"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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Strawberry Spinach

One of the more interesting plants we grow, or should I say, grows itself is strawberry spinach, also called strawberry blite, beet berry, Indian paint, and a number of other names. The plant is very cold hardy but will thrive in the hottest weather. With a long taproot it can get by on very little water, of course the more water it gets the larger the fruit.

Our strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) grows two-three feet in both height and width. The serrated triangular leaves are a great substitute for spinach when young but become somewhat tough as they mature. The mature plants develop brilliant red thimble sized berries that when really ripe taste, to me, just like Malt-O-Meal cereal... kind of sweet and nutty. How great is that, not only do you get to eat the greens but little fruit as well. Technically, I think the berry is considered a flower, I'm not really sure.

This plant can also be used to create pink and red dye by simmering the berries in water until the desired color is achieved, though I have never tried this. The seeds germinate rather sporadically but if allowed to reseed, and we allow it, they will come up on their own all over the garden. I have introduced this plant to the the wooded areas of our property and it seems to be taking hold, another great "permaculture" plant for the food forest.

I have no doubt that strawberry spinach has many healthy attributes, but do not know what they might be. I have read that they are possibly high in vitamin A and C. There seems to be very little information regarding this lesser known member of the goosefoot family. As always, I love plants that only need be planted once and then simply tended for many years thereafter.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Delectable Wild Cherries

A trip to the foothills around lake Coeur d'Alene last week not only provided us with a sampling of wild cherries but a place for the boy to burn off some energy.

I am not exactly sure what kind of cherries these are, some of the trees had black cherries and others were red. Mostly I am interested in the stone of this fruit as I have successfully grown a number of these trees from seed in the past. Some of the trees we came across were at least 50 or 60" tall making cherry picking interesting to say the least. The trees grow extremely fast and the one in the below pictures background is four years old and may give us a cherry or two this year.

We simply plant the seeds, mark the spot, and let mother nature take it's course. In the spring, if we are lucky, there will be a few cherry trees popping up. The cherry do not germinate as readily as apple seeds so we made sure to plant enough.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gone To Seed

Due to the dramatic fluctuations in temperature this spring a few of our biennial plants have bolted prematurely this year, fortunately it has only been a few. This has allowed me the opportunity to watch a purple kohlrabi attempt to form a seed head, a first in our garden as I have never really tried to save seed from this type of brassica before. I thought it had a most interesting flower. The rest of our summer kohlrabi are forming nice little bulbs and those for winter storage were just planted this past week.

This is easily one of our favorite vegetables, nothing beats the flavor of fresh, raw kohlrabi grated over a summer salad. They store remarkably well and can be used for forced greens as well as the bulb in the winter months.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


"Wuttahimneash" is what the Naragansett Indians called strawberries, referred to as heart-seed berry by many Native Americans. We have been enjoying the first of several harvests of strawberries from our everbearing plants for over two weeks now.

A somewhat disturbing event has been taking place the last couple years as the number one competitor for our strawberries, the robin, has not appeared in great numbers. The reason for this is that all the baby birds are being stolen from their nests by ravens. Ravens fly around searching the trees until they find a nest and then kill and remove the baby bird to be eaten later or fed to their own young. We have not even bothered to cover our berries this year, for the first time. I must say that I would rather cover the berries and watch the baby birds learning to feed themselves... such is life. On the other hand, ravens are one of my favorite birds regardless of their bad dining habits.

We not only gather our berries from the gardens but have been entrusted with two types of the over 35 species of wild strawberries. Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) grow throughout the forested areas of our property. Some Indian tribes used to mash the berries and mix them with cornmeal making a bread of sorts that English colonists transformed into the modern strawberry shortcake we now enjoy today. We pick the small wild berries and make a strawberry walnut bread out of them, it's very good.

I have also been planting easily lifted spring runners from the Virginia Strawberry, one of the few small strawberries to reproduce from both seed and runners, in my garden. It will be interesting to see how they perform under more pampered conditions.

Strawberries seeds are on the outside rather than contained inside the fruit. They are called straw-berries because straw is what was commonly used to mulch them. The everbearing woodland strawberries in this picture do not develope runners and must reproduce through seed. They have a very 'strong' sweet flavor.

Thinned beet green quiche and strawberry salad for two was on last night's dinner menu. Yummy!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Out With The Old

Our last spaghetti squash and carrots were grated raw into a salad last night. As challenging as last years adventures in subsistence were we still managed to fully stock our root cellar and other food storage areas.

It has been our privilege to dine on a diverse variety of fruits, vegetables, and wild edibles since the end of last July. The spaghetti squash in the picture was harvested the first week of October I believe... not bad. Still in good shape and of decent flavor we decided it was only fitting that we consume this cucurbit in it's most natural state.

We are not out of potatoes yet and should have enough to get us through until the new ones magically appear in a couple weeks. Overwintered green onions are still plentiful, but beets are a distant memory. It never ceases to amaze me how well/long some of these crops can hold up if stored properly.

"All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them." - Arapaho

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Leafminers have become a substantial pest issue for us over the past couple of years causing damage to many of our leafy greens. Spinach, beet greens, tomatillo and ground cherry leaves, beetberry, French sorrel, and especially Swiss chard all seem to be the prime targets in our gardens.

Late spring spinach (note the outline of a worm in bottom corner)

Flat of Egypt beet greens

Swiss chard

The small gray flies lay their eggs in neat little clusters on the underside of the leaves.

As the maggots emerge they get in between the leaf tissue mining their way throughout the leaves as they feed.

