Monday, September 6, 2010

Preserving the Harvest

Well, like it or not the weather is moving into cooler temps again. That means its time to start thinking about the winter.
Here at our place, we've been canning away. So far we've made 6 pints of crabapple jelly (from scavenged apples), 20 quarts of apple sauce (from scavenged windfall apples), and many pints of dill and beet pickles (from cukes and beets from the market). We've also been saving herbs. Dried dill and basil. 13 heads of garlic braided and hanging in the kitchen for use. 8 globes of kohlrabi sitting on a cellar shelf.
Fall is also the time to be saving seeds- specifically mustard and beans seeds are ready to be collected or are close to it.
Add to all this that our 3 hens are laying quite steadily (65 eggs in August) we're in pretty good shape for the upcoming months!

Looking ahead, I've started fermenting my way through "Wild Fermentation". My first crock of sauerkraut is fermenting as I write, and we're looking at a larger plot of land (1/3 acre vs 1/10 acre) to move to and start a CSA on top of our foodstuffs. You can expect to hear more about both soon!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wild Fermentation

I recently picked up the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. Wow! This book is inspiring and challenging in all the right ways!

It all starts off with the Foreword by Sally Fallon. In it she writes, "Sandor Katz has labored mightily to deliver this magnum opus to a population hungry for a reconnection to real food and the process of life itself. For fermented foods are not only satisfying to eat, they are also immensely satisfying to prepare. FRom the first successful batch of kombucha to that thrilling taste of homemade sauerkraut, the practice of fermentation is one of partnership with microscopic life. This partnership leads to a reverence for all the processes that contribute to the well being of the human race, from the production of enzymes by invisible bacteria to the gift of milk and meat from the sacred cow."

Imagine, Americans waking up to the reality that they are living in a world of industrialized, generic, chemical, food and wanting to know what food is really supposed to taste like, how its made, and where they fit into the process!

Sandor spends a large portion of time and chapters explaining the importance of microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) in the process of life. He explains that we're all in a symbiotic relationship with this microflora from digestion to healing to fermenting to compost and decaying. "Without them, there could be no other life."
He goes on to talk about how destructive we've all become with or obsession for "hygiene" and "cleanliness" and its subsequent use/abuse of antibacterial soaps, disinfectants, antibiotics, pasteurization and sterilization. We've somehow developed a very skewed look at what we call "germs". These aren't our enemies! They're our greatest allies! Bacteria and yeasts make foods digestible (both in our stomachs and in the environment before we eat the foods). They help us adapt to our environments, they create vitamins for our consumption, produce antioxidants as a by-product of fermentation, and make some foods and waters safe to consume. Try as we might, we can never get rid of all the microorganisms around us. They are everywhere. In trying, we're only disturbing the balances.
Sandor's study on the origins of fermentation shows us that its one of the oldest processes known to humans. He speculates that it's quite likely that we've been fermenting foods since before we practiced agriculture and possibly since before we learned how to use fire! Indeed, the fact that we choose to talk about fermentation and the population of yeasts and bacteria as "cultures" speaks loudly to the fact that they and us grew together.
Its frightening to read about the cultural homogenization that is occurring right now. We've come to expect that our foods will look the same way and taste the same way every time we taste them regardless of where we travel to eat them. A cola drink you purchase in Boston is expected to taste and look the same as the cola drink you purchase in Seattle. Same with fries. Same with breads. Same with all our other foods. Is it any wonder McDonald's and other similar fast-food businesses have done so well to sell such poor quality food? Sandor talks about this concept and expends on it talking about how so many of the distinctive cultures and ethnicities that we can clearly conjure up in our minds each have their own particular food. The French have strong cheeses. The Greek and other Baltic nations have strong yogurts and kefirs. They are known for these foods and we associate these countries as being cultured. The United States is known for its bland beers (Budweiser) and its bland cheese (Velveeta and Kraft). Is there any question of why Americans are void of a strong national culture or identity?
If our lack of culture isn't enough, we're pushing these ideas on others as well. Mass-marketing and mass-production have created a market that frowns on the distinctive foods that don't have a widely-recognized name (like Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, Kraft, etc). Sandor writes that "this is the homogenization of culture, a sad, ugly process by which languages, oral traditions, beliefs, and practices are becoming extinct every year, while ever-greater wealth and power is concentrated in fewer hands. Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there to produce your own unique fermented foods. What you ferment with the organisms around you is a manifestation of your specific environment, and it will always be a little different. Perhaps your homemade sauerkraut or miso will conform perfectly to your image and expectation of them... More likely, they will possess some quirky anomaly that will force you to adjust your image and expectation. Do-it-yourself fermentation departs from the realm of uniform commodity." DIY fermentaiton puts you back in the process of creation and also helps build food-security. You know what you are eating. You know where it came from. You know that if something happens you will still have access to it.

