Sep 29

Preserving the Harvest

Snow peas after fermentation

Snow peas after fermentation

If you don’t preserve the harvest, you can’t eat it later. I’m all for sharing the extras, and I do! But extra for means that I have grown enough to last me for the next year! Figuring out how much that would be is something I still struggle with. Last year I grew 250 lbs of tomatoes and made 22 quarts of sauce. I still have 10 or jars left – we don’t eat a whole lot of pasta – so I probably don’t need to put up more this year unless I want to share or trade.

But I have put up other things already. The ways of preserving plant foods are

  • water bath canning
  • pressure canning
  • drying
  • freezing
  • fermenting
  • root cellaring

Basic water bath canning is good for acidic fruits and veggies. Some examples of these include

  • apples
  • tomatoes
  • things pickled in vinegar

Pressure canning is for low acid veggies and meats. It takes special equipment, boiling times are a lot longer, and you have to follow the directions carefully or risk death. No, I’m not kidding. Low acid foods can grow botulism, one of the most toxic substances know to humans. I don’t favor this method for a number of reasons, but I’ve done it and I know how to do it right. On the plus side, you can, once you know some good techniques, create long term storage foods. The down side is that the high heat denatures proteins, which is not healthy, and cooks a lot of the flavor out of the food. I save this method for premade chili which already has lots of flavor. (I HATE it with chicken.)

Drying also takes special equipment and some skills with rehydrating the food. I have a round food dehydrator and while it was very reasonably priced, it takes a long time to do the job and space in the machine is rather limited. Recently I was able to borrow a friend’s Excalibur dehydrator, which I used on beef liver and some of my snow peas. What a difference. It had more than enough space for the project and was easier to handle than my round one. My cats often get the liver and other organ meats, and veggies generally go into winter soups. But there is a great deal I don’t yet know about dehydrated foods and I look forward to learning more.
Something you won’t need a dehydrator for are beans and grains as those dry on the plant.

Freezing is an excellent method for food preservation in terms of nutrition, palatability and easy preparation later. But if you are in an areas that tends to loose power, make sure you have a back energy source for that freezer. Nothing is more depressing than loosing a freezer full of preserved food. I don’t freeze a lot as my freezer is generally full of pastured meat and I don’t have a ton of space for veggies. But this year I grew snow peas and froze several pounds. If you have the space, green beans, whole tomatoes, and nearly any lightly cooked vegetable can be frozen. (not potatoes, their texture changes)

Fermenting is really my favorite method, although only a portion of my harvest goes onto fermenting jars. Fermented vegetables will keep for a surprisingly long time. Sandor Katz, who is a huge advocate for fermenting and wrote Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods tells of making miso, a traditional Japanese ferment used as a condiment. The older it is, the better it tastes, and he describes having a 9 year old miso in his basement. I have one that is 7 years old and its fine. That being said, vegetables tend to get mushy as they age even if they are safe to eat, so I toss any veggies that don’t get consumed after a year. But they really do last that long. The tougher the vegetable, the longer it is viable and tasty. Root veggies and cabbage last the longest, while softer veggies, such as cucumber ferments – traditional pickles – need to be eaten much sooner.

The last method for preserving the harvest is root cellaring. Searching “root cellar construction” on Youtube will give you lots of ideas on how to make one if you have the space. I don’t, so I make use of our unfinished, unheated back basement. My potatoes live there until spring when they start to sprout. Root cellar temperatures are quite stable, and this also happens to be where I store my miso and other fermented vegetables. The things one can store in a root cellar include

  • potatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • squash
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • beets
  • turnips
  • radishes
  • horseradish.
    Potatoes should be in paper, while other roots do well in damp sand. Winter squash should be hardened off outside, and alliums should be cured before storage in a root cellar.

I hope you enjoy your harvest throughout the winter!

Sep 20

The Corn

Country Gentleman Corn

Country Gentleman Corn

This is the third year I’ve grown <a href=”http://www.seedsavers.org/onlinestore/corn/Corn-Golden-Bantam-OG.html” target=”blank”>corn</a>. The first year, I grew it in Stratford. I added Speckled Cranberry pole beans, which grew energetically up the stalks and produced 2 quarts of dried beans by the time I harvested them. But I got none of the corn. Deer arrived nightly to snack on the still green ears, although they had no interest in the beans.

