A years worth of food (2016)

P1110379

Baskets of beans

There are good reasons to garden revolving around food security, ethics and reduced environmental impact which matter a lot to me. Some of these issues come with a rabbit hole worth of depressing information that can suck me in. Discovering more about all the nasty ways corporations are dissecting our worlds to make a profit does not leave me feeling empowered or even motivated. Part of me thinks I should write about these things but in all honesty, they leave me wanting to put my head in the sand and ignore the issues entirely.

So, positive reasons to grow my own food include flavour, variety and quality (for example, I grow the best cabbage I’ve ever eaten). Gardening also gets my family outside and covered in soil. Just spending time being still surrounded by nature and I notice things I wouldn’t normally see (like ladybug sex).

Food production is also a constant human problem that will always need to be solved. It’s an old problem, going back perhaps more than 10,000 years. It’s also a current problem urban dwellers mostly avoid. And, it’s a futuristic problem if we’re going to go off an inhabit new world (this is where my geek-dome comes in).

So on to the numbers: In 2016, I grew 120 kg of food, less than 2015 where I grew 196 kg. The biggest difference was I purposely didn’t grow many squash (I still have squash in my kitchen from 2015). I also got a full time job in April which combined with being a grad student made planting everything I intended to difficult, as a result many things didn’t get planted or harvested (my bad).

All the below, works out to feed a person requiring 2000 calories a day for 50 days – a few days less than the 62 days worth of food from last year. That extra 12 days of food was likely all squash, so no loss really.

Eggs – 149 (just over 12 dozen), these numbers are low because I sent the hens to a farm in the spring (a real farm, honest).

Roots – 6.1 kg (down from 13.54 kg in 2015), I never got around to planting carrots. I do however still have plenty of beets yet to dig up.

Greens – 5.2 kg (down from 10.49 kg in 2015), this year I lumped the kale and collards in with my brassica category.

Oniony things – 9.3 kg (up from 3.75 kg in 2015), there was a bumper crop of onions and shallots.

Sprouts – 1.8 kg (up from 0.99 kg in 2015).

Brasicas – 14.3 kg (up from 0.5 kg in 2015). I had tones of broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Peas/beans – 4.1 kg (up from 2.6 kg in 2015)

Herbs – 2.6 kg (up from 1 kg in 2015)

Fruit – 11.1 kg (down from 16.6 kg in 2015)

Mushrooms – 0.8 kg (up from 0.5 kg in 2015)

Tomatoes – 33.6 kg (similar to 2015)

Peppers – 2.4 kg (down from 4.8 kg in 2015)

Cucumber – 5.6 kg (up from the pathetic 0.5 kg in 2015)

Dried beans – 12.9 kg (up from 5.75 kg in 2015)

Potatoes – 2.8 kg (down from 33 kg in 2015, but I planted them as an afterthought)

Squash – 2.5 kg (down from the ridiculous 67 kg from 2015)

Amaranth – 2.1 kg (got almost nothing in 2015)

Sunflower seeds – 1.4 kg

Popcorn – 1.2 kg

The 2015 harvest numbers

P1100050

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.

The Dried Bean Round-up

P1090949

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.

P1100447

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.

P1090843

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.

P1100311

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.

P1100440

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.

P1100246

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.

P1100443

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.

P1090919

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.

P1090923

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.

Pintos, orcas and tigers – oh my!

P1100165

The view at Northbrook Farm

No I’m not adding to my home menagerie, these are all varieties of dried beans I volunteered to help harvest on the weekend (I’ve already harvested most of my own bean crop).  The day was actually a seed saving workshop put on by the local seed library covering growing, harvesting and processing beans for seeds (and food). The beans belonged to Rebecca Jehn, a local seed producer growing a wide variety of dried beans, the farm was Northbrook Farm, a beautiful location.

P1100161

Dried beans ready to harvest

Rebecca walked us through the process of how she harvests dried beans – pulling up the entire plant then plucking each pod off by cradling the pod in your palm then closing your fingers around the pod before pulling it free of the plant – so if the pod bursts open, as dried bean pods tend to, the beans would just be in your hand and not scattered in the dirt. Each pod got tossed into a large paper grocery bag and later spread out to dry until brittle.

