Permaculture Lectures At Finch Frolic Garden, June 2014

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!

Learn how to work with nature and save money too

Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June.  Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…

Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community.  Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.

Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.

Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub!  How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat.  Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.

Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard?  We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.

Your hosts and lecturers will be

Jacob Hatch  Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.

Miranda Kennedy  OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.

Diane Kennedy  Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.

Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up.  Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person.  Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at dianeckennedy@prodigy.net for reservations and directions.

 

      You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!

Happy Easter!

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

Heirloom irises from my good friend Jean are blooming.

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf.  See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

A Western fence lizard suns and guards his territory atop a clary sage leaf. See the flash of blue under his chin to attract the ladies?

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

This green calla lily is gorgeous.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Framed by curly willow from the Withy Bird Hide, two drakes swim in the pond on Easter morning.

Sweet peas are still blooming.  They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

Sweet peas are still blooming. They hold the permaculture precept of everything having three purposes: they are nitrogen fixers, they are edible, and they are gorgeous.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

A fancy drake who showed up this morning.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now.  Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

The irises surrounding the pond are spectacular right now. Blue, dark blue and yellow flag.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He's enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Baby bunny has been growing out his ears. He’s enjoying a warm dirt bath.

Mulan has gone broody.  Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she's trying to hatch.  We're feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won't come down during the day.

Mulan has gone broody. Such a large chicken puddles out over the wooden egg she’s trying to hatch. We’re feeding her an oatmeal mixture in a dish because she won’t come down during the day.

Easter breakfast.  Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother's recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food.  Peanut doesn't act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador.   Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

Easter breakfast. Hard boiled eggs, naturally colored by our hens, fresh tangerine juice, our traditional stollen from my mother’s recipe, and Peanut in his chicky robe ready to launch into the food. Peanut doesn’t act his age, of about 40+ years, but has traveled and been photographed extensively in Europe and Ecuador. Its nice that he wakes up for holidays.

 

Finch Frolic Facebook!

Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page.  Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property.  Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more.  If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page.  Thanks!

Remodeling the Outdoor Sink

I’m thrilled with my outdoor sink.  I love it.  It is my friend.  It is my old kitchen sink, stubbornly hauled around the property until I finally was able to put it on an old fishtank stand and hook it into the waterline out in the garden.  Even better, Steve, who used to work here and who was responsible for the Mock Pavilion, modified the stand so that the sink fit down into it more securely.  Any water used would be caught in buckets underneath (with long sticks in them so that any creature that falls in can crawl out again), which I would pull out and empty.

The buckets are just another heavy thing with which I had to deal.  There had to be another way.

The buckets are just another heavy thing with which I had to deal. There had to be another way.

A problem with the sink being set down into the stand is that the underside of one of the drains now sat slightly into a bucket, so I’d have to tip the bucket to get it out.  Wrestle it out would be the better term, usually becoming wet with old sink water in the process.  Throwing a 5-gallon bucket of water somewhere lost its charm quickly, especially as I was the only one emptying, but not the only one filling.  Something had to be done.  When I made the area next to the Fowl Fortress into an apple tree guild, I now had an area which could use extra water.  The sink needed to be moved.  Last week I finally did it, and I have to say, I’m pretty smug about  how.

I am a disaster with a saw, but I’m pretty experienced with old PVC pipe and Red Hot Blue Glue (all those sprinklers I’ve mowed down over the years).  I leveled a place next to the coop and placed some old plywood on it, both to help steady the sink stand and to keep weeds down (and to use up the plywood).

I dug up the water line and placed plywood on a leveled area.

I dug up the water line and placed plywood on a leveled area.

I dug up the water line, turned off the irrigation water, opened other faucets to drain and then cut into the pipe.  Then I discovered the real pipe beneath this old dry one, and dug it out and cut into it, allowing it to drain as well before connecting a tee.

Beneath the old pipe was the real one.

Beneath the old pipe was the real one.

