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Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

We are getting some badly needed rain.  It has been threatening all morning, flashing and muttering under its breath, teasing us with brief sprinkles.

The radar shows that all of this activity is moving along to the south, which is odd because most of the lightning and clouds I am looking at are to the north of me.  At any rate, I am glad it is raining.   We need for the ground to be nicely wet and more rain promised in order to distribute the beneficial nematodes that are reputed to dine on Japanese beetle grubs.  With a good rain under our belt, and more promised, we can order the supplier to ship them.  With any luck, the weather will cooperate and keep the ground nice and wet after they are applied.

I am happy that there is a storm, Impy is NOT.   I don’t know what horrible trauma happened to him in his kittenhood, but he is terrified of thunder and slinks off full speed ahead for the nearest closet as soon as the first distant rumble occurs.  This morning has been just terrible for him.  With the sporadic nature of this storm, there have been periods of calm in between the heavenly percussion performance long enough for him to stick his whiskers out.   Inevitably, as soon as he is bold enough to exit his sanctuary, a random clap of thunder will send him scurrying back under cover.

We have hypothesized that Impy can understand the weatherman and has listened to all the instructions regarding what to do to be safe in a stormy situation.   If you don’t have a shelter to move into, you should stay in an interior room (preferably with no windows) and put a pillow over your head.  When you hear thunder, you should keep yourself as close to the ground as possible while you move to shelter to minimize the danger of being struck by lightning.   And for God’s sake, don’t go stand under a tree.

Our local YMCA is so careful about lightning danger that they clear the pool if there is any within a few miles of us.   Consequently, this morning our water aerobics class was only 15 minutes long.

I have been surfing the interwebs excessively, so I finally decided I ought to get something worthwhile done instead of endlessly posting on facebook.  I made the bed, and cleaned the catboxes.   I did the dishes, and I am contemplating the idea of vacuuming.   I am pretty sure I can spend enough time on my blog that I simply won’t have time to do that chore before I have to leave for my mammogram.

While I was washing the dishes the storm finally blew into our area and produced a measurable amount of rain.   I was musing as I scrubbed my pots about how one would depict the skies opening up as a response to a prompt of “Open” on an the Art Journal Adventure.   The view out my window captivated me as I worked and pondered.  The finches are busy at  the feeder, they don’t care it is raining and neither do the squirrels, who use their tails as easily as an umbrella as they do a sunshade or blanket.

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The rain will be good for the garden too.  The peas are about an inch tall, and the lettuce that we tended all winter is going gangbusters.   I heartily endorse the use of cold frames in this climate.   We ate beautiful lettuce all winter.

So as I allowed this train of thought to pass through the station of my mind, a huge ground strike flashed down just to the northeast.

I was standing at the window, scrubbing a metal pot with my hands in running water, and I recalled the wisdom that says you can get a pretty bad shock if lightning strikes near your water line when you have your hands in running water.   Suddenly I thought “If that bolt had struck the house and electrocuted me where I stood, I suppose my last thought would have been ‘Impy was right’.”

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I’m sure that is not the longest title ever put on an ariticle, but I’m sure it is right up there.  We have been working very hard getting the yard in shape.   It won’t be long now before we will have to mow the lawns.  The peas are up and looking very nice.

There is a LOT of work to do around here.   Yesterday I worked on the East Prairie; cleaned out the last of the branches of last year’s tiny white asters.   Do not be fooled by that name, the flowers are tiny but the plants can be absolutely rampant.   They got about 5 feet tall last summer, since they had no competition except for the poke weed and some wild lettuce named fireweed (for some arcane reason).

Let me just say that in my head, fireweed is that amazing magenta flower that grows all over the Alaska Interior, not this 6 foot tall Ozarks giant that has insignificant flowers that the pollinators adore.

Anyway, I got that cleaned up and then we went out to dinner, which was scrumptious.   After we got home it was a dead calm so we burned the little brush pile out in the savanna.  That has been there about a year and a half, ever since I beat a path through the forsythia thicket so I could work on removing elm sprouts.

Today I cleaned up the garden area around the sauna.  Now that has turned into quite the place.  My job, now that all the forbs have gotten established, is to keep the honeysuckle and the elm trees from moving in.  It blooms all summer with plants I collected seeds from while walking the dog.   When I first planted this garden, I put some beautiful day lilies in there, but now that it has turned into a micro prairie, the day lilies have a lot of competition.  They bloom, but it is a struggle.  The little birds love this garden.

After I got that done, I decided to have a beer and see if I could see any birds at the pond.  I was rewarded by a gold finch, who came down to the waterfall for a drink.

