Friday, June 29, 2012

A Long Week

Pumpkin plants - growing all week like crazy and spilling through the fence
All week I've been been in a class that reviews college level science for elementary teachers and then follows up with lesson planning among the teachers to prepare classroom science lessons.  We've finally reached the third of three years of this federal grant program.  Tomorrow's the last day of our weeklong summer institute and we must present two pieces to the group.  The first one is a natural history powerpoint of field observations we made on birds called Great-tailed Grackles that have been moving into California. I'll be up front giving this presentation.  The second presentation, in the afternoon, will be given by a group of 4th grade teachers who are working together on a lesson on food chains.  I'm not sure who will be speaking for this one, but it won't be me.

Then I get to come home!

I leave for Europe in two days and haven't even taken my suitcase down from the closet shelf yet or figured out exactly what I'm bringing. Tomorrow should be a busy day I think.  

The corn isn't as tall as expected, but still peeks above the little fence
The weather's cooled down this week, so the gardens are happy.  I've just had time to water every afternoon after I get home from class.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One Day She Was Gone

The following was written by Bruce -- neither of us have talked much about Mulligan's disappearance two weeks ago, but both of us have been missing her.

A sad thing about living in the country is the unexplained loss of a pet.  In our time together, Leslie and I have been blessed with the company of some very special pets that we loved dearly.  While most live through their natural lives, there has been the few who vanished far too early and without a proper farewell.

One of the striking things that attracted me to Leslie is her profound love of animals.  As we merged our lives, I was welcomed into the family by her cats and quickly accepted as the newest member of their staff. I soon learned all about Diamond XX cats.  These were the cats that just showed up one day and stayed on.  While all of our cats have personalities, the Diamond XX cats stand out.  They are survivors.  They are very much in the show we call the cycle of life.

Juno was a Diamond XX cat.  One-eyed and fiercely independent, Juno was a hunter.  She spent much of her time on our other lot.  Juno was also a shrimp fanatic and could smell them from great distances.  From one instant to the next, she would magically appear underfoot and demand her tribute.  Woe unto the slow human who failed to deliver in a timely fashion; tardiness was rewarded with a set of claws in the leg.  Instructions for preparing any shrimp dish included cooking several for Juno, which she would devour with obvious enjoyment.  And one day, she was gone.

Buster was a Diamond XX cat.  He showed up while a very young cat and quickly assimilated into our clowder.  Buster was a quiet boy, very much loved by all.  He was playful and found a soul mate in “Uncle” Ralf.  Ralf, for his part, played with Buster and tried to impart all of his wisdom to his young protégé.  In time Buster learned to swear like a sailor.  The impact of his potty mouth was negated by a slight speech defect in which most words started with an ‘em’ sound.  As a result, his name morphed into “Mbuster.”  And one day, he was gone.

Although not from the Diamond XX, Mulligan was a Diamond XX cat.  She was found near a dumpster in Amador County and came to us via one of Les’ students.  A little shy and tentative, she worked her way into the center of Les’ heart.  She also entranced Phred, the patriarch of our household.  She would snuggle up to him and before he knew what was happening, he would be licking her head.  To our dismay, she was quite the hunter of birds; her crowning achievement was the catch and release of a California Quail…in the master bedroom.  Said quail was eventually returned to the wild.

As Les’ cat, Mulligan took advantage of bed privileges.  She preferred sleeping in the middle of Les’ side of the bed.  Moving her each night over evolved into the Tabby Toss.  This ritual, based on the Eskimo Blanket Toss, consisted of picking Mulligan up and gently heaving her to the other side of the bed while singing “It’s Tabby Tossing Time” over and over.  Mulligan would settle down, Les would get into bed, and Mulligan would eventually wend her way back to the recently vacated warm spot.  And one day, she was gone.

The realization that we’ve lost one of our kids is a gradual process.  It starts with the question, “Have you seen <insert name here>?”  The response is usually “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her for a day or so.”  There is the search of the house, garage, barn, and cars to see if the cat has been locked in a closet or vehicle.  Then there is the optimistic hope that the cat will show up the next day.  After a few days, you realize that you’ve lost another of your kids.  You find yourself calling out the cat’s name on the slim chance that you somehow overlooked her in your searching, all the while knowing your efforts are futile.  Gradually you accept the loss and grieve. 

Over time, the sadness and grief lessen but never really go away.  Routines change as the clowder dynamic adjusts to the vacancy.  You’re left with memories and an appreciation for the short time and the love you shared.  New rituals develop.

