Halloween that is a little more green

It is approaching quickly!  I am talking about Halloween, one of the funnest holidays of the year.  It is also one of the most wasteful.  This year, may be a good time to switch up and start some new Halloween traditions or maybe revisit some from your childhood, like handmade treats and costumes.  I can still remember all of the amazing costumes that my mom made for me and my sister each year.  You can save a lot of money and make a lot of great memories. 
Avoid buying new plastic and make your own decorations.   
Mix handmade in with previous purchased decorations.
Re use or gather natural items to decorate like gourds, leaves and eco-friendly candles. 
Check out these beautiful vintage decorations you can find at yard sales.   


Try to buy locally made candy, organic or fair trade.  
Organic cereal bars, honey sticks, or lollipops may be good substitutes.
Choose candy with the least amount of packaging. 
Click here for a list of eco-friendly candy selections
Skip the candy and give eco crayons, eco-play dough or stickers. 
Trick or Treat Bag:
Use a basket, canvas or nylon bag that can be reused each year or for another purpose.
Save money and use a pillow case.
Click here to enter your child’s Halloween design to Chico Bags!
Trick or Treating:
Don’t litter.  Take an extra bag to pick up wrappers.
Walk or ride a bike.  Avoid driving house to house or share rides with neighbors.
Use hand powered flash lights.
Skip the cheap plastic costumes.  
Make a unique one yourself! Try batwings out of a broken umbrella.
Look for places renting a costume if you don’t have time to make one. 
See if you can get a costume on Freecycle.  Have one?  Post it for someone else. 
Make your own face paint.  (See recipe below.)  
Oct 9th is National Costume Swap Day! Check out GreenHalloween.org for locations and tips.
Plan a costume swap party with your friends or at your child’s school.  


Face Paint Made with Natural Food Coloring from the Campaign for Cosmetic Safety:

Natural food coloring is available at health food stores and typically derived from foods and spices. We recommend reading up about natural food colorings and potential allergies first. Do not substitute conventional food coloring, which may contain synthetic chemical ingredients.

-Base of safe, unscented lotion (search Skin Deep for safe options) OR pure cocoa butter (available at health food stores) OR safe, fluoride-free toothpaste (search Skin Deep; avoid mint flavors, as they can make skin tingly)
-Natural food coloring (see note above)

Mix a few drops of natural food coloring into the base ingredient of your choice. Test on a small patch of skin before applying to face or body.

Face Paint Made with Food

Make sure young children understand they can’t eat these paints unless you make them without the base. Test a small patch of skin first to make sure your child isn’t allergic to the food you’re using.

-Base of safe, unscented lotion (search Skin Deep for safe options) OR pure cocoa butter (available at health food stores) OR safe, fluoride-free toothpaste (search Skin Deep; avoid mint flavors, as they can make skin tingly)
-Turmeric, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, beets, avocado, spirulina, cocoa, chocolate sauce, squid ink or other colorful foods, juices, herbs and spices

Yellow: Add 1/4 tsp. and a large pinch of stale turmeric to base.

Pink: Using a sieve, mash the juice from 3 fresh or thawed frozen raspberries, blackberries or beets directly into the base. Or, use a deeply colored berry juice or puree.

Mint green: With a fork, mash 1/4 of a small avocado until creamy. Mix this into your base.

Emerald green: Add small amount spirulina or bright green chlorophyll to base.

Purple: Using a sieve, mash the juice from several fresh or frozen blueberries into the base. Or, use blueberry juice.

Brown: Add cocoa powder or chocolate sauce to base.

Black: Use a small amount of squid ink in base for true black.

White: Mix powdered sugar and water.

The Fire

Bear with me while I’m still in the middle of processing this. It’s also quite long.

The Timeline of Events

Friday, September 25th, Tom was getting the patio cleaned up. We were planning a birthday barbecue the following afternoon for Junior’s 18th birthday. I got home from work at 1:55pm. I usually get out of work at noon on Fridays but I was working late because I had an out of town meeting to prepare for coming up on Monday. The patio was nearly spotless. It looked great. Tom was coming out of the tower from putting his tools away when I came in. Everything seemed normal.

We needed to make a Costco run for the barbecue. We left at 2pm. I was tired and in need of some caffeine so I asked Tom to stop by the Starbucks just down the street. We went in, got our drinks and left. 2:10pm we got a phone call from our neighbor. Tom missed the call but they left a voicemail. It was hard to make out what was said but we heard “house” and “fire.” Tom looked at me and said “I think he said (our other neighbor’s) house is on fire.” We raced home only to look over in shock at our house on fire. Well actually our tower was on fire. The whole front of it was on fire. The tower is maybe 6′ away from our house. Shit just got real.

