Do Not Disturb

My day started with the frantic ringing of the doorbell followed by heavy pounding on the front door.  I’d heard something like thunder earlier that had set the dogs into a frenzy, but when I looked outside to see the retina scarring bright sky, with no smell of wildfire smoke in the air, I decided it must have been a sonic boom and I put myself back to bed.

I work nights.  This means I clock in at 7pm and make a mad dash for the door at 7:30am.  I’m an ER nurse.  We do math.  We do very important math.  At 6:55am, I need to know the difference between a 1:1,000 and 1:10,000 strength dose of meds and know whether to push 0.4mL per kg or 0.04 mL per kg.  Lives literally depend on it.  An over tired caregiver, on her 23rd hour of wakefulness, makes mistakes.  So I stay up late the night before I work — and I sleep in as late as I can the day I cover a night shift.

But not today.  Nope.  Someone was pounding on my door at 7:42am and thinking there must have been some sort of terrible emergency – or a UPS wine delivery (my driver knows to wake me up for those signatures!), I answered the door.  A hot air balloon had landed behind our gated, “No Trespassing” fence and there was a walkie-talkie dude standing in front of me wanting to know how to get through the fence to retrieve the hot air balloon and passengers.

That was the loud noise I’d heard.  It was the operator pumping more gas into the flame to keep the balloon afloat — only to land in an unkempt pasture of juniper trees, sagebrush and very dry wild grasses with no water access.  What could possibly go wrong landing a giant fireball on dry land surrounded by kindling in the midst of high 90 degree temp days?

Field burning, Culver, Oregon
Believe it or not, this is a controlled burn. It out to give you a reference point for the fires deemed “uncontrolled”

Everything.

About once every 2-3 years, a neighbor has set something ablaze that has resulted in a 911 call to the local fire department.  We’ve kept the fires away from our house but a few of those times, it’s been pure luck or answered prayers when the wind miraculously switched directions and spared us.

I unwillingly traded in my last 6 hours of sleep for a post-balloon landing fire watch.  We are custodians of 160 acres, crops, farm animals and wildlife.  We don’t get to pick the days, or time of the day, that we are responsible for what happens on the farm.  Things happen and we rise to the occasion, grit our teeth, and deal with it.  That’s farm ownership.

It was about this moment I looked out to find the new, oversized kiddie pool in a lump.  Walking out to assess the pool, I nearly rolled my ankle in a mole hole.  Didn’t I just fill in all of the mole holes?  Dang.  It was fresh.  Rodents.

Easy Up, Easier Down Pool

Lawn Rodent Damage

The lawn was covered in brown colored dry spots.  Water skips?   Nope.  Mushrooms wouldn’t be growing without water.  Insects.  More specifically, grubs and grub kill.

Lawn Insect Damage

I passed the new cherry tree and hesitated momentarily to take a closer look.  What the …?  More insects.  Nearly every leaf was riveted with multiple holes.

Caterpillar Damage

I gazed across the garden.  A few days earlier, my newly planted sprouts were taken down to mere stems by the local bunny population.  All of them.  I had replanted veggies I’d picked up at local nurseries the day earlier and had attempted to spray them with deer and rabbit repellent the night before, but the liquid was too thick for the sprayer and the only thing that got inundated with the vomit-decomp smelling fluid was my hands.  It had been 12-15 hours and the smell still lingered on both hands.  If it’s bad enough to gag an ER nurse, you know it’s really disgusting.

It was.

Garden Boxes
A second planting of the garden boxes…

I found the hole in the pool and repaired it.  I sprayed the cherry tree with fruit tree and environmentalist approved insecticide.  I put the deer/rabbit repellent into a watering can and watered my tender garden transplants – gagging along the way.  I put a hit out on the mole, filled in all but 1 hole and reseeded the bare spots.  I sifted grub killer through gloved fingers over the lawn’s dead spots.  I watered.  I got the pool filter set up and functioning.  And I got it all done with just enough time left over to hop in the shower and get myself to work on time.

I passed my husband on the way out the door and told him that the farm was trying to kill me, it was time to sell and buy a condo that came with a maintenance crew.  He laughed.

I’ve been awake just over 26 hours now, I had coworkers double check my math before dosing patients so nobody died and I returned home to garden boxes full of plants and an inflated pool.  I’ll be asleep as soon as the eggs are collected from the chickens (or they eat them) and the cheat grass sticker is removed from the dog’s ear.

It’s already a better day than yesterday – or was that today?

Night shift nurse

 

The Great Blueberry Massacre

Just off my grandmother’s porch were the best 3 blueberry bushes in the world.  Every summer, she’d pick pint after pint of the sweet, purple orbs.  If we planned our summer vacations right and got lucky enough, we even got to help.  She’d freeze them by the quart and we’d celebrate all year with blueberry pancakes.

