Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Back with a Movie Rant

So as most of you may have noticed we haven't posted in quite a while. Well mostly because its winter and often Fauna and I are huddled together for warmth and to bemoan the loss of our garden under nearly zero degree weather. We hope the garlic and leeks will still make it through, and everyday I fret over the apple trees, recently planted.

When it is too cold to walk and bike the next best option is Movies! And in the spirit of the blog we watched The Garden last night. This is a documentary about a 13-arce farm in South Central Los Angeles, and in 2006 was the largest community garden in the United States. About 350-some odd mostly Latino families had plots there, some being passed down generationally with groves of tropical fruit. The land was bought by the city in the 1970s to build a waste incinerator that was never built. In the 1990s with a giant empty lot people began to plant. Then under a shady backroom deal the City sold the land back to the original owner who had all the "squatters" evicted.

Lets talk about how hard this movie was to watch. A woman clutching her last sprig of Rosemary as bulldozers level plot after plot, tree after tree, seeing her tears of a loved one murdered. The police in full riot gear beating on families trying to protect their land, their livelihood. The voice of the owner proclaim that he would never sell the land to the farmers because he just doesn't like them, and in America he doesn't owe anyone anything.

This movie was such a good documentary about what is wrong. How celebrities pretend to care, pretend to be powerful, only to flaunt their privilege to look "generous". How hard a group of people fought for their lives only to be rejected under a vague notion of property rights. How their pubically elected officials turned on them. How the 13-acres is fallow to this day.How one man under auspices of "American Capitalism" reinforced a racial/class power dynamic just to keep others down.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring...

It seems the rains have finally settled in for the winter... our garden has pretty much wrapped up for this season, save for the winter bed. This works out well, as our soil here is still lacking in the nice loamy materials. We've added lots of composts and such but it still isn't perfect. (Read, with all the clay drainage isn't optimal.) This presents a challenge with the winter bed, however. Too little drainage combined with too much rain equals rot and wilting of plants. To combat this, we've put up a cover. It's nothing fancy, just a piece of plastic stretched over some slats that are framed over the bed to form a peak. It works well, and so far our greens are doing quite well.

About that winter bed- we've planted leeks, onions, chives, kale, lettuce, rainbow chard, spinach, carrots, broccoli sprouts, brussel sprouts, beets, fava, and scallions. The greens will all grow slowly and get eaten as the winter comes on and progresses. The others will be ready to start harvesting once things start going in the spring. Yay for 4 season gardening and for early spring produce!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hello Again!

A new day and a new post. Though really with everything we have done so far we are still catching up.

Today is a day for tomatoes! And though it is cold, gray, and wet here (which for some reason solicits spandex on fellow bicycle commuters) tomatoes can still be yummy. At the Learning Garden Labs, up in Brentwood-Darlington, volunteers pulled out approximately 100lbs. worth of unripened green tomatoes. The plants are all gone but their fruits remain, albeit tart, vaguely poisonous, and mostly immature (they all still believe in the Tooth Fairy, bless their hearts).

Things to do then: 1. For mature but green tomatoes harvest with at least one inch of stem still attached. Place in a paper sack and wait and pray. If they are not fully mature they probably will not ripened. A banana placed in the sack may aid ripening due to its natural emissions of ethelyne gas (also why not store fruits and vegetables all mixed up). A fully mature tomato when cut in half has the jelly surruonding the seeds, and should be yellowing.
2. Compost them. Waste not want not, but at least you can recycle the nutrients. Most of the seeds should not be fully matured and so probably will not germinate in a cold compost pile. Obviously a hot compost will sterlize the seeds regardless.
3. Various green tomato recipies. Today in the Oregonian there was a recipe for Veggie Enchiladas with Green Tomato Sauce. I will be making this you can betcha.
4. I imagine you can can them. I have not read anything about this, but you know why not?

*nom nom nom* My preferred option. After talking with a friend from the South here is a recipe.

Green Tomatoes (Variety is not important)
Corn Meal
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper

Slice tomatoes in 1/2in. slices. Mix a little bit of flour into the cornmeal with black pepper to taste. Batter by placing tomatoes first into buttermilk, then into cornmeal mixture. Fry until golden brown on top. Enjoy plain. Or with Ketchup (I am biased here). Or with anything else. Really its up to.

