Monday, May 30, 2011

Harvest Tally May 2011 and Updated Project List

May 2011 Harvest Tally:

1/2 lbs of Mulberries
2 lbs of salads which we ate
2 lbs of salads which the birds ate
4 lbs of mustard leaves which the birds ate
3 lbs of zucchinis
Here are the leftovers from our super large project list:
  • Terrace the backyard with two parallel running walls - DONE!
  • Build Chicken Coop (still in the works)
  • Build Animal Enclosure (still in the works)
  • Get / Plant Pakistani Mulberry tree - DONE!
  • Seed / Plant: Herbs and insect benefitial flowers: Thyme, Mint, Echinacea, Purple Basil, Camomille, Coriander, Stevia, Rosemary, Dianthus, Zinnia - I DID BUT THE CHICKS ATE IT ALL... Grrrr, needa reseed
  • Set up Bee Hive - DONE.
  • Build hive - DONE
  • Schoko pregnant (gestation is 63 days) - No babies for our big girl.
I guess we need more projects ;-)

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Building Raised Beds with Trellis - Tutorial

Raised beds with wire trellis
I did this all by my own little self; design and execution.

The man had a day off today; after all it is MEMORIAL DAY. Happy happy!

Being from Europe, I decided, I am not memorialising any past event. I am living in the now and I am building what I have been wanting for a while: Raised beds with trellises.

In particular I want them to 'hide' our composting endevours. The plan was to create somewhat of a curve around the compost piles. Then plant something climbing (am thinking about perennials, such as scarlett runner or lima beans or even air potatoes) to 'hide' the unpretty sight, which is why these raised beds need trellises.

Raised beds make gardening easy: Just fill them with soil and grow-grow-grow. Especially if your soil isn't that perfect, this is a great way to start.

It is recommended to use redwood or cedar ― both are beautiful and rot-resistant. We cannot use cedar because we have chickens and ducks, who do not like cedar.

After I decided on the measurements, I went to the home despot.

My goal is always to save some money: So, instead of buying lumber (redwood can be pretty pricey), I chose redwood dogear fence pieces. They are about 6 feet long and my home despot cuts them for me; I use 6 in regular size and have them cut 3 in pieces of 2 ft each. Cool, because I am not crazy about using the electric saw and - as I said - Roberto has a day off.

For my three and a half raised beds with trellises, I used:

6 pieces of 4 feet length (1.2m) dogear part 1 and
6 pieces of 2 feet length (60cm) dogear part 2 as well as
18 rebars each 1 foot length (30cm)
5 rebars each 4 feet length (1.2m)
A wire fence of about 12 feet length (4m) and 4 feet height (12m)

Cost me about $75.

And here is how I did it:

Lotta on the left and Big.

First of all, I had to take all that watersucking useless lawn out...  GRRR. This is slave-work!

But fortunately our ducks, Lotta and Big, are visiting me. They are hoping I am digging up some worms for them.

While I am picking the lawn out, I am very careful not to hit one of these beaks.

Long rebars on the left

Taking out lawn is pretty rough because the soil underneath is usually pretty compact and hard to work, which is just more reason to use raised beds. One can argue that I should have sheet-mulched the beds but I felt sheet-mulching is more a winter project (when the rain comes) here in California, because you need to use a lot of water to get the rotting going.

Back to the beds: Then I hammered the 1ft rebars in the ground, right next to the position where the wood was going to go.

Did that with all four sides of the bed. Then nailed everything together.

Now, for the trellis, I hammered one of the 4ft rebars on oe of the long sides.

Hope you can see the woven wire.

Later, when all three and a half beds were done, I 'wove' the wire fence around the rebars.

Then I filled the beds with soil and put some ollas (terracotta vases that hold water) in.

Now, I only need to plant. But that is going to have to wait until tomorrow. I am hungry and tired now...

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Building a Composting Pile - Tutorial

Composting is one of the pillars of homesteading. It gives you a place to throw away food scraps or gardening waste while creating the gardener's gold: TOPSOIL.

You can go out and buy one or you can build one yourself.

The ones you can buy often are tumblers, which have four main problems:

1. They aren't even connected to the ground, so no insects or other compost-helpers can enter.
2. The tumbling creates a dicruption for the compost-workers and it is really not recommended. I know these thingies have become quite popular recently but I for one do not want my workers to be smooshed and killed; I need them to WORK.
3. They are made of plastic, which is toxic and cannot be recycled.
4. Price.

