Introducing Spoon Farm


Is it a garden, or a farm? Who cares either way?

We used to think of what we have here as a garden, because it’s tiny—less than a quarter acre—and decidedly suburban. But lately, our thinking has begun to change. It’s not just the fact that so much of what we eat comes from this scrap of land we cultivate, or that we’ve moved beyond veggies, to include chickens and bees. There’s also power in naming, and in the identities we choose.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that the USDA defines a farm as ‘any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.’ Whether or not we sell it, we are certainly producing (and consuming!) well over $1,000 in agricultural products every year. More on this next year, when I hope to finally buckle down and track the dollar value of our production.

Other definitions of ‘farm’ are even more inclusive, ranging from ‘a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes,’ to ‘a plot of land devoted to the raising of animals, especially domestic livestock.’

Check, check, and check.

So it’s a farm, this place where we sweat and grumble and search for moments to pause and enjoy the literal and figurative fruits of our labor, and the unselfconscious beauty of flora and fauna minding their own business. It’s pleasing to stand looking out at what right now is the ramshackle, top-heavy, last burst of summer crops and to say, this is Spoon Farm.

We sold honey for the first time a few months ago at the San Mateo County Fair and came up with our name then. Kelly made a first round of labels, and on a whim recently, I made a farm website. Check it out at!

Late summer veggies.

Late summer veggies.



Winter babies ready in the greenhouse.

Winter babies ready in the greenhouse.

Seed Exchange and Little Free Library Four Months In



When we ‘opened’ the little curbside library and seed exchange in April, I had no idea how wildly popular it would be. New books come in and out of the library every day now. Some days there are 20 new books on the shelves. Some days there are boxes of books on the stoop. People leave delightful little notes of thanks, while others wave us down in the garden to tell us how happy they are to stop by the library regularly in search of interesting new reads.

Children come with their parents and nannies. Young professionals stop by on their walk to the train station. Older adults and their caregivers visit from the care home across the street. Churchgoers from the variety of neighborhood churches and the meditation center stop by. Partygoers from the rented hall also across the street check the library out. High school students leave notes on the torn edge of a Scantron, or write poems on post-its.

The seed exchange, too, sees turnover. There are donated seed packets and baby food jars of seeds with accompanying write-ups on planting and care instructions. There are baggies of bulbs. Occasionally, some kind and tidy souls take it upon themselves to organize the books or seeds.

It turns out that opening a community book and seed exchange in your front yard makes a lot of people suddenly assume that you’re a good human being. We live in a neighborhood with lots of foot traffic, but we have never before been approached by so many friendly folks.

At the end of a hard day, peeking in at the new books and friendly notes makes me so very happy. Likewise, seeing how respectful our neighbors and broader community have been is a small step toward restoring and bolstering my faith in basic human goodness. To date, there hasn’t been a single incident of vandalism. No one has so much as left the cabinet door open.

In fact, people are so conscientious abut bringing books back–and dropping off lots of new ones–that there’s rather a ridiculous degree of overflow. I’ve had to devote an entire indoor bookshelf to housing overflow books waiting for their turn outside. And though I add as many new books to the library as I can cram inside, the indoor bookshelf gets more and more crowded every week.

I asked Kelly recently if I should get another bookshelf for overflow, or add another library cabinet at the curb. She looked at me like I'm crazy.

I asked Kelly recently if I should get another bookshelf for overflow, or add another library cabinet at the curb. She looked at me like I’m crazy.

Learning our anonymous neighbors’ taste in reading is also a delight. Who knew there was such diversity in taste? Who knew that we are surrounded by so many readers, and so many readers of real, paper books?

I have to think that we live in a particularly prime spot for a little library and seed exchange because of all the foot traffic. I also think that the slightly larger size of our cabinet has been helpful for offering space for a wider variety of books at a single time. All that said, I would recommend curbside libraries and or seed exchanges to anyone, regardless of your neighborhood, or the size of the box you choose to put out.

