Sunday, July 29, 2007

Darling Vermin !@#$%#!s

Earlier this year Beo and I were thrilled to spot a thirteen-lined ground squirrel in our front yard. He was eating the seeds around our bird feeder, and we were so glad to have attracted more wildlife. Soon we saw him scurrying around the back prairie, and we crowed over the fact that we had a real ecosystem going there now, with a native critter having made his home back there. When the gardens got going, we were happy to see that we didn't have any problems. Beo had spotted more than one ground squirrel at a time in the backyard now, and we'd seen them scurrying in from other areas of the neighborhood.

Then about 6 weeks ago we had such a rush on lettuce orders from our coffee shop that we started some new lettuce seedlings. Once they had multiple leaves, we transplanted the 1.5 inch plants into a carefully prepared bed. The next afternoon, they were gone, nibbled to the ground. Meanwhile the new bed couldn't seem to push up a seedling for the life of it. We'd planted about 100 seed patches, and only a few things were coming up. Finally we realized that the seedlings were coming up, only to be gnawed down overnight. At first, we decided it was rabbits, and we put up chicken wire. No dice. Next we decided it was birds--we'd spotted a robin in the lettuce beds on multiple occasions. Beo spent an afternoon and rigged an elaborate netting system over both of our seedling beds. Our poor little lettuce seedlings kept getting nibbled to the ground. Soon we noticed holes appearing in our garden. One little burrow came up right in the middle of one of the seedling beds. Another exited on either end of the raised potato bed, and as soon as the tomatoes started turning orange, we began finding half eaten tomatoes at the edge of the hole. It was the dang little adorable thirteen lined ground squirrels.

We debated over how to handle it. They're so tiny that there's really no way to protect the garden from them. Although we loved having them in our ecosystem, we finally agreed that since they were ruining our gardens, they had to go. Beo bought a small live trap and we baited it with peanut butter--somewhat skeptically. The next morning I spotted our little friend sniffing around the trap. He got a tomato (little bugger) and ate it on top of the rock border, eyeing the trap the whole time. When I next looked out the window, the trap was sprung, and sure enough, our little friend was in there. We took him to a local park where I'd recently found there was a whole colony of his kin. The next day, Beo took the NEW lettuce seedlings of of a bench, and by that afternoon they'd been eaten to the stem. We saw another little friend in the prairie today, so set the trap back there. 5 minutes later Bugger2 had sprung the trap, but we had set it wrong and he got out. You'd think he'd have learned a lesson, and you'd be right if that lesson was "Peanut Butter is tasty!". We baited the trap again and less than 2 minutes later he was in it again, this time for good, and is off to find a new home. There's definitely a balance to this whole permaculture thing, and I guess sometimes there's just not enough room for all of us in the backyard.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Fruits of our Labors

I'm behind in writing this, but wanted to give you a picture of our June. Our strawberry plants are in their third year, and gifted us with a steady supply of fresh fruit. It was so wonderful to have it after a long winter/spring with fruit being a rare treat. At first, we were excited with the first single strawberry that came into perfection. We picked it, photographed it, savored it. Before long we had such huge harvests that we didn't know what to do with it all. In years past, Bird would forage her way through the beds and there was little left for the rest of us, but this year even our little Bird had her fill. Our visitors were encouraged to pick their heart's delight--and still we had more than we needed. With an early and mid producing variety, we had a steady supply for weeks.