Excuse my finger in the way

Excuse my finger in the way

In a panic it seems that some things are clear and somethings you can lose your mind on. Tom fumbled with the keys to get the front door unlocked. Our dogs and cats were in the house and he needed to get them out. I immediately call 911.  Fortunately someone else has beat me to it. I run in, grab the gate keys and unlock the side gates because I can already hear the fire trucks rolling up. Tom can’t get the double gate unlocked so he kicks it open.

The hose on the back of the house had no pressure. A neighbor is in the front running the water to try and keep the roof of our house wet. I run to the garden hose. Lots of pressure but the hose attachment is hindering the distance it will throw. I didn’t even think to turn the stupid dial to the jet stream. Instead I just start hosing down the chicken run which is where I’m standing. I watch as our brand-new-not-insured-yet trailer catches fire. Shit! It’s filled with hay. Double shit!


It seemed to happen so fast. Firefighters running through the open gates with hoses in tow. They had the fire out surprisingly fast. Then came the cutting open of the upper story walls and the pile of burnt items being thrown out of the new opening down onto the previously spotless patio. I look over at Tom “It’s time you cancel the party.” Tom starts calling guests and I call our insurance company. Once I get off the phone with them I start fielding phone calls from neighbors and friends. I make arrangements for a coworker to go to the Monday meeting instead.


The passenger side of the trailer is toasted. The tire is burned up, fender is destroyed and all the lights on that side have melted off. Tom had to hook it up to the pickup and drag it out of the way of the firefighters.

The fire department investigator shows up and we start talking to him about what happened, or didn’t happen. They determined the point of ignition but that’s about it. They couldn’t make a determination as to what caused it. Technically it is still under investigation.

What We Know and Don’t Know


Some of the lumber we were holding onto.

The fire started at the bottom of our lumber pile. We kept a pile of lumber for projects which was all usable wood stacked neatly up on pavers so they weren’t in contact with the soil (don’t need to feed the termites). The fire did not involve any electrical wiring (that was all fine) and as far as we know, no fuel. No obvious source has been determined.

The investigator mentions that they suspect an arsonist in our area because they’ve had an abnormally large amount of fires lately. Actually a neighbor around the corner had their wood pile go up in flames just a few days ago. A woman in my gym class who lives not too far from us had a suspicious fence fire only an hour after our fire. The firefighters left our place to go put that one out and then she said they left her place to go fight another structure fire.

I went across the street to talk to some other neighbors about what was going on. They had a different story and a different possible explanation. One of them had been in the backyard. They heard some popping and looked up to see the power lines in front of our house sparking. Then they saw the smoke. The fire investigator didn’t seem too convinced about it though but will be following up with PG&E to see if they have any abnormalities recorded for those lines.

So for now we just don’t know what’s going on. Another investigator for our insurance company is flying up from SoCal on Tuesday to see if they can determine what happened.

Assessing the Damage and Our Feelings

The damage looks bad. Having had no experience with fire damage I honestly don’t know how bad it is. The firefighters said it was still structurally sound and moderately damaged. Looking in the holes that were opened up it looks like only a few structural beams have some fire damage to them.


No stepping on that deck.

The most extensively damaged part of the building is the balcony. Let’s just call that one completely toasted. The photo above is looking through a broken window up at the floor joists that extend out to the deck. The burned ones are the deck itself. Thankfully they are not the primary structural floor joists inside the building.


My milk room downstairs made it through surprisingly well (other than being a mess). There are some melted items like a now-permanently sealed bucket of wheat berries, the black chandelier from our wedding, the water bottle on my bike and a couple of my teat spray bottles. After this picture was taken the shelves on the back wall collapsed spilling all of the containers of miscellaneous hardware everywhere. Otherwise everything else seems relatively OK. The feed was covered so it didn’t get wet or smoked. The goat medication box is also fine. Our bee suits have a little smoke damage but I’m not worried about that. All of Tom’s power tools are fine as well. I feel so very lucky about this because this is where we kept all of our more valuable items.

The “loft” area also seems relatively untouched. Which is actually pretty awesome because it’s where we keep all of our Halloween decorations, including a lot of the ones we kept from our wedding.


The top floor wasn’t quite so lucky. Well, except for the bathroom. Having the door kept closed to that seemed to help save what was in there. The upstairs is where we kept our camping gear, costumes, and extra clothing. Thankfully my wedding dress is in my bedroom closet. I’m OK with all of this. I think I’m having a harder time with the giant hole cut into the top floor wall because it’s the first thing I see when I’m coming home as a reminder of what happened. The tower rises up over our house and is a landmark viewed by most of the neighborhood. People have expressed their disappointment of now seeing it like this. That makes me sad. I completely understand that the hole needed to be made so everything could be pushed out of the tower as quickly as possible.


