Thursday, December 31, 2009

Turn of the Year

I am out in the backyard with the chickens and the neighbzie's cat. It's been a partly cloudy day so far. I came out here first thing even before my coffee. The ostensible reason was that one of the hens (little sister?) ate one of her eggs yesterday, so we want to make sure we take them out of the coop after they lay. (Of course, we also increased her calcium with some oyster shells.) But the other part was just that once I got myself out of the house, it looks like a very good day indeed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

sick soup

When we are sick our old go-to is called Sick Soup. It's a basic vegetable broth with celery, carrots, and rice. Usually lots of rice, so that it's almost a porridge, congee, or jook. It's easy on the tummy, doesn't irritate mucus membranes, and can sit on the stove all day. You can add potatoes, too, unless rice and potatoes doesn't seem kosher to you.

Well, Malucho has been on fire in the cooking department lately. Black bean chile, Lentil soup with portabella mushrooms. Black bean and sweet potato burritos.

We've both been "coming down with something" for a week now, and today it is full-fledged, with coughing, sniffling, wheezing, fatigue, and dehydration. No fever, though, which seems weird.

So I was thinking a batch of sick soup was in order. Now mind you, it was a beautiful day in Oakland today. And Malucho is a pretty active little guy who hates to be sick. So sie kept escaping to the back yard, where I would find hir raking the soil under the chicken tractor or weeding something.

When sie started thinking about tonight's dinner, sie did a little prep work so that the broth would be nice and rich. onions, carrots, celery, garlic, as usual. Fresh zapotec tomatoes from the garden. vegetable broth. Oregano from the herb spiral.

So I was thinking, it's going to have more color than our usual sick soup, but sie's just gonna throw in two cups of rice and that'll be it.

Well, that is not what happened. What happened was that Malucho reaped some of the bounty of November garden in northern Calfornia. Squash blossoms. Verdolagas. A blender was employed. Tortilla strips were fried. Another ziplock bag was taken from the stash of New Mexican green chile (2009).

Aside: this green chile has been been appearing in quite a few meals, lately. Usually never enough to make the dish picoso, but it adds a lot of character to different dishes.

The final soup was beautifully golden, as if it were mostly butternut or carrot, and richly flavored. I can only imagine the wonderful nutrients it brings to our tired bodies. It was flavorful, delightful, heady stuff. I am truly blessed. I think the tortilla strips, place it in the Sopa Azteca category. I'm calling it Bronze Warrior Soup. It was garnished with sliced avocado.

I can't show you a picture because we ate it all, every last drop. Used a rubber spatula to scrape the pot clean.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bartered: One Cow

This is not really a post about a cow. We haven't gone all Novella Carpenter on you and leapt into large livestock. No, this is really a post about beans. In our garden, and in our pot.

Now, we love our beans. Malucho cooks the most delicious beans. And we have recently discovered those yummy heritage beans like Scarlet Runner beans, Appaloosa Beans, Anasazi Beans, Yellow Indian Woman Beans, Snow-Capped Beans, and so forth. Some of these are sold by Rancho Gordo, and others are available at a local market in Rockridge.

The really interesting thing is that a lot of them cook up a lot like pintos, but also a teeny bit different.

These bean experiences have us ruminating upon the hegemony of the pinto. Aurora Levins Morales writes of the potato,

Tuber of three thousand forms, you remind us that there are always more choices, more unexplored paths, is always more potential than we can imagine from the present moment.

Her argument is that while the modern "potato" is a brown-skinned white fleshed tuber, the people of the Andes brought forth a profusion of "varieties perfected for [each] combination of sun and soil and water…come in white and yellow, purple and red, orange and brown." Levins Morales suggest that the Irish Potato Famine was a result the European farming methods which prefer uniformity over diversity. While our very expensive farmer's market sell blue potatoes whose color goes all the way through, the white-fleshed potato rules the marketplace.

And so the humble bean. We grew up thinking that the pinto was "the" Mexican bean, little realizing that there were once hundreds of beans available, each suited to its combination of sun and soil, altitude and water. That while they may look similar, each one is a little different, has its own knack and flair.

Malucho's dad used to tell us about his tía-cousins, Connie, Cuca, and Concha, who had many different ways of cooking beans and different names for them al, not just de olla and refritos. Chinitos was one. (Does your family have these? Tell us here so we can recover them!) Distinctions that we have lost or forgotten.

