Sunday, November 13, 2011

Necessity the Mother of Invention

With winter approaching fast, I needed a inexpensive solution to two major outdoor issues:
  • How to keep our outdoor cat warm throughout the winter
  • How to store all the squash from our volunteer plants 
Eva doesn't do well in the house with the other cats - she was a stray for too long.  Her advanced age, (over 13 the vet estimates) demands a warm place to get out of the rain.  So when the rains started, we put a cushion for her on the bottom shelf of my hardware storage, covered it with a tarp and threw up a passageway for her to get into it.
Not a very elegant solution

 And how was I going to keep all that lovely butternut and acorn squash from freezing?  I really didn't want to spend the time cooking it, mashing it up and freezing it - I still had pumpkin in the freezer from last year.  And sometimes you just want a stuffed acorn squash, or roasted butternut.  But I didn't have the time or money to build a root cellar. 

Cat house, root cellar - how to combine the two?

So, I came up with the cat cellar!

First, I gathered up four cedar 2 x 4's that I had left over from building raised beds, and marked where the shelves would go.

Next I put on the shelf supports, offsetting them so that I didn't have two by fours sticking out of the frame the uprights made.  Hope that makes sense.

Eva in front of her future winter home.  I had all this lovely foam insulation laying around from an earlier upgrade inside the house - figured this would be a good way to insulate my cat cellar.

The first shelves in.  The plan was to put the food on the ground floor, and then provide a entrance for Eva that would be out of the weather.

First section done - Eva's hangout.  I figured I had better get some light into the bed area, since there will be days too cold and wet for her to hang outside, but she is still going to want to see out.  I had a piece of plexiglass (I never throw something away if I think i can use it again), that was almost the same size as the door - glued it to the plywood, then put weatherstripping around it and put on a 1 x 2 frame, which is what I used to attach the hinges too.  I still need to put in some caulking between the wood and the window on the outside.  There is a little barrel lock for us to be able to open up the door and check on her - and this is where the kids decided to put her food also - to keep other animals away from it.

View from the front - all that extra cedar left over from making raised beds got used up.  I did have to make some purchases for this - a sheet of plywood, and some extra pieces from Home Depots culled lumber area which were just a few dollars, the hinges and barrel bolts, but most of what was used I had stored around the yard.

A week later, I added the upper door.  the "root cellar" area is pretty well insulated with foam and weather stripping, and since there is a bit of heat from Eva, I don't think it will freeze, but there are plenty of air leaks I couldn't plug, so I think everything will store ok.  will just have to wait and see.  The top was full of butternut, but my kids have already gone through quite a bit.

Last addition - I found a heated pad at our local pet supply store made specifically for outdoor pets - it was a bit spendy, about $45, but I think worth it.  It only uses 20 watts, it goes into sleep mode, and only really comes on when there is a weight on it, which means it isn't on when Eva is not on there.  The cord is covered with a wire so she can't chew on the cord, and I plugged it into a surge suppressor just for safety.  There is no thermostat, it senses the body temp of the animal and adjusts automatically. 

Problem solved!

Meanwhile, while working on this, I am also working on cleaning up the yard and getting stalks and stuff cut up for compost.  Found a bonus by an old compost pile - borage starts from the borage I composted in late summer:
If you can harvest borage leaves when they are young and tender like this, you have a real treat!  Any older, and they get annoying bristles on the back.  Although they can still be used to make a Mediterranean green sauce.

Borage leaves taste like cucumber - have a light delicate taste - and are a great addition to sandwiches and salads.  My granddaughter ended up eating over half of my sandwich, she really liked the borage leaves.
Sometimes the garden gives us surprises that we have no control over - the volunteers that spring up from past plantings and the spilling of seed.  Don't be so quick to pull out what you think are weeds - they may end up feeding you.  Dandelion is a good example of this.  I only had three borage plants I grew this year, but so prolific are they that I will have borage starts all over my yard for years to come.  I am fine with that.  They are so high in nutritional content, that whether we eat them, the chickens do ( in the future when I get some), or they get composted, it is a win-win for my garden.  

Essential information about Borage:

Borage contains the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), typically in concentrations of 17-20%. Linolenic acid is omega-6 fatty acid that play vital role in restoration of joint health, immunity, healthy skin and mucus membranes.

