Foraged Morels

One of my favorite things about visiting my mother's farm in Eastern Oregon is that her neighbors are always dropping by with fresh veggies from their garden or eggs from their coop. Today's surprise was a grocery bag full of foraged Morel Mushrooms. For a city dweller like me, who will easily drop 8 bucks for 5 morels at the Whole Foods, this was a miracle. Tonight, I'll be cooking up a mushroom feast for my family. And I'll probably do something like THIS. Thank you Oregon. Thank you neighbors. Thank you nature!






Summer Chickens

My backyard hens are doing well in the summer heat, although they get a little pissy in the late afternoons. I've been letting them eat around the edges of my vegetable beds. This adds a healthy dose of kale, mint, and oregano to their diet. Their favorite snack is still a handful of meal worms, though. When it gets over 100 degrees, I usually take a shallow pan of ice to the hens. The ice melts quickly, but the water is cool and refreshing for the ladies. Gladys likes to stand in the water and cool off her feet.










Hot Garden

Here in Dallas, we've had temperatures in the high 90s for about a week. The heat is hard on the humans, but the tomatoes and melons seem to love it. My garden has definitely made the transition from spring to summer. The green beans are done and almost all of my greens are giving up the ghost. Now the cucumbers, melons and tomatoes are marching forward for their moment in the sun.

I took a carbon gardening class today at the Texas Worm Ranch. It was super informative and I'll be able to apply my new knowledge to my own garden as well as our school garden. If you're in the area and would like a hands-on garden education, please check them out. They have on going classes HERE. Here are some snapshots from the garden this week!


Kale and Nasturtium Salad

Baby Cucumber and Tomato Relish

Edible Nasturtium Blossoms

Waiting for Tomatoes

Canteloupe

Wisteria is still kicking out some blooms!

Lemon Queen Sunflower

Pearl the Hen

Heirloom French Zucchini

Fresh Eggs from the Hen House

June Garden Report & Natural Mosquito Repellent

The garden is pretty idyllic right now. Everything is lush, but not overgrown. The pollinators are having orgies over all of the new life and our family is harvesting food every morning. Kale, chard, eggs, herbs, onions, yellow neck squash, French zucchini, green beans and more. Even our salads get a colorful sprinkling of Nasturtium flowers for fun and color. Our tomatoes are almost ready and this year they look plentiful! I'm so thrilled. There are six varieties of tomato in our garden this year, many of which we've never grown or eaten. It will be a new adventure!

Natural Mosquito Repellent Tip
Also - I want to talk about my new successful method for keeping mosquitoes at bay. These buggers are thick this year in Texas. We didn't have a real freeze this winter, so they're especially bad right now. I hate all of the chemical sprays, and even the essential oil based sprays have a really intense odor and residue on our yard. So, I've started burning incense in the garden to smoke them out. It gives our garden the feel of sacred space, smokes out the bugs and smells divine. I just bought the huge pack if India Incense from World Market. It's inexpensive and beautiful.

What's growing in your garden right now?









May Garden Report

May is here and I'm so happy for the glorious weather and growing greens! This weekend, our little upcycled coop was featured on an urban coop tour. My favorite description of it came from a neighbor who called it "a steampunk gypsy wagon". Perfect!

The garden is in great shape. The heat of summer is still a ways off and the scattered rain has kept my beds deeply watered and happy. Right now in my garden, I have 6 heirloom tomato varieties, lazy wife pole beans, one pickling cucumber, four different varieties of squash and zucchini, watermelon, cantaloupe, kale, chard, red and yellow onions, basil, mint, oregano, sage, lavender, sunflower, nasturtiums and one lone strawberry plant. I also planted a Jersey Black Apple tree this spring. It won't see fruit for a few years, but it's nice to plan way out in advance. I also have a happy Asian Pear tree and a Meyer Lemon, which is in its first year of bearing fruit!

Here are some photos of my May garden. I'll be transplanting the watermelon elsewhere in the garden this month, because I can already tell its going to take over! I'll keep posting throughout the summer so you can see what thrives and what dies. (Something always dies. I'm a trial and error gardener, so I don't mind when something tanks.)

How is your garden this month? 
What are you growing? 
Are you trying something new? 
What are your old favorites that you always grow? 
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!








We had a post-coop-tour afterparty and this was the cake!
So cute, right?


