Saturday, September 16, 2023

saturday review

Possibly the final beansalad of 2023:

With crumbled sharp cheddar garnish.

The most recent example of my lifelong gastronomical experiment loosely titled:

Seriously, what would NOT be improved by adding either cheese or maple syrup?

And you may be thinking, "why not both?" to which I reply, "yes, sometimes!"

The sharp cheddar crumbles certainly enhanced my customary salad of yellow and green filet beans, garbanzo beans, and white kidney beans.

By the way, does anyone have a recommendation for cooking dry kidney beans instead of buying canned? I tried cooking dry red kidney beans in a kettle following the advice on the packet. It took ages - and I had to stay nearby to frequently stir the pot and check the texture of the beans - and I think I still managed to undercook them. Next time should I try pressure cooking?

The grapes have been very productive this year, and I've enjoyed walking under the vines even in the rain.

Earlier this week I went down to the terrace garden with a grocery sack and picked grapes between rainstorms. Of all the tasks I've managed to sprint through between rainstorms this "summer," picking those grapes was my favorite.

To me, grapes are like coffee: the aroma is arguably the best part. Have you ever discovered the presence of wild grapes by the intoxicating aroma? One of those experiences that has probably been providing thrills for humans for as long as there have been humans and grapes in the same ecosystem.

My kitchen smelled wonderful for a while. With a big kettle of grapes simmering on the stove every time I came in from outdoors, it made the rest of the situation in my house seem less overwhelming. Or at least easier to ignore. And now I've got a tub of juice in the chest freezer, and a jar in the fridge that I'll be sipping like wine.

We've just had two days of simply lovely weather - not too hot, not too muggy, not too buggy...not raining. And between the usual round of chores, instead of tackling a few of the extras that have piled up with the wet weather, I spent part of each afternoon just lounging around outside with a sketchbook, keeping an eye on the animals while they kept an eye on me. It was glorious.


Monday, September 11, 2023

keeping busy

September is galloping right along, isn't it?

At the start of the month we had a stretch of several days without rain - the first such stretch this summer - and my neighbors made hay on Labor Day weekend. (That sentence may have needed an Irony Alert. Haying is pretty dang laborious.) Anyway, it was their first cutting of 2023, which is just staggering. I've noticed that in-person conversations about hay and weather have one common feature this year: at some point, each person just stops mid-sentence and throws their hands in the air. It's better than bursting into tears, I guess.

I've picked up 29 bales so far, in four trips with the Highlander. This is my very local family hay farm, right around the corner. I've been a regular customer for years and would be happy to buy all my hay from them but it's impossible, as they have many other regular customers. So in recent years I've bought hundreds of bales each year from another family farm a bit southeast of here. They will deliver and stack 50 bales per trip, which is a huge help. That farmer hasn't yet called to say they have baled a second cut, but I'm sure that during the string of dry days they were working "right out straight" as we say in my neck of the woods. So my fingers are crossed.

Because now we are in the middle of another 10-days-of-rain forecast. Literally in the middle. It hasn't rained constantly for the past five days, but we've had a couple of big storms and at least some rainfall every day. The deep, boot-sucking mud is back. When I felt that first tug on a boot after a few days without it, my heart sank a little bit thinking of how hard the goats try to keep their hooves dry, and how much I'm failing to provide that option for them.

One option that I have provided, and feel pretty good about: a chute connecting the Upper West Side to the little Pocket Paddock, between the driveway and the road. 

What the bittersweet looked like
before it met the goats.

I fenced this tiny paddock many years ago for the goats, but it turned out to be of very limited use. The biting bugs are even worse there than elsewhere on the property, probably due to a small drainage nearby. Also, there was no simple way to connect it to the upper paddocks. Each goat had to be escorted down - and later, back up - the entire length of the driveway, one by one, with a collar and lead. It's not that I minded the extra effort and time, but since none of the goat likes being taken out of sight of the others, these trips were fraught. I'll never forget the time LeShodu, that massive and stately Matriarch of Cloud Harvest Cashmere, suddenly yanked a lead rope out of my hand and took off down the driveway at a rapid trot, headed for parts unknown. Just the memory makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.


