Sunday, September 30, 2007

From The Garden

I went out into our garden to harvest some veggies and this is what I found....tomatoes, winter squash, melons, eggplant, zucchini and peppers. I also went to the farmers market this morning and bought a local pasture raised broiler chicken, potato's, apples, peaches, Asian pears, fig jam, local wildflower honey and Spring Hill Farm Jersey butter and cheese curd. Yum, yum, yum.....

I am roasting all of the veggies and freezing some for later this month.

The girls have given me an abundance of fresh eggs.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Vinegar Mother

My fabulous co-worker Mindy gave me a red wine vinegar mother it is this really awesome slime that when left over red wine is added to makes the wine into vinegar. I will be turning leftover Pinot into vinegar in no time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Summer Harvest

The summer harvest has been wonderful this year. Eggplant, Peppers, Zucchini, Green beans and now we are finally getting some tomatoes. The garden is starting to die back a little now. The Melons, Okra and beans are done and I am getting ready to plant some winter veggies...Beets, Carrots, Kale, Lettuce, Peas (again), Chard and Leeks as well as onions and garlic for next years harvest.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flower Garden

I picked this beautiful bouquets of flowers from the garden this morning. A friend gave me the pitcher as a bridal shower gift.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Rooster

My favorite hen is actually a rooster....Someone with more farming experience than I probably could have told me that weeks ago. Perhaps I was just in denial. When I heard the crowing early last Saturday morning I thought I must be imagining that. Unfortunately, when I walked over to the coop to look more closely, there he stood proud as can be, crowing at the top of his little lungs. He is really the sweetest little guy. I told myself no roosters under any circumstances, but I may have to make an exception for him. The rest of the crew are definitely girls. Someone layed their first egg on the garden path on Sunday and there was another in the coop on Monday. Perfect little brown awesome!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fourth of July Sewing

Mark and I had an awesome 4th..We hung out and relaxed. I did some long overdue sewing using an awesome book I recently purchased. I made myself 3 new skirts and I am inspired to make a few more this weekend. The book is called "Sew What Skirts". The way it works is you just take your measurements and follow the directions to make your own simple pattern. The best part is that you make your skirt exactly to your size and whatever length you want. Plus I would say that this book has the best instructions for putting in a zipper I've ever seen. Made it super easy....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I harvested broccoli and zucchini from the garden tonight for dinner. I cooked it with some garlic, olive oil, wine, onions and ground turkey. Then I added some crushed tomatoes and tossed it all with angel hair pasta. I put a dash of parmesan cheese on top to finish it off. I am so glad to be able to use food we grow ourselves in our meals. This is the first year I have ever grown broccoli and it is really different from what’s available at the grocery store. I was really excited to have Mark try it….Unfortunately, the first thing he did when he got his plate was to separate all of the vegetables to the side and then proceeded to eat everything but the broccoli and zucchini. Oh well…I tried.

Birds and the bees

The bees just love our lavender. It would be wonderful to have a couple of hives in our garden. Maybe next year.....

About the disapearing bee's

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Greenhouse

The greenhouse is such a joyful place for me. I find myself spending a lot of time starting seeds and just enjoying my quiet time out there. I think there is something magical about it...everything I start inside seems to sprout :) My dad built it for me as a gift and it did not get used much as it went unfinished for a couple of years. Now it is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the afternoon sunshine. The little sink in the photo was a gift from my mom's beau Mac A.K.A Mac-alicious. He converted an old metal stove into a sink that hooks up to the garden hose and decoupaged the top with vintage postcards of Paris. What a guy!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Grey Water Gorillas

I admire their ideas and determination. We plan to do some Grey Water recycling at our house too.

Water recycling as a way of life
Greywater Guerrillas see reusing home water as a moral issue