Life goes on; another cat takes center stage and the performance begins anew.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Impress your Dog

I'm back to walking two miles a day.  I go up and down our small hills at a fast enough pace that usually at least one of the dogs tires out and goes back home before I'm finished.  The two older dogs, Seal and Arlo, would rather stroll and sniff bushes than powerwalk.  Some days, all three dogs desert me and I came home to find them all on the porch looking embarrassed.  I tell them it's OK.

The other day I forgot to pick up my hand weights as I left the house and didn't miss them until I was too far to want to turn around and go back from them.

Clever me came up with the perfect alternative:


Years ago, a cow died off in a hollow on the neighbor's property where part of my walk takes me.  I've been eying those bleached bones for quite awhile now.  In a moment of caveman inspiration, I waded into the dry grass and rummaged around until I came out with two upper leg bones.  Then, I continued my walk, swinging those big heavy bones like a modern-day Wilma Flintstone.

This is how I came home.  Three very surprised dogs fixed their eyes on me from the porch. 

Sometimes being the human can be an awful lot of fun.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fins, Tentacles and a Birthday

Bruce and I picked up Mama this morning and set off for the Monterey Bay Aquarium -- her birthday wish was to visit the jellies, seahorses and octopi.  We were more than happy to oblige!

Jellies admiring Mama
The Aquarium is so large, with so much to see, that we focus on a few exhibits rather than try to visit everything.  The jellies, as usual, were enchantingly etherial while the seahorses were adorable in their coltish sort of ways.  The big surprise were the two giant octopi.  Usually they're squeezed up into the rocks of their tanks and one is lucky to glimpse a single bulging eye and a limp tentacle.  But today they were both in rare form; writhing up the sides of the glass and putting on quite the energetic show.  They're probably still laughing that I was so captivated that I totally forgot to take any pictures. 

Me admiring seahorses

                                                          Mama and I are very much alike in a lot of ways.

After last week's two fires, life at Frogpond lately has been way too exciting.  Nice to spend a day celebrating!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Solstice Fire

Yesterday I was as scared as I've ever been.  We had yet another fire -- the second one this week.

It was such a lovely, relaxing morning.  Early in the day, I'd taken a long walk with the dogs, then worked in the garden for awhile, and finally come in for lunch.  After eating, I went back outside to enjoy more of this day that at last wasn't searingly hot.  Breezy, though (this detail matters).  I spent more time in the orchard garden -- this time not working, but just sitting still, watching the goldfinches bathing in the birdbath.  Then I went back inside.

This picture was taken about an hour after the flames had passed
Fifteen minutes later, I heard and ignored the loud buzzing of a small plane overhead.  A minute or so later, it went over again.  On it's third pass, I ran outside to see where the fire was.  Astoundingly, smoke billowed up in the same vicinity as Tuesday's fire, except this time it was much, much closer.  So much closer, in fact, that it couldn't be much closer without actually being right here.  Pretty much this close:

In absolute panic, I called Bruce, working two hours away, to get home (he made it in 1 1/2 hours), and then drove our road to the top of the little hill just before you reach the highway.  A wall of flame was coming towards the road.  Click on the link below, and then click the "Labels: vegetation fire" tag to see what I saw (it may take a few minutes to load -- they're a lot of them).  The third picture down (with the highway patrol car going past) is our street sign surrounded by flames.


All the people who'd been evacuated from the other side of the road had their cars parked on this side. Everyone was just standing and watching, like we were at a parade or the circus. I was relieved that from here it was very apparent that the strong breeze was blowing the fire east, away from our property.  Unfortunately, this also meant that the fire was being pushed towards some of these folks homes.  I stood very quietly with them for a few minutes and then went back home.

Bruce had told me to put my laptop in the car and have the car pointed towards the driveway for a quick exit if need be.  I went through the house, wondering what else to take.  In the end, I only grabbed my purse and my passport and put them in the car.  I could let all my stuff go.  I also knew that the fire crews might not be able to stop the fire from coming across our property, but they would put their whole effort into saving our house.  The logistics of loading up four cats and three dogs into my tiny Honda Fitt for an evacuation order that may or may not come was a bad idea.  All the cats were sleeping inside, so I closed them in -- again, the house was the safest place to be (I hoped).  If it came to it, I would get out with the dogs.  As for the other animals, Cornelius was safe (and oblivious)  in his grazed-down five acre pasture -- actually, it made a very good fire break in the area closest to the highway.  I would open the coop so the chickens could get out.  The ducklings and chicks would have to stay put in the barn.

