Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Impact Fan

I'm a fan of living a life of little to no consumption, so No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process seemed interesting to me. I heard about the documentary last year and added it to my streaming queue on Netflix, but never got around to watching it. Recently I somehow came across the book on a random library search, and decided to give the book a whirl since I had been wanting to watch the film. If you've been living with your head in the sand like me, this is the story about a family who tries to live as sustainably as they can for a year without wasting. While I like the idea of the experiment and I think that everyone should question their consumption and impact on our world through their current lifestyle, I just thought the book could have been written a little better. There was too much personal writing, and not really enough about how they went about their life changes. For instance, Mr. Beavan takes to using a straight razor for shaving, but does his wife? How did they clean up after their dog on walks? They stopped using toilet paper, and I understand that Mr. Beavan got really annoyed because people always brought up that issue when talking to him about the experiment, but seriously though, what the heck did they do to clean their dairy aires? What did they do when out in public? I mean, if readers want to make similar changes, they've got to know these things. Plus, every time Colin Beavan wrote something about our excessive use of paper and cutting down trees, I would turn the book over and make sure I didn't miss something... I mean, the book was made out of paper right?

The book did pique my interest enough to check out Mr. Beaven's blog and to finally stream the documentary, which I recommend if you aren't interested in the book (and if you are interested in the book, just check it out at the library.) Even though I've already been aware of and have taken steps to change many of things that Mr. Beavin discovered on his one year journey, his experiment did open my eyes to a lot of things I had not considered before. I've always cringed at fast food places and how much trash they generate, but one thing I hadn't really looked at was our own trash bin at home and how much trash we generate and why it matters until reading this book. I am now very tempted to take on the challenge of a one-week carbon cleanse, as soon as our garage sale is over next week. I know that it won't be difficult at all for me, but I know it will be for Lee.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Battening Down the Hatches

Not that I am complaining about cooler weather... but what is going on!?! We've got possible thunderstorms this evening, as if Spot weren't already freaked out enough by all of the early 4th of July revelers. Wish I could write more, but I have rabbits to herd back into hutches before they all get blown away!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flower Seeds For Sale!

Our Etsy shop has just been stocked with Mammoth Sunflower SeedsMorning Glory Seeds, and Living Sunflower Playhouse Planting Kits! All seeds were harvested last Autumn, 2010, and packaged for planting in 2011. These seeds can even last up to a couple years if stored properly in cool, dark place (veggie drawers in the fridge works great.)

I've been growing my Morning Glory vines organically for over 15 years, and most of my heirloom seeds are 10 generations old and then some. These particular Mammoth Sunflowers are 3 generations old.  The bees love them in the summer and the birds love them in the Fall!

All proceeds are going toward a second beehive! Stop by our shop and check out our seeds, they make great gifts! Don't worry, if we sell out of what we have listed, we will list more shortly thereafter! Just check back in a day or two or feel free to contact me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Organic Purple Carrots

The last trip to the farmers market saw us home with another two canvas bags full of delicious organic produce, including purple carrots! This was the first time I actually saw real purple carrots for sale anywhere and I lucked out and got the last bunch. They were a bit sweeter, and definitely had a different taste than the orange ones we usually get. They are all gone now, needless to say they were excellent!

I have always been a carrot fanatic. I eat at least 2 pounds of raw carrots a week, and I have eaten carrots this way for as long as I can remember. You could say I am a sort of carrot junkie, because I get super bad cravings for them daily.

So imagine how thrilled I was to find The Carrot Museum! I love this site and want to just devour the whole thing. Wow, who would have ever thought you could make a musical instrument out of a flippin carrot! I know that California has a festival for just about every vegetable you can think of, but I had no idea there was a Carrot Festival!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Buzzing Through Books

My librarian loves me. She says that I keep her in business, and is always remarking about how interesting my book requests look since they come from other branches and she wouldn't get to see them otherwise. It's Wednesday, my library day, so I get to trek a few blocks over to pick up a new stack of books this afternoon. Yipee! Every Wednesday is like Christmas.

