31 October 2006

A Western Halloween

The hardest part about Halloween is coming up with a good costume idea, so when I had my idea for this years costumes, we both got pretty excited. 90% of Corinne's costume is made up of items she already owns; and my costume would only require a bit of sewing and some simple (and inexpensive) purchases.

We took a lunchtime trip to The Dalles to Tony's Country and Western Store to get a hat for Corinne, then stopped at Joann's Fabric for some felt and shoulder pads for me.

I then spent most of Saturday sewing the felt patches on to an ivory pair of coveralls. The coveralls came from Mark Schultz, who used then when he worked as an engineer for the Seattle Ferry system; we use them when we mow the lawn, to keep the dirt out. But they've never been used quite like this before.

Before heading out to our Halloween party, we took some quick photos:

Cow and Cowgirl, happy together

Once we got to the party, however, that single cowgirl joined with some other cowboys at the party, and suddenly the equal status that the cow once held was gone:

Subservient Cow

- Mike (& Corinne)

26 October 2006

Our Deer

Since I mentioned the deer living at our place in the previous post, I thought I'd share a few more photos here.

We've seen two doe and two fawns every week (virtually every day) for the last month, possibly longer. (We didn't realize we should keep track!) We suspect that it is largely the same deer that we saw frequently back in August, though back then they were only a trio.

August: Fawns

October: Doe and young buck (former fawn)

These deer have now gotten so comfortable here that we frequently see them sleeping in the yard when we wake up in the morning. I'm all for man and wildlife living together peacefully, but this is ridiculous!

- Mike (& Corinne)

23 October 2006

Grandma Massman Visits

This past weekend we were able to host Grandma Massman (Corinne's grandmother) for a long weekend. This was her first visit out to our new homestead, and we all had a great time.

She particularly liked our machine shop, where she proceeded to ask about almost every piece of equipment there; she was in the shop for quite some time! She isn't as mobile as she used to be, so the usual walking tour of the grounds was instead a driving tour.

Carol and Mark also brought their dog, Chloe, who provided much entertainment throughout the weekend. She seemed so ferocious when she first spotted those deer outside, but as the deer came TOWARDS her, much of that ferocity seemed to fade away.

The deer, having been living here in our yard for basically the last several months, knew they were in no danger.

- Mike (& Corinne)

22 October 2006

Garden Update: Results

Our garden "experiment" was definitely a learning experience. I'll try to summarize the experiment here, so will likely be a longer post than most. I give each crop a score from 1 to 10, based on how successful I think we were in growing, harvesting and consuming it.

Tomatoes: 7/10
Our tomatoes did fairly well, and we actually did a good job of choosing varieties for our short growing season. The 2 golden nuggets produced first (and in abundance!), followed by the plums and then the beefsteaks. The latter two were just starting to get into full swing when the frost took them out. We had minimal impact from wildlife (once we put the circular fence around them.)
Lessons Learned: Adding a ground cover of some sort - plastic, etc. - should help to keep the ground warmer and encourage the tomatoes to produce earlier

Lettuce & Spinach: 6/10
Deer like lettuce - particularly when you put the hot pepper spray "salad dressing" on it. Thankfully, most of it came back from the roots in time to harvest before the summer heat.
Lessons Learned: Harvest! Lettuce will bolt fairly quickly once the weather gets warmer. Stagger plantings so that the harvest isn't all at once.

Beets: 2/10
Lost to deer. The beets were growing nicely, and we had protected them from animals by arching some metal fencing over the top of the bed. Unfortunately, the deer eventually figured out the weakness of our defense system: you can step on it. So they crushed the fence underfoot and just plucked the beets out through the fencing by the leaves.
Lessons Learned: Deer like beets. Need more protection.

Zucchini: 5/10
Grows well, wasn't impacted by wildlife. I'm sure the prickly leaves are the primary reason. The biggest problem we had here was confusing the zucchini seedlings with the leeks. The result was a cluster of 5 zucchini bushes planted 6” apart.
Lessons Learned: Once they start producing, check and pick frequently; the fruit will grow quickly and become more bitter, suitable primarily for baking.

Basil: 6/10
We replanted some basil after the worst of the summer heat had passed, so we actually got two crops.
Lessons Learned: Harvest! Lots of basil went to waste because we didn't harvest before either the plant bolted or was killed by frost.

Leeks: 0/10
Yes, zero. Despite planting the ends of several beds with a dozen or so leeks a piece, none were found. Then there was the mix-up with zucchini.
Lessons Learned: Pay better attention when planting seeds and transplanting.

Potatoes: 3/10
This was probably the biggest disappointment. Since the Clausens had specifically mentioned that root crops do best, we planted an entire bed in fingerling potatoes. The plants looked great, and we had high hopes for a good crop. But when we harvested, we discovered a gopher tunnel that spanned the entire length of the bed. We should have harvested ~20# of potatoes, but only ended up with ~2#! Bastards!
Lessons Learned: Gophers are the devil incarnate.

Cucumbers: 0/10
We planted the seedlings, and they promptly disappeared into the weeds.
Lessons Learned: Weeding is important, particularly when the seedlings are small.

Parsley, Oregano, other herbs: 1/10
The parsley came up, and we did use it a few times, but none of the other herbs (besides the basil) survived.
Lessons Learned: Plant more herbs!

Peppers: 2/10
The peppers were close to harvestable when the frost arrived, so we didn't actually get to eat any.  They also suffered from some deer munching.
Lessons Learned: Better protection around the peppers.  Add mulch to increase temperature and speed growth.

Flowers: 9/10
The unsung heroes of our garden!  Sunflowers and 2 varieties of marigolds did great in our garden.  We even harvested lots of seeds from them to plant next year!
Lessons Learned: Choosing a plant variety that the wildlife doesn't like to eat makes all the difference!

