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Composting With Chickens: Putting Your Chickens To Work

Why everyone doesn’t have chickens, I don’t know. Chickens are some of the easiest animal to keep and they are incredibly useful. Besides supplying eggs, they eat a ton of bugs, provide valuable fertilizer for your garden, make great pets and are fun to have around. You can also always eat them if you are so inclined.

I recently put our chickens to work for us in another way. We do a lot of composting around here, the old plants and leaves that come out of the garden typically go straight to the compost pile. We have old hay and straw from the horses,  grass and weeds from mowing, chicken and horse manure and all our kitchen scraps. Normally a good compost pile requires a lot of turning and time to make sure temperatures get hot enough and everything breaks down evenly. Not long ago I decided to build a simple cage from 1/4″ hardware cloth inside our chicken pen with some steps for them to get in and out easily and began filling it, in hopes that the chickens could save me some work.  My base layer came from cleaning the chicken coop itself. Old hay and chicken manure is some of the best composting material you can get your hands on. Plus it gave me a great excuse to give the coop an extra thorough cleaning. I then added leaves and plant scraps from the garden, some oak leaves I raked up and the clippings from the lawn mower. I thoroughly wetted everything down and let the chickens go to work. They are busy creatures and scratch constantly, so they do an excellent job of turning the compost themselves. Every day I add our kitchen scraps and some greens from the garden and they quickly devour what they like and scratch the rest right into the compost. This has the added bonus of giving caged chickens something to do so they don’t get bored and some extra nutritious feed, cutting down on our feed bill. The hardware cloth contains the compost while allowing it to get enough air circulation and is easily assembled and disassembled. I put the whole thing together in about 15 minutes with materials left over from other projects. If you purchase all the material new you should be able to build this for under $50 and it will last for ever.

composting with chickens

 

After two weeks things are starting to look pretty good.

chicken compost 3

I do turn the pile by hand several times, just to make sure everything is cooking and looks good, but I have found that this is a much easier and quicker way to compost than other methods I have used. Plus it is very entertaining for the chickens and helps cut down on the feed bill.

chicken compost 2

Simple DIY Chicken Compost Pile

Things you will need:

  1. 20 Feet of 1/4 inch hardware cloth (3 ft tall)
  2. (4) 3 foot T-posts
  3. Wire for tying ends
  4. 6-8 cinder blocks or something else for steps

Pound your four T-posts into the ground in a 5×5 foot square. Attach 20 feet of 1/4 inch hardware cloth to posts with wire or twine. Leave one side that is easy to open for turning compost and removal. Stack blocks or whatever you decide to use for steps. Add compost material and let your chickens go to work!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Beautiful But Under-Rated Root Vegetable

Rutabagas, Carrots and Turnips

Rutabagas, Carrots and Turnips

turnips, beets, rutabagas

Root vegetables are among the most easily grown, beautiful, and delicious vegetables there are, and yet they are often very misunderstood. It doesn’t help that the ones I see at the grocery store typically look like they have been stored for 100 years, leathery, wrinkly and pale, instead of bright and crisp. They are however an amazing source of food that most of us don’t use nearly enough. With the common go-to veggies being potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes, other root vegetables are often overlooked. Potatoes and carrots are great in their own way, in fact I believe carrots are a very underrated vegetable, but there are so many more and even better root veggies that everyone should be adding to their meals.

Beets, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips can all be cooked similarly to a potato or carrot, but they add a nice variety of flavors and colors to liven up your dishes. They each have high levels of vitamins and beets especially are packed full of antioxidants. Their bright colors make them fun to cook with and they each have their own unique and wonderful flavor.

Beets can add the most beautiful shades of reds and golds to your dishes. Some are even candy-striped and with their sweet and mellow flavor and incredibly high levels of antioxidants and vitamins they are one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Rutabagas, a cross between a turnip and cabbage, are larger than turnips and can easily replace potatoes. They are lower in starch than potatoes, have a lovely golden color when cooked and a rich, buttery flavor.

