Appreciating the Holes

People are picky. They are used to buying perfect produce at the supermarket. Even the certified organic produce is pretty without very many flaws.

Honestly, I used to be one of those picky people. That was until I started growing my own food. Holes happen. Since growing my own food I have to wonder how even organic food is so flawless. Then I realize that just because it’s organic it can still be drenched in chemicals. It just happens to be chemicals that are from “natural” sources.

We don’t spray anything. The only thing we do use is some Sluggo (iron phospate) around new seedlings to give them a fighting chance against our onslaught of slugs and snails. Now that we have ducks roaming our garden we have to be especially careful about what we spray. 

I’ve opened up enough heads of cabbage filled with slugs and worms (earthworms, which perplexes me – a whole other post) and found enough dead earwigs in cooked artichokes to get over my pickiness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not racing to eat a slug even by accident and I do cut out the damaged parts, but some holes in a couple of leaves doesn’t make the entire thing garbage. When you put a lot of effort into growing food you realize that holes aren’t scary.

I think it was Lynda Hopkins that said in her book The Wisdom of the Radish “If the bugs won’t eat it you probably don’t want to either.”

Boston Style Baked Beans


This week I am continuing my quest to eradicate all processed food from the house with a simple-yet-hearty recipe for Boston-style baked beans.


I have been searching for recipes that are easy and healthy. I need to be able to make them in bulk and store them. I don’t want to sacrifice the meals and flavors that I love just because my standards for food have changed.

This recipe is very simple and can be made without a lot of supervision, meaning I can get it started and then go work in the garden, or do a load of laundry, or clean out the chicken coop. Multitasking is the only way things get done around here, and anything that I can accomplish while also doing something else immediately gets bonus points in my book.

This recipe also gets bonus points for being BETTER than its rival, the can of baked beans.

I will admit there are certain processed foods that for some reason or another (owing largely, I think, to having grown up eating them) just taste comforting. They taste “right”. All attempts to recreate those tastes, while potentially delicious, just never seem to live up to that standard. If anyone can give me a ranch dressing recipe that is better than bottled Hidden Valley, I will love you forever. No kidding.


I had thought that home-made baked beans were going to be like this for me too. Tasty, sure, but not quite what I’m craving to serve on toast with fried eggs and bacon. Because of this, I’ve been holding out. Until now.

My recent success with making my own refried beans gave me the confidence I needed to try this other bean-based pantry staple, and I have to say I will never again look at a tin of beans as though it has something I haven’t got.

Because I’ve got it.

And now you do too!


Boston-Style Baked Beans
(adapted from this recipe)

about 3 cups dry beans (I used pinto, because they’re what I had on hand)

  • 1/2 lb smoky bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 3/4 cup ketchup (homemade!)
  • 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (not homemade, sadly – anyone have a recipe?)

Soak the beans in water overnight to begin softening them. If you are like me and don’t have that kind of glorious forethought (read: OMGIWANTBAKEDBEANSNOW), you can cook them on the stove straight from dry and add a bit of baking soda to the water part of the way through the cooking process to aid in the softening of the beans – works like a charm (and is fun fizzy cooking)! If you’ve soaked them (you planner, you!), finish the cooking in a large pan on the stovetop.

Basically, however you want to make ‘em soft, do that. They should be tender, but not to the point of falling apart. If they are a tiny bit al dente, that’s OK – they will cook more in the next step. Remove the beans from the cooking water, but don’t toss out the bean juice – you might still need it (I did, when I made it).

While the beans are cooking, heat the rest of the ingredients (ketchup, molasses, sugar, mustard powder, salt, pepper, Worcestershire) together in a pan on the stove until they are simmering, then remove the sauce from the stove.

In a large casserole dish (I used my cast iron dutch oven, which was PERFECT), layer about 1-2 inches of cooked beans, and sprinkle them with half of the onion and half of the chopped bacon. Cover this with the remaining beans, and repeat the onion and bacon. Drizzle the sauce over the beans/onions/bacon. Use the bean-cooking juice to bring the liquid level to just about even with the beans.

Bake this with the lid on for about 2 hours, or until the bacon is cooked through and the onions are tender and translucent. If the beans are swimming in too much liquid, remove the lid and cook UNcovered for another 20 minutes or so, until the sauce is the consistency you like (remember it will thicken slightly as it cools).

Serve these baked beans on toast as part of a perfect greasy hangover breakfast – I served them with a roasted tomato, fried eggs, and homemade 12 grain rolls. Delicious!!

They’re also a perfect snack on the go, or a great side dish for any kind of meat. Basically, eat them however you want. I’m not here to tell you HOW to eat them. I am, however, here to tell you to MAKE them. Right now. Go.

Trust me – try this recipe. It’s a keeper.

These baked beans can be frozen for up to 6 months in a freezer-safe zip-top bag or other appropriate airtight container. Just be sure to thaw them to room temperature before heating so they don’t turn to mush!

