Long Overdue Update


Happy Spring! 

Spring has officially sprung. The days have been absolutely stunning but (and it’s a BIG BUT) we are still severely lacking rain. We are supposed to get some rain this coming week but my hopes aren’t high that it will be much of anything. On the bright side evidence is strongly pointing to an El Nino event warm enough to change our fortunes in the coming months. The prediction is that it might be strong enough to rival the ’97-’98 El Nino that brought enough rain to California that plants that hadn’t been seen in 30 years in Death Valley, like the Gilmania luteola, started coming back (I was there during those years and got to see them). I’m not going to bet on this actually happening, but if it does, California may have a chance of getting ahead for once in regards to water. 

I’m sure you’re tired of reading about the drought here though. So onward to more interesting stuff….

Like what we’ve got going on around here. It’s been so long since I’ve posted an overhead shot. 

yard (2)

This shot was from back in May 2011. It was the first overhead shot I ever took. When a friend recently asked me to send her an overhead shot I realized that I didn’t have any that showed what our yard looked like today. 


This is what our yard looks like now. Quite a change since 2011. Chicken house, shed, greenhouse, the trees are getting big. But what’s going on at ground level around here? 


Our plants are getting big in the greenhouse. 


And so are the kids. Johnny, at 4 months old, is nearly as big as his mom already. Granted she’s a small goat – our smallest actually – but he’s already pushing 35 lbs. compared to her 45 lbs. 


The calendula is in full bloom. 


And so is the iris. 


The Black Tartarian cherry tree is in full bloom. This is the first year we’ve had this many flowers. 


The Hosui Asian pear is blooming better than last year as well. 


Same goes for the Indian Free Peach tree. 


Our female kiwi vine is getting ready to flower as well. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the male kiwi is going to flower this year. 


Our garlic is growing well.


And so is our asparagus. We are now getting about 12-16 oz per harvest which is just enough for a meal. 

What is growing in your garden? 


Surviving the Drought in Your Garden

The biggest question garden-loving Californians are asking right now is “Should I even grow a garden this year with this drought?” It’s a responsible, well meaning question. I asked it myself a few weeks ago. I went back and forth about it. A garden increases your water use, but at the same time you don’t want to let all your hard work die.

And then it dawned on me as I was driving by agricultural fields being irrigated by overhead spray in the middle of the day.

I’m going to be eating food anyways that requires water use. If I grow it I can control how much water is used better than a large scale farmer can. I can actually reduce my water use through food consumption more if I grow it myself. The LA Times recently had an article about how much water is required to grow certain foods (if you eat meat, goat takes the top spot for least amount of water needed per pound of meat). An apple requires 18 gallons and an orange requires 13 gallons. That’s quite a bit of water for just one fruit. Potatoes require 119 gallons of water for a pound. Yikes.

My guilt of growing a garden subsided a bit. Now it was time to figure out what I can do to reduce my water footprint even more. I hope these tips can help you as well.

Know Your Soil


One of the keys to water wise gardening is to know what kind of soil you have. If you have raised beds you most likely have a soil that is high in organic matter and maybe even has a bit of topsoil. If your beds aren’t brand new you’re going to want to get your soil tested so you know what nutrients you need to add. Plants that are getting enough nutrients are going to be hardier and will weather the drought better. If you plant in the ground like I do you are also going to want to know the soil’s structure. How much sand, silt and clay does your soil have? Sandy soil doesn’t hold water very well while clay soil has a tendency to hold onto water too well.

In addition you can check out the Web Soil Survey through the USDA (push the green button). This will give you an idea of how deep your soil is, which directly effects how much water it can hold. It will also tell you the water holding capacity of your soil. For the record, our soil is 20-40″ deep but only holds 4.5″ of water, which means that if it rained 6″ the soil would only be able to hold 4.5 of them and the remaining 1.5″ would run off or flooding would occur. Also, the water table is over 80″ deep so I can depend on trees being able to access it, as most tree roots actually only go down 2-3′.

Amend Your Soil

compost (2)

Adding compost to dig in

Starting from the ground up we first want to make sure our soil is well amended with a lot of organic matter. Organic matter will help absorb and hold onto more water. It will also help provide enough nutrients for the plant to develop strong root systems. Organic matter helps fast draining sandy soils hold onto water and helps heavy clay soils distribute the water deeper to the root zone and makes it more available to the plant. If you have tested your soil through A&L Agricultural Laboratories they will offer you recommendations of what to add to your soil to grow the desired crops.

Control Your Water


A tomato planted at the emitter location on drip tubing.

