Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Edible Fence

It's late August and time to harvest blackberries, or at least a fraction that are dripping from the thorny hedge that forms a fence between our little farm and the gravel road. We take them for granted. We didn't plan them, and do nothing at all to encourage them, yet they thrive as the invasive weed that they are. As opportunists, we enjoy them all winter with yogurt and granola, in smoothies, and even an occasional cobbler. Before I gave up sugar, I made blackberry jam and jelly.
 Blackberries are considered a scourge in Oregon, at least in the southern part of the state. They'll gladly take over your property, if you let them. But they are pretty good to eat, and they're free for the picking. So we arm ourselves with sturdy clothing and harvest buckets for the freezer. (PK mostly does this prickly chore.)
Berries ready to be frozen. Later they'll go into freezer bags.

The blackberry fence from inside our property.

Blackberry poop, probably raccoons, litters the fence line. Apparently they eat and poop within about four feet of the food source, then go back for more! 

The edible fence on the outside. 

Nasty conditions out there for berries: dust, direct sun in the late afternoon.  But still people pick them from the road.

A small bucket of berries worth about 2.5 frozen quarts. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tonight's dinner

Around the plate, chard sauteed with onions, garlic, and lemon juice topped with Parmesan cheese; cooked beets sauteed in butter with sweet red onions; the first green beans of the season lightly steamed and seasoned with butter and salt, pepper; two broken eggs along for the ride; Sauce on the left is garden chipotle and on the right, garden dill.
PK is outta town for a few days, and you think I'd take a break from cooking. But no. The garden screams. Chard! Onions! Garlic! Beans! Beets! Eat!  This is why we garden.

Harvest tales

Once set into motion, the garden pumps, but being inanimate, doesn't give a rip about what becomes of it. It's me and PK —and all the other gardeners in the world—who decide to make the most of what we have sown, and so we weed and water and harvest and preserve and share. As one crop is in the larder or the community kitchen, another is planted. Or so it has been. We're trying to cut back, get a grip on the idea that, hey baby, it's just the two of us now, we don't need to feed the world. But in the meantime......beets, onions, garlic, peas, chard, basil, dill,—all are passive aggressive—harvest us if you want, but if not, we'll just go to seed. Who cares?

The year's entire garlic supply (we hope!) en route to the garlic-drying area of the garage.
Here they are, drying in the warm gloom of the garage.
Harvesting garlic today, I ran into a nest of giant slugs. Dang! I failed to take a photo. Believe me they were  the size of giant figs and about the same color and glistening with slime. Is there such a thing as a slug without slime? Or a slug that inspires compassion? I had to use a potato fork to loosen the garlic so turned up these creatures taking advantage of moisture in the crevasses that had developed since the garlic was planted last October. I am blown away by the garden's predator-prey relationships revealed during all phases of cultivation. 

Hard stem garlic,  left. Soft stem garlic, right.
Hard stem garlic on the left. Soft stem, right. 
I'm also blown away by the idea of what's right and good as purveyed by big agra. For example. the garlic above is, on the left, hard stem and, on the right, soft stem. As you can see, soft stem is about twice as large as hard stem, but each required the EXACT same garden footage! Hard stem garlic doesn't keep as well as soft stem. We won't ever grow hard stem again. But why would anyone grow it? Because it results in neat uniform cloves clustered around a central stem, which we are accustomed to purchasing in the grocery store. American consumers are SO into perfection, something that home gardeners quickly get over. Our 2010 garlic lasted until late spring 2011. The last grocery-store garlic I bought was perfectly symmetrical hard-stemmed variety—from China! 

The first beet picking 2011. The greens were fantastic, and I froze several quarts.
In later pickings,  the greens had degenerated and were not suitable for processing. 
The ugly truth about the harvest kitchen. It's a mess!
Pulling beets this year, I was struck by their size and general oomph. And in preparation, their depth of flavor and color. Thank you, good earth.
If you're fortunate enough to have access to fresh beets, please don't overcook them. Boil whole fresh unpeeled and marginally trimmed beets until tender. Let them cool then slip off the skins. Cut into cubes and use in dishes such as the one above: cold beet salad with lemony dressing, feta, sweet onions, and basil. Want a recipe? 

Beet Salad
For four servings, choose four medium-to large sized beets. Boil in the skins leaving a couple inches of stalk and the tail. Once tender, skin, cube, cool. Make a dressing of 1/3 c apple cider vinegar, 2/3 c olive oil, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 T sugar. Salt and pepper to taste. Combine dressing ingredients and emulsify in a food processor or blender. Slice 1/2 a large sweet onion into thin rounds and add to beets. Add dressing to taste and toss. Top with feta cheese and a handful of coarsely chopped basil and a few whole leaves for garnish. 
Red potatoes awaiting plucking. 

