17 July 2011

Harambe(e) Gardens, July

P7150206 We’ve been blessed with sunny skies so far this summer, but not terribly warm temperatures to accompany the nice weather. Things are growing along, however, with various layers of protection and crossed fingers. As always it’s a grand experiment, and a venue for heaps of learning and note-taking. Feelings of over-planting here, and under-planting there, will bear themselves out over the season. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-July, but that’s how summer tends to shake out – full-on until one morning you wake up and it’s dark and November. And you start wondering when would be the best time to head to Mexico..

But here we are, mid-July and in full swing of garden-life. (in addition, of course, to the work-life and the adventuring-life) Yesterday I cut my first real flush of flowers.  I’ve been picking at them over the past few weeks, a small bouquet here and there for the house. But I held off for a bit to really see if I had any capacity to create a bouquet of flowers that did justice to their vibrancy and beauty.

P7150202 It’s no secret that I’m fairly enamored with this idea of cut flowers, but without much background to guide me. It may just be in the genes, as my dad decided one day to turn a field into a cut flower side-business while I was in college. I think I got the feel of it, although it took awhile with some serious back-and-forth. I made 9 bouquets, some printed tags, and off I went to deliver around to friends and family (and one to Wendell, since he was right down the road). The first delivery of Harambee Gardens! Woohoo!

P7160235 P7160239 P7160240 P7160241 In addition, I also ate my first strawberries from the garden this weekend. Still heaps of most-beautiful spinach (Tyee, the best variety I’ve grown so far), mustard greens, mizuna (mostly bolted by now), kale, and radishes. I think I see some wee-baby plums on one of the trees, and the mock orange and monarda rose shrubs that I got from Fritz Creek earlier this summer are beautiful in bloom.

P7100182 P7100184 P7100186 P7150199 The chickens are loving their new aviary/coop…they are much more skittish than they used to be, but that’s good since they are already such easy prey…no need to have them sticking their long necks through the chicken fencing to greet us when we walk up like they did at first.

P6250102P6250097 And anyways, I’ve found the key to their little chicken hearts – jewelweed.  They eat it voraciously out of my hand, so much so that it boarders on creepy. But I love our little chicken flock…I’ll get some pictures up here soon (the one above is from when we first put them in the coop, the “aviary” is above).  Many many thanks to Nola for chain-sawing their space into being!

Of Mountains and Halibut.

The summer has largely been gardens, growing, watering, weeding, harvesting and planting some more. During July we’ve made it out and about a couple of times so far to adventure beyond the innumerable house projects.


Over fourth of July weekend, Ben, Kaya, Pemba and I headed over to spend a couple of nights exploring up on Portlock Plateau across the Bay. We moored the boat at the Saddle Trail and headed over, across the tram, and up the glacier-side to Emerald Lake. Whew ~ that trail has not had much love lately. It was definitely in worse shape than in August of 2008, the last time I was up there with Rachel and Jen. Despite a brief period of bad-attitude (while mired in mosquito/devil’s club-uphill-hell), it was a most-fabulous trip. Sleeping in a tent again was fabulous, cooking out and having the dogs in the mountains. I love it all. We found snow, beautiful alpine plants, steep cliffs, sapphire lakes, mountains mountains, glaciers, and the Gulf of Alaska! Oh, and Pemba found a porcupine. We held her down and removed the 30+ quills from her face, but it begged the question – what if that were Kaya? It’s on the list to consult with the vet about bringing some doggie-downers out with us for extended trips.


These are long days for the dogs, who aren’t accustomed to 9 mile days running back, forth, up and down. Kaya slept like a champ, and definitely seemed to be in her perferred environment. Pemba had a lot more concern about the world, and spent a lot of time shivering. On the second night we let her into the tent…she was so beat from all of the running she didn’t even try to take over all of the prime sleeping spots like she normally does. P7030140 P7030142Looking east down the mountains to the head of Kachemak Bay, across the Portlock Valley and down the Martin River valley.P7030145 P7030148Looking west, down at Grewingk Lake, Halibut Cove, and the Spit off in the distance on the right. P7030151Ben, full of joy, pushing large rocks off of high cliffs....P7040168Last weekend, following our fabulous alpine-adventuring, we headed out into the Bay/Inlet with Jason and Annelisa to try our hand at halibut fishing. It was a glassy day out there, beautiful and chock-a-block full of boats! I actually just forget about the sport fleet – all of those folks who head out at the crack of dawn for a chance to bob around with a weighted, hooked line a couple of hundred feet down on the bottom of the sea floor. We spent nearly 8 hours, moving a bit from here to there, trying to “feel'” the fish way under.

