I want worms! Earthworms that is. A few blogs back I wrote about how topsoil is the key to a healthy civilization reviewing a 1975 paper, Topsoil and Civilization. (This link will download the whole 159 page book as a pdf – or you can email me and I will send it as a 1.6 meg attachment). In November 2017 I made more progress toward improving my soil. As it turns out, there is a lot of interest in this topic from organic growers, not just to improve their soil and production, but to actually sequester carbon. It is a BIG deal. Called “carbon farming” or “regenerative agriculture” (a term coined by Rodale ). Carbon farming not only improves soil but has the potential to bring the earth back into carbon balance by re-storing the massive amounts of carbon that originally resided in the soil before deforestation, subsequent erosion and petroleum products (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones) killed the living microorganisms and leached out their byproducts which constitute a healthy soil.
But I’m getting wound up a little. November was basically about getting ready for winter which meant getting in wood, securing the working wine inventory and making some apple wine (sometimes infused with huckleberries).
We have a lot of nearby critters getting ready for winter. One of them is Pete, the Piliated Woodpecker. He thinks he owns the vineyard, and when I have picked the grapes, he moves right on to apples or whatever he can find. No shy scavenger, he loudly announces when he is flying in and does not move out readily. He evidently does not know he is in danger or that I don’t let just any animal eat all of the grapes they want.
Turkeys have become frequent guests. They do their own distribution of our compost pile and are eagerly awaiting sunflower seeds falling from our feeder. I just put the feeder up since snow has come and gone several times and will stick around soon.
We recently got our last load of firewood, and before that I made the last run to the dump while our 40-year-old Chevy pickup is safe to drive on dry pavement. On the same trip I loaded it up with shredded sticks that are piled up to compost by the City of Colville. On that same day the city was dumping leaves in a nearby site. I was checking it out and realized that the leaf compost had matured much faster. There were a hundred tons of composted black soil in this dump. A few days later
The last load of firewood
I asked their street department about it and yep it’s free and I am welcome to take as much as I want when the road into the site dries out next year.
So that was pretty exciting but there were other discoveries on the soil front. Today (December 5th) is National Soils Day. Even the New York Times is starting to see that soil is our best hope to overcome climate change and to remedy the inevitable failure of chemical farming to retain soil health.
One ancient method of retaining soil nutrients, even in the jungle where they tend to leach out in the rain, is the use of “biochar” (just charcoal really). It absorbs nutrients and prevents them from washing out of the soil. Almost pure carbon itself, charcoal keeps carbon in the soil and out of the air and the oceans, which are already overloaded. I have been looking for a technology to create biochar for a couple of years. In November I discovered that the best solution seems to be almost no technology at all.
I have been cutting up my slash pile of branches and grape prunings into smaller pieces. I start a small fire using wood from dried pine rounds (which are not good firewood) and pile on the slash. After the smoke clears, a bed of glowing charcoal lies under the fire. I rake the unburned material to one side of the fire and rake the hot charcoal out where I can dowse it with water. Once it is cool, I rake that into a pile where it is combined with aged goat manure to add nutrients. I pile more slash on the remaining fire and in less than an hour have more biochar to cool.
The (almost) new shredder
While cutting up the slash pile my chainsaw threw off it’s chain. After replacing it with another, I took the damaged chain to Colville’s Small Engine Repair shop. Out front was what looked like a brand new Troy-bilt Shredder/Chipper. I asked about it and found out it was really several years old, built before Troy-bilt was taken over by another company that started producing lower quality machines. The owner kept it in a garage and only used it a few times. He was moving, had the gas system cleaned by the shop and was selling it for $400. It originally cost $1000. It came come with me and I am eager to grind up every fire-prone carbon source on the place and put it back in the soil.
So while our resident house-frog has retired for the winter and our always-hunting house cat is taking a lot more naps, I will be reading up on carbon farming, and fermenting another year’s worth of wine thanks to some of my favorite microorganisms, yeasts. A very good introduction to the topic is “Soil Carbon Restoration” by Jack Kittredge of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
I get along with a little help from my friends (and family). Making it through grape harvest is relaxing, fun, challenging, frustrating and tedious all at the same time. Luckily this year I had help at crucial times harvesting grapes and people seemed to have fun helping out. So far this year we have harvested over 3300 pounds of grapes from our vineyard and other local organic farms. We made 13 batches of wine. More wine from apples is yet to come.
October 9th was my daughter Bina’s birthday and also my brother Jeff’s birthday. For me, it was Baco Noir Day, one of my favorite grapes and wines. I started picking on the 9th and a friend and neighbor, Steve Lecture came over on the 10th to help pick what turned out to be about 500 pounds of Baco Noir. It was fairly sweet, 25.5 degrees Brix, My intent is to take advantage of the sharp character of the grape and the sweetness to make a strong and complex wine with a crisp finish. It worked on the skins for 5 days before being tapped into glass carboys where it will be for the next two years.
