Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mt. St. Helens is calling

The last time we climbed St. helens was in August 2003. We had a permit for climbing in 2004, but ended up moving to Whatcom County the same weekend we had planned to climb. Then the mountain got a bit too active for my climbing comfort, and life got rather busy at Seven Trees, so we haven't thought about climbing again until now.
There were a lot of wildfires that summer, which made some of the pictures hazy. This is taken halfway up Helens, on Monitor Ridge. It's not a technical climb, but it is fairly strenuous. I've made 7 attempts with 4 summits. The failed attempts were weather related. It doesn't matter what time of year you climb or what the conditions are at base level. Sometimes you get part way up and encounter a blizzard, or soaking rain, and there isn't much point in risking life & limb for a 50ft view of fog at the crater rim. One year a party had gotten lost, one of them seriously injured, and my party nearly met the same fate the day after. I was lucky to escape with mild frostbite & hypothermia, and definitely learned a lesson on when to turn back.
This shot is looking down the mountain, after coming off Monitor Ridge. As if the hellish scramble over oven-hot sunbaked jagged boulders wasn't tough enough, this point is the start of the final third of the trek. Nearly a 45-degree slog up gritty ashy sand, 2 steps up, 1 slide back. You keep glancing up, seeing tiny little specks that are fellow climbers, already whooping it up on the crater rim, and you think you'll never make it.
But eventually there are no more steps you can take, because you're there!

When the weather cooperates, you can see 2000ft to the crater floor and watch the new dome steam and rumble. There are frequent rockfalls down the crater walls, and sometimes snow cornices on the edge which can be treacherous. You can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Spirit Lake (an amazing sight!) and some of the visitor centers from the top.
There are plenty of other things to do & see in the area if summiting isn't your bag. Lava Canyon, Ape Cave, assorted visitor centers (Johnston Ridge is the best), the Miner's Car, Spirit Lake, Lewis River Falls, Yale Lake, and much much more! This clickable map has some details of area sights - Mt. St. Helens points of interest. Lots more good stuff at the MSH National Volcanic Monument page.
Summer permits are first come, first served, with reservations opening February 1st, 2009. The National Forest Service has subcontracted the process out to the Mount St. Helens Institute, which is new to me. Usually we submit our top 3 choices for climbing dates, then wait to hear what we get. Once the date is confirmed, then we make reservations at the Lone Fir Resort, which I think is the only motel in Cougar. Last time we stayed in Cougar, there was one store, one motel and one restaurant. There was a local landmark called Jack's a few miles west. A cafe, gift shop, convenience store all in one, and also the place where climber's signed and picked up permits. It burnt down in 2007, and the climbing register is at Lone Fir Resort.
Another option for climbers is to camp at the Climber's Bivouac at the 4800ft level on St. Helen's south flank. It's a fun experience, sitting around campfires with a hundred or so fellow climbers. But I've found I get a much better start after a comfortable sleep, hot shower, and warm breakfast. Climber's Biv is very rustic, with no water source and outhouses for the only amenities. In any case, you'll definitely want a room to return to after your climb. You'll either be hot & sweaty or cold & sweaty, and completely exhausted. Nothing beats falling into the shower then traipsing across the road for dinner after a 7 to 12 hour climb.
Plan to spend a few extra days if you can. Once the post-climb agony subsides a bit, you'll want to explore the other volcano-related fun before heading back home.
We'll consult the calendar, and on February 1st, 2009, recommence the age-old ritual of submitting a permit app to climb the Old Lady. Maybe August or Labor Day Weekend, if we're lucky. One downside of the permit system is that there is no do-overs if you get bad weather on your day. And the other tough part is getting in shape. But it is so worth it! On one of my climbs, a young woman was helping her even younger nephew gear up at the Biv. She mentioned it was her 7th time up, and I laughed, thinking you'd have to be crazy to climb the same mountain that many times. Now here I am, planning my 8th ascent.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sunchokes - food that grows like a weed!

Although sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) are old news to veteran gardeners, they're new to us at Seven Trees. Thanks to our Endorrean friends, we will be planting our own crop of these versatile tubers soon. Or maybe I should say we'll be unleashing these edible weeds, since they tend to take over any space they are given. Luckily we have just the spot. Our paddock 5 fronts a busy road, and already has a nice patch of thimble berries for visual screening, wildlife habitat, and critter snacking. Interplanting with sunchokes will work great there.
Here's a picture of one variety of sunchoke being harvested. And below is another. Moose Tubers (a sub-company of Fedco Seeds) has 3 kinds of sunchokes for sale. Ronniger's has a few as well.

