Monarch Caterpillars love Tropical Milkweed

Raising Monarchs: Get Started, Plant Milkweed

Last year I became obsessed with monarch caterpillars, which led to lots of blog posts! Now I’ve got friends asking me how they can raise monarchs at home so I’m going to write a couple simple ‘tutorials’ to help folks get started. Please note that I am not an expert but I will try to explain the basics clearly as I share some of my techniques, successful and otherwise, and also provide links where you can learn more. This post tells you a bit about attracting monarchs to your garden by planting milkweed. At the bottom are links to a few favorite sites where you can find milkweed for your home garden.

Tiny Baby Monarch Cataerpillar (1st Instar)

Tiny Baby Monarch Cataerpillars (1st and 2nd Instar)

I started raising monarch butterflies last spring and it is hard to imagine ever stopping. I don’t know why it is so addictive but I was hooked the moment I spotted my first caterpillar. Well, to be honest, I almost squished him because I had just gotten the milkweed from the nursery and wasn’t expecting babies so soon. Lucky for both of us I got down on hands and knees for a close-up and that’s when I noticed his little stripey pants. So cute! It seems the eggs were already on the milkweed when I bought it so within a week I was loaded up with freshly hatched cats. I can’t find an egg pic at the moment so I’ll just tell you they are tiny little white bumps that appear magically after a mama monarch visits your garden. Continue reading

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House-hunting Overload

Jon and I just spent our first week in Petaluma and Sebastopol getting to know the area and trying to identify the neighborhoods where we would most like to live. Searching the whole county is just too much even through it affords us more options. We put over 400 miles on Lily (my awesome gas-sipping Mini) winding through west county alone! 

It’s a daunting task, home-hunting, especially with inventory so low. We are veering wildly from idea to idea hoping to increase our options by being super flexible. At the same time this flexibility requires us to go through hours of mental gymnastics to assess the potential of each property we see. 

Can we turn an old henhouse into a workshop?  Will our parents mind sleeping in a yurt when they visit? Should we buy a cool Airstream to live in and park it inside an industrial space where we can also weld? Could that weird little building that used to be a Mexican restaurant become our workshop and gallery? How hard and fast are the zoning laws exactly?

Do we want a gallery? Will people find us if we don’t have a retail space? If we find the perfect home with gardens and a creek down a quiet tree-lined path but no space for a workshop can we also afford to lease space at The Barlow? Continue reading

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The Hunt Begins…

Set Scene: Petaluma, California. Lead characters Jon and Sheri are sipping tea in a quirky little cottage (which used to be a henhouse) found on Airbnb, awaiting their first meeting with a realtor. Shit is getting real. Let’s check in and see how they’re faring as they begin their search for a new piece of land to call home. Cue voiceover

It’s crazy to think we are about to uproot our lives, dismantle our wonderful, colorful home, empty our new workshop and trek off to a piece of land in a place we barely know. Yikes. I should definitely put that another way or I’ll just sit here petrified. Okay, deeeep breath in…. BIG exhale…. aaand repeat as needed.

I’m sitting here staring out the window, watching goats, chickens and roosters roam and peck about this cute little farm just a few minutes outside downtown Petaluma. I’m simultaneously browsing (more like consuming) real estate listings on three different sites. I keep hoping our perfect home will appear but at the same time hoping it will wait a bit longer, give me a chance to prepare myself for this huge transition. I’m completely overwhelmed.

(Side note: Remember how I was just staring out the window feeling completely overwhelmed?  Now there are tears of laughter streaming down my face as I watch two little girls trying to avoid the attention of a friendly goat only to end up being chased by an angry rooster! I know I shouldn’t be laughing but it’s hilarious! Yeah, I’m really gonna like living in the sticks.) Continue reading

Snow White Carrots from Baker Creek

Garden Surprises

Even though I’m keeping the garden small and simple this season, there are still surprises popping up! This happens to me fairly often… often enough that my husband said I should rename my blog The Absentminded Gardener. I’d be mad but he’s totally right. Every year, despite all my planning for space, weather, water, etc., I have a habit of sowing seeds when and where inspiration strikes. Sometimes I make a note… somewhere, in one of my 20 notebooks. Or maybe it was on the back of that envelope in the pocket of my garden smock I washed last week?

