I’ve written an article about how I’m going to attempt to grow more calories in my home garden over at Emma the Gardener’s blog – plus some things I won’t be trying to grow/raise.
I used to hate beets – it was all about their colour. Their juice stains everything it touches a nuclear shade of magenta, a colour I find unappealing. Now that I’m gardening, beets make a great crop; they are easy to grow, nutritious, and can just be left in the ground until needed. These plusses outweighed the fact that I didn’t like them, so I planted beets. I can’t say they are my favourite vegetable, but I’ve grown to tolerate them in soup and roasted (my quest to love beets is still ongoing).
In looking for something to do with my beets, I stumbled across a recipe for ‘biosphere beet soup’ from Eating In: from the field to the kitchen in Biosphere 2. The recipe called for beets, a potato and a lemon. I don’t grow any of my own lemons as I would need a greenhouse. However, I do have lots of beets and potatoes, so this recipe makes a great starting point for an experiment in making dinner out of what is currently in the garden.
First thing this morning, I went out and harvested the beets. Beside the beets were red carrots. These carrots were bred to contain lycopene, a health promoting nutrient, and they were red. Purple and orange carrots have been a huge success, so trying out red ones seemed like a great idea. To release the lycopene, the carrots need to be cooked and their redness wasn’t as bold as I wanted (they are a rather pale red, almost pink) making them an ideal ingredient for my beets soup.
In another bed, my first successful celery crop waited to be harvested, so I cut off several stalks to put in the soup. Last spring, I had planted multiplier onions to harvest their greens. The onions did their own thing and set single bulbs, that are modest sized red onions. Several of these onions went in along with two cloves of my own garlic.
Purple potatoes seemed the obvious choice for this soup, so I included a handful of small ones. Based on my recent spaghetti squash avalanche, I’ve also slipped in a squash which I assume will blend in.
Everything is now in the slow cooker, along with some salt and pepper that I didn’t produce. I’ll puree the lot before dinner. The original recipe came to 101 calories per serving, which is rather low. It is difficult to get a lot of calories out of garden produce. I think I’ll fry up a couple of eggs from my hens to round out the meal. That’s as local as I can get.
I seem to be challenged when it comes to growing winter squash*. This year, out of three plants, one delicata and two acorn squash, there is only one, misshapen squash to harvest – unfortunately this is on par with my previous years harvests. Winter squash are great and store well, so I’d be disappointed with my harvest, except this year I out sourced my squash production to my parent’s garden. They are downsizing their gardening efforts, so have lots of space for sprawling vines. I passed on seeds for butternut, baby blue hubbard (I think) and spaghetti squash.
My dad said he planted three of each type of squash. He lined up the harvest in the picture. Clearly the spaghetti squash outdid the rest. Three plants produced 112 squash, or roughly 37 per plant – that’s insane!
It looks like we’ll be having spaghetti squash for dinner several times a week until next spring and giving many away.
* lemon cucumbers on the other hand are no problem, currently one plant is giving me billions of them. They don’t pickle well and they are overrunning my other cucumbers. Lemon cucumbers might not make my planting list next year.
Something has been eating the leaves of my sour cherry tree (picture below). The tree is still in a pot, scheduled to be planted in a deer-proof fortification this fall. It has been happily growing since I bought it a few months ago. The damage is unsightly, but hopefully not detrimental to the tree. It looks like windows have been installed haphazardly through the leaves exposing the fractal-like veins of each leaf – very reminiscent of the leaf miner damage that has destroyed this summer’s chard. The difference is I caught the cherry assaulters red-handed. They look to me like little translucent caterpillars with the colouring of a fresh bird dropping. I took mug shots and sent them to be identified by a master gardener and an entomologist.
The gardener identified them as Western Tentiform Leafminers (Phyllonorycter elmaella), a leafminer big enough to see that prefers apple and cherry trees. They have a distinctive adult form with orange and white stripes – I haven’t noticed these, however I have not been looking.
The entomologist identified them as Pear Slugs (Caliroa cerasi), which is not actually a slug but a sawfly. This one also likes munching on fruit trees – including sour cherries like mine. The adult form of these look like a flying ant and I’d have to look really close to tell the difference. Since I assume all flying ants are coming to eat my house, I flatten them on sight.
To me the larvae forms of both the Western Tentiform Leafminers and Pear Slugs look exactly the same! When I noticed these caterpillars on the cherry tree, I picked them all off and squished them, so I can’t hold onto one and see what it turns into. Any idea what these pests might be?
My almost fully homegrown lunch included my own fried purple potatoes and eggs with a salad made of tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t produce any of my own oil, so I used store-bought oil to cook, plus I like a bit of salt on my tomatoes. For a little zip, I added someone else’s diced red onion to my salad – I’m not growing any onions this year because I got mad at them last year. I devoted a huge amount of space to bulb onions and only got greens, I’ll try onion growing again next year (cabbages are on my current hit list because they are buggy space hogs, so they won’t be grown next year). It is only one meal in my day, breakfast was totally not homegrown and dinner tonight of left over chili contains my own celery as the only homegrown ingredient.
I’m still actively working on getting more homegrown food into my family’s meals. In pondering how to grow more, I stumbled across this pool – an awesome conversion of a dilapidated pool into an food producing ecosystem including vegetables, tilapia and eggs that mostly feeds a family of four (another article is here).
