Wild Wednesday – The Winter Gardener

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Right now the garden looks like pretty bedraggled.  Sad, right?  How about these strawberries?  They tasted so delicious, but now they look anemic and ready to die.

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Well they are about to die…back.  Their roots will stay safe and warm in the ground, ready to come back in the spring but the green tops are withering and dying.  I think that’s why I love living here, I get to see the cyclical nature of life.  All things die, but all things eventually come back.

This weekend is likely the last one we’re going to get here with any substantial sun in Seattle for a very, very long time.  Hub and I have plans to get our garden put to bed for the winter.  The perennials in containers will overwinter, but if they’re allowed to freeze it can kill the dormant root system.  The larger containers, like these strawberry barrels will be fine free-standing with a good mulching.

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See my little baby strawberry plants in the square pots?  I’ll tuck them in with their big sisters to keep them safe and warm.  A nice thick layer of straw, nighty-night and see you in the spring, you delicious things!

But the rest of my ‘kids’ are in much smaller pots, so I’ll gather them all together on the side of the garage and pile straw over them all.  I’ll huddle them together like emperor penguins, plus put some large yard furniture around them to protect them from getting blown around.  I did all this last year and it worked better than I thought it would, which was pretty cool.

My next experiment, is overwintering some edibles.  I planted more carrots, onions and beets late in the summer.

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Apparently, all I have to do is mulch them good, so this weekend we’ll be covering them with a thick layer of straw.  I’ve read mixed reviews about the beets.  Some say don’t bother, that they’ll be inedible and just bolt (go to seed), while others rave about their harvest the following year.  Same with the onions.  Carrots universally seem to do pretty well overwintering in the ground.

So while I’m busy working on WIP 2 during the rainy season, my garden will be peacefully slumbering and waiting for spring, nestled beneath a cozy bed of straw.  All things in their season.

Do you have any rituals for this time of the year?  Is there anything you bid farewell to this year, that you look forward to seeing again in the future?  Putting the garden to bed is my fall ritual.  It reminds me that there is a time to be active,  a time to rest, a time to be productive and time to die.  It reminds me that death is not the end, but part of a cycle that we all participate in.

 

 

 

Wild Wednesday – What I Did This Summer

For those of you with offspring, do they still have kids write the obligatory essay on summertime activities in school?  I thought I’d give you a little reminder of summer if, like me, fall has closed you in with clouds and rain.

Instead of being in front of a computer, this is where I spent most of my free time during June, July and August.  And a good chunk of September.

Strawberries, corn, carrots, raspberries, grapes, potatoes and onions.

Also garlic, peas, beans and basil.

Boy did it keep me busy, but I loved every second of it.  I learn something new with every season, and I think that is the best part about gardening.  Exercise for the body and the mind.  Although if you look close, at the end of the row you’ll see I’m not above sitting to do my weeding.  That is one of the beauties of raised-bed gardening, it’s that much less distance you have to reach down to weed.  The other bonus is, you can plant more closely, so fewer weeds sprout.

I learned that if you plant beans (and peas) too close, you will end up with a towering mound of vines.

 

 

In my head, I nicknamed it ‘The Monster Pile’ because it really was a monstrous pile o’ beans and peas.  The peas only produced so-so, and I ended up with these little worms inside the peas on half the harvest, so the humans didn’t get much.  The chickens, on the other hand, were delighted with the infested peas, and ate them up happily worms and all.  The beans produced like crazy, with no issues.  I ended up freezing some for Hub and I and donating the rest to the local food bank.

Next year though, it’s all about the placement.  Hub has kindly volunteered to put some work in on making another planting bed in another part of the yard just for the beans and peas.  Love him!  This will let me space the plants better, and improve harvest.  Many of the beans ended up choked, or tangled up in the vines because they just swamped each other and couldn’t be harvested or weren’t useful.  Again my chickens benefited.  When we pulled the bean plants at the end of the season we just tossed them to the flock.

The girls also got the cobs from the corn, after I’d blanched and frozen the kernels.  I was greedy, I kept all 4 gallons of corn and it’s sitting happily in my freezer just waiting to be steamed, or made in to chicken corn chowder.  Yum!

I did put some pretty in my garden too.  From the showy:

 

To the simple:

 

But seasons turn as they always must, and my once overflowing garden is now (mostly) bare and dying away.  The asparagus has been put to bed for the fall, the carrots and grapes have been plucked, the strawberry plants are starting to lose their leaves, and the potato bags have been moved into cold storage in the garage.

 

Now, I’ve begun my next garden experiment.  Fall/winter garden.

