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.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

2013 Garden Objectives

Even though we're technically a week into Spring, it seems like actual Spring is a long way off.  There's still 3 feet of snow (or more) on the ground and temperatures aren't forecast to get above the freezing mark for at least the next week. It makes it seem like planting-actual-living-things-in-the-ground time is eons away.

But we're going to start our seeds indoors this week and the itch for Spring will turn into an inevitable yearning that will soon enough enable me to work outside.  In the meantime I thought it would be a good exercise to relay my objectives for the upcoming gardening season.  Why?  Well this IS sort of a blog about gardening.  Plus it will be good thought exercise to consider my plans for the upcoming year and there's the bonus that if I know that my list is publicized, there's a better chance I will feel accountable to my reading public and not procrastinate the year away.

Objective Category 1 - Easy Stuff.  These are things that are either easy to accomplish or that I really need to do anyways:
  • Add some pieces of re-purposed sidewalk concrete to the area underneath our gate.  In Spring and during rainy weather this small space gets really muddy from the people/dog foot traffic (it's our main exit in/out of the yard).  I'm going to dig in some broken pieces of an old sidewalk that we removed last year from the side of the house in order to make this space less muddy. 
  • Plant more perennials.  I love annuals, but they're a lot of work to plant every year and I'd rather have them as extra additions than the main attraction.  We're going to plant some more coneflowers, clematis, monarda (bee balm), milkweed, and sedum. And whatever else strikes my fancy. 
  • Plant at least one more honeyberry shrub.  You need two to get berries and we only have one right now.  I did the math on this one all by myself.
  • Divide hostas and use them for borders for perennial beds.  
  • Lose more lawn space.  Every year I want to take a little more lawn area and convert it to vegetable growing, flowers, or non-lawn space. Less lawn = less weekly mowing work.  If I do this slowly (a few square yards every year), the neighbors are less likely to notice.  I'm sneaky like that.
  • Plant milkweed.  Monarch butterflies are disappearing at a rapid rate, I'm hoping that planting some of their favorite food will help a little.  These are also perennials, so this also ties into one of the objectives above.  
Objective Category 2 - Harder Stuff.  These are things that require some thought or multiple days to finish:
  • Determine if my leaf mulching plan worked to improve soil quality.  Last Fall we raked up and shredded all our leaves, then put them on top of our raised beds, with some chicken wire to hold the leaves in, and some big bricks to weigh it all down.  This was a lot of work last Fall and I'm hoping that this has all broken down into some quality organic matter that we can work into the soil when we plant the raised beds.   
  • Figure out if my blueberry relocation plan worked.  I've been trying to grow blueberries here for three years, despite the warnings from multiple local folks and nursery professionals. The soil is just too alkaline here and simply amending the soil just doesn't work.  My solution?  I dug a big pit (see picture below), filled it with compost and a bunch of peat moss, then brought it up another foot above the ground.  Then I transplanted the six bushes into their new acidic soil wonderland last Fall. This year we find out if it worked.  If not?  We may need to give up the dream of growing blueberries.  That would make me sad.
  • Come up with some kind of definitive crop rotation system.  Right now my haphazard system of "we planted tomatoes here last year so..." method has left something to be desired.  
  • Get a quote and some firm plans on converting our spare garage into a greenhouse.  I've been talking about this for a few years now and I'd really like to have a greenhouse up and running for this winter.  
Objective Category 3 - Big Picture Stuff.  These are things that I need to think about, plan, research, contemplate and probably won't get finished this year, but I at least want to think about them:
  • Stump decisions.  We had a large, old box elder tree removed last Fall in the southwest corner of our yard.  It was very old and rotted out in multiple places.  Since it hung over our driveway and power lines we decided it was best that we take it down on our terms, not wait for a thunderstorm to do it for us.  Now we're trying to decide what to do with that space (and the stump that's sitting there now).  When the tree was there it shaded the garden from about 3:00 onward, preventing a full day of sun from reaching the garden, so I don't think we want to replace it with another large, full tree that will shade the garden.  I like birch trees.  They're a bit more sparsely leafed and not quite as tall as some other trees which would allow more dappled sunlight to reach the garden in the afternoon.  More research and discussion and planning is needed.  
  • Backyard landscaping.  Inside the fenced in backyard on the west side of the yard, there's a distinct lack of landscaping, it's pretty much just the fence and lawn. This is the one place that we'll always have lawn (ask the dogs why), so we need to have some other landscaping to soften the fence and make the yard look a bit better.  Last year we planted some sedum along one side of the fence and one clematis vine on a trellis.  We need to plant a few more clematis vines on some cool trellises and maybe a few happy little shrubs.  Again more research and thought and planning is needed.
That's all I can think of for now.  What about you gentle reader?  What's on your to-do list this year?  Any ideas or solutions to my myriad garden issues? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Squirrel In the Office