Kit Shultz with Marechal Foch grapes.
The next day, another neighbor and wine aficionado, Kit Schultz, helped pick 185 pounds of Okanogan Riesling after Cheryl and I got back from the Wednesday Farmer’s Market. That afternoon the grapes were warmer than they were early in the day, but I kept them in the heated wine shed so they would get up to 60 degrees F. – warm enough to ferment. Good thing we did since the temperature was down to freezing that night. I kept them fermenting on the skins for two days hoping to capture some of the perfume of ripe Riesling grapes but not make it either very sweet or very dry.
That Saturday, the 14th, our friends, Mark England and Linda Short, came over to pick Pinot Noir with Cheryl and
Roots and Selah at Downriver Orchard
Tiffany Lakatos brought her two young children, Roots and Selah, with her to help me pick Leon Millot grapes at Downriver Orchard, owned by Don Worley. These were great grapes that I had asked Don to hold for me until they were very sweet. While the kids scavenged grapes from nearby rows, Tiffany, Don and I picked what were eventually 650 pounds of this Millot. I am constantly asked at the market for my sweetest wine. I used a low alcohol yeast that will leave some sugar in the wine and did not leave these on the skins for long which will mellow the taste. I don’t usually like to make a sweet wine but hope this one turns out that way.
Cheryl helping pick Old Vine Lucie Kuhlmann
Rains moved in toward the end of the month so Cheryl and I covered the Old Vine Lucie Kuhlmann that we had not picked yet with tarps to keep it from getting wet. We had already picked 500 pounds of Lucie Kuhlmann from our “new” grapes in only 2 hours late in September with the help of the Joe Greco Family. We picked one row from vines planted in 1986 and 1990 during a break in the weather on the 20th and another on the 22nd while the Seahawks beat the Giants. These were lower sweetness grapes but they fermented ferociously. I had to divide the wine into more carboys to keep it from foaming over the tops. The wine will be more complex and should age longer than most.
The next day I picked over 100 pounds of Leon Millot grown by Don Andrew in the Colville Valley. By then, after several frosts, the leaves had fallen off the vines and Don had covered them with nets to keep the starlings off. This crop was a big improvement over Don’s harvest last year at 26 Brix. It will be another of the sweet Leon Millot for 2017.
Fall colors in our yard
The day after that I picked our Gewurtztraminer, a white wine we really prize, get very little of and don’t yet sell. I had a tarp over it too. It has a distinct fruity flavor. I have a young row growing that someday may equal the incredible production from our first two plants. The Crandalls at Riverview Orchard gave them to us years ago. That night Cheryl and I went to a reading by Washington State Poet Laureate, Todd Marshall. He had help from our local poet, Lynn Schott and Dennis Held, a poet from Spokane, whose hands were stained black. Amazingly, Cheryl correctly guessed that the stain was from walnut husks. She also read a poem from her phone by Sherman Alexie, “Hymn”, that she had sent earlier to friends and family. It was particularly appropriate for the night with a theme of how much more admirable it is to love people outside of your friends and family than just those you are already close to.
Late harvest Muscat Grapes
The Gewurtztraminer, an early harvest of Siegerrebe, a small Himrod and Giesenheim field blend and a late harvest of Muscat are my white wines for this year. Don Worley grew the Siegerrebe and Muscat. He also came over just before Cheryl and I packed up for a trip to our annual Barreca “Thanksween” reunion near MT Rainier and lent us his wine press. I have been using only free run juice from the fermented wine must without pressing. The press added volume to the harvest and will also add dregs at the bottom of the carboys. I have been avoiding dregs by sticking to free run, but I notice now that the pressed juice ferments more vigorously than the free run. I am separating the free run and pressed juices this year to see how that changes the character of the wine.
Thanksween 2017 near Greenwater, Washington
The family reunion did not go off without a hitch or two. But it worked out well with contributions from everyone toward food, entertainment and accommodations. Cheryl and I enjoyed a walk in the woods across the street where we watched elk and found some Chanterelle mushrooms.
In many ways October was hectic and exhausting, but these wines will stand for years as products not just of our winery but of our community.
Is drying pears more important than sharing stories with people? Not exactly a fair question most would agree, but one I have been wrestling with since pears from our tree are ripening quickly and will soon be rotting if we don’t get them dried or preserved. So getting time to sit down and write my monthly blog has been a struggle. Looking at my journal entries for the month, they seem to be divided between emergencies, tedious tasks and noteworthy successes.
