Monday, June 29, 2009

Three O'Clock and All Is Well

Ah, insomnia! Well, it’s a good time to blog . . .

I haven’t been keeping up with my blogging because . . . well, because this is the time of year when I log onto the Hurricane Center for an update the first thing each morning. This is the time of year when the 100 degree sun shrivels the blossoms on the tomato vines before they ever have a chance to set fruit. This is the time of year when running around with a watering can trying to keep my plants happy starts getting old. This is the time of year when I look at the calendar and realize it’s only June. This is the time of the year when I spend every spare minute looking at real estate on the internet and fantasizing that somehow my husband will agree to move somewhere more sane. Like North Carolina. Or Portland, OR. Hmm, dream on, girlfriend.

Well, something has been eating my tomatoes and it isn’t me. At first, I thought it must be a largish animal to have so totally annihilated my one ripe tomato, but my husband did a little sleuthing and it’s . . . mocking birds! So I went off to Walmart for bird netting. Did not find any, but I did find holographic streamers that I’m going to try tying to the tomato cages. Maybe the blowing, twisting ribbons will scare the birds away. After I had bought the streamers, I read somewhere that tomatoes should be picked when they first start to turn pink. Let them ripen on a countertop (out of direct sun) – that way the critters won’t get them first. Now I have two options for dealing with the mocking birds . . .

As for the rest of the garden, I have some winners and some losers. The okra is doing well and I have to check it every day or the pods go past prime. I’m not getting enough at any one time to cook as a side dish, but I have been throwing them in a soup pot with whatever else is in the frig and making some pretty good lunches. The Swiss chard is doing surprisingly well considering the heat. It goes in the soup pot, too. My one cucumber plant is keeping us well supplied with cucumbers, and the peanuts look lush:

I’ve harvested more eggplants and served them up in a moussaka, but the squash aren’t really squashing. The crookneck has tons of babies and keeps growing new ones, but the babies never grow past infancy. The zucchini is doing much the same thing but with a measly two babies. I don’t know what their problem is. Guess we need to have a heart to heart. And the poor nasturtiums have turned to crispy critters despite frequent watering. Guess they don’t like it here.

Okay, for the (semi-)weekly roundup:

1. Plant something – I did get my herbs planted in flower boxes and repotted a citrus tree in a bigger pot (it has oranges, grapefruit and limes all on one tree – and is currently covered with fruit!).

2. Harvest something – okra, Swiss chard, peppers

3. Preserve something – still no. I thought about drying herbs but with the exception of basil, I have fresh herbs available year round. So why dry?

4. Reduce waste – I’ve started saving my vegetable cooking water and using it to water the big pots on the balcony.

5. Preparation and Storage – I tried my hand at homemade spinach pasta which came out pretty well. I also bought a soil blocker and two super new cookbooks: The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash and Greens, Glorious Greens by Albi and Walthers.

I read about The Victory Garden Cookbook in a comment on Sharon Astyk’s blog. (Scads of good cookbook suggestions if you're interested!) The book is out of print, but I managed to get a used copy in great condition through It’s a big, heavy book with tons of information. Each vegetable has its own chapter --there is growing advice, harvesting and trimming advice, and a slew of recipes. The moussaka recipe looks better than the one I used (which was okay but not great) and I’m looking forward to trying it. And it includes a lot of vegetables I've wanted to try but didn't know how to cook -- things like rutabagas and parsnips. I absolutely love this book and recommend it to one and all. (Hmm, I did buy the last 'cheap' copy available. You might want to check your local used book store.)

The second book is a winner, too. Greens, Glorious Greens is also organized by variety. There is advice on buying, storing and preparation for each green, and a good selection of recipes. The book covers not only every green you would find in the grocery store, but a few wild ones as well – dandelion greens, for example.

6. Build Community Food Systems – blog (on occasion)

7. Eat the Food – before the nasturtiums turned quite so crispy, I added a few to a salad. I’ve also added fresh herbs to many of my dishes, cucumbers to salads, peppers to stir-fries, okra and chard to soups, and eggplant to moussaka.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First, another book review: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. This is the best book on gardening theory I have ever come across. But this is also a book that cannot be read just once. This is a book to read over and over – there is way too much to absorb in only one or two readings!! I've already learned a huge amount about soil life and what it means for the garden and gardener, about the complex interactions of all life within the garden, and how working with nature makes the gardener’s job much, much easier. There are chapters on ‘Catching, conserving and using water,’ ‘Bringing in the bees, birds, and other helpful animals,’ ‘Creating communities for the garden,’ and ‘Growing a food forest.’ There is also a very helpful appendix of useful plants. Highly, highly recommended. I just wish I had known he was about to come out with a new and improved version!

Second, I’m taking a different tack this week. Instead of listing what I’ve accomplished (which, unfortunately, is too little to mention), I’m going to list what I hope to accomplish this coming week. Or so.

1.Plant something – I have a new herb collection: French sorrel, French tarragon, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, pineapple sage, and mint-chocolate peppermint. I hope to get them tucked into some flower boxes sometime this week – I’m waiting on the proper moon cycle. I’m not sure I’ll garden by the moon again next year. I feel like I’m gardening with one hand tied behind my back.