The hens were all pressed against the side of the coop trying to see what I was doing, and desperately wanting to search for bugs in the dirt I’d just dug up.  Sorry girls.

I laborously walked the rather heavy and unevenly weighted stand (the sink isn’t in the center) over to the plywood.  Then I walked it off again, adjusted, and walked it back.  Then I adjusted again.  Then I had a sit-down and wondered what my chiropractor was going to say.

Now came the fun problem-solving part.  The drains from the sink were open, so how to catch water and send  it off into the guild, without spending a bunch of money?  The vision came to me from out of the blue: plungers.  Some people have visions of how to earn lots of money, others have visions of how to change the world for the better.  My imagination provides me with plungers.  Yep.

Supplies.  I learned from my collegiate daughter, and the hardware store cashier, that plungers were nicknamed 'magic wands'.  No matter how much I learn each day, I'm always in the dark on the important things.

Supplies. I learned from my collegiate daughter, and the hardware store cashier, that plungers were nicknamed ‘magic wands’. No matter how much I learn each day, I’m always in the dark on the important things.

However, I felt pretty proud of myself and was excited to get started.    I rooted through my barrel of old PVC left from the former owners (I’ve lived here over 14 years and the PVC was already old then) and through my fittings.  I only needed a couple new fittings and the plungers from Joe’s Hardware. The plungers had blue cups and clear handles, not the wooden-handled, black-cupped manly plungers of my imagination.  If wizards had plungers, I could see them using these.  Well this would be a female version and blue is my favorite color.

I screwed in threaded 1/2" risers and tried them as is, but they leaked, so I put silicone gel around the threads and tried again. It worked after the gel dried.

I screwed in threaded 1/2″ risers and tried them as is, but they leaked, so I put silicone gel around the threads and tried again. It worked after the gel dried.

Knowing that the thread of the plunger handle wasn’t the same thread as a PVC riser (how do I know these things? Am I channeling some long-dead plumber??) I grabbed silicone sealant I had recently purchased to seal up leaks in a small fountain so that it would work during garden tours (the sealant worked, but then the motor failed. Sigh.)

Drilling drain holes in the plunger cups.

Drilling drain holes in the plunger cups.

I had expected to find plunger heads and handles sold seperately, and remembered seeing plungers with threaded holes all the way through.  I must have been flashing back to the cheap supplies offered to the parks department when I was a Ranger because all I found at Joes were complete, and the holes were covered (better suction).  I drilled through the rubber to make  the drain hole (which created some very cute blue rubber curls).

I connected up most parts, but then came the challenge, to space the plungers the correct distance apart, and measuring is not my thing.  It seems simple, but it never works for me.  My ginko must have kicked in, though, because I realized that I could just place the plungers over the sink holes on top and build it up there, and of course it would be the correct distance underneath.

Ha!  I didn't have to lay in the tomatoes and work around the legs in the back!  I could do it on top and still get the length right.

Ha! I didn’t have to lay in the tomatoes and work around the legs in the back! I could do it on top and still get the length right.

I’m still proud of figuring that out.

All ready to go.  The trick really was to get this thing in place around the support legs behind the fishtank stand!

All ready to go. The trick really was to get this thing in place around the support legs behind the fishtank stand!

My beauties.

My beauties.

My plan was to screw it into a soaker hose that I already had, but I worried that without water pressure it wouldn’t work.  It didn’t.

The soaker hose idea failed because of the lack of water pressure, and caused the water to back up and overflow the plunger cups.

The soaker hose idea failed because of the lack of water pressure, and caused the water to back up and overflow the plunger cups.

I removed the screw end from the PVC and glued on more 1/2″ pipe so that the water would directly empty near the apple tree.

There were a few other tweaks, such as widening the drill holes in the plunger for better water drainage, propping the pipe up on a piece of wood so that it fit the drains more securely (it isn’t fastened onto the stand so that if I had to access the plunger cups I could do so easily), and placing screen over the drains so no one would lose a ring down into the device.