We are ready for smoke at the Farmers Market
Of course the emergencies are the most interesting. Early on September 3rd, Cheryl woke up in extreme weakness and a cold sweat, possibly a reaction to a big meal at a new BBQ place in Kettle Falls. She recovered by morning and then I tweaked my back getting a greenhouse cover over the new crushing pad. I recovered too but you never know if you will.
Smoke hides the mountains
The smoke from forest fires was still very thick as the month began. Some schools would not let children play outside. But the smoke cleared and I was excited to revisit historical sites along Aladdin route (a back road out of Colville), with a long-time resident of Colville, Tom Dodson on September 5th. On the way to his house my car battery light came on. I tried tightening the cables, which worked for a mile or so, but the light returned and Tom and I turned back. The alternator had stopped working. The historic trip ended at Sam’s (automobile mechanic) Shop. Luckily the Rav4 started 8 more times without a jump before I got it there.
Two days later, on September 7th, I reprised my encounter with a wasp nest on the same day that I was stung multiple times last year. But this time they were in a wine vat I was preparing for the season. It turned out to be a convenient place to drown them. Not so convenient was a broken molar that Cheryl encountered just before dinner.
In the meantime the US was suffering from a series of hurricanes and another disaster struck in Seattle sending my 95 year old father to the hospital with multiple problems. He is not quite home to his retirement community apartment but plans to be there soon.
Dad and Grandson James Houston
The temperature stopped getting above 80 degrees during the day. The smoke cleared and temperatures started dipping to near freezing at night. The winter squash leaves froze on September 16th. We started to harvest both fresh table grapes for the Farmer’s Market and wine grapes. So I turned the in-floor heating on in the office and quickly blew a fuse.
Friends at Freckle’s Cafe
At least that was easy to remedy. On September 26th (my 70th birthday) Avista had the power off for a long time during the night. It came back on late but didn’t stop a big party that Cheryl and April put together for me at Freckle’s Cafe in Republic. Lots of friends came but one couple hit a deer going back home. We went home a little early to get up in the morning for the Farmers Market.
That didn’t happen. As we were about to leave we got a call that the town of Colville was asking people to stay off the streets because of shots fired at a cop by a suspected murderer downtown in the early morning. The Market was canceled and it cost vendors thousand of dollars. We went to the Market the following Saturday. It was good and that was the end of the emergencies for the month.
More constant, and not nearly as interesting have been all of the tedious tasks during the month. Printing and binding map books is one of them. I print on demand now so am always under some pressure when I do. The thing with tedious tasks is that they can be soothing in that you usually don’t have to think too hard while doing them. Writing, proofing, printing, binding, folding, stuffing and stamping the rock club newsletter is tedious task for a day or two each month.
Drying fruit is another one, and there was a lot of fruit this fall, nectarines, pears and grapes mainly. Picking wine grapes and pressing is not too bad, especially when volunteers come to help like Joe
The Greco Group Picking Grapes
Greco and 4 family members did on the 29th. We picked 437 pounds of Lucie Kuhlmann in a couple of hours. (Thanks again!!!) But washing equipment and bottles, putting on labels, sorting and storing used bottles and filling mini-bottles are totally tedious tasks and there is a lot of that going on constantly in the winery.
Some of the successes amounted to just overcoming the emergencies. The Rav4 has a new alternator and Tom and I drove the Aladdin Route taking pictures and telling stories. Cheryl got
The Old Anderson Mine pit on Aladdin Route.
a new crown for her molar. We had some good days at the Farmers Market. The cover for the crushing pad is now secure and wine-making is in full swing. Cheryl and I celebrated 22 years of marriage with dinner and watching the movie Stronger (about overcoming the Boston Marathon Bombing) on September 23rd. The warm days and cool nights seem to reflect the ups and downs of September – and sometimes cause them. At 70 years old, just keeping on keeping on is worth celebrating.
This should be a view across the lake to the Kettle Range
In a lot of ways, August was a rerun of July. The sky is gray with smoke, the sun sets and rises as a bright red ball. We check every day for new fires and what is going on with the old ones. We are about to break a 1917 record for days over 90 degrees, 39 that has not been broken for 100 years.
Baco Noir behind bird netting.
All of this heat is bringing the grape crop to ripeness very soon. We will be cutting back on days at the Farmer’s Market to just Wednesdays and not Saturdays. The market was especially good over Labor Day with tourists and our new display of ribbons won for wine at the Northeast Washington Fair. They included Grand Champion and Judges Choice for our Old Vine
Ribbons from the Fair
Lucie Kuhlmann. Our new line of mini-bottles has been popular but they do become “just one more thing” in preparing for each market day.
