Five ways to protect plants and get them in the ground early

Usually I figure that April first is the earliest date that I would even THINK about planting the summer crops, but… this year I decided to walk on the wild side and plant mid March. It seemed like winter was going to be kind and peter out early, so why not take advantage of the sunshine?

Of course, as these things go – that’s when the night time temperatures started dropping back into the thirties and I could imagine all those tender little leaves turning black and dropping off.

I hate having to do anymore work than I absolutely have to – but I couldn’t stand to lose all those plants.  I was going to have to protect those tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and and basil. I didn’t want to spend money on the process – I am chintzy on top of being lazy (though ideally, I’d love to have some beautiful french glass cloches, but that’s NOT in my budget).

Instead I went burrowing into my plastics bin and decided to reuse some freezer jars that don’t keep their lids on very well at all. I also got some drink cups from Starbucks (recycled).
I had some garden staples that I heated on the burner, then pushed through the plastic cups.
These made ideal little greenhouses and with the staples pushed deep into the soil, the cups stayed put even through the windy weather.
I also used some wire baskets that I swathed in plastic wrap for some of the bigger plants. That feels a little wasteful as I can’t re-use the wrap, but…better than losing the romas.
And a few lamp shades that are likely the closest things to glass cloches that I’ll ever end up with.  I’ve got my basil under this one.
Lastly, the old standby- the milk jug.

I really like the way these work for the eggplants. I pounded a stake into the dirt that the plant will eventually be tied to as it grows taller. This stake poked up through the slits I cut into the top of the jug and holds it in place, either over the plant, or allows the jug to be raised to let the sun in as the weather allows.
As an additional perk, all these little greenhouses are snail resistant (unfortunately not snail safe).  They are working fine.  The zucchini are already raising their roofs.

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Winter Greens and Polenta

The following is a blog post I wrote for Farm Fresh to You, a wonderful CSA organization you will all want to read about and take part in.   You can sign up for a produce box of almost any size, go out to the farm for one of their wonderful farm functions (music, food, fresh air!) or just lave in the pleasure of knowing such fine folks and fine food exist in our world.

To make it even more tempting to check them out, there’s a special offer made to readers of this blog- yes, you can get  $10.00 off your first box – just mention promo code 4870. (Read below the post for just a taste of how the farm got its start.)

And check out the links




Winter Greens and Polenta

Now that we are well into the chocolate season, a time of monumental overindulgence (fudge nudges all other food aside as the base of my personal food pyramid), I try to balance sweet excesses by eating healthy dinners. However, the season is also a grey and rainy one and that chill requires a balance of its own – and that’s warm comfort food.

Fortunately, this is not only the time of year for those chilly days, but also for the greens that grow in cool temperatures: chard, beet greens, collard greens, and kale. And nothing beats greens and polenta as comfort food.

I’ve bought pre-made polenta; just slice it up and stick it under the broiler. I’d rather make my own, however, and add my own seasonings. The recipe is simple – Four cups of liquid (water, broth, and/or milk) to one cup of (coarsely ground) cornmeal.


I cook the polenta on low, stirring every so often, adding a bit more water to the mix if seems too thick. I have found that 15 minutes of forgetfulness gets me a lumpy mess, but 30-45 minutes of intermittent spoon wrangling provides a soft creamy polenta. I sometimes stir a knob of butter into the polenta at the finish, or shredded hard cheese, sautéed garlic greens, herbs, or truffle oil. I spread the polenta into a pan so that it’s about an inch thick. When it has cooled I cut the set polenta into pieces then broil it until the top is brown and crispy.


The perfect counterpoint to sweet creamy polenta is slightly bitter greens. Sadly, my kale is not yet harvest ready. But while my beet roots are only about the size of a ping pong ball, there’s lots of delicious beet greens to be had at the farm as well as lots of chard.

I wash my greens very carefully (I can tell you nothing ruins a good meal like garden grit, or the surprise meeting of a Quarter Acre Farm snail on one’s fork) then cut out the ribs, chop them and set them aside. I roll the rest of the chard then coarsely chiffonade the leaves.


In a large fry pan (I use a big pan because the greens diminish in volume remarkably during the cooking process) I heat a couple of TBs olive oil, and sauté a teaspoon of pepper flakes, the chard ribs, and ¼ c of sun dried tomato batons (I actually dried the tomatoes in a dehydrator, but dehydrator tomatoes don’t sound nearly as delicious).


When the rib sections are tender, I add the rest of the greens to the pan, turning and stirring until the greens are evenly wilted and tender. I finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar –


-heap the greens on the plate with the polenta (hot from the broiler) and serve.



