Thursday, May 31, 2012

And how was your holiday weekend?

Top row (starting left): Golden Comet curiosity, hanging out with family, cheap beer & good luck
Middle row: starting the day with a local breakfast, new Farmer's Market totes (at the Sleepy Poet), a tiny helper in the garden
Bottom row: taking it easy with Franc, a Memorial Day cookout with friends, Barred Rock water break

farm love

If you think being wooed by a farmer is all muddy pick-ups and hand-holding so rough it exfoliates, you're only half right.  The farmer in this backyard has brought me flowers six times in the last week, and hasn't once had to pay for them (which is likely the real ticket to romancing my frugal, financial counselor's heart), thanks to our neighbor's generosity and Abe's fearlessness in the face of tick-infested fields.  Hydrangeas, gardenias, wildflowers, a small bunch of roses and this beautiful magnolia, which came with a note:
as big as my head!
We married in South Carolina, and my aunt and grandmother used magnolias (native to the area) in my bouquet.
Yes, I'm know: I'm the luckiest.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May in the greenhouse

From left: beets (hiding & ready to eat) cucumbers, tomatoes, brussels sprouts (behind which you can kinda see some of our prolific swiss chard), snap peas
Further right & not pictured: peppers

Even with the loss of our bean plants, there's still plenty growing in the greenhouse.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

treating powdery mildew

Early this spring we planted pole beans in the greenhouse, and we were just starting to harvest.  The beans were delicious: crunchy and just sweet enough to eat them raw straight off the vine. We went away to the beach last weekend, and took a big bag of beans with us for road trip snacking.  Four days is ages in bean years, and we expected a bounty when we got home.

But sphaerotheca fuliginea got the best of our plants. Sphaerotheca fuliginea is a jerk-face and a powdery mildew that affects beans. I should have taken pictures, but it looked kind of gross (and who wants to document their giant failures)? By the time we caught it, it was too late to treat, since the (non-toxic) suggested remedies are really just prevention tools. We were able to salvage the beans that were ready for picking but had to clear out the plants, because the leaves were already yellow and dying. Apparently this mildew thrives in contained gardens, so our greenhouse was heaven.  For the sake of everything else planted there, I'm thanking the good Lord who makes the garden grow that powdery mildews only affect specific plantssphaerotheca fuliginea for beans, erysiphe lycopersici for tomatoes, erysiphe pisi for peas.  (Mildew better not even think about my sweet snap peas!)

Next time I'll be ready. There are lots of natural preventers that sound cheap and not too hard. Most are teas, which makes this more fun to discuss with a British accent. Who doesn't love a good cuppa:
  • Compost tea, not to be confused with your evening chamomile.
  • ACV tea: Apple Cider Vinegar is also an acidic fertilizer.  1-2 TBS of apple cider vinegar in a gallon of water, sprayed on plant leaves (but in moderation: too much could kill the plant, too)
  • Corn meal tea: The cornmeal should be dissolved in water (1 cup : 1 gallon) and then should stand until it has a yeasty, sweet smell. It should then be strained and sprayed onto the plants starting when they reach their second leaf stage. Since I'm the lazy type of gardener, apparently you can also sprinkle cornmeal straight on the base of plants, although this is probably less effective. (Side benefit: corn bread!)
  • Garlic tea: made from several cloves of garlic steeped in a gallon of water.
  • ...and it's not tea, but neem oil and jojoba oil are also reportedly useful (no more than 1 cup per gallon of water.
As a bonus Reader Rock-Out Challenge, would someone please rewrite the Aerosmith classic: "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" to cover powdery mildew prevention? Thanks.

even after ACV, and the garlic tea that's on your leaves, I'll still eat you, babies, 'cause I don't wanna miss a bean...

Friday, May 25, 2012

chicken o'cluck

Monday through Thursday, I get home at 6:30.  It's my absolute favorite time of day: chicken o'cluck.  Abe is off by then, so we sit outside with cocktails and chickens.

We can usually scrounge up some vegetable scraps or stale crackers to treat the hens.  It's not that we have anything against roosters... we just ate them all. If you're concerned there's something cruel or animal-hating about that, consider that I collage chicken pictures.  No need to dwell on it, though - my credibility is dubious already, what with the holiday outfits for the cat.

Pictured here: mostly Buff Orpingtons (portrait right) and Rhode Island Reds (portrait left). These are the hens who come running first when we're outside, since we've had them longest. In the bottom photo you can also see a Golden Comet (closest to camera and closest to Abe's feet) and a Plymouth Barred Rock (black and white, toward the back left of the flock).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

urban herbs

In case you're just getting to the party, tires are perfectly convenient raised beds.*  This year we have three tire gardens - a few tomatoes in one and two full of herbs.  I feel absolutely smug whenever I get to use my fresh herbs in the kitchen (or my fresh mint in cocktails).  My basil is not pictured because it's lame this year (when I usually have basil in bushes). On the other hand, my cilantro is thriving for the first time ever.

