Saturday, July 21, 2012

In spite of the drought and heat...

Things are still growing and producing. I can think of 5 points that are to my garden advantage (aka-why everything isn't dead yet).

1. A high water table- the garden is next to a pond and water regularly sits high in this area even though the ground has been raised several feet above the pond.
2. A thick layer of straw before the heat and drought hit.
3. My litter container watering system.
4. Old soil. My house was built in 1851. It isn't the kind of crap found in younger subdivisions. Plus, the soil I've added is entirely compost with tons of organic matter.
5. French or biointensive planting methods (planting densely like nature does)

I'm hearing and seeing poor garden reports, unless people are watering a ton, which I am not and that got me thinking- Why is my garden doing ok while others are not?

In the last week of May I mulched the beds with lots of straw and began testing a new water-saving method. These are the kitty-litter containers each with 2 pin holes poked in the bottom. I fill them up, leaving the lids on, but unscrewing them enough to release the pressure and let them slowly drip water into the surrounding soil. I honestly haven't filled them very often- to my surprise. This makes me think the straw is helping a lot. I also plant very closely which eliminates sun hitting soil and thus cutting back on evaporation. What moisture does go upwards runs into leaves and condenses on the plants where it can either be taken into the pores of the plant or drip back down to the ground. 

I started keeping records of the weight (in pounds) of produce I am collecting. I'm not good at keeping track of things (thus the blog to help me). So far so good. I harvested my first Pony Yellow Watermelon today. 
Looking forward to eating it for lunch.
I like watermelon, but have a small fridge and never want to eat THAT much melon at a time. These are the perfect size for us and because there are more coming in the garden we can have them in stages.

Pony Yellow Watermelon

The smaller watermelon probably ended up being a good choice for the drought and heat- not that I planned it for that, but require less water to grow to maturity. 

Shah Tomatoes (white tomatoes) 

The tomatoes are still producing. A few lower leaves are turning yellow and I've had some sun scald on my Dr Wyches, but there looks to be plenty of fruit now and to come. I have seen some blossom drop. 

Banana Peppers are still producing

Patisson Strie Malange: Scallop Squash

The flowers are still blooming and I haven't watered them a lick. Here are Verbena and Yellow Cosmos.

Harvest from earlier in the week:

People tend to think because they kill something they don't have a green thumb. Of course I don't photo and post about all of the stuff I kill. That would be ugly, but maybe it would make some people feel better. Here are a few of the things that haven't been so successful this year:

1. I've planted beans probably 4 or 5 times and they have either not germinated or died shortly after.
2. A very small and early cilantro crop with no successful replantings
3. Planted cucumbers twice and have had to baby the surviving plants along. They are just now forming flowers and I don't even know if I will get any decent tasting (non-bitter) fruits.

4. No blooms: Chili Peppers

Other suffering plants in my care: This < 6yr old Dogwood tree and the hostas below it.

Even the native plants are drooping: here are some Brown Eyed Susans

But some are still flowering, albeit smaller flowers: Sweet Coneflower
Notice the leaves are a little curled.

So, what am I doing with whatever is being harvested? Here are some recent eats:
Mixed mater, Illinois cheeses, onion, pepper and herb pizza

A kick ass bruchetta for breakfast: Brown Sugar Tomatoes, Illinois cheese, olive oil, S & P

Another bruchetta topping with Dr Wyches tomatoes

Spring Rolls with mint, cilantro, carrot and rice noodles
I'm still harvesting a few carrots

Canned tomatoes, salsa and peach jam.

I am sick and tired of the heat and drought regardless. I've never run the AC this much in my life and the drooping plants are depressing me, but it isn't a total loss either. Unfortunately, the grass (damned bermuda) is still alive, but the Crepe's are coming into full bloom with no signs of distress. 

And the garden doesn't look all that bad.
The kale, broccoli, cabbage and chard go unwatered and are still perky.

And that's gardening folks. Plant a diversity of plants so you will always have some successes. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Considering Independence

It's hard to not ponder on the day of Independence what this means in today's political, economic and environmental climate. While that idea can go in many directions I naturally consider the path of food independence. I'm always working towards what that looks like for my family. What would be the repercussions of food security? I found this article Could Cities Rely 100% on urban agriculture for their food?  where they approach tackling this question in 3 given scenarios for the city of Cleveland:

1. if Cleveland converted 80% of its vacant lots into farms it could produce 22% to 48% of the city’s demand for fresh produce (vegetables and fruits) depending on the type of farming. It could also produce 25% of poultry and shell eggs, and 100% of honey.

