Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zone 5 Mache

So I have officially kicked off the 2007 gardening season! Here in far northern Zone 5 planting outside on March 1 is new to me. But using the successful coldframe design of 2006 I trudged through the 2' drifts to my gardens, scratched two rows into the pleasantly warm and moist soil and planted 20 mache plants.
Now back to that zone 5 part. Last week we had some 40 degree days, enough to inspire me to order 2 packets of Vit from Cook's Gardens. While they were en route, I decided to moisten the soil in the coldframe. How? I shoveled it full of snow of course! Temps in the frame are hitting 75 degrees on the clear 40 degree days and the snow melted in days. Of course now that I have seeds in soil nighttime temps are back down to the single digits...

I have never actually tasted mache, but Elliot Coleman sings it praises with almost poetic prose and Cook's descriptions are dripping with even more adjectives than usual so hopes are high! The most important aspect of mache for me is that it appears to be the hardiest garden plant around-needing only sunlight and above freezing daytime temps to grow thru snow if the reports are to be believed. This, combined with my final harvest of radishes in early December, this planting would make only 10 weeks that I did not have veggies growing outside this past winter. Sweet!

Unfortunately the pic is not from my garden, look for updates in a month or so!

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mea (or is that Mia?) Culpa

I drag myself to the Year Round Harvest with head hung low. I challenged Mia and Beo to do a winter garden in frozen Wisconsin and I would do one too in much warmer Mendocino County, CA. We would blog about it and share our struggles and successes.

Well, sometimes the best laid plans.....our friend, Tara's closest friend, died in November and life just spun off in another direction. I have spent the winter months tending the broken heart of my beloved, getting my late-spring born spirit through the nadir of my year and experiencing the coldest December and January in all my years living in N.CA. The fact that we got the very low tech coldframe even covered with plastic was a big deal.

Midwinter came and went and I don't know if the groundhog saw his shadow, but the weather just changed. It is 65 degrees out today and was 65 degrees yesterday. The nights are staying in the high 30's to low 40's and we've gotten some life giving rain. It has been the driest winter I can remember for many years too. We are at half the annual rainfall we usually get by this time (22 inches since July, vs 51 of last year). Now why they measure annual rainfall starting in July when we are in our dry season until late October is one of the great mysteries, but I digress.

As soon as February 2nd passed and the second half of winter began, the high pressure was finally overcome by low pressure which raises our temperatures and brings rain. Last weekend I finally cleaned up the garden (from the fall!) and started spreading more mulch. And despite the cold and the lack of rain, despite my almost total neglect, the lifeforce was working under and close to the ground. Under the coldframe are many albeit small spinach plants (1st picture). The chard, which survives the occassional snowfall has been giving to me all winter. Every pot of minestrone I've made with my canned summer tomatoes and my frozen green beans has had fresh chard tossed in as well. The broccoflower and the Arugula are holding their own and the nicest surprise was to see bunches and bunches of cilantro springing up all over the garden. I let most of the plants go to seed last year, as they were all late planted and bolted very quickly. These February plants will give to me for at least a month or two, barring a blizzard or a heat wave.

Today, in honor of the new moon (8:14 am PST), I planted garlic, onions and potatoes. This is going to be a very tricky gardening year for us. We live in a neighborhood with a water system. An old, inadequate water system. We get our water from a man-made lake and this year, as of August 1st, in the peak of the summer hot and dry season, the Brooktrails Community Service District, barring an unapproved county permit, will put all residents on Tier 1 water rationing, dredge the lake to remove about 2 feet of muck, raise the sides of the lake and then pray that we can get through until the end of October without the entire community running out of water. Tier 1 water rationing means a little over 5,000 gallons of water per household per month. It is now winter. We are a family of two. We shower pretty regularly, do laundry, wash dishes and flush toilets. We have fairly new appliances for washing dishes and clothes. We don't have low flow toilets. We don't shower every day. We are pretty typical. And without watering anything else but houseplants during the wet season, we are still slightly over Tier 1 water usage.
What to do? We have baby trees; 2 plums that are 4 years old, 2 peach trees that are 2 years old and a fuji apple that is 2 years old. These are baby trees that need regular watering. I have 10 old rose bushes that I'd carted around with me for over 10 years before we moved here and most of them finally went in the ground. I have fuscias, canna, lemon verbena bushes and many other perennials that are in my care. I refuse to let them die. It is illegal in my county to use grey water for gardens. Well too bad.
My plan is (in my mind anyway) is that we do laundry in town, we take the traps off our three sinks and catch the grey water and use that for the perennials. We bucket water any remaining food crops as of 8/1 using water we're saving by not doing laundry at home. We take the last of our remodel money and buy at least one low flow toilet. But most importantly, vis a vis this blog entry, I have to figure out what to grow so I can garden with a vengence from now until 8/1, and then have most things finished except maybe one tomato plant and a couple of long bean plants.
So what does that allow for?
Greens, lettuce, onions, garlic, peas, strawberries, raspberries, early carrots and mulch like there's no tomorrow. And I have been. Straw, manure, compost, layered and layered and layered. We collect used organic potting soil from friends that grow medical marijuana indoors and that goes into the mix as well. And all that mulch is rotting and moist under the surface layers.
Today I planted into a heavily mulched bed two roses, a Joseph's Coat, which is a climbing rose and a pink tea rose. These roses had been in 15 gallong pots. There are only 2 more that need to go into the ground and I will have gotten them all in. When they are in pots, they need to be watered 2x a day during the 100+ degree weeks of summer. I still have a baby fig tree in a pot as well as various and sundry other plants that would benefit from being put in the ground. At the very least, I can move them around the side of the house that will have them getting about 5 hours of sun in the earlier part of the day, and then be shaded by the house for the rest.

We had thought about putting in a tank to catch rain water, but we need a permit for that (expensive) and to pay for a permit, buy a tank and then only have enough water for about a week of watering seems cost prohibitive. We thought of getting a collapsible tank and buying water through August and September, but from where and whom? Still too expensive. Last fall I got 5 55 gallon olive barrels off freecycle and I filled them with the water from my hot tub when it was time to change the water. I think maybe getting 10 more of these would serve, as I will change the water in the tub 2 more times before 8/1 and one tub's worth of water will fill 5 barrels. Still just a pittance compared to what I would use if these conditions were not going to be in place, but it could make the difference between keeping baby trees and young perennials alive without having my water shut off for overuseage or having them die.
And yet despite my scheming and planning on how to surmount this water rationing thing that won't happen for almost 6 months, the wheel of the year turns and life emerges and blooms in the lengthening days.