*As a side note, growing your food in tires over time may or may not give you cancer, since the rubber can leech metals or other pollutants. Some folks recommend using a plastic liner so that the tire doesn't actually contact the soil.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I got mail

My mail came with the most amazing stamps!  It appears as though the USPS hitched their lagging wagon to the sustainability train, and they've issued forever stamps with a "go green" theme.  According to their website, you can also purchase these designs on a tote, playing cardsplant-able postcards or as part of a family fun activity kit.  While family fun activity kits may illicit a kind of barfy reaction, I think the illustrations are darling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Never give up hop

growing on a vine

We might not be raising any rabbits right now, but that's not stopping us from growing hops!  Our vine is thriving with all the rain we've had recently (including one thunderstorm that had our brave Cash trying his coonhound best to worm his way into our bed).

With the growing number of breweries making their home in Charlotte (see? and see?), we might just hop ourselves into business.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spring fresh

I admit that me and my cat have a deep, soul connection. Stop judging. You would too if your cat was amazing like Franc.

takes naps, not baths

Recently, getting up from a long  food coma meditation together, Franc let me know I was neglecting my feline responsibilities. Between the food from our garden, the CSA from the restaurant where I work and the farmer's market nearby, it's been so long since I went to a grocery store that we ran out of kitty litter.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Going back to the source

my mom & her chard
which I grew in my yard
My mother was out of town on Sunday, so we celebrated Mother's Day when she got back on Monday night.  I probably don't need to tell you how awesome my mom is (since she constitutes 78% of my readership, with most of the rest made up of the man who married her and her other daughter), but I will anyway.

Her name is Nanci and she's an amazing cook. She did a great job of passing her culinary interests on to my sister and I.  Living in Cameroon, we didn't have a lot of the convenience foods that are available in the U.S.  My mom (and our househelp, Cornelia - my other Mom) had to make things from scratch.  I wouldn't be the aspiring urban homesteader I am today if it weren't for watching them and acquiring from them a taste for real, homemade food.

She's not just a great cook.  She's also a teacher, a student (working on her second Master's), a writer, a knitter, a cancer survivor, and an amazing woman who shares her strength with the people around her. I am so, so glad she's my Mama.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Someone's been eating my sprouts

After work Abe and I went to enjoy some peace and quiet in the greenhouse. Instead we discovered an infestation of caterpillars. They arrived overnight in hordes. They didn't go for the swiss chard (God knows we have enough swiss chard to share): They went straight for the good stuff, because nothing is sacred when you're a caterpillar.  Brussels sprouts are my favorite, and I'm closer to successfully growing them this year than ever before.

So it's on, Caterpillars. Did you think you could hide from me, skulking around on the underside of leaves like the cowardly tiny pests you are? I knew you White Butterfly Caterpillars right away after a thorough search of my Rodale's Guide and the internet:  your attraction to my brassica was a dead giveaway!  And now you're dead, too.
not welcome here

As it would happen, chickens like caterpillars almost as much as caterpillars like vegetables in the cabbage family.  I tried to get a picture, but it was such a feeding frenzy that my tired camera couldn't keep up, and all I could manage was this blurry photo where you can vaguely see something green in the ferocious beak of our Buff Orpington.

Buff Orpington eating caterpillars
My brussels sprouts aren't the only thing getting eaten, and the caterpillars
aren't the only ones to feast in our backyard. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Guerillas in your midst

When we first became interested in producing our own food, we guerilla gardened.  Abe (always the adventurer) discovered a floodplain behind the apartment complex we lived in.  Getting there involved a walk through the woods, a healthy respect for copperheads, and a balancing act across a creek (good practice, maybe?).  But it was land no one was using, and our narrow third floor balcony hardly had enough sunlight to grow a few cherry tomatoes.  We cleared a small patch of ground and dug in.

It wasn't exactly an ideal garden site. The spot was a trek from our apartment.  The land was swampy, and we got itchy red bumps to prove the gardening bug wasn't the only one to bite us. There was the chance of falling in the creek (Sorry, Dad). The area's deer had also discovered this little wilderness and helped themselves to most of what we planted. We may or may not have been voilating the city's flood plain regulations.  Still, we enjoyed a few skinny carrots and our first real taste of vegetable gardening.

