30 November 2010

My Most-Favorite-Holiday

If you didn’t already know, and you probably do, Thanksgiving is my most-favorite-holiday.  I love food, I love cooking.  I love friends, I love family, I love the lack of hype and stress around Thanksgiving.  It comes as an unassuming holiday, on a Thursday!  I don’t know the history behind the Thursday thing – it always confused me as a kid.  But who’s to argue?  I love Thursdays in general – you’re one day away from the weekend, I like the way the word sounds and is spelled, and back in the Seattle days it was an indulgent day.  One consisting of pizza, cheap beer, and television indulgences by some seriously broke young adults. 

Anyways, I digress.

Thanksgiving this year included my mom!  I haven’t had a Thanksgiving holiday with my family in years – mid-November is just not a time I find myself back east.  The last family-Tday I had was with Aunt Meg, Uncle Russ, and Curren in Portland with Russ’ family.  So having mom here was really special – joining Ben’s family and a family of friends for a veritable feast.

PB250024[1]Mom generously provided us with a turkey.  In a fabulous mis-calculation, she purchased a 25+ pound turkey – ample food for 17 people, with over a pound per person available!   Ben and Jeff were well up to the task of thawing it and ‘fast cooking’ it at 500 degrees.  A feat they claim may never have been done before.  (I love them both dearly. I’m not sure I’d suggest this method with such a large bird)

PB250029[1]There was a patch-job done with butter.  A valiant effort, indeed.

PB250032[1]Jeff, Ben, and Mikey – cooks extraordinaire

PB250035[1]Plenty of friends and family were missed, but we had a joyful time with lots of food and thanks.   Thanks to everyone who provided such good food and fantastic conversation~I look forward to it every year!

Oh! And it was Ben’s birthday, too!!

07 November 2010

South to Wrangell


Earlier this month I headed down to Wrangell, Alaska for the annual conference of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators.  I love flying through Southeast Alaska, and I never get sick of taking pictures from the window of the plane.  I feel a little silly, but I can’t help it – the landscape from 30,000 is simply fantastic. PA250012 It takes a remarkably long time to get from Homer to Wrangell, a total distance of maybe 700 miles?  7:30 am flight from Homer to Anchorage, followed by a flight from Anchorage to Wrangell.  Flights that go south tend to make milk stops…1.5 hours to Juneau, 24 minutes to Petersburg (pictured below as we flew off to Wrangell), 10 minute to Wrangell (continuing on for another 30 minutes to Ketchikan, and finally to Seattle).  We arrived in Wrangell around 4:30pm.  PA250025

I gave a presentation on Alaska Clean Harbors, a program I’ve been developing for the state over the past year and a half.  Check out the website: www.alaskacleanharbors.org.  ACH is similarly structured to Clean Marina programs around the Lower 48 – marinas (i.e. harbors in AK) using various practices to minimize their impacts on the marine environment.  It’s work that I love doing, and the group of harbormasters, engineers, vendors, regulators, etc. who work in this industry has been fun to get to know.

PA260039Overall I had a super productive, super enjoyable, super informational and interesting trip.   It rained a bit, but then the clouds parted and we had some beautiful weather.  PA270086

There’s a beach just a mile out of “downtown” where there are over 40 petroglyphs carved into rocks by the original Tlingit who lived there.  I took a run about the island and checked them out – it was fun to hunt for them at the low tide!



Looking down at Wrangell – a town of around 2,000 people.  Wrangell is one of the oldest European settlements in Alaska – Russians came to trade furs as early as 1811 (that’s early for up here!).  Fishing and timber have been the main industries in Wrangell, with timber being king from the mid-40s until the mid-90s when pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan shut down.  Below is a picture from a boat tour we took and an abandoned sawmill with a scrap metal barge.  So much abandoned infrastructure…it reminded me of the abandoned cannery in Port Graham.  Many of these places look like the workers just evaporated – like everyone just walked away and left things in suspense.




Waste oil disposal at the harbormaster’s office.  These are the kinds of work-pictures I take on these trips.




PA270147Above is the Wrangell Marine Services Center.  The travelift & boatyard, with a full suite of businesses that provide all kinds of services.

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I made it home on Thursday night, just in time to start my Master Gardeners course at the college.  Sleep deprived, brain whirling and excited, I settled back into Homer life after a beautiful trip south.  I’d love to go back someday and explore that entire region of Alaska – it’s like another state down there.  We need to get the boat down … someday maybe we’ll take her across the Gulf and beyond!

17 October 2010

High tunnel: Part One


Our high tunnel arrived this past week! This picture shows some of the pieces, set up on the porch of Jeff’s shed. Ben stopped by the Gear Shed on Wednesday, and there it was – all on pallets after a long journey from Iowa. He’s been working double-time getting the watering system in place for both the tunnel & the upper house. There is a new 4,000 gallon cistern that is, as of today’s rain, collecting run-off water from the sauna roof. During the past 2 weeks or so I’ve come home from a day of sitting in front of a computer to see Ben, in a ditch. Sun shining, blue skies, dogs playing merrily….I said more than once – I WANT TO BE A DITCH DIGGER! Screw this ‘computer workin’ stuff. I need to be OUTSIDE. Although this may be ultimately true, I have learned that ditch digging is Hard. From the cistern, Ben has dug (with a little of my help, and a little help from a ridiculously tiny excavator) a trench that rounds the driveway, heads down the current garden (with a stop-off for a water spigot there), and then down straight into the east end of the high tunnel. YEAH! It’s not entirely done yet – there’s a little bit left to dig, but probably 80% of the water line is in.