My Favorite Backyard Farm on Instagram

If afternoons on the back patio, chicken in lap and handcrafted Belgium ale in hand, sounds good to you, then let me introduce my friend Deanna - who I met briefly back in school days in Santa Maria, CA. Deanna and her husband are urban homesteaders in Santa Barbara County who share their work on Instagram. Its my favorite feed on the web right now and I thought I'd share it with YOU! (Although, as evidenced by her almost 19K followers, you may already know all about her.)

Deanna and her husband grow veggies, raise hens, can and ferment their harvest, make Kombucha by the batch and build awesome shit in their yard. I'm envious. Not in a cloying grass-is-greener kind of way, but in an inspired get-out-there-and-make-the-world-a-better-place kind of way. Take a look at Deanna's photos below and definitely hop over to her Insta-feed and enjoy!



















Find her on Instagram HERE

How to build a school garden.

Hello dear readers. Did you miss me? I have been a busy bee these past three weeks. For the last two years I've been planning and fundraising to build a school garden at an underserved Title 1 school in Dallas. It has been both an arduous and an exhilarating process and one that came to fruition this week. I've had no time for writing or blogging because I've been project manager on a school garden construction site. But I didn't do it alone, of course. I enlisted (and sometimes begged) for support from businesses, neighbors, school officials and friends. And they got on board in a big way. I'm filled with gratitude for those who made this school garden possible.

This weekend saw the official ground breaking. All of the hard work paid off and the garden, which serves 800 students and 90 staff members, is open. How did we do it? Here's a little photo line-up that tells our story.


Identify your space...



Dream on paper and make a plan and a budget... 




Find a fabulous local landscape architect to help you... 

Drafting by Curtis Scoggins.


Hit the streets for community partnerships and funding... 




Form a committee of awesome people to do the focused jobs...




Advertise the school garden and talk it up...




Design a poster and ask a local business to cover printing costs...



Once the district approves your plan, lay out your garden...




Seek press opportunities and say YES to press inquiries...

From The Advocate Magazine - April 2016


Enlist your school art teacher to create a mural with students...




Host work days and create neighborhood partnerships... 




Invite the kids to help...




Borrow tools from friends if you don't have your own...




Work with handy parents who know how to build stuff...




Secure your rain water collection system...




Revel in the moments when it all comes together...




Stand in awe of your school art teacher's work...


Artist Emily Ash

Artist Emily Ash


Work with fabulous Girl Scout Troops...




Build a beautiful fence to protect what you've created...




Ask for seed donations...




And ask for transplant donations...



Host a Glove & Shovel Drive to supply your tool shed...




Clean up your construction site and get ready to break ground...



Break ground and invite EVERYONE...










Then invite the press back to your launch party...
All photos below are from The Advocate Magazine.







This has been such a fulfilling process.
Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making the Skyview Harmony Garden possible.

Interested in knowing more?
Follow us online:


April Garden Report

I've been away from the garden for a month, but spring came all the same. I left my raised beds with a fresh round of kale, chard, onions, romaine and a smattering of herbs, none of which need a lot of tending. So when I returned, they were full and ready for cutting. The onions of course will stay in the ground for a few more months.

It's so lovely to see things return from winter, blooming and inviting the pollinators to come and play. We've had a wonderful flurry of bees over the past few days. I returned from California with some new additions for the garden, namely a haul of succulent cuttings ready for propagation into containers.

And this week, I put a new apple tree in the ground - a grafted Jersey Black variety that I bought from Seed Savers Exchange. It won't fruit until the 5th or 6th year, but I'm a planner! This week, I also started seeds for my summer and early fall garden: heirloom French zucchini, pickling cucumbers, pole beans, Lemon Queen sunflowers, Paddy Pan squash and golden squash! Even after only a few days, I've already got germinating sprouts!

Tell me what's growing in your garden?







February Chicken Report



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


This week, Gladys began laying again! It's been a stressful winter for the poor girl. Molting began with a vengeance in late November and all egg laying ceased as the temperatures dropped. Then in January, Gladys witness a bobcat attack that picked off everyone of her flock mates. So the stress of the season and the predator attack really knocked her off her egg laying cycle. But this week, she's back!

We replaced our lost hens with three new ones last month. The girls are happy in their new home and Gladys has been very amenable, showing them around the yard and pointing out all of the good grubs and sand bath locations. She's quite the hostess.

