Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White House Hoop House But..

Well, we all heard about Michelle Obama and her White House victory garden. I am very proud of her and that. Now they have put up hoop houses for the winter garden. We stumbled upon this because we want to build hoop houses for our summer garden to get better success with tomatoes and okra. We may very well go for winter ones as well. I have a bunch of scrap conduit and PVC pipe. I just need to sort it out and see how much of which I have and then come up with a durable cover material (not clear plastic). If you are curious about the White House hoop houses, here is a video about it.

I am glad the USDA is promoting this idea along with soil conservation, but I keep having these sinking feelings about the Obama administration. Besides the war and the drones and the airstrikes and the lack of leadership on healthcare reform and the coddling of the banks and financial services industry, the food related disappointment is the nomination of Islam A. Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for CropLife, as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator for international trade. This happened a couple of months ago and as near as I can tell it got stalled in the Senate.

Keep an eye on this and remember, the revolving door between industry and government is still very much alive in Obama's America. Don't give up, though. Get active.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Water Bill Progress

We just got our most recent water bill and our consumption is at an all time low. The water consumption is measured in hundred cubic feet (1 hcf = 748 gallons). We got ours down from 11 hcf last period to 5 hcf this period. It is about a two month period. The average household here is 18 hcf so we are doing better than average, but there are only two of us, so I am sure we can do better.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blueberries in December

Well, it is just one blueberry.  The other bush has dropped its leaves, but this one is still mostly green and has a blueberry on it.  It even started flowering, but I pulled the blossoms off. It's December for crying out loud!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Still Laying

The chickens have slowed down, as they always do this time of year, but they are still laying.  Usually, they slow down and stop altogether shortly before the solstice.  Then, like clockwork, they start up again a few days after the solstice.  I am wondering if they are getting some street light here in town.  I will keep an eye on the situation, as we still have a couple of weeks to go.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's not un-Yuzu-al

This Yuzu tree has survived a few winters and a move from our last place to here.  Now that it is in the ground, it is much happier than it was in a container. Finally we have a decent number of ripening fruits. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus and you don't eat it, but you can yuze it to make ponzu, which we have with nabe, a hot pot dinner which is great during winter.

I have my eye on our cocktail grapefruit which has a bunch of nice sized green fruits on it.

It is hanging out under plastic sheeting to keep it safe from frost.  The chickens are also under there, next to an orange tree, to keep out of the rain.  Sometime we will build a more permanent structure for rain and frost because I don't like using the plastic (I am re-using it though).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Avocado Drama

As I mentioned in a previous post, I planted a couple of Mexican Avocado trees in the corner of the garden.

The pieces of concrete are there to keep the chickens from digging up the roots and to maybe provide a touch of thermal mass for frost protection.  We did just have a 28 degree killing frost the other night that finally did in a few squash, potato and tomato plants that were still hanging around but the avocado trees did fine with no additional protection. I will be covering them after the rain passes just in case.

Anyhow, after I planted them, I was googling something about avocados and stumbles upon frightening warnings of toxicity. I read that avocado leaves, stems, skin and pits were toxic to dogs, birds and other pets. Yikes! Fortunately the dog cannot get into the chicken/fruit tree area but chickens are birds, right? I looked and looked specifically for information about chickens and found speculation on chicken keeping websites, but no hard evidence. Then I found this farm blog where they are using chickens to control grass and weeds between rows of avocados.  If you read the comments section of that post, you can see my question and the farmer's answer. She has never seen any evidence of toxicity and all kinds of other birds hang out in the trees. That made me feel better.  The other thing that has made me calm down about it was some nice folks at the California Rare Fruit Growers, which I just joined. Specifically, Julie Frink (avocado expert) wrote:

    "Mexican avocado leaves can be used as tea or flavoring when roasting meats. They can be eaten skin and all.  It is the Guatemalan varieties that have toxic leaves and seeds.  One of my friends tried to feed her chickens avocados but they wouldn't eat them.  Later she found out that birds should not eat avocados.  Our neighbors dogs eat avocados all the time.  Some cats love avocado and I've never heard of it hurting them.  I wouldn't think a chicken would be tempted to eat an avocado leaf and certainly not a seed.  As to pecking on a fruit.... We have birds in our fields some of whom make nests and raise families but I've never seen birds eat avocados and we have ripe ones on the ground all the time.  Our coyotes are beautiful with healthy coats from a diet of rabbits, squirrels, rats and avocados.  The squirrels, possums, raccoons, rats and mice like to visit us to fill their tummys with avocado.  I suspect you have nothing to worry about but you could check bird and chicken fanciers.  I'll ask my two friends who have chickens what experiences they've had."