Ruben Cobos, in his dictionary of New Mexican Spanish lists candelilla, as the word for the way the sun sparkles on the snow.

We need to re-learn some of the different words for bean.

I'm reminded of Essex Hemphill's poem on black beans, which concludes:

Let the beans burn all night long.
Our chipped water glasses are filled
with wine from our loving.
And the burnt black beans--

These are Scarlet Runner Beans from Malucho's garden. They have passed the green-bean crunching stage and are ready to be dried for the bean pot. They are truly magic beans, worth trading any number of cows.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Companion planting

Companion Planting
is the idea that certain plants benefit from being next to some other plant. I usually google to find information about what plants make good companions.

Perhaps the most famous companion planting combination is "Three Sisters"—corn, beans, and squash. This year, my modified three sisters planting has fava beans, corn, chayote, zucchini, and a gaggle of volunteer tomatoes. At this point, they are all getting along quite well!

I have other pairings based on the principles of companion planting:

Strawberries and Chives

Chiles and Petunias

Raspberries and Borage

I'm not sure if it is really "working," but I rest easier knowing that all my plants have one or two (or more!) suitable companions. Polyamory in the garden.

Bath time!

It's the end of the day, the sun is going down and the chickens are happily taking a dirt bath in the back of the garden....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

They look like morels...

They smell delicious and earthy like morels...

but I'm not 100% sure and I don't know anything about identifying mushrooms.

What to do?

They grew out of the playground chips we bought from the nice folks at Stop Waste....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pops of Yellow

I found the rails of a crib discarded on the side of the road and carried them home.

I painted them canary yellow. They now provide a back drop to my Jerusalem artichokes and marigolds.

Nastertiums, lemons, and sunflowers:

The Kindness of Strangers

Our garden contains the blessings of random acts of kindness.

Example #1: Here's how we came by our beautiful chicken tractor. I was driving somewhere in Alameda. I can't even recall what street or area since I am not that familiar with neighborhoods there. We'd only had our chickens a short while but it was clear their small coop didn't give them enough room to roam. And, while we like to free range them, this can only happen when they are being supervised (for their safety and the safety of our flowers and veggies. Ahem.) Anyway, I'm driving along and I see a chicken tractor on the side of the road. At least I thought it was a chicken tractor. I pull over, OF COURSE. Out comes a lady. Sheepishly, I ask "Are you giving this away? Is it a chicken tractor?" Not only was the answer affirmative on both counts (score!), she even offered to deliver it to our house in her truck. And, when I arrived home from my errands, there on our driveway was our new chicken tractor. So, there you go. So sweet. Thank you, kind chicken lady. (For those of you not in the know, a chicken tractor can be moved from location to location so that the chickens can work the land, pull weeds, leave manure.) Here is a photo of the tractor which is parked at our neighbors' house this week, because they have better weeds than we do:

Example #2: I bought home a pot of Brugmansia from the Lake Merritt Free Plant Exchange a few months back. It is doing great and I can't wait until it grows larger and blooms. I think is such a magical plant, which BTW, dates back to the Aztecs. Anyway, tucked in the pot—as a surprise—is the most beautiful orange calla lily. How sweet is that?

The Radishes That Got Away

So, I've been using the square foot gardening method in three of my raised beds. I have two square feet devoted to radishes.

I planted each square foot of radishes several weeks apart: 16 radishes per square feet.

We've found it a challenge to incorporate that many radishes into our diet. So, while we were eating away at the first 16 radishes...(finally harvested the last two for our salad last night) seems that the other square foot has gone insane, producing freakishly large radishes.

I guess it will take some practice to get in the hang of harvesting veggies when they are small and delectable. Meanwhile, Ktrion is considering pickling the large radishes....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

and up from the ground come a bubbling brew...

No, I didn't strike oil in my backyard, but I did build a bubbling brewer for compost tea, or in this case, worm tea.

Let me start with the worm tea story. I became a ranch wrangler last September.

Although ordering the worm bin from Waste Management of Alameda County was pretty straightforward, getting the red wrigglers themselves was a rather sketchy affair with secret meetings in the parking lot of a bakery in San Leandro.

