Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ventures Into AgriTech

Here is Max (in the hat). We are at a ferry terminal, waiting for a ferry to take us to the mainland. We're going on a trip with the 4-H people in our district. We're off to see what's happening at an agricultural show, which, if you are not an agricultural person, means big farm equipment + farm items + animal items = not something your average Sheila usually finds herself at. 

Anyhow, here is Max sitting next to one of his 4-H cronies at the ferry terminal. Oh right, I already said that, didn't I? Well, did I mention that it was 6 am when I took that shot? That's right, Gentle Reader: six o'clock in the morning! And not only is it six o'clock in the morning, but we're both dressed AND in a place a long ways from where we normally SLEEP. And that, lemme tell you, is a wonder of wondrous proportions. I don't do early mornings. Well, I did one once for the birth of a child, but I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. Since then I have taken great care to HAVE more choice in the matter. 

Hopefully I have sufficiently impressed upon you what a complete diva I am the earliness of the hour.
Luckily Max is in a good mood. I think I was too, but it's all such a blur now. I awoke at 4:35, then got up, worried that I might not have enough time to make myself a coffee before heading out. Ugh. Just the memory of it makes me feel wimpy all over again.
Here we are in the bus. It rained the entire time we were over on the mainland. We all kept wondering if it was raining on the island, something people on islands seem to do a lot...

Here is one of the 14 aisles at the exhibition. It was a lot larger and more farm-ish than either Max or I had thought it would be. I was imagining pleasant little booths of organic seeds, or even some interesting tools, but not this: substitute infant sheep formula, plastic container making machines, blueberry packing machines, lectures on agri-business. And so on. Fortunately one of the 4-H leaders knew this and had a Scavenger Hunt for all the kids to do, with questions like "find a recipe for something with blueberries" or "what is the chemical composition of the ACER fertilizer at the ECOGROW booth?" What she didn't mention was how many booths were giving out free pens (39) or how many booths were giving out free note pads (26). We are now the proud recipients of many a free pen as a result of this sharp observation. Not that I had anything to do with it mind you but the twins expected some presents and heck what's wrong with a free pen?

After we'd exhausted the Fun Potential of the AgriShow we were bussed over to a greenhouse business to see how they Did Things. Here is one of the three wood burners we saw. They burn chips from the pine trees decimated up in the interior (by the pine tree beetle - if you don't know about it click here). The trees are chipped and burned and heat the greenhouses. There were piles of chips outside. I didn't realize that the pine beetle-decimated trees were actually used for anything, so this was a pleasant surprise.

It was also oppressively hot in these greenhouses. We dragged around a bit, realizing somewhat belatedly that we were all exhausted and feeling a bit grouchy.
Then the greenhouse owner had us dress in these for the sterile propagation houses: Blue Instant Party Clothes. This livened up the action considerably. Between the teen-age girls moaning about how they "weren't a size XL" to the teen-age boys pulling the hoods up and zipping the zips up so all you could see were their eyes to the almost teen-age boys sniggering heartily at anything and everything particularly if it involved some humiliation for someone, well, it was almost constant bedlam. The greenhouse owner was a bit bemused. Obviously he doesn't hang around teen-agers much.

At one point I remarked to one of the other parents: "I feel like I'm in a Woody Allen movie - don't you feel like you're going down a fallopian tube or something?" but sadly my reference was lost on a Woody Allen Scorner. Sigh. It really DID feel like that though, particularly since the greenhouse guy kept yelling "Hurry up! We're going to be late!" which would cause most of us to start slipping and sliding down the concrete path. And yes, I was dressed like this too. White booties and all. A fetching look.
Here are the Pollinators for the Tomatoes.

They come in a box.

Bumble bees in a box.

Here is one aisle amongst the rows of tomato plants. Monsanto seeds, by the way. You know, the Monsanto that owns about 79% of the seed companies around the world?

Yep, that Monsanto.

All the greenhouses around these parts, unless clearly designated ORGANIC, use Monsanto seeds we were told. I made a mental note to be more careful about greenhouse vegetables in the future. I made a mental note to be more careful about anything vegetable in the future. And to grow more vegetables for the freezer so I don't feel the urge to buy anything in the winter. Not that I do buy much, but still. I might have a fit and buy something for a dinner party. So far it's been 2 years since I've bought a fresh tomato. And counting.

