Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

I love the new year!  I also love the beginning of Spring and Fall, all for the same reason. Each feels like a time for change. Much more palatable than the change into Summer and Winter that we experience here on California's Central Coast.  Each of these beginnings gives me sort of "Spring fever"in which I want to make big plans for the upcoming season, clean out closets and files old things that are holding me back or slowing me down, and I want to do more of the things that I feel in my heart, but haven't quite translated into action yet.  It's huge, I know. John recently noted that I am "all over the place..." Not as a bad thing, but as a "maybe you don't need to do more right now..." suggestion.  He's much more practical that I. When I asked what his New Year's resolutions were, he asked why you need to make them for the new year. Why not just do it whenever. See how he is? 

I also believe in putting things out there. I don't think that our hopes and wishes can always come true, just because we think them.  Actual work is obviously needed, but I think that saying or writing it to get it flowing is also important. The more I do this, the more things have been coming to me, so here goes....

My list of goals and resolves for the year 2012

 1. get more organized and get rid of excess crap. I don't have a lot to do here, but being disorganized is one of my least favorite things! (look for a blog about this, SOON!)  Being disorganized leads to a lot of wasted time AND money. Both of which could be better spent.

2.  eat more of what we grow. Here's a confession. I grow a lot of stuff. Likely enough to feed my family of 4. But we don't always eat it. I end up feeding a lot of it to the animals. Good for them, not for me.Sadly, though, I can't grow beer, bread or cheese, which are big expenses at our place. I resolve to plan meals around what we CAN grow (or make from what we grow), grow more of it, and greatly reduce the foods that we have to buy at the store. In this same line, I will only be buying what we do need from truly LOCAL store and farmers markets.  (if you see me in Safeway or Nob Hill, give me a swift kick!!)
I look forward to blogging about the foods that are easily grown right here, seasonal menus as well as cost comparison and sources.

3.  by following resolve #2, I resolve to lose the extra 30 pounds I tote around and have more energy to spend on other ventures!  look better, feel better, do better!  I wish I was one of the bad ass bloggers I admire, and could have a perfectly frank blog, detailing every step of weight loss as I do it...but I don't think so.

4.  Enjoy more.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard myself say, "I can't, I have too much to do..." I'd have a down payment for the house we want to buy!  I resolve to spend more time enjoying life, relaxing with friends and family, and wandering around, planning life with John.

5.  Put my business out there more! New classes, selling plants, animals and food, more instructional/inspirational blogs, etc...

6, 7, 8.  Get married. Buy a farm of our own. Become parents together.  All very complicated stuff, squeezed into the simplest of words.  I think all 3 can happen within the year. I know one of them will. :-)

What kind of person makes a list of 8 things??? I don't know, but that's what I got, for now.

Happy 2012 to all. May your year be bright and full of all good things. 

Erica at Northwest Edible Life said it best..."May you always have more than you need and want all that you have, may your vegetables ever outgrow your weeds, may your chickens lay daily and rarely molt, may your Felcos always stay sharp and never get lost in the rain, may cabbage worms never find your garden and earthworms never miss it, and may your peppers and tomatoes always ripen. Even in Seattle."

Monday, December 12, 2011


My favorite thing about living and working on the farm, is how much more connected I feel to the earth. It was thrilling for me to watch the first blossoms of Spring on my new apple trees, the birth of the goats, all the chicks that hatched, and the day I felt the air change completely, as Fall blew in.

The latest thrill has been seeing our turkeys through an entire cycle.  Something I never imagined I would do.

Last April, I bought five 8 week old turkey poults.  They were a mix of Bourbon Red and Midget White, heritage breeds.  According to Mother Earth magazine, these breeds rank #1 and #2 in taste tests, and they were hatched locally, so I was all in!
They were adorable!

I read that turkeys will imprint on you the way geese do, and they did. Every time I went into the coop, they would fight to be the first to jump up on my shoulder or head. Sometimes I would end up with one on each shoulder and a third on my head. The kids got a huge kick out of it!  And I hardly minded the time I was standing in line at the grocery store and noticed foot print shaped poop smears on my shoulder and chest!

