My attempt to move from Southern California and create a happy and sustainable urban homestead in North Dakota, with some musings on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.



Thursday, April 26, 2012

10 Yards of Black Dirt

We're in the process of redesigning the front yard a bit, replacing lawn area with flower beds and perennial shrubs.  This will mean not only less area for me to mow all Summer (Yay!!!) but also more pretty flowers to look at, and to attract birds, butterflies and beneficial insects to the yard.

I'm a big believer in working smarter, not harder.  At times I do take this to the extreme by not working at all, thus ensuring that there is never even a threat working harder.  This however is a philosophical discussion for another day.  

Part of working smarter means that I'm not going to break out the shovel and dig out all that lawn or turn it over by hand unless I absolutely need to.  Instead I'm quite fond of using some serious mulching to break down the lawn over time.  This is the so called "lasagna mulching" technique, laying down newspaper or cardboard and then covering it with a hefty layer of dirt and/or mulch.  You plant stuff into the dirt/mulch on top and over time the grass underneath dies and turns to happy organic matter that will add nutrients to the soil.  I've used this method before and will use it now to create some mounds in the front yard and turn ugly work-intensive lawn into flowering perennials and annuals. 

To this end we had 10 yards of dirt delivered to the house earlier this week.  It was an impressive full sized dump truck and dropped an impressive sized pile of black dirt on the lawn. Perfect.
When I told him where to dump the dirt the driver looked at me quizzically and and said "You know this is gonna really rut up your lawn, right?"  And he was right, this was a big ass truck and it did put big tire ruts in the lawn.  However I didn't mind at all since getting rid of the lawn is the one of the core motives behind this operation.
It was a whole lot of dirt.  This was another one of those situations where I may have gotten a wee bit too ambitious and my gardening eyes were bigger than my gardening stomach. 
Yeah, that's a whole lot of dirt.

The pile was six foot high and ten or twelve feet in diameter.  I may be occasionally envious of people who live in warmer environments and feel pangs of longing for my old Zone 10 climate in Southern California, but now is my chance to make other gardeners envious.  Take a look at the good dirt.  They just call it "black dirt" and it's sold as such.  It is good stuff.  
I started moving the dirt to the area underneath the pine tree in the front yard, placing a barrier of newspaper on top of the grass to kill the lawn below.  This should prevent grass coming up through the flower beds.
This is how the raised dirt bed looked.  I've made some additional changes since and will have more pictures up in another few days. And even better pictures later this summer when the area is fully planted and blooming. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring Flowers - Tulips and Siberian Irises

We had a few flowers pop up recently around the garden here at the Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes homestead.
The first tulip of the year has opened.  I share it with you.
In a very strange development, we've found almost opened tulip blossoms on the ground, two to three feet away from the plants the last two mornings.  They're cut about 4-6 inches from the ground with a diagonal cut but there's no other damage to the stem or the plant.  I'm assuming it's rabbits or squirrels.  It's not all lost since Alycia takes the cut flowers and puts them in a vase and we have lovely tulips indoors for a few days. 

Even though I've seen a bunny near our yard the past few days, in general the rabbits and squirrels stay out of the fenced in yard (where the tulips are located) since we have three dogs who would very much enjoy chasing them, playing with them, and likely eating them.  Since we've lived here, there have been no critters that venture into the yard except for the occasional bold daytime squirrel.  Perhaps it's time to have the dogs posted outside on nighttime sentinel duty to protect our flowers from marauding flower chomping wild beasties.
In the front yard we have Siberian Irises blooming.  These are very small (3-4 inches) plants with delicate blue flowers and are usually the first to bloom in Spring.  In fact these have been blooming for a week or so now and are almost done for the season.
Alycia planted these in a semi-circle around the trunk of a large tree in the front yard.  These little flowers are supposed to naturalize and (possibly) start spreading a bit, and they look perfect nestled among the tree trunk and large roots.  They're very cool little flowers and the sign for me that Spring is here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Germinated Seeds Become Seedlings

I thought I'd follow up with my previous post about starting seeds in the basement (see Starting Seeds Indoors) with some pictures about our progress.  We're still a good 2-3 weeks from being able to put plants outside, and even that might be pushing the timetable a bit.  Some of the more cold tolerant plants, like cabbage, might get sent outside shortly once they seem hardy.  I have so many cabbage starts that if I lose a few it wouldn't be a heartbreak. 
Honeydew melons, three kinds of watermelons, and cherry tomatoes.  These are definitely going to wait for warmer weather since they're frost averse and simply won't do anything until the soil and air temps are to their liking. 
Zinnias, hollyhocks, salvias, and coneflowers.  I may divide these up in a week or so and put one plant per pot cavity.  I honestly didn't expect this many seeds to germinate since some were from seed packets that were 4-5 years old
Cabbage starts.  These have a full second set of leaves and have graduated from sitting under the fluorescent light to the West facing basement window.   Now I have to try to keep them from getting too leggy before it's warm enough for them to go outside.
More cabbages (different variety).  I always seem to forget that cabbage, like tomatoes, have a 185% germination rate.  Even though I swore that I only used one seed per space, multiple shoots have sprung up, and EVERY seed that found its way onto the dirt germinated.  Looks like we'll have plenty of cabbage for sauerkraut and for drying/storing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One Reason I Never Get Anything Done