I am guessing the chickens will be uninterested in the leaves, since they are kind of tough, although that doesn't stop them from eating fig leaves. I have decided to leave the avocado trees where they are. If it becomes a problem, I can always build a fence around them.

Red-Winged Blackbird Swarm

The other day at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling facility and park in Petaluma, CA we saw these swarming birds and someone said they were red-winged blackbirds

Watch the whole thing, even though it is long. It is better than fireworks.

I had never seen anything like that before. Red-winged blackbirds are very common across the US.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lessons Learned

The plum tree broke right at the graft where the canker was when I tried to pull it out.  The roots of both the cherry and the plum trees were very deep already after less than a year in the ground.  It took a lot of patience and energy to get them back out of the ground but it had to be done.  In a way, it was a good opportunity to check out the soil and how the amendments to the clay were doing. I mixed it up better this time.

We decided to plant a pair of Mexicola avocados in the north west corner of the yard where the plum was.  According to things I read, including the  California Rare Fruit Growers Association page about avocados, you can plant two or three in one hole to save space and increase pollination. They also hate poor drainage

The person at the nursery suggested these two Mexicola type avocados, Stuart and Grande. These are pretty much the only Avocados I would try here as they are supposedly hardy to 18-24 degrees. I read on wikipedia that the record low of 16 degrees here was only recorded twice in the past century.  It has been regularly frosting here but temperatures are still in the 30s at night and 60s by day. Both avocado trees are labeled as being self-fertile, but you are generally supposed to get an A flower ype and a B flower type.  A little searching on the internets and I have found Mexicola Stuart and Grande listed as both A type, as both B type and as self fertile, so we shall see. For more on this, so I don't have to explain, see here.

 Still unsure about what to replace the cherry tree with.

Next time: Avocados and Satsuma Mandarins in the ground.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Prunus Problems

I didn't realize it had gotten so bad.  I noticed a little sap a while back, but did not realize I should be alarmed.  We have 2 trees in the prunus family, a cherry and a plum.  They both seem to have a pretty severe case of bacterial canker. I thought it was a borer at first, but they tend to make a mess down at the crown (just above the roots).  This starts at the graft and peels and oozes its way up the trunk.

It is really sad because the trees seem healthy otherwise but I am afraid their trunks are too small to withstand it.  Our friend Eva said we will probably need to destroy the trees and we read all kinds of scary things that lead us to believe we won't be able to plant any stone fruit.  No peaches, no apricots, no plums, no cherries.... I have found some resources that suggest copper spray may control it and that is spread by bacteria on the green leaves, not the cankers, but others say not so much and that the bacteria can live in the bark and become systemic.

If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.  Should I try to nurse these trees along or cut my losses and yank them out.  Should I risk planting again?  Maybe in the front yard?  My neighbors behind the back yard have plums.  I have not gotten a chance to look at their trees.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Brain Hurts!

I was walking the dog and came upon this crushed can.
Bud Light and Clamato together at last!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time Sure Flies!

It has been almost a month since I wrote anything.  First I got sick with something flu like (maybe swine flu, who knows?).  Then we also built a bathroom upstairs.  The old one was a disaster area when we bought this place and had to be gutted just to get rid of the mold under the floor and shower.  Then I went to the Association of Moving Image Archivists in St. Louis, MO. Then we continued with the bathroom.  Then we finished painting the house and now it is raining.

Now I know this is not a home improvement blog, or at least I don't want it to be, but we tried to be on the eco-side by getting a watersense certified toilet.  This is an EPA related program that requires toilets to use 1.28 gallons per flush or less and clear out a certain amount of solid waste at the same time. I have seen estimates of 3-5 gallons per flush on older toilets and 1.6 gallons on newer ones.  A lot of those 1.6 gallon toilets were not very good and required multiple flushes to do the job.  Our new toilet is made by Toto and is very very good. One quick small quiet flush.

