Sunday, November 30, 2008

Canning: 1 Freezing: --

Another reason why I love canning food more so then freezing them now...

I'm sooo annoyed right now, this is the 2nd time this month the chest freezer in the garage has gone off because the GFCI its plugged into tripped. I just got some butter out of there yesterday afternoon and everything was fine so it must have tripped sometime during the night. I went out today to pull out the turkey carcass to make stock and to my horror everything was thawed and mushy, but thankfully still very very cold ( alot still had frost & ice crystals) with a layer of water at the bottom. After it tripped last week ( and I caught it right away) I spent this week emptying ice cubes from our little freezer ice maker as added insurance in case it tripped again. Glad I did. I had to throw away the overripe banananas and cooled cooked spaghetti squash that was on top and the mushiest, but I'm at a loss at what to do with everything else that got sorta thawed in the ice water.

I mashed up all the raspberries and am going to make jam with them tonight, my poor husband had to drive to 3 stores to find pectin since (unknown to me) its a seasonal item they dont always have in stock.

I have 4 gallon zip lock bags full of tomatillos that are still mostly frozen solid and some a bit soft, 6 gallon bags of sliced bell peppers thats still firm but mostly thawed and 2 gallon bags of cubed cantaloupe thats frozen slush.

I'm heartbroken that a summer's worth of peppers and tomatillos might have to be thrown away, I'm not sure how well they'd hold up to being frozen again. I think I can make salsa from the tomatillos if I can go get some cilantro tomorrow, but the bell peppers? Anyone know a good chutney or something that uses ALOT of bell pepper?

UGH! I love our new place but I'm irked that we just had maintenance come out last week and replace the entire wall outlet because the GFCI would not come back on. I'm really afraid that theres something screwy in the wall thats not grounded correctly and thats whats tripping it, the freezer is less then 2 years old and never had a problem with it.

Goes to prove why canning & drying can be so much more reliable then a freezer- you're at the mercy of a $4 plactic outlet to keep your precious goods safe. I just bought about 20 pounds of ground beef for the month to portion out and freeze, looks like I'm going to have to babysit this freezer/GFCI outlet to make sure it doesnt go out again. The tiny freezer above the fridge in our apartment is crammed with kid stuff like (HG) nuggets, GF bread, flours and my beloved Haggan Daaz.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Humbling Thanksgiving, as well as a new Begining

(Meant to post this a week ago but between the world of warcraft expansion and out of state family visiting I've been short pressed for time with the 2 kids and all when I'm sitting at the computer- but for the record my night elf druid is lvl 76 with 450 alchemy, 450 jewelcrafting, 425 fishing, and 422 cooking woot! I don't need a powerleveling service thank you very much! LOL)

Hello all, sorry for yet another hiatus, but its been a hectic few months. I had been avoiding posting on here since well, I just didn't really feel like spewing my emotional turmoil and also because our whole lives were up in the air. But the long and the short of it is: my large organic garden paradise is no more.
Faced with the stupidity of a mortgage modification gone terrible wrong and the advice of family real estate lawyers, we 'chose' to walk away from our house,foreclose and start anew renting a nice 2 bedroom apartment in the same city....I say 'chose' with air quotes since its a very fine line between "choosing" to " walk away" from your beloved home vs. waiting till you get eviction papers. Its more of a mental game really, feeling like we somehow won and came out ahead by walking away with our heads held high ( while fighting back tears). For the sake of our sanity and the well being of the kids we didn't want to drag the whole thing out with government bailout programs, counseling, short sales, etc. Once we realized that the expenses ( with this new loan) were exceeding our income, and me having no luck in finding work in the last 8 months I have been frantically applying everywhere, we got no answers on how long we actually had before foreclosure would be filed against us, we had to move fast to secure safe affordable living accommodations before the foreclosure hit our credit and ruined it. Its frustrating to say to least to not even get a straight answer on how long the proceedings take to know when we'd have to move out. Its been utterly depressing, and I didn't want to get into it on this blog, I have had to explain the situation over and over again to the bank, friends, family, our former neighbors...I'm kinda sick of talking about it, I'm trying to move past it with positive energy. We felt utterly betrayed by our mortgage company for taking what was a very nice and safe loan, and (*&*(^% it up to the point that we couldn't afford to make the house payment and make ends meet, which is the total opposite of a loan modification is supposed to accomplish. We accept responsibility for our actions and are accepting the credit hit of the foreclosure. We fought, we cried, we researched options, made a choice, and have made peace with it. blablabla, wawawa, ok, I'm ok now.

It has all worked out for the best it seems:we had fallen in love with a nice new 2 bedroom 2 story town home in a new complex. Its actually the same sq footage of our old home (~1300 sq ft of living space) that had of all things a small (15 x 15 ft) but nice private courtyard. When I first saw it I immediately realized there was some potential here: I could garden in containers, not to mention without property taxes and a money pit of a 50 year old fixer upper hanging over our heads we'd be able to possibly budget in a CSA share or a plot at a community garden for "big" crops like winter squash and melons. But one can totally grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, salad greens, and herbs in pots. Citrus trees too! Unfortunately the monthly rent was at the uppermost limit of our intended budget ($1980) and there were no units of that floor plan available or showing as being available any time soon.
We had sadly thought it was a a far fetched option when by some stroke of luck someone who had a unit reserved backed out at the last minute, and prices dropped dramatically ( a sad upside to this crazy economy), and there was a new leasing special being offered, so the price was only $1775- for comparison our mortgage payments were $2,700 a $4,000 a year in property taxes, and $600 in insurance.
So here we are 2 months later, blessed with a brand new home ( they just opened this section of the community this summer) with a sunny south facing courtyard, and a beautiful view of my beloved mountains from the kids room upstairs. Both bedrooms have their own bathrooms and walk in closets- I am feeling rather spoiled after living in a house with so many things needing to be fixed! From my living room we look out at the mountains and to the tree lined bike path that leads to a park and an elementary school in an awesome school district. I am relieved and happy here so far.

