"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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Abundance of Berries

We have been picking raspberries daily now for almost two weeks. The seedy and uniquely flavored black raspberries come on quick and are gone within a month, they're my favorites. While our everbearing red ones produce from mid June all the way into the first part of October on a good year. The hearty fall gold berries are just beginning to show and will also be available well into early autumn. Most of these berries will be frozen and used with kefir to make morning smoothies and the occasional dessert (crisp)...yum. The fresh berries are included in our salads, wild huckleberries are especially good that way.

This is one of the best years we have had for the various raspberries we grow. It helps to take the sting out of the total lack of currants this year, almost all of which were knocked of the bushes in an early spring hail storm. Although we should have some blackberries this year they also felt Mother Nature's harshness this past winter as heavy wet snow took its toll on them, breaking many of the canes. I should have cut them back more as I did with the raspberries.

Is it obvious yet that we love berries? I could live without a lot of things but never berries, be they from the wild or our garden. Nutritionally speaking raspberries and all berries for that matter are high in various vitamins and antioxidants, but don't forget to use the leaves as well. Raspberry leaves contain, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, B1, B3, E and many other beneficial constitutes.

Raspberry leaves have been used by Native American woman and others throughout history as an aid in childbirth. Not only for humans this is supposed to be an excellent herb to use on pregnant animals as well. Apparently it tones the uterus, improves contractions, and helps restore numerous vitamins, minerals, and is a rich source of easily assimilated calcium for the mother and newborn.

We have begun using the leaves in salads and teas for the vitamin C and calcium content. I am a big believer in vitamin C that has been derived fresh from plants. Truly, a little raw garlic, French or wild sorrel (high in C), and a few Oregon grapes eaten every day or so and I can't remember the last time I had a cold or flu. At this point I don't even shy away from others that are sick...watch, now I've surely just jinxed myself.:)

The young leaves are best used fresh but can also be dried for later use. We dice them up and add them to our daily salads or steep a few leaves in boiling water for tea. Like clover, this also makes a really great sun tea (wild huckleberry leaves can also be made into a fine healthful tea).

Peppermint and sage steeping for this morning's tea.

Black raspberries or black caps also grow wild throughout Northern Idaho and my backyard. I am very careful to keep them away from my garden variety as they sometimes carry diseases.

The fall gold berries can be very productive and have a great flavor.

In the below picture I am standing next to the thorny fall gold berries, some will get 9' or taller. Picking them can be a real challange.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spilanthes, the Toothache Plant

Another one of the new herbs we are growing this year is called Spilanthes, a warm weather perennial also known as the toothache plant. The leaves and flowers contain natural pain relief agents that numb the gums when chewed helping to relieve toothaches and mouth sores. The herb is also reported to have significant anti-inflammatory properties, may help prevent Lyme disease, work as an immune system enhancer, and can be used as topical treatment for wounds and skin irritations. The list goes on. The more I look into this interesting little herb the more useful properties I uncover.

Keeping in mind that it seems like every herb has a massive list of highly questionable benefits, I must say that having chewed one of the leaves it does numb one's mouth, the cone shaped flowers are especially ...uh, let's just say interesting. I would describe the feeling as that of consuming the children's fizzy Zotz candy with a numbing effect, and then you start to drool...green. Apparently the flower head is a little more potent than the leaves. The dried flower is supposed to remain effective for over a year. I think I will dry a few of the flowers and test them on the next victim of a sore throat I come across...that would most likely be my grandson. Oh William! I have something that could cure that right up.:)

On a side note, this herb was easily grown from seed and transplanted into the garden. Sometimes you order these herbs and they can be a real chore to get started, stevia is always that way for me. Spilanthes seems to enjoy the same growing medium as basil and I've read it can easily be propagated from cuttings, I may give that a whirl next season. Yes, it's worth growing again as I can really appreciate an herb that actually lives up to some of the magical ballyhoo that has been proclaimed about it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 22nd Garden Pictures

Click to enlarge four nectar seekers riding a wild cow parsnip.↓

As the week progresses we will be closing in on 100° temperatures. The food gardens have been thriving with growth and if they make it through these hot spells and into August we may be in for a really good harvest this season. So far I have never had any issues with the weather in August and always breath a sigh of relief once we have reached that mile mark. The weeds are now under control and need only be pulled occasionally as we stroll through our little oasis in the trees.