The trip made for some interesting discussion today. The teen-ager was doing his usual "I need to argue with you even though I agree with you" routine and wondering aloud why we worry about GMO seeds. Why we worry about eating foods that have been grown in soil-less mixtures with chemical feeds in sterile environments with boxed bumble bees to pollinate them. Why we care at all about this stuff.  It made for some sobering thinking for me. So I spent the rest of the day out in the garden. Digging up the beds in preparation for the spring. So I can avoid this with a glad heart.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Garden Thursday

Well, it's that time again. On the radio I've been listening to How To Tell If It's Dead, but that isn't really an issue here this winter: it's been too mild. No snow. Very little rain. Hardly any cold, even.

So today, even though I was going to talk about roses, I'm going to do a Walk About in my garden. Avec camera.

Look! The irises are out. And this isn't a lone iris either. There are MORE where this one came from. In some gardens snowdrops are the heralds of spring; in my garden it's irises. Every year I do the same thing: gasp and stare. The colour! The silkiness! The texture! The contrast of yellow and blue and purple! It's so very incredible, isn't it? I bow in wonder and delight.

And here is the striped primula I bought last year. Most of the time I buy these quirky hybrids knowing they won't be around the following year, or if they are they won't look anything like the plant I bought, but this one is, shockingly enough. And because I hardly mulched it, the slugs have barely found it.

Here's another MUST in your garden if you like creep-into-your-heart spring colour: pulmonaria (or lungwort). Whenever I go to the garden centre it's always there, in many guises (variegated, plain, pale blue flowers, dark blue flowers), not to mention prices, but it's a really stalwart spring garden addition. It seems impervious to slugs and bugs; it's always blooming immediately after Christmas, and the flowers are the most delicate shade of blue/purple you can possibly imagine. Oh, and wait, there's more: it turns into a massive ball of bloom of spring AND summer colour. See those speckled leaves? Those sky blue flowers? Now imagine it multiplied by at least 30 times. This is a SOLDIER of a plant. A PRIMA BALLERINA. A WORKHORSE. It performs and then some.

Here's the garlic. Did you plant garlic? I planted this stuff in October, with several of my family members watching me from the deck above (I pretended I was doing an Amusing Cable Gardening Program just so they would all ignore what a tip the inside of my house is and IT WORKED - I even gave away prizes for Best Call In Question). Not that you will care now, but each garlic bulb was nestled in bone meal, kelp meal, and compost, so that it will be a Strong and Stalwart Chunk of Garlic come July. Oddly enough, there is a 3' square where nothing really grew. I haven't figured that out yet. Is it Bad Garlic? Someone digging? Someone peeing (gasp!)? Someone removing my garlic bulbs (Mr Squirrel? Have you anything to say for yourself?)?

Some people are blaming this creature, but I don't think it's him. There would be Clear Marks in that bed, and being the Amazing Man Tracker that I am, I can see no Clear Marks from this animal.

Trust me, this cat is a pig. He scatters dirt to the four winds and then some. I'd know.

On the weekend I transplanted 2 fruit trees (a Cox's Orange Pippin and a Gravenstein) to Better Dwelling Places and 7 blueberry bushes (Northland, Dixie, Earliblue, Reka, Duke) into Even Better Dwelling Places. They were pretty crowded and not looking happy where they were, so I went and tore up way too many vinca vines. I now hate vinca vines. Hate hate hate. Bad vinca. Stupid vinca. Stupid vinca belonging to neighbour. Ugh. Urgh.

Here are the blueberry bushes. Don't they look happy in their happy peaty bog?

Purple Sprouting Broccoli. We eat a lot of broccoli over the winter, but when we found this we all agreed that it was Superior to everything else. It really is: you can eat it raw, cook it, stir fry it, or peel it and use it in a salad. Or do what Dominic does and stand next to it in the garden and hack away at it and chomp chomp chomp your way through the afternoon...
This is most efficiently planted in fall, then left to struggle on its own through the winter. Don't worry - it can and it will. And then, around about February, it'll start growing and lengthening and sprouting little purple buds all over the place. And before you know it it will be 4 feet high and deeply green. And even more deeply delicious. Crunch crunch crunch.

And that, as my friend Martha says, is a Good Thing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monopoly Canada

Hasbro is coming out with a Canadian Monopoly board later this year, and us Canucks get to decide (or so they say...) which cities get to make it onto the board. The twenty cities that receive the most votes will make it onto the board, with two places reserved for a wild card vote.

So, if you want to influence the judges, go here and vote!

