Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big Heart Lake

This weekend Stew and I made it out for a quick over-nighter. Hiking is something that both of us love a lot and, for a few various reasons, have not done very much of the past couple of seasons.  This year we've made promises to each other that we would both push for as many backpacking excursions as we could do, even if we are only able to spend one night in the woods. Our only regret for this trip was that we forgot to bring a camera. All I can offer is a good description.

Big heart lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, out past Skykomish. There are five lakes along the trail varying in size, each one higher in elevation and all beautiful. The plan was to leave Friday afternoon but a busy week had left us ill prepared so we decided it was best to leave in the morning. We made it out to the ranger station at 10:30, used the bathroom and forgot to pay the back country fee required for camping in that area, woops.

The beginning of the trail was all roughed up, like a new trail would look and we guessed that we might run into a trail crew doing some work. When Stew was working with Earthcorps some years ago, he had done some work on the upper portion of the trail. It was one of his first backpacking trips and the crew had carried all their tools up with their regular gear making their packs around 75lbs each. To put this in prospective, I generally hike with somewhere between 30 and 50lbs. We ran into the trail crew within the first mile, they were volunteers varying in age and looked like they were having a good time.

The first lake along the trail is called Trout Lake, the trail wound along the edge sheltered by lush cedars and firs. The sun coming through the canopy heats up the trees and gives off an earthy sweet aroma. Our late start that morning had put us at this point at about noon so we stopped at Trout lake to eat and try to take a dip. Unfortunately the water was extremely cold and I only made it up to my thighs. I suspect that the late summer has caused a late melt off the mountains making these lakes about 45-50 degrees despite it being July.

From this point on the trail began to gain elevation, it had been well built though and the switchbacks were calm making the gain much more bearable. This being my first steep climb of the season I was feeling a little slow, we intended to do about five miles to Little Heart Lake which would gain us 3000 ft total. We wound up through the forest past Malichite Lake, which was off along a short detour, and headed towards Copper. Stews memories of this trail were in keeping with the weight he had been carrying. He recalled a long portion of exposed meadow, which turned out to be maybe 200ft. Most of the trail had decent cover, giving us shade from the 80 degree sun. We hiked along an amazing waterfall, gushing down an almost shear cliff channel. We would pass over it's head waters shortly. Just before Copper lake, the tail leveled out and then braided through and stream. Large rocks had been laid to pass over the wider portions. We ran into a couple of hikers taking a rest and then another set that had passed us up a couple miles back. I was glad that we had chosen a steady, slower pace. The views along the way had been too beautiful to rush pass with your eyes on your feet.

Copper Lake is where most of the overnight campers were staying and I don't blame them. The lake is small enough to see across but big enough to fill your visual frame. In the sunshine it was glistening, it looked so crisp you just wanted to plunge into it. At 4500ft, however, this lake was not as plungable as it appeared. The snow level is still somewhere between 5000 and 6000ft, so you can imagine how cold it may have been. We only lingered a bit, looking to reach Little Heart Lake before we ran out of steam. Just a mile and a half to go.

On approaching each of these lakes there is a point that you see the split in the canopy above before you see the lake itself. Your excitement grows and you begin scanning in front of you, waiting for the first peek of water. As we were approaching Little Heart, I thought of the first people to explore this area. To come upon a lake you are expecting is a wonderful thing, I can't imagine the feeling of coming upon something so beautiful without knowing that it is there. Stew caught the first glimpse and turned around to smile at me. Little Heart is surrounded by rocky slopes on one side and boggy meadows on the other. There are camp spots in between on little bluffs. Part of the beauty of this scene for us was the realization that we had left all our fellow hikers behind, there was no one up there.
We chose a spot for setting up camp. Made some dinner and lounged about. The bugs were bad, but not horrible. We ended the evening with some chai tea and whiskey. The next day (and a few to follow) my muscles told the tale of how out of shape I am. But that feeling is also one of accomplishment. My body loves to hurt for hikes, painful up, painful down and everything is just lovely in between.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Although the rain is persisting, there is a warmer feeling to the air these days that I am very thankful for. Summer is a funny thing in Washington. It seems that we wait for it with heavy anticipation for nine months out of the year and when it comes, it comes on slow and without much notice. When it is warm here it feels, to me, as if it has always been this way. Summer is like that old friend who it always feels the same with, even after months of separation. While it is here, the warmth has a perpetual feel to it.

