Snippets from the Heirloom Exposition

image image image image image image image image imageI just wanted to stop by and share a few quick iphone photos I took of the National Heirloom Exposition that we went to yesterday. We didn’t have nearly as much time as I would have liked to walk around. After unexpectedly meeting up with some family who farm up in the Sierra foothills for a long lunch, we had to race around before it was time to pick the kids up from school. It was a beautiful and uplifting place to walk around. Just look at those tables of produce! We took notes of all the new things we’d like to grow next year.

Those of you who know me, know we educate our children at a Montessori school. The St. Helena Montessori school has greatly influenced our new middle school program…can you believe it, all their 7th & 8th graders not only take care of their farm but also take a 5 week beekeeping class and take care of 10-20 hives! Pretty incredible.

I also fell in love with some shetland sheep. So sweet looking and such soft, soft fleece!

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Musing from the Mind of a Scatterbrain

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(that’s a very different type of spinach in that last photo. we met new gardening friends over the weekend who had some unusual varieties of things growing. Like that heirloom tarragon in the basket in the first photo. inspiring!)
The summer of freedom has come to an end. Last week the three kiddos started school, but just half days and this week all three of them will be in school for a full day! This is the first time this has happened. And it’s sort of blowing my mind. There are so many possibilities of how I could spend my time! Of course I have to stick to the basics of housework and, well, getting back into real design work again (which includes updating that website!). My dreaming brain is taking hold though and planning big things for the garden. I’ve got the schematic down for installing drip irrigation in a large part of the vegetable garden which we find hard to water by hose. I’ve got rows and rows of narcissus bulbs to thin. I want to order tulip bulbs in mass quantity. I need to order yards of compost. In the kitchen I’ve got wild grape sourdough starter bubbling away and I’m try to perfect my recipe for sourdough bread (anyone have any tried and true good ones?). I have fresh tumeric root in the fridge waiting for the day I have time to try the homemade mustard recipe from the last issue of Taproot. We have kimchee fermenting away. And, yes, it looks like we can make yet another batch of tomato sauce. And I’m totally inspired to take my simple, easy summer cooking up to a higher level after reading Stone Edge Farm Cookbook. So beautiful and inspiring.

And then there are computer related things I have stacked my to-do list full with. I’d love to redesign this blog a bit. And go to a self hosted site, finally. You know, when I started this blog seven years ago, things were so different. There wasn’t social media so this was my only outlet to ‘talk’ with people. It seemed so easy. Now ‘they’ are saying you have to have your blog tied into all the social media outlets and utilize yet another application to have all these posts timed out at strategic times so people are always constantly seeing you on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s exhausting. I go through periods where I’m totally on board with figuring these things out and other periods where I say ‘forget it, let’s keep it simple and just keep it on the blog’. There are so many blogs out there and so many people approaching it like a business that it just leaves someone like me in the dust. I know however that a few of you read me and comment and I really do appreciate it! All that said, I’m going to try the month of September to have more facebook posts, just to try it out. If it seems to add interest or add to the conversation, then I’ll keep it going. You can find me on facebook here.

I’m also wanting to update my e-booklet, Simple Handcrafted Body Care. Add in the recipes that are already on the blog and make a few design tweaks. Maybe new label designs?? Get is spruced up in time for the holidays.

As you can see, I’m all over the place, scattered as can be in my new found daytime freedom. I’m sure my mind and to-do list will quiet down, but for now I’m enjoying mulling over all the countless possibilities.