The visitors keep on coming especially if you include some for wine tastings and others for work projects. We had a fun evening on August 14th delivering wine to friends in a houseboat in the bay below us. Our neighbors got together at Bradbury Beach with visiting children and grandchildren including our daughter April with our grandson, James.
Old friend Jim Kline and new friend Katrina Yost Cometa.
Progress was also made when Cheryl flew to Seattle and returned with a gift car from my father (Thanks Dad!). It is the only car we have that was made in this century. Our 1984 VW Van has all of its major issues fixed. We even washed it! Then ash fell on everything. The crushing pad now has a greenhouse cover and is ready to receive grapes. So at the homestead level, things are groovy.
But earlier this month, on the advice of my old schoolmate, Mike Klungness, I downloaded and have been reading Topsoil and Civilization, a book written in 1950 by Tom Dale and Vernon Gill Carter. I have often wondered why histories of the world don’t include accounts of farming and changes in agriculture. You have all of these armies and emperors besting each other, marvelous cities being built, destroyed and rebuilt etc. but no food mentioned. This book changes all of that and pretty much dismisses accounts of anything but agriculture. The continuing theme of the book as it accounts the rise and fall of one civilization after another is “civilized man has marched across the face of the earth and left a desert in his footprints.”
The scenario is consistent. Civilizations don’t last more than 70 generations. Agriculture is necessary to provide food for the “civilized” class of artisans, armies, priests, construction workers and architects who build cities and empires. Fertile plains provide the initial bounty and irrigation is often key to increasing it. As the population expands, it demands more than the plains can provide. What turns into a fatal mistake is cutting down the forests and cultivating the hillsides. Animals only compound the problem. The organic matter and silt erode into the streams and fill the irrigation canals. Even when cleaned – mostly by slaves- the irrigation canals become sunken water ways between mounds of silt.
Facing depleted fields, cultures either capture more land or trade for more food. Initially they could rebound from losses to foreign invaders by relying on their own resources. But once over-extended, any loss of trade or control of other lands leads to a downward spiral of weakness, disease and starvation. The book points out how virtually every country in the Mediterranean and Middle East once supported populations many times the size of the present day. The cedars of Lebanon, are represented today by 18 small groves surrounded by barren hillsides.
375 Cedars of Lebanon, some 400 years old
Mechanization and agrochemicals have only hastened the loss of native nutrients, ground water and organic matter that should be trapping carbon. Although the book pre-dates awareness of ecology and greenhouse gasses, the intractable destruction of topsoil, the source of healthy food, is clearly spelled out as the biggest threat to mankind’s long-term survival. We have become more aware of this threat and done some more conservation in the
last 67 years, but chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides coupled with the constant mechanical disruption of the soil and extraction of organic matter (food and feed) to cities or feed lots hours or days away will not heal the soil and is destroying the oceans. There is a huge “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi where there should be a thriving ecology.
So “progress”, more jobs, bigger houses, faster cars, more stuff… begins to look like regress in light of this perspective. No politician is eager to promise more manual labor, smaller buildings, less meat to eat and more modest recreation. Most are reluctant to even talk about the stranglehold that agribusiness has on our future. Like so many less-than-global civilizations before us, we seem incapable of seeing our folly before it is too late.
Regeneration is possible
There is a movement that addresses these issues, Regeneration International, http://regenerationinternational.org/. Most of today’s news, fires, floods, North Korea, Nazis, the wall… seem like transient problems with deeper roots that reach down to the soil itself.
Once again we are engulfed in smoke and have been for 3 days. It is our “new normal” for this time of year. The sun is an orange ball in a gray sky. The shadows seem to be blue. You can barely see across Lake Roosevelt. We wake up in the morning and check the Incident Report for any new fires. Some are just “smoke checks”. But for us, everything is a smoke check. There were two small human-caused fires within two miles of us in the last couple of weeks. We are watering constantly. Some watering is just to cool the house, which thankfully is usually 20 degrees cooler than the high temperatures – consistently in the 90’s for all of July. We try to cook most meals outside on our barbecue.
Most of the water we use is for a fire-safe lawn and healthy crops. Ironically the cherry crop was late because of all the spring rain. We just picked a few more
Great Cherry Crop
cherries from Riverview Orchard, an organic neighbor north of us after having picked the first of ours on July 4th. Luckily it was a huge crop because apricots are almost impossible to find. But there are lots of berries. Some days we have had fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and huckleberries in the fridge all at the same time.
