Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hen and Chicks

Our baby chicks are starting to look like sturdy tweeners and with the beautiful sunshine we had earlier this week we decided it was time to introduce them to the rest of the flock. This visitation was of course highly supervised, and if the chicks really needed to escape an angry hen we quickly learned the chicken run was not capable of containing them. I had read a few really terrible stories recently about chicks getting pecked to death by older hens so I must admit I feared a little bit for our crazy baby leghorns.

All my fears were for naught however, as once again we were blessed by the quiet gentle personalities of our Buff Orpingtons. I must say, the chicks seemed a lot more comfortable moving around the hens then they are around Jeff and I. They quickly integrated themselves into the group and enjoyed their first chance to really run around freely in the great outdoors.

(Yeah its a terrible pic, but getting them to hold still for a photo is like asking the sasquatch to pose.)

While they busied themselves chasing bugs and Jeffry cleaned out their cage, I sprinkled lots of baking soda around the spot their cage had been in the extension and let that deodorize for a bit. Honestly, I didn't think the smell was really all that strong, but I also think I might have just gotten used to it over the last month that they have been our housemates, so I didn't want to take any chances. I will also be seeing if I can borrow a carpet cleaner in the next week or so just to be safe. The chicks are now securely settled in to their transitional home in the garden shed, until they are big enough to be contained in the regular chicken run.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Return It Better Than You Found It

Over the last year, I have dug gardens in areas of new construction and old established neighborhoods. In both these places I have learned and relearned an important lesson, burying something doesn’t make it disappear. It’s still there, and thirty years later those cement chunks that you intentionally buried five inches below the surface (grr) or those pesky plant labels that blew away in the wind will still be there to bother some other gardener.
I have found all sorts of things in the ground in which I planned to grow my food. The afore mentioned cement chunks and plastic plant tags have presented themselves in great abundance, but I have also found bottle caps, sardine cans, random chunks of plastic and packaging, a horseshoe and my most recent favorite, an old rusty razor blade (good thing I wear gloves). While finding these things buried in my yard has given rise to more than a little frustration inside this otherwise mild mannered gardener, they have also served as a great reminder to me of another lesson I have learned, the ground I’m working isn’t really mine.

In saying this, I’m not trying to espouse some political view on land ownership but simply stating the truth that this land will not be mine forever. Eventually, someday, I will be gone and someone else will take up stewardship of my little plot, and when that happens they will inherit everything I have ever done here. Any short cuts I ever made on house repairs or other building projects will be theirs. Any time I tried to save a few bucks by not disposing of waste properly will be theirs. Or any time I was careless and didn’t make sure all the bits of garbage where picked up when I was done with a project, those will also be theirs.

I find the idea that I am passing on something, instead of just creating a little oasis for myself, adds a new level of thought to my gardening. It motivates me not only to be more careful with my own behavior, but to make sure I take the time to clean up the carelessness of previous owners. As I reset boards in the garden, lay pavers or dig holes for new plants (cleaning up the soil as I go), I like to think about how someday another young gardener will be digging in that same dirt, and her work will be a little easier because I passed on the land a little better than I found it.

What has gardening taught you?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Flowers and Foothills Part II

Welcome back to part two of a day trip to the foothills. After we had stuffed ourselves silly with pizza, tested our trivia on things such as history, Knight Rider, and science and hit a few thrift stores we headed toward the town of Grass Valley and our second nursery stop.

Prospector’s Nursery is definitely a different experience from Bald Mountain. Yes, you’ll spend more on plants there than at Bald Mountain, but you will also be able to purchase harder to find ornamentals such as Burning Hearts (they do not carry edibles except for a few fruit trees). In addition to having rarer plants, they also just have a wider variety of non-tree plants than you will find at Bald Mountain. I do think Bald Mountain has them beat when it comes to tree varieties, but its close.

Out front you’ll find all their sun loving plants (I recommend bringing a good pair of sunglasses), but when you head out back you are suddenly surrounded by pine trees and can slowly meander through their shade loving plants. If you have a shady nook that you are having trouble finding the right plants for, look no further. Their selection of shade adoring ornamentals is impressive.

Another major difference between the two nurseries is that Prospector’s has a large indoor area of home and garden stuff. They carry all sorts of cute décor items (often with a garden theme), table cloths, serving wear, plant tags, lotions, cute garden tools, candles, etc. Generally I find some little reasonably priced thing that I never new I needed so badly. Inside they also always have complementary cookies with either hot or iced tea depending on the season.

