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Archive for April, 2011

I like to watch for backlash.

It happens whenever people try to take back control of their lives–in their faith, or their schools, or their health, or their food. You will suddenly see a flood of media stories, movies, books, and studies proving that what your common sense tells you makes sense–for instance that growing your own food is good–is in fact having exactly the opposite effect from your desired one.

With gardening, this often manifests itself as derisive dismissal of urban and suburban gardeners and local source advocates (I refuse to use the awful term “locavore”) as elitist.

The main charge is often about the cost, and its corrollary of consumption for its own sake, i.e. the less you spend on any given item, the more items you can own. If you’re spending so much on your garden, how can you possibly keep up with the latest fashion?

I won’t fight that battle. For my household, spending more on food is a no-brainer. Everyone seems to be able to accept that better clothes cost more and better cars cost more and better jewelry costs more, but when it comes to the things that should matter- food, health, education- we seem to think that cheaper is better.

But do we in fact spend more? Last year I decided to track my gardening expenditures and effort. I have a 30×70 foot yard, with about 1/3 of it devoted to edibles, somewhere around 400 to 600 square feet (hard to be exact, because my beds are all weird shapes, I plant in both containers and the ground, and I intermingle edibles and ornamentals). I grow from early May to late October, and I grow to preserve. I feed four people, although two of them don’t live here (my grown kids), so they don’t always get their fair share.

Here’s what I spent (time and money)

  • Seeds $15.55 (I also save seeds, so I get a lot of my seeds by trading, and by saving seeds for various seed banks)
  • Tools $130.44
  • Soil and amendments 129.01
  • Bedding plants $53.23
  • Misc. gardening supplies (fencing, seed starting etc.) 106.57
  • estimated additional electricity to run freezer & seed starting set up for one year $100
  • Canning supplies $62.00
  • Chest freezer $280.00
  • Rain barrels $150

Total gardening expenditure: $434.80 (584.80 with rain barrels), total preservation expenditure $442. Roughly amortize the seed table, preserving & rain barrels over 10 years, and that’s less than $500 for 8 months of vegetables, fresh and preserved, that fed 4 people. That works out to about 44¢ per day per person. As far as I’ve ever been able to determine, that guy must have really worked hard to spend $64 on one tomato (the pièce de résistance of home gardening backlash books).

The time I spend in my garden is minimal, first because it’s a mature garden (I started in the late 80s), so weeds and infrastructure are not much of an issue, and also because it’s small. While my city friends’ jaws drop when the see my “huge” garden, I like to say it’s 1/100th of an acre. By most standards, it’s tiny. In April, I need several 4- hour work days, then during the planting weeks in May, June and July maybe one or two more 4 hour stretches in each month. Other than that, I can basically “garden” on my way from the garage to the back door when I get home from work. This doubles as my grocery shopping as well.

I have to confess, because my vegetables are so cheap, I do spend the surplus on other stuff: local, pastured meat and dairy (the “expensive” stuff), guaranteed free of GMOs, antibiotics, chemicals, and factory-farm pathogens.

And yes, I also track my food expenditures– about $12 per day for the four of us, or $1 per meal, including all entertaining and 2-5 restaurant or carry out meals per month.

Don’t let the backlash discourage you. Small is beautiful. Local makes sense. Grow real food.

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Today is Palm Sunday. Tuesday starts Passover. Friday is Earth Day. One week, three traditions, four gardens.

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If I, Xan, celebrate a faith at all, it’s earth- and goddess-based. I follow the Wiccan calendar, not as a wiccan, but because the celebrations and explanations make sense to me. I like to understand how our holidays relate to the earth, although interestingly, the goddess’ calendar skips April, moving from Ostara (Easter!) in March to Beltane or May Day.

Fortunately, the modern Earth movement stepped in with Earth Day. I’ll be down on my knees planting peas and strawberries. I’ll be down on my knees trying to stare my experimentally early plantings of beets and chard into sprouting. I may get down on my knees and harvest some green garlic and early chives.

