Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekend Chores

It has been a very busy weekend here at Sparrow Haven. The weather was absolutely beautiful so we spent all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday working out in the yard. I have the sunburn to prove it but more importantly so does PeterC. I have very fair complexion and can burn under a fluorescent lamp. PeterC has a more French Mediterranean complexion and it takes a lot of UV radiation for him to burn but his arms and face are very red after the last two days.

The weekend started with filling up the bird feeders, to the delight of the feathered residents. We've had a few new species take up residence in the yard this year. So far we have identified the Junco, a female Purple Finch, and a Goldfinch with different facial markings. Normally, we have the American Goldfinch but this year we have a very bright yellow male with a black face and a little black on his throat. We don't know if it is a new variety or just an unusual variation in markings. PeterC thinks we have a Grey Cheeked Thrush though neither of us got a close enough look to be sure.

While the birds celebrated we moved on to the dirtier tasks. PeterC spent the whole day Saturday trying to clean up the piles of branches from the tree and hedge trimming last year. While he hauled, chopped, and stacked brush I turned and aerated the three compost bins; sealed the roof of the platform feeder with Spar Urethane; mulched the freshly planted herbs; and turned one of our garden beds using the double dig method for a deep blending of soil and compost.

Sunday, PeterC continued with the brush piles and added picking up fallen branches from the fern bed. While he did that I removed all the soil from our planter boxes, mixed sand into the soil, repaired the planters as needed, moved them to another section of the yard, and refilled each box with a loose fill of good rich earth. The planters used to be over by the garage but we found they didn't get enough sun and got far to much rain to grow vegetables very well. This year we hope the new location will be a good choice for growing some of those extra climbing beans we ordered from the seed house.

Our neighbour on the east side has a small tiller and he offered to come over and till our garden beds to repay PeterC for giving him a hand moving his gazebo Saturday evening. I liked the idea since turning the beds by hand is quite strenuous labour and is hard on winter softened hands. PeterC wasn't so sure about the idea but he couldn't refuse as it was a very sweet offer. Unfortunately, raised beds are not very conducive to tiller usage so we'll have to turn them again by hand before we plant next week.

Speaking of the garden beds I am proud to announce that not only is our lettuce a ½ inch high, but the potatoes and beets have sprouted as well. Even the herbs I planted last Thursday seem to have taken well to their respective locations. As long as the cold weather being predicted for the middle of this week isn't too cold and I get the cloches over the herbs, we are going to have a beautiful and early garden this year.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lettuce Sprouts and Herbs

I planted lettuce in one of our blue planting tubs last week. Wednesday I came home to find that the lettuce had sprouted. Joy of joys, it looks like we will have fresh lettuce on our plates in a few weeks.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day out in the yard cleaning up the herb planters from last year and planting, or transplanting, herbs for this year. The Oregano, Lemon Balm, Sage, and Tarragon all came back this year so I took cuttings of the Oregano and transplanted them to other bare spots in the flower beds. The Lemon Balm will have to remain in the planter as it can become a very invasive plant if planted in the yard. The Tarragon is in with the Currant bushes and has plenty of room to grow. Unfortunately the Sage isn't big enough to transplant this year but it does look to be off to a good start. Perhaps next year I can spread it out some more.

We bought Chamomile, Coriander, Basil, and Rosemary on Wednesday and planted them yesterday. Basil and Coriander are annuals so they were planted in a planter. The Chamomile and Rosemary are supposed to be perennials so they were planted in the empty spaces in our flower beds. We may be going back this weekend to buy Dill, Fennel, and possibly Chives. I'll have to see what money we have left in the budget.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring Flowers

Yesterday was a beautiful day here at Sparrow Haven so we spent several hours outside cleaning up fallen limbs, and brush left from last years cleanup. We spent half the time trying not to step on our lovely snow crocuses that have bloomed over the last couple of days. They are only 3 inches tall but when you're walking along and see a bright yellow or purple flower it is hard not to smile. I hope the pictures bring smiles to your faces too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Carrots - In April?

Some of my long term readers will remember that we were trying a new experiment in the garden last fall. We had more carrots than we could effectively store inside over the winter so we decided to leave the carrots in the garden and pull them as needed.

