Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sleeping bee

It was an unseasonably cool morning - closed all the windows last night and slept under blankets. On my morning walk through I found this bee sleeping it off on a tomato leaf. As you can see by the fuzziness of the photo I was more caffeinated than he was. I returned later to make sure he was alive and indeed, he had begun to stir.

Next door was this fellow - not sure what he is but have seen him around before.

I'm a little sad this morning. One of my squirrels injured one of his back legs - you could see his glassy eyes were full of pain. He's one of this year's newbies. He looked at me as if saying, "I didn't know this was part of the game." I left some shelled peanuts for him, hoping to make his life a tiny bit easier during this transition.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dairyman's Cooperative Creamery of Boise Valley

This medal belonged to my grandfather, Charles Leroy "Roy" Larson. It was fashioned so that you could hang it from the button hole of your overalls. It looks well worn so I assume he wore it often and was proud to wear it.

According to Wikipedia, "...the lowest days of the Great Depression brightened for area dairymen...," because of area cooperatives. They "...provided milk checks to those who were members of the cooperative, enabling them to pay their taxes and provide food for their families."

My mother, a staunch Republican, balked at the thought that my grandfather would have been involved in anything as socialistic as a cooperative, but there you have it - proof that he belonged and that he wore that medal with pride. The cooperative folded in 1970.

I never met my grandfather - he died before I was born. But I know he worked hard as a farmer, dealing with both successes and failures. It wasn't easy. He worked as a sharecropper for a long time before he was able to afford his own land. He died in his 50s, from heart failure. Too much heart, spent too fast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Evening Primrose

Evening primrose, or oenothera biennis, grows wild all over our yard. As the seeds mature I gather them and throw them for the next year's crop. It's such a lovely flower, similar to a four-leafed clover in shape. It is considered to be a weed, and like other "white men's foot prints" appears where the land has been disturbed, though it may be quickly crowded out by other, more successful, plants.

While some consider it a weed, I consider it old-fashioned, tall spires with simple yellow flowers that seem to bloom one at a time. It's not at all showy

Roots, and young leaves may be consumed. The plant has astringent and sedative properties and can be used to make a tea. It has been used to cure asthma and respiratory problems, gastro-intestinal disorders, and to speed heeling. Its common name is King's cure all.

The seeds contain gamma-linoleic and linoleic acid. Oil from the seeds has been used to alleviate pain associated with menstruation and menopause.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poodles Beware!

Some of you may have thought I was kidding when I referred to the poodle graveyard, up behind the abandoned well, in the lumpy, bumpy area of our yard, but I wasn't. We have coyotes - serious coyotes, and they like our backyard. Our cats are indoor cats, much to their dismay.

The other day I was raking leaves from above the patio and heard a clunk. This is what hit the pavement. Poor poodle.

Update: I thought it was a poodle skull but after researching a bit, discovered that it is a cat skull. Poor kittie. Of course, I love the kitties, but they eat my birds, so am always chasing them out of the yard.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The women in my family

Miss Jeanette Pinkerton married Joe Maxwell after his first wife, my cousin Della Stewart died in the flu epidemic of 1918. Miss Jeanette garnered a few minutes of fame in 1935 due to her prolific chickens.

Five Haskell Hens Lay 337 Eggs Over A 3-Months Period
Mrs. Joe Maxwell [Jeanette Pinkerton Maxwell] of this city believes some kind of a record in egg production has been broken by five hens which she owns. During the past three months she had received 327 eggs from the five birds, or an average of more than 64 eggs each.

The following report is made by months:

Mrs. Maxwell states that the only feed given her hens were scraps from the table.
Haskell Free Press, April 4, 1935, Courtesy of Jack Carrigan.

My cousin Mollie England Stewart wrote this letter to her parents in Mississippi, December 12, 1916.

I make a lot of butter to sell. I sell it around here and to the pedder 25 cts can get 30 cents at town.
Courtesy of Mary McAllister.

My great-grandmother, Amanda Peterson Larson, made cakes which she sold, along with butter, in town on Saturdays. I still have her butter mold.