By the time they got to weighing about 10 pounds, I was over it. Their claws were getting big and they liked to peck at every shiny thing, like my teeth, eyes, hair.  And then they started to be downright ugly! It was about this time that they made the local paper for the first time.  Then I started to be able to tell the Toms from the Hens.  See, the Toms have more red skin on their faces and heads.  I had three of the former, and 2 of the latter, which was perfect!  One each for Thanksgiving and Christmas, then 2 Hens and a Tom for breeding.

With the kid's Farm Programs that I run, I'm always a tiny bit nervous when I tell the little ones that some of our animals will be food.  I am determined not to lie about it or sugar coat it for them, but at the same time I want them to learn that it's a vital part of the circle of life.  So far, even the vegetarian kids have accepted my explanations on the subject!  They have learned why the boys become food and the girls become pets. (yes, I will admit it, they have become my pets!).

By August, I found myself explaining why the turkeys were "walking on each others backs". One of the kids guessed that it was a massage, and their backs must hurt. Um, ok, kid, no.  I told them that this is how they make babies. They squealed with excitement!! "we're gonna have babies?" "will I be here?" "I'm gonna tell my mommy I need to come every day so I can see!" "can we hold them?"

Now, since this was my first go round with turkeys, I had to depend on the information found on the information super highway (as my little brother calls it).  I read that turkeys are too young to be mating at 4 months and that my hens wouldn't start laying until Spring 2012.  So we just went about learning all we could about turkeys...like, that there would be no babies until Spring Camp. And that the fleshy, bulbous bumps on their face and chin are caruncles.  We also learned that the snood (the fleshy thing that hangs down over the Tom's beak) gets longer and shorter depending on, uh, what's happening at the moment. Once, we were feeding them grass and one of the Toms gobbled down a bite AND his snood! He started choking and I was forced to give him CPR, pulling the snood out of his throat.  I was an instant hero! I have learned that the boys are not so smart and lack personality, while the girls are sweet, even loving.

In September the hens started being really friendly and seemed almost attached to me. I think we have a connection. I may need to get out more often. I could let them out to free range and they would come back when I called them. They liked to sit on my lap and be petted and would even take a snooze there, in spite of the rambunctious kids around them.  And then. Then they started laying eggs. Lots of eggs. I slipped them into the cartons that I sell to friends and neighbors. We ate them. (they taste the same, but are bigger and have an incredibly hard shell).  And then in November one of the hens started sitting. Sporadically at first, but then she wouldn't get off the nest unless I brought in oat hay.

Her sister soon joined her...about then, they made the paper again! At first they had 22 eggs under them. By the time I checked last week, they were up to 33.  I candled 3 and saw that there were chicks growing in there!  I won't lie, I have been more excited than the kids, and the kids were pretty excited.

We went into Thanksgiving week with the kids fully prepared for the fact that one of the Toms wouldn't be there when they got back.  And they were really ok with it. Even explained it to their parents, very matter of factly.  On Thanksgiving day, John and I spent the day harvesting 5 roosters and our Thanksgiving turkey. (My kids were with their dad, so we celebrated the Sunday after.) I have no pictures of this. The harvest. It was really solemn and I felt like it would be disrespectful to show pictures of it.. We barely spoke at all. We just did the job. I found myself talking to myself, to the birds, under my breath, the whole time. John handled the killing part (traffic cone turned kill cone and a knife to the jugular) and I gutted ( I wish my hands were smaller). We plucked together. (awww, how sweet). When we got to the turkey, the job became a whole lot harder, He was heavy. His wings were strong and he wasn't friendly and tame like the hens (for this, I'm grateful).  I had watched many videos to find the fastest, most humane way to do this.  The best way involved hanging the bird by the feet, weighting it's head, then cutting the jugular. Nice and neat in every video I saw...but our weight broke, and he started flapping hard enough to give a black eye. I ended up holding his head, talking to him (not that I think that mattered to him, but it made me feel better to say sorry and thank you) until he stopped moving. I'm pretty sure those blood stains will never come out of my jeans and I'm ok with that. 
We let the turkey sit, overnight, in a cooler full of cold water and ice. Then I mixed up Dog Island Farm's kick ass brine recipe and let it sit in that for a whole day, followed by a day of "rest" in the fridge. On Sunday we enjoyed THIS...

