Newest Chapter in the Book of Life

With great excitement, today is the first day in a new adventure in my life. I’m headed back to school full-time!

back to school

I am attending the Santa Rosa JC to earn certificates in garden design and landscape management, with the goal of becoming a landscape designer. In theory it should take about a year, but I’ll likely go longer because I’m interested in so many classes. I plan on also becoming certified in permaculture next summer though OAEC. Once I have my design certificate, my goal is to start my own design business focusing on permaculture based homestead gardens and native and wildlife friendly gardens. I will not install lawns.

For the first time in a long time, I am very optimistic about my future. I have had lots of business ideas, but never knew how to achieve them or where to go next. For the past 5 years or so, I have been really floundering on what my path is, and I’m feeling very excited and committed to this goal I’ve set down.

I’ve had a variety of career goals throughout my short life. When I was very little, I wanted to be a mermaid. Clearly, that didn’t pan out so I then wanted to be librarian, the a fashion designer, then a journalist, an interior designer, a park ranger, and a geologist. Finally, sometime in mid-high school, I set my heart on becoming a naturalist, and completed college with that goal. I got a BA from UCSC in Environmental Studies, with focuses in both environmental interpretation and restoration ecology, and minor in Earth Sciences.

UCSC graduation, 2006
UCSC graduation, 2006

Immediately after graduating, I took an internship as a naturalist at an outdoor school in San Luis Obispo. I loved it. I spent my days outside teaching kids about nature. Once that was finished, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, so I moved to Tahoe and worked as a teacher’s aid. That only lasted a few months before I realized I hated being inside all day and the bureaucracy of the school system and lack-of creativity present in classrooms when lessons were dictated by standardized testing. When I moved to Sonoma County, I worked again as a naturalist, which I loved, but I couldn’t pay the bills and didn’t want to have the nomadic lifestyle that being an outdoor school teacher required.

squid dissection
on “hill hike”, teaching about different ecosystems and geology

Since then, I tried many things. I worked for a large corporation doing outreach and education on recycling programs. I worked with local government and created an implementation program regarding the mandatory commercial recycling ordinance. I did event coordination for a non-profit focused on local economy. I learned about herbs and alternative medicine while working at an acupuncture clinic. I’ve been a substitute teacher, done retail, counter help, food service, and managed a restaurant. I tried being a stay-at-home wife but was unhappy, and wanted to BE something and contribute to the larger population.

Last year, knowing that I needed direction and help, I started seeing a career counselor/life coach. She helped me determine that in order to be happy and satisfied with my work, there were 5 qualities that needed to be met: active in nature, new experiences, play/creativity, communication/sharing info, and protection/care. We brainstormed lots of different career jobs and felt that landscape designing would be a great fit. I also see this as a great opportunity to spread the homesteading and sustainable living gospel. If I can get even one person to grow their own food, or convert a lawn into a bee friendly garden, I’ll consider that I’ve made a difference in the world.


I’ve always liked designing things. As a kid, I’d put together my own fashion catalogues- hands sketches of outfits on folded stapled pieces of paper. I’d do mockups of rooms from magazine cut-outs. I’ve also always liked plants. As a teenager, I pretended I didn’t care much as my mom drug me around nurseries and garden tours, but really I enjoyed seeing how people created outdoor spaces and the variety and uniqueness of each plant. I loved helping working in the garden ever since I was a little kid. Why I didn’t consider garden design earlier is really quite surprising. Perhaps I didn’t realize it was actually a thing that people hired other people to help them with, I just assumed it came naturally to everyone.

helping in the garden, circa 1999
helping in the garden, circa 1999
tomato harvest, circa 2001. A big accomplishment considering foggy Aptos weather.
tomato harvest, circa 2001. A big accomplishment considering foggy Aptos weather.

Now that you know what I’m doing, it is likely that these semi-regular postings will become much less regular, as I’m in class 5 days a week. I’m taking a drafting class, intro to art and design, horticultural science, pruning, and a botany based class. Somehow I’ll need to fit in all the normal cooking, cleaning, garden-upkeep and homestead building, in addition to class and studying. Feel free to follow me on instagram to keep up with my adventures, and best wishes until next time!

