The New CSA in Town

Community supported agriculture

Community supported agriculture (Photo credit: yksin)

A CSA is a wonderful thing for those interested in the local food movement. If you are reading this, you may already know Community Supported Agriculture organizations are good things for farmers and consumers. The farmer grows for a group of people who purchase shares in the local produce. Simplified, this system will lower the risk for the farmer from weird weather losses or insect deprecations and at the same time offers a bounty of fresh produce for the consumer.

I dabble in eating locally. Gardening and food self-sufficiency are becoming passions, but I feel as though I have only scraped the top of what is possible there. Habits in eating convenience food are still hard to break. It is difficult to come home tired from a full time job to peeling, cooking, and eating squash or shelling lima butter-beans. Sometimes the pizza place on the way home from work is just too much temptation.

My dear husband doesn’t cook. He is quick to take me out to dinner during the week, mind you, but that saves neither money nor my (or his)  waistline. It doesn’t really save time either, as some evenings I just want to be home. My husband doesn’t cook, but he has been bemoaning the juicer he bought years ago and rarely used. Hmmm, I have an idea!

I found a CSA that sells shares in a fall garden. They are part of the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative. The people behind the CUCI have ambitious goals to provide fresh food in depressed areas that have lost grocery stores and provide union jobs and business opportunities in local Cincinnati agriculture. I am intrigued and look forward to learning more about them through a share relationship this fall. Fall shares are mostly greens.

My retired husband has a new job!  He gets to research the myriad of juicing recipes found on the internet and plan a few green juice dinners with our CSA produce. I still get to study and learn about this new CSA and the CUCI program. We both get to “drink” a few healthy dinners each week. I look forward to posting a few juice recipes and what I find out about the (relatively) new program in town. What a win-win-win-win situation:)

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Lavender Blooms

English: lavender

English: lavender (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been kicking around the idea of lavender in the food garden for quite sometime, considering and dismissing many possibleplacements. Lavender is renown for attracting bees and other pollinators. It is also pretty well known for attracting beneficial insects.

Some say it is easy to grow, and some say it can be a bit tricky. I have a different kind of tricky corner in my yard that has been through many incarnations. It is an odd 135 degree corner inside a chain link fence.It tends to get weedy as my dissatisfaction with various plantings leads to neglect. My neighbor often uses a little Round-up on his side, and I can’t blame him. How do I create a permanent planting that is attractive, functional, and protected from my close neighbor’s chemical use?

Inspiration finally came fast and furious when I discovered six Lavender Augustiflora (Munstead) plants on the reduced sale rack in the garden store. They were $2 each, 50% off the usual herb price. Munstead is the lavender most frequently used for cooking. It is compact and may grow to about 18″ at the tallest. It is also more winter hardy than other lavenders.

I bought the plants and headed to the home improvement store, where I picked up a few angled pavers and a bag of grit to set them in. The weather was perfect for this fall project. The grey pavers were easy to set and made a great semi-raised bed edge. The stone will keep weeds down, chemicals out, and even better, seal up the bottom fence edge where the bunnies get in and the dog gets out.

The grey green foliage looks nice against the grey stone, too. The rock will hold the heat to give the plant a micro-climate it will like. Lavender likes it hot and dry, but not especially humid like it will get in Cincinnati, Ohio. Next spring, I will put down a grey rock mulch around the plants to try and alleviate the humidity. Until then, I will water it well. In spite of prefering dry conditions, the plants I just installed will need to become established first.

I am looking forward to the lavender flowers next summer. Lavender blooms can be used like rosemary for marinades and grilling meat. They might also be sparingly sprinkled in a fresh green salad or dried for tea.  (The leaves are also edible, just more strongly perfumed.) It will be fun to check out a few culinary recipes and possibly a few medicinal recipes as well.

One thing about fall garden projects; I always seem to run out of daylight just as I am about to finish the job. I worked feverishly to finish the lavender bed, hoping I had the plants spaced correctly and in a fairly straight line. I was able to water just as it got too dark to see. From the photo below I was able to take with a flash, I think I did a pretty good job.Time for a nice relaxing lavender bath to rinse off the garden dirt and get ready for sweet dreams of springtime.Fall gardening hazard- running out of daylight!

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Looking Forward to Learning About Herbs

Some of the best fun in life is that there are so many new things to try and so many new ideas to study and so many new things to grow. I have been growing food for many years and still find the relationship of the natural world to how our food blooms fascinating. I began this blog to write about growing food, but find my posts often stray into the world of foraging wild food. From foraging wild food, and learning about the medicinal uses of wild plants, I began wishing I had the time to study herb craft.

