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!