 

Carrots, onions and beets.  I dropped the seeds in the rows and figured if they sprout, I’ll see if I can make them overwinter for early spring harvest.  Well, they sprouted, and are still looking remarkably happy.  I am equally happy because I no longer have to water the no-so-little guys anymore, Mother Nature is taking care of that chore for me.  I have to do more research on just how to get them through the winter and growing again, but I suspect I’ll mulch them in a few more weeks, and then hope for spring goodness.

And that is how I spent my summer.  In addition to what I’ve put up, I donated a little over 20 pounds of fresh produce to the local food bank, fulfilling a promise I made to myself at the start of the season.

Here in Seattle, I’ve heard lots of moaning and groaning about fall and winter coming, and how much they miss the sun.  I’m often asked if I miss Southern California and all the sunshine.  My answer is no, not one bit.  I love how the seasons turn up here, and the grey and rainy days are the perfect excuse to sit and write.  During the summer, my creativity just wasn’t flowing, so I put all my energy into the garden.  Now, the ideas I let lie fallow during the summer are springing forth renewed.  Everything has a right time, a right season; something we humans are prone to forget in our hyper-technological world.  The trick is connecting to that seasonal, earthy energy that is part of our very being, but once you do, wonderful things happen.

How do you connect?  How do you renew yourself?  What pastimes fulfill you and recharge your mental, emotional and spiritual batteries?  I would love to hear your stories!

 

 

Also….the pictures in this post are all under copyright to me.   Please ask before you use.  Thank you!

 

Sorry I’ve Been Gone So Long…

I took the summer off, sort of.  I still had to go to the day job, of course; bills and mortgage…you know how that goes.  I had surgery in late June, and that was pretty much the last time you heard from me.  It’s not that anything bad happened, but it was this really transformative experience on multiple levels.

At some point in life, you’re going to reach a point where you realize you can’t do it all.  I know that everyone’s journey through this life is different.  We all face difficulties, and I thank Spirit that, while I’ve had my hard times, mostly my life has been very blessed.  But also, that our journey through the adventure that is life is uniquely our own.  I reached a point where I recognized that I’d taken on too much, and something had to give, that something was my blog and social media networking.  I’m not very technical, I deal better with warm bodies, so when I found myself falling asleep in my chair at 8:30 p.m. over dinner night after night, I knew I had to let the blogging and writing go for the summer.  I had other things I had to focus on.

In retrospect, I can see that my exhaustion was part of my healing.  It didn’t help that right after my surgery, I found I couldn’t sit to write for protracted periods, it was just too painful.  So I fell out of the writing habit in a few short weeks, and then the garden exploded.  Not literally, but my part time hobby was not so part time any more.  It’s totally been worth it!  See:

The one well-kept corner of my yard.

And then there’s the girls.  Remember my little chicks?  They’re all grown up:

The flock out enjoying some time in the play area.

Isn’t she a beauty?

They only just started laying a few weeks ago, but it’s so nice to have fresh eggs once again.

Frankly, summer up here in the Northwest really has been awesome.  We’re looking to break a record, we’re approaching 51 days without measurable rain.  That is unheard of for Seattle!  It feels like being back in SoCal, with sunny days and temps in in the high 70’s.  Gorgeous.  I mean really, it doesn’t get any better than this:

Or this:

I also realized I needed to do some work on myself.  With the surgery, and going through my healing process, I realized I had to make some changes.  I’m active; at work, in the yard, but it’s not enough to maintain health, so Hub and I joined a gym.  I’m not the weight-lifting gym rat that I was in my 20’s or even 30’s, but I’m going.  It was a bit disheartening to recognize how out of shape I drifted, but I also was gratified that I can still get on the cardio, and my body still remembers the proper form for deadlifts and squats.  I’m eating healthier too, more greens, more salads, less junk food.  Even though I still so WANT to run and just get a yummy burger and fries at time.  Still do, but FAR less than I used to.

I’ve tried in the past to get healthier, exercise more, yada, yada, blah blah.  This time, it seems to be sticking, at least for the last few months.  The key, for me, was realizing I’m not perfect.  I gave myself permission to fail.  We’ve all seen the memes running around Facebook with the inspiring quotes about getting back up, and making mistakes, right?  The most important lesson I learned this summer is this:  It really doesn’t matter how many times you fall down.  What matters is that you get back up.  Bounce back up, ease back up, ask for help back up, it doesn’t matter, so long as you get back up.

So this is me, getting back on the blogging horse.  I may be rusty, but I’m back.  Nice to see you, and thanks for reading.

Wild Wednesday – Taming The Wild Garden

A gardener’s work is never done, but even if you let things slide you can still reclaim what you’ve neglected.  I certainly neglected a corner of my garden.  It looked awful; scruffy and overgrown with weeds and grass.

This is half-way tamed.

See how long and luxurious that grass is back behind my grape and trellis?  Now picture that grass spreading all the way across the rest of the picture, surrounding the grapes and filling in wherever there’s dirt.  That’s what I started with, this is about half-way done with getting rid of the grass and weeds.