Then I stood on the embankment with my cell phone in my pocket and the hose in the other, wetting down the embankment around our house.  After seeing the size of the flames, I realized how futile a gesture this was, but did it anyway.  There was nothing else to do. 

While standing there, with the water spraying, helicopters choppering back and forth dropping their loads of retardant and spotter planes circling overhead, I got a text message from my school principal.  He was letting me know that the exterminators had been to my classroom and my mouse problem was a thing of the past.  I thanked him and then sent him a pic of my newest problem.  He's come to learn that, with me, there's always something.

After about an hour, I could see that the danger was pretty well past, so I went back to the head of our road where it comes in from the highway.  The evacuation order was just being lifted, so the people who had been standing there were getting ready to go back to their places.  I spoke to one man who was worried because he'd had to leave his animals -- he had one dog in the back of his car.  The final report says that no structures were lost, so I'm certain that his animals are OK. 

The smudge in the sky is a helicopter still making drops of retardant
And then, there came Bruce in his blue car.  Everyone else was leaving while Bruce and I stood in that dusty parking area hugging.  I just hung on to him while we looked at what was left by the fire on the other side of the road.

Today the wind is blowing again.  Bruce and I decided that we need to do more to fireproof our house -- we'll start this weekend.  The orchard garden will get a break from me for awhile.

I'm still absolutely wrung out by yesterday's events.  It's Becky's birthday today, and I must get ready to go down the hill in a little while to take her out to lunch. It will do me good to get away for a little while.  In the end, the fire didn't make it over here, no one lost their house, even most of the oak trees on the other of the road look like they'll survive.  Finally,  one musn't forget: no mice in my classroom anymore!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Secret Garden

One week ago...

"Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart."
                                   - Karel Capek


The secret garden that I've been working on is slowly coming along.  The newest bed, way in the far corner is pretty much finished and has been planted with raspberries in front and sunflowers in back.  I laid out landscape cloth on the new paths, lined them with stones and have most of them covered with shredded bark (known around here as "monkey fur"). 

I moved the birdbath about four feet to the right and ringed it with river rock.  This required a lot of heavy lifting and my muscles felt it that night.  The goldfinches, though, seem content with the relocation and have restaked their claim to it: it's a very well-used birdy bathtub!

I'm still in the process of constructing this screen of branches to shade the eastern side of the newest bed.  These are all branches of cottonwood, manzanita and oak that I've carried over from various parts of the property.  I fit them together like puzzle pieces and then wire them all together.  They cast enough of a shadow to dull the heat of the morning sun but let in enough light to keep the plants happy.  I suppose some might think they look sort of untidy, but (not surprisingly) they suit the look of the garden just fine.  And they're free!

This part is still under construction.  Bruce needs to set the second post of the new gate and then I can put down the monkey fur and finish wiring up the reed shade cloth to the fence.  The gate received a small ding on the top from some crazy guy bearded guy driving a Kubota tractor, so can be considered officially broken in.  It now matches everything else around here.

Here is a view of the gate ding (and the rest of this lower area) from outside the garden.

Moving to the opposite end of the garden (at the top of the incline, closest to the house), here is the beginning of the new gate there.  This is the first pole that Bruce set towards evening as it was getting dark.  By morning light, we discovered that it had quite a bend to it -- such a bend, in fact, that the gate wouldn't fit.  So Bruce and his trusty Kubota yanked it out like a long tooth.  Then Bruce hunkered down in the dirt and chipped out all of that set concrete.  This looked like great fun!  I'll say it again: this man is a saint (despite his propensity for dinging brand new gates).

And here is the newly hung gate (note the nice, straight post to the right).  I set large quartz rocks to right of the gate and have begun lining the drainage ditch along the drive with shale (living in an area that has enough rock to start a quarry has its pluses).  The branch screen on the fence is the first one that I built last summer.

Here is a closeup of the rocks with Max helping to show just how large they are.  I love setting stones, but wrestling with the really big ones takes not only effort, but also patience.  It's sort of akin to moving a sofa around the living room to see where it looks best.  Except with a large rock, it's harder and quite a bit dirtier.

And that's where we'll end today's tour.  I'm letting a lot of things slide around the house because I'm having so much fun out there.  Oh, well!