Obviously, we built ours. I chose a design that is simple and has been successsfully used for centuries in Europe. My father built our compost pile like that and many bio-dynamic gardeners have been using it. So, it is not some fad design.

The key thing is that you put it on soil so that all sorts of small benefitial creatures can enter and do the turning-trash-into-topsoil-work. It is also important to allow air in.

When Roberto saw the design, he immediately said "Lincoln Log, that's easy." So you got an idea of what we were making.

To be perfectly inline with bio-dynamic principles, that thing oughta be square.

However, our space was somewhat limited so we made ours rectangular 3 by 5 feet (1m x 1.7m) and a height of a tad more than a yard (about one meter).

We used:

4 pieces of 2x3's (pillars) each 4 feet in length
18 pieces of 2x3's each 5 feet in length
18 pieces of 2x3's each 3 feet in length

First, we put the four pillars in the ground.

Then we started lincoln-logging.

Cost us less than $30.

The plan is to put a reet fence over it, but our home despot had run out of the right size for us. . .

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Checking the bee hive after installing packaged bees

Today was the day! First checking of our newly established bee hive after we received 3 lbs packaged bees about a week ago.

What we are looking for is eggs and larvae to find out whether queen bee is alive and doing her job.

In case she is not (alive or laying), we need to order a new queen immediately. Obviously this is a time sensitive issue, which is why it is recommended to do at about 5-7 days after hive installation.

Apparently, when a hive looses its queen, the working bees will start laying eggs to populate the place. However, these reproductively incomplete girlies can only lay drones (male bees), which don't do any work (not even bringing the trash out!), which is why the colony will fail. Also, only the queen has the instinct of mating right (yes the first 36 years of my life I was NOT a queen bee) and directing a colony.

In short, if my queen is dead or incapable, I better rush and get a new one, which is why the initial hive-check after installing a packaged hive is due after about a week. That should be enough time to for a plan Bee.

We have Italian bees, which are somewhat gentle but not as docile as the Carniolans. The reason we chose the Italians was pure patriotism; everthing Italian is superior! Duh!

No, the main reason was availability. We did not find a NUC of Carnis, so we got the Italians. So far I find them pretty docile.

While one may argue we could have requeened (killing the old to bring in a new queen) with a Carni-queen right after delivery, we chose not to do that as to not upset the colony. Personally, I simply don't approve of killing ANYTHING which is why I will not kill my queen just to be able to put another one in while running the risk that the colony may reject her or such. Also, I am rejecting the entire disposable thinking in general, and requeening for no apparent reason simply seemed wrong.

Anywho, let's get the apiarist regalia out. Yes, I know, tres chic! Where is my Louis Vuitton purse to go with this outfit!? Sorry, don't know how to do the accents on my keyboard.

Aurelia and Roberto were not home, so this was the perfect time.

It is recommended to open the hive in the late afternoon, when most of the ladies will be out working the fields.

It was 4pm. CHECK

Following my bio-dynamic Guru's Rudolf Steiner and Mathias Thun, I also chose the day in accordance with the moon. This is how this works: The moon stays in each sign between one and four days. You need to check the ephemerides to know for sure where the moon is on any particular day.

When hives are worked on days when the moon is in gemini, libra or aquarius, the colonies tend to increase brood functions and pollen collection. On those days the bees are calm, they tend to stay on the board without running about nervously, resulting in above average honey harvest.

When the moon is in cancer, scorpio, or pieces, the colonies do not want to be disturbed at all. They are most aggressive on those days. On those days the bees are very nervous, resulting in poor honey harvest.

When hives are worked on days when the moon is in aries, leo, or sagitarius, the colonies tend to increase pollen collection, potentially neglecting the brood. On those days the bees are calm, resulting in above highest honey harvest.

When the moon is in taurus, virgo, or capricorn, working the hive will increase building. The bees are not as calm and docile on those days and honey harvest will be below average.

BTW: I installed my hive on a Earth-Root day, which should have resulted in a lot of building, which is probably a good thing for a newly installed colony. Or so I thought.

