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Renae, I Have Your Rhubarb

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holding big bunch of fresh rhubarbGarden prize: first-of-the-season rhubarb

There I was minding my own business waxing on about my exceptional rhubarb crop, when one of my favorite bon vivants, super moms and gifted bloggers (Renaedujour.com) perked up and said in hushed tones as if speaking of contraband, “Did you say rhubarb.” “Why yes, Renae I did.” (I knew I like that girl.)

There are many markers of a person’s worth, and loving rhubarb is one of them. Pure glee and unbridled enthusiasm for anything should be rewarded, and Renae’s trophy shall be a clutch of my finest rhubarb stalks.  I shall deliver them tomorrow, and while I give these beefy ruby-red batons with no return in mind or expected, I venture to guess a fine confection or baked good will find its way from Renae’s home to mine.  Bon vivants are like that, and I embrace them all.
fresh cut rhubarb in a chair
I see rhubarb custard pie in my future. (Note to self:  buy vanilla ice cream.)

Ringing in the Return of the Bluebells

Bluebells in my backyard dreamscape

carpet of bluebells under maple treeOutside my backdoor in the shade of a gnarled friend, the bigleaf maple

The first time I recall seeing a forest floor carpeted in bluebells was in the movie Howard’s End. In a dreamlike state, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox was drifting through a sea of blue flowers, consumed by the beauty of the moment. The train of her Edwardian dress heavy with moisture from dew, left a wake of parted petals and stems with each step. It’s an image worth remembering and one I can revisit with Netflix or in my own backyard each May.

Apparently there are different bluebell species as the Natural History Museum in London explains quite nicely:

They are the most prolific spreader in a shady garden and under trees, peering up with the full force of their beauty en masse, the extravangant display lasting several weeks. They disappear as quickly as they arrived, leaves wither to a yellowy straw color before dissolving into the earth in preparation for their nine-month nap and showstopping return.

Related: BBC video, Spanish Bluebell Invasion

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There’s no better place to chew a bone than on carpet of bluebells.

Wheelbarrow Assembly or What 2.5 Hours Looks Like?

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Beware of the unassembled wheelbarrow.

In Cold War movies, countless spies and diabolical governments worked tirelessly toward the downfall of the good ole U.S. of A.  Little did they know there’s a much easier way to undermined the American mind and spirit. Yes nowadays, imported terror comes in the form of foreign-based instruction manuals for U.S. bound household goods. James Bond, Our Man Flint, and Maxwell Smart would have crumbled under the mental duress and pressure of swingset assembly.

Just last Saturday, I made my most foolish decision of 2008 by telling my pal Eric at the hardware store that I’d forgo the wheelbarrow assembly charge of $10 and assemble my newly-minted imported wheelbarrow all by myself.  I even taunted fate (and the skill set needed) by saying, “How hard could it be; it’s just a bucket with handles and a wheel.” He grinned with the self-satisfaction of a man who could visualize how my Saturday would be spent–choice words and tool tossing notwithstanding.

Upon its completion and in the photo above, you may see a shiny new garden tool,  sporting fancy steel handles and a dashing red tire rim. As for me I don’t so much see a wheelbarrow, I see two and half hours of my life that I’ll never get back and an uncomfortable apology due one sage at the local True Value. Wheelbarrow assembly at the store: it’s a good thing.

A Bird in the Hand

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holding a bird in my hand A little feather friend, catching his breath and soon to fly off

Sometimes the universe speaks to you in subtle almost inconceivable ways and other times it has no time to flirt with your awareness level and just drives the point home, ASAP.  My recent telegram from the cosmos was delivered with a striking thud against my back porch window in the form of a fragile little bird, its weight so indiscernable that if my eyes were closed, I’d believe my hand to be empty.   Stunned, the little bird needed immediate rescuing from my two curious bulldogs and a flock of culpable crows.

Nestled in a dish towel tucked in an old Tupperware bowl, Icarus was safe. His eyes gained brightness  slowly as he perched quietly and calmly. As adages go,  “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” speaks to a consciousness that sometimes escapes me. The richness of what I have should never be discounted for that which I contend to be better even if out of reach. It took a little bird’s poor navigation skills to enlighten me that day, but once he was sure I got the message, he flew off into a bush, where no doubt an awaiting mate completed the pair, and the proverb.

Moments for Pause

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two large black locust glowing at sunset Vashon Island

There are certain times in each year when a moment is marked, when a welcomed reminder of another time or season revisits you with an embrace of rediscovery, and you eagerly welcome its return. This evening as I made quick work of tucking in the chickens for the evening, I quickly realized I was not dressed for the chill at sunset. Nearing the house, the two ancient black locust trees that anchor my drive were glowing on the west side of their trunks, an occasion neither seen nor celebrated since the waning days of summer.