Well, the as needed part didn't work out so well. We had over 4 feet of snow and ice on top of the garden beds until just this week. It was impossible to break through the crust to dig the carrots out. We decided to leave the carrots in the ground until the snow melted and hoped that we would have something worth eating.

We had two beds with carrots and the first bed to come out from cover was the furthest bed from the house. I went out yesterday and dug around in the earth and pulled carrots, 3 lbs worth of beautiful, perfect carrots. The experiment was a roaring success. Some of the smaller carrots had even started putting out new fronds as if they intended to keep growing. I am so happy that we now have the perfect way to keep carrots over the winter.

Of course we still have to figure out a way to get to them when the air is cold, the ground is frozen, and there is snow covering the beds. We're thinking a layer of straw covered with a tarp should make it a lot easier to get at the carrots even in the deepest of winter. I'm so psyched by this success that I am tempted to plant carrots again this year to try out our idea. Maybe I can try this experiment with other root vegetables like beets or potatoes. We're planting both this year and will have to see if any of them are still in the ground this fall.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Salt Spoon

Title: Oak Leaf Salt Spoon
Wood Species: Basswood
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

In the ancient world, sharing salt was considered a sign of friendship and many cultures had hospitality rules that including sharing salt and bread with visitors. Salt was a scarce commodity and to have salt on the table was a sign of wealth to everyone who ate with the owner. Today salt spoons are normally found in antique stores made of silver but I thought it made sense that a poorer man would have a spoon carved of wood.

Here is a salt spoon carved from basswood in the loose interpretation of an oak leaf and acorn cap. As the picture shows, the piece is only three inches long and might hold 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. The images show the front, side, and back of the spoon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

He's Dead Jim...

I woke up to a woeful sight this morning. The sourdough starter that I had created, fed, changed, and taken care of for the last six months was dead. There were these disgusting spots of mold growing on top of the liquid and the whole thing was very thick. I poured it down the drain with as much ceremony as I could muster under the circumstances. A fine burial at sea, well sewer, for my poor starter.

I don't know if the starter got contaminated some how or if I didn't feed it enough. I made sure to feed it at least once a week and that has been enough up until now. I was keeping the starter out on the counter since we keep the thermostat down to 15 C in the winter and spring. What I fear happened was the mold spores that give me fits in the spring somehow contaminated my starter, possibly during its last feeding.

So, now I have to start all over again and create a new starter. We had only just found a pizza crust and a sourdough biscuit recipe we liked too. Oh well, life will go on but I am definitely beginning to appreciate just how valuable a good sturdy sourdough starter was for the pioneers and why some of them protected it by storing it in a pouch next to the chest. Without a sourdough starter there would be no bread, considered the staff of life by many cultures.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snow Mold

I was blessed to come into this world with very few allergies and only two that are truly dangerous, Penicillin and Rattlesnake Anti-venom. Don't ask, it's a story from my childhood. Needless to say I've stayed away from rattlesnakes since then. Unfortunately, one of my few nemesis is one I can't get away from unless I move to another country further south. Much further south. The culprit is Snow Mold.

Snow Mold is the spring time result of melting snow. As the snow falls in the late fall and throughout the winter it collects little bits of debris, pollen, and mold spores which feed and breed on the debris and pollen. When the snow starts melting in the spring time sun, all this little mold spores hatch, or whatever it is they do, and fly into the air causing itchy eyes, runny nose, and sometimes a deep cough that does not go away until the snow is all gone.

So, as much as I love the coming of Spring, and celebrate when the daffodils start poking their cautious heads out of the soil, I dread it too. I dread the itchy eyes and the runny nose, though they can be handled with allergy medication. What I dread the most is the unending cough that everyone around me calls a smoker's cough. Not only is it annoying but after two weeks of coughing my ribs and back hurt and I feel as weak as a three day old kitten.

Soon though, especially with the warm days we've been having, the snow will be gone and the ground will dry out. The itchy eyes and clogged lungs will be gone and I will once again be able to breath deeply of the green world and look on natures beauty without having to wipe endlessly at my eyes.