• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Grow where you are planted

Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.

We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.

And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…

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Summer snapshots

A bit late, but a few photos from my summer. No hail this year for the first time in three years, thank goodness, but very dry and lots of hungry voles.

The garden and a number of my containers were full of sunflowers, none of which I planted — all came thanks to Laura’s birds and the birdfeeders full of sunflower seeds,

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The boys’ new projects. The goal is lamb chops,

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Lilac season

Laura took these for me the other day. The lilacs are finally in bloom.

I checked some old posts and was surprised to realize most of these we planted seven years ago, in May 2006; I wrote then that “Most of the little saplings don’t look like much, especially the lilac, larch, and chokecherries, which resemble nothing more than twigs stuck in the ground.” Some of the lilacs, and all of the larch, tower over us now, but the lilacs are covered with blossoms, so I can get to them easily with my snips.

You could give me any plant in the world, but the two to which I have the most visceral reaction, the two which say spring to me, are tulips and lilacs. Though clematis is now up there too, one of the first plants to bloom in the garden, especially with the success of Clematis “Blue Bird” (a Canadian hybrid), which I rescued from a Canadian Tire last year mid-summer and which is doing very well, and quite pretty.

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Springing forth

The leaves on the trees are finally unfurling.  No, not all of them, but lots, and we finally have a haze of green around us.  The perennials are coming up nicely. I know because at 6:30 this morning I heard loud mooing much too close to the house and there were several cows and their calves who had squeezed through a hole in the fence and made it down to the pasture by the house where the fence, naturally, wasn’t closed.  So after shooing them back through the fence and closing it, I did a brief tour of the raised beds.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how warm it was this morning compared to other mornings, when the temperatures have been around freezing.

The greenhouse is about an hour away from being finished and pulled by tractor to its new home behind the house.  Tom and his helpers built it in front of the garage so it was easy to unload building supplies and for an easy power supply.  On Mother’s Day afternoon, we dropped the kids off at rehearsal (the performances, finally, are Thursday-Saturday for “Willy Wonka”) and then headed to the recycling center, where next to the plastics bin we discovered several large stacks of enormous black plastic nursery pots for trees, perfect for growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants in the greenhouse.  A very nice Mother’s Day present, though not nearly as nice as the breakfast in bed (heart-shaped pancakes, with bacon), flowers, greenhouse, nursery gift certificate, handmade cards, and seven-course meal.

Because I cannot do anything properly without reading about it, I have been reading my Bookcloseouts treasure, Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger, ordered before I realized I would have my own greenhouse to play in anytime soon. Ms. Kassinger details field trips to Logee’s and Glasshouse Works, where I spent far too much money as a single girl in the early nineties, though unfortunately exclusively by mail order and never in person; in fact, I used to keep the catalogues by the bed, and remember them well — the Logee’s catalogue was small and slim, and fit into a jacket pocket for easy subway reading, and the one from GW was large and floppy, on newsprint.  Have also ordered the following, from Amazon.ca and Chapters:

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses; I’ve long been a fan of EC and have been looking for an excuse to buy his latest.

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion by Shane Smith, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt; as soon as I saw Ms. Leggitt’s lovely cover, I knew this was the book for me, since I am planning on putting a comfortable chair near the door for surveying my new domain.

The Greenhouse Gardener by Anne Swithinbank, which also goes by the title The Conservatory Gardener, and which I had to buy from Book Depository because it’s no longer in print in Canada though apparently so in the US. Also ordered from BD, Debo Devonshire’s Wait for Me! because I couldn’t wait any longer, but sadly not Miss Buncle Married, which I have a feeling sold like hot cakes upon its recent Persephone reissue.

Am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Tom determined that the days are nowhere near long enough, and so hired a drywaller to finish the walls in the new dining area.  The fellow has been here for three days, and the sanding has begun, so the plastic is up and the dust is flying. When I drop off the kids for today’s full dress rehearsal, I’ll swing by the paint store for chips.  I’m horribly consistent, so I am planning to pick the same yellow as the rest of the kitchen, and we’ll repaint the kitchen walls and also the cabinets (which will be the same cream color I chose 12 years ago, too). The kids and I will prime and paint, and I have to choose casing for the windows too.  Then flooring, and Tom was even talking about the Ikea base cabinets for the east and west sides of the room (there will be base cabs on either side of the table, and shelves above them; sort of a modified Welsh dresser, for dining room as well as home school accoutrements), so we may well have a trip to Ikea in our future shortly. Which is good, because I think I would like these solar lights for the greenhouse:

I’ll take some pictures of the new greenhouse and the dining room as soon as I can find a camera I am able to use, and a cable.  For all the cameras and cables floating around the house, none of them seem to be mine any more.

Also yesterday, we had our semi-annual home school facilitator visit, who managed to make me feel good, and satisfied, about our efforts even though I have been managing estate matters and a business in NYC more than home schooling my children. Since Laura will be starting Grade 9 next year, we talked a bit about high school, though in Alberta at least it doesn’t start until Grade 10. I’ll be going by what I’m used to, which is 9-12.  And I am going to try to remember to be guided by the Gilbert Highet quote, also over there on the left, from his book, The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning,

The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning.

Finally, since this post feels rather naked without some pictures, I’ll add the ones from Daniel’s 12th birthday celebration the other week — his “hamburger” cupcakes made by his loving but not particularly crafty mother, who was egged on by Sheila, who does this sort of a thing at the drop of a hat and very well too. Surprisingly, though, they turned out quite well.  Unsurprisingly, I forgot all about taking any pictures until there were only three left, and of course they were the least successful of the bunch.  But you can get the general hamburger-ness of them,

You can see the original version here.