I have been excited about getting this book for 6 months as I waited for a used copy of it to turn up. One never did; I had to buy the book new. This speaks to the quality of what it contains. After reading the book and looking over the many recipes it contains, I've decided that I want to ferment my way through it. We already brew our own kombucha and beers. Now we're going to try our hand at other fermented foods too! We'll post the results of each ferment here, so keep an eye out!


"Wild Fermentation" is available from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


As we approach the waning of summer another Sabbat draws upon us. In Pagan and Neo-Pagan traditions there are eight festival (4 Major Sabbats, 4 Lesser Esbats) which mark the year. They are significant not only because of their relation the solstice and equinox (the Esbats), but also because they tell the story of the God and Goddess (through the Sabbats and the changes of the season).

The Pagan calendar beings with Yule (December 20-23) around the Winter Solstice, as the days begin to lengthen we are reminded of the rebirth of the God from Dark King of the Underworld to Child of the Sun. We then move into Brigid's Day (Feburary 2), a celebration of Brigid and the Three-Fold manifestation of the Goddess as Maiden, Mother, Crone. Next comes the Spring Equinox and Eostar (March 20-23), this is a time of fertility where the young Sun God is first reunited with the Goddess returning from the dark of the Winter. Then on Beltane (May 1) the God and Goddess come together in marriage, and the Goddess with child, this is the origin of the may pole. On Litha at the Summer Solstice (June 20 -23) the Sun King meets the Goddess as the Queen of Summer, the union of their love becomes one, and the Sun King begins his trip towards death and his kingdom in the Underworld as the days become shorter. Lughnasad (August 1) is a harvest celebration, where the Corn King is sacrificed in wake of the Sun King. This is followed by Mabon at the Fall Equinox (September 20-23) to announce the depature of the Sun King to the west and hail his transformation into the Lord of the Shadows or the Horned God. Finally ending the Witches' year to begin the new year is Samhain (October 31) which marks the death of the Lord of the Shadows and his rebirth in the womb of the mother. This day also celebrates the Crone figure of the Goddess, and is a night for feeding our ancestors, letting go, and magick.

And so for this Lughnasad we shall be having a feast and a circle led by Flora.

"This is the wake of Lugh, the Sun King who dies with the waning year, the Corn King who dies when the grain is reaped. We stand now between hope and fear, in the time of waiting. In the fields, the grain is ripe but not yet harvested. We have worked hard to bring many things to fruition, but the rewards are not yet certain. Now the Mother becomes the Reaper, the Implacable One who feeds on life that new life may grow. Light diminishes, the days shorten, summer passes. We gather to turn the Wheel, knowing that to harvest we must sacrifice, and warmth and light must pass into winter." ~ Starhawk

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eva's Ova

The girls have started laying! Eva has laid 2 so far, and Olivia has laid one. Yay!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Flowers to Salads

Its July and things on the farm are shaping up nicely! Our peas are laden with pods which are starting to fill out nicely, the kohlrabi have small bulbs at their base about the size of a pingpong ball, the tomatoes are full with dense dark green growth, and the runner beans are about as tall as I am.
Of course, there is much else going on too! The salad greens have been a source of much joy for a bit now. We've been eating sandwiches and salads frequently and they don't show any sign of stopping. From the tender trout/reds and buttercrisps to the spicy and stringy mustards, this has been a great start to a summer of salad greens!
A great many plants are blooming right now, and many of these blooms can be used more than just to look at: they make great additions to salads too! We've been putting pea blossoms, nasturtium, violets, and mustard blossoms into our salads. Not only does this add much color to the dish, it also adds a spicy and often sweetish flavor too.

Here are some of the blooms before being picked:

And after being put into the fresh green salad:

There are many other blossoms out there that also make great edible additions (many can also be sugared and added as edible decorations on cakes, especially violets). Violets, nasturtium, borage, pea (and the pea tips), squash, chamomile, day lilies, and chamomile are some of the most common. Wikipedia has a good list here:

Of course, be careful what you are eating. Not all blossoms are edible. Be sure you know what you are picking! Also be sure what you are picking hasn't been exposed to chemical sprays or roadside pollution as these wouldn't be good additions to your diet.

