Playing “Covered Wagon Days” with the grandkids

A little covered wagon, handmade in Mexico--this inexpensive E-bay find came with a tiny shovel, rifle, powder horn, barrel, and plow--everything a pioneer family might need.

A little covered wagon, handmade in Mexico–this inexpensive E-bay find came with a tiny shovel, rifle, powder horn, bucket, barrel, and plow–everything a pioneer family might need.

When I was growing up, I loved hearing my mother and aunt talk about their grandparents, Andrew Thomas and Louisa Caroline Hedrick, and their 1880 trip west in a covered wagon. The Thomas family went to the Red River country between Oklahoma and Texas, and lived with the Indians there for a year in Chickasaw territory. My great-grandmother had a baby there, but was too sick to nurse her baby. An Indian woman fed the baby mashed pumpkins and saved his life. My great-grandparents named their baby after the woman’s husband, Charley Horse. I am not making this up.

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I am a Slow Food aficionado, and believe in growing my own food, cooking from scratch, and preserving the harvest. I want to pass our food traditions and family history on to my four little grandchildren, so I decided to play “covered wagon days” with them on a couple of visits to our house.

Westward, ho!

Westward, ho!

Life in the 1880s was a far cry from today’s plugged-in and pre-packaged world. The grandkids love visiting my little urban “farmlet” with fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and even chickens! We play like we are farmers who are living in the late 1800s, going west by wagon train.

Allison, left, Megan, middle, and Lauren at the other end of the table.

Allison, left, Megan, middle of the table, and Lauren at the other end of the table. Mike was off in his own boy world, playing with toy cars and trucks.

I bought quite a few toy Breyer horses recently, with a barn and corral, so the kids could play farm-homestead-wagon train. The twins are 9 and have read “Little House on the Prairie” in school, so they were really ready for it. Megan is in second grade and loves to harvest produce and cook. Mike will be four next month, and prefers the plugged-in world of iPads, and mechanized toy cars and trucks. He is definitely a motorized modern boy. So I got him a toy horse trailer so he can play modern farmer.

My plan was to take pictures of us playing the various roles of homestead life, but the above pic is the only picture of the kids that I got. The rest of the time, it was a four-ring circus, no time for photography. So you will have to use your imagination as I attempt to walk you through our role playing, using photos taken after their visit.

Megan harvested all four of my tiny butternut squash, using clippers to cut the stems.

Megan harvested all four of my tiny butternut squash, using clippers to cut the stems.

First we have to harvest food from our farm before the long journey west. (Our pretend starting point is Indiana, where my great-grandparents lived, but I haven’t incorporated that little fact into our play yet. If the kids had any concept of west, they would think we were traveling into the Pacific Ocean!)

Dino-Peep, my hen who thinks she is a dinosaur.

Dino-Peep, my hen who thinks she is a dinosaur.

The kids all love feeding our three hens and gathering eggs, and that occupies quite a bit of their time. Megan probably likes harvesting more than the others.

Megan harvested limes and a lemon for herself--not exactly crops one would grow in Indiana.

Megan harvested limes and a lemon for herself–not exactly crops one would grow in Indiana.

Fall is apple season too. This is the first of our Fuji apple crop.

Fall is apple season too. This is the first of our Fuji apple crop.

On the trail, we had to build campfires before cooking any meals. I printed out photos of buffalo chips and scattered them around the living room. The girls thought it was really gross to pick up dried buffalo poop, but that is what was used for fuel on the treeless prairies. Hey, it was just PICTURES of buffalo poop.

A buffalo chip! They are about 8-10 inches across. Don't pick up the wet ones!

A buffalo chip! They are about 8-10 inches across. Don’t pick up the wet ones!

I hid a rubber rattlesnake under one of the end tables in the living room, and the kids had to avoid the rattlesnake while picking up the buffalo chips. My husband’s Irish greatgreatgrandmother Mary (Ryan) Kelly was bitten by a rattlesnake while living on the prairie in Iowa in the early 1850s. They lived in their covered wagons until the men got the first crops planted and then built a log cabin. His great-grandmother survived and went on to have many children, including his great-grandmother Nelly (Kelly) Brian.

midwestern USA --- Ada McColl pushing the wheelbarrow with buffalo chips for fuel on the plains with brother Burt McColl --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

midwestern USA — Ada McColl pushing the wheelbarrow with buffalo chips for fuel on the plains with brother Burt McColl — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The girls were amazed to learn about some of the differences in lifestyles before electricity and modern grocery stores.

I bought an antique coffee grinder from Goodwill. It actually works, and all four kids grind coffee beans for us.

I bought an antique coffee grinder from Goodwill. It actually works, and all four kids enjoyed grinding coffee beans for us.

I ramped up my sourdough started and we made sourdough pancakes.

I ramped up my sourdough starter the night before and we made sourdough pancakes. Here it is all nice and bubbly,

Did you know that baking powder wasn’t invented until about the mid 1800s, and not in common use until later that century? Our ancestors would have used sourdough for biscuits, pancakes and bread, all homemade and cooked over a campfire or in a fireplace before cast iron stoves because available.

This is a loaf of sourdough bread, ready to cook on my gas BBQ grill. It is too hot to use the oven in the house.

This is a loaf of sourdough bread, ready to cook on my gas BBQ grill. (It is too hot to use the oven in the house.) That was our pretend campfire.

A finished loaf of sourdough bread. I try to use cast iron cookware when we are playing pioneer days.

A finished loaf of sourdough bread. I try to use cast iron cookware when we are playing pioneer days.

