Thursday, December 6, 2007

((Drum Roll Please))

Ladies and gentlemen....

From our very own Gertie...

One beautiful, perfect little egg!

I couldn't be more eggcited than if I laid it myself. And yes, I promise that will be the first and LAST time I make that awful pun. I've been waiting almost 20 weeks to make it so I figure I earned it.

Matt was the first to find it. He gets up a few minutes before I do so he usually let them out of their run in the morning so they can have some free-range time before I have to leave for work. I was in the shower when he came dancing in singing, "Guess what I saw, guess what I saw!"

I said, "What??' (I'm sort of slow first thing in the morning. Actually I'm sort of slow all the time.) "What?? An EGG??"

He was kind enough to leave it in the nest box so I'd have the fun of checking myself. It was, I have to say, a really cool thing. I mean, I expected to get eggs, that's why I got the chickens. But to actually have nature work, right there in front of you; well, its just a really neat thing.

Here's a comparison shot of it next to an egg from the Farmer's Market so you can see the size. It's actually a really good size for being the first egg, usually chickens have some trial runs before they get into the groove. I can expect them to get larger in the coming weeks. Now if only her sisters will get into the act as well!

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Pause

It's been awhile since I blogged. This isn't because I have nothing to say, so much as there isn't much to report, if that makes sense. The garden is pretty quiet right now, with only a few things growing. This is mostly because many of the seeds I planted were eaten shortly after sprouting, either by birds (my own or the indigenous species) or squirrels. Either way, it wasn't until this past weekend that I got around to finally trying again to plant some more seeds. I fertilized them and then put up some fencing all around the perimeter of the boxes. It doesn't look very pretty, but I don't care as long as it works!

The only things hanging in there are the carrots, some onions and a couple of broccoli plants. The seedling seem to be healthy, but only the carrots appear to have grown in the last few weeks. The broccoli seems to be almost in stasis.

My gardening class last Saturday was really interesting; one of the most interesting so far. It was on pest control, with the emphasis on organic methods, or even better, no methods at all. If you garden organically, you soon learn to accept a certain amount of crop loss to occur. But if your garden is essentially healthy and diverse, our professor pointed out, you will have an equal number of predator species to balance out the pest.

I spent much of the rest of the day thinking about this, picturing a little African Savannah scene in my yard, with herds of aphids crossing a great plain of a leaf, while predators like Lace Wings, Wasps and Ladybug larvae lie in wait for them. Here are some of the fascinating things I learned.

*The time in a ladybug's life cycle when they eat the most aphids is actually the larval period. Once they become adults with spots and wings, they mostly are interested in nectar and don't eat many aphids. So those little containers of ladybugs you get at the garden store are of dubious value. By the time they get settled in your garden and lay eggs that hatch, the aphids or whatever will have already gone through your plants. However, if there is food for the adults (in the form of flowering herbs like thyme and other small flowers), they will hopefully stick around and lay some eggs so the next generation of predators are born. The problem is, if you saw a ladybug larva, your first reaction would be "oh my god KILL it!" So to help, I've include this picture.

* Did you know that ants actually tend flocks of aphids like humans tend cattle? They feed on the fecal matter aphids create (called "honeydew") and will fight off aphid predators like ladybugs in an effort to protect "their herd."

When plants are attacked by a pest like aphids or thrips or caterpillars, the plant will release a chemical scent that is particularly enticing to exactly that predator who will eat that pest. The plant can alter the scent in a thousand different ways to attract exactly the right predator species.

* This chemical scent also instantly alerts all the other plants to ready their defenses against attack, thereby making the other plants stronger and healthier. Did you know plants have such a sense of altruism and community?

The professor said one other thing that I thought was poignant. Pesticides (whether petroleum-based OR organic) tend to kill everything indiscriminately, including the all-important microbes in our soil. They might be effective in wiping out the pest, but they also destroy the predators and therefore disrupt that entire ecosystem. Therefore, the professor said, if you have to use pesticides to control the pests in your garden all the time, "you owe it to yourself and the planet to give up gardening."

Food for thought indeed! So, I've made it my mission this month to get outside and ID as many of the creepy-crawlies in my yard as I can. I'll report back on what I find.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chickens Love Psgetti!

I have coop envy. Major,major coop envy. This is because I've been perusing some of the other coops made by the folks on Backyard Chickens. People with a a bit more room and some serious table-saw skills. These are coops that look like wee barns and playhouses, complete with all sorts of handy storage and flower boxes and painted trim and lighting schemes. These coops are nicer than my house. Unfortunately I am gifted with neither major carpentry skills nor a spare couple of g's lying around to pay someone to build me one of these chicken tajs, so in the meantime, I thought I could at least build the girls a decent nest box. So I trudged back down to Home Depot ("Sara!" They all shout down there now when I walk in, like Norm in Cheers) and got some more lumber to make simple box. Because I have the math skills of a grunion, a very nice and patient employee helped me eventually cut the right sizes. So I managed to cobble together this box, and then with Matt's help, we cut a hole in the back of the coop and then screwed the box on. It's like a whole extra wing!

Here's a photo from the inside of the coop:

The girls checked it out immediately, and Matt reports that Ginger was already inside it. Of course they immediately kicked out all the fresh pine shavings I had put in, so I cut down a piece of wood and wedged it in the front as a sort of stop.

I also found out that chickens LOVE psgetti.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Is it Fall Yet?

It's been a long time since I posted! That's because there hasn't been much going on in the garden. This is usually a transitional time of year; from the long, slow pleasures of the hot summer garden to the (usually) short but sweet fall garden. A few weeks ago I planted all my seeds, some in little flats and some directly into the raised beds. I watered them all carefully and then just left them to do their thing.

