"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunroots or Pirate's Booty

The grandson and I decided to hunt for buried treasure this afternoon, as he is currently in a pirate phase. We soon unearthed our booty in the form of sun roots... "Are those potatoes grandpa?" he asked somewhat disappointed. I spend a great deal of time teaching the boy about things, many things , and today was a lesson on sunroots, sunchokes, Jerusalem Artichokes, or any number of names. I like sunroots as that is supposed to be what the original (native) Americans called one of this country's few indigenous tubers.


A relative of the sunflower it is most delicious raw on salads or cooked in soups, and can also be mashed as a potato would be. Raw, you will find a crisp crunchy texture and a flavor that I can't quite communicate other than to say they have a fresh, clean, subtly sweet essence to them. Cooked they are similar in flavor to a cross between a mild turnip and potato perhaps.


He had helped me last fall as I mounded layers of dirt and leaves around the stalks in order to protect them from the winter cold. I cut the stalks back in autumn but left about 3 feet so that we could find them under cover of snow, as in X marks the spot. The boy, being only four, this was a distant memory and the sunroot story had to be retold as we carefully dug up the buried treasures.


My young apprentice was soon off on other adventures and relayed to me that he had discovered the first butterfly of spring. It was indeed a butterfly, but perhaps not destined to be part of this coming spring as it appeared to have long since passed away.


Food Sovereignty

Weavers Way Farm



The Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden Project

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spring Dreams And Food Inspirations

As the snow continues to fall outside we find inspiration in the thoughts and ideas of others, and are able to keep the dreams of spring alive. Huddled in our little cabin in the woods, last night we turned our attention to one of our favorite pastimes...dinner.


We subsist, no, flourish on a diet of mostly raw fruits, vegetables and salad greens with nuts and eggs added for good measure. Once a week however we treat ourselves to a cooked meal, but one that still incorporates some nutritional benefits. Last week Mrs. H was able to make a most palatable spinach quiche thanks to the chickens egg production being almost back to normal...thank you girls.


This week we were inspired by El to try a new bread recipe On even quicker real bread, and by Rob Bless the British weather! to have that most wonderful bread with wild mushrooms on top. Thank you.


After the bread was baked we soaked the last of the morel mushrooms, that we picked last spring, in milk to rehydrate for an hour.

Upon readiness they were added with onions to the cook pan for a good fry.


Potatoes were fried also as a good winter salad with black beans was prepared.


Fried potatoes were added to the salad. Mushrooms and onions over the bread, a quick broil to melt the sharp white Cheddar cheese, and we were ready to enjoy.


Now all that is left is to wait with abated patience for April to bring with it another, hopefully, abundant mushroom hunting season. Until then we will continue to seek inspiration and ideas from this remarkable, newly found community of people with similar interests.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Acquaintances In The Garden

I have listed a few more things that we will be attempting to grow this year and will be new additions to our garden.

From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:


Giant Cape Gooseberry
(Physalis peruviana L) - The cape gooseberry is native to Brazil and was cultivated by early settlers at the Cape of Good Hope on the coast of South Africa. A perennial vining plant that can be anywhere from 2 to 6 ft. in height depending on growing conditions. Does well where tomatoes are grown and likes a sunny frost free environment. It should not be fertilized as it will easily put out an overabundance of vegetative growth at the expense of it's fruit development. The fruit grows in a paper husk and can be harvested after it turns yellow and falls to the ground. It has a similar sweet taste to it's smaller cousin the common ground cherry. In a side note, ground cherry's hold up fairly well in storage and even increase in flavor, we have had some last over 2 months at around 50°.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/


Litchi Tomato aka Sticky Nightshade (S. sisymbriifolium) - A large plant that can grow around 5' tall and is covered in thorns. The prickly husk covered fruit is the size of a cherry tomato and supposedly tastes like a cross between a tomato, tart cherry, and watermelon. This "Wild Tomato" can be grown as you would any tomato but may not be a very prolific producer, nonetheless it certainly piqued my interest.


Black Seed Sesame (Sesamum indicum L) - An annual that grows 2-3' tall and germinates well in warm soils, seeds mature within 120 days. The seeds are highly nutritious, rich in manganese, copper, and a great source of calcium they also contain vitamin B1 and E. Black sesame may be eaten raw (dried) or toasted, and reportedly has a sweet nutty flavor and can be used to make a fine sesame oil. I am really looking forward growing this one for myself and the chickens.