Right now I have my large "Italian Herb" planter still giving us sweet and Cinnamon basil, oregano, and parsley. I have another container with 2 small rosemary plants, and my mango tree in its pot. We're still unpacking things so I haven't had time to set up my planned window boxes with 'Tom Thumb' lettuce and 'Bright Lights' chard, and of course some mesclun. For Christmas I am asking Santa for an 'Improved Meyer Lemon' on dwarf rootstock! LOL Gotta make some lemonade with those lemons ya know? *wink*
In the garage I have 4 milk crates packed with all the butternut squash from our garden that was ready to pick ( those crazy vines are STILL flowering) as well as a box of Pomegranates from our tree. We got 5 persimmons this year too. For thanksgiving dinner I made butternut squash soup and a awesome pomegranate reduction sauce for the turkey along with fresh herbs form my pot, so the spirit of self reliance was still there as much as we could.
Before we mail the keys to the bank ala jingle mail we're hoping the trees go dormant enough to dig some of the fruit trees to plant in my dad's yard and 'adopt' out to fellow gardening friends. Its been cool and raining (!!!) this week so hopefully that will finally get the trees dormant enough to transplant without shocking them. I just couldn't the bear the thought of abandoning my 'babies' to be ignored, not watered, or worse ripped out when they come re landscape the place. I also want t0 try and save my 'Misty' blueberry in a pot if I can. And take some cuttings from my fig tree. Yes the wheels of my mind are still whirling in how I can "downsize" my garden aspirations while maximizing production in a small space. I can do this! its another new challenge, and I love being challenged.

Anyway, theres an update for now, kids are asleep so I'm taking advantage to go play WoW with my husband for a little bit before my bedtime LOL. Plus I need to check on my after thanksgiving turkey stock simmering on the stove. (waste not, want not)

Stick aound as I plan to attempt making kefir, kombucha, and even my own cheese at some point this winter. :) Love thrives in small(er) spaces, and I fully intend to live it that way.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Getting involved with my local community, and come thoughts on Rancho "Going Green"

The widget you see to the right is for the Meetup group I started specifically to help other local gardeners. My friend Mandi was generous enough to 'sponsor' us by giving me one of her subscription slots, which is why shes listed as the organizer and I'm the assistant. But in reality I rule with an absolute iron will.....HAHA just kidding. I do post alot of info tho, everything I come across on blogs, UC cooperative extension articles, other states extension articles, forums, etc. I know not everyone has as much time ( or passion) to search the world wide web as I do on nights like this when I can't sleep.

Master Gardening classes are going wonderfully. Monday nights are now my "ME" night. Chris gets home early, I have my 20 minute ( not much traffic thank GOD) drive to Loma Linda, then I get to sit in the beautiful Loma Linda East Campus' new tranquility garden and relax and read a bit before class. I love my kids but man I've missed having an activity that doesn't revolve around them. Last week we learned about the basics of soil ( types, composition, water holding capacity) and water ( its structure, how plantsuse it, its relation to soil type, irrigation) and this week we learned all about irrigation. An expert who works for Rainbird ( and also a master gardener) came and spoke to us about different types of irrigation systems, sprinklers, drip systems, timers, controllers, planning an efficient irrigation system, upcoming legislation regarding residential water, theres alot more to watering then the ole' thumb over the hose thats for sure. Some of it I knew from designing my garden's drip system, but now I can see where theres tons of room for improvement.

I've also been approached to do a talk on organic gardening a a local library, hooray! I'm in the process of getting those details from the library and checking if I can get community service hours for it ( since I need 50 hours for the Master Gardener certification). Its exciting to think in March I could be speaking to the public about something I love with a name tag saying I'm a trained Master Gardener. It gives me goosebumps.

Being the overacheiver that I am ( or was in my life before kids...) I'm also planning on God willing taking the county's Master Composting seminar later this month to become a Master Composter- and hopefully be able then to give classes in my city about it. Sadly my city is a little slow on that part of green living...but they are building and promoting some huge LEED Platinum building (aka build up to the strictest 'green' building codes) as an office building. Interesting...but eh. In contrast the Sam J. Racadio Highland Library and Environmental Learning Center that just opened up in Highland a few months ago is only a Gold LEED building but is more then just a 'green' library building. It also has a rooftop garden and many programs designed to provide and promote environmental education .

woot, thank you Green Valley Initiative! I think....hopefully its not just another cleverly disguised lobbying group.

At least theres finally some atttention to the issue. San Bernardino county is pushing for all of their cities to become more "green". I am proud that my city is trying to become "green" certified, but theres more to it then putting in fancy buildings with nifty soar panels and recycled materials. We have NO community garden, NO composting program, and NO recycled green waste availible to the public. Tsk Tsk. I think responsible horticulture ( xeriscaping, organic gardening, green waste recycling,sustainable agriculture) are also very important issues community members should be encouraged to learn more about. How can you be "green" without growing PLANTS? hmm?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Late Summer Update

Hey everyone, sorry for the big hiatus again. One thing I didnt quite realize was just how much time I needed to dedicate to my garden weeding, watering, and of course, harvestng and preserving. Literally figs "not quite ripe" one day will be mushy and too ripe within a few days so I have to be checking every day to catch them when they are perfect. Tomatos are a big more forgiving but a few times I waited too long ( trying to let them develop maximum sun kissed flavor) and they has soft rotten spots on them or bugs found them.

Cantaloupes are the worst with this- you have to pick them at "full slip" when you lift the fruit it readily deattatches from its vine- that means its ripe. Sometimes I don't see them nestled in all the tangle of leaves and vines and by the time I find them little bugs have chewed holes into the soft spot where the melon is resting on he ground and the melon rots to the center before I find it. Its quite frustrating to be searching for melons, finding one thats already off the vine, pick it off and have it dissintegrate into a pile of emptyskin, goo, and seeds in my hand. Sometimes this happens in the house to, I set my picked fruit on the table and forget to put them in the fridge/eat them right away and with how warm its been they rot sitting on the table. Thankfully I've only lost a few melons, I had harvested 12, yes TWELVE of them in one day some weeks ago and had ot usily chop them all and freeze them, no way I could eat all of them and even if they are mushy when thawed should make a decent cereal or fruit salad addition in winter. I'm still finding 1 or 2 ripe melons a week, and the vines are still flowering. They taste INCREDIBLE, I've never ever had such sweet wonderful melons in the stores.

