a mid summer update

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A wonderfully alien looking seed pod from love-in-the-mist. It’s been years since I’ve had to deliberately plant these, and they still come up every year.

It’s hot and smokey here (the smoke’s from the fires in the B.C. interior, fortunately nothing near by is burning). The garden is happily growing and I’ve been keeping busy with a plethora of projects. Since I stopped my monthly garden updates a few months ago, I thought I’d give a general update of what I’ve been working on.

Growing stuff

I’ve cut the water to the beans in the front yard. They all have lovely pods, so if all goes well, they’ll be dry enough to harvest by the end of the month. Potatoes are also ready to harvest, as will soon be my onions. The winter cabbages are putting on nice heads and we’re getting all the cucumbers we can eat.

And check out my hairy melon:

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Isn’t it delightfully hairy?

I planted some bigger fruit producers late winter including an apricot, cherry, assorted currants and gooseberries. All are doing well. As is my deck based lime tree (which will come in for the winter).

So far the only seeds I’ve collected have been from the Alexanders (a perennial relative of celery) – we had enough to eat their shoots this year. Not bad for an early spring crop.

Other random projects

Miso – I started a batch out of soybeans with a friend last night (will have to wait at least 6 months to taste it). Now I’m thinking of making a batch out of my homegrown tiger eye beans – mostly because I could call it tiger miso.

Tempeh – we started a batch last night and I’m struggling to find a spot the right temperature for it to ferment. I have no idea if it’ll work out or not.

There’s a watering system that needs to be put in – I have the stuff and having a working watering system would simplify my life. The hard part right now is most my ground is cement-like, so if I want to dig anything in I’ll have to wait until the rains start.

Writing

Settler Chronicles book 1 – I’ve started my final edit, at this point I’m just wordsmithing. My cover should be ready this fall (October) and I’m on track to release then. I also have the first draft of the second book written.

I put up the first scene on this blog a little while back (see here). Should I put up more of this book here? Perhaps the first couple chapters. Let me know in the comments below.

Deep Trouble – A current day action-adventure I’m co-writing with a friend.  I’ll put up the first chapter soon (it was titled ‘Benthic Adventure’ until a friend pointed out that most people don’t know what benthic means. Perhaps it is best I don’t try to surreptitiously improve readers vocabulary in a fluffy, fun action adventure story)

And I’ve started drafting another story for Wattpad – science fiction with lots of action (I’ll share more on this soon).

Reading

Solitude – a non-fiction book by Michael Harris about how creativity grows out of solitude. So far I’m enjoying it. I’ll likely write my own review, but for now there’s a review here.

The Nakano Thrift Shop – a novel by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese. I’m trying to broaden what I read, so this one is quite different from what I normally read. It’s about the relationships between the quirky staff of the thrift shop, and I’m quite enjoying it (although I will need a good action book when I’m done). There’s a review here.

How to like squash

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This is one of my fancy French heritage squash I planted last year (Sucrine du Berry), according to the seed package it is supposed to have “a sweet, musky fragrance and a delicious sweet flesh” – it just tastes like squash to me.

So I have a little secret – I don’t actually like squash (the exception is pumpkin pie, which is the best desert on the planet). I thought I would grow to like it, but it was recently pointed out to me that turning all my squash into curried squash soup only really means I like curry.

But, for the last few years, squash has turned out to be my most productive crop – I’m still working through the 67kg I harvested last year and there is only so much curried squash soup one family can stand. Which has left me with no choice but to experiment. So we’ve had coconut squash pasta (which was good, but could just be me liking coconut milk), squash and black bean burgers (also good, but I couldn’t taste the squash) and squash muffins (about as far into baking that I ever venture). All reasonable options for reducing my squashy stash.

The best option by far is lacto-fermented squash. Once fermented it’s ready in the fridge whenever, and is an easy addition to a plowman style lunch. I’ve only had it, so far, styled as kimchi, but there is plenty of opportunity to experiment here – but not with spaghetti squash (I fermented some last year and it was not good and I’ve since come across others who’ve tried and come to the same conclusion).