Fortunately for us, we are already on the right track. Our entire property is on drip/micro irrigation. If you don’t have your vegetable beds on drip, now is the time to invest. A drip system does several things.

  • It reduces the amount of water you use while watering by 50% or more.
  • It reduces diseases caused by overhead watering.
  • It reduces problems with weeds.
  • It reduces the amount of time you spend watering.
  • It reduces runoff and erosion.

If you don’t have a drip irrigation system yet and don’t know how to put one in, I’ve got a pretty thorough tutorial that can help you.  Once you have your driplines in, situate plants so that they occur at an emitter so the plant can fully utilize as much water as possible. And instead of watering a little bit every day, water heavily but less often. You want the roots to travel as far down as you can get them to go. Plants with shallow roots are more likely to get dried out and stressed. Most plants require an inch of water per week. My aim is to water with drip 30 minutes twice a week. Of course the length and frequency of watering depends on the drip components you use. Many manufacturers offer calculators to determine how long and often you should run your irrigation. In addition, to reduce evaporation, schedule your irrigation to come on between 7pm and 7am. Early morning hours are preferable.

Keep Your Water

Give all your plants a thick layer of mulch

Give all your plants a thick layer of mulch

Mulch the hell out of everything you plan to water. And I mean MULCH. Lots of it. Go for at least 4″ if the plant’s height allows. Straw is a cheap mulch that you can use though it does get slick when wet and has a tendency to blow around. Bark mulch is heavier and longer lasting but can be expensive unless you get it from a tree service. However, getting it from a tree service can limit you to getting mulch from whatever tree they just removed. Some tree species can cause problems in the garden such as black walnut and eucalyptus. So far, one of the best mulches that I have found for water retention has been old livestock bedding. It’s heavier because it has absorbed urine and feces (which also increases it’s fertility) so it doesn’t blow away and it’s finer in texture from being broken up by hooves so it doesn’t have as many air spaces to allow evaporation. If you don’t have livestock you can get old bedding from horse stables, which are usually giving it away for free. Just be careful about weed seeds. Horses that are stabled tend to have less weed seeds in their feces than pastured horses. I’ve used rice hull bedding from a local stable before and this stuff was fantastic. You can also save up dried leaves and use those as well. We tried out plastic mulch/sheeting one year and found that it helped hold onto more water than expected. It also helped heat up the soil for plants that preferred warm soil. Melons and watermelons really thrived with the black plastic. The more drought tolerant plants such as tomatoes, didn’t fare quite as well.

Make sure to lay the mulch over your irrigation lines. You don’t want to actually water the mulch because it will absorb all the water and not allow any to reach the soil and water your plants. You also don’t want to have mulch right up against the stems of most plants (onion family and potatoes plants tend to be the exception) as it can cause problems with rot. An inch or so away is fine though.

Make the Right Plant Choices

All of this Pink Banana Squash came from just a single volunteer plant that we only watered twice

All of this Pink Banana Squash came from just a single volunteer plant that we only watered twice

Not all vegetables are created equal. Some, like celery, onions, green beans, carrots, lettuces and melons require a lot more water than other vegetables. Squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and dry beans, especially Tepary beans, chard, and arugula are better choices for gardening when water is restricted. Most plants also have critical periods where they will require more water than normal. Most of the time this is during flowering and fruit production.

If you really want to grow some of the higher water need plants, put them together on a separate water valve. That way you can have part of your garden getting more water than the rest rather than the entire garden getting more water than some plants need. Also space the plants farther apart so they aren’t competing with each other for each precious drop. You may end up with fewer plants, but you won’t have to water as much.

The above picture with all the squash is a perfect example of how water wise gardening can still be productive. All of that squash – each weighing approximately 20lbs – came from a single volunteer plant. It sprouted in our old chicken yard so the soil had lots of organic matter and a high nutrient content. Because it was a volunteer we didn’t have irrigation going to it and only ended up giving it two deep waterings early on in it’s growth. It was a wetter year then compared to now, so the soil had a larger water capacity than this year, but it goes to show that if done correctly and mindfully very little applied water can still result in a big harvest.

We have a lot of volunteer vegetable plants that grow in our yard. Most of the time they are in our beds, but sometimes they are growing elsewhere that won’t be getting any water. These vegetables are the ones that do best in drought conditions because they don’t need the extra water. Chard, squash, arugula, and tomatoes are the most common ones growing about our yard. Also artichokes are very drought tolerant. Their growing season is in the winter and spring and then they die back in the summer and go dormant until the rains return. We rely 100% on the rainy season for our artichoke plants. We’ve never watered them until this year. They and the trees are now getting the water we save.

