Category Archives: Plants

Stress Antidote Tea!

As this year comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on the time I spend on the computer, following blogs, Instagram and Facebook. I think there are certainly positives to these activities but it seems they have completely displaced blog writing for me and I miss it. I have been pondering the balance between producing and consuming in general lately. I would like to be the kind of person who produces more than I consume, a steep uphill struggle in these times when I can have my hearts desire in a mere 2 days from Amazon and get delicious little pings of dopamine from notifications on Facebook whenever the mood strikes me. Writing the blog feels less like a cheap thrill and more like actually making something. It’s still time sitting in front of a screen instead of having actual interactions with people or crossing things off the endless, endless, endless to do list but it consistently brings me happiness and gives me a bit more motivation to get things done around the tiny farm. One of my favorite parts of having dinner parties is the pre-party hustle, tossing the piles of yesterdays clothes (likely discarded during the bedtime routine wrestling match) behind closed bedroom doors and turning forts back into furniture a person might actually want to sit on. Having a blog is like having mini dinner parties all around the property. Little bits of cleaning up here and there so you don’t look like a crazy slob all over the internet lead to actually being less of a crazy slob! Delightful.

I’m also giving myself a pass if all I have is crappy pictures from my phone. See below. The perfect is too often the enemy of the good around this town.

All that was merely the preamble to the good stuff: Stress Antidote Tea!

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As I was sipping some delicious tea today it occurred to me that sharing this tea recipe might be appropriate this time of year. Perhaps I am not the only person for whom the holidays conjure mixed feelings? For this, my friends, there is Stress Antidote Tea. It is a sweet, minty, incredibly soothing elixir of goodness. So many herbal teas will let you down- they smell amazing and taste only so so. Not this one! If anything it tastes better than it smells. Super sweet! I learned about it from my chiropractor, Armene Lamson.  She recommended Five Flavors Herbs for buying the herbs and I can say from experience that the quality of the herbs makes a big difference. Grow your own or make a special trip and get the good stuff. It’s a simple recipe: equal parts peppermint, oat tops (oat straw would also do), nettles and licorice. You can play with the tea/water ratio to suit yourself. I go for a hefty amount and brew it twice. The first steep is almost syrupy, the second round is more refreshing.  The longer you steep it each time, the sweeter it gets.

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The sweeter it gets, the more likely it will be snatched and emptied by one of your children, beginning a delightful positive feedback loop in which you are simultaneously soothing yourself and a potential source of stress! Brilliant!

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We went to Idaho! And It Rained.

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Yep. Went all the way to Idaho so our little family plus my sister could look out windows at the downpour. Fortunately, not all fun is outdoors.

Momma's camera is fun!

Mama’s camera is fun!

Dominoes, magnetic blocks, motorcycle guy, hanging out in undies all day- fun stuff.

Dominoes, magnetic blocks, motorcycle guy, hanging out in your undies all day- fun stuff.

There was big person fun as well.

There was big person fun as well. I know, we’re so wild and crazy!

Fortunately our rental car had this inexplicable feature. When I texted B this pic, he said he saw it but felt too old to press it. Sigh.

Fortunately our rental car had this inexplicable feature. B felt too old to press it. I pressed it and nothing really happened. Sigh.

There was rejuvenation. Extra special Idahoian mineral bath.

There was extra special rejuvenation. As my sister wrote, “MIneral bath. Idaho style.”

This was my kind of fun: wildflower seeds!

This was my kind of fun: wildflower seeds!

B had planned to spend the whole week up there, working and mountain biking, but cut the trip short and retreated to sunny Lake Tahoe, California. The afternoon before he left he waged one last, wet battle on the thistle scourge that has become his newest nemesis. In California we have ivy and morning glory to test his mettle as a groundskeeper, in Idaho we have thistles. Before he left he scattered most of these seeds. They will have no care and nor irrigation, so it may be a total fail, but when did the large chance of failure ever stop me when the possibility of rampant flowers exists? I’ll report back come Spring.

Apple Maggot Control Bags: Love and Hate

If you have never looked at your lovingly dwarfed apple tree bursting with fruitlets and thought “Crap. That’s a lot of fruit. Too bad the blight skipped this year.” you have never applied apple maggot control bags. Think tiny pantyhose that must be tied on to each and every fruitlet in order to prevent all manner of winged creatures from using my hard won fruit as a nursery. Might be kind of cute, right? A tree wearing stockings!

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No way, man. Indeed they are almost as unattractive as the name implies. Limp, wrinkly apple maggot control bags all over my sweet little fruit trees.

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That tree is embarrassed.

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They do improve slightly when the contents swell.

I ordered 3 bags of these beauties, 144 count each. I am done with 2 bags and perhaps 60% done with the job. How is that possible?? I have tiny trees, and only 5 are apples or pears of fruit bearing age. This process is mostly satisfying, kind of overwhelming. With Baby R being a primary focus around here these days, every minute with both hands free is precious. I keep reminding myself that it is absolutely worth it to spend an extra 20 seconds on each fruit to ensure a generally worm free harvest. It is! Also, I feel like I’m wrapping myself hundreds of presents, not to be opened until late summer/ fall.

I hope my canning jars like presents, too.

Geranium Revival

This is a picture from last spring of the Geranium maderense in front of Chicken Coop 3.0. This beast is a mutant sibling of all the sweetly sized geraniums that one usually finds in the landscape. It is a biennial that grows with great vigor and little care here in Zone 9. The first year you get a mound of fantastic foliage- a single leaf makes an impressive arrangement in a vase. The second year the leaves are pressed to the ground so that the thick stems can support the absolutely gigantic inflorescence of flowers that springs forth. After the show is over this guy reseeds with enthusiasm and babies pop up all over the place. This particular plant was indeed a volunteer from prior years.

