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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pinky's gone missing!

Our 13 year old big boy, Pinky, disappeared the Friday before Thanksgiving. He went outside that Friday morning and never came back. At first we thought that he might have been locked in someone's garage somewhere, but it's not like him to wander off like that. He is getting a little arthritic, so he pretty much sticks around the laundry room or huddles on the front porch with several others in our herd.

Before his disappearance, he had an operation for an infected ear growth. It healed very well and he seemed to be fine. He was on antibiotics the whole time and wore the cone of shame. We had him barricaded in the laundry room for 2 weeks. After that, it was business as usual. The morning of his disappearance, he was acting rather strange though. I found him sleeping on the bathroom rug and then he started pacing around the bathroom when I was in the shower. Roland let him out and that was that.

We checked Seattle Animal Shelter, and left a notice in their log book (I could have come home with several replacements! That's why I don't volunteer there.)

Apparently a coyote had been spotted a few blocks away, so that might have been his demise as he is fat and slow, so would make for good tender vittles. Maybe he had an underlying illness and had a kitty stroke or something and crawled into a crevice within the back yard vortex. He could be anywhere. Roland did have a poke about when Pinky first disappeared and didn't find anything.

Pinky is somewhat shy and scroungy, so I doubt anyone would want to carry him off (except the coyote). In fact, Roland kept insisting that Pinky's just big boned and really is an athlete. I said, "Yeah, like a Sumo Wrestler!" His very large blue eyes in proportion to his head, along with the way he 'beaches' himself on the furniture, makes him look like an arctic seal pup.

So, the one cat that shouldn't have gone missing, has gone missing. You'd think several of our problem children would get into trouble first such as, Mamah, who entraps herself on a neighbor's roof periodically or of course, Floyd. But Pinky? Call this one a new Mog Cottage unsolved mystery.

Floyd is Back to Being Floyd Again

I know it's been a while since I've said anything about Floyd. Well, $7500 and 3 near death experiences later, he's now doing great! His nickname is now European vacation.

We switched his regular vet to one who is sympathetic to cats with distended colons and feels they can live a productive life. The new vet told us that he needs a high fiber diet and may need to get flushed out every so often. So far, Floyd's been dropping poops around the place on his own. His bladder never seems to be very full, so we haven't been squoaging him so much. In fact, when I was cleaning out the tomato bed and had the cat proofing grids off, he jumped in and immediately peed. I was so happy to have to shoo him out of there.

Roland's been feeding him an abundance of cat treats to fatten him up and it seems to be working as he has been gaining weight (up to 10-1/2 pounds) but has also turned into a cat treat beggar. He sits on a stool next to the desk and yowls until he gets some. Spoiled thing.

Also, he has been getting periodic acupuncture treatments by a vet that comes to the house. It seems to be helping as Floyd is walking better and getting some continence back. This vet is also having us give him cranberry pill supplements to help with bladder health. That's a battle at times and Floyd has gotten good at spitting the pill out, even holding it in his mouth into another room before getting rid of it. We also have to trap him early in the day of his appointment, otherwise he goes missing. Somehow, he knows, even though the appointments aren't on a consistent schedule. The vet calls first to make sure Floyd's around. Roland has been bartering some of the cost off in exchange for his carpentry skills to work on a yurt in the guy's back yard (he lives in a log house). As you can tell, the vet lives an alternative lifestyle.

Floyd is still gimpy, as his back left leg makes him look like a ballerina in first position when he stands. When he runs, it flails out sideways more than straight back. But, I think it just adds to his charm, which is why we saved his bacon in the first place. Now to keep him out of further trouble before we have to take out a mortgage.

Purple Sprouting Slime & Other Storm Damage

This Fall has been rather rough on late crops. After 8 long month of waiting for the Purple Sprouting broccoli, the Thanksgiving week snow took its toll. Now, you're probably thinking, "Why didn't she put up a hoop house to protect it?" Well, the answer is two-fold.

First, it would have had to be a circus tent as the stuff was huge and swung over the sides of the beds. Second, I got stuck at my place in Arlington during the whole event and Roland was rather, shall we say, inattentive due to an unconscious desire to see its demise. So far this Fall, we've gotten 1-1/2 servings of broccoli heads off the stuff, not exactly a sterling amount considering it's output of leaves and the 3" diameter trunks on each plant.

Now the yard smells like rotting broccoli.
The constant pounding rain hasn't helped either. The only saving grace is that the new growth at the top is still good on most of the plants...and still just leaves. Geotropism is taking over and the ends are bending up. The stuff is tough! I'm going to clean up the rotting carnage and hopefully, the broccoli will make somewhat of a comeback. I found the long lost bale of hay exposed that was buried beneath the foliage and the celery is now getting more light. I'm going to mulch the other beds now that I have a little spare time until January (winter quarter starts).

High winds several weeks ago took out the Cathedral to the Peas trellis. Snapped it right off at the base! It almost looks like it was just taken down and laid across the beds. Roland never was satisfied with the way it turned out as he found the mahogany to be too brittle, and plans to make a new one out of cherry. I told him not to make it so tall.

In the mean time, I've cleaned out the parking strip beds and have planted fava beans and crimson clover for the winter. I followed the advice of an old Sicilian guy who plants his beans 4-6 inches down, depending on the type of winter (mine went in 6" down as we're supposed to have a cold one this year). He stakes them in the spring and usually harvests them in early summer. I'm planting heat lovers in those beds next year, so I'm hoping that the beans will be done and the tomatoes, peppers and zucchs can go in.

I've finally cleaned out the rotting tomato plants, removed the plastic off the cloche and planted garlic and shallots in that bed. My Reemay shipment just came in, so that's going over the cloche and in goes some winter greens.

The swiss chard and leeks road the storm well, although the chard is getting smaller. My other root crops and kale are also doing well, not being eaten alive this time of year. Now I have a hankerin' to make a pot of soup.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Last of the Tomatoes - For Sure this Time

Indeterminate: Not knowing when to quit.

Well, Now that it's half way into November, I decided it's time to whack-a-doodle the tomatoes. As you can see, they have been rather late bloomers; their saving grace having been a well protected cloche enclosure. Altogether, the harvest was rather lacking this year.

I managed to harvest about half ripish and half green - the green being the heirlooms, of course. The vines were a sorry site; that look of desperation when they want to ripen just those last few fruits but the cold has thwarted that determination. Despite the cold, they've managed to keep plugging away. I was even whacking new blooms until late last month! They haven't been watered for weeks, either.

Now, it's time for fried green tomatoes and maybe a little Salsa Verde. Anyone have a good recipe for the salsa?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Top 10 Things To Do While Waiting for Purple Sprouting Broccoli to Flower

10. Contemplate tearing it out.
9. Create a Purple Sprouting Advent calendar to count the 240 day period to maturity.
8. Measure the diameter of the trunks (and I mean trunks!) and its height every week.
7. Find the largest leaf and submit it to the
Guinness Book of World Records.
6. Stake it up so it's not flopping over from it's own weight.

5. Find out how many critters are living among it.

4. Fertilize it just for kicks and giggles.

3. Figure out how the heck you're going to pro
tect it from frost and wet, heavy snow.
2. Hold a neighborhood skit for kids on
Jack and Broccoli Stalk...

....And the number one thing to do?

1. Make a list of all the crops you could have planted instead!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What To Do With Your Dormant Beds? Happy Halloween!

As usual, we've procrastinated until the last minute to get the Halloween decorations up. Like, did it today. I cleaned out the two beds in the parking strip and thought, "hmmm, those look like cat-proofed graves."

So, we dug out the scant Halloween decorations purchased last week and I planted head stones and faux bones in them. Of course, the bones are Styrofoam, otherwise they would add some calcium to the soil. But I did chop in the old pea and bean remnants for nitrogen. Spiderwebs went up the Cathedral to the peas for that extra Gothic touch.