Happy eating!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Super Cycles

So, the picture is kinda skeezy, but what an amazing cycle!!! It is reported to "easily" go 50 miles and hour. The rider pedals with both hands and feet in a swimming-like motion. NASA has picked up the design for more development since it has a "perfect" center of gravity. I can't wait to try one...


A Musing on Time and Distance

Yesterday I had the occassion to drive out past Gresham, past Troutdale, almost to the very banks of the Sandy River. The drive was pleasent enough through rolling hills and nurseries on every street. Coming back was a different story, but thats neither here nor there.

The moral of the story is that my destination, Ratto Farms, lies a mere 15 miles from our house outside of Portland. Growing up in Rural Idaho, I was 10 miles from the nearest town, 15 from a slightly bigger one that actually had a grocery store, and almost 30 from Boise itself. Back in the day I would drive fifty-some-odd miles regularly to go to school and visit friends, and generally lead a social life that a somewhat awkward queer teenager is expected to lead.

And it didn't mean anything to me. It took some time sure, but it never felt like a trip. But yesterday was an expedition. Renting a car and driving a WHOLE 15 miles seemed enormous. Not to mention that it took almost a WHOLE hour to get there.

Part of a dedicated bike economy and culture is a re-localization of people and places. Riding out to Sauvie Island is 40-miles round trip and is an all day trip in my mind. Even going downtown from our home at 34th, can seem like a trek, and is only done for special events. It just amazes me to think that once upon a time a two-hour ride was normal for me. While now I being to squirm after 20 minutes in a vehicle.

I have gotten to know my neighborhood and most of the SE more than any other place I have lived, including my home of 18 years. When riding I am more cognizant of my surrondings and their changes of place. Distances all seem much greater, but that is because a mile means more to me. Not only in energy expended, time in travel, but also as something to be reconigzed not simply driven by.

In conclusion I am blessed to live in a city which is still quite human in scale.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tour de Coop 2010

Tour de Coop is coming up again, and this year we're one of the stops! Our girls are already fat and happy and the yard is shaping up nicely to look really really good by the time the tour happens.

FMI on the tour:

Saturday, July 24th, 2010 11am-3pm
East Portland

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring Colors

The sun finally came out and wow! There are so many things that are blooming and full of color!

The fava beans are in full bloom:

Chives have been blooming for a couple weeks now:

The crimson clover is in bloom:
And the ladybugs are out too!

The strawberries we planted not too long ago are blooming:

The chickens are loving it all, they've been digging for bugs and doing quite a job of turning over the soil surface. Of course, we've had to work almost as hard making sure they aren't digging up our plants.

The lettuce and greens are finally starting to grow now that they have some sun:

I'm anxious to see how things shape up here as everything takes off in the warm weather. Our cucumber starts are ready to go out as soon as its warm enough and the tomatoes should start picking up a bit now too. We'll have plenty to do soon enough! In the mean time, we've picked up two more barrels to add to our rain catchment system so that we can collect plenty of water with the last few rains of the spring. We'll be in good shape to head into summer!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lazy Spring Days.

Good afternoon to all our readers out there!

It's an odd sort of day today. Its been an odd sort of couple weeks, actually. The weather has been wildly varying from sun and clear blue skies to dark clouds, rain, hail, and thunder and back. All in the span of 10-15 minutes. Needless to say, its made for an awkward time to be in the gardens. Our starts that are outdoors are slowly growing, but the lack of constant sun is making it hard for them to really take off. The ones indoors are starting to get a bit leggy, stretching to get as much sun as they can in our west windows. I'm afraid that if the weather doesn't pick up soon that we'll have some troubles with stunted growth this summer.

Regardless of what's going on outdoors, this has been perfect weather to be doing stuff indoors. I'm actually sitting in the window drinking some vanilla roobios tea as I write this. Of course, I spent all morning cleaning the house from top to bottom. Plenty of time for some thorough spring cleaning!
Its also a perfect time to do some reading. In an earlier post I mentioned the "Radical Homemakers". We picked up the book this weekend. It's by Shannon Hayes. I haven't started reading it yet, but you can expect to hear more about it as soon as I do! In the mean time, check out their website at:

We also picked up the book "Pedaling Revolution" by Jeff Mapes. He's a Portlander, so its been really neat to recognize the streets he talks about as he writes on "how cyclists are changing American cities." He focuses on Portland, New York City and a few other places in les-EU as well as about the Netherlands, the mecca of biking. I've only just started reading it, so I'll hold off on talking about it any more, but you can find his book at Powell's online store here:

Fair weather!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Thoughts on Community

This is an explication about my feelings about Earthy Day. There is a lot to be said about its origins and current effectiveness in actually changing public consciousness around environmental concerns. That is a good conversation but there are other issues too. Some of those issues are the reason why the Environmental movement stumbles so often.