The second year, I tried in Maine and with a different <a href=”http://www.seedsavers.org/onlinestore/corn/Corn-Country-Gentleman-OG.html” target=”blank”>variety</A>. This time is was raccoons. The little beggers pulled my fence loose and pulled a stalk or two down to their height every night. At least I got to eat some of it this time, because the raccoons, unlike the deer, waited until it was ripe to have their meal.

This year I grew it in Trumbull with both beans and squash vines. No deer and no raccoons! But the corn is terrible. My husband calls it “cow corn” as it is tough and not remotely sweet. I’ll let it dry and see if I can turn it into corn meal. I think the problem is the heavy soil in the new beds where it’s growing, as well as the rather dry summer. C’est la vie! I’ve put in cover crops in the beds where I’ll plant it next year, and hopefully the deer and raccoons won’t find it…

Sep 14

Kohlrabi

Purple kohlrabi

Purple kohlrabi

I always like to try new things. My husband is used to the fact that our counter always has some food project in process (often it’s something I’m [fermenting]) and every year in the garden, I try some new plant. This year it was kohlrabi. This happened because I tried some fermented with ginger and fell in love. Maine has a fantastic local food culture and the farmer’s markets are not to be missed. Many towns have them right through the winter, and fermented vegetables are one of the many artisanal foods sold.

Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family and can be put in early, as it tolerates frost. It is an odd looking vegetable, and the bulge that is the edible part, is the top part of the stem. I started mine in the beginning of April and put the seedlings in after 20 days. They grew very slowly at first and I was not sure if I was going to get anything. But my patience was rewarded, and at the end of July I harvested enough to ferment one jar. There were many small ones still in the bed, so I left them, and had a second harvest in August. The slugs did eat some of the leaves, but only one plant was done in. Next year I plan to try for a fall harvest, but will need to figure out how to protect the seedlings from slugs during the summer.

Sep 06

Harvesting garlic and onions

Onions curingWell, yes, I’m way behind on my posts, and this one should have been up in late July! But once the garden gets going, it’s hard to find time to write. I did have a stellar harvest of alliums this year! In the early spring, about as soon as the soil was thawed, I put in 80 onion sets. These look like the pearl onions you get in the grocery store and they are very inexpensive at $4 for the bag. They got twice as big this year than they were last year and I pulled out 20 lbs worth. You know they are ready when the tops fall over, which they do in New England in July or so. Once pulled, they have to cure for a while where they won’t get rained on but will get air circulation. Mine go under our raised deck. I needed a place to put all of them and ended up using this milk crate since my wire bottom box was already occupied by the garlic.

Garlic goes in the fall and this batch went in, in October of last year. You know its ready when the bottom two leaves of the plant turn yellow. Don’t wait to pull it because the stem will just break off leaving your garlic in the earth. I lost one of my Russan reds because I didn’t realize they had matured a bit more quickly than the German Hardy. First year with the Reds, but I’ll grow them again. Their flavor is bit more mild than the German’s. Growing the same varieties in different soils was also educational. garlicThe garlic from my Stratford garden – also where the onions grew – is much more mature and healthy than the newer garden in Trumbull and the garlic from Stratford was noticeably larger. I traded two healthy bulbs of German Hardy for a head of cabbage with the master gardener that manages a plot there for a local church. He wanted to grow a variety that did well in Stratford. I also traded some onions for summer squash.

Another fun experiment I did with the garlic was to allow some of the scapes to mature and plant them. They produced smaller cloves, and if one were going for sheer mass, they would be kind of a waste of time. But I’m going to attempt to make my garlic more perennial and this is the first step. Between Connecticut and Maine, I’ve grown far more than I need and have already given some away. Which is a nice feeling, and a principle of permaculture.

Aug 30

Fermenting Your Harvest

Most gardeners have heard of canning, drying or freezing their harvest when it gets overwhelming. But have you ever considered fermenting? Fermenting used to be what we now think of as pickling, although the canning process that uses vinegar is not remotely like what our ancestors did. Although I do can some vinegar based pickles, they don’t have nearly the same nutritional benefits of the fermented vegetables that I make all summer and consume all year.