Turnips with their bright white bottoms and colorful purple tops are both pretty and tasty. They have a bit more of a peppery flavor than a rutabaga and don’t grow quite as large.

Parsnips are similar in appearance to a large, white carrot, but slightly woodier and less sweet when eaten raw. Their sweet, nutty flavor really shines when cooked though.

Each of these vegetables deserve so much more recognition than they ever get and really should be a staple in everyone’s diet. The next time you are at the grocery store or farmers market, grab a big bundle of rutabagas or parsnips. Look for ones that appear fresh and are not leathery or dry-looking. If the greens are still attached and not wilted that is the best indicator of freshness. I promise you wont be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Rhubarb, Vanilla and Blood Orange Jam

Two things have revolutionized canning for me recently. The first is the addition of my new steam canner. It takes a lot less water, heating times are faster and it is MUCH easier to deal with.

The second is pectin free jam. I make a lot of marmalade since citrus is everywhere around here and marmalade typically doesn’t call for pectin. Since I like the effect of pectin free marmalade, I did some research and realized that there really is no need for pectin in any kind of jam. The trick is simply to cook your fruit and sugar down to a thick enough consistency that it will set on its own. This takes a bit more cooking time, but you get a much richer flavor and you have a lot of freedom to play with the amount of sugar and ingredients in your recipe. For example, the original recipe I found for a rhubarb jam called for the same amount of rhubarb, but also SIX CUPS of sugar! I reduced the sugar down to 1 1/2 cups and it is perfect. Fruit is naturally acidic and a bit of citrus juice will ensure acidity is at a safe level. Just be sure to sterilize your jars and lids well and start getting creative.

This time of year I am always overwhelmed with blood oranges. It’s a good problem to have, I know, but it makes me think long and hard about just what to do with these beauties. They are a bit sour for eating more than a few, the juice is lovely, but again tart. I have made TONS of blood orange marmalade and after discovering that I like the taste of lime marmalade better, I tossed my recipe and started searching for something new. Since it has been so warm this winter that our rhubarb has yet to freeze back, I started thinking that rhubarb and blood oranges might make the perfect pairing. The combination is amazingly flavorful and the subtle sweetness of the vanilla bean adds just the right touch to make it one of the very best jams I have ever made. Add the stunning ruby color and this is a truly magnificent jam.

rhubarb vanilla blood orange jam 2

Rhubarb, Vanilla and Blood Orange Jam

(makes 4 half-pint jars)

6 Cups Rhubarb (diced)

1 Cup Blood Orange Juice (about 4-5 oranges) regular oranges can be substituted if you can’t find blood oranges.

Zest of 1 Blood Orange

1 1/2 Cups Sugar

1 Vanilla Bean

This makes an amazing fresh or freezer jam. It is also wonderful canned. If you are going to can it get canning pot, jars and lids sterilized and ready. (directions at bottom).

1. Dice rhubarb.

2. Zest the peel from one blood orange. (I like to do this with a knife, carefully slicing the peel off and leaving the pith behind. Then chop peel into very small slices.)

3. Squeeze the juice from 4-5 blood oranges until you have 1 cup of juice.

4. Add rhubarb, juice, zest and sugar to a shallow stainless pan and begin cooking over medium heat.

5. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into fruit mixture. Put the remaining bean in the pot too.

6. Cook over medium heat stirring regularly until the jam begins to thicken and most of the liquid evaporates.

7. Pour into containers for freezing or refrigerator storage, or if canning fill hot sterilized jars with jam leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in water bath or steam canner for 10 minutes.

Canning Instructions: 

Wash 4  (half pint) canning jars well with hot soapy water. Place in a water bath canner or steam canner and bring water to a boil for at least 10 minutes to sterilize the jars. Turn burner off and allow the jars to sit in hot water while you prepare the jam.

Place rings and lids for jars in a separate pan and bring water to a simmer. Allow rings and lids to simmer gently while you prepare fruit.