Today, La Luna was in the sign of aries, a Fire-Fruit sign. Bees are supposedly less aggressive on those days, although the general recommendation is to only work the hive on days when the moon is in an air sign, such as gemini, libra or aquarius. I chose today because the next air sign day is 4 days away and I need to check on the queen now. In case she is dead, we need to get a new one before the colony fails.

OK, so, about the hive-check:
I am kinda nervous and excited about this at the same time. I have NEVER done it before and from what I have read and seen, it is pretty wild: Opening a box where about 10,000 bees are in to see whether one particular bee (the queen) is doing her job.

So, off I went ...
Empty queen cage
Note all this cell building
on the wire

Well, these guys sure did build a lot. A lot of funny looking stuff, too. Even on the wire of the queen cage, which I tried taking out. Of course I dropped it on the floor of the hive. GREAT!

That gave me the opportunity to put my entire arm into the hive right smack middle where (seemingly) ALL of the bees were to fish this thing out.

Got the queen-cage out. CHECK!

Then I checked every single frame. It appeared that many of them cells were built out. So much for hiving on a EARTH-day. They really went building-crazy.

Saw the queen. CHECK.

She is alive. GOOD. Imagine here a deep sigh of relief.

Saw some honey in cells. CHECK (actually: AWESOME!)

But I didn't see eggs or larvae. UH-OH

Queens will mate about five days after emerging. Sometimes it takes another week or ten days before they start laying.

We hived the colony with the queen in the cage. Typically when you buy a NUC with a queen, that queen should be mated. The pros tell me that there is only one proof that the colony has a good queen and that is eggs.
While it is generally advised not to disturb them too often (reco is to only check every three weeks), I may have to check them again on the next AIR-BLOSSOM day, which is on Wednesday and Thursday, to make sure our queen infact is laying eggs.

Hopefully on that check everything will be fine.

Wanna bee in the know?

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis


They have been growing like mad.

Robert calls one of our zucchini beds the Jurassic Park, because they are out-of-this-world huge.

Yesterday was the day. We finally harvested our very first zucchini. It was only one that was big enough to be harvested and I cooked it into a shrimp red thay curry.

Ahh, so yummy...  we LOOOOVE zucchini, which is why I planted about twenty plants. And the best part:  With every day passing by, we will  have more to harvest. Can't wait....

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


One would think they are able to find their own food from plant pollen in their surroundings but sometimes there is no or not enough food or there are other special considerations such as you just hived a packaged bee delivery and of course in winter, when bees need to be fed; typically with sugarwater.

I am refilling the jar with
sugarwater of our entrance feeder.
If you - like me - just hived your packaged bees, you are dealing with super young bees. Chances are that they have not had much flying experience yet and that they are still practising to fly. So, in the first few days, you will see them flying around, in what appears to be short, erratic flights. However, they are learning, both to fly and their new whereabouts. They need to also memorize where the hive, their new home, is.

So, these young inexperienced bees out of a sudden have the complete burden of building a hive and making sure noone (especially not the precious queen bee) is starving.

After about a week or so it is considered a good sign to see these young bees returning from their flights with some pollen. Gradually then, you can start reducing the supplemental feeding.

However, ensure there is always a source of water for them. I use an old terracotta saucer which I placed a couple of meters away from the hive and keep refilling.

Back to the feeding the bees: There is some controversy about why they should be fed sugarwater, which I will not go into.

Here is how I prepare the sugarwater for our bees:
In a large pot I put water (or camomilletea) and sugar; I use 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water. It is recommended to use cane or beet sugar. No raw sugar because the molasses cannot be digested by our ladies.

I put the pot on the stove and heat the water at a low or medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar completely in the water. Be sure not to caramelise the sugar; that can be fatal to your colony.

In winter, you may want to add 1 1/2 tbs. of apple cider vinegar for each gallon of this concoction to prevent it from freezing.

Then I let it cool off completely before I give it to my girlies.

Rudolf Steiner, father of bio-dynamic gardening recommends to use camomille tea instead of water. The reason for this is that camomille do not pollen which is the reason why these flowers are so potent in teas.

If you choose to use camomille tea, it is advisable to use organic tea; preferably harvested from your own garden. Since we are not quite there yet (hopefully next season), my bees get regular water for now.
We use an entrance feeder, because I do not want to disturb the colony by opening the hive body everytime I am refilling the jar.

