Collards anyone?

I’ve learned that Springfield, Illinois just doesn’t garden like the North. The flowering dogwoods everywhere were a clue. Broccoli and brussels sprouts definitely sulk, so on a whim this year I rescued a dozen runty, overstressed collard plants from an end-of-season nursery and put them in the garden I tend for my employer.

They are looking beautiful! Now, how do I go about preparing them for a vegetarian? Local wisdom is to boil them with a pork hock or smoked turkey neck. Anyone have a suggestion for preparation? I’m leaning towards a light saute with onions and soy sauce for starters, but don’t even know if I’m supposed to be picking the young leaves or the old leaves…

Food for thought

About six months ago, we were all hearing about a few financial firms that were in trouble. Who would have thought the troubles at Goldman Sachs and others would have all the repercussions we’re feeling today?

By the same token, there are signs that food production issues around the world are having serious political side-effects:

But if the food situation continues to deteriorate, entire nations will break down at an ever increasing rate. We have entered a new era in geopolitics. In the 20th century the main threat to international security was superpower conflict; today it is failing states.

Like the issues with the big financial firms, many of these challenges are more than we can handle directly as individuals. But it helps to understand the issues so we can pitch in when and where we can. We can help other people understand both the global issues and what it takes to live sustainably:

“Once we start to organize ourselves and innovate within that mind-set, the breakthroughs are extraordinary.”

And what could be more magical than that?

Growing food in tough economic times

A friend of mine sent this to a local (San Francisco Bay area) mailing list recently, and has given permission for it to be reposted here. Her suggestions on prioritizing what to grow given limited space especially caught my eye (and I am now mumbling about growing strawberries in hanging pots, to elfin’s bafflement — Ambar)

Nadja, The Yakima Kid, writes:

I’ve been raising as much of our own food as I can since I quit working some years ago; vertigo and monitors don’t play well with each other. I have been seeing a lot on the various websites about people starting vegetable gardens to save money during the recession, so I figured I’d post here about our experiences. Also, if anyone wants to start a garden, I’m willing and able to assist you in finding choices that will help whether you have a house with a yard or an apartment deck.

Raised bed gardening is generally the most efficient – but it is important when gardening to use water wisely. A vegetable garden will consume far less water than a lawn. Other things to consider are dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, berries of all sorts, and especially primocane raspberries and blackberries. Primocane berries produce on first year canes and will also give a second crop on the lower portion of the cane the following year instead of one having to wait for the second year for a crop; what I do to reduce disease and insect carryovers is I simply harvest the first year crop and cut all the canes to the ground in the fall after bearing. The soil in much of this area is a bit too sweet (alkaline), so some crops, like blueberries, don’t grow well without heavy amendments or specialized raised beds.

Using intensive techniques and summer pruning, we have two semi-dwarf apples, six dwarf citrus, a semi-dwarf nectarine and a semi-dwarf peach, a dwarf nectarine and a dwarf peach, a row of columnar apples, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and a number of raised vegetable beds. We raise strawberries in hanging planters because otherwise the slugs destroy them; I prefer large Bloommasters and have them hooked up to drip irrigation which gives them about five minutes a day in mid summer which is very efficient, given that the large Bloommaster holds nearly two dozen plants; it is advertised to hold close to three dozen, but that intensity actually lowers production per planter. I raise potatoes in bags or buckets. Bloommasters are expensive, but with strawberries will pay for themselves within three years. They double as decorative hanging planters and can replace porch ornamental hanging planters with productive food.

It’s also a good idea to plant a few landscape plants to attract hummingbirds and other birds; hummingbirds not only sip nectar; but they are insect Hoovers. We grow the wild Pacific filberts primarily for the birds and animals but a little bit for ourselves. There are landscape plants that are low water use that also provide people food; one example is Oregon grape which provides fruits for pies, jellies, and jams. Be careful which plants you select; California Bay is a major host to Sudden Oak Death, and currants are involved in the life cycle of a blister rust.

Tomatoes can be grown in those cheap five gallon nursery containers which keeps them out of slug range. You can get some of the parthenogenic greenhouse varieties, put them in a room with daylight fluorescent lighting, and have year round production; we keep ours in the family room which gets southwest light and is often occupied so the lights are on most evenings. We replaced our ornamental houseplants with tomatoes and so we now get food for the inputs that used to go simply to looking pretty.

When choosing plants for the garden, grow the more expensive products as your first priority. We raise fruit instead of shell beans because split peas, and pinto beans are comparatively inexpensive while raspberries and strawberries are extremely expensive and cantaloupe isn’t cheap. Check seeds and plants for climate adaptations; some varieties that do poorly in this area are sold anyway because they are popular products; for example, Red Delicious apple really doesn’t like it down by the Bay but some places sell it because of customer demand.