Now, our wacky weather has totally confused some of the crops. Since one of the remaining zucchinis is still blooming and producing fruit, I left it. I figure it's a built-in pumpkin patch of sorts. We're still getting ripe tomatoes, for Pete's sake.

We put candles in front of the tomb stones so when it got dark, trick-or-treaters can see them. We've been getting all sort of compliments from the parental units as they bring their costumed charges by. The cats have scattered, but the coons show up between door bell rings. Being masked bandits, they fit in with the street crowd. They're always greedy for cat food and are professional tricksters for their stolen treats. I wouldn't be surprised if one of them didn't mug one of the little kids for their candy.

So, if your beds are out where the public can see them, be creative in ways to spruce them up for holidays. Maybe I'll wrap them like giant presents for the holidays. Roland suggested graves for Santa and his elves. Sick. Hmmmm. I do like Edward Gorey.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away! And Take the Spiders With You

Well, despite the cold, wet summer, my tomatoes have finally started to ripen - in October! We replaced the cloche plastic for now, just to keep the rain off of them. Unfortunately, I've been picking the larger varieties in threesies every week; not enough to go through the trouble to make into a sauce as the previous harvest goes bad by the time the new one is ready. We've been eating them like apples.

We've had a brief window of fairly nice weather at the beginning of this month. I've taken advantage of it to do some fall harvesting in general and clean out some beds.

We harvested 11 pounds of potatoes out of one of our claw foot tubs, which I think is a respectable amount. I managed to stab just a few with the garden fork while digging them out. The marigolds loved the tub, so I planted them back in after the potatoes were removed.

We also harvested quite a few onions. And after letting them cure under the cover of the front porch, I've braided the stems together and have them hanging in the kitchen to store.

Now, it has started to rain AGAIN. In fact, it rained hard all last night. My zucchinis have a terrible case of powdery mildew, so I have written them off now. My sugar pumpkins haven't fared much better, but the pumpkins attached are still green. One is just starting to turn green. I don't care about the Halloween thing, I just want to make pumpkin pie.

Other crops have done well in this type of Purple Sprouting broccoli.

There seems to be an over abundance of spiders this year. I guess it's a sign of fall. There's nothing like a 'Hairy Wappler' staring at you from in the bath tub. It seems that every time I walk out the door and down the front steps, I run into at least one web. I then do the 'get the spider outa my hair' jig, wildly flailing my hands around me head while my eyes are cross-eyed. I have past trauma with spiders, you know. One time, when I was a kid, I climbed through a coral fence and my head smacked into a web. When I stood up, the spider was hanging right between my eyes! I yelped so loud, my horse thought the world was about to end. It was, for me. It probably was for the spider too.

The sunflower blooms are getting smaller and smaller now. Roland has harvested some of the seed for next year, and the squirrels are harvesting the seed for whenever. I suspect the whole neighborhood will have an abundance of sunflowers next summer.

Our dog, Snorky, practically bursts an artery when he sees a squirrel outside. He spends a good part of the day looking out the front window for squirrels. Walks consist of squirrel patrols. Lately, walks have been short because of the rainy weather. Squirrels are smart enough to at least stay out of the rain as we don't see any while we're dumb enough to be in it.

Not that I'm not a north-westerner. I've lived with this kind of weather my whole life. Now I'm sick of it. Normally I love the fall when we get Indian summers and the air is crisp and clear and the leaves are drop-dead gorgeous. There's something about the gray weather that just deadens the colors though. The leaves droop or just fall off before you can appreciate their beauty. Which is why I don't plant tulips for spring. But that's another story.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Know Fall is Here When Your Brocolli Blows Over & Your Cloche Blows Away

This is what happens when you don't use UV protected plastic. Actually, this sheet lasted all summer and was cheap, so I'm happy I got a summer season out of it. I figure I can now change out the cloche cover to Reemay for the the winter.

Roland and I were out of town for the weekend, and when we came back, this plastic destruction we found plastic destruction. Apparently, a strong wind blew through during the weekend that also managed to break off some sunflower heads, blow over several of the very top heavy Purple Sprouting broccoli plants and ultimately shred the plastic on our tomato cloche. Luckily, I had just done a major prune job on the tomatoes, so they were situated below and behind the broccoli that acted like a wind screen - sort of like Bolleana poplars in a farm field.

Fall brings out the nesting side of me, where I just want to sit in front of a fire and knit or make all sorts of soups and stews. Luckily, we've had good bean, potato and onion crops, just the ingredients for soups and stews. We've been pulling out a few carrots and I can probably salvage some of the celery that got rather shaded out from the broccoli takeover. It's good to have a ready supply of soup making ingredients out of the garden by Fall.

I've just gotten a variety of winter seeds delivered from Territorial Seed Company in which I've started to plant for starts such as cabbage and root crops. As soon as the tomatoes are Tango Uniform, I plan to plant garlic and leafy greens under the cloche. The Reemay should allow the rain through, but keep the frost off and protect the crops from crushing snow, assuming we get some in this Pacific North Wet climate. Our snow is often referred to as 'Cascade Concrete' as it comes down wet and heavy and packs into sheets of glare ice. Any snow balls that happen to find their way to your head, without the protection of a helmet, can cause a concussion.

The squirrels predict a cold and wet winter this year. They've started to scurry about early this season, gathering nuts and seeds while sometimes unsuccessfully dodging cars. The trees are rapidly changing colors and the Katsuras seemed to have dropped their leaves early this year. Fall is my favorite time of the year as I love the leaf colors and the crisp hint in the air. This summer has been colder and wetter than normal, weather which has also extended into September, the time of year that is usually our Indian Summer: Warm days and crisp nights and many a blue sky day. Indian Summers give one last boost to crops and rain free gardening days to harvest and clean out the garden beds. By mid-October it's all over.

Of course, the tell tale indicator of Autumn is the Harvest Moon. The Equinox is this Thursday, September 23rd, and the moon will be full that night. Looking out my living room window, the sky is clear enough to see the moon in its almost full stage. Other names for the Harvest Moon are 'Gypsy Moon', 'Wine Moon', 'Elk Call Moon' and 'Singing Moon'. We actually get to experience a 'Blue Moon' this year. It occurs on November 21st. It's an additional moon cycle (designated as the 3rd moon as the 4th moon cycle is referred to as the 'Late Moon') within a season and doesn't occur very often, thus the saying, "Once in a Blue Moon." The next one isn't until 2013.

So, I'm taking advantage of this rare window of decent weather and tending to the final crops, getting the beds ready for Fall planting and making sure that the garden structures are, if anything, wind proof. Then it's to the kitchen to freeze extras and make soups and stews to get through the pending dark, cold months. I might even do some canning as the tomatoes are finally getting ripe.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ball & Burlap: The Ties that Bind and Break Our Backs

Every so often, I get this incredible desire to live vicariously through someone else's garden. Well, I was in such a mood the other week when I was helping my friend Nancy with her business and said, "Gee Nancy, while I'm up here why don't we take advantage of this opportunity and do a plant nursery tour and possibly get some trees and shrubs for your yard."

Nancy, and her husband Jim have several acres in the county outside of Bellingham. They also needed some landscaping help; their yard consisted of arborvitae and rhododendrons in full sun. OK, to be fair, there are some Japanese maples and small conifers next to the front entrance to the house.

She agreed that her yard needed some livening up. Jim reiterated on several occasions that that their yard is paved with good intentions because Nancy has killed many a potted nursery specimen by not getting to the 'planting it in the ground' part. So, the agreement was that whatever we got, I had to help her plant it. No problem. Part two of the agreement consisted of not planting anywhere that would interfere with Jim's plans for that spot and to make sure that what we plant in the lower turf area likes very wet feet, as the ground is very waterlogged much of the year. Other than that, we could do what we wanted, in which I interpreted spend what we wanted. Nancy, though, is a bit of a fiscal conservative and had a budget in mind.