Now the water drains directly into the bed.  Tip: glue the long pieces on once the main part is in place under the sink.  Plants will grow up around the back of the sink to hide it from view.

Now the water drains directly into the bed. Tip: glue the long pieces on once the main part is in place under the sink. Plants will grow up around the back of the sink to hide it from view.

Now it all works, I have less work to do, no yucky buckets to haul, the apple tree receives greywater, I repurposed several items and although I had to buy a few things, I supported a local business, the sink is in a better location, and I like the blue color of the plunger cups.

Best of all, now I have some snazzy clear handles to use for some other project!

Hmm.  Threaded magic wands!  I wonder how I can repurpose these beauties?!

Hmm. Threaded magic wands! I wonder how I can repurpose these beauties?!

San Diego Permaculture Convergence, Nov. 9 – 10, 2013

There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. Converge_Flyer_1_It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available.  Check out the website at convergence@sdpermies.com. On that Sunday I’ll be teaching a workshop about why its so important to plant native plants, how to plant them in guilds using fishscale swales and mini-hugelkulturs.  Come to the convergence and be inspired!

Belle: Adventures of a Crossbill Chicken

Belle looks much jauntier than she is while being rinsed in her bath.

Belle looks much jauntier than she is while being rinsed in her bath.

When we added to our flock of five last March by acquiring chicks, we soon discovered that our Americauna (ironically already named Belle), was a genetic crossbill.  Crossbill is a genetic mutation found particularly in Americaunas which causes the beak to scissor so that they don’t meet.  Some unfortunate crossbills are affected so extremely that the hen eventually would starve to death.  Because of the crossbill, the hens can’t peck at food.

Aww!  Belle as a baby.  Sigh.

Aww! Belle as a baby. Sigh.

So far Belle is able to eat, provided that we give her special food.  We also use nail clippers and a nail file to trim as much of her beak off as we can without nipping the wick and making it bleed.  Belle is very patient during the process.  Mostly.

Gently and carefully trimming and filing Belle's beak, keeping clear of the wick.

Gently and carefully trimming and filing Belle’s beak, keeping clear of the wick.

She also can’t preen well.  Preening in hens means that they dip their beak into an oil gland over their tail feathers and smooth that over their feathers, knitting them together and combing out the pin sheaths emergent feather shed as well as dirt and other itchy things.

Grooming is a challenge for her.  Here feather sheaths and bits adorn Miranda after we finger-groom her.

Grooming is a challenge for her. Here feather sheaths and bits adorn Miranda after we finger-groom Belle.

Belle’s food has to be mushy so that she can scoop it rather than peck at it.  We grind up the foods we feed our other hens and then mix it with water until it has a scoopable consistancy.

Lay pellets, egg shells, oyster shell, cracked corn, and greens are ground up then mixed with water for Belle's mush.

Lay pellets, egg shells, oyster shell, cracked corn, and greens are ground up then mixed with water for Belle’s mush.

We feed Belle the mush in a deep container with enough room for her twisted beak.  Because the pecking behavior is so natural to her she finds it hard even with months of practice to scoop to the side.  She shakes her head often but miraculously enough goes down.

Belle's eating habits are not a pretty sight.

Belle’s eating habits are not a pretty sight.

Although what we feed Belle is exactly what we feed the other hens, only wet, they still are jealous and will push her away from her food.  So she is fed in a special upside-down milkcrate of my daughter’s design, in the upper portion of the quail coop (the quail won’t go upstairs). The door is closed to just a Belle-sized crack and held open with a sophisticated latching unit (a stick).  Even so some of the bolder girls will invade.

Belle eats upstairs in the quail coop.  A crate helps keep her food from being raided by other hens.

Belle eats upstairs in the quail coop. A crate helps keep her food from being raided by other hens.

Some food does go down Belle’s throat, but much of it decorates the crate.