When the jam is ready remove the hot jars from the water with a jar lifter and fill, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Wipe jar rims with a damp cloth or paper towel and place sterilized lids and rings on jars.

Place the jars back into canning pot and return the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling rapidly start a timer for 10 minutes. When 10 minutes is up turn the burner off and allow the jars to rest in the canner for several more minutes.

Remove the jars and allow to cool. You will hear the lids pop as the temperature drops. This is the sound of the jars sealing. Test the seal after they are cool by pushing down on the center of the lid. If it pops up and down the lid has not properly sealed. Place any unsealed jars in the refrigerator. (the most common cause of jars not sealing is forgetting to wipe the rims after jam is placed in jars.)

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Of Wild Mushrooms And Wild Pigs

hericium erinaceus  (Lions Mane Mushroom)

Hericium erinaceus (Lions Mane mushroom)

December is one of my favorite months here along the Mexican border. The parched land starts to soften and green with the nourishment of some much-needed rain, the dust settles and things begin to grow. While most of the country hunkers down for a long cold winter, we begin to feel the sweet taste of spring. And with the rains and cooling temperatures come the mushrooms, one of the amazing foods nature sees fit to provide us even here in the desert chaparral. Every year we check the trees we have established as reliable providers, and keep our eyes open for new mushroom bearing trees. The “Lion’s Mane” or Hericium erinaceus mushroom pictured above weighed almost 8 pounds and tasted like a dream. These Honey mushrooms, pictured below, are a bit past their prime, but can grow in huge clumps weighing over 30 pounds per group. They often sprout from the base of dead or dying oak trees. Remember, always use extreme caution when harvesting wild mushrooms. There are poisonous varieties that can look very similar to the edible ones. When in doubt err on the side of caution and leave them be.

honey mushroom

Honey Mushroom- Armillaria mellea

And with the rains comes lots of rooting by the wild pigs that have been making a strong presence in the back-country of San Diego county. They are softening up the hard packed ground and fattening up on acorns. They are very elusive and mostly stick to the canyons, but it’s easy to spot where they have passed through.

wild pig rooting

Field heavily tilled by wild pigs.

photo 4

Wild pig droppings

photo 5

Wild pig tracks

Wild pig rooting

Wild pig rooting

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Autumn Raspberrys

raspberries

Last spring we planted Heritage raspberries. I didn’t expect much out of them the first season, but even after planting them late and cutting them back they are surprising us with a nice quantity of these amazing berries. There is something about the sun-kissed flavor of a raspberry picked straight off the cane that you will never experience with a berry out of one of those little plastic containers from the store.

raspberries 1

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Rainy Day Horse

amora

Amora- one of our Kiger mustangs.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tiny Farm Hands

sunchoke 3Our farm hands are just the right height for filling buckets with Jerusalem Artichokes. No bending required.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

yellow platanera prickly pear

I love foraging. As a kid I was always in the woods, bringing home baskets of wild mushrooms, edible plants and berries. I read field guides and edible wild plant books the way other young girls were gobbling up Nancy Drew and Misty of Chincoteague stories. There was something very alluring to me about being able to walk out into the wild and know that you would be okay. That there was an invariable grocery store of wild foods all around you. I was always drying, steeping, shelling or peeling some form of wild plant. Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors, other times I was left retching over the awfulness.

Here in the southern California chaparral, wild foods are harder to come by. It is too dry for much to flourish, and what there is gets eaten quickly by the hungry wildlife. One thing that we do have in abundance though are prickly pear cactus. The paddles (nopales) are plentiful and decent tasting. They can be grilled, sautéed, or eaten raw and are very reminiscent of bell peppers. It is the fruits of these cactus that are the real treat though. There are several varieties, some smaller and dark red, with a slightly sour flavor,  while others are large and yellow/orange with a soft tropical flavor much like a seedy banana or papaya. The thorns can be quickly singed off or scrubbed off with a brush, and the fruits peeled or sliced in half and eaten with a spoon. Each cactus plant can produce several hundred fruit and edible paddles, making them a wonderful source of wild food.