Their deeply-ridged bark glowed and the shadows of the last seven months were erased. I stood in stillness and felt the simple joy of this quiet moment.  The breeze was biting, but the moment warmed me.

Each day the hours wend their way through us, around us and at times, without us. What we choose to take notice of or that which ignites our spirit can easily be missed. Listen to your heart,  slow your step, and honor that which is before your eyes. You too will find your moment for pause.

Put Down the Bottled Water, and No One Gets Hurt

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a huge bin of thrown away water bottles in Honolulu

Art piece?  Nah, this is just a water bottle waste receptacle in Honolulu.

There was a time when the only bottled water you’d ever see, required a flight to Europe and a dining experience. Tap water was just fine for American palates. Well, a few multi-million dollar ad campaigns later, we can’t survive a workout or walk to the car without imbibing on a sealed bottle of glacier fed mountain spring water. (Of course, I only drink water from the 10,000-foot level on the leeward side where no mountain goats have grazed.)  After hopping into a friend’s car recently, I feared for my life, horrified that I would be engulfed by the sea of empty water bottles in his back seat. Luckily they stopped just below my breathing passages.

So on this Earth Day 2008, I ask just ask this of you (and me): put down the bottled water, pick up an empty reusable  glass and reach for the tap. I’m sure if you take a blind taste test, your city’s H2O will share the same bouquet as the bottled water that circumnavigated half the globe just to touch your lips and quench your thirst.

Flower Garden or Salad Bar for Deer?

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tulips buds before the deer find them

Their midnight snack…

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My morning indigestion…

We can all remember the first time the magic of Disney brought us Bambi and his ilk (or should I spell that ‘elk?’). We never saw the dark side of our little antlered friends did we; the one where they sneak about the night bounding over any fence shorter than a Sequoia, smug in the fact that they can devour a drift of daisies, a row of roses, and a lane of lilies before their two-legged foes so much as pour their first cup of coffee.  And while I’m planning my imaginery all-venison buffet, they are reclining in some shaded glen planning their own menu of late night snacks to be had in my unfenced and well-stocked outdoor larder.

Potato Sausage Casserole: Embracing My Inner American Breakfast

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Potato Sausage Casserole: Who wants breakfast?

farm fresh eggs cracked in a bowl

Farm fresh eggs have amazingly bright yolks.

I had some friends over for breakfast last Sunday, the perfect occasion to celebrate the best meal of the day. Don’t get me wrong; lunch and dinner are okay, but let’s face it, they share the same menu items. Breakfast is unique enough to hold on to its moniker no matter what time it’s served. When it comes to the Big American Breakfast (BAM), I consider it a gift to the world that rivals such Yankee contributions as the fountain pen, peanut butter, moist towelette, Space Shuttle and waffle cone.

I thought I’d keep it simple:  fruit, farm fresh eggs scrambled (courtesy of the girls), blueberry scones and my potato sausage breakfast casserole cooked in a cast iron pan the size of a manhole cover.  Here’s how you make it.

potato sausage casserole in a cast iron pan

This is a two-person fry pan, use your legs to lower into the oven. 

Cast Iron Pan Cookery: Potato-Sausage Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2lb ground breakfast sausage
  • 2 Cups diced mushrooms
  • 1 minced onion
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Cups milk
  • 2lb thickly grated potatoes ((or diced as cubes))
  • 2 Cups cheese ((swiss or cheddar or half and half))

Directions

Step 1
Saute the first three items slowly, and caramelize the onions and brown veggie bits and don't overcook the sausage. Drain if really greasy (or if someone healthy is watching).
Step 2
Add the flour and stir, coating the pan and scraping and stirring, cook another minute to create a pasty roux.
Step 3
Add milk in a slow steady stream and stir mixture. Simmer until it thickens.
Step 4
Add potatoes and mix together
Step 5
Add 1 C cheese and stir mixture
Step 6
Top with remainder of cheese, cover with foil or lid and cook at 350 degrees for an hour.
Step 7
Remove lid or foil and cook another 30 minutes or until golden brown and potatoes tender.

Now you’re ready to climb a mountain or plow your back forty or collapse on the sofa with The New York Times. With a full stomach, Sunday is yours to decide.

How to Plant a Bareroot Fruit Tree

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bareroot peach tree year after being planted

 My Avalon Pride peach tree takes root and sprouts some shoots one year after planting.

I wanted to add some peach trees to my orchard and thanks to One Green World nursery and UPS, three peach leaf curl resistant varieties showed up on my doorstep in no time at all. I chose Avalon Pride Peach, Oregon Curl Free Peach and Autumn Rose Peach. Since peaches move me like spinach, kale or broccoli never have, I decided to encroach upon my vegetable garden and plant the peach trees on the eastern edge.Here’s how I planted these bareroot babies.

