Rainy season off to a great start

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Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California

This book caught my attention while visiting Nevada City the other day. The authors, Alicia Funk and Karin Kaufman are both from Nevada City and have written a book about using the native flora of The Sierra Nevada as both food, and medicine. As my interest in using local produced products has grown, the idea of using the native flora only makes sense. It doesn't get more local than that. 

The authors listed 5 essential reasons for taking the time to learn about, and use native plants. 

1. Cultivate an Independent Carbon-Neutral lifestyle.

2. Enjoy 100% local nutrition that is gluten-free and vitamin-rich.

3.Say no to nature deficit disorder.

4. Preserve cultural knowledge.

5. Protect biodiversity and habitat. 

Reading about Manzanita one finds that the berries, flowers, and leaves can all be used. You can make Manzanita cider, Manzanita hard cider, or mix some Douglas Fir with it and enjoy MAnzanita and Douglas Fir Cider. You can also make Manzanita Blossom Jelly, Manzanita crackers, Manzanita granola, Manzanita muffins, and Manzanita sugar.

Manzanita Berry Sugar

Collect berries in early fall

-Dry berries

-Grind coarsely, on the lowest speed, in a food processor for several minutes

-To separate seeds and skins from the berry "sugar" place slightly ground berries in a coarse-weave sifter or mesh strainer. Use a wooden spoon to push the sugar through the strainer.

-Store sugar in an airtight container in a cool location.

-Keep left over seeds and skins to make Manzanita cider.

TIP: Grind 2 cups of berries to get 3/4 cup of sugar. Add Manzanita berry sugar to oatmeal, tea, and anything else you wish to sweeten. I can't wait to give this a try. 

The interest in where our food comes from, and how it's processed will continue to grow. One answer to the concerns about what we are eating is to "go native". Of course to live entirely off the native flora would be difficult, and not really in the cards for me. However adding native plants to the diet seems worthwhile, and fun. How fun to serve Bay Leaf ice cream after dinner. 

You can find "Living Wild" at Amazon, or perhaps your local bookstore. 


Burned forest, with ironic sign

Last year 97,000 acre King Fire burned much of The Eldorado National Forest near where we live. To get to our secret camping spot we drive through burned trees for several miles. Along the way a turn off leads to "Freanch Meadows Reservoir", as well as "Hell Hole Reservoir. " Just below the brown sign the forest service has put a sign that reads, "A Beautiful Forest Is A Matchless Sight". Not sure if it was there before the fire, or was put up after as a sort of ironic  exclamation point to the whole event.

We did see many wildflowers along the way, as well as year old tree saplings. The forest is recovering, but will take decades to look as it did before. Fortunately our favorite camping areas we're spared, so we will be passing through the burned out, but recovering forest, for some time to come. 

Don't panic, stay calm, and garden!

Working at the nursery the other day I had a chance encounter with a group of young people who work for a state run organization. They are learning about the garden and how to grow food. They have started seeds, and came by to learn about the compost tea we make. Afterward I was told that just the other day the powers to be told them they cannot have a garden this year, due to the drought. I guess they will just have to buy their food from the local grocery store. What kinds of lessons are these young people learning when they are told they can’t grow healthy, organic food to eat? I guess the thinking is, “conserve water buy relinquishing your ability to monitor it and use it wisely.” Instead we are supposed to go to the grocery store during a drought, and buy food that was grown by “professional” farmers who know how to use the very same water better?

A community garden in Switzerland

A community garden in Switzerland

 A friend and fellow nursery person Annie Hayes, of Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, penned a wonderful post titled, “Home Gardeners are NOT the problem.. Read it to learn why the garden is getting an unfair reputation for water waste during the drought. The garden, be it ornamental or edible, adds immensely to our lives. Our gardens can still produce and thrive during a drought. We just need to be more mindful this year about how the water is used. Gardens and gardeners are easy marks for scorn during our annual low water cycles. It’s so easy to point one's finger and say, “that garden should be allowed to die, or not even be planted this year”.

 Annie summed it up well with this, “If you don’t have a large lawn in a hot Summer area, YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. If you’re growing a sensible mix of low and average water use plants YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Home gardeners who are growing healthful fruits and vegetables or flowers for joy, beauty, and to support and enjoy our birds, butterflies and bees ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. You don’t have to stop watering your beautiful plantings – just be smart about it.”

I offered to help the young people and the organization they work for learn how to still have that garden, while learning how to be good stewards of the water we are allotted.  Don’t let all those wonderful seedling plants die just because the bureaucracy in charge can’t see beyond “NO GARDEN”. Don’t send the message to these young people and others that we can’t be responsible enough to know how to handle our own health, and the ability to grow what we need to live.  Let's "teach our children well" during this drought. Panic and giving up are not an option.  At this time in our history, and at this place, we need to "get ourselves back to the garden"  more than ever. 

“I have come here to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning

Well maybe it is just the time of year

Or maybe it's the time of man

I don't know who l am

But you know life is for learning

We are stardust

We are golden

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden."


by Joni Mitchell, Woodstock


Use the garden as a refuge from the digital world

At  MindBodyGreen, 9 reasons Gardening is the Ultimate Mind Body Workout. "According to the Centers for Disease Control, gardening is compared to “moderate cardiovascular exercise.” Gardening 30 to 45 minutes a day can burn 150 to 300 calories. This isn't just standing there watering the flowers, but weeding, digging, hoeing, raking and planting. And there's nothing like being at one with nature to help create a calming, relaxed state of mind while you let go of the pressures and anxiety of everyday life."

The calories burned is a nice benefit, but for myself the real pleasure of gardening is in the mind and soul. We are all so connected and digitized these days that is becoming harder and harder to become "mindful". By "mindful" I mean living in the moment, and taking notice or the world your in. Not worrying about the future or past, but just being. The garden should be a refuge from all the buzz, a place where you can reconnect with nature.

Leave the phone in the house and use the garden entrance as a doorway to another world. A world where you can focus on the moment, and let your mind take a break. Plus, you will reap the rewards of fresh, delicious, healthy food. 

San Marzano, the best paste tomato

Considered by chefs as the best paste tomato in the world.  Compared to the Roma Tomato, San Marzano tomatoes are thinner and more pointed. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is stronger, sweeter and less acidic. Also, unlike the Roma Tomato  San Marzano vines are indeterminate and have a somewhat longer season than other paste tomato varieties. As is typical of heirloom plants, San Marzano is an open-pollinated variety that breeds true from generation to generation, making seed saving practical for the home gardener or farmer.

According to Wikipedia, "the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano sul Sarno. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

In the United States, San Marzano tomatoes are the genetic base for another popular paste tomato, the Roma Tomato.  The Roma is a cross between a San Marzano and two other varieties (one of which was also a San Marzano hybrid), was introduced by the USDA in 1955.