It all comes down to politics. Maybe you remember PETA using models (scantily covered by leaves of lettuce) to advertise that they would rather be naked than wear fur. This is a noble sentiment, but it trades off the exploitation of animals for women.

Recently while attending an Earth Day celebration here in Portland I was able to experience this first hand, again. First the good things. The Earth Day celebration was put together by City Repair which focuses on sustainable community building. There were a lot of great booths there, with tons of good information, and it made me really want to push my ‘green’ boundaries. We saw some friends, chatted with everyone, and March Fourth played (eventually). A good time.

But for as much as a love that community of hippies, neo-luddites and primitivists, permaculture activists, back-to-the-landers, urban farmers, and all things sustainable, I am not welcome into that community. So my excitement for these topics is always tempered by the knowledge that my body and my identity aren’t as warmly welcome.

To out myself, I am a queer gender-queer transdyke. I do not try to pass, and so I often do not. Perhaps my sense of unease in this community is caused by their own unease with my identity. And that is the problem. They may have good politics around environmental concerns but are bad on issues of diversity.

On Saturday I saw a crowd of white, mostly young, middles-class, cisgender, and heterosexual people claiming to try to save the world and all its inhabitants. So there are issues around cultural appropriation (see emphasis on Native American culture and Eastern spirituality); around race (Portland is a white city unfortunately, and that crowd was whiter); around gender and sexuality (this includes stumbling attempts around my gender including being asked outright).

In a sense this is a call to all environmentalists to check their politics and their privilege. If you hope to save the world you need to include everyone, and most of the world is not white. If you want allies and progress everyone needs to be included, accepted, and welcomed. Simply diversity statements do not cut it. Unless you can make a culture that is inclusive Earthy Day will remain an event for the privileged.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The garden has sprouted!

Hello all,

I figured a general update of how our garden is growing would be nice (and no, we aren't using silver bells and cockle shells).

The peas have all sprouted and are about 2 inches tall. We'll be putting in a trellis soon so that they can start climbing. The salad greens are all sprouted, but they've been having a hard time (the neighborhood cats have taken to digging in the bed of greens). To solve the problem we've put down a remay cover. We've found that with works two-fold, stopping the cats as well as our chickens from scratching up our tender greens.

Overall, we've had amazing success with seed germination rates! Every thing we've planted from seed has sprouted (which means we've had to do a lot of thinning and separating already).
The starts we have indoors are getting quite large too! The tomato plants have a couple sets of real leaves each, as do the cucumbers. The watermelon starts seem to be having some trouble, although we think it may just be that they needed more soil to sink their roots into. We've moved them to larger pots (out of the starter tray) and hopefully they should rebound nicely. We separated all the basils and parsley and chervil. It looks like we'll have an overabundance of these this summer!

In other news:
We were gifted some new shoots of raspberry. The owner doesn't know what variety they are aside from being an old vine raspberry. She reports that they yield lots of good sized berries that are very red and sweet.

I'm also planning a potted olive guild. I decided to plant an olive tree in the middle with tomato and basil around it and nasturtium and pole bean trailing over the side of the pot.

I'm also interested in an article I read today in the "Aprovecho" fall/winter 2009 newsletter. It was on a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) as part of their aquaponics greenhouse they've built. I've included a diagram and picture of their set-up here (taken from their newsletter).

They have it set up so that there are 2 tanks with a 1220 gallon total capacity. They plan to raise 1200 tilapia in it (tilapia needs about 1 gallon of water each to grow in). The water is pumped out and completely exchanged every hour with the water being piped to the top tray of their filtration system. It runs the length of the tray, or 68', through gravel before dropping into the second set of trays where it runs back through and other 68' of gravel and then into the tanks again. The gravel trays are used to grow duckweed and water hyacinth to remove the nutrients (fish poop and nitrates) from the water so that what gets put back into the tanks is clean water. They plan on using the duckweed to feed the tilapia. The entire system loses a minimal amount of water to evaporation and is otherwise a closed system. As an added use, they have put in another water tray that they will use to grow produce for themselves in.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Radical Homemakers Part 1.

There was an article in the newpaper on Tuesday called "Radical Homemakers". It was promoting a book, but the article featured a number of Portland area women who were taking steps to simplify their lives. We decided we wanted to do something like that for ourselves too.

Fauna, 26

"Growing up on a farm I couldn't wait to leave it. Today, I find myself closer and closer to living on a farm again but this time I value the experience, the produce, the struggles. This time its on my own terms and I love it!"