Last week Homemade Living: Keeping Bees with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Tend Hives, Harvest Honey & More was in my pickup stack, but unfortunately it is only on a 7 day loan because it's a new book.  Bah! So I raced through as much of it as I could yesterday. Most of it is basic information for the absolute beginner that I pretty much already know by heart, but there were some new things that I haven't found in the other beginner books that I've previously read, like how to catch a swarm, and how to split your hive.

Unique to this book were the little "Profile of a Beekeeper" blurbs scattered about the book. I was especially relieved to read the profiles on two beekeepers who believe that the bees shouldn't be messed with unless absolutely necessary. Thank you, that's my philosophy! Now I don't feel incredibly idiotic for not dousing my hive in chemicals to prevent whatever it was that had wiped out my first colony. (Actually, I believe that chemicals have more to do with problems like CCD, rather than offer solutions.) I agree with one beekeeper's philosophy quoted in the book, "if the queen is strong, the hive will thrive. If not, well...that's life on the farm, I guess."  I also agree that always cracking open the hive and doing checks only stresses the bees.

Some other good things that you might not find in other beginner guides were recipes for bee foods like fondant & pollen cakes, and remedies like grease patties. One chapter goes over the ins and outs of a year of beekeeping, with helpful checklists for each season. If you happen to live in an area where finding a nearby mentor is a challenge, this book is a great substitute for the real thing. Another plus was the last chapter that included delicious looking human recipes made with honey, which I am going to write down before turning the book back in later today.

Overall, I thought this was a very worthwhile book for someone just getting started. It's well organized, covers everything you need to know and is chock full of illustrations and photos- which are extremely helpful in any type of beginner guide. I wouldn't mind having a copy of it in my own collection, along with Ashley English's other books in the Homeade Living series. I have an easy time relating to her, and absolutely love her writing style. Big thumbs up!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's Growin' On?

The Invasion of the Garden Plot. It eats lawn alive!
I've been so busy working in the garden, that I haven't had a lot of time to chronicle what is going on in the garden. Above, you see one quarter of our backyard and only 1/8 is being utilized for growing, but we hope that will evolve into the entire quarter as summer proceeds. It's a big step up from our tiny little corner last year that was only about 20'x20', but we hope to grow it even bigger next year. Anyway, below you will find some snapshots of what's growing so far. We still have a ton of seeds to plant, as the odd weather this year has put us behind schedule.

Early Girl Hybrid, since the heirlooms are so slow to grow.
Gold Yukon Potatoes. Lee's favorite.
Mystery volunteer squash or pumpkin? 
Various peas and Mary Washington Asparagus.
Sunflowers. The bees love 'em.
The salad box. Randomly sown salad greens of all sorts.
The mini corn field. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Bunny Drama

I am having a quiet day today after the shock we received upon returning home yesterday afternoon. When I checked on Flossy and the four young bunnies, I only found Flossy and two of the young bunnies in the bunny tractor. All sorts of dread filled my heart.

Now, I made doubly sure that tractor was reinforced with extra screws and staples. There was no way they could have chewed their way out or pressed themselves through the wire 1" chicken wire that wrapped around the tractor. What I did overlook was that they were still small enough (beware, Jersey Woolies look much bigger because of that poofy fur than what they actually are) to squeeze through the 2" chicken wire that I used to cover the bottom of the tractor. This would not have been an issue had the tractor been sitting on perfectly level ground, but unbeknownst to me, one corner had been set over a small hole in between tufts of grass. Upon inspection, I saw the 2" hole in the chicken wire that had been made slightly larger from two little bodies squeezing through it, and that's when my heart sank. So, my advice to other inexperienced bunny folks out there would be to always use hardware cloth or small animal cage wire when dealing with rabbits.