Anyone have other ideas on how to prepare winter squash for those of us who don’t really like it?

 

garden in a cube

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an edible chrysanthemum – blooming when I rather it didn’t

As I sit looking out to the garden six lemon yellow flowers provide a cheerful punch in the winter garden dominated by greens and mud. They’re edible chrysanthemums, planted to provide winter greens, but they decided to bloom – in January.  The only other flash of bright colour comes from the Steller’s Jay that has taken up foraging the footprints of past compost bins, presumably ground full of tasty delights. The flash of blue keeps distracting me, but I don’t mind. Looking out always reminds me, the garden is about more than the food it produces.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a company that outfits sea containers with hydroponic gardening systems. Inside, lights cast an optimized spectrum of wavelengths on vertical crops creating a glowing purple world. These gardens (factories? systems?) are reminiscent of a retrofuturistic world without ground to plant and gardens are for one purpose only – human food production.

This kind of food production could feed a lot of people. Since I have a ridiculously long and flat driveway for an urban dweller, I could easily accommodate one of these portable systems – and it’s even tempting. I wonder if there has been thought of sending these systems to the remote communities in the north? Could they produce fresh produce cheaper than flying it in?

I have to admit, I prefer a more polyculture style garden. I would never sit in one of these systems, while I’ll sit in my garden and observe. I prefer the lushness of a polyculture set up along with the wildlife that come in. Plus, I like the illumination of the full visible spectrum, not just the wavelengths that serve growth best.

Hey, there’s the Steller’s Jay…

The 2015 harvest numbers

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A picture to remind everyone of summer

I finally worked up the energy to tally the harvest from 2015, I grew 196 kg of food! My harvest works out to enough to feed a person requiring 2000 calories per day for 62 days – not too shabby. Out of curiosity I went back an calculated calories on my 2014 harvest and was able to feed my hypothetical person for 38 days, so I’m improving. Hopefully, the 2016 harvest will produce even more calories (that’s this year’s goal). As for what my harvest was worth, a rough calculation resulted in $1150 worth of produce, $50 more than the 2014 harvest (I may have calculated my 2014 harvest based on organic produce which I didn’t do this year).

So for those who like the numbers here they are:

Eggs – 489 (over 40 dozen). Also added two new hens to my flock (Licorice and Stout), so I’m expecting an eggy spring.

Roots – 13.54 kg. I didn’t plant as many different type of roots last year, just carrots, beets, and radishes. I also planted celeriac for the first time and haven’t harvested them yet.

Greens – 10.49 kg. I’ve lumped all my green leafy things into one category here. I grew kale, collards, lettuce, chard and an assortment of Asian greens.

Oniony things – 3.75 kg. Mostly garlic and leeks, might try actual onions again this year.

Sprouts – 0.99 kg. This I do in the house and is usually pea shoots, chive sprouts (from my own seeds) and fenugreek sprouts. I’ve experimented with other sprouts and these three are my favourite.

Broccoli – 0.5 kg. This is all purple sprouting broccoli I harvest in the spring. I didn’t get a lot, but the taste was awesome so I’ll aim for more this year plus my husband has convinced me to grow Brussels sprouts.

Peas/beans – 2.59 kg. There were fresh peas and green beans, I’m thinking of adding snow peas to the mix since they’ll be ready sooner in the spring when not much else is available.

Herbs – 1.02 kg. I grow parsley, chives, basil and rosemary. Will expand herb production this year.

Fruit – 16.58 kg. This was the first year I got ripe melons and they were awesome, but I didn’t get any apples. I’ve also included all the berries that made it into the house (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and tayberries).

Mushrooms – 0.48 kg. From a kit I got at last year’s seedy Saturday.

Tomatoes – 34.11 kg. More than last year! I experimented with some new types but for my garden and taste buds black prince and old German varieties work best.

Peppers – 4.76 kg. I grew both hot and sweet peppers outside and got a huge harvest.

Cucumber – 0.3 kg. All I can say is cucumbers just didn’t work for me last year.

Oca – 1.23 kg. I wrote about these here.