Then: Living in apartments from year to year. "I never had space to plant anything and always felt too transient to feel good about planning any sort of a garden.

Now: Living on a self-proclaimed urban farm complete with organic garden, chicken coop, rain barrels, and compost station.

The turning point: A little over a year ago she decided that simply trying to live a green life wasn't enough. She decided it was time to settle down in a permanent place and work on creating a more sustainable lifestyle including a local food economy.

Life on two wheels: She sold her car upon moving to Portland 2 years ago and hasn't looked back. While there have been some rough times relying on bicycles only, she enjoys the slower pace of life it creates. Today, she bikes everywhere, from market to work to Sauvie Island for berries, and even 60 miles toward the coast to visit a friend for the weekend.

Radical Homemaker Cred: She cans, pickles, and makes jellies out of as much produce as she can to minimize food costs through the slower seasons. She is also working on building cold frames so that she won't have to rely on outside sources for year round greens. She cooks in a Basque style that focuses on bringing out the foods natural flavors without using many sauces or marinades (most of which contain high fructose corn syrup if unknowingly bought at the supermarket).

Latest Project: A permaculture lunch to teach people how they can turn their backyards into a permaculture paradise too.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Transportation Issues

Transportation is an issue when trying to be eco-conscious. The most sustainable methods of transportation (walking and biking) come with many risks. The foremost being that while you have chosen to use that method of transportation, many other people don't. That means you are in a very vulnerable position around those who are driving cars, SUV's, trucks, and larger equipment. In the equation of pedestrian/biker plus vehicle, the vehicle is always the greater of the two.

I mentioned in a previous post that while riding my bicycle I got hit by an SUV. That was in mid-January. Fast forward 3 months and I had just about completely healed from the accident and it happened again. This time I was cycling along when an SUV that was parked swung its door open right in front of me. I had no time to react before colliding with it. I was thrown over my handlebars to the left and fell onto the pavement with my bike on top of me. After spending 4 hours in the ER afterwards, the results showed that I had many scrapes, lacerations, and bruises across my body, a sprained finger where it hit the Jeep door, and some torn muscles in my neck/cervical area.

I reported my accident on the website and saw that just since January 1st, there have been 16 collisions and 44 close calls in the Portland area. Further search found that there have been 99 collisions and 159 close calls in the last year. And those are just the ones that got reported on this website. You can see the results with their locations at the following address:

What should I get from all of this? Should I stop biking, as it clearly has been quite hazardous for me so far this year? Or should there be more pressure to eliminate vehicles, at least from residential areas? I feel it should be the latter. Portland currently has a large plan to put in bike lanes and pathways but can't afford to do so. I think they should shut down every 3rd street to all but bicycles and foot traffic. With vehicles taken off the streets, there will be less accidents happening where the cyclist bears the brunt of the injuries.

In conclusion, the future of vehicles is limited. Its time there was a swing back to walking, cycling, and horses to get everywhere. We need a slower pace of life, a more sustainable way of doing things, and a safer life.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Natives Woo!

I guess these days I am just a bloggin fool. Between catching up on our under reported winter adventures and all the excitement that this spring. Whew!

Because Fauna and I are great believers in permaculture models of gardening and agriculture, we would be remiss to not at least mention the importance of natives in any landscaping environment.

Recently we purchased several salal starts, a blue elderberry, wild ginger, uva ursi, and lupine. Salal is a native to Western forests and thrives in the undergrowth and produces a good amount of edible berries . Although more native west of the Cascades, sambucus curelea (blue elderberry) is drought resistant and its berries are known for their medicinal use in preventing sickness. The uva ursi (Kinnickinick (sp?)) is also a native to the West and is a natural estrogen aiding in women's health. Lupine is just pretty, but again because it is native to the West handles acidic, clay soils quite well and is fairly tolerant of a variety of conditions.

The moral of the story here is that native plants are truly wondrous creatures. Many gardeners, whether of ornamentals or produce, overlook the value of native plants. Natives are more adapted to local conditions including environmental and pest factors. Research also shows that there are many edible and medicinal uses for natives as well. The dominance of non-native species in any urban landscape is more of a testament to economic decision rather than ecological ones.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teh Chickens!

(4 days old at right)------------------->

There has been much ado made on this blog by our dear sweet chickens. Between the trials and travails of keeping them in a cardboard box warm, happy and fed; to sleepless nights worrying about designing the perfect coop. So without further ado, let us introduce the girls.
On the top left we have Olivia our Speckeld Sussex, on the bottom is Eva ,a Black Australorp, and on the top right there is Regina, a Golden-Laced Wyandotte (they are 2-3 weeks old in this picture).