I bought a pint of whipping cream and we made butter. First we pretended to milk our cow. Then I put the cream into a 1 qt glass jar and we all took turns shaking the jar. (I don’t have a butter churn, OK?) It was pretty amazing. First, it became whipped cream, and we all had a sample. After about 12 minutes of shaking, the whipped cream changed. Butter globules separated from the whey, aka buttermilk. I scooped the butter out, added some salt, and we all had fresh butter on crackers. It was delicious, and couldn’t have been fresher.

Even toys were different in pioneer times. My grandmother had a china head doll from her childhood in the late 1800s. These are reproductions that I bought at Goodwill.

Even toys were different in pioneer times. My grandmother had a china head doll from her childhood in the late 1800s. These are reproductions of a bisque head doll (left) and china head doll (right) that I bought at Goodwill.com, a great place for finding antiques and reproductions.

One of the things that we do is look at some of my things from times past, like family heirlooms that have been handed down.

This old whiskey jug belonged to my great-grandmother Mary Ann (Toliver) Williams.

This old whiskey jug belonged to my great-grandmother Mary Ann (Toliver) Williams.

This was my great-grandmother's cream pitcher.

This was my great-grandmother Mary Ann Williams’ cream pitcher.

Part of our role play is trading with the Indians. The kids’ parents kindly play the role of the Plains Indians. We traded some homemade cookies for some (cans of baked) beans one time, and traded for winter squash another. This helps to teach the beans, corn, and squash are New World foods, along with sunflower seeds, tomatoes, etc. We also trade for jerky, a great food from covered wagon days. The pioneers would have traded with the Indians, especially my great-grandparents who actually lived with them in Red River country.

We usually play with Native American artifacts like this beautiful drum.

We usually play with Native American artifacts like this beautiful drum.

I am part Native American on my father’s side, and I lecture about some of the old lifestyles of local southern California tribes. I have accumulated a number of musical instruments and encourage the kids to play with them. The grandkids are not only part Native American on their dad’s side from my ancestry, but from their maternal grandfather as well. In fact, on their maternal grandfather’s side, they trace back to Jamestown Colony days in the early 1600s to a daughter of Chief Powhatan, a half-sister of Pocohantas. One of the reasons that I do this role play is that I want to connect the grandkids with their interesting and varied cultural history.

From top to bottom, a clapper stick, a deer hoof rattle, a turtle rattle, and a flute.

From top to bottom, a clapper stick, a deer hoof rattle, a turtle rattle, and a flute.

The deer hoof rattle is the only artifact that I don’t let them play with because it has great cultural significance to the Kumeyaay of San Diego. It is used only for funerals. I have used mine at the funeral of my mother, and of my oldest son Bob, both of whom passed away ten years ago this year.

I am probably forgetting some of the fun things that we do while playing Covered Wagon Days, and I didn’t get out the many toy horses for a photo, but I think you get the idea. Do you enjoy this post? Do you pass on your family history to your descendants or relatives?

Civil War Days in Huntington Beach Central Park, Labor Day weekend 2015

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I should be posting about my harvests, or lack thereof, but I am taking a break from gardening for today’s post.

A terrific Civil War reenactment occurs every Labor Day weekend in Central Park across the street (more or less) from our house. When the big cannons go off, our house shakes. I like to walk over there to see the camps and the battles at least once over the weekend.

I take my photos with a Nikon D7100, then post-process them in Aperture with Topaz plug-ins. I treated some as sepia-toned black and whites, but left others as color, depending on the photo. I tried using the Topaz plug-in that makes the picture look like it was taken with a pinhole camera. (Pretty funny, using an expenive camera to get high quality shots, then deliberately blurring the pictures afterward.) I didn’t like that effect all that much, and I’m not sure that there are any in this batch of pics. Also, some of my Topaz processed pictures ended up as TIFF files, and I was unable to upload those shots.

Tents in the Confederate camp.

Tents in the Confederate camp.

Praying for victory. Both sides do that. Ironic, isn't it?

Praying for victory. Both sides do that. Ironic, isn’t it?

Guns at rest.

Guns at rest.

I had a lovely HDR version of this shot, but since I did it in post-processing, it was a TIFF file, which WordPress does not accept, apparently.

I had a lovely HDR version of this camp shot, but since I did the HDR in post-processing, it was a TIFF file, which WordPress does not accept.

The camps also have women--someone has to feed the troops. There were no C-rations or MREs back then.

The camps also have women–someone has to feed the troops. There were no C-rations or MREs back then. But I don’t seem to have photographed the women, just the food. 

But I don't seem to have photographed the women, just the food. The ladies, in costume, cooked over campfires.

The ladies, in costume, cooked over campfires. Part of the reenactment is to show life in the 1860s, and there were interesting demonstrations such as hair braiding and blacksmithing. Sadly, it was too hot for me to photograph everything I would have liked to.

Civilians in ante-bellum costume strolled around the park. I don't know how they stood wearing all of those long clothes, many made of wool, in the heat that always seems to be present on Labor Day weekend.

Civilians in ante-bellum costume strolled around the park between battles. I don’t know how they stood wearing those long bulky clothes, many made of wool, in the heat that always seems to be present on Labor Day weekend.

Comrades joked before battle.

Comrades joked before battle.

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I was able to grab some decent candid shots.

I was able to grab some decent candid shots.

Finally the battle begins. The Confederates led off with a massive assault.

Finally the battle begins. The Confederates led off with a massive assault. I wasn’t positioned to get shots of the cannons this year, but they are incredibly impressive when they go off.

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The Union soldiers fought back bravely.

The Union soldiers fought back bravely.

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But there were too many Confederates. Union soldiers fell right and left.

