Tuesday, December 11, 2012


It's official: beets are the DIRTIEST thing I have ever grown and then brought into my house to eat. Ever. Their dirtiness only slightly tarnishes my love for them, though. There is nothing better than a handful of previously-roasted-then-chilled beets tossed into, well, anything. I usually put them in my salad. And you can eat the tops, too! This is new to me, actually, since I have never grown beets and only ever bought them at the store where their dirty tops were already lopped off.

So far I've put beet greens (as you can see, these are actually purple rather than green, but some of the tops of my yellow beets are green) in stuffed pumpkin and quiche. Tonight I have some sort of sweet potato scenario planned for the remaining greens in my fridge. And there are plenty more out in the garden. Talk about an easy crop - these were literally a plant-it-and-leave-it experience, which rarely happens for me in the garden. No pests, lots of big shiny leaves... I will definitely be growing beets again.

And, on a quick side note, does anybody know what these are? I planted "Mixed Chinese Greens" in my Cursed Garden Bed, and these are the only things that came up. I harvested them and dumped a bunch of horse manure and compost in the bed, in hopes that I can grow peas there this February. But now I have these pretty green things that I don't know what to do with. Should I cook them or eat them raw? If it looks familiar to you let me know!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Savory Stuffed Pumpkin with Lamb

This year I grew 8 pumpkins, saved 4 from the gophers, and ended up with 2 to eat after the other two mysteriously went soft and mushy. I have been hoarding my little pumpkins in the pantry trying to decide what to do with them for months. Normally I turn pumpkins into desserts - pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice cookies... But this year I can not eat sugar, and I wasn't about to sacrifice my precious gourds for the sugary enjoyment of my family. I decided to make something savory, but what? I assumed they would make their way into some sort of pureed soup, until my sister-in-law told me about this recipe for stuffed pumpkin.

The recipe looks amazing and my sis-in-law said they loved it, but when I read it through there were a few problems. Bread. Cheese. Bacon. Heavy cream. None of which I can eat. Also: "cook for 2 hours." I had one. So I ditched the probably-amazingly-delicious recipe and decided to wing it with what I had lying around. The result: a grain-free, dairy-free, anti-candida-diet friendly stuffed pumpkin recipe that was TO-DIE-FOR and pretty quick to make. I don't often brag about things I throw together last-minute like that, but this was different. My youngest son, who literally begs me to not feed him vegetables every day, CRIED when I told him I wasn't going to share the left-overs with him. Yes, he cried. And no, I was not kidding. I didn't share the left-overs; I ate them all myself. Even if you don't have pumpkins of your own lying around I'm sure you can find some - make sure they are sugar pie pumpkins or a similar small-sized pumpkin. This would probably work well with acorn squash or any other winter squash. Let me know if you end up making it!


2 small Sugar Pie Pumpkins, about 6-7 inches in diameter
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 large onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. Herbs de Provence
1/2 tsp. thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
2 cups chopped beet greens (or any other greens you have on hand)
2 Tbsp. finely diced fresh parsley
grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pop the stem off both pumpkins and cut each in half, top to bottom. Scoop out the guts, saving the seeds (some for next year's garden, the rest to roast). Sprinkle the inside of each pumpkin half lightly with salt and pepper, then place face down on a greased cookie sheet. Put in the oven and bake about 40 minutes, or until the pumpkin flesh is starting to get soft.

2.) Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a large pan on the stovetop. Add onion and celery, cooking till onion becomes translucent. Add bell pepper and continue cooking 5 minutes more. Stir in Herbs de Provence and thyme; cook and stir 30 seconds. Add 2 cloves of garlic and continue to stir, cooking until the garlic becomes fragrant.

3.) Stir in lamb, 1 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper. Brown the meat, stirring frequently. Stir in the beet greens and cook till they are wilted. Remove stuffing mixture from heat and stir in the parsley.

4.) Remove the pumpkins from the oven and CAREFULLY turn them right-side-up. They will be very hot and probably release steam when you flip them so be careful!!! Fill each half with stuffing mixture, topping with grated cheese if desired. Return to the oven and bake an additional 8-10 minutes, or till cheese is melted and the pumpkin flesh is soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges.

