The men of our church hosted a retreat this past weekend.  Everything on the agenda was “guy stuff” –  fishing, survival training, cowboy cooking, etc.  And a very popular activity was shooting which we somehow (I still don’t quite understand it) agreed to host here at AAR.  Certainly not anything I would have thought of as fun to do – especially in our back pasture – but apparently it is a guy thing.

Our son Alex has been here with us for the past few days, enjoying the cooler summer weather up north – and playing with the dogs.

alex and dogs

It was 108 degrees in Bakersfield today, and 76 degrees here.  I sure don’t miss that heat.   Anyway, back to the shooting.  With his Marine training, Alex was very helpful preparing for and hosting the shooters.  They set up targets at different distances, tables, gun props and little sand bags.  Those may not be the correct technical terms, but that is what they looked like to me.


There were quite a few people who wanted to shoot, so they came over in groups.

gun crowd

When the shooters arrived, Rick gave the talk about rules and safety.

rick better safety

Then the shooters took turns.

rick and tyler

Some of the younger ones had never shot a gun before and needed lots of instruction.

alex teaching

Rick, Alex and our friend John helped the new shooters.

john teaching

 It was a beautiful, warm summer weekend.  Perfect for being outdoors.


Some of the guys were very experienced and brought their own guns.  They just needed spotters.

dad  1shooting

Of course, before the crowds arrived Rick and our friend John had to try out the set up.

rick and john shooting

I even shot some rounds with the .22 and here is my target.  Bob, I shot this at 100 yards – aren’t you impressed?

Brenda shooting

I probably should have included a lot of detailed technical information about the guns, ammunition, scopes, etc.  Unfortunately, like trucks, they all look pretty much the same to me.  I am not a gun person; I bring lunch and take pictures.  So, if you have specific questions about any of that you will have to talk to Rick or Alex.

All in all, it was a good weekend.  Most people enjoyed themselves, no one got hurt and we didn’t get any complaints from the neighbors.


The lupine season is about over and the seed pods are drying in the sun.

 lupine 3

Now the foxgloves are in bloom.  The foxglove grow wild in this area – there is a local road named for them as they were so thick in the area.

foxgloves big

They are very tall, majestic plants with interesting shapes and markings.  Many wildflowers are edible, but the foxglove is poison, though it is used to make the heart drug digitalis.

foxgloves close best

It was originally called Folksglove – the glove of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, whose favourite haunts were supposed to be in the deep hollows and woody dells, where the Foxglove delights to grow. Folksglove is one of its oldest names, and is mentioned in a list of plants in the time of Edward III.

Whatever it is called, they are beautiful growing wild adding color to the green summer landscape.

foxgloves under tree

Gardening up North

Our garden is now located approximately 1150 miles north of where we started and in a rain forest.  We have discovered that makes a big difference in growing things!  We are still learning to garden here in our northern, wet climate, acidic soil and lots of big rocks.  Vegetables that we have grown for years take on a whole new twist here where the nights stay so cool (50’s mostly, some 40’s and even 30’s) all summer.  We never really gave a thought to being able to grow lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes_lead_narrowweb__300x307,0.jpg  Tomato.jpg

In the San Joaquin Valley, you turn over the soil and add some fertilizer.  You set out the tomato plants in early spring – Rick once  planted January 30th – keep them watered and maybe add a little more fertilizer as they grow.  By May, sometimes very early in May, you have ripe tomatoes and soon you are trying to find someone who will take some of them off your hands.

It is not quite that simple here.  Here you must prepare your beds well or nothing much will grow.  That means rototilling or digging by hand and taking out all the rocks.

rototilling 2

rock w shovel

I don’t know of any kind of plant that will grow well in these rocks.