Ironically, these plants were a result of store bought melon I had thrown the seeds in the composter, and they all sprouted. The seedlings I had tried to start in trays died, and the ones planted in ground were eaten by a bug, so I tried planting some of these random seedlings to see how they'd fare in the garden. So I have no idea what the name of the variety is, but they taste amazing.

Of course my Husband wanted pics of my melons. And I wanted to post them on the internet. Original huh? ( Even more ironic that I'm trying to look sexy and not laugh at myself when I look like crap after working outside all morning)

I also finally broke down and bought a pressure canner. I have processed a ton of strawberry jam, raspberry jam, fig jam, tomatos, tomatillos, salsa and dilly beans (picled green beans) but I really wanted to be able to can this bumper crop of butternut squash, and for that I can't use a boiling water canner. I sold my brand new, in the box, singer sewing machine I got 2 years ago and still had never used ( and had no clue how). I needed a pressure canner. So I used the funds from the sewing machine to buy a 23 quart Presto Pressure Canner off Amazon.

Heres a pic of it next to my boiling water canner for comparison. Please excuse the grungy stove, after a long afternoon of canning a stove will not look clean no matter how many spills you try and wipe up LOL.

I have been quite enjoying my expanded canning possibilities. I had 7 quarts of homemade chicken stock frozen in various tupperwards in my chest freezer and needed the space for freezing meat and bread. Plus sometimes its a pain to wait for the 'brick' of stock to melt when making soup. So I asked around on some forums and found out its perfectly safe to thaw, boil, and can previously frozen chicken stock. The boiling water canner minus the canning rack makes an excellent large pot for boiling stock. The pressure canner was very easy to use, I was scared it would blow up but it really was easy once I read the directions and followed them step by step. I even used it as a pressure cooker to make a pork roast. Usually I cook it slowly overnight in the slow cooker, but I was able to cook a very fork tender, flavorful roast in about 2 hours. My local market had a crazy manager special on some organic rainbow carrots, 20 cents per 2 pound bag ( 5 bags for $1). Apparently people we'rent buying them since they weren't all that "traditional" orange, its a mix of heirloom varieties. Their loss was my gain and I happily practiced pressure canning with 10 pounds of carrots. Alton Brown had a show where he made chicken stock in a pressure in hours rather then how I do it simmering slowly for 2 days. I may try it one day for comparison, but I'm cusiour of the pressure cooker extracts as much minerals and collegen from the bones into the stock. But first I needed to can some butternit squash....quite a bit of it.

Canning the squash was an all day project. Apparently you cannot can mashed or pureed winter squash for safty reasons, you can only can them in cubes with a pressure canner. I realized by accident that by canning the butternut squash the same day as I pick them the skin isnt hard and much easier to peel with an ordinary kitchen knife. I didn't even have to soften the squash by baking or steaming it. Thankfully Walthum butternut doesnt have much in the way of seeds, so I didnt waste much squash in peeling and seeding. The result is some very gorgeous looking canned squash. I keep opening the pantry door just to admire my handywork!

Heres my other pantry shelf stuffed with home canned goodness:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Huzzah! I'm happy!

got this in my email today, finally some good news in the midst of real life stress.

Dear University of California Master Gardener Program Applicant:


You have been accepted into the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program!Attached please find a letter with complete details. If you are unable to open the attachment, please note that hardcopies of the same information were mailed to you today.Welcome to the world of volunteerism and Master Gardening.
We look forward to meeting you and to your involvement in what we hope will prove a rewarding and fulfilling experience!

Janet Hartin
Jackie Brooks
University of California Cooperative Extension
University of California Cooperative Extension Environmental Horticulturist and MG Program Manager
MG Program Coordinator

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Peaches (For SonomaMom)

SonomaGarden got me to thinking about peaches. We picked these back in mid June, they were wonderfully juicy. I wish we had some ripe peaches right now LOL. Hopefully next year all 8 varieties will give and we can enjoy them all summer long.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Oh Snap! (Beans)

Growing up my experience of beans was refried from a can or glued to construction paper for some sort of a craft. I knew green beans existed, they were in cans in my mother's pantry where every once in a while she'd dump the lot into a pot, boil it, and serve. ewwwww. I hated the taste, the texture...just ickick ick. Everytime I saw that french's frid onion commercial of " I brought the green bean caserole!" I shuddered and couldnt imagine how that was a good "Welcome Neighbor" gift. So naive I was...

So this year when I had a 'free' row to try and grow something new I wanted something easy to grow, liked warm weather and gave a good bounty for its space. On the forums I haunt it was suggested I try pole or bush beans. I was very iffy at first, I had this image of a row of beans that when shelled would give about 2 cups worth of beans...until I researched them a bit more and found out you eat the thing pod and all as green beans when young and tender. Something about "young, tender, green, & delicious!" got me hooked. It was a great sales pitch. Since this was my first time growing them I wanted to go with a variety that was full proof and bountiful, so I looked on Burpee and there was rave reviews for their Bush Bean Heavyweight II so I ordered a packet and hoped for the best. So far they have lived up to their 'hype' and given us quite anabundance of pods, I cant get them blanched and frozen fast enough LOL. I still had no idea how to cook the darn things...but I felt happy I had them LOL. Until I found a mouthwatering recipe for green beans from The Pioneer Woman blog...I thought I had died and found heaven in a vegetable....those beans were so damn good I ate them cold the next day like a cold green ean is that amazingly good (and simple to boot).
Eventually I bought a packet with 3 different colors beans ot fill in betwene where some beans didnt grow, so now I have some purple and yellow beans growing too, very pretty! Sadly when pickled they dont stay purple...and the yellow ones just kinda turn white...