OAKLAND - Laura Allen's modest gray house in the Oakland flatlands would give a building inspector nightmares. Jerry-built pipes protrude at odd angles from the back and sides of the nearly century-old house, running into a cascading series of bathtubs filled with gravel and cattails. White PVC pipe, buckets, milk crates and hoses are strewn about the lot. Inside, there is mysterious -- and illegal -- plumbing inevery room. Allen, 30, is one of the Greywater Guerrillas, a team focused on promoting and installing clandestine plumbing systems that recycle gray water -- the effluent of sinks, showers and washing machines -- to flush toilets or irrigate gardens.To her, this house is as much an emblem of her belief system as it is a home. Although gray water use is legal in California, systems that conform to the state's complicated code tend to be very expensive, and Allen and her fellow guerrilla, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, are out to convince the world that water recycling can be a simple and affordable option, as well as being a morally essential one.They are part of a larger movement centered in the West -- especially in arid regions like Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California -- that includes both groups that operate within the law and ones that skirt it. The goal is the reuse of home gray water as a way to live within the region's ecological means. Using their own experience and contributions from others, they have just published a do-it-yourself guide to gray water systems that is also a manifesto for the movement, "Dam Nation: Dispatches From the Water Underground.""A lot of people that care about water try to conserve it," said Allen, an elementary-school teacher who installed several gray water systems after buying this home -- which she named the Haut House, for House of Appropriate Urban Technology -- four years ago with a housemate. "But this is about changing the way you interact with it."Use full potentialWoelfle-Erskine, a writer and teacher who lives on a houseboat with a gray water system in San Pablo, 10 miles north, added, "It's about trying to use resources to their full potential and interact with ecosystems in a beneficial way."In 1994, California became the first state to establish guidelines for gray water use -- as most other states have since -- and it has become a leader in building industrial-scale gray water systems. The town of Arcata, for example, has an extensive system that serves the entire population of 17,000, and even the state's oil refineries have gray water systems.But many gray water advocates say that California's plumbing code -- which stipulates things such as pipe sizes, burial depths and soil tests based on rules established for septic systems -- is prohibitively complicated for private homeowners interested in recycling gray water, and that its requirements are prohibitively expensive."The code is so overbuilt that I'm beginning to think it's better to just have everyone do it bootleg," said Steve Bilson, the founder of ReWater Systems, a company that has installed around 800 code-compliant gray water systems at a cost of about $7,000 each, and who worked as a consultant on California gray water legislation in the 1990s.As a result, many homeowners have installed unpermitted, illegal plumbing, relying on techniques developed by covert researchers like the Greywater Guerrillas. (It is difficult to know how many, since these systems are not registered with any government or organization, but Allen said that based on her observations, there are probably around 2,000 homes equipped with gray water systems, a few legal but most illegal, in the Bay Area alone.)Plants as filtersOn a recent afternoon, Woelfle-Erskine stood in the back yard of the Haut House and explained how one of the half-dozen gray water systems there works. A pipe running from the house deposits shower and sink water into an elevated bathtub in the yard that is filled with gravel and reeds, and the roots of plants begin filtering and absorbing contaminants. The water then flows into a second, lower tub, also containing a reedbed, before flowing into a still-lower tub of floating water hyacinths and small fish."We've had the water tested," Woelfle-Erskine said, "and it's clean -- there's just a little phosphorous left, which the plants in the garden actually like." Through trial and error, Woelfle-Erskine and Allen have found what they say is the best way to spread wastewater into the gravel beds (through a screened milk crate) and which plants best clean the water while not growing so vigorously as to block pipes (cattails).Although this Rube Goldberg setup, known as a constructed wetland, cost only about $100 to build, it represents a pinnacle of gray water system design, which is usually far more modest, according to Art Ludwig, an ecological systems designer in Santa Barbara. (Ludwig's Web site,, offers a practical introduction for do-it-yourselfers.) The vast majority of systems, Ludwig said, "cost less than a hundred bucks -- it can be just a hose." For example, a hose connects the sink to the toilet tank to create a gray-water toilet in one of the Haut House bathrooms.In spite of the ad hoc nature of many illegal systems, Ludwig said, he has "never heard of a single case of health problems from using gray water, ever." Similarly, Simon Eching, the chief of program development at California's Department of Water Resources -- the body that drafted the state's gray water code -- said he knew of no health issues arising from gray water use in California.But Ludwig's Web site also points out that there are a number of potential pitfalls. He strongly discourages ponds of exposed water like the one fed by the constructed wetland in Allen's back yard, for example, because they can draw mosquitoes that carry disease.He cautions against crossing plumbing lines and contaminating clean water; using gray water in sprinkler systems or on fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw (it should only be used to irrigate roots); and allowing water contaminated by toxic cleansers, soiled diapers or contact with people who have infectious diseases to enter the gray water system.Hacksaw modificationsNot even the Greywater Guerrillas would now condone the first system they built, in 1999. Back then, they were living with six housemates in a rented house in a rundown part of Oakland.After receiving a water bill showing that the house was using 241 gallons a day despite their conservation efforts (the figure was actually less than half the national average of 70 gallons per person per day), the two headed to the basement with little more than a hacksaw and righteous enthusiasm. "We didn't have a plan," Allen said, "and we didn't even have the materials. We were dumb, really."Their initial efforts dumped used shower water into the basement, forcing their housemates to forgo bathing for days. But before long, they were building a gray water system.Two years later, as the Guerrilla Greywater Girls, they published a "Guide to Water," a crude sheaf of photocopies held together with a rubber band that combined plumbing instructions and design tips with an argument that water systems such as dams and aqueducts were instruments of greed. "Dam Nation" is an expanded and less breathless descendant of the guide, with contributions from movement members as far away as Thailand.Thousands of copies of the original were circulated while the Greywater Guerrillas honed their skills up and down the West Coast, installing systems from Seattle to Los Angeles for friends and like-minded people (and occasionally for hire) and connecting interested homeowners with plumbers willing to do illegal work.(Allen even took a plumbing course at a community college; she said that when the instructor began to sense what she was up to, he stopped answering her questions.) Four years ago, they worked with Babak Tondre, a co-founder of a demonstration home in Berkeley called EcoHouse, to install a gray water system there."When the Greywater Guerrillas came over, I didn't really know what I was getting into," said Tondre, 37. He was soon forced to remove the system when the nonprofit Berkeley Ecology Center, which runs the house, objected: "The board flipped when they saw it. It was totally illegal."Irrigate treesTondre then applied for a permit from the city. The resulting system, a more robustly engineered constructed wetland, funnels shower and laundry water underground, through a deep bed of gravel contained within a pond liner, and into a pipe at the other end of the gravel bed. More buried pipes direct water to the roots of plum, pear and cherry trees.The system -- which Tondre believes is the first and so far only residential constructed wetland in California built with a permit -- cost $4,000, using volunteer labor. It can convert a maximum of 27,000 gallons of gray water into irrigation every year, enough for six fruit trees, along with the marsh plants in the wetland itself.If gray water is starting to gain public acceptance, the Greywater Guerrillas are staying well ahead of the mainstream. At the side of the Haut House, next to a chicken coop, twin plastic barrels hold hundreds of pounds of waste from composting toilets inside the house.While chickens pecked around her bare feet, Allen plunged a giant corkscrew into one of the barrels to mix the contents and speed the yearlong composting process."Smell it," she said. "Not bad at all."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Garden in Progress