5.) Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

NOTE: This recipe fed my husband, two young children, and myself with the afore-mentioned small amount of coveted left-overs. If you are making this for more than 2 adults you might want to double the recipe!

Another Note: To roast your pumpkin seeds (don't you dare chuck those gems in the garbage can!!!) rinse them well to remove the pumpkin goo, pat dry with a kitchen towel, and spread on a cookie sheet. Spray lightly with olive oil and season with salt, cumin, and granulated garlic. Roast in a 375 degree oven until they start to pop - you'll hear them. Remove from oven and leave on the hot tray until cool. Yum!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lunch time surprise

Here's another little benefit to growing your own food. He has been steamed and lightly seasoned with olive oil and salt, along with the broccoli he rode inside on. I noticed him in my salad bowl when there were only a few bites left, so odds are I ate a few of his friends. Hm. This probably means I have a caterpillar problem in the broccoli patch. And possibly in my stomach.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Belated Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving I was reminded that Thankfulness is just as much a decision as it is an emotion. It is easy to celebrate Thanksgiving when everything is going to plan and you find yourself facing a long weekend to spend relaxing with friends and family surrounded by delicious food. At those times, thankfulness is an emotion, something that wells up out of you without bidding. It is easy. And such has been the case with all of my Thanksgivings to date.

This Thanksgiving, however, I found myself quite sick. After a month of ever-increasing symptoms of Candida, I woke up on Thanksgiving feeling as if I had been hit by a truck. I follow an extremely strict diet of mostly vegetables, chicken, and fish, and this has helped me make great strides towards recovering from Candida infection. However, little bits of cheating here and there coupled with stress and not getting enough sleep had taken a toll on my too-sensitive system. Needless to say, THANKFUL was not the emotion at the top of my list. I actually felt quite sorry for myself. It just didn't seem fair that everyone else in the world could sit down to a delicious meal while I had to eat only the salad, and, if I was feeling crazy, a small piece of turkey. Mashed Potatoes? Too starchy. Stuffing? Full of gluten. Papa's famous green-bean casserole? Nope, there's dairy in there. Sweet Potato Pie? Forget it. So I followed the rules and ate a gigantic plate of salad with turkey on top, and woke up the day after Thanksgiving feeling even worse. And the death-knell to any residual feelings of thankfulness: when I went out to water my glorious patch of brussels sprouts, I saw that the chickens had gotten in through the protective fence and eaten every single sprout and half the leaves off all my plants.

As I trudged my sick sorry self back to the house I found myself thinking dark thoughts about thankfulness. I am not thankful this year! And then I stopped. What in the world was wrong with me? Here I was in my new cozy sweats walking outside in the most glorious California weather, surrounded by happy chickens, my two healthy kids playing together in the sand pit, my amazing husband doing the dishes, with the full use of my body and mind, and I was telling myself and the world that I wasn't thankful??? Shame on me.

So, in the absence of thankful feelings, I resolved to be thankful anyways. Yes, I felt sick but I wouldn't use that as an excuse to be grouchy or tune out my family. No, I couldn't eat any Thanksgiving left-overs, but I wouldn't complain or feel sorry for myself. I would take the necessary steps to feel better (in this case it meant going on a 3-day green juice cleanse: YUCK), but wouldn't paint myself the victim or broadcast my misery to those around me. I would bask in the late-November sunshine and be happy that I live in a place where brussels sprouts can be bought if the winter crop is decimated by rogue fowl. And, as has happened so many times in my life, when I made the decision to be thankful, the emotions followed.

Today, as we launched back into real life, I am thankful for my darling family, my super-hot husband, our too-small but cozy house, and the fact that my 3 day juice cleanse is OVER! I am thankful that I didn't wake up with a headache, ringing ears, and a rash for the first time in over a month. I am thankful that God has committed to change me from a self-centered person to someone a little more wholesome. And I am thankful that this morning I harvested the last of my tomatoes and the first of my broccoli. It may be a few days late, but I am thankful. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Greenhouse Experiment

I have been both intrigued and intimidated by the idea of greenhouses for a while now. And since I park my car right next to my dad's small greenhouse, the idea has been nagging me as well. I love the thought of extending my growing season, but what does that really mean in sunny California where the weather rarely dips below 30 degrees and it is pretty easy to grow at least something green year-round? And what about all these things I keep hearing like "humidity monitor" and "internal thermostat"? If growing in a greenhouse requires me to understand anything beyond the basic stick-it-in-the-dirt-and-water-it skills, I'm sunk, since I am still trying to master those.

