Dark Days Stir Fry

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Roman BroccoliTired of all the rich holiday food and desperately in need of a fresh vegetable, I grabbed an empty dish pan and headed out into the garden this afternoon to see what I could find to turn into dinner. The first thing I pulled were some nice fat rutabagas. I’m hoping to re-purpose they bed they are growing in very soon so I wanted to use them up anyway.

Next to the rutabagas there was a very nice head of ‘Romanesco’ Broccoli growing. I have been watching this plant carefully because I’m not entirely sure how to tell if it’s ready to eat or not, but I was more than happy with the size so I figured it was worth a try.

Next to the ‘Romanesco,’ there were lots of side-shoots on my regular broccoli, so I collected those. I picked through the snow pea vines and found half a dozen pods that were ready to eat. In search of more variety and color, I pulled some bright white ‘Tokyo Market’ turnips and several different kinds of carrots, ‘Yellowstones,’ ‘Romeos’ and ‘Nantes.’

Inside again, I diced and sliced the vegetables, including the turnip greens, and tossed them into a skillet with olive oil and a red onion left over from burgers my husband cooked a few nights ago. I added a few dashes of white wine vinegar and tamari and covered the pan to steam everything. When the vegetables were almost done, I tossed in diced jerk smoked pork chops hubby cooked on New Year’s Day and stirred it all together for a few minutes before calling it done.

Simple. Fresh. Very satisfying.

Leeks, Sweet Potatoes and When is Spring?

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I started some sweet potatoes in Ball jars on the window sill to grow slips for planting later this spring. I used three sweet potatoes from the cupboard but I can’t tell you which varieties they are yet. I don’t imagine there are very many varieties in local commercial production so it should be easy to narrow down. I’ll ask around and see what I can figure out.

I also quickly started some leek seeds for the Dirt to Dinner kids to plant now that I have finally grasped the difference between summer leeks and winter leeks. I am using Sherwood Leeks from last year’s Seeds of Change seed donation for the summer planting. I hope they sprout. They were packed for 2007 so I planted about a third more seed than I actually wanted in case germination is spotty. I’ve read that onion seeds don’t keep well and these have been through less than ideal storage conditions since they arrived.

The big news here is that the Principe Borghese tomato seeds I planted on Christmas are sprouting! When I saw the first sprout I popped one of the few remaining dried tomatoes from last year’s crop into my mouth just so I could taste them again. I can already hear the dehydrator whirring. ;-)

The Cincinnati Market radishes are also sprouting nicely in a sheltered bed in the garden. I grew up in Cincinnati, so as soon as I saw them in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog I knew I had to grow them. I hope they taste good. I guess I can always pickle them if we don’t like them raw in salads. I would probably devour small disks of cardboard if they were pickled well.

Today was also the day for the first of the All Red and Red Gold potatoes to start heading into the soil. I think the problem with last year’s All Blue crop was that the plants didn’t have enough room. We only gave them roughly a square foot each because we were using a deep bed for planting. But this spacing produced lots of very small blue potatoes, which tells me the plants were too crowded horizontally in spite of the extra space we gave them along the vertical.

The reds are getting three square feet a piece–eventually. Right now there are Sugar Daddy snap peas planted in between the potato rows. Hopefully this won’t crowd them. The peas should be grown and out of the way by the time the potato plants need the space and the soil hilling gets deeper. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

Confounding the Peas

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Planter box or cat box?

Not the peas we had in mind!

A major issue in observation studies is that we often don’t always know what the potential confounding factors may be. In the soil fertility experiment we started a few weeks ago the confounders have overcome the experiment to the point that it was almost impossible to tell what was happening.

First, the planter was visited by our resident rodents, the hopping mice that peek out at us from the bushes and love to steal tasty treats. They dug out many of the seeds and presumably ate them.

Next, maybe due to the delicious rodent perfume worn by our mice, a cat visited the planter and dug through one side of the box creating a large mound containing who-knows-what sort of catly gifts. And that was before the huge storm that blew everything around and even washed some of the soil right out of the planter and onto the plastic around it.

Sprouts

Who's That Growing in Our Bed?

In spite of all of this, a few things did actually sprout. If you look carefully at the East side of the soil test bed, the “Tomato Soil” side, you can see how we counted twelve sprouts the last time we recorded data from this experiment. But 12 sprouts of what, exactly?

At least three of the sprouts were squat, strong-looking stems with rounded leaves on them. The rest were spindly stems with elongated, pointed leaves on them. Only the first three were a match to the pea patches growing in two nearby planters.

Tomato Sprouts

Pea Patch Volunteers

So, since this a really great experiment concept, and we already have the nicely amended (thanks for all your help, Cat!) soil on one side and the do-nothing-to-it “Tomato Soil” on the other side, we decided to replant this experiment to see if we can get a less confounded idea of what happens.

The bed was smoothed on the West side, and the cat pile was carefully removed. The bed was then replanted with 1 oz. of ‘Alaska’ (Earliest of All) peas, also known as Pisum sativum var sativum, packed for 2009. These were planted equally on the two sides but we decided to allow the existing pea sprouts to stay. They were marked so we can take them out of the data if we choose to.

 

Holes in burlap row cover

Burlap Fail

Then the bed was carefully covered with burlap and cages to discourage visitors. Unfortunately, this morning there seem to be a whole lot of holes in the burlap that weren’t there when we put it on! Kids weren’t the only ones out trick-or-treating last night. We’ve been raided by varmints! (I”m sorry about all those things I said, Cat. Please come back to the garden. We need you! We’ll plant more catnip, I promise!)