 We have been enjoying an abundance of greens for the past few weeks. The kale, spinach, parsley and broccoli (to name a few) have beat our expectations by far. We are cutting large, full bodied heads from enormous broccoli plants, and we are past due for having all our friends over to taste the landscape.

                           Giant red mustard babies

Our chickens continue to grow larger and larger. They spent their first time in their second run today which goes along the side of the house. They were a bit hesitant to explore the new territory at first but enjoyed it in the end and even warranted a visit from the neighbor warning us that they were flying around. We have had a bit of trouble getting the girls to sleep on their roost, they prefer their nesting boxes which is exactly where we don't want them to sleep. We tried giving them a more rounded bar and putting pots in the nesting boxes so that they couldn't get in them. This did not detour them, they simply crammed in with the pots.

                           Chips, Rosie, Penny and TinTin squeeze in with the pots

Next we decided that the bar we provided must be too thin, so we gave them a larger one and put milk crates in front of the nesting boxes to keep them out. That night we found them happily sleeping on top of the milk crate. Our neighbor informed us that the chickens are very amiable after dark and we might be able to move them onto the bar then to train them. So the past couple nights we wait till after dark, open up their back door and carefully move them from the milk crate onto their roost where they stay the rest of the night. These chickens are as suborn as they are sweet.

                            B cat rolling on the hot pavement

It is raining while I write this, but just two days ago the cats and I were able to soak up some sunshine in the front yard. They get pretty dirty out there rolling on the pavement but it is worth it to see them enjoy themselves so much. It is funny to think of Monster when we first were given him, he was paralized by the outside, now it is his favorite thing.

                     Monster nestled in with the raspberries

After some hours in the sun Monster came in and plopped himself on the couch. When I saw him next he had managed to turn himself over (which he usually has to have help with) on his back and stayed this way for at about 5 hours.

Two weeks ago Stew and I made a trip out to Vasion island for a visit to Pacific Crest farm and our friends Bob and Jen. We were able to lend a hand in the potato field weeding and hilling the potatoes.  To get maximum growth from your potato crop you want to mound dirt up around the stock and leaves of the plant to allow for more growing space. It felt great to do some hard work and although it rained on us a bit, the weather was just right.

                    Stew weeding the potatoes

It was really cool to see the chickens siblings. They are mostly larger then ours and their colors are so varied. It turns out that our Rosie is the only Araucana from the bunch that is colored the way she is, the others either have more white or black. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of them. Maybe next time.

                            Indie waiting patiently

                                  Bob hilling

I am glad we have a couple more trips out to Vasion planned for the summer, the farm is so calm and beautiful. It is a real joy to spend time there especially with such enjoyable hosts.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Spring is truly upon us. Our yard is shaping up to be all that we had hoped for. The garden is looking lush, and everything is set up for spending time. For all of our houses shortcomings, it has equal potential and we have equal imagination. Now that we have most all of our outdoor projects tied up, it is time for relaxing in our awesome space.

                     View from the back deck   Photo by Stew Sowers

Tonight Stew and I were out in the garden poking around for bugs and decided that our little plants were in need of some pruning. Our impatience this winter, which led us to start seeding under lights in February, has really paid off. We harvested a couple handfuls of kale, a bunch of radishes, a bowl of spinach and a little arugula (mostly for thinning purposes). I can't wait to eat it.

        Spinach & arugula in bowl. Kale and radishes in background.  Photo by Stew Sowers

The chickens are at home in their new coop thanks to Stew and Colin's hard work. The finishing touch of  a new sliding side door was completed this last weekend and it looks great.  Their run is almost complete after a few hours of fencing by Stew and I, and the area we picked for their run is really great. They will have some shade from a lovely current, a little hill for standing on and a rocky area for picking at bugs. The girls really seem to be enjoying their new found freedom.  They have grown into real chickens in the last few weeks, we even hear adult chicken noises coming from the coop these days. It is exciting to watch them mature and really take on their own personalities.

