Sunday, March 1, 2015

Garden Share Collective - March 2015

Not much is happening in the garden proper with several feet of snow still on the ground. But that doesn't mean I haven't been working on getting things ready for the garden come spring. Seeds and trees have been researched and bought. Planning has been done.

The earliest and slowest of the plants have been sown indoors under lights. I'm just hoping the snow melts soon. This has been the coldest and snowiest February in Boston's history. We are less than 6 inches away from being the snowiest year recorded. Tonight we have 4-6" predicted, so we might make that mark pretty soon. March here can sometimes be pretty snowy too. Or not depending on the weather patterns. I'm anticipating a very late spring this year. The soil here unfreezes usually in the last half of March. I expect early April with all the cold weather and snow we are still getting.

January and February Completed

  • Ordered Pink Lady Apple tree, Ichy persimmon, and a plum with both Shiro and Redheart grafted on
  • Ordered onion plants
  • Ordered most of my seeds
  • Started the first seeds: shallots, bunching onions, parsley, lettuce, bok choy, mizuna, celery, and celeriac
  • Started sweet potato slips Garnet
  • Sat in the sun drinking tea, reading books, looking out into the snowy garden, and dreaming of the spring to come

Preserving

Nothing was preserved over the winter. Winter is my time to eat it all up. Did I preserve enough to keep me to spring? Well the answer is always no or at least not for everything. But it is always fun to see how far I get on my stores. The first number is the amount I have now. The number in parenthesis is what I started with in the list below.

Somethings like celery I didn't have much of. So I have been buying it from the store when I think of it. And weirdly I totally forgot about the corn for a while. I don't usually have enough corn to freeze for the winter, so I don't think about bringing it out. I will endeavor to be better about that. In addition this is the first year I've frozen the Chinese cabbage so I have the same trouble with that. I'll work on it though. I still have a couple of months before I get anything out of the garden. The frozen carrots haven't been used as I still have fresh. I'll eat them once the fresh carrots are gone.

The sweet potatoes and squash have been walking their way up my basement steps. The basement is too cold for them right now. The upstairs is too warm. So they sit on the stairs at the top. Right now they are at 54F which is just barely warm enough for a sweet potato.

Tally of what is in storage from the garden:

Frozen

  • Celery: 2 cups (5 cups)
  • Chinese cabbage: 9 servings, 1 soup packet (10 servings, 4 soup packets)
  • Corn: 10 cups (14 cups)
  • Spinach: 1 servings (24 servings)
  • Zucchini: 6 cups (? cups)
  • Carrots: 20 cups (20 cups)
  • Burritos: 8 servings (11 servings)
  • Mizuna Soup: 2 servings (4 servings)
  • Basil: frozen leaves
  • Cilantro: frozen leaves
  • Parsley: frozen leaves
  • Kale: 0 servings(43 servings)
  • Broccoli: 0 (19 servings)
  • Chard: 0 (17 serving)

Canned

  • Peach cobber filling: 4 half pints
  • Peach preserves: 4 half pints
  • Dill Relish: 6 jars (10 half pint jars)

Basement

  • Carrots: 2.9 pounds (25 pounds)
  • Parsnips: 0 (4 pounds)
  • Onions: 0 (11 braids about 45 pounds)
  • Garlic: 10 bulbs(3 pounds)
  • Waltham Butternut: 13 avg. 3lbs each (27)
  • Sweet Potatoes: 13.7 lbs (45 pounds)

March To Do

  • Hope the snow melts earlier than expected
  • Start indoors flowers, Asian greens, chard, herbs, broccoli, and cabbage
  • Start sweet potato slips Purple


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Symbiosis

Do you ever have one of those months where ideas from disparate sources converge? For me it was all about symbiosis though maybe coevolution would be a better term. It really started a while ago. My dad sent me a book, An Epidemic of Absence. I had it on my desk for ages. It is all about the hygiene hypothesis. Our modern diseases are very distinct from the ones we used to have trouble with. We used to have infectious diseases that killed us. Now we have immune dysfunction diseases that weren't prevalent before. Like allergies, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity, auto immune disorders, and possibly even autism. The hygiene hypothesis states that we have these trouble because our immune system needs the microbes/parasites/viruses that we coevolved with. Without them we attack ourselves or things we don't need to like allergens.

The book takes it even farther than I had heard before. It says that we have given up some of our regulatory control of our body especially our immune system to our flora and fauna. We no longer have the capacity to control it ourselves. People living on farms are healthier especially if they have more contact with animals. Our immune system is trained even in utero. Our mother's contact with a diverse micro biota controls our chances of getting such diseases. It was a really fascinating book to read. Some of it was a slog and slow, but most flowed pretty well. A bit too much of it was anecdotal, but hey it is a book not a science study. Most books like that are way too anecdotal. This one at least puts in the footnotes (in the back not as you go).

