Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tail End of Full Wolf Moon

Yesterday's valley

This morning: the tail end is better than no moon at all... but no Mars.

Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter,
the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages,
writes the Farmer's Almanac.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco

A single silhouette, but as daylight announces its being, the male winter flock arrives, busily and in constant motion.

Two, four, eight, twelve... but only one larger and lively Dark-eyed Junco (junco hyemalis), the Oregon Junco (junco hyemalis oreganus), claims the suet feeder hanging from the beech outside the studio window. With guarded movement he hastily and sloppily eats and spews as juveniles wait patiently, dutifully perched upon the branches. And with a sudden swoop they are gone - to the ground the masses fly to forage those dropped kernels of grain. They arrive, depart, return...

A spirited one becomes eager and is no longer willing to wait, embarking upon the feeder only to be told "get lost"by the alpha occupier. Another races forward and challenges, but the former continues to stand his ground as the two pose face to face shouting and fanning their white tail feathers. He pecks at the subordinate who subsequently yields. The elder more dominant male rules.

Black hoods, striking white bodies and delicate pink bills briskly flit from tree branch to the tangled denseness of nearby shrubbery. They are gone as quickly as they appeared. Such delight in the simple pleasures that surround us.

(enlarge and look at his beak)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sharp-shinned Or A Cooper's Hawk?

I had just finished taking photos of the Juncos and sat down at the computer to write about them when something flashed outside. He had swooped in and landed atop the wooden trellis, feathers spread and in this position remained, until he flew away. Ever so slowly he turned his head from side to side but never allowed me to see his front side. Suddenly he was gone. Magnificent!

Is he a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper's Hawk?

Cooper's Hawk I believe: dark cap with paler feathers on back of the neck; rounded tail, a squarer head; adult due to red eyes vs yellow

(do enlarge to view his detail)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Compost: Garden Gold

We have our morning ritual and that which my husband enjoys is grinding and brewing our first cup of coffee. About an hour later he heats a bran muffin (see my recipe below) for each of us and serves it up with our second cup, which is my limit of caffeine for the day. Yesterday morning he reminded me we were eating our last muffins, so that was my cue to bake several more batches for the freezer, as he would be building another raised bed for our vegetables.

Out came the Cuisinart, the old version which weighs a ton but works like a charm, and with that I chopped the 3- pound bag of walnuts that will be kept in the freezer for days like this. Once I finished with that and put our first batch of muffins in the oven, it was time to put this machine to work for what I call our garden gold.

A mulch container is kept in the sink of whatever fruit and vegetable scraps we have. Nothing is thrown away; what comes from the soil finds its way back into the soil. We have always composted our kitchen products, and grinding them up helps expedite the decomposition.

A few potato skins, washed egg shells, coffee grounds, banana peel, pieces of apple, pear, kale, lettuce and spinach leaves... How good looking is this?

As I worked through this process I couldn't help but think of my grandmother who never wasted a thing. I can still see her tossing everything back on the garden. Was she smiling at me now or was she instructing that I really didn't need to do that?

She was a real hero: a non-English speaking woman who traveled to this country in 1911 and with a two-year old son, in order to join her husband and raise our family without fear. One day I hope to share some of that with you. Bobu, this compost is for you!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Weekend Rainbow

Late Friday afternoon a rainbow appeared, and the sun peaked through as it so often does following a rainy winter's day here in the Pacific Northwest. That is one of the things I love about this part of the country - the dynamic sky and landscape, the drama and beauty it reveals.

This past weekend we had such excitement in the atmosphere: fog, then wind and rain; an early morning frost that turned into a sunny 50 degree day. If you are not enjoying the current weather condition here, simply wait a few minutes and see what pops up next.

... and as the rainbow since regressed,
the northwest wind resumes its quest.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Last Evening's SkyWatch

Don't forget SkyWatch Friday for skies from around the world

(click to enlarge)

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew

Last year we helped friends cut and wrap several of their farm-raised lamb, and we purchased a half from them. Never have we tasted lamb so wonderful! Lean and mild-flavored, and with a bit of fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of salt, there is nothing quite like a grilled lamb chop. They are since gone, but we had two packages of small lamb shoulder chops remaining, total 8. So I searched for a recipe and found the following one on Although it calls for boneless lamb stew meat, I coated the chops as is (bone intact), but otherwise followed the recipe.

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew from Diana's kitchen courtesy

- 1 1/2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, (shoulder cut) or 2 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder chops, deboned, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunk
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, or canola oil
- 4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 15- or 19-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
- 6 ounces baby spinach

Place lamb in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker. Mix oil, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat the lamb with the spice paste and toss to coat well. Top with onion.

