One Local Summer: Week 1

It seems like the Dark Days Challenge just ended, but here we are at the start of the One Local Summer 2008 challenge. I’ll be posting not only here, but also at Farm to Philly as the West regional coordinator. Check on Tuesday morning for the first recap of the summer – I’ll be posting from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Of course, it hardly feels like summer around here with the weather we’re having. It’s been pouring most of the week and yesterday when I worked from home the warmest spot in the house was my arm chair next to the propane stove. I spent the whole day firmly ensconced there. Oh well, summer never arrives in the PNW until July 5th anyway.

We eat so locally and seasonally around here that it’s hard to choose a meal to be our “challenge meal o the week”, but I’d like to choose just one to write about each week this year. And to make it challenge worthy I think we’ll strive to include as many home grown ingredients as possible. That makes it a bit tough right now since the only things we have ready to harvest are eggs, herbs, lettuce and radish. Makes it hard to make anything more than a poor poached egg salad.

Since I was working from home yesterday I took advantage of the opportunity to get dinner started at the same time that I made lunch. It poured all day with the wind blowing, so comfort food was the name of the game. By sheer luck we had everything we needed to make a local beef stew, homegrown salad and homemade biscuits topped off with a 2004 San Juan Vineyards Cabernet-Merlot.

Not the best food photo I’ve ever taken, but it was dark in the kitchen and I was hungry. The salad wasn’t the absolute first from the garden, but it was the second. It included lettuce, french breakfast radishes and chive blossoms. I made the stew using Alice Waters’ recipe in her “The Art of Simple Food“. The only change I made was substituting rosemary for savory and in retrospect I would have omitted the orange peel.

The biscuits? Oh my freakin’ heck (trying to watch my language) they were the best I’ve ever made and Mike has dubbed them the best he’s ever had. They were melt in your mouth flakey perfection. They were heaven. They were amazing. They were even fabulous day old with leftover stew tonight.

– Salad: lettuce, radish and chive blossoms from the garden
– Biscuits: Fairhaven Organic Mill all-purpose flour, butter and half-and-half from Golden Glen Creamery
– Stew: almost the last of last year’s steer, farmers market carrots, onions, garlic and potatoes, home canned tomatoes and chicken stock, herbs from the garden and Yakima Valley red wine

The exceptions were salt, a bit of sugar, spices and baking powder.

Cream Biscuits
The Art of Simple Food

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
6 tbs butter – chilled
3/4 cup heavy cream (I used half-and-half)

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using your fingers or a pastry blender until grainy. Add the cream (setting 1 tbs aside) and mix until just combined. Turn out onto floured board and fold a few times. Roll out to 3/4″ thick and cut into 1-1/2″ circles or squares, re-roll the scraps if required. Place on baking sheet and brush tops with remaining cream. Bake at 400 degrees for 17 minutes or until cooked through and golden.

Why We Should Care That Hillary Ran

I usually try to avoid non-food/farm politics here, even though I’m usually more than willing to discuss them in person. And I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t vote in this year’s presidential primary because here in Washington state you have to pick a party and can only vote in their primary. Due to new rules this year, the Democratic primary was decided by caucus and not ballot and the caucus happened on a day that I was traveling for work.

So I’ve been watching the Hillary / Obama campaigns from the sidelines with much interest. Both of them are candidates that I could get behind, for vastly different reasons. I listed to their speeches on the radio, I was made teary eyed by both of them at different times. I waited to see if and when Hillary would give up once it began to seem inevitable that Obama would get the votes needed to secure the nomination. I listened to her speech on Tuesday night where she said she would make no decisions.

And I thought about what it meant to me that a woman had run for president and made it all the way to the end of the primary season. That while as a child I was always told that I could be and do anything, that I never really thought this country would elect a woman. And that that was too bad. Women often bring a different point of view to the table than men, something I’ve seen over and over again working in male dominated industries. Maybe it’s compassion, maybe it’s the ability to see both sides, maybe it’s that we’re less focused on “winning” and more on “how we play the game”. Doesn’t matter what it is, it just is.