Now that the weather is nice, we're repairing some broken pieces in the coop. Our 100% recycled coop has held up surprisingly well over the past 14 months. Since everything is old and repurposed, it needs to be retooled every once in a while. Plus, we're getting our sweet coop ready for a local coop tour on May 1st. Our girls are going to be local celebrities!

Gladys started laying again!

Left to Right: Olive, Myrtle and Gladys

Pearl is our flock leader.

Repairing some winter damage on the coop.

Radical Homemaking | New Girls on the Block



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 

Last week, I shared the sad news about our backyard flock. It could have been a coyote or a bobcat. There was no carnage, no bodies or signs of a fight. It was as if our hens had been raptured. So strange. Our sole surviving hen, Gladys, has been nervous and lonely this week. Hens are meant to live in community with other hens, so today I took my family to a local farm, east of Dallas, to select some new coop mates for Gladys.





We selected three 4-month-old hens to join our backyard flock. I really wanted to add some color to our egg supply, so we decided on an Americauna, a Deleware, and a Welsummer. I'm happy to introduce you to our new girls!


Wilma the Welsummer (dark terracotta egg color).

Pearl the Deleware (creamy brown egg color).

Maude the Americauna (blue-green egg color).

Radical Homemaking | Dealing with Loss



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 



We lost three of our four chickens this week. 
Something grabbed them and dragged them offsite for dinner. 

When I first began to transition my back yard, from a space, then filled with crab grass and ornamental bushes, we talked about whether or not we should have chickens. Plants are one thing - they grow and produce and die - but livestock seemed different. Our chickens would be cooped animals living on a very small plot of land. We'd let them loose in the garden as much as we could allow, but ultimately they were city chickens. We knew there was a real possibility we would loose them to hungry creatures that roam our neighborhood: raccoons, dogs, possum, coyote and even bobcat. But we decided to go for it - we wanted chickens.

Now, almost three years into our radical homemaking adventure, we've lost two of our babies. It's likely a coyote because the chickens are flat-out missing.  It was really difficult to grok the fact of their deaths, but we knew it was a possibility when we entered into this course of action. Of course, I wish they were here, but its also an important lesson for us and for our children to understand how food is made and how nature plays out.

But it's a sad day at our house, indeed. 
We'll miss our sweet girls.






Radical Homemaking | Winter Garden


Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


The winter garden is still going strong. Perhaps that's because the weather in Dallas has remained warm. Today we hit 77 degrees! I've still got chard, kale, broccoli and a host of herbs in the raised beds. The chickens have begun to molt (they look pretty weird right now) and they've also stopped laying. There just aren't enough daylight hours. Some neighbors suggested that I put a bulb in their coop to keep up the egg productions, but I think they could use a break. They'll start up again in the early spring.

The Seed Saver's Exchange catalog arrived last week and I've already begun making my list for spring seeds and transplants. It's such a pleasure to sit in the dark of winter and dream about the spring garden to come. Things that bombed last year will be pushed aside for new varieties. And the veggies that flourished will be welcome for a reprise. Mine is a trial and error garden. Survival of the fittest!

What's in your winter garden?





Two Years of Radical Homemaking


It is time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


Remember back in June of 2013 when I was all fired up about the concept of Radical Homemaking and I wrote THIS? And then a week later, I made a whole bunch of plans for a backyard homestead? Well, I'm really excited to say that I did it. I turned this consumer household around! (There's more I could be doing, sure. But on the whole, it's been a success.)

Every morning, I walk out into my transformed backyard to collect eggs, cut some chard or kale for the daily meals and snip a few a herbs. I'm one of those people (perhaps you can relate) who is plagued by legions of ideas, but only follow through on some. But this big idea has really come to fruition and it's so rewarding.

Today I'm celebrating. The Radical Homemaking project I began over 2 years ago is alive and well and flourishing in my little backyard plot in the middle of Dallas, Texas. I've built and maintained two large raised beds for vegetables. I've started most of my plants from seed. I have a rain water collection system. I have a compost system. I designed a 100% recycled chicken coop and raised a small back yard flock of four from chicks to laying hens. Does it sound like I'm bragging? Well, I am. I'm really proud of myself - especially since I had no real experience with any of these things before embarking on this project. So if you're thinking about doing something like this - I say go for it! Take the plunge and see what happens. To celebrate, let's take a look back at my two year experiment via Instagram.

