Archive for January, 2016

Pruning between Storms

Author: Meera, January 19, 2016
pruning the roses generates cuttings that become new bushes

Rose cuttings will become new bushes



The roses, fruit trees, vines, and bushes need pruning, I’ve been itching to get to them, but it’s been raining. Storms have been moving through but with breaks. With rain predicted well into February and March, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put off the pruning. Warm weather will start everything sprouting.


A Level 2 storm moved through today with high winds and rain. I waited until almost lunch time before venturing out. The winds are still fierce, but there are patches of blue in the sky. I filled pots with soil, took cuttings of my roses, dipped them into root hormone, and inserted several in each pot. These will become new bushes for the flower gardens out front of the house.



Brightly colored narcissus are grown from bulbs that return year after year

Brightly colored narcissus bloom when little else shows color in the garden



I love this time of year when the stack of seed catalogs grows daily and nurseries are gearing up for the bare-root season. Already my family is asking when can we plant spring peas, pointing out that the onions and garlic are up and the rhubarb root has set up new leaves.


I did a walk around recently and noticed that with all the rain and warm temperatures, my Desert Gold peach trees and the Bing and Black Tartarian cherries are covered with buds. The buds are swelling but no blossoms yet.



Dwarf nectarine loses its leaves during winter

Dwarf nectarine needs to have its limbs pruned back by about one-third



Grass and weeds are up nearly eight inches and growing like crazy. My lavender and the earliest bulbs are blooming. All this lovely growth seems weird after four long years of intense drought.



Even songbirds and honeybees seem happy as they flit around the farmette between the storms. Surely, these signs are harbingers for the glorious spring to come. All the more reason to get busy pruning between these storms.



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Pomegranate seeds add sweetness and crunch to salads but can also be juiced or eaten fresh

Pomegranate seeds add sweetness and crunch to salads but can eaten fresh, or you can extract the juice to make a lovely sauce.



Use fresh pomegranate juice if you would like a delicious sauce to use in salad dressing or other culinary creations. Pomegranate sauce made into a warm salad dressing dresses up a plain spinach salad like nothing else.



The warm pomegranate dressing is made by combining to blend 1/2 cup pomegranate sauce (recipe below), 1 Tablespoon of honey, 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, 1 cup California extra-virgin olive oil, and 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts. Warm the dressing and pour over over a pound of freshly washed spinach leaves, 1/2 cup red onion, and 1 orange (peeled, seeded and with segments quartered).



Here’s how to make and preserve the pomegranate sauce.






5 cups of pomegranate juice (reamed from about 10 large fruits)

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 cup sugar






Wash thoroughly ten large pomegranates.

Cut in half and use a reamer to extract the juice from the seeds, discarding the membrane.

Strain the juice through cheesecloth several times to obtain 5 cups.

Combine the juice, lemon, and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Reduce the sauce by half.





Have ready 4 half-pint jam jars that have been washed on a hot cycle in the dishwasher and dried.

Fill the canner with water, place on heat, and bring to a simmer.

Simmer jar lids and rings.

Fill the jars with the pomegranate sauce, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Affix hot lids to the jars and screw on the rings.

Lower the jars on the rack into the canner (water must cover the jars by at least an inch) and boil the water for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars of sauce and allow to cool.

Check seals, label, and then store until needed.


For more delicious recipes, farming tips, and beekeeping strategies as well as a cozy mystery, check out the first book in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Books in New York. Available on,, and in other online and traditional bookstores everywhere.




The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series






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Heirloom Herbs for the Kitchen

Author: Meera, January 12, 2016

The green stalks of the red and yellow onions I planted in late summer are now up about a foot in a raised bed. The garlic that I planted around the same time is also poking up. Having onions, garlic, and fresh culinary herbs available year-round is not impossible in the Bay Area’s mild climate, especially when they are grown in cold frames, protected areas, and raised beds.



Use garlic for companion plant to deter pests from lettuce and cabbage

Garlic growing in our garden during spring last year produced lots of bulbs for cooking.




