Sunday, May 29, 2011

New pals and old friends

     Ever been to Nebraska? Doesn't sound like the most exotic locale, but I was there recently and I have to say it is a lovely place. Through work, I had an opportunity to attend a conference that was headlined as a "staff enrichment" experience. It wasn't devoted just to leadership training, or team-building, or operational functions, or just plain fun stuff--it was all of that combined and more. Choices of sessions abounded, from beginning ornithology (bird identification) to Outlook tips and tricks (how to better manage your e-mail) to, yes, leadership and team-building. Special sessions on our organization's work in the boreal forests in Canada and water management in Columbia were also included. It was a chance to meet new colleagues ("new pals") from all over the country, even the world, and to find out a bit more about our work in other places. It was, indeed, an enriching experience.
Lied Lodge

     This is the third year my employer has held this conference, and my first opportunity to attend. It has been held every year in a conference facility called Lied (pronounced LEE-ed) Lodge, on the outskirts of Nebraska City, NE. This area of southeast Nebraska is where Arbor Day originated. It's in the middle of what once was the Great Plains shortgrass prairie, a place of very few trees. So, when J. Sterling Morton showed up here in the 1860's as a pioneer settler and editor of the Nebraska News in Nebraska City, he saw a treeless plain and imagined what it would look like with the addition of trees. He soon developed a life-long interest in agriculture and horticulture, and promoted the planting of trees in the area. This became the precursor for the first National Arbor Day in 1872, where a national effort was made to plant trees across the country; it's an annual holiday that continues to this day.  The Arbor Day Foundation, too, is the founder of the Tree City program, of which my Town of Pinetop-Lakeside is a member. On a side note, Morton later became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1893 through 1896, and promoted the restoration of forests and the planting of trees during his tenure.
Back of Lied Lodge
overlooking Arbor Day Farm

    Lied Lodge overlooks Arbor Day Farm, a farm open to the public that celebrates Arbor Day and its roots, and which showcases agricultural practices, particularly fruit orchards, grapes/vines, and some forms of vegetable gardening. Large stands of woods, no doubt in existence due to Morton's vision and tree-planting activities, line creeks and drainages, with trails interspersed among the trees.

A dose of spring; leafed-out mature oak
     It really was a beautiful place to be. The grass had greened up, the trees had leafed out--much sooner than what we have been experiencing in Arizona, so it was a breath of springtime right when I needed it.
     Most of our conference sessions were held inside the Lodge, which was built with a focus on "green" architecture and operations (no new sheets and towels every day unless requested, water conservation infrastructure). The intent of Lied Lodge is to cater to conservation-oriented groups and gatherings, and we fit that bill.

Inside Lied Lodge
     Our time was pretty much booked, so there wasn't a lot of opportunities to get out and wander around, other than maybe the half-hour before dinner or in the early morning. One afternoon was dedicated to your chosen field trip, and I chose to go with the group visiting a shortgrass prairie preserve. I was really looking forward to taking a few birdwatching walks whenever I could, as it had been decades since I've birded in the midwest in springtime. I started birdwatching in the late 1970's, while in high school in Minnesota. My early "lifers," or new birds observed, were then birds considered to be "eastern" U.S. birds. In the mid-1980's, I moved to Arizona, and most of my birding since then has either taken place in the Southwest, or on travels/vacations that were nowhere near the midwest. I knew that this conference would offer me an opportunity to see some of these birds I had not seen in decades--the "old friends" that the title of this entry pertains to.
Great Crested Flycatcher

    With binoculars in hand, I walked around the Lodge and Arbor Day Farm property as often as possible. Between my walks there, and on the shortgrass prairie preserve hike, I tallied a total of 26 species, with a number of memorable standouts. One of the first birds that took me completely by surprise was the Great Crested Flycatcher. Found hanging around the trees across the Lodge's parking lot making the distinctive flycatcher moves (perch, sally in the air for an insect, return to the same perch, repeat), I was amazed at how common this species was around here. My first sighting of this species occurred while slogging through a peat bog in northern Minnesota, with Mr. Peterson, our high school Conservation Club's field trip leader, being really excited to spot this particular bird. So, as I watched this old friend I hadn't seen in years, I recalled the smell and feel of walking through a bog, feet squishing on the soft peat below, while peering into gnarled cedar trees.

