Sunday, April 28, 2013

Don't eat of that tree

What goat could resist?

Today I opened the gate to the part of the garden near the house - the part we usually keep off limits to the goats.

The grass has grown very high, very fast, and blackberry has crept in behind the tool shed. Perfect browse for the ever hungry goats, I thought.

I gave Noah a long, slender branch and asked him to gently block the goats if they tried to get into the flower bed.

Most of the flowers are hardy perennials that no amount of chewing could damage, but the red flowering currant is not.

I showed Noah the rose bush, overgrown with akebia.

Let them eat that.

Let them have the huge bottom leaves of the artichoke. It's a thistle, and goats love thistle, right?

Let them fill their bellies with the long green grass.

They've eaten enough fresh grass this spring; I'm no longer worried they will bloat. 

Just keep them away from the currant tree.

It has a single, slender trunk and one good chomp would kill it.

Alstroemeria - who needs it?

In they came, sampling and tasting here and there. A bite of garlic leaf was enough.

A puff of dandelion seed tickled too much to try for more. The alstroemeria is spreading everywhere. Take it down, goats.

Dandelions. Help yourself!
But within ten minutes, Meggie was shoving past Noah and his feeble stick and reaching for the fading red blossoms of my little currant.

"Mom, help".

Out I ran, yelling at the goats,

"I let you have everything in the garden, except this one tree.

Why do you have to eat it? Out you go".

As we rounded them back out I realized I have once again done it.

I've paraphrased the first book of Genesis.

This happens a lot lately. Why did my family eat the nice cookies I hid for the bake sale, when I left all the slightly damaged ones on a plate for them?

Why did I eat all the candy in Noah's treat drawer when the fridge is stocked full of healthy, cut up vegetables and fruits?

Why does the kid play in his room when the spring is so glorious I can hardly breathe in all the fragrance of earth and flower?

Lightning, cast out of the garden, turns her head away

I used to read that book with bitterness in my heart. I wholeheartedly identified with Adam and Eve. Why create temptation that can't be resisted? 

But over time my sympathies have changed and I begin to see the viewpoint attributed to God. Being responsible means acknowledging that others are agents of their own will.

It is deeply frustrating watching others make decisions I don't agree with. But it's the nature of living among others.

I will say. Those who know me know, I am not a believer.Yet these stories resonate strongly with me. Some part of me says they are literally true.The story of the fall didn't happen once, then. It happens all the time.Genesis just tells it like it is.
Noah guarding the tree with a sword (his idea, I didn't suggest this)

A fence. Best plan yet.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lawn conversion stage two- in place worm farming

 When we decided to convert the lawn to a fruit garden, I went in bracing myself for the hard job of removing the grass.

As I learned few weeks ago, this went faster than I could have imagined, and the sod embankments that will stabilize the hill were similarly trouble free.

Then we ran into a completely unexpected challenge.

Not enough worm food.

Seattle is a very worm-centric community. Many households have worm bins, which they use to dispose of kitchen scraps while harvesting a little high quality compost for their gardens.

My first visit to David's house, he showed me his worm farm and told me how to take care of it. I was new to the city and thought he was a lovable eccentric, but I've since met several other people who introduced me to their worms.

Small scale worm composting consists of a box full of bedding like shredded paper, moistened but not drippy. The worms are placed in the bedding and fed a mixture of household veggie scraps and garden soil. Worms can eat something like their own weight in waste food every week.

 The food makes its way through the worm and out the other end as black, shiny castings - worm poop, an excellent soil amendment.

My vision for the front yard is to create a bedding layer of worm castings an inch or two deep, over the burlap that covers the bare soil. I would then cover this with mulch and install the plants.

Below the mulch layer, the worms would finish decomposing their food and dig into the burlap till it was all eaten.

But with nearly 3000 square feet of garden bed to fill, I was striking out at finding that quantity of shredded paper for a starting medium. Not to get all math heavy, but to fill an area 3000 square feet with bedding 1" deep would require about 9 cubic yards of mixed material. That's a lot. It will be big, messy and heavy.

Perhaps this is a good thing I haven't found a source. It will slow me down so I can experiment with a smaller amount and make sure this "worm farming on the ground instead of in a bin" idea is a good one.

Yeah, let's say I planned it this way all along. I'll start with a small test area, 3' x 6' x 6" deep. That way, if the process produces a lot of odor or attracts pests I'll know before I've committed a huge part of my lawn!

