Ciera's Garden

Eco-friendly living for the practically minded.

Friday, July 16, 2010


To celebrate the carrots being harvested, we made roasted root vegetable. With garlic, shallots, carrots and herbs from our yard (our potatoes aren't ready yet, but our farmers market has them).

I pulled up 3 very normal looking carrots.
Then, there was this pair.
Heh heh. Dirty carrots.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010


One nice thing about our rather haphazard garden is that we have a lot of wildlife. This is helped by our birdfeeder; we've counted over a dozen species at it and there's nearly always a few birds eating. But we've also provided a habitat that allows them all to make homes. Lots of high trees, lower, dense bushes, and good ground cover. We've also seen several small mammals: squirrels, chipmunks, moles, and a couple rabbits. We had one problem with a groundhog mowing on our parsley and peas, and we once had a green-tomato-eating racoon, but they've otherwise stayed away from the garden. I think (and hope) it's because we've provided them with preferable alternatives for food and shelter.

Anyway, we planted some sunflowers this year. I didn't get any pics of them blooming, but we left them on after the blossoms had died. I was originally thinking we'd roast our own sunflower seeds?
But someone else wanted them as well. He's so pretty, I decided that he gets them instead.
Later, he brought his girlfriend as well. I like how she's hanging upside down in this pic.
The goldfinches are rather messy eaters, leaving plenty around for our chipmunks.
There's definitely something nice about a garden with wildlife. It's always sad to me when I visit California. Everyone has big expansive lawns, but there's few trees or bushes. A few annuals here and there, but nothing is allowed to go to seed and feed the wildlife. Heck, there's even HOAs that will forbid it. I just find it very sterile. What's the point of having land if it's not going to be used? Just to show that you have enough money to support that amount of land and maintain it? (I wish there was a better word than maintain. I consider my garden maintained, but many would consider it rather wild. It is in fact maintained daily though. Manicured?)

My neighbor put it rather well the other day. We were ripping out some lawn between our houses for the roses and strawberries, and we asked him if it was ok since it's partially on his property. He said "Grass is the stuff between vegetables and flowers".

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Taking the train in California

The last time I visited California, we flew in (as usual) to the bay area. Now, my parents live in the valley, which usually means renting a car and driving down to visit. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from my in-law's house to my parents' house.

Last time, driving wasn't really feasible. Saul needed to stay in Mountain View, which meant I would have to drive alone both ways. It was also going to require some backtracking in order to meet with some friends in Sacramento No fun at all. So at my parent's suggestion, I looked into the train.

End result: I took the train from Fremont to Fresno, then Fresno to Sacramento a few days later. It was fantastic, and we are now taking the train on every trip like this (which happens at least twice a year). The pros and cons.


  • Very few trains. Like, there was only two trains each day from Fremont to Stockton (a transfer hub). At 4pm and 5pm. If you want to come back to Fremont, well, your SOL. The trains only go from Stockton to Fremont in the morning hours, which meant I couldn't possibly take the train from Fresno back to Fremont. This is a one way trip only.
  • Very few trains again. There's a train that goes from Fresno to Sacaramento. Direct, no transfers. Unfortunately that train only goes at certain times of the day. The other times, there's a train that goes to Stockton, but then you have to get off and take the bus to Sacramento. Now, there were so many people doing this, they had two buses. Why exactly can't we just have the train keep going? It would have been full!
  • The website is pretty terrible.
  • Any European taking the train would laugh at us. Stockton, the primary hub, has only one track next to the loading area. This means that if two trains come in at once (which happens a lot), one train parks in the middle of a multi-lane boulevard. All traffic is shut down, the conductor opens a single door, and passengers walk into the middle of an intersection to board the train. It was pretty funny. And the Europeans would probably find it pretty backwards and hillbilly.
But there were many many pros:
  • Only had to arrive 10 minutes before departure, and that was only so I could print my ticket.
  • No checkin lines.
  • No security lines.
  • No gate loading lines. I waited 2 minutes because an elderly passenger was having trouble on the stairs.
  • Legroom! Oh my was there legroom!
  • Everything is a carry on.
  • Power for my laptop.
  • Wifi on the commuter trains.
  • And on non-commuter trains, I could usually wardrive (wartrain?) at station stops long enough to send and receive email.
  • Enough space to actually use my laptop. With tables and everything! The seats in airlines have become so cramped that I can't even open up my laptop.
  • Cheap. My ticket across California cost $90, roundtrip. It would have been cheaper had I purchased in advance and been able to use my student discount. Certainly cheaper than either flying or renting a car.
  • Fast. If you take the train through the central valley, it goes the same speed as driving.
  • Food that is cheap and tastes reasonable. Even real-sized beer!
  • No crying children. The babies are all zonked out from the rocking, and the older ones are all fascinated.
  • My ears don't pop.
  • No seatbelt signs. Feel free to get up and move around the cabin. Heck, go over to the other cabin. Do a jig. There's even a dining car with more tables, in case you want a different table style.
  • No problems with liquids, swiss army knives, or knitting needles.
Total time from Sacramento to Fresno, via train: 3 hours. Driving time is about 15 minutes less. Works for me!

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A yummy rose hedge

Lots to post about recently!

First, we finished the rose hedge a couple weeks ago. The goal is to hide my neighbor's death mobile.
Oh, but what's that under the roses?Let's get a closer look at that....

We found out there's actually two kinds of strawberries: June-bearing and ever-bearing. Most commercial growers plant June bearing since it's better for harvesting (all fruits ripen at once). However, since we don't use our berries for pie and prefer to just snack on them, we have ever-bearing. We've been getting about 2 berries a day so far. Hopefully next year, they'll be more established and we'll get a few more!

Weirdness we discovered: it's very important to make sure the berries don't sit on the ground. Otherwise they rot and the bugs get them. Instead, we've been carefully propping up ripening berries on the leaves of a neighboring plant. This seems to fix it.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Curing garlic and shallots

I harvested the garlic and onion today! For all their gourmet-ness, these are both lazy-gardner's plants. We planted the garlic last November by shoving several cloves in the ground. (I use "Russian Red" because it stores well and has a nice strong flavor. I'm sure storebought works too, but if you're going to plant it, might as well getsomething strong!) We then completely ignored it. It popped up in early spring, out of the snow, and started going from there. We planted the shallots in spring, and then also ignored them.

So, both got nice and huge, and then started yellowing just before the 4th. Traditionally apparently, one harvests these on the 4th, and they looked ready, so we did!

This was our first year with shallots. They grow like onions, but in little bunches. Each shallot is about the size of a baby onion.
Saul planted about 10 shallots. Each shallot bunched off loads of babies, and we harvested over 70 shallots!
So, the "curing" thing. This is the one not-lazy part of these plants. Apparently you don't just pull them up and put them in storage. You have to encourage a nice protective layer of papery skin across the top so they don't rot. So, you set them out, tops and roots and all, in a warm and partly-sunny place to "cure". Once they're mostly dry, it'll be time to braid them and store them. So, out on the porch they go.
That's 17 garlic plants by the way. We went a little overboard this year....again. But on the other hand, we can always give them away, and I really like the garlic scapes we get from all of them in June.

Of course, the biggest ones we won't actually store. Those go in a separate space, to be planted in the fall! Best part about these plant: I don't have to order more plants or seeds ever again, and I don't have to baby any seedlings.

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