Wish and it shall be given! A friend posted a link about a new herbal magazine. However, it is not just a magazine, but is accompanied by a featured box of herbs, recipes, and the associated flower essence and essential oil. One can purchase a monthly subscription, or order the set as a single month. I ordered a one month set, and am looking forward to receiving that shipment in October.

This is perhaps the busy person’s ideal way to begin such a study.  It will be fun to write about the lessons from the box. I would love to have you join me and compare experiences! The link is http://naturalherballiving.com/

 

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The Pigweed is Seeding

This has been a busy summer and some things just got neglected. We have a new gardener

Amaranth, cooked

Amaranth, cooked (Photo credit: Eugenia Loli)

in the Community garden who neglected a plot, and I neglected the gardener. One never can tell what struggles another might be facing, so I cannot be angry about the state of the plot. However, the pigweed is seeding.

The saying is “one year of seeding equals seven years of weeding”.  Sounds like breaking a mirror, with seven years bad luck! Frankly, due to careful weeding in the last two years I felt we were finally getting a handle on it. One 10 x 10′ weed patch is about to put an end to that once comforting idea.

If this were a dream, what would it mean? Pigweed has been in my face all summer and mentioned in several other posts I have written. I have sauteed a little and made a few batches of pigweed chips, but I have not made this a staple in my diet. If I had, the pigweed would not be seeding.

Pigweed is one of those nutritious plants that could help ease world hunger and malnutrition. It is eaten in many cultures all over the globe, including our past Native Americans. There is a misunderstanding going about the internet that says pigweed is poisonous. Many sources say correctly that pigweed accumulates nitrates in the leaves, but then go on to say nitrates are poisonous and so is pigweed.  It is true that the nitrates are changed to nitrites in a two-stomached cow, and while this is toxic to the cow it doesn’t hurt us. However, if still concerned, just eat the young leaves. The older leaves just before the plant seeds contains the most nitrates.

Like most greens, it contains a compound that can contribute to kidney stones. This can be minimized by boiling it and throwing out the water before sauteing  for food.

I had a dream this summer that said “Eat More Weeds”! This was in response to my concerns about a health issue. I wonder if my slowness to readily incorporate them into my diet may be due to a little residual resistance to curing the disease? If so, it is time to get over that and follow the advice of my dream doctor.

I have seen recipes for sauteing young pigweed with a little olive oil and garlic to make a sauce over pasta, recipes that suggest cooking it with coconut flakes and chili pepper, and some that say it is best with only a little soy sauce. I have also seen suggestions to sprout the seeds for tasty additions to salads. There will be enough seeds to try that out this fall. I guess I shouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. Go ahead, eat more weeds!

http://www.healthy-holistic-living.com/top-5-edible-weeds.html

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Gifts From Three Sisters

Cathy in the corn on a beautiful June day.

Cathy in the corn on a beautiful June day.

Most school children have heard the story of the three sisters. The corn is planted first and reaches for the sky. The beans and squash are planted when the corn is about six inches high. The beans use the corn as a bean pole and grow winding vines up and around the cornstalk. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which benefits the corn and squash. The squash appreciates the shade of the corn and grows below as a living mulch to keep the roots of the other two cool and suppress weeds. Squash with prickly stems discourages small animals from getting into the corn.

In early August, my husband and I held a green corn festival. It was just us two, and we gave thanks and ate the first of the corn and beans from our Three Sister’s plot. I had planted Native American heirloom seeds, and wasn’t at all sure how the produce would taste.  Cherokee White Eagle corn is described as being a great corn for grinding  and making cornmeal, but “one can eat it off the cob when young”. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are described in a similar way. They are touted as  black beans that “may be eaten as green beans”.

White Eagle Corn is delicious as corn on the cob early in the season.

White Eagle Corn is delicious as corn on the cob early in the season.

I planted the Three Sister’s plot to create neighborhood interest in the community garden. It is fun to discuss the Three Sister companion planting with interested friends and neighbors, and it is fun to show folks what they have only read about in history books. However, I held a bias that “Indian Corn” was hard and perhaps tasteless.  I was surprised that this green corn was so delicious eaten fresh on the cob. I somehow didn’t expect the beans to be so tasty that I would enjoy snacking on them straight from the vine. Perhaps these rare varieties  (www.RareSeeds.com) are yet another example of how the food industry short-changes us in flavor and taste possibilities. From now on I will grow this or something similar as a garden and food staple.

