"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, August 28, 2010

Jack's Back!

Our little grandson Hunter William, aka Jack, has recently found his way back down the beanstalk all the way from California where he spent the summer getting reacquainted with his "birth mom." Anyway, he is back just in time to help with the harvest, of course all he wants to do is go fishing, and fishing, and fishing...he likes fishing. He is also the missing link in our garden photos as a small boy makes everything in the garden look much bigger.

Surprisingly, after being on a slightly (much different) diet than what we eat around here, the lad was ready to get back on track with a wide variety of wholesome foods from the gardens without complaint. He returned to us with a craving for fresh eggs, anything berry, and will eat as many cucumbers as we give him....pickled or fresh. I was sure that we would have to retrain those taste buds of his. Welcome back little man.:)

While he is really of Polish, Japanese, English, and other descent, he seems to have acquired my jovial Irish nature.:)

Don't let those little green eyes fool you, what you're really looking at is 100% pure mischief.

Saying hello to the girls on the other side of the runner bean patch

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cucurbits, Flowers, and Pickles

While this gardening year was off to a very slow start we are quickly making up time heading toward the finish line. The above picture depicts one of our first (Janice Brown) daylilies sent to us from a friend in Virginia...they are beautiful.:)

Not only are some of our flowers "finally" starting to bloom but we have also been harvesting ample amounts of zucchini for a couple weeks now. This has also been a trial of patience for me. Of course, where there is one there is a dozen all ripening at the same time. I guess I know what we will be incorporating into every meal possible for the next month or so. I am very grateful though because we do love cooking with zucchini and I am glad that it is such a steady producer as we have been waiting a long time for them. Just the other morning I put on a pot of rice while we took the dog for a walk and upon returning threw together a nice stir fry full of garden veggies, including summer squash, for breakfast.

Our squash, planted in various locations, is coming along fairly well. Yesterday I noticed a few pumpkins, spaghetti, hubbard, and others of notable size. Not a lot of fruits yet, but I do see some. The papaya pear summer squash are also looking good even though they lost their shape many years ago, perhaps a sorted affair with a crookneck or, heaven forbid, a zucchini.

Sugar Pie pumpkin

My favorite golden nugget plants do not appear to have had any of the pollination issues that have been worrying me and are loading up with little ones. They are such a nice compact plant taking up no more room than a zucchini, early to fruit, and they store well too.

I am growing these two golden nugget plants separately from any other squash to assure that I retain pure seed.

The cucumbers have started to produce steadily and we have been canning them in small batches as they come on. I know that it is not considered safe according to the USDA but I would be very interested to hear from any rebels that can their pickles in the oven and what they think of that method especially from a pickle crunchiness standpoint. I am aware that refrigerator and lacto-fermented pickles hold their crunch but am curious about any methods that will allow me to have a longer term storage option.

Now here is an interesting blunder on my part. I thought it would be a neat trick to grow a few rattlesnake beans on the same fence as some of our tomatillos. My thoughts being that the beans would help tie the tomatillos to the fence, that aspect of it all seems to be working like a charm. Unfortunately, I also planted a few squash in the same area and miscalculated how much room our hubbards and pumpkins would consume, forgetting to diligently trail the vines in the other direction. So now I am faced with a few issues when it comes time to gather beans and tomatillos, both of which will be ready before the squash...oops, no room for me.:) Looks like I might even have to pick a couple squash off the barn roof this year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hiking With Dog and a Bit About Prunella

We spent a day this past weekend alone in the mountains hiking to one of our favorite mountain lakes, we did not hear or see another soul all day other than the moose that we spooked...a perfect day. While the weather below was very warm the mountains remained cool and refreshing, perfect conditions for our puppy's first all day hike and he did great. What a wonderful little dog and terrific hiking companion he has turned out to be.

My wife and Rowdy taking turns peaking through our favorite holey tree.

Rowdy gazing around Snow Lake keeping an eye out for bears.:)

Lunch break, cheese sandwiches for everyone. Really, she even makes sandwiches for the dog...he loves our bread.

One of the many wild edible plants we came across while hiking was prunella or self-heal. A beautiful little plant with vibrant purple flowers, prunella is a perennial member of the mint family that has long been used in herbal medicine (note - some have white flowers). The root was supposedly used in a tea by Native Americans in ceremonies to help hone their senses before going hunting, perhaps it will help me to notice the bears before they notice us.

We dry this herb for tea and also eat the leaves fresh as often as we can in order to obtain the possible benefits of its reported anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, and immune system boosting properties. Once thought to be a gift from God the list of this herbs uses is incredibly extensive so we figure that it would be foolish of us not to make good use of it especially considering prunella grows wild all over our area and the entire plant is edible. I have been saving seeds and with any luck this herb will be a part of our garden next year. I would like nothing more than to blather on and on about prunella but I think I will leave it at that.

