Beer! and various other things

First things first: Today, we finally made beer!

Tom and I bought our supplies a month ago, and between one thing and another, we just haven't had time to get the process going. It takes about five hours to get a batch started. Finding five hours at home is not easy, but today we had lots of little chores, so we were able to do those and brew beer at the same time.

The best part of brewing beer (in my opinion, I'm sure Tom feels differently) is the words you get to throw around. "Time to sparge the mash!" might be my favorite phrase. And, of course, it was fun to do a project together.

The first part of the process is mashing the grain. Basically you take the dry, cracked grains and combine them with warm water, and make the liquid that will be the base for your beer. It has to remain at a certain temperature for an hour, it's a bit fiddly, but it's basically like making a big batch of oatmeal.







Sparging the mash!

I then took the spent mash out to the chickens, and that pile o' grain was gone in about five minutes. They LOVED it.


Then we added hops and boiled for quite a while. We added two kinds of hops, bittering and flavoring, and boiled after each addition.


When the foam 'breaks,' you cool the brew down quite a bit. After it reaches 70 degrees, you check the sugar content using a hydrometer.

cooling

science!
Meanwhile Tom had prepared everything with a sterilizer and it reminded us of cancer, funnily enough, where you have to have a sterile field before drawing blood (which we did at home every week for years). This was a sterile field for beer. Much nicer, and not life or death. :)


Then the yeast was added to the beer, whisked vigorously, and decanted into our carboy.




The only thing left to do now is wait!

In between beer processes, we got all our chores done. We even had time for some extra fun. I had a nice hike with Joe this morning in a spot I haven't been for a while in Shell Ridge. While walking I came across a camera, for monitoring wildlife. I've never seen one of these in the wild before.



Chamomile is blooming profusely in this part of the hills.


Adam and his friends went mountain biking in the same section of Shell Ridge this afternoon and came across a big rattler. They avoided him and had a great time. Unfortunately Adam took a sail over his handlebars at one point, and has road rash from his upper lip to his knee. He's now on the couch with a bag of ice.

Speaking of creepy crawly things, I found a paper wasp nest blown down from the eaves of our train shed. I have it in pride of place on our outdoor dining table. I appreciate paper wasps and never kill them - they pollinate as well as bees do, and lay eggs on soft-bodied insects, controlling that population.


I managed to get some art made for the chicken coop.

Let heaven and nature SING!
And I did some tidying up to ready us for next weekend and the Urban Farm Tour. Have you got your tickets yet? I'm really excited for the day. I think I'll make honey cake using honey from our hive, to share with our visitors.

It's definitely fruit time in the garden. These are all ripening and will be ready soon, but not soon enough!

peach

tiny apples

raspberry

blackberry
Meanwhile I'm harvesting and eating strawberries, blueberries, and huckleberries every day. The only veg we're harvesting and eating at the moment is peas, but collards and Bibb lettuce are not far away.

I did something this weekend that I'm particularly proud of. I signed us up for a meat CSA! Tara Firma Farms provides pastured beef, pork, and chicken to their members, delivered right to your door! We've visited this farm twice - Mother's Day in 2014, and to get a freshly-killed pastured turkey at Thanksgiving time. The property is idyllic and the animals all living out their lives the way they were meant to. We do eat meat, and I want to make sure that the animals have had good lives, not spending them in dark barns or in small cages with slatted floors, but rather running free in the grass, eating and rooting and mating and being animals. The meat costs more, and it should. Our weekly deliveries will start Friday, and I can't wait to see what we get, and share the cooking results with you!

And speaking of cooking, it's time to get to dinner prep. I've got focaccia risen and ready for the oven, and am making a seared scallop and bacon soup to go with it. Happy June to all of you!


Spring Break is here!

