Our constant work in the garden (which we sometimes refer to now as Versailles Farm) has kept us busy; so busy in fact, we haven't found the time to blog about our doings for quite some time now. Some of the highlights of note in the past 12 calendar months have been our expanding fruit tree harvests. The trees a friend bought and planted for us as a wedding present in 2004 have grown significantly in the last couple of years and are making a big dent in our weekly farmers' market bill. For three years running now, our Fuji apple tree has fed us daily from the beginning of September until the beginning of December. It's as big as we want it to get now, so we'll have to continue pruning it to size so that it doesn't shade the rest of our small backyard and prevent our sowing annual veggies. You can get a sense of it's size in the photo here.
After many years of impatient waiting (and much grumbling on Ann's part) our original apricot tree finally started bearing fruit in 2012. While we waited for it, we planted another one into a corner of our front yard. Because of it's location, it will always have to remain very “dwarfed” but it gave us apricots before it's elder sibling. We're hoping their production will really take off this next year.
This was our first fantastic year of citrus production from the mandarin orange and tangerine trees we planted in the spring of 2009. The mandarin produced incredibly sweet, seedless snacks from the end of November until the end of January, just when the tangerines began to ripen. We had four continuous months of fresh citrus ready whenever we wanted it. These aren't big trees at all, but it's amazing how much fruit they hold on them. The tangerine tree in the photo to the right produced over 320! We tended to peel and eat the mandarins in sections, but the seedy tangerines we used more often for amazing tangerine juice. That was Paul's intention in wanting us to plant a tangerine tree in the first place. It didn't cross his mind that Ann would think to combine the juice with some home-grown kale for daily green drinks by the end of this season, but those were pretty great too, tasting exactly like tangerine juice that happened to be green. We will let these trees continue to grow, knowing that we will be sacrificing some other gardening space.
Our other fruit tree addition in 2012 was a lime tree in a pot on the deck. It will never be a huge producer, but it is a treat to have fresh limes for recipes occasionally.
We continue to be thrilled and amazed at just how much can be grown in a very small Bay Area lot. If we count the dwarf lemon tree and the standard size Santa Rosa plum tree that were here when Paul first moved in, our eight fruit trees, raspberry and blueberry bushes, and two grapevines provide us with fruit year-round. As Rachel likes to say when eating something from the yard: “Thank you, apple tree, for growing us these yummy apples.”
We've just finished hosting the third annual Alameda Backyard Chicken Coop Bicycling Tour that Ann coordinates. It was a blast, yet again. This year we had 280 people sign in, and of those, probably 95% biked or walked to our house. This year there were 15 coops on the tour, far more than the last two years when there were only seven. With this new arrangement, people could visit just the ones in their neighborhood or bike to the other side of the island to see ones further away.
It is so thrilling to hear how much our group is inspiring people to raise more of their own food. I talked for almost 3 hours straight answering questions about our bees while Paul fielded most of the chicken questions and we each answered some gardening questions. Many people left our yard and the yards of other hosts inspired to build a coop, catch a bee swarm, or plant some seeds.
Madeleine and Rachel had fun selling chocolate chip cookies that they baked. Our eldest once again wowed people with her knowledge of all things chicken/bee/gardening related. At one point someone was exclaiming over our "corn" plants, only to be informed by Madeleine that they were looking at onions, not corn. She was also overheard explaining to someone what a queen bee cell looks like. I had found some in one of the hives recently and she was proud to take it to her kindergarten show-and-tell last week.
Before the tour we had posted a list of an annual harvest from our tiny, but prolific, backyard and added up the value of what we raised. From the asparagus to the raspberries, the tangerines to the eggplant, the eggs, to the honey, it totaled $2,782.50. Even we were amazed at the total.
On a funny note, today Rachel was shocked to see that they sell asparagus at Safeway. For some reason, she found it to be hilarious. For all she knew, our garden was the asparagus supplier for the world.
As Thanksgiving passes, most of our garden harvests have ended or are ending. We've just picked the last fruit from the Fuji apple tree which friends gave us and planted as a wedding present seven years ago. It is definitely a gift that keeps on giving. The tree produced just over 100 apples this year. We started picking and eating them the first of September and it looks like the few we have left will get us through November.
The Italian blood on both sides of our family means we all enjoy pesto, and this year we had a bountiful basil crop for the first time. Besides using it for various recipes, we made 27 batches of pesto to eat and freeze. We finally got a bit weary of it when the plants were still bearing at Halloween, but it will be a nice treat to find it in the freezer all winter.
