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Virtual farm tour

3 Aug

Sorry for those of you who missed the last farm tour. It was nice to meet some new folks and see old friends. I’ve got a gun to my head to finish a writing project, so there won’t be a tour in August. Plan on a Friday in early September.

In the meantime, here’s the farm report.

The bees I caught last year are doing really well. There seems to be lot of activity, though I was worried about the queen’s laying pattern last time I did an inspection (which was awhile ago–I hate bothering them). The swarm caught this spring in Alameda has died out. The queen never started laying and it all went to hell. I partially blame myself because I had this really jankity brood box with very funky frames.

The garden is in that awkward mid-summer phase where the greens are done but the tomatoes aren’t quite ripe yet. Luckily there is something to eat because it’s summer apple season. One of our neighbors comes in and picks them, which pisses Bill off, but I’m resigned–and even a little supportive–of the lot pillagers. Times are tight in the ghetto and the more fresh food I grow, the healthier the people around here will be. In a nod to my hippiedom, I’m growing corn and sunflowers, crops I usually don’t pursue. However, I have a reason! I do like sweet corn. And, the goats will very gladly eat the corn stalks. So it’s a multi-use plant. Similarly, goats like sunflower leaves and seeds.

The chickens on the deck are getting big, and I’m almost ready to set them loose outside with the big girls. They’ll get their asses kicked, but after a day or so all will be well. They’ve been flying off the deck and into the street, which is no good, so I’m getting motivated. The big white fella is Edith’s soon to be boyfriend. By the way he’s been puffing up lately, I’m fairly sure he’s a male.

Finally, the deck rabbits are getting plump from eating the windblown apples. They’re approaching their 3 month old birthday, which means it’ll be time for rabbit rillettes soon.

Freaky vegetables

21 Jul

What do you do if someone invites you to Mondavi’s Taste3 conference? You go.

There’s the food. The wine. The big ol’ schwag bag. There’s a mulberry tree at Copia that, right now, is raining down dark juicy berries. No one seems to be picking them! There’s a great thrift store in Napa. But even better than the fine wine, the lobster dinner at Mumm where everyone got their nice clothes dirty with butter and lobster drippings; the complimentary coffee, tea, chocolate and shoes–there were some of the most eloquent, poetic, funny, slightly mad people who really care about what they’re doing. Dan Barber gave a talk about why he won’t use foie gras anymore (not for the usual reasons). A photographer named Laura Letinsky, who takes haunting photos of…leftovers, gave a presentation that got my slow-moving brain thumping. Jennifer 8 Lee confirmed my love of Chinese food as the all-American food. It was great. And then I returned hom, back to the vegetables in my garden.

Finally, the cabbage, which has been so slow growing, are starting to form heads. The first to be ready is this Melissa. Crinkly. Somewhat addled with slugs and a few earwigs. Delicious when grated with apples from the tree (the Anna apples are now ready), tossed with rice wine vinegar and walnuts.

The zucchini is out of control, as usual, but early this year on account of the pig manure. This is the vine of the Ronde de Nice zuchini, a round zucchini that volunteered out of the porcine poo
pile. I’ve harvested about a thousand of these small guys with their blossoms still attached. This vine looked weird, though. Thicker. There were flower buds coming off the vine. Not normal. I followed it to its trailing end. My heart stopped. It became a club footed monster. The vine thickened to almost 6 inches thick, like some crawling prickly pear cactus. And at this monstrous terminus was an almost vaginal cluster of flowers and fruit all riddled together.

I gasped. I have never seen this before. There were *so* many fruit in one space. A gold mine of zucchini. Was it the pig shit? Is it some mutation caused by extra fertile soil? Something deeply wrong with my eco-system? I don’t know. I harvested a few of the zucs for dinner, and when I carried them into the house, I couldn’t help think that the zucchini plant reminded me a bit of Taste3–a many headed vine, a delectable banquet, a marvelous freak show that makes for some fond summer memories.

Making plans

19 May

Spring’s the season for scheming. I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about root vegetables. Why didn’t I plant more beets? Then Bill’s been planning various summer-time trips–a bike ride to Bolinas, a trip up to Seattle for my mom’s 65 (!) birthday.

It’s also time to plant a victory garden on the lawn of San Francisco’s City Hall! I’m doing research for a story about heirloom seeds and got myself invited this weekend to a seed-sowing party in West Oakland. We planted and transplanted veggies to be featured in a victory garden in the front lawn of San Francisco’s City Hall. I don’t want to give away all the secrets of the project, but I’ll tell you that I planted several types of amaranth, peppers, and tomatoes.

The idea for community-focused vegetable production has been a fairly long-standing tradition in America. In the 1890’s, the mayor of Detroit first advocated growing community gardens. Growing your own veggies made a lot of sense during the Depression, too. When WWI hit, war gardens sprouted up all over America. The idea being the troops needed the food from the farms, so ordinary citizens should grow their own for their tables. During the Second World War, victory gardens were popular. During the 1940s, all over the country, including urban areas like SF, NYC, Boston, Philly, cities played host to demonstration victory gardens to inspire citizens to grow their own food. For the whole story, check out an article from Tea and Cookies in Edible SF about the project.

City Slicker is donating the know-how and their greenhouse; Seeds of Change the seeds (all heirlooms); the City is hosting the spot; Garden for the Environment is coordinating the whole deal, and a group of artists at Future Farmers are adding the artistic touches. It’s going to make SF proud. Now if only Oakland would do the same!

Spring is also harvest-season. Today’s NYTimes had a photo spread of vegetables gone wild in kitchens–here are mine. They are new potatoes, fava, young garlic (garlic press), artichokes (one enormous plant gave us 30 ‘chokes), in the jar are newly-ready olives, finally brined and palatable six months after picking. Enjoy spring!