A Word on Container Gardening

If you have a small yard or balcony and still want to grow some of your food, container gardening can be done even in a drought. Follow many of the same guidelines as outlined above but you also want to take care regarding the type of container you are using. Terracotta planters are going to dry out a lot faster than plastic or even glazed pottery. Also, utilize saucers under your pots to catch excess water. An even better system would be to invest in or make self watering containers. These only release water as the plant needs them and are low water use.

Save Your Water

We now have several 5 gallon buckets in our kitchen and bathroom to collect water that can be used for watering perennial plants and trees. One of those buckets is in the bathtub specifically to catch the cold water before it gets warm. This is perfectly fresh, clean water that shouldn’t be wasted. In addition we are now saving some of our kitchen water. If you cook pasta, don’t salt it so you can use that water in the garden. If we’re rinsing off produce, we save that water. We save some dish washing water based on what we are cleaning and what soap we’re using. If it has touched raw meat, raw eggs, etc. it goes down the drain. All this water is getting used to water our artichoke plants, fruit trees, and various shrubs. I don’t use it on annual vegetables where we eat the leaves or roots. You can also save laundry water if you aren’t washing diapers.

Besides saving water we’re also just reducing the amount we use. The saying “if it’s yellow leave it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” is being said quite often around our house now. We also turn off the water when we’re brushing our teeth (which we all should do anyways) and turning it on only to rinse the dishes. Also, while washing dishes we run the water a lot lower. It seems that it rinses them just as quickly at a lower flow than at full blast so I hope to see a savings in that regard. Showers have also been shortened to just 5 minutes. I’m planning on getting a valve to add to the shower head so we can turn it off while we’re soaping up.

By reducing the amount of water your garden and your household uses and by saving it, you can reduce your overall use of water enough to not have to feel guilty. And remember, the agriculture sector uses 75% of the total water so if you’re growing your own and following water wise guidelines you are helping reduce more water than just what you see on your bill.



For the Love of Muddy Boots


What’s this? Is that water? Not right now, it isn’t.

A year ago we moved our goat barn. When we first built the goat barn we didn’t realize that the spot we chose was the lowest part of our property. We probably should have realized that, but we didn’t. Every rainstorm meant we had to try and dig the goats out so they wouldn’t drown. They wouldn’t leave the barn for anything. We would have to put down 2×12 wooden boards and plywood so they could fjord the floods.

In December 2012 we got warning that a big storm was heading our way. We ran down to the Sewer and Stormwater District Facilities and loaded up on a bunch of sand bags. We needed enough for not only the goats but also our garage, which our driveway slopes down toward.


What was left after the storm passed. During the storm the water went over the sandbags.

When the storm came it was bigger than we ever expected. Tom decided to go hunting leaving me to fend off the water. Not the best of ideas. As the torrential downpour came I ran outside to find a river running down between the beds and right towards the goat barn. As I waded down I saw another river coming from our next door neighbor’s property also heading towards the goats. The sandbags only slowed the water as it went right over them and into the barn. The only saving grace was that the deep litter in the barn kept them a few inches above the water line, which you can see in the above photo on the wood.

After that storm we decided it was time to move the barn to the other side of the yard where the ground was higher. With the help of some awesome friends we moved the barn and made some huge improvements to it. We also made it larger by adding hay storage and a milking room. We were ready when the next storm came.

What the hills should look like right now. Photo Credit: Sarah Hawkins

What the hills should look like right now. Photo Credit: Sarah Hawkins at Castle Rock Farm

Except it didn’t. That big storm was the last. Sure, it showered a little bit since, but we haven’t had any substantial rain. Nothing that could test out our new barn.  After that big storm the Ridiculously Resistant Ridge moved in and has blocked every storm since.  For the entire year of 2013 we saw only 16% or our normal annual average of 20.39 inches of rain. Our normally wettest month, January, is shaping up to be bone dry with no rain at all. NO RAIN. None. Not a drop. A big fat goose egg. And none in the forecast for the last few days of January.

This is what the hills look like right now. They are supposed to be emerald green. Photo Credit: Sarah Hawkins

This is what the hills look like right now. Big difference to above. Photo Credit: Sarah Hawkins at Castle Rock Farm

It’s hard not to be depressed and slightly panicked at this point. It’s even more difficult to not become fiercely angry at people that don’t think it’s a big deal and refuse to make any changes to their water use habits. I found myself grimacing and clenching my fists when the plant nursery owner said “Don’t you just love this beautiful weather?! I know it’s just a tad bit dry, but it’s just so nice out.”

