Friday, May 28, 2010

Quick Sewing

On Mother's Day, the family and I went to Home Ec. and Reform School to browse. At Reform School, I picked up a Sweetheart Patch Kit from Chikabird. The patch is backed with fuseable fabric.

I ironed the patch on and hand stitched it to a shirt I dyed. Simple quick projects can be so rewarding.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Toys for Summer

School is almost out here at Camp Ramshackle. Around the corner are the wonderfully long summer days to be filled however we please. Of course, there will be many beach days, hikes, library visits and adventures. There will also be days spent at home, enjoying the garden, dirt, drawing and books. In anticipation, I invested in some new toys to celebrate. We try not to buy many plastic toys. Recently, however, my oldest son and I were introduced to Playmobil.

Playmobil is like a role playing Legos. Our new collection has guinea pigs, wild boar, raccoons and a tree house to name a few. The toys are manufactured in Germany.

But the box is always the best part.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Family Portraits

A few months back, my oldest son was inspired to draw portraits of the family. He used one of his favorite mediums, oil pastels.

I picked up the frames over the weekend and put them up. When my son walked into the room, he was quite pleased to see his framed work mounted on the wall.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Outdoor Furniture Maintenance Continued

Late May, I started some much needed furniture maintenance for six outdoor chairs. I've been treating them with Watco Teak Oil. I was on a roll with three chairs done when my bottle ran dry.

Both my local hardware stores were out. I guess everyone had the same great idea to take care of outdoor furniture, too. This week, I finally was able to get my hands on some more oil.

On Sunday, I finished two more chairs. One more to go. I feel like I'm on the twenty-third mile of a marathon. I can see the finish line.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Manzanita Bark

We planted the notoriously slow-growing Louis Edmunds Manzanita (Arctostaphylos stanfordiana bakeri) over three years ago when we planted the bulk of our California natives.

The scrub is just old enough to curl away it's bark for the first time. As the plant matures, the bark will peel away revealing smooth wood underneath.

This planted started as a one-gallon transplant. It has been worth the wait watching it slowly grow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Artichokes

After three unsuccessful attempts to grow artichokes, our current plants are doing great. We harvested our first artichoke about a week ago and grilled it. Since then, two more chokes have grown.

And in another planter....another artichoke rears its head. This one already has ants claiming squatter rights, however. I don't have a high success rate battling ants and aphids. I will try again for the sake of the artichoke.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bees on California Native Ceanothus

Bees and plants are happy with the extra rain we got this year.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strange Mushroom

This odd looking mushroom popped up the other day. Can anyone help identify it? Update: our friend Jeremy (Rancho Garbanzo) identified this as the common stinkhorn. Thanks Jeremy!

Here's my finger almost touching it for scale.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rescued Fence Post Lizard

Lizards are everywhere around our house right now. This one narrowly missed being killed by our dog Trudy who pounced on it and got most of the tail. The poor lizard tried to hide in the rock wall but was still woefully exposed. I was able to keep the dog at bay while I rescued the lizard and put it in this tree. She just stayed resting in my hand while I was able to snap this picture of her dazzling belly. A second later she was zipping up into the upper limbs to regroup.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Matilija Poppy - Primitive Drip

We planted this matilija poppy last weekend and put our primitive drip system on it. It's just a 5 gallon galvanized can with a little spout screwed into it. It helps the water penetrate our clay soil rather than just running off.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Our First Artichoke

We got our first artichoke! Only the strongest plant has produced a flower bud but this is very good news for us.

If you look a little down the stalk you'll see two other smaller flowers forming.

I've read that cutting the first flower will encourage more to grow. I'm not sure this will happen on this plant because the growth seems a little slow in general but we just couldn't wait to taste it. Plus I wanted to avoid what happened with our shiitakes a couple of weeks ago. I figure an artichoke in hand...

I hope that the rest will produce this year too but I also understand that doesn't always happen in the first year. Now our greatest goal is to make sure they survive through the summer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mother's Day, we love you Julia! And happy Mother's Day to our grandma's, and all the other mom's and grandma's too.

The card reads:"You are a good mom" So true.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Garden Update: Tomatoes

Thanks to some cooperative play on the part of my sons, I was able to plant some tomatoes. In March, I took a class with Marta Teegan of Homegrown LA. I used some of her tips when getting these plants in the ground.

I made room for the plants by clearing out my brussel sprout disaster. I've not had much luck with the brassicas. The aphids, however, had a field day with these plants coating the undersides of the leaves and blanketing the brussel sprout heads with their dusky bodies. I have yet to find a good way to deal with the aphids. I'm hoping the toxic leaves of the tomato plant will be an effective deterrent all by themselves.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Roasted Fennel and Potatoes

We stopped in on our neighbors Rancho Garbanzo recently and swapped some victuals. Jeremy gave us some delicious fennel and chard freshly picked from his garden.

Following Jeremy's suggestions, I roasted the fennel and potatoes with a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt. After the potatoes and fennel started to brown, I added about four cloves of garlic to roast for another 5-10 minutes. When I pulled it out of the oven, I added some freshly picked oregano from our garden. A tasty treat on our dinner table.

I ate the last of the potatoes and fennel with a freshly laid egg that came from Backwards Beekeepers Amy and Russell newly laying chickens. Thanks for your generosity. It was delicious!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Keys Desert Queen Ranch - Joshua Tree Homestead

On the way out of Joshua Tree on our recent camping trip, we stopped to take the Keys Desert Queen Ranch tour. It's a guided tour of a homestead established by Bill Keys in 1910. Bill lived here with his wife Francis. They had 7 children, 4 survived - 2 died very young and one had an accident at the well when he was 12. Bill lived here until his death in 1969 at the age of 90.

They had several wells and a dam to catch rain water which irrigated a small plot of land with fruit trees and a garden.

That's the dam in the background. I love the fences made with stacked logs. In the desert wood doesn't really rot like it does in other places. The dry air essentially mummifies everything protecting it from decay.

Gravity and hand pumps got the water up to the top of this tank which provided the gravity fed water pressure to the house.

They never had electricity and this is the original refrigerator. It's an external cabinet shrouded with water soaked burlap (at least it was soaked when it was in use). I think this piece of burlap has been there since 1969 when the ranch was occupied. They also had a propane refrigerator that came from the nearby Camp Pendleton Marine base which was once owned by General Patton but was essentially free-cycled to the Keys when Patton shipped out to Africa.

This is the best shot of the interior that I got through the screens. It looks pretty much like our house.

Bill and Frances had multiple irons in the fire when it came to making money. One of the main sources of income was this one stamp ore mill. I think I remember the Ranger saying it was a dollar a ton that he charged to process the gold ore. They also ran what was essentially a bed and breakfast with breakfast and diner included. Bill would also help other homesteaders set up their own places. Later he'd scavenge back whatever he had sold them when they ultimately packed it in and headed for more hospitable settings.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was a story about this truck. Apparently all 4 Keys children who survived to adulthood are still alive. The story goes that about six years ago one of them came back (they all have permanent access rights to the land though it has been donated to the NPS) and got this truck running. The tourists at the ranch at the time got the thrill of being driven around the ranch on the bed of the 1929 Mac truck! When word got back to the guy in charge of the park at the time, I guess he had a conniption and went out and permanently disabled the truck by breaking the suspension and pouring sugar in the tank. Sad but totally cool that the guy who grew up with it got it running again. What an amazing place it must have been to grow up.

After visiting Keys Desert Queen Ranch I was very inspired to keep taking our fledgling urban homestead farther toward independence.