Have you ever pulled out a thick carpet of healthy grass by hand?  It’s not easy, I definitely got my workout today!  But what to do with all that grass?

Wild Wednesday Chicken Tip:

You can feed your weeds to your chickens, as long as you haven’t used any pesticides or weedkiller around them.  Hub and I call it ‘giving them some chicken salad.’  Okay, maybe that’s only funny to us.  Anyway, chickens love dandelions and grass, luckily two things I have in abundance.  They best part is you don’t even have to knock all the dirt off the roots, they love to scratch through it for bugs!

Araucana chick playing queen of the hill.

It took me all day, but I managed to transform my cluttered, scruffy neglected garden corner into this:

I had stared at that corner for weeks thinking, I gotta do something about that, but wasn’t sure what.  Aside from the obvious need to remove the overgrown sea of grass, I wanted to make it a useable space, but I didn’t know what I wanted there.  I was dealing with other projects, and because I wasn’t ready to do anything with the raised bed in that part of the garden either, I just sort of shrugged my shoulders at it.

As I tugged on grass, sifted the rocks out of the dirt, and carried each and every one of those pavers, it occurred to me that gardening is good for a number of things.

It teaches me that it’s okay to prioritize things.  That corner could have grown quietly for another week or two if need be, and had gone to the wild side while I took care of more critical projects.  Did the heavens fall from my neglect?  Heavens no!  One of the best lessons I ever learned was that perfection is not necessary.  I learned to let go of the obsessive perfectionism of my youth, and it’s done wonders for my stress level.

It keeps me active and physically fit.

It gets me outside, closer to nature.  I’ve learned to appreciate the movements of the seasons, and it gives me a deep sense of spiritual satisfaction to take my garden through the yearly cycle.  Gardening is a very spiritual experience for me, the physical activity is fairly routine, and this frees my mind to practice certain meditative techniques.

I take time to appreciate the beauty surrounding me, and say a little prayer of gratitude.  Does that sound cheesy?  Take a few moments with the flowers in my garden and see if you still feel the same.

I’m kind of into purple and pink, and it shows in a lot of my flower choices.

Gardening also teaches me patience.  Somethings are really worth the wait, the time and the care you put into them.  Even if you don’t get immediate dividends, the waiting itself can be a positive experience.

For example, I started an asparagus bed.

That’s not very exciting at all, is it?  Asparagus is best started as a crown, every little mound there contains one of these little beauties:

Kind looks like one of those face-hugger beasties from Alien, doesn’t it?  I’m lucky to live in a place where asparagus will grow like a weed…once it’s established, which is the tricky part.  You can see I’ve dug down (well to be honest, loving Hub dug the bed for me) made little mounds and lovingly placed each crown on it’s own little pillow of dirt and compost.

Cover them up, water and watch them put up little spears, adding more dirt as they grow upwards until the whole bed is filled in at the end of summer.  I’ll watch them put up little spears, which will turn into little ferny things, waiting for the bed to establish itself.  During that time, I’ll still have to maintain them, keeping their bed weed-free and watered.  I’ll do this for the next three years, only then can I enjoy my delicious, home-grown asparagus.  No, that’s not a typo…three years until I can harvest.  Once that bed is established though, it will produce for up to 30 years.  It’s a good thing Hub and I love asparagus, huh?

One of the best things my garden has taught me, is the value of delayed gratification.  It’s helped me develop my patience and, as odd as it sounds, an appreciation for waiting.  Think about that.  We all spend, or waste, time waiting…in line, at a stoplight.  Do you spend your time building your irritation, and focusing on how tense you are?  What if instead you gave yourself permission to let go of your anger and frustration?  Give yourself permission to take one or two deep breaths, and relax.  Focus on something you’re grateful for…your kids, your husband, your dog, your health, the list goes on, instead of concentrating on how angry you are to be sitting in traffic.

Try this a few times and see if it doesn’t put you in a better frame of mind.  I’m really curious to hear how it works for you!  Please drop me a comment and tell me if you found sitting at stoplights or standing in line a little more bearable if you take a few seconds to breathe, and relax.

Welcome To Wild Wednesday

Usually on Wednesday I post dog-training articles.  Lately though I’ve been including posts on my growing chickens and spring gardening and I’ve been considering including some of my animal training stories from my zoo days.

The dog-training themed Wednesday posts needed some expansion, and thus the inspiration for Wild Wednesday.  If it’s about animals, animal training or the environment, I’ll be writing about it.

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Two week old egg-layers

The chicks are chicks no longer, and the garden is growing along.  The fuzzy little balls of fluff now more closely resemble the dinosaurs they’re related to, with a crazy mix of real feathers, old down and bare skin.  Scaly, too long legs and protruding eyes make them ugly cute.  When I watch them establishing their pecking order, flapping their tiny wings and bobbing and weaving, facing off with their sisters, I can’t help but think of their extinct relatives.  It makes me wonder just how old the behavior rituals I’m watching really are.