But every day I park my car right next to my dad's yet-unused greenhouse, and I wonder.

After an unsuccessful library search on "greenhouse gardening" I decided to just give it a try. I have planted lettuce and bok choy in my outside garden several times and they either aren't growing or are being eaten by snails as soon as they sprout. I figured that even if I remain ignorant to humidity and temperature variables in the greenhouse, planting something in there will at least give it a pest-free growing space. So I stabbed holes in several plastic containers and gathered up a few large pots, filled them with seeds, gave them a good watering, and sealed them up in the greenhouse. We'll see what happens. I suppose I have to remember to water them (note to self: EVEN when it rains since the rain can't get into the greenhouse!).

So, this is basically a completely uneducational guide to growing veggies in a greenhouse. I have no idea if my methods or timing are correct, but I'll find out soon if anything grows. If anyone out there has successfully used a greenhouse, let me know!

Friday, November 16, 2012


These are my micro greens, which I grew in an old plastic sprout container on my kitchen windowsill, ala Gayla Trail. I had a lovely post planned about how much I adore living in the country and how satisfying it is to be able to grow your own food, even indoors. I was going to simultaneously impress and inspire you, and by the end of my post you would have been riffling through your recycling container getting ready to grow micro greens of your own.

But then my daydreams of being a self-sufficient blogger extraordinaire screeched to a halt. My oldest son came running up to me with a stricken look on his face: "Mom, you have to look at what's on the front lawn." I disentangled myself from my musings and humored him. Peeking out the back door I saw it: the decapitated remains of our oldest rooster, Rocky. And then I remembered. I didn't lock up the chickens last night. Dang. Double Dang. The next few hours were spent disposing of his remains, consoling children, and piecing together clues as to what happened. The kids accused Thor, the dog, at first, but he is 12 and has never even looked twice at a chicken. He has the unfortunate habit of dragging any dead chickens into our yard and guarding them with a guilty look on his face, which always makes us suspect him. But then, after hunting around the property for while, we found the crime scene, which revealed that the murder was committed by my old foe, the coyote. So, of course, some of the next few hours involved apologizing to the dog (he is very quick to forgive). By the time that was all taken care of, micro greens were the furthest thing from my mind. I found myself wishing I had a picture of a coyote with a bulls eye painted on it and began imagining a murderous blog post in which I extolled the many uses of coyote pelts...

Okay, now I'm just being dramatic. But my rooster is dead, which is sad, and it is my fault, which is embarrassing and horrible. And all I have pictures of is my sprouts, so there you have it. (And if you do want to grow your own, just mix together some seeds that you have left-over from your fall garden. These are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and lettuce. Plant them in something you can put in your windowsill, water, and wait about 2 weeks.) Happy (sad) Friday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Just in the nick of time

The bulb packages said "plant before the first frost" and I unknowingly put it off until the very last day. The morning after I got these guys in the ground, we woke up to a layer of crystalized dew on the yard and it was harder than usual to get out of our warm beds. Normally daydreams of what will grow in the spring keep me motivated while planting, but putting these bulbs in the ground required me pick-axing solid chunks of dirt out small sections at a time, cursing the daffodil bulbs all the while. "SIX INCHES below the surface?!?!?" I'm sure the beautiful border of daffodil, ranunculus, anemone, and hyacinth flowers will have all been worth it this spring. (By the way, NINETY Ranunculus bulbs is way more bulbs that you need. Thanks Costco, but next time I won't be buying in bulk.)

And I apologize for being more absent here on the blog that I have intended. I share a big birthday weekend with a newly-4-year-old, and we had a lot of social engagements to attend between those special days and celebrating the end of soccer season. I hope you are all doing well and growing some great stuff!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gardening Books

Since I haven't made it out to the garden in days, I thought I'd show you a glimpse of my bookshelf. Er, bookSTACK. The pile of things I'm reading that lives next to my bed and off of which I had to clear legos and bobby pins in order to take a suitable picture. On our last trip to the library I braved going upstairs into the "adult section" which I never go to because they actually take the "no wrestling in the library" rule seriously upstairs (that's a library rule, right?), and my kids are still working on that. Anywho, I was looking for books that would help me figure out how to use my dad's greenhouse but ended up on the "homesteading" section. I found some really neat books!

