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, July 30, 2014

The Current Currant Harvest

This week we stripped all the currants from the red currant and black currant bushes and processed them for jam making.  It was a pretty good year for the currants and we got enough of them to make +/- 6 batches of Raspberry-Currant and Blueberry Currant jam.

Lovely bowl of red currants.  Don't worry, we washed them thoroughly and removed those leaves.   While we removed the leaves, we left the currants on their stems.  We harvested about 8 quarts total of currants.
Stunningly colored black currants.  Currants are full of pectin and with them added to a jam recipe, we don't have to use any additional pectin, it all comes from the currants and the jam sets up great.  The currants give the Raspberry-Currant and Blueberry Currant jams a nice tannin-y tart bite. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Afternoon Sunbeam Slumber

Shadowfax spent much of Sunday afternoon reluctant to emerge from her slumberball. The humans spent the day working in the yard and canning peaches, industrious and productive.  The opposite of a lazy, solar-powered pooch. 
The summer sunbeam was powerful indeed. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Record Rain, Big Winds, Tornado Warning

It was a hot and steamy day yesterday.  A cold front was forecast to drop through the area in the late afternoon and evening triggering strong storms, and that forecast was spot on.  We got 69 mile per hour wind gusts, 2.71 inches of rain, two plus hours of thunder/lightening/torrential downpours, and a tornado warning. 

A tornado warning was issued at about 8:30pm and the warning sirens in town went off.  We hunkered down in the basement and listened to the hand cranked weather radio.  Funnel cloud(s) had been spotted west of town, so call me a weather-wuss, but I was happy to hang out in the basement for 45 minutes or so until the warning passed.  The dogs?  Those deaf pups slept right through the whole thing.

There are a bunch of small branches and twigs strewn all about, but two much larger branches are hanging down in the backyard. I'm going to have to break out my telescoping tree pruner (one of those tools that you don't use very often, but are damn glad to have it when you do need it) and clean those up this afternoon. 

The only real casualty was an apple tree that got blown over.  It got bent over to the ground at its base and when I righted it, I could hear some roots snapping.  I set it upright, stomped the dirt back down and gave it some support stakes.  I'll go out this afternoon and give it some more detailed attention. Hopefully it can make it back from the brink...apple trees are remarkably resilient. 

From the National Weather Service:

143 AM CDT JULY 22 2014


2.03 SET IN 1966.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"H" Plants are Blooming - Heliopsis, Hollyhock, Hosta

Lots of H plants are blooming in the garden, specifically the Heliopsis, Hollyhocks, and Hostas.  We've finally gotten some warm/hot weather and the heat loving plants are finally starting to thrive. 
The Summer Sun Heliopsis (heliopsis scarbra) is in full bloom, and I'm glad I planted them together in masses in the front yard.  As you can see below, they look great planted in a mass together, and they're in the bird feeder area, so any stray sunflowers that the birds drop that sprout will look right at home and blend in nicely.  Heliopsis are also known as "false sunflower".
These were root divisions that we got from BloomingBulb.com. I've proclaimed the awesomeness of them before in a previous post - Paprika Yarrow and Awesome Customer Service from BloomingBulb.com.  I'm not getting paid to shill for them, I'm just a super satisfied customer. 
 Hidden amongst the field of heliopsis are the first hollyhock (alcea rosea) flowers of the year.
The first pink blooms of the year, back-lit by the morning sun.  I'm not sure of the variety.  We got these as free seeds on a garden tour a few year back, so other than "Pretty!!", I don't know much about them.  Hollyhocks are a bit unusual in that they're a biennial plant, they grow the first year (occasionally throwing up a flower), then die back and grow significantly larger and bloom magnificently in the second year before dying off completely.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blueberries and Currants Covered with Bird Netting

I often chat with people about the berries I grow here on the Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes homestead.  They're usually impressed at the red currants, black currants, blueberries, and strawberries we grow, but almost always have some tale of woe at trying their hand at raising berries but not having success. 

After proper site selection, good soil, and watering, the single most important factor in whether or not you get a lot of (any kind) of berries is whether or not you install bird netting. Bird netting is a simple netting (like a fishing net) made of plastic that you drape over the bushes and keeps the birds from landing on and devouring all your berries.

Just about every bird in our area, except for maybe the bald eagles, love nothing more than ripe berries, grapes, or cherries.  Actually just about any ripe fruit is a magnet for birds, and given the chance they'll get all your fruit before you do.  I've seen Ceder Waxwings strip a large cherry tree in half a day, and given the chance birds will take all your fruit from you as well, unless you take some steps to prevent them. 
Above is the bird netting on our red currants.  Bird netting isn't installed year round, it really only has to be on the bushes for a few weeks when the fruit is ripening, then it can be removed.  It usually comes in green or black and is fairly inconspicuous, so it won't look too unsightly in the garden.  
This is the netting on our blueberry area.  The netting is held up by miscellaneous sticks that I've accumulated for just such purpose and I'll remove this all by the end of the month.

