Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weekend Review

Two beautiful cabbages ready for this weeks menu!

 This is possibly the cutest vegetable I have ever seen!!  Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber. It should get about the size of a thumb nail when full grown. (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds).  
Reminds me of Gulliver's Travels!

This is my Pink Pearl Apple Tree...developed in 1944 by a Nor Cal breeder. If you haven't seen them before, Google images. The flesh is pink and when cut in half they are heart shaped. What's not to love?? I wholeheartedly recommend this
one for the coastal Santa Cruz area! Planted in April of this year, I counted 20 apples on it today!  Dave Wilson Nursery carries them and you should be able to order from your local nursery.

A very hopeful sign...3 flowers on one of my Valencia Melons!!! 

Olivia is hungry. Olivia is ALWAYS hungry! And so damn cute. When I say her name she starts oinking and comes running to see what I have for her.

This weekend I have lots of broccoli, lettuces, and cabbage. I found out that pigs (this one at least) don't like radicchio!  Me either, way too bitter. When I gave it to her she took it over and dropped it in her poop corner. really. I tried a bite and have to agree, again. 

I asked the farmer across the road if we could have his field scraps and he was soooo awesome to say yes! He had 6 boxes full dropped at our gate!  The animals were in veggie heaven.  Olivia LOVES broccoli!  I love to watch her eat. The whole time I am thinking, "if you give a pig some broccoli..."

After dismal results with peppers last year, I decided it doesn't get hot enough here. So this year I am leaving them in containers in the greenhouse and it seems to be working, huh?

Same with basil...HELLO future pesto!!! I heart you!

 And this is the secret life of squash. I think it's called Honey Bear. It is producing like crazy!!! I got it at the Cabrillo College plant sale. It will be for stuffed and souped for Fall and Winter dinners. Mmmm.

Cheddar Cauliflower. I love the way it looks but am ALWAYS disappointed that it doesn't have a cheesy flavor! Duh!  I planted just a couple of them because they take up so much room for the yield, but it's really satisfying when you get a beauty like this. Even if for only one meal.

These are the Cocozelle Squash
that I harvested today. I have gotten at least 2 every day this week. I give them to everyone who stops by.  This is another plant I highly recommend for our area. The plants get about 3 feet across. I planted 2 of them and got 16 squash this week. Great yield for small spaces. And how pretty are they???

And these are Baby Round Zucchini
All four of them came off of a plant that is no more than 18" wide!!! Amazing! You can see (compared to the eggs) that they are a nice size. I love them sauteed with a little butter, salt and pepper...

Ok, now I'm hungry!!  I hope your weekend was as fruitful as mine.

Friday, July 15, 2011

An analogy, of sorts

I have roosters. A bunch of roosters.

Near the end of winter, I started up a teeny, tiny micro hatchery (me, 2 styrofoam incubators and about 90 eggs at a time; MICRO).  I have some really nice laying hens and a beautiful French Blue Marans rooster.

I was especially interested in turning out some Olive Eggers
by mixing Sir (the rooster) with my Ameraucanas.
Sooo cool! The eggs are beautiful!

On average half of what I hatch will be roosters. I am not a fan of the cruel and wasteful grind and dump method used by commercial hatcheries, but one can only have so many roosters!  And, since I sell my chicks straight run, people who support my small farm will end up with roosters, which I feel kinda bad about.  So I hatched (pardon the pun) the plan that buyers should take 1 or 2 more that they want, then when the roosters begin to show themselves. I will take them back. It's working out well.  Except for all these roosters!

Part of my homesteading plan is to stop buying commercial meat (and anything else that I can grow myself).  I don't really eat much meat, mostly chicken and I know how bad it is (thanks, Food Inc. For real) but I keep buying it because the good, local and humanely raised birds are out of my budget. Lame.

But wait...what about all those beautiful roosters I have? My feed bill is INSANE. They move too fast to be counted, but I probably have 20 roos. Some I hatched, some were unusual breeds bought straight run (Dorkings and Black Copper Marans), all are wolfing down the feed and taking up coop space that I need for hens.  So I should eat them. I will eat them. I don't doubt that I can do the deed and know they will be delish. As Joel Salatin says, "They have had a great life on my farm and just one bad day..."

