California Gardening 2

Today, hoeing and pruning in the garden. Cutting back roses, fuschias, wisteria and I started in on the apples although they are still leafed out.I prune now so I can dormant spray a few times and also because the spring growth starts so early here. In all gardens there is a time to cut plants back clean them up for future growth . Everything you do in the garden now will be what you see in early spring. Planting bulbs is still possible as well as garlic and onions( sets or seedlings).But for me mostly it’s about clean up, weeding and pruning. When you prune roses and other shrubs really think about the height you want to see the plant grow to next season . Look at it’s typical length of growth from the last year then cut accordingly. Do know, about what your pruning. If you don’t know it’s name(in Latin ) and it’s growth habit and what kind of wood , old or new it blooms on, don’t prune it ! Shrub roses do get pruned differently than regular hybrid tea roses.My shrub roses, here Sally Holmes a well loved hybrid musk I grew from a cutting, wants to be 5’x5′.So do I let it or not? My choice.

Fertilizing is important now before the temperature really drops and the micro organisms move slower making it difficult for nutrients to be made available to the plants. I know if I don’t get lawn fertilizer on right now the lawns will yellow up this winter and be difficult to re-green come spring. I like to use cottonseed meal or green sand. Keeping plants healthy and happy is always easier than dealing with problems later. Just like in people, prevention is always the best. Load a healthy dose of aged manure or compost on plants , shrubs and planting beds. Fertilize shrubs with a all purpose organic fertilizer. I use Calif. Organics 7-5-7.

While gardening is very therapeutic and gives you time to process thoughts and to watch your mind. Like cooking you should never garden with anger or impatience. The energy you give the plants will either help or hinder them. Most plants need lot’s of care and nourishing and will later show their appreciation.

When I used to work in the greenhouse at the monastery the head lama used to tell me to “Nurse” the plants. You know like in a nursery or like a mother.

Is this not the best wheelbarrow ever?

The Organic Thanksgiving

With holidays here . I get a little crazy. Why is it all the woman’s job to handle the housework, kids, gifts,parties.Plus in my case also the gardens and a job.? Boy do I ever sound like the complaining wife. But this is so hard to master. I try to go really fast so that maybe I’ll have some time today to do something creative . Some “project” is all I want. Be it getting out my sewing machine and making gifts or planting a new area. Heck just weeding works. Those of you who know me , know already that I blast through my days usually getting more done than the average super woman.But this stumbling block of getting enough done or not over committing ( oh, my god did I say that! ), is that the key?
But I love, good food, I love handmade things.I love to garden. I love to help others.I love to play with my too much. Maybe that’s the way greed works with me.Greedy for everything, I want to live all the lives all at the same time.Eating the cake and having it to.
We really did eat well over Thanksgiving. One party at my in-laws that I blessedly got to rely on my sister and brother in laws to cook everything. I did make four pumpkin pies out of the little pumpkins that volunteered out of the compost that grew by the barn.Some sugar baby cross from my friend Maria’s pumpkins she grew the year before. Plus some hors d’vors .
We had decided to spend our children’s inheritance and buy a organic turkey. Which we would bake in the brick oven. The year before someone had told me that they had a delicious one baked this way, at really high heat. So of course we also had to do bread.Then we had so much food we had to invite people. It became really fun.The naturally leavened bread starts Thursday morning by taking out of the refrigerated “starter” and adding to it.Then that night adding again taking out a bit to put back into the frig. as the saved starter.Adding to the desired recipe weight.The next morning mixing it into dough,adding salt, kneading.One hour punching it down another hour or two( or retard at this point) shaping it into loaves.Then letting it rise slowly a minimum of three hours before baking.The best sour happens if you retard this part or before you shape the loaves and let it sit overnight.
My husband loves fire more than just about anything. His whole family are firemen and having grown up in the country, love the winter bonfires.He gets to enjoy this passion by making fires in this oven which usually burn overnight , then most of the next day before cleaning out and holding in the stored heat. It’s difficult to learn to fire these ovens for your use. Sometimes we’ve gotten it too hot sometimes too cold. Lately we’d had quite a few batches of bread where the oven was too cool.The timing of these two random points the oven and the bread are difficult to master.Anyway on Friday he got the oven hot, really hot.So our bread took about ten minutes and was still a little raw in the middle, had to go back in . The turkey took no more than a hour and a half and was very brown and crispy but really good. The mashed potatoes we grew ourselves.The pies.At this point when I could have gone right out and picked a spinach salad,arugula,mizuna with local blue cheese dressing.I was too tired.So we ate happily not noticing.
Sat and told good jokes by the fire pit, cozy on a cold winter night. I love this life!

