Monday, November 30, 2009

Lughnasadadh (from Linda Johnson)

Hi Kirsten,

At our last class gathering I read a blessing to the class before we went off to work in the garden. Wendy asked me to send you a copy of what I read to be posted on the blog.

The bread/food blessing is just part of a holiday or Sabbat ritual I performed a few years ago for the celebration of Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa) the feast of Lugh who is the Celtic Sun God. The feast was said to be held in honor of his *foster mother who gave of her fertility and her life so that the land of Ireland would always provide the people.

Lughnasadh is celebrated on August 1st and is associated with the grain harvest. It is the Pagan version of Thanksgiving.

*Foster mother is an old term meaning nurse or milk mother. Her name I do not know for sure. Some mythologists think that it refers to Tara, a later (Roman influenced) name for the Celtic Earth Goddess earlier known as Anu.

The blessing is as follows:

"The apple is red with fire, the corn is golden with life, the oak is green with light. All cherish the bright and glorious sun. Blessed are they, blessed are the grounds from which they grow. Oh Great Divine grant us the wisdom and the power to help seed, grow and feed the earth and all it's creatures. So Blessed be."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wednesday 11/25 Harvest Celebration Workday

Wednesday 11/25 our class will have a Harvest Celebration Workday at Indian Valley Organic Farm. Please bring something "potlucky" to share!

Olive and Fruit Trees at Indian Valley Organic Farm

From Mary Haring...

On Wednesday we had a small group for the planting of our first olive tree at about 1 PM - My friend Cem Akin of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation came out to the Farm to meet with Bethallyn and Henry...It was so fortuitous that it was also the day that the donated olive trees were delivered by McAvoy Ranch -

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lunacy - Experiencing the Pull of The Moon

Today was sheer lunacy...all about the moon.   Here is one more powerful element in the divinely choreographed dance of the Universe.  We small beings, hoping to grow food and flowers and medicinals, are part of that dance, and Wendy Johnson asked us to consider the full cycles of the moon, and the influence those stages may have on our work in cultivation.  She gave us an overview of the ancient Cross Holy Days and of the pagan harvest festivals.  Holy Days, in all religions, are rooted in a relationship with the moon and the sun and the harvest.  From Hallows Eve in October, to St.Brigid's Day in the spring, from the Celtic tradition of Lugh, or "bread basket," in August, to Christmas, at the Winter Equinox... these celebrations represent a history of farming within the rhythms of the seasons.

Wendy encouraged us to cultivate an awareness of the tides in all aspects of the environment.    Throughout time, sugarers, drawing maple syrup from their trees, have said "the sap flow is faster in the bright of the moon."  Alan Chadwick would tell Wendy, "The moon pushes and the sun pulls."  There is a reason the Farmer's Almanac has always included specifics about the behavior of those two great spheres in the sky.

"The Bright of the Moon" (such a beautiful, lyrical phrase) is the 14 days when the moon is "waxing," in a period of inclination.

"The Dark of the Moon" is the 14 days when the moon is "waning," in a period of declination.

Biodynamic Farming was developed by Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education.  This method involves an extensive awareness of the moon.  Here is a link to the National Sustainable Agriculture Association with more information about Biodynamic Farming, as well as a list of astronomical gardening calendars.

Biodynamic Farming and Compost Preparation

Planetary Influences

Lunar and astrological cycles play a key role in the timing of biodynamic practices, such as the making of Biodynamic preparations and when to plant and cultivate. Recognition of celestial influences on plant growth are part of the biodynamic awareness that subtle energy forces affect biological systems. A selection of resources are listed below. On examination of the variations in agricultural calendars that have sprung from the biodynamic experience, it is apparent that differing viewpoints exist on which lunar, planetary, and stellar influences should be followed.

Stella NaturaThe Kimberton Hills Biodynamic Agricultural Calendar, available through BDFGA for $11.95, is the biodynamic calendar edited by Sherry Wildfeur and the most prominently known calendar of this type in the United States. It contains informative articles interspersed with daily and monthly astrological details, and lists suggested times for planting root, leaf, flowering, and fruiting crops.