Cherries and huckleberries from 2015 made for popular wines at our farmers market booth for a couple of weeks. We seldom have a large supply of specialty wines like that and they go quickly. Selling wine at both the Wednesday and Saturday markets has taken a lot of our time and a lot of our wine. You can think of us as bottling some new wine constantly and adjusting our wares accordingly. We also sell map books at the market and some days those outstrip wine sales. So I am printing map books constantly too.
Our 1984 Volkswagen van has been struggling most of the year. We have taken it to our mechanic 4 times. Finally after fixing intake manifold air leaks a tune up brought her back to life. After we get the shifter rebuilt and the muffler stabilized, she should feel solid again.
Those were the big constants for the month. But you might add to that visitors. Our daughter April visited with her husband, Tony’s sister’s family who were visiting them from Ohio. Old friends of Cheryl’s are moving up here and another old friend of mine, Jerry Grazer, stopped by for the first time in years. If it wasn’t
April with the In-Laws
for visitors and wine tasters, we might not stop working on other things.
A big “other thing” is a project to construct a “crush pad” (really just a concrete slab that will eventually have a cover), where I can process the grapes as they come out of the vineyard. I needed heavy equipment getting trees and their stumps out of the way.
Tipping over the trees
I had asked around but was not having any luck. Then one day I heard a backhoe next door and went over to check it out. Our oldest neighbor died last year and his wife decided to sell the house and move back to town. The septic system needed a serious upgrade and they called in Dave Engel, who I met with his two sons. He was able to drive the backhoe over one evening, push the trees over and level the spot for $50 and a map book. Can’t beat that deal. But the rest of the 288 sq ft pad will cost me about $1000 in labor and concrete. I’m pretty excited about it.
The month is not complete without an animal story. In December of 2014 I mentioned Daring Doe and her daughters. Earlier last month we had two does with baby Bambies here, but we seem to be down to just one doe with a baby and another that seems to have lost hers and adopted us. A couple times that mother doe had her hooves full protecting her fawn. Once Cheryl and
Daughter of Daring Doe
her constant companion, our dog Gretchen, started to come between the doe and her fawn. The ordinarily shy doe took after Gretchen and I had to keep them separated until Cheryl could walk far enough away for Gretchen to follow her and not threaten the fawn. Later the fawn was too full of energy to keep under control. Doe and fawn were both near the house and the fawn ran all the way around the house at least once in both directions, while the mother just stood there trying to get it to calm down. Perhaps the biggest shock was to discover that the lone doe decided to walk through our garden shed into the garden/vineyard where she tasted lettuce, sweet peas and cherry leaves. When confronted, she calmly walked back out again. We are keeping the shed closed now.
We’ll fade into the smoke for another month and hope we don’t have any fire stories to tell in the next blog.
This is the 4th of July and I am writing a blog for June. I’m not at a party or watching fireworks. That’s the way June was too. I started writing a May blog while in Seattle just before my father’s 95th birthday party. Sometimes quiet time is hard to come by. It’s the big projects that have to get done on time dominating the schedule. This month the big three projects were also cause for reflection on just what will be done by the time your life is over.
The whole family got together for Dad’s 95th Birthday.
Grandson Ovid walking the plank at Alki Beach during his Grandfather’s Birthday party.
(1) At least 75 people came to my father’s birthday party. Mostly family but also old friends, his prayer group and his music group. My sister, Anita, struck a chord (pun intended) when she nicknamed him “Singing Joe”. He sang a lot of his favorite songs and the family band, The Inlaws and the Outlaws, played along as best we could. He had me read a poem I wrote for him in 1993, “An Ordinary Joe”. It has a lot of references to family events that I explained after I read it. I brought along several copies of the first edition of Dad’s Biography. It is 170 pages. I had been adding pictures all during May and into June. A lot happens during a lifetime. It’s never quite all wrapped up. He had a big effect on the law practice, on raising a family and in the church. I think his biography will have some effect on generations to come. Not everyone gets to pass on a book and a lot of the family’s lives are in there too.
The Tatapoo Rock entry on NE Washington Insider
(2) Another time-critical project was getting the first history points into an app called NE Washington Insider. The app is a combination between a map interface that lets you see where you are (and this is critical) even outside of cell tower coverage. The map shows places of interest, half business and half history – sometimes both. Each place has it’s own story and picture with a link for more information. Even if you are not interested that much in history, there is a game aspect to it that allows you to collect points for being near a place of interest, a little bit like Pokeman Go. You can redeem those points for discounts at certain local stores and other rewards. That may not sound like serious history, but I think the legacy is important, be at these places and feel how the story unfolds. There are so many spots that you would drive right by not knowing that you could make a whole movie about what happened there. In pitching this project to the Colville City Council I told them about Tatapoo Rock. It is otherwise not too spectacular but there is a 3 foot round hole in it drilled with rifle bullets by prospectors who struck it rich discovering the mine that is the reason for Nelson BC and didn’t have anything better to do. It is a long story but if we can get people to see that this rock is important, the story and the rock will be preserved.
