...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


Do-It-Yourself Grow Light Shelves

We decided to try to start some of our own seeds this year, for three reasons:

- to get our garden growing a little earlier
-  to hopefully stop spending so much money every year from buying transplants 
- and for fun, of course!  

I looked and looked through a bunch of gardening catalogs,
and several of them offer seed starting "grow shelves."
If you want to accomodate more than two trays,
the shelves start at around $350 and go on up to $600.
(Not to mention shipping charges are usually extra due to size and weight, etc.) 

Luckily my girlfriend talked me out of taking the easy (and most expensive) route,
 and I decided to figure out what I could put together...
hopefully making it as good, if not better.

I found a commercial-grade 6-shelf, 4' wide chrome shelving unit at Home Depot for $100.
Each shelf supposedly will hold up to 600 pounds!
While assembling the unit, I realized there are some real pros to this version
(and I couldn't think of any cons):
- I can re-arrange the shelf spacing anytime I see fit.
- I can add more trays and lights if I want to expand. 
For now, since we're newbies, I thought I'd just try two light shelves. 
I could easily double up by using two more of the shelves in the future, if my heart desires. 
That still leaves two shelves free for supplies, books, etc.
I chose to put the trays length-wise for now, but f I wanted to,
 I could re-orient them
and put 5 trays on a shelf,
but they wouldn't get quite as much concentrated light... 

Experiments will tell how important that truly is. 

The shelves are wire-rack style, so they're easy to hang s-hooks from.
Which are handy for hanging utility lights with, and that's exactly what I did. 
I found 48" wide heavy duty utility shop light fixtures at Home Depot.
They're not cheap, at $50/each, but they're sturdy and seem like they'll last. 
Each fixture holds 4 bulbs.
That's a lot of light, baby!
And I bought a pack of 10 cool white  T8 bulbs for $25.  

There's plenty of room at the bottom for storing our miscellanea:
seed trays, tray inserts, misters, soil, our handy blocker, soil thermometer, etc. 

Under each tray I put a seedling heat mat.
You can get them at Amazon
If you don't already have your trays and inserts and humidity lids,
I suggest these Germination Stations
(For only $2 more, you get the mat and all the other stuff.)

The utility lights come with an outlet on one side so you can link the heat pads right in, easy, without a ton of extension cords hanging around.  

Speaking of cords, I decided to try out a power strip with a timer
so that I won't have to go turn the lights on and off every day...   It
 only set me back $17, so if it works, it's well worth the peace of mind.

There's room on the top of the shelving unit for our reference books and most importantly,
all the seeds!!!
I have a basket filled with seeds, some I harvested and saved from last year's garden (and CSA!). 
Some are 2-3 years old from seed catalogs, so I'll try some as an experiment and see what happens.

And some, of course, are from this year's ambitious catalog shopping. 
I always go more than a teensy bit overboard. 
I'll just have to make a bigger garden!


So, altogether this shelving project cost:
$225 + tax. 

I can germinate 4-10 seedling trays with this current configuration.

That's half what I would have paid if I had bought the one I liked from a garden catalog.

That price doesn't include
- the s hooks, which I had on hand
- the seed mats, the trays and inserts and power strip...
those are all extras, not included with the catalog versions. 

 It's hard to tell how nice and concentrated the light is from this shot,
but take my word for it.
If you were a little seed, filled with promise...
with a nice warm heating pad, some organic soil,
 gently misted water... and these lights?
Yes, yes, you'd want to put down your roots and grow!



super warm and beautiful socks
from Sasha
a visit from wild turkeys
an amazingly delicious breakfast from Boo:
It all starts with butter in the pan.
A special antique cast iron crepe pan from le Cordon Bleu.

beautiful crepe moon
smiling at me 
thin as parchment at the edges

raspberries in sunlight,
a gift from California

crepe drizzled with sweet ricotta filling,
studded with those gorgeous berries

lemon syrup
for drizzling

c'est magnifique!
A 'raptorous' visit from a hawk!


This young cooper's hawk
came right up to our back deck,
literally less than 10 feet from the house
and gazed at me for a few minutes
before I dared carefully step away to get the camera.   
It felt like the hawk was a messenger
from another world.

And then there was:
 so much sweetness.
 including handmade marshmallows from Anja!
wowser, wowser!!!
and handmade truffles from Jules...

flowers from Molly




the chicken infirmary

My partner went out to the coop yesterday afternoon, and came back panic stricken. 
One of our precious little ladies is sick!
My favorite little hen, Dominique...
wheezing and sneezing and gasping for breath, so weak she couldn't get up to the roost!!!
So we read about what to do to help her.
Everyone says to either cull or quarantine a sick bird from the rest of the flock.
We have no clue what's wrong with her.  After reading a bunch, it could be a
"chicken cold" type infectious bronchitis or air sac disease or some other even scarier thing...
Since we couldn't imagine culling her in our wildest dreams,
we had to create a last minute infirmary to see if we could help her get better.
One that would keep our girl safe from the dogs...

Behold our emergency infirmary!
Our extra shower is impossible for a dog to open, and easy to clean.

