The Big One

I have lived in Northwest Washington for fifteen years now. Sixteen, if you count the time from birth to moving out of the state around a year old, but I don’t generally count that because I don’t remember it at all.

I have experienced earthquakes here. The most notable was the one in the early 2000’s that originated near Olympia and actually caused a bit of damage to some buildings near the point of origin. I was home sick from school. My mom had my brother (also home sick) and I come stand in a doorway with her while we watched the chandelier above the kitchen table swing. We were over 100 miles from the epicenter. More commonly, I’ve experienced small earthquakes; the cats wake me up in the middle of the night, I vaguely note that there’s an earthquake happening, and I fall back to sleep. I’m not even exaggerating. If you’ve never experienced a tiny earthquake, it really is that uneventful.

I’ve heard my mom talk about the San Francisco earthquake, which she was in. She saw the parking lot outside of the dentist office where she worked rolling. Yes; pavement can roll during an earthquake. It’s literally waves moving through the earth, so the earth can behave rather like water in larger quakes.

I had no idea until today, as I read a sobering article, that we could experience something even bigger and more devastating than the San Francisco earthquake, right here in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps even worse, it will be immediately followed by a devastating tsunami that could wipe out most of the west coast on the west site of I-5.

The more frightening thing is that geologists didn’t even know until a few decades ago, but now the evidence is piling up that not only is possible, it’s likely. We’re overdue for an earthquake as severe as 9.2, and there’s a 1/3 chance that we’ll experience one in the upper 8’s within fifty years. Because this is relatively new information to the region, many homes and cities were already built before we knew that we’d experience anything significantly worse than the one I weathered in a kitchen doorway at ten years old. There’s been some changes reflecting the new knowledge; houses have had to meet certain earthquake codes since the 90’s, certain kinds of buildings can no longer be built within the area potentially in the tsunami zone. But houses before those building codes have to be retrofitted to survive a high-magnitude earthquake, and many aren’t, and previously existing hospitals are still allowed to operate in the tsunami zone.

We don’t have any of the earthquake technology that more prepared places like Japan do. In some places, there is an early warning system that responds to the first jolt that precedes an earthquake. It gives barely any warning, but it’s just enough to sound alarms, to stop surgeries, to alert hospitals and fire stations. All we have is our pets, who can hear that first sound waves.

Worse, there are millions of people living within the tsunami zone, and its expected that thousands of them will die and tens of thousands be injured. There will only be about fifteen minutes to get to high ground right after the earthquake. That’s not much, particularly for anyone on the beach. I pray that this will happen in the dead of winter, when tourists and families aren’t enjoying the water on a warm day.

I feel very, very grateful right now to be living in a town where I know for a fact that our airport — in one of the lower areas of town right off of I-5 — is 140 feet above sea level. My house is a little higher. Even in the worst case scenario, if I’m in town, I won’t have to worry about being hit by the tsunami. I just have to survive the earthquake and the immediate aftermath until I can get out.

There are some things that I have no control over:

Whether my husband is at work at the time, if he’ll survive the quake, and if he’s in a situation that will have him away from the tsunami zone.

Whether we’ll be in our town or another that isn’t at risk.

Whether we’ll be in a building that is sound enough to not kill us during the earthquake.

Whether the earthquake even happens in my lifetime, while we’re living in the area that would be affected.

 

But it does make me want to prepare for the things that I can control:

Whether we have enough food and water to survive a few weeks until we can get clear of the disaster area.

Whether we have the supplies to stay warm and dry during that time, especially if its winter.

Whether my house is as earthquake-proof as I can reasonably make a house built in the 80’s.

 

I’ll be honest. It terrifies me a bit.

Do you live in the Pacific Northwest? Do you live west of I-5? What have you done to prepare for a disaster, particularly one as possible and serious as this one?

Making A Drip Watering System For Only Dollars

There are many kinds of drip watering systems. The most basic are generally at least $20, give or take. The nicer ones are close to $100.