When I was young Mr. and Mrs. Sundell would pull up to our house in their Model T truck on Saturday bringing us fresh eggs from their farm. They'd always stop and chat with my mother and me. It was a little taste of Swedish farm life that survived the new world.

This wasn't a trend or a lifestyle, or a novelty - it was just life. People made their own food, and sold it to make a living and to sustain their communities. And they enjoyed their lives. I want to go to there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maim your Television

We didn't exactly kill our television, but we maimed it severely. We cut the cable and saved ourselves upwards of $150 a month. We substituted the cable with a basic Netflicks account and a Roku for downloading from Amazon. Now we watch commercial television and movies on demand (in three different rooms) for less than $10 a month.

How is this relevant to farming?

We have a 15-year-old boy. He rarely watches television, but when he does he doesn't see commercials. McDonalds, Burger King, General Foods, and the like do not reach him in our home. He knows where food comes from and has little interest in the offerings of agribusiness.

Most of our meals are made at home. Last year we sent him to visit his grandmother in D.C. She eats out a lot and planned to treat him with trips to McDonalds. He was miserable. He's totally spoiled. At home he has bread, tortillas, and pasta made from scratch, vegetables from our garden, and fruit from the farmer's market. His father makes a lunch for him to take to school each day, containing a homemade energy bar which I wrap in wax paper and art from magazines. It was a week before he realized I was making them and they weren't store bought.

Needless to say, he's healthy, strong, and thin.

Netflicks has some great movies. I just finished watching Killer at Large: Why Obesity is American's Greatest Threat - very informative.

You don't have to kill your television, but you can drive it to its knees and make it serve you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day

It's really the first hot day of summer. Until now it's been mild, but this morning it was hotter in the house than it was outside. I can smell smoke on the air, but not wildfire smoke - more like barbecue smoke, and flowers.

The garden is doing well, everything is getting bigger, and since I put down another layer of hay, good things are sprouting up all over, like sunflowers.

My lettuce sprouted yesterday, but today it's gone. I think something is eating it.

western scrub jay
Say hello to my little friend.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The White Man's Footprint

There are three plants commonly referred to as "white man's footprint," though as a nickname it was probably applied to many more. The three plants are common plantain, common mullein, and Kentucky bluegrass. The adjective "white man's" should tip you that the term was coined by native Americans. These plants appeared where the land was damaged or disturbed - where the earth was tilled, where roads were being built, or where mine tailings were accumulated. They were the signature of agriculture and industry, and as such, the arrival of the white man.

Common plantain and common mullein are two of my favorite plants (or herbs, or weeds). In Idaho, where I grew up, they appear everywhere, though I've seen both in California. They both have broad leaves so are commonly referred to as "docks". Both have traditional medicinal uses.

Plantago major
This is a low weed, about 10 inches at its tallest. The leaves are deep green and striated. Thin flower stalks originate from the center, topped like a Q-Tip with a one inch flower spike. The flowers on the spike bloom in sequence - a little burst of white satellites in an orbit perpendicular to the stalk.

I find something calming about this weed, either in its ubiquity or humility. It is known to be invasive, though I've had no luck incorporating it into my yard.

The English and American common names respectively: greater or common plantain
Vernacular names: waybread, cuckoo's bread, St Patrick's dock, snakeweed, snakebite, rat's tail

Verbascum thapsus
An impressive giant of a plant, mullein towers over a person. It starts with a low-growing, foot-wide tuft of velvety grey-green leaves, similar to lamb's ear. It then shoots up a massive spike decked the length with bright yellow flowers, similar to a hollyhock. The flowers resemble those of Hookers evening primrose.

The plant may be cultivated but draws insects so may better foraged.

The English and American common names respectively: greater or common mullein
Vernacular names: Jacob's (or Aaron's) rod, velvet dock, old man's blanket, hig candlewick, Bullicks lungwort, feltwort, and most colorfully, cowboy's toilet paper

The third plant known as "white man's footprint" is Kentucky bluegrass. Attempts are being made to replace this non-native grass with native grasses.

Also negatively associated with colonial encroachment is the "white man's fly," or the honeybee. These were imported to the America's in 1610, somehow surviving the six to eight week trip on ships to the Americas.

