Monday, February 21, 2011

Ice, Day 12

We have since had some nice thaw days that revealed patches of grass here and there; and today we got a pretty little snowfall where you could see every six-armed snowflake. This one was just a decorative dusting, no more than three inches. But there is still over a foot of compacted snow most everywhere in the yard, rock-hard, and bordered by great icy heaps where the plows and shovels and blowers have pushed it out of the roads.

The above photo was taken on day 12 of the long freeze. I had been wondering and worrying about the deer. They must have huddled for weeks with hardly anything to eat, all but trapped. I counted eight of them in this herd.

That's a very solid two feet of snow they are standing on top of. I only saw one deer put a foot through, out in the woods.

Notice the little line through the snow? That's our neighbor's driveway.

To illustrate just how deep that snow is, here is the deer stepping down onto the driveway.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Solar Pod Certainly Works

This winter has been the harshest I've ever had in my decade plus in Massachusetts, and the amount of snow has been unreal. On February 4th I unburied the solar pod from another foot of snow and all but given up on anything surviving in it, as temperatures had dropped to -6 degrees F the previous week. My goal was simply to keep it clear of snow so I could use it again in the spring to jump start some plants. I certainly couldn't check the plants inside, as the pod was frozen shut. Even if I had been able to open it, there was the danger of snow falling in and preventing me from shutting it again. But the weather was nice again today and the snow has melted down, so I decided I would open it up a crack to see the pile of mush I was certain the greens had become.

I was greeted by a blast of steamy warm air and a tropical smell when I opened the solar pod just a couple inches. Once my glasses unfogged I could see that all the plants had made it through, with the kale doing particularly well. There was damage on a number of leaves, and some dead leaves in the mix, but they were in the minority. I picked a kale leaf to see how the taste had held up and it was heavenly.

At this point I can unequivocally call the solar pod a success. The fact that it protected the plants through a low of -6 degrees F and sustained single digit weather really impressed me. It wasn't cheap or easy to build, and certainly didn't deliver a bounty of produce. Still, the new year's harvest was succulent with unrivaled flavor, and I plan to go grab another round sometime this week.

Growing food through a harsh New England winter feels like an eccentric novelty, but it is something I look forward to doing long into the future. When the time comes I do believe I'll build another solar pod to replace this one when it fails. This spring looks to be extremely busy with a new baby on the way in April and a community garden to get off the ground. If it was a little more sane I might just build another this year for a larger harvest next winter.

Seeds Ordered

I managed to do it a little later this year than I have in the past, but the seeds for this year's garden have been ordered! Along with the saved seeds from last year it is going to be a full house.

Soya Beans - Fledderjohn, Envy
Beans - Scarlet Runner Bean, Contender (Buff) Valentine Bush Bean
Beets - Bull's Blood Beet
Cucumbers - Parisian Pickling Cucumber, Marketmore 76 Cucumber
Salad Greens - Miner's Lettuce, Blue Curled Scotch, Early Purple Vienna, Big Boston Lettuce, Rocky Top Lettuce Mix, New Zealand Spinach
Melons - Prescott Fond Blanc Melon
Parsnip - Hollow Crown Parsnip
Peas - Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea, Sugar Snap Snow Pea, Lincoln Garden Pea, Tall Telephone Garden Pea
Radishes - Chinese Red Meat
Summer Squash - Lebanese White Bush Marrow
Winter Squash - Shishigatani or Toonas Makino
Swish Chard - Five Color Silver Beet Chard
Watermelons - Sugar Baby Watermelon
Tomatoes - Black Cherry Tomato, Roma Tomato, Royal Chico, Yellow Pear, Lollipop Tomato, Ananas Noir Tomato, Kellogg's Breakfast, Sungold Select II, Pink Oxheart Tomato

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ice, Day 2

So, this was the day after everything iced up. The sun came out and glowed through every tree. This is the view of Gabe's Garden in front of our house. There is a slide right in the middle, there. And note the mailbox.

Shiny trees! This is the trench leading to the front door.

This giant stalactite should have been a tip-off that we had an ice dam forming on the shaded rear roof. Not too long after this, we had water dribbling in a couple of windows.

Here is the view up our little street. Note the mailboxes.

I snapped photos on the way to work.

Ice on the power lines.

Cows. Note that they are staying very close to that barn. Two feet of rock-hard snow is tough to walk through even when you are a side of beef.

Typical street scene.

We tried to get someone in to remove our house's ice dams, but every company but one was booked up. They finally started returning my calls a few days later, after the leaking had stopped. Chris did a fantastic job improvising a way to melt a relief channel through the ice dam, and I rigged up plastic bags and buckets to minimize the damage. Finally, warmer weather brought rain and melting. You would think that the rain would have made things worse for a while, but thankfully no. And I suspect that the water damage is just cosmetic. Thank goodness we didn't shell out the $1800 that could have bought us emergency services from the one company that wasn't booked up!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ice, Day 1

This was, hopefully, the climax of winter. About two weeks ago, on top of our existing two feet of snow, it rained. The snow soaked up the rain like a sponge, and then the whole mess froze. News reports regularly included the number of collapsed roofs in Massachusetts. Chris and I stopped joking about wanting the deck to fall off the house, because it was getting to be a real possibility, and it might endanger the air conditioner underneath. He was a hero, and did all the work himself.

This is what the weather did to the trees.

It was gorgeous.

