Thursday
Aug092012

Our Turkey Can Tell Time

We have such a talented turkey. The turkey knows when it is time to let the chickens out. In the morning, it stands by the corner of the coop, just out of reach of the dogs, and makes hideous crying noises until I come and open the door to the chicken yard. I think it misses its chicken friends at night. 

At precisely 11:59 a.m., the turkey again comes and stands by the corner of the coop and makes those same hideous crying noises until I come out and give the clucks (and the turkeys) their daily ration of scratch grains. 

I guess I am the one who is well-trained. 

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I caught sight of this the other day (this is for my mother):

Beofre you say, "Big deal, it's a blue jay," you have to recognize what kind of blue jay it is. This is an eastern blue jay. We live in Montana. We have stellar jays here. Over the past couple of years, however, I have seen (and heard) more and more of these eastern blue jays. I don't think it's unheard of for them to be this far west, but I wonder if they have expanded their territory because they were so decimated by West Nile virus back east. My mother went throught a period of time where—when she went out to get the paper every morning—she would have dead blue jays on her driveway. 

In any case, there have been lots more of them in our yard this year, more than I have ever seen before. 

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There isn't much to report from the garden. The zucchini plant production is slowing down considerably, thank goodness. I am trying to use up as much zucchini as I can, although it is one of the clucks' favorite foods and they will happily suck down any excess I care to thow their way. I cut some of my calendula blossoms yesterday and put them in olive oil. I want to make some calendula cream. I used to have a jar of it (bought at some boutique), and it was great for all sorts of skin irritations. 

The apple cider vinegar project is still in the cabinet. The apple juice is in the process (I hope) of turning to hard cider. We're still fermenting pickles. The peas are also nearing the end of production, although the beans are just ramping up. I have a handful of regular tomatoes and a lot of cherry tomatoes. At some point, I have to make fireballs—hot, spicy, pickled cherry tomatoes—for the husband. 

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The beginning of the week was very slow at work, to the point where I was having trouble making half my regular line count every day because the reports just weren't coming in. I think many of the doctors are on vacation. I asked my account supervisor if there was any other work I could pick up. I have hesitated to do that in the past because I am a new MT and I really felt like I needed to master my primary account before asking for additional work. A few weeks ago she assigned me some addition cardiac reports, but they are few and far between. Yesterday, she sent me a very nice e-mail and said that she had an account which could use my "attention to detail." Apparently the doctor is very picky about how the report is formatted, and because I am something of a style/grammar/spelling Nazi (blog post typos notwithstanding), she thought I would be good for that account. The kicker is that it is a VR—voice recognition—account. That means the reports come in already written out and formatted by the computer, and it's my job to proof them for accuracy. 

My primary account—the oncology account I work on every day—is slowly moving some of the doctors over to VR. My supervisor said that working on this secondary account would help get my VR editing skills up to speed so that I would be all set when my primary account goes to VR. I think I mentioned a while back that most MTs hate editing and would rather type. I don't. I discovered yesterday, after editing two reports, that I absolutely love it. I think I would much rather edit than type, which makes me wonder what is wrong with me. But hey, I will take it and run with it. 

Sunday
Aug052012

Process or Product?

Knitters like to identify themselves as "process" or "product" knitters: does learning a lot of new and different techniques excite you—even if you never finish anything—or are you sent into rapturous bliss by the thought of stacks and stacks of completed sweaters, hats, and other manner of knitted goods?

I've always thought of myself as a process knitter; I love to putter around and play with stitch patterns and interesting techniques. During the ten years that I published Twists and Turns, though, I had to become something of a product knitter in order to have something to publish. I don't miss those days, honestly. Producing on demand really sucked a lot of the joy out of knitting for me. 

Now I am trying to decide if I am a process gardener or a product gardener. I really love "gardening"—digging in the dirt, planting seeds, watering, weeding. All of those things are lots of fun for me. I get exercise that doesn't feel like exercise.  The work allows me to connect with the spiritual side of nourishing myself in a way that I might not necessarily get by going to the store or farmer's market and buying produce that someone else had grown.

I do have to say, though, that I am thrown into a bit of rapturous bliss by seeing piles of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries, swiss chard, beans, and peas on my kitchen counter. I get even more dizzy with excitement after I have turned those piles of produce into bags and jars and containers of stored food. In that respect, I am very much a product gardener. All that digging in the dirt would be an empty activity were it not for the huge reward on the other end. 

