Blogs for May, 2014
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
What fruit or vegetable are you most like? It’s a great ice-breaker for that awkward first date or soiree. And? If people look at you like you’re crazy, you can cross them off the list for your next gardening party.
I’d like to think I was a hearty vegetable, with my love for the unknown and unexpected in life, for traveling off the beaten path. But researching the growing needs of the long, cylindrical fruit of the Cucumis sativus, I found myself thinking: I am one sensitive cucumber. I, too, require regulated temperatures, too cold, and I won’t flourish (or leave the house), too hot I wither. Too much stress? I too become bitter.
That’s right, your summer cukes might not be the refreshing addition to your salad if you allow them to get stressed out in the garden, and the level of bitterness depends on the severity of the stress. And just like us introverts, they definitely need their space: If the leaves start to turn yellow, give them more nitrogen by giving them more room to breathe. Organic Gardening suggests you grow trellised plants 8 to 12 inches apart, and hills with one or two seedlings should be spaced about 3 feet apart, with rows 4 to 5 feet apart.
Like tomatoes and squash, while cucumbers are most often treated as a vegetable, due to having an enclosed seed and developing from a flower, cucumbers are classified as accessory fruits. Native to India, cucumbers have a long, flavorful history; even the legend of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature, describes people eating cucumbers. From India they made their way to Greece and Italy, and later into China, who is one of the world’s greatest producer of the crop.
When they’ve been raised healthy and happy, cucumbers are your best beauty friend. We all know to slap them on puffy eyes, and Positive Health Wellness states that the fruit has powerful antioxidants and flavinoids that are thought to reduce irritation. 90% water, they help keep us hydrated on those extra-hot days when we might grow a bit bitter. They’re a good source of B vitamins, and the dark green skin contains vitamin C. While they may seem like delicate flowers that demand careful conditions, they do their fair share of hard work around the house.
Do you have experience raising happy cucumbers? Tell us in the comments or over at @TheCityFarm.
I only make the coffee so I have the grounds to grow a greener garden! I’m NOT addicted.
“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” ~ Dave Barry
I admit, I was once that person whose first move in the morning was reaching blindly (there was no energy for the putting in of contacts or donning of glasses) for the coffee pot, beans ground the night before, water at the ready, to brew with the push of a button. On a dare in my early 20s, I weaned myself off caffeinated coffee, clearly dependent on it for college life. I swore I could do it, and I can’t turn down a dare. I could handle my 21 unit, basketball playing, part-time nanny life without my multiple cups of joe! And I did. I may have been a bit slower on the court that season, but, as my friend noted, my eyebrows appeared “more relaxed.”
“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”
~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
I’ve weaned myself to one morning cup, one of which I’m rather picky about. Raised in the northwest, a coffee snob is just another term for a denizen of Portland.
Is coffee such a bad addiction, in the long run? One study says yes, while the next study says no. Meanwhile, the world keeps making mud, from drip machines to Turkish stovetop pots to French presses to baristas in white lab coats concocting the perfect cup.
While you sip your morning latte, consider that there’s little debate over how good the grounds are for your garden. Brew it, savor it, and scatter it. Sunset magazine reported back on the benefits of adding grounds to your — ground, after sending to a soil lab the coffee grounds Starbucks gives away for free. “Turns out the grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. And they’re slightly acidic, a boon in the Western climate. Dig or till them into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.”
Serious Eats gives us the rundown on why these nutrients are part of any great garden fertilizer: “Nitrogen allows plants to convert sunlight into energy; phosphorus helps that energy get transmitted throughout the plant through its root system and cells; potassium helps the plant retain moisture, which aids photosynthesis.”
To start your coffee habit, store your grounds in an airtight container, and add them directly to your soil, then cover with mulch, or add to your compost pile, making sure it’s at a ratio of one fourth of your other compost items. Bonus: coffee ground compost keeps the rodents away, apparently having never “acquired the taste” for the delicious drink.
Beyond growing a more productive garden, Organic Authority notes eight other ways to use coffee grounds around your house, including using them to clean caked on pots and pans, or in lieu of baking soda for odors in your fridge or freezer. For the more ambitious among us, there’s a recipe to make coffee soap. I love coffee scented – everything, but I know my limits. Who’s going to get crafty and take on the task of trying out the soap recipe and reporting back? And check out The City Farm’s Coffee Mug and Spoon Set to add some color to your morning java!
