Daffodil alert! Well, daffodil foliage anyway, has managed to pry open the frozen soil and point up a green middle finger at the last of the winter.
And not a day too soon -- has there been as unrelenting a winter as the long freeze of '10? Only garden catalogs made February bearable. Time to plan the urban vegetable Square Foot Garden.
Johnny's Selected Seeds has fascinating heirloom varieties that are so tempting. Costata Romano zucchini -- the catalog says it has a nutty taste and is good for eating raw. The zukes are ribbed and sage-gray color, and the bushes yield half as much as contemporary varieties -- better tasting zucchini and less of them is just what the garden needs.
Last year's vertically grown winter squash choice (pictured at right) was whatever the garden store stocked, and it was fine. This year, though, the Cha Cha kabocha squash has too irresistible a name, so it's under consideration.
Gardens of Babylon in Farmers Market carries the organically produced Seeds of Change. We picked out a Plum Purple radish for early sowing and an heirloom pumpkin for growing vertically. Babylon's shelves are stocked with onion, garlic and potato, as well as rhubarb, strawberry plants and asparagus crowns.
Matt, the all-around guy at Gardens of Babylon, says the trickle of customers will be picking up volume soon. "Anytime the temperature hits 45 or above," people start thinking about being outside.
What garden dreams are underneath the fertile soil of your imagination?
Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser will speak at Belmont University on Monday. The event is at 7 p.m. at Belmont Heights Baptist Church, 2100 Belmont Blvd.
More recently, Schlosser was a co-producer and appeared in the hit documentary Food, Inc. That film has won numerous awards and further energized the debate over practices in the American corporate food industry. It's nominated for best feature documentary at this year's Oscars, which take place March 7.
Carrington last week noted her success with a certain small pepper in her garden. Gardening write-ups are like pictures of people's grandchildren -- either you're interested or not. So if you're not involved, moved along -- nothing to see here.
We're just eight days away from the date of first expected frost. The garden's on its last hurrah, or maybe past that. This is the time of year for the big reveal. Here was what worked and didn't in the utterly amazing, super-productive, hardly-any-work Square Foot Garden
FAIL/I BLAME THE RAIN
* Dill: you can see the total harvest in the photo.
* Chard: never had more than five leaves at a time. It has thrived in the past, but not this year.
* Chives: never got large enough for more than a snip of hair-thin wisps, even though I planted about 8 plants. Maybe chives are like pears: planted for heirs.
* Onions: Planted to replace chervil and cilantro that burned up, they just never really took off. Ditto the 16 sugar snap peas planted in late July. They grew, but not well. They sulked and refused to climb. They eventually put out a tiny pod or two.
* Nameless Pepper: The two plants from the hardware store marked simply "decorative red pepper" were weighed down with more than 100 two-inch blunt tipped serrano-shaped, thick-fleshed, juicy, one-alarm peppers that were used for absolutely everything all summer.
*Pole beans: Ten pole bean plants cranked out eight ounces to a pound a week for 10 weeks. We were drowning in beans.
* Okra: Just five plants produced so much we couldn't eat it all. And just try giving away okra. So there are a couple quarts of gumbo base in the freezer.
* Hungarian Carrot pepper: two plants of this heirloom stayed compact at less than 18 inches, yielding 18 to 25 orange, carrot-shaped, two-and a-half alarm peppers.
* Sweet banana peppers: A much better option than the red bells. One large but undemanding plant cranked out 35 peppers that were sweet, flavorful, crunchy, tasty at every stage from green to deep red.
Eggplant: one plant, six eggplants, no work at all.
As my inaugural season as an urban farmer concludes, I'm making a few notes of things that worked and things that didn't work. So far, the list of things that didn't work is longer, with highlights including:
a. My soil
b. Things I planted in it
But there were a few triumphs along the way, including the brilliant little pepper pictured above. I can't remember precisely where this specimen hailed from, but I'm pretty sure it was either from
b. The Personal Farmer
It was the latter, a.k.a. Peter Anderson, who suggested that I mix edibles with perennials in the limited planting space around my house. And, true to his recommendation, this vibrant pepino plant contrasts beautifully against the spent columbine, sedum and iris in the above photo. Cut into fine strips, the fire-engine-red fruit also goes well with rice noodles in a salty chicken broth tinged with coriander and coconut and garnished with lime and fresh cilantro.
With that soup in mind, I'll be planting a much more generous stand of pepinos next spring--along with more cilantro. Now as for the chicken broth....
After voting down a proposal that would allow urban farmers to raise limited numbers of chickens, Metro Council is preparing to vote on a bill that will formally close the door on backyard chicken coops. On Tuesday evening, the council will hear third reading on the Burch Bill, which prohibits live poultry in residential areas in the urban services district.
Local proponents of the national urban chicken movement say the Burch Bill, if passed, will end their efforts to develop egg-laying birds as a sustainable local food source whose benefits range from controlling insects and enriching soil to teaching children about where food comes from.