On July 2nd I'm going to leave Frogpond for ten days to visit my cousin in Germany and my brother and his family in Austria. I'm very excited and happy to be seeing all of them (of course), but am also looking forward to seeing lovely European gardens and lots of old stone. 

Did I mention that I'm happy?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mist and Smoke

We just got through a three day, temperature over one hundred degrees, heatwave.  Today, thankfully, we've only reached the low nineties.  When it gets so hot, everyone around here suffers, and we do what we can to cool things down.  The chicks got a large, oscillating fan to stir up the air in their stall,  and we put both duck mamas and their blended broods into the dog kennel where they could have the benefit of shade and cooling breezes off the pond.  The cats slept the days away in the nice air conditioned house, while the dogs dug several wide holes in the space under the front porch and sacked out there.

The ones who really scored, though, were the hens.  Bruce nailed up a section of mister hose along the outside eave of their coop and ran it from there over to their big pine tree.

It took a few minutes...

...but very quickly the hens figured out where to hang out.  A bonus is that since the misters are along the west side of the henhouse, now the interior is a lot cooler too.  Should make laying an egg a much more comfortable process.

Today,  in the hills on the other side of the highway from us, we had the first brush fire of the season.  I would have loved to have been able to do something to cool that thing off, but all we could do is watch. 

This photo is from the orchard garden and is a sight you never want to see withen two miles of your house.  The smoke rising through the trees looked remarkably like the fine mister spray from the coop.  Cornelius, as you can see, was not particularly concerned.

Although the fire looks rather nonthreatening from this vantage point up by the house, it took two planes, a helicopter and several fire crews on the ground to get it under control. 

Bruce took this picture with his telephoto lens (our local newspaper used this photo in their online edition).  Somehow, things don't look quite so benign when it involves a plane dumping a load of fire retardant.   If you look closely, you can see several houses peeking above the smoke.

In the end, the fire only consumed about five acres of brush/woodland and is now fully contained.  Thank God for quick fire crews and calm winds.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

An Easter Trio plus Mice

If it weren't 104 degrees outside, you'd think it was Easter around here. 

We've got a new order of future egg layers; a trough full of tiny chicks peeping away in the barn.

And several new broods of ducklings just hatched out.  This is what comes of not having the will to send off every last drake on the place.  When one is both soft-hearted and soft in the head, this is the result.


A Bunny:
Look what the cat brought in.  I was hanging up laundry when Bruce yelled for me to come help him.  This is never a good thing to hear, as it generally involves an animal.  And so it was: Multi-Pass had brought in a very small rabbit and dropped it in the kitchen.  Bruce, using his own brand of rabbit psychology, laid down a brown paper bag, scootched it close to where the rabbit crouched and waited.  Mr. Bun Bun,  obligingly hopped right in.  We walked down to the pond and released it into the tangle of blackberry brambles under the cottonwoods on the bank. 

Mice do not fit the Easter theme, but they also figured in the days events.  We roasted our first chicken (Chicken #21 at 4.5 pounds) this evening.  In the process, we also discovered that the mice appeared to have chewed through something very important in our oven.  We'd just taken the chicken out to test its temperature for doneness when we heard a loud whooshing sound.  It was the sound of gas rushing, unlit, into the oven.  Bruce quickly switched the oven off and we finished cooking the bird in the microwave. 

In spite of this mousely sabotage, the chicken was cooked and then eaten.  I'm happy to say that it was delicious.

Tomorrow we'll see about what to do about our oven.  I'll also (belatedly) plug in those sonic mouse traps that I'd ordered (Yes, Caroline, it helps if I take them out of the package!).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tonight I'll be dreaming chickens...zzzz

Today we had chickens both coming and going.  The postmistress from the Farmington post office called us a little after eight this morning to tell us that our order of chicks had just arrived.  I could hear enthusiastic cheeping in the background.  Usually a hatchery will email the day before chicks arrive to make sure someone is able to go pick them up that day, but we'd heard nothing.  Surprise. I asked Tammy to please babysit them until I got down there. 

Bruce and I got the Cornish chickens herded into three cages and loaded into the trailer for the trip to town.  It was still cool outside and chickens were calm and mellow about the whole thing.  They took off down the hill, while I got the place prepared for the new arrivals and then went down to pick them up.  I was very OK with having such an excellent reason not to have to go with Bruce. 