Philip Ackerman-Leist reminds us, in his book, Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader, that the appearance of the "white man's" legacy was seen as "...[harbinger] of the coming infiltration of a culture obsessed with domestication and, in many cases, dominion."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cactus Surprise

I was walking through the lumpy, bumpy part our yard today, a little left of the abandoned well, in a part of the yard I rarely visit. There, among a tangle of geraniums and ivy, was a paddle cactus sporting an apricot-colored flower.

I don't remember putting this in the ground - it may have been here before us. I have no idea what it is. It is broad and paddle shaped, deep green, with small tufts of white needles, making it look a bit like dotted swiss. The flower turns into a red fruit, though most of these had already been consumed.

I'm looking forward to cleaning out this area so I can see the cactus better.

I trimmed the lavender today and cut a bunch for wands, or shall I say wand-shaped bunches as I don't have a goddessy bone in my body. It was a nice task for an unusually cool July morning.

My first attempts to make these failed as the stems would snap when I bent them. So what I did was cut all the blooming flowers off my lavender. Then I sorted them into four categories: dewy fresh new blooms, half-bloomed but not seeded, partly seeded but still in bloom; and too far gone. I started with the dewy fresh new blooms and realized the stems on these were soft enough to bend. With the second batch two out of 18 stems snapped, and the third I left as a bouquet and did not bend the stems.

Sometimes just figuring something out on your works better than searching youtube for a tutorial.

My lavender from the guy in the white van at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. All his plants: vegetables, herbs and flowers, are in 4" x 4" pots and cost a dollar each. They have never failed me. I have to remember to ask him what kind of lavender this is next time I see him.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Veteran Farmers

In yesterday's LA Times food section was a story about returning Iraqi veterans finding work as farmers.

From Swords to Plowshares, Thursday, July 8, 2010

It was very inspiring. Colin Archipley owns Archi's Acres - a 200 acre former avocado farm in Escondido. He was a Marine who returned from Iraq in 2006. Michael O' Gorman is the executive director of Farmer Veteran Coalition, an organization in Davis that hosted a career fair.

Jason Rich, a Navy man returning from Afghanistan works with veterans. He said, "It's meditational in some ways. You get to shut down the noise in your life."

Then there's Hungry Mother Organics, in Carson City, NV. This "veteran-centric" farm has several veterans on staff. It turns out they've teamed with Whole Foods to sell their produce while taking Whole Food's scraps to create compost for the food they grow.

Matt McCue, an Iraqi vet, said, "Farmers have to save the world - that' our job." He's a partner at Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, CA.

It's wonderful seeing food and gardening (farming) offered as an option to our returning veterans.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seed Grenade

At and maker - a ceramic hand grenade filled with seeds for urban guerrilla gardening.

I can't find it now, but last year I found earrings and bracelets with little containers that leaked seeds as you walked around. Lovely idea.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Planted White Sage

Today I pinched back my tomatoes and planted a white sage I bought at the Sunset and Vine Farmers Market from the Theodore Payne nursery. I've been sitting on it for awhile, but finally put it in the ground. I rescued my old soil sifter and used it to remove the more inhospitable aspects of my Los Angeles soil - the big chunks of dead clay that looks very much like asphalt.

"Hey,whatcha doing?"

As I sit on the couch typing this, the squirrels and jays take shifts in the tree just outside the window. They stare at me, urging me to throw another handful of peanuts on the patio. The garden is practically mulched with peanuts and peanut shells and I've had to work out intricate methods to prevent both the birds and squirrels from displacing seedlings to cache peanuts. I can't help it, though, I love them. I have my favorites - Mama squirrel, who takes peanuts from my hand, and a big disheveled blue scrub jay who always looks like he just got out of bed. He follows me through the garden as I work. He sits atop the tomato cages and coos whisper songs. I've read they only follow you for food but I don't believe this is true. They are very bright birds and the way they play, with other jays and with me, suggests sociability.

Yesterday I moved ferns that I pollinated from spores to seed trays. There are staghorn ferns and asplenium nidus - bird's nest ferns. We'll see how this second phase works.

I pulled some nigella pods today, and collected the seeds.

The cool thing about farming in Los Angeles is that there is an almost infinite number of ways to do it.