So, off we went to explore the nurseries with a list of trees and shrubs that I thought would work well in her yard and (I have to admit) were some of my favorites. The first place we went to, Cloud Mountain Nursery, near Everson, was not far from her house. It's a grower operation, so the prices were really good. Many of the large trees were under $100. We picked out a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum Japonicum), Double-File Viburnum (Vibernum plicatum var. tomentosum), and a Golden Dawn Redwood (Metasaquoia glyptostroboides spp.) that happened to be half off because it was so root bound. Nancy, (having a Human Services background) felt compelled to save that tree. This nursery didn't have any Bald Cypresses (Taxodium distichum) for the mushy parts of the yard, so she paid for what we picked out and put them in will-call. Off we went to Kent's Garden and Nursery on Northwest Road.

Kent's had the Bald Cypress, but Nancy chose to hold off on those at the moment. Instead, she found the clearance section and ended up with 3 Western Red Cedars, a Montpilier Maple (Acer monspessulanum), and several Smoke Trees (Continus coggygria). The next day we explored Bear Creek Nursery, south of town. This nursery is situated in a most lovely setting among Douglas Fir trees. They also had the signature tree we were looking for: Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'. However, while we were walking around, Nancy became very adamant about not buying anything that day. Every time I showed her a cool looking plant, her reaction was, "I'm not buying anything today!" in between, "Did we get that yet?" However, after an hour of proclamations, she was the proud owner of the Frisia Locust and a lovely Japanese maple.

Nancy spent the week picking up her finds with the family pick-up and I came up this last weekend to help her plant them all per our agreement. I also brought up several free specimens that I had procured from various sources that would have been to big for my yard.

Of all the days to plant, we picked the one day all summer that would rain all day! In fact, the weather went from a soggy drizzle to a down pour then back to a soggy drizzle, never completely stopping. But, that was the day we could both plant, so we got on our ad-hoc rain togs and out we went with shovels in hand.

We started with the Katsuras, which were still sitting in the back of the pick up. Nancy had originally purchased one, but when she went to pick up her plants, she purchased another one being enchanted by their amazing fall foliage. They were in ball and burlap, but you couldn't tell, as the root ball had busted through from sitting in the nursery mulch and became this mass of tangled roots and mulch a good 36" in diameter. Of course the things also weighed the earth! And of course the nursery loaded them into the pick-up with a fork lift, a luxury we didn't have. Luckily, Nancy and Jim own a riding lawn mower with a small dump trailer attachment. So, with the reluctant help of the fellas, we all heaved the things over, one tree at a time and rolled them off the truck bed onto the mower trailer and then gently dumped them near where they were to get planted. The rest of the operation would involve bruit girly force as the men retreated to the basement man cave to play with power tools. Wimps.

In digging very large holes, we were getting sufficiently wet and muddy as the rain began to come down in torrents. I found myself blindly swinging a Mattock while looking through dripping, steaming glasses (a foot down into the ground lay hard pan - gotta love NW glacial till!). I finally gave up with the glasses and stuffed them into a pocket. I figured I could see better without them. I gave up on my hood as it was restricting my movement, so lived with dripping hair. The weather wasn't that cold, just very wet and I was actually sweating from excursion. While peeling back the burlap around the roots, I tried to remove some metal ties, but proceeded to break the handle on Roland's Mattock and had to borrow Jim's (with instructions not to break it). Nancy brought out some wire cutters to remove the metal clips from their grip and we managed to spread out the burlap after rolling the trees into their respective holes. Of course, the holes are never deep enough when you think they are, so the whole exercise involved a sort of an sizing procedure, pulling out the trees, picking and digging a deeper pit, adding compost and then dragging the trees back into the pit, twisting and turning them so the best side faces the out and then filling in the holes. Tape measures would have instantly useless in this weather. We improvised with shovel handles and thumbs for measurements. An hour later, we had planted our first two trees.

After the Katusuras, planting got a little easier as we developed a rhythm and a certain soggy level of efficiency. Plus the potted stuff weighed less. We took turns with the pick and shovel and Nancy became the official compost bag schlep. I would move on to the next hole, while Nancy filled in the current one. The fellas were having a great time from their dry location under the deck, shouting at us their occasional opinions and advice such as, "It's crooked."

After the Katsuras, we planted an iddy-biddy Red Bud (Cercis canadensis) along the same row. The hole actually became somewhat wide as we had to put landscape edging around it so Mr. Jim would mow it down. Next came the Dawn Redwood out at the top of the field where the ground wasn't too soggy and would drain. After that we planted a conifer of questionable pedigree. Nancy was told that it was a Douglas Fir, but Roland thought it was something else because the needles weren't Doug Fir needles. Regardless, it was one of the examples of good intentions and needed to get into the ground.

The best gardening tool I've ever purchased has to be my Hori Hori. I've used that knife for weeding and in this case, for rescuing roots bound like a Chinese woman's foot. I carried it right next to my pruners in which as the day wore on, weighed my elastic waist banded pants down around my knees as the rain soaked in and they became as heavy as lead. Really, I don't know how rappers can walk. Also, I was fearing the plumber's southern exposure. Because I was having to pull them up with wet, muddy gloves on, my bloomers underneath were getting a natural earthy patina. The optimist in me didn't consider bringing rain pants, but I would have sweated like a sauna in them anyway. My water proof garden clogs filled with water. I was sloshing around in saturated wool socks, rubber garden clogs, with my britches around my knees, digging holes in the pouring rain in order to help my friend plant 100 pound trees. This was my idea and I was loving every minute of it.

Nancy thought she'd fair better having tucked her pants into rubber boots. Her pants just wicked the water right down into the boots and she was sloshing around by mid day. Plus her back side got sufficiently soaked having sat on a mower seat exposed to the elements.

We systematically planted the Smoke trees, Mock Orange and Maples right along the fence, having to move a good 4 inches of mulch, cut the landscape cloth and netting from the former sod and dig into more sand and clay (that looked the color of baby poo), add compost then plant the trees and move the mulch back in place. Next came the Locust.

We planted this tree in the upper yard next to the fence and in front of a mass of Douglas Firs that were leftovers from an old Christmas tree farm. The beautiful gold foliage of the Frisia just pops in front of the dark green of the conifers. It's the tree your eyes immediately go to when approaching the house. The location was a mother to plant in as the ground was hard and full of large rocks. We had to really amend the soil well and add additional water as, unlike other areas of the yard, this spot was pretty dry.

The fellas became rather impressed as they thought we would wimp out for sure and request their assistance. Upon the risk of never living it down, we did get the fellas to take a tree saw to some of the higher branches on the firs to make room for the locust to grow. They looked like they needed something to do as they couldn't continue with their project in the wet weather. Nancy and I felt sorry for them.

After planting the 3 cedars, we transplanted a Japanese Laceleaf maple that had been 'temporarily' planted in with its pot for several years and had manged to root through the drain holes. After finally planting the last Japanese maple we considered our day done - after clean up. When the last tool got cleaned and put away, the rain stopped.

We planted or transplanted 18 trees and shrubs in all, starting our day at around 9:30 in the morning and stopping at 5:30. We never took a lunch break nor for me, a potty break as I knew I would never be able to get my rain and mud soaked britches back up and gloves back on. We stripped in the appropriately named 'mud room' and headed straight for the shower.

During dinner that evening, Nancy proclaimed, "I'm never going shopping with Debra again!"

