Squash Baby Stolen!

Squash Baby’s empty cage


This morning we woke to find that Squash Baby had been taken during the night.

Erik just returned from searching the neighborhood, hoping to find traces, remanants or, heaven help us, the perp him or herself.  Needless to say, he is cursing. He’d planned on harvesting Squash Baby today, so it is particularly heartbreaking. It had stopped adding inches (I believe it held at 36″), and had started taking on golden tones.

I only hope that the people who took it plan on eating it. If it’s feeding a family (which it could do for several days), that’s fine. If some kids took it and smashed in an alley…well, that’s best not pondered. Forensic examination of the stem stump, however, reveals that the perp did not use a knife, but rather pried the squash* free. This speaks ominously to an impulse theft.

Once I saw a Buddhist monk on TV. He held up a pretty glass and said, “This glass is already broken.”  My attitude toward Squash Baby has always been, “This squash is already stolen.” But poor Erik was much attached to the squash, and his head was filled with images of squash galettes and squash gnocchi and squash soup.  He wanted to have a squash butchering party.  Now he’s hunched over his breakfast cereal, disconsolate, and muttering about never planting anything in the parkway again.

He harvested Squash Sibling this morning, though it could have grown some more, I believe.  We’re hoping it’s ripe enough for good eating. It’s no inconsiderable squash, despite being the runt of the litter. It measures 22 inches.

Next year we will plant Lunga di Napoli again, far from the street.

* N.B. Squash Baby was technically a pumpkin, as noted in a previous post.

Least Farvorite Plant:–Heavenly Bamboo–Neither Heavenly nor Bamboo

Chickens assist in heavenly bamboo removal.

About a year ago, while searching for a spot for our new and larger compost pile, Mrs. Homegrown suggested ripping out a stand of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) that occupied a shady spot in a corner of our backyard. My reaction? I think I said something like, “No way, it’s been there for twelve years and it took forever to reach three feet.”

Some time later Homegrown Neighbor came over and took a look at the yard. She said, “Why don’t you rip out that awful heavenly bamboo.” Once again I ignored the suggestion.

Last week Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms came over to rethink the garden. Eying the heavenly bamboo she scowled and demanded, “rip it out,” noting that it was ugly, diseased and caked with Los Angeles smog dust.

A few hour later I ripped it out. Needless to say Mrs. Homegrown is dismayed that it takes two experts to confirm something before I’ll listen to her advice.

Marital landscaping disputes aside, it’s not that this plant is inherently evil, it’s just not that interesting. Heavenly bamboo is not a bamboo It’s a member of the Berberidaceae or Barberry family. All parts of the plant are poisonous except to birds who can ingest the berries.While it’s draught tolerant (we never watered it), I don’t miss it. Typically, you see it tucked into forlorn plantings alongside 1960s era bank buildings. I suppose it provides some fodder for the birds, but that’s about it. Perhaps in some Japanese fantasy garden it would fit in next to the tea house, but we ain’t got no tea house.

I guess the lesson here, in addition to listening to your wife, is that gardens change and you’ve got to change with them. As Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Gardens, especially, should celebrate that impermanence. Now I have the beginnings of a big compost pile where it once stood.

We’ll detail some of the other changes we’re making in future posts and put up some before pictures. Stay tuned.

Farmers Markets: Buyer Beware

A local Los Angeles NBC news report “False Claims, Lies Caught on Tape at Farmers Markets” detailed something I’ve known about for a long time: some of the food sold at farmers markets comes not from local farms, but from wholesale sources. In short, some dishonest farmers market sellers are reselling the same inferior produce you get at the supermarket for a lot more money. And it gets worse. NBC also uncovered evidence of lying about pesticide use, also not surprising.

A farmer who runs an orchard visited us before this report came out and backed up what NBC later reported. She warned me never to buy from stands at farmers markets where the fruit is all the same size and looks too perfect. It’s a sign they just took the truck to a downtown wholesale warehouse and loaded it up.She also said that many farmers will mix their own produce with wholesale produce.

This report came out just after two supermarket chains, Safeway and Albertsons, created fake farmer’s markets inside and outside of their stores.

