Under a Cloudless Sky

Day after day of sun and warm weather is taking its toll. Some of the trees have given up and are letting their leaves go, turning to fall’s crimson colors months early. And there is no rain in the forecast. Just sun and heat. We often go entire summers without getting to 80ºF (27ºC). It’s shocking to see a week of 80º days forecast for the beginning of September, 20ºF above normal. I have many memories of many Labor Day holidays looking out at sheets of pouring rain. That won’t be happening this year.

Planting beans and potatoes together turned out well. They are both thriving together. The potatoes I planted in early July are starting to flower, their fuzzy flower buds swelling by the day. I poked around the roots of one today and found healthy, apricot-size potatoes. Another few weeks to a month, and they will be perfect for eating.

The lettuce is a kaleidoscope of colors. Out of the garden today are eggs, kohlrabi (the first one of the season), ao-jiso, and berries.

And a humongous apple that weighed over a pound. Grow your own food and you realize that nothing is more precious than clear air, clean water, and healthy, living soil.

Peel, peel, peel

The slow growing madrona tree is peeling. It’s something madrona trees do, and it is what makes them so beautiful. Their bright red, peeling bark, reminds me of my many childhood sunburns. A game my sister and I used to play when we were small. The day after getting toasted to a crisp on the beach on a hot, summer day, we’d carefully peel our shriveled skin, trying to extract the largest piece possible. The larger the piece, the happier we were.

We got burnt so often, I’m surprised we haven’t died of skin cancer many times over. But maybe we inoculated ourselves by eating our dried pieces of radiated skin. Sunburnt human skin doesn’t taste so bad. Where are the studies comparing skin cancer rates of children who eat their peeled burnt skin to those who didn’t? You know, it might be an option to lathering your bodies with sunscreen. Just saying.

Ruby, one of my favorite hens, is in her usual nest, laying her egg for the day. She’s a gregarious hen, often coming up to greet me whenever I go into the chicken yard. Nancy, black with a spot of white on her cheek, and Kumo-hime 雲姫 (Cloud Princess) are all quietly laying eggs. They aren’t interested in hearing about my skin peeling hypothesis.

Eclipse Oddities

It didn’t get as dark as we thought it would. With the moon covering 89% of the sun, we thought it would be quite dark, instead the sky turned a deep cobalt blue, and all the colors intensified. The most memorable oddity were the many reflections of the eclipse landing on the truck and pavement under a cherry tree. The spaces between the leaves became many pinhole cameras, reflecting the eclipse on the ground. The temperature also lowered during the eclipse. The chickens and dogs didn’t seem to notice anything was unusual. The cat, well, the cat slept through it all.

Clear evidence of the fading sunlight was the light meter in one of the hoop houses. The intensity of the light dropped from 18,000 lux to under 2,000 lux at the peak of the eclipse. And in the house, it became very dark. And yet, even blocking 11% of the sun was not enough to make it dark outside. It shows just how brilliant the sun is.

Letting Go

You know your day is about to take a turn for the worse when someone calls to say they need you to come over to help them process their feelings. Feelings are such fleeting things, always changing by the second. One second you are seething with rage, the next your heart is bursting with love. For being such transitory things, the more you dwell on them, the more concrete they become. Trying to process them is like trying to shape melting Jello.

Rusty, our cat, likes to process his feelings at three in the morning. If I don’t wake up to console him, he’ll pick at my face with his needle-sharp claws until I do. A few times I’ve reflexively bopped him on his head when he’s tried to wake me, and then I have feelings to process.

The best thing to do when you have feelings to process, is to plant some potatoes in the garden. Pulling weeds, digging through the soil with your fingers, and shaping mounds for the spuds, and suddenly all those feelings you thought you needed to process are gone, having flown away on their own. Feelings are so light that all you have to do is to open your mind and they float away.

A walk through the kohlrabi will do wonders for your frame of mind. Their huge, fan-shaped leaves light up when they catch the late afternoon sun. Underneath their huge leaves, their stems are fattening. A few more weeks and sweet kohlrabi will be a daily delight. When you are munching on sweet kohlrabi, you’ll have no feelings you need to process.

Research, Research, Research

My journey with making bread using levain, my own starter made with just whole wheat flour and water, started last summer and this week, my research with adjusting the amount of water and flour to mix, the length of time to let the dough sit before adding the levain, the amount of time to let it rise, how and when to shape the loaves, the amount of time to bake them in dutch ovens with the lids on and then with the lids off finally paid off.

During the week I did more research and was quite pleased with the result of the three loaves that came out of the oven. This morning’s bake for today’s Mt. Vernon Farmers Market came out the way I wanted. All it took was research, research, research. You can rely on recipes only so much. After that it is a matter of your hands learning, and you discovering what your flour, your water, your levain, your oven, your kitchen wants in order for the bread to come out the way you want it.

