Saturday, August 30, 2014

In which I don't go to the ride and there's a new Skookum story now

It's good to have a plan, so you have something to crumple up and throw away.

That's what I told myself two days ago...when, instead of hauling myself, Santa Jim, two horses, two dogs, and all our camping gear out to new Mount Spokane Endurance Ride, I was standing not-very-calmly in a veterinarian's waiting room with Luna.

She's almost completely recovered now
Luna is a simple dog.  Her joys are simple, too:  eating, barking, and following us around the farm.

Thursday morning, she didn't do any of those things.

Panic button.

A quick early-morning phone call to Patty (my regular small-animal vet) with a catalog of symptoms confirmed my inclination to drop everything and get Luna in for an exam and some blood work.  At the clinic, she got a shot and a prescription for two wide-spectrum antibiotics.

The rest of the day, I spent at home on the couch with my dog, alternately reading and worrying.

By late evening, she was improving a bit--slightly more interested in food, slightly more interested in following me around the house.

The next morning saw more improvement...but not, in my mind, enough improvement to justify loading my little dog into the truck for a long drive and a weekend in a new camp.  Yes, at Mount Spokane we would be surrounded by veterinarians.  But if something went pear-shaped, the nearest vet hospital would be more than an hour away, whereas at home the nearest clinic is 10 minutes from the farm.

The choice wasn't fun, but it wasn't difficult: We're home this weekend.

I hope everyone at the ride has a wonderful time!

Meantime, I've been writing.

I've got a new draft of my middle-grade teen fiction novel (with horses!  and endurance!  and magic!) sent out to the beta reader.  She knows all about the audience and almost nothing about horses, which is perfect.  I know the "horsey parts" are okay, but I need to make sure that non-horsey folks can read it.  So, I'm kind of excited about that.

And then, I wrote a new Skookum story.  It's still kind of rough, but I think it's got potential.  It also features the sort of thing I'd like to see happen around here, now that the clouds have moved in.  Summer is beautiful here, but it's brief.  I guess that's a thing that we might as well celebrate...with a story.

So, here ya go.  Enjoy.  If you like it, you can thank Luna. I couldn't have written it without her help.

The Skookum Wet Fest

It’s hard to believe that the entire Skookum Wet Fest started more than six years ago, when Mayor Robin Redstone, LuLu Rubidoux and Daisy Alexander got together with a bottle of wine one evening in late August after closing time at the Red Robin CafĂ© in downtown Skookum.

“We need something to celebrate,” Mayor Robin told her friends.  “Local morale is low, the economy is flat, and winter is coming.  We’ve got to think of something before we are hip-deep in seasonal mud and despair.”

Robin and Daisy recalled past festivals, events that had fizzled out before Lulu ever moved to Skookum. 

“There was the Mardi Gras, remember that?” Daisy said.  Robin did. 

“An excuse to get drunk and sing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Robin nodded.  “It wasn’t such a bad idea, except that we only have twenty-seven Catholics in the entire town, including Father Timothy who isn’t anybody’s idea of a Cajun.  Also: nobody in town knew how to make gumbo, so they ended up serving clam chowder instead.”

“The chowder was pretty good, though,” Daisy reminded her. 

“Then there was the Sunshine Street Fair,” Robin recalled.  “Rained out five years in a row.”

“There was that Sandcastle contest thing they used to hold down at Riverbend park,” Lulu suggested.  “We could do that again.”

“Except that Riverbend is now a protected wetland.  No digging allowed. ”

The ladies kept thinking…and drinking.  As they thought (and drank), the suggestions got sillier. 

“How about a garden tour, like they do out at Hyak?” 

“A garden tour?  Of what?  Slug devastation? We could give a prize for the most tattered tomato plant?”

“Or the muddiest zucchini plants?”

“Or the mushiest cucumbers?”

They all laughed.  But then Lulu said, “You know, that’s not a bad idea.”

The other ladies stared at her.  Robin reached for the wine bottle again. 

