Bad Words

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My house

Snelfrocky.

Spit.

Hangnails.

There are a number of reasons for this gush of rude words.

It worked to take in all the feeders and the seed.The birds are not here. The cowbirds did go away. The ring-necked doves moved across the street. The jays crawked and croaked but from a distance. And all the little birds went elsewhere, too.

So much for my big ideas about how the sparrows and chickadees and wrens or whatever they are — would all hang around because they live here, their nests are here.

Feh. What do I know. I put the feeders back because I missed all the birds. I put out an ultra-deluxe, peanut-butter-and-seed paper towel roll on its dead branch amongst the salal and other shrubs. And the cowbirds came back, and everybody else helped gobble it all up right away. But I’ve only seen a few, very few sparrows, chickadees, wrens, whatever-they-ares back and eating.

Maybe they were only here temporarily. Though they were all around last August and in the fall, gobbling away. And all winter, too. I hear an occasional chirp from a house sparrow (they have a monotonous but cheerful chirp.) It’s too utterly depressing.

I anthropomorphize and sentimentalize small birds, animals and most of the rest of creation. I want to be sentimental. I want to watch the little birds hopping around, gobbling, flying, fighting and living around here. I want to hear their chirps, songs, alarums and other sounds. I want to gush and ooh and aah over the darlings.

This absence of the little birds is, no doubt, not all about me. They are busy, they have migrated, they are all a-nest. They found somebody else with bird feeders.

But I miss them. Used to be when I opened the door, they’d lift off from the potted plants and the straw bales and the window feeder in a rush of wings, small brown wings. They’d scatter until the coast was clear. Now I open the door and nobody’s there at all.

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The straw bales sitting on the south side of the house.

My other bad words are for my lasagna beds and straw bales. The plants arrived from Territorial Seed (http://www.territorialseed.com/). The three grafted tomato plants are here. They are supposed to go into the straw bales in front of the house. But the bales aren’t ready. I forgot some of the details of turning straw bales into garden beds. You’re supposed to put a bit of fertilizer on top, any fertilizer, conventional, organic, doesn’t matter. Then water and the thing starts to cook. Then make holes in the bale, add a little dirt and plant the plants or seeds as the case may be.

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I just plunked them down in front of the house and watered them now and then. Last week I got out my three-eighths inch drill and my handy bulb augurs. Didn’t work. The straw wraps around the tips, and though there are now holes, they aren’t very deep. That’s when I looked up how to prepare the bales. I don’t think they are ready. I grabbed my bag of bat guano, liberally sprinkled it over the bales, adding quite a lot of compost starter, and watered them.

It was later that I read that a small amount of fertlizer, maybe a cup is all that is needed. And not to overwater, or the fertilzer will run out the bottom.

And the lasagna beds. They do have layers, mostly topped with straw bedding from the neighbor’s chicken coop. But they also are packed down. Sundry grasses grow up through them. Sundry weeds as well. Blackberry (Himalaya, thank you, Luther Burbank), broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolia) and even a bit of R. crispus (curly dock.)

The last two are edible, more or less. Curly dock is great for making pie out the stems, like rhubarb only not as sour. Except one needs a number of long stems, because they are much thinner than rhubarb stems. These stems are all quite short. Like rhubarb, the leaves have oxalic acid in them. Rumex leaves can be eaten after boiling in a couple of changes of water, and other things. Rhubarb leaves cannot be eaten due to the very high amount of oxalic acid crystals in them. Which is interesting because skunk cabbage leaves have a lot of oxalic acid crystals, and even they can be eaten after boiling in several changes of water. Why anyone would want to, I don’t know. But I digress.

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On the east side of the house, this lasagna bed has new starts in it.

My lasagna beds are messy. They are packed down. Some of them (and there aren’t very many of them to begin with) are shallow, with just some straw on top of the cardboard on top of the grass. The grass which is supposed to be dead by now, but no. No, it is growing up and around the cardboard and into the lovely coffee grounds, ammoniated sawdust, vegetable trimmings and chicken manure. Which is all packed down.

