Thursday, February 28, 2008

Resourceful Nature

In the cold winter months in the mountains, all animals need a place where they can be warm and comfortable. We humans need this, so do our pets and livestock, and also the wild creatures amongst which we live. We build fires in our wood stoves or merely turn up the propane or electric heater in our homes. We keep our small pets inside with us and make sure that any outside pets and livestock have adequate shelter and heat. We trust the wild animals to take care of themselves. After all that’s how nature intended it to be. It always intrigues me when I discover how resourceful and crafty some of these wild creatures can be at this task.

A couple of days ago my close friend/partner Bob, sent me this photo of a nest he found under the hood of his Toyota Camry. He said that when he raised the hood he was greeted by a very fat pack rat that had decided that this space was a good place to build her nest. They stared at each other for a moment until she scampered away. The nest has been removed now, as its location really was not suitable for either rat or human when the car was to be driven. I was impressed at the hefty twigs and the cushy carpet threads that she used to weave this rather large nest. Nature truly is amazing to me. Every day.

Toyota Rat's Nest

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Compost Happens

Isn't this supposed to grow in the dirt?

It finally stopped raining here for a few days which allowed me the chance to go outside and tend my garden compost pile. I have a few in various stages, but only one "active" one that I add to at least weekly. I try to limit my compost pile chore to once per week usually on the weekend. I save my kitchen scraps in a cheap plastic 1 gallon container with a lid all week and then put them in the compost pile and layer them with other things like dried brown leaves, twigs, weeds & grass. Sometimes I sprinkle some chicken manure and wood ashes into the mix.

Here's a photo of the various plastic containers filled with "compost in waiting".

Compost containers filled to the brim!

When I first started composting here in the mountains, I read everything I could on the subject in magazines and books. One of the best books I found was called Let it Rot, by Stu Campbell. I had read about many different styles of composting bins, barrels, stacks and piles. Some looked really fancy and neat. Some not so much. Some would take time, effort and expense to build. They were all designed to keep the pile contained while still giving it proper air circulation and hopefully keeping the curious and hungry wildlife from scattering and destroying your "pile in progress". And we do have plenty of wildlife! Around here we have hungry deer, hungry raccoons, hungry possums, hungry rabbits, hungry squirrels, hungry birds and various other little creatures and bugs. There is also the occasional bear that goes through the neighborhood, but luckily I haven't had any problems with them getting into my compost. Good thing too, because I have never seen a compost pile enclosure that would keep a bear out.

After all of that study, I decided to go with the cheapest and easiest method of composting that I have found. I just use the "pile" method. I make a pile near my garden (the garden that is destined to receive the finished compost) by layering "brown dry stuff" consisting of dead leaves, twigs and any dried up weeds or straw that are lying around, and "green stuff" which is kitchen vegetable scraps, green weeds, plants, leaves & grasses. I alternate thin layers until I have pile that is about 3 feet across and however high it becomes after I layer all the available compost ingredients on it. I then add to it week by week as I collect stuff. After making the initial pile or adding to it, I always wet it down thoroughly with the garden hose. This is more important in the dry summer months as the pile will dry out pretty quickly in the heat of summer. Too dry and the pile stops "working" and ants invade it. Too wet and the pile will just turn to moldy, smelly mush and slow down it's "working" process.

To keep the hungry and curious critters out of the pile, I simply cover the whole mound with a big square of 1 inch grid chicken wire and weight it down on the perimeter with anything that is heavy and available such as rocks, bricks, logs, lumber etc. The chicken wire cover allows for good air and water circulation while keeping the animals from scattering the pile and eating its ingredients. The birds still sit there and peck at the seeds or fruit, maybe eating some bugs or trying to eat any worms they can find.

Speaking of worms! It's a good idea, although not a necessity, to add a handfull of live earthworms to the middle of the pile near some of that good juicy kitchen scrap material. They will love the food scraps, eat it and make some of the best dark loamy compost you have ever seen. The worms will thrive in your pile if you make sure to keep it moist but not too wet. They will multiply and produce generation after generation of compost creators for you. Just take a handfull of worms from an existing pile to use when you start a new one. They are good in your garden soil too.

I rarely turn my compost. I usually just add to it each week, water it and then turn and sift out the big chunks just before I apply it to my garden in early spring or fall. Works great and is relatively low maintenance. Composting is good for your garden and for the earth. It also reduces the amount of garbage that you must take to the dump or otherwise dispose of. Saves money that way. Happy composting everybody!

Low maintenance compost pile

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Take Care of Yourself

On the road to the "big" city

Sometimes when you live in a rural area, you must leave it and drive for quite some distance for goods and services that are not available in your local community. That includes medical services. Happily, I don’t go to the doctor very often, usually only for well-woman checkups once or twice per year.