I replied, "You lie like a rug. Besides, we still need to get the Bald Cypresses, Mountain Ashes, and Kousa dogwood, never mind transplanting some of the rhodies behind the Frisia and moving those Daphnes to a sunny location."

I also have endless ideas for her birthday now and nurseries offer gift certificates.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tomato Entropy Produces Fruit Apathy

Here in the Pacific Northwest it's been a crappy year for tomatoes. The temperature fluctuations have been bi-polar, going from 85 degrees one day, dropping down to 65 degrees the next. Yesterday had clear, hot weather and today it's overcast and drizzling at times. We often get Indian summers around here where our nicest weather is in September. August can be a very wet month at times. The PNW insider joke is that our summers start July 5th, except this year it's been a series of false starts.

I've kept the tomatoes in a cloche all summer long and most are still green. My cherry tomatoes are turning red; less surface area to ripen, I guess. It's a good thing that we like fried green tomatoes.

Despite the tomato inclement weather, there's a lot of entropy going on under that cloche. I've pinched and pinched and pinched stems back and I think it has only encouraged them. I need to bring a machete with me next time I go in there, as my hair gets caught in the foliage and I can't turn around on the path unless I duck. The branches are starting to burst out of the ends. For a piler, 'indeterminate' really means entropy.

Since the tomatoes are next to the Purple Sprouting broccoli bed, perhaps they're getting vibes to get uber big and put out small amounts of ripe fruit. If my theory is correct, I should have plenty of ripe tomatoes by December, when the broccoli is technically ready for harvest. However, there is that little frost problem. I'm hoping someone eventually produces a tomato variety that is hardy to 10 degrees. That person would become rich.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Floyd's Being Floyd

The last several weeks with Floyd have been rather taxing - and expensive. To start, a week ago yesterday, Floyd managed to escape outside. I was at my Arlington house when this happened so this is Roland's, account.

We've been giving Floyd a little laxative with his wet food to help things along. That Monday morning, Roland came out into the living room to check on Floyd who was in his crate parked on the sofa. A strong odor hit Roland in the face and when he looked inside the crate, Floyd had had a blow out and was covered with poo. In fact the whole crate got it. So, in the shower went Floyd for a good cleaning. Afterwords, Roland wrapped him in a towel and placed in him the kitty curl in a sun spot in front of the screen door.

Roland then went out to his car to get some cleaning supplies and when he opened the door to come back in, Floyd shot out. Apparently, he was healed enough to run like hell, as he climbed into the large wood pile shed along the side of the house, nowhere to be found.
I figured he had had enough humiliation for one of his 9 lives. First came crapping all over himself, next came a bath. He figured that the bladder squeeze was next so thought, "I'm outa here!" He was out all night without having his bladder extracted since that morning, and we were worried sick that he was in dire straights. As it turned out, the next morning Roland found Floyd sunning himself and upon seeing Roland coming for him, ran under the greenhouse deck. Roland finally caught him with cat treat persuasion and brought him back in.

Floyd seemed fine, so we let him stay in the bedroom with a litter box and have found out that he is able to use it. So, hallelujah!
However, last Saturday morning, Roland found Floyd passed out in the litter box (I always seem to be out of town when these things happen). Roland rushed Floyd back to the emergency vet (again!). He had no discernible blood pressure and a very low temperature reading. X-rays and blood work didn't reveal anything except some liver issues, so the vets at the hospital weren't sure what happened to him. They were thinking that he had a stroke or a hypoglycemic reaction (We declined the $600 ultra-sound test - enough is enough already). They stabilized him and got his temperature and blood pressure back up. After 2 days and more on the tab, Floyd was up and walking around being Floyd again like nothing ever happened. He's home now, back in the bedroom and back to using his litter box.

We are planning a trip to visit my folks on San Juan Island this month. Of course we'll take Floyd. I told Roland that if something happens with him, he'll just have to be helivaced to the emergency hopital in Lake city. No comment from Roland.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Purple Sprouting Entropy

Entropy: The second law of thermodynamics in that nature tends to take things from order to disorder in isolated systems.

The law of entropy can be applied to the vegetable garden. You see, I had good intentions of planting everything in nice, neat rows all labeled, but alas, entropy took over and as a 'piler' it wholeheartedly sought me out.

Right now, we have Purple Sprouting entropy. As I've stated in a previous post, this particular type of broccoli is meant to be planted in the fall to winter over as it takes 8 months until harvest. We planted ours last April from seed and thinned to around 18" apart. It isn't due to be harvested until this December according to the books. Meanwhile it has grown to gigantic proportions - over 5 1/2 feet tall with the raised bed - while occasionally spitting out flower heads the size of golf balls. And since the weather is getting cooler, it should get really happy and get even bigger; leaves that is. It's taken over almost the entire 4x8 foot bed and shows no sign of stopping. I haven't given it any fertilizer for months. I can't find the labels, but obviously don't need them as you can't mistake what it is.

I think this PS broccoli crop would make great inspiration for a Stephen King horror novel such as, "The Plant: Purple Sprouter" or a campy B grad movie, "Attack of the Killer Broccoli."

I also think that the physicist who came up with the entropy law was a piler.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Poop Scoop

I grew up with a firm belief instilled in me on the importance of a good bowel movement. Since Floyd came home last week, he hadn't produced a poo for several days which had me concerned. He was also starting to get a little belligerent about the whole pee extraction thing, so we took him into the vet last Sunday to get another lesson on how to pee him, to pick up some more pain meds and to ask the vet about bowel movements. Floyd ended up getting an enema. Roland and I also got a lesson on how to give Floyd an enema and were plied with a bunch of rubber gloves, syringes and a long tube to take home. After Feline Enema 101, we took our care package and Floyd up to the front reception desk for another financial enema. I told Roland that we should have that poop bronzed.

During the visit, the vet assistant asked us if we'd be interested in having our cats come in and donate to the blood bank in exchange for certain veterinary care. I asked her that since we had 9 cats, did she think we could get $3200 worth of credit for Floyd. I think vets should offer punch cards for certain cats, sort of like espresso stands - 10 visits and the 11th is free. Floyd would certainly qualify for that program. We were debating on whether to change his name to Crystal Cruise.

Upon the prospect of shoving a tub of goo up Floyd's back side, and the fact that the vet told us that increasing the amount of laxative wouldn't hurt him, we proceeded to add larger amounts into his wet food. He is also eating more now, so his laxative amount has increased with that development.

Floyd went in this morning for an official follow-up visit with the surgeon, who managed to remove several hard poops out of him. Well, that must have popped the cork because when I came home and checked on him this afternoon, he was covered from head to toe. The only thing he didn't do was paint with it on the wall. (He could then get published in Why Cats Paint II.) Thank got for the lid on the crate! He had that pathetic look cats get on their faces after they've been humiliated and it's your fault. After putting the rubber gloves to good use and using up around 20 moist towelettes, I gave up and carried him into the bathtub for a hose down. He wasn't too happy about that and I could tell he was getting stronger as he tried to launch himself from my grasp several times. A careful good suds and rinse did the job. Now, at least he has something to do in his crate (no, not poop endlessly) as he is diligently cleaning his wet fur. However, if this is a sign of things to come (out), he may end up being the cleanest cat in the neighborhood before too long.

I think we can back off on the Metamucil now.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Update on Floyd's Condition

Floyd's been home for several days now. The surgeon decided not to operate for several reasons. First, he has enough space between his pelvic bones for his business to get through, and second, the place where they surgically attach the two bones is damaged and Dr. Walker thought it would cause more problems than solve. So, apparently, he will be able to walk just fine with time - about 6 weeks or so without the operation.

She's also not a tail amputater, and would rather wait to see how in the way it is. His tail's separated from his spine by about an inch, so he has no use of it. It's also as long as a train on a wedding dress and may drag behind him. His regular vet could remove it down the road, when everything in his poor body settles down. They usually leave enough behind so he would look like a Manx.

