Scavenging in a Landing Zone

Sunflower seeds, right from the source.

The other day, I had a helicopter charter from Wenatchee to Ephrata. My landing zone was a harvested sunflower field.

Parked at the Sunflower LZ
I parked not far from the end of the irrigation pivot for the field.

The ground was rough but frozen hard. I landed with my skids perpendicular to the furrows where the plants had been lined up during the growing season. Thick dried stalks littered the field and, as I came in for my landing, I wondered how many would become airborne and whether they’d cause me any problems. Some did stir while other pieces of the harvested plants got airborne in my downwash as I neared the ground. But there was no danger. I settled down so softly, my passengers even commented on it.

“Smooth,” one of them said as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

My two passengers climbed out as I began the cool down procedure. They walked around the front of the helicopter, well beneath the spinning blades, and met the men they’d come to see alongside the road. I watched them cross the street and disappear down a driveway.

It didn’t take long to cool down the engine. It was 1°C outside. I brought the blades to a stop and climbed out to survey my surroundings and take another look at the ground near my skids. It’s a habit I have on off-airport landings — checking the skids to make sure they’re free of objects or terrain that could cause a dangerous pivot point later when it was time to leave. And, of course, I took a few pictures; I always photograph my landing zones.

That’s when I found out what I’d landed on. From the air, I’d assumed it had been corn. But there were quite a few big, round structures in the field and it didn’t take long to figure out what they were: the seed heads of sunflowers.

The Seed Heads

The Sunflower LZ
This Google satellite view tells the story of a big round field with a draw running through it and a smaller field in the corner where I’d parked.

This part of Washington is farm country. While they mostly grow tree fruit and grapes in the Wenatchee area where I live, out toward Quincy and Ephrata and Moses Lake they grow a lot of row crops. The corner of this huge field had its own little irrigation pivot. I don’t know what they grew in the rest of the field, but this corner had been sunflowers, and lots of them. I could only imagine how beautiful they must have looked in bloom.

Now there were just scattered seed heads lying around. Like any machine-harvested field, some crops are left behind.

I got to thinking about those sunflowers and all the seeds that were embedded in them. Hundreds in each seed head. They obviously didn’t want them. If I grabbed a bunch, pulled the seeds off, and scattered the seeds around my 10 acre lot in Malaga, there’s a good chance I’d get a few sunflowers for very little effort. My bees would be very pleased indeed for the late season pollen and nectar source.

I started gathering seed heads. They were dry but dirty. The stalks on some were quite long. I pulled out my pocket knife and sawed them off.

I’d gathered four of them and had stowed them under one of the back seats when I got a text message from my client.

“You can come in if you want,” it said.

Usually, I sit out at the helicopter and read while I wait for my passengers. But usually, it isn’t 1°C outside. I realized I was cold. I closed up the back seat, put my knife away, grabbed my iPad, and traced their steps across the street and into the lobby of the nursery/packing house they were visiting. After explaining who I was, I settled down on one of the chairs there, took off my coat, and read.

The Seeds

I brought the seed heads home from the airport after our flight and stowed them in a big shoebox in the garage. (Now I know why I saved that box.) I wasn’t sure how wet they were and I didn’t want bugs in the house or mice among the seed heads.

Today, I took them out for a better look. They were quite beautiful in an old, post-harvest kind of way. They were brown — not black, as we’re so accustomed to seeing in snack packaging. I’m not sure if they were brown because of the dirt or because of the type of sunflower.

Sunflower Seed Heads
Seed heads in a shoebox.

Sunflower Seeds
Harvested sunflower seeds beside the largest of the four seed heads I brought home.

I picked one up and, holding it over the box, rubbed it roughly with my thumb. The seeds began to dislodge and fall off into the box. About ten minutes of rubbing cleared them off the three smaller seed heads. I figured I had about 2,000 sunflower seeds. The final seed head would likely add another 1,000 or so.

The plan is to let them dry indoors in the box. When I’m sure they’re good and dry — and I honestly think they already are — I’ll put them in a bag. In February, before I leave for my frost gig, I’ll scatter them all over my property, keeping about 100 or so to manually plant alongside my vegetable garden.

But before I do any of that, I’ll likely soak a few of these to make sure they sprout. After all, there is a chance that they’re hybrids grown for some specific purpose — oil, seeds, etc. — and that the seeds themselves aren’t fertile. I’ll know soon enough.

3,000 free sunflower seeds. Not bad for a bit of scavenging.

Buying Native Plants

My order is in for spring!

I get a lot of mail here — a lot more mail than I got in Arizona. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Among the mail I got this week was a four-page newsletter from the Cascadia Conservation District. I’m not a member — at least I don’t think so. I think it just went out to everyone.

Quaking Aspen
I shot this photo of quaking aspen trees at my neighbor’s home last month. I ordered 20 bare root stock aspen trees and hope to have my own grove growing next year.

This particular issue had an order form for the 2014 Native Plant Sale. I was thrilled to find bare root stock of native trees at very affordable prices. For example, a bundle of ten 12-inch Quaking Aspen trees was only $15. The same price applied to other trees that interested me: Blue Elderberry (which has edible berries), Red Osier Dogwood (which has red bark in winter), and Woods Rose. And if I wanted Ponderosa Pines — which I do, but not right away — I could get a bundle of 25 trees for $20 or 200 for $120.

