Everything is looking particularly luscious in northern CA.
It won’t last but for now we are enjoying laying in fresh green grass (without stickers stuck all over our bodies), admiring the flowers dotting the hillsides (before the heat scorches them away) and enjoying the warmth of the sun sinking into our bones (without being boiled in our own juices). It may not officially be spring, but spring has definitely hit us. A friend who has lived in the area her whole life has been insisting that this isn’t spring because there are still some frosts to come but what she doesn’t realize is that in England (even on the south coast) we sometimes had frosts in June which would by no means negate the fact that we felt summer had already started! It’s spring in California regardless of the date of the Vernal Equinox.
Even the chickens know it: they started laying eggs this weekend. Tiny little eggs which they announce by kicking up an almighty ruckus out in the field every single time one of them lays.
We also have the next flush of little hens who are starting to look a little less fluffy as their feathers grow in. I always think they look a little like punks at this stage with feathers at awkward angles and a bit of a martial glint entering their eye!
I’ve gotten a lot of the early planting done: potatoes are in the ground, as well as peas, onions and garlic. Soon the herbs will be sprouting up and the process of blanching, chopping and freezing them in cubes will begin so we can enjoy fresh basil, mint and cilantro all year round.
M. built a salad table this winter which is so great. It’s such a simple thing (a box with wire base- raised up to waist level) but makes keeping lettuce and spinach pest free and looked after very easy. We have a wooden frame over the top for deer netting lest all my work becomes a snack for the local wild life. The best thing about growing lettuce this way is that right now the salad table is in a position to soak in plenty of sun but as the temperatures rise and the lettuce needs a more sheltered position we can move it to the cooler side of the house, extending the lettuce growing season (hopefully) by about a month.
So for all you poor folks still under snow: spring is coming! Fear not!
Most of these photos are not of edible mushrooms- my hands were too full of mushrooms when we were picking the edible kinds to be bothered with my camera- and PLEASE do not rely on my photos for identification of mushrooms in the field. There are a few edible ones in here: like the Black Chanterelles and the one that looks like a white beard. We collected another five edibles that I didn’t get distinctive enough photos of because we were hiking on the north facing side of a mountain in dying winter light. Quite a few of those I did photograph are very inedible.
As a family we have always loved finding wild food. K. was 8 when she became obsessed with a book by Ray Mears which had a large section on finding wild edibles. She started by making refreshing spearmint pine-needle tea, progressed to battered dandelion greens and eventually lead to snacking on bulrush roots.
Meanwhile M. and I began to become familiar with the mushrooms found around where we lived in England. Our first wild mushroom was a Giant Puff Ball the size of M.’s head. We were camping in a Featherdown Farm Tent at the time so the mushroom was cooked over a fire in copious amounts of oil with onions and organic free range eggs picked three minutes earlier from under the farmer’s hens. It took us three days to finish that whole mushroom! We graduated onto other mushrooms but our crowning success was an untapped field of Parasol Mushrooms which provided us with several years of free delicious food before we moved to California.
Since we landed here we have looked for mushrooms but seen nothing. Or at least nothing that we could definitively recognize as edible (besides one lonely bunch of Chicken of the Woods). So months before M.’s birthday I started thinking about possibly going on a guided workshop for his gift to find out about California’s edible mushrooms and last July at the annual Boonville 4th of July Festival I met Tom Shaver. Tom lives and works on a local sanctuary called Emerald Earth. Its a lovely communal style place where the residents are the owners/managers and a regular source of information for the whole community about sustainable living.
Tom runs a mushroom foraging course every December. This year it conveniently landed the day after M.’s birthday but was not possible because M’s parents were over for the week: they are very fit for their age but the landscape (steep muddy hillside) and nature of the hiking (several hours on steep muddy hillsides) would have been totally unsuitable. Tom was so gracious he asked if we could fit in at the last minute some time when the weather, mushrooms and his schedule would allow it. We were able to go as a family and slip and stumble our way around the hills behind the totally unruffled Tom and glean an amazing number of mushrooms. So many mushrooms that we have only just (two weeks later) finished off the last of them. Best gift ever and a really amazing thing to get to do as a family!