As promised – find out more about Capay Organic!

The farm was founded by Kathleen Barsotti and Martin Barnes in 1976. Graduate students at UC Davis, Kathy and Martin borrowed money from their parents to buy 20 acres of property in Capay Valley.

Kathleen Barsotti was born in Belmont, CA in 1949 and attended UC Riverside where she earned her B.S. in Agriculture, with a minor in statistics. She went on to earn her master’s degree in Ecology at UC Davis. In 1979 she and her husband Martin moved to Capay and built a house on 20 acres of land where Capay Fruits and Vegetables was founded. She worked part-time at the UC Davis Plant Pathology Department and then in 1982 began work full time with the farm. In 1992 she and Martin divorced and Kathy continued as sole proprietor and manager of the farm. In late 1992 she began the successful home delivery service Farm Fresh To You. Kathleen is beloved by all who knew her as a devoted student to ecological sciences, an excellent farmer, and loving mother of four sons who have continued to make the farm a success.

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Cabbage Worms

‘Tis the season, the long, drawn-out, season of dreaded green. Dreaded green which eats my cabbage, my broccoli, my sprouts…the cabbage worm.

Only about a week ago my plants looked great. I’m pretty sure of it. You know how it is when it is cold and rainy out. I have a tendency to look at the farm from afar (either my living room window or my hot tub, actually). But I finally hoisted myself from in front of the fire and checked on all the little things growing on the farm. Beets were rosy, favas, growing like hotcakes if hotcakes actually grew, peas twining away, and cabbage – AWK!




It would be fine if I were growing LACE. Geez, what happened?


This is what happened…can’t quite see it? Well, it IS hard to see without the help of a close focus lens.

There the critter is, already done a ton of damage. What to do about them?


First line of defense is the age old method of picking them off the plants (look for them aligned with the spines of the leaves, and don’t forget to check the back) and feeding them to the chickens. Recycling!

But, if you want a little less onerous way of working the problem out, get some BT – Bacillus Thuringienesis – which comes in a bottle that is often labeled CATERPILLAR KILLER. Just make sure it says BT somewhere on there, because BT is a safe CATERPILLAR KILLER, unlike many other pesticides. It is a biologic agent. It makes caterpillars feel not so good, just a little stomach flu, Madge, don’t worry. I’ll just skip dinner…and breakfast…and lunch. Next thing you know Chompy the Cabbage worm is a goner.

Birds who eat the Bt slain caterpillars have no ill effects, nor do humans if you worry about serving a worm hidden in the florettes of broccoli to your family. Why would I think of that? Er, no reason. No reason at all.

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Making lemonade out of a fallen tree?


The funny thing about this (haha hardly) is the tree didn’t break where I feared it would. It cracked apart in a totally different place that I would never have guessed. I suppose it is yet another lesson for me in the ever ending curriculum of “You don’t know near as much as you wished you did.”

Losing the tree was bad enough. The cost of having someone make our backyard safe from the rest of the tree was hair-raising…but that wasn’t all of the misery.

See way under all that shade tree, the broken limbs of our one year old frost peach? I wish the tree had landed just a few feet to the north and landed on the santa rosa plum. I’m not crazy about plums. Ah well, what can you do when Mother Nature snaps her fingers, a trunk, a peach tree, and many little beet and broccoli plants? Make lemonade out of those bitter fruits is the accepted route.

Lemonade at the Quarter Acre Farm looks surprisingly like a mulch pile…which looks surprisingly like a volcano, the heat of the chips breaking down vaporizing in the chilly November morning.

And not only did I get a giant pile of mulch out of the whole travail – I also got to meet very nice tree people, and enjoyed a lovely talk with Nancy about trees and squirrels, box turtles, and loving animals.   Further, these very nice tree people said that I could call them the next time I needed mulch – no more chasing chainsaws for me!

So I’ll spread the mulch out and let the tree return to where it so generously volunteered. It was an expensive funeral, but rich in return.   I will yet remember this tree fondly. RIP.

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When a tree falls, when the bugs chew, when I’m feeling sad…I head to Cafe Americain!

Event Linkfood4

Does this not look like the kind of place you could go and forget the fact that the tree in your backyard just blew over leaving you with not only a broken tree but a BIG bill, a ruined Frost Peach sapling, and a lot of work to do (will blog about this later)? A place where the delicious food could allow you to overlook that you’ve failed to pay attention and those damn cabbage worms decimated your broccoli (will blog about this later)?
Of course it does. I’m heading there on Thursday to speak and then to eat at the lovely Cafe Americain’s Harvest Festival.

