Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garlic Harvest

Today I harvested the garlic, about 45 heads from a 3 x 3 foot spot in one of the raised beds. Only one head looked a little past it's prime, so I think I caught them at just the right moment. Here are some photos of my lovelies.

Harvesting root vegetables is so much more exciting that plucking something off a vine or shrub, something you have watched form and grow. Although that certainly has its charms.

But harvesting something that has been growing underground, shrouded in mystery until that moment you coax it from it's hiding place into the sunlight, has a special thrill. I don't know, it just feels like a magic trick, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But then, most every aspect of gardening feels like magic or conjuring.

Forgive my obsession with the garlic photos, but the colors just strike me as something so beautiful. I am sure I have drooled over skeins of yarn with these same color ways, greens, ecru, pinks and lavenders.

And now I have some more room for fall/winter crops. I don't have nearly enough onions in the ground, so that will be on my list.

Monday, June 29, 2009

News Flash - Backyard Farm Changes Its Name

to Backyard Borage Farm.

Well not really, but it might have been necessary if I hadn't taken "measures" this weekend. It appeared out of nowhere, overnight, as if by magic. I did introduce it intentionally a couple old years ago, but it has taken a mile from the inch I granted.

Borage is thought to have originated in Syria, and is prolific around the Mediterranean. The flowers are edible and the plant is reported to have been used in soups in Spain, a green sauce in Germany, a ravioli filling in Italy and a cocktail garnish for the Pimm's Cup. Who knew?

The variety in my garden is far to prickly for me to consider eating, but the flowers have made their way into salads and ice cubes at my house.

So an overabundance of the stuff is really not a problem. It is lovely to look out over the cloud of electric blue flowers and sees dozens of bees happily working each blossom. That's the main reason I planted it, to attract pollinators to my squash. And they worked a treat. Speaking of which, the first zucchini have formed. This is a moment of excitement, but also fraught with fear and trepidation.

As anyone who has grown zucchini knows, once they start it is full on until fall. Barbara Kingsolver in her great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life chronicles, to hilarious effect, the lengths to which she was driven and the devious tactics she employed to disencumber herself from excess zucchini.

In other exciting news, the Manzano peppers have set their first tiny fruits and the Rocotos, started from seed much later, are thriving. I doubt if there will be red Rocotos this season, but we should have early peppers next year from these little troopers.

And it looks like the garlic is ready to harvest. I have grown garlic for the past 3 years and each year I save the heads with the plumpest, biggest cloves for my seed garlic for the next year. So each year it gets better and better. I usually plant the cloves in October / November, let them overwinter and harvest in July.

Here's a page with lots of great information on growing garlic
Gourmet Garlic Gardens

Monday, June 22, 2009

Planning For A Rotating Feast

One of my goals is to have something to eat out of the garden all year round. And while I have been able to do this most years it usually consists of some hardy arugula that keeps reseeding itself, or some parsley or the stray overlooked onion. This year I'd to do a much better job of planting a variety of things that will carry us into fall and hopefully overwinter for an early start next spring. Kale, Gai Lan, more Onions, Beets, Carrots, Turnips, etc.

This is Gai Lan, one of my favorite new vegetables, also known as Chinese Broccoli. It's earthy and hearty and pungent. I love it the same way I love Kale and Broccoli Rabe.

While it's counterintuitive to start thinking about what to pull out just as most of the garden really seems to be picking up some serious momentum, now is probably none too early to decide what can be phased out, in favor of the next crop. Indeed if I was a better planner, this would already be in place.

I like to think of the garden as a conveyor belt passing along, offering different food at different times of the year, but always something on offer. Maybe a lazy Susan is a better analogy.

I'm currently reading Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, by Eliot Coleman, featured in my book recommendations. The author describes foraging in a French garden in winter, and being amazed at what he is able to find and how little value the owner of the garden puts on the winter "produce".

I do love foraging and coming upon surprise patches of plants I wasn't expecting. I also love his vision of the garden and a constant source of fresh produce, even though he lives in Maine. If he can do it in Maine, I should certainly be able to do it in Oregon.

So the things that I will be looking to phase out will be plants I have too much of, like the volunteer Fennel, and maybe some of the Comfrey and Borage, Feverfew. I love these plants because they are some of the first encouraging things to come up in the cold, damp spring. But after they have bloomed and entertained the bees, they start to fade and take up space better utilized in other ways. They can go to amuse the chickens first and then into the compost. Double utility, because the hens will enjoy them and remove some of the seeds.

Other candidates to be displaced include foods that can be preserved, like some of the herbs, beets, and carrots, peas. So in the next few days I will be taking a critical look at some of the plants that have brought me such pleasure. This is no time for sentimentality.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Dreadful To Talk About

I'm surprised the topic of water isn't higher on the radar of most people, or in the news more frequently. Water scarcity is becoming a problem all over the world. Here's another good reason to grow a little of your own food, if you can. If you have the water.