The wall of splatter inside her eating crate.

The wall of splatter inside her eating crate.

After giving her a bath (as in the top photo) to soak off the dried hen food, her feathers looked so pretty (and she strutted around the porch so much as she dried) that I endeavored to find a solution to keep her clean.  Alas, nothing worked.  We ended up trimming her neck feathers to reduce the dried clumps.

I tried an old bib of my children's on Belle to try and protect her clean feathers from splatter.  It didn't work.

I tried an old bib of my children’s on Belle to try and protect her clean feathers from splatter. It didn’t work.

With all the handling Belle gets she has become a spoiled girl.  She lives outside the hen’s pecking order, often scooting under their legs or pushing them out of the way when a treat comes even though she can’t eat it and has to have hers separately.

Belle, the falcon.

Belle, the falcon.  Or the time is quarter-past Belle.

Belle likes to help.  I usually feed the hens in the morning while in my bathrobe. As I bend to scoop their food I find there is a chicken clawing her way up my back. She enjoys sitting on one’s head as well, particularly on my daughter’s as she has so much hair coiled up that it gives Belle a nice place, albeit an unwelcome one, to perch.

Belle likes to help whenever she can.

Belle likes to help whenever she can.

When we fill Belle’s food dish with water outside the Fowl Fortress, she often sneaks under the door as it is closing and makes a leap for her food.  Usually this results in food everywhere but in Belle’s very hungry stomach.

Belle usually can't wait until she's served.

Belle usually can’t wait until she’s served.

Belle is a happy chicken, eager for attention and enjoying being ‘teacher’s pet’.  She doesn’t mind being carried around like a small football.

With all the frequent handling she gets, Belle enjoys being carried around... spoiled girl!

With all the frequent handling she gets, Belle enjoys being carried around… spoiled girl!

After making fried zucchini for dinner one night I had extra beaten egg and soy milk left over.  On a whim I cooked it into a custard for Belle.  Well. I’ve never seen a hen eat so much.  It was the perfect consistancy for her to scoop and it was tasty.  Giving her a few day’s break I eventually made her a more nutritious custard.  In my handy-dandy Vitamix (I really should be paid to sponsor them, although hen custard probably isn’t in their advertising scheme) I mixed quail eggs and their shells, lay pellets, ground cracked corn, oyster shell, buttermilk, and celery greens which I happened to have right there (from home-grown celery).  The custard turned out very unappetising.

Although it looks like a cross between brocciflower and a sea sponge, it is really a dry custard.

Although it looks like a cross between brocciflower and a sea sponge, it is really a dry custard.

Apparently it was only unappealing to me and Miranda.

After-custard clean-up is necessary due to the dairy products.  Belle's not happy about being dabbed.

After-custard clean-up is necessary due to the dairy products. Belle’s not happy about being dabbed.

It is worth the extra effort to insure Belle has a good meal and a full crop at the end of the day.  When she’s full of custard she actually struts around the yard, happy with her fullness and the fact that she had a treat no one else had.  Belle is of laying age but her size is smaller than the other hens and she’s still growing.  I don’t mind if she doesn’t lay; she’s a darling friend and a neutral hen in the coop.  I’m sure Belle will be the source of many more stories and certainly a lot more mess.  Just another crazy, high-maintenance, unproductive little animal here at Finch Frolic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Release of the Pullets, and No More House Chicken

 

The Fowl Fortress and its many inhabitants.

The Fowl Fortress and its many inhabitants.

It was time.  The little chicks were half-grown and beginning to eat scratch and pelleted chicken food along with their chick starter.  They had finally figured out how to go upstairs at nighttime although it took several tries where I had to pick them out of their chick pile and shove them through the upstairs egg window.  A couple of times when I’d let the big girls out into the garden, I had let the little girls out into the Fowl Fortress.  They had run around stretching their wings and barreling into one another. So it was time for them to join the big girls as one large flock.

