Posts in Category: Gardens

Amanita Muscaria Returns


The Amanita Muscaria mushroom returns each winter, usually after a good soaking rain.  It is not edible, but would make you hallucinate in unpleasant ways — so I’ve heard.  It looks like the classic toadstool of fairy tales.  I enjoy seeing them pop out the ground, round and red, open up and then flatten out while losing their color. 

Cornucopia in August

It's harvest time

It’s harvest time

It’s a wonderful time of year when the harvest starts coming in. In August, I’m excited to have corn and melons, which require warmer weather than we normally have, an indication of changing weather conditions this summer. Nonetheless, we have tried planting corn several times before and this is the first year to have fully mature corn white corn.  And in August.  It is delicious.   Tomatoes and peppers are coming in now.   Green beans and wax beans have been coming in since July.  Plus, we have plenty of pears and apples.   It’s time to start canning and freezing to keep all the fruits and vegetables for later in the year.

First up is fermenting the Fresno chili peppers to make hot sauce.  This was popular last year and I want to do it again.  Tomato sauce and apple sauce next ahead.

Plums in June


I like the way that our fruits and vegetables have their own places on the calendar.   It is late June and the Santa Rosa plums are ready to be picked. They are still a little sour but they will ripen quickly and begin falling off the tree. Or the birds will begin to peck away at them. I’m glad to be here when they are ripe.   Now I need to find time to make plum jam.

Burbank’s Walnut Tree and Mine

It’s been over four months since I’ve posted here.  The way I say it reminds me of confession.   I walked around Pillow Road over Memorial Day, noting how things were shaping up as we move from spring to summer.    One thing that stood out was our walnut tree.

When we moved to Pillow Road, I took note of the walnut tree near the front of the property.   The tree seemed quite old and not that healthy.   I’ve thought that the tree itself is related to other walnut trees growing in Luther Burbank’s Goldridge Farm, which is about a half-mile away from us.   Burbank developed a hybrid walnut tree in the 1890′s that was fast-growing.  He named this hybrid Paradox.  I have no way of knowing if it is that kind of tree but I bet the tree is 50-100 years old.  He crossed the English Walnut and the California Black Walnut.  I wish there were a definitive way to identify the tree species.  Let me know if you know of a way to do it.

I noticed that this spring the walnut tree looked very healthy with its fullest growth.   My son, Ben, who is an arborist,worked last year on the tree, and I have to think the tree responded to his pruning by coming back this year.   Walnut tree

Even better, I saw upon looking more closely that it bears a huge crop of walnuts.  I don’t think we’ve ever harvested walnuts from this tree.

Walnuts - 1

We will have to plan time to harvest and dry walnuts this fall.

Another plant we have from Burbank is the Shasta Daisy.   We got a few plants from the Burbank farm many years ago and they are flourishing.   The flowers come  each spring and seem to last most of the summer, a standout in the garden and easily cut for a vase in the kitchen.

daisies - 1


What Rats Can Do To A Leftover Pumpkin

I had this pumpkin sitting in the greenhouse and found out that a rat ate its way inside, getting at the pulp and seeds. A feast for rats. I have too many of them in the barn right now.


What rats do to a leftover pumpkin

Also, I had grain for brewing stored in sealed plastic bins and they gnawed though the plastic to get in. Powerful jaws and a more powerful urge to eat anything. However, rats won’t touch garlic that I have out drying. Maybe there’s something to the idea that garlic can protect you from vermin or vampires.

Red Hot Sauce

One of our family’s homemade gifts this Christmas was my Red Hot Sauce.   In “A Peck of Peppers“, I wrote about preparing the sauce from Fresno Chiles fresh from the garden, which I did at the end of September.   Then I put the sauce in a charred oak barrel and let it sit until the week before Christmas.   I strained it and put it in bottles.   I was particularly pleased with the deep red color of the sauce.

Red Hot Sauce

This is a fermented sauce — the only thing added to the peppers is salt.    The smell is strong, and it has a slightly smoky, sour taste.  In addition to making gifts, I used the sauce in a marinade for elk steaks that we had at Christmas dinner.  I also added it to baked beans I made.   I think of this red hot sauce less as a table condiment and more as a set of rich flavors that can enhance any number of dishes — it’s earthy, yet with a call-to-attention bright flavor, just like a pepper.   It stays with you.