The only other issue is his continence. Four times a day, I physically extract his urine and try to get him to poop. He had a little poop on his own, yesterday, but he might be somewhat constipated from the pain killers. Been sneaking in the Metamucil with his wet food to help things along. With the nerve damage in his tail section, it's questionable that he'll be able to go potty on his own, but we'll wait and see. He gets pain meds twice a day and an anti-inflammatory once a day.

I also give him a good body rub down each time I check on him. He seems to like that. I think he's getting tired of confinement as he would like to get up and walk, but finds out quickly that that ain't working so well right now. I wonder if there's kitty PT.

Thanks to all of you for your concern. I know that Floyd is getting good vibes from all the well wishing energy, which most certainly helps in the healing process.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Floyd Happens

Well, this has been a week of being smucked by cars. Not only did I get hit a week ago, I'm sad to say that our funny little fur-face, Pretty Boy Floyd got struck by a car last Saturday afternoon.

I was sitting on my sofa when I heard this loud cat howling noise. At first I thought it was a cat fight. When I looked outside, I saw a car driving up the road and then saw Floyd dragging his back end behind our parked van and then out in front of it and across the street towards our house. Of course, the 'oh shits' came out of me and I immediately rushed out to stop him and then I carefully scooped him up and immediately headed for the house to grab the cat carrier. It took some juggling to open the thing, as I was on the front porch single-handedly removing the top half of the crate while cradling Floyd on my thigh. I placed him in the crate on a towel and closed it up.

The next challenge was to get him to the emergency vet. Having been in a car accident 5 days before, my car was not drivable, so I was quickly thinking about who I could call to get a ride. Roland was way off in Issaquah at a job site and not answering his cell phone. I was considering a taxi, when several women came up the front steps. One was a neighbor several doors up and the other was her mother, the one who accidentally ran over Floyd. They were looking for Floyd's owner. I explained my situation and the woman who hit Floyd offered to give us a ride to the vet! I have to say she felt awfu
l about it, and didn't realize she hit a cat until she looked in the rear view mirror. She gave up an outing with her daughter to help Floyd and I out and stayed at the vet, until Floyd was triaged and I found out the damage from the vet. Then she gave me a ride home. She also gave me her name and phone number, wanting to be kept up to date on his condition.

From Floyd's injuries, she must have ran over his back end with her tire, breaking his pelvic bone and separating his tail bone. His legs are unbroken and fine. He has a spinal injury in his back, but the surgeon can't tell if it's causing a pinched nerve, or something more serious, based on the x-rays. His internal organs look to be OK although there is some blood in his urine. During the initial consultation, the vet asked me, "His eyes are rather googly. Was he liked that before he came in? Because if he wasn't, that indicates he's suffered brain damage."

"Oh, yeah." I said, "His eyes have always been like that. In fact, the more excited he gets, the more they spin. He's always been mental, but not from this."

Floyd has always been 'special'. Before this tragedy, Roland called him our $5,000 free cat. He fits the definition of 'Mog' for sure. When he was just a kitten, he found a dropped cold tablet on the floor and ate it, almost doing himself in then. Through his 7 years of life to date, he's been in the vet's office at least half a dozen times for being Floyd. The last vet visit was several months ago when he ingested something else that almost killed him. That was $1200. If it crashes in the house, it's Floyd.

Some folk will think, "He should have been an indoor cat."

But he would still have raided the medicine cabinet and have injested the poisonous stuff, if he could. Prior to this tragedy, he had already used up a great percentage of his cat allotted lives. I think he's finally on his 9th. But despite it all, he's such a lovable rogue, always happy to see us (except when it comes time to get flee treated or go to the vet. It's amazing how he senses these things). He's a happy go lucky sort of fella. Most of all he's ours to steward.

Today, Roland and I had to make the decision to move forward with surgery to fix his pelvis and amputate his tail, with the large possibility that he will be incontinent, or have him put down. Until you are faced with this position, you will never know how incredibly
hard it is to make. Never mind the finances. There are other important considerations. Roland consulted with Floyd's regular vet who was faxed copies of the medical reports of his current condition. He also consulted with his old girlfriend who was around when Floyd was first brought home. That shows how torn Roland was about what to do. She said that Floyd's brother Vinnie whom she got custody of when they broke up, was acting very strange on the day of Floyd's accident - overly needy and clingy. Hmmmm. Feline collective unconsciousness, perhaps?

Now I know some folk think that spending all this money in the attempt to bring him back to somewhat functioning again is a waste of money and silliness. After all, he's just a cat, right? I embrace a different philosophy. No, cats aren't human but we feel that he has a right to life, like the rest of us and we have the means to help him. I know he doesn't understand what's happening to him, nor will express gratitude (except perhaps, in being home again). But he's a member of the family in feline form and we love him. He's obviously a tough little guy and a living, breathing entity and we feel a responsibility to try and make him whole again.

Now, quality of life is another matter. If his quality of life is to degraded, then we will have to rethink things. If he's not going to walk again, then that's another matter. You can't put a cat in a wheel chair. But, for now, if there's a level of hope, we will move forward. So what if we can't take that trip abroad we were planning on right now. We can take it later. We went and visited him yesterday, and got updated on his condition. He has reflexive movement in his back legs, so there's hope. He was happy to see us, purring and pussy-footing his blanket, although pretty doped up on pain killers.

Tomorrow or Thursday is surgery and then the long road to recovery for the little fella. Yes, I'll be helping him potty and probably spoon feeding him for a while. He'll be an indoor kitty from now on. We'll probably build him an outdoor enclosure of some sort, so he can get some fresh air.

One last thing. I've heard terrible stories of people who run over animals (by accident or otherwise) and then keep going. Look at how many hit and run drivers that have been on the news lately with just people involved! The woman who hit Floyd, and then was enormously compassionate enough to find his owner, and then give us a ride to the vet in time of need (it must have been extremely awkward for her) has greatly increased my somewhat low opinion of the existence of integrity and compassion in people. Call me a cynic, but it's too bad that there has to be a tragedy in order to see the humanity in humans, especially in the media. In talking with and listening to her share her experiences with pets, compassion is obviously a part of this woman's make up. I think if Floyd had to get hit by anyone, he was lucky enough to get hit by her.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stop and Smell the Roses Especially If You Get Smucked By a Car

Nothing sucks more than having an injured back in the middle of prime gardening season. On my way to Ballard yesturday, I was driving across an intersection and BAM! I found myself spinning in a circle and landing halfway across a parking strip and sidewalk facing the opposite direction - a rather surreal experience. Apparently, the gentleman who plowed into me didn't realize that the light had changed and obviously didn't see me crossing in his path. Of course, people who saw what happened ran to my aid and called 911 which helped as when I tried, my cell phone battery died (of course). They were also just as (or more) concerned about my dog, Snorky, who was at ground zero as the offending car came straight at him. Luckily, he was strapped in with a harness and just got knocked off his car booster seat.

Of course the adrenalin was running and I was getting in and out of my car while snorting and hissing about this bit of bad luck, going for the pertinent information for the officers who showed up after the fire department. I felt shaken but not to physically bad really. My poor car didn't fare so well. The back passenger side wheel was bent in, my back door and back quarter panel are pretty crunched. I can't open the door. When Roland showed up he changed the tire to a rather skinny spare to avoid having the tire rub on the undercarriage. Being only a mile or so from Mog Cottage, I managed to limp the car home.

This morning I woke up with a stiff back which progressively got more stiff and sore as the day progressed. The adrenalin is now wearing off. Borrowing Roland's Subaru, I managed drive to my veg garden class this morning and managed to hold a hose and rake some compost, but couldn't do the cool stuff like laying a brick garden bed wall. The Doc told me that I probably won't be back to normal for 6 weeks or so and will probably feel worse before I feel better.

