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Do you have daily habits that you stick to and have kept for years and years? Breakfast is like that for Chris and I. For more than 23 years we’ve eaten the same kind of breakfast nearly every day…fresh fruit (usually berries), Brown Cow vanilla cream-top yogurt, nuts (pecans for Chris and walnuts for me), with chocolate chips sprinkled on top to make it gourmet! I love this breakfast and it is just what my body needs to start a busy day of farm work or whatever I’m doing on any given day.

And this week while I was eating breakfast, Chris motioned for me to look out the window and there was this hawk sitting in the middle of the south bird garden hunting its breakfast meal (probably a ring-neck dove is the usual choice). It’s amazing how wild critters hunt what they need to nourish themselves, but they usually don’t hunt for sport. Usually, they hunt only what is needed. We humans could learn from that I think.

As for greenhouse work, we are up to our eyeballs in seedlings waiting to be transplanted into plugs or larger pots. All kinds from native penstemons to spilanthes and aloes, and loads of other plant varieties.

Even these baby Bristle Cone Pines! Aren’t they sweet little trees!!

We are still working nearly every day on big projects of greenhouse and farm maintenance/housekeeping tasks. Last week, Lizz and I cleaned the Lizard Greenhouse in preparation of putting plants in this house the week of December 31st. It was a terrible mess, as it has been empty of plants since last end of May. The weeds had grown in, shade cloth had fallen down, pallet benches needed repaired and so on.

There was a lot of dust involved.

But now it is all perfectly clean and tidy and ready for plants! Yahoo!!

These willows grow along the edge of our goldfish pond (which doesn’t have a single goldfish in it, just blue gills) and the willows provide a lot of great wildlife habitat for red-wing blackbirds, red slider ear turtles, fish, raccoons, foxes, and others. Even the three domestic duck ladies, Hannah, Gretel and Rosie, like to hang out in the willows and this little pond when it is hot outside.

Chris will be cutting down the willow branches to just above the ground this next week. That is called “coppicing” and it doesn’t hurt the willows at all, in fact, it keeps this stand of willows happy and healthy. The cut branches will not be wasted either, because we’ll trim off the small side branches and make willow stakes from the long branches, much like bamboo stakes you buy in the garden center. We’ll use these stakes for tomato plants, vining plants like hops, morning glories and passionflower fruit vines. It’s a win win for all of us, including the willows and the wildlife, because by middle of spring they will be growing back very nicely just in time for red-wing black bird nesting season.

All for now. See you next week.

 

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Winter Solstice and Holiday Greetings,

As this year closes and a new one is about to begin, we would like to send you our gratitude and love for being a part of our lives. It is our hope that your life will be filled with the very best of all that touches you in some way. Celebrate in joy and goodness, as we will too, all the gifts in our lives.

With Much Love & Green Thoughts,

Chris & Tammi

(Shrek, Sadie, Pal and Willow, Hannah, Gretel and Rosie too)

 

“In all things of nature there is something  of the marvelous” Aristotle

“The grower of trees, the gardener, man and woman born to farming whose hands reach into the ground and sprout, to them the soil is a divine drug. They enter death yearly, and come back rejoicing.”  Wendell Berry

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”  Helen Keller

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure.  There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”  Jawaharlal Nehru

“If one’s life is simple, contentment is to come.” Dalai Lama

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”     Colette

“Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”  Lao Tzu

 

 

Two big projects happened this past week. Chris and my Dad worked on cutting in a new irrigation ditch in a problem section of the pasture behind Dad’s house. Cows were pastured in this field behind my folk’s property and they totally destroyed the original irrigation ditch to the point you could not even tell where it had been. On top of that, because the ditch didn’t function like it was supposed to, the surrounding area of the pasture turned into a marsh and cattails had taken over. Cattails and water were both coming into my parents property to the point of threatening to damage their house foundation. That was during this past summer and fall.

We’ve been waiting for the area to dry out enough that Chris could get Poppy the tractor in to cut a new irrigation ditch without getting stuck in the mud. This week it was dry enough, at least we thought, to do the project.