Lulu continued.  “No, seriously.  All the stuff that didn’t work before, the Mardi Gras and the sunshine thing.  We aren’t good at that stuff because those things aren’t really from here.  What are we actually good at here?  Rain.  And mud.  And slugs.  I think we should do something with that.”

Daisy finished the wine in her glass, and Robin topped it up again.  “So, what?  Slug races?  That would be a big hit with the 3rd grade boys.  But we want tourists, and tourists want something amazing.”

“So, let’s amaze them,” Lulu told her.  “Let’s do something that nobody has ever done:  let’s celebrate the mud and the slugs and the swamp and the mushy cucumbers.  Let’s have a mud-sculpting contest.  And slug races.  And…a dance.  I love to dance.”

The other women nodded.  Lulu loved to dance. 

“We could call it the Slugfest.  No, that sounds like a bar fight.  Wait!  I’ve got it!”

Lulu emptied the last of the wine into the three glasses, and picked hers up grandly.

“Ladies,” she said grandly.  “What this town needs is a Swamp Stomp!”

With that, the ideas started flowing.  They quickly ran out of napkins to write on, and Robin had to dig out some of the restaurant’s kiddie coloring sheets so they could scribble their notes on the blank back sides.  Over the course of the next two hours, the three ladies outlined three days of activities. 

“We’ll start off with a fun run,” Robin told the Chamber of Commerce at the breakfast meeting the following Wednesdays.  “With several distances available:  the 5k Swamp Scuttle course goes around Riverbend park.  The 15k Frog Jog will go from Riverbend to the rodeo grounds and back.  But here’s the thing:  the runners have to be wearing raingear.  We can offer prizes for the fastest runner, but also for the best outfit.  Families can do it together.  We’ll sell raincoats and rubber boots to the tourists.”

And that was just the beginning. 

The current Wet Fest takes up an entire week on the Pilchuck County calendar.  The Swampland Shuffle parade winds through town on Saturday at noon.  The mud sculpting contest at Muskeg Elementary was featured on NPR three years ago, and now attracts artistic teams from all over the state, who are each given three days and 300 pounds of mud to create something amazing.  The clam chowder and zucchini feed at the high school has become the PTA’s biggest annual fundraiser.  The Skookum Ornithologists host an education River Ramble at dawn and dusk, so that visitors can learn more about estuary wildlife.
Even the rodeo board joined the fun last year by sponsoring the world’s first “OLOP competition,” an entertaining game of polo played by local celebrities and politicians on donkeys, with entry fees and spectator proceeds donated to the Pilchuck County Wetland Restoration Society. 

And of course, Lulu Rubidoux is at the center of the fun each year when the Marshland Ramblers take the stage at the Swampland Stomp, an enormous open-air dance featuring live music…and often, umbrellas. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In which Santa Jim makes garden cucumbers into pretty foodstuff

With an abundant garden comes responsibility:

Ya gotta do something with all that food!

Sharing out is an honored tradition, as is zucchini bombing.  

The local food bank happily accepts fresh produce as well.
Lotsa cucumbers

But for us at Haiku Farm, part of the joy of our vegetable garden comes in eating the food we've created long after the leaves have disappeared from the trees.

"Food preservation" is a task that Santa Jim has chosen for himself.  

finely chopped cukes

With this (relatively) small batch of cucumbers, he decided to make a sweet pickle relish.  

In a few weeks we will have a very heavy harvest of cucumbers from the garden.  THAT is garlic pickle season!

Ingredients for the relish: onions, peppers, and cukes

The mixture is pretty

We got this enormous bowl at a garage sale for a quarter.
It only gets used during canning season, but for those
few weeks, we're glad we have it!

Adding in the spices

The brine is added, and the mixture allowed to set for a few hours

The liquid is strained away, and thrown out onto the weeds

The brined mixture is cooked a little over low heat

spooned into jars, and then placed in the hot water to process
 Jim is better than me at paying attention to details, which is an essential part of canning.  Otherwise, you know, poison.

boiling the jars to seal everything up

 So my task is to take pictures.  Probably safer that way!

