Sunday, June 28, 2009


It's galette season at our house right now. These were (top to bottom) nectarine, strawberry-rhubarb, and peach. I tried to make my son a birthday cake but he requested a galette instead. I stil like pies...but actually these are easier and the crust never gets soggy. I follow the recipe exactly in Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruit. Whenever I have deviated from the recipe, something has not been quite right, so this is one of the few recipes I follow exactly.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Hike

We took a spectacular hike today on Tomales Point, all the way to the very end. There were lots of people on the trail: young fathers, old fathers, fathers with daughters, fathers with sons, fathers with fathers, and also people who were not with their fathers. In the air there were pelicans, cormorants, an osprey, swifts, and lots of white crowned sparrows. On land there were elk and ladybugs and a small garter snake and this caterpillar, who was going somewhere in a hurry.
I've been trying to work out what it is using the Internet, since my wonderful butterfly book doesn't cover moths. It looks most like a Ranchman's Tiger Moth (Platyprepia virginalis) caterpillar, also known as a "woolly bear" caterpillar, a name that is applied to a lot of different species.
The sites that have the most photos don't have a lot of specific information about where the species is found, what they eat, etc. So I did more searches and found an article about the interaction of Platyprepia virginalis and another species that are very common on Lupinus arboreus. Well, guess what? Our entire hike was through a sea of Lupinus arboreus (yellow bush lupine).
That was a clue that maybe I was on the right track. Then I found a photo of an adult Platyprepia virginalis taken at Point Reyes. That pretty much clinched it.
It gave all of us an ecstatic feeling to walk all the way to the very tip of Tomales Point, down to where the rocks would toss us into the ocean if we walked any further. There were seals lounging on the rock shelves and pelicans flying around the tip at our eye level. My son kept saying he couldn't believe there was a place like this so close to San Francisco. To me it felt very far away, like another world.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Inadvertent Worm Farmer

(Come to think of it, worm farmer isn't really right. It implies some kind of commercial enterprise. Like the politically correct dog owners these days, I will call myself a worm guardian.)
I never really wanted a worm bin--too much responsibility, like having hundreds of pets. But our compost bin has over the past few months turned into a worm bin, and now I go and check on the little creatures every day. My invitations to my sons ("Wanna come and see some worms?") have so far met with polite declines. But my husband is my partner in worm husbandry. In fact, it is he who is responsible for our compost becoming the home of several hundred (or more?) red worms, since he confessed to occasionally tossing worms in there from the garden. I guess at least two of them* were the right kind, because there has been a population explosion and our bin is writhing with them.
They don't exactly need a lot of "care." They need fresh compost to eat, which we were doing already by feeding the compost bin our vegetable scraps and trimmings from our garden. They need moisture, which we added when the compost seemed a bit dry. We have taken to adding ripped up strips of newspaper since the worms like it--in fact, this morning I caught my husband outside with our office shredder, shredding paper for the worms. And that's about it.
I became curious the other day because I noticed that sometimes they seem to collect on the sides of the bin and even the underside of the lid, so when I pulled it off there was a mass of them. I searched through a few sites about worms, but all I could find was a description of something called "worm crawl" when all the worms decide to leave their bin together in a mass exodus. This was not happening--thank god! Sounds scary. The only thing to do was to email my farmer friend Karen, who lives on a real farm and who several years ago originally urged me to get a worm bin and showed me hers. At that time I was not hip to worms and politely declined.
Karen responded that her worms sometimes climb up to the top of the pile or the sides if it's too warm for them, or too moist. I was reassured to read this: "My worms regularly come up in a huge, roiling mass --and they often climb on the lid to my container." So, nothing to worry about.
The hardest part is separating the worms from the compost when I'm ready to use it. Specially-designed worm bins have separate sections for adding new compost so you can let all the worms migrate to the new compost before harvesting the castings. But everything gets pretty much mixed up in our bin. When we harvest our compost, we have to sift and separate out all the undecomposed stuff anyway, so I have been trying to pick out the worms and put them back in the bin. But quite a few go along with the compost back into the garden. Sounds like I'm doing pretty much what Karen does: "To remove more worms from the castings, I have tried piling up the castings in the sun to encourage the worms to move to the bottom, away from the light. It was more effort than necessary, so now I don't worry if some worms get placed into the garden."
My nieces are coming over for dinner tonight. I think I'll take them out back and show 'em my worms.

