Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calabazilla - a native edible

Off India Street, off Riverview Terrace, along the old Red Car Line is an old dirt road that leads to a meadow. Along the road is this wonderful plant with big silvery leaves, yellow squash flowers buzzing with bees, and shiny green fruit.

We took a fruit and came home. After a brief search I found it online - my favorite name for it is calabazilla, but the Latin name is Cucurbita foetidissima. Other names are stinking goard and buffalo goard. It doesn't smell bad, though - it has a kind of cucumber smell about it - actually pleasant.

It is edible, and we'll try to cook it tonight - cook it like a squash. As it ages it gets bitter and inedible. When dry it's used in the same manner as a gourd. It's a native California plant and has a long history as a soap and a medicine.

More later.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tularosa bees love fennel

Back from our summer road trips to Wyoming we're enjoying the garden and so are the bees. They are all over the blooming fennel.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Small successes

This is Limelight Millet - the green sprays of millet that you see in floral arrangements. I grew this from seed I bought from Johnnies. You can see the lovely green seed head here. Between the birds and other baby critters inhabiting our yard I'm doubting this will last long.

Here are my hops. I remember driving through the beautiful hop fields in Southern Idaho and longed to grow my own. I ordered rhizomes off EBay and planted them in my as yet unpatented critter foiling system pictured here. The critters LOVE bulbs and roots. The rhizomes here are planted under a wire basket, sunk about an inch in the ground, held down with a chunk of urbanite. They'll grown up though the basket and train on the pole next to it. They're growing fast.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Not Fenugreek

Well, the plant I sowed with my nettles is not fenugreek. I mixed a bowl of different cover crop seeds. I'll have to look through my seed box to see what it might be. If anyone has an idea, I'd love to hear it.


July 11, 2011
I looked through my seed box today and finally figured out what my nettle-ish mystery plant is. It's chia! They're about 18" high now so should start flowering soon. I really want to know if I can eat the leaves but can't find out anything. They're in the mint family - great sentry plants.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The State of the Garden Address

We traveled at the end of June. The garden suffered somewhat. A few plants were lost, disguised as they were among the weeds to hide them from the three incredibly cute baby skunks who maraud our garden nightly. This cardoon, though, is towering and lovely, the one plant in our yard that makes me keep trying.

Here is my nettle - left. It's being nursed by fenugreek - a kind of look alike - a pairing made quite by accident. The fenugreek acts as a sentry plant and wards off the skunks and critters, giving my nettles a chance to get started.

My trombetta albegna started late this year - the weather was bleak through much of June. You can see the trouble I have to go to to protect this one from the animals: a tomato cage, an industrial grid, chicken wire, slabs of concrete, and sentry plants.

Remember, the garden looks best in close up. You're NOT seeing all of my disasters and waste areas. The last few days are the first I've had to tend to the garden properly and being plagued with allergies these days have been short.

Have a happy Fourth!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What will you hoard for peak oil collapse?

I'm torn between coffee and bleach.

Coffee, imported from the tropics, will be priced out of my range. If I have coffee I can probably lure strapping, young urban farmers to my compound to tend my crops and fortify my defenses.

On the other hand, bleach is created by 1 or 2 companies under super-secret guarded conditions and may also be priced out of my range. Less water and crumbling infrastructure equals dicey sanitation and super germs that will scoff at our green vinegar and lemon juice. Earthy-crunchy dreadlocked vegans may trade all manner of goods and services for 8 ounces of bleach.

What will you hoard?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Last Monday in May

It's SO beautiful today - light breeze, balmy, sunny, the air scented with flowers and wood smoke. Ken bought a brisket at McCall's Meat and Fish Company on Hillhurst and is smoking it for dinner. I just had a bite and it's out of this world. McCall's is a nod to my not being able to stomach factory farmed meat anymore. I rarely eat meat, so when I do I want it to be good.

I've been doing garden cleanup and planting seedlings today.

I grew these nettles from seed and planted 4 behind the barn and two beside the bridge - out of the way. They're just big enough now to sting. I've never felt that before - very cool, and surprisingly lasting. I'm very into weeds this year and so nettles were on the top of my list. I'm also growing 2 kinds of plantain - the seeds gathered curbside. I've transplanted them to a mixture of our clay soil and amendment as they don't need that rich of a soil.

This is angelica that I've also grown from seed. I've planted this one near the bridge, an area amply shaded which I can easily keep moist. The angelica will not bloom this year, but I'm patient. I was smitten with it on my Tennessee Valley walks in Marin County, CA. It grows wild there. Next time I go I'll try to pinch a few seeds.