This week is spring break for all four of us. It's a gift of time: Time to actually accomplish the projects on the list, maybe take a nap, perhaps rent a boat on a reservoir? The possibilities are endless. However, the projects will likely get first priority, as having a considerable amount of time to complete them is just too tempting. Also, did I mention how busy it is in the garden, in spring? And with temperatures in the mid-80's over the past weekend, we got a head start on the list. We wished the neighborhood pool was open, after some sweaty working days.

a local hiking trail
Due to the warm temps, we keep a window open in our bedroom at night, and often in the wee hours around 3 am, I've been woken by coyotes up in the open space near our house. They howl and yip, and make quite a racket. I did some research and it looks as though this behavior is very common among coyote family members, especially at night. In fact, the coyote's Latin name, Canis latrans, literally means 'barking dog.' At this time of year in California, females are probably pregnant, having mated in February, and are expecting babies in April. There's still water in the hills in vernal pools, but I'm not sure how long that will last, and when the water runs out, the coyotes venture down in to our neighborhoods. They are generally not aggressive and can be quite shy, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they visit our backyard water fountain during summer nights. Which is why our animals are shut up tight after 8 o'clock every evening.

In the garden, there's still lots of greens to eat.

Pesto Chicken tart with spinach, broccoli, and peas from the garden

The kale and spinach are still producing, but the chard is starting to look a little tired, and the romaine is looking like it's going to bolt any minute. The broccoli seems to be finished, and the beets are no longer growing. Peas are being harvested daily. The garlic is starting to get a little brown in the foliage, which means it might be time to stop watering it and then harvest. I didn't expect the garlic to be ready until June, but with this hot weather, it could be ready much earlier. The strawberry wall has tiny berries and I can't wait to taste the first one. The blueberry bushes have tiny berries, too.

garlic

kale

spinach

strawberry wall

peas, and a little friend

And, we have an artichoke coming up in the garden!

My only question is: who gets to eat it???

We eat from the garden constantly; I add greens to almost every dish I make. Tonight I was making a pasta bake, and I realized I was out of ricotta. So Tom whipped up a batch in thirty minutes. That was fun!



Preparations for Easter have commenced. I had so much fun dying Easter eggs naturally last year that I wanted to do it again this year. This project takes most of a day, but the result is so pretty, it's worth it. I used turmeric, red cabbage, red onion skin, yellow onion skin, and beets this time. Put your veg or spice individually in pots with a cup or two of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, covered. Strain, add a tablespoon of white vinegar, and pour over hard boiled eggs. Then store in fridge for four hours. Drain and let dry.

I used white and brown eggs this year, and I have to say I like the effect on white better.

The darker ones are brown eggs, lighter = white eggs

Blue is white egg with red cabbage, bright yellow is turmeric, orange is yellow onion skin,
green is brown egg with red cabbage, red is beet, red onion skin made the brownish colors

I also spent some time over the weekend making a couple of new paintings for a blank wall. I knew I wanted to paint something from the garden, and add quotes about nature that are meaningful to me. Next time, I'd like to try a mixed media thing, with the quotes made from 'found' letters or torn out of magazines, some sort of decoupage sort of thing, though I've never tried that. Maybe that will be a summer experiment.

Artichoke and Blueberries

Do you know about the website Nextdoor? I've enjoyed being a member. Last Friday, a neighbor posted that his mother was a Master Gardener, and he had many hundreds of seed packets to give away. I responded immediately and met him later that afternoon. I scored about $100 worth of seed packets! It was like Christmas. Not only that, they were from Renee's Garden, my favorite seed house! I'm not sure how old the seeds are, or if they are even viable, but I'm willing to give them a shot. I planted a lot of the flower seeds over the weekend. I have saved the zinnia and cosmos and will plant them in a couple of months.

Flower seeds

Veg seeds

I'll store the winter veg seeds in the fridge until fall, as well.

Speaking of storing seeds, I realized that my haphazard method wasn't working. I asked Dad to build me a seed caddy, and he built one for me (that same day) out of California Claro Walnut, a special kind of wood.


It fits perfectly in the fridge!

I know I've said it before, but it sure is great to have a woodworker in the family.

We cleaned out the garage, moved some lumber, and I took some stuff out of storage. The tomato, cucumber, and pepper cages are ready for use next weekend, after I attend the Master Gardener sale. We'll need to make a few more.


