Monday, June 29, 2009


Several years ago my birding colleague Bob B. sent me this funny YouTube video. I've been thinking about it in light of this week's news. It's hard to believe Michael Jackson did not invent the Moonwalk, but he certainly mesmerized us with it. Isn't nature wonderful?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Say Smut, You Say Truffle

You may be wondering what has become of the crop circle project. I got the corn planted, but never the other sisters: beans and squash (although we have them elsewhere). However, close to 50 tomatoes from incomplete composting (never reaching 140 degrees) came up as the unexpected sister. There you go--more accidental gardening. Next year I suggest we just spread our compost over everything and forget planting.

Farmer Rick just came in telling me some of our Oaxacan Green Dent Corn was exploding open with kernels like long fingers filled with black icky stuff. I had to go check it out.

Sure enough he was not exaggerating. Some of the cobs did indeed look alien with swollen gray kernels...

growing as big as my thumb and as long as fingers...

filled with something looking like chewed up tobacco. Totally gross!!!

We bravely unwrapped a couple of the closed cobs to discover relatively normal looking dent ears in milk stage, but not looking green at all like they should. Maybe dent corn doesn't get it's true color until later?

Anyway, we got ourselves some smut, Corn Smut to be exact! Ustilago maydis, to be exact-er.

It's a pathogenic plant fungus that during times of drought enters the plants ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with these large distorted tumors filled with fungal threads and blue-black spores.

Most American farmers destroy the infected plants (um, my thoughts exactly!) but in our neighboring Mexico, it is considered a delicacy! Yup, it's sold in cans called huitlacoche, a Nahuatl (Aztec descendant) word meaning raven's excrement. Mmm, appetizing! ...not! There's been a movement to rename it Mexican Truffle. See how a little marketing can spin something?

As a vegetarian I eat a delicious product called Quorn (suspiciously pronounced Corn) made out of I'm beginning to wonder, could there be a connection here?

I don't think I want to find out.

Sunday Stills: Things with Wings

This week's photography challenge was wings. I have been working on my own challenge of color manipulating backgrounds without altering the colors of the subject.

Here is the winged stem of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. It gets its common name from the fact that in the winter when it freezes the dead stems will split and curly shavings of ice will extrude out. They live in colonies in the understory of our creek and serve as butterfly cafes when blooming. You can see a photo of one in bloom with a butterfly at this older post.

I think Borage is one of the most intensely beautiful blue flowers in the herb garden. After we finished picking blackberries yesterday (see previous post) I caught these ladybugs enjoying them too. There is a folktale that if you float these flowers in the drink of a man you like he will ask you to marry him.

This is a Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, so perfect it must have just emerged from its chrysalis to sun itself. The bitterness of its host plant--Pipevine--makes it unpalatable to birds.

Check out more interpretations of wings at Sunday Stills.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Berry Good Day

Today we harvested about seven quarts of blackberries, and there's still more to come.

This has been our most abundant crop yet, and yet we entirely neglected them this year, forgetting to prune them at the end of season or tie them up to the trellises. It seems our best successes comes through our own inattentiveness. You might say we are accidental gardeners.

This hearkens to Masanobu Fukuoka's idea of not doing unnecessary work in the garden, especially when Nature will do it for you.

She certainly did a fine job with the blackberries!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Color Carnival: Graffiti

Martha, over at Color Carnival has suggested I join in on her photography meme. Be sure to check out the many colorful images others have posted.

Today we made our first summer trip into San Antonio for business and pleasure.

For some reason I find most graffiti sort of pleasurable to look at--perhaps because it is usually very organic and taking up otherwise dead space. With this record-breaking heat wave upon us, blinding light, and crunchy yellow grass, this mural was a welcome surprise for the eyes, tucked into and brightening a little forgotten area of downtown.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stand By Your Tree

Thanks to our son and his wife, Farmer Rick received a wonderfully thoughtful Father's Day gift of this sweet Pomegranate tree. This evening we potted it up into a clay pot and will attend to the tree's needs in the shade until fall, when we will plant it in the Earth.