What To Do in the Garden: August

Wow, are we really almost finished with the first week of August?! This summer really has seemed to have flown by. Things in my garden have started to reach the chaos phase- tomatoes branches sprawled  with far reach, vines no longer contained to their designated trellises, and top heavy sunflowers bent and fallen all over the place. Kitchen counters are in full mid-summer mode, and covered daily with ripening pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and of course, squash.

midsummer counters

Despite the heat, we are slowly creeping into the Autumn season, and in addition to dealing with summer’s bounty, it is time to start thinking about the fall and winter gardens.

Northern California Gardening Checklist: August

  • Start fall veggies. Direct seed carrots, onions, peas and radishes. Start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, kale and spinach seeds inside. Next month is also a fine time to plant, even into October, so if you don’t have space yet or just don’t have time, don’t worry.fall planting
  • Prune hydrangeas. Prune back right after blooming. Cut stems that have bloomed back to 12 inches. Most varieties produce flowers on previous year’s growth, so when pruning for shape and to control size, avoid cutting cutting off buds.
  • Harvest, harvest harvest. If you can’t eat it all fresh, preserve for the winter by dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, canning or freezing. Offer to friends, set out on the curb with a free sign, donate to the food pantry, or leave on your neighbor’s doorstep.

tomato drop-by

  • Water. Despite it being warmer than ever, it may be possible to water less. Now that most plants have set fruit, they don’t need as much as previous when putting on growth. If you have harvested all that you will off a particular plant, stop water completely. Maintain constant moisture on tomatoes to prevent blossom-end rot. If you do start new seeds, make sure to keep moist, and try keeping a shade cloth over the area to prevent moisture loss.
  • Maintain flowers. Make sure to bring some blooms inside so you can appreciate them. Deadhead fading flowers to keep in bloom longer, or leave dead blooms standing for the birds. Summer is a busy time in the garden, with a frenzy of birds consuming seeds from my spent bachelor buttons, sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. I love to watch tiny finches perch on swaying stalks to nom down on tiny seeds. If you don’t want to leave dead or drooping flowers standing in the garden, pick the seed heads off and dry, then set in on a platform bird feeder. sunflower for the birds
  • Plan ahead for fruit. If you want to plant fruit trees in the winter, but not sure what time, now is the time to start planning ahead. Sample varieties at the local farm stands and farmers markets to find which types you like best.
  • Control fire-blight. Its a bad year for fire-blight, especially in pears. This bacterial disease affects new growth on apples, pears, quince and pyracantha, leaving it dead and blackened. Prune affected branches 8-12 inches below the infected area, dipping pruners in a bleach solution after every cut.


  • Prune berries. As soon as they have finished fruiting, cut berry canes that bore fruit off at the base. Tie new canes to a trellis.
  • Learn. Attend the Farm to Fermentation Festival on August 22 at Finley. This is an awesome event loaded with speakers, workshops and vendors. Make sure to get VIP ticket so you can taste all the local fermented adult beverages. You can read more about my experience last year here. The San Francisco Dahlia Society’s annual free exhibition at the Hall of Flowers is on August 15 & 16.

How’s your August going? Are you loving summer or ready for it to be fall?

What to do in the Garden in August

Eat your Zucchini!

There are about a billion blog posts about ways to use up zucchini, and I’m writing another. Why? Because I think it’s time to celebrate the often misunderstood zucchini! Sure, we all get inundated with squash, because the plants are so plentiful. Yes, they get a horrible rap because when they don’t get harvested they turn into baseball bats that are NOT good, and their only use is to feed the chickens or turn into zucchini cars for festival races. But that’s not the zucchini’s fault, its the gardener’s, for not harvesting at a decent size.


I think that zucchini, along with other summer squash, is one of the most versatile of vegetables. What other vegetable can be eaten both in fruit and flower form, and eaten raw, sauteed, roasted, as soup, baked both savory and sweet, pickled, fried, AND grilled? Really, we should be writing odes to zucchini, instead of lamenting of how much we have and how sick of it we are!

grow squash grow



But I get it. After producing steadily from May until first frost, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Here are an assortment of ways to use up this super versatile veggie. I haven’t had a chance to make all of them yet, but we are only halfway through squash season!




