Monday, April 6, 2015

Exploring: Applegate

The last few weeks I've been obsessed with a new-to-me blog: And Here We Are. It is run by Ariana and details her, and her family's, lives as expats. They've lived in Germany, back in the US (almost in my backyard, maybe we passed each other at some point!), England, and just recently moved to Spain. They have a darling daughter a few years older than Munchkin, forage for edibles, homebrew like crazy, and love to be outdoors. My type of people!

Plus, she has this GIGANTIC smile-every time a picture of her smiling came up I had to grin as well. I mean, look at it!

Photo Copyright Ariana Mullins: And Here We Are
AND she learned how to break down an entire beef hind quarter (click the picture to be taken the post), something I would love to learn.

What I really like about her blog is how much she explores the area she is in. As a fellow introvert I really struggle to get out of the house and go somewhere strange and new. It is very intimidating and I constantly worry about every little thing possible, from the kids acting up (or being bored out of their minds) to getting lost to car accidents and axe murderers. Yes, axe murderers, I have a very active imagination.

After reading And Here We Are  I've been inspired to do something different. Erik (Hubby) has been applying for work outside of Oregon and the thought of moving fills me with dread and excitement. All the cities he's applied to are far from relatives and friends, we'd be starting over completely. Since no matter where we ended up it would be a major re-spawn event anyway I got to thinking of outside the US. So I brought up the idea of looking abroad. And, of course, this brought up Sweden.

Erik's family is mostly Scandinavian, he even has some distant cousins that still live in Sweden. It is the first place he'd like to go. Myself, I could go to Sweden, Ireland, England, Germany...anywhere that has a nice rural area with forests and farms sounds good to me. Since I've asked him about it the idea keeps popping up. We keep asking ourselves: would we be happy in a different country? Would the kids? How do you even go about it? Finding a job? Finding a place to live? What do we do with all the animals? And? And? And oh so many details!!

In the meantime I've started to push myself to get out and see our local area more. Its really silly that we've lived here for almost 7 years (always with the idea we'd be moving soon) and have hardly explored. So last weekend we packed up the kids and went to a local wildlife area to see what there was to see.

Why haven't we done this before?

The trail led to a canoe access to the Long Tom River and, while a little muddy, was nice and flat. We went early enough there was still a touch of mist amongst the ferns. Spring flowers were showing here and there but most of the trees hadn't leafed out yet. We were the only ones on the trail though we could hear traffic in the distance. Once we got closer to the river the sounds of civilization died out and all we could hear was birdsong, breeze, and rushing water.

I was mesmerized by a stand of Oregon Grape the bees were working over. The scent was heavenly, like a musky honey, and the bees were busy, busy, busy!
I would have stood there for hours watching them but Munchkin was insistent about finding the end of the trail. 
All along the trail were ferns and low story plants. My favorites were the Pacific Trilliums. I'd read about them but I hadn't seen one in person till now. Aren't they beautiful?
As they age the flowers turn from white to a deep rosy purple. I must come back and see this!

We watched a pair of bald eagles leave their perch in a tall pine and fly down the river (I wasn't able to catch them on film, darn it), listened to a flock of mourning doves coo as they fluttered around a huge fallen log mid-stream, found a couple mushrooms, stumbled on several fruit trees in full bloom, examined a beaver-chewed stump, and just enjoyed being outside.
It was a wonderful way to relax.

The next three weekends are super busy but I can't wait to explore some more!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Garden or Farm?

Back in January I mentioned that something we'd been working on for a while finally came through. Meet Ruby and Checkers:
 We'd been talking about getting rabbits for a while. While I would really love to get a cow or a pig those critters are a touch big and would probably raise problems with the neighbors but bunnies? Bunnies are quiet, clean, easy to care for, cheap to feed, and reproduce, well, like rabbits. Plus their poo is a gardener's dream! The perfect blend of nutrients that needs no composting to be used-you can take it straight from under their furry tails and side-dress a tomato plant for glorious results.

Yeah, I got them for the poop.