Today's high was 106 (again!) with a heat index of 109 degrees so we don't want it to go into shock.

We are very glad to see it is drought tolerant!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Call for Bathroom Renovation Ideas

Welcome to our "good" bathroom. It's old and small but has enough charm with which to work. I'm thinking you (homesteaders, artists, photographers, shepherds, poultry enthusiasts, and general blog friends) might have some good ideas to share with me, once I introduce you to the project.

Let's talk positives first. The vintage tub is nice enough (see previous post) and would be difficult to replace so it stays. I like this antique mirror in there, but it may need to be repositioned.

I also like these artisan plate covers I got on a trip to Arizona. Maybe it's the botanist in me.

Last year I purchased enough of this saltillo-like tile to do the floors and the walls. But since peeling off the vinyl wallpaper, I discovered a fake tile board wainscoting and painted it white. Now I'm kind of liking the half white look and thinking a smaller white tile for the wall wainscoting, and this tile only on the floor.

In general, I like Southwest style, as well as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Mid Century Modern. My entire house is sort of artsy-eclectic. I wanted to replace the 1940's chrome fixtures with wrought iron, but I didn't want them to feel bulky or too primitive. So I just purchased these Tuscan Villa fixtures on sale. I like the curves.

Now, for some of the challenges. When this house was built it only had a bathtub, the shower feature was later added. I am not crazy about the surrounding shower curtains, it's sort of smothering. Even though I replaced the heavy ones with lightweight ones, I keep having to glue the fixture to the ceiling with liquid nails and it's about ready to fall again.

I would like to change all this out for bronze, if such a thing exists. Right now the shower curtains are white, for a simple spa-like look, but that's open for change. I like the tan walls, but I'm open for change in color, artwork, faux finishes, a mural, etc. I'm not too keen on wallpaper.

I'd prefer one of those single rods that curve out. But then, I'd have to tile the entire shower enclosure. Privacy isn't a huge issue here and I don't want glass block in the window. Since there is no ventilation in the room, the operable windows are used and I worry their hardware would rust. I suppose I could sew smaller window curtains out of shower curtain fabric to deflect water.

I know large mirrors are supposed to add visual space to a small room, but this takes up most of the wall...

as does the vanity. It feels cramped, like there is no breathing room. I would like something much narrower.

Worst of all, because of the curvature on the tub and having the vanity so close, a very icky black hole of a space is created that's nearly impossible to clean. If something is missing, it has probably fallen down in there. Also, I don't like having the t.p. dispenser on the door.

And finally there's the damaged door. The bottom was recently pecked away by chickens and the top scratched by dogs. I have rebuilt this door before using DAP to where it almost looked perfect, but I'm kind of tired of doing this and it's very time consuming. I wonder how other people make their doors pet-proof without losing style? Or should I just call Cesar? These same doors are throughout the house.

Would you keep the surround shower curtains and just tile the wainscoting?
Or would you get one shower rod and tile the entire shower enclosure?
If so, how would you protect the window hardware from moisture?
White or patterned shower curtains?
What kind of vanity/lavatory would you get?
What kind of mirror?
What would you do with the walls? A new color, faux finish, mural, artwork?
Other suggestions?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Day Has Finally Come

Yup, after three months we now have chicken-free bathrooms again! Whoohoo!

We moved the rest of the birds to the coop this weekend. Now I can begin to remodel this bathroom, before I tear the other one out entirely and start over. Stay tuned for more on that project!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Stills: Tri-Color

For this Sunday's photo challenge we were to use some composition and creativity and get some unusual colors. The most colorful room in my house is my library, as the rest is subdued in nature's palette. This photo, although cropped, has not been digitally manipulated--I achieved it simply by spinning the camera.

