Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kumquat. Come again?

These are kumquats.

I don't remember why I bought a kumquat tree. I'd almost rather be rid of it at this point, as I don't actually care that much for the fruit. But my little girl loooves to eat them every spring. Only a few dozen of them, but still, she would sob and wail if I cut it down. And I am a sucker for my little girl when plants are involved. So it stays. And produces lots of kumquats.

In my neverending effort to do something productive with what I have (time on my hands and, in this case, kumquats), I tried to make marmalade today.

I actually started yesterday. The recipes I found online all called for mincing and seeding the fruit, then letting the minced fruit stand in a bowl, barely covered in water overnight. I have no idea why one is supposed to do this, but I did it just to be compliant. The next day, you measure the fruit and water, add an equal volume of sugar, and boil the bejezus out of it. The pectin in the pith of citrus fruits is supposed to be sufficient to gel the mixture into a pleasantly spreadable confection.

I gathered enough kumquats to make a solid 2 quarts of mince-and-water mix. With sugar that came three quarts, which boiled down to 10 cups before it started gelling. Total boiling time was several hours. I suspect I should have boiled it a bit before adding the sugar. But, as is soooo often the case around here, there will be a next time.

Aroma- fantastic. Color- darker than I expected. Need less water next time so it doesn't take so long to boil it down. Flavor- sweet/sour with a bitter aftertaste. Is that how it is supposed to be? I added some to some frozen yogurt, and the kids enjoyed it. What other test matters?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Line on Laundry

I finally got off my duff and finished hanging up a laundry line for Philip and Jenny.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree

For those of you who did not grow up Mormon, "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot tree" is a peppy little children's song about spring and blossoms on fruit trees. Last year my aprium (interspecific hybrid between an apricot and a plum, but basically it looks and tastes like an apricot) was so thickly covered in faintly blushing white blossoms that it was easy to see where a child might make a mistake about it being popcorn. This year, the tree looks like this.
Just one lone blossom in the middle of the tree. I kinda guessed from my relatively low gas bills that we were having a warm winter. Well, the winter tomatoes were a big hint, too. And those bananas that keep getting closer to ripe. But I had hoped it would not be so warm that my fruit trees wouldn't get enough dormant time to produce fruit. Unfortunately that appears to be the case. But maybe only for the aprium.
The nectarine and plum are blooming nicely, and the pear and apples look promising as well. I didn't hold out any hope for the cherries until this week. There are only a few varieties of cherry that will fruit with less than 500-1200 hours of chill time (air temperatures below 40 or 45 degrees, depending upon whom you ask). I have a pair that are supposed to need 250-400 hours. Did they get it?
Those look like baby cherry blossoms to me.

Aside from the lack of apricots, we don't seem to have had any major garden losses over the winter. Well, except for the incredible disappearing brassica seedlings. Time and again I planted them- cabbage, broccoli, etc. Tme and again some pest or another ate them- chickens, snails, crickets, maybe even mice/rats. Don't they know I need to eat my veggies, too?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sure Signs of Spring

"Panamint" nectarine in bloom

"Gordon" apple sapling pushing out its first leaves

Children jumping into a 67-degree swimming pool on an 80-degree day

Laundry drying on the line in the bathroom, rather than in the dryer. I learned by musty experience last fall that I should never try to line dry inside the house when the temperature inside was below 70. And yes, I am fairly certain that it takes more natural gas to heat the whole house up a few degrees than it does to dry a few loads in the dryer. I don't dry on an outside line because of our various allergies. But now that the house is warming up, I can go back to my eco-ways!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By Popular Request

Several folks requested the Lemon Curd recipe, so here it is.

6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 scant cup FRESH lemon juice, strained

Beat together in a nonreactive mixing bowl (I use my Kitchenaid), then place over a pan of simmering water and cook for about 10 minutes. Don't wander away or it may overcook and curdle on you!

When the curd is thickened to about the consistency of pudding, remove from the heat and whisk in:

1-2 Tablespoons of lemon zest, depending on your taste for lemon (a microplane grater is the only way to go on this)

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, one Tablespoon at a time

When the butter is all melted in and the curd is a bit cooled, pour into clean dry containers for storage. Makes about 4 cups of lemon curd.

