Taming the Rain

Rain compacts bare soil, and in this case making clay soil slick.  No percolation is happening here!

Rain compacts bare soil, and in this case making clay soil slick. No percolation is happening here!

World-wide we have a fresh water shortage, and the seas are rising.  Erosion is cutting into our fields and washing our precious topsoil into waterways, causing them to silt up and die.  In some areas of the US, unprecedented flooding from rain is occurring, while out West drought is drying up wells.  The reasons for these happenings have to do with our farming techniques to begin with.  How to fix the problems all  boils down to some very simple methods that everyone can do – that everyone needs to do.  It all comes down to making level-bottomed swales, and rain-catchment basins, to make the water penetrate the soil rather than roll over it.  Rain compacts soil more than a tractor does – when it falls on bare ground.  We have been trained to rake up leaves and burn them or send them to the dump.  Leaves, dead vines and other organic matter cushions the rain and keeps the soil from being compacted.  That organic matter also feeds the soil microorganisms that make soil hold manage rainwater.  With the lack of organic matter, and the use of herbicides to kill off all vegetation, and the proliferation of huge swaths of lawn that is treated routinely with chemicals and therefore make the ground hard, rain rolls across the landscape taking topsoil with it.

Raised mounds on the downside of swales keep rainwater by plant roots.

Raised mounds on the downside of swales keep rainwater by plant roots.

Many neighborhoods have large culverts through their properties – mine included – where runoff from properties above is purposely channeled through and away from homes.  All that precious water is wasted.  The same happens in areas where rain is abundant.  Rainwater is directed away from properties and into storm drains that fill and overflow, or it puddles in low spots because it has nowhere to go.

A rainwater and silt basin at the end of a series of rain catchment basins, has turned into a permanent pond.

A rainwater and silt basin at the end of a series of rain catchment basins, has turned into a permanent pond.

By creating regular level-bottomed swales perpendicular to the flow of water, beginning as high up the landscape as possible, rain will be caught before its momentum running downhill becomes destructive.  The water in the swales percolate into the landscape, reestablishing water tables and re-energizing wells and streambeds. Swales should be level at the bottom, dug on contour if large, and have a dedicated overflow into another swale, rain catchment basin or dam.  Small property?  Dig a small fishscale-shaped swale with a trowel above each of your small trees and plants, perpendicular to the flow of water.  Filling these small swales with coarse mulch such as woodchips will keep them moist and weed-free.

With 97% of California wetlands gone, animals have no place to drink.  Help them!

With 97% of California wetlands gone, animals have no place to drink. Help them!

If your property is the recipient of water from uphill, then talk to all your neighbors above you and convince them to dig swales as well (neighborhood swale-digging party??).  The amount of water raging down the hill will become insignificant, and everyone’s trees and plants will flourish due to the water being caught in the soil.  The plume of water slowly moving through the landscape encourages tree and plant roots to grow deeper.  The roots break through hardpan, produce sugars and proteins and carbohydrates to attract microbes, and create good soil for you.

A hugelkultur bed is made from layering wood with dirt and organic materials.  It will absorb rainwater and release it slowly as the ground around it dries, while improving the soil.

A hugelkultur bed is made from layering wood with dirt and organic materials. It will absorb rainwater and release it slowly as the ground around it dries, while improving the soil.

So dig swales and rain catchment basins to passify and hold rainwater.  Leave your leaves to prevent compaction and to feed your soil microbes.  Enjoy having healthier plants, soil and waterways while helping to put the brakes on global warming.

Finch Frolic Marketplace, Revisited

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Due to popular demand, we’re having one more short Marketplace this Saturday, 9 – 1.

Join us on Saturday, November 29nd  from 9-1  for the annual Finch Frolic Marketplace, the Extended Version!  We’ll have for sale fresh and prepared foods straight from our permaculture gardens.  All are excellent gifts, or will grace your holiday table. We’ll have the much-desired Pomegranate Gelato again, and new this year, Passionfruit Gelato!   Squash, fruit, veg, preserves, passionfruit curd, baked goods, and much more.

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves... and much more!

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves… and much more!

Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.

Directions:

Finch Frolic Garden is open by appointment only for tours, lectures and other activities.  The address is 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA  92028-2548.  Please call only if you are lost or delayed; we use our house phone only and are often not inside.  Please use the email above for any other communication.

