Author Archives: Petaluma Urban Homesteaders

Growing the Color Blue

IMG_0436

This is my second year growing Japanese Indigo from seed originally purchased from FIBERSHED Marketplace.  It is easy to grow from seed and seems to love my garden.  You can save your own seed from year to year.  Start it in the Spring and harvest it in the Summer.  When I went out to harvest it yesterday I noticed that the honeybees were loving the beautiful pink Indigo flowers.  I try planting for the bees and birds and us so this made me quite happy.

IMG_0396Yesterday, Lily and I used the “one-day” recipe out of Rebecca Burgess’ wonderful book HARVESTING COLOR.  We harvested the Indigo and removed the leaves from the stalks.  We put 3/4 pound of leaves in a 2 1/2 quart jar of warm rainwater.  I use rainwater because we catch it here but you could use filtered water.  You just don’t want the chlorine in city water going in your dye bath.

IMG_0413

The jar was placed in a big pot of water we heated to 170 degrees.  We used a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.  The water immediately turned blue!  The leaves heated in that jar for three hours.  We have an outdoor stove so we didn’t have to heat up the house in the process.  After the three hours of heating I put a colander over a stainless steel pot and strained the solution.  The leaves were then squeezed over the pot to get the rest of the liquid out.  They were then thrown into the compost and the work began!

A tablespoon of baking soda was then added and for the next 10 minutes Lily and I poured the solution from one pot to another to oxygenate it.  It changed color before our eyes (which this dye bath did many times throughout the day!).  As it was poured back and forth it got darker and darker and turned a very dark bluish green color.  At that point we added a tablespoon of Spectralite I got from Dharma Trading Company (thank you Julie!).  Lily very gently stirred this into the dye bath trying her best not to make any bubbles.  The Spectralite removes oxygen from the dye bath.  We kept the liquid at 100 degrees by putting the dye pot on top of the pot we heated the jars in since the water was already hot.  After 8 to 10 minutes it was supposed to turn yellow.  Our dye bath stayed blue-green so we were worried that it wasn’t going to work.

IMG_0418

We forged ahead anyway by putting in Lily’s pre-wetted wool yarn and my silk scarf.  They had been soaking in the warm water pot.  We put them in the dye bath gently so we would not make any bubble and add oxygen.  The yarn was immediately blue so we were still concerned since they were supposed to come out yellowish and turn blue when they hit the air.  We left it all in the pot for 10 minutes or so and when we pulled it out it was a yellowish light blue.  Like a magic trick it turned a gorgeous deep blue right in front of our eyes!  The neighbors probably thought we had lost our minds were so excited!

IMG_0427Last Summer the kids and I used the Indigo leaves fresh by putting them in a blender with rainwater and making a raw liquid dye.  We used some raw silk shirt scraps from a thrift shop purchase and they made little bags.  They made their own cordage handles with Japanese Iris leaves from the backyard and were quite happy with themselves!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Why use natural dyes?  As Rebecca Burgess point out on her website, “The textile industry is the number one polluter of fresh water resources on the planet, as well as having an immense carbon footprint.  The average CO2 emitted for the production of one t-shirt is up to 40 times the weight of that shirt.”

We can use locally grown fibers for clothes and locally grown plants for dyes.  Since I am not a knitter (yet) but I am a thrift shopper I buy used clothes and dye them with plants grown in my yard or gathered in my neighborhood.  Just about every color is available from plants.  Now, I’ve got blue!

Letters from the Kids

These letters just came in the mail from the first graders who visited us last month. Excuse their spelling errors. It is their thoughts that really count.

We had two hours together. They fed snails and worms to the ducks, checked the temperature of the compost piles, examined our rainwater-fed duck pond and fed the fish in it, harvested Calendula flowers, explored the greenhouse made of recycled redwood and salvaged stained glass, collected warm chicken eggs, heard a Mockingbird do a variety of other birds’ calls, decorated easter eggs with berries and flowers, and ate lunch in the garden.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd the ducks and I also lovd feeding the ducks and also lovd the chickins. I also lovd holding the snales and worms. I also lovd wen we were picking the flawers. And I also lovd macking the Easter eggs and I also lovd finding eggs. That was fun wen we wer living (leaving) at the last moment a chickin lade a egg. Thank you it was a funn day.
Love, Tierra

Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked the ducks because I like the noise they made. I liked the chickens noises and thair soft fethers and i also liked the stinky-stinky-stinky composts. It was enteresting checing the dugrees and the hot hot mud by mud i meen soiol (soil). And I alsow liked painting the eggs. Thank yuo for inviting us to your farm. 
 Sincerely, Alex 

 Dear Suzanne, 
 I liked feeding the ducks. I also liked peting the chickens. I also liked harvesting the flowers. I liked the smell of the farm. I also liked hearing the sound of the birds. I also liked decorating the Easter Eggs. I also liked collecting the chicken eggs. I also liked going in the greenhouse. 
 Love, Devi 



Dear Suzanne, 
 I loved wen wee fed the ducks snails. I liked peting the chicen. I like how you dye peices of cloth it looks reale cool. I also liked wen wee dyeed Easter eggs. And I thingk that it is cool the way you get water in the duck pool. And I thingk it was reely fun! Thank you a lot! 
Sincerely, Zoe

This boy had a really hard time settling into the visit here. He wouldn’t touch anything or participate until the very end when I led him into the greenhouse to meet a worm. I left him there and he stayed for a long time emerging happy and with a new friend in his hand.