*Yes, there must be two of them, because even though worms are hermaphroditic, there must be two of them so they can rub their clitellums against segments 9-11 of their mating partner, depositing sperm in each other's bodies. For a more in-depth discussion, see the excellent description on the Backyard Nature site.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sewing Projects

Last summer I created my own one woman sewing camp and made an apron from a retro pattern. Over the past year, I've kept sewing. The smock apron above is made from an old tablecloth and other scraps of material from SCRAP. I love going to SCRAP. They have a lot of fabric and you can't beat the prices. Using odd shapes of fabric tests my creativity, since I sometimes have to piece things together instead of using one whole piece of fabric. Or I make little things, like these purses (the lining fabrics were remnants):
Last summer I also got a great stash of fabric at the Alameda Flea Market. Someone was selling interior design samples; these were extremely expensive fabrics for $1 a piece! Here are some seat cushions and sofa cushions I made from two of these samples, which happened to go beautifully together:
I have two great fabrics from SCRAP for my next projects:
I think the yellow one will be placemats and the blue and white toile a fabric cover for a photo scrapbook. I'm also going to make at least one apron this summer. One-woman sewing camp, here I come!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mysterious Holes

Something is eating holes in my beet leaves. I'm not upset about it, I just want to know what's doing it. One of the most satisfying things about my garden is trying to grasp the whole ecosystem: the soil, the worms, the fungi, the bacteria, the insects, the plants...and how they all work together. So I'm looking at this as a puzzle to solve--and not bringing out the saucers of beer (yet).
I've been examining the holes for a few days, and pretty much decided that they are not from any caterpillar-type creature, since I can't find anyone remotely resembling a caterpillar on the leaves, and caterpillars usually lounge couch-potato-like on the leaf they are eating, unable (or unwilling?) to move from their feast. Although I did see some tiny black dots on one leaf, which could be eggs or frass. Could they all have already pupated and flown away?
No signs of leaf-miners, either. I've had earwigs in the back of my mind, and I have cursed them in the past for chewing holes in my plants, but to be honest I have not really seen many of them and don't know if they can really inflict these kinds of holes anyway. (Also I recently learned that earwigs eat aphids so I am practicing kindness toward earwigs.) Sowbugs? Maybe. There are a lot of them around, but again, do they chew these kind of holes? I don't think so. Slugs or snails? Haven't seen any of those or their slime trails, either. There are a lot of ants around, but they seem more interested in the fishmeal I put around the plants than anything else.
This isn't a great photo, but I did find a clump of ants clustered around something on a leaf. But that was the only clump. There were a few isolated aphids on the lettuces but nothing major and none on the beets. Tonight I will go out with my flashlight; if there are earwigs, they'll be out. (Note: I did go out with a flashlight, but all I saw was one earwig lurking on the soil, and no one at all on the leaves. Foiled again.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's a "Promotion"

Technically when you finish 8th grade, it's not a graduation, but a promotion. Everyone except the principal calls it a graduation, though. Whatever you call it, the ceremony is the same: "Pomp and Circumstance," speeches, handing out diplomas, leis, and lots of picture-taking. My youngest son is now officially finished with middle school. Hallelujah! I can't say I was really much in the mood for looking backward--I think we're all happy to leave middle school behind, my son included. Despite some great experiences--like hangin' with his best friend Sam (see photo above), playing in the band, playing soccer and futsal, and discovering that he is good at math--my son doesn't have much nostalgia for his middle school years.
Most of us don't. I don't actually remember much of middle school--although we called it junior high back then. Some snapshots do linger in my mind: choreographing dance routines in the gym, my perky adorable 7th grade PE teacher, my best friend Kari in 8th grade, the purple and white costumes the cheerleaders wore. My lack of cohesive memories may be due to having gone to 3 different schools in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. I was eager to go to high school and at least have 3 years at one school.
I hope my own negative feelings about middle school didn't rub off on him too much. Now that we're done with it, I can confess something: I almost couldn't make it through his and his brother's Back-To-School-Nights each September. After sitting through two or three classes I began to feel an overwhelming urge to scribble on the walls with a permanent marker; I sometimes had to duck out of the last few classes. The nearly universal scolding tone of the teachers and something oozing out of those institutional walls unleashed in me a desire to break the rules. I'm kind of amazed he made it through all three years with only a few trips to the counselor's office.
Onward to high school!
(Okay, here's the whole photo. I don't usually post photos of my kids but ... this time I did. The lady in the flowered coat is a totally awesome social studies teacher, Ms. Lucero. Read my shout out to her.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hatched Already?

Look who I found on the lettuce today! I wonder, could it possibly be the newly hatched ladybug from the larva I rescued last week? After some research at Everything Ladybug!, I decided that by a stretch of could be. Newly hatched ladybugs are yellow, with no spots, and assume their normal color after a few days. They usually pupate for 5-8 days. So...if the larva scrambled over to the lettuces and immediately started to pupate (wouldn't you pupate immediately if you had been stuck in a refrigerator for days?), and just hatched today, it could be the same one. Or maybe a different one. I am feeling a slight ladybug obsession coming on.