Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Archive for the ‘Urban Farming’ Category

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

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN

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.

granola

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: My Goats Have Green Thumbs

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENBack before petrochemical fertilizer cocktails, farmers weren’t monocroppers. They ran a closed system, and part of that system included animals. The animals ate the crop waste and silage. They helped work the land. And their waste helped keep the soil healthy. As synthetic fertilizers became the norm, animals and crop diversity fell out of favor. Monocropping huge expanses of land was less work than having multiple crops and caring for animals.

Before we had animals in the garden, we couldn’t produce enough of our own compost to amend the soil. On top of that, because the pile was fairly small, it was nearly impossible to keep it hot enough. Instead, we relied on bringing in commercial compost. Unfortunately, with commercial compost, you don’t know what’s in it. Studies report that persistent herbicides are showing up in “organic” compost. On top of that, there’s no way of knowing what persistent pesticides and fertilizers are also in your commercial compost. Think of all the grass clippings that go into yard-waste bins. Now think about all the crap many homeowners put on that grass to make it green and weed-free. I wasn’t entirely sure that was something I wanted around my food.

Our animals, eating weed trimmings from next door that we know aren’t treated with anything

To be able to amend all of our soil with just compost, we had to bring in at least five full truckloads of compost every season. This wasted quite a bit of gas, time, and money. It wasn’t cost effective for us and it simply wasn’t sustainable.

When we got chickens, I wasn’t prepared for what they could do to my compost pile. Because their manure is hot, it literally made our compost hot. Steaming hot. But being busy, we found we weren’t able to turn the pile as often as we should. So we handed the job over to our chickens. They got all of our kitchen scraps and nontoxic yard waste. They ate what they wanted then turned and shredded everything else. They kept the compost aerated and added their manure to it. When we got the goats, they joined in the fun.

This black gold they gave us was beautiful and plentiful. We completely stopped bringing in compost. With the manure, we needed less material overall because it was more concentrated. This made it easier to spread, taking an afternoon rather than several weekends. It is the perfect balance, as we have all that we need and don’t have any extra. And we feed our animals organic feed, so we know what goes in and out of them.

After our final harvest each season, we spread the black gold over the bed to allow it to continue to compost down further before we planted the next crop. When we got the rabbits, they added a new dimension to our soil amending. Because rabbit manure is not hot, it can be added directly to the plants without being composted. This allowed us to amend the soil while the plants were actively growing. We don’t use it on root vegetables, of course, unless we amend very early, allowing at least 60 days before harvest. With heavy feeding crops, such as melons, squash, and corn, this homegrown compost was a godsend because it insured that we could continue to feed the plants throughout the growing season without worrying about burning them.

But it’s not just fertilizer that the animals provide. The chickens and turkeys, in particular, help with keeping weeds down and also with pest control. When the beds are dormant, the birds get to go out and dig around, eating mountains of cutworms, potato bugs, earwigs, and basically anything else that moves. When we start planting, we fence the birds off from the beds, but they still have access to the area on the north side, where our orchard is. We allow the weeds to grow there as a trap crop for insects, which the birds eat while they also keep the weeds from getting out of hand.

The animals around here definitely earn their keep and provide us with food, directly and indirectly. I can’t imagine doing it without them now.

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!

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.

plant

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.

roots

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.

hairs

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.

oystershell

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.

sprinkles

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.

planted

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.

cage

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!