The benefits to drip systems include significantly less water waste because of reduced runoff and evaporation, as well as delivering water to the base or roots of the plants so as to not water the leaves of plants that don’t do well with watering from above or which are fighting fungus or mold. The delivery straight to the roots which I’m using brings water to deep tap roots and encourages deep roots for hardier, more drought resistant plants.

I did a homemade drip watering system using plastic bottles. Costco had a thirty pack of Gatorade for about ten dollars. With the heat we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest lately, I decided that some Gatorade couldn’t hurt; we don’t usually drink much of it because of the sugar and coloring.

I also had a couple of two liter soda bottles from a get-together with friends.

Many drip systems drip water onto the top of the soil, but the one I made delivers it straight to the roots.


I started by removing labels and rinsing the bottles.


  
From there I drilled three holes in the bottom of each. For the small bottles I drilled two more holes on one side, and for the big ones I did three up two sides. Go slow with the drill. You don’t want it to slip.



After that I buried them next to the roots of the plants. Where there were pairs close together I used the two liters. The holes up the sides faced the plant.


Epsom salt is an organic way to help plants recover from root shock and create better blooms and fruit. It dissolves in water, so I put maybe a teaspoon into each bottle before watering. I imagine that putting liquid fertilizer, compost teas, etc in would also be possible.


  
To finish off, I decided to keep the caps on the bottles. I wanted to keep insects from falling in and drowning — particularly good ones like bees and ladybugs — and slow down how quickly the water drains. It only slows it a little, but the concept is not unlike putting your finger on the end of a straw to keep the water from coming out. In this case, multiple holes in the bottle still allow it to drain, just slower.

I didn’t particularly want a bunch of orange Gatorade caps in my garden even though most of the plants will eventually spread enough to hide them fairly well, so I painted them. My adhesive stencils pulled paint off since the paint doesn’t adhere very strongly to the smooth plastic, so I free-handed a lot of them. They’re not very fancy, but they’re better than a bunch of orange caps with a logo.

So what do you think?

The Yardwork and Family Adventures of June

Yardwork hasn’t quite come to a standstill, but it’s taken a different course since Steven was furloughed and income is limited. My flowers are blooming, which has been amazingly fulfilling. I never thought I’d be so excited about flowers.

The challenge I’ve been facing is fungus on my columbine. I removed most of the affected leaves and got Neem oil to treat it weekly, but it’s questionable whether I began treating it soon enough.

Fuchsia

 

Lavender

 

Aster

 

Echinacea

 

Lily

 

Cherries (possibly Montmorency)

 

 

Fungus on columbine leaves

I’ve also been dealing with ants. I’ve been using diatomaceous earth, which they’re taking back to their nest, so I’m hoping it’s a matter of time before enough of them die that they’ll stop invading my porch for hummingbird nectar. I’m not sure where the nest is.

 

Ants and diatomaceous earth

My neighbor also had fun removing the mulberry for me. I’m almost certain it was a male, which means no fruit and the potential to grow fifteen feet tall. It was in a very poor location; driveways and street sides, especially against a lamp post and beside other trees, is just not advisable. So, the neighbor used the crane on his truck to yank it out.

    

My mom and I also had a good time canning and freezing fifteen pounds of strawberries. We ended up with 25 cans of jam, five freezer jams, and a few bags frozen for pie filling. 

 

Steven’s sister also visited for the weekend with her boyfriend, which included a nerf gun for R, a movie night, jousting in the living room (R slaughtered his daddy), Father’s Day dinner at my parents’ house, and a trip to the river. R didn’t like the cold river, but I’m hoping to coax him in passed his knees with a few more trips.

