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Snowmageddon 2019

 

In February of 2019, Douglas County in Oregon experienced an epic snowstorm that caught everyone by surprise.  The weather forecast was for a large amount of rainfall possibly turning to snow.  We never get much snow around here, so it didn’t seem likely that we would get any.  The snow came down over a period of two days and was wet and heavy.  As a result all of the residents in the county lost power and most lost cell service and internet service for from less than a day (in town) to three weeks.  We, ourselves, lost power for eight days and a bit longer for cell and internet.  At our farm we got about 2 feet of snow, which is a disaster for this part of the country.  There were downed and broken power lines all over the county along with a multitude of downed trees.  Many roads were impassable and one whole town north of here was completely stranded.   I kept a diary of sorts during the power outage and what follows is my account (with explanations in parentheses).  Photos are at the bottom of the page.

–Sunday, February 24–power went out at night after 7 pm.  (It started snowing in the evening; big, beautiful flakes)

–Monday, February 25–no power, no cell, no internet-at least 1 ft. of snow, still snowing.  Water in pressure tank, cistern.  Turned off all water to toilets.  PB&J for breakfast.  (We have a pressure tank in the house that runs from the cistern.  We didn’t know how much water it held, but we did have bottled water.)  Pulled generator from barn to house in deep snow on cart.  Tipped over, switch on gen. broken, now only works with 120 volt and extension cords.  Powered up for 2 hours for refrigerator, freezers and Keurig.  Wood stove works, plenty of wood.  Thankfully had previously figured out the smoke problem. ( The wood stove had been giving us problems with making the house smoky, and we stopped using it.  But Bruce finally figured out the problem, just days before the snowstorm hit.)  Made tuna for lunch. Tree branch fell onto road near creek.  FVR (the main road)passable, not plowed.  Chicken Veg Soup for dinner.  Read to Bruce about Iceland on Kindle with soy candle for light.  (Nights were the worst–it was cold and dark and depressing.  We had on many layers of clothing which we slept in, but were still cold.)

(So strange to be stranded with no contact from the rest of the world-scary too, if we had an accident.  We would have had to walk through the snow up to the main road and then hope to flag a car going by.)

–Tuesday, February 26–no power, cell, internet. PB&J & coffee for breakfast.  Powering gen. for 2 hours/3X’s per day.  Getting pond water to flush toilets.  🙂 (Took a day to figure that out; we must have been in shock). Drove the ATV from barn and up the road, but it stalled and wouldn’t restart.  Dragged it away from FVR and left it.  (We had just bought the ATV second-hand from a friend and had it tuned up, so we thought it would be our salvation to give us a way to get the truck up to the main roadBefore we finally got plowed out, I came up with a boatload of ideas for getting that truck up to the road.  My last idea was to lay newspapers all along our road and set fire to them to melt the snow.  Yes, I was that desperate!  At least all my failed ideas gave us something to do during the day.)

–Wednesday, February 27–Defrosted frittata warmed on the stove for breakfast.  (We have a propane stove in the kitchen, so cooking was possible.) Bruce walked to George’s (our nearest neighbor).  He only let Bruce use phone to call Tim-no plow, no fuel, not much help.  After the call, he asked Bruce where he had parked! (He actually thought that Bruce had driven to his house, to use his phone!) Bruce flagged down a truck on FVR and it was Don Casteel, Tim’s partner (he did some work on our farm).  Gave Bruce 5 gallons of fuel and said would plow our road on Thursday.  (We we getting low on fuel for the generator, and Bruce had been considering walking to town-12 miles- and renting a U-Haul so we would have transportation.)            Steak, potatoes and cauliflower for dinner.  (Utilizing the BBQ grill and kitchen stove.)  Read about the bee lady at night. (A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell.  Great book by the foremost expert on bee-keeping)

–Thursday, February 28–Don & Tim arrived with Cat @ 2pm. (We were beginning to think they weren’t coming, but they were busy all day with the plow helping other people.) Plowed out road and got the ATV back to the house and truck out to FVR.  Went to town-farm store, Costco, Sherm’s and Thai Restaurant—in ski hat, down jacket and muck boots.  Bruce made a sled out of plywood with straps to haul wood from shed. Read about bee lady at night.

–Friday, March 1—Dave H. brought over his generator with 230 V, but we had the wrong plug for it.  Ours is for a 30 amp and his is for a 20 amp.  Finally found a plug from Alan Sabin and went out at dark to get it from him in Camas Valley. (Bruce said it was like doing a drug deal.)  Finally had lights on at night and water to flush toilets.  Got some spotty cell service.  Newspaper delivery today.  (Thanks go out to Dave H. and Dave C. for lending us their generators, when their power was restored.)

–Saturday, March 2—Still no power.  Spotty cell, no internet. Toaster made toast this morning.  Space heater doesn’t work on generator.   Not much to do today.  Bruce cleared a path to FVR and dug a path from FVR to the mailbox.  Got mail and paper today.  Governor declared our area a State of Emergency on Thursday.  We see no improvement.  Played Canasta. (This is how bored we were–because Bruce never plays any games.)

So the up-side to all of this is that we have made a list of everything we had that was helpful and the things we wish we had or what we would have done differently.  We were mostly well-prepared.  You do what you can and pray for the rest.  Also, we are so thankful to the many people in Douglas County who went above and beyond in helping us and many others out, with no expectation of reward, but just because they could and because they are wonderful, kind-hearted people who exemplify the best of this country.

 

The usual amount of snow we get in the wintertime.  This was a few days before Snowmageddon.

  1. Frittata; 2-3. First day of snowfall; 4. Entry to our farm; 5. Main road to town- George’s house way in the distance; 6. tree down on our road.

1-4. More snow has fallen. 5. Truck stuck in the snow.