Summer garden tour

In 16 years, I haven’t had the same gardening weather two years in a row.  This year we’ve had very strange weather, first quite dry, which has been standard for the past long while, but then quite wet (though not as wet as Saskatchewan, thank goodness), and some very warm days and fairly cool nights.  Which has all resulted in some things growing like gangbusters, but other things rather  more slowly than in previous years.  I’m as confused as the plants.  The carrots took forever come up (though I didn’t have to seed them three times, as so many of us had to do last year), but they’re already considerably larger than at this time last year.  Apologies for the wonky light, which is different in almost each picture, which I took at various times of day beginning several weeks ago and ending today.  I’m putting these up for me for next year and also for my mother, so she can see what I spend most of my day doing (not including cutting dead branches off shelterbelt trees and running to town for baler parts).

My dipladenia, which spends fall through early spring indoors,

A mimulus,

Behold, papyrus on the prairies! An experiment this year, a small water garden.  Last year I noticed the nursery was selling plastic baskets already planted with water plants, and was intrigued. This year, I succumbed. The garden seems to be happy and doing well because the one plant is blooming with lovely yellow flowers,

Some of my many pansies,

My rose starting to bloom last week; I think told Sheila it’s the Explorer rose, Alexander Mackenzie, but now that it’s in full bloom, I think it’s Explorer David Thompson; it’s my Alexander Mackenzie coming back slowly from a bad winter kill, down to about four inches,

Mr. Thompson just before bursting into bloom,

My ornamental rhubarb has never, in all of its five or six years, looked like this — it has never put out such flower stalks, or been so tall.  And until this year it was always more horizontal than vertical.  I like the leaves on the stalks, which rather remind me of flying birds.  Here’s Davy with the rhubarb one evening last week,

I took this picture of just the stalks the week before,

Poppies everywhere,

I can’t for the life of me remember the name of this perennial, which is growing under my nicest peony, and I can’t find my tag (though the writing is probably faded anyway, drat).  Sheila, do you know?  It’s one of my favorite plants, easy to grow, lovely to look at, goes with everything, and fairly uncommon (which of course is why I can’t remember its name at the moment). The flowers look like little drawstring pouches,

Peony and mystery flower,

My other peony plant, with blooms just opening today,

The columbines, which seem to be thriving with our weather.  Some of the older plants seem to be a riot of blooms,

The simple, elegant white columbines square off against the gaudy, two-tone fuchsia hussies,

Some recently planted lettuces and dill,

The irises several weeks ago, at the height of their bloom.  They’re gone now,

My strawberry beds, on the south side of the garage (tomatoes in pots in front), newly mulched with chipped trees,

My new experiment this year — red-painted “rock strawberries” to discourage the robins,

A day’s pickings,

Earlier in the spring, I needed an extra plant stand while potting up my plants, and found the following, which Tom had rescued from garbage pile behind the supermarket; once I removed the signs/posters on the side and front for all the breads, it was quite spiffy. And it’s on wheels!

Spring scenes

I uploaded a bunch of pictures from our camera to the computer before the end of May and thought I’d post some here so you can see what we’ve been up to around here.  Most of the pictures were taken by Davy.

Laura’s rabbit finally, after the fourth try, had a successful litter of babies,

After a few weeks, their eyes opened and the fur came in,

Our cat commune, with several mothers sharing several litters of kittens, born a few weeks apart,

A boy and his kitten,

Bait and switch

Just one reason why we farm organically: “Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds”, from last week’s New York Times.

Daniel, who turned 11 the other week, is delighted this year to be old enough to drive the big John Deere tractor to cultivate the fields.

We’re off later this morning to pick up our shelterbelt tree order to plant around our fields.  This year, though, it’s only 200+ rather than 2,000+, to replace some of the trees the deer have eaten and trampled.  And luckily for me, the shelterbelt tree pickup warehouse is near a wonderful greenhouse…

Glowing embers

Elspeth Thompson first came to my attention several years ago through her writings about the environment, self-sufficiency, and ethical living in The Guardian and about gardening in The Telegraph.  I was captivated by her idea to turn two railway cottages into a cottage — could anything be more charmingly English? — her photographs, love of poetry, and by the way, as someone at The Telegraph noted, she found the ethereal in the everyday.  She had a wonderful blog mostly about the railway cottage adventure, Off the Rails but with poems, pictures, and other bits and bobs, and a very new gardening blog started only last month, Gardening Against the Odds, where she wrote about unlikely gardens in unpromising places.  Elspeth Thompson could make a stone in a desert sprout leaves, and she could write about it enchantingly. I began to seek out her books, Urban Gardener and A Tale of Two Gardens, collections of her Telegraph columns; The Wonderful Weekend Book: Reclaim Life’s Simple Pleasures, which just came out in paperback.  And I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Homemade: Gorgeous Things to Make with Love co-authored with Ros Badger, which I want to get for Laura’s summer birthday.  Ms. Thompson sparkled so much through her writing that I can only imagine what it must have been like to know her.

It was catching up at her blog yesterday, when I really should have been packing or cleaning, that I learned the terribly sad news of her death on March 25th from a note by her husband Frank Wilson, who wrote,

It is with the deepest sadness that I must tell you that my beautiful and beloved wife Elspeth died on Thursday 25th March aged 48.

She brought her family and friends so much happiness during her short life and she loved to share some of the things that brought her happiness through her writing. She was loving, warm, wonderful and generous and she will be missed by many.

According to the obituary in The Telegraph, “In recent weeks … she had been suffering from an extreme depression; she took her own life last Thursday.”

Several years ago, Elspeth Thompson was one of the last writers to interview Anita Roddick before the latter’s sudden and untimely death. From that interview,

“The most exciting time is now!” [Anita Roddick] declared, as we prepared to leave. And it was easy to believe that, of ourselves as well as her, as we sped down the drive. It is lined with chestnut trees – some ancient, some planted when Roddick moved in.

Typically impatient, she tried to stop the designer planting small trees: “I’ll be dead before they’re fully grown!” He persuaded her that they would grow quickly. What a great sadness that she will never see that happen.

