"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, November 24, 2009

The Undercover Fall Garden

During the last week of September I set up my row covers in preparation for the nastiness of November, a frigid month that often denies us and our plants a chance to adapt before bringing forth a maelstrom of cold and wet. This year we were faced with an extreme chill early on that quickly subsided into the much milder temperatures we have been experiencing of late. The snow has been melting as quickly as it arrives and many of our undercover winter greens seem to prefer this environment, finding the cool temperatures a welcome relief to this past summers abnormally hot weather, now but a fading memory.

I picked a grand salad last night, full of hearty greens that become all the more flavorful in the coolness of Autumn. In this years winter gardens we are growing Tuscan, Russian, Blue Curled, and Lacinato Rainbow kale the first being the least hardy of the bunch.

Underneath the row covers one will also find Treviso radicchio, a plant that performs marvelously in the late fall and early spring gardens in part, I believe, because of its long tap roots that help to give it staying power...as long as the voles don't find them.

Parsley, another true "superfood," makes up a fair portion of our winter salads with its extremely nutrient dense foliage.

Red Veined sorrel may be on of the least flavorful additions to the garden but given its beauty and enduring nature how can we possibly resist growing it? Once established this plant will readily re-seed itself...everywhere.

We love to grow turnip greens as they seem to thrive and even grow a little in the extreme cold weather, we plant both leaf and root turnip seeds in the fall and are often rewarded with little turnip bulbs in the very early spring.

Two of this years cold frames have transplanted radicchio and seeded arugula in them, we have quite a bit of luck getting arugula seedlings to overwinter and provide nice greens for late February salads.

A couple other plants that have recently surprised us with their cold hearty nature are the liquorice flavored chervil and Ruby Streaks mustard. Both are rather feathery and fine without much bulk but do impart a nice combination of flavors.

Outside of the row covers and cold frames the Bulls Blood beets and leftover Giant Red Celery are still providing us with a nice amount of greens or reds in the case of the beet leaves.

I planted a bed of "experimental winter density lettuces" that I know will not grow too much under these cold conditions but am hoping will put forth enough root to allow them to possibly spring forth when the weather finally warms. I did this because I had a few of these lettuces overwinter under cover of snow last season. If they fail it will be not be a wasted effort as I interspersed the row with time tested bunching onions that I know will manage the cold and provide for us in the spring.

We are also growing Swiss chard, salad burnett, various mints, oregano, and spinach. This post is dedicated to my wife who has been away for the past few days and has been inquiring about our "salad bar."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Canning a Thank You

Normally we freeze, root cellar, ferment, and dry most of our food but this season we took the leap and dared to water bath can part of our produce. We mostly canned food stuffs that would have otherwise been frozen such as tomatoes and fruit in the form of sauces, salsas, and such. We were a little nervous at first but with encouraging articles and advice from fellow bloggers on topics ranging anywhere from small batch canning to the proper books to read we managed to struggle through. After canning literally hundreds of jars we are now feeling quite confident in our abilities and still very much alive after consuming some of our wares. We are also thrilled to finally be finished with this task having just last week put our supplies away after one last batch of tomato sauce...all done.

So, a big THANK YOU to everyone that helped us out with this latest undertaking. The first three pictures are a reflection of our version of the Ball canning book's recipe for zesty salsa...one of our favorites.

Fred and Dorothy (my in-laws), thank you for all the useful canning supplies found at various garage sales this past summer.

We cleared out a special place for all of our canned goods in a cool back room closet and are now ready to face the biggest challenge of all, that of not eating everything up too fast.:) Next year, pressure canning? We shall see.

I don't mean to be a crotchety old "stick-in-the-mud," but was wondering if anyone else is concerned about the Bisphenol A (BPA) in canning jar lids? I'm not sure what to think of it at this point. Is There Bisphenol A In Your Home Canning? Your really up against it if you want to be healthy and chemical free in this day and age.

12/11/2009 - http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/79111742.html

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tom and the Skunk

One of our three adopted strays, Roger, whom we found wandering in the bushes as a barely weaned kitten a couple years back has now blossomed into a huge almost 17 pound monster, and it's not all fat. Very much the outdoors enthusiast he does manage to get in a fair amount of scrapes with other neighborhood cats that happen to encroach upon his territory. We recently finished doctoring a bad bite and laceration on his plump little rump, this is the second time this year that he has had a serious wound...it never ends. This morning our little prince blew through the pet door, eyes half shut drooling all over the floor stinking of skunk. There are always skunks wandering around here and normally the cats avoid them without issue, but knowing Roger he probably walked up and swatted the wrong one on the buttocks and we are now all paying the price for his actions....phew.