Deep breath. 

Back to now. 

Well. As the search for hay became more and more desperate in August, I realized that the gap created recently by the fallen tree provided a potential route from the corner of the terrace garden, down the steep bank garden, to the driveway. And if I moved the west side of the Pocket Paddock fence, which was parallel to the driveway, about 15 feet to the east, a couple of 16-foot stock panels could serve as a chute across the driveway. So, long story short - if it's not too late? - I had a load of stock panels delivered and that's what I did.

The view from the top of the bank garden,
across the driveway,
to the Pocket Paddock below.

Building a chute that crosses my driveway sounds crazy. Because it is crazy. I now have to muscle two 16-foot stock panels 90 degrees every time I want to take the truck up or down the driveway. It's crazy, but it's not forever. 

Bud and Mallow didn't have to be asked twice.

And in the meantime, on nice days, the goats have been introduced in twos and threes to the new chute, and have been making short work of the bittersweet jungle in the Pocket Paddock. We are all very happy about this. Of course, it's only an option when it's not raining and it's best if the foliage has had a chance to dry, so it's still kind of a treat rather than an anytime thing. But we all need treats. Yes, we do.

The nose of a happy goat.

Moxie has directed this project every step of the way.

Here she is on our own little Promontory Point, checking out the drop to the driveway below:

I don't know how a standing cat can cast a sitting shadow, but Moxie is a creature of many and mysterious talents.


Monday, September 4, 2023

shell game

#DrawingAugust on Twitter is over for another year.
I've drawn every day but have posted occasionally. I've been online only briefly in recent weeks, and some days not at all. With the hay situation, ordinary life requires many more hours of physical activity than my usual routine. And, happily, it's been mostly Not! Raining! for the past several days, which means spending as much time as possible working outdoors.

Towards the end of August I sketched a whelk shell using watercolor pencil.
Then another.
And another.

In watercolor pencil or in soluble graphite pencil.

Using two or three colors or tones for each sketch.

This one was last night:

I just wanted to share them with you.

Wishing you a happy Labor Day if you are in the US, and a very happy Monday if you are anywhere else in the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

lightening the mood

First of all, thanks for all the supportive words on the rain/hay/rain situation. As I mentioned, I've been transitioning the goats' diet -  much more quickly than I would have liked - into soaked timothy/alfalfa pellets and chaffhaye, which is a bagged and semi-fermented alfalfa. I've fed it before, many years ago, but had a mixed experience with quality and availability, which I hope will not be the case this time. Today my order of 12 more 50-pound sacks of Chaffhaye came in, so no one is going to starve here for at least the next couple of weeks.

In other news, the beans are producing abundantly! Some of the vines were badly damaged in the recent deadfall, but I'm still going down to the terrace garden with a little basket every second or third day, to  pick the next batch of beans for salad.

By the way, my "three bean" salads are generally "4-plus beans" salad, which became shortened in my mind to "beans salad" and now, "beansalad." It's on the menu every day, with little modifications to keep things interesting. I've tried adding white kidney beans, and starting with dry red kidney beans instead of using canned. The garden provides varying percentages of green filet beans, yellow filet beans, and yellow romano-type beans. I don't think the "sauce" is ever the same twice: different oils, different vinegars, different ratios. Luckily, it's been tasty every time.

Which reminds this a good time to share a couple of kitcheny tips?

Here's the first. The best idea I've ever heard - honestly it's the only one I've ever heard, but it's a good one - for using strawberry caps: making strawberry-infused vinegar. This came from Nancy Birtwhistle, one of the early Great British Bake-off champions who has since written books on "green cleaning" and gardening. Her website has loads of recipes on it as well.