I’m so very saddened to think of Elspeth Thompson’s death, especially in the spring, with her garden waking up and waiting for her.  In her first, and only, blog post at Gardening Against the Odds, she wrote on March 7,

Why do we garden? And why does the passion with which we garden so often seem to be in inverse proportion to the conditions in which we do it? This is a question on which I often ponder while weeding my seaside garden or cycling down London’s sooty, smelly Brixton Road. This last month, three instances of what I call “gardening against the odds” have made me ponder even more. Number one is a balcony in a concrete council block that I pass on my bike ride into the centre of town. Every summer, this tiny, unprepossessing space – it can’t be more than 6 x 4ft – and overlooking a busy road – is a riot of sweetcorn and sunflowers. I’ve never once seen the owner, but like to fantasise that it’s one of the many local residents who came over from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, for whom beans and corn in the back yard mean independence. Anyway, it does cheer me up as as I ride past.

The second is a roadside verge down near the south coast, in the village where we spend most of our weekends. On a turning off the busy sea road into a modern housing estate, someone has taken the trouble to plant a narrow strip of “no-man’s land” with bearded iris, sisyrinchiums, white astrantia and low-growing grasses and campanulas. It’s such a beautiful piece of planting, I’m surprised it doesn’t cause traffic accidents. And it seems to me all the more beautiful for it being completely selfless – it reminds me of that old hippy tenet to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”.

The last instance, and one it makes me sad to write about, concerns the father of a close friend of mine, who recently died from cancer. Some weeks ago, having just been told the worst by the hospital, he became agitated that he had not been able to order and sow seeds of the balsam flowers (Impatiens balsamina) that he and his wife have always loved to grow in their garden. You could call it displacement anxiety, but I could understand this gnawing concern about his favourite seeds, which were no longer offered by the mail order company that he habitually used. Sensing the comfort he would have in knowing the garden would be full of these sweet-smelling flowers all summer, even if he might not be there to see them. I helped to track down the seeds, he sowed them and a few weeks after his death his widow sent me a small tray of seedlings to plant in my own garden.

So what is this human urge to garden – to fill our living space, no matter how small – with living plants; to embark on this passionate collaboration with nature, however seemingly inauspicious the circumstances? After 20 years of travelling to write about gardens, it is by no means just the great and grand gardens that remain in my memory. If anything, I remember all the more vividly the hundreds of tiny patches – on strips of rooftops, sun-baked shingle, even the tops of narrow boats or travellers’ converted buses – all conceived and tended with the deepest love and care. I remember the nonogenarian who was still planning (and did, in fact finish) an ambitious water cascade in his garden in Oxfordshire; the front garden fashioned from blue and white painted breeze blocks and car-tyre containers in rural Barbados; the miniature Versailles behind a modern housing estate in Holland; the woman who raises homegrown vegetables, including 20 types of basil, on a tiny roof terrace in Chelsea.

It is in honour of these and all the many other “gardeners against the odds” that I am planting out John Bloom’s balsam in my garden this afternoon.

And that, years later, I am beginning this blog.

Would that she had been able to continue living, gardening, blogging.  I’ll end here with the poem Elspeth Thompson posted this past New Year’s Eve, “Twenty Blessings” by Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark,

Twenty Blessings
by Thomas A. Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.
May luck go with you from hill to sea.
May you stand against the prevailing wind.
May no forest intimidate you.
May you look out from your own eyes.
May near and far attend you.
May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.
May you have milk, cream, substance.
May your actions be effective.
May your thoughts be affective.
May you will both the wild and the mild.
May you sing the lark from the sky.
May you place yourself in circumstance.
May you be surrounded by goldfinches.
May you pause among alders.
May your desire be infinite.
May what you touch be touched.
May the company be less for your leaving.
May you walk alone beneath the stars.
May your embers still glow in the morning.

Blessings on Elspeth Thompson, her husband and young daughter.  May they always be surrounded by goldfinches.

A peach tree grows near Brooklyn

but perhaps not for much longer.  In Friday’s New York Times, Susan Dominus writes,

Close to 40 years ago, Michael Goldstein, then a young dad, rented the top floor of a building on the corner of Broome and Mercer Streets, and plunked a sandbox and kiddie pool on the roof. Such was the humble beginning of what would eventually become an elaborate, fantasyland garden, complete with convincing-looking synthetic grass, peach, apple and cherry trees, blueberry bushes, and Adirondack chairs nestled among the fragrant boughs.

Long before green roofs were hot [GreenRoofs.org], long before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared his goal to plant one million trees [MillionTreesNYC] across the five boroughs, Mr. Goldstein was doing his part to green New York with his 2,500-square-foot aerie atop the ninth floor.

Until now, Mr. Goldstein’s garden has been governed mostly by the quick-changing whims of the seasons. This week, his birch tree is losing its leaves, and his apple tree has been bearing sweet, mild fruit. The seasons may be intractable masters, but Mr. Goldstein, now 71, has come to expect their tyranny. Much harder to accept: that a piece of paper pinned to a door should govern the fate of the small ecosystem that he considers an extension of his home.

In July, Mr. Goldstein, who runs a merchandising business from a small, sunny office mounted on his roof, found a troubling notice from the City Buildings Department on his building’s front door. From a roof nearby, the notice read, visual inspection revealed “small housing structures built on top of this roof,” along with other concerns, including “foliage resembling a small forest.”The building was not code-compliant, the notice went on to say, and the owner would be required to provide an engineering report documenting the structural soundness of the roof.

Then Mr. Goldstein received a letter in the mail, dated Aug. 28, from the bank that bought the building when its previous owner went bankrupt. The bank was terminating his lease to the roof. He would have until the end of September to deconstruct Eden and return the roof to its natural state: black tar, the kudzu of urban surfaces everywhere.

It is no small thing to plant and maintain foliage resembling a small forest in New York City — it requires two hours of watering a day, said Mr. Goldstein, who pays $1,700 a month in rent for the roof. He never leaves town in the summer, because a day or two of arid heat would take too heavy a toll.

