We Have Walnuts – and Pears!

Three years ago we planted our first walnut tree up on the future homestead.  Then, two years ago we planted another.  Walnuts are notorious for taking a long time to produce a crop, but here we are with our first walnuts!First crop of Walnuts

Yeah.  I know.  We only got seven walnuts – but it’s a start!

Actually, we only have five walnuts because two of them weren’t ready to harvest yet.  The walnut husk has to split open to release the nut, and these two weren’t ready to be released yet…

First Walnut Harvest

These two walnuts weren’t ready to be harvested. You can see, however, a crack starting to develop on the husk!

The walnuts will be an important source of protein on our homestead, along with animal protein from our eggs, chicken and fish. Walnuts are just chock full of nutrients, and walnut oil is prized among many gourmet chefs. We also planted an almond tree last year (we have purchased all of our fruit and nut trees from Peaceful Valley Nursery), but have three more almond trees in pots that Mother Nature gave us this past spring.  They came as volunteer almond trees that grew from seed our mature almond tree dropped last fall!

Walnut and Pear Spice Cake

A giant pear at the Kelseyville Pear Fair!

This past weekend we attended the Pear Festival in Kelseyville, California (which is near Clear Lake), with some dear friends of ours.  This was such a quaint small town affair and we had a lot of fun. First, we watched a parade with some beautiful horses, a mariachi band, and some awesome vintage cars. Apparently the local high school was hosting their homecoming game that afternoon, so the individual class floats – all themed after Dr. Seuss books – were a highlight of the parade.  After the parade we walked down the main street of town and visited booth after booth of handmade and specialty items for sale.  We ate some delicious tamales for lunch and noshed on pear ice cream for dessert.  Before we left, we bought two large bags of pears.

Walnut tree's first crop

The pears made a nice little display with some of my pie birds. So colorful!

The yellow round pears are Asian Pears, but unfortunately I forgot which variety they were.  They are sweet and firm with a wonderful crispness.  The red pears are called Starkrimson. Ray and I have never tried this variety before, so we decided to get a bag and have a taste. I did some research when I got home about the Starkrimson pear, and apparently they turn from a deep almost burgundy red to a brighter fire engine red when ripe.  The bag we brought home only had one that was ripe, which is great because we can eat the pears every other day or so as they ripen. My verdict of Starkrimson?  These pears are heavenly.  Very sweet, juicy and with a finer texture than a Bartlett.  I think they will make a great toasted walnut, blue cheese and pear salad!  In fact, the newly harvested walnuts just might be just enough for a nice salad. 😀

Three walnuts from our first harvest.

Three of the seven walnuts from our first harvest.

To celebrate our first walnut harvest and to use some of the Asian Pears, I decided to bake a Cake.  I got a recipe from Food Network called Pear Walnut Spice Cake.  I chose this one because it called for 2 cups of diced pears, 1 cup of chopped walnuts, and 1 cup of raisins – along with cinnamon, cloves and allspice.  Mmmmmm……  it sounded so good!  The glaze was made with powdered sugar and maple syrup.  The result?

Kelseyville Pear Festival

Since pears and walnuts are fall harvested crops, I thought it would be appropriate to display the cake next to my fall vignette on the dining room table.

……….A really good cake!

The cake itself was fairly heavy – like a fruitcake with a melt in your mouth “crust”, but the pears were moist, and the walnuts had a yummy roasted flavor.  The raisins added just enough twang and it all paired very well with the spices.  This one was a winner and I will bake it again and again! Here is a link to the recipe:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/pear-walnut-spice-cake.html

We haven’t planted a pear tree on our future homestead yet, but plan to get one of those multi-graft trees that have several varieties on one tree.  These are great because you don’t have to worry about pollination issues, although usually the fruit will ripen at different times which extends the harvest season.  If I had my choice, I would get a Bartlett Pear, a D’Anjou and our new favorite, Starkrimson!

I was also looking at a few recipes for pear pie.  I would like to try the Starkrimson in a pie to see how it holds up with baking.  Do you have a good pear pie recipe?  If you do, please feel free to post a link in the comments below!



