A Farming Neighbor!

Last Saturday, I met Esperanza, who lives just a few blocks away from us. Esperanza is networking with other urban farmers in the area. So cool to see an established urban farm right in our neighborhood! Check out her blog (and her services) at her website.

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October is Arriving

Well, technically, it’s already here. But that October-y kind of weather is approaching: kind of crisp, smelling faintly of leaf mold. The days are shorter.

And suffice it to say that this:

A basket of ripe tomatoes

is no longer a weekly event. The vines are yellowing, and next weekend will be the annual green-tomato-pickle-relish canning party.

I’m going to picking all my peppers, roasting some, and drying others (to make dried pepper flakes for pizza during the winter).

The cucumber vines will have to go also, since the mildew is coming on in full force.

So What’s Going IN?

Time to start my greens seeds: kale, lettuces, chard and arugula. I’ve already put in some baby kale plants, just to get a jump on different harvest times. I’m going to try some more bean plants, and keep watering the strawberries since they keep producing those red miracles my family to eat.

Eek! A Mouse

I have discovered that a rodent of some sort (largish mouse/smallish rat) likes to hang out in our compost heap. It comes leaping out, terrified, when I stick a hose into the pile and water it. So I’ve taped up every hole I can see with duct tape. We’ll see if that helps.

We also found a dead rat outside our chicken run with teeth marks in its head. The good news is — one less rat. The bad news — some other larger animal is out there near the chickens.

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In Which I Get to Feel Righteous about Eggs

I was roaming around my favorite farming websites last night, when I came across this quote from the always fabulous Homegrown Evolution folks:

An AP reporter just called to ask for my comment on the recent egg recall. He asked if I thought more people would start backyard chicken flocks. I said yes, adding that I believed that a “distributed” form of agriculture, i.e. many more people keeping small numbers of animals rather than small numbers of professionals in charge of tens of thousands of birds, would lead to greater food safety. Backyard flocks can get infected with salmonella. But if my birds get infected only two people get sick rather than 2,000. I can also keep a better eye on my flock’s health and rodent issues than can a minimum wage employee in charge of 10,000 hens. A small farmer has the same advantages–literally fewer eggs in one basket.

I love this one, too:

a chicken is a bird and  . . . birds in nature have access to dirt, bugs, sunlight and vegetation. To keep them in battery cages under artificial light is a kind of arrogance, an assumption that we humans know exactly what a chicken needs, that we have a “wisdom of our own.” Admittedly, a chicken is domesticated animal, but that doesn’t give us the right to make the kinds of sudden, radical changes in animal husbandry that have been made in the past hundred years

I’m such a wuss that I feel bad about keeping my five chickens in their ample run instead of letting them out all day to destroy my plants and dig ankle-twisting holes in which to bathe themselves with dust. So when I think of the stress millions of chickens live in. . . Well, let’s just say I eat less chicken now, and when I do, I try and know as much as possible the conditions under which it was raised.

Lest I sound too proud of myself

let me admit that I reread a section of The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Embry this morning, and realized I could be making our chickens sick by not cleaning their feeder and waterer often enough, and by constantly putting new feed on top of old uneaten feed (which she quite clearly states you should NEVER do).

There’s always more to learn. That’s what I know.

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Farming Has Changed Me

Summer has ended

In my very urban, very busy life, I have a full-time job that works on an academic schedule. So mid-August means I return to another routine, one that doesn’t leave a great deal of time for farming, meandering, hanging out back with my family, listening to them play as I weed or water  or plant or study what’s growing.

In the past, I have let that change in schedule (from summer to Fall) mean that I move at a much faster speed, and that I neglect my self-care, and neglect the things that bring me joy.

Learning to Stop

But these last nine months turning gardening into farming have changed me. This weekend, faced with an impossible deadline (of my own making, I might add), I simply decided to stop. Stop trying to cram four days work into two, stop avoiding my family in order to get work done, stop rushing through my days at home in order to complete work elsewhere. I just stopped, and made another decision: I am not going to be that person anymore.

Instead, I spent the day finishing the chores for the week (laundry, meal planning, cleaning the house), finishing up my canning for the week (tomato sauce, pesto, plum jam, dried plums), and preparing for my son’s birthday party. I cooked and cleaned and just relaxed into the day. And it culminated in a small, casual gathering of people closest to us eating red beans and rice and homemade ice-cream cake in celebration of our shining sun of a boy.

I am no longer willing to make myself sick and unhealthy in order to make a deadline. I am no longer willing to avoid my family when they are around me. Something has got to change, and since the job is a necessity for the time being, the change will have to be in me, rather than in the external circumstances.

I am deeply happy when I am in that less-than-one-tenth-of-an-acre, examining the bark on the apple trees, encouraging the tomatoes, marveling at the cucumbers and how quickly they appear. I love digging into the compost bin and smelling that rich dirt smell that happens under the right conditions. I like talking to my chickens and chasing them away from the roots of the orange trees.

How can I have more of this peace, and less of the rushing? I don’t know. But I know which feels better, and that’s the direction I’m going to go toward.

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Apples in August

Our two small apple trees are producing buckets of apples, rather early in the season, it seems to me. The smallest tree– just a baby in size, really — produces apples that would taste better cooked in some fashion, methinks.

The larger, older tree’s apples are lovely to eat, but they never grow very large. Someday I’ll take one in to a garden place and ask someone what kind they are. But for now, we just eat them, cook them into applesauce, and say “Thank you.”

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I Need Canning Advice. Anyone out there?

So here’s the thing:

I love canning. The idea of it, the alchemy of it — everything but the actual put-the-can-in-the-water. Because I have lost more batches than I care to remember to the jar popping in the water, and everything leaking into the canner.

Today, for example, I had a gorgeous quart of roasted tomato sauce ready to go. I had the jars boiling in the canner for 10 minutes, and the sauce warm, as directed. But still — as soon as the can hit the water – POP! There went my time at the farmer’s market, my time spent cutting, roasting and processing tomatoes, etc.

It’s so frustrating. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Any ideas?

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When Disaster Strikes, We’ll Have Enough Dried Bananas

I am obsessed with my Excalibur food dehydrator. I want to dry everything I can get my hands on. My new favorite obsession is drying bananas, which I buy by the very-cheap-bagful at produce stores, off the discounted fruit shelves.

Today, I bought 2 bags of organic bananas for $.59 each and promptly sliced them up and put them in the dryer. My kids love them, and I love getting things cheaply and preserving them.

I’ve been trying to make more than we consume, so that I can start putting food up. My goal is to get 3 months worth of food put away. (My friend Tontra says 8 months is recommended, but 3 months is ambitious enough for me right now). Every week when I go shopping, I buy a little bit more than we use, so that I can start stocking up.

This is all well and good, but right now, the pantry consists of peach jam and, you guessed it, dried bananas. Not exactly a nutritional haven. But I’ll get there eventually.

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