  1. Bruce getting pond water for the toilets, in knee-deep snow; 2-3. Our attempt to drive the truck out; 4. The ATV was great while it lasted; 5 It took us awhile to figure out how to get more light.  If you shine a flashlight onto a white wall you get quite a lot of light.  This is our soy emergency candle, in a canning jar.

1-4. So much snow-covering 2 foot bushes; 5.  Our trusty wood stove blasting away for days. 6. Some hope for tomorrow?  Yes!

 

 

 


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Gravens Gardens 2018 Garden Summary

 

Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, garlic, shallots, summer squash, and winter squash all did well this year.  The tomatoes yielded enough to provide all the spaghetti sauce and canned tomatoes we need and enough for our friend who harvested the early crop as we were out of town when the harvest started.  The paste tomatoes suffered from Blossom End Rot which caused 20% to 30% of the yield loss.  The plants themselves were the best I have grown since moving to Oregon.  This was the first year I laid down a heavy layer of horse manure on the coming year’s tomato and pepper rows in the fall and dug it in in the spring just before planting.  I did not have the massive weed problem I was worried might happen with this strategy.  More about that later.  I seeded the tomatoes on March 15 and planted early in May.  The tomato plants were leggier that I would have liked but they grew very well, just hard to plant.

Peppers were great this year, great plants, heavy yields, and little or no disease or insect damage.  We froze 15-1 gal. bags, and several of our friends harvested all the peppers they wanted.  All in all, a great pepper year. I seeded the peppers on March 11 and planted early in May, the peppers were perfect sized for planting and took off.

The melons were a disappointment this year.  I seeded melons early in April. They germinated well and were up potted.  After I planted them out in the garden they failed to thrive. I direct seeded to get them to go, they failed to germinate, I reseeded in the greenhouse and planted the starts in the garden and they took off.  With all these delays, the plants were planted late in the season and I did not get many melons.

Finally, the garlic and shallots produced nicely.  I sold about 50 lbs. of garlic and 10 lbs. of shallots to a local gourmet pizza place and they want to buy 150 lbs. of garlic next year!  This would almost pay for the gardening hobby.

Berry Patch

The blackberry row produced very well this year.  This was the second production year for the blackberries. The first year production was minimal; this year the product was much better as the plants are getting stronger.

The raspberry row produced well for the second year.

The blueberries produced well, even though they seemed to take a long time to get ripe.  The plants are a few years old and starting to produce.

The strawberries not produce as well as I would have liked.  They are being grown in a 6-inch pipe planter with a drip line.  I wonder if I am over watering them as the plants are not all that big.  Growing strawberries in a pipe planter makes for easy maintenance and harvest.  I am thinking about adding a second row to get the yield we would like.

 

Orchard

The cherries were good this year. We erected a bird net enclosure over the two older trees and baited the rodents, which improved the yield.  Both sweet and sour cherries produced very well.

The apples were a disappointment. We seem to be in an alternating year for apple production, with a heavy year following a light year.  This was the light year and the yield was close to zero.  The Gravenstein had a normal yield, while the Melrose, Golden Delicious, Winesap, and Granny Smith produced very poorly.  We also had some very cool late spring temperatures that I am certain reduced the yields.  The 12 trees I planted two years ago are growing well, but not mature enough to product fruit.  This year I will be planting 11 trees that I plan to espalier.  They are grafted on M7 dwarf stock.  I plan to create a 4-level espalier which should product well.

lower espalier line

upper espalier lime

 

Pear yields we down as well. Maybe due to the cold spring temperatures.  Scab problems persisted even with aggressive windfall fruit clean up and dormant spray regiment.

Plum yields were low and mostly lost to critters (most likely racoons).

Finally, the peach tree was mature enough to have a small yield which became ripe while we were on vacation. Our friend enjoyed that fruit.

Vegetable Garden soil improvement effort:

When we moved here I started a massive double digging effort, working about 70 cubic yards of compost into the 7000 sq. ft. garden to a depth of about 2 ft.  A few years ago I secured access to a good supply of fresh horse manure and started working that into the garden.  There are two main concerns with using manure, application to harvest timing, and weeds.  I apply the manure in the fall’ mainly to five rows in the upper garden and two rows in the lower garden to a depth of about 18 inches, finishing late in October. If it dries out enough to till during the winter, I will till the manure rows mid-winter.   When the ground dries out enough in the spring I till the manure in well before planting.  I plant tomatoes and peppers into three of the upper garden manure rows and in late September the following year garlic and shallots into the remaining two rows.  With my rotation schedule, the upper garden gets the manure treatment every other year.  I plant winter squash into the lower garden manure rows.  With the lower garden rotation, those rows get the manure treatment every fourth year.  Weed seeds in the manure sprout in the winter providing a robust cover crop of nasty weeds, which get tilled in.  I would expect more seeds to sprout during the season, but actually, it is quite minimal.  I think is due to my use of t-tape irrigation which is a subsurface drip irrigation system which results in a very dry soil surface.

Fall Vegetable Garden clean up:

Below you see most of the upper garden with two 60-ft rows of garlic and shallots. These are planted on either side of 4 t-tape irrigation lines placed on 16-inch spacing. The cloves are planted on either side of the t-tape on 6-inch centers.  This gives me 16 60-ft rows of garlic and shallots on 6-inch centers yielding about 2000 plants if everything comes up.  My goal is 200 lbs.  The row between the garlic rows are for peas and onions.  The bright yellow is asparagus. In that row there are some kale and fennel; the far row are herbs.  Between the garlic and the asparagus you see the manure mounded on three rows.  I also put all of the garden waste except the tomato and pepper plants on these rows.

Upper Garden

Below you see most of the lower garden. The dark rows at the far end are the two manure rows, which I was able to get tilled in.

