Monday, March 29, 2010

Tour Of Ghost Town Farm

We really enjoyed our tour of Ghost Town Farm yesterday in Oakland, CA. Novella Carpenter is author of Farm City. A story of an urban farmer. She is just that and more and her book is a wonderful read for any home gardener/farmer or anyone alike.  The kids really enjoyed seeing her bee colony in action and the bunnies too. What a great way to end the weekend. Here are some reviews from her book Farm City. Pick up a copy today!    

"Animals run through this book like messy toddlers at a busy playground, and Ms. Carpenter names and adores just about all of them. The bustle is invigorating. But she is raising most of them as meat animals and sees no contradiction in loving them and, ultimately, seeing them — as painlessly and humanely as possible —to their ends. There is gallows humor here. She dispatches a duck in her bathtub and notes that it “went from being a happy camper to a being a headless camper.” 

"Novella Carpenter started off with a few chickens and a raised bed or two. A beehive, a turkey, ducks, geese, rabbits, and, eventually, pigs joined her farm in Oakland, California. Along the way she learned about animal husbandry, her neighbors, and herself. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer is her account of GhostTown Farm – why she started raising her own food and how she did it in what is often thought of as one of the worst neighborhoods in a very urban city"

"In this utterly enchanting book, food writer Carpenter chronicles with grace and generosity her experiences as an 'urban farmer.' With her boyfriend Bill's help, her squatter's vegetable garden in one of the worst parts of the Bay Area evolved into further adventures in bee and poultry keeping in the desire for such staples as home-harvested honey, eggs and home-raised meat. The built-in difficulties also required dealing with the expected noise and mess as well as interference both human and animal"

From Ghost Town Farm

From Ghost Town Farm

From Ghost Town Farm

From Ghost Town Farm

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Love Of Zinnias

From And Sow My Garden Grows

Zinnias first came to my attention about 3 years ago while in my neighbors back yard. The back of her house which is full sun was graced with hundreds of them. I just had to have a vase full. After running home to get a vase and clippers I found myself in her back yard alone wondering how many I could cut without leaving her a big gap. They were beyond beautiful. They were happy on my table for days and so was I. I convinced myself from that point on that I could grow them. I had no excuse with failing. If my neighbor could do it so could I. I mean, they were feet away just over the fence from where I'd grow them..our soil had to except these flowers! I have been growing them from that year on. They line my side of the yard for months from Spring to sometimes October. I  have read that the tall varieties can reach 3ft. I have had some at nearly 5ft. I cut them and fill vases galore for neighbors, teachers, family and of course us. They rebloom like crazy and come in about every color but blue. Last year I saved my zinnia seeds.  Choose your favorite blooms and let your blooms completely dry either on the stem or you can cut them off and place in the sun to dry.  After they dry pull the seeds off by tugging on the petals. You will see the seed at the base of the petal like I show in my picture. I had so many dried zinnia blooms last year that I just popped them all into a large container whole to save  them without separating the seeds. I broke the dried flower head apart directly above the prepared soil. The heads of the zinnias will just mulch back down in to the ground and this sure saves time.  It also helped me notice where they were when covering the seeds lightly with soil. Unless you are saving your seeds in envelopes to share or want to separate your blooms by variety type there really is not need to go to all that work of separating the seeds from petals.  As long as I have a garden, they will have a home. Here are some helpful growing tips.

Sow seeds directly in their permanent location in late spring after the soil has warmed and frost has passed. Space plants 9 to 12 inches apart (I like them full and have had no problems with crowding them) Larger varieties may require more room. Always follow the planting and spacing guide for your particular variety. Commercial packaging generally provides adequate instructions for planting and spacing on the back of the seed packet. Cover lightly with soil and keep evenly moist until seeds germinate. The germination process is very important!
Water regularly until the plants are established. Although they do not generally require watering and survive nicely under normal weather conditions, additional water may be needed during dry periods. Monitor for signs of excessively dry soil or wilting of leaves. Harvest zinnias before the flower is completely open for an impressive cut flower that holds well in a vase. Don't be afraid to cut them for a vase. They are prolific bloomers!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some Rewards Come With Hard Work

From And Sow My Garden Grows

After several days of being housebound tending to sick kids (I'm talking the kind of sick where laundry is going constantly and you are up all night) the weekend finally came. I was so thankful to have my husband home from work and that the weather was so beautiful. I just had to escape outside! Most would not consider this a break but for me it certainly was. I was extremely happy to be breathing the fresh air and loading the wheelbarrow with 3 yards of wonderful soil into my raised beds.