Watching the daily turnover and catching glimpses of passersby with their heads deep in the cabinet has quickly become one of the highlights of my daily life and makes me feel closer and more connected with my community. Here’s to the next four months!

Kelly is in the process of transforming the front yard garden into a wonderland for pollinators.

Kelly is in the process of transforming the front yard garden into a wonderland for pollinators.

August Garden Harvest

August Harvest Totals

  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: negligible by the sprig
  • Bean ‘Kentucky Blue’: 4.25 lbs.
  • Beet ‘Pacemaker III Hybrid’: 1.63 lbs.
  • Beet greens ‘Pacemaker III Hybrid’: .38 lbs.
  • Bell pepper ‘Big Red Beauty’: 1.25 lbs.
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: 1.5 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Bushy Pickling’: 27.75 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Fountain’: 13.89 lbs.
  • Dill ‘Fernleaf’: 10 heads
  • Eggs: 66 (Barred Rock 23; Ameraucana 24; Welsummer 19)
  • Eggplant ‘Nadia’: 5.5 lbs.
  • Eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’: 2 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: .25 lbs.
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: .25 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Early Girl’: 7.31 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Orange Roma’: .38 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘San Marzano’: 1.38 lbs.
  • Lettuce ‘Magenta’: 2 lbs.
  • Okra ‘Star of David’: 3.75 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: 1.25 lbs.
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .25 lbs.
  • Spearmint: negligible by the sprig
  • Zucchini ‘Variety?’: 1.63 lbs.

Total: 76.59 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 503.69 lbs.

2014 egg count: 259

There aren't many things as lovely as an okra blossom. Who knew?

There aren’t many things as lovely as an okra blossom. Who knew?



Rosa Bianca, Nadia, Star of David, and an underripe red pepper.

Rosa Bianca, Nadia, Star of David, and an underripe red pepper.


Homemade Vinegar From Scratch and From Vinegar Mothers

I’m making vinegar from scratch. I hear it’ll be delicious—the best vinegar I’ve ever tasted. But honestly, I don’t really know what I’m doing, and no one else seems to either.

It’s not that there aren’t zillions of blog posts out there with recipes for vinegar, not to mention how-to videos on You Tube. It’s just that everyone says—with a great deal of conviction—something different.

For instance, is small batch home vinegar ready in a week? Should you taste test for done-ness daily beginning at week three or four? Or does vinegar definitely take three to six months of undisturbed development? And likewise, does one casually add wine along the way to continue feeding the vinegar mother, or is it imperative to leave the whole concoction undisturbed for months on end?

How, exactly, does one know when one’s vinegar is ready for consumption? And, as one scans the froth anxiously for dreaded molds, how does one distinguish said molds from the healthy layer of scum created by a robust mother?

Then there is the question of what approach one takes to the vinegar making process.

Should I begin with a store-bought mother and some leftover wine? What about seeding fruit scraps with some unpasteurized commercial vinegar? Or growing a mother from wild bacteria by combining sugar (or honey?!) with water and fruit?

Are the corpses of fruit flies essential ingredients in the vinegar mother-making mix due to the bacteria on their feet, as one popular video claims? Or, as Kelly sagely pointed out, are the many local airborne bacteria and those naturally present on the skins of all fruits enough to inoculate the mixture?

All of these questions have made me hesitant to take the leap into the science experiment that is vinegar making. I’ve been perhaps unreasonably perturbed by the lack of clear, definitive, comprehensive instructions and explanations on the topic. But maybe, as I’m now trying to convince myself, the very wide array of information on home vinegar making simply indicates that there are many right ways to make vinegar. Here’s hoping.

In an attempt to increase my odds of turning out a favorable result, I made a variety of concoctions.

First, about a month ago, I started a batch of white wine vinegar using organic wine without added sulfites—apparently important so as not to impede the growth of vinegar-making bacteria—and a white wine vinegar mother, purchased for a pretty penny at the same boutique-y farm supply store at which I purchased my Perfect Pickler.