Lower Garden

Tomato and pepper clean up will be completed after the fruit rots, falls off, dries up.  I will cover two of these rows with manure and all of the tomato and pepper waste.  This will be tilled in in the spring. The two rows on the left will be for cucumbers and green beans next year and the two rows on the right will be planted in garlic and shallots late September next year.

 

Compost storage:

In the past, I would order 15 cubic yards of compost from DC Co-op, which would be delivered in a big pile.  With the manure source, my need for compost is reduced so I decided to build a 3 cubic yard enclosure and haul the compost in my truck dumping it directly into the enclosure.  A friend of mine suggested that I put some of the manure in the enclosure and create my own compost.  What you see below is the enclosure made of concrete blocks and reclaimed boards.  There are two yards of compost in there covered with a third yard of manure.  The manure was dry so I have the top open.  Once we get a fair amount of rain I will cover the enclosure and let it cook until spring.  With luck this will work and I will have a nice pile of compost.

Compost Storage

 

As the 2018 garden comes to a close, and I am trying to get my notes completed (wish I was better at keeping notes during the season), inventory my seeds (dumping stale seeds), making the list of seeds I need to order, and adjusting my seeding and planting time tables, I think about what went well, what went poorly, and what was just too much work and how to avoid doing that or at least make the work easier.  Most importantly, I remind myself that the garden is a fun way to fill my summer days.

 


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Twenty-seventeen

Last year I decided to try something new, because I was depressed about the rampant discord in our country and the massive amount of rancor (a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will) coming from so many people in this country, who I really thought knew better.  My decision was to try and be mindful of the good in life and make a record of it on little 3X3 pieces of notepaper.  Every time something nice, good, wonderful, interesting, funny or weird happened I would write it down, fold it up and toss it in a jar.  Hopefully, at the end of the year I would have a jar full of happy memories to prove to myself that something good did happen during the year.

The following is a mix of the best of my written and photographic recordings of the past year.

January 1, 2017–Happy New Year’s!  It snowed today!

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January 4–I went on a photowalk around the farm in the freshly fallen snow.  Such a different, serene view!

January 5–Saw two coyotes in the Morgan’s cow pasture this morning.  We often hear the coyotes howling at night, but never see more than one or two in the daytime.

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January 24–Went out for pizza and beer with Janice Barthlomew and her mom at Abbey Pizza.  Good times!  (Abbey Pizza benefit for the Sigl family’s loss of wife and mom.)

January 24–Saw the elk two times today.  It’s a big herd with young.  The herd was much more visible this year with more young than usual.

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January 25–I brought Matrimonial bars to the SIG event (Spring Into Gardening) and a man sought me out to ask  for the recipe…for something I baked!

January 26–Sun is shining!  Temperature got up to 85 degrees upstairs.

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January 27–There were some interesting wave-shaped clouds over the mountains just before sunset.  These, I found out later, are called  Kevin-Helmholtz wave clouds.

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January 30–Started an on-line photoshop course called Photoshop Artistry, which makes art from a collage of photos.

January 31–Today I FIXED my computer, after breaking it last week.  Installed the correct Wacom TAB DRIVER so the mouse works again and figured out that MS Edge will let my Wacom Pen work with Adobe Flash!  😀

 

February 23–First wine and food pairing class with Diane of Delish with Diane.  Lots of fun, wine and good Caesar Salad!  This was a six-week course and every week we had something delicious to eat, great wine, and lots of laughs.

March 1–Laura got a big raise and a new title!  😀

March 2–Saw a Bald Eagle early this morning–he landed on top of a tree in the cow pasture.

March 12–Lovely warm day spent weeding and trimming.  Saw the elk herd in the pasture.

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March 25–Joined an interesting group–The Cloud Appreciation Society.

The Cloud Appreciation Society was founded by Gavin Pretor-Pinney from the United Kingdom  in January 2005. The society aims to foster understanding and appreciation of clouds, and has over 42,000 members worldwide from 115 different countries, as of January 2017.  Yahoo named the society’s website as “the most weird and wonderful find on the internet for 2005”. The group and its founder were the focus of a BBC documentary Cloudspotting, based on Pretor-Pinney’s book The Cloudspotter’s Guide.  (Wikipedia)

Upon joining, I received a certificate (member 43,001), a nifty enamel pin and a Cloud Selector Identification Wheel, plus every day they send me a photo of an interesting cloud formation with an explanation of what it is.  I don’t remember why I joined, but I have been enjoying it immensely.  You too can join at https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/

IMG_2596   IMG_2597

April–NO MFP Training!  😀  (Sorry Sara R.)

April 15–April, the giraffe, had her baby!  Too cool.  Live video was posted by the zoo and many, many people invested many, many hours waiting for that baby’s arrival.

April 16–Alternate Universe–There is a Sabbath setting on the refrigerator.  The panel stops working=NO WATER!  Happy Easter!

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April 19–A pheasant came to visit us–very friendly.  We bought it some food and haven’t seen it since.

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May 1– Last day of Delish with Diane.  A lady in the class, who homeschools, asked me to teach art to the kids in her homeschool group.  Nice to be asked, but I turned her down.

May 7–Going to Ireland!

 

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May 25–Home from Ireland!  We had the best time–two and a half weeks of a perfect vacation.  We drove from Dublin clockwise around the entire island and ended in Dublin.  The people of Ireland are very friendly and the scenery is gorgeous.

We found Smithwick’s ale to be the best in Ireland and at a Slow Food Festival near the Cliffs of Moher I won a bottle of Irish Peat Wine as a door prize.  Hmmm…it didn’t taste like peat though.

June 27–Started pottery class–great fun!  Started on a slab cup and attempted a pinch pot.

