Sunday, May 31, 2009

2009 Garlic and Shallots

I thought I’d show off my garlic and shallots since it looks like my best year thus far for growing them! I know that’s counting my chicks before the eggs hatch, because the real test will be when I harvest later in summer. However at this stage, they look the best I’ve grown yet.

Last fall I planted 5 varieties of garlic, and 2 varieties of shallots in newly dug and well-tilled beds amended with biochar, organic compost, worm castings, greensand, Azomite and CalPhos. The soil test indicated the NPK was fine if I planned a side dressing of fertilizer in spring. (I did.)

I planted Purple Striped Siberian, a mild hardneck, and Keeper, a hotter Creole hardneck that stores well. The Artichoke softnecks I planted are Red Toch from the Republic of Georgia, with mellow medium heat; Susanville, true garlic flavor but not hot, and a Turban Artichoke, Shantung Purple, which packs some serious heat if eaten raw.

The shallots I planted are French Red and Dutch Yellow. The French Red is quite popular with gourmet cooks; it has a rich flavor and pinkish bulbs. The Dutch Yellow shallots are a creamy-yellow and a bit more pungent flavor that mellows when cooked. The Dutch Yellow store much better than the French Red, and both produce bulbs 1-1/2” to 2” in diameter.

I normally grow leeks every year as well; I use a LOT of leeks in cooking and they are expensive to buy. Sadly, I neglected to order leek seedlings this year. I do have red and yellow onions just beyond and left of the shallots in the photo, so there will still be lots of alliums for my larder and for my recipes!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cattle Panel Arch Trellis

After more reading (several months too late!) about companion planting do’s and don’t’s, I discovered I inadvertently made my tall trellis inhospitable for pole beans this year by the proximity of my extensive rows of garlic, shallots and onions. It's too late to move those alliums now as most were planted last fall. So, I needed to find another place for beans.

Seeing a friend’s new hoop trellis yesterday reminded me I had one cattle panel left over from building a new blackberry support fence recently. I could put that panel (plus at least 1-2 more later)
to work for my pole beans this year, and have room for some additional tomato plants, too! In case you are not familiar with cattle panels, they are heavy-duty welded wire sections 16 feet long by 50-1/2” tall.

I had everything needed on hand to start this project and the weather was good for working in the yard. Only the farm stores carry the cattle panels locally; they are closed on Saturday afternoons, so one section is all I could build for now. I put the cattle panel in place over weed cloth and anchored it with tent pegs and rebar driven in the ground on the outside to keep the panel from kicking out.

I used
some split cedar posts to contain the dirt and compost because I will not use any treated (toxic) lumber near anything grown as food.

I can almost "see" the trellis covered in vines, and me sitting in a comfy chair inside the arch, iced tea in hand... watching the creek roll by!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baking with Duck Eggs

I made my favorite biscotti recipe today, using 1 duck egg in place of 1 of the 3 chicken eggs. First I weighed the eggs; the duck egg weighed about 20% more than the extra-large chicken egg, and these were only small duck eggs! Next I adjusted the recipe to compensate for the larger amount of beaten eggs, and proceeded as usual.

The first noticeable difference is that the duck eggs have a much harder shell. My normal one-handed cracking into the bowl didn’t work! Then, I think the eggs beat up to the ribbon-y stage quicker although I wouldn’t swear to that. Lastly, the sliced biscotti certainly had more rise than with just chicken eggs, as you can see in the photo above.

I have not tried an over-easy duck egg for breakfast yet. I eat a lot of hard-boiled eggs in summer, but I have read that duck eggs can become rubbery if over-cooked. So, no hard-boiled duck eggs here (not soon, anyway). My neighbor says duck eggs make the best cornbread!

I believe if I had baked a cake or something else that wasn’t such a quick rise, the difference in loft would be greater. I have 3 duck eggs remaining, and if time permits this week I will bake something else with them for another comparison. I’m thinking cream puffs, but no promises!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Accidental Parsnips bore fruit!