P7090170 P7090171Pemba {hearts} fishing. P7090178 Charlie and Elias joined the efforts for the day, and caught 3 nice flatty fish. For our efforts we came home with 3 ‘buts and a cod. Some of which we froze, but also that night we had a good ‘ole fish fry and it was goooooood. It felt great to be out fishing, and to catch my first halibut ever! After scanning the heads of 150,000+ halibut, it was gratifying to pull one off of the bottom myself. I didn’t even check to see if it was tagged… P7090177Ben caught a halibut! P7090180And so did I! I contend that mine was bigger, but in all of the excitement I forgot to check. So….we’ll just go with mine was bigger.P7090181

10 July 2011

Southern Exposure

Earlier this summer I took a quick 5 day trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  After twenty hours of transit, I arrived to a heat wave that had the residents complaining of the temperatures and humidity.  Last I checked, 65F = shorts weather, so I didn’t have much to prepare me for the 90+ days with high humidity.  Nor, and I would say even worse, for the –15 air conditioning at the hotel/conference center where I stayed.  I was in Charleston (to be correct, it was North Charleston (and a strip mall)(2 miles from the airport)(not that I’m complaining)) for the River Network’s annual River Rally.  This year was no less inspiring than 2009 in Baltimore, and I’m ever-grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple of days with hundreds of professionals who dedicate their lives to saving our rivers, our fish, and our wildness, for our children and our collective sanity. 

The conference was great, but so too was the exposure to the South.  In many ways it felt like traveling to another country.  I saw and felt very little of my cultural and daily life reflected around me while there.  I took one day and strolled downtown, taking pictures, trying to not pass out from the heat, and generally loving the different-ness of it all.


I started the day at Waterfront Park, at a fountain full of gleeful children, surrounded by hot and resting parents.  There is something so special when the temperatures are extreme, in one way or another, and people come together to cool off or warm up.  City parks are fabulous for people-watching, and in the heat of summer, people-watching opportunities abound.


Of course, you should be aware of the park rules while people-watching, or cooling off in the fountain.  Specifically not permitted is “running, boisterous, or rough play.”  Lest we become too boisterous in the fountain.

If you’re feeling too boisterous, you might consider getting an Italian Ice.  From the Italian Ice girls, of course.  On nearly every street corner there was an Italian Ice cart, staffed by an attractive 20-something offering free samples.  This boy in the red shirt is partaking in an Italian Ice, and from the other side of the street I felt I was witnessing an integral part of downtown Charleston summer culture. 


Charleston is really old.  My hometown is also really old, and it was so enjoyable to read plaques on houses, street corners, and in the parks that told some snapshot of a long-ago history relative to that place.  Executed and buried gentleman pirates in the nearby salt marshes was one of my favorites. 

The houses were HUGE.  I mean really really large and excessive.  An often quoted statistic from this area is that along these streets are the highest property values in the country.  I wanted so badly to see a resident from one of these places.  Just see them, maybe carrying in some groceries?  Or going out to the movies?  Who are these people?  What is it like to grow up in one of these places, to come home after a trying day, or after a romantic date or after just another-day-at-the-office to a 10+ bedroom home? 

Apparently you don’t need a normal bank.  You need “wealth management” services.  We’re not in Kansas anymore…P6050320



As best I could see, peering in the gates and being as nosey as I dared, the gardens and yards were incredibly well manicured and lush.  The churches, which were plentiful throughout, offered an opportunity to stroll through some of the backyards into the cemeteries, which were similarly maintained.


But then I found the Unitarian Universalists.  If I weren’t buried on a hilltop, on a mountain or by a free river, this is the kind of place I’d want to be buried.  Beautifully wild and cared for, with love around every corner.  Here may have been as close as I felt to home as anywhere on the trip. 