American Redstart
    While on the trail through the forested area of Arbor Day Farm, I would hear and see Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, and Black-capped Chickadees, all familiar species of home. I then saw a flitting in the trees, and figured it was perhaps the chickadee I had just seen. Instead, I received a welcome surprise of an American Redstart, a warbler of the midwestern forests, and a species I simply did not anticipate. I watched it fan its tail, letting me see it in full color, and remembered early morning walks in Chester Woods just outside my home town of Rochester, MN.

Eastern Kingbird
    While on the field trip to the prairie preserve (where, ironically, most work entails getting RID of trees that are descendants of those planted by the very Arbor Day enthusiasts of the past), a number of birds welcomed me back to the midwest fold. Field sparrows were calling from some shrubs; a house wren sang from an old shed; American goldfinches flew in front of me, bright spots of lemon yellow along a brown and green background. At the beginning of our walk, an Eastern Kingbird (another species in the flycatcher family) perched on a goldenrod stalk. Its dark, slaty gray-blue back and head contrasted with its buffy white breast, and I recalled the numerous times walking in southeastern Minnesota oak savannahs, meadows, and farm fields observing this sweet little bird.

Indigo Bunting
At the top of a long hill, we stopped to catch our breath, take a drink of water, and enjoy the views of the Missouri river in the background. Scanning the tree tops and prairie below us, I came across an Indigo Bunting. My mind immediately went back to where I would see these beautiful deep-blue birds frequently in the fields around Shell Lake, Wisconsin, where our beloved lake cabin was located. I remembered the dewy mornings, walking along the road encircling the lake, and seeing these birds perching on sunflowers and tall grasses. 

     Old friends, these birds. Reminders of a great youth experiencing the outdoors, whether it be with school chums and our high school Conservation Club with Mr. Peterson hauling us hither and thither to peat bogs, savannahs, and wetlands, to lazy morning walks around Shell Lake with my father, pointing out birds, looking at bugs and frogs, and whatever may appear in our path.

     Coming back from our trip, the group retired to the Arbor Day Farm barn, where a great barbeque was held with these new acquaintances of mine, fellow conservationists from nearly every state. After dinner, a troupe of a half-dozen local country-western line dancers led us through some line-dancing, and a great time was had by all. Throughout the evening, as I conversed with these new pals, I'd look into the nearby trees and smile at my old friends, the cardinals, blue jays, redstarts, flycatchers, and chickadees, as they serenaded us with song. 


Friday, May 20, 2011

North American Migration Count

Watching birds; it's fun!
     In times past, egrets and herons (those long-legged gangly wading birds) were hunted mercilessly for their plumage--large draping feathers that adorned women's hats, the "in" style in the late 1800's. A popular pastime in the south, where they were plentiful in the wintertime, was to spend Christmas Day hunting the bejeezus out of these birds (no regulations were in existence), trying to see who could kill the most in a day. Sounds crazy nowadays, but at the time, the mere thought that humans could have an effect on bird populations was simply not considered--nor really cared about.

     However, in 1900, a few observant nature lovers sounded the alarm that these birds were declining precipitously in the American south, and proposed a new idea. Instead of hunting birds, what if citizens went outdoors and simply counted these birds to try to get a census or some notion of how many were out there? Over time, perhaps these counts could help inform management and conservation. Thus began the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), a well-known bird survey that occurs in December not only across this country, but now around the world. With that simple idea, a phenomenon was born--that of "citizen science," where ordinary people, people like you and me, can help change the tide of conservation merely through their observations and documentation.