P1100171

Bean pods in the threshing box, with someone (not me) operating the crocs-of-cleanliness

Next came the threshing box – a plywood box with sides slightly smaller than a door (alternately a heavy tarp would work as well). Along the bottom of the box strips of wood were nailed down in a herringbone-like pattern to provide texture. A bag of bean pods were spread out in the box and we took turns donning the crocs-of-cleanliness (designated for only this task, not mucking out the chicken coop) and stomping on the beans. With our weight, most of the pods would break open and spill their beans. We then used compressed air to blow out the pod remnants, the beans and chaff that remained were dumped into a bucket.

P1100187

Spilling the beans to remove the chaff

From a high height, the bucket of beans and chaff was poured into another bucket in front of a fan. All the little bean pod bits got blown away, while the beans, because they are heavier, landed in the second bucket.

P1100191

Beans on a screen letting sub-par ones and twiggy bits through

Next, the beans were put onto a screen that allowed any last bits of non-bean matter to fall through, this included the too-small-to-bother-with malformed beans. Spread out like that it was also easy to pick out any damaged, split or discoloured beans and discard them.

All that was left was beautiful dried beans – and there were so many different types of ogle over – agate pinto really intrigued me with its pretty white and brown markings. I loved the opportunity to just run my hands through so many different types (and it was nice to learn that I’m not the only one who likes to do that).

P1100197

Agate pinto beans – apparently they are as tasty as they are pretty

This is not how I cleaned my beans, partly because I harvested them a bit early and they were only ’leathery’ as opposed to ‘brittle’. I spread them out on our living room floor and we watched TV, drank beer and opened each one by hand. I really didn’t mind my way, however if I do scale up the amount I grow I’m now armed with knowledge to clean them in bulk.

One of the more important things I learned is that my attention to separating by bean varieties is not really necessary for what I’m trying to do. Rebecca grows her beans in long rows – one variety follows another in a single row and different varieties are in adjacent rows. Yes, occasional crossing happens which can add the the genetic diversity and if the resulting bean is significantly different than expected it can be removed. I’ve been obsessively picking over my beans removing any that is sub-par, so removing oddballs would be no big deal especially since it would mean I could grow more different bean varieties.

Things to do with chives plus a surprise

P1090482

Chives past their pretty stage

As I’ve mentioned before, I have happy chives. Come early spring, these chives burst forth with new growth before most everything else. All it takes is a few moments outside with scissors and I’m ready to sprinkle my scrambled eggs with chivy goodness. I’ve gone so far as to stop growing green onions and use chives instead. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), since they tend to spread, the amount of chives currently growing is way more than the amount of chives I use. So what should I do with my excess chives?

Digging all but one small clump up and adding them to the compost pile appeared to be the winning solution for a while – but I never got around to it (occasionally laziness pays off).

With their puff balls of purple on stalks of green, chives do have their moment of beauty. And as soon as they bloom, they are swarmed with pollinators which I consider a good thing. But, their flowers don’t last long, soon they dry out and resemble yellowed tissue paper – not so pretty.

A few days ago I went out to dead head the chives with the hope that I’d get more harvestable leaves. With the first flower plucked, little black chive seeds spilled out (into my strawberry patch so no doubt I’ll be weeding out new chive plants later). I have no need to start chives from seed as they easily divide into new plants, but come mid-winter I like to grow sprouts and chives make lovely sprouts. Their seeds are only viable for a year or so and often hard to come by for sprouting purposes.

P1090483

The black chive seeds are ready to be shaken out

By the fist-full, I shook the flowers over a large bowl resulting in 75g of seeds (ironically, my last bag of chive seeds for sprouting was 75 g). Now I’m set for a winter of chive sprouts – and I’m still hoping they will put out new green growth for me to harvest.

Now for the surprise:

P1090494

A baby goldenrod crab spider amongst the chive seeds

It also turned out that the chive patch was home to lots of little spiders. I kept having to stop shaking chive flowers to rescue spiders out of the bowl, then I spotted an adult – a goldenrod crab spider laying in wait for an unsuspecting honey bee. She was one of the prettiest spiders I’ve seen in the yard and patient enough to let me get some good photographs.

P1090502

An adult goldenrod crab spider (probably female) waiting for pollinator prey

This is not the mother of the little spiders I found as after a female lays her eggs she stands guard over them, without eating, until she drops dead. As a cool piece of trivia, depending on the flower a goldenrod crab spider is waiting in ambush on, they can change colour between white and yellow, albeit much slower than a chameleon changes colour as the yellow pigments have to be fabricated taking 10 to 25 days.