Gathering those crowder peas

110829 Crowder peaI’ve been harvesting the bean pods from the crowder pea plants for weeks now.  It’s nearing the end of the season and very few pods remain on the plants.  One day I collected nearly a five gallon bucket full . . .

110906 Crowder peas. . . and spread them on the floor to finish drying out.  I had picked them on a damp day — in between rain storms when it looked like it would not stop raining for days.  After the pods were dry, I began the shelling process.

110827 Peking black crowder peas #4Some of the beans were thoroughly dried out already . . .

110827 Peking black crowder peas #3. . .  and some were not . . .

110827 Peking black crowder peas #8Here’s a closeup comparison of the dried beans on the left and the “green” beans on the right.  By the way, these are “Peking Black” crowder peas so they look black rather than the traditional tan crowder pea color.

110827 Peking black crowder peas #10After the crowder peas have dried as much as they possibly can, I store them in containers for re-hydrating and cooking later in the year.  I appreciate how easy it is to store this food and that it does not require cooking, canning or freezing.  And . . . for any crowder peas which were on the vine so long that they began to look not so appetizing . . . I save them as seed for next year’s planting.

Posted in Harvest, Vegetable garden | 1 Comment

Black snake rescue

Wood pileFour days ago I went out in the morning to discover that a pile of split and stacked wood had fallen.  “Ah well, I’ll just have to try again and do a better job of keeping things level or tilted back toward the slope.”

The next evening one of the cats found a black snake under some of the fallen wood–at the edge of the pile.  I rescued the snake by putting the cat back in the house.  Each time we’ve gone outside since then, I’ve seen the black snake in the same place.  I didn’t think too much of it because that snake had been moving around and fussing at the cat each time she investigated it.

Black snake 3Today I finally re-stacked the wood.  In the process, I encouraged the snake to go back to a safe place in the pile of wood.  At first, it turned its body round to keep facing me no matter which way I approached it.  A couple times it lunged toward me.  Definitely intimidating. . .   Anyway, I gently pushed (with gloved hand holding a small piece of wood) against the snake who immediately dashed for a space under the freshly stacked wood pile which was slightly elevated off the ground.

Black snake 1When I processed the photos later, I realized the snake had been injured.  There is a mark of blood on the piece of wood to the left of the snake.  I looked back through the previous days’ photos and found one I took the first night which shows the back portion of the snake’s body . . . AND that it was pinned under a piece of wood.

Black snake 2I felt really bad when I realized the snake had been caught under the wood for at least four days.  However, I guess I can be grateful I did rescue it (finally) and I am hoping it can recover completely from this experience and get some food for itself.  I know there are lots of lizards hanging around that wood pile.

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Creating a hoop house (eventually)

110829 P1460326I want to have fresh greens during the winter season without having to go outside to cover a lot of vegetable beds (in the bitter cold and wind) prior to bad weather setting in . . . and then going back out to uncover all those beds when it warms up . . .  and then covering them up again . . .  I’ve done that for a few years now and it’s not a lot of fun even though it does keep the lettuce alive through the winter.

I decided to create a “cool greenhouse” which means that it’s not heated.  In fact, I’m planning on a hoop house.  The first step was connecting with the Deva of the Garden to determine the location of the hoop house as well as its size.  The next step was building the framework on the slope.

I ran into one challenge with digging up and removing the grass from the area:  the telephone line runs just below the surface through the middle of this bed.  Thankfully, I found the line without cutting it.  I took a long piece of narrow-walled pipe that was lying around and cut it in half lengthwise to place it over the phone line and protect it from me and my shovel.

After laying all the block, I hammered in some re-bar (left-over material stored in the garage) to peg the block together and provide some resistance to the vegetable bed soil pushing against the block.  Then I lined the bed with landscape fabric (lying around on a shelf) to keep the soil from seeping out between the blocks.

110830 P1460392I opened another coning with the Deva of the Garden and inquired which seed to plant.  The bed is now planted with three kinds of lettuce, mizuna, garlic, spinach, mustard greens, orach, bok choy, arugula, onions and nasturtium.  Not exactly typical winter growing veggies — but I expect them to at least get started growing before the cold weather arrives.  After I build the “top” which will cover the bed, the plants should survive well through the winter.

