"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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Disposition To Preserve

"Alexandra often said that if her mother were cast upon a desert island, she would thank God for her deliverance, make a garden, and find something to preserve. Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs. Bergson. Stout as she was, she roamed the scrubby banks of Norway Creek looking for fox grapes and goose plums, like a wild creature in search of prey. She made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel; and she made a sticky dark conserve of garden tomatoes. She had experimented even with the rank buffalo-pea, and she could not see a fine bronze cluster of them without shaking her head and murmuring, 'What a pity!' When there was nothing to preserve, she began to pickle."

You can read this fine story by Willa Cather in it's entirety online - 'O Pioneers!'

Much like Mrs. Bergson we once again foraged, grew, and preserved with a devoted enthusiasm. I would suppose that the success of our garden could, in part, be based upon how much food was put by in the root cellar, canned, or saved through other means of preservation. If we were to judge our gardening endeavours in this manner it would once again be deemed another prosperous season. The cellar contains an embarrassing amount of beets, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, celery, Belgian endive, root parsley, onions, kohlrabi, cabbage, peppers, and apples. Our warm dry living room is home to members of the cucurbit (squash) clan and yet another cool dry back room contains saved seeds for next year's garden, baskets of garlic, and even a few shallots.

This room is full of carrots, beets, and potatoes (not shown).

We like to keep our onions in baskets as it helps with airflow.

Atop our kitchen refrigerator one can find an assortment of glass gallon jars filled with various dry beans, corn, and fruit leather. The two freezers on our porch are both stuffed beyond capacity with foraged service berries, elderberries, Oregon grapes, huckleberries, cranberries, dried morel mushrooms, and cubes of hawthorn berry syrup. And from our garden - frozen strawberries, grapes, raspberries, black raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, josta berries, zucchini, broccoli, rhubarb sauce, dried apples, dried pears, dried apricots, more peppers, beet greens, kale greens, peas, stewed and dried plums, dried tomatoes, and herbs like cilantro and basil.

The back pantry contains↓

1 large box full of grown and foraged tea herbs

Tomato sauce - 104 quarts (13 left from last year)

Thick spaghetti/pizza sauce - 52 pints

Various salsa derived from tomatoes, tomatillos, and combinations of both - 82 pints (6 left from last year)

Ketchup - 7 half pints & 10 pints (4 from last year)

Sauerkraut - 5 water bath canned, 9 unprocessed quarts in basement & 6 in the refrigerator

Nasturtium Capers (also called poor man's capers) - 2 half pints

Various whole and sliced pickles - 23 pints & 15 quarts

Green beans (pickled) -6 pints

Apple sauce - 11 quarts & 22 pints

Pear sauce - 6 quarts

Huckleberry Jam - 6 half pints left from last year

Mincemeat - 11 pints & 1 quart

Ginger pear sauce - (we love this on baked squash) 22 half pints & 5 pints

In preparation for next year's gardening adventures we ordered re-usable Tattler canning lids and rings and in doing so will, with any luck, not have to concern ourselves with the availability of store bought lids and rings going forward. Our worries being that the lost art of food preservation might quickly gain relevance due to future economic or other woes that may transpire.

"...steam was generated beyond the power of the canister to endure. As a natural consequence, the canister burst, the dead turkey sprang from his coffin of tinplate and killed the cook forthwith." - News report of an early canning industry accident (1852)

Fortunately, no such bad luck has befallen us and of all the canned food processed this year only two empty jars were lost when the bottoms busted out because I failed to properly heat them before dunking into hot water to be scalded. All in all we are quite content with this year's harvest and are especially glad to be finished with the task of canning all our "green" tomatoes. Out of the estimated 500-600 lbs we harvested this year a remarkable majority of them ripened up nicely indoors. We just finished our last batch the day before Thanksgiving...Ay yi yi !