Unfortunately, the Santa Ana's hit, in a big way and along with the devastating fires. While we were fortunately not in harm's way, the unusually warm weather has delayed the germination of many of my seeds, including almost all of the ones in the little flats. Fortunately, the plants in the raised beds are doing better, and I now have the almost 2-inch high beginnings of broccoli, carrots and cilantro. The lettuces have been much slower (owing to the unusual heat, no doubt) but I am still hopeful that at least a couple of varieties will make an appearance. I'll post photos soon.

The chickens continue to get small upgrades as well. I decided I don't like the nesting box that came with the henhouse I bought, so I built a new nest box that I'll attempt to mount to the outside of the hen house. This will give them more room inside, as well as a more private place to lay, once they are ready. They still have about 6 weeks to go I think.

I have to say though, looking at some of the photos of coops posted on, I have SERIOUS coop envy. I really need to get some power tools. *sigh*

Monday, October 15, 2007

Goats Can Food Anything.

Here's how I spent my weekend.

Saturday: Jogged 4 miles, went to gardening class, grocery shopping for dinner, worked on chicken coop, cleaned the house, made dinner, watched football, got tipsy.

Sunday: Went to see some goats for a possible business, finished the chicken coop, cleaned up the yard, tended my crops, collapsed into bed.

I need a weekend to recover my weekend. On the upside, the new coop looks great and the Girls are loving all the extra room. Not to mention they got all new bark chips which = fresh bugs to eat and scratch. As a comparison, here's the old coop:

And here's the new one:

So there's about 9 square feet more there. The husband, of course, wanted to make it bigger (why do men always want things bigger?) but since the lumber at Home Depot comes in 8 foot lengths, I convinced him that was plenty. And it really is. Much longer and I wouldn't have been able to get the door open.

Finally, here's more pictures of goats.

Friday, October 12, 2007

This May Be the Winter of My Discontent

With a pang of sadness, I finally said goodbye to the peppers and the last tomato plant last weekend. The peppers were still bearing fruit, but very slowly. The last tomato plant, a small yellow pear variety, would probably have kept bearing for quite a while longer, but I was anxious to get on with the cool season crops. My seed order from Seeds of Change came and I planted them right away. I planted some in these cool little seed starter packs made of organic material that you can just plant directly in the ground without having to pull them out first, so you damage fewer roots. Some I sowed directly into the raised beds.

Now its just a wait to see if any actually come up. I'm still really not sure where to put the seed packs. My gardening teacher had said they could go outside, but he has an open-air greenhouse and I'm worried that its too windy for mine just on the ledge outside the kitchen. I wish I had a mini-greenhouse for them.

The ones in the raised beds I fear for. We've been working on a new coop for the Girls as they have outgrown their current one, so I've been letting them just wander around the yard while I work (under the watchful eye of their dogsitter of course!). A few times I caught them over there around the beds, and I am now concerned they may have been eating the seeds. I have some chicken-wire over the beds now, and I'm hoping the seeds are intact!

Anyone know how much water the seeds need at this point? The gardening instructor had said water them once, very well, and that's it until they start to come up but..they look awful dry to me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

David Attenborough can't be far behind.

Had a bit of excitement not long ago.

I'd been letting the Girls out to do a bit of free-ranging bug control for about 35 minutes in the evening while I walked Kylie. Letting them out while keeping Kylie in could be exhausting, as she would usually stand at the window and bark her disapproval. So letting them out while walking Kylie killed two birds with one stone (Pardon the expression, Girls).

I returned from one such Saturday morning walk and went out the yard to gather up the cheeps so I could run off to my new gardening class. They were all happily foraging on the side of the house, and came running to meet me. I always have some grapes or other yummy treat for them, so getting them to come to me is generally not a problem.

Once they had a peck and what I had, I turned to lure them back across the lawn, up the steps and into their coop. When I got to the steps, I looked back and for some reason, they weren't behind me any more. They had detoured off the side of the yard, by the planters. Even MORE strangely, they all seemed to be on the move, and Derby was actually flying.

This is what made me freeze in my tracks. For those of you who have never seen a chicken fly, well, they don't really fly so much as sort of hop into the air and franctically flap their wings. They generally don't got more than a couple of feet, and it's anything but graceful. Basically, they fly about as well as you and I would, were we to suddenly have large feathery wing contraptions stuck on our back.

But here was Derby, actually soaring low and over the planters, straight at Ginger. I couldn't believe it. My first thought was actually, "Holy Cow, Derby is FLYING! Drat, now I'm going to have to start clipping their wings or they will fly out of the yard."

My second thought (thank goodness this all happenened in a nanosecond) was, "Hey. Wait a minute. That's not Derby! That's the CHICKEN HAWK! And its ATTACKING MY GIRLS!"

For those of you who missed earlier posts, it turns out that we actually have Cooper's Hawks now living in our neighborhood. That's right, in a tidy, people packed suburb in Los Angeles. I mean, are you kidding me?

This is what a Cooper's Hawk looks like:

Here's what a Barred Rock looks like:

Yes I am aware that they really don't look much alike. Well, they both have sort of stripey things going on...

So once my slow brain finally clued in to what was going on, I started yelling at the hawk who simply swooped up and around and back into the tree over my head. I started throwing rocks at it, not very well, and yelling. It sat there blinking sort of disdainfully at me, then finally flew away.

Well, that threw me for a loop. Clearly letting them free-range unattended is now out of the what to do?

