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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Squirrel Obsessed

Using the cat box for extra height
Our 5 pound Japanese Chin, Snorky lives to find squirrels. He spends countless hours on squirrel patrol and his favorite activity on walks is to chase squirrels to the end of the leash. His favorite squirrel park is Greenlake. Now that it's fall, the squirrels are out and about gathering food for the winter.

He's certainly been in heaven since discovering the rodents inside the house. I woke up this morning to claws clicking on the hardwood floor and sniffing noises emanating from his searching nose as he scours the house in his quest to find that squirrel. He hears them scuffling around in the attic and he strains his neck trying to sniff the ceiling. He keeps checking the spots he cornered them in before.

There's gotta be another one here
Of course we've been asking for it. Last year, Roland started to feed these critters peanuts on the front porch for Snorky entertainment while we're gone during the day, and now it's morphed into a Grade B horror flick - The Invasion of the Peanut Snatchers or a squirrel version of Willard only now called Roland. I anticipate waking up one morning, surrounded by a room full of these rodents demanding peanuts; the carcasses of seven cats and one small dog laying around. It won't end well.

A squirrel sits outside the living room window, two inches from Snorky's nose, peering into the house waiting for the peanut handout. Snorky has a mind-melt, trying to get through the glass division that is keeping him from the chase. Our new cat, Marcel has developed an interest and is stalking it and finally chases it into the camellia bush where it emits alarm calls. Snorky watches all this, shaking in desperation.

Excuse me, I hear barking in the laundry room so it looks like I have to go catch another one. . . .Yep, it's Mr. Docktail who ran out the cat door at the first opportunity.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Menagerie Mayhem

There's never a dull moment at Mog Cottage. With seven cats and one dog you'd think we'd have enough critters for one small house. But I guess we have to include the urban wildlife, since they seem to help themselves to our hospitality of cat food and warm lodgings. I've written about how the neighborhood raccoons and opossums come in through the cat door and help themselves to the cat food. The coons have even come into the kitchen and the mama's have made it a habit of showing their charges where the best and easiest pickin's are located. Roland says that the cats and urban wildlife have a joint operating agreement. We had a good relocation program going until the city caught wind and threatened to take away our birthdays. But that's another story.

Well, recently we've had what seems to be a growing brood of squirrels in the attic. I first started hearing them chewing up there last spring and with a brief quiet summer, they're back at it this fall. The neighbors admitted that they have been entertained looking out their kitchen window at twelve little rodents sunning themselves in the opening in the soffit hole where they've found their attic access.

Scared out of his wits and missing some tail!
Now they're not satisfied with the attic but have decided to expand into the house! For the last two days Snorky has been in heaven cornering three squirrels in various areas of the house. All of a sudden I hear barking and shrieking emanating from the kitchen or bedroom only to find a little terrified fury body huddled into a crevice resigned to its fate. It might have been going on for hours since I discover the mayhem when I get home late int he day. The squirrels have been youngsters and one manage to lose the end of his tail, I guess from exposing it to high out of the hiding place. Due to this distinction, I've surmised that it's been in the house twice now - not too bright but squirrels aren't known for their brains.

I've gotten quite good at taking a coffee can and a ruler to scoop them up to take them back outside. Sort of like a big spider, but cuter. Of course I have to remove the squealing dog from the premises first in order to concentrate on catching the rodent. It pretty much just huddles in the can until I take it outside where I have to dislodge it with several good shakes onto a camellia branch so it can recover from the ordeal. But there's no guarantee that it will have safe quarter in the shrub as the cats line up around the bottom and give chase when it attempts a get away. Squirrels are such fun things to chase.

Now I like wildlife, but I draw the line when they decide the inside of the house is a good place to set up camp. If this keeps up, they'll be getting a ride to the park down the road. We haven't been able to figure out where they're coming in, but I suspect that the coons and possums may be showing them the cat door.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Quest for Red Threads

 We've managed to get a decent amount of potatoes this season, even though I hadn't planted any starts this year. Apparently, I missed some itsy bitsy taters when I dug them out last fall and they turned into sizable plants that gave us red and white potatoes of questionable varieties. The choices are Yukon Gold, Superior White and Red Norland. Red Norland would be the default for the red type and I'm thinking that the whites are a mish-mash between the other two. Far more red potatoes grew than white ones.

Hopefully I've thoroughly cleaned out the potatoes from the tub because this fall I've planted crocus bulbs. You're probably asking yourself why I would plant crocus bulbs instead of potatoes, but there's one simple reason: Saffron! I've planted Crocus sativus, the crocus that gives us the spice, saffron. I love to cook various Mediterranean cuisines such as paella and Persian dishes both of which call for copious amounts of saffron. Upon emptying out my tiny jar of the last of my saffron, I've decided to try and grow my own.

