saturday morning, a cup of coffee and some seeds

I love an early morning, a fresh cup of coffee and day wide open to meander around the house with no plans. Opening the door, I can see the fog hanging low around the houses, the sun peeking over the tufts of trees and the cold air kissing my face. This isn’t the same scene at 2PM. No, this is only a view your treated with if you happen to be an early riser.

A common foggy morning.

I am not one to get bored at home. I don’t need plans to enjoy a day. No, quite the contrary. A day where the plan is to not have a plan. There is always a long list of different projects I can get my hands in. Whether it’s braising some meat throughout the day in the Dutch oven, fixing some steps, organizing tools, researching the next campsite or run.

Using a chopstick to help with seeding. This chopstick was part of a set given to us from a chef in Chicago. Notice the inlay. These little things make my heart smile.

This morning was devoted to getting some seeds planted. All cold weather veggies, flowers, and herbs. Although it’s the middle of January, I can get them started in the house and transplant outside. We’ve been getting kissed with light frosts but nothing that would kill the seedlings. They may grow slow during these months but sometimes I’m surprised the growth that will occur. In California we seem to have warm stretches scattered through the winter and we happen to be in one now. Days in the high 60s, even low 70s. Bad for drought, bad for fire season but great for plants that get to take as a stage of all the early season rain.

The trusty plastic melitta pour over has been with me for ten plus years. There’s something special about getting years of use out of a tool.

You can’t beat taking care of a task and drinking that first cup of coffee only to look up at the clock and realize it’s only 8am. These are the days that I cherish. I’m so blessed to have the life I have, to live around such beauty and to be surrounded by people (and dogs) that I love dearly. The regular ol’ day is a great day.

Solutions through “Problems”

Moles have been wrecking havoc and creating mounds throughout our small lawn. They turn up the soil and create mounds that will inevitably get sucked into our electric mower as it dulls the blade and creates a bare chunk of grass. The moles like to dine on what’s living underneath the soil such as worms and our soil has a lot of worms! Being in the flood zone along the Russian River, each flood deposits rich soil on our property, long before a house was built on this land.

We decided early on to live with the moles instead of trying to trap them, exterminate them, or buy one of those beeping deterrents off Amazon (they don’t work, for moles or gophers!). Also, because we grow our lawn organically and let the clippings compost, this soil is prime which gave me the idea to grab my shovel. I noticed the soil in these mole mounds was nicely turned, rich, soft and dark. I started to take a shovel to these mounds and deposit these pilings into a large container.

I then built a small sieve out of some leftover 1/4″ hardware cloth and some reclaimed 2x4s. Sifting this soil and adding some vermiculite made for the perfect potting soil and seed starting mix.

Soil Sieve built from leftover materials.

You can not buy this quality of soil through a bag at a store. Meanwhile, once the mound is leveled, I reseed the area and wait for the grass to grow back. It seems the moles in our area are more active in the winter. In the summer, when the lawn is used most, we don’t see many if any mole mounds being created.

Adding vermiculite to make the soil lighter, have more air, and retain water.

So, a problem turned into a solution. We now have great potting soil without leaving the house. Often the approach is to get rid of rodents, insects, like the cabbage moth eggs underneath the kale but when we do this, we are not seeing the bigger picture. I can let a few kale leaves have holes to have my other plants have a few extra pollinators (those eggs turn into butterflies). I can let some bad insects live without spraying because I know the predatory insects will begin to show up without the use of pesticides. I can live with moles because we don’t need a perfect lawn and now they’ve become our little soil farmers.

Yummy looking soil.

Note: If you want sterilized seed starting mix, try checking out this article on SFgate with some tips. It involves using an oven, steam or a microwave.

Note 2: If you don’t have Moles in your yard turning up your soil, you can use compost you made or soil you know is not contaminated. Sift the soil, add vermiculite and boom!

I’m a Morning Person

As most of my friends would attest to, I’m a morning person. Even in my party days, I’d be the first one up and about the next day. There’s something special about the mornings and a new day, a blank slate.