The answer presented itself in the form of the very canine that I had previously been so concerned about. If Kylie was so incredibly fascinated by the cheeps, well, why not let her "baby sit"?

To that end, I've begun actively working with her to see if how well she will do with this. More to come on this....

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Eviction Notice

Last weekend I finally evicted the Girls from our den. It's really hard to say who was more delighted: they or us. Needless to say, they were happy to get out of the now-cramped dog kennel and into a bit more space and fresh air. And we were delighted to have our den back.

Before I could move them out completely though, I had to do just a bit more reinforcing of the coops, so I bought some hardware cloth and placed it underneath the coop, then secured it to the frame of the coop with chicken wire (how appropriate.) Then I spread a layer of bark chips all over it, and set up their food and water vessels. I also bought and attached a latch for the egg-door, to prevent curious raccoons or rats (or dog noses) from getting in.

Finally, with Matt's help, I built a little ramp for them out of some old plywood we had lying around. Giving them a ramp rather than just lowering the face of the henhouse gives them some extra room, which they will soon need because they are growing like weeds! I think it came out pretty well:

So by Saturday night, the Girls were moved into their new home and made very comfortable. Kylie was pretty perplexed by the move though..she had only just got done telling us for weeks that THERE ARE CHICKENS IN THE DEN!

Now, everything had been turned topsy-turvy! Suddenly, she had to warn us urgently that THERE ARE CHICKENS IN THE YARD! No matter how many times we assured her that we did know that there were chickens in the yard..that we had, in fact, placed them there ourselves, she still was concerned that we might not be aware that THERE ARE CHICKENS IN THE YARD!!.

Still, I wasn't too concerned about it. I felt pretty good about it actually..after all they were nice and secure.

Until Monday, when Matt yahooed me from home.

"Um, honey? I think we need to shore up the coop a bit more."

"Why," I asked.

"Oh..just because." he replied. Then he sent me this:


I've been letting the Girls out for a few minutes in the morning while I make coffee and shower, and then again in the evening so the can stretch their legs and snatch up some tasty cobwebs. On Tuesday morning I learned that, while they are always eager to come out in the morning, getting the to go back in when I want them to is a bit more challenging. I tried using the Scary Blue Broom, but that only caused me to commit a Laurel & Hardy routine. I even let Kylie out to see if she chased them, would they just all flock immediately into the safety of their coop? Nope. What happened is that the Girls just ran right past the open door and started going in circles around the coop and henhouse, with Kylie right behind them. Soon I joined in, and before you know it, all we needed to complete the scene was Benny Hill in a wig and someone playing Yackety Sax in the background. Especially when, the moment I got them almost lined up..the sprinkler went off.

Note to self: Do not wear white dress pants outside to chase chickens on sprinkler day.

Finally, here's a couple of shots of the girls enjoying some corn, generously donated by my friend Windy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pooped Out.

At almost 5-weeks old, we are all ready for the girls to move outside to their "big girl" coop.

And by "we", I mean all of us: the chickens, the dog, my husband and definitely myself. The girls are ready to be free of the confinement of the dog kennel and we humans are ready to be free of the poop. I honestly can say that I had NO IDEA how much chickens poop. They poop every few MINUTES...and if you are lucky its the normal relatively dry poop. I do not want to go into descriptive verse here on the texture and smell of some of the less than optimal poops.

Last night the husband and I were in the den with them, watching them clamber around the top of the kennel, where we had let them out for a bit. The girls were flapping around, and of course, pooping.

After one particularly wet sound, I hear my husband groan.

"Man. I really didn't need to see that," he said suddenly.

"What?" I said.

"Chicken Butt."

I absolutely can't believe I actually fell for that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fruits of My Labor

Ah..the sweet rewards at last. Without a doubt nothing tastes as wonderful as a meal made with ingredients picked moments earlier from your own garden.

The other night I made a simple salad with roasted corn (ok, I didn't grow that myself, but next year for sure), heirloom tomatoes, basil, and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. It was the taste of summer in a bowl.

On another note, the girls are getting B-I-G! They are 2.5 weeks old..only 2 more weeks until they can go outside to their big girl coop. The process of down turning into feather is one of nature's more extraordinary sights. I think it also must be somewhat itchy, as they constantly groom themselves now. Ginger in particular has feathers that are quite beautiful.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Freedom Peeps

The girls are only about 2 weeks old, but they are already getting a bit tired of their kennel brooder. Since it was a nice warm day, I decided to take them out and let them run around their newly built chicken run for a bit.

Getting them from the kennel, which is parked in the living room, out back to the run was a bit of a challenge. I initially tried to stuff them all into the box they had been mailed in, but that turned into a comical episode of Whack-a-Mole. I'd cram one little peep in there, turn around to grab another peep, only to have the first one immediately pop out. So I ended up stuffing them into Lucy the cat's carrier, which I then opened up inside the run.

They were hesitant at first, but once they got in there they had a blast. There was so much to peck at and play with! The hard part was getting them out. They didn't want to leave and protested mightily when I crawled in there to get them out. Here they are 'sploring.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Man I miss bananas. Pineapple too.

Since I've decided to try to stick to the "Eat Local Challenge," I've had to give up some of my favorite fruits..they just aren't grown in California. I guess I should be grateful that California DOES grow just about everything else, including (as I've recently learned!) some of the world's best mangoes. But still....

I miss bananas.

As for Pineapple..does Mexico count as "local" to Los Angeles?


Monday, July 30, 2007

Go Derby!

