Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Click on the photo to see an enlarged photo of the butterfly!

It was over 80 degrees this afternoon. It started to feel like summer already. People were out in summer dresses and shorts. There were young men riding their bicycles without shirts altogether. What a big difference from last week!

I was just out pulling some weeds as the sun was going down. I noticed that I had accidentally cut one of my irrigation tubes as the water was spraying everywhere. I did a quick fix for now. I will need to be more careful when I go out cutting vegetables at night in the dark.

As I was wrapping up from weeding, this Black Swallowtail startled me as it passed in front of me and landed on the lavender. It just sat there as I snapped a few closeup pictures with my LG Lotus. Since it didn't seem to mind my face practically touching it, I ran inside to get my Canon to get better pictures. Black Swallowtail caterpillars are a frequent sight on the farm. They were usually on the fennel, which has been removed during the makeover last November. I wonder whether this butterfly is going to lay eggs on the lavender.  As I headed inside, it was still resting at the same spot.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Planting!

Tomato seedlings

March 20, 2011, was Vernal Equinox, first day of spring. We had almost constant rain for the entire month of March; however, today looks and feels like spring. I figure that I need to get out there and start planting. I have some tomato seedlings that need to be separated. I always plant more just in case that some of them don't make it. I also like to give extra seedlings away. People are more likely to experiment with growing food if they can get their first few plants for free. Giving away seedlings is also good Karma building. More than 3 years ago I gave away a bunch of extra tomato seedlings to a bunch of co-workers. One of them is an experienced gardener. He had been propagating from my seedlings and sold over 300 of them at Merritt College's plant sale. Since we have no idea what variety this tomato is, it's been called "Lina's tomato." All I know is that I saved those seeds from some grocery store bought tomatoes. That was probably the last time I bought tomatoes from a store.  I got some of those Lina's tomato seedlings back yesterday because I gave them away years ago.

My barrel of compost

In order to separate the seedlings into individual cells, I need some soil. I have been using one of the wine barrels as a compost tub after the honeydew melons died off. I just kept dumping Dusty's litter box contents into the barrel and mix them all together every few weeks. Now the barrel is full of rich compost and earthworms! These tomato seedlings are still a bit too small, so I will keep them in the sun room for a few more weeks until the temperature stops fluctuate too much. The seedlings could die from frost easily if it gets cold again at night. I am also going to keep a few in 1-gallon pots this year, so I can bring them back into the sun room next winter. I want to see whether I can keep growing tomatoes all year round.

Separated tomato seedlings

I had three 6-cell packs of spinach sitting on the propagation table for the last 3 months. I decided it is time to plant them in one of the vegetable beds. I plant them along the irrigation tube so they can get water after I turn the system back on now that the rain seems to have stopped.

Spinach planted along the irrigation tube

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Snow Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms for Dinner

I apologize for the lag on my blog this month. It's been extremely difficult to concentrate on anything with the triple crisis taking place in Japan. My deep connection with Japan makes it even more heartbreaking for me to think of all the lives that were lost and how the survivors are going to overcome this disaster. Being in the Bay Area, we are no stranger of earthquakes. People sometimes ask me what I would do in the case of a big earthquake. I tell them that I would just run to my farm. It would be safe from being buried by fallen objects, and there's food to eat. However, in the case of a tsunami, the only way to survive is to outrun the ocean. It destroys everything in its way including vegetation. In an event of a tsunami aftermath, there would be nothing left to eat even if you had a farm.

It's been raining on a regular basis for the past 3 weeks. I have been turning the irrigation system on and off so frequently that I can't remember whether it's on or off right now. It looks like more rain is coming this weekend. Due to the rain, everything is green and thriving on the farm. The snow peas are started to grow faster now. I have already picked a bunch of them.

The mushroom blocks that I brought back from Far West Fungi Farm in mid-October last year are still popping out Shiitake mushrooms due to the regular rain. There were some oyster mushrooms, too, but the slugs seem to like them more than Shiitake. I picked the mushrooms to cook with the snow peas. It's a good combination.

This mushroom is growing on the bottom of the block, so it got squished

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Apple and Raisin Oven Pancake

 apple raisin mixture

A couple weekends ago I tried a new recipe and baked an Apple and Raisin Oven Pancake for Master Ken's class. During the class, I volunteered to cook up some shiitake mushrooms. When I returned to the classroom with a plate of sauteed shiitake, the pancake was completely devoured by my classmates. Today I baked another one so that I could have a taste. As soon as I got to the class, I cut a slice for myself. Its texture is more custard-like instead of pancake. I think this is a good candidate for candy cap mushrooms, so next time I will add some candy cap powder to it. It will then have a maple syrupy aroma.

This is a hearty brunch dish with little sugar and butter. You can experiment it with other fresh and dried fruits.

pour batter over baked apple raisin mixture

Here's the recipe:

1 large apple (or 2 smaller apples), cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup raisins (gold or regular)
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2/3 all purpose flour
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
powered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 9-inch pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine apple, raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Transfer to prepared pie plate.

Bake, uncovered, 10-15 minutes or until apple begins soften. Remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

While baking the apple, whisk eggs, milk, flour and butter in medium bowl until blended. You may want to sift the flour first so it doesn't end up with clumps. Pour batter over apple mixture.

Bake 15 minutes or until pancake is golden brown. Invert onto serving dish (optional). Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Flowers, Seeds, and Cooking Dinosaur Kale

Snow pea flower

It's been raining on a regular basis for the last few weeks in the Bay Area. I have taken every chance I got in between the rain to check on the plants and take a few pictures. The snow peas are flowering and some pea pods are growing.

I often leave some leafy vegetables to flower for the bees and the seeds. I am still learning different seeds and how to collect them. Speaking of seeds, this Friday, March 4, 2011, from 7 - 9 PM, is the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library's 12th Annual Seed Swap at the Ecology Center at 2530 San Pablo Ave and Dwight Way on the SW corner of the intersection in Berkeley. Please see Ecology Center's event calendar for details on cost if you are interested in going.

dinosaur kale

I have one big plant of dinosaur kale. One seed got mixed in with my spinach seeds last year. While all the spinach from last year are long gone, the kale has kept on growing and thriving. Now it is flowering. I just recently found out it is commonly called "dinosaur" kale. It's a fitting name for its appearance. I had no idea how to cook it, and honestly, it didn't look all that appetizing although I was sure this dark green leafy vegetable has to be highly nutritious.

My opportunity came when I brought home the leftover Szechwan spicy boiled fish fillet from China Village Restaurant. By the way, that dish is excellent if you are into tongue numbing super spicy Chinese food. What I brought home was mostly that garlicky super spicy sauce, and I thought, why not cook a bunch dinosaur kale leaves in it? 

It was so good, and I am not sure how I did it but I ate it all - kale and all the sauce. Just typing it makes my face start to perspire and mouth water. The lesson here is that if you are not sure how to cook something, cook it in some leftover sauce/broth that you love.

calla lilies

All the calla lilies are blooming in the front and back gardens. They come back every year and are a sure sign of spring that's just around the corner.

I have made several jars of pickled daikon. There are more daikons and some of them have started to flower. I am not sure whether the flowers will produce seeds. I will find out after the flowers die off.

Daikon flowers