About the same time my daughter and I were discussing social evolution. My daughter is autistic and never talks about middle of the road things. For her it is always about how much she loves her dog, her struggles with life, or about really deep issues facing the world. But she wanted me to read an article that talked about differing thoughts on evolution and about how some people in the way north couldn't understand Darwinism because their thoughts on evolution were more symbiotic than a bloody battle between organisms for a niche in the environment. To them evolution was coevolution. You don't live alone. Life is harsh. You live in web where everything relies on one another for life.

I have a spring vegetable bed that needs to be filled with something (as I can't eat legumes anymore and fava beans won't be grown). So I'm thinking fermenting cabbage might be a good way to deal with it and make sure it gets preserved. I've not liked sauerkraut in the past. I've never learned how to ferment things even though my parents did it when I was a child. But I've taught myself to like things I've hated as a child before. And fermented food is supposed to be good for gut health. So I bought a book called "The Art of Fermentation". I haven't read much yet, but he is reiterating everything above. We coevolved with microorganisms. He puts even a greater twist on the evolution. He asks whether we have domesticated these bacteria or garden plant or animal, or whether they have domesticated us. I've heard that debate before with dogs, but never with plants or microorganisms.

Along with the fermented garden vegetables I was looking into another fermented food. Kefir - a fermented milk. As a child my parents would make kefir, but I never did. I wasn't a great fan. But my tastes have indeed changed. To my morning smoothies I've been adding bought goat milk kefir from the store for the last couple of months. It has a wider range of probiotics than yogurt does. Over the last week I've been reading up on it with a thought of making it myself (not in the above book yet which I just started, but on the internet). I found that kefir is a really interesting piece of coevolution. Kefir is not made like yogurt, but has "grains" which are a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast that hold together in a mass.

Scientists have tried to reproduce kefir grains from the microbiota that are in it, but can't. The ones there have evolved to work together and need each other to reproduce itself. In addition this colony of biota are symbiotic to humans. Without humans it wouldn't exist as it needs milk to grow and milk outside a mammal didn't exist until humans came along and started milking animals. The kefir preserves milk without refrigeration. Though today we preserve it in the fridge after producing it, it will keep a long time just sitting on the counter.

Many people state on their pages that it kills E. coli and other pathogens, but a very quick look at the literature will show you that is only sort of true. There are some strains of E.coli and other organisms (Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Yersinia enterocolitica) that have evolved to tolerate the high lactic acid content of kefir. Most strains it will kill, but not all. That being said there have been no outbreaks of illness due to kefir so it is a very safe form of cultured milk even though it is brewed on our counter at room temperature. In addition I found out that what you get from the store really isn't true kefir, but just a bunch of bacteria cultured much like yogurt. Often 8 or 10 organisms where kefir has more like 30. So I may have to get some grains and make it myself.

Over the last couple of weeks I've also been looking at mycorrhizal fungi for my garden. I'm still not sure what I'm going to buy. But I'd like to experiment with it. Michelle has raved about it in her garden. It might be an easy way to make my plants more healthy. Diseases run rampant here for some reason. They are much more common than at my last house. For those that don't know what mycorrhizae are, they are symbiotic fungi in plants. They grow on the roots the plant helps feed the fungi and the fungi helps provide nutrients for the plant.

If you haven't figured this out yet, I'm a nerd. I love science. One of the feeds that I read is from Science Daily. It gives me about 80 articles every weekday gleaned from all the different science publications and summarizes them and makes them available. I glance through them every day and I usually find a few that interest me. They rarely have ones applicable to gardening/farming, but yesterday there were two (here and here). Both about symbiosis. One trying to understand the symbyotic nature of the myccorhizea. The other about how we are disrupting the rhizobia bacteria, a symbiotic bacteria of legumes, by feeding nitrogen to the plants.