The Blue Sky Returns

The sky is blue again. Sunday’s rain, which left the mimosa blossoms looking like sad, wet feathers, washed all the smoke out of the sky, and pushed it over the mountains. The birds can now see where they are flying. When I head down into the valley, I can see the San Juan islands once more, their forested peaks rising above a shimmering sea.

The one alarming thing about the rain was seeing Satan sliding along the wet pavement. In all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen a snail so big. This spring is the first year I’ve even seen a snail in the garden. It was a snail no bigger than a gnat, which I crushed as soon as I saw it. Rest assured, this beast is no longer in the land of the living either. All the more reason to hope that Claire hatches the five duck eggs she is incubating. Once the ducks are grown, I will give them the whole vegetable garden to roam, where they will devour all the slugs and any snails they find.

It’s interesting how hens lay eggs with subtle differences from one day to the next. The chicks below are having a feast with the tofu I gave them. Tofu is high on their list of most desirable things to eat. Perhaps at the top of their list is watermelon. They will pick a watermelon until its rind is paper thin.

Aliens in the Garden

Baby cucumbers look like aliens, their little bodies covered with long spines. It’s almost hard to believe that these tiny, light green aliens will turn into dark, crisp, juicy cucumbers.

The okra are starting to bud. Their little buds look like little hands clasped in prayer. It won’t be long before I’m plucking them for market.

Mach Kuchen – From Garden to Oven

I’ve never made Mach Kuchen from scratch this way, by first going into the garden and harvesting poppy seeds. Collecting poppy seeds is so much fun, I’m surprised it’s legal for adults to do it.

Looking at the way poppy seed pods are shaped, somewhere there must an insect that has evolved to live in poppy seed pods. The pods are made of bug-sized chambers with little doors with roofs over the doors, keeping the chambers nice and dry. With the seed pods lifted high above the ground, they’d make great apartments for flying insects to buzz off from in the morning, and return to in the evening.

Mach Kuchen is a simple dish. You start off with poppy seeds, grind them a bit, and make a jam out of them. The usual method is to use sugar, but this time I used honey instead.

You roll out a soft yeast dough into a thin rectangle, spread the poppy seed jam over it, roll it up, let it rise, and bake until it is done. Covering the top with butter and poppy seed is an option.

This may be the first Mach Kuchen made from poppy seed grown in the Skagit Valley. It’s certainly the first one made with poppy seed grown in this neck of the woods. Baking Mach Kuchen may bring good luck. This afternoon, the sky turned a shade of blue, the bluest it has been since the forest fire smoke blew in a week ago.

Salad on My Arm

The benefit of having a vegetable garden is avoiding the supermarket aisles to get produce for your salads. A vegetable garden is a far more pleasant place to do your produce shopping than a supermarket. You don’t find verbena reaching for the sky to spread it’s delightful blue flowers springing out of supermarket floors.

You don’t find charming garlic bulbils clinging to their flowerheads in supermarket aisles. Nor can you smell the freshness of the earth around the basil plants, or see the way the ao-shiso plants smile, or the pride of tall leaks.

In the supermarket aisles you don’t see the glory of kohlrabi plants, their huge leaves sucking in the air and turning it into plump, sweet morsels. And you won’t find clover blossoms hiding among the poppies.

And best of all, when you’ve gathered a salad’s worth of fresh produce out of your garden, your kitchen is just a short walk away. You don’t have to get in your car and deal with traffic all the way home.

Weed Patch Potatoes

One of my potato beds is so full of other plants, some might call them weeds, that it’s hard to see where the potato plants are. Yet, when I dug up the potatoes this morning, the soft dirt yielded a mountain of spuds.

Including this monster which weighed in at 585 grams, over 20 ounces. This one is not leaving the house. We’ll feast on it for a few meals.

I tend to have good luck letting potato beds go feral. There is something about having a diverse set of plants growing with the potatoes. It’s not like the other plants are stealing from the potatoes. It’s more like they are all helping each other, each one contributing something to the soil that the other plants enjoy. It’s how plants evolved, with a large variety of other plants. It may be how they prefer to grow. It could be that potatoes, growing in thousand acre fields, with no other plants in sight, pine for the touch of a different plant’s roots tickling theirs, to feel a different plant’s leaves brushing their leaves.

Plants pump many exudates in the forms of thousands of complex sugars into the soil through their roots, and in the process, nurture a complex ecosystem of micro-organisms which in return provide the plants with an equally complex variety of nutrients. It may be that plant A nurtures micro-organisms that other plants never dreamed of cultivating, but that makes them say, “Wow!” how did you do that Plant A?