I've only had the babies 6 days and I am amazed at how big they've got. And its amazing how their individual personalities come through: two like to be held more than the other two; one in particular is really curious, etc.

Last night I wedged a wide piece of wood into the brooder to give them someplace to roost. I pushed it as far down as it would go, and positioned it right in front of a brick I had put in there for them to play on. While they were all interested in it, one little BR in particular (we've named her "Derby") was really interested in it and kept trying to get up on it. She would keep jussssst missing and kept trying. After I went to bed, my husband said they kept trying for awhile.

Well this morning he emailed me and said, "Guess who made it onto the roost first?" I answered right away, "DERBY!". I felt as proud as a mother could be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

All My Peeps Are In the House!

Man did they get here fast! They were supposed to be shipped on Tuesday, so I wasn't expecting to get them until Wednesday or Thursday. So imagine my surprise when, just before noon on Tuesday, I suddenly hear LOUD peeping sounds coming from the reception area in my office. I ran out into the hallway in time to see the postal delivery woman leaving HR's office. I think she was happy to be rid of them, because they were LOUD. The HR woman came out holding the box...I think she was as excited as I was. About 6 other people heard the peeping and came out to investigate. I took the box into my office, grabbed some scissors to cut the ties and opened the lid to find....FOUR. FOUR PEEPS! I was extremely surprised, since I had only ordered 3. I knew that often in larger shipments the hatchery will include 1-2 extra (in case one doesn't make it. I know.), but that's usually on shipments of like 25 or more. I really didn't expect an "extra" for such a small order!

The chicks clearly didn't like being in their cold box so after letting everyone in the office have a quick peek, I ran them home and got them into their new brooder (Kylie's dog crate). Thank heavens the replacement heat lamp had just arrived the day before, or I could have really been in trouble. It took some experimenting with the position of the lamp before they were comfortable..its hilarious how quickly they respond to the lamp being moved a bit! Just a couple of inches too far away and they all immediately run to the front of the crate to be closer to it.

It didn't take them long at all to find their food and water and soon they were happily scampering about. I put a couple of bricks in there with them and they immediately started climbing up on them. They are incredibly inquisitive little babies! In total I have 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 Black Star, and 2 Barred Rocks. Here's just a few pics.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I went out to do some early Sunday morning watering and to (hopefully) pick some ripe tomatoes.

I made the sad discovery that the two branches of one of the heirloom tomatoes had become SO heavy with fruit, that it literally split in two, right down to the base of the plant. I'm heartbroken. I really should have seen this coming..the fruits are almost 3 pounds each! I guess the bamboo stakes I had used weren't close to being strong enough. I did my best to prop up the branches and tied the base together with a bit of twine, in an attempt to save what I can of the plant. I'm not holding out a lot of hope though. What a bummer...the tomatoes were just days away from being ripe enough to pick too. Another lesson learned.

On a happy note, my baby chicks should be just emerging from their shells today! Hard to believe that in 24 hours, they will be sexed, sorted and popped in their mailing box to head my way. Godspeed little babies...hope to see you safe and sound!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Guests, Welcome and Not

Well, my tomatoes seem to have hit a stretch of stasis. They still look healthy and green, and are heavy with tomatoes. But they haven't put out any new flowers and the existing tomatoes still haven't ripened fully to red, or yellow, or their various designated colors.

The peppers however, are doing well and we've already had several of the Purple Beauties, as well as the first of the Orange Bells. It was a tiny one, but every bit as sweet, and, I don't know, orange tasting as we could hope.

The first of the Corno di Toro's has turned almost completely red and should be ready to be picked in just a couple of days. I'm very exited!

I've also spotted several insects in the dirt and on the plants, including a ladybug, a tiny little green cricket, and several silverbugs that I hope are aerating my soil, and not my leaves. Today, we also had this beautiful dragonfly which persisted in hanging out on one of the bamboo stakes for a bit.

The last photo is not garden-related, I just though that a very tired Kylie (tired from a day at the beach) was too cute.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Note to Self:

Dear Self:

It is certainly not a bad idea to use tomato cages for your tomato plants. After all, they provide lots of great support for all that heavy fruit! And I know you just read a great book called "Cubed Foot Gardening" about intensive gardening in raised beds, and that the author emphatically recommends using cages or stakes for tomatoes. And yes, I know that the bamboo stakes you bought are really too small for such vigorous really probably should have bought thicker stakes.

So while cages are indeed great, the trick here is...(are you listening carefully, Self?) to put them on when the plant is still very small. Trying to wedge one onto an already ginormous, multi-branched plant is really, really not a good idea, as you have just learned. It does, in fact, result in major wreckage, accidentally breaking off one whole branch (which had almost ripe tomatoes on it, I note...way to go, Self!), damaging many other branches, and deeply abrading the main stem. If you'll recall, you ended up half in tears, grass stains on your knees and alternately cursing and apologizing to the poor plant.

Please remember this for next time. Your consideration appreciated.



Saturday, June 30, 2007

Coop de Ville

The Ville of Westchester that is.

Got my Chick-n-Hutch yesterday (yes, that's what its actually called) and spent some time today putting it together.

Now, I know that I've mentioned before that I am seriously handicapped when it comes to handyman skills, but I really think my difficulties were not entirely my fault. The directions came with the sort of blurry, inconclusive drawings that I formerly would have associated only with Ikea furniture. Not only were the directions very misleading, but the whole thing is full of badly drilled holes that don't match up, extra holes that seem to have no purpose and are not referenced at all, missing wing-nuts and even (this was my favorite) a pre-drilled hole for a screw that was then covered in chicken wire. Brilliant, Chickn-Hutch guys! Really. A big thumbs-up for you.

