Friday, February 25, 2011

The Urban Homesteading Kerfuffle

Wow. This controversy was highly unexpected. Imagine if back in the 60's, some enterprising hippie decided to trademark the terms "hippie" and "youth movement." A little antithetical to the movement, no? Well, in case you haven't yet heard, the equivalent trademark hammer crashed down last week on the urban homesteaders.

In short, the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA - long involved with promoting urban homesteading/self-sufficiency - went ahead and trademarked the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading." Say what?!?!?! For reals?!?!

Indeed it is for reals.

I learned of this through the fabulous Oakland-based Institute of Urban Homesteading, a school I greatly respect and have studied at over the last three years. When the founder of the IUH informed us, the loyal students and supporters, that the school name might have to change because of a cease-and-desist letter, I was simply stunned. It's just so bizarre, so off-the-wall, so cuckoo-bananas. I mean, truly, cuckoo-bananas. Who does that? To quote Say Anything: "How did that... happen?"

I am in no way a proper farmer, but I do identify myself as an urban homesteader. I grow my own fruits and vegetables, I can (you know, like jam and pickles), I make sauerkraut, I crochet, I make cheese, we brew beer. I am certainly not self-sufficient, and I may not fit in a tightly-defined urban homesteader box. But, so what? As far as I'm concerned, I'm an urban homesteader and the MKG is my little (sub)urban homestead.

It is unclear how or when this urban homesteading kerfuffle will be resolved. In the meantime, I join the legions of supporters who proudly type the words Urban Homestead and refuse to add a TM.

If you're interested in more of the details, Heidi Kooy has put together an eloquent summation of the situation over at her blog: Itty Bitty Farm in the City.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Taste of Sunshine

I know all my peeps back east are still slogging through the slush and snow and ice and muck. And if any of the rest of you needed a little dose of perspective- you could have been stuck in your car for five hours during your one-hour commute like my poor, long-suffering Bostonian buddy. She informs me that Unspeakable Things happened in that car… we shall not speak of them.

Instead, we will try to get her and your minds off this apocalyptic winter and think of sunny, happy things. Like lemons!

It’s Meyer Lemon season here in NorCal. The tree out back is positively fit-to-burst with the lovely orangey-yellow fruits. If you have never had the opportunity to try one, I highly recommend hunting one down. They taste a lot like their color- mostly lemony but with a nice, subtle dash of orangey sweetness. Yum.

There are lots and lots of things to do with them and I have some plans up my sleeve. But rather than getting all involved with some high-tech baking or canning or something, instead, I offer you this simple dressing recipe. It’s really easy to make and works as a dressing for simple greens or a topping for a nice piece of hummus toast (or both!). It also works well with steamed or sauteed veggies like chard, green beans or broccoli. The lovely lemony sweetness of the Meyers combines with the herby thyme to turn an easy lunch into something satisfying and bright. Just the sort of thing to pull you up out of the winter doldrums and remind you that yes, there is a sun shining somewhere.

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
This recipe can easily be increased, decreased or otherwise adapted to suit your tastes- experiment!

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (~2 Tbs)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves
Coarse salt & ground black pepper to taste

Juice the Meyer lemon; reserve the zest for another use or if you want it to be really lemony, add the zest to the dressing. In a jar, combine the lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar. Adjust the oil or vinegar to get your preferred tartness; I like a nice bite to my vinaigrette. Add the thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake like a maraca (or a Polaroid picture- your choice). Adjust S & P as needed. Serve drizzled over a green salad or a piece of toast spread with hummus. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's February 15th and that means it is the first Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at the Mighty Kitchen Garden! Things are a bit quiet around here at the moment, but there are some roses abloom as well as the Pluot. And, judging by the Pluot, it is officially spring in Northern California. Happy spring!

A solitary rose

The Pluot in all its spring glory

The storm rolling in behind the Pluot, rendering in-focus photos impossible

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spontaneous Regeneration

Last year I decided to experiment with potatoes. I only had three garden beds to rotate my veggies in and there was no more room in the Solanaceae bed (the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers were already filling it). I decided to try a method I’d read about for growing potatoes in wine barrels; I had three unoccupied wine barrels leftover from the container garden days.

I ordered my potatoes (All Blue, La Ratte Fingerling, and Yellow Finn) and followed directions for growing them in barrels. At first, things were going well- the plants were growing, I mounded more straw onto them as they did, and the Yellow Finns threatened to outgrow their barrel. This went on for maybe a couple weeks or a couple months… and then I went on vacation. They weren’t watered in my absence and they didn’t fare well. When I came back they were looking distinctly peaked and after several weeks I came to the conclusion that I had killed my potatoes. Oh well, every garden project can’t work out, right?

Well, I continued to ignore them for the rest of the season. I didn’t need the barrels for anything else and I wasn’t even curious enough to see if anything had grown. They didn’t even reach the point of flowering so I figured it was a lost cause. That is, until this weekend.

On Saturday I was out in the garden for the first extended period of time since planting the garlic and onions (November). I was tidying up, taking stock of the winter veggie bed and determining that something was happily feasting on my Brassicae. As I walked back toward the house I spied something green poking out of the eastern wine barrel. I did a double take. I jumped over to it and could not believe my eyes: a potato leaf! In January 2011! From potatoes I planted in March of 2010! That I killed!

La Ratte lives!

Upon further investigation I concluded that ALL THREE of my wine barrels contain potato plants. I am beyond excited. I have no idea how well they will fare and whether or not there will be anything worth eating out of those barrels but I don’t care. It seems these little guys thrive on benign neglect and I intend to give it to them. At this rate I might even have some new potatoes to harvest come St. Paddy’s Day. If I do I’ll be celebrating both my Irish heritage and the Potato’s Amazing Power of Spontaneous Regeneration.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Path to the MKG

As soon as my husband and I bought a house back in ’08 I started my very own veggie garden. I had never had a huge desire to grow my own food until I owned the land. Suddenly, I was plotting and scheming when and where to plant my very own vegetables. I was surprised at the speed my passion grew out of seemingly nowhere. In hindsight, it wasn’t such a stretch.

As a child I helped my mother tend our cherry tomatoes and snap peas, Grandma S had a stunning flower garden (which hosted Garden Club Meetings complete with tea and sandwiches), and Grandma and Grandpa P owned a fruit and vegetable farm outside NYC. Every summer visit to the farm included bags full of fresh produce and I still remember the smell of the walk-in cooler next to the farm stand where the corn was kept.

My husband remained skeptical, recalling my many failed attempts to keep things as simple as cacti alive in our various apartments. He had reason to be skeptical- all signs pointed to a black thumb. It turns out I just hadn’t learned what my motivation was yet.

I enjoy beauty and aesthetics a lot, but not enough to motivate me to keep a plant alive. But food! Ah yes, food. That is one of the best. things. ever. I enjoy food with a zeal that borders on ridiculous. Many of my happiest memories involve the wonder of good food enjoyed in good company.

Once I had planted vegetables, and recognized that if I was very good to them and watered them and gave them sun, that in return they would feed me. Well, that became the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The first year was a container garden. The second year included two raised beds; by year three I’d added a third. And now, as I enter Year Four, it has grown in size once again. In total there are now five raised beds- just shy of 250 square feet of vegetable growing space. I had it drawn out on graph paper, but once it was all installed and I walked out to it in the early morning fog, I recognized the magnitude of the thing.

And I said to myself, with a mixture of pride and trepidation, “Holy sh*t. That’s one Mighty Kitchen Garden.”
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