I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by the utter destruction of everything. Mostly the “I’m going to have to clean all of this up” feeling and it seems really, REALLY daunting. There is broken glass everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Melted plastic has touched pretty much everything. We are stuck right now with the mess as we’ve been specifically directed to not touch anything unless we absolutely need it until our insurance company comes out to inspect the damage.

What I feel the most fortunate about is that no one was hurt, all of our animals were fine if not a bit stressed, and our house was OK other than a broken window. The stuff we lost is exactly that – just stuff. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with the tower. According to what our neighbors have told us in the past, the previous owners had planned to take it down but the city wouldn’t allow them because it was a historical structure. I’ll be visiting the building department to see what our options are. If we have to rebuild we will. Maybe make some improvements if we can. If we can tear down and build something more usable we may consider that depending on the cost.

Through the whole ordeal I was pretty much just numb. To a certain extent I still am. I was a little teary-eyed when we delivered a box of homemade cookies and a Thank You card to the firefighters and I’ve had a few instances of just wanting to cry but the tears never came. I actually think we’re doing a pretty good job staying positive.

Our Soil Analysis Part 2 – Where We are Going and How We are Getting There

Our last post we discussed the results of our last soils analysis. This was our graphical analysis:wkgsoil.xls

Well, where should we be? And how should we get there? Let’s work left to right.

Organic Matter

Optimum for clay loam: 3-5%
We are currently at 2.6% so we have some work to do to increase the soil organic matter. Here is where we need to be careful. Our phosphorus levels are very high and some composts will increase phosphorus levels, particularly composted manures, which we have a lot of. We are going to need to consider a different route in adding more organic matter.
The Remedy:
Compost from crop residue and yardwaste tends to have lower phosphorus residues so we will be utilizing this type of compost this year. Napa Waste and Recycling sells compost for $10/cu. yd. which is a screaming deal compared to other suppliers. Compost weighs approximately 1,300 lbs per cubic yard. Soil weighs about 46,000 lbs per 1,000 sf x 6″ deep. 4% organic matter equals just over 1,800 lbs of compost. We currently have 2.6% organic matter or 1,196 lbs so we will need to add 600 lbs or half of cubic yard, give or take.


Optimum level for vegetables: 40 ppm
We are fairly deficient in Nitrogen having less than half of what we need for vegetables. Nitrogen is tricky as you don’t want to dump a bunch on all at once. Doing so will lead to overgrowth or burning of plants.
The Remedy:
We’re going to go with feather meal which is a slow release (6-9 months) nitrogen fertilizer. It also won’t add any additional phosphorus to the soil as it’s NPK is 13-0-0. 13% of feather meal is nitrogen so for every pound of feather meal we apply we are adding 0.13 lbs of nitrogen. The recommendation is that we add 2.9 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 sf. Since our garden beds are just over that we’ll round up to 3.0 lbs total. We will then need to apply 23 lbs of feather meal to our beds. The recommendation above says to do half before planting and the second half  later on to avoid salt damage. Since we are not using a chemical fertilizer and it is slow release we will go ahead and apply all of it.


Optimum Level: 80-100 lbs per acre
We currently have, depending on which test we follow, 95-125 ppm of phosphate in our soil. Converted to pounds per acre and we have 190-250 lbs/acre. We have over double of what we need. The upper threshold of phosphorus is 300 lbs/acre. Above that limit and it starts to become a pollution issue.
The Remedy:
For now there isn’t really a remedy other than reducing the amount of phosphorus we apply to the soil. Removing all crop waste and not putting it back on the soil can also help reduce it. The one benefit of having a high phosphorus level is that it binds with any lead that is in the soil stabilizing it so it is no longer hazardous. The EPA is currently applying massive amounts of phosphorus in the form of fish bones to urban gardens throughout Oakland to help bind lead pollution in the soil.


Optimum Level: 120-200 ppm and 5% CEC
We are above the optimum level of potassium which is fine. Plants will just absorb more potassium than they need. Too much potassium, however, can antagonize the uptake of calcium.
The Remedy:
None. If we were deficient we would add sulfate of potash since we are also deficient in sulfur. If sulfur levels were fine we’d go with greensand to replenish potassium levels.


Optimum Level: 30-70 ppm and 15% CEC
Clearly our soil has plenty of magnesium. Actually levels are high enough that they can cause drainage problems and potassium uptake issues.
The Remedy:
Increasing soil calcium:magnesium to a ratio of 5:1 will help reduce the CEC through competition. If we were deficient I would add K-Mag.


Optimum Level: 5:1 Calcium:Magnesium ration and 65-75% CEC
Considering our clay loam, the low level of calcium is concerning. We do have issues with blossom end rot on tomatoes and peppers (caused by calcium deficiency) and we usually can help mitigate that by throwing in some egg shell into the planting hole. It appears that we need to do something as a whole.
The Remedy:
Gypsum will be applied at 20 lbs per 1,000 sf per the recommendation on the soils analysis. The gypsum will also help improve the sulfur deficiency.


