Monday, September 21, 2009


I asked for it, I got it. We've been overrun by tomatoes.

I really wanted to plant a lot of tomatoes. I grew up in NJ, and if you know anything about NJ, you will understand my feelings about tomatoes. I love them. And I hardly ever find ones as yummy as I remember them growing up. So, this year, I wanted to plant a bunch of plants to make sure that I would get to eat as many as I wanted and with the hopes that some of them would taste as good as NJ. I planted 5 plants in the raised bed....2 containers full....and then the other 2 hanging pots....and now, I'm in trouble. Right now, they are taking over. For a while it was zucchini...stuffed, baked, grilled, in bread, with chocolate....but now, tomatoes are in... they've crowded out the eggplant, have taken over a whole bed, and are starting to encroach upon the corn.

I've been picking about a large basketful every night after work. They are mostly the large cherry tomatoes, so even though that is a lot, it's not quite enough for we're eating them. Tomatoes in salad...salsa....roasted tomatoes....tomato bean casserole....tomato bean soup....tomato fritatta.....shall I go on? My new favorite cherry tomato recipe is to put them in a baking dish with some olive oil, garlic and basil and bake them for about an hour. They are so rich and sweet - like candy, but better. They are all good, especially the bigger heirloom ones, but I have to say, I don't think I will plant quite so many next year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

the old man is snoring

Well, we got our first rain this weekend. The whole bit, with thunder and lightening - very cool. It reminded me of the east coast....we hardly ever get thunder in CA. So, now it feels like winter is coming. We wore sweatshirts, and I was ready to start a fire yesterday, I made soup for dinner too....very autumnal. You can smell the change in the air, and all the fruit trees (except the apples) are losing their leaves. I made some fig jam with the last of the figs, and we pulled the zucchini plant yesterday to make room for new beet and carrot seeds. We also built a new raised bed for more planting space. I'm so excited to plant new seeds, I'm actually impatient for the old stuff to finish up just so I can clear the space and plant more. I pulled the broccoli and cauliflower and even glared at the brussel sprouts - if they don't produce something soon, they're coming out to make way for more carrots! We've also put in winter potato crops, onions, more lettuce, and soon some arugula and garlic.

Winter is also a time for some yard reorganizing and cleanup, so yesterday, in addition to working on the raised bed and planting seeds, we merged the two chicken poplulations into one flock. The ladies spent the day squawking and pecking at each other trying to figure out who will be the boss lady now that all 6 of them are living together. This means we can move the chicken tractor out of the way to make more room for garden beds and tree planting. Our goal is to put some trees in the ground this fall and get them out of their temporary buckets. Then they should (hopefully) grow much larger and produce more fruit next summer.

Winter also feels like a time to regroup and rest a bit, to plan for next summer and to dream about new projects. I'm starting to work on holiday gifts too. Last year we did all homemade gifts for Christmas and Hanukah, and we'll do the same this year. I crocheted hats and scarves, and this year am working on more elaborate creations. Also, there will be canned treats, and if I can spend a Sunday working on it, hopefully candles from the beehive wax.... Come to think of it, I guess we're still busy in the fall and winter, but the projects tend to allow more time for reflection and quiet...they take us inside more, and tend to be about the transformation of things that we've harvested. One of Z.'s favorite bedtime books is called The Story of the Root Children by Sibyl Von Olfers. It's about the root babies of the flowers and the plants that rest and regroup all winter until they are ready to emerge from the earth for summer splendor. In the fall, the wind blows again, and they retreat back underground to Mother Earth where they are warm and fed waiting out the winter. I felt the chill in the air this weekend and it seems like almost time to join the root children under the ground.
Have I mentioned that one of the best things about growing your own food is eating it? When I come home exhausted from teaching, I love going out into the yard with my toddler to look for dinner....tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce...I love the idea that I pick it, and that less than an hour later, we eat it! What a concept! The other day I made artichokes....Mmmmm. I've never been a huge artichoke fan - it always seems like so much work for not a lot of reward. But now, I get it. These were sooo tender and yummy and buttery. And the smaller ones didn't even have a choke. Wow. Definitely need to plant more artichokes.....

