Sunday, March 18, 2012

Right as Rain

Northern California has been dry as a bone this winter.  Up until last week, I'd resorted to hand-watering and even turned the irrigation back on the fava beans and raised beds.  The rain has come at last though and what March showers do to my over-wintered flowers, well, I couldn't resist the urge to snap a few.

This little flower pops up every spring and spends the rest of the year, blanketed under the earth as a bulb.  They are all over my yard.  Anyone know what they are called?

I'm not the only one who loves borage.  It attracts bees like nobody's business.  They venture out for their hit of borage even in between rain storms.

Speaking of borage, I had thought this was comfrey (which I had planted there, under the apple tree) but I'm fairly certain it is white borage, which I also planted around this and other trees.  Borage grows SO well from seed and reseeds so easily, you only need to invest in one packet of borage seeds and you are set for life.

Ahhh, the Indian blanket wild flower.  Be still my heart.  This beauty was part of a wild flower mix that I planted last spring.  It overwintered fairly well and what flowers did go to seed, I kept the seed so I can plant more again this year.

Calendula is right up there with borage for a re-seeder and a multi-use plant.  I have clumps of calendula all over my yard.  It has many uses, including edible flowers, medicinal uses and making a lovely lotion.

With plenty of rain, my nasturtium have reseeded and grown and grown.  I love how their large leaves cup the rain drops.

Loving succulents these days for my pots.  That way, if I forget to water, oh well!

* I'm linking to Tuesday Garden PartyGarden Tuesdays,Homestead Barn Hop and Farmgirl Friday with this post.
* Join the Facebook page where things are growing every day.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Give Me Honey

A year ago, Amber Strocel wrote a guest post here at the Booth about washing her face with honey.  She referenced her sensitive skin as well as her concern for chemicals as the reason for choosing honey.  I was intrigued. 

My dermatologist calls my skin "exquisitely sensitive."  I call it haggard and blotchy.  I've never found a face wash that hasn't left my skin drier, tighter and even painful.  I also have rosacea and have not received much relief from over-the-counter or prescription treatments. 

So, after a year of hemming and hawing about washing my face with honey, I attended a beginner beekeeping class.  The beekeeper lauded the benefits of using honey at home.  His adolescent daughter used it as acne treatment.  His wife worked at a hospital where honey was employed to treat cuts instead of polysporin.  I headed home with three jars of his honey and a determination to stick at least one of them in the bathroom.

Read more at The Green Phone Booth. . . 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Long Live the Edibles!

Spring is in the air and, along with it, veggie garden fever.  Starting seeds, tucking seedlings into soft beds of carefully cultivated soil, it's what we do.

But what if it wasn't.  The harvesting, yes, but not the seed starting, not the planting of spindly little sprouts.  What if we did it once and that was it?  The lazy gardener's vegetable garden . . .

I'm talking, of course, about edible perennials.

Fruit Trees and Berries
The first fruit tree to flower every year - apricot!
The first thing I do whenever I move somewhere is get in my fruit trees and berries.  They are the stalwarts of the garden - there year in and out.  The best time of year to do this is in winter, when most fruit trees and berries are available in bare root form.  In other words, cheap!

Currants are one of the first perennials to fruit each year and provide year round interest.
Currently, I have four apples, one plum, one quince, one pear, one Asian pear, one fig, two pomegranates and a persimmon.  Oh, and a lemon, mandarin orange, navel orange, blood orange, and lime.  I've got more blackberries than I can count but no blueberries and several currants.  I've never had much luck with those or raspberries where I live.


Grapes and blackberries.
 Nothing can beat home-grown grapes.  The last two homes I've lived in, I've planted one (bare-root style again) and been rewarded with table grapes to die for.


Egyptian walking onions.

I've always done sets when it comes to onions and replanted every fall.  This year, I opted for Egyptian Walking Onions which are an old heirloom.  Apparently, they "walk" or bend over after blooming and replant themselves.  I cannot attest to taste or even how well they'll do but I figure it is worth it.  I bought my starts on Local Harvest.  I have also heard the potato onions are wonderful perennial onions and better tasting than the walking onions.


Welcome rhubarb!