Optimum Level: 1-3% CEC
Sodium has no real use by plants and excessive levels can burn them.
The Remedy:
No need to do anything. If we had excess sodium we would water heavily to leach it out (did this a few years ago when our CEC was 5.7%).


Optimum Level: 15 ppm
We currently have less than half of what we need to avoid deficiencies. Our soil used to have 121 ppm of sulfur so it’s a huge drop and shows that sulfur is used quite a bit by plants. What’s interesting is that sulfur is used to help acidify soil but when we had such a high amount our soil was actually neutral and now it’s it more acidic (ever so slightly) with a lower sulfur content. This is most likely due to the leaching of sodium from the soil.
The Remedy:
Gypsum, which is 18% sulfur will be applied. This will help us with both our sulfur and our calcium levels. The recommendation is 20lbs per 1,000 sf.


Optimum Level: 20-70 ppm
Zinc is most important for bean and corn production though it is a micronutrient for most most crops. We are about in the middle of the optimum level needed for corn and beans, which we do grow.
The Remedy:
None needed. If we were deficient we would look into applying zinc sulfate which is 35.5% zinc.


Optimum Level: 8 ppm for soil with a pH of 6.7
Soil tests for manganese are unreliable, however our manganese levels were once much higher. Acidic soils allow for manganese to be more bioavailable to plants, however we had a much higher level when we had a more basic soil (41 ppm). Now we are down significantly to 2 ppm even though our soil is more acidic.  Manganese toxicity can happen so you have to be careful with application. Toxicity is more likely to occur, however, if the pH is less than 6.0.
The Remedy:
Manganese sulfate is 31% manganese. We would need to add less than a pound of manganese sulfate to our garden. For now, because we aren’t growing any crops that need a high manganese level in the soil and manganese sulfate is difficult to find in small quantities we will forego application. If during the growing season we see signs of manganese deficiency we will foliar feed with a product that contains manganese.


Optimum Level: 29-50 ppm
We are slightly below the optimum level when we were previously over the level. Like other nutrients, more acidic soil makes iron more available.
The Remedy:
So far our plants haven’t been showing any signs of iron deficiency. The levels still show as high so for now we won’t be adding any additional iron. If the level drops further we’ll look into adding iron sulfate. If we see signs of deficiency this year we’ll apply a foliar treatment of iron chelates.


Optimum Level: 1-3 ppm
We are over the limit which can be toxic to soil fungi and plants. Our property was once an orchard which would explain the high level of copper. Spraying of copper has to be done carefully and thoughtfully.
The Remedy:
Gypsum and compost can be used to lower copper levels. Copper binds to organic matter making it unavailable. We are already planning on applying both compost and gypsum so this should be remedied. Due to goats needing a copper rich diet we will also have to limit the amount of goat manure we apply since they do excrete it.


Optimum Level: 0.15-0.50 ppm
A level over 1 ppm can be toxic to some plants and, of course, we’re over that at 1.1 ppm. So far we haven’t seen any negative effects and our levels have actually gone down over time considering we were at 1.5 previously.
The Remedy:
Acidifying the soil with sulfur can help reduce boron, as can leaching with water past the root zone. Unfortunately leaching will also remove other nutrients that we want to keep so for now, since we haven’t seen toxicity problems we are going to leave it be. If there was a deficiency we would look into adding laundry borax at very low rates. Yes, laundry borax.

While we do have some deficiencies that we need to take care of, it’s not too overwhelming and easily remedied. Next weekend we’ll be making a trip out to the farm supply to get the needed amendments. Hoping the upcoming season is a productive one!

Tomato, Pepper and Eggplant Varieties for 2015

We’re doing plant starts again this year – peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. We will also be doing artichoke plants again and hopefully be including herbs. Last year we sold out within 3 weeks so I wanted to give you all a chance to pre-order them so you can get the varieties you want. We will also be increasing our production along with adding more varieties. If you want specific varieties please let me know (contact us with the form at the end) and I will make sure I have plants set aside for you. They are $3.50 each or 3 for $10. They will be available for planting around mid March. We will also hopefully be selling them again at Moschetti’s as well as a possible second location (stay tuned).

Last year we attended a tomato tasting and then held our own tomato tasting event. Our primary focus was finding tomatoes that were not only productive but also had exceptional flavor. Some of the varieties we grew last year didn’t make the cut but we found many more to take their place.

The varieties are:

Eggplant Varieties

5701042400_6b4323bf2e_nCaspar – I adore this eggplant. It’s a long Japanese style eggplant with white skin and very creamy white flesh. If you aren’t a huge fan of eggplant (like myself), this is definitely one to try. It may just make you a convert.