And then there's my cat Mouse, who always likes to help when he can.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hanging In in Wisconsin

January 25th. Our cold frames have taken a beating. Initially the weather was too warm, and our low-tech cold frame turned out not to vent well. We got some mold, but few sprouts, and soon the wood started to mildew, so we decided to cash in on that project. Beo thinks that next year if we increase the angle of the top to allow for more sun, and use only a single pane of plastic sheeting, we'll have better luck. We also have a line on some used windows that we hope to make use of as Spring nears. Our hot house garden experiment has done only slightly better. Most of the sprouts that initially came up took a hard hit from the warming which recently dissapeared leaving us with a typical frigid Wisconsin winter. We did harvest a few tiny radishes on a mid-December night before a hard freeze. When we saw the forecast, Beo tromped out through the snow and furitively plucked them from their chilly beds. As if our neighbors didn't think we were crazy enough, it was after dark and we set up a light to facilitate this process. I had to document this craziness and the resulting little frozen rubies.

These days, there is some teeny spinach, but everything else that had come up couldn't take the wild temperature fluctuations and gave up the ghost. We're hoping that as Spring approaches, our spinach will take off and we'll get a nice early harvest. Meanwhile, Whole Foods continues to be our best source of local produce. We picked up a big bag of carrots and two cabbages, all grown about 40 miles from our home. We realized that if we liked rutebegas, parsnips, and their cousins, we'd have even more to choose from. Unfortunately, we're both picky in that family. We still have access to relatively local eggs, fed on a diet of greens and pasture, and this is Wisconsin after all, so local dairy is no problem. We still have local maple syrup, my apple butter, and started on a 2 pound bottle of honey harvested about 20 miles from our house. So don't give up, fellow Locavores. Keep searching for SOLE food no matter where you are this Winter

Monday, January 01, 2007

Local Winter in Wisconsin

As expected, buying locally has been tougher as Winter has grown in strength. We've slowly used up the last of our local preserves. We're on our last bit of frozen applesauce, the frozen veggies are gone, and we're down to the last of frozen sauce, strawberry preserves, and apple butter. My last batch of jelly turned out not to have jelled properly, despite passing all tests to the contrary. Ah, well. At the markets, we slowly watched our favorites dissapear. One week spinach was gone, then onions. Our local potatoes have gotten smaller and smaller and are now about the size of golf balls. The last time I hit the Farmer's Market, we found some broccoli, and sweet potatoes, but our favorite Feta Artisan was gone, and there were no greens to be found. After finding more local produce at Whole Foods than at that trip to the market, I gave up on the market and have gone to seeking out local exclusively at Whole Foods. So far we've been able to reliably get cabbage and leeks that are local and organic. Last time we were there the produce manager hinted that the bag of local organic potatoes we'd found would be the last, and our local carrots were gone. Local mushrooms are gone from the Farmer's Market, and hit-and-miss at Whole Foods. Still, we've done our best to use what local is available. We still have some squash hanging in from the harvesting season, though I think we all got squashed out during the Late Fall. Leek and Potato soup is a big favorite, and we've been trying to come up with new ways to use cabbage. Tonight I made a red cabbage stir fry, with a good dose of fresh ginger to ward off the coughs that seem to be lingering everywhere. It was a great splash of color and flavor in the midst of Winter. Keep an eye out, you may be able to find some unexpected local produce in your neck of the woods.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

21st Century Gardening

I am just recently recovering from my latest bout with agricultural ague. See periodically, I am all but overcome with the desire to unplug from The System and go reap the benefits of immense toil in the soil. This time I had the deck stacked against me. I was researching a series for my other blog, and was spending a lot of time reading about small scale pastured livestock farming-especially Joel Saladin's works, and then to top it off I finally got around to reading Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower. Coleman is the all but uncontested modern guru of the organic market garden, and I am fairly sure Salatin is persuasive enough that I think he could convince Cheney that petroleum was a losing venture. Both works were designed for those, like me, who are interested in getting into farming-despite that fact every sane person knows that farming is a losing venture. And it is, under the current industrial paradigm that focuses on quantity over quality. Both authors stress what readers of this blog already know-that educated consumers are literally hungry for local, incredibly high quality fresh foods. Both authors lay out their ideas in a well organized, can do fashion, but don't pull any punches. You will never get rich farming. You will not have more free time. And if you are wanting to farm based on a negative reaction to something (job, city life, stress, etc) you are doomed because idealism is clouding your judgement.

What pulled me out this time, as usual, was Mia and her gentle reminders, as well as our current fiscal reality. Now is not the time to take on additional tasks or expenses, and I still have 1/8 acre of under utilized garden space (read: lawn) in the backyard. Also important in this recovery was the sermon this week on gratitude. I find that counting your blessings has an immense grounding effect on me. I have so much, and wanting more is, well, greedy.

Coleman's system for market gardening is brilliant. With his plan-which took him 20 years to design- you can farm 2-3 acres of very intense vegetable production per worker and support 20-40 people with their annual vegetables. That doesn't sound like much land, but put it in perspective. Eliot builds his fields into beds 5' x 100'. That means all 5 of my 7 beds would equal one of his. Then he leaves a 10' path for his equipment, and starts another bed, so each acre is 2 beds wide. Here is the kicker-they are 40 beds deep-so he gets 80 beds per acre: Coleman farms almost 300x the space than I do. That's a lot of hoeing! Think of the thousands of transplants alone, or spreading 100,000 lbs of manure by hand. Every year. And that is just for one acre! Coleman has lots of gee whiz ways to improve your efficiency, but it is still immense.