Chris and Poppy plowed in a ditch and then worked to bank up the mud as a dam to further protect Mom and Dad’s property. That is when things started to go downhill. The ground was still too muddy once you got about 6″ deep and again the tractor was at risk of getting stuck. So, the ditch is to this point, but now we must wait some more time until it dries out more and then Chris and Poppy will go back and finish making the ditch a bit deeper and make sure the water will have a good flow of gravity to it so that it won’t back up anymore and hopefully the marsh will be restored to pasture once more.

This week we also finished up the seed harvest boxing and on Thursday the seed was picked up and is now on its way to Germany to Jelitto Perennial Seed Company. That is the company we grow our perennial seed crops for.

Chris is boxing up the Mojave Sage in this picture.

Loaded on the truck and headed to the airport and an international flight to Germany. Yahoo!!

Chris and Shrek celebrated by making a “beer run”.

Stay warm and enjoy the first week of December!

 

Chris and I enjoyed sharing a delicious holiday meal at my parents house. Mom out-did herself making so many delicious dishes for us to eat. My sister, Cindi, her husband Rod and son Tucker, came down from Strausburg and we had a good visiting time.

This is the time when the deer are mating for next year’s crop of fawns. The bucks have one thing on their mind and it’s not eating grass! They are intentful, persistent and focused. The does seem annoyed that they must tolerate all this extra attention and this year’s crop of fawns are just simply bewildered by it all and trying to stay out-of-the-way.

Today, there have been several very large bucks, a number of younger smaller bucks courting the does here on the farm. Traffic has been stopping all day long in front of the farm to watch the activities and admire these handsome bucks.

This buck took time out to get a drink in the deer drinking trough we keep filled with fresh water next to our south bird yard. I was about 20 feet away on the back porch, sharing conversation with this fellow, and getting some great photos. Most of these deer have been here their whole lives and they’ve known us since they were fawns themselves. Although, I wouldn’t test their manners during their hormone raging mating season, most of the time they ignore us and we ignore them and we all co-exist here quite nicely moving in and around each other without any problems. During mating season, I give them some extra space because they don’t pay attention to anything right now except chasing the does. He’s pretty handsome, don’t you think so?

Yesterday, we took an afternoon walk to the cowboy cabin and along the way I picked up some ponderosa pine needles. Ponderosa trees have pretty long needles and they are good for making into baskets. We got home around 4pm and I started the process of creating a small basket. This is the outside bottom of the basket.

This is how the inside of the basket looks as I’m working on it. By 9:30pm I had finished a very small pine needle basket.

It is about 4″ in diameter at the top edge and about 3″ deep, so it’s tiny, but it is the perfect size for a little basket for Chris’ birthday.

Here is the same basket (with green needles) and the first pine needle basket I made about 20 years ago. As the needles dry on this new basket, it will eventually turn brown in color too.

I have enough needles left from my foraging walk to make another basket about twice the size as the one I made last night. It will probably take me around 10-12 hours to make that one I’m figuring. I had hoped to start it today, but my fingers were too sore from working on the little basket I made last night, so I’ll wait a couple of days before I start the next one.

All for now. Cheers!

 

My morning started out with my adding kitchen scraps to my compost barrel, although these two pictures were taken and copyrighted by Saxon Holt when he was photographing for my book Homegrown Herbs. Since I didn’t have any of my own pics of the compost barrel to post up, I used his with his permission.

I’ve had this compost barrel for years now and it is definitely one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It’s called an “Urban Composter” and I bought it thru RealGoods. I’ve seen them sold by other companies too. It is easy to turn, fills from the top, and has a vent to keep air circulating thru the composting mix. It doesn’t have any bad smells, so it doesn’t attract wild or domestic animals hoping to raid the food scrapes.

I put all my kitchen vegetable and fruit scrapes in this barrel, plus egg shells and sometimes a bit of cheese ends up in there too, although not very much. You should never compost animal food scrapes like meats or a lot of dairy. Grains are fine to use and a bit of fats like veggie oils works fine, but don’t add a lot of fats/oils. I also put my garden trimmings of green leafy material in the barrel and a few(not too many) fallen leaves go in. I turn the barrel by spinning it in a rotation every time I add anything, which is 1-2 times a week typically. Whenever the material inside begins to look like soil and not kitchen scraps or garden trimmings, then I know it is ready to empty into a wheel barrel or a big bucket and I add it somewhere in the garden wherever I feel there is a need for some good compost nutrition to the soil. When it is the cold months of the year, I only empty the barrel about once because the colder temperatures outdoors mean the ingredients inside the barrel will take longer to break down and compost into a usable mix, but during the warm and hot months of the year, I can empty the barrel about every 6-8 weeks.

