the memorial day wheat harvest

I'm sure glad the wheat harvest landed on a three-day weekend because I needed every minute (and then some) to get it all done. Luckily the kids were amazing helpers at every stage. I had planned to involve them just a little (as an educational opportunity) but hadn't imagined how truly engaged they'd be. As soon as they understood the process they started begging me to let them do the cutting, so once I showed them how to safely use the tools I let them at it.

I was actually astounded at how focused and skillful they were (being only six years old.) Our system was as follows–I would tie the growing wheat stalks into small bundles, they would cut the bundles, carry and stack them. I would then tie the smaller bundles into bigger bundles.  Working this way the kids were really responsible for cutting almost the whole crop. Wow. I didn't expect they would be such a huge help while also having the time of their lives! Talk about a win-win family experience.

After we finally cleared the area, I rented a 13hp Barretto tiller. I normally work my soil by hand, but having lost so much time with this crop and needing to get the area amended and ready for planting ASAP, I decided to bring in the big guns. I wish I had taken a video of hilarity (and terror) of me (with my whopping 115lb frame) trying to negotiate this unweildy beast on my sloped terrain. Definitely something right out of an "I Love Lucy" episode. Luckily my mother and my friend Jacqueline came over to lend some additional "girl power" and support. Both very much appreciated!

Once the hair-raising adventure of tilling was over, the boys and their best friend raked all the loose stalks out the soil and loaded wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow to the compost. It was all just one big game for them.

And if that wasn't enough fun, we ended the day with a potato harvest. The kids enjoyed this even more than an Easter egg hunt (shrieks of glee every time they unearthed a new potato) and I enjoyed it the way I always do at the culmination of every plant cycle. I like thinking back to the planting, the first leaves, then the first flowers…and the state of mind I was in at each of those stages. The harvest brings a conclusion to all of it, not just in the lifecycle of the plant but also to the thoughts and feelings that accompanied the journey.

And so…after three hot, dirty, exhausting, but utterly satisfying days in the garden we ended the weekend with a warm bowl of freshly dug potatoes topped with thyme butter and goat cheese. Heaven!

 

finally…the wheat harvest!

Back in October, I got this crazy idea to try planting a "micro crop" of winter wheat in my suburban Northern California backyard. I've been gardening for a long time but wheat was definitely way out of my knowledge zone. So I've been documenting this agricultural experiment along the way (planting, sprouting, one month later, more background, tassels, ripening.)

The whole process has been interesting and enjoyable except for the last month or so when I started getting really irritated with it all. The wheat just wasn't ripening as fast I had hoped and was now hogging up my prime vegetable garden "real estate" and preventing me from planting most of my beloved summer crops (tomatoes etc.) I started thinking I had sacrificed a summer of my favorite vegetables for a handful of flour. Argh!

But happily the wheat finally appears to be ready to harvest. (At least, I think it is anyway. The tassels have turned yellow and the grain is hard, but still dent-able with a thumbnail.) Tomorrow I'm going to be out there whacking it down and tying it into bushels. Once it's cured (the kernel hard and no longer dent-able) I'll be able to start threshing and
winnowing.

Of course this still means I'm getting my veggies in really late this year, but at least I'm getting them in! It's going to be a busy weekend.


sun-dried strawberry preserves


I've been remiss in writing here. A combination of being in the garden every chance I get (yea!) and then some health issues that had me out of commission for a few days (boo.) Yesterday I was feeling a bit better but it was so hot here (95F) that I could only bear to be in the garden in the early morning and evening hours. So in between I thought I'd take advantage of the hot sun plus all the strawberries in season and make some sun-dried strawberry preserves. I used Alice Waters' recipe but went a little lighter on the sugar. It was great watching (and smelling) the sun do all the cooking for me. Tonight I ate some on top of plain Greek yogurt for dessert. Delicious!

hens in the henhouse


A few weeks ago I finally got the my chicken run and chicken coop ready so the pullets could move outside full-time. But then the weather turned unexpectedly cold and rainy–definitely not an ideal time to transition them from their cozy brooder. (Unless of course you are a normal farmer, not an over-sensitive, over-protective chicken momma!) Being the latter, I’ve been waiting patiently for the weather to warm up.

Yesterday we had a very warm day (77F) so I decided to let the girls brave their first night outside. Of course I had a host of neurotic worries–would they be too cold? (Nights have still been in the low 40s) Would the full moon bring out particularly aggressive/crafty behavior in nearby predators? (coyotes etc.) But I assured myself that the run was secure and that the pullets could always huddle together for warmth.

Needless to say, they were fine. More than fine actually, they seem to really be enjoying their new home. It’s so great to see all their innate behaviors coming out. I could stand out there and watch them for hours–pecking, chasing each other, taking dirt baths. They are hilarious. I need to take some video soon.

(Note: I had the coop (not the run) made by Wes at Be Creative Wood Works. I think he did a great job for a reasonable price.)


look! there’s a lizard in my shoe!


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When I went out to garden yesterday morning I had a happy surprise. A little visitor (a Western Fence Lizard) was waiting for me in my shoe. I'm glad I saw him before I put my foot inside!

potato flowers in the rain


We got some good rain yesterday. Happy news for the garden but less happy for me since I was stuck indoors. I ventured outside briefly and caught a few water drops on the potato flowers. It reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which I love and consider a must-read), where she writes that many adults don't know that potatoes have a green plant. I found that shocking, but I suppose I shouldn't given how disconnected most of our society has become from our food. But I won't get on that soapbox now. I just want to enjoy the beauty of these flowers and the knowledge that they signal the nearing harvest (should be about two weeks from the bloom.)

eggs in a cloud


My love of cooking started at an early age. By age eight I was avidly collecting recipe cards (that one of the gas station chains were giving out as a promotion) like some kids collect baseball cards. I ended up with an entire recipe box full (boy would I love to see those now!) that I actualy used for cooking the occasional family dinner.

I also had a children's cookbook with the more typical kid-type recipes, like Rice Krispy treats. The other day I was thinking about a breakfast dish I used to make from that cookbook. I remembered it was this god-awful pink color because you mixed ketchup into egg whites before beating them. Who knows why, but as a child I loved that breakfast. So I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it for my kids. But what was it exactly?

In some portion of the "useless facts" section of my brain, I recalled (I think) that the dish was called "Eggs in a Cloud." I did an online search and came up with a number of recipes for "ham and eggs in a cloud" but nothing that resemblanced the strange ketchup creation of my memories. I decided that this was a project that would need to be temporarily shelved for further research (perhaps an archaelogical dig into the dusty crevices of my parents garage in hopes that the original cookbook is still stored in a box somewhere)

In the meantime I thought I'd make a "clean" version of eggs in a cloud for the kids since they still get such a kick from the transformation of egg whites when beaten. I found an easy recipe on (of all places) My Pet Chicken. I made them this morning and they were not only dramatic to look at but also very quick to make and tasty (the parmesan cheese on the egg whites is a must).

Now the research for the strange ketchup concoction continues…

sunlight through a chard leaf


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Earlier this week I was washing chard for dinner when the sunlight streamed through the kitchen window and backlit the leaves. The result was so electric (even more intense than I could capture in the photo) it reminded me of a Dan Flavin fluorescent light sculpture–specifically one I photographed eight years ago at the Chinati Foundation. Love the art/nature connection!

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