Monday, December 10, 2007

Fluffys been distracted

It has been quite awhile since the last post.
I have a new (well not so new) computer. My Sweet Guy got a really nice new one and I got his really nice old one. It needed some work, but it is very nice. We be Mac'n now, at Fluffys.

But that was only one distraction. I have discovered socks. "Of course," you say. "It is cold outside." but that is not what I mean. I am knitting socks. I started spinning wool (a fluffy thing it is, too) about 1 1/2 years ago. And I have crocheted some things like blankets and such, but then I decided to make socks. I got some double pointed needles (dpn) at a thrift store and looked up instructions online- Socks 101. But it wasn't very good. SO I bought a book- sensational socks- that I read about online. That was very good. Now I am making lots of socks. Baby bootie socks, demo socks, my socks, his socks, girl's socks- almost all from wool washed, combed, and spun by Fluffy herself. And dyed with food color. I am about to venture into the chemical dye world, as the Koolaid and food color dye is quite inconsistent. The Koolaid smells great, though. And the commercial dyes have a better color selection. Then a friend gave me a pattern for leaf socks- way cool. Embossed Leaves pattern, from Interweave Knits Winter 2005/6.
So I haven't done much blogging. I have been learning about my not quite new machine. I have been writing a Muffin Book, and I have been spinning, coloring and knitting.

Of course there was also Thanks day, chicken issues, car trouble, and the girl's new boyfriend. All very exciting and time consuming.
You may have noticed that there is no gardening right now in Fluffysgarden. Well, I have pruned a couple of trees, netted in a bed to keep the chickens out, and hired a group to install a new fence at the back. I have drawn plans for the Fireplace/living room remodel and started back at the gym 2 times a week.
I have only baked one batch of holiday cookies, but have been sending little instructions to China for others to bake.
I have also cleaned out things to donate, worked on a baby quilt, and cleaned house (rarely, but it does count).

Did I mention that I also had to learn how to take the pictures and upload and all that?
Fluffys little brain is full for now.
Next : beans- I am thinking about Chinese long beans. I am thinking about spring and getting the garden ready. I may be close to done with socks for now- well, soon, maybe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That Time of Year

Yes, it is. That time of year when I have to put all my jars and dried foods into the pantry so I can use the table top for Thanksgiving. You may think this is an easy task, but I need to get organized first. Everything is dated so the oldest stuff gets moved to the front and the new stuff is at the back. That means taking every thing out and repacking. While it is out, I might as well clean the shelves. Hey, there is some really old stuff in here! I might actually have to throw some stuff out! Or cook it up really fast into something special.
Well, it will take me several days to get it all done. I just made a batch of Granola- enough to last through the Holidays. And I have started inventory for the great Feast. I have started gathering specialty items for decoration and, most importantly, I have a menu plan.
I hear you saying it. "Turkey and what?" No Turkey here. We have duck every year. After years of throwing away nearly whole turkeys, I poled the troops and discovered that no one liked Turkey. So the alternate white meat- duck- gets the center stage at our house.
But the other dishes are still a big hit. Pumpkin pie, sausage and apple stuffing, sweet potatoes, home made bread, and candied cranberries are always on the table. We often try a new vegetable each year. This time, I am going to let someone else come up with a special treat. It is best to off load the side dishes so that guests feel they contribute, so we will have to see what shows up. Mystery dinner.
But I know my part and am prepared to prepare a Feast from nuts to pie. That is, of course, if we can find the table.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Some of the fires are still burning, but not near us. We escaped this time. But the disruption and devastation were unbelievable. Still are unbelievable. Freeways- our arteries- were closed for days at a time. The smoke was so thick you couldn't see the car in front of you at a standstill, let alone at 70mph. And if you can't drive 70mph why go at all. Most of the businesses were closed for a full week. Hospitals were on emergency only basis to have bed room for smoke inhalation injury and burn injury patients.Grocery delivery was cut off to the large stores. Gas stations ran out of gas.
My friends arrived from Oregon while the freeway was still open. Eduard's cousin arrived from Colorado while we could still pick her up from the airport. Then, the fire near us started moving north and we were out of danger. Wednesday was a good day. I started unpacking.
There are things we don't admit to people very often, but I must admit that I am not the best housekeeper anymore. When I grabbed some of my framed artwork, I realized it was filthy dusty. When it was time to put it back, it all got a really good cleaning. It took me just a few minutes to toss all the stuff into the car, but it took hours to unpack it all. Thursday was a long dirty day. And almost all the stores were still closed.
So for fun, my Oregon friends and I washed and spun wool. We knitted and showed off our latest creations. We tried to keep quiet and not exercise in the foul air. We played in our way while the soot drifted slowly down. On Friday we had a very heavy dew which congealed the soot into sludgy mud all over the ground- but no longer in the air.And on Saturday we had a light drizzly rain. Now the air was breathable and the ground was toxic.
I have washed off the cars and as much foliage as I can reach with the hose. I have tried to clean up the walkways to the house. And next, when this has all come to a stop, I will clean the inside of the house. It smells like an ashtray. There is soot in every windowsill. The carpet has a black path. And every surface has some gritty stuff left on it even after I wipe it down.
I will be done by Thanksgiving. But for now I am happy to have dirty carpet and dusty windows. Some people don't have anything left. My prayers reach out to them. My thoughts and hopes are with them. My garage sale will be soon because I need to share with them. Sometimes when you start cleaning you realize how much stuff you don't want anymore.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Environmental Catastrophe

Last summer, my friends in England were under water. Severe flooding cut off their water supply and power for many. Fortunately, my friends didn't lose their homes, but did get a splash of inconvenience. They were collecting rain water so they could flush their toilets. They were gathering drinking water from community water tubs. And for bathing, well let us just say that it was rare.
Now it is my turn to have disaster at the door. San Diego and parts of Los Angeles are burning up. Once again we are at the critical fire season and watching our friends and neighbors evacuate. But this time, we are on evacuation watch also. This may seem hard to understand as we are only 2 miles from the beach. Where are we to go? Into the surf? To the south of us, it is burning. To the north of us it is burning. To the east of us it is burning. And to the west of us we have a coast line and beautiful waves. We also have guests arriving tomorrow and Wednesday. And how can I possibly save all my produce! And my chickens!! and my trees!!!
Well, we have actually started packing the most important things and unfortunately the trees and produce will not get to go. BUT I am taking the chickens!
Most of what there is in the world is replaceable, except our lives. So I will take my loving husband and myself, enough necessities and semi-precious things, and my living buddies (with their food and water). Many people got the call at 5 am yesterday. We have been on notice all afternoon, but it is not mandatory yet. We are very close to the safe zone so we want to wait until the last minute to evacuate. But if the call comes, we will have to go and wait until the danger has passed.
For those of you who got the care package, you might have to send one back.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Planning Ahead

When we moved to this house, it already had a few fruit trees. That was part of the attraction even though they were not all something we would have planted. So far we have removed four trees that were in distress or completely inappropriate for our climate. And we have added fifteen (two of which failed) which leaves us with nine more than when we started. Sometimes it is hard to know for certain what will grow in your soil and climate. Our soil is sandy, hard packed sand, and ancient eroded beach cliff. There is a high salt content remaining and a scarcity of nutrients. It is a struggle every year to mulch, compost, fertilize, mineralize, and water adequately. But some trees are very happy here if I try hard enough.
I was looking at my Fruit calendar and realized that I have almost a fruit tree or shrub for every month of the year. In January, I get citrus- Lemon and Lime, and could probably have a navel orange. February still has lemons and limes. In March, we get Loquats. In April, there are Loquats and Strawberries (which are not a tree, I know). And in May we get Blackberries and the start of Blueberries (which are a tree or shrub). In June, we have Apples and Avocados. July is Peaches, Plums, Oranges, and Apricots. August is Asian Pears, Oranges and Grapes. September is Figs, Pineapple Guava. October is Pomegranate. And November is more apples. And December, well that month is reserved for chocolate which doesn't grow here. All this fruit, coupled with all that I save from the harvests, keeps us fruity all year long.
You might think that I have enough. But I am always on the look out for another fruit tree. Our Plum tree is dying and will need to be replaced with something that is not a Stone Fruit type tree. Maybe that Naval Orange I was thinking about. And one of the Asian Pear trees just doesn't get enough cold time, so it is going to a friend in a colder climate zone. I could move a grape that doesn't get enough heat. Maybe something exotic and tropical?
Well, if I find a fruit tree to fill in that February spot or one that can compete with chocolate in December, I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pestos and Pastas