     One hundred years later, numerous surveys exist for bird lovers. One is called the North American Migration Count (NAMC). Held during the peak of songbird migration, when birds are flowing back into the United States from their wintering grounds, this survey is similar in concept to the CBC. Every bird is counted and identified by species. In the case of the NAMC, surveys are organized by county. For many states, that could be pretty overwhelming, as dozens upon dozens of counties exist. For Arizona, we only have 15 counties. I am in charge of organizing and compiling all the survey data for Apache County, a long, narrow county along the northeast corner of the state, encompassing a part of the Navajo/Hopi reservations, southward into the Apache National Forest.

      I try to get as many people as possible to help on the survey. I corral my birdwatching friends, bribe our local Audubon members, and bug my colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service office to help. I'll establish teams of people to cover different "birdy" places, like streams, lakes, and key wildlife areas. We've had good years and we've had dud years. Regardless, like others say of fishing, a day spent birdwatching (no matter how it lands on the "dud" scale) is better than a day doing practically anything else. Fresh air, camaraderie, and visiting highly scenic places makes for a great day.
West Fork of the Little CO River in Greer Valley
     This year was better than any other since I started organizing these counts about 6 years ago. First of all, some very nice people I've never met contacted me offering to help; they had heard about the count through our Audubon Chapter newsletter. Ken from the Petrified Forest National Park e-mailed me offering to bird that area. I've never been able to get people up that way, and there are grasslands and interesting birds that could be completely different than the suite of birds our team would generally see. Then, Jill and Tom, a retired couple visiting the Greer valley (a simply stunning valley with a very small village and dotted with lakes, streams, and mixed-conifer forest) offered to bird that area, which was extremely helpful since we normally weren't able to get to Greer until later on in the day when the birds have quieted down. Then, Liz and Tom offered to survey yet another wildlife area that I never seem to get to during this frenzied birding day, the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area. And then, another Audubon member, Kent, was conducting a survey for a different citizen-science monitoring project that happened to occur in Apache County, and he would add his tally to our count.

     Another lady, Mary, contacted me to see if she could join in. She's starting a birdwatching club for her RV subdivision, putting on bird programs and field trips, and she wanted to see some new places. Deb and Cathy, two Forest Service friends, offered to help survey our high-elevation lakes. Wow! So, my team of Barb, Evelyn, Mary, and myself were set (although we missed our other "usual" birder, Ann). We could survey the Little Colorado River and its environs around the Springerville-Eagar area without feeling rushed, because many of our other haunts were covered by volunteer birders.

     Our team started at the Wenima Wildlife Area, a state-owned stretch of the Little Colorado with wonderful riparian habitat, stringers of native black walnut trees, open meadows, and some agricultural fields that are now managed for wildlife. The first three birds we saw were unusual for that area, harbingers of the day to come. First, an olive-sided flycatcher was hanging out in the trees around the parking lot. Not necessarily an unusual bird, but I had never seen one at Wenima. Then, a Swainson's thrush, a quiet, secretive bird of the pine forest and most likely migrating through, was probing a mud puddle in a rut from a dirt road, right in plain sight. Very cool.

California Quail, photo by Barbara Davis

     Then, however, we struck gold. About 40 years ago, a private landowner several miles downstream of this area introduced California quail onto his property, which became the only population of that species in the state. Over the years, this bird has sort of been a "ghost" species. Some people claim to see them still on occasion, others only hear about them, and still others simply don't believe they exist anymore. Well, they do. One of our group spotted a quail (highly unusual unto itself as we really don't have alot of quail in the area) on a fence pole, and exclaimed "Gambel's quail!" thinking it was the common desert quail found over much of the state. We all focused on the bird, and it just didn't seem right to me. I've seen hundreds of Gambel's, and this one was, well, different. It clicked, and we looked at the field guide under California quail. Voila. The patterns and markings were identical to the field guide. The bird then flew into a cottonwood and sang. Definitely not your Gambel's. And, best of all, a life-bird for Barb, Mary, and me. Evelyn, who lived in California for awhile, ho-hummed about the event; this was no new find for her!

