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We decided to make our quarterly trip to Costco today.   We switched from Sam’s Club membership to Costco largely because the Costco corporate entity treats its staff much better than the Waltons treat their slaves  work force.  I mean, they pay a living wage and provide benefits!   What a novel concept.   I prefer to reward that sort of policy with my shopping dollar.

The other thing that drew us to Costco was the huge amount of organic food they have available.   And it is being sold at VERY competitive prices.   For instance, we have done quite a lot comparison shopping around the area and we have found that the prices at the Commissary really are quite a lot better than at any of the other grocery stores in the area.   So we were delighted to find that organic diced tomatoes were actually cheaper at Costco than the conventional diced tomatoes sold at the Commissary.   Not only that, but they are far superior in flavor.

So anyway, the weather was great and we were low on parmesan.   Also, there is a big annual soirèe in the offing, and Chef Jim has decided he wishes to produce Shrimp Piripiri for that  event, so we needed to procure some shrimp too.  Additionally, the new solar system (we made 30kWh today!!!) has made us super energy conscious and we wanted to invest in LED lights for the bathroom and kitchen.  All this being the case, we went through the larder and put together a list.

After my water aerobics class, we loaded up and headed off to St. Louis.  It was an uneventful trip until we got near the Galleria shopping mall in Clayton, where the drivers were acting particularly insane.   One lady was so incensed by the poky person in front of her who was waiting for the traffic to clear before making her left hand turn that she zipped her giant gas guzzling behemoth out of the left turn lane into my lane — right in front of me — causing my heart to stop, and my foot to hit the brake in a most hasty manner.   Fortunately, the guy behind me did NOT slam into my rear and I managed to miss her passenger side corner.  With great amazement, I observed her swerve back in front of the hapless little car she was shitting all over, and, running the red light in front of her, pulled at a high rate of speed into the parking lot of the mall.

I guess she was having a bad day.   Thank goodness no one had a wreck.

Shaken, I continued on down to the lovely Oceano Bistro where we partook of a most splendid luncheon, which began with a dozen fresh oysters and wound up with sumptuous desserts.  It included a glass of lovely white wine.

Safe from shopping on an empty stomach, which we ALL know is a Very Bad Idea, we moseyed on over to Whole Foods Market, where we procured the hazelnuts we will need for making biscotti at Christmas time.   From there we continued on to Costco, where we successfully found everything on our list except the organic lime juice.   No worries there, we’ll just order it from Amazon.

Laden with our purchases and cheered by our lovely day in the big city, we proceeded on our way home.   We were passed by some people in a great big hurry to get where they were going and noted that the State Troopers were busy on both sides of the freeway.   Secure in our habit of setting the cruise control at 66-67mph (due to the better gas mileage we get by going a little under the speed limit), I was surprised when red, white, and blue flashing appeared behind us.  “Hey, honey,”  I notified my spouse.   “You have lights behind you.”  He dutifully slowed down, but when they did not pass us, he turned on his signal and pulled over.

“I wonder why we got stopped?”  I said, as we waited for the officer to approach.   “It sure wasn’t for speeding.”

We sat quietly, hands clearly in view.   I was surprised to find the officer appear by the passenger window, shining his flashlight in at me.  In retrospect, that makes perfect sense.  I would not want to be standing on the traffic side of a vehicle with my rear end sticking out into the lane while doing a traffic stop on the busy Interstate.   Anyway, I hit the switch and lowered my window, and pleasantly said “Hello, officer.  What can I do for you?”

“I am Officer Kelly Somelastname of the Rolla Police.   How are you doing tonight?”

“We’re just fine,”  Jim replied pleasantly.

“I stopped you tonight because you have a tail light out.   Were you aware that it was out?”

“We have a tail light out?   Oh no!” I said, with probably more animation than was really necessary.

“I’m going to need to see your license and insurance information,” he said.   I popped open the glove compartment, where my large collection of state road maps resides, which caused it to flop open with a solid “flump.”   While I reached behind the sheaf of maps to retrieve the white envelope that contains all the relevant vehicular information, Jim slid his license out of his wallet.   Of course, my insurance information was right there in the front of the envelope, and I pulled out about five insurance registration cards and paged through them until I found the one that was current, which I handed over to the officer.

