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.