The Garden is really starting to take off....I'm harvesting zucchini and there are little peppers on the plants. Soon we will have the fixings for some awesome salsa and tomato sauces. Last night I planted the last of our winter squash seedlings and pulled up all of the corn plants. Between the merciless crows pulling the baby corn out of the ground and the chickens eating the tops of anything left standing, it was in pretty bad shape. I've decided to call it a total loss for the season and replace it with winter squash instead. We will be working on our drip system this weekend as the watering by hand is taking up a lot of time and causing me to be late to work most mornings. We will also be putting a heavy layer of straw mulch on everything to help keep down the weeds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Our Garden Goals

In order to achieve our dream of self sufficient living it is important to set some goals and put together a plan. We understand that in our lives things rarely go exactly as planned. What we want to accomplish is will take time. Mark and I have worked hard this summer to prepare for our backyard wedding. It was so wonderful to work together with our friends and family and everything turned out beautifully.

Goal 1 – Grow enough food to feed our household (2 people) with surplus to share with our friends and neighbors. Preserve as much of the harvest as possible for winter consumption. Whatever we cannot grow ourselves buy from local farmers and ranchers.

Goal 2 – Install water catchments and grey water reuse systems. Conserve as much water as possible.

Goal 3 – Decrease our waste by consuming less and recycling everything we possibly can.

Goal 4 – Install solar panels for electricity and heating (within 5 years)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wedding Pictures

Mark and I were married in our garden on June 16th, 2007. Here are some photos taken by friends. The professional photos should be coming soon. It was the most wonderful perfect day of my life. The yard was finished in the nick of time. We couldn't have done it without all of the help we had from our family and friends. Thank you!!!

Monday, January 01, 2007


When Mark and I moved in to our house in 2002 we were faced with cleaning up a big mess. The previous tenant had littered the property with old cars and parts and wood piles. I remember one afternoon Mark found an entire couch when weed-eating the back corner of the yard. It was very overwhelming as we filled dumpster after dumpster of garbage. The yard is ½ acre and there was no landscape other than the 6ft plus high weeds that tool over every spring, then dried out and turned into a very ugly fire hazard each summer. We worked so hard trying to get them under control. I was out at the dumps one Saturday morning and came across some beautiful old windows at the recycle center. I bought them all for $15 and drafted up a greenhouse design that used all of the recycled windows. My awesome father came over and built the frame. The photos above reflect what the yard looked like after we removed most of the garbage. It took 13, twenty yard dumpsters in all to get it cleaned.