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He didn’t stay very long.   I waited for a while, and Jim came to join me.   We sat for a while, and all of a sudden a junco dropped by.   This little bird knew darn well we were there, and did not come down to drink.  It took a while for me to capture him looking in our direction.  It is not safe for little birds, you know, and he was trying to look in all directions at once.

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Then I went off for mosquito dunks, and on my way back to the pond I sort of wandered around looking at the yard.

There are about five million violet seedlings in my path, something for future reference.  They are invisible in this shot, which is all about the grape hyacinths and the dragon’s teeth.

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Other than that, I think it is looking pretty special.   I wandered past the Green Man on my way to the pond.   I can actually see him this time of year.  The bittersweet vine really fills in.  Right now it is barely sprouting.

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Right behind him is the pond.   While I was getting this shot, there were a grackle and a robin in the pond taking a bath.  By the time I got around the corner, the grackle was done and had vacated the area.

The robin was very wet.

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He sat there for several minutes as I stood frozen on the opposite side of the pond from him.  After a while, he decided that he was not sufficiently bathed, and so he hopped back into the pool.

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Well.  That’s better.

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He is even more wet.

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But , apparently, not wet enough.   Back in he went for another splash.

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We have a pretty good sized pile of prunings from the yard, so if the wind calms down at sunset we shall have an Equinoctical bonfire.  That will be nice.

Happy Spring!

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Well, I have been way from the blog for far too long.  It is amazing what a profound effect having people make unkind comments has, it is like being burned by a hot stove and never wanting to approach it again.  I have decided that cruel and unstable people do not get to control me.

A few days ago we noticed that the number of small birds in our yards seems to have increased radically, not quite exponentially.   We hang two big feeders, each will hold 3 quarts of black oil sunflower seeds.  All winter, we had to fill them about every three days.   All of a sudden, they are being emptied in one 24 hour period.

Also, I noticed that the number of birds hopping around on the ground and in the trees and shrubs seems to have increased from lots to dozens and dozens.   The elm trees are blooming, and there are finches all over them, eating the elm seeds.  (My hope is that they eat ALL of them, as every year I have to weed hundreds of volunteer elm trees out of my gardens.

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What is going on?

Well, the fact is we have a housing crisis for small birds in the neighborhood.   There is a place about 400 or 500 feet from here where there are new owners.   Now granted, the property they bought was very overgrown, and they have every right to clear the elms and massive quantities of grape vines, virginia creeper and other stuff that has slowly inched its way towards their house.   They probably are going to replant once the area is cleaned up, sort of like what we have done on our east property line.

But at the moment, there are hundreds of little finches, sparrows, wrens, juncos and other birds that like dense woodsy shrubs who have summarily been evicted from their homes without warning.  They have found their way here and have found the proprietors to be willing to provide their needs.

And so, The Havens earns its name once again.  A population in crisis has found a place with shelther and food to get them by.

 

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We had our roof replaced and the house sided last month.  Looks pretty good now, like a brand new house outside.   Too bad the inside does not match…  I definitely need new floor treatments.

However, during the course of the work, the siding guys simply had to walk next to the house, which involved walking in the garden on the north side.  This garden mostly consists of hostas, with a few hellebores and bleeding hearts thrown in.   It started out as a real shade garden with several varieties of shade lovers in it, but over the years the less hardy plants died out.

Truth to tell, some of the original plantings, which I established with great forethought, turned out to be unwise choices.   One of those, notably, was the lily of the valley, which was summarily evicted after I discovered it busily strangling the hostas nearest to it.   The violets that I was so sure would look very nice along the house turned out to be a noxious weed and empire builders.   I have been trying to eradicate them for some time, and if I live long enough I may eventually succeed.

But I digress.   I decided that the north border needed to be revamped.  To that end, I removed all the rocks I had placed next to the house, leveled out the area and edged it with some pound-in edging.   The rocks got thrown into a pile over near the pergola.   After the edging was in place, I lined the rock border right next to the house with black plastic.   The idea is to have a strip of decorative rock between the house and the garden so that I do not have plants right up against the house, in the interest of proper air circulation.

It has taken me about a week to get ready to put my rocks back.   These are mostly very cool rocks that I have brought home from various gravel bars.   While I was doing the prep work, though, behind my back the rock pile became habitat.  I was not particularly surprised to find pill bugs and centipedes living there when I started moving the pile.   The big wolf spider also did not seem very out of place.

But this fellow surprised me!

