Archive for November, 2009

Close to home

During the winter months, the 50+ hiking group goes on shorter hikes closer in. This week’s trip consisted of two city walks. This post is about the 2nd, shorter walk. It was along the waterfront of Vancouver: the Renaissance Waterfront Trail — something I didn’t even know existed.

We head out in an eastward direction along the water. This afforded great views of Mt. Hood, the airport and the tip of Mt. Jefferson far to the south.

It turns out that one of the hikers lives in the condominium complex along the trail. A bioswale was expanded into a lovely pond. Two geese were purchased to grace the pond. But as they were non-native to this area, they had to be spayed after their first batch of goslings were sent off to more appropriate locals.

It was a beautiful fall day. We had a warm, still and sunny afternoon. You can see that as the 4 o’clock hour approached, the light began to dim.

It was probably about a 3 mile loop. We came back along a broad paved path. I’ll add this to my repertoire of local walks for guests.


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Soggy day … Dry hike

We’ve had a major storm! I was woken up during the night by the thrashing and beating rain. The prospects for a dry hike did not seem good. Today’s Forever Young Hikers’ goal was the 5 mile paved section of the old Columbia River Highway that runs through the Mosier Tunnels.

All along the drive to the trailhead our car was battered by driving rain. But as soon as we arrived at Hood River, the rain let up. We came in 2 vans and parked one at each end of the trail. The 2 teams of hikers each walked the whole trail end to end in opposite directions.

It was brisk but not cold and there was no wind! Spacious vistas opened to our left — moss-laden cliffs rose to our right. Below is a view of Eighteenmile Island.

The actual tunnels are preceded (from the west) by a long open breeze-way.

There are two sets of wood-lined tunnels.

We were treated to several rainbows as we neared the trail’s end and the sun grew more brazen.

We drove on to the Dalles, OR for lunch at the Baldwin Saloon. This was worth the entire drive alone! Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area. See Yelp reviews here.

The easy sociability of these hikes is a huge part of their appeal. Conversations arise naturally on our parallel (or serial) pursuits of the trails. The physical effort is eased as a random topic takes hold of our mutual attention. Besides the comradeship, I’m getting all kinds of tips on everything from other hiking groups and restaurants to repairmen and stores. I’m networking, baby!

The best views of the gorge came on the drive home.

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Winter cover

Last year I tried to plant a cover crop of  Fava Beans … to abysmal failure. I later learned in the Master Gardener program that they’re not suitable to our winters. This year I used a pre-packaged mix of clover, vetch and cereal rye.

Mid-September is the optimal time to broadcast a cover crop. I squeaked mine in the first week of October. Within 2 weeks there was widespread sprouting.


The weeds are still there but the cover crop is now a good 6 inches high. Maybe they’ll choke out some of the weeds.


Little Bittercress has come up with a vengeance. Did you know that weed seeds found in Egyptian mummies still sprouted? (!!!) There’s no winning. If you’ve got bare soil … you’ve got weeds!

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Forever Young hikers went up the gorge to hike the Herman Creek Pinnacles.

It was about 6 miles round trip with a 1,000 ft. elevation gain. It was another lovely hike with varied landscape with falls, rivers and views.

There was a substantial bridge over Herman Creek.

It provided a lovely river views.

We trekked across two large talus slopes.

The trail climbs immediately and then veers west along the side of the slopes — offering occasional views of Cascade Locks, the Columbia river and Washington.

We came across this striking Lobster mushroom

These “Rattlesnake Orchid” leaves poked through the leaves and mosses.

This climate is moss nirvana! I think we have an encyclopedic array of specimens. Just goes to show that every climate makes something happy! Those are baby Licorice Ferns poking through.

This was a really nice hike with just enough challenge to satisfy. We were all a little slap-happy on the drive home and sang along to the falsetto refrains of “Sherry Baby” … in an assortment of keys.

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Here in the outskirts of Vancouver, we don’t get street sweeping service. In the summer weeds choke the gutters and down spouts. In winter, well you can see for yourself.

As lovely as the leaves are … (sorry no pix of the weeds)

… they get blown and washed into the lowest places. This downspout is thoroughly choked. In the summer I go out with Roundup and my battery powered weed-whacker and clear the gutter and downspouts on my block. (If for looks alone.)

Another puzzlement is the purposeful covering up of downspouts with heavy construction clothe (?). There’s a newer housing development nearby and all the downspouts are heavily covered up — perhaps to keep construction debris out. ???

I came across several ‘ponds’ on my walk.

You’d think that here in the Pacific NW the sewer system could handle rain! I grew up in Los Angeles where as a kid I played in the flooded streets that resulted from inadequate storm drainage. I liberated one pond, but I sure don’t understand what’s going on.

