Category Archives: what we’ve learned

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!


Filed under chickens, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

Sometimes I get it right

It’s not often though. Me getting things right, that is. We learn and grow and become better people through our mistakes. At least that’s what I hold high hope to. But every once in a while, I get things right. When we first moved into this house our life got topsy-turvy & chaotic. Our lives were stuffed in boxes, our regular routines were thrown to the wind. There was little to feel in control of. And this front planting bed used to reflect just that. It’s right in front of our house, the first thing you see when you step out of your car and it was growing as chaotic and rag tag as my mental stability was at the time. So I ripped it all out. Cleaned this bed down to dirt and did something I’ve never done before. I bought plants in mass quantity and planted in clean orderly, symmetrical lines.
I’ve watched these plants grow in over the last two years and I’m so happy with them. In terms of garden design my virgo brain and my artist brain battle it out. One part of me likes things crisp and clean and tidy and the other likes things wild, overgrown and secret-garden feeling. I’m learning as I go, that if you start with a clean, crisp, tidy layout at the beginning, that things will eventually start to grow to take on a wild abundance. But in an orderly way. Orderly wildness, if you will. As I go about reorganizing other parts of the garden I’m keeping this in mind. Thinking of repetition & clean lines to begin with, which will hopefully grow to mystery and abundance in the future.
And always, I think of how to get the most color in autumn.


Filed under what we've learned

Daffodils as Gopher Prevention


This past weekend we stayed home. I even wrote it very large on the calender, “busy on the homestead” across both Saturday and Sunday. Starting with September our calender and going through to December now our calender is full, full, full! It’s a great thing, but our poor garden is getting neglected. This weekend we set our sights on harvesting the last of the walnuts (6 grocery bags full!), tearing out old plants, turning the enormous compost pile and getting this above bed ready for next years bounty. Just a few months ago it looked like this below:

This past weekend we tore it all out. We had had a problem with gophers in this bed after trying an experiment of laying down black plastic for weed control. The black plastic seemed to attract the gophers even more. Having read that narcissus bulbs are toxic to gophers and seeing that our narcissus needed dividing I set it upon myself to outline each of our beds with bulbs. We have an area at the top of our property that has about four or five 15 foot long rows of various daffodils and narcissus. They are just gorgeous when in bloom but I noticed this last year their performance had dwindled. They badly needed dividing. In fact just 10 shovels worth yielded me a bucketful of bulbs.

It’s such a huge bed, I didn’t think I’d actually make it around the entire thing in one day, but I did! I have the sore muscles and calluses to prove it too. In addition to being toxic to gophers, narcissus bulbs make a good weed barrier (like the naked ladies). They come up in late winter and form a wall of sorts which make it hard for that early round of weeds to break through. In the spot where this garden bed is, we need all the help we can get in that area!

Ever since reading Gaia’s Garden, I’ve opened up even more to the idea of where and how I plant our plants. For instance I’ve lined my flower bed with amaryllis bulbs to prevent weeds from encroaching. Then in front of the bulbs I planted thick growing yarrow as extra protection against the wild field behind them moving in. Favas are growing in the middle of the beds to prepare the soil for next years flowers. And now our largest veggie bed is lined with a wall to prevent gophers and will also soon be filled in with cover crop.

Though we don’t have a robust winter garden planted this year, we are doing extra homework in getting the garden ready for next year. It’s making me already look forward to next spring.


Filed under Flowers, notes for next year, what we've learned

flowers & going wheat free


It has been brought to my attention that there are other things that need addressing besides dreamily walking around the yard with your felco’s cutting flowers. I have been told there is laundry to do and bathrooms to clean and meals to prep and a wage to be earned. But who wants any part of that at this time of year?

In other news our whole family has given up wheat for the month of May. This is the third time I’ve done this. I did give up wheat for week in ’08 and then Scott and I gave it up last summer for a few weeks. We found some interesting discoveries last summer when we gave it up, like how Scott’s allergies completely went away and how we both felt lighter. This time we gave it up to see if it could clear up our daughters eternal eczema and help my son’s asthma. We are 14 days into it and while it hasn’t helped her eczema yet, it does seem to have helped with the asthma. And my usual spring time allergy induced sore throat has disappeared. It’s hard though, for us bread eaters to be off of wheat. I haven’t felt as much sacrifice as our kids, especially our 8-year-old (the one with asthma), who thinks this whole giving up wheat is a bunch of hooey. He wants pizza and pasta and bakery pastries and that’s all there is to it.

We’ll give it another couple of weeks and if this doesn’t clear up the eczema we’ll try a dairy free month (oh that somehow sounds even more tortuous than a wheat free month! Especially during hot ice cream season!). Knowing now that wheat really tends to ease our allergies and asthma during the heavy season is a great bit of knowledge going forward. Maybe every spring will become a wheat free time for our family.

Have you ever given up something? Did you see noticeable changes in your body because of it?


Filed under Flowers, what we've learned

gardening in a dry year


It’s been a dry year here in California. One of the driest winters on record. To us, even though we had a very wet fall, it seemed like after the holidays the faucet was shut off. There was really almost no rain whatsoever after the holidays. Such a strange winter. And this spring we are certainly seeing the signs. Sure, if you squint your eyes and turn your head a little to the left, things look pretty good. Flowers are blooming, trees are leafing out. But if you look closely you’ll notice that the lawn is almost dead already, spring flowers are getting torched by this early heat (supposed to be in the 90’s tomorrow!), and we are relying heavily on irrigation…already. This is going to be a long summer.