The hens live above the deep end of the pool which is filled with water. Chicken waste falls into the water providing nutrients for algae and floating plants, tilapia eat the algae and excess floating plants (duckweed and azolla) get fed to the hens. The nutrient rich water is then pumped (solar powered) through a hydroponic growing system. In their video I spotted chard, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, various herbs and perhaps even taro. The plants looked fabulous and healthy.
They make a claim of ‘unlimited tilapia’, is that possible in the 1000 gallon* they have for them? I did a quick check on an aquaponics site. Their ratio of gallons of water to pounds of fish was 3:1. Which translates into roughly 300 lb of fish in a 1000 gallon pond. I don’t know how fast they reproduce, but it does seem like a lot of fish dinners are a possibility.
It looks like the Garden Pool produces lots of healthy food, perhaps a bit calorie light as they didn’t appear to be growing calorie dense stuff like potatoes (perhaps taro fits this category, I just don’t know enough about it), root vegetables, dried beans or corn.
My one criticism was that their operation was covered with poly – I see that as a great way to start, but if it was my pool I’d be looking to convert to a covering that is more permanent and ascetically pleasing. These clear solar energy collectors would make a great cover (how cool is that!), perhaps fashioned into a pyramid like this one suggested for living on Mars.
*feeling too lazy today to convert these units to metric
I’ve been curious about medlar’s since I saw them on an episode of ‘Tales from the Green Valley‘ – a fruit to grow at my latitude that’s fruit is ready in the fall after the apples are done. According to a British* website the fruit are ready to harvest late October to early November.
Medlar fruit is described as looking like a huge rose-hip – which isn’t surprising as this tree is part of the rose family. Native to Iran and Turkey, medlars were moved around by the Greeks and Romans throughout Europe. They are even mentioned by Shakespeare.
This fruit is eaten after it is ‘bletted’ which is an almost rotten stage. Apparently, at this point they taste like a ‘really good apple butter‘ – but I have no idea because I’ve never had access to one of these fruit to try. I’ve also read medlar’s are good with port at the end of a meal, highly suitable for jam making with their high pectin content and can be made medlar cheese.
Yesterday at a local market, in the 20% off plant section I found medlar trees. The plants available at this market change frequently, so I couldn’t count on these trees being there for long. Since, I had no idea if they were self-fertile or not I bought two trees. Ironically, now that I’ve checked, many of my gardening books make reference to medlars. They are self-fertile so I’ll be giving one tree to my brewmaster friend as I’ve seen a few references to medlar wine.
They’re a nice looking small tree with very hard wood from which spear points, fighting sticks and windmill parts have been made from. An added bonus is bees love the flowers. I’ll plant my tree in the front yard this fall behind a deer-proof fortification. In three to five years I can expect twenty pound harvests – hopefully I like bletted fruit (I’m looking forward to trying them). If they aren’t to my taste, I can always fashion fighting sticks from it’s branches in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
*my island in the Pacific is at the same latitude as the British Isles, so I generally assume what grows there will grow here.
At the bookstore, I was flipping through the garden books and noticed Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed ourselves and the earth by Cindy Conner referred to the Biosphere 2 experiment from the early 90’s, which is the primary reason I bought it.
This book gives clear instructions on putting together a plan to feed a group from your land. I think the planning aspect is this book’s strength. The author points out that feeding yourself entirely from your own land changes what should be planted. Getting adequate calories, protein and calcium become issues that need to be through through. She recommends multiple worksheets and maps to aid developing the plan.
In her own words: “In developing your plan for a sustainable diet, you will want to consider crops that will grow the most food in the least space.” It turns out potatoes produce the most calories per square foot (I assume this is out of the ordinary garden crops). She also mentions garlic as a good calorie producer, which confused me. I see no problem growing lots of garlic, however, I’ve only ever used it as a flavoring. Consuming more might keep vampires at bay, and probably my friends too.
I’ve now realized the straw I’m using as mulch is a big external input into my garden, plus I’m depleting the soil where the straw was harvested from. Her recommendation is to grow your own mulch. I do grow some and scavenge what I can from my own lot, but I don’t have enough space to grow the amount of mulch I would need. I’ll try growing more.
Grow a Sustainable Diet contains a lot of good information. I would recommend this book for anyone that is attempting to grow most of their own food. My main complaint about the book is it frequently provides general information then refers to other books to get the details – books I don’t have at hand.
On a final note, she has changed how I think about honey. It turns out 1 teaspoon of honey is the life work of 12 bees – put that way honey seems more precious.
June was a great salad month, now the July heat is coaxing many of my greens to flowers. The lettuce starts I bought in May produced tones – enough for me to give away bags and bags of lettuce. Now they are starting to bolt, leaving me unsure how much more I’ll be able to harvest from that patch.
Fortunately, I planted my own lettuce starts in the shady spots created by the broccoli and tomatoes (which are now tall enough to provide plenty of shade). The hidden leaves are almost ready to harvest. The variety ‘drunken woman‘ is perhaps the prettiest lettuce I’ve ever grown. It’s producing an open rosette of slightly crinkly leaves that start green at the base and gets light red, almost rust, flecks by the tips.
Another variety, ‘Gandhi‘ is forming lovely heads of light green, contrasting nicely with the lacinato kale it’s growing beside. Arugula is thriving under the tomatoes and New Zealand spinach is almost ready to harvest. So, I’m not at risk of running out of salad greens anytime soon.
Other greens harvested include: pak choi and misome (a cross between komatsuna and tatsoi). The misome was a dark racing green and turned out much better than the pak choi, so I’ve planted more for the fall.