03 June 2011

Summer at Harambe Gardens

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted – Ben and I have been ever-busy with high tunnels, vegetable gardens, fish-composting (i.e. maggot farming), chicken-babies, plum trees, keeping dogs happy and away from chicken-babies, and the regular full-time jobs we otherwise have doing major house re-models (Ben) and outreaching to boaters and others to help protect Cook Inlet (me). Whew! So here I am, trapped at 30,000 feet on an Alaska Airlines flight to Charleston, SC. Being unable to attend to any of our various projects from this elevation, it’s a good time to update with some pictures of our progress!

chicken babies

First off, the chickens. I love them – is this any surprise? Well, to me it is a little since I’ve always felt a little squimish around adult chickens. Which is funny, since I’ve spent a decent amount of time handling wild birds and working on bird colonies…but there’s something about those chickens. Despite my slight misgivings about their adult-stage I really wanted eggs, and I really wanted chicks. And anyone who knows Ben knows he {hearts} eggs, so despite the work involved in building a coop, he was game. Mostly. And that’s all I needed to put an order in for 7 chickens with Wagon Wheel! YEAH! We both love them, and the dogs love them even more (their love is much more of a squeeky-toy/killer instinct kind)(we keep them very separated, except that once when Pemba almost got one..). We have 2 black stars (one of which will be named either Shaemus or Buddy – she reminds me of him in both coloration and narcoleptic tendancies, but those are true for most of the chicks), a red star (named magnolia by Ben), 2 golden-laced wynadottes, and 2 partridge rocks. No names for the rest of them yet, so if you have ideas send them our way! They eat out of our hands, peck around a ton, and are growing heaps of feathers. Did I mention I love them? I’ll post pictures soon (promise) of the coop-building process, including the fabulous chain-sawing done by Nola when she visited in March. THANK YOU, SARA SCOTT!!! (we miss you!)

Okay, on to the gardens. I also don’t have pictures right now of the fish composting project (aka maggot farming). They are worth sharing, and I’ll find them and post soon. You might notice the new bear fence around the composting area a few pictures down Thus far we haven’t caught a bear, just a dog or two….

brassica bed

So we’ve taken on building raised beds in the garden. It’s a HUGE improvement and makes me terribly happy. It took quite a bit of work, including re-tilling up the weird star-shape I made in the western beds last year. As lovely as a shaped garden area was (with 4 keyholes around a center), it really wasn’t cutting it. The grass was everywhere, the soil all sloped wicked badly, and covering things with row cover was a challenge. Back to rectangles! Yeah! This also makes our new and improved drip irrigation system much more feasible.


Here’s the set-up for the drip irrigation. There are definitely kinks to work out, but Ben is doing a fantastic job sticking all of the various pieces together into something that may actually water our garden on a timer. I was not born to be a plumber, and I’m thankful for those who are. This much I’ve learned through watching Ben on this and other plumbing-related projects.


For record-keeping purposes, we’ve named our garden beds. Thinking about family that we will miss this summer the beds are named (from top to bottom, then east to west): Felix, Jasper, Eliza, Calais, Kaleo, and Zee (we ran out of neices and nephews!). F, J, E, C, K, and Z for short. We’ll let you guys know how you all do this summer!

pea seeds

A couple of weeks ago we started planting seeds and some transplants from the house – it’s lovely to have some space back inside. The downstairs was a veritable jungle, with multiple shelves of baby plants all waiting for their big day out. Outside we have planted: 2 snap peas and a sugar pea variety, spinach (Tyee), Fordhook and rainbow chard, buttercrunch and romaine lettuce, nasturtiums, strawberries (Toklat, Sitka, and a kind from Anne that was developed in Palmer…can’t remember the name), purple, white, and cheddar cauliflower, brussels sprouts (Long Island Improved, I haven’t had much luck in past years but here I am trying again), red and white cabbage, broccoli, lacinato kale, mizuna and mustard, 2 types of carrots, onions, 4 different potatoes, 2 types of leeks (American Flag and Musselman), chioggia beets, mangels (an experiement for chicken food!), celery (Utah 52), parsely, dill, chamomile, cilantro, spearmint, a sea holly from Fritz Creek, livingston daisies, and some more ladybird poppies. I hope those seeds come up, I’m excited about them! And our small raspberry patch is looking good and wild as ever, though this year I’ve tried to contain it at least a little from it’s incredible spreading-tendancies. The rhubarbs are already flowering (Ben stopped that activity), and the wild roses, ferns, grasses, and weeds are all coming up right-on-schedule. Oh, and freaking horsetail is crazy this year! It’s way worse than I’ve seen in the past couple of years. It is what it is, though, and getting rid of it isn’t much of an option. So I just appreciate the silica-filled prehistoric stalks that pop up all over.

