Injured By Marmalade

I wish that was a joke. But seriously, folks — marmalade HURTS!

Making it, that is.

We have two orange trees that produce quite abundantly, despite our complete lack of knowledge about how to help them. So I’ve been staring at a pail of oranges on my kitchen floor for some weeks, now, wondering what I’d do with them. Then I remembered my book, The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, and settled down to making orange-lemon marmalade:











You see all those little orange halves. They all need to be juiced, and then all the pulp, seeds, and membranes need to be scraped from the peel. That’s where the injury comes in.

My left hand develops repetitive injury pain very quickly. So the scraping of the orange insides after juicing completely inflamed my tendons. Drat!

And I forgot to add the lemons, so it will just be orange marmalade, which is fine by me!

My next recipe to try is orange slices in honey syrup, which I can’t imagine eating in anything, but can’t wait to see in a jar! I was planning to make candied orange peel, but no more wrist action for me.

So that leaves me with lemon and orange curd. No complaints here, since they are just about my favorite citrus things on earth!

I’ll post pics of the marmalade when it’s finished! Until then, no more typing. . .


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The Blessing of Oranges

Before we moved into this house, I was unaware that oranges were a winter fruit. They are orange, bright, and filled with sweetness — qualities I associate with summer fruits. Besides, you can get them year-round, right? So how’s a girl to know when they actually like to grow?

Two years in, I am starting to mosey on over to the two orange trees growing on our property. I took to the plum and peach right away, but the citrus scared me a little.

Here’s what I learned the first year:

Lo and behold! Orange trees need water. So in the second winter, we got some fruit worth eating.

This year, after being conscientious about their needs, we have amazingly sweet and juicy oranges. I’m kind of knocked out by them, actually.

Yesterday, for example, I stood by my manual juice extractor, and squeezed around 80 oranges or so to get a quart of fresh orange juice. It’s a lot of work, but my Lord! What flavor!It’s like miracles happening right in front of me.

So today, I say a big prayer of thanks to the orange-huice plant in the sky, for bringing such a reminder of warmth and flavor into a very rainy winter.


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Locally raised grass-fed beef

A colleague of mine gave me the brochure for Alhambra Valley Beef, a ranch producing grass-fed, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free beef that is located in Martinez. I am very excited to go visit the ranch and set up a relationship with them. Unlike other wonderful options like Marin Sun Farm, you can pick the cuts of beef you want, and still pay from $4.99 for ground beef to $8.99 for London Broil to $16.99 for Filet Mignon (not that we eat any in that price range).

I am thrilled to support local ranchers, and more humane cattle-raising practices! Contact info: Alhambra Valley Beef, Darryl Pereira, (925) 228-6560. Martinez CA 94553.



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Chickens 3; Vegetables 0

Happy New Year!

Now that it’s almost February . . .

I haven’t been posting much lately, and the reason is

that I’ve been in despair about our little farmette. Here’s the situation:

In December, and again in January, I laid out winter crops in seed flats. I covered them from cold weather, watered them, kept building the sheet mulch beds to receive them. And sure enough, up they sprouted: Detroit Red and Chioga beets, a few varieties of Nante carrots, swiss and red chard, laccinato kale, some varieties of Romaine lettuce.

Once they reached a good 2-3 inches, I planted them in the beds. Within a week, they were decimated. Destroyed. Eaten down to their roots. Each time, it was a month-long investment lost. The problem? The chickens flew over the two-foot fence we had up around the vegetables and ate it all.

I got discouraged enough to stop trying until I could come up with a plan for a higher fence that I could still get in and out of easily. In the meantime, we kept letting the chicks out into the backyard when we were home.

Yesterday, B (she of B.I.N.G. and O. fame) flew over a six-foot fence into our neighbor’s yard. Luckily, The Wife was home, noticed she was gone, and found her. (And equally luckily, that particular yard belongs to a deserted house, a victim of the recession — so there was no animal next door to eat our chicken).