The Fall season is my party time. I mentioned this before, but not in much detail. When I party, it isn't always having lots of people over and doing loud, fun things. Sometimes it just means that I am doing fun things I like and not spending very much time doing things for other people.
Take socks, for instance. Most of the year I am so hot that I can't wear socks or long sleeve shirts. In the Fall it is cool enough to dress in wooly things, at least in the mornings and evenings. So I have started knitting some nice socks with the wool I washed and spun earlier this year. I have taken my sweaters to the cleaners. I am getting ready for some serious cool time.
This time of year is also good for baking bread and pastries. It is good for roasted meats and chicken. There are things I make ahead so that I have them ready as I need them. I make pestos. Right now, I have harvested the basil and completed "Sun Dried Tomato Pesto" and the regular "Green Pesto". This is great for stuffing mushrooms or tossing with Pasta and left over cooked chicken. It can turn a regular boring meal into something quite special.
Recipe time:
Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
1 small can tomato paste
2 oz dried tomatoes
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 (up to 2) cups fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5 cloves garlic

I like to cut the dried tomatoes into strips with the scissors. Add all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Some people like less basil so that the pesto is redder.
For regular "Green Pesto" add 1/4 cup more olive oil and leave out the tomatoes and tomato paste.

After you have made this, you need to store it. You can keep it in the Fridge for about two weeks with olive oil covering the pesto and a lid over the top to keep the air off. You can also freeze it in 1/2 cup portions for about 6 months- thaw in the fridge over night.

And you need to use it. The standard pasta with pesto works as a side dish. I mix 2 tablespoons of it with 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, finely chopped veggies and then stuff large mushrooms- bake for 20 min. 350f. Then there is stuffed chicken breast (slice open breast to make a pocket and fill with tomato pesto and a slice of prosciutto or ham. I also sometimes just melt a bit over the top of a piece of meat or chicken. When I get lazy, this is how I make nice dinners with very little fuss. Try it also as an appetizer. Make a little pie dough tart with a teaspoon of pesto and a teaspoon of cream cheese- bake 350f for 20min. Green and red comes in handy in a couple of months. Put a cooked shrimp in there, too. Really fancy. See, very easy and mostly already done.

So now it is party time. Bye- gotta knit some socks.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Autumn 1, Harvest 2, Party 3

Second Harvest is my special time of the year. I usually have a bit of a spiritual rebirth before setting off on the Holiday Season. So this coming Sunday, my sweeties and I will again hit the beach for some meditation and a beautiful sunset. I will try to make some special treats to eat and bring some candles and incense. Then I will get back to work. There is still so much to do.
I have been winding up the garden. I thought I would have a fall bunch of stuff, but the chickens ate it all. There are only a few cucumbers and some celery left, and the sweet potatoes. But that is enough.
We are getting eggs now, so those vegetables are being invested in Chicken Production.
I have been spending lots of time at the gym, swimming and using the weight machines. This is to improve my body tone and lose weight- so that I can spend more time in the garden. I have also been spinning wool and dying it lovely fall colors. It is amazing how much stuff there is to do all day that is not in the garden. I have even started cleaning the house a bit. Gosh! It has been a long summer and the house really shows it.
Well, it is time to go to the gym. I think the garden will just have to wait a little longer. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


In my garden, I try all kinds of interesting plants. Some of them I try because I have eaten it and liked it. Some are because I can't find it in a store. Others are because store bought types are just too expensive or not very tasty. I finally decided to try Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes). In the market (when you can find them) Jerusalem artichokes are about $4.00 per pound. They look like small, knobby potatoes. They are low in carbohydrates and taste a bit like water chestnuts. I have eaten them raw in salads, cooked like potatoes, and put them in Spinach dip instead of water chestnuts. So I decided to try growing them. The Garden reference book said they will grow anywhere in Northern America. It also said they are invasive and thrive on neglect. Oh, I can do with some neglect!
So this is a picture of the Sunchoke in flower. It is about 8 feet tall. The seeds should be viable, but you can never find Sunchoke seeds anywhere. Apparently if it goes to seed it makes less bulb. But I am OK with that because I want the seed, too. So I will let some of them produce seed.
The Sunchoke is harvested in the winter after just about everything has been eaten. It can tolerate some soil frost and keeps well in the ground. If you cut the stalk off at about 6 inches high you can easily find the spot where the bulbs are.
These seem to be very happy here. The grasshoppers are loving it too, but the plant seems to grow faster than the bugs are eating it. I am hoping for a modest first crop and about an ounce of seed. After I find out if the seed is viable I can share it with my friends. We can replant and enjoy a plant food that has been in our country for thousands of years and no one now knows about.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

First Fruits

In the Hebrew Bible, the sacrifice at the altar was usually the first born male lamb or goat or calf. This is because the first one to open the womb was considered the best and purest. But there are also other issues around first fruits. It is the one most anticipated and when it shows up you want it right now. So to offer it is truly a sacrifice because you must show self restraint and wait for number two. First grains, first fruit, first animal birth, first child. All were the best of the offerings.
So today, one of my chickens laid its first egg! I don't know which of the two did it. I wasn't watching. It is a pale brown egg, rather elongated, and about the size of a medium egg (1/2 the size of an extra large).
I am very excited and hope that my chickens continue to produce lovely eggs now for the next two years. Two years is the normal production duration for most chickens. After that they just hang around and eat bugs and make noise.
But today is a good day to celebrate a first fruit, greatly anticipated, lovingly cared for, and offered as only a chicken can. The chickens are eggsactly 4 months old to the day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Disruption in Paradise

My garden is my favorite hobby. It is also a major source of my daily nutrition. Sometimes it is my exercise program. And sometimes it is my companionship. Today, Fluffysgarden is thoughtful about things that we have taken for granted, loved and lost, or seen to completion.
We are running out of water. Most of the country is flooding right now, but we are drying up and burning down. 1/2 of our water will be cut off in the next two years. The price will zoom up, the quantity will fall low, the garden will need special attention to water conservation. I have already started those plans to save used water for trees and plants. I have drip and soaking hoses and have eliminated the lawns in back. My final push will be to eliminate the lawn in the front. What I hope to have is Trees instead. Trees provide shade, fruit, resting places for birds, flowers, wood, and soft green light. The barren spaces of dead lawn won't seem so awful if there are trees. I can deep water them and keep them alive without too much evaporation. So we have taken clean plentiful water for granted and now we must find another way.
I also have a project that is coming to completion. Well, it isn't really a project. My son is moving to China for 3 years to teach English. He has graduated from college with a BA and is looking for something different. I am glad to see him strike out on his own and try something new. I will miss him, but I may also go visit. I have always wanted to see China. I will try to miss the Olympics. It is a thoughtful time- happy for him and sad at the same time. But I am looking forward to the empty nest (almost). Conflicted.
So as I weed and plant and think, I see great changes in the future. Some of it is frightening and some of it is challenging and some of it is just plain annoying. But the garden will go on, because I will find a way to make it happen. There is just too much wonder and joy out there to let a little bit of change chase it away.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What Flower Fairies really do

Late August has an interesting collection of produce. Beans, corn, pumpkin, squash, celery lead up the vegetable list. The fruit is much different than the normal stuff, though. We have Asian Pears, and black seedless grapes, and Mission figs, and oranges. I will be making raisins from the grapes, and I may have enough figs to dry some for next year's chutney. I usually juice the oranges and make smoothies. But the pears are fabulous right off the tree. They are crunchy and sweet.
Asian pears have special needs during the year. They usually need more cold weather than we get, but this year we had lots of cold. They also need help with pollination. Every two days I would go out to the trees with my paintbrush and help spread pollen. Many of the flowers didn't have all their parts, so this was actually necessary.
I told my husband I was out in the yard having sex with the trees.
He is OK with it. He really likes the pears and is willing to sacrifice some of my sexual energy for the cause.
This is what flower fairies really do.