Two American dippers; baby on the left,
mama on the right
    Well, that set the tone for the day. It was sunny, warm, and birds were everywhere. Some standouts for us included about 135 cliff swallows flying around a bridge over the river; a rough-legged hawk in the same area, and, after meeting up with Jill and Tom in Greer, a wonderful sighting of a juvenile American dipper being fed by one of its parents. American dippers (formerly called Water Ouzels, a great name) are these little nondescript gray birds that have an unusual behavior pattern. They feed on aquatic insects that are found in generally cold, clear, rushing streams. They stand on a rock and perform what gives them their name: they "dip", or basically do quick little leg squats looking through the water for their food. When they find something that no doubt you nor I would never see, they plop themselves into the cold rushing stream, sink all the way into the water, and eventually come out somewhere else with a bug in their mouth.

     There are several great things about dippers. First of all, they're the only one of their family found in the United States. Other dipper species are found elsewhere, but we only have American dippers. Second, they are the hallmark of clean water. If you see a dipper, it's likely that the stream they are using will generally be unpolluted and have a healthy aquatic insect base, the foundation for the entire food chain of said stream. Alternatively, if you've seen dippers in a creek in the past, and now they're gone, it's likely that something has happened to that stream to degrade it. In Arizona's case, there are in fact some streams that are apparently missing their dippers. The Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas, a survey of birds across the state between 1993 and 2000, has indicated that there are a lack of dippers in areas where they were previously recorded. No one really knows why they disappeared, as the streams and surrounding forested habitat are on National Forest lands and have remained relatively similar in condition over the years. Speculation is that crayfish may have played a role in their disappearance.

     Crayfish are non-native, invasive aquatic species. When a system evolved with crayfish, there are checks and balances to their populations. When a system has not evolved with them, and they're introduced or move into a stream, there are no checks and balances. Crayfish eat everything: fish, stream vegetation, juvenile garter snakes, toads, frogs, and...aquatic insects, the food source for dippers. Crayfish are not native to Arizona, but were introduced decades ago for various reasons. Now, in stream systems where they are present, they literally take over, eating everything until there is nothing left but a muddy, silty stream. There is no known control for these monsters. All right, off of my soapbox. Suffice it to say that my Apache County NAMC is simply not complete unless I see a dipper.

     A sampling of photos from our day outdoors:

A rare pair of large mature ponderosa pines

Rocky Mountain Iris

Apache Trout, our native trout species, in the West Fork
of the Little Colorado River in Greer
   All in all, we had a great day. My group saw over 60 species, including one Great Egret, a bird that was persecuted for its spectacular plumage in the past, and one that ignited the first Christmas Bird Count 110 years ago. A fitting sighting, no?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gardening the Hard Way, Part Three: Work your butt off, and then wait.

Even Carly waits.
      The raised beds have been constructed and filled. Seeds have germinated; seedlings are growing too large for the starter cups. A border fence is about ready. We took the easy way on a few herbs, buying them in 4" pots ready to be planted. We got sucked into buying one large Early Girl tomato plant, purchased at Home Depot, hoping that it would provide us with tomatoes in (hopefully) July (?? pretty please??). So what are we waiting for??? We're waiting for this lousy spring weather to finally cease and desist and become summer. We're still getting near-below freezing temps, making it an exercise in futility if we decide to just plant the darn things right now. Patience is our challenge.