BTW: They are quite hungry. I am feeding a jar every day; sometimes two.

Today I refilled the jar of sugarwater in the entrance feeder for the first time without complete beekeeper regalia.... No stinging yet!

It is kinda interesting walking around in the backyard, trying to see whether 'our' bees are at work. I see so many bees, but most likely not ours yet. I can still tell ours apart because young bees are much darker than older ones. The sun has 'bleeched' out the older ones who appear lighter in color.

While we are still a tad concerned about our neighbor's reactions to the bees, we are also quite smitten with them and have been spending hours just observing them. Aurelia loooves to watch them from behind a window in the house.

I am truely in awe about how the reproductively incomplete female working bees work together for the greater good, selflessly sacrificing their own lives to serve others, through feeding the lazy male drones (whose only purpose in life is to mate with the queen) and the only complete female with reproductive abilities, the queen. By doing so, these ladies ensure not only the survival of their own species but also the survival of numerous plants (through fertilisation), animals and not to forget humanity (no bees, no crop production), who all depend on these little wonderful creatures.

Especially after the disaster in MO, with vast amounts of crops destroyed and food prices - once again - on the rise, we should all take a moment and rethink the way we live today, with food being produced in one area of the continent that is aimed to last for 300+ million people. We cannot fathom yet what the future holds for these farmers and their acreage because of all the toxins being released into the soil; what does it mean for our food supply if the soil in these areas will be contaminated for years to come?

If  more people started tearing out their useless watersucking lawns and replaced them with an edible landscape, the scale of these disasters would be more manageable and we would not be implementing so much monoculture anymore.

Maybe, just maybe Gaia is telling us something?! Are you listening?

Die Biene, Haltung und Pflege

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hiving Packaged Bees

So, they arrived today. They is 10,000 bees or 3 lbs including a queen.

My UPS gal said, "These bees are not happy!"

I honestlly wouldn't be all too happy either after a 24 hour transit.

Anyway. Great, they are here now. Now what?!

YES, I got to hive them. And this is precisely the part that I had been hoping to be able to do without Aurelia here but with Roberto's help.

Well, Aurelia's father apparently did not want to deal with her because she was still sicklish, so my girlie was here with me and Roberto was off. Off to work that is.

I had read how to do it.


I had watched youtube videos from other people on how to do it.

But honestly, it looks pretty easy but then you start doing this in full beekeeping regalia at about 75F degrees and you mess up a bit here and there and out of a sudden you realise that this is NOT as easy as these pros make it look like.

Anywho, I eventually got them in and here is how I did it (the plan was to take pictures along the way but I really did not want Aurelia to do that - and it'snot because she doesn't take great pictures):

I gave strict orders to Aurelia to stay in the house with Schoko until I gave permission to come out again.

OK, so now to the actual task.

I took out 4 frames out of the super and put them aside.

Then I tried opening the package of bees with a knife and pliers. And here is where I failed: I could not open this thing faster than the bees got out. GRRRR!

So, here I am with some of these 10,000 bees flying around me while the rest including the queen is still in the box and I still need to fully open this box to release everyone else. Yes, you bet, I am sweating in this apiarist-suit.

But I need to get it done. Noone else will and they need to be hived before dark. So, I keep pulling.

Eventuallly I got it open and then dropped the box a few times on the hive, as to shake out the rest of the bees. That worked. Good.

Obviously a few still remained in the box. Not to worry; I put the box aside, hoping that these guys will eventually find their way into their new home.

Found the queen cage. Hallelujah, she was alive and kicking!

I took it out, wrapped a wire around it (with up to a dozen bees on my hands all the time) and took out the cork infront of the candy. This will allow the rest of the bees to eat their way into the queen and this way allow the colony to accept her.

Then I hung the queen's cage between two frames and put the remaining four frames in and closed it.

DONE! Man, am I proud of myself!!!

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Zucchinis - Hand-Pollination and Harvest

We planted maaany zucchinis, because we really like them. People have been telling me, I overdid it (apparently the public opinion is to have about 4 plants per family) and that we may end up having way more zucchini than we can eat but so far with about twenty plants I cannot see this becoming a problem.

I am still in awe about nature: You plant a seed and less than 100 days later you can start harvesting fruit; zucchini in this case. Pretty amazing!