Have you ever been on one of those road trips that required you to wake up before dawn? Seeing the sun peak over the horizon as you drive to a fun destination. Often that’s a fishing or backpacking trip for me. A good early morning doesn’t always need a road trip. It can involve a nice cup of coffee, some good reading, a nice meditation, or a glowing fire.

I love those days where you feel like you’ve had a whole day of experiences before the clock hits noon. Of course, these days can require you to go to bed early to still get a full night’s rest but that’s not an issue for me typically. Night owl I am not. Maybe I’m the morning chickadee, the hummingbird thirsty to start the day.

I can remember when I moved into a straw bale constructed house and I was without power for two weeks as we set it up. Without lights, I found it hard to stay up an hour past sunset. I was more in line with rising and falling of the sun. There was something special about that. Something I enjoyed greatly and it just felt right.

Thich Nhat Hanh alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

This mantra I’m about to share is one I try to say each morning. I’ve probably shared this before but that’s only because I find it so valuable. It’s from the late Thich Nhat Hanh who recently passed away a few days ago. A great teacher who championed important causes like alongside Martin Luther King and beyond. A Buddhist monk who helped bring mindfulness to America and teach many to focus on the present and our breath. To be grateful, to enjoy each day, to not judge our emotions, and many other simple but profound ideas that just make sense to me.

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Even if I do no meditation, that gives me a short pause before my thoughts rush to fill my newly awaken brain. Here’s to a new day!

Garden First, Fridge Second

A quick trip in the garden to retrieve some kale for omelettes.

Instead of reaching for the fridge to make my meals, I try to think about what I can incorporate from the garden. It’s worth taking those extra steps down to the garden to pick even the smallest of plants, a sprig of thyme, a few kale leaves, or green onions. No matter if most of my meal is store bought, it’s nice to get into the practice of going into the garden to pick our food. Not only do I get the benefits of fresh air and movement but I get to see how the plants are doing and what bird feeders need to be filled up. If the birds haven’t reminded me already! The addition of some greens or zucchini to a meal can stretch out store bought ingredients to make a cheap and healthy meal.

There’s no denying that a meal solely from the garden is something special but it’s also nice when the topping to a meal is from the garden such as some basil or parsley sliced thinly to give us some green to our meals. Sometimes we can feel lazy about going outside to grab some herbs for a meal but take the moment as a gift to explore the open air, the soil beneath your feet and our connection to this earth.

One egg breakfast omelette with home baked bread.

How to Eat from the Garden Regularly

Keep on seeding. Keep on planting. Think ahead. A lot of seed packets will have days to maturity. That’s not always accurate in less than ideal conditions (I.e. too much shade, cold, poor soil). So, we need to plan ahead. Maybe it’s starting seeds inside for faster germination then transplanting for a jump start.

my box of seeds.

I may have enough lettuce today but what happens when the lettuce turns bitter or goes to seed? I need to wait another three weeks before greens. That’s why it’s important to sow successively (sowing seeds every few weeks). Learn your soil, your conditions/seasons, your taste preferences to help guide you in staying stocked with seeds and having vegetables to eat when you want.

Sowing seeds inside can help during colder months.

One biggest piece of advice is to plant what you eat or learn to cook with the veggies you’re growing. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with piles of veggies that take up space and aren’t utilized.

Happy gardening!

The Secret to Making Bread Everyday

Imperfect is OK.
  1. It’s ok for it to not be perfect.
  2. It’s ok to not be exact.
  3. It’s ok to start the dough whenever you have time.

    It’s great to think ahead, to measure things perfectly and to bake at the exact temperatures needed but the fact is that I’ve found bread forgiving. If you’re looking for consistent loafs that look the same every time, that requires attention to detail. If you’re like me and don’t mind things coming out different, you can play with it. I’m making bread to eat daily and I don’t want to stress myself over minute details. If you have at least 4-5 hours of time to let the dough rise, you can find a recipe that can work. An example of imperfection in my kitchen is that I’ve had dough that wasn’t rising after 8 hours. I added some more flour, some water, and some more yeast, boom! The dough started to move and it turned out OK.