From the North (Temecula and above): take 1-15 South to Exit 51 and turn right.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the South (Escondido and below): take I-15 North to Exit 51 and turn left over the freeway.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the West (I-5): take CA-76 East, Exit 54A and drive for 12.6 miles.  Turn left onto S. Mission Road/County Hwy S13 for 4.1 miles.  Turn right onto S. Stagecoach Lane (at the high school).  In 2.8 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  At the top of the hill turn right onto Vista del Indio, at the Roja’s Succulents sign.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end on the left.

 

Perennial Vegetables: Jerusalem Artichokes

A knobby root of deliciousness.

A knobby root of deliciousness.

Jerusalem artichokes aren’t artichokes nor are they from Jerusalem.  They are also called sunchokes, which sounds something like an unfortunate cosmic event to me.  We grew them this  year and I have only great things to say about them.

I ordered organic tubers from Peaceful Valley in California.  By the way, all of the strawberries and rhubarb that I had ordered from them were inexpensive and yet of prime quality.  The tubers grew into tall, sunflower-like plants that graced an area of the new kitchen garden that didn’t have the best soil in it.

JAs have beautiful sunflower-like flowers that pollinators love.

JAs have beautiful sunflower-like flowers that pollinators love.

They flowered most of the summer and just this month – October – began to die off.  The plants had some difficulty with lace bugs, but with good soil fertility and some actively aerated compost tea foliar spray they rallied exceptionally.

The Jerusalem  artichokes made a nice living wall.

The Jerusalem artichokes made a nice living wall.

Today, for our Halloween lunch, we thought some creepy-looking tubers would be appropriate.  They share a basket with Black Beauty zucchinis (caught them small!) and our first sweet potato of the year, Spanish Red Improved, which we also steamed and ate – heaven!

Our Halloween harvest.

Our Halloween harvest.

The ‘chokes are supposed to sweeten up after a frost, but here in San Diego county that might take awhile.

The chokes grow tubers all around the base of the plant, and also spread them underground.  They are very easy to harvest; the plant wants the tubers to make new plants so they break off easily.

Cover green tubers back up so that they can continue growing.

Cover green tubers back up so that they can continue growing.

 

Although they are knotty, they wash off easily and the skin is thin and mostly easily removed with a vegetable peeler.  I didn’t scrape all of it off and it wasn’t bitter or unpleasant at all.  I roasted them after just washing them with a vegetable brush and the skins were a little firm and the insides very soft.  There wasn’t any unpleasant taste.

Peeling them is kind of easy, but the skin doesn't taste bad.  Raw they are crisp.

Peeling them is kind of easy, but the skin doesn’t taste bad. Raw they are crisp.

Steamed, the JAs become very soft and – by gosh! – taste very similar to soft, buttery artichoke heart!  Wonderful!  My daughter and I ate them down with a little vegan butter .  So wonderfully good.  They can be easily mashed as well.  We also roasted them along with other vegetables.

Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, beans, mushrooms, potatoes and squash are roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil.    Yum.

Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, beans, mushrooms, potatoes and squash are roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. Yum.

I mix all the veggies in olive oil with dried rosemary, minced fresh garlic and pepper, spread out on a tray and roast at 425F for about an hour, depending upon the size and thickness of the veggies.  Roasting keeps them more solid yet tender, and sharpens their flavor a little.  Absolutely fantastic.

I’m saving small tubers to plant ALL OVER THE YARD!  What a great perennial vegetable – perennial in that you leave some tubers in the ground and they keep coming up every year.  They are attractive, give shade to smaller plants, are great for attracting pollinators, create good mulch when the tops have died down, and have wonderful tubers.  The tubers may be eaten raw as well; they are crisp and mild.

The foliage dies off in the Fall.  I'll cut the stalks at the ground level and lay them down on top of the bed to feed the soil.

The foliage dies off in the Fall. I’ll cut the stalks at the ground level and lay them down on top of the bed to feed the soil.

If you have a corner for some tall flowers, definitely try growing some organic Jerusalem artichokes. Yum.

