Blogs for December, 2014
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
‘Twas the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and Portland Oregon was filled with strangers and cousins and visitors from foreign lands, looking for all that keeps Portland weird. Disgruntled teens returned gifts, tired shoppers sipped cappuccinos, a man dressed as Robin Hood in furry tights walked the downtown streets, collecting dollar bills from the rich, giving to the poor, and I was all zen-ed out walking through the Portland Japanese Garden. I took in the perfectly placed stone path, the carefully groomed rock gardens dwarfed by the over-arching evergreen trees, the pond gardens filled with koi fish and the flash of money tossed into the water in defiance of the “coins prohibited.”
The Japanese garden was a respite just above the city of bedraggled holiday spirits, a quiet stroll filled with sounds of water pouring through bamboo into a shallow pool, a man-made waterfall creating a space of peace. According to the garden’s Website, the strolling pond gardens are a model of Japan’s gardens that were “intended as recreational sites for the wealthy and were attached to the estates of aristocrats and feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo period (1603–1867), when this style of garden was at its height. These gardens were sometimes created to be reflections of a landscape of some distant place once visited, or the place of one’s birth, or even a famous place in China.”
Do you want to recreate the serene sense of a distant place once visited? Or the place of your birth? (For me, Reno is not exactly a place I want to bring to life in my backyard, but maybe your birthplace is more idyllic than John Ascuaga’s Nugget?) Growing bamboo will work for almost everyone reading this, as it grows anywhere from East Asia to Northern Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to the mid-Atlantic United States south to Argentina and Chile.
Ian Connor, a bamboo expert based in Portland, recommends clumping bamboo such as those in the Fargesia and Thamnocalamus genera, which remain well-behaved without a barrier. Towering timber bamboo, however, provides the “exotic feel” you may expect. “Besides a screen, it can be planted as a hedge and turn a garden into rooms with separate styles. Not all gardens, though, are big enough for rooms. For those, Connor suggests creating private seating areas by planting bamboo in curves.”
It’s hour 23, you’re dressed for your boyfriend’s boss’s | sister-in-law’s | pet vet’s holiday dinner, and there’s no time for Prime to deliver a host gift. What to take? That magnet your kid made in 2nd grade? That block of Humboldt Fog you bought to savor by yourself in quiet after hours of small-talk? That gift card for a sushi bento box from your local fish dealer?
Plants make the perfect gift, as they keep on giving and growing. If you want to keep it festive, consider picking up an Amaryllis, a Cyclamen, or a Christmas Cactus. If you have a bit more time, you could create a “grow” kit, filling a mason jar with rich, organic dirt, to package with a packet of seeds or a box of bulbs, a pretty pot and watering can, and a spade and / or gardening gloves. In your holiday card, you can include the following hand-written instructions for your host to care for her new plant!
Cyclamen are beautiful and delicate, but they’re actually hardy plants that do well in colder climates. HGTV warns that three things will harm your cyclamen: over-watering, heat, and too much light. The coldest room in your house is the best home for your bright plant, which is much easier to grow from one in full bloom than from seed. (But if you like a challenge, check here for tips, and google a “germination chamber.”)
Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera, a genus of cacti originally found in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, are winter-blooming cacti that are easily cared for indoors.
Do you have a last-minute holiday host to honor? A growing gift will remind them of your gratitude for their hospitality for months to come. Take a photo of your “grow kit” gift and share it with us on Facebook or Twitter. Happy Holidays!
(Photo Credit: Christmas Catcus: New Floridians)
I love making this easy recipe around the holidays. It’s a great appetizer, and my friends and family love it. Enjoy!
1/2 cup City Farm Lemon Fig Jam
1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 piece Brie cheese (about 1/2 lb.)
Thin baguette slices or water crackers
Place Brie into microwavable dish and heat 15-20 seconds, or until warm.
Add the jam to the warm Brie, sprinkle with thyme and microwave an additional 10-15 seconds.
Scoop cheese and lemon fig sauce onto baguette slices.
**For an even easier appetizer, just spread some jam over some goat cheese and sprinkle with thyme**
Confession: I have a past of ignorant mis-smudging. Growing up in Eugene, I am oft called a hippie here in L.A., what with my car-free ways and belief in spirit animals. But even dropping that reference, I realize I am nowhere near knowledgeable about Native American traditions. So though I leapt at the idea to smudge my new home when moving in to a studio that had been inhabited by the tortured soul of an artist in conflict with her landlord, I’m not surprised to learn that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
A friend came and we offered blessings on the … room. (See above reference to “studio.”) While I waved my smoky bunch of sage in the air, I spoke my intentions for each part of the space, to create meals in the kitchen to nourish both body and soul of a visitor, that my desk might be a place for creativity to brew and thoughts to be put to page, that my door might be the way to a place of peace, thoughtful conversations, and belly-laughter.
And I did it WRONG. I mean, part of me believes there’s no wrong way to put out good intentions. But the next time I smudge a space with sage, I’d love to follow the guidelines detailed here by Cat Criger, aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto.
Why is sage the herb of choice for purifying a place, ridding it of negative energy? Salvia officinalis, or garden sage, is a short, evergreen shrub, a member of the flowering plant Lamiaceae family, and with its grey leaves and bluish-purple flowers, is native to the Mediterranean region.
Sage’s name hints at its nature: sometimes called S. salvatrix (sage the savior), the second half of Salvia officinalis refers to its medicinal use—according to Wikipedia, the officina was the storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored. Historically used to ward off evil, treat snakebites, increase women’s fertility, Pliny the Elder said the plant was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, among other uses. That plant has a lot to live up to.