I have no words for how great it was. 20 pounds of great.

Meanwhile, I read that 25 days was the incubation time for the eggs the hens were sitting on. That would have put us at the middle of last week. I harassed the hens three times a day, feeling under them for chicks. (did you know hens can hiss???? They do. trust me). Nothing!

Then on Saturday, John and I did something we never do. Ever. We went to a Christmas party at the Chaminade Resort and spent the night. Farmer Pam became Party Pam! Shocking, I know. 

And, when we got home in the morning my first stop was the turkey pen. Where I heard PEEPING coming from under the Mommies!  They didn't want me to look, so I left them alone. It got pretty cold last night, but it seemed toasty warm under them, and I am really trying to let nature take it's course, so....
Today I couldn't stand it anymore. I couldn't hear the peeping anymore and didn't want all their work to be for nothing. So, with Marielle, the brave 5 year old, in tow, I headed to the coop to assess.  We were nervous. She wouldn't even come in at first, but soon was cooing and petting the hens with me, hoping that they would remember all the lap naps we gave them, rather than freak out and kill us!  I felt around under them and felt something...I pulled out this half hatched baby....

That's when I decided to pull all the eggs and put them in the incubator.  In one of the grabs, I felt downy feathers and heard peeping again.  I wish I had a picture of the look on little Marielle's face when I pulled this out of the nest we built together a month ago... (This picture was taken as the chick snuggled under my shirt, trying to get warm). 

And, so, as I type this, I have this little baby in my shirt and at least 7 peeping in the incubator.

May the circle be unbroken.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Getting Back to Normal, 10 Years Later

This sign hung on the fence where the towers once stood

It's September 11th, 2011.  Ten years ago we, as a country, were under attack.  When it started, we didn't know who or why or what the end result would be.  On that day, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. This number doesn't include the hijackers, the heart attack sufferers, the miscarried or those who have died since, as a result of injuries or toxic dust that they encountered that day. 

 On this day, I am relieved to have cancelled my cable. I don't think I could stand the constant barrage of images and recounted stories that I have seen all over the internet for the past week. Please don't misunderstand, my heart breaks and my throat closes every time I see those images and hear the stories of people who were there and/or lost friends and family as a result of the attacks.  Like most everyone else in the world, my tv was on nonstop for days, trying to see and understand what was happening.  I was at Ground Zero (where I took these photos) on the 5th anniversary of the attacks and cried for 24 hours straight as I walked the streets, meeting people, touching pieces of history.  The reading of the names has never left my mind.  September 11th, 2001 is something that none of us are ever going to be able to forget.  Even without the week long, sensationalized recounting by the media, the candle light vigils and the t shirts.


We will never forget.

St Paul's Chapel cemetery

 Today everyone takes a break from hating on the gays, arresting the raw milk farmers, and trying to eliminate the rights of any group with different ideas, hopes and values.  Wouldn't it be nice if if every day could be like this, without thousands of people dying?  I feel that the best way to honor those lost on that day, is to get along, have perspective, and compassion, be good to one another, like we were in the days that followed.  I am spending my weekend with my community, sharing ideas and work.  Hopefully building bridges, rather than digging moats.

A few days after September 11th, 2001, I wrote a letter, that was published in our local paper, expressing my feelings.  All around me there was so much hate and fear and paranoia, but I was feeling something very different.  Yesterday I thought of this piece and decided to dust it off and print it here, as my own tribute to 9-11.

 Getting Back To Normal
Everywhere I turn, these days, I hear someone saying, "We just need to get back to normal, go about your everyday business. That's the best thing we can do right now..."  I beg to differ.  In fact, I beg you all to never go back to what we called "normal" before Sept. 11th.

