Monday, August 21, 2017

Sustainability or Not?

So, yesterday I had an interesting experience. I visited an organic farm (which I will not name here, but which was really, really cool), and the owner talked about how much he disliked the term sustainability.

In a way, I was sympathetic to his point. His idea was that simply being able to live and maintain the land at the same standard (a base level definition of "sustaining") wasn't good enough; that he sought improvement to his land and his production.

But, as you know, part of the subtitle of this blog references sustainability, and I still like the message.

Sustainability asks you if you could keep your lifestyle up - sustain it - through years and generations. Could you continue to eat through good harvest years and bad? Do you have enough money socked away to get your family through a job loss or a downturn in health? Do you have the skills to make do if there's a power outage or a decline in resources (or an increase in price)? Can you keep your soil as healthy and productive as it needs to be to maintain your garden?

To me, sustainability is a huge task.  Improvements are often eaten up by bad years and bad spells and bad luck. Keeping an even keel is a tough job. But it is important to resist practices -whether that be using unhealthy herbicides, overspending, or damaging your health - that tips the balance so you cannot sustain a healthy, vibrant way of living.

I still like "sustainable."  I think I'll keep it.
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Monday, August 7, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: July 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 garden is officially profitable!

I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself, if I might say. The return to mechanical rototilling plus an early start with the seeds and some favorable weather has really worked to our advantage.

First up, let's talk tomatoes. We have harvested over 72 pounds of tomatoes in July alone, over $263 worth at current prices. My reviews thus far of the tomatoes:
  • Principe Borghese has turned out to be a wonderful and prolific grape-sized tomato for drying. I've gotten so many, I've started throwing handfuls of them into sauces and stir frys.
  • Siletz was a great early tomato, but it is incredibly fragile. Therefore, it is easy for one to look fantastic in the windowsill in the morning and be developing a bad spot that afternoon. That's frustrating, and I probably won't grow them again.
  • Black Krim, of course, are my big fussy babies with the green shoulders and the tendency to be eaten by critters. But they are so worth it for the taste!
  • Cuore di Bue is a wonderful sauce tomato, big and solid and beefy. 
  • San Marzano, likewise, is the quintessential sauce tomato.  Both of these make great sauce and wonderful, thick juice.
  • Martian is a storage tomato, and it has turned out to be a wonderful slicer with few seeds and a long life.  Definitely worth the wait.
  • Volunteers, of course, are always a surprise. I have some sort of prolific grape tomato that is not a Principe Borghese or a Red or Yellow Pear, and I have a round slicer of some sort. I also have those infernal yellow tomatoes. Why, oh why, did I ever grow them years ago? I don't even like yellow tomatoes (not acidy enough for my taste), and so I keep throwing them into the sauce, and then the seeds go into the compost, and then I grow them accidentally the next year, ad infinitum.
Also this month were bountiful harvests of zucchini and cucumbers (although never enough of either to satisfy) and some potatoes and greens, plus herbs aplenty.

I'm hoping this is just the start of a prolific season. We could certainly use the tomatoes to can and put away for winter, plus feeding us both 6-8 slicers a day.

Cumulative Totals:

Total Ounces Harvested: 1638.0
Total Pounds Harvested: 102.375
Total Value of Harvest: $374.87

Expenses: (-$287.67)

Total Profit: $87.20
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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Annual Canning Melt-Down

To say that I'm under a bit of stress recently would be an understatement.

Somehow, between July and October, I need to develop and deliver three conference presentations (one down, two to go), design a new course, and do the rest of my regularly scheduled work, including a side biz.  I also need to keep up with the garden, since heaven knows I've been fussing and praying about this thing since February, depending on the savings in food expenditures giving us a little cushion through the summer and into the fall.

What this means, however, is that I am canning late at night, and my bravado at how good I am at doing that came to a crashing halt Saturday night with the first disaster and melt-down of the year.

It started when Mr. FC&G and I were taking turns in the kitchen.  The dishwasher was running, dishes were piling up, and I'm trying to rinse vegetables and fill a canner.

Of course, the canner, which I had balanced on the side of the sink, tipped over, hitting the colander of veggies and dumping them into the sink.  I rescued them, rinsed them off, got the canner going, cooked the veggies (extra, just in case of any bacteria from the sink), and filled the jar.

And then the jar wouldn't stand up in the canner.  And then I couldn't pick it up with the jar lifter. And then I started to scream bloody murder. Mr. FC&G, who has been known to observe and participate in a few meltdowns in the factories he works in, calmly asked, "do you need help?"

If I didn't know that he doesn't relish witnessing me have a full scale, blood vessel popping meltdown, I'd still be cleaning pickles off the far wall.  As it was, we got the rack out of the canner, reseated the jar, and processed those $#%& pickles.

They'd better taste like manna from heaven, that's all I have to say.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: June 2017

Have I mentioned lately how much I love June in the garden?

Yes, I know its July already. I'm finally doing the June tallies, and that just reminds me how full of hope June always is. Just look at those lovely Principe Borghese tomatoes in the photo, days from starting to ripen. Just lovely.