But my concern with his system (and yes I realize that I am critiquing a master) is that he is still operating in what I am beginning to think is a dated, and potentially unsustainable system. He tills the land up to 6 times per year thereby destroying much of the soil life. In his book Coleman spends a very brief time on no till gardening which he began using in one of his greenhouses. He concedes that after 2 years his plants under the no till were outperforming his other beds, but he did not know how to accomplish it on the scale he was currently working under. That is my new mission.

To that end I am sourcing books on no till, or mulch intensive gardening. I am currently convinced that this is the future of gardening and perhaps agriculture. Read old time farming books and they are unanimous that the best time to plant corn (which needs high nutrient soil) is into a field that has been left to hay for 2 seasons. As Permaculture texts expound-no one has to fertilize a prairie and it will produce as much biomass as a forest. Classics such as Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution, and Ruth Stout's No Work Garden also stress that nature knows best. My own results this year when I redid my wood chip paths only to discover a 1" layer of humus underneath, after just 18 months, are also playing heavily into this. What could be accomplished if I actually intended to compost in place instead of just dumping a chunky carbon source on the ground? There are hundreds of permaculture gardeners out there running these experiments, and I plan on joining their ranks and adding to the literature on the topic here and on One straw.

2007 will see a significant rise in the amount of space I am dedicating to perennial food crops such as small fruit and orchards, deep mulched and under-sown with perennial legumes. In my 7 annual vegetable beds I will be applying the results of this winter's research to limit my tilling to only what is necessary to get the seeds and transplants into the earth.

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Eco Vegetarianism

Just wanted to drop a line to redirect those interested to a brief series I am doing on my other blog. Based on some recent reading I am writing a very high level overview of sustainable agriculture-starting from the the fact that I turned vegetarian mainly due to the unsustainability of raising meat in our country today. Am I still right?

Vegans won't like my conclusions.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Winter Market

Today was the first day since cooler weather arrived that the Madison Farmer's Market moved indoors. The indoor market is in beautiful Monona Terrace, where they also record Michael Feldman's "Whaddya Know?", for you NPR fans out there. Yesterday we got our first real taste of snow, so it seemed especially fitting for my very first trip to the indoor farmer's market. I must say, the indoor market is absolutely delightful. We quickly circumnavigated the room to find out favorite vendors, then moved back through to get what we needed. It was so much quicker than transversing the capitol square. For all of the wonderful aura of the outdoor market, I must say, this was much more efficient. It was more like a grocery store where you paid each farmer for their own wares. Plus, the warm, dry atmosphere was quite an improvement over our last visit which was 36 degrees and steady drizzle. There was much more at the market, but here's what I took home this second week of November:

  • 1.5 pounds of assorted heirloom carrots
  • 1 pound of brussel sprouts (The farmer was quite impressed that Sprout asked if we could get some!)
  • A lovely bag of baby spinach (So much tastier since truly cool weather arrived!)-A bag of salad greens
  • 10# of IPM apples (The apple stands are more sparse, so I need to stock up!)
  • 3 Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 pound of broccoli
  • A giant frosted cookie (Okay, that didn't make it home in one piece!)
  • 2 pints of strawberries! (I asked the farmer, she said she has a greenhouse and everbearing plants)
  • French Style Feta Cheese
All of this was grown within an easy drive from my house, and if not certified organic then at least grown with no (or in the case of the apples-minimal) spray/chemicals. My total expenditure was $45. Considering that apples alone are $2-$3 a pound at the grocery store, I think I'm economically in the win.

It's certainly more of an effort to make the 30 minute drive to the market and spend time collecting my needs than it is to go to the grocery store, but on my in to Madison this morning, I was struck by the feeling that I was hitchin' up the wagon and heading into town for the weeks goods. I'm glad that Maddy challenged Beo and I to doing this blog, because I've always cut off the Farmer's Market after October, and this was definitely worth the effort. What lovely local salads we'll have this week--in November! I expect we'll even have them from our backyard if our cold frames continue to hold up. That's this week's update from Wisconsin.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


When I was in high school I bought a dehydrator to make camp food for my backpacking and ren fair trips. Lo and behold, my mom and sister were able to find it in their basement and brought it out to me. It arrived none to soon, for I found the first "bad apple" in the 35# crate we purchased. Every apple got processed that day. I made a pie for Thanksgiving, dried two rounds of apples in the dehydrator, and used all of the peels and cores to make jelly. Now that's the way to do the jelly, by using the scraps instead of actually using whole apples. I had to re-process the jelly because it didn't set the first time, but it did end up working just fine.

I have mixed feelings about the dried apples. First of all, they take about 8 hours in my little dehydrator to get completely dry. Once they've been dried, they don't look to amount to much. However, they make a simply wonderful snack, and they haven't stuck around long enough to find out how well they might keep! The first batch dissapeared by the end of the next day. It is nice to be able to just grab a handful of dried slices, and I do that when I wouldn't have stopped to mess with washing and dealing with a juicy apple. The verdict? I don't know that it's the best preservation method, but it works, and I'll experiment with it more next year when the garden is in full bloom. I'd like to try making soup mixes with veggies and herbs!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tools for Eating Local

The impetus for this blog was to eat local as long as we can and to chronicle our journey. Due to the fact that we are still safely ensconced in Suburbia growing our own food is a distant dream (though I am doubling our edible gardens next year) we will need help.

The biggest ally in our Quest for Local is the Madison, WI Farmers Market. The website is awesome, but can't really cover the feel of the Market on a bright August morning. Madison is flanked by 2 large lakes, so the air is crisp and clean, plus the University of Wisconsin: Madison is right down town and you are surrounded by the energy of youth and learning where ever you look. And then there is the beautiful State Capitol right in the middle of it all-with its classic archetecture, amazing rotunda, and organically maintained lawn planted from seeds from a Madison seed company.

The headquarters of Organic Valley is located less than 100 miles to the northwest-and the name is legit. OV is the biggest employer and has revitalized an entire region of the state. Their Coop trucks thread thru the countryside picking up loads of milk, eggs, meat, and veggies from the farmers and give them very good prices for them while ensuring a regional market, and covering marketing and distribution issues. This ensures that there are dozens of organic growers within a few hours drive of Madison and the market is all the better for it.