For more colorful photography visit Sunday Stills.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Stills: Water Towers or Grain Silos

We don't exactly have water towers here in my ghost town (or grain silos, either), a place that is ultimately all about cool, clear water--but I hope you'll enjoy this brief history of our water storage through the colorized photos I took today. It's 106 degrees today and I'm drinking lots of water!

The river water is so clear, you can see to the bottom of a 20 foot swimming hole.

In 1868 pioneers dug a ditch (otherwise known as an acequia) eight miles long, diverting water from the river to irrigate 800 acres of farm land. They originally named the town "The Ditch" which prevailed until a post office was opened about seven years later, when it was named after the river: Rio Frio.

The ditch ran for over 100 years. Now it is dry, but locals whose property it crosses must pay the state a water use right. Go figure.

Many of us living on the original plots have hand dug pioneer wells. This is one of my favorites--with a classic wishing well look--since it still has the wood to throw a bucket over. They are all about 40-50 feet deep, through solid limestone, sized just wide enough for a man to swing a pick axe.

Most of the houses built in the 1800's had spring houses. You could say these were private water towers, but also refrigerators. The water was stored on top, and a room was built below where food was kept. The soil is too rocky here for building a cellar, and the water is much cooler than the ground.

Old timers remember playing in them as children, because it was the coolest place around in the days before electricity and air conditioning came to the canyon.

Some folks still use windmills to pump their water. It's a beautiful way to harness the wind. I wish we had one.

This is our well house, with an electric submersible pump. (There's a better photo on this previous post showing the beautiful door). The pioneer hand dug well is behind it, covered with a large iron trap door secured with large rocks and a tangle of vines for good measure. The well service company told me if I liked the way my water tasted, I should never look in the well, as I would likely see hundreds of crickets or the occasional unfortunate squirrel.

Of course, I had to look. It's about a 4 x 4 foot hole through 40 feet of solid rock terminating in a little cavern where the water flows through it. Just like a river.

To see photos of water towers and silos, visit the other photographers at Sunday Stills.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Love is Apparently Not Blind

Elvis figures out how to roost. He had to lose the blue suede shoes first.

Since moving the older chickens to the coop, some of the young 'uns in our bathtub have figured out they can jump out. I began to wonder if I couldn't just start sneaking them into the new coop instead of moving them into the newly vacated bathroom.

First, I started with the young Silver Laced Polish, the only other one being Elvis. Because Elvis hasn't crowed or been in fisticuffs with the other roosters, I was beginning to wonder if he was a she.

But the moment the younger one entered, he did a double-take. Which was pretty funny with that big pouf on his head. He rushed over, then twisted his neck so he could see her eye to eye. Then he circled her, and gave her a wing and a peck, thus claiming her for himself. No one challenged. I thought it was very interesting he recognized her as his type of gal.

A little later, I brought over the young Buff Laced Polish, who was instantly recognized by the older one we named Little Bird (after our other hen Big Bird), who ran over to "groom" her new charge. I'm thinking they are both female, because there was no flirting. We are calling her Little Bitty Bird. I think she looks like Woodstock from Peanuts.

Pressing my luck, I brought over a Gold Laced Polish hen. Avelino, the Gold Laced Polish head-honcho rooster, strutted over like a pirate (he reminds us of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean), circled her with the drama of a toreador with his wing down like a cape, and gave her a peck.

Everything was bliss between the all the "couples" and the rest of the flock. Breeds do recognize their own. How hunky dory!

That is, until Geno the Buttercup, Bruno the Brabanter, Marco the Marans, and Otto the Spitzhauben all decided this hen was the most beautiful they had ever seen. (Well, she is beautiful!) So, now I know it's go for your own breed, unless a real hottie shows up.


You can only imagine what happened next. The biggest free-for-all between the roosters busted out, and the hens all started running around like the sky was falling, and everyone was chasing or being chased, and pecking or being pecked, and some chairs got busted, and whiskey bottles crashed over combs, and when the shots rang out the piano player jumped behind the roosts...