     In the meantime, while the wind blows and I continue to keep my jacket, hat, and mittens handy, we polish off a few tasks. For the pole beans and snap peas, some sort of arbor had to be added to two beds to allow for them to wind up and around. We used T-posts and hog-panel wiring. It actually turned out pretty well. We're going to plant our starters on both sides of the panels, planting starters on the outer edge first, and then two weeks later, planting more on the front. Gives the back ones a bit of time to get taller and continue to get sun as the front ones grow; plus this allows us to stagger our produce over time:

"Arbors" of hog-wire panels. It works!
     Next comes the fence. Between rabbits and rock squirrels, we have enough garden-hungry pests that a fence is needed. First, Bruce decided to build a nice-looking pole fence around the raised beds, and then, sometime soon, he'll tack chicken wire around the whole thing:

Fencing Out Critters: Phase 1

Putting the last pole in!
     Some seeds are ready to be planted. We ordered beets, radishes, carrots, two lettuce blends, and spinach seeds that came on this gauzy-paper "tape." The seeds are placed in tiny pouches within the tape at the precise distance you need to space them out correctly. You then just dig a burrow, lay the tape, bury it, and voila! Seeds planted. Since these are seeds that supposedly can handle cool weather, we thought we'd get half of their designated beds planted, and in two weeks, plant another set on the other half so we have some staggered produce, like the beans and peas.

Laying the tape of seeds.

Marking what goes where.

Three rows, either lettuces and
spinach, or beets, carrots,
and radishes.

     So there it stands. Pole fence is up, a few seeds are planted, and we now wait for warmer weather and the sure sign that frosty nights are gone for a few months. It may be two more weeks before we plant our starters (which have now taken over the entire house, it seems like!). Patience, patience!!!!

    Thought I'd end with a picture taken from our now-defunct above-ground septic mound (we're now on sewer) that shows the "working" end of our property, the back forty so to speak:

    It may be a couple weeks before my next garden entry, that of planting our seedlings. In between, I'll blog about a migratory bird survey I led just yesterday. I'll be out of town for a work conference in Nebraska this week, and will have a chance to visit a native prairie--that may be a story too. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gardening the Hard Way, Part Two: Fish Guts, Cow Poop, and Seeds

     The water trickled out of the hose. Bruce stood there, looking down at this meager offering. Wait a minute--when the valve on the bottom of the water catchment barrel--yes, one of our expensive water catchment barrels--is opened up, water flows out like a geyser. Happy days, we have free water! Yet, when a hose is hooked up to actually make use of that water, apparently the geyser-like velocity peters out as it travels the length of the hose, eventually coming out at the other end slower than an old drinking fountain. What gives??? How will we get this sad excuse of the "elixer of life" to irrigate our garden? Did we just waste $X,XXX.xx on these stupid rain barrels? After working all afternoon transferring our soil mix wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load and filling only one of our six beds, Bruce couldn't even bring himself to think about this turn of events.

Refusing to think about the
water barrel issue
     And that's how I found him when I came home from work this past Friday. Stabbing his shovel into the piles of dirt, plainly pissed off. Uh oh. We talk a bit, he vents, I listen, and he then starts thinking of a solution. Which involves more money, of course. Pumps. Pretty expensive pumps. All for "free" water.

    But I digress. We haven't done anything about getting pumps yet, so that ending will have to wait. The point of this entry is to use Bruce's great mood that Friday to segue into the dirt he was moving into our beds. Our dirt is certainly a creative mixture. Knowing we need ALOT of dirt, Bruce wanted to get one thing relatively inexpensively, since just about every other aspect of this garden was costing mucho bucks. Right now, we calculated that each bean, each peapod, and each cherry tomato probably cost us about $60.00. 
Newspaper shielding the manure
from growing weeds

      The dirt, however, was a combination of ingenuity and knowing the right people. First, we have a friend who owns cows, and therefore has a cow manure supply. Perhaps not the best fertilizer, could be weedy, but Bruce found out from some resource that if you put manure down first and cover it with newspapers, it helps on the weed front.

Separating rocks from the fish-gut soil

     The next pile of dirt came from our local fish hatchery. Dirt from hatchery runs, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of fish swimming in an enclosure, will have fish parts and fish excrement embedded within. Yum. A couple truckloads should do it. It's quite rocky, so Bruce had to create a sifter.