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He (or she — I’m not good at sexing amphibians), had taken up residence under the pile of rocks and wished sincerely that I had not moved them.

I did pick the little fellow up, because I certainly did not wish to hurt him during my job.

As you can see with the scale of my glove added, this is a very small being indeed.  I think this may be the eft stage of the red spotted newt.  This is very interesting, because for a long time I have been aware of having what I referred to as salamanders living in the pond.  It turns out that the red spotted newt has an aquatic stage, and the guys in the pond are more than likely the red spotted newt in that aquatic stage.  This little fellow has found its way out of the pond to transform to its terrestrial stage.

I took it over to the rain garden, which seemed like a good place to relocate it out of harms way.

Indeed, it found the location satisfactory, and crawled back in and under the rocks there.

I am happy to find yet another individual creature that appreciates the habitat we have created here at the Havens.  It is really very exciting!

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It is no secret that if you have a plot of land there is generally four sides to it.  Given the predilection surveyors have to orient things on a logical grid, those sides usually conform to ordinal directions.

This is the case at The Havens.   There are numerous posts that feature our West line, which is where the stroll garden is, and the little pond.   On the North line is the barn and a very wild line of trees and shrubbery that shields us from the “view” in that direction.  Our South line is the street we live on.  Many pictures of the house, vineyard, and front gardens have been taken from that line.

Our East line parallels the main drag towards I-44.   When we moved here, it featured a broken down stockwire/barbed wire fence and a wild tangle of volunteer elms, cherries, mulberries, orange trumpet creeper vine, poison ivy, virginia creeper and God knows what else.

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It was a heaven for the local birds, and served to shield us from the wonderful view of the neighboring business, which sold mobile and manufactured homes.   Most of the mobile homes were repossessions.   It was pretty much an eyesore.

So much was it an eyesore, that I almost NEVER took any pictures specifically of it.   The East line only shows up as a back drop for other parts of the place I was trying to show, sort of like this one of the sauna.

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Despite that fact, I really sort of liked it, because there was always something going on back there.   On the north end of that line is a thicket of plums with a big currant bush.  The brown thrasher used that spot to raise her family.  There were usually cat birds living there, as well as cardinals using the vines for nesting areas.   The finches hung out there, along with robins, blue jays, the occasional hawk or owl.   The hummingbirds used the orange trumpet creeper vine.

I won’t discuss the owner of the trailer sales place except to say that he was the reason that we found ourselves in need of a lawyer.   Harassment is a gentle word for what he did. But as things turned out, he wound up selling his property to the Dollar General corporation.   During the course of the hearings at the City Council, we discovered that they intended to build a privacy fence between our place and their lot.

We decided to have the tangled mess cleared up to facilitate that event.  Our plan is to establish a garden over there that consists of prairie plants:  tall grasses like big bluestem and panicum; medium grasses like little bluestem, prairie dropseed, and sorgastrums; and a bunch of prairie flowers.   I also intended to plant shrubs as well, to re-establish the flyway for the small birds.

So we spent a big wad of money and had professionals come in and clear the line.  We had them preserve the line of forsythias at the back, as well as one oak, one large mulberry, and one black walnut

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Eventually we had all that chipped up tree and shrubbery spread out along the line to make a mulch layer.  I spent the fall and spring planting shrubs next to the very beautiful fence Dollar General built.

Last fall I planted seeds for the flowers and grasses.  They are young, but they are coming along.   I also have assiduously transplanted starts from my Petite Prairie, and those are the plants you can actually see in the above shots.

Above is the north end of the East line, where I planted forsythia about ten years ago or so.  You are seeing the west and east sides of that thicket.   Needless to say, during the interim the birds have provided me with lots of extraneous things in that patch of shrubs, not the least of which is a very healthy stand of poison ivy.   When the clearing was done, we had the stumps of the trees ground out, but we could not do that at this end of the line and also save the bushes.

I really wanted to save those bushes because I knew that that birds were using the line of trees for shelter and habitat, and I wasn’t willing to completely evict them all.   Anyway, we now have about 10 elm trees, two or three locusts, a maple and a couple of mulberries that are trying to assert themselves.   Since I am averse to using glyphosphate or other herbicides, the method needed to convince these trees that they are actually dead is to go out there and clip off the dozens of sprouts they are sending up around their trunks.  This is a job you have to do every couple of months or so during the summer for two or three years.

A few days ago I went back there to beat back the poison ivy, so that the sprout removal would be less fraught with danger from it.  I filled up a 33 gallon garbage bag with poison ivy.   I thought I had avoided getting it, but no such luck.   Both my wrists have outbreaks and I got exposed to enough of it that my eyes are all swollen up.  Oh well.   Sacrifices must be made, I guess.