Last year's attempt at jelly put me off of such ventures, but looking at strawberry jam recipes, that looked less intensive. Grape jelly involved peeling, seeding, and boiling down the grapes, but strawberries just get hulled and mashed. It's still work to prep the strawberries and prepare and can the jam, but after a first batch we decided it was more than worth it. We did 2 batches of straight strawberry jam, and one with currants when our champagne currants came into fruit. The strawberry-currant jam is particularly delightful. I still get a bit nervous about the canning aspect, but I am so paranoid about doing everything right that I realize I have little to worry about.
As we went hulled our strawberries from huge bowls, I selected the most perfect berries to be frozen for later. I set these individually on a tray, froze them for a few hours, then put them into a freezer bag. (This method prevents them from freezing together in a great lump.) I'm looking forward to making a strawberry smoothie with our own backyard local organic straberries--in October. With a gallong bag of frozen berries, and a dozen jars of jam, we're a far cry better this year towards preserving more of our fruit, to take us further into the less productive garden months on local fruit. If we do as well with our garden goodies, we'll be in great shape.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Play with Dolls

Those of you who know me a bit know that I am a pretty eccentric individual. I tend to pick up hobbies that are often far from what one would expect of me. So here's my latest confession: I've fallen for dolls. When I first heard about the American Girl Benefit Sale for Madison Children's Museum, it sounded great to me. American Girl donates their seconds and returns to MCM, and MCM has hundreds of volunteers who fix them up. Once a year there is a huge warehouse sale where the items are sold. All of the proceeds benefit MCM and American Girl's charities. So let's see, we're reducing waste AND benefiting charity. Sounds good! Doing a bit of research I really liked the way American Girl emphasized girl's self esteem, worth, strength, and intelligence. I loved the history and stories behind the dolls. My sisters and I played with dolls when we were little, and as I started looking at these new dolls, I enjoyed reminiscing with them over our favorite doll friends in childhood. I was lucky to get an early ticket into the sale, so I started doing some research, thinking I'd pick up a doll or two for the kids. That's when I discovered the world of adult collecting, and what a world it is! I decided pretty quickly that this was something I wanted to do. It's pretty out-of-character for me, and Beo is more than a little freaked out about the entire thing, but is being relatively cool about it. He said that it helps that I'm pretty embarrassed about the entire endeavor. I've found a little niche for myself in the world of collecting, and discovered that I enjoy getting dolls that just need a little fixing up. I've gotten a couple of fixer-uppers on E-bay, learned how to make them over, and resold them to help fund my own collection. My collection started with a second-hand "Kit", the doll from the Great Depression, around 1934. She's pretty new and just needs some stray candle-dye removed from her hand. (It's a long process, but she'll recover.) Last night we picked up a Craigslist lot from a family about a half-hour from us. It was so fun to meet the girls who grew up with this doll, to watch Sprout and Bird fawn over and name the new "girl" (Daisy), and then to get to work on fixing her up. I just love the transformations of these well-loved dolls, giving them a new lease to get some more love and bring another child (or adult!) more joy. Check out the before and after--to me it's just really satisfying. Daisy caught me by surprise and will probably be a permanent member of the Sprout-Bird collection. I do think that playing with dolls is important for children, helping to teach them about caring for another being (even if it happens to be inanimate), and in this case, teaching them about believing in themselves. The Madison Children's Museum Benefit Sale is this weekend and I've saved up my lettuce money and some overtime to build up a starter collection. I'm so excited! So now you know what's been filling up my time between weeding and watering. It's doll collecting, and while I can't yet say I'm proud, I'm getting there, and having fun in the process.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Us at the Farmer's Market

