Monday, May 19, 2014

Veggie gardening, Front Range style

We did very little vegetable gardening at our Chicago house. In our last couple of years there, we put in a small raised bed and successfully grew radishes, cucumbers, and lettuce, but then I got busy with other stuff and left the garden to go feral. (You're welcome, bunnies!)

Growing food has always been a desire of ours, and now we finally have the space to do it right. TMCH and I plotted (ha!) our ideas independently, and are gradually phasing them in. He put in a raised bed on one of the burn scars south of the house, for direct outdoor planting. Instead of planting in rows, he's following the principles of Square-Foot Gardening. The bed is surrounded with logs (of course) and filled with bagged garden soil. Long-term, we'll think about getting several yards of soil delivered, but Year 1 is for low-cost experimentation!

So far, TMCH has planted spinach, onions, carrots, and lettuce. Despite the often sub-freezing overnight weather and a very amusing 21-inch snowfall on May 11, his little seedlings are popping up and looking good!

Meantime, I decided to try starting seeds indoors for the first time. I invested in a cheap shoplight with daylight spectrum bulbs, a couple of plastic humidity trays, and some seed-starting mix. I also "liberated" some large aluminum baking sheet-type-things from a "Surplus" pile in the hallway at work. They make lovely sturdy drip trays. I set up in the laundry room with the light on a timer, and planted all sorts of stuff.

The tomatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli I recently transplanted into larger containers with soil and compost. I planned to do the same with the peppers, but time and weather have really not been conducive lately. When transplanting, I learned that one plant per cell really is ideal. If you have multiple seedlings in one cell, getting their roots disentangled is tough, and pinching off all but one seems so heartless! I water as needed with a weak solution of fish emulsion. It seems to do a great job but holy cow does it smell bad. On the plus side, the dogs love me!

Yesterday afternoon I started the "hardening off" process. Hardening off, it turns out, means "take your plants outside, totally forget about them, leave them out overnight, then shrug and say 'They didn't die so I guess they're done hardening off.'" I'm not sure this was the lesson I was supposed to learn, but whatever works, right?

Next weekend, I plan to get all these juniors into containers. I will probably keep them all inside the yard to protect them from the deer. The rabbits, however, are another story...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Almost 2 years after the High Park Fire

The 2012 High Park Fire, and the 2013 flood (it doesn't get a fancy name, it's just The Flood), underlie every thing that happens here in Rist Canyon. Neighbors who decided to rebuild post-fire are slowly returning, families are still fighting with insurance companies, and parts of Buckhorn Canyon are still impassable after the roads washed away. A plague of locusts is wryly predicted this year. We and many others have received dire-sounding letters from our insurance companies about fire mitigation steps that must be taken OR ELSE.

Even though our house survived both fire and flood, the wet ground saturated the bases of our many dead, burned trees and weakened them into mush. Ever since last September, we've been hearing the crash of falling trees in the woods, sometimes really close by and sometimes resulting in inconveniently blocked trails. The trees would have fallen eventually, but the flood has hastened it.

Today I took a walk with Foley into the lower part of the woods, by the mill site where the logs for the house were milled back in the late 1970s. The site was still intact when we visited in April 2012. Now it's an array of charred things - axles, cinder blocks, fencing, mysterious hunks of iron. The fire burned hotly there. There were so many trees down that the usual walking path was impassable.
Oil drums, cinder blocks, an old solar water heater panel, and a lot of trees that fell since last fall

Even trees that survived the fire often became bent from the heat

Dead, burned, flood-weakened trees break off at their bases

Blackened circles of ground, usually where a treeful of needles burned hotly, are starting to be filled in with moss, an early successional plant that will help to reestablish organic matter in the soil

I saw lots of baby Douglas-firs. Doug-firs are not shade-tolerant, but the fire opened up areas of the Ponderosa-pine-dominated canopy and has provided opportunity for the Doug-firs to spring up. These seedlings are a reminder that the fire is part of the normal ecology here, and someday the forest will return.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Still alive!

It's been over a year since I posted! What the heck?!

Right now I'm very much missing my old blog, which I largely used to unload and vent and complain about stuff. Having a place to vent is pretty useful sometimes. I've been working at Colorado State University since April 2013. It's mostly good but the last week has been especially difficult. I'm experiencing the joys of being a whistleblower, and the crushing feelings of guilt and betrayal that go along with that. Hopefully it will all blow over but for now I'm pretty unhappy. General emotional instability is making me feel constantly weepy and prone to bouts of crying. Last night at the grocery store I caught sight of the Apple Jacks and started crying for Jazzy, who's been gone for over 7 years now. Sheesh.

Focus on the good! I've been having such a good time watching eagle nests on webcams. The Berry College (Georgia) nest has one eaglet, and he's the cutest little drunkenly swaying thing! Watch Here

Then there's the Decorah, Iowa nest. I've watched this one for several years. It's still just eggs at this point but hatching should happen in the next couple of weeks. Mom and Dad are beautiful and fierce.

First tiny peek of crocus leaves coming up in our garden this week. I have big plans to install one raised bed for vegetables in this spring, down the hill near the gully. Seems like a good way to hide one of the (many) burn scars. I've been pinning ideas for building raised beds on slopes, like this:

[Image from]

Hopefully we can build it with logs. The one thing we have NO shortage of, is logs! TMCH and I are trying hard to reuse and harvest items from our land whenever we can. Plus, I picked up a few bags of free compost from Whole Foods last year. Free is good!