Diamond-EggplantDiamond – A good, productive Japanese style eggplant. Very good sliced, marinated and grilled.



Pepper Varieties-Hot

anaheim peppers copyAnaheim (Nu Mex Joe E. Parker) – These are the perfect roasting peppers. The thick skin easily blisters and can be peeled away after roasting. They are mild to medium heat. Not quite as productive as the smaller hot peppers, but they do give a good harvest when picked continuously.


PoblanosAncho Gigantea (Poblano) – Relatively mild, productive pepper that is great dried or roasted. This is the standard pepper for stuffing. Green peppers are called Poblanos and red peppers are Anchos.



cayenne peppers copyCayenne Slim – Very productive plant of HOT peppers. Walls are thin so they dry quickly. We dried the peppers (they readily dry on the plant) and then ground them into red pepper flakes. We now call them Satan Flakes because of their excessive heat.




Craig’s Grande Jalapeno – Sometimes you just want a middle-of-the-road hot pepper. We generally haven’t had much luck getting jalapenos hot enough for our taste, but this year we’re going to give this variety a try and see if we can see some success. No other pepper seems to work as well as the trusty jalapeno for escabeche.


habanero peppers copyMustard Habanero – I got several emails this past year from people that were very happy with these plants. If you want your peppers to be spicy make sure to grow them next to a habanero plant. This was a trick I learned from a friend and was surprised to find out that it works! These are productive plants with EXTRA HOT peppers.


Padron-Pepper-1Pimiento de Padron  – We grew these last year and they started out delicious but as summer rolled on they became increasingly hot. This year we’re trying a different seed vendor. They are usually a mild, small Spanish pepper that is traditionally fried. Sometimes you’ll get a hot one. They are fantastic stuffed with a bit of goat cheese before frying.


serrano peppers copySerrano Tampequino – Another very productive pepper with thick walls that are perfect for making hot sauce. The original variety used to make Sriracha Hot Sauce. Also very hot, but not as hot as the Cayenne Slim.



Pepper Varieties-Sweet

California WonderCalifornia Wonder – The standard green and red bell pepper for California. Good production with thick walled fruits.



Canary BellCanary Bell – We haven’t tried a yellow bell yet, so we decided to go with this one. It is highly productive, sets early and continues all through summer and is also resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus.



Pepper-Etiuda-PP192-webEtuida Bell – When I read that this was considered one of the best tasting peppers out there, I had to try it. It is a productive producer of very large, thick skinned fruit.



Pepper-Horizon-Bell-Pepper-PP187-webHorizon Bell – This is a pepper to replace the Orange Bell as it is more productive while not sacrificing flavor.



nardello-aJimmy Nardello – We got a LOT of requests to grow this pepper. It looks like it will be hot but ends up being incredibly sweet and flavorful. It’s an Italian frying pepper that is productive and has earned itself a place on Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste.”



purple beautyPurple Beauty – We grew this on a whim last year and were surprised at how well it sells. It produces a multitude of medium sized, thin walled purple fruit that are easy to find in among the foliage.



quadrato-d-asti-giallo-pepperQuadrato Asti Giallo – This has been our most productive bell pepper giving us good sized, thick walled fruit all through summer. This is an Italian pepper that is green slowly ripening to yellow.




Amish Paste – Of the many paste tomatoes we tasted, this one was far and away, the best tasting. I look forward to trying the concentrated flavor of these when canning. Nice sized red Roma type tomatoes that are good for both canning and fresh eating (something you can’t say about most paste tomatoes).


Aunt Gertie’s Gold – One of the all-around best tasting tomatoes available. A golden yellow tomato that can grow to nearly a pound provides a sweet, fruity and complex flavor.


Aunt Lucy’s Italian Paste – Abundant producer of 2″ round red paste tomatoes with few seeds. From Italy, this is a very rare tomato variety, but should earn a place at anyone’s table. Classic sweet, tart flavor that is expected of old Italian heirloom tomatoes.


Aussie – This large red tomato is a replacement for Brandywine, which is popular, but just can’t win the taste tests like Aussie can. Aussie offers a very well balanced old-fashioned tomato flavor in a large, 1lb package on large vigorous plants.


black krimBlack Krim – One of our most popular varieties. A purple-black beefsteak with a hearty, rich flavor. Fruits get darker when exposed to sunlight. Productive.



Blush – Elongated cherry tomatoes, they start out a striped yellow and ripen with a pink blush to them. Productive plants give you sweet, fruity and refreshing fruit that you won’t be able to stop eating right off the vine.


Carmello – This red French variety (we have are offering an open pollinated strain) is thought to be one of the most productive varieties available, this tomatoes pumps out juicy fruits that have exceptional balanced flavor. Shows disease resistance.