I know at least 3 out of 4 of Grandma’s grandkids have bushes planted in their own backyards now.  Whether it’s because we can’t quite let go of our sweet memories or simply for the love of blueberries, I’m not sure.  I planted mine almost 3 years ago and they did okay but not great.  Our soil is super alkaline and they like acidic soil.  We got hit with an early fall deep freeze down into the negative thirties and hit again with similar temps in late spring.  Frankly, I was just thrilled they survived.

The following summer, I expected the bushes to thrive.  I adjusted the pH of the soil, I fertilized with the recommended type and proper amount of organic fertilizer.  I watered appropriately.  I did everything right yet — my blueberries looked more like twigs than bushes.  Twigs with 6 tiny leaves.  I couldn’t tell if they weren’t growing or if something was eating them at the same rate they were growing.

The leaves kind of grew in sparingly over summer and I was thrilled to finally get a chance to eat all 4 ripe blueberries.

Last winter we set records for consecutive days with snow on the ground but our temps were fairly moderate.  I knew this year was the year for blueberries!  I got a wind spinner as the leaves began to fill out in late April.  It took less than a week for a deer to get its head stuck in it and tear it to shreds.  I planted marigolds around the bushes to deter the bugs.  It took them a week to freeze and die — but my blueberry plants were still coming in strong — at least until they weren’t.

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I began to notice that leaves were disappearing.  At first I thought I was seeing things, but no, a second check the next day showed about 1/3rd of the foliage present as the day before.  Deer?  Bugs?  Bunnies?  I bought more marigolds to ward off evil plant munching bugs and it’s when I went out the next morning that it all began making perfect sense.  Right in front of me, no farther than six feet away, sat a not-so-little gray cottontail, gorging on my blueberry limbs for breakfast.  It just sat and stared at me as if to say, “Um, yah.  Great blueberry bushes, we could use a few more for the – you know – ever expanding family.”  It wasn’t until I waved my arms and yelled that it finally ran for the sagebrush.

I looked for mesh plant covers and found some, but at $28 a piece, I knew I could find something better.  I really didn’t want to build a fence because I still needed access to weed and mulch and add coffee grounds but I really wasn’t keen on spending nearly $90 to protect them either.  What to do, what to do?  Hmmm…

Then it came to me.  In a different department, they carry a similar mesh, pop-up deal but they don’t call it a plant cover, they call it a laundry bin, and instead of $28 – they are available 2 for $8.  Take THAT you mutant bunnies!  I still might need to cut the tops to provide less shade but for now it’s working great and giving my blueberry bushes a chance to recover from the deer and bunny assaults.  The bunnies have since taken their frustrations out on my marigolds and eaten them down to nubs but at least they haven’t figured out how to get to the blueberry bush leaves — not YET, anyway.

And yes, that pole is all that’s left of my pretty, new, windspinner.  Thanks, Bambi.

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It may be too late to get blueberries off the plants this year – but I feel good about next year.

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Not sure the peanut gallery agrees, though.  These guys look less than thrilled about the new yard decor.

“If You Build It, They Might Come”

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning with a hazy cloud cover and moderate outdoor temps, perfect dirt digging weather.  Alas, I sit inside, large coffee cup in hand, to catch up on writing — because I’m so stinkin’ sore from yesterday that I won’t be able to move more than my typing finger until the Aleve kicks in.

I get these ideas.  I like to call them great ideas, myself – and they usually are – well, at least until proven otherwise, like the time I got the goats (shudder), BUT that’s a story for another day…  Anyway, back to my latest great idea.  Pumpkins.  Let’s grow pumpkins!

Every year for the past 13ish years, we coordinate schedules among siblings, charge the camera batteries, withdraw a small fortune from the ATM, pack up the children and head to the local pumpkin patch where we spend 75% of the day, standing in long lines, listening to screaming kids and cranky parents, so we can catch that one perfect but elusive moment that everyone is happy, smiling and all looking at the camera at the same time, in an animal painted wagon train or atop an equally thrilled pony.  The photos are priceless.

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Then we hunt down a wagon or wheelbarrow, head out to the actual pumpkin patch to find Halloween pumpkins that costs enough to drain the last few twenty dollar bills from a wallet.  It’s tradition.  We don’t buck tradition — right?  Hmmm…  What if we tried?  What if – maybe – we did (gulp) something new next year?

It was at this spot my great idea came together.  What if I grew pumpkins out on the farm for my niece, nephews and a handful of local kids to come pick out next fall?  We could stack hay bales for them to play on, borrow a friend’s pony and take them for ATV rides.  Caramel corn is east to make.  Is it possible to create a spot so great that the children decide they want to skip the long lines at the local pumpkin patch?!  Is it too big of a dream?!!