However, as the season progresses the corn does

Picked too late to eat fresh, but gorgeous Cherokee White Eagle Corn. Can you see the eagles in some purple kernels? Touted as a superb grinding corn.

Picked too late to eat fresh, but gorgeous Cherokee White Eagle Corn. Can you see the eagles in some purple kernels?
Touted as a superb grinding corn.

begin to get hard and not so tasty fresh. (Well, I had to try it!) The beans mature quickly into pods with thick strings and large beans inside. My garden is demonstrating its ability to provide sustenance through the winter. Sister squash must wait still longer to ripen, but will be ready to eat in November. She will keep well throughout much of the winter as well.

Growing these plants and watching the food bloom and mature is an enjoyable hobby. I have always found it fun to plant and just see what the food really looks like. My appreciation of of the garden is undergoing a subtle change, thanks in part to The Three Sisters. The gifts from the garden are not just a summer bounty to be briefly enjoyed, given away, or frozen or canned. The gratitude of the green corn festival can last far into the year with cornmeal, dried beans, and squash.  All three will keep with much less fuss. The maturing purple Indian corn is beautiful.

I presently cook with wheat flour and buy bread from the store. I am again intrigued with the possibilities nature offers us outside of what the food industry markets. It will be a pleasure to honor these sisters this winter and prepare a few meals in a different fashion.  I am grateful for this gift that shifts my perspective into more sustainable food gardening. Won’t purple cornmeal be a great adventure this year?

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Delicious Pigweed Chips (Or, if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em)

I mistakenly thought I ran across my arch garden nemesis in the seed rack at the local home and garden store the other day. “Amaranthus”, aka pigweed, touted as an heirloom seed no less. I had to pull out my trusty phone and snap the picture you see below. I know pigweed is an edible weed, but I haven’t yet quite made that transition from compost heap to dinner plate.

An heirloom seed? Really? Initially I could not get a grip on this idea. One pigweed plant in my garden sets 10,000 seeds and their success rate is much better than the vegetables planted. The seeds can germinate as soon as they mature in midsummer and have many generations of pigweed babies each season. The seeds grow well when exposed to light, but can stay viable covered and under the soil for 10 years. Dig in the soil to weed and plant A beautiful heirloom plant!and, presto, more pigweed seeds germinate. It is a lot of work to keep this plant under control.

Of course, Amaranthus caudicus is a lovely ornamental. These old fashioned plants are really quite beautiful, and it is these truly heirloom seeds Burpee packaged. There are several different species of the family “Amaranthus”. My nemesis is Amaranthus retroflexus, very different than the ornamental amarantus and also very different from  related grains such as Amaranthus cruentus and Amaranthus hypochondriacus. The latter seeds don’t have the dormancy trait and so do not become weeds. Their ancestors were grown all over the Americas for  protein rich grain. 

However, the seed packet stayed with me in both iphone and psyche. Hmm, could I turn the tables on this supposedly nutrition rich weed? I mulled it over and pulled a few weeds in the community garden. This time I brought the weeds home.

Kale chips are a favorite treat in our household. Prepared in the dehydrator, they are easy and one doesn’t have to watch so carefully to keep from burning them. I thought I might try Pigweed Chips! I fixed them the same plain way I do Kale chips. There are many recipe variations for Kale chips, but so far we haven’t tired of plain old oil and sea salt. Wash the Pigweed, and pull the young leaves off the stems. Pat dry. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the leaves and massage in well with a little sea salt. Use salt sparingly as the leaves will dry and shrivel much smaller than the original leaf.

In a blind taste test, my husband actually preferred Pigweed chips! Kale is rather bland on its own when dehydrated, but Pigweed has a stronger yet appealing flavor. I think garlic will go well with my next batch. I must say, there is something quite satisfying about eating this particularly prolific weed. If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em!

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Intriguing Apple Guilds

"Bailey's Triple Play", the tri-apple tree in my backyard. There were more apples on it, but both my husband and the squirrels like them green.

“Bailey’s Triple Play”, the tri-apple tree in my backyard. There were more apples on it, but both my husband and the squirrels like to eat them green.

A conversation with my niece, Amy, has been reverberating in my head and psyche. We were discussing food sustainability one day and Amy wondered aloud about the keeping ability of apples. Back in pioneer days, people would keep apples all winter in a storage cellar, but it doesn’t seem that would work today. Apples available in the store go bad after just a few weeks. What happened to “keeping” apples?