Woodland Scene

The rain has returned, and with it comes the mushrooms. I found this mushroom under an oak tree in the yard. I was struck how it looked like a woodland scene, the home of fairies and dwarves. I expect that if I was patient, I might catch a glimpse of such unseen things.

My friend Joe who is a mushroom hunter says this mushroom is amanita phalloides and that they are very poisonous.

Each year i see the return of Amanita muscaria, the toadstool mushroom, which is also poisonous, if not hallucinogenic.


From the Redwood Forests to the Dungeness Crab

Last Sunday, I had a — this land was made for me for you and me — kind of day in Sonoma County. My nephew, Chase, was nearing the end of his visit so I wanted to show him the redwoods in Armstrong Woods. We went out for a drive through Guerneville to the park and took a lovely walk among the large redwoods.

I like this photo I took, which seems to invite you to go off the path and make your own way, climbing over fallen branches.

Redwoods at Armstrong Woods

Redwoods at Armstrong Woods

Chase easily fit inside the hollow of a redwood. He was fascinated that redwoods are able to survive forest fires with their thick bark. He was amazed that the largest tree, named Colonel Armstrong, was as tall as football field is long.

Chase fit inside a redwood hollow

Chase fit inside a redwood hollow

After our time among the giant trees, we went to Santa Rosa Seafood store to buy Dungeness Crab for dinner. When we arrived, we learned that the crab were still on the truck making its way from the coast. The commercial crab fishing season had opened earlier in the week. We weren’t the only ones eager to have crab for dinner.

When we came back to the store, the clerk told us that the crabs were here but we’d have to cook them at home or wait another hour. I asked for some advice on cooking crab because I had never done it before. The clerk said to throw them in a large pot of water. “For eight crabs, you’ll need about nine pounds of salt.” That seemed like a lot of salt but the process itself seemed doable.

At home, I studied up on how much salt to put in. I found many recipes for cooking live crab that did not add salt. Yet the clerk’s insistence that it really mattered for flavor made me follow her guidance. I ended up putting in a cup of salt per gallon of water. The large pans we used to cook the crab came from our brew room.

The crab were placed in boiling water and cooked for about 20 minutes.

  • The Crab Just Before Boiling
  • Crab in Boiling Water
  • The crabs in the sink ready to be cleaned.

Once removed from the water, the crab were cooled down in the sink by running cold water over them. The next step was to clean them by removing the shell, scraping the gills and other gunk out and running more water over the bodies. Cleaning was fairly easy.

The crabs were soon on the table, served with a home-cooked succotash and my own Ceasar salad. We celebrated Ryan’s birthday and wished Chase well on his return home to Kentucky.

A walk in the redwoods followed by cooking and cracking crab, what a nice day.

A Peck of Peppers

I had a lot of peppers ready in the garden. A peck? Probably not but about 10 pounds or so. I had six pounds of Fresno chile peppers, and the rest were red cherry peppers, cayenne and Anaheim.

Peck of Peppers

I have made hot sauce in the past. There are two basic methods, one is using vinegar up front, mashing the peppers and extracting the juice after cooking them. The other is fermenting the peppers by adding salt. I prefer the latter approach. However, I have wanted to try aging the hot sauce in a charred oak barrel and I found someone who wrote about his experience in this article.

The article described using a juice to extract the juice and I decided to try it. It worked really well. I ended up with a very red juice and a bin of pulp.

Juicing peppers

I poured the juice into the 3-gallon barrel, along with some water and salt. I should add the pulp back to the juice but it was difficult to get that pulp through a funnel into the barrel so I decided to let it ferment on its own. I’ll see if I get very much additional liquid. I will check the barrel in about a month and see how it turns out.

Making Applesauce

We have a new reason to do canning this year — baby Henry! Katie came by and we made applesauce from red Gravensteins. She wants to have fresh applesauce in the pantry for when Henry starts to eat real food. I am glad to see that Katie wants to learn canning and she said it was easier than she thought. Like many things, the more you do it, the process gets to be familiar, which makes it easier. Still I have my copy of the book “Putting Food By” nearby.

Making Applesauce-3

We used the Italian food mill that I regular use to make tomato sauce. We cook the apples enough to soften them and then put them through the mill, which removes the seeds and skin. What came out was applesauce with a tint of red. We had more than enough for a dozen half-cup jars. I can’t wait until Henry gets to taste it for himself.