There were more options on the order form, but I just chose the ones listed above (except the pines). I chose them primarily because they’re fast growers and they flower at various times of the spring or summer. (My bees will like that.) As for the aspens — well, I just love aspen trees. I mean, who doesn’t? You can download an illustrated brochure of all the plants here.

What’s best about all this, though, is that these are native trees — not something from out of the area brought in to Home Depot or nurseries just because people like them. I think it’s important to landscape with native plants. Not only are they more likely to do better locally, but in this area, they’re likely to need less irrigation or soil supplementation.

The order form requires me to submit my order with at least 50% payment by February 14, 2014. But because I know I’ll forget if I put it aside, I filled it out today and will mail it in when I drive down to town later. Plant pickup will be on April 5, 2014. In the meantime, they’re also offering a “Native Planting 101″ Workshop in February, which I’ve already signed up for.

So yes, in April I’ll be digging a lot of little holes. But I’m excited about moving forward with landscaping on my property. This looks like a great way to start.

Land of Wildflowers

Something new is blooming every time I visit my future home.

As I blogged earlier in the week, I spent some time on the Cathedral Rock Road lot I plan to build my home in Malaga, WA. I wanted to measure out the footprint for my building and put in marked stakes at each corner. It would help me visualize where the building would go and how much space it would take up.

The 48 x 50 building looked tiny on the 10-acre lot. So I decided to make it bigger: 60 x 50. That’ll give me room for a good sized shop bench and storage beside the RV and helicopter.

I’d been texting earlier in the day with my friend Tom, who keeps bees in Vermont. That conversation continued, even when I was walking around, pounding stakes with red ribbons into the ground. I mentioned that I wished I was able to set my bees up on the lot now because there were plenty of flowers around. He wondered how many hives the area would support. I hadn’t given it any thought. But it also got me wondering about how many different kinds of flowers there were right there.

Not having anything pressing to do, I took out my camera and started shooting quick photos of the different kinds of flowers I saw. I thought I’d share them here, mostly to document them. I might do the same thing in a month and then again in two months. It’ll be interesting to build a history of flowers, especially since my bees will soon be depending on them for nutrition while they make me honey and wax.

So here are the photos.

Tiny Yellow Flowers Tiny White Flowers
Purple Flowers Big Purple Flowers
White Flowers White & Yellow Flowers
Yellow Flowers Lupine

This is just what I saw that day, while walking around. There were different flowers earlier in the season and I suppose there will be different flowers later in the season.

If so, I’ll show them off here.

Saving the Cape Honeysuckle

A final dedication to my home.

Cape Honeysuckle
Cape Honeysuckle photo from Wikipedia.

Last spring, when it looked as if my husband and I were going to get through our marital difficulties and make things work, he and I spent the good part of a day reworking the back flower beds that I’d created with stacked bricks years before and planting cape honeysuckle plants. We’d had some luck with these plants in the corner of the front yard. Their tubular red flowers attract hummingbirds, which I love to have around the yard.

We planted eight of the plants and watered them regularly to get them established. My husband subsequently added the beds back to the irrigation system so they’d (supposedly) get watered regularly.

Dead PlantsUnfortunately, my husband didn’t spend much time at our Wickenburg home over the summer. That was pretty obvious from the condition of the yard and flower beds when I returned. He’d planted a vegetable garden, which was mostly dead. And five of the eight cape honeysuckle plants were either missing or reduced to dead sticks. Everything was bone dry. When I checked the irrigation system, I found the spigot turned off.

I turned the spigot back on, but the system doesn’t seem to be working properly. It trickles water to the plants at an odd schedule that isn’t sufficient to keep them alive during the heat we’re still suffering through in September and October.

Although I’ve given up on manually watering his vegetable garden — he planted mostly peppers, which I really don’t like anyway — I’ve been watering the surviving cape honeysuckle regularly. My efforts have paid off. The three surviving plants that were fading have recovered and seem to be growing again. The others, of course, are beyond help.

Whatever happens in the settlement for my divorce, I know one thing for certain: I will not be living here much longer. Instead, my husband will move back in with my replacement. She’ll sit on my furniture, use my kitchen appliances, and bathe in my garden tub, as I did, on winter afternoons with the sun coming through the glass block window. She’ll sleep with my husband, perhaps in the bed I shared with him all those years.

It’s painful to know that I’m so easily replaced. But at the same time, it really says a lot about the conscience (or lack thereof) of a man who would so easily put another woman in the home he shared with his wife for more than 15 years — and the conscience (or lack thereof) of the woman who would have no qualms about taking that place.

Yet despite my pain, I continue to water the cape honeysuckle. To me, they’re a symbol of my dedication to my home and my relationship. No one spends hours in the hot sun preparing beds and planting shrubbery for a home they plan to leave for good.

I thought I was going to stay. I thought I had a future here. I thought I had a future with my husband.

I may have been wrong, but I’ll tend to these plants until I’m gone.