Agroecology


Suddenly, I have more tomatoes than I know what do to with. I knew this would happen, as I planted about 15 seedlings, but I haven’t had time to prepare. I’ve been wanting to buy or build a food dehydrator for some time, but simply haven’t had the time to do so yet. Someone recently suggested using the back of my car, since it gets lots of sun and gets hot on a sunny day. So, I washed an old window screen, elevated it on bricks over some newspapers and started laying out sliced tomatoes to dry. We’ll see how well it works. I think this is a great way to get sun-dried tomatoes for later use, if all goes according to plan. And it has lots of room for more tomatoes as they ripen!

I like to go out in the garden every morning and see what’s ready to harvest. I was out of town for a few days, so this morning’s harvest was a little larger than normal. But, it gives a good idea where I am in my summer crop cycle. Before I forget, I should add that the photo doesn’t include a handful of red raspberries and blueberries that made it into my belly instead of the photo. (As always, click on the picture to see a larger version.) So, what’s here? Roughly, from left to right: (more…)

What would urban agriculture look like if it were industrialized? Everything on this site approaches urban agriculture from an ecological perspective. As urban agriculture becomes more popular, we find entrepreneurs looking at opportunities in the field. Some of those entrepreneurs will follow the current trends towards local, sustainable agriculture. But, others will see the opportunities and approach urban agriculture from the industrial approach. What will their agriculture look like?

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In an earlier post, I provided a recipe I was experimenting with to make homemade black raspberry liqueur. As mentioned in that post, the berry flavor was overpowered by the rum used in the liqueur. I’ve now tried two additional batches using vodka instead of rum. I’ve also reduced the sugar in the sugar syrup. The berry flavor now comes out more strongly, since the vodka doesn’t overpower it like the rum did and cutting the sugar reduces the overpowering sweetness of the first batch. Both batches used the same recipe, although I didn’t test the batches as thoroughly as suggested in the recipe. So, the first vodka batch came out very nice, but the reduced sugar left the second batch a little hot. The experiments will have to continue, I’m afraid. 😉 Here’s the revised recipe.

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ag1_fourPeoplePisgahView_lKevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams improbably plows up his corn field to build a baseball diamond when he hears a voice say “Build it and he will come.” Robert White’s story is just the opposite and equally improbable — but true. When Robert  became possessed with the idea of growing food, he’d never done it before. But he went ahead anyway, starting with taking over an existing baseball diamond in Asheville NC and turning it into an urban farm. When I visited there in April, (more…)

As mentioned in an earlier post, my berry harvest was phenomenal this year and I’ve started experimenting with preserving methods. One tasty little liquor2_lexperiment, suggested by a coworker, Rebecca, was to make liqueur. I’m not a big drinker, nor do I know much about alcoholic beverages, including  liqueurs. But, I’m fortunate that her husband is a rum meister, recognized as one of the new “mixologists” for his work as a professional bar tender/tropical drink creator/tropical drink bar creator. (For more, see writeups in the SF Chronicle and NY Times, as well as this site for his new SF bar, Smugglers’ Cove, opening this fall.) So, when I received an email with Martin’s instructions for making liqueur, the scientist in me decided it was time to experiment.

Here are his instructions: (more…)

This website is partly about my education as an urban farmer. But I want to recommend to you a new book by another urban farmer who has had time to develop her farm and her farming knowledge much further than I have. Coincidently, Novella Carpenter also farms in Oakland, where I live. I heard her speak a year ago and found her talk to be not only hilarious, but filled with learning experiences. As I’ve advised elsewhere in this blog, farming is about learning. There is a lot to learn and the best way to do this is by experimenting, by trying things to see what works and what doesn’t. In Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella describes her experiences doing just that, experimenting–particularly with different kinds of livestock–in the heart of a major city. I’m sure she also touches on two key issues for urban farmers, access to land and water.

I expect the book is as funny and informative as her talk was. A New York Times reviewer found it so. You can decide for yourself by reading the first chapter. Even though I haven’t read this book yet–I plan to write a review of it soon–I recommend it wholeheartedly.

peppersFlowers_lAs readers of this site know, it is dedicated in part to my dearly departed dog, Pepper. She is buried in my back yard, where I planted flowers on her grave. I now have a profusion of beautiful flowers growing there. I like to think that Pepper is still providing me natural beauty by helping these flowers to grow.

Some of you may be a bit squeamish about this–Yuck, he’s talking about his dog decomposing!–but I’m not squeamish at all. This is nature’s way, to recycle organic nutrients into other living things. This is part of the beauty of nature and nothing to be squeamish about, but something to celebrate, just as I celebrate the joy that Pepper brought me for years while she was living and now, still, that she is not.

chutney_m1I recently tried a new base material for lactofermentation, apples. This was the first time I have tried fermenting fruit. Although I was warned by a friend that I wouldn’t get good results because the apples weren’t crisp fall apples, I already had the apples and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. This chutney has now mellowed into a delightful and well-balanced blend of flavors: salty, sweet and sour. It’s received good reviews from friends.

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Actually, I should say “Use the fertilizer you’re already making.” While I believe compost is the best way to improve soil in most respects, growing food does remove nutrients from the soil. Compost can return some of these nutrients, and add nutrients if compost is “imported” as I do by bringing in leaves and manure from outside my yard. But, why not add a little fertilizer to help replace those nutrients? The good news is that you already have this fertilizer available and it’s free. You’re simply flushing it away, day after day. An Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times talks about the need to change how we handle human waste (feces and urine) for environmental reasons. The article focuses on large scale waste issues. Here, I want to talk about small-scale human waste issues and how you can use them to your advantage.

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