Edible Weeds: lots to love about Purslane

I was poking around on mother earth news and was reading an interesting article on how healthy purslane is and I had to feel a bit guilty- I spent a couple of hours today pulling weeds and purslane is the most common weed I have. I don't aim to keep my garden perfectly weed free but even with landscape fabric, cornmeal, and mulch its a never ending battle against spurge, burmuda grass and purslane for precious water and space. I remember reading about edible weeds in "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" years ago so I reasoned it was safe to add to my compost bin unlike most other weeds. For some reason I havent been able to bring myself to eat 'weeds'- yet.
I guess its because I'm not much of a salad fan so as tasty as dandelions, sheperds purse and purslane may be I have the excuse of not being a salad person to avoid eating them. But in the name of good gardening as well as being more open minded I will probably nibble on some purslane and see how it is. I mean really, if its thriving in your garden,its plentiful, and its FREE and its healthy why not eh? Talk about the ultimate freebie!

If I can be 'brave' enought to forego the traditional lawn and water greedy landscape plants for edibles I may as well try the stuff I didnt plan on planting but showed up anyway. How about you guys?

Do you go as far as to cultivate what others consider weeds ( dandelion, chicweed, dock, purslane, miners lettuce, etc) or just joyfully pick whats edible as you pull other less wanted pests? Just poking on Mother Earth news I found 2 articles of interest, of course theres good ole google if you're looking for more :)

Power-Packed Purslane

I posted this on the Freedom Gardener forums and I wasnt the only one suprised that this 'weed' is so awesome! I also found a few more links via other posters. This site here deals with edible/medicinal wild plants groups by month, heres the link to their July page with many useful facts on purslane, some recipes, and more links to other sites mentioning purslane.

Last but not least one of my favorite blogers SonomaMom had this wonderful looking recipe for a Turkish Purslane Stew

So next time I go on a weeding frenzy I'm going to finally put that weed to good use and try eating it.

Freedom Gardeners Unite!

I now have another forum to go hang out on in my free time. :) But don't worry, MCD 'Diggin in the Earth' remains in my daily rounds as well. My username (on both) is Geogal17


Seeding Change: Website Seeks to Liberate Diets—and Wallets—from Supermarket
Site’s “100-Foot Diet” Brings Local Food Movement Home
PASADENA, CA. - July 7, 2008 - Think of it as Facebook meets the Farmer’s Almanac: A social networking site for backyard pioneers who want to fight soaring food prices and global warming by growing their own food. At, novice and expert growers from all over the world can gather to post success stories, ask questions, and challenge one another to ever-increasing levels of self-sustained living.
The site is backed by the example of its founders, the Dervaes family, the urban-dwelling “eco-pioneers” who have been growing most of their own food since 2001. On their one-fifth acre residential lot in Pasadena, Jules Dervaes and his three adult children, Anais, Justin, and Jordanne, grow over 400 varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers-with enough left over to run an award-winning “green” business selling fresh organic produce to local restaurants and caterers.
Few can match that output, but the Dervaeses say that by growing at least a portion of what they eat, “Freedom Gardeners” everywhere can take back control from the corporate food system. In the process, they can improve their health, reduce their ecological footprint, and save money. With food price inflation at the highest levels since 1990, the latter may be the most compelling reason to join what the Dervaeses call their “homegrown revolution(TM).”
To motivate new gardeners and focus their efforts, Freedom Gardens offers challenges like the 100-Foot Diet. With a nod to the 100-Mile Diet and other “eat local” initiatives, the 100-Foot Diet urges people to garden in whatever space they have available, be it a small patio or a spacious backyard, then prepare at least one meal a week using as many homegrown ingredients, and as few store-bought ingredients, as possible.
Mr. Dervaes uses the illustration of a target to explain the 100-Foot Diet in the context of the global food economy and the distance food travels from field to plate. “The outer ring of the target is overseas, while the circle at 1,500 miles represents the average distance produce in a grocery store travels. The 100-mile diet is getting you closer to the center. But, the 100-foot diet is actually bringing you right back to your home, and that is the bull’s-eye,” he says. “We want people to look for food security in their own backyard.”
Freedom Gardens is an offshoot of the family’s first website,, a seven year-old sustainable living blog that gets 5 million hits per month from 125 different countries. The new, more interactive site uses social networking software to connect visitors with other gardeners in their area. They can share tips about local climate and soil issues, display which challenges they are participating in on their profiles, and find others nearby doing the same challenge.
“We are providing the setting for ‘over-the-fence’ chats,” says Mr. Dervaes. “Neighbors can help each other more than we can from our particular locale. Through the website, we facilitate their getting together.”
Growing your own diet is not easy, but the Dervaeses are living proof that it is not impossible either. In their first year of full-time gardening, the family’s harvest was over 2,300 pounds; by 2003, their yearly take had reached over 6,000 pounds. This year they have challenged themselves to reach a new all-time high: 10,000 pounds from a one-tenth acre urban garden.
The Dervaes family has received several local awards and congressional recognition for their environmental contributions and outreach efforts. They have been the subject of numerous articles in newspapers around the country, including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, and were recently featured on ABC’s Nightline and CNN.
About Freedom Gardens
Launched in May 2008, Freedom Gardens is a social networking website for gardeners and homegrown food enthusiasts. The site’s founders, the Dervaes family, draw on years of personal experience on their model urban homestead to help others take back control of their diets and their budgets by growing more of their own food. For more information, please visit

The season of Bounty is upon us, woot!

Just taking a break from the sweltering hot kitchen...todays preserved count thus far:

5 quarts of Dilly Beans

8 pints of Fig Jam

2 Trays of fig dehydrating

1 tray of 'fig leather'

1 tray of tomatos drying

3 pounds of banana cut up and frozen

2 gallon bag packed with bell pepper strips frozen

I HAD to use those figs today or lose them, when I picked them yesterday most were almost to the point of overripe, the sudden humidity with the heat made a whole bunch ripen on the tree even faster then I would have anticipated. They were too squishy to can whole. I still have 4 quarts of whole figs in syrup in the pantry ( I gave some away to family), they look cool in the jars. I'm watching the tree more carefully, with the next 'wave' of figs I want to can them whole again.

My face is all greasy feeling, all that steam and boiling water from canning and blanching is like a sauna, opens the pores which is good I guess but man I feel hot and gross. I keep washing my hands and face to cool off and not feel so oily but my face keeps pumping out more LOL. I'm just letting the kids eat something then mybe they will go take a little nap so I can shower.