Gail Collins over at the New York Times said in her op-ed today what I’ve been trying to articulate all week in various conversations with other women and men and myself.

Nobody is ever again going to question whether it’s possible for a woman to go toe-to-toe with the toughest male candidate in a race for president of the United States. Or whether a woman could be strong enough to serve as commander in chief.

Her campaign didn’t resolve whether a woman who seems tough enough to run the military can also seem likable enough to get elected. But she helped pave the way. So many battles against prejudice are won when people get used to seeing women and minorities in roles that only white men had held before. By the end of those 54 primaries and caucuses, Hillary had made a woman running for president seem normal.

That’s why you should care that Hillary ran for president whether you liked her, supported her, agreed with her, or not. She did something that no other woman in this country has ever done. And she did it while rarely focusing on the fact that she was a woman. She made it seem completely normal that she should be a contender, she made it about her qualifications and her beliefs, not about what’s underneath her clothes. And that makes this election historic in more ways than one.

Daily Photo: Salute the Chef

Last night we had friends for dinner. It was a nice relaxed afternoon and evening of hanging out, watching the Belmont Stakes, harvesting salad in the garden and grilling.

The salad was fantastic (all local but the organic California tomatoes), the two local chickens were grilled by Mike to perfection, the potatoes were roasted goodness. Unfortunately the asparagus got a little charred, but oh well, it still disappeared so it couldn’t have been that bad…

One friend brought an appetizer of pita’s spread with cream cheese and sliced cucumber – seriously so good. The other made blueberry cobbler from scratch – mmmmmm. Potluck dinners are my favorite kind, particularly when we can play to everyone’s strengths.

Daily Photo: Spring Pickles

Asparagus season is in full swing and I scored 5 dozen used canning jars on Craigslist for a fraction of their retail price. So what better way to preserve some spring for later this year? Why pickle it of course!

Neither Mike nor I is a fan of canned veggies, but we’re both pickle fiends. The ones I made last year have been such a big hit that I thought I’d try my hand at pickling some asparagus as well.

I’m a bit concerned that these might not be as good. I used a different brine recipe and they seem a bit wrinkled which I understand to be a symptom of too much salt. Oh well, it didn’t cost much. $15 for the asparagus, $3 for the cider vinegar. The jars were $0.50 each and the fresh dill (garden), salt, peppercorns, cloves and dill seed were all essentially free. Total cost of $22 for 6 quarts of pickled asparagus, so about $3.50 each. Not bad.

Can’t wait to give these a try in a month or so.

If you want to try canning, but the idea makes you nervous, I highly recommend pickles as a first try. They’re easy to make, don’t really need to be put in a water bath (in my humble experience) and are hard to screw up. Give it a try! You can pickle asparagus, green beans, onions, cucumbers and pretty much anything else you want to try your hand at.

I’m traveling this week, so indulge me as I share photos from the last couple of weeks. Also, this week’s One Local Summer West Region recap is now up!

Daily Photo: Spirea?

I took this more than a week ago and these have now disappeared thanks to the rain and wind of last week. I think it’s a spirea, but I’m not 100% sure.

They remind me of snowballs and somehow make me wistful that spring arrived before I was really done enjoying winter. This bush is about 5′ in diameter – very impressive in full bloom.

500 Year Flood

I’m not going to amend this post as I’d like to let it stand. BUT, the situation here is far more serious and dire for both life and property than anyone thought even just 24 hours ago. I am safe, as are all of my friends and co-workers as far as I know. The bridges and sidewalks in the pictures from last night are now all underwater, and in the case of the railroad bridge, gone. I’m working on an update post now.

