Category Archives: Gardening

I’ve been in the garden.

Remember me?

photoIt was a little bit of a shock to see the date of my last post to this blog, nearly one year ago. It’s not that I haven’t been living the urban homesteading dream—in fact, I just got a food dehydrator for my birthday and have produced jars and jars of dried apples and pears. Next up will be the grey dove oyster mushrooms coming in in a few weeks. The chickens are cackling and laying, I canned tomatoes, green beans, pickles, five different kinds of jams,  blackberries in bourbon, and applesauce this summer. John has been brewing lots of delicious IPAs and red ales, and we cured duck prosciutto and pancetta in the basement last winter.

IMG_3024

I’ve been knitting like crazy, too. It’s been busy and productive around here.

But I have spent most of my time in the past year in a different kind of garden. A garden nonetheless, but one with recording equipment, computers, instruments, and musicians. Finally and at last, I have grown a second CD of my original music.

SongsGardenCoverIt is titled, of course,

Songs from the Garden.

There is a direct line of inspiration from my little Southern Urban Homestead to the songs on this collection. It winds through the vegetable patch and around my laundry line, and it even pauses for a visit with the chickens. And there’s food–oh, yes, there’s food. And love. Here’s a little sampler:

If you’d like to own the entire CD, they are available by mail order right here:

Allison Adams: Songs from the Garden

Or you can download it:

Allison Adams: Songs from the Garden

Or if iTunes is how you roll, that is right here.

I hope you enjoy Songs from the Garden. And I promise to be a better blogger!

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening, Making things

Up On the Roof

I work as a writer and editor at a large university. My office is on the top floor of a six-story building, which sports a generous, sun-drenched rooftop patio overlooking our forested back campus and the city skyline in the distance. Recently some of my colleagues and I began to notice a lot of scurrying in and out of a vacant room near the patio. It was actually two members of the building’s maintenance crew. Curiosity finally got the better of us, so we inquired. It turned out that they had an arboretum going in the room’s large, light-filled windows — orchids and houseplants of all sorts being rooted and nurtured.

My colleague and I got to thinking. Surely these two green-thumb types wouldn’t mind if we added a few growing things to the rooftop patio, would they? So she casually asked them one day — would we get in trouble if we just put a few pots out there? One look gave us our answer: in fact, she would be the person we would get in trouble with.

Then she promised to water things while we were away. That was all we needed to hear.

First, we brought in a bush tomato plant. Then we scrounged a few more big pots and added a pepper plant and a Thai basil. The basil was a little tender for that windy rooftop, so I let it hang out in my office for a couple of weeks before moving it to the patio.

Not a week after we had put the first two pots out, a heavy nighttime hailstorm broke the main stem of the tomato in two, and the largest leaves on the pepper were severely damaged. I took the top half of the broken tomato plant home and rooted it, and it’s now growing at home in a container. But in the full sun of the patio, both plants recovered, in spite of a little July heat scorching. The basil did well, too.

So what the heck. we added an eggplant and a summer squash vine. Then one day, a cabbage plant mysteriously appeared in a pot next to the pepper. I suspect the building maintenance crew.

It’s not easy to casually drag giant pots full of soil and plants through the lobby of a tall building, onto an elevator, and across a common area to a patio. So my colleague and I have an arrangement. I call her from my car as I am approaching the building with the plants. She meets me out front with the office hand truck. We unload the goods, and she takes them up on the lift while I park. In spite of our best efforts, we always seem to attract attention and a few laughs.

Other people on our floor have watched our little guerrilla garden with curiosity, then later with delight as some tomatoes popped out, followed by peppers and eggplant. Everyone wants to try the basil. The squash isn’t thriving, but to my surprise, the cabbage is looking quite happy.

I think we will set up a crock pot and make soup for lunch one day in the next few weeks. Either that or a pop-up produce stand in front of the building.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening

Squirrel War II

Or, Caleb: 1, Squirrel: 0

The tomato plants pushed out the top of the hoop house. Next year I will plant compact bush varieties.

The early spring heat wave fried my sugar snap pea vines before they had even bloomed. The mid-spring freeze weakened my beans. I had a good run of cucumbers and early on—until a rat (or rats!) chewed through the netting on my new hoop houses and ate the rest, plus the early crop of squash I had not yet harvested.

This makes me cry.

I set high hopes on the many fat, beautiful green tomatoes growing in the hoop houses—until last weekend.  The variety I grew inside them was too large, and the plants have pushed out the top, creating easy access for the squirrels, who decimated my crop.

It has not been a happy growing season for me.

The squirrel proof net tent is showing signs of wear and tear.

To add to my woes, the famous Squirrel Proof Net Tent is now three years old, and it’s beginning to show signs of wear. Holes have opened in the net here and there, allowing for squirrel incursions.

So a few nights ago, I set a couple of traps. I caught a squirrel and a rat. I re-set them and caught another of each. I re-set them again, but then some varmint figured out how to steal the bait without springing the trap.

Damn.

What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that someone was watching my struggles, learning and absorbing, and working out a strategy. I finally understood this last evening, right around sundown.