Previous years being soaking wet and having slick mud caked onto my boots was merely an annoyance. This year it would be a blessing to just use the boots for what they were intended for.

Keep an eye out for the next post. I’ll be discussing what we’ve decided to do about a garden this year and how we are conserving water.


Workshops are Back!

People have kept bugging me about whether I will be teaching more workshops. I would say “yes, there are some in the works” but never really got further than that. Friday, Brande and I finally sat down and worked on our schedule.

Garden Planning Workshop

421704_366072500090494_1182708223_nSaturday January 18, 11-2 p.m. at the Hub Vallejo 342 Georgia Street, Vallejo CA 94591

Learn what, how and when to start planting for a well-timed and productive year-round garden here in the Bay Area. We will talk about concepts like companion planting, cover crops, perennials, and choosing the best varieties to grow.
We’ll go over what your soil needs to get through the year, and the proper methods of bed preparation and crop rotation to prevent pests and diseases. This workshop will involve developing a garden plan that you can use for the year.

Instructor: Rachel Hoff of Dog Island Farm www.dogislandfarm.com
Stop by the Hub this weekend to sign up, or sign up online at www.luludeuxmillinery.com/workshops

Homebrew 101 – Malt Extract Brewing and Hard Cider

February 15th, 11-2 p.m. at the Hub Vallejo 342 Georgia Street, Vallejo CA 94591

Learn the basics to making your own homebrew and hard cider including the equipment you’ll need, different types of ingredients, the different types of homebrew and hard ciders, recipes and kegging and bottling procedures. We will get you started using the easiest form of homebrewing with premade malt extracts which make quality control much easier for the beginning homebrewer. Must be at least 21 years old to attend.

Class Instructor: Rachel Hoff has been making homebrew and hard cider since 2002 and has been making homemade sodas since 2009. She’s made a vast variety of different types of  ales, stouts, and ciders over the years.

Chickens 101
Saturday, February 22nd 11am – 1pm in Vallejo
$25/person or $40/couple
Learn everything you need to know about basic chicken care. We’ll talk about the different breeds and reasons for raising chickens. You will learn about feed, supplements, and their dietary needs in general. We will go over how to handle your birds properly, examine them for issues, and take care of their physical and social needs.

Class instructors: Rachel Hoff has been raising chickens for eggs and meat for 8 years and has been teaching beginning and advanced chicken workshops for the past 2 years.  Brande Wijn has been raising chickens for both eggs and meat for 4 years, and currently runs a small urban egg CSA.

You can register here or email us if you would like to pay at the door. Contact Rachel or Brande at classes@dogislandfarm.com

Refund Policy:
You will receive a full refund if you cancel at least 7 days in advance. Refunds will not be given if you cancel with less than 7 days before the class, however, you are free to send someone in your stead.

Goats 101


Saturday, March 15 11am – 1pm in Vallejo
$25/per or $40/couple

Have you ever considered raising goats but don’t really know if it’s for you? Come learn about what it takes to have your own milk-producing (or not) family goats. Meet a few, see where they live, and learn what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Learn about how milk production works, and about how much work goes into daily life with goats. Also get a chance to play with some baby goats.

Class instructor: Rachel Hoff raises dwarf breed goats for dairy and is a member of the American Dairy Goat Association.   Brande Wijn has her own small herd and has assisted with care and kidding of others’ as well.

You can register here or email us if you would like to pay at the door. Contact Rachel or Brande at classes@dogislandfarm.com

Refund Policy:
You will receive a full refund if you cancel at least 7 days in advance. Refunds will not be given if you cancel with less than 7 days before the class, however, you are free to send someone in your stead.

Gardening Tips & Tricks

yard1Sunday, April 6th 11am – 1pm in Vallejo
$15/person or $20/couple

The growing season is just starting to ramp up but it’s also the time when we have the most questions. Bring your questions and learn some new things. We’ll have a question and answer session about general gardening. We will also discuss soil fertility, planting schedules, how to be as productive as possible and how to garden on a budget. There will be starts available for you to purchase afterwards.

Class instructors: Both Brande Wijn and Rachel Hoff have been gardening for over 20 years each and teaching gardening workshops for the past three years.

You can register here or email us if you would like to pay at the door. Contact Rachel or Brande at classes@dogislandfarm.com

Refund Policy:
You will receive a full refund if you cancel at least 7 days in advance. Refunds will not be given if you cancel with less than 7 days before the class, however, you are free to send someone in your stead.