Many pet owners can attest to this fact, computers are magnets for pets.  For some reason my dogs (especially the puppy) are drawn to "help" me the moment I have my computer out and am attempting do some manner of meaningful work. 
This is the initial "Hey John what're you doing, can I help?" phase.
This turns into the more intensive "John, I love you John, what're you doing? I know I can help, can I help?"
Which quickly turns into the In-your-face-and-actively-loving-you-helping-you phase.  She's usually pretty good about not violating the "4 on the Floor" Rule, which stipulates that all canine critters need to keep all four paws on the floor and not creep/crawl up onto couches and into laps. 

Once there's a doggy noggin on your laptop or on your lap, wiggling around and wanting pets, well it's pretty hard to concentrate on computing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Morning Power Outage

Our power went out Saturday morning for a few hours.  It wasn't a big deal at all and we hardly noticed it since we were headed out the door for Gardening Saturday, an all day event of gardening learning and festivities.  The power outage itself was barely noteworthy except for the article in the Grand Forks Herald the next day. 

Here's the article from the Grand Forks Herald.  I've highlighted the relevant quote from Excel Energy company officials.  It might not be funny to anyone else, it just seems like a quote I could have given having no technical knowledge of electricity or information on the situation - "Uhhhh yeah, probably like a thing came loose or something". I guess I just expect the power company to be much less blase about electricity wires spontaneously coming loose. 

"A power outage affected about 1,900 customers in a north-central area of Grand Forks on Saturday morning, according to Mark Nisbet, a manager with Xcel Energy.

The outage, which began just after 7:30 a.m., lasted about two-and-a-half hours.
Power was back on for everyone by 10:09 a.m., he said. About 450 customers had power restored about earlier.

The outage was caused by a wire that came down, Nisbet said. “We’re not sure why. The winds we had a day or so earlier may have loosened a connector, but that’s speculation.”
It was not caused by a break in an underground connection, he said."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Return of the Flickers

Spring brings many things here in North Dakota, but the seasonal transition from winter to spring is noticeable by the timeline of the arrival of winged visitors in the neighborhood.  The bird arrival schedule is first the robins arrive, then the grackles, then a lot more robins, then even more robins, then the flickers. 

Flickers are not only an interesting bird to watch but they also have seemingly unusual/contradictory characteristics.  They're technically woodpeckers, but they don't bang their heads against trees and make holes in tree trunks, instead feeding on the ground on ants, bugs, and tasty creepy crawlies.  And strangely, even though they're year round residents here, they're rarely seen (by me) except in the Spring and Fall when some of them along with their brethren from Canada migrate through the area.
Photo Credit
Flickers are slightly larger than a robin and at first glance from a distance I usually mistake them for robins, but they're much more skittish than the bold robins and tend to flee for the safety of trees sooner than a robin would as you approach on foot.  In flight it becomes much more apparent that they're woodpeckers.  When they alight on a tree, they sometimes grab a vertical branch or the tree trunk like a woodpecker instead of perching on a horizontal branch like most birds. 
Photo Caption
Prior to 1930 the nickname of University of North Dakota athletic teams was the Flickertails (not to be confused with flickers, flickertails are a very fierce variety of local ground squirrel), but that all changed and eventually led to the current imbroglio with the Fighting Sioux nickname that is still going on today. You can read about the history of the UND nickname if you are so inclined, especially the Flickertails here on Wikipedia.
Photo Credit
 You can learn more about flickers and see more awesome pictures from the fantastic Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bingo and Easter and Spring

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, so much so that I'm just now pausing to update the Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes crowd of the happenings around the homestead.

On Saturday Alycia's parents visited us from their Cavalier, North Dakota country estate.  Alycia got the bee in her bonnet that we should try our hand at one of the many local bingo events in town.  So the four us stopped by the VFW in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (just on the other side of the Red River of the North) on Saturday afternoon and we had a blast learning and then playing bingo.  I committed a rookie blogger error and forgot my camera at home, which is too bad since I can't adequately capture in words the bingo scene at the VFW.

The bingo companions that we shared our table with were most gracious and helpful and prevented us four bingo newbies from making any egregious or embarrassing bingo faux pas.  And to top it off Alycia won $100!!!  It was quite the outing and I think we're going to return, possibly semi-regularly, it was a lot of fun.

