Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Building a Community Garden from the ground up

The article posted below is a brief summary of the project I am now involved in. When I first saw mention in the paper that RC was starting a community garden I started crying. From joy. Seriously. I also thanks every deity I could name off the top of my head.

I don't know if people get just how badly I miss having a little spot of dirt to call 'my own' in the sense of having my own plants to care for and harvest....of course I researched getting a local community garden plot but alas, there arent many community gardens in the region, and all the ones I called had waiting lists, priorities for their own city residents or simply too far from me to be able to tend my plants as often as I would have liked.

The timing is serendipity at its best- since we moved back to the I.E. I am no longer a Los Angeles county resident and therefore no longer eligible to be a LA County Master Gardener. Its a mixed blessing, I was very homesick for the I.E. yet sad I wouldnt be involved in such an awesome program anymore, nto to know SB county's master gardeners, but their focus is much borader, where as LA is focused on improving the health of low income residents via school gardens, community gardens and of course educating them to grow their own as much as reasonable possible.

Anyway, so I find myself back in the I.E, after classes that involved visiting a couple of school and community gardens and hearing speakers talk about the work involved with geeting them started- then BAM- this opportunity basically fell into my lap. And the SB county master gardeners are helping with this project. Talk about perfect timing for me to move back! So now I literally get to watch and listen as some very motivated community members put their effort and ideas into making the largest community garden west of the Mississippi- 15 acres to be exact.

It was very exciting going to the committee meetings, 4 hours worth one day, 2 hours the next, but so many things to think about, research, and share with the others. I really hope I can make a difference and help this project get growing, literally! Everyone in the room just has their vision of the garden shining in their eyes- so now we have to work together and make it the best place for our community as we possibly can. Theres also plans for donating fresh produce to local food banks either via member donations from their plots or volunteer maintained "Gift of Giving Gardens". We also want a good educational opportunity for local schools to have their own school gardens here, or somehow have a children's garden that can function for multiple lesson plans. Theres also plans for a on-site farmers market to sell "cash crops" such as strawberries, pumpkins and grapes. I am just so amazed and humbled by these great folks who brought forth the idea to the city council and the property owners and are patently listening to all our crazy garden ideas! LOL

Rancho Cucamonga effort targets creating community garden - DailyBulletin.com

Rancho Cucamonga effort targets creating community garden - DailyBulletin.com

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Show your support for local farms and gardens with bumper stickers

I thought this was kinda cool. A bumper sticker to show you know where food comes from :) And its for free from the American Farmland Trust.



Plus FreedomGardens.org is selling these really cute bumper stickers for only $6, proceeds go towards their "Change for CHANGE" fundraising event. At times like this putting your money ( literally) where your food is speaks louder then anything else.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Homemade Butter from my apartment

I had gotten the idea from Matron of Husbandry's wonderful post on the step by step of churning butter at home. Then Freija did a post on making ghee. I saved the posts to my favorites list, and filed them off in my head as one of those little adventures I'd get around to trying-someday. I have a great respect for handmade butter. Besides reading about it in the Little House books, I have a fond memory of making it in class when I was in first grade or so. We simply all took turns shaking a mason jar half full until we felt our arms were falling off, eventually we had this little blob of butter the teacher rinsed in a bowl in the classroom sink, added some salt, and we all had a slice of storebaked french bread with fresh butter. I remember it tasting very good.

Then this week there was an article in Mother Earth News on butter making and the history of cultured vs sweet butter, and then last but not least the book "Self Sufficient Life and how to live it" I have from the library had a great writup on how to make it as well.

Being that the sun has hardly peeked out in about a month now, (this is the coldest, gloomiest "June Gloom" I have ever seen) I have been massivly bored and out of sorts. I needed to mix it up, so domething new, something interesting, something indulgent! Thats when it hit me. Butter! I have been using quite a bit of it latly trying to perfect my old fashoned butter pound cake skills, but thats another post in and of itself.