I need to do another tray of tomatos in the dehydrator and probably chop some to freeze as well. I have the rest of the row of green beans to pick as well, I only got thru about 5 plants worth, they are so packed with beans right now. Need to do something with the eggplant....not sure if I can freeze it. Oh wait, lookkee HERE I can freeze it , nifty! Fresh eggplant to make curry with for the next few weeks.

I also have a bumper cop of basil I need to do something with, its flowering. I'll probably end up freezing it for later. I tried to keep up with snipping it so it wouldnt flower and affect the flavor, but serious, basil WANTS to flower, I swear the more you snip it the faster it tried to flower LOL. Time for frozen pesto.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Preserving the Harvest

Been MIA from blogging since I've been busy, busy, busy blanching, freezing, canning, and yes even dehydrating the fruits/veggies of our little happy garden. I'll try to get some pictures and recipes up later.

Monday, July 7, 2008

June's Garden in Pictures

These photos are about 2 weeks old, I need to take new ones, most of my plants are way bigger then these photos show. Click for captions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This is why I don't use pesticides

Why would I kill the beneficial ones too when they are so darn cool looking?

Wohlgemuth's Organic Cherry Orchard

The Inland Empire AP yahoo group did a field trip to this orchard last week, but I wasnt able ot make it since my kids decided to be complete brats that day, so driving 45 minutes anywhere was out of the question. I managed to convince my husband that getting up bright and early Saturday to go as a family would be a nice family outing. At 7:30 am in the morning on saturday theres no traffic so it was a nice drive. It turned out great, the day ended hitting 108 degrees but we got there at 8 am when they opened and in about an hour of leisurly picking and eating we picked 12 pounds of bing cherries to take home.

Its a nice little place to go, you pay $1 per adult to get in and then they had lowered the price per pound from $4 to $2. It was very relaxing, it was a nice cool morning and quiet with the few other early pickers that were there. I loved being able to taste a cherry from the cluster before picking, I plan on making jam and its awesome to know all fruit was hand picked and tasted for quality. :)

If you're near Beaumont/Riverside you really should visit this place before the heat claims the rest of the crop.

For more info and picking conditions visit their website at

Fruit Fly issues...

My kitchen has been overun by fruit flies now that warm weather ( and ripe fruit) abound. I try to keep my fruit in the fridge since I like to eat it cold but I need ot sometimes leave some out at room temp to finish ripening. The flies go nutts over it as well as any dirty dishes in the sink. I try to keep up but even when theres 1 cereal bowl from the kids breakfast in there its just coated with those tiny red bugs. I was looking online to try and find some sort of non toxic trap, but I refuse to pay $10 each plus shipping. So instead I made DIY yeast traps using the instructions on this site:

so simple I dont know why I didnt think of something similar by using overripe fruit in a jar- if the yeast doesnt lure them I'll try that next.

Today's Harvest

I have a bin full of yellow crookneck squash, zuccini, brocolli, sweet peppers, bell peppers, and japanese eggplant.

My bush beans have tiny pods starting and my cucumbers vines have a few baby cukes. Hooray! Oh Lord am I going to have alot of tomatos...I can hardly wait!

Monday, June 23, 2008

2008 Master Gardening Certification

This is one of my goals in life: be a Master Gardener.

There site sums it up best so I'll just copy/paste it here to get you all hot and excited. Ok, so maybe just hot, but thats not cuz of me I'm sure.

Master Gardener Program
The trained volunteers of the UC Master Gardeners program extend the ability of local Cooperative Extension offices to provide practical scientific horticulture and gardening information to the citizens of California. If you have any questions please feel free to contact the master gardeners at (909)387-2182 or you can send them an email at The office hours vary so please leave your name and phone number and we will be happy to return your call.
The Master Gardener program is a non-profit public service outreach program sponsored by University of California Cooperative Extension in which volunteers are trained to extend gardening information to the general public. Applicants accepted into the program receive 50 hours of classroom training and agree to provide a minimum of 50 volunteer hours by May 31, 2007 through approved Cooperative Extension educational activities (excludes manual labor). Daytime, evening, and weekend volunteer opportunities are available, including answering home gardening questions on an assigned office day in the Cooperative Extension office in San Bernardino or the satellite office in Chino, establishing school and community gardens, staffing booths at fairs and civic events, writing weekly newspaper articles, providing docent services, and serving as guest speakers at community-sponsored events. Master Gardeners in good standing may recertify each successive year after completing a minimum of 20 continuing education and 25 volunteer hours per year. There is a $90 fee due the first class period to defray expenses directly related to conducting the program. The fee includes the cost of the Master Gardener Handbook and additional handouts. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener but cannot afford this fee due to financial hardship, there are limited need-based scholarships available.

We are planning our next Master Gardener Certification Class series to begin in September 2008 through February 2009 on Monday evenings from 6:30-9:30 pm. Contact the Master Gardener Office at (909)387-2182 or by email at and leave your name and mailing address and email to be added to the mailing list.

OOO a Gardening class!

I had been stalking the Lyle center website for info on their upcoming workshops, but of course thier site still just says "Coming soon". By a stroke of luck, fate, or the sneeze of God another mama in the Pomona Valley chapter of Hollistic Moms Network asked if anyone wanted to carpool to this class. The SOlar living institute has their class list out already.

It sounds interesting to say the least. Lately my newest educational idea has been to pull over my credits from CSUN and finish my major in geology (environmental), go over to Cal Poly Pomona and get a 2nd major in biology/agriculture and get a minor from the Lyle Center in Regenerative studies. I mean the college has a garden for Christs sake, how could I not *heart* that?

But anyway, heres the class info:

PO 131: Ecological Urban Gardening Jul 19 2008, 9am-5pm

Learn to design and maintain your own garden space in the city! We will explore sustainable urban gardening options, such as planters, rooftop boxes, community/school gardens, and more.
Hands-on experience will cover:
• Site/soil analysis
• Composting
• Irrigation
• Planting
• Pruning
Incorporate such concepts as crop biodiversity, companion planting, nutrient recycling, and agro-forestry for use in urban, home-scale garden design.