My bigger problem is that...well...they're so pretty! And not aggressive (yet). I hate to "waste" them.  So I keep placing ads to see if someone wants them for their beauty and mating potential, but no takers. So, having exhausted that possibility, and since the first batch has started crowing, I think it's time to make use of them.

In the 4+ years I ran my organizing business, I stressed to clients that if they didn't use something, no matter how pretty or valuable it was, it was really worthless, filling up precious space and often costing them money (by paying for storage). And now, look at me. Over roosters for crying out loud!

 I realized that it's like my favorite shoes...
 I LOVE these shoes! I have danced my ass off in them, strutted into a room with them, feeling like Cat Woman. They're cute and not torturously uncomfortable and....ahhhhhh.  But they have been sitting in a box in my too small closet for the past 2 years. I barely even go out anymore, much less get dressed up like a hooker to do so! So I put them in the get-rid-of box with all the other shoes that don't fit into my farm life. It's a big pile.  It leaves me with Converse, Crocs and Sloggers.  Not sexy.  I keep taking them out of the box! I just like to look at them. Try them on once in a while and feel sexy!  I bet Fred would like me in them.

Like the roosters, they are so pretty that I hate to waste them, just sitting in a box, hidden away, when someone should be using them.  I have pulled the shoes out of the Goodwill box one last time. I know I won't wear them, but They don't live in the closet anymore. 

The roosters time is near. Like my shoes, they will be much appreciated and admired.

William Morris said it best,

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Almost Sugar Free Jam for the Total Scaredy Cat Newbie

Yup. That's me. A huge scaredy cat newbie when it comes to canning. I did it last year, but was sweating bullets the whole time, worried that I would burn myself beyond recognition, make a shitty tasting product, or, worse yet, one that would fester on the shelves until I gave it to some unsuspecting friend and they dropped dead from food poisoning!   Since none of that happened last time, I decided to forge ahead with a new confidence this week! My goal was to make a sugar free jam. Lots of recipes call for artificial sweeteners or gelatin which I feel is worse, but after asking around the homesteading community (they know everything, collectively) I learned about Pomona's Pectin, made from citrus peel with no chemicals or artificial extras. I did use some suger, but compared to the 1:1 ratio usually called for, much, much'll see.

I went to Silva's Organic Apple Orchard in Watsonville. They are a long time apple orchard but also have the best Freestone and Yellow Peaches you can get. Right outside their back door, honor stand, tree ripe...I just love going there and have been doing so for years. This time, I met Mr Silva for the first time. So, of course, I proceeded to make a fool of myself by asking him how many pounds of peaches would equal 2 quarts (because that's what my recipe called for, why do they do that?). He, like me, is a farmer, not a mathematician, so he measured, with his hands, the size of a quart bottle to help give me an idea.  It was so sweet!  So I bought 10 pounds to be safe and rolled back to my street to buy strawberries at Crystal Bay Farm.  I love it there! First of all, it's within walking distance of my place, except that hauling back the berries poses a challenge and, quite honestly, I am lazy, so I drive.  This day they also had bunches of beets, carrots and some smooth skinned avocados.  I bought 25 pounds of strawberries and a bunch of the other stuff and headed home.

When it comes to canning, I have found that the preparation is the most difficult part. Kind of like dating. Well, unless it's a bad date, but that analogy holds true here too. The prep takes just as long whether the date, er, jam, is good or bad. Which is why I am always afraid of messing it up, wasting the time and fruit!

It is always nice, and actually fun to do this with someone else.  Good conversation and laughs ensue. My girls helped me a little.

Ok, if you have never canned before there are a few tools that you really do need. A canning pot with rack and canning tongs. I tried it last year without tongs, using our BBQ ones instead...stupid. They are not the right tool for the job and I was just lucky I didn't get hurt.  I also got a canning funnel this time. Much neater when filling the jars. You'll see why this matters later. DO NOT go all in and get the "canning set". Extra crap you don't need.