A homeless NY man
I have long been depressed by what I saw as "Ugly Americanism"; capitalism gone to the extreme.  Humans passing each other on the streets without so much as a glance in the direction of their fellow travelers.  So many people in such a hurry to achieve, that they spend increasingly less time with their families, and have no friends outside of work. And they don't seem to care.  Above all, they don't seem to care.

There are horrible things happening to people and lands all over the world, but America isn't quick to act if our own financial interests aren't involved.  Here, at home, those who "have" look down on and rarely even perceive as human those who have not been so fortunate. For decades this has been what's passed as normal.  I've always been ashamed of my country's self serving attitudes here and abroad. I had lost all hope that there were still enough good, decent, caring people left to allow us to survive as the human race.  We are torn apart by everything from race to religion, abortion rights to same sex marriage, breastfeeding to education.  Until two weeks ago, we had become a nation divided by issues that we can now consider unimportant. Now we are worried about whether or not our children will be exposed to nuclear holocaust or germ warfare.  And, if they're spared, will they be drafted to fight in a war against fanaticism? 

I have been fortunate enough, since September 11th, to see that there are indeed enough good people left.

They are all around us if we take the time to notice.  Please, take the time to notice.  Say hello to strangers and teach your children that it's ok. Walk around your neighborhood.  Offer to help someone that you may see as undeserving.  Blow bubbles with your children and fill them with wishes. Dance in the rain and celebrate the ability to do so.  Bask in the glory that is freedom because, as I have come to realize, freedom is what America is all about.  The flag has a new meaning to me, one that I will never again take for granted. 

We are free.  Free to make changes for the better. Please do. Never forget this moment in time and please, don't ever get back to normal.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend Review

This is my latest obsession (besides the curry zucchini soup), Sassy water.  I first heard of it over at Sprout 'n' Wings Farm, where Michaele raved about it. The original version includes lemon and cucumber slices, mint and grated ginger. I leave out the mint and use extra ginger. This recipe has taken me from someone who could go all day without drinking any water (bad) to someone who is craving it and drinking a quart and a half a day! (good)  You gotta try it!

In the greenhouse I have PEPPERS! Total fail last year, so this year I have left them in there for the whole growing season and am getting a good crop of jalepenos and red bells. Yay!

The pumpkins are starting to turn orange! My biggest producing vine, so far, is this one that volunteered under my orange tree! Isn't that always the case. The volunteers, they just know when it's time.  The Marina di Chioggias are catching up quickly, though! (that's them creeping all around the sunflowers below)

And what's this? That's right, Valencia Melons!!! I count 5 so far and my other heirloom melons have lots of flowers on them. This is the most exciting thing EVER!

Big red cabbage, all stripped down and ready to be part of dinner tomorrow. This is about the size of a kid's head!  Feed me Seymour!

The sunflowers are booming!  This doesn't look spectacular here, but it is about 10 x 5 feet of pumpkins and sunflowers. Next year, bigger!

I know I write about my beloved Pink Pearl Apple tree all the time, but come on! This tree was just planted in the Spring and look at all those apples! Note the beehive in the background? I swear by the bees for upping production around here!

And look at that gorgeous pink flesh!! (The apple's, not mine)

  This little piggy is getting HUGE! I keep looking at the crate we brought her home and and she has easily doubled in size

And my Polish rooster, Elvis Jr, made a huge drop in the food chain this week when he attacked me while I was changing his water.
Elvis, it's what for dinner!

One of the artichokes pitched into the compost bloomed. So pretty!

And the Tomatillos are in! Time for John's famous salsa!

The artichokes are super happy here!
  They live near the Richmond Green Apple and Japanese cucumbers.

Seed saving...

The Black Copper Marans are laying like crazy. Such beautiful eggs and they are getting bigger and darker every day!
 The three Ancona ducklings I hatched are big now. And, I am 99% sure that I have 1 male and 2 females!  So exciting, since they are endangered.

While it seems 3 of my 7 Mille Fleur Leghorns are roosters! Boo!

I love the bees!  Look at them, so hard at work!
And my fall crops are ready to leave the greenhouse!