Sourdough Bread

About two years and  ago my good friend Laura, a talented , ever inquisitive chef, gardener, doctor , acupuncturist etc. all around good buddy,  decided to  take the worlds best class. A professional baking class , working with naturally leavened breads baked in a brick oven. This was no sissy class . I think there were two week long sessions. Anyway she came back with about ninety loaves of gorgeous bread. Of course being the generous friend she is our freezer got filled.

Anyway you have to realize that I’m a bakery freak. I plan my routes on drives and trips by what bakery we’ll stop at.Growing up in the bay area honed my taste buds for fine food from a early age. Or maybe some of my great grandmother’s Danish blood .My mothers good cooking .Whatever , I truly appreciate baked food.So when she showed up on my doorstep with these fine morsels and my husband agreed by wolfing them down as well.I proposed an idea( always one for ideas, my poor friends)…How about I build a brick oven and she can teach me what she learned. Then we could of course bake together. She laughed but probably should have known I would really do it.

Soooo a year later the oven just finished I planned a big party to celebrate.So now I better learn fast how to bake the bread I was planning the party around it . Now I’m a hands on learner not a book learner. Even though she had been pushing books my way they had gone in one eye out the other.So of course as always she pulled it off. Even got excited herself about it I think. She showed up here with a kitchen full of bread baking paraphenalia that would never fit into my extra small kitchen.Scales, bread boards, plastic tubs all sizes and the key ingredient, a starter from the San Francisco  Baking Institute .

We began and 90 loaves later we had the most wonderful party with roast leg of lamb( brick ovens cook meat so well), roasted root veggies out of the garden, breads four + kinds , cheeses, salads. A fresh blackberry crisp that kind of burned because we still didn’t know how to judge the temperature of the oven. Anyway we were on our way with that one crash course. I keep reading and experimenting and I think I’m starting to catch on.

This leaves out an important part of this story. How we needed a roof over the oven and what evolved then. Because it might rain at the party.

Weekly CSA box

Yesterday, garbed in rain gear, unfortunately not my rain overalls, I joyfully picked a huge box of veggies for a CSA client.

Artichokes, purple onions, acorn squash, yukon gold potatoes, hard neck garlic, mizuna, red russian kale, rainbow swiss chard, bull’s blood beets, broccoli.

It really felt like Thanksgiving.

Soaking wet , both wood fireplaces going in our cozy house. Maybe we do get to relax at this time of year even in California. Although ever the optimist I still planted a bed of spinach , right on top of where I have red potatoes started. I wonder how that will do?

I still haven’t harvested the Christmas Limas. The bean pod is still green . Anyone out there know whether they’ll dry on the vine? Even in the rain ? Hum , so many questions , so much to learn about this marvelous world of plants.

Fifteen years old

This picture is a few weeks ago and now this area is much more organized. But here’s the reality of the mess when my husband was hand mixing all the concrete for the floor.

Tonight my middle daughter is having the first birthday party she’s ever really wanted. So of course I have to make ton’s of food from scratch. Yesterday I made Marek’s lasagne, her favorite birthday meal for many years. It’s rather meat packed so hopefully not too many vegetarians are coming to the party. I canned Spaghetti sauce last summer, forty quarts plus some large quantities in the freezer. Marek made it even better but I try. Basically saute onions, carrots, summer squash( all homegrown and recently picked) and any other veggies you want; cook until browned a little- then add to a large pot with tomato sauce ( mine was from Dennis’s parents tomatoes) and some salted capers, hamburger if you want . Cook until all the veggies are soft then put through a food mill with a coarse blade.

Then layer sauce, Barilla lasagne noodles, white bechamel sauce, thinly sliced ham, noodles, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, repeat these layers.

Then brownies, richest ever are the recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook. Of course I also will make a cake. She want’s it with Lime green and purple frosting, but chocolate cake.

We’ll be firing up the  wood fired brick oven and baking bread ( later post) tonight. This area built by my husband has become a great party area a boon we didn’t realize as it was evolving. It will later have a sink for processing veggies. Tables and storage for bread baking.
The party was a success and the food was all slurped up. It’s so fun cooking for people that EAT !