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What We Saw – Heirloom Expo 2014

Ray and I went to the National Heirloom Expo on Tuesday and Wednesday last week and had a wonderful, educational time.  The festival is held in Santa Rosa, California and this year was it’s fourth.  Last year we attended one day and found that one day just isn’t enough time to see or hear everything, so this year we went for two days.  I think next year we will go all three days!

On Tuesday we spent the couple of hours in the Vendor’s Building and met the Brite Tap Waterer guy!  We had a fun conversation, and after actually holding a Brite Tap Waterer in our hands, we know that this will be a definite must have for our future chicken coop.

What we saw at the 2014 Heirloom Expo

We also met Dave and Tina from Luv Nest.  These folks sell organic herbal blends for chickens.  We were given a sample of their Layer Blend, which we happily accepted for our future chickens.  I cheated and opened the sample – it smells so good and fresh!  You can visit their website here:  www.luv-nest.com

What we saw at the Heirloom Expo

We also visited the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds booth, DripWorks (where we get all of our zero-pressure battery operated water timers), and hundreds of other vendors.  When we got to the Smart Pot guys, they were so informative!  They took the time to explain to us how Smart Pots work and then gave us each a sample – mine is a 5 gallon pot and my husband got a 3 gallon pot.  Cool!  National Heirloom Expo 2014

Then, of course, there were the speakers!  We attended a speech given by Heidi Herrmann about Seaweed: Ecology, Nutrition and Use.  Though Ray and I aren’t necessarily thrilled about the taste of dried seaweed (think v.e.r.y. salty), we know it can be composted into a wonderfully rich compost full of nutrients, or it can be made into a liquid fertilizer simply by putting it into fresh water and letting it decompose.  You see, this is the best excuse I know for us having to vacation by the ocean every year!

We also attended a very informative talk given by Dr. Rajiv Kumar Sinha about Organic Horticulture by Vermiculture (earth worms). Through his heavy accent (he hails from India), we learned a lot about how earthworms help the soil which, in turn, nourishes trees and plants.

Wednesday found us looking at all of the different livestock and organic/non-GMO fruits and vegetables.  Since we are getting chickens soon, a lot of time was spent in the poultry barn.

What we saw at the 2014 Heirloom Expo

Doesn’t she have just the most beautiful feathers? I’m not sure what type of chicken she is, but I think she is one gorgeous gal!

2014 Heirloom Expo, Santa Rosa

These beautiful ducks seemed fairly calm, considering all of the commotion going on around them.

What we sat at the Heirloom Expo

The turkeys were so popular because they were continuously gobble-gobbling, which kept the kids (and adults) entertained.

And there was just about every kind of melon, squash, or fruit on the planet displayed here – except for the nasty GMO kind!

Tower of squash - Heirloom Expo 2013

One guy we talked to says he does this same display of squash every year at the expo! He said he only had two avalanches this year while he was building it!  😀

The Food Alley offered a various smorgasbord of organic, non-GMO based foods from the local area.  Vegan to non-vegan, snacks to full meals.  We ended up having delicious black bean tamales with salsa and corn chips!  We almost got the Pad-Thai, but the plate was so big we weren’t sure we would be able to eat it all. I wish I had a picture, but then, I don’t want to make you jealous! 😉

We also attended more talks and workshops on Wednesday.  We saw the last half of a talk by John Jeavons about Food for the Future, and saw Bob Quinn when he gave his speech about Comparing Ancient and Modern Wheat.  Of all the talks/speeches we attended, I think we learned the most from Mr. Quinn.  We are now more motivated than ever to grow our own wheat crop using ancient wheat.  Did you know that all you need is a 30′ x 10′ piece of land to grow wheat, and you will reap enough wheat to make one loaf of bread every week for a year?  So, if I stretch the wheat using my 1,2,3 flour (acorn, almond, and wheat flour), I should have enough wheat to make 1 loaf of bread, 1 batch of cornbread and at least 1 meal of pasta every week for one year!

2014 National Heirloom Expo

This was Bob Quinn giving a talk about ancient versus modern wheat. Sorry the picture isn’t better, but it was dark so we could see the slide show.