I gathered partially mulched leaves and covered the soil after planting the seeds.  The last two steps for the foundation are to “back fill” around the block and then cover the surrounding area with cardboard and the cypress blend chips which have been the material of choice for the paths between the vegetable beds.

Posted in Conscious nature collaboration, Garden structure, Vegetable garden | 1 Comment

Another volunteer

Watermelon #1Here’s another volunteer which appeared in a vegetable bed this spring — a watermelon plant.  Well, actually I think it’s two or three plants.  It grew nicely and bloomed . . .

Watermelon #2. . . the female flowers were fertilized and began growing into fruits . . .

Watermelon #3. . . and the fruits grew . . .

Watermelon #4. . . and grew to produce wonderful melons.

Watermelon #5

Although the melon did not seem to be ready to slip easily from the vine, the thumping test (“thunk” sound) indicated it was ripe.  So I picked the first melon and cut it open . . .

Watermelon #6

Delicious!  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Upon inquiry of the Deva of the Garden and the deva of watermelon, I learned it would be good to save the seeds from this watermelon.  They are now drying on the table for next year’s (intentional) planting.

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Creating new bed with nature

Flower bedThere’s an area of grass that I’ve been wanting to convert to some more beds.  I finally started turning over the soil and removing the grass this summer.  Next, I opened a coning with the Deva of the Gardens and asked a series of questions to determine the best type of beds, sizes and locations in this new space.  Then I asked about what is to be planted in each of these beds.

This photo shows the newest bed which is for flowers.  I planted lupine seeds (gifted to me from my sister) in the center portion.  Next, I transplanted some ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) from other places on the property.  And this weekend I was given the go-ahead to transplant three purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) plants from other areas to this new bed.  I love it!

The ox-eye daisy leaves are edible and I so enjoy nibbling on them.  The purple coneflower will provide me with flowers for visual pleasure and leaves for medicinal purposes.  And I am looking forward to having lupine flowering here, too.  This flower bed is visible from the house windows and provides a nice complement to the nearby herb and vegetable beds.

Posted in Conscious nature collaboration, Flowers, Garden structure, Herbal medicine making, Native plants | Leave a comment

Startled toad startles me

110825 P1460245As I picked up an old trash bag tonight — preparatory to inspecting it for any more ant nests, etc. — I was startled by something jumping toward me.  I saw a toad land inches from my foot.  Cool.  I bent down to study him/her.

I picked up the bag again to finish my inspection for ants (or more toads) and turned back to the toad in front of me.  Now where the heck is that toad anyway?  In the blink of an eye, with my head turned, that toad had moved so that I could no longer see it.  I searched and searched in all directions and finally found it a foot behind me.  Okay, now let’s see if it will stay still enough for me to get back in the house and get my camera to take photos.  (It did.)

So . . . can you see the toad in the top photo?  The camouflage is superb.  Here are two more photos — going eye to eye with the toad.

110825 P1460254110825 P1460263

Posted in Amphibians | Leave a comment

Lost and probably lonely bluebird

110818 P1460114As I drove up to the house from work tonight, I saw a golf-ball-sized gray ball on the ground where I park and two bluebirds on the peak of the garage.  Well I’d never seen the bluebirds sitting up there before.  I got out of the car and watched the bluebird house for several minutes to see if the parents would be feeding the babies (third batch of the season) or if the babies might have fledged (in which case I wanted to watch them soar).

Nothing.  I turned around to go into the house and “Oh my! Oh no! The gray ball was a baby bluebird!”  Sitting inches from the front tire of the car.  I thanked my angels that I did not drive over it.  I just happened to have my camera in hand and quickly took the above photo.

Now what?  This bird’s feathers have not grown out enough to fly yet.  What happened?  I surmise that it crawled up to the bluebird house entrance hole and dropped / fell out.  Since it could not fly it must have hopped the great distance of 25 feet to where I found it.  (Over the past couple days I’ve glimpsed some movement at that entrance when the parents were not around and thought that fledging time must be soon.)