He took the license and the insurance card, and asked us where we were headed.  In unison, we chorused, “Home.   To Lebanon.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Oh, we’re coming from St. Louis.   We were making our quarterly Costco run,”  I informed him.

“Really?”  the officer responded.   “I used to shop at Costco, but I let my membership lapse.  Then I started going to Sam’s in Springfield.”

We spent a few moments discussing the relative virtues of Costco, but eventually he recalled that he had an actual duty to perform, at which point he rather apologetically told us he was going to have to “run this information.”   He bore our documents off to his cop car, where he checked our plates (nothing), insurance (Paid and current), and Jim’s license (boring boring boring).  After a while he returned to my window and gave our documents back.

As he returned them, he commented “I can see you have been doing some heavy shopping!”

We chatted for a while longer, with Jim informing him about how great it was that Costco had all that organic food, and eventually the young man said he thought he had held us up long enough.   Jim told him that we were getting ready to stop anyway as it was about time to change drivers.   Then the very nice policeman bid us farewell and safe travels.   While he returned to his car, we got back on the road and proceeded on our way.

For a while we discussed how very low key our whole traffic stop experience had been, and mentioned how fortuitous it is that we habitually wear our seat belts, etc. etc. etc.

We stopped at the rest area by Doolittle, and changed drivers.

“We’ll be home in about 45 minutes,” Jim said, as we pulled out of the rest area.

“Ruby will be glad to see us,” I replied.

“So will the cats.”

“Maybe I should drive the truck when I take Ruby for her walk,” I observed.

It was a lovely day for driving, no wind, and the traffic was light.  We wended our way towards home, unstressed.  After a while, I commented that it was only a couple of miles from our house to the park where I walk Ruby.  Maybe I’d just take the car anyway.   After all, the truck is high and it is harder for our aging dog to jump up into it.  Jim did not disagree.

Since, as I have mentioned previously,  I habitually set my cruise control several MPH below the speed limit, I am used to seeing head lights approach from behind and then pull out to go around my boring ass.   When I had gotten past the Sleeper exit, which means I am within about 6 miles of home, I was surprised to notice a set of head lights that came up behind me and did not pass, but rather, paced me.   “What the heck,” I thought to myself, right about the time the red, white, and blue lights switched on.

“Oh Good Grief” I said, rather heatedly, as I immediately turned on my turn signal and sharply pulled onto the shoulder and braked to an expeditious halt.  It was so expeditious that the “Your stupid oil is low” light came on.

By the time the Laclede County Sherriff’s deputy reached my window (he was not as cautious about sticking his butt out into traffic as the Rolla City policeman was) I had my license extracted from my purse and the window down.

“Good evening, ma’am,” he began politely.  I stuck my driver’s license out towards him.  Jim was waving our insurance documents in his direction too.

“I know.  My driver’s side tail light is out.   The guy in Rolla just stopped us and told us,” I informed the hapless lawman, rather abruptly. (I really do have a bad habit of interrupting.)

“Oh.”  He was rather non-plussed.   “Well, I guess I won’t bother running this stuff through, then,” the deputy said, abashed.   “I’ll just let you get on your way.”

He handed my license back to me, and then added, “I’m real sorry for bothering you.   Please excuse us.   It’s a slow night.”

I put my license back in my wallet, and as he began to walk away he said,  “Keep on driving safe, now.”

As I pulled out onto the freeway again, I was laughing a little hysterically, I admit.  I said to Jim, “I think I’ll use the truck to take Ruby for her walk.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Jim responded.   “With our luck, a city cop will come up behind you and he might not be willing to cut you any slack.”

“Especially if Ruby came up with her big ‘Woof’ from the back seat,”  I laughed.