One month in, the white wine vinegar smells like vinegar, and the mother, a layered, fleshy looking mass, has grown considerably. Although it smells respectable enough, I haven’t touched or tasted it because the label on the mother’s bottle said it would take three to six months to become vinegar.


My white wine vinegar mother hard at work (the main gelatinous mass of mother is actually not visible in this picture. She is under the surface of the wine/vinegar).

My white wine vinegar mother hard at work (the main gelatinous mass of mother is actually not visible in this picture. She is under the surface of the wine/vinegar).

While my store-bought vinegar mother is busy digesting alcohol in semi-darkness, I’ve been considering trying to grow my own mother from whatever unseen bacteria abound in our neck of the woods.

Today, Kelly got busy juicing grapes to make mead, and I couldn’t resist taking a stab at grape pulp vinegar. Why not? There are plenty of recipes out there for apple and pear scrap vinegars.

Now, a few hours later, I’ve got seven jars of someday-fingers-crossed-delicious-vinegar on the kitchen counter. I’m especially excited to be experimenting with regard to proportions, sugar vs. honey vs. no added sweetener, etc. I even threw in a few strawberries and raspberries to some of the jars.

Vinegar galore--with pickles in the background.

Vinegar galore–with pickles in the background.

I have dutifully left the jars sans cheesecloth for the night, just in case fruit flies really are the key to successful vinegar.

Can one make vinegar without also making a mother? This is another of the many questions I still don’t have an answer to–some of the recipes I found don’t even mention a mother, while others require that one begin with a mother.

I’m hoping that mothers develop in at least some of these jars. Aside from their practical utility, there is something so otherworldly and deep-sea creature/disemboweled organs-grotesque about them. They’re revolting and magical all at the same time. And that name!


The Kids Are Alright

Seems I fall off the blogging wagon every summer. But the excitement never stops around here. There’s been plenty of chicken drama to keep us on our toes. Think months of diarrhea, sibling rivalry, and raging hormones for starters.

Bell and Fifi finally joined the big girls outside in July, and they’ve both laid their adorable first eggs. Luma (aka ‘Baby Tiny’) marches around kicking butt and guzzling food, with a crop the size of a tennis ball, even as she remains convinced of impending famine. Our sweet Petunia is now on chicken birth control to mellow out her raging hormones–the result of having been bred for short term mega-egg production. She’s a little quieter than she used to be, but she can still subdue Luma with one ominous warning cackle.

At the end of a rough day of egg-laying and jockeying for food, everyone enjoys taking dust baths. Except for Luma, who seldom takes time from her perpetual foraging.

We humans continue to be amazed by the complexity of chicken social structure and rely on ‘chicken therapy’ (i.e. watching the chickens be chickens) regularly to cope with our own stressful lives.

Bell--Welsummer extraordinaire.

Bell–Welsummer extraordinaire. She has the spirit of a leader, but she’ll have to wait her turn. In the meantime, she busies herself with being an incredibly picky eater and unskilled forager and with hollering louder and longer than anyone else.


Enjoying a therapeutic dust bath at the end of a hard day.


Promise she’s not dead.

Fifi, in a state of bliss.

Fifi, in a state of bliss. Fifi is a very gentle soul and astute reader of dominant chickens. She is utterly terrified of Luma and relies on daily dust baths under the tomatoes to decompress.

Fifi's first little green Ameraucana egg.

Fifi’s first egg–laid July 28th at 18.5 weeks old.

Bell's first egg.

Bell’s first egg–laid August 10th at 20.5 weeks old.

From left, full-sized Barred Rock egg, Welsummer pullet egg, and Ameraucana pullet egg.

From left, full-sized Barred Rock egg, Welsummer pullet egg, and Ameraucana pullet egg.

Still not sure if Petunia's recent 'birth control' injection brought on an early molt.

Still not sure if Petunia’s recent ‘birth control’ injection brought on an early molt. She is a very fair and gentle but no-nonsense leader of the flock.