I’m in Cedar Rapids this week for work, and in case you missed it on the news, there are some serious floods here. Our office started evacuating servers and employees fairly early today. Our hotel where we were staying and meeting was evacuated at 3:00 pm. We’ve moved hotels and are safe and dry, staying out near the airport.

Interestingly it seems much more dramatic on the news than it’s been been here so far. Everyone has been very calm and efficient and focused on doing their best to save property and life. I’m more than impressed by the response of the residents and local government.

There wasn’t any water in the downtown area when we left and for us, as visitors that get to leave tomorrow, it’s been mostly an inconvenience. But, if you live in the area and it’s your basement or street or business filling with water, it is A BIG DEAL. Please think positive thoughts for the people that live and/or work here.


Flood Update

I’ve been staring at this page for a while, not sure what to write or how to say what I’m feeling. It’s amazing how fast the situation here went from feeling completely under control to feeling completely surreal. I am still at the airport trying to get a flight out to Seattle tonight. Ironically we’re being delayed not by the conditions here, but by bad weather in Chicago.

Yesterday, even when the river was high and fast, it seemed that perhaps officials were overreacting. Partly that feeling was because everyone has been so calm and matter-of-fact throughout the experience. I’d forgotten how stoic midwesterners can be. Partly also because this has been an ever-evolving situation. The predictions for the flood have been steadily revised upwards ever since we arrived. The river is now above the level that they were predicting it would crest at and still rising.

The streets that we walked all week are now underwater, the railroad bridge gone, our office building submerged and the images of loss and tragedy everywhere. You cannot be here and not be profoundly moved by the loss that those who live here are experiencing. A city and community are being forever changed by the Cedar River and it’s wanton destruction.

Amazingly there have been few reports of injuries or deaths. People have been fairly quick to evacuate when asked and officials, as far as I have seen, should be commended for their efforts. The water is expected to keep rising until tomorrow sometime and then not to recede until next week. To top it all off, there are tornado warnings for the county for tonight and tomorrow morning.

If you’d like to keep up with what’s happening, the Cedar Rapids Gazette is regularly updating for conditions in Cedar Rapids – the photos below are all from their website.

This is the train bridge that the river was lapping at last night, now collapsed and completely underwater.

This is the bridge I stood on yesterday to take the photos of the rising river.

This is the government building that stands on an island in the middle of the Cedar River. I took a photo of it yesterday when the waters were rising.


First Summer Saturday

Yesterday felt like the weekend of summer. Of course, we all know it’s an illusion since summer in Seattle doesn’t start until July 5th. But that’s okay, it’s nice to be fooled for a couple of days. Of course, the lettuce starts wish that I’d realized how hot it was sooner… But we only lost 5 of many, and I’ve got new starts to go in their place later this week. Oh well, chalk it up to a personal growth opportunity.

Taking advantage of the beautiful day I went down to the Edmonds farmer’s market with friends Missy, Mia and Sierra (she’s 4!). As much as I like the U District market I went to all winter, Edmonds meant the return of “my farmers” to my life. It was so great to see familiar faces and ask how winters were. To trade comments about the weird weather patterns this year. And buy just a bit of something from everyone. No berries yet, but the variety of things available is definitely on the upswing.

There were radishes of every color, salad greens, asparagus, rhubarb (yay!), onions, spring potatoes, herbs, honey and even cucumbers from a greenhouse in Snohomish. Of course, I didn’t buy nearly enough salad greens to get us through the week, I never do. But that’s okay – I’ll run down the street to the organic farm stand on Wednesday and pick up some more. And maybe by next weekend we’ll have our own.

When I got home, I discovered friends Megera and Kevin here at the house with Mike. We’d talked about going mountain biking, but decided it was too flipping hot to ride. Hey, were Seattlites, that’s what happens when it goes above 80.