I wrote a few days ago about finding "Accidental Parsnips" growing in the lawn and several folks asked me to dig one and see what they are like. So, I dug a clump today. All but one are small, almost stunted, by the hard-packed soil and I doubt they would have grown larger... probably just grown woody!

I left the other few as they are making seed heads, which I shall watch closely, and collect. Now to dream up a 'summer' recipe using parsnips!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yellow Nutsedge

In my post, Sin(s) of Omission I mentioned the weeds I overlooked. Well, it turns out those weeds are Yellow Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus), considered one of the world's worst weeds.

A Wisconsin field was reported to have up to 35 million yellow nutsedge tubers per acre! The tiny tubers, noted by the small circles on the photo above, are edible when mature (they look like a small nut), and grown in some regions where the starchy tubers are used to make a beverage. The tubers are the primary means of propagation and can live in the soil usually 3 years but up to 10 years. They develop skinny root-like rhizomes 8-24 inches long.

The problems with this weed are several. For one, they compete with crops for water and nutrients. Another problem is they are allelopathic, meaning they produce compounds in the soil that are toxic to some crops. And a third, of course, is that they are invasive.

I think I'll pass on harvesting the tubers for a beverage, and do my best on the eradication process!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer Palace at the Morris Arboretum

NC artist Patrick Dougherty has just completed this 25 foot tall sculpture "Summer Palace" at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. According to the press release by the arboretum, the tractor-trailer size loads of sticks and saplings to build the sculpture were gathered locally just prior to the 3 week installation process. The thousands of saplings (a mix of willow, dogwood, cherry, ash and maple) had to be fresh and supple because Dougherty's sculptures are designed and executed without the use of nails or other supportive hardware.

I was not familiar with this artist so I followed links to his some of his other work (Stickworks). The imagination, scale, and sense of movement in his sculptures is awesome! According to his own blog, the sapling sculptures have a life of 2 years before they are destroyed by agreement. During the last two decades, he has built over 150 works throughout the United States, Europe and Asia using the primitive techniques of building with tree saplings.

Sculpture in the Parklands (in Ireland) has a great series of photos showing the process of building one of his sculptures and I highly encourage you to check them out! I also particularly liked the pieces lighted at night at the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Denver.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Taste of Food

I have been pondering taste (the taste of foods) while I have been sitting in the garden on my overturned bucket pulling weeds. My mind had been wandering to images of pulling and eating sugar snaps right off the vine (soon!) on my early morning garden walks, and visions of having munched just snapped-off asparagus tips several weeks ago. What is it about eating something just picked that makes it taste soooo good?

Fruits and vegetables contain aromatic compounds (scents) which we can smell, and scents are volatile... they evaporate. Our sense of taste is directly related to our sense of smell; things with little or no scent are not very appealing. How often have you sniffed the stem end of a cantaloupe at the store, and put it back because it had no smell?

For many households, any fruits and vegetables almost all come from the grocery store, and you can be sure they were grown and picked many days, and many miles ago, lessening the chance of retaining any appealing scents by the time you get them. Does that really entice you to nibble on the peas even before you get them home?

Fresh-picked anything from the garden has all its volatile aromatic compounds still permeating the air during the short journey from the plant directly to your mouth. Yum!

Taste is also directly related to nutrient density; the higher the nutritional content, the better the taste. Nutritional density may be measured with a refractometer, using a scale known as a Brix scale. The better the garden soil, the higher the Brix; the higher the Brix, the better the taste. By better garden soil, I mean soil that supplies all the nutrients the plants need, much more than just NPK. "Feed the soil, and it will feed us." To learn more about Brix, read my article here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The long road to water...

I wanted to share this photo with you because it speaks volumes to me. There is a visual texture the long ditch imposes across the landscape; a stark incision on the natural flow of of the hillside. Some might see it as yet another rape across our land, regardless of the reason for the ditch. In time, the ditch will be filled in, grass seed sown, and straw strewn over it in an attempt to halt erosion, but the scar will remain.

