Archive for Gardening
Last year’s garden (2014) was a huge success- if you judge it by the 30-foot pumpkin vine that grew there. If you judge it by its fruits and veggies, it was a sad failure. The 30-foot pumpkin vine produced flowers that should have led to pumpkins but the flowers on that vine, and on a lot of other plants in the garden, did not get pollinated. Here’s a clue why: last year, in our big yard and garden, I saw only two honey bees. My husband routinely leaves large areas of our yard, where clover grows wild, unmowed for the bees. Trying not to step on them used to be a problem. But in the past few years, they’ve gotten more and more rare, and last year, as I said, I only saw two.
I like bees and have always wanted to keep them. When I was a child, I used to catch them in jars because I thought if I caught enough of them, they’d build honeycombs and start making honey for me. That didn’t work, of course. More recently, when a nearby neighbor set up hives, we were thrilled- but the bees failed to thrive, probably because of the prevalence of other neighbors rigorously spraying chemicals on their gardens and fruit trees. Other factors played a role as well, but the end result is the same- no pollinators, no fruits, no veggies.
Do you have a desire to keep bees? Or just learn how bees and other pollinators affect our food supply, and what you can do to help? Here’s an opportunity: Buzzy from The Beekeeper’s Guild of Southeast Virginia will be on the island on April 18th, 2015 to answer all your beekeeping questions! Open to all, this event will be held rain or shine and is free (donations for Buzzy’s travel expenses and time are welcome but not required). Refreshments served after the class (your contributions of snacks or drinks also welcome!)
- Date: Saturday, April 18th, 2015
- Time: 10:30am
- Place: 204 Parker Lane, Knotts Island, NC
Call/text me at 252.722.1690 or moonrabbit220 (at) gmail.com if you have questions or need directions. You can join this event on Facebook here. This event is hosted by me, Mari Mann, at my IslandLotus Yoga location. All are welcome to join!
Actually, I went to Back Bay Botanicals for a Seed & Poultry Swap, but it was fun enough to be a party. I met new friends and old friends, played with chicks, photographed chickens and a lamb…okay, maybe that’s not your idea of a party but I had a good time.
Rod had prepared an assortment of seeds, seed pods, bulbs, roots, etc., for me to take to swap with the other folks; here’s our truck with my wares set out on the tailgate…
I had a hard time staying near the truck to do my swapping, I kept wandering around looking at what everybody else had. And I couldn’t resist going inside where the chicks were snuggling under heat lamps.
You’ll be amazed to hear I made it out of the building without buying any chicks. But back outside, the temptations continue…
So what did I come home with? Just the seeds and plants I swapped our things for- no chickens. I know. You’re shocked. Me too.
My house is currently full of potential life
In a stockpot in the kitchen, resting on a heating pad, are fifteen Bantam eggs due to hatch tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day. If any do hatch, I plan to baptize all the babies with Irish names, like Fiona or Fergus.
In the bathroom, in a real incubator (as opposed to a stockpot), are 18 eggs from our hens, due to hatch at the end of the month. If any of these babies hatch, I’ll call them April Fools.
In trays in the kitchen, the living room and the greenhouse (now there’s a novel idea), are seeds in potting soil, waiting to turn into seedlings and then make the transition to the outside, when they are old enough and it is warm enough. I plan to name them Lunch and Dinner. Maybe Breakfast.
And tomorrow I have named Spring Chicken and St. Paddy’s Day Art Gathering, which I invite you to attend, details here.
So I thought I’d try something new this year. I bought seeds to start a snake tree.
I put the seeds into little peat pots and within a few weeks, I had snake tree seedlings. When they got big enough, I transplanted them to the outdoors and a couple of months after that, I had my first fruit.
My question is, how do I know when it’s ripe and ready to pick?