Instead we hung out enjoying the shade and breeze on the covered patio watching Mike mow. Then Megera and I did some emergency watering on the garden. I didn’t realize it was going to be so hot yesterday and hadn’t watered Friday night. I think everything but those lettuce starts will survive. The very first of the radish seedlings, potatoes and asparagus were up. And I saw signs of the bush beans and peas. So exciting! And so late…

Eventually some cloud cover rolled in and the wind died down so we ventured out onto the freshly mowed lawn for a game of croquet. Jake isn’t a fan of the game because there’s all those balls shooting around and he’s not allowed to have any of them.

Then, since it was Megera’s birthday we decided that we should have the first cookout of summer to celebrate. I won’t say which birthday, but suffice it to say she’s not as old as she likes to think she is

Dinner was burgers on the grill, roasted potatoes and green beans (last year’s from the freezer) in the grill basket, local salad (except for the BC hothouse tomatoes – hey it was a summer cookout), peach cobbler with last years home canned peaches and vanilla ice cream. It tasted just like summer. We ended the evening with a fire outside, the first at the new house. I hope the great evening was just one of many we’ll have in this house and on this property.

Busy Sunday!

Today was a busy busy day. I’ve got a lot to say, but I’ll start off with the best part of it. Today I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Melinda and Matt of Elements in Time. They moved to Seattle just 2 short weeks ago and today paid us the compliment of driving up to meet in person and see the new place. The Shibaguyz were going to join us, and were in fact the driving force behind us getting together, but alas they had to cancel at the last minute.

It was great to meet them. We spent a pleasant afternoon checking out my mostly dirt garden and chatting. Mike got home from trout fishing just in time to join us for Prosecco and upside down peach tart with ice cream. Matt made the ice cream from scratch and managed to keep it frozen all the way from Seattle to Arlington! Quite the feat. I’m on a quest to use up last summer’s peaches before the strawberries come in and so made a quick tart in the oven.

Melinda’s even nicer in person than she seems on her blog. I’m excited to have them here in the area, even though they are pretty far from us (about 45 miles). Hopefully they’ll decide to stay awhile! And hopefully we get a chance soon to do this again with the Shibaguyz!

Earlier in the day I finally moved my tomatoes into the garden. They’ve been outside since Wednesday and since then shot up really tall and a bit leggy. It was time to get them and the leek starts that have been hanging out in a box for three weeks into the garden. Of course, the first tomato that went in met with catastrophe.

Obviously, in retrospect, the reason you shouldn’t use clay pots for potting up your tomatoes is that they’re hard to get back out later. Of course, being the resourceful, and vengeful, gardener that I am I went to plan B.

Yeah, so maybe I didn’t need to crack and break all 20 of them. But they were rejected by the nursery I got them from for this exact reason. Plus I needed some drainage material to go at the bottom of the summer flower pots when I get around to re-doing them in a couple of weeks. Besides it gave me a strange kind of satisfaction to crack each one and extract the tomato that I started from seed. Now there are 25 tomatoes in the garden and they’re the greenest thing there.

I had grand plans that I was going to trellis the tomatoes, but some of these are pretty tall and I’ve made no progress on that project. So instead they get wire cages just like all the other tomatoes I’ve ever grown in the ground. Total there are 14 sauce tomatoes, 3 cherries and 7 slicing. Should keep us in tomatoes for a while!

Playing God by Twilight

Starting plants from seed is not for the faint of heart. Or at least that’s what I was pondering tonight while I potted up 16 broccoli, 16 Brussels sprouts, 32 lettuce and 8 peppers.

There’s something just a bit twisted about thinning seedlings that you purposely started. About choosing which get to live and which die. And that decision is somewhat arbitrary. Sometimes it’s obvious which one to keep – the straighter stem, more leaves, bigger leaves. Other times it’s just a matter of picking one and snipping the others.

Of course those are just the thoughts that went through my head while I spent an hour plus doing all that potting up. Could have just been the intoxicating smell of fish fertilizer that got me philosophizing.

Elsewhere things are really popping in the garden, even since I took the photos below. Just since yesterday the peas and bush beans have jumped up an inch or two.