This brings me to the suckie part: it's hard to garden when you can't move well from the middle. And most of my classes this summer involve some amount of labor in the garden beds. You're probably thinking "Well, duh." Your also probably thinking that I got off with relatively little injury, considering the force of impact. I attribute that to driving a Subaru and where I got smucked on the car. I am thankful that I didn't get totally wiped out. I've seen those effects as a friend of mine had a serious accident
several years ago that landed her in the hospital for weeks with multiple operations and permanent pins. She's finally starting to feel good again although never 100%

So, I'm really making sure not to have a pity party and just see this as one of life's inconveniences. Walking helps, so I walk my dog, Snorky and stop and smell the roses even though I can't bend over much to fertilize and prune them right now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Crop Rotation: Filers vs. Pilers

In my estimation, there are two types of gardeners: pilers and filers. Filers are logical, linear thinkers whereas pilers think multi-directionally - all at once. I admit, Roland and I are pilers. Unfortunately, the practice of crop rotation is a linear activity. So, when my Culinary Art teachers assigned the class to create a 3 year crop rotation plan, I suddenly found myself with a BRAIN CRAMP. I have to actually organize and plan my garden space beyond this season. Yikes! I thought everything gets planted in Spring because all of the seed packets say to 'Plant after threat of last frost is over'. Now I have to consider Fall and Winter crops too and how they overlap with what's already there and whether they're compatible with each other and how to do the switch-a-roo when the summer season is ending, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. A conspiracy of filers came up with the concept of crop rotation.

You see, the way each type of gardener views crop rotation has a lot to due with how they see the world. For instance, filers are who pilers deem anal. A filer's raised beds have hospital corners. When the seed package says to plant seed 2" apart, filers get out the ruler. Their radishes are perfectly lined up and perfectly spaced in perfect rows. Filers keep copious charts, graphs and records all in order and know to the hour when they can harvest their carrots. Filers live for organization, so they utilize their organizational skills to the utmost degree when planning a multi-year crop rotation. Their crop rotation charts looks something like this:Pilers on the other hand often drive filers crazy (with great pleasure, I think). To filers, pilers are a subspecies. Pilers have everything in their heads and can tell you in which pile something is and where in the pile to look. If pilers don't build structural raised beds, their corners morph into weedy wash outs or all the beds start to mush together. Pilers put 50 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound sack. A piler's garden motto is, "We shall leave no ground uncovered!" And that's not necessarily with plants. To a piler, crop rotation looks something like this:

Roland took great pains to build our garden structures to give the illusion that we are striving to be filers so we can move up in the world. However, we're not fooling anyone, really. A closer look will reveal that between the beds are piles of wood for staking, bags of soil and compost, starts that we just couldn't cram in, but didn't have the heart to toss (uh huh), tools, pots full of various herbs and fruit trees and various ensembles of cats who think we built the tomato cloche for them.

In addition to being organizationally challenged, us pilers are often collectors. Roland likes to pile collections of cars, lumber, cats, tools and every scrap of paper that comes his way. I pile books, magazines, plants, boxes of wool and knitting projects, just to name a few. We eventually weed through it and pile the unwanted carbon materials in the burn box as we don't have a pile of compost yet because the pile of cars is in the way. Pilers have piles of stuff that we may find useful in the next century. Pilers keep thrift stores in business because we eventually drop off some of our stash, but seem to come home with more cool stuff we found when we couldn't resist and went inside for the hunt. Filers just dump and run (with their itemized receipt, of course). Pilers like garage sales that filers hold because filers get rid of very useful stuff such as perfectly good soaker hoses that have buggered areas. Pilers like to fix things.

Filers require everything in its place and if the place is full, then so be it, it goes. Pilers, on the other hand, always have room for one more thing and will find space. Pilers don't like to leave 2 feet between broccoli starts because that's open space that makes us anxious. Surely, something else can use that space, never mind the broccoli will take over and shade it all out. If it doesn't work out, we just consider this excess, planting our cover crops early, like killing two birds with one stone. Efficient, you know.

I know some of you are thinking, "But I have both qualities!" I'm happy that your life is well balanced. There is the possibility that you have a lot of inner conflict going on.

Filers would never strive to be pilers. However, as a piler, I often find myself trying to tap into my inner filer because zillions of dollars are spent each year on this endeavor as pilers are considered unable to efficiently function. We all want to be more efficient, don't we? Of course that doesn't last long, as once it's filed it doesn't exist anymore and I find myself wondering, "Now where the heck did I put that?" Eventually, I revert back to my natural state of piling, which makes life so much easier in a sense. Of course, computers have forced pilers to convert to a somewhat filing condition even though you will notice that the way the files are vertically presented on the file management interface, makes them look like piles. With that in mind, I'm typing this blog entry on my lap top which sits on top of a pile of unsorted bills on the wood stove, as the desk is covered with too many piles of seed packets and gardening books on how to do crop rotation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Broccoli, Broccoli Everywhere and Not a Flower Head to Eat!

Note to self: Read the packet of seeds carefully and double check another source before planting.

This last Spring, I was going through the packets of seeds at Lowes (I know, I know) and gravitated towards this variety called 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli. I was drawn to the pretty color displayed on the front of the packet and the fact that it was a sprouting variety, not the blobby type heads you see in the grocery store. More like purple rapeseed. So, I grabbed a packet or 2 thinking of wonderful, yummy purple food this summer. I enthusiastically planted a butt load of the seeds in one of the raised beds. It was rather slow to get going, but I chalked that up to the cold Spring we were having.

Well, when I did a plant list for my Spring Culinary Gardening class, I actually read the packet more thoroughly. Good ol' Ed Hume said that this variety takes 120 days to maturity. "Hmmm", I thought, "That takes it into the Fall before I can harvest any of it. Well, I dutifully put the Reemay over the top of the young plants to keep them safe from the white flutter-byes (after picking off a bowl full of little, yellow eggs - so I'm slow to react) and watched them slowly take hold, holes in the leaves and all.

When it finally warmed up, caboom! Now it's July and the stuff is 30" tall, lush with vegetation and no flower heads yet! Not even a hint. Just more leaves coming up the middle. Roland asked, "When are we supposed to harvest this stuff? It's taking up a whole bed!"

I said, "Ed Hume says 120 days. Let me look it up in one of my gardening guides."

240 DAYS?! 8 months! How could ol' Ed have it so wrong? Who the hell plants broccoli (besides, apparently I) that putzes along for 8 months? I guess that's why you plant it for the bleak of winter 'cause nothing much else takes much space other than other cabbages, carrots, garlic, fava beans, lettuce, spinach, beets, etc., etc. I mean, how many crops do you need, really?

So, I brought this up in my summer Culinary Gardening class and teacher Gayle told me, "That's a variety that usually gets planted for overwintering (neener, neener, neener)." And there it was, 'Purple Sprouting' on their PowerPoint list of veg to overwinter in today's class (neener, neener, neener).

I don't mind being the class example, but usually it's for having done something well, so if having broccoli that looks like it's radioactive (sterile), I've certainly done that. I've given up on perfectionism long ago, and now call it 'excelling'. Besides, I figure it's good to be remembered for something extraordinary like successfully over-summering overwintering broccoli.

When we were planting seeds for new starts for the colleges' garden today, teacher Anne relished the idea to give me the packet of Purple Sprouting broccoli (neener, neener, neener). So, for Christmas, I'm sending them each a head of Purple Sprouting broccoli fresh out of my veg garden.

Honey, Does This Pea Trellis Make My Butt Look Fat?