After processing, the jars cool on the counter

"plink" from the lid means the seal is good

Next time you visit Haiku Farm for a hot dog roast, be sure to request some of Jim's relish.  It's good stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In which we divulge the secrets of lazy gardening with poultry

When we started gardening at Haiku Farm, the results were unremarkable.

The sunflowers were knee-high, the squash plants lolled around on the ground indifferently, and the beanstalks were (tactfully) puny.

Oh, how that has changed.

2014:   Sunflower plant acts as a beanstalk pole,
 nearly 8 feet tall
I need to state here for the record that I am not an "avid" gardener.  I do not visit my garden daily, coaxing seedlings into vigorous growth.  I like to stick a bunch of seeds in the ground and then hitch up the rig and go riding...for, like, the entire growing season.

Fortunately, I have a staff of soil amendment experts to tend my garden in the off-season, and they prepare it for summer:

Minerva, Eleanor, Violet, Iris, Dora, and all the others

During the winter months, I cover the garden soil with a deep layer of landscape trimmings and downfall, stall cleanings, kitchen scraps, and chicken food.  The winter gardening staff

Chickens, February 2013
carefully uproots and tears apart all the plant life inside the garden walls.

They dig deeply into the soil, seeking out (and eating) bugs and slug larvae, and they mix the stuff I add with their own personal fertilizer, continually scraping, digging, and scratching at the dirt.

Spring 2013

In five years, our original garden has transformed from a pathetic plot of gravel to a large patch of deep, soft, dark, fertile soil.

Jim built the Winter Palace for the chickens inside the garden.

Summer 2014
The little structure features a waterproof roof, six laying boxes and a long perching pole inside, made from an alder tree we cut down in the pasture.  Doors at each end give us clean-out access.

We originally "roofed" the entire garden with heavy salmon netting, to keep the overhead predators out.

Winter 2009
However, we've had no deaths-from-above in the entire time we've been here, despite a healthy population of hawks, eagles, and vultures constantly visible in the sky over the farm, so we took the overhead netting down a few years ago.

Apparently chickens are too much work, and mice are easier prey.  >shrug<   Okay, then.

The result of all the soil amending is self-evident:

Summer 2014

Heavy-feeding crops like squash and pumpkins grow vigorous vine and put out plenty of fruit

Giant pumpkin, currently about the size of a basketball.
It has dozens of siblings.

To grow truly enormous squash and pumpkins, gardeners cull the small fruit from the vine, leaving only one huge gourd per plant.  However, the vines in our garden have gone so far amuck that I can't get into the garden to cull anything in the it will all be left to grow insanely for a few months while I go riding.

I really should have planted the giant pumpkins on the edges, rather than in the center of the garden. Oops.

The pumpkin vines are now climbing the fence and moving towards the pasture
I didn't remember that the vines grow so fast--and so strong--that they will run over the top of other crops in the garden

Carrots and cucumbers, in the path of rampaging pumpkin vines

so that the vegetables I plant there will basically fend for themselves until the vines die back in October.  Ah, well.

I stop weeding this garden in late July of each year--the weeds really don't stand a chance against pumpkin vines anyhow.

Elsewhere on the farm...

Sunflowers are excellent beanstalk poles

Last year we decided to build a second garden, since the first was bursting at the seams.

Lisa and Jim planted the poles,
and I built chicken-wire walls around the perimeter
This garden doesn't have the lovely dirt that our first garden has--yet.  

We split the flock for the winter, and moved some birds into the new space to change the gravel into garden soil. It's a work in process.

Summer 2014.  The new garden was planted with light-feeders and nitrogen-fixers.
The peas are finished, but the beans are still going!

We didn't have time or money to build a second Winter Palace, so we moved the original chicken tractor into the new garden to shelter the birds through the winter.  

Chicken Tractor I
 Last winter was so mild that we didn't need anything more as housing for the ladies, although if the temperatures had dropped for more than a few days, we would've merged the flock and moved everybody back into the shelter of the Winter Palace.