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July 1–Bruce was the cover boy (with article inside) for our local electric company’s magazine, Ruralite. 

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July 10–Finally finished a pastel painting.  The subject is a photo that a friend posted on Facebook.  Next painting up is a photo I took in Ireland of a mama pig and piglets in a barn.

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July 17–I found my Photoshop Brushes that I thought were lost forever!  Oh, Happy Day!  Also, 7-17-17, all the sevens, and my Grandmother’s birthday.

July 26–Threw my first pot on the pottery wheel.  Short cylinder, difficult to do, but fun!

IMG_2067

July 27–Bruce installed new sun covers for the kitchen and greenhouse/conservatory.  They are very nice and keep the kitchen much cooler!

August 15–We planted a peach tree in our orchard and got a small but very delicious crop this year.  These are Elberta peaches.

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August 21–Today I’m sure that Laura bought us a fine bottle of Port in Porto, Portugal!  Yum!  😀  (update Christmas 2017–I was right!)

August 21–Total Solar Eclipse Day!  We had about 97% totality.  It got as dark as it does at dusk.

August 22–The glaze on my coil pot came out just the way I wanted it.  Yahoo!

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August 24–We have a beautiful new marble countertop in our bathroom!  The second photo is the previous countertop.  We also put in new fixtures and a spiffy shower door.

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August 28–Laura made it home safely from trip to Portugal/Spain and had a great vacation!

September 7–Smoke has cleared and skies are blue–partially.  Air smells sweet.  😀     The fires were fierce in Oregon this summer and we mostly avoided the smoke until the end of summer when the winds shifted and we were enveloped in a cloud of smoke for weeks.  It made for some interesting photography, though.

_MG_9039Morning sun

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_MG_8859Afternoon/evening sun

November 15– Pottery class is winding down for the holidays.  This is my favorite piece since we began.

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December 14–I finally figured out how to use the Scan Function on the printer to make it put the image on the computer! 😀

In the end, this project was a good decision on my part–I didn’t always have something good to write, but when I did, I mostly remembered to write it down and it was fun reading all the notes at the end of the year.  Some things I remembered and some were a good jog to the memory and some things were silly, but still good.  Best of all, it reminded me that in spite of it all seeming like life is awful, there are still many, many good things that happen too.  I have no trouble remembering the bad that happens and dwell on it too much, but now I have a way of keeping happy alive.

I wish you all a year of many happy memories!


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It’s a Zoo Out There!

When you move to the countryside, I suppose you should expect to see some wildlife.  We live fairly close to the town, so we weren’t expecting life to get too wild.  Reading the newspaper, though, we found that there are quite a lot of cougar in the area, but surely they would be up in the hills.  Our neighbors came over to visit one day and told us there was a bear in the area.  We’ve looked for signs but haven’t seen anything.  They also later told us they saw a cougar entering our farm.  Well, what to do?  We bought a night vision camera and set it up between us and the cow pasture because there was evidence that something was traveling under the fence.  We got shots of deer and raccoons, nothing too worrying.  Then we set the camera up along the vegetable garden fence to find out what has been going under that fence into the garden.  One year all our plums were eaten off of one tree and this year there are huge piles of thrown-up fruit–inside and outside of the garden.  What could be eating all that fruit?

This is what we saw on the camera:

bear233  bear248a  bear245    bear248e  bear248f  bear509

This is proof that there is a bear and that he somehow got under the fence and into the garden–at least twice that night.  Here’s the space he squeezed into:

holeunderfence2  holeunderfence

We are mystified; the hole is not that big.

We have since found two other places, one at the garden fence and another abutting our property that he uses as entry points.  Bruce piled a load of logs at the one on the far end of the farm, but he pushed them aside.  So, I guess he is here to stay.  We’ll have to be more careful about cleaning up the old fruits and vegetables during the growing season.

We haven’t seen the cougar yet, but here are some of the other more friendly critters who have found their way onto our farm:

tree-frog  snake  may-gophersnake2

Tree frog; Gopher snake

lizard  swallowtail4  painted-lady

Lizard; Swallowtail; Painted Lady

swallow  red-shafted-flicker2  redbreasted-sapsucker

Tree Swallow; Red-shafted Flicker (he eats our house); Red-breasted Sapsucker

quail1  oregon-junco  hummingbird

Quail; Oregon Junco; Hummingbird

barnswallow2  bald-eagle3  canada-geese

Barn Swallow (they love the barn); Bald Eagle; Geese

americangoldfinch2  americangoldfinch  bluebirds

American Goldfinch; huge flock of American Goldfinches that flew in one day; Bluebirds

redshouldered-hawk  skunk2  jan-squirrel

Red-shouldered Hawk; Skunk; Squirrel

tomturkey  mamaturkey  hare

Turkey- Tom, Hen and Chicks; Hare

justinbeaver2  bucks  deardeer

Beaver-we named him Justin; White Tail deer-Bucks and Doe

coyote2  coyote

Coyote-okay, he’s not so friendly, but we love hearing them at howl at night

christmascow  christmascow2

Neighbor’s bull/steer that wandered onto our farm on Christmas Day.  He enjoyed the grass and water.  Occasionally they come through the fence to visit us.  

novemberelk  mayelk3  mayelk2

mayelk  elk3  elk1

elk828c

Elk–we had at least eight sightings this year.  The last photo, from the night vision camera, caught an elk calf.  Now that’s rare sight for us!

It’s a real treat for us to have so much wildlife on our farm.  While we would like to encourage some to not return, we welcome them all and hope their sojourn is a beneficial relationship for us both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Knife

For the three years that we have lived here, we have had a bit of an eyesore at the front door, in an otherwise gorgeous setting.

housebeforegreenhouse jenks1a

see seating area at lower right

For some reason unknown to us, the cistern (domestic water tank for the well) is located about 20 feet from the front door.  Built over the cistern is a large, wooden, orange platform with wooden, orange seats and a table/footrest of sorts.