The market is BIG -averaging 20,000 visitors a Saturday. This is on par with some large city festivals, the only difference is it happens every single week! Recent estimates of revenue are in the neighborhood of $200,000 per week. Considering it is really only going for about 5-6 hours that is amazing. Big Box retail will pull in that number on a Saturday, but it will take them from 8am to 10 pm to do it, and I don't see hundreds of grinning toddlers eating organic fruit at the them!

Still more local is going straight to the farm. My biggest resource for this is . First and foremost it will pinpoint farmer's markets, coops, and most importantly direct to consumer farms for whatever zip code you give it. Once you get the map to the size you want it you can click on any farm/market and get contact info and descriptions. Uber cool. The listings are by no means all inclusive-but you can use the first contact to springboard you into the local organic underground. Buy some eggs for the chicken farmer-and then ask them if they know of anyone that sells vegetables or fruit. They will and your then you're in!

The other huge piece on the local harvest site is its listings of CSA's. Community Supported Agriculture is to organic farming what GMO's are for Con Agra and can similarly revolutionize modern farming. Mia and I did a work share for Michael Field's CSA several summers ago and it was one of the pivotal moments of our lives. For the small sum of 5 hours 'work' (weeding, harvesting, and socializing) a week, we got a bushel of veggies and more organic gardening knowledge than you could fit in 10 books. Or we could have chosen to pay about $450 to pick up the veggies every week for a season. CSA's guarantee the farmer an income for growing veggies instead of Corn on Beans, encourage massive diversification of plantings (typically 6-12 varieties a week, every week, for 4 months), reconnect the consumer to the farm and make suburban farms viable. In Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma he talks with an Iowa corn farmer who would prefer to grow veggies, but laments that the Coop only buys corn and beans-who would he sell to? New Generation Marketing Coops like Organic Valley, and CSA's-at least near town centers- can answer that question. HUGE fan!

Eating local is not always easy, but easy makes for some ugly societal realities. And personally I'd rather talk to a farmer face to face while I buy my eggs than to a voice on a drive thru speaker while waiting for my 'egg' muffin.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 23, 2006

October 23rd Update

As it turns out, eating local year round might not be a cake walk, but it's not all that difficult either. This week, eating local just meant braving the rain and 40 degree temperatures with two young children, to shop the farmer's market 30 miles away. The Madison Farmer's Market is really amazing. There are dozens of booths set up all around the capitol square, and they sell an abundance of things you can grow or make. I don't think I've ever been to the farmer's market this late in the season, and I was surprised at how much variety there was. Most booths still had much of what they'd had all year. There were even a few tomatoes here and there. I could have gotten twice as much as I did, but I selected just a few of the tempting goods. This weeks haul was sweet potatoes, spinach, eggplant, brussel sprouts, broccoli, red onions, creminimushrooms, beets, cilantro, and heirloom popcorn. All grown within a couple hours of my house, all but the popcorn grown organically. There was so much more to choose from. I spotted some breathtaking romanseco, but I honestly think it's so beautiful that I'd have trouble eating it. I also picked up some beautiful harvest decorations. Mini-pumpkins, a spray of dried flowers, and a beautiful bunch of corn with a dried flower arangement tucked into the husks. The farmers had signs up reminding folks that the market will be moving indoors starting the second week of November. I'm very intrigued to see what will continue to be available as the temperatures drop. So far, it's an amazing abundance.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Willits Harvest Festival and 100 Mile Dinner

It was an amazing day. So many of the community came out for it. The Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL) group did a very wise thing to link up with the The Grange. The Grange is a Rural family fraternity founded in 1867, the nation's oldest general farm organization. From linking up with them, we "counterculture" sorts, as if believing that we have to be in better relationship with the planet and how we grow our food and where we get our energy is "counter to the culture", have this pool of amazing elders, some centurians, that participate in our events, share their wisdom and tell their stories of what it was like here back in their youth.

The event was held at our local Grange. There was a lot to see and do. There was a solar oven cookoff. This was my favorite solar oven. I got all sorts of written material that is still in my bag, but I am going to build a solar oven. They are so very simple! You can sterilize canning jars in them, cook stews and casseroles and soups, roast things, etc, all with the power of reflective material, glass and the sun.

This is Dave, the owner of Sanhedrin Nursery. He specializes in fruit trees and is a wealth of information about what grows well here in our little part of the world. He's also a pruning master who gives a free fruit tree pruning workshop every year at pruning time. When I stopped to talk to him, he gave me many contacts of local permaculturists who are sharing seeds of food crops that are both native to here and acclimated over many generations to grow well in our climate. He also gave me a flyer about Mendocino Permaculture's 25th Annual Chestnut Gathering and Potluck in early November. The Zeni Ranch has 100 year old, dry-farmed chestnut trees that are a testament to the sustainability of tree crops. The community is invited to come pick our own chestnuts from freshly fallen nuts, have a potluck and attend a discussion on growing the best nuts and fruits for our local climate.

Dr. Jason Bradford is the founder of WELL. Here he is with his hand cranked juice press, pressing grapes and apples. They pressed fruit all day and the resulting juice was served in pitchers with our lovely dinner. Jason lives on a large ranch and actually grew wheat and milled it into flour. It was his wheat that I used in my main course dish. I didn't know that until yesterday.

Watching the demonstrations, which included the solar cooking, the juice pressing and food dehydration and an acorn workshop illustrated to me again, on a larger scale than I employ myself, how much work it takes to process food from its original state, or in the case of acorns, transform something that is inedible into something rather deliciously edible.

The Acorn Workshop: Donna D'Terra is our local Grandma Herbalist here in Willits. She lives on a 160 acre piece of land that she has had for over 20 years. Her land is studded with majestic white oaks. About 7 years ago, she learned from the local Indian elder women how to collect, process, prepare and give thanks for the mighty acorn.

Yesterday I had said how hard I thought it would be to be vegan if you could only eat locally. I hadn't taken wild food into account. The acorn is a rich source of both fat and protein. They store well and you can put the meal into anything. You can grind it into flour that can be used for baking, although best used mixed with other flours. Click on this link for acorn nutritional analysis, if you're interested.