So I got out the ladder, set it up near the bluebird house, opened the side door and peeked in.  Yep . . . baby bluebirds still in the nest. I couldn’t tell how many because they were all scrunched down being very still.  Good instinct.

110818 P1460117While gently talking to the birds, I then proceeded to pick up the baby from the ground . . .

110818 P1460118. . . admired the baby as it clung to my hand . . .

110818 P1460119 . . . and took it to the bluebird house . . .
110818 P1460121. . . where I placed it back in the nest with its siblings.

110818 P1460124It immediately flapped its wings and I blocked it from falling back out of the side of the bluebird house that I had opened to access the nest.  It pushed itself into the corner and stayed still.  (The exit hole is just to the right in the photo — siblings to the left.)

I closed up the bluebird house, removed the ladder and walked back to my house.  The parents quickly flew to the wire near the house (their customary lookout point) and seemed ready to go into it.  I waited and listened as both bluebirds continued calling non-stop for quite some time.  They seemed reluctant to enter the house while they could still see me.

110818 P1460124I continued to check from a window inside my house and after about 20-30 minutes I saw both parents going into their house.  They looked like they were resuming their feeding of the babies.

Posted in Birds | 1 Comment

Fraser magnolia

100530 Fraser magnolia #2Last year I received information during a nature coning to plant a fraser magnolia (Magnolia fraseri) in a new space on the property.  Here’s a view of that small tree when I first transplanted it to the new “shade garden.”

100801 Fraser magnoliaAfter that, this fraser magnolia had a tough time with not quite enough rain and too much sun.  It died.  Or so I thought.  It gamely put forth a new set of leaves and, once again, it died from bugs eating its leaves to nothing.  This spring I could not find any indication that it was still alive.  Every so often, I would check on it though.

And one day I saw a bit of green in the center of the straw mulch.  Now is that really the fraser magnolia?  Or is it another weed coming up in the straw?  I waited and watched.  Oh. . . it looks like it could be . . . .  The view on July 2:

110702 Fraser magnoliaThe leaves have brown spots like they are stressed.  They also do not have the tell-tale “ears” at their base.  The view on July 16:

110716 Fraser magnoliaThere are actually two shoots coming up from the same rootstock.  The leaves are starting to look more like the typical mature leaf.  The view on July 31:

110731 Fraser magnoliaLooking good!  And the view today:

110814 Fraser magnolia #2Yes! The fraser magnolia has survived and is thriving.  We’ve had ample rain this year with only a couple dry periods.  I’m sure that helped.  I love the shape of this tree’s leaves:

110814 Fraser magnolia (closer)And, someday, this tree will be as grand as the one pictured at the top of this post!

Posted in Conscious nature collaboration, Native plants, Trees | Leave a comment

Prolific volunteer

Crowder pea volunteerA couple months ago I noticed a bean plant volunteered to grow in this garden bed.  I’ve been watching in amazement as it has grown up, down and all around its environment.  The above photo hints at its spread.

110731 Crowder peaTurns out this is a crowder pea–for which I am grateful.  I love the easy growing (!) and the simple harvesting of the “peas.”  There are so many bean pods that I decided to start keeping track of just how much harvest I get from this one plant.  So far I have two cups worth of dried beans and the plant is continuing to grow and blossom.  Now that’s a fantastic “return on investment.”

110806 Crowder pea harvest

Posted in Vegetable garden | Leave a comment

Useful usnea

UsneaLast week I made the difficult decision (for various reasons) to cut down a large oak tree.  This week I’ve been cutting the long pieces into shorter lengths so that I can split it for firewood.  In the process of sorting through the twigs, branches and limbs and expressing my gratitude for the warmth they will provide in the future, I realized some of the branches were covered with lichens.  Among others, the lichen called usnea was all over this tree.

UsneaWow!  Another blessing from nature.  I gathered a lot of it and made a quart of tincture from it (as shown below).  Here’s an article with information about its medicinal usefulness.

Usnea tinctureThere’s so much usnea that I’m sharing it with an herbalist friend and will still have plenty to save for future tinctures.

Posted in Herbal medicine making, Lichens | Leave a comment