When your significant other is a wood man, garden structures can get pretty interesting. I asked Roland to construct a trellis for our snap peas, so he took it upon himself to create a 'Cathedral to the Peas', made out of African Mahogany. It stands around 12 feet tall at the center pinnacle. This trellis should give us an outstanding crop, right?

Of course, structures such as this require one to climb precarious ladders inevitably on hot, sticky days. And one never really knows what one presents to the world during the process. How many of us just simply bend over while standing to pull weeds, not really paying attention to whom or where our back side is pointing. While squatting down, we may be doing the plumber's pose and not really know it. The breeze on a hot day actually feels good, ya know.

Of course there are other hazards to gardening that involve wardrobe malfunctions, especially when it comes to wildlife. For instance, I'm sitting on one bed while working on another. When I stand up, I feel an intense stinging pain on my right upper thigh under my pants. Well, without thinking, I immediately dropped my drawers in front of the neighborhood (yes, I was wearing underwear) and wouldn't ya know it, a wasp flew out. For some reason, the bugger had taken a liking to my upper thigh and crawled up under my pant leg without me feeling it until the magic moment! In a panic, with my pants around my ankles, I hobbled as fast as I could back into the house (which involved stairs) to apply a baking soda/Solarcaine compress. Luckily, the ace bandage got wrapped around the compress on my leg and not around my ankle, as I didn't kill myself in hobble mode.

What it comes down to is that as serious gardeners, we can't be too self-conscious about appearance at times. All of the fancy hats, gloves, tools and chinos won't cover up the reality that sometimes butt cracks and bee stings just happen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

50 Pounds of Potatoes in a 5 Pound Sack!

In order to maximize the somewhat small square footage, the veg's were planted a packed together as possible without compromising the crops natural growth, well, too much. Due to the cat-proofing we had to install, square foot gardening wasn't an option, so we planted in rows along the short width, using the protective grid on top of the beds as row guides. They're spaced at 4 inches apart.

Roland likes carrots, leafy greens, snap peas, beans and radishes so plenty of that has gone in. The Mesclun (Roland said, "Isn't that a drug?") is being cut back for harvest, so we hope to maintain it's growth as space is an issue for a staggered plant schedule. Roland and I like potatoes so we planted 3 varieties in one of the bathtubs which is quite deep. I put herbs in the other tub. The pH levels have been around 7, but may add more lime to the pumpkin mound as Territorial Seeds implies that pumpkins seem to like more alkalinity.

A cloche made out of white oak has been constructed over Bed B into Bed C to cover the path too. The plastic roles up on Bed's C side for access. The end flaps are attached with binder clips and can be opened for access and venting. The soil temperature of Bed B seems to be around 5-7 degrees warmer (76 degrees at 1pm one day). I planted the tomatoes and peppers deep as instructed in my Culinary Gardening class, creating a hole, applying organic fertilizer, watering in and planting the tomato up to its top leaves. The peppers got planted up to the bottom leaves.

There is zilcho room to plant starts indoors. Roland's house is infested with tools and his other belongings and the lean-to solarium contains a dead hot tub and more tools and junk. So, everything got directly planted outside from seed or from purchased starts. The fennel are transplants from my house.

The upper beds are where the main crops grow with leafy greens, onions, shallots, swiss chard and leeks in one bed. Celery, brocolli, radishes, garlic, carrots and fennel occupy another bed and a third bed contains the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

The bottom two beds on the parking strip are for beens and zucchs and pumpkin, which can vine out over the daisy terrior. I planted radishes among the squash. The clawfoot bathtubs contain several varieties of potatoes. I planted them around 6" down, but next year I would take some of the dirt out of the deep tub, plant the potatoes then cover them with dirt as they grow.

A lonely artichoke sits on a mound among the daisies. I planted some sugar pumpkins around it to keep it company. I had to stab scewers into the soil to keep the little buggers out of there.They've managed to poop among the new lavender bed on the south slope.

Being a relative veg gardening newbie and before I understood companion planting, I put the carrots right next to the fennel - ooops. The fennel did great, but the carrots..... Oh well, I tossed some carrot seeds in among the tomatoes. Also, I planted garlic this Spring which should wait until Fall to over-winter in our PNW marine climate. Also, my broccoli is uber tall, but no flowers. I just read that the Purple Sprouting variety I planted takes up to 240 days (that's 8 months, folks) to harvest! My Culinary Gardening instructor, Anne, informed me that that variety is another one to over winter. At the moment, I have to see if it can stand the summer temperatures, otherwise it's broccoli leaf soup. I guess I'll be harvesting broccoli for Christmas if it works out. As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

Pots contain a columnar apple and a cherry tree. Didn't get any fruit off the cherry this year, but the plant is pretty young. The apple has four fruits!

Other pots contain slug and snail food such as, basil.

The tomatoes are growing well, but no fruits yet, just flowers. We planted multiple varieties acquired at the Seattle Tilth Spring Plant Sale this Spring. Several are heirlooms including Speckled Roman and Brandywine Salad. While working in the bed, I smucked the Sungold, so I think that's a gonner. Somewhere in the bed, an eggplant and several peppers are coming along. Time to go and prune out the suckers and shade leaves, which I think I'll go do now. As you can see, it's a bit out of control.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Raised Beds & Bath Tubs: The Plan

Now that I've analysed the site, it's time for a plan. Being an artist, planning is not my strong suite, as I follow a rather more serendipitous style. In other words, I'm rather disorganized and compulsive. However, this approach flies in the face of organizized science and as gardening is as much a science as a craft, I decided that a more logical approach was in order. Time to get the graph paper and tape measure out. I also involved Roland at this point since he is the constructor of all things physical.

After much consideration (i.e., arguing) the plan is as follows: Due to a lack of good soil structure, large sheets of cardboard were laid out over the existing grass and raised beds were installed, constructed out of Doug Fir heart wood and Cedar for durability. Frugal minded Roland wanted to use 2 x 12’s, 10’ long and construct 3 4-1/2’ to 5’ x 10’ beds on (to utilize the whole board) behind the claw foot tubs and 2 on the north end of the planting strip along the street. The beds were filled with commercial garden dirt - I mean soil, and amended with organic humus and fertilizer. The south end is for larger edibles such as, rhubarb and artichokes and edible flowers which would do better in large mounds than raised beds. Since Roland is slow to remove refuse from his yard, I proposed we turn the dead Subaru into a chicken coop. He didn’t go along with that idea and promises to remove it at some point. Where the vehicle sits would be a good small contained compost and potting area, perhaps with some cold frames. Currently, there is no exterior access from the lean-to greenhouse, which is currently filled with tools and a dead hot tub. The only access is from the laundry room.

The south facing greenhouse gets upwards of 120 degrees in the summer, even with the open gable ends and decking for the floor, so some sort of ventilation system would need to be installed (Roland wants to rebuild it anyway and the cats like to climb in and bake in it for now).

Roland has a propensity to use old plumbing fixtures as planters with the notion of using them in the house some day (ha!) The two exisitng claw foot tubs would make excellent tubs for potatoes and herbs as they are both deep, have good drainage and the cast iron retains heat. A sink pedistal makes a good plant stand and an antique wall mount sink on a pedestal holds pansies.

A scatter of pots hold annuals, several fruit trees and basil. The sloping banks hold lavender and strawberries as the grass and Black Eye Susan's get ripped out. We've staked the bare spots with wood spikes to keep the poopers out. A cloche was installed on the bed closes to the house for tomatoes and other tenders. So, with all of that, we have a good start on about 150 sq. feet of veg garden space. Next is what to do about the dirt, er soil.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the Beginning: The Site Analysis

In order to install a proper veg garden, it's important to analyze the site and that's what I did.