Friday, August 17, 2007

First Harvest Production

Well, it has been a couple of weeks since the first of August, and I did in fact have a beach picnic to celebrate. But it has taken this long to get the picture ready for my blog.
As most of you wonderful gardeners know, we only store the surplus. During the growing season we eat like little piggies. So my picture is not truly complete. I also saved some of my produce in the freezer, so it isn't in the picture either. But this will give you a good idea of how I spent my summer vacation. Applesauce, apple butter, apricot jam, chutney, blackberry jam, tomato juice, onion jam, and [dried apples, apricots, peaches, vegetables, seeds, herbs, bulbs,], and granola. Frozen peas, beans, peaches, purees, onions, and blueberries.
Hmmm. I get tired and hungry just thinking about it.
My grandmother used to can every summer. Then she would be afraid to eat what she produced. When she died we had to toss about 6 years of produce that had sat in the cellar for 10 years.
There are several types of processes and certain foods benefit from each kind. It is important to eat all of the canned produce within one year (jams can last 2 years). Always mark the production date on the lid.
Jams, jellies, and acid based foods (pickles)- these foods can be safely sealed in a hot water bath situation. Sugar and citric acid provide adequate acid to stop fermentation and BAD bacteria. Hot pack the food- which means put it into the sterile jars hot (except pickles). A boiling pot, water to cover jar, clean, sterile lid, boil about 20 minutes (pints- add time for quarts). If you cold pack it (put it into sterile jars cold) you need to boil it for about 30-40 minutes (more for quarts).
Other foods, like beans, carrots, corn , etc, need salted water and up to 40 minutes in the boiling water bath. This actually cooks the food in the jar and the salt prevents possible bacteria from growing. At this point a pressure cooker could be useful.
Anything with meat in it poses a special problem and should be cooked in a pressure cooker. Jams actually have a problem with the pressure cooker, because the higher heat destroys the pectin.
This is why the freezer eventually took over my kitchen produce. Frozen meat, fruit, and tougher vegetables taste almost like fresh when cooked. And when I need canned meats or fish, or vegetables- I actually buy them. I am not foolish enough to think that I really can be totally self sufficient in today's world. Freezer foods should be used within 6 months (3 for meats or fish).
Dehydrated foods- fruits, vegetables, meats- should be used within 6 months also. I have never made beef jerky that lasted that long, My daughter dried about 20 apples and ate them all within about 2 weeks. I have dried many things and if they are still around after 6 months- it means I didn't really like it or use it much.
This brings us to Plum Jam. You may say that it is not on the list above, and you are correct. After making several gallons of plum jam, my family decided that they don't like plums all that much. I am still trying to use up jam that is 3 years old. This is how I decided to do it- Plum Teriyaki Sauce.

1 cup plum jam
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 or 3 minced garlic cloves or (1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated or (1 heaping teaspoon ginger powder)
1/2 cup water or (apple juice, wine)

Marinate cut up beef or chicken over night or at least 4 hours. You can skewer the meat with veges and BBQ, or stir fry. Boil the used marinade for 15 minutes to reduce it somewhat and use it to brush skewers or pour over rice. This is very sweet and pungent of garlic and ginger. You can heat it up with a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. You can use it over fried tofu and you can use it as a marinade for beef jerky. Mostly, you can hide the plums and they family will think it is wonderful.

Needless to say, I don't can plums anymore. But someday, when I use the last jar of jam, I might.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beans, beans a beautiful fruit

Sometimes I like to try different things just for fun. It comes of having enough that you can play with your food. So when I went bean crazy, I tried a bean called Hestia. It is a scarlet flowered bean, like a runner, but bred into a bush bean. The flowers are truly beautiful. Some were red and white, or red and pink, or red and red. The pods were rough and thick and had a bit of a bitter bean taste. If they were young enough, they tasted ok, but they took about 10 minutes longer to cook than a Roma or regular green bean. I decided that they were passable for my taste and extremely pretty as plants, so I decided to save the seed for next year.
When I planted these beans, the seed was not remarkable. Frankly, I didn't pay much attention. So, as the pods matured, I started opening some of them to see how the seed was growing. I was shocked by what I saw!
At different stages of growth, the beans were bright, bold colors of Pink, Mauve and Puce. They had purple and white spots, or blue and white spots. They got an incredible size over time, as large as a broad bean. And as they dried, they turned a purple/brown with dark spots. In this picture, I am showing a bowl full of beautiful beans and some of the Roma and Hestia on the plate. The Hestia pod had between one and four fully developed beans. The pods could get very long, but not all the seeds would develop. If you let the pod age to a yellow/green, the seed might start to sprout in the pod (as some of mine did), so I started harvesting them early while the pod was leathery but still green. As they air dry, they turn brownish or purple and shrink quite a bit, but they still have the spots. I have not yet cooked or eaten just the beans. I am having too much fun looking at the pretty colors.
The plant itself is a bush type, but not like any bush type I have ever grown. Each plant made about 10 branches with flowers, leaves and pods about 2 or 3 feet long. Of the string of 10 or so flowers, only two or three would form pods. Of the pods one would have lots of beans and one would have only one bean. There might be two immature failed pods.

They take up lots of ground space because they don't run up a pole- they spread out. Two or three would fill a 5 gallon pot. So, I had planted them wrong. The Roma bush should be behind in the trellis and the Hestia should be in front to spread. But they were strong growers in our funny weather. They are still making a few flowers after 3 1/2 months. I have collected enough seed to last for a couple of years and I still have pods on the plants.
I will plant these again next year, and spend some time tasting just the beans at different stages. After all, they were supposed to be food, not just toys.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Culinary Poverty

As I gather and dry herbs for the winter, I am reminded of my childhood days. My family didn't have a garden here, but my grandmother in the mid-west did. All of the cooking I ate and learned to cook was suspiciously lacking herbs- even parsley. So I did some investigating years back and I discovered some interesting facts about our country.
There has always been great international cooking available for the wealthy people. They could afford spices and chefs and baby vegetables and fresh herbs. But the bulk of our country was not wealthy. Many barely had enough plain food to eat. Many had to scavenge greens and roots from the sides of roads- even to eating young fern sprouts. And most of the spices had to be imported. The USA spent many years in isolation paying off various wars or avoiding wars. There wasn't much in the way of imported goods until after WW2. We even had a government plan once to be self-sufficient in the area of sugars by growing sugar beets and maple trees with government subsidies.
Cooking styles became very simplified- you cooked what you could grow and you grew the most calorie dense things you could. And after a couple of generations, the taste of herbs was forgotten. Cookbooks didn't teach them either. The ingredients were scarce or too expensive. Soon seeds and plants were unrecognizable except by the most wizened. And lately, herbs have become a symbol of ancient healing medicine men and witchcraft specialists.
I am not talking about strange foreign herbs like cardamom or ginger. I am talking about everyday type herbs like fennel, parsley, oregano and thyme. When I read through some of the old cookbooks, I am amazed at the few sparse references to seasonings, spices and herbs. If they were mentioned at all, they were 1/2 teaspoons of dried gray dust. So I broke with tradition and learned to cook with herbs and spices. Then I started growing fresh herbs and found the taste so remarkable that I can't use dried ones any more, unless I dried them.
I routinely toss a handful of dried oregano into a meatloaf. I chop cupfuls of parsley for my tabbouleh. I have fresh bay leaves and sage year round. I am now so spoiled that I can't imagine life without herbs and spices. So I am leaving a recipe here for those with fresh parsley and celery:

Tabbouleh Salad

1 cup Bulgar Wheat (dry)
1 1/2 Cups boiling water.
Soak Bulgar wheat in boiling water until soft and chewy (20 min.) Drain off excess water.
2 tomatoes , chopped
2 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
2 green onions, chopped with green parts
5 radishes, chopped (no greens)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
2 cups parsley, chopped fine
Dressing- 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or wine vinegar), salt and pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients together and chill one hour. Serve on a lettuce leaf.