 Step 1: Trees arrive

Planting a Bareroot Tree

Arriving in March as bareroot trees, I unwrapped the box, removed the trees, and soaked the roots in a bucket of water up to top of the root graft for a couple hours to hydrate the trees. So when you order trees, know where they are going and plant them within 24 hours of arrival for best results.

 Step 2: Dig the hole

digging a hole to plant a tree

 This is probably the most important step next to watering: digging the right size hole. It’s simple; always make it a little bigger than you need. From the research I read, it seems a shallower wider hole encourages more robust growth in the tree than placing it in a narrow deep hole. 

 Step 4: Plant the tree

golden lace wyandotte hens look some worms while I dig

Step 3: Work the soil

When you’re taking out the soil, really break it up and chew it up with your shovel. You want to create a lighter, less compacted soil. As you can see in the photo, my Golden Lace Wyandottes, Millie and Weesie (their names change weekly) are out to pluck as many juicy worms as they can, working top six inches of topsoil, the darker band in the photo.

.bareroot tree and shovel ready to be plantedA bareroot tree is one that is planted when it’s dormant and without soil binding its roots. It’s sold that way. You only see bareroot trees available at nurseries in the late winter or early spring. There is a limited window as the trees are removed from the fields, roots kept moist in some sort of wet medium like sawdust or mulch and then sent to market. Shipping costs less and usually there are a greater choices and variety at this time of year. The roots are healthy and fibrous and well-represented. Say no to wimpy roots.

dig4.jpgStep 5: Settling the tree in

Determine the finished soil level and make sure the roots have plenty of room and spread them out in each direction. Place a stick across the hole and keep the tree trunk and root graft just above the soil so when the soil is returned, the tree is level with the soil.

 

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Step 6: Don’t amend the soil

Gardeners will duke it out over this controversy. During my stint as a Master Gardener, the debate was heated, but university research shows that trees do not benefit from soil amendments, generally. In fact, loading up the soil with a bunch of compost, manure, sand, and kitchen sinks only discourages the roots from leaving their comfy well-fed hole. In my own experience, I’ve planted trees both with and without soil amendments and the well-dug, same-soil specimens took off after the third year. The pampered ones just hung out and grew lush, but seemed dwarfed.

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Step 7: Gently return the soil

The roots are tender, exposed and fragile so be gentle and lightly drop the soil around the roots, filling in the hole and compressing lightly. Remove air spaces, but you don’t need to stomp down hard like its a hoedown.  In the photo above, I still have to add more soil to reach my guide, the horizontal shovel handle. Add more soil if it settles after watering.

Step 8: Create a berm

Young trees need ample water, so I create a berm, a ridge around the tree trunk about two feet out to hold water. Fill the area with a slow flowing hose until it reaches the top of the berm. Drainage is important and if the water tends to sit there for a long time without draining, you may want to consider a new location. Prune out the dead branches and smile at your new long-term garden pal.

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Step 9: No Staking Needed

Unless you’re planting a tall specimen with no root ball, no need to stake it for stability.  Again there are two camps on this: to stake or not to stake. I’ve never had a tree blow over and again research indicates a tree that bends in the wind is a stronger tree. A metaphor worth remembering. Happy Planting, Tom

He’s a Smooth Pollinator — When Peach Trees Need a Helping Hand

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peach41.jpg 

Let me just say peach trees are worth the effort, and in the Pacific Northwest that’s some effort. Our rainy cool climate tricks the peach into blooming early–early enough that no bee worth his knees is going to be foraging for pollen or nectar. Even the heavy hitter pollinator of the hood, the orchard mason bee, is barely stirring with night temps visiting the 30s. As day temperatures lumber up to almost 50, the peach tree begins to awaken to a lonely garden, where few fellow photosynthesizers have even peered above the soil line. I did see one bumblebee, but my burly bomber was more interested in bluebells and tulips. 

Being the resourceful fellow that I am, I called upon the best and most available pollinator I knew: me. After one hour and 15 minutes of my household scavenger hunt to find my old artist paintbrushes (from my faux finish period), I discovered them next to my gold leaf, glue gun and fishing lures in a bottom drawer reserved for neglected hobbies. I took my lovely sable Daniel Smith 75-01 and strutted out to the orchard to save my peach trees from a fruitless year. I use one brush for all the trees, assuming a cornucopia of various peach pollens are bound to find a home on a willing pistil. With brush in hand, I ‘paint’ each open blossom with gentle swirls, collecting and distributing pollen as I go about the limbs. Sure I may look silly, but it’s never stopped me before and besides, come July, August and September my mockers’ memories will fail to recall my April escapades when they’re wiping peach juice from their chins.

 

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Where’s the bees?                   One of my plan Bs