I also learned that the native people here, the Pomos tended the oak forests by planting the acorns and tended the land here on a huge scale, creating a garden so large that it was beyond the comprehension scope of the white (un)settlers who came here 200 or so years ago. The Indian's whole world was a garden of theirs and the earth's co-creation. And the acorn was a large part of their sustanance.

There are three main types of oaks. Donna, Freddie and I are demonstrating each type with acorn caps and oak leaf branches. Donna was the tan oak. Freddie and I were the black and the white oaks, but I can't remember which one was whom.

The acorns are gathered in September and October, piled into baskets and dried out of strong light and away from moisture. Once they are dry, the meats are removed from the shells. Unlike the Native people who used mortar and pestles to crack and grind the acorns, we cracked them with hammers and zipped the meats up in a blender with water. The resulting mash is put in jars, filled 1/3 of the way with meal and then the rest of the way with water. This is stored in the refrigerator and the water is poured off every day and replaced with fresh. This process goes on for about a week and is how the tannins, which make the acorn inedible in its whole state, are leached off.

After about a week, the meal should taste just a little bitter and somewhat nutty. Then it is ready to eat. It can be cooked as a hot cereal, pretty much like any other hot cereal. It can be added to stews and soups. Donna said when you add it to things, it just disappears, but you get the nutritional benefits of it in whatever you add it to. You can also dry the resulting meal and grind it into acorn flour. This picture is of a group of us cracking already dried acorns.

Donna also generously fed us acorn pate, made with olive, onions and celery. She also brought a small jar of just plain, ready to eat acorn much. It was rather bland, and very edible. Tara and I both said, "I could eat this," and have a plan to go up to a friend's land and start collecting acorns today.

This is Anne Weller, one of the organizers of the event. She did a fantastic job visioning and coordinating this amazing dinner that we had. She also built the lovely altar and led a heartfelt blessing of our food before we sat down to eat.

My heart was full when this entire room of my community joined hands, circling the the room and the food tables to give gratitude for our amazing bounty that our own lands give us. Annie sang a song and then we broke into lines to serve ourselves from the food tables. I will try to recount all the things that were there, but I'm quite sure I'm forgetting things.

There were 4 soups: A butternut squash, a pumpkin, a vegan vegetable and a chicken vegetable. There were gallons and gallons of salad made with local cherry tomatoes, peppers and lettuces, dressed with a tomato, herb, olive oil dressing. Trays of local sliced tomatoes and basil, fresh breads from the local bakery (not local grains, however), locally and freshly churned butter for the bread graced the salad table.

For the main dishes there were casseroles of many types: tomato, corn zucchini pie, eggplant parmesan (both having been topped with local sharp goat cheese instead of the traditional parmesan), a potato chard casserole, chicken vegetable stew and several potato casseroles with melted cheese, some with ham too. There were these amazing winter squash croquettes that I think were my favorite thing on the table. There was corned beef, ham and 2 1/2 foot long zucchinis that were stuffed with meat and vegetables. I know there was more, but this is all I can recall. It was too crowded at serving time to take pictures of the food, so I encourage you to let your imagination run here. For dessert there were bowls of fresh raspberries and fresh whipped cream, apple crumbles and my pumpkin custard.

All in all, we fed close to 100 people and everyone had plenty to eat. I felt so well nourished by the entire day. It is good to see what is possible with a vision, some hard work and a community that shares the vision. For that I give great gratitudes.

Blessings on the harvest!

Year Round Harvest

We knew that trying to extend the season in Central Wisconsin would be challenging. We got our first real test last night-about 1/4" of snow. Actually last night wasn't even our biggest frost yet-5 days after we planted the cold frames we hit a 27 degree overnight low. That was a hard enough frost to drop the Amaranth, Sunchokes, and Zinnias, but luckily the exposed carrots, lettuce and kale we planted in late July are being troopers. It is very, very surreal to march back to the gardens after work thru 40 degree rain, pop the cover of the cold frame and inhale the 55 degree humid air. The Compost Hot House Garden is so far significantly outpacing the Cold Frame. The Cold Frame has sprouts up, but they are easily 50% behind the Compost Garden (pictured below)-and its only been 13 days since planting. The radishes are progressing nicely, though the short day factor is certainly slowing them down.

This October cold snap is atypical in recent history-in the past several years, snow before Thanksgiving has been rare. In fact that 27 degree frost was at the very earliest range in our First Frost Date calendar. Again, it appears that I will get a run for my money on our first attempt to extend our growing season! That being said, I am happy to say that 2 weeks in, my dream of picking fresh greens for Thanksgiving Dinner is looking feasible as air temps in the Compost Garden even at 5am have been consistently 10-20 degrees above ambient.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eating Within 100 Miles

I'm making a couple of dishes for the Harvest Dinner going on in my town today. This is the all day event I mentioned last week or so. I decided to change my menu from butternut squash gratin to pumpkin custard.

Pumpkin custard, instead of pumpkin pie, because we don't grow grains here for the making of flour which would have made the crust. Of course there is no cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or ginger in my custard either, because we don't grow those things in N. CA. I thought long and hard about spices, wondering what, if anything I could use. We have great abundance of savory herbs, but no sweet spices. Except one: Coriander. Coriander, the seeds that were my early summer cilantro. So I ground up 1tsp very fine in my herb grinder and added it to the custard. I also topped it with some of the blackberry syrup I made about a month ago.

Winter squash is a powerhouse of Vitamin A. Here is a nutritional chart from the The World's Healthiest Foods site.

The other thing I realized is that it would be very, very challenging to be a vegan if all your food came from within 100 miles: No beans, no nut butters, very little fat and the only source I can even think of besides walnuts for vegan fat is olive oil which is a baby industry here. It was very odd to make the custard, as I don't usually cook with whole eggs, whole milk, butter and honey. I'm an egg whites, soy milk, Earth Balance and agave grrl. I'm not vegan but I like eating and cooking with soy substitutes, as I pretty much don't eat dairy products.