Bulgar Wheat- you can make this at home if you can't find it in a store. Get sprouting wheat (whole raw wheat grains) and soak it in water for two days, changing the water once each day and night. Dry out the wheat grains and gently toast them in the oven on very low (200f) about 1/2 hour. Chop the grains in a blender just until they are well cracked but not powdered. Cook them in boiling water for about 10-15 minutes until soft but still separate. Drain and cool. Use immediately.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

More than Just Gardens

There are more things in this life than the garden. Did I say that? Well, it is true. Sometimes there is cooking, or cleaning, or enjoying time with friends (and family). In our home, I am usually in charge of the garden, food, cooking, planning of such things, securing such things, and distributing such things. But a really good life also has entertainment that is not food. The Playing is the thing.
Playing what? Playing at what? Well, that is the job of the Entertainment Director- my husband Drakonis (aka Eduard Schwan). Drak has a music collection that spans decades. Opera, Symphony, Rock, Jazz, Classics, Mood, Synth, and easy listening. Usually he ignores Country or Disco- but there are a few things he can tolerate.
On weekend mornings, Drak puts on some beautiful Concertos, or Mozart's Requiem, or Bach's Variations. Then we have a lovely breakfast on the patio. He is in charge of the music. He also plans the out of home fun things like movies, operas and music events. He has even been known to plan trips to the park or hiking trails. And though there are times when he is very busy and forgets to plan stuff, for the most part we have a very lovely life with a balance of activity, serenity, companionship, and solitude. All this is mixed with work and play, food and frolic.
So lately, my Drak has been working very hard on a project. He not only plays CD's, he also writes music. And he also makes computer generated movies. He has just completed and released on DVD his "Dance of the Technoids" music video. This has been a monstrous project for him, considering he also works 40+ hours per week and is raising his youngest teen, Sara. But he has tamed the beast and is now relaxing from the stress and basking in the glory of having his music in the market. If you want to see his beautiful face, is the place.
His is my sweetie and my best friend- I love him and his music. Now, it is time to party!

Monday, July 30, 2007

To Veg or Not to Veg

Is that the question? No. What is a vegetarian?- that is the question.
When I was growing up, I pretty much knew there were animals, minerals and vegetables. That is not really the case anymore, but for most things it still works. I think yeast is in some other class now, but I don't spend much time worrying about it. SO, I always thought that a vegetarian was a person who did not eat meat- no chicken, fish, or animal flesh. But I did think that milk and eggs were OK, since they were not flesh. OH, NO! I was wrong. It is NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS- because little boy cows are killed to keep the milk flowing and little eggs are chicken embryos waiting to hatch. Hmmm.
This is a bit harder for me because I really like cheese and eggs, and because the soybean is pretty yechy to me unless you go to extremes to make it taste better. I can eat young soybeans- well cooked with a bit of salt- but the other stuff like soy milk and soy cheese, tofu, etc. Well I just don't like it all that much. It could never be a big part of my diet. Also, there is all that balancing of proteins that has to happen to make sure you get all the essentials. Eggs would make it so much simpler, and not everyone of them is a little embryo waiting to get out. But then...
I found out that it isn't just about vegetables, but they must be RAW vegetables. Not steamed or stir fried, but very raw and fresh. The life force of the plant is transferred to your body to sustain you when you eat raw fruits and vegetables fresh picked now. Every minute they are off the plant, they are losing their life force until they are pretty much useless after three days. Grocery stores are bad because the fruits and vegetables are like little mummies by the time they get to you. I have to admit that fresh fruits and vegetables taste the best, and I like a lot of them raw, but I also like them cooked. And I am not so sure about that life force thing. Part of me still believes in calories and my own ability to use them.
So, lets go back to that Ovo/lacto Vegetarian concept (eggs and cheese and veges). This is probably the most common of the vegetarians I know. I can cook a lot of these foods and love them, even though I eat meat, too. But lately, there is another type of vegetarian- Pescatarian. This is eggs, milk, FISH and vegetables. And then there are some that just don't eat RED MEAT. They claim to be vegetarian, too. I mean Chicken/egg what's the difference. And Buddha thought oysters were OK, so all fish must be fair game.
And to make it all worse, everyone changes their minds every year. If you want to lose weight you can't be eating all those vege/fruit carbs. People you thought were one way, gain five pounds and become the other way at a drop of the fork. Just as I get a great bunch of recipes for my friends and family, I find they are flapping the steaks on the grill and eating store bought mixed green salad.
The definition of vegetarian seems to be "I think I am, therefore I am."
So I offer no pretense, I have no convictions, I am not making a statement. I eat animal flesh, animal products, vegetables and fruits that have been processed, grains not sprouted, and yeast. But I do try to minimize my impact on the earth as best as I can. There are many meatless meals. I am not wasteful- the carcass and bones become soup. I make the next dinner with the leftovers. I compost as much as possible. And I am grateful for every little animal and plant (and yeast) who gave its life for my meal.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Switching Mental Gears

Today was the last of the peaches and apples. Whew! July was a busy month. Now that the fruit is at a slow down, I can think about what is still left to do and it looks like Vegetables are the big winner.
Those beans that I went crazy about are now Beaning their little hearts out. I need to blanch and freeze several bags of beans. And the tomatoes are all over the counter waiting to become spaghetti sauce. The 4 ears of corn will be ready in about two weeks. The second crop of Asparagus will be ready in about two weeks. Red cabbage? Yes, there is one left. Celery, parsley, fennel. While it is on my mind, I could also start reworking some of the spent beds. Except that now the weather has decided to become summer and it is very hot and sticky here. All I really want to do is lay around in the shade and sip iced tea.
We are approaching the first harvest festival. If you weren't sure, the Pagan seasonal clock puts mid-summer right around the summer solstice. 6 weeks later is the first Harvest festival. Then the Second Harvest at mid-September. And the final Harvest festival at the end of October. By the end of the Harvest seasons I am one pooped out cookie. I usually don't plant too much for the last harvest. There are some winter squash, late peppers, last tomatoes, bits of this and that. Since I don't have to harvest acres of corn and hay, I usually blow that one off. It is too hot here to grow much in late September, but I do start my Fall garden of cabbage, lettuce and broccoli at about that time.
But there are some interesting things coming up. Asian pears and figs come in September. Then the last items on the harvest list are Jerusalem Artichokes and sweet potatoes which I harvest in December. By the time I get the sweet potatoes out, it is time to plant again for the spring. This year, I am trying to let the Jerusalem Artichokes make flowers and seeds. I have not grown them from seeds and want to see how they do.
In December, I find if I clean out one bed and re-work it with compost and worm castings, it will take me about two days. I can then start to stagger the beds in plantings. Once the beds are in full growth, I only re-work areas as plants come out and new ones go in. Most of the Fall time is spent cleaning up spent brambles, weeding, and pruning citrus trees.
So back to that first harvest festival- August 1 or 2, I think. I am going to take a long, well deserved rest from the garden and the preserving. I am going to dance and play at the beach. Then I am going to go home and eat steamed veges and simple biscuits. Then, late at night, when no one is looking, I will dance naked under the moon. (No pictures, please.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nearing the End of Peaches and Apples

It feels strange to get close to the end of the peaches. I wait all year for them. I rejoice at the blooms, fret over curl, clean up dropped leaves and fruit, prune and fertilize- all for that three weeks of bliss. The smell of the ripe fruit is bliss. The taste of the brown sugar sweetness is bliss. The mass quantities of stored produce is bliss. The look of the fruit on the tree is bliss.
Now, I am almost done processing surplus and every bag of frozen or dried peaches is carefully allotted to a future month for muffins, ice cream, fluff, or cobbler. Yet, the memory of that 3/4 pound perfect peach, juice running all over my hands and chin, still warm from the sun- hmmm. It makes me long for the next year even as this year finishes.
My husband doesn't really like peaches all that much. He will tolerate peach ice cream, and sometimes Fluff- but he generally doesn't eat them out of hand. Aha, you say! More for me? Yes, that is a logical extrapolation, but my little cherubs help themselves to the surplus. They benefit from the stores and the baking. My family comes out of the woodwork sniffing, searching, whining.
Tomorrow, I make a birthday cake with homemade peach ice cream. This is the cap on a dinner for 10 for my husband's sister and her family. Max will be 3, and I am mid 50's. I am hoping to have the slightest bit of control over the last of the peaches. I am not ready for my family to help finish off the season- I want the last ones all to myself.
Then I will patiently wait to do the happy dance next spring.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Singing with Chickens

I know you have read me chatting about being with my chickens in the garden. So now it is time for you to meet Custard. She is a Dark Cornish at about 3 months old. The other one is Quiche, but she is not in this story.
Custard is very friendly, a lap chicken so it seems. She likes to sit on me, be near me, play with me, and sing to me. In the morning she wakes me up with her songs. This is not crowing- she is not a rooster. This is singing. If you go to this url - - you can see and hear her.

