Apr 28, 2014

Who's in charge here, anyway?

It's time for Action! in the garden -- but time does not always correspond to good weather.   We are coming off of a week of rain showers, cold winds and the odd spring snowflake, but heading into some gorgeousness real soon.   

My morning garden stroll reveals the pear trees in full bloom, their fragrant white glory undoubtedly unappreciated by the chickens, pecking and scratching below.   They will appreciate the dropped fruit in the fall, and the shade will be welcome this summer.    The foliage also hides and protects the girls from the view of hawks overhead.

 Shifting my gaze a little lower, I see the greening up of the controversial raspberry bushes in front of the coop.  

Controversial because they are both prolific (berries:  good) and rambunctious (free-running vines:  bad).   I planted them a few years back as a hedge to divide the back yard into 'rooms', and soon afterwards I got the chickens and they were a good screen for them as well.

But somehow I didn't fully realize how invasive raspberry bushes are, or why garden experts advised that they be planted in containers, or raised beds with deeply buried sides.   I trustingly planted them right in the soil next to a path on either side.   So of course they run everywhere, coming up under my brick paths, in my asparagus patch, my garlic, tomatoes, lettuce....  

Personally I'm not wild about raspberries -- they are ok, but for me, soft and blah compared with other sweeter, tarter berries like strawberries and blueberries.   I can take 'em or leave 'em.   My sweetheart adores raspberries, and I confess I planted them mostly for him.   Here he is, picking breakfast a few summers ago.

Every year I complain about spending precious spring gardening time digging up raspberry runners, and every year he gives me The Sad Look and points out that he never complains about anything I grow (hardly) and that he built the raspberry structure on my request (true).   So every year I grumble more quietly and dig on.

I don't know why, but this year I woke up one day and thought:  Right.  That's it.   I'm taking them out.   Here's why.   The raspberries literally groan with fruit every summer, but the height of the harvest is a time when the chief raspberry eater is gone for weeks at a time, working on bike tours.   I'm all alone with the raspberries, and I can't eat them all, or keep up with them to freeze.   Lame, I know.  So a lot of the crop goes to waste.  Even the chickens can't eat that many.

But I've been harboring an alternative plan and this year I'm putting it into action.  

At the time I decided on a fruit hedge, I was debating between raspberries and blueberries (which I totally love).   In the past 15 years I had tried growing blueberries in various places around the garden, and they never did well.   They basically sat where I planted them, then eventually dwindled down and croaked.   I concluded our climate is too hot and dry for blueberries, so in went the raspberries.

Then I met George Snyder 'deaf blueberry grower' from Culver, Oregon, who sells blueberry plants in pots and claims they are completely winter-hardy, even in Central Oregon.


I was skeptical, but one day I saw a trio of his plants for sale at our local grocery store and when I got home I found they had slipped into my car along with my groceries.  (Yes, I paid for them.)

My skepticism lasted exactly 6 months, until my plants, lined up in front of my greenhouse, not only made it through the winter with no additional protection, but flowered and produced fruit the following summer.  Huh.  Maybe old George was on to something.  Next I dug up the last struggling survivors from my last garden blueberry planting, and put them into the same kind of pots.   They perked up and thrived and, the following year, bloomed and bore fruit.  

I did ask George what kind of potting mix he used, and he set me straight:  straight shredded hemlock bark.   I splurged on some acid-loving soil mix and used it half and half with the bark, and it seemed to do the trick.   In retrospect I realize that my former blueberry failures came from several factors:   too much shade/too much sun + too little water + soil too neutral.   Go figure -- blueberries actually need acid soil, just like all the experts say.   I guess those token handfuls of peat moss sprinkled around the original plants didn't quite cut it?  

Here's my new plan.  Take out the raspberry hedge and move the blueberries into their spot -- with plenty of acidifying soil amendments.  I can't betray the man who built the support structure though, that guy who loves the raspberries, so I have dug up 8 raspberry canes and put them into pots.  

We'll see how they do.   Maybe by the time they are huge and out of control I will have figured out someplace else in the yard to plant them.   The sweetheart will have his raspberries and I will have a blueberry bonanza, with a handy wooden and wire structure to hang bird netting from at harvest time.   I call that win-win.

The morning stroll also took me inside the greenhouse, where I found this

sitting on a potting bench, where it had fallen from the greenhouse roof.   Empty, obviously, left over from last year.   These clever structures are the creations of paper wasps that find the protection of the greenhouse the perfect place to raise their young.   These guys, or rather, ladies, are quite mild-mannered, and so I don't sweep them down unless they are close to the door or other busy spot.

They start out like this

and just last week I saw several new nests going up in different corners of the greenhouse.   Now there is only this

and the fallen giant in the earlier photo.   Where did they go?   Aha -- Several times in the last few days I have startled birds that were hanging around inside the greenhouse.   I suspect they have been feasting on wasps and dismantling the nascent nests.    No need to worry about being stung this year.   Now perhaps I should get the broom and clear away the cobwebs?

Apr 19, 2014

Goodbye to Ariel

Yesterday we said goodbye to our amazing cat, Ariel.   All cats are amazing, all cats are unique, all cats are wonderful.   But Ariel was just a little different than your average amazing, unique, wonderful cat.