     Next came the mulch, to hold in moisture in our dry, dry climate. Our mulch came from a pile of residue from a business who accepts yard waste and chips it into, well, mulch. It's very black. Since alot of it is comprised of pine needles, some blood meal is added to neutralize the soil and enhance nitrogen fixation. So a layer of cow poop is followed by a layer of newspapers, and then about 14 wheelbarrow trips of fish soil and mulch mixed together for each raised bed.

    Filling the beds took much longer than we anticipated. It's just a long process. One long half-day filled two beds, and pretty much all day Saturday was needed to fill the remaining four. Finally, at the end of the day this past Saturday, we have raised beds ready to plant:

    We wanted to plant some seeds (for cooler-season plants like lettuce, spinach; maybe our carrots) the next day. However, the weather report said there was a cold system moving in for the next several days; high winds, below-freezing temps, and even snow was predicted. Great. Typical May in the White Mountains. So, planting will start this weekend. In the meantime, we have seedlings that are popping up and looking pretty good:

On the left: pole beans. On the right: snap peas.
About 50 seedlings of each.
      I spent the afternoon moving the pole beans into larger cups to give them more room to grow roots. I used a kitchen tool that looks like a miniature spatula with a curved end (I think it's often used for scooping out avocado from its skin) to scoop out each pole bean while not hurting the new, tender roots. I thought that was pretty brilliant, thinking of that little spatula. Then, with the pole beans gone, we started another round of seeds: zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, and cucumbers--the seeds that didn't germinate well in the other tray.

    Next: Sowing what we will hopefully reap. Here's hoping for some warm weather, finally. We need it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Two "Pages" Up

"Beads beads beads!"

The Yard Birds

Readers, first of all, thank you for taking even a remote interest in the relatively hum-drum goings-on in my life. I mean, it's not like I'm writing about living in an exotic locale, like my brother Rick (see his blog, which includes stories of living in American Samoa: Across the Universe), but writing these vignettes about gardening, traveling, and life in general has already been rewarding, and I'm thrilled that many of you have responded so positively! I want to point out that I have added two new "pages" to my blog over the weekend. Pages are permanent entries that won't be included in my long, scrolling regular blog; I intend to keep adding material to them over time. Please take a look under the "Pages" header on the right. One is on my craft of beading/jewelry-making; the other is on the wildlife (birds, especially, but other critters too) that we've observed in our yard. I'll be back in a day or so with my next installment of our gardening escapades!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gardening the Hard Way, Part One: The Money Pit

When we moved to our house in Lakeside, we started landscaping the yard. We had two goals: create a yard that is pleasant for us, and do what we can to attract wildlife, being that we're wildlife people. First out of the chute: bird feeders (and, of course, tons of seed over the years; cha-ching). Then, grass was planted (cha-ching), mostly to keep our dog from tracking in mud and dirt, but it's also pretty when summer comes. It required an extensive underground sprinkler system (cha-CHING), weekly mowing, and all those suburbia-life things that go with having a lawn. We also planted flowers; lots of annuals to begin with, and then Bruce started in on building flower beds; lots of them. So perennials went in (trial and error showed us what works and what doesn't). After flowers and flower beds, it was a short leap to putting in water features (cha-CHING) like a pond and a barrel fountain. Which require extensive cleaning from algae buildup; plus sometimes the pump needs repairing from the raccoons that come in at night and think the pump is a vibrating crayfish or something, pull it out, and leave it out of the pond, where it struggles like a fish out of water. But we want wildlife, we tell ourselves. Whatever we're doing, it's working, and I will soon do a blog entry on our wildlife escapades.

Lovely! Rewarding! Wildlife welcome!
So we've figured out the flower gig. A few years ago, we planted a cherry tomato plant. One cherry tomato plant. After one season with lots of cherry tomatoes, we were hooked. WE MUST GARDEN. We did flowers OK, right?