 

jousting

 

R with Steven on Fathers Day

      

I also got crafty yesterday, and the result was colorful rocks in my butterfly puddler. I just used acrylic paint which I had on hand, and some adhesive stencils I’d gotten for another project last year. Hopefully the colors will increase the attractiveness of the garden and the puddler to butterflies and bees.

the top left blue one is my favorite

 

Trying This Gardening Thing…Organically 

I’m fairly new to this gardening thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally without knowledge and experience. I helped my mom plant flowers, saw the beauty of her roses (mulched regularly), and did indoor seed germination at school. I’ve certainly weeded before. I helped my sister-in-law start a garden when we lived with them for a few months one year.

But ultimately it’s not a lot of personal experience. Especially since the personal reward has never really been there, and I tended to abandon weeding my parents’ yard at the first sign of spiders. Can you blame me?

More so, I’ve got this ambition to be largely, perhaps totally, organic with gardening at my own home, which means I have to learn about natural solutions and buy organic supplies rather than just grabbing Miracle Grow or Slugg-o to address the needs of my growing things.

Pinterest, Google, and a few Facebook pages have been ridiculously helpful.

I’ve got a few things from the kitchen set up already.

Egg shells, like diatomaceous earth, kills slugs, snails, and low crawlers. Coffee grounds added straight acidity the soil, so it’s great for my blueberries.
Today I also picked up a bag of Epsom salt–magnesium sulfate–for a few of my plants that could use a boost, including one struggling blueberry and the veggies I planted yesterday.

Only my spinach really came up before, so hopefully I’ll have better luck this time. I also forgot about thinning said spinach when I was supposed to, so I did that yesterday too. Epsom salt is supposed to help transplant shock, so hopefully they’ll forgive me for the delayed thinning.
Hopefully there will be minimum error in my trials with organic gardening. It takes a bit more knowledge and planning to garden and control pests without fertilizers reliant on fossil fuels and indiscriminate pesticides on the plants, but hopefully it will be worth the effort.

Bring In the (Good) Critters

As I shared not long ago, we bought a house and I began gardening. Very quickly, my reading in conjunction with this new venture has given me a new desire: to create a safe haven for certain wildlife in my own backyard.

Did you know that bee populations have been radically declining? While neonicotinoids (the root in there is nicotine, for pronunciation help) are likely part of the problem, and avoiding using them or buying plants treated with them can be an important step, it’s not the whole picture. Scientists aren’t precisely sure what the whole picture is yet, but it’s likely a combination of factors, one being overuse of pesticides on the plants bees collect pollen from. Bees are vital to our food supply, and need our protection.

Bird populations are also declining nationwide; faster in some places than others. Much of this is habitat destruction, so obviously sharing our habitat with them could be of vital significance in stopping this trend, along with greater conservation of natural resources.

 Although we don’t get many this far north, monarch butterflies are included in this sad trend. In 2003 they took up 27.5 acres in the hibernation area in Mexico. In 2013, it was just over 1.5. They bounced back some last year, but not totally. Again, herbicides in agriculture are of some of the blame.

Bat populations are on the decline too. Part of this is a disease, likely caused by a fungus.  The disease will likely sort itself out once the population decreases to resistant bats and they breed, but perhaps only after extinction of some species. But part is also habitat destruction. We may not all like bats (I personally have no problem with them), but they are hugely important to pest control. Insofar as we can help with the habitat problem, we should.

So what can the average homeowner do to help all of these, even if in small ways? After all, enough people doing something small can add up to a big difference.

For bees, we can switch to safer pest control. If we want to get more involved, supporting petitions and legislation again overuse of harmful pesticides and looking for/utilizing safer, viable alternatives in agriculture is an option too. Further, when considering flowers for your garden, consider flowers that are particularly attractive to bees. If you’re providing safe pollen sources, you’re doing your part.

Further, if you have a bee hive too close to your house, or encounter a swarming hive, call a beekeeper rather than an exterminator. But if you have land, no one allergic in your home, and they’re not too near the house or frequented areas, just leave them be and give them space. Your garden will thank you.