Check out the link above, and come join the fun. I promise not to complain about my tree – too much.

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Was I a chicken?


I chickened out. Pulled out of the land purchase – too many problems! Sadly, though. And so I licked my wounds and had a talk with Kalliopi, our lead hen.

Being a chicken is a good thing, she proudly feels. Being a chicken is acknowledging there are many things that can eat one up. Coyotes, hawks, dogs, and even mounting problems with wells and septic, and the voracious maw of debt.

Chickens know their limits. They do what they can to do what they can – and out of table scraps, bugs, and some dried corn they create the most perfect eggs, lovely tilled earth, and fertilizer right there in their little pen.

I would do well to emulate, feel great to have flapped clear of a disaster. Now it is time to till my little Quarter Acre Farm (which I have grievously ignored these past weeks) doing what I can with what I can.

Damn, that chicken is smart.

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Water water everywhere, but not a drop in my sink.

storm clouds
It isn’t looking good folks. Inspections today and lots of phrases like, “What the- I have never seen anything like that in the 20 years I’ve been servicing wells, maybe once something like it…” and lots of numbers like $20,000 and $10,000 in reference to wells, pumps, septic tanks, being bandied around (by professionals), lots of head scratching (by all present) and check writing (me).

I did enjoy myself on the inspection day in spite of all the gloomy prognosis. Louis was there, our wonderful realtor Vicki, my pal Lisa so the company was good, and I followed the inspection guys around asking questions – which I always love doing. (Why does that need a double pipe? How come there are wires coming out there? What does that thing do?)

But by the end of the day I felt demoralized by the river of water swirling somewhere below my feet that was going to cost a motherlode to bring to the surface, and without which the land was useless to me.  Sniff.

It isn’t over yet, we are still looking for answers, but…it isn’t looking good, folks.

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Goulds Pumps

It is sooo difficult to get a Civil Engineer’s education in the space of a week.  There are all these decisions I might need to make – like: Submersible pumps or above ground?  Two wire or three?  How many HP?  Can I get a used pump?  and the huge looming question, “How much can I pay for well service, how much will they ask for it, and what’s a fair price?”    Anybody know anything about wells/pumps/process?

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Destination; Farm!

2925 Allan Ave, West Sacramento, CA 95691
Isn’t it beautiful? I know, not a soul on the planet thinks so but me. And sure, I do know that the stucco is cracked, it’s retirement age to you and me, and it looks every year of its hard life, there are shingles missing, no pump, no tank, and a mystery septic system, plus a faulty foundation, drainage issues, and yellow jackets in the walls…(that I know because I disturbed them and was stung by one of the privacy-loving creatures)…and yet, I love it.

Partially because I love the idea of taking “nothing” and finding the “something” in it, perhaps molding it into something- like clay into a bowl. Partially because it has an acre of dirt around it. No trees, no lovely bushes, no flowers, no crops, just nothing (see explanation of the beauty of nothing above). And also because it might be mine. MY project. I might just fix that stucco, I might just plant fruit trees, I might not…it’s up to ME.

Not that my guys aren’t being supportive – but supportive in the best way; available but letting me plow ahead…after all, they have big things going on in their lives, too.  College, travel, books, art…we’re all in some stage of, embarking, I’d say.

I hope I am, anyway.  I am getting ahead of myself. There is no pump so I don’t know what the water situation is. I don’t even know much about pumps and pressure tanks – though I’m figuring out what vertical turbines, lifts, bladder tanks, and pressure switches are. I’ve been reading more about septic tanks than most people I know would be interested in, and finding it fascinating (by the way, DONT pour that grease down your kitchen sink!).

It could all go wrong, the land might be more expensive to buy it and fix it up than can be managed…We’ll know sometime this week. Keep your fingers crossed, and chuck that cute little dilapidated bungalow under it’s chin – you KNOW you want to, it’s so awful, it’s darling!



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This was a great afternoon. I love finding out how things work – mechanically, socially, procedurally, and I was fortunate enough to be invited by Chowhound (I KNOW, it is such a GREAT site!) to film a few video tips.
Now I know what an A roll and a B roll are (not sushi) and that everyone who works at Chowhound is charismatic, brilliant, gorgeous, and nice on top of it all. I’d like to work there just to have some of that glitter rub off on me.

In any case, I’ll let you know the availability date for the videos. You are all to watch them and tell me I was wonderful. Actually, you don’t even need to watch them as the point is to just tell me I was wonderful. Maybe the point is to tell me I wasn’t AWFUL. Go ahead and lie to whatever degree you see fit. I appreciate it.

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