The tomatoes, let me rephrase that... one of our tomatoes has finally ripened. As was the case in previous years the extremely hardy yet delicious Bloody Butcher tomato was the first to cross the finish line. They are an heirloom indeterminate plant whose fruit ripens quickly and are probably my favorite all around tomato for all the above mentioned reasons.

This section of the garden contains around 47 of the embarrassingly ridiculous number of tomato plants we are attempting to grow this year.

The Painted Mountain corn all adorned in tassels is doing well, while the Blue Jade is off to a rather slow start. Will this be the year Mike (that's me:) has planted corn that not only grows tall and green but also forms an edible grain? We shall see.

I've had to plant and replant the cabbage a bit this spring but it is looking good now. We are growing Ruby Ball, Derby Day, Savoy Perfection, Copenhagen, Danish Ballhead, and Late Flat Dutch this year. The picture below is where the majority are grown but like the tomatoes we have them scattered in various locations all over the gardens.

This beauty is from my own saved seed, and is a cross between a couple unknown cabbages. It was one of the two cabbages to survive winter storage in 2007 and was planted last spring and allowed to form seed, as I did not plan on saving seed from them my records regarding variety were nil.

Someday I may make my own website just so I can get the pictures to show properly. This once nice shot depicts a row of beets, celery, celeriac, and garlic.

Same crops, different angle.

Strawberries, Belgian endive, Purple Peacock broccoli, and a few sunflowers.

The row below is dedicated to seeds, the front part is comprised of various salad greens and further back there are carrots, beets, Umpqua broccoli, celery, Belgian endive and other plants becoming seedy. It was a real mental struggle to dedicate a 50' row in the main garden for seed purposes. I'm glad I did, but watching a entire row just sit there knowing it will only produce seed at the end of the year is definitely challenging. I think that pretty much every row in our gardens have a couple plants set aside for seed saving, that's how I normally do it. Don't be fooled by the onions in the pictures, they are not for seed they're bolting. ugh!! No big deal though, this row was planted with set onions and it's mostly the red ones that have chosen to bolt?

This section contains flax and onions grown from seed, not sets, for winter storage that thankfully are not bolting.

Litchi tomatoes, purple & green tomatillos, and ground cherries are doing well except I mixed up a few of the tags and we seem to have a lot fewer ground cherries and Cape gooseberries than I had originally planned on. Oops.

Squash, zucchini, and a few kohlrabi.

Cucumbers, Mexican sour gherkins, peppers, eggplants and the last of the afila peas drying on the vine...for seeds.

My assistant keeping an ever watchful eye on the red Belgium peppers and me.

We are still harvesting kale and broccoli for the freezer. The jar contains clover sun tea in the making.

And last but most importantly a parting shot of our seedy salad garden with raspberries and blackberries at the far end. Then there are the sunchokes, potatoes, herbs, beans, and a whole lot of other veggies that will have to wait for another post...Ay yi yi.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another Fine Weekend

Click to enlarge↓

Another fine weekend was spent doing what we love! The deer in the above picture spent over an hour with us on Sunday afternoon while we picked a couple more gallons of huckleberries. Every time I turned around he was circling me keeping a distance of around 20-30' away poking his head up every so often to take a look see, perhaps he just wanted a good scratch behind the ears.

These are one of the 7 or 8 species of huckleberries we come across each summer.

It was in the 90°'s the last couple days, the sailor and strange young lad in gold lam'e boots had lots of watering to do.

While the troops were providing moisture I was involved with my new muslin bags. :)

I was busy (yeah right) bagging pepper, eggplant, and tomato plants for seed saving purposes.