Friday, September 4, 2009

the chicken came first

We've got chickens. It started out as 4...then one died...then, we had to replace her, so we got 3.... and I still dream about the Blue Laced Gold Wyandotte that we saw which we couldn't take because she wasn't sexed, and we couldn't take the chance of getting a rooster (sigh.) So, now we have 6 Heirloom breeds: 2 Ameraucanas (Ramona and Natasha), 1 Gold Laced (Violet) and 1 Silver Laced (Alice Lucy) Wyandotte, 1 Light Brahma (Beatrix), and one Welsummer (Olive). And you've probably already figured out that I'm obsessed with them and have learned all the lingo and chicken speak I can find. These ladies live in a deluxe chicken condo in our yard, next to the raised beds, and they also have a mobile chicken tractor (both accommodations thanks to the cute-and-good-with-tools hubby) which they can free range in. We don't just let them loose because we are actually trying to grow things in our yard, and when left to their own devices, they pretty much eat (read DESTROY) everything. But they sure are fun to watch...Chicken TV... And I must say, I thought they were all pretty dumb at first, but now that they all seem to have personalities, they are a little more exciting, and their stupidity is somehow very endearing.

Well, 2 days ago, we got our first egg! Adorably small and sort of conehead looking - very pointy. So cool! It was almost 3 months to the day since we got them as 10 week old pullets. Man, what a long wait! I don't know how people do it who start with chicks - they have to wait twice as long to get an egg, and let me tell you, the wait is excruciating! But now that we have 2 little eggs (they will lay approximately 1 per day/per chicken) I have to say that I can't eat one! They are just too special! I know that's silly, and the whole point is to eat the eggs, but it just seems so miraculous. Today, one of my art students said I should blow out the egg and save it, so I think I will....That way I can have my egg and eat it too!

sweet as honey

I've been keeping bees in my backyard for just over 3 years now, and I love it. This is an easy beginning urban farmer activity that I highly recommend to folks. It's easier than you think, and really only takes much effort a few times a year. My hive is based on the Kenyan Top Bar Hive design developed by Conrad Berube for the Peace Corps, and it's easy to build yourself. (Or in my case, have your handy husband build for you.) It's a sort of low-tech, organic way of keeping bees, and doesn't require an extractor or a lot of expensive equipment for harvesing honey. The bees build natural comb and when you harvest, you get the honey as well as the wax, so it's great if you make candles or soap or things like that. I just harvested about a half bucket full of honey in August, and will take some more in October. The honey is amazing, and considering that organic local honey in the store runs about $15/jar, I feel lucky to get it for free. And, by eating seriously local honey (can't get much more local than my back yard!), my hayfever improves every year. The bees are almost all female, and are lead by a queen too, so beekeeping always feel somewhat feminist to me. Here are some pics of my hive and my latest harvest....

pears, pears, everywhere

So, I was checking email the other day, and read a post on my neighborhood Yahoo group that somebody nearby had a pear tree full of pears and did anybody want some?....Free pears! After hearing about projects like Urban Forage and seeing movies like The Gleaners (fantastic French film) I was really excited about the possibility of harvesting some free fruit from the neighborhood. So, after farmer's market, I dragged M. and Z. over to this guy's yard, and we collected several canvas sacks of pears. Upon getting home and weighing them, we discovered we had 50lbs of pears! Needless to say, we've been eating lots of pears...pear juice...pear coffee cake....pears in salad....and this past weekend, I canned pears! Now, we'll be eating them in January too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

urban farmers are born...

So, in the spirit of staying current, I'll give a quick update since my last entry, and try to bring things up to present time....After buying our home, doing major renovations - mostly ourselves - and having a kid - (born at home!), M. and I have spent the last year or so working a lot on our yard, and specifically on making it more functional. We added a fence, built a shed - then tore it down to create more space for gardens... moved my studio to another site so we could use the existing shed for storage, laid a patio with pavers, and installed a 2-sided bench on the back stairs to create an outdoor "mudroom" sort of space. This past summer, I got really inspired on the gardening front and really committed to more functional gardens. I read a bunch of books on organic gardening - specifically for the Bay Area too. Very helpful! M. and I dug another raised bed, so we now have 3 4x8 foot beds, and also planted in containers around the yard. In the spring, I ordered around $40. worth of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, and planted beans, radishes, tomatoes, onions, corn, lettuce, beets, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brusses sprouts, artichokes, peppers, sunflowers, herbs.....After losing my beehive to neglect about 2 years ago, I got another swarm from a friend's hive and installed them in my Top Bar Hive. So, the yard was up and running, and we've been reaping the benefits all summer long! We just picked our last beans and zucchini, and the tomatoes are just turning red. I just planted more potatoes, lettuce is still going strong, onions are almost ready to braid, and I've harvested one round of honey so far (about 15 jars). It was all such a fulfilling process, and eating food that we grew all summer was so amazing - it tastes so great, takes less time to cook, and holds all of the love and care we put into it.