Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday Garden Update


After a week of much-needed rain, we had a glorious weekend.  Which means that I was able to get my hands deep into the garden.  Plants are growing, but there's a lot of tidying up that needs to be done.  It's also really important to just take time to look around at everything.  I planted this California native Douglas Iris the year we bought the house, and it has only just now bloomed.

Our hop vines are doing remarkably well.  One plant has already grown past the roofline of our garage.

The Scarlet Runner Beans are also growing like crazy. The Purple Royalty beans took a beating when the darn hens got into the garden and tore them apart. I need to find a moment to buy more seeds.  I also need to find a moment to plant the Trail of Tears beans before they die of neglect in my seed trays.  And the less we say about the chard starts, the better. Sigh....  I don't have a lot of luck starting seeds.  They get going, and then something always happens, and things go awry.

Our green onions are attracting a lot of bees.  We've been treating these as a cut-and-come-again crop, slicing them off, rather than pulling them up. If we leave the roots in the garden, they seem to re-grow, which is entertaining. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

The cherry grafts seem to have taken.  I've got a cherry tree that I bought on craigslist.  It was supposed to be a Lapin cherry, but it's clearly just some rootstock.

It produces tons of tiny fruits, that are so terrible-tasting that nothing can make the flavor go away.  Robb and I both have eaten exactly one of these fruits.

What I'm not sure about is if I should strip them off the tree, once it develops leaves. There's a lot written about how fruit production saps strength from the fruit tree, so perhaps getting rid of this inedible fruit might be beneficial to the tree.  I dunno. To my way of thinking, this falls into the category of folk wisdom that's often repeated, but does not ever come with any scientific backing.

Our persimmon tree is blooming. This is the type of flower that only shows itself to a quiet eye.  These blossoms are very subtle, and I just love them.  This tree was a wreck when we bought the house.  I'm still amazed that it is as productive as it is.

And speaking of "wrecks," here's our infant fig orchard in our tiny side-yard.  The largest tree is Jesús, the neglected tree our neighbors gave us back in October of 2011.  Poor Jesús still looks rather crucified, but is carrying a small crop of fruit already.  Of our five varieties of figs, three are already fruiting.

In some ways, I'm very happy with how the garden is going.  In other ways, I'm deeply frustrated by my inability to ever make things thrive or look really nice.  It seems like the best I can ever say is "well, it's so much better than it was when we bought the place."

For a look at really splendid gardens, do check out Daphne's weekly collection of garden blogs.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

I Came, I Sawed, I Conquered...


This weekend saw a frenzy of gardening, and the largest part of that frenzy was the sawing down of our pathetic backyard brugmansia.  This poor thing has been struggling ever since we bought this house, back in 2009.

Originally, I had planned to cut back all the dead wood, with the hopes of rejuvenating the few bits that were still alive.  Once I got all the dead branches taken out, there was almost nothing left.  Robb talked me into taking the tree out altogether.

I know he was right, and that this poor thing wasn't going to recover, but that didn't stop me from feeling like a killer.  I patted the tree, and apologized to it, the whole time I was sawing.  When you look up the phrase "tree hugger," the picture you'll see is mine.

The big challenge was removing the branches without dropping them on the beehive.  I was cutting the wood with a bow-saw (bottom right corner of the above photo) and needed Robb's help supporting the branches until I had cut all the way through them.  It was hot, dirty, dusty work.

Two things have changed with the removal of the tree.  The Backyard Squirrel Highway has been re-configured. Do you see the slightly confused squirrel behind the post in the photo?  Do you see our scraggly lilac bushes?  Don't worry, I'm not about to remove them.

The other change is the "improved" view of the house on the other side of our fence.  This place is a wreck, and a total mystery.  Someone bought it about a year ago, and it has been vacant all that time.  On July 4th, workers smashed out all the windows, ripped out most of the interior walls and moulding, and threw everything out the second story windows.  Since that time, they've been back once, to do some minor cleaning.  The house has been open to the elements since July. Sure, there's been a drought going on, but there's still been enough rain to damage a house.  We're baffled by this.  Who can afford to buy a house, start "renovations" and then let it all fall apart?