Lastly, although Prospector’s Nursery is more upscale than Bald Mountain (and therefore charges accordingly) they are NOT snooty. In fact, I have always found their staff to be one of the most pleasant parts of their establishment. They are energetic, sincere and interested in the projects you have planned with the plants you are purchasing and are happy to offer advice and encouragement. I think the differences between the two nurseries make them a perfect match to visit in the same day. Visit Bald Mountain for a slow relaxing country stroll and to get your Johnny Jump Ups, Petunias, fruits trees, etc. and then take the beautiful drive up to Prospector and enjoy the more exotic varieties, the indoor goodies and of course, cookies!

When the trunk is full it's time to head home!

Mom and I had to get back to Sacramento after Prospectors, but if you have a little more time you should take a stroll through Nevada City or Grass Valley. There is a nice old theatre in downtown Grass Valley called the Del Oro where you could catch a movie and there are plenty of places in that area to grab some dinner. The two main streets in downtown Grass Valley are also far more level than the hill that is Nevada City.

*Pictures from the lense of K.E. Fisher

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flowers and Foothills

Last weekend my mother and I decided to take a Saturday to get out and enjoy some sunshine and flowers while Jeff enjoyed a cold one and a baseball game. We turned it into a day trip up to the foothills and visited a couple of nurseries that my mom has been quite fond of. If you are into flowers and a pretty drive I recommend you do the same sometime in the next month before everything turns brown. If you have kids, there is even a huge park complete with a swimming hole, playgrounds and Frisbee golf course to let them burn off some steam. Today I’ll share the first half of the trip with you.

If you go up highway 99 for a long time and then make a few lefts and a right you will find yourself on a narrow road near the town of Brown’s Valley. You may think this is just some dead end country road with nothing of interest, but you’d only be half right. Less than a mile off the main road is Bald Mountain Nursery, a family run establishment that makes you feel like you are just wandering around a friend’s front yard. You’ll find cozy benches nestled under shade trees should you need to take a break from browsing and friendly doggies running around keeping an eye on things.

While this location definitely focuses more on ornamental plants, it still has a very good selection of fruit trees and a few tables of basic vegetables. If you are looking for a specific kind of fig, they probably have six or seven different varieties, all at a very reasonable price.

This nursery also has a very strong focus on the plants themselves, not garden decoration. You will find no statuary or little miscellaneous garden bobbles for sale. About the only thing you’ll find in the actual store is a cash register, fertilizer and ice cold bottled water for 50 cents. When you’re ready to check out, just leave your cart outside and get an employee to come ring you up by hand. Of course, there might be a security inspection first.

After you leave Bald Mountain you should head to the equally small town of Penn Valley for the previously mentioned park, some of the world’s best pizza at Northridge Restaurant (complete with a trivia booklet at each table) and a little thrift store browsing. Personally I think the better of the two thrift stores is the Penn Valley Fire Dept Auxiliary Thrift Shop‎ located behind the fire station next to the rodeo ring. The Hospice Gift and Thrift next to the pizza place is way more expensive.

*pictures from the lense of K.E. Fisher

Monday, April 19, 2010


I just have to share something with you all. Until last night I had never started a fire in a charcoal grill. Until recently I was usually just grilling for one and found gas grills too convenient to give up. Last night however, Jeffry was coming home late from work so I decided that gosh darnet I could start our Webber all by myself, and I did. It was way easier than I expected and I didn't even get that smoky. The smoke is another reason I didn't like cooking with charcoal. I can't stand the smell saturating my clothes and more importantly my hair. Its not a girly thing, the smell is just REALLY unpleasant to me. That's not to say I don't enjoy catching a whiff of a passing BBQ, but I don't like the smell of it absorbed into my hair where I can't get away from it.