This method of composting has worked very nicely for me because I keep the compost barrel in my gardens where it is handy to add ingredients too and where it is not very far from my back door. At other times in my past I had compost piles that were pretty far away from my kitchen and not handy to add kitchen scrapes into. They were big piles that I had to turn using a shovel and digging fork, which is quite a bit of work, so the piles  didn’t get turned as often as I would have liked. That wasn’t a huge deal, because those piles still made great compost, but since they were turned less often, they took quite a bit longer to compost well. Compost piles that aren’t turned very often can be more tempting to wildlife or neighborhood dogs/cats, who want to rummage through the pile looking to see if there is anything tasty left to eat. Having an enclosed barrel keeps all the critters out of the mix.

Anyway, setting up a compost of some sort is a very good thing to do, and you can do it any time of the year. It creates usable nutrition in the form of composted ingredients that are perfect for your garden, patio or house plants. It means the kitchen scrapes and garden trimmings do not end up being bagged in plastic bags and set out for the rubbish collectors with the other trash. That’s what you want to avoid, because if compostable ingredients end up in a plastic trash bag at the land fill, they are not going to break down very well, plus it is added mass to a landfill, taking up room, and not doing anything to improve soil health in your own landscape.

If you want to find out more about composting, you can read the simple guidelines in my books Homegrown Herbs or The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener. Both of these books are available from a good book shop, online or probably can be borrowed from your local library.

After the kitchen scraps was emptied into the compost barrel and the dishes were finished up, Shrek began his campaign to go for a walk. We watered the greenhouses and pulled a wholesale order for this week’s delivery, and then we headed out for a nice walk. It was freezing cold!!! I bundled up, grabbed the camera, and off we went.

One of the places where we like to walk is a beautiful native habitat of desert and prairie native plants like this cholla cactus. The purplish red color happens during the cold months and you’ll notice that some of the cholla cactus arms or branches are hanging downward, almost like they are limp. That is on purpose. The cactus releases a lot of its extra internal moisture when the weather turns cold, and this causes the branches to go limp. By not holding a lot of moisture in the branches, as the cactus would do during warm/hot months of the year when it needs to have a reservoir of moisture to use to survive, in the winter that extra moisture would freeze inside the cactus branch and cause the branch to rupture. This would damage the plant and might even kill it, so nature has a plan to prevent that from happening.

All the needles on this cactus, and every other kind of cactus in this area, was coated with a thick layer of ice. The needles looked like crystal sticks and they were sparkling and beautiful! The temps did get warm enough by noon or so to melt the ice on the spines, but it still stayed in the high 30’s degrees F all day.

As we finished our walk, I felt like I was about a foot taller due to all the mud that had collected on my blackfoot daisy boots during our walk. No matter…we had a great walk…no one else was around the area, so it was quiet. We did see some quail and a marsh hawk along our journey.

Back home again, Willow and Pal were waiting to share the heat from the woodstove fire. Shrek and I were freezing by this time, so the fire heat felt wonderfully good.

I noticed as I went into our living room that my Christmas cactus has started to bloom this weekend like nobody’s business. All winter long, starting in November, this plant blooms wearing gorgeous coral flowers. I think it is beautiful!

Give me a piece of plain cloth and colored threads and I’m about as content as I can be. My love stitching hand needlework. Some people paint or draw or use other mediums to create wonderful things that they enjoy. For me it happens with colored threads. This piece of needlework is about 3/4 finished, but there is still quite a bit left to do. My hope is to finish it before the busy season starts for me at the end of December, but I don’t know if I’ll get it finished by then or not. This is one of my passions. It is how I relax and feel peaceful, so some things cannot or should not be hurried. It will create itself in its own time as I stitch in one piece of colored thread added to another until eventually I have a finished picture all from thread and cloth.