Bring tomatoes, broth and garlic to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour over the lamb and onion. Cover and cook until the lamb is very tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours on high or 5 1/2 to 6 hours on low.

Skim or blot any visible fat from the surface of the stew. Mash 1/2 cup chickpeas with a fork in a small bowl. Stir the mashed and whole chickpeas into the stew, along with spinach. Cover and cook on high until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.

Rather than serving over bulgur as suggested, I opted for the remaining larger potatoes we dug this fall that are now going to seed, and made a little mashed potatoes. It was a perfect accompaniment to this flavorful lamb dish, and with a piece of a hearty multi-grain bread, we had a fantastic meal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


We each have our favorite charities and this is one about which we have the greatest interest and wanted to bring to your attention. From a PBS special entitled Beyond The Call, comes this statement:

Beginning in 1995, Knightsbridge International has undertaken humanitarian aid missions throughout the world and also helped children come to the United States for life-saving free medical care. Sir Edward Artis and Dr. Sir James Laws formed Knightsbridge International after their first relief mission together to Rwanda during the genocide. A third member, Walt Ratterman, joined the team with experience in renewable energy....

At the core of their purpose is a commitment to deliver aid—whether cash, food, medicine or renewable energy—directly to the clinic, school or hospital that needs it, without involving third parties (my emphasis). To make this possible the knights often travel in dangerous areas at great personal risk, funding missions with their own money, drawn from careers outside of Knightsbridge.

Each knight’s career also brings helpful experience to the cause. Ed Artis contributes financial knowledge from his mortgage banking days and combat experience from his military service in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. Dr. James Laws, an osteopath and Chief of Cardiology, brings crucial medical experience while Walt Ratterman’s background in the solar energy business helps to bring electricity to remote parts of the world.

These men volunteer at their own expense and travel to places (where if they were caught would be shot) in order to deliver food and medical assistance directly to the people in relief efforts. The third gentleman, Walt Ratterman from Washougal, Washington, was already working in Haiti when the earthquake hit. Teams were sent in search of Walt, but as of this writing, he is still missing. You can keep up-to-date on the search for Walt and the amazing work of this group on their Current Missions website.

Please pray for the recovery of Walt along with the people of Haiti, and should you like to make a donation you can do so in the following ways:

- By Check: made out to "STEPS FOR RECOVERY" and clearly marked for KNIGHTSBRIDGE/HAITI if that is your intention and mailed to:

P.O. Box 67522
Century City, CA 90067

- Donations can be made immediately and directly online via their website

Sir Ed Artis wrote that he would continue to be the point of contact and would be updating from the field and in constant contact with the Team.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

GGW Entry

Thankfully we have migrated to more normal temperatures here in the Pacific northwest and away from the frigid weather we experienced several weeks ago; however, that unexpected cold gave us many photographic opportunities in the garden. This is one of many as the water feature continued to freeze and form dramatic faces of sculpted ice.

This is my entry for Gardening Gone Wild’s Picture This photo contest for January 2010. The first judge of the year is Alan Detrick, and he has selected WINTER’S BEAUTY as the theme. Alan writes that although it is winter, there are still unexpected garden gifts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Caution On Comments Section

I would suggest that we each take a look at our blogs relative to "comments". I have seen and therefore warned several of you about "anonymous" spammers posting on your older dated blogs. After a week or two of writing, we generally don't go back to older posts and look at the comments. In the past, if I read a particular post in which I had further interest, I would check the follow-up comments be sent to my email address; that is why I have become aware of these spammers. I cannot imagine the mentality of the person who spends his or her time posting such things as forex sites on garden blogs.

I'm sorry I don't know about the other formats, but a suggestion for users would be to review your comments under settings. If you have not already done so, you might consider making a change so that only registered users can post verses anyone (which includes anonymous). Below that be sure to double check your comment moderation.

We take pride in our work, and my take: I don't understand someone wanting to post a comment but remain incognito.

Is that not the best photo I've taken? (wink)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Honey Bee Colony Update

Hours have been spent reading and researching what can be done about these honey bees in our downed oak. Like an old mother hen fraught with desire to keep her brood safe, I was on the phone this morning right at 8 am PST. We have bee experts and a local organization that can set you up with all the bee equipment you want or need if you desire to become a beekeeper. Although they do not personally collect bees, they have a swarm list of people who do and I was given two names to call this morning, but first referred to an expert in one of their departments. That conversation was brief; basically she said there is really nothing you can do right now.

My first swarm contact was a very kind older-sounding gentleman, a keeper of bees himself, who offered the following:

I'm not interested, because you can't collect bees this time of year, and it is not beneficial.
You must wait until spring to start a hive.