Four of the seven little girls. L-R: Belle, Charlotte, Esther (or Myrtle. They look and act the same), and Mulan (please don't be a rooster!).

Four of the seven little girls. L-R: Belle, Charlotte, Esther (or Myrtle. They look and act the same), and Mulan (please don’t be a rooster!).

And then there was Viola, the house chicken.  She’d been a house chicken for over half a year, enjoying her special front yard paradise, coming when called, stealing some dog and cat food, caging herself at night, and crooning away whenever I sneezed or made noise while she slept.  I really loved to have my house chicken.  However she was alone a lot.  She protested her aloneness by shrieking horribly for long periods of time.  She could shriek with both exhaled and inhaled breath so that the noise didn’t stop.  Even when at the end of my rope I yelled at her to shut up, she shrieked.  She was becoming a spoiled and lonesome chicken.  Her leg, the reason for her separation from the flock, was doing well again.  I thought that if there was ever a good time to reintroduce her it would be at the same time that I let loose the little girls.  There would be less hostility against Viola when the hens reinforced their pecking order.  It was a very hard decision to make, but I thought it was for the best.  I left the cage up in the house, though, just in case.

Madge: not just a rescue anymore!  Uber hen!

Madge: not just a rescue anymore! Uber hen!

Last week I gave Viola a surprise and brought her down to the coop when I let the hens out of their chicken tractor.  Viola wasn’t happy about it.  Immediately Madge, the one-eyed Rhode Island Red who had been caged with Viola at the feed store when both had been seriously pecked, who had been her only friend for a year with my other girls, decided to punish Viola for her absence and make sure she knew she was at the bottom of the pecking order. She didn’t just give Viola – who is smaller – a peck, she tried to remove feathers.  She jumped her and chased her.  I had to get between the two of them.  Pushing the vicious Blind Pirate Madge away just made her more intense, so I tried picking her up and giving her attention.

Paritally blind Madge... who'd have thought that she'd give the others the fish-eye?

Paritally blind Madge… who’d have thought that she’d give the others the fish-eye?

That worked better.  Still, Viola had to hide.  With Viola between my legs for protection I released the little girls.

Viola staying close.

Viola staying close.  L-R: Madge’s butt, Malaika, Esther (or Myrtle), behind is Bodacea, crouching is Belle, Charlotte, in the back is Myrtle (or Esther), Mulan, and on the right is Lark.  Not pictured: Chickpea and Miss Amelia, the flock leader.

The big hens… pretty much ignored them.  The little girls were so happy to be free.  I kept their food inside their coop and propped the door so that only the smaller birds could get in there, but the big girls managed to shoulder themselves in anyway.

Madge shows her ranking to Myrtle as others look on in alarm.

Madge shows her ranking to Myrtle as others look on in alarm.

 

Lark, the Barred Rock who has been barren since she survived egg binding and who has been enjoying her work-free status has developed some kind of uncomfortable swelling.  At first I thought she was just fat, but her tummy swelled like a balloon over several weeks.  She lost her feathers on her red rump.

Lark's uncomfortable ailment.

Lark’s uncomfortable ailment.

It became awkward for her to walk so I gave her a couple of Epsom salt baths in the kitchen sink, and she became a house guest for a couple of days.  She wasn’t as pleasant as Viola, but enjoyed the new experience.  I returned her to the coop, and just today the swelling seems much less, thank goodness.  The whole illness has not, however, affected her appetite.

Belle, the crossbill Americauna, had such difficulty eating that she is smaller than the rest and seemed to always be famished.

Belle, the Americauna who has the cross-bill trait.  Small but sassy, and usually covered with mash.

Belle, the Americauna who has the cross-bill trait. Small but sassy, and usually covered with mash.