This is "french hollyhock" (malva sylvestris), a weed around here, but one with which I am deeply in love. It's a mallow and has large round leaves. Even though it rusts the rust does not spread to other plants. It has been a wonderful nurse plant to my tomatoes.

I caught this bee reveling in a California poppy. I hope it's one of our bees, though I fear all ours are gone.

Here are our new hives, awaiting starter strips and wax. I've been told that bees leave 50% of the time, so I figure if we have two hives we have a better chance of one of them being occupied.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!

Fava Harvest

I harvested our fava beans yesterday to make way for squash. I'm trying zephr squash, which is like a zucchini but yellow with a green bottom. It looks dipped in green, like an Easter egg. The other is from seeds that Erik Knutzen of Root Simple gave us - Lunga di Napoli, aka squash baby. If I'm successful I might try to find foster homes for any extra babies.

I'm also growing trombetta again this year, but against the barn as it needs to climb. Again, like zucchini but a more delicate flavor and very pale and pretty on the plate.

So, back to the fava beans. I cut them at the ground, leaving the roots in tact. I pulled off the bean pods, later shelled them, then boiled them, then squeezed them out of their leathery wrappings. What I considered a bumper crop equaled about 2 cups. They do taste good though so I will be doing these again.

The labor involved took me back to my childhood. Mothers, grandmothers and aunts sitting at oilcloth covered tables in the dappled sunlight, gossiping and preparing food. It would be much nicer to do these chores with other farm guys and gals. All in good time.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


My husband keeps singing the praises of hand-powered washing machines. Should I be worried?

Cover Corpse

Nothing says Spring like the pungent scent of the Dracunculus Vulgaris (also known as the "dragon arum" or "voodoo lily" or "corpse flowers") in bloom. This strange and lovely flower is about between 12" and 18" long with a single leaf. It's related to the Amorphophallus (shapeless penis) Titanum (big!) which we visited at the Huntington one year, and smells just as bad. The scent of rotted meat wafts down the hill in the heat drawing flys and all kinds of bugs eager to travel inside. Though we have three plants, two of which bloom faithfully year after year, they're more like cover corpse than cover crops.

I Really Love Your Peaches

After hearing C. Darren Butler speak at the Huntington last year we were eager to plant fruit trees. While at Home Depot we saw cans of peach trees for $5.99 so bought one. I felt guilty thinking it probably came from China, or was GMO or grown with hormones or something, but we just couldn't wait.

This spring our little peach, which started out as a 12" stick in the ground, gave us a half dozen mini peaches of superb flavor. Really, who can't admire the effort of this tree, regardless of its origins?

This weekend we bought a David Wilson peach tree and will plant it at the top of the yard. It's larger and more developed. That gives us 2 apple trees, 2 figs (mission and kadota), 2 pomegranates, a persimmon, a lemon, an avocado and a kumquat. Next year we want to plant 2 cherries, 2 sea buckthorns, a pineapple guava and an almond tree.

I'm really loving the whole food forest idea.

Plant guild?

Who knows exactly why this tomato plant is doing so much better than all the others, but it could be the good company it keeps.

The tomato was sandwiched between nurse plants fava and meadow rue (Theordore Payne) in hopes of keeping the critters away, which seems to have worked. The rhubarb came from Winetka Farms and Craig Rugless told me to put it in a shadier, moister spot. It's thriving - a first for me. I usually kill my rhubard straight away, which is too bad as it's one of my very favorite plants both for eating and looking at.

The buckwheat is cover crop and bee fodder. The rest I just planted haphazardly.

I'll let you know how this turns out as the summer wears on.

Friday, May 20, 2011

19th Century Bee Fever

I found a cache of lovely bee-keeping images at Google Books and posted them online at Backwards Beekeeper.

I was looking for stories about honey caves - huge caves, filled with hives maybe 100s of years old. These pristine caves were mined with dynamite by pioneers and settlers who wanted to remove as much honey as they could. But imagine the scent and the noise in a honey cave.

The photos I've posted come from various bee-keeping journals which explicitly speak of bee fever - a phenomenon as real then, as now.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bee Rescue

We got our bees yesterday, thanks to Maurice, Ed, Chris and Zach. Thanks, guys.

It was a dirty, hot, four hour job and we're both completely exhausted today.

Monday, May 9, 2011


My son is addicted to Yoplait. It's a yogurt-like substance. I serve it as part of a balanced breakfast, though I can no longer bear to lick the spoon after I've disgorged it from its plastic tomb.

Our son did not arrive at our home at birth so we were unable to raise him with a taste for real food. I don't know if we would have raised him thus anyway as my commitment to proper food waxes and wanes, often sidelined by a drive through local Filipino and Thai neighborhoods, scented as they are with intoxicating barbecue. Still, every morning as I ply the Yo-paste from its white ty-d-cup I sigh. Then I scoop kibble from a colorful box for the boy, followed with a scoop of kibble from a bucket for the cats. I'm feeding my boy as if he were factory farmed.

