Thursday, March 31, 2011

Welcome Spring

© Jessica Nichols, Sweet Eventide Photography

The sun peeks out from under a curtain of grey.  Against the bleary sky, the fig and apple trees stretch and claw.  Leprechaun green lichen creeps up the tree trunks.  From their gnarled hands spring tiny green leaves, rings on a witch's fingers.

Pink blossoms perk from the plum tree and bees buzz amongst the white flowers of the as-yet-unplanted Asian pear tree.

The earth is alternatively sleek - a dried up slip n slide - or clumps of mud flung together by some unseen hand.  Beneath the surface, worms muddle about, popping to the surface to escape the weeks' worth of rain lodged in the soil.  They should have noodled back under, I think.  Safer with the mud than with the chickens who waddle between my legs, hoping for a snack.

A small blue skipper dodges amongst the weeds and further up, in the old palm tree, bees emerge emit a constant hum.  A bee hive, perhaps.

I checked the forecast this morning.  Five days worth of suns lined up in a row, like corn planted by a careful farmer.

I checked my favorite garden books as well.  Still plenty of time for peas.  Borage, calendula and other bee friendly herb seeds can be sewn.  Lettuce starts might wend their way between the pea strands.  The packets of wildflower mixes - my pollinator gardens - bulge in my back pocket.

I pick up a trowel and a rake.  Welcome spring.

Are you ready for me?

.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sitting on a Gold Mine


A few weeks back, we drove north - through the tight streets of San Francisco, in between the soaring red arms of the Golden Gate Bridge, and up into the lounging green hills of the North Bay.  Cattle drawled across fields and, occasionally, a small milk barn or windmill speckled the green.  Bare oak trees, swaddled in moss, clawed the sky.

I imagine this is different country in the summer.  The signs promising the "sweetest strawberries" at shuttered fruit stands are not lying.  The oaks wear scratchy green leaves then and frogs' croaks echo in the ebbing creeks and streams.

This drive reminded me that once all of my state looked something like this.  Our single Silicon Valley hawk, with missing wing feathers, was once one of dozens, lazily circling the sky, scooping up field mice and squirrels.  Our blacktop encased urban stream once sprawled wildly, carving its own path through sauntering emerald hills.  And our oaks once grew in forests, surrounded by fellow oaks, instead of spotted between office buildings, parking spaces and palm trees.

Much of this rural landscape is gone.  It exists in puzzle pieces outside of a commute.  But I cannot forget what once was and what could be.  Certainly, we cannot ravel up the yarn of highways crossing the state or replace hundred year old forests, felled for new home sites and chain stores.  Our yards, though, tucked snugly together likes socks in a well organized drawer, can host wildlife and grow food.  Holes eased under fences do not need to be filled.  Old wood and trees can be left for the woodpecker.  Ornamental flower beds can host a cacophony of native wildflowers and bees.  Vegetable beds can be stitched into backyards and fruit trees added where eucalyptus or some other innocuous tree might have gone.  Chicken coops can be nestled under an old pine tree and bird houses nailed to the back fence.

We are sitting on a gold mine in our own yards and with a few seeds, an open gate and a wide heart, we can, at least partially, turn back the time on our urban landscapes and regenerate our spaces and our selves.

.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blank Slate to Full Plate, Part 1

Last summer, we moved from a tiny postage stamp lot, stuffed with fruit trees, grapes and berries, to a sprawling half acre of potential.  A few spindly, neglected fruit trees sprouted across the property and some volunteer berries popped up here and there - mixed in with weeds and decades-old azaleas.

I'd seen this property two years ago - the first time it had been on the market in recent memory - and fallen in love.  Here, I could have the best of both worlds - a farm in the city.  When it became available again, we pounced.  We scooped out some space for the chickens, spruced up the fig, apple and plum trees and waited for inspiration to strike.


For months, I would gaze out at the back hill and wonder what I could plant there, watch where the sun fell, ponder where beds might go.  Having come from my tight little front yard garden, though, the space here overwhelmed.  Prospects were endless.  We had room for an orchard, raised beds, a pumpkin patch and pollinator garden.  But where to start.


I blogged about my planting paralysis over at The Green Phone Booth and received some wonderful advice.  Start small, everyone said.  Devise an overall plan and chip away at it.  Oh, and get those fruit trees in the ground asap.

I hired a landscape designer for a consult.  Just to walk through the yard and give me ideas.  Truthfully, he didn't really "get" it.  He talked about a shade garden under the pine trees where I wanted to leave things natural for the wild creatures.  He suggested I rip out two of my three mature fruit trees and replace them with something else or put them somewhere else.  Um, does he not realize how long it takes for a fruit tree to mature?  He talked about bringing in garden art to "catch the eye" when my garden art walks on two legs and clucks.

The consult was almost not worth it - except for his genius suggestion to move the hulk of a playhouse to a high, shady corner where nothing would ever grow.  It would keep the kids from tromping through the garden and leave the playhouse visible from the house, he advised.  Me likey!

