Monday, February 27, 2006

Starting seeds


I've never started seeds indoors. I've always direct sown seeds into the garden (radishes, beans, squash) and planted purchased plants (tomatoes, peppers). This year I plan to try my hand at starting from seed and transplanting.

My average last frost date is May 5 so it's still pretty early for us. Parsley can be planted very early, and it takes 21 days to germinate, so I thought I'd start some of those this weekend.

I'm running an experiment. I have two seed trays and I'm going to plant identical things in each tray and see which plants do better in which tray.

One seed tray I've placed on top of a regular heating pad we had on hand. They sell warming pads specifically for germinating seeds but I didn't see the point in spending $25 to $30 on one, plus shipping. The heating pad came with a spongey thing you could dampen for moist heat, so it should be pretty safe in a moist environment. Nevertheless, I wrapped the heating pad in a garbage bag in case of water spills, and set it to the lowest setting. Thus far, my thermometer sitting on the heating pad registers 65 to 73 degrees. Pretty good, considering most plants like soil to be at about 70 degrees for germination to take place. I'm going to monitor the temperature directly on the heating pad for another day or so. Then I'll also monitor the temperature on top of the seed tray just to get an idea of variance within the cups.

The other seed tray has a clear plastic dome. It just sits in the greenhouse without benefit of heating pad. I'm not sure what the soil temperature is but I would imagine it varies quite a bit, even with the dome there to help warm the soil and regulate the temperature. I plan to put the thermometer on top of this tray and underneath the clear dome, and see what kind of temps I'm getting in there.

I'll post an update after I've had time to monitor each location with the thermometer for a few days, and I'll post updates showing which plants do better in which tray.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Picking Dad's Brain

The snow melts off the barn roof in an interesting pattern. The barn isn't heated, and part of the roofing material is torn off on the south side. So the snow piles up on the roof, and then when things warm up, the interior of the barn gets heated by solar energy, and the snow melts from the northern side of the roof due to the warmth in the interior of the barn. The places where there are joists and slats melt last, because the wood holds the cold against the metal roof. I think it's awfully pretty like this, for some reason.

My Dad came and visited us at Palazzo Rospo the last few days, and I wasn't on line. I've been working him to death and picking his brain. He grew up in the country, then raised me in town. When I grew up I went to the city and he moved back to the country. So while I my knowledge of country living is zilch, he's a wealth of information.

Suddenly his casual comments about putting in a fence, building a pole building, or storing hay have huge significance and vital importance. Funny... they used to just be casual interesting anecdotes. Just goes to show what a change in perspective will do for the listener.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

The Fire Pit


We have a firepit in our yard. It's a bunch of old time-worn bricks roughly arranged in a large rectangle, about 3 or 4 bricks high. The bricks are loose, and the configuration is flexible. At one end some old grates can usually be found. We like to sit out there in the spring and fall and have a bonfire as the warmth of afternoon gives way to the chill of evening. When the fire dies down, we cook hotdogs and roast marshmallows. We poke at the fire with sticks and send sparks flying high into the darkening sky. We proclaim ourselves to be masters of our domain as we brandish our fire-hardened sticks. Life is good then.

When branches blow down out of the trees in the yard, we gather them and pile them on the fire pit. This provides us with ready kindling should we suddenly have a need for a bonfire. We keep a pile of larger wood nearby: wood that was too knotty to split for the wood stove, or too gnarled to easily stack and burn indoors. This is our fire pit stash.

In our recent snowfall, the fire pit (replete with a large supply of collected twigs and branches) was blanketed in snow. I found it a comforting sight. It promises that the sleeping cold will give way to activity and warmth.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dire Wolf

This is our German Shepherd Dog, Rolf. He's the one that left the mystery tracks on the porch a while back. We named him Rolf because it's a fine upstanding German name. He's just over two years old, which is a funny age for a big dog - stuck between puppyhood and adulthood.

He weighs about 90 lbs. and he's solid muscle, so he can do pretty much whatever he sets his mind to. Being only two, however, he hasn't yet developed good judgment or self control. When it's dinner time he knows he has to "sit" before he'll get fed, but it's oh, so difficult for him! His little butt hovers just above floor level, bumping the floor about once every two seconds. He's too excited and eager to execute a solid sit when there's kibble to be had.

He is playful like a puppy. When we have lots of muddy rainy weather, he gets cooped up in the kitchen. He tosses his toys around, sometimes throwing them halfway across the room. He swears it's an accident and the toy just "got away from him" (insert sincere doggy look here), but I have my doubts. I'm just thankful he's learned not to walk through his water dish on the way to investigate a shadow or dust bunny.

Rolf loves the creek that runs by our house. It runs pretty much year round except for late summer, when everything is dry. In warm weather, he races up and down the creek snapping at the frogs and gobbling them down. Sometimes he eats so many so quickly that he barfs them up, and little froggy body parts are recognizable in the effluvia. Eeeww!