We also used a low flow shower head that uses 1.5 gallons per minute.  So far I am not totally thrilled with it.  Several months ago I went to the water department and they gave me a free cheapo shower head that uses 2 gallons per minute and has a "massage" setting.  It was free and even put less steam on the mirror than the head we got with our original faucet (theoretically you could save electricity if  you use an exhaust fan in the bathroom).  According to shower heads from before 1992 shower heads used about 5.5 gpm and now Federal regulations require them to use no more than 2.5 gpm. I guess 1.5 is below average and that is what I am all about.

We are very happy to be able to do the same tasks with less water. Not only will it help reduce demand on a scarce resource, it will save money on our water bill.  We didn't realize it when we got the toilet, but you can get rebates toward a new toilet in many municipalities. We did manage to get a rebate when we bought a washing machine, for selecting an efficient model.

Next step is to start collecting rainwater.

Friday, October 23, 2009

First Spaghetti Squash

The first meal with spaghetti squash was made with this one that I scratched a heart into while it was still growing. Spaghetti squash is a nice starchy vegetable with a very mild flavor.  The way we made this batch was to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and fill it with tomatoes, garlic, pesto, pine nuts and mozarrella cheese.  Then we baked it.  Then we ate it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Petaluma Bee Ordinance Passed

There has been a lot of "buzz" on the Sonoma County Bee Keepers Association list serve about legalizing bees within Petaluma city limits and it looks like it finally happened. Along with feral cats and potbellied pigs, bees can live in town.

I remember reading animal regulations when we were thinking of moving there.  Pigs are legal in town for only 48 hours.  I was thinking of having joint custody of a pig with someone else and moving it every two days, but now I can just go out and get a potbellied pig. I am sure we have room for it somewhere.

I am not a member of the Beekeepers Association, but I may go to a meeting soon and we are thinking of getting a hive or two to help with all of our fruit trees and the garden, though I already see a lot of bees around. My friend Mark just gave me some honey from his bees in San Francisco and it is quite delicious (pictured here dripping from a spoon).  I need to make a "bee line" to his house and check out the hive, don'tcha know!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chicken Theater- Chickens, Collards, Clay

When it rains, the clay gets sticky and forms little clay shoes on the chicken feet. Meanwhile, there is a drama concerning the collard greens.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adventures in the Rhizosphere

I was digging up summer plants in order to plant winter plants and almost everywhere I dug I found these networks of mycorrhizal fungi. This was very exciting to me because I have been reading Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets and he was talking about the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and mycelium in general.  Mycorrhizal fungi play an essential role in the soil by closely associating themselves with plant roots and helping to break down organic matter in the soil and transporting water and nutrients from other parts of the soil to the plant.  Plants are supposedly much happier when growing with these mycelia.  You can buy innoculants, but where did mine come from?  I think it came from my compost tea, but I am not sure.  While trying to figure it out, I stumbled upon this slide show about the rhizosphere, a universe of amoebas, bacteria, plant roots, fungi, mites, bugs and more.  Very happy to be building a thriving ecosystem in my dirt.

{Memo to self: Garlic is planted in rear garden, south western most section before the asparagus.  Facing south, left rows are Metechi (marbled purple stripe garlic) next rows to right are Early Italian Purple (artichoke garlic).  To the right of that is elephant garlic.  Facing west, the rear asparagus bed has shallots in the right hand section where the asparagus did not make it. Also, in the right hand side of the bed that had peppers and arugula in it, next to where the tomatoes were I planted  Korean Red garlic.}

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Winter Squash

This is some of the winter squash we harvested.  Mostly spaghetti squash.  We still have not eaten that one yet.  We've eaten one of the very few kabocha squashes we got this year and it was quite delicious.

Recently when I was helping out at the Bounty Farm, Amy the farmer told me to go out and cut the peduncles and let the squash cure in the field. I ran home and cut my own peduncles and left the squashes out in "the field".  Now my squash is ready for eating  (I think).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Business Opportunity!

That's right, Mervyns closed well over six months ago and the space is still available. It happens to be the closest store to our house, just a few blocks away. What can you do with such a huge space?  Year round flea market or swap meet?  Farmers market? Skate park? Roller rink? Garden store? Bumper car stadium? Casino? Nightclub? Dayclub? Replace the roof with glass and make a giant greenhouse? Bulldoze it and plant oats (the crop that grew here before Mervyns)?  If you like any of these ideas and want to bankroll them, please contact me immediately.  An opportunity like this will not last!