If you are thinking of trying to grow enough food to sustain (or partially sustain) your family, I highly recommend The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. There are all sorts of helpful tips in there about crop rotation and what to plant when, as well as sections on raising livestock on a small scale. The book I found most inspiring was Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Her book is geared towards people growing food in small, urban settings, so I thought I wouldn't care for it, but she has so many wonderful projects in the book, as well as gorgeous photography. I have already started growing my own micro greens in old plastic containers, and plan to use her instructions to make a hanging tomato planter out of a paint bucket. The best find of all, however, was The $64 Tomato by Henry Alexander. Someone probably misfiled it, or didn't know where to put it, because it is more of a non-fiction novel about a man and his garden. I found it highly entertaining to read about the misadventures of somebody else and realize that I am not the only person in the world who spends their spare time dreaming up ways to destroy gophers.

The best part of checking gardening books out of the library is how they inspire me. I tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to getting out and getting dirty when there is nothing to actually harvest - I guess I need that instant gratification of bringing in something for dinner to justify the next 10 minutes of cleaning dirt out from under my nails. But reading about other people's gardening successes makes me excited to get out there and turn over the compost pile and pull weeds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tomatillo Sauce

Happy Friday! And it has been a happy friday over here, for no other reason than the fact that I had NOTHING PLANNED. For the first time in a week I was able to stay home and do more than dash around making sure the animals were fed. And this meant that I had time to tackle the enormous pile of tomatillos that has been hogging precious counter space since last week.

Last week I decided to thin the brussels sprout bed, and it became apparent that it was finally time to say goodbye to my lovely accidental tomatillo plants. They were ranging all over the place, knocking down brussels sprout plants, growing through the bird netting and blocking sunlight. So I pulled out the four plants and harvested every last tomatillo, even the teeny tiny ones. This required quite a few trips between the garden and my house with my pockets crammed full of the hard green fruits. (Now that I am writing about it, I wonder why it didn't dawn on me to take a bucket out there with me... though that would have required finding a bucket, which would have taken me down a long path of sequential events that would have distracted me totally from my initial mission: thin out the brussels sprouts. I guess pockets weren't such a bad idea after all.) I filled my only two mixing bowls with tomatillos, put the bowls on the counter, and launched back into the garden to finish tending the precious brassicas.

The only reason I processed the tomatillos today was because I wanted to make banana bread - the black bananas in the fruit bowl were threatening to ooze onto the table, so something had to be done. Since both mixing bowls were full of tomatillos, I decided to make something with them first (see what I mean about getting distracted? It seems I am in need of more vessels around here). A previous vote had shown that the family prefers the tomatillo soup to the tomatillo salsa, so I decided to process the tomatillos into the sauce needed for the soup. All. Six. Pounds. Of. Them.

That's right. Not only did those four accidental seeds that dropped into the brussels sprout patch grow gigantic beautiful plants, they ended up yielding approximately 9 1/2 pounds of tomatillos. And they would have continued producing if I hadn't needed to sacrifice them for the greater good of our winter harvest. I will definitely be planting tomatillos in the future. My freezer is full of tomatillo sauce just waiting to be made into stews for cold winter nights and i couldn't be more pleased. Such a nice way to start off the weekend.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

All tucked in for the winter

For my entire garden career I have endured fall and winter as the "boring season" when the only gardening activity I could do was daydream about what to plant in the spring. But not this year! This year, fall and winter will be my season of soil amendment. I am determined to get my depleted soil up to snuff so I can grow huge fabulous vegetables in the spring. In the past I thought of all the composting and fertilizing hoopla as something only for gardening geeks, but this year I saw a definite decrease in my crop yields, and I believe it is because I have never done anything to replenish my dirt.