Dear Suzanne, 
I lovd making frinds with a worm. Gathering flowers and decorating eggs was fantastic. I loved the greenhouse. The colored glass and the special wood and the plants made it really beautful. I loved your garden. 
Thank you. 
From, 
Nathan


THIS is why I work with kids here at the ol’ homestead.

Goats and Sheep Mow Through Town

We just went for a hike at La Cresta Ridge. It was a lovely rainy day. The hills all around us were green. We were happy to find the goats and sheep back this year. Today, the goats were huddled together under cover trying to stay dry.

Last year was the first time they were employed to mow the grass. For years this land has been disced and torn up. Now, the goats and sheep munch the grass, Mustard, Wild Radish, and Fennel down to the ground. And, while they are munching away they are fertilizing the the fields. I just love this kind of win win situation!

Honeybees Like to Play Too!


Tonight at dinner time Eden called from down the street to tell us about a swarm of bees at the library playground. We grabbed an empty hive box, put two half-frames of honey in to make the bees happy and some drawn out comb. Packed the bee brush, bee suit, gloves, and some screen to block the entrance of the hive for transport and loaded up the truck.


We arrived to find some boys hanging out at the playground. They had put up a sign warning people about the bees gathered underneath the slide platform. They said, “We’ve been watching them all day!”. I talked with them about the swarm and they already knew quite a bit about honeybees. Still, they had lots of questions about all kinds of bees and wasps.


As I talked to the boys Paul swept the big clumps of bees into the hive box and waited for the remaining bees to follow. After a very short time everyone was inside the hive box and we were ready to go! Yay! First swarm of the season! “Thank You” Eden.

Indian Runner Ducks for the Urban Homestead


We have just added two Indian Runner ducklings to our flock of Khaki Campbells. These are the two most recommended breeds for the backyard flock. Both are good foragers and highly productive egg layers. The female Indian Runner lays 150-200 eggs a year or more. They were discovered on the Indonesian Islands of Lombok, Java and Bali where they were “walked’ to market and sold as egg layers or for meat. They are highly comical as they walk upright like penguins. I have loved “Ferdinand” in the movie BABE since I first laid eyes on him!


These girls will be mainly foragers and slug and snail control. Secondly, they will be egg layers. We have found ducks to lay consistently for only a couple of years. Our chickens have been productive for a longer period of time. We cull the chickens as their production wanes. We do not cull the ducks. They become pets. We are far more enamored with our ducks than with our chickens.

O.k., our original Americauna has been spared out of pure sentimentality! And…. we can’t cull our Aracauna because we are too attached to her hawk-like looks and wild-bird ways. We love it when she gets fed up with the other hens’ bad behavior and flies the coop to take respite in the Redwood tree! Plus, she’s just beautiful! Sorry, I digress…. back to the ducklings. I must confess! I am totally in love with these little girls! They are the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and just as sweet as pie. They are only four days old and their personality is already showing!


My husband named this one Daisy. She’s a bit more ‘Dazey’ than the flower. She kind of goes through her day eating, pooping, sleeping. You know, the usual baby thing. She doesn’t care that she has food all over her face. So what!


This one on the other hand looks you right straight in the eye with pure joy. She is just as pleased as punch to have landed here on earth. She likes to run around happily, smiling as she goes. A duck ‘smile’ is when they open their bill for no reason other than pure delight!

Welcome to the homestead girls!

Decorating Eggs with Berries and Flowers

What a lovely morning spent in the garden with six 1st graders! They happily gathered eggs from the chicken coop and the duck house and were delighted to find that the chickens laid colored eggs. We talked about how we didn’t really need to dye them but we could decorate them… They loved the idea! I cut up some paper egg carton into four-egg sections with the tops off. Each child got their own egg carton and ran to the garden to fill them with grass. When they returned I laid out bowls of frozen blueberries with which to draw and paint on their eggs. They each got one pink and one blue egg to decorate. The eggs all looked darling in their little grass-filled cartons but they needed a little something…. hats! We ran out to the front yard to find the perfect flowers for this purpose. I had mixed up some flour paste the night before and set it out for them to use with with craft sticks. A dab of that on top of each egg and the ‘hats’ stayed on just fine. Each child created their own variation of this idea. I am ALWAYS astounded at the beauty created by children when they really SEE what surrounds them in the natural world.