Anyway, after a couple of hours sweating in the sun to do a job that should have taken about 20 minutes, I have this. Next I get to put the actual run together..but I think that will have to wait for tomorrow. It's time to grab a beer for now and check out my peppers and tomatoes, which are loving this heat.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Holy #$@ I've done it now......

I ordered a chicken coop! I know, I know, my sister will think I'm an idiot for buying one instead of making it, and my mother will think I'm an idiot, period. But I did a lot of research and this one is honestly cheaper than I could actually make it for myself. Plus it comes with the run and nest box.

Next comes ordering some actual chicks! There are some feed stores around Los Angeles that sell them, but after doing a lot of research, I have a specific breed in mind, and the feed stores never know what they'll have in stock. It's pretty much a crapshoot.

There's also the question of where to send them. If I have them sent to work, I can be sure of being here to receive them. I'll also delight the HECK out of my co-workers. On the other hand, the building security people might give the mailman a hard time.

I'm a bit nervous but excited, thanks to all the great help I got from other backyard chicken keepers on the forums at

Monday, June 25, 2007

Crap, no Whole Foods? Now what??

At the moment I'm deep into Michael Pollan's mind-blowing book "The Omnivore's Dilemna." I can't decide if everyone should read this book, or whether I wish I never had.

No, I take that back. I'm glad I read this book, if only because it's incredibly fascinating stuff. Who knew that corn is basically a freak of nature, that without human interference, would go extinct within a couple of years? Or that Whole Foods market, contrary to the rosy portrait they present of produce and meats from idyllic pastoral settings, is not much different than any other giant industrial supermarket? (I was particularly crushed at finding that "free-range" chicken doesn't mean at all what I thought it meant.)

The good news is that reading the book has really fired up my desire to get my little property to produce more food stuffs, at the same time with less pollution and waste. Today I started researching what CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) opportunities are available in this area. I might even volunteer to be a drop-off point for some local farms if I can get enough people interested. has a lot of great resources already; just put in your zip code to find what's available in your area.

Also, I've rekindled my interest in chickens! My sister keeps trying to convince me that we can make our own from old plywood and some chicken wire, but I think she seriously overestimates our building skills. (See: a typical attempt at making something.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thank God I Never Went To Medical School

Because I would SUCK at being a surgeon.

I finally got around to pruning my tomatoes again yesterday. I'd done a good pruning a few weeks ago, but the instructions in the article I got from a friend's husband specifically say to prune the lower branches AFTER the first flowers appear. This ended up meaning, on several of the tomatoes, that there were thick, vigorous branches all OVER there place before the flowers appeared. Since I felt mighty sad about hacking off perfectly lovely branches with great big, bright green leaves, I probably waited a bit longer than I should have.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I finally made myself head out yesterday evening to do the deed.

Now, I wanted to follow the instructions to the letter, so I did use a razor blade, rather than clumsy scissors, to make a nice, neat, surgical cut. However, while I did make neat cuts, I'm almost POSITIVE the instructions didn't say "now have some sort of spasm and slice off a layer half-way down the plant too, like a total git." I mean, I read it twice, and I don't think that was either implicit, or implied, in the instructions.

So then I had to spend the next 15 minutes apologizing to my poor plants, in an almost Buddhist like belief that if I was at least sorry for my butchery the plants would forgive me and not cack on me.

Anyway, the good news is that the peppers are totally undaunted. They don't have to suffer my pruning skills like the tomatoes, and are gleefully putting out fruit. SO much fruit in fact, that I'm a little concerned about a couple of them. How can a plant, only 7 or 8 inches high, put out so many already large fruits, without just falling over in exhaustion? It's a bit like stumbling across a very short man with a severe case of elephantitis of the testicles. I don't know whether to be concerned or impressed.

In any case, here's the photographic updates.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Yes, I KNOW You Don't Knead to Make Bread....

Today's post title is courtesy of an absolutely dreadful joke made by my friend S. I apologize on her, and my, behalf.

This past weekend I made Bread v.2, thanks to an extraordinary article in the New York Times that my mother forwarded to me (thanks Mom!). You can read the article here (you may have to sign up with the NYT, but if you aren't already, you should be), but the gist of it is that, rather than knead the bread, you simply let time do the work for you. It does require more time than usual (12-18 hours for the first rise and about 2 more hours for the second) but if you are bit phobic about the whole bread-making process (as I am) then this recipe is a BOON. It's extremely simple and the results were extraordinary. My cast iron pot is quite large, so I got a large disk about 3 inches high at its peak (A smaller pot would have yielded a smaller and fatter loaf) that had a remarkable golden brown crust. After letting it cool, I sliced it up and toasted it to make a sandwich for my husband, who raved about it. It's the same texture as a freshly made baguette..simply wonderful.

If you don't want to read the whole article, here's the recipe.

How To Bake No-Knead Bread
About 30-60 minutes work plus 14 to 20 hours' total bread rising time.
Bread Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting *
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

The type of flour used can be varied as you wish: white, whole wheat, or blends. The yeast MUST be instant or it's not going to work.

Starting The Bread Dough:
Mix your flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 5/8 cups water**, and mix ingredients gently until blended. The dough is a very wet and sticky one. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl to cover it and then put it somewhere that's at least 70 degrees for the next 12 to 18 hours.

Preparing The Dough:
When you come back and check on your dough, it should be larger and sort of puffy-looking with lots of bubbles all over. Sprinkle some extra flour on a work surface and scoop the dough out of the bowl on the surface. Sprinkle the dough with a bit of the flour and fold it over just one or two times. Cover it with the plastic wrap that was on the dough bowl and let it sit there for about 15 minutes.