Nest boxes inside the Chicken Tractor

A nightlight (it's on a timer) to remind the birds to nest up at sundown.
The pole suspended from the roof is an old broom handle.

In late May, we moved the old Chicken Tractor and the entire flock into the orchard above the house.  They can't live in the garden during the summer, or they'd eat all the vegetables!

So they spend the summer months in the comfortable shade of the fruit trees,

hay bales around the edges of the fence keep most marauders out

eating windfall apples and plums, and getting fatter than ever.

When the plums start to ferment,
 the evening singalong becomes more boisterous.

It's important to note that the summer orchard chicken pen is not predator-proof.

Fortunately, Luna isn't very good at predating.

Apparently, our yappy dogs discourages the coyotes, bobcats, and other hunters from attacking our hens.  We have a rather random raccoon who steals eggs and stashes them in the neighbor's barn (or drops them in the livestock water tanks!), but the hens are oblivious and unharmed by these robberies.

The chickens break out of the orchard pen sometimes--presumably through the same holes that Luna uses to break in.  But they always show back up at sundown, ready to take their places on the broom-handle roost.
Scarlet runner beans -- beautiful and tasty

Gardener's best friend:  Luna loves beans

Finally, there's the turkey enclosure, formerly known as Hana's stall.

We'd been storing all kinds of junk in Hana's stall since she moved over to Fish Creek Farm, but when the turkeys needed a place to live, the stall seemed like the perfect place.

A "handicap-accessible perch" for the turkeys--they will need this
when they get too fat to fly. 

The turkeys often perch here during the hottest part of the day

The weeds that grow in the paddock provide some grazing for the turkeys (they are vegetarians by nature, so the bugs are untouched).  I supplement their scavenging with turkey pellets, plus big handfuls of dandelion leaves, apples, and plums.

Turkeys like to perch on the fence post and rails at night.
When the weather is bad, I have to carry them indoors after dark--
they get too torpid and won't wake up even in the pouring rain.

When the turkeys move on to their next assignment, all the straw bedding will be scraped out and dumped in the gardens.  For now, it's easy just to throw the dirty stuff outside into the paddock, where the rain washes it clean.

The birds liked to perch on Fiddle's water tank and poop into the water.
I covered the tank with a tarp and blocked their perch
with an empty  water dispenser.  Sigh.

It's a lot of work, even for a lazy gardener like me.  But the results are delicious.

"You should try the beans, they are very good here."

And that is, as you always suspected, a Good Thing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

In which Duana is searching for wheels and everyone loves apples

Duana has come a long way in the past three years.  

She returned to riding in 2011, after nearly 8 years horse-free, and started trail riding and taking lessons.  She bought a certain redheaded radish of a horse two years later.

She did some Limited Distance endurance events last year, and has finished two fifties with Hana so far this year.  

And today, she officially started shopping for a horse trailer of her very own.

She definitely wants a two-horse slant-load.  But there are so many options!

The "cargo area" will double as camping space.

How much furniture is too much in a tack room?

A used trailer would be cheaper...

...but the aluminum trailer is much lighter-weight...

...and a rear-tack can double as storage space for hay and buckets.
 She's not ready to decide yet, which is good.  Most of the trailers on the dealer's lot are already sold!  But we aren't done shopping yet.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back at the farm
Santa Jim, aka Farmer Jim, checks the apple trees

We don't usually get fabulous apples from our trees.  The trees are old, and the varieties aren't very well-selected for our region.  Usually we get some Yellow Transparants--good for applesauce and chicken food.

But this year, the Pink Lady tree decided to kick into high gear!

Bright pink skin, sweetish flesh.  Small, but nice. 

 The chickens aren't the only ones who like these apples!

Roo chases them, and then eats them

Luna doesn't have many teeth left,
but she likes to gum an apple or two every day while they are falling

Throw apples into the pasture and stand back for the stampede!

The turkeys have decided that dandelions and blueberries
are no longer their favorites. Apples are the best!

Even the neighbors like our apples.
It's still summer...barely.

But the autumn harvest is beginning already!  And that is not a bad thing at all.

In fact, it's rather Good.