  • Zucchini Butter (perfect on toasted bread with ricotta, topped with basil)
  • Zucchini Gnocchi (ok, technically boiled…)
  • Sauteed, alone or with a variety of veggies, like this one. Mix with pasta for an easy meal.



Baked, Savory:

Baked, Sweet:


Smitten Kitchen's Herbed Summer Squash Bake
Smitten Kitchen’s Herbed Summer Squash Bake

Zucchini is a veggie that doesn’t need precision. It lends itself well to meals that are just thrown together. It pairs particularly well with: herbs (basil, parsley, marjoram &, thyme), cheese (such as feta, parmesan, & ricotta), other veggies (including corn, potatoes, eggplant, onions, tomatoes & peppers) garlic, lemon, olive oil, onions, salt, and vinegars (balsamic, red wine, sherry, white wine and champagne).

What’s your favorite way to use zucchini? 

the many ways to use zucchini

Canning Season is Here!

Canning season has officially opened! Within the past few weeks, I’ve put up jars of mixed stone fruit jam, plum jam, salsa verde, and peach salsa.  I’ve got zucchini pickles slated for this afternoon’s project. Soon the pears will be coming in, and I’ll be doing big batches of my pear vanilla jam. Then, there will be tomatoes in all forms, followed by a crap-load of figs.

Canning season is officially open

Last year, I canned my way though a kitchen remodel, and still managed to put up quite a bit. You don’t need a fancy set-up to preserve, but weather you are an experienced canner or just starting out, there are always helpful things do before getting started. Here are some of my helpful tips for preparing for canning season and to make sure your preserving projects go smoothly.

preserving chaos
in my kitchen, preserving is always chaos.

Helpful Tips for Canning Season

Invest in a billion dish and tea-towels. Make sure they are clean. Towels are my most used canning accessories. I use them hold hot jars while I screw on rings. I wipe edges of jar rims. I clean up the constant jam splatters on the wall. I go through a piles of them.  Don’t start a canning day without making sure your towels are washed, dry and handy.


Stock up on jars and lids. Buy more than you think you’ll need. Then add another case. Throw in 3 more boxes of lids. Nothing ruins the flow of canning day by having to go to the store to buy more jars or lids. If you are in Sonoma County, Friedman’s has the lowest prices. Wide mouth quarts: $13.49, regular mouth quarts: $12.49. Wide mouth pints: $12.49, regular mouth pints: $10.99. 8 oz jelly jar: $11.49. However, Ace in Healdsburg and Sebastopol have excellent sales, so keep your eye out.

canning jars for sale

Stock up on sugar, vinegar, pectin and lemon juice. Again, nothing ruins the flow by having to run to the store. Depending on what you can, make sure your pantry is full of vinegar for pickles, sugar and pectin for jam, and bottled lemon juice for pretty much everything.

Make sure you pull out rings prior to filling jars. More than once, I’ve had my jars filled and then realize I didn’t pull out my rings. Nothing causes me more anxiety than having to fish the right sized rings out of the jumbled mess in the pantry while my pot is at a rolling boil and I’ve got sauce sitting on the counter. Depending on your husband to gather them up while you are ladling out the sauce isn’t a fool-proof plan.

ring and lid mess

Clean before and immediately after. The second thing that causes me anxiety in the kitchen is not having counter or sink space. Before you start cooking down fruit or chopping up tomatoes, do all the dishes, put them away, and clear off the counters so you have a wide workspace. When you’re finished, wash your pans and utensils immediately so you don’t have to struggle with a dried sticky mess. If you’re a disaster like I am, also wipe off the walls and your stove backsplash, preferably as you cook. Old tomato seeds and jam splatters are infinitely more difficult to get off than if they are new.

jam mess

Have simple snacks available. If you are spending a full day over a hot stove, the last thing you want to do is think about making a meal. Sometimes, if you are having to stir constantly, you just don’t have time to prep something, let alone sit down and eat. So I like to keep super simple, filling snacks that I can eat with one hand. Sliced deli cheese and meats are a good one, I can just pull it out of the fridge and do a quick roll-up and eat as is.

Wear an apron. Because aprons are awesome.


August 1st is International Can-It-Forward Day. There are webinars, tutorials and podcasts galore all over the interwebs to celebrate, so make sure to check it out for new ideas and helpful lessons.