The Microsoft “Blue Screen of Death”
(3) Preservation was very much the issue in the third big event of the month. The data drive on my main computer crashed. And it turned out that my automatic backup system had stopped working in 2016. In this case a good friend, Scott Hirsch of Secure Webs bailed me out. He revived the drive long enough to finish Dad’s Biography and suggested that I try a solid state drive. When that arrived, he managed to transfer my data over and now this computer is faster than ever – and the backup is working again. Whatever legacy I end up having, a lot of it is stored on that drive right now.
So the rest of the month was squeezed in between those big events. The weather is dry with only one real rainstorm in weeks and that one came with thunder and lightning. Fire season is here again. The Farmer’s Market happens Wednesday and Saturday, rain or shine. Despite the flurry and pressure of preparation, the demands of packing and unpacking and also this month some nagging issues with our VW van’s engine, being at the market is sometimes relaxing and usually the biggest social event of the week.
The Brock Family and their banged up but not broken Power Wagon
The big birthday party also prompted a visit from my oldest daughter, Bina, her husband Joe Brock and their kids Ovid and Nala. They were determined to have an adventure and they got one. Joe has been beefing up his Dodge Power Wagon with huge tires, and extra gear box that gives him 15 forward gears and other necessities like a winch and a lot of carry-on tools. All of those saw some action when after finding that the mushrooms we were hoping to find were in very short supply, I mentioned that the Owl Mountain Jeep Trail was nearby. The first hour was good. We climbed some gnarly hills and ended up on Grouse Mountain for lunch and a look at the view and the wild flowers. Then the trail started to close in on us. A limb poked through the sidewall of one of those huge tires. We had a spare. Trees blocked the way. Joe got his chain saw
Granddaughter Nala on Grouse Mt.
running on white gas from the camp stove. But the trail was just too small for that huge wagon and two hours later, getting a good GPS fix from a cell tower in Canada, we realized that we would not make it through before dark and turned back.
We didn’t make it back with the truck. The safety glass window on the passenger site exploded all over me as a tree pressed the rearview mirror into it. Trees that pushed out of the way going in caught the tires going out. One punctured the sidewall of the tire we had just bolted on less than a mile from the trailhead where I parked my little Rav4 before we started up the jeep trail in the Power
A wandering duo making music at the market.
Wagon. We rolled the tire with us down the hill packing whatever was needed for the night. The next day while Cheryl and I were at the Farmer’s Market, Joe Brock and family found a used tire, loaded it into our Rav4 and rolled it back up the mountain to rescue the Power Wagon. Everyone has their own version of a legacy.
A lot of other stuff happened in June, but enough is enough. We made it through the big events and the rest is water under the bridge.
Spring finally came in a flash. The same day that I took the bird feeder down since there are plenty of bugs for the chickadees and other local birds the
At the NE Washington Farmers Market in Colville
hummingbirds came back and wanted their feeder put up. Instead of building a morning fire to warm up the house we are charging the electric mower to try and keep up with the grass that is already 3 or 4 feet high in places. Work is piling up since we are spending Wednesdays and Saturdays at the NE Washington Farmers Market. The Spring
Fresh Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms
menu is a welcome change. We have picked morel mushrooms 3 times, once right in our own Vineyard.
Asparagus is up and pretty much over in our garden but there is still some at the market. We have rhubarb pie in the refrigerator and fresh greens of all kinds . The early yellow flowers , dandelion , daffodils, balsam root and forsythia are gone as are most of the flowering trees but iris, lupine and other wild flowers are out. The vineyard has been pruned but with all the water in the ground the vines are pushing out much more growth than I want to have going. Here are a couple of pictures of a vine before and after shoot thinning. By the time I have visited all the vines once I will need to do it all over again. They are growing at several inches a day but have not flowered
Grape Vine before shoot thinning
Grape Vine after shoot thinning
yet though you can see the grape clusters ready to go. Really, managing the vineyard is pleasant work. The birds, including eagles , geese, crows, owls, Robins and lots of small birds are loudest in the morning when I am out there. Eventually trucks and traffic get loud. But by then breakfast is on or over and the office work begins. It has changed and ramped up with spring too. People want more maps especially for tourists but regular trucking and emergency services want maps too. Since we are moving wine steadily out of the cellar at the Market there is a lot more bottling to do. All of which somewhat
Grape rows early May
Grape Rows Late June
explains why I am writing a blog on this tablet while in Seattle. But more about Seattle next month.