Oh wait, I guess this is happening everywhere. Anyhow, it is 35,000 square feet and you can read all about it here. If you jump at this opportunity and make a ton of money, don't forget where you got the hot tip! (not affiliated with this property in any way)

Food Safety and Damn Lies

It is all over the news, Center for Science in the Public Interest has announced that leafy greens are dangerous!!!  Seriously, I believe this report.  It has everything to do with the centralized and industrialized food system we have in this country.  Contamination by pathogens spreads very quickly across the country and through many food streams.

Friends, our food system is sprawling and vulnerable. To me, this only underscores the importance of being as close to your food source as possible.  If you cannot grow it yourself, try to support local farms through farmers markets, shopping at stores that sell local produce or join a CSA farm.  We are very fortunate to be able to grow a lot of this stuff ourselves and to have a long growing season.  We have a lot of small farms in this area as well.

Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to get this safe local food.  Maybe you are on the road.  Maybe you are very poor.  Maybe you went out to eat.  For these occasions, we do need real safety rules that are actually adhered to.

There is some legislation, H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009,which I do not know a whole lot about. In general, I would tend to not trust it, as I know a lot of legislation is deeply influenced by the industries it is meant to address. 

A while back I got a lot of emails about how this bill was going to hurt small farmers, was written by Monsanto. Here is an example, but if you scroll down to the comments section, people are saying that it emanated from the Ron Paul political campaign.  Don't know if that is true, but it appears to be further debunked here and here

This has been debunked for months yet I just found a posting from the other day about it at written by someone at a proudly right wing web site. It particularly claims, "There are fears that the new laws will make growing organic foods illegal by outlawing the use of manure and requiring chemical pesticide application to all crops. Other frightening interpretations of the provisions in these bills include potentially mandating genetically-modified (GM) crops and "terminator" seeds that will require farmers to purchase new GM seeds each season."

Who are these truth tellers?  It says on their "about us" link that they are "committed to promoting free trade and agricultural biotechnology through farmer-led educational initiatives that target public officials, opinion leaders, and the agricultural community." They somehow do not strike me as concerned about organic farming, genetically modified terminator seeds and required pesticide application.

It kind of looks like these kinds of rumors emanate from the industries this legislation might impact.  It kind of reminds me of the lies that have been flying around regarding health care reform.  It is a little creepy that these lies are deliberately written to freak out people who want to grow food and support others who do the same. 

What do you think? Will this legislation offer real solutions to food safety concerns or will it create more problems than it solves.  And what is with the disinformation campaign?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chicken Theater and Fruit Trees

It turns out this is a great time of year to look for sales at nurseries.  We went to Dig Nursery in Cotati the other day and they were having a clearance sale of 30-50% off.  The guy who runs that place is very nice, by the way.  We got a large Granny Smith apple tree and a Fuji apple tree for 50% off.  Such a deal!

Then a woman in the neighborhood stopped by our door to tell us she'd been noticing our garden and that she had some extra mulch in her driveway.  We had a couple of other trees (Asian pear and a late orange) and that we had been meaning to plant so today was all about digging holes, removing a stump, walking the wheelbarrow around the neighborhood several times and shoveling things.  It is a great workout, especially upper body and abdominals.

Here are the trees in the back if you can discern them from this picture.  In the future, we will be fruit rich fruit-cakes.  Also picked up a banana tree that claims to be hardy to 10 degrees.  I put it in a bigger pot so we will see if it survives.  For the time being I can at least say, "yes, we have no bananas".

Anyhow, every time there is a hole being dug, Halley the chicken is in the middle of it.  Literally.  She is a smart chicken and knows that holes and trenches being dug means worms and other tasty morsels and she is apparently unafraid of shovels.  Please enjoy this latest installment of Chicken Theater, "Chicken In A Hole".

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Goodbye summer crops.  Tomatoes are still hanging on, but the weather just changed and the days are short. The chickens go to bed at 6:40 pm. Most of the winter squash is done (would have had more if the chickens hadn't gotten out so many times). I pulled out some zucchini and all of the melons.

The corn is over and I have been pulling out the stalks.  Not as much corn per plant as I had hoped for, but maybe better luck next time. Some of the fall winter things I planted are almost ready like fennel, beets and potatoes.  I have been replacing summer crops with broccoli, romanesco broccoli, brussels sprouts, green onions, lettuce, chard, kale.  I need to clear some more space for the starts I already have and for the peas, carrots, spinach and fava beans I intend to plant.

