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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bee Aware

We keep bees here on the farm. Well, we actually have someone who brought bees and leaves them here, giving us a smackerel of honey now and then. Why keep bees?  A lot of people don't realize that they are a vital part of our ecosystem, not just another pesky bug.  I have seen a dramatic difference in our crop production this year! I've got 20 apples on a first year tree, just planted in May. That's crazy!

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man" 
Albert Einstein

That's a pretty compelling reason, right? Of course, not everyone would agree with such a dramatic scenario, but bees are pretty darn important to our food supply, since they pollinate 70-90% of all the crops on this planet (I found varying numbers) and they are dying off FAST! Some statistics show that colonies worldwide have decreased by 80%!  If you take a minute to think about it, when we were kids, there were bees, butterflies, ladybugs, even Praying Mantis' all over the garden.  We didn't even think about it, they were just common. Now look around...what do you see? Not much.


There seem to be a number of reasons. Some reasons cited HERE are genetically modified seeds, herbicides/pesticides and cell phones! This research is really interesting and sad, I hope you'll take a moment to read the whole article, since I didn't want to butcher the information by relaying it. 

What I take away from this article is HOPE. 

With some effort, we can begin to reverse the damage done to the bee population.  You don't have to have a hive in your backyard to make a difference (although, it's a pretty cool thing!).  You can start by eliminating chemicals in your garden.  Consider planting plants that bees are attracted to. Plants that have been hybridized for the "modern" garden are often sterile, having no food source for the bees. Bees also need water.  In order to keep them from drowning, put some stones in a shallow dish and set it in the garden. They can sit on the stones and drink away, safely.  And, as always, encourage your kids to know more about bees and why they're so important to us!   

Here are some great bee facts taken from the Queen of the Sun website. (This movie will be showing at the Live Oak Grange in Santa Cruz, August 30th at 7pm.)

1. Honey bees have four wings, six legs, two compound eyes made of up many, many tiny lenses and three simple eyes on the top of the head that are light sensors.
2. Honeybees perform a waggle dance to communicate the location and the directions to distant food sources that are 100 yards to 2-3 miles from the hive.
3. In one trip honeybees visit 100-1500 blossoms to fill their honey crop, an organ separate from their digestive stomach that is used to transport nectar.
4. Forager bees, steadfast and committed to their task, make up to 30 trips a day. Using their long, straw-like proboscis they collect nectar from the wild flowers and herbs of meadows. As Johannes Wirz says in QUEEN OF THE SUN, “Bees are the golden thread from flower to flower, keeping the world in bloom.”
5. The honey bee’s wings beat at incredible speeds! About 200 beats per second, creating the their un-missable “buzz”. A bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour and can fly a total of up to six miles.
6. Bees were not only one of the first sources for sweetness, but also for light! Beeswax candles were used by humans to provide long-lasting light in the darkness. Secreted from glands of the bee’s abdomen, beeswax is used by the honeybee to build the honey comb in the beehive.
7. In their entire lifespan, a worker bee only produces 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of honey.

8. The beehive is a “super organism”. All of the bees work together as a single entity. A lone bee cannot live on it’s own outside of the hive for even 24 hours.
9. In winter bees live on stored honey and pollen and cluster into a ball to conserve warmth. Their “body” temperature in the hive is close to human body temperature, 95-97 degrees, regardless of the temperature outside of the hive.
10. Some big numbers to think about! In producing just one pound of honey, bees from the hive visit approximately one million flowers. The entire hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles. This is  equivalent to one and a half orbits around the earth just to collect one pound of glistening honey.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pen Pals

This morning, when I opened my mailbox, I was reminded of one of the great things we have lost to technology, letter writing.    I got this beautiful drawing and letter from one of my 3 year old Farm Campers. (Mommy transcribed for her)

It's full of love and excitement, telling me about the frog we found here and relocated to her pond at home.  There is something so special about holding a piece of paper, reading these words.It's just not the same as words written by computer or text.

When I was a girl, we lived in San Diego, while my grandma lived in San Jose. We had an ongoing correspondence from the time I started Kindergarten. She sent me pretty stationary to use, and I would excitedly wait for the mail every day. On birthdays and every little holiday, my letter would come with a package. It wasn't ever anything extravagant, but I lived for the outfits she sewed for me, using fabric scraps from other projects. When I came to visit in the Summer, my Mom would become my pen pal until I got back home.

When I was in school, I remember a time that our teacher assigned Pen Pals for us. They were kids our age, out of the country. They had committed to improving their English by exchanging letters with us. It was a lot of fun and we were able to learn so much about their culture and lifestyle.  It was a great experience.

Of course, now, we can jump on the information super highway and find out about any culture or land we'd like.  We're busy people and don't often get to see our friends or extended family, but we can communicate with them through Facebook, text messages and emails. It's all instantaneous and very effective. But is it the best? The only way?  Over the years that my kids have been in school, I've noticed a serious decline in the language arts expectations.  Penmanship doesn't count anymore. Teachers are even overlooking grammatical and spelling errors and grading work based on the idea and the fact that the work was done. I have been told that this is because most people now use computers to write, and have spell check, so the details of knowing how to spell don't matter once you have passed the level of 5th grade spelling tests.  Ouch. What about the love of the language?  The flow of the words?  Putting pen to paper?

