Friday, March 6, 2009

Recipe: Little Grove Chili (vegan)

Yesterday, I visited Phipps Country Store (formerly known as Phipps Ranch) in order to pick up some beans. I am participating in a chili cook-off today and have created a chili that makes use of delicious heirloom beans and wheat berries.

This is what I picked up:

Pinquito beans and Desert Pebble beans
from Phipps Country Store and Farm in Pescadero, CA

The pinquito's are a real delight. Slightly sweet with a complex heartiness to their flavor. They are the perfect chili bean. The Desert Pebbles are inspiring as well. Although lacking the richness of the pinquito's they enjoy the same steadiness of flavor as potatoes do and I expect they'll take on the chili flavors very well.

I also picked up a good chili powder. I ended up using the entire bottle for the competition batch. The recipe below is family-sized.

Little Grove Heirloom Bean Chili with Wheat Berries


  • 1/2 cup Phipps-grown Desert Pebble beans (dry)
  • 1/2 cup Pinquito beans (dry)
  • 3/4 cup - 1 cup hard winter wheat berries (dry)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons Phipps Country Store chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup water (optional)

  • Directions

    1. Prepare the beans: Soak beans in enough water to cover overnight. Alternately, place beans in large pot with 2" of water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit 1 hour.
    2. Rinse beans thoroughly after soaking.
    3. Prepare the wheat berries: Rinse wheat berries in cold water. Place wheat berries, salt, and 1 3/4 cup water in saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Drain and let sit while preparing next ingredients.
    4. In large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent.
    5. Add tomatoes, chili powder, beans, rice wine vinegar and brown sugar to pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
    6. Add red pepper flakes and wheat berries. Allow to simmer another 30 minutes.
    7. Add water, if desired, to preferred consistency of chili.
      Update: I didn't win the cook-off tonight but I did get to enjoy many other excellent chilis!
    Nutrition information courtesy of

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    Tomato Seeds

    When my husband and I became engaged, he told me that he had a storehouse of seeds from a crazy time period when he had 80 plants going at a time.

    This morning, I pulled out the seed box and we have been chatting up a storm about these seeds most of the day.

    Many of them are from 2000 and 2001, but we expect that they'll germinate reasonably well. I am taking some time this evening to list what we have and what we'll be planting this year.

    P - Purchased seeds (all other seeds listed are harvested from the indicated year's crop)

    Key Tomato
    Key Tomato
    P2000 Aker's West Virginia
    P2000 Marmande
    P2000 Anna Russian
    2001 Marmande
    P2000 Aunt Ruby's German Green
    2001 Mortgage Lifter
    2000 Aunt Ruby's German Green
    P2000 Mountain Princess
    2001 Black Plum
    2001 Mr. Stripey
    2001 Black Zebra
    2000 Mule Team
    P2000 Blue Ridge Mtn
    2001 Nebraska Wedding
    P2000 Box Car Willie
    P2000 Nepal
    2001 Brown Flesh
    2001 Nepal
    2000 Burgess Red Stuffing
    2001 Nimitz
    1999 Campari
    2001 Odoriko
    2001 Carmello
    2001 Orange Strawberry
    2001 Cherokee Purple
    2001 Oregon Spring
    2001 Cherriette of Fire
    P2000 Orenburg Giant
    P2000 Costoluto Genovese
    2000 Pineapple
    P2000 Delicious
    P2000 Pruden's Purple
    2000 Dona
    2001 Purple Brandywine
    2000 Early Cascade
    2001 Purple Calabash
    2001 El Camino Real
    P2000 Red Brandywine
    2001 Enchantment
    P2000 Red Robin
    P2000 Erica D'Australe
    P2000 Riesentraube
    P2000 Eva Purple Ball
    2001 Russian 117
    2001 Evergreen
    2000 Sandul Moldovan
    2000 Flavoremore
    2001 Sausage
    2001 Fourth of July
    2001 Sigona's Giant Yellow
    2001 Fruity mix
    2000 Special Stupice
    2001 Fuzzy Mix
    2000 St. Pierre
    2001 Georgia Streak
    2000 Striped German
    P2000 German Johnson
    2000 Stupice
    P2000 German Red Strawberry
    P2000 Super Sioux
    P2000 Glasnost
    P2000 The 1884
    P2000 Grandpa's Cock's Plume
    P2000 Totem
    2001 Great White
    2000 Valenera(?)
    P2000 Green Zebra
    P2000 Violaceum Krypni-Rozo
    2001 Green Zebra
    P2000 Wes
    P2000 Hillbilly
    2001 Yellow Ruffled
    P2000 Hires Rootstock