PS — you might note that I was out walking on what was deemed a rainy day. It’s been my experience that 1) it rains mostly at night and 2) rain comes in bursts. It’s a rare day that I don’t experience bouts of blue skis and/or long periods of workable outdoor time.

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The Miracle of Leaves

Okay, maybe worms are something only a mother can love. But we all love leaves. They make AWESOME compost — especially when they’re shredded first. For one thing shredding reduces the volume some 12 – 20 fold.

When finished, this compost pile measured 4’x4’x3′ — representing leaves from six trees. The original volume was that of a large  SUV. (It’s only 2/3 full at the time of this photo.)

The above photo was taken after the first day’s work. When I went to add another batch a few days later … this pile was already steaming! It’s important to give compost piles a lot of air. When I forked through this pile steam came up. I could feel the heat on my hand. It’s MAGIC!!!

If shredded leaf compost is used with passion, the garden becomes a place of deep and powerful emotions.

I couldn’t agree more. It just feels so right to make use of this bounty from nature to further nourish the health of my garden.

First,  I collected leaves (and a neighbor’s) for several weeks and piled them on a large tarp in the garage. We were having drippy weather and I wanted to keep the leaves relatively dry. That pile was about the size of a car and 3 feet high (and that was only about half the leaves used … and there are still LOTS more leaves out there).


I bought the shredder off of Craig’s List last year for $200. It’s been a workhorse. It handled wet leaves just fine.

I just barely had the strength to start the darn motor. The other problem is that the shredded leaves are blasted out of the shoot. I don’t use a bag. I just lay out tarps to catch most of the leaves. Eventually they pile up on each other. I drag the tarps to the compost pile and rake up the rest. It’s definitely messy.

But oh, that compost is so sweet! I learned in my Master Gardening class that leaves have the 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio that’s optimal for composting. A hot pile in 2 days is proof enough for me!

*Note: yes, I’d love to have a homemade wood bin. I’m a little chicken when it comes to carpentry. In the mean time,  I’m getting by with plastic webbing (?) and stakes. I cover it with a tarp and weigh it down with hunks of wood. On the up side, it’s portable.

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An email conversation prompted me to make this post. It turns out keeping a thriving worm bin is a bit tricky. I’m learning as I go. This is only what I know so far.

I got my setup from BWCN Farms (I have no idea what the initials stand for). My first batch of African night crawlers died in a freeze last October. I bought a new batch of worms — this time red wigglers — this April. John at BWCN was very patient with my hand-wringing and insecurity.

Here’s how I start a new tray. First off, I mix equal parts (1 scant shovel full each) of dirt and leaf compost. To this I add shredded newspaper and a crumbled egg carton (or other cardboard source). I put the paper goods in a gallon bin and add about a pint of water and slosh it around to make sure the paper soaks up the water.

I stir it all up in the wheel barrel. I add water if it’s needed.

I keep on pulling the newspaper apart and mushing it up with the leaf/dirt mix. I need to provide a source of roughage (sand or egg shells) in the mix. The worms ingest this and use it to grind up what they eat.

I save my egg shells in a custard cup until it’s full.

When I have enough I pulverize the shells on a breadboard using the bottom of the cup to grind them up. Some of these pieces are too big, but most will do.

Since I’m adding a new tray to an existing setup I need to remove the top layers of solid newsprint so the worms can crawl between the old bin and the new one that will go on top. (These bins have mesh bottoms to allow for drainage and worm transit.) I’ll put the solid newspaper back on top of the new ‘top’ tray. This keeps flies out.


Here’s a look at happy worms in their ‘old’ tray (only 1 month old). Bits of the green can be seen where food was placed. It’s a good sign that worms are in the green stuff. I just sit the new tray right on top of this.


I only put in about a pint of chopped veggies about every 5 days or so. Usually I freeze the veggies overnight to help break down their cell structure. My worms just aren’t big eaters. Either that or they’re busy “eating” the newspaper and cardboard.

I was told that the most common mistake folks make is putting too much food in the bins. So I check to see that they’ve eaten what I gave them previously before I add more food. Clearly most of my kitchen scraps get composted outdoors.

My worm bin has never smelled and if the top tray is properly covered with solid wet newspaper and the bin lid it won’t get flies either. Last summer when the temps were in the high 90’s I actually brought the worm bin indoors.

I don’t have a picture, but finished worm casings have an unmistakable “coffee grounds” texture. (You can already detect that texture developing in the last photo.) Now that my worms have multiplied, I harvest the worm casings about every 3 – 4 months. It’s in constant flux as the population and seasons change.

So why do this at all? Good question! I guess mostly it’s very fast. The worm casings can be put directly into potting soil (whereas compost has to cure first). I guess another reason is the worms themselves. If you need to add some “biological action” to your soil these guys will do it.

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