This is what 21 vacuum-sealed chickens in the fridge looks like.  I'll admit that they don't look too appetising this way.  They came back from the processing plant cleaned and plucked, but there was still plenty to do.  In reading up on preparing chickens for the freezer, I read so many lurid accounts of salmonella poisoning that I washed and disinfected everything I could lay my hands on in the kitchen.  Then we got to work.  Bruce was in charge of the vacuum-sealing part, and I cleaned the gizzards.  And the hearts.  And the livers.  And, finally, the chickens themselves.  It wasn't the happiest work in the world, but it was interesting.  I now know a lot more about chicken anatomy.

When we were finished, we packed them into the fridge and will freeze them in the morning.  We left one chicken unsealed so we could try it out for dinner, but we're both too tired to cook.  A can of lentil soup for me and then I'm headed off to bed. 

The baby chicks were well babysat by Tammy.  All thirty of them (what was I thinking?) arrived healthy and active.  I dipped each little beak in water to make sure they knew how to drink and left them to it.  They spent the remainder of the afternoon alternately bouncing around and falling asleep (sometimes in mid-bounce). 

Definitely a chicken sort of day.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Last Day

The duck in with them adopted them when they were small chicks
Today the Cornish Cross chicks are eight weeks old and it's their last day.  Tomorrow morning Bruce and I will cage them up for the trip to the processing plant, where they'll be slaughtered, cleaned and plucked.  They'll come home in ice chests.

As they've gotten older, their genetics really kicked in -- their main activities are eat, drink , poop and sleep.  They do have a fenced passageway from the stall in the barn to a large dog kennel, so they can be out in the sunshine.  This also gives them a little exercise.  One will occasionally half-heartedly snap at a fly, but they're really not into it.  They are solidly couch potatoes. 

These last two weeks, they've really put on the weight and the heat is hard on them. They do seem like they're ready to go. It also will be relief to get the barn well hosed down. And I won't miss the smell or the flies.

They've had good lives...for meat chickens.

I'm really working on allowing this to feel natural and right.  I think I'm getting there. 

I've been studying my recipe books and believe that I'll be making Coq au Vin tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Southern Magnolia

It arrived yesterday evening, just before dark and while I was watering.  The dogs started barking and here came neighbor Leo's white truck bearing a large tree that he'd been promising to bring us for months now.  He'd augered a hole for it in the field outside the orchard garden last weekend, so we were ready.  It was dark as we followed the truck that carried it to the place where it was to be planted.

In the morning light, this poor tree has been pretty stressed and is in bad shape -- the whole upper half of it looks dead as a doornail.  But there is still new growth coming in at the bottom, so we hope for the best. 

This morning, with the sun already beating down and a forecast of 97 degrees, we got it in the ground. 

I gave it a ring of rocks, a thick mulch and a long, slow soak from the hose.  We've done what we can -- now we'll see what happens. 

A ring of rocks works wonders.  Our new tree has exactly six leaves.
It looks like I planted a stick.  Fingers crossed.

On a sadder note, our little tabby cat, Mulligan, has been missing since Saturday.  I fear that she's been taken by a coyote.  With our many cats over the years, this has happened very infrequently.  But it does happen.  I still have a glimmer of hope that she'll turn up, hungry and demanding to be fed.  But it's only the merest glimmer.  I miss my girl.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Weed Eating

Here we are solidly into the month of June, and I'm still putting in my summer garden(s). I'm actually ahead this year, but the problem is that every year I add another bed or two (or, as this year, three).  I'm now up to nine beds that are 8'X8' each (some are joined together) that must be weeded, planted, and watered.  Every year, around August when it's hotter than snot, the gophers are chewing down everything with roots and any plants left living are gasping in the heat, I vow to cut back on the number of gardens I'm a slave to.  Last summer I actually did allow my giant triple-sized bed to go fallow, and it felt great to have the burden of watering it removed.  However, this spring I made up for lost time by digging it up and planting it with pumpkins, Indian corn and sunflowers.  And then I got Bruce to build three more beds for me in the orchard garden.  I'm an idiot.

Shade cloth over the tomato plants -- without it they'd fry

Yesterday I finally finished planting one the closest gardens to the house -- eight tomato plants, a few Swiss chard, artichokes, and basil.  I added (probably more than I should have) giant sunflowers in the back and a row of marigold seed in front for good measure.

Today I got to the second bed by the house.  One reason it took me so long was because it still had poppies blooming in it and I couldn't bear to pull them up.  This morning I decided that it was time. 

