Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Feasting

Feast!  Thanks to the unusually mild weather, we have lots of lettuces and greens from our raised beds for our Thanksgiving feast.  It was wonderful to stop at Culliphers' Farm Market yesterday to pick up a HUGE basket full of red skinned potatoes, butternut squash, some kind of delightful little acorn-type squash and THREE kinds of sweet potatoes: red, white and purple. Go figure. I think I'm going to try my own sweet potato chips with this medley - like those ones we buy for outrageous prices.  And, on top of it all, a monster-sized bag of collards and another equally generous bad of curly kale. Fresh broccoli.... it's all good.

After recently reading reports that there are NO supermarkets in inner Detroit - nowhere at all for families to buy groceries or fresh food, I am deeply grateful that we have such wonderful small farms around us.  I am also grateful to be able to grow fresh food of my own, enough to have and also to share.  The news articles about Detroit indicated that grants had been set up to help a businessman start up new small groceries in some of these inner city neighborhoods.  At the same time, dedicated volunteers are working to establish community gardens to teach folks how to grow simple vegetables: in plots, in yards, in containers.  

It's really not hard to grow food.  Sometimes we make things so over-complicated with useless rules: you have to plant a certain way, you must look for certain varieties, you must test your soil, you must water and fertilize "just so"..... Folks, we were growing food when there was nothing available but a little dirt, a little water, some seeds and a stick to dig with.  More than half the individual farmers in the world are still growing exactly that way. 

Dig in! Plan to plant a little more this coming spring. Plan to share a little more of what you plant.  And give a special word of thanks this holiday for the hard-working men and women - small farmers, ranchers and fishing folks, market owners and workers, migrant workers in the fields, even that generous gardener down the street who gifts you with squash and tomatoes every all of them we say Namaste' and Thanks for all the food!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hark! The First Catalog Arrives!

Like everything else, I swear it gets earlier every year.  This year the award for First in My Mailbox goes to Pinetree Garden Seeds with their 2010 Seed Catalog.   Looks like their website, however, is a step behind - when I hiked over to their webiste: (the domain was apparently coopted before they could get it - a lesson for all aspiring web businesses) it didn't seem to be ready. Images were missing and looks like they are "in process" for spring.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No-Impact Man by Colin Beaven

Just finished reading a little book that I must recommend to all those interested in self-sufficiency, improving and/or protecting the environment, the local food movement and all other Good For the Earth endeavors.   Colin Beaven, an apartment-dwelling Manhattan resident, makes the commitment to try, over the course of a year, to reduce the environmental impact of his family of three.... to zero.  Mind you, he goes to lengths most of us wouldn't consider unless the world was already past crisis and we had no other options, but his writing is thoughtful and entertaining.  After reading his book, I was much more aware of things I could be doing but hadn't bothered -- and I had been feeling quite self satisfied.  Whether you consider yourself correctly labeled by "liberal" or not, Beaven's opening premises are well stated and very self aware:

"It's true that I had occasionally tried to make a difference in the world, but I was coming to think my political views had too often been about changing other people - and too seldom about changing myself."

"I made this mistake of thinking that condemning other people's misdeeds somehow made me virtuous.  I'd become, I realized, a member of that class of liberals who allowed themselves to glide by on way too few political gestures and lifestyle concessions and then spent the rest of their energy feeling superior to other people who supposedly didn't do as much."

So, he snaps! and becomes No Impact Man. The book is hilarious, touching and very thought provoking. Beaven doesn't leave all the blame at the doorstep of the individual - he discusses the ways that the individual guilt movement has kept us self-absorbed and self-castigating rather than focused on changing industrial waste and pollution standards, something industry is well aware of and works to support.

The book began as Colin's blog on his progress and the blog is still active.  Hop over to No Impact Man - The Blog to peruse the day-to-day.  I understand that this may all turn into a movie (a la Julie and Julia) but please do read the book before Hollywood makes it into some comedy.

Hurrah for Raised Beds!

Like most of our friends and gardening acquaintances, we slogged out to the back yard after the 4-day Nor'easter cleared to see what remained of our waterlogged gardens.  Despite water over our ankles, the raised vegetable beds looked cheerful and perky.  The water had drained down from the beds, which are about 18" high, so the plants roots were airing out as the water pooled in all the low areas around the garden.