Nor would it be a small thing to remove said small forest through the building’s cramped elevator, to disassemble a living, photosynthesizing community. Mr. Goldstein said he has told officials at the bank that he would hire an engineer to test the soundness of the roof, and remove whatever weight was deemed problematic. But he said he has been given no leeway, just orders to remove years of history and a space that is considered home not just to him and his neighbors, but to the two mockingbirds and three robins that feed off the fruit, and to an owl that occasionally surprises them with a visit.

Read the rest of the article here.

From the website for Mayor Bloomberg’s MillionTreesNYC program (emphases mine):

MillionTreesNYC, one of the 127 PlaNYC initiatives, is a citywide, public-private program with an ambitious goal: to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade. By planting one million trees, New York City can increase its urban forestour most valuable environmental asset made up of street trees, park trees, and trees on public, private and commercial land — by an astounding 20%, while achieving the many quality-of-life benefits that come with planting trees.The City of New York will plant 60% of trees in parks and other public spaces. The other 40% will come from private organizations, homeowners, and community organizations.

How does the city plan Getting to a Million Trees? With, among other things, “homeowner outreach”:

The Parks Department and NYRP [New York Restoration Project] will introduce public education campaigns that highlight the economic and health benefits associated with trees. Neighborhood residents will be invited to participate in tree planting workshops, join community-based stewardship networks, participate in volunteer tree planting days, and most importantly register their newly planted trees online.

As a result of this new comprehensive tree planting approach, neighborhoods throughout New York City will see their streets, parks and public spaces, business districts and front yards transformed into beautiful green landscapes-providing New York City families with the positive benefits associated with urban trees.

Can you think of a better community steward than Mr. Goldstein, whose neighborhood has benefited from his trees and plantings for almost 40 years? By the way, Mr. Goldstein and his wife, and other NYC rooftop gardeners, were profiled by The Times 10 years ago, too.

From the MillionTrees page on NYC’s Urban Forest:

Our trees and green spaces are essential to life in New York City.

Our urban forest totals over 5 million trees and 168 species. It can be found throughout the city along streets and highways, in neighborhood playgrounds, backyards and, community gardens, and even along commercial developments. There are 6,000 acres of woodlands in parks alone!

Trees in such a dense urban environment mean two things: people can directly benefit from them in their day-to-day lives (shade and cleaner air), but also trees must contend with a host of challenges that all city-dwellers face:

Competition for open space in the City is fierce, as residential and commercial developments reduce existing and potential tree habitat. Between 1984 and 2002 alone, New York City lost 9,000 acres of green open space to competing land uses.

Environmental and physical factors challenge street, yard, and woodland trees throughout the City. Construction damage, invasive species, soil compaction and degradation, drought, flooding, air pollution, vandalism, and pests, such as the Asian longhorned beetle, all impact the urban forest.

(Other challenging city pests include lawyers, banks, and city bureaucrats.)

 … MillionTreesNYC will bring thousands of trees to streets, parks, and forests throughout the City. In addition to adding trees to the urban forest, MillionTreesNYC will raise the profile of trees to the general public so all New Yorkers not only benefit but also contribute. Together, we can create a greener, greater NYC.

Paging MillionTreesNYC, and Mayor Bloomberg too…

Back to school goodies

I’m slowly, very very slowly catching up with some of my blog reading (and I have to admit I’ve been choosing the blogs with less to read and more pretty things to look at, because it’s faster and I don’t get as involved).

One of my favorite design blogs is Jessica Jones’s How About Orange*, where I found the following goodies:

* Free printable bookmarks, designed and offered by Sharon Rowan at lemon squeezy

* Free printable lists and recipe cards, designed by Erin Vale.  Includes a To Do list, Groceries To Buy list, HoneyDew list, and several recipe cards (with and without birds).  You can find all of Erin’s freebies here.

* Free printable calling cards (which you can also use as gift tags or place cards) at Creature Comforts, designed by Susan Connor

Thanks to Jess and all the designers for their talent and for sharing with the rest of us.  By the way, you can find all of the free downloads Jess comes across here at her blog.

* How about orange indeed, since one of my more successful container gardening ideas this summer was a chartreuse green tin pail, found at the local Bargain Shop in the spring filled with orange marigolds and hot pink verbena.  I had one pail on each of the deck steps, and they made me smile every time I went up and down the stairs this summer.

Dipping a toe

… back into blogging after what has turned out to be a two-month sabbatical.  No apologies, no regrets.

It has been a marvelous summer, and at the moment we’re marveling that, here on the prairies six hours north of Montana, not only is summer still hanging on but we’re having a heat wave —  high 20s Celsius, with a forecast 33 C for Thursday.  The farmers’ crops are are drying in the fields, but the weather is perfect for the tomatoes and peppers as long as I can keep the water coming.  And it’s getting dark now disturbingly early, just after eight o’clock.

Our own crops are harvested, such as we could this year.  After we finished cutting and baling the alfalfa for hay, we cut and bale our barley crop early, several weeks ago, for greenfeed, instead of combining the grain. The boys are out as I type, with the water trailer, giving the shelterbelt trees a good soaking, and weeding the rows.

Speaking of the shelterbelt, in early July we took our first ever summer vacation, a whopping two-and-a-half days through Saskatchewan.  Our main destination was the shelterbelt tree center at the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Indian Head, SK, which holds an open house every summer.  It’s the first time in the four or five years since we’ve started planted trees that we’ve been able to make it, mainly because of the drought which meant the hay wasn’t ready yet for cutting.  We attended seminars, took a tour of the center, watched demonstrations of the equipment — including the where-have-you-been-all-my-farming-life Weed Badger, which we are thinking would mean an end to endless weeding — and went home with all sorts of goodies, including notepads, water bottles, posters, and more little trees to plant. The town of Indian Head not only has a lovely ice cream parlor on Main Street, but has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses, and beautifully tended gardens, on well-treed streets I’ve ever seen in a prairie town. We also stopped at Moose Jaw for a tour of the Tunnels and (even better) the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre at the edge of town, where we met and handled George, the ambassador owl, fed grasshoppers to some others, and were able to buy very inexpensive owl pellets for dissection.  Next stop was Rouleau aka Dog River for the kids’ sake, though admittedly we were about two years late with that one.  On to Regina, where we managed to make a 6 pm tour of the legislature building and afterwards strolled through the lobby of the Hotel Saskatchewan since Laura has inherited from her mother and grandmother a love of grand old hotels.

