How to Crack a Walnut

fresh picked walnuts drying out before storage
My goodness, yet again the walnut harvest is under way. This year is our fourth year as walnut harvesters. Meaning that we are the lucky recipients of four very healthy English Walnut trees, which provide us about six grocery bags full of walnuts each year. That’s a lot of walnuts for one family, let me tell you. We seem to be in the habit of collecting them each fall, letting them cure for their two required weeks out in the open air (so they don’t mold in storage), then storing them in grocery bags and cracking them sporadically as needed. But once early fall comes upon us and the deadline of a new harvest weighs upon us, we crack with gusto. We set up a table under the maple tree, pour a glass of wine and make it almost a late afternoon habit of cracking last years walnuts for an hour or so. It makes a nice ending to the day and it’s a welcome way to usher in autumn. For both Scott and I, it became a somewhat secret mission to figure out how to crack the walnuts in a way that each half would come out whole. It’s not easy. The previous years we’d load up our freezer bags full of well chopped up nuts, only because it’s really challenging to get them out in one whole piece and easy to get them out in little bits and pieces. This year, through our somewhat meditative wine drinking walnut cracking habit we strived for better results. After much practice, we’ve figured out the best way to get the vast majority of halves out whole.
how to crack a walnut
In the rare instance that you too have a walnut tree, or happen to buy your walnuts whole, this is how we arrived at the best chances for harvesting your walnuts in whole halves.
how to crack a walnut

  1. Crack your walnut with three firm taps on the seamless side of the walnut.

how to crack a walnut
2. Turn the walnut up, so the pointy side is sky facing, and again give three firm taps on the point.
how to crack a walnut
3. Carefully pull away the shell and gently pull the walnut halves out.
how to crack a walnut
4. With a little bit of luck and practice, you should be able to get the majority of your walnut halves out in whole pieces.
how to crack a walnutGood luck and let us know how it goes!

How to properly crack a walnut so you get *mostly* two whole halves

October in the Garden

Thai Basil in October
Basil in OctoberWe got a little rain yesterday! Did you get some too? That was a nice treat for our parched yard. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s just so unbelievably DRY outside. I even heard on the news last night that there is hope for two more little rainstorms to come by soon. Please do, we need it. Any little bit. It’s hard on the soul to watch so many growing things die due to lack of water. We try to water just enough to keep things alive, but in some cases, it’s just not enough.
Tomatoes in October
'Sun' drying tomatoes
'Sun' drying tomatoes
In other news, our basil has been going insane this year. For our family, 2014 will be the year of the basil. Pesto anyone? We’ve got a ton of cubes frozen and our plants are still going gang busters. The tomatoes are begining their steady decline in production, but all in all, it was also a great tomato year. We grew mostly San Marzanos and Consoluto Fiorentinos along with a couple of slicing tomatoes. Shockingly there was little to no blossom end rot on the San Marzanos, which as you tomato growers know, makes for a great tomato growing year! Scott’s put up thirty-three quarts of sauce. Not too shabby. Enough for 1 quart per week for winter dinners with a few left over to give as gifts.
Flower Seedlings in October
Flower Seedlings in October
Did I tell you I started some flower seeds back in August? I actually planted them twice in August. The first time I planted them, I put the little pots in direct sunlight, which seemed like a good idea, but nothing came up. Not one tiny little seedling. So I replanted a few weeks later and brought them into my trusty seed starting spot. In the garage, on the washing machine in front of a south facing window. Instant success! Now these little guys live outside. I’m debating planting out the hollyhocks and poppies before the winter begins versus keeping them in pots for spring planting. Any suggestions?
Nasturtiums by the Birdbath
These nasturtiums I planted August 1st and hopefully we’ll see some blooms before it gets frosty. The bird bath they sit under has been a very popular place this summer. I make sure to keep it full every morning and the birds seem most grateful.
A new orchard awaits
If you follow us on Facebook, you’ll know that we spent Saturday childless and at the nursery filling up our van full of fruit trees. Four apples (1 gravenstein, 1 red gravenstein, 1 arkansaw black & 1 sundowner) plus 2 O’Henry peach trees. Last winter was hard on our fruit trees, between the drought and the long, freezing cold weather they didn’t look too pleased this spring. Both our gravensteins up and died on us (so very sad!). So we must move forward and plant more.

How are things looking in your autumn garden? Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, A Sonoma Garden has a whole new look to it and a brand new web address! Click through if you’re viewing this on email or in a reader

From Naval Weapons to Family Dinners: a Coffee Table Story

We turned a navel weapons cart into a beautiful outdoor coffeetable
We turned a navel weapons cart into a beautiful outdoor coffeetable

We turned a navel weapons cart into a beautiful outdoor coffeetable

We turned a navel weapons cart into a beautiful outdoor coffeetable

This probably won’t surprise you in the last when I tell you that I have a fairly strong, occasionally controllable addiction for estate sales. On my ‘good’ days I see the estate sale postings or street signs and think, “I already have plenty of stuff. Why would I need more?” On my weak days, which is to say most every day, I think, “I wonder what treasures could they be selling that I must have?”

The other week I saw ads for an estate sale of mega proportions. A five acre property with an entire warehouse full of tools, farm equipment and rusty knick knacks. Scott typically looks the other way when I mention these sales, but even he was intrigued when I mentioned tools. When we arrived, we saw they weren’t kidding when they said tools. If there was one screw driver there, there were 200. There wasn’t one weed whacker, there were 15. Multiple sanders, boxes of nails and screws. Everything you could want to build anything you could think of. While Scott filled a box full of random things he just had to have, my eyes fell on this old paint splattered rusty cart.