Today marked a momentous occasion: the first ever Farmer's Market in our little village. A couple of industrious folks finally riled up the board enough to get permission to use the village hall parking lot to hold a farmer's market. We were asked to join in. We're pretty "between" crops right now. All of our lettuce has gone to the coffee shop, and our new seedlings were all mowed down by birds within 24 hours of putting them out. We have potatoes like you wouldn't believe--the current pride of the garden, but Beo refuses to share (and I'm not about to argue!). We also have beets and zucchini, but we've been living on them. I wanted to be a part of this though, so managed to get together a few bouquets of flowers, some beets, baby zucchini, garlic, and herb bundles to take down this morning. I was pleased when I arrived to find that we had a good spread! There were 5 other vendors. One had a wide array of vegetables and flowers, another had eggs, a third had preserves, a fourth had plants for sale, and the last had honey. Traffic was sparse, I don't think we'd have known about the market ourselves had we not been asked to join in, but there were enough drive-bys to keep people trickling in. In the two hours we were there we sold all of our basil, mint, and beets, and a bouquet of flowers. I felt kind of guilty about the flowers because Bird asked the lady to buy them, and who can say no to Bird? The customer even asked Bird to pick out which flowers she should take. Yeah, that was all about those big brown eyes. People's asking prices were loooow. The only other veggies seller there was selling almost everything for $1, so I ended up selling my herb bunches for $1 and the beets were $2 but my last one I sold for $1. Tough critics. The flowers only went for $3. So I spent an hour prepping and two hours there, and made $10. $2 of that went for eggs from our fellow vendor. It was a nice experience but boy, that's tough money-wise. I won't be able to make it next week, but the following week, once tomatoes are rolling in, we may give it another shot. The money is not why I showed up this morning, it was a matter of being the change and offering organic local food from our own backyard to our community.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Summer Updates

Well I've planned a half dozen posts but there's just not time for them all, so let me give you a digest version of how summer is going. We've been gardening, traveling to weddings, celebrating birthdays, and gardening...and gardening. The gardens are glorius this year, and in some ways less maintenance as they mature and shade out weeds. We've put in more beds this year though, mostly vegetable beds, so there's more to keep up with, and much more watering. When we get a good rain I breathe a sigh of relief knowing I'll get a few more free hours the next day or two.

One of the most exciting things is that I've taken on the market garden component of Someday Gardens. We have been selling our lettuce to a local coffee shop, that's featuring them in a special salad. It started off slow, with a delivery every week or so, but the salad took off in popularity, and soon we got a call that they'd take all we could deliver. Suddenly we were delivering two containers (about a pound of lettuce each, washed and dried) a day. Beo went in and asked for the salad for lunch one day after I'd made a delivery that morning, and they told him that our lettuce was already gone! It's nice to have it going over so well, even moreso when you look at the cycle of it. We drink their coffee, compost their coffee grounds and vegetable waste, grow lettuce with the compost, which we sell to them. I've even been watering our new lettuce seedlings with the rinse water from the lettuce. We had to put in an entire new bed just for lettuce because we quickly tired out our early spring batch. It is pretty labor intensive to pick and triple wash, then spin and dry that much lettuce, but I am thrilled to be able to do it. The other day I came out from making a delivery, saw our "Be the change you wish to see in the world" bumpersticker, and smiled to think how we were implementing local organic foods in our own community.

The flower gardens and the prairie have taken off as well. We're thrilled that a little thirteen-lined ground squirrel has made our yard his home. We've also had a frequent hummingbird visitor who is new to us this year. There are pollinators galore buzzing all over the place, and we had a huge influx of butterflies late last month. There were dozens all over our front yard, and at first I thought they were just everywhere, but looking up and down the street I realized that they were all concentrated in our yard. If I were a butterfly I guess I'd hang out here too. Heck, I'm not a butterfly and here I am.

Eating local has been somewhat of a breeze. We've made a couple of trips to the Farmer's Market, but many of our meals came from our own backyard until late last month, when things got so busy we were always on the run and our lettuce was all going elsewhere. We did enjoy a harvest of peas though, and an early harvest of beets. Beets are one of those vegetable creatures that I never learned to love until I'd had them fresh. Now they're one of my favorites. This meal was oh-so-local: backyard peas, lightly steamed; backyard beets, roasted, homemade bread spread with locally produced goat cheese; backyard lettuce with local feta and a homemade vinaigrette. Divine. I so love eating locally. It gives one something to look forward to. I will do my best to keep up more with my blog. It's frustrating that the time of year I have so much to write about, I have so little time to do so. I hope everyone's enjoying a fabulous summer.