On Easter Sunday we headed up to the Cavalier, North Dakota estate for an Easter feast and celebration of family with Alycia's parents.  We hauled the dogs along with us (of course) and Shadowfax showered everyone with kisses and spazzy puppy hugs, while Tito and Shaak Ti snacked on turkey tidbits from Alycia's Dad. 

Despite the cool weather the last few days, there are signs of Spring everywhere.  This week we'll have some posts about our vegetable and flower seed germination, some new feathered visitors around the urban homestead, as well as an update on our un-hibernating garden gnomes.  Stay tuned.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Puppy's First Stitches

Shadowfax the puppy got her first stitches on Tuesday.  This is an unfortunate coming of age benchmark and it's the first time we've had to get any of the dogs stitched up.  Most of the previous self-inflicted injuries the pups have have sustained consisted of scrapes, small punctures, and some small cuts - the kind of thing that we could treat at home with peroxide and Neosporin.

But on Monday night as puppy was in the midst of a high speed tear around session, Tito "The Moray Eel" lurched out from his hiding place under the dining room table like a moray eel and nipped her good.  I actually didn't notice for a few minutes since other than letting out a yelp (the loudest I've ever heard her yelp), there was no indication she was hurt, she just kept racing around and playing with Shaak Ti.
She wound up with a decent sized gash and 8 stitches.  While not life threatening, it was definitely beyond our first aid abilities so we took her first to the emergency vet (it was late evening) for staples, which didn't hold very well, and then the next day to the vet to get sewn up.  Between the emergency vet visit on Monday night and the follow up visit to get stitches, it was an expensive little incident and the cost is definitely coming out of Tito's allowance.  
After she came home, she just kept right on playing.  I don't think she even knew that she'd been injured.  At the vet, even though she had a gaping wound, she jumped right up on the counter.  Not front-paws-up-on-the-counter, but jump through the air onto the counter with all four feet so she could give the receptionist kisses. The receptionist commented "my she's s a busy dog isn't she".  Yes, yes she is. 
Here she is in her Comfy Cone chomping away at Triumph the Triceratops. We're big fans of the Comfy Cone, it's much less damaging to the shins (of the people, not the dogs) and and still keeps the pups from pulling her stitches out.
Here's the puppy napping in her Comfy Cone, cozy and comfy, but a little sad looking.  She's healing up quick and will be flying around the house before we know it. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

At the Fire Station

My nephew Jacob with his Mom at the fire station.  He's getting big, at only 15 months he's already showing off the inherited family height, big feet and torso girth.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Esquire Article - The War Against Youth

If you have 20 minutes I highly recommend reading this article.  It's very well written and summarizes so many of the economic/political/generational conflicts going on today.

Esquire - The War Against Youth

"The recession didn't gut the prospects of American young people.  The Baby Boomers took care of that." 


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Continues - Tulips, Honeyberries, Trash

Spring continues to take shape here on the Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes urban homestead.  There are finally flocks of robins (Alycia contends this is the true indicator of the arrival of Spring) clamoring around and there's been some rustling and commotion from the garage cubbyhole where the garden gnomes are hibernating, I think they're beginning to awaken from their winter slumber.  More on the developing garden gnomes situation later this week.
The tulips continue to emerge, looking ready for a good spring color show.
I think we may even get our first tulip blooms this week.  My fingers are crossed.
The honeyberry is almost fully leafed out and looks terrific.  It's not a native but thrives in our very cold winters and was one of the first plants to set leaves.  It needs another variety as a pollinator and the second honeyberry we had was nothing more than a 4 inch bare root twig didn't survive last summer due to a series of unfortunate episodes of neglect when I was out of town.  We may buy another pollinator this year so we get berries.  The berries are small, oblong, dark blue (like a blueberry) and very tart.  They are not the best to eat raw and we'll use them to make jam.  
One of the Spring tasks I despise is picking up all the trash that accumulates over the winter, gets stuck in the snow and then reveals itself after the snow melts.  The truth is that picking up trash is not just a Spring job, but an unfortunate year round task for Alycia and I.  The regular heavy winds are partly to blame as they tend to blow trash around until it gets caught on shrubs and windbreaks, but the majority of the fault is with people who are just messy inconsiderate litterers.  Weekly we pick up candy wrappers, cigarette butts, pieces of paper, soda bottles, fast food bags, beer cans, you name it.  People who litter suck.

Every once in a while the litter though is mildly entertaining, such as the picture above - I found the Giraffe 9 of Spades in the garden. 
The Giraffe 9 of hearts was in the front yard (sorry the picture didn't come out great).  How these particular cards made it into our yard I'll never know.  Perhaps this was a losing hand in some majestic poker game.  Or perhaps this was the winning hand (tallest animal on the card wins?), we'll never know.  What I do know is that littering is pretty bad around here and it makes me sad/angry. 

It's a lovely sunny day outside, 70 degrees and light winds, the perfect day for some light outdoor tasks with periodic bouts of distracted bird watching and miscellaneous procrastinations.  Have a fabulous Sunday.