Fresh Borage has high levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid); provides 35 mcg or 60% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidants that help remove harmful free radicals from the body. Along with other anti-oxidants, it has immune booster, wound healing and anti-viral effects.

Borage contains very high levels of vitamin A (140% of RDA) and carotene's. Both these compounds are powerful flavonoid anti-oxidants. Together, they act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.

Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A and carotene's are known to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

Borage is a good source for minerals like iron (41% of RDA), calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is an important co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the cellular metabolism. In addition, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, it determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.

The herb is one of the good sources of B-complex vitamins, particularly rich in niacin (vitamin B-3). Niacin helps lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body. In addition, it has riboflavin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates in adequate levels. These vitamins function as co-factors in the enzymatic metabolism inside the body.

So you see that you can easily grow all the vitamins, minerals and componets you need to stay healthy. 

Next project (in between rain storms and cold weather):  
Getting the garden tools ready for next season.

Rebar I used in the raised bed covers is rusting - actually, rebar is rusting when you buy it at the lumber yard.  My rake and hoe are also showing signs of rust.

When I bought my house (October 2009), I hit some yard sales while waiting for it to close, to see if I could find some used tools and not have to buy many new.  I found a few, and one of the sellers threw this rake in for free.  I used it for two years, but now it needs some TLC.  Why not just throw it away and buy a new one?  Because this one is perfectly good if just taken care of.  All of your tools have the ability to last many years if taken care of.  So, as soon as the temp outside gets over fifty degrees, I will be using a product that neutralizes rust and creates a black paintable surface, and then coating them in a rust inhibitor paint.  A quick sanding and waxing of any wood handles, and we are ready for next spring.

Now, off to uncover my tomatoes and see if there are any ready to bring in. 


    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    The frost is on the pumpkin...

    Oct 25th - woke up to a light frost this morning, with more predicted.  Everything I care about in the garden is covered up.  Rather than flaunt the bowl of raspberries I picked when I came home this afternoon, I will show you what I did with them:
    My granddaughter is one of the reasons that we don't get a lot of raspberries - they mostly go to her.  That's ok - keeps her healthy and helps her develop a love for fresh, organic choices.  (I know where the frozen stash is anyway).

    She is also a big fan of dried tomato chips. between her and her Aunt Jess, they have gone through almost 100 pounds of tomatoes so far ( that is about a gallon of dried tomatoes).


    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    The Fall Garden, part 1

    Two weeks ago when the autumn rains started, I hurriedly threw on row cover on most everything I wanted to save, what with the temps dipping down into the forties.  That is the advantage of raised beds and the small home garden- you can create micro climates to extend the growing season.

    The rewards are there, in the bowls of tomatoes I am still harvesting:
    Plum tomatoes from the south side of the bed

    To extend the life of your tomatoes, you have to go in and clean out the dead leaves, the spent branches you picked tomatoes off of.  With increased moisture in the air, and the cold weather, you want to make sure you have good air flow and limit the amount of mold that can grow.  This is before the cleanup.

    Cleaning up allows you to also pick all those tomatoes that have been hiding out of site.  I also picked the rest of the sage and dried it in my food dryer ( on a low setting).  Will be using that in stuffing and sausage the rest of the winter.

    The east tomato bed all cleaned up.  There was so much foliage in here that the ground was dry, even though it had been raining off and on for a week.  This way the water gets to the roots, I don't have to water, and there is good air circulation  this is not my main bed of tomatoes, so i am not covering this up.  There are not a lot of tomatoes left to ripen on these branches, and they are mostly the yellow pear.  I figure about 3-4 days of sunny weather ( which we have coming up) will ripen them. 

    There about 30 pounds of tomatoes left on the vines to ripen - I'm hoping the warm weather we have over the next few days will help.  Picked about 20 pounds of paste tomatoes on Wednesday after work - which all went into the dehydrator.

    The rain stopped for a bit last weekend - long enough for me to plant my garlic bed:

    Last spring this is where the potatoes and broccoli grew.  But I am moving the location of those to another bed, so got this one ready for garlic.