Cherokee Green

Cherokee Green – A green beefsteak that has a bold, bright flavor with acid. My husband says it’s “zingy.” Best flavor of the green tomatoes. Very productive plant. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t wait too long to pick the fruits which will have a yellow hue with ripe.


Dixie Golden Giant – A whopper of a tomato coming in at almost 2lbs, this lemon yellow tomato has an incredible mild and sweet, fruity flavor. Shows some disease resistance and like most Amish varieties is very productive.


green zebraGreen Zebra – Small 2-1/2″-3″  salad tomato that is green with darker green stripes. Fruit is sweet and “zingy.” Very productive plant if you can find all the fruit! The light green will have a yellow hue when ripe. Makes a really good green pesto bruschetta.



Henderson’s Winsall – The original Winsall variety obtained from the USDA Seed Bank. A pink beefsteak heirloom that is nearly seedless. It is a late variety but the superb flavor is worth the wait.


HillbillyHillbilly – Big yellow orange beefsteak with red streaks. Husband describes it as “rich, meaty, tomato-y goodness.” The favorite tomato around here. Few seeds and very fleshy.



isis candyIsis Candy – Orange cherry tomato with red starburst. Very productive of small sweet, fruity tomatoes that you can just pop in your mouth.



Mr. Stripey – For whatever reason, many striped tomatoes tend not to have as much flavor as their solid colored compadres. I surmise that it is due to the coloring of the striped tomato being the primary focus, rather than the flavor. Mr. Stripey, fortunately, is not one of them. These are smaller salad size tomatoes with a rich, tangy flavor.


Rosso SicilianRosso Sicilian –  This is an Italian heirloom with small to medium sized ribbed fruits that are firm and meaty and perfect for making sauce and paste. Bruises easily. Rated as one of the better tasting tomatoes we grew last year.



siouxSioux – We grew this small rather unassuming red tomato last year only because we got a packet of free seeds. At our tomato tasting we were surprised that it outperformed all of the other tomatoes and was hands down the favorite out of 16 varieties. Sweet, tangy, rich and complex, you won’t regret making space for this variety.


stupice-homeStupice – This very early tomato blew me away this year with it’s productiveness. Small tomatoes, but not quite cherry size are born as early as late June and continues through until the frost. Sweet and flavorful.



Super Sioux – A variety of Sioux that takes heat and drought better. While Sioux is better for fresh eating, Super Sioux is better suited for canning.



Tangerine – This is our replacement for Kellogg’s Breakfast. A productive yellow-orange beefsteak with improved flavor that is meaty, sweet and rich.



Thessaloniki – A red Greek tomato that resists cracking and sun scald. Fantastic old fashioned acid tomato flavor. I have farmer friends that say they only will start selling the fruit from this variety after they physically can no longer eat them.



WPeachWapsipinicon Peach – A small yellow tomato with an unusually fuzzy skin. Productive plant of very, very sweet, mild fruit with a hint of peach. Husband says “sweetest tomato I’ve ever eaten.”




Tomato Tasting and our Annual Harvest Potluck

Unknown Pink

You, my fine readers, are invited to join us in our Tomato Tasting and Harvest potluck here at Dog Island Farm in Vallejo on Saturday, September 6th. We’ll start the tomato tasting around 3pm and serve dinner at 6pm. Bring your favorite homemade dish to share. Bonus points if it’s made from food your raised/grew.

We have 19 varieties of tomatoes that we are growing and would love to share the many flavors with all of you. We also would love your opinions on the tomatoes so will have cards for you to fill out. We do ask for a $3-5 donation for the tasting to cover the tomatoes but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Get a chance to try our heirloom tomato sauce when we fill our big brew pot with ciopinno. We’ll provide the base (from our homegrown heirloom tomatoes), the crab and the bread but we’d like some help. You can choose between bringing a dish to share or bringing a pound of seafood to throw in the pot. If you’re interested in bringing seafood let me know so I can coordinate with everyone.

It’s kid and partner friendly. Got a friend that is into or getting into urban farming or a big fan of tomatoes? Bring them along! Just let us know how many will be joining you.

And like all our other potlucks, to reduce waste we ask that you please bring your own place setting including a glass/mug to drink out of. Let us know if you can join us as soon as you can so we can make sure we have enough seats for everyone.

Register  here and the address will be sent to you.

The Crash x2

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has been kind of, well, slow with content. I haven’t really been posting much lately. For that I apologize and I will explain why and why you may be having some issues with the site.

Last year I had a website issue and lost a huge percentage of my photos. Of course, if you click on the broken link it will take you to the missing photo, so it was basically a matter of relinking all the photos so they would show up. I tried to fix as many as I could but never quite had the time to replace all of them. This process kind of took the wind out of my sails and my blogging slowed down.

I was starting to consider blogging again.