Saving the Bees

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration.  Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration. Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc.  I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering.  Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution.  Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously.  Too bad no one listened to him decades before.  A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes.  However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are  gone.  Over half.  Gone.  On our watch.  In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame.  So what about the next 40 years?  Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone.  There are only 3% left in Los Angeles.  The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks.  We are pumping all that  water overland, open to the sun for evaporation,  to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up.  It is madness.  All  the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone.  All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have  access  to it.  The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths.  Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon.  We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.dry_colorado_new[1]

One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons).  We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean.  Look around at your streets and houses.  Are they harvesting water or channeling it?  Any property that is slanted is channeling water away.  Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water.  So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them.  When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it.  Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil.  That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground.  The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates  (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil.  That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life.  We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves.  We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.

Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures.  Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic.  Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced.  They eat mosquito eggs.  They clean up algae.  They are as vitally important as soil microbes.  Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.

I spoke with Quentin Alexander from  HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather  than having to kill the entire hive.  He has had no luck in the past two  years with European queens, even those bred in California.  With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths.  Again, these contain highly chlorinated water.  Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.

We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater.  We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water!  It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales!  Dig small ones with a trowel.  Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows.  Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water.  Catch water as high up on your property as you can.  If you have level soil, fantastic!  You have it so easy!  Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water.  Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur

Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia.  You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails.  Here  is the link.  The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert.  If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting.  We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time.  Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it.  If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there.  It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property.  Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life.  Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment.  If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional.  In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics.  Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways.  Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife.  He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments.  No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes.  How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil.  Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same.  We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.

Microbiology For The Layman

IMG_7354A Permaculturalist’s Explanation of How Life Works

Want to understand the microbial life in compost, in ponds and in our bodies? This lecture by microbiologist Dr. Robert Lloyd will provide you with a basic understanding of how microbes work and what they do. Fascinating and comprehensible for the layman, this talk is essential for those who want to understand more about how life works, in or out of the garden and pond.

This lecture will take place on Saturday, October 11,

4 PM – 6 PM, at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook.  Light homemade refreshments will be served.  The fee for the lecture is $20.  Please RSVP to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  The fee can be sent to Finch Frolic Garden, 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA  92028 (also the location of the talk).  

Dr. Robert Lloyd is owner of PuraVida Aquatic.He has maintained chemical-free ponds and aquariums for 20 years.  He also can convert chlorinated swimming pools  to chemical-free, naturally balanced, swimmable  and healthy ecosystems. (www.puravidaaquatic.com)

Please bring soil, water, or any sample you would like to examine under a microscope!

Vertical Space

Pipian From Tuxpan squash, from Baker Creek    Heirloom Organic Seeds.

Pipian From Tuxpan squash, from Baker Creek Heirloom Organic Seeds.

When planning a garden for lots of any size, be especially aware of vertical spaces.  Have an unsightly fence?  A wall that needs protection from the sun?  A hot, bright patio?  All of these areas are perfect for growing vertically.

A Canada Crookneck climbs over a plum tree.

A Canada Crookneck climbs over a plum tree.

For an existing wooden fence, string wires vertically or in a crossed pattern, depending upon what you will be growing.  For a chain link fence… just plant!  You can certainly grow annuals such as beans, squash and peas, but for perimeter fences I’d advise long-term plants that fill other functions as well.  Heirloom climbing roses can cover a fence, create a barrier for trespassers, provide habitat, be ascetically pleasing, and provide edible flowers and vitamin C-rich hips.  Remember that in permaculture everything should serve at least three purposes.

Passionfruit vines work beautifully on overhead trellises.  Wire is strung the length of the trellis, with shade cloth over the top.  The vines don't need any help to fill up the gaps.

Passionfruit vines work beautifully on overhead trellises. Wire is strung the length of the trellis, with shade cloth over the top. The vines don’t need any help to fill up the gaps.

Passionvines are evergreen perennials with rampant growth and provide good crops of heavenly-smelling nutritious fruit, as well as being the host plant to the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Even the perennial scarlet or golden runner bean  would provide you with food and flowers for about six years.

This curly willow trellis we put up in late spring and planted squash along both sides.  The squash love the trellis, and the trellis adds a nice touch to the pathway.

This curly willow trellis we put up in late spring and planted squash along both sides. The squash love the trellis, and the trellis adds a nice touch to the pathway.

