June 30, 2023

Smoke on the mountain

I was born on my mountain. Now, we're not the Walton family, but my family has been in this spot since 1910. I don't recall a time that smoke from a wildfire blanketed our mountain. Even with local fires, we are not surrounded by smoke. Today, the smoky haze outside has drifted a thousand miles, arriving here from Canada. The media reports 161 fires are still burning. At least that's down from the 400+ at the beginning of this month. 

Yesterday, we had a "Code Red" air quality. This morning it's been downgraded to Code Orange. That is still not good. I need to be outside, in the garden, and mowing the grass. I'm healthy so I shouldn't have a problem beyond burning eyes, but I'll wear a mask when I mow. Is this a portent of the world to come? 

This is not the survival I worried about when I retired. I worried about financial things, and not being able to breathe. 

I'm worried my garden isn't getting enough sun through the smoke. How are the trees, the lifeblood of oxygen on this earth, handling the smoke? Where are all the birds? 

And what really worries me is were the Canadian wildfires started by a group of nutjobs out to prove some political point. "Climate change? We'll give you climate change!" This smoke is kin to what happens when a volcano erupts.

I've prepped for a lot of things, but smoke isn't one of them. Now I'm thinking about this added danger and wondering how best to survive it. Maybe there's no point in that. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, Canadian wildfires, commentary, prepping, political unrest, human suffering, bleak future

June 20, 2023

Snapping turtles

Living rural as we do, we see a lot of different "critters." This week brought a snapping turtle out of the local "swamp." She decided to lay her eggs next to our lane. 

The fact that she's laying eggs must mean she has a Mr. Turtle stashed somewhere in the swamp with her. 

Our swamp is really just an area where back in my great-grandparent's day, a small dam was put across the creek so they could pump water to their garden. The dam created a small, shallow reservoir, and various wildlife moved in or visited. I love seeing the occasional wild duck or blue heron paying a visit. 

Snapping turtles are rather rare around here and I'm glad there are a few around. They're a common sight at the river and on the C&O Canal, but not on the side of a mountain. We just happened to have a spot the more adventurous wanderers found to their liking. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, snapping turtles, prehistoric reptiles, rural living, a writer's life, wildlife, swamp, creeks, laying eggs

June 16, 2023

This may be the only time I can red beets

We like beets. We may not eat them every week of the year, but we have them at least once a month. I tried to grow beets last fall, and while the tops were gorgeous, the plants didn't actually form beets. I decided to forego trying to grow them - for now - and buy beets. Luckily, we have several wonderful farm markets and orchards mere miles from home. 

Yesterday, the lady at one of the small farm markets called to say she had a bushel of beets. I hopped into the pickup and went to see what she had. I was a bit disappointed in the quality, but she made up for the fact the beets had been cut by either a plow or shovel during harvesting by slashing the price considerably. It pays to be on good terms with people. I also suspect the "half a bushel" I took held more than that.  

Home processing beets is very labor intensive. The beets need to be washed, boiled, chilled in cold water so the skin slides off, peeled and trimmed, sliced and/or diced, and reheated. Only then may the hot beets go into a hot jar and the jar into a hot canner. I may never can beets again unless I manage to grow my own and can carefully harvest them without creating blemishes. Quite a bit went in the bucket for the woodland critters. But I still ended up with twenty-six pints which will do us around two years. Every jar sealed. 

It was a good day's work. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, home food processing, canning beets, gardening, a writer's life, rural living, country lifestyle, farmer's market, labor-intensive job

June 7, 2023

Wildfires are raging in Canada

I can think of little that is more frightening than being at the mercy of the elements. Floods, blizzards, wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes are beyond our control. We have to ride out the havoc and devastation they leave in their wake. For the first time in my memory, Canada is beset with wildfires. As I write this, there are over four hundred different fires burning, and only about half are "under control." 

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd think a group of activists had been busy. Maybe they really don't like Justin Trudeau.  

Looking out my office window, a grey haze covers the land. Never in my life have I experienced a time when smoke from Canada has blanketed western Maryland. Early this morning I thought I needed to get busy and wash the windows, but that is not the problem. It's much worse.  

To say that I'm concerned is an understatement. Is this a harbinger of things to come? 

I pray it is not. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, rural living, a writer's life, wildfires, Canada, smoke, elemental dangers, air quality, threats to life

June 6, 2023

The tomatoes have blossoms

A few short days ago I was in my little garden patch talking to my tomato plants. I wanted to give them some encouragement so their buds would turn into flowers on the journey to become fruit. It has happened! 

All eighteen plants now have blossoms. I have two varieties planted, Beefsteak and Giant Pink Belgium, and I think this is the last year I'll plant two. If I stick to one heirloom variety, I can save the seeds, and in time, have a strong tomato well acclimated to my microclimate. I'd like to try it, anyway. 

Unless I get an incredibly huge amount of tomatoes, I'll have to supplement my harvest with half a bushel or so from the local fruit stand and/or farmer's markets. I processed a good number of jars in 2022 and I think it will see us through. And if it doesn't, I'm not going to get hung up about buying commercially canned tomatoes. I think we do what we can when we can.  

One thing I would like to home process is ketchup, so we'll have to wait and see how that works out. But for now, the tomatoes are blooming and I'll be happy with that. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tomatoes, home canning, gardening, rural living, country lifestyle, growing in containers 

June 5, 2023

An update on the 2023 Greenstalk

Earlier this year I purchased a Greenstalk. The Greenstalk has been hyped on a lot of gardening and homesteading YouTube channels, and I thought it did look kinda cool.  I have three acres of ground, but not much of it is actually arable. I'm averse to cutting down trees on a whim when I can work out options. My option for having a garden is to grow in containers. 

Back to the Greenstalk. I had to set it in the old washtub so I could level it. Level ground is also at a premium here. I live on the side of a mountain. We make do. 

I planted seeds in about half the pockets, added a few begonia cuttings for color, and transplanted a few herbs. It's finally looking like I did not waste my money. 

The Greenstalk will be in another location next year. I need to get a large concrete paver and the special base before next season. As with all things, we tend to take cautious steps. This year we observe how things grow in it. Next year we take it as far as we choose.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Greenstalk, gardening, rural living, country lifestyle, level ground, using caution, seeds, wax plants, begonias, container gardening

June 3, 2023

How old is that log splitter?

We have an old, and I do mean old, MTD log splitter. It's been a workhorse. I think we got it around 1995 and it hasn't missed a beat - except for one thing. We got to the point in life where neither of us can give the pull starter rope a good rip to get it started. We're lucky we can call next door and my cousin will come and give it a yank, but we like to be more self-sufficient. To that end, Himself has swapped out the motor with the pull starter to one with a battery and a key. 

This should have been done years ago!  

It wasn't an easy job for him to do. He worked on it a little bit at a time over the course of many days. He had to purchase a few new tools to remove the old motor. He had to purchase new tools to mount the new one. We ordered new hydraulic hoses, too. You might wonder why we didn't simply go buy a whole new splitter with the electric start, but damn. Prices are astronomical! The old auto mechanic put his rusty skills to good use and at a fraction of the cost. 

Living among the trees as we do, the log splitter is a necessity. Keeping the trees trimmed so that they stay healthy, plus what Mother Nature drops to the ground, keeps us in firewood. Last year was an anomaly in that we deliberately cut down three trees, but those threatened the house. I can't let that wood go to waste. That wood will warm three houses in cold weather. 

I'm happy to have saved the old MTD splitter. Just like a lot of people in this world, it may be old, but it's completely functional. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, MTD log splitter, rural living, country lifestyle, firewood, equipment, electric starter, function