yellow platanera prickly pear

yellow platanera prickly pear

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Many Faces Of An Eggplant

eggplant basket

Eggplants are something that I have spent the majority of my life convinced I didn’t like. several years ago I finally realized that I had been foolish, and I had been missing out on something quite wonderful for too many years. Now they are one of my top crops. There are so many types of eggplant, hailing from so many different countries that it all becomes a bit confusing. With names like Syrian stuffing eggplant, Turkish Orange, Cambodian Green Giant, Kazakhstan eggplant, Korean Red, Ukrainian Beauty, Malaysian Dark Red, Bangladeshi Long, Loa White, Red China, Thai Long Purple, and Japanese White Egg, it is easy to see just how diverse these plants are. In my humble opinion they are some of the most beautiful vegetables you can grow in a garden.

This year we are growing six varieties. Below is a quick identification guide for the varieties found in our garden..

 listada de gandia

listada de gandia eggplant

Listada de Gandia is my all time favorite for sheer beauty. They are a medium-sized to large eggplant with stunning purple and white stripes. Hard to beat for beauty and overall usefulness.

ping tung eggplant

ping tung eggplant

Ping Tung is a standard favorite. Long and shiny, they are so dark purple they are almost black. Plants are heavy producers.

ukranian beauty eggplant

ukranian beauty eggplant

Ukranian Beauty has knocked my socks off this year. I took a chance on a somewhat plain-looking eggplant from the pictures in the seed catalogs, and have come to realize why this beauty was so aptly named. These softball-sized, round eggplants have a satin feel to the skin unlike any eggplant I have felt. They are perfectly round and while at first glance are not as eye-catching as some of the others, I am drawn to them over all the others again and again.

black beauty eggplant

black beauty eggplant

Black Beauty is a large, classic shaped eggplant. They are a shiny purplish black and are great for dishes that require a larger sized eggplant. The plants are less productive than some of the others, but a very good all-round eggplant.

little finger eggplant

little finger eggplant

Little Finger eggplants are small and abundant. the plants are covered in these 3-5 inch long cuties. They resemble a smaller sized Ping Tung, with slightly more color variation.

casper eggplant

casper eggplant

Casper adds a nice contrast to the more popular purple eggplants. Medium sized and white, they are a fairly good producer.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Too Many Cucumbers? Is It Possible?

lemon cucumbers

Lemon cucumbers

armenian cucs

Armenian cucumbers

Every year I plant cucumbers. Occasionally I get a few, most years the young plants are gobbled up by critters long before they ever get a chance to set cucumbers. Every year I over-plant, long rows that, if they all grew, would drown us in cucumbers. They never do though, so over-planting means that possibly a few plants will survive from the vast numbers of seeds I put in the ground. Something strange happened this year though. The cucumber grew. They grew and grew. Nothing ate them. They rambunctiously climbed the trellises, sprawled into the walkways and piled up on themselves. Suddenly I was faced with a cucumber problem of a different sort. Every other day I pick. I pick for at least 30 minutes and end up with at least 40 pounds of cucumbers. I am averaging 150 pounds of cucumbers a week. That’s a lot for our small CSA farm. My CSA members who for the first several weeks were excited, are now starting to groan when they see more bags of cucumbers. It turns out there are only so many things you can do with cucumbers. Sure, you can make pickles, but most people don’t. Cucumber salad sounds amazing the first few times you eat it, but looses its flair after the 10th time you’ve had it in the last 14 days. Even our pig and tortoise hardly glance up any more when I dump buckets of cucumbers into their pens. But soon they will be gone, and as the winter months start to set in the taste of those cucumbers will be missed by all.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Indigo Rose- A Truely Purple Tomato

indigo rose tomato

indigo rose

Indigo rose tomatoes

indigo rose

The breeding program for the “Indigo Rose” tomato started back in the 1960′s when several breeders, one from Bulgaria and the other from the United States, first started crossing cultivated tomatoes with wild tomatoes from Chile and the Galapagos Islands in an attempt to increase the levels of anthocyanins in their fruit. Anthocyanins are a powerful antioxidant and are thought to be highly beneficial to human health.