The recipe:
I wedged up, deseeded and depulped a sugar baby pumpkin from my garden that was just slightly smaller than a kid's soccer ball. I boiled it until it was very tender, removed the wedges from the water, let them cool, then peeled them, put it all in the food processor and zipped it up until it was very smooth. I got 5 cups of pumpkin.
To the 5 cups of pumpkin, I added 7 local large eggs that were well beaten, 1 qt of local milk, a whole pound jar of local honey and the 1 tsp of finely ground coriander.
This was poured into a buttered 9"x13" baking dish and convection baked for just under an hour in a 350 degree oven. After the custard was completely cooled, I drizzled home made blackberry syrup over the top.
In the name of using all the pureed pumpkin, I had extra custard, so I threw together a crust, added cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg to the remaining custard and baked a small pie as well. This was just for us. I had a slice when it was still hot out of the oven. It was delicious. Making pumpkin pie with a fresh pumpkin instead of canned holds no comparison. Canned is easy and adequate, but now that it is pumpkin season in many parts of the country, I highly recommend buying a couple, preparing them as illustrated above and using the pureed fresh pumkin instead of canned for the things you might use the canned for like pie, soup, curry, etc.

So some illumination came in the doing of this task. I've downloaded a NI label I made from the Nutrition Data site. So as you can see, baking local was both nutritious as well as cholosterol and sugar heavy. But this is a dessert to be indulged in, to celebrate the incredible bounty of my area. So for this one time, I'm not going to worry about calories and Weight Watcher points!

Now I'm off to make the corn, zucchini, tomato pie. I was given a cup of local whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup of local olive oil for this dish. Both flour and oil were horrendously expensive which illustrates the dearth of availability of these products locally.

I will be back, probably tomorrow with pictures and my story of the whole experience.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Apple Butter

Maddy's Pear Post absolutely inspired me. When we got our crate of apples, I was ready to get creative with them. We've eaten a lot of apples in the past couple of weeks. I've made an apple pie, apple topping for syrup, and curried apple and roasted squash soup. As the weather got colder, I worried about our 30 odd pounds of apples that are still in the garage freezing, so I decided to try something new. I love apple butter, so I decided to go for that. Apple butter is great spread on bread, spooned onto pancakes, or stirred into steel cut oats. I looked a number of recipes and ended up going with one from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a site I've used before. It has so much good information about canning, and recipes to go along with their clear instructions. Here is a link to the original recipe. I pretty much stuck to it, just halving it. We actually had three huge boxes of canning jars that I freecycled this year, before I warmed up to the idea of canning. Here is how I made our apple butter.

I started out with 4 pounds of Cortland apples. These apples are pretty large, and they're abour 3 to a pound. After washing thoroughly, I peeled and cored the apples, then chopped them into 1" pieces. Tip: Be sure to get all of the peel off, or you'll have problems down the road. I put the apple pieces in a large sauce pan with 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of cider, brought the mixture to a boil, and continued it at a gentle boil. The mixture should get nice and soft, and reduce by about half. This took about 20 to 25 minutes. The next step was the most trying, but would have been far easier with better equipment. Luckily, there's a low tech method for the occasional canner like me. To refine the mixture, I used a sieve and the pestle from our marble mortar and pestle. (At this point I had to keep picking out pieces of the peel that I had neglected to remove from the apples originally. I had planned to leave this as a chunky apple butter, which you can do, but I changed my mind!) The sieve-pestle method actually worked incredibly well, it just took some arm strength and patience since I had to do small batches. The next step was to add a generous cup of raw sugar and brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and about 1/2 teaspoon allspice. Simmer this mixture until the apple butter thickens. It should mound nicely on a spoon or plate and not "leak" any vinegar. This only took about 10 minutes for my apple butter. Spoon the finished apple butter into sterlized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, seal, and process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Be sure to practice safe canning methods! I was very pleased with how the apple butter turned out. Now we'll have a comforting fresh apple taste from a local orchard all through the winter.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

In my world view, the E. coli outbreak of a few weeks ago was another signpost along this rocky road of food centralization and mass production of what goes on our tables, that we are going the wrong way. It seems that in the name of "cheap" organics or choice to eat whatever, whenever, if you can only justify the cost in dollars at the cash register, we are getting way too far from our food source. Michael Pollan had some very interesting things to say about this in an article in today's New York Times titled The Vegtable-Industrial Complex

When I started gardening about 12 years ago, I quickly learned a few priceless things:

1) The food I grew drank the same water, breathed the same air, was nourished by the same sun and stood in/on the same ground as I did. And wouldn't how a vegetable transformed this same water, air, fire and earth magnificently nourish my body and be compatible with how my body transformed these same elements?

2) The love and care I put into these plants returned to me tenfold in how they nourished me back.

3) I can't get any fresher than walking outside and picking it right before I eat it.

4) The work of planning, planting, growing, loving and harvesting a garden is one of the ways I keep connection to the Earth and that is good for me.

And to this list, I can now add:

5) I know what goes into the ground to feed and water what I grow. And that has become important in these days of centralization, of the watering down of organic standards by the lobbiests of agra-business in Washington DC, of the cost of lives and misery of so many over the oil and gasoline that fuel the trucks that come from Goddess-know-where so I can have my watered-down USDA organic standard with its pretty label.

Someone who responded to a recent blog entry on The Accidental Hedonist said, in reference of the quoted article by Mark Morford that appeared last week in the San Francisco Chronicle, "I feel sorry for Mark Morford. He doesn't know the difference between evolution and death. The megaproducers have recognized the demand for more-natural products, and are putting not-as-organic but reasonably-priced products on the shelves. We now have an official definition of "organic," and though it isn't as comprehensive as purists would like, it's a good start. There's no reason individual producers can't follow stricter standards and by advertising that attract a more-demanding clientele.Those of us who can afford "true" organic food (whatever that is) can still get it. Here in the Northeast, it's easier than ever. And relying solely on barefooted hippies isn't going to feed 300 million Americans."

Well gentle writer, I don't think you know any small farmers. I know many and they usually wear some kind of foot if "barefoot hippies" were anathema to something good. When the end of centralization hits you square between the eyes, I hope you can tell the difference between evolution and death. That difference may be the small scale local organic farmer that offers CSA's to your community.

I see the mass production of food under a pretty label with an agra-giant behind it, sporting the USDA organic stamp to be the beginning of a disease that can likely end in death for what CA Certified and Oregon Tilthe had worked so painstakingly to create. But organics have become big business and I for one know that when "Big Business" gets its paws onto something beautiful and precious, not good things usually happen.