But there were too many Confederates. Union soldiers fell right and left.

 

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The Confederates fire more volleys.

The Confederates fired more volleys.

Doctors and nurses tend to the wounded, and carry off the dead on stretchers.

Doctors and nurses tended to the wounded, and carried off the dead on stretchers.

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A unit with the Union.

A unit with the Union.

The Union tries one more charge.

The Union tried one more charge.

But it is no use. The Union loses this battle. The reporter (with white satchel over his shoulder) takes notes for the Herald Dispatch.

But it was no use. The Union lost this battle. The reporter (with white satchel over his shoulder) took notes for the Herald Dispatch.

The reporter is a character who shows up every year.

The reporter is a character who shows up every year.

Some old-fashioned entertainment. There were musicians of various kinds, all playing tunes from the 1800s in between battles.

There were musicians of various kinds, all playing tunes from the 1800s in between battles. The whole event is marvelously entertaining. And free.

And thus ended another glorious afternoon, reliving history. Hope you enjoyed the photos. I wish I had been able to go both days, but we had the beef from our 4H steer delivered yesterday, and I needed to inventory the chest freezer and store the beef. I will save that tale for another post.

A surprisingly unproductive end of August garden, 2015

This summer has been relatively hot and humid for coastal southern California. Temps have climbed into the 80s nearly every day, indoors and out. We don’t have air conditioning. Normally, it isn’t needed except for two weeks in August when we get monsoonal flows up from Mexico. For us, they usually bring heat and humidity, but no rain. This year, that two week period has lasted for two months now, and even gave us some rain in July. That rain was a precious surprise, and I was able to collect some in my rain barrels.

I continue tending and monitoring my little garden. And finally, it is beginning to produce something. Mostly from my food forest of trees, not the veggie beds. Due to the drought, I let my front yard beds go fallow after the onion and garlic harvest, giving it just enough water to keep the kale alive.

We are finally getting some food from the yard. Here are limes and the first of the Fuji apples.

We are finally getting some food from the yard. Here are limes and the first of the Fuji apples.

The Asian pears did well this year. I still have a lot of pears up high in the tree, out of my reach. Do I dare climb a ladder at my age? Sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?

The Asian pears did well this year. I still have a lot of pears up high in the tree, out of my reach. Do I dare climb a ladder at my age? Sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?

Part of my Slow Food philosophy is growing my own food and cooking from scratch. I have been making blueberry scones, bagels, and bread. And I have even been using old fashioned sourdough for some of my baked goods, mostly pancakes. Hmm, can we call pancakes “baked goods?”

Here is a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread. It is too hot in August to turn on the oven, so I bake bread on our gas BBQ grill in a cast iron Dutch oven round pot without the lid. The grill has a thermometer in the lid, so I just keep checking the temp and adjusting the gas jets as needed. I turn off the center burner and bake over the center to keep from scorching the bottom of the bread. I usually start the bread at about 450 degrees F, and adjust down to 375 for 45 minutes. I get wonderfully crusty bread.

I have rejuvenated a fabulous sourdough starter from my friend Margaret Carlberg. She had kept it going since 1959. I have had it five years, and it is a great starter.

I have rejuvenated a fabulous sourdough starter from my friend Margaret Carlberg. She had kept it going since 1959. I have had it five years, and it is a great starter. Here is a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread.

Here are some of my homemade Bread and Butter pickles that I put into a tuna salad.

Here are some of my homemade Bread and Butter pickles that I put into a tuna salad.

Some of those apples and pears mixed with blueberries go well on a pile of cottage cheese. Add a tuna sandwich on home baked sourdough bread and you have a Slow Food lunch.

Some of those apples and pears mixed with blueberries go well on a pile of cottage cheese. Add a tuna sandwich on home baked sourdough bread and you have a Slow Food lunch.

Mostly I just sit on the deck in the morning and admire my garden, wondering if I am ever going to get any vegetables this year.

An overview of my three veggie beds in the back yard. They sure are looking lush. Too bad that there is nothing to harvest from them. Yet.

An overview of my three veggie beds in the back yard. They sure are looking lush. Too bad that there is nothing to harvest from them. Yet.

The tomatoes have a lot of blossoms on them. We haven't had many honeybees this year, and no bumblebees, so I flick the flowers every morning to help them get pollinated.

The tomatoes have a lot of blossoms on them. We haven’t had many honeybees this year, and no bumblebees, so I flick the flowers every morning to help them get pollinated.

It's working! There are tomatoes set on the Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Big Boy, and Better Boy Plants.

It’s working! There are tomatoes set on the Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Big Boy, and Better Boy Plants.

There are tomatoes on the Roma plants as well, but I'm going to have trouble making marinara sauce with just two tomatoes.

There are tomatoes on the Roma plants as well, but I’m going to have trouble making marinara sauce with just two tomatoes.

The cucumber voices are growing rampant, topping their support system.

The cucumber voices are growing rampant, topping their support system.

The cucumber plants are positively loaded with BIG male blossoms, prettiest I've ever seen.

The cucumber plants are positively loaded with BIG male blossoms, prettiest I’ve ever seen.

But the darn female cucumber flowers were;t getting fertilized. I finally resorted to hand pollination. It worked for one out of four female flowers, this one.

But the darn female cucumber flowers were’t getting fertilized. I finally resorted to hand pollination. It worked for one out of four female flowers, this one.

I saw a honeybee in the garden, so let nature take its course and finally got a second duke fertilized. Unless production picks up, there won't be enough to make pickles.

I saw a honeybee in the garden, so let nature take its course and finally got a second cuke fertilized. Unless production picks up, there won’t be enough to make pickles though.

