Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seedy Characters

OK, I give up. Despite our best efforts, pretty much all of the food plants we were attempting to grow inside have failed. Mostly I blame the fungus gnats that have totally overwhelmed our plants. More on them in a future post. 

But, hey! It's California, right? Can't waste all this temperate sunshine on NOT growing plants. So instead of edibles (even the herbs died!) we've focused our attention instead on propagating some succulents and cacti. So much has been written on propagating succulents from leaf cuttings, I'm not even going to go into it here. Needless to say, it's incredibly easy. And if you live in a place where succulents are thriving everywhere, I suggest you take a walk after a good storm and pick up some fallen leaves. We've gotten a great deal of plants that way (plus a bit of Home Depot pilfering. What they don't know won't hurt them.) 

New to the mix is growing cacti from seed. In the little pots below are Lithops, Fenestraria (Baby Toes), and Diteranthus seeds, all so incredibly tiny that they could pull an over-stuffed clown car sight gag inside of a sesame seed. I feel like (previous paragraphs excluded) I have a pretty green thumb, but I've never tried growing anything like this from seed before. I'm looking forward to posting updates!

Just in case anyone is wondering, Diteranthus seeds are the smallest things I've ever seen. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Master of Worms (and snakes).

We at Rattlesnake Master are not only masters of rattlesnakes, we are masters of worms as well! Specifically, red wriggler composting worms! (And even more specifically, we are not masters of rattlesnakes.) 

A few months back, I used Freecycle to acquire a handful of composting worms from the overpopulated compost bin of a fellow East Bay-er. I kept them in a yogurt container with holes pokes in its sides and top, with some newspaper wrapped around it to keep light out.  Not the best, but certainly good enough for a temporary home. The FEMA trailer of worm bins.

Tragically, much like real FEMA trailer, this housing situation did not work out to be in the worms' best interest. I gave them a bed of moistened, torn newspaper, leaves and cardboard and fed them small amounts of vegetable scraps, but imbalance prevailed. Reading up on what to feed them, I tossed in a handful of Cheerios one day, having read somewhere on the internet that Cheerios are a favorite worm snack. Within 36 hours, the bin was a big, hot mess of blue bread mold all over the place. That might work for a large-scale outdoor bin, but not my mico-mini-cosm.

It was time to upgrade. I found these black plastic filing bins at an office supply store one day while on an ink cartridge run and took them home to be a new and improved wormopolis. Holes were drilled in the bottom of both bins, and around the tops of each and in one of the lids. The other lid was flipped onto the bottom of the setup in the event that any water/nastiness needs catching. A bed of peat moss and torn, moistened newspint and cardboard was laced with bok choy and other tasties, and in went my somewhat depleted worm population. Oh, joy! Oh, success. 

Oh, no. Hours later, all the worms were grasping to the sides of the container, having left their beds behind in search of... something. Several had crawled into little nooks in the top of the container, and had to be coaxed free with take-out chopsticks. Back in, as I'd read that sometimes they don't adjust well to their new homes right away. After the same thing happened again a few hours later, I did some research and found that I should have soaked my peat moss first to remove the acidity and that my worms were probably crawling out because the environment was too acidic. However, they should be able to adjust given time, so I made an extra few inches of their usual cardboard and newspaper bedding on top of the moss mixture and put them in there. 

That seemed to solve the problem. I spent a nervous week or two digging through the pile every few days to be sure somebody was still moving in there and I was not now the proud owner of a pet box of garbage. But all is well in Wormopolis, and I've even seen a little wriggly baby or two (which makes me very happy but is still a bit icky). I'm still considering getting more worms, because right now they are more like pets than efficient waste-disposal / compost-production machines. But I'm kind of riding high on the fact that I've managed to keep them alive, and maybe it will be fun watching my colony grow.

They're in there, I swear.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ode to the Temescal Farmer's Market

I'll admit it -- I'm obsessed with the Temescal Farmer's Market. Every Sunday I look forward to my amazing (mostly organic) produce haul. I almost feel bad singling any specific farms out from the amazing mix of farmers and vendors, but right now I'm sitting in my apartment trying to decide if it makes sense to eat a full week's worth of food at once and I have to give credit where credit is due.

First of all, Happy Boy Farms. You can't see much (except for their adorable graphic design) at the website right now, but every week I stop and buy something here. The bag of mixed salad greens with edible flowers is a favorite at Casa de Rattlesnake Master, as are the spicy radishes and picture-perfect herbs. Not to mention that the adorable signs have convinced me to try several new varieties of squash, all of which are delicious. If vegetables were people, squash would be the boyfriend who likes to cuddle and always makes you dinner. Don't ask me why.

Another Sunday must is the Glaum eggs stand. These eggs are so incredible, they make me want to learn egg tempera painting so I can make a shrine to them. The shells crack like porcelain, and the yolks are almost the color of orange juice. I cannot say enough how much I like to eat these eggs. I bought two dozen this week, just because we never seem to have any left by the end of the week.

The Catalan Family Farm is great because they have a little bit of everything, but it's the onions that bring me back.  They feel heavy for their size, and they make me cry less than other onions.  I'm not sure what it is, but they're a pleasure to hold, cut, and eat. They're basically the triple-threat of onions and I can't get enough.

Am I snubbing the other farms? I hope not, because I've certainly gotten my share of delicious carrots, fennel, blood oranges, dried pears, pretzel croissants, salami and walnuts from any number of other stands. But these three farms... I can't write ballads or love songs, so I just have to blog about it.