It started out like a normal April. I was doing a lot of grape pruning and planting cuttings as I went. We had just had our first artichoke dinner the night before and temperatures were starting to stay above freezing. To verify the temperature I started comparing our analog (alcohol-filled) thermometers with our digital one. Then with each other because they were saying that the temperature was below freezing but unfrozen puddles of water outside did not confirm that. Turns out none of them agreed exactly with each other. So I ordered a highly-acclaimed thermometer from LaCrosse. Its indoor and outdoor sensors did not agree when they were together indoors! LaCrosse claims that they are within tolerances. Maybe I’m just intolerant.
Extra Water Heater
Things went from bad to worse when although not freezing, the water Cheryl ran for a bath on April 8th never got warm. I jumped into action, drained the water heater, cleaned several gallons of lime-rust sludge out through the cleanout port and went to take the elements out so I could get them replaced. They would not budge. Last year I had to take a water tank to Colville where a plumber used a socket wrench with a big cheater on it to break the element loose while I held the tank. It was a Saturday and some friends who are moving to Colville invited us to see their place. So we drove to Colville around the detour for “Lake Colville” (which is starting to look like hay fields again), got to the hardware store before it closed and bought the best heater elements they had. But they sent me across the street to the auto-parts store to get a decent socket for changing the elements. As soon as I walked in and the clerk took one look at the sorry element wrench that the hardware store sells and said “You need a 1 1/2″ socket for your water heater.” Evidently this happens all the time.
Repaired Stand Pipe
The socket worked and with the new heating elements installed I thought I was on a roll, till 2:44 AM the next morning when the heater overheated and scalding hot water came out of the popoff valve on the top and flooded the floor. Ten days and many more incidents later the water heater was fixed and I turned on the water system to the garden and vineyard. Gusher!!! Apparently dropping a large pine tree on a stand pipe does underground damage as well as above ground. Three days later that was fixed; I was finished pruning the grapes; and I was able to spray dormant spray on the grapes and trees.
So plumbing was a kind of running (or not running) theme for most of the month. On Easter we had another memorable party at Mary Selecky’s. She gave us a couple of easy chairs that she was replacing. As soon as they were installed in our house, our cat Gray-C moved in. A cat’s idea of a good home is a little different than ours. A few times this month she tried to have a late night snack on our bed. One night Cheryl alerted me that something was going on and I jumped up and grabbed a flash
Gray-C’s new spot
light only to see a dead gopher on my pillow. Another night I woke up in time to take a shrew outside before it got too bloody but woke up later with a half-eaten bird on top of me. Gray-C is really excited to have the snow gone and longer days for hunting. Me, not so much.
But at least those are natural, fixable problems. On the 19th I joined a protest at a fund raiser for our Congressional Representative, Cathy McMorris Rogers. If you want to talk to her, you need to pay $40 a plate to fund her next
campaign. She doesn’t have time for town hall meetings. Three days later Cheryl and I joined the March for Science in Spokane. Today Trump fired half the scientists in the EPA and will replace them with stooges from the chemical companies. These problems won’t be fixed this month.
But we are eating asparagus from our garden and even found morel mushrooms in there too! The temperature was over 70 degrees today. It was warmer outside than inside. We are not building fires in the stove every day (and we are almost out of firewood). We have started selling wine and map books again at the Farmers Market. The seasons have changed and we still have not taken a vacation.
In like a Lion, Out like a Lamb. That’s the standard rap for March. It was actually something like that but it took it’s time getting to the lamb part. I was done with pruning and setting off on a road trip at this time last year. This year I am just getting going on pruning because the snow just finally melted. And boy did it. So for the last two weeks highway 395 into Colville from Kettle Falls has been covered with the newly formed “Lake Colville”. Almost all of the fields in the valley west of the City of Colville are under water.
These were all fields. (Taken from the detour around flooded Highway 395)
Ironically after a trip to see the movie, Logan (Wolverine), on March 20th and having to detour around Lake Colville on the way home, there was a fire burning across the river (Lake Roosevelt) probably from a field burning
Field burning that got away.
that got out of hand. A little rain put it out the next day. The real March Madness was the Gonzaga basketball team who went all the way to the Final Four and the national Championship Game with playoff games every week of the month. It was a heart-breaker to watch them lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels on April 3rd. But at least it is over. Who would have thought that watching basketball would be so nerve wracking.
Zags win 33 of 35 games
The rock drilled with rifles on the Insider App
So think of basketball as the background to the whole series of events that was March for us. One of the first was to speak at a Colville City Council meeting recommending that they approved a grant I wrote for The Heritage Network (THN) to fund creation of historic tour points on a cell phone app, Northeast Washington Insider. The grant covers creation of 138 points of interest and is worth $12,520 to THN. I only learned later that the meeting was being broadcast on local radio and several people heard me talking about the hole in the rock drilled with rifles and other historic lore.