Following the worm dealer's advice, I put all this shredded newspaper (soaked for 24 hours) in for bedding, and I'm still finding hard pulpy bits of it. I much prefer the coconut (coir) bedding that came with bin. The worms didn't seem very excited about the whole relocation scheme and I didn't see much of them.

We went through a period of overfeeding them, then we went through a period of drenching them. This happened because we had long heard of the virtues of "worm tea," and since the bottom-most tray of the worm bin has a little tap to release liquid, we thought this liquid was the magic worm tea of which had heard tell. Thus followed the idea that by watering the worms more often this would increase our harvest of worm tea.

After which, there was an unfortunate incident involving worms who were unable to swim, and the whole worm tea quest was called off.

Until now.

Now, we know that compost tea, or worm tea, requires aeration, food, and some time. However, it can be easily brewed in a 5 gallon bucket with an aquarium pump and an air stone. The elaborate plans were provided by Deuley and confirmed in the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living book.

So now about two cups worth worm casings is bouncing along in a bubbling vat of dechlorinated water, with some molasses. The batch will be ready in the morning, and Malucho will begin spraying it on her soil.

Watch for more updates from the bubbling brewmeister.

See also this eerily similar post from Gamine's Garden. We didn't read this first, although I did copy the hyperlink to Deuley's. It must just be synchronicity.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tacos de Nopales y Verdolagas

This is a good time to harvest paddles off the nopal, while they are still fresh and tender.

I started this nopal several years ago from a paddle I bought in the food section at Berkeley Bowl. I just stuck the paddle in the ground and about a year later it started producing new paddles. I love the way people in Oakland grow nopales. More than a healthy, delicious food, the nopal is also, often, a work of art, sculpted at the hands of the gardener/artist over decades. My own nopal is still small by Oakland standards but I expect it to be at least 6 feet tall within a few years. When I choose which cactus paddles to harvest, I am mindful of the aesthetic choices I am making. With any luck, I will have a balanced, quirky nopal sculpture in the years ahead.

For the past few weeks, verdolagas (wild purslane) has been popping up all over Oakland and we have several patches growing in our own front yard. We've been eating the verdolagas raw in salads but tonight I wilted them on the grill, and it came out great.

These are the verdolagas growing as "weeds" in our front yard:

The way I like to prepare nopales is to cut them into thin strips and then remove the spines. I toss the strips with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I love the taste of nopalitos cooked on the grill. I get my grill very hot and proceed to cook the nopales until they are charred on the outside and tender on the inside.

I served the nopalitos and verdolagas with hot corn tortillas, guacamole, lime, grated queso fresco, radishes, snap peas, and lettuce. I let everyone make their own tacos. Lil J—our 15 year old family friend—ate 4 tacos (so did I!).

Nopales and verdolagas are traditional foods of Mexican and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Both Ktrion and I grew up hearing about these foods; however, having been raised in the "hamburger helper" generation, we did not eat such foods on a regular basis. Now, of course, we realize the importance of reclaiming the old ways and we are trying to educate ourselves about traditional Mexican foodways.

An informative article in Mother Earth News describes the nutritional content of verdolagas as "...uncommonly good for you. It tops the list of plants high in vitamin E and an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus.Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains too few omega-3s, a shortage that is linked to a barrage of illnesses including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. "

And, because wild purslane grows as a weed, all we have to be able to do is recognize it when it appears in our garden in early summer months. We don't have to buy it, water it, or even save its seeds.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Looking back

Malucho and I are mostly not the kind of people who document our lives through photographs. All of our photographs seem to have been taken by our friends and family, who then give us copies.

Malucho's mom was here this weekend, and she brought us pictures from Easter and Mother's Day and we were amazed at how much the garden has grown just since April. The herb spiral is now crowned with a halo of lavender. The quinoa is as tall as malucho, the once empty beds are now full of trellised scarlet runner beans. and now we know why they're called "scarlet runner beans." One sunflower has unfurled its pale petals and many others are just on the verge.

We were both saying how much we enjoy the curly little tendrils (or "tentacles," as I like to call them) sent out by the chayote, the beans, and the passion flower. Malucho has been twining them around trellises, wires, and hemp cord to expand their grasp.

I spied an oriole yesterday while I was reading on the deck. It was in the neighbor's dwarf peach. It flew above our roof, and then my attention was back to the tree where another oriole appeared. So this morning, Malucho was out there setting out orange halves to lure them to the fence.