Lay out a clean cotton towel (a smooth texture one) and sprinkle it with flour/cornmeal/bran. You don't want to add too much flour at this point, so, using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands, roll the dough into as tight a ball-shape as you can. Put the messier/seamed side of the ball down on the towel, sprinkle the dough with cornmeal/bran and cover with a second towel. Let the dough sit like this for two hours more. It should get a bit larger in size during this last rising.

Baking the Bread:
After the dough has risen for about 90 minutes of the two hours, start the oven pre-heating. Set it to 450 degrees AND put the pot you're going to bake the bread in into the oven to heat up too.

When the dough finishes rising, carefully take the pre-heated pot out of the oven. Carefully flip the dough off the towel and into the pot, which should make it seam-messy side up when it winds up in the pot. If the dough is crooked, wiggle the pot a bit. Then put the lid on and put it into the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then open oven and take off the pot lid. Bake for 15-30 minutes more until loaf is browned. Remove from oven, tip out of pot and cool on a rack.

Makes one loaf, about 1.5 lbs.

*I used bread flour, but I've heard people say they've used everything from AP to whole wheat to a mixture.
**This is what the recipe calls for, but I've seen several people say this yields too wet a dough (as was mine). If you watch the video that goes with this article, he actually says 1 1/2 cups of water, so I am wondering if the recipe misprinted. I'm going to try that next time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

It's Worth 1,000

At last, I can provide photo-journalistic evidence of my new garden! Matt managed to finally do what I was not, get our camera working again. He did this by using his incredible intuition about electronics, ie., how to scrape the corrosion funk off the battery terminal. Something I apparently could not figure out in the entirety of the 19 seconds I spent looking at the camera before declaring it hopelessly beyond repair, so I could then (natch) take to the web during work hours to look for a new camera. Darn him.

Anyway, so here are some photos of my progress so far. The tomatoes are looking good...they are all bright green and healthy looking. Almost time for another round of pruning and tying!

The peppers are coming along as well...two of the plants have already sprouted fruit (one of the bells and one of the banana types) and the rest are at least flowering. I'm a bit concerned about the dark black spots that have appeared at each junction that has this normal? I can't seem to find a thing about it on the web.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Green is My Valley?

Well, the good news is that the weather is warming up a bit, and as a result, my peppers and tomatoes are really growing like crazy. I started pruning and tying the tomatoes that had started to flower, and there are 3/4 inch sized little peppers on some of the plants already! Very exciting!

I'm a bit concerned about the basil though. They are starting to look a little yellowish, not as vibrant green as they had been. I'm thinking this means overwatering. There are also a few small holes on some of the plants, although I believe most of them have been there for awhile, so not really new.

Also, I thought I had read once that I should keep the flowers pinched back on the thyme...but that's rather difficult to do without mauling the leaves as well. Anyone know?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Loaf of Bread and Thou...

I made bread! Actual, home made bread! Not in my bread machine, I don't count that. That's just putting ingredients in and pushing the button. But ever since my old, wonderful bread machine died and I got a fancy new Breadman one, well, it just doesn't make good bread so I've been buying it.

But then my friend Barb brought me some extra sour-dough started she had made and a couple of simple recipes. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'm intimidated by making bread. I never know how long the bread should be kneaded or when its done rising, or my yeast has gone bad or my water is not the right temp or what have you. I just can't seem to get it right.

But I decided to give it a try last night, and it came out pretty darn good! It's by no means perfect: I suspect I didn't knead it long enough and it didn't rise as much and its not the prettiest, but it tastes pretty good.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Last weekend was our first anniversary, and being the emotional saps we are, we decided to celebrate it exactly the same way we spent our wedding day: sloppy drunk. We drove up to Santa Ynez to do some wine-tasting, get a massage, the whole romance weekend. I booked us a room at The Storybook Inn in Solvang, a place almost too precious to be real (all the rooms are named after Hans Christian Andersen stories) but lovely clean and quiet, and ideally situated for exploring the vineyards in the area. The weather cooperated nicely, and we had a lovely time.

After coffee and baked goods in the sun-filled breakfast room at the inn and a short morning jog to sweat off our trip to the casino the night before, we headed up to the Los Olivos Grocery just up highway 154 from Solvang. We spent way too much money and bought way too many goodies, but it was worth it. We headed into Los Olivos and stopped at the first tasting room we saw. After tossing back 10 oz each of wine, we headed up the road to the Zaca Mesa trail and took a beautiful drive up a tree- and vineyard- lined road to the Zaca Mesa Winery , where we sampled an extraordinary wine called Roussanne. We were so struck with it that we bought a bottle to enjoy with our picnic lunch. The woman who poured our tastings, April, joined us with her lunch and the next thing we knew, we were having a lively political discussion about 9/11.

Once April headed back inside, we figured it would be best to flee before we accidentally continued the conversation with a conservative and headed back down the road to Fess Parker's, where the wine and picnicking continued on the gorgeous, lush grassy grounds.

At some point, I'd had a little too much "picnic" and had to lie down for a bit. Fortunately, we'd brought a blanket, so I plunked myself down and let the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees lull me right off. Matt positioned his head on my rib cage and must have followed suit, because next thing I know, he's groaning.

"Oh no!" he said. "I fell asleep holding a half-glass of wine and twitched in my sleep, and dumped wine all OVER my shirt!"