I suppose you can call it prayer if you like.

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Growing up in a deeply conservative family I learned to celebrate Easter with a focus on grace and hope. Here at Chiot’s Run we still hold deep religious convictions but in a completely different way than most religious conservatives would expect. You won’t find us at sunrise service, the pancakes breakfast or even in a church building on Easter. You also won’t find any shiny new clothes, chocolate bunnies, or dyed eggs in our home.

If you stop by you’ll find us outside celebrating our religious beliefs by witnessing the coming to life of the garden here in NE Ohio. We’ll be listening to chorus of nature singing praises – they can after all do it much better than I can. I believe this holiday is all about connecting with God and being thankful for the life we have and the beauty that surrounds us. Easter is a celebration of life to me and this time of year nature does that best!

***

Here in Tennessee things are different than I remember. I grew up in such a diverse cultural area that sometimes it’s difficult to remember that Everywhere isn’t so diverse. Half my life was spent very near one of the largest “melting pots” of our nation, the other half has been spent coming of age in a very religiously conservative area. The funny thing is that I was always on the outside looking in. The festivities of those other religions always looked so interesting! Why didn’t our church do things like that? When I did grow up and come to terms with religion, I realized that the things I was envious of were another someones beautiful traditions.

pasque flower

Becoming an adult and making my own home, I’ve made my own traditions with my family. Every year I host my parents for the weekend so we can reunite. We share a simple meal and enjoy the warm Tennessee weather. We garden, we’re honest, and we play. We celebrate nature and family with good food and laughter. Our spiritual celebration will be inside our hearts and minds. As for my legacy: I now pass on a tradition of family, Earth, respect, love, and food to our daughter.

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Emily at Tanglewood Farm, here! Easter has always been an intense time of year for my family. My father is a priest in the Episcopal church, and my mother is agnostic. I grew up respecting and enjoying the ritual (and music) of the church, while also questioning constantly the various faiths placed before me. It was clear to me when I became a teenager that my parents didn’t care whether I believed in specific religious or non-religious things, the just cared that I had faith. Gosh they’re cool.

The ritual present in my father’s church was always pretty spectacular around Easter time, despite my father’s constant exhaustion, and my mother was supportive of us all. From the fresh palms on palm Sunday, to the lighting of the new fire (of course lacing it with gunpowder for dramatic pyrotechnics – I love my dad), ritual was thick and rich. We had candlelight services and rang bells and made noise to celebrate the rising of Christ. Through all of this I maintained a sort of appreciation for the community and strength behind others’ beliefs while also keeping a certain distance from the religion itself.

I find myself grown (kind of) at this point and I still hold that the church that I grew up so involved with has some amazing lessons to teach in morals, history and general community. Beyond those lessons I find myself with my mind to the abstract, my nose to the breeze, my toes in the dirt… I appreciate religion, but I feel like it’s beyond me to say what is and what isn’t. If I were meant to have understanding of greater things than myself, I would.

Easter, regardless of whether you’re religious and which religion you follow, coincides with (and symbolizes) a time for renewal across the Northern Hemisphere. It’s pretty great that it should coincide with Earth week this year. I will be celebrating the two simultaneously by planting our new fruit trees and thinking about what it is to be alive. I have and celebrate faith in myself, faith in the green grass, faith in the blue sky… faith in existence, I guess.

Whether you are devout, searching, anti, etc… all that counts is that you recognize your connections to your community and your family, and you celebrate in whichever way feels right to you.

How do you celebrate Easter in your home?  

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The term “Real Food” definitely applies to the vegetable garden, but here at Tanglewood Farm I’m using this year to try to find ways to grow and preserve more than just our own veggies and fruits. I know this month is our month of gardening posts, however at the core of it, we’re really blogging about growing food. This spring we are growing food in the garden as well as in the farmyard. We’re growing vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, and yes… even meat.