So this must be my year of symbiosis since it keeps coming into my life. Years ago I wrote a blog post about why I garden. I garden to be connected to the natural world. To be close to the web of life. To see the miracle of a seed growing. That growth feeds me, but also drops the seeds for the next generation. The post I wrote said that gardening was artificial, but maybe I shouldn't see it that way. Maybe I should see it as a natural symbiosis. We need those plants to eat and live. But those plants use us too. They get an easy ride as we water and weed them. We plant their seeds a perfect spacing apart. Not all of them get to reproduce, but they will be reproduced. We will make sure of it. The better they feed us, the more we will grow them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Harvest Monday, 23 February, 2015

The greens are still holding out. It won't be long though before my stores of greens are gone. I've started eying what they have at the grocery store. I have a feeling I'll be eating a lot of broccoli because I love it so much.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been making more purchases. The first are the seeds. I decided to trial a couple of C. moschata. That is the only kind of squash that will grow here with the squash vine borers. It isn't that I can't get another kind to set fruit, but it is rare that they have the time to ripen it before the plants die. The two types are Thai Rai Kaw Tok and Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash. Both of those are a mouthful to say. Why can't seed breeders come up with something shorter? I just hope they do well in the garden this year. Then I would love them no matter what they are called. I got them from Baker Creek, which has the best selection of C. moschata squash I've seen anywhere. The total was $9.50. Shipping adds so much to little orders.

Also for the vegetable garden I bought some more netting. I decided to get two bolts as I probably won't have to buy any next year. Though I have an eye on it for using more up (sady), which I'll talk about later. Total $71.65.

The other purchase are some more fruit trees. My figs are never going to produce enough to make them worth it. If I loved figs a lot, it would be worth it. But I just like them. So I'm going to rip them out. In addition my Green Gage plum tree is very unhappy. Every year it looks sick. Then the aphids attack. It grows, but I think it will never do well. I'm going to try another variety of plum. Or more to the point two varieties on one tree. This one has Shiro and Redheart on it. From what I hear the Shiro will grow like crazy to start so I'll have to keep it a bit under control until the Redheart catches up. Or I can just have a really unbalanced tree for a while.

I thought about another plum tree, but to be honest plums are sometimes bearers around here with the plum curculio so I didn't want to plant more than one more unless I knew it could produce constantly. I already have one in the vegetable garden, but it is more of an ornamental than a really good producer. I could use the fruit of more than one as plums are my tomato substitute (I can't eat tomatoes).

So instead I decided to add a persimmon. I wanted it to be short to fit in the rock wall so I picked Itchy. Really it is Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro, but it is another one of the huge too long names. Why oh why can't people pick short names. Redheart and Shiro are both great names. So I'm sticking with Itchy. This one gets 8-10' tall. The double plum gets 12-15' tall, but I'm going to endeavor to keep both to 6' so they are harvestable. After several years of pruning my other trees small, I have more confidence that I can do this. If not, well I'll either have to let it go, which wouldn't be so good in its spot, or I'll have to replace it with something other than a plum.

The last tree that I'm going to put in is a Pink Lady apple. I wanted a Jazz apple, but no one sells them. Basically I'm going with a good eating apple and we already have a Honey Crisp and a Ginger Gold in the yard. My other espaliered trees are all applesauce apples. So I figured a late eating apple would be nice. If I get too many, I can make any apple into applesauce for my husband. This will be espaliered just like my other apples in the rock wall garden. Though it will be smaller as the spot is only 5' wide, not 8'. These trees add $103.92 to my fruit tally. I continue to spend money every year on fruit. I wonder if some year I'll just stop and start making the tally positive instead of negative.

  • Fruit Tally
  • This week: -103.92
  • This year: -113.92
  • Total all years: -943.89

  • Vegetable Tally
  • Baker Creek: -9.50
  • Netting: -71.65
  • This weeks total: -81.15
  • Yearly Total: -292.62

I've got a lot of negatives. Last year was the first year the yearly fruit tally was positive. I hope production makes up for my spending again this year. But I have a long way to go before my orchard pays for itself. The veggie garden pays for itself every year. In fact usually I'm down at the beginning of the year about $400-$500 and up a $1000 at the end of the year. But a lot of my long term big items had their amortization time run out. The costs are all upfront though, so it looks so bad even though this year seems a bit better. Not that I've finished spending yet.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Hope of Spring

Making soil blocks

My schedule says on January 20th I should seed the parsley. I decided to do it today. A day or two, or even a week won't matter much to such a slow growing plant. And smelling the wet warm soil is so therapeutic on a cold day.

Seeded and covered in plastic to germinate

Last year I did the celery and celeriac very late comparatively. But they tend to be slow growing just like parsley. And like parsley they tend to be planted in mid April. I'm not sure the planting date will hold up with the cold weather we have had, but maybe the pattern will change before then. And maybe the snow will melt sooner than I think.

Labeled

Because of the possible late spring I planted some lettuce, bok choy, and mizuna early. That may seem counterintuitive, but I'm guessing I'll be chomping at the bit in spring and I might want to plant up some easy to grow greens in pots so that I can put them on the back steps to grow. I can bring them in easily at night if it gets cold and I would still get some early greens. I'm still not sure if I'm going to or not, but it gives me the option. If the weather changes radically and we get the warm temperatures the western part of the country has seen, they will just go into the ground in a month. But I really doubt it.