“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
Share your coffee and composting stories with us here in the comments, or at Twitter: @TheCityFarm
I could not be more excited about this feature in AllRecipes Magazine! As you will read, my love for The City Farm and Dream Street Foundation is really what makes me who I am today and I’m happy and very proud to share it with all you. Thank you for all of your continued support.
Read The City Farm’s feature in AllRecipes below, or download the AllRecipes Article here. Enjoy!
Have you ever found yourself in the wild (or as wild as you can find, if you’re a city dweller), and felt suddenly overwhelmed by being one with the world? Those moments always come to me when I’m outside. I remember sitting outside on the front stoop of our house in Tennessee, the fireflies coming out, one by one, timed with the sun dropping down below the horizon. A warm summer night, the air buzzed with heat, electricity, and the flickering lights of bugs in the fields. It’s a bit of a spiritual experience, feeling something beyond one’s self, connected.
“The Divine Presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone. When I think of my first cathedral, I am back in a field behind my parents’ house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within. I can hear the entire community of crows, grasshoppers, and tree frogs who belong to this field with me. … My skin is happy on the black dirt, which speaks a language my bones understand.” ~ Barbara Brown Taylor
Growing plants that trigger those feelings can help us remember how our bodies are connected to this earth, how we survive when the planet thrives. The birth flower for May, lily of the valley, is delicate and beautiful, with red-orange berries. A sweet smelling flower, it’s a perfect reminder of spring. But don’t let the graceful blooms fool you, it’s a plant with poison. According to MentalFloss, the plant’s toxicity is its defense against animals eating its seeds. All parts of the plant—the stems, the leaves, the flowers and the berries—are extremely poisonous.
Happy birthday to you, May Babies! Taurus folk born by May 20th are known for their earthy, realistic ways of living. Later May kids born under the Gemini sign are typically intellectually inclined, forever seeking information. Does that describe you? Have you planted your birth month flower? Careful where you choose to put down your roots: lily of the valley are notorious for taking more than their share of space, so it’s best to plant them up against a wall or driveway, and curtail their wonton growth.
Planting outdoors, find a spot that has light to moderate shade, and soil that drains well. The bulbous roots are called “pips,” and it’s best to cut an inch off them before planting. Perennials, your lily may not flower the first year. Or, to grow indoors, try these tips from Erin Boyle on Gardenista. I love how Erin concealed the plastic pot in a wooden box, and filled in the gaps with moss. An elegant way to bring the connection to earth into your home.
(Photo Credit: ©Wayne Claflin)
We love our avocado grove here at The City Farm – from the shade of the trees to the bees it attracts, to the delicious honey we harvest, the trees provide for us. And we took note as the 2013 / 2014 winter’s polar vortex wreaked havoc on most of the U.S., and snowstorms and ridiculously cold temperatures raised the costs of heating homes, snarled traffic and travel, and caused Chipotle to issue a “guacamole warning.”
It sounds like a bad joke, like when it starts to sprinkle in Southern California and the local newscasters use terms like “Storm Watch, 2014.” But when it comes to losing the side of guacamole on your lunch-break burrito? Things are getting serious. Fast.
According to NPR, who covered the restaurant chain’s threat to abandon the avocado due to the drought in California, as well as the reported freezes in Mexico that made prices for the fruit skyrocket, Chipotle “goes through a staggering amount of avocados to make its fresh guacamole – 97,000 pounds of avocados every day. That adds up to 35 and a half million pounds of avocados every year.”
It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around that many avocados. (Yummm.. wrap … burrito…) But. For most of us who enjoy a daily slice on piece of toast with goat cheese, the rising cost of avocados is disconcerting news. Especially as we’ve learned of late how great the healthy fats are that we get from them: from adding shine to your hair, a glow to your skin, the healthy omega-3 fatty acids and the insoluble fiber that keeps your colon regulated. Avocado oil is also great to cook with, as we learned from Prevention.com, it is high in mono-unsaturated fats that help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL, as well has having a high smoke point (520°F), which makes it a great oil for stir-frying, sauteing, roasting, and even baking.