What thoughts does this image stir in you? I'd really like to know!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Accidental Parsnips

While running the weed-eater over along the fence last week, I noticed a weed that really didn't look like a weed. So, I left it, or at least what hadn't already succumbed to the slash of the string line. Today I took a closer look, and it is parsnips! Two years ago I grew parsnips about 10 feet uphill and closer to the barn than this volunteer patch. I apparently didn't get them all dug the first planting. I suppose some reseeded and grew last year amongst the weeds, and now have reseeded again farther down the slope.

I don't know if I should dig one to see if they are woody or not. This is the wrong time of the year for me and parsnips! Winter would be better, as they are an important addition to my Oven Roasted Winter Veggies.

Oven Roasted Winter Veggies

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Take a large baking dish/pan and pour about a tablespoon or two (depending on size of dish) of a good olive oil in the bottom. Cut small chunks of carrots, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, rutabagas, winter squash, parsnips and any other winter vegetables you have on hand, and place them in a single layer in your pan. Toss to coat them evenly with the olive oil; add 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried, and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. (Not rock salt!) Cook in hot oven for about an hour total, until vegetables are tender, but every 15 minutes remove pan from oven and stir contents. With 30 minutes to go, I like to add several whole, unpeeled garlic cloves; with 15 minutes to go, I add mushrooms if I have any on hand.

Serve with a fresh green salad and a loaf of hearty, crusty bread. Yum!

Water Update

Ta Da! The water "fix" was easy... once I finally found it. Not the water supply, not the fuses, not even the submersible pump. Can you believe this little filter screen in the sprinkler head was the culprit? It was clogging up from sediment in the stirred-up water in the spring box!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Duck Eggs

I haven't yet posted anything about recipes or cooking, since blogging is new to me. However, yesterday my egg man talked me into some duck eggs for their superiority in baking. Stay tuned next week to see whatever I make, and how I like duck eggs!

Red Letter Day!

Today was a Red Letter Day! After dinking around for more than 2 months trying to figure out how to cheaply water my garden from the spring instead of the chlorinated town tap water, I finally found a man with experience in springs to help/advise me. And, I now have garden water! (Well, almost... keep reading...)

First, Calvin opened and checked the springbox; yes, it has water feeding into it. Then he checked the electric lines to the submersible pump. A-OK. So, he asks me when is the last time it was fired up? Best I can guess is probably 15 years ago when they mandated town water; I didn't live here then. I also said that there was no power to the sub-panel in the root cellar where the spring water diaphragm tank resides. (I was certain of that because I had a new 200 amp breaker panel installed in the house 2 years ago and there was no breaker for the pump.) Boy was I (mostly) wrong!

Calvin calmly put the old cartridge-type fuses back in the ancient panel box and the pump came on! (Further examination showed the electric sub-panel runs directly from the outside service entrance panel where the main shut-off is, rather than through a breaker on the new interior panel box.)

Outside of the root cellar is a hose bibb, and when we opened it up... water! Lots of cold but muddy water from the spring. We spent half an hour stirring up the sediment in the springbox, recirculating most of the water from the hose bibb via my garden hose, until it finally started to run clear.

I paid Calvin, and he went on his way as I connected another length of garden hose and the sprinkler head to water my garden. My jubilation, however, was short-lived. When I came back out of the house a few minutes later, I had just a dribble from the sprinkler head. I had either run the springbox empty and possible burned out the pump, or perhaps the old fuses are faulty? After all, they have been sitting on a shelf in the root cellar at least 15 years.

I'm disappointed, although not terribly disappointed. Whatever it is can be fixed. Tomorrow.

If it is just the amount of available water to the pump... the spring now bubbles up in 2-3 places besides where it feeds a 4" PVC pipe to the spring box. (Springs have a habit of moving like that!) Taking a sledge hammer to one side of the old springbox will allow the surrounding water to pour in to feed the pump. If it's the old fuses, I can pick up more at the hardware store. (I assume they still make those?) And if it's the pump, that's the most expensive "fix" but still nothing like the cost would be for a whole new set-up from scratch to run plumbing and electric to/from the spring.