We now have the Indigo Rose, a new variety that is open pollinated and non GMO. They are a small-sized tomato, slightly larger than a cherry tomato, on average weighing 1 to 1.5 ounces each. Before they ripen fully areas exposed to the sun are a deep purple, nearly black. Areas that have been shaded by leaves remain green. As they ripen, the bottoms will become red. They are quite a novelty, adding a beautiful array of colors to any tomato patch, along with a pretty decent tomato flavor and the exceptional health benefits of the added anthocyanins.

The plants are a compact indeterminate, and bear fruit heavily, making them a great patio or container tomato. This is our first year growing the Indigo Rose, and I’m sure it will be a regular for us.

Seeds are available at High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Seeds.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Pruning Tomato Plants

pruning tomatoes

tomato plants

Pruning tomato plants is something I have always had a hard time doing. I let them get monstrous, over-grown and wild, hoping that the bigger the plant, the more tomatoes I will get. By the end of tomato season the garden has been overrun by seven-foot walls of green that must be navigated through with a machete. I am a slow learner sometimes, and it has taken me a long time to realize that with tomato plants bigger is not always better. When the plants put all their energy into growing rambunctious vines they put a lot less energy towards producing tomatoes. The foliage gets too thick and dense, and the tomatoes that set towards the center of the plants get very little sun. They ripen slowly and set fewer blossoms. So I finally broke down and pruned my tomato plants. It hurts me to do this when they are still small and I am not already swimming in tomatoes. I always fear that I am going to be wiping out the entire crop. I usually wait too long and have to cut back much more than I would if I had just been doing the pruning right from the start. I get sticky and itchy, and the plants leave a green resin on my hands and arms that takes some seriously hard scrubbing to get off. This year I have sworn to stay on top of pruning. We’ll see.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Tortoise And His Kids

Thor riding Doppy- 13 months old

Storm & Doppy

While some kids ride around in strollers and toy cars, our kids find tortoise riding more to their tastes. Doppy, our 19 year-old male Sulcata tortoise has endless patience and moves at just the right speed for some wild toddler rides. I imagine riding a tortoise is somewhat like driving a tractor. Slow and steady, a bit bumpy and plows through anything. He is fueled by cucumbers and zucchini, and seems to enjoy the company as much as the kids enjoy the ride.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

July Garden

July is flying by and the garden is in full swing. We were lucky enough to get a good rain a few days ago, and everything is growing at double speed. It is such a relief to finally have all the beds done in block and everything mulched in. Weeds are almost a thing of the past these days. I thought the day would never come, but I have finally fully eradicated the crabgrass from the garden and the mulch keeps most other weeds at bay.

I am so used to gardens being an unkempt mess with vegetables randomly peeking out from between weeds and flowers, that it seems very odd to have things so orderly and well-kept. Part of me loves it, and part of me misses the wildness of an unrestrained garden. But since this garden feeds a lot of people, I am trying to maximize the output, and everything being orderly and having its place certainly helps.

tomatoes, asparagus & onions

tomatoes, asparagus & onions

cucumbers and blackberries

cucumbers and blackberries

July garden scene

July garden scene

concord grapes

concord grapes

rhubarb, squash, carrots and strawberries

rhubarb, squash, and strawberries

eggplants, zucchini and strawberries

eggplants, zucchini and tomatillos

basil and asparagus

basil and asparagus

carrot washer

carrot washer

thai peppers

thai peppers

Breakfast Spot

Breakfast Spot

Summer Squash

Summer Squash

Limes after the rain

Limes after the rain

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Purslane- Weed Or Super-Food?

purslane 2 Those of you getting vegetables from us will have noticed a new green showing up in your bags the last few weeks. I would like to take a moment to talk about Purslane, and why you should learn to love it. It is a common garden weed, native to India and parts of Asia, but regularly seen in North America growing in flower beds, in-between cement walkways, and amongst garden plants. It can be a bit of a nightmare weed, spreading rabidly and refusing to die even after being pulled up. It is however, one of the healthiest plants that you can eat.