The food preferred by the boy is sweetened, yes, but it is also predigested. It is meant to dissolve like cotton candy in the mouth requiring no effort from the teeth or jaws, no thought that leads the imagination to the cow or goat and to the land that sustains them and us.

This morning I created version 2.0 of faux-plait. I took Trader Joe's Greek yogurt - cuisinarted in 4 frozen strawberries, 1/8 cup of sugar, and vanilla. It tastes better than Yoplait, but there is that sour aftertaste which I fear will derail the experiment. It still actually tastes like yogurt.

I'm convinced that industrial food is meant to distance us from real food to the extent that we will no longer be satisfied with real food. We will not look to the earth or our animals for sustenance, but to groups of pathologically greedy men seeking to sell us pre-eaten food disguised with sugar, covered in lard, and injected with vitamins and the hot nutrient du jour. If we balk, they'll throw in a toy.

Everyone who cannot feed herself or himself will be at the mercy of the pathologically greedy men. They are invisible, hiding behind the fiction of the corporation. Our food - which once represented our covenant with the earth - is mystified. No one knows where Yoplait comes from - it's magic. Don't question the system or it might all go away. Just be grateful.

Epilogue: The boy likes the faux-plait. Now I'll slowly wean him off the sugar in it.

Bee hives in place

Our new bee hives are in place - waiting for bees. Yesterday, while it was still cool, we hiked to the top of our hill and placed 4 redwood 4x4s. The purpose is to hide the hives from the neighbors on the opposite hill, and to encourage the bees to fly up, rather than out. We'll train grapes and other vines over the structure - to keep the hives cooler in the baking summer.

I'm planting buckwheat, sunflowers, and comfrey all around the beehive - a sort of 7/11 for bees too tired or lazy to forage far from home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons from Genesis

Arguments about tilling versus no tilling have been making the rounds lately.

This brought to mind verses from Genesis regarding the tilling of the earth and I reread chapters 2 and 3, which both refer to what appears to be a permaculture system (pre-fall):

"And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground." Genesis 2:5

...and a tillage system (post-fall):

"Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." Genesis 3:23

It appears that the garden of Eden was a sort of food forest "dressed" (Genesis 2:15) by Adam and Eve. Tilling did not begin until the couple was ejected from Eden. Tilling seems to be central to God's curse against Adam,

"...cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Genesis 3:17b-19

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life in the underbrush

Last year I planted a watermelon. The bees pretty much ignored it so I'd venture out early and make the flowers kiss. I ended up with one small tasty watermelon.

I noticed last year that the bees *loved* the oregano and took up near permanent residence when it was blooming. So this year I planted my watermelon between two oregano plants. As the watermelon grows I'll direct the vines around them so the flowers will be very near each other.

Tired of the critters digging up my food plants I tucked the plants among the weeds - here dying freesia and wild grass. The grass has acted as a nurse plant while my tender plants were young. The skunk and raccoons don't seem to like to walk near it or on it, so have left my young plantings alone.

I'm going to cross my fingers and see how this year's plan works.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dreaming of Bread

I went to the doctor yesterday as I've been suffering from what seems to me to be sleeping sickness. I'd had a cold for two weeks, and then got better - better, but still with a bad cough and a dearth of energy.

The doctor believes I'm suffering from allergies and loaded me up with pharmaceuticals, which at this point I will take.

I want to say that the culprit is olive pollen, or the pollen from the giant Victorian Box (mock orange) that grows next door and dusts our property with all sorts of litter. I've heard, though, that it's probably never what you expect, but rather something flowering at the same time as those things you want to blame.

I feel like Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, when she falls asleep in the poppy field. Last week's snow held promise, but the flakes melted and evaporated before they reached me.=(

There has been no bread. I broke down and bought a nice looking loaf of sourdough at Trader Joe's. It tastes like Wonder Bread but without the downy softness. The true danger of homemade bread is never being able to go back to that other stuff that is labeled "bread".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Richland Farms

Compton, the early years

Type "west caldwell street and south center street, compton, ca" into Google Maps and you'll find yourself in the middle of Richland Farms, a section of Los Angeles zoned as agricultural. There are no sidewalks or streetlights and the residents own and raise horses, cows, pigs, chickens (and roosters), and other farm animals.

In the LA Times California section is the story, Farming in Compton's core, telling about the lives of the largely black and latino neighborhood of truly urban farmers.

The residents want to join together to form an "...agricultural collective, which would allow residents to pool their produce for sale, and to operate a petting zoo."