Another notable garden success of 2011 was our first season of asparagus. Our small patch yielded a pound of asparagus a week for 16 weeks. At the other end of the vegetable alphabet stands the zucchini, of which we harvested 85 over a four month period this year. Unbelievably, we never had a chance to try all the zucchini recipes we have, although we did try many new ones. The girls discovered they like zucchini cut into thick spears, grilled on the grill, and dipped in ketchup like french fries.
Cherry tomatoes fed us almost daily from the beginning of August through our Thanksgiving salad. Ann's first experiment at growing three different varieties of dried soup beans was a resounding success (black turtle, white European Soldier and scarlet runners) so we should have enough to feed us through the winter. Carrots, salad greens, pumpkins, green peppers, winter squash, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, and plums all performed somewhere in the range from mildly to very well. We even scored two small bunches of grapes, five apricots, and 20 tangerines from our youngest vines/trees. We did a rough estimate and it looks like our produce saved us more than $700 at the farmers' market, and that's not counting the honey we harvested and the hundreds of eggs laid by our chickens.
Lest you think our thumbs are perfectly green however, we should note that our onions, garlic, broccoli, eggplant, and yellow squash failed miserably. There's always something to improve upon, right? For now, though, we're thankful the heavy workload is over for the year and we're appreciating a slower season in the garden.
In the midst of a fun-filled summer, Madeleine turned five. Events of note preceding her birthday were her "graduation" from pre-school (she's headed to our neighborhood public school for kindergarten in the fall), her first camp-out with Ann in the backyard (she finally got to sleep at 11 pm after three trips inside to the potty and commenting several times, "I miss Rachel"), weekly outings with friends to the zoo, Fairyland, Redwood Park, etc. and Alameda's Fourth of July parade.
For her birthday party Madeleine requested water play in the backyard again, prompting Rachel to talk daily of her desire for a swimming pool party when she turns three next year. For her birthday present we risked life and limb hanging a rope swing from our birch tree in the front yard. She couldn't have been more thrilled.
Because we appreciated Madeleine being a toddler when she was baptized, we decided to wait until Rachel was two for her baptism. The big day was May 22, 2011 at St. Columba Church in Oakland. Madeleine was preparing Rachel for months, telling her, "When you're baptized it will be like the priest is washing your hair," to which Rachel would reply with great seriousness, "O'day."
Rachel loves, loves, loves the music at St. Columba and she enjoyed the entire mass that day, except for the baptismal rite. She cried when the priest, Fr. Karl Davis, OMI poured water over her head. She cried (loudly) when Paul lifted her up for the entire congregation to see her, she cried when she was anointed with oil, and she kept on crying when she was presented with her baptismal garment. The poor girl just didn't like being in the spotlight, especially once she got a bit scared. After the rite itself, though, she went right back to enjoying the mass.
That night during her bath, Paul discovered her pouring water over her bath toys and declaring, "Baptize, baptize." Now when she hears we're going to mass at St. Columba she asks us, "Rachel get baptized 'gain?" We ask, "Do you want to get baptized again?" and she says "Yes."
At 25 months of age, she still fit into the baptismal dress her Grandma Naffziger made for Madeleine when she was 15 months old.
Her godparents are Celeste and Brian Stanley, friends from St. Columba, and our friend Sheri Hostetler, pastor of First Mennonite Church in San Francisco.
(We're catching up on some older news...)
Our sweet, second daughter turned two on Good Friday and Earth Day, April 22, after a fun and busy spring. Rather than throw a boisterous party on a solemn church day, we celebrated quietly and happily as a family of four. Then we celebrated again two days later on Easter with Paul's family. Ann came in just under the wire and finished sewing Rachel's one-and-only birthday quilt by the second celebration!
Particular things of note in Rachel's previous few months included our trip the the midwest to visit her Naffziger grandparents at their new home in a suburb of Cincinnati, where she also had some time with her Aunt Ellen. After that, we traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to visit our friends Sharon and Randall -- also Madeleine's godparents -- who moved there from Alameda last fall. Also this spring we planted Rachel's placenta as a family. It went into the ground to fertilize a lemon verbena plant we hope will bless us with its wonderful aroma for many years to come.
Rachel continues to grow in cuteness, and although she displays some typical two year old obstinance, we know how to manage it with more humor this time around. We appreciate her love of her 'is, which is short for "sis," which is short for "Madeleine." Rachel loves going to My Play Place once a week, but misses her sister when Madeleine is at preschool. She is already learning to ride Madeleine's scooter and is eager to be able to ride a bike with her too. Besides her sister, Rachel's favorite playmate is her stuffed dog which she named "Lulu." She makes us laugh every day regaling us with stories of other dogs throughout her world, all of whom are named Lulu.
