Sunday, September 30, 2007

If you're gonna dream, dream big

Seven Trees needs a garage. Seven Trees needs a canning/brew kitchen. Seven Trees needs more storage space and a place for guests to stay. So here's what we came up with:

This is called the Cascade (how appropriate) from Homestead Design. There is plenty of space on the bottom floor for one car, storage, plus a workbench & counter with sink and burners.

Looks like a decent amount of space upstairs for an apartment/guest room, with a little storage over the bathroom. Adding a bathroom will necessitate having the septic checked out by the county. Ours was installed way back when, and probably needs updating/replacing if we want to get this project permitted. Not cheap, but that's life.

Here's the same plan someone in New York built. They got rid of the additional entry door in front of the bathroom and sided it in board & batten. We can probably save a little on siding since we want paint grade (to match the house) not stain quality. But nothing is ever cheap these days, so we'll just start looking for bids and see how it goes.

P.S. Anyone interested in sponsoring a board, batten or commemorative roof shingle will receive membership in the Seven Trees Fun Plan - A stay in the guest house, homebrew tastings, and a home-cooked meal.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Rainy season is upon us!

I wonder what Stella thinks of her prettied-up little barn...She sure did her share of taste-testing the wet paint! Not much left to do but get the 2nd coat finished and add gutters. And not a moment too soon, as it seems we won't get an Indian summer after all. A wet & wild storm front is forecast to move in this weekend, and my weather sense tells me this is it for summer.
Not much exciting going on at Seven Trees. Just the nitty gritty of winter prep and buttoning up the garden. We are looking forward to sitting down with the current year's garden list and evaluating what worked and what didn't. With the climate being so variable these days, only the real survivors are going to get garden space next season.
We'll be doing fun things this weekend like putting away the rain barrels, picking all the veggies that won't get any riper in the cold, rounding up the outdoor furniture, covering under-house vents, checking the heat lamps & timers for the chicken coop, and so on. The peppers are still mostly green, and the plastic tent I put over them is only helpful if we have enough sun. So they will all be picked and dried. The last of the dry beans will have to finish drying on the hearth. I usually pull the vines to hang in the greenhouse for drying, but now it's just too damp and they start mildewing. So our woodstove is surrounded by trays of beans. Same with herbs. The beets will get pulled and stored, a few late onions too.
We do have a nice German Alt beer bubbling away, but it won't be ready for a month or so. And we'll be starting the pumpkin porter this weekend.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pick a peck of Peppers

The garden hasn't been a complete loss. The meal on the plates here came almost all from our own little piece of earth. Squash, stuffed pasillo peppers, all the salad and a chunk of the second of our two watermelons grown in the greenhouse. The beer as well is a pale ale that we brewed right here at Seven Trees. Now that's eating local!

Here's the pepper dish up close. The pasillo and the pimento peppers seen here were stuffed with sauteed hamburger, onion, garlic, corn and taco seasonings, then covered with diced canned tomatoes and baked 30-40 minutes. J then uncovered them, placed a slice of local made pepper jack cheese on each one, and baked them another 15 minutes uncovered. It was so tasty a meal we almost wept!

Strange harvet this year though. While we lost the tomatoes to blight... the pasillos and the red pimento peppers all grew like gangbusters as well as our two little watermelons. I'd say things are warming up in the northwest, when southern crops grow better than the cooler weather varieties. Although we had some nice cabbages, spinach, kholrabi, kale, carrots and the like, they did come on early. Next year we'll plant cabbages and other crops a bit later, so we can enjoy a later harvest. Plus some crops like kale taste better after a frost. It sweetens the flavor considerably. Our kale plants were so early that they may be too spent to winter over for this.

We still have a bunch of carrots, some lettuce, and spinach ready to eat now plus more successsion planted through the summer that weather permitting we might also see make it. The drying bean harvest continues, specifically Hidatsa Shield Figure Bean ... not only beautiful, but also prolific. The other dry bean we planted was Good Mother Stallard's, but they are not quite as happy where we placed them, so we'll have to keep that in mind for next season.