It wasn’t comfortable to sit there, and we never did.  Since we didn’t like this structure we began to think up ideas of what could replace it.

Last spring we went to the Eugene Home and Garden Show, and viola!  There it was!  The most gorgeous greenhouse we’ve ever seen.  I told Bruce that that was the very thing that could replace the orange structure and it would be beautiful, even though it was right at the front door.

We put down an order and Bruce set to tearing down the orange wood.  There was so much wood, but we threw it all in the truck and took it away, forever, to the dump.  Never to be seen again!

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Bruce hired a crew to come out and build a beautiful new platform, with easy access to the cistern, and stairs.

And we waited, somewhat patiently, for the greenhouse.

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It arrived on a beautiful, hot summer day.  The company builds and assembles the house in their facility, then partially dismantles it and reassembles it on site.  It only took them a day to set it up.  We had a bit of a problem with a couple of the screens, but other than that it is beautiful.  Since that day we have added a daybed and large rug and hope to soon have some electricity for lighting and heating.

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This little conservatory is a beautiful alternative to the previous structure, and a much more fitting addition to our gorgeous surroundings.

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img_1155 inside-front inside-back

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The company that made the greenhouse is Retro Custom Greenhouses, http://www.retrogreenhouses.com/

 


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Gravens Gardens 2016 Summer Garden

 

This has been a less than uplifting garden season for Gravens Gardens.  Between the apple trees going on strike, over-watering everything, the ground squirrels eating not only the initial round of spring plantings but the second round, the voles digging up and eating the pea and bean seeds, and the jackrabbits eating the broccoli’ it has been a depressing’ losing battle in the garden. Oh, and with one tree after another dying from the 2014 – 2015 drought, I kept telling myself if was too easy I would not have to learn anything and this life would become boring.  No, that did not help at all it was just depressing.

 

Berry Patch.

We completed the berry patch at the beginning of the year.   It is a 2500 sq. ft. space completely bird netted.  I planted 40 ft. rows of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.   There is enough room to add a second row of each if we decide we need more of any of these.  Most of the plants were just planted this year so we did not get a great harvest, but I am very hopeful for a great 2017 harvest.  The strawberries are a year old and did great and I am thinking a second row might make sense.  We will see how the 2017 harvest goes before we decide.  The seams in the bird netting are held together with ½ PVC pipes and clips.  I am planning to sow the seams and get rid of the pipes, making the look of the patch cleaner and hopefully resulting in a tighter seal against the birds that love those berries.  I had the same over-irrigation problem as with the rest of the garden which may have made some of the blueberries tasteless.  I have to sort out some kind of trellising system for the blackberries and raspberries.

 

Orchard.

The apple trees did go on strike this year.  Most of them just did not put on much, if any, bloom.  I am blaming not thinning them combined with two years of drought.  It was just too much stress and they are taking a break.  I changed the irrigation scheme over to a drip system that delivers 25 gallons per hour with little evaporation.   I set up the system to supply an average of 50 gallon per day per tree.  The trees look a lot better, but with no fruit to support that is expected.  I planted 7 more apple trees that I grafted a year ago and will plant one more this winter.  This brings the orchard to 15 apple trees.  One of the European plum tree failed this year; luckily I had planted two more European plum trees so with this loss I still have three European plum trees.  The one producing European plum had a nice crop of plums, which we canned, froze and dried.   The Asian plums produced well this year as well.  They were eaten, jellied, and canned.  Our sour cherry tree, although small, produced well and with the bird netting we had a nice harvest.  We supplemented the cherry harvest with cherries from the Brosi and Guido orchards. Finally, the pear trees did great.  We had an overabundance of all of the pears.  I would like to get a couple more pear trees.

 

Vegetable garden.

The good news is the tomato and peppers did great!  I planted 160 tomato plants from 41 varieties this year.  This included 8 varieties of Master Gardener trial paste tomatoes. I am looking for a replacement of the Super San Marzano variety, which has become very hard to locate.  Unlike last year, there was very little Blossom End Rot (BER) this year.  I hesitate to assign cause, but I noted that I double dug the rows the fall before and loaded up on compost and lime.  I also covered the paste tomato row with row cover, which the wind tore up before the summer was over.  I have a new design for holding the row cover up that I will try next year.  We made 15 quarts of tomato sauce, 20 pints of canned tomatoes, 10 cups of tomato powder, and froze 40 lbs. of whole tomatoes.  The peppers did well this year, with 144 plants of 44 varieties; we had lots of peppers.  The row cover did a great job of eliminating sun scald.  We froze 8 gallon bags and dried and ground Aleppo, Ancho, and Espelette peppers.  The asparagus continued to produce well.

The rest of the garden as I mentioned earlier was a struggle.  I got a good crop of winter squash, mostly from volunteers, the ones I planted three times were either eaten by the ground squirrels or planted too late to produce.  This was the same for the melons.  Sweet corn did not grow all that well and was not well pollinated, but what we picked and cooked was delicious.  I did manage to get green beans, zucchini, and cucumbers to go on the third planting.  The zucchini did very well and demonstrating how well succession planting of zucchini can work.  The cucumbers and green beans did OK but getting such a late start has really limited the harvest.  Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant were a total loss.  I am hoping for better luck next year.

In preparation for next year, I am double digging the three rows where the tomato and peppers will be planted. In the pepper row I filled the trench with raw horse manure, which will age all winter and be covered in the raised bed when things dry out in the spring.  If I double dig three of the rows in the old part of the garden each year I will maintain three year cycle.  In the new garden area, I am filling in the paths with horse manure, which will age through the winter as well.  I will be spreading the ash from my wood burning stove as well as lime on the manure to counteract the acidity of the manure.  In the spring I will till that all in and incorporate it into rows.  This is all in an effort to get more organic material into the clay soil.  In this new section of the garden I am on a 4 year cycle of double digging.  In addition, I leave two rows fallow each summer so I can plant winter broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in September, without having to pull something out prematurely, to make room.