From And Sow My Garden Grows
From And Sow My Garden Grows

My tomato seedlings graduated from their Jiffy cells to 3" peat pots and the brandywine variety to even larger pots.  They seem to all be doing pretty well thankfully because between the 2 kids & the daily tasks it's one more thing for me to remember. It's a lot of work to baby these little guys! It's paying off though as I've only lost one. This makes me smile because this is my first attempt with growing tomatoes by seed. I have the routine down now and really take pride in the process. Especially after hitting the nursery over the weekend and seeing the same varieties for 2.99 each! I take the plants outside every morning setting them in indirect sun and moving them throughout the day as the sun moves & finally bringing them back in the evening.  Hopefully they will be a lot taller by planting time and I do hope that they fruit well and are productive - I will be giving away quite a few and feel so responsible for them!  I love Farmer Fred's Blog and he recently posted great tomato tips. He recommends late April early May for planting. Not sure if I'll hold off that long with planting - I'm so darn impatient.  Last year I planted the 1st weekend in April and it was our best year yet. Perhaps the raised beds played a part in that as the soil temperature is much warmer.  In the meantime I'm prepping the beds with compost and tucking in the nasturtium seeds along the edges of beds and keeping the zinna, cosmo, and other seeds in the ground damp so the germination process kicks off. It's going to be wonderful watching the yard bloom again!

Friday, March 19, 2010

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. ~ Proverb

This has been one beautiful week. The sun has been delightfully greeting me every morning and the earth seems to be in full bloom. Soon it shall be Spring! I am in love with the early mornings. The sounds of the birds chirping and the red robins dancing about the yard puts a smile on my face. I planted all day yesterday and with our day light lasting a little bit longer, I was able to sit on the patio with a glass of wine admiring my hard work and again the joy of gardening. I love this time of year. Last week was another turning point for us in our yard. I finally placed my order with Martinez Recycling  (green waste recycling program) and received 4 yards of a wonderful blend of compost, sandy loom and veggie soil. I proudly shoveled 3 yards of it last weekend and after hours of back and forth  with the wheel barrel filled my two empty beds. I have a yard in my left in our driveway but slowly it's being added to my borders and soon it will all have a home in our yard.  Yesterday I added new plants to our yard. 4 Jasmine found their spot along our back fence where our posts are and will soon be crawling it's way up the garden wire I attached to the fence breaking up the long redwood wall. I also planted 3 climbing roses - our first roses and those will at some point be covering the posts and wire and will provide a screen that covers our neighbors side of the garage. My tomato seedlings are getting big and are healthy. I've already transplanted them once and are hardening off fine. I am eager to go shopping for the rest of my tomato plants and may to get the best variety early. It's still too early to plant though as I'm planning on the 2nd week in April when the soil remains warmer. This year I will be planting in one bed alone 12 beefsteak varieties. I'm guessing that we will exceed our 18 tomato plants that we planted last year. Summer tomatoes are the best and selfishly we (I) feel can't have enough. There is that plan of canning/jarring this year though and If we can accomplish that - the winter ahead won't be all that bad. Happy gardening and happy Spring!  

Friday, March 5, 2010


I can't remember how I came across these amazing flowers but Nastutiums to me are just that. Amazing. They are often referred to as "a gardeners delight or a gardeners dream" and I completely agree. Nasturtiums are easy to grow and completely edible. They reseed like crazy and they help deter aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, cucumber beetles and other pests. Once you grow a few of these plants you will never have to purchase more and will be forever be sharing your seeds with friends. There are a few varieties out there. Some are climbers and some ramble about spilling out of raised beds and containers and they come in a handful of colors from vibrant oranges, yellows & reds, crimson, creams, peaches and a color that looks almost black. Some have variegated leaves and some are a very dark green. The plant has a graceful appearance and the leaves remind me of a water lily pad. Our kids really enjoy seeing them spill out of our raised beds every year and love to help harvest the seeds and I often see them poking them in to the ground. The seeds appear after the bloom dies off and are green in color and sometimes they have up to four in a cluster. You can pull them off the stem or wait until they fall. They are easy to spot on the ground or in your soil. It is best to let the seeds completely dry out (brown with a wrinkled appearance) before storing to prevent moisture & mold. I set them in the hot sun and let them dry. The process is pretty fast. I've read that you should soak them before planting. I've never followed that method and have never had a problem. Easy to direct sow.   Nasturtiums will always find a home in our yard.

Quick Nasturtium Facts:

1) The leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible
2) Great source of Vitamin C 
3) Nasturtiums have a spicy, peppery flavor
4) During World War Two, dried ground nasturtium seeds were used as a substitute for black peeper, 
  which was unattainable 
5) Full sun to part shade

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...

If you're lucky like us, you might have neighbors with very productive lemon trees. Better yet, you may have one yourself. We are the proud owners of a dwarf Eureka Lemon tree but it has yet to produce any fruit. Eureka lemons are the most common supermarket variety - great for most recipes that call for lemon. Then there is the Meyer Lemon which is a favorite amongst many chefs & gourmets. It is slightly sweeter and has a smoother skin and when fully ripened has an orange hue. We are lucky enough to have both available to us on our street. Lemons are fantastic and very versatile on the menu. From breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert there are many recipes that call for them. Plus they are a great source of vitamin C and Natural vitamin C is much more effective than the synthetic one. Here are some of our favorite recipes that call for lemons. Enjoy!

Lemon Blueberry Scones

Chicken Piccata
Lemon Meringue Pie
Lemon Cake
We also throw together a great lemon vinaigrette with lemon juice, diced garlic, dijon mustard &  coarse salt and pepper (this is also great in place of mayo on a tuna sandwich :)