While the third reading is not open to public comment, chicken proponents are planning to show their numbers at Tuesday night's meeting. They are encouraging people to ask their representatives to vote no, and are gathering at the Metro Courthouse at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, wearing stickers and T-shirts with messages in support of urban poultry.
Aren't they beautiful! If the squirrels didn't actually rearrange the little garden tags, then the tomatoes pictured above are from plants that Fluffernutter gave me. I think they said they were Better Boys, unless, of course, the squirrels had a go with a Sharpie.
I've never grown such pretty tomatoes. Alas, this lot ripening in my window sill is all there is. My vines seem to have birthed these fruits and then keeled over exhausted. I'm pretty sure I heard them whisper with their last dying breath, "Your soil sucks."
Never mind, this was a rebuilding year. Come to think of it, I'm going to rip those whiney vines out and throw them on the compost heap right now. Ashes to ashes. Next year will be even better, boys.
With the Metro Planning Commission recommending passage last week of a bill that would allow poultry in the Urban Services District, a yes vote from Metro Council is all that's left to make chickens legal in residential areas in the city. On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Council will have second reading of the bill, which would allow certain domestic farm animals on properties between one-tenth and five acres.
According to the bill on Tuesday's Council agenda, urban dwellers could house poultry birds--excluding roosters--in a coop, in the back yard, as egg-layers or pets only (no butchering), with the following numbers of birds per acre:
2 per 0.09 to 0.11 acres
4 per 0.12 to 0.23 acres
6 per 0.24 to 1.99 acres
Unlimited on 2 or more acres
Birds must be set back 25 feet from any residential structure and 10 feet from the property line.
Tuesday's second reading (6:00 p.m. at the Courthouse) is open for public comment, and chicken advocates are trying to get the word out.
If the tumescent, scarred pink-and-green fruits in your garden are enough to make you reconsider the merits of modified-atmosphere-ripened genetically engineered tomatoes, it might help to commiserate with other growers of ugly-ass produce at Saturday's Ugly Tomato Festival & Contest.
A celebration of locally grown tomatoes, with tastings, live music, cooking demos and an ugly tomato pageant, the free event is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Farmers' Market. Ugly tomatoes must be registered by 1 p.m., and winners will take home a market pack.
(My money's on Joe Camel, pictured above. He's getting uglier every day, and I love him more and more. And yet, I will eat him--possibly diced on a salad, but most likely sprinkled with kosher salt, with tomato juice dribbling down my chin into the kitchen sink. Sorry, Joe.)
The Wall Street Journal recently posted a story entitled "Vegetable Gardens Help Morale Grow," detailing the benefits of employee agricultural projects at several companies. If you don't believe the author's thesis--i.e. that growing stuff makes people happy--ask my 4-year-old, who recently brought home two Japanese eggplants from his pre-school garden.
"WE BROUGHT YOU EGGPLANTS!" He screamed, brandishing two shiny bulbs--one white and one purple--along with his empty lunchbox and a ream of crayon-scribblings.
For two days, he chattered about eggplant--the archetypal yuck food of my own childhood. He detailed the planting of the garden outside his classroom this spring, the subsequent monitoring over the summer and the ultimate harvest, during which he and a beloved teacher "sneaked outside to pick it."
On the afternoon before I actually cooked the eggplants for dinner, he took umbrage at something I said--something as baleful as "Sweetheart, it's time for a nap"--and he took aim at me with his greatest threat: "If you make me rest, I will not share my eggplants with you!" (Entry No. 1 in my journal of "Things I Never Expected My Children to Say.")
In the end, he rested, I cooked, and later we all dined on homegrown eggplant. Shaved into thin coins with the mandoline, sauteed with garlic in olive oil and sprinkled with fresh grated Parmesan, the simple preparation earned the highest praise: "Mommy, you are a genius. I love eggplant." (Entry No. 2 in my journal of "Things I Never Expected My Children to Say.")
With harvest in full swing, who else is reaping the rewards of gardens at school or work? Specifically, how are you preparing your homegrown eggplants?
The cucumber vines looked so small when we planted them. Now just three of them in the Square Foot kitchen garden crank out five to eight cukes a week. Even ramped up to Full Cucumber Processing mode, including cucumber paletas, cucumber limeade and cucumber salads-n-sandwiches, it's not possible to use them all. So it was time for pickles.
The term "pickles," like the term "coffee," covers a lot of ground--everyone likes them, but everyone likes them a different way. The crunchy, salty and not-vinegary pickles at Ted's Montana Grill (in the photo above) and Noshville grab Big Fella's fancy. This pickle, it seems, is challenging, involving crocks, fermenting and time. Lots of that.
But why not? With recipes, it's possible for it to be time-consuming but easy. That's doable, and there's no point in making an easy pickle that no one will eat.
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