Dried beans – 5.75 kg. I wrote about these here. I’ve since eaten several of my varieties and am enjoying how different they are, so far the snowcap beans are my favourite.

Potatoes – 33 kg and Squash – 67 kg. I wrote about these here. We ate the last of these last weekend, since I love potatoes its going to be a long wait until this year’s crop.

I also harvested a bunch of oddball things I’ll cover in another post. Plus, I’ve saved all sorts of seeds to use this year. Finally, last year I planted a bunch of fruit and nut trees, more berries (including a grape vine) and my perennial plants are getting established – once all these are producing I expect my urban harvest will increase massively.

Results from the tuber triad experiment

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Oca emerging from the soil last spring

Last winter, I came home from the local ’seedy Saturday’ with a bag of interesting plants to try, including three oca tubers (I’ve since discovered there is a huge variety of oca types, but I didn’t get any information about what type my tubers are). Oca, or Oxalis tuberosa, is a food plant I’ve read about, but never encountered before and I’m generally game to try new plants, even if I have no idea if I’ll like their flavour.

Along with potatoes, a handful of other tubers were, and I assume still are, grown in the Andes – including ulluco, anu (also called mashua) and oca. All four were grown together in the same field (I’m keeping my eyes open for ulluco and anu so I can try them as well), perhaps taking advantage of different subsets of nutrients. I can see an huge advantage to not relying on a single crop as your staple, a variety of tubers makes sense. The growing advice I found said to plant oca in the spring, then wait until after there has been a few frosts to harvest because the plant doesn’t start producing tubers until days get shorter. Potatoes was once like this as well, so if you were growing potatoes in the sixteenth century you would have gotten the same advice.

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Mid-summer oca

I planted mine directly in the ground late spring. My triad of oca tubers were quick to produce beefy three part leaves, and by late summer there was a nice mound of well behaved foliage – which was good because I had planted other plants a short distance away (potatoes on one side and anise on the other). By September, the oca began to flop over, sprawling into the other plant’s space after I’d already harvested them. Late October, I peeked under the ground and could confirm tubers were forming.

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Pulling up the plants

We’ve had a couple of frosts here so I bit the bullet and dug up my oca last weekend. From the three tubers I started with, I got roughly 1.2 kg which seems pretty good for my first attempt at growing this plant. I’ve read to expect 0.5 kg per plant, so there is an opportunity for me to do better next year. Wikipedia claims oca has 255 calories per 100 g (or 0.26 calories per gram), which means my harvest works out to a grand total of 312 calories – not enough to keep a person going for long, but a start. Something nibbled on some of my tubers, I’m not sure what but I was very careful to only select non-nibbled tubers to plant again next year.

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scrubbed tubers ready to eat

And finally, we got to eat some. We tried a few slices raw. I’ve read some varieties contain a lot of oxalic acid which gives a lemony flavour, but not my variety. They had the texture of a water chestnut, which gave a nice crunch, but not much flavour. I don’t think I’ll bother with them raw. I fried some up like potatoes and they tasted kinda like potatoes, that is, somewhat bland in a staple food kind of way. Oca will be perfectly acceptable to me treated like a potato, my tubers for next year are already safely packed away.

As an after thought, I see that Emma over at the Unconventional Gardener hasn’t harvested her oca yet – she’s in a similar biome to mine, so perhaps should have left mine in the ground a little longer.

Meddling with medlars

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A medlar still on the tree – it does remind me of a rosehip. They were smaller than I expected, about the size of an apricot.

About a year ago I planted my medlar tree into the food forest. It put off one flower in the spring, which promptly fell off, after that my tree did nothing all summer. I assume (and hope) it was building a fantastic root system, so that next spring it’ll take off. All I can do right now is wait and see.

Since I’ve never tasted or even seen a medlar fruit, when my husband mentioned he has a co-worker with an excess of medlar, and did I want to try some? I said yes. Well, we hit the medlar jackpot – the dining room table is now covered in bletting fruit (A medlar is only edible bletted, which means, slightly rotted).