This was today's accomplishment. Titus and I spent the morning out in the pasture gathering sheep poop. I did my best to pick up the precious little pellets without getting too much dead orchard grass (don't want those seeds getting into my dirt!) and Titus helped by screaming in panic and trying to climb up my back in escape every time the sheep came anywhere near us. After we had a bucket full of poop, we spread it out in the smallest garden bed I have. Man, I'm going to need a lot more poop! A second layer of dry leaves went in over the poop and I gave the whole thing a good douse with the hose. I'm hoping everything will rot down over the fall and winter and I'll have beautiful dork rich crumbly soil to grow tomatoes in when spring rolls around. Now I just have to do the same thing for all the rest of my raised beds! How about you - do you put your garden to bed for the winter? Any special soil amending tricks you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Verdict on The Soup:

Three opinions were submitted.

1.) "This tastes green."

2.) "This tastes like something else."

3.) "This tastes like caviar - I would eat it every night even if it gave me the worst gas ever."

Everyone ate it super quickly, which may or may not have had to do with the fact that the Giant's game was on in the next room. I am chalking it up as a win - and plan on growing more salsify next year so I can make the soup more than once!

Monday, October 22, 2012


Early in the spring, as I was perusing the Baker Creek seed catalog, I came across "Salsify," also known as "oyster plant." I was immediately intrigued - a plant that tastes like oysters? That probably sounds terrible to you, but to someone like me who can pretty much eat only vegetables, a vegetable that tastes like a sea creature is a very exciting concept.

I ordered the seeds, planted them, and hoped for the best. About a month later I almost ruined all my salsify efforts when I thought the salsify sprouts were weeds. They look exactly like orchard grass - long, straight, green, and ugly. Not like carrot or parsnip tops, which is what I thought they would look like. Fortunately I realized that the "orchard grass" was ONLY growing in the spot I had planted the salsify seeds, and avoided pulling them all out.

Over the weekend I discovered the worst part about growing salsify: harvesting it. Those dang roots are almost impossible to get out of the ground. They are like a super long, skinny, hairy beige carrot. Carrots can be tricky to pull out of the ground, but salsify was ten times more difficult. I lost track of how many salsify roots snapped off leaving their bottom halves buried in the dirt. But I managed to pull everything out, and had just enough to make Roast Garlic Salsify Soup. That is, after I prepared the salsify for eating. The second worst part about growing salsify is getting it ready to eat. I scrubbed and scrubbed as much dirt off of them as I could, then meticulously peeled their bumpy hairy still-dirty skin off. By the end of it my hands were stained brown with salsify sap. But I held onto the hope that my oyster plants would turn into an amazing meal. And, happily, they did! I don't know if I would say it tastes like oysters, but the salsify lends a very subtle delicate umami flavor.

Now, the soup does not LOOK good. Cooked salsify and lentils combine to create stew the color of, well, old vomit. But it tastes delicious. I'm really not sure if you can find salsify in any stores, and I haven't even seen it at the farmer's market. But a packet of seeds will only set you back a couple of bucks, and this time next year, you too could be the proud owner of a garden bed full of oyster plants waiting to be dug up.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunflower Seeds part 2

Never to be outdone, my dad has completely upstaged my sunflower success. Early in the summer, he casually mentioned that it might be nice to plant a few sunflowers, and wondered if I had any extra seeds. My four sunflowers had happily sprouted, so I gave him the half-empty package of seeds and told him he could keep it. He proceeded to plant and grow TWENTY gigantic sunflowers.

These things are mammoth! The stems are probably 4-5 inches in diameter, like small tree trunks. And I can't even fathom how many seeds he is going to have once they are all dried up.

The boys and I had a blast harvesting the flowers with Papa. Each newly cut flower was a challenge of strength: who would be strong enough to carry THIS ONE to the basement??? By the end of it we were completely covered in dust and sunflower sap, but it was the best kind of fun. My dad seemed pretty proud of his haul - and his basement is looking like a real farmer's larder. One shelf full of pumpkins, another of winter squash, and twenty enormous sunflowers hanging from the ceiling waiting for their seeds to dry out. It is awesome.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Housework:

3 year old: "Mom, folding laundry is not very fun."

Me: "Well, it isn't that exciting, but there are things that are worse."

3 year old: "Yeah. Like hitting your head on the sidewalk."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sunflower Seeds

Speaking of seeds, how about some sunflower seeds? Sunflowers are my all time favorite thing to grow. They are easy, hardy, and there really isn't anything quite like the look of a gigantic sunny yellow flower towering over your vegetable patch to bring a smile to your face. Plus, after they get all brown and shriveled up, there is a treasure trove of delicious (and nutritious!) seeds inside of them to be eaten. Oh, and the dried up sunflower stalks make excellent ninja swords.

