"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Few Rambling Thoughts on Wild Edible Herbs and Berries

This past weekend we took a drive up into the mountains to see how the huckleberries were progressing this year...not so great. Berries were few and far between possibly due to the lengthy rainy weather this spring affecting their ability to pollinate properly, so we only picked a few to be used fresh this week. Hopefully we will have better luck higher up in the mountains later this summer in a few of our favorite spots. All was not lost though as we quickly switched gears and focused instead on gathering elderberry blossoms and the flowers of St. Johns Wort that were growing wild nearby.

Thanks to a couple of wonderful posts here and here from Diane over at Peaceful Acres we recently and inadvertently discovered that St. John's Wort grows wild all around our area. It can be fairly easily identified via the purplish dots that appear to perforate the leaves and flowers which is where this plant gets it's name Hypericum perforatum. So after reading her posts we are now happily following suite and making our own herbal salve.

We have also been picking and drying clover, violet flowers, chamomile, and even a few huckleberry leaves that we use fresh or dried in various potions and teas.

A light and refreshing sun tea in the works comprised of clover, huckleberry leaves, rose petals, mint, and lemon balm.

Various herbs drying in the greenhouse.

Drying North Idaho tea plant (huckleberry) leaves for winter use.:)

We recently identified this plant as Split-Lip Hemp Nettle (?), a member of the mint family, growing in our area. Not sure what we will be using it for as of yet...might be poisonous.(?)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In the Garden - Tomatoes & Peppers

"This was going to be the year we cut back on how many peppers and tomatoes we grow due to the glut of fruits they provided for us last season," He says chuckling to himself. Well those plans went out the window with this year's seemingly never ending cold and rain. What do you do when the weather does not cooperate? Well we changed all of our gardening plans at the last minute, focusing on quantity of plants over quality. I am growing twice as many peppers and tomatoes this year under the assumption that we will no doubt have a much lighter crop come fall. So each plant only needs to produce half as many fruits in order to provide us with a similar harvest as last season. That's the idea anyway.

We also scrapped all of the many plans that were formulated this past winter for numerous varieties of both bush and pole beans focusing instead on the cold hearty fava and my old reliable runner beans, both to be used as dry beans. We have a few other varieties of beans planted but nothing like I had originally planned on growing.

We need all the sun we can get this summer so most sunflowers and any tall fences of climbing plants besides those on the outskirts of the garden are pretty much out of the picture. I even had to sacrifice my wife's beautiful elderberry bush as it was shading part of our tomato patch, no worries though as a good pruning will make it thrive even more next spring.

While the vast majority of our tomato and pepper plants are planted in the ground every extra spot of space is filled with potted peppers and tomatoes...lots and lots of them. I figured that the peppers in black pots would outperform the ones in the ground this year and I am right so far. Potting a bunch of our plants will also allow me to usher them into the greenhouse if September's weather does not pan out. This is what I enjoy the most about gardening, the challenge of making it happen no matter what. A few of the smaller dwarf tomato varieties are even starting to bear fruit.

Husky Dwarf tomatoes


Red Alert

A tasty Tumbling Tom

A ridiculous amount of caged indeterminate tomatoes

Cali Orange tomatoes in pots

A gifted Coastal Pride Orange all staked up ~ A friend grew and babied a number of these plants from seed out of a tomato we gave her last fall. Thanks Paige!

Potted Bloody Butcher tomatoes starting to form


Patio and Husky Dwarf tomatoes planted in the greenhouse

There are even tomatoes in the Orchard

Black Pearl Pepper ~ (looking good Randi)

Our first cayenne pepper...and that's my clean hand you should see the other one.:)

Jalapeno and cubanero peppers in pots

and pots

and pots
And more pots - Now all that's left to do is sit back and cross my fingers that time will be on our side and hope for a very warm August and September because come October it will all be over for any of these fair weather plants that are not lugged into the greenhouse.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Harvesting Peas with Gimpy

With a little help from one of my trusty assistants "Gimpy" I began harvesting peas yesterday afternoon. Gimpy has a re-occurring leg injury and has been allowed to follow me around the gardens of late in order to get a little break from her mean sisters. She is also a member of a small party of "well behaved" chickens that are involved in my experimental currant fly/maggot eradication program. Currant flies emerge from the soil in April - May and lay their eggs in the fruit. When the fruit drops, the maggots enter the soil and so the vicious cycle begins anew. My thoughts are that if the chickens eat the fallen berries and any maggots that have already entered the soil it should help control the numbers of these nasty little bugs going forward.