I was sitting home debating what to have for lunch when I got a picture and text message from Alycia.  The picture was her desk at work (at the University of North Dakota).  I couldn't really make much out of the picture, so it was difficult to tell what the deal was.  The text message was more helpful.  It said:

"I had a squirrel in my office this morning.  He ate my candy and peed on my desk. This is the aftermath after the facilities guy caught him with his garbage picker-upper stick"
I'm no wildlife expert but I think is terrible behavior for a squirrel. I understand eating the candy, but peeing on someone's desk?  That squirrels' Mama obviously didn't teach him (or her) right.

After I got done laughing and laughing I commiserated with Alycia at her bad squirrel fortune.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hiding From the Cold

We had another 3 or 4 inches of snow yesterday, and it's back to the mid-Winter level of chill in the air, near -5 with a wind.  Ugh.  The kids have been hibernating in their warm beds and are quite reluctant to go outside.
Shadowfax is staying curled up in the warming bed. Yes, that's a heated dog bed on top of another dog bed.  She's a spoiled little deaf pittie all right.
No she's not growling, I just caught Shaak Ti mid-yawn.  This is probably about what I look like first thing in the morning.
Shaak Ti isn't getting out of her cozy little bed/blanket fort either.  In case you were wondering, yes our dogs are a tad bit overly pampered.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Our Awesome Neighbors

We have a phenomenal little corner of the world here in Grand Forks, a historic old house, a fenced yard for the pups, a little more than a 1/4 acre of land to garden with, and some of the best neighbors around.  One of our neighbors in particular live three houses down from us and are simply some of the best people in the whole friggin' world (I might be a bit biased).

Our neighbor Brad* has a John Deere tractor with a bunch of attachments, one of which is a pretty powerful snow-thrower.  Every time it snows (and it snows a lot here in North Dakota), Brad is out in his little tractor clearing his driveway/sidewalks and most of the rest of the neighborhoods' too.  Even if he's already been out for hours clearing his own driveway/sidewalks, he tirelessly cleans off our sidewalks and even our large driveway usually before we've had a chance to do it ourselves.

Last summer I was out in the garden and Brad and his wife Paula* walked by with their little granddaughter, enjoying the summer evening.  We started chatting about the raspberry bushes and plum trees that we'd just planted and the conversation turned to canning and making jam.  Brad and Paula have a huge garden and make various jams and preserves.

Our chat wrapped up and a half hour later I was inside washing up and there was a knock at the door.  It was Brad and Paula. They had two grocery bags of jams, preserves, sauces, and relishes to share with us.  All I could say was "Wow, thanks!!"  This isn't even the extent of all the awesome things they've done, they really are fantastic neighbors.  
Each Spring the last couple of years, after the snow has melted, we've given Brad and Paula a gift certificate to a local restaurant as a way of thanking him for all their help. But this has never seemed like quite enough of a "thank you".

So I ask you dear readers for some help, some ideas.  What do you think would be a proper/adequate way to say thanks to awesome neighbors such as these?  Months of help with snow removal is such a big deal, we want to make certain we express our appreciation.