I also got the bee hive ready, as the bees will be here in less than two weeks. I took the bars out of storage and put them in the hive, and made simple syrup for the bees to eat as they are building comb and starting to collect nectar. It takes a lot of energy to build comb, and I want to make sure the bees have the calories to do that. Honeybees like a 1:1 ratio in simple syrup (hummingbirds like 1:4, a less sweet concoction). 

Bars are in and tools are ready

the bee feeder is ready, just needs a mason jar full of syrup

pretty yellow simple syrup, which will be stored in the fridge until the bees arrive

Flowers continue to pop up in the spring sunshine and heat.

Harlequin flower

Monkey flower

geraniums

another geranium

Plans for this week include: Building the raised beds in the North Garden, ordering and hauling dirt to fill them, buying and planting all tomatoes and peppers, and starting nearly all the summer vegetable seeds. I'll be taking winter veg out of the South Garden and replacing with summer crops. Early April is planting time. I guess Spring 'break' means something other than a break, at least in the garden.

February arrives!

I'm so thrilled with the way the vegetable garden is thriving this winter. Part of it is due to the weather; we haven't had nearly as many heavy frosts as we did last year, and it's been sunny and warm for most of January. But part of it is the success of the hoop houses. They've kept the temperature steady in the beds, and also have kept the deer out! I know the deer have been sniffing around, because the peas regularly get a haircut, but nothing else has been eaten.


Speaking of peas, they've finally got some flowers on them. I guess I've decided that peas are not a true winter vegetable for us; they prefer things slightly warmer. They are loving these sunny days.

I opened up the hoop houses this weekend, to let the veg benefit from these gorgeous days. I will definitely be harvesting. I have more greens than we can eat. I'm putting them in everything; I even tried a recipe for meatloaf that included pureed kale. I loved it. Not so sure everyone else did. We are eating greens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Greens are the new zucchini. If you live near me and you'd like to take some off our hands, come on by and we'll harvest some for you.

The garlic and shallots are looking great.


The blueberries are blooming, and I just saw my first strawberry blossom, as well.


Many of the fruit trees in the neighborhood have started flowering. Yes, it's very early, and I'm glad my apple and peach don't show any signs of that, yet.

Seedlings of native plants are already coming up.


And the narcissus is finished blooming, while daffodils are beginning.


I've seen many interesting things on my hikes, lately.

Who says turkeys can't fly?

Shelf fungus

wild iris, planted by someone long ago
Wild mustard, soon to be ubiquitous, but pretty when new

fallen log with woodpecker holes

a beautiful vista in the Mt Diablo foothills

My dad finished our bed, and we love it. Not only is it gorgeous, our whole bedroom smells woody and wonderful. Here's a picture of one of the pencil posts:

I like the color of the wood, sugar pine

And, coop construction is coming along. Tom finished the roof and the framing for the hen house (inside the run), and together we got the hardware cloth installed and the trench backfilled. Dad came over and helped us with some supplemental bracing, and built the door.

building the door

hardware cloth, bracing, and door installed, trench filled
Next week, we'll start working on the hen house, which will be on the left upper quadrant.

I'm working on my online order for more blueberry bushes, plus some raspberry canes and elderberry bushes. I'm considering a small Meyer lemon. I also need to work on getting artichoke starts in the ground (Kate wants to be in charge of those), and I'm hoping to make a vertical planting wall out of a pallet, for more strawberries. We need to build the new raised beds, plus convert all the sprinklers to drip. Plus, get more ceonothus and manzanita bushes in, and I need to order my veg seeds! Lots of stuff to do, and spring isn't even here yet. I'd like to find some things to grow around the coop, too - some sort of deciduous vines or maybe olive trees. They'll need shade in the summer. Ideas, anyone?

I wanted to let you know about a new online magazine that I find amazing, and I can't wait to see what the next issue is like, as I've already devoured the first one. It's called Craftmanship, and the first issue is all about agriculture. I love their mission and view of the world. I'm excited to see more.