And that is how you don't waste your precious green tomato gold.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Found Item+Fresh Produce=Yummy Goodness

Homemade ice cream. Its a treat. Not many people make it for themselves. We did tonight.

I was out walking this afternoon and happened across a used ice cream maker (alas, it wasn't a hand crank kind that makes you really appreciate the final product... that's the kind I grew up with). Add in that the markets are now flooded with late-season strawberries. How perfect is that? We had to take advantage... so we made strawberry frozen yogurt.

For those of you wanting to make this too, here's the recipe:

3 cups fresh slices strawberries
3 T lemon juice
2/3-1 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of berries)
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1. Combine the salt, sugar, berries, and lemon juice in a sauce pan.
2. Heat mixture till the sugar has dissolved. Mash the berries a bit as well.
3. Remove from heat and cool till step 4 is possible without curdling.
4. Add in milk and yogurt.
5. Chill for 1 hour.
6a. Put in ice cream maker and process.
6b. Conversely if you don't have an ice cream maker you could just put the mix in the freezer, stirring every 1/2 hour to fluff things up and prevent the final product from becoming a solid ice block. Continue to do this till it is solid enough that it has the right consistency of ice cream.
7. Eat right away (or save some if you have self-control).

Bon app├ętit!


Getting Cooped Up

Flora and I hadn't been working on our garden long when we decided we wanted chickens too. Portland allows up to 3 chickens (no roosters) within city limits without needing a permit. So we talked about what our flock of 3 would look like and how we would house them. I designed a coop:

And then we built it! Here it is almost complete- it needs to be put into its final place on blocks and the wire run needs to be installed around it. Notice the vent on the side (there's another one on the other side to match. The front underneath the window is a full-length door that opens upwards for cleaning. There are 2 roosts, a nesting box (with a small outside hatch for access on the other side), and a trap door to let the chickens out. The feed and water containers will hang underneath the coop. There is a gutter on the back which will be used for rainwater catchment that will feed into the chicken's waterer. This is how it will look, more or less, when its done minus some adornments such as flower baskets and paintings of eggs from around the world.
In building the coop we used mostly scavenged and reclaimed materials. We purchased a couple new 2x4's for framing, but that was it. The final cost was roughly $100.

Although it sits empty currently, we hope to have baby chicks to raise for it in late February. We wanted to build the coop now before the rains start and so that it can sit and weather and the paint can cure before we put our hens in it.

When we do get hens, we'll be getting 3 different kinds: an Australorp, a Sussex, and a Gold-Laced Wyandotte. Each were chosen for their personality traits, laying ability, and weather tolerance. All three are prolific layers (the Australorp is known for laying 5-6 eggs a week). All three are docile, friendly, inquisitive, and good foragers (which is good for us since they'll be allowed to root out bugs in the gardens).

Expect more posts on the ladies when we get them!


Friday, October 9, 2009



Flora here. Posting for the first time on this big fancy blog of ours. So a little bit about what inspired this whole project.

Both Fauna and I come from rural areas, though in comparison she is the Country Mouse and I am the City Mouse. When we moved in together here in Portland we longed for a house were we could garden. Recapture a little bit of the country, and to just enjoy the many spiritual, physical, and mental benefits of time spent in a garden. As were lucky enough to find a small house on a decent lot, with a very understanding landlord, our urban farm began.

In the course of things we decided that conventional agriculture and and gardening methods were inappropriate for our home. The reasons for this were legion, and I am too sure we will get into all that later. Needless to say organic gardening, intergrated pest management, and permaculture design was where we were headed.

This blog is our online garden journal. A place where we can finally catalog all of the crazy projects we have going on, but also a place to show off the lessons we have learned so that others might glean some knowledge from our mistakes.

By far the most important thing I have learned is to keep a garden jounral, paper or computer or whatever. Being able to track what you used, when, and where is invaluable. Just like saving seeds year to year to create hardy varities, you have to save the kernels of knowledge to resow and watch them grow. This is not simple accounting, but a way to remember what works and what does not. Soil is not one homegenous mass. The seasons are not static and they variate year to year. A journal is all but required if you want to properly rotate crops for nutrient levels and pest management. Holisitic permaculture design is not about throwing stuff in the ground and hoping it works, it requires careful observation.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Olive Guild

For a while now I've been pondering how to do an olive guild in a large pot/bucket. Erm, let me back up and explain what a guild is first, I guess. It's when you use permaculture design to plant different plants together in a way that is at least neutral if not beneficial to each other- while also taking advantage of the different layers of plants (canopy, vine, bush, ground cover, etc). So yes, I've decided to do this in a large pot and I want an olive tree in the middle as the canopy layer. From there I'm not sure. There are lots of mixed report on the internets about what grows best with olives. Should I do it as an Italian guild with tomato, basil, and garlic? Should I do it as something else? So far, I have the bucket. At least I'm making progress...