At 2.5 years old, Luma (aka 'Baby Tiny') is the meanest kid on the block and lays six eggs a week.

At 2.5 years old, Luma (aka ‘Baby Tiny’) is the meanest kid on the block and lays six eggs a week.

June and July Garden Harvests

Strawberry Free!

Strawberry Free!

June harvest totals

  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: .13 lbs.
  • Beans ‘Kentucky Blue’: .13 lbs.
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 7.75 lbs.
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 3 lbs.
  • Eggs: 28 (Barred Rock 19; Barred Leghorn 9)
  • Fig ‘Variety?’: .13 lbs
  • Kale ‘Winterbore’: .13 lbs.
  • Mulberry ‘Pakistan Fruiting’: .16 lbs.
  • Navel Orange: 1.06 lbs.
  • Nectarine ‘Double Delight’: 2.13 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: .5 lbs.
  • Peach ‘Strawberry Free’: 14 lbs.
  • Plum ‘Santa Rosa’: 3.13 lbs.
  • Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’, ‘Autumn Britten’, and ‘Tulameen’: 1.44 lbs.
  • Rosemary ‘Variety?’: .13 lbs.
  • Serviceberry: .47 lbs.
  • Spearmint: .06 lbs.
  • Strawberry ‘Seascape’ and ‘Albion’: .56 lbs.

Harvest total: 34.91 lbs.

 July harvest totals

  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: 2.5 lbs.
  • Bell pepper ‘Big Red Beauty’ .25 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Bushy Pickling’: 10.88 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Fountain’: 5.5 lbs.
  • Dill ‘Fernleaf’: 4 heads
  • Eggs: 21 ( Barred Rock 17; Barred Leghorn 3; Ameraucana 1)
  • Grapes ‘Thompson’: .25 lbs.
  • Lettuce ‘Magenta’ 3 lbs.
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: .38 lbs.
  • Spearmint: .13 lbs.
  • Navel Orange: 1.25 lbs.
  • Okra ‘Star of David’: 1.13 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Purplette’: .13 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: .5 lbs.
  • Strawberry ‘Seascape’ and ‘Albion’: .13 lbs.
  • Thai basil: .38 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Early Girl’: 1.13 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Orange Roma’: .13 lbs.
  • Zucchini ‘Variety?’: 3.88 lbs.

Total: 31.55 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 427.1 lbs.

Fifi's first little green egg

Fifi’s first little green egg

May Garden Harvest

May Harvest totals
  • Beeswax: 1 lb.
  • Beet ‘Pacemaker III Hybrid’: 2.75 lbs.
  • Blueberry ‘Misty’ and ‘Sunshine Blue’: .19 lbs.
  • Broccoli ‘Umpqua’: 1.88 lbs.
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 1.5 lbs.
  • Carrot ‘Mokum’: 4.63 lbs. (root)
  • Carrot ‘Mokum’: 2 lbs. (tops)
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: .63 lbs. (root)
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: .25 lbs. tops)
  • Carrot ‘Napa’: 6.5 lbs. (root)
  • Carrot ‘Napa’: 3.5 lbs. (tops)
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 7.75 lbs.
  • Chard ‘Rainbow’: .75 lbs.
  • Eggs: 37 (Barred Rock 23; Barred Leghorn 14)
  • Elephant garlic: 3.75 lbs.
  • Fava ‘Broad Windsor’: .25 lbs.
  • Garlic ‘Duganski’: 1.25 lbs.
  • Garlic ‘Spanish Roja’: 2 lbs.
  • Garlic ‘Susanville’: 1.38 lbs.
  • Honey (comb): 9.25 lbs.
  • Honey (extracted): 34 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Fordham Hook’: .5 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Winterbore’: .38 lbs.
  • Lemon ‘Meyer’: .75 lbs.
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: .25 lbs.
  • Loquat: 8 lbs.
  • Mulberry ‘Pakistan Fruiting’: 3.25 lbs.
  • Navel orange: 3.31 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: .88 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Yellow Granex’: 24.5
  • Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’, ‘Autumn Britten’, and ‘Tulameen’: 4.75 lbs.
  • Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’: 1.13 lbs.
  • Strawberry ‘Seascape’ and ‘Albion’: .75 lbs.