I am going to harvest the remaining peppers and tomatillos this week.  The lady at the seed store told me that tomatillos freeze well.  I hope so.  I dried a bunch of tomatoes in an electric food dehydrator and now we have three big jars full.  I keep meaning to build a solar chimney dehydrator or something like that but I keep having other things to do like painting the outside of the house (which also kept me from updating this blog).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rachel Maddow on ACORN

You may have read it here first but Rachel Maddow has put together the same argument I did several days ago but with a lot more details.  I am glad to know I am not a lone nut.  Take a look.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I really love okra but I have never quite had success with it. I know it can be grown here, especially if you provide a hoop house or something to keep it warm earlier in the season. This year my okra plants were kind of stunted, as they have been in previous years, but this year they also got attacked by chickens and then colonized by aphid farming ants. At a certain point, one row of plants took off and outpaced the aphids.  I helped them along by blasting the aphids with water. They also got a boost from the late September summer temperatures in the 90's. They are finally three feet tall and putting out flowers.  Okra is related to hibiscus, hence the lovely flowers.  I have gotten a few good pods from these plants and I hope to have more soon.  Next year, they are getting a hoop house to get an early start.  I think I will get the hang of it one of these years.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chicken Theater Episode 3 Bed Time

Chickens go to bed when it starts getting dark.

Guess what?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nuts Are For The Birds

OK, this is  about nuts.  This neighborhood used to be a walnut orchard.  There is a walnut tree on each parcel.  Recently, I have been finding walnuts and shells of walnuts in places where there are no trees, like the sidewalk or my front lawn.  At first I thought it must be those damned kids (get off of my lawn!) but then I heard a knocking sound.  I looked up and saw this crow repeatedly dropping a walnut onto the street.  I grabbed my camera, but did not get a good shot of the action, so you will have to take my word for it.

Chicken Theater Episode 2

Even chickens need to take a break on the park bench.

Friday, September 18, 2009


This post is not about nuts in the literal sense. It is not about food or homesteading at all. I am deeply troubled by the controversy surrounding the organization known as ACORN.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone would be "fooled" by this James O'Keefe character.

According to ACORN's chief executive Bertha Lewis, these people were kicked out of numerous ACORN locations and the people in these tapes have been fired.  The right wing likes to crow about other ACORN employees being arrested and prosecuted for so-called voter fraud. In all of those cases, these people were turned in by ACORN to the authorities because the employees had fraudulently filled out voter registration forms. In many states it is illegal to discard the forms once they are filled out, so ACORN flagged the forms and turned them in. Blaming ACORN for "voter fraud" is like blaming Safeway when an employee is prosecuted for shoplifting. 

The videos of the ACORN employees giving advice about prostitution and taxes seem kind of damning but I just don't buy this story.  Something does not smell right.  I would like to see the un-edited tapes.  I would like to see real investigations. 

The House and Senate just voted to strip ACORN of all Federal funding.  Given the nature of these tapes and the organized right wing effort to smear ACORN and anyone who supports them, I can see why these resolutions passed so quickly and overwhelmingly.

Gee, I wonder if we can get a resolution to defund DynCorp whose employees were allegedly having sex with children in BosniaEmployees who came forward were fired.  What about Blackwater, now known as Xe?  They have been accused of murder and other serious crimes.  How about ArmorGroup, who recently had a video scandal of their own and required employees to engage in sexually deviant behavior, according to a whistleblower? Or Kellogg Brown and Root, which has employees who engaged in gang rape that the Defense Department refused to investigate?!?!?!? Or And I am sure the list goes on and on.  Given the number of times these companies have overcharged the government for services, maybe we could pay for health care with the windfall we would reap.

So, in short, I understand how terrible it was, what ACORN employees seem to have done, but I did not realize how quickly Congress could act when they want to.  And they didn't even wait for an investigation.  How unusual.

How much money do you suppose ACORN gets from the government vs. DynCorp, Blackwater, KBR, etc.?  How many people are killed or raped by ACORN?  For ACORN's part, they need to get their employees on message and on the alert, but by this time it could be too late.  The right wing is vicious.