Genuinely: if you are ever up for a great day and some amazing food find a local guided mushrooming tour and learn something new! Our girls who are pretty much “I will eat it if I don’t see it” mushroom haters were happily tasting (and helping to prepare) strangely beardy looking mushrooms fried in garlic batter (taste and texture of chicken nuggets), and an amazing seafood smelling fungus that when sliced into wedges and battered could easily have passed for fried prawns! We have eaten eggs and mountains of Black Chantrells which were M’s personal favorite as well as an delicious Oyster mushroom omelette. Not to mention almost two entire meals prepared from the highly prized and delicately aromatic (supposedly aphrodisiac) Matsutake!
Tom at Emerald Earth usually runs one session a year in December and spaces are always filled and no I haven’t been paid or remunerated for this post in any way shape or form… but if a few mushrooms showed up on my door step at some point… well… lets just say they wouldn’t go to waste!
Hibernation started early in the Sweet Little Wood! We saw our chance for a long weekend and grasped it with two hands. It was so glorious we are still floating in the bliss of a relaxing family and fun filled time.
We got out into nature which is pretty spectacular this time of year, so because not a scrap of crafting was done I will leave you with this view of our adventures: Hendy Woods in autumn: our local redwood grove.
Where we lived in England in the heart of the Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is a stunning area called the Isle of Purbeck. Its not actually an island (oh those quirky Brits!) it is actually just divided from the main land by a river. Some smart publicist probably thought it was a great name to get tourists in. The Purbecks are full of rambling little villages all thatch and duck pond quaint. If you know the right roads and you are there at the right time (the area gets closed regularly for military training) you can go to an abandoned village called Tyneham . It was evacuated in the second world war and has remained abandoned all these years. A woodland has sprouted up between the buildings as they tumbled into ruin leaving the ghosts of homes entangled with trees and shrubs. A short walk down a dirt road you get to a beach which is essentially an old smuggler’s landing. The beach has a straggly bit of sand and copious amounts of beach glass worn soft by the tide and time and it is the best place I have ever been to find rare lavender, purple and red beach glass. It is a magical place: my children have only ever known Tyneham Village as “The Fairy Woods.”
The first time we went K. was only two and I was pregnant with E. It was spring and Tyneham Village was bursting with Bluebells and Wild Garlic. The sight of a British Bluebell wood is one of my most treasured memories. It is breathtakingly beautiful and ethereal. M. ran ahead of K. on our first visit and hid pennies in little crevices in the dry stone walls, tumbled homes and cracks in bark. When K. started finding pennies and wondering where they came from somehow a story of fairies hiding gifts was spun out. K. went on to concoct her own theories about the sea glass which became “fairy gems” and were her very favorite magical thing. Even now K. loves nothing better than heading to the beach to hunt down stray pieces of sea glass.
From that moment K. was convinced of the existence of fairies and would bring little gifts for them when we visited The Fairy Woods- a couple of raisins, a few nuts and memorably a carrot stick which M. was made to chop into little pieces so they could carry them! I’m sure there were some grateful squirrels when we visited. We regularly went back. Usually in Spring as the bluebells were up. We would pack a rope swing, our camp cooker, a little dome tent and a picnic. An entire day would pass as we basked in the sun or cowered in our tent from the rain and as dinner time would approach we would pack up our sandy shoes, grass stained knees and damp tent to head home again.
It was a natural progression that we start building Fairy houses. Our first was on Badbury Rings– an Iron age hill earth works again in Dorset. Its 3 rings stand about
10 30 foot tall at best (thank you M.) but would have been much higher in it’s hey-day. As you walk up the entrance and ascend the central mound, to your left a tiny lily pond hums with frogs and dragonflies and in front of you a woodland thickens. Our fairy house was rickety; made of twigs, grass leaves and bracken. K. was more interested in running through the woods with Daddy collecting interesting bits and pieces to decorate with: acorn caps, mossy bundles, pretty leaves, stones, flowers and conkers.