I think what made it so easy to start was that I used brown paper grocery bags to light the coals. They seem to burn a little slower than newspaper so they really got the coals going before the paper was all burnt up. I've seen friends and family trying to get their charcoal going and they have to add more newspaper and mess with it a lot which results in a waste of time and even more of the afore mentioned smoke saturation. I simply tore up 1 1/2 brown paper bags, crumpled the pieces into little balls and shoved the bottom of the chimney full of them. I only had to light it once and then stand back a good distance from the smoke and watch the coals take light. If you can't tell, I was quite proud!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Life Cycle of Snails and Other Stuff

As I am sure I have mentioned on multiple occasions, I have been trying for several years to grow peas. In that time, however, I have never enjoyed a meal that involved peas from my garden. In fact, I have only been able to eat two pea pods in that entire time. Perhaps I am crazy for doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, but this year I have already planted a crop of peas. They all died. Unwilling to give up, last night I planted a second crop of even stronger looking peas. I only turned my back for a moment and....

Oh hell no. This is what happens when you mess with my peas.

Enjoy your fate senor snail.

I have however, become more interested in snail life since I discovered how much my chickens love eating them, and I'm pretty sure my neighbors think I'm psycho running around the yard in my pj's with a bucket hunting for them. Here are some fun facts I've learned.

1) Snails do not reach sexual maturity until they are about two years old. You will know they are mature because the opening of their shell will have a lip on it signifying it has stopped growing.
2) All snails have both male and female reproductive organs so when they mate, both become pregnant with about 100 eggs.
3) Snails mate once a month, and then the eggs take another month to hatch.
4) A snail can live anywhere from 5-15 years depending on the species.
5) Snails are deaf and almost blind.
6) Snails will hibernate during inclement weather by pulling into their shells and sealing the opening with either a chalky substance or mucus. They leave a small hole to allow air in.

If you say to yourself, "I NEED MORE SNAIL INFO!!!" Well then you’re probably a wierdo, but since I don't judge you for that, here are more sites you can check out:
-has great pictures and general details
-Everything you ever wanted to know about snails, and probably a little bit you didn’t.
-snail breeding, kinda gross.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dogs and Desks

On design sponge there was a post today showing how designer and photographer Jamie Kovach combined a desk and a dog crate. Once her dogs out grew their puppy crate, she noticed they still seemed to want a small space to curl up in. Now she has place to work, and her dogs have a dark cozy place to snuggle up in and feel secure. I think its both a stylish and adorable idea. I only wish she'd included a how to!

Olive Tapenade

Last week Jeff and I had a couple friends over for a tasty Mediterranean inspired feast. When I realized that I should have purchased more meat for the main course, I decided I’d throw together a few extra appetizers to fill out the meal. Remembering that I had a good number of olives in the fridge, I decided it was time to try and make my own olive tapenade. This dish was so simple I think it will go on my go-to list for quick appetizers or last minute potluck dishes.

Easy Olive Tapenade
1 cup of kalamata olives, pitted
2 tbsp. olive oil
Skin from 1/3 of a preserved lemon
2 cloves of garlic

1) Roughly chop lemon and garlic.

2) Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until finely chopped and well combined. Add more olive oil is necessary to get it to blend.

3) Scoop your tapenade into a bowl and serve with pretzel thins, crackers or pita!

-you are not limited to only kalamata olives. Use your favorite or mix and match. I actually threw a few green ones in mine (minus the pimento) because I had them lying around.
-If you don’t have preserved lemon, you can substitute it for about a tbsp of lemon juice and a little zest.
-Tapenade traditionally has capers in it too; I didn’t have any on hand, but feel free to add a tablespoon of them as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ode to Spring

Onto happier things, after spending a while cleaning up the garage this evening, I had a sudden urge to re-read my favorite section from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which shows the passage of time by intimately describing the four seasons. Luckily I found my copy in one of the unlabed boxes I was organizing. I'll spare you the old english and share the translation with you. Describing Spring the author wrote:

After Christmas came mean-spirited Lent,
That tries the body with fish and plainer nourishment;
But then the weather on earth battles with winter,
The cold shrinks downwards, clouds rise higher,
And shed sparkling rain in warming showers,
Falling on smiling plains where flowers unfold.
Both open fields and woodlands put on green dress;
Birds hasten to build, and rapturously sing
For joy of gentle summer that follows next... (lines 502-510)

I love to think of the cold of winter shrinking downward out of the air and deep into the ground where it will lurk until its season comes again. As I looked outside my office window this morning, I'm pretty sure I saw the winter weather battling to hold on to its last moments. How about you guys, do you have any books, movies, etc. that call out to you this time of year?