In the Absence of Episodes We Make Our Own...

Today was a day like any other. The sun rose through a glittering blue haze. The clouds lingered, awestruck. It was like the cover of a religious music LP, when such things still existed.

And then, a Stranger appeared. A Stranger with wings. He resembled a Clone Trooper, sure, but we weren't fooled. We all knew he was an Intergalactic Time Travellin' Barrel of Trouble. Think CyberMan. With friends.

We climbed into our Tardis, err, I mean, our galvanized sub-atomic particle accelerator. 
With wheels.
We whizzed away. At the speed of sound. And light.

But it was too late.

Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! 

Will we survive? Will the Doctor live through to another episode? Stay tuned...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Garden Thursday

I was so caught up helping the kids roll their Canadian coins, in preparation for our trip down to the Big America, that I forgot to publish my Garden Thursday post! Some takeover I'm managing, eh?  I even had The Grand Reveal ready, too. Not that it's all that exciting, but I did manage to finish it, one yard of drain rock, 12 concrete pavers, a 20' long piece of PVC drainpipe, and a bunch of scrap bricks later. Oh, and let's not forget all that BACK BREAKING LABOUR. Just call me the Hard Labour Queen. HLQ for short.

So here is the finished path. Instead of a long stretch of slippery mud we now have a gravelly space with enough concrete spacers that the wheelbarrow won't get bogged down when it's negotiating the path with a full load. Which is, yesI'mtalkingtoyouRichard, fairly frequently, in answer to your question, which was: "Oh come on, how often do you wheel that thing from the front yard to the back yard with full loads of dirt?" (and if memory serves it was accompanied by a rather skeptical facial expression).

 Here is another view, this one from the deck, after I wetted down the drain rock, because it's quite nice-looking once all that mud and dust is washed off.

I'm impressed that I got the bricks relatively straight. Me and straight lines have a long and complicated history.

 The drain rock was so nice-looking that I decided to yank out the disease-ridden cotoneaster from this spot against the tap and replace it with yet more drain rock. Look at the lovely gray of that rock - and how it sets off the lovely gray of our lovely stucco box. Now there are no more wolf spider dwelling spots to worry me when I have to set up my water timer system this summer.

 In other garden news, we're having such a mild winter here that things are sprouting early. I hope we don't end up with a late cold snap. I was on the back deck the other day and noticed that a little mouse or squirrel had got into my cold frame window and chewed up all my winter lettuces. While I was glumly determining to buy some chicken wire to cover up the back I noticed that the two tarragon plants I'd hoped to transplant before the winter came were sending out sprouts as well. For some reason my rodent friend isn't chewing on the tarragon. Good thing too or I might feel more vengeful. We love tarragon here. It's one of the more versatile herbs for the herb patch: a slight licorice tang and really amazing in a cheese sandwich.

 The miniature irises coming up all over the place. I used to begrudge buying bulbs when we were still renters, because they always seemed to have such a brief lifespan in the garden, but seeing these irises come up each spring, with their crisp and brilliantly purple and yellow blooms blazing in the drab brownness of the post-winter garden, is such a welcome experience that I buy more each year if I can. Funny how one's garden fancies change.

My next project is roses: apothecary roses and old roses. I like roses because they bloom over such a long period of time and the flowers always look so wonderfully atmospheric floating in a glass bowl on the table. Now I want to put in some shrub roses for jelly and a couple of climbers for butterflies and aesthetics. They have such a curious history, too. Someone gave me two David Austin roses last summer and they transplanted so well and look so superior next to my sad and straggly hybrid teas I can't help but want to know more...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Five Days of Sunrises

Using It Up

I am a selective hoarder, and yes, I do cling to that adjective because I don't hoard anything or everything. I am, as I said, selective about it. Just ask Richard, although he's likely to point to some of my more, err, notorious accumulations, like The National Trust: The English Country Town (it looked historical AND useful at the time), or the 30 large, interestingly-speckled rocks we hauled down island from our summer holiday during my speckled-rock obsession (notorious because we all had to haul them up a long, slippery, sandy bank to the van under a very hot August sun). After that I developed a white rock obsession from which the kids still haven't recovered. Or even the many fabric book samples I found in a dumpster when we lived in California, ohhh, maybe 8 years ago...