Anyway, she recommends filling a jar with strawberry caps, then adding plain vinegar and soaking. I don't recall how long she advised, but I just stuffed a jar with strawberry caps, filled it to the brim with vinegar, and watched it get red then redder for a couple of days before straining it into a smaller jar. Isn't it pretty?

This jar was full to start with.
Strawberry vinegar is very nice.

It smells lovely and has a refreshing taste, and is a subtle twist on the vinegar component of beansalad. Plus it's very satisfying to have something to do with the strawberry caps! 

Another tip: garbanzo bean skins. Do you use canned chick peas? I do. Do you remove the skins? I do. It's so easy that it's fun. It involves using a rice-washing bowl and plenty of water, rubbing the beans with your fingers and floating the skins away. It takes about one minute for a can of garbanzos.

This method came from Refika's Kitchen on YouTube. I've followed Refika for a few years now, and have been entertained, educated, and, most importantly, inspired to be a bit more adventurous in my attitude to preparing food.

Back to the beans. I'll try linking to a YT video which should open in another window, starting right here at the chick pea technique. Removing the skins only takes a minute, but I couldn't figure out how to make a short clip, so you'll have to either exit the video after a minute or learn how to make Turkish hummus.

It's really nice not to have all this in the beansalad:

Well this is shaping up to be a bit of a random post, isn't it? I'm going to round it out by linking to an article the Guardian published a few days ago.

I've written about the International Space Station before, and since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, I've often wondered what's going on inside the ISS and in the program control rooms of every country involved. This article by Stephen Walker takes a pretty good crack at the question.

A big chore day tomorrow, so I'm going to do my Daily Markmaking and go to sleep. In case I haven't said it lately, thanks for visiting and especially for taking the time to leave comments - I really appreciate the contact.


Sunday, August 27, 2023

a metaphor for august

This is a bale of hay:

This is me, going through this bale:

 Going through it bit by bit.

By bit by bit by bit.

And this is why:

Did you see it? 

Here, I'll zoom in:

Thoroughly tangled amongst the grass blades is a leaf fragment of Solanum carolinense, known as Carolina horse nettle. I cannot think of a nastier plant, and I know a fair few plants. Every bit of it is spiny and toxic and just plain awful.

This bale being deconstructed in minute detail is the last of the 2022 second cut, from my June delivery. When I saw the horse nettle I called my hay man and put this bale aside for an exchange upon delivery of the next 50-bale load.

But there has been no "next load," because there has been no typical second cutting of hay in my area. Some farmers never even got a first cutting because of the rains. Some couldn't get into their fields because of the mud. You've got to have a series of dry days to make hay. We have not had that series of dry days.

Every time the phone rings, I hope aloud that there's hay. Somewhere.

Meanwhile this bale with it's horrible horse nettle component is the last bale in my shed, and I'm trying to make it safe for the goats to have a mouthful, along with a daily serving of a bagged moist alfalfa product from Texas, and a daily serving of a pre-soaked pelleted blend of alfalfa and timothy. Every morning and evening I separate reluctant goats into groups, collar and tie every (still reluctant) goat, and carry a pan of feed to each. Then give them their little handfuls of actual hay. Then turn them loose and wash the pans for next time. And spend a little more time picking through that bale. 


It takes a couple of hours to pick through enough hay for a day's worth of handfuls. I first examine a small amount very carefully, then take that "clean" hay and look through it just as closely a second time. I always, always, find something I missed. The nerve-wracking thing: even after that second close perusal, I sometimes find a tiny piece of horse nettle in the hay just as I'm about to hand it to a goat.

I think that's the metaphor part.
Despite making every effort, every day, there are potentially serious problems that are beyond my control.