Snowpeas when i first put them in the jar

Snowpeas when I first put them in the jar

Some traditional fermented veggies include sauerkraut, kimchee, and Jewish pickles. I’m still not very good at fermenting cucumbers, but beets, green tomatoes (the small ones that come in before the first frost), kohlrabi, cabbage (that would be sauerkraut) and snow peas all make tasty and wonderful ferments that will keep in my basement well into the beginning of the following summer.

Fermenting is not difficult and a search on YouTube will get you lots of directions. There are a couple of different approaches, but the basics are this:

Shred or chop dense veggies like beets, cabbage, and kohlrabi, and mix with salt. Sea salt is preferred but not required. The flavor of salt should be pronounced but not unpleasant. The veggies are packed tightly in a jar, covered with water and the jar lid applied. Leave on the counter until the water gets cloudy, then store in the refrigerator or basement. They generally benefit from sitting for a month or so as this allows the veggies to soften to a chewy texture. Round veggies such as green tomatoes are packed tightly in the jar and a salt brine is added. Seasoning vary depending on the veggie. I like:

Garlic with cabbage

Ginger with kohlrabi

Mustard seeds, garlic, and dill with tomatoes

Mustard seeds and garlic scapes with snowpeas

Beets I like naked!

Snow peas after fermentation

Snow peas after fermentation

They will change color somewhat as they age, and the water will become cloudy. This is normal. All veggies come with their own lactic acid bacteria – those are the friendly bacteria we hear about so much – and these are the ones that grow and proliferate. This creates an acidic environment that preserves the vegetables. The salt prevents putrefying bacteria from taking over while the lactobacilli get going. And it’s the lactobacilli that we need for a healthy gut.

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to learn more about fermentation check out :

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz he also has a Youtube channel.

Jul 21

Of Pests and Soil

Permaculture doesn’t make one’s garden immune to pests. But it sure does reduce predation! Of my three gardens, the community garden is the most mature. The soil has had the most time to develop bacteria colonies and myochoriza. At my home in Trumbull, I have two sets of beds: the upper garden is two years old and the lower is new this year. All three of these beds have different levels of soil maturity and it shows in the health of the plants. Bed 1 (community garden) is the most healthy while bed three (lower garden) is the least healthy.

All three beds have potatoes. Beds one and two are volunteers – small potatoes that I missed and that wintered over – and bed three is a planned planting. All three have Colorado potato beetle predation. These little monsters are known for destroying entire crops. The larvae will eat the leaves off the plants right down to the main stem before camping out in the soil for the winter. Volunteers are thought to be bad because they feed next year’s infestation. Bed three is planted with both Rose Fin fingerlings and Yukon golds.

potato bed 1

Bed 1 at my community garden

potato bed 2

Potato bed 2 in the upper part of my yard

Potato bed 3

Potato bed 3 in the lower part of my yard

You can see from the pictures that the plants in the first two bed are markedly more healthy. Beds two and three are within 12 feet of each other and get about the same amount of sun. Both where built using the lasagna garden method. I will say that bed three was the recipient of some VERY poor soil when I was putting the beds together. And it is that bed that has the most predation.

Potato beetles do have natural enemies. Lady beetles and Lebia grandis eat both larvae and eggs. I’ve seen plenty of lady beetles, but I suspect a beetle pathogen. Beauveria bassiana is a fungus that grows naturally in soils all over the world, and it is lethal to all sorts of troublesome bugs including aphids, termites, thrips, and white flies. Tilling would destroy the fungi’s myochoriza.

But there is another factor at work here. After all, many at the community garden do till in the spring and sometimes in the fall as well. That factor is the overall health of the plants. First, a healthy plant is less appealing to predators. Like hunting mammals, they seek out the weakest to munch. Second, a healthy fast-growing plant will simply produce more leaves, minimalizing the effects of the predation.

All of these things are playing themselves out in my gardens. I’ve used the weakness of the plants in bed three as an excuse to pull some fingerlings for my lunch. I’ll just be eating those now…

Jul 01

The Garden Tour

This is the view of the CT garden, off the deck facing southeast. The rear wall of the house is just to the right, out of frame.

A photo off my back deck

A photo off my back deck

 

Here is a picture of two of my rain barrels. They were inexpensive recycled food grade 55 gallon drums $30 for the pair. The frame is recycled deck lumber, and the down spout is a first flush diverter. BTW, don’t use white barrels for rainwater storage. They allow algae to grow and it turns the inside of the barrel green. I’ve been very pleased with this design as it provides serious water pressure. I do drain it in winter.

