Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Summer of Experimentation

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This summer, for me, it’s going to be all about experimenting. I received a fun package full of goodies from Mountain Rose Herbs plus a few new books to get me started. My thoughts are of finding the perfect herbal iced tea, making variations on my favorite lotions and maybe making a fantastic smelling household cleaner. Note the very large box of Peace Tea, summer vacation for the boys started last Thursday…I will be needing this! It actually is good to have them home and not have the pressure of quickly making lunches and getting out the door in the mornings.
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We have so many calendulas growing here that sometimes I think we should go into the calendula business. Until then, I dry as many petals as I can to infuse into oils for lotions and soaps. My method simply is to fill a canning jar with a heaping handful of dried calendula petals along with my desired oil, cover and set out in full sun for an entire day. Then strain and store.
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Calendula petals are also good for adding to tea blends. This one is a custom blend I made with helichrysum, rose petals, nettle, and fennel pollen. This mixture of herbs (minus the fennel pollen, which I just added for taste) was recommended to me by a friend who’s an herbalist to infuse into oils for making eczema salves. (more on that later)
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It too spent a few hours out on the back deck and then into the fridge to cool. It tasted just great, the key was in the fennel pollen. Yesterday I sat out another jar of this with a jar of Peace Tea, they chilled overnight and today I’ll see which I like better.

It’s fun to experiment. In my school days, I never did have a head much for the sciences, but as an adult, playing around with lotions and melting points and infusions and herbal properties and natural dying makes me feel like a mad scientist!

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A Barrel of Family History

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Eight summers ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, my dad retired from his long standing career as a police chief and took up a more proper grandfather trade of tinkering in the garage. Over the years that tinkering has been a real boon for my sister and I as he’s gifted us with many handmade toys for our children and refinished furniture pieces for our house. The dresser above was once painted white. Well, it was mostly painted white with chips and peels of paint all over it (you can see the top of it here). Two years ago my dad visited and before I knew it he had hauled it into his truck and a few weeks later brought this back. Isn’t it beautiful? It serves as the kids art cabinet now, full of paper, markers, paint and crayons.
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This stable I saw a many years ago on one of those beautiful all wooden waldorf inspired websites. The price was astronomical, I probably would have had to sell my children to afford it. But upon seeing this, Dad came to my rescue and built one for me. Including an entire nativity full of hand carved figurines. During the off season it doubles as a farm stable. I love this piece! It is always out with a basket of animals nearby for play.
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On Friday he showed up at our house with this wheelbarrow in this truck. It came from his grandfather’s farm, which he grew up on. My great grandfather farmed 30 acres, a couple hours south of here, 2 of which he deeded to my grandparents in the early 50’s for them to raise their family. My grandfather, a carpenter, built their house and, together with my grandma, they raised their four children there.
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Over the years my dad has told us stories about a childhood filled with butchering chickens, turkeys, cows, drinking raw milk from their dairy cows, tales of the barley & hay crops, and walnut orchard harvests. Most memorable are his stories of ghosts seen in his grandparents old farm house. Mysterious boots stomping across the kitchen floor at night time, people, long dead, standing and pumping water at the well in the backyard and other ‘folks’ seen walking up the stairs. I loved hearing those stories. That farm isn’t there anymore, unfortunately, it was sold to developers and is full of tract homes now. Luckily this wheelbarrow remains.

I parked this newly refurbished wheelbarrow on my front porch and I think I shall keep it here. It’s so bright and colorful, full of family history and most importantly it reminds me of my dad.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

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The First Vegetable You Shouldn’t Grow

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(lettuce growing in a pot by our backdoor for easy pre-dinner picking)

Did you notice that double post I did on Monday? I was feeling quite wordy that day and thought I’d be clever and write two posts. One to publish right away and another to share another day. Only out of habit I pressed ‘publish’ on both! Well, anyway, you think that’s honey, not brood? You’re probably right. Man, I’m dying to open that hive back up and look again.

So, last week Sara commented here saying that she’s getting ready to plant her first vegetable in a pot. She asked me what were the best things to start with. It made me think back to the very first thing I ever grew in a pot, and then I laughed, as it was probably the very worst thing to start with.
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(it’s easy to catch pesky broccoli eating caterpillars when the growing pot is close by)
I first started getting the gardening bug in college, but with only rented rooms in apartments and houses my growing opportunities were nil. Instead I’d spend a great deal of my time studying and drawing, walking and daydreaming at my school’s Urban Farm. It was also around this time that I got interested in cooking and spent many a Saturday morning watching Jacques Pepin cooking shows on PBS. (We still to this day love watching him, we recently figured out how to work our DVR and he is the only thing we routinely record.) In one episode he made something with leeks, maybe soup, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the way it looked when he cut it open. He’d hold one up in the air, upside down and insert a knife into the white part and pull straight down through the dark green stalks, give the leek a quarter turn and repeat. Then he’d rinse those strips of leek and slice them on the cutting board. It was beautiful so see those thin slices of green leek and his deft knife skills. Anyway my senior year of college came around and I finally had a small backyard in this house I was renting. I was fresh from spending a garden/art/culinary inspired semester in Italy and I was eager to grow something I could eat. Even before fall classes began, I went to the garden store, bought a pot, some soil and leek seeds.

