Monday, June 30, 2014

sun trance

we lie in bed,
the sunlight filters through moth holes in the curtain,
and lands in golden spots on my shoulder,
you joke with me,
saying the light is coming from inside me,
that the spots will become larger and larger until i'm nothing but sunlight,
it seems a beautiful thing to me,
to spend one's days becoming more and more full of light,
until, at some point, the ego is burnt away,
and all that remains is sunlight,
later, when i am in the garden,
bare to the waist and hand-watering the beans,
i feel the sun on my skin and think again about what you said,
i crouch down, squatting amongst the beans,
breathing in the green of them,
the heat on my back lulling me into a sort of a trance,
as the dry air drinks the moisture from my skin,
and bees suckle nectar from blossoms,
i think that maybe it is happening,
that maybe the sun is shining from inside as well as out,
breaking through little by little,
i feel the hunger go out of me,
there is no “otherness”,
no “I-ness”,
the ego is lit,
parts of it becoming ash and falling away,
i think that maybe this is what dying is,
not painful,
not frightening,
a surrender,
an abandoning of the ego, the self,
i think that maybe this can happen to a person before the physical body dies,
that maybe as the ego dies, selflessness, humility is born,
i feel an energy run through my body that brings with it,
a tenderness for and understanding of what everything is,
and where the speck of dust that i call myself lies amidst it all,
and then it is all gone,
i breathe in the green of the beans once more,
then rise to finish the watering

Sunday, June 29, 2014

a little artwork

i haven't done any artwork for quite a while---i tend to put most of my time and energy into the gardens these days.  the seed savers exchange, a non-profit organization that collects and distributes rare and heirloom seeds and provides information to seed savers, is looking for original artwork for an informational resource they're putting together so i thought i'd submit something---a good excuse to keep my artistic muscles in shape.  

pen and ink with watercolor of a radish pod and seeds
thanks for the paints and pens, mama.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

late june rain

we got half an inch of rain last night---woke to that sweet earthy smell coming in the windows on a cool breeze.

Monday, June 23, 2014


the day is alive with the buzz of bees, wasps, flies,
string trimmers droning in the distance like huge mechanical insects,
from the house, the faint thrum of jazz bass,
and here, in the garden, great leaves held aloft like aerial lily pads, vibrate in the breeze,
a palpable energy runs through everything,
alive in a golden sun-warmed hum,
every morning, i come here, to the garden,
my temple,
with bare feet,
bare head,
bare skin,
to worship in the dust,
and the sun,
every sight and sound and smell is sacred,
the musk of the squash leaves, damp earth, salty skin,
here, i sit quietly, and try to learn to be as humble and miraculous as a bean,
here, in this place, where birth and death feed each other,
and the veils are sometimes lifted in the space of a wing-beat a million times within the hum,
i think of you

Sunday, June 22, 2014

fun with squash

pretty much everything about gardening is fun for me (i wouldn't do it if it wasn't) but it's especially fun trying new things in the garden---new varieties of vegetables, new ways of growing or watering or harvesting, playing with timing and getting a feel for the connections and dynamic relationships among the plants, animals, and weather patterns. 
this year i have a nice planting of squash growing which has presented me with a great opportunity for a lot of experimenting.  there is always a chance to learn in the garden---about gardening and hopefully about oneself.  for years i've felt that the gardens i grow are just a big experiment and that they cultivate something in me as much as i do them.
squashes are fun to grow and the plants are beautiful.  there's an undeniable magnificence in their form.  everything about them has a boldness about it---huge, brilliant green leaves, strong vines and tendrils that radiate purpose and tenacity as they run all over the garden, paying no heed to boundaries or walkways, massive fruits of all colors, shapes and sizes, and those great big, golden blossoms, irresistible beacons to every humble bumble and honey bee in the garden.  
i've been wanting to experiment more with seed saving and plant breeding---the large blossoms of squash plants are a great place to start learning the skills necessary for doing hand pollinations---all the flower parts are very easy to see and work with.  i decided to start mainly with just doing pollinations to get true breeding seed so that i can continue growing the same varieties without having to keep buying seed.   the only selecting i'm really doing is trying to use the healthiest looking plants as parents.  i do have some hybrid varieties out there and the seed saved from them will not give me the same variety as the parents but i plan to use it in future breeding projects---there are techniques for dehybridizing hybrids that sound like something fun and challenging to try.  eventually what i want is to develop strains of all of my favorite varieties that are adapted to the growing conditions of my garden and to my cultivation practices.

so here's what i've been doing---every evening i go out to the squash patch and look for blossoms that are still closed but will be open the next morning and i tape the tips of the petals so that they can't open until i get to them (this keeps pollinating insects out of the flowers).

