Autumn News

I recently made the decision to delete my Facebook page. I’ve thought about it for some time and have deactivated it for short periods in the past. This time, I am done. Already I feel a difference–a little more at peace. October was the perfect month for me to let go. I love October–that perfect blend of the last of the sunny days, the beginning of chilly nights, some much-needed rain that can be appreciated now (we will get tired of it in a few months here in the Northwest!). The colors are beautiful, nature is bountiful. It’s a time for a last burst of work in the garden, and then we turn inward–to cozy homes, cats on laps, good books, family gatherings, and introspection at the winter solstice.

Our year was full of ups and downs, as most are. For us, the last few years have seemed to bring far more downs, but there have still been good times. We did quite a bit of visiting this summer–two weddings, a small family reunion, a lovely trip to Alaska thanks to my wonderful Mom. We saw lots of family and some very dear friends who might as well be family!

At home, it was a quieter summer. I am still recovering from a shoulder injury in May so there wasn’t much in the way of hiking and very little kayaking. We had a particularly hot and smoky summer in western Washington, which also made for a little less adventuring. Our garden was mixed–decent on the veggie side though not as productive as last year’s, but pretty good for my calendula and chamomile crop (which, along with the nasturtiums, are still blooming).

We’ve finally been able to get out and about locally the last two months for some easy hikes, a light paddle, and some successful foraging for berries, apples, rose hips, and huckleberries. We found a great place for U-pick corn. Our freezer is full of goodies! There is something so immensely satisfying about a freezer full of food from your own garden and woodlands.

I’ll close with a few photos from October outings. On to November!

Of Knees and Trees and Too Much Rain

Way overdue for a post here, but I have to admit, I’ve been a bit grouchy. I don’t want to complain too much, because my Midwest and East Coast friends have had it way worse, but I am tired of our very wet, cool spring here in the NW. I don’t know why–we’ve been here for almost 30 years, but this spring has been mentally tough as well. Still going through challenges with Jim’s job/non-job. There needs to come a time when one must just move on, but then something comes up that gives hope. The back and forth makes planning for the future difficult; but then, that’s what this blog was supposed to be all about. How to deal with changes you were not expecting.

Along with the monetary challenges of a much-reduced income, we are starting to feel old. We can still do all the things we used to do, for the most part (I will never kneeboard again, but didn’t care for it much in the first place!), but we no longer recover quite as quickly. Last November, I had a fall due to a startled cat and possible overconsumption of wine. My knee was just starting to recover when we had a nice week of weather and decided to order 12 yards of dirt for our eco-lawn and gardening projects. After moving 11 yards of the dirt (half of it by myself) and then replanting 32 raspberry plants that our neighbor didn’t want (Jim had to dig them all up first), my other knee decided it was only fair for it to have time off as well. So much for spring hikes of any length or difficulty! At least, in this case, the bad weather has helped. I have not felt the need to venture out in one of the wettest Aprils in Washington’s recorded history.

We have managed a few shorter and/or easier ventures that have been quite enjoyable.

We’ve gone back to Bloedel (my mission is to go once a month–next visit is this Friday).  After two visits I am already thankful for having purchased the yearly membership. Such a lovely, peaceful place.

We made two other trips before the last rainstorm hit–one up the North Shore of Hood Canal to DeWatto and another to the Rocky Bay Conservation Area. The DeWatto trip was more of a leisurely scenic drive than hike, but perfect for my injured self. We first stopped at Menard’s Landing and then took the back road to DeWatto. Who knew we had our own ‘road to Hana’???? Complete with scary turns, cliffs, and grouchy locals, but not nearly as long or as crowded. We came home the easy way, past Tahuya. The DeWatto campground was closed for camping but we were able to walk around the campground and along the river. We hope to go back and kayak on the bay this summer.

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Our next mini-adventure was Rocky Bay Conservation Area. This was a pretty, easy hike that’s close by Belfair, Gig Harbor, and Port Orchard. Several people were out with their dogs, as it was a lovely day. We met one woman who paints rocks and hides them along the trail for the kids (and us adults!) to enjoy. Saw some salmon fry in the creek. The only drawback for this site is no bathroom. Still, I was able to enjoy this hike with little knee pain.

Today the rain finally let up and I was able to get back in the yard. Planted potatoes in old grain sacks (my recycling project for the day), and pulled bunches of alders and scotch broom. We had grand plans for our place when we moved in but the job loss has put most on hold. We have however, managed to get a good garden in and are slowly gaining ground. The slower process has let Mother Nature take a greater hand and it’s been very interesting to watch our great bare patch of dirt turn into a nice meadow with very little input from us. The deer love to hang out there and we even had a duck visit our seasonal pond/mud puddle the last few days. We’ve planted native flowers in one of the remaining bare spots, so am hoping to get more bees and butterflies. A little at a time, but it’s getting done!