Do you have a cement porch or patio where the sun reflects heat and brightness into your house  in the summer?  Cover it with a simple trellis, sturdy enough to hold vines.  There are many ornamentals that would work (wisteria, trumpet vine, virgin’s bower, morning glory, etc.), but think about passionfruit, kiwi or grapes.  Outside a west-facing wall is a perfect place for a planted trellis, that will help cool that side of the house during the  summer.  The sides of sheds can be used vertically, either with simple wire that can be removed later or with wooden lath (preferably recycled).

Strange fruit in this lime tree?

Strange fruit in this lime tree?

Yes! Its a zuchino rampicante vine.  This heirloom zucchini can be eaten green, or if allowed to age will harden into a uniquely-shaped winter squash.

Yes! Its a zuchino rampicante vine. This heirloom zucchini can be eaten green, or if allowed to age will harden into a uniquely-shaped winter squash.

If you have existing trees, use them as vertical space.  One faction of a plant guild is a vine.  Vines act as groundcover, shading the soil and retaining moisture while producing mulch.  Vines also can grow up trees and help shade their trunks from weather extremes.

A Canada Crookneck climbs over a plum tree.

A Canada Crookneck climbs over a plum tree.

Meanwhile the fruit and vegetables are off the ground and won’t suffer the predation by animals or ground insects that it may normally receive.  Plus, it is fun to see squash up in a tree.

Um... that is definately a pepper tree.  But what is hanging in it?

Um… that is definately a pepper tree. But what is hanging in it?

Strange fruit, indeed!

Strange fruit, indeed!

A small fence around your kitchen garden is inexpensive, recyclable, keeps nibbling critters out, and can double the size of your growing space.

T-posts and hardware cloth around the kitchen garden adds so much more growing space, and keeps critters out.  Delicata squash is enjoying the late summer sun.

T-posts and hardware cloth around the kitchen garden adds so much more growing space, and keeps critters out. Delicata squash is enjoying the late summer sun.

One project that I’d like to do this winter (just one?  Ha!) is to nail up old rain guttering on the outside of my little shed and make a small natural pond at the base.  I’d plant the gutters heavily with strawberries, and maybe greens, and then install a pump that circulated water from the pond up to and through the gutters.  The water would then empty back into the pond.  The fish and plants in the pond would be fed and happy, the plants in the gutters would be watered and fertilized, and I’d have unnibbled strawberries that were easy to pick, as well as repurposing the old gutters.

Please choose only organic, and if possible, heirloom seeds.  It is so important to not poison the wildlife and ourselves with chemicals and plants whose DNAs have been tampered with to withstand more chemicals.  I buy from Baker Creek (the catalog is to die for.), Seeds of Change, organics from Botanical Interests , from organic seed savers and from Peaceful Valley Organics (which have terrific prices on high-quality bare root plants such as strawberries!).

More squash helping shade the trunks and the soil around a nectarine.

More squash helping shade the trunks and the soil around a nectarine.

So when planning your next season’s garden, don’t just think outside of the box, but think of growing up the sides as well!

Using Smuck, or Using Food Waste

 

One afternoon's haul of smuck.

One afternoon’s haul of smuck.

Just when I was mourning the fact that our household didn’t create enough food waste to generate lots of compost, I received an email from a former visitor to Finch Frolic Garden.  She volunteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry, where they distribute balanced food supplements to over 800 families a week who earn less than the US poverty limit.  They receive raw, outdated fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and other sources, sort through it and have to discard what isn’t safe to hand out.  The volunteer knew that I composted and wondered if I’d like to pick up the residue so that they wouldn’t have to throw it out.  She and the director had been taking it home, but it was too much for them.  Four times a week I’ve been picking up buckets of smuck, or what I call the rotting fruit and vegetables, and often its too much for me as well.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy.  Buckets are better.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy. Buckets are better.

There has been a grace period where my daughter and I nearly broke our backs picking up cardboard boxes sodden with fruit juice that stained our clothes and our car, and spent lots of time cutting produce out of plastic bags and containers, but the Food Pantry staff  have been wonderful about usually opening the packages  and using only old pool buckets.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic.  We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside.  These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic. We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside. These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

My back, my clothes and my car thank them.  Fortunately others have been picking some smuck up.  The man in my life happily takes lots of it to feed to his compost worms.  We’re a great match.

My daughter and I empty the buckets into the chicken coop.

Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

Charlotte, Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

The girls love it. I make  sure they eat lay crumble and calcium as well to keep laying, but with the smuck they’ve reduced their intake of crumble and hence have lowered my expense.

The girls going after the smuck.

The girls going after the smuck.

I pitchfork straw and weeds over the top and within a few days most of it except some citrus and a coconut or two is pretty much gone.  There is a fly problem, but with the flies there have come more flycatchers and lizards, and  the hens eat the insect larvae that emerges in the compost.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer.  She's here just because she's so lovely.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer. She’s here just because she’s so lovely.

The picking up of smuck, hauling it down the hill and into the coop, de-packaging, cleaning buckets and fighting flies and ants, three – to -four times a week has been a time-consuming and very, very icky job, but the thought of all that free waste going into the dumpster keeps me at it.  This is bacteria-heavy compost material, which is excellent for growing non-woody herbaceous plants such as our own vegetables and herbs.

I’ve also layered the smuck with cardboard, paper waste from the house (tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, Q-tips, junk mail, shredded paper, etc.) under the bananas.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana.  A citrus to the side likes it, too.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana. A citrus to the side likes it, too.

Bananas love lots of food in the  form of moist  compost around their roots; in fact, they are commonly planted in banana circles with understory plants and the center of the circle is a place for waste products to  deteriorate.  In our dry San Diego climate we don’t have that kind of tropical moisture to help it rot, but the  compost does become a  sheet mulch  and really helps create soil.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

One inch of compost reduces watering needs by ten percent, so a pile of wet smuck layered with carbon items such as dry cuttings and cardboard is excellent.  I throw cuttings and pine needles over the top to keep down the rotty fruit smell,  which doesn’t last long anyway.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana - kind of a banana semi-circle.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana – kind of a banana semi-circle.

When creating new impromptu trellises for melons and squash in unimproved soil, Miranda and I dug trenches, threw  in wet wood and dumped buckets of smuck right on top then covered the trench with dirt.  We  planted seeds in handfuls of good compost and away they went.  We also used some of the mostly composted soil from the Fowl Fortress directly into the kitchen garden .

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

Due to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables in the smuck buckets we’ve had some interesting volunteer plants.  Tiny tear-shaped tomatoes that had been sold in plastic containers for natural snacks, a sweet potato, other tomatoes, and melons. At least we  thought they were melons.

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden... but not the melons we expected!

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden… but not the melons we expected!

Miranda was wondering about pulling them out of the kitchen garden because they were taking over without apparently producing a flower.  A couple of days ago she investigated further and  found a real surprise. We have about thirty kiwanos growing under the foliage!

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

I’ve never eaten a  kiwano.  Wikipedia says: Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit, is an annual vine in the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae.  I’ve seen them in the smuck buckets, and it just figures that of all the green melons and orange melons  that we’ve thrown in there, something like these would grow!  None have ripened to the light orange color as yet, which is good because it gives us  time to figure out what to do with them.

When they turn orange they'll really look like blowfish fruit!

When they turn orange they’ll really look like blowfish fruit!

Summer At Finch Frolic Garden

Squash, melons, tomatoes, flowers, tomatillos, sweet potatoes and more flourish along a chain link fence and on a wire-and-post trellis we set up over buried wood.  Vertical space is perfect for vines; the vines provide shade and protection for other plants, and mulch plus a harvest when they die down.  They are exciting and fun to watch grow as  well.

Squash, melons, tomatoes, flowers, tomatillos, sweet potatoes and more flourish along a chain link fence and on a wire-and-post trellis we set up over buried wood. Vertical space is perfect for vines; the vines provide shade and protection for other plants, and mulch plus a harvest when they die down. They are exciting and fun to watch grow as well.

 

I’ve wanted to show you more of the garden, using video as well as photos.  The summer garden is beautiful and full of life.  Life in the ground, in the water, in the air and on every plant.  Last year the pond had an overgrowth of pond weed and algae.  Since our pond is natural – meaning that it has no liner, just compressed clay, and is cleaned only by plants and fish with no other aeration or filtration – the idea of adding algaecide is unthinkable.  In great pond water there are as many if not more microbes as in good soil.  Algaecide may advertise that it doesn’t harm fish or frogs, but it will kill the small pond life that is keeping your pond and its animals healthy.  Seven small koi were added (rescued from a golf course pond where they had been dumped) in the hopes that they would eat the emergent pond weed as it grew out of dormancy.  We hadn’t seen the koi and thought that they were dead.  A couple of months ago they were sighted: all  seven, each about a foot long and magnificent.  We have no pond weed nor algae overgrowth thanks to these beauties.