A few years ago I wrote a post on drought friendly vegetable gardening, (wow, I used to write such different posts back then!) which is worth a read if you are struggling with water issues too. In regards to that post, we outfitted two more beds with in-line drip irrigation. We ordered 15 yards of mulch to heavily cover the irrigation and our tender crops. We are also focusing heavily on three beds this growing year instead of last years four beds. And I’m heavily mulching the flower gardens to help retain every last ounce of water in the soil. We need, however to get these beds on a timer, so that they can be watered in the evening or early morning hours. That is an easy step, we just need to put it higher on our priority list.

Luckily we have the option of putting our laundry on grey water. We’ve had this since we moved in, but it only drains out to one spot. Though I shouldn’t complain, the snowball hydrangea looks quite happy about the situation. However, my hope for the near future is that I can hook it up to a pipe that has multiple perforations in it, so that it can water a larger area along our foundation plantings.

How is the rain/water situation where you garden? Do you have any drought gardening tricks?


Filed under Mulch, Soil, State of the Garden, Water, what we've learned

A Peek at The National Heirloom Expo


What a great time we had at The Nation Heirloom Expo on Thursday! As their website says, “The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered around the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables, and anti-GMO activism.”  We really didn’t know what to expect, but we walked into this hall first and were blown away at how much there was to look at and how inspiring it would be.

It was so hard to not pick one of these apples up and take a bite! We might have to join the California Rare Fruit Growers so we can get access to some of the more rare apples trees.


This picture doesn’t do this tower justice, this was about a 10 foot tower of winter squash!

13oo lb pumpkins!

Mindblowingly beautiful beehives by Gaia’s Bees.

Must buy some goldenrod for the bees!

I regret not buying one of these self watering, hand made terracotta seed trays. Anne, the designer and maker said they’d have them for sale on their website soon. I have a feeling they’ll be selling like hotcakes, they are so beautiful!

This birthday girl, in all her rainbow regalia, caught the eye of the Gettles and she ended up having a little photo session with Sasha with a Baker Creek photographer. Very cute!

Great music to listen to at lunchtime by Poor Old Shine.

Other highlights:

: : Running into our neighbor and her aunt

: :  Then running into our uncle and his partner Jane, who runs a farm & CSA in the foothills

: : The amazing vendor hall that I could have spent another hour in had I not had a tired two year old on my hands

: : But I did manage to buy a hand thrown serving bowl and pitcher

: : Great food was served there. We had a delicious BLT and strawberry/rhubarb pie for dessert

: : Talking to Rebecca Burgess and telling her how she inspired me on my naturally dyed fair isle sweater

: : Looking forward to next year when hopefully I can hear some speakers as well!


Filed under beekeeping, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

We went to a Naturopathic Dr., and then we made cookies

My poor baby has asthma!
Our oldest son was diagnosed with asthma when he was just two and a half. That was four years ago and every doctor that we’ve gone to see about it has given us the same two medicines as treatment. One is a daily inhaler, flovent, to take during the times of the year when he has the hardest time with the asthma, which for him is winter and late summer. The second medicine is albuterol, which is an inhaled medicine to be taken as needed to ease his attacks. Both medicines help tremendously but I’ve always wondered if there was a better way to ease his breathing. Maybe there was a way to get rid of the asthma, rather than just live with it and treat it with these medications. This winter he needed to use his inhaler a great deal, which concerned me. That fact, combined with meeting our town’s naturopathic doctors (the wife is in my mother/baby group) gave me the push to make an appointment to see if they could offer some help.

The first visit was a long and thoughtful one. The office was very warm and inviting, unlike most doctor’s offices and Dr. Porrino really listened to what I was saying and asked good questions about my son’s symptoms and health history. He explained that asthma is like a cup. That your body is built with a ‘cup’ in it that fills up full of irritations and inflammation. Seasonal allergies fill the cup, daily stress, food allergies and sensitivities, colds, sicknesses, all go in the cup. And when your cup overflows you begin to have asthmatic symptoms. The difference between all of us is that some of us have been given large beer stein sized cups at birth and others, like our son, were given small shot glass sized cups. So the idea is to keep that cup as empty as possible.
Given that we already know what environmental allergies our son has (dust, cats, grasses) we focused on food sensitivities. Apparently sensitivities are different than food allergies. The doctor gathered five drops of my sons blood onto a special card and sent it to the lab for testing. When the results came back (and on this very nice, colorful chart, I might add) his charts looked pretty good, but it did show a high sensitivity to eggs. The recommendation was to cut eggs out of his diet for about four months to see if this makes a difference. Really bad news when you have six laying hens, I’ll tell you! That trial along with adding in a daily dose of a good probiotic and a teaspoon of Cod Liver Oil"" to boost his digestion and immune system and hopefully we should see some improvement.

As I went home I started to lament the idea of keeping eggs out of his diet – no ice cream, mayonnaise, and baked goods! As it works in a small community, as soon as I shared this news with one friend, she told me of a mutual acquaintance who’s son has an egg allergy. I contacted her and she told me that in baking you can substitute 1 T. vinegar + 1 T. liquid + 1 t. baking powder for each egg.
As soon as I learned this I pulled out our very favorite oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie recipe and gave it a go. Would you know, they came out perfectly delicious? The only change I noticed was that the cookie was slightly crisper than normal, which was just fine.

Hopefully all this sacrifice of irritants and the addition of good supplements will help our little guy out. Nothing is harder than watching your child struggle with taking breath. And hey, now we know we can at least eat cookies along this journey.


Filed under what we've learned