THIS WILL NOT KEEP IN THE PANTRY! It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, in the freezer for a few months (it won't freeze solid, and thaws quickly, so the freezer is an ideal place for it).
I can't imagine a batch of lemon curd going bad in storage. It is all I can do to keep from sucking it down straight. We'll be trying it in homemade ice cream later this week- I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How green is their valley

I've had trouble finding other greenfreak mormons. Not that any of the Mormons I know think we should trash the earth. They don't. It's just that there just isn't much of a Creation Care movement (also called Environmental Evangelicalism, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_care) in the LDS community.

There's no reason why I can't have good "green" friends of other religions. I do. But it's nice to have someone in your corner at weekly worship, as well. A friend of mine (not LDS) found a few environmentally-minded-LDS websites for me, but they are not well-tended. One seems to be downright deserted. Where is everybody?

Apparently, they are in Salt Lake. I found this link on City Farmer News, an urban agriculture blog out of Canada that I have been following for- well, it seems like years, but is probably only one.


Warms the cockles of my verdant little heart, that does. I hope it works out well for SLC and becomes a model to follow, or build on, for other cities.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's the Hook?

I've been crocheting since I was 5 years old. Back then it was just little chains that I used as belts or hair ribbons, but my skills progressed with time. Over the years I have made umpteen blankets, hats, scarves, the occasional dress, and even "tropical sore bandages" (as part of a church service project). In recent years, I have become disaffected with the craft. Does the world really need another frilly synthetic-fiber crocheted candy dish? Sure blankets and scarves are useful, but I recently discovered where to buy recycled-content polarfleece (http://www.milldirecttextiles.com/dept2.asp), which makes up into a blanket or scarf faster, warmer, and with no greater expense than if I had bought the yarn needed to crochet one.

Last year I came up with a useful, if unusual, outlet for my old skill. The city in which I live is very proactive about recycling. Virtually all plastics marked for recycling (with a number from 1-7, which indicates the specific type of plastic used) can be placed in the recycling bin (although I have no idea what becomes of the plastic once it is collected). Plastics that are not marked, however, are still frowned upon. And a surprising range of plastic bags, usually food packaging, are not actually marked. Sometimes, if the bag is essentially clean (like those ridiculous double-bagged loaves of bread), I put it in the recycling anyway and hope for the best. If it is filthy or was used for meat, I consider it to be trash. If it is not filthy, but not clean, I hate to waste the water to wash it when there is a good chance it will only go to the landfill. So I crochet it.
Why on earth would anyone want to crochet a ginormous plastic doily? Because it is not a ginormous plastic doily. It is a tarp. A pervious plastic tarp, perfect for covering compost heaps. It allows moisture and air in, but keeps chickens out (as well as other critters, if I weight it down). I have at least one compost heap going at any given time, so a tarp like this is surprisingly utilitarian, recycled, and free.

To make tarps like this, I cut plastic bags open into long strips, knot the strips together, and stitch the resulting "homespun" yarn into a circle using the largest crochet hook I could buy. I could do other shapes, but round is simple and works for my needs. This one is about 30" inches across, the result of unmarked bags I have been collecting since about October. I usually sit down and work on it whenever I have 10-20 bags to use up. The ones shown at the top of the tarp are 25 lb pinto bean bags- it was time to top up the food storage. By the end of the summer, I should have amassed enough bread, frozen veggie, marshmallow, and various other bags to make it large enough to cover my typical 3-foot compost pile.
Now where is my rake so I can clean up the mess the ladies made while I was crocheting?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bye Bye, Bees.

Somebody narc'd on me.
I don't know which neighbor it was (although I have strong suspicions) but one of my neighbors complained about my beehive. So a couple of city Vector Control workers came by the house Friday morning and said it would have to go. I brought them into the backyard to see the hive, stood a foot away from the entrance, and let a bee land on my hand to show them it wasn't a so-called "africanized" hive, the bees were not aggressive, and any fears about them constituting a danger to the public were groundless. No dice. They said once the complaint was made, the hive had to go.

I could have fought it. The Long Beach city ordinance is a little vague (see it at http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=16115&stateId=5&stateName=California  and search on "bees"). But the neighbors I suspect are involved are moving soon. I intend to wait 'till the new ones move in, and see if I can get more cooperation, and less paranoia, from them.