Then you must add amendments as the soil here is very acidic.  We use dolomite lime and organic fertilizer as well as all the organic material we can find; shredded leaves, peat moss, composted manure, etc.  This is best done in the fall before the snow starts and the ground freezes.

leaves on rows

You should cover your soil so all the amendments you just added don’t get washed away in the winter snow and rain.  You can do this with plastic or a green manure cover crop.  We put down plastic in the fall.

garden in snow

Then the snow and rains come and the ground is frozen from about late November until May.   It is truly beautiful and you sit by the fire and drink hot chocolate and admire the view out the window.


You wait for the snow to melt, the ground to thaw, the frosts to be gone and the soil to warm.  Memorial Day is the traditional date for this – anything before that and you are ahead of the game.  You carefully transplant the delicate seedlings you should have started in a cold frame several weeks before.  Then you have to protect your plants from the cool nights, cold rain and (hopefully not) a late frost.  There are various strategies for this.  From very elaborate shelters that look like mini greenhouses to rings of 2 litre soda bottles filled with water and  duct taped together around each plant.  Basically anything to protect the plant from the rain and cold and keep the heat in.


Our choice is these wall-0-waters.  They are plastic rings about 18 inches high that have individual tubes.  You set these around the plant and fill the tubes with water.  The idea is that it shelters the plant and the water stores the heat during the day and releases it at night, warming the plant.

tomatoes in walls 2

Last year we were not really sure if they would be worth the expense and effort, but decided to give it a try.  We used the walls on about half of our tomato plants and just put cages on the rest.  The only ones we got ripe tomatoes from – no matter what variety – were the ones with the wall-o-water protectors.

2 color walls

This year we even got some of the new walls that are red.  The red plastic is supposed to promote more growth of the plant because the UV rays penetrate better – or something?  We will see, we have both colors this year but definitely walls on all the tomatoes.  We originally set out more tomatoes than we had walls for, so before our new wall-o-water order arrived I improvised with milk jugs.

tomato in milk jug

It did work, the plant is still alive and healthy though I’m sure that the wall-o-waters will do a much better job and give it some room to grow.

green tomatoes

We also get a lot of tomato blight here.  The way I understand it, it is a fungus growing in the soil.  The rain and too cool temperatures at the end of the season are the perfect breeding ground for it to spread to your tomatoes.  We had that last year.  Also, though we had several green tomatoes last year that were healthy, most of them didn’t have a chance to ripen before the frost got them.  So we had fried green tomatoes.  I found a recipe for green tomato pie, but never actually made it.  Green tomatoes in pie just didn’t sound very appealing or appetizing.

picked produce

This year we were very careful about choosing only early varities which thrive in the cold temperatures.  When you see tomatoes with names like Glacier, Northern Delight, Polar Baby and Siberian it is a clue that they should do well here.  So far this year we have several tomatoes set on, the largest is almost the size of a baseball.  Hopefully they are snug and warm in their little walls and we will have lots of ripe tomatoes this summer.

  tomatoes set on

We have also improved our potato growing this year.  Last year we ran out of time to prepare the beds so we ended up putting soil and straw in some old tires over newspaper and planting the potatoes in there.


The plants looked like they did fairly well.  As they grew taller we added another tire and more soil around the plants.

potatoes in tires

We got a few potatoes, better than nothing, but not as many as we hoped.  The few we got tasted great though!


This year we worked hard to get the beds ready in the fall, rototilling, digging out rocks and adding amendments. We bought our seed potatoes early and let them sprout in the dark room, then gently transplanted them to the hills.


 And so far, the potatoes look good!  We will see how they fare as the season progresses.


This is a new-to-us variety called Satina which is a very nice gold fleshed potato from France.  It is supposed to have wonderful flavor – I hope we get lots to try it.