I have ONE Ping Tung Long eggplant that got fertilized. It is a new variety to me as I usually grow Ichiban eggplants. This year my Ichiban has nothing on it after I picked the first eggplant from it.

I have ONE Ping Tung Long eggplant that got fertilized. It is a new variety to me as I usually grow Ichiban eggplants. This year my Ichiban has nothing on it after I picked the first eggplant from it. Well, summer isn’t over yet.

This handsome row of green beans is towering over my head, but there is not one single flower on the bean vines. Yet.

This handsome row of green beans is towering over my head, but there is not one single flower on the bean vines. Yet.

I also planted a row of Little Goat’s Eye beans and Eye of Goat beans. Both resulted in crop failure. I got ONE sprout from the row of Eye of Goat beans, and a critter ate it before I could even photograph the poor thing. Yep, we’re gonna starve this winter for sure.

I transplanted red cabbage in January, but we had a REALLY warm winter. The cabbages STILL haven't headed up. This is the best so far, a cabbage head the size of a grapefruit.

I transplanted red cabbage in January, but we had a REALLY warm winter. The cabbages STILL haven’t headed up. This is the best so far, a cabbage head the size of a grapefruit.

The bell peppers are coming along. They will produce well into winter, so I have my fingers crossed for getting some harvest from these guys.

The bell peppers are coming along. They will produce well into winter, so I have my fingers crossed for getting some harvest from these guys.

I got four butternuts out of six plants. Pretty pathetic. And I have never seen such small butternuts.

I got four butternuts out of six plants. Pretty pathetic. And I have never seen such small butternuts.

My Granny Smith apples are doing well. Some of the apples are huge and some aren't much bigger than golf balls.

My Granny Smith apples are doing well. Some of the apples are huge and some aren’t much bigger than golf balls.

This is the first year I have gotten apples from my little Fuji apple tree. They are tiny but delicious.

This is the first year I have gotten apples from my little Fuji apple tree. They are tiny but delicious.

I pulled the leaves off of my apple trees last November because they aren’t falling naturally on their own with our warm winters. Apples require a lot of winter chill, which we didn’t get last year. The trick of pulling off the leaves sends the apple trees into dormancy. It worked! I am getting a decent apple harvest this year despite a too-warm winter last year.

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Here is a different view of the veggie beds.

A late August overview of my three little beds, looking north. The chicken coop is behind me.

A late August overview of my three little beds, looking north. The chicken coop is behind me.

So that is the state of my garden in late August. I love looking at it, walking between the little beds, admiring new flowers on the veggies, bemoaning the fact that so few flowers are resulting in set fruit. I collect rain in barrels and maintain two compost bins where I compost all of the leaves from our two deciduous liquid amber trees in front. I am doing my bit in my own tiny little corner of the world to grow food in a changing climate, maintain hens, cook from scratch, and live a green life.

Progress in the garden despite an extreme drought, August 10, 2015

One of my green activities is saving rainwater to use on my garden and potted plants. That is kind of hard to do when it isn’t raining. And it generally doesn’t rain in southern California from mid April to October. Except….

It rained in JULY this year!!! Amazing. It never does that. Global weirding.

It rained in JULY this year!!! Amazing. It never does that. Global weirding.

I save rainwater that falls from a gutter and downspout into 3 rain barrels hooked in series. They were still pretty full because I tend to use that water mainly to water my compost bins (another “green” activity). So I put this temporary diverter under the downspout to divert the water to a 20-gallon Rubbermaid trash barrel. It filled up pretty fast, so I used a bucket to transfer water from the barrel to an empty one. I did that three times before it stopped raining. I also had four other barrels under dripping eaves, but they didn’t collect as much water.

I was able to save over 100 gallons of unexpected rain from Hurricane Delores on top of what was still in storage from spring rains. I know, it’s just a drop in the bucket. But every bucket helps, considering that we save the water from running the tap to get hot water in the shower. We use that water to flush the low-flow toilet. We are also turning the tap off in the shower while we soap up between getting the initial getting wet and rinsing off. By using these conservation measures, we are able to keep our fruit trees alive and maintain our vegetable beds, all while using a mere 60 gallons per person, per day. Pre-drought average usage was about 120 gallons of water per person, per day, but almost everyone is conserving now. This has reduced average usage in our area to about 80 gallons per person, per day.

But enough of our drought crisis. We still have a great garden. Well, an interesting one anyway.

The scarlet runner beans are blooming nicely, but surprisingly, no beans have set yet.

The scarlet runner beans are blooming nicely, but surprisingly, no beans have set yet.

I planted a row each of Eye of Goat and Little Goat dry beans. Out of those two rows, one bean sprouted. ONE bean. I was going to photograph it, but something ate it before I could get a photo. Bummer.

We battle constantly against the night critters, like this juvenile possum.

We battle constantly against the night critters, like this juvenile possum.

This is the entire 2014 crop from my Garden Gold ultra dwarf peach tree.

This is the entire 2014 crop from my Garden Gold ultra dwarf peach tree.

These five Asian pears were the last of the pears from my grafted Asian pear tree. I still have quite a few pears on my Shinseiki Asian pear tree that need to be harvested.

These five Asian pears were the last of the pears from my grafted Asian pear tree. I still have quite a few pears on my Shinseiki Asian pear tree that need to be harvested.

I made a batch of blueberry scones from scratch.

I made a batch of blueberry scones from scratch.

We had scones for breakfast along with fruit from our garden (Asian pears and the peach) on cottage cheese.

We had scones for breakfast along with fruit from our garden (Asian pears and the peach) on cottage cheese.