Bird netting is fairly inexpensive and lasts for several years, depending on your patience level and how neatly you store it at the end of the season.  It's definitely something that's worth every penny if you want to protect your crop.  You can check out some bird netting options here and here from eBay, or you can see what Amazon has to offer

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Here's the second installment of our Glacier National Park series.

While neither John nor myself are crazy enough to do extended day-long hikes, we do enjoy short hikes in the national parks we visit. While we were in Glacier, we had the opportunity to do a few short, but scenic hikes/walks.

The first hike of our trip was also the most strenuous: Apikuni Falls. John had read some hiking map and said that it was just 1 mile roundtrip, with nearly 800 feet in elevation gained. He actually misread the map, in that it was actually 1 mile each way, but the elevation gain was really a bit of a killer.
Being it was our first hike, we were overly prepared in terms of bear prevention. We had always heard that you should have bells on to warn away the bears, and so appropriately enough, we acquired 6 Christmas bells on rope necklaces from the Bear Family. Below, John models his bells.
We were the only ones on the trail with bells, so later we asked the rangers about it. And, contrary to popular belief, the bells actually don't do that much good to alert the bears. As the ranger said, humans normally don't make bell sounds so that doesn't really help the bears out. Instead, they urge you to use your voice while talking/singing, as well as clapping, etc. So after the first hike, we put the bells away.
The hike up to Apikuni Falls was quite pretty, and we came across some lovely flora and butterflies.
It appeared as though a rock slide had covered up part of the traditional trail to the falls, with the new trail being a bit more tricky, especially with one patch of poorly placed snow right on an incline.
But we made it and the falls were quite lovely, and well worth the work to get there.
Our second hike was a quick stop on the way back from Two Medicine Lake: Running Eagle Falls.
These falls were named after an actual woman indian warrior.
The walk out to the falls was short and sweet. What I found to be the nicest part was that there were no other people out at the falls. 
I could definitely see how it could be a busy place on a warmer/sunnier day, but we enjoyed having the place to ourselves.
Another walk we did was the Trail of the Cedars. This is also where we saw the Harlequin Duck.
This was a boardwalk walk around a basically Pacific Northwest rainforest. It was very moist with lots of moss and crazy trees.
I liked all of the moss on the rocks - very picturesque.
Cool tree stump along the Trail of the Cedars.
Tree with white moss/lichens on the Trail of the Cedars.
Our final hike of the trip was appropriately the hike to John's Lake. John was adequately excited.
The one difficult part about this hike was that the trail was deserted and it really appeared to be prime bear territory.  As a result, we did not dawdle at the lake when we got there, but quickly headed back.
We did not buy any bear spray for this trip (it was an expensive $60/bottle - but we probably could have found some cheaper on Amazon if we'd planned ahead), but we decided that when we visit again, it would be worthwhile to buy some. Even if we don't use it (hopefully not), it might give us a bit more piece of mind while out hiking so that we could enjoy ourselves a bit more.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's a Rough Morning

The picture says it all and accurately represents how the humans and dogs are doing today.  We're all a bit sluggish, sleepy, maybe a tad cranky this morning.  It's been a slog to get through it, but maybe more coffee will help...the humans at least.
There are just some days that it's hard to get out of your cozy slumber ball.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Animals of Glacier National Park

We went to Glacier National Park in early June and it was our first opportunity to use our brand new camera (more on this in another post). It took some fabulous photos, and allowed us to capture some wildlife that we wouldn't have been able to photograph with our old camera.

The highlight of the trip for me was to watch 2 adolescent Bighorn Sheep duke it out over something in a picnic area fire pit. They truly reminded me of Tito and Shaak Ti. The smaller, darker one appeared to be the dominant one (Shaak Ti) while the bigger, whiter one lurked about and waited for his chance to dart in and grab something to eat (Tito). 
We came across these two while waiting in our car (in the cold rain) for our boat trip around Two Medicine Lake (a good tour). We had seen one sheep wandering around the campground when we went in to talk to the rangers and so when we came out, I made John drive around the campground. And sure enough, we came across these two.
We got to park the car pretty much directly in front of them, approximately 30 yards away, and then watched them for 1/2 hour (John here - it was much longer than that). I think John had his fill after a few minutes, but he stuck it out to make me happy. And in the end, we were rewarded with a pretty good close-up of one of them as he sauntered away.
And while it was somewhat cheating, here's a picture of me with a stuffed Bighorn Sheep at the Many Glacier Lodge.