                                 Tin tin, with Bobbi chicken and Rosie.  Photo by Stew Sowers

                            Mrs. Rose Burns, Tin tin and Bobbi chicken  Photo by Stew Sowers

                            Sliding chicken door  Photo by Stew Sowers

                   Front entrance of cook, complete with screen door. Photo by Stew Sowers

                             Penelope strutting her stuff. Photo by Stew Sowers

 Beer is continuing to happen here at the farm house. Colin S's scotch ale is all bottled up, the Dead Guy is in a keg, as well as Colin K's hazelnut brown. Five out of ten gallons of IPA are bottled up and will be ready to drink in a week. By then it will be time to bottle the red ale that is finishing up.

                                   Twenty-seven 22 oz. bottles of IPA  Photot by Stew Sowers

Stew and I are both really beginning to feel rooted to this place and for me it is a very comforting feeling. In the past few years I have moved a lot and as novel as many of my housing situations have been (farm trailer, sailboat, etc) it feels good to have a space that is big enough to spread out. What is very exciting about having this home together is that we are able to implement some of the lifestyle choices we feel so passionate about. This summer we will not have to purchase any produce from stores, and the carbon footprint of the produce we will be eating is almost nothing. The same goes for the beer we are brewing and the eggs that our little chickies will be giving us. I am a person who often has the moving itch and Stew is the same, so I doubt that this will be our permanent residence, but it is definitely threatening to keep us here for at least another year. And I am alright with that.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fantastic Grains

Grains are such a wonderful thing. This last weekend we took full advantage of our time and put some grains to work making bread and twenty-five gallons (!) of beer.
                                           Dough ball after kneading

I quit baking bread for a while because I was so bored with the recipe I had been using that I just didn't want to put the time in for a bread I wasn't truly excited for. Luckily the internet is packed full of recipes to sift through for just about anything you could think of.

                                          After am hour of rising the dough is fat and fluffy.

The recipe I settled on promised to be light and fluffy in spite of it being all whole wheat flour and also very forgiving which would allow me to add more whole grains such as steel cut oats and bran.
The finished product was exactly what I was hoping for.

                                 Honey Whole Wheat Bread
      3 cups warm water
       4 1/2 tsp (2 pks) yeast
       2/3 cups honey (split in two parts)
       8 cups whole wheat flour
       5 Tbs vital wheat gluten
       1tsp salt
       3Tbs butter, melted

*Mix (with paddle in machine) water, 1/2 of honey, yeast, 5 cups flour and vital wheat gluten. Let rest for 30 minutes.
*Add melted butter, remaining honey, salt and 2 cups flour, mix (w/ dough hook in machine) and knead adding flour as needed until smooth. 
*Place in large oiled bowl, turn over to coat and cover. Let rise for one hour.
*Punch down and cut into three pieces. Place in oiled bread pans, cover and let rise till doubled (45-60 mins)
*Bake on 350 for 25-30 minutes. 


                                                                    Hazelnut Brown Ale

Beer is never far from our minds, for better or worse, we love the stuff. Luckily we have friends who share this interest with us, in particular our friend Colin, who has been brewing for some years and has been showing us the ropes.

                                           Frothy yeast on top.

Brewing is essentially cooking, it can be time consuming but is well worth it. The process is relatively simple once you get it down and is really fun when there are friends around to help. This weekend we found ourselves in the pouring rain and wind hovering over five gallons, at a time, of boiling grains, hops, malt and water. The result was ten gallons of India pale ale, five gallons hazelnut brown ale, five gallons Dead Guy and five gallons scotch ale.

Another two weeks of waiting and we'll spit up the goodies between Colin, Stew and I and our other partner in beer, also named Colin. And we can't wait cause we just finished off our last batch of red ale. Oh grains, how fantastic you are!

Friday, March 12, 2010


                                          Mrs. Rose Burns photo by Stew Sowers

Chickens have been on my mind for some years now. It is not quite an obsession, but if it were, it's origins could be traced back to Christmas time some years ago. I found this wonderful calendar at Orca books in Olympia that featured beautifully taken photographs of chickens, it was aptly called, Extraordinary Chickens. I bought it with the intention of giving it away, but never did. After 12 months of viewing chickens I had grown a large appreciation.

                                           Tin Can   photo by Stew Sowers

Stew, Katy and I have been talking about chickens since we moved into the house, seeing that the yard had ample room for them and knowing that our little house would be well complimented with a chicken sized miniature in it's back. Jen, a good friend and old coworker of Stew's is managing a farm this season out on Vasion and had said she  would have some extra chicks.  So this last Monday Stew and I took a day trip out there to pick them up.