It's all good stuff but it does pile up, even though we have moved 4 times in the past few years and I do jettison a lot of the more extraneous stuff. Really, I do. So this week I hauled out a few bags of fabric and attempted, in a fit of industry, to utilize some of it. The four fabric samples in the top photo were turned into 18 napkins. It was a bit assembly-line actually, once I got going. I even used slightly mismatching threads just to use up my thread hoard as well.

Now all I have to do is get these two pieces of material turned into a quilt for FDPG before she turns 18 and leaves home...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Garden Thursday

No, I haven't forgotten about my Plan To Dominate the garden podcast world, with neither podcast nor audience, but I did have a terribly busy day today, so it's had to wait until now. Oh, and before I forget, don't forget to click on the Musical Interludes. They are interactive!

Fortunately a lot of today's busyness also involved a rather good thrift store out of town, what with Max and his Very Busy Life (and my role as his chauffeur) and the twins and their insistence that they have some fun too: I had at least 10 minutes of used garden book perusaling (if that isn't a verb then I'm making it one) in between checking for second hand Lego with Dominic and then listening to that very same Dominic (aka Mr Impatient) ask me over and over again why I look at the garden section every single time we go in there. He knows why he goes in; obviously he thinks I have more cryptic reasons. Even with him next to me, sighing heavily, I managed to pick up two positively antediluvian intriguing looking garden magazines: one has a gripping feature on apple trees while the other promises to tell me all about lilacs (I wait with baited breath). We also found another copy of the Lord of the Rings for FDPG to read, mine being so ancient and crumbling it is unlikely to survive her, err, reading habits (late, in bed, flashlight, big pillow). This very same thrift store is where I found a version of this puppy for only $3, as well as an 800 page Reader's Digest compendium for only $4, so I am compelled to haunt the aisles. Compelled. Just in case. You never know, right? Hopefully I won't have my deeply sighing sidekick with me each and every time.

Anyhow, we took our purchases to the front to pay for them and the lady glowered at the 49¢ sticker on one of the garden magazines, glowered at me, glowered at her crony (who looked at me as if I was a hardened criminal) and said, very pointedly, "That's not OUR tag." She then punched 49¢ into the cash register twice with what I thought was rather unnecessary vigour. Obviously she thought I was pulling a Fast One. Yes, my name is Sheila and I buy really old gardening magazines from thrift stores for a fraction of what they are really worth. Shameful, aren't I? One of those magazines was older than my teenager, too.

I am not advocating you get yourself off to thrift stores to search out old gardening magazines, mind you, but some of the articles occasionally show no signs of old age, like the article on apples in the one I got today. Some things don't change much.

Musical Interlude.

Interesting Or Very Necessary Projects

We left our cold and clear weather well behind last week, and now we're back to the usual rain. Rain, rain, rain. It's rather boring, all that rain, mostly because I hate the way it makes the mud cake to my stylin' new red paisley gumboots, but it has led me to my latest Big Garden Project so I won't feel too resentful: a paver-laid path for the side of the house. I would like to get from front to back with the wheelbarrow with a little less smoke and mirrors (or tire boards for the stairs) than I currently employ. Right now it is a little on the difficult side, and has occasionally led to bouts of Extreme Swearing and Painful Bruising, which is why I need to do something before I pass all my colourful vocabulary on to my children (it's always useful to keep something up one's sleeve). This is the side of the house previously known as The Really Boring Side of the House With the Crap Concrete Sidewalk My Wheelbarrow Hates.

I hope you can see the obvious reason for that nickname.

Anyhow, I bought some 1"X 2" cedar strips and some shims to outline the path, then found myself unexpectedly digging a ditch for all the water coming down from the top of the yard, where it meets the yard. Where there is no road-side storm ditch or drain to cope with all that water (sheila says pointedly). If it looks rather crooked it's because of the Hopefully Soon To Be No More chestnut tree and its unruly root system thwarting me. Laying a path like this is not hard, but you should follow a couple of rules that are only in place to ensure that you don't end up redoing it the following year (like I sometimes do).

First, level your project space as much as possible. Use a metal rake or one of those claw-like things. If you are going to put a drainage pipe underneath your path this is the time to do it. What I'll do here is this: measure the diameter of my drain pipe, then dig out enough space to lay a 2" layer of gravel, the pipe, then another 2" layer of gravel. In other places around the garden I've wrapped it all in a layer of landscape fabric, but here I don't think I need to, mostly because the ground will never have grass on it (grass roots get into things). Landscape fabric isn't a fail safe measure, mind you, but it is good for keeping the rocks and pipe in one place, particularly if you are going to have grass growing merrily above the area. Once I've got my pipe properly settled in, I'll shift the soil so it's all level. Then, and this is why I have those cedar strips along the side, I'm going to put down some sand or loamy soil. Tamp that down, then get some large concrete pavers and lay them on top, like a sandwich. I hope it will all be in an attractive and horribly aesthetic fashion, too. I might even have a Reveal (if all goes well).