In the following short video you’ll see some of the koi and possibly some of the bluegill and mosquito fish that also inhabit the pond.  Notice a small blue dragonfly alighting on the bamboo pole.  Birds call out all around.  You’ll also hear my work shoes squeaking!  The size and vigor of the water lilies is due to the healthy, microbially balanced water.  We keep the pond topped up from the well. Well water here in San Diego County is notoriously salty and mineral-laden.  Plants and microbes remediate that water, as is obvious in this video.  The last part is of the native marsh fleabane which was sown by wild birds and flourishes around the pond.  The small groups of flowers are perfect for our tiny native insects to land upon and feed.  A honeybee uses it here.  Enjoy with me a moment by the pond; the following link will send you to a Youtube video:

Summer on the Finch Frolic Garden Pond

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

Making Ethical Butter

Vegan butter!

Vegan butter!

I’ve labeled myself an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for nearly two decades.  I stopped eating animals when I became horrified at the dichotomy of having glue traps under the house to catch wild rats and mice (and any poor, poor animal that happened upon it, such as lizards. Glue traps are horrendously cruel. I hadn’t put them there.) and a cage with an exercise wheel and specialty food for ‘pet’ mice in the bathroom. Justice is a man-made effort, and by not eating animals I was no longer approving of mass torture by buying into it. Although I no longer ate animals, I have still indulged in animal products, namely dairy products. Slowly it has sunk in how badly animals are treated for those, too. As someone who loves cooking, it has been difficult for me to wean away from dairy products. Butter is especially difficult. Unlike hens who have been bred to continuously lay without needing the services of a rooster, dairy cows must be lactating to produce milk. Cows are usually artificially inseminated, then after giving birth their calves are replaced by milking machines. The calves are most often slaughtered for veal. This process is repeated until the cow is used up from the constant pregnancies and lactating, and then she is slaughtered. This horrible practice is disguised by advertisements showing happy cows grazing in fields. That is a fantasy. ‘Grass fed’ and ‘pasture raised’ are sly terms that give you an image that is nowhere near to the truth. Please read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to understand where your food comes from and why.

To find an acceptable butter substitute has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor.   For awhile I used a dairy substitute from Trader Joe’s, who I swear keeps tabs on what I buy the most and then discontinues it. All other butter substitutes either taste horrible, can only be used for spreading, or more commonly contain palm oil. The sudden fad for palm oil has created extreme clearance for the growing of palm in the areas which are habitat for the orangutan; indeed, if we don’t curtail our consumption of palm oil quickly the orangutan will go extinct within our lifetimes.

I finally found a recipe for a butter substitute that works pretty well for both spreading and baking. It is made mostly of refined coconut oil. At this point coconut oil is sustainably produced – please make sure that you support companies that do so. Refined organic coconut oil has no flavor or scent; unrefined has a mild coconut flavor and a toasted coconut scent. If you are using a batch of this butter for baking where coconut flavor is desired, then use the unrefined.

This recipe is by no means my own. I found it and a detailed description of the science behind it at VeganBaking.net . There are several options listed and a lot of cooking science behind the butter.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

I used the basic recipe, Regular Vegan Butter, Coconut Oil Base. The recipe calls for curdling the soy milk, which will drive the butter flavor. I tried the full teaspoon of cider vinegar, then half cider vinegar and half coconut vinegar, then just half a teaspoon of coconut vinegar, and finally no vinegar, and thus no curdling, at all. I found for my taste that the vinegar flavor carried through and was much too dominant. Even at just half a teaspoon it was so noticeable to me that I didn’t like it on toast. It was good, however, when my daughter used it on sourdough and topped it with fresh avocado. The slight vinegar flavor enhanced the avocado deliciously.

The batch I made without vinegar seemed perfect. The mouth-feel of this butter with or without the vinegar is creamy and all that a high-fat butter should be. It looks, cuts and spreads like butter. The flavor is creamy and very mild, almost like a slightly salted sweet butter. This was a winner for me. For the soy milk I used Trader Joe’s Organic Plain, which does have some sweetener in it. I’ll try with an unsweetened plain organic soy milk another time.