Stacked water barrels

Stacked water barrels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the new asparagus bed. I’ve added strawberries, and am considering what else would be good company. There will be some echinacea going into the back of the bed from another spot in the garden once they are done flowering.

4asparagus

The new asparagus bed.

5border

Mixed polyculture border

6raspberries

Raspberries!

7ponds

Micro ponds with cat

8polyculture

corn and pole bean polyculture

9polyculture

Corn and potato polyculture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the right is a an example of a mixed plant polyculture. In the picture is lettuce, lovage, borage, beans, onion and cucumber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These micro ponds are full of duckweed, which periodically gets harvested as fertilizer for the land plants. They are too small to house fish, but are a great spot for insects such as bees to drink since they can easily land on the duck weed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve grown corn with pole beans before, and this is the first year I’m adding a winter squash. Beans set nitrogen and so they are very complementary with nitrogen hungry corn. The beans will also help hold the stalks up once they are more established, since they travel from plant to plant, tangling them together.

 

Below is an unintentional poly culture of corn and potatoes.Yeah. I forgot I planted those potatoes…

 

 

 

 

Jun 14

Weed Control

plantain

Photo credit: ErnstA on Wikimedia Commons

Weeds are not out of hand in June, and so this is the time to do some preventative measures. The most important thing to remember about weeds is that they are nature’s bandage for bare soil. So keeping your soil covered and shaded is the best weed prevention. Not tilling is another.

Mulch is one method. If you garden has weeds, burying them will leave them to rot and add fertility to your soil. A thick layer of newsprint – 8-10 pages thick – covered over with compost and/or mulch, will suppress weeds. When my mom started her garden, I would layer composted leaves and newsprint for her every year for three years or so in succession. Ten years later, that part of her garden still has very few weeds even though I stopped mulching after three years. After doing the same practice in my community garden plot for three years, my results have been similar.

A second method is to group desired plants so that their leaves will cover and shade weeds out. Broad leaved greens such as chard fits nicely into corners and edges of the garden where weeds might otherwise spring up, as do lettuces and radish. Group plants together in guilds such as the traditional native American corn, beans and squash combination.

Not tilling in the spring will also cut down on weeds. Many weeds seeds are buried deep under the soil, waiting for the opportunity to sprout. Tilling can bring seeds to the surface that have been waiting for years. Maintaining beds instead allows a loose soil structure, making any weeds that do appear easy to pull.

If you fence your garden, the fence line can be a weed haven. My solution for this has been to put down recycled boards between my fence posts and run my fence line on top of it. My mother had a fence around her garden that I just pulled out this fall. So much grass had grown up through it that I could not physically lift the mass of dirt that ripped out of the ground. I had to extract the chunks of sod piecemeal and drag them over the stone wall into the woods. The first year of my community garden, one of my plots had a preexisting fence that later became the bane of my existence. Grass in particular has deep roots and once entwined with wire is impossible to remove.

But a surface barrier makes all this a non issue. Grass that crawls under the board into the beds is easily ripped out because of the softer soil, and the lawn mower can keep the outer edge clear. I use salvaged boards. I know that some of them are pressure treated, but those are on the edges of my walkways, and I keep food plants away from them. If using non pressure treated, one inch boards will last several years before needing to be replaced.

So instead of letting nature make a bandage fro your bare soil, make you own!

Jun 07

Water in the Garden

microponds

Microponds April 2015

I love water in gardens. Ponds, or running water, waterfalls or trickles, I love them all. They are as meditative as sitting by a fire. In late March last year, after I had my garden beds all set up, I had some time on my hands and started thinking about ponds. Again. Having a pond – or any water – near your garden is incredibly beneficial. A water feature provides a place for beneficial garden companions to drink.

I read loads of info on how to build ponds. But kept getting stalled. I have no space. I have no space. I have no space. We own 1/10th of an acre. The property below us is an old foundation that is flood plane. We don’t own it and while I do clean it up and put plants there, I can’t justify a major project like a full sized pond. Nor could we afford the expense of liners and plants as we were already committed to paying off credit cards, so I was on a shoe string.

But I could experiment with a micro pond and later added a tiny matching bog garden.