Plants That Do Interesting Things This Time of Year

There actually are a few things that can add some scent or colour to the Pacific Northwest garden right about now. One of them is Sweet Box. I planted two in the front of the house when we moved here two years ago. They bloomed a little bit (you can see the thin white flowers in my fuzzy photo) but nothing too impressive. Then this year - Yegods! Do they smell good. I was working around the corner on The Really Boring Side of the House With the Crap Concrete Sidewalk My Wheelbarrow Hates yesterday and the scent of them ambled over and smacked me in the face. It was so wildly fabulous I felt slightly dizzy. I realized then and there why they are such a perennial favourite this time of year in the garden centres. Just make sure you don't mistake Box (Buxus) for Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). One is a great topiary subject and the other smells really good.

Witch Hazel is another great garden addition. I was in the garden centre the other day and noticed an especially gorgeous red witch hazel nestled among some dark green leafy viburnums. It looked so tempting I had to leave the store before I bought one (It's worrying but I've noticed that I'm a bit too conducive to suggestion). They come in gold, white, and yellow and some are more scented than others. I don't have any in my garden, sadly. Every so often I think "It's only a matter of time" but then my Second Thoughts sneak in with a "Who are you kidding? You don't have any room for another bloody tree!"

The usual plant in the magazines this time of year is Hellebore. Martha has an article on them in her magazine this month (which, fortunately, someone gave me as a gift subscription so I am not reduced to stealing IT from thrift stores as well). What I like about our hellebore, other than the fact that a good friend of mine gave it to me, is how their blooming period always coincides with Christmas, so I can read The Christmas Rose to the kids and then point it out to them in the back yard afterwards, in one of those cool coincidences of magic us parents love so much.

Then there are all the deciduous shrubs fascinating solely for their interesting branch structure (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) or gorgeous bark colour (dogwoods, coral bark maple see photo). The leaves of this coral bark maple are lime green when they first unfurl in spring. It's a mesmerizing combination.

Finally, resist the urge to prune away all those dead seed heads and bits of plant. The birds use this stuff as supplementary food. I also see a lot of ladybugs crawling around in them on sunny days - I don't know if they overwinter in them or not (we have them overwintering in the house at the moment). Besides, it looks so atmospheric, don't you think?

And even more finally, don't ignore the importance of a good sunrise as a backdrop to your garden. Suddenly all those leaning compost bins, bug-infested trees, and rickety chicken wire fencing structures look poetic, instead of merely prosaic.

 Tune in next week, when we explore the importance of a good watering system.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Orange is the New Green

We came across this, err, commercial on our travels. As someone who loves green, I feel the need to make a rebuttal to this...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Garden Thursday

In the fall our local CBC radio affiliate had, on its afternoon show, a weekly chat segment with a gardener from these parts, a sort of "gentleman farmer" kind of person, although strictly speaking it was a "lady farmer" but I worry about giving random and completely confusing references no one but me will understand so I'll stick with inaccurate but you-get-the-point references to start with. Anyhow, this person came on each week to talk about amusing and educational details about her life out on the land, a small-holding with horses, vegetable gardens, and (I think) chickens. I listened while I made dinner; I like listening to other gardeners,* especially novices in the food production game like myself, but I frequently found myself thinking "Why don't they get local no name gardeners like ME on that show instead of famous writers slash lady farmers?" I was, I freely admit, slightly grumpy about these segments. I might not have several acres out back, complete with horses, goats, hives, and wheat fields, not to mention a Budget or Travel Allowance, but there is a lot of growing going on, and most of it can be made extremely witty, not to mention neatly packaged for radio. 

So then I had the brilliant if I do say so myself and gosh sheila aren't you just the humble one? idea to invent a weekly segment on my blog, where I have a relatively captive audience, and make my own chat show slash garden podcast. Well, except for the fact that you won't be able to podcast it. Or chat with me in real time. But you're captive. And really, for a blog writer, what's not to like about that? (if I could bring myself to use emoticons and punctuation marks for facial expressions I'd insert a smile here just to show you my Genial Garden Host side but I can't bring myself to so I won't. Sorry)

Here goes, then. My first Garden Thursday post. Let's hope it won't be the last...