Like a lot of food, I wonder who first tried them – Was someone hungry enough to randomly eat rotted fruit? It turns out they can blet right on the tree, many of the ones we picked were ready to eat. They squished in our hands, dripping out their insides. They also squished under our feet, creating a slippery mess – no wonder the medlar tree owners were happy for us to cart them away.

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medlars bletting – I think they are kinda pretty lined up like this.

I’d read that a ripe medlar tastes like spiced applesauce, but that doesn’t quite describe it. In contrast to the exotic flavours of a quince, a medlar has a more familiarness to it (quince and medlars are both related to apples). There is definitely a hint of apple pie but they are certainly not sweet. The consistency was like applesauce, but the texture was slightly different in a way I can’t describe. I like them, but eating them regularly will take some getting used to.

About a third of what we picked was ready to use right away. I felt much to lazy to make medlar jelly and I already made a ton of quince ‘cheese’ so I didn’t want to make a medlar version. I settled on making medlar sauce using the same method I use to make applesauce. I had to sweeten it in the end as I just didn’t see anyone eating the unsweetened version. My medlar sauce doesn’t have the crisp freshness that unsweetened applesauce does – it needed some sugar. The result thickened up nicely and a dollop tasted good in my morning yogurt.

The things I did to quince

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A quince – it looks kinda like a cross between an apple and pear covered in fuzz.

Eventually, I’d like to get a quince tree mostly because they have the most beautiful blooms. So when I was offered a large amount of quince from a friend, I accepted and considered it a test of what I might do when I have my own quince tree in full production.

Quince are related to apples and pears. They ripen a bit later in the fall (I got mine mid-October) making them a nice fruit to extend the season with. The fruit’s fragrance is amazing – one source I found suggests putting quince in a bowl to give a room fragrance. I couldn’t leave any of my quince in the house because they also attract fruit flies by the billion. Their dark side is they’re inedible raw – which is generally how we eat our fruit here. Even though I had read this, I couldn’t help but try a raw chunk of quince to test. I spit the piece out – they are extremely sour (and I’m a fan of sour things) and rock hard.

I did have a recipe for quince paste – so I made a quadruple batch. Basically, it’s a sour gummy that’s all grown up and will go awesome with cheese. Then I made some quince butter using an apple butter recipe and started a batch of quince vinegar (see picture here). I also froze several bags of sliced quince to make crisps out of. At the end, I still had a bucket of quince left over. None of my canning books, and I have a stack, offered any more ideas of what to do to quince and my bucket-o-quince was quickly becoming too ripe.

I resorted to asking an online forum for help – and quince ideas came. I didn’t have enough left to start a batch of wine (but I wanted to), so I settled on making quince and cranberry with ginger preserves (recipe here) which turned out absolutely fantastic and of course I got around to making this a couple days after I hosted a Thanksgiving turkey meal. I’ll bring it out for Christmas, if I don’t just eat it out of the jars before then. I also started a batch of quince vodka (recipe here), which should be ready to try at Christmas.

I now think I can handle a large harvest of quince, so I’m keeping a look out for my own tree.

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From left to right: quince butter, quince vodka and quince cranberry ginger sauce. Quince paste is in front.

‘The Hands-On Home’ book review

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My first experiment in vinegar making

My pre-ordered a copy of The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss finally arrived last week. I regularly stop by Erica’s blog Northwest Edible Life because I enjoy her writing style and humour, so I expected I’d like her book. Well, this was not the books I was expecting! I thought I’d be getting a floppy cookbook, instead I got a tome like the fluid mechanics textbook I used for years to hold up my computer monitor, and it’s pretty enough to go on the shelf with my pretty cookbooks. Likely it’ll join the pile of cookbooks that live on my kitchen counter that I refer to all the time (a pile my neat-freak husband kindly hasn’t tried to put away).

The Hands-On Home is more than a cookbook extending into preserving, cleaning and self care with recipes fitting into each category. The book is broken down by season, so I started by trying out a couple of fall recipes.