(This was in reference to the drug and alcohol check point that she and I had come upon about five years previously.   I had just taken her for her walk.   It was about 9:30 p.m. and we had done 3 miles, so she was napping in the back seat happily worn out.  When I stopped at the check point and rolled down my window, the policeman doing the check stuck his head in my window.  They do that so they can smell the air in your car.  If you’ve been drinking, trust me, your car will reek of whatever it was you were imbibing.    He had just stuck his head in the window when Ruby arose from the back seat and stuck her nose between the head rest of my seat and the window where his head was with a very emphatic “Whothefuckareyouandwhyareyoumenacingmymom?” dog inquiry noise.    The startled cop nearly smacked his head on the top of the door as he precipitously exited my window.)

I did take the truck when we went for our walk.   And you can bet your bottom dollar that I checked to make sure the tail lights were working before I backed out of the driveway!

(Side note:  As a testament to the reliability of the Toyota brand, I want to point out that in the 7 1/2 years we have owned this vehicle, a Prius, other than routine replacement of consumables, such as filters, tires etc., the driver’s side tail light is the first, and only, thing that has failed.)

Trick or treat?

There have been several posts on Facebook today about Halloween, including a link to a Huffington Post article comparing the “Mom of Today” with the “Mom of the 70s” vis-a-vis Halloween.   I found that post vaguely amusing, but also observed to myself that when I was doling out treats to last night’s crop of Trick-or-Treaters I was confronted by the progeny of the same kind of parent described in the “70s” part of that humor piece.  Apparently, the Ozarks is stuck in a time warp.

It seems like nowadays the kids assume that you know what they are there for and wordlessly hold out their open candy collection devices, which range from pillowcases to plastic pumpkins.   When visiting this household you are not allowed to get away without at least minimally engaging with the dispensers of largesse, namely and to wit, my husband and myself.   I like to compliment the costumes and try to guess what they are, often unsuccessfully.

One young lady informed me that she was not the 18th century seafarer I had erroneously concluded she was impersonating, but rather a lamp lighter. Her collection apparatus was a very nice basket, and after I apologized for my mis-identification, I made it heavier.

After I heard my husband demand from one group “Say the magic words” to make them chorus the traditional “Trick or Treat!,” I decided to use that technique on the next troupe.   So imagine my delight when the approximately 6 year old buccaneer of whom I demanded this looked puzzled for a moment, and then said “Thank you!”    Of course, I informed him that this was not the correct answer, so he tried again:  “Please!”   “How about ‘Trick or Treat’” I suggested gently.   His face lit up and he obediently repeated the requisite request.

After I presented him and his fairy princess sister with extra large handfuls of Mars products, for which I received another  “Thank you,” I returned to the living room.  “That is a child who is being raised right!” I told my spouse.  He agreed.

Of course, watching the kids out on Halloween night reminded me of the days when I was doing the same thing.   They were much more innocent times.  No one was concerned about poison or any of the other urban legends that destroy the holiday for kids now.  In our town, there were no roving bands of marauders to terrorize little kids or steal their candy.   If the older kids had dared to engage in such an activity, the victim would have immediately ratted them out and their parents  would have given them some very palpable instructions behind the woodshed regarding the way such anti-social behavior was viewed.

We lived in the mountains of Colorado, and went trick or treating in the town where our school was located.   At that time of year, many of the houses were vacant, their summer residents long gone for warmer and lower places.  If you walked every street and visited every house, which many of us did, you only put in about two miles.   Everywhere you went, there were adults who knew you and your folks.   It was a challenge to costume yourself in such a way that those people could not recognize you.

Home made cookies and pop-corn balls were very popular items to receive, as were the wonderfully crisp home-made caramel apples that one family traditionally gave out. We always stopped at Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s home on the way to town, and lots of the town kids’ parents made the mile and a half trek out there with them because Mrs. Gardiner made the absolutely BEST sugar cookies, and they were always wonderfully decorated. Mr. Gardiner was our school bus driver, and you had to have a really great costume to fool him.

I bitterly remember the year I was NOT allowed to go out, since I had chicken pox the week before Halloween.  Despite my pleas, my heartless mother forbid me to go out, and would not even send a proxy bag for me out with my sisters and brother.   “There will be quite enough candy” I was informed.   There was, and my sympathetic siblings came across with the goods later that night.