Finally, for bees, make or buy a bee condo and mount it in a sheltered location. Female mason bees will use them to lay their eggs. Mason bee males don’t sting and females rarely do, so they’re pretty safe to invite into the yard. They’re blue, which is pretty cool. There’s no beekeeping responsibilities with this option, unlike keeping a hive. If you have the space and inclination for keeping a hive, go for it.

On to butterflies! These are also pollinators, so your garden will thank you for them too. Like bees, flowers that attract butterflies are a great option. There’s a lot of crossover between the two.

Providing food and water sources, which can be very decorative, helps too.

 

My perennial garden includes this super simple butterfly puddler. Butterflies have to drink from shallow water, mud, or damp sand, all of which become more scarce in summer. Adding one of these, kept wet, in warm weather can attract butterflies for a drink. A butterfly feeder hung from a tree is another possibility.

Birds may eat our berries, but they also eat bugs and are vital to the food chain, so welcoming them by leaving nests in trees, adding a bird bath to the yard, and hanging a feeder and bird houses from a tree is free pest control.

Ditto to bats. Mosquito reduction like no other. And guess what? There’s such thing as bat houses. They have to be hung 15-25 feet high (no more, no less) and placed in the sunshine. It can take a few seasons to get some roosting critters in there.

A lot of these include projects that can be done with kiddos, along with fun learning experiences. Don’t pass up the opportunity!

Perennial Garden

Moving in to our new house at the end of April with limited time and resources prevented me from being able to have a vegetable garden this year. Or at least, one on the scale that I want to have. For next year, I want a couple of raised beds in the sunniest part of the backyard so I can plant plenty of produce. This year, I settled for some spinach, romaine, broccoli, and dill in an already existing planter box that wraps around the front porch. My vegetables are having to share their space with some perennials that were already in one section of it.

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The day I planted

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Lilies and columbine

What I did have, though, was the time and resources to plant a perennial garden out front.

See, I have this little island between the driveway and the front walkway.

11209695_10155529497160596_1965150593871578516_nIt wasn’t in the best shape, and things needed to change. We didn’t like the evergreen shrubs bordering the walkway. They’re ubiquitous in the Pacific northwest, but they get taller than a person and, particularly when they’re not meticulously and constantly tended, they tend to become spider traps that scream “don’t use this path!” when they line walkways. We also already have a fairly shady yard, and the front is one of the most constantly sunny places we have, so we didn’t really want to have something that would shade it. Out those went. There was also some rotting wood barriers (the past owners were terrible at regularly sealing or otherwise caring for wood outside; thank goodness our porches are roofed), and a stump. The wood came out, but the stump stayed because it’s small enough that I figured I’d just plant around it and let time take care of it.

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Grass and weeds removed and grass seed down and watered

Then we tilled and removed all of the grass and weeds in the island. Even though I wanted grass in part of it, there were so many weeds and the dirt was so dry and unhealthy, I wanted to give it a fresh start with fertilizer and new grass. I raked in some fish meal fertilizer and put grass seed in along the driveway and curb edges because I don’t want my plants to be trampled by anyone who parks close to the edge.

From there, my mom and I went to a local organic nursery and went shopping. I had a number of goals for this little garden. I wanted it to be perennial, because I don’t want to spend a small fortune replanting it every year. Planting veggies from seed every year is one thing. You get tons of seeds in a packet that costs no more than a couple of bucks and will usually last at least a couple of years, and you get food out of it. But planting annual starts can get costly, plus it means places that are either bare or have dying plants once the growing seasons is over. No thanks. I also wanted the perennials to include edibles and to attract pollinators and pretties: bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Manure compost turned in

Manure compost turned in

Along with getting plants, my parents have a neighborhood barn that has compost piles. There are three bunkers that the neighborhood rotates through. The horse owners bring the wood chips and dung they shovel out, and people bring things like grass clippings and dead weeds. When a bunker is full, its closed off and allowed to sit for awhile to become compost, and then people can use the compost. I shoveled a bunch of this compost into the back of my dad’s truck (on the warmest day we’ve had this year, no less), and we brought it back to my house where I shoveled it all right back out into the island.

