem to be growing well, just in slow motion, which is fine.We have no added heat out there at all, but the double polycarbonate glazing and a stapled up layer of plastic with dead air space on the south side help gather what sunlight we do get and at least insulate. The temperature maintains in the 40's while outside it's been down to 16 and is usually in the 30's during these days of high wind and blizzard. Jim just checked the temps, and it's 6 degrees above zero this morning, and 33 out in the greenhouse. That's the coldest it's gotten so far. Not bad, for no added heat at all.
I took these pictures before the blizzard hit and we only had a few inches of snow. For the past four days it's been snow and high winds and we couldn't get out for 3 days of that time.
Last night I went out and harvested a salad for us for dinner. Just enough for a generous salad for two.

This greenhouse has been such a fun experiment. Even if we can't grow all the good things we want to in there, it's been a nice thing to step into that space on these dreary days and see green things to greet me. We keep three florescent lights going for about 12 hours a day to help the plants along, and that costs us very little. We gain a bit of protection on that side of the house because of the greenhouse there, and that wall, which has always been cold to the touch in the wintertime, is warm now.

We're really looking forward to time to start our seedlings on those shelves in the early spring. That's when we'll really enjoy it. We're already making our list for our first seed order of 2011.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Do trees have a sense of humor?

MessageThis eastern cottonwood is devoid of leaves now except for the very top. It reminds me of a new style haircut where they head is shaven along the sides, with only a mop above. I have to smile each time I notice this tree out there with its top fringe flagging in the breeze.

I love trees; perhaps mostly for their perseverance. I've seen them growing out of seemingly solid blocks of rock along the eastern Appalachians; clinging to mountain pinnacles high in the Sierras of California, stunted by wind and weather, yet living. In the deep, dark forests of Northern Maine small pines grew like blades of grass under the shadow of their forebears. Most can not survive the competition for sun and space, yet they make the effort because they're trees.

I have made my bed at night, under the thick intertwining branches of pines. I know that if a storm comes, the pines will provide the best protection as they shed rain off their densely packed needles and layers of branches.

It was probably 10 years ago I came here and found that cottonwood struggling. It was small then (cottonwoods grow fast), and overshadowed by a dense growth of autumn olive bushes. The little tree reached out at an angle, around the bushes, wanting more of the sunlight. I cut the brush and dug out the extensive network of roots to give the tree its freedom. It rewards us today with its beauty. You might notice in the photo, near the bottom where the trunk curves somewhat. That's the reach around the autumn olive 10 years back.

I've planted trees on this 3 acres of home, and will continue to do so long as I am able, for their represent to me a continuity of the land, and we are the land.

If I could only be a tree.

by Jim

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happiness is!

Happiness is the sun shining through the trees on a misty morning that promises us anything's possible, as long as we believe.Happiness is all the firewood we'll need for this winter, stacked against the newly resided garage and covered, ready for warm toes, and long relaxing conversations-all winter long.Happiness is-this corner of the farm, where there used to be scrub and thorns, now carefully planned, planted, pruned and tended until this patch of sunlight lays on it like a note of grace in our own beautiful world.Happiness is green and growing things in the greenhouse. This year we're extending the season with all kinds of herbs and veggies in a grand experiment all our own. Such good things there to bring a taste of summer goodness to our wintertime meals.Happiness is this crazy upside-down grape tomato plant that had already given up the ghost outside and is now bearing like crazy inside the greenhouse where we can watch it from the living room window. It's even reblooming! Happiness is the blush of red leaves on the blueberries as they pull into themselves to rest for the winter season.Happiness is one perfect red sassafras leaf among the yellow maple leaves. And Happiness is this exuberant yellow tree on the path through the woods, celebrating fall in silent glory, all by itself until I was lucky enough to wander by and share in the joy. Life is very good these days.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Garden

Lesson 1-The tiny pumpkins that never grew to their full size are just fine when you see them together with our tiny grandson—they fit just right!

Lesson 2-It’s not necessarily a bad thing when a groundhog comes to snack on your garden.

We grew Scarlet Runner Beans this year and they took over the fence. Grew so plentiful that they were bending over the fence. The groundhog that lives under the woodpile took a liking to the bean leaves and carefully pruned them back for us. Caused the beans to rebloom and the fence is fine! We didn’t mind sharing at all.

Lesson 3-Sometimes you need to think about the outcome BEFORE you plant the seeds. Amaranth sounded like a marvelous experiment, who knew it’d grow 8 feet tall, and so heavy it waved around like a club in the wind, beating up other plants.

Now that I’ve harvested the seed heads and hung them upside down, hoping the seeds will fallout into the bin—I realize that I have no idea how to cook and serve the seeds. Hmmm, maybe this wasn’t such a great idea?And last, Lesson number 4-Cucumbers sometimes grow in the strangest places. I swear, this grew all by itself, right there! I love gardening. I never know what’s going to happen next.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Whooo Cooks for Youoooooooo?

It's an owl's night tonight. I'm not sure just what's going on out there in the growing dusk, but the evening has been alive with barred owls, from several directions, all around us, the owls are calling and calling. Their distinctive call is unmistakable and urgent, and it arouses a feeling in us that makes us want to get out and look for prey--or to do something wild!