Purslane has the highest amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant, according to researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The scientists also report that this herb has 10 to 20 times more melatonin—an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth—than any other fruit or vegetable tested. Eating Purslane may reduce you risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and help prevent the development of ADHD, autism, and other developmental differences in children. It also has one of the highest levels of vitamin A among green leafy vegetables, which may help prevent lung and oral cancers, and is essential to your  vision.

Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus.

It is a succulent sort of plant, with leaves reminiscent of tiny Jade plant leaves. The entire plant, leaves and stems are crisp, juicy and have a subtle lemony, cucumber flavor. It can be eaten raw in salads, on sandwiches, tossed with olive oil, tomatoes, salt and pepper and eaten on crusty bread, cooked in lasagna, eaten in tacos and quesadillas, blended into smoothies and made into pesto. Your imagination is the only thing limiting you on what you can do with this versatile green.

I encourage you to give this super-veggie a chance, and am almost certain that you will be pleasantly surprised.

             Purslane Pesto

  • 2 cups Purslane (leaves & upper stems)
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs……..parsley, dill etc (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic chopped
  • 4 Tb walnuts or pine nuts toasted
  • 1/2 cup feta or Parmesan
  • 6 Tb olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • place all in food processor and blend

Great on crackers, pasta, etc.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

BNS Brewing & Distilling Co.

BNS breweryphoto 8

This weekend we finally got a chance to stop by the new BNS Brewery & Distilling Co. in Santee, Ca. Several of the founders of BNS are former Navy SEALS that have worked with Jason over the years, so we wanted to see how things were going for them. I was truly impressed by the great job they have done and all the fine details that have gone into making this a top notch brewery and distillery.

BNS has an old western feel to it, and yet is ultimately modern. From the cold water piped under the copper inlay in the bar to keep your beer cool on the hottest days, to the old scabbards, the antique cross-cut saws, the interesting display of gopher skulls laboriously hand picked from owl pellets, every detail is a labor of love. The two small tridents embedded in the metal bar and the large American flag hanging high behind the state -of-the-art brewing systems are the only subtle signs of the history of these brewers as Navy SEALS. Everything is done with the utmost taste.

You can grab one of BNS’s five initial beers (Gunfighter Golden Ale, Flintlock Black IPA, Revolver American IPA, Saloon Girl Saison, and Gatling Gun-Imperial Stout), and head on out to their large outdoor seating area. This area really caught my eye, with tomato, pepper, zucchini and herb plants nestled in amongst the raised beds that surround some of the seating areas. Young grape vines are planted along the fence and promise to add a edible garden atmosphere to this already lovely space. A small pond with fish and turtles splashes quietly in the background.

photo 6 photo 7photo 2

BNS will also be distilling small batches of artisan Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka, and Gin.

This is truly a one of a kind place with outstanding people behind it. I strongly encourage everyone to head to Santee for their grand opening this Saturday June 29th. BNS will be open from Noon to 10 pm, with a opening ceremony at 5 pm. Three food trucks will be on site and there will be plenty of beer to go around.

Visit their website for more info: http://www.bnsbrewinganddistilling.com/

BNS Brewing

10960 Wheatlands Ave #101

Santee, CA 92071

1017394_392776794164133_1255552634_n

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Sowbugs, Pill Bugs & Roly-Polies, oh my!