Well, they still exist! Like a lot of food today, however, only a few varieties make it to the grocery store. There are over 40 apple varieties available in Ohio. Some of these trees might be found for sale in a nursery, but a fruit tree catalog will have the widest selection. Some are labeled as early or late ripening and many are labeled as “keeping”. Unfortunately, mail order trees are rather small. It might be a fun day trip, though, to find an Indiana or Ohio nursery that specializes in different kinds of fruit trees, and worth the expense of purchasing a couple of larger trees. My niece’s family have enough property to consider investing in such sustainability. They will need at least two trees, of different varieties, to ensure adequate pollination.

I invested in a Tri-Apple tree, really three semi-dwarf trees growing in one container. The small tree (I will refer to it as one) fits much better in my small backyard. Unfortunately, none are keeping apples, but they will ripen at slightly different times in order to extend the harvest. I also have a couple of sweet cherry trees, planted in a row by the fence. My husband complains a bit about mowing around them, and I promised to surround the three with one big “mulch bed” to make mowing easier. Little does he know I am considering how to create an apple guild around the fruit trees.

An apple guild is such an intriguing idea! At the end of this article is a website linked to an excerpt of the book Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway. He writes of “permaculture”,  a kind of gardening where plants are chosen and grown together in order to benefit each other and the gardener. It is an ethical, save-the-earth style of gardening that also uses nature to do much of the work. Building an apple guild is a good introduction to permaculture gardening.

Fruit trees can be pretty high maintenance plants. A guild, however, uses nature to control insects and other pests, fertilize, conserve water, attract pollinators, and balance fungal populations to control disease.

To build a guild, first plant daffodils around the tree. Plant them in a circle around the edge of where the full grown trunk will be, and plant a second circle around the outer edge of where the drip line will be when the tree or trees are grown. They will repel animals that might browse on the twigs or bark. This will be a lot of daffodil bulbs to plant, but think how nice they will look each spring.

Plant edible bulbs inside the guild, too. Wild ramps are becoming more and more popular. Garlic chives would also be useful here. The bulbs will keep grass out of the guild.  Fruit tree roots lie near the surface of the ground, so shallow grass roots steal water and nutrients away from them. Spring bulbs that are summer dormant will allow the trees all the water use during the hot summer.

Flowers can be planted in the guild to attract two categories of beneficial insects. Pollinators are required for good fruit set. Predatory insects that feed on other harmful insects such as the coddling moth are a necessity.  These nectar producing flowers can be grown for only beauty or one can use herbs (which also have beautiful flowers)  to do double duty. A flowering shrub such as a butterfly bush can be grown near the guild to attract insect eating birds, birds that once attracted, will also pick insects out of the apple tree bark. My niece’s chickens would also be very useful for that purpose!

Other plants in the guild can be used as  mulch, cut down and composted right where they grew. Many plants with deep taproots such as dandelion, chicory, yarrow, and comfrey will extract nutrients from deep in the soil. As they are cut down and composted, they will recycle those minerals and make them more available to the fruit trees. Composting within the guild will create a living soil with a competitive environment. This is good, as microscopic life is not as likely to get out of balance and cause diseases like scab.

Comfrey is the poster child plant for mulching and composting in place. Some complain that comfrey spreads and becomes a garden pest. Mr. Hemenway states he has not experienced those problems. To be on the safe side, use only the leaves as mulch and compost. It may propagate from pieces of stem. Other good mulching plants include rhubarb, clover, artichokes, and nasturtiums.

Why add fertilizer? Use nitrogen fixing plants in the guild instead. White clover, beans and peas would all add nitrogen for the fruit tree’s benefit. Shrubs that fix nitrogen can be planted in a few places at the expected drip line.

Apple tree guilds, or any plant guild for that matter, are flexible and creative projects. Many of the plants used to support the fruit trees have several functions. For instance, comfrey has flowers which bees adore as well as the mineral extraction and mulching compost functions described above.

Importantly, there is no one design fits all. The plants chosen for the guild should reflect the personality of the creator and the functions desired. In my small yard, I love the idea of encompassing a flower and herb garden around my tri-apple and semi-dwarf cherry trees. It will be fun to try my hand at raising ramps. Amy, however has the space for standard size apple trees, “keeping” apples and otherwise. She has the space to grow more edibles within the guild, perhaps even enough to start a small business with ramps as a luxury food, herbs, other edibles, and cutting flowers. The business potential is another possible aspect of permaculture. The idea of living in harmony with natural earth processes instead of fighting them with sprays and bare earth is intriguing. Building an apple guild is a fun first step. The daffodils will be gorgeous every spring.

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