Today I started my test.

I set out a bag of shredded paper which I obtained from freecycle.

On top of that, I dumped about 30# of beet and carrot pulp from a juicing company. They will have enough of this for my whole project, if I pick up a batch a week.

The beets and carrots were pretty colored, but I could already tell they would break down into a slimy, smelly, clumpy mess that worms couldn't even push their way through, unless I broke it up with some other organic material.

Lucky me. Seattle is a huge coffee drinking town, and many coffee shops are more than happy to give away their spent grounds.

It saves them the cost of composting, and helps them get green credentials.
I know from previous worm bins that coffee grounds help break up other material and keep the bedding open so the worms can move around better.

It also has a fresh, pleasant odor that will cover and absorb less pleasant smells from other material.
Worms need grit. Like chickens (who knew) they have gizzards.

They use the grit to grind up other food.

I dumped a bucket of garden soil on top of my bedding to provide this important supplement.

Oh. Last but not least, the worms.

I dug up a five gallon bucket of mixed worms and their compost from my worm bin and spread them out on top.

Then I stirred it all together (this is not a project for the squeamish) and watered it till it felt like a damp sponge.

By this point, robins, crows and chickens were eyeing the whole affair with greed and hunger. I covered the bed with burlap to hide it from their acquisitive eyes.

It shouldn't need anything for the next week or so. The forecast is for occasional rain and weather in the high 60's. Perfect.

I'll check back in a week and we'll know how the whole project is going.

Hopefully the worms will be thriving. And hopefully by then I'll have a lot more bedding to start this thing really rolling.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Bee: Part I, what is the bee, bee colony and fun facts, ding.

these are honeybees the big one towards the center is the queen
Please welcome Noah, son of regular author Sarah, for his debut on this blog  .

     Hello I am a new author for this blog and for my first story story/post I will be talking about bees as a hive, individual and just in general the common bee that is kept in hives. The honeybee or Apis melllifera. So to begin bees are arthropods which are a group of animals that all have jointed body parts and a exoskeleton, some examples are spiders, bees, butterflies, crabs, scorpions etc. More precisely bees are insects which are arthropods with 6 legs. So bees, ants, butterflies etc. 

So enough with that now I bet you want to know some interesting things about bees. You may have heard that bees live in hives that are made of wax organized in hexagonal cell's. Ok where to start hhhhmm, well bees can't see red but
this is me the author who is the kid in usually green
they can see ultra-violet. Ooohhhh. Now some of you the people who are reading this might bee wondering, hahahah do you get that! No of course nobody does. Ok what is ultra-violet. simply put it is a color beyond what humans can see. Also you are probably wondering why do they kneed to be able to see ultra-violet, well because flowers have ultraviolet markings on them giving instructions on how to get nectar and pollen. 

Also some of you might be wondering, gee when is this kid going to tell us how to take care of  bees? Well for you just read and you will find out. For those who wonder "why should I trust this guy he is a kid for crying out loud?" Well I have been taught by my dad who sometimes has 50 colonies, I have gone to many a bee keeping meeting, have a certificate that states I am an apprentice level which is the same as my dad and I have been beekeeping for almost half my life. 

Ha so there! 
this what are family calls the bee tree which ha tons of different kinds of bees pollinating it
this is one of my dads bee colony sites

Another interesting thing is that all honey bee stings have barbs on them meaning that when they sting and the bee flies away the stinger stays, pulling out the bee's gut, killing the bee but meaning that the stinger pumps venom through the stinger until there is no venom left or the stinger is out. This brings up the question, how do you get a stinger out? Whatever you don't try to pull it out it will just pump more venom into you :(  .Bad idea. So what you should do is swipe the stinger out. 

Bees have 3 different types in the colony. The drone or male who does not have a stinger and is bigger than worker bees. His only purpose in life is to mate with other colony's queens and once he has mated he dies (look I don't know why he dies, I will ask my dad!). 

Then the most common the worker bee which is all girls. These have stingers do all the jobs except laying eggs. Finally and most important the queen who is the biggest and the fattest of them all. A queen starts as a regular larvae except she gets fed so much royal jelly. 

Right before she comes out 2 things happen. 1 - The old queen high tails out of there in a swarm which is when the hive is overpopulated so not all the workers get the queens pheromone meaning they make queens, so the queen leaves unless she wants to die. Because the workers make multiple queens at once so they know they got a good queen because, 2-When the new queens are ready to come out they beat their wings against their cell wall or the piping. So only one queen per colony which means one queen survives by being the last one standing. 