Harvest total: 133.66 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 360.64 lbs.

Carrot Greens, an Edible Love Story

DSCN0115What’s not to love? The feathery leaves and carrot-y green smell make me weak in the knees, but I’ve never actually cooked with carrot greens.

That all changed yesterday, when I harvested 11.75 lbs. of carrots and 5.75 lbs. of accompanying carrot tops. Our chickens disdain carrot greens and I found myself resisting the temptation to chuck the tops in the compost and get on with my day. Surely there must be a way to smuggle them into a recipe fit for human consumption? I poked around on the Internet and discovered that people all over the place love their carrot greens.

Carrot top pesto? Carrot green salads and slaws? Carrot green salsa? I have my work cut out for me in the kitchen.

For starters, I made a batch of carrot soup. No recipe to go by, just a whole lot of carrots and other goodies from the garden. The soup has received rave reviews, so I’ll share the recipe I jotted down.

It has a rich flavor and a stick-to-your-bones feeling. Someone blind tasting it guessed that it had lentils in it—and it was hard to convince her that this soup is carrot through and through. I’m not sure how to say this, but it also tastes kind of fancy. As in, not something I threw together in my kitchen without a recipe. I take no credit; blame it all on the awesomeness that is carrot greens (and maybe also on the butter?!). Whatever it is, I’m sold on this soup.

Before we get to the recipe, a quick note on carrot greens. This is a widely misunderstood garden food, and people sometimes claim it is poisonous. Not true! I won’t go into the details here, but there is plenty of information out there debunking the poisonous carrot greens myths.

On the contrary, carrot greens are edible and also really good for you. They are high in many nutrients, including potassium, vitamin K, and magnesium.

Carrot Green Soup recipe

A caveat: I don’t believe in hard and fast recipes. I used what we had in the garden and kitchen and what seemed right. I hope you will too. And I hope you’ll leave a comment if you make an improvement on the recipe.


  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3.5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 small onions
  • 7 small garlic cloves, chopped small, or pressed
  • 1-2 cubes of bouillon (I used 2, but 1 probably would have been sufficient)
  • .25-.5 tsp. green coriander, chopped
  • 2 mint leaves, finely chopped (more mint might be even better)
  • 1.5 lbs. carrots, chopped small
  • 4 cups carrot tops, cut small
  • 1 cup beet greens, chopped
  • Juice from one Meyer lemon (big and juicy!)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. chives, finely chopped


  • Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot
  • Add onions and garlic, and cook over medium heat, stirring often
  • Add bouillon, green coriander, and mint to pot and stir until bouillon is broken down
  • When onions and garlic are cooked, add chopped carrots, and carrot and beet greens, stirring frequently
  • Add chicken stock and lemon juice
  • Simmer until carrots are well cooked
  • Let cool, then blend batches in the blender
  • Garnish with chopped chives and mint leaves
  • Enjoy!

April Garden Harvest

April harvest totals
  • Asparagus ‘Farmer’s Favorite’: .25 lbs
  • Beet ‘Pacemaker III Hybrid’: 1.13 lbs
  • Carrot ‘Nantes’: .63 lbs
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 1.5 lbs
  • Chives: .09 lbs
  • Cilantro: .28 lbs
  • Eggs: 32 (Barred Rock 17; Barred Leghorn 15)
  • Fava bean ‘Superaguadulce Morocco’: 2.89 lbs
  • Fennel ‘Perfection’: 3.5 lbs
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 2.13 lbs
  • Mulberry ‘Pakistan Fruiting’: .5 lbs
  • Navel orange: 2.63 lbs
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: .38 lbs
  • Onion ‘Yellow Granex’: 1.5 lbs
  • Orange mint: 1/32 lbs
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .03 lbs
  • Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’: 1.25 lbs
  • Snow pea ‘’Oregon Sugar Pod II’: .125 lbs
  • Spinach ‘Donkey’: 2.31 lbs
  • Spring onion: ‘Purplette’: 3.56 lbs
  • Strawberry ‘Albion’ and ‘Seascape’: 1.25 lbs
  • Sweet Marjoram: 1 sprig
  • Tarragon: 1 sprig

