Monday, October 27, 2008

The Big Push

We have been pushing to be ready for winter, which we know usually makes an entrance aroud Halloween --just a few days from now! Yesterday we had cold, blasting wind and sideways snow. A taste of things to come.

Here are some of our accomplishments last week:

Rog got the fence, with a gate to the woods, installed across nearly half of the back yard. Now we realize it may be an effort in futility --the dogs, whom we were endeavoring to keep in, have discovered innumerable places inhte other fences where they can weasel their way under to chase squirrels --or worse, skunks.
We purchased a very old but well-maintained lawn sweeper from a retired farmer and I spent two afternoons gathering up leaves and piling them on my gardens. I have mastered many of the subtleties of using the sweeper--setting the height effectively, best speed of driving, quick unloading, and determining whether the leaves are dry enough to be easily swept. At first I felt guilty using a gas-powered machine instead of raking, but there are SO MANY leaves and this invests them in the soil for next year's garden, saves my back,and I don't have to drive them to the County compost facility.
Saturday morning I planted 8o tulips and 100 crocuses. The fancy,deep reddish-purple and apricot tulips are along the east side of the house, with crocuses scattered among them. The bright, traditionally-colored tulips are by the patio and the little birdbath garden in the yard. It always seems so unlikely that they will come up in the spring, when I am planting them in the last cold days of autumn, but they always come through despite my doubts.
Meanwhile, Rog was working on the Willys truck. He changed the oil and the gasoline, filled the radiator, cleaned the filters, and charged the old 6-volt battery. It still wouldn't start, and we determined that the battery was bad, so we purchased a new one. Then we got it to turn over(!), but it isn't getting enough fuel, so we have more work to do. It was pretty exciting to hear the engine sputter to life, however briefly. Who said we aren't mechanical?

Saturday afternoon, Kyle Herring, of Herring Exterior Design, came over and walked the property with us. We want to eradicate the buckthorn in the woods and the burdock in the pastures,and would love to restore the prairie and create a beautiful walking path. This land has never been tilled, and it was so much fun with Kyle pointing out many of the native species to us. I don't know how we are going to afford it, but I hope we can do a burn and begin working on the restoration soon. We also asked about the large dead maple in the back yard and were encouraged to take that out sooner rather than later--or it will likely take out our chicken coop when it goes. So then I worried about the chicken coop all day yesterday in those fierce winds!

Thanks to the cold rain and snow and wind yesterday, we mostly stayed inside. We made significant progress unpacking the basement and we replaced the old thermostat with a programmable one. The we ate supper, curled up and watched a movie. Our wonderful house feels cozy and snug!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend Update

Weekends at Squash Blossom Farm are the best, when Rog and I can both be home and do farm work. But this week we lost one whole workday - I spent all of Saturday at the Think Green Fair and Rog was traveling home from San Francisco. Early Saturday morning, as I loaded my car with the CERTS display for the Fair, it was mysteriously beautiful and foggy.

Sunday we doubled our efforts. Our main goals were to clean out the center room of the barn (the room we envision someday being my studio), gather up the old hay to spread as mulch on the gardens and to figure out a fencing system to keep the dogs out of the woods and away from skunks. We started out gung ho in the barn--but soon realized we would need a pitchfork and a dumpster. It's a much bigger space than it looks, piled much deeper than we anticipated with hay, straw, scraps of building materials -wood, sheetrock, tile, pipes, wires,foam insulation, paint cans - and old broken furniture. Let's just say we made a dent - altho it's pretty hard to tell.

We have become regular readers of Craigslist,the Farm and Garden category. Lately we have been searching for two attachments for our garden tractor - a snowblower and a lawn sweep - and for fencing. Obviously, the snowblower is for impending winter, and the fence is to keep the dogs out of the woods. The lawn sweep is to gather up some of the deep layer of fallen leaves to mulch our gardens, but every time we've found one listed, it's already been sold.

Sunday we scored on the fence,though, finding a listing for 100+ feet of nice chain link fence (including posts and 2 gates) - enough to close off about half of the open stretch across the woods. We hauled our little trailer to Pine Island and picked it up. Then, while Rog laid it out along the woods, I went to town to get a pitchfork, 5/8 drill bit and post cement. At Menard's I began talking to a man and his son who were looking for a scythe--and it turned out they may have exactly the snowblower attachment we need for sale. I love when things like that happen!

It was a beautiful fall evening, so we built a fire and roasted brats on a stick over the fire for supper. It's kind of a wistful time of year, knowing that there won't be many more weekends like this before winter arrives.

Friday, October 17, 2008


When I came home from a quick errand this afternoon the dogs came running up as I opened the gate. I told them to jump into the car-which they did, and that is when I realized that Nutmeg (the older lighter-brown dog) had just had a close encounter with a skunk. PEEEYUUUU!