The radishes peaking their heads out.

Potatoes! My mom is now laughing at me as I had to admit to her the other day that last week I dug one up because I was worried that they weren’t up yet. They haven’t all poked up, but I think they’re coming…



Remember that tomato plant that I killed on Sunday? The one that caused me to decide to break the other tomatoes out instead of sliding them out?

Well this morning I had a moment to kill while waiting for my fellow carpoolers and wandered out to the garden. It was raining pretty steadily and had been since last night. And you know what? That damn tomato was standing 80% of the way back up. Since it was still raining when I got home I don’t have a photo, sorry.

So I don’t know, how does that rank on the scale of improbabilities and/or miracles?

Who’s More Sustainable?

I’ve been thinking about how and whether to write this post for a couple of weeks now. And I think I’m going to go for it – hopefully I won’t offend anyone tonight.It seems that lately there’s been a bit of “I’m more sustainable” or “I’m localer” than you going around the web and media blogosphere. And while I agree that certain choices are fundamentally more sustainable, others are not so clear cut. And the comparisons and somewhat competitive nature that has been coming out makes me uncomfortable.Not just because I probably lose the debate, after all, we’re still working our way through a paper napkin supply from the year we got married and we still use paper towels and Mike doesn’t always drink local beer and I’ve got a soft spot for chocolate and store bought salad dressing. But also because I think it’s a self defeating discussion.I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about what sustainability means or which choices are more sustainable or which are shortsighted. More that we should be careful not to make each other and our fellow citizens feel like we think we’re superior or that our way is the only way.The truth is that there are a lot of ways to live sustainably and there are a lot of choices to make that have far flung ramifications.Where we choose to live, how much we drive, what we eat and what we choose not to consume and why are all relevant and powerful choices and discussions. But when we position the choice we made as the only choice we set ourselves up to alienate the rest of the world.Living in the city can be a sustainable choice, but it has ramifications. Living on a small farm or ranch can be a sustainable choice, but it has ramifications. Giving up your car can be sustainable but on the flip side there are reasons why you might trade the use of gasoline for the other, greater, benefits it can deliver.We should be honest about the downsides of our choices, about the hidden and not so hidden costs. About why it’s right for us but not necessarily right for someone else.I’m ready and willing to talk about my choices and what I think of them. To talk about the tradeoffs I’m making and the ramifications of them for me and the rest of the world. Are you?Over the next month or so I’m going to make an effort to focus on some of the negative aspects of our move to the country in addition to my usual focus on the positives. Stay tuned.*****Edited to reflect that I really meant the broader web, media and blogosphere.

Tradeoffs – Driving

All right, I said that I’d talk about tradeoffs that resulted from our decision to move 15 miles north of where we lived in the city. The most obvious one is driving so we’ll start there.

When we lived in Everett I worked a short 5 miles from home and so driving to work wasn’t a huge deal. Plus, I tried to ride my bike when the weather was nice and my schedule allowed. We were able to do most of our shopping, including the summer farmer’s market, within 5 miles of the house and only really “drove” to visit friends, go mountain biking, or other similar activities.

As an construction manager, Mike does a lot of driving, and always has. Most of the work that his company does is much closer into Seattle or Bellevue. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of his career. He could try to find a job further north, but he really likes his current job – he’s been with the company almost 15 years.

Now that we’re here an Arlington we do more driving even though we’re only about 2.5 miles from most services and the interstate. The grocery store is no longer just 4 blocks away, instead there’s one about 3 miles away and unfortunately the good one is more like 10 miles. My commute is 20+ miles each way. While some of our friends are now closer, the rest are further away and so are Mike’s job sites.

How are we coping with it? In a myriad of ways.

We’re both carpooling to work. Mike with a friend that’s working for him right now. Me with 2 other people that work near me in Everett – we trade off the driving each day.