Various other goings-on since my last post, but not in any sort of order (not much for pictures though, because either the camera hates the computer or vice versa and I can’t figure out which or why):

— Tom directed the kids to take the majority of the new-crop kittens to the fair, to Old MacDonald’s barn where they would be adopted. Only to turn into a softie when at said barn said kids discovered rabbits.  Laura asked first — “Dad, could I have a rabbit please?” But instead of a direct “No”, Tom mumbled something about having to make sure she’d do all her other chores first, etc. Which sounded, to Laura’s ears (and to mine) very much like “Yes”.  Which is all the boys needed to hear.  Which is why we now have two bunnies, Verbena and Claudia, happily munching on carrot tops, kohlrabi leaves, and other garden scraps.

— The rest of the time at the fair was equally exciting.  All three kids showed pens of chickens, their calves (on what turned out to be an exceedingly hot day), won prizes, spent two days riding the rides on the midway, showed off their handiwork at the exhibit hall (Laura displayed an example of handwriting, flowers, her quilling, and other things I know I’m forgetting; the boys displayed Lego creations, including Davy’s manure spreader made out of bricks, as well as first-prize winning birdhouses, one shaped like a grain elevator, and other assorted items; and all three and Tom displayed pint sealers of threshed grain, and sheaves of grain and forage).  We all ate homemade pie from the United Church booth and drank lemonade, and watched the show on the grandstand with good friends who came in from out of town to take in the festivities. And, as usual, we brought home the chicks hatched out at the incubator display.

— The kids spent the latter part of the summer getting ready for children’s day at the Farmer’s Market in town, when anyone under 14 can get a table for free, instead of the usual $10.  The boys decided to take what they learned from making my birthday present, a plant cart made from an old barbecue (I had seen the idea in the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith magazine, and kept reminding the boys that it would make a dandy Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday present), and turn it into a business.   The first project they did with Tom’s supervision and help, and then they knew enough to set out on their own.

— Davy fractured his wrist in early August, jumping off a swing at a friend’s house.  His first injury in six or so years of professional swing jumping.  But the new doctor in town said all he needed was a splint and an ace bandage for three weeks, which was very easy to manage, especially for showers and baths. The splint and bandage just came off, and the wrist seems to be as good as new.

— Tom’s aunt and uncle in town took off for a 10-day vacation, telling us we could pick all of their raspberries.  One of the  most delicious presents we’ve ever received.  I went in every other day for an hour and a half of picking, and by the time they returned we had eaten as many fresh raspberries, and raspberry crisps, crumbles and clafoutis as we could, and I had canned the rest as jam and preserves to enjoy until next summer.  Ditto with saskatoons, some which we picked wild and others from friends’ bushes. Chokecherries, Evans cherries, peaches, and pears are up next for syrup, jelly, and canning.

— We started up our formal studies yesterday, a bit earlier than usual, but then we’re taking off for a few weeks next month to visit grandparents in NYC, and then on to Washington, DC.   Since Farm School is going to Washington, it seemed appropriate to spend our first day watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which will be a springboard to the next two months of civics, folk songs, vocabulary, and more.  Next up, “Much Ado About Nothing”, in preparation for the Folger’s new production.  Oh yes, and math, grammar, writing, spelling, science…  For Laura, science will be based on around one of her recent 12th birthday present from her grandparents, Birds of Central Park. I’m looking at a bird walk or two with Dr. Bob DeCandido, and have already found the perfect city souvenir for Laura.

Many thanks to the two or so readers, in addition to my parents, who’ve stuck it out over here in the barrens. Any point in a (not) back-to-school roll call in the comments, just to see who’s still here?

Organic options

From the recent Slate article, “Organic Panic: Michelle Obama’s garden and its discontents” by Christopher Beam:

“It’s a charming idea and everything, but it’s not practical,” says Xavier Equihua, who represents the Chilean Exporters Association as well as the Chilean Avocado Committee. The main problem, he says, is that local food is seasonal. For example, avocadoes grow in California during the summer months. Same with grapes. “What happens if you want some grapes during the month of December?” says Equihua. “What are you going to do? Not eat grapes?”

Well, yes. We don’t buy strawberries or tomatoes (unless the supermarket has the ones from the local Hutterite colony greenhouse) in the winter.  The  main problem isn’t that local food is seasonal.  The main problem is that we demand instant gratification in all aspects of our lives, including food.  Eating seasonally is sensible, not problematic.

Beam concludes,

And that’s the real subversive appeal of the Obamas’ organic garden. If it succeeds in shifting public perceptions about organic food, then the market for it may grow. And as with all market shifts, the most successful companies will embrace the organic movement rather than resist it. “For too long, the ag guys have said, If we raise it you’re gonna eat it. You don’t have options,” says Mitchell. “Well, now we have options.”

Here’s mud in your eye

and on your hands and on the shelf.