I understand that various law enforcement agencies are investigating these allegations.  I hope they uncover the entirety of these tapes and that they  can shed more light on this controversy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chicken Theater

Welcome to Chicken Theater.  Please do not expect high drama, exceptional moments of cuteness or comedy.  Chicken Theater is a meditation, a chance to relaxo and pretend you are at the rancho.  Come and get away from it all with Flo, Shortcake, Cupcake, Butterball, Halley and Simon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Community Garden Planning Meeting

This Thursday September 10th, there will be a planning meeting for the community garden at the Living Word Church in Petaluma being organized by Petaluma Bounty.  The last meeting had a small crowd of interested people turn up.  This time this group of neighbors passed out fliers in their neighborhood and we hope to get a bigger crowd this time.  If you live in Petaluma and you want to help plan this community garden or learn more, go to 901 Ely Blvd South at 7 pm this Thursday.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Hungry Hungry Caterpillars

It is so heartwarming to go outside and see these Small White Butterflies aka Cabbage Butterflies. They fly around, sometimes in pairs. They mate and lay tiny little eggs and cute tiny little green caterpillars come out and eat the leaves of my tiny fall starts of brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, bok choy and collard greens.

They get on bigger plants, too. I don't like getting upset at butterflies, but they are cramping the style of the garden. I am trying to control them by seeking out their eggs and larve and squashing them with my fingers (digitally, as a farmer once described it to me). If they are big enough, they go to the chickens. They are really easy to miss because they are usually on the bottom of the leaf, so you have to turn every leaf. I read that parasitic wasps are a good biological pest control for cabbage butterflies and aphids. You can attract these wasps and other predatory insects by growing plants with lots of tiny flowers like yarrow, fennel, corriander, etc. I have some in other parts of the garden already. I will get some more of those plants going today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Freedom isn't free, Cupcake!

This is Cupcake, sister of Shortcake. Together they are the Babycakes. The babycakes, along with Simon, are Ameraucana chickens, who are smart, lay cool bluish-green eggs and are fairly lightweight. Of all of the chickens we have had over the past several years, the best escape artists have been Ameraucanas. They are magic chickens. One minute they are inside the fenced area, the next minute they are out. They don't even know what happened sometimes. We spent all this time creating a fence to keep the chickens away from the back garden and the more potentially toxic perimeter of the house. Cupcake flew up to the top of the fence and jumped over. I put another section of floppy chicken wire on top of the fence. A couple of days later, Cupcake got out again. Finally we clipped her wing, which really is like a haircut. She still gets out. I am not sure what to do. She is still enclosed by the taller wooden fence around the back yard, so she won't get out to the street, but I would prefer she stay in the chicken run. At least she is the only one who can do it.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Time to stop talking about vegetables and start talking about chickens. This is Flo. We don't know exactly how old she is anymore, but she is pretty darned old. When we moved into our last place about 4 or so years ago Flo was already there and already old. She was probably just entering henopause when we first met her. She would lay nice white eggs occasionally, but they started coming out with weird or no shells and eventually she stopped laying altogether. A couple of years ago we had some really intense heat which killed one of our hens. We have since learned that it is good practice to provide chickens with electrolytes on hot days (it's what chickens crave). Since they cool themselves down by panting, they exhale carbon dioxide and their blood can get too alkaline and whack them out pretty badly.

Anyhow, Flo looked like she was done for as well. She just melted into a dazed puddle. Even her comb was flopped over. She somehow managed to bounce back. In the meantime, we knew one of the chickens had been eating eggs. One day we caught Flo in the act. That explained her youthful new feathers and perky comb. She had become a vampire chicken! Since we are softies, we kept her around anyway and just checked the eggs as often as we could. All of the other chickens of her generation have since passed away but Flo just keeps on keeping on.

Go Flo!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


This nopal cactus was here when we moved in. It finally started perking up recently, since we dug garden beds right next to it and it has been getting compost and water. Some of the pads have started growing where we don't want them, but fortunately they are edible, delicious and nutritious. Supposedly, they are good for diabetes and reducing the glycemic effect of certain foods. It is also supposed to be high in vitamins A, C and K, B6, riboflavin and fiber, too. I also read that the juice can be used to treat wounds and burns, kind of like aloe. When they are young and tender, there aren't many thorns and they can be scrubbed clean, sliced and sauteed with other veggies.