I am grateful that gardening is not a year-long activity here in Montana. I like that we get to have a few months rest before having to think about growing food again, although part of me wishes that gardening season in Montana did not have to be compressed into two very short, hot, and frantic months. Peas and broccoli are cool-weather crops everywhere but here, where we harvest them on 90-degree days in July. 

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Our garden has been relatively free of pests this year. Oh, we have the occasional swiss chard leaf or five with some holes bitten into it, but by and large, the bugs have left things alone. And we haven't used anything on the plants. Initially I thought it was because the garden hasn't been there that long and the bugs just haven't found it yet. I don't think that's the case. I see bugs out there. I'd like to think we are practicing integrated pest management here, and that is what is keeping the bugs under control. For example, every single one of my broccoli plants that has a head on it is being guarded by one of these:

I have yet to find a single worm in my broccoli. (I rinse them in a salt water solution, which would make the bugs and worms—if there were any—rise to the top.) I am not sure what kind of spiders these are, but they are welcome to stay. We also have toads (when they aren't hopping around the driveway), snakes, and lots of birds. 

I know people down in the valley who can't grow broccoli without it become totally invaded by worms, so they don't even try anymore. The husband said last night that it's probably much harder to have a garden down there because those people are surrounded by "Roundup Ready" crops—crops which have had genes spliced into them to make the crops resistant to being killed by Roundup. That way, Roundup can get sprayed on the crops to kill the weeds but not the crops.  I'm sure all that Roundup spraying has created all sorts of -cide resistant organisms. I'm so glad we live up here on the rocky outcropping. 

I wish I had the time and energy at the moment to write a diatribe against Monsanto and the evils of Roundup and GMO foods, but that will have to wait. For now, I am simply grateful that I have spiders, snakes, toads, and birds cleaning the bugs out of my garden. I can pop a tomato into my mouth without having to worry about washing pesticides off it, first. 

Friday
Aug032012

Last night the husband and I sat out on the porch again and shelled peas. I went over to the chicken yard to give the bucket full of pea pods to the clucks, and I kept hearing the baby turkey whistling, but I couldn't see it. Finally I looked up:

The baby turkey and mama were roosting up on top of the coop. She had the baby tucked under her wing. It would peek out every so often and she would reach down with her beak and shove it back in. 

I lied the other day when I said the husband was reading Joel Salatin's book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. That is, indeed, one of Joel's books, but the husband was reading Folks, This Ain't Normal. He finished it the other night and now I am reading it. We got a good laugh out of the part of the book where Joel talks about two women at the grocery store. The first woman in line has fresh produce and all sorts of raw ingredients, and the second woman has a cart full of convenience foods. The second woman looks at the first woman and said, "But what are you going to eat?" So yesterday the husband looked at my grocery list (which was mainly comprised of items to restock my baking and canning supplies, now running low) and said, in mock horror, "But what are you going to eat?"

DD#2 is quite the baker—she can knock out a batch of zucchini bread in no time flat. Last night we did two double batches (enough for five loaves of bread and a dozen muffins), and I made another batch of curried zucchini soup for freezing. In between, the husband and I shelled peas. Rusty likes to eat the pea pods, so he would stand there and nudge my hand every so often. Lila is not a big fan of pea pods. She pretends to eat them because Rusty is eating them, but mostly she just gums them to death and then leaves the mess on the porch. 

I asked the rooster this week if he wanted to go to the fair. If only I had the time! I think he would win grand champion, definitely, because he is such a handsome rooster. Alas, he does not seem interested. He only wants to eat dandelion leaves and bugs and harass the hens. 

I do not believe there is a category for wild turkeys. 

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It has been a tough couple of days at work. Transitioning some of the doctors to the voice recognition software is a two-part process. We're still typing their reports, but they have to be typed into a different editor with some different formatting rules. Those reports then get run through the computer so the software can "learn" what the doctor is saying. After the voice recognition software is up to speed on each doctor, then we will begin editing the already-transcribed reports. I had questions along the way, but my supervisor was having phone issues at her house and was not always available. So I was trying to feel my way through this process while still trying to make my line count each day (I came up a bit short Wednesday and Thursday, which I will try to make up today and maybe tomorrow morning). I am working very hard at just going with the flow and understanding that this is a transition and I am, once again, learning something new. The good news is that I am getting really good at my keyboard shortcuts. 

Thursday
Aug022012

It Came From the Garden

This is what happens when a zucchini hides under a big zucchini leaf and I don't find it:

 

 
I have been so good about going out every day and looking for zucchini before they get to be the size of small yachts, but somehow I missed the one on the left. Oh well. Tonight we are having a sausage-stuffed zucchini for dinner.