Serenity at Bloedel Reserve

A few weeks ago, we made it out to Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Bloedel is one of those in-your-backyard sort of places that we always seem to put off. It’s going to be too crowded, it’s too expensive, it’s just a garden, we’ll do it another time, it’s not adventurous enough, it will always be there. I have talked about going for years but always came up with an excuse. I am so glad we finally went.

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Bloedel is not just a garden. It’s 150 acres of spectacular scenery, both wild and groomed, and full of life, even in the middle of February. We saw ducks, geese, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a number of smaller birds. Heard a raven and frogs. Saw a deer and a coyote. Flowers were already blooming–hellebores, camellias, primroses, and others. As beautiful as it was on the overcast, chilly day that we went, I can only imagine what it will be like in April or May.

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We enjoyed it so much that we went back to the admissions desk and bought a year-long pass for the two of us, plus two guests. Well worth the $100 (plus you get a 10 percent discount at the gift shop, which has a lovely selection of local art and things–and where else can you find squirrel earrings!). I plan on going back once a month to chronicle the changes throughout the seasons.

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There is lots of information on their website and at the Reserve so I won’t tell you all about it here. Part of the fun is reading about the history in the lovely home on the grounds. There are a number of special events throughout the year, or you can just go for a walk on your own. It took the three of us almost three hours (although some of that was in the gift shop!). We were constantly stopping to marvel at some beautiful plant or scene, but there were also people who live a little closer who use the Reserve for a brisk walk for exercise. I think I would do that if I lived on Bainbridge as well!

PS: Do be aware that pets are not allowed, and they will not let you keep one in your car while you visit (good for them!).

http://bloedelreserve.org/

 

Comments Concerning Cairns and the Tedious Business of Huckleberries

Last month we found ourselves in Moab, Utah, for a week of hiking and quad/dirt bike riding with friends. I had my first quad trial by fire (i.e.; ride, which was supposed to be easy, except for the hair-raising ride up and down the incredibly rocky, narrow ledge that passed as a road) but prefer the quiet moments out in nature so Jim and I did some hiking as well. Our last hike of the trip was to the Fisher Towers along the Colorado River just NE of Moab. Stunningly beautiful territory and a hike we would heartily recommend to anyone planning a trip to the area. Do watch the weather, which comes in quick (as it does here in the NW). We were keeping an eye on some thunder and rain storms that pretty much split the formation we were hiking. (The lyrics from King of the Mountain kept going through my head! “Mountain in the shadow of light, rain in the valley below”–Midnight Oil). Wind was wild in places, and really caught everyone off guard as we came around a corner to one of the popular stopping points–from perfectly calm to wind that blew the glasses right off my face and sent someone’s backpack tumbling back down the trail. I basically dropped and clung to the bare rock for fear of following my glasses over the edge. But the wind did die down and Jim was safely able to rescue both glasses and backpack. The trail ends on a similar windy, bare, exposed rock with an incredible view. I crawled up it; Jim of course stood right at the edge.

This hike, in addition to being amazing in so many ways, was also interesting in that much of the trail is marked with cairns. We usually do relatively easy day hikes here in the Olympics and the only cairns I see on a regular basis are often found along our rocky riverbeds, where the rocks practically beg to be stacked. However, I now see exactly why experienced back country hikers hate to see cairns that are made for no reason. They really do make a difference is some areas. When you are hiking across hard, bare rock, they may be the only way to mark a trail. Randomly piling up rocks can send people off in the completely wrong direction. So if you love them, make one, take a photo, and then take it down, or make them in your own yard.

On a completely different subject, we returned to huckleberry season in the NW. These are not my favorite berries to eat right off the plant, but they are wonderful in pancakes, muffins, and other such things. They are also free and in great abundance on our property. With our meagre income, who are we to turn down free food? On the flip side, free is not necessarily easy. I see why someone in the area is charging $9 for a half-pint of the berries. After several days of picking and sorting (which is way worse than the picking), I think she was undercharging! They are lots of work. But my stash in the freezer is growing and I will keep at it until they are gone for the year. We will all be glad in mid-winter! Tomorrow we tackle the mountain of green tomatoes in the kitchen.

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Garden Bounty

I know I’ve been quiet lately. It’s been a difficult summer. Not in a catastrophic way, like our last few years, but one of those where so many smaller things pile up that it suddenly becomes too much to take, especially for someone with chronic depression. I haven’t had my normal outlet of hiking for some time. Jim got a bad burn on his leg early in the summer (luckily it has completely healed–even the scar isn’t bad) and I hurt my foot last month. We have been paddling a few times–lots of fun, but not as often as I would like. Last month everything seemed to happen at once and I got to the point where I just had to hold on tight and ride out the storm. I’m finally reaching the end of this one and my saving grace has been my garden (and having the time to be out in it).