We have three different beds of them and some are doing amazingly, while others are doing OK. The bed in the front truely is doing extremely well, with large plants and many blossoms and already several pieces of fruit on them. Roberto and I constantly check on this one zuce-bed and get excited like little children about the tremendous beauty and growth.

I have noticed that there are two different kinds of flowers: Some are simply beautiful yellow flowers on stems while others already have formed a fruit at what appears to be the pretty thick stem.

As a newbee to just about anything gardening and homesteading, I did not know what this was about, so I researched.

Reading up about it, I found in Carla Emery's "Encyclopedia of Country Living" (BTW: A great resource to have for anything homesteading!) that all members of the gourd family (zucchini, melon,squash, pumpkins) have both, female and male flowers on one plant. Typically more male than female ones and that the ones with just the flower are the male flowers, which are also the ones that can be eaten as flowers without depriving oneself from fruit development.

While the female flowers will most likely produce fruit by itself, the fruit may be small, misformed or no fruit at all and pollination may become necessary.

Unfortunately not everyone has bees to do the job, so you may end up hand-pollinating these guys. Here are a few things to consider when doing this:

Make sure than you do not cross-pollinate from one plant to the other since some gourds are not compatible. This is in particular important if you have - like us - planted several varieties of gourds and they are closer than 500 ft of each other. Instead, try to use the male flower for the female blossom on that particular plant.

To hand-pollinate, find a male blossom (thin stem with upright flower and no fruit set at end of blossom) that has loads of pollen. Check with your finger. When it dusts off easily, cut the flower and gently touch the female blossom with it.

Yeah, quite the chore...

About harvesting: Some of the fruit on my zucchinis is already pretty large.

The right time to harvest is when they are about 6-8 inches (20cm) in length. Do not let them grow larger since then the rind will get harder and the seeds start forming more, making them rather inedible.

Also, you need to keep harvesting to ensure that the plant keeps producing more fruit.

Only when you do not want any more zucchini, allow a couple of fruits to remain at the plant for seed saving and also to slow the plant's fruit production down.

To harvest the edible flowers, harvest the male blossoms (allow the females to produce the fruit) early in the morning before they start closing up. You may place them with their bases in water, and store in the fridge until you're ready to use.

However, I believe it may be best to harvest these flowers when you are ready to use them.  That way they are perfectly fresh and yumm-o.

Wanna know more about these yummies; read up here:
 "Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Psychology of saving the planet

I believe there is no doubt amongst most educated and thinking people that there is a crisis on the horizon:
  • Resources becoming more scarce (oil, water, coal, etc..),
  • water and air pollution (there is a 'trash'-island in the South Pacific the size of Texas!),
  • industry-tempering with food and thus making it lack any nutritional value (50% less vitamins in your apple than 20 years ago - not to mention the lack of TASTE!),
  • the global climate becoming more and more unpredictable (storms, rain, extremes like cold- and heatwaves),
  • destruction of crops and living spaces as a result of climate change,
  • rising of diseases that our grandparents have never even heard of (so-called civilisation diseases),
  • land fills being filled up and closed (and then were do we throw our stuff away to?),
  • mass extinction of plants and animals (who are needed to keep the planet in balance),
  • rising of super-bugs and super-weeds (due to developing immunity to antibios, pesticides and herbicides), 
  • humans caught up in the rat race (trying to pay their bills), etc..

The list goes on and on.

What is to be done?

Your answer to this is mostly depending upon what psychologucal make-up you have; according to scientists:

If you are a rational, conservative person who believes in the power of the money or the economy, you are most likely to deny any problems while out shopping or you may demand the government to take controll and order everyone to comply to certain small scale changes (heaven forbid any true change). The idea is that there is no end to economic growth and that the newly developping tech-sector (or other forms of innovation) will sort out the problems.

This fascist-nationalist group believes in centralised governmental intervention (top-down approach) may be important to you since you do not believe that people will actually do anything on their own. With this goes a rather negative opinion about humankind. Members of this group are most likely to fall victims to their own personal greed. This male-dominated group believes the masses need to be steered (as to population-controll, food-rationing), believe in a stiff class structure and are very resistant to change of any sort. This is also the group that is most likely to live in large metropolitan areas and holds the wealth which is why they are unwilling to share and will fight a fair distribution of just about anything. Think THE MATRIX.