It looks like at least a dozen holes were dug into the planting area last night. There’s no way to tell if the mice are eating the new seeds or the old seeds that might be still left in the soil. But there are certainly some of the seeds still undisturbed in the planting area.

 

Mesh cover for garden bed

Pea Prison

In order to try to salvage this experiment we grabbed a few things we had around the garden and built a mesh wire cage over the planter like the one we use for the carrots’ Fort Knox. Hopefully this will give the peas a chance to sprout and grow through the tender and delicious stage. We noted that the peas that we started weeks ago who were sitting nearby in their nursery packs waiting to be planted are undisturbed.

We didn’t have a large enough piece of hardware cloth to cover the entire bed so we covered an equal amount of each side and will leave the area with the most rodent damage exposed for now. Maybe that will help keep the mice from breaking into the seeds we are trying to save and then we can plant it with another crop in a week or two when we see how things germinate.

 

 

Dispersing Seeds

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Ready to Thresh

Ready to Thresh

This week during Open Garden, we collected the bean seeds that have been drying on the plants for several weeks and examined the soy bean seeds that had been left to undergo their natural dispersal process. At the final stage of drying the bean pods will twist until they burst, allowing the beans inside to pop out of the shells and spread out in the surrounding around.

Ready to Store

Ready to Store

The trick to collecting your soup beans is getting to them just before they hit this stage. You want the pods to be dry and brittle, but not at the point of starting to twist. I usually have to find one that has already twisted and flung out its seeds before I realize it’s time to pick the rest of them. Once the dried seed pods are collected, you can put them into a paperbag and shake the closed bag to break open the pods and free the beans. Then lift out the dried shells to toss into the compost bin and what’s left in the bag is your beans.

Ready for Soup

Ready for Soup

Just to be sure that they are really dry, I sometimes add a commercial desiccant packet to the bottom of the container I keep them in, but a little dried milk in a folded piece of paper towel will also do the trick.

To use the beans, I soak them overnight with a good size piece of kombu (seaweed) to make them easier to digest. Then I throw out that soaking water but save the kombu to cook with the beans. In the Spring I definitely plan to try more varieties of drying beans for soup all Winter long.

October 10th, 2009 by Sidney, Kimberly and Marilee

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Opening Circle: Mackenzie shared a beautiful, new song with African lyrics. The English lyrics are as follows:

Welcome to my village
You are part of my village
We are all one village

Today we passed an invisible “talking stick” and shared the name of our favorite veggies. We also shared the progress of our seed jars. Most of the seeds had quickly germinated and in some cases had multiple leaves, or the seeds remained dormant with mold growing on the moist paper towel.

We discussed that the newly emerging plants were initially feeding on the nutrients within the seed and then each new plant grew toward the sunlight. Sidney shared a seed dispersal experience describing how a neighbor’s dog collected and distributed seeds which had caught onto his fur.

Mackenzie introduced our special guest today, Suzanne Mills, her mother from San Diego. Suzanne was busy helping everyone today with the experiments, cooking, clean up and sharing stories about growing up with Mackenzie. Thank you Suzanne!

Garden Chores:

The front yard was cleaned up with old growth tomato plants taken away to the compost pile.

Large Compost Bin

Tomato Plants Become Compost

Science Project:

We talked about the 3 elements; sunlight, water and soil and how they relate to plants.

There were 3 experiments. Mackenzie prompted the investigation with a question about one of the elements and then we created our scientific guess, sometimes referred to as a hypothesis.

Q#1 What happens to roots with various amounts of water?

Hypothesis: Plants need water

Method: 5 cups of soil were given varying amount of water and ability to drain water.

C1 – no water

C2 Water once with cup drainage holes

C3 Water once with no drainage holes

C4 Water several times with cup drainage holes

C5 Water several times with no drainage holes

Q#2 What does soil do for plants?

H: Quality soil gives us bigger leaves

M: 3 pea seeds using 3 methods were planted in the garden

P1 Peas with water and sun

P2 Peas with poor soil with water

P3 Peas with good soil, sun and water

Q#3 How does light affect plantʼs growth?

H: Plants donʼt need light but they grow better with light

M: Put 3 cups filled with seeds and soil into 3 areas of varying light

C1 Inside without light (closet)

C2 Create a collar of foil around the cup to maximize light capture

C3 Put cup outside with no foil collar

Garden Senses Exercise

How Does the Garden Feel?

Senses in the Garden:

Everyone had fun searching the garden and acting like a detective finding 18 different

textures, smell, sounds, colors, tastes. The “brightness” of each individual piece was

enjoyed.

Cooking Project:

Cooking 3 different dishes using Polenta; Polenta crust pizza, soft polenta with olive oil, soft polenta with tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, and apple upside down cake.

Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. When boiled, polenta has a smooth, creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain.

Polenta Pizza

Let's Eat!

We watched Talia finish up cooking a pot of soft polenta. After adding the polenta to boiling water she stirred the mixture for over an hour. Her patience paid off as the batch passed the thickening test with her mixing spoon standing straight up from the mixture.

Owen, Kevin, Kimberly and others sliced and diced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to decorate the top of the polenta crust.

Everything was delicious.