Posts

Showing posts from June, 2011

Reflections on Urban Farming

Image
... Yesterday, Oakland animal control officials confiscated twenty one malnourished rabbits from an apartment building near Lake Merritt . The rabbits were apparently living in filthy overcrowded conditions. The rabbits had been fed nothing but white rice, and were covered with urine burns. These rabbits were apparently on their way to the dinner table. I have very conflicted feelings about all of this. I have to say that I've become rather uncomfortable with the orthodoxy of the urban farming movement. I've long had an interest in raising my own food, and have done so whenever I had access to some land. So you would think that I would be delighted by my fellow urban gardeners. In truth, I've become uncomfortable with what I read about the urban farming movement. Those folks seem so damn sanctimonious, as if they singlehandedly invented agriculture. I tire of articles about urban hipsters, giving their vegetable gardens ironic farm-names, and patting themsel

Plum Jam!

Image
... Our plum tree drops a few fruits every day. Instead of letting these go to waste, we pick them up, rinse them off, cut off any smashed bit, and stick them in the freezer for jam making. When we got three gallon-sized bags filled, I decided it was time to make jam. I added eight ounces of water, to keep the defrosting plums from sticking to the pot, and slowly cooked them. When the plums were suitably pulpy, I started digging out the pits. I chucked them in the vintage " chinoise " that I bought at the White Elephant Sale at the Oakland Museum a few years back, and smooshed out as much pulp as I could. The skins pretty much de-materialized, in the cooking process. I added sugar to taste, in my case about four and a half cups. (That seems like a lot, but this is tart jam.) And then I added half a pouch of pectin. Once again, I didn't get great set. Either I let the pectin cook too long, or I mis-read the "set test" of sticking some jam on a f

Bees and Bee Mimics

Image
... Our crop of shallots are blooming, and the bees seem very pleased. I thought I'd harvest a bunch of these, but the flowers were providing food for so many creatures, that I didn't have the heart to remove them from the garden just yet. I'll wait until the flowers die back a bit. It's interesting to see how many insects share a bee-like form. Also fascinating to observe the variations in size and coloration. This tiny wasp could be mistaken for a honeybee, if an actual honeybee weren't working the same flower-ball. The shallot flowers are no more than an inch and a half in diameter. Look how tiny this little fellow is, compared to the individual flowers of the shallot. I'm going to be lazy, and not look up the scientific names of all of these insects. I'm just going to enjoy their appearances, and not worry about taxonomy. This dude is, I believe, some kind of fly. I tend to look at insects eyes, and decide if they are flies or bees.

Confessions of an Incompetent Leek Farmer

Image
... I read a lot of gardening blogs. (To be totally honest, I read a lot of gardening blogs when I ought to be doing something constructive, like sweeping the kitchen floor, or putting away the laundry.) These blogs can be divided into two categories. There are blogs that offer helpful tips, and present a vision of idyllic bounty, whose gardens don't have a twig out of place, and the only insects present are well behaved beneficial ladybugs, who probably wipe their little feet before climbing onto the aphid-free rosebushes. And then there are the blogs that I find genuinely interesting. These are the blogs that honestly chronicle the garden failures, along with the successes. These are the blogs where I actually learn about gardening. One of my greatest challenges, since starting to garden in Northern California, is trying to understand the growing season. I've lived most of my life on the East Coast, and have gardened in both urban Maryland and rural New York. I

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Image
... Exhausted from kayaking, Robb and I spent a day in the pre-industrial age. Robb cooked up another human heart. Oh, wait, no. That's a photo of him making plum-honey wine. Seriously, we never feast on the hearts of our enemies. Our enemies run far too quickly for us to catch, and anyway, both Robb and I have been vegetarians for decades. (This wine will be ready by Xmas 2012. Talk about Slow Food !) I scalped another Trustafarian . Oh wait, no. That's a photo of the freshly-washed baby alpaca fleece, which Annalisa mailed me. I also worked on the alpaca fiber that Edwin sent. Thanks to the generosity of my friends, I'm overwhelmed with luxury fiber. I finally rediscovered my knitting mojo, and finished the back of my cable-knit sweater. I'm going to make some big changes to the front of this garment. I think that rope-cables are needlessly fussy, and that the sweater needs better thought out shaping.

Messing About in Boats

Image
... Yesterday, Robb and I took a four hour kayaking class on the Oakland Estuary. A new boating center has opened up near our house, and Robb was pretty thrilled to read that they offer classes. There's a public launch, there, too. Hmmmmm...... It's funny. Robb cannot sit in a normal chair for more than about twenty minutes, but the geometry of a kayak suits him just fine. (As you might imagine, I was concerned about the length of the class, and Robb's comfort.) We never know what kind of seating is going to work, and what is going to cause Instant Discomfort. This was huge fun, and we're hoping to go again, soon. Anyone want to join us? In other news, Linguine managed to get locked in our coat closet all day, yesterday. We were boating, and she was crying in an empty house. Today, she is being incredibly needy.

An Observation on the Garden

Image
... What's the best part about having a garden full of fruit and herbs? Sharing.