We consolidate errands into fewer trips. This requires a little planning, but the flip side is that we’re more likely to do them together. Luckily I’ve been doing weekly meal planning and shopping for a few years so that’s not a change – what is new is combining the trip to the food co-op / grocer with a stop at the hardware store, the farm store and the gas station and doing all of that with Mike.

Plus, a lot of the places we used to drive to on the weekends are 15 miles closer now. Mike’s favorite fishing and duck hunting spots are just down the road. The tree farm where we like to mountain bike is only a few miles north. My favorite butcher is practically next door. We can road bike and nordic walk right out of the driveway.

So yes, we’re farther away from some things, but I’m not sure that I’m actually filling my gas tank any more often. Instead I’m just using my miles differently. I’m carpooling again and living with the compromises that brings.

I believe that in the long term living here will prove to be more sustainable for us overall – as we get better at growing/raising and preserving our own food, as we connect with local farmers, as we rely more on ourselves and less on big business, as we do not need to add on to this house the way we did the last, as we buy less and live more.

Wonderful Whidbey Weekend

Mike and the dogs and I spent a wonderful weekend at our friends Mia and Ron’s cabin on Whidbey Island. Spending any time on Penn Cove is a treat. Spending a gorgeous sunny weekend like this is always something that I’ll remember for months.

For the most part the water was calm, the sun was out, the air was warm and the company was fabulous. The bald eagle(s) were fishing in the cove, the herons were fishing in the shallows, the geese were traveling through and the hummingbirds were buzzing.

We spent time paddling in our kayaks – all the way to Coupeville and back this morning, mountain biking, cooking and generally relaxing. The dogs played fetch until they couldn’t fetch any more. Mike and the guys played horseshoes and the four year old bossed us all around.

And I learned something new. Did you know that crabs actually have sex? Like missionary position sex?

Apparently they do. And this is the time of year that they do it. While gliding slowly through the still shallows today we say numerous crab couples doing the samba. Very funny!

How was your holiday weekend?

Thursday night

Tonight I realize that what’s quickly becoming normal would have seemed extraordinary not that long ago. Mike got caught at work late tonight because one of his crew’s had the street opened and it was a mess. When we lived in the city a night like tonight would have gone like this: I would have gotten home first, maybe pulled a weed or two, collected the eggs, taken the dogs to the park and then gone inside and hung out to wait for Mike to get home. It would have seemed like a long wait and I would have likely ended up with the TV on.

Tonight, I got home just after 5:00. I corralled the cat for his afternoon meds, changed my clothes and headed outside. I spent 2.5 hours in the garden just enjoying the evening and digging in the dirt. I set up soaker hoses for the potatoes and asparagus, prepped two more rows for Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bush beans and squash. I watered the onions and the herb garden.

Then I walked out and checked on the chickens. The little girls were roosting on the roost bar for the first time, and Steve and the big girls were up on the shelf where they don’t belong but love to be. With 6 eggs in my pockets (yesterday’s too) and a beer in my hand, I let the dogs out of the yard and we headed out to the back field so they could run and sniff and chase each other through the tall grass.

I strolled behind them admiring the new leaves coming out on the trees and the puff balls where dandelions were just a few days ago. I smelled the cherry blossoms and admired the apple blooms. We checked on the blackberries – leaves but no flowers yet – and said hello to the neighbor’s steers.

When we’d had our fill of the last light of dusk we headed inside to do the dishes and make some dinner. Leftover local pork roast pulled and turned into bar-b-que sandwiches with California artichokes ready just in time for Mike to get home.

And while it was happening it just seemed normal. It wasn’t until Mike asked me what I did after work that it struck me that I’d done a lot of different things and never even noticed.

Feels like spring

The fruit trees are blooming, as are the tulips, and spring is definitely here. Finally!

Today was overcast but strangely warm, it finally started to rain just as the sun went down. I finished 90% of the hard work in the veggie garden today. That involved finishing 3 of the last 4 rows to be dug and raked. The only one left is for the tomatoes and since I’m not putting them out until next weekend it can wait.