So, La-Te-Da... I now have a means (soon) to water my garden with good, clean, non-chlorinated water. YaHoo!


"The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can't eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as 'progress', doesn't spread." -Andy Rooney

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sin(s) of Omission

Isn't a Sin of Omission something you should have done, and didn't? Well, I certainly committed some recently, and now I'm paying for it.

Background: Last fall, I finally prepared 3 long raised bed/rows in my garden, which took many passes through the weeds with the tiller. All the 'green manure' was piled up for spring when it would go into the compost pile. After raking the beds smooth, I planted 3 long rows of garlic in one bed and shallots in the other. Mulched them well with straw for winter. Patted myself on the back.

In early spring a light bulb went off, and I remembered the year before when all the straw sprouted and took over everything else in the garden while I was busy being sick. Determined for that not to happen again, I removed the straw mulch as soon as I thought the garlic and shallots would be okay without freezing, and planted 120 onion sets in the end of the shallot bed. When it warmed more, I transplanted a few purchased seedlings (mine hadn't sprouted yet) of swiss chard, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in the 3rd bed. Did I put down a (different) mulch? Nooooo... what a dummy! (Sin of Omission?)

Just before the creek flooded, I noticed a fine, thick, uniform covering of grass sprouts about one inch tall growing all over in those beds. (I presume from grass seed brought up by tilling. Duh.) I thought... "Well, they are so tiny they will be easy to hoe," and then it rained... and rained... and rained. When it finally stopped raining, I told myself it was too muddy to get in there and hoe (it was). I procrastinated for 4-5 days (another Sin of Omission?) and today I took my hoe to the garden.

Guess what? They are now too large to hoe; their roots go down 3-4 inches. The hoe merely chops off selective part of the tops. I know if I don't get them totally OUT, roots and all, they will not only choke out my veggies, they will reseed for next year and I shall forever be like Sisyphus, only with a hoe and not a rock. Sigh.

After putting the now-useless hoe away, I have been sitting on my arse pulling grass out, a square foot at a time. I should be finished by the Fourth of July.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Red-Eye Showers

No, not a shower on the Red-Eye, Silly. (Do they even have those?) This is red-eye from a daily shower at home. When I got out of a long, steamy-hot shower this morning, I noticed my eyes were red. Very red. Close-my-eyes-before-I-bleed-to-death red. Do you remember as a kid, swimming underwater in a public pool with your eyes open to see where you were going? Remember how red your eyes always got? That’s how mine looked this morning.

I knew I didn't have my eyes open enough under the shower spray to get water in them. So, what caused my red eyes? Vaporized Chlorine! Chlorine used to treat water can become vaporized easily (that's why the chlorine smell dissipates overnight in an open container of tap water), and chlorine in hot water vaporizes into the air more quickly than the chlorine in cold water. The shower curtain/door keeps most of the gas contained in the air inside the shower cubicle, and the closed bathroom door keeps the remainder in the rest of the room... at least what chlorine gas our eyes, hair, skin and lungs haven't absorbed.
(By the way, "chloroform gas is the result of vaporized chlorine interacting with dead skin cells and other biological matter in the bathroom" says Ronald Frommert, a researcher of water purification issues.)

Chlorine is a toxic chemical. Duh. Why else would it kill bacteria in a water supply? Chlorine makes our hair and skin dry and brittle. Chlorine hardens the arteries, can cause pulmonary edema from breathing it, irritates skin and allergies, and is known to destroy proteins in the body. Duh, Duh. (Or maybe that should be "Dodo" for buying into all the crap they tell us is safe.)
Research shows chlorinated water in the shower is 10 times more harmful that drinking it. I actually knew all that. Don’t even ask why I didn’t put it together with my own red eyes and showering. Maybe because I never focused on my eyes reflecting in the steamy mirror, and focused instead on my unruly hair or unwanted wrinkles? (Why does steam take the wrinkles out of clothes but not skin, anyway?)