A Cat's Life

Image
... Our kitty Smog, who we once thought so injured that he would never be able to jump, has been amusing himself by racing up and down the plum tree. Unlike Cardigan, he's not hunting. He's just got more energy than any of us know what to do with. The backyard boys and Linguine seem to find Smog pretty annoying, because all he wants to do is play Chase Me. Smog's internal monologue goes along these lines: "CHASEME CHASEME CHASEME CHASEME !!! Okay, now I chase you. I'm ... sneaking ... up ... on ...you ... Sneeeeeeeeeeaking... Sneeeeeeeeeeaking... Sneeeeeeeeeeaking... I'm gonn-nn-nn-nna pounce. OH BOY! Now you chase me! Hey, is that a string? OH BOY! I'd better chase that! The Mean Lady is growling at me again. I think she needs me to chase her. OH BOY! CHASEME CHASEME CHASEME CHASEME !!!" Being chased around the garden by a crazed teenager interrupts important napping obligations. We find him hilarious, although I wi

Barbie's Dream Kitchen

Image
... I'm still gloating about this weekend's antique shopping. This was only part of what I brought home.

Bitter Harvest

Image
... I know that everybody has to eat to survive, but it breaks my heart every time a jay is killed in our yard. It was a big night for predators in our yard last night. In addition to finding this jay, we found the head and tail of a baby possum, as well as a huge pile of barfed-up possum remains. Gross.

Caterpillars Continued

Image
.... I thought blog readers might like to see the caterpillars in action. They've doubled in size in the last two days. The butterflies continue to lay eggs, and I think we'll probably bring some more caterpillars inside. I believe that most of the caterpillars are in their final stage, prior to forming their chrysalis. I've started to notice them, just after they shed their skins, and emerge in a new form. The skins shrivel and dry almost immediately, reducing down to a tiny remnant. I don't believe that either Robb or I ever raised caterpillars before this year. Somehow we missed out on this, in grade school. (Tadpoles are another story.) It's fascinating, and not a lot of work. I put multiple layers of paper towels under the fennel filled vases. Every morning, I roll up the top layer, which catches most of the frass (the polite scientific term for caterpillar crap). As the caterpillars get larger, they eat more, but even now, it's easy to

The Acrobats' Breakfast

Image
... The Anise Swallowtail butterflies keep laying eggs in our fennel. So, I keep collecting the caterpillars, and bringing them inside where the birds won't eat them. At the moment, we have eight caterpillars chomping on fennel fronds in our office. We have beautiful light in our house, and I waste an awful lot of time in the morning, taking moody out-of-focus photos of caterpillars. It is incredible to see how quickly they grow, and how frequently they change form. I particularly love it when the caterpillars grab onto a fennel strand with their hind legs, and then pull the far end of the strand toward their mouth with their front legs. They create a looping swag of fennel, and gradually eat their way back to where their hind legs have been holding on. This fellow is letting his middle legs hang lax as he gorges on fennel. The caterpillars are also prodigious poopers, but we're far too delicate to discuss that sort of thing, here at How's Robb. Let'

In No Particular Order

Image
... I have a bad habit on this blog. I start a story, and don't always finish it. So, in no particular order, here are second and third chapters to some of the things we've written about previously. Recently, we had electricians certify the safety of our 1920s knob-and-tube wiring. They inspected, did a bit of work, and gave us the legal go-ahead to insulate our attic. I'm delighted by this, and more delighted that both the electrical work and the insulation installation were No Big Deal. We paid someone to pump in recycled (and flame-treated) paper pulp, and I didn't have to crawl on my belly in a roasting-hot attic, dumping out bales of pulp. I didn't have to haul bales of pulp up a ladder and through a tiny hatchway. I wrote a check, and some nice men came with their pulp-spewing pumper truck. It was over in a matter of hours, and there was no residual mess. Our spring has been protracted and freakishly cold, but now that summer has finally arrived,

From Caterpillar to Chrysalis

Image
... Last summer, we noticed interesting caterpillars in our garden. We looked them up in our butterfly book, and concluded that they were Anise Swallowtails. We took a lot of photos of them, and observed their growth. And then something came along and ate them. So this year, I fashioned a protected habitat for the caterpillars. It was fascinating to watch them grow and change. Notice the spikes on this hungry fellow? This was the final form that the caterpillars took. No more spikes. Over the past few days, the caterpillars spun silken "climbing harnesses" and attached themselves to branches that we'd provided. They hung like this for a couple of days, and I naturally concluded that they were dead. I was also sure that I had killed one, when I accidentally touched it. I just knew that I had crushed all of its internal organs. (There's a good reason that I never had kids.) When we weren't looking (of course!) they shed their skins. The

Let's Give the Man Some Applause!!!

Image
... What did Robb do last weekend? Oh not, much... He just clocked FOUR THOUSAND MILES of cycling. That's the distance from Miami Florida to Anchorage Alaska, y'all. (Not bad for a guy with paralyzed legs.) Can I get a shout out to Robb, who is the most incredible guy I know?

I get no pleasure from saying, "I told you so."

Image
... This morning, as I was leaving for work, I heard a terrible commotion of squawking jays. And sure enough, what I had been dreading had come to pass. The feral cats had killed one of the fledgling scrub jays. The parents were freaking out, and swooping at the cat, who had the limp bird in his jaws. I was on the verge of tears. Damn it. I knew that this was going to happen. I am a pathologically tender hearted person. I deplore any form of killing, haven't eaten meat in twenty five years, and am staunchly opposed to war. But I am not such an idealist to think that I can change nature. Even if I stuff the feral cats with kibble until they waddle, they'll still be ambush predators. And young birds will be inexperienced and naiive. I feel like a murderer. (Robb did manage to catch Cardigan and put a particularly jangly bell around his neck. Maybe that will slow his hunting down just a little bit. Maybe.) Update: The very next morning, the cats killed another