Custard is a bit of a scaredychick. She needs to be close to the other one or me at all times. If I go into the house she wants to go in, too. She will sit on my arm and pose. She will let me pet and hold her for short periods of time. She runs to me when she is frightened by the hawks over our yard. She eats from my hand and wants to check out everything I am doing when I work at the outdoor table. Custard is named for an Egg food. I don't think she is every going to become Coq au Vin because she has sung her way into my heart. Begawk!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Just Peachy

I have the most wonderful Apple tree. And I have the most wonderful Peach tree. Honestly, I love all my trees, but I am particularly impressed by this Peach tree. I have no idea what type it is, except that it is freestone, yellow flesh, ready in July, and keeps well on the tree for about 3 weeks. This last feature gives me lots of time to figure out what to do with 300 peaches.
These are not your little two bite peaches. These peaches weigh in at 1/2 pound each and they are bigger than the palm of my rather large hand. And the stone is rather small, so you get lots of peach.
I have been giving away peaches to favored friends, dehydrating peaches, freezing peaches, pureeing peaches, cooking with peaches, devouring peaches- I am inundated with peaches- And I am still dealing with the last of the apples. I am not even close to the last of the peaches.

But, I have been exploring some wonderful peach recipes that use lots of peaches. I have one muffin recipe that uses 1/2 cup chopped up dried peaches (about 2 peaches fresh) and 1 1/2 cups pureed peaches (about 3 peaches). It is so moist and flavorful that I want to make it often even though I can only eat so many muffins before exploding. I have been pureeing peaches and putting it in the freezer so that I can make this later in the year. I will let you in on a really good secret, psst, whisper, this is a nearly fat free, no sugar added recipe full of bran and whole wheat and peaches.

Peachy Bran Muffins- (modified from the Secrets of Fat Free Baking, by Sandra Woodruff, RD.)
2/3 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar substitute (I use xylitol, but you can use Splenda or sugar or maple sugar)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup pureed fresh peaches
1 egg (or 2 egg whites)
1/2 cup chopped dried peaches
(1/3 cup chopped pecans- optional)
Mix the first 4 dry ingredients together. Stir in the peach puree and egg until just moist. Stir in the chopped dried peaches and nuts. Spoon into baking cups lined with paper or sprayed with non-stick spray to 3/4 full. They don't rise much. Bake at 350F for 15-17 minutes. Makes 10. After baking, allow to sit for 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve with whipped cream cheese- uh, so much for fat free.

I would need to make this recipe 40 times to use up all my peaches, sigh. That's a lot of muffins. So I have to do other things with the peaches.

This is a Peach Fluff recipe-
Peal and slice 5 large peaches. Lay the slices in a single layer on a wax paper lined tray and freeze for 12 hours or more. (This can be done months ahead and the frozen peaches can be stored in zipper bags.)
Place frozen peaches in a food processor with 1 tablespoon Brandy and process until they are a finely chopped frozen peach snow. Keep them frozen, you might need to do it in two batches and put the first batch back into the freezer. (You can do this part ahead and keep it frozen in the zipper bag.)
When you are ready to eat this- Take the frozen peach snow and 2 tablespoons sugar (or substitute) and one egg white and process it again in the food processor until it starts to fluff up (the white is getting beaten). This might take a couple of minutes.
Spoon it into pretty bowls and eat it with a vanilla cookie or two. It might serve 4 people, but around here it only serves 2. (left overs can be frozen- right!).

I have been planning to send some of Fluffysgarden to friends who are far away and under much water, but I am waiting until the weather clears a bit. I want the postal messenger to get through. Just in case Daughter of the Soil and Caroline are reading, we are thinking of you in your sogginess, and wishing we could bring you here to dry out a bit. If there is anything we can do from afar, please let us know.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Fluffy Home Companion

We all need friends. Apparently, so do vegetables. Why else could someone write a book about companion planting. My plants have lots of friends- bees, birds, chickens, me- but they also seem to need other plants that are, you know, ... friendly. I have given this considerable thought over the years. I know you think that it is because I have way too much time on my hands, but the truth is I am an intensive gardener. Nay! Make that extreme gardener.
The idea of intensive gardening was developed for people with big needs and small space. It requires deep soil, lots of fertilizer and water, layering of roots and planning for light and air needs of plants. Essentially, you look at your space and plant things together so that different layers of root space use the whole bed without tangling up with each other. And the plants are tied up, staked, or balanced for different heights so that shade loving plants are under taller ones. You need to place the bed in such a way to insure lots of air circulation and water from ground level so that leaves don't get wet and encourage mold. Since you can't get in between the plants to weed and fertilize, you have to fertilize in the watering system and weed as plants are retired. It is the Science of Gardening for the excessive/compulsive personality.
With so many plants in one little space, I suppose they should be friendly with each other, so as to get along well. So, how can you tell if they are making friends and enjoying each other's companionship? It is not like they invite me to the party. I don't even think they notice me at all. It would seem to me that most of my plants get along out of sheer necessity. I have four eight foot by four foot beds that are one foot deep, that is one foot of rich top soil. Each bed has a mass of plants- beans, corn, celery, fennel, ginger, garlic, parsley, tomato, potato, squash, pepper, cucumber, and cilantro. The only unhappy member of the party was the cilantro- which bolted as soon as possible but made wonderful coriander seeds. I am not even sure it was unhappy. It attracted bees, looked beautiful, and made great bunches of seeds.

Generally, I plant seasonal plants together. I don't pay any attention to rows and spacing. Some plants are comfortable when close to another and the others find a way by falling over or choking someone out. I always let a few last season plants go to seed. The flowers attract bees. And in the winter I refurbish the bed with compost, worm castings, and aeration. Winter here is about two weeks in December, so I work fast. During the growing seasons, I work an area where the plant has finished and install a new plant or seed in that space.
Really, when you think about it, the plants have to get along because they have no choice. It's put up or shut up. Lately, it has been very quiet out there.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Year 'round Goodies