Well, gardening for vegetables in the White Mountains of Arizona is a totally different ballgame. We live at 7,000' elevation (think of it as 2,000' higher than Denver) in a lower latitude than most of the country. And, we're in the middle of a forest, without alot of sunny, open spots. It's a hard place to grow anything because:

1) We experience freezing temperatures well into May. Memorial Day is usually the "safe" date to start planting, but one year we got two feet of snow over that weekend. It also starts to freeze early, around mid-October, so we have a very short growing season. Lots of green tomatoes at the end of the year.

2) At our elevation, there is less oxygen. That means it gets cold at night easier--I don't honestly think there's been one summer night since I've lived here that I haven't had to at least put on pants and a coverup sweater/jacket at night. This affects the growth rate of our veggies.

3) At our latitude, we don't get the tremendous amounts of daylight that places like Alaska, or even my home state of Minnesota, get. So, we don't get those huge cabbages like people in Anchorage get (I've seen those puppies).

So why bother? Why get into the vegetable thing, when there's a new local Farmer's Market? The answers: I don't know. It's something to do. We like homegrown tomatoes.

And it's the tomato thing that got us. After that first Year of the Cherry Tomato, we planted four tomato plants. It worked again, but we did notice that there were tons of green tomatoes that we tried to save before the first frost. So last year, we wanted to be able to get our tomatoes going earlier. We tried a few of those hanging upside-down thingies (a waste of cha-ching), figuring we could plant those early, and take them in at night to our shed or garage to keep them from freezing. That worked until we got a hard freeze in May, and the shed where they were hanging froze all the way through and they all died. We had to start again and managed to get a few tomatoes, some zucchini, some green beans, and I think one actual snap pea (not the plant, just a total of one pea pod was produced from six snap pea plants) to grow.

Now, it's more the challenge and the principle of the thing that spurs us along. However, my husband isn't one to do something halfway. If we're going to do it, let's do it.

Water barrels in our backyard
First step: start planning a year in advance. That's good. Idea: let's put in some rainwater harvesting barrel systems on our roof and the roof of our shed (CHA-CHING). We have to do it in the fall to be ready to catch any spring moisture. Then, we located where we wanted our garden--this little itty bitty grassy area that seems to catch more sun than anywhere else.

Here are two of them; we actually have four:

Such a simple picture: raised beds. Well, that was a few weekends of work for Bruce. Leveling the ground, constructing the beds, getting piles of dirt, manure, mulch, etc. delivered because our native soil is lousy for growing vegetables. Oh, and they had to be evenly spaced apart, lined up exactly, leveled, and basically perfect.

Can you not see the dollar signs on this project growing (cha-ching)? Well, we can.

Speaking of dollar signs, the above description of just getting the beds ready didn't take into account the seeds, the germination trays, little peat pots for the germinated seeds--oh, and the stuff that didn't work, like one germination tray (we got three green bean shoots out of 55 holes) that we bought for $40 because it had soil plugs all ready to go. Oh, and the fence that we're going to have to erect to keep the wildlife out (yes, the very same wildlife we try to attract in the other parts of our yard). And the starter tomatoes we're going to have to buy.

Three little shoots out of what, 55?

This is just the beginning. I have no idea what's going to happen once we get plants in the ground. Will we get snow the day after we plant? Will the rains come in July and fill up our rain barrels, or will we have a dry monsoon season like we seem to always have? Will we have at least one dinner with fresh steamed green beans and sliced tomatoes? All are possibilities.

Why are we doing this? Because it's a part of life, I guess. Experimenting with something new to keep our life interesting and eventful. If worse comes to worse, I can at least sit by our pond and ponder the meaning of life. Or drink a glass of wine.

Stay tuned for Gardening the Hard Way, Part Two: Fish Guts, Cow Poop, and Seeds