I made them stay outside while I gathered the fortitude and the tools to deal with it. I found a recipe online for a dog bath concoction to remove skunk odor:
1 quart hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp dish soap

So, I went back out to get Nutmeg. She was curled up by the door, looking a bit nauseous (as I was feeling) and even Cocoa was keeping a good distance away from her. Nut hates baths, but she got into the tub with no problem. I only had enough hydrogen peroxide to make half a recipe, but I poured the mix all over her and waited about 10 minutes, as I worked on gettng out some of the burrs she also acquired during this escapade. The website also recommended using a vinegar rinse. All I could find in our cupboard was rice wine vinegar, so I used that.

I can't tell if there is significant improvement or if my sense of smell is just kind of numb now. Luckily for my Global Action group, they came for dinner here last night intead of tonight!

Tonight Nutmeg will NOT be sleeping in my bedroom.

On another note, I let the salamander go today. He seemed pretty happy to be free and skedaddled away pretty quickly , for a salamander, before I changed my mind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Meander Salamander

This afternoon when I opened the door there was a salamander waiting at the steps! I don't know for sure what possessed him to cross the great expanse of patio pavers to the steps, but I suspected he was looking for a good place to hunker down for the winter.

About 15 years ago when Sara was in 2nd grade, a boy in her class found a big tiger salamander and brought it to school in a bucket. Sara convinced him to give it to her and brought it home . She named it Sally and we kept her in a terrarium all winter, then let her go the next summer. We were all very fond of Sally.

I really wanted to take this salamander in for the winter. I decided if I found a nice terrarium at a thrift store for not very much money, it was destined to be. I put him in a large bucket with garden soil in the bottom while I went to town to do my errands. At Savers I found the perfect terrarium for $ 7! I also found a funky shallow, green dish for a little pool.

When I stopped at the library for resources about keeping a pet salamander there was precious little information on the topic, but both books stated that tiger salamanders adapt well to captivity and enjoy being hand-fed.

I've decided to keep his terrarium (or, more properly, "vivarium") on my desk so I can monitor whether he seems to be settling in or I need to let him go. I'm calling him "Meander." He's pretty small, about 7 inches from head to tip of tail and perhaps an inch in diameter at his thickest part. He's got that goofy salmander grin.

Just now I looked up the symbolism of the salamander. Some of the salamander's symbolic attributes include Vision, Energy, Growth, Renewal, Transition, Awareness and Resourcefulness -- an auspicious animal for starting a farm!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Golden Autumn Morning

Early morning must be my favorite time on this farm, especially this time of year when the sunrises are orange-hued. The sunrise streams in through the dining room windows
infuses the room with golden light and creates wide shadows on the opposite wall.

A few pumpkins leftover from our farmwarming party glow red in the sunrise.
The red Willys Jeep also takes on a glow. We haven't got it running yet, but the new customized license plates came in the mail. ("Squashblossom" wouldn't fit so we settled for "Squash.")
The blueberry bushes, planted two and a half weeks ago, seemed to turn bright red overnight.
This morning there was light frost on the garden plots.
Red-winged blackbirds gather in the top of this tree in the front yard every morning and sing. Robins have been singing, too! They must all be gathering their motivation for the big trip south, but it sounds almost like spring.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Squash Blossom Bash

Yesterday a bunch of great friends came to our Squash Blossom Bash farm-warming party. It was the first major test of our pizza oven--Rog baked 14 small (and scrumptious!)pizzas during the party. On the left is Norm, whose scout troop planted many of the tall pines on our land 30 years ago!
Our dear former neighbors, Chris, Mara and Carol attended. We really miss them!
Stephanie and Sue. Unfortunately, I was pretty busy assembling pizzas, and didn't get a chance to take very many photos. I especially wish I had gotten photos of the pumpkin carving; a dozen artful jack-o-lanterns were created by kids and adults.

John brought his darling new springer spaniel puppy, Dot, who was the life of the party! Vera and Earl brought their dog, Chloe, too. Together with Nutmeg and Cocoa, we had some real party animals.
Even Kelly and Sam came--they are the new residents of our old house! Sam brought his guitar.
Some of Rog's HGA colleagues joined us, including Jennifer and her husband Matt and darling daughter Lydia.
Dawn recovered sufficiently from hosting the previous night's Barn Blast to party with us again! Jennifer was invaluable cutting up pizza ingredients.
Mike and Phil, probably sharing an inscrutable joke.
In the background, Doug is trying to convince his wife Kathy that they should build an earthen oven in their back yard.

Thanks, dear friends, for helping us celebrate our new adventure, for bringing wonderful food and drink, and for all your good wishes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


On Monday I drove up to the Minneapolis airport to pick up some special guests - Bjorne and Johanna -- relatives from Bergen, Norway. We had never met before, although they know my parents and knew my grandma well. Johanna speaks English fluently and Bjorne understand more than he speaks, so we had no communication gap. After showing them around our farm we went into town and I led them on a walking tour of my favorite Rochester attractions(Barnes and Noble, Gonda Building, Plummer Building, Mayo pediatrics floor and our former house.)

Bjorne plays fiddle and mandolin in a band in Norway. After supper, he and Rog jammed together. I dredged up memory remnants of Norwegian folk songs I had learned at Norwegian Camp when I was 12 and 13 years old, and we all sang them. (I am sure my lyrics were totally wrong and very funny, but they kindly didn't laugh at my singing.) My mandolin has never had such a good workout before!