3 Days and 2 Weeks – New Additions for the New Year

The week of Thanksgiving started with a bang when Bailey went into labor Sunday afternoon. By 6pm we had two new goats – twin doelings. By 6am Tuesday morning we had two more doelings and a buckling from Daisy. That kidding seemed to trigger something in Sedona and by 6pm Tuesday we had two more – a doeling and a buckling. Rapid fire kiddings in record low temperatures here. Three of us slept in the barn bundled up in old comforters, sweaters, extra socks, and gloves. We got to test out whether that whole deep litter method really did help make the ground warmer (it did). Lots of towels, puppy pads, kid jackets made from old sweatshirts and a hairdryer got us through it without any kids getting chilled.

Two (very long) weeks later we got two more doelings from Bella after a very long complicated kidding. After her labor seemed to be dragging on a bit too long with no progress I had to go in to find a stuck kid. Almost immediately after going in Bella started pushing and out they both came.

We ended up with 2 bucklings and 7 doelings – not a bad ratio.

We are bottle feeding this time around because 5 of these girls are making up our new herd. For a variety of reasons (age, poor udder structure, behavior problems, herd improvement, limited space, etc.) we’ve decided to retire our current herd and find pet homes for them after we dry them off.

The kids all share the same sire – CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker. Some are purebred Nigerian Dwarf and others are Nigerian Dwarf/African Pygmy crosses.

Here are our three purebred Nigerian Dwarf doelings. D6 (or as we like to call her “Abby” short for Obsidian) has been promised to someone else though they may choose Tanqueray instead). We are really excited to see what these doelings will do when they come of age.


Dog Island Farm Tanqueray  blue eyes

DOB: 11/24/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Foggy River Farm Baileys OnIce
(CRF Castle Rock Gobi x CRF Castle Rock Sedona)


Dog Island Farm Kahlua 

DOB: 11/24/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Foggy River Farm Baileys OnIce
(CRF Castle Rock Gobi x CRF Castle Rock Sedona)


ObsidianDog Island Farm D6

DOB:  11/26/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: CRF Castle Rock Sedona
(Dragonfly Odysseus *S x Castle Rock Annabelle)


And these are our Pygmy/Nigerian crosses. Our pygmy does are both just grade quality but we hope that the buck we chose really helps improve them.


Black Dahlia (aka “Trouble”) 

DOB:  11/26/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Daisy
(Unknown Sire x Bella)


AnemoneAnemone blue eyes

DOB:  11/26/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Daisy
(Unknown Sire x Bella)




DOB:  12/11/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Bella
(Unknown Sire x Unknown Dam)



DOB:  12/11/13

Sire: CRF Castle Rock Clark’s Nutcracker(CRF Castle Rock Harvest Moon *S x CH-MCH-PGCH Cloverdale YJ Blue Raven VEEE 90)

Dam: Bella
(Unknown Sire x Unknown Dam)


Tomato, Pepper and Eggplant Varieties for 2014

We will soon be starting our eggplant, pepper and tomato plants in the next month or so. They will be available in late March until we run out (which is pretty quick, so make sure to come early).  We won’t be offering as many hot peppers varieties this year, mainly because I’m having a hard time locating seed for them from a single source (prefer to not have to make a bunch of small orders, which drives up shipping costs). We will be offering more tomato varieties though! We’ll have some of the old favorites but will also be adding in some new interesting varieties. I don’t have photos of them all since it’s a work in progress.

Most varieties we offer are ones we have grown successfully. If there are varieties you want I will be taking pre-orders so you are guaranteed to get what you want before they are sold out. Just email me at rachel at dogislandfarm (dot) com or leave a comment and I will email you.

Eggplant Varieties

Caspar – I adore this eggplant. It’s a long Japanese style eggplant with white skin and very creamy white flesh. If you aren’t a huge fan of eggplant (like myself), this is definitely one to try. It may just make you a convert.

Diamond – A good, productive Japanese style eggplant. Very good sliced, marinated and grilled.

Pepper Varieties-Hot

anaheim peppers copyAnaheim (Nu Mex Joe E. Parker) – These are the perfect roasting peppers. The thick skin easily blisters and can be peeled away after roasting. They are mild to medium heat. Not quite as productive as the smaller hot peppers, but they do give a good harvest when picked continuously.



PoblanosAncho Gigantea (Poblano) – Relatively mild, productive pepper that is great dried or roasted. This is the standard pepper for stuffing. Green peppers are called Poblanos and red peppers are Anchos.


Cayenne Slim - Very productive plant of HOT peppers. Walls are thin so they dry quickly. We dried the peppers (they readily dry on the plant) and then ground them into red pepper flakes. We now call them Satan Flakes because of their excessive heat.