Yesterday I ventured forth down and out of the mountains and into the flatlands of the “big” city some 40 miles to the south. It was my day for my mammogram screening and my first ever bone scan. (I am of “that” age now) So I went quite a distance to have these medical services and take care of my physical self. Something I need to pay more attention to as I haven’t been feeling all that well lately. I still have that darned head cold that I mentioned a few days ago. It just makes me so tired and grumpy.

The photo above is a view from the car traveling down to my appointments yesterday. So here’s to us all nurturing and taking better care of ourselves. Below is a daffodil update to nurture our spirits.

Daffodils think it's Spring!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Corn Muffin Hibernation

Fresh Baked Corn Muffins

I have been hibernating in my home this week.

I’ve had a head cold that’s been sapping my energy and spirit lately and the cold temperatures and dreary grey rainy weather haven’t helped my attitude much either. When I don’t feel well, I tend to hibernate away from people and my usual activities until I can heal myself and feel better. I try to avoid stressful things that make me think too much, and I amuse myself with relaxing diversions… like blogging… or baking. The cold weather encourages me to bake. It warms my home and my heart. It comforts my soul.

So late last night I got the urge to bake some corn muffins. The basic recipe I used is from my Betty Crocker “Big Red” cookbook, but I made a few changes to her recipe to make it my own. Here’s my recipe for the corn muffins as I made them last night. It works fine to make corn bread as well.

Heat oven to 400 degrees,
Prepare 9 x 1 ½ inch round pan or 8 x 8 x 2 inch square pan, or 12 muffin cups by greasing with shortening or using paper muffin cups


¾ cup low fat plain yogurt + ¼ cup unsweetened soy milk stirred together
(Betty used 1 cup milk instead)

¼ cup olive oil (Betty used ¼ cup butter, melted)

1 large egg

1 ¼ cups Polenta (Betty used cornmeal)

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Prepare baking pan.

Beat yogurt, soy milk, oil & egg together in large bowl by hand with wire whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients all at once just until flour is moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Spoon into muffin cups or pour into baking pan.

Corn Muffin batter ready to bake

Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Bake round or square pan a little longer, 20-25 minutes. Serve warm with butter and/or honey or whatever pleases you.

Notes** I rarely have milk in the house as I tend to use soy, but milk would work just as well. The yogurt adds a nice tangy taste that I like. I do usually have cornmeal in my kitchen, but ran out recently. The polenta worked very well and gave the muffins a rich yellow color and very nice texture. I usually substitute olive oil for butter whenever I can in my baking. It’s healthier and I think it improves the texture of many things. I use certified organic ingredients if I can.

Baked lightly golden brown in my Grandmother's muffin pan

So enjoy the warmth of your kitchen and the crunchy corniness of these muffins. I am going back into hibernation now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Seeds of the Mind

Since it looks like this here today:

Still beautiful but cold, rainy, wet and muddy outside......

I think I will stay inside, build a nice warm fire in the woodstove and spend some time reading, planning and dreaming with these today:

My 2008 seed catalogs.

I especially like the one in the middle from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

I find that a good garden, or any worthwhile project for that matter, first starts with seeds planted in your mind. Ideas. Dreams. Visualizing great outcomes. This is the first step to planting a great garden.

Over the past 10 years that I have lived here at about 3000 ft elevation in the California foothills, I have planted organic vegetable and herb gardens nearly every summer. Right now my gardens are a mess due to the winter weather and also to my neglect. So I need to spend some time reading, planning and dreaming about my bountiful veggie and herb crops that I want this year. Today is a good day to do that. Do the mental work today. By the fire. All warm and cozy with a cup of tea and my cats. I can go out and do the physical garden work another day....when it's warmer....and drier.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Full Moon

Last night we had a beautiful full moon and lunar eclipse that was visible from my front porch looking eastward. However, I was inside at my computer setting up this new blog of mine and missed most of the eclipse. During the last few minutes of this celestial event, I ran outside and snapped this photo with my little digital camera. I am afraid that it does not do the eclipse justice at all.

One of my joys in living up here in the mountain wilderness is the clean air and the beautiful night skies that allow me to see the moon, stars, planets and even the milky way so clearly. When I lived in the city there was either too much haze or light pollution to see anything but maybe the moon.

Up here during the warm evenings in the summer months, I frequently go outside and gaze up at the stars and the moon, especially when she is in her full glory each month. I call her our Full Moon Goddess, because she is so bright and beautiful displaying herself as if just for me to see from the convenience of my front porch. I will ask a friend who has a better camera and more photography skills than I do to take some photos of our Full Moon Goddess this summer for me to share with you. Until then, my photo above will have to do. Look up, gaze and wonder in the night sky.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Mountain Harvest Basket

I called this blog my Mountain Harvest Basket because harvest baskets are the tool used to gather wonderful things from the garden to share with others. I wish to share with you some of the things that I have discovered, learned, built and made over the past 10 years that I have lived and worked in this small rural mountain community. My home, gardens, friends, pets, cooking, baking, recipes, canning, preserving, crafts and businesses will be some of the topics I will share with you through my posts. I look forward to your visits and to your comments.