Ok, so I set out to make butter. Being that I have no pasture, no happy jersey cows and no butter churn I had to improvise in my urban setting:

Trader Joes Heavy whipping cream. This stuff claim to awesomeness is that its not ultrapasterized- that is, its fat molecules arent zapped to kingdom come. At only $2.50 for 16oz, it was more affordable then $16 for 16 oz of organic raw cream from the organic pastures dairy which is the only raw dairy thats to be found anywhere around here.

Kitchen Aid Artisan Mixer: my choices for churning the butter were the blender, the food processor, the mixer, or good old arm power with a jar. Being that I'm dealing with 2 small kids I dont have 2 hours to shake a jar, plus then my arms would be hurting so much I wouldnt have the strength to work the butter afterwards. The mixer was a Christmas present, and I am somewhat obsessed at the moment with figuring more uses for it then just the million attatchments.

Ok, so I skipped the culturing part since I forgot to buy cultured buttermilk to 'ripen' the cream. Next time I'm out I'll get some to experiment with my other pint of cream, for right now I just wanted to see how the process worked. I was also impatient and didnt let the cream warm to room temp or anything. I just pulled it out of the fridge, poured it in, and turned the mixer on as if to make whipped cream.

So here we start with that looks like standard, fluffy whipped cream. I let it go for about 5 minutes more...

Now we have a very stiff cream that looks almost like whipped butter. The flavor has also changed from being very bland cream (usuall I add sugar when making whipped cream) to a slightly "buttery" taste. a couple of minutes more, and it is actually starting to look grainy and theres a bit of liquid starting to seperate...

Another min or so and Suddenly its like the whole thing collapses, blink and you'd miss it, now you have little butter clumps and liquid buttermilk

Pour off this liquid and save it, voila, real (uncultured) fresh buttermilk. I'm planning on making bread with it tonight.

Cool thing with using the mixer is it made pouring the buttermilk off fairly easy, most of the butter was trapped in the whip. I used a plastic paddle from my rice cooker to mold the rest of the butter in the bowl into a ball.

At this point I tried to add clean water and let the mixer do the work of 'washing' the buttermilk, oh boy, bad idea, water sloshed everywhere, not even the bowl shield thing helped. Luckily the butter stayed in the bowl. So now its hand/paddle action time. Add cool water, press and fold butter over, twist a bit, repeat. See the buttermilk washing out into the water?

Pour water off, add fresh water, repeat. It only took me 3 times before the water looked fairly clear. Then just in case I did one more time.

Pour this off and now I'm using the paddle to try and press water out of it. I also added some salt to it. I'm not sure if I overworked the butter or something, but it got "greasy" (to quote matronofhusbandry). Mother earth news article mentioned something about not spreading the butter too much against the bowl or the butter can get "oily". Ok, I guess I did that. It was like soft margerine. Pour water off.

Then I pressed it all into a small blue glass creme brulee bowl and smoothed the top. Pretty! Then licked the paddle, mmmmmm buttery!

16 ounces of cream yielded oh, 3/4 of a cup of butter? and 6 oz of buttermilk

It was a fun experiment. I like the taste of this sweet, yet lightly salted butter. Covered in plastic wrap ( so it doesnt absorb any weird flavors) and set it in the fridge to harden.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Great time Blueberry Picking!

We had a great time berry picking yesterday at the Temecula Berry Co. The cool cloudy weather was pleasant to be outdoors with the kids. Each kids got a cute plastic pail to fill with berries and we adults got pitchers with the # of pints clearly marked on them. One of the owners even greeted us and was nice enough to show us ( and the kids) how to pick berries and choose the biggest, sweetest ones.

It was alot of fun just wandering around rows of bushes you could smell the berries on. So many clusters of deep blue berries, but theres ripe berries then theres RIPE berries, the ones that fall off in your hand ( or the ground) with the slightest touch. Even if its a deep blue, if it doesnt come off with a tiny bit of a pinch/tug motion it needs a few more days to reach its prime. They were still all very tasty to each, some a teeny bit tart from not hittest their sweetest yet and some berries so heavenly theres no way I could each store bought berries again without remembering their sweet sun warmed flavour.