Our plan is to drill the stump and try to get it to decompose.  We'll probably plant beans or sunflowers in the open spot this season, and then next year, we'll move one of our baby pomegranate trees into this spot.  Pomegranates are beautiful trees, and I'm hoping ours will thrive where the brugmansia did not.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Orchids with Stowaways


Robb and I keep our eyes open for estate sales.  They're a wonderful place to buy older housewares, the sort of things that make people declare "They don't make 'em like that anymore."  We prefer to buy well-made used goods, because it's a good choice environmentally, and because we're both the kind of weirdos who prefer old things to new.

I've also come to realize that the estate sales around here often sell massive cymbidium orchids.  This variety of orchid is well suited to our climate, and can take an awful lot of neglect.  What we often see at estate sales are the gardens of people who may not have had as much energy to care for their plants as they once had.  It's rather sad.  People get older, and they can't keep up with the gardens which they clearly once loved.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't nursing a plant that someone else had neglected.  I have a soft spot in my heart for unloved plants.  Today, I brought home four large orchids, all of which had long ago outgrown their pots.

Orchids grow directionally.  Each of these plants were dead in the middle of their pots, with all their live growth hanging over the edges of their containers.  Ferocious jungle cat Smog made a nest on top of the dead plant matter.

Can you see how how this plant is sending out roots, along the edges of the pot?  Can you see that the pot itself has literally burst apart?

I sat down in the grass today and set about cutting the pot away from this plant's overgrown roots.

And then I stopped short, because I realized that this orchid had a hitch-hiker.  Nestled inside the roots of this plant was a tiny tiny salamander.  "Great," I thought, "if I don't do something quickly, the chickens are going to eat this little dude for lunch."

I ran inside, and grabbed a canning jar and a plate.  Without touching the little fellow, I coaxed it into my container.  I dashed back inside, showed him to Robb, took some terrible photographs, and then released him in the soggiest spot in our front yard, well out of reach of our marauding hens.

Moments later, I found his little brother.  The first salamander probably measured two inches from snout to tail, and the second one (pictured above) was only about an inch-and-a-half.  I was terrified of damaging him, and was particularly worried about his tiny toes.

There wasn't one speck of potting material left in this orchid's pot. I'm amazed the salamanders could fit in either.    Every bit of space was taken up by the tangle of roots.

After some online consultation, and a phone conversation with my orchid pal George, I hacked the whole mass apart with a bow-saw.  No salamanders were hurt in the splitting of this plant.

That huge plant is now occupying the two pots on the right of this photo. When my other overgrown orchids finish blooming, I'll re-pot them as well.  However, I doubt I'll discover any more delightful stowaways.

Monday, March 31, 2014

West Coast Falconry!


Did Robb and I have a great time at our much-anticipated falconry class? Oh yes we did!  I had some trepidation that the place was going to be a dismal set-up with defeated-looking animals in miserably small cages.  I had fairly low expectations, and was very pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. The birds were housed in large immaculate aviaries, and seemed healthy, alert and relaxed.

The bird we worked with was a Harris Hawk, a large bird of the American Southwest.  They are unique among raptors, in that they are social animals, hunting and raising their young in family groups.  Their social tendencies make them excellent "working" birds.  Mariposa, the eleven year old bird we worked with was quite a character.  Very intelligent, often anticipating the commands she would be given. 

Having worked with wild birds, it was very odd to look a bird directly in the eyes.  In pretty much every photo of me, I'm retracting my head as far away from the bird as I possibly can.  I'm trained to stay away from a wild bird's head, but apparently it's the feet you have to watch out for on raptors.  See how relaxed Robb and the bird look?  If she wanted to, she could exert five hundred pounds of pressure with her talons. Impressive strength, particularly as she weighs only two pounds.