Some "technical" info:
Helianthus tuberosus is a type of sunflower that is grown for its edible tuberous roots as well as its pretty yellow flowers. This is a large, gangly, multibranched perennial with rough, sandpapery leaves and stems, and numerous yellow flowerheads. It can get 10 ft (3 m) tall and its branches can spread to nearly as much. They sometimes break under their own weight, and often fall over. The leaves are ovate (broadest below the middle) and 5-10 in (12.7-25.4 cm) long. The flowerheads are 3-4 (7.6-10 cm) across and have 10-20 bright yellow rays. Jerusalem artichoke is quite showy in bloom during late summer and early fall. The edible tubers are produced just below the ground on thin white rhizomes. They are segmented and knobby, 1-4 in (2.5-10 cm) long, and have crisp, white flesh. More than a dozen cultivars have been selected and named. 'Fusau', a French cultivar, has fewer knobs and is thus easy to clean, but some say it isn't as flavorful as knobbier types. 'Maine Giant' produces dense creamy white tubers. 'Golden Nugget' has elongated, carrotlike tubers.

Growing info:
Jerusalem artichoke is very easy to grow in almost any loose, moderately well drained soil. They almost certainly will spread out of their original planting, so be prepared to pull up plants that get out of bounds. If you want them to stay fairly neat, they may require staking.
Light: Full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Regular garden watering gives the best tuber production, but Jerusalem artichokes can tolerate dry periods if they have to.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9.
Propagation: Propagate Jerusalem artichokes from the tubers which should be planted in spring or soon after the first frost in fall, 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) deep and about 2 ft (0.6 m) apart.
After harvest, there are always plenty of tubers still left in the ground, and these will sprout the following spring. Just thin them out as they come up to maintain a spacing of 2 ft (0.6 m) or so. If the ground freezes deeply in your area, you should overwinter your "seed chokes" in a cool, dry place for spring planting.
A little history:
Sir Walter Raleigh found Native Americans cultivating sunroots in what is now Virginia in 1585. When the sunchoke reached Europe in the early 1600s, thanks to Samuel de Champlain, it was known as the "Canada" or "French" potato. The French, who call it topinambour (incidentally also a term used for an uncouth, uneducated person), are credited with improving the tubers and cultivating sunchokes on a larger scale. I imagine the reference to uncouthness has something to do with the inulin (an undigestible sugar) in sunchokes causing flatulence in some people.
The yummy-looking mashed chokes & tatties above are next on our recipe list. So far we've only tried them roasted with carrots & potatoes with a chicken. Tasty!
Chunky Jerusalem Artichoke And Potato Mash

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter

Combine Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes in large pot. Pour enough cold water over to cover; add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat and boil gently until all vegetables are tender when pierced with knife, about 18 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Return vegetables to pot. Mash vegetables, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/2 cupfuls to moisten until chunky mixture forms. Stir in butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Transfer mash to large heatproof bowl. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in same bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, before serving.

For more info on sunchokes:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kinda-sorta normal weekends resume...

As of Sunday, Ryder left Seven Trees to go prepare for being a herd sire and show bull next spring. In exchange we have gained a Red Dexter steer for our beef locker. He was known as dummy, but we've taken to calling him, Buddy.
Seems a friendly enough fellow... mostly just follows Doug around and does what Douglas does. Including already "MOO" to speed up breakfast delivery... or apparently that's the idea, thanks to Doug. Let's hope this is a habit that doesn't last for either steer.
More neighbor bounty... this in the form of a concord "type" grape from a friend of our neighbor M's grape vines. No one knows anymore exactly what variety grape they are as some old homesteader planted them originally. We decided to turn the lot of them into juice for fresh or canning, and will make a small amount into a batch or two of jelly. M picked them and brought them to our doorstep... how cool is that??

Next they are washed, crushed and being heated, all part of the juicing process. After we drained them in a mesh brewing bag, we ended up with about a gallon of concentrated juice from a 5 gallon bucket of grapes. Not too shabby.

Check out the body in this juice in glass? Whoa, this is concentrated food... not just juice! Grape juice, particularly concord is beneficial for the urinary tract, digestion, and packed with antioxidants. Salut!

If you really need to warm up...

Magnus shows how it is done... camp in the empty kindling basket, next to the toasty woodstove AND in a sunbeam! Just add Zzzzzz...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quick update from busy Seven Trees

Mark the evil parrot, AKA the worst pet in the world. He likes to march back & forth across his cage top, muttering and yiping. Today one of us dared to touch the potato chip bag, which set off an extremely loud shouting spree, until his treat dish was properly filled.
Magnus, showing off his master sleeping skills. No box goes un-filled on his watch.