All this to say, I think what Mia and Beo are attempting, what I am attempting, what anyone who takes a piece of Earth to steward and dance with, to grow food, draw bees and birds and insects into, midwife the miracle of the cycle of life: seed, sprout, flower, fruit, seed, compost is healing the planet, their bodies and their own spirits. The Earth teaches me so many things that could be found in some form or other in books or by another's teachings, but there is great power and great magic in what I learn directly from my little piece of Earth, from those mysterious, tiny seeds, those tender sprouts, those fragrant, sexy flowers, those vulnerable baby fruits, that overwhelming harvest, the saving of seeds for next year, the midwifing of the dying and the composting of the summer garden, the living of and not just conceptualization of the cycles of life that no one else's analyzations or philosophies can really give me in nearly as complete a way.

And that's why all the hours and all the work is irrelevant to me in the pricelessness of learning to be more and more and more self sustaining, to be closer and closer to source. I learn. I grow. I change.

The spirit of the organic food movement cannot be killed. While the machine of big business co-opts the very standards of organic and turns it into something unrecognizable, it's spirit will rise again. It does rise again in local CSA's, in farmers who grow their crops biodynamically and bring them to local Farmer's Markets, and it rises in me, in Beo and Mia and everyone else who puts a seed in the ground with a hope and a prayer that it will grow. And we will dance with the cycles of life and teach this precious knowledge to our children, who will know where some of their food came from and by virtue of that learn about where all their food comes from.

And to me, that is evolution.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Willits News - All-day Harvest Festival on October 21

This is something that is going on in my little rural town next Saturday.
The Willits News - All-day Harvest Festival on October 21
I am volunteering two dishes for the 100 mile dinner.
What is really interesting to me is how very challenging it is to make a meal in which everything in it comes from within 100 miles. We will have a table with dishes; soups, salads, main dishes, vegetable side dishes and desserts that come from within 100 miles, sans an ingredient or two. In front of each dish will be little placards that name the things in them that do NOT come from within 100 miles, like salt, flour, breadcrumbs. Here are my dishes, with the not within 100 miles things bolded in the recipes:

Corn, Zucchini and Tomato Pie
(Posted by Caraflora on the Weight Watcher's Veggieboard, July 2004)
3 cups fresh or frozen and defrosted corn kernels
5 small zucchini, cut into matchstick pieces
2 tsp salt
1-3 T fresh dill weed
1 T olive oil
4 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a 13 x 9" ovenproof baking dish, combine the corn, zucchini, 1 tsp of salt, the dill and 1 T of olive oil, tossing to coat the vegetables. Cover the vegetables with the tomato slices. Sprinkle with remaining salt.

In a small bown, combine the cheese and bread crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture over the tomatoes and mist the top with olive oil, using a Misto. Bake the pie for 30 -50 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and starting to carmelize and cheese is bubbling.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Provencal Butternut Squash Gratin
(adapted from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, adapted to omit nutmeg and pepper which are not locally grown. The recipe has been doubled from how it was written in the book.)
2 butternut squashes (about 6 lbs), peeled, seeds and membranes removed, coarsely chopped
2 cups packed fresh parsley chopped (I will use 1 cup dried parsley)
6 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground sage (I will use fresh, finely minced)
1/2 cup vegetable broth (made with collected veggie trimmings)
4 T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 35o degrees. Lightly oil a 9x13" baking dish or 5 qt gratin dish.

In a large bowl, combine the squash, parsley and garlic. Sprinkle with the flour, sage and salt; toss well to combine. Add the broth and 2T of the oil; stir well to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.

Bake for about 1 hour, stirring halfway through the cooking time, or until the top is nicely browned and the squash is meltingly tender.

I am very excited to live in a town that has a whole, vibrant organization in place to create a sustainable Willits.
I will report back next Sunday with pictures and a story.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Low Cost of Local and Low Waste

I continue to be amazed at how much simpler everything gets the more local and low-waste we go. Beo had a great post on his blog a while back about how much we've been able to reduce our waste. As he mentioned in that and another post, besides the environmental impact of reducing our waste, our cost of food has gone down as well. Eating whole foods in-season is not just environmentally responsible, it's healthier, supports local farmers and saves money. For example, organic squash was 99 cents a pound ($1/pound off) at Good Harvest today, because it's so plentiful here right now. The butternuts we bought were grown about 30 miles from our home. At the height of summer, organic zucchini was going for a song there. There's no extra cost from importing it across the country, so the bounty is passed on to us not just as food but in savings.

Reducing our packaging has helped immensely. When we made the switch from packaged cereals to steel-cut oats, it was initially because we wanted to save on packaging. A box of organic cereal is $3-$4 minimum, and we're paying 89 cents a pound for steel cut oats. We eat a lot of breakfast foods in this house, and I estimate we were spending at least $10 a week on cereal before. Now it's about $2. There again, the steel cut oats are healthier for us, and we save the cardboard box and the plastic liner. Today we asked for larger containers of raisins, wheat germ, and other items that the store normally has packaged in small deli containers. Not only did we save the packaging, but the store manager offered us a discount because we were saving them on the cost of that packaging. We're still saving about $50 a month on our groceries since we went low-packaging. (By the way, this won't save you money, but: we were simply reusing bulk bags, but they do wear out, so we recently decided to go ahead and purchase these very affordable organic cotton bags. They are lightweight and fabulously sturdy. Check out to order them, as well as many other waste-saving products.) Many thanks to NCFarmGirl of the WW Veggie Board for starting the bagging contest that inspired us to reduce our waste! I think this is the second week in a row we've "missed" garbage collection day, and it really didn't matter.

Then there are the savings from our garden. We've had a fresh salad for dinner every night this week, at a cost of at most a few cents per serving. We didn't buy tomato sauce all summer. Instead of frozen organic veggies we had fresh green beans and peas for months. All this for a family of 4 on a small suburban garden! We had a cold front move through this week. It was 48 yesterday and only 35 today, but it looks like our cold frame/hot house is going to work great and allow us to continue saving in this manner.