It was also terrifying. While Chris was excavating the deck, he heard a crack. He turned just in time to see this great limb snap off. Out in the woods somewhere, he heard another tree fall.

That day made me deeply grateful that we went through with cutting down the dying oak tree, because this is the sort of weather that could have sent it through our roof.

More pictures to come. . .

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Snow and Cooking

Well, the amazing snow this year has formally introduced Chris and I to the idea that ice dams are nasty, and a well-insulated attic has more uses than just saving on money and fossil fuels. Like everyone else in New England, we put in a few dozen phone calls to ice dam removal services when water came dribbling in two of our windows. Thankfully, the only company available wanted to charge us an introductory price of $1800, so we reassessed the situation and found it to be Not All That Bad.

And lo, when rain came, and a night and day of snow-melting warmth, the water defied my expectations by ceasing its infiltration into the house.

I now look back at the heart-wrenching decision to remove the dangerous old oak tree and breathe a sigh of relief, because we could have easily been dealing with that through our roof. A little cosmetic water damage above the kitchen window? I can live with that.

Work on the cookbook has slowed a little because I have largely run out of recipes that I can recite from memory. Now I'm into new territory, cooking old dishes for the first time with a measuring cup, and trying entirely new things. This evening I cooked rice on the stove top for the first time in almost a decade, and I cooked cabbage, plain and simple, for perhaps only the second time in my life.

Some memorable out-takes: I tried a recipe for parsnip-peanut-butter French fries that was a total flop; somewhere in that combination is a tasty dish, but my version turned out so very unlike the promised results that I won't be tinkering with it. But the bonus is that I know now that parsnips are delicious. Forget the cooking, I'll take 'em raw.

And not for the cookbook but for me: I made pot stickers from scratch. The filling was tofu, minced cabbage, and some Chinese sauce from a jar. The wrappers came in a package; I filled 'em, closed 'em, and cooked 'em. I absolutely nailed the fry/steam technique that a Chinese friend told me about a few years back, causing none of the pot stickers to stick to the pan, and they were beyond delicious. And, of course, the picky toddler rejected them. I think the purple filling was just too scary. I'll have to try again with a meat filling, or something else less colorful.

For the time being, I am giving up on photographing the cookbook foods. I just have too much else to do if I want to complete this project.

Speaking of which, I need to go write down what I learned this evening. . .

Friday, February 4, 2011

This and That

There's a nice post at the Garden Professors explaining how this amazing string of winter storms is evidence for, not against, the presence of global warming.

(We're looking at another storm tomorrow, and then yet another during the week. I've finally had my fill of snow. Waking up at night with the sudden fear that the roof will fall in is not nice. Neither do I like seeing water trickle in the kitchen window as it melts. But on the bright side, we have one icicle hanging from the second story which has almost connected with the snow bank beneath it. That's kinda cool.)

Here is a website that I liked for the first thirty seconds. Heirloom seeds, ooh shiny! But it's full of predictable, unscientific ranting about GMO seeds, crops, and foods. Enough already. The world is going to need both approaches to food production. Get over it.

To add insult to injury, I popped over to their recipe section and found it to be entirely unhelpful in my quest to compile a Food Bank cookbook. While what they offer looks delicious, it's aimed at well-off foodies who can afford shrimp, fancy spices, and stick blenders. If I were living on food stamps, I wouldn't give them a second glance.

I would love to try the Food Stamp Challenge, but it will have to wait until I am no longer pregnant. Some members of Congress took the challenge a few years back.

UPDATE: Chris has found a quick, temporary solution to our ice dam problem! This is the best use of panty hose I have ever seen!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Big White Blur

Welcome to our house!

This will be the winter we talk about for decades to come. It's been one storm after another all through January. Multiple storms dropped a foot of snow. Gabe's Garden is under the snow in this picture.

An early-morning view of Gabe's Garden from the front window. That dimple in the middle is his slide.

The trench leading to the front door is taller than Gabe.

The raspberry row. . . see? See the fence in there? No?

Several kindly neighbors have been by to assist with clearing the driveway. I love our neighbors! Chris is upstairs baking a giant quantity of blueberry muffins as I write this, as a thank-you.

Chris is pretty much recovered from the walking pneumonia now, hooray! And my placenta previa has cleared up - hooray! So we have both been able to do some shoveling. Some. Bless our neighbors!

You might think this was taken out in the wilderness somewhere, but it's a view of one of the snow heaps from the street. That was a few days ago. The heaps are much bigger now.

Yesterday, I had an early doctor's appointment. In one hour, two inches of snow piled up on the car. I slid into an intersection on the way home. We decided it was wise not to go in to work.

This was taken several days ago, as Chris fought his way to the garden to excavate his squashed little greenhouse. I have been venturing out there once a week to take out the compost. That's as much cross-country walking as I am willing to do right now.

And to think we thought this was deep snow!

Can you see the bench now? Neither can we.

Here was the mailbox a few days ago before the plow dug close to it. We are one of the lucky people to still have an upright mailbox. The continuous piling of snowbanks by the plows is rough on mailboxes.

They said on the radio that flat roofs are in danger of collapsing under the weight today, because it is raining, and the snow is soaking up the rain like a sponge. Chris, wisely, removed the 28 accumulated inched from the sun room roof yesterday, as another foot was beginning to fall. We're not as worried about the deck. . . or rather, we're both secretly hoping that the snow will squash it. Hopefully the rest of the roof will be able to withstand the load.

Mmm, I smell muffins!