We did not manage to get any good photos of the hawk flying to our gloves, because it was all moving so quickly.  I did get some nice shots of Mariposa chasing quail meat, way up in the air.

Beautiful, isn't she?  If you look verrrrry closely, you can see a wire protruding from the left end of her tail feathers.  That's a clip-on radio device that would help her keepers locate her, if she decided to fly off.

Why run away from home, when there's fresh wings on the menu?  I don't think the people teaching the class quite knew what to make of me and Robb, as we are both vegetarians, and entirely un-squeamish about handling raw meat.  I may not eat meat, but I don't expect birds of prey to subsist on a diet of wildflowers.

Robb and I will definitely be going back to take another class.  If you're interested in learning more about West Coast Falconry, click here.

My usual Monday garden updates will resume next week.  If you're missing reading about gardening, there's plenty to read at Daphne's weekly round-up.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's New Around the House?


Although we haven't working on an official "house projects" Robb and I have been keeping busy.  We're just loading in scenery for the next show at Berkeley Rep, and have another huge play looming on the horizon.

I took a class on knitting with beads, taught by the always-lovely Kira Dulaney last weekend.  I've been the program coordinator for a local handspinning guild for the past two years, so I've had the opportunity to bring in all sorts of fascinating fiber artists as teachers and speakers.

I try to make the classes as pleasant as possible, and to this end, Robb baked a delicious vegan cake.  Usually, I'm not a fan of vegan baking, because of all the overly processed ingredients used.  (And don't get me started about "raw baking.")  This recipe was made with ingredients that I would classify as actual food, and was exceptionally tasty as well.

The cake is based on a recipe widely available on the web and includes all the basic ingredients you'd expect to find: flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder, etc.  Oil replaces butter, baking soda provides the leavening, with a boost from some vinegar, and then there's a lot of water.  Our improvements were:  6 oz. of melted dark chocolate and a raspberry jam glaze with raspberry garnish. The additional chocolate adds just a bit more richness and the fruit punches up the flavor without having to resort to a heavy frosting made of vegan-knows-what.  Yum.

Robb strained raspberry jam to make the glaze, and the chickens just about lost what little minds they have when I offered them the strained raspberry seeds. 

Linguine went back the the veterinarian's office, to see if her gall bladder issues were any better.  There blood tests were really alarming, with bilaruben levels off-the-chart.  And her skin and eyes are still quite yellow.  But as usual, she's spunky and acting like a normal healthy cat.  The vet is baffled, and we've agreed to keep an eye on things, and see if anything changes.

We've gotten a tiny bit of rain, and the garden is looking lush. It's too soggy for photography, and besides, Robb and I have to pack up and get on the road for our Falconry class. I'm trying not to jump up and down with excitement about this.  My internal soundtrack is filled with two sounds:  trumpet fanfare, and exciting Lisa-squealing.  Robb is lucky that I'm keeping that to myself.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Eggstravaganza is coming up, and you're invited!


Mark your calendars!  This year's Eggstravaganza will be April 13th, the Sunday before Easter.

Once again, I'll be teaching folks how to decorate Ukrainian-style Easter eggs.  We'll make some art, enjoy some snacks, and try not to set too many things on fire.

(How do you like my eggs?  From left to right, we've got eggs from Lydia, Anne Elliot, and Harriet.  Isabella seems totally uninterested in ever laying another egg. She's lucky in that she's an awfully sweet hen, and that Robb and I are tender-hearted vegetarians.  A chicken in another flock might not be quite so fortunate.)

Monday, March 24, 2014



Next weekend Robb and I are signed up for a Falconry class.  I'm so excited that I can hardly stand it.

How about you?  What have you been wanting to learn more about?  Have you taken classes, or are you still daydreaming?

Does anyone have one of those head-mounted video cameras I could borrow?


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