Sunday, May 17, 2015

Stringing Hops

While Midwest corn and soybean farmers waited for April’s muddy fields to dry for planting, southwest Idaho hop growers were already helping their crop reach for the sun. Corn and soybeans grow from tiny seeds each spring. Hop plants get a jump on the season by resprouting from sturdy roots.
As the first lobed and toothed leaves appear, sticky hairs on the stems attach to anything they can find to stretch toward the sky. Commercial hop growers in the Greenleaf-Wilder area of Idaho provide trellises and twine nearly 20 feet tall.

This is one of only four places in the U.S. where the crop is grown commercially. You might be tempted to call these champion climbers, “vines,” but botanists call them “bines.” Vines grip with curling tendrils; bines use stiff hairs.

This April, workers at Jackson Hop Farm rode across the hop yards while standing on a platform a dozen feet above the ground. A tractor pulled the contraption perpendicular to overhead wires that stretch among sturdy posts. As the tractor passed under a wire, five men on the platform each picked up a 20-foot long piece of twine from a supply hanging over the partition in front of him. Then five thickly-gloved hands executed a flip and a twist with a tuck and the end of the twine was tied to the wire.
Occasionally, one of the men missed his dally. A shout from the platform would stop the tractor and back it up for another loop.

The platform cowboys weren’t the only ones wrangling hops. A ground team flowed in the wake of the tractor and tacked the other end of the twine to the ground.
As a left hand caught a swaying twine, a right hand aimed a driver loaded with an M-shaped metal clip.
Catch-point-set-step-push and another family of glossy new leaves had a home to grow on.
(This is a brand new hop yard, established just this past winter. Red straws marked the spot where each cluster of roots was to be buried.)
The crew will be back during May to teach the bines to climb, clockwise, to the top of the trellis. Hop plants only make right turns and always follow the clock.

By mid-June the plants will be nearing the tops of the trellises.
At harvest, long hallways of broad green leaves will be festooned with lighter green cones oozing with hoppy goodness. I wrote about the fragrant hop harvest for last fall's issue of Edible Idaho.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

All it Takes is a Clothespin

I spent much of last winter in Cochise County, Arizona, where friends and I have failed for several decades to make money raising cattle. We’ve been more successful caring for the land and building a welcoming community. I focus on the latter two on our Facebook page.

The San Pedro River Valley taught me new skills: turning large pieces of wood into small pieces of wood with a pruning saw, running a gas generator without a functioning starter cord, securing propane cylinders in the back of a station wagon, and removing mice from my car's ventilation system. (Tomcat mouse traps rock, but peanut butter still rules. Cochise County mice ignore Tomcat brand bait.)

I peppered my neighbors with questions as I settled in to my off-grid cabin. “Is the solar storage battery charging or discharging?” “Can I use your wifi?” “Do your chickens eat onion peels, or should I put them in the trash?”, and “Where’s the transfer station?”

After I had water, heat, electricity, wifi, and trash sorted out, I moved on to a mystery. “What are the clothespins on the mailboxes?” My neighbor said, “That’s so people can deliver notices of community events.” “Really?” I said, “If I put a clothespin on my mailbox I’ll hear about what’s going on?” "Yes," she said. “All it takes is a clothespin.”


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Red, not Golden, Walnuts

California, home to fruits, nuts, and the world’s largest artichoke, lays claim to walnuts. The claim is based on the state's rank as the world’s largest producer of the golden nuts. California exports millions of pounds of shelled and in-the-shell walnuts each year, perhaps even to the forests of southwestern Asia where the trees are native.

Idaho, home to sagebrush, spuds, and the world’s largest beagle, boasts two trees that produce red walnuts. Inside normal-looking walnut shells nestle red-seed coated nutmeats that are creamier and milder than their golden-coated cousins.

When I visited the two trees late last summer, their unusual nuts were cleverly disguised as regular green walnut fruits.
Idaho’s red walnuts are descendants of a single tree in Europe, where the unusual nuts have been rediscovered and renamed many times. Recent converts rave about the nuts in online discussion boards and ask others for more information on the trees. Others respond with reminiscences and reminders on the virtues of sharing.