The title of this post is a response that Michael Pollan says he gets when he advocates: “Eat Food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Well of course, Michael, we are eating food- what else is there? “Edible foodlike substances”, that’s what, Michael replies. I feel that I can call Michael by his first name because I have read his three food-related books, have admired them, learned from them, quoted from them and been throughly grossed out by them. Michael was the guest on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point radio program this morning (Jan.19th, 2010) and when I turned on the radio, they were discussing the latest nasty-ness found in food- pink slime. Don’t know what pink slime is? I’ll tell you. In meat-processing plants, when they’ve finished cutting up Bessie, all the really nasty bits left on the floor, that they used to sweep up and put into cat and dog food, is now put into people food. See, they found a way to kill the pathogens in this “meat”, like E.coli and salmonella, and supposedly make it safe for human consumption. How? By lacing it with ammonia. Yum! Burgers, anyone?
You wouldn’t feed this stuff to your dog, right? Guess what? If you have a child in school and they are eating the burgers and meatloaf and whatever else they are making with hamburger there, they may well be eating this pink slime. Why? Because schools use it to “cut” the meat, sort of like hamburger helper only nastier, to make feeding your kids cheaper. Want to read more? The New York Times published this article on pink slime: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=1
But I digress. Michael was on Tom Ashbrook’s show to promote his new book, Food Rules, which I just read a few days ago. Subtitled “An Eater’s Manual”, it’s a distillation of rules, actually more like helpful guidelines, from his two previous books: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I recommend reading both of these books for a more in-depth look at our food supply, how it got the way it is and our government’s role in it, and how we have all become so confused about the supposedly simple act of eating. Which brings us back to the title of this post and the response to it- a lot of people today aren’t even aware that the “food’ they are putting in their mouths, and their children’s mouths, is not really “real” food. It may be food in the sense that you can put it in your mouth, chew it (or in the case of pink slime, let it slide down your throat) and it will keep you alive, but as Michael says, it’s not food that deserves to be called food:
“I call them ‘edible foodlike substances’. They’re highly processed concoctions designed by food scientists, consisting mostly of ingredients derived from corn and soy that no normal person keeps in the pantry, and they contain chemical additives with which the human body has not been long acquainted. Today much of the challenge of eating well comes down to choosing real food and avoiding these industrial novelties.”
Here’s one of Michael’s food rules to help us identify real food: “#14- Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature. Read the ingredients on a package of Twinkies or Pringles and imagine what those ingredients actually look like raw or in the places where they grow: You can’t do it. This rule will also keep all sorts of chemicals and foodlike substances out of your diet.” Here’s another: “#20: It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”. And another: “#30- Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.” Which brings us to discussing gardens.
According to Michael, many more people, whether for health reasons or economical reasons or whatever, are growing their own gardens this year than before. He says that some seed catalogs are even running out of seeds (so order now!) I’m paraphrasing here, but on the radio show, Michael said: If you are growing your own garden, you’ll be getting local, fresh, organic low-priced food right in your own backyard. I take issue with this because I have heard from people (co-workers and neighbors) that have gardens that they use Roundup to clear their gardens of weeds and chemical sprays to get rid of bugs. So, for any new gardeners out there, here’s my simple rule: If you wouldn’t spray it directly into your mouth, don’t spray it (or shake it or pour it or whatever) into your garden. Because it will eventually end up in your mouth, not to mention other living being’s mouths (wildlife, your cat or dog) and the earth and the water and the environment. You might as well eat pink slime.
Our garden had it’s ups and downs this year, not so different from any year, and as anyone who grows anything knows, there are no guarantees. But on the other hand, it’s never boring, either. For instance, the melon below- who planted it in our garden? Not us.
Mother Nature planted it, I suppose. Actually what probably happened is that at an earlier time, we bought a melon and when we cut it open to eat it, its seeds went into our compost bucket and eventually out to the compost pile. Somehow they survived and when we prepared the ground for the garden, we put soil from the compost pile into it to enrich it. Serendipitous surprise volunteers like this melon are one reason why we weed by hand (no tillers or Heaven forbid, Roundup)- one person’s “weed” is another person’s volunteer melon, or cherry tomato, or wild spinach.