How does your garden grow?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Zucchini Season-they're taking over

It's high zucchini season around here. The time when you step away from the garden for a day and come back to find this  

I've been diligent in using these Cocozelle Heirlooms. We've had them steamed, sauteed, in a creamy parmesan soup, as fritters, in a layered casserole with onions, in chocolate chip cookies, bread, as chips...I AM the Bubba Gump of zucchini!  But I grow weary, so I went in search of some new and exciting recipes to make use of today's bounty. What I found and made was so awesome, I had to share...

First I tried my hand at hummus, which I've never made before. Jeez, I've never even used our food processor because I have an irrational fear of it. But today I am brave. And hungry. And working on a very limited grocery budget, since Farm Camp ended.  Most of the recipes I found involved tahini, which I don't have, so I improvised with sunflower seeds.  It's lemony and garlicky! Mmmmm  (disregard the curry in the photo-it was there for the next recipe...)

  • 2 cups peeled zucchini, chopped
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 lemon, juice of
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • Cayenne to taste

Blend all of the ingredients in food processor or blender. It doesn't get much easier than that!
Next I found a recipe for Curried Zucchini soup and made a few adjustments based on my taste and the reviews I read (which said it was too thin-so I added potatoes).  It's cheap, filling, exotic and super low cal. Not to mention good for you! And it is OH SO GOOD. I put some in former jam jars and froze them for lunches in the next few weeks.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 tsp curry powder (very mild with this amount, I'll add more next time)
  • sea salt to taste
  • 4 small zucchini, (or in my case, one huge) halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch slices
  • 3 carrots, chopped to 1inch slices
  • 3 potatoes, chopped  1inch slices
  • 1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable)
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Stir in the onion, and season with curry powder and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender. Stir in zucchini, and cook until tender. Pour in the chicken stock, add carrots and potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until everything is softened.
  2. Remove soup from heat.  Use a hand blender, or transfer in batches to a blender, and blend until almost smooth. (if you use a blender, LET COOL before blending or the lid will blow off and leave you with a big mess or worse!) 

Environmental Literacy-it's not just for Hippies!

Our kids are over-scheduled and over-connected with all the current technology available. No Child Left Behind has (in my opinion) caused more problems than it was ever meant to correct. Schools are now so test score driven, that there is no room for the things that are needed to grow well rounded, thinking children.  Sunshine, fresh air, a sense of themselves and their place in the world, these are crucial, but lacking from our public schools.  It used to be that these things were available outside of school. We spent our afternoons, weekends and Summers outside, making our own adventures. We didn't have video games or cell phones.  We had to think of ways to entertain ourselves and, guess what, we DID!  We learned how to think, and solve problems, not just to pass tests. We had art classes and shop classes, cooking and sewing, even auto repair class!  We could go out for any number of sports teams, we had marching bands and could choose from a variety of instruments to learn. And we got to choose from 3 languages to learn, beginning in 7th grade. All during school hours. The same number of hours that our kids are in school now. Is this new math?

I came across this article and feel so relieved to see someone else feeling the way I do.

The authors of The Failure of Enviromental Education write, "The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, with its focus on standardized tests, leaves little time for history, civics, art, literature and other courses that can shape responsible, involved citizens and teach them common sense, Saylan and Blumstein contend. So far, schools have failed “to provide what is necessary to turn the tide of environmental deterioration.”


I started my educational farm because I saw a need for kids to spend time outdoors, climbing trees, caring for animals. We plant and harvest and cook and bake. We make art and play hide and seek. We all sit down and eat a picnic lunch together. And, by doing so, we learn to communicate, to have social skills, compassion and conversation. To be responsible and self sufficient. We even figure out how to "pump" ourselves on the big tree swing and think of the best hiding places. I think these life skills are the building blocks of a good human.  And isn't that what we all hope to contribute to this world? As a parent who can't afford to send my kids off to private school, where they could get more of these experiences, it becomes my responsibility to fill in the gaps and help my children to be enriched with a well rounded education.

What are you doing to enhance your kid's public school education? If you decided to give up on the system and home school, at what point did you round that corner? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.