Shallots

The shallots and bunching onions are up. The onions germinated a couple of days ahead of the shallots. And the onions have a lot more plants in their container. So I won't have a ton of shallots this year, but it will make a good trial to see how they grow and store here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Uncle!

The entry to the garden

Snow. Sigh. Part of me has that crazed maniac thought of bring it on. But most of me is crying uncle at the thought of more snow. Really it can stop now. Typically our winters are snow turning to rain, or rain turning to snow. We get thaws. It melts out. We can get some good blizzards here, but the snow doesn't stick for a long time. This time we are locked in a freeze that is keeping the snow with us. The next week doesn't see temperatures above freezing until maybe - just maybe - Sunday.

The funny thing is that my husband and I went to a lecture by Tom Wysmuller in the middle of January. He was telling us how his prediction for the northeastern weather this winter turned out wrong. He predicted heavy snow and colder than normal temperatures. Up to that point all we had had was dry and warmer air. Well all he had to do was wait a week or two for his predictions to come true. Now we are setting snow records. We haven't quite reached an all time winter record, but we far surpassed the 30 days records. By a long shot. And it has been cold over the last month. I only have weather station data since 2011, but so this stretch has been the coldest by 3.2F compared to last year (the previous record in this stretch). This week is supposed to be bitter cold and I'm sure that difference will widen.

Kale

You can see my supports for the kale. The fence behind them is 4' tall. Though that is a little deceptive as we have had very strong winds and the snow drifts. The stakes are in a depression in the snow. The snow will help the kale survive the winter, but the problem is the snow crusts on the top then melts from the bottom and pulls off the leaves and crushes the plants. That is why they have supports. It is for the snow. Hopefully not too many leaves will get stripped off as it all melts this spring. Spring will come. Right?

I still haven't shoveled out the path to the compost pile. Until I know that the snow is gone from the roof it is too dangerous. We have solar panels up there. When the snow comes off, it comes off as an avalanche, all at once. With a lot of force. The first year we had the panels we had our tempered glass table in the back like normal. It shattered the table. We now tip the table on its side for the winter so it will survive. I'm pretty sure if it hit me when I was out there it could do a lot of damage, so I won't go there until I'm sure the snow is off. When it gets warm enough I'll walk over to the next street and look at the roof to find out.

If you look to the right of the photo you will see some indentations in the snow. Those are my footprints. Or leg prints as I sunk down deep. I was more crawling on the snow than walking. Over a railing and a fence that I couldn't tell was there. We had to dig out our furnace and water heater vents yesterday. The furnace one didn't really need it badly. It is hot enough that it mostly melts the snow, but the water heater one doesn't go on all the time. It was buried. The intense winds blocked it again later, so I was out again making sure we don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

At least today the sun is shining. I'm always happier with the sun. Now if it would just warm up enough for me to go out for a walk I could see what the rest of the neighborhood looks like. And see if my solar panels are clear.

Harvest Monday, 16 February 2014

I'm still eating well from my stores. Above is a soup made from my stored carrots, celery, and corn. I had noticed that I hadn't used up my ham broth from the Christmas ham. I had some left over ham from that too. So I made up the soup. We have been having some really cold temperatures so soup really hit the spot.

I still have lots and lots of squash. It was an amazing squash year last year. And the broccoli was frozen from the garden. And even the salmon has mustard on it.

More garden broccoli. I'm quickly running out. I had plenty of other greens this week (chard, spinach and kale) but for some reason I took photos of the two dinners with broccoli on them. It does make a prettier photo than the other greens. In addition I have some sweet potato fries. This time I used some of my garden made Italian seasonings on it. I think I like that better than the rosemary ones. The corn was also from my garden. And even the hamburger bun (gluten free for me) was made with some onion powder from the garden.

And if that wasn't enough, that pulled chicken - no it doesn't have anything from the garden, but it does have a garden story that goes with it. A friend had just bought a smoker and knew I missed eating another friends smoked food. Friend two throws a huge party every year with over 100 people and he makes the food for months in advance. The spread is really amazing. The centerpieces are his smoked foods. But with my food issues I can't eat anything from a contaminated smoker. Even a little soy sauce from a marinade would make me sick, so last time I was there I had to abstain.