I was in my big kitchen chair working at my laptop, when my Australian shepherd, Caleb, came over and said, “Woof.” He nudged my elbow with his muzzle. Thinking he just wanted attention, I scritched his head and went back to work. But he was insistent: “Woof!” Another nudge, this time more urgent.

Squirrel warrior

“Caleb, I can’t play with you right now. I’m working.”

“Frrrf! Arr! Arrrrarrrarr!” Another nudge. Then he ran to the back door, looked out, and looked back at me. “WOOF!”

I grumbled, relented, and hauled myself out of my comfy chair to open the door into the backyard for him. That’s when I saw what he was trying to tell me.

There was a squirrel inside the Squirrel Proof Net Tent, casually munching on the last of my green tomatoes. Caleb dashed out and proceeded to chase it around and around the perimeter of the tent. Inside the tent, the squirrel ran, dodged, turned. Outside the tent, Caleb ran, turned and followed. After several minutes of frantic circles, the panicked squirrel began to run headlong into the net, blindly trying to shove its way out.

Caleb caught on. After a few misses, he pounced on the squirrel as it hit the net. I heard a short squeak, then silence.

Caleb’s prey

Caleb stood panting at the edge of the tent and looked at the dead creature at his feet, still wrapped in the sagging net. Then we looked at each other in utter surprise.

“Caleb, you killed a squirrel!”

He looked back at the squirrel and then back at me. Still panting, he trotted over to the 12-foot diameter inflatable pool I have installed in my driveway for the summer (that’s a whole nother story), hopped in, and cooled himself off with a victory lap.

Victory lap

I went into the house for a pair of gloves and a sack for the squirrel. Seeing me head for his kill, Caleb hopped out of the pool and ran to it. I picked it up by a forepaw. He grabbed the hindquarters through the net with his mouth.

“That’s mine.”

I let go of the squirrel for a moment. “I know, buddy, but we can’t leave it here. It will stink.”

He let go, too. I picked it up again. Then he grabbed on again. “It’s mine.”

“Caleb, leave it.”

He’s a good boy. He dropped his prey, and I bagged it and disposed of it.

Afterwards, Caleb got a big thank-you treat for

  1. figuring out that squirrels in the garden = bad
  2. giving himself the job of squirrel-proof net tent watcher,
  3. insisting that I pay attention, and
  4. actually catching a squirrel.

And from now on, I will listen to what my dog is trying to tell me.

Postscript

Thank you to my friend and marvelous musician Tom Godfrey for sharing this little clip, and to Wes Funderburk, Atlanta trombonist extraordinaire, for using his powers for good.

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The Meantime

We are in the meantime, it seems. The beets are gone, I’ve pulled my next-to-last carrot, and the kale bolted two weeks ago. The summer garden hasn’t quite gotten to the point of explosion quite yet. I am awaiting the day the tomatoes and figs ripen, the cucumbers reach pickle size, and the green beans start to pile up in my refrigerator.

In the meantime, here is what happens. The Georgia peaches are early and plentiful and delicious this year, so I bought about ten pounds of “dent and scratch” fruit at the Decatur farmer’s market a few weeks ago and made peach rosemary jam. I just made regular ol’ peach jam and simmered a few sprigs of rosemary with it, then took out the sprigs before filling the jars. It goes on the shelf next to the strawberry basil jam I made last month.

With the mild spring and early summer weather, I have switched to knitting cotton–easier on the hands and lap. I found some organic cotton on sale and bought a bunch of it, and my first project was this pair of vests for some friends who had twins a few months ago.

My Sweetie had a birthday recently, and with shameless self-interest at heart, I got him a beer-making kit. I’m hoping this will become a long-term skill and passion. Today he started his first batch of IPA. We have talked about setting up a little brewery area in the basement (which is already equipped with sink and stove), so this will become a weekend project after this first batch is finished.

Here in the meantime, whilst we await the garden bounty and the brew, my meager flower garden has been generous. Here is what is on my kitchen table today: Coneflowers, zinnias, butterfly bush, hydrangeas, gardenias, marigolds. Glorious eye candy.

In the meantime, there’s nothing to do but weed, water, and wait. Fortunately, there is an inflatable pool here that makes waiting just about my favorite thing to do . . .

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Filed under Gardening, Making things, Putting Up

Dog-Eared: My Favorite Urban Homestead Reading

Many years ago I picked up a little green book called Noah’s Garden, by Sara Stein. I have written here before about how that book transformed my relationship with my garden. Before reading it, I thought I had to attack the soil with my rototiller, then defend the conquered earth against the onslaught of weeds the tilling then cultivated, only to have to repeat the entire battle over again the next year after my labors had tamped the earth into a hard pack. After reading Noah’s Garden, I traded the sword and the ploughshare. Instead, I mulch deeply with layers of organic matter and let the worms do all the work. My soil stays more microbially rich and aerated as a result.

I thought I’d share a few more of the most beloved titles from the collection that guides and inspires me. Some are very practical how-to’s, some are philosophical manifestos, some are just damn fine stories.