As you may well be aware, my garden produces more than I can eat in a single season. I would have to consume apples day and night to use all the apples, so I preserve things. I have dehydrated apples for pies, teas and snacks. Apple butter, Apple Sauce, and Apple leather. But apples are only the beginning of the bounty. There are apricots, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, lowquats, oranges, lemons, grapes, Asian pears, figs, pineapple guava, plums, tomatoes, pomegranate and occasionally avocados. And vegetables, too. And Herbs, don't forget the Herbs.
So now as the peaches and plums arrive, and I am still wallowing in apples, I realize there are things from last year that need to be eaten, too. Some are still in my freezer and pantry. I have been canning blackberry jam and apple products for a full week. Most of the blackberries and strawberries are out of the freezer and done on the plants, so I can write those crops down as done. But the others are just getting into full swing.
Dehydration is a great way to deal with produce and herbs. I am drying parsley, onion, garlic, anise, fennel, spinach, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, celery leaves and stalks, lemon grass, lemon verbena, mint and lemon balm. Later I will dry grapes, figs, ginger, green beans, tomatoes, lemon and orange peel, and basil. By the time autumn rolls in I will be packing away sweet potatoes, pumpkins and other squashes, and organizing my myriad of jars and packages. It reminds me of Badger's house, in the "Wind in the Willows". Baskets and jars everywhere, bags of stuff everywhere.
But sometimes, about now, I discover unused things that need attention. I found old dried apricots, dates, and figs- then I remembered why. Chutney! I had been saving them for Chutney. So today I made four jars.
Chutney recipe:
8 oz slivered almonds
1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped dried figs
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup raisins
6 large cloves of garlic, grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together in a 6 quart pot. Cook over low heat, covered, stirring frequently, until quite well cooked (about 20 minutes). This preparation is quite dry while it cooks the carrots, you may need to add 1/2 cup water during the cooking. When the mixture is bubbling all over, spoon it into hot sterile canning jars, tap or stir out air bubbles, and seal. Process in a boiling water bath to cover for 20 minutes. Makes 4 pints (16oz jars). This keeps for a year, but ours never lasts that long.
When this season of canning is done, I will take a picture of my production- stacked and labeled and ready to store up. It is quite impressive and tasty, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

15min of Morning

I got up late today, 6:15 am. I wandered about the house a bit before I let the chickens out. I sipped coffee, chatted with my sweetie, and made a list. I bagged up the dried parsley, lemon peel, orange peel, apples, and celery leaves. Then, at about 7 am, I went to the garden. Chickens and I got busy with the day. I harvested blackberries, mint, lemon verbena, lemon grass, late Fava seed, apples, blueberries, and tomatoes. I cleaned the herbs and got them into the dehydrator for the next round, then fixed myself some breakfast. I weeded for about an hour and trimmed some leggy plants, stirred the compost, planted some new seedlings and poured a second cup of coffee. At 10 am, I took a break and did some knitting in the shade of the patio. The chickens didn't want to go into their pen yet. I talked on the phone for 30 min. to an old friend. I had some toast for lunch and shooed the chickens back to their pen, which I cleaned and restocked with food and water. It was 11:30 pm. Time to go in and do those indoor things. At 11:45 my son came into the house. He had just gotten up and wanted to do some laundry. He was quite proud that he got up before noon, there was still "15 minutes of morning" left.
I am too tired to notice much lately, but it seems a terrible waste of a day to sleep that late.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hidden Harvest

Well, I am currently up to my crock in produce. I have started the apples. We are way past pie and into applesauce, apple butter, and dried apples. And there is the Apricot harvest that my mother-in-law surprised me with- jam, dehydrate, cobbler. And there are the berries- jam, freeze, dehydrate. And the Tomatoes- sauce, dehydrate, Bruschetta. And herbs, and onions, and garlic, and.... Well, all I can say is lids. I had to buy a bunch of lids for my jars. And the month of July also brings Peaches. My kitchen is becoming a commercial produce processing plant. Every surface is covered with produce, equipment, and production in stages of completion.
So that brings us to the Hidden Harvest- seeds.
Hmmm. I heard you say it. Seeds are things you buy every year to get the garden up and going. Like pumpkins and cucumbers and lettuce. But I can tell you that there is a great big harvest waiting for you in your garden that is almost too small to see.
Every year I let a few lettuce plants go to seed. They produce enough seed for years of lettuce, but I try to use it up each year. Not every seed is viable and it doesn't stay useful for a long time. And I try to save a few beans, peas, and definitely squash seeds. This year I also got some coriander and spinach. There is always dill and anise and chard. Onion, yes there is some onion, too. And Tomato. Peppers, I forgot peppers. And flowers of course- like tagetes and calendula, Peruvian lily, fragrant narcissus, Watsonia and wild Gladiolus. I have a collection of small jars full of seed for next year.
So how do you go about collecting this Hidden Harvest? There are many opinions about this. One is that the plant must be completely dry before you collect the seed. Some say when the plant is yellowing. Others say don't do it at all because the outcome is "iffy". Me, well, I harvest beans and peas when the pod gets leathery before it dries and splits. I smear tomato seeds on Paper towels when they are ripe enough to eat raw and let them dry. I collect pepper seed from green or red peppers depending on when I think about it. I grab the onion flower when I see the black seeds start to show and put it in a bowl to finish drying. I break off the downy, yellow stalk of lettuce and whack it against a white sheet- mature seed falls into the sheet. I pick off the ripe seeds of Fennel, anise, dill, celery, parsley, coriander while they are still a bit green/yellow (if I wait the birds will get them all). Snails also like seeds, so you have to get there before the snails. But sometimes you can just toss the seedy stalks onto the garden soil and let them seed themselves under the mulch of the parent plant. This has worked for many thousands of years.
I take a personal pleasure in collecting seeds. It is a time consuming activity and a package of seeds from the store can cost as little as 10 cents when it is on sale. But when I collect seeds, I feel like I have gotten a little something special from the garden. And sometimes I get something I can't get anywhere else.
I have a piece of my friend's garden in my garden because I took some of her beet seeds before she moved away. I think of her there. I have Fava beans from my sister-in-law. She let me have two and they parented all of my seeds. I have chard that has been successful for 5 years. I only save the red ones and now they all are red. I have unusual seeds for unusual plants and usual seeds for usual plants. And some seeds I wish I didn't have at all.
But not all seeds are good to gather. Hybrids- like tomatoes, corn and cantaloupe- don't breed true when they cross pollinate. The next crop may be something awful. Pumpkins are like that a bit, too. They start out huge but breed down to small naturally, and they lose some color and flavor.
You have to know what you really want before you save the seeds. Sweet corn seed is probably best purchased each year, but popcorn can be saved easily. "Developed" tomatoes are usually hybrids and should be bought each year, but cherry tomatoes and yellow tomatoes breed true. And Saving seed takes up space. You have to thoroughly dry the seed in the air. A dehydrator will kill the germ. You have to check for bugs and larva. You have to store it in a jar or bag and remember where you put it. AND you have to want that vegetable or plant next year in your garden.
So that is it for seeds. Not real hard to do, but strangely satisfying. Someday I may actually try breeding something special, but for now I just want a little extra from my garden experience.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Compost and Gophers

