Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mountain View bounty

Julie and I went to the Bean Festival in Mountain View, AR recently, and though the festival was pretty amazing, the best part was scoring a bunch of wild foods.  The first day of the festival we parked downtown behind some of the main street buildings in an area designated as public parking.  We went to check out the music and see what else was going on and then returned to the car later in the day.  We noticed two women with bags picking something off the ground near our car and we asked them what they were doing.  They said they were gathering pecans.  I never would have even thought to look for them because I've never seen a full grown pecan tree in person.  I suppose it's possible that before the festival was over I might have noticed some of the trees around town or the one under which our car was parked, but I was grateful to have had the two women bring them to our attention.  Upon looking up we noticed the only large trees shading the parking lot were pecans.  Julie's eyes lit up and I thought she might pee her pants when she realized the amount of free pecans that we could potentially get.

Looking around we noticed two more stately and venerable trees on the other side of a chain link fence where there were more cars parked.  After Julie started gathering pecans I began to wonder if we were ever going to get back to the festival.  I seriously thought she had forgotten about the festival entirely and was now determined to spend as much time gathering nuts as possible.  Julie loves getting free food in this way--gleaned from wild plants.  She has been known to go nuts gathering autumn olive berries. 

Our total wild fruit and nut score--including a heaping bushel basket of pecans

We did get back to the festival, but only after spending at least an hour and a half picking and gathering pecans.  The husks on the nuts had just begun to open, dumping delicious pecans on the ground.  With the help of a stick we were able to knock even more nuts from their shells onto the ground.  Some of the neighboring trees were climbable so we climbed up and picked the nuts directly.  A man came out to tell us that the parking area was his land and though he didn't mind us gathering the nuts, they wouldn't be any good if we picked them before they opened.  It turned out this wasn't true.  All the nuts we got turned out to be fine and all of them have been delicious so far.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Homemade pot rack

I made this pot rack recently out of some metal from an old harrow that was sitting rusting out on our land.  I'd been searching for some scrap metal to fill the purpose when I finally got the inspiration from the antique field implement half buried in the ground and fully obscured by the underbrush.  With a couple of chain lengths and some hooks I was able to put together this more or less upcycled pot rack.  I really like the way it turned out aesthetically, but more important, having the rack has freed up a lot of space in my cupboards for storage of other stuff.  It's also much easier to get and put away pots when they are hanging above you.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Growing my own onions sets for next spring

You can see where one variety had poor germination
I usually grow onion starts in the late winter and have a serious problem with damping off killing or weakening many of the seedlings before they can get very big. Once the onion seedlings get big enough they seem pretty indestructible, but before that they are very vulnerable to cold, wet conditions—something that's hard for me to avoid growing them in my house in late winter. Often I've had to resort to buying onion sets at the local store to ensure a good harvest. The only problem is that these sets aren't organic, and they are not known varieties. I have no idea if they are good storage types or not, so I usually eat them first so they don't have to store long. I'd never thought of growing my own starts because it seemed like a big industrial agriculture mystery. My girlfriend Julie told me that she'd grown her own sets in the past and that it wasn't hard at all, so I thought I'd give it a try. The great thing is that you can grow enough starts to supply you with more than enough onions in a very small portion of the garden.

I planted a section of a bed in thickly seeded rows of three different varieties. It was a pretty dry time of year so I made sure to keep the bed moist until the seeds had germinated. There was no hassle with disease and most of the seed came up thickly. I planted New York Early, Varsity, and Copra, all good storage varieties. I think Varsity was older seed (Fedco sometimes sells seed that's older than it should be and I was ordering mine in mid-summer)and didn't come up well, but the other two did. Planting them thickly ensures that they won't get too big before the end of the season, but it also conserves precious late season garden space.
They have been growing strong with regular watering and hoeing ever since. As it nears the end of the season they should be ready to harvest and dry down for the winter. In the spring I will hopefully have more onions starts than I've ever been able to grow. Next season I'm considering planting more onions than ever for sale here in the village. This is something that just wasn't possible starting onions from seed in late winter, because I could never reliably get a large number of starts. As long as the sets make it through winter in my root cellar, I should have some easily planted, strong and healthy sets to plant out in the spring. Though sets are pretty cheap, I can probably plant over $10-15 worth of sets in a tiny section of my garden, and they are all of the varieties I want.


I think I actually wasted a lot of space in here and will probably plant them thicker in future years

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Mid-winter Locovore

So this is a meal Julie and I had last night that consisted of tamales, carmelized carrots, and salad.  Everything except the butter in the tamales and some of the ingredients in the salad dressing were grown in my garden.  The tamales were my first experiment with grinding my own masa from the Abenaki flour corn I grew in my garden last year.  I treated the dried corn with pickling lime before grinding it in my new hand-cranked mill. This is the nixtamalizing process I talked about in a previous post. The masa did not grind up as finely as I'm used to, but I liked the texture and they held together just like tamales made from finer masa. Even the corn husks are from my garden. They were the same husks that covered the cobs of the flour corn. We dipped the tamales in salsa made entirely from ingredients I grew in my garden as well.