Cayenne Slim – Very productive plant of HOT peppers. Walls are thin so they dry quickly. We dried the peppers (they readily dry on the plant) and then ground them into red pepper flakes. We now call them Satan Flakes because of their excessive heat.



Habanero - If you want your peppers to be spicy make sure to grow them next to a habanero plant. This was a trick I learned from a friend and was surprised to find out that it works! These are productive plants with EXTRA HOT peppers.

Habanero – If you want your peppers to be spicy make sure to grow them next to a habanero plant. This was a trick I learned from a friend and was surprised to find out that it works! These are productive plants with EXTRA HOT peppers.


Pimiento de Padron (not pictured) – This is a new variety for us that I’m really excited to try. They are usually a mild, small Spanish pepper that is traditionally fried. Sometimes you’ll get a hot one. They are fantastic stuffed with a bit of goat cheese before frying.

serrano peppers copySerrano – Another very productive pepper with thick walls that are perfect for making hot sauce. The original variety used to make Sriracha Hot Sauce. Also very hot, but not as hot as the Cayenne Slim.




Pepper Varieties-Sweet

California WonderCalifornia Wonder – The standard green and red bell pepper for California. Good production with thick walled fruits.



Italian Sweet Pepper – This is a new sweet pepper for us. From the descriptions we’ve read, I’m hoping that this will be thicker walled than the Corno di Toro or the Red Marconi peppers we’ve done in the past.

Orange Bell – As the name suggests, this is an orange bell pepper. Not as productive as the California Wonder but hands down the sweetest pepper I’ve ever eaten. They got gobbled up too fast before I could get a decent photo.

Quadrato Asti Giallo – This will be a reboot for us. I got some seed last year but it was too late in the year for them to mature enough before the coming frosts. The plants did do very well and I’m sure we would have gotten a good crop if we had more time to allow them to mature. This is an Italian bell pepper that is green slowly ripening to yellow.


 Tomatoes (all tomatoes are indeterminate)

Ananas Noir (Black Pineapple)- This is another reboot variety. I had bought this as a start but I suspect it was mislabeled because I didn’t get any tomatoes that were even remotely close to this very unique variety. If you can’t make up your mind about what color tomatoes to grow, this might be the one for you. Green, red, orange, yellow and purple all rolled into one tasty beefsteak-type tomato. Rumor has it each color has a distinct flavor.

Black Krim – A purple-black beefsteak with a hearty, rich flavor. Fruits get darker when exposed to sunlight. Productive.

Brad’s Black Oxheart – Similar in flavor to Black Krim but a large oxheart shaped tomato. Large productive plant.

Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) – The beefsteak that all beefsteak tomatoes should be judged by. Big, red fruits commonly over a pound but can reach two pounds are rich and intense.

Cherokee Green – A green beefsteak that has a bold, bright flavor with acid. My husband says it’s “zingy.” Best flavor of the green tomatoes. Very productive plant. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t wait too long to pick the fruits which will have a yellow hue with ripe.

DrWycheesYellowDr. Wychee’s Yellow – Big, beautiful yellow beefsteak with green shoulders. Productive plant of 1lb fruits or larger. Rich tomato flavor with a meaty interior.



Green Zebra – Small 2-1/2″-3″  salad tomato that is green with darker green stripes. Fruit is sweet and “zingy.” Very productive plant if you can find all the fruit! The light green will have a yellow hue when ripe. Makes a really good green pesto bruschetta.

HillbillyHillbilly – Big yellow orange beefsteak with red streaks. Husband describes it as “rich, meaty, tomato-y goodness.” The favorite tomato around here. Few seeds and very fleshy.



Indigo AppleIndigo Apple – A very high anthocyanin (good stuff – antioxidant) producing tomato. Fruit that has been exposed to sunlight is dark purple to nearly black. If not exposed the fruit will be red. Medium sized fruit is sweet and productive with a long harvest period.


isis candyIsis Candy – Orange cherry tomato with red starburst. Very productive of small sweet, fruity tomatoes that you can just pop in your mouth.



Kellogg’s Breakfast – Big orange beefsteak tomato. Similar in flavor to Dr. Wyche’s Yellow but with a bit more sweetness.

Mortgage Lifter – Red beefsteak tomato that produces a good crop of 1-2lb tomatoes. Meaty and rich with a good tomato flavor.

Opalka – This will be a new variety for us. It is a red paste tomato from Poland circa 1900. Said to have excellent flavor and few seeds.

pineapple heirloom copyPineapple Heirloom – An orange beefsteak with red streaks that often reaches 2lbs. Productive plant of rich, old-fashioned tomato flavor with hints of tropical fruit.