I finally found a small, deep tupperware container that I could wedge between a piece of wood and the side of her coop where it wouldn’t tip over easily, and filled it with chick starter and water mash.  Belle was eating heartily for the first time since her bill began to cross and for once she had time to spend goofing around with a full tummy.  And a messy face and breast.  Since I’d tried trimming her beak, and since I make the magic mash for her now, she has become not only an energetic chicken but a devotee of me.  While the other ingrates run away as if I were an axe murderer rather than the vegetarian that I am, Belle flies onto me at any chance.  With Viola between my ankles and Belle running up my back I feel very much a part of the flock.

Ah haz a friend!

Ah haz a friend!

The Life of Di, or Fall At My House

“And here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

I like to be involved with many projects at once.  I picture my life as an opal, my birthstone, full of swirled colors and hues.  I have several books going at once, projects chipped away at around the house, volunteer responsibilities strewn across my week, and far too many animals and acres to care for.  When I’m exhausted I can spend a day on the couch reading with no trouble at all being the picture of laziness.  Prior to Thanksgiving I underwent a skin cancer preventative treatment on my face and hands, which required applying a topical cream twice a day that brings suspicious cells to the surface and burns them off.  By the end of the second week I was quite a mess, and then took another week to heal enough to be seen in public without alerting the zombie hunters.  The treatment, needless to say, kept me from being in sunlight, therefore housebound.  Always loving a clean, organized house but never actually completely cleaning or organizing, I figured I’d get some work done.  I tried sorting about 15 boxes of photo albums left by my mother and grandmother… and got through one box before I had to stop.  I wanted to bake bread, and I wanted to find something to do with the small amount of hops we harvested, so I experimented with a recipe that had a starter, sponge and rising that altogether took five days.  The Turnipseed Sisters’ White Bread from the classic Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads .

Turnipseed Sisters’ White Loaf starter made with hops.

The starter really smelled like beer. Not in a pleasant way, either.  However the bread was good, and baking was fun.

Good sandwich and toast bread.

Just the extra carbs I needed for sitting on my butt for two weeks, right?  Then I wanted to thin, clean and alphabetize the fiction section in my living room.

Books piled alphabetically… a little later there was a small avalanche.

Yes, I have enough books in my house that they are in sections.  Former school librarian and bookstore worker here.  I haven’t done the non-fiction section as yet, which extends to most of the other rooms in the house.  Maybe next year?  I did a little writing, a lot of reading, surrounded by my elderly dog Sophie

Sophie enjoying good sleeps.

who keeps returning from the brink of death to sleep about 23 hours a day, and one of my hens, Viola, who suddenly went lame in one leg.

Viola on a healing vacation.

All advice was to cull her, but I thought that she pulled a muscle and hadn’t broken her leg, and being vegetarian I don’t eat my pets.  Viola has been recuperating in a cage in the dining room, gaining strength in that leg, laying regular eggs, having full rein of the front yard, and crooning wonderfully. As I count wild birds for Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, I keep an eye on the hen.  The cats ignore her, thank goodness.  I’ve quite enjoyed having a chicken in the house.  Yep, I’m starting to be one of those kinds of aging ladies.

In between I’d spend time crawling under bushes to push and shove my 100-pound African spur thigh tortoise out of his hiding spot and into the heatlamp-warmed Rubbermaid house he shuns so that he wouldn’t catch cold in the chill damp nights.  I always come out victorious, with him angry and begrudgingly warm, and with me wet, muddy, hair full of sticks and hands full of scratches.  Does anyone have a life like this?

“I’m performing advanced trigonometry in my head, don’t bother me, Woman!”

Finally my skin healed enough so that I was able to venture outdoors.

Garlic and seed sprouts guarded from birds by a rubber snake.

I planted seeds of winter crops: collards, kale, garlic, onions, carrots, Brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe, and prepared raised beds for more.

Yellow perfection tomatoes still ripening, as are the green zebra.

I ordered organic pea, lupine and sweet pea seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds , all nitrogen-fixers to plant around the plant guilds.