Not that grass and weeds are everywhere. But I had this great picture of fluffy beds, tidy and distinct edges, growing plants. Or at least ready to be planted with these very nice, expensive organic plant starts. Or seeds. Lettuce, rainbow chard, whatever. Flower seeds. And there I would be, simply pulling back the covering, sticking a finger into the loose dirt that had formerly been the aforesaid coffee grounds, ammoniated sawdust, vegetable trimmings and chicken manure. These components that were supposed to be rotting into nice dirt all winter. Not these flattened mounds of occasional plant with grass growing lustily through the straw.

I wouldn’t be grubby, either, because it’s all lovely in the ideal version.

Well, I am dirty, my right knee hurts (bruises from knee push-ups in Boot Camp class), my left thumb hurts (possible arthritis plus overused joints), my right thumb hurts (ditto.) The lovely rust-red (actual rust) wheel barrow has a bag of compost in it, along with a shovel. The hose winds through the front yard, one of the artichokes has died back to its crown I don’t know why, and that’s just the front yard. The lawn needs mowing again. My version of me being all organized and farmgirl and taking those plants as they arrive and planting them in the lasagna beds is somebody else who doesn’t live here.

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My jumble of plants from Territorial Seed sit in their packing boxes next to older plants waiting to go into the ground.

I live here. Organization is not my middle name.

The tomatoes, three starts of Lavandula x intermedia “Grosso,” the two-inch starts of L.x intermedia “Grosso,” are still in their two-inch pots, waiting for me to figure out where the heck to put them. So is the Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare.)

The lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is in, along with several pitiful sunburned starts of catmint or possibly catnip, I’m not looking it up. And others. But it will all just have to sit there, because I’m in here swilling back a cherry juice with soda water and blood orange float and writing this. The float is probably not a great idea, too much sugar, even though I’ll need calories for Boot Camp.

I thought I’d impress the neighbors and my landlord, who is a neighbor. I’d have this lovely — though disheveled — garden with these amazing lasagna beds of flowers and vegetables intermixed. The organic urban farmer, with bees. (Not everybody knows I have bees. Some of the neighbors are complainers.) And possibly chickens and bunnies. But with these lovely garden beds. This is all the fault of being part of the Wonder Bread Generation. Growing up watching TV, which implanted false ideas of Life, Solving Problems in Half-An-Hour and other unrealistic views.

Well. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is Star Trek: Into Darkness. After that will be more bed building with plants inserted. And maybe more birds. Possibly less kvetching. No promises.

Birdless

There are no bird feeders stuck to my windows. No bird seed for at least a week, maybe 10 days, I’ve decided. It’s because of the cowbirds, mostly. And the ring-necked doves.

At first there were two cowbirds.

By http://www.naturespicsonline.com from Wikimedia Commons

They are small blackbirds, lovely lines, pointy beaks, black eyes. Sweet. (But then, I say that rain bugs are sweet, and bees are sweet, and worms are sweet.) But more arrived, until there were a handful, then a few more. Their sound is a pretty, chuckling note which sweeps into a still-pretty but piercing song.

The thing is, cowbirds, like cuckoos, lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and leave them there for said other birds to raise them.

Cowbird_egg (2)

by Frankie Rose from Wikimedia Commons

Cowbirds are into flying, eating and making babies. Then they party onward, making no nests. I like them. But when the sparrows and chickadees had trouble reaching the feeders, and there were more and more cowbirds, I looked up what to do about it.

Using different feeders is an option. The bigger birds can’t perch on small pegs, for instance. But the simplest seemed to be stop feeding for awhile. So I have.

The many kinds of sparrows should stay around — they have nests. But they are also voraciously hungry when I see them at the feeders, gobbling as fast as they can. I put out toilet paper rolls coated with peanut butter and seeds, also paper towel rolls. And a couple of open pine cones with peanut butter mashed into them, and coated with seeds. Everybody loves these — the Steller’s jays as well as the little birds. Again, they are all very hungry. Well, the jays are always hungry.

House sparrow by David Lofink from Wikimedia Commons

By Juliet Fiss from Wikimedia Commons

By Juliet Fiss from Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to just let them be. I want to feed them and watch them at my windows, and on the ground, and in the bushes. But hopefully after 10 days, the cowbirds will give up and go find easier pickings.