There will be no more warm jars for Rodger, the fat black cheshire cat, to cuddle up next to.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Our Ever Evolving Sunroots (Jerusalem Artichokes)

We have been growing Jerusalem artichokes, I prefer to call them sunroots, for more than a few years now and I am always amazed at how they change in size and appearance from year to year depending upon where they have been planted. This year's sunroots grew into a wide variety of shapes and sizes, some were very smooth and oblong while others much more spherical, and then there are the funky monstrosities pictured above. I grew a few of my extras in a brand new location that had Joe Pye Weed growing in it the previous couple years and ended up with huge multi-knobbed tubers. There were about 8-12 tubers per plant compared to the anywhere from 15-50 smaller ones we are normally blessed with. Here is how the majority of them looked the previous fall. Personally I prefer the smaller ones but they do seem to have a mind of their own.

Anyway, I thought perhaps the Joe Pye Weed might have some nitrogen or other soil building qualities that I was unaware of but have been unable to find any evidence to support that theory other than my big rugged tubers. A fellow gardener just did a post on these tubers as well, you can read her thoughts and see how her variety looks at Emma's coopette.com blog.

Yes, this is only one sun root...how on earth am I supposed to eat that? :)
This is a new variety that we are growing this year, the size of these is more to my liking.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Lazy Fall Harvest

Nothing too exciting to report from our Northern Idaho garden as the lackadaisical tranquility of autumn slowly takes hold. Surprisingly warm, above freezing, rainy weather has allowed us an extended grace period in which to finish harvesting the few remaining root vegetables. Purple Top turnips planted in late August have turned into nice little egg-shaped orbs that we have stored away for winter fare. My flock of red headed step children seen in the background were beside themselves waiting in eager anticipation for the nutritious tops to be shared.

The rutabagas have also been packed into totes. We only grew a few this year as they always end up wormy but this season we planted them a bit later, sometime in early July I think, and ended up with a smaller sized but mostly blemish free crop. We planted both the turnips and the rutabagas late in order to avoid issues with root maggots that so often haunt our brassicas during the early spring months.

We also potted up about 15 containers of celery, 3-4 plants per pot, to be used for soups, salads, and stir fry during the cold months. They keep surprisingly well in the root cellar as long as they are not allowed to dry out...you would be amazed at what good use we make of celery around here.

We saw this wonderful video, posted as a reminder to myself, on how to make kimchi this morning. I liked the way she prepared it and am looking forward to trying out this method...I love how she dices her carrots. Unfortunately, with a couple gallons already made it will be sometime before we get around to this. I would like to use turnips in place of radishes and I will probably pass on the squid as we don't have any in our lake...as far as I know.:)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some Cabbage

“Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things” - Russian Proverb

June 22 cabbage

Same cabbage on October 23

We grew a nice variety of cabbage this season. Red cabbage like Ruby Ball, Red Acre, Tete Noire, Mammoth Red Rock (new to us) for storage, Derby Day and Danish Ballhead for sauerkraut, and savoy type cabbage for kimchi. I never have had any luck growing traditional napa cabbage, if they don't bolt to seed the slugs make a mess of them so we always use savoy for our fermented kimchi instead. This year we grew a cold hardy savoy variety called Melissa and a smaller headed one called Frigga and have been extremely happy with the results.

After much trial and lots of error over the years we have finally found a long term storage method that keeps us in fresh (red) cabbage long into the winter months. Storing cabbage has been one of the weak spots in our root cellar storage system. Every method I have tried has eventually resulted in rotten cabbage. Last year we did something different. I thought that if I could keep the cabbage alive perhaps it would stay fresh longer, so after removing the loose outer leaves we gently pulled the plants up by their roots being careful not to shake too much of the soil off and simply replanted the rooted end into a plastic bag that had a little damp dirt in the bottom and tied it tightly around the cabbage stem. Our cabbage remained in good condition throughout the winter. As you can see in the below picture I will be storing them the same way once again.

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