I wanted to share a little tip that I have recently deployed from my gardening tip arsenal for fellow gardeners out there. We use a lot of straw mulch. It is wonderful stuff, great for keeping weeds down and the soil moist around plants. It breaks down beautifully into rich, dark soil and adds organic matter to our raised beds. It does come with a drawback though. It seems to be the perfect environment for breeding ungodly numbers of what we will refer to as pill bugs. You have all probably seen these little guys at some point in your life. We loved playing with them when we were kids, you pick them up and they quickly roll into a tight ball and look like a little pill in your hand. These little bugs are not actually insects, but rather a close cousin to crayfish, adapted to living on land. There are two types of virtually the same looking bug, the pill bug and the sow bug. The main difference is that pill bugs can quickly roll into a ball, and sow bugs cannot. They are also commonly referred to as roly-poly bugs and woodlice. I am going to keep it simple and call these guys in my garden pill bugs.

Up until this point in my life I always had sort of a soft spot for pill bugs. They are common in the garden, but mostly feed on decaying plant matter and cause little to no problems. They don’t bite or sting, they are almost cute in a buggy sort of way, and they help turn dead plant matter into soil. That is until the straw mulch provided them with the perfect environment and they started showing up in hordes. A quick walk through our garden at night will leave you feeling a bit unsettled by the literally millions of shiny little black bugs massing over the ground and the plants. I started noticing many of my young seedlings being completely chewed off just above ground level and a little detective work led me to the problem. Despite their reputation for being completely harmless and even beneficial to gardens, I deduced with 100% certainty that the pill bugs were the problem.

Some online research led me to  articles about how they don’t eat live plants. There is an ongoing argument between people who thought their plants were being eaten by pill bugs, and so-called gardening and bug experts who hold this as an absurd notion. Slugs had to be the culprits.   I am not going to call myself any kind of expert, but I have been gardening long enough to know what I see and use a little common sense. I needed a solution and I needed one fast. They seemed to be really honing in on the young squash and zucchini plants, and  were falling them like they were all packing mini chainsaws. Many articles suggest diatomatious earth as a way to deter or kill them. I can attest to the fact that this does not work. I tried Ecotec- G, a product from groworganic.com that is a pelleted concentration of clove, cinnamon, and thyme oils. It worked for several days, but as the oils washed away the pill bugs came back as strong as ever. I needed a new solution.

I decided to try cutting up some water bottles and making little collars to go around the plants. Only the stems need to be protected, so the collars didn’t have to be tall. I cut each water bottle into four pieces and slipped these over the young plants. On larger plants I slit one side open, fit it around the stem, and closed it back up tight. It worked! The pill bugs still come out and mass around the edges of the collars, but they don’t seem to be able to climb the plastic and the plants are now growing nicely. And, as an added bonus, in the event that it actually was slugs eating your plants, I suspect that the sharp edge on the collar may not be pleasant for slugs to slide over either.

pill bugs If you look closely you can see the pill bugs gnawing on the stem of this young squash plant and on the ground around it. There aren’t many on it in this picture, but I have seem them so thick you couldn’t see any of the stem at all under the mass of pill bugs. You can see how half the stem has already been chewed away.

squash collarHere is a small Zucchini plant with a water bottle collar around it, pushed down into the dirt far enough the bugs can’t slip under the edges.

squash collar 2The plants are growing happily now and are not being bothered by pill bugs.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2013 in farm, Uncategorized

 

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Rhubarb

rhubarb 2

There has been a lot of skepticism about Rhubarb lately. Most of our CSA members seem a bit bewildered by it. No one really knows quite what to do with it. Rhubarb is not well known here in southern California it seems. Most people have a vague idea about what it is, they remember their grandmother used to make rhubarb pies when they were kids. Everyone seems to know it pairs well with strawberries. That’s about it. I grew up with huge rhubarb plants in our garden. We would suck on the sour stalks when we were kids and eat rhubarb crisp regularly.

We recently brought back a number of rhubarb rhizomes from an old homestead site near where I lived in eastern Washington. The rhubarb stands as the only sign that anyone ever lived in this spot. It was planted well over 100 years ago by some tough mountain homesteader, and has continued to grow and re-seed itself in the fertile soil long after all traces of human habitation are gone. I have no idea what variety this rhubarb is, but the plants have proven themselves to be of the toughest sort, surviving drought, wild fires, frigid winters and the tromping and munching of cattle herds.