It occurs to me that while the kids are mucking about out of doors boosting their immune systems, you could make it an educational experience as well.  Some Farm School favorites, from the shelves (our own and the library’s) and wish lists:

For children:

Life in a Bucket of Soil by Alvin Silverstein and Virginia Silverstein (Dover Publications, under $6); geared toward children ages 9-12, from the authors of A World in a Drop of Water

One Small Square: Backyard by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne and Dianne Ettl

For older children and adults:

Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James B. Nardi

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan

Tales from the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life by David W. Wolfe, a plant physiologist at Cornell University

and because while you’re all out playing in the soil, you may as well do something with it:

Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

Sunshine gardens

I was happy to see a new article, “Extreme Makeover:  White House Edition” in Friday’s Wall Street Journal by former House & Garden magazine editor Dominique Browning, whose books I discovered by accident and loved last summer.  The first part of the article is devoted to redecorating the family quarters, frugally and comfortably, but the last part is about the grounds and garden.  Ms. Browning suggests,

A few green acres carved out of that gloriously sunny lawn (irrigated with a “gray water system” that uses water from the showers and sinks for the lawn and gardens) will supply enough organically grown fruits and vegetables to feed the first family and friends — send the surplus to food banks or schools for their lunch programs. Let’s hope the Obamas become “locavores,” getting their meat and poultry* from the area’s small farms. And is there a beekeeper handy?** The Obamas can kick off another Victory Garden movement in America’s suburbs, but it needs a new name, as the original one grew out of war shortages and implies a vanquished enemy. To kick off the discussion, try Sunshine Gardens, symbolizing a return to sustainable farm practices using a plentiful energy supply.

Read the entire article here.

And just for fun, here’s the YouTube link, for MGM’s 1942 Barney Bear Victory Garden cartoon.

* Whether you live in Washington, DC, or Washington State, try the Local Harvest website (if you fill the two search windows with “meat” and “20500”, the White House zip code, you get four pages of listings)

**  Yes indeedy, via the 101-year-old Maryland State Beekeepers Association and the slightly younger Virginia State Beekeepers Association

Links:

Eat the View: The White House Organic Garden Campaign co-ordinated by Kitchen Gardeners International

Michael Pollan’s “Farmer In Chief” article in the October 9, 2008 New York Times Sunday Magazine

Victory Gardens 2.0 at Change.org

Midautumn

Edwin Way Teale, in his Autumn Across America (subtitled “A naturalist’s record of a 20,000 mile journey through the North American autumn”), 1950:

There is a midsummer. There is a midwinter. But there is no midspring or midautumn. These are the seasons of constant change. Like dawn and dusk they are periods of transition. But like night and day and day and night they merge slowly, gradually. As Richard Jeffries once wrote, broken bits of summer can be found scattered far into the shortening days of fall. Only on calendars and in almanacs are the lines of division sharply defined.

And writingly beautifully about the bane of my existence, as I try to get the house ready for our giant pumpkin carving party,

…all the thistle thickets were dusty that day. Here, too, the gray autumn dust had settled. It coated my shoes. It surrounded my feet in a moving cloud when I strode through the dry vegetation. Dust — the bane of the immaculate housewife, the cause of choking and sneezing, the reducer of industrial efficiency — dust to a naturalist represents one of the great, essential ingredients in the beauty of the world.

If it were possible to banish dust from the earth, the vote probably would be overwhelmingly in favor of it. Yet subtract dust from the 5,633,000,000,000,000-ton atmosphere that surrounds the globe and you would subtract infinitely more. You would rain blue from the sky and the lake. For fine dust, as well as the molecules of vapor and the air itself, scatters the blue rays and contributes color the the heavens above and reflected color to the waters below. You would eliminate the beauty of the autumn mist and the summer cloud. For every minute droplet of moisture in fog and cloud forms about a nucleus of dust. You would hat the rain and never know the whiteness of drifted snow. For raindrops and snowflakes and hailstones also come into being about a center of airborne dust. You would remove the glory of the sunrise from the world and wipe all the flaming beauty of the sunset from the sky. For sunrise and sunset, as we know them, are the consequence of the rays passing through the hazy, dusty air near the surface of the earth where the blue rays are filtered out and the red and orange rays pass through. …

Nearly as much as the scent of leaf fires in the dusk, the smell of dusty autumn weedlots is part of the early memories of the fall. During our westward travels with the season I asked many people what scent first came to mind at the mention of autumn. To some it was the fragrance of ripe grapes, to others the kitchen smells of canning and jelly-making, to others the aroma of the apple harvest; to most, I think, it was the scent of burning leaves, but to more than I expected it was the mingled odor of the weedlot, the smell of ragweed and sunflower and sweet clover and dust, the very breath of autumn’s dryness.

(Little pie pumpkins from the kids’ garden this summer)

Brother, can you spare some thyme?

I was reading the new October issue of the prairie edition of Gardens West magazine last night and noticed just inside the front cover a publisher’s ad for a new book, Food Security for the Faint of Heart: Keeping Your Larder Full in Lean Times by Robin Wheeler (New Society Publishers, September 2008; the book is listed as $16.95 in both Canada and the US). Certainly beats selling apples on street corners — grow your own instead! — and tucking your savings in the mattress, doesn’t it?

According to the New Society website, Ms. Wheeler is “a permaculture activist, author, teacher and founder of the Sustainable Living Arts School. She teaches traditional skills, sustenance gardening and medicinals at Edible Landscapes, a nursery and teaching garden in Roberts Creek, British Columbia.”

And from New Society’s blog post about the book, written long, long ago (alright, August) before billion-dollar bailouts, trillion-dollar debts, and Great Depression threats were common conversation (notice reason #3 — the big tippy bag has indeed fallen over) though in the midst of the Canadian listeria crisis,

Robin’s Top 10 reasons to get food secure:

1. Stuff happens. Earthquakes, trucker strikes, who knows; in an instant, our world could change. We should be better prepared.

2. It can be difficult for low-income families to afford high quality food. Fortunately, it costs little to grow nutritious food so having a safe food source nearby (like your own back yard) is a great equalizer.

3. The World Economy. What’s that all about? Beats them, too! But it’s a big, tippy bag of wrestling cats and we hope it doesn’t fall over.

4. Fossil Fuels. Getting darned expensive, eh? That would explain the high cost of lettuce in January, and of imported olives.

5. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and pesticide use. Although some say the jury is still out, my vote is in and that is for wholesome food grown without mucking about with anything made in a lab — something we can reproduce in our own back yards, for instance.

6. Your money stays local. If your community is strong, you are better off and much safer. Support your local farmers so that they can keep you fed and healthy.

7. You get enmeshed in your community. Meet local gardeners and farmers, visit the local organic co-op, go to a canning or earthquake preparedness workshop. Enlarge your circle of connected people.

8. You do not have to be a drain in times of stress. In an emergency, the elderly and injured will need all the help they can get. If you can look after yourself, you will not needlessly drain a system that may not have much left to give.

9. Personal resilience. Well-prepared people have an edge when handling and recovering from emergencies and trauma. That can’t hurt.

10. Being a new community asset. In times of stress, we will need many well-informed, experienced people to spread throughout the community. You may be one of them!

The only review I’ve been able to find is this one, “Farmer-Hunter-Gatherer”, from Sharon Astyk, author of Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front (also published by New Society, also out September 2008). Here’s a snippet from her review,

…this is a terrific book, warmly written, funny and smart. Not only do I now want to read her gardening book, but I immediately found myself fantasizing about hanging out with the author and trading recipes and graden [sic] tricks. That doesn’t happen so terribly often — I’m impressed. I really recommend the book, and I’ll put it in the food storage section of my store once it is out.

I see that Food Security for the Faint of Heart is listed in our library system, but only for one library, it’s “on order” with no date available, and one clever patron is already ahead of me with a holds request. And Depletion and Abundance not even listed. Drat.

* * *

In a similar vein, several Farm School blog posts about some favorite recent titles, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression (this one is worth reading or re-reading if the politics of fear is getting to you right about now, and it occurs to me to wonder if anyone has bothered to ask Mrs. Kalish her opinion about current events):

All roads lead to home and hard work (August 18, 2007)

Little Heathens and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in The Christian Science Monitor (July 11, 2007)

More from Millie Kalish (July 9, 2007)

Food, Family, Fellowship: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (July 5, 2007)

Gosh all hemlock! (July 2, 2007)

More food for thought: connections and disconnections (June 29, 2007)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to can some pears…

I had every intention

of doing a bit of blogging over the weekend, including some garden pictures, especially once the kids were invited to the lake for the weekend by their aunt and uncle, but I awoke early on Saturday to rumblings of dry thunder and no internet service.  I spent most of the weekend in the garden and not bothering with meals since a) no one was around (Tom worked til 9 pm Saturday) and b) it was too hot to eat.

The internet is back this morning, but now we’re getting ready to take Laura this afternoon to sleepaway camp for the first time. It’s not $10,000-for-six-weeks camp. It’s not even $550-a-week camp. It’s $75 for four-and-a-half days of 4H camp, which is why we are encouraged to send our kids with their own stash of first aid medications (Junior Tylenol, Benadryl, Tums, Polysporin, etc.) and a dozen cookies to share; if the latter are homemade, we are to send a detailed list of ingredients to forestall against anaphylactic shock (I took the path of least resistance and tossed in a bag of store brand cookies). Unlike $10,000 camp, they are allowed cell phones, if only for “emergencies”, but that would mean buying one in the first place.

She gets back on Friday, in time to watch more Olympics and for her 11th birthday on Saturday.  Laura has requested an ice cream sandwich cake (which appears to be ice cream sandwiches held together with whipped cream and frozen), and I have a few presents to wrap, which I can write about after today when she’s out of the house.

Until last night’s thunderstorm and 1.1″ of hail and rain, we had had a week of hot, dry weather; in the low thirties Celsius, which is high eighties, low nineties.  The peas succumbed, so I picked the last pods and pulled the vines out of the garden to make room for some fall lettuce; though curiously, the spring lettuce is hanging on and hasn’t bolted yet (I don’t pick entire heads, just the leaves so each plant can regrow).  I spent all day yesterday watering the vegetables and the flowers, and filling both of my rain barrels with the hose, which of course meant rain later in the evening.  The tomato plants grew so much in the week’s heat that they and their tomato cages tipped over from the added weight of the vines and fruits; the tipping over led me to discover three lovely red, ripe Early Girls.

Our two bulls — the big red Shorthorn and little Speckle Park — in two different pastures with a barbed wire fence between them got into a disagreement and pulled out 80 feet of fence, so one evening this week Tom and the kids had fencing on the menu after dinner. The little bull sprained his leg, so I was charged with getting him back to the corrals and nursing him back to health.  He’s a difficult patient.

Our cleverly named and highly pregnant calico cat, Callie, seems to be getting larger every day.  At this rate she’ll have a dozen kittens.  Our gray tabby cat, Sparky, finally showed us her three new kittens, one of whom has four legs but only three paws.  Nevertheless, Stumpy manages exceedingly well.  And what’s a shock to me is seeing how tiny they are compared to our other kitten Dolly, who is quite independent now, have been weaned quite successfully by Callie.

Oh, and the dog is in heat which reminds me that I have to call the vet to get her spayed, something the previous owners didn’t believe in.  And the sky is black and full of lightning so another storm is on the way.

Sunday garden stroll

I’m fudging a bit today. These are my lilacs, not from my garden here at the house, but from the small field near our corrals, about a mile and a half from the house, where we hope to build a new house in the next few years. When we planted the lilacs — just the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), not any particular named varieties — several years ago when we started shelterbelts of trees and shrubs around the farm, they were little more than twigs. Now some of the lilacs are as tall as I am, and they’ve been flowering magnificently, and in a variety of shades, from white to the usual lilac color, to an almost reddish. The thought of living there before too long, in a house surrounded once a year by lilac blooms, delights me. And because I always need to gild the lily, after building the house I’d like to have a special spring/early summer bed near the house with peonies, lilacs beyond the common ones (gardeners in the U.S. can find a nice selection here), and roses.