IMG_4374 Notice the mini-excavator. IMG_4380 IMG_4381

So that was my Friday and part-of-Saturday. Susie, Ben’s mom, showed up Saturday mid-morning and we began the high tunnel assembly! It’s a long process that involves a lot of mud, shoveling, leveling, re-leveling, pounding, shoveling, etc etc. And did I mention mud? We are blessed with a foundation of clay here at 602 Shellfish. And while the topsoil is fantastically rich and dark and fertile, everything below it is….heavy. Clay. Muddy, slippery, heavy clay.

The tunnel, 30’ x 72’, is made of steel bents that are set into ground posts every 4’. On Saturday, Susie, Mike, Ben, and I set & leveled all of the ground posts, put together all of the bents, and then while Ben bulldozed some soil around I shoveled some more clay.


The site – Saturday morning prior to starting assembly.

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19 bents, assembled, screwed together, and ready to go. After Ben finished cleaning out the tracks on the bulldozer we headed off to Starvin’ Marvin’s for dinner. Wicked classy joint – reminds me just a little of the York House of Pizza back home.

On Sunday morning, Ben went to pick up cedar for the ground boards and I headed out to do more digging in the clay. Steve, Susie, and Mikey joined in the fun and we started putting up the bents.

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IMG_4411 Our job site is not OSHA-approved. Thankfully the ground is VERY soft. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so muddy.


IMG_4421 Back to the office job for me tomorrow, but we’ll continue working through the week and hopefully get ‘er all up by next weekend. And then…setting up beds!

03 October 2010

Adventures in gardening

This spring, Ben and I performed a modest garden expansion – increasing our total growing space by about 100 square feet.  Clearing land is hard!  And there aren’t even any trees!  But fern hummocks are incredibly … one with the earth.  Even more so when they’re frozen in the middle.  With the old Montgomery Ward rototiller and a lot of hand work we cleared the western portion of the upper garden space.  While Ben was gone one day I turned it into a circular-plot, with four corners and keyhole paths. 


Looking east:


Earlier this year we had signed up for a high tunnel through a NRCS program (check out the website here).  So as we went into this growing season I had a lot of thoughts running through my head of potential CSA plans for the future (CSA = Community Supported Agriculture.  my favorite one, from college, can be checked out here).  Since then we’ve been approved for participation in the 3 year high tunnel program, ordered one, and sometime in the next month we’ll be setting up a 30’ x 72’ structure to the south east of our current garden.  Yeehaw!  I have some ideas floating around for growing culinary herbs & cut flowers next year – I’ll keep updating and at some point maybe have a separate site!  Any names for this new small farm?!

But back to this year and our garden.  The only major failure was the cauliflower.  The purples all bolted, but were really tasty eaten more like broccoli.  I started the artichokes too late and they are doing their first-year perennial thing now.  Which means no artichoke will form until next year, if they make it that long.  I’m going to mulch ‘em up good and see if any are able to overwinter.  I may bring a couple in and under the house to see if they survive that.  Next year artichokes will be started early (February) and will be put in the high tunnel.  Mmm….I love artichokes.

Other yummy things grown: swiss chard, beets, buttercrunch lettuce, mizuna, carrots, snap peas, chamomile, nasturtiums, cabbage, brussels sprouts (a near-failure), cabbage, broccoli, garlic (hm…should have been planted in the fall – also going to see if they overwinter), onions, leeks (a very wee harvest), potatoes (red, purple, yukon gold, and shepody), strawberries, mint, parsely, sage, thyme, dill, mustard greens, lavender, cilantro, and chives.  Inside we had 8 tomato plants, rosemary, and chili peppers! Oh – and heaps of basil.  Basil loves our house, it’s fantastic!

Some photos from the year:


Three beds (including the snap peas and their trellis) and the compost

IMG_4065 The brassicas – cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, cabbages, and broccolis.  With a few marigolds in a terribly weak effort to stave off the root maggots!  (we used row cover for the first month or so of their lives)

IMG_4075 Potatoes, leeks, onions, garlics, brassicas.  Further up = raspberry canes, cistern, tools, chair.

IMG_4246 Livingston daisies … so pretty!IMG_4068ColumbinesIMG_4284Daisies & nasturtiums

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Onions and leeks, before and after.  The onion harvest was pretty substantial – I braided them all into bunches and they should last us at least 2 months I think.  The leek harvest was wee … you’re seein’ it all in that there picture.  They all went to potato leek soup – very yummy.

 IMG_4287 The beet harvest was similarly wee.  We had 2 varieties – chioggia and another kind.  They were sooo beautiful!  I pickled them, despite only making a total of 6 half-pint jars.  Again – super tasty!

IMG_4333 Mom came and helped harvest!IMG_4336 We dug 2 boxes of potatoes, harvested the rest of the buttercrunch lettuce for caeser salads, a couple of carrots to munch on, and a head of cabbage for mom to take home for soup.


I’ve dried a bunch of chamomile and mint for tea this winter. 

IMG_4322And a beautiful bouquet that Katie & Blaine brought by on their last night in Homer.  They grew a smattering of lovely flowers, including this one bright sunflower!  We’ll miss them heaps down here, but I’m looking forward to a Fairbanks visit in the coming spring.