Working with the Stars: A Bio-Dynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar, available through JPI for $12.95, is the biodynamic calendar based on Maria Thun's research and is more prominently used in Europe. Of the three calendars mentioned here, Thun's calendar relies more heavily on planetary and stellar influences. It contains research briefs as well as daily and monthly astrological details, again with suggested planting times.

Astronomical Gardening Guide, available through Agri-Synthesis in Napa, California (11) for a self-addressed stamped envelope, is the biodynamic gardening guide compiled by Greg Willis of Agri-Synthesis. This calendar, which is a simple 2-sheet information leaflet, focuses on lunar phases.

Secondary Edible Parts of Vegetable Chart

also from Lynn...

Secondary Edible Parts of Vegatble Chart

Cauliflower Fractal

A gorgeous link from Lynn Tompkins...

Cauliflower Fractal

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Microbial Fuel Cell

We've all seen the thermometer in our compost piles, racing up to 140 degrees.  We know the energetic power of manure-enriched earth.  Now Lynn Tomkins has found a Harvard team working in a power-less area of Sub-Saharan Africa to rub batteries and LED lights with underground bacteria-fueled batteries.  A five gallon bucket, manure, mud and salt water...doesn't sound so different from some of our garden concoctions.  Very cool!

Microbial Fuel Cell

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Air Aware - beautiful piece from Orion Magazine Sept/Oct 2009

Wonderful kismet...A few blogs back I wrote about the effect of rain on our back field. Now, I've come across a truly beautiful piece of writing about the mysteries of air and weather.

The Air Aware by David Abram

This is worth reading. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Common Ground Events

Pam Scott forwarded this list from Common Ground in Palo Alto.  Some great classes coming up.

Here is the link to their website:  Common Ground

Nancy Garrison  Saturday, November 14, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Learn how to successfully grow blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and mulberries for bountiful berry harvests May through late fall. Mulberries are less known but wonderful in that they are seedless and Thornless, with flavor like a combo of many different berries. You will learn the best varieties of each and specific planting instructions including soil amendments and trellising.
Nancy has been researching the best varieties for this area for many years and will share her vast knowledge so you will get abundant harvests.  Nancy offers a center tour of her favorite and must-have products after the class.

Alane Weber  Saturday, December 5, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Super soil! The soil Foodweb consists of all the beneficial micro- and macroscopic soil critters that function harmoniously in our garden soil. They are responsible for nutrient cycling, soil production and immune system boosting. Understanding the riches in our soil will give you greater ability to surf with nature's wisdom and make better compost.
Alane is an advisor for Soil Foodweb, Inc. She runs the education program of RecycleWork's Master Composting Program for San MateoCounty. Her approach is animated with humor and suffused with the integrity of sustainable care for our lands.

Sherri Osaka  Saturday, December 12, 2009
10:30 - 12:30   $30, To register call 650-493-6072 or

Prepare for next summer’s dry season by collecting and storing rain water now. This class explores methods of rainwater harvesting and storage from roof materials, to tanks and their costs, to landworks, and finally to using pure, sweet rainwater in your garden. We'll discuss permitting, mosquitos, and calculating the amounts of rainwater against the cost of storage. We'll show how rainwater harvesting not only saves water, but energy and infrastructure as well, and how it can be a part of every garden.
Sherri is the owner of Sustainable Landscape Designs and is co-founder of the Sustainable Landscape Roundtable, an organization that encourages landscape professionals to adopt ecological practices, and a director of the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

Speaking of Irrigation...

We're moving water again.  Lynn Tomkins sent this link to a NYTimes piece on the most extensive California water plan since the 60's

California Water Overhaul Caps Use

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Importance of Making Your Bed

According to Steve Quirt's wife, he cannot make his bed at home. (Note to mothers: do not promote learned helplessness by making your sons' beds for them)

Fortunately, Steve makes his farm beds expertly. Here he is in action:

Steve's advice:

- Make your bed somewhere about three feet wide (Wendy Johnson promotes wide beds - at least 4 feet wide because, she says,they narrow over time.) Steve says the key is to make them a width that allows you to reach across as you plant.