Tuesday we drove back to the cities to visit my Moms's cousin Glendon and then they flew home. We enjoyed Bjorne and Johanna's visit so much -- I hope they return soon, and that next time their children and grandchildren come, too.

Johanna og Bjorne: Tusen takk for sjokolade. Det smaker!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday: Sore, Satisfied and Sleepy

Weekends are simply not long enough! We are not entirely unpacked yet, but while the weather is still nice we are focusing our efforts outdoors. We completed our pizza oven yesterday. It's built upon the cable spool, so it looks sort of like a huge mushroom (We'll do more with the base in the future.) Rog celebrated with a glass of merlot.

This pizza oven is very simple; it has a short chimney and a row of iridescent tesserae to decorate the opening. This afternoon Rog built a fire to dry the oven from the inside out. It reached almost 600 degrees F while still feeling cool and damp on the exterior (the walls are 9 inches thick, made from clay, sand, sawdust and straw.) When the fire burned out we popped a squash and a few potatoes in and an hour later had a tasty autumn supper.

Yesterday I started mulching the smaller west garden plot. First I dug up wheelbarrow loads of aged horse manure from a pile by the loafing shed and spread it on top of a layer of newspapers (which had been read, then used to pack our dishes for the move, then saved for this noble purpose.) Next I swept all the old, DUSTY, loose hay from the loft of the barn and hauled it in wheelbarrow-loads to layer on top of the newspaper and manure, about 6 inches deep. There was enough hay up there to cover about half of this garden plot, but there is more in the middle room of the barn so I may have enough hay for this entire plot, but not both plots.(For the record, I am holding Rog's celebratory wine while he takes this photo, not imbibing while I mulch.)

Realizing I would need much more mulch, I had walked down the road to meet our dairy farmer neighbor and inquire whether they might have some old or spoiled hay they would sell me. I met the son, Mark, who was very kind and promised me all the cow manure I ever want! They have no spoiled hay and will need all the good hay they have to feed their 150 cows this winter, but he said he'd be happy to give me some of the shredded corn stover they use for bedding. Today Mark drove over two buckets of the stuff. We had him dump the first load over the fence, and we carted it into the garden in many rickety wheelbarrow trips.

Then we got a bit smarter and had him dump the next scoop into our little trailer, which we could push to the edge of the garden to unload. I think we will need 4 more buckets to cover the entire garden 6 inches deep. I plan to pay Mark significantly more for the next 4 loads - so far his only remuneration has been a loaf of homemade cardamom bread, hot out of the oven.

Ruth Stout says all you need for her permaculture gardening strategy is a deep layer of whatever organic material you can find locally- shredded corn husks are fine. I will probably add fallen leaves, too. Our soil looks very rich and healthy to start with, but it will be interesting to compare the results off the garden mulched in hay/newspaper/manure with the one mulched in corn stover.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wonderful Weekend's Work

gaWe had delightful visitors last weekend. Our daughter Sara drove up from Chicago to check out the new farm. She brought her boyfriend, Mike (a very sweet guy), for us to meet, and we put them to work. It was a perfect fall weekend and we accomplished a lot, ate some fabulous meals, and had a great time with them.

Rog's focus was building our second earthen pizza oven upon the wooden cable spool we got the previous weekend. This improved oven is a bit larger than our first and has much thicker walls for insulation, a brick arch opening and a chimney for better air flow. Sara and Mike dug many wheelbarrow loads of clay mud from the west pasture, which we all constructed into the oven wall. This photo shows the outer layer of straw and mulch insulation - which will be covered by another more beautiful layer.

We all took an exploratory walk on our land. Rog and I hadn't really walked much of the west 5 acres before. It is mostly bordered by large trees, and in the center is an overgrown field with lots of wildflowers and sumac. Also some huge buckthorn trees to be dealt with! We met a few impressive spiders, too. This one was about 3 inches in diameter and was missing one leg.

I disassembled a few of the garish 1970's lamps I have been collecting for their colored glass parts. I intended to use the glass orbs in future garden sculptures but it occured to me that if I set them on top of the fence posts they would look sort of like pumpkins. I inserted the PV solar lights into two of them and they glow in the dark. They really light up in the morning sun, too!

Of all the books on permaculture gardening I've been reading, the most inspiring one so far is Ruth Stout's No Work Garden Book (out of print, but I ordered it on-line). She says this kind of gardening is great for people who are busy, indolent, old or have bad backs--perfect for me! I also like this heavy-mulching, no-till approach because it follows nature's strategy of growing things and it continuously enriches the soil. Supposedly you don't even have to till established sod--you can just mulch over it-- but it takes a year or so for the sod to totally break down, so I decided to till this fall to give my garden a head start. I called up a fellow a couple miles down the road who had a sign in his yard that advertised "Garden Plowing." He turned out to be a really nice fellow with the appropriate name of Ward Field. Last night I staked out my garden plots and he rototilled them. The earth smelled so wonderful! Now I will mulch the gardens with layers of newspaper, manure and old hay for the winter. The plots don't look that large to me, but Rog assures me they are plenty ambitious.