Before you start prepping the fruit, fill your steaming pot and start heating it up. You will be shocked at how long it takes to get that thing boiling, which is where it needs to be when you drop the jars in.

Get your fruit, wash it (organic is queen, I just rinse the dust off of it). With strawberries, don't submerse them as they collect water and it changes their quality.  For the peaches, I tried dunking them in boiling water then cold water to make the skins "just slip right off" like I read about. This worked for the smaller and riper ones, but not for all. If you do this it has to be for 4 minutes or so. I think in the future I won't bother because once you start cooking the fruit, it diminishes the good stuff. Just peel them.

Next, you need to cut the fruit up. I like my homemade stuff to look homemade. I like my jam chunky, and the whole time I am cutting it up I am humming this song.  Now you will be too!

My recipe called for 8 cups of berries. I kept track and can tell you that stemmed and chopped you will need 1/2 flat to make 8 cups (or 2 quarts).  Put the berries into a pot and start cooking them. I use a medium heat so that they don't burn on the bottom. I used 1 cup of sugar, I know you could use less, or honey or some other sweetener, but I'm a scaredy cat, remember?  Mix 4 tsp of the tan Pomona's Pectin powder into the sugar and stir it up.  Why? I tried just dumping the pectin into the berries and it clumps up like glue. You need for it to mix evenly around the pot, so even if you only use enough sugar to be a carrier, do it. Take the calcium powder and mix as directed. Add 4 tsp of calcium water to the pot, then the sugar/pectin mixture. Stir thoroughly often, until it comes to a boil. Let it cook 3-4 more minutes, then turn it off. A layer of foam will settle on top. This is normal, but you need to remove it. Just scoop it off with a spoon. Why? I wondered too...because foam is full of air. Air contaminates your product. The more air you leave in the jar, the shorter the shelf life. This is also why you only want to leave 1/4 inch head space on top. Feed the foam to the kids. They love it.

Now, you should have your 1/2 pint jars washed and ready. This recipe makes 10 jars. I take the jars with the tongs and dunk them into the steamer pot, which should be boiling by now. One at a time, then put them on a clean towel upside down to drain the water out. Take the lids and rings with your regular tongs, and dunk them too.Now everything is sterile and heated to a level that it won't shatter when it hits the boiling water.
Use your funnel to fill each jar to 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe the rims off with a damp cloth. If there is jam on the rim it will affect your seal, which could allow bacteria to get in. Put the lids on then screw the rims on to just tight. Not super tight. The boiling will take care of that.  Put the jars into the rack and submerse in boiling water pot. There should be at least 2 inches of water over them. Boil for 10 minutes, then remove and set on a towel. You should start hearing the lids popping shut. You can also check them to see that the little dome on top is flat, not bumped up. Then tighten the lids down the rest of the way and let cool.  While mine was cooling, I noticed that the chunkier parts were on top and jelling, but the liquid in the bottom was looser. So I turned the jars upside down to finish cooling and they mixed up perfectly!

I also made a yummy Peach Jam! It's a little looser and will be awesome for ice cream or in yogurt.  But it worked well on toast. So well that there was an empty jar in the table when I got up this morning!
Recipes below...

 This was a zero waste project!  Since I still had 1.5 flats left, I froze some

Made Strawberry/Peach Jam

And fed the scraps to Ginger and the pig,
who were both really, really happy.

 When John came home and saw this

He got a little tear because it reminded him of his grandma. Not in a creepy way.

Almost Sugar Free Strawberry Jam
1/2 flat strawberries
1 box Pomona's Pectin
1 cup sugar (or other sweetener, less will work too)
10 half pint jars

Prep and cook berries, add 4tsp calcium water, stir.
Mix 4 tsp pectin powder into sweetener, pour both into boiling berries and stir well. Bring to a 2nd boil.
Remove foam from top. Fill jars and put in can bath for 10 minutes.