I imagine that after today's article they will be contacted by other Angelenos interested in urban farming, but then again, I might be wrong. Maybe I'll just have to contact them myself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Buckwheat Lessons

Well, at least they taste good.

These loaves deflated the moment the blade touched the surface of the bread as you can see by my hesitation marks. There was a bit of oven spring, but overall they were a disappointment.

The two loaves contain a total of 3 ounces of buckwheat flour. I proofed them for 2 hours before retarding. They probably need much less time. They're 70% hydration. Less water would probably give them better structure.

I wonder if soaking the buckwheat first might help.

I have not found much online, or in any of my bread books, on baking with buckwheat flour. If anyone out there in TV land has any hints, don't be shy. I'll keep trying as the flavor of the bread is worth the effort.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Saga Continues

My bread has improved but I'm having problems with burning on the bottom (of the bread). See the photo below.

The bread on the left is today's effort, on the right, a bread I baked on Wednesday.

Here are the changes I made with today's bread.

1. started with a cold pan and a cold oven.
2. raised the dutch oven to a higher shelf in the oven.
3. put the dutch oven on an insulated cookie sheet.
4. lowered the oven temperature from 500 to 450 after 15 minutes
5. baked covered for 27 minutes
6. baked the bread with the lid off for 26 minutes

There was less oven rise, but that could be because I fell asleep yesterday forgetting to put the bread in the fridge. Instead of 3 hours rise time, the bread rose about 8 hours.

The flavor is not as rich and nutty. I'm not sure why.

As bad as the burn is on this bread, it tastes great - even the burned part.

PS If you're wondering about the flour pattern on the bread, it comes from the cheap plastic colanders I bought at the 99c store to proof my bread.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh. My. Gods.

Both of these loaves came from the same batch. I fixed my recipe which was at 60% hydration and bumped it up to 70%. I did a final rise for three hours. The first (left) I baked as usual.

The second, though, I decided to bake in my Le Creuset Dutch oven. It made all the difference, and a truly amazing difference it was.

First, the color is a deep and varied golden. The slashes, which I made awkwardly within the 500 degree pan, did a little additional bloom. The bread is blistered across the top. It rose higher and had a better shape than the other loaf.

Second, I have to say, the flavor is spectacular. I don't know how a pan can make so much difference but it did. The flavor is full and rich and nutty. The texture is loose and random. The color of the crumb is whiter and creamier.

I don't know if you can tell, but I'm very excited by the results.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Better Bread

I've been baking sourdough bread for almost a year. I'm not sure how many loaves I'll have to bake before I'm satisfied with the results. The bread is good, but it's not exactly what I'm going for. I want a better shape, a more sour taste, and a more open crumb.

I'm fortunate to work with home baker Mark Stambler twice a month, which gives me an opportunity to work on many, many loaves at once, hopefully moving me farther along my learning curve. Mark critiques my loaves, as well, and offers suggestions, which has been very helpful.

Lately my biggest problem is my bread "blowing out." It puffs up in the oven like a football and then herniates through a crack in the bottom. Very ugly. I tried slashing deeper - that didn't help. I tried a longer rise time before retardation - to reduce over spring. The loaf pictured here had two hours. You can see that on the left it's a little higher. At the bottom is a scar about 1/2 inch wide where the inside of the loaf was trying to force its way through. I'll try three hours next time.

Do you see the cracks on the loaf? I don't know what it is but I'm smitten by those. I take the loaf from the oven to the open window. At 5:00 am it's cold enough to crack the bread. The sound is sublime.

There's something about bread. It's like swimming in the ocean, or putting your hands in the dirt. Everything else disappears and you become an element of the earth. That's as close to religion as I'm going to get.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spazmat at the Gas Station

I was pumping gas the other day and noticed something strange about the pump sticker. How in the hell did that little cell phone skull thingy get into the lower right hand corner. It's part of the sticker and it was on all the pumps.

I snapped a photo and looked it up. The artist is Spazmat and I've read that his stickers stay up forever because they are not often noticed.


Kill your cable

We dumped our cable last year and have barely missed it, though do enjoy the money we've saved from the switch. We have Netflix and Roku, so are still able to watch episodes, movies and the greatest docus.

Here's something I read yesterday - another great argument from cutting the cord:

"...a recently published study in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that the amount of commercial television (e.g. television with advertisements) that children watch before the age of 6 is associated with increased body weight 5 years down the road, even after adjustment for other important variables including physical activity, socio-economic status and mother’s BMI. In contrast, watching non-commercial television (DVD’s or TV programs without commercials) showed no association with body weight."

Scientific American, Can sitting too much kill you?, By Travis Saunders