Cambazola went on sale last week and there was a red cabbage in the fridge, so I decided to try ‘Red Cabbage with Cambazola’ first. I was perfectly prepared to try a new recipe by choosing a day my husband was late getting home from work and my toddler was grumpy and hungry (she snatched most of the apple for the recipe right out of the bowl before it even made it into the pot). I had no red wine, and if I did I likely would have poured myself a glass instead of cooking with it. The cabbage was quickly ready and served beside some left over pulled pork harmony was restored to my house.

The second recipe I tried was ‘Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apple and Cider Cream.’ Without a real excuse I skipped making the cider cream, laziness I guess, the soup would look pretty with it. This soup was a simpler squash soup than I normally make (tomatoes and coconut milk tend to find their way into my invented squash soups). The recipe had curry in it, and I prefer my squash to be curried. Like the cabbage, the soup was quick and easy to make – and it was tasty enough that it will likely be making a weekly appearance until my 67 kg squash pile runs out.

I’ve also started up a batch of ‘Cores and Scraps Fruit Vinegar.’ I finished my dried apple blitz about a week ago, so I didn’t have any apple peels to use, so I used quince peels instead (I’ve made quince paste and quince jam and have piles more quince I need to think of some way to preserve, any ideas?). I have no idea how quince vinegar will turn out, but I like experimenting. Yogurt and mayonnaise are both on the agenda to make over the next few days.

I already cook most my meals from scratch using a lot of homegrown produce and I’m a big fan of leftovers as they make my life easier. For a while now I’ve been pondering how to extend the leftovers concept into shelf stable, pantry staples ready to slap together for a weeknight dinner. Every time I look into store bought options I fall into a rabbit hole of complexity. Where did it come from? Do I recognize the ingredients? Is the can lining dangerous? Where was it made? How far did it travel to get to the store? and on and on. Since I trust what I grow and make I think I’ll finally have to get a pressure canner (the idea of them scare me). The Hands-On Home has recipes for canned meat and beans which look simple enough for me to start with – but not until I finish water-bath canning this year’s fruit harvest.

Finally, I was impressed with Erica’s discussion of cleaners. I’m now clear on when to use an alkaline based cleaner or a acid based one and I’m likely to remember now. After I use up the cleaners already in the house, I’ll try making my own. Erica has even inspired me to start thinking about cleaning up the bug mausoleum that’s been amassing in the light fixtures – a couple of my lights magnify the silver fish within creating quite a horror show effect.

The Dried Bean Round-up

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beans drying on my dining room table

In the spring I started a dried bean experiment, remember all the types I planted? The results are in. All my beans have been harvested, removed from their pods, dried and weighed – now my pantry has mason jars full of new bean types to try.

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Blue Speckled Tepary Beans – just enough to try growing again next year, not enough to cook up.

To start I had a couple of disasters. In my home garden, I planted Lady Pea Cow Peas, Blue Speckled Tepary Bean and Mayacoba/Limon Beans in a spot I thought would provide great light and heat. It turned out to be a bad spot, summer sun was shaded by a neighbour’s old plum tree and the soil held no water (the soil basically turned into something resembling compacted concrete). All three of these beans germinated and I got a few plants, both the cow peas and tepary beans produced some flowers. In the end, all I got was a handful of tepary beans – just enough to try growing them again next year.

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Blue Jay Beans – aren’t they pretty!

My blue jay beans are bit of an odd one out here. They are a heritage variety grown for their pods (a green bean). I scored a few seeds from a friend and planted out a single row. We ate some as green beans (they were awesome), I meant to make pickles out of the rest and didn’t so I ended up with dried beans to harvest – enough I could cook them up if I wanted. I’ll save them as seeds, give some away and donate some to the local seed library.

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Snow Cap Beans – these beans are bigger than a Kidney Bean.

I expected my Snow Cap Beans to fail after the deer ate all the leaves of the vines, but I was wrong. There were enough beans for me to eat some and save seeds.