How does an avocado nut prepare for the higher-priced off season? First step: check your freezer. Do a little (late) spring cleaning, and make some space for frozen avocados. That’s right. Like bananas, you can freeze your fruit, and have it ready for guacamole on game day or – really? Just chips & guac night, is all you need to celebrate with the tasty treat. While avocados are in season, typically in the summer, make some room in your freezer, and then follow these steps from the Huffington Post to save some for those winter months when you’re craving guacamole, or even ice cream.
Wash the avocado, skin still on.
Cut the fruit in half, and peel.
If you are opting to keep them as halves, put them in a Ziploc bag and freeze.
If you’re pureeing, either mash the avocados with a fork or in a food processor with a little bit of lime or lemon. Store in a re-sealable bag and freeze.
As the HuffPo author notes – frozen avocados will fade, so don’t expect them to be party-friendly for display in slices. But they will perfectly blend into your guacamole, or with a frozen banana for the texture and taste of ice cream. Lauren Conrad’s site features a face and hair mask made of avocado and apple cider vinegar, and a promise that “both of which will make your hair shiny and soft and add a glow to your skin.” The facial includes honey, so be sure to order your City Farm Avocado Honey, to make the cycle complete!
Will you freeze your farmer’s market avocados, so you can pack your own guacamole, in case the condiment situation grows dire? Share your favorite recipes with us in the comment section or on Twitter @TheCityFarm.
May 13 is National Apple Pie Day. I have never really mastered the art of traditional pie crust. Instead, when I get a craving, I turn to apple cobblers and apple crisps. One of the reasons I like these dishes over apple pie is the ease of preparation. Cobblers and crisps can be whipped up in no time while pies take a little longer. And pie crusts can be temperamental. If you don’t treat them right they end up tough and dense. Here are two of my very favorite recipes. The first is for Apple Cobbler. It’s a variation on a recipe from William’s Sonoma from years ago. The second is a recipe for my brother Bill’s Apple Crisp. It’s simply delicious! Enjoy!
½ cup sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 lb. Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. Fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. Baking powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 Tbsp. Unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/3 cup crystalized ginger, chopped
zest from one orange
1 cup heavy cream, plus cream for brushing
For filling: Combine sugar and flour. In large saute pan, melt butter. Stir in apples, lemon juice and sugar mixture. Cover partially and cook until tender, 20 minutes. Stir in vanilla, let cool, then transfer to buttered 1-1/2 qt. pie dish.
For crust: Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl. Using pastry blender or fingertips, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in ginger. Combine cream and orange zest. Stir cream-zest mixture into flour mixture, just until it holds together. Gather into ball and with floured hands on floured work surface, knead briefly until soft, then roll out a little larger than the pie dish. Transfer to dish, trim off excess. Cut small hole in center for steam to escape. If you wish, cut out leftover pastry into fancy shapes and decorate the crust; brush cream underneath the pieces to make them stick.
Bake at 425° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and bake until golden, 20 – 25 minutes longer.
Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.
6 apples, peeled and roughly chopped
1 ½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 cup flour
1 stick butter (½ cup)
1 cup brown sugar
Put apples into greased baking dish.
With a fork, work together the flour, butter cinnamon, and sugar until crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over apples.
Bake at 350° for 40 minutes.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Yummy!
(Image via Pinterest)
Is your garden a work of art? I have a loose interpretation of the term, believing that all things growing green are works of art, from overgrown wildflowers to carefully curated shrubs and succulents. I was anti-gnome / fake deer until I watched “Amelie,” and now want to send every garden gnome on an adventure before placing him to settle in amongst my vegetables, whispering his travel stories of flight to beets and carrots as they root into the ground. (I’d prefer to live within the world of children’s books.)
How does your artistic vision flow over into your garden? A gnome here, contrasting colors of oranges with blues and purples there? A “Mud Maid?” Check out io9’s compilation of some of the strangest garden art out there, from Artigas Gardens (Jardins de Can Artigas) in La Pobla de Lillet, Catalonia, built between 1905 and 1906, designed by Antoni Gaudí, to a Plastic Bottle Vertical Garden by the Lar Doce Rar (translated: Home Sweet Home) project, in Brazil, to a Tree Circus in the Gilroy Gardens, created by Axel Erlandson between 1925 and 1963.