One of my most successful costumes was the year I was about 12, when my father allowed me to don his World War II vintage Crackerjack Navy uniform, complete with the dixie cup hat.  My hair had recently been cut short, and when I was all turned out I truly was unrecognizable.  It was great fun to flummox the town parson and the science teacher, as well as some of my parents’ very good friends.

That was a great Halloween, because NO ONE recognized me. It was also a memorable evening because it was really cold that night and of all the kids out there, I was the only one who was not freezing to death. My siblings retired from the streets pretty early but I continued on my rounds for quite a while.

At one house, when I sang out “Trick or Treat” the adults in control of the candy looked at me and said “If you want a treat, you have to do a trick.” This shocked me, because I was under the impression that if they didn’t give me a treat I was licensed to prank them. But, agreeable and obedient as always, first I did a fine cartwheel and then I stood on my head.  They were suitably impressed, and rewarded me with a nice big handful of sweets.

I guess I’ve always had a penchant for cross-dressing.   When I was in a one-act play in college and sent this picture to my mother, she did not recognize me.   She wrote me back wanting to know who that man was I had sent her a picture of.

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Hope all of you had a wonderful Halloween!

Getting our solar array constructed and connected was a lot like seeing an avalanche set in motion.   At first, just a few balls of snow break off a cornice and start falling down the mountainside.   As they gain momentum and pick up a little more snow, the slide becomes larger and more noticeable.   Suddenly, a huge mass of snow breaks loose, and running faster and faster down the slope it finally crashes to a stop in the valley below. While the installation of our panels was nothing like the destructive power of an avalanche, the way the whole thing happened was a lot like that.   First there were all the preliminary steps like moving dirt, cleaning up piles of wood and rock to do.   Then we decided that rather than put the inverters into a shop that needed refurbishing and then have to work around them, we would do the refurbishing first.   And then it seemed like the holes would never get dug. But once they were, the whole thing took on a life and momentum of its own and it was a positive dash to the finish. Last Thursday was the “witching hour” when our local utility company sent a crew out to replace our one meter service with the two meters required for grid tie solar.   Our own electrician was here too, to make the actual physical connection of the solar power to the meter. Here is the progression, in photographs. The solar array: DSCF0618 DSCF0627 DSCF0626 The pole: DSCF0625 DSCF0633 DSCF0630 DSCF0634 DSCF0636 Incidentally, I want to say a huge thank you to all the people who worked on this for us.   Our designer, Stan Kramer was an invaluable source of information and expertise, not to mention a power house of a worker on the physical labor side.   Our electrician, Harold Ewing was a true craftsman, efficient, and fun to talk to.   The crew from Laclede Electric that did the meter installation were also artists in electrical work, efficient, professional and pleasant. The inverters: DSCF0621 DSCF0637 The million volt lightning arrester (there are three, one per inverter and one at the meter): DSCF0622 The reason we have two inverters is because of the generating capacity of the solar array.   It turned out to be less costly to buy two smaller inverters and hook them into the grid in series than to buy one inverter with enough capacity to serve the whole array.  Each inverter has a panel that gives you information about how much power is being generated right at the moment you look, how much was generated each hour during the past hours, how many kilowatt hours you have generated that day, and then it also tells you how many megawatts have been generated since the system was operational. These are the two panels taken yesterday afternoon: DSCF0660 DSCF0661 So, of course the question always comes up as to how much did it all cost and was it worth it?  The total cost of the whole thing (not counting the improvements to the barn) came in just shy of $18,000.   We will be receiving a 30% tax credit for the system on our federal income tax.   That credit can be spread out over a couple of years because the caveat is you can’t make your tax bill less than zero. Yep.   That’s a lot of money.   But since the system has been running we have generated 125 kiloWatt hours of electricity.   That is in five and half days.  Two of those days were overcast and on one it actually rained.   The system still generated power that day. We are expecting a return on our investment of between 5 and 6 percent annually.    If that doesn’t sound like all that much to you, I invite you to investigate just how much interest you get on a savings account.   Around here they are paying 0.05% on a savings account.   Our stocks and mutual funds did not lose money this year, but they also did not earn anything.   So a guaranteed yearly ROI of 5% looks pretty good to us. Also, let me just point out that we don’t expect the price of electricity to be going down any time soon. (!)  Every time the rates go up, our ROI will get better. Plus, it is putting our money where our mouth is:  cutting back on our carbon footprint in a pretty big way.   That feels really good right now!