She was super smart, and she was even more independent than most cats.   She recognized other cats as fellow beings in the home,

and even adopted small waifs when they arrived in her house.

But she was eldest, she was first, and she never quite belonged with the common herd.   She was pretty sure she was one of us -- 'us', as in human, rather than 'them' as in feline.

When she came to us, she was a tiny silvery gray fireball, feisty, hot-tempered, anti-social, and supremely athletic.   Saying 'no' to her was often followed by the sight and feel of tiny claws and teeth digging into one's legs in a full-on angry attack.   A Scots friend who was visiting during Ariel's early months with us was heard to refer to her as 'the little monsterrrrrr'.  Oh, she had a temper.   To be honest, the two of us often clashed in a battle of wills -- both of us bossy, controlling females who didn't like being told what to do (or not being obeyed).

When she wanted to escape the scene, she found a perch out of reach

but in later years was always ready with a cheery greeting, her little special double 'meow-wow', uttered on a friendly, questioning note.

When she eventually mellowed, she occasionally blessed one of the resident humans with a short visit 

to desk or lap.  She never stayed long, but she wanted us to know we were part of the same family.

She loved boxes of course, both large

and small,

and of course Christmas was a favorite time of year!

She loved the game of 'papers on the floor' -- though this winsome pose

was usually followed by frenzied shredding.   Ariel -- no!

She adored shoes and laundry baskets, the smellier, the better

She figured out how to open the French doors

by watching us.   We had to keep it locked from then on, otherwise we risked returning home from an outing in midwinter and finding the living room door standing ajar.  

The other doors had to be opened by us, and she was always ready to go out early in the morning for a wee jaunt around the premises.

In the end, that morning puttering was her undoing.   Wednesday morning she was attacked by two coyotes, new to the neighborhood, and was fighting them off, hard, under a neighbor's window.   The wonderful neighbors scared off the coyotes and took Ariel to the emergency vet, and for a while there it looked like she was going to be alright.   She had surgery Thursday afternoon, and the vet was optimistic Ariel was doing well and would make a full recovery.   She even told us we might be able to bring her home yesterday.   Sadly, though, she didn't make it through the night.   In the wee hours yesterday morning, she gave up the fight and came home to us in a much different way than we had expected.

She was beautiful, she was quirky, she was a friend and she did things her own way.   We miss her and are feeling that double pull of conscience (that we let her outside into a world much larger than a small cat knows) and gratitude for the thirteen years we had with her, knowing she came to us a wildcat and left a happy member of a loving household.  

Apr 18, 2014

Just another river walk

There is no such thing as a boring walk along the river.   Rivers everywhere are vital, nourishing places for many kinds of life.   But in our dry climate, a river is an especially lively place, in all seasons and at all times of the year.   Thursday is Date Day for us each week, and  the sweetheart and I keep various local river walks in our back pockets, so to speak, to pull out when we are tired or the weather is bad or we just want to see the latest developments in the river flowing through our town.

One of our easy river walks is a loop leaving from Ye Olde Mille Districte -- our name for the former lumber mill on the banks of the Deschutes River, now turned into an upscale (for Bend) shopping mall, complete with restaurants, the usual chain clothing stores (Banana Republic, the Gap, and the naughty nighty place I can't recall the name of right now), movie theaters, etc.  
The loop heads upstream along the river, and soon enters the pine forests and rocky bluffs of the canyon.  This is a popular trail for shoppers, runners, dog walkers and people you would never expect to see on a 'hiking' trail.   

There is always something to see, and yesterday was no exception.  The first sight we saw leaving the parking lot was, apparently, The Lewis and Clark Expedition in red plastic boats.

There were several more, but, they were spread out all over the river.  There were even a couple of stand-up paddle boarders, the first we've seen this year (background above).   (We routinely ridicule these devices as the lamest, most uncomfortable things ever invented -- but these guys showed more intelligence than most by exiting the cold water soon thereafter).

On closer inspection, the boats turned out to be full of children, suitably bundled up for the weather (it was raining) and accompanied by a presumably knowledgeable adult at the prow of each boat.

Continuing past the shivering masses, we came upon one of the first plants to bloom here:

a wonderful native formerly known as Squaw Currant, but of course now more respectfully renamed Wax Currant.  Sweet pink bells cover the bushes.

Sadly, although common everywhere here, the berries are mealy and tasteless, though deer eat them. 

Continuing up the canyon, we eventually reached the turnaround point, the Bridge of Khazad-dûm
and a good thing, too, because I was getting hungry and starting to bonk.
We did a group selfie by the bridge.

 If you're wondering about the odd expression on my face, it was just because I was thinking about nibbling on some nearby earlobes.   Why not, he didn't need them.

Fast forward to the final stretches of the trail, where it leaves the canyon and comes back out into open woodland.   Someone had thoughtfully decorated a trailside tree

 with a few words along with the easter eggs

Seriously, this is a great trail.  I don't know who the trail fairies are, but I appreciate their work.

Other local residents add their own special mark:

 By this time I was so famished I even considered trying a bit of tree bark.   But we made it back for a proper human lunch and left the beavers to their lignin feast.

Just another river walk.