I am here today to tell you that if you are new to gardening, looking for successful results and are headed straight into a rainy, cold Oregon winter, leeks are the very last things you should try growing. Leeks, when grown from seeds, take two years before you can harvest them. I had nine months until graduation. Once I saw how slowly my little shoots were growing and how cold and rainy the weather was becoming I quickly abandoned my gardening project.
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(oregano, broccoli & basil growing below it all in a wine barrel)
So since leeks are out, what do you think Sara should grow since she’s brand new to gardening and has a pot and some soil? How about lettuce or radishes? Basil surrounding a tomato plant? Try some beets or chard or spinach. What about herbs? All of those things are relatively easy to grow, fit well in a pot and most importantly give you almost immediate results. Once you get your first taste of success, you’ll be tempted to try another pot and then another. And before that you will have a full fledged garden on your hands. But take it from me don’t start with leeks.

What’s the first thing you’ve ever grown? Was it successful?

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A Look Inside the Hives

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The bees have been busy lately! Though I’m new to bee talk, it seems that maybe there has been a ‘nectar flow’ going on the past two weeks around these parts. I thought I’d share a little look inside.

I still haven’t gotten stung (knock on wood!). I have been doing my inspections without gloves as a book I read said it’s better to work the frames without gloves. So far so good.
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A question for you beekeepers out there, does the picture just above these words look like capped drone cells? Whilst the one above that look like worker brood? Only after I closed this hive up did I realize there weren’t many drones in this colony and then after reviewing the pictures it looked to me like the above picture might be a patch of drone brood. This is all from the smaller hive.

The larger hive has it’s top super completely full of honey! I’m going to have to add another in a few days.
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This bush has helped with this assumed nectar flow, I believe. Every time I walk past it, it is humming with the sound of happy foraging bees.

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Evening Garden Walk

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Last night while the three kids were happily playing Legos in their room, I literally tip toed out of the back door for a little garden-camera time. The evening primroses are in their glory, the bees seem to love them too.
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The scabiosas are starting to burst. We have them in wild abundance. At first I wasn’t sure they were scabiosas, as the ones I were used to were only two or three feet tall at most, these are at eye level. I didn’t have to stoop down at all to take these photos. They come in all shades of purple and I do adore them.
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While our tomato plantings were delayed due to bed preparation, they are in and growing like wild behind the shed.
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Fresh fruit is on the horizon!!! I’ve been so tired of eating mushy store bought apples and I’m quite worn out on citrus at this point, the hope of in-season fruit is thrilling!
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zucchini and oregano

How are things looking in your garden? Any early season successes? Failures?

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Four Years of Junes : 30 Days to a Better Garden Revisited

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2008

2009

2009 was the year we did 30 Days to a Better Garden. What fun that was. We should do that again, or better yet, go back to the archives:

2010

2011

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What are your favorite garden-based blogs?

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The chicken coop tour went well this weekend. I think it must have raised a good little amount for our favorite Garden Park. Having two neighbors on the tour was fantastic too as it added to a more community feeling.

I met a fellow Sonoman blogger on the tour who thinks she might have insight into Francesco’s past rooster life, you’ll have to read all about it. That inspired me to get onto something I’ve been meaning to do…update the list of garden blogs, up on that top tab. This time I want to feature local Sonoma blogs first followed by all other good garden blogs. So that begs the question, which are your favorite garden based blogs? Do you have one of your own? Leave it in the comment section and I’ll round them all up.

Here are a few of the Sonoma county growing-based blogs I know about, but I’d love to hear of more:

  • the girl & the fig farm project – chronicling farm life behind one of Sonoma’s most popular restaurants
  • Nix Chix – tales from a chicken farmer
  • Left Coast Cowboys – totally entertaining blog from two city kids turned country landowners/gardeners/winemakers
  • Well, One of My Blogs – an industrious woman who’s tackling homeownership, beekeeping and gardening
  • Weekend Edible – a familiar looking garden, carrying on it’s produce production by a talented fiber artist
  • iGrow Sonoma – relevant gardening advice from two ladies who know what they’re talking about

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