Mean, nasty DinoPeep is laying well. Old Chicken Little is still laying, but only about three eggs a week. Lazy Miss Hillary is molting and not laying at all. Bottom line is that we are getting enough eggs for now from our little

Mean, nasty DinoPeep is laying well. Old Chicken Little is still laying, but only about three eggs a week. Lazy Miss Hillary is molting and not laying at all. Bottom line is that we are getting enough eggs for now from our little “farm.”

Veggie bed #3 has tomatoes, bell peppers, collards, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and radishes.

Veggie bed #3 has tomatoes, bell peppers, collards, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, and radishes.

I have four female flowers on my surviving cucumber plants. Birds devastated the cuke row before I got some netting over this bed.

I have four female flowers on my surviving cucumber plants. Birds devastated the cuke row before I got some netting over this bed.

Bed #2 has tomatoes, an eggplant, green beans, a cabbage, dill, and some dying basil.

Bed #2 has tomatoes, an eggplant, green beans, a cabbage, crookneck yellow squash, dill, and some dying basil.

This big, fat, tomato hornworm ate the tops off of my tallest Roma tomato before I discovered and dispatched it.

This big, fat, tomato hornworm ate the tops off of my tallest Roma tomato before I discovered and dispatched it.

Bed # 1 has tomatoes, peppers, collards, and an eggplant.

Bed # 1 has tomatoes, peppers, collards, cabbage and an eggplant.

I FINALLY got a harvest of some summer vegetables. This was it.

I FINALLY got a harvest of some summer vegetables. This was it.

You’d think that my garden is now in full production. Wrong. (The pathetically tiny harvest above is the sum total of my summer veggie production.) This is the only zucchini from my three big plants, with no female flowers anywhere near ready to fertilize. Then the plants flopped over, effectively smothering the carrots and radishes. VBS. The yellow crookneck squash shows no signs of producing any  squash, and one of those two plants up and died for no good reason. We don’t have squash borers (knock on wood).

I got ONE Better Boy tomato and four little yellow pear tomatoes. There are no other tomatoes getting ripe, and hardly any have even set fruit. This is my entire eggplant crop so far. I have a Ping Tung Long and an Ichiban. Neither one have set any fruit other than the tiny one above. So maybe we’re going to starve after all.

Without any August produce to harvest and preserve, I mainly sit on my deck and watch the garden grow.

Without any August produce to harvest and preserve, I mainly sit on my deck and watch the garden grow.

I love this little piggie planter from Mexico. I call him El Señor Puerco. Now how many people name their planters?

I love this little piggie planter from Mexico. I call him El Señor Puerco. Now how many people name their planters?

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia

Coneflowers

Coneflowers

Bromeliad

Blooming Bromeliad

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird

A rose

A rose

One solution to having a pretty garden during a drought is to grow succulents in colorful pots.

One solution to having a pretty garden during a drought is to grow a variety of succulents in colorful pots.

This is one of my newest planters of succulents, with a red bromeliad in the background.

This is one of my newest planters of succulents, with a red bromeliad in the background.

I am rapidly going through the rest of the water in the rain barrels, and have emptied at least 8 of them. I still have about 150 gallons remaining. Bring on El Nino!!!

And that is my update.

Harvest for the week ending August 9

FRUIT

12 oz Asian Pear, grafted tree

6 oz limes

2 oz Peach, Garden Gold

subtotal fruit 1 lb 4 oz

VEGETABLES

2 oz bell pepper

1 oz Eggplant, Ichiban

1 lb 5 oz Garlic (not pictured)

11 oz summer squash, zucchini

4 oz Tomato

subtotal veggies  3 lbs 3 oz

TOTAL HARVEST 4 lbs 7 oz produce plus 11 eggs

Growing a garden for the soul, 28 July 2015

I grow much more than food in my garden. I also garden for my soul. I love to sit on our back deck in the morning with a cup of coffee (several cups in succession, actually) and watch the action in my back garden.

This is the sitting area on the deck. My favorite chair is the one on the right, still in shadow.

This is the sitting area on our deck. My favorite chair is the one on the right, still in shadow and hard to see. It stays cool there until about noon.

From my comfy chair, I can watch the parade of butterflies, bees, paper wasps, and birds go by. I can see the huge non-native Green Fig Beetles circling my tomatoes, looking for a spot to get in under the netting. And if they happen to get their legs tangled in the netting, I whap them with my shoe. That is called “mechanical control” in the parlance of an organic gardener. :-) I have dispatched three so far. I think there is only one left in the neighborhood, and I hope it gets tangled up soon enough.

This is the view from my chair, looking to the west. This is a great place to enjoy the cool mornings before the sun heats things up.

This is the view from my chair, looking to the west. This is a great place to enjoy the cool mornings before the sun heats things up.

The herb garden with bird bath in the center has sage and sorrel in it at present. I feed the sorrel to the chickens.

The herb garden with bird bath in the center is to the left (south) of the veggie beds. It has only sage and sorrel in it at present. I feed the sorrel to the chickens.

The chicken coop is to the left (south) of the herb garden. Fruit trees grow beyond.

The chicken coop is to the left (south) of the herb garden. Fruit trees grow beyond.

We are down to three hens, but two of them are laying, so we are good in the egg department.

We are down to three hens, but two of them are laying, so we are good in the egg department. The girls are enjoying a new layer of pine shavings in their outdoor run. They love to dig in the dirt, looking for the scratch that I scatter for them as a treat.

I like watching my veggies grow. This bed is the most recently planted one. I have nets over all three beds to keep the birds out. They had been eating my lettuce, peas, green beans, and even the cucumber leaves.