Whatever you enjoy doing, whether it is sports, music, art, reading, cooking or stitching or something completely different. I hope you will have plenty of time to work on it and that it will fill your whole self with peace and joy!

Now, I have one last thing to put before you. This is a small cholla species that Chris bought a few years back from our friend Kelly Grummons (he and Jorge have a hardy succulent business called Cold Hardy Cactus – check it out online). The plant label that tells us the species of this beauty is somewhere in the heart of the plant buried in the soil, where Chris tucked it when he planted this cholla as a baby plant.  As beautiful as this cholla is, with it’s golden long spines, it is wicked mean if you try to handle it without great care, and there is very little chance any of us will risk digging around at the base of the plant to look for the plant label to find out what the species is. If you happen to know the species, would you send us a note on our Desert Canyon Farm facebook page to tell us. Thanks very much for your help.

Have a week of joy and gratitude as you honor the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope you will enjoy it with good friends or family, delicious food, and a great deal of laughter and happiness!

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been working on all sorts of projects this week. We had to replace wooden benches in the greenhouses that were rotting and I finish sorting and consolidating the veggie label inventory. Lizz had already finished most of the plant label inventory, but this was still waiting to be done, so I took advantage of the colder weather and finished it up. Lizz sowed another round of perennial seeds, that will be for sale in our Farm Stand next spring. We are hoping to have so many fun and interesting plants to offer this coming spring season! Chris harvested the Muhley grass, which is one of the two remaining seed crops to pick before we ship the seed to Germany at the end of the month.

I saw a very funny sight yesterday as I was visiting with my parents on the back porch. We realized that Chris had taken his laptop computer out to the flower field where he was harvesting the muhley grass seed crop. I should have guessed…it was the Nebraska college football game and he didn’t want to miss it, but the seed harvest needed tending to without delay.

If you look closely, you can see his laptop sitting on top of a gray plastic crate where he could listen to the game as he worked. Chris is passionate about his Cornhuskers football team, so never let it be said there isn’t a way to do farm work and listen to the football game!

It’s mating season for the mule deer and so the bucks are hanging around with the does and the youngsters in the herd. You can see the King Stag standing back by the row of dead poplar trees. He had his mind on quite a few of these deer women. We’ve had several bucks hanging around of late, but he is the largest and most majestic.

Speaking of the dead poplars…we planted these in the first years of the farm as a way to start creating a windbreak around the farm’s parameter. Poplars are short-lived as a rule, but they grow fast and they can offer some protection to younger slower growing trees in the windbreak. By the time the poplars are past their lives, some of the other trees have grown big and will replace the poplars. So, these dead poplars have been just hanging out until Chris had some time to cut them down and haul them to the woodstack. My part of the gig is to stack them up for firewood and break all the small branches into excellent kindling for starting our daily wood fire, which is how we heat our home and offices. Chris and Poppy (the tractor) began the process of cutting down and removing the dead trees this week. There are many of them, so it will take a while to finish this project, but he made a big dent in the task.

We also have a few different kinds of hawks that visit the farm on a daily basis, like this sharp-shin hawk.  Hawks are very special birds to me and I always feel good when I get to see them. They are predators that keep smaller wildlife from becoming problems when their numbers get too great, so these hawks hunt those smaller wildlife, which keeps a check on the numbers  of ring-neck doves, rabbits and squirrels, mice and so on. When there is a good balance in the wildlife community, all of them thrive and less problems arise. We see a red tail hawk (sometimes a pair), the sharp-shin, and a Merlin here all the time. Occasionally, a goshawk is in the neighborhood too.

Below is the nest of a robin. It’s in our peach tree and now that the leaves have mostly dropped from the tree, I could get a good look at it. The complexity and structure of bird nests always amazes me. They are experts at creating homes for their young. Imagine the baskets they could weave if they were so inclined ;-}

I’ve been working on a few house projects this week too. These are my gray water collection barrels. They are piped to collect the wash water from my washing machine. They sit on cinderblocks so that they are high enough to get a good gravity flow of water happening and I simply attach a garden hose to each barrel when I’m doing my laundry. The water goes into the barrels from the washing machine and then flows out to water shrubs, trees and areas of the garden through the hoses. I can move the hoses wherever I need the water to go. The water soaks into the ground, helping the plants in the process with a hearty drink, and ultimately ends up flowing into the ground water. Perfect!