Indian Runner ducks can reproduce without a pond and are also reasonable egg layers. They seem to enjoy eating slugs; but from time to time take an interest in berries and fruits, so you have to watch them. Chickens are very good and hens will lay whether or not there is a rooster in the area. Leghorns will kick out an average of an egg per day. Rabbits can be grazed in the yard and fed kitchen scraps as well; they’ll need protection from raccoons and cats at night just like poultry.

Coming up from the roots…

root veggies

Two nights ago I did some cooking, though I was not feeling particularly inspired to do so.  It was a week night and I’d worked a full day but we had some root veggies in the crisper that weren’t going to make it much longer.  They’d been patient and stored well (as they do, bless them) but I had waited to the point of no return and they seemed to sigh and say to me “now or never darlin”.

So I went about making roasted root vegetables – as well as a big batch of potato soup.  As I peeled and/or cut the golden beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes (for roasting) and white potatoes (for soup) I took the time to breathe and to give thanks to and for those lovely gifts of the land. 

I also began to think about fall and winter, about those fallow times where things become more still; times when we store what we need to get through.  I have been living a time like that – not only this past winter, but for all of last year.  Much like the food in my hands – I have felt bright, rich and sweet on the inside – but quite dull, drab and wrinkled on the outside.

I know though that I needed that time, needed that storage and quiet.  As I prepared a delicious meal of roots, I gave thanks for the deep times, the fallow times – the resting periods.  I gave thanks to Anna, Arddu and the allies who help to teach me about culling (as someone with 5 planets in Taurus…culling is not always easy for me).   I gave thanks to Freya, Herne and the Peacock, who encourage me to push past stillness and quiet, even when it scares the crap out of me. 

I found myself crafting transformation while I worked, distilling the flavor from this past year so that I could take it in again.  I set an intention of letting that flavor and that lovely food truly feed me (on many levels) in my preparation for spring, for rebirth.  I want to do more than move on from this time…I want to appreciate and learn from it.

The food was delicious, despite my having done very little to make it so (I love when simple meals remind me of the beauty of whole foods and their divine allure).   The magic was delicious as well. 

I am well fed; by life, by magic and by my own will.  Storing my sweet lessons, I am ready for spring and beginnings.

I will not rot in life’s crisper… ;>)

Today is a holy day.

Today is Pi Day.

March 14, or 3/14, is celebrated as being an approximation of the mathematical constant pi. It’s a reason to celebrate being a geek and an excuse to eat pie, which are two causes I can support.

Years ago, I started saying, “Pie is the most sacred of all foods.” At first, I think it was a joke–something I would say because I really like pie. But over time, I have come to believe that any food made with loving intention is sacred. For me, personally, pie reminds me of my grandfather, who would fill his kitchen table with pies and cakes and cookies on Sunday. He used to say that he only wanted to heat the oven once a week, so every Sunday meant a sugar rush for me. His baking still sends joy into my life, even all these years after his death.

To celebrate the magic that is food cooked with love, I baked a blackberry-almond-chocolate pie. My partner, my friends and I enjoyed it as the sun was setting. Whenever I bake a pie, I like to charge it with some kind magic, and I like to cut symbols into the crust to anchor the pie’s intention. (I learned this from my friend Donald, who has baked some truly lovely pies.) This pie is charged with prosperity, balance, and beauty. Here is a picture:

Wishing you and yours a happy Pi(e) Day!

Farming in the future

A brief and thought-provoking article on the potential relationship between a country’s energy consumption and how agrarian it is.

I believe the broad vision of what needs to be done already exists—food that is more local, organic, produced, processed and distributed by renewable energy systems, and using cultivation methods that put the soil health first. Making that argument to those who are reluctant or suspicious, however, could use some better research that connects the dots credibly between energy depletion, climate change, food security, and demographics.

There are no firm conclusions, but some interesting questions to ponder.

Where do your shrimp come from?

I buy most of my seafood from local fishermen and a local shellfish farm. I’ve tried to buy domestic shrimp when possible (due to an allergy to a common preservative in imported shrimp), but this article shows how challenging that is:

Today, if you live more than a hundred miles from the Gulf Coast, the shrimp you eat most likely come from a foreign farm. You can tour these farms while standing at your supermarket seafood freezer and reading labels. The top ten importing countries are Thailand, Indonesia, Ecuador, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, India, Bangladesh, and Guyana.

Links to: US marine shrimp farmers, US freshwater shrimp farmers