If you interested in reading Sir Gawain but not quite ready for the original, Tolkien did a translation of his own that keeps a rhyming scheme. You can pick it up for pretty cheap used here.

The Circle of Life

I try to keep things lively and upbeat here at Robin's Nest, but alas, just as raising plants and animals can be wonderfully rewarding and exciting, sometimes it is also unfortunate and sad. In the last week we lost one of our little chickies and my favorite of our chinchillas, Buttercup. Our little chicky wasn't much of a surprise. It was the third to be born and never seemed quite right. It had a rather bulbous bottom and it took a long time for its feathers to fluff up. We thought after a couple of days it seemed to be getting on track. It's feathered started looking normal and its bottom seemed to shrink, but then it never really progressed from there. He/She finally stopped eating after about a week and nature took its course.

Buttercup on the other hand had a problem with her teeth, and although it had been going on for a little while, we didn't think it was anything fatal. She was also preggers, so we waited for her to have her babies to see if the problem would correct itself afterwards. We finally started talking about finding a local vet that sees chinchillas, but she didn’t make it. Luckily our other chin, Yeti, had recently also had a litter and took in Buttercups babies without incident. The poor girl is going to have her work cut out for her raising 5 babies with only two teats!

Well, that's about it at Asbury Farms for now. Your regularly scheduled happy posts will resume shortly. That is, until our baby rooster matures...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Homesteading Efforts

Today the ladies over at Design*Sponge are running a little contest for their readers. You share with them your homesteading/urban farming endeavors or future plans for the chance to win Amy English's two new books Canning and Preserving and Keeping Chickens. The following is my entry for the contest.

A little over a year ago my boyfriend and I purchased a fixer upper in the Napa Valley. Up until this point I had been held back in my gardening ambitions by the fact that I was a renter with lots of roommates and a full time student at Sac State. I still however found/made the time to can my own marinara sauce, tomato soup, peach salsa, chutney's, jams, etc. made from produce that I had either grown myself or scavenged from others. It didn't always go without a hitch and there was a lot of improvisation as pots boiled over, timers went off and ingredients that I swore I had disappeared, but every time I put up a batch of some new homemade concoction I was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and pride in carrying on tradition.

Now however, I am not so limited, I have a whole yard and house just waiting to produce more and more of our everyday food. Here are a few things we are looking forward to this year.

When we bought the house, Jeffry instantly decided that where there is a coop there must be chickens. Our four baby buff orpingtons arrived shortly thereafter. This year, Jeffry is experimenting with hatching his own chicks. This little baby was born just last week from a package of Trader Joe's fertilized eggs which Jeffry grew in a homemade incubator. I really hope it isn't a rooster.

This year we are also trying to grow more of our own plants from seeds instead of buying seedlings at the store. I am learning the ever important virtue of patience as I wait for them to be ready to go outside. Above are some sprouting plants that will hopefully produce okra for some home made gumbo this summer.

Since alot of our backyard is taken up by things like coops, patios and storage sheds we recently turned our front lawn into a garden space. Last night I planted these beds with turnips, garlic, onion and Asian cabbage around the edges. In a week or two our tomato seedlings will go in as well. My goal this year is to try to use every little bit of space to increase our growing potential, in this case, growing root crops around the tomatoes. We are growing about 7 different kinds of tomatoes this year in hopes of producing all our own pasta sauce, tomato soup and salsa for the year.

Hope you enjoyed this quick little tour of some of our future urban farming plans. I'm sure Jeffry would love it if I had a couple new books to distract me so that he could finally have some time to play his video games again!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Meet my new nemesis for the coming gardening season.

Yes my friends that is a cup of snails. I picked them up in about 60 seconds out in my front yard, and there were still plenty more sliding across the dirt in an attempt to escape my grasp. While I still feel too much pity for them to squish them outright, I have become totally immune to the grossness of picking up giant handfuls of them with my bare hands. They are then loving transported with great care to our chicken coop, where the massacre ensues. Oh yes dear friends, a massacre. The next morning I couldn't even find the plastic cup.