Since I actually planted my sunflowers in the spring this year, they blossomed at the same time all my other vegetables blossomed, so I think the bees they attracted really boosted pollination in my garden. As soon as those huge flowers opened up they were absolutely swarmed with bees (we're hoping they are the bees from my husband's new bee hive... more on that later).

If you grew your own sunflowers this year, here is how to tell when the seeds are ready to be harvested. Once the petals are gone and the back of the flower turns yellow, like this:

you can cut the flower head off - leave about 12 inches or so of stem. If your flower is 8 feet tall, be careful how you cut it because that thing is dang heavy and could hurt if it came crashing down on top of your head. Hypothetically speaking. Anywho, the seeds are not quite ready to be removed from the flower at this point, so if you have nice dry weather and can keep the birds away from your seeds, you could opt not to cut off the flower head and allow the seeds to cure in the garden. Last year I did that and a couple unexpected rains got the seeds wet which resulted in mold, so this year I cut them and brought them in. Hang your cut flower somewhere warmish and dry - I have one in the food pantry and three in the barn. Once the back of the flower turns brown, you are ready to harvest your seeds. They should come out pretty easily, but you will make a mess, so it's best to do that part outside.

I plan on using these tips to roast our own seeds - looks easy enough. Of course I'll save a few to plant for next year too.

So here's my quick list of why you should plant sunflowers in your garden next year:

1.) They are super easy to grow - just poke in a seed, water it and watch it grow.

2.) They don't require much space. Yes, they are tall, but not at all wide. I have a friend who lives in a tiny apartment and she grew a gigantic sunflower in a pot on her tiny outside porch. They fit nicely amongst your vegetables.

3.) They will make you smile.

4.) They will make your neighbors smile.

5.) You get approximately a bazillion seeds from one gigantic sunflower. That's a pretty high yield on your investment of one seed and some water.

6.) Sunflower seeds help lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, are very high in protein and amino acids. They also contain high levels of anti-oxidant, B vitamins, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, magnesium, and selenium.

7.) They attract pollinators to your garden which will give you hight vegetable yields.

8.) Think of all the ninja swords you could make out of one 8 foot long sunflower stalk. Or you could skip the cutting and just make a javelin. The possibilities are endless.

9.) Cheese. That's right. You can make cheese out of them. And anything that can be made into cheese simply must be grown.

And now I will step off my sunflower soapbox. :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Harvesting Seeds

Do you ever harvest seeds from your garden? Aside from harvesting and eating the actual vegetables, harvesting and saving seeds from your mature plants is one of the very best things about gardening. Today I harvested the leek seeds - this took a while since leeks are biennials, meaning that they take 2 years to flower and produce seeds. Luckily, these were planted in a part of my dad's garden that has been neglected for, yes, two years, so the seeds were left to mature unharmed. Above you can see the dried up leek flowers (it was all I could do to not pick them when they were huge fluffy purple balls of beauty. But I held strong, waiting for the seeds to form.).

Here you can see that each flower is made up of tons of buds, each of which produced one tiny black leek seed. When the buds crack open and you can see the seed inside you are ready to harvest.

I still haven't gotten all the seeds out - I think I'm just going to rub the flowers between my hands and sort out the seeds after everything is all crumbled up. Now I have to decide if I want to do the messy job in the house and deal with the dusting and sweeping, or outside and deal with the scavenging chickens and wind. Hm.

These are rutabega seeds that I gathered from the same neglected section of garden. I'm actually not even sure what to do with a rutabega, but now I can figure that out after these seeds grow into a nice crop next year. Rutabega seeds are a lot easier to harvest - they just come off clean in your hand when you gently squeeze the dried up flower.

Have I inspired you to harvest your own seeds yet? Well if I have, there is just one more thing to know. You can only harvest and reuse the seeds from open-pollinated plants. Many seed companies sell you seeds that have been genetically tampered with so that plants grown from their harvested seeds are inferior and not able to produce vegetables. Sometimes they won't even grow at all. Why would a seed company do that? So that you will have to buy more seeds, of course! Here is a brief article that will tell you a little bit more about open-pollinated seeds. Because people have been getting more and more interested in growing heirloom, open-pollinated crops, there are more and more places to get these seeds. My very favorite is Baker Creek; they have an amazing selection of seeds for your traditional garden vegetables as well and tons of rare things you could never eat unless you grew it yourself. Plus they always seem to send me free seeds with my orders. AND their catalogue is as beautiful as a coffee table book. Did I mention I love them? (And, no they didn't bribe me to say all those great things about them either.)

