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HOMEGROWN Life: Our 1970s-Style Summer

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAThis summer has been one of revelations for me, which I attribute to several things: I’ve been working at a breakneck pace for my job and at home; this is the first year in many that I’m not going away for a summer vacation; and it’s also the first in many that I don’t have a garden.

Since we only moved in a couple of months ago, I didn’t have time to prep and plan a large garden like I’d wanted to do. I thought I’d be fine with that but, boy, was I wrong! My small garden and containers just aren’t bringing me the satisfaction I usually feel. More importantly, I was missing out on crucial mental health sessions. As most of you can surely attest to, a certain degree of restlessness takes hold when a gardener doesn’t get his or her hands in the dirt.

In addition to this, over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling the epidemic that affects many, if not all, working parents at some point of their lives: mommy guilt. I’ve gathered that no matter how committed I am to my simple lifestyle, at some point, societal expectations creep in. I’ve been anticipating it and should have known it would grip me during the one summer we’re homebound.

I know that, realistically, we’re not going away this summer because we bought a homestead. I know this makes perfect sense. But for some reason, it bothered me: not being able to take my kids somewhere great, not sending them to a fun camp, or buying a plethora of toys to keep them occupied. The odd part is, I’ve NEVER sent my children to camp and I’ve never believed in buying them things that feed into a materialistic mindset. Not only did my feelings baffle me, I realized I had lost some of my grounding and coping skills. Between moving and trying to successfully land and integrate into a new job and life, my true priorities got lost in the mix.

What to do? I got back to the dirt, and I made the time to do so, which may have been the biggest but most important challenge. I planted TEN fruit trees in my orchard. I took walks in our woods and harvested wineberries. I made sure I cooked a good meal, which conveys so much. I planned a few short staycations and started to focus on having what I refer to as a “1970s summer.” By that, I mean a summer resembling the ones I had growing up. Simple—or at least it was for us kids!




I scheduled our first tent-camping trip in many years, complete with a trial run in the backyard. In the meantime, I instructed my son to hone his tent skills by building a fort indoors out of any sheets and cushions he could find. You’d think I had handed him the keys to the castle. I realized at that moment, in many ways, I had done exactly that. How many times are kids told no these days? Everything is seemingly off limits or too dirty or takes too long. So instead of saying no, I tried to say yes as much as possible, if it wasn’t life threatening.

I took the kids to nearby NYC, and we ate cheaply. ( allows you to buy gift certificates for a fraction of the value.) We walked in Central Park for free and we explored the American Museum of Natural History at a glacial speed. When the kids asked to see practically every exhibit, read a billion plaques, and discuss everything from gems to Easter Island, I said yes. We ate food from questionable hot dog carts and, in general, we took our time. It’s hard to remember when I had last taken the time to just exist.




Back at home, after the kids spent the first hours of each day completing their chores, I allowed them to spend the second half doing whatever they wanted. They watched lots of TV (usually a no-go in our house) and eventually grew bored of it and opted for the outdoors (WIN!). I invested in a Slip ’N Slide, despite my fear of pointy rocks. The kids made an awful mess, only to clean it up afterwards without being told.




My son asked to learn how to cook and has now taken over making omelets in the morning. He has also provided many hearty laughs, especially when he encountered the act of cracking a rotten egg. I let boredom take over, only to find that it led to imagination triumphing once and for all.

I realized that, after all was said and done, my kids were raised to make the right decisions. In turn, they remind me to do the same when I let life run away with my good sense. I firmly believe that’s what family really is. They helped me remember that sometimes it’s OK to get dirty and then clean it up rather than letting the thought of dirt hold us back.

Most importantly, I know I’ve done well with them, and my guilt is a waste of time. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to achieve everything I put pressure on myself to accomplish right this very second. My kids reminded me that time is best spent hand in hand, strolling through life at a turtle’s pace.

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleAlthough she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.


HOMEGROWN Life: A Granola Recipe to Feed the Masses (or One Very Hungry Teen)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014



Having a 16-year-old boy in the house means we go through food faster than I ever thought possible. Things you’d think would last at least a week are lucky to make it two days around here. So, if I want to make granola, it’s in my best interest to make a very large batch. The granola recipe below will probably last the average household a month. Here, we’ll get maybe two weeks out of it. It takes a lot less time to whip up one ginormous tub compared to making multiple regular-sized batches, but if you want to cut this recipe down, it’s easy to do so.


