Monday, August 18, 2014

Local food year round

An abundant harvest shouldn't be a bad thing, but at times it can be overwhelming. I was just reading a blog post by Gene Logsdon where he passed on the wisdom of years that taught him not to overdo things by planting more than you can deal with. I've given up on my pickling cucumber bed in the vineyard because I can't handle the amount of food coming out of it. Next year I'll plant far less. This was an experimental year in large scale farming and although I was cautious, I didn't anticipate the level of productivity a little bit of manure could yield. Even the sweet corn is getting overwhelming and I only planted two 30 ft beds of it. I've canned about 25 pints already! And after so many jars of salsa (fireroasted is the best kind), pickled cucumbers, corn, sauerkraut, and tomato sauce, I'm sick of canning.

This is the time when I start fantasizing about having a couple pigs to feed all the oversized summer squash, cucumbers I can't sell, and rotting, rain-cracked tomatoes. I could also feed them all the byproducts of my canning projects, grape pressing, and crop waste. I really want to make that a reality one of these days.  On top of that, there's the tons of whey from cheesemaking I could be feeding them; nothing like turning food waste into more food.
But isn't it nice that there are crops you don't have to eat fresh that store easily without any canning and the associated energy consumption and hassle? I have really grown to appreciate crops like flour corn, popcorn, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, winter squash and dry beans.  Winter squash, garlic, onions, and sweet potatoes just need a dry place to be stored.  I was using last year's garlic all the way up until I started to get the first harvest of this year's crop. Storing it at room temperature hanging up in braids or in a mesh bag keeps it halfway through the winter until it starts to get drier, then I move it to the root cellar so that it can retain moisture and experience cold temps to keep it dormant.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Cutshort Bean

You've probably never heard of it, but you've heard of dry beans and green beans. Well, the cutshort, or “greasy” bean, is like a cross between the two. It used to be grown extensively in the South, but now it is less known. The cutshort is a type of bean that is unique in its ability to maintain a tender hull far into its development. As such, it can be harvested well after its seeds have swelled to the size of dry beans, and its hull will remain tender long after a green bean's hull would have become tough and inedible. Green beans also have very little nutritional value or flavor compared to cutshorts.
It's funny because the cutshort is kind of the equivalent of the sugar snap pea, a relatively new and quickly adopted version of the shelling pea that features an edible pod. The sugar snap pea made it so you didn't have to spend so much time shelling your garden peas to be able to enjoy them. Of course, slightly different from the cutshort, the snap pea became much more of a raw finger food perfect for snacking, while the cutshort is simply a richer, and faster cooking version of the dry bean.
Cutshorts are ideally harvested when the seeds inside the pod have swelled to a very large size and the hulls are beginning to pale. Unlike dry beans, but like green beans, they are eaten fresh (unless you string them up for Leather Breeches, which I'll get to) The pods do have tough strings along the seams, but with a little effort you can remove the strings and everything you have left is perfectly edible. This makes for a much bulkier harvest than dry or green beans, and because the seeds inside are so much more developed, a pot of cutshorts is far more nutritious and filling than a pot of green beans. Green beans are fine for a side dish, but cutshorts make a respectable main course. The final product ends up tasting a lot like a pot of green beans and dry beans combined, with the hulls adding a satisfying mouth feel to the dish.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Season of abundance

It's been a pretty good season so far. I think I bit off more than I could chew with the amount of space I chose to garden this year. I started a small CSA here and so expanded my garden. I also purchased a couple of tractor implements to make it possible to do agriculture on a larger scale out on our ag land. Before this season, most of my gardening was done on smaller hand-tended plots. More and more though I have been finding that doing things by hand is very time consuming. As much as I like the idea of simplicity, and as much as I dislike what conventional and large scale agriculture have done to our valuable agricultural lands, I cannot compete with the scale of fossil fueled agriculture by doing things by hand. Humanity gave that up by and large thousands of years ago, so it's not surprising it couldn't compete today. Hand gardening might be fine for the hobbyist who wants to grow a few supplemental veggies during the season, but if you are trying to sell your stuff or grow most of the food you eat, you are basically just wasting your time because it is so much less efficient. I've kind of known this and had never planned to try to make money selling vegetables, but here I find myself, at least partially trying to scrape a living doing something I love.

Onions growing between rows of grapes

There is virtually no market to speak of around Dancing Rabbit. We live on an island of awareness in a sea of people who don't understand the value of what we have to offer. Considering that we want to reduce our impact, it seems a little in error that we located the ecovillage so far from people who would be truly interested in and supportive of what we are doing here. We'd have to travel pretty far to get any products we produce to a market that appreciates them. This means extra fuel in transporting them. And for that matter, people have to travel pretty far to visit and see what we are doing. But this is the situation we have to overcome or accept. There are other reasons this location was chosen for DR.