    Two things that you’ll always want to have on hand. Flour and yeast. Yeast can be bought in bulk and stored in an air tight container in the fridge. That’s all you need!

    Here’s a quick picture of what’s happening in the kitchen this morning. We don’t buy much bread from the store these days. Each morning consists of taking the dog out, making breakfast, prepping lunch, coffee, and starting the fire in the wood stove. Once Mallory is out the door for work, I prep the dough that’s been rising overnight. Today there are two bread products being made. One is the no knead bread baked in the Dutch oven, the other is a no knead baguette recipe that I’ve turned Into a roll recipe. It Making bread consistently means always having something rising. In our house, bread is made every two to three days. Having fresh bread around makes for easy meals like egg on toast in the morning. The rolls are great for sandwiches or as substitute buns for burgers. It can be a lot of work but if you build it into your routine it can make it much easier. The bread is better than store bought, we use flour from either King Arthur or bobs red mill, it’s much cheaper and the flour is from a B corporation that supports sustainable practices. At roughly a dollar a loaf or 10 cents a roll, you can’t beat it.
Have to start the fire every morning in the winter to keep Betty warm.

Lifting your 80’s Toyota Van

A question I see that’s common on facebook groups and Toyotavantech website is how do I raise my Toyota Van? There are no lift kits available for any of our vans, that inclues 1984-1989. I’m no expert but what the options I’ve seen are below. Disclaimer: I didn’t do any of the experimentation, I benefited from others experimenting and I used their results on my own van.

ncbrock’s van, photo from ToyotaVanTech, posted on Imgur.

For the front, crank the torsion bars. These torsion bars lift the front of the van. Note, that some say there are some negatives to maxing these out. Putting more stress on the system. This will help you fit larger tires in the front.

For the rear, if you have coils:

  1. You can use a daystar spacer (Daystar Part # KT09100BK). The spacer needs to have about a 1/2″ cut out to make fit over the top of the rear coil springs. Make sure to replace bottom rubber as well if it’s warn out. More detailed info here.
  2. You can change your springs to Moog CC845 made for the Ford Aerostar Van, you will need to cut 1 to 3 coils off. Some report that because of cutting the coils, the springs will start to sag after a while and provide poor performance. This is debated.

For the rear, if you have leaf springs (most cargo vans, although I have a cargo with springs):
1. Add a leaf
2. Add longer shackles.
Find more info on post #9 of this post on ToyotaVanTech.

For both front and rear,

Longer shocks. Detailed here, post number 5. Note that person has a 4wd model. You may need to use different shocks than that person if you have a 2wd. Some use Toyota Tacoma all around. This person used Durango shocks in the front and Tacoma shocks in the back.

With doing these two things alone, you should be able to fit General Grabbers on both 2wd and 4wd without rubbing. On some 2wd models, depending on age of shocks, you may need to do some cutting.

For tires,

Most people’s goal are to fit the General GRABBER A/TX – SIZE: 27X8.5R14LT on their van.

I currently have the LT195/75R14 – STARFIRE SF*510 LT  tires on my van. They’ve done alright in a lot of conditions and aren’t noisy. It doesn’t look like they’re made anymore.

Hope that helps consolidate some lifting information for our Toyota Van’s. Please comment if you have any other info or ideas.

End of Summer Garden Update

A journal documenting the weight of all the veggies harvested from the garden, photos, multiple blog posts every week, all dreams that have gone and past with the summer. The journal lasted a whole two weeks. The blog posts lasted only two updates. The photos were taken intermittingly. It’s just how it is.

Documenting each day’s harvest and weight only lasted two weeks.