- Leave only 12 inches of space between your rows. We're going for maximum fertility and productivity so you don't want too much space on the pathways

- add a few inches of lovely finished compost to the bed (organic matter!)

- "edge" the bed and fortify it, using a shovel to firm up the soil on the sides of the bed

- Use a rake and smooth out the top of the bed. The back of the rake is good for this as well. In Steve's opinion, it is better to make the top of the bed flat, or even slightly concave, than mounded.

- Now, carefully make your way across the bed "typewriter style" with a fork, lightly turning the compost into the top of the soil.

- You are reading to plant your starts. In this case, we were planting lettuce. Steve tucked them in approximately four inches, or a hands width apart. We're aiming to cover the entire surface of the bed. (And the good news with lettuce is that Baby Lettuce leaves are highly desirable, so you are using the produce as you thin)


The Beds of Indian Valley Organic Farm

Turning Buckwheat (cover crop) in

Adding a middle line to a bed

THANK YOU Pam Scott and Lynn Tomkins for the photos

More Asexual Activity in the Greenhouse

Wendy speaking about the wonder of propagating Lemon Balm

Lavender, just waiting

Lavender strikes go into Perlite

Sage, tucked in a ready to grow

Farmstand is Open! (Plus Green Tomato Recipes)


The Indian Valley Organic Farm Produce Stand has officially reopened .  Come by on Wednesdays at 1pm.  Located on the College of Marin Indian Valley Campus, just beyond the playing fields


Here are two Green Tomato Recipes. Fry or bake, take your pick.

Fried Green Tomatoes

18 1/4-inch-thick slices green tomatoes (about 6 tomatoes)
 1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
 3 large eggs, beaten to blend
 1 cup olive oil

Sprinkle all green tomato slices with salt and pepper. Place 1/2 cup flour in shallow bowl. Mix remaining 1/2 cup flour with cornmeal in another shallow bowl to blend. Working with 1 green tomato slice at a time, coat with flour, then egg, then flour-cornmeal mixture. Transfer to baking sheet. Line second baking sheet with paper towels. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry green tomatoes until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer to prepared baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Keep warm in oven.
adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit   August 2003

"Un"Fried Green Tomatoes (as in, baked)

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt (don't skimp on the salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or the pepper!)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pimenton or sweet paprika (or cumin or maybe garam masala)

2 large green tomatoes, core removed in a V shape, sliced crosswise about 1/3 inch thick

Preheat oven to 400F. Place a baking sheet in the oven for 5 minutes to get it plenty hot. Spray it with cooking spray. Meanwhile, stir together the breading. Place the breading in a large shallow container, the buttermilk in another. Slice the tomatoes. Once the baking sheet has been preheated, work quickly. Dip each tomato slice into the buttermilk, then into the breading. Arrange on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the slices over. Bake another 10 minutes or until cooked clear through. Serve hot, they don't improve!
 Adapted from Cooking Light

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two Simple Diagrams: Botany of A Flower

Today we discussed plant pollination and looked carefully at rudbekia, oats and squash blossom, trying to identify the various plant parts.  Below are very simple diagrams I use with Middle School students. I hope they are helpful.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Bowl That Keeps Feeding Event 11-15-2009

Studio4Art and What's Cooking are proud to present
Soup - The Bowl that Keeps Feeding - a benefit to fight childhood hunger in our community.

Studio4Art will work with children to throw and glaze soup bowls, and children from local schools will work with What's Cooking to prepare home-made soup.

At our event, guests get to select any bowl of their choice and we will fill it with soup and enjoy a meal together.  Guests get to bring their empty bowls home as a reminder of the hungry children in our community and that they personally did something to make a difference.  All proceeds of our event will go to Homeward Bound of Marin's Emergency Family Shelter.