Almost Sugar Free Peach Preserves
5 lbs peaches (measured when they are whole) this will make 8 lbs or 2 quarts when processed.
1/2 cup lemon juice (prevents discoloration from air)
1 cup sugar (or other sweetener)
1 box Pomonoa's Pectin
9 half pint jars

Prep fruit, cook until boiling, add 8tsp calcium water. 
Mix 6 tsp pectin powder into sweetener. Pour into fruit and bring to 2nd boil, stirring well for 3 minutes.
My peaches didn't form a foam, but if yours do, remove it.
Fill jars and can bath for 10 minutes.

I used this recipe for the strawberry peach jam. It made 10 half pint jars.

For lots of canning inspiration, check out Punk Domestics.  Their motto is "yes you can, can!"
And for tons of great tips for beginners, The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food, tells you how to preserve pretty much anything in your spare time!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Little Sunday Morning Religion

I think about luck a lot. Every day, really. I am in awe of and inspired by luck in the same way I am blown away by birth and growth and the whole cycle constantly going on around us.

Luck is defined as:
1. The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events; fortune
2. Good fortune or prosperity; success
3. One's personal fate or lot

My mom has always instilled in me how lucky we are. More lucky, she says, than most people. When she got divorced and was earning minimum wage with 3 kids to feed, we were lucky to live in the "Valley of the Hearts Delight" (aka Silicon Valley) where we could forage fruit and wild greens to eat.  When I got divorced, I was lucky to "get rid of that one" and lucky that my uncle's church had a food bank to help me feed my 4 kids until I got on my feet.  Mom insists that there is a finite amount of luck in store for each of us, so we have to look for it (like silver linings in clouds), never squander it, and always, always be grateful for our luck.  She never gambles because that would qualify as squandering her luck. :-)

I am not a religious person, at all (like my friend Cassie, my garden is my church), but I believe in miracles and think that they coexist with luck. I was lucky that Heidi chose me to be Farm Mama to Fred and Ginger. It was a miracle to be there AND have an excited audience for Ginger's birth.  The way she climbed into my lap to have the second kid still gives me chills. 

Ok, here's where I may start to sound a little crazy (unless that train has already left the station)...The third part of this is wishes. I really, truly believe that when I wish for things to be, my luck kicks in, a miracle happens and *POOF* my wish comes true.  Now, that's not to say that if I wish for a million dollars, the luck deities are going to drop it on me.  First of all, I wouldn't waste a wish like that. It's greedy and unrealistic. More like, after being single for 5 years, I wish for a kind hearted, honest, fun companion, then stop trying to find one. *POOF* John comes into my life.  With a willing partner (for the first time ever) I wish for a place that I could make my own and have the homesteading life I have always dreamed of.  *POOF* We find and create Peaceful Valley Farm, where little miracles happen every day! 

Most recently, I decided to become a full time Homesteader. As you can guess, there is no income scale for this, so I have been working to make this an educational farm which will support the work I love. Miracles and luck also require sacrifice, belief and hard work. You can't just sit back and wait for it.  I have been blessed by a group of people who come into my life in random ways. The landowner that trusted my vision for his property.  My former clients and friends who gave my farm camp a chance and told their friends about it. The sweet owners of,, and my brother, Jimmy who have been so supportive of this venture and help me to get the word out.  The man who buys eggs from me and decided to donate his farming books and equipment to me when he no longer needed them. The couple that sold us a pig and gave us the best dog ever.  The list goes on.... All of these people crossed my path in a stroke of luck.
This morning I am prompted to blurt this all out because I am in the process of getting a daycare license so that I can continue my program as an after school option in the Fall.  I woke up this morning after a restless night filled with anxiety ridden dreams.  I don't know if the licensing process will be done in time for the start of school. This is my only source of income. What if no one signs up...Oh anxiety!

Then I got an email from a kindergarten teacher at my kids elementary school.  I have long admired her work (she implemented the school garden and puts so much of her own time and money into making that experience happen for the kids) who I just found my program and is interested in collaborating. And, get this, she wonders if I have considered an after school program and she would like to help me get that out there if I want.

I am speechless.  Awed by my luck, once again!

Luck? Miracle? Good marketing? A wish come true? Yes.