Chichiquelite Huckleberry or Petty Morel (Solanum nigrum) - A member of the black nightshade family this plant produces fruit that is supposed to be much better tasting then it's counter parts the Garden huckleberry and Wonderberry. The flowers are small and white and are succeeded by small round polished appearing berries, green at first, but black when ripe. The green berries are possibly poisonous and care should be taken around small children. Can be grown as a tomato or ground cherry...may be better adapted to lower light conditions then the aforementioned. It is possible that this plant grows wild around my place and I have always considered it to be poisonous, it will be interesting to see if this is really it. Some say the leaves are even edible...not sure if I am that brave. Of course it was only a few 100 years ago that tomatoes (another nightshade) were considered poisonous also.


Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge Tomato - An indeterminate heirloom producing 4-10 ounce fruits, 80 to 90 days after transplanting. Orange in color with true purple pigment mixed in. Light, cool weather, and soil conditions may increase the purple color. This tomato may have more going for it in color than in taste from what I've read, but I am game to give it a try. You know how good those purple pigments are supposed to be health wise.

From Seed Saver Exchange:



Mongolian Giant Sunflower (H. Annuus) - Grows up to 14' tall, heads 16-19" across with 1 ½" long sunflower seeds - 90days...It's big.


Applegreen Eggplant
- 5" mild flavored oval fruits are supposed to bear dependably in northern gardens due to early fruiting... 60-70 days. Plants are small and productive. I always have luck with eggplants but this one really sounds perfect for our north Idaho garden.


Purple Pod Pole Bean - Discovered in an Ozark garden in the 1930's, plants climb upwards of 6' and are very productive. Pods are stringless and 5-7" long, purple in color. 68 days to maturity.


Blacktail Mtn. Watermelon
- From SSE catalogue - Developed by SSE member Glenn Drowns when he lived in northern Idaho, where summer nights average 43° F. Round 9" dark green fruits weigh 6-12 pounds. Sweet, juicy, crunchy, scarlet flesh. Does well in hot, humid climates too. Reliable crops. 70-75 days. Developed in north Idaho, what else could I ask for.


Charentais/Charantais Melon or Cavaillon - Popular in seventeenth century France they are a true cantaloupe, globe shaped, around 3 1/2" - 6" in diameter and weighing 2 pounds each, creamy green to golden beige in color. It is a very aggressive grower, producing many long vines and needs a lot of room. Because Charentais is a sweet fruit, it often attracts ants and other insects that bore into the melon from the ground, so it is best grown off the ground on a strong trellis. This melon reaches maturity between 85-90 days after planting. They have a superior eating quality and heady, perfumed aroma. Their flesh is softer than that of a cantaloupe, and their flavor is deeper and sweeter. A good source of potassium and vitamin C.

From Fedco:


Sea Kale (Crambe maritima - Family Cruciferae [Brassicaceae] ) - A perennial member of the Cabbage family that grows wild along the coasts of Europe and Ireland, and was one of the traditional plants taken on voyages as a preventative against scurvy, possibly where it gets it's name. It has large blue green leaves and will eventually burst out in a profusion of white flowers. The plant is often grown for use as a blanched vegetable and is an excellent source of Vitamin C. Before winter the roots can be lifted for early forcing in a heated place, or left until spring and forced by covering with a large pot or other container that excludes all light.

Gigante Kohlrabi or Superschmeltz - High quality, open pollinated Czechoslovakian heirloom that often exceeds 10 pounds. The world record was 62 pounds. It has a mild sweet flavor and good texture..even in comparison to it's smaller counterparts. Like all Kohlrabi they do well in a heavy, slightly alkaline soil. They take 120-130 days to mature, but really, I think a 90 day 5 pounder would probably be OK also.

Paul Robeson Tomato - This indeterminate heirloom was renamed for the human rights activist, actor, opera singer and much more... Paul Robeson who was especially appreciated in Russia. This tomato, named in his honor, is a medium-sized black beefsteak with dark exterior flesh but a ruby red inside and is reportedly very flavourful. Developed in Russia, it should do well in northern gardens. There is a picture of this beauty at Daves Garden - http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/129410/


Spilanthes - (Acmella Oleracea) Spilanthes is also known as the toothache plant because when you chew on the salty flavored leaves or flowers it produces a numbing effect to the tongue and gums and can be used in this manner to help ease the pain of a toothache. Spilanthes is a native of South America and grows well in full sun to partial shade reaching a height of 12-15". It is easily grown from seed but can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Spilanthes does well in any medium moist soil and should not be planted out until after all danger of frost as it is not at all cold hardy. This strong anti-bacterial herb is currently being investigated for a wide variety of other therapeutic properties. It should be most interesting to say the least.