 

Tomato variety list:

Black Krim, Brandywine from Croatia, Dr. Neal, Florida Pink, Gregori’s Altai, Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Kentucky Beefsteak, Mary Robinson’s German (bicolor), Pruden’s Purple, Stupice, True Black Brandywine, Virginia Sweet, Yellow Brandywine

Black Cherry, Sun gold, Sweet 100, Isis Candy

Amish Paste, Anna Russian, Cuore Di Bue, Ernie’s Plump, Federle, Fireworks, Goldman’s Italian American Paste, Grandma Mary’s Paste, Howard German, Hungarian Heart, Hungurian Italian, Italian Red Pear, Jeff’s Plum, Jersey Devil, Opalka, Polish Linuisa, Pozzano, San Marzano, San Marzano Gigante 3, San Marzano La padino, Sausage, Speckled Roman, Super Italian Paste

Tomato varieties to be dropped in 2017: Fireworks, Grandma Mary’s Paste, and San Marzano.

Tomato varieties to be added in 2017: Umpqua Paste.  (Locally developed large paste)

 

Pepper variety list:

Bhut Jolokia SCC, Big Bomb, Habanero Saint Jacobs, Hinklehatz Yellow, Jalapeño, Manzano Orange, Manzano Red, Piquin, Santa Fe Grande, Serrano, Szentesi, Thai Hot Black, Trinidad Scorpion

Aleppo, Ancho 101, Baby Pepper Chili, Chilhuacle Negro, Guajillo, Mariachi, Padron, Paradicsom Alaku, Pasilla Bajio, Urfa Biber,

Ancient Sweets, Belecski, California Wonder Orange, California Wonder Red, Chervena Chushka, Coral, Corno di Toro Giallo, Corno di Toro Rosso, Cuollarici, Early Sunsation, Espelette, Garden Sunshine, Giallo di Cuneo, Karma, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Orange Bell, Petit Marseillais, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, Romanian Gogosari, Wisconsin Lakes


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Party Time!

We have a place in the vegetable garden that has been evolving since before we moved here, almost two and a half years ago.  It started many years ago when I decided I would like to grow blueberries in the back yard.  Bruce said, well, they don’t grow here.  I said, well, we could give it a try.  So we did give it a try and we were very successful!  We had 4 high bush plants to start with and then Bruce started some trials with the Master Gardener group.  He wanted to find out if people living in spaces with very little light, as in an apartment, could grow the berries in a planter.  He planted 70 bushes at the MG garden and we had several bushes placed around the house, in the ground and in planters.  We always had blueberries, either fresh or frozen.  When we moved here to Oregon, Bruce trucked up all the blueberries plants that  were in the planters and placed them out near the vegetables.

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Growing blueberries in California is a bit different than growing them in Oregon.  Firstly, I suppose it’s because we had blue jays in California and none here, but in California the birds never ate the blueberries.  Here, they eat them like candy.  I read somewhere that blue jays don’t like blueberries, or apparently, other birds.  We ended up having to cover the berries in bird netting which was mostly successful.  Secondly, in California, when the berries get ripe you need to get out and pick them or in a few days they will be soft and not good for eating.  Here, they last quite a long time on the bush, so if you get busy (or sick) they will wait for you.  At least, they did the first year.  We’ll see about that as we go along.  The first year here, I was sick and didn’t pick them for a month and figured the crop was a total waste.  But no, they were there waiting for me, just as delicious as always.

Our first year here we went on the hunt for strawberries and found a few places with so-so fields.  The people are very honest here in Oregon.  The field can be miles away from the vendor, but there will be a sign at the field telling you to pick as much as you want and then drive to the farm stand and pay for them.  I can tell you that they would never get paid in California.  At any rate, we found a very nice place, The Berry Patch, which puts their strawberry plants in large PVC pipes about 4 feet off the ground.  All you have to do is stand there and pick the strawberries–no more stooping in the dirt!  We thought that this was genius and set about implementing this in our garden.  Bruce figured out how to do it and put it in last year.  The crop was small last year, but this year we are harvesting a large crop.

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Well, we would if we could keep those birds away.  They love strawberries too!  So, the next plan was to put netting around the strawberries, which was more of an undertaking than the blueberries, because of the size.  And why put up netting for just one kind of berry?  Bruce decided to map out an area to the south of the vegetable patch where the strawberries are and set up the blueberry planters in addition to planting a row of blueberries, a row of raspberries, and a row of blackberries.

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Blackberries

As you can imagine, this is not a small berry patch.  The problem was how to cover it all with netting.  Of course, Bruce had a plan, but there were numerous problems, which were all overcome for the most part.  He hammered metal poles into the ground in a big square shape around the berries and then attached small PVC pipes to the corners and in a square around the top, as a type of scaffolding.  He, with help from his niece’s husband, put the netting over the top and sides of the pipes.  The netting is not very wide so it needed to be attached at various points to keep from gaping open and letting the birds in.  It looked great when they finished!

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Berry patch enclosed with netting

The next week, when the strawberries were finally ripening, we found birds inside the netting every day.  Bruce bought a fishing net to scoop them out–no photos of that, but it was like a comedy routine.  He bought more clips and finally got all of the gaps closed.  We don’t get birds in the berries any more, a fact they insist on telling us about every morning!