One of the ingredients might make you scratch your head. I learned to add pepper from a recipe for cinnamon rolls. It helps create a more complex flavor profile. Trust me: You’ll love it.

  • 16 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
  • 3 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil
  • 2 cups honey

1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a very large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.

3. Add the oil and honey to the dry mix. It works best if you measure out the oil first then use the same measuring cup to measure the honey. This way, the honey pours easily, without sticking to the measuring cup.

4. Mix all of the ingredients well, until the honey and oil are well incorporated and the dry mix is evenly coated.
Pour the mix onto the baking sheets and press it down into an even layer.

5. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven and mix up the granola, bringing the outside edges in then packing it back down into an even layer. Switch the sheet locations and bake another 30 minutes. Repeat this one more time, baking for a total of 90 minutes.

6. Allow the granola to cool completely before breaking it up into chunks and storing it in an airtight container. Enjoy!

HOMEGROWN Life blog: Rachel, of Dog Island FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

HOMEGROWN Life: Planting Tomatoes. It’s Time!

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENSpring Fever! Everyone has it. The nurseries have been selling tomato starts for weeks already. With the unseasonably warm, dry weather we’ve had in Northern California, I think we’ve all started getting the garden itch earlier than we usually would.

The last week of March is the earliest I’ll even consider planting tomatoes here in the Bay Area. Our average last frost date is February 29, but I like to play it safe. Along with that, even if frosts end early (or don’t show up the second half of winter, like this year), the soil temperature and the nighttime temps won’t be high enough for tomato success. What you want is nighttime temps of at least 50F and a soil temp of 60F.

Planting tomatoes can be relatively straightforward: Just dig a hole and plop them in the ground. Or you can take a little more care in planting them, which will give you bigger, healthier, more productive plants.


First you want to start with a healthy plant that isn’t root bound. If it has flower buds developing, it’s probably been in the pot for awhile, has run out of root space, and is now trying to reproduce because it believes it has reached its full size. Turn the plant over; if you can see roots dangling out of the drainage holes, it’s most likely out of space. If the pot it’s in is very firm, you’ve got a severely root-bound plant.


When you pull the plant up out of the pot, it’s OK to see the roots, but you don’t want them circling the soil medium. This plant has good root development without being root bound. We generally up-pot our tomato seedlings into these deep pots, planting them as deep as we can so that we start with nice, deep root systems like the one above.


While a lot of plants are sensitive to being planted deeper than where they began, tomatoes relish it. See all the little hairs on the stems? Those can develop into new roots, and the deeper you plant, the deeper the root system will be. This is beneficial, especially this year, with the drought: You can focus on deeper, less frequent watering because the roots are deep in the soil. When planting deeply, just pinch off the lower leaves and branches before burying the roots and lower stem.


If blossom end rot is an issue for you, even with proper watering, now is the time to make sure your tomato has access to plenty of calcium. (This works for peppers and eggplants, as well.) We use either crushed egg shells or oyster shells—the same oyster shells we feed our chickens. We have some salinity issues in our soil, which effects the ability of the tomato plants to uptake calcium. Sandy soil can also be a problem, since it has low water retention.


When planting the tomatoes, I dig a deep hole in well amended, loosened soil that can take not only the roots of the tomato but also the stem that I’ve plucked the leaves and branches from. I sprinkle a couple tablespoons of oyster or egg shell into the hole and then I plant the tomato. The oyster shell will break down over time, releasing calcium for the plant to take up.


Once the plant is in the ground, cover it with soil and give it a good watering to reduce transplant shock. Overcast days will also help reduce shock, as will handling the roots gently.


Tomatoes generally need support. The standard tomato cage is a pathetic attempt at support. They almost always collapse under the weight of the plant. There are more sturdy ones, but they are really pricey. Instead, we use concrete reinforcement fabric, which is a welded wire grid that comes in 7-foot sheets. We just pull it into a cylinder and wire it together. The grid is 4 inches square, which is a great size for getting your hands in and getting big tomatoes out. These homemade cages last for years. We still have the first ones we made eight years ago.

Tomatoes are pretty resilient and don’t need a lot of care, which is probably why they are the number one garden vegetable grown. Add a few extra steps to planting, and you’ll get bigger, more productive plants that can handle the drought with even more resilience.

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!