Another first for me this year is rhubarb.  It apparently only does so-so in my neck of the woods but given that I can plant it once I forget about it, I decided to go for it.  I mostly came across rhubarb seeds but apparently planting the "crown" is the way to go.  I opted for a variety that supposedly does better in my zone - even though I had to order it from Oregon.  It popped up and, while I know that this year I won't have much to harvest, things are looking tart and crunchy all over.


At our old house, whenever I went on walks, I would make it a point to walk by a little cottage whose picket fence was bordered with artichokes.  In my new home, I've included artichokes under several fruit trees.  They are supposed to be a wonderful green mulch in fruit tree guilds and, in milder climates like mine, they can be grown as perennials.  I only put mine in the ground last year so I'll have to report back after harvest.


I personally wouldn't qualify them as "perennials" but, in my California climate at least, Swiss chard, kale and collards will grow for more than one season and occasionally for more than one year.

Swiss chard on its second year. 

My garlic.

I recently read that garlic can be grown as a perennial.  I'll give it a shot this year.


And finally, the be-all, end-all of perennial vegetables.  I adore asparagus but you have to make quite a commitment to grow it.  You need dedicated space and patience -years worth of patience.  I have yet to take the plunge but I'm preparing a bed (apparently the soil needs to be super duper wonderful) for next year.  In the event you are more of a container kind of gardener, you can grow them in raised beds, galvanized tubs or the like.

Do you have perennials in the garden?  Have you grown something that I haven't?

* I'm linking to Tuesday Garden Party, Garden Tuesdays, Homestead Barn Hop and Farmgirl Friday with this post.
* Speaking of perennials, join the Facebook page where things are growing every day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't Fence Me In

After finishing a fence and finding himself with extra wood, my father offered to build me a fence with the leftovers.  He thought it would be nice for the chickens to stretch their wings a bit more.   

The girls agreed. 

You see, the ladies are cooped up when the garden is cooking.  They are offered true free range only in early spring, before all the seeds go in, and in fall, before the cover crop is tucked in.  Then, they are slug eating machines.  Any other time of year, these innocent looking featherheads are nothing short of natural born killers - decimating pumpkin patches and tearing through peas in the click of a beak.

I happily took my father up in his offer.  Along side the run, he built a chicken "corral" with both sun and shade.  For now, I'm only letting out the tamer girls (Minerva Louise, you are out of luck, sister!) because I have to shuttle them back and forth until we make an opening in the run.

Can't they just fly over the fence, you ask?  Theoretically.  Most of my girls are too chubby to get off the ground though.  Heck, one of them is too fat to flap up to the roost at night.  Gotta love cochins.  In any event, their girth coupled with the staggering of the top railings seems to mostly deter them - and, will hopefully let my garden grow in peace this spring.

* Linking to Homestead Barn Hop, Tuesday Garden Party, Garden Tuesdays and Farmgirl Fridays for this post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Under Your Feet

The mixed cover crop in my garden in late February.

It is that time of year again.  Whether it is three feet deep in snow or bustling with cover crop and fava beans, your garden is calling you.  Seed packets have arrived or are en route.  The sun is slanting, peeking out more from behind the crowds and the soil is waking up.

But that is just the thing, if you want to have a truly successful vegetable garden, the soil is the place to start.  You need to get, in a word, grounded.

Read more . . . 

I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today sharing my experience with improving soil for a successful edible garden.

Friday, February 10, 2012

When February Isn't Quite Winter

We've had a warm winter in the San Francisco Bay Area - not unlike much of the rest of the country.  With little rain and abundant sunshine, I'm not sure what to do with the garden.  Dare I pull out the tomato seeds?  Should I even bother throwing down some winter green seeds for a spring crop or will they go to seed as soon as they grow?

I've been preparing beds and pulling weeds and basically soaking up the sunshine.  I've even let the hens out for a stroll as there isn't much damage they can do to the garden in its current state.

After weeks of deliberating what to do with the greenhouse - thank you for all the advice! - I've made some progress.  We put in a gravel base and irrigation.  I dragged empty pots from all over our lot and collected seed starting supplies through a "wanted" post on Freecycle.  Right now, I have lettuce, leeks, collards and chamomile sprouting in there.  

Last month, throwing caution - or at least seeds - to the wind, I tucked in radish and carrot seeds.  The radishes have sprouted but I suppose, despite all the sun, it isn't warm enough for them to do much else yet.  That said the bok choy and greens have bolted and borage is going strong.