After I finished the rows I transplanted 20 broccoli / broccoli raab starts and 20 lettuce starts. More than I intended, but we’ll just eat some of it really young to make room for the next round in the succession planting plan. The broccoli is mostly starts I bought last weekend as mine went weirdly leggy. When I picked them out at the plant sale I didn’t think about the fact that I was supposed to be transplanting broccoli in rounds of 8 starts – not 16! And since I ended up buying four varieties we’re a bit long on broccoli.

As for the lettuce, well, really I just should have thinned a lot better than I did a while ago. But since I didn’t, I transplanted A LOT of lettuce today. Oh well, we’ll just start cutting sooner than we normally would. Plus it meant that tonight we got to have salad made with today’s thinnings! Yum!

After all of that I ran out of steam. So tomorrow we’ll seed carrots, radishes, peas (finally!), bush beans and spinach. Then hopefully it will start to look like a garden and not just a bunch of dirt. The next round of lettuce, broccoli and basil are under lights, along with the first of the Brussels sprouts and dill.

Now the easy part starts right? I’m much more looking forward to weeding, seeding and harvesting than I did moving all that damn dirt! I’ve got a secret to share about moving that dirt, but I need to take a picture first…

A distinct lack of smell

Confession time around here. All is not always perfect in paradise. Until this morning, the water here at the (not so) Urban Hennery smelled distinctly like rotten eggs, and had since we moved in. And while it didn’t actually taste bad, the odor was enough to convince you that it did.

It’s something that we knew from the home inspection, while Mike did, since I wasn’t at the inspection I was blissfully unaware until we moved in. Until I turned on the faucet the night we moved in I had no idea that our water smelled like the hot springs at Yellowstone.

The previous owners installed a whole house filtration system that reduces the odor a bit, but doesn’t completely eliminate it. And the filters are fairly short lived due to the volume of sediment (replace every 4 months) and odor (replace every 8 weeks) that the well produces. Depending on what’s causing the smell, the solution is either periodically shocking the well with chlorine, or installing a permanent system that injects either chlorine or performs osmosis or drilling a new well.

Last night we finally got around to shocking the well with chlorine bleach to start to figure out what’s causing it. So far we’ve eliminated the two major causes – the hot water heater and the water softener. We don’t have a water heater since we’ve got a Bosch hot water on demand system. And we by-passed the softener 2 weeks ago to see if that would help. It gave us a short term improvement, but no dice as a permanent solution.

So last night we put a shocking amount of bleach down the well to try to determine our next steps. It’s a crazy thing to do really. You put bleach down your well to try to make it smell better!?! And it takes a bit of time, but once it cycles through the effect is instantaneous. We had to run about 80 gallons of water through the system and back down the wellhead with a hose until the pump kicked in. When it did the change happened almost immediately. The water went from smelling bad to faintly smelling of chlorine. Since it was supposed to smell strongly per the instructions from the Snohomish Health District, we put some more bleach down the well until it smelled strongly.

Then we bled the chlorine through the whole system by opening the faucets, frost free hydrants and flushing the toilets until the water everywhere smelled of chlorine. After that it’s a waiting game. How long can you live without flushing a toilet, washing a dish or brushing your teeth? Luckily we remembered to fill all the pet water bowls, set up the coffee pot and brush our teeth before we chlorinated the system…

This morning we ran about 250 gallons of water through the outdoor faucets to flush the pressure tank and the well, then bled off the remainder through the house fixtures. Finally we replaced the sediment and carbon filters and ran a couple loads of towels in the washer and also the dishwasher to finish the flush.

As of now, the water smells faintly of chlorine when you first turn on the faucet, but it disappears in moments. And for the first time in 2.5 months, the water didn’t smell like rotten eggs when I took a shower.