Some will re-seed themselves in the growing beds or around your yards. We’ve got Greek oregano and chives growing all over the place. Some of my favorites herbs include basil, cilantro, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, lemon balm, lavender, oregano, mint, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, and savory.




We also grow a few ornamental herbs such as borage, hyssop, and catnip (for our new kitty), tea herbs (chamomile and mint), and medicinal herbs (like echinacea).




Herbs in a pot for use in the kitchen

Parsley and basil share space in a pot on the patio






Herbs are easy to grow. Their blooms will attract insects beneficial to the garden. Butterflies and hummingbirds are also attracted. And herbs don’t need much–light, and porous soil, warmth, and decent drainage. For a light feeding of the herbs, we make chicken poop tea. With so many varieties of herbs available, why not tuck a few in your garden or in containers in a protected but sunny and warm area of your patio to enjoy in your culinary creations?



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Our farmette house has a small bedroom that we’ve always intended to reconfigure into an office where I can have more space to write my books. Since we borrowed some space for our master bedroom walk-in closet, the other bedroom (already small) lost two more feet. The new reconfiguration meant erecting two new walls and a closet.




The plaster is still drying on this wall

The plaster is drying on this wall next to the newly created closet



New walls, after framing and hanging the drywall to create them, must have the seams taped, holes filled, and drywall screws covered. That was done around Thanksgiving. Since then, it’s taken us several weeks to apply the joint compound plaster, letting each coat dry for 24 hours before we apply the next. We only work when we can find an hour or two free after our other work obligations.




While I’ve been mixing and applying small batches of the stuff that reminds me of pancake batter, my husband does it like a pro–mixing large batches in a five-gallon can. He’s also much faster and neater with the application process. I was doing the ceiling of the bathroom and got huge gobs of it in my hair. But already, I feel the energy of the room has shifted. It’s light and bright and clean. The space is neatly defined.



Our plans call for a bookcase on either side of a built-in desk on this wall

I want a bookcase on either side of a built-in desk on this wall




Before we can choose base boards and crown molding or the electrical materials for lighting, we still have to go through the sanding, cleanup, and priming for paint. We’ve decided to build bookcases, a built-in desk with good lighting over it, and a Murphy bed (so the room can double as a guestroom, when necessary) to maximize the space.




I love home renovation projects, and this office/guest room for the New Year is no exception. It’s taken a lot of patience. That noted, the payoff will be worth every minute we’ve spent on it.




For more tips on farmette projects, crafts, and delicious recipes, check out my newest mystery. It’s available on,, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere.


The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series

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Rainy Day Projects on the Farmette

Author: Meera, January 4, 2016

I awoke in the pre-dawn hours to the sound of soft pattering of rain beyond my bedroom window. The birds twittered away in the pepper tree . I rolled over to listen and said a prayer of thanks that the “storm door” has finally opened. Three storms are expected to hit our drought-stricken California during this first full week of 2016.



There's always plenty of action at the feeders when the finches discover the Nyjer seed

There’s always plenty of action at the feeder when the finches discover it has been filled with Nyjer seed–high in calories and oil content.






After I had swallowed a half cup of morning coffee, I headed out to the feed store to buy chicken crumble, scratch grains, and some seed and suet to hang for the birds.



A male Nuttall's Woodpecker loves dining on the suet cake hanging near our pepper tree

A male Nuttall’s Woodpecker loves dining on the suet cake; he hangs around all year near our pepper tree.



I won’t continue the pruning of the pomegranates and apricots that I started on Sunday. I’ll wait until we have a dry day for that. But I will continue to apply the plaster to the drywall that we’ve hung in the as-yet-unfinished small bedroom destined to become my office. That will be a perfect rainy day activity. And when I finish, I’ll go back to work on my newest mystery.




For more vignettes of farmette life, check out A Beeline to Murder, the first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries. It’s available online and from brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. See,




The book cover for my debut novel, the first in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series







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