Anyway, I thought I would share what we did to help "partially" relieve him and us of this most odiferous stench. After wrapping Stinky in a towel to help contain him, we washed his eyes and face with warm water, he did not seem to appreciate it but is very much used to being handled after his last two altercations. It is important to get this out of their eyes as soon as possible as it is extremely irritating and will cause an animals eyes to swell shut. We then made a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and rubbed it all over him and after a couple minutes wiped it of with a damp towel. He still smells a bit but is able to open his eyes and even had a bite to eat. We are firm believers in allowing our animals access to the outdoors, but this freedom does come with a heavy toll at times. It stinks in here! Considering the amount of trouble he gets in I am considering changing his name to Tom, as in Tom Sawyer. Oh, and yes he is neutered, although I'm pretty sure he is not aware of this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Ultimate Survival Food

A few days back my faithful cohorts and I covered our last row of sun roots with leaves in order to provide insulation and easier access in the winter as we store most of these tubers right where they grow. The leaf mulch helps to keep the soil from freezing, making it much easier to harvest the roots once the snow has been removed. I was under strict orders from my wife not to use too many leaves until the grandson had a chance to jump around in the massive pile we had created for him...and did he ever. Last February the lad helped dig some Sun Roots or Pirate's Booty and was once again cheerfully helping to cover this year's crop. A finer little apprentice could never be had.

We trim the stalks back when covering with mulch but leave enough showing so we can easily find them in the snow.

Sun roots are one of the few crops we do leave in the ground all winter as they need cold weather to turn the carbohydrates (inulin) in them into fructose making them much more user friendly and allowing one to avoid a case of vaporous exhalations ...(gas). They can also be put in a plastic bag and left in the refrigerator for a few days before using in order to help with the inulin conversion. The tubers have thin skins and will dry out quickly if the proper storage precautions are not taken. We do store some in the root cellar but make sure they are kept in cool damp soil.

These perennial plants produce quite an amazing tuber and should be considered one of the ultimate survival foods if you ask me. This member of the sunflower family thrives from zones 3 - 9 and is reportedly cold hardy down to -50°, now that's a pretty wide range of zones and degrees. They are extremely prolific and once planted can become a permanent member of the vegetable garden, easily spreading through the smallest pieces of root. They make a great hedge or windbreak as they will grow anywhere from 6-11' feet tall, many of ours were easily taller than that this year. If given enough time they will produce a lovely yellow flower similar to that of a small sunflower head. I have never once been able to save seeds off them though, just not enough summer around here. :(

We plant ours 6" deep and about 12 or so inches apart. You can cut the tuber up as you would a potato as long as each piece contains an eye and is not allowed to dry out before planting. I prefer, as with potatoes, to plant them whole as I feel we end up with bigger more numerous knobby little tubers that way. Besides, after the first year there will be more than enough to go around as each plant produces anywhere from 15-50+ each. They don't require a lot of water but, as with many succulent root vegetables, providing a little more moisture will give you bigger roots. They will also grow much better if divided and replanted each year after the plant has died back or before it begins to grow again in the early spring.

Containing as many energy giving carbohydrates as a potato, sun roots break those carbs down into fructose rather than glucose and will not raise blood sugar levels making them an excellent food source for diabetics and calorie counters alike. Unlike a potato they can be eaten raw or cooked, a most functional vegetable that can be prepared exactly as you would a potato: baked, fried, soup, etc. I have read that they even act as an appetite suppressant, although I have not personally noticed this, and immune system stimulant via their prebiotic promotion of good bacteria in the digestive tract...hence the vaporous exhalations.

So, ultimately, you can see why I am so very impressed with the extremely hardy, versatile, and healthy, sun root that is fast becoming one of my favorite vegetables. A great source for them is Fedco Seed's Moose Tuber division http://www.fedcoseeds.com/moose.htm.

I tried really hard to take a picture of them this summer but green against green simply looks green.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Quality Television

I envy anyone that might have had the opportunity to watch the BBC historical television series Tales From the Green Valley. Although I think I will take a pass on their choice of attire.:)

We have only two TV channels thanks to digital "government" television and, on the rare occasion, that I do or am persuaded to watch the box I am left with very little intellectually stimulating content. Dancing with the Stars (speed dancing?), Deal or No Deal (a mindless greed show?), and a huge amount of horrific sitcoms. Even the local news has become a comedy of errors. Is this really what people want to watch, is this how we stimulate ourselves in this day and age? I can understand why, after a long day, one might want to plop down in front of the tube for some non-thought provoking entertainment...but does every show have to be zombie inducing dribble? I suppose that it's just me and that I can always shut it off if I don't like it, and do. Honestly, I'm a hair's breadth away from tossing the box out the door and using it for target practice so that I could at least stimulate myself with loud noise as my neighbor does with his cannon.