This is in happy contrast to the way plants in our heavy, wet clay soil would contract fungal diseases and die during the winter months.  I am even  more an advocate for raising planting beds after seeing how well we fared in this lousy weather.  With over 8" of rain down at our farm - not as much as some of you got, I know - it's a delight to wade out to find great lettuce, greens and even some late peppers still perfect to harvest for a quick meal.  Broccoli is heading up (had to murder a few cabbage worms this morning), cabbage and greens looking good!

Hope everyone fared nearly as well - although I know of at least one community garden plot in Portsmouth that was flooded with storm sewage and abandoned by the gardeners since the produce was all likely contaminated.  Very sad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Words Become Endangered

I hope everyone, not just environmentalists and educators, will read Anne Keisman's article in National Wildlife magazine, Oct/Nov 2009 (vol. 47 no. 6).  The article is entitled, "When Words Become Endangered".

from the article:

...the word “wren” was removed not long ago from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. In fact, the newest edition of this prominent children’s learning tool no longer defines more than 30 nature words, including “dandelion,” “otter,” “acorn” and “beaver.” In their place, a child will now find definitions for such terms as “MP3 player,” “blog” and “cut and paste.”

If words frame how we are able to think about the world, what does this tell us? How does this narrow a child's view of the world? Isn't this a value judgement? That natural world terms are less "meaningful" than digital jargon?  Will those digital terms even be in use in a few years? Will they be like "eight-track" or VHS, terms that mean nothing? What about Otter? Beaver?  Will they be meaningless or will they just be gone?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Summer Peppers and Onions for Delicious Winter Recipes

It's that time of year, post first light frost and pre-killing freeze, when I'm scurrying around the garden pulling plants and taking last harvests.  Thanks to floating row covers, here in Virginia Beach I'm only now harvesting the last of the big, sweet Italian peppers and some summer annual and perennial herbs (dill, tarragon, lemon verbena).  The house is filled with the lovely smells of herbs drying in the dehydrator. Dill takes almost no time at all and always surprises me with what a clean-smelling "potpourri" it makes as it dries.

For years, I hit the final harvest jackpot with armloads of veggies that exceeded our family's immediate needs so I gave them away - even tossed a few that were forgotten and left to shrivel - only to find myself a few weeks into winter stuck at the supermarket BUYING the same veggies, either fresh or frozen.  It was frustrating! Here I was, Little Miss Buy Fresh Buy Local, spending money on peppers flown a thousand miles to get to me - or bagged for an unknown length of time in a freezer section.  I was determined to find a change.

Now we save the end of season pepper harvest in a number of ways.  My favorite method is to gather a good selection of red and green bell and sweet peppers, including the wonderful Carmagnolo Rosso red Italian peppers and the huge, red Giant Marconi stuffing peppers (for seeds, head to  At season's end, there are plenty of peppers fully red and also lots of green/orange young peppers still trying to ripen. I chop all of these into quarter inch bits and combine with an equal amount of well-chopped onions. Although our onions keep well through the winter, it is so terrific to have the onion/pepper combo frozen and ready - this was one of those "pre-made" items I used to grab in the grocery store.  No blanching is needed.  A cup of the pepper/onion mix fits perfectly into a snack-sized, zip&store baggie.  Once frozen, a good "whack" on the counter loosens all the pieces so you can grab a pinch or the entire cup easily.  We use them on pizza, omeletes, soups, casseroles....  The going price on the one cup containers or pre-chopped peppers/onions in the grocery store is about $2.50 and rising.  I save about 45 of these in our freezer in very little space. Savings?  About $112.00.

We also slice the peppers into long strips about 1/2" wide.  Toss the strips with a little good olive oil and some herbs (rosemary, basil, garlic, oregano) and roast them in a low oven (about 300) for an hour or so until the herbs have baked in.  Some cooks like to broil them for a second to get a blackened edge. I don't peel mine, our pepper varieties don't have a very thick skin.  These are then frozen in snack-sized bags and saved for recipes that specify roasted peppers.  Delicious!

So, what other creative ideas have other gardeners come up with for the last, precious summer veggie harvests?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why Did The Chicken.....

OK, okay, as you know, I do love my chickens. And I "farm", so how can I resist farm radio? More to the point, I can't even resist bad chicken jokes, especially one that just keeps getting more and more lame as the years go by.  Here, you should suffer with me!