I probably won’t use straw bales again next year, either. My tomatoes and peppers need daily watering and frequent applications of compost tea. They are growing, but they’re not as vigorous as I think they should be. Of course, the straw bales may not be at fault. Maybe my plants are not getting enough sun . . .

I’m still having problems with my stevia. Seed germination is poor and the tiny seedlings, when I am lucky enough to get one, don’t want to grow.

2. Harvest something – we’ll see what ripens. I have tons of summer crookneck squash on the vine but none big enough yet to harvest. I have okra and Swiss chard ready to pick, but alas, I planted too little. What does one do with one okra pod or a couple of leaves of chard? Next year, I’ll plant more!

3. Preserve something – I think I’ll start drying some of my herbs. I bought a(nother!) book entitled Making and Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson so now I have no excuses! I also want to learn more about pickling. Sounds like another book purchase is in order . . .

4. Reduce waste – I’m hoping to get a clothesline put up and start drying outside in our plentiful sunshine instead of wasting energy with fluff and dry.

5. Preparation and Storage - I’m continuing to read every chance I get. Another recent purchase is Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricki Carroll. According to this book, the best temperature for cheese-making is 72 degrees. We keep our house at 80 during the summer months, so I’ll have to wait until cooler temperatures for my foray into cheese-making territory. Ah well, that gives me time to read and prepare. Of note, one of the featured cheese-makers is just down the road. I wonder if they offer lessons?

In the meantime, I’m dusting off my copy of Sunset’s Pasta Cookbook. Time to try making my pasta from scratch!!

Oh, I did buy a magnesium firestarter in the camping section of Walmart. It only cost me $6.94, and I now have the ability to make fire without matches. Could be useful! There are other firestarters out there and I may start a collection -- it seems different styles have different advantages and at this price, having more than one can't hurt.

6. Build Community Food Systems – For now, this blog is my attempt at building community food systems. In time, I hope to start sharing more – actual food and knowledge grounded in experience.

7. Eat the Food – My growing stack of cookbooks is aimed at becoming better at using what I grow. For now, I want to make better use of my many herbs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Yumm Factor

I have bought several cookbooks lately and as yet have not actually cooked anything from them, but they hold great promise and I wish to share them here.

Cooking With Sunshine: The Complete Guide to Solar Cuisine with 150 Easy Sun-cooked Recipes by Lorraine Anderson and Rick Palkovic. This book includes not only recipes but directions for making and using solar cookers. Of especial interest to the rank beginner like myself is a chapter entitled “Warm-up: Easy recipes to show what your solar cooker can do.” The “What’s for Dinner?” chapter includes vegetarian fare as well as the usual meat and fish dishes, beans, grains and breads. “What’s for Dessert?” offers a variety from chocolate cake to butternut squash pie. “Menu Ideas” covers a wide range – easy, one-pot and last minute meals, meals for cloudy days, vegan and wheat free meals. Overall, it appears to be an excellent book!

From the Cook’s Garden: recipes for cooks who like to garden, gardeners who like to cook, and everyone who wishes they had a garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden. Okay, you’ve got a garden full of luscious vegetables, or your share from the CSA, or maybe you’ve just come back from a trip to the local farmer’s market. Now what do you do with it all? This book offers simple recipes for garden produce along with tips on the best tasting varieties to grow. The last chapter offers a few suggestions for “Preserving the Bounty,” but mostly this book is about eating what is fresh and in season.

While not strictly cookbooks, two books by Rosalind Creasy have found their way onto my bookshelf: The Edible Flower Garden and The Edible Herb Garden. Both books are lovely to look at and worth it for the pictures alone. These books cover the whole gamut – from garden design, cultivation, and preservation to an encyclopedia of plants and recipes for beautiful, eye-catching dishes.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Challenge Update

I don't seem to be getting much blogging done. At least I have my challenge update to offer:

1. Plant something – this week I planted more nasturtiums and cosmos in the flower beds, replanted stevia, Mexican tarragon, and cinnamon basil as the first plantings didn't do well, and transplanted my lemon balm to a bigger pot.

2. Harvest something – I harvested grape and Arkansas Traveller tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, and two eggplants.

3. Preserve something – umm. Still no.

4. Reduce waste – Instead of automatically jumping in the shower each morning, I'm going on an 'as needed' basis. Plus I pulled a bunch of wine bottles from the recycling bin to use in my drunkard's path. Even recycling takes energy -- reusing is a better option!

5. Preparation and Storage - I've been reading Gene Logsdon's The Contrary Farmer and ordered several more books on related topics. If it seems like I'm ordering a lot of books, it's because I am. I know I can't learn it all, but I can build a library of in-the-flesh honest-to-goodness books to have on hand if and when I need them. I also spend an inordinate amount of time reading blogs . . .

6. Build Community Food Systems – umm. Still no.

7. Eat the Food - Besides the salads, I cooked a killer eggplant parmesan with homegrown eggplant and basil. Yum!