We ended Sunday with a nice harvest of basil, two more gallons frozen for winter fare.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Purple Hands and Clover

We drove into the hills the other evening to look for clover and huckleberries and were rewarded with a great abundance of both. Surprisingly enough the huckleberries in the mountains were fat, juicy, and numerous. I was worried that with such little rain so far this year they would be small and hard to collect, but that was certainly not the case. We will pick these berries all the way into September moving higher into the mountains as they ripen.

My wife experiments with numerous herbal teas and having tired of chamomile and lemon balm she is on to using various clovers. I used to scoff at these things until I witnessed on more than one occasion the healing powers of these magical broths. I won't go into detail as I am still a bit skeptical but let's just say I have never seen a child get well so fast after drinking some of these potions...more than once.

While picking berries I was able to afford the time to reflect upon our lives and realized that other then certain periods of my childhood I have never been more content with life. There is just something about foraging for and growing one's own food and herbs that appeals to my primordial nature. Focusing on that which is good and real makes it easier to counter those many things in life that are not.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Collecting Seeds

Click to enlarge↓

The tiny but immensely intricate flower of the salad burnett plant reminds me of some sort of glorious extraterrestrial life form. Unlike last year when the majority of the plants seed was destroyed in bad weather this year's salad burnett is putting out copious amounts of successors.

I have been making daily rounds throughout the garden collecting the seed from various plants. Rather then waiting until each of the plants are fully loaded with seed I have learned to try and collect as much as possible as it becomes available. One bad weather front could pummel my whole supply into the earth as was the case last July. This is a project I will spend a few minutes every day at until mid September or October when the weather cools. A special section of our porch that remains warm, dry, and shady until fall has been set aside to finish drying the collected seed. It is a task that I find to be very enjoyable and rewarding.

I carefully remove chive seed by gently brushing the tops with my fingers to release any seeds that are ready to be harvested.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grandmother's Juneberry Pie

As a wee lad my grandmother used to make pies out of what she called Juneberries. She used little pot pie tins and made my brother and I each pies regularly while the berries were in season. One of my fondest childhood memories, I'm smiling while I write this, was eating those little pies and, unbeknownst to my mother, watching grandma's favorite show, MASH, on a little black and white television in her single wide trailer. In remembrance of those times each summer in early July when the Saskatoon's (Juneberries) are ripe we not only pick many gallons for later use but my wife makes a simple pie out of the almond flavored berries.

The Saskatoon, serviceberry, or Juneberry is a shrub native to some parts of the U.S. and Canada that grows wild all over Northern Idaho. Saskatoon berries contain higher levels of protein, fat, and fiber than most other fruit. They were once used by native people as a key ingredient in pemmican, a nutritious traditional Cree Indian food comprised of dried venison or other wild game, animal fat, bone marrow, and berries.

We use this berry as an indicator of when to begin hunting for huckleberries as the earliest ones ripen around the same time. Many of this year's berries seem a bit small and not nearly as numerous as last year due to the lack of moisture this summer. Hopefully the mountain huckleberries have fared better, we shall soon find out.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hand Pollination of a Zucchini

Unless your garden is a large multi-acre field or you only grow a few types of cucurbits (squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, etc.) saving seed requires a few simple steps. Isolation of these crops that easily cross-pollinate is difficult at best in a small home garden. Growing only one type of each species is the easiest way to save seed from various cucurbits. As long as your close neighbor is not growing different crops of the same species your seeds will pollinate each other true to form and all the seeds you save can be expected to produce pretty much identical crops the following season.

I don't know about you but I would have a hard time growing only zucchini, but not spaghetti, acorn, or my favorite and always abundant papaya pear squash. All four will cross with each other and create interesting, sometimes great, more often not so great vegetables if the seed is saved. You will be hard put to get a close replica of the original plant unless your bug population is very low, and that is usually not the case in an organic garden setting. Cucurbits are pollinated by a wide variety of insects, honey bees and other small bees being the main pollinators.