    P2000 Isploin

    2001 Lime Green Salad

    I will need to update this with links to the varieties higher up in the alphabet that I missed.

    Thursday, February 26, 2009


    I have become completely enamored of the possibilities intrinsic in micropropagation. In our cut flower operation, we have several Leucospermum (also known as pincushions) that Rob raised from seed gathered during a trip to South Africa. Each of these plants is a genetically unique individual. Our crown jewel is a plant we’ve named Coraline for the beautiful, large coral-tinted inflorescences that she bears in wild profusion each year.

    There is no other plant in the world exactly like her.

    I want more plants like her as she is also unique in the cut flower world and an economic advantage for our farm. To accomplish this, I am turning to a technique known as micropropagation. Micropropagation allows me to take cell samples from one of Coraline’s growing tips and produce multiple juvenile copies of the plant.

    There are “recipes” to be followed for different plant varieties and between the different plant families. These recipes describe the growth media used to support the cells during each stage of growth prior to the propagule being transplanted into pots. As far as I know at this time, no one has published a micropropagation recipe for Proteaceae. Part of the work ahead of us will be to derive or develop such a recipe. [Update: Found 1 recipe]

    With the weird Californian winter weather this year, now is the time to collect the plant material I will need. I will take pictures of this process and document it over the next several months.


    For those interested in trying this out at home or who are just curious:
    How-To videos and home kits

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Understory Planting

    Today we had visitors to the farm. [I won't say who since I forgot to ask permission if I could mention them in the blog. They're from another local farm.] It was a dreary, wet and cold day but it was good to sit around and jaw about local agri-happenings. Eventually the conversation turned to what could and could not be planted in the local area.

    Many people mistakenly believe that forested land is inhospitable for food production. To which I say, "If you can build a home there, you can grow food there." The key is to do as the forest does: take advantage of growing space at different altitudes.

    At Little Grove, the top layer consists of trees between 130 - 170 ft (40 - 50 m) trees. As you get closer to the forest floor the understory consists respectively of madrone, young redwoods and oaks, wild berries, orchids and other flowers, and mushrooms. The fact that these shorter trees and plants exist at all reflect that conditions are suitable for growth. If you pick your crops carefully, they will thrive as well.

    There are several nut tree species which do well in the understory: such as hazelnuts, chinquapin, and oaks. We have planted hazelnuts under a semi-open Douglas fir canopy. The site was chosen because of the proliferation of forget-me-nots, stinging nettles, and foxglove in the area which indicated good light and good soil moisture. To learn your own forest's light- and wet-loving plants, consult a forest plants guide for your region. [Peterson N. Amer. Field Guide to: Eastern Forests, Rocky Mountain and Southwest Forests, California & Pacific NW Forests]

    Many berries do well as understory plants: thimbleberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, paw paw, maypop, and madrone berries.

    Photo credit: Thimbleberry, ©2007 Walter Siegmund/WikiMedia Commons

    Fungi are not to be excluded or overlooked. A healthy forest ecology is not complete without these subterranean inhabitants. While many mushrooms taste bland or disgusting and some are poisonous, there are a plethora of tasty mushrooms you would be wise to know. For instance, oyster mushrooms are great in soup or a stir-fry, but did you know that they are a natural source of statins, an important class of cholesterol-fighting drugs? I mention them here because they are ridiculously easy to grow in straw, as are many different types of mushrooms.

    It is important to partner with a local expert or group of expert mushroom hunters to learn what is safe to eat. We, ourselves, are members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco. This group holds monthly meetings, an annual Fungus Fair, and several mushroom hunting trips. Their knowledge is shared freely so that we all can safely enjoy the porcinis, morels, chanterelles, etc. that grow abundantly on forested land.