We also decided to try to grow some sweet potatoes.  Those of you who have spent Thanksgiving with Rick (or Megan) know that they LOVE sweet potatoes. So, even though they are really a warm weather crop, I ordered the Georgia Jet slips which are supposed to be able to do well here.  When they arrived they did not look too promising.

sweet potatoes shipped

Shriveled, wilted and straggly looking!  The accompanying brochure says not to be discouraged about that, they will come right out when planted.  After digging out all the rocks, Rick made the rows and we put black plastic on them to help hold in the heat.

bed ready

 We planted the sweet potatoes through the plastic.

sw potatoes in plastic

They still look straggly and shriveled!  I guess we will see what happens.

sw potatoes in plastic close up

Our best crops last year were snap peas and beans.  Those did really well and were delicious.

beans on trellis

So well in fact, thet they outgrew the trellis we had them on and came over the top.  By the end of the season we had to add another support just to keep them up and to pick them you had to be down on your hands and knees underneath.


The beans grew well and tasted great right up until frost.

beans before frost

This year we have a new system, custom made by Nick while he was here.

beanpoles empty

Old fashioned bean poles.  Our friend, Cindy who has a great garden, uses a system like this.  We may need a ladder to get to the ones on the top, but that is better than crawling around on your hands and knees.

beans and peas on poles

The second planting (hint: always finish the garden fence before you get the dogs) of peas and beans are up and starting to vine.

peas on strings

The lettuce I planted around the edges of the peas and beans is doing very well and should be ready for a salad soon.

Chickens and Ducks

We are attempting to raise chickens to supply us with our own eggs and fertilizer for the garden.  So far, so good.  The chickens are about nine weeks old now and growing well.  I ordered eighteen of them because I figured we would probably lose a few along the way, but we still have all eighteen.

Rick catches them and they squawk like crazy.  As he pets them they settle down and seem pretty content – then when he sets them down they come back and peck his legs for more attention.  Goofy birds!

rick w chickens

They get very excited about garden thinnings and kitchen scraps.  Corn is their favorite, but they also like strawberries and watermelon. They love popcorn!

  chickens eating strawberries

Digging and rolling in the dirt is something we really didn’t expect, but they enjoy it.

chickens in dirt 2

They fly up to their roosts every evening.  There is always someone in the crowd who has to be different.

always one

Our friends Joel and Cindy are raising ducks for eggs.  I thought our chickens had grown pretty quickly until I saw their ducklings – they are only five weeks old and they are huge.  Of course they enjoy the water.


The boys, Rio and Justice, are sneaking up on them by acting like ducks and quacking.  It was hilarious to watch.

boys ducks

And it worked too!  The ducklings came back and gobbled up the weeds the boys had for them.

boys feeding ducks

 The ducklings enjoy the bamboo.

ducks w bamboo

Joel and Cindy had planned to get lots of duck eggs for their family – except most of the ducks turned out to be males.  They only got three females out of the dozen ducklings.  So now they are trying to decide what to do with the males.  Duck a l’ Orange perhaps?  It makes me glad we only ordered female chickens.  Though what exactly we are going to do with all those eggs if all the hens start laying I am not really sure.  I guess we can supply our neighbors with fresh eggs.

Grizzly and Molly

For those of you who have asked, the puppies are doing very well.  They seem to be very happy here and they love to be involved in whatever is going on.  Here they are helping Rick carry a hose.

rick and dogs w hose

Molly is a sweet dog with a very gentle spirit.


She was definitely the low dog on the totem pole at the breeder where we got the dogs.  I don’t think she got a whole lot of attention or enough food.


In fact, they lady called her an “oops” (which I thought was terrible) and gave her to us for free if we bought Grizzly.  I really don’t see the big deal about being a purebred heeler, but I guess that is very important to some people.

We are trying to teach the dogs good manners.  Not jumping on people or licking them.