If anyone has tried these particular plants please let me know your thoughts regarding them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Run Baby Run


Mrs. H and I have been together for almost thirteen years now and her training has officially commenced :). She has decided to run in her first race, Bloomsday, a 12km (7.46mi) race held annually on the first Sunday each May in Spokane, Washington. Bloomsday originated in 1977 with just over a thousand runners and has subsequently grown to an average of over 50,000, drawing runners from all over world as well as the US. So...as head coach, I am under a great deal of pressure as her performance will be a direct reflection upon my coaching skills.


She, on the other hand, has a somewhat less lofty goal and has said her aim is to "just do it." Committing to it was probably the hardest part for her. She has, after all, lived in the area since the race's inception and has yet to be a proud participant. Mrs. H says she doesn't like crowds, and as a fellow recluse I cannot blame her. But this year will be different. And, OK, I may have exaggerated a bit as she says her physical training will start on Monday, not today. Right now she's just working on the mental aspect of the whole thing. I can grant her that, I guess.

In reality, it shouldn't be too difficult for her as we have been doing a bit of running for several years. We live on a small lake that is 5.4 miles around and she has progressed from walking it several times a week to running it. She has gone from barely being able to get around the whole lake to actually setting some pretty good times so I am optimistic with some serious dedication on both our parts I will have her whipped into shape in no time.

I've already had to make one concession, however. She's requested a new running outfit for the event, as she's sure she will run into (not literally I hope) someone she knows. What a way to get a new outfit - that Mrs. H sure is a shrewd one!

In all honesty though I am extremely proud of my wife. I know how much she hates running, yet she dutifully trudges onward in our unrelenting quest for physical and mental well being. A better partner in this most interesting adventure we call life is not to be had.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Cooler Full Of Carrots





We store a wide array of vegetables, herbs, fruits, berries, grains, and nuts every year to help nourish us during the tedious winter season. When you get right down to it, however, there are only a few crops that we can count on to see us through the year with a high degree of certainty. They are, in order of importance to us, carrots, beets, potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips, dried beans and peas. We are able to readily grow all of these in dependable quantities year after year no matter the weather, insects, or any unforeseen conditions that may arise.

For over 15 years, the first 10 being rather intermittent and my horticultural endeavors being somewhat questionable, I have never been let down in any significant manner by these particular crops. No doubt others have a different variation of dependable crops, but these are ours. A veritable who's who of carbohydrates. Each of these food items is put into storage sometime between September and October and will last us at least until early spring and usually well into June if they are properly stored.


Carrots, turnips, and parsnips are all stored using the same approach. We harvest after the first light frost, or just before if suspecting a hard freeze. After digging, the tops are cut off about an inch from the root and they are then packed in layers. A cooler, tote, crate, bag (plastic wood pellet, or feed sacks work great) or anything that will hold up to the weight as they are then layered on top of each other with sandy soil in between. I find that coolers really work well as they are sturdy, insulated, and come with a good set of handles...an old cooler can be picked up at a garage sale for next to nothing. We simply dig down a couple feet until sandy soil is contacted and use that to separate the produce. I am careful not to use any top soil as it may contain insects or other malicious organisms.

We find this storage method to be quite effective as long as the temperature is kept right around 35-40°, humidity at 80-90% and the soil is not allowed to dry out or get too damp. Using soil not only allows the vegetables to remain alive, but also seems to help maintain the flavor as well. Sandy soil works best for us, many people use sawdust, or even dry leaves.


The best of these three biennials can then be planted back into the garden in the early spring at which point they will generally go to seed and thus their life cycle is continued.


Beets are stored in a similar manner, the only difference being that they are packed in single layers so that we can not only use them for the root but top growth as well. I like to store beets in deep wooden boxes that I constructed and have also found wheel barrows to work quite well. Many of our beets are cylindrical in shape and can easily be over a foot long so it is necessary to provide deeper accommodations for them.