A researcher in Austria is an admirer of the ruddy-skinned nuts. His Flicker photostream show a range of colors, from pink to burgundy to deep violet. He has a red-seeded walnut tree in his garden and research into the genetics of the rare nuts on his bucket list.

I wrote about Idaho’s red walnut trees in a recent issue of Edible Idaho. Read the online version of my story here or download the entire issue.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One Mustang Adopted, 50,000 to Go

My friend Matt Livengood had a little over three months to teach Bud the Mustang everything he needed to know to become an adoptable horse. Bud arrived in April, 100 days before the Extreme Mustang Makeover event in Nampa, ID. By the end of July Bud was a different horse.

Bud wore his Bureau of Land Management (BLM) neck tag for weeks; he wouldn't let Matt get close enough to put a halter on him. The tag had been Bud's ID since he was rounded up on the Black Rock Desert of Nevada and taken to a BLM holding facility. Bud left behind 50,000 other horses and burros waiting for adoption in BLM corrals.


When I visited Bud the first time he stayed as far away from me as he could in his round pen. He watched me closely and smelled for danger. Bud got his name from his size and resemblance to the Budweiser Clydesdales: he looked like he could pull a beer wagon when he trotted, furry fetlocks flying. Matt hoped his full name, This Bud's for You, would encourage bidders at the Mustang Makeover auction.


The early Bud was a rough-looking, wary guy. He was anxious and didn't look like a happy horse.

Several of Bud's fans were on hand the first time Matt sat on his back at the end of May. Bud was wearing his summer coat by then, which let his dabbles show. By this time, Bud would let his fans feed him grass and pat him.

Matt might have been more patient with Bud than Bud's own mother was. Because Matt never got flustered, Bud had no reason to misbehave.

Bud's a thinker. Once he had time to mull over his new life, he was in with all four feet. He watched, tried, learned, and seemed to enjoy the new activities and experiences. When the Makeover rolled around, the formerly free-roaming mustang was living in a stall, riding in a trailer, and behaving like a saddle horse. Bud was ready to leave Matt for a permanent home.

When I walked up to Bud at the Makeover he greeted me and wanted to know all about me: what I smelled like, what I sounded like, what my shirt tasted like, and whether or not I was going to use those handy human appendages to scratch him. (I did.)

Somewhere along the way, Bud had learned about paper. He decided it was good to eat. One bite and much of the diagram of the trail course he was to follow at the Makeover disappeared. Alayne Blickle, Matt's wife, said Bud just wanted to digest the course. Matt studied what was left and took Bud through his paces as if they were at home in their own arena. Except, at home there wasn't a crowd of people making a big scary noise with their handy appendages. You can watch Matt and Bud here.

"Team Bud," the friends who had come to cheer him on and see him off to his new home, was thrilled when our pair finished the prelims in the top ten and moved on to the finals. We sprang into action and developed a beach-themed routine for the evening performance. Team members ran to the dollar store for supplies, created a cardboard Dalmatian to ride in a borrowed red Radio Flyer wagon, and downloaded and dubbed music. We were sure Bud would have as much fun with the routine as we did.

Matt kept the diagram for the finals away from Bud as they practiced.

Bud turned to show off his dapples as he warmed up.


I made my horse show debut in a Hawaiian shirt when I helped set up beach chairs and a horse-sized beach ball in the arena. Despite Bobby McFerrin singing Don't Worry, Be Happy on his soundtrack, Bud was worried. He saw an even larger crowd of people and an odd collection of objects; his ears hurt from the rock concert-level PA system. Bud wasn't happy.

Team Bud watched its namesake melt down in the arena and knew we'd gotten carried away and pushed Bud too fast.

Matt stayed calm and waited to see if Bud would relax on the beach. He didn't. By the time the Budweiser ad at the end of his soundtrack suggested that "you've said it all," Bud had had all he could stand. Once he got away from the noise and strange sights, Bud calmed down and recovered.