READ more of my posts on Radical Homemaking HERE.
















Grow Your Own Food

For the past three evenings, I've made salads from my own back yard. I even had enough produce to feed a Caprese salad to a group of 12 grad students from my husband's university using tomatoes (yellow pear) and basil from my garden. Right now, I'm pulling lots of dinosaur kale, arugula and romaine from my fall garden. I'm also still harvesting rainbow chard and yellow pear tomatoes by bowl-full. Fall in Dallas is looking up!



Early Fall Garden Report

I know its not a Monday, my usual day for writing about our Radical Homemaking efforts, but I wanted to share a quick garden report. The summer heat has finally receded here in Dallas. I keep looking at photos from my Northeastern friends and see the chilly-weather coats and orange foliage. Not so here in the south. Our fall growing season extends well into the beginning of winter.

This month I'm eating heaps of yellow pear tomatoes. These plants were great producers last year and this year is no different. I'm also basking in lots of beautiful Basil. This week, I'll be processing much of it into homemade pesto sauce. Some of it will go to the freezer and some of it will be dinner this week. And finally, my winter Kale and Romaine is ready for first harvest! There is nothing better than tender fresh picked dinosaur kale from the garden.





Milk + Honey Mosquito Spray is my favorite natural, non-toxic bug spray.



Chicken Garden Party


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 

I'm in the process of transitioning our summer garden. The overgrown green beans, cucumber and tired tomatoes of spring have been removed to make way for broccoli, kale, chard, romaine and turnips. I'll add garlic and onions later in the season.

In the meantime, this is a great opportunity to let my chickens into the veggie beds. It's like a buffet. They eat all the yummy grubs, turn the soil, leave little nitrogen rich deposits and save me money on feed! I also like to let them pick through the piles of garden refuse. They sort through the vines and root balls looking for bugs. Here are some photos of my garden in transition and my hens hard at work. What do you have planned for your winter garden?















My wisteria is confused and popped out a beautiful purple bloom!


Garden Report | Summer's End

The summer heat in Texas is tough on a vegetable garden. But my plants seem to be making an effort in the final throes. I'm still harvesting yellow pear tomatoes, chard, basil, mint, oregano, cantaloupe and lemon cucumbers, but the green beans and other tomato varieties have given up. The chickens, on the other hand, are thriving and churning out those delicious eggs!

Next month, I'll be digging up the ghosts of spring and planting my fall and winter garden. I'll have kale, broccoli, chard and lots of other cold hearty veggies in the garden. How is your garden doing? What does your summer harvest entail? And what are you planning for the fall season?







 






Garden Update

We've now started pulling three different heirloom tomato varieties out of the back yard garden. The one pictured below is a Green Zebra tomato. It's a delicious! I've been eating them raw with a little bit of salt. It's the perfect summer treat. Here are just a few snapshots from my time in the garden yesterday.








Radical Homemaking | Home Grown Food


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 



It's that time of year. We're starting to see some real harvests from our first round of planting. Roasted green beans, salad greens, chard, fresh eggs and cherry tomatoes have been making their way into all of our meals. We also have a neighbor who is flush with blackberries and another neighbor giving away peaches from their tree. Needless to say, our smoothie and tart making schedule has ramped up a bit.









One of the huge benefits of having home grown food in our back yard is that my son, Charlie, who has a very restrictive texture diet, can have fresh smoothies every morning! Charlie is a stroke survivor and has a difficult time chewing and swallowing solid foods. This little jar of berries, spinach, banana, yogurt, coconut oil and dates gives him a boost of real live food, enzymes and vitamins in the morning.


Garden Report | First of June


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 



If my garden fails this year, at least I know it will not be due to lack of rain. Sheesh. Texas has been and continues to be in a flood crisis. My heart goes out this week to our brothers and sisters in Hays County, which has been hard hit by the incessant rain.

Yesterday, however, was a nice dry day with minimal mosquitoes and a cool(ish) evening breeze. My family and I took full advantage and spent the last daylight hours tying up tomatoes, re-routing bean vines and feeding bugs to the chickens. I'm still harvesting onions by the armfuls. And while tomatoes are a few weeks away from readiness, the Market Beans are ready for cooking!

What's coming up in your garden?