Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear Readers,

Thanks for following us throughout the years and offering us support, encouragement and inspiration just when we most need it. Sending much gratefulness across the miles to each and every one of you!

Love your bloggers,

Jennifer & Steve

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wow, Birds in the Yard!

This is our front yard (viewed from inside our living room) that we've converted overtime from lawn to native plants and shrubs.

While sitting by the fire this morning, preparing for the day with some coffee I looked out the window and abandoned my breakfast just to watch.

There were birds EVERYWHERE...feeding on the tree stump and in the sumac, scratching in the leaf litter, pecking on the plant stalks and seed heads. Magic!

Well, it felt like magic to me, but really it makes sense...we created habitat and planted food sources, but still - magic! What a simple action that made such a huge difference. I really am in awe.

Here's the morning list I noted in about five minutes, in our tiny front yard, right next to the road:

Red-bellied Woodpeckers
Downy Woodpeckers
Dark-eyed Juncos
Northern Cardinals
Blue Jays
Tree Sparrows
Fox Sparrow!
Song Sparrow
House Sparrows
Tufted Titmice
Carolina Chickadees
White-breasted Nuthatches

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Planting in December

The weather is unseasonably warm here (think 50s and soon 60s!) so we continue to plant seeds in flats to overwinter outdoors and let Mother Nature stratify by freezing and thawing. We have oodles of seeds in the refrigerator to get to so we just plant steadily on. 

We are working on a new growing medium for us that doesn't use peat (we really, really love and value wetlands and don't want to contribute to their destruction), is sourced locally and sustainably and is quick draining. We both are pretty unimpressed with peat, vermiculite and perlite and even coir for now so after talking to some other growers we are testing a bark mulch/compost mix.

This potting medium's large particle size helps it drain fast, which we found many plants greatly benefit from when put in containers.

One of the things I love about my new job is that I can haul everything I need outdoors and sit in the sun, on the ground and plant seeds.

I love getting my hands dirty, feeling the sunshine on my face and the cool Earth under my legs, listening to birds sing around me and finding moments where my mind is no where else other than on the simple act of the task at hand. For a brain as busy as mine, those moments are precious and few and I find all of them outside...always.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Scoring Some Lumber and Storage Solutions

Written by Steve:

Jennifer regularly gleans the auction advertisements for raw materials for creativity and, recently, helped me score a whole bunch of wood (and more) for about $130.00. This old barn slate, alone, generally goes for 8 bucks each but we got 4 huge stacks for 24 dollars.

Then, there's the four USA-made (also known as "antiques") power tools...

but the main score was two loads of hardwood (oak, walnut, etc.) lumber.

As with any "procurement" the excitement becomes a bit of a panic regarding storage (I have a very small one-car garage woodshop). After quite a bit of head-scratching and a bunch of research on additional types of storage (also known as spend-more-money) we decided to make space in our small barn to keep all of this wood organized and dry.

The first question one must ask regarding lumber storage is "horizontal vs. vertical"? Most people go horizontal as it's believed that vertical (standing boards on end) can result in warping. As usual, we decided to go against conventional wisdom because of the way our space is configured and also because I wanted my boards to be more easily accessible (you also always need the board on the bottom of the stack if you go horizontal).

So here's what I did: Using some steel conduit I had lying around I made 12-14 inch long dividers. I hammered one end of each divider flat and drilled a hole in it and then screwed these along the horizontal 2x4s seen in the picture below. I then stacked boards vertically, between the dividers.

Here is a view looking down on the conduit sections that allow me to stack boards in a couple of ways. To keep the boards from falling out away from the wall I used pine 1x2 scraps and drilled holes to fit the conduit.

Here you can see that the conduit dividers angle upwards a bit - that, plus the friction between the dividers and the retainers, keeps the boards snug against the wall.

Thanks to Jennifer, now I've got a huge stock of hardwood lumber nicely organized in a dry barn. Next: CREATIONS!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks, A Daily Practice

When you get to hang out with your soulmate every day and explore cool natural areas near and far, you can't help but feel that giving thanks needs to be a daily practice! We wish the same for you...whatever it is that speaks to your soul.

Our favorite Mohican State Park spoiled us in beauty on a recent hike.