IMG_5532It’s impossible to know whether or not something will work without trying, so this year – I got serious about it.  In early spring , I started a variety of pumpkin seedlings indoors.  I moved them outside a few weeks ago to harden them off and acclimate them to Central Oregon wind and weather.  Then yesterday, I prepped the soil, got them in the ground and covered.

While it takes about 3 seconds to type that line, the actual amount of physical labor that went into just soil prep was brutal.  This is why I can’t move today.  I spent 5 hours (FIVE – did you read that?!  FIVE long, body-jolting, blister-forming, sweat-stinging-my-eyeball hours!) rototilling hard packed, lightly rock-filled, sod bound earth into something more workable and pumpkin root ready.

Theory is that all soil needs amended.  So I lugged several heavy bags of compost and manure out to the want-to-be pumpkin patch and tilled it in until it was well mixed.  The nerd, um, scientist in me, will be able to see if the theory is true because I was about 8 feet short on soil amendments, so we will be doing a side by side pumpkin development study.

In the process, I dug up a frog.  Well, it’s a toad, actually.  I thought it was the biggest tree frog I’d ever seen, so, like any decent human, I returned it to its branch.  And then it fell out.  I decided that it probably wasn’t a tree frog.  It got misidentified as the nasty invasive American Bullfrog and spent a night receiving death threats on my Facebook page (that might be an exaggeration) until I decided to read up and educate myself about both the dreaded bullfrog (sorry, nobody likes you, it seems) and other native species present in my local region.  I am now 100% certain, my little friend was none other than the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad.  Phew.  Environmental disaster avoided.  I’m pretty sure he survived because I saw him hop off as I stood guard over the dogs so they wouldn’t eat him.

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Back to pumpkins, now we wait.  Will they get enough water?  Will the bunnies, dogs, deer or bugs get the plants first?  Our forecast changed from a week of overnight lows in the 40-50’s to suddenly just above freezing once  the tender seedlings were planted.  Will the tunnel cover keep them safe from frost?  I don’t know – and even if all things go well, will these pumpkins be enough to woo the children from wanting to go to their favorite pumpkin patch this fall?  One can only hope and dream.

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Okay, I can straighten my legs with only a moderate amount of groaning.  It’s time to go to work on the garden boxes.  Please pray for no snakes.  I just don’t think I have what it takes for a snake-sighting in me today.

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The Time I Ordered Ladybugs

I caught a glimpse of this little friend while I was out digging in the dirt today.  It reminded me of a few years back when I ordered over 1000 ladybugs online to clean up some of the bug issues I was having on my almond trees.

IMG_1609My first mistake was ordering them anytime close to a holiday weekend.  We live just far enough away from town to make any errand impossible to get done in less than an hour, so Amazon Prime is usually my best plan B.  I was so excited when I found live ladybugs listed.  I ordered them and waited.

Well, not all orders ship via UPS or FedEx.  Every once in a while, Amazon ships via the USPS.  It just so happens that the Postal Service has a policy not to deliver anything marked “live” to your doorstep.  Instead, they leave a note in your mail receptical that you have a package waiting for you at the post office for pick-up containing some form of “live” creatures.  Unfortunately, for the ladybugs, this notice was left in a mailbox that was checked only when I knew to expect something by mail.  It wasn’t until the ladybugs were already late to arrive that I found the notice.  To make matters worse, I found it exactly at 5:05pm the Friday before the 4th of July weekend.  It wasn’t looking good at all for these thousand ladybugs, already more than a week out from the original ship date.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, I arrived to retrieve my padded envelope, (Seriously.  They were flat packed!) and was pleasantly surprised to see that many had survived.  I rushed home, dipped a sponge in watered down honey, hydrated the little bugs and sugared them up.  Several had died but most didn’t.  I couldn’t wait to turn them loose on the trees.

I waited a day, per the instructions, made a sugar water spray, also per instructions, liberally sprayed some limbs and opened the bag of ladybugs, hanging it from the sugary limbs.

It took about 60 minutes for the ants to find the sugary branches.  Now I had aphid and ant problems and the ladybugs seemed to basically disappear.  I saw some in the branches but not the hundreds I expected.  It looked more like 50.  To add insult to injury, the Terminix guy arrived for the quarterly bug spray about 90 minutes after I released the ladybugs.  Any that were hiding near the perimeter of the house had just been handed a death sentence.

I made myself feel better by telling myself that had they stayed on the trees, they would have been fine.  This twist of fate was on them, not me, and I was fine with that – at least until the sun began setting and the Swallows made their nightly flight through the garden.  It was horrifying.  Aphids eat tender tree leaves, ladybugs eat aphids and Swallows eat ladybugs.  It was a ladybug massacre and other than shooing away the birds, all I could do was watch and think, “What have I done?”

Needless to say, that was my last ladybug purchase.  It also should explain why I get so excited to see a red speckle appear on a tree branch from time to time.  It gives me hope that maybe 1 or 2 survived.

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