Pepperoncini still producing.

On Thanksgiving I hiked 1200 feet up Monserate Mountain in a record slow time; all that sitting and all that bread causing me to often stop and watch the slow holiday traffic on Hwy. 15, and be very glad that I was on a hike instead.

The neighbors had their annual tree butchering, paying exorbitant sums to have the same so-called landscapers come in and top their trees (shudder!) and thin others… for what reason I have no idea.  Because being retired Orange County professionals they believe that trees need to be hacked back, contorted, and ruined?  Possibly.

Please, please, please, friends don’t let friends top trees!  Find an arborist who trims trees with an eye to their health and long-term growth and immediate beauty.  A well-pruned tree is lovely, even just after pruning.  A topped tree is brutal and ugly.

A topped coral tree. Ugh!

Anyway, the upside is that I claimed all the chips, giving new life to the ravaged trees as mulch for my pathways.  Two truckloads were delivered.  I think I have enough for the whole property.

“The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. He saw another mountain…”

How to spread it?  Yep, one wheelbarrow full at a time.

One wheelbarrow at a time.

I can now condition myself for more hiking and weight lifting without leaving the property.  The heaps have a lot of pine in them (they thinned the pine trees!???) so there is a pleasant Christmassy smell emanating from the heaps.

Hot steamy mulch.

They are also very high nitrogen and were hot in the center on the second day and this morning were steaming right after our brief rain shower.  Mulch piles can catch fire; when I worked for San Diego County Parks we rangers would joke about who had been called out by the fire department when their newly delivered mulch pile had caught fire in the  night.

Steam from the mulch mountains. I stood on it just now and steam went up my pant legs and warmed me up!

I also received a gift of seven 15-gallon nursery containers of llama poo!

The wealth of llama poo.

Hot diggity!  Early Christmas: My diamonds are round and brown, thank-you.  I layered them in the compost heap and am ready for more.

I also wholeheartedly participated in Small Business Saturday, finding happy locals and crossing paths with friends and aquaintences at several stores.  I received my first Merry Christmas from a man at Myrtle Creek Nursery’s parking lot as he waited for his son’s family to pick out a Christmas tree.  I do love this town.

Sweet potatoes ready to harvest for Christmas dinner.

That catches me up.  Lots of projects, lots of volunteering, lots of cleaning up to do before my daughter comes home for the holidays and despairs at my bachelorette living.  Lots of mulch to move. Lots of really great friends.  Lots of sunscreen to wear.  Lots to be thankful for.

Change in Status

I want to petition Facebook to add another relationship choice for my status.  Single is such a lonely word.  If you’re young, then to be ‘single’ means ‘available’.  When you’re middle-aged, single means ‘bad relationship history’, or ‘too much baggage’, or ‘was always chosen last for sports in school and nothing has changed.’  To have a status of single is camouflage for the ugly ‘divorced’ term or the sad ‘widowed’ term.  None of these evoke attention or enthusiasm on the part of the beholder.  Over a certain age the question isn’t, “Are you single?”, but “WHY are you single?”  In other words, “What is wrong with you?”  Then anyone checking you out starts searching your Facebook albums for photos of a huge number of children who don’t match each other, or a long suspicious gap in your employment dates.  To be listed as single when middle-aged is negative; its depressing.  Its lonely.

That is why I want to change my relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘unsupervised’.  How much more freeing and exciting is it to be unsupervised than just single?  It conjures up wild abandon, mysterious trips, breaking rules, being silly and being old enough to get away with it all.  Unsupervised: the no-no of the classroom, the parental horror of the teen years, the anathema of the workplace.  How fun is that?  Single + middle aged = rocking chairs and increased doctor visits.  Unsupervised + middle aged = spontaneity and surprises.

So I will consider myself unsupervised and see if the change in term also liberates my behavior even a little.

But then, I have cats, so maybe I can’t consider myself unsupervised.  Especially at dinnertime.