And of course when either of us have a moment to spare, we've been painting our small run-in barn. The weather hasn't always been cooperative, but we should get it done this week... fingers crossed... including adding the last of the 1"x6" cedar trim, and painting it as well. The colors were matched from a 1920's craftsman/bungalow house book that showed color palettes from that era, and we intend to paint and trim the house with the same colors... even the chicken house. We'd like everything to match when all is said and done. The idea of craftsman/bungalow's was that they blend in to the natural environment rather than protruding starkly from it, and while the picture doesn't convey this; the new colors have seriously made this structure "blend" much better into the nature that surrounds us here. Exactly what we wanted to happen. Once we get the chicken house painted, then we might try to do the house one wall at a time... see how much we can do in between rain, freeze and snow. Worse case is... we'll start that project next spring, once we build up our sorely depleted nest-egg again! Living and buying locally isn't always inexpensive, but it IS the right thing to do.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tomato blight and wireworm woes

We've had some serious gardening lessons this summer.
- Plant blight-resistant tomato varieties, and if you see black spots on a plant, pull it up immediately.

- When you break virgin sod for new garden space, don't plant potatoes there for a couple of years.

- If summer is warm and wet, be prepared to lose a lot of veggies, no matter how careful you are.
Here's the story:
We spent hours poring over seed catalogs to pick just the right varieties of tomatoes this season. One for canning, one for drying, and a few ultra-early ones. One of our crop strategies is to plant some strains of veggies that are cold-weather tolerant and early producers. The idea being that we can get at least some of our harvest in sooner, in case of drought or other garden trouble. So we chose Beaverlodge from Territorial Seeds, and also planted a few Siberians from the neighbor.
Across the garden path, we tilled up more yard to make what would become the potato patch. Encouraged by the tasty spuds we grew last year, we picked out an early red and a later russet, and planted 15lbs of seed taters. Everything was growing gangbusters, the Beaverlodge set fruit incredible early, the red potatoes came out of the ground perfect and yummy. Then the rains came. Not just any rain, but warm monsoon-type rains. Soon after we noticed a couple of potato plants with black spots on the leaves, but since it didn't seem to spread, we assumed it wasn't the dreaded blight we'd heard so much about. Most tales of blight involve nearly overnight ruination, plants and spuds turning to black mush right before your eyes. So we pulled the plants out just in case, and thought nothing of it.
Until more rain seemed to bring on the black-spot in the Beaverlodge row. We thought it still couldn't be "the blight", and waited & watched. Well it was the blight, or one of its many variations. It spread quickly, and the continued rainy weather wasn't letting the millions of green tomatoes ripen anyway. Some tomato varieties held out longer than others, but even now, the last row of Polish paste tomatoes is a lost cause. They'll be pulled up like the rest.

As for the spuds, well the blight never did get going there. Must be resistant varieties. But what the blight spared, the wireworms and millipedes are wrecking. What we didn't know is that wireworms live in lawns and eat the roots of grasses. Turning the sod removes the food source, and they hang around a season or two, eating what they can find. In this case, our russets. The millipedes are pretty much endemic to most garden soil here, and normally don't do much harm. But they eat damaged plant matter, so the bites made by the wireworms were the perfect welcome mat for the millipedes. Suffice to say, the potatoes aren't inedible, but we'd rather not eat them given a choice (our Scots-Irish ancestors must be rolling in their graves!). So we'll harvest them and cook them up in batches to feed to the critters. Another old-timey tradition, as most farms had giant potato boilers in an outbuilding for the sole purpose of cooking spuds (they have to be cooked to convert the nutrients into edible form) for hog feed. And depending on whether or not the weather drives the wireworms away in time, we may end up with a few decent tatties after all. Since the crop has been compromised, we're not going to rush to dig & store them. One way of keeping spuds, at least until full winter hits, is to leave them in the ground. We plants the Buttes to mature when the weather cooled, so they wouldn't sprout if we left them in longer. So it will be interesting to see how well this low-energy storage method works.
Next season we look for disease-resistant maters/taters, and rotate into unblighted ground. The newly-broken garden areas won't have root veggies planted for a season or two, giving time for the wireworms to disperse. And we'll let the hens help by eating up bugs and turning soil when we let the garden go to winter rest. The weather will do what it wants, and we'll just learn as we go. Luckily lots of other crops came if strong and we are preserving as much as we can.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall is falling...