Please excuse the crappy picture. This plant was struck down in its prime, before any good pictures were taken.

That sprinkling of pink flowers above was just the beginning of the huge bouquet that was soon to come. This is a plant that is hard to kill. It loves everything- sun or shade, wet or dry. We found out that it can be be thwarted, however, by the crushing weight of a 5″ diameter redwood limb falling from the heavens upon its head. The bouquet was severed in half and we figured the whole plant was a gonner as it had already begun to set seed.

Wrong!

In a form that befits the spirit of this plant, it came back twice as fiercely. Letting this happen has meant multiple years of having to shimmy our way in to the door of our coop, but you just can’t disturb a plant that takes a death blow just days before it should have died of natural causes and springs back better than ever.

Finally this spring we have the double flower explosion I’ve been waiting for.

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Each a little smaller than the daddy, but pretty great all the same.

That little mound to the right, by the way, is a normal sized geranium called ‘Ann Folkard’.

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Here’s to meeting the next crushing challenge that lands on our heads with double bouquets of fierceness!  Happy Spring!

Growing 50 Plants From a 6 Pack

Although I will certainly lose some of my street cred as an urban homesteader by revealing that I do not start all my edibles from seed, this info is important stuff for the newer gardeners among us. As a beginner veggie grower I assumed each cell in a 6 pack held one plant and should be plunked right into the dirt. My friend Claire Woods, who also happens to be a propagator at the beloved Annie’s Annuals Nursery and an all around expert plant lady, set me straight on this situation.

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In fact, each of these cells holds about 10 viable kale plants.

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If you put each cell right into the ground you’ll end up with 10 big plants trying to grow in 1 square inch of dirt- no good! The trick is to tease each seedling apart so they can be planted at a proper distance from one another and mature to normal size. I usually start by pulling out a cell and tapping the side against my palm to loosen the dirt and roots. In cells that are as congested as these, it is then usually necessary to make one drastic tear down the middle to get the untangling process started.

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After that, with more gentle tapping, shaking and teasing apart, you can pull out each individual seedling. Go slow and be gentle! Doing this with bare hands helps a lot. I was trying to keep my hands clean to take pictures, so I have gloves on here. Some seedlings will end up without enough roots to support themselves- compost those guys.

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Just be sure to pick starts that are not too old or the roots will be so tangled you won’t be able to separate them. These kale starts are about as tangled as I can handle. If you don’t have any choice and are facing a complete snarl of roots, just snip off all but one of the babies at soil level, gently loosen the outside of the snarl and plant. Plants like kale, broccoli and cabbage can be planted deeper than they were in the cells to help support those reachy little stems. I usually put them in so the soil level is just below the cluster of leaves.

This process is terribly satisfying. After a good amount of culling, I ended up with 50 kale plants from this particular 6 pack. Pretty good for a few dollars worth of starts. Doing this also makes me feel far less guilty about not having started my own seeds at the right time. Next year all will be on time and my garden will be perfect! Next year!

A word of caution: don’t do this to baby plants with roots that hate to be disturbed, like melons and squash. They will struggle and pout.

Best Family Tradition Ever

My mother is an excellent seamstress! This gets her in to all sorts of trouble. Like the down jacket she hand stuffed for my sister as she headed off to college in frigid New Hampshire, or the time she agreed to make my wedding dress.

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Just a simple little thing to whip up in the midst of throwing a wedding in one’s garden!

But no project can match the hours my mom has spent over the years upholding the best family tradition ever- the quilts! It goes like this: pregnant moms pick a theme for their quilt and make a list of all the most important women in their lives in the months before the birth. Each important woman is sent a square of fabric and batting to embroider for the quilt. The assignment is welcomed by some and dreaded by others, I’m pretty sure. It seems not everyone is drawn to spend hours upon hours coaxing needle and floss into quilt square perfection, but most do it anyhow. Occasionally we find some serious talent hidden among us, but even the simplest squares carry lots of good love and support for the moms to gaze upon with bleary eyes during the inhumane hours newborns like to keep.  Inevitably there is a rush in the final days before the quilt shower to present the quilt- reminders are made, overnight mail packages arrive (or not! panic!). Finally a complete number of squares is pulled together and the arranging begins, weighing all the possible combinations.

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There is a lot of careful ironing…

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and straight sewing…

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… and far fewer exclamations of fury than my sewing machine is used to.

Common themes include children’s songs or nursery rhymes. I, of course, was drawn to more homestead related themes. O’s quilt theme was “Farm Animals and Their Products,” and this babe is to receive a “Beneficial Insects” quilt. Creative license was encouraged! My sister-in-law made a square of grasshoppers on a skewer- not an insect you would necessarily like in your garden, but an excellent protein source. My friend Kate made a City Bug in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, complete with rainbow flag flying in the distance. I made a square of the end-of-summer spiders whose webs booby trap our entire property August through October. They enjoy open spots at just about face level for web-making. Years ago, after a long commute by foot, BART train and Muni from Oakland to San Francisco, I told my nursing school friends about the particularly large specimen I came eyeball to eyeball with just before taking down her extensive web with my face that morning. Halfway through my recounting, one of my ladies began staring intently at my hair and uttered a most ominous “HOLD STILL” as she lunged in to sweep that very creature from my brow. Yeesh. The quilt also included many other beautiful and helpful bugs, each bringing with it a piece of its maker. Makes my mother’s, and gardener’s, heart swell.

In the end, thanks to all my favorite women,  we had this:

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Which later proved surprisingly hard to capture well on film. Trust me, this quilt is gorgeous in person. But here’s the idea:

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I’m scheduling this post to go out on this baby’s due date. Could be he has already arrived!

Or maybe I’m still waddling about.

Wish us luck!