Now we just have to wait to see how long it takes for the smell to come back. If it’s weeks then we’ve got sulfur in the water and we’ll need to evaluate more long-term options. If it’s months, then it’s sulfur bacteria and we can hopefully get by with periodically shocking the well to control the problem.

Yeah. On the one hand shocking the well was so much easier than we expected. On the other, who wants to have to contaminate their primary water source with chlorine on a semi-regular basis? But then again, it’s still pretty damn pure water. And we know that for sure since we had it extensively tested before we bought the place.

My new secret weapon

I think we all start off with great ambition on every new project. Or at least I do. And then sometimes reality comes along and bites me in the ass. So it was with the great dirt moving project of 2008. When we first started the garden project I was taking my Organic Gardening class through Seattle Tilth and reading all kinds of gardening books.

All of them focus on the “evils” of using a roto tiller or tractor and why you should do it all by hand. But here’s what I’ve figured out – most of them are talking to gardener’s with fairly small or tiny plots. Most of them are not talking to someone that’s got more than 1700 square feet of fresh garden that needs to be tilled and amended and tilled again before you can even start to think about planting.

After a lot of hours of working on turning in the compost and breaking up the last of the half-decomposed sod by hand. And even having my mom help me put in 2 rows while they were visiting, I cried uncle. I decided that if my grandfather, who firmly believed in things like compost and mulch and lots of healthy sun and water could use a roto tiller, than so could I.

Of course I decided that very late on a Saturday and the local rental place was already closed. Sunday Mike and I searched for somewhere to rent one, but the closest place to rent a tiller was the Home Depot in Mt. Vernon. That’s a 50 mile round trip that I would have to make twice. And most likely I would have had to pay for two days of rental at $90 a day since it was already noon and they close their rental counter at 4:00 on Sundays.

What was a girl to do? Why grit her teeth and buy a house warming present of course. Right?!? Actually we worked the numbers and realized that if I rented a tiller for 2 days now and again for 2 days in the fall and then 2 days next year, I would basically have paid for my own tiller. Mike can be quite the enabler when he wants to be.

And I have to say that it was well worth it. We bought the smallest rear tine Troy-Bilt tiller that they make so that I’m able to man-handle it myself. And while roto tilling is itself exhausting, using it for 7 hours last weekend meant that I was able to do most of my spring planting over the past weekend.

So, if you’re a die hard gardener, feel free to throw tomatoes at me. But me, I’m really glad I admitted defeat and got on with my garden. And so are my poor wrists that were starting to get carpal tunnel from moving all that dirt.


Impatiently waiting

Not really. Today it rained, a nice soaking rain. And though it seems like we’ve been waiting for nice weather forever, it’s okay. It’s okay because the nice weather is coming later this week – it’s supposed to be almost 80 either Thursday or Friday.

Until then though, this mass of greenery on the sofa table is impatiently waiting to go outside for some hardening off and planting.

The tomatoes, basil and peppers are starting to run out of space and it’s time to get them outside.

Some of the tomatoes, those I got from Denise, are so ready that they’re already setting blooms. I know I need to pinch them off, but I haven’t had the heart yet.

What’s impatiently waiting at your house?

Birthday Gift

This fabulous coat belonged to my great aunt Ruth. She was an interesting woman, what I remember most about her is her heavily rouged cheeks, little pillbox hats and her boyfriend. I think his name was Bill? Anyway, at family gatherings he used to always give me a dollar and tell me not to spend it all in one place. Even in high school I remember him giving me a dollar.

With my passion for green, my mom and her sisters decided that this great green coat should be mine. So for my birthday they had it cleaned and had a new collar made for it (it’s fake fur).

I love it! I haven’t been able to wear it anywhere yet, but you can bet that come next fall I’ll be wearing it all the time. The only bummer is that while Ruth was tall for her generation, she had shorter arms than I do. So before fall gets here I need to take it to the local tailor and see if he can add cuffs to match the collar and make the sleeves about 2″ longer.