In the garden pest department, Malucho is being challenged by the ants, hormigas, and so she is trying several treatments: diatomaceous earth, borax baits. We haven't many slugs, and when we find them, we run delightedly to feed them to the grateful chickens. (We joke that the chickens refer to malucho as "SHE who brings snails and worms from above.")

Speaking of food from above...there was something really odd on the soil in one of the beds about a week ago. It looked like dough. First it looked like foam, and then it looked like dough, and it smelled kind of yeasty. Malucho scooped it up, and it was parked in limbo in a dish between the worm bin and the compost heap while we tried to decide what to do with it. It finally went into the compost.

I have never heard of such a thing before, have you? Unless it was manna from heaven.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Herb Spiral

Now that the Lavender is in bloom the herb spiral is looking more majestic.

Starting at the top: Lavender, Lemon Verbena, Sage, Trailing Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Zatar, Chamomile, Flat leave parsley, Parsley Aphrodite, Trailing Germander, Violas, Cilantro, Bee Balm, Borage, Mojito Mint, Persian Mint and a volunteer CA poppy! Not everything has grown, some are just barely sprouting....I'm hoping that once the rest of the herbs grow, the spiral will be completely full of green, life-sustaining, tasty herbs.

The theory of the herb spiral is this: Put the herbs that need well-drained soil at the top and the ones that need lots of moisture on the bottom. Put herbs that need more sun on the sunny side. Water at the top and the water will spiral down to the bottoms. Some people put a little pond at the bottom of the spiral.

The spiral makes use of vertical space, so there is room for LOTS of different plants.

Our spiral is constructed out of broken clay roof tiles that I bought from Urban Ore.

Herbs have many anti-cancer properties, so I try to grab a fistful and put them in my tea infusions, scrambled eggs, salads, crock pot beans, etc.

Here is a view of the entire herb spiral:

Here is a photo of the Hyssop:

Edible violas provide a pop of color:

Chamomile in bloom:

Coyolxauqui dancing next to the Hyssop:

Garden Spring 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicken Coop: The First Incarnation

While Malucho recharges the camera, I thought I should post this early photo, from last fall. I think maybe August. I was on CraigsList and saw someone offering a rabbit hutch for sale.

I brought it home, and Malucho gave it a pretty thorough makeover, though you can't necessarily see all the details.

She dismantled the entire coop (back down to lumber), power-washed it, stained it, added panels all around to contain the bedding and offer some protection. She painted all of these, cut two more plywood panels to cover the wire on the floor of the coop, so as to prevent drafts and to give the chicks something comfy to walk on, stained those and added handles for easy removal, installed hooks and eyes to latch the lid shut.

One thing that works really well about this set-up is that it's easy to clean. I flip open the lid, get out my little green bucket (the one provided by the city for my kitchen waste) scoop the pine shavings and chicken poop out, using one of those spatulas designed for kitty litter. The stained plywood bottom gives me a smooth clean surface so I can scrape off any crustiness. It takes about five minutes to clean it all out, and then put in fresh pine bedding. I empty the bucket into the compost, go back to the coop and pull out the metal tray underneath, that catches the stuff that slips through between the two bottoms, that's not quite another bucket full. Add that to the compost, and we have a clean coop.

Sometimes I leave the lid open while the chickens are out playing, to air it all out. Sometimes I tie sprigs of pigweed or dandelion greens from the wires inside, for their later dining pleasure.

I've noticed that if the chickens are in the coop while the lid is open, they then get VERY spooked if I close the lid. I think it means they think there's a hawk swooping down on them.

The coop didn't stay looking this way for too long: Malucho re-tooled the whole thing again, but we're waiting on those photos.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Queermaculture? Ktrion's take.

Because reading The Omnivore's Dilemma makes me roll my eyes at the re-glorification of American manhood. (ditto Escape and World War Z). Because Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a lesson in compulsory heterosexuality.

Because we want to attract birds, bees, butterflies, and fairies. Because queer community makes the world go 'round. Because Brown is the new Green. Because anti-cancer plants are an organizing principal in our garden and herb spiral. Because you can get female trees with male branches grafted on. Queer, baby!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Ktrion scored us a brand new Smith and Hawkin's compost bin on Craig's List. Now we have two, one for new compost ("feed me") and one for compost that is further along. We'll harvest out of the second bin, while we feed the first. I've never understood how people get to use their compost if they are continually feeding their pile. Anyway, I'm hopeful that our new system will provide us with a bounty of rich, dark, crumbly earth.