Comfrey is doing the green mulch thing under the apple tree and behind it, fava beans coat what will be next summer's pumpkin patch.

Just poking my head through the flowers to check in and see what the rest of the world is planting right now.  I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop, Friday Photo Blog Hop, and FarmGirl Friday.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Will You Bee My Beekeeper?

Last November, I received a flurry of emails and Facebook messages from friends.  A Groupon was being offered for a beekeeping class in my area.  A squeal and a deal later, I was signed up and ready to go.

A couple weeks before the class, I started reading beekeeping books and checking out websites.  I wandered around my back yard debating where I would situate a hive or two.  And wondering if I was quite ready to take the honey-coated plunge.

The big day came.  A good friend and I trundled one city over for our class.  It was full.  Overly full!  People had driven hours to come so I guess we were pretty lucky to have driven 7 minutes.

I learned a lot.

Did you know that honeybees are not native to the United States?  They literally came over with the pilgrims and subsequent immigrants.

That said, "of the 100 crop species that supply 90 percent of the world's food, bees pollinate more than 70 percent."

Our teacher, a man in his fifties, got his first beehive at age 9.  Back then, he said, it was much easier to keep bees.  You basically did nothing but harvest the honey.  Now, he said that he and other beekeepers in our county (he is the President of the local beekeepers guild) regularly lost 50% of their hives every year - due to disease and pests.

Much of that problem is that hives are brought over from many other countries to pollinate American crops during peak season.  For instance, I live in California and apparently March or thereabouts is the time to pollinate the almond trees in our Central Valley.  Many of the diseases and pests have come with those bees brought in from other countries.  As careful as the government often is to prevent invasive species, it boggles the mind that it will ship in beehives and, with them, new diseases and predators, from willy nilly.

During our examination of the hive for instance, he showed us a hive beetle and indicated that he would put out a trap for them.  "These just came over in the last two or three years with the bees brought in from Australia".  Great!

I learned some happier things.  Like beehives can be cute!

Though it doesn't have to be this cute! (It's a vintage beehive on Etsy.)

After the class, my friend and I returned home - heady with honey tasting dreams of bees in our suburban backyards.  I will likely wait until next spring (because you can really only start keeping bees in the spring), to jump, fully suited, into beekeeping.  That gives me a year to read, take my local guild's beginners beekeeping class and learn everything I can about bees.  Besides, this spring's dance card is already full with endeavors like planting in a greenhouse, expanding my garden, creating a water garden, and condoing my potatoes.

So I guess you'll have to wait until next spring to see a picture this cute again. ;-)

* I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop and FarmGirl Friday for this post.

* Keep up with the other bees in the hive and join the Facebook page. It's full of combs and honey.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Inconvenience of Eating Healthy

The more I read about food, the less I want to eat it.  And the less I want my children to eat it.  I'm thinking, not about the food I grow or purchase at the farmers' market, but the stuff on our supermarket's shelves.  Cow and pig parts in cereal?  BPA in canned soup, canned beans, canned everything?  Genetically modified ingredients in everything from corn chips to baking powder?  Seriously, is anything you can buy at a major grocery store safe to eat these days?  As a result, I've taken a long hard look at what we stock in our fridge and in our pantry.

Convenience rules!  If they have to cut it, wash it, or do anything besides stick it in their mouths, they'll grab something else.  I've taken to prepping my vegetables ahead of time and to resolving to pop up the minute I hear them rummaging in the kitchen.  I cut up carrots and store them in a water-filled air-tight container.  (The water keeps them from drying out). I peel the oranges, cut the pears and apples and bought an apple slicer for those times when I can't cut up the fruit for them *right now!*  Then, they can do it.

Speaking of popping up, an air-popper and some organic popcorn is a mom's best friend!  My kids know how to use ours and regularly snack on this after they've had one good sized snack.

I also try to keep the oven warm - baking muffins, scones, granola bars, and whatnot.  It's not as healthy as fruit but sometimes we need more than just fruit.  Moreover, at least I know what ingredients are in my home-baked goodies.

Finally, I let my dinners do double duty.  Tonight's meal - whether soup, stew, pasta or pizza - serves as tomorrow's lunch or after school snack.