Pragmatics

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. I heard a segment on The Splendid Table about this book in 2010, and I don’t think I have bought bread in a store (except for when we were in Italy, duh!) since. It is the easiest, quickest thing in the world to make bread with this method, and the variations are endless. I have made pita loaves, hamburger buns, olive bread, pizza crust, ciabatta, plain white loaves, wheat loaves. I have loved this book to pieces — literally. The spine has cracked in three places.

The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese, by Sue Weaver. A very practical and detailed guide to acquiring, caring for, breeding, and benefitting from goats on a very small scale. It was just the thing I needed to show me that this is, perhaps, a project for my retirement, when I have lots more time.

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces, by Barbara Kilarski. When the idea first hatched in my head in 2004 that I wanted to keep a few chickens in my backyard, this is the first book I acquired. It was a great and accessible introduction to the ins-and-outs of flockkeeping, and I have loaned it out and referred to it time and again over the years.

Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock, by Jay Rossier and Geoff Hansen, was my next acquisition in the chicken care library. Also very practical and accessible, and offers much more detail than the Kilarski book, including butchering advice. For 200-level flockkeeping studies.

Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock, by Judy Pangman. I own a copy of this book because I helped the author with one of the designs. She uses the coop at the Oakhurst Community Garden (now the Wylde Center) in Decatur as one of her plans. So I connected her with some information, and my neighbor Bill contributed some photos. It’s an excellent resource — another that I have loaned out several times.

Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save Money. Okay, I know he isn’t exactly Mr. Back-To-Nature Homesteading Make-Your-Own-Granola Man, but I am a total Clarkhead. He is the ultimate penny-pincher, and if you have read any of this blog, you know how I love me some frugality. This is the man who will make one disposable razor last an entire year by drying it off after every use (it turns out that it’s moisture more than use that dulls a razor). And yes, I now dry off my razor.

Manifestos

Small Wonder: Essays by Barbara Kingsolver. This marvelous little 2002 volume predates her better known Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but for me, it was the more important book. It’s an unflinching but loving and holistic look at the earth in all its glory and woe, from the Grand Canyon to Kingsolver’s vegetable patch. One essay in particular, titled “Lily’s Chickens,” was especially inspirational for me, and it helped me understand and articulate the reasons large and small I wound up helping to start a chicken revolution in Decatur.

(I also count the aforementioned Noah’s Garden amongst my favorite manifestos . . . manifesti?)

Damn Good Stories

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, by Elizabeth Englehardt. Read this book not just for the damn fine stories but also for some serious scholarly illumination on the complex issues that weave together women, food, health, power, class, race, and region. There’s moonshine, cornbread, biscuits, and more. I especially love the chapter on tomato clubs. In fact, I want to start a tomato club. Who’s in?

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. I have written here before about this delightful tale of how Carpenter took over a vacant lot in a sketchy part of Oakland, California, planted an insane overabundance of fruits and vegetables, and started keeping chickens, bees, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and pigs. I think of her when I need to remember why I want goats — and why I should never, ever want pigs.

What’s on your bookshelf?

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Just Kale Me Now

After I mentioned a few weeks back that I have been putting my overabundance of kale into smoothies the past several months, a few readers asked for a recipe for this concoction. There are myriad wonderful and healthful ways of making “green” smoothies, and I wouldn’t say mine is the most authentically “green.” But it is a straightforward affair and quite tasty to boot, so here I present

The Kale Smoothie, Illustrated

Makes two smoothies

Ingredients

  • 1 small handful of fresh kale (I prefer the tenderest “baby” leaves that are no more than about 3 inches wide)
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 1/2 cup kefir* or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2/3 cup orange juice

*I have typically used Greek yogurt, but recently a neighbor gave me a kefir culture. There is now a bottomless pitcher of kefir in my fridge, most of which has gone into smoothies.

Steps

Divide all the ingredients between two large glasses, or put them together in a small pitcher or blender.

Using either the full blender or an immersion blender in the pitcher or the glasses (my preference), puree all the ingredients.

Lately I have been adding a handful of strawberries because they are ripening in my garden. They turn the smoothie a lovely pink.

Enjoy! The sweetie demonstrates.

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A Wish Come True

Well, y’all, I did it! I installed a solar-powered rain barrel pump, my second wish on my wish list. It was surprisingly simple. Just plug in the battery, cut the hose to the proper length, connect a few wires, drop the hose and pump into the barrel, position the panel. Within two minutes I was pressing a button to see what would happen and I squirted myself with 13 psi of stinky rain barrel water. I laughed out loud with happy happy joy joy! What a wonderful way to celebrate Earth Day, don’t you think?

I have the solar panel anchored in the ground in a spot I think will get about 8 hours of sun in the morning through mid-afternoon, but I can move it if it doesn’t work. But here’s how it’s working now.

Now I start saving for beekeeping equipment. In the meantime, if you live near me, cover up your seedlings, because it’s supposed to get down in the thirties in the next few nights!

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Filed under Conservation, Gardening