When eating any food, I find that the more involved in its existence and its presence on my plate, the better I eat and the more satisfied I am. I love to feel the dirt slowly giving way as I pull a beet for my salad, almost like the void beneath is sucking it down like a vacuum, or the sharp recoiling spring of the cane as I pluck an  almost-ripe red raspberry. These experiences are so starkly different from being handed a slapped-together cookie-cutter meal at the local such-and-such chain restaurant. Ick.

I love to sit down to a meal and to be able to identify the work that went into everything: the hauling of compost, the dibble of seeds, the spreading of mulch, the work of the rain and the sun itself… all the way to the act of cooking and baking the food in the kitchen. It’s the most satisfying feeling I can think of. It goes right to my core and radiates from within: Satisfaction. Complacency. Happiness.

To prepare for the season of growing, we have our seeds and our bareroot plants (100% heirloom/open pollinated this year). We also ordered heritage white-laced-red Cornish chicks (WLR because they’re prettier, Cornish because they’re meatier), as well as a couple straight-run layer chicks (heritage Buckeyes and Welsummers). Should any of the layer chicks be cockerels, they’ll be sent to freezer camp once they reach full weight. We want to have a small laying flock that can provide us with eggs, as well as the unfortunate bit of meat here and there.

We’re also growing/raising sheep this year. Unfortunately sheep are not as easy to raise as chickens are, and earlier this week tragedy struck when our youngest ewe, Gertrude, went into early labor and delivered a premature lamb, stillborn. It was very sad, but also humbling and grounding. Gertrude is alive and well, and when it came down to it, it was easy for me to see that her health is all that really matters to me. Should our remaining pregnant ewe, Ingrid, give birth to any rams, depending on conformation, they will likely be raised to mature market weight and then also sent to freezer camp. If they’re ewe lambs, I’ll do a little jig for joy and they’ll either be kept for future breeding or sold as fiber ladies. (I’m noticing a very intense polarizing trend in the preferred gender among various species in the farmyard.)

In the meantime, while either growing or raising our lamb(s), we are hoping to get a bit of milk from Ingrid. She’s not the world’s heaviest milking Icelandic, but she does have a well developed udder so I’ll be trying to take a little off the top once the lambs are established as healthy and strong. Icelandics make a wonderful triple purpose sheep, having lustrous and strong double coated wool, rich creamy milk, and excellent bone structure and meat quality. They’re one of a very few breeds that are triple purpose, so we’re glad to have them. The sheep milk, however, certainly won’t be enough for our milky adventures this year.

In addition to the sheep, I have purchased a share of a goat (named Gen) at a local goat dairy. I got to meet Gen today, as well as the rest of the goats out at Silver Moon, and it was a great experience for me. If you aren’t familiar with livestock “shares” they’re an interesting method of selling livestock. Basically it comes down to me getting to own Gen for a portion of the week. Whilst owning her, I have access to her for snuggles, kisses, photo ops and, yes, milk. I  met her primary owner, Renea, today and she was very pleasant and kindly showed me all around their farm, introducing me to their wonderful fiber rabbits, meat rabbits, quail, muscovies, chickens, and even their horses.

I can’t wait to make goat cheese and sheep cheese and yogurt… or omelettes, and egg salad, and mayonnaise… or smoked sausages, or lamb bacon, or …

You get the idea. This spring is about learning for us, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be involved in your food. It doesn’t mean going out and slaughtering animals yourself persay, (at least not unless you’re comfortable with it) but you could start by asking the waiter at a restaurant where your beef comes from, or if they’ve looked into local options to take the place of their imported meats…

You could ask around for a local farmers market for animal shares, be they dairy or meat, or just cuddles shares… Take control of what you’re eating, and learn to sit back and take a deep breath, a big bite, and enjoy.

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Unearth a Garden 2011

Last year I was so inspired by all of the gardens I saw sprouting up all over the countryside. Huge gardens everywhere! People had gardens in neighborhoods of all types. Families started replacing shrubbery with tomato plants, signs for “homegrown” or “organic” vegetables started popping up on the sides of roads everywhere. And yet I was surprised to see so few community centers lacking in available gardens for the Community.