Now you are probably like this if you are new to bees, "but you said that bees' stingers have barbs that make it stay in their target." Well that was kind of incorrect, the queens stinger doesn't (because she is the queen), also bees stingers don't stick in other insects or in arthropods in general.
queen cell frame thing
Something my dad just told me is bees generate an electrical charge which makes the pollen attracted onto the bee. Also honey is basically partially solidified bee vomit.Gross huh. Now you are probably want to know what is a colony already!!!!!!!!!!! Basically a colony is a group of bee's that when healthy has 60 to 80 thousand bees in it. There that is what it is. Done. So now I  done.


Thank you thank you this is the end of my guest author debut

Feel free to post any comments or questions about bees or other topics including things you think we should write about or spelling or grammar issues

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

The great dissapearing lawn

It's always scary to move from the idea stage to the action stage.

This week, we took the first step in turning our sloping, grassy front lawn into a garden of fruits and nectar. But before we get to the beautiful vision in our heads, we have to put in the work to get there.

The hill in front of the house looks gracious and inviting, but in reality it has been anything but. The slope is too steep for comfortable mowing - there is always the lingering fear of falling down the side.

It's also too steep to play most games on. Rolling downhill or sledding seem fun except you would end up in a thicket of English Laurel, with a poorly lighted street on the other side. Less fun, that. Especially because we live across the street from a park with a nice flat grassy area plus a good sledding hill. We didn't need a less useful version of either.

So we are going to convert it into a garden.

We have wanted to do this for years, but dreaded the labor. Luckily, the neighboring community of White Center is home to one of the best equipment rental stores around. For $75, we rented a sod cutter for the day.

sod cutter and some rolled sod
This baby sliced through the grass much more easily than we imagined. It was harder than mowing the lawn, but much easier than rototilling. It didn't take over in quite the same way.

We did learn that if you cut sod, you should remove the cut strips immediately, either by lifting them or rolling them up. Otherwise you won't be able to see where you cut, and will either miss spots or slice up your nice strips into little tatters.

Four hours of cutting yielded 3500 square feet of bare soil. Or rather, soil with cut sod on it. We lifted the sod strips and piled them into long walls which followed the line of the hill.

This was hard work, and really dirty. But it was also fun - like making a fort. Using sod strips as building material was a new experience for us - but was once a common building method. The folks who did it to make homes, without the benefit of a sod cutter, were truly stout hearted.

It took David and me about 12 man hours to roll and stack the sod. It takes weight as well as strength to wrestle the sod rolls. Noah was not able to budge them, but he helped by working the broadfork to loosen the soil.

Here is the slope with two rows of sod walls, positioned about seven feet apart down the hill. The walls ended up about eight or nine inches tall. We expect they will settle with age and time but remain as boundaries to the edges of each garden bed.

In all, we made three long terraces. They should act as water catchments, slowing the percolation of rain into the soil and storing winter moisture for our dry summers. All Meggie knows is she doesn't usually get to this part of the yard so she's excited.

Next we covered the hill with burlap bags.

Seattle is a coffee town. Many of the warehouses for the bigger companies will give you huge numbers of their bags. You just have to ask around and see who has them.

The hill used two full bales of bags - about 1600 of them. Each bag is about 4' x 2', or eight square feet, so we had 12800 feet of surface area.

That means we covered the whole area between two and three bags deep. We hope the bags will block out light and prevent any residual grass from growing back out. More crucially, they should hold the soil in place between now and our next steps - adding mulch and planting the garden.


Laying out the bags was unbelievably fast. David arrived with the bags at 11:30. Then we built a campfire and roasted hot dogs and veggie dogs. Then we started laying out the bags.

Two or three hours later, the rain started and Noah went inside. By four, David and I were done. The rain weighted the burlap so it conformed with the  contours of the hill.

From our new staircase, you now see a rounded beige hill off to your right.

It looks like some one's paper mache project. Or like a pair of khaki pants cast off by a giant.

As the rain softens the fabric I am starting to see the higher ridges where the walls of grass and soil rise up.

Right now we are all tired. The school break is over so I go back to work and Noah goes to school.

The hill will wait. Soon our buddy Heath will call to ask where we want him to drop some wood chips.

We will be ready!

 To be continued...

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