Harvest total: 25.97 lbs

2014 harvest total: 226.98 lbs

Birth and Death


Earlier this week the city cut down an old Valley oak in our neighborhood. It’s a tree I walked past as a child and one that I have always loved. Turns out it was well over 350 years old. I know, of course, that there are plenty of species that live far longer than this, but somehow I can’t get over the fact that a tree in the place I call home grew up in the 1600s, that it shaped this landscape even as the land around it went from open oak savannah to suburban lawns and asphalt.

Lawns and asphalt, incidentally, are probably what compromised its health to the point that, even with all its vibrant spring growth, the city felt the need to limit liability and cut it down.

Kelly and I sat on the curb under its leaning trunk and talked to it in our hearts the night before it died. We went back the next afternoon and touched the great, oozing rounds of it that the city left behind. And we pulled out soft white sponges of oak root fungus (Armillaria mellea) from the tree’s core and smelled the yeasty sweetness.

We are lucky. There are probably dozens of giant old Valley oaks in our immediate neighborhood. They are stunning and majestic, and they are holy to me. Most of them are planted in the middle of irrigated lawns, or crowded next to sidewalks and driveways. There aren’t many young trees, at least not ones that will have space to grow.

I have watched the Valley oaks slowly going over the course of my small human life, taken out by the city or falling on their own. It has always nagged at me that there is no longer space in this suburban landscape for Valley oaks to thrive and reproduce.

But there’s something about losing the tree this week that has lit a fire in me and broken my heart, all at once. Maybe I will nag the city to start replanting trees from local stock. Maybe I’ll go door to door imploring neighbors to stop irrigating lawns at the bases of these drought resistant trees, to take out paving, to make space.


The second death this week is also heartbreaking. Kelly and I went outside today and noticed that no bees were flying into Mondo, our beloved three-year-old top-bar hive. We got underneath and looked up through the screened bottom with a headlamp. There were a handful of zippy, agitated bees, but no group in sight, no rumbling hum of a healthy hive.

As usual, Mondo built up beautifully this spring. They swarmed at least once last month. All we can figure is that their new virgin queen got lost on her mating flight.

Of course, we could always be wrong. Perhaps they swarmed a few more times when we weren’t looking and are still waiting for the new queen to get up and running. But it doesn’t look good, and we’re fairly certain they’re gone.

We have other great bees, but Mondo’s line was our favorite and our longest-lived survivors. To make matters worse, Juniper, Mondo’s first swarm from last year, is our only other hive from this lineage, and she isn’t looking great. Although she built up well coming out of winter, we’re not aware of Juniper swarming yet, and she seemed to slow way down in March. There is a pile of dead bees in front of Juniper that we think have deformed wing virus.


About an hour after discovering Mondo’s troubles, we got a call from some friends who live just two blocks away. They reported that there was a swarm in their front yard, and asked if we wanted it. We jogged over in our bee suits, and there it was: a beautiful, mellow, good-sized swarm about three feet off the ground in a shrub.

This never happens to us.

We are used to swarms high up in trees on perilous branches. We’re used to swarms with eight queens and thousands of worker bees that can’t figure out where their allegiance lies. We’re certainly not used to swarms that march docilely into a box that you place just below them.

Even Kelly, who has sworn off beekeeping with all of its stresses and unpredictability, was excited about this swarm. We wondered whether there’s a little bit of Mondo’s genetics in these bees, or if they came from the cavity in the old Valley oak that stands next to the one that was cut down. We wondered if they are exactly what our hearts need.