                                            Penelope   photo by Stew Sowers

The drive out  was really nice in spite of the strange weather, it snowed, rained and then cleared up. The pacific Crest farm is on Maury island, at the West hip of Vasion. It is owed by the Pacific Crest Montessori school in Ballard and is lovely as can be. We got to spend a little time visiting with Jen and her fiance Bob, who are living on the farm, then we picked out some chicks. We decided on five, packed them up and headed back to the ferry.

                                            Chips   photo by Stew Sowers

The chicks did very well on the ride home, they are like any other babies really. They are awake for a short time while they eat and poop, then they cuddle up and fall asleep. While we waited for the ferry, stew and I took turns talking and playing with the chicks and started to see some of their individual personalities come out. When they arrived at home, they were given a cozy little box in the basement with a light, food and water. They seem to be pretty happy so far.

                                           Bobbi Chicken    photo by Stew Sowers

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March Starting

It's March and it is beautiful! We have been not so patiently waiting for the forecasted last frost (March 23) and doing everything we could think of besides putting seeds in the ground.  Seeding flats in the basement under lights and finishing the amendment of the garden soil.

The garden has received a bit of beautification in the past couple weeks. The compost turned in and the paths are being lined with brick that was found under the deck. The fire pit has a cozy log round to sit on brought home by Katy, who has also acquired a couple rhubarb plants, some flower seed, a few potted herbs and some raspberry plants (yah!).

                                          photo by Stew Sowers

We have a very large basement with a stage in the back that Stew has equipped with a table, made from a door. This set up was concocted for use as an art studio this winter while he was working on his Alaska farm photo encostic pieces. If you have yet to see these wonderful pieces of art you are missing out, they are beautiful. Currently the table is outfitted with four foot grow lights suspended above it for starting flats of vegetables. The flats are about 12 inches by 20 inches with perforated holes in the bottom. You can either fill the flat itself with seeding soil or insert cell packs of four or six which neatly divide the plants for you. The seeds are planted into the soil and kept moist till they germinate which looks like a tiny plant emerging from the soil. We have been keeping the flats on top of our refrigerator for this part and then taking them to the basement once they've sprouted.

                                  Flats under lights  photo by Stew Sowers

                                                      Baby Broccoli  photo by Stew Sowers

 Our first round of seeding produced us a flats worth of chamomile and borage among other things. The chamomile I will harvest for tea and the borage is useful for repelling bugs we don't want on our other plants. Borage is also used medicinally, it is very nutritious, but I prefer to just look at it and eat it's tiny purple flowers that taste like melon. Both these plants will be adorning our front yard beds along with some hollyhock, strawflowers, lupin and nastursium. The colors are going to be wonderful for our plain little house.

                                                        Borage and Chamomile photo by Stew Sowers

 As I was saying before, we are people of little patience and this warm weather has made us bold (hopefully not regrettably so). A few days ago we gave into our urges and put our first plants into the garden. They include kale, broccoli, lettuce, and shallots. We also direct seeded radishes, broccoli raab (or brocolini) and some onion sets. A few days in the ground and they are looking great, hardy and perky.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let's Set the Scene

Although I would like this blog to be predominately about our garden, I feel that it is only right to put the thing into context. It's context being that it is a part of our lives, in this house which is at 530 N 68th st. The house has a history independent of the one we are currently imposing on it, having to do with it's being build in 1903 by a man who sold beer for a living. It is an old house with all of the quirks and comforts that age brings upon both living and non-living things. It is drafty and creaky. Arguably too small in some places and too big in others. The east side of the house is slowly recommitting itself to the earth which gives it a gentle curve mostly noticeable upon first entering the living room.
Stew, Katy and I share the space with two strange little cats named Monster and B cat.
Myself, Stew, Katy, B cat and Monster are all very interesting, but the real jewel of this house resides not inside, but behind it's narrow frame. The not so humble, recently dug 400sq ft garden. As we found it, the garden was approximately 15 by 8ft residing on the dryer side of the lawn. With hours of man power from Stew, Katy and our big brother Colin, it has since been lengthened by 20ft and widened, mostly on the back end, by another 8ft. A little compost on the top and she is ripe and ready to go with another 4weeks left till last frost. The excitement is building,  the starts in the basement are straining and stretching under their grow lights and my freshly reorganized seed box appears to be scattered about already. But all of this for latter.