Life happens and if keeping up with my day job, relationship and the garden wasn’t enough, capturing it the whole process in luring details just isn’t in the cards. What I can tell you was that it was great year in the garden and it’s looking really good going into the fall. I’m writing this after the power has been restored from a massive atmospheric river blasted Sonoma County and the Bay Area with inches and inches of rain. I love knowing that there are plants in the ground to soak up all this water. California was parched this summer and water rations were in affect. Despite this, the garden produced a lot. More than we could keep up with. Do you know what picking cucumber can fill a jar? What am I going to do with all these pickling cucumbers? There’s still some in the fridge and I’ve already made five different recipes.

One of many buckets of tomatoes.

Plant what you eat is something I preach. I think we planted too much of some veggies we like to eat. For example, the tomatoes kept flowing from our eight plants. Freezing them until there were bags and bags of tomatoes to process. Yet, we were able to keep up with our two zucchini plants. All those hot Korean peppers and other varieties like Scotch Bonnets produced well. As much as I like hot sauces, we probably planted too many. More eggplant and more potatoes next year. We love our greens and had a steady supply for most of spring and summer but it requires constant reseeding and I just couldn’t keep up with it through the heat of the summer. I think I will look into purchasing a pound of mixed lettuce seed that I can spread when walking through the garden. Maybe that was I can keep up.

Mango pico de Gallo from the garden.

Fall is setting in. Most of the tomatoes have been pulled from the ground but peppers are still in. They seem to like the cooler weather in the fall here. We’ve planted celery, more onions, greens, kale and collards. Potatoes and garlic will be going in the ground soon.

Little monkey dick peppers.

As for the wildlife in the yard, I’ve been able to witness the migration of native birds throughout the summer. Right now, our residents our Chesnut Chickadees, Lesser Gold Finches, Sparrows, and Dark Eye Juncos. As much as I love all the visitors, I need to buy some bird netting to give the seedlings a fighting chance.

Below are some more photos from the garden…

Delicata squash bumper crop.
Butternut squash.

What’s Growing in Northern California – Harvest Update June 3rd

It’s been a huge blessing to work from home. A fifteen minute break can be spent watering the garden and watching birds dance around the bird feeder. A lot of winter crops are starting to reach maturity. Spring peas are just past their peak. I’m letting some mature on the vine to harvest seeds for sowing in fall. I shelled the others. What’s nice about sugar snap peas is that you can eat them at any stage. A great variety I’ve always loved for its versatility.

Walls walls onions.

The fava beans have been cut but I left the roots in the ground for the added benefit of carbon sequestration and organic material. Onions may have got stressed out at some point because some are starting to flower which affects their taste and ability to store well. I’m picking them sooner than I want. I’ve planted more seeds for a fall crop so I’m hoping those provide better results. The tops never did yellow and fall down. This crop was Walla Walla, the onion I just planted are Spanish Yellow. We will see if there is a huge difference in bulb size and growth pattern.

Sugar snap peas shelled.


No waste garden notes:
It’s very hard to keep up eating everything in the garden without letting the products go bad. Even with a small kitchen garden, lettuce will flower, peas go unpicked, and beets get forgotten in the fridge. Every few days I try to get into the kitchen and think of food I can make with what’s in season. Grow what you eat often is a way to avoid too much food going to waste. That’s something I continue to practice and mention in this blog.

Drought notes:
Warm weather is around us and we’ve had very little rainfall in California. One way to help with water use is mulching. I can’t say it enough, it helps keep water in the soil and adds organic material that builds healthy soil. There is some concern about wood chips stealing nitrogen from plants but I’ve had plenty of success using it and don’t plan on stopping. Check out my post on mulch here.

List of To-Do’s in the garden:
– Weed, tons of crab grass still coming up even though sheet mulching (process of laying down cardboard and mulch) helped with a lot of it.
– Finish planting summer crops.
– Plant celery seeds. Such a great plant to grow because often you don’t need a whole bunch for a specific recipe.
– Continue harvesting spring crops.
– Tie up rest of tomatoes and cucumbers.