"Oh no," I mumbled. I genuinely wanted to be concerned, but I was just so sleepy.

Next thing I know, he's got his shirt off and laid back down.

"What are you doing? Put your shirt back on!" I said.

"But its alll wet and stickkkkkkkkky," he moaned. "Oh no you don't...put that shirt back on. We are NOT going to be those people. You know what I mean... THOSE people."

So he grudgingly obliged, and not long after that we decided it was time to head back to the Inn to get ready for dinner. Once in the car, the offending shirt came back off.

Along the way, we passed fields on either side of the highway, full of cows. I mean, the place was just LOUSY with cows...cows under the trees, cows walking single-file to the water trough, baby cows, cows cows. I pointed at them and said "Moos! Look honey, MOOS!"

He squealed with delight to match my own. "MOOSSSSSSS! Oh look at them moos!"

On a whim, I pulled over so he could get out of the car. "Go see the moos!" I encouraged. He ran up to the fence, but the cows (no doubt not used to actual roadside visitors) got spooked and ran away anytime he got close. Disappointed, he ran across to the other side of the road to see if he'd have better luck.

Just then, I saw another car coming up on the road behind us. In a split second, I suddenly had a flash of the scene as it would look to them. My car parked on the side of the road; my shirtless, sunburned and slightly intoxicated husband running at the fence yelling "MOOOS! HEE HEE LOOK AT THE MOOS!"

There was no question at that point. We had become those people.

And you should have seen us when we came across goats.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Maybe I Should Rethink the Chickens....

So, the good news is that my baby plants all seem to be growing well, with the lone exception of the oregano, which has either strenuously objected to being transplanted or simply didn't get enough water while I was out of town a couple of weeks ago. (If my husband is reading this...*AHEM cough cough*)

The tomatoes are shooting up, the peppers are putting out flowers, and the herbs seem to be hanging in there. The one thing I noticed was that some of the peppers seem to be the salad course for something, because there are holes appearing in the leaves. I don't think they've gotten bigger, so it's likely the danger has passed, but to be extra sure I decided to combat any pests that might be hanging around. (Get it? Hanging? HA HA! I'll be here all week.)

Since I am trying to be all organically-concerned and stuff, sprays and pesticides are out, natch. So I was delighted to see that my new local Whole Foods has a variety of natural pest control options, from lady bugs to praying mantis cocoons, all in little cardboard boxes for $7 or so. How cool would a praying mantis be?? I was seriously tempted to buy like, 10 of them, sprinkle the cocoons around my yard, set up a tiny camera and host my own nature show. Man that would be bitchin'...watching a praying mantis get all Chuck Norris on some leaf-sucking aphids.

In the end though praying mantises (manti? whatever the plural is) seemed just a bit too close to being extra pets, so I went for the lady bugs. I brought them home, read the instructions, and dutifully waited until evening, after I watered the plants, to release them into their new homes. I carefully sprinkled them around the two raised beds, the little pots, and then dumped the rest into the flowering plants around the yard.

That was Sunday evening. On Monday, my husband called me at work.

"Uh. Honey? Were all the ladybugs supposed to just, well, die?"

Horrified, I asked him what he meant.

"Well..there's just a whole buttload of dead ladybugs here. I mean, its not a total holocaust or anything, but yeah..there's a whole pile of dead ones."

Great, I thought. One day. I managed to kill the ladybugs in a single day. Good thing I didn't get the chickens yet because while dead ladybugs are pretty unpleasant, dead chickens would really just freak me the hell out.

Feeling pretty poorly, I came home that night to inspect the damage for myself. And, yes...there were many dead lady bugs in the planter. I don't know if it was still too hot when I dumped them, or I put in too many, or the plants were still too small and there wasn't enough food and shade. I'm just not sure, but I felt pretty darn lousy.

And then.

As I was re-coiling the hose and getting ready to head back in, I saw her. A lone lady-bug, crawling around the soil, looking pretty content. I started paying closer attention, and there's another! And another! Suddenly I started seeing all kinds of ladybugs! Everywhere! They were crawling around, doing their ladybug thing. I started laughing out loud in delight. I hadn't failed! I carefully picked up one little ladybug that had crawled or fell onto the patio, and put her back gently in the plants. I think she gave me a little wave of her feeler as I did so, as if to say, "We're cool!".

I think she was even munching an aphid.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

You want WHAT for the yard?

Looking back now, I'm not sure where the idea came from. It seems to be one of those organic thoughts that make such total, logical sense that its origin becomes irrelevant; what matters is that, once in your head, its so compelling as to become an obsession.

"Look at this," I said to my husband one night last week. "Isn't this cool?"

I was referring to a website I had stumbled across for a cool-looking way to keep chickens. Or rabbits. That's what was so cool about houses chickens or rabbits in equal comfort. It's from, it's called an "eglu" (get it? Yeah I know.), and it looks, as one friend described it, like REI decided to start making chicken coops. It's all high-tech and mod and...plastic-y:

"You want chickens?" My husband said. He was clearly disappointed. I think he was hoping I wanted to show him a website for like, Matrix-inspired lingerie or at least, a stand-up arcade Sinistar game for sale.

"Yeah! Chickens! Wouldn't it be great?? Our own fresh eggs!"

"Hmm. I don't know," he said. "Wouldn't they be noisy?"

"No!", I replied. "Only if you get a rooster. I don't think you need a rooster. Wait. Do you?"

"Uh, you better read up first. And aren't they stinky?"

"Absolutely not!" (I had no idea) "I think that's only if you feed them crap commercial feed." (Did I mention I had no idea?)