As an organic gardener, I am often faced with questions from conventional agriculturists about how I deal with pests.   The collective wisdom about this boils down to one essential fact.   If your plants are healthy and unstressed, they are not susceptible to insect pests.  You can find a long and scholarly dissertation on this subject in Eliot Coleman’s book “The New Organic Grower” in chapters 17 and 18.

To complicate matters further, insect pests are quite adaptable and will select over generations for behaviors and genetic makeup that make them resistant to the form of control being used.   Most of us are aware of how easily insects become resistant to chemical pesticides, but even insects controlled by use of sticky traps get selected for resistance.  The bugs that aren’t attracted to the traps reproduce and eventually you have a strain of insect that used to be controllable by use of sticky traps but is not any more.

So the bottom line in organic pest control is to make sure your plants are growing in as healthy and nutritious environment as possible.   The name of the game is COMPOST, one of nature’s true miracles.

That being said, when you reach the end of the growing season and the soil is depleted, or the day length and temperatures are not ideal, one often finds that the pests that have been absent most of the summer show up in droves.  And there are some things, like it or not, that just love to feast on healthy plants.  Flea beetles and cabbage looper butterfly larvae are notorious in this regard.

My favorite way of dealing with non-insect pests like deer and rabbits and rodents is a fine physical barrier.   Good fences make good neighbors, even when you are talking about animals that want to eat your veggies.  This shot shows our grand fence.   Waist high cedar planks topped with another three feet of chicken wire.

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This shot also shows the other physical barrier we use:  the floating row cover.   You can see the light plastic arches used to support the row cover above the plants.   You don’t have to use supports, the row cover is so light it will rest on the plants without hurting them, but I find that they grow better if they don’t have to push up against even that light cover.

The next photos show how the row cover looks when deployed.

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I use long pieces of rebar to hold the floating row cover down in the wind.   The rebar slips down neatly between the arch supports and the bed edge.

This is how broccoli that comes out of my garden looks.   Note the lack of damage to the leaves.  An additional benefit to the floating row cover is that it cuts down on the heat gain just enough that my broccoli produces side shoots all summer, even during the heat of July and August.

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So, how do I deal with the flush of herbivores when the conditions in the garden get less than optimum for the plants?  When they show up, I try to be vigilant and go out early in the morning when it is cool and pick the adults off execute them. As far as I know, there isn’t a bug species around that has developed resistance to being squished between a thumb and forefinger.

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Some people are squeamish about this, but I have found that there is a certain satisfaction to murdering bugs that are killing my plants.   Upon occasion, I have found myself musing about this process when I am in the middle of a big campaign.   One year there were thousands of harlequin beetles on my cleome plants.   I went about systematically killing them for several days before I finally gave up the battle and pulled the plants out.   When I did that, I would put a big black garbage bag over the plant and then pull them up by the roots, thereby entrapping the beetles within the garbage bag.  I sealed the bags up and stuck them out in the sun to broil.

While I was squashing the beetles, I thought about the millions of dollars women spend courtesy of the cosmetic industry in an effort to make their skin soft and wrinkle free.   “Hmm,” I thought to myself.   “If someone did a study that proved that rubbing harlequin beetle juice into the skin around your eyes and mouth prevented or cured wrinkles, I could charge people for the privilege of coming out here and smashing these bugs for me.”

Other than the entrapping within a plastic bag method, another method I find works wonders in killing bugs is the funeral pyre method.

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I build a good sized, very hot fire in the bonfire circle, and then pull infested plants and burn them.   You have to be careful and deliberate about this process, because you can smother the fire if you put too much green stuff on it at once.   Then you perforce become a charcoal maker.