The Cornish Crosses, also 2 weeks old.

 

The Cornish Crosses on 4/25/12

 

 

We’ve separated the meat birds from the egg-layers, and moved them into the outdoor pen.  It doesn’t matter how many articles I read about the incredible growth of these Cornish crosses, I am amazed at how big they are.  At just a few days over a month old they are more than double the size of the egg-layers hatched the same day.  They have blossomed too, being able to scratch in the dirt, eat grass and bugs and in general, act like chickens, has them bobbing and wing-flapping like their smaller sisters.

 

A Partridge Rock 4/25/12

 

Dark Brahma 4/25/12

We’ve been graced here in the Northwest with some glorious spring weather lately, in a much appreciated pattern; beautiful, warm, sunny weekends, with off-and-on showers during the week.  In Seattle?  I know, right?  Shocking!  Seems we’re getting the benefit of the climate change train at this point in time.

I added some pretty to the temporary herb garden.  Love me some pansies, dahlias, and gerbera daises.  I’m loving the location, but I’m not so sure the plants will.  I know it’s still early, but they’re not getting sun until about 1:00 p.m.  That’ll change I know, just not sure if it’s going to be full enough sun for herbs or flowers.

 

I am helpless against herbs and veggie starts, and, okay, plants, at a nursery, but I also really enjoy starting seeds.  It is so reinforcing to watch those baby plants poke out of the soil.  I swear last weekend I watched the things grow; checked them in the morning and they were barely nosing above ground, checked them in the evening and there were two proud leaves spreading toward the light on almost all of my carefully prepped soil.  Look at them now, just a week after breaking ground.

I also went through a bunch of old pics, and scanned a few in.  Here’s me, with an old friend; Akela helped inspire my first novel.  Don’t worry, I’ll be filling you in on that too in the near future.

Are you a seasoned gardener or a newbie?  Are you looking for animal training tips?  Do you just plain love animals like I do?  Do you long for fresh eggs, and the delicious taste of fresh fruit and veggies out of your own yard, but are afraid to take the huge step of keeping your own chickens or starting your own garden?  Then come on in!  Drop me a note, let me know your thoughts and ideas.  I really love hearing from all of you!

 

Please keep in mind that all pictures are under copyright to me, and except for Akela’s pic were taken by me.  I request that you ask before using.  Thank you!

Spring Gardening

I’ve been busy NOT writing.  At first, I was stressing, because I wasn’t doing it ALL!  You know, 10 pages a day on the WIP, blogging multiple times a week, social media socializing, AND raising a bunch of baby chickens, getting my garden started, plus that little day job and keeping the house running, keeping Hub happy.  Does the list ever end?  What’s a multi-tasking, writer/Reiki Master-Teacher/blogger supposed to do?

I went to play outside.

Here’s some of the planting I did:

It doesn’t look like much now.  But that green mist on the left is actually two rows of carrots.  The skinny green spires are onions, and I’ve sown more carrot seeds on the right.  Those are still under a cold frame at night.  Behind them are garlic, some spinach and lettuce seedlings.  At the far back, bush and pole beans.  So Yummy!

 

 

I’m toying with the idea of putting in an herb garden.  One of those that’s just packed with plants, no stuffy borders, just the plants making a showy display.  So I’m experimenting with the spot I’m thinking of, and I put in a bunch of herbs in pots to see how they do.

 

Yeah, I’m dangerous in a nursery.  I have to avoid them or I just end up with more plants.

My garden just was too tempting to resist.  I find gardening rewarding on so many levels; first, I’m out getting exercise, always a plus!  It’s also a very meditative and spiritual practice; it helps connect me to the earth and the seasonal cycles by planting and nurturing growing things.  I love watching them grow.  It helps keep me grounded, and I always offer Reiki to my garden and chickens when I’m out there.  Some of my best insights, and writing inspiration have come to me while I was out in my garden.  Today was gloriously sunny and gorgeous, I even had to put on sunscreen! My chickens were loving the sun too!

No, they’re not dead, they’re dust-bathing!  They have a grand time flinging the dry, loose dirt over themselves, and they kind of coo with pleasure while they’re doing it.

Hub and I also put the baby chickens outside for the first time.  They learned about sunshine, and grass, dirt and rocks, and bugs.  Now they’re all sacked out, tired and happy.

 

Hard to believe these dinosaur looking birds were once these tiny balls of fluff!

 

Hey, I managed to get some writing done after all!  I love weekends like this!

How did your weekend go?  Were you enjoying the sun?  Running around with friends?  Hanging out with your kids?  Hope that it was awesome!