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My Black Jet Soy Beans

Next up are the Black Jet Soy Beans, Winnifred’s Garbanzo and Red Lentils. Only about five soy plants grew, which gave me a surprising amount of beans – but only a minority turned out black. I’ll eat what I grew, but I don’t think I’ll bother growing them again next year. The garbanzo’s produced lots of pods, but the harvest really wasn’t worth the effort. I missed harvesting the lentils at the right time, most pods split and dumped their contents on the ground. The lentils are so small, I’m not going to bother with them next year either.

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Trail of Tears Beans – apparently the colour variation is normal.

I planted Trail of Tears Beans on my old compost pile which resulted in vines reaching past the tops of their supports and mixing with my blackberry. The plants produced pods prolifically – but it threatened to rain right as they were drying down so I harvested everything at once and brought them inside to dry. I probably should have waited as many pods weren’t close enough to dry inside. Still got a reasonable harvest with enough for several meals.

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Scarlet Runner Beans – their colouring is amazing!

In a pot on the deck I grew Scarlet Runner Beans just for the flowers. I’ve since learned they are great for eating as a dried bean, so I’ll aim to grow more out next year.

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Ireland Creek Annie Beans

Ireland Creek Annie Beans were my best producer – more than 2 kg from a single package of seeds. I haven’t cooked any up yet.

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Tiger Eye Beans

I got slightly less Tiger Eye Beans than the Ireland Creek Annie ones, but these are my favorite. Originally, I got a handful of seeds from the library and now I have tones to eat, seeds for next year and plenty to give back to the library. I made fantastic re-fried beans out of these, plus they are so pretty.

So here are the final tallies:

  • Scarlet Runner Beans – 125 g
  • Black Jet Soy Beans – 275 g
  • Snow Cap Beans – 750 g (from 75 beans)
  • Trail of Tears Beans – 750 g (from 65 beans)
  • Blue Jay Beans – 300 g (from 15 beans)
  • Tiger Eye Beans – 1800 g
  • Ireland Creek Annie Beans – 2175 g

This gives me a total of 6175 g or 18,525 calories that is easy to store.

pink and purple potatoes with some math

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33 kg of potatoes

One of my goals for this year’s garden was to grow more of my calories. To that end, I took over my parent’s vegetable garden and filled it with potatoes, dried beans and squash. Yesterday, was potato digging day. I had planted four types – and I wrote what those types were down! There was Bintje a yellow flesh type and Red Viking with red skin and white flesh, both are supposed to be good for storing.

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Russian Blue potato

Because I’m drawn to the weird, I also planted Russian Blue which has a purple flesh which turns blue-ish when cooked, tastes great but looks horrid in a stew, and Ama Rosa said to have red flesh but I think it looks pink.

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Ama Rose potato – very girly

In total, the potato harvest was roughly 33 kg (73 lbs). At 0.77 calories per gram that works out to 25,410 calories worth of potatoes – enough to feed someone needing 2000 calories a day for almost 13 days (if one wanted to follow an all potato diet like Mark Watney of The Martian). I had expected more of a potato harvest and will try to produce more next year. Around here we won’t be going to an all potato diet, so I’m anticipating the potatoes will last us until the end of the year.

To add to my potatoes, we grew dried beans for the first time. I experimented with different types and not all are dried and weighed yet. Some were types were failures and some types did great (I’ll do a whole post on beans later). In total, I got roughly 6 kg of beans. Calorie counts appear to vary based on the bean variety, so I’ll use a middle value of 3 calories per gram. That give me 18,000 calories of beans or enough to feed my hypothetical person for 9 days.

We also brought home the squash harvest and we always get lots. I grew 5 varieties which produced 67 kg (147 lbs). Assuming a quarter of that weight is skin and other bits I’ll compost (I’m ignoring the seeds here, we’ll likely roast and eat those), that leaves me roughly 50 kg of usable squash which at 0.6 calories per gram gives me 30,000 calories of squash, or enough food for 15 days.

In an apocalyptic scenario, ignoring the rest of my harvest (like the carrots, beets, leeks, tomatoes, melons, peppers and eggs) my hypothetical person would have enough food for 37 days and would probably be very, very grumpy – I’d be on an all potato, bean and squash diet.

I’ll do a full calorie calculation at the end of the year when I sum up my harvest