While Ktrion went to Castro Valley to pick up the Craig's list find, I built us a a make-shift shed out of a few pallets we had in the garage. The shed will provide shade for the two compost bins.

Bonus: the blue paint provides a nice back drop to my potted plants.


This is a photo of what our back area looked like in December 2008. The retaining wall was failing and the concrete was in the process of being removed.

Ktrion's dad provided directions on how to use a hammer to find the "sweet spot" so the concrete would break in two.

Our back area—once ugly concrete— is now home to the following plants: A Meyer Lemon tree, Santa Rosa Weeping Plum tree, Kumquat tree, Fruiting Rose, Passion flower vine, Ceonothus, Nopal, Yarrow, Tree Collard, Lilac, Rue, Spanish Lavender, Borage, and clover. And, now, it feels alive. All this in about 6 months! It's going to be cool to see what it looks like in another year, when the trees begin to grow. If all goes as planned, the passion flower vine will cover the back fence and give us a bit of privacy from the neighbors in the back.

Red Clover

The red clover we planted under the new plum tree is doing a great job of attracting bees. It is also suppressing weeds, keeping the soil moist, and when we turn it under, it will provide nitrogen to the soil. The chickens graze on it occasionally, too. So, yes, we think it is working out pretty well so far. We're a bit unclear, though, about when to turn it under and start a new crop.

Attracting Orioles

Yesterday, in an effort to attract orioles to our oriole feeder, I sliced an orange in half and screwed it to the top board of an old fence. Inspired by Pluck and Feather's mom's teacup bird feeder, I took a old wood salad bowl, glued it to the fence, and filled it with water. Voila! A bird bath.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NetEvangelizing the QueermaCult

Tonight I cooked dinner, which I rarely do: Malucho is the Top Chef. I'm usually sous chef or clean up crew. I made a frittata with chard and feta and a small onion. When Malucho makes it, we call it "Chardakopia" because it's like spanokpita but with chard instead of phyllo dough. (recipe came from our old neighbor). I did it from a cookbook, but with a few (ill-advised) shortcuts: I didn't clean the kitchen first, I didn't chop the chard small enough, and I had the heat on the stove turned up way too high. (nearly burned the onions) One funny thing is that Malucho always beats the eggs in this cute little "chile bowls" we have and so i did that too, even though there were really too many eggs for that size bowl. It was yummy though: those delicioso eggs can be very forgiving.

Malucho took a couple of slices over to new neighbors J&K. When I was on the deck this afternoon, I got to hear their hammers bringing down the roof, along with Cuban guy's drumming. It really is the music of our neighborhood and made me very happy.

One thing I have to watch out for is trying to drag all my friends into the permaCult. And getting carried away. Fortunately I have mountains of grading to do right now, so other then getting a second composter tomorrow, I can't start any new projects.

But I eye the empty yard next door and fantasize about goats. Cute silly goats.

Later this summer I'll be taking a "beneficial beasts in the garden" class at Merritt College. I really want bees. Ever I read Sue Hubbell's A Country Year and Broadsides from the Other Orders.

What I planted this season

Chayote, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Fava Beans, Scarlet Runner Beans, Spaghetti Squash, Quinoa, Sunflowers, Sunchokes, Basil, Parsley, Beets, Carrots, Radishes, Quelites, New Mexico Green Chile, Jalapeños, Habaneros, Eggplant, Bell Peppers, Peas, Arugula, Chard, Strawberries, Chives, Mesclun lettuces....

The chayote is doing awesome. Everyone tells me to watch out...that one plant can grow huge and take over an entire yard. I'm not worried about that, though. I can eat a lot of chayote and my garden looks mostly bare and too controlled. I'd love to have something that looks a bit excessive.

I'm also really excited about my beans. The favas are already flowering with beautiful white flowers and purple centers. The scarlet runner beans are running out of space to grow. Next year, I will provide a much taller trellis.

My eggplants and peppers aren't flourishing and look a bit straggly. I'll coddle them along and hope they take off.