    Ready for the garlic:
    This is a soft neck variety - can't remember the name because I left the tag outside - think it is a silver rose, but bought them from my favorite nursery - 13th Street Nursery here in Salem, Oregon.  Also picked up several blueberries - they were having a sale on all their perennials!

    It is not supposed to rain for several days, so that give me time to finish mulching, get out the old corn stalks, cover up the silly tomato that took root in my carrot/pea bed, bring the dried herbs in from the shed, build a small storage area (root cellar) for our squash, build a winter shelter for Hitlers mistress, pick the seed beans for drying, pick the last of the grapes...  I think you get the idea.  When you are a gardener, there is a never ending list of things to do, not enough good weather to do it in, so you have to work fast in the fall to get it all done.  Hmm, should probably seal those leaks in the gutters, winterize the faucets, start raking leaves, plant the blueberries, ....
    Picked the Chinese lanterns before the rains started; they are now drying in the shed.
    One of today's projects - get the corn stalks and sunflowers stalks out of the ground.
    Off to work..


    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Thoughts at the beginning of autumn

    Autumn - 1974
    I started college at 17 (thirty-eight years ago), and felt horribly alone.  I had chosen to move 50 miles away from where I grew up and knew no one.  I had left the small group of friends that I had painstakingly gathered about me over the years and the loneliness was unbearable.  And I found that first week at college, in the library, a book that would nourish me the rest of my life.  

    The title drew me in, “Journal of a Solitude”.  I was unfamiliar with May Sarton; had never read any of her poems or novels.  She published this journal in 1973, about a year before I picked it up.  I delved into it like diving into a cold lake on a hot summer day.  She was one of the first authors I knew who had the gift for laying her soul bare, exposing the loneliness, frustration, anger of being human, and I knew I was not alone.
    Her words have been constant gifts to me in this struggle we call life.  When I can’t express what I feel, I pick up one of her journals, ( I also have Plant Dreaming Deep and the House by the Sea); open to the month that I am currently in, and always find something that nourishes me.  When I first started reading May, I was just a girl, but even then I found common ground with her.  An epiphany tonight – I read her entry from October 5th:

    I woke in tears this morning.  I wonder whether it is possible at nearly sixty to change oneself radically.  Can I learn to control resentment and hostility, the ambivalence, born somewhere far below the conscious level?...  There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour – put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me….

    The realization was that I am now almost as old as May was when she wrote this.  I feel gratefulness to her for putting into words those things that I still struggle with.  You would think after 40 some years I would have gone further in my journey toward – toward what?  

    I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep…It is all closed in, to a kind of still and intense waiting.   Is this a key?  Keep busy with survival.  Imitate the trees.  Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain… Sit it out.  Let it pass.  Let it go.

    There have been times in my life when friends have compared me to Job. Perhaps it is because of the many trials I have had to face in my life.  There is a common misconception that Job bore patiently his trials – not so – he was willing to accept whatever came his way.  What angered him was friends trying to convince him that he had done something wrong to earn these trials, this was his punishment, he should repent, admit his sin, and die.  Or something like that.  He wasn’t angry at God; he was angry at his friends.  I think he was bewildered, and the only way he knew to get through it was to sit in ashes and weep.  I can certainly understand that.  But for me, having something to do in the garden has always helped.  If it is raining too hard to work outside, I can look over seed catalogs and dream about next spring.

    My frustration in my life is that there is never enough time.  And energy.  I have bits of thoughts, starts of poems, floating around in my mind that break through once in a while – but I need the time to develop them.  I need quietness and some solitude to nourish them.  That is not something that I get very often.  Working full time, taking care of my family, doing the barest chores necessary to maintain life and sanity, doesn’t leave much time to nurture the poems that try to come through.

    Last fall, going in to work through the back way, the rain slicking the concrete and making the red maple leaves bright, I saw one brilliant leaf that had been ground into the concrete by the myriad of office workers heels.  That leaf called out to me, “I did not deserve this death”, and I have sought for time ever since to tell that leaves story.  But there is no quiet.  There is no true solitude.  Even when I shut myself in my room, I am not alone.  Macie senses my desire to be without her and sits and cries at my door.   