The Mushroom Garden



 We raise plants and animals already. We’ve decided to add onto our farm by adding fungi – a new mushroom garden. For those that were at our potluck you probably noticed this small area fenced off between the house and the tower.

It’s a nice small area that we don’t use that spends the vast majority of the day in full shade. Because of this it also stays relatively moist as well.

We started with King Stropharia Mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata). These mushrooms are giant wine red capped fungi that are easily started outside and can give you a perennial crop of mushrooms as long as you take care of it. The most difficult part of growing these was finding hardwood chips or sawdust. They can also be grown on straw but it’s a bit more labor intensive as you have to sterilize the straw in hot water before inoculating it.

Most of the chips available around here are redwood, pine or eucalyptus – all of which are not appropriate due to the oils in the wood. We had to get creative. As luck would have it, when we got Lucy’s new digs, we were also given some animal bedding. The majority of animal bedding is made from pine, but this bedding was Aspen – a hardwood. It was a small amount, not enough to do the bed, so we needed to find more. We were finally able to find large bales of Aspen bedding at a chain pet store.

We sterilized our wheelbarrow, dumped a bale and a half into it and moistened it thoroughly. We then broke up the King Stropharia spawn and mixed it into the shavings. We laid a thick layer down in our new garden and fenced it off to keep the dogs out. We water it once a week to make sure the moisture content stays relatively high.

I would have liked to have put it out in the vegetable garden but it just gets too much sun. However, if you decide to try and raise this fungi in your vegetable garden you’ll get one great benefit from it. A study has shown that this species of mushroom actually kills nematodes like the ones that cause pine wilt.

We didn’t stop at King Stropharia though. Jeanette gave us some Tanoak logs that were calling out to be inoculated. We did two of them with Pearl Oyster spawn. We have one more log that needs a mushroom feeding on it. I just haven’t figured out what kind yet. Fortunately these logs are still very wet so we didn’t have to soak them.

To inoculate these we bought plugs which are inoculated dowels of birch wood. We covered the cut ends of the log with beeswax and then drilled 5/16″ holes 1 1/2″ deep in a diamond pattern around the logs. Using a rubber mallet we hammered the plugs into the holes and then sealed them with more beeswax. We’re keeping these out with the King Stropharia as well. Don’t worry though, we’re not keeping them leaned up against the building. We don’t want any termites getting into the structure!

Now we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that we end up with mushrooms this fall.

Flickr of Inspiration – Ginger


Nepal 2572, originally uploaded by Poundyroundy.

Stunning agriculture related photos from Nepal taken by Joshua Roundy whose wife, Kristin writes the blog Roundy Rounds.So go over and say hi!

Joshua very kindly sent me links to his photos so stay tuned for more of his beautiful photos from Nepal!

Monday’s Guests – 10 Easy Fruit-Bearing Trees

Today’s guest post was submitted by Keith Howard of Lawn Care Service. You can see his original post here. There are some other great articles on that site as well, including 10 Unusual Items to Grow in Your Garden.

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Photo by Rachel Brinkerhoff

 If you have a back yard large enough to plant a fruit tree, then it is time to look at the choices to fit your own situation. When choosing a tree you may want to base it on the type of fruit you like the most. However, if you haven’t thought in terms of a specific kind, but are wanting the joy of trying this for the first time, then you can pick from one of several options. Each will give you fresh fruit, and not require any more care than any other tree. The place you buy the tree will be able to provide any details about its care and upkeep. Here are ten fruit-bearing trees you should consider when looking for that first purchase.

Apricot. The fruit provides a great source for Vitamin A. It also includes minerals like calcium, manganese, iron and also sodium. The fruit doesn’t store well for long times and is best when eaten right after it is picked. Its tree does best in soil that is moderately fertile and drains easily.

Apple. There are so many varieties of apples that you can easily find one you will enjoy, whether it is the Granny Smith or the Fuji, or another variety. Most apple trees will grow to between 10 and 20 feet when mature.

Cherry. With this fruit, you can plant either sweet or sour versions. They do best in Northern and Southern regions. It is a self pollinating fruit whose tree will grow from 12 to 25 feet in height.

Pear. There are more than 3,000 types of pears you can plant. They do well in the same climates where apples are grown. The tree can be between 15 and 30 feet in height.

Peach. A tasty ripened peach, just picked off the tree, is a very amazing experience. They grow best in Northern and Southern climates with mild temperatures. A peach tree’s height can vary between 4 and 30 feet.

Plum. This is a soft and very juicy fruit. Its tree will do best in warmer climates when they bear Japanese plums. With the American versions, they will do better in colder winter climates. Plum trees will rise between 10 and 25 feet when mature.

Nectarine. These do best when planted where there is full exposure to the sun. They do well in the same climates as peaches. This is a fruit that is primarily grown in California. The trees vary in height from 4 to 20 feet.

Pomegranate. The fruit of this tree is relatively pest free, and does best in full sun. It thrives well in warmer climates. Although it is very popular to eat it when first picked, it does do well when stored. The trees can grow between 12 and 30 feet.