*Names were changed to protect the identity of our awesome neighbors.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts of Spring and a TED Talk - Ron Finley

As I sit, prone on the couch, recovering from my knee surgery, I'm doing just about everything I can to keep from climbing the walls.  I've had some brief sporadic attacks of cabin fever and I'd give just about anything to go for a walk or a run, or just about any manner of physical activity.  Heck even a spirited mosey or saunter would be fine.  Unfortunately the optimal position for me is reclined, knee elevated, frozen in carbonite encased in ice packs. 

Alycia has been a kind and helpful nurse, much more nurturing than I thought possible.  But I feel that even her kindness has limits and there are days when I fear she is close to beating me about the torso (even in her rage I'm sure she'd avoid hitting my delicate knee) with my own crutches. Frankly I wouldn't blame her if she did.

It doesn't help the cabin fever urges within me that hints of Spring are tantalizingly in the air - seed catalogs, Daylight Savings, brochures for gardening events, snow melting, oh please just stop! Sure I know that this is only temporary. In a few more weeks I'll be back on my feet, walking around, starting seeds indoors and preparing for Spring. 
That's why this TED Talk by Ron Finley was just what I needed.  I highly suggest you watch if you have 10 minutes, very entertaining.

Thanks to the awesome blog Root Simple (you should read this blog) for tuning me on to this

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Awesome Nephew Pictures

It's been a little while since I posted pictures of my awesome nephew Jacob. He's growing up pretty dang fast, and even though I'm not a kid person, I think he's pretty dang cute too.
His future is so bright that he has to wear (his Dad's) shades.
For Christmas he got a sandbox from Grandpa, which he apparently loves.  My sister appreciates it since it's a fun place for him to play and burn off little kid energy, but as she told me the other day on the phone "there is sand EVERYWHERE".  I had to laugh. And laugh. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mr. Fish

In honor of our beloved Grommie, who passed away recently, I figured I should discuss the other important fish in my life: Mr. Fish.

I had won/fished him out of a fish pond during one of Cavalier's summer Crazy Days when I was a kid. And unlike all other free goldfish that you get as a kid, he refused to die. He lived for 7 or 8 years before I headed off to school at Stanford. My sophomore year at school I decided that I was going to bring him with to school. Since my parents and I annually drove from North Dakota to Stanford, it wasn't that big of a deal, other than the 4-day road trip. We just emptied out half of his tank and let him slosh around in the car all the way out. I believe his favorite stop was a night at one of the stateline casinos in Nevada.

Once at school, Mr. Fish made lots of friends. My draw group (extended group of roommates) all doted on him. In fact, when I would go back to North Dakota, Mr. Fish went home to Fresno/Clovis, CA with my friend, Sue. Her family loves to fish and they treated Mr. Fish as a demi-god. Sue's dad refused to let her fill his tank with their tap water, instead insisting that she use their bottled water. Anyway, I digress. Mr. Fish lived with us through that sophomore year at Storey House, the following summer when we lived in moderate filth at the Sigma Chi frat house (it was the cheapest place to live), and then the following year when we lived in the Arroyo dorm.

Toward the end of his life, Mr. Fish stopped moving very much. He pretty much lurked on the bottom of his tank. He had been white for years, having lost all of his coloring sometime before heading out to California (and no, he didn't tan in the CA sun). Eventually he also developed some sort of cataract thing, where his eyes bulged, and then one day (one at a time) collapsed inward - very weird.

Anyway, Mr. Fish survived through finals week of Spring Quarter, and then he went quietly. Since I was quite attached to him, there was no way I was going to flush him down the toilet, and there was the issue that he was so big, he stood a chance of clogging the toilet. I briefly pondered taxidermy, but when I found out how much that cost, I instead opted for a frozen funeral. All summer he lived in my dorm fridge's mini freezer. In August when I flew home to North Dakota, I bought him a very nice little thermos and ice pack, put his frozen carcass in the thermos, and flew home with him so that he could be buried in the Cummings pet cemetery. Obviously, this was pre-9/11 when security wasn't quite so tight.

So the take-home point from my little ramble today. Of all my pets, my dogs are definitely the ones that I love best, but there is no reason why I cannot also have some attachment to my fish, too. There is no shame in wanting to provide a proper funeral for all of your pets.