We also attended a very informational class about Biodynamic Composting, given by Colum Riley of Malibu Compost.  He gave us several tips to help our compost reach at least 131 degrees for 8 days – which is necessary to kill weed seeds and pathogens – so it will be safe for the vegetable garden and ultimately the dinner plate!  Our first purchase for our compost pile will be some aeration tubes!

I wanted to stay for the Rooster Crowing Semi-Finals, but we were exhausted and had a long drive home!


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Elderberry Tonic and Fire Cider

The hubby and I recently attended a class on Herbal Medicine for the Cold and Flu Season at our local Community Center.  The class was given by Kim, who is a Master Gardener and has studied herbal medicines including teas, tinctures, infusions and decoctions. It is so true that the “old ways” are sometimes best and many people can avoid costly visits to their doctor if they were to try some of these “recipes”.

I recently have been reading Jean Auel’s series of books “Clan of the Cave Bear” and have been fascinated by the descriptions of the plants and herbs used by the ancient people  depicted in these books.  I have always known that most of our modern day medicines have been derived from plants, including aspirin, digitalis and morphine.  But, being a novice at herbalism, I have no real clue which plants to use for what, why and how!  That’s why this class was so interesting, knowing that we can grow many of our own medicines in our own backyard!

Roots and Rhizomes used as medicine

Roots and rhizomes used in healthful tonics and tinctures that can be grown in your own backyard – USDA zone permitting. I can grow these in my zone as long as I protect the ginger and tumeric rhizomes from freezing.

During the class we were introduced to Elderberry syrup, which is an antiviral/antimicrobial and therefore is good for immunity, colds and cough.  It keeps well in the refrigerator for several months.  Kim uses dried elderberry, elderberry flowers, cinnamon, ginger and honey to make the syrup.  She passed around samples of the syrup, and it actually tastes very good!  We also got to take home a cute little bottle of the syrup, which is now waiting in my fridge for that first sniffle!  When we went back to our future homestead after the class, Ray spied this little plant with blue/black berries.  Is it a baby elderberry bush? Right on our own property?

Baby elderberry bush

Does anyone know if this is a baby elderberry bush?

Next we got to taste her Fire Cider, which is a decongesting tonic, supports immunity and aids digestion.  This recipe starts with apple cider vinegar (with the mother), adding horseradish, garlic, onion, ginger, tumeric, rosemary and cayenne, all deconcocting in a quart mason jar in a dark cupboard for four weeks.  The infused vinegar is then strained.  You can add a touch of honey to taste, then store the Fire Cider in a dark jar or bottle on the shelf.  Let me tell you, when she passed around the sample to taste, I can certainly see how this would be a decongestant!  Hoo-wee!  But, add a little bit of olive oil, and this would certainly make a wonderful salad dressing with a bit of a kick! After the class I went home and googled for this decongesting tonic and found that there are quite a few variations of this tonic.  Some include this and others include that, but this is the recipe that was given to me at the class:Fire Cider Tonic

The two hour class also covered herbal teas, and she gave us a recipe (and another sample to take home) of Lemon Mint tea sweetened with Stevia.  This tea is heavenly, hot or cold!  It included lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemongrass, peppermint and stevia.  The pitcher containing the sample of this tea went around the classroom several times (it was that good) and I think we drained it! 😀

The last section of the class covered bath salts.  Bath salts not only smell good (aromatherapy is a very strong component of natural health remedies), but also warm the body.  Kim suggested that you soak in the tub of hot water infused with her recipe for bath salts and fresh ginger for 20-30 minutes.  Once you dry yourself off, wrap up in a warm robe or blanket for another 30 minutes.  She explained that the salts along with the ginger and hot water will bring greater circulation to the skin, giving a warmth that will probably make you sweat, which is good for the body.  Her recipe included fresh slices of ginger, along with the epsom salts that have been infused with eucalyptus oil, thyme oil, tea tree oil, and lemon oil.  The sample she gave each of us smelled out of this world heavenly!

Elderberry tonic and Fire Cider

Our three samples from class:   On the left is the heavenly Bath Salts, in the middle is the Elderberry Tonic and on the right is Lemon Mint Herbal Tea.