I like watching my veggies grow. This bed is the most recently planted one. I have nets over all three beds to keep the birds out. They had been eating my lettuce, peas, green beans, and even the cucumber leaves.

This is bed #2, the first one I planted this summer. It is looking lush, but not producing anything yet.

This is bed #2, the first one I planted this summer. It is looking lush, but is not producing anything ready to harvest yet. Later.

Bed #1 was planted after bed #2, and is coming along nicely. It had room for a row of beans, so I planted some pole beans.

Bed #1 was planted after bed #2, and is coming along nicely. It had room for a row of beans, so I planted some pole beans.

This is a bean called Ojo de Capra, Eye of Goat. I got the seeds from Native Seed Search. I haven't grown them before. I planted them late in the season, so who knows if I will get a crop or not. It's an experiment, like much of my gardening.

This is a bean called Ojo de Capra, Eye of Goat. I got the seeds from Native Seed Search. I haven’t grown them before. I planted them late in the season, so who knows if I will get a crop or not. It’s an experiment, like much of my gardening.

I planted a row of Frijol Chivita (Little Goat Beans) in bed #3. Again, it's late in the season, and the seeds were old, so who knows if they will even sprout.

I planted a row of Frijol Chivita (Little Goat Beans) in bed #3. Again, it’s late in the season, and the seeds were old, so who knows if they will even sprout.

See those dirty hands? Those are the hands of a happy gardener. The outside of a garden is good for the inside of a gardener.

I have four Butternut squash that have set fruit. Three were hand-pollinated. There were male flowers open on the same day as the female flower for the fourth squash, so I let nature take its course. It appears to be pollinated, but I'm not positive yet. I don't see any more female flowers, so this may be my entire harvest, four Butternut squash.

I have four Butternut squash that have set fruit. Three were hand-pollinated. There were male flowers open on the same day as the female flower for the fourth squash, so I let nature take its course. It appears to be pollinated, but I’m not positive yet. I don’t see any more female flowers, so this may be my entire harvest, four Butternut squash.

The three zucchini plants have a lot of male flower buds, and I can see one female bud. I have my fingers crossed for getting some summer squash before summer is over.

The three zucchini plants have a lot of male flower buds, and I can see one female bud. I have my fingers crossed for getting some summer squash before summer is over.

This is just some of the damage that the birds did before I got netting over bed #3. I transplanted 8 cucumber vines, but the birds seem to have eaten the growth end off of about five of them. VBS.

This is just some of the damage that the birds did before I got netting over bed #3. I transplanted 8 cucumber vines, but the birds seem to have eaten the growth end off of about five of them. VBS.

I had some spider plants that weren't doing well in pots in this west-facing sunny spot, so I replaced them with pots of Penta, marigolds, and Lantana. That's right, a mini-garden for butterflies and bees.

I had some spider plants that weren’t doing well in pots in this west-facing sunny spot, so I replaced them with pots of Penta, marigolds, and Lantana. That’s right, a mini-garden for butterflies and bees.

I also put some pots of coneflower and Rudbeckia on the deck, and planted more bloodflower milkweed, all for the butterflies. I now get a colorful parade of butterflies in back: Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Cloudless Sulfurs, Mourning Cloaks, Fiery Skippers, White Cabbage Butterflies (a non-native pest, but still pretty), and an occasional Tiger Swallowtail.

I think this is a Funeral Duskywing, but it might be a dark Fiery Skipper.

I think this is a Funeral Duskywing, but it might be a dark Fiery Skipper.

A Gulf Fritillary on a marigold in my new hanging basket pollinator garden.

A Gulf Fritillary on a marigold in my new hanging basket pollinator garden.

One of the many Monarchs in our yard.

One of the many Monarchs in our yard.

And here is a Monarch with its wings a bit more spread.

And here is a Monarch with its wings a bit more spread.

I like to do "yard patrol," looking at what has sprouted. This time it is radishes and carrots.

I like to do “yard patrol,” looking at what has sprouted. This time it is radishes and carrots.

I don't know if this will show up or not, but it is supposed to be a picture of a female Western Fence lizard. We also have males in the yard, and I assume that they are reproducing. At this point, they outnumber the Southern Alligator Lizards in our yard, which is a National Wildlife Federation certified backyard habitat.

I don’t know if this will show up or not, but it is supposed to be a picture of a female Western Fence lizard on the rock to the right. We also have males in the yard, and I assume that they are reproducing. At this point, they outnumber the Southern Alligator Lizards in our yard, which is a National Wildlife Federation certified backyard habitat.

The hummingbirds are very happy that I have finally cleaned and refilled the feeders for them. The male Allen's hummingbirds fight over the feeders. "Mine"! "No, mine, get away!" Silly birds. There are three feeders, enough for everyone. They aren't into sharing.

The hummingbirds are very happy that I have finally cleaned and refilled the feeders for them. The male Allen’s hummingbirds fight over the feeders. “Mine!” “No, mine, get away!” Silly birds. There are three feeders, enough for everyone. Apparently they aren’t into sharing.

We get a daily visitation from House Sparrows and House Finches. A family of Mourning Doves nested nearby, as did a family of Hooded Orioles, and we see them frequently. We get visits from Common Bushtits, Common Yellowthroats, and Black Phoebes. Gulls fly overhead, soaring in lazy circles. Crows fly purposefully from one spot to another. We get occasional Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, and Canada Geese traveling over our house.

There is always something to see and hear, always something to enjoy from our back deck, even if there is very little to harvest in the way of vegetables.