I'll leave you with a short snippet of our Huckleberry hound enjoying a healthy snack.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harvesting Fava Beans

We harvested a few rows of fava beans and are quite happy with how well they filled out this season. For the most part we use these as dried beans in soups, bean dishes, and their subtle flavor makes them great for re-fried beans. After shelling they are placed on racks in the sun to dry, once dried they are stored away in glass gallon jars until needed. Of course a bucket of the nicest looking pods are always shelled separately for next year's seed. Because of their extremely cold hardy nature they are our absolute favorite bean to grow and the remaining debris are an excellent amendment for the soil in our gardens.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I picked and froze the last of our jostaberries the other day, jostaberries being a cross between a black currant and gooseberry. Our oldest bush and the parent plant of numerous others is now around 4-5 years old and starting to produce fairly well. I think we picked almost gallon off it this year. We have many more "starts" ranging from 5 months to 3 years old and are excited at the prospects of reaping ever increasing harvests going forward.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this plant when compared to our gooseberries and currants is that the fruits, in our garden, ripen much later helping us to avoid any problems with currant flys that so often plague the latter two. The flavor can best be described as sweet and tart, I have a feeling we will enjoy using it in various recipes in the future. It is not as tasty as a goosberry but if you take into consideration it's lack of pest issues the flavor gap becomes less noticable. One other thing I like about this particular plant is that the fruits do not fall off everytime the wind blows like our currants tend to do. The berries are firmly attached, almost too firmly.

Gooseberry >

Jostaberry >

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What is a Weed?

But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are people's idea, not nature's. ~Author Unknown

One of the many challenges we face in growing our own food is in that of competing with the plants (weeds) native to this area. In our gardens we have chosen to "try" and view our weeds as an asset to the garden rather than a hindrance, working with them rather than against them as much as possible and using them as a valuable source of nutrients for our vegetables. Lambs quarter, pigweed, wild sorrel, mallow, chickweed, wild mint, dandelions, plantain, and various clovers make up the majority of common weeds that inhabit our gardens.

In the videos below you will hear the thoughts of Hellen Atthowe of BioDesign Farm and see how she, in her small produce farm in Stevensville Montana, focuses on working with her weeds and clover cover crops, using them to not only nourish but also help create a more natural and beneficial system for her amazing peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. I found these videos to be most informative, especially in regards to Hellen's ideas on some of these weeds, "self-established" mallow in particular, being an surprisingly excellent additional source of slow release nitrogen in conjunction with her more commonly used nitrogen fixing leguminous cover crops.

Our rows are kept very narrow, practically disappearing around this time of year, allowing us to not only use every inch of space available but also more easily manage the weeds.

We have been trying to apply, on a much smaller scale, somewhat similar methods of weed control in our own gardens. Instead of a tractor we use a hoe, shovel, and push mower, but in the end the results are the same. The weeds are allowed to grow in our isles but not go to seed or take over in the actual rows, they are then chopped up and eventually worked back into the vegetable rows as we weed and hoe and mow, thus, over time, comprising a large part of our soil's fertility. As I have mentioned in a previous post this also applies to our fall crop residue;

"I am once again focused on enriching our soil through a form of sheet mulching. Before winter I pulled up all of the remaining plant materials and broke them up a bit to be distributed amongst the garden rows. According to Emilia Hazelip plants synthesize from light and only receive a small portion of their mass from the soil. The rest comes from air and light and if left in the garden to decompose will give back much more to the soil then they take out."

I would add that living plants such as mallow, dandelions, strawberry spinach, plantains, sorrel, chicory and so forth with their deep root systems are supposedly able to "mine" nutrients from farther down helping to bring them to the surface where they will be more available to our shallow rooted garden vegetables. One of the things that I have been working on over the past couple years is growing out certain plants that I know will easily re-seed themselves and actually become "weeds" in the garden. In doing so I am, in a sense, at least partially in charge of what weeds we do and don't have. For instance, last year I overwintered and let go to seed a large amount of biennial Belgian endive and kale, sprinkling some of the seeds throughout our gardens in the fall. These plants are now growing in little clumps anywhere that I allowed them to but are also easily removed from where I do not, if I am diligent in doing so before the roots take hold.

Note the kale growing in one of our tomato rows, by the time I need to pick tomatoes this kale will have been harvested.

This year I am doing the same with a row of Italian chicory, I received a few seeds from a friend some time ago and have now established an entire row that will be allowed to re-seed itself.

Many of these so called weeds are also a valuable source of nutrition for farm animals, chickens in our case. As an example, extremely hardy chickweed and the various forms of chicory/endive help us provide the birds with green food all year around while lambs quarter fills in some of our hot weather gaps when certain greens are not as readily available to them. And where do some of the vitamins and minerals from these weeds end up but in the eggs that we eat and the compost that is spread throughout the garden. Not only that, but we eat them as well. Almost daily a few of these unsung super foods find their way into our salads.

Perhaps our garden walkways will only look pretty a couple days after I hoe them but in my mind it is much less work to use the weeds to our advantage rather than trying to constantly remove, suppress, or exterminate them which, where I live, is a losing battle anyway as they thrive in the woods around our gardens constantly spewing forth seed with reckless abandon.

Another alternative method for providing soil fertility and controlling the weeds is through the use of heavy mulch such as leaves or hay. This is something that we do in certain areas of the food garden but as our garden is fairly large we have yet to find a practical source for the amounts needed. That, and there is always the issue with it providing a nice place for voles to hide out. You can read a fellow gardeners interesting post on mulching your garden beds here.

Speaking of mulch, in the second video you will notice that Hellen discusses the use of a black plastic mulch that helps her to achieve such early and prolifically fruiting peppers in a colder climate. I will be trying this in my own garden next year with a couple of my pepper rows. You can see from my pictures below how much better some of my potted peppers planted in a black containers look when compared to the same peppers planted directly into the ground. All of my peppers are growing in a similar manner this year, the ones in pots far outpacing those in the ground even though the potted plants were started a couple weeks later after I realized the possible consequences a cold dreary spring would have upon these heat loving plants. Hope you enjoy the videos, I did.:)

Jalapeno →
Red Belgian →
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