Fortunately, a lot of amateur beekeepers are looking for bees right now. Within a few hours of posting my plight on the Backwards Beekeepers Hotline (call them at (213) 373-1104 if you need a swarm removed in the LA area), I had two offers to come get my bees. Saturday evening, a man named John came by, loaded my hive into the back of his gardening business truck, and left with my ladies. He left me some fresh eggs from his hens (the dark brown are from a Maran hen) and a jar of the best lemon curd I have ever tasted. I MUST learn to make that stuff properly!

It was a sad thing to see the little ladies go, but I am optimistic that I will get to try again.

Femivore? What, am I eating Feminists?

I know it's a bit of a copout to post someone else's article on my blog, but this one is definitely apropos. While it doesn't explain everything about why I do what I do, it elucidates a lot of it, and shows that I have sisters in the cause. And thanks to Jean for bringing it to my attention!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Round One

The Artichoke season has begun.
These are only about two inches across, but as last year's artichoke season went on long enough for the kids to be quite sick of them, I figured we might as well start this year when the first buds were young and chokeless.
I used to just pull off the outer leaves and boil them 'til they were soft. Nowadays I prefer to boil them in acidulated water (add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar) until just tender, then slice in half and dig out whatever choke there is with a narrow spoon. (The smaller ones in the strainer above had no choke at all - I almost could have eaten them whole). Then I place the halves in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, and place under the broiler for a minute or two.
Today I got a little carried away with the lemon juice. Our lemon tree has the perverse habit of producing bushels of lemons in the winter, and only a few in the summer, so I like to use them up when I have them. I used the juice from one whole lemon in the boiling water, then another one along with the olive oil in the baking dish. "Lip-puckeringly sour" would be a fair description of the result. I thought the artichokes were fantastic that way, with tart being the first flavor sensed, followed by artichoke accented with oil and occasional bursts of salt. Ben enjoyed them, too, but my other two said "next time, Mom, only one lemon! Oh, well.
There will be a next time.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Defeating the Purpose

Of mosquito netting. But at least the rain barrel is full again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

One side of the mushroom will make you...dead?

I wish I knew if these were edible.

I have been trying to improve the microclimates for my various woodland-origin plants by plunking old logs around their bases, or even burying a chunk of wood and planting right over it. The idea is to replicate the kind of leaf mold/fallen tree/dappled shade neighborhood for which these plants have evolved. This log is next to one of my blueberry bushes, on top of the remains of last year's Christmas tree. Yes, you can grow blueberries in So. California, but only a few "low chill" varieties.

These lovely little mushrooms showed up this week, probably due to the rain and increasingly warm weather. I am not quite curious enough about their edibility to just taste one and find out. Anybody know how to test it without risking one's liver?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Droning On

I hadn't checked on my bees in awhile, so when I found myself with about 5 unclaimed hours on my hands, I wandered out in my beekeeping regalia and cracked open the hive.

On the positive side, there were plenty of bees. On the negative side, they were building cattywampus comb, crossing two or three frames at a time, and every frame I pried out was peppered with drone cells.
I know hives build up their drone population (drones are the boys, fyi) in the spring, as the season for producing new queens (who will need to mate) approaches. But seriously, One hive doesn't need a thousand males. So I cut some of the drone comb out and dumped it on the ground.

I am hoping the chickens will eat the dead larvae.

Not surprisingly, the bees were torqued by my apparent apiacide. I probably would have escaped unscathed if I had remembered to tuck my pants into my socks. As it was I got two stings on my calf. No biggie. As long as I was infuriating them, I figured I might as well get really reckless and see if I could split the hive. I obviously didn't have enough room in my Langstroth hive (the grey box in the first picture), and my top-bar hive was empty. So I yanked a few frames of brood, workers, and honey and put them in the top-bar box. Chances are pretty darn good that you will never hear of that experiment again because it failed. (It will only succeed if there was some very young brood or eggs in the combs that the worker bees can raise to be a new queen, and the ladies were way too aggressive for me to be inspecting cells for newly laid eggs.) Then I will have to drive up to LA and buy more boxes to expand my hive. But stay tuned.