The next problem with the berry patch was the weeds!  We have killer weeds here in Oregon, and I am convinced that we live on a giant mound of weeds.  The weeds will grow higher than the plants and if you don’t go after them, you will never see the flowers blooming.  I went out one day this week when it was cool and a bit rainy and once and for all (maybe) tackled those weeds.  It took me seven hours with help from Bruce to get rid of all the weeds just around the berry rows.  Oh boy, it looks so nice now, and it’s fun to go out and pick the berries without having to look at weeds!

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1. Before weeding    2.  Same place, after weeding  

3.  The tools of destruction–notice the very important “bionic” gloves”.  

I’ve had these gloves about two weeks

I have considered doing a separate post about the weeds here.  There are so many varieties and they all seem to have a different method of survival and propagation.  We have one in the flower garden that holds onto its seeds until you touch it and then seeds fly ALL over the place.  The weeds are interesting from a botany point of view, but I would rather not have to deal with them on such a personal basis.  The best thing that I can say about them is that they provide me with a great form of exercise!

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1. Doesn’t this plant look lovely?  2 & 3. This is what it does–starts in one place, travels around and wraps itself around everything!

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1. I colored this weed pink to show that it is as tall as the raspberry bushes.

2. This weed is bigger than my foot

3. Look at that taproot!

4. This weed clumps together with its friends, making it very difficult to pull out

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Some critters who came out to keep me company–a very tiny, about 1-inch long, frog, and I’m guessing a centipede

As you can see from the photos we will have massive amounts of berries in the coming years.  What to do with them all?  First, you just eat them raw…until you are tired of them.  Then you can lay them out on cookie sheets, freeze them, and then bag them up in ziplock bags.  These will last throughout the year to be used as a topping for yogurt and cereal or baked into muffins or other desserts.  Third, you can make them into jam.  So far, we have made strawberry jam with balsamic vinegar and black pepper, and strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary.

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Strawberry jam with Marsala and rosemary

 We used the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook as a guide and the jam tastes just like the very best fresh strawberries-the best we’ve ever had.  I’m not a fan of fresh raspberries, but I’m looking forward to making raspberry jam and if we get a large enough crop I’ll freeze some for desserts.  We have a friend who freezes her raspberries and makes Raspberry Chocolate Jam all year to sell at the local farmer’s market.

There is nothing better than having a strawberry patch in your own back yard for chasing away the winter doldrums and heralding the beginning of spring.  Strawberries seem to be nature’s way of saying, Let the party begin!

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 Let’s Party!


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Life on the Farm…

March 1, 2016

If you are squeamish, don’t read this post!

You never know, around here, what you will see when you look out the window.  We knew when we moved from a large city to a small town out in the countryside that life would be different.  Most of what happens around here is what we expected, but today was not.  I was looking out the kitchen window, while doing the dishes, and as usual the cows were out in the pasture.

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But, wait, one cow was not looking so good.  In fact, she was laid out on her side looking quite dead.

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I got out my binoculars and discovered that she was, in fact, not dead, but giving birth.  Oh, wow!  I ran around and grabbed my camera, coat and binoculars, ran outside to get Bruce and we hurried over to the fence to watch and take photos.  Bruce decided to hop the fence and take a closer look, but I’m pretty leery of cows and stayed on our side.

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He came back and said that I should go get the phone and call the owner, because things didn’t look so good for the cow.  Bruce finally got a hold of the owner’s wife, who said she would try and get word to the son.  In the meantime, she says, could you pull the calf out?  Um…well, sure.  Good thing Bruce had gloves on.  I walked up and over the hill to get the son while Bruce tried his best to pull out that calf, without much success.

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I got almost to the barn, with unhappy cows and bulls bellowing all around me and decided walking between two bulls was not a good idea.  I went back to Bruce and told him to get the son.

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Those cows were amazing.  They kept coming by to check up on the mother and the calf and they really seemed to be concerned about the whole affair.  They just didn’t have any way to help her.

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After a long while, the son and father drove up in their truck.  The son said the calf was dead and he tried to pull it out without success.  He then got out a contraption to pull it out, (one end is a ratchet, the other end braces against the mother and the calf’s legs are tied to it),

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but between him and Bruce they weren’t able to make it work…they needed three people, and the father wasn’t going to do it, due to his age.  So, I volunteered to work the ratchet part while Bruce and the son held the other end up against the mother, and in just a short while I got that calf pulled out.  I have to say, it was pretty darn cool!  I just really wish that calf had been alive.

After the son and father left and the mother got up and walked away, a large group of cows came over and stood in a circle around the calf.  They seem like big, dumb animals, but I think they do care about each other.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, but we feel good about helping out a cow in distress and taking part in something so miraculous.

While waiting for the son to show up, I did get some nice photos of our house, from a place I’m fairly certain I’ll never be at again–the neighbor’s pasture!

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Summer of 2015 Garden

The major 2015 projects were establishing a program of crop rotation and double digging the vegetable garden, establishing a berry garden, and adding to the fruit orchard and table grape vineyard.

With the help of a new tiller,

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I was able to start the effort of double digging the vegetable garden and establishing the berry garden.  I have decided to double dig the two tomato rows, the pepper row, and the two potato rows each year.  With my rotation schedule, this effort will result in the total garden getting double dug every 3 to 4 years.

My process for the tomato and pepper rows is to use the tiller to break down the old row, then dig out the loosened soil and run the tiller through the trough and repeat, until I have removed the soil down at least 12 inches below grade.  I then use the digging fork to break up the soil a few inches lower.  I run the tiller through the trough again, lay down 6 inches of compost, and run the tiller again. Finally, I put 3 inches of compost on the soil that was dug out of the trough, run the tiller to mix the compost with the soil, and start filling in the trough to create the raised row.  I continue this until I have a tall row and the walkway on either side is at least 6 inches below grade.  This makes for a significantly high row of soil that over the winter settles a bit and regains some of its previous soil structure.