This is why I sometimes burn infested plants.    There are too many of them to catch.   Or there are thousands of the tiny nymphs hiding everywhere.

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Worst of all is the egg deposits.  These are well hidden and hard to find.   I prefer to burn plants that have turned up with large populations of herbivores.   Composting does not always kill the eggs, and then when you put the compost out in the garden you have repopulated the pests.

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I also burn the refuse of plants that tend to be susceptible to fungi and bacterial blights, just to make sure that those things don’t get perpetuated in the garden.

All in all, I find a lot of satisfaction in the personal destruction of pests.   And frustrating the rabbits and deer is a lot of fun too.

Clear back in June I wrote a post about our plans to put in a grid tie solar power system.   Since it is now October, you can imagine that a LOT of water has gone over the dam since then.   What I left you with at that time was a shot of the cleared off space where the solar power generating “plant” was going to be.

I mentioned that the barn needed to be refurbished, and that got done.   The “new” shop looks really good.   Although you can’t see the whole space, this picture of the new inverters gives you an idea of how it turned out after the old sheetrock and the trash got cleared away.  After that, we had insulation foam installed in the walls and ceiling of the shop room, covered that with sheet rock, and then textured that.  Then we painted.   Here are the inverters, on their lovely wall.

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Oh yeah.   Those are new, double paned insulated windows too.   Nearby is the wire that will run from the solar panels to the inverters.   This is scheduled to be pulled through the conduit and connected to the inverters on Monday.  All that cedar stacked around is the trim for the windows and doors of the shop.   Sometime that will be nailed back up.   Nobody is in any rush about that!  We have other fish to fry.

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Since I believe in the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” I am going to save a lot of time and verbiage by posting a series of pictures taken over the course of the summer, with a minimum of explanation.

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The next shot was taken during the digging of the holes for the frames.   The saw horses are stationed over the holes to keep people who walk around inthe dark (that would be me) from accidentally stumbling into them.   Shortly after this picture, the back hoe came and dug the big holes, which I neglected to document before they had frames and quikrete in them.

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The last picture is of the back of the panels showing how they are bolted to the frames.   In order to keep the aluminum frames from deteriorating, there is a nice stainless steel washer between every frame and the steel support structure.   It had something to do with bimetallic corrosion or galvanic corrosion or some such arcane magic thing.  Those washers were forever skittering away and hiding in the grass.   Fortunately, they were very inexpensive.

So that is where we were yesterday.

Today, this is what happened.  Starting from the power pole where the electric company will put their meter for the grid tie…

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Out around the sauna…

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And over to the barn…

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Right next to the barn where the power enters from the solar panels to go to the inverters, and then comes back out to go to the pole…

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The ditches near the barn…

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Now, you would think that that would be enough work for one day, wouldn’t you?   You would be wrong.   The crew proceeded to pull the wire through all that conduit you saw laid out there.   They glued the conduit.   Then the guy with the bobcat went along and pushed the dirt back into the ditches on top of the installed conduit, and tamped it down.

Here is a shot of the panels after most of that was done.   Notice the posts with conduit next to them.  That is where the junction boxes will go, and the wires from the panels will head off to the barn.

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The final result as of 3:30 p.m. today:

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We still have some back filling to do right by the barn, and around the posts that support the frames.

Need I say that there is a level of excitement around here that is very high???   I am stoked.   Jim is tired.  After all, he was out there working and pulling wire and spending money while I was doing five massages and watching the evolution in between.

We are SOOOOO close to having our grid tie solar power system up and operating we can almost taste it.

As they say in the Army,  “HOOAH!”

New and improved…

A long held dream of mine has finally come to fruition.

Of course, Jim and I have always had compost piles.  The first one was a very informal affair out at the back corner of the garden I created in San Francisco.   When Jim got transferred and we moved to Bremerton, Washington, we loaded that compost pile into a 33 gallon garbage can and transported it with us.   I could not bear to leave it behind, because it contained the remains of all the bouquets that Jim had sent me during his year long deployment to the Middle East.