For an un-hip person that has never even owned a cell phone putting up with these worthless boxes (TV, VCR, DVD, digital converter) has been most challenging. Fortunately, we now have to actually slap the larger box on it's side in order to get sound so perhaps when it finally dies...it dies. Oh jeeze, "Ya knows yur a redneck ifen ya has ta slap attair TV in order to make et work and then done threatins ta shoot et efen it don't."

As a child, I grew up watching the Waltons, Little House On the Prairie, and lots of good PBS shows...the only programs I was allowed to watch. All of these were decent forms of entertainment, nothing compared to a good book but still not too bad. Thank goodness for the Internet, at least I can decide on what type of content I choose to partake in, like a whole slew of most wonderful and often informative blogs. Thank you all for for sharing a version of "quality" and enlightening entertainment with us, and if I just bashed one of your favorite television shows I apologize. Really now, how many people besides myself care to watch Dick build a cabin or children in funny pantaloons chasing hogs through the forest...maybe I'm the strange one.

Here is part of a PBS show that was able to watch many years ago and again recently thanks to a video from the local library. When I grow up I hope to be just like Dick.:)

Dick, twenty years later↓

More on Dick Proenneke - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke

If you like Alaska you might also enjoy this film about the Yukon - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llr_k3d1h1I

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Growing Flax

Flax seed has been an important part of our diet for a number of years now and we always seem to find room for a patch of it somewhere in the garden. Our golden flax is supposed to be an extremely rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can be obtained from various sources: fish, purslane, nuts, and one of the very best sources is flax, having up to twice the amount as fish oil. The beneficial aspects of this seed are too numerous to mention in any detail. Let's just say that there is more than enough evidence to support the fact that these essential fatty acids are a very important part of a healthy diet, thus we grow flax, purslane, and eat both fish and nuts upon occasion.

But... there is always a but isn't there? A lot of controversy surrounds the facts about whether or not the average person can break down the constituents of flax, or any plant based omega-3, into the beneficial nutrients it provides as easily as with fish or nuts, especially those individuals who are not healthy to begin with. Me? I don't worry much about such things. We simply attempt to partake in all of these foods rather than concentrating on only one as a source of nutrition, hence a well balanced diet.

For us, flax has been a relatively easy crop to grow. After the last frost we plant ours a couple inches apart in a series of rows that run the width of the bed, we do it this way so that we are still able to weed in between the plants. Once our flax reaches a certain height the plants tend to fall over if we do not provide adequate support for them, support is provided by putting up a simple grid of twine that helps to hold the plants in place. One of the downfalls of having a sandy soil is that everything seems to need a little extra help remaining vertical. They grow well for us in partial sun with fairly rich soil, although I have seen many a stray volunteer thrive in the worst possible locations.

Perennial golden flax produces lovely sky blue flowers that will readily re-seed themselves each year if left to their own devices. We harvest ours when the vast majority of the seed heads have turned brown. The stalks are cut just below the last seed branch and set aside to finish drying for a few weeks at which point the seed is easily threshed out. The seeds are then stored in glass jars in a cool area with low humidity as flax has a tendency to become rancid due to the high oil content, especially once it is ground into flour. Ground flax can be kept in the freezer for a couple months or the refrigerator for a few weeks.

One of the more interesting things about flax is it's many and varied uses that stretch far beyond it's dietary supplementation. The plant via it's seeds and stalks can be used to make linseed and vegetable oil, paper, insulation, dye, hair gel, soap, thickening agents, fabric and the list goes on.

I really got to thinking about this the other day when Stefani from http://siciliansistersgrow.blogspot.com/ was kind enough to share a fellow bloggers brilliant post about the importance of textiles - http://abbysyarns.com/2007/10/should-everyone-spin-another-yarn-manifesto. In thinking about that post it dawned on me that in growing flax I have a source of textiles right in my back yard. We may indeed have to experiment with this aspect of flax in the future. Also, I found this most interesting essay on how to grow your own bowstring using flax stalks. This gives one a vision into how easily this plant material could be turned into a rough fiber that would have a wide array of applications that are directly related to the self sufficiency facet of our lives. -http://www.primitiveways.com/bowstring.html

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sweet Tomato Pie

Every once in a while you come across a really great recipe that just calls out to you "try me," and once you do you're hooked. Here is how we made a sweet tomato pie with some of our extra tomatoes.

Pre-bake your favorite homemade crust and add two layers of tomatoes and herbed seasoning

Add cheese mixed with kefir (or mayonnaise)

Layer with some carefully sauteed (caramelized) onions and garlic

Top with a few red or green peppers and more seasoning

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Enjoy dinner as if it were dessert

This most delicious recipe can be found at - http://cookingupastory.com/tomato-pie.☺

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cabbage & Kohlrabi

As the chilly fall weather causes the ground to thaw and freeze ever more deeply I finally decided it was time to liberate our cabbage from the trench they have been hiding in for the past several weeks. The root cellar is now complete as the cabbage join the rest of our edibles in a state of almost suspended animation awaiting their turn at the table.