squash have separate male and female flowers.  the female flowers have an immature fruit at their base which is very easy to see.  

two young female flowers of an acorn squash

it's important to find the flowers at the right stage of development.  the flowers shown above will take several more days (depending on the weather) of growth before they will mature and be ready for pollination. 
the picture below shows a female flower of an acorn squash in the evening prior to the morning that it will open.  the petals are still tightly closed at the tips but starting to expand and color up.  

it's dry enough during the night that i can just use masking tape to seal flowers and not worry about it opening from dew or other moisture saturating the tape and breaking the seal before i get to it in the morning.

female flower of an acorn squash taped closed for the night

to the right of the female flower pictured above is a male flower that will also open the following morning---the petals are slightly expanded and starting to show color.

one spent male flower and another primed for a morning opening

in the morning i go out to the squash patch to do the pollinations.  the male flowers will start shedding pollen when it's warm enough and dry enough out---bees working the open blossoms is a good indicator that things are ready to go.

i remove the male blossom i'm going to use and strip the petals off to expose the anther and have good access to its pollen.

male flower with petals stripped off

once i've got the male flower prepared i tear the tape off the tip of the female flower and daub the male's pollen onto the female stigma---which should be mature enough to be sticky so that it holds the pollen well.

transferring pollen to the female

i often have to work fairly quickly and carefully---there have been a few times when i've had bees try to dive right into a flower as soon as i've gotten the tape off.  after i've got the stigma well coated with pollen i tape the flower closed again so that there won't be any contributions made by the bees that might cross up the pollination i've done.

i tag the stems of each fruit i've pollinated so that i will be able to recognize it at harvest.

tagged acorn squash a few days after pollination

nice feeling when a hand pollination takes and the fruit starts growing.

i love winter squash and i'm looking forward to tasting all the different varieties i'm growing, especially the kabocha types.  they have a very flavorful and dry meat.  i prefer the drier-fleshed winter squashes---they have a texture almost like sweet potato and all the ones i've eaten have flavor that's far superior to winter squashes with high-moisture flesh.

'cha-cha', a kabocha-type winter squash

while we wait for the winter squash we've been enjoying the summer squashes.  so far the plants are producing quite well---especially the crookneck.  
i harvested the first of the fruits at the baby stage---excited to get that first taste of summer.

mixed baby summer squashes

since then i've been harvesting later but early enough that the fruits are still quite tender.

guess what we're having for breakfast!

i'm growing pretty standard varieties of summer squash---a yellow crookneck, cocozelle zucchini, and a patty pan type called 'benning's green tint' that i like a lot.  i'm also growing a squash called, tromboncino, that has a fairly dense flesh and excellent flavor---the best of any summer squash i've had.  it's been a bit slower to get going because it's a vining plant rather than a bush.  it's a squash that was traditionally used as a winter squash but turns out to have better eating quality when picked immature at the summer squash stage.


we've mostly been having the squash cooked into our regular skillet meals with meat and other veggies but staal grilled some zucchini the other night and it was quite delicious---maybe my favorite way to have it.

grilled chicken thighs and zucchini---just add butter

the summer squash production was starting to outpace our summer squash consumption a little so i decided to experiment with dehydrating it.  i cut up a bunch of squash and spread it onto the flats i use to start seedlings in.  i dried apricots this way last year and it worked out just fine.

 i cut up some store-bought butternut squash too just to see what it will do.

then i stuck all the flats up on the roof with a flat inverted over each of them and a layer of newspaper on top to keep out the worst of the bugs.

i'll probably invest some time this summer looking for interesting ways to preserve and prepare squash. 
this is a pretty good start...

oh yeah.

Friday, June 13, 2014

dear deers,

as you may have noticed there have been some changes.  i don't mean to seem inhospitable---i hope you'll just see this as a friendly reminder that there are certain boundaries in our relationship and that i have both our best interests in mind as i'm assuming you would like to remain deers and not venison in the freezer.   
the farmer

staal and i recently finished putting up a deer fence around the big garden area that sits between the house and the road.  i think it turned out to be pretty neat.  it's kind of dynamic and organic and fairly unobtrusive.   except for the 4x4 posts and metal fence stakes it's a pretty light weight structure---the fence wire is 6 ft chicken wire and to get the height we needed (it probably averages between 9 and 10 ft high) we fished a bunch of bamboo poles through it.   it truly is more suggestive and intimidating/confusing than a physical barrier---any critter that really wants to get in could just crash right through if they got their nerve up.