Maybe we won’t starve after all–July 21, 2015

There is hope for my summer garden. I finally found the energy to plant veggie bed #3. And just in the nick of time for it to enjoy a surprise rainfall. I say surprise because coastal southern California normally gets 0.01 inches of rain for the month of July. Right, it NEVER rains in southern California. But as the song goes, but when it rains, man it pours.

Hurricane Delores shifted direction on its way up from Baja a few days ago, and dumped nearly an inch of rain on southern California. Some areas got more, as in flash flooding, with roads and bridges washed out. In fact, Interstate 10 between California and Arizona got a bridge washed out and is closed indefinitely. Mud and rockslides closed other roads. And yet just days before, wildfires had closed the I-15 at Cajon Pass, burning 20 cars as the flames swept over the freeway. We live in interesting times.

Newly planted veggie bed #3 on July 17, with transplanted tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers, with mesclun, carrots and radishes from seed.

Newly planted veggie bed #3 on July 17, with transplanted tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and cucumbers, with mesclun, carrots and radishes planted from seed. There are also three big collard green plants that are going into their third summer and still producing.

My garden experienced none of those disasters. It just got a nice gentle rain over the course of two days. The timing couldn’t have been better as I had just planted  veggie bed #3.

Here is veggie bed #3 in the foreground, with #2 and #1 in the background.

Here is veggie bed #3 in the foreground, with #2 and #1 in the background, on July 21.

Here is bed #3 from a different angle, with zucchini in the foreground.

Here is bed #3 from a different angle, with zucchini in the foreground.

I planted some French Breakfast radishes in the carrot rows to mark the rows. The mesclun has also sprouted, but not the carrots. Yet.

I planted some French Breakfast radishes in the carrot rows to mark the rows. The mesclun has also sprouted, but not the carrots. Yet.

In my last post, I was worried that we were going to starve because the male flowers were  blooming out of sync with the female flowers, and none of the female bud had gotten fertilized. Well, I took matters into my own hands. When this female flower opened, the male flowers had closed the day before. I stripped the petals off the male flower and used the old stamens to fertilize the pistols of this squash bud. It looks like it worked.

Hand-fertilized butternut squash on July 17.

Hand-fertilized butternut squash on July 17.

Here it is today, July 21. Yep, it got fertilized. It looks like it will have a nice long neck too. That is the best part.

Here it is today, July 21. Yep, it got fertilized. It looks like it will have a nice long neck too. That is the best part.

This is the third butternut that I have hand-fertilized. The male and female flowers are still blooming out of sync. With six plants, you'd think that they would have the common decency to open a male and a female flower on the same day. But not so far.

This is the third butternut that I have hand-fertilized. The male and female flowers are still blooming out of sync. With six plants, you’d think that they would have the common decency to open a male and a female flower on the same day. But not so far.

I have a nice row of scarlet runner beans coming along.

I have a nice row of scarlet runner beans coming along.

The first vine to grab hold of the trellis is now up to my eye level. They don't really take off until they can latch onto something to climb up. I am carefully training each vine up a metal post or a string. So far, I have no red blossoms from them, much less a bean.

The first vine to grab hold of the trellis is now up to my eye level. They don’t really take off until they can latch onto something to climb up. I am carefully training each vine up a metal post or a string. So far, I have no red blossoms from them, much less a bean.

Veggie bed #2 has been in the ground for two weeks and is growing like crazy. I have tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, Blue Lake pole green beans and yellow squash in this bed.

Veggie bed #2 has been in the ground for two weeks and is growing like crazy. I have tomatoes, bell peppers, basil, Blue Lake pole green beans and yellow squash in this bed.

Two tiny Roma tomatoes have set fruit. I also have a couple of Yellow Pear and a couple of Better Boy tomatoes that have set fruit.

Two tiny Roma tomatoes have set fruit. I also have a couple of Yellow Pear and a couple of Better Boy tomatoes that have set fruit.

This is veggie bed #1, with an old collard green plant, a couple of red cabbage that I planted in january that STILL haven't made heads, some tomatoes and bell peppers, and a dill plant.

This is veggie bed #1, with an old collard green plant, a couple of red cabbage that I planted in january that STILL haven’t made heads, some tomatoes and bell peppers, and a dill plant.

This is my best head of red cabbage so far. It is between the size of a baseball and a softball. Not very impressive. But it is almost as big as the red cabbage being shown at the Orange County Fair. Looks like no one here got good cabbage this year with our hot winter.

This is my best head of red cabbage so far. It is between the size of a baseball and a softball. Not very impressive. But it is almost as big as the red cabbage being shown at the Orange County Fair. Looks like no one here got good cabbage this year with our hot winter.

This is my view from my deck, looking west over my tiny garden. The green wall behind the beds is the back edge of our property. Not much space.

This is my view from my deck, looking west over my tiny garden. The green wall behind the beds is the back edge of our property. Not much space.

My herb garden is just to the south of the veggie beds, and the chicken coop is south of that.

My herb garden is just to the south of the veggie beds (which are out of sight to the right), and the chicken coop is south (left) of that. Yes, the chicken coop has art work hanging on it. It also has a solar light.

The good news is that Chicken Little decided that she would lay more eggs this summer. And Dino-Peep, my little Velociraptor that masquerades as a chicken, continues to lay an egg a day. So we are once again flush with eggs, even though lazy Miss Hillary has gone into molt and isn’t laying.

So the good news is that I have hopes of getting a harvest from my late-planted summer garden, especially since we got that miracle rain. I rushed around in the downpour and set up my rain barrels that I had already emptied.  I managed to collect and store about 300+ gallons. Whoopee! That’s what living a green life is all about.