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Dyeing with Hollyhocks

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A year and a half ago I started Niger Hollyhock seedlings in hopes of dyeing with them. I ended up with about six plants, three of which blossomed, one that was incredibly happy, sent up many stalks and bloomed proficently (you can see them in the garden here). For months I collected the blossoms and dried them on my desk. Late last week, fed up with a desk full of dried blossoms, I decided to take the plunge and make up the dye. I had high hopes that this would yield me a beautiful blue, and it did, sort of. As you can see, I got two different colors, a blue on the left and a, well, what color is that? Greige? That’s because I divided the dye up into two batches. Half of my yarn was mordanted in alum and that was what took on the blue-ish color. The color on the right came from being dyed in a copper pot, which also acts as a sort of mordant (mordant being what makes the wool able to properly absorb the hold onto the dye.). What was most interesting is that at the last moment I dropped in a bit of left over yarn from a previous project that was 80% wool & 20% silk into the alum dye bath. That yarn soaked up the dye just beautifully! From now on, I know to use a mixed wool/silk yarn for any dyeing I do.

Already the blue yarn on the left is on the needles being knit into new fingerless gloves to replace my roadkill gloves.

Details:
85 dried niger hollyhock blossoms soaked in water overnight. Premordanted half the yarn in alum. Divided the dye into two, one half going into a non-reactive metal pot, the other into a copper bowl put over a simmering pot of water. Placed presoaked yarn into the pots as the dye water was heating up. Left all to simmer for about two hours. Turned heat off, let sit together for another hour, took the yarn out and let it sit for 20 minutes before rinsing it (as instructed by Harvesting Color) and letting it dry.

 

 

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Shaking things up

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Historically when it comes to earthquakes, I’m not the calmest person in the room. I’m a native Californian, I’ve been through many, but when the big ones hit, I’m not all that cool and collected. Who is, really. When you are just going about your business sleeping away and one hits, your adrenaline has no place to go but rush around all over the place.

And that’s just what happened at 3:20 Sunday morning. Huge jolts, loud creaks from the house and the noise of everything you own shaking all over. It was a long one, it seemed. Long enough for us to both get out of bed and try our best to walk to the doorway, then down the long hallway to the children’s rooms, which is when it finished. Once we got to our bedroom door, it almost seemed over which is when the whole house did a terrible jolt again and then the rolling started. That’s when I screamed. And that’s when the children woke up. As my son reported, ‘the earthquake didn’t wake us up, your screaming did mom!’ I opened our daughters door and she look wide eyed at me and said, ‘what. was. that!?!’

We lost power immediately of course, which means when you live with well water, that you are out of water too. We’re becoming accustumed to shouting out once we lose power, ‘don’t flush the toilets!’. Scott and I are pretty good about brushing aside small earthquakes, going back to normal life as soon as they finish. This one was so big and violent feeling that we all huddled around the kitchen table with candles and tried to figure out what in the heck just happened! Eventually we learned what you probably already know, a 6.1 earthquake in American Canyon, the epicenter 8 miles from our house.

Everything was fine in our house. The power came on the next morning and we were able to function as normal. As I joked with friends, all of our pictures were hanging askew before the quake, now they are straight! Our friends and family in Napa have big messes to clean up.

I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after the quake though, which made for a very slow foggy brained Sunday. We all moved slowly. Funnily enough the earthquake knocked down a whole bunch of ripe tomatoes from their plants so we took that as a sign to get some tomato sauce made and canned. I made my first loaf of sourdough bread using Wild Grape Sourdough Starter from my favorite The Model Bakery Cookbook(very appropriately a Napa Valley bakery). And truth be told, we got some quality tv watching in done too.

I know I have a number of local readers, how did you guys fare with the ground shaking?

 

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Visiting Chileno Valley Ranch

IMG_8023 IMG_8026 IMG_8027 IMG_8028 IMG_8030 IMG_8032 IMG_8034 IMG_8037 IMG_8040 IMG_8041 IMG_8042 IMG_8054As you might well remember, for about five years now we’ve been buying a fourth of a grass fed cow every summer. For many years we bought from Beltane Ranch which is just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately due to new regulations they aren’t able to sell directly to customers anymore, so we’ve switched to buying from Chileno Valley Ranch over in Petaluma. You can read a bit about why we eat grass fed beef from this older post and even more from this older post.