We have built a lot of fairy houses but E. was 5 when she decided they didn’t exist declaring for all to hear “I don’t believe in Santa because God never said let there be fairies that fly.” I never did figure out where Santa came into it- we weren’t really into the Santa thing so I can only guess it was a bit of information from school she was working on… and that was it. That little nugget of wonder was gone.
Sometimes we still gather piles of twigs, ferns and pebbles; sit, squat or kneel in a likely corner and begin to build. We try not to add anything to our house that isn’t natural, after all we don’t want to trick the fairies’s little squirrel companion into eating something poisonous! So shells are okay plastic not so much. Raffia is good, wire or glue- naw.
K. likes to build for tiny fairies:
E. likes to hunt unusual objects:
J. is all about the detail:
Me… I like to sit in the dirt with my children breath in the air and enjoy a little bit of fairy wishing.
This week we were thrilled to get to welcome our new little flock of chicks! In every single way this has been our best experience getting new chickens.
Unless you are lucky enough to live near a good breeder chicks usually have to arrive by mail which is always nerve wracking: knowing that these tiny little creatures have endured a rather traumatic first experience always gives me regret. We have received a few mail-order chick/duckling deliveries and always when the box arrives a few chicks have died en-route, usually the hatchery provides a few extra to make up for the loss. Our worst experience (when half of them died) the chicks were clearly more than a few days old; the delivery was expected to be 30 chicks what arrived was only 18 and then a further three died and we just managed to save a little Easter-egger we named Pig-widgen who never quite recovered her full wits but was very sweet regardless. After that we had decided not to order chicks by post because opening the box and not knowing what we would find felt too traumatic. However we realized that the chicks we could buy at the farm stores in town were delivered by mail and basically you were being buffered from the chicks trauma but not in fact preventing it.
As M. feels quite passionate about the welfare of his animals and believes that for a chicken to be in its best condition it needs as little change in habitat as possible so buying a chick which has been shipped to a third party just for us to collect it from them at a later date did not seem to suit the animal’s (or M.’s) needs. He researched the best possible breed for our needs- dual purpose birds (good for eggs and meat), who give a good number of eggs a year and pure-bred so that we could breed our own flock further down the line with good results maintaining the breed characteristics.
He found Whitmore Farm. They are a heritage breeds farm with a strong emphasis on animal welfare without antibiotics or hormones. Our experience with Whitmore has been beyond brilliant. They have such a genuine concern for the chicks they ship M. and I have been thrilled with the service, communication but especially the birds. The chicks all arrived alive and energetic with plenty of vim. They were clearly shipped within the first day of life as the box they traveled in had tiny spots of the green poop that chicken’s pass soon after hatching- just like human babies pass meconium. Early shipping is important because they have a little bit of the egg-yolk sack left inside their body after hatching to help them adapt and if shipped later than a day that yolk sack can be too depleted to help them. They all responded to the food a water enthusiastically and immediately began exploring their enclosure in the barn. Usually chicks are quite skittish of humans but these little balls of fluff are insatiably curious without any fear and have been chasing my hand around their box to get a closer look. We haven’t lost a single chick even three days later when it would be usual for the weakest to have shown the stress of shipping.
We ordered a mix box of breeds. We did pay more money per bird (for the purebred breeding and ethos of the farm) from Whitmore Farm than we have previously from other “big box” breeders. We specifically requested half Delaware which are dual purpose and the other half were to be whatever was hatching at the right time: which happened to be Welsummer. So the little cream-yellow chicks are Delaware and probably about half of them will end up in our freezer. We intend to keep one male but the rest of the males will be reared for meat. The adorable little Chipmunk striped chicks are the Welsummer. Welsummer have sex-linked features so we can tell already which are male and which are female. For those of you who are curious the female Welsummer have a thicker eyeliner and more distinctive stripe on their head than the less strongly marked males.
They are such beautiful little creatures and for once I feel that we made the perfectly right decision with our breed suppler.
So what’s Brown,Yellow and Cheep?