    Mom, don't you love me?
     Someone once asked William Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study.  She answered, “I can show you his library, but his study is out of doors”.   When I am at my lowest, even if it is the middle of the night, in a rainstorm, I find solace by going outside and letting nature envelop me.  At least until the mosquitoes start to bite.  Then I shake myself and go back inside, but am always comforted by the few moments stolen alone with nature.

    So I write this for all you, for mothers and fathers who work, take care of your children, for anyone who is striving to survive in this economy, this world, trying to hold onto your house, the few things that really matter to you – those who take care of elderly parents, own their own business, who deal with physical pain that can be so draining, who fall exhausted into bed at night, wondering when your time will come.  Well, this is your time.  It may not be what you thought it would be.  You have to treat your time/energy like money in the bank.  You only have so much – make sure what you expend it on is worth it.  Pare down your life.  Say no to the things that rob you – even though they seem worthwhile endeavors.  Simplify, simplify.   Focus on those things that you are passionate about.  Keep busy with survival.  Imitate the trees.  Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain… Sit it out.  Let it pass.  Let it go.  Accept.  Be grateful.  Joy can fill you even in the midst of a time of pain.  It doesn't have to be the giddiness of youth, or even the passion of a first love.  but those moments of simple joy are so worth waiting for.

    (Sally, my thoughts are with you today - and my prayers for a quick recovery)


    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Why have I not posted anything to my blog?

    Working 8 hrs a day, working in the garden the rest of the daylight hours, and preserving all the food, that's why!

    But I have been taking lots of pic's, and later this fall will do a follow-up on lessons learned from this season - to help your first-timers out a bit...

    So this is what I have been doing since the last time I posted in July...

    Tomato Harvest started out small

    Then everything started to get ripe!  This view is with Sage and Tickweed

    Borage (in front) really drew the bees in to pollinate

    Rain was predicted last weekend, so picked everything that was ripe

    Plenty of sauce still from last year, so have been drying the paste tomatoes

    Delicious dried...

    But also packing them in oil with garlic and rosemary, and sealing them in a hot water bath

    What I went out and picked quickly tonight, before it got too dark
    Apple tree produced for the first time - this is the tree I grew from a seed - 13 years old

    Enough apples for one pie and one tart
    Drying catnip for winter use, and chocolate peppermint for sachets

    Harvesting Calendula (pot marigold) seeds.  Let me know if you want any!

    Harvesting Borage seed - let me know if you want any of these also
    Ever-bearing raspberries still blooming in September

    Still harvesting berries

    Still picking a good handful of berries every day
    let some leeks and onions go to seed - found that bumblebees hide up in the seedpods at night to keep warm

    Laying down fresh straw for mulch - only a small portion of the garden done so far

    Sometimes I just sit close to the sunflowers and watch the finches come into feast

    Sunflowers were really tall

    A Grey Mammoth ready to harvest
    Corn is ready to harvest too - saving some to dry and grind for cornmeal
    First ear I harvested

    I take the kernels off the cob, blanch and cool, then freeze on cookies sheets and pack in freezer bags
    Back yard near last years compost is covered with volunteers - mostly butternut and acorn squash.  And a few tomatoes
    My oldest daughter and my granddaughter during a family visit

    My son hates having his pic taken, which is why I have to post this!  This was during my daughters visit from Minnesota
    Had to work in a visit to the State Fair - since we live just a few blocks away

    Yum - ice cream on a hot day!

    One of the amazing quilts on display - all hand embroidered
    It wasn't all animals, food and quilts at the fair.  I also was able to make a good connection with some bug people from the Extension Service who will help me get a handle on some of my bug issues.

    Peas and carrots for fall  - and a volunteer tomato plant from the compost.  Not sure what kind it is, but plan on putting row cover over it and trying to keep it going till Thanksgiving.

    Last but not least, we are in full swing with the Grape Harvest!

    Thompson  Seedless
    So if you don't hear from me for another week or so, I am still here.  But am working my you know what off processing tomatoes, corn, keeping the garden cleaned up, spreading down mulch, have to put compost on the berries and mulch them, finish gathering the last of the beans, and am cleaning out the sheds ( once we are done drying herbs in there) to make room for the chicken coop.  Hope to have more time to blog in detail by October.