Gardening requires patience. You can’t rush it. Even when it’s exploding with produce that must be picked, you can only go so fast. This gives the mind a break from life’s chaos. The combination of being out in the elements, working in the soil, smelling the vegetation, and slowing down has a wonderful soothing effect on the soul. I have a chair near the vegetable garden and often just sit and listen to the bees. Even watering can be a relaxing routine–Jim fills the cans for me as I water (though next year we will probably look into a more efficient system!)

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I have always enjoyed gardening, but this year it’s taken on a new meaning, as we can really use the food–it helps with the grocery bill! We are making an extra effort to not be wasteful and it’s paying off with a freezer full of goodies, plus lots of fresh meals. I have only purchased lettuce once in the last several months and haven’t had to buy tomatoes since mid-July. Sunflower seeds are being roasted today, tomatillos have been roasted and frozen, zucchini grated, kale leaves packaged, salsa and sauces made and frozen. Peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers are all going strong. Fall seeds will be going in soon.

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An abundance of fresh produce can encourage a search for new recipes. We’ve tried zucchini raviolis and lasagna, using strips of zucchini in place of pasta. Both are wonderful and the raviolis make a pretty spectacular presentation, especially when topped with a sauce of fresh picked tomatoes and herbs. Our simplest go-to recipe is to take whatever has just been picked and put it in a freshly made tortilla (super easy to make!).

Growing your own food is incredibly satisfying. I’m very lucky to have room for a big garden, but even a few potted plants on a windowsill, balcony, or counter will give you a connection to nature. Many vegetables grow well in containers on a patio or deck. Tomatoes and strawberries can grow in hanging pots. Herbs can be easy to grow and have so many uses in both cooking and beauty products (I use a rosemary rinse for my hair). You can start small and still enjoy the benefits!

Happy gardening to all of you!

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Garden Dreams, Garden Realities

This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to gardening. I always have grand visions, which usually don’t turn out quite the way I imagined. But it’s fun to dream big! This year, we have a lot of work to do. Shortly before Jim lost his job, we sold our big house in the suburbs and bought a small place on almost six acres out in the boonies. It turned out to be one of the few really good things that has happened in recent years, as we no longer have a mortgage, and that is truly a blessing with our money struggles.

It does mean that we need to be much more creative. We are trying to be more self-sufficient, which isn’t a bad thing, even if money isn’t tight. But for us, it’s a necessity. It can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun! We have about an acre cleared out of a portion of 20 to 25-year poorly managed Douglas fir. I’m sure the timber company sold off the land some time ago, and therefore, it was never thinned properly. Our vision is to slowly restore the property to a more natural state. But first, we must deal with the cleared area and work on establishing our garden, so we can grow some of our own food (the deer think it’s for them, but we will work on that!).

One of our biggest problems is soil. Anyone in Western Washington probably knows what I’m talking about. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. All of the lovely glacial stuff left behind. We do have a few pockets of good soil, but they are either in shade all day or under water seven months out of the year (or both). Cranberries maybe?? The one big sunny patch is also the area with the most rock (of course!). We’re not even trying to clear the stuff away; we’re just building up on top. And that’s where the fun and creativity come in. I’ve been reading lots of books and magazines about woodlot management and self sufficiency from the library and online. Last year we started a straw bale garden, which is becoming quite popular. We had mixed results. Some things did very well, others not so much, though I think weather had far more to do with it than the straw bale setup (growing tomatoes the the NW is always a crapshoot). The biggest problem for me was expense. We did it sort of last minute and it ended up being more expensive than I had hoped. Straw is not as cheap here as it is in some other places! It did, however, leave us with a nice pile of rotted straw that we can plant in again this year and then compost in what will become the main garden.

This year we are planning the main garden, which will eventually be fenced against the deer. We are using two strategies–lasagna gardening and hugelkulter. I must admit, I want to do the hugelkulter in part because of the name. Who doesn’t want to be able to say “I’ve got a hugelkulter in my yard!” OK, maybe I’m the only one. But both use what we’ve already got. Today I spent several hours (and about 2 miles of walking around the property, which is good because I’ve been slacking off on my exercise program!) building the hugelkulter mound. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a long-term garden solution using wood debris, tree limbs, and whatever organic matter you have around to build a big mound which breaks down slowly but adds tons of wonderful nutrients to the soil. Since we have lots of thinning to do, there will probably be quite a few of these mounds around the yard! The February/March 2017 issue of Mother Earth  News talks about both types of gardening, plus several others.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of our garden experiments!

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Look at that lovely soil we’re starting with! Found a huge mound of fir cone remnants in our woods. Using several buckets of it to add to the pile. Still lots of work to do.