Yesterday we again weeded our miles of trees. I replaced some of the little ones that didn’t make it with some rooted golden willow branches. Tom and the kids had been in town last month when they passed a hotel where someone was pruning the willows. My bunch asked if they could have the branches, then brought them home and stuck them in pails of water where they’ve leafed out and sprouted oodles of roots. Ta-da — free trees, and the branches didn’t end up at the landfill site either.

For more garden pictures, head over to a wrung sponge, where Cloudscome hosts the weekly Sunday garden stroll.

In the garden, around the house, and on the farm

this past week. I want to participate in Cloudscome’s weekly Sunday garden stroll at a wrung sponge, so below are a few pictures taken in and near the garden, though from a few days ago, not today.

Releasing our seven painted lady butterflies on Tuesday morning,

The ruby-throated hummingbird coming to the feeder off the deck, on a cloudy day, with Virginia creeper tendrils reaching out. I’ll have to spend more time this summer practicing taking better shots of the male and female.

Speaking of lousy photos, here’s one I took through the kitchen window in the rain of the male hummingbird sitting in the spruce tree where we think they have their teeny tiny nest,

In the pasture, several hundred feet from the house, a newborn whitetail fawn. We find one or two a year, and each time I still marvel at the instinct that keeps the baby motionless except to breathe. When the kids and I arrived home on Thursday evening close to nine, Tom beckoned to us to change our clothes, grab the camera, and follow him. He had come home for dinner, saw the doe, accompanied by two yearlings and four small legs, then watched as the first three took off. He followed and came upon the fawn in the grass,

* * *

Today we’re recovering from yet another long busy week, culminating in yesterday’s very long all-day swim meet in the little city down the road. Well, I’m recovering, at home alone. Tom, who in all the craziness forgot to phone any of the museum volunteers to see who could be there this afternoon, decided to man the place himself with the kids. He’s president of the board, so it’s a good lesson in the buck stops here for them, and a good way for the four of them to celebrate Father’s Day back in time, while I am wash out swimsuits, tidy the house, and inspect the garden.

It’s been a soggy week, with rain on Monday and Tuesday, a very heavy shower on Friday with hail, a downpour all of yesterday (nearly an inch of rain in our gauge when we arrived home last night), and yet more at 4:30 am. Now, after lunch, the sky is showing a bit of blue and the sun is trying to come out.

A few weeks ago we had two of our steers butchered, one for ourselves and one for friends. On Monday, the butcher phoned to say that the meat was ready to be picked. Which meant (aside from rib eye steaks on the barbecue for Father’s Day dinner tonight) a quick trip to the outskirts of the big city on Tuesday to deliver two sides of beef to our friends. We had just enough time to dash into the city proper to an unusually nice Sears store, because the kids all needed new sandals, Laura needed a new swimsuit before the old one disintegrated, and we found ourselves in the midst of a big clearance sale (for Sears cardholders, an extra 25 percent off anything already on clearance, for Monday and Tuesday only). On Thursday after swim practice the kids’ were invited by one of the women’s groups in towns to entertain at their annual dinner, so my trio sang, danced, and recited poetry. On Friday Laura handed in one of her 4H binders, a great deal of effort (especially the feed records, an effective way to bring arithmetic to life and to convey the importance of numbers) between two covers. The other binder for the other club is due in early August. She and I also took a number of bags and boxes of outgrown clothing and books weeded from the shelves to the Goodwill shop. Yesterday, they swam. I can’t tell you the pride I feel when I watch all three do the butterfly and smooth flip turns, neither of which I’ve mastered, and when I watch my seven-and-a-half year-old swim a very elegant front crawl or my newly nine-year-old hold his own on the 11-12 year-old relay team. And Laura blazed through the pool with her backstroke.

A a bit of sad news this week, too. Tom came in early yesterday morning from looking after the animals, before we headed to the swim meet, with the news that two of three newborn kittens had been killed, including Davy’s kitten Cougar, pictured here last week. We don’t know whether by the fox that got the chicken, the skunk we’ve seen around, or by one of the male cats. But we did know we couldn’t tell the kids yesterday. I broke the news this morning, before they headed out to do chores. Oh the tears we’ve all shed. Fortunately, I had taken some pictures of the kittens last week, and I’ll have to get prints made for the kids.

More on butterflies

The last painted lady crawled out of the chrysalis this morning. We’ve added some blooms — petunia, calibrachoa, catmint — to the mayonnaise jar to keep the butterflies in nectar. The kids are delighted with our success, for which we have Boreal Northwest to thank, especially for their free shipping offer that made the purchase possible. Thanks to Boreal too for the extra two caterpillars — all seven hatched — and the nifty wall poster.

And speaking of butterflies, all yesterday afternoon I was kept company by an Anise Swallowtail, who flitted from flower to flower and pretty much ignored my presence. I first spotted it in front of the house, on the chive blossoms,

Then it flew to the raised flower bed, mostly perennials, behind the house where I was digging and transplanting and watering. It found the irises, new since I bought them last Spring at a church flower sale while the kids had art lessons. You can also see old man sage in the background on the left, and monkshood leaves on the right,

Then it discovered the catmint, which is as close to lavender in look (though not scent, sadly) as I can get up here,

And just this year for some reason the meadowlark has discovered our (salvaged secondhand*) television aerial and fondness for singing from on high,

Some flowers without butterflies, including more irises (tall and thin and short and squat, and all from that church sale),

and columbine blossoms. All in all a delightful Sunday in the garden, capped off with much-needed rain in the evening. And more this morning, enough to fill up the rain barrels and bring some ducks to the driveway. Laura reported seeing a fox scent-marking some bushes in the front yard, too. I’ll have to camp out on the deck by my new hummingbird feeder so I can get photos of the male and female, which seem to have a nest nearby. Oh, and Davy reports checking up on one of our bird boxes; he found some tiny pink baby swallows inside.

(I’ve included this post as part of cloudscome’s weekly Sunday Garden Stroll at a wrung sponge.)