It is a risky proposition, for you must be able to collect the queen.

With our freeze a couple weeks ago I lost two hives.

If there is not enough honey they will starve to death.

My suggestion this time of year is to just call an exterminator and spray to get rid of them.

WHAT?! I gasped! The gentleman was apologetic, but said he saw no solution for the problem. Graciously, I thanked him for his time. Needless to say I was rather distraught. I simply could not imagine that nothing could be done.

Call number 2 was very brief. The man indicated there was no way of knowing whether the queen was damaged and there really was not much he could do. He further said, Likely you can't save them.

Last night we had rain and a sizable windstorm (recorded 39 mph at 8 pm). The wind was howling as our dinner guests left and as we were about to call it a night, I asked my husband if he would mind... to please make sure the tarp is secure. (I'm laughing now as I write for, bless his heart, he is so good to me. Admittedly there have been times I've been described as a tough ole gal, and that comes from having to be over the years, but I will admit to the ache in my heart and some tear-filled eyes more than once this day. My thoughts turn to Chubby from the Little Rascals when he said, Oh Miss Crabtree, there's something heavy on my heart". Laughing at myself is truly my best medicine.) So on with the saga.

How can it be that nothing can be done? I've seen them. Early this morning we walked down the drive and peeked in; they weathered the storm, are alive and well and working. I need to talk with someone else.

The folks were happy to give me two more names from the swarm list. This time, a pleasant younger-sounding gentleman, who was just on his way to work, would be happy to come by and take a look and advise as to what to do; we could keep the log or he would take it if it could be moved.

Pat arrived and accompanied by his lovely little daughter. After inspecting the log, he explained that we had a Colony of bees that likely has been here for several years and estimated at least 6000 to 8000 bees. They are active, yet calm, and importantly he felt the queen was still there. There was lots of honey for them to eat and he felt assured they would survive. The honeycomb was damaged from the fall, but the bees would stay and work and repair it. He came equipped with burlap and tape, and he assured me that I would still have honey bees. (smile) Did you know it takes the bee 6000 trips to a blossom in order to yield 1 teaspoon of honey? How remarkable is that? I wonder what I'll be thinking the next time I place a teaspoon in my cup of tea?

It has been an extraordinary day: two new people were introduced into our lives, a father and a little girl, the latter with whom I had a delightful opportunity to become acquainted; they enjoyed one of my fresh blueberry bran muffins; this man and his young family will be using half of the fallen oak to heat their home; we have a promise of a jar of honey from our bees; and these lovely creatures are with someone who has the same faith as we, and that is that they will survive.

My husband said that it was not just a motherly instinct to take care of them, but also the human instinct that something can be done.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Honey Bees And Oak

Over the years we have seen an increase in the honeybee population in our flower gardens. They are everywhere, hundreds upon hundreds on plants throughout and they don't mind my working right along side of them (yellow jackets are another story). Since we do not have hives, where did they come from? Where do they go when they leave our garden? We are aware that neighbors several miles away have a few hives, but did these bees come from there? I have read that bees usually travel about a mile to gather food and perhaps upwards of 5 miles.

(click on the photos to see these beautiful creatures)

Yesterday afternoon following many hours of working outside, raking and cutting back some plants, we had showered and were within an hour of heading out to be wined and dined by friends (that's what they said they were going to do... and they did indeed!). My husband was standing at his office window and began repeating, I can't believe this... I don't believe it... unbelievable... What?! Come here and see.

Across and along the driveway lay our 70 foot oak. It was face down and lay parallel to the deer fence and one of our neighbor's homes. Thankfully we did not receive the wind and gusts that had been forecast, for who knows what damage might have occurred. Work clothes back on and off we went to at least clear the drive until today when the tree would be cut into manageable pieces.

These fast growing oaks here in the Pacific northwest are brittle and as you can see are more a softwood and susceptible to rotting, and as is evident from the photos, the saturated soil expedited the process and the roots simply snapped. Years ago we had discovered woodpeckers living in the hollow of the upper section of the tree; then yellow jackets took up residence until our power company came to check the overhead utility line and got rid of them. Little did we suspect that honey bees had built there hive in this tree.

As my husband is cutting up more of the wood, I am attempting to find out what to do. I just sent off a note to an acquaintance who has a hive in order to seek advice. The county extension service is of course closed, so now I will scurry about to find out how or even if we can save them. Before we left for dinner last night we covered them over with a tarp so they wouldn't be exposed to the rain. My heart will ache if they cannot be saved.

and today, beneath the blue tarp all seem to be doing well.