A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Golden Currant in Bloom

This is our golden currant (Ribes odoratum) in full bloom.  It's on the north face of a fence and really only gets some afternoon sunlight, so I'm not certain that we'll get fruit.  This is the third year for these shrubs, we got them back in 2012 from the Pembina County Soil Conservation District when they weren't more than 6 inch twigs, it's taken a full two years for them to get established. 
We have three different kinds of currants (Red Lake and Ben Sarek) on the homestead that we use almost exclusively for jamming.  Currants have a large amount of natural pectin and it enables me to make some very tasty blueberry/currant, red raspberry/currant (recipe and directions here), and raspberry/black currant jam with no added pectin.  The currants give the jam a bit of a nice tart bite as well. 
These flowers will hopefully be tiny currants in a couple of months.  We net our red (Red Lake) currants with bird netting but leave the black (Ben Sarek) without a net in case the birds want some.  Despite that fact that birds supposedly love currants, they don't take many of the black currants.  If you have small fruits - blueberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, bird netting is a great investment.  It's unwieldy and takes a few minutes to cover your precious berries, but worth your time when you go to harvest them later.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baltimore Orioles and Spring Daffodils

We have too many photos and stories to share.  Fantastic birds have been visiting the homestead, Spring bulbs are popping, and the garden is just buzzing with life and activity.  Our friend the Baltimore Oriole stopped by for a visit, Alycia was quite excited to see him again.  We saw him a few times last year and were so stoked that he decided to return, especially since we'd prepared a meal of orange slices and grape jelly just for him. 
I actually didn't get a picture last year of the Oriole and had to resort to a stock image from the web. This caused me a little bit of shame.  But this year I got my own photo, though it doesn't do him justice.  That orange and black is so much more vibrant in person.

We also had a display of our mid-Spring bulbs, daffodils and Grape Hyacinth.  The Blue Scilla have long since gone, the lovely yellow tulips are almost spent, and the daffodils are on their way out.
These may be the last of the bulbs, expect for the Crocuses which are hiding in a shady, cool spot and will wait a bit longer to emerge.
There are a handfull of the these festive little Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum - yes this is a rare occasion where I actually know the Latin name), and they're all tangled up with some daisies that we were gifted from a colleague of Alycia's.  There sure are lots of things happening, we'll try to take more photos of all the action!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Yellow Tulips

I went away this last week to attend a conference down in Minnesota lakes country.  It's always astounding how quickly things change in Spring.  When I came back it was amazing how things have grown - seemingly exponentially, bulbs have flowered, trees have started to leaf out, it all leaves me filled with a sense of wonder. 
These tulips are in the back yard, behind the fence.  This part of the yard should theoretically remain bunny free, but these tulips were beheaded by bunnies last year right as they were about to bloom.  We're glad that the guard pooches were on the case this year and saved these pretty flowers from being chomped this year.
These tulips blooms will only be here for a week, we'll appreciate them every day that they're here. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Day Trip to Fertile, Minnesota

Alycia here.  We took a day recently to head to Fertile, MN, which is home to Bergeson Nursery. This was our third trip there and we now know the ropes. The drive there takes you through the Glacial Ridge Wildlife Preserve and we saw a Northern Harrier gliding around the marshes looking for food.

When we got to Fertile, we first stopped at LaLa's Cafe, where much of the food is homemade. We were there in time for a late breakfast, so we were served a variety of homemade jams: strawberry and pear. I also wanted ketchup with my home fries so our waitress brought some out on a jar. Sure enough, that was homemade, too.
Below is John being quite satisfied with his breakfast sandwich.  Their specialty is actually homemade ice cream, they have a dozen varieties.  But since it was only 11:00 in the morning, and we had much to do, we didn't want too much ice cream slowing us down. 
After breakfast we headed to the nursery, which is about 8 miles outside of Fertile. We had a list of things to buy including: ninebark bushes, honey berries, and various flowers for new planters. We were more than successful, finding many interesting plants not on our list. Future posts will showcase some of those unique finds.
John's note - I'm only making this face because the sun is shining right in my eyes.  And because I know there's a lot of work now for me to do.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Better American Goldfinch and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Pictures