Well friend one found out how much I missed the smoked food. His smoker was totally clean. It had never been used. So he made me some pulled chicken (which you see above, I've been savoring it over time). Luckily for him he did this in August. August is the best time for giving treats from the garden. He got some of my Honey Select corn, which I've had several people (including my husband) tell me it is the best corn they have ever had. It is a very sweet sweet corn. He thought he was getting too good of a deal, so he offered to make me a whole batch of smoked chicken thighs as long as I pay for the chicken. I took that up in a flash. But of course I thought I was the one getting too good of a deal and sent in some melon.

Typically you don't get good melon here in Massachusetts. The shipped in stuff is usually terrible (sometimes from New Jersey we get some good melon). But the melon from my garden was the best melon I'd had yet from my garden. It was oh so good. I grew it surrounded by bricks on three sides. Usually our temps just don't get hot enough long enough to make good melon. But a decent summer and with the hot bricks to hold heat, I ended up with some really good ones. And way too many for me to eat by myself. So instead of my townhouse mates ending up with them (sorry guys), friend one got the extras. So that meat wasn't made in the garden, but the garden sure helped to fill up my freezer with smoked chicken.

I took some photos of the snow we got from the last blizzard, but they turned out pretty sad. Maybe when the sun comes out today I can takes some. Maybe. The piles are getting deeper and deeper. We have another small storm coming in and some bitterly cold temperatures already here and forecasted to stick around for the week. So it just keeps piling up. I can't wait for spring.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Harvest Monday, 9 February 2015

Path to the compost pile

The path down to my compost pile is getting buried again. I keep shoveling and it keeps snowing more. We are going to break the Boston 30 day total record in 17 days with this series of storms. And we have more storms in the forecast. One for Thursday and one over the weekend. I like snow, but even I could use a break.

I keep rescuing my peach trees when my husband and townhouse mates put snow on its branches (when it melts it can drag the branches down and break them). My husband gets annoyed with all the restrictions. No dirty snow on the garden. No heavily salted snow on the peach trees. That can only go on the grass. We have a tiny postage stamp of a yard and there isn't a lot of places to put the snow. Anyway onto Harvest Monday and what I'm doing with my stored harvests.

I'm getting down to the last handful of bags of greens in my freezer. I'll make it through February, but I'm not sure how far into March I'll get. I have my big pile of greens for dinner every night. The dinner above has more from the garden than those. The sauce has mustard seeds and garlic from the garden. The salmon patties have dried parsley and mustard.

That meal also had some sweet potato fries. Dave wrote about this a couple of weeks ago week and I figured it was a good way to use up my huge 2.5 pound sweet potato. So I've been eating them for the last couple of days and I'll be finishing them up today. Maybe. It is a lot of fries to eat for one person.

This week I also decided that I needed to make some more enchilada sauce for me. My husband gets the tomato pepper version bought from the store. But I can't eat tomatoes and peppers, so I make one with avocado, onion, and cilantro. The cilantro is frozen from the garden. And the garlic comes from the garden.

In addition I use my frozen zucchini and stuff that into the inside along with some leftover chicken. I have a few more packets of zucchini left. So again that will last me through February, but I might not have much left for March.

I know the stores won't last until my greens start producing in the spring. So I broke down in January and started buying some things for my lunch greens. I have some Brussels sprouts in the freezer and I bought a cabbage for coleslaw. My oranges and purple stores have been holding up better. I still have 14 butternut squashes and at least half my sweet potatoes. At least I think. I haven't weighed them to find out. In addition the carrots are holding up fine. I have a lot frozen for later in the spring and the fresh ones are doing OK. A couple have started to sprout. I eat any that show signs of waking up.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Gardening Season Has Started

Yes I know I have three feet of snow on the ground right now and more is predicted over the next week. But I started my seeds today. Surely that marks the start of the gardening season.

I make up a schedule every year for what I'm planting indoors (the left side) and what I'm seeding outside. They have dates when I should be doing this and places to mark when the plants actually got seeded or planted. I rarely actually plant on the date written, but I'm pretty good at getting it somewhere around that date. My schedule says that I'm late getting the alliums started. This year I'm just seeding two types - bunching onions and shallots. All of the other onions are being bought as seedlings this year. I've never done that before and I'll see how it goes.

Most of the time I make soil blocks, but I was feeling very lazy today. So I just filled an old takeout container with some mix and did it that way. The alliums don't mind root disturbance all that much, so this way works fine with them. It will be a pain later trying to untangle the roots to plant, but for now at least it is easier. I'm sure I'll curse that choice later in the spring.

They are now sitting under the lights to germinate. I put the lids on to hold in the moisture, but not too tightly so they will get a bit of airflow.

I can't wait to see my first green this year. Sadly alliums take a a while to germinate, but I expect to see sprouting in about a week.