Team Bud huddled in the stands and worried about what kind of home Bud would go to after we'd upset him with our beach idea. My stomach hurt and my mouth was dry while I watched the other finalists' routines.

It was hard to listen to the bidding for our dappled brown, melted down Bud. A woman in back was bidding. She seemed nice; would she get him? Yes. No. Yes; she did!

I wasn't the only member of Team Bud who quizzed his new owner after the auction. When she told me her plans for Bud, I knew she had looked through his temporary loss of composure and seen the sweet, curious, willing horse he is: Bud will be her next extreme trail riding horse.

These events test horses' and riders' ability to go over, under, and through obstacles made of wood, water, and soil. The horses have to back through some obstacles and others move when the horses step on them.

Bud has been elevated to royalty in his forever home: he's now Prince of Bud, or Prince for short. His new human companion is thrilled with his "willingness to learn, calm demeanor, and how fast he picks up on new things." In short, "He truly is my dream horse." No word on how many times her kids have used the excuse, "The horse ate my homework."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In the Boise Markets: Bring Out Your Knives

After decades of torturing my kitchen knife on grinding wheels in farm shops or scratching away at it with an old, hand held whetstone, now shaped like a partly-used bar of soap, I took my knife to the sharpening parlor. It got a professional treatment.

Michael Givens sharpens knives, and other formerly sharp objects, most Saturdays at the Boise Capital City Market.

Michael the Knife Sharpener let me tell him the story of my knife, how I'd gotten it from a former boyfriend; probably my favorite former boyfriend. Michael agreed that it was an excellent knife. I also appreciate car mechanics who tell me that Troy the Wonder Car is an excellent, well-cared-for car.

The Knife Sharpener let me photograph him on a dark, rainy day, while he shaped, smoothed, and buffed my knife.

An oddly-shaped, unwieldy blade I learned was a lawn mower blade sent photogenic showers of sparks flying.

When I had used up my allotted number of questions for the day, I went around to the front of the booth to pay for my better, sharper, trimmer knife. Michael's wife and co-worker asked, “You had the lawn mower blade?”

"Oh, no," I said, "That belongs to someone with a lawn--and a house.”

Michael piped up from the back, “Someone who married their favorite former boyfriend.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dusty Doright

I’ve only used the “No” word one time with Dusty Dog. He was crunching something in his teeth after checking out an intriguing-smelling hole in the ground. "Dusty, no”! He rushed over to reassure me, a dead ringer for Oatmeal's dog.

Dusty’s human, Mollie, rarely uses that word, either. His favorite food is Anything the Cat Didn’t Eat (he’s allowed to clean up leftovers). Dusty could help himself to Everything the Cat Didn’t Eat Fast Enough with an short hop onto the chair next to the cat’s bowl. But he stays on the floor. Dusty could chew up shoes, backpacks, sofas, and pillows. But he limits himself to shedding gobs of hair the size of dachshunds on all of the above. Dusty could get into the trash or the closet where his food and treats are stored, but he doesn’t seem interested.

Mollie says Dusty behaves out of gratitude for being rescued from the pound. Another friend, who also saved her dog from the noisy, chaotic pound, says her dog keeps a close eye on her, so she doesn't disappear.

Early this spring, when the sun was rising late, Mollie left for work at oh-dark-thirty. Her work phone rang later that morning. It was her next-door neighbor; he had tracked her down through her employer.

The neighbor had looked out his back window to see Dusty carefully inventorying all the exciting odors in the wrong backyard. Morning light revealed Dusty's wooden stockade fence flat on the ground, keeping the newly growing grass in place. The neighbor worried that Dusty might wander into the street and get hurt.

Mollie was swamped at work and didn't know when she could get away. But she knew her dog. She told her neighbor to address Dusty, point to their house, and say, “Git home!”

Mollie's neighbor did just that. Dusty looked up at the man, considered it, and trotted back to his porch. He was still there when Mollie broke away from work and got home to put him inside and close up his dog door.

When I visited Dusty later that week for his walk, we hung out in back for a while. He stayed in his yard and kept an eye on the neighborhood activities. He likes the view a lot better with the fence out of the way.