By Lip Kee from Singapore, Republic of Singapore (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommonimedia Commons

By Lip Kee from Wikimedia Commons


The doves are lovely to look at. It’s unfair, but they also look kind of dumb. Pretty, but dumb. These doves are escapees, naturalized. And edible. They are called squab in high-priced restaurants. But squab are month-old birds, and are raised for the purpose. These pretties are grown-ups, and are probably stringy. One shoots wild doves, and there is a season, and there is a tag or license.
Since I stopped feeding a couple days ago, I haven’t seen the doves at all. And cowbirds are scarce. But they may be in the neighborhood, just waiting until I weaken put out the food again. The doves don’t go for the feeders. They eat the fallen seed on the ground.

Some of the feeder birds are very funny. It seems to be individual. A cowbird or a sparrow will get into the feeder itself and scratch wildly, spraying seed out the sides. I guess they are looking for something in particular. I don’t mind the fallen seed, because the sparrows and chickadees and jays and all the rest will hop around and eat up the seeds on the ground.

Watching the birds, and talking to them, and listening to their talk and songs make me happy. But hopefully in a few more days, the cowbirds will be partying somewhere else.
Having no shotgun, I did ponder snares for the doves. But I don’t know anything about snaring, either. There’re nets, too. In one of the psalms the singer rejoices that the Lord has freed him from the nets of the fowlers. But then I don’t have nets either.
I do want the sparrows and chickadees to have firsties at the seeds. I’d rather not feed the doves and the cowbirds. I’ll see.

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My front lawn, well, I call it a lawn, is a chaos of grass, false dandelion, real dandelion, fallen twigs, bits of lichen and bits of plastic from previous tenants. I’ve also come across a knife and a spoon. Kids used to live here. Maybe they helped with the gardening.

When I moved here in August 2012, the landlord had kindly mowed the lawn front and back. By then it was a stand of yellow flowers waving on long stalks. False dandelion, Hypochaeris radicata, is edible. Their leaves are fleshy and hairy and are best cooked. I have nurtured some in and around the big pots holding my roses for eating. Those growing in the lawn are old, walked on and battered. When they are blooming at one time, I think it’s a jolly sight, all those yellow flowers. Most people see a ratty field of weeds, though, so the landlord mowed it. So of course, when it started to rain in the fall, the grass turned green, but it was too cold to grow.

I didn’t know about the chives until a few weeks ago. A few had sprouted on the outside edge of the fence. I thought they’d seeded from my own potted chives.

 

Chives grow again along fence.

Chives grow again along fence.

Continue reading

Dirt

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Dirt. I don’t have enough of it. My ambitions are big for this rental house in Newport, Ore. That means I’ll need dirt, or the components of dirt. I’ve made lasagna beds: gathered coffee grounds, chicken bedding, leftovers from the organic farmers at the Newport Farmers Market, sawdust well soaked in ammonia (from the cat box) and bagged organic dirt from the co-op.

It isn’t enough. But it’s still winter, and I’ll keep on collecting as much as I can. I have my eye on spent grains from a microbrewer here, as well as organic manure from Seal Rock Stables, about 15 minutes south.

This blog is a record of my attempts at starting my urban farmlet. Or partly rural urban farm. I moved here in August 2012. The main attraction is the large yard. Along with a landlord who is very calm about the idea of lots of garden, as well as chickens, cats and even bees. Probably bunnies will be OK as well.

I’ll also be writing about the native plants, artisans and warehouses, neighbors and Highway 101 — the context of this house and yard.

The ground here is a sort of dirty sand. The flower beds inside my white picket fence in front of the house have actual dirt in them, along with several roses, possibly hybrid teas, perhaps something else.

The plants and seeds are ordered and will arrive at the appropriate times. Lavenders, rosemaries, grafted tomatoes, peas, onion sets and potatoes along with scads of flower seeds — I have a ridiculously long list. It has finally occurred to me that maybe I don’t have to start out with absolutely everything that catches my eye. At least, not at first.

But first I need more dirt. Prayers are in order, of course.