Has canning season started in your kitchen yet? What is your go-to tip to make sure you have a stress-free experience?

helpful tips for canning season

How to Stay Cool without AC

It is starting to get hot in Northern California. I, like a million other people in the area (not an accurate statistic, but I’m assuming a lot), don’t have AC in my house. If you are one of these people, than you have also followed this statement with the perfunctory explanation of “but that’s ok because we don’t really need it”. And while I (a Central Coast town native with a temperature comfort range of 55-75) thinks it gets ridiculously hot here,  I do acknowledge we are much more reasonable than many other places in the country. However, that doesn’t mean that the handful of 100+degree days don’t suck, or think the regularly occurring 90-degree days are comfortable.


Air conditioning is a rather new development, invented in 1902 to reduce humidity in a print shop; by 1931 the window unit was created, but was only accessible to the very wealthy. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a residential AC unit became a standard household feature. Central air didn’t come around until the 1970’s. Until then, people kept cool by smartly-designed houses that were custom to their climate and area, and following old-fashioned ways to stay cool.

If your home is like mine, where a summer day means your coconut oil easily melts in your pantry (which is at 76 degrees, btw), and putting in an AC isn’t financially feasible, or you have AC but want to reduce your energy consumption, consider following these simple tips to stay comfortable!

How to Stay Cool without AC

Don’t generate heat. If it is hot outside, avoid making more heat inside. Skip the dry cycle on the dishwasher, and do loads at night. Line dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Replace incandescent bulbs and halogens to LEDs. Take cooler showers, and run the exhaust fan to pull out humid air.  Use a grill outside, or make quick meals on the stove instead of using the oven.

a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs
a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs

Take advantage of cool air. The easiest way that I keep my house cool is using my windows. Open up windows early in the mornings and then close them when the day starts to get warm. Open back up in the evening and night. I find that in Santa Rosa, I leave them open until around 8am, and then open them back up around 5:00, when the afternoon breeze comes in. Or on a really hot days, when the temperature equalizes with outside, around 4:00, and I just suck it up for a few hours.

open windows when cool, close as the day warms up
open windows when cool, close as the day warms up

Cross-ventilate. Open windows on opposite sides of the room, or if they are all on one side, set up a fan near the solid wall to direct air flow. If your house is two-story, open windows on both floors. Open the windows wider on the upper level than the lower to increase air flow speed. If you have fans, run them. Fans don’t change the temperature, but the moving air makes it feel that way.

Use curtains to block sun. Especially on the South and West facing windows, cover with dark shades to block out the sun, and therefore the heat.

i keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat
I keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat

Make your own shade.  For a long term solution to heat management, plant trees on the East, West & South sides of your home, to cast shade, therefore keeping your home cooler. Highest priority is the South-West side, which will shield the hottest afternoon rays. Choose a deciduous tree, so that you can get warming sun during the winter. Or, consider awnings or trellises over windows. I recently read this article that talked about how air conditioning allows architects to be lazy, as we don’t need to think of way to vent warm air, how to shade windows. If you are remodeling your home, brainstorm and research ways to decrease heat in summer and increase heat in winter, and see if you can implement those in your building.

shade is your friend
shade is your friend

Adjust personal routines. People all over the world live in hot climates without AC, but instead utilize time-tested techniques to stay cool. Drink plenty of liquids, but limit caffeine and alcohol. Enjoy spicy foods and hot teas, which make you perspire, and therefore cooling you down. Wear loose clothing of natural materials, like cotton or linen. Do physical work during the cooler parts of the day, and find a shady spot to relax in during peak heat.

cucumber mint water


Helpful tips on how to stay cool without AC

What to do in the Garden: July

Happy July! After a dreary spring, summer has come crashing in and brought the heat with it. This month is an awkward month for planting, it’s too hot and late to plant most spring and summer crops, but too hot and early for the fall and winter veggies. Instead, focus your efforts on keeping up with the harvest!

Northern California Gardening Checklist: July

  • Minimize fire risk. Mow or weedwhack down dry wild grasses and weeds around the house, doing the work early in the morning. Clear away dead branches from shrubs and trees. Check out Fire Safe Sonoma for more guidelines and how to keep your home safe.
  • Prop up fruit trees. To prevent limb breakage on fruit trees, use wooden supports to brace heavy limbs that are sagging with fruit.