Red potatoes fresh from the soil.

As a low-carb person, I don't eat a lot of spuds. The exception is when we have our own. New potatoes right out of the ground are super sweet and full of moisture. And being organically produced, they don't have a load of chemicals infused into their skins. Digging potatoes is as much fun as Christmas. You tear off the wrapping (pull the green part of the plant) and  begin to see the soil's beneficence. There could be a dozen spuds  beneath the few on the top. Keep digging!

This harvest post could go on and on, but I'll do just one more. Basil. My basil is marginal....a 2011 crop failure pretty much. However, I visited a friend's garden and wow! 
Marcy Landis with her magnificent basil! Thanks for sharing. 
She had basil to burn and I praised it extravagantly and so she gave me some (never missed it, I'm sure,) and I combined with my own paltry harvest to make pesto, one of the garden's great gifts—a culinary treasure. Recipe alert! Making pesto is easy, easy, easy. Don't stress about measurements as much as taste.
Here's how I make pesto.
Peel 8-10 large cloves of garlic and process in a large food processor. I use a Cuisinart. 
Amass enough fresh basil (stripped from largest stems) to compress into food processing bowl. 
Pour at least a half cup of olive oil into the bowl, add salt to taste, and whirl it up. If it appears dry, add oil until the consistency is loose but not soupy. If freezing, spray ice cube trays with oil and fill. Once frozen, remove cubes to plastic bags and store in the freezer. If not freezing, add a cup of grated Parmesan cheese and mix well before adding to pasta, pizza, or crusty French bread. 
Combine it all in a food processor.

Freeze and transfer to plastic storage bags.
Summer harvest is just getting started. We will be busy. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Garden Show & Tell

Lily in the front flower garden.

Day lilies, woodruff and climbing roses along the garden fence.
Garlic is about ready to harvest and will keep us supplied for a year.

Early summer 2011. Tractor isn't used in the garden, but PK uses it for hauling and mowing.  Yesterday he attached an auger to it  to dig post holes  for fencing a soon-to-be pasture. Livestock may be in our future. 

Roses with hills reflected in living room windows. 
Day lilies and climbing roses.

Lily and purple yarrow.

So-sweet beets.
Beets before harvesting. Roughly a third were taken.
Stir fry tonight!
Onions and lettuce.
Home sweet home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Volunteers - the garden variety

Plucky Swiss chard volunteer poking through paving stones. 
This photo of a burgeoning Swiss chard thriving between a rock and a hard place illustrates the nature of the volunteers we want, whether human or plant:
  • They show up unexpectedly, but at exactly the right time. 
  • They never leave, except for when they die.
  • They don't ask for anything. 
  • They are endlessly productive and even, sometimes, provocative! (I'm thinking of the voluptuous chard, the stalwart sunflowers, the diligent dill—all in possession of the traits we desire.)
  • They are strong, brave, and nutritious. 
  • They fill in the spaces that might otherwise be barren and boring and prone to weeds. 
This is a now-lowly fennel plant, which will jet to four or five feet and produce marvelously fragrant seed heads and attract beneficial insects. Once the seed heads mature, I'll use the some seeds in marinara sauce.
The birds can have the rest.

Garden volunteers go forward with purpose. They're strong and they replicate. Our garden is populated by volunteers of the most opportune sort. They see a spot and they go for it.
Here we have a happy cluster  of volunteer  chard, cosmos and dill, which have survived thinning, have been mulched, and are now being  cultivated as part of the 2011 volunteer crop. Finches adore chard, so many leaves are filigreed. Still, I have frozen 17 chard meals and, as we speak, have about 10 more harvested and ready to give away or get into the freezer. I'll try for giving away first! Contact me if you want chard. 
I love this volunteer poppy and all of its kin around the blueberry patch. They make me smile. I tried to eradicate them a year or two ago (WHY??!!) but just the right number survived in the nooks and crannies. 
These sunflowers started elsewhere in our garden, planted by birds, but I relocated them to form a fall bird-frenzy area. When the seeds are ready, the birds go crazy. It's a wonder to behold. Relocation also prevents huge sunflowers from shading peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. Sunflowers are wonderfully tolerant of rough transplanting.

Lastly, a stalwart volunteer outside of watering zones but already forming flower heads.
 Tomorrow I'm going to water this plant and give it encouragement. Come on, baby!
Think of how much fun the birds will have with you come fall!