Then we have the humanist or eco-rationalist. These folks understand that it is upon every individual to contribute to the change.  They believe in sharing and are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good of humanity. This is a balanced group with no dominance toward either male or female. The vision is to distribute needed items (be it food or energy) through a network. Because they believe in the good of humanity, they think educating people will make them choose to do the right thing. As humanitarians they are not victims to greed, and they will fight injustice. This group also is actively conserving energy and food. They may live in smaller (in tact) towns or rural areas, using public transportation or even the bike and are most likely to telecommute. A true gobal citizen with a small scale government. Think UNCONVENIENT TRUTH.

Of course then there are the earth stewards, people who actively get out of the rat race implementing the changes for a better tomorrow in more rural areas. This is a female-dominated and highly spiritual bunch, believing in fairness and bartering. Their believe is to create change through positive role models and they are trying to act as such.

This group of neo-feudalists will implement a bottom-up approach, i.e. salvaging forests (oppposed to exploitation) and agriculture through small-scale permaculture operations with animal husbandry based upon a decentralised local (if any) governing body where everyone votes on every issue. Their approach is intune with nature, for and not against Mother Earth. Think AVATAR.

Lastly, there is the a male-dominated warrior group who will use violence to get what they want or need. These folks will live in gated communities, ready to defend, potentially bartering with precious metals. Their main concern is physical survival and protecting of their own possessions. There is no true interest in sharing. The motto is: What's in it for me? They are more like the conservative bunch, except that they are armed, have no excess cash in the bank and are not in the power-seats. Those is power are already becoming increasingly wary of these guys; just think about all the new gun-laws. Think MAD MAX.

So, who you are depends upon what you are willing to do to save the beautiful blue. Or vice versa.

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WATER-WISE: What works to save water while gardening in SoCal

In case, you did not know: Here in California, we truely, really and officially live in a drought zone. This is a dessert after all. I know, one can get confused when one sees all these heavily watered lawns and parks but let's not be fooled: Water is a scarce resource out here.

In fact, there is a huge water shortage and naturally I get pretty upset to see people hosing the street with the liquid gold. Where I come from (a country where the Green party has been actively forming and changing Government for the better of humanity since the 80's! Yes, you may say I am a proud citizen of probably the only country on Earth where it is politically incorrect to have patriotic feelings.) this is completely unheard of! Get a broom, please! This BTW has the extra benefit of giving you a great core (your belly!) and upper body (back & arms) work-out. Saves water AND a personal trainer! Good for the planet, good for you!

While in the past, every year the Governator declared a water shortage in CA, the people did not care too much about this; and honestly a bunch of people actually acted shockingly surprised (!) when I (maybe a tad too emphatically) informed them about this and then there were also a few who simply denied that in fact there is a shortage of H2O. UNBELIEVABLE, I know... Makes you wonder, in which fairytale lala-land they have been living?!
While one could blame the Government for not informing and educating people enough, I find it is more likely that wth all this media-nonsense-noise (Paris Hilton going to jail, Britney slamming an umbrella into a car, Donald Trump's hair, and the Royal Wedding not to forget), one cannot blame anyone for overhearing some real stories or warnings.

And personally, I feel that some people simply reject being educated on environmental issues.
In any event, we are trying to be more water-wise here on the Suburban Homestead.

  • Using a cup to brush teeth, instead of letting the water run.
  • Repurposing water, i.e. water from the duck pond. After about three days of 'soiling' the water, we take it and pump it out and water the trees. Has the nice benefit of fertilising while watering.
  • Harvesting rain-water in re-purposed wine-barrels - now our trees are going to be Syrah-drunk. We got these used barrels cheap from a vintner. Apparently they can only use thm for wine-making for a certain number of ywars and then berid them. One man's trash is another man''s treasure. So, Roberto drilled holes into the barrrels to connect them to the water spout as well as hook them together and then installed a hand-cranked pump. Love that thing! Amazingly, we collected full barrels still in early May in SoCal!
  • And lastly, I ordered a bunch of Ollas.


These Ollas, terracotta vases, were pretty pricey but the idea is that you bury them in the earth and then the plant roots 'draw' the water out of the porous ollas, hence, the plants get the water where they need it (no loss due to evaporation) and you do noot overwater.  

I also bought a drip hose, which I placed aroud our zucchinis and corn in the front yard.