You really just can't beat the fall foliage of deciduous hardwoods:

Turkey tail fungus - always one of our favorite forest finds:

Christmas fern, hepatica, oak leaves and moss - the forest floor is a wonderous foundation for so much life:

Nature is fascinating at all scales:

Soaring raptors - a universal source of inspiration. As we sat by the clear watered river and charted our life direction we felt such gratitude for this visit from a Bald Eagle.

Rotting wood - inspiration for early cartographers?

Nature's palate (why art imitates nature):

Vireo nest - certainly a safe and cozy home hidden amongst the many leaves of late spring and summer:

Witchhazel flower - little rays of sunshine:

Happy Thanksgiving to All, Everywhere!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Stuff from Junk: Arbor and Foot Path

Making do with space you have and cleaning out extra stuff always creates fodder for new projects. Some cracked tree cookies too thin for Steve' tree cookie stools make a natural pathway.

A newly cleaned out and organized wood shop makes creating so much easier. Steve whipped out an arbor for our garden using some old wood ladders and various other wood scraps that would have ended up on the burn pile otherwise.

Countersinking and pre-drilling prevents splitting on hardwood boards. Steve is still using up screws we salvaged from one of the many trash piles when we moved here in 2010.

And, here's the sweet gem as she goes up!

Just imagine a flowering vine on there next summer while we wait for the hops to fill in...charming! What did this cost us? Nothing, but an hour of our time. The amount of stuff around all of us already - just waiting to be used is pretty overwhelming when you start noticing it. We are working to think creatively about the waste stream and the role we can play in tempering it a bit, while making something beautiful and useful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Carrots and Horseradish: Two Hardy (& delicious) Root Crops

This year has been one crazy year with the start of our small business and all that entails so we are grateful for this extended fall and what it is allowing us to accomplish with the many, many things we put off in lieu of something else just a tad more pressing.

We've had several good freezes and frosts, but that doesn't hurt carrots so they sat in the ground till this past week when I dug them and put them in buckets to store in our basement root cellar. We put them in damp sand last year as instructed by many and that worked fine for preserving them, but the extras I put in a bucket lasted just fine too - and were much easier to work with - so bucket storing is now our preferred method. Digging through cold, wet sand is not so fun in my opinion.

I harvested lots of horseradish root this year because we love it so, so much. The warm, breezy day I processed these allowed me to open the windows so I didn't get overwhelmed with the potent fumes. After washing and peeling, I used the food processor to grate these roots into nice flakes. I'm so grateful for that machine!

I added a little vinegar to each batch to help preserve the potency and a dash of salt. You can add water to make it more smooth and creamy if you like, but we like it just as pictured. We are putting this on almost everything right now and just love it. I remember my first experience with horseradish in elementary school when I breathed through my nose after a big sample. Yikes! I froze the six half pints so we will see how long this amount lasts us. Old Timer wisdom says you can harvest horseradish in any month with an R in its name.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Incredible Gift of Leaves

We are so grateful for the annual leaf fall. By this time of year, our beds really need some mulching and the eventual nutrients from the decomposition of the leaves. Each year, for FREE, we get this incredible delivery of one of the best mulches.

Our favorite method for moving the leaves around is a rake and a tarp. We don't have a leaf blower and we prefer the quiet and physical activity associated with the humble rake. Our tarp of choice is medium in size so we can haul a good load of leaves, but not get it too heavy to drag. (Neither of our backs are getting any younger, though yoga Sun Salutations really, really help.)

Our front yard red maple makes a stunning mulch.

We leave most all our perennials standing until spring so we can enjoy their form and interesting seed structures, while also feeding the birds through the winter naturally. As a side benefit, this vegetation helps hold the leaves in place.

Our little Ninebark really benefits from the conserved moisture thanks to these leaves since the sun and the wind dry the soil much more slowly when it is protected. This past week we finally received a great rain - 2.5" over 24 hours so when I pull these leaves back, the soil is moist. Yay!

We have native Aster and Purple Coneflower blooming on 11/4.  These plants are just teeming with nectar seekers on warm days illustrating the incredible importance of late season blooms. They are mighty pretty look at too.