A Walk Through the Woods

A few days ago, I took some time and got out into the woods. I do a lot of trail running this time of year, but I don’t take the time to slow down and smell the roses as much as I should. I felt like I needed to do that recently, so I did. I took my camera along too, because it’s been feeling neglected lately.

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I watched dragonflies hover over the lake.

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And honeybees collect pollen.

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And I stumbled upon a Blue Heron preening itself on a fallen tree. Herons are one of my favorite birds. They are so awkward and graceful at the same time.

Blue Heron

I really need to do this more often. I think it is important for us all to remember to slow down once in awhile. It’s so easy to get caught up in a quick pace and become so myopically focused on the end goal that we miss all the good things happening around us.

You can see the rest of the photos from this hike on my flickr stream.

The Sandhill Cranes Are Back

I took the kids on a bird watching expedition this afternoon to see the sandhill cranes that migrate through here every year. I look forward to these birds every spring. Their call sounds almost prehistoric; I always imagine that a pterodactyl would sound similar.

I was a little late getting out this year, so we didn’t get to see as many as we have in previous years.

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There are a few more photos on my flickr stream if you are interested. I might go out again this weekend and see if I can catch a few more photos of them before they head north.

The Tonic of Wildness

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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I’ve had Thoreau in my head lately. So with him as my inspiration, I decided to change things up for yesterday’s run. The sun was bright and there was a fairly fresh coat of snow on the ground. It was so pretty out, I needed to get out of the house. It’s been one bad-weather day after another here and I’m experiencing a bit of cabin fever. Unfortunately, the roads weren’t all the way cleared and the sidewalks were a little icy, so I decided to try the trails. It was a good call.

IMG_0103I frequently trail run in the warmer months, but this is the first time I’ve been on them in the snow. I chose the trail I did because it’s a scenic, hilly 1 mile loop. So if anything happens I’m not too far from the car, but I still get the feeling of being far, far away from civilization. The first loop I did a slow run/walk just to get a feel for the terrain, enjoy the view, and snap some photos.

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I tried out my new Buff. It worked well. I felt like a ninja, but it was comfortable, it stayed in place, and it kept the cold air from invading my lungs. My glasses kept fogging up, but if it means I can breath, I’ll deal with it.

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I definitely overdressed. I put on what I normally wear in this weather, but I didn’t take into consideration that all the trees provided a natural wind barrier. I normally run through town, or on a country road where I’m flanked by corn fields which offer little protection from the elements. Running through the forest was much warmer. I was glad I chose this trail, because I ended up stopping at the car to peel off a layer after the first loop. All I could think of was my son quoting Survivorman.¬† Survivorman used to be one of his favorite shows and he’s very concerned about winter safety now. For the last few minutes before I got back to my car, the only thing that was going through my head was, “Mom, if you sweat, you die.” It made me giggle.

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Running through a few inches of snow was slow going. My legs, my abs, even my arms feel it more than usual today. Despite the extra nagging in my tired muscles, it was a fun run. I only ended up doing 3 loops before I needed to move on to the next item on my to-do list. I only actually ran about 2.25 of the 3 miles I traveled yesterday. I felt like I could have gone longer, but that was all the free-time I had. Of course I would have had more free-time if I hadn’t spent a good 20 minutes debating with myself about whether or not to go for a run.

My pace yesterday was pretty slow. There were a few slick downhills and a few spots where the creek had flooded and then froze over. I slowed down for those spots. I didn’t want to start the new year off with an injury. Stopping to enjoy the view a few times, snapping a ton of photos on the first loop, and stopping at the car once didn’t help my time any either. But this run/explore wasn’t about pace or mileage, it was about getting out of the house and finding motivation again. In that I succeeded.

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If I decide to keep blazing trails through the snow, I definitely need to invest in a pair of gaiters. A few more loops and my feet would have been pretty wet and eventually pretty cold.

Soon after I got home another snow band came down off the lake. That means there will be new snow. Maybe I can blaze a new trail somewhere else….

Where is your favorite place to run in the winter? Do you ever go off the beaten path?

A Planting We Will Go

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I’ve spent the last two weeks playing in the dirt and finally got the gardens planted and some relandscaping done around the back deck. It was a lot of work, but satisfying, even if this year is already proving to be a challenging one for gardening. It’s hot, hot, hot one week and chilly the next. I sure am confused by the weather, so I’m pretty certain the plants are too. Luckily most of my sickly, little, sunburned seedlings seem to be growing and getting stronger by the day. I did lose a few though, which was sad, but this is the first year I’ve started the entire garden from seed, so I still consider this a success. I’ve taken notes and learned a lot in the process, so hopefully next year will be even better.