There’s not much I can do about the chlorinated town water except to buy a good chlorine filter for my showerhead. I have some ideas for hooking up our old spring water to the house again, but that’s for another post, another day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Emergency Water Supply

This is about emergency potable water: real, honest-to-God good-tasting and good-for-you drinking water.
Quite by accident, I discovered an alternative emergency water supply idea in some pandemic survival tips published by the Board of County Commissioners in Nez Perce Co., Idaho.

For an emergency water supply they recommend a filter system you can make from 2 food-grade 5 gallon buckets (sometimes free from a local deli), a commercially available filter, and a plastic spigot. It's called the 'Gilmore' 2 bucket system and can be built in 10 minutes by someone with no mechanical skills. With this set-up, you can make up to 3,000 gallons of potable water (per filter) you have filtered from a rooftop, a rain barrel, a lake, pond or stream, or even a mud puddle.

A set-up like this should be mandatory in every household for natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, or whenever potable water is not available. You can make one for just over $60, and most of that is in the cost of the filter (they come in a pack of 2 for about $99). For complete instructions, click here and look under the "water" link on the left column. Choose "Finding and Filtering" then scroll down that page for instructions. The filters are Black Berkey Elements.

I have read, and re-read about this system, and many alternatives. I am convinced it is a terrific system, and everyone should have the emergency supply version on hand. The water quality and safety beats stored bottled water hands-down, and what do you do anyway when your stored water is gone?

Update June 2010
The information for the emergency filtration system is now in a PDF. Go here, and click on Finding and Filtering under the PDF Guides.

Wu-barb and Sorbets

Definition: Wu-barb, guaranteed to make you pucker-up, is a wonderfully sour, tart vegetable really named rhubarb, almost impossible to eat without sweetening (generally used in desserts).

Last year I saw all the lovely bright red rhubarb stalks on display at the Farmer's Market for $4 a pound. If I ever ate any rhubarb growing up, I surely don't remember, but I must have because the mere mention brings up a tiny warm fuzzy feeling. So, I planted a 4" pot of rhubarb, planning for rhubarb pie this year. That didn't happen. 2 weeks ago I decided the rhubarb was in the wrong spot and moved it. Who knew? Rhubarb just under a year old has a taproot to China! Sigh.

I bought 2 more 4" pots of rhubarb last week, and now have 2 healthy starts flanking the original plant (which I do not expect to survive). Not having any rhubarb to cook this year left me with a curiosity about what else rhubarb is good for besides pie. (A cautionary note here: do not eat rhubarb leaves. They contain lots of oxalic acid, potentially toxic to humans and animals.) An internet search turned up Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Rhubarb Custard Bars, Rhubarb Chutney... and Rhubarb Sorbet! The photo posted (just by itself) of the rhubarb sorbet made my mouth water, even without reading the recipe. YUM!

Sorbets are easy to make with an ice cream churn. If not, you can make what the Italians call a granita in an ice tray in the freezer. Some folks confuse sherberts and sorbets, but they are not the same. Sherberts are like a sorbet but contain additional milk or egg products while sorbets are just fruits (or fruit juices), sugar and water.

Some years ago I treated my mother to an elaborate 7 course meal for her birthday at a very upscale restaurant in Coral Gables (FL) on a reservations-only "gourmet night" where they selected the menu, prix fixe (sometimes called table d'hôte). We were a small family group of 3 couples and from the start it was fantastic. Upon being seated, the ladies were presented with a long stemmed rose, and a waiter came with an armload of small throw pillows "for the feet". Trust me, our dining experience was over 3 hours long and the foot pillows became very welcome. Too bad they didn't bring some for my butt!

I don't exactly remember all the courses but before the main course, the waiters served a palate cleanser. It was a grapefruit sorbet frozen in a hollowed-out grapefruit half and sliced into small wedges. Very tasty, and did the job of cleansing the palate!

