Thursday, March 29, 2018

Death in the garden

If I am lucky, I will bury all of my chickens. Digging a hole is a lot of work so I may as well plant a tree or bush and turn them into flowers. Today I'm planting mexican oregano in honor of Amapola, the Plymouth Rock who seemed to enjoy standing up the bullying of our little dog, Jasper, always pecking him through the fence between them.

There is no life without death. I garden, at least in part, to be close to the death and suffering that sustains my existence. And if I can produce my own food, I can try to decrease the amount of death and suffering that goes into my food. I don't use poisons or killing traps. I share my crops with the wild critters who need to eat to survive. I tend to use a fork instead of a shovel to dig in the earth, because more worms are cut by my shovel than by my fork. I keep chickens that needed rehoming, and when they stop laying I can appreciate their soil-building contributions, weed- and pest-control, their soft noises, beautiful feathers, and their antics.

...and neither do chickens.

calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

March in my garden

thyme, nasturtium, calla lily, elderberry, lavender, sour grass, rose geramium,
johnny jump-up, california poppy, arugula, rose 'purple splash', calendula
While most of my wildflowers are still tiny little seedlings, I have many (mostly edible) blooms in my garden to herald the coming of spring!

I love adding edible flowers to dishes - in salads and drinks, decorating desserts and platters - they make food look so special.

But if I could only plant one thing, it would be tomatoes. We have lovely farmers markets and San Diego county has more farmers (and more organic farmers) than anywhere else in the country. But there's few things that taste better than homegrown tomatoes.

I do much better with seedlings, and I want to plant interesting varieties with top notch flavor so I head to Tomatomania for a pretty epic selection. While they didn't have the Gardener's Delight cherry tomato that did so well for us last year, I still came home with an exciting selection:
But they didn't have a couple specific varieties I wanted so I bought some seeds online at Baker's Creek that look pretty phenomenal so hopefully I can manage to grow from seed this year. I also bought non-tomato seeds at City Farmers Nursery from San Diego Seed Co (chiles and basil). I'm thinking about where to place new beds for my summer garden, how I'll be rotating my existing beds to grow as many tomatoes as possible this summer, and whether I should have some top soil and compost delivered for new beds.

I've been wanting to build a circular series of beds with a simple rock bubbling fountain in the middle so we'll see if I make any progress on that this year.

I'm also thinking about how I might add a small lily pond, but that's more of a dream than a plan.

I've readied my westmost hugel mound for tomatoes and I have materials to build tomato supports. I'm harvesting the mulch and bedding from the chicken coop and yard for mulching the garden beds.

I'm going to be more diligent this year with caring for the seeds I'm trying to start:
tomatoes -
and chiles/peppers -


Now is the time - don't wait!  The ground is soft and moist, making it easy to pull them and they're still pretty small and haven't gone to seed.  Do it! Do it now!


I've planted many tomatoes with their companions (marigolds, green onion, garlic, basil, carrots), sugar snap peas (a nitrogen fixer), and direct seeded sunflowers, loofah & melons (a bit early so we'll see how that goes).

Also good to plant this month: radish, beets, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, greens, green beans, corn, turnip, cucumber, squash, citrus, avocado, macadamia, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, dahlias, and the last chance this year for natives.

Fertilize citrus, avo, orchids, 3# on passionfruit, everything (except natives and drought tolerant) in the waning moon.

I'm grateful for continued rain!
Water deep in the morning every 10-14 days if it doesn't rain, more often for new seedlings. I'm blasting my fruit trees (that aren't flowering) with water a couple times this month to help control ants, aphids, white fly & scale.

I'm pinching off new growth on the grape vines below the trellis to concentrate the energy into the growth to cover the top of the trellis.

Here's what I'm harvesting...
eggs, arugula, tangerines, eureka lemons, nasturtiums, calendulas, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, lavender, lemon grass, rose geranium, lemon verbena, elderberry flowers

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Balsamic Caramelized Onion Jam

1/4 cup olive oil
6 medium-sized yellow onions, quartered and sliced thin, from Schaner Farm
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, minced, from my backyard
2 teaspoons whole grain dijon mustard
1/4 cup sucanat, rapadura, or other brown sugar
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (I used a sweet, syrupy type; you could also use a dark one)

Heat the oil over medium heat, stir in onion, thyme and sea salt; cook covered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until soft and golden. Reduce heat to low, stir in mustard, sugar and vinegar; simmer for 15 minutes or until reduced to jam consistency.

Makes about 2 cups

adapted from The Produce Companion

Monday, January 1, 2018

DIY Pita Bread

I've tried making pita before - based on watching my siblings' Israeli other mother - with less success. This time, like my blended family, I blended in an actual recipe, which worked much better for me!

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 packet (or 1 cake) yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour (or bread flour)
1 Tbsp olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, bloom yeast in warm water with sugar.

Stir in salt and mix in flour a little bit at a time until it comes together in a ball (about 5 minutes in the mixer with a bread hook), then knead until shiny and elastic. Return to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until springy and airy, about 1 1/2 hours.

Work small handfuls of dough by pushing dough up through bottom middle of dough, forming a ball. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out a ball in a thin round, about 6 inches.