All this and it makes fruit, too! Tonight we sauteed it with eggplant, onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and basil and ate it with pasta and cheese. It was delicious.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers are easy and satisfying to grow. This is the second year we have grown them. They produce a lot of small mild green peppers for a very long time. They sometimes can turn red and get a little sweeter, but usually you pick them green and kind of long. What we do is put a little olive oil and salt on them and pop them in a toaster oven. You can leave the stem on and seeds in. They are great as a beer snack or just a snack.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Here Are My Tomatoes

I think this is Pineapple, a Black Tomato and "fig" tomatoes. The fig tomatoes really don't taste like figs at all. Maybe I got them mixed up with some ordinary tomato. I haven't tried the others yet but will shortly . I don't quite see any avalanches of tomatoes coming, as they seem to be getting ripe only a few at a time.

The Japanese cucumbers are producing at a decent pace, also not enough for major surpluses, but enough to eat.

At the top of the photo are those muskmelons. Probably a few days away from ripe, but bugs were showing too much interest in them to leave them on the ground. Husk cherries at the bottom of the picture.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hot Steamy Compost Action

The compost has finally hit its stride. I have been saving a little bit from each previous batch and adding it to the next. Finally I have this certain smell. I think it is the smell of mycelial activity . I smelled it when I got a delivery of compost months ago. It is kind of amazing how the compost can go from a sour stinky smell to earthy and hot in just a few days after adding the right balance of materials and rolling the barrel around. This picture shows a clump of compost with mycelium growing on it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Free Junk For My Compost Trunk

We collect chicken poop from the coop, along with the pine shavings we use for the floor. I add stuff from the garden and our kitchen food scraps, but it is never enough to fill up our "roll your own" barrel compost system. Fortunately, this world is full of free compostables. For instance, the Peet's at the local stripmall has big bags of used coffee grinds and filters for free if you ask for them. Another source of free compost materials is the horse manure pile at Helen Putnam Regional Park. You just have to remember to bring some containers when you go there for your walk.

By the way, shortly after watering with compost tea, I noticed a burst of healthy new growth. Not too leafy and floppy either. It was hotter so it is hard to say for sure, but I'm guessing it helped. Here is a picture of the new growth on the Japanese cucumber plant.

I am brewing up a second batch of tea right now. This time I am adding kelp powder which is supposed to stimulate the growth of fungi. I will also be patient and brew it longer. I will keep you all updated on this exciting project.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Community Gardens

Even though we are near "the country" not everyone has a place to garden. Last week I attended a preliminary planning meeting for the proposed Arroyo Community Garden here on the east side of Petaluma. This coming Thursday, August 20th at 7PM there will be a meeting to discuss the community garden at the Living Word Lutheran Church 901 Ely Blvd South in Petaluma . If you live anywhere near there, you are invited.

Grayson James, Executive Director of Petaluma Bounty briefly explained to the attendees how to organize a community garden. This Thursday, Grayson will be there to show you what it is all about. The Living Word Church is generously providing a nice sunny field to the garden. There are apartments right behind it, so maybe they will want to come and have a garden in their "own backyard".

Here it is, nothing blocks the southern exposure. They have a well already. All it needs is fences, garden boxes, compost, seeds, a little plumbing and you!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit

We have a tower of beans, a fountain of beans. These are green and yellow filet beans which I wrote about earlier. We have had them for weeks and they are so high, we can't reach some of them. We pick a big bowlful every day and they keep coming. We have given some away and we are eating them every day. They are tasty sauteed with other vegetables but I think I like them best steamed where you can taste their flavor. I must admit, I have never been a fan of string beans, but they have such a great flavor when they are fresh and steamed.

We also pickled some. These pickles are made with white wine vinegar, white wine, water, salt, sugar, corriander, mustard seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf, dried jalapeƱo pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic. In this recipe you heat the liquid with the sugar and salt and put everything else in a safe container (I used heat resistant glass) and pour the hot liquid on top, which blanches the beans. Then you let them cool and put it in the fridge. I guess you could can them, but I they will last in the fridge for quite a while. Green beans taste good but are not as pretty as yellow ones. You can put other veggies in the brine with the string beans as well. I got some colorful carrots from the farmers market and put them in this batch. They are a delicious complement to sandwiches and salads.

We also planted scarlet runner beans which we are planning to harvest for dry shelling beans. My aunt gave me the seeds a few years ago and I have been growing them for a couple of years. I saved the seeds from last year. We cooked and ate them a couple of times and found them to be delicous. They are really neat looking, too before you cook them. Then they lose their pattern and turn brown.