Rosso Sicilian – Another new variety for us. This is an Italian heirloom with medium sized ribbed fruits that are firm and meaty and perfect for making sauce and paste. Bruises easily.

Speckled Roman – A new variety for us and hope that it is as good as Roman Candle, which we couldn’t find seed for this year. Very productive plant is said to produce large orange fruits with yellow stripes that are perfect for processing and eating fresh.

Stupice – This very early tomato blew me away this year with it’s productiveness. Small tomatoes, but not quite cherry size are born as early as late June and continues through until the frost. Sweet and flavorful.

WPeach2Wapsipinicon Peach – A small yellow tomato with an unusually fuzzy skin. Productive plant of very, very sweet, mild fruit with a hint of peach. Husband says “sweetest tomato I’ve ever eaten.”





Farmers are People Too & a New Year’s Resolution

My family has historically been farmers. My maternal grandfather grew up on a corn farm in Kinross, Iowa. As a child I would visit my great-uncle, Melvin, and his family on that farm. I remember running along the edge of the cornfields catching fireflies in the warm summer evenings. I remember playing on the wrap-around porch of the big red farmhouse. I have nothing but fond memories of that farm. Melvin passed away several months after my grandfather in the late ’80s and I never got to go back. I don’t know if the farm they grew up on is still in the family anymore. I would like to think it is but chances are it is not.

Cheap food means farmers do what they must to keep the land that their entire life and that of their ancestors has been built on. If that means growing only transgenic corn and soy then it is what they have to do. They can’t break free because the public (specifically those that can afford to spend more but choose not to do so) refuses to spend enough money to cover the cost of production and a tiny bit more so the farmer can live. Instead the farmer must rely on subsidies from the government to make up the difference that is lost because of the demand for cheap food.

Americans spend less of their income directly on food than any other country. Most Europeans spend over 10% of their income on food while the US likes to hover around 6%. 40 years ago we were spending a third of our income on food. The subsidy program in the 1970s helped usher in a new era of cheap food that now puts Americans at risk of health problems and severe environmental degradation. While the total at the cash register is small, the external costs – the tax dollars used to subsidize, the cost to our health and to our environment – have risen dramatically.

In addition, family farms were forced to close shop and quickly got gobbled up by corporate agriculture. Those that were able to hang on, do so tenuously. A farmer friend of mine once told me that if she was getting paid hourly for all the farm work she does it would be just pennies per hour. That is just not right.

So my New Year’s Resolution this year is to make sure my food purchases pay the farmer that produced enough for them to survive and thrive. This won’t be much of a change for us but it will require us to spend a bit more on our food. All produce will be from the farmers’ market so that the $1 spent all goes into the farmers’ pocket as opposed to only $0.16 of that dollar when you buy it at the supermarket.

Will this be another year without groceries? Probably not, but we’ll strive to do better than we have been.



No Garden Next Year?

The days are getting cooler and the nights are finally cold enough to put the duvet on the bed. Jackets have been dusted off and it’s time to switch from the Chacos to the Muck Boots. Now if I could just find my slippers…

We’re still waiting for rain. As the days wear on and the end of the year quickly approaches we’re being reminded that we’ve gotten less than an inch of rain so far. 2013 has only gotten 50% of what the last record driest year got. You read that correctly. We have gotten LESS than 50% of the rain that the previous driest year on record.

Our golden hills are not golden, but brown – the color of the dirt beneath what should be fields of dry golden grass. The hills are barely covered with more than a few wisps of dead grass. The parched, cracked soil beneath is clearly visible. There is a fear of heavy rains causing mudslides since there isn’t anything holding the soil together. But as it stands, heavy rain is just a pipe dream.

Surprisingly (or maybe it’s not) this is not news. The media has yet to say a word about this severe drought happening in a state that gets nearly all of it’s rain this time of year. A state that provides 80% of the country’s fruits and vegetables and nearly 100% of the country’s almond supply is looking at not having enough water is somehow not worthy of discussion. It’s being ignored even to the point where we don’t even have to ration water yet, even though many of our reservoirs are at less than 30% capacity. It is appalling.

If the rains don’t materialize this spring we may have to make some changes. There may be no garden this coming year. It’s a scary thought to have to skip growing our own food because we won’t have access to enough water. Some people have recommended dry farming, however, even dry farming relies on normal winter rains to be able to work. Rainwater collection is also clearly off the table if we don’t get any rain. Greywater is a possibility, but illegal in my area. Our well has salt water intrusion, which is more than likely even worse this year with the drought as the thousands of acres of vineyards “upstream” haven’t slowed down on their pumping of the aquifer. I’ve heard ollas may work with salty water, but I hesitate to pull more water out of the ground. Not to mention for a garden our size, they would be cost prohibitive. I’m not sure where that leaves us besides foregoing the garden until the rains return.