Anyway, I had to bring Angelina back to the tub. Sigh. She is looking over a contract for the cover of Cosmo as we speak.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coop Move-in Day!

Today Farmer Rick finished the main coop, and got it ready for move-in!

He brought over Avelino, the head rooster, a Gold Laced Polish, for a quality control inspection.

Avelino is named after a young budding rock guitarist that accompanied his foster mom to pick up the Rhode Island Red roosters we did not order. They are some nice folks I met through Freecycle. I could instantly see the hair style resemblance and decided the name was perfect.

After passing inspection, we moved the rest of the flock over. While the bedding was fresh, I put up my feet so the chickens could feel safe while exploring their new home.

Here's the feeding and watering station.

FR whipped up this roost before sunset, and Zena is checking it out.

Now we can celebrate having our bathroom back. Here's to finishing the first phase of the coop! And guess what we're using for the toast...

...none other than Rex-Goliath, the Giant 47 Pound Rooster Chardonnay!

Sunday Stills: Silhouettes

This is a photo of the historic school ruins taken from my prairie at sunset.

This one was taken of my husband at a rock shelter pointing out Indian pictographs on the Devil's River.

This Middle Eastern teapot was found in an old barn, and has been the subject of many of my paintings. I like how it looks against the lace curtain.

For more sihlouette photos, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


This morning I went out to fill the bird feeder and when I reached up under the squirrel guard...

I was introduced to some new residents who didn't like my intrusion.

Fortunately I was only stung once on my ring finger, which now looks like a small sausage. Unlike the bee, yellow jackets are capable of stinging many times, so I count this as a warning.

I am pretty lenient in letting nature's creatures set up house where ever they want outside. Predatory wasps kill a lot of bad bugs and help in pollination. Often times they will recognize the human inhabitants as they come and go and leave them alone (but beware the visitor!) However, in this case, I must reach under here every day to fill the feeder, so unfortunately this nest will need to be removed. By Farmer Rick.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Coop Roof Compromise and Some Details

After the framing for the temporary shed roof started going up, I started liking it more than my original vision of a salt box gable roof. I couldn't see putting Farmer Rick through building, then ripping off, a perfectly good shed roof and then having to build all those trusses.

There comes a time for when your bathroom is filled with nearly full grown chickens!

Right before the roof went on both of us realized we'd forgotten an important detail--the overhang on two of the sides. So Farmer Rick added the supports with some Simpson Tie joist hangers. If you haven't discovered the wonders of the Simpson Ties hardware line, you should check their products out. The system combined with wood is like tinker toys for grown ups and can be easily reused, lending to their recycle-ability. They also ensure a strong connection.

The windows and vents give the coop lots of natural light and ventilation.

The shed roof is only a little higher on one end, to shed rain away from the front.

We'll need to support this end with posts once it's got the weight of roofing.

Looks a little Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style from down in the creek. Will look awesome clad in some recycled lumber.

The coop is nicely sited to be shaded at the right times, making it fairly passive solar. The only thing that could have been better was if this live oak was a deciduous tree to let in more light in the winter. That gray stuff in the oak branches is ball moss, which is epiphytic, like an orchid, drawing its nutrients from the air, not the tree.

I won these antique barn hinges in an online auction for .99 cents. Can't beat that!

The door threshold has been installed. Unfortunately we will have to sweep and mop to get the mud from last week's downpour off the floor.

Here the plywood roofing foundation has been nailed down.

And the last window installed.

The recycled tin roofing has been nailed to the plywood. This would make a nice deck with a view of the hills. We will have to research how to do this.

Since we haven't found an antique hasp latch, we spray painted a new one. We use dog leash clasps during the day, and locks at night, figuring raccoons can't use keys. I hope we are not wrong.

There is no plumbing on this side of the creek. FR drilled a hole through the wall and put a small segment of garden hose with an on/off valve so we can fill the chicken waterer daily from inside the coop.

Next will be building the roosts and hanging the feeder, and other small details. We will hopefully move the larger chickens out tomorrow!
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