Here's another picture of our American Goldfinches as well as some better shots of our Rose-Breasted Grosbeak visitors.  The ones I posted the other day weren't great (and these aren't either), but they'll do for now.  Look at all these happy bursts of bright yellow, they brighten up the garden like nothing else. 
Maybe it's time for a new bird picture-making camera.  Actually there's no maybe about it, Alycia and I have chatted and it's time to spring for a better camera.  Plus Alycia and I have birthdays coming up, perfect time for a to-be-shared present.  I won't need to tell you when we get it, you'll notice an immediate upgrade in the quality of photos. The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak is joined in the photo below on the left by two Purple Finches and an American Goldfinch. 
The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak is very handsome: black head, white underbelly, speckled black and white back and the trademark red patch on the breast.  The female is in the picture below (on the feeder on the right), she has some of the same speckling on the back, but not the same striking black and white coloration and lacking the distinctive red spot on the breast.
And I've also been recently informed there's a wedding anniversary coming up. Is that still a thing?  Am I supposed to celebrate that?  Some Interwebs research indicates that there are wedding anniversary gifts for each year of marriage?  Really? I never knew that the First Anniversary is the Deaf Dog Anniversary where you give your special someone a new deaf dog...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bird Sightings - American Goldfinch, Rose Breasted Grosbeak

One of our favorite hobbies over the years has become watching, identifying, and enjoying birds - both in the yard and when we wander about the country.  We've been watching the bird feeders in the front yard with great expectations, waiting for the residents to return from the winter homes, and eagerly hoping to spot the migratory birds that stop by for a snack on their way to far off lands. 

Alycia was taking a Sunday morning nap on the couch when I spotted the first American Goldfinch of the year.  I was debating whether or not to wake her up, but figured that she'd be pretty stoked to see it.  Indeed she was.  It wasn't more than an hour later when the first Rose Breasted Grosbeak showed up too!! 
Spring is pretty awesome around here.  The whole homestead is thrumming with birdsong, chatter, chirping, squeeking, and fluttering of wings.  It's seemingly everywhere and Alycia and I are soaking it all in.  
One of the great things about blogging is that it's easy to access information about prior years.  With a quick search I can see when the first Goldfinch showed up last year, and when the first Rose Breasted Grosbeak appeared.  Yay for blogging!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The End of the Semester

This is what my office at UND looks like right now. Papers all over my desk - though I haven't lost anything important yet. Students' binders (a class project) are strewn about on the floor. Two laptops doing different tasks, and a desktop running computer analyses. This might just be the new norm...

But do take note of my lovely succulents that my mom gave me. They are fake because I don't have any windows. I've received countless compliments on them and they really do add a bit if charm to the otherwise dreary room. 
John here - we haven't posted any information about Alycias' office since The Great Squirrel Incursion of 2013.  You can revisit that post here

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Raised Garden Bed for Blueberries