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I plant a cover crop of cole plants and fava beans to help with the process and to provide a little bio-fumigation to kill off some pathogens.  For the potato rows, I follow a similar process but do not fill in the trough until the potatoes start to grow.  The good news is that this effort eliminates the need for a gym membership.

We established a berry garden this summer.  This garden currently consist of a 40 foot long row each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  The rows are on 14 foot centers.  This leaves room to add a second row of each type if we decide we want more fruit.   The strawberries are being grown in a 6-inch PVC pipe with 4-inch holes drilled at 6-inch spacing.  The pipe is balanced on a t-post at a comfortable picking height. This keeps the fruit clean and easy to pick.  I plan to enclose the entire 70’ x 45’ plot in bird netting once I come up with a good plan.  I have a fence company quoting a galvanized pipe enclosure and am working on a t-pipe and rope idea as a backup.

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We planted 10 new table grape vines and I am starting a few more.  This year we were able to freeze a good bit of the fresh grapes and harvest 10 gallons of the juice.  When these new vines come into production we will be awash in grapes.

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We added two Asian plum, a peach, a filbert, and 3 cherry trees to the orchard.  We currently have 7 apple trees, 5 of which produce all the apples for our apple cider pressing event.  This year we collected about 35 bushels of apples which we pressed into 57 gallons of apple cider.  I have grafted 12 new apple trees that I plan to plant this winter.  When these get into production we should produce a good quantity of apples and cider.

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The remaining infrastructure projects on the short list include completing the greenhouse, building a small cold frame, finishing painting the barn, and building a deck on the front and potentially back of the barn.  In the orchard we are planning to add two more European prune, three more pear, one more peach, one more cherry and three to four pecan trees. With these projects completed, all of the major infrastructure projects and expansions will be complete.  I fear these expansions will have created more work in maintenance, harvest, and preservation than I will want to do, but that should put a cap on my expansion efforts.

Summer 2015a   Summer 2015

The vegetable garden was just okay this year.  I had a few problems with getting the rows ready in time and with my starts not growing as well as I would like, so most things got planted later that I would have liked.  The result of this was less fruit on the melons and winter squash, late ripening peppers, and the worst case of blossom end rot I have ever seen on my tomatoes.  I initially blamed the blossom end rot on the double digging, thinking I had mixed up to much acidic subsoil and had not applied enough lime, but a soil test has disproved that theory.  The soil test came back good on most counts with a bit too much phosphorus and too little magnesium.  I do not think either of these can be the root cause of the blossom end rot, so I am back to the normal causes of water and heat.  I will just have to be more attentive next year.  In the end, we got enough tomatoes to meet our needs, but not the overabundance we are used to.  Zucchinis, cucumbers, onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks all did great!  This is my first year to grow sweet potatoes, cardoons, and artichokes.  The artichokes should fruit next year, the cardoons are doing great, but we are not big fans of eating them.  I have not harvested and cured the sweet potatoes yet but have dug around enough to know there are a good number of tubers.

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cauliflower; cardoons; cucumbers

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Gravenstein apples; garden mix; garlic

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Paste tomatoes; dried beans; leeks

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potato plants; fennel

Changes for next year:

  • Get the garden and starts ready for early plantings and plant as early as the weather will allow.
  • Dig a bit of fertilizer and dolomite lime in to each tomato and pepper hole
  • Get the starts out of the germination box and into the small greenhouse as quickly as possible.
  • Plant more large size paste tomato varieties.  I am planning to run a bit of a “large paste tomato” trial.
  • Plant more Virginia Sweet and True Black Brandywine tomatoes.
  • Plant more Aleppo, Belecski, Corno di Toro, and Espelette peppers.
  • Plant Costata Romanesco zucchini.


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A Room With A View

I’ve always loved looking at the clouds.  I can remember as a child, lying in the grass, and trying to figure out what each cloud shape looked like–a dog, a castle, a funny kind of car…there were no limits to what you could imagine.   In college, I took a class in meteorology and learned that all those cloud shapes had specific names–cumulus, stratus, cirrus–and that made cloud watching even more interesting.  One of the more captivating cloud shapes is the lenticular cloud (Altocumulus lenticularis) which often looks like an alien spaceship.  Trying to find and figure out cloud shapes never gets old.

In this house that we have lived in for almost two years, we have a large two-story bank of windows in the family room that faces west.  We’ve never owned a house with west facing windows on the family room side because the setting sun can be very hot in the summer.  But, we fell in love with the farm and the house and it didn’t matter where the windows were.  After moving in, we found out that these windows are wonderful!  We get to see the wildlife walking, flying or hopping by, and we can look down the valley and up into the mountains and yes, it is hot and bright in the summer, but sometimes, we get to see the the most gorgeous sunsets.   They always seem to be different from day to day, due to the abundance of clouds, the mountains and oftentimes smoke in the air.  Sometimes the way the light shines through the clouds is just breathtaking.  So I’m still looking at those clouds and they are still very fascinating.  Here is a collection of some of the more stunning sunsets we have seen over the last year or so, and perhaps a sunrise or two.

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The view from our living room, February 2, 2015; May 31, 2015

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July 21, 2014

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July 31, 2014: 7:35 pm, 7:39 pm, 7:47 pm

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August 11, 2014; September 15, 2014

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October 19, 2014: 6:07 pm, 6:21 pm; November 5, 2014: 7:43 am

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January 23, 2015: 8:24 am

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January 23, 2015: 6:03 pm; 6:13 pm

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May 31, 2015: 7:24 pm, 7:26 pm, 7:32 pm

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June 2, 2015; June 27, 2015: 8:48 pm, 8:54 pm

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September 28, 2015; October 8, 2015: 6:46 am