That following summer I visited my mother and step-father at their mountain cottage and Mother and I tried to replicate many of the courses while I was there. My mother had some cans of grapefruit juice on hand for my step-father's afternoon Salty Dog cocktail. To make our grapefruit sorbet, we used the juice straight from the can but sweetened a bit; dumped it into the cannister of the churn, iced it down with rock salt and I started to crank. After less than 2 minutes, the crank met a LOT of resistance and I thought I had broken it. Nope, the sorbet was set!

We had planned to skip the grapefruit shells and just serve a small scoop of the sorbet in a dish. Fortunately, we had no company invited to dinner because when I tasted the sorbet, it was so salty I couldn't eat it. I had no idea how much sodium was in canned grapefruit juice; it's not noticeable in just drinking the juice. Not being wasteful, Mother froze the sorbet and my step-father had frozen Salty Dogs for weeks!

I have made sorbet many times since then but none as surprising as that first time. A favorite summer dessert (depending on the meal) is a melon-ball scoop of raspberry sorbet and a melon-ball scoop of "fuzzy navel" (or plain) orange sorbet served side by side, with an almond or hazelnut pirouette stuck in like a straw.

Meanwhile I wait with anticipation for next year and rhubarb sorbet!

Friday, May 15, 2009

So, What Happens when a Creek isn't a Creek anymore?

I'm a creature of habits. Each morning I awaken, make a pit stop, put on a pot of coffee, and open the front door to check out how the garden has grown overnight. On this particular morning I look out, and seeing the raging torrent the creek has become, my first thought is, "OH SHIT!"

Then I become a wooden statue, watching in disbelief as the creek rushes over the banks and creeps inexorably up the yard towards the garden... and from the depths of stored memories flashes that old childhood nighttime ghost story, "I'm on the first step... I'm on the second step..." (Hey... at least it wasn't "The Hook" coming for me, but I didn't think of that at the time!)

When I can finally move again I go inside to fetch the camera, the now-brewing coffee completely forgotten. I slosh back outside and take a few photos, come back inside and discuss options with my sister. How high might it rise? How long? Will it get up to the house? If it does, can we get over to the road? Will the road flood? Of course we have no answers. We haven't lived here long enough to have a history with the creek and flooding.

All the while, my mind has a second track running: What about the garden? All my newly planted fruit trees and shrubs aren't anchored by new roots yet... will they be swept away? The long rows of shallots and garlic planted last fall, and lovingly tended all spring are in danger of flooding. Will they rot? Will I lose an entire year invested in growing shallots and garlic? Will I have any garden left at all?

I go back outside and take more pictures. It's been 15 minutes; the water is still rising and it's still raining. My sister laughs at me. (She is NOT a gardener.) Finally I remember the coffee; strangely, it has no taste this morning. This scenario is repeated every 15 minutes for an hour and a half, when I finally decide to go for a ride out of sheer frustration. There is no way to stop the creek from rising, and fretting has no effect except to make me crazy. Crazier.

I drive up the interstate with a gardening friend, leaving the rain behind, to visit an organic farm to check out their new solar greenhouse, forgetting for a time about my rising creek.

The gods smiled while I was gone, and the creek only rose halfway into my raspberry beds. The new fruit trees and shrubs are still in place; the shallots and garlic are above water. I think I can still garden along the creek.

When a creek isn't a creek

After 2 weeks of rain, the creek GREW overnight. (I thought only children and weeds grew overnight like that...) My lovely, slowly meandering creek became a raging torrent!

Like Topsy, it grew and grew and then finally it jumped the banks into my garden. Certainly gives "Gardening along the creek..." a whole different perspective.

Geography Lesson: My creek location...

I love the creek flowing by my garden as it wends its way downstream to join the Middle Fork of the Holston River in southwest Virginia. Just think: If I spit in my creek today, it will travel down to the Holston River, join up with the French Broad River near Knoxville, become the beginning of the Tennessee River... travel along to the Ohio River and join the Mighty Mississippi near Cairo, Illinois and end up in New Orleans!!

In Homeopathy, there is the term "Succussion"... which means that each drop when shaken causes every other drop to take on the same potential (
potentization). What THAT means is that my drop of spit has become the entire Mighty Mississippi. What Power! Hot Damn!!