Potatoes are dug in late September before any frost and always before the rains of November. We are careful to remove any that have been exposed to the sun and have turned green due to solanine, a potentially poisonous alkaloid that is increased with exposure to sunlight. They are usually just tossed into the forest to decay as I have learned the hard way never to put them into the mulch pile unless one wants little potato plants sprouting all over the garden. We lay them in a dark area of our porch and cover with seed sacks to help keep them devoid of light. The tubers are then left to cure for a couple weeks while their skin hardens and they are ready for storage. The larger potatoes are stored in single layers on shelves and the small (baby potatoes) are put into baskets and used first as they normally do not last as long in storage. Four or five of the best of each variety are kept separate to be used as the next years seed potatoes.


Squash (including sugar pie pumpkins) are harvested in late September before any frost and allowed to cure in a warm dry area for two weeks or so. When picking, it is advisable to leave at least 3" of stem on, this will significantly improve their storage life. The best place for them unfortunately seems to be in a corner of our living room as they need to be kept warm and dry. We never let them touch and always watch to see if any soft spots develop and immediately use any that exhibit an issue. For us, the most difficult part about keeping winter squash is keeping small (grandson) children from standing on them or attempting to use them as bowling balls.


Peas and beans are not too burdensome, we let them dry on the vine or take any late ones and let them finish in our greenhouse or another warm dry area...we often use our porch for this. If it is really cold and damp they can always be brought inside and put in baskets near the firplace. Once dried they are put into well sealed jars, and the best ones are set aside for next years seed. They will keep that way for several years to be rehydrated for soup or even replanted in a pinch. The pole pea seeds in the above photo have been saved by us for over 8 years now, and seem to perform better every year.

Right around April the weather starts to warm a bit and I can no longer keep my basement root cellar at the appropriate temperature. At this time all remaining root vegetables, including potatoes are removed and buried in a cache of sorts about 2 1/2' deep with plywood boards over the top to keep the rains from saturating. This easily keeps them cool well into June. If you have an issue with the "Yellow Toothed Subterranean Vole" as we do, it is important to take care where you make this cache. It may be prudent to leave the crops in the coolers or totes or at least make a wire barrier around them to keep hungry visitors away. I never bury wooden crates as they will begin to decay. Natures refrigerator is really quite amazing, in the fall we have even buried excess beet, endive, and rutabaga greens in plastic bags for over a 1 1/2 months so that they could be distributed to the chickens at our leisure.


These crops constitute a very large percentage of what we grow. Not only do we depend upon them but the recent addition of a flock of collaborators in our gardening enterprise rely on them as well.

Please forgive the picture quality as I had to 'steal' these pictures from my video camera. More of our root cellar pictures can be found in this previous post. Summer's Over

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Careful Whose Fields You Contaminate

Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Percy Schmeiser: “GMOs affects our freedom and our Foods Biodiversity"



Monday, February 16, 2009

The Promise Of Blue Jade Corn


Every year we try new plants or techniques in the garden, sometimes with great success other times not so much. Part of the joy in growing ones own food is in the experimentation aspect of the whole venture. We rarely have absolute failures, only because we take food production very seriously and usually limit speculative undertakings to a small percentage of what we grow or create in the garden.

This year we are trying a variety of new crops and will also be experimenting with various water retention methods amongst other endeavors. I must say that I am really chomping at the bit to get going, more so then in previous years. Perhaps the long winter has finally taken it's toll upon my patience, but more likely it is all the newfangled food gardening ideas I have been formulating deep within the recesses of my mind over the preceding cold months.


All was OK until I noticed Blue Jade Corn in the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue. I had found my nemesis...everyone seems to have one crop that they struggle with and mine is corn. I grow it every year and it is always a battle to bring the crop to fruition, this past year was certainly no exception. At first battered with wind and hail then washed away by torrents of rain, replanted, my Golden Bantam went on to grow into beautiful 8' tall maize that towered far above me. A mere gaze would cause my heart to leap with pretentious joy...I haughtily cursed the weather, for certainly I had at last triumphed in this inexorable pursuit. Never again would I fail to master the fine art of corn production. But in the midst of my celebration, upon seeing my contemptuous pride, the gods sent the wind to promptly flatten my corn back into the earth from wenst it came and a second recovery was not to be had. My fabulous corn was but silage for the chickens.

"Surely this year will be different" I thought, casting an uneasy glance into the heavens, for I had been introduced to Blue Jade Corn. Even I, a perennial underachiever in the cultivation of corn, might have a chance with this variety.