I keep my butter on the counter. I know that organic butter holds its shape better in the heat than processed butter, but both stay stable unless the temperature is in the 80’s. Coconut oil melts at 76F, and in my summertime Southern Californian kitchen, this vegan butter must be kept in the refrigerator. The butter is hard when needed, so the next batch I will take the author’s advice and swap out a tablespoon of coconut oil with regular oil to make it more spreadable.

I wanted to test the butter in cooking and baking. I melted it in a pan and cooked eggs and other breakfast items in it successfully. I used it on toast and on mashed potatoes with great success. The experiment with shortbread cookies went wrong, however, but I don’t think that that was the butter’s fault. These were lemon rosemary shortbread cookies, and contrary to my baking sense I followed the author’s (another blog) directions and didn’t sift the powdered sugar before adding it. There were lumps, therefore, in the batter and I mixed it extra to try and beat them out, which I believe was responsible for making the cookies tough. They were flavorful, but not crumbly. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again! The cookies rolled out, cut, and baked well, retaining their shape and performing as well as with cow’s butter.

Shortbread didn't spread using this butter, which was great.  I don't have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because,  well, they were eaten.

Shortbread didn’t spread using this butter, which was great. I don’t have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because, well, they were eaten.

As with all substitutions, there is always a difference and vegetarians and vegans have to embrace it. Of course fake bacon and ground ‘meat’ is not quite the same: the great part is that it is far more healthy for your body (lower fat, few preservatives if any, often organic, and not the pesticide-drenched and drugged animals that people eat) and doesn’t perpetuate the extreme cruelty to animals about which humans have become nonchalant. Yes, other animals aren’t kind when feeding off of other animals (those which aren’t vegetarians). Yet we as humans have the option the others don’t, to make eating choices.

Here is the basic revised recipe; please see the original blogpost on VeganBaking.net and give the options a try. I found xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill at my local grocery store, and liquid lecithin and coconut vinegar online through Amazon.com.

You can double or triple the recipe with no problem!  Enjoy.

Recipe update: I’ve since made some changes to the recipe, exchanging some vegetable oil for some coconut oil for more spreadability, and adding a little more salt for a more satisfying (to me) taste when spread on toast.  I’ve been using this butter for a month now, and have noted that: when melting in a hot pan it will brown faster than regular butter, so keep the temperature down, that it will melt and separate at room temperature (its summer now, so the kitchen is usually in the 70’s – in the winter it will be different) so I keep it in the refrigerator.  I found butter stick molds that have the teaspoon markings along the side, so I’ve made 8x the original recipe and poured it into the butter molds, then wrapped each unmolded stick  in wax paper and frozen them.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

I’ve also poured it back into the cleaned coconut oil jars and frozen them, keeping one in the refrigerator for unmeasured use.  I’ve used it along with a non-dairy creamer in the  Chocolate Ganache recipe and it is very chocolaty, but not as rich as the original.  Part of that is due to the creamer; heavier creamer will produce creamier results, but in no way was it disappointing.  It was very tasty, but not as heavy.  When refrigerated it didn’t solidify as much as the other, so more chocolate might need to be added depending upon the type of creamer used but it was still spreadable and yummy.

Ethical Butter
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Vegan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
A wonderful vegan butter with no palm oil, but lots of options. My version is without curdling the soy milk. Please see the original excellent post for more explanations and options.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons organic plain soy milk
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt (I increased the total salt to ½ t. for spreading butter)
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted to room temp. (For more spreadability, I used ½ cup coconut oil and changed the 2T and 1 t to vegetable oil, along with the following 1 T for a total of 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.)
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or light olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder (I used xanthan gum)
Instructions
  1. Combine soy milk and salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Melt the coconut oil until it is just room temperature and barely melted.
  3. Add the coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients to the soy milk.
  4. Blend or process for about 2 minutes on low.
  5. Pour into ice cube trays, or into butter molds or trays.
  6. Freeze until firm, about an hour.
  7. Serve.
  8. Keep wrapped in refrigerator for a month, or frozen for a year.
  9. Makes one cup.