Our Winter Exercise Plan

Our yearly pile of wood chips was delivered yesterday. This is probably about 20 cubic yards of shredded pine.

Tree companies have to pay a fee to dump their chips at local waste facilities; therefore, it makes sense to offer these free to homeowners. Usually I have no trouble obtaining wood chips. This time, it took a couple of months. I called my regular tree guy, twice, but he never returned my calls or emails. I found a website called Chipero and put my name in their database. I called all the tree companies that work in the neighborhood. Finally one (Traverso) said they'd put me on their 'list' - but that it might be two months before they had chips to give me. They said homeowners who have their trees trimmed or removed are generally now keeping the chips. This is new! And I wonder if the drought has something to do with it. As we all know, wood chips are a biologically and ecologically smart way to smother weeds, retain moisture, add tilth, improve microsystems in the soil, and get rid of lawns. Some people even grow gardens in wood chips.

Anyway, two months has passed and I got a call on my mobile yesterday - thank heavens I answered it, as I didn't recognize the number. Within 30 minutes the company was at our house, dumping the load.

So this pile of chips is destined to both cover the cardboard we've already spread over the remaining lawn...

... and also refresh the paths around my raised beds.

Only one side of the garden... there's three other sides to be covered, too

This will help me in my continuing battle against crabgrass and bindweed.

But, first we'll let the pile sit for a week and cook, and then we'll start to tackle it. It won't get done in a weekend, it'll probably take a month to get it all moved around, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow.

'Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row
Please bless these seeds I sow
Please keep them safe below
'Til the rain comes tumbling down.
Pullin' weeds and pickin' stones
We are made of dreams and bones
Need a spot to call my own
'Cause the time is close at hand.
Grain for grain, sun and rain
I'll find my way in nature's chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music of the land.'
                                                  -Pete Seeger

We've had some very nice family time this weekend, with jaunts to the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco for some delicious Italian food, out to see "The Good Dinosaur" (it's totally worth it, what a lovely film), and out on the Bay to Alcatraz. Good food has been a defining theme running through, which is how it should be during family and holiday time, as far as I'm concerned.

There's also been plenty of rest, which was very needed.

In between activities and weeding in the garden, I decided to get a sourdough starter going again; it's a simple process, and as long as you continue to feed your starter, you'll have enough for a baking anytime you feel like it. The idea is to put wild yeasts to work in your bread, rather than commercial yeast. This means exposing your starter to warmth and air and all the good creatures who live in your flour, in your kitchen and home, and on your body. (That last bit sounds weird, I know.) It's generally and erroneously thought that the wild yeast in the San Francisco Bay Area is superior, but in fact the yeast that floats wild around here is actually found all over the world! So you too can have SF sourdough.

Start with four ounces of warm water and mix it with four ounces of flour, keep it warmish and don't cover completely (since our house is chilly, I have it on the lowest setting of a heating pad; the top of your fridge would work, too). Each day, feed it four more ounces of both flour and water, and within a week you should have a fermented starter that smells ripe and faintly alcoholic. You just keep feeding it daily and use as you need it, or you can put it in your fridge for a week and stop feeding it, and when you want to use it, take it out, bring it up to room temp, then feed it. It should come right back to life. Apparently you can even freeze it for a time. I've never tried that, though.

Having just reread Michael Pollan's 'Cooked' and explored a little bit of the River Cottage website (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's place), I've been thinking a lot about flour. I'd prefer to use whole grain flour in all my baking, as it contains the germ and the oil of the wheat berry, both of which contain all the nutrition in the wheat. The problem is that once wheat is milled, it immediately begins to lose nutritive value and quickly become rancid. I've looked in to local mills here in Northern California. We visited one a year ago, the historic Bale Grist Mill in Napa. But that's a far way to go for flour, and the park is only open on certain days. We do have a neat place called Community Grains just down the road in Oakland, but they don't sell directly to the population, they only sell to large clients, and my Whole Foods doesn't carry their products. I could buy flour from them online, and I might yet.

But what might be even better is to buy whole native grain from a local farm, and mill it myself when we need it. If we're going to be serious about making our own bread and becoming self-sufficient about it, this seems the logical place to go. So I researched grain mills, both hand-cranked and electric, and I've decided I'd like a Nutrimill and have put it on my Christmas list. We'll see if Santa brings it to me; it's rather a high-ticket item and I'm not sure how flush Santa is feeling this year.

Meanwhile I bought a couple of different flours at my local Whole Foods, and I'll put them in the freezer right after I open them.

These were not cheap, but good food really shouldn't be. (Let me put this another way: Americans seem to think that all food should be cheap, that we shouldn't have to spend a large amount of our budget on food. But now that I'm producing my own food, I see what kind of time and work goes in to it, and if I sold it, it would be a shame if I wasn't compensated correctly for it.)

I'm still not completely done with the idea of growing my own grain. I may not have room for it here at Poppy Corners, but surely someone has a field somewhere they're not using. Anyone? Bueller?

I mentioned that the house was chilly; we've had our first freezes, still nothing truly cold but enough to freeze the water in the dog dish and put ice crystals on everything. This time of year, I worry about the livestock - are the bees warm enough? the chickens? the cat and dog? Knowing that these creatures live all around the world in all kinds of crazy weather doesn't make me less worried. But the bees seem to be enjoying the warm sunny afternoons (as long as it's above 50, they'll come out to forage) and the chickens are doing just fine. I make them some warm oatmeal some mornings, and they seem to enjoy it. (Their absolute favorite thing to eat, hands down, in any weather, is fresh greens.) They nest two at a time in the boxes when it's time to lay eggs.

"Luna, I've got a serious crick in the neck.
Can you give me one more inch?"

We're still getting between 2-5 eggs every day from our five hens, and while they are losing slightly more feathers than usual, I don't think they are molting just yet.

On my hikes, I've been noticing the fallen buckeyes have slipped their thick skins and are littering the paths, always near or in creeks (which are still pretty dry).

I think buckeyes, and the trees, are pretty in all their forms, in all seasons. Ohlone natives would treat the seeds a lot like acorns, but they require even more leaching to remove the toxic aesculin. I don't think I'll bother.

Hope you all are having a both restful and productive holiday weekend.