Now, I'm no hypocrite. I adore the internet and all it offers. I use it many times a day, promoting my business, chatting with friends, doing research...but I also have a firm grasp on spelling (I never use spell check, so of course now there will be errors in this post) and sentence structure.  Even when I text I don't use fake words. It just feels wrong to me.  I worry that we have a whole generation of kids who don't know the basics of writing, the excitement of holding a pen and pouring out your ideas or thoughts to a friend or the anticipation of a response to the last letter you sent.  And I'm not the only one...
This from

"A considerable number of educators and children's advocates worry that James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, was right when he recently suggested that young Americans' electronic communication might be damaging "the basic unit of human thought -- the sentence."1 They are concerned that the quality of writing by young Americans is being degraded by their electronic communication, with its carefree spelling, lax punctuation and grammar, and its acronym shortcuts."

In the spirit of the "Slow" movement, I propose bringing Pen Pals back. Not Internet Pals, but the real thing. Have your kids write to grandparents, aunts, former teachers, friends.   A whole class could exchange letters with kids from another country or just another neighborhood.  An ongoing journal, between mother and child, will help to build writing skills and become a sweet memory book.  Let them dot their i with a heart and make big swirly letters.  Help them to learn to love writing and expressing themselves on paper. 
If we don't, who will?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Keeping it Real

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet."  ~Fran Lebowitz

Lunch used to be a simple affair.  Mom (or grandma) would call us in from playing, OUTSIDE, to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, glass of milk and apple. Period. There were no menu options and there was no complaining. (once, when I complained that I didn't want to eat my dinner salad, my grandma promptly poured the rest of the salad into my empty milk cup, put it in the fridge and it became my breakfast. We learned , quickly, not to complain about food!)
Once school started things changed very little. Mom was a fan of Adelle Davis, and we were sort of hippies, so I didn't even know about processed foods like Kraft cheese or Wonder bread.  We never drank soda or had candy, except the little bit of fruit shaped beauties in our Christmas stockings (which was SO special and still warms my heart to this day because my mom searched high and low to find them until I was in my 30's!).  Breakfast was usually oatmeal (the old fashioned way, big and chunky) because mom said we needed something to "stick to your ribs".  Some days she would make us a Tiger's Milk smoothie with banana to wash down our chewable vitamin C tabs (I always wished for Flintstone's).  Our school lunch was PB&J on whole wheat bread, usually homemade, an apple, and 2 cookies. Not 3. Not 4. TWO homemade cookies every time. We bought a carton of milk in the cafeteria to go with.

Every day, I watched my classmates blissfully eating bologna sandwiches on that fluffy Wonder bread, the perfectly wrapped Ding Dongs, or the creme filled Twinkies.  Rather than milk, they often had soda in their brown bags.

I'm not gonna lie. I resented my mom for making us eat healthy food. Didn't she know she was ruining my social life? Friends asked me, "why doesn't your mom buy real food?!"  I had no idea. I figured she just didn't care enough to throw down for the amazing bread that, "Helps build strong bodies 12 ways..." 

Nearly 20 years ago, when I became a mom, it all made sense to me.  As soon as I found out I was expecting, I gave up meat and bought organic produce.  When my son (and then 3 daughters over the next few years) started eating food, it was real food.  Not those scary little vegetables and hot dogs in jars. I took whatever we were eating and blended it until they were able to chew.  As a result, all 4 of my kids will eat most anything, have never had ear infections, rarely get the yucky colds that make the rounds at school, and are generally happy and healthy little (and not so little) humans.

During my Summer Farm Camps, I have been observing the kids and their lunches. What they like and how they treat their food.  I see the difference between the kid who thinks nothing of throwing pretzels at a friend, and the one who drops her PB&J tortilla in the grass, picks it up, brushes it off and eats it. The girl who lets out a happy giggle when she opens her bento box to find big fat strawberries, and the one who takes 2 bites of her sandwich, then throws it away, calling the rest "crust".  My favorite was the 5 year old who opened his lunch box, showed me the variety of whole and healthy foods inside and said, "see, I told you my mom was the best!"  

It makes me really sad to see kids lacking respect for their food. What it takes to grow, cook, and prepare it.  What it means to have enough money to buy it and spend the time packing it into that cute little lunch tote.  Even when I resented my earthy lunches, I knew how much it meant to be able to have it. That my mom wanted us to have the best she could offer and it was all packed up in that little brown bag, with love. 

As our kids start a new school year, I hope that we can find a way to help them appreciate good, healthy, natural foods. To appreciate having enough, and not wasting it.  And especially, to appreciate the person who packs their lunch, with love.

For lots of great lunchbox ideas, using real food, visit

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Virtual Tour

Erica at Northwest Edibles had the great idea to get a bunch of people to give virtual tours of our homesteads, farms and gardens.  It's called the Nosy Neighbor Virtual Tour.

I found myself with so many pictures that a blog post just wouldn't work so my tour is here in my Facebook photo album.  I didn't want to duplicate pics, so be sure to look at the other album to see my chickens!

Have fun and thanks for stopping by my homestead!