Just that one tip, completely changed how I viewed our back forty.  I could then envision where the orchard would go.  The raised beds would line up in a sun baked spot in front of the play house and pumpkins would rove under two new citrus planted along the front fence.  (I'd once read that pumpkins and fava beans are good companion crops for under orange trees so we'll see if that holds true.)

After a busy month, I've got the fruit trees purchased and all but one planted.  I tucked seven thornless berries along the fences and transplanted what I could of the wild ones.  And I've got three raised beds now ready and waiting for tomatoes, peppers, peas and potatoes.  Peas have already been planted in them.



Full plate, here I come.





* No comment, please, on the white cupid statue leftover from a previous owner.  ;-) It will soon be looking to be rehomed on Freecycle.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Riches Among Us


Please pop over to read my post at the Green Phone Booth today about forgotten fruit trees in a hungry world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Breakfast


A raindrop splashed on the back of my neck and unraveled down my shoulder.  Cold.  Unhappy.  More drops splattered across the roof and banged the windows.  Thunder grumbled.  It was one of those March storms. Winter's last tantrum before ceding to spring.

After waiting for a break in the rain, I decided to brave the walk up the steps, across the path and to the chicken coop.

Inside, the girls squawked and scolded when they saw me.  It's rained for days, the Barred Rock reproved.  Make it stop, blinked the sweet Buff Orpington.  Any worms, wondered the chunky buff Cochin.

Ducking under the eaves, I refilled their food - pitifully low.  Freshened up the water from the faucet - though I might have just held it under the sky.  And tossed in a handful of greens, some strawberry caps, and last night's pasta leftovers.  The brown Welsummer beaked out a piece of spaghetti.  Chickens are just like people, I mused. They like the carbs.

Locking the door, I patted my dog's bobbing head.  He eyed the hens hopefully but I locked the run instead.  It was too muddy for even their dinosaur feet today.

I unscrewed the latches on either side of the back of the coop.  They keep the raccoons out at night and help me, and the girls, sleep easy.  Coaxing the water swollen door down, I scooped some dampened shavings out - wondering where the water had leaked in.  Then, I saw them.  Three eggs.  Various shades of brown.  One round one - a golf ball that the blue Cochin always lays.

Reaching in, I cupped the eggs.  Still warm.  Sunshine on a cold and rainy day.

Breakfast.

.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Streetwalkers' Stew

Meatless Monday!


Last July, I waded through my kitchen.  Half packed boxes, misplaced serving bowls, and an overabundance of fruit that would never become jam.  My phone rang and I jumped to escape the clutter of a new move.

A mom from a local school was calling to check when she should deliver her meal.  Her what?  I'd forgotten all about last spring's auction where we had won three homemade meals from "around the world."  We'd been out of town for the first and our favorite educator had gotten our Mexican meal instead.  This month's meal was apparently Italian which thrilled me as there are a lot of vegetarian options in Italian cooking.  The donor/chef threw out several different choices and we landed on puttanesca because I have a penchant for spicy!

A week later, our doorbell rang and a stranger with two teenage girls came bearing gifts.  Pasta.  Homemade puttanesca sauce.  Salad. Bruscetta.  Gelatto.  Wine.  And written recipes for all.  Thank God because her puttanesca sauce, also known as the much saucier name of Streetwalkers' Stew, has become a favorite recipe in the Green Bean family.

I use the base and then adapt it like crazy to accommodate CSA offerings, seasonal veggies from the farmers' market, and whatever I've got in the cupboard.  The pictured dish included CSA broccoli, CSA canned pickled tomatoes (drained), CSA canned spicy tomato sauce, dried basil (fresh is not in season yet), black olives (no green in the pantry!).  It was so satisfying that Mr. Green Bean helped himself to seconds - almost unheard of in this home.

BASIC RECIPE ADAPTED FROM THE ORIGINAL:

1 Tablespoon of olive oil or spray a large skillet with olive oil spray
1/4 - 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes
4-5 cloves of minced fresh garlic
15-32 ounces of canned tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped fine (if out of season, swap 1-2 tablespoons dried basil)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I only use this if I happen to have it in the fridge)
10 black olives, sliced
10 green olives sliced
1-2 tablespoons capers
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup dry white wine (can use red if out of white)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil, garlic and chili flakes for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes, any additional vegetables (which should be chopped), herbs and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add olives, capers and wine (never forget the wine!!!).  Simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve over pasta or eat straight from the pan!

See more Meatless Monday recipes and ideas over at Manic Monday Meatless Monday Carnival.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't Be a Twit


I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today extolling the virtues of social media in the green revolution.  Come join me and see why I think it is essential all interested environmentalists tweet like there is no tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blooming Where I Am Planted


In 2009, the American economy crashed and people everywhere gave up new wardrobes, meals out, and vacations.  Indeed, 2009 was the year of the "staycation."  People embraced them to save money and to reduce emissions.