Some of us are trying a little harder than others to curb bad behavior.

molly kisses

For the past few weeks we’ve been trying to teach the dogs to play fetch.  They did not seem to be getting it.  We would throw the frisbee and they very enthusiastically run and chase it – then they sit there and bark and wait for us to join them.  They just didn’t understand the bringing it back to us part –  which is ironic since they tried to drag everything else they could find back to us.

dogs w pole

This past week though the whole “fetch” idea seems to have clicked.  Now you throw it and they run and grab it and usually bring it back to you.

dogs fetch 2

Occasionally though they forget and take the frisbee back and head for the shade.

paw on frisbee

They do still love chewing things, I guess all puppies do.  A few days ago we were gone most of the day and when we came home the yard was full of debris.

 front yard debris

This used to be the cover for our firewood stack on the front porch.  I’m glad I never ordered the expensive one from L.L. Bean.  They did seem to be enjoying themselves while they played with all the pieces.

pups in debris

Grizzly is a big baby.

rick and grizzly

He never seems to get enough attention.

grizzly in lap

He is very affectionate and adventurous.

 grizzly nap

 I am really not much of a dog person.  I think most of them are slobbery nuisances.  But these dogs seem to fit with us.

sleeping together

rick dogs w branch

Wildflowers, Garden . . . and More Rocks

The wildflower season has begun here.  The lupine  – also known as Texas Bluebonnet – grow wild here and are in full bloom.

lupines and daisies wide

 They bloom at the same time as the daisies (or at least they look like daisies to me) so it is a beautiful sight.

lupines and daisies

While most are a deep lavender blue, we do have a few pink ones.


The pink ones, called Pink Bluebonnets in Texas and pink lupine in the rest of the world, are more rare.

There is a even a Legend of the Pink Bluebonnet in Texas.  You can read about it – where else? – at the Texas A & M website:

pink lupine

According to the Aggies, lupine prefer hot, dry conditions, so I am not really sure how we ended up with them here in our rainforest.  Perhaps it is a different variety? They do grow out in the open where they get lots of sun, not in the shaded forest areas.


We have been busy working in the garden, planting and watering and weeding and trying to get the fence and gate finished.  You may remember last month when Russell & Mary Lou (Rick’s parents) were here they helped us clear some rocks in the orchard and the two perennial beds there.  Here are Russell, nephew Nick and Rick in May clearing the end of the asparagus bed.

working in orchard

We wanted to get the other perennial bed ready for planting, so we decided to add the fertilizer and manure, run the rototiller through it to mix it all in and it would be good to go.  Not.

more rocks

Somehow there were still a LOT of rocks left in that bed.  Some pretty large ones.  So we ran the rototiller until we hit rocks, then we ended up digging most of it out with the rock picks. Some of the big ones were deep, so the soil is thoroughly mixed now.

rocks and chickens

That bed is near the fence at the end of the chicken run, and even they came over to see what was going on.  The bed seems a lot lower now that we took out all those rocks, but I think whatever we put in it will have a lot easier time growing.  It does make you think carefully about what to plant when you go to that much time and effort to get the area ready.

bed cleared

Our garden is growing well.  We are still very far behind other areas – like California – but right on schedule for here.  This was the garden about three weeks ago, notice the bean poles Nick and I put up.

new bed

 And here it is with the peas and beans growing.  Soon they should have the poles and strings covered up and we will be harvesting peas.


For the most part the weather this summer has been hot and dry (for here anyway), but yesterday we had a little thunder cloud burst roll through.


 It has made for some beautiful scenery and sunsets.

sunset rev

Shed Porch

We have been working on putting a few finishing touches on our chicken coop / garden shed.  We wanted gravel under the “porch” portion.  First we had to clear out the weeds and level it off a bit.  Then we put down a thick layer of newspaper.

newspapers down

 Our little garden tractor has a very useful trailer on the back.  Just right for a few loads of gravel.   Rick very carefully backed the trailer in between the potatoes and tomatoes – and didn’t hit either one.  My trailer backing skills are improving with practice – I don’t usually have to go pick up the trailer and move it by hand anymore.

trailer backed up

 There is quite a bit of gravel left over from the building of the shed so we made good use of it.

shoveling gravel

 We shoveled two loads and that was enough.  I would like to point out that I did help load and unload the gravel, but since I am always the one taking the pictures Rick is the only one shown working – really!

gravel down

 We built a couple of benches, and put up a some shelves.  It turned out well, and we are glad to have a nice place under cover in the garden.

porch w benches

And now, on to the next project.