planting plums

My mom came over on a Sunday and spent the entire day with us, digging up hummocks (that job will NEVER be over, alas), raking in amendments, shaping beds, and helping to plant. We went out to Fritz Creek Gardens and picked up the 2 plum trees I bought! Yeah! Sapalta and Compass plums, and then are still looking good and smelling delicious. They’re the first trees I’ve ever planted, so let’s all cross our fingers! I also got a mock orange shrub (Philidelphus), a new lilac (the old one is lookin’ pretty rough, but Ben is sure it’s going to make it), a vining honeysuckle, a lovely rose bush, and some shade-y plants to put up by the house. The rose and the lilac still need to be planted out – a ‘mom task’ for while I’m gone this weekend!

plum trees

Okay, on to the high tunnel! Here we are in late-winter/early-spring. Plenty of snow piled up on the north side, but all in all it seemed to hold up pretty well.hightunnel_winter11

Spring forward to now – what feels like full-on summer. We have beds, irrigation, plants, a fully-decked bridge, a fan, music, and still some space to fill inside.P6020285

In March I was pretty sure that it just wasn’t going to happen on time. Ben warned me as I started seeds that I shouldn’t have too much optimism for planting out in the tunnel on any reasonable time-frame. And it’s true that I think in future years we’ll be able to plant out weeks earlier than we did this year, if not months for certain things. But as it is, it’s June 3 and we have pretty much all but 1.5 - 2 beds planted out. This is due to mucho time put in from Ben, and fabulously appreciated help digging beds out of the post-tunnel construction-rubble from Mikey, Blaine, and Chris.

P6020277 P6020278

Planted so far: 16 tomatoes, 4 different varieties, artichokes, sweet peas, fennel bulbs, 3 different varieties of sunflowers, slicing and pickling cucumbers (a LOT), a couple of zuchinnis, one winter squash (the only delicata that germinated), zinnias, calendula, snapdragons, salvia, salpiglossis, basil, thyme, oregano, french tarragon, lavender, anise hyssop, 3 bee balm (the only ones that germinated), echinacea, a few nasturtiums and marigolds around the tomatoes, nigella (love-in-a-mist), canterbury bells, and ladybird poppies. ummm….and I think that’s it, for now. A rosemary still needs to go out, along with the rest of the house-lavenders. Like I said – almost 2 beds left….what should we plant?!


We are lucky to have 3 temperature data loggers that are old ones from Sue’s research at work (check it out at Inletkeeper’s new fancy website!). Our quality control standards aren’t quite as strict as hers, and so the older and not-quite-so-exact ones work just fine for our little monitoring project. We have a logger in the tunnel (pictured above, with a home-made solar shield to keep it out of direct sunlight), one outside of the tunnel with a similar solar shield, and one 6” deep in the soil amongst the tomatoes in one of the tunnel beds. We looked at the data from late-March through early-May, and were surprised to see nighttime low temperatures lower in the tunnel than outside! Ben has some relative humidity/evaporative cooling theories, and although I’ve come across similar findings online I haven’t found any conclusive work that has explained this. Any thoughts? Let us know, and we’ll post more on the temperature monitoring when we have some more data.


Here’s Ben, standing in the door of the tunnel with the irrigation system set up behind him. Right now we have 2 ‘zones’, which means we can time the beds to be watered at different intervals and for different amounts of time. We have the other two attachments coming so we can set up all 4 zones for more effective watering.


And looking down the south side of the tunnel, you can make out the bulldozer in the grass, and our lovely shed (thanks to Jeff). Yeah for Harambe Gardens!! (and many thanks to the NRCS for funding these efforts!)