The first of the many cycles they go through each year seem to be the most damaging for our crops and as the season progresses the damage inflicted becomes less noticeable. The only solution I have come up with to combat these little nasties is to pull off the tunnelled leaves and feed them to our ravenous chickens.

On a smaller scale one could attempt to destroy the egg clusters before they hatch but we grow too much chard for that to be a practical solution to the problem. I have noticed a huge number of parasitic wasps going after the maggots in the leaves but the pests still seem to outweigh the predators.

One thing I am going to do is allow the birds into the garden for a brief period this fall and the following spring to help combat any overwintering insects. If anyone has found an organic method of relieving themselves of these exasperation's please do tell.

"Too close a look can oft temper ones enthusiasm for a natural salad" - Mike :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our Food Garden Realized

Most of the gardens are finally planted and burgeoning with new growth. The sod I removed from the newest addition is a distant memory making way for a diverse variety of new plants.

Plants like tomatillos, ground cherries,

and even a few litchi tomatoes.

The sage is all abuzz with nectar seeking insects.

Valerian reaches towards the heavens with lilac scented blooms.

Volunteer tomatoes and sunflowers thrive alongside the onions and flax.

The heirloom Umpqua broccoli plants, whose seeds I am attempting to save, are flowering just as the Russian kale has finished and is now podding up... perfect timing. I was worried about keeping both from flowering at the same time, although crossing these two might prove interesting... perhaps another time.

Thick stalked purple podded peas are standing tall with a little support.

The last two years have brought a plethora of predatory insects, frogs, and salamanders into our gardens to help defend against the bad. I have never seen so many ladybugs like this one gracing some of last years parsnips just beginning flower.

I'm not sure whether our grandson or the robins like the strawberries better. We divided and transplanted over 1,500 ever-bearing plants early this spring and did not expect to get berries this soon, if at all this year. Almost every one has fruit in various stages of development... lucky us.

The tiny English walnut trees seem happy, I planted 50 nuts last fall and ended up with 46 trees in the making.

Purple carrot flowers are most intriguing,

but these Egyptian walking onions have got to be the strangest alliums I have ever seen, tentacle upon tentacle sending feelers in every direction. They arrived this spring all the way from Michigan via my gardening and greenhouse hero and master of all that is allium, El, of fast grow the weeds ... thank you, thank you!

A pox upon my house if I dare forget to mention the vibrant growth taking place with these prodigious tomatoes, some of whose seed I received from Dan & Val of Grunt and Grungy's Garden.

The hard work out of the way, I now look forward to strolling through our little food gardens enjoying the wondrous selection that we are privileged to partake in. Who am I to be blessed with such fortunes while so many go hungry? The world's inequities are hard to understand.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Lazy Afternoon Spent Gathering Wild Edibles With My Favorite Grandson

It's one thing to force your will upon crops in a garden, provide them with the best possible environment in which to grow and see pretty good results, but gathering wild native edibles is a whole other challenge. It involves a lot of wandering, searching, patience, and of course lots of luck. At first anyway, after awhile you not only have the knowledge of where certain plants are to be found but get a certain feel for where they "should" be located.

I spent the other day foraging with my grandson, teaching him about various edible plants. We gathered wild asparagus and even found a few onions. He was so excited to find the first asparagus, he always (I let him... shh) finds the first ones whether it be asparagus, morels, or some other edible delicacy. The boy can now readily identify, and properly pronounce over
fourteen edible and a few poisonous wild plants, not bad for a four year old (almost five). Will any of this knowledge be of use to him later in life, I have no idea, but it certainly won't hurt.

Flowering wild onions.

Picking asparagus using a two handed approach.

I showed him how to wrap the package using strands of grass so that it would be easier to carry... "Um , that's really great Gramps, now what do I do with it? It's kind of heavy you know."

"Here you carry it."

A young master woodsmen proudly displaying his wares. Actually at this point he was quite bored with the whole venture and wanted to look for bugs under the rocks.

If my only accomplishment in this world is to have imparted some "remembered" knowledge upon this child then I will have lived a full and productive life.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Shaggy Mane Morning

Ah yes, a shaggy mane mushroom for breakfast... what a treat. They magically appear in our backwoods after spring and early summer rains. Unlike morels, there is a very short window of opportunity in which to harvest them, a few hours too late and they become an inky mess. I only found one this morning, sometimes there are several. Fried and served with fresh eggs... delectable.

Be very aware that this lovely specimen DOES have at least one poisonous look alike, regardless of what some mushroom books might tell you. Often gregarious and always abdominally troubling Chlorophyllum molybdites, or false parasol, looks similar enough when small.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Harvesting Volunteer Russian Kale

I have been saving seed from Russian kale for a couple years now and the "missed" seeds come up all over our garden. We decided to let the kale in our strawberry beds grow so that we could harvest them. We love to preserve kale for potato and kale soup... a staple in our diets during the cold winter months.

We picked four large bowls full of kale from our three strawberry beds... we have started selling everbearing strawberry plants in the spring, hence the reason for so many strawberry plants. They were picked in the very early morning while still fresh, crisp, and wet with dew.

The kale was blanched in boiling water for a couple minutes (two minutes for young kale, three for more mature leaves). The leftover water was then allowed to cool and used as an excellent fertilizer for other vegetables.

The kale is then chilled in ice water for approximately two minutes.

Dried on a towel... actually in between two towels.

Then mixed with a hint of olive oil and put into freezer bags using a common straw to remove excess air... frugal vacuum sealing.

Four large bowls made two gallons of freshly frozen kale, it almost makes one look forward to winter meals... almost... well not really at all, as I am just beginning to enjoy the fresh summer abundance.
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