We live in a wonderful place with a lot of deep dark pines all around, and more woods, and the owls have always found it to be a good place to be. We've seen and heard them so often that we named our home after them, Owl's Haven, a safe haven for the delightfully wise and ever so mysterious, barred owl.
According to Wikipedia: The adult is 44 cm long with a 112 cm wingspan. It has a pale face with dark rings around the eyes, a yellow beak and brown eyes. It is the only typical owl of the eastern United States which has brown eyes; all others have yellow eyes. The head is round and lacks ear tufts, a distinction from the short eared owl. The upper parts are mottled gray-brown. The underparts are light with markings; the chest is barred horizontally while the belly is streaked lengthwise. The legs and feet are covered in feathers up to the talons.

Since we so seldom see them, their chief draw for us is their calls. It's a repeated melodious call that sounds like: "Who cooks for you, (pause) Who cooks for you allllllllll?" The female, when looking for a mate, warbles the alll at the end, otherwise, it's the same call. We've been listening for that call for so many years, that we've heard lots of variations.

In early spring, there are the calls of two owls in love, who echo the calls back and forth for a while, then finally discintegrate into a wild mixed hooting, that sounds like a lust-driven melee of some sort. There are the tentative youngster hoots of confused pitch and tone, usually corrected snippily by some oldster who paces it out in precise syllables, sounding irked at "these kids today", who just can't get it right. We live in a year round concert of these magical musical singers and seldom see them, since they're so good at hiding in the dense trees around us.
A few times, we've been fortunate to share in a special moment, treasured for years and remembered as we listen to the calls. There was one time, early on, when Jim joined me here on the farm, when I happened to see an owl settle on a branch in the tree nearby. We slowly moved nearer and I pointed it out to Jim, and we stood in awe as the mighty bird looked down on us from about 20 feet away, calmly judging whether we had a right to be there or not.
Another time, in early spring, the owls were calling, looking for mates. In the rapid confusion of calls coming from two owls near our home, our grandaughter raised her head and called back to them. It called one in, who landed in a tree near our garden, and we all watched while it continued to call and the mate joined the first one, then they got acquainted, right there near us in the open. What a rare and precious opportunity.

So tonight they've been calling all around us, for hours, and we've seen one flying low over our back yard to land nearby. We're reluctant to go outside to try to spy on their activities, since it seems as though the timing may be such that there's a youngster fledging and on the ground and the adults are looking to protect her. We don't want to do anything to risk their rescue operation.
I can't get any pictures of ours here, it's too dark already, but will post some pictures found on the net of these gorgeous birds we share our home grounds with. Aren't we the luckiest people ever? Life is very good.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

He's got teeth-Two of 'em! Honest!

I confess, we've collapsed into that silly, sloppy state of grandparenthood where we know, with absolute certainty, that our grandkids are the best, smartest, cutest, most lovable and adorable kids in the world. We're already over the hill with our granddaughter, so when our youngest sprouted his two new baby teeth in the bottom front of his mouth, I was there with camera in hand to document the historic event.
He's got the greatest smile ever.
When he flashes that smile, those two pearly whites just shine and reflect the light.
He's so very adorable, that the lights shine a little brighter and music plays sweeter-truly!
His sister can tease him and he smiles great big and shows off those two new teeth.But not for the camera. Not today.
Not even when Grandpa coaxes him while I stand ready with the camera.
Un-uh, not happening today!
But you have to admit, he's still the cutest little guy ever was!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Our Garden's Running Amok!

It's that time of year, when all the hard work we've done to set up and plant that garden is paying off and we're just running full speed to try to keep up with it. Jim and I spent days out there this week catching up with the weeding, then yesterday mowed the whole yard, raked up the grass and spent hours tucking the clippings in around the plants to mulch them against the dry days ahead.

This is our best garden ever. We've had one meal of green beans and new potatoes, and it was a delicious forerunner to what's coming. We've spent so much time composting stuff and adding it and tons of all kinds of vegetation to the old sand dunes we live on, that it's finally becoming a fertile place to plant in. With the addition of the greenhouse this spring, we could get our specific plants out there and really enjoy watching the results.
Here's Jim pulling weeds and I'm snapping the pictures.
The melon plants are escaping the bed and flowing down the walkways-who knows how far they'll go!
There's one small zucchini, soon to be ready, followed by many more than we'll possibly consume by ourselves. This may be the year we set up a produce stand out front.
The Scarlet Runner Beans are taking over the fence, and what beautiful bloom!
Our second cucumber-the first one was eaten already.
Start of the herbs-lots of basil! Yummmm.
Almost tomatoes! With 17 tomato plants this year, we should have all we could possibly use, and then some.Pea Pods, in a wonderful green jumble. It's always hard to find the pods in this confusing tangle.
Each year, we try to plant something new and different. This year it's artichokes. Don't know if they'll ripen before frost, but aren't the plants spectacular? They're about 2 feet tall now, and share the bed with zinnias and multiplier onions in bloom. It's really a show.
Corn, when it gets close to ready, we'll have to put up the electric fence to keep the raccoons out.
The horseradish looks ready to take over the world.
First year for the new asparagus bed and it's coming along very well, with some volunteers I just let stay, like the nasturtiums and tomato.

Little hot peppers coming on strong. We're going to wait for them to turn red before harvesting.
Overview of the northern beds, with lots of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Great stuff doing well.