And then I got a message that my site was down. Well apparently WordPress automatically updated and crashed my site. And it crashed hard. It took me several days to get the blog back up but I lost a year’s worth of content. It was gone. Completely gone. So that pretty much made me want to completely throw in the towel and say screw this!

Fortunately the Wayback Machine came to the rescue and I was able to retrieve most of the content that was lost, however more photos have been lost from the posts that remained. Now it’s just a matter of entering in the posts and relinking all the photos. So ask for some patience as some of the content I will be posting will be posts you may have already seen. Once I have everything up again (or at least a good portion of it) I will start posting new content.

Thanks for your patience!

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times

You know what they say about judging a book by it’s cover? This one has a fantastic cover so go ahead and judge it. To be honest, the title kind of threw me because it almost seemed like it was aimed at the prepper community. I’m glad I dug into it though because I was pleasantly surprised. Not that there is anything wrong with being a prepper, but Carol Deppe discuss much more realistic day-to-day issues that can derail your self reliance. It’s not exactly a reference book so I took the time to read it cover to cover. Reading anything can take me forever with our schedule so it was a miracle that I was able to finish this book. I’m glad I did take the time though or I would have missed what this book was really about and who it was aimed at (hint: it’s you and me).

This book came at a great time. The economy had tanked and people were taking up gardening as a means of feeding themselves. The author, Carol Deppe, is an experienced “market gardener.” Her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times, focuses on four main crops and one livestock animal for the majority of one’s diet. She is also a plant breeder and sells some of her varieties.

Ms. Deppe had some real life examples of why being resilient is important and not just in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of way. For example, when her mother fell ill and she had to care for her it made it nearly impossible for her to get out and tend to her garden. She relied on creating a resilient garden to get her through that period of her life. She also discusses having a bad back which makes many common garden chores, such as weeding and planting, difficult and painful. She has great advice on how to get around issues such as these to keep your garden going and being as comfortable as possible.

In addition, she also talks about diet and exercise and how that can make you more resilient personally, not just as a gardener. Ms. Deppe suffers from Celiacs, which means she cannot eat foods that contain gluten. For her carbohydrates she grows corn and includes some delicious looking recipes utilizing this grain. She also explains the differences between the different types of corn. I had kind of any idea of the different types – dent, flint, sweet, popcorn, and flour corn – but she gives a great rundown of what makes them different from each other and what their best uses are.

I think the main part that I don’t agree with is the way she waters. She doesn’t like drip irrigation because she says it’s too much work and instead prefers overhead irrigation and hand watering, which I think is way more work than automatic irrigation. Plus it wastes more water than drip irrigation. Otherwise I found this to be an incredibly informative book, including the best tools to use and where to get them and how to keep them in their best condition.

The best part about this book? It’s not your typical gardening book that I feel is a topic that is just over-saturated. It goes over information that most gardening books don’t cover. It’s been a very long time since I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from a book. Fortunately this book met the challenge and succeeded.

Michael Pollan for $12

For the last several years I’ve been wanting to see Michael Pollan speak, but usually it’s at a swanky center for way too much money. We did get a chance to sit in on one of his classes at UC Berkeley for free, which was awesome, but that was not a typical setting, obviously.

But now is our chance to see him at a swanky center for an affordable price talking about his new book.

SRFMichaelPollan2013Country Costa County Library announces Michael Pollan as featured author of 2013 Summer Reading Festival, “Reading is So Delicious”

Contra Costa County Library is pleased to announce Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalist, as the headlining author for the 2013 Summer Reading Festival. The theme for this year’s festival, which takes place from June 8 through August 17, is “Reading is So Delicious.” Mr. Pollan will discuss his new book, “Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (to be released in April 2013) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Walnut Creek Library the day of the event and there will be a book signing following the presentation.

For the past twenty years, Mr. Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” he explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen, where he discovers the enduring power of the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.

Mr. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many other best-selling titles. He has been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and has his articles have appeared in Harpers, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Gardens Illustrated, and The Nation. His writing and reporting has received numerous awards, including the California Book Award; the Northern California Book Award; James Beard Awards for best food writing and for best magazine series; the 2000 Reuters-I.U.C.N. Global Award for Environmental journalism, and the 2003 Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award. In 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek Magazine and he was chosen by Time Magazine for the 2010 Time 100 in the Thinkers category. Mr. Pollan is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Michael Pollan appears as part of Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and are available today. For ticket information, please contact the Lesher Center for the Arts at 925.943.SHOW (7469) or http://www.lesherartscenter.org/. Copies of Mr. Pollan’s book will be available for sale on the day of the event at the Walnut Creek Library.

The Summer Reading Festival is an annual event that encourages people of all ages to read throughout the summer months and celebrates the importance and value of reading and literacy for all.

For more information on this event and highlights of the upcoming 2013 Summer Reading Festival, please visit the Summer Reading Festival website. Additional information on Summer Reading Festival programs and events will be announced in the coming months.