As I've mentioned, the single story house on the property is of a 1905 era Craftsman/Victorian shotgun style that was built on a post and pier fo
undation (basically, posts supported by large rocks). Therefore, the grounds around the house (and under the house) contain a disproportionate amount of sand mixed in with clay and cat poop.

The front concrete walk from the street to the front porch dissects the front yard. There are planting areas along the slope on either side of a set of concrete stairs down to the sidewalk, and grass on either side at the top walkway. The north sloped area is currently planted with strawberries and lavender (and cat poop). The south sloped area has several lavende
r and rosemary, but is invaded with grass and old perennials that is currently being cleared off (so the cats can poop in it). The planting strip along the street is also invaded with grass and old perennials as Roland has spread some soil and the wild flower seeds successively over the years for the cats to nest in (and poop in). The water meter is centrally located along the sidewalk side of the strip. Some flagstone was set in the middle of it as a walk to the cars from the sidewalk side and walkway. The front yard contains several types of overgrown botany on the corners of the front porch: 10’ tall x 6’ wide boxwood on the south side and a large camellia on the north side.

The back yard is unusable as it is basically a lumber yard and storage. It is also shaded from good sun exposure by the house to the east, the neighbor’s house to the south and the garage and carriage house to the west. Therefore, the front planting strip along the street and the southeast side of the front yard, along with the sloped areas are the best areas for a veg. and herb garden.
Roland has a preference for antique plumbing fixtures as planting boxes as there are two 5’ claw foot bathtubs doing the Cialis thing in the front yard and an old wall mount sink on a pedestal filled with flowers in front of the porch. The plan is to use one of the tubs and the sink in a bath remodel sometime in the distant future. Various extraneous amounts of junk are scattered around, such as stacks of firewood and lumber, nursery plants that haven’t been planted yet, potted fruit trees, and tools. Several dead vehicles reside in the front, including a Subaru along the south side of the greenhouse. The driveway has been a repository of 4 yards of recently delivered garden soil and plant refuse as well as stacked lumber, a dead van and garbage cans. Sun exposure is good, as the property faces East.

So, with that, it was time to come up with a plan to figure out where to place the beds. The objective is to grow enough food to keep us both in various veg's over the summer with some left for neighbors (so they won't be so inclined to get pissy when we eventually get goats and chickens), and of course, friends. I'm not really a canner as much as a freezer person, so most of our bounty will probably be eaten fresh. Now, how to utilize every square inch of available space. Roland went to work clearing away much of the junk in the areas needed for the raised beds.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dead Cars Make Great Chicken Coops

When I went to the Seattle Flower and Garden Show last February, I was blown away by all of the beautiful landscape displays. A lot of them were larger than some real yards, like mine. However, when I turned a corner and saw it, I thought, "Now that is absolutely the best use of a common object I've ever seen!"

I'm talking about a small pick-up truck that was converted to a vegetable garden and chicken coop by the edible garden company, Urban Farm! Yes, there were displays with gardening sheds, compost sock retaining walls, large boulders and gazebos, but none of them were as clever as this display. Corn was growing out of the back bed with a plum tree and other assorted vegetables and a cherry tree and other vegetables were growing out of the engine compartment. Fruiting vines covered the sides. The front cab was the coop with a re-purposed file cabinet on the passenger seat for the nesting boxes. A chicken run was next to the driver's side of the vehicle with entrance to the coop via the driver's side door. Ingenious!

That brings me to Mog Cottage. Since I've known Roland (almost 5 years) there's been 3 dead vehicles parked in his yard. One old
Subaru in the back (won't go there), a dead van full of scrap lumber in the driveway and another dead Subaru where the compost and cold frames are supposed to be. He's promised to get rid of the van and the Subaru for months now, and has managed to get the van started, and has moved the Subaru over onto the pavement. But, the Subaru remains an obstacle to good use of space. It's cramping my gardening style, taking up space that could where something like a greenhouse could go. So, since the back yard is impossibly full of stacks of lumber, and to date, he has yet to get a compost and cold frame area going, I'm threatening Roland with turning the Subaru into a chicken coop a la Urban Farm style. When you live with a pack rat, you have to be ingenious with how to cope with the clutter.

Since the back cargo area is a station wagon, that would make an excellent space for nesting boxes. They can line each side of the bed and can be accessed by opening the back hatch. The chickens can enter and leave the coop into an attached run along the side via the back driver's side door window. The
front of the cab can be where the chicken food is stored.
Since we have plenty of beds for veges, the engine compartment would make a great cold frame area. Simply install a skylight in the hood.
Roland can sell the engine and other mechanical parts in the way. We'd have to keep the interior lights hooked up for dark winter days since chickens require 14 hours of light in order to keep laying.

So, there you have it. A dead Subaru would a great chicken coop - it's roomy and coon proof. I can even name my own breed of chickens such as, Suba-Sussex.

So, if the van doesn't go soon, I'm getting goats.

Culinary, Cabbage, Cats & Coons: The Creation of Mog Cottage Urban Farm

I've always been a gardener at heart. Perhaps it goes with the feeling that I was born in the wrong era, as I have always had a connection with history, especially the 1900's Arts & Crafts movement. I admit I hold it rather sentimentally, even though I wasn't born anywhere close to that era. I'm also a compulsive fiber artist, embracing old technology such as, spinning and knitting. I love to cook, especially ethnic foods. I haven't figured out where all these interests came from though. They're just innate, like genetic or something.

Part of my personal journey
lately is to take my love for gardening a step further by getting formally educated and attend a community college that offers a degree in horticulture. I started last spring quarter. One of the classes I took was on vegetable gardening. The class was taught by two gals who took a ferry in from the Kitsap peninsula at the butt crack of dawn to teach the class every Friday morning.The idea of the class curriculum was to take weekly steps in constructing a real or imaginary garden (along with the one started on campus) and write a weekly report on the subject for the week. I thought, yee-hah because I work best with deadlines and have wanted to install a veg garden for a long time. The issue became where to do it.

For the past 4 plus years I h
ave been seeing a fella who lives 37 miles from my house in Seattle. I found him on Craig's List. One of the requirements in my singles ad was a love of the Arts & Crafts movement, antiques, architecture, gardening and cats. He turned out to appreciate the same things I do, is a craftsman and owns an old house infested with cats. He likes to collect (I'll get into that on a different posting) and grew up with a father who had an entire city lot devoted to a veg garden located on Queen Anne Hill. Now for the logistics.

This is my house:

It is located in Smokey Point on a former cow field. It's on a postage stamp sized lot and there's no room for much veg other than some container veg's on the back deck and a herb garden.

This is Roland's house:

It was built in 1905 on a double lot in the heart of the Norwegian Ghetto - Ballard. It need's paint. The lot is 50' by 125' and is currently filled with weeds, lumber, 9 cats, coons, and 3 dead cars. However, it has other endearing qualities; there's room for a veg garden. Time for adding cabbage and carrots to the mix.

As I'm living in a fantasy of having a pastoral urban estate some day, I've decided to name the place as folk did in England (part of that Arts & Crafts era sentimental thing).
Roland is not British, he's Swiss, but I have British pedigree so made the executive decision on the name. I picked Mog Cottage as 'mog' is a British slang term for pet cat of dubious pedigree. That's what our motley crew is mostly made of and they act like they own the place anyway, even demanding room service (in, out, in, out, in, out the front door despite the cat door in the back).

So, as the class progressed and I submitted my weekly reports, the garden took shape and now we have a good start. As urban farming is a huge trend, especially in Seattle, I feel that we are part of a movement towards better urban land use. Neither of us are herd animals that tend to got with trends, but this is a cause we can easily embrace.

I'm taking part II of the veg class this summer. After my final presentation, one of the teachers told me that she enjoyed reading about my culinary garden adventures and that I should start a blog. So here it is. Welcome to the adventures of Mog Cottage Urban Farm.