This may be the only compost pile on record that was moved across state lines due to sentimental reasons.

When we moved to the Havens location, almost the first thing Jim built was a series of bins in which to make compost.   The compost area was always a busy spot, and quite often it was unlovely.

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There are six bins for compost, and then the bench area at the end which was where we  store tools, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention.  As you can see in this picture, there is a large pile of stuff that needs to dry enough to be run through the compost grinder, which is the tool underneath the black rubber cover.   To the left you see two compost tumblers which are useful if you don’t have a lot of compost to make.   With two acres, we generate a lot of material; much more than those sweet little tumblers can manage.

Here is a shot of the bins in action.

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The six bins were just lovely for about a year and a half.   Then the row of elm trees behind them in the picture discovered them.   It became a trial to turn the compost  as it was making due to the invasion of elm roots.   Jim poured shallow concrete floors in a fruitless attempt to discourage the elms.   This worked for about five minutes, after which the elms discovered they could just come up over the edge of the concrete and still invade the compost.

We moved operations off to the back of the property for a while, building the compost piles out on sheets of left over pond liner and/or black plastic.   The tree roots more or less stayed out, but the bermuda grass  would creep over the edge of what ever barrier we put down.   And I can tell you that neither of those substances stood up to pitch fork tines worth a damn, and so it wasn’t long before the tree roots would find a way into the compost piles through the convenient rents in the base.

I longed for a compost area like they have at the Missouri Botanical Garden, with concrete floors, walls to push against and a front end loader to turn the piles.

Finally, after a certain amount of negotiation as to size and location, we decided to have a concrete pad poured upon which we could pile compost.   We desired it to be done by professionals so that it would have a little slant and water would drain off, but not too fast.   Also, hopefully, if a contractor and his men did it, the surface would be smooth enough to easily turn the piles.

This would have been so much more easily accomplished if it had not started raining a couple of weeks ago, making the idea of bringing a redimix truck into the backyard a potential nightmare of ruts and stuck trucks.  So we had to wait for the weather, and the contractor got the flu, so we had to wait for him to get well.

A couple of days ago, all the stars came into alignment and the waiting forms and wire reinforcement received concrete.   It was polished and smoothed, and now, voila!

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I should have taken a picture of the old bins, too.   They have been cleaned and organized and are now being used as storage for the various bird annoying devices we have created to keep the lovely avian tenants of the place out of the apples and strawberries.   Also, the tools have been organized and it all looks just very nice.   Another day.

The forms are gone now, and in a couple of days the concrete will have cured enough that I can move the waiting piles that are now out by the root cellar onto the pad.   I am very excited!

So, of course, there was some amusement to be had while the concrete was being poured and finished.

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This is a view of the corner of the pad during the time while it was still wet and being finished.   If you look very closely, you will see a little black speck on the edge of the concrete right about the middle of the picture.

This is what it is.

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This is a mud dauber wasp.   They are always looking for wet mud with which to build their nests.   If they can’t find mud, they pick up dirt and take it somewhere there is moisture and create mud.   Apparently, this wet concrete was the Best Mud Ever, because the whole time the pad was curing, as long as it was wet enough to pick up concrete, those little wasps were busy making beautiful little balls of concrete and flying off with it to their building site.

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I really like this shot, because just above the wasp you can see the area where she collected her last ball of “mud”.  That is the mark of her jaws in the concrete.  I tried to follow her to her nest so I could see her impregnable concrete reinforced nest, but I lost sight of her.   I think she was building inside the place where the soffit of the sauna is loose.

The contractor and his workers were fairly amused by the fact that I was taking pictures of the wasps and chasing them around.   But these guys have been here before.  They were the ones who fixed the beams under the house, and when they found the big black snake wrapped around the hot water line, were amazed that the housewife/owner was very concerned that they NOT hurt the snake.   So they already know I am odd.

I compounded my oddness by turning my attention from the busy mud daubers to the goldenrod by the sauna, which was being used by very happy bees.   This one has an impressive collection of pollen on her back legs.