This blog starts out as a story about compost, but it is really about gophers. Well, it is about more than gophers and compost, but you have to read it to find the inner meaning.
Awhile back, when I was a young gardener, I started composting. I would dump my green waste and vegetable trimmings in a pile and watch it rot. Then I got sophisticated and got an old ComposTumbler from my husband's sister. She said it wasn't very good and they were getting rid of it. They had had it two years. It had a poorly designed lid system and would fall open with only about 5 pounds of stuff in the tumbler. It was still under warranty, so I called the company and they replaced the Tumbler assembly. It had been redesigned within those two years. I also started reading about composting. There are the greens and the browns. There is hot and not. There is the stir, tumble or stare method. But what a compost pile really needs most is Nitrogen. The little bacteria need nitrogen to do their job. Then the bacteria die and the nitrogen returns to the soil. This is one of the reasons that compost is so good for your plants.
One article I read suggested putting lawn fertilizer into the compost. Another suggested a balance of greens and browns and grass clippings (which are full of lawn fertilizer). One article said household ammonia is really good. And one guy said, "Just pee into the compost." I read this one to my husband and his son. My stepson immediately said, "This was obviously not written for squatters." We howled with laughter, and to this day, I still tear up thinking about it. But I was never very successful at getting the boys to regularly assist in Compost Production. Ultimately, I went to worm composting which didn't require additional nitrogen.
So, this brings us to the squirrels. Oh, no. Not the gophers. Not yet. Squirrels, we have a bunch. They sneak over/under/and around the fence and go for the bird seed scattered by the birds at the feeder. Then they attack the trees and strip the fruit. When I was an idealistic young gardener, I thought they were kind of cute, but when I watched them stripping the trees I became enraged. I went to the garden store and sought out some environmentally correct method of squirrel disposal. Poison. Oh, no. Not poison. It kills more than squirrels. It kills hawks and dogs and fish and maybe me. So I found Coyote Pee. Apparently, if you spread the scent of predator animals around your yard, the squirrels will keep away. I bought it and sprinkled a circle around the yard. It was pretty expensive and you don't really get all that much. And it washed away with the rain and you get to sprinkle again, and again, and again. The squirrels didn't seem to notice much, either. They continued eating birdseed and fruit. They came up on the porch. They ate my tomatoes. When all of my parents are dead I will write a book, but for now let us just say that my mother in law loaned us a bb gun. We named it Squirrel Spanker. It actually scares the squirrels enough to train them to not come in our yard, but it isn't strong enough to kill them. And it works on Ravens, too.
I know, you are still waiting for the gophers. So, we didn't really ever have a gopher problem until this year. And it is not just us. The neighbors are growing gophers also. The first one killed a fig tree by eating its roots while I was unaware. Then it headed for my Apple tree. I was in a panic. I dug up its trails, flooded with water and headed for the garden store again. We bought traps and poison. After an intensive week of flooding, poisoning and trapping, we finally caught the pest. It was as big as a squirrel and died in a trap after running from the water. But it didn't eat the poison. It would push the poison up to the surface ground with a bunch of dirt. I would come out in the morning and find gopher poison (think rat poison) all over the fresh soil. After we killed that one, all was quiet for awhile. Now I have some chickens. They are just two months old. And I let them run all over the yard eating slugs and bugs and grass and just about everything. And just about the time I had forgotten about the gophers, a new one showed up. It was using some of the old gopher's runs and was headed for the Apple tree. I can't use poison. The chickens will eat it when it gets pushed up to the top. I have only traps and water now, so I started the flooding process. The next day there was a new hole that was open, no dirt plug. And strangely enough, it started me thinking about Coyote Pee and Compost.
Needless to say, there is no predator as terrifying as a human, so I sprinkled a little in the hole. The next day, there was no new evidence of gopher activity. I sprinkle again, and still no activity. I was so relieved.
Well, the story doesn't end here. The next day we found a small gopher hole in the garden by the tomatoes. It is too far back for a squatter, so I think this is a job for a man. I will let you know how it turns out, later.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Inbetween Seasons

Sometimes the garden is confused. I know that doesn't seem right. How can a garden get confused? It doesn't think. But just as you get to the crossing of seasons, the garden acts confused. It is too warm for cool weather crops, but the warm weather things are not sure either.
Take corn for instance. In early spring it is warm enough to plant corn seeds. They sprout and start to grow. Then the cool, wet evenings kill the little sprouts. Too damp, they whine as the die. So now you have to wait for another warm spell to get those little seeds to sprout. Aha! They can sprout now, because it is June 20ish and it is SUMMER. Corn takes a long time to grow and lots of water. It will be ready to eat in late September, which is Fall. Why can't it be ready in the Summer when I really like to eat barbequed corn? Because those little spring sprouts thought it was winter again in early June and died. They were confused to death.
Lettuce is also a bit confused. It likes cold weather, but it will bolt and go to seed if it gets too warm. Some of my lettuce bolted in the spring warm moment and I had to pull it out. But some of it didn't buy into that fake summer. It waited a few days and kept being nice lettuce as the weather got cold again.
Our evenings have been somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and our days have been between 60 and 70 degrees F. Mushroom weather. Great for making saurkraut or Kimchi. Also, great for slugs and snails and slime mold.
So how can you deal with this strange Spring weather? What kind of food plants can tolerate it? Well, I have found that many Mediterranean plants like this type of weather. Fava beans, fennel, onions (short day), garlic, chard, potatoes, and lettuces. But there are also some plants that have been "developed" for this climate. San Diego Tomatos seem to tolerate the cold nights better than heirlooms or beefsteak types. This type of tomato seems to have been "developed" for mildew resistance. Right now I am getting palm sized red and yellow tomatos from plants I put into the ground in late February. Not a spot of mildew in sight. Last year, the cold nights killed just about everyone of my tomatos. And, this variety seems to need less heat to set and ripen the tomatos. Heirlooms need lots of heat for long periods.
So now I am getting tomatos. I just bought and planted some Basil plants. There is fresh garlic to dig up. And I am off to buy some Sourdough bread- It is buschetta time.

Bruschetta- Mediterranean Salsa

Two large Red tomatoes and one yellow one
3 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic- crushed or minced
1 Cup freshly chopped, shredded or torn Basil
Salt/pepper to taste
few drops of Balsamic Vinegar
Mozarella or provolone cheese
Sour dough bread slices (6)

Chop the tomatos into 1/2 inch chuncks. Toss with minced garlic, olive oil, shredded basil and a bit of salt and pepper. Drizzle with Balsamic. Put it in a pretty bowl with a serving spoon.
Slice or chop the Mozarella or provolone. [Sometimes I use Fresh mozarella or buffalo milk mozarella. These are packed in water and are very soft. They tend to make the bread a bit wet.]
Toast the bread lightly. Put some cheese on the bread and return to the toaster oven or regular over to melt the cheese (about 10minutes at 400F) or you could use the broiler and watch it constantly.
When cheese has melted, remove from oven and cool just a few minutes. Cut the cheese bread into 2" pieces and serve with the bowl of tomatoes. Spoon tomatos onto bread and eat. Excellent with white wine and maybe a quiche.
Mmm. I gotta go get some sourdough bread right now. Bye.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Garden Therapy

Wellness of mind and body is partly related to what we eat and partly related to what we do. And partly related to genetic material. I am genetically predisposed to wanting to be outside my house. It must be that way because I see a general trend of indoor people and outdoor people. There is sanity in both places, but I would go nuts being in the house too much, just as some others get disturbed if they are away from their inner rooms for too long. There is joy, safety, entertainment, comfort and relaxation outdoors, too.
In my garden, I contemplate the joy and beauty of the world as well as how much work it takes to make that happen. My natural environment would look like blowing dirt and scrubby sun burnt stubble if I didn't water, fertilize and nurture. San Diego County is a coastal desert and expensive imported water is what colors it green. There is considerable work to do in weeding, planting, mulching, hauling, mixing, harvesting, preserving, repairing, fertilizing, mowing and trimming. Some people hire this work done- but for me it is Therapy- Dirt Therapy.
Lately, I have been in need of much Therapy. The inner rooms are having some problems, so I find myself escaping to the garden. I have long chats with my chickens (Custard and Quiche). I welcome the morning rabbits as they eat the lettuces, I feed the little birdies at the feeders, I love the neighbor's cat who stalks the little birdies, and I talk to my plants. I harvest the apples and plan dinner around the garden bounty. Lately, we have been having a lot of pie. Apple Blackberry pie. I have blackberries, blueberries and strawberries in the freezer for later and the berries are not done yet. I have peas and Fava beans in the freezer and the Fava beans are not done yet. I have lettuce, celery, turnips, potatoes, fennel, and green tomatoes. The oranges are ready now, too. I can plan some very wonderful meals which I want to eat outside on my patio in the cool of the evening when the work is done. Then I take a shower and go to bed exhausted. It is beginning to sound like escapism, rather than therapy. I can avoid the issues of my inner rooms by staying outside and playing with the chickens. But at some point I must go in and deal with the mess.
Laundry, bills, children in trouble, dishes, broken things that need repair. These are all waiting for me to come in from the garden. So how does the Garden Therapy actually work? Well, hmmm, while I garden I contemplate my anger at the child in trouble and devise a plan of action to correct the situation- it is good to have a plan. I think about the broken parts and decide if I want to do without it or repair it. Sometimes I realize that I just don't need that thing and I toss it rather than mess with fixing, or I get something different. Bills just get paid, and laundry just gets done, and cleaning gets done a little at a time. It is just not overwhelming when you spend lots of time outdoors. Like the seasons, all housework is a continuing thing. It is never done. So I often take pleasure in the parts that are done and the sense of practical functioning that is happening. There is a pile of stuff on the floor of my bedroom waiting for action of one kind or another for over a year now. But I am pleased that one of the items got taken care of last week, while three more were added. It is a simple mind, yes.
Well, so much for inner rooms and garden chat- I have beans to plant. I need to get out of this room and get some fresh dirt. My chickens are calling. Begawk!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Maybe I Don't Know Beans

This year, when I ordered seed from a Seed Catalog, I went Bean crazy. I think I was craving green beans. I ordered Roma beans, bush beans, pole beans, runner beans, and yellow beans. Later I got a catalog for heirlooms and lusted over long beans- next year.