Blue Jade Corn or Baby Blue (botanical name - Zea mays 'Blue Jade') are miniature open pollinated plants that bear 3-6 (some say up to 7) ears of sweet, steel-blue cobs that turn jade-blue when boiled. Plants grow 2-3' tall. One of the only sweet corns that can grow in containers. The cobs are supposedly sweet and tasty for an older variety of sweet corn and are said to make fabulous creamed corn which freezes very well. Although I did read a review somewhere that stated If you are used to modern sweet corn, you may not like the taste of this old heirloom.

The blue color comes from anthocyanins which are concentrated pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue and are found in fruits, berries, purple cabbage, beets, and even corn. These powerful antioxidants have been linked to a wide array of health benefits. Possibly preventing the onset of major degenerative diseases of aging including cancer, heart disease, stroke, cataracts, and mental irregularities just to name a few. Anthocyanins are currently being researched for a large number of potential health benefits.

In conclusion, I am sure to prevail with my corn this year. Even I may prove victorious at growing a hardy short season corn (70-80 days) that should be wind resistant due to it's short stature. So what if it does not hold up to our less then stringent taste tests, most will be frozen or dried for flour anyway. Wish me luck...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Pennies Worth Of Thoughts

I recently purchased one of the most revolutionary books on gardening I have ever read... for only one cent. A new and exciting book all about growing ones own fruits and vegetables. It consists of almost 1,000 pages that contain some of the most up-to-date information on organic growing that I've come across.

Some of the radical topics covered in the pages of this book include:

1. Growing food not lawns in these unprecedented economic times is much more feasible then having to pay for it at the local grocer and a better use of our precious resources.

2. Explores the many benefits of organically grown food, and suggests people have to make a conscious decision to stop buying food that has been drenched in poisonous pesticides and opt for organic produce in the grocery stores, farmers markets, and especially your own back yard.

3. Exciting information that shows a diet high in fruits, vegetables and leafy greens can greatly increase ones health and help to prevent many life-threatening diseases that afflict us in today's modern world. In the forward Dr. John Duge states:

"My 4 children, I think, are just about the healthiest and smartest in Southern California. Practically never ill, rarely a cold and, " concludes the busy doctor, "mostly the result of eating fruits and vegetables from our organic garden."

4. New and exciting ways of gardening such as the no dig method, intensive planting techniques, soil fertility, gardening in harsh climates, furrow irrigation, creating super compost, and season extenders such as green houses and cold frames are all discussed at length.

This book truly is ahead of it's time, written by a visionary in the organic movement, J.I. Rodale.















Unfortunately, although new to me, it is far from being a new garden book as it was first published over fifty years ago in 1958. I purchased it for 1 penny not including $3.99 shipping as a used book on Amazon.com.

Apparently not many people read it back then - I know I did not as I had yet to be born. From my perspective, it seems the only difference between now and then is that everything has gotten much worse...Where are all the home gardens? Why is organic produce the newest thing to hit many "stupermarket" shelves?

I've recently read a couple of other older books on health and nutrition. One written in the early 1900's by a dentist and naturalist Weston A. Price. called "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration." He found that the health issues of modern civilization were not present in those cultures sustained by homegrown diets. However, within a single generation these same cultures experienced all modern ailments with the inclusion of Western foods in their diet; refined sugars, refined flours, canned goods, etc... Another, "Centenarians of the Andes" written in 1975 studied the effects of diet in relation to longevity. From the books introduction:

It seems that those people who have the best chance of a healthy and active old age are those who use their minds and bodies much, even toward the end of their span. This is certainly true of the centenarians in southern Ecuador.
-the greatest ages were found in the areas where people lived on a subsistence diet, and one very low in calories.

The conclusion reached was that diet and exercise as nature intended not only greatly increased life expectancy but also prevented disease.















Had the information that was available to us then been followed early on we would certainly not be in the sorry shape we are today as a nation - health wise anyway. We truly are blind to the obvious. How sick does society have to become before they realize the simple solution to health?

So, not only is every one's health suffering but my wallet is really aching due to the high cost of medical insurance. Insurance that although I am forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money for, I really do not use, and am seriously considering doing away with altogether. What happened to the days when you could barter eggs, produce, or whatever with a local doctor?

So many questions but, alas, I am fully aware of the answers.. I just don't like them very much.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Walk In The Forest


We finally found our way into the mountains for a hike yesterday. Normally we try to make time for this every week but have been otherwise engaged of late. We decided to take our time and really enjoy the beautiful day.


Lichen


and fungi

in the trees.

Ice water

flowing from a beaver pond.

A day of reflection in the world as it was meant to be always helps to keep us grounded.

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