Rabbit is also quite tasty. The meat is lean, high in B vitamins and protein and, with how fast they reproduce, it is possible to fill a freezer with organic meat that you have raised, ensuring a "happy life and one bad day"for the animals harvested. That is important to me. I grew up helping to raise and care for most of the meat I ate. We had pigs and cattle (and chickens but they were mostly kept for eggs). We made sure the animals had the best care, good food, lots of space, and allowed to be themselves. That was just everyday life. It was rather a shock after I left home to taste store-bought feedlot beef. It just wasn't as rich or flavorful, even though we fed our stock grain as well, and I missed our 'pasture-raised and grain finished', 'free-range' beef. Who knew back then our way of ranching would be a big deal? Kinda funny now.

There are several wonderful farms in our area (my favorite is Winter Green Farm where we get our CSA produce) that provide the quality of care and product that I am looking for but I still want to be in more control. Rabbits fit the bill.

Of course, one needs a boy to...assist...with things. After Ruby and Checkers got used to us we added Lance to the mix.
I love this picture. Doesn't he look like a tough guy? He's actually super sweet and cuddly.
All three are purebred New Zealand rabbits. The New Zealand breed is a larger breed that excels at producing good fur and fast-growing kits. They, along with Californians, are one of the most common meat breeds. They are also gentle and calm, which is great since the kids love to feed and care for them. In the fall, when Munchkin starts 4-H, they will be part of her 4-H project.
In February Munchkin asked if we were going to hatch eggs again. I pulled out the incubator, cleaned it off, then went online to find some local fertile eggs. A nice lady on Facebook offered a dozen Muscovy duck eggs and in they went. Munchkin has spent the last 30 days glued to the incubator, watching for any wiggle or crack.

A couple weeks after I started the eggs I was chatting with a friend about ducks and she mentioned she had two drakes that were harassing her chickens, would I want them? Sure! I did warn her that they might turn into dinner and she was perfectly fine with that (in fact, she was going to do it herself but after harvesting her meat chickens she didn't want to pluck another feather).

So we brought these two home and they went right to work clearing my garden and greenhouse of slugs and snails. I've yet to lose a seedling since turning them loose in the garden.
Hubby has been excited about a roast duck dinner but I haven't gotten up the nerve yet. I may end up with more ducks than I'd planned.

With all this livestock, have we reached farmhood yet? And there are still eggs to hatch!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Welcome to the Garden

Spring is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. My neighbor's huge daffodil beds are already past their prime and yesterday I noticed my lily bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground. Today the sun is shining, the temperature is nearing 70 degrees and I can hear lawn mowers purring in the distance. It is insanely early for this type of weather. The practical side of me worries about a hot and dry summer but I can't help but love the early sunshine.

The flower beds are full of early spring bulbs: daffodils, primroses, tulips, hyacinths, and bluebells. The fruit trees have buds swelling and the lilacs are seconds away from exploding into flower. There are flowers everywhere! I've been buzzed by huge bumblebees (I think there may be a nest somewhere nearby, there have been so many!), the honeybees and wasps are fighting over the dandelions in the yards, and everywhere a filmy green is covering bare branches.

The greenhouse is full of seedlings, with more flats just waiting for seed. Every time I step inside I have to take several long breathes and really get the scent of warm, damp earth and growing things deep in my lungs. If there is a smell that signals spring that would be it.

The sugar and snap peas are doing extremely well.

Out in the garden...well, that's another story. For the past 6 years I've hauled in compost and manure trying to turn the native clay into a rich oasis. Last year I was lazy and didn't get any outside additions. I cleaned my compost heap down to the ground and spread it everywhere (resulting in a bazillion volunteer tomatoes and pumpkins-obviously I didn't get the heap hot enough). While we had an great growing season the garden didn't do nearly as well as it should have. This year I've put off getting anything, just to see what the ground would do.

Its basically cement.

While the flower beds have weeds coming up anywhere there's an open space the only thing growing in the garden are a few leftover onions, quite a bit of purple dead nettle (an edible weed) and a bit of grass. Its pretty sad. I'm tired of fighting a losing battle so this year we are going to put in raised beds. I'm rather excited at the idea and already have plans for hoop cloches and other season extenders. With the summer looking to be long and hot I'm betting I get an epic tomato harvest.
My entire spring crop. At least its an edible weed.