Spacing out the bulbs before planting.
Now saffron isn't only expensive to buy, it is THE most expensive spice on the market, and with good reason. It takes approximately 200,000 crocus stigmas to get a pound of saffron. That's 12,500 stigmas in an ounce. Now I didn't go out and purchase thousands of bulbs to plant in my yard. At around thirty-three cents a bulb at the local nursery, that would have cost around the price of a new car. Plus at 4 inches apart, that would require around 7400 square feet of garden space (at 9 bulbs per square ft.) or 616 claw foot bath tubs packed in without pathways (at 12 sq. ft each). So, I settled for 30 bulbs and spaced them between the cat proofing slats. At three stygmas per flower, I figure I'll get around 90 to 180 stigmas (with double flowers) which will probably fill up my tiny jar some. The next year I should get a greater yield because the bulbs will have multiplied, producing more flowers.

That is, if they don't rot from all of the rain we get around here. If you think about it, Saffron comes from arid climates; Spain and Iran. The PNW isn't exactly arid on this side of the Cascade Mountains, even when we haven't had much rain for the last several months. However, I've read that generous spring rains and drier summers are optimal. This year is a great example. Since this crocus variety flowers closer fall, I'm hoping that the flowers won't get beaten up by rain like tulips around here do in the spring.

Because of it's out of orbit cost, Saffron is one of the most counterfeited spices around. What is passed off as saffron by unscrupulous vendors is often really a type of marigold or safflower petal. You may see this  product coming out of Mexico on this side of the pond. Also, the Caribbean folk like to call turmeric saffron and turmeric is also passed off as saffron to unsuspecting tourists abroad. Unfortunately, even some fine restaurants try to dupe the customer by passing turmeric off as saffron. The best defense is to purchase it from a reputable specialty store, especially where folk from the Middle-East shop because they would know.

So, how do you tell if it's real? First of all, it should cost some scratch. If you think you're getting a bargain, chances are you're getting shafted. The litmus test is easy. Simply drop a few threads in a glass of warm water. If it takes a few minutes for the strands to diffuse a dark color, then it's the real thing.  If the stuff immediately colors the water yellow or a murky orange, then it's a fake. There's also a distinct flavor and scent that real saffron possesses.

So, I've decided to give it a go myself, and see what I can get. Watch for me next fall in the veg garden in the morning hours, bending over a claw foot bathtub with tweezers in hand to collect my bounty of Crocus sativus stigmas. Hmmm. Saffron, medicinal poppies and lavender. Do I detect a theme here?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When Cold Frames Aren't

When Roland built a cold frame out of recycled windows over one of the raised beds I was thrilled with the fact that I would have a place to harden off veg starts in early spring and germinate some more throughout the season.

I even prepared for warmer weather by cracking open the doors enough to vent out any hot air. We had beautiful starts of cucumbers, beans and other veg and even some ornamental plants coming up. Roland spent a bit of time planting and labeling the pots. Then one morning, when checking on things, the pots were bare soil!

Yep, something decided to munch down everything nestled in 4 inch nursery pots we had cultivated. Gone. This discovery prompted one of the few times that I wished I had a shotgun. But then I would have to sit up all night into dawn to catch the marauder, and I wasn't about to do that. Only gardeners who grow giant pumpkins do that. And that's on the East Coast.

You'd think our lazy, well fed mogs who love to lie around in there during the day would have been on guard, earning their keep. Of course any number of urban wildlife could have helped themselves: raccoons, opossums (highly unlikely) or squirrels. Much too much pest for a domestic feline to handle, of course. Since the doors were open just a couple of inches, I'm guessing a rodent of some sort or a herd of snails had their feast. What I should have done was close the thing up each night and then vent it during the day. What's interesting is that none of the outside crops got mowed down like that. Phooey!

So, instead I just shut the doors and ignored it all in a sort of denial that gardeners get when they know they've been outmaneuvered, sort of like that farmer in Shawn the Sheep cartoons. But that decision would also come back to bite me. After a cold, wet June we finally got some hot weather starting July 5th. Great, only that I underestimated how much heat nursery pots can take. I finally looked inside the cold frame on a hot summer day and noticed that a flat of empty nursery pots stored inside had turned into a Salvador Dali still life. I now have a flat of melty-pots. I guess you could also say that they were divinely inspired by the ghost of George Ohr. Instead of the "Mad Potter of Biloxi," I could become the "Mad Gardener of Ballard." Mad is the operative term here.

Note to self, #6 plastic melts in a cold frame turned hot house.