Tomato Start In My Kitchen

I have aspirations to grow great tomatoes, thick heirloom slicers and rich San Marzanos for canning. To date, my greatest success has been the small cherry tomatoes, sadly, not a favorite of my home-sharing posse. Thanks to a gift subscription to Mother Earth News from my mother-in-law, I read a great article in the January 2013 issue, “Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors” and put the tips to the test. The result is a lovely crop of tomato starts: San Marzanos; the heirlooms: Persimmon, deep orange and reportedly sweet; Black Krim, a “black” tomato from the Russian Black Sea area; & Costoluto, a traditional red slicer from Italy. I will transplant these into larger containers, let them recuperate, then harden them off before planting them outside.

Glancing at my notebook, I found this passage written on 1.19.13, when I first planted the seeds, a collection from Renee’s Seeds called Heirloom Summer Feast:

I love the description Heirloom Summer Feast. I imagine a deliciously hot summer, the heat breaking in the early evening, perhaps salty skin recently returned home from the beach. Smiles. Lethargic limbs happily made tired from an ocean swim. A pitcher of lemonade, ice clanking on the sides, fresh mint swirling. A plate of tomatoes, the orange persimmons, the beefy red of the Costoluto and the dark purple of the Black Krim, sliced evenly on a plate, a drizzle of olive oil, crunchy salt flakes and a bit of pepper.

Please grow.

Handmade Dolls by Kids

My oldest son set to the task of making gifts for his brother and cousins. I pulled out some canvas fabric scraps, backed them with freezer paper to make it more stable and got out some fabric markers. My son did the rest.

After the pictures were drawn, I ironed them to set them. My oldest son picked out some fabric for the backing. I sewed the two sides together, right sides facing, turned them inside out, and we stuffed them. My oldest son really enjoyed giving gifts.

The dolls were very well received.

One for his cousin:

And two dolls that quickly became pillows for princesses:

Grub Mystery Solved

Thanks to everyone who helped us with the compost grub mystery. It turns out they are larval green fruit beetles. I have seen the beetles around the yard before and wondered if they were friend or foe. It turns out they are pretty much neutral. They eat fruit but can’t do much harm unless the fruit is overripe or bird damaged. I’ll let the grubs stay and break down the compost although I think the raccoons or, more likely, skunks are rooting through our pile looking for them.

Ramshackle reader Josh says that his ducks and chickens love to eat them. He sent us this link to the Natural History Museum’s entomology research page on the Green Fruit Beetle. Thanks Josh!

Ramshackle reader katastrophik pointed us to whatsthatbug.com where the bug guy (Daniel) dropped this knowledge:

Hi Eric,

Congratulations. You have Crawly-Backs. Charles Hogue indicates in

his wonderful book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, that the grubs
of the Green Fruit Beetle or Figeater, are called Crawly-Backs. He
writes: “The adults are active from late summer to early fall and,
during this period, lay their eggs in compost piles and other
accumulations of decomposing plant litter. The larvae are fairly
large (2 in., or 50 mm, long) and C-shaped; the body is pale
translucent white, and the head is dark brown. The first two molts
are completed in the fall, the third the following spring. Larvae
move forward on their backs with an undulating motion of the entire
body. They obtain purchase on the substratum with transverse rows of
stiff short stout bristles on the back of the thorax. Because of the
peculiar manner of locomotion, they are known as ‘crawly-backs.'” The
adults are beautiful metallic green beetles that have a loud buzzing
flight.

Have your own bug identification question? You may want to ask the bug guy.

And, of course, once you know what you are looking for, there is always wikipedia.

Making Acorn Flour


You can read lots of advice about making acorn flour by searching online. Kelly and Erik from Homegrown Evolution have an excellent section on it in their book, The Urban Homestead, which, if you haven’t bought already you should right now. I made a few batches this time last year, before the book came out and what worked best is pretty much exactly what they describe. I wish I had the book then.

1. Collect your acorns.
Avoid anything that has a damaged shell, especially a dark hole or small circular scar on it about the diameter of a pencil lead. Those acorns have worms in them and are no good.

2. Shell the acorns.
This was the most time consuming part for me. I learned a trick for shelling acorns toward the end of last year’s season: When dry, many will open themselves. I’m not sure if this is true of other types of acorns but our Live Oaks pop right open when dried out. If you wait for them to dry out, make sure that they get plenty of air, you don’t want them to rot. If you have a dehydrator, you may consider speeding the process. Keeping them in the oven may work too if it has a pilot light.

3. Make acorn mush.
Put them up in a blender with some water. Don’t be stingy with the water, you’ll be rinsing them out several times before your flour is ready. Think acorn smoothie.

4. Rinse out the tannins.
Acorns contain tannic acid which is bitter, and not good for your kidneys (or iron absorption) . The good news is that it is water soluble and easy to remove. Drape a cotton dishcloth over a deep bowl, pour in your mush and rinse the it with warm water. Wring out the mush by bringing the corners of the towel together and twisting. Taste the mush, if bitter, repeat. I have heard that you don’t need to make mush before rinsing the tannins out. I tried this method and my acorns were still bitter after several weeks of changing the water every day. I also tried using boiling water to rinse the mush but warm water from the tap seemed to be the best balance between water usage, gas usage and time – at least for me.

The waste water is good for plants.


5. Dry out the mush.
Next spread the mush out on a cookie sheet and either leave it in the sun on a hot dry day, put it in your dehydrator, or put it in your oven after you baking some cookies or something and let the residual heat do the job. Stir the mush occasionally to speed the process. If it clumps up and looks like ground beef it is probably going well.

Once the flour is dried out it may be a little coarse. You can put it in a cleaned out coffee grinder to get a finer texture. A good food processor also works and I am pretty sure they make attachable gadgets for mixers that really mill the flour if you get completely obsessed.

Our favorite use is acorn pancakes. Just mix the acorn flour 1/2 and 1/2 with wheat or other flour from your favorite recipe. I love the acorn flavor – slightly nutty, very hearty. If you make your own, let us know how it went.

Rebar Bean Poles

Ever since reading The Year I Ate My Yard by Tony Kienitz, I have wanted to experiment with using rebar in the garden. I like that it is an unromantic material which can actually be unexpectedly beautiful as it ages from new iron to a dark rusty brown. We have also discovered that it can easily become a whimsical yet still practical addition.

“Three-eighths rebar can be curled and coiled, bent and boxed in just about any direction and it can be done by hand…

…Rebar gives the garden a sense of age, of decay, and ruin, but ironically, it is sturdier and easier to negotiate than bamboo stakes, redwood or any of the other manufactured verticality offered.”

Tony Kienitz – The year I ate my yard

We decided to try it out on two wine barrel green bean plantings. The concept was to create a vine or tendril-like top to the typical teepeeshaped bean support. The supports were fun to make. We’ll see how they look once the vines have climbed to the tops.

Hedgehog Art from a Manroot Seedpod

Marah fabaceus (a.k.a. mountain cucumber or manroot) is a pernicious California native vine which grows like kudzu here in the winter and spring. It smothers nearby plants, then produces potato sized thorny seed pods. If it is not removed promptly, it dies back when the weather warms up, creating a tangled, tinder-box-like fire hazard which breaks apart at the slightest tug, making it a royal pain to clean up. You cannot kill the plant; the only way to remove it permanently is to dig up the root which can weigh up to 100 lbs (hence the name manroot).

Imagine my surprise to see my garden nemesis transformed by my son (with help from my wife) into an ephemeral hedgehog tribute to Mrs. Tiggy-winkle. Media: manroot seedpod, pepper corns, salt, pasta o’s