I am currently only using hand picking in my battle against the snails, but when the plants go in the ground in the front yard I may need to get more aggressive. I read an article recently by Organic Gardening on tips to keep slugs from eating your plants and I think many of the recommendations are still applicable to snails. I was suprised to learn that Sluggo isn't a poison in the traditional sense and so it perfectly acceptable for an organic garden. Another option is diatomaceous earth sprinkled around your plants which is the option that Jeff and I are going to try first. A little D.E. sprinkled in your chicken coop will also keep mites down, just make sure it's food grade (not D.E. intended for pools) because they will also eat it. A final option they list is the beer trap. Just fill a small bowl with beer and place it flush with the ground. Apparently slugs favorite is Bud. I tried guiness (it's all I had) and apparently snails don't like that because they didn't go near it! These are just a few of the tips, you can check out the full article here for the rest of their recommendations.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pasta with Sage Browned Butter Sauce

Picture from Something Extra Magazine

As I mentioned in my last post, vegetarian meals aren't generally my thing, but I have found yet another vegetarian dish that I can't help but recommend. I am also a little shocked by the original source of this recipe, Raley's free monthly magazine Something Extra. Don't get me wrong, I always enjoy thumbing through this little magazine each month, but a lot of its energies are generally spent on getting you to buy some specific products over sharing tantalizing recipes. This month however, as I sleepily flipped through its glossy colorful pages, I found a dish that is amazing both in its taste and its simplicity: Pasta with Sage Browned Butter Sauce on page 28.

I have read several places about browning butter, but it was a new experience for me and definitely not hard at all. Just stir it a bit so it doesn't burn. I put this dish together in under thirty minutes before Jeff and I ran out the door for Good Friday services (hence the lack of my own picture) and it kept us nice and full all evening. I recommend pairing it with a fresh spinach salad to add a healthy dose of veggies into the mix. Enjoy!

Oh, and did I mention this was super cheap?

Pasta with Sage Browned Butter Sauce
adapted from Raley's Something Extra


8 oz. spaghetti
1/2 cup of butter
1.5-2 cups of peeled and diced butternut squash
2 tbsp. of fresh sage
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 minced garlic cloves or 1 tbsp. of pre-minced garlic
shredded parmesan
2 small handfuls of toasted pine nuts

1) Cook the pasta according to packages instructions.

2) Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 1 tbsp. of butter. Add finely diced squash and cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes until soft. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

3) Add the remaining butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, cook and stir for 2-3 minutes, just until it turns golden brown and smells nutty. Swirl or stir the pan several times to keep it from burning.

4) Remove the pan from heat and stir in the squash, sage, vinegar and garlic. Add pasta, toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5) Serve immediately topped with toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese.


-This reheats really well in the microwave so make enough for leftover or you can make it ahead and pack it up if you’re going on a trip.

-Use the same seasonings used in this recipe to make a squash side dish. Just chop the butternut squash into large bite sized chunks, sauté in butter until soft and then add the vinegar, garlic and sage after you've turned off the heat. We had it this evening with fish and I got Jeff to actually say he enjoyed eating squash by itself now! Coming from him that's a major compliment!!

-One butternut squash can last for several meals, so plan to make something else out of your leftovers later in the week.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Review: Market Vegetarian

I've often been told that I am a hard person to shop for. As a result, it is very rare for me to be too surprised by a gift because I always make sure to keep my Amazon list up to date for my friend’s sake. This last Christmas however, I was very surprised when my friend David showed up with a present for me that I had never mentioned, never heard of and certainly wasn't on any of my lists! It was a beautiful cook book called Market Vegetarian: Easy Organic Recipes for Every Occasion.

This book is by Australian chef Ross Dobson who is not a vegetarian. I think coming from that background, he has been able to craft recipes that, while they don't contain meet, are still mouth watering and fulfilling. Coming from a very carnivorous family, this is not something I usually encounter in vegetarian cooking. Another wonderful thing about many of his dishes is that you could easily add meat to many of them, or use them as a side dish to a fresh grilled lamb chop or marinated chicken breast. Lastly, the book tends to go for simple over elaborate (always nice), although he does use a decent amount of fresh herbs, so those could get pricy if you don't have an herb garden going. Being for every occasion, the book also has a good section of appetizers and desserts. Though, I think desserts are generally vegetarian anyways!

For those of you who don't like to try a recipe without seeing it first, this book will not disappoint. Every page is bedazzled with beautiful photography by Richard Jung that dares you make a trip to the farmers market. NOW.

So I encourage you to grab this book. Be sure to have post-it notes in hand when you sit down with it because if you're anything like me, it will only take you a few minutes to have this bad boy loaded down with bookmarks!