California's Water Woes Threaten the Entire Country's Food Supply

By Scott Thill, AlterNet . Posted June 6, 2009.

Monday, June 15, 2009

2 Eggs Today

...and I almost got them safely into the kitchen. But not quite. Darn.

I dropped them both after some awkward ballet with the screen door and whatever else I was carrying.

Sorry girls, I meant no disrespect.

Currently On The Menu

So what is actually available to eat from the Backyard Farm at the moment? Well lots and lots of lovely salad. This is a salad mix planted by William and Kaitlyn, 2 of my neighborhood Jr. Farmers. Yes, I am not ashamed to exploit child labor. Plenty of arugula too, even though it is quickly going to seed.

Swiss Chard and Mixed salad greens

Strawberry and Rainier Raspberry (unknown variety)

Bull's Blood Beet and Nantais Carrot (tiny, yet mighty)

Genovese Basil Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)

Coming Attractions

and the Manzano pepper is just about to blossom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Got Cluck?

Just because I love my chickens and have not featured them recently.
They are lovely.

But they are whores. Crack (ed corn) whores to be precise. They happily give up their potential children, EVERYDAY for a taste of the grain.

Here they are neck deep in the crack (ed corn) bucket. Have you no shame?

Eggs are just ovulations. Without the rooster the eggs will never become chicks. the hens don't know this and sometimes they will become broody, sitting atop an egg or eggs trying to hatch it. The broody hen will forgo water and food in dogged pursuit of her goal. And she will stop laying. Thankfully, none of my girls have been bitten by the broody bug.

Does Stealing a Genius Idea Make You a Genius?

Although I cannot claim credit for having devised the above clever contraptions I am so glad that I was able to appropriate the idea, a much nicer way of describing theft.

I spotted these Gilligan's Island style tomato cages a few weeks ago in my neighbor Tom's garden patch. I expressed interest and admiration and generous fellow that he is, he arranged for me to procure some of the same fine bamboo so I could make my own.

I don't know why I can't anticipate that tiny tomato starts will grow into giant, gangly monsters, but I never do. I have started every year with the same wire cages, some square, some round, but the story always ends the same way; cages groaning under the weight of abundant produce, a web of twine strung from the cages to fences, nails in the side of the raised beds, or anything that seems it might offer a little support to the cage about to topple under the weight. Or branches, heavy with tomatoey deliciousness folding over the cold, hard wire.

So we got the bamboo from a friend of Tom's, who has a big property with lots of this gorgeous black bamboo towering over the other plants and her house. We cut down huge 20 foot plus poles and brought them back. It seemed like we took a lot, but she said it grows so fast that it will be replenished in no time. I guess that's why they call it a renewable resource.

I copied Tom's design almost exactly. Cut the poles to about 5 or 6 feet long, drilled some holes through the poles at about 8-10 inch intervals, drove the poles into the soil around the tomatoes, and strung twine through the holes.

Anyway, I love the Polynesian Moderne look that these new cages give the garden. And best of all I can feel smug for being so green and so correct. Thanks Tom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rhubarb: I grew it, and then I cooked it.

Until this spring I hadn't had much experience with Rhubarb, and I didn't feel the least bit deprived. But oh, how things have changed. My sister in law gave me a Rhubarb plant, which I liked seeing in the garden for it's prehistoric look, and it is one of the harbingers of spring.

But I never really intended to eat any. I just thought Rhubarb was a poor substitute for fruit in a pie, cobbler or crisp.Rhubarb is classified as a vegetable, the same way a tomatoes and avocados are really fruits, go figure.

A kind neighbor gave me recipe that she said was terrific and I accepted it, but secretly didn't think I'd ever make it. Well, inside of a couple months I have made this recipe at least 3 times. It's official, I'm a big fan of Rhubarb, and here's why.

Rhubarb Custard Cake
(thanks Linda, I'll never doubt you again)

Jewels of Rhubarb, encrusted in Demrara sugar, nestled in the batter. Next you swamp the mixture with a pint of cream, no mixing. Now it's ready to bake. I was filled with trepidation and uncertainty. 1/2 way through the cooking process it still looked like this, and I thought it was a failure.

When I checked again 15 or 20 minutes later this is what I saw.
And it is deeeeeelicious. The perfect interplay between the tart Rhubarb and the sweet cake is no surprise. But the cream and the sugar turn into a caramel toffee sauce, woven throughout the cake. Like Dulce de Leche. So good.

Very good warm, but I actually prefer it chilled the next day. Cool, creamy, tart, sweet, cakey. Very nice for warmer weather. It was very well received by the audience for whom I cook too.

I have new found respect for Rhubarb and I suspect that it would make a fine chutney as well.

Okay, I confess I couldn't bring myself to use a cake mix, after reading all of the "ingredients", eck. So I used the recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Bread from the Sunset Bread Book, and just left out the lemon zest and poppy seeds, and added a little vanilla.