What if we made that into our new outdoor coffee table? We’ve been looking for one for our new deck but nothing seemed quite right. And what did look promising was really, really expensive. So we made an offer on this old rusty thing, they accepted and we brought it home.

Immediately Scott got to work scraping off paint and smoothing down the rust with a wire brush. As he was brushing it all off, we noticed that on a the wheels was a metal tag saying, ‘Property of Naval Weapons Station’. My goodness! We wonder whatever that could have been carting around. He took some left over deck boards and built a table top. A few days later and we now have this beautiful coffee. Tall enough that we can use as a table to eat off of. We anointed it with a party almost as soon as we could roll it up on the deck and it was a perfect finishing touch to our new outdoor room.
We turned a navel weapons cart into a beautiful outdoor coffeetable

What a nice feeling to take a rusty old naval weapons cart and turn it into a place where we will (most hopefully) peacefully gather for celebrations and daily living. Almost better yet, Scott mentioned to me the other day, ‘Hmm, I wonder when another estate sale will be?’ See, even he’s got the bug now!

Roses in Rebloom

Fall Roses in Bloom Fall Roses in Bloom Fall Roses in Bloom Fall Roses in Bloom Deck Beds in Fall Deck Beds in Fall
You may remember a couple weeks ago when we went to go visit Chileno Valley Ranch and I gushed about their roses. I mentioned how I came home and immediately started cleaning out my chicken coop and putting the ‘cleanings’ all around the roses as Sally Gale suggested I do. In addition to that, Cathy left a comment here and suggested that I cut them all back by one third. I did that too. And I added in a little extra watering during the week. Just a little bit more, we are in a terrible drought, as you know. (anyone else feel majorly guilty every time they turn on the hose?) And four roses bushes re-bloomed. Hallelujah! I know now, where my chicken coop cleanings will continue to go.

Most didn’t re-bloom and I guess we can officially categorize them as once-flowering roses, rather than repeat-flowering shrubs. Since those non-blooming roses are right smack dab in the middle of the flower bed, in the direct view from the house, they will be going under serious scrutiny this spring when they do bloom again. It’s going to take a might gorgeous rose to earn their right to look ugly for the other 10 months out of the year. Watch out roses, I’m warning you! I can’t blame it all on the roses, the trees growing on either side and to the south have grown quite tall and this section of flower bed is actually starting to turn into a shade bed.

The second two pictures are of our deck beds, which I am so very thrilled with. I might have mentioned this before to you, but whenever I look at these new beds and then back behind them at the rose flowerbeds, it’s so tempting to remove all the existing plants and start fresh. It’s tempting in a big way, but also an incredible amount of work and it’s so hard for me to remove existing plants. I tend to assign sentiments over plants that I don’t do with other possessions. I can ruthlessly clean out my closet (more on that later!) and declutter knick-knacks with gusto, but feel guilt over ripping out a plant. Maybe that’s a sentiment I need to rid myself of. How about you, do you have a guilty conscious over removing established plants or are you able to wipe the slate clean and start fresh?

Hollyhock Gloves & Barn Sweater : : Knitting & Reading

Knitting & Reading Hollyhock dyed gloves Autumn Kitchen Table
We’ve been going through an insane heat wave here that has made this autumn seem like the dead of summer. The mercury is slowly lowering and evenings and mornings are again becoming more enjoyable with sweatshirts and cozy blankets. Last evening I tried on the Barn Sweater I’ve been knitting only to find out that it’s a size too small. Oh! So tonight I will be pulling it back out and knitting it up a size. It’s a nice pattern with a subtle play between garter and reverse stockinette stitch that I like very much, so I don’t mind reknitting. As much as I enjoy the challenge of knitting lace and cables, what I enjoy wearing are more simple patterns. I’ve worn my boxy sweater countless times and that is a simple stockinette sweater.

As for reading I’ve been slowly enjoying The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe. If you are a creative person or someone who strives to be more creative, this is a great book. She explains her hardworking daily creative habits and organizational habits and combines it with exercises you can do to think and act more creatively. You’ll like this book, I do. Ever since the children have been back in school, getting into new routines for myself has been a priority. Twyla stresses that creativity and new ideas don’t descend upon you like divine inspiration, but by the result of daily habits towards refining your craft. I like her viewpoint.

Lastly, above is a photo of my niger hollyhock dyed fingerless gloves. As a busy mom, who always needs to tie shoe laces or wipe crumbs & jam off faces while rushing to the car first thing in the morning, I need my fingers free. These quick knitting fingerless gloves are fantastic. These gloves are a mixture of two different niger hollyhock dyed wools. The cuffs being a soft thinner store bought wool, the mid section being from my neighbor’s sheep, and the top section is an iris dyed yarn done at the time of my fair isle sweater. They are my spring flower dyed gloves to keep my winter chilled hands warm.

Last Friday night I went to go see the David Rawlings Machine at beautiful Gundlach Bundschu with a good friend. She was my partner in crime in diving into natural dying. As we watched the sun set, drank wine, and waited for the band to begin, we talked about the romance of hand dying yarn. It’s true, you can buy more luxuriously dyed yarn in the stores, but you can’t buy the stories you get when you dye with plants you’ve grown or found, or picked while traveling.

Basil in October

October in the Garden

We got a little rain yesterday! Did you get some too? That was a nice treat for our parched yard. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s just so unbelievably DRY outside. I even heard on the news last night that there is hope for two more little rainstorms to come by soon. Please do, we need…

Read More »