And the rain, which is at the root of most of the problems,

To be honest, the past few weeks have been challenging in Goat World. In addition to the extra measures to try to keep hooves healthy in wet conditions, there have been two injuries; happily, Mallow seems fully recovered and Tansy nearly so. There are three goats coughing, possibly because even the best hay money could buy this Spring was sometimes dusty. Acer has been "not right" since the start of August and is requiring close attention and extra care every day. I think he is beginning to feel a bit more himself, at least on days when there is sun and he can get out and bask in the same spot that was a favorite with his mama, LeShodu.

It rained last night. It will rain today.

But it's not raining right now!

And on we go.


Friday, August 11, 2023


 This happened:

More rain (of course) and perhaps a bit of wind last night brought down a tree that has been standing dead for quite some time.

Acer helping assess the situation from the Upper West Side.
Those pole beans suddenly look a lot closer, don't they, Acer?

The length of the bole extends all the way through the garden, east to west, compressing a section of perimeter fence which must be repaired as soon as possible. Fortunately it's the one place on the property where a gap in the six-foot perimeter paddock fence is inaccessible to the goats because of the inner garden fence of stock panels. Of course something non-goat could get into the garden from outside now - and I'm suddenly glad I didn't plant corn this year - but there's nothing I can do about that until the tree has been removed. Repairing that perimeter fence will be a job, because the it runs along the top of a steep bank covered in grape vines and precious milkweed and chin-high bee balm and many other plants. I will almost certainly do far more damage to plants than the treefall did.

Seriously. The falling tree had no way to avoid the pole bean rows and some of the jungle-like vegetation within the garden that has persisted through repeated torrential rains. A few of the stalwart catnip shrubs and fragile milkweed are on the ground. But it's quite marvelous the way the tree avoided - in some places, by inches - the raspberries, dill, okra, and blueberries. And the grapes. The beautiful grapes.

I am so grateful.

Right after taking this snap I very roughly patched that gap where the trunk is resting on the garden fence, so the goats will think twice before trying to climb up on the bole and use it for a bridge. (If just one goat gets through that gap, I can kiss the garden goodbye for 2023.) And I called a logger friend who said he will try to come by tomorrow before noon to have a look at removing the bole. I suggested he bring a friend. This is going to be at least a two-person job and I will be less than a half-person-worth of assistance. In fact, my entire role will probably be shouting - over the roar of a chainsaw - things like, "There's a tiny blueberry bush right behind you!" and "Please don't crush the raspberries, they are finally thriving!"

Fingers crossed.


Thursday, August 10, 2023


I am so happy that the struggling bean plants are producing beans!

The first big bowl of beans salad lasted about 36 hours, which included one breakfast and one midnight snack. I've already picked another batch for the second bowl. This may not be a highly productive year for beans, but I'm grateful for every one. It doesn't feel like Summer until there's a bowl of beans salad in the fridge

In other gardening news, my Occasional Helper was here this morning and we worked in the terrace garden, leveling another section about six feet square using muck from the South Paddock and old hay bedding from the Peace Pavilion. And I carefully cleared away - using my pocket knife, the smallest machete in the world - all the other plants that have been growing around three little blueberry bushes purchased last year. They are still tiny bushes, but they managed to hang on through Winter and "Spring" and are really starting to grow.

I keep yawning so wide my eyes are watering - I could fall asleep at 4 in the afternoon! But I'm going to have to shake off this lethargy and try to soak Mallow's sore hoof. Mallow is unlikely to consider this is a great idea, and he's a chunky fellow with a lot of opinions, so it may not go well. Must try though, as he's been favoring a hoof for several days and two treatments with my usual hoof medications haven't helped. On to Plan C.


Sunday, August 6, 2023

farm report





A few days with some sun, and the new raised beds are full of activity.

Dear Gardening Pals, I need advice about radishes, please. In the snap below, does the long stem below the first leaves just mean they got leggy due to all the rain, or does it mean they weren't planted deeply enough? Is that the part that should be below ground, turning into a radish? Should I be adding a little soil along the radish rows to bury the stems? 