It's been a rather wet week so far, hasn't it? (sorry if that's completely irrelevant) I'm itching to get out into the garden but it's been a bit on the horribly muddy side out back, so I'm confining myself to other gardening avenues: catalogue persuals and garden centre visits.

Saturday I was wandering around my favourite garden centre, in an attempt to a) escape My Life As A Mother, and b) spend the gift certificates I'd been given, and c) think about gardening despite it being cold, wet, and muddy out. It was right after Christmas, granted, but gosh that place was quiet. Cavernous. Alarmingly empty. No seeds. No bulbs. But, and this is a big but: all the outside shrubs and deciduous plants were at a significant discount. And I, bless my cheap little soul, love a significant discount. Heck, who am I kidding. I love any kind of a discount. That was where I found my new Abeliophyllum distichum. I was sorely tempted by a particularly fabulous Rose of Sharon but three garden centre employees did that "Meh..." shrug/eye roll/grimace when I asked about it, and call me naive but I've learned that the body language of garden centre personnel is a Highly Useful Resource for my Landscaping Plans. Not that I won't get a Rose of Sharon for the garden one day, no no no, but first I'll tour the city and look for the plant in other people's gardens to see how it does, and what sort of conditions it does best in. I want to attract butterflies, bees, and birds to the garden but at the same time I have a distinct weakness for plants that are blue or wild shades of green or are highly-hybridized (and pollenless) oddities. The butterflies know better than to waste their time with those kinds of plants, as do the bees, so I've been working on subduing the Glitzy Gardener side of me every time I'm tempted to buy a bright blue flower bush or some ridiculously hybridized rose. And no, despite what Richard says I am not a drag queen at heart. I merely like the wild, the weird, and the unusually showy. I married him, I tell him, surely that should tell him something.


But I digress.

After that I came home and while the kids were sweeping heaps of leaves out of the carport, screaming wildly at then squishing Wolf Spiders, and restacking the wood, I emptied the last of my stash of soil, in an attempt to shore up the rock garden. These hillside garden beds need frequent applications of soil, particularly over the winter months. I could see some of the bulb tops peeking nakedly through the soil - not good if we get a late freeze. I also did a bit of fruit tree pruning. Some dormant oil spraying. And a little mulching, in which I dumped the last of the mowed leaves Richard the Thoughtful bagged for me all over the front yard bed, because it too was sagging rather ungracefully. (I'm the only one allowed to sag ungracefully around here) Just make sure you don't put mulch too close to the base of the plant; you don't want to encourage bugs to chew or climb, and you don't want the mulch to smother the base and bring on rot.

(Musical interlude)

Before I sign off, here's my Weekly Garden Tip: don't mix those eggshells with your regular compost. Save them, dry them out (I put mine on a cookie sheet that sits on the bottom rack in the oven), and store them for the spring, when you can dump the lot into the food processor. Pulverize somewhat, leaving lots of dangerously sharp edges, then sprinkle the resulting crumbley mess thickly around your tender new transplants as protection against the slugs and snails.

Even better, it'll compost into your soil afterwards. No chemical slug bait can make such a boast.

Here's the container I keep mine in (thanks to a friend). If you thoroughly dry the shells before storing them, they don't smell, either. And every time they threaten to overwhelm the container, get a wooden spoon and mash them down.

I am nothing if not terribly high tech.

(End of transmission)

* If you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do, check out KUOW's Tuesday Greendays Gardening Panel. I podcast it because it comes on smack dab in the middle of the school day, but it's on live as well.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Good Bye Doctor

We spent the better part of today watching several Dr Who episodes, including - sob - The End of Time. It was the perfect way to inch ourselves back into that thing known as The School Day. I wallowed my way very wetly through a box of Kleenex while the kids tried to ignore me and my pathos and listen carefully over the sounds of my sobs, because you always know there will be some geeky-fan lines you don't want to miss.

"Did you just salute me?" 

Not quite as good as "Are you my mummy?" or "Hey! Who turned out the lights?!" but still fun.

We also watched last year's Christmas special, with the lovely and charming Miss Hartigan and those wild and crazy CyberMen. It wasn't on the CBC last year, for reasons unknown to me and the rest of the Canadian Dr Who fan club. No, instead we were left to view it through other methods. Honestly, you idiotic CBC executives, you really don't know how to run a decent television network do you? Shame on you for putting such dreck on your New Years lineup but scorning Dr Who. No wonder you're losing the audience on your television network. Go on, ask Rick Mercer - I'm sure he can tell you what an obsolete corner you are painting yourself into.