A little over a month ago, Ann started writing for Busted Halo, an "online magazine for spiritual seekers" published by the Paulist priests. She is answering scripture questions for their "question box," and you can see all of her articles here
. Feel free to submit some questions and see if you can stump her! This new job coincides with her teaching another section of her Intro to the Four Gospels class this summer at a local Paulist parish - Newman Hall on the Cal Berkeley campus.
Now that the holidays are over, it's time to update some of our photo collection from the busy last few months. By the end of the year Rachel had hit 20 months of age and her early speech has begun. She says more words than we can count, but her repetitive favorites are Mommy, Daddy, 'Is (for "Sis"), 'Lilah (for her friend Delilah), Papa (Paul's father), cat, dog, baby (refers to any child she sees under the age of two) bubble, wa-wa (water), more, and robot to name a few. The vast majority of her conversations include one or more of the above. To our chagrin, she learned how to climb out of her crib in November and to this day still has not mastered the art of consistently taking long -- or even medium length -- naps. She is sweet and funny at times, happy and playful, or stubborn and mischievous.
Madeleine loves the holiday season as she is quite the liturgically-minded child. She asked if we could celebrate Hanukkah again (we did, with dreidel play every day), and Advent was another hit. She loves the ritual of the nightly Advent candles. This year’s Advent had the added excitement of preparation for her inaugural appearance with the children's choir at St. Columba's Christmas Eve mass. She was the youngest and the shyest during rehearsals, either refusing to open her mouth or just mouthing the words silently, but she surprised us by singing out proudly and confidently on Christmas Eve. Although we had never practiced it with her, she even sang along when the 12 year old soloist sang her "solo" verses during one song. She just turned 4 1/2 and insisted for the second year in a row on a mini-celebration complete with a cake and 4.5 candles. January brought longer preschool hours for her: from 9:00-3:00 on M,W,F. Both she and Ann are thrilled at the addition. The new schedule enables the two of them to make the 1.25 mile commute home by bike, sometimes with the trail-a-bike, sometimes with Madeleine on her own two wheels pumping furiously while Ann pedals slowly behind her.
In other news, we do indeed have six new hens now, bought as day-old chicks in October. After much deliberation in the naming process we've settled on: Goldilocks, Fuzzy, Blackie, Roughpowder (a long story behind that one), Leafy-Leaf, and Buster Posey. We hope the last doesn’t turn out to be a rooster, but we just had to name one in honor of the World Series champs since they were hatched during the post-season that Ann and Paul so enjoyed watching with neighbors this year.
Four days after we said goodbye to two of our chickens, we ate one if them tonight. I made chicken soup with her, and all day long as I simmered old "Scramble," I was thinking of my paternal grandmother, Madalyne, who was said to be a master "neck-ringer." Then, as we sat eating the chicken soup made with carrots, onions, potatoes, swiss chard, left-over brown rice, and orzo pasta, Paul and I had a conversation with Madeleine about who this chicken was. A friend of a friend had slaughtered it, plucked, and feathered it for us a few days ago.
Madeleine didn't bat an eyelash at our explanation, and when we finished talking she said, "We should do it again sometime." More conversation followed, so that by the end of dinner she was already planning the demise of our remaining four chickens to make room for six new baby chicks later this fall. She also said rather cheerfully, "When we get our new chicks if there are some that grow up and don't lay eggs, we can kill them and eat them too." There was also the suggestion from her that we learn to do the deed ourselves so that someone else doesn't have to do it for us.
The chicken itself tasted good. Not tender, but not too tough either. I would say it had "character."
Rachel has a terrible cold, and I felt so good about giving her truly homemade chicken soup with so many ingredients from our own backyard. She gulped down three bowlfuls.
A couple of months ago Lori Eanes
, a professional photographer in San Francisco who has done photography for Utne Reader
, The New York Times
, Sunset Magazine
, and Parenting Magazine
, just to name a few, contacted us to see if she could photograph our family and garden for a project she's currently doing.
She came out at the end of July and photographed us for two hours, snapping away as we planted seeds for our fall garden, harvested squash, pumpkins, beans, strawberries, and plums, and the girls tended to the chickens. She came up with some incredible shots. We were struck looking at them by how lush and fruitful our small (only 750 square feet) and not-so-perfect garden came off looking. It really is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space.
We just got the photos today, which you can view in the slideshow below (or click on it to see the photos larger).
You can see some of the other photos from Lori's in-progress "Backyard Project" on her website
under Portfolio > Projects. We hope to see her collection of urban farmer photos in a local publication sometime soon!