south side of fence with burlap screening attached

high-tech gate latch made from old well-pump wiring

plenty of room for more veggie beds and some fruit trees

nice to finally get the row cover off the squash beds

honey bees from the mill office hive doing their thing

happy squash farmer

thanks for your help on this one master staal---wouldn't have been near as much fun without you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

welcome home

on june 9th, one year ago, staal and i spent our first night in our new home.  we had been living in my little room at the ranch since we were married in january---that was 6 months in -300 square ft, with two cats and one dog.  even in the cramped quarters we never argued, we cooked meals together in a cast iron skillet on a hot plate, spent days tending the garden and working to make the ranch easier to manage for the days when i would no longer be there.  and we searched for a place of our own.  
we had looked at a lot of houses but none were quite right.  in late april we were tipped to a place just out of mariposa.  it was a bit farther from family than the range we had been searching but when i saw the pictures on the internet something just sort of clicked.  i had to go see it.  we drove out to look at it that morning and when we got there and walked the property a little i knew for sure.  this place felt right.
it was a neglected little house on 6 acres, a foreclosure.  we had found it just in time to make an offer.  our first offer made it to the second round of bidding and we offered again (a nerve-wracking process---you don't know how much the other interested parties are offering).  
we got a call from the realtor we had been working with---our offer had been accepted---the place would be ours. 
next came a flood of papers to sign and the wait for escrow to close.  we got the keys on may 10th, a day after my birthday (a pretty nice gift).  
the house had been inhabited by a chainsmoker and the walls showed it.  we had some major cleaning and painting to do before we could move in.  the whole place smelled of tobacco and the walls ran brown as we scrubbed them.  i washed the walls, ceilings and cabinets and staal set to work priming them.  we picked out paint colors and got the place brightened up.  
after a month of work we were able to move in.  finally, a little place of our own.   it was a great feeling---coming home.
we've done a lot of work on the place over the last year and there is more planned but we both enjoy it---like they say---it's truly a labor of love.
it's nice to be home.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

metamorphosis of vanessa atalanta---the red admiral

lots of life in the garden.  bees, wasps, spiders, beetles, earthworms---more crawly (and flying and hoppy) critters than i've ever noticed in any garden i've ever grown.  i think the abundance and variety of species is a good thing.  some of them do a little damage but we're eating very well and  have plenty to share.  

a few weeks ago i started seeing some caterpillars on the stinging nettle.

staal's had an interest in butterflies since his youth and knows quite a bit about the butterflies in california.  he's taught me the names of the butterflies that visit our gardens.  
identifying caterpillars is sometimes a bit trickier since the butterflies tend to get most of the glory,  so we weren't sure who the fat little guys munching the nettle would turn out to be.
when i stopped seeing caterpillars i started looking for chrysalises.  not an easy thing to find.  i spotted one by chance when i was weeding one day.

i collected the chrysalis and put it in a mason jar so we could see who would emerge---that was about a week-and-a-half ago or so.  i was hoping to see the butterfly as it emerged but the sneaky little guy did it while we were sleeping---found him this morning.

newly emerged Vanessa atalanta the red admiral

i took the jar out to the garden and took the lid off.   he hung out in the garden for a while---probably resting---i'd imagine it's hard work turning from caterpillar into butterfly and then fighting one's way out of a chrysalis.  i was lucky he was tired though, allowed me to get within a few inches of him with the camera and get some decent shots.

i had to wait a while before he'd open his wings for me...

 but it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

early morning dream/visit (for grover)

i am at the old, brick house on rd 13,
someone has given me irises to plant,
i walk to where the naked ladies are planted and look for a place for the irises,
it seems like spring,
like morning,
the sky is brilliant blue,
i hear you barking,
i forget the irises and go to find you,
as i make my way down the narrow sidewalk that runs alongside the house,
and turn the corner toward the back porch,
i see you,
happily chasing after something,
i think it's a ground squirrel,
you always gave the squirrels hell at the ranch,
i catch a glimpse of your warm, brown eyes, and pink tongue,
your strong, golden body glistens in the sunlight,
i'm so happy to see you,
though i know, somehow, that i am dreaming,
that this is a visit,
and when i wake it will be into a reality that says you've been dead for nearly 3 years,
the dream begins to dissolve,
the images becoming increasingly hazy until they are lost completely in the clouds of consciousness,
i wake,
there is a sadness,
i still miss you,
but i am so happy and grateful for your visits,
and i know that i am also waking into a different dream, a different visit,
here, i feel my love's warm, sleepy body pressed against mine,
and look into the bright, mischievous eyes of new pup, who is happy to see me awake (finally),
as he says his good morning---licking my face and wagging excitedly,
i wonder if they are the visitors,
or is it me,
and which of us is dreaming?