2. if Cleveland used 80% of every vacant lot and 9% of every occupied residential lot, the city could generate between 31% and 68% of the needed fresh produce, 94% of poultry and shell eggs, and 100% of honey.

3.  In the most ambitious scenario, if the city turned 62% of every industrial and commercial rooftop into a farm, in addition to 80% of vacant lots and 9% of occupied residential lots, the city could meet between 46% and 100% of its fresh produce needs, 94% of its poultry and shell eggs and 100% of its honey.

I don't live in a city, but how much of my own food could I produce for my family is always a lingering question. While I don't expect the City of Cleveland to start any of these experiments anytime soon it does raise the question of what if citizens began their own food security plan. The challenging part is the assumption that you can plant the same amount of something in one year and reap the same amount the next. Last year I had an almost self-sufficient amount of yellow onions. This year it's looking like garlic. I never got the onions planted. I had so many leftovers still in the garden from the previous year and I don't think the remaining crop will meet our needs. I feel pretty confident in being able to meet our "greens" quota on an annual basis now. I've discovered that I can't assume anything is "chicken proof" if I grow it in the orchard, which is also the chicken yard and I don't need to grow a lot of fresh chilies every year. A large crop of chilies pretty much lasts for several years in the form of chili sauces, pastes, jellies and dried. Maybe I only need 1 chili plant for canned salsa a year and a larger planting every 3 years. My thoughts and actions on providing my own food are constantly evolving. Sometimes you come across enough free plums or strawberries to make a huge batch of jam. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes you have more zucchini than you could ever desire and other years none. So, maybe I need to consider what foods are substitute-able and hope one thrives if the other crashes. Again, always evolving. 

But for now I am relishing in my garlic crop. On a warm day in January (the 16th to be exact) 2012 the kid and I planted garlic. On one of the hottest days of the year I harvested it. Many of the tops had browned, withered and were at the point that they broke off in the slightest tug of war with the dried earth and remained in the soil. The ones I was successful in harvesting yielded what I will assume to be a big enough crop to get me through to next year. With a little dirt that came to 1 1/2lbs. 

March 15th

April 29th

July 4th (weight of pan factored in) 
garlic = 1 1/2lbs

Garlic harvest

Garlic Scape harvest- June 18th

In the present politically polarized fight over healthcare reform and social welfare it would help us all to consider WHY we spend so much on medical care in the first place. Might there be less of a debate if we all took our healthcare more upon ourselves and less upon our government? Might food not be a huge factor?

Happy Independence Day.
Take some time to reflect what that means to you and yours.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Hubs and the kid went to Soulard Market on Saturday and we've had cherry-red juice running to our elbows since then. He managed to score a deal on a ton of Bing cherries 3lbs for $2. So....what to do with a whole heck of a lot of cherries that are red, ripe and juicy? Anything and everything.

Starting our day with: Cherry, Pecan and Buckwheat Pancakes!

And if that weren't enough hubs has been plowing through the strawberry jam to the magnitude of a jar every 3 days so more jam making was in order. I'd never made it before and like my other jams I pureed the cherries before I cooked them. I didn't want any large chunks of "dead fruit" in my jam. I also used a fraction of the sugar that is called for and it still gels up and comes out sweet 'nuff.
Bing Cherry Jam

The next item of business was not appreciated by the kiddo. What? You're gonna make something I can't have? Welcome to the cruel world of reality kid. 

Boozy Cherries
I'd like to thank my friend, Holly, for this gem. Rum, water, sugar, vanilla, cherries= Boozy Cherries. 
I also made a sorbet of orange peel, fresh squeezed orange juice and cherries! Aside from eating a pound plain all of this took care of our load.

Now, what to do with these peaches! I have this tiny dwarf peach tree that was just loaded this year with the most perfect fruits. The tree is suffering in this heat and drought and the peaches are putting an extra burden on it so I started picking them off; beating them to the fall. 
Peaches and Surprise Pumpkin and Zucchini

What's that orange blob? Oh look it's a pumpkin! I found this wee thing nestled among the dead vine under a  bush of lamb's quarter. How fun. The zucchini was a surprise as well. Found her hiding under the wild marigolds. She was eaten in pasta with fresh garlic, olive oil and Bulgarian Feta for lunch. 

Bon appetite`