Now, two years too late, I'm glad to have come across a land access toolkit by the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance.  They provide great advice on negotiating land use for those who might not already have access to a garden site.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

havin' a grape weekend

Cash checks the progress of our muscadine grapes. So much to look forward to!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Locavore's Guide to Mother's Day

We're fortunate to live 15 minutes from the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, and unfortunate to work late on Friday nights. It's hard to get up by farmers o'clock!  When I do drag myself out of bed in time (for the cabbages if not for the spinach, broccoli or snap peas), I love the beautiful produce, all the Real Farmers, the freshly baked scones, the $3.00 six ounce drip coffee.

Between our own garden and the CSA share that we have through the restaurant where I work, we don't need much produce from the farmer's market this year. But this week is Mother's Day, so I thought of a few ways to celebrate your mom and show your local love too.

Treat your mom to brunch or breakfast in bed.  Breakfast foods are simple to make and lend themselves wonderfully to "localizing." The strawberries are beautiful this time of year. Try to find eggs and potatoes (maybe even bacon or breakfast sausage) at the market, and make a frittata with spring onion, asparagus and spinach. Add goat cheese, if you're able to find it from a nearby farm or creamery. Get pastries from a local bakery.  (Don't cook?  Look for a farm-to-table restaurant in your area, like our very own Harvest Moon Grille in Charlotte.)

Our farmer's market has an entire building devoted to handicrafts: homesewn aprons, fancy tea towels, natural bath & body products, wood carvings and charming pottery. Last week someone in the greenery shed was selling incredible wreaths and "living pictures" made from moss and succulents.

for sale at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market

Even small farmers markets have items with great gift potential, like:
  • handmade soaps
  • raw local honey (You can cover the jar body with pretty paper & tie with a ribbon, or cut a circle of fabric and tie it around the lid)
  • a selection of preserves or jams
  • young tomato plants or herbs (Transplant them into a hand-painted terra cotta pot or tie a strip of fabric around the pot they came in)
  • flowers
  • artisan chocolates
Explore a nursery (but first ask if they grow their own plants, since some nurseries purchase plants grown elsewhere and ship them to your local store for sale).  A few years ago my sister and I gave our mother a young magnolia.  It's now a beautiful tree that gives her flowers on a regular basis (so we don't have to).

If you know your mom is up for the challenge, rescue a local cat or dog for her to love.  From experience, First Make Sure The Pet Does Not Have Cancer.

Find a local seller on etsy for jewelry, cards or other handmade gifts (or if you live in Charlotte, buy my cards at the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall).

Leave a comment if you have a suggestion for other local ways to celebrate your Mother.
I'd love to incorporate your ideas to make a master list for next year!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I've taken seriously my promise to try to find my stride post vacation.  See?

shortly before I fell directly on my face

I would offer that slacklining with chickens is not the best way to get your groove back, since chickens have excellent balance despite their strange proportions.  Habitual roosting means they're very well practiced.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chicken sexing

While we were away, our pullets grew exponentially.  The largest is possibly now the size of all the chickens we saw in Haiti combined (which may hint something about wheat-based diets and obesity problems).

Our young chickens ate their way through the bag of feed Abe left and by the eleventh day, they were looking for more. We got back from Haiti on a Monday at 7:30 am, and we were running to the feed store by 10:30.

Like adolescent boys, growing roosters will eat you out of coop and home... not that we're trying to raise roosters. When we bought our chicks, a crusty old man - wearing crustier overalls -  sexed them to make sure we chose only hens. I knew that sexing chickens is notoriously difficult (never saw myself saying that in public), but our man turned out to be exceptionally incompetent.  Out of 11 chicks, 4 are increasingly rooster-like, making him wrong nearly half the time, almost as often as I am). This week I've heard several early attempts at crowing, so we'll be having coq au vin real soon.

I have mixed feelings about the codes that strictly forbid roosters within the city limits of Charlotte.  On the one hand, our young man-birds are growing more handsome by the day, and I know a rooster would be a great addition to our flock. But on the other, I'm grateful that none of our neighbors are permitted a yard full of birds who announce the arrival of the sun or potential predators loudly and at all hours.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Welcome back

You probably had no idea that Abe and I spent 10 days in Haiti last month, because for the first time ever I was a good blogger and scheduled posts for my time away. 

They say you shouldn't advertise your vacations online, in case you're being stalked by burglars. Although I flatter myself to imagine I could attract that kind of attention, now we all know that while I may be a fairweather blogger, I'm no sucker when it comes to cyber crime.

We were visiting my amazing sister and her awesome husband who live in Port-au-Prince.  It was possibly the best vacation anyone has ever had.

You may be wondering where I've been since we got back.  On our trip, I fell more in love with Haiti than with blogging about our wannabe North Carolina urban farm.  It's been hard settling back into our usual life, and I've been struggling to find my passion for catching up at work, several sick days apiece, seventeen thousand loads of laundry what I do here.  Bear with me - I know I'll find my stride.