My midsummer garden is no dream, July 15 2015

So far, my female butternut squash flowers have not been fertilized. They get a short window of time to be pollenated, and it takes an open male flower and and open female flower and a willing pollinator. So far that hasn’t happened and three female flowers have come and gone without being fertilized. My squash flowers are blooming out of sync.

This was a perfect female flowers, but alas and alack, it didn't get pollinated.

This was a perfect female flower, but alas and alack, it didn’t get pollinated.

Yesterday, I had four beautiful male butternut squash blossoms open. But no female flowers.

Male butternut blossoms were open yesterday.

Male butternut blossoms were open yesterday.

The female butternut flowers weren't open.

But the female butternut flowers weren’t open yet.

I was hoping that maybe a bee would pick up some pollen yesterday, but there wasn’t a honeybee in sight.

Today, two lovely female butternut blossoms opened. But the male flowers had closed already. We’re gonna starve this winter.

Our of desperation, I opened up two spent male blossoms and rubbed the anthers against the stamens of the open female squash blossoms. I figured old pollen might be better than no pollen. Time will tell.

Veggie bed # 2, the first one to get planted this year.

Veggie bed # 2, the first one to get planted this year. 

I have been dealing with a variety of health issues since June 1. An abscessed molar led to a gut infection. I was on three different antibiotics, and FINALLY had surgery to remove the offending tooth (after seeing three dentists–my primary dentist, the root canal guy who said it couldn’t be saved, and then the oral surgeon). Then I had to recover from surgery, which at my age (72) isn’t as easy as it used to be. I just don’t bounce back like a kid anymore. So I am just now getting around to planting my summer garden. I did the middle bed first, about 10 days ago.

The plants have recovered from being transplanted, and are growing nicely.

The plants have recovered from being transplanted, and are growing nicely. Bed #2 has tomatoes, a Japanese eggplant, basil, dill, a row of Blue Lake pole green beans, a couple of yellow squash plants, and a red cabbage left over from winter that still hasn’t headed up. I hope that there is enough summer left for these plants to produce food.I am hoping for an eggplant soon. One little eggplant. Is that too much to ask?

I am hoping for an eggplant soon. One little eggplant. Is that too much to ask?

Our of eight cabbage transplants, we have harvested zero heads. This puny head is about the size of a baseball. I keep hoping it will grow bigger.

Out of eight cabbage transplants, we have harvested zero heads. This puny head is about the size of a baseball. I keep hoping it will grow bigger.

The pole beans have sprouted, but it will be quite a while before we get any beans. That is assuming that the birds don't get to the plants first. I have netting over the garden beds this year and that is helping.

The pole beans have sprouted, but it will be quite a while before we get any beans. That is assuming that the birds don’t get to the plants first. I have netting over the garden beds this year and that is helping.

The trick of pulling leaves off the apple trees in the fall (because it was too warm here this winter for them to fall naturally) seems to have worked. We have about 30 Fuji apples.

The trick of pulling leaves off the apple trees in the fall (because it was too warm here this winter for them to fall naturally) seems to have worked. We have about 30 Fuji apples.

But in the crazy weather = crazy garden category, my Granny Smith apple tree is blooming again in mid July. Ditto one of my Asian pears.

But in the crazy weather = crazy garden category, my Granny Smith apple tree is blooming again in mid July. Ditto one of my Asian pear trees.

And in the "we're gonna starve" category, here is my grape crop. These are supposed to be Red Flame Seedless grapes, but they are tinier than currants. FAIL.

And in the “we’re gonna starve” category, here is my grape crop. These are supposed to be Red Flame Seedless grapes, but they are tinier than currants. FAIL.

Two of my remaining three hens are molting and not laying. This is Miss Hillary, who has never been a good layer anyway. Her comb isn't even red, so she is probably done laying for the year.

Two of my remaining three hens are molting and not laying. This is Miss Hillary, who has never been a good layer anyway. Her comb isn’t even red, so she is probably done laying for the year. Yep, we’re gonna starve.

Chicken Little at nine years of age is too old to lay much. She may also be done for the year.

Chicken Little at nine years of age is too old to lay much. She may also be done for the year.

Dino-peep is the nasty  hen that attacks me every chance she gets. She is our only producer right now, so egg production is way down. Here she is, hard at work.

Dino-peep is the nasty hen that attacks me every chance she gets. She is our only producer right now, so egg production is way down. Here she is, hard at work.

Our Asian pear trees are doing themselves proud this year, with a bumper crop of about 60-70 pears.

Our Asian pear trees are doing themselves proud this year, with a bumper crop of about 60-70 pears.

The avocado tree has set a record 60 avocados this year. Maybe we won't starve after all.

The avocado tree has set a record 60 avocados this year. Maybe we won’t starve after all.

I planted veggie bed #1 a few days ago. It has tomatoes, bell peppers, an old collard plant, and some cheerful marigolds.

I planted veggie bed #1 a few days ago. It has tomatoes, bell peppers, a ping tung long eggplant, an old collard plant, and some cheerful marigolds.

I have purchased the plants to go into bed #1, but so far I have lacked the energy to dig up the bed. One of these days I will get around to doing that.

I need to add up my 2015 harvest poundage. I record the harvests in my garden diary, but haven’t entered the numbers into Excel yet. However, I don’t see this as being a banner year for either vegetables or eggs. Fruits have been doing OK, even though the possums, birds, and rats got the nectarines and peaches, and the plum tree didn’t produce. I have my hopes pinned on my Asian pear, avocado, apple, and citrus trees. Gee, isn’t growing our own food fun?