With the weather, a couple weeks back, dropping into the high teens for a few days and the root cellar still a tad too warm at that time (45-50°) I dug a trench and laid out our cabbage between layers of straw and covered with a few spare pieces of plywood with dirt on top. This thirty minute procedure allowed me a grace period of almost three weeks. Theoretically, cabbage can be stored this way for many months if your trench is dug deeply and the insulation (straw, leaves, soil) is thick enough. Unfortunately, unless I want to tunnel into 100" of snow (packed), which is what we received this past winter, entrenching my cabbage is not a viable solution for us. We always struggle with the storage of our cabbage and I really want to keep them as a reliable food source for as long as possible this year since we did have quite a few, so I am hoping that bringing them into the cellar after it has cooled will make a difference.

Blink your eyes and summer's over, it seems as though we just finished planting our little brassica seedlings and now they have come full term. We pulled the majority our kohlrabi a couple weeks back and have them stored away. I grew three varieties this year and one called Gigante did surprisingly well for us, as large as some of them got they still remained tender and crisp under their bumpy skins. Over the years kohlrabi has become a staple in our diet, usually grated raw over our salads. If you have never grown them before I highly recommend you try as they will thrive anywhere cabbage and broccoli can be grown. If they receive plenty of water and are grown in a loose composted soil even our large ones do not seem to get woody but remain tender and sweet.

June kohlrabi, all leaves and no body

Kohlrabi, trimmed and ready to be tucked away into the root cellar

Most of our storage cabbage were red varieties as they always seem to keep the best for us. We are in the process of turning the green ones, mostly Late Flat Dutch and Danish Ballhead, into sauerkraut. This year we canned some of our kraut for the first time as a test to see how we liked it "cooked" but the rest will be eaten in a more raw state throughout the winter.

The kraut on the left just came out of the canner and the fresh stuff is about to be cut up for a more natural, crisp kraut.

Some of the smaller cabbage are still in the field and actually weathered the cold spell quite well. Every day or so I pick a couple that are still in good shape. The Ruby Ball seems to be especially tolerant and has so far managed to survive the cold and even a bit of snow this year. The smaller kohlrabi that were left behind were pretty much ruined (frozen solid) but still able to provide us and our chickens with very fine greens once they had thawed.

Our first snow day, (six hours of falling slush) hit about a week ago, this is one of many little cabbage left out in the weather. Still perfectly edible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Eat my dahlias?" she yelled...

"Eat my dahlias?" she yelled, her face contorted with a look of horror as I innocently walked through the door proudly displaying a bowl of the tubers. "Well yeah hon, I read about it in Mother Earth a while back, remember? I told you all about it" I said with a sly grin. My wife, looking at me in utter disbelief, questioned my sanity and reminded me that we had enough roots and tubers scattered about and that perhaps I should focus my attention on them and leave the poor flower bulbs alone.

"And just how do you plan on eating them?" she demanded, shaking her head in obvious dissatisfaction. "Well dear, if you remember correctly, it was I that convinced you to plant them in the first place, that said, we will grate them raw into our salad tonight" I proclaimed with smug disregard for her flowery sensitivities. "No problem Mike, you go right ahead and try them just don't expect me to get sick along with you" she responded walking out of the kitchen. "Foolish man wants to eat flower bulbs does he, well go right ahead" I heard her mumble under her breath from the other room. Pushing my luck, I couldn't help but call out a gentle reminder "they are not bulbs sweetie, they're tubers."

Anyway, it went something like that. Well, perhaps that is "quite" a bit of an exaggeration and perhaps I am a bit foolish, but in the end we both tried and enjoyed the new found spicy but subtle flavor of grated dahlia that adorned our salads. Enjoyed might also be a bit of a stretch, let's just say we reveled in the fact that they were indeed edible. All dahlia tubers are edible and so are their flower petals, I did refrain from dining on the flowers being content to simply gaze upon their beauty. No doubt eating the flowers would have seen me booted out the door with suitcase in hand. You can only push a flower gardener so far before she snaps.

Now while I am certainly not going to make a habit out of eating dahlia tubers I suppose it is good to know that if times were tough a person can have their blooms and eat them too. Dahlias like sunchokes, scorzonera, salsify and endive roots contain high levels of inulin, a healthful dietary fiber. It takes a body some time to adapt to this as inulin does not readily break down in the stomach.

The inulin in these foods has it's benefits. It can help increase the absorption of calcium and is also considered a prebiotic, helping to stimulate the growth of bacteria in the digestive system. Which, while a good thing, can cause a bit of stomach discomfort to those who have not adequately adapted to inulin rich foods. So starting out with the consumption of a small portion of these foods might be a wise choice. Don't worry, you will know if you ate too many.:)

Here is a link to the article on edible dahlias in "Mother Earth News" -


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