But that did it. No more chickens in the backyard. This weekend, The Wife is going to extend the run about 10 feet in another direction, so that they can have as much space as possible, and still be contained. Hopefully then I can start planting without dreading future signs of destruction.

So. New Year, new plans, new food production. Here’s to growth!

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October Miracle

And no, I ain’t talkin’ baseball.

Today marks the first time since we got the chicks in March that we got 5, count ’em, 5 eggs in one day.












We’ve typically gotten 4: three brown, one blue (like the bigger blue one to the right). Then, once about a month or so ago, we got a teeny little blue egg like the one on the left. Over the past week, we’ve gotten two blues, and two browns. But today? All my lovely chickens gave it up.

Now The Wife will finally have to put her “that one’s a rooster — I just know it” theories to rest. That alone is worth what it took to get here.

Real Canning Looks Like This

I’m reading a book titled: Garden Spot: Lancaster Country, the Old Order Amish and the Selling of Rural America by David Walbert, in the hopes of finding material for the composition class I’m teaching next semester, focusing on sustainable food production. Here’s a quote that stopped me short. In 1950, Walbert says,

It was still not unusual for an Amish farmwife to can 500-700 quarts of fruits and vegetables, plus apple butter, jellies, and dried apples, beans and corn.But the economic argument for buying those products instead of producing them at home was starting to win out. The old idealizations of family farming persisted, but in the postwar years, changes in real-life agriculture would force it to adapt.

500-700 quarts. Every year.

That’s phenomenal. That’s a lot of hard work. I feel virtuous if I get 100 pints done by the end of a summer. And most of that is plum jam.

500 quarts every year is not a record I’m interested in achieving, but dang, my hat is off to the Amish farmwives who did (and perhaps do) all that work to keep their families and communities fed.



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Goodbye, my beautiful tomatoes!

The beauty of growing your own food is that you really get to cherish the rich flavor of the produce. The sad part about growing your own food (and committing to eating only locally-grown produce) is that there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to tomatoes. At least to tomatoes by the truckload (which is the way I like ’em).


I picked the last of them this weekend. Next weekend I’ll dig up the vines, let the chickens at them, and then put them in the compost pile.

On Saturday, we made pizza with homemade pesto sauce and some roasted tomatoes I had in the freezer. As soon as I bit that little slice of heaven, I knew that I hadn’t roasted enough tomatoes for the winter. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get pounds more at the farmers’ markets in the next few weeks.

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Rainy Days and Sheet Mulch

Yesterday, our long and glorious hot spell ended with some misty rain. As soon as it started, I ran outside to start the sheet mulch bed I’m starting on the south side of the house for the tomatoes next spring.

There are few places in our planting area in which I have enough vertical space and sun to grow the amount of tomatoes we produce each year. Consequently, it is hard to rotate the crops. So in my hunt for all things plant-able, I decided to take over an unused stretch on the south side of our house, currently the home of a non-producing banana tree and some perennial vegetables (arugula, sorrel, and a sage plant).

It will be a pain to get that spot watered, as it is nowhere near a spigot, but I’ll figure that out later. Yesterday’s task was just to start the sheet mulch bed so that it would be broken-down and ready for planting by March of next year.





First, I laid down some cardboard boxes and newspaper I had saved up, and let the rain drench that layer.

newspaper on ground for sheet mulch bed

Then, saying a prayer of thanks to the sheet mulch gods, I laid down a layer of soiled straw from the chicken coop and run. It was about 4-5 inches high after I finished.

soiled hay for the second layer of sheet mulch bed

I’ll keep adding soiled straw and wetting it until it’s about 8 inches high. Then I’ll put down finished compost from our pile, supplemented with dirt, and pile clean straw on top of that. I’m sure there are much more specific ways to build a sheet mulch pile, but I tend to just use what I’ve got, and go from there.

I’m not a very precise farmin’ type o’gal.

If all goes well, I’ll have space and good, rich soil for 8-9 tomato vines in March.



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