But I digress.

We also watched Planet of the Dead, where FDPG delighted beheld someone after her own heart: the Lady Christina De Souza, cat burglar extraordinaire. Not that FDPG wants to be a cat burglar, but boy did she relate to all that "I can do it just as cleverly as you can, and maybe even better!" business. I found myself wishing I had his long coat. That is some long coat. I'd even take the side burns...

Look at that charming geeky perfect Doctor. What will we do without him? I know I said pretty much the same thing after Christopher Eccleston left but gosh I will miss this Doctor. Max, in his new guise as Somewhat Uncomfortable With All Emotion Teen Boy, reminded me that I said as much last time and might very well say the SAME THING next time, whereupon I reminded him that we both sobbed our way through that last regeneration whereupon he rolled his eyes and said that he was just scratching his eyes and otherwise doesn't remember much whereupon I rolled my eyes and said "I love the Doctor and true love lasts a lifetime" and that was that. The twins said nothing, not having witnessed the phenomenon known as Dr Who before but at that exact moment in time completely and utterly blown away by all its amazingness.

Oh, and have you seen these commercials from BBC1? I hadn't. Sigh.

Christmas Presents Redux

This post is probably a bit premature (I should really be bringing this out in around, oh, say, December) but what with everyone around me making 1001 lists and New Years Resolutions (and me not doing that and feeling sort of pathetic because I am so pathetic at keeping lists and being organized and whenever I actually make a list the next day I think "what the hell was I thinking? that's a completely idiotic idea") I thought I'd think back on what worked well this holiday, in terms of Gifts and Things Made.

Good Things Column

First, the kids made more gifts this year than they ever had. Max made Free Labour Coupons for my parents and Interesting Candle Holders out of old birch logs, while the twins made bookmarks that they decorated themselves and laminated, thus rendering them Super Dooper Long Lasting Objets D'Art.

Next, we tried some new recipes. One being homemade turtles. Look at all that rich, meltingly smooth chocolate. The only downside to these was that they didn't last long. People kept eating them.

Something I find incredibly handy for Mass Baking Incidents: save the long cardboard rolls from foil or parchment paper containers. When making large batches of slice-and-bake cookies, but not wanting to bake everything all at once, halve the dough and roll some of it up on a piece of parchment, then twist the ends shut. Insert that roll into your cardboard tube and place it in the freezer (but not before placing a piece of masking tape with LIME WAFERS or whatever kind of cookie it is on the outside just in case you end up with 10 rolls and no identifying marks, ahem). Keeps the roll round.

The lollipop molds from Michaels work really really well. And they are usually marked down to $1.99 mid-December. This ensures that I will buy them, cheap soul that I am. They will make a return appearance next year. I wish I'd taken a photo of the white chocolate snowflake lollipops I made (then wrapped in Christmas tree-imprinted clear wrap bags for some of the kids we know). They look (dare I admit this?) really impressive for the little amount of work they took.

Give gardeners gifts they can use! I come from a long line of gardeners, so it's an easy thing to get new gloves, or tools, or even pruners as gifts, but this year I went to my feed store around the corner and got something a little different: an Almost Indestructable Bucket (with a hook handle and a flat side in case you hang it on the wall) and several bags of my new favourite gift: my own Hand Mixed Handy Dandy Almost-But-Probably-Not-Quite-Organic Fertilizer (that's it there in the photo - isn't it luscious looking?). Besides, most people who have been gardening for a while already have tools and pruners, no? And who doesn't need mass quantities of fertilizer? My other plant food option is a gallon jug of fish emulsion but this dry mix seemed a little more, err, festive. And less likely to stink up the room in case it got opened.

Things To Change Column

Ditch the baking that doesn't perform. Or takes too much time to produce. Buy more dried cherries when at Trader Joe's.

Use those hard plastic coloured adhesive page markers to mark recipes in all Martha Stewart/Canadian Living Holiday Baking issues. Then one does not have to leaf through each and every issue to find that one recipe for Macadamia Biscotti at midnight on the day before the event at which they are due, whilst simultaneously telling husband to go to bed it's all okay, and please leave out the scotch bottle because a) it's late, and b) it's late and where the hell is that stupid recipe?