Just under 40 dgrees this AM, so it's a good thing we harvested the bigger of our pasillo peppers seen below. We'll dehydrate them for winter chili, but put aside a couple to try stuffing with meat and rice for oven baking. Other dehydrated items behind the peppers from left to right, pear slices, celery, more peppers, and plum quarters. We love our excalibur dehydrator and have found it one of our handiest food preservation tools!
Funny thing happens to dogs when it starts getting cooler, and I get a fire going in the wood stove. They all want to come inside and snooze near the heat as Stewart here demonstrates.

Then there's the cats, and how they cope with cold. Here's Crichton just below, delightfully sandwiched between two toasty fleece blankets that I hand craft daily into a cat hideout for him on the bed. Other than opening his eyes and peeking back, he didn't seem to mind the paparazzi. It's hard being beautiful.

It's more painting on the barn today. Perhaps by days end we'll do another post showing some progress. In the meantime... happy hump-day!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lake Ann hike

We decided to take advantage of a somewhat decent forecast, and the last day of vacation for one of us, to head to Lake Ann for a dayhike. We lucked out in finding only 10 or so cars at the trailhead when we got there. Normally any trails within an hour of Bellingham, on a weekend morning, are packed like commuters on I-5 in Seattle. Not pictures below are the Pikas we saw & heard (which I just found out are endangered due to climate change), and the mountain goat we spotted high up on a cliffy arm of Mt. Shuksan. Maybe next time.

Here's ptarmigan who didn't expect to have its breakfast interrupted by us, not to mention being photographed for all the world to see. Doesn't it have great camouflage?

Just heading down into the valley. Mt Shuksan is way in the background, but it was still a bit cloudy to see it from here. The valley was incredibly beautiful and full of wildflowers and mushrooms. After our recent exercise in identifying edible shrooms, we were pretty confident lots of the ones we saw were edible. On our return, we passed a group of shroom harvesters who had just picked nearly every giant fungus we spotted, so next year we'll take the plunge ourselves. Most of them looked to be Boletes with a few Agaricus. We even spotted a few poison Amanitas!

Ah yes! A signpost to the ever-popular trailside facilities.

On second thought, maybe a nice clump of bushes would be the wiser choice....

Here's another critter enjoying breakfast in the great outdoors. Or at least she was until we spooked her. We were just coming around a bend, under a brushy outcropping, when a young black bear came crashing out of it, not 15 feet ahead of us. It ran across a small berry/heather meadow with hackles up, then stopped to turn around and look at us. We politely requested that it keep going away from the trail, which it did to a point. Once we got up around where it was, another group of hikers came around the bend and made it nervous enough to head uphill toward us. Again we advised it to try a berry patch in another direction, and it crashed off into the trees. We continued our climb, and didn't see it again.

Check out Mt. Baker from the saddle overlooking Lake Ann! The sky cleared off enough to see the peaks and warm us up a bit before heading back down. By this time, people were arriving in droves, but there was more than enough scenery to go 'round.

Here's a lovely view of Mt. Shuksan over Lake Ann. This pic is borrowed from here as is the bear pic, since our camera mysteriously wouldn't work when pointed at the bear, and just isn't up to the challenge of quality moutain scenic shots. (The bear picture was taken a few days before our hike, and in the same tiny valley, so we're thinking it was the same one.) While relaxing on a glacially-transported boulder, the clouds moved back in. We heard a massive rumbling which signalled a piece of Curtis Glacier breaking off and falling down the mountain. We heard a 2nd one a little later, as we were heading back. Here is another site with some pictures of the area.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New barn half nears completion...

The end draws near... I hope! My vacation week has been finishing the primer on the siding, and siding the new wee barn half. We are going from an oil stain to a latex paint that will match the future house color. Some cedar trim left to do, then more primer, then paint! Hurrah!!
What jobsite is complete with out the foreman? I think he's checking the viability of a nap site here...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mystery Solved!

Thanks to a friend who helped research what this is, we now know this is an Agaricus augustus Fries or common name "the Prince" mushroom. Actually more common to California than the PNW, apparently it can show up here as is evident. They like foggy warmer weather, which we had a spell of recently. The final cap size is evident in the photo just below.