After an hour or so of stuffing ourselves silly with berries ( and alas, the pitchers were full) we paid for our 8 pints of berries @ $5 each, they carefully poured them into the traditional plastic berry box complete with their logo, which made stacking them between layers of ice in the cooler for the trip home really simple. If only I had more cash I would have bought more.

Visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder

Small slideshow of the photos I took while I was there. Sadly you are not allowed to take any pictures inside the house, but the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook has lots of great photos. :)

My Summer Homestead-related Reading List

I stopped by the library the other day to find some good "book learning" materials. I devoured the new issue of Mother Earth News the night after I got it. Another Fantastic issue! I have fallen into a new addiction latly: reading to fall asleep. For some reason reading a good cookbook or 'how to' book is oddly relaxing at the end of the day as it takes my mind off all my stress and worries, plus it seems to set in my brain better then as I'm sleeping. ( I learned that in college, if I study then sleep I remember it better).

I just finished The $64 Dollar Tomato and loved it! It was witty, it had some interesting food for thought ( no pun intended) and the issues the author goes thru with deer, squireels, Superchuck, purslane and crazy gardeners brought a smile to my face and many funny memories of our own experiences in trying to start our garden(s). I too have often had moments where I've wondered if all the headache and expenses of a garden really justify the sometimes meager harvest- and it so totally does. I think its a nice break from the usual gardening book, kinda like reading a blog!

Right now I am reading Fresh Food from Small Spaces. Its a very new book, just published last year, and so far I am enjoying the info so far. I'm glad theres finally a book for "us" city dwellers trying to work with very tiny areas and limited resources. It has lots of info on making healthy food not necessarily raised by us, such as yogurt, kefir, sprouts and kimchi. Us city dwellers cant grow alot, but its nice to take store bought ingrediants and increasing their nutritional value. Since all of those things are on my "works in progress" list it really makes me feel like the book was written just for me :) I can't wait to get to the chapter on using reflected light to help grow things, since I do have some light reflected off my glass doors back out onto the balcony. Theres even step by step instructions for building a SWC with rubbermaid bins, that made me laugh out loud, apparently I'm ahead of the trends again! Theres also a nice list of "Apartment Garden" friendly plants, one of which is bush beans which I hadnt considered growing here- but the author says they produce well even in partial shade as long as the weather is warm, so I may give them a shot as an experiment, once this stupid cloudy weather clears out. This is one book I am adding to my wish list on Amazon that I'd actually love to own.

The three "cookbooks" are for reference as I start canning & jamming again, I've already read Nourishing Traditions & Stocking up but havent had the extra funds to buy them just yet. I'm on the search for a good Kimchi recipe, and I'd like to try making it with Swiss Chard like Anais Dervaes did. The Preserving without Sugar looked interesting as I hoped it meant not relying on commercial pectin as well- unfortunatly its recipes still rely on pectin as well as glycerine for thicking- yuck?

Last but not lease Self Sufficient Life and the Goat book just looked really interesting on the shelf so I grabbed them. :)

Powdery Mildew Woes

This crappy cloudy June gloom really isn't helping my balcony gardening attempt at all. As if sunshine wasn't already in short supply! I haven't seen the sun out shining solidly for more then 15 minutes in almost 2 weeks. Theres just all these broken up little thunderstorm clouds that keep blocking out the sun and occasionally looking very dark and threatening us with thunder/rain a couple of times a day. Its very bizarre for this area. Usually we just get some "June Gloom" which is a marine fog in the mornings that burns off by the afternoon, but theres usually no actual rain involved.