This  thing has pores thriugh which the water 'leaks'.
You need to really make sure this thing reaches every plant otherwise it is not soo helpful. Also there will be mostly likely be spots where you water where there is no plant.
I am honestly not too impressed with this thing and find hand-watering after moisture measuring more useful.

Another cool inexpensive gatched is the water-meter: It lets me know, when the soil is wet, moist or soil and so I am not overwatering.

Only when it shows 'dry' will I use H2O. Very helpful!

As a matter of fact, working more in tune with La Luna also aids in being more sensible to water usage: On days when the moon is in a water-sign (cancer, scorpio, pisces), there is usualy due drops on the plants in the morning and the soil measures pretty moist / wet.

So, we won't water on those days.

According to bio-dynamic principles, hacking around the plants in the evening enables them to absorb moisture in the air, which is also a way to reduce watering.

Eventually, we hope to install a graywater system. . .

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Friday, May 6, 2011


Something is eating my veggies and I cannot find the evil-doer(s). I turn every leaf. Noone there.

The ducks and the chicks keep roaming the fields and they seem to eat plenty but still, some plants show holes.

My friend at the nursery suggested I go out at night and catch the bad guys but I cannot see myself leaving neither my cozy bed nor my snuggely man to go outside in the middle of the night, armed with a flashlight to catch some BUGS?!?

I am also not a fan of cheamical weapons, I much prefer the one on one attack; seems more fair.

Then I kept running into people trying to sell me Praying Mantises. Maybe it was a sign? For sure, praying was involved here.

So, I asked my nursery-girl and she raved about them, "They are beautiful creatures and they eat every bug they can overcome. I love holding them. You can pat them."

She also tells me that they are 100% carnivores, which is great, because the feather-heads are getting the best of our salads and today, I even caught Lotta munching grapes. Tze tze.

Anywho, I got some of these wonder-predators. Or not. Apparently, you can only buy them still in their egg case and have to hatch them. Given our amazing success (NOT!) with hatching chickens, I am a bit concerned whether I will get even one mantis out of these two egg cases. Allegedly each case hatches about 100-200 mantises. But then again, we set 16 eggs to hatch and only four chicks hatched.

So, you can apparently either hatch these guys indoors; a paperbag is recommended, or outdoors. Mine were tied on a branch, under a few leaves. I put one egg into the pear tree and the other into one of the passionfruit shrubs.

They say it takes up to eight weeks for anything to show up. Oh my, by then all my veggies will be eaten already. Either by the mystery bugs or by us.

I read that Praying mantis have a huge appetite, eating almost any other insect. Waiting patiently in quiet ambush for hours and when an insect innocently comes wandering by they suddenly jump out and attack. 

Praying Mantises can be grey, green, even pinkish and turn darker with age. While they 'blend' into vegetation, you may not even be able to spot them. Cool, because I can just see the ducks wanting to munch the mantises. 

OMG, the whole Homestead turns into a bloody massacre... And we had peace in mind when we started out...

They got their name because at rest, they appear to be "praying", holding their "hands" together. Maybe they are praying for more bugs?


"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I like wreaths at front doors. They are such nice welcome greetings, I find. And who is to say, you can only have them for Christmas?

Well, here is my summer version - made from stuff I found around the Suburban Homestead (remember: no new purchases allowed):

Since I had to make do without buying anything new, I started a treasure hunt through garage and hobby room.

Here is what I found around the Suburban Homestead that I deemed suitable for making a spring/summer wreath:

    • a piece of fence, about ten inches 
    • several pieces of fabric, of different sizes and patterns
  • about five cable binders
  • two satin ribbon spools; one in pale-pink and the other in an apricot shade

And here is how I did it:

First, I rolled the fence into a tube.

We still had this leftover of a plastic fence from our apartment living days, when we had used it to child-proof our balcony.

To fixate the tube, I used the cable binders to hold this together. As you can see, I pushed the cable binder through the holes in the fenec and that was about it.

Next, I pushed one end of this fence-tube into the other, making it somewhat of a circle.

This way it was kinda fixated.

One probably can use an additional cable binder but I found it held it together just fine.