Yet more reasons to grow your own fruits and vegetables if you have space. Lying about the source of produce and pesticide use is so easy to pull off and the price incentive so rewarding that I’m sure this is happening everywhere. I’m interested in hearing other reports, so have at it in the comments.

Flower Gardening Class at the Huntington

fallflowers Our friend Tara Kolla is teaching a flower gardening class at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino this coming Saturday Oct. 2nd from 10 a.m. to noon. From the class description:

“Save money at the flower market by growing your own organic blooms. Urban farmer Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms shares tips for growing seasonal flowers that make beautiful arrangements in the home.”

I can’t say enough good things about Kolla–she’s our go-to person when we have gardening questions and, if you’ve seen her booth at local farmer’s markets, you’ll know why this class is not to be missed. Members: $40. Non-Members: $50. Registration: 626-405-2128. More information here.

Motuv-ated

We received a very nice letter from Amanda Lazorchack who, along with her partner Dane Zahorsky, are teaching a 7th grade sustainability class at the Kansas City Academy. They’re using our book The Urban Homestead as a textbook and sent a long a few pictures of what they are up to with their group, Motuv.

Lazorchack wrote, “It’s almost as if we woke up one day and realized that we didn’t know how to grow our own food and that that was a huge problem so we better get to teaching ourselves.” Amen!

We’re inspired by what they’re doing, and hope you might be, too.

Thanks, Motuv, for showing us what you’re doing!

Here’s some pics:

Pallets make great compost bins–I really like the paint job–much nicer than ours.
Motuv’s corn!
Motuv’s tomatoes!

Hops Growing Resources

Reader Matt sent a couple of detailed links on growing hops. First an organic hops growing manual (pdf) by Rebecca Kneen of the Left Fields organic farm in British Columbia. Secondly, a PowerPoint presentation by hops farmer and breeder Jason Perrault here (pdf) along with the transcript here (pdf). I’m going to go through these resources before transferring the hops I’ve been growing in containers to the ground in the spring.

Thanks Matt and happy brewing to all!

Bean Fest, Episode 6: Walton’s Serbian Lima Beans

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Welcome back to Bean Fest, our Friday focus on the wonderful world of beans.

Our friend, Walton, sent in this recipe, which he got from friends. I don’t know anything about its Serbian-ness–whether this is a traditional dish there, or what. Maybe some of you can enlighten us. (I forgot to ask Walton.)

[ETA: Walton wrote in. It is a genuine Serbian dish. The recipe was given to Walton by his friend's mom, Mrs. Milosavljevic. Thank you, Mrs. Milosavljevic!]

What I can tell you is that it is amazing: full of flavor and almost dangerously rich. If you know anyone who thinks eating beans for dinner is akin to wearing a hair shirt, make these for them. Dried Lima beans have a buttery taste on their own. Add to that a huge quantity of olive oil, and the scrumptious umami-savoriness of long-cooked onions, and you’ve got a palette paradise.

I’d classify these as a special occasion food, because they are so rich. One modest serving will fill you up. We ate them as a main dish with a basic green salad, which works nicely to counterbalance their oiliness, and had hunks of bread to sop up the juice. This recipe would work well as a side dish, of course. They’d also do well on a holiday table.

And best of all, they’re easy to make. They don’t have many ingredients, and there’s nothing complex about their cooking. They just take a little longer than most beans because of the time in the oven.

This is the recipe as he sent it:

Serbian Lima Beans

    * 1 lb small lima beans
    * 1 1/4 cups oil
    * 1 1/4 lbs sliced or chopped onions
    * 1 tspn pepper
    * 2 tspn salt
    * 2 tspn paprika
    * crushed red pepper / chili powder to taste
    * couple bay leaves
recipe
    * cook lima beans according to package (do not over cook; will cook a bit more in the baking process later)
    * fry onions in oil stirring frequently til very limp/well cooked (think near mush)
    * add spices to onions, mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust according to taste.
    * add well drained lima beans to onion mix (reserve some lima bean water)
    * pour into 9 x 13 baking dish; you want there to be some fluid (to bake in); if dry add some reserved lima bean water
    * insert bay leaves into beans in dish
    * bake, covered, at 375 for 30 minutes
    * bake uncovered, at 350 for 15-20 minutes til golden brown (take care not to burn)
Walton’s Notes:
  • I would suggest putting the bay leaves in the water with the beans when you first start cooking them.
  • Also, this seems like a lot of olive oil, but it really makes the flavor, so I’d suggest you use some kind of tasty extra-virgin with a strong character. 
  • The onions should be caramelized slowly, barely making any noise while they cook down. This is the other strong flavor of the dish. Start the onions during the last hour of the beans boiling.

Buon appetito!

This is what they look like fresh out of the oven

Mrs. Homegrown’s notes:

Not much to add here.  FYI 3 not-too-large yellow onions = 1 1/4 lbs.

I goofed by not reading the recipe correctly, so I caramelized the onions solo, instead of in the 1 1/4 cups of oil. (For some cracky reason I thought the oil was added later.) I had to back paddle and simmered the finished onions in the oil for about 10 minutes, hoping the flavor would infuse into the oil in that time. I think it worked. The mind boggles to think it might have been even better if I’d cooked it correctly.

Do be sure to cook the onions a nice long time, as Walton noted. That is the key to the recipe, and a point I don’t want anyone to miss.

The only thing I was unclear on was how much bean water to add back into the baking dish before cooking. Figuring wet beans are always much better than dry, burnt beans, I poured the reserved water into the dish until it just barely covered the top layer of beans. Then sealed the baking dish with foil. That seemed to work just perfectly.

Woman Fights Off Bear with Zucchini

Stop it, lady! Hey! Ouch!

Many thanks to Heather who left a link this in our most recent Squash Baby post, asking if we planned to use our Squash Baby to fend off bears.

It’s true! A woman bested a bear with a squash. Witness this article on the website of Montana television news station, KXLH. See photos of the very zucchini which smote the bear! Admire the heroic collie, who was wounded in the fray! (but will be okay.) Marvel at the sturdy jeans worn by the Squash Warrior, torn by the bear’s fearsome claws.

And to answer Heather’s question, I have no doubt that Squash Baby could lay a bear flat, the only problem is that I’m not sure I have the upper body strength to swing it around! Good thing the only bears in our neighborhood are found in bars.

Backyard Rebirth

Our shack as spied by Google.

Our yard is a disaster. There’s some randomly planted natives, vegetable beds lying fallow after a mediocre summer and large areas of, well, nothing. However, this ongoing landscaping disaster brought a valuable lesson: sometimes it’s best to bring in someone from outside the household for design advice, particularly if that person knows what they are doing. Thank you Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms for being that person.

Yards develop emotional baggage and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Kolla came up with a lot of simple ideas that we would never have thought of in a million years. We’ll document the changes we make as we begin planting and hardscaping over the next few months (our quirky Mediterranean climate means that late fall is one of our prime planting seasons). Now, I gotta go fetch the machete.

Squash Baby’s Sibling

Squash Sibling sleeps tight under wire mesh and specious warnings

Mrs. Homegrown here:

A quick update on the squash baby circus. There’s a surprise addition to the family. In my first post, I said one of our two squashes had been stolen, leaving us with only one squash, which provoked Erik’s Guantanomoization of our front yard. In turns out there was a tiny 3rd baby hiding under a big leaf. We didn’t notice it for a while. But like zucchini, these things grow incredibly fast, so it became infant-sized in the blink of an eye. Erik fitted it with its very own chicken wire security blanket and positioned a warning sign right in front of it.

Squash Sibling measures 20 inches. The Original Squash Baby ™ is now a squash toddler, is holding at 36 inches, and requesting its own Twitter account.

Note of interest: Craig over at Garden Edibles, who sold Erik the squash baby seeds (Lunga di Napoli) points out that “Squash Baby” is really “Pumpkin Baby” — or perhaps “Punkin Baby”–because the Lunga di Napoli is, in fact, a pumpkin. A darned funny looking pumpkin.