Homegrown Snow Peas

Surprise Snow Peas

I’ve really tried to be organized but I can’t help myself! And so as I stroll through my little garden with friends I’m often as surprised as anyone when sprouts appear. And then there’s weeks of waiting and watching to see what on earth is growing! In this case, I was absolutely positive I was growing sugar snap peas. I know I planted them because I had to do it three times thanks to a sneaky skunk that squeezes through my goatwire fencing. So I’m watching these beautiful pea vines grow and flower, little peas a sprouting, and I’m waiting for them to plump up. When a week went by with no sign of plumpage I finally had to acknowledge that they were full-sized – and that they were snow peas! Lovely snow peas. Hmm, I do vaguely remember planting snow peas.

Snow White Carrots from Baker Creek

Snow White Carrots from Baker Creek

I’ve also just pulled my first full-sized carrots from the garden… and they’re white! They’re so cool! Then I remembered I got a smattering of these seeds in a trade last summer, Snow White Carrots from Baker Creek. I thought they just never popped up but I guess they were waiting for their moment. I haven’t tasted them yet but I’m excited to serve them up to friends tonight and see what the flavor is like. I’ll let them taste first, just in case.

I love that even a small garden can provide so much entertainment and even a little bit of nourishment. Now if my butterflies would just show up and bless me with some eggs I’d be in business!

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Nasturtium, Not Just a Pretty Face

Although we don’t have severe winters here our garden does go through a semi-fallow period featuring mostly greens and browns. While I love the purplish hue of the bare-branched plum tree, I felt a little bit sad as I walked around the yard yesterday. I even started to wonder if I had imagined how beautiful and lush it looks in spring. Then I noticed the nasturtium and I began to feel a little better.

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Photo Credit: Brandon Smith, D Coop Media / TheTwentySIX Magazine

Nasturtium are often the first to bloom in our garden, their vivid yellow, red and orange faces popping up on thick vining stems with big, bright green leaves. Despite the fact that they grow like weeds here (or maybe because of it) nasturtium are, in my opinion, one of the best plants in the garden. They have a lot going for them. They are pretty, drought-tolerant, edible, and they attract pollinators. Hummingbirds regularly swoop down to drink from the blooms as do bees and occasional butterflies. They are also highly effective trap plants in the garden and, as an organic gardener, planting pretty flowers that help me control pests really appeals to me. Continue reading

Ornamental Kale

Lettuce Weather

Don’t be mad at me but apparently it is spring here in San Diego, maybe even summer. I know many of you are hunkered down by the woodstove peering wistfully out the window at your cars, roads and, most importantly, gardens covered by a foot of snow, but here in SoCal we’ve been dealing with higher than average temperatures (we broke a 75-year heat record with 86F last week! In February!). Hot, dry Santa Ana winds are blowing in from the desert. My eyes are dry and gritty, my sinuses are killing me. I hear the sound of teeny tiny violins playing for me… oh wait, that’s just you. Smart ass.

Mixed Garden Greens with peppery Nasturtium Flowers

Mixed Garden Greens with peppery Nasturtium Flowers

I know, I’m whining about too much sunshine and I’m sorry but I can’t bear it! While I can’t imagine suffering through a polar vortex the fact remains that I live here because the weather is was perfect. Mornings foggy, days sunny and 72F, cool evenings. That was the agreement. Here by the coast we’ve never seen many days higher than mid-80’s. My dad complains because it’s never “beach weather” when he visits, meaning blazing hot, not a cloud in the sky, the ocean a refreshing 80F, but more and more we are having these so-called beach days and they’re not waiting for summer.

Black Seeded Simpson

Black Seeded Simpson

While the weather here keeps getting warmer, I seem to be heading the other direction. I’ve always considered myself solar-powered but I now prefer it when there’s a little chill in the air. I still LOVE sunshine, but I don’t love heat. (The fact that this change coincided with my disinterest in galloping across the beach in a bikini is purely incidental, by the way.)
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Mamma Mia! Saucy Sausage Pizza on Homemade Dough

Oh my god, we just created a pizza so stupid delicious I decided it was even worthy of Fiesta Friday’s One Year Anniversary Extravaganza. And that is no small thing because the other guests bring such amazing food every single week it could make you weep. I actually have shed a tear or two. Follow that link above and you’ll see what I mean!