Here we have churches, schools, senior centers, half-way houses, small-businesses, and so on – all resting on large pieces of unused land. Just. Growing. Grass. And yet not far down the road there is someone that is hungry. Or someone who does not understand the concept of healthy eating. Or someone who doesn’t have the space or experience to garden.  Aren’t community centers supposed to assist the community in times of need?

So again this year, I am heading up Unearth A Garden over at my personal blog. It’s a simple concept, really, and the more of us involved the bigger the impact we can make on our communities. Pick something from the list below that is feasible. It doesn’t have to be expensive or overly time-consuming, but the more involved you are the bigger impact you will make on your community!

1. Donate extras: Donate a corner of your edible garden to charity. Give to a local food bank, shelter or orphanage, senior center, or a neighbor in need.

2. Educate: Take on some some help this summer from your neighbors. Teach someone how to grow a garden from preparation to harvest, and let them enjoy the rewards. Talk to homeschoolers, kids on summer break, and people who don’t have a garden. If people talk to you about your gardening habits, I’m betting they’re interested!

3. Share some of your yard. “Rent” out part of your yard to friends and neighbors so you can share your gardening experiences together and learn from each other. Apartment dwellers may especially be interested in borrowing some land for a summer to grow some fresh produce of their own!

4. Promote a garden through a community center that you’re involved with. Whether it’s your church, senior center, or library – what better way to celebrate community and give back than to share the harvest with those in need? A co-op would be an excellent source to allow people to work together and learn from each other, as well as feed each other.

5. Start a small garden of your own for the first time. Learn something new and taste what it’s like to have fresh food that you grew. Feel the satisfaction of doing it yourself instead of relying on the grocery store, even if it’s just a few potted herbs or a tomato plant.

6. Donate some heirlooms to someone who is short on cash. Heirlooms are not only successful plants, but seeds can be saved legally and stay true to seed.

This year I hope to take on a couple more students in exchange for free labor. Last year I donated my extra harvests to a local women’s shelter. This year I’ll be planting a plot for them. If I have more to spare I hope to leave some surprises on a few neighbors’ doorsteps!

What will you Unearth? Head over to Unearthing this Life to get a badge and sign up!

Unearth a Garden 2011 Badge

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I grew up with parents that grew a lot of the food we ate because that’s the only way they could afford healthy food.  When they could afford to buy food they staring purchasing more at the grocery store and the size of their garden shrank. While growing your own is kind of posh in urban area, this hipness has yet to trickle down into some rural areas, especially among the younger generations. People in our area still have the view that if they can afford to buy it they will, growing your own is for people who can’t afford to buy food at the grocery store and the few random hippies that talk about something called “organic”. In some areas all across the country it’s even outlawed by home owners associations to grow edible food in your yard (we’re not allowed to have chickens).

It’s kind of funny because when we started to add edible plants to our gardens here at Chiot’s Run my neighbor came over to see what I was doing. When she saw all the red ripe juicy strawberries she asked where I got the plants. The next year they cut down a bunch of trees and put in a strawberry bed and a small garden. When I started growing tomatoes, cabbages and onions in my yard, they doubled the size of their garden and added corn, cucumbers and beans. When I added another garden on one of side of my driveway, they increased the size of their garden once again and added a small orchard as well. I also noticed that their friends down the street added some tomatoes and broccoli to their front flowerbed. I notice that every year a few more people in the homes around me are putting in small edible gardens in their front yard. I’m happy knowing that I helped break the ice or pave the way to make them feel comfortable doing so. I guess all they needed was someone go ahead of them, perhaps help to break the stigma that surrounds the growing of food in your yard. It’s nice to see my neighbors getting into edible gardening and being excited about it. My neighbor across the street was even telling me she started canning for the first time last summer and she’s retired.