There are definitely some things that cost more in their organic or sustainable forms, but eating the whole foods way at least balances out and if you really try, actually saves you money. Amazing.
Here's what's on the table locally this week: Grocery: Milk, cheese, yogurt, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, squash. Garden: Lettuce, Peppers, Carrots.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Have Compost Issues

When I saw the photo of Beo's compost, I had this huge stab of er, um, compost envy. And the reason why is that due to some unknown piece of Goddess' plan, Tara and I just suck at making compost. We are very, very good at making worms happy, but our attempts at taking food scraps from the stainless bowl that sits by the sink in the house to a small can outside the back door, to a pile in the garden has, for almost 3 years just been a totally gross, smell, slimy mush pile of rotting food refuse.

Maybe it's because the ground we started with is clay and rock and very unkind and there was nothing like topsoil to make the kitchen detrius become, nice friable compost. We'd thrown grass clippings onto the pile and turned them in to no good effect. We have put weeds and trimmings in as well, again to no good effect. We even took bagged compost that we bought and mixed it in, hoping for that to do the trick. That didn't work either. But as I said, it made the worms very happy. And the worms eat lots of rotten food and multiply so all our beds are writhing with lovely earthworms.

But that does nothing to solve the issue of sustainability when you are making mulch beds that are layers of straw, horse manure and compost and you are buying your compost in 3 cubic foot bags for almost $6.00 apiece.

So recently a neighbor had a garage sale and we bought this big beauty made by Enviro Cycle Systems. She said she paid over $200 for it and just wasn't using it. We got it for $40. Tara took the black trash can up into the woods and filled it with oak and madrone leaves and forest duff for brown material, as it is the dry season here and no one mows grass in the dry months. You mow your grass here in June when it is still somewhat green and that's it until next spring. No more mowing. The deer graze what's left and no one waters their wild grasses because we all pay for our water and why would you water or run a gasoline engine over a fire hazard? Hence, there are no grass clippings from the summer through fall.

Back to the Enviro Cycle composter. My neighbor said you need to spin it around a couple of times a day. I did that. We would dump the kitchen container and follow that with a bowl full of leaves and duff. Spin the composter and spin it again later for good measure. There are holes on the opposite side of the hatch that allows the liquifying food scraps to drain into the base of the composter, making a lovely smelling compost tea.

We attempted our first load. I don't know what I expected, but I didn't expect this extremely heavy mass of muck which was what we got with the first go through. Yesterday, it was so heavy and hard to turn, that I just knocked it off its base and rolled it down the slight grade to the huge pile of horse manure that we have just rotting quietly behind the back fence of the garden. I dug down in the older pile and lo! Beautiful soil! A summer in the sun had broken down the pile that had been dumped in the late spring. Under the clods on top is beautiful planting mix. And I know it is perfect for planting because it's this year's version of what I grew my entire lower garden in this year: Decomposed horse manure, Arabian horse manure at that, and straw and the aforementioned 3 cu' bags of soil building compost. But I digress.....I dumped the composter's aromatic contents into the hole I had dug and covered it with this lovely manure. And thought I would try again.

But I am hoping that Beo has some sage compost advice for me, because the raccoons have already gotten into the pile I buried in the manure and I'm already plagued by raccoons and don't need to be encouraging them with tasty rotting food scraps. And the reason I bolded and italicized the words huge pile of horse manure is quite simply that I am green with envy and know that he will envy my manure pile.

And here is some of the beauty that grows out of almost pure Arabian horse manure. Mother Nature is my bomb!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Experimental Hot House Garden

The last post on the DIY coldframe was sticking to tried and true territory. But along the way to finding an even cheaper option my brain came up with this:

What you see here is my attempt to make a hothouse in Suburbia sans fresh cow manure. The idea of a hot house is simple. Take a cold frame, but dig down 18" or so. Then fork in a foot of fresh cow/horse manure mixed with straw and then top it with 6" of good topsoil. The manure will compost over the next months and heat the soil under your plants keeping them toasty while the weather outside is frightful, plus provide your crop with wicked good nutrients. Love the idea! Don't have any manure. I do have 2 full bins of compost freshly turned and ready to fire. My bins hit 140 degrees... heck why not? So I basically put a reinforced version of the No Tech coldframe on top of my compost bin and we'll see what happens. One addition not in these shots is that I strapped a bungee cord over the top to keep it from blowing off.

Steps for the No Tech Frame will come this weekend, but here is how I built the Hybrid Tech System, which wil lset you back about $13 if you get the covers on sale:

2 Plastic Window Well Covers ($5-10 each)
1 1x2x8' Firring strip
7 #6 machine screws/nuts/washers ($1-2)

Saw (hand or power) to cut firring strips
Tape measure
Screwdriver and pliers for machine screws
Clamp to hold sides together during assemble
Drill with 1/8" bit
First up is building a frame to brace the well covers and give it support enough to hold together with the compost bin pushing them apart. The Plastic Covers I had came with a nice indent that when two covers were fitted together formed a 1x2 gap-hence the firring strip. Cut the strips to match the dimensions of the gap in the covers you find. Once the strips are cut, clamp the two covers together with the cuts strips inside as so:
Once the firring strips are in place drill holes thru the covers and strips and insert the machine screws, with a washer on each side, as so. I put 2 on each side and 3 across the top. I did not use any glue or join the wood at all, trusting in the plastic to provide a degree of rigidity.

That's it! I ensured prior to this that my compost bin was the right size. To find my plans on my uber cheap and portable compost bin check out my other blog. Before capping the bin I threw on an inch or so of finished compost, raked it level and sprinkled in carrot, spinach and radish seeds. My hope is that the incredibly loose compost will make for amazing root crops. And I have utterly failed to grow spinach this year for reasons unknown. With the seeds going on pure compost if spinach won't grow there I will either get my soil professionaly tested or stop trying spinach.

This 'garden' will be way out on the experimental limb. We'll keep you posted. Another thought was that if you can find the plastic window well inserts that match these covers and are about 18-24" high you could build a coldframe without wood and with very little carpentry. Ironically Menard's had lots of window wells, but none to fit the covers-go figure!

Stay tuned for the No Tech Cold Frame!