I'm especially proud of my kale seeds. I grew them all by myself (rather than foraging them from my dad's neglected garden!) and it took great self-control not to pull those plants out of the ground before the seeds were mature. I have pretty limited gardening space and there were many times that I wanted to pluck them out and stick in seeds for something different. Now I have a ton of pretty little kale seeds that I can plant in the spring next year - enough to share with my friends even. It is such a great feeling! It's funny how something so simple and, well, old-fashioned, could make someone feel so good. It's right up there with making a batch of jam. :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I love these pictures of the heirloom popcorn my dad grew a few seasons ago. He grew so much that there are still a few ears in a basket decorating his kitchen table. The colors encapsulate fall for me. I remember the day he and the kids and I harvested this popcorn. It was a gray day and we shuffled around through the dry corn stalks pulling off everything we could find and shucking them. It was like a treasure hunt - every ear we shucked was a different color. The best finds were the ears on which every kernel was a different color like a mosaic.

Today marks the third day in an above-90-degree heat wave for us. It was very weird - I picked the first two pumpkins of the season in flip flops with sweat running down my back. Not quite the way I like to usher in the "fall" gardening season. But I think my tomato plants are enjoying the long summer season, so I won't complain. I just keep watering my baby kale and broccoli hoping they won't decide it's June and give up. Hang in there little cole crop - cool weather is just around the corner! (right?)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chicken Molt

It is the first day of October ... naturally it is 95 degrees outside. What? I had to pull the summer clothes out from under the bed so we could all shed our extra fall layers. Seems the chickens have the same idea - everyone is molting! I actually thought this chicken had been attacked when I saw her yesterday - she has shed her feathers down to the skin over most of her body.

It is really weird seeing a plucked chicken running around acting like it has no idea it is naked. Normally when our chickens molt they go into hiding and act grouchier than usual. You can tell they are embarrassed just by looking at their bald dejected heads. But not this lady - she seems to have a double dose of either self-esteem or oblivion. She has been pecking her way merrily around the yard leaving a trail of fluffy feathers behind her as if she hasn't a care in the world.

The other mature chickens are molting too, but not to this extent. When we got home from picking up kids from school they were all huddled under the rose bushes, trying to cool off in the shade. Only this hen was out and about, for once not having to compete for the bugs and seeds in the yard. Seems there are benefits to running around naked on the first day of October.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I have been passing the same wild grape vine on my regular running route for years. Up here in the hills there isn't much passing that grape vine besides me other than a few cars and various wild animals. Every year around this time the vine is laden with beautiful green grapes - beautiful, but hard as little green rocks and terribly sour. It is one of my favorite parts of the route because that grape vine just doesn't seem to belong there and it piques my imagination. How did it get there? Did somebody plant it there? Why would someone plant a random grape vine along the side of a windy country road far from any houses or other form of civilization other the a barbed wire fence? I wonder if the wild animals wait for the grapes to get ripe, if they look forward to that day when they turn from sour pellets to juicy sweet grapes. Maybe that is why I have never seen the vine bearing ripe fruit - one day it is covered in unripe grapes, the next time I see it the grapes are gone because the animals have harvested the grapes between one jog and the next.

Today, though, as I passed the vine, the grapes looked a little more plump than usual, and I bravely picked one off as I jogged past and popped it into my mouth. Now, I haven't been able to eat fruit for over a year due to some health issues, so I might be a little bit skewed in my perception of this grape, but to me it tasted like the best thing EVER grown on the side of the road in the entire world. I kept jogging along enjoying my grape, thinking that today must be the day the bunnies and birds and wild boar and deer would discover that their grape crop was ready to be harvested. Then I remembered that the bunnies and birds and deer and wild boar have been stealing the melons and corn and sunflowers and lettuce and kale and tomatoes from our garden. And I stopped jogging, turned around, and picked those grapes FOR MYSELF. And yes, I jogged home carrying them in my hands, leaving a little trail of evidence behind me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Another zucchini recipe