I know it sounds strange, but I am almost looking forward to that first sign of a cold!  I will take a hot bath with the bath salts, then afterward, while snuggled in a nice warm blanket, sip some hot, freshly brewed Lemon Mint tea!  Later, I will have a nice kale salad dressed with Fire Cider and olive oil!

Here is a picture of my Fire Cider just after I made it.  In about four weeks, I’ll let you know how it tastes! You can see the orange shreds of the tumeric and the green is the rosemary.

Fire Cider Tonic

Thanks for the class, Kim – I am looking forward to the next one!

PS:   Is the plant in the picture above an elderberry?  Leave a comment if you have an opinion, or even if you don’t! 😀



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Trees and Plants in Pots

One of the advantages of living in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California is our balmy Mediterranean-like weather.  We can grow just about anything.  Seriously!

Just about every kind of nut or fruit tree, vegetable and herb does well here in the valley.  Especially citrus.  We have a huge naval orange tree that supplies us with hundreds of pounds of oranges every year.  In fact, one of our favorite desserts in the winter is an orange with half a bar of dark chocolate…  one bite of this, one bite of that 😀

In preparation for moving up to our future homestead in the mountains where citrus trees don’t survive unless they are kept above freezing temperatures, we decided to get some dwarf citrus and plant them in large pots so that they can be moved around.  They will stay inside a pit greenhouse (sometimes called walipini) during the winter and can be brought to the front porch of our soon to be built house during the spring, summer and autumn.

Container Grown Meyer Lemons

These lemons are sizing up nicely. They should be good and juicy by November or December

I bought the lemon tree first, when I saw it on sale at our local nursery, because I loved the Meyer lemon tree that my mother has.  The Meyer lemon comes from China and is a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange, which makes it just a bit sweeter.  It is delicious when used in lemon bars or lemon iced tea, but is out of this world when squeezed on fresh grilled salmon.  In researching the Meyer Lemon, I found that the dwarf variety does quite nicely in containers, as long as they are given an occasional boost of a good citrus fertilizer.

Growing Citrus Trees in Pots

The mandarin tree has about 19 walnut sized mandarins on it right now, and another dozen or so pea sized ones!

Soon after, my oldest son bought a Tango Mandarin for my grand children. The kids were going through boxes of those “cuties” that are sold at the grocery store, so my son thought it would be a good idea to get their own tree. These little citrus fruits are the kind that peel very easily and have little to no seeds – perfect for small hands and mouths.  When I saw the cute little tree he had, I decided to get one for myself.  This variety of mandarin can be a bit more pricey than a regular mandarin or tangerine, because the tree was developed to have sterile flowers which don’t cross-pollinate, preventing the seeds from forming. We bought two large cement pots, one for the lemon tree and the other for the mandarin, at a Mexican pottery store in Escalon called Lopez Imports, and they were quite reasonably priced!  Both citrus trees have done well in those pots.  In fact, the mandarin just finished blooming again (second bloom of the year), and now has little pea sized fruits on it as well as the walnut sized ones from the first bloom in the spring!

Tango Mandarin in a Pot

The tree is three years old now and is producing very well. It stands about 6 feet tall. We will be pruning the tallest branches after harvest, to keep the tree a reasonable size.

The mandarins will be ripe sometime in January, although the mature fruit can be left on the tree for several months, harvesting as desired.  However, it is important to harvest all of the mandarins before the first bloom in spring opens, or the next year’s harvest will be reduced.

Next is the ginger.  I planted a piece of ginger root two months ago when I had a small piece left after making some Ginger Ale.  If you have never made your own Ginger Ale before, click HERE for directions. It’s really fun and really good!

Growing ginger in a container

The ginger has been growing slowly yet steadily and now has it’s fifth shoot starting up.

It took about two weeks, but sure enough, a small sprig came up out of the ground.  I think I probably planted it too deep, but here we are about two months later and another sprig (the fifth) is just now coming up out of the ground!  The leaves got a bit burned a few weeks ago when we had an intense heat  and wind spell, but overall I think the plant looks pretty happy. It’s nice being able to have a plant on the patio, because ginger doesn’t like direct sunlight, and prefers moist, not wet soil.