How will you embrace art in your green space? The juxtaposition of the hard and the soft with a prickly, sturdy cactus living in harmony with soft fern fronds or delicate soapwort? BHG.com has a guide to the elements of a beautiful garden, from strong lines directing one’s gaze, to curved lines creating peace. Like any artistic pursuit, it can be good to know the guidelines. Play with the rules. Break them.
What have you been doing lately with your green, artist’s thumb? Do you have any additional lighting in your garden or yard, to allow you to enjoy the colors a little later in the night? Much like a painting or mixed media piece, you can play with texture, form, shape. I’d love to see what you have created! Post photos of your works of garden art to @TheCityFarm and @RebeccaSnavely, or leave a link in the comment section to your photo collection online!
Normally in the winter we get some relief from the dry, desert conditions here in southern California, but this year it seems we missed out. With the temperatures continuing to be above average take a second to think about all of our beautiful backyard birds that would not only love to have a sip of cool water – but maybe take a bath here and there.
I have always set up bird baths in my gardens. Not only is this welcomed by the local bird population, it provides me with some entertainment from the regular visitors and from the occasional passerby.
You will find that once you put a birdbath out – word gets around pretty quickly. And soon you will have all kinds of birds dropping in.
I usually dump the water late afternoon and replace with fresh cool water for those that stop by before dark. I also put a mister out on extremely hot days and you will find that hummingbirds will especially enjoy this treat – as will the occasional dragonfly.
Over the years I have had quite a few wild bird encounters, there was the screech owl that flew into my car late one night on a mountain road just above Los Angeles. I stopped went back (because the thud sounded like a small animal not a small bird) and there was the owl laying on his back dazed and confused! I scooped him up in a towel, kept him wrapped up – and once I got home I placed him in a wire dog crate. I left him wrapped up as I was sure he was in shock and that lowers their body temperature, so I thought he could just be swaddled for the night. I left a perch in the cage with some wet canned dog food and water. The next morning he was sitting on the perch with dog food all over his face! He (or as I later found out “she”) went off to rehab at the raptor center in Ventura. About 6 weeks later they called me…”your owl is ready for release”. So I picked up the owl in a cardboard pet carrier, and that night my friend and I drove up the mountain to the scene of the crime and we released the beautiful owl into the night sky.
Driving to shoot a commercial one day – I was following a line of vehicles into the location on a dusty, dirt road out in Thousand Oaks. On the road in front of me was a bird – spreadeagled – wings out to the side, face down in the dirt. I stopped, jumped out, picked him up and put him in an extra crate I had in my SUV. Amazed no one had run over him, we headed to the base camp for the shoot and went to craft services to find some sugar and water. I kept him in a cool spot all day and regularly dropped sugar water into his mouth.
He was beyond dazed, in fact I took him home and kept him in a wire dog crate for over a week, hand feeding him through the door. This one was a woodpecker. He ate and drank from me for as long as his little brain was addled and prevented him from being scared of me. Slowly, weeks later he came around and started to become more and more flighty. By this time I had sectioned off a portion of my garden shed and he had his own birdhouse, complete with bark stapled to the wall. He lived with me for about 3 months until I felt he was well and truly recovered – then one day I opened the door and let him fly off.
The hummingbird that could not stand 115 degree heat for days on end several summers ago, crashed into my neighbors fence and lay on the floor – he ended up spending a couple of hours in a shoebox, another recipient of sugar water. As I held him in my hand and held a dropper to his beak, I could literally feel him refueling. His body came back to life and he was invigorated by the much needed sugar rush. Once it cooled down, right before dusk I hand released him into my back garden – another success story!
I feel like I have pretty good bird karma.
So go get some birdbaths – add a small water pump to make it even more enticing and enjoy the benefits of the sound of a fountain – hang up some hummingbird feeders and maybe, in the late afternoon on really hot days, hang a mister from your porch or under a tree – and watch the birds flock to your sanctuary!