Whether you want sage for smudging, to brew, make your own essential oils, or simply add flavor to your food, here’s how to grow your own.
(Photo Credit: Dried Sage, Joene’s Garden)
“I’m not really a “desert” girl,” I’d explain when someone asked why I had never camped out in Joshua Tree National Park. I grew up in the lush green of Oregon’s rainy Willamette Valley. The desert just leaves me thirsty.
“I may be a desert girl,” I said to the boyfriend while we sat on the cold wall of the patio of a Joshua Tree house, watching the sun rise over the stark mountain range, the sky slowly turning a baby blue with streaks of golden-tinged pink, quails waking to scuttle across the hard-packed dirt that is spotted with succulents whose beauty is neither flashy nor brilliant, but spare, somehow both delicate and hardy.
Initially created as an 825,000 acre National Monument in August of 1936, Joshua Tree was designated a National Park on October 31st, 1994 by the Desert Protection Act, adding an additional 234,000 acres to the park. The rock formations look like they must come alive at night, gentle giants that stomp through the park, illuminated by moonlight, campers exhausted from a day of bouldering and hiking too deep in sleep to know. Each rock-monster step shakes the ground, witnessed only by the slow-growing, deeply rooted Joshua trees.
“Yucca brevifolia” the plant species now known to Bono fans and desert-lovers as a Joshua tree was so-nicknamed by a group of Mormons, settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. According to Wikipedia, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
Joshua trees may need more than prayer; the Wiki entry notes that conservationists are concerned that they will be eliminated from the National Park, “with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90 percent of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park.”
If you live in a similar region to the Yucca’s native Mojave desert, you could grow your own “crooked cross” from seed. SF Gate gives you the how-to, here:
The tree is a lesson in patience, observation, and quiet, growing only 2.3 inches per year. That morning, as I sat watching the the desert day begin with the swooping of birds, the scuttling of lizards, the crowing of a neighborhood rooster, remembering the soft sound of a cotton-tail bunny’s erratic hops between brush and then, later, the howling of a pack of coyotes in the dead of night, I realize that however slow or quiet the desert seems, it teems with life. Edward Abbey writes about desert music in his book:
“A few flies, the fluttering leaves, the trickle of water give a fine edge and scoring to the deep background of – silence? No – of stillness, peace.
…“In the desert I am reminded of something quite different – the bleak, thin-textured work of men like Berg, Schoenberg, Ernst Krenek, Webern and the American, Elliot Carter. … their music comes closer than any other I know to representing the apartness, the otherness, the strangeness of the desert. Like certain aspects of this music, the desert is also a-tonal, cruel, clear, inhuman, neither romantic nor classical, motionless and emotionless, at one and the same time – another paradox – both agonized and deeply still.
“Like death? Perhaps. And perhaps that is why life nowhere appears so brave, so bright, so full of oracle and miracle as in the desert.”
~Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”
[Photo Credit: Rebecca Snavely]
There aren’t many opportunities for silence these days. Even a walk or jog requires a soundtrack streamed from my iPod to my earbuds, and if I choose to listen to the real soundtrack of my life, it’s usually a cacophony of car noises, the steady hum of a nearby freeway, or the rev of an engine, the honk of a horn, the chirping of birds and barking of a dog defending its territory. I find myself craving silence, though not carving out space or place for it.
Thinking back on memorable moments of silence, I’m transported to Christmas Eve. Beyond begging to open just *one* gift before our traditional tearing of wrapping paper on the 25th, I remember counting the hours to the one quiet part of our Christmas custom: a candlelight Christmas Eve service. We gathered just before midnight, so that as we lit the candle of the person standing beside us and sang an old hymn about a silent night or a holy night and created a sea of blinkey lights in the dark room, we could emerge from the church into that dark first hour of Christmas day. We’d wish each other Merry Christmas, my friends and I exchanging cheap gifts of mall-store jewelry, and head home to not-sleep so that as soon as the sun rose, I could rush out to see what trinkets were left in my stocking.
Though I no longer wake at dawn, and a cup of steaming hot coffee and pancakes heaped with butter and syrup are more my speed on Christmas morning, I still love the times I make it to a Christmas Eve service at a church, relishing in the quiet moment that the song ends and the only sound is of a collective held breath at the magic of hundreds of candles creating a gorgeous glow on the faces of the crowd.
How can we create more moments of silence? In “A Book of Silence,” Sara Maitland writes that “In our noise-obsessed culture it is very easy to forget just how many of the major physical forces on which we depend are silent — gravity, electricity, light, tides, the unseen and unheard spinning of the whole cosmos. … Organic growth is silent too. Cells divide, sap flows, bacteria multiply, energy runs thrilling through the earth, but without a murmur. … Gardening puts me in contact with all this silent energy; gardeners become active partners in all that silent growth. … The earth works its way under my nails and into my fingerprints, and a gardener has to pay attention to the immediate now of things.”
If December isn’t the best month for you to spend hours in your garden (hello lovely rain storm in L.A.!), you can spend some time with the silence of growing things indoors. One of my favorite holiday plants is what is commonly called the Amaryllis, but I learned is actually a Hippeastrum, a genus in the family Amaryllidaceae. (The generic use of “amaryllis” applies to a South African plant, generally grown outdoors.)
According to WhiteFlowerFarm.com, amaryllis that you purchase already potted need only a thorough watering with lukewarm water to begin growing.
If you want your bulb to bloom again in a year, it’s important to let it re-build after flowering.
(Photo Credit: TraditionalHome)