We love variety, so I grow a nice selection of different squash, many of which are of the same species. In order to save my own seed I must hand pollinate individual non-hybrid cucurbits to assure a pure seed. Keeping in mind that I am at best an amateur when it comes to saving seeds, especially ones that may cross with each other, here is how I hand pollinate a simple zucchini for hopefully pure seed. Most cucurbits can be pollinated in the manner I will show, but certain smaller melons, cucumbers, and gherkins, due to flower size can be a little harder to pollinate this way. So without going into too much mind numbingly boring detail prepare to be, well...mind numbingly bored.

Each zucchini has male and female flowers. The male flower contains the anther which produces pollen. The male structure is usually easily identifiable as the flower sits atop a thin straight stem.

Male flower one day away from opening

Note the male flowers anther situated in the middle of the bloom.

The female flower contains the stigma. It can be identified by its ovary or immature fruit.

The thicker stem (ovary/fruit) of the zucchini is fairly obvious in this specimen that is also approximately a day away from blooming.

The stigma can be seen in the center of this female flower.

When a male and female zucchini bloom appear to be close to opening I hold the flowers shut with masking tape gently attached to the ends of the soon to be opened blooms of both sexes. The male and female flowers do not have to be from the same zucchini plant. Early the next morning, before the insects are active, the male flower is untaped and cut from the plant, then the flower is carefully removed exposing the anther.

This picture shows my lazy assistant and I removing the male flower to expose the anther.

Note the anther is full of pollen

The remaining male anther is then used to brush pollen onto the untaped female flowers stigma, thus pollinating the plant. This should be done as quickly as possible in order to prevent insect contamination. Using more than one anther to pollinate each stigma will further increase the odds of successful fertilization.

Preparing to transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma. In order to take this picture the flower was slit down one side. This eliminates it as a good candidate for pure pollination due to my inability to securely tape the flower afterwords.

Gently brushing pollen onto the stigma

That's it! The female flower is then securely taped shut and marked with a ribbon for later identification. The one drawback to this procedure is that a zucchini must be allowed to fully develop, meaning get really big, for the seeds to be fully mature. This will slow down the production of other fruits on the plant due to the energy needed to support the large seed vegetable. If growing only a couple zucchini plants it may be wise to wait until the end of the season to perform these acts. With a regular squash, like an acorn, this will make no difference since the gourds will not be consumed until they are mature anyways.

Securely taped and pollinated female flower that will dry up and fall off as soon as the fruit begins to mature.

A fruit marked with red ribbon for easy identification at a later date. Loosely marked so as not to inhibit the cucurbits growth.

Even if you are not interested in saving the seeds off various cucurbits it is still good to know how to pollinate them. With the bee population possibly declining, plants that rely on them for fertilization could be faced with greatly diminished yields. Small scale hand pollination is an effective way of guaranteeing a good return on one's crop, especially in the smaller home garden.

There seem to be a limited number of reference books regarding the subject of seed saving. I currently have only three along with the treasure trove of information that can be found online. The first book I would recommend for any one just beginning to undertake this endeavour is "Seed Sowing and Saving" by Carole B. Turner. This book is not only fairly easy to understand but briefly covers a wide array of flowers as well as vegetable seed saving techniques.

"Seed To Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth takes a much more in depth look at seed saving. It is another excellent choice, but in my opinion seems to make seed saving in the home garden appear a bit complicated...it doesn't have to be. Read my first recommendation before tackling this wonderful manual.

I am currently enjoying "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe. So far it is a real eye opener on how seeds selection and plant breeding is performed on a more intricate scale.

One other book I really like, and often turn to for guidance is "The New Seed Starters Handbook" by Nancy Bubel. A great reference tool for starting seeds that also briefly deals with seed collection. I'm always looking for more interesting books on seeds saving, what is everyone else reading?

While in no way an expert, I am committed to eventually becoming mostly seed self-sufficient not only for monetary purposes but for the knowledge and immense satisfaction that always seems to follow a subsistence pattern lifestyle.

I have started using plastic clothes pins instead of tape to hold the squash flowers closed. It seems to be much easier and just as effective. These clips are about worthless for hanging clothes anyway.

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