Some overall thoughts/plans for next year:
  • Add “real” protection from wildlife.
    We're thinking of actually creating raised beds in our garden plot, with several layers of metal screen on the bottom to keep the gophers out. We're also thinking about a fence to keep out the deer.
  • Plant more flowers.
    The flowers we did plant looked great and survived all manor of wildlife.
  • Weed early!
    We lost – literally – many of the seedlings that we planted because we didn't mark them well enough, and we waited too long before weeding.
  • Plant more!
    Our goal was to start small so that we could see what worked, but I think we actually started a little too small.
  • Harvest!
    That's the ultimate goal of having a garden, isn't it?

I plan to post my "Favorite New Recipes for 2006" sometime before the end of the year, which will include many things harvested from the garden!

- Mike (& Corinne)

11 October 2006

From City Cat to Country Cat?

Ever since we moved West, Max has been very interested in going outside. He'll sit on the window sill and meow incessently. Our theory is that when we lived in Somerville, he didn't have many opportunities to see what was out there; and when he did, it was Somerville. Now that we're out in the country with lots of big windows, he can see what he's missing!

After lots of hemming and hawing on our part, we finally decided that we would give it a shot. He got his feline leukemia shots at his last 2 vet appointments, and we bought him a collar with a "nametag". He didn't seem to mind the collar too much - until we tightened it enough so that he couldn't get it off. But since we are only putting his collar on when let him outside, we hoped (and still do) that he will start to associate the collar with going outside and will put up with it.

His most recent experiences outside were rather stressful for him, so we tried to make the re-introduction as natural as possible. We put his collar on, propped opened the front door, and walked outside to wait for him.

He was very cautious as he crept outside.

His first few minutes were spent sniffing the grass outside the front door, followed by eating the grass outside the front door.

He slowly explored further from the house, gradually making his way around. We monitored him from a distance, but always between him and the forest; I don't think any of us are ready for him to get lost in the woods.

After about 45 minutes outside, he had made it all the way around the house. We knew it was about time to take him back in when he started rolling around in the dirt:

From black and white to dark gray and light gray, in only 5 seconds!

Our plan is to continue to let him out under these "controlled" conditions, giving him more and more freedom. We're going to try to train him to come back inside by giving him wet food whenever he does; we don't want him staying outside overnight, since there are plenty of coyotes that would enjoy himn for a snack.

Of course, we soon discovered that once he's been outside, his whining to go outside has gotten MUCH worse.

- Mike (& Corinne)

10 October 2006

Garden Update: It's Dead

It's been 3 weeks since we began our Frost Watch, and alas the weather finally got the best of our garden. Last night it dropped into the upper 20s and killed everything left in the garden. That included 6 tomato plants (with quite a few green tomatoes on them), 3 pepper plants, and 2 rows of basil, not to mention lots of marigolds and sunflowers.

Sometime in the next few weeks I'll try to recap the results of our garden experiment. After we've finished mourning, that is.

- Mike (& Corinne)

08 October 2006

The Colors of Fall

After spending so long in New England, we've been delighted to see as much fall color in The Gorge as we do. Now we are experiencing our first fall in Trout Lake, and it's just as beautiful.

Below are some shots we took at various spots around our property. We have a number of maples and oaks around the house, and they add beautiful red, orange and yellow colors in fall.

- Mike (& Corinne)

03 October 2006

Drying Fruit

Now that it's harvest time in our orchard, it was time to bring out our fruit dryer, another left-behind gift from the Clausens. It's basically just a set of 9 screen shelves with an electric heater and a fan to blow the hot air over the fruit.

Plums in the dryer. The plums took about 24 hours to fully dry into chewy goodness.

Granny Smith apples in the dryer. The apples only took 6-8 hours before they were ready.

Plums on a rack, before going into the dryer. We split the plums in half, removed the stone, and pushed the flesh inside out so that the skin was concave. I estimate that we dried somewhere around 300 plums (600 halves)!

Dried plums. They sure do lose a lot of their volume in the drying process, but that is what helps to concentrate their flavor. Yes, you could call these prunes and not dried plums, but then the California Dried Plum Board might come knocking on your door.

Oh, and one last thing: Dried fruit gives you gas. Bad gas. Particularly the plums. But it's kinda like eating lots of garlic... as long as everyone around partakes, it's okay.

- Mike (& Corinne)

02 October 2006

Last Mow of the Season

Now that the weather is getting colder, we had time to get in one final mow of the season. We managed to get away with only mowing 4 times this year! (But when we did mow it, boy was it long.)

Mowing down the weeds. This section is unirrigated, and as such hasn't seen much water since June. It's been crispy brown for some time.

- Mike (& Corinne)

01 October 2006

Orchard Harvest

We haven't made a lot of mention of our orchard on this blog. The main reason for that is that we haven't spent much time thinking about - or working with - our orchard.

Consisting of 17 trees, the orchard was planted by the Clausens (obviously) and contains a combination of young trees, mature trees and "retired" trees (that no longer produce much fruit). We have an assortment of Italian plum, Green plum, Granny Smith apple, Asian pear, Cherry (retired), Filbert (forced retirement - no mate to pollinate), Jonagold apple, etc.

Now is the time when most of the trees are ready to harvest. Some are actually a little bit beyond that stage, but we'll know better for next year. We've concentrated on the plums, Jonagold and Granny apples, making some tarts, jams and dried fruit - more on that in a later post (when I get some photos.)

Meanwhile, enjoy these photos from our orchard harvesting. We probably spent as much time taking photos as we did actually picking fruit. ;)

Jonagold apples

Mt Adams over the "arboretum"

Autumn leaves

Trees full of plums!

Italian plums (closeup)

Corinne with wormy apple


- Mike (& Corinne)