Fast forward, 2011 and staycations have become tad boring.  We the people have frugal fatigue and are tired of vacationing in our backyards.  I'll even admit to hankering for far away places - preferably somewhere sunny and sandy.  Somewhere that finances, young kids and greener principles have kept out of my reach for half a decade.



And yet, a combination of illness and bad luck kept us home over a recent week off.  We had no choice but to bloom where we were planted.  We visited local museums, hiked county parks, toured state parks, and hit the zoo.  Some of these things I'd never done in my fifteen years in the Bay Area.  All of them were within a thirty mile radius of our home.



We bloomed where we are planted and found that there is quite a bit growing in our neck of the woods.  What about in yours?



Friday, March 11, 2011

Falling in Love Again



It was one of those rare March days - when the clouds part and the sun gives a sneak preview of spring days to come.  I guess I wasn't the only one who thought so, I mused, pulling into the parking lot.  Two lines of white canopies were sandwiched between rows of parked cars, bicycles, and pedestrians wielding flats of the season's first strawberries.

Grabbing bags from the trunk, I headed toward the umbrellas.  It had been a year since I'd been to this farmers' market - my favorite and the best in my part of the Bay Area.

School budget battles had called.  Carpools and a cross-town move, complete with the boxes, crates and drama.  I'd given up the sumptuous stroll of the farmers' market for the abundant convenience of a CSA.  I picked up the farm's offerings up weekly at a little saltbox house across from the local park.  The farm reused the boxes and in return, gave me more carrots than you can shake a stick at, more Brussels sprouts and cabbage than I could want, and not enough apples.  It worked for us.  We supported a local farm.  We ate healthy and seasonally of organic, locally raised veggies.  It was perfect.  Except that was is not.

Picking up a CSA box is lovely.  It is an adventure to ease apart the cardboard to see what this week holds.  It is exciting figure out how to cook what someone else packed.

But it is not the farmers' market.  It is not the ten year old deftly slicing navel oranges or the apple cider samples set out jauntily next to crates overflowing with Fujis.  It does not pull you like the glimpse of spring's first blackberries, peering sloe eyed through the crowd, or seduce like the nubile bunch of asparagus, bound together and perched on a oilcloth covered table.  It lacks the sounds - the brash twenty year old hawking his family farm's winter squash or the older woman handing out naturally scented handmade soap samples.  There are no bins of nuts and dried fruits lined up.  Nor glass jars of amber honey.  Not even an array of goat cheese - from creamy soft to rock hard.

That morning, as I wandered through the farmers' market stalls, filling cloth bags with snap peas and purple cauliflower, I emptied the entire contents of my wallet.  Finally, as I headed back to the car, we passed the strawberries.  Perky.  Big and audaciously red.  Digging into my back pocket, I pulled out the $10 pilfered from my "emergency cash" fund.  As I handed my last dollar bill over to the handsome berry farmer, I realized it was true.

I was falling in love again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Enemy Within


I took a breath and closed my eyes. For the first time today, silence. Pure, unadorned silence. The kids had gone outside with dad on a bike ride. Picking up shoes and art work strewn across the family room floor, I headed back through the hall.

The very brightly lit hall! Darn it. The kids had left the lights on in both of their rooms. I filed away their treasures and hit the switches, then walked past my husband's desk to put my shoes away. I glanced in his trash can. An empty can of Hansen's soda! Several sheets of paper and some envelopes! All recyclable.

Back in the kitchen, I opened the lid to the trash can to find coffee grinds and a banana peel. Both of which belonged in the compost bin - just one door over, under the sink.

Don't get me wrong.  Mr. Green Bean is a very green being.  He cares very much about the planet and votes for measures that will protect it.  He looks for recycled or second hand products on the rare occasions that he engages in consumerism and, as a businessman, is very interested in companies going green.  He spent a summer building my chicken coop and thoroughly enjoys our CSA.

My boys are also very eco-learned.  Most of our longer excursions have been camping trips, in some shape or form.  First choice for spending allowance is usually a thrift store or garage sale and they've been to the farmers' market almost as much as a regular market.

Still!!  Lights left on, recyclables tossed out, compostables mixed in with regular garbage?  If my family cannot live green, who can?  

At dinner time that night, I remind the boys to turn out their lights.  I re-explain climate change in kid-friendly terms and I wag my finger at Mr. Green Bean who promises that that trash can was a way station en route to the recycling bin.  Mmmm, likely story.

Everyone promises to think more about our planet and I pass out the dinner plates.  It is a casual meal of leftovers.  Tugging open the silverware drawer, I spot a handful of wadded paper napkins that Chipotle stuck in our bag the last time we ordered take out. I had meant to stop them but it was raining, I had two kids and a migraine. Sighing, I set the paper napkins in front of the boys.

"Mom," my six year old piped up.  "We shouldn't use these types of napkins.  They cut down trees to make them."


Touche!  Turns out the enemy is within all of us.

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