I called Lee out for a bunny search party. We found ZuZu right away, who was fine other than looking a little dirty, hopping around in the back section of the yard behind the sheds with her papa, Bugsy. I scooped her up and carried her back to her mama and siblings, when I caught a glimpse of white fur on the ground. Then I saw a little white foot. Then I saw the stray mama cat and her babies finishing up what used to be our little Tribble, only feet away from a full bowl of cat food! I burst into tears. 

We buried Tribbles remains, and talked about what we should do. The mother cat is quite a hunter, she's been keeping our garden gopher free, but we decided that wasn't a good enough trade-off to risk our bunnies being harmed. She and the kittens would have to go right away. Unfortunately, it's not realistic to attempt to break a cat of a habit like hunting and eating prey, so we just came to terms with the fact that she would make a better fit in a home where there weren't small animal pets around. Luckily I have found a no-kill shelter that will spay her and spay/neuter the kittens before adopting them out, so things will work out in the end.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Recycle Your Carrot Tops

If you have rabbits, don't throw away your carrot tops. You can grow a free and delicious treat for your furry friends.

Just cut about a half an inch of the carrot top off and place in a shallow dish of water. It takes a few days to a week to see sprouts. When they get to be a few inches tall, like the ones in the picture, I trim them down and give them to the bunnies. The tops are sometimes slimy from sitting in the water, so I don't give them the orange top.

You can regrow the greens a couple of times, but eventually the tops will stop producing and you'll have to replace them with new tops. Your rabbits will absolutely love them!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rascally Rabbits!

You won't believe this, but I was in absolute shock and horror yesterday when I found Flossy, the mama bunny, and Bugsy, one of the papa bunnies, running around together in the back yard. I nearly collapsed in despair... NOOO! What am I going to do with more bunnies!? [Palm slaps forehead.]
Flossy (right) not looking very happy to be back in the tractor.

Thirty minutes previous, Bugsy and Squirrel (the other male) were securely locked in their cages. I had let Flossy out to get her morning run around the yard before it was time to put her back in the bunny tractor with the babies, while Bugsy and Squirrel had their run. I went into the house to do something, and came back out a half an hour later to find Flossy and Bugsy cavorting around by the beehive. I scooped up Flossy and marched her back to the bunny tractor, most likely too late. It looked like Bugsy had already gotten to her. Arrrghhh!
That scoundrel Bugsy, hanging out with Scout.
After putting Flossy back, I went to inspect Bugsy's cage. The door was locked shut! I was puzzled. I pulled the cage out and tugged on the wire here and there, and discovered to my dismay that the wire at the very back corner had come apart due to missing J-clips (little metal clips that hold the wire panels of the cage together.) The wire in that corner was slightly rusted, so the J-clips had probably rusted and come loose. I am sure with some persistent nudging, Bugsy was easily able to squeeze himself through the gap. I cursed myself for underestimating the power of male hormones and the biological drives that bunnies naturally possess. Apparently Flossy running by his cage now and again, flaunting her heady female scent, was enough incentive for him to furiously seek a way out. Dang it. I knew I should have kept them in iron boxes with padlocks! (Kidding of course, please don't call PETA.)

Seriously though, Flossy has just barely finished raising the last batch of kits, and I wasn't planning to call the vet to have her spayed for another week to be sure she was completely finished with her nursing cycle, etc. That old cliche about rabbits... it's nothing to mess about with. I can attest, that it's absolutely true. We are planning to keep them all though, unless we happen upon people by word of mouth who are experienced bunny people.

The more I learn about rabbits, the more I understand that they are complex little creatures. They are not a simple pet to keep and are definitely not a good pet for children! I would recommend to anyone who wants a rabbit to do their homework first. Then do a little more homework to be sure. Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are not cuddly, they don't like being held, they are very nervous creatures, and have very strict dietary needs- just the slightest thing like introducing a new vegetable can cause a digestive upset and must be done in the right way. We adopted our rabbits with the understanding that they are what they are- not obedient or affectionate pets, and that while they can be friendly, they aren't like our dogs and cats, or even the pet rats I've had in the past. I think a lot of people out there don't realize that until it's too late and they are already bored with them (which is why there are so many rabbits up for adoption.)