(1 month old at right)--------------->
I write this sitting outside on our back table watching the chickens decide if food is really worth the cold, so let me say that they are quite a bit bigger now. Two months old in fact with all their real feathers, in fact now they are no longer chicks but pullets (yes chickens have angsty hormonal teenage years too). When we first got them (two from the Urban Farm Store, one from Naomi's) we kept them inside a scavenged carboard box making sure they were plenty warm. Although I see my breath this morning they are big enough to be in their coop without much worry about their comfort. All three breeds were selected for cold-hardiness, good nature, egg-laying, and of course beauty. Their adult colors are showing up, but I would reccomend checking back in a few months to see how beautiful they really are.

These chickens are my pride and joy, and so far some of the best pets I have ever had. As Ms. Fauna and I are concerned with urban self-sufficiency raising chickens was an obvious first step in ensuring a healthy supply of protein. Note however, that just because this is a cool fad right now in PDX, don't get chickens unless you can commit to them for at least 10 years. I would be quite saddened if our fair city becomes overrun in wild chickens just because people realize they are a chore.

But for now *bok bok bok*!
~ Flora

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cool Season Crops

Spring is such a busy time here at our urban farm. There is such a flurry of activity between tilling, planting, chicks, blooms, and trips around beautiful Portland.

Yesterday we planted 3 "Hood" Strawberry plants. They are a medium growing spreading perennial. They will get about 8-10" tall with bright red berries. They like acidic soils, to they will do quite nicely near our blueberry bushes under the fir tree.

Having a freshly turned garden, I got to plant most of our cool season- direct sow crops this weekend and today. In addition to all that I planted (and wrote about in the last posts), I put more in tonight as soon as I got home form work. Here's what went in tonight:
Heirloom and/or Open Pollinated Varieties:
Alaska Nasturtium (6" bush)
Jewel Blend Nasturtium (12" bush)
Tall Single Blend Nasturium (6' vine)
Giant Winter Spinach
Winter Stem Bok Choy
Bright Lights Swiss Chard
Shiraz Tall Top Beet
Flat of Egypt Beet
Amaranth Een Chot Hiyu (edible red leaf)
Wando Shelling Pea (bush type, 68 days)
Mesclun Lettuce Mix
-Rocket Arugula
-4 Season Lettuce
-Romaine Cas Lettuce
-Red Salad Bowl Lettuce
-Tango Lettuce
-Blackseeded Simpson Lettuce
-Lolla Rossa Lettuce
-Oakleaf Lettuce
-Romane Cimmaron Lettuce
-Ruby Lettuce
-Bloomsdale Spinach
-Golden Swiss Chard
-Magenta Swiss Chard
-Broadleaf Batavia Endive
-Mizuna Mustard
-Red Giant Mustard
Red Crisphead Lettuce

Hybrid Varieties:
Carnival Blend Carrot

We've decided to sow the chicken run with a mix of fava bean, dutch clover, crimson clover, and "broomcorn" sorghum, and buckwheat. We'll be seeding it down soon and covering it with a remay-type ground cover to prevent squirrels and the chickens from eating all the seed before it can germinate.

Flora and I are very excited about the entire garden this year and have just recently reached the realization that aside from fruits, dairy, grains, and baking supplies we won't be buying any groceries this summer! Further, we're excited about being able to can as much as possible. We are working closer and closer to our goal of growing as much, if not all, of our own produce!

Expect pictures of it all as soon as things start sprouting!!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Double Digging

We had a garden party today! A few friends came over and together with Flora, the main garden beds got tilled using the "double digging" technique. Double digging is where you dig a 1 foot deep trench along one side of the garden bed. The soil that is dug out gets set aside for later. As one person moves along the garden digging the first trench, a second person comes behind them and digs another trench right beside the one that was just dug. The soil from the second trench gets turned into the side of the first trench. And this continues until the entire garden has been tilled across. When the last trench is dug along the finishing side of the garden, the soil from the first trench is dumped in to fill the gap. After its all smoothed over with a rake, the bed should be "fluffed up" and completely tilled. This really only needs to be done for the first year or two as you are building the soil with organic matter. Once the soil has improved enough, future years can be done by just turning under the cover crops.

This will be the second summer that our garden will have been planted after pulling up sod. Already we've seen much improvement in the soil. What is here has more loamy/organic matter to it with less clay. The clumps fall apart really easily and it can be worked by hand without a trowel as well.