The John T. Lyle Center For Regenerative Studies
4105 West University Drive
Pomona CA 91768


Doug Kent
Since starting at 14, Douglas Kent's passion and knowledge of plants, landscapes, and urban design has steadily grown. He has written four books, authored over fifty articles, received an M.S. from the Lyle Center of Regenerative Studies, and has created beneficial landscapes throughout California. Kent is a passionate, dynamic instructor.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gardening: the new economically friendly trend

My husband and I have a running gag: whatever I tend to get obsessed with will get odd looks at first, then after awhile become something huge and popular.

For example, in high school I had to read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy the summer before sophomore year. As I delved into the world of hobbits I joined a then small but bustling little Tolkien fan website known as Tolkien Online. I happily discussed stuff from philosophy to elven language ( and all sorts of nerdy stuff), actively answered questions from "Tolkien Virgins", and role played via message board. All was well and nerdy as I stuck around in this little hub for years after it was required class reading, I enjoyed it. Then someone posted a rumor that there was a movie in the works. Immediately all was a bustle as we fans were both excited that our favorite literary masterpiece was going to be put on the big screen, and terrified Hollywood would rewrite, dismantle and otherwise add sex and drama in order to capitalize on it. As more details emerged the discussions got more heated and I was one of the thousands who signed a petition against having Liv Tyler's characterization of Arwen being so prominent ( since she isn't a major character in the trilogy). Of course the director didnt change his movies based on a few thousand passionate fans, but he did have one of his underlings keep us updated with how filming was progressing and throwing us tidbits. Finally the movies came out with much hoorah and now of course * everyone* knows the story of Frodo, Samwise, Gollem and Aragorn. My once quiet little hub of nerdyness has been rebuilt, moved to different sites, sued by the Tolkien trust over copyright infringement, all sorts of crap brought about by the sudden interest and millions of new fans. I ended up drifting away as I got annoyed by the constant server overloads leaving the site unusable and censorship nazis complaining about people feeling excluded on ongoing role playing stories and whatnot. Occasionally I drop by to say hello and see if any of us "old timers" still visit the boards.

After I got married my husband and I got into the addictive hobby of saltwater aquariums. We even joined the Marine Aquarium Society of Los Angeles County (MASLAC) and traded corals and fish and other interesting critters at meetings and quarterly " frag swaps". Its a kinda close knot and passionate group of people who really take alot of time and effort into taking good care of their critters and not treating them like replaceable goldfish. Corals are well cared for so the hobby as a whole can rely more and more on corals propagated here in our aquariums rather then fuel an already damaging business of taking corals and fish out of their native wilds. It really is a hobby whos ultimate goal is to have a piece of nature in our homes without raping the environment in the process. Anyhow, I got involved actively on Reefcentral, which is THE online hub for reef enthusiasts. One say someone mentioned that Disney was making a movie about a clownfish named Nemo. Oh how we all laughed. What a silly idea, how the heck can they make a story about a clownfish? Well make it they did, and make it and they shall watch...and shall buy. Suddenly everyone's kid wanted a "nemo", and every store from the responsible importers to the low end petco/wal-mart/petsmart (*shudder*) fish vendors could not stock enough clownfish to meet the demands. It was heartbreaking to see these fish all stressed and diseased and fresh from their native homes to be dumped in 2 gallon plastic critter keeper tanks filled with purple gravel and a scuba diver for the amusement of peoples children. Our message board was overrun with desperate parents and new aquarists who not only bought "nemo", but were suckered into spending thousands of dollars on equipment that sucked or was inappropriate for their setup and other sea creatures such as corals and anemones what are definatly not suited for the beginning aquarium keeper or a newly set up tank system. ( FYI, its a general rule that your tank needs to have been up and running smoothly and aged for about 2 YEARS before its stable enough to keep anemones and most corals thriving with the proper lighting). Once again, I guess what I thought was tool became the in thing.

What dies this have to do with gardening you may ask? Well I'm finally here to my point. I love gardening, and now lots of other people are getting into it too. *giggle*

With gas prices past $4, rising food prices, jobs being cut or at risk, and all this talk of impending economic doom everyone is trying to figure a way to cut costs. The first thing to be slashed is the monthly starbucks/coffee habit. 2nd to be cut is the rest of the grocery budget. Apparently not just people living in rural areas are realizing they can survive off their land. In the past month The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and ABC news have all run stories on how everyday people who could not keep a houseplant alive are now turning to gardening as a way of providing some of their family food needs. Vacant lots and neglected yards are being turned into community gardens. It really is wonderful to see gardening take off again as a fruitful ( sorry for the pun) endeavour and not a "busy habit" for seniors and baby boomers reviving their childhood on the farm. Makes perfect sense to me, use your available resources : dirt + water+ sunshine +love = food and fulfillment. It also goes hand in hand with more people wanting organic produce, and depending on where you live your only option for fresh pesticide free food really is to grow it yourself. Of course everyone knows about the recent tomato salmonella scare. You can't even get tomato on your burger right now, and even Mexican fast food salsas are sadly lacking in them.

Some of my friends who thought I was going overboard when I said I had 13 plants of 4 varieties of tomatoes ( and sad I don't have more space to plant more) are now eyeing my rows and asking when they will be ripe and if I'll have any to share. Godwilling I'll have a bumper crop like I did last year and have plenty to eat fresh, make sauce, make salsa and still have tons to give away. This year however I can't help but think of the story of the little hen who planted, tended, and harvested the wheat with no help form her friends till it was time to eat it. Money is tight for my family too, so I'm not going to start providing everyone's produce until I have my freezer and pantry stocked with sauces and dried tomatoes. I spend everyday checking, watering, weeding, and feeding those baby plants into the happy golliaths they are becoming now. I had alot of extra tomato seedlings this spring and no place to put them, but my efforts to give them away as a incentive for friends to start their own gardens didn't work as well as I had hoped. I did get 2 people to start gardens, and 2 more committed to start next spring. Sadly about 15 seedlings ended up being composted since I couldn't find new homes for them and in the 106 degree heat I couldn't keep them happy in their little containers.