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Arranging before planting

While my little one took his nap, I turned the compost into the dirt. Hopefully between that and the fish meal fertilizer, the dirt will be healthier and life-giving.

Now it was time for the plants. I had gotten a number of plants to fit my goals. There are three blueberry bushes, which produce berries at different times of the growing season so that we don’t have too many at once. For the one spot that gets shade for at least half of the day I got a couple of bleeding hearts, and in the rest I got plants like bee balm, echinacea, aster, and lavender. Some are edible as herbs and in teas, and others are simply to attract my pollinators and pretties.

11150387_10155546855850596_6515258140420890126_nTo finish things off, I planted — which was interesting, because there are still small roots from the tree through the island –mulched, and watered.

I really can’t wait to see what this looks like when everything has had time to get established and grow.

Next year, when I have a real vegetable garden and I’m not using the front porch planter, I plan on putting some more shade-friendly perennials  in there. I already have a hummingbird feeder up, and yesterday I found fuchsia starts at Haggen so I made two hanging fuchsia baskets for the price of one established basket. That was an exciting find. I’ve already been paid off for my efforts to attract certain wildlife; I saw a hummingbird pay a visit to my feeder yesterday afternoon.

 

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13279_10155562999955596_1826768025702838296_n My fuchsia baskets and hummingbird feeder on the front porch; My columbine blooming in the front porch planter

 

 

New House and Stuff

I haven’t had a lot to write about for a while. until suddenly I did.

We bought a house.

It’s beautiful. It needs work, but its beautiful because its ours. It was a foreclosure, and although it wasn’t a horror story as far as foreclosures go, the previous tenants weren’t exactly nice to it either. We have to fix and paint walls, replace carpeting, replace all of the outlets (we had a little adventure with one in little man’s room causing all of the outlets and lights in his room and ours to stop working on and off until my dad fixed it), and lots of other little things all over the place. They weren’t very clean and they cut holes in walls. Literally. There’s a hole in the wall from them mounting their TV and hiding the cord inside the wall.

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But it’s all things that can be fixed over time, and I have my own bedroom again. I don’t have to sneak through R’s room to get into the bathroom anymore. I have a kitchen that more than one person can comfortably be in at the same time.

I have flowers.

Of course, that’s not all that’s been going on. Our little guy turned one a little while back.

2014-05-11 21.42.502014-05-11 21.46.12And he’s, you know, the cutest thing ever. He has a few words now. “Hot” is his most recent, and it’s absolutely adorable because he kinda whispers it to get the “h” sound. I think it mostly just means food — maybe specifically cooked food — to him, but we’ll get the meaning down eventually. He also says “Mom,” “Yeah,” “No,” ” ‘gain” (again), and is working on a few others but hasn’t gotten them down yet. He jumps when we say jump, he’ll kick his little legs if we say kick when he’s laying down, he runs all over the place and is up and down the stairs like nobody’s business, he chases the cats with maniacal enjoyment, and he gives kisses.

Steven completed his locomotive engineer training. Unfortunately, the railroad over-hired and things slowed down a bit, so there’s not enough positions for all of the employees and some are getting furloughed. Due to some really annoying circumstances, Steven was furloughed (temporarily laid off) a couple of days ago even though he has enough seniority to hold a position. I think he’s going to try to get that reversed tomorrow, but even if he can’t, he’s pretty sure the furlough isn’t going to last very long, and we’re okay for a while. If it goes too long, he’ll just have to find something that will pay the bills until they take him off of furlough. The particularly unfortunate part is that it’ll be a lot harder to find something that pays well enough to cover the bills while he’s on furlough now that it would have been if we hadn’t just bought a house. Oh well. I may have to get an evening job too or something, if it comes to it. But hopefully not. Prayers appreciated.