The Romas seem to have taken the largest hit. They suffered the worst damage from my negligence during the hardening stage. I had to replace all but two of my Roma tomatoes with store bought versions from the local nursery. I couldn’t find any Roma plants, so I am trying Bradley tomatoes. I’ve never grown them before, but they looked nice and sturdy. And the tag said they are good for canning, which is usually what I use the Roma’s for.

I also lost one of my heirloom tomato plants to the dog as he boldly charged through my little plot by the side of the deck before I had cordoned it off. And I’m not entirely sure what happened to the cucumbers. They appear to have been trampled, and possibly dined on, by those dastardly bunnies that love to hang out in my backyard. The good news is, I had some seeds left over. I planted them. The first round of seeds got washed away in a storm. I replanted and this time I’m seeing sprouts pushing through the soil. Oh yes…and some fencing with smaller openings is going up in an attempt to keep the bunnies at bay.

This year I planted in the main garden:

  • Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Spicy Mesculun (in the gutter)
  • Arugula (in the gutter)
  • 3 California Wonder Peppers (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers
  • 2 Habanero Orange Peppers
  • 1 Costa Rican Sweet Pepper
  • 2 Suhyo Long Cucumber, ORG
  • 2 Black Beauty Zucchini, ORG
  • 3 Green Flesh Honeydew Melon, ORG
  • 1 Calabaza Pumpkin
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Bradley Tomatoes

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All the squash, melons and cucumbers are being trellised against the fence. I’ve grown them this way for the past 3 years and it works out great. It saves space and helps keep the plant healthy and free from bugs because it’s off the ground. If you decide to trellis your squash and melons, make sure the trellis is well secured to the wall or fence so it will be able to support the weight of the fruit when they grow.

If you are wondering what all those milk jugs in the garden are, they are my new irrigation experiment. It has been so unseasonably hot and dry here, and my plants were already sun damaged, I was looking for an inexpensive way to keep them hydrated without damaging them further. I was inspired by this pin on Pinterest. I changed it up a little bit after reading one comment about poking holes in the bottom of the jugs instead of the top as shown by the pin. It seems to be working. I think the plants look a lot happier since I’ve added the milk jugs.

There are a few cons to this method though: it will obviously only work on smaller gardens, it’s time consuming to fill all the jugs and cart them back and forth between the rain barrel to the garden, and one odd con – when the ground gets too hot, the little hole on the bottom of the jug seems to close in on itself. I have to keep reopening the hole. Next year we might invest in a more sophisticated irrigation system, but I think this will work for this year.

What I did for my milk jug irrigation system.

1. I rinsed the milk jugs, and a few large Gatorade bottles, and discarded the tops.

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2. I poked a small hole in the bottom. I experimented with the size and number of holes. I found that 1 small hole is the best. (Maybe when the plants are a little bigger I’ll need a few more holes.)

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3. Place them near the base of the plant and the jug slowly drips out water. Make sure the side with the hole is closest to the plant.

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Since we have a small yard, I try to incorporate some herbs and smaller veggies in with the landscaping around the back yard as well. I grow herbs and wildflowers in the rocks around the perimeter of the main garden. And I have a small strawberry patch and two Sugar Baby plants that will be trellised along the side of the garage.

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And we just relocated a bunch of ornamental grass that was overgrown along the side of our deck to the back of our fence so we could have more room for tomatoes and some other veggies.

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In this little patch I have planted:

  • 2 Purple Calabash (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Green Zebra, ORG
  • 1 grape tomato
  • 2 Habanero
  • along with Marigolds, Lavender, Morning Glories, Calendula, Mexican Heather, Asian Lily, Daisy and some herbs. (This patch extends along the front of the deck, so there is plenty of room for everything.)

And the kids are in charge of the patch along the fence. It doesn’t get much sun, so we’re limited in what can go there. This year they planted:

  • Spinach
  • Pink Beauty Radish, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Florence Fennel, ORG

This is the first year we’ve tried fennel, so we’ll see how it goes. I found this pin with lots of helpful tips on fennel.

I’ve been gardening for about 10 years now, and each year brings new lessons and challenges. It is certainly unpredictable and never boring in my opinion. It’s great therapy, helps keep me fit, and I love the idea of being able to walk outside and snip fresh herbs or veggies for dinner. The fruits I grow are usually sweeter and the cucumbers are less bitter than their store-bought counterparts. And you certainly can’t compare a fresh-picked, sun-warmed, heirloom tomato to the hard, reddish, tomato-like things they sell at the supermarkets.

I also use gardening as an educational tool for the kidlets. I think it is important for them to learn about the growing cycle, where their food comes from, and how to care for our environment. And because I would like to leave the earth a little better place for the next generation, I try to get organic, non-GMO, local seeds or plants when I can, but it isn’t always possible. There seem to be more organic, non-GMO varieties available every year though, as consumers become more educated and demand more diversity in their produce. I know my little backyard garden is a small drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop just the same.

Happy gardening.