June brought with it three notable garden harvest events:

  • The blueberry harvest was almost finished by the end of the month, with ounces of blueberries total. Even with some critter damage, that's over half a gallon just from my three little bushes (plus a small one that isn't producing yet). Grand total of blueberry value through the end of June was $25.46.
  • I discovered/developed a radish relish recipe I've already shared with you, allowing me to harvest and use more of my crop than ever before. Through the end of June, I had harvested over 20 ounces of radishes, for a retail value of $3.90.
  • The first tomatoes came in!  Even though they were only a couple of ounces of Principe Borghese and a single Siletz, both intended as early tomatoes, this is the first time I can remember harvesting tomatoes in June. Let's hear it for starting tomato seeds on Groundhog Day!
July is shaping up to be a whopper.  Fingers crossed; I may even get the garden to profitability, although that's always a dicey hope for July.  Stay tuned!

Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces of Harvest: 107.5
Total Pounds of Harvest :6.71875
Total Value of Harvest: $35.06

Total Expenditures: (-$287.67)

Total Profit (Loss): (-$252.61)
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Is Gardening a Subversive Act?

(Note: The illustration is from a product available on my RedBubble store.  Find it here.)

Well, it's summer once again, and the news is full of human interest stories about people being penalized for growing food on their own property. There's the standard array of home owners' associations mandating that people remove front yard gardens and neighborhoods adopting policies that gardens, along with clothes lines, depress the property values. My favorite this year, which I unfortunately did not save the link to, involved a municipality that declared that the right to grow food was something to be bestowed by the government, and, since the government had not explicitly conferred this right, the area homeowners could not garden.

Gardening, in some places, has become a subversive act. And this is the kind of subversion I can get behind.

Think of it this way. Every time you plant something you can eat, you remove a little of your dependence on corporations that produce and distribute foodstuffs. Every tomato you pick from your garden is a little less reliance on a corporate entity to provide your dinner. It also is a little step toward independence in the form of better health. That tomato, grown your way (organically, if you so desire), brings you the kind of nutrition that might help ward off diseases and disorders, freeing you from reliance on healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

This is not to say that gardening is a fix for "everything that ails ya." Most of us would notice if the food trucks didn't come to our local grocer, and most of us will need to take advantage of medical care, even if we eat nothing but homegrown organic produce and do yoga every day.

But, every bit of your own food you grow is one step toward greater independence and less reliance on the impersonal structures that seem to govern our lives. That's the kind of subversive behavior I encourage.


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Monday, June 26, 2017

Radish-Onion Relish

I love raw radishes; Mr. FC&G does not, finding them too sharp for his tastes. So, in the years I grow them, I often have more than I can eat, and I have been searching for a way to preserve their goodness.

Enter radish-onion relish. This sweet, spicy (but not hot) relish is just crying out for a hot dog or hamburger to sit on, although I've been eating it as a side dish.  It is simply one of the best creations I've stumbled upon in a long time.

First, it is based upon this recipe from Hobby Farms, so please click over and give them some love, then come back to see how I altered it for our tastes.

Radish-Onion Relish
5-8 ounces radishes, trimmed and shredded
1 medium onion, diced
canning salt

Syrup:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. whole coriander
1/4 t. turmeric
1/4 t. celery seed


Shred radishes and dice onions, and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Allow to wilt for one hour, then rinse and drain.

Heat syrup ingredients to boiling, then add vegetables and return to a simmer.  Simmer 5 minutes, then pack into hot, sterile half-pint jars.  Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Makes two half-pint jars (or one sealed jar and one for immediate eating!)

The Analysis

Fast:  Shredding the radishes cuts down on the wilting time, making these pickles something you can put up while you are making dinner.

Cheap:  If you are growing your own veggies, you only have to pay for the syrup supplies.

Good:  While the original recipe says these are reminiscent of bread and butter pickles, I don't find the flavors at all similar.  The radishes and onions give these a sweet, spicy flavor that is unique; definitely include the coriander, as it introduces a very special note.





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Thursday, June 15, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: May 2017

Finally! After a couple of months of nursing increasingly-enormous tomato plants and neither spending nor harvesting anything, the garden is back in business for May!

First, the expenditures. We are going back to basics around here; well, modern basics, that is. After several years of tilling our soil using a broadfork, we went back to using a mechanical rototiller. It kind of broke my heart, honestly, but apparently our clay soil is just too much for the poor plants to do any good without a good soil churning. We also added several bags of manure and sandy top soil to the garden to lighten things up, and so far, the plants are responding beautifully. However, the tiller rental and soil amendments set us back a bit, as did the purchase of a few plants I didn't grow from seed, so the challenge is on for the garden to really produce.

It really needs to produce, anyway. We depend on the garden to reduce our food bills across the year, and, in the past two years when we really, really could have used that boost, we didn't have it. I'm primed and ready to have a good year this year.

In May, the harvest officially began as well.  It's a little hard to brag, since May showed a total harvest of less than a half a pound of blueberries, worth about $2.85, but that was just the kickoff of the season.  You wait until June's totals come in!

So, we are entering my favorite month here in the garden. There is nothing that screams "possibility" quite so much as a June garden, and I am very hopeful that this year's garden will live up to its planned purpose as another "income" stream.  Fingers crossed, y'all!

Cumulative 2017 Totals:

Total Ounces Harvested: 10.5
Total Pounds Harvested: 0.65625
Total Value of Harvest: $5.15

Expenditures: (-$287.67)

Profit (Loss): (-$282.53)
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