After the garden was tilled up, I planted our first outdoor seeds of the season. I put in Red Norland and Yukon Gold potatoes (organic from the farmers' market), Alderman Shelling Pea (open pollinated, climbing vine, 120 days), Oregon Sugar Pod II snow pea (hybrid, short vine, 60 days), and Jerusalem Artichoke (also known as a sunchoke).

Our starts from a couple weeks ago are getting taller and some are already getting their first sets of true leaves. The garlic that we overwintered in the garden is a little over a foot tall, thick and looking healthy. Our leeks from the winter garden are also getting big- about a foot and a half tall although not very thick yet (only about 3/4 inch across on the largest ones). We've been diligent about keeping dirt pulled up around the leeks to ensure the bases get well blanched.

If the weather holds off, we'll be sowing our first rounds of cool season chards, spinach, carrots, and beets.

Also, asparagus are starting to come into season! We picked up some great looking stalks from the farmers' market this morning along with some nice raab. Spring is already shaping up to be a very productive summer!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Planning the Urban Farm

After reading back over some of our past posts, I realized we never followed up by posting about everything we said we were going to. Allow me to address some of that.

When we moved into our place, the lot was pretty simple. It had a lot of grass and mulched borders. It was quite unproductive. Here is what it looked like:
The box in the center left is the house. The odd rounded shape in the right was all lawn.

After some work removing sod and mulch. And after tilling, we managed to make some headway. Here is roughly what the lot looks like now:
We've increased the garden space, added the chicken coop and outdoor run (along the far right edge), put in a compost bin, and done some terracing out front for herbs (on the far left). In the parking strip between the sidewalk and the road we planted iris bulbs and 2 apple trees. Here is a shot of the back yard from late last summer:

This is far from being done. Ideally, we would like to remove all the grass, leaving just a pathway through the middle of the back yard. The entire north edge of the lot will have a permeable pathway (replacing the poorly drained sod that turns to mud with any rain and replacing the pea gravel that forms a path by the back door). We also want to put in cold frames along the west side by the sidewalk so we can take advantage of the sun in extending our growing abilities during winter and spring. Here is what it might look like:

There. That's the vision for our urban farm. As we work closer and closer to this we'll keep you all posted!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Urban Wild Craft Adventures, pt. 1

Weeds by definition are undesired plants in
undesired areas. While some are truly pernicious, most are simply under utilized. Living in a urban environments limits ones ability to collect wild mushrooms, herbs, and edibles, but there still is a free abundance for anyone that looks. Weeds are plants you just haven't met yet, and eaten. *nom nom handshake nom*

Dandelion is a well known weed that has many uses, medicinal and edible. Its good for greens when young (less bitter but older plants are good for a hearty stew or stir-fry), and coffee like tea can be made from the root (simply clean it, cube it, and then bake it in oven until dry, crush it up and steep). Purslane also provides nice greens and micronutrients not often found in traditional vegetables. Plantain is a known herbal medicine that can be used as a general anti-toxin against a host of ailments, and the leaves are a good source of B1.

Our first foray into this world of foraging was with little bittercress. It grows as a small cluster of stems with one large leaf surrounded by several leaflets, and when in bloom one shoot with multiple flower heads sticks straight up. The roots are shallow, and it is ubiquitous in Portland. It is an edible microgreen with a flavor like a nutty spinach. To prepare it I simply washed the greens thoroughly and removed the roots (although they probably are also edible, I just was lazy about washing the dirt off) Later this was cooked into a stir-fry and it was delicious.

All those bare spots in our garden growing weeds, are just growing another source of nutrition that requires some simple harvesting. Although I wouldn't recommend taking edible weeds from anther's yard due to possible contamination by herbicides or other chemicals. Also, make sure you know what you are eating. Posting on facebook after the fact is not fail safe method.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ready... Set... Starts!

Today was a day for planting starts and starting starts. What started off as an innocent trip to the farmers' market turned into picking up 10 herb starts. (Oregano, Thyme, Marjoram, Savory, two kinds of Bee Balm, Betony, Woodruff, and Myrtle).

Once home, we had a visit from a little friend, Willow. Willow is 8. She will be 9 this December. She dislikes figs but loves cherries. She enjoys watching the chickens but would rather pick at the aphids and ladybugs. She learned how to plant starts by watching Flora. With only 2 starts left to plant, Willow asked if she could put one in. She ended up planting the last two and then asking if she could plant more or if we had any weeds to pull. None of this was in the plan for the day.