On medium heat, warm a skillet with a glass lid. When hot, add dough round and cook until bubbling with lid on (about a minute - in the meantime, roll out your next ball); flip and cook with lid on until (hopefully) the air pocket forms (about 1 minute).

Makes a dozen.

Delicious with hummus & salad

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December in my garden

Still waiting for the rain this December, but it's cooled off (this week) after having a 90° Thanksgiving. A friend of a friend needed to rehome their chickens (all my chickens are rescues), so we just added 3 to our flock. Meet Nutmeg, Eggnog, and Anise!

Eggnog (a Leghorn), Nutmeg (a speckled Sussex), and Anise (an Autralorp)

They are young ladies, so hopefully that means we'll get some eggs soon. Most of our flock are somewhere around 8 years old so they are retired (or freeloaders).  And all of them have molted and stopped laying for the winter, so we'll see how they do in the Spring...

Start drooling over seed catalogs! Baker Creek heirloom rare seeds is my favorite (such beautiful varieties! I have a strong penchant for purple vegetables 😊) and San Diego Seed Company is local. But honestly, last year I did better with seedlings.
Other good resources for research and learning:

Amend hugelkultur beds with compost. Rake out chicken area for mulch. Let the chickens into more areas of the yard to eat grubs and dig up all the grasses that have grown back (after I spent so much time trying to remove that bermuda grass! 😠)

Broccoli seedlings from City Farmers interspersed with garlic cloves from Schaner Farm did so well for me last year, I'll do it again this month.
artichokes (mine's already a big healthy plant from last year's planting), asparagus (maybe next year), beets, broccoli, brussels, cabbage, carrots, celery, cilantro, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radish, parsnips, garlic, wildflower seeds, natives (I need a cleveland sage - it's my favorite), cover crops (fava & peas)

Feed passion fruit 3 pounds of fruit tree fertilizer. I can't believe it's still flowering and fruiting.

Water deep in the morning every 10-14 days if it doesn't rain. I'll continue to blast my fruit trees with water a couple times this month to help control ants, aphids, white fly & scale.

Prune grapes (I'm going to weave trimmed vines in the shade structure over the windows to create more summer shade) and blackberries. Deadhead the lavender and aroma sage. Trim back mulberry (one of the big branches will be repurposed for passionfruit vine support), guava and pepper tree by mid-December so as not to disturb the birdie nest building that will start soon. Chop up trimmings (if not used in other projects) for mulch.

copious guavas, passion fruit, calamondins, the last of the tomatoes, winter squash, basil, parsley, thyme, chives, lavender, lemon grass, rose geranium leaves

Friday, November 24, 2017

Embracing the Casserole: Sweet Potato Gratin

I'm not usually one for casseroles, but I wanted to try an alternative to my usual twice-baked sweet potatoes.

Not everyone wants a whole half of a sweet potato, so this version allows folks to take the portion that they want and hopefully will decrease food waste.  It's also less labor intensive and takes up less space in the oven.

3 pounds sweet potatoes (I like garnet), peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons butter from Spring Hill
2 cup shallots, thinly sliced from Schaner Farm
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced, from Schaner Farm
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cream
1 cup whole milk
8 ounces gruyere cheese, grated

Melt butter in small skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots and stir frequently until lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add rosemary and cook 1 minute more. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Layer the sweet potato with the shallots in a 9x12-inch buttered pan, seasoning with salt & pepper as you go. Add cream & milk. Cover and bake until they soften, about 30 minutes. Top with cheese and bake uncovered a golden crust has formed, about 20 minutes.

Makes 8-10 servings

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Goat cheese Cheesecake with Apple compote & Cajeta

I'm lucky enough to have friend that raises goats who will trade fresh goat milk for my backyard chicken eggs. I use the milk to make my own chevre (very easy - I just follow the instructions on the culture package I get here), cajeta, ricotta...

This Thanksgiving dessert is rich, not too sweet, and oh so wonderful.

8 whole graham crackers
1/2-1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons rapadura sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

Place the graham crackers, 1/2 cup of the pecans and brown sugar in a food processor and process until finely ground. With the motor running, add the butter through the feed tube and process until the mixture just comes together. Butter the bottom and side of the pan. Pat the mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, and bake until lightly golden brown and just set, about 8 minutes.

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
10 oz chevre, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 T evaporated cane sugar, divided
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 large vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the cheeses in the bowl of a stand fixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time and mix until just incorporated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, salt and heavy cream and mix until just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake until the sides of the cake are slightly puffed and set and the center still jiggles, about 55 minutes.

Turn the heat off and prop the door open with a wooden spoon and allow the cake to cook in the water bath for 1 hour. Remove the cake to a baking rack and allow to cool to room temperature for 2 hours. Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours until chilled through.

Serve with apple compote, drizzle with the cajeta and sprinkle with the remaining toasted pecans.

Apple Compote:
1 cup apple cider from Smit Farms
1/4 cup rapadura sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold butter from Spring Hill
6 Smit Farms apples (granny smith, pink lady & fuji), peeled, cored, halfed and thinly sliced

Bring cider, sugar and vanilla to a boil in a large saute pan over high heat and cook until slightly thickened and reduced to 1/2 cup. Stir in the butter until melted. Add the apples, vanilla, and cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized and soft.