Get the Mary's Advent Spiral ready before Advent actually starts.

Make specific plans for homemade gifts for relatives before the 23rd of December. Don't ask why, just trust me on this one.

Do not ever, repeat, ever, purchase No Name tape again. Ever.

Remember that your eldest child's birthday is right after Christmas. Right. After. Christmas. 

Buy the snowflake-patterned clear wrap when you see it, not on Christmas Eve when you have suddenly remembered that you need it for all those Bath Fizzies you just made and hope to distribute in less than 12 hours. (Note to self: remember not to spritz so much water on the Bath Fizzie mixture because the last time you did they all fizzed up and over the edge of the molds and you got really fed up and threw the whole batch off the deck and then everyone wondered what the weird crusty purple stuff in the garlic bed was)

Stop the children from taking video after video of the cat sleeping, the cat preening his capacious girth, the cat staring into space, the cat licking his bum (which can only lead to very rude nicknames), and other equally hysterical antics, otherwise there will be no battery juice left for less, err, gripping situations like, say, Christmas dinner with relatives and opening gifts. 

Finally, when the VCR dies and you decide to take it all apart on the living room floor in a fit of "but I really need to tape that episode of Midsomer Murders because the dinner we are going to will be deadly and I'll need something to come home to as consolation" remember very carefully where you left all those little teeny tiny bits of metal and screws. Please. For all our sakes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter Gardening

Last winter we had so much snow I hardly did anything in the garden from early December until almost mid-February. I went out periodically and tried to avoid looking at the soggy ground. Snow mixed with mud. Snow mixed with moldy leaves. The mushy places where the snow weighed heavily on the plants. The mashed fuchsias. The sad looking roses. The cracked limbs of the mock orange. The broken screen on my cold frame, where I once caught the cat laying in the sun (which is why it broke in the first place, sigh). It was depressing. Turned out though that all my angst was for naught: I only lost one plant. The snow might only come here when the weather is unusually cold but I always forget that it insulates as well. It's the wet, freezing weather that really kills everything.

This year December was snowless but blessedly rainfree: sunny days; brilliant blue and rose sunsets; crystal clear perfect-for-star-watching night skies. The kids might have groused about the lack of snow but I didn't. I'm okay with no snow. A few years living on the east coast ( and driving beaters with studded snow tires and plug in radiators) cured me of the idea that snow is romantic and picturesque and perfect for Christmas time.

Now it seems that we are back to the usual wet weather. Periods of rain followed by periods of clear skies then more periods of rain. Boring weather in many ways, but great gardening weather, because it's so balmy.

Today saw me finally finishing up the fruit tree pruning. I'm trying to rehabilitate the two old apple trees that were on this property when we moved here. One had been pollarded so many times it looked like one big witch's broom, so I finally gave in and sawed off some of the topmost knots. Now it looks rather tragic. Not in the Jane Austen Heroine Tragic vein, sadly. More in the I Feel Unwell And It Shows vein. And even more sadly, one tree has cankers and the other has some weird scabby bark-splitting problem. I am loathe to do more than prune and spray them with dormant oil though. I might be histrionic but I am not extreme.

I went to the Garden Centre yesterday, with the last of my birthday gift cards. I originally went in for an edger, because I love me a good edge, but when I saw that there were shrubs out in the back lot I abandoned my Quest for the Perfect Edger and concentrated instead on the shrubs. Do I get that Better Than a Mallow Rose of Sharon? (no, said the garden person, they aren't very hardy here, stick with the mallows even if they are invasive and droopy) Do I get the Super Amazing Yellow and No Doubt Highly Fragrant Witchhazel? (no, said Sheila's wallet, it's too bloody expensive) Do I get the Bramley apple tree? (no, said Sheila's Evil Twin, you need another bloody apple tree like you need a hole in the head) Do I get the Allspice Bush? (no, said the garden person, they aren't very hardy here either) Do I dare ask aloud why garden centres stock such unhardy items? (no, said Sheila, you don't want to totally alienate this nice garden person)

So instead I got something called Abeliophyllum distichum. It's also known as White Forsythia but it's not really a forsythia (why do they do this? I'm easily confused at the best of times). Apparently it's wildly, crazily fragrant in the spring, even more so than the witchhazels, and is otherwise a nice blue-green shrub. And now it's sitting next to the ancient already-in-the-yard true forsythia, which is no doubt asking the upstart why it's called a forsythia when it isn't.