Our ongoing saga to grow blueberries has taken me in many different directions over the years and in many locations.  I love blueberries and we buy and freeze about 50 pounds of them every year.  I grew blueberries back in San Diego and endeavored to grow them again when we moved to North Dakota.  The problem is the soil here is very alkaline and blueberries need and love acidic soil.  20 to 30 miles or so to the East, the soil is acidic and blueberries grow easily and plentifully, but here in Grand Forks, in the heart of the Red River Valley?  Gardeners consider any attempt to grow blueberries as pure folly. 
This is what the blueberry area first looked like. It's the space between the two doors, right behind the black iron railing (admittedly not a great photo - but this was when we first saw our future home).  It faces East and was a useless space with a few irises (not my favorite) and some unruly grasses and weeds. This space stayed this way for a few years after I finally got annoyed enough at having to mow/weed-whack the area each week.  I'd planted blueberries in another part of the yard directly in the ground and watched them languish for two years, barely surviving.  It was at this point that I actually learned that blueberries don't like the soil here.  The solution? A raised bed.
I dug out the whole area about 18 inches down, removing some old pieces of a concrete sidewalk that was there and also totally useless.  I made the hole slightly concave, and this also had the added benefit of catching any water overflow.  When we get heavy rains the gutters can't handle the runoff and we'd occasionally get some water in the basement at this point of the house.  We no longer have that problem.  Extra runoff finds its way in to the hole, gets soaked up by the copious amounts of mulch, or into the holding area at the bottom where it absorbs back in the ground or is soaked up by the peat moss that fills the bottom 6-8 inches.  I feel like this is one project that might have taken me a few years to push from planning to action, but was pretty well thought out and done correctly.  I shall savor these instances as they don't happen often. 
There was a good amount of material that was removed and we used it to make some raised mounds/flower beds in front of the house.  There's always something that you can do with extra soil, and I've found that raised beds/mounds are much easier on many levels. 
I had helpers the whole time.  Actually they didn't help, they were the opposite of help and usually only wanted to sniff right where I wanted to put the shovel in, it's quite disruptive. 
All cleared out, dug and ready to roll.  I had some branches and logs from a pine tree that I'd trimmed in the front yard that I added to the bottom of the pit.  They'll not only slowly rot and provide good nutrients to the soil, but hopefully help keep the acidity of the soil down to a level where blueberries will like it.  Despite all the work to keep the soil acidic, I'll still have to add soil sulfur, ph lowering amendments, and pine straw and wood chips as mulch every year to keep that ph down. 
This is fast forwarded a few months.  The blueberries are planted and thriving.  I added some verbena and sweet alyssum for some bursts of color, to attract beneficial bugs, and help fill some space whilst the blueberries spread out. 
Happy verbena blossoms.  We put a temporary wire fence around the area to keep inquisitive/nosy pooches out and give the blueberries a chance to grow without being stampeded or chomped by crazy canines.  This worked well for a while until Alycia decided it was time to get something slightly nicer looking. 
I just put this up last week and I'm happy with how it turned out. The black iron fencing really gives the area a much more "finished" look, and it'll look even better when there's green leaves to see.  I'll upload pictures once the blueberries have leafed out and are green and happy, then this area will look awesome.  Stay tuned for more pictures in a future post.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blue Scilla - First Blooms of Spring

We've written about blue scillia before on Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes.  Every year we eagerly await their appearance in a handful of spots on the homestead.  Even though the flowers themselves are fairly small, they bloom at a time when literally nothing else is flowering, so they really pop out.  They're the one splash of color on an otherwise drab palette as plants try to push through the last hold of winter and begin greening up, growing, and blooming.  
The blue scilla are the first bulbs to pop every year.  They're a tiny delicate blue flower, and the plant itself is only 2-3 inches high.  They're supposed to naturalize here in Zone 4 and they're started to do so, spreading out in larger clumps in a few places.  These are actually native to Russia and do very well in our cold climate with long winters. 
These little blue flowers are the most powerful sign that Spring has finally arrived and a very welcome sight on the homestead here in North Dakota. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Three Happy Wiggling Wagging Deaf Dogs

I had the foresight to grab the camera when Alycia arrived home the other day and captured the dogs greeting her as she came in the door.  As you can see the baby gate that we've set up is pretty necessary, otherwise one would be subsumed by a crashing wave of puppy love.
It's hard to stay grumpy, even if you've had a bad day, when you get this kind of reception upon arriving home.  Dog owners will understand this, they experience it every day.  Even if you're only been gone for a minute, dogs are thrilled to see you, and they let you know it with every butt wiggle, every second of tail wagging frenzy.  No matter who you are, it's nice to feel loved.