But little Dominique doesn't know she's being quarantined...
We didn't want her to panic in her weakened state,
so we told her she won a winter vacation to a spa retreat in Florida!
She likes the temperature in here a whole lot better than the 23 degree coop.
In addition to all of the petting and coddling from her crazy mammas,
And she was delighted to see that her trip came with an all-inclusive meal package.
There's an all-you-can-eat buffet!!!  
There's her usual organic feed, some rice and mealworms, oyster shells, grit,
a little medley of quinoa and lentils... some baby lettuce...
and of course lots and lots of water. 
(Little does she know we've laced the water with a homeopathic remedy!)
But no tropical vacation is complete without some coconut water.
She loves the coconut water and doesn't even know about 
all of the electrolytes it has that are helping her recover from dehydration! 
(Dommy was very sick once as a baby chick
and we had to hand feed her coconut water for a few days...
We only wish we had a tropical cocktail umbrella to put in her coconut water
to make drinking it even more fun!)

She's hardly stopped eating since she arrived at "the healing spa!"
The other chickens typically prevent her from getting as much food as she'd like
and she doesn't like to give up her spot by the coop heater to go get food and water,
so we suspect she became mightily malnourished. 
Poor little thing!
Now she has unlimited access to everything she could want. 
Her goal in life is to be a nice fat fluffy chicken, but I just don't think it's in the stars for her.
Try as she might, she's always been a tiny thing. 
We'll do our best to fatten her up a little before she goes back outside to the coop,
which may not be for several days or even weeks. 
She's doing remarkably well, though.
We're celebrating because today she started drinking on her own again...
Hopefully, no more need for the dropper!

We've also been using a vaporizer in the bathroom, steaming up the air
with some essential oil blend called VetRx (it's like Vicks for chickens)...
The more she eats and drinks, the more she perks up.
It's like magic! 
Maybe it's the warmth, the moisture, the food, the homeopathic medicine...
Or all of the above...
She's still wheezing some, but her immune system seems to be rallying.
Our hope is a) that we can get her through this  and b) do it without antibiotics...
(That way we can still enjoy her delicious eggs when she starts laying again...)
Keep strong, little Dommy! 
You can do it, girl!
In the mean time, kick back, and enjoy your tropical vacation! 
She even has her very own perch made with a small round piece of firewood,
some yoga blocks, and duct tape. 
Maybe tonight she'll be strong enough to get up and roost!
I can see that she's thinking about it...


Pileated woodpeckers

A kitchen window surprise...


I've never seen a Pileated woodpecker this close to our house before!
I think it's a female because there's no red streak on the cheek.
The pileated woodpecker is the largest North American woodpecker
 (with the exception of the possibly-extinct Ivory-Billed woodpecker). 

Every time I spot a pileated, it takes my breath away. 
Sometimes I can hear them and not see them.
Their sounds are loud, distinct, and hard to miss.
Listen to some of their sounds here.

I've been seeing evidence of pileated bill-work in the yard for awhile.
They've been especially fond of our white pines lately.

The cavities they make provide shelter for other birds...

This one is most likely too low for a bird to take shelter,
but I bet some whimsical things might magically find their way in there
this spring and summer. 

It seems like a perfect spot
to hide a treasure map or
to stow away some love notes or poems.

Or maybe the fairies want a nice room...
in which case, I'll have to make some fairy furniture.

The pine sap dripped and dripped, but in this cold,
it froze to an icy lavender color.  I like it. 

As you can see, our resident pileated and/or her mate
have been quite busy with this pine.
Sometimes from a distance this tree
looks like it's being turned into a woodland flute...
I guess it's a flute fit for a giant.
I wonder what kind of sound
a giant pine tree flute would make?
I'm not the only one with a pileated woodpecker coming to a suet feeder.
Check out this amazing close-up video.
If you ever wondered what it feels like to be a tree, this might give you an idea...
at least an idea of what it would feel like to be a tree with a pileated woodpecker visiting! 
Normal and slow speed...
Warning: this might make your head hurt.
And here's a great video of a Papa Pileated feeding his young.


the bad back sweater project

What do you get when you take:
a) a girlfriend, bored with yours truly (who threw out her back, in bed for a week)
b) yarn that's been sitting around in the yarn basket
c) plus buttons that have been sitting around for a looooooooong time

Right now we're calling it the Bad Back sweater.
She was so sweet to keep me company all those hours...

 I love the funky old mixed-up buttons.
 And how organic the garter stitch yoke is...
The lines all fall together, but each one has its own character. 
This yarn was so nice to knit with, she said.
 Handspun, you could smell the lanolin from the sheep.
 Our Great Pyrenees, Clara, is a big fan of the sweater.
Maybe it's the lanolin smell.
Or maybe she just loves the lady wearing the sweater???
For those of you knitters out there, it's called
the 'garter yoke cardi'
and you can find the pattern here.

Like everything she creates,
she never follows a recipe or pattern exactly. 
For this one, she:
- wanted a slightly shorter body so she knitted until it looked as long as she wanted
- didn't want it to be cut-in at the waist, so she kept it boxy.
- liked the garter look on the cuffs so she made that part longer
- didn't want so many button holes, so I bet you can guess what she did about that.
And she took a leap of knitting faith.
Not only did she not know if she'd have enough of the yarn,
she didn't even check the gauge,
just hoped it would be somewhere in the right range.
Now that is my kind of woman.
She lives on the edge of her knitting needles.