On the 6th the Zags won a tough battle with Santa Clara. The next day they won the West Coast playoff. Two days later we attended the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Colville supporting the Kettle Range Conservation Group. It snowed on the way home.
On March 11th we let the fire go out at night for the first time in months. We also went to see the play Once Upon a Mattress with daughter, April and grandson, James. It was amazing to go home while it was still light out.
The next day. Cheryl cleared snow away from the outside barbeque and cooked dinner!
Beware the Ides of March. On the 15th I learned that Xerox won a lawsuit against the off brand solid ink makers who have supplied me with solid ink for my mapbooks for years. It will double the ink costs on my books. I had been printing a lot of books to prepare for the annual Panorama Gem and Mineral Show that started on St Patrick’s Day. I didn’t print enough and had almost double the sales of the previous year. At least they were printed with the less expensive ink. Cheryl texted me during the show with updates on the Zags game in San Jose.
Rock My World gem and mineral show 2017
Our neighbor Vern deKnikker vistied and told us he has a blood cancer. In less than a week we learned about other cancer cases. On a happier note the Zags had pushed through to the Elite Eight and beat West Virginia to go on to the Final Four.
But this is techically a vineyard blog and since the snow has melted much later than usual I will add a few grape related notes. Grape plant sales have boomed and almost wiped out my inventory. I invested in some greenhouse equipment to start more cuttings and am out pruning grapes come rain or shine. I now have over 200 new cuttings in propagation flats. Some friends have come or are coming to help prune. If you want to try learning to prune with
Pruned Grape Canes ready to be cloned
a little hands-on instruction, let me know.
A real wolverine
On the last night of the month we went to a talk about the real wolverines. The next day the Zags beat South Carolina in the Final Four to go to the championship game but lost to North Carolina. The month ended. We are not so sure about the madness.
Okay. It’s official. I’m tired of snow. But actually I’m hoping it stays cold for another week or so. Loggers used to like working in the snow because you can move a lot of logs on a sled and the snow protects the ground from destruction while you do it. We have had a big almost-dead tree close to the garden shed and leaning into the garden for awhile and with this dense foot-thick snow, now was the time to drop it. We had Keith Matlock, a professional arborist who used to do horse logging, do it. I tried to take a video while it was falling but blew it, so I just have a couple of still shots. I also have big heavy rounds of pine and branches to clean up before the snow melts. I’m actually kindof glad for the exercise.
The Otter Sled at work
Because most of the last month has been sitting inside in front of this computer updating my Road Atlas of Stevens County, getting outside to work is good. Generally speaking, winter is a good time to do mapping since not much is changing. The down side is that no one is buying books either. Oh well, more books to update still and lots of snow.
Keith trimming the tree
We are helping the birds survive and they are going through the suet and sunflower seeds. The juncos seem to have left. They were a big hungry group but we don’t see them much in the summer. Now 3 kinds of woodpeckers, a couple kinds of nuthatches, chickadees, flickers and morning doves are still hanging around. Cheryl saw a varied thrush near the kitchen door March 5th. I hear some wild turkeys outside right now and geese and crows fly by most days.
Every morning we hear bald eagles from the nest across the road and near the lake. Mostly they just cruise over head, which is fine with us because we have a small cat that has to watch out. One day an eagle landed on top of our biggest tree, was making a lot of noise and I caught this shot of it leaving.
The Eagle flies on Thursday
Technically the snow is leaving too. Here are before and after shots of Old Blue, our pickup truck waiting for the snow to clear. It is strange to walk out in the vineyard and be looking down on vines that are normally at eye level. Pruning in the cold weakens them and all the new canes and grapes grow from last year’s wood. So no pruning for now.
The truck on February 6th
I have also finished the 7th chapter of a biography of Joseph Barreca Sr. He will be 95 on June 10th. There are a couple more chapters to go and a lot of pictures to add. Greg Daniels, who owns a nearby tree nursery, says roots grow in winter. Maybe they do in more ways than one.
We have not escaped the undercurrent of politics that has seeped into almost all communication of late.
Old Blue on February 21st
Cheryl and I have attended a training class to be better prepared for eventual confrontations put on by the North
Columbia Human Rights Coalition. I am collecting stories for future generations. But I am now also reporting weekly on all of the activities of our not-very-forthcoming Federal Congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rogers. The local paper has agreed to publish the reports. It is a joint effort with our local Indivisible group. So another cold war has begun, both inside and out.