This variety is an heirloom called "Gray" and I really, really like it. It produces heavily and the zucchinis are tasty. 

We also have a "dwarf" yellow crookneck variety. I grilled some up the other night and they were just like candy. I don't think I have ever tasted a crookneck that good. They definitely get to stay on the list for next year. 

The husband pronouced the fermented pickles excellent. We're just leaving them in the crock for now, and as we take some out, we replace them with new cukes we pick. It's really easy to tell when they are ready to eat. They go from being a nice bright green to more of a yellow-green color. Next year we are going to get a big crock and just keep it in the kitchen next to the island. 

I picked the first tomato yesterday, from one of my "Glacier" tomato plants. That is why I love that variety. They are, without exception, the earliest-producing variety I have ever grown. And yummy, too. 

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Lila is enjoying her summer vacation (which is not all that different from winter vacation except that there is no snow). This is how she naps in the yard:

We have a mama deer with THREE fawns. They were in the woods this morning—actually, they were standing on the path to the greenhouse, so I had to walk the long way around the property. I went back to get the camera, but the fawns would not cooperate and stand together so I could get a picture of them. I did, however, get a picture of this little buck who was out there, too:

The fawns are very funny. They are not all that scared of us, probably because the mama deer has had them bedded down in the tall grass next to the garden, so they are used to us coming and going. The other night the chickens were raising a fuss, and it was because the three fawns were standing at the back of the chicken yard looking in. I wish I could have gotten a picture. Alas, the camera is never handy when these things happen. 

I love that the wildlife thinks this is a safe place to hang out. 

Tuesday
Jul312012

How Much Is Enough?

The husband picked shelling peas yesterday, so last night he and I sat out on the porch and shelled them and talked. At one point he said to me, "Don't they make a tool to do this?" and I held up my thumb and pointed to my thumbnail. I said that I thought it was so funny that he always wants to know if there is a tool to do a particular job. I also pointed out that it isn't always necessary to have a router in every single horsepower*. 

Anyway.

One of the questions I asked him was, "How much is enough?" I was thinking in terms of food, but of course this could apply to tools, or yarn, or lots of other things. We are right smack in the throes of garden production, and that means that I spend about five or six hours a day AFTER my regular job doing something with all the stuff that is coming out of the garden. At this very moment, I have a bowl of green beans (DD#2 is working on those), six crookneck squash, four patty pan squash, ten zucchinis, half the raspberries left from the husband's trip to the woods yesterday afternoon (the first half got made into a cobbler this morning), another crock's worth of cucumbers to pickle, and about three tons pounds of swiss chard that I need to do something with before I go to bed. I am steaming the peas that we shelled last night to make pea salad to go with the spareribs which have been cooking in the crockpot all day. We had kicked around the idea of going down to pick pie cherries tonight, but I cried uncle and said I could do without having to make half a dozen pies in addition to everything else. 

So last night I asked him, "How much is enough?"

The problem is that there is no right answer. "Enough" is a relative term. Enough for him and me? Enough so that I don't have to buy produce this winter? Enough for the zombie apocalypse? How does one define "enough" of something? The husband is currently reading Joel Salatin's book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. (I am still working my way through Elsie Dinsmore and her family is as dysfunctional as I remember them being.) He said that Joel's wife has enough food put by for two years in case they have a massive crop failure. I can understand that. They are supporting themselves solely on what they produce on their farm. Is that a goal to aim for? It wasn't all that long ago that people here in Montana DID support themselves on what they produced themselves. 

I don't have a good answer. I suppose that I'll keep canning and freezing until there isn't room on the shelves or in the freezer anymore. We've done a pretty good job of using up what I canned last year. 

*This is a joke between us. My father and the husband were well-matched in their love of fine tools. I went down to my father's woodworking shop one day after he had died to look for something. I opened a door and there were FIVE routers—literally, one in every single horsepower. 

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I am so tickled by these:

This is part of our pumpkin crop. We've never done pumpkins before. They seem to like the manure pile growing system as much as the zucchini. 

So do the melons. This massive spread is really only about five plants—five very happy plants:

Hopefully it will stay hot enough for another month and we'll get some fruit. 

The corn has tassels:

I made brandied cherries out of some of the cherries we brought home the other night. I think they'll be good on a cheesecake.

I said to the husband today that what I love so much about this summer is that I have more energy than I can remember having in a long time. I drop into bed exhausted every night, but it's a good kind of exhausted. It's the "Wow, look at everything I accomplished today!" kind of exhausted, and that's my favorite kind.