I thought he'd quit running in the creek when the temps dropped, but no. He's like a little kid without enough sense to come indoors when his teeth start chattering and his lips turn blue.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Snow!

We got snow! By the time all was said and done, we had about four inches of accumulation here at Palazzo Rospo. We played in the snow and watched movies and huddled by the fire. It was glorious.

This is an apple on a tree right beside our house. All of the other apple trees lost their fruit long ago, but this one still has some dessicated fruits hanging on it. They made wonderful apple butter in the fall, and now they're withered. I thought the juxtaposition of harvest and hibernation was nice.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

The Ice Man Cometh

We had some unusually warm weather in January and very early February. Temperatures in the mid to upper 50's. LOTS of rain. There was so much mud we couldn't get to the fields up at the top of the ridge.

But now Mother Nature has remembered it's winter, and we've got temps in the teens at night and highs around freezing. BRRrrr!

The old farm house has rain gutters, but they are in poor repair. Many of the downspouts are missing. Maybe all of them are missing; we haven't done an inventory. It did have downspouts at one time because one of them was lying on the ground when we moved in, and you can see where the supports were attached to the siding.

Here is a huge icicle that has formed at the end of one of the gutters where moisture has been slowly dripping out of the end. It's worth clicking on the picture to get a better look. I like the way the water flows right out the end of the trough.

Bits of dirt and leaves are suspended in the icicle; click for a closeup

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mystery Tracks!

Taking a cue from Walter at Sugar Mountain Farm, I thought I'd post some mystery tracks. He does a great job of photographing intriguing tracks in the snow and having folks guess what the tracks are. Well, we've had very little snow this year and until this week I've only seen one set of tracks worth photographing, and of course I didn't have my camera with me.

But THIS week, I saw Mystery Tracks on my front porch in the snow! What could it be??? I ran inside and got my camera.

Here is a closeup (you can also click these photos for a larger version). Note the huge pads, the vicious claws. What fearsome creature could have left these ominous prints right on my front porch??

I don't have a large readership, so I don't really anticipate many guesses, if any. Still, I think I'll wait until tomorrow to spill the beans.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Oatmeal Cookies


Well the seemingly endless rain finally ceased. And we got snow. Being recently relocated from Georgia, I usually want to go out and at least walk in the snow. It's beautiful. It smells so fresh, and sounds so muffled and kind of crunchy-squeaky. It's fascinating to me.

But this snow on top of mud? YUCK. It looks pretty but when you step on it a tell-tale brown stain spreads in your footprint. I stayed inside and made oatmeal cookies. My husband took the photo. I'm a point-and-click kind of gal; he's a depth-of-field what's-my-aperture kind of guy.

The recipe is from my Backwoods Home Cooking book, which I got when I ordered some of their anthologies. The recipe is actually for Country Oatmeal Cookies in a Jar. You layer the dry ingredients in a quart canning jar, then put a pretty bit of fabric on the jar (over the flat, under the ring) and give it as a gift, with instructions. The recipe reads as follows:

Layer following ingredients in a glass jar in this order:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Then on the card that accompanies your "cookies in a jar" you write the following directions:
Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, cream 1/2 cup margarine, 1 egg, adn 1 tsp. vanilla. Add entire contents of jar and mix until combined. Drop by heapign teaspoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned.

I doubled the recipe, omitted the raisins, and put in some ground black walnuts. I used whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. It made about five dozen cookies, and they were the best oatmeal cookies we've had (I usually use the recipe on the Quaker Oats box). The baking cookies made the house smell cozy and inviting on a nasty day.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

This Old House

I thought I'd share some cool pics with you today. Click on them for a larger view. You know how when you're painting walls, suddenly you notice every wall in the house? Or when you're cleaning windows, you find yourself obsessively looking at all the windows? No? It's just me? I should see a shrink? Oh. Well, never mind all that. As you know, we were recently working on the walls in one of the bedrooms, and this bit of wall in the stairwell caught my eye. I'd never paid much attention to it, but I stopped and checked it out more closely. It's some remnants of wall paper, with newspaper underneath.

Here you can see some bits of a comic strip, adhered to the wood. I've looked closely at all the bits and I can't find a date. I'd love to, though! One of the upstairs bedrooms has not been sheetrocked, and still has walls like this, and a wooden ceiling very like a wood floor. Long strips of wood all laid side by side. The ceiling in that room was once papered with newspaper. It's since been scraped off but lots of tatters remain. I'll go in there one day and see if I can find any dates on that newspaper. I think this is fascinating. A bit of history and mystery all at once!

Here you can see the wallpaper pattern clearly, with a bit of newsprint peeping out at the bottom. It looks like a phone number in an advertisement to me. I've done a little bit of searching, and I've not found that this was common practice. I assume that whoever did this hung the newspaper first to help create a smoother surface for the wallpaper, or perhaps to slow down air movement in the house.

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