(John here - please note Alycias' awesome t-shirt that I got her for her birthday.  It says "I like to party, and by party I mean take naps".  Truer words hath nigh been spoken by a t-shirt)
And here's a photo of a stuffed mountain goat at the East Glacier Lodge. 
Another highlight of the trip was our walk around the Trail of the Cedars trail. It was a very easy walk (most of it on boardwalk), so I can't really call it a hike. But as we were wandering around, we saw this family looking excitedly through their binoculars. After experiences in Yellowstone and Yosemite, I've learned that you pay attention to anyone who's focused on something with their spotting scope. So we go over and see that they're excited about a duck - a Harlequin Duck. Initially, he was about 50 yards down river and the family was super excited about that (they were doing a bird count for their trip and this duck was #202). But then, he flew up right in front of us and landed in the river to continue floating downstream. I was able to get a picture up pretty close, and he was indeed a handsome duck.
While waiting for our boat tour around Lake McDonald, we also spotted a few other birds in the trees. First, a Yellowbellied Sapsucker was working over a tree pretty well. I tried to get a good picture, but he wasn't so great at holding his head still.
And then a Western Tanager. He's hard to see in the photo, but a close-up zoom shows his distinct orange head and bright yellow body.
We also saw a bald eagle on our Lake McDonald boat tour, but honestly, those are fairly commonplace to us. We see them regularly flying over the Red River of the North by our house.

One animal we did not see on our trip was a bear - grizzly or black. While it would have been exciting to see one while driving around, we were definitely glad to have not come across one while hiking around in the woods.

Finally, one last animal we encountered were hand-carved merry-go-round horses in Missoula, MT. John wasn't super excited to go on the carousel, but it lived up to its name as one of the world's fastest carousels. 
I could feel the wind whipping through my hair as we whirled around and around. For $2.25, it was well worth the trip.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Goodbye Huge Elm Tree

We had some fierce winds for several days over the last week, with gusts over 50 mph on more than one occasion.  The wind brought down a large tree branch of our neighors across the street, which led to a tree maintenance crew coming out to clean up the debris.
While they were out here the arborists with the local Parks and Recreation District (they're responsible for maintaining the trees on the berms) noticed that the huge old elm tree on the Northwest corner of our lot had a pretty large hollow cavity at the base, seen above.  They left a note in our mail slot on a Wednesday morning that said the tree would have to be removed.  The time frame for the tree removal was pretty vague though, it said "crews would be on site either later that day or within the next couple of weeks". 

My expectation of the speed of local government entities is till stuck on California time though and I fully expected them to come take down the tree at the end of that two week period (or longer).  I forget that I live in North Dakota now, city services are pretty awesome, damn responsive, and actually can get things done quickly (when they want to).  A work crew was on site by 1:00 that afternoon, there was barely enough time for us to say goodbye and mourn the loss of our tree. 
It's always sad to lose a large tree in the garden and Alycia was pretty bummed out.  It has drastically changed the complexion of the garden though, and not just the big empty space where the tree used to be.  The whole area underneath and sections of the front garden that were full to part shade are now full to part sun.  It's a substantial change in the amount of sunlight that a large of swath of the garden receives.  Suddenly plants that were unthinkable in various front yard locations have become feasible.

The work crews that arrived at 1:00 had reduced that elm tree to the stump you see below by 4:30 that afternoon.  They cut it down and hauled away all the debris, leaving only a stump and a layer of sawdust coating part of the front yard.  The additional sunshine that comes through this space and allows us more "full sun" plantings will make up for the loss of this elm tree, and we've been promised that the stump will be ground down in the Fall and a new tree will be planted in the space next Spring, but it's still sad to lose a tree.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Paprika Yarrow and Awesome Customer Service from BloomingBulb.com

I wrote about some new plants that we added to the garden last summer in this post and this post last year.  These plants were root divisions that were on (huge) markdown from BloomingBulb.com.  Sadly the Arizona Sun Gallairdia didn't survive the winter, at all.  The Summer Sun Heliopsis, Paprika Yarrow, and Caradonna Salvia are mostly all thriving whilst very few of the Zing Rose Maiden Pink Dianthus made it through the winter.

Here's a photo of the Paprika Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), planted between tomatoes in the raised bed on the left and the apple trees (out of frame) on the right.  Please ignore those weeds.
A few weeks back I e-mailed the customer service department of BloomingBulb.com to tell them that some of the plants didn't live and requested a replacement.  They claim to have a "no questions asked replacement/refund" guarantee.  And do they ever.  I got a credit for the plants they no longer had in stock and a box of Zing Rose Maiden Pink Dianthus was shipped out to my house.

Their customer service was so fast and efficient though that unfortunately the box arrived when we were on vacation and the root divisions looked pretty dicey by the time we got home, so I'm in the unfortunate position of having to request a second replacement.  But BloomingBulbs' customer service was so outstanding, I don't think it'll be an issue.  For that reason they get a full Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes two thumbs up seal of approval.  I'll certainly be buying from them again.