Injured Red-Shouldered Hawk

Well, last night after playing music with friends we came home to a distress call on our neighborhood Yahoo! group. Someone had an injured hawk in their driveway.

Paul and I loaded up the dog crate, gloves and a blanket and headed over there. This is who we found. A young Red-Shouldered Hawk with two broken bones in its right wing. The breaks will be pinned at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue by the fabulous “Dr. Dan” Famini. The bird is strong and we hope to release it back in the neighborhood after rehabilitation.

Thanks again to the neighbors who found this injured bird and cared enough to seek help for it.

We humans are just a small part of a much larger community.

Wild Plum Sorbet

It’s February and we’re already thinking of sorbet and Scrub Jay fledglings.

Yes, it’s early February and the Wild Plum outside our kitchen window is in full bloom. It’s always the first tree to bloom on our little homestead. It grows on the shady North side of the house and gets it’s water from the underground spring that also feeds the giant Redwood further back in the yard. It is always the indicator of approaching Spring. It has served as the sunning spot for the resident Scrub Jays for years and years. It was here when we bought the place and was probably planted by earlier generations of these same Birds. It’s smack in front of the “garage” doors and no human in their right mind would plant it there.


We feel blessed by this tree in so many ways. The blossoms, the birds, the fruit, a beautiful natural dye from it’s leaves, plum jam and… sorbet!


A couple of years ago my Wild Plum jam did not set and as disappointing as that was it lead to a new discovery. I realized I could simply pour it into the little Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (a Recycletown find and easily found in thriftshops) and make sorbet. I add some dried ginger but you could add fresh grated too. Plum Ginger Sorbet is a huge hit around here. We always make it during our Spring Herb Camp and the kids love it.

“Thank you” little plum tree for being so giving…

Make your own Yogurt

At our house we make two and a half quart jars every two weeks. We are blessed here in Petaluma to be surrounded by organic dairies. The Clover processing plant is literally a few blocks away. We pick up a half gallon of organic milk at the grocery store. My friend Karen has a cow-share here in town so she’s getting raw milk. I keep meaning to look into that. That would be the way to go.


So, most recipes have you heat the milk to 114 degrees. The milk we buy at the store is already pasteurized. So, I only heat it to 80 degrees just to get it warm enough to warm up the culture I’m putting in it.


I take a few tablespoons of my previous batch of yogurt and put it in each jar. Into that I pour my 80 degree milk and stir. I then put the lids on the jars and stick them in the oven overnight. We are blessed to have an old stove with a pilot light. It stays 150 degrees in the oven all of the time. I know that if you search for alternative methods of keeping the yogurt warm you will find many options. My friend Karen heats towels in the dryer, wraps them around her jars and puts them in a cooler.

It all takes 5-10 minutes to do. In the morning we have fresh warm yogurt for breakfast. I often do this in the evening before bed. It only needs to stay warm for 8 hours or so. I’ve forgotten it in the oven for up to 18 hours and it’s just fine.

I have heard that if you use the same culture strain too many times it will eventually be unable to culture the milk fully. I have not had this happen but every month or so we end up eating all of the yogurt in the fridge and I buy a small container of plain yogurt and start over. Straus is very tart, Siggie’s is sweet, Nancy’s has the largest variety of cultures and is recommended following a round of antibiotics. We like the mild taste of Clover’s organic yogurt so that’s what we usually pick up.

I make yogurt for my neighbors and their kids like it thick so I add some powdered milk to the yogurt I’m using as a culture. It works. Yum!

Rain! It’s about time.

We’ve just weathered the FIRST storm of the season and it’s January 26th. Our area got up to 4 inches of rain in just a few days. Luckily, our rainwater catchment tanks were down to 700 gallons. That amount came from the only other bit of rain we’ve had this Winter which was months ago. We let the first day if this storm’s rain rinse off the roof then turned the valve and sent all that glorious water to our tanks.


We’ve got two 1350 gallon water tanks and a 150 gallon stock tank (duck pond). The first night of the storm brought us the remaining 2000 gallons we needed and the rest came out of the overflow pipe to flush the duck pond. It rained for two or three more days and we now have a VERY clean pond! The fish are happy, the ducks are happy, we’re happy. You get the picture.


We need more tanks!

Our tanks come from Tank Depot. We order online and have them delivered to our driveway. They are lightweight and if you have the clearance you can just roll them into place. We have them on base rock platforms framed with rot-resistant wood.

The duck pond stock tank was purchased on Craigslist. It’s the Rubbermaid brand. Whenever possible we buy things used but you can find these tanks at any good feed store.

Remember- The problem is the solution. We used to have big issues with water around our house foundation. Now, we don’t and we also save money on water for our livestock and gardens.

Rainwater is precious. It does not belong in a storm drain. Catch it, slow it, sink it.