Also, a word on house rabbits. We gave it a try with Beep Beep, but even after rabbit-proofing the house, I am almost certain she found something to chew on that must have poisoned her, because her illness and death were so sudden. It left me feeling like a horrible pet owner, even though I did everything right according to the House Rabbit Society. I am beginning to agree with the sentiments about house rabbits on My Bunny Farm, that rabbits don't belong in the house because a rabbit will chew on everything, whether it's meant to be chewed or not. You can turn your attention away for 5 minutes and they can chew and ingest something that you won't even know about. I don't think I'll be training anymore house rabbits, my bunnies seem to love being outdoors in their bunny yard much better anyway. When they aren't running around in the bunny yard, they are safe in their cages during the night. I'm just not sure this trend of "house rabbits" is a good thing because it may be promoting the wrong people to adopt rabbits, when there are much better pet choices for indoors.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Upcycled Produce Bag Scrubbie

I've been saving mesh produce bags for about a year. When I opened up one of our kitchen junk draws for Spring cleaning, it literally exploded mesh bags everywhere! Why was I saving them? Well, my mom would tell you it's because I am a relentless pack rat. I inherited that trait from my grandmother, she could never throw away things that might be useful some day either. She was a class A upcycler. By the way, have you ever wondered what the difference between upcycling and recycling and downcycling and all of those other cyclings are? The site Green Living Tips was really helpful in sorting all of that out... but I digress...

Anyway, some months back when I didn't have time to delve into yet another project, I came across the Roswell Scrubbie in an old issue of Craft: and thought, what a brilliant way to use up all of those mesh bags. Here's what I did:
First, I trimmed off all of the tags and fused ends. Then I cut the mesh into similar sized square and rectangle pieces. They don't have to be perfectly uniform in size. The pieces I cut were about 6-7 inches and it made a rather large scrubbie. I would probably make mine a little smaller next time.

Next, I used a zip tie to tie the mesh pieces together. Just zip them up in the center and pull as tight as you can.

Finally, fluff the mesh pieces like a pompom, and viola! You have a new kitchen scrubbie!

These make great vegetable and fruit scrubbies. The mesh is really soft since it was already intended for produce use.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cake Mess

As most sensible people know, chocolate frosting is nothing like burnt umber paint. When you mix blue food coloring with chocolate frosting, you do not get black. You in fact, get army green. Time for plan B.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cake Building

Tomorrow is my nephew's birthday and I volunteered to build him a birthday cake. He has been collecting "Predator" action figures, and asked for a Predator cake. Yeah, that's just not going to happen. I had a crazy week and a run-around Friday, and now my creative energy is totally depleted. Luckily, I didn't promise him anything. I think I will just make a black cake and put a big powdered sugar skull stencil on it. Kids like black and skulls these days, don't they?

I'm going to use my handy dandy color mixing skills I acquired in oil painting class years ago to make the black frosting. With paints you use ultramarine with burnt umber (brown) to get what my instructor termed as "true black." I figure the same will work with blue food coloring and chocolate frosting.

In all of my crazy running around this morning, I did manage to stop by the Turlock Certified Farmer's Market. It was very small, like the Merced County Certified Farmer's Market, and a lot of the same vendors were there who we saw at the Modesto Certified Farmer's Market were there. We've been itching to check it out for the last year, but because they have it on Friday mornings we were able to go before. At least I know that we aren't missing anything that we can't get at the other markets. They are having a night market on June 24, so I hope we can make it to that though.

And... now that the baby kittens have reached eight weeks of age, it's time to get the mama cat fixed. It's tough trying to factor in the costs of helping out a homeless cat and her kittens, but in the end I feel it's worth it because I hate seeing animals living on the street. When I called the nearest vet today to find out how much it was to spay a female cat ($100.00!!), I nearly fell over in my seat. I didn't know this procedure ran so high because all of my own adopted cats were pre-spayed. It also made me understand a little bit about why we have so many stray and dumped animals, like the mama cat and kittens I rescued. It's much easier for people to get rid of the animal than to pay those high fees to do the responsible thing. It saddens me that our system is so messed up, and it's the poor animals that have to suffer for it.