Tomatoes grown in Containers

Here is my beautiful, lush volunteer heirloom tomato. Nice plant – but where are the tomatoes?

Here is my tomato plant.  I couldn’t plant a garden this year because our real estate agent said nice lawns sell houses. We are selling our valley house so we can start building our mountain homestead. 😀  So, I decided to put a couple of our volunteer tomatoes (from last year’s crop) into a large pot on our patio.

Well, here it is.

Do you see any tomatoes?  Neither do I.  Harrumph!

I don’t want to blame the tomato, however.  I think I am going to blame myself.  You see, the plant is always thirsty!  I used to think it was because the unglazed terracotta pot was letting the soil evaporate too easily.  Nope.  I figured out that it’s because there isn’t anything holding in the water – as in mulch!  If I am not able to water the tomato every single day, the poor thing withers, and it’s been withered down a lot lately.  I am going to try layering some paper on top of the soil and see if that will make a difference.  Better late than never!

Growing Pomegranate in a Pot

One of our two pomegranate trees.

We also have a couple of pomegranate trees in pots.  These are trees I got at a clearance sale because I couldn’t pass them up.  Unfortunately, the variety of pomegranate was not marked on the pots, but since the variety Wonderful is the most popular here in California, I am going to assume that is what they are.  They had several blooms this year but didn’t produce any fruit, so hopefully we will get one or two next year.  We are planning to get several more pomegranate trees that we will plant along the road frontage of our future mountain homestead, but these two make a great start in that direction. If you would like to know which variety of pomegranate my husband and I have decided to plant (along with the two Wonderful variety we already have), and how we made our decision, you can go HERE.  Hopefully we will be able to get them into the ground this next spring, but we have some clearing to do before that will happen.

Almond trees grown from seed

These are three of the volunteer almond trees we saved before we tore out our vegetable garden and rolled out lawn in it’s place.

Finally, I have three volunteer almond trees.  They all look fine – one is really tall, one is quite short and the other is the middle child.  Looking at the pots they are in, the growth rate of each tree really makes no rhyme or reason – the tallest tree being in the smallest pot!  Nonetheless, they are all surviving just fine.  They are babies of the almond tree we have in our backyard, that produces some of the most juicy, sweet almonds you will ever eat.  Hopefully these babies will produce almonds just as good – in about five years!

Here is where I need some advice

The dilemma:  I know the almond trees and pomegranate trees will be fine up on our mountain homestead, but what to do with the Meyer Lemon, the Tango Tangerine and the Ginger?  We will be living in our trailer while we build our home, and as anyone who has ever been in a travel trailer knows, there just isn’t any extra space.  None.  So, where do we put our three tropical weather loving potted plants?  We do have a small 5′ x 6′ plastic greenhouse.  I think I will put the two trees inside the greenhouse in the middle of our fruit orchard, so they will be able to get sunlight during the day.

But what happens when it freezes?

I did see one method to keep an unheated greenhouse reasonably warm.  It involves horse manure.  You see, apparently horse manure gets really hot and stays hot for a couple of weeks as it decomposes.  From what I have read, a nice sized pile of horse manure, insulated by some grass or straw, inside a box, will keep a small greenhouse frost free for two weeks.  Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, but will it make the lemons and mandarins smell or taste a little… well… poopy?

Another method I read about was using water as an insulator.  Apparently you would line the north and east sides (at least) with jugs of water (milk jugs work), two or three rows high with boards between stabilizing them so they don’t tumble over.  The milk jugs absorb the warmth from the sun during the day and then radiate the warmth back into the greenhouse during the night.  That method sounds like it is do-able also.  But what happens when you have a few days in a row without any sunlight?

I suppose if the temperature drops below 28 degrees, which is the lowest temperature most citrus can tolerate, we could always put our little propane heater in the greenhouse – on the lowest setting of course.  But again, do we need to worry about fumes hurting the trees or even the fruit?

What do you think?  We only need a temporary solution because we plan to start building the pit greenhouse next year – hopefully before the next winter settles in.

Any suggestions?


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