So I spent the next week reading the information on the website. Those guys made it sound like a snap and had all sorts of pithy advice about "brooding" (take away their pot, even if they hiss at you!")and how you can tell which eggs came from which chickens (the special shape!) and how to check your chicken's "vent." (You don't want to know.)I gushed to anyone who would listen about my new desire. The reactions ranged from "I don't know you, can I please get out of my car now?" to "You want me to take care of those too??!" (My housemate..sheesh you'd think he didn't like walking and feeding our dog when we aren't there) to a whole-hearted, "Chickens are hilarious! Do it!" (my friend S. I think she's secretly setting me up. I think she knows that chickens are actually vicious, noisy, shit-smearing creatures who eat all your plants and only lay eggs once a week, in like, your shoes.)

So just as soon as I save up some extra cash, I'm gonna order me some chickens. Because who doesn't like eggs in your shoes?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Tale of Two Plantings

So, there my new raised bed are, sitting in the corner of the yard and looking lovely. I spent the evening drinking beer and admiring them.

"Are you going to actually plant anything?," My housemate asked. Smart alec.

Still, he had a point. So, I got back online (my favorite place to shop for anything) and immediately went to the Seeds of Change website. Within moments I had ordered a variety of seedlings, including 6 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 6 different varieties of sweet peppers and 6 different varieties of herbs.

"I think you ordered WAY too much," my friend S. told me. "Where are you going to put them all?"

"You mean I can't just cram them all into two 4 x 4 planters?" I asked.

"Well, different plants need different amounts of water, light, fertilyzer, etc." she replied.

Pbbbt. Parade-rainer. Stop making it all complicated n'stuff.

So come Saturday, I went off to the home store and got a whole car-full of organic soil (natch). One of the planters was on a sprinkler head, so I made sure to unscrew it and cap it off, then put the sprinklers on to test it. After I retrieved the cap from where it had shot across the yard and finished bailing out the hole, I put the cap on again. I did this several times until the husband got home and used his manly man strength.

Sunday, I finished the planting and topped it off with bark mulch for further moisture retention, and to keep the dog from trying to eat the dirt. It turns out that organic soil has a high poo-to-dirt ratio that my dog finds irresistable. It's like candy. So I wisely used mulch to keep her from getting to that layer.

15 minutes later, the dog was actually STANDING IN the raised bed, grazing like a sheep.

Once I got done re-planting the poor peppers and yelling at the dog, it was time for dinner.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Open Me First

The first thing one does when developing a new interest is, of course, to go shopping. Preferably on the internets.

In this case, I was looking for a raised bed kit so I could plant my new vegetable patch. Why not plant directly into the ground? Well, for one, because my soil is apparently a strange mix of clay, sand, and oh..nuclear waste. Everything I've attempted to plant directly into the dirt ends up shriveling into an exoskeleton within days.

I selected an attractive cedar-like kit made of recycled milk jugs (bonus!), and eagerly awaited its arrival. It came a week ago and I got right to putting it together.

I carried all the boxes outside (it came in several boxes, all long and somewhat heavy). I opened the box, pulled all the pieces out, and laid it on the concrete patio.

Then I stared at the pieces for awhile. Would have been nice to have some instructions, thank you very much! But still, I figured anyone with even an average IQ could put it together..I mean, there weren't really any screws. It was just a big puzzle. So, using my prodigious brain power, I managed to finally get all the pieces for the first planter together, in just under twice the time it really should have taken a fourth grader.

Only then, did I find the instructions. In the box clearly marked, "Open Me First!" Did I mention my prodigious brain power?

So, once I disassembled it and put it back together, you know, properly, I had two beautiful planters.

How much green is too much?

Allow me to introduce myself. I am 38, recently married, living in suburb in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is not generally your first thought for a backyard farm project, but then, as a Jewish American Princess from Honolulu, Hawaii, I am not your first thought for a backyard farmer either! So far my experiences in animal husbandry and agriculture have been limited to exactly three tomato plants, two domestic animals and a odd assortment of failed things in pots. In fact, not only am I NOT a natural green thumb, I've come to jokingly (and with a shocking lack of good taste) refer to my yard as "Auschwitz for Plants."

So why the newfound zeal for growing my own food? Well, for is IN baby. Haven't you heard? At least every other car in the Whole Foods parking lot is now a Prius..or at least the Hybrid version of the Pilot (gas mileage: 22mpg instead of 14. Sheesh. Think that's good enough people?) Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Ritchie are wearing only organic hemp to rehab these days, Gwyneth shops the local farmer's market for organic apples for, well, Apple; and a billboard for Brentwood Magazine screams "THE GREEN ISSUE" at me on my daily commute.

In all seriousness though, it started with my water bill. I opened it once day and just about fell over. I mean, I always knew it was high..but suddenly, looking out at the emerald expanse of a yard that currently serves little more purpose than doggy-poo receptable, I suddenly thought..what the heck am I doing? Why am I spending all this cash on watering, fertilizing and mowing this patch of grass when I could be putting this land to good use? I ran inside and started pulling out old Sunset Magazine issues. Usually I just blip right past the gardening section and head for something more interesting, like the travel section or food, but this time I actually started reading the articles. I was instantly entranced! Huge colorful photos of succulent vegetables and 4-foot tall tomato plants, glowing with health, tucked into neat boxes stared out at me. And the instructions...its so easy! Why have I wasted so much time? What kind of environmentalist am I?

So, I am going to make a commitment. By the end of this summer, I hope to have grown enough food to feed our little household for two weeks.

Or at least, throw just one bitchin' barbecue.