Anyway, while I have been removing elm sprouts I found two old cardinal nests from last year.   And I also found the nest the brown thrasher built this year.

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I also saw the cat birds and a pair of hairy woodpeckers.  The other day I saw a whole family of indigo buntings as well.   So I guess our transition has not made my birds feel unwelcome.

Next year the flowers and prairie grasses ought to look quite special.   In the mean time, I will have to introduce myself to the City’s Compliance Officer and explain what the plan is so that I won’t get citations from the local authorities enjoining me to mow down the “tall weeds.”

I think I’ll begin by inviting him to visit the Petite Prairie.  Stay tuned for future developments.

 

 

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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.

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I’m going crazy

I have been meaning to get a post up for several weeks now, but events keep intervening.

The main event has been a series of trips to visit my Primary Care Physician for what amounts to upkeep and maintenance.   All the usual tests have been run, I’ve been poked and mashed and sampled.   

Since I am an official Cholesterol Unbeliever, I really don’t care what my numbers are.   Unfortunately, my PCP is not so enlightened.  I am not obese, I am not sedentary, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink to excess, I don’t eat a lot of processed foods and the only time I feel a lot of stress is when my doctor is telling me I’m going to have a stroke if I don’t take the liver killing drugs being flacked by the pharmaceutical industry.   

So I was not particularly amused by her telling me that “at least” I wasn’t diabetic.   My response was “Of course I am not diabetic.”   Oh, and my bone density is above normal.   What a  big surprise (not).   I need a different PCP, one who doesn’t treat me like a moron just because I bother to do some research.

What was accomplished was a diagnosis of a UTI, which I was pretty sure I had one of.  So I took the recommended antibiotic and promptly got a vaginal bacterial infection since the antibiotic killed all the good bacteria in there and allowed the other residents to take over.   When that is treated, I intend to utilize a bunch of yogurt to repopulate the area and hopefully all this BS will be over.

Meanwhile, my beautiful dog Ruby went out and stuck her head in a bunch of poison ivy, which I did not know until I petted her assiduously and then worked hard, got hot, swept the sweaty hair out of my eyes and then transferred urushiol to my pillow.   So I have a poison ivy outbreak that includes most of my forehead, the area to the left of my mouth, several patches in various and sundry spots including the back of my right shoulder and under my left breast.   

Ruby was not happy to have her whole body shampooed including her ears and face.   I have washed just about everything in my bed and most of my clothing and it seems that perhaps the outbreak has stopped spreading.   

My dear husband’s soothing comment was “It’s a good thing you aren’t trying to get a date for the prom right now.”

I refrained from murdering him.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have put 30 pints of beef broth into the food room.   Since the freezers are almost full of meat, fruit, veggies and sundry other items amongst which are the hickory blanks from which chair spindles are carved, we decided to can the broth.   

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We’ve been picking vegetables on a daily basis.  This is a representative sampling.   

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Sometimes there are more beans, sometimes less cucumbers.   Sometimes we find a giant cucumber that was growing in the alternate universe and got heavy enough to drop back into this dimension.

At any rate, the other day we had 36 pints of tomato puree to can, and right now we have another 7 gallons of tomato simmering down on the stove, which will end up making another 30 pints of puree (approximately).  The food room is almost as full as our freezers.

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The labyrinth has been a joy to me in the midst of all this craziness and hard work.   I had a couple of people come to walk it a week ago.  What a nice interlude, to show them the labyrinth, walk it, talk to them, show them The Havens and receive all their admiration.   

It was looking quite spiffy for them, as the Naked Ladies I planted out there a couple of years ago have decided that conditions are good.

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My good blog friend Daisyfae has a daughter who lives in Turkey.   When she mentioned that this young lady was coming home for a visit, I made so bold as to ask if it was possible for her to bring me a rock from that country.  The answer was a resounding YES, and so this rather fine specimen of dolomitic limestone from the Bornova Flysch Zone, which is where Izmir lies geologically.

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It arrived accompanied by a box of fine dried Turkish figs, which are all gone now and were much enjoyed.

It is so nice to have international friends!

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We picked grapes too, the Marechal foch row was ready first

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It had a lot of really nice bunches on it.

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Then a few days ago the Baco noir grapes joined their friends in the fermentation vat.   It’s about time to pick the Chamborcin as well.

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I have to leave you here….   a client awaits my attentions.

 

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