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Leaving the Auto World

Those of us who live in Portland are lucky enough to say that we live in the bike friendliest city in the US (with the highest percentage of bike commuters at 6.4%). That means we have designated bike lanes, routes, paths, and a couple bike tracks (using parked cars as the barrier between bike flow and auto traffic). We also have a bike shop every 8 blocks. It all adds up to making it really easy to say good-bye to der auto and hello to biking as the main mode of transportation.

At our farm we have several bikes. Flora makes her daily commute to downtown on her KHS commuter that has been outfitted with a rear rack and a Citybikes Bucket.

Granted, the rack and bucket are useful for a daily commute but lack the cargo room when it comes to groceries or more. Enter my bike. I built it myself from the frame up. It has an older Trek frame with Xtracycle's Free Radical kit attached to add the cargo room. And let me tell you about the cargo room... it can haul just about everything- from the weekly groceries to books to corrugated roofing, to a pair of 3-cubic-liter bales of compost. I have wide-loaders that clip in on the bottom to act as a shelf I can set things on top of when they get too heavy or bulky to stuff into the panniers (which expand to accommodate lots, but can be awkward sometimes since they attach on the back side, not the bottom- they swing a bit sometimes). I use this for my daily commute to work too. It's not much of a weight difference than a regular bike, and I like the looks I get sometimes.

When we need to really haul some cargo, we use Flora's cargo bike. It's a Yuba Mundo. Originally designed for the 3rd world and developing nations, it can haul up to 440 pounds of cargo. We've used it to carry the reclaimed lumber for our building projects. We've also made a pair of custom panniers that perfectly fit the cargo rack for items that are too small to strap onto the frame. This bike isn't so much a daily commuter due to its weight (and its meaty tires) but it sure gets the job done otherwise.

I don't have a car and Flora is in the process of casting off her's. Soon we'll be cycle-only. As such, we've given lots of thought to how we're going to get everything around- especially if we move or if we decide to start a farm stall at the markets. We've come up with a few solutions.

#1: The Bakfiets (Dutch for box bike). I want to get one of these in the next year or two.

#2: Trailers. I've designed a trailer that can haul tubs of produce with ease. I hope to build it this winter (and will put up a post about it when I do).

In the mean time, we're not struggling to make things work by any means. Transportation is a breeze. In fact, we enjoy biking everywhere so much we've done a few race/supported rides and plan to do some bike camping and touring at some point.

So yes, pedal onto the revolution!


For Whom These Fruits Grow

Question: What happens when you take 2 crazy dykes and throw them together with wild dreams for a future rural [self]sustainable [communal] farm?

Answer: You get an urban farm prototype!

Hi, we're Flora and Fauna. What started out as a series of dreams for getting out of the maddening rat-race of corporate, consumerist, constricting America has turned into where we are now. A 1911 Craftsman complete with a 1/2 basement and a decent back yard just waiting to be turned into something productive! We moved in March 7, 2009 and have been busy creating ever since.
Alas, its only a 1/10 of an acre lot, but enough to do oh so much in. Here's what we've changed to date (with individual posts on each for detail to follow):
-Remove 1/2 of the lawn and all of the mulch to put in a garden.
-Install rainbarrels.
-Build compostbin.
-Build chicken coop.
-Build terracing into front landscaping.
-Plant flowers, trees, bushes.
-Build worm bin.
-Cultivate mushrooms.
-Brew beer.
-Canning, preserving.
We were lucky enough to have found a house that had been completely remodeled from the basement up the summer before- and the landlord was smart enough to have it all done to be energy efficient. (The downside to this was that the construction had completely destroyed the soil- it was filled with poor dirt, complete with glass, pens, utensils, paint cans, styrofoam, etc.)

While we haven't given up on our dreams for a future self-sustainable farm, for now we're happy to sit here in our small corner of Portland and learn how we are going to do all this.

Till next time,

Flora and Fauna