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In other news, the Monarch butterflies are migrating through right now.   I find them on my asters, and they seem to like the sedums too.

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I wish them happy trails and plenty of food plants on their journey to Mexico.

Hard to believe that it will be the equinox and Jim’s birthday in just a few hours.   We have a pile of stuff to burn, so I suppose we’ll have a bonfire tonight. I had one last week because the pile had gotten unmanageable.   I had pulled out the black bean vines and harvested the pods.   So the vines needed to be burned, as there were plenty of sundry insect eggs deposited on the leaves.  The patch did REALLY well this year.   Bear in mind that it occupied the part of the bean bed not being used by the pole beans.   In an area that was 4′x16′ I harvested almost ten pounds of black beans, once I had them shelled and dried.   I think that is outstanding production. The cats thought the black beans in the shell were fascinating.   Miss Mallory, being blind, checks everything out by sound and smell.  The crate of bean pods sounded very very interesting, as I had to shove them down in it to get all the pods in there.   As it rested in the kitchen, it made intriguing crackling and rustling noises. DSCF0526 After I finished shelling the beans, I went out and dug the sweet potatoes.   Those vines had gotten delusions of grandeur, were determined to take over the whole northwest section of the garden.   They were well on their way to doing just that. DSCF0528 They did not seem to mind me walking on them when I was headed out to pick the tomatoes, which are at the back of the picture.   What you do not see in this shot is the fact that some of the vines had found their way under the fence and were on their way towards the neighbor’s yard.   Thank goodness this is a non-hardy tropical plant, or we could be in danger of being covered with sweet potato vines the way Alabama is covered with kudzu. They look so pretty on the garden cart. DSCF0532 That is 48.2 pounds of sweet potatoes.   I have a similar quantity of butternut squash curing in the back bedroom.  The freezers are packed with vegetables and fruit.   I just made a liter of herb vinegar for salad dressing.  I put up the last batch of sweet gherkins the other day. Anyway, the bonfire took care of the old cucumber and squash vines as well as the bean vines. While my back was turned, my dill self seeded. DSCF0516 DSCF0517 There is cilantro in this bed too, and the parsley plant just to the east of the dill has seeded the path next to it.   I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to plant parsley and have it not take.   Then you have a plant to go seed and throw seeds into a bark mulch and not get watered all summer, and voila!   Happy little parsley plants.  Go figure. Jim has been gone for a couple of weeks, off to visit people on the East Coast and to attend a class in making Windsor chairs for little people.   He got home yesterday, and it is REALLY great to have him back.   He isn’t a very noisy guy, but the place is preternaturally quiet when he is gone. While he was gone I spent some quality time with the slide collection from my father’s house.   Found some real gems that I will be sharing soon.   These two shots are from around the same era in my life.   The first is of me in my high school graduation gown and cap, sharing my diploma with Horace, my boa constrictor.   The second one was taken in the Sierra foothills as we released Herman, the bull snake, into the wild. PICT0167 img614 Yes, I kept snakes when I was a teenager.   I guess that is what happens when you are born in the Year of the Serpent, as I was. The chairs Jim made arrived here just a couple of hours after he did.   Here is a shot of the new little chair next to the Papa chair.  The little chair still needs to be sanded and painted, but I think it looks beautiful. DSCF0537 This is a chair that will be suitable for a child that is three or so, and will be useful to the young person until they start to shoot up around ten or eleven.   After that, it can be used for seating for a teddy bear, and then a place to stash your coat and purse when you reach working age. I convinced him to invest in the bending form for this chair, because I would like to see a small cottage industry happen.  When I suggested this to him over the phone, he pointed out that he had only been retired for two months, and I was already thinking of a job for him.  Well, if one can make a little money doing something one loves, why not?  This would be a great thing for a proud grand parent to give to a beloved little one.  At $450, it is not inexpensive but destined to last for centuries. Fall is definitely here.   The sumac is turning, as is the poison ivy.   The Petite Prairie is looking fantastic in the evening light right now, as the tall grasses are making their seed heads. DSCF0533 Stay warm.   Hug someone you love, you never know how long you have with them.

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