This year I didn't plant any potatoes, but a number of plants came up anyway from tubers that got missed when I harvested last summer.  There were about six of them sprawling in the bed I worked in today.  At first I was going to leave them in, but I kept stepping on them.  So instead I got the shovel, and dug them up. 
The parsley had gone to seed and bolted, so it also was weeded up

Like magic, dozens of lovely baby white and purple potatoes rolled out from the dirt. 

And I yelled, "Lunch!"

New potatoes quickly boiled and served with fresh parsley, butter and sea salt

Yup; today I weeded the garden and then ate the weeds.  They were delicious.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Help

In the morning, my retinue and I march down to the garden to work.


Zzzzzzzz and Zzzzzzzz

Is it any wonder things get done at such glacial speed around here?   {Yawn.}

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Venus Transit

Yesterday afternoon Bruce came home a little early so we could go to the polls together to vote.  Also, yesterday afternoon Venus passed in front of the sun.  Both of these events converged quite nicely.

Photographer: Tom Ruen
Bruce gets very excited about anything astronomical.  On the way to the polling station, he spotted a gentleman who'd set up a very large telescope in the back parking lot of our little Copperopolis town square.  We stopped on the way back and the man happily let us look through the lens.  Amazing!  What we saw looked very much like this image (copied with permission) from the Internet:

There it is: the sun, a few sunspots, and the dot that is Venus.

So, when we got home, Bruce was all jazzed about Venus, astronomy, photography and telescopes.  Not having a fancy-schmancy telescope like the nice man in the town square had, he went out behind the house and made do with what he had.  The following is the image that he photographed and his own commentary which he emailed to me:

Photographer: Bruce Winningham
"Here’s the result of our playing “Backyard Astronomer.” The black dot in the upper right is Venus. The dark smudges are actually the cloud layers in the atmosphere. They prevented a good view of the smaller sun spots.
Set up was a pair of binoculars mounted on a tripod projecting the image onto a piece of white paper. Now that we know what we’re doing (koff-koff), we’ll be ready for the next time in 105 years."

I think it's amazing that Bruce's picture using nothing but field binoculars on a tripod, while certainly not of the clarity and caliber as the ones using a strong telescope, is still in the ballpark.  Even with his much more primitive technology, he too got a picture of the sun (which is skewed only because the wind was whipping the little piece of paper he held like crazy) and the dot that was Venus. 

So there you go! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Blackberry Beds

The final third of the garden is through the rose arch and down to the lowest section.  In very early spring, Bruce and I put in two raised blackberry beds and filled them with our own homegrown compost.  We bought vigorous blackberry roots from a nice man in the Bay Area who I found on Craigslist.
Years ago, composting used to be a more exacting process, but now we just pile up in one big ol' heap all the biodegradable matter that accumulates so readily around here.  Kitchen scraps, leaves, manure, straw cleaned from the chicken coop, the occasional dead rodent and lots and lots of vegetation all gets chucked on the pile.  The animals have a field day scratching through it and, every once in awhile, Bruce fires up the Kubota and turns the mountain to aerate things a bit.  The only rule is that all bad pest weeds that have gone to seed are banned -- these are either burned or hauled to the landfill. Only "good" weeds of my own dear garden plants are allowed.  

The only problem is that, although few "bad" weeds do get through,  all sorts of "good" seeds sprout up all over the place from the garden plants that I toss onto the compost.  With a vengeance and a vigor that is almost frightening, up pop seedlings of all my favorite plants.  And they are in all the wrong places -- which, I believe, technically makes them weeds.  Weeds that are very, very, very hard to pull because I love them all.

And this brings us, painfully, back to those two blackberry beds and the 12 blackberry plants that had all but disappeared under the greenery of "good" weeds. 
Good weeds.  Really!
Let's see, for "weedy" flowers there were California poppies,rare purple poppies, field poppies, columbines, sweet peas, sunflowers, chamomile, bachelor buttons, morning glories, stock, lambs ears, correopsis and hollyhocks.

The weed vegetables were potatoes, chives, artichokes, tomatoes and some sort of squash. 

I'd put off this weeding for as long as I could, but the time had come -- the blackberries were drowning in a sea of everything else.  So yesterday I closed my eyes and ripped out (with a bit of transplanting here and there) piles and piles of good weeds....

...and ended up with this. 

It's so much easier weeding out the noxious weeds -- pulling up my green darlings was hard.  But, in the end, I kept some of every one of my volunteers.  The rest went back into compost.

 And the blackberries are able to see the sun once again.

Life is complicated but good.