For now, all I can do is hope that the Rossby Waves shift and bring us some late winter and early spring storms.


The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times

You know what they say about judging a book by it’s cover? This one has a fantastic cover so go ahead and judge it. To be honest, the title kind of threw me because it almost seemed like it was aimed at the prepper community. I’m glad I dug into it though because I was pleasantly surprised. Not that there is anything wrong with being a prepper, but Carol Deppe discuss much more realistic day-to-day issues that can derail your self reliance. It’s not exactly a reference book so I took the time to read it cover to cover. Reading anything can take me forever with our schedule so it was a miracle that I was able to finish this book. I’m glad I did take the time though or I would have missed what this book was really about and who it was aimed at (hint: it’s you and me).

This book came at a great time. The economy had tanked and people were taking up gardening as a means of feeding themselves. The author, Carol Deppe, is an experienced “market gardener.” Her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times, focuses on four main crops and one livestock animal for the majority of one’s diet. She is also a plant breeder and sells some of her varieties.

Ms. Deppe had some real life examples of why being resilient is important and not just in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of way. For example, when her mother fell ill and she had to care for her it made it nearly impossible for her to get out and tend to her garden. She relied on creating a resilient garden to get her through that period of her life. She also discusses having a bad back which makes many common garden chores, such as weeding and planting, difficult and painful. She has great advice on how to get around issues such as these to keep your garden going and being as comfortable as possible.

In addition, she also talks about diet and exercise and how that can make you more resilient personally, not just as a gardener. Ms. Deppe suffers from Celiacs, which means she cannot eat foods that contain gluten. For her carbohydrates she grows corn and includes some delicious looking recipes utilizing this grain. She also explains the differences between the different types of corn. I had kind of any idea of the different types – dent, flint, sweet, popcorn, and flour corn – but she gives a great rundown of what makes them different from each other and what their best uses are.

I think the main part that I don’t agree with is the way she waters. She doesn’t like drip irrigation because she says it’s too much work and instead prefers overhead irrigation and hand watering, which I think is way more work than automatic irrigation. Plus it wastes more water than drip irrigation. Otherwise I found this to be an incredibly informative book, including the best tools to use and where to get them and how to keep them in their best condition.

The best part about this book? It’s not your typical gardening book that I feel is a topic that is just over-saturated. It goes over information that most gardening books don’t cover. It’s been a very long time since I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from a book. Fortunately this book met the challenge and succeeded.


Michael Pollan for $12

For the last several years I’ve been wanting to see Michael Pollan speak, but usually it’s at a swanky center for way too much money. We did get a chance to sit in on one of his classes at UC Berkeley for free, which was awesome, but that was not a typical setting, obviously.

But now is our chance to see him at a swanky center for an affordable price talking about his new book.

SRFMichaelPollan2013Country Costa County Library announces Michael Pollan as featured author of 2013 Summer Reading Festival, “Reading is So Delicious”

Contra Costa County Library is pleased to announce Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalist, as the headlining author for the 2013 Summer Reading Festival. The theme for this year’s festival, which takes place from June 8 through August 17, is “Reading is So Delicious.” Mr. Pollan will discuss his new book, “Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (to be released in April 2013) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Walnut Creek Library the day of the event and there will be a book signing following the presentation.

For the past twenty years, Mr. Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” he explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen, where he discovers the enduring power of the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.

Mr. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many other best-selling titles. He has been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and has his articles have appeared in Harpers, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Gardens Illustrated, and The Nation. His writing and reporting has received numerous awards, including the California Book Award; the Northern California Book Award; James Beard Awards for best food writing and for best magazine series; the 2000 Reuters-I.U.C.N. Global Award for Environmental journalism, and the 2003 Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award. In 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek Magazine and he was chosen by Time Magazine for the 2010 Time 100 in the Thinkers category. Mr. Pollan is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Michael Pollan appears as part of Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and are available today. For ticket information, please contact the Lesher Center for the Arts at 925.943.SHOW (7469) or http://www.lesherartscenter.org/. Copies of Mr. Pollan’s book will be available for sale on the day of the event at the Walnut Creek Library.

The Summer Reading Festival is an annual event that encourages people of all ages to read throughout the summer months and celebrates the importance and value of reading and literacy for all.

For more information on this event and highlights of the upcoming 2013 Summer Reading Festival, please visit the Summer Reading Festival website. Additional information on Summer Reading Festival programs and events will be announced in the coming months.

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