My barrels are old and the spouts that I hook the hoses up to had broken off, so I needed to put new spouts on the barrels.

When you conserve water, like I do with my wash water, everyone and everything is a winner in the process. That said, if you decide to put in a similar kind of system at your homeplace, be sure to remember that you must buy environmentally safe soap to use to wash your clothes. Otherwise, the ingredients in standard mainstream laundry detergents can be very harmful to plants and soil-dwelling microbes that create healthy soil. I use Seventh Generation laundry soap. There are other good brands too, but check carefully.

Look at these two red tree squirrels peeking out from under the solar panels on our roof!  Our solar system provides 80-85% if all the electricity we use for our home and all our farm buildings and equipment. We are so grateful that we have this solar system! So are the squirrels!! They play underneath it, but have never in 10 years caused any harm to the roof or the solar system. It’s pretty fun to watch them.

I’ve been doing some needle-felting projects this week. I love doing needle-felting and unlike some of the other types of hand needlework I enjoy doing, needle-felting projects are pretty fast to accomplish. I had a great time working on these two pillows this week.

It’s a snowy wet day here today. Excellent moisture for the earth. It’s a good day to stay warm and cozy indoors, enjoying the woodstove fire and drinking delicious chai tea.

 

 

I was supposed to be on a business trip this week, but it was postponed to later in the year, so I ended up with some extra unexpected personal quiet time. Lizz watched after the greenhouses and I barely stepped a foot inside of them this week, which is completely unheard of, but was a nice change.

I worked on some office work that needed finishing up, and of course, those kinds of projects are never really done, but the seed orders are finished and that is huge and a relief. Next, I’ll need to start updating the blog plant databases and work on creating the new plant Farm Stand information signs. M’lissa usually does this work for us, and she offered to do it again this year, but she is creating a new life in Montana, which is very exciting!

I did have time, FINALLY, to freshen up the scarecrows on the front porch. That was great fun and they look a lot more exciting now. The old scarecrows were pretty weary after all of the spring, summer and half of the fall seasons.

Garden carrots were harvested and went into the crock pot today for a tasty meal sometime this week. I had time to bake fairy bread and cookies. It has probably been three years or more since I baked cookies, and I enjoyed it, but they are mostly gone already, so it might be another three years before I do that again ;-}

We got snow and it was cold for part of this week, which meant that Chris couldn’t do some of the farm work he had planned on doing, so he took advantage of his quiet time to work on re-building the neck on this vintage guitar.

This guitar was mine and I got it when I was in the 6th grade and have played it through the years into my adult life, but a number of years ago I pretty much stopped playing it. I gifted it to Chris as he said it was the perfect guitar for a Dixiland band he plays in. I am a firm believer that instruments should not just sit around…they should be played, so I was very happy to hand this guitar into Chris’ care. The problem was that the neck was too thick to be easily played properly.

At one time, Chris was an apprentice Luthier. A Luthier is a person who builds and repairs string instruments. Chris really enjoys this work and thought at one time that it might be a second career for him later in life. His plans have changed about that, but he does still work on guitars when the need arises.

He rebuilt the neck on this guitar…everything from making the neck less thick so that it is easier to play, to repairing the top of the neck which was warped, and replacing the frets. My very old and much-loved guitar has a new life now and it sounds quite nice when played.

The winter birds are starting to arrive at the farm in big numbers now. I’ve noticed that the juncos are showing up, as are the piñon jays in a massive-sized flock. The piñon jays always arrive around mid-day, during the cold seasons of the year, looking for corn that I put out just for them. They eat their corn meal and off they go back to the juniper piñon pine forest that is about 10 minutes from the farm and where they live. It’s always interesting and fun to watch how the bird community shifts and changes with the seasons.

Tomorrow begins a new work week, and I’ll be back to being busy again. Chris also has a lot of farm work he is hoping to accomplish this week. That said, I’ve enjoyed my quiet week. It was still productive, but in a relaxing way, and much appreciated. Thank you, Lizz, for making that possible.