Forr more information, please contact Michelle Stern, What's Cooking, 415-342-4353, or Kebby McInroy, Studio 4 Art, 415-596-5546,

Patty Hamilton: Master of Irrigation

 There are few out there who have undertaken a true study of the Art of  Irrigation.  Many gardeners call the creation of a watering system "irritation."   But most of us have personally experienced the sensation of thirst, and know that it is a yearning that will not be abated with anything but that essential combination of hydrogen and oxygen.  Water, and how it is delivered, is at the "root" of everything that happens in our gardens.  Last Wednesday Patty Hamilton from Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastapol, a Master of Irrigation, came to share the top six inches of her wisdom with us.

The class moved quickly, and we did so much math that at times I had to look around to make sure I hadn't been tossed back into college calculus ("Um, excuse me, could you please repeat that last part?"), but in the end we had a good overview of how to approach setting up an irrigation system.  Here I must go back to one of Wendy's favorite garden quotes:  "In general, everything is specific."  That means that we know we start with the basic irrigation building blocks (timer, filter, pressure regulator), then make very specific decisions based on the lay of our own land.

1.  Start with a "Bucket Test" - a five gallon bucket, see how long it takes to fill up so you get you gallon/minute rate.
2.  Filtration system - This decision is based on water quality...are you on city, pond or spring water? do you need a screen filter (basic, if on city water) or a disc filter (26 times more filtration than a screen...needed if you have a lot of particulates in water)
3.  Pressure regulator comes after the filter in your set-up...This is where you begin to make some calculations based on your water pressure and relates to the next step (#4). 
4. Drip, Spray or Combined system.  What type of plants are you watering?  For instance, you don't want a spray system when watering trees because you want to make sure the water gets most directly to the roots....What type of soil do you have?  This relates to the capillary force ( surface tension) and soil structure matters here.  If you have sandy soil, the capillary action is not as extensive and so your water tends to dive straight down...on the other hand, a nice loamy soil means that the water will spread out on its own underground in a nice large ballooning shape.  These, along with questions about the slope of your land,and the length of our rows, are questions we must address to design our systems.

The Harmony catalog has a lot of excellent information about Irrigation, and Harmony will test soil and water before you begin designing your system.

Finally, we moved on to a discussion of Irrigation Tape and an in-depth calculation of emitter spacing on the tape and when you might need "pressure compensating emmitters".  "T-Tape" is what waters the rows at Indian Valley.  It is a flexible, user-friendly option...BUT it requires farmer responsibility.  In Florida, farmers are leaving the tape in the fields and discing it into the soil.  There is no known recycling option for this tape at the moment.

Here's an idea...before the creators of T-Tape (and all the future wonder solutions) receive a patent for their fabulous new product, they must come with the "un-make" plan (otherwise known as "recycling")...and they may receive the patent for that as well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Secret Language of Rain

Last week after the first rain, our "back forty" made its exquisite fall transformation.  My kids were the first to notice.  On their way down to the chicken coop to check for eggs they begin to call wildly... The grass has come up!

Great painters and newfangled printers have tried, but have not been able to come up with anything close to "new grass" green.  This is an elusive green found deep inside emeralds, an irretrievable green that glistens and radiates, a green that stays with your thoughts all day and reappears as you close your eyes to sleep at night.  The photos above are fine, but the Elysian glow has cannot be captured with a lens other than the naked and exhilarated eye.

We have also have a mixed-seed lawn on our property, one that we will give up one of these years, but for now it is used as religiously as a playing field in a county park - by our extended community of family, friends and neighborhood kids - so it remains.  The lawn browned over the summer and, on this same first rain morning, returned in full green regalia. My husband commented that even if he had watered, it would not have responded and come back the way it did until that storm. This is the mysterious moment when the air whispers to the earth to hold its breath for just a moment more, now the rain is coming.   Then, the great freeing of water onto the clenched soil, releasing in a pattern of drops made for the seeds and dormant life, a secret message to signal It is time.

Farm Stand is Open Weds, 1pm

The Indian Valley Organic Farm Produce Stand has officially reopened - Wednesdays at 1pm.  I'll post the exact hours soon.