Rhubarb patch gone feral on site of 100 year old homestead.

Rhubarb patch gone feral on site of 100-year-old homestead.

Rhubarb is a plant native to China that has been cultivated for thousands of years. The edible stalks are rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber, and the large green leaves are poisonous. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals which can cause serious problems if eaten. It is a cool season, perennial plant that is very winter hardy and resistant to drought. High heat will cause it to go into a dormant phase, and the cooling weather will send up a new crop of foliage. The plants get quite large, they can easily reach 4 feet in diameter and over 3 feet tall. Rhubarb grows best in rich soil that has been amended with composted manure and organic matter. Once established the plants can grow for many years.

The main question everyone seems to have is “so what do I do with it?” What can’t you do with rhubarb is a better question. It has a tart, unique flavor that lends itself well to baked goods. There are many recipes out there for rhubarb, including, breads, cakes, cobblers, crisps, fools, crunches, and crumbles, cookies, jams, jellies, conserves, preserves and marmalades. There are also many more savory recipes, including sauces, chutney, relish, salsa, compote and rhubarb pickles.

Here is a simple and tasty recipe for

Rhubarb crisp:

4 cups rhubarb, cut into 3/4 ” pieces
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter
Directions:
1. Combine rhubarb, sugar, flour and cinnamon and put into 8″ x 8″ x 2″ glass baking dish.
2. Combine flour, brown sugar, rolled oats and melted butter and sprinkle streusel over rhubarb mixture.
3. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
4. Serve warm or cool (excellent accompaniment to ice cream)
Rhubarb leaves

Rhubarb leaves

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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May Garden

May is almost over and the garden is finally starting to come around nicely. Peppers, cucumbers and eggplants are planted, tomatoes go in this week. The fava beans and cabbages are growing like weeds, and there is an abundance of greens. The garlic is almost ready to harvest and the asparagus has come and gone. It was a big job replacing all the garden beds with block this spring, but it is done and I am loving it. Everything is mulched in and weeds are something I hardly need to think about these days. There are a few aphids and the squirrels have been nibbling the lettuce, but I can’t complain, we have food in abundance.

garden rows mayFava beans on left, cabbages on right

fava bean flowersFava Bean Flowers

giant red mustard Giant Red Mustard Greens

Purple Of Sicily Cauliflower has become one of my very favorite vegetables to grow. It is sort of a nice combination between broccoli and cauliflower, and stunningly beautiful. The plants are large and lush green with purple ribbed leaves, and the cauliflower heads vary from pale lavender and light green to deep purple. The taste is amazing.

purple of sicily cauliflowerPurple Of Sicily Cauliflower

There is just nothing better than bowls full of fresh berries and hopefully we will have more than enough soon. I just finished putting in 125 red raspberry plants and 16 Blackberry bushes. Along with the 500 strawberry plants I planted this spring and our 24 blueberry bushes we should have a nice assortment of berries. The strawberries are growing beautifully in the cinder block holes and hang down the sides keeping them dirt and bug free.

Erliglow strawberriesEarliglow strawberry plants planted in the holes of our block beds.

strawberriesEarliglow Strawberries

lizardOne of our garden helpers.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Grilled Green Onions With Honey

green onions

This time of year we have an abundance of green onions coming out of the garden. These are not the limp little white onions that you are used to buying at the grocery store. They are sturdy, tall, and colorful, with amazing flavor. I wanted to share one of our favorite methods for cooking green onions with you and thank my brother-in-law Thaddeus for initially turning us on to this great way of cooking them.

Grilled Green Onions with Honey

  • 8 Green Onions (spring onions or scallions)
  • 2 Tbls olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbls honey

Rub green onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place onions on hot grill and cook 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally. Onions will be done when they become limp and slightly charred. Remove from grill and drizzle with a little honey. Enjoy these as an easy vegetable side with any dish.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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