But about this party pizza – this super sausage-saucy pizza – even I can confidently claim it is a thing of beauty. Will you need an antacid before bed? Probably. But what great celebration doesn’t end with a little heartburn? Isn’t minor-to-middling digestive discomfort one of the sure signs of a hugely successful dinner party? Trust me, this pizza is worth a little pain.

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Before I get into the details let me say that I have tried numerous times to make pizza dough at home. At best, it has been solid enough to hold toppings. At worst, well, same answer. Mostly I’ve produced varying thicknesses of a somewhat edible cardboard-like substance so I am truly excited to have found an easy recipe for perfect pizza crust. It is also exceedingly simple, even for someone like me whose only attempts to use yeast resulted in the afore-mentioned cardboard product. Continue reading

Glass Gem Corn grown in San Diego

Prettiest Popcorn I Ever Did Grow

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve heard me say this before, but I have to say it again: I cannot believe that actual edible food grows right out of the ground! And it’s so cool that even after many years of gardening I still discover new things to try. Vegetables come in so many varieties, colors, shapes, and flavors I’m not sure a person could grow them all in one lifetime. I mean, did you know there are black tomatoes? White eggplant? Purple carrots? Just pick up an heirloom seed catalog and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The options are endless and irresistible!

Glass Gem Corn Close-up

Last spring I was especially enchanted by a photo that was circulating online. There was some question amongst gardening folk as to whether it was real or photoshopped (yes, this happens – I don’t care how cool blue strawberries look, don’t buy seeds from China on Ebay). It turned out to be an heirloom popping corn bred by a man named Carl Barnes to produce an array of gemstone-colored kernels on each cob. It’s a great story and it’s told so well over at Native Seeds that I don’t want to tarnish it with a sloppy condensed version so read their blog post here. Continue reading

Roasted Pear Chutney and Cream Cheese Appetizer

Apples, Onions, and Chutney for All

Recently I cobbled together some surprisingly delicious new recipes that were so yummy and easy I thought, hey, I should share these! Both were inspired by the aging Fuji apples on my counter, though the results couldn’t have been more different. The first, a spicy apple chutney, helped me make use of my homegrown Walla Walla onions and serrano peppers, while the second was a sweet and fluffy apple pancake. Hmmmm…. I wonder if those would be good together? Okay, well before I get sidetracked, let me tell you about my new love affair with chutney.

Roasted Pear Chutney

Roasted Pear Chutney

As with most of my cooking experiments I’m sure the chutney was influenced by chefs I admire, blogs I read and maybe even a Chopped episode. Chopped makes the most sense because, if we’re being honest, apples, onions and chili peppers sound like they’d be fairly disgusting together. Yet somehow it sounded familiar… and it sounded like a good idea! Believe it or not, it was. Continue reading

My first mosaic, first day's progress

From Monarchs to Mosaics, Always Something New to Learn

Once again I seem to be having difficulty finding time to come inside, sit at the laptop and tell a story. This despite the fact I have a gazillion photos I would love to share and next year when I look back I’ll wish I’d written more! Ah well, here I am with enclosures full of Anise and Giant Swallowtail chrysalides and one caterpillar of each kind chomping their final meals. I’ve got one monarch eclosing today (whoops, eclosed, a healthy female) and one last chrysalis after that, which will bring my total released monarchs to somewhere around 40. It has certainly been a butterfly-filled summer!

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Female monarch on Pink Ice Protea

You know what’s really on my mind though? I’m learning mosaic! This is very exciting for me. I have actually had very few art classes in my life, which is weird considering I have a degree in Fine Arts and am a professional artist. Somehow though, I managed to squeak by without much proper schooling. So now my wonderful friend Irina is showing me how to mosaic and I couldn’t ask for a more amazing instructor.

Detail of Irina Charny Mosaic

Irina Charny Mosaic – Look at all this detail!

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