It probably seems funny that I'm asking for help with the plant most often recommended for toddlers to plant in My First Garden, but I really don't know anything about growing them. (And I always recommend winter squash for a child's first garden.) So any advice appreciated!


Monday, July 31, 2023

reaching for the light

In for a break, after what seems the first "normal" gardening session of 2023. For two solid/liquid months I've been attempting bits of garden work between rains and chores. And trying - as Jane commented in an earlier post - "not to get too attached to an idea of what the outcome of the garden will be." A perfect description.

Practicing non-attachment by admiring daylilies.
Also ferns and grapevines.

As part of my sensible goal to do more gardening at waist-height and closer to the house, I invested in two Birdie beds during a 20% off sale last Autumn. I did not expect to have to wait til June 21st to actually get the first one filled and planted, but that's how long it took, working bit by bit over many days to gather up the muddy materials to fill the base. Leaves that I chopped and saved last year. All sorts and sizes of soggy sticks from every paddock, gathered in cartloads on rare days when the mud in the paddocks was not too deep for the cart wheels. A load of shavings from cleaning out the hen suite and barn. Also layers of actual mucky mud, which is so heavy it had to wait for days when my Occasional Helper could be here to fill a bin and heave it into a raised bed.

On the afternoon when I could finally start plinking tiny seeds into the soil, thunder began to roll in and I had to finish up quickly and hustle through evening barn chores. Not quite fast enough, though - the deluge arrived in full force, escorted by thunder and lightning. Since I was already soaked, I thought about finishing up the chores before heading back to the house, but the chores would have required standing in water and wrestling with metal gates, so instead I sheltered in the barn with Azalea and Hazel as lightning cracked overhead. We had a cozy visit after agreeing by mutual consent to talk about anything but the weather.

And look at the first raised bed, just one week and more rains later!

Actual rows of seedlings! My thrill level was off the charts.

Three kinds of greens, two kinds of broccoli,
and an assortment of radishes.

The second bed was filled and planted on the 28th, also just before a thunderstorm. This morning I checked, and radishes - planted between rows of carrots - are already reaching for the light. I've never been able to grow carrots here, so that bed will get a lot of checking. And I usually don't plant radishes at all, but this could be the Year of the Radish.

Many tall plants, including bee balm, have been flattened by the rains,
but some milkweed has managed to stand.

Back in the first week of June, I planted pole beans, along with dill, okra, and kale, in the terrace garden. In the wet weeks that followed, it seemed likely many seeds would rot in the ground, and I just had to wait for things to dry out at least a little before replanting or working in what is usually my main vegetable garden.

Roughly 80% of the 2023 blueberry harvest.

Well, yesterday and today have been beautiful days! Today the terrace garden area was more accessible, and not just a saturated and dripping jungle of undergrowth. I puttered happily, smacking mosquitoes, pulling up goat snacks for the boys who followed me down, and releasing the few tiny dill seedlings and young okra plants from an overstory of galinsoga and catnip. I patched two rows of bean netting while apologizing to the scant bean plants for borrowing their stock-panel trellising back in May for short-term goat use. The netting was intended as a "starter" trellis to be supported by reinstalled stock panels long before the beans needed the height. But I was never able to get into the terrace garden to replace the panels, and as much as I miss my lovely stock panels in the terrace garden, I imagine the pole beans miss them more. The good news is, I've used the panels to divide the Upper West Side in a new way, so that most of the herd can now access that area simultaneously but in two groups. Which is especially nice when the sun is finally shining after they've spent days cooped up in a shelter or walking along bits of scrap lumber to keep their feet out of the muck.

Doesn't it look like this bee is hugging the flower?

That's how I feel today.


Monday, July 24, 2023

paintbrush archaeology


I didn't notice until taking the snaps tonight, but there has been a bit of an unplanned theme in recent Daily markmaking: still the only non-essential activity that takes place every day, no matter what.