How do you eat healthy in a hurry and keep kids (and yourself) snacking in the right way?

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Great Potato Debate

I'm lucky enough to live in a temperate climate.  That means, along with other things, I can grow potatoes three times a year.  Including in January and February!

I'm just about to roll up my sleeves and get chitting but I figured I'd better review the results of my last potato planting.  In August, between pounds of tomatoes and peppers, I debated getting my winter garden on.  I had ordered potatoes but not figured out where I'd put them.  All my allotted garden space was occupied - with tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash.  What was a potato to do?

My dreams of chic burlap sacked potato towers were dashed by this post.  So, instead, I gathered containers from through out the yard - large terra cotta pots left by the previous owner, 15 gallon black nursery pots from a few of the fruit trees I had planted in the spring, and a bushel basket that had been destined to corral books instead of apples or potatoes.  I also requisitioned some chicken wire and stakes.  I promptly prepped my potatoes - fingerlings because they are so good, expensive to buy and hard to find.  Planted, covered with compost, and more compost, and more compost. (Seems like an awful lot of compost!  What do you use to cover your taters?)

Several months later, I harvested.

The chicken wired potatoes fared the best.  Followed by the black plastic pots, with terra cotta and bushel baskets (which truthfully weren't watered as much) bringing up the rear.  Oddly enough, only my La Ratte fingerlings grew.  The Ruby Crescent not so well!

This time, I've opted for La Ratte and a French fingerling.  Fortunately, Mr. Green Bean gave me the second best Christmas gift ever - a potato condo.  I'm hoping to hit the potato gold mine between the condo and using the chicken wired tower method again.  Wish me luck!

potato condo

* I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop for this post.
* Join the Facebook page to debate edible gardening, urban homesteading and whatnot all season long.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thrifty Is as Thrifty Does

We moved into our new home a year and a half ago.  Since then, we've been in the process of finding furniture that actually fits in this home - without spending a ton of money or sucking up a lot of resources.  That process lead me to wax poetic about Craigslist and other second hand avenues.

But then I fell in love with these chairs.  

Gorgeous, aren't they?  Made in America and I'm all about keeping my countrymen employed these days.  Offered by a company that promotes sustainability.  And $300 a piece, plus tax and delivery.  Doh!

Every dollar our family spends is spent with purpose.  Toward local and green.  But I just couldn't spend that many dollars.

Instead, I hooked up with this little duo at a garage sale for $25.

After hitting them with a couple cans of (non-eco) black spray paint that we had lying around,

I ended up with this.  A second hand work station that has first class style.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Whose Greenhouse? Mine?

In case you missed it on the Facebook page, I got a greenhouse for Christmas.  (And a potato condo though that is the topic for another post).  Is my husband the King of Romance or what?!?

He built the greenhouse in a place that gets a good amount of sun - but didn't steal my favorite sun spots which are reserved for pumpkins and the like.  It is beautiful.  With vents and a dutch door and it is made from recycled plastic.  Love it!

Except . . .

What do I do with it now?


I'd read a while back about people just directly planting, in the ground, melons or other warm weather crops in their greenhouse.  That seems relatively low maintenance and doable - until I read that I'm supposed to use indoor potting mix as soil and not the real dirt that is in there.  And it should be in some sort of raised bed.  Or pot.  And I should replace the soil yearly.  What?

So, for anyone who knows anything about greenhouses, what would you recommend?  A traditional wooden raised bed built in there?  A galvanized trough (which I've been saving for a water garden for six months)?  A handful of wine barrels or large pots?


Okay, so I've got a vision of melons growing in some sort of soil but what else?  I do not have any electricity or heat out there at this point.  How helpful would it be for starting seeds?  As far as growing from seed, my only experience and success has been with direct seeding.  I could see having seedlings in there as a transition point before they go into the real dirt but beyond that?


There is already white mold stuff growing on the bare dirt in there.  In researching what that might be I read that you need to be careful about watering in a greenhouse.  So misters?  No?  I'm thinking drip in the bed or pot for the melons and a hose connection but . . .

Any other tips for a total greenhouse newbie who is so paralyzed by doing the wrong thing with her pretty new greenhouse that she won't even step inside?

** I'm sharing this post with the Homestead Barn Hop.


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