Around here we are enjoying a second round of zucchini madness. It isn't anything like the desperate leaving-zucchini-on-your-neighbor's-doorstep-in-the-middle-of-the-night madness of mid summer, but after a good shot of fish emulsion, the zucchini plants have perked up for a bit more production. Of course, zucchini bread is in order, but I found this amazing recipe for Squashamole on Rachel Ray's website. I've already made this twice, the first time requiring me to "fire up the grill" for the first time ever in all my 31 years. (My husband got a pretty good laugh when I told him I tried lighting the charcoal briquettes without using lighter fluid. Imagine the stupidity. He said the fact that I did this should be a blog post in itself, but I assured him that the only people who would find the incident as funny as he did are off reading hunting and motorcycle blogs rather than this one. Anywho, I digress.) What I'm trying to say is this: if you have some zucchini, you must try this recipe. It is delicious. The end.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ever had one of those days when you thought you were going to get a lot of stuff done but ended up doing nothing? Me too.

He might be too sick to go to school, but he certainly isn't too sick to hang out with the chickens. He made me promise that "chickens can't get germs" before picking up his girlfriend; such a considerate boy.

(The sheep is fine, by the way. Turns out she's found a new shady spot to hang out in away from pesky flies. She was happy to see me. Good ol' Chloe.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jackpot and a lesson about eggs

Both my dad and husband are out of town on business trips, so the kids and I are holding down the fort. It is actually a lot more work to water my dad's huge garden and take care of all his chickens in addition to ours. We don't mind it, though, and there always seems to be an adventure waiting for us when it's just the three of us. Take today, for example.

Titus and I decided to wander out to the hay barn - though the door is kept bolted shut, the window is broken and occasionally chickens will fly in through the hole to lay eggs. (The breaking of the hay barn window is a story in itself. Maybe one day I'll be short on current stories and have to tell you that one...) It took a bit of convincing on my part - Titus is terrified of Chloe the sheep and rarely dares walk through this particular pasture to the hay barn because of the possibility of a chance encounter with her. Today Chloe was nowhere to be seen (note to self: check on the sheep), so we made it to the hay barn without incident.

Well, it is a good thing we went out there, because there were more than a few eggs in there sitting around getting old. Half of the eggs were turquoise, answering the question of where in the heck the Araucana has been laying. It was the next best thing to discovering a real chest of buried treasure in the yard - kind of like a surprise Easter Egg hunt. First we found this gross area of eggs in an old hay-filled barrel, where chickens seemed to be sitting on and breaking each other's eggs in order to lay their own... we saved what we could.

Then there was the Araucana nest - I wish this picture had turned out better so you could see how pretty those turquoise eggs are. Over on the other side of the barn were two huge clutches of white eggs.

All in all, just over two dozen eggs. But our work wasn't done, of course. Not only were the eggs filthy, but they could have been a month old and rotten for all we knew. The only solution: float them. This is an easy way to tell if eggs are fresh, and we do it pretty frequently since chickens around here are always hiding their eggs. Whenever we happen upon a new hiding spot, we have to do the float test to see if the eggs are suitable to eat.

Here's the idea: egg shells have tiny microscopic pores in them that allow the wet inside of the egg to slowly evaporate out over time. Think about the last egg you hard-boiled. Remember the small dent in the cooked egg, kind of like there was an air pocket in the egg before you cooked it? That is due to the amount of egg that had evaporated out of the egg over time (and is an indication that your egg wasn't laid very recently). The fresher the egg, the heavier it is because none of the inside has evaporated out. SO, fresh eggs placed in a deep bowl of water sink straight to the bottom and lay flat like a stone. Eggs that are a little bit older will stand up straight on their tip. Old eggs float.

All together we had three floaters. Those got chucked. Of the remaining eggs, about half of them were fresh and the other half stood up straight. I usually try to use the straight-standing eggs within the next few days, either in baked goods or I hard boil them and we eat egg salad sandwiches for lunch. The fresh ones are for eating for breakfast, and for selling to friends. Egg floating is a pretty fun activity to do with kids - think of how educational you can make it! I'm off to peel hard-boiled eggs!