    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
    a sturdy stick props up a loaded Santa Rosa plum branch
  • Control hornworms. Inspect tomato plants for chewed leaves and black poop, telltale signs of a hungry hornworm. Hunt though foliage and handpick. Shudder in disgust and quickly feed to the chickens.
  •  Water. Water early early in the morning to minimize evaporation. Adjust irrigation systems to water more often (if needed) to compensate for the heat. I try to get out before 7:00 every morning to water my beds. Its best for the plants and, bonus, I don’t get all sweaty hauling the hose around. Check containers regularly. If you forget about a pot, and the soil contracts leaving gaps at the side, soak the container to rehydrate the soil.

water early in the morning

  • Prune berry vines. When your done harvesting, cut old canes (the ones that have just bore) off at the base, and tie new canes to the trellis.
  • Prune wisteria. To extend the height or length of the vine, select some of the new stems and tie to a support in the direction you want them to grow. Then, cut the rest back to within 6 inches of the main branch.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the to-do list, someday.
the side of my house is literally a wisteria jungle. taming it is on the one day to-do list
  • Feed. If you didn’t enrich the soil when planting, feed tomatoes lightly. If you have issues with blossom end rot, apply a liquid calcium.
  • Harvest. Pick cucumbers, beans and squash daily. Tomatoes start to ripen this month, as well as melons, eggplants and peppers. Keep up with fruit harvest and remove any fallen fruit off the ground to prevent a mess and pests. I’ll be doing posts later this month on ideas on how to use all the plums and summer squash we are all inundated with.

basil and squash

  • Deadhead. Pick off faded blooms from annuals and perennials such as daisies, geraniums, marigolds, repeat blooming roses and penstemons to prolong flowerings.
  • Preserve. Canning season is now here! I’ll be doing a post next week on helpful preserving season tips. Make jam from the influx of summer fruits. If you can’t get to it right away or need to accumulate enough fruit to make it worth it, wash, pit and measure out them store in the freezer until you have more time. Ferment the cucumbers into pickles. Run fruits though the dehydrator. dehydrating apricots
  • Plan. Curl up in front of an AC, or at least a fan, and start planning the fall garden. Order seeds for cool-season veggies like lettuce, broccoli, carrots, kale and radishes.
  • Eat Ice Cream. Apparently, its National Ice Cream month. As if I needed an excuse!

Any exciting plans for July? Have any garden or home projects you’re hoping to get accomplished? Leave a comment and let me know!

“Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”
–  Henry David Thoreau

Homestead Happenings: Potato Harvest

Last week, we completed my most favorite of garden chores: potato harvest!

yeah potatoesThis year, we grew two different varieties of potatoes: Yukon Gem and Kennebec, both yellow skinned varieties. The previous year, Yukon Gem gave us the best yields, so we wanted to make sure to grow them again. However, the yield wasn’t nearly as much as last years, but the Kennebec did great. These were planted on March 23, from organic seed potatoes purchased from Harmony.


I love harvesting potatoes because it is like an easter egg hunt, but in the dirt! Potato harvesting is best when done as a team effort, and the husband and I make a great team. First, I pull out all the plants and gather what tubers are hanging on. After raking away the mulching straw, he uses a fork to turn the soil. I quickly move behind him, filtering the soil and grabbing up any of the spuds before the next turn of dirt covers them. They get brushed off of the loose dirt, but not washed, and tossed in a basket.

IMG_8503 IMG_8512 IMG_8513

Any potatoes that accidently got scraped or speared are set aside, and are quickly eaten. The rest of them we store in baskets in the pantry, covered with a towel to prevent light from reaching them and turning them green, therefore inedible.


Between the two varieties, we harvested 54 and a half pounds. These will be used mainly for roasted potatoes for weekend breakfasts, but also for mashed, potato salads, mashed, gratins and in soup. My main goal for using this year’s crop: mastering hashbrowns.

Wondering why potatoes are called spuds?

According to Today I Found Outa “spud” was a “sharp, narrow spade” used to dig up large rooted plants. Around the mid-19th century, first documented reference in 1845 in New Zealand, this tool began lending its name to one of the things it was often used to dig up, namely potatoes.