Mandarin. This tree does best in full sun and well drained soil. Its blossoms are very fragrant, and it has beautiful foliage. Mandarin trees grow to a height between 8 and 25 feet.

Lemon. The lemon tree has a fragrance that rivals many flowers for how it fills the air. It is best to plant this tree where there is no frost. Lemon trees grow to a height of between 4 and 30 feet.

Fruit trees can truly add a special quality to any house. They are easy to plant and maintain with limited instructions. Adding one to your yard can give it wonderful fragrances in the springtime.

Weekend Chores – Finally Planting Out

We’ve got quite a few things to do this weekend. We’ll see how far we’ll get.

  1. A lot of our Curcubits are up in their pots and need to be transplanted out.
  2. Pamina was kind enough to give us some hot pepper seedlings. We’ll be planting them out this weekend as well. 
  3. Irrigation! The lines are here so we can finally switch everything out. 
  4. Side dress the heavy feeders with rabbit manure. Rabbit manure is brown gold. No need to compost it before putting on the beds. 
  5. Live trap a cat. We’ve got a cat that is stalking our rabbits, chickens and ducks. We borrowed a live trap from a friend and when we catch it we’ll be taking it down to the Humane Society. It’s quite the ballsy cat. In the two years we’ve been here it’s only the second cat I’ve seen in our yard. The last cat got trapped in the asparagus cage, cornered by Squeek. It never came back after that experience. 
  6. Start working on the new duck coop. 

Of course we’re  completely booked up on Saturday doing social things so we’re going to have to bust our butts on Sunday to get it all done.

Perspective

I’m always looking for a good perspective to take photos of the progress of our yard. Unfortunately, in the height of summer, most perspectives are hidden by tall growing plants.Right now the photos work but eventually the corn that’s popping up will completely block any decent views from the above shot.

I don’t know why it took so long for me to realize that the water tower balcony is the perfect spot! Just slightly off center and 20′ in the air, it allows for an unobstructed view of most of the yard.

Out Among the Bees

The weekend before last we got our first package of bees. We chose to go with Carniolans our first go because they are said to be more docile. The queen package didn’t have candy in it, just a cork so we chose to just leave her in the cage for several days to make sure the workers would accept her. On Tuesday I removed the cork and released the queen. She scurried out quickly and disappeared. I closed up the hive and let them do their thing.

Yesterday we decided it was time to check on them again. We wanted to check their progress and make sure the queen was accepted and that she was laying eggs. The Carniolans are indeed very docile. They didn’t mind us at all, however, we made sure not to be too disruptive and to move slowly, deliberately and treat them with respect – no smashed bees here.

Gap between frames. The frames were all pushed together when I last was in the hive.

There was a tiny amount of brace comb, which we easily removed. I was dismayed to find some of our frames had been moved apart from the rest opening us up to a whole mess of problems with burr comb. When I released the queen I had made sure that all the frames were against each other tightly. I have my suspicions as to what happened.

The queen was very easy to find. She’s nearly black and was marked with a white dot. We checked all the frames and were happy to see a bit of capped honey, nectar and pollen stores along with eggs!

 The green arrow is pointing to a cell filled with nectar. The red arrow is pointing to an egg (they look like miniature grains of rice) and the blue arrow is pointing at pollen. The photo isn’t the best but you should be able to click on it to enlarge it.

We’ll check next week sometime to see what kind of brood we’ve got.


Flickr of Inspiration – Hot Peppers


Nepal 2564, originally uploaded by Poundyroundy.

Stunning agriculture related photos from Nepal taken by Joshua Roundy whose wife, Kristin writes the blog Roundy Rounds.So go over and say hi!

Joshua very kindly sent me links to his photos so stay tuned for more of his beautiful photos from Nepal!

Wow!

With this weekend over with I can now get a bit more space to breathe. However, I am sad it’s passed.

Saturday was a whirlwind.

5:30am – goat milking time – came much too quickly. We were out of the house by 8am to go help the Vallejo People’s Garden set up for their Grand Opening Event. At 9:30am – taught some awesome people about how to plan out a vegetable garden. We wanted to stay for hours and talk to people but didn’t have the time. Finally escaped at 11:15am and ran to the farmers’ market to pick up food for the week. If we didn’t get anything there we’d be out of luck for the rest of the week. We got home, I jumped in the shower, got cleaned up and off we went to a memorial service.

That was hard. Really hard. Sometimes the passing of a loved one doesn’t hit you until you go to the memorial service. My heart is with Stefanie’s family and friends (though her friends really were her family).

We got home just in time to finish getting ready for the potluck. Because urban farmers/homesteaders are awesome, everyone started showing up pretty much right on time. I was AMAZED by their awesomeness! Most of them we hadn’t even met before, and here they were joining us at this potluck, sharing food and celebration. We had people come all the way from Sacramento and Santa Rosa come. I really wish I could have spent more time getting to know everyone better.

I want to send out a big hearty THANK YOU to everyone that joined us and made it such a great event! We’ll be hosting another one in October to celebrate the harvest.