Then, I wrapped the fence-wreath with the ladybug fabric. I had originally purchased it to make a tablecloth for our oversized dining room table. Since no tablecloth you can buy will fit this awesome table, I have to get creative with tablecloth. This leftover piece was still over one yard of fabric. It is designed by Debbie Mumm for JoAnn and I had gotten it for 60% off. SCORE!

I used some red yarn to hold everyhting in place, as you can see in the picture.
Done! That is the basis. Now it is decorating al gusto.

Since my wreath is to be themed spring / summer, I wanted to put fabric flowers on it.

I used one of the fabric remnants, which were about five inches and folded them in half.

Then I rolled them up from one end to the other, holding it at the cut ends and thus creating a flower.

Then I tied them onto the wreath.
Finally, I wrapped the apricot tone satin ribbon around the wreath and hung it up.

VOILA! Spring / Summer Wreath a la Suburban Homestead (sorry, my SchleppTop wont make accents - uncultural thingie).

OK, I didn't use all my leftovers, ... Hmm, let's see, what else can I make...

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

Too hot for my beans

All shriveled up

When I was watering everyone, I saw that the blossoms of one of my Scarlett Runner Beans didn't look too good.

Oh no! They must have gotten too hot.

The problem is: No blossom = no beans = no food.

Scarlett Runner Beans are amazing:

Unlike most other legumes, they are not an annual. They are a perennial.

This means that once they are established, they keep growing, kinda like a bush.

Since our goal is to rely mainly on perennials (annuals suck the soil dry of nutrients), these beans play a vital role in our Suburban Homestead.

Like any legume, these beauties are also nitrogen fixers and a great source of vegetable protein.

That's how they're supposed to look

OK, so how can I help my beans?

The sun is too hard on them and they need shade.

I thought about building a little canopy which I could put up during the hottest time of the day (10am - 2pm) and after that I would roll it up again.

Of course, the rule here on the Suburban Homestead is to not buy anything new if it can be avoided!

So, I looked around in the garage and found a couple of sticks and a bit of leftover 'fabric'  that Roberto had used to build the retaining walls in the backyard.

Honestly, I dunno what this 'fabric' really is; you can get it at a Home Depot, so it really CANNOT be fabric at all.

Not pretty, but WORKIE
 With a couple of string, I created this admittedly relatively unpretty make shift canopy.

No more shriveling up my blossoms!

I don't think I will need it for too long.
 Once the plants are more established, they will not be so vulnerable anymore.

Or at least that's what I hope.

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis

April Harvest Tally & The Begin of Berry-Season

In April 2011, we harvested:
  • 2 lbs of Meyer lemons
  • 4 lbs of Dandelion, which we fed to the ducks
  • 4 lbs of lettuce
Not too bad, considering we are still GREENhorns and started working our Suburban Homestead in beautiful Agoura Hills only about twelve weeks ago.

And TODAY, I got my very first berries. Okay, technically they are already the second batch because Aurelia and Roberto along with the chicks have been munching already some right off the bushes (or trees as far as the Mulberries are involved), but these are the first ones that I got.

What you see here are two different kind of Mulberries: The three long dark strings are Pakistani Mulberries, the one pink-whitish looking thing is a White Perisan Mulberry and then we have tiny Wild Strawberries as well as Blueberries.

BTW: Mulberries are considered one of the Superfruits, along with Acai and other berries. The reason why most berries make it on the superfruits list is that they are tiny bombs of antioxidants. A true gift of Mother Nature for us to enjoy. Not to mention the amazing taste; if you have never tried a Mulberry, you have not lived!

Unfortunately, these amazing berry trees are kind of hard to come by. You will not find them at Home Depot and not even Armstrong carries them. After researching, we found only one nursery within 50M (that's how far I was willing to travel to get one of these wonderberry-trees) from us that carried them:

Jon's Nursery of Somis in Camarillo.

I cannot say enough good things about Jon and Karen. They are knowledgeable, carry a ton of edibles and their prices are somewhere between Home Depot and Armstrong. AND even though they are not married, they are running this nursery like a Ma and Pa operation, which makes it only more appealing for us to shop there. It also it just plain fun to go there and chat with Jon or Karen, since they are realy close to us.

Seriously, we made a pledge to shop them first whenever we need any new plants.

Now, I am going to enjoy these beautiful berries all by myself since since neither Aurelia nor Roberto are here. Lucky me!!

"Nature never says one thing and wisdom another." Decimus Junius Juvenalis