It's been a very busy week here. One of us had a minor surgery which involved a trip to Seattle, having a critter-sitter, lots of house cleaning and shopping, etc. That went well, so spring should have us back in the mad project mode.
We finally retired the 10 year old Dell and got a spiffy new one. Of course that means I am struggling with Vista, plus trying to figure out how to reload all the stuff from the old computer. Craigslist provided us with a nice oak table to put all the electronics on, and it actually matches some of our furniture!
Also, we decided to take a bit of a loss on Ryder and swap him for a Dexter steer. He's going to the breeder who we rented bulls from, and his bloodline will carry on. We were going to steer him for ourselves, but it just didn't seem right to waste all that potential. So Sunday we'll say goodbye to Ryder and hello to a nice red Dexter steer.

The garden still has lettuce, chard, beets, carrots and broccoli, but not for long. Even though I can't seem to find a free moment, it's time to get the beets pickled, chard blanched & frozen, and so on. The lettuce was planted in September and is under a plastic sheet. It sure is nice to go out and pick a salad in November. We also have some chard starts in the greenhouse.

We're hoping to have our 2nd annual Apple-Tree Wassail on December 20th. More info as the time draws near....

Friday, November 07, 2008

A hotbed of activity

In the not-too-distant past, hotbeds were a fixture of nearly every household. Larger versions, in multiples, were used by market gardeners to keep city people in fresh produce all winter long. We're thinking about building one or two as an adjunct to the greenhouse, since they are easier to heat. I'm thinking to start heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers in them, and move them to the greenhouse once they are well-grown and the weather is warmer.
I'm sure most gardeners are familiar with coldframes - they create microclimates, that provide several degrees of air and soil temperature insulation, and shelter from wind. Hotbeds go one better by using a bottom-up heat source which encourages plants to grow in even the depths of winter. But where does this heat source come from?
Pony poop! That's right - horse poo composts at a higher heat than other manure, especially when "pre-treated" by making a 4 x 4 ft pile that is turned every 3 days for 9 days. All this moving around starts the fermentation process, and when you pack the bottom of the frame with this stuff, it will provide heat long enough to grow a crop of winter produce. Once the manure has finished "cooking" and the crop is harvested, the poop will have turned into lovely rich soil you can put on your garden.
There are some tricks to it, but nothing too complicated. If you don't have pony poop, electric heat cables can be used, or you can find a local riding stable (try craigslist) for all-you-can-haul horse apples.
The illustration below is of a "walk-through" hotbed. The manure bed is a lot deeper than in smaller hotbeds, but the convenience of a covered work area must have been worth the effort. The text this is from mentions building rows of them back-to-back, and I imagine the result would have been much like a greenhouse, only heated from below. We may end up experimenting with ways to move pony poo into the greenhouse to heat it, but only if we can also figure out how to easily move it back out again when it cools down.
So I'll leave you with a list of links to explore. Lots of different ways to build hotbeds, so hopefully you can sort out the best one for your circumstances. We're always looking for ways to add to our food supply, especially if we can cut expenses in the process. Hotbeds seems to be a great way to use a ready source of raw material (thanks Gemini!) and also to relearn an "off-grid" skill from the past.
The 100-year Hotbed from Mother Earth News - detailed article with lots of illustrations.
Coldframes and Hotbeds - from the University of Nebraska Extension
Hotbeds and Coldframes for Montana Gardeners - from the Montana State University Extension
Building hotbeds for your garden - by Gene Logsdon (A Seven Trees' favorite author)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Critter pic interlude

Check out the garden assistant! Crichton is doing his part by making sure every last grass clipping made it into the barnyard for the cows to snack on.
We're transitioning from summer activity to winter "hibernation". Still plenty to do, but now we're stuck waiting for breaks in the rain to get things battened down.
Stewart, demonstrating his "intelligent" look.

Here's the two canine boys, napping. Notice Fergus' choice of pillow....

Aahhh, the after-dinner rawhide cigar. It's a dog's life!

Here's Ryder, vogueing for the camera. He's still a bull, and still for sale, but not for long. He'll get an appointment with the vet in December, and then his next stop will be freezer camp in 18 months or so.

We'll be ordering our beehive soon, so we have plenty of time to assemble & paint it before the bees arrive in the spring. It's also time for planning the garden. We have some nifty ideas for maters & taters that will give the blight time to work its way out of the soil, but more about that later this week. Right now we still have beets, carrots, chard, kale & lettuce growing. Not bad, but next year we hope to grow a lot more in the spring and fall. We will also be planting sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) soon, thanks to our Endorean friends on the Skagit river.