Starting from Scratch,from the ground up

We’ve been working like dogs for way too long. Turning bare, scrubby brush land into garden space and of course a home. Fencing is such an issue out here as we have deer, rabbits, bears, even an occasional  mountain lion or feral pig. Luckily our dogs keep most of them at a distance from our home and our general territory.

The other serious item we’ve been dealing with is how to turn this sandy clay soil, full of sticks,  into fertile soil . All my girlfriends look at me and say “Yeah, but YOUR husband has HEAVY EQUIPMENT”. My husband has been working his way through at least in a portion of our property
compost building, bringing home plant clippings, wood chips, shredded paper left over from a local printing press(all organic inks) mixed in with manures, horse and chicken, making lot’s of compost. At one point before we started the new garden area we had about 50 yards of this material. I like to start these piles with some compost from a previous pile. We even got to haul a large compost pile that was in the way, home from a job, what a boon ! This is my method of biodynamic innoculation.These micro-organisms help to break down the compost more rapidly even though our piles were “warm piles” not “hot”.

One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten was, “You imported that soil, right?”. Our soil in the garden areas is gradually becoming dark, rich, worm laden. Growing beautiful healthy veggies.

Now we are working on growing grass, pasture. This will take some time but baby shoots of grass and clover are coming up in one area. Next comes the large scale fencing, ow money, money,$$$.

Gardening by Intuition

I’ve been gardening for thirty years now. Most of that time working in a large garden in a Buddhist Monastery. I believe one of my most wonderful tools is my intuition. Paying attention to the voice inside me and the voice of the garden.

How happy does the garden look when you look at it? Does it shine with good health and abundance? Or have you been neglecting it due to your busy schedule and higher priority items? How do you pay it attention? I think it’s a lot like a child or a dog or yourself, some attention everyday is best. Love it, nurture it, give it good tummy rubs, I mean weeding. Scratch it behind the ears. Check it for ticks. Play with it!

When you start working in the garden look it all over with a very general view, look up, look down, but not specifically. Don’t just jump in to some task you’ve given yourself to accomplish, then you only see what’s in front of you, small minded. Instead look even with blurred eyes, or even look in your mind before you get there. Does anything speak to you?Maybe needs attention? Looking lackluster or has a pest? Does it need some fertilizer, water, compost or just some attention? You don’t always need to use this method but it works well when you’re working a large space. Trust what you hear be it from your mind or the garden.

Onions,Garlic and brassicas

So many brassica ; broccoli, kale, cauliflower right now.Spinach, chard, arugula, parsley, lettuce, onions and beets are what we are feasting on these days. Doesn’t seem to make sense to eat salads now when it’s colder .But reality is that in July and August it’s just too hot to grow lettuce.Really, salads of tomatoes and cucumbers and chopped basil are of the hot summer days. Spinach salad  w/ roasted walnuts, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, purple onions and chopped wild arugula is what’s for dinner now. So delicious. Still harvesting potatoes and eating acorn squash that’s stored.

We’ve gotten spoiled with vast super markets and year round availability of whatever we want to eat. We’ve lost the eating in season mentality.Now after three years of eating primarily from our garden, we’ve begun to switch gears. Eating lot’s of what’s available not expecting other than that.Especially our four year old who has grown up with this.She is not surprised that the only fruit around is the huckleberries gleaned off the last of the bushes. Or canned applesauce. Just traded for some persimmons and more apples. What a deal !

Mushrooms have just started here. We had our first meal with chantrelles .Served with roasted beef from my friends grass fed Belted Galloway cows and gravy. Over rice.Starting to replenish my stock of dried boletus mushrooms.So good later for tasty risottos.

Our small new pasture has begun to sprout new grass and clover.It’s been hard to start with ground that was covered with brush. New soil , virgin grassland .It will have to be carefully tended before we can ever think of buying a cow.

The moon cycle will still be good for some above ground crops and I will replant my 40′ rows of peas.There seems to be a rabbit in my garden. I feel like Mr. Mac Gregor and Peter rabbit. I wonder if he used to sell his veggies? I’m ordering more garlic and potatoes from a succulent looking catalog that arrived the other day .I hope I can get them in during the waning moon.