I used three tires with one side cut out. A sharp razor knife works well for this. Cut repeatedly on the same line until through the sidewall. (this won’t work on tread since most are steal belted) the tire was to protect the 4 mil plastic I ended up using. It was much cheaper then pond liner and since these ponds are tiny when it eventually gives out, there’s not much to loose.

Two of the tires are little ponds and the third became the bog garden. I dug a hole deep enough to bury the tire and then went down further in the center. I only cut part of the sidewall off the bottom so there is a lip. I lines the hole with plastic packing wrap (that was what I had on hand) and then with the 4 mil plastic. I added water to get the plastic flattened out, helped it along a bit by hand, and weighted the edges down with stones.

Then I let it set for a while. When things warmed up, I scavenged water plants from local ponds. Three type of floating plants and some lilies went into the ponds, and arrow root and cattails went in the bog. I even tried fish and tadpoles in the ponds. The fish died from lack of oxygen and made a stinky explosion when they finally resurfaced, and I think something ate the tadpoles because they all disappeared one day and I never saw any leopard frogs after that.

But the plants all survived and garden was full of beneficial insects! Dragon and damsel flies were very welcome along with various wasps and solitary bees. I’ve battled slugs in the back yard for years. They’ve eaten darn near everything I’ve tried to grow back there. My beer traps would fill to overflowing. But I hardly saw any last year. Come to find out, pond attract things that eat slugs. Good. I don’t miss them.

If you want details on how to build a larger pond check this out.

http://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/building-a-small-water-garden/

Jun 02

Cattails

Cattail

Photo credit: Mokkie on Wikimedia Commons

Even though cattails are native to north America they can be considered invasive at times, growing so thickly that they choke out other plants. They are prolific producers and even the dry stalks can provide oxygen to the root. But since this blog is about growing food, the energetic ability to reproduce is a bonus. Cattails, also called bulrushes, have a sweet edible root, which is a favored food of muskrats, but which is also a staple food for native Americans. They like still water and will grow in the edges of streams, but not in the active center. Mostly they like ponds.

And in nature, ponds don’t last. In a process called succession, ponds slowly fill in and become fields, and cattails are an integral part of this process. But if you’ve gone to the trouble of digging a pond, you probably don’t want it filled back in again! I don’t grow my cattails in a pond, I made them a little bog, which makes them easier to get to when I want to eat some. The bog also contains arrow root (another edible roots which I’ll profile later) and is a haven for insects and birds use the curling hairs of the cattail for nesting material.

Cattail roots are harvested in the summer before the flower blooms. Don’t harvest in the spring, they are not worth the trouble and don’t taste good until later. Remember, the plant has been living off the root all winter. Select the largest shoots that haven’t begun to flower, and use both hands to separate the outer leaves from the core, all the way to the base of the plant. Now grab the inner core with both hands, as close to the base as possible, and pull it out. Peel and discard the outermost layers of leaves from the top down, until you reach the edible part, which is soft enough to pinch through with your thumbnail (the rule-of-thumb). There are more layers to discard toward the top, so you must do more peeling there. Cut off completely tough upper parts with a pocket knife or garden shears and add to compost, leave them in your bog for nutrients, or use as top dressing for your garden.

The shoots will cover your hands with a sticky, mucilaginous jelly. If you want, you can use this as thickening for soups. It can also be used on wounds, sores, boils, carbuncles, external inflammations, and boils, to soothe pain. The shoot provide beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. and make sure you leave some for next year. If you have a large enough plot you can eat the tops of the flowers steamed. I’m told they taste rather like corn, although I haven’t tried them yet.

Cattails have the skill of cleaning water. They can render organic pollution harmless, they are nitrogen fixers, and can even reduce some salinity. Cattails require a shallow pond or bog. I made a small one that accepts overflow from one of my rain barrels and rests in an old tire. I had no idea if cattails would be happy in such a tiny bed, but after I transplanted some from a local stream last spring, they thrived and provided an interesting visual in my little plot.

Making a bog garden wasn’t difficult and required only shallow digging, but use the right liner! Mine is tiny because I didn’t want to buy a proper liner so if it does leak eventually, I can dig it out and replace it without too much trouble. It’s an old tire with the side cut off (like to recycle), lined with 4 mil plastic. There is a layer of gravel at the bottom – 1-2 inches- and then half filled with dirt and topped with water. The water level fluctuates quite a bit, but the cattails have been fine.

Here are some recipes from Wildman Steve Brill.

Older posts «