Monday, February 15, 2010

Here Kitty Kitty, No Not There...Here

For folks who tend food producing gardens, and who are also owned by cats, the following may be of intense interest.

People who garden without the assistance of felines may just want to look away at this point. This will also probably not be of any interest to people who are able to keep their cats indoors.

I have 2 cats, my neighbors on all 3 sides have a cat each and there are probably 3 or 4 cats from the neighborhood that visit regularly. So this means that my planted areas need to be protected from... ahem... unpleasantness. The reason is that feline feces may contain a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis. It is transmitted by eating infected meat or by eating the feces of an infected animal. It can also be transmitted form mother to fetus, which is why pregnant women aren't supposed to clean cat litter boxes. Although it seems unlikely that one would ingest feces by scraping down the box, especially if you hold your breath, like I do.

Anyway, you can read lots more about toxoplasmosis if you like. For me, this is only 1 of the reasons I don't want cat feces in my garden.

Cats like to dig, and digging usually leads to, well, you know. I express my displeasure with this activity be shouting, clapping, scolding, cajoling, etc, all of which are only slightly and temporarily effective. I've been more successful with barriers.

Lots of chicken wire, which is great over bare dirt or seedlings. But once the plants start to grow through the wire you have to make a decision; either let the plants grow through it or remove it and find another barrier. Sometimes it's possible to place smaller pieces of wire around established plants.

Floating row cover works too, unless the animals find a way inside and then they just think you have made a tent for them to play camping in.

Since cats seldom respond to expressions of what you don't want them to do with anything other than more of the unwanted activity and defiant stares, I like to try to sell them something else. Enter the genius idea from my friend Martina, whom I consider a genius in many things besides feline lavatorial deterrence. Her idea is simple, ingeniously simple; provide a more inviting out door cat litter box than your garden. Et Voila.

It took a while before I got my first customer, but now I get at least 1 deposit per day, and that's 1 less poop in some other part of the garden. I have plans to make it even more inviting by filling it with sand and occasionally sprinkling catnip in it. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Not Exactly About Gardening

But the same way I like to grow my own fruits and vegetables, I like to make my own bread. And since things are slow on the farm these days, I'd like to share my favorite breads. The first one is the No-Knead Artisan Bread Recipe featured in the New York Times.
No-Knead Bread

If you can plan ahead a little and mix up the dough a day before you want it, you'll be rewarded with a great loaf of bread and a smug feeling of accomplishment. This loaf compares favorably to the finest artisan bakery loaf. The ingredients couldn't be simpler, flour, water, salt, yeast. And it mixes up fast.

Although I have never been a slave to recipes, I usually follow this one to the letter, with 1 exception. The recipe calls for 18 hours initial rising. Since I'm not that good at figuring out what I'll be doing 18 hours from now, I usually just let it go 24 hours.

It's a little bit messy with all the flour on the kitchen towel when you go to flip it into the screaming hot pan. And the super sticky dough takes some getting used to handling.

But the result is worth it. It really makes a terrific loaf, with a crackly crust, and a tender interior. Makes great toast too.

The other bread recipe I rely on is my adaptation of a James Bread recipe. From his book, Beard on Bread, I took the Corn Meal Bread recipe and made a few changes.

Instead of cornmeal, I use hot cereal mix made of 8-10 different grains. I use one of the Bob's Red Mill blends. I use a few tablespoons of molasses in place of the brown sugar. And instead of 1 cup milk I substitute 1/2 milk, 1/2 water. Sometimes I add a 1/2 cup sunflower seeds.
Oh, and I don't bake at the 2 different temperatures, I just bake at 350 until they are done.

This recipe makes a tender loaf that is great for sandwiches and toast.

Cornmeal Bread

From the book Beard on Bread by James Beard
Yield 2 loaves


This makes a sweet, moist loaf.


½ cup cornmeal

1 cup boiling water

1 tsp. salt

2 packages active dry yeast

½ cup warm water (100 to 115 degrees, approximately)

1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 cup warm milk

2 to 3 tsp. salt

¼ cup dark brown sugar

4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)


  1. Pour the cornmeal into the boiling water with the salt and stir vigorously until it cooks thick (about 4 minutes). Place it in a large mixing bowl to cool. Proof the yeast with the granulated sugar in the water, then pour into the mixing bowl with the cooled cornmeal mixture. Mix well. Add the warm milk, salt, brown sugar, and flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring very well after each addition of flour.
  2. When the mixture is well blended and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, turn out on a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 to 12 minutes, adding more flour as needed. Butter a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with the butter on all sides. Cover and set in a warm, draft-free place to double in bulk.
  3. Punch the dough down and turn out on a lightly floured board. Cut in half, shape into two loaves, and let rest while you butter two 9-by-5-by-3-inch tins. Place the dough in the tins, cover, and let rise again until almost doubled in bulk, or just level with the tops of the baking tins. Bake in a preheated 425 degrees oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes, until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when removed from the tins and rapped with the knuckles on top and bottom. Place the loaves, without tins, on the oven rack for a few minutes, to crisp the crust. Cool on racks before slicing.

This content is from the book Beard on Bread by James Beard.