Anyway, I kindly thanked the receptionist and said I would try elsewhere. She asked me to hold for a second and then let me know about a spay and neuter program that is being put on through the Los Banos shelter. For one day (on Father's day) you can get cats spayed for $10! Boy, did I ever jump on that. I drove right into town and placed my deposit.

If you live in the Fresno area, Hope Animal Foundation has fairly reasonable rates. I saw an ad on Craigslist recently that said they were spaying and neutering kittens for $5, but... it's Craigslist, so who knows if it is legit? I am going to call on Monday when they are open and find out, because if so, then I'll get all of the little ones done too before I adopt them out. If you live in the Modesto area, Alley Cat Gaurdians offers one of the lowest rates I've found so far. They also have a feral cat program that charges even less for cats that are caught in traps.

Alright, now a cake mixing I will go...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What I'm Reading Ripe Now

The last book I finished (er, well half finished, thanks to one week library check outs! Bah!) was Ripe from Around Here: A Vegan Guide to Local and Sustainable Eating (No Matter Where You Live) and I absolutely did not want to give it back to the library. Alas, I finally had to give it up after accruing a week's worth of overdue fines. I'm going to put it right back on my request list though, unless I happen to acquire my very own copy soon.

Jae Steele is a holistic nutritionist, and in this book she emphasizes the importance of both organic and local food all wrapped up in a pleasant vegan package (you aren't going to find any mean self-righteous vegan talk here.)

Yesterday was interlibrary loan delivery day at my local branch, and I should have a nice big stack waiting for me. The library opens in a little over an hour from now. I can't wait to see what I got this week! Lee has gotten on a blacksmithing kick since we visited The Northern Mariposa County History Center a couple of weekends ago and he saw the blacksmithing display. Now he has stacks of blacksmithing books lying around, and another stack waiting at the library. {eye roll}

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Organic Purple Kale Soup

Last Saturday Lee and I made a pilgrimage to Turlock, which is about 35 miles North of where we live, in search of GoodBelly probiotic juice drinks. I've had mysterious stomach upsets the last few weeks, and in the past they've helped a lot. The Raley's store nearest to our town stopped carrying them, as did all Raley's stores apparently, so we checked the GoodBelly store locator and discovered that Safeway sells them. Err, well, they were supposed to. Unfortunately we drove all that way to discover that the one person we could actually find to help us didn't know what they were or where they would be (oh, the wonders of big box chains.) We checked every refrigerated case possible. I emailed GoodBelly yesterday to find out what's up and I'm still waiting to hear back. The only other places left to check are Whole Foods and Vons in Fresno, and I'd really like to avoid Whole Foods and the many controversies that surround them. Want to know more? Just google Whole Foods and controversy and you will get a whole plethora of things to chew on. I've got three words: big box chain. Just because they carry some organic items and natural foods doesn't make them any better than the rest of 'em, unfortunately.
Organic Purple Kale.  Beautiful!

Anyway, our trip wasn't completely fruitless (pun intended.) We hopped back on the freeway Northward about 15 more minutes to check out the Modesto Certified Farmer's Market for the first time this year. We tried some Goldstrike and Miner's Mustard from Murphy's Mustard Co.  and ended up taking home a 12 oz. jar of Goldstrike. We grabbed up all of our produce essentials, especially organic strawberries. Organic Purple Kale was also amongst the many things that we bought, which I made into a delicious soup last night. You can find the recipe here.

The only thing that I did differently was cut the amount of vegetable soup bouillon in half. I use Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon, and three cubes was plenty. Unless you like a heavy salt taste, you might get away with just two?

Next up on the chopping block is a big bunch of organic rainbow chard.