I mention cherry tomatoes specifically because we had so many of them coming up here, there and everywhere, which was a very good thing because the heirloom tomatoes that I carefully chose, started indoors in peat pots and nurtured till they were old enough and strong enough to be transplanted into the garden, were all hit by the East Coast blight and died. We got very few tomatoes from them before they died but what we did get was delicious. So, after they were gone, we had our volunteer cherry tomatoes to rely on and we still had them right up to November. Hardy little guys.
What does one do in the garden, in January? Nothing. Not when the daytime temperatures are in the low 30’s and at night, it’s in the teens. Yes, we’ve actually had temperatures go down to 18 degrees. Here on this little island off the coast of North Carolina/ Virginia. January is when one goes to the freezer, where all the little cherry tomatoes that weren’t immediately eaten are residing in jars, sometimes cooked with okra and corn and onions, and pulls one out to make a soup, or salsa, or spaghetti sauce. Also in the freezer are bags of blanched green beans, wild spinach, purslane, and containers of corn and squash and pumpkin.
So that’s what one does in January (and February and March, etc)- eats what he/she produced in the previous months. Sitting by the woodstove, I peruse the seed catalogs and choose the spring garden’s denizens. And look forward to what surprises Mother Nature will choose to grant us.
Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) begins at 12:01am on November 1st, and I am ready to go. I told my husband that for the month of November, he’d have to do all the cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc. He said, “I hope you stocked up on lots of macaroni and cheese.”
Actually, although I do most of the cooking, my husband is a very good cook and taught me how to cook many of the dishes we eat on a regular basis, most of them vegetable based meals. He’s also the identifier of things that grow wild in our yard, which we then incorporate into our salads and suppers as much as possible. We tried, this year, to do this even more than we have in the past.
Last year, for instance, we discovered that our wild spinach can be blanched and then frozen. Months later, you can pull it out of the freezer, unthaw it and cook it in a dish as you would fresh or any frozen spinach. This year, with an abundance of purslane growing wild everywhere, I tried blanching and freezing it as well. Works perfectly.
Wild Spinach and Pinto Bean Skillet Dinner
Saute chopped onions and garlic in a litle butter, some olive oil and a couple splashes of vegetable or other stock. Add a couple cups of cooked pinto beans and maybe three cups of wild (or not) spinach, fresh or frozen. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. When this is hot and seasoned to your liking, add a half cup of shredded cheese (any will do, I used a smoked French Fume cheese), mix well and serve with a sprinkle of bread crumbs on top. I served this in green pepper cups that I had steamed till tender, but it’s also good on a whole wheat, nutty bread or stuffed into tomatoes.
Another wild plant that we have is cress, which has a peppery taste and is good in salads. We also have wild lettuce, but I don’t have a picture of that. Here’s a picture of the cress.
The fall has been mild so far and we still have tomatoes ripening on their vines, although they may not have time to really ripen. In which case we’ll be eating fried green tomatoes and green tomato rice. We also still had okra till just a few weeks back, but it’s gone hard and woody now. A domestic lettuce that we let go to seed in the garden this spring has reincarnated itself and we have quite a few small lettuces now, without lifting a finger. We did, however, lift our fingers to plant fall greens, swiss chard, brussels sprouts, beets, and potatoes.
In the photo above, you can see some okra peeking out from behind some domestic spinach and lettuce, a cherry tomato and the wispy stuff to the right is tarragon. We had tarragon potatoes last week that were delicious, my husband made them using this fresh and some dried tarragon, lemon pepper seasoning, some butter and some stock. He mashed it all together and as I said, it was delicious.
So, as you can see, I won’t starve while doing Nano. I have been asked by a few people what I’m going to be writing in my novel, and I reply that I can’t tell them, because if you talk about it, you won’t write it. So I’m not telling any of you either. But I will, from time to time, post my word count here and possibly some extracts as I stare down that goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. At least there’s some mac and cheese to look forward to…