On Sunday they hosted a u-pick day for their apples. Our poor apple trees are in a serious state of decline, so we headed over there to meet the rancher couple and to get some apples. This ranch is deep down Chileno Valley Road, past curving roads, filled with hillsides, ponds and large ranches. It was a beautiful drive. As we approached our destined ranch I was pretty awed by the amazing house you can see from a distance. The house had been in the wife, Sally’s, family since the Civil War! Sally and her husband Mike took ownership of the property in the early ’90’s and set about rehabilitating the house (check out the original structure) and the land.

Everything was gorgeous. We came for the apples, but I left inspired by the gardens. While Scott chatted with Mike about the beef order we recently placed, I talked with Sally about her roses. Strangely enough I didn’t get any pictures of her dozens upon dozens (maybe a hundred +) of roses, but they were unbelievably beautiful. All with bright green leaves and in full flower. My roses at home have been in a sad state ever since their initial spring bloom and I’ve given serious consideration to taking a good majority out. Everything Sally grew was bountiful and lush. As we talked she mentioned how when she cleans out the chicken coop she sprinkles a little of their manure around the roses. She also has sheep and cows that she collects manure from and also has a local dairy deliver manure to her. Ah-ha! Yes, of course. Manure!

As soon as we got home I found my Felco’s and got to work tidying up around the roses and then promptly cleaned out the chicken coop and spread what I scooped all round the roses and watered it in well. Within easy walking distance I can access cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure. I need to collect my wheelbarrow and shovel, head down the street and put these neighboring friendships to work.

If you are local, Chileno Valley Ranch holds these u-pick weekends all the way until October, it’s worth the trip, if you can make it!

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Rainy Summer Day

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Strangely enough, amidst the deepest of droughts, it rained this morning. In fact this was the third time precipitation has fallen from the sky this summer, if I’m counting correctly. Of course none of these rains have done much to help the drought nor has it even watered the plants all that well. However, us native Californians will tell you, rain in summer is just weird and miraculous!
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IMG_7937IMG_7934The plants, though they didn’t get a good soaking, very much appreciated the little they did get. They all looked much happier this morning upon my usual morning stroll. One of my favorite areas are these new planting beds we had built on either side of the deck staircase. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the nursery and picked out all new plants for an all new bed. Fun! Pineapple sage, dahlias, purple fountain grass, mexican feather grass, artimesia, lavender, black and blue salvia and a few others fill the beds.
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In previous summers (2013, 2012, 2011) this bed was overflowing with sunflowers and corn and melons, this year it lays fallow, filled with weeds and dried fava beans. It’s okay… the soil needs to rest, right? Sure.
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IMG_7928Radishes, along with the other seedling I planted last week are sprouting up. Thank you weird, welcome summer rain.

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State of the Garden

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We seem to have entered into the phase of summer where it’s just plain hot & dry. The tomatoes and peppers aren’t complaining though. The tomatoes are starting to tower over our heads and are sending us inside with handfuls of red jems to enjoy. Remember we added in our drainage pipes a few weeks ago and it seems to be paying off, they are all looking very healthy and happy.
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Those metal containers? Look how happy things are growing in them. That basil, that tiny little store bought basil is almost tree like now. It’s the biggest basil we’ve ever grown. And the cucumbers are thriving too.
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The grapes, our poor little dry farmed grapes (irrigation going in next year, right?) are coming ripe. They are so fun to go visit and pick with the kids.
IMG_7916 IMG_7915I worked on this bed over the weekend. Getting out the pesky dead weeds and amending it with gypsum, which helps break up the clay soil. These zucchini got a late start, but seem to be happy and with a little bit of daily watering and some luck new seedlings will be joining them. Kale, chard, spinach, cilantro, carrots and radishes. I also added in a few biannual flower seeds that I’ll transplant out to the flower garden once they get going. Since I was going to be watering everyday, might as well group all the seedlings together! It feels good to have the time to focus on the garden once more and to feel hopeful about it again.

How are things going in your garden? Are you feeling good about the state of things?

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