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)....it 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.