I think the high humidity, stormy weather and unseasonably cool ( 68-70ish) weather has jump started powdery mildew on my chard plants. It started on the bright lights chard, so I moved them off the balcony completely and set it inside next to the glass door for light- but today I went to check on my 'Fordhook Giant' chard that was growing wonderfully in its windowbox and saw some of the leaves looking "droopy". To my sadness and horror all the leaves have faint spots all over of telltale powdery mildew fuzz. Argh! I tried to trim off as many of the larger leaves with spots as I could, the newest leaves int he center of the clumps don't seem to have any-yet. Unfortunately as careful as I was trying to be when I was cutting off the outer leaves I could see 'puffs' of white dust coming off the leaves. boo! Now I'll need to play around with either a diluted milk spray or a baking soda spray, I'm trying to avoid the neem oil as my tomato plant really needs the help of every bee that happens to find it, I don't want to risk spraying anything that could hurt the bees.

I've never dealt with PM on my chard before, last year when I had that crazy double planted 15 foot row packed with chard it didn't show any signs of it until the humid dog days of August and the squash & cucumber were infected. First crazy weather and now crazy plant issues. I'm still kinda stumped where the spores came from, I suppose they were carried here by wind but my balcony isn't all that windy either. I really hope this strain of PM doesn't start up on anything else.

I'm really disappointed by the 'Bright Lights' chard, its go gorgeous looking and I keep hearing it does very well in containers, but for me its been very wimpy with tiny leaves, not much color, and not the hotbed of the PM infestation. Earlier this spring I bought a few at the garden center for my container gardening presentation and as soon as the weather was over 70 it bolted, in March. Ford Hook giant dealt with a scorching 120 degree summer and never bolted, I finally ripped it out because I was sick of it. If I had known we were moving and all I would have canned and frozen all of it! I wish I could get some of that beautifully colored chard growing nicely because its so pretty, but I think I'll just stick to my favorite 'Fordhook Giant' chard for now on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Canning season has begun....

Tomorrow we're planning (barring any children related issues) to drive down to Temecula and pick blueberries. I'm still somehow astounded that somewhere as hot and dry as Temecula can grow blueberries, let alone support a farm of them, but talking to people who have been there its apparently a very nice u-pick destination for families. $5 a pint for fresh picked blueberries. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I'm bringing a cooler of ice and a lot of zip lock bags to partially fill with berries then chill on the drive back- and make jam & syrup.

June is Cherry season in most of SoCal, but sadly the odd weather we had in early spring ruined the blossom set ( hot, then freezing cold, then hot again) and what little fruit the trees had is splitting with this week's crazy not-normal-for-this-climate thunderstorms. We usually drive out to Beaumont or Cherry Valley to pick cherries, and one by one each has posted on their websites that they are closed for u-picking this year. I checked out www.pickyourown.org to see what other local farms there are- and saw theres another whole cluster of fruit farms in Leonna Valley, about an hour north of Los Angeles and about a 90 minute drive for us via the 15 & Pearblossom Highway. Yvonne sent me the link for a huge cherry orchard there, Villa Del Sol (www.upickcherries.com) and WOW, 25 acres of cherries, and they are open for picking starting tomorrow. I am hoping we can go up and check it out on Sunday, get a few pounds and check the place out, and if its really awesome go back next weekend and get the "jam batch", 20 pounds or so.

Depending on how much blueberries we get Sat I dont want to have too much fruit sitting around in my fridge and kitchen waiting to be canned. I prefer to focus on one fruit's products at a time if possible, so its as fresh as can be from the farm to the jars quick as I can well, can. This year I wanted to try my hand at canning some pie filling as well as my usual jam, and I like to freeze a good 2 gallon bag worth as well of everything for "fresh" use later on.

Then in july comes peaches and nectarines....oh yummy! *drools*

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Garden Humor: Lawns & God

GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, Withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds.

I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass Growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will Grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and Saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in The spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and Protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to Enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great Piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the Winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy Something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in Place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us Tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: "Dumb and Dumber," Lord. It's a real stupid movie about -

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Humor: Italian Tomato Garden

An old Italian lived alone in New Jersey . He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work as the ground was hard.

His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over.. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.
Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you,