Thankfully, we had the materials handy to put together some starts. I pulled out the start trays and dirt. With Willow's help, I planted one flat of seeds. I was so excited about planting again that as soon as Willow left (taking a garlic chive plant with her for her garden), Flora and I ran to Portland Nursery to pick up the last few seeds we needed for the season but didn't have. Flora and I planted 2 more flats of seeds.

Here's what we planted:
Heirloom Varieties
Black Beauty Eggplant (80 days)
Italian Dark Green Parsley
Serrano Chile Pepper (78 days)
Yolo Wonder Sweet Pepper (75 days)
Straight Eight Cucumbers (63 days)
Di Cicco Broccoli (48 days)
High Carotene Tomato (76 days)
Brandywine Tomato (85 days)
Basil Blend (lemon, anise, cinnamon, red rubin, dark opal, thai, genovese)
Cleome Spider Flower
Non-Heirloom Varieties
Purple Sprouting Broccoli (220 days- will be overwintered)
Rubine Brussels Sprouts (85 days)
Superschmeltz Kohlrabi (60 days)
Sugar Baby Watermelon (80 days)
Improved Dwarf Siberian Kale


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter Gardening Results

So this past year we made a valiant effort at attempting some winter gardening. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with fairly mild, albeit rainy, winters. This means a couple of things for the home gardener. 1st it is possible to grow greens right into the depths of winter and root vegetables through into spring again. 2nd with the help of some kind of cold frame or Remay covers, gardeners can get and early start with seedlings for the summer. And 3rd it is possible to grow some vegetables through the winter where they begin to fruit in the spring well before anything else.

The picture above is a case in point. Here we have a purple sprouting broccoli. This plants requires about 120 days before it fruits. It is a hardy winter annual. The best thing is to plant it early in the fall so it has time to put on some vegetative growth. Through the winter it will lie dormant, and in the spring as we can see Purple Broccoli Head! Overwintering vegetables, including many brassicaes and root vegetables, allows for an early harvest in the spring.

This year was an experiment. We did not have cold frames or Remay, planted late in the fall, and did not actively tend to the plants over the winter (Both Fauna and I had some wicked SAD this winter(Oh Portland)). And despite many losses still have a few plants of cabbage, broccoli, and quite possibly kohlrabi. Only time will tell how big our spring harvest will be.

Lessons Learned:
1. If you are under a pine tree either be diligent in clearing needles on have the garden covered. Pine needles suffocate the plants, retains excess moisture during wet winters, raises the soil acidity as they decompose, and provide excellent habitats for slugs over the winter.
2. Plant early in the fall to overwinter. Greens will not survive the winter, uncovered, if it is really snowy but will grow through the fall providing fresh leaves. Plants meant to overwinter need time to put on vegetative growth to survive the cold.
3. Take care of the plot. Sure winter is a hard time to have much energy to go outside into the cold, but annual vegetables still need some care. Make sure they have adequate water if they are covered, keep pests (especially slugs) at bay, and harvest when applicable.


Happy Spring!

Things at the farm are starting to pick up again- we've gotten the chicken coop into place and are almost done painting it, we're thinking about where we want to plant things, and we got our baby chicks (Flora is going to write about them soon)! The rhubarb is coming up again and has spread since last summer. The poppies have reseeded all over the place (Flora thinks they're weeds and should be pulled, but I think they're beautiful and should stay). We are planning to put in a series of Goddess gardens- herbs and flowers placed together with artifacts designating them as sacred to various Goddesses (we'll write more about that later too).
The weather is warm again and the sun is shining! Its been really tempting to just jump on our bikes and disappear into the wilderness. Alas, we haven't done so.
Flora sold her car last weekend, and we now are living completely car/motor free! Its been exciting and annoying all at the same time. Its nice not to have that responsibility of a vehicle, and its nice to no longer be able to take the easy way out and drive. Its been annoying in that we now have to plan our trips a bit more now. If we want to leave town, we have to plan for a zipcar. If we want to attend an event on the other side of Portland, we have to think about the best ways to get there. This might seem simple for many bike riders, indeed it used to be simple for us too... we have been part of the bike community for a while now. Unfortunately, in mid-January we had a wrench thrown into the works when a car struck me while I was on my bike. Thankfully my bike only sustained a scratch. Sadly, I was not that lucky. Recovery has been slow. So while I want to, I'm just now able to get back on a bike for light, short rides. It would be easy to write this off as an inconvenience of being a full-time bike rider, but that attitude scares me. There are far too many bike/auto accidents and close-calls that happen, even in bike-friendly Portland.
So yes, there is lots going on. And we'll be posting on here more often again now that there is stuff to write about. Expect more soon!