Please don't think I'm going to be all righteous and say " You know what, I did the work, so these are all mine, now go grow your own". I'm not that selfish, for me sharing the bounty is one of my favorite gains of gardening. Its great karma, and if anything I believe it helps my garden thrive more. But my household does have to come first, followed by my close relatives who are also on tough times and don't have the money for much of any produce, organic or not. My aunt who had a major heart attack is slowly recovering but is going to have to adhere to a strict dietary regimen to control her diabetes and progressed kidney failure. I am so thankful to have my garden, since her family does not have the funds to buy fresh produce for every meal and I can help provide that. I also get to learn new recipes, try new techniques, and teach her family about using fresh produce as well. I am thankful to know so many people who could use anything I cannot consume, since I'd feel *awful* letting any of it go to waste.

Gardening takes space, dedication, and some money to get it all started. In this blog I have tried to show my yard's transformation from half assed lawn to my paradise in the making, but that took many hours of manual labor, sleepless nights planning, and trial and error. Next year I am planting less lettuce and chard, and more eggplant and tomatoes. I will sow my cool season veggies in fall, so they actually have the short SoCal cool season to grow in. I'll plant my cucumbers in ground rather then try to grow transplants. I would also stagger when I'd sow the greens, so I don't end up eating nothing but salad for weeks to salvage a bolting drop from a sudden heatwave in March.

I think its very overwhelming for people who have never tried it before and are weighing the benefits vs how much time and energy they have to put into yet another hobby. Not to mention money, not everyone has free compost or mulch available to them, I know I didn't so I had to try and be thrifty and clever about how I got what I needed, and I still wish I had access to more organic soil amendments. I spent a few hours every few weeks lugging bag after bag of used coffee grounds from all the local starbucks because they give it away for free. All is costs is my time and gas. I dont go every weekend like I used to because of gas costs.

Not everyone would be as crazy as me to do that. If you have jobs and/or children, your time is already precious. One New York Times blogger wrote an article on this very subject. Plus you have to sit back and decide what you can realistically handle. Do you have a large area thats not going to be disturbed by dogs or children, subject to HOA rules and has full sun? All Organic or miracle grow? Mixture of each? Or maybe just 1 fruit tree and a few herbs in pots. Theres the upkeep of weeding which for me is a few hours in the evenings when hubby is home to watch the kids. I got nutts yanking out every purslane and spurge plant I find because they use precious water and nutrients my vegetables need.

All in all I feel its worth it and take pride in keeping the weeds under control and eating the fruits of my labor, I'm also very sore and sunburned by Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm back!

Sorry for such a long delay in posting, my life got suddenly very hectic in the last month with some family issues and a sick relative in the hospital taking all my time and energy when I'm not outside in my garden.

Life is falling back into a rhythm again tho, and I am proud ot say my garden has shaped itself beyond my original expectations. This weekend I finished adding mulch to the yard, so now a good 80% is covered in mulch, which should cut the weeds alot. Purslane is the weed thats most vigour in my garden right now, and even tho I know its edible I dont want it competing with my other vegetables/herbs for water so I keep pulling it out every chance I get get. Luckily when its small the roots arent deep so it pulls out by hand easily, its harder on the knees and wrists then anythign else.

We also got the posts and trellis netting for my cucumbers and bush watermelons. Sometime this week I need to find some 6ftx15ft netting for my planned double row of pole beans.

My garden has already started to share a nice little harvest with us. I got a few handfuls of blueberries earlier this month from my tiny bush, as well a couple pf strawberries from the runners my sister in law sent to us. I have started cutting broccoli, and the kale is a nice size to start using as well. My swiss chard is going nutts and growing faster then I could use it, so I'm planning on cutting it back to all but the youngest leaves and taking it to the inland empire organic produce co-op meetup I just joined.

I had to pull out all the spinach and lettuce that bolted in the sudden heat wave we had earlier this month. The spinach was disappointing, it barely had a few tiny true leaves before it bolted, even tho I planted it back in December and the winters here are mild, it didnt seem to thrive in either of the 2 places I had it.

I have tiny roma and beefsteak tomatos I am drooling over everyday, and today harvest my first summer squash, YUM! I have a japanese eggplant with a couple of fruits I can harvest by this weekend and the bush beans are really taking off and looking wonderful.

My peppers are starting to flower and I see a couple of tiny chilles on some plants, woot!

I'll try to update with photos in the next few days, I just didnt want anyone to think I gave up :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Aphids, Ladybugs, and other cool bugs in my yard

These pesky critters are on my Iris plants, and I used these as my photogenic models since taking pictures of the aphids close up hiding in my lettuce would require a but more hassle- so since aphids look the same no matter what plant they are on, here you go, in all my digital macro glory.

Love them or hate them you gotta be a bit awed by their tenacity, the little buggars are born pregnant, so all you need is soem crazy ants herding a couple on you plants and bingo.

I knew once the weather warmed it was only a matter of time, but sheesh, I think my lettuce has become their heaven. On my ornamental plants, herbs, and large leafed vegetables I user Safer Insecticidal soap spray on nre growth and use a nice spray from the hose to wash them off. With the lettuce its alot harder since they are hiding on the undersides I can't easily spray with Safer or the hose. So I fought back- with ladybugs

Armstrong sells a small bucket of about 1,500 (according to the label) for around $10. I released them a few weeks ago before a drizzle and they stayed on the plants then vanished. I was all depressed and then this week voila, I go outside in the mornings and I see lots of ladybugs happly scurrying around my plants. I'm also finding their larvae, which is awesome since the larvae gorge on aphids even more then the adults.

I also found a couple baby preying mantis while pulling weeds, they are so adorable, about the size of my thumbnail but perfect little hunters already. They are very fast, within a few seconds of my trying to pick one up they'd jump and change color to whatever they stand on so its really hard to find them again. I didn't want to stress them so I didnt look for them again to photograph. I was thinking of buying a mantis egg case since they sell those at Armstrong too, but since I'm finding babies I don't want to overwhelm my yard with too many predators, they just decimate the bug population, starve, then I'll have pests all over again.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Whats in Bloom (Early Spring 2008)

Instead of fighting blogger to format all the photos of the annuals in my front yard and such I made a slideshow instead.