The New Normal


A great TEDx presentation on using livestock to reverse desertification and climate change.

Except for 4 years while I was away at college, I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even when I was in college I still was living near the California coast, albeit more in Southern California. You get pretty used to the climate around here. My birthday is mid June and I always knew that my birthday would be a beautiful sunny day. I also could depend on Halloween being dry. Our climate is warm and dry in the summer starting in May and we have cool, wet winters starting in November. The weather was dependable.

Well, at least it used to be. And everyone I have talked with that has also lived here all their lives seem to agree. Our weather patterns are no longer predictable. Our warm, dry summers are not totally dry. The last few years we’ve had rain in July which used to be unheard of. And our cool, wet winters? Well, we now get one of two extremes. It’s either flood-stage rain for an extended period of time, or it’s like this year where it’s rained maybe two or three days since December. January and February this year were the driest on record. We received just over half of the water we got during the second two driest months on record (in 1991). Half. Seriously. Half of the next driest.

This is serious.

In February we got a stunningly low 0.09″ of rain.  The average is 3.9″. In January we only got 0.6″ when we should have been closer to 5.4″. We don’t get a lot of rain to begin with so when the numbers are this low it’s quite alarming.

In the four years we’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve ever had to water in the winter. We usually disconnect all the irrigation so we can dig freely without hitting lines and also to keep lines from freezing. Unfortunately we’re going to have to hook it back up this weekend because I’ve found that it takes much too long to hand water even the small amount of plants we’ve got in right now.

But this isn’t just about our garden. This is effecting almost the entire country (except for those lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest). One of the biggest victims of unstable climate is agriculture and without agriculture we cease to exist. We cannot live without food but we, as a species, are shortsighted. Our unwillingness to take action now to make changes to our behaviors will end up being our downfall.



Putting a Value on That

Recently I tagged along with my mom to the grocery store. She was in town visiting and she’s a fantastic cook and was planning on making an amazing meal for her best friend who she was staying with.

It wasn’t just any grocery store, though. We were entering the yuppie-hippie grocery store. A full third of the store was just produce so I figured this was a good time to check out prices for the in season, organic produce.

I haven’t updated it in awhile – here it is February and I still haven’t finished 2012’s totals – but on the right hand column we keep track of what we spend and save running our urban farm. I base the prices on the unit costs for a similar item if I was purchasing it elsewhere – whether it was the farmers’ market, the grocery store or a roadside stand. If I see similar items at different prices I take the average.

Since I don’t make it into a grocery store very often, especially one with such a large selection of (organic) produce I figured I’d start jotting down some of the prices of items I normally don’t find at the farmers market (or the normal grocery store, for that matter) but that I grow at home. If the produce came in a bunch or was priced individually I weighed it to figure out the cost per pound.

As I went through row after row of vegetable, weighing and jotting down prices I quickly began to realize that there is no way in hell I would ever spend that much money on produce. Cute little of bunches of arugula that only weighed a 1/4 lb were going for $2.49 or $9.96/lb. Nearly $10 for a green that practically grows wild in my yard with no known pests. For realz? Do people actually spend this much for arugula? Well, now that I think about it, a similar amount sold at my local farmers market goes for $2 a bag or about $8/lb. That can’t be right. The dandelion greens (yes, they even had those) were half the price of the arugula, and in my (not so) humble opinion they are harder to find commercially. They too grow like a weed in my yard, and I can say I wouldn’t pay $5/lb of them either.

There’s a balancing act when you grow food yourself. I grow it because I wouldn’t pay what this yuppie-hippie store charges for the items that cost me just a couple of dollars in seeds for a year’s supply. If I didn’t grow it I probably still wouldn’t buy it so am I really saving money? Probably not. But there are items that I would buy, like apples (they have them for $3.99/lb, but at the farmers’ market they are $1.50/lb for organically grown), I just wouldn’t buy them at that particular grocery store. So which price do I go with? The farmers’ market price, of course.

The other side of the coin is when I think an item is worth more than what they sell it for. Potatoes, corn, onions, garlic and winter squash should be more than the $0.99-$1.99/lb just because they require so much more space, time and skill to grow. But the cost is what it is so in fairness that’s what I use in my spreadsheet. I’ll be honest though, it pains me to enter the low numbers.

As I peruse the farmland listings and calculate how much it would cost us to have a farm I really have to wonder how the hell we would ever make enough money selling vegetables to pay for the farmland it’s grown on? While that $10/lb for arugula sounds like it could do it, it’s important to realize that the farmer that’s growing it is lucky to get $2/lb for it. The remaining $8 goes to transport, distributors and the grocery store. Direct sales would have to be the way to go and lots of high value crops (*cough* heirloom tomatoes *cough*) to make up for the lower value crops.