I said "final" because the darn things are considered one of the best edible mushrooms there are, and reportedly somewhat rare. They are reported to have the slight flavor/scent of almonds, which indeed they do! You can see the bottom side below, just after we harvested it.

Given it was at a fairly mature state, we chose to slice it and dehydrate it for future use.

Obviously a note of caution for foragers in that you want to be abslolutely sure the variety you are harvesting is the edible type you think it is. Many varieties of mushroom can be quite deadly, so be absolutely sure before eating!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Mystery Fungii Update...

So here it is again a short few days ago. Still morphing like crazy. Notice it's little side-kick mini-shroom.
Again, seems like overnight it has changed into a completely different shape. Today it looks like your typical grocery store mushroom albeit on steroids. It has a distinct, and quite solid cap as I've rapped on it. That's a quarter on the cap BTW!
The underside gills pictured below, bit of stem, and the cap edge.
Again below with the same view as the top picture, only it's more mature today. We thought that it might just be a Boletus mushroom. Most of which are edible and quite delicious by all accounts. I'm just not seeing gills on the Boletus though in the pictures at that link, which I just today observed on our monster mushroom... so we are still up in the air on what this is exactly. As dangerous as muchrooms can be, we certainly wouldn't want to eat it, unless we are certain as to what variety. Shame as at this size, it would certainly feed a family of ten hobbits or more no doubt! And it looks like it sure might be tasty sauteed in copious butter... Mmmmm.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Name... that... fungii!

Anyone know what this particular mushroom is? Anyone?? It's growing in soil near some very old fir trees in a drier area in the back yard. That's a quarter next to it for size reference. If it gets much bigger, I'm going to be afraid!

Can you see the wee green tree frog? We run into these little guys in the Himalayan blackberry bushes when we are out picking. Another reason, besides the yummy berries that we just chop the wild blackberry bushes back over tearing them out completely, despite the variety being incredibly invasive.

Spot the kitty, or where Newt is cute... this day it was just over the fenceline on our neighbor's tractor! John Deere might want this one for a commercial. All I know is that I am glad she doesn't know how to start it up. Yet.

And here's the Amaranth or "pigweed" standing in the garden. Amaranth has been valuable for thousands of years in many cultures for grain, greens, medicines, and even making dye. The picture doesn't really do justice to how pretty the rust red of the seed heads looked contrasted against the bright green of the surrounding foliage.

Here the heads are after harvest. We'll let them get dried out, and at very least the chickens will have a healthy snack. Although we do hope to try some ourselves as well. Also shown are several freshly harvested heirloom delicata squash and a potimarron. The squash could have been more robust this year, but we'll do better with it next!

A few ears of sweet corn. We'll plant a larger block of this next year too. There's just not much as tasty as fresh picked corn.

And alas but the variety escapes me, but we managed to grow this here watermelon in our green house, thanks to some friends who gifted us with seeds! As soon as I recall or dig up the variety again I'll post it, but it was one developed for Idaho, and does well with a shorter growing season. We actually have another one about the size of a softball, getting bigger fast that we'll also hope to try if all goes as planned!

All in all this year's garden has been many lessons learned that will serve us well for the next year. In fact we are starting to plan next years garden already! I think we're hooked...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Quick trip to Baker today

In the midst of a long busy weekend we decided to head up to Artist Point on Mt. Baker. It was a bit crowded but not horrible. And we brought our growler from the North Fork so we could enjoy a liquid souvenir of the day at home.
On arrival we went to use the Ski lodge restrooms, and joined a group watching a young black bear dining on the many ripe blueberries. Sorry, but s/he was far enough away that a picture wouldn't have captured the moment. As we left that area, people were actually hiking up to get even closer to the bear. I mean CLOSE. Oops, did I say people? I meant 2-legged morons!

The big bumpy grey & white thing behind me is Mount Shuksan. It's beautiful and not a volcano like Baker is. Notice the hounds actually looking at the camera...

Here is a little alpine tarn near the Bagley Lakes. There are a few miles of trails from the main parking area, well worth the drive to get some alpine air.