    To increase the production of mushrooms on our land, we collect mushroom spores and 'plant' them in areas that each type of mushroom prefers. We have had great success harvesting mushrooms planted in this way after as little as year and as great as three years. While mushroom hunting is very satisfying, it is gratifying to know exactly where to look year after year for almost guaranteed collecting. Knowledge shared by the experts and gleaned from a good mushroom text will let you know the right season to search for the various mushroom species.

    These lists are not exhaustive but represent a number of the plants we have researched for experimental plantings at the farm. Enjoy farming in the forest!

    Audubon North American Field Guide to Mushrooms
    Fungi Perfecti (Stamets) Indoor and Outdoor Mushroom Growing Kits
    Paul Stamets books
    David Arora books

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Water Preservation

    I woke up this morning to a beautiful interplay of trees and fog. We are in the middle of a rain storm this weekend, bringing desperately needed rain to the California watershed. These days, although we have well-water from an aquifer shared with only 2 other families, we take water preservation and conservation very seriously.

    As you can see from the photo (at right), we have fog and rain on this mountain. The trees are of the type which capture airborne moisture and turn it into fog drip and we typically receive a respectable number of drenching storms between November 1 and mid-April.

    The weather pattern has been changing, becoming less predictable, and the climate seems to have fallen into a rhythm typical of earlier decades with foggy, cold summers and snowy winters (Photo left was taken 12/16/2008). This winter has been troubling due to a delay in any appreciable precipitation until the end of January. Although we intend to dry farm as much as possible, the truth is that even 3 weeks of typical 100+ degree summer weather requires some kind of irrigation. As we increase the number and variety of our plantings and start up greenhouse operations, we feel it would be foolish not to increase the charge of water to our aquifer. We are reaching back to a very low tech technology based on manipulating the land: swales.

    Swales are sculpted from the land, depressions where rain water can collect and then slowly be absorbed by the ground. The complementary structure to a swale is a berm, a raised lip of land around the swale that keeps the water exactly where desired. The only tool you need to construct a swale is a shovel, although large amounts of land are better worked using a backhoe. We have 3 - 5 acres (out of a forested 10) that we'll be working swales on. If you want to construct a swale, check if it is an unpermitted activity in your county. Building swales does not require a permit in San Mateo County.

    An alternative to swales would be flat land that has built up a thick duff layer. Alongside our steep driveway, we have encouraged the duff to such an extent that water uphill will not show up downhill, being completely held and absorbed by the soil and duff. I don't know the word for this technique.


    Desert Water Catchment Strategies, including Swales

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Pest Control with Poison Plants

    My husband is, among so many other wonderful traits, a botanist. He has a madness for bulbs and this has been particularly useful in our war against the gophers.

    One bulb in particular, Urginea maritima (Red or Sea Squill), is a potent poison and has been used in the past as a rodenticide. Take that, you nefarious gophers!

    Last year, we were gifted with a double armful of Urginea bulbs by a complete stranger at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Here is how we have used them:

    1. Plant a fruit tree.
    2. Dig additional hole and plant an Urginea bulb.
    3. Smile in satisfaction while eating the fruit because the gophers have left the tree unmolested.

    The plant has some medicinal utility but is deadly in ruinously small doses. Of additional importance to humans is that a mere touch of the juice from the bulb or its leaves will give you a painful chemical burn. We've warned the kids of the danger and they have respected the distinctive look of the leaves and bulbs ever since.

    I hope that others in gopher country take advantage of this inexpensive, attractive natural pest control.


    Addendum by Rob:
    We have oodles of these bulbs (~100), they are best shipped in the summer when dormant. They have aggressive roots and small bulbs will actually pull themselves down into the ground. So, don't let the cardboard box you moved them in sit on the ground, get wet, and sit around (like he did -L.) or you'll have a spontaneous patch right there.

    Photo credit: Squill Flowers/Eran Finkle (Flickr)

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Hello World

    It is the beginning of beautiful day today. We have new fencing to put up as the deer are convinced our wheat is a bed and breakfast.

    I am going to work to get this site setup in the next few days.