Anyway, we harvested a nice little haul of Afilia peas and kale out of this bed and replanted more Afilia peas and fast maturing Roma bush beans in their place that will both hopefully be ready around the first part of September. I did leave a 6' section of peas at the far end of the bed to dry on the vine for next year's seed supply. While my bush peas have been planted, harvested, and replanted a small patch of our pretty purple podded pole peas (try saying that really fast) are just now in full bloom. With any luck the weather will be favorable for the next couple of months and another fine crop will be had.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Preserved and Preserving

It's almost mid-July and the summer gardens are off to a fair albeit rocky start. We have had to take some pretty drastic measures to assure a good harvest for this season...more on that in a subsequent post. Some things are going quite well for us though. For instance, we are still eating and enjoying last year's squash,

beets, potatoes and carrots. The carrots are starting to taste a bit bland but everything else has retained it's flavor quite well.

Micki just finished sorting through our garlic and she came up with more than enough good cloves to see us through until our August harvest. We also have plenty of canned goods left in the pantry although we are out of pickles. I miss my pickles and hope to have the chance to can many more this fall than I did previously.

We have been busy harvesting kale, bunches of kale. Each one of these large ugly orange tubs, bought on sale after Halloween last year for almost nothing, equates to only 3 quarts of blanched and frozen greens, hard to believe, but true. So far we have 15 quarts frozen and will be satisfied once we harvest about 5 more. Mostly, we use these greens for kale and potato soup during the winter months when the fresh ones are harder to come by and I think this winter is going to be a doozy so we are putting up a bit extra. Which reminds me that I will need even more than that as it is also a vital ingredient in our homemade dog food.

Kale is an excellent green for freezing. We blanch them for a couple-three minutes, cool in ice water, wring them out like a rag, spread out on a towel to dry a bit more, mix with a hint of olive oil and pack into freezer bags.

Yesterday I picked a good gallon and half of strawberries which we also froze. Most of our plants have been thinned out and transplanted this year to various locations throughout the garden, considering all the abuse they have received I am happy to see them all starting to fill out with berries...lots of berries. We grow an extremely hardy ever bearing plant that needs no winter cover and on a good year will provide three crops of berries the last two being smaller in number than the first but with much bigger berries. I suspect that these particular strawberries are actually a "day-neutral " variety that, unlike prolific June-bearing strawberries, will continuously produce fruit anytime the temperatures are above freezing and the sun is still shining, often well into October. Lack of water and weeds are their primary enemies.

Our walking onions are filling out with nice little clusters of bulblets on top of their stems. Either end can be eaten but normally the bulblets are used for new onions and the in-ground bulbs for eating. They are often called "Egyptian" walking onions because they tend to become top heavy, fall over, and replant themselves. Honestly, I'm still not sure what any of this has to do with Egypt? Ever since a friend sent us some a couple years ago we have been busy growing them out in order to enlarge our patch. I can't begin to explain how fascinating I find this particular type of crazy allium, sometimes I just sit there and look at them shaking my head in wonder.

Last but not least our strawberry spinach plants are doing quite well, they seem to flourish come hell or high water, growing and producing regardless of the weather. Although the little "Malt-O Meal" flavored berries are much sweeter if they have adequate water and sunlight. The flavorless leaves on this plant are high in vitamins (especially C and A) and along with the the berries are a great addition to any salad. Be aware that once planted they do tend to readily and vigorously re-seed themselves. I would love to know more about the nutritional benefits of the berries themselves if anyone ever runs across any information?

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Sweet Afilia - Oh what a tangled web you weave."

One of the varieties of peas we are growing this season is called "Tacoma Afilia." I first grew this great little bush pea last year and was absolutely delighted with the results. Not only did it provide us with two nice harvests of sweet uniform peas, from successive plantings in the same location, but was easy to work with as this particular bush pea has been gifted with many more tendrils and fewer leaves than your average pea vine, allowing it to easily grasp on to any support provided for it. In our case, we normally like to use field fencing as a trellis for our peas.

Most of the pea pods can be found towards the top half of the plant and being semi-leafless we found that last years second crop did not suffer from the powdery mildew that often affects our late season crops. The plants grow rapidly once they have germinated reaching a height of approximately 3', tall enough to easily pick off of but not so tall as to shade our other plants. This gave us the distinct advantage of being able to pretty much plant them wherever we wanted unlike our pole peas that must be grown in specific locations so as not to block out the much needed sunlight from surrounding plants in the garden.

When you take into consideration the fact that these compact plants mature in about 60 days or less allowing for multiple crops, they are, in a sense, more productive than our much longer maturing pole peas that we are not able to replant in this manner due to our short growing season and issues with late season mildew.

One must be careful while picking lest Afilia's wild grasping tendrils take hold and pull you in.

The above pictures were taken a week or so ago, today I noticed that the flowers are fading and being replaced with peas.

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