I also ordered snap peas and dug out my old, saved Fava beans. Snap peas, snow peas and Fava beans like cooler climates, but the peas can get mildew if it is damp. I planted about 100 snap peas. In an other area I planted snow peas. And I planted a bed of Fava beans. The snow peas did very well when planted in February, but started getting mildew in late March. By late April, they were done and gone to compost. I got a couple of pounds of snow peas before they died. The snap peas got planted a bit later, grew like crazy, and started getting mildew in early April. You just can't get away from the wet, cold fog here. Still, I was able to harvest about 8 pounds (no pods) of fresh peas for the freezer. I actually do better with snow peas in the fall when it is dryer. I may try that with snap peas, too.
Fava don't seem to be bothered by the fog or cool dampness. Bring it on. They are now in full production. So, what can you do with a Fava Bean, especially when you have and 8 ft by 4 ft bed full. Well, this brings us to an interesting part of the garden experience. Even though it looks like a lot of beans, it isn't very much. Most of the Fava bean is compost. I only like the seed part. I don't eat the pod, although some say you can eat the young ones, if you are desperate. Each day or two, I can go out and collect a bunch of Fava beans, shell them, and end up with a cup of fresh beans. And a mountain of pods. Since there is only the two of us often for dinner, I will just boil them for about 3 minutes and serve with salt and butter. But if there are more than the two of us, I have to get creative. Make rice and toss in the beans in the last 5 minutes of cooking, like peas. Butter, salt, rice and beans. Side dish. Add them to Chicken curry, like peas. Peas, carrots and Fava. Onions, Artichoke hearts, fennel, peas and Fava with salt and butter. Ok, I'm done. And the Fava are about done, too. Very short season, those Fava. And now I have a mountain of green manure. What to do with all that green stuff.

Beans and peas are nitrogen fixers. Their roots make little nodules of nitrogen rich tissue. Rip out the plant and you throw away the nutrient. Cut off the plant and dig in the roots and plant new stuff. Put the upper plant in the compost bin or worm bin.(I have both.) In about 6 to 18 months, dump the composted material back into the bed and stir. Or, plant squash right in the aging compost. I actually have a squash plant growing in my compost. I think it is a pumpkin. It is growing out of an air hole in the side of the compost bin. I keep it watered and watch with curiosity.

More Fava bean information: Fava beans make a chemical that is often called L'dopa. It is used for people with Parkinson's and some other brain problems. It is present in very small amounts but might react with some medications. Also, there is a syndrome called Favism- like an allergy that can kill you. Some people cannot eat Fava beans. If you are not sure, ask your Dr. or eat a small bean and see if you get sick. Some recipes suggest that you cook and peal the skin off the Fava bean. The skin is about half of the bean. What is left looks like a green pea (size and color). I eat the skin. It turns pale green when cooked and the inner pea is bright green. Very pretty combination.

For my climate, Fava bean is a winner in the cool weather bean/pea contest. Peas suffer from mildew and Fava ignores it. Fava is just about the same as a pea in use and taste. I could have planted it about a month earlier, too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Backpacking Old Guys

My husband and I are backpacking old guys. Once a year we dust off the packs, sort through our mountain of gear and divide up the weight. I keep giving him a bit more each year. As I age, I don't stand on that absolute equality platform as often. (Long rant for another time here).
So our backpacking is a solitude thing. We get away from the kids, cars, dogs, boom boxes, smoky fires, and drunk adults. You can only carry so much beer up that mountain with all the other stuff.
And our backpacking is an independence thing. We can carry it all, make it all, and do without some. Do we shop for special lightweight gear at expensive sporting goods stores? Sometimes. And we shop at Walmart, too. Our tent was from Target. Our cooking pots from Walmart. Our clothes are from our closet, whatever we usually wear. Our sleeping bags and mats and cooking stove are from REI, the expensive store. But we don't ever buy that prepackaged food stuff. This is Fluffysgarden after all. We make our own. We grow our own. And we sometimes buy it at the grocery store.
I have made beef jerky, chicken jerky, apple leather, yogurt leather, and dehydrated vegetables for our stew dinners. I also make granola and granola bars, but this time I bought them.
We often indulge ourselves with brewed coffee and Kahlua. We mostly lay around and listen to... nothing. San Jacinto is a dry place. There are not very many birds and almost no other animals. There is a water source about a quarter mile from our camp area and the stream flows through a meadow. In the evening you might catch sight of a deer at the watering hole, but we usually don't. No bears, mountain lions or snakes, either.
To be dreadfully honest, we lay around for two days because we are so tired from the hike that we can't do anything else. Then we have to carry it all back down the hill and drive home.
I love this trip and look forward to it every year. This year we bought a new fangled water purifying unit at the expensive store. I have no idea how it works and we leave in two days. This is what adventure is all about.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Apples on the West Coast

There are a few apple varieties that do well where there is almost no chill. Chill factor is the number of hours where the temperature is less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The Dorsett apple requires almost no chill, but others may require up to 600 hours in the dormant season, or that the soil freeze to one inch deep. Dorsett apples are happy in coastal May gray and June gloom. Mild winters start them blooming in late January, and the fruit is ready in May and June. Then they bloom again and the fruit is ready in November. And then they bloom again, but I pick off the blooms so that they will bloom in January.

The apple qualities of Dorsett are a bit different from other types of apples. The apples often will fall from the tree and need to sit on the counter for about three days before sweet enough to eat out of hand. They have a sweet tart taste and good crunch. If you bake or cook them, they completely collapse and have no texture- great for apple butter, apple sauce, baby food- but not pie. Except for certain types of pie- layered pie.

Layered Pie

Pie crust to make a top and bottom for a 9 inch deep-dish
4 Dorsett apples, about the size of your palm and slightly green, cored and chopped (not sliced). I like the skins, but you can remove them if you want to.
1/3 Cup sugar (or substitute like Xylitol or Splenda Baking mix)
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
Mix the chopped apples with the sugar, flour, juice and spices. Layer it in the bottom of a dough lined pie pan (9 inch deep dish) and dot with two tablespoons of butter.
Next layer is some other fruit- like berries. Mixed berries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries- frozen or fresh. You will need about 1 ½ cups of berries tossed with 3 tablespoons sugar or sweetener equivalent.
Now put on the top crust and bake it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 for 50 minutes to one hour .
When the pie cooks, the apples collapse into a solid layer and the berries sit on top. You get the great taste of berry pie and the fullness of apple pie. All you need is a scoop of vanilla ice cream to totally blow your diet.

I also use the Dorsett apples in apple muffins, apple bread, and apple salads. I have cooked them with cabbage and onions to dress up a pork roast and I have put them in apple sausage stuffing at Thanksgiving.

Having two crops a year is very interesting. The first crop is gigantic with large apples, lots of them. I have to pick off about 1/3 of the set apples so that the remaining ones get large. The second crop is about 1/3 as many and they are much smaller. I try to pick off about half of the set apples so that the remaining ones can get a bit bigger. Keep the tree well watered and fertilized all year long. It takes lots of energy to make that many apples.

This tree is self fertile and compact, but not for a pot. After six years in the ground it is about 6 feet across and six feet tall, but the trunk is very thick. It is suitable for a small yard even though I have a large yard and numerous other fruit trees.

I highly recommend this tree for serious apple lovers on the West Coast.

Garden review

This is my garden web page. I want share my reviews about different plants, garden stores, gardening styles and other backyard information for my micro-climate in Encinitas, Ca. I hope you enjoy the information.