Yes I actually DO like this music, its vibrant and bubbly and I can do my weird mr.roboto meets Alizee dance while sitting in my computer chair.

I blame motherhood for my odd manisfistations of youthful desires.


I slacked in showing how its progressed so instead of waxing poetic on watching greens grow I'll just post some pictures kk? I now have enough to feed a small army of rabbits....over and over again. I keep thinning it out but its still pretty densely planted, which is helping to squeeze weeds out of competition. I better start getting good at making salads...its buttercrunch lettuce and I have spinach and swiss chard as well.

My what weird weather we are having...

Weird day last week: sunny morning, got more overcast, got windy, started pouring- but the sun was still brightly shining. Very weird feeling.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What a nice weekend! I learned alot about tomatos

The weather once again was a hit and miss....saturday it was overcast and windy with random sun and drizzle thruout the day, so frustrating, I wanted to be outside working in the dirt. Sunday redeemed itself with sun, but man the constant post storm icy breeze was more then a bit irritating.

I had planned on going to the tour of Cal Poly Pomona's center for regenerative studies, but alas I had a fun night friday with my friends enjoying a drink or 2 ( ok, this time I got to 7! eeks!) and playing bunco (as we moms do once a month) and I didn't roll out of bed on saturday untill around 11am.

As fate would have it, Steve Goto ( "California Tomato King") was doing a talk at the local Armstrong Garden center, so I had enough time to eat and get ready to go over around noon to scope out some plants, pick up a few herbs/veggies I didn't have seeds for and generally take a day off from lugging the kids around with me to actually smell the roses....or at least read the descriptions of them without fear of a child pulling plants out of thier flats. I got a cinnimon basil plant, an 'Japanese Millionaire' asian eggplant, a gorgeous orange tomato 'Orange Oxheart' and a 'Big Bertha' pepper as comparison to the 'California Wonder' variety I've been growing.

The talk was really informative, Steve Goto is great at talking and had a nice little handout on the basics of tomato care. The talk lasted about 2 hours, but there was so much good info the time really flew by. It started to rain halfway thru so we had to pick up our chairs and move inside the store, not a small feat when I also had a garden cart with plants and 2 bags of compost, luckily a fellow listener saw me struggling and carried my chair, awww!

Steve has grown over 900 varieties , wow, just wow! I took 2 pages of little notes and scribbles front and back, and this was just a short version of his talk, the longer one has photos and slideshows too. I'd type some of the stuff out here but I'm not even sure where to start. I'm sure some more experiences tomato growers may not have been in as much awe but I was somepletely smitten with all the info on different varieties and growing conditions and amendments and such. He's doing a full talk on March 26 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Theres even a tomato plant sale after the talk, I'm really itching to go if I can get a sitter for the kids since its on a wed morning.

One thing he talked about I definatly want to try is growing a 'cool season' tomato in fall to get a nice crop of tomatoes in the winter as well. Last year I was picking tomatos well to near Christmas before I ripped the plants out but they didn't taste nearly as much as they had in the heat of summer. I had no idea they had tomatos bred that can resist cold to 36 degrees, how cool! It barely gets to 40 here on the coldest of nights, so one of those plants along with the 'Better Boy' and 'Orange Oxheart' plants should keep us happlily feasting on tomatos till next spring I'd hope! I'm really hoping to make that tomato sale even if I can't stay for the talk because of the kids.

Steve also mentioned a huge tomato tasting event with over 100 varities of tomatos to sample *drools*. Man, At this rate I'm going to be tempted to grow more tomatos then anything else just for the variety of flavors! I guess I'll have alot of salsa and pasta sauce when all is said and done.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Victory Garden Drive & 100 ft Diet Challenge!

Homegrown Revolution is organizing a really cool gardening challenge: To eat whatever you can grow within 100 ft of your house (or buy local organic produce). To me the idea is to send a message that we don't NEED to be dependent on massive corporations, high produce costs, be exposed to harmful pesticides, or waste over $2,000 a year on a lawn just to have a green looking yard.

My interest in my yard conversion really got going when we bought this house and started pricing the sprinkler system, sod, and maintence costs for a yard of grass. Now, being that water is only becoming more precious of a resource in California I couldn't justify wasting that much water to keep a mat of plants not suited to this climate alive. Heck, I'm going to water it it had better be colorful, edible, or both. Plus produce prices keep going up, which gets frutrating. I am not going ot feed my family to cheap processed crap that has next to no nutritional value because its cheap, I can't do that anymore. Organic produce is even more pricy, plus honestly not all "organic" farms are what I consider organic.

In my front yard I was more "flashy" and put in annuals and bulbs, mainly since we have a 50 ft mulberry that keeps the north facing yard cooler and more moist then the very sunny backyard. Its a nice expanse of grass and flowers to sit on the porch and admire while the kids play ball. It also has nice bcurb appeal, the backyard is my secret hideaway, even if its not all that imporessive right now. I look at the marked off beds and paths, the up turned dirt, the scattered tools and stakes and hoses, and I see beautiful rows of bright green salad greens, re tomatos, large handsome squashes and long vines. I have the gardening bug. Big time.

FoodShed planet has kicked off their Victory Garden Drive 2008 : "Declare victory against lack of control over the quality of your food! Join hands and hoes across our FoodShed Planet to create and inspire new organic gardens. Goal: 2 MILLION new organic gardens in 2008! Spread the manure--and spread the word!" .

It appears by starting my Garden ( and this blog) I've done exactly this without knowing it. I love it when I get stuff done I didn't intend to, makes me feel extra spiffy.
Even cooler University of California has a Victory Grower program going as, UCs weren't known for their collective gardening information when I was picking out a college, now that I'm seriously looking at going back its starting to seem appealing to do something agriculture related.
I was honestly wondering if after 9/11 "victory gardens" would become in vogue again- I mean, if we could rename our food to "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" surely we could take on a bit of personally responsibility and grow a salad?
Anyhow, I'm really loving gardening as a artistic expression, a political statement, a personal goal, and a healthy lifestyle element.