Growing your own can open doors with your neighbors, especially if you take them homegrown tomatoes and veggies or eggs from your chickens. Growing some of your food out in the open can also encourage others to do the same. Perhaps your neighbors have always wanted to, but feared what people would say if they saw a few tomatoes growing on the front porch. In some areas growing your own will make you the talk of the beauty parlor (yep I’ve been told I’m frequently the topic of conversation there) and in other places it’s what everyone is doing. If you live in an area where it’s not common and people look down on it – grow out in the open, put your garden in your front yard and talk liberally about the joy of growing your own. And don’t be afraid to talk about how much money you save either! Be the one everyone is talking about so others can start to feel comfortable doing it as well. Sometimes all it takes is one person to hold up the torch so everyone can see!

What’s the Grow Your Own climate like in your area? Is it looked down upon or is it the thing to do?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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For the first maybe five years that I gardened, I focused on the ornamental garden and did vegetables just in a small way— lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs in the small plot off the garage (now the Garage Garden). In 1991 I put in the Wagon Wheel, a half-circle shaped plot with the paths radiating like spokes, about 150 square feet total at most. This was my main garden for more than a decade, and it fed us pretty well.

I gardened in complete isolation for a decade or more, as I come from five generations of urbanites, so I had no family to advise me. We’ve traced both sides of my family back to the 1840s, and my husband’s to the late 19th century, and there’s not a farmer among them. They’re all craftspeople and merchants and artisans. By the time they got from the old country to San Francisco and Manhattan, they’d left any gardening they did behind.

Fortunately, I’m an arrogant little so-and-so and assumed that I could figure this out from books and common sense, and you know what? You can. At the risk of redundancy, since other, better, actual garden writers have said it all before, here’s the common sense things I accidentally did, that turned out to be smart:

Start small

My first edible garden was 4 x 8 feet. When I expanded it, I didn’t plow up my entire 30×60′ yard. I added that 150 sq foot (or circle foot, since it’s round) garden. Eventually, I’ve ended up with somewhere between 450 and 600 square feet, but I did it a little at a time. (I’m not really sure how big the beds are, since they’re all weird shapes.)

Grow what you eat

This seems so obvious to me, but apparently there are people who think you have to grow tomatoes, even if you don’t like them.

Grow what works in your climate

You’re not going to be able to grow figs, or coffee, in northern Illinois. If you’re not sure what grows in your climate, start checking out local farmers’ markets. If they can grow it, you can grow it. (For the most part.) This is also a great way to start reacquainting yourself with the concept of “seasonal.” If it’s not at the farmers’ market, and it can be grown in your climate, it’s either over or still to come. Peaches in a Philadelphia farmers’ market in June have traveled a long way.

Grow organic.

I now know that it’s actually illegal to use chemical fertilizers differently than the label directions. I just didn’t like to use them because I used to find the labels so scary. I couldn’t trust something that said “safe for food crops, but keep away from children, dogs and your skin.” So I just left the crap off.  I believe that this is called “organic gardening” but I was just making it up as I went along.

Most gardening accidents are the serendipitous kind

I was too lazy to turn turf, so I killed it with mulch and plastic, which turns out to be the recommended method. I didn’t have any room, so I planted my lettuce underneath my tomatoes (See? I invented organic gardening and companion planting. No wonder I’m so arrogant.) I had a full time job and two children through most of this, so I didn’t have that much time. Therefore, in the fall I would just chop everything down, leave it on the dirt, then dump a load of soil on top in the spring (so I also invented no-till gardening. Is there some way I can cash in on this?).

Don’t worry about the non-serendipitous goofs

First of all, no one will know if you don’t tell them. I made all the usual newbie mistakes. I planted tomato starts a month before the last frost. I let the powdery mildew on my first squash go too long. I’d never grown squash. For all I knew, that was what squash looked like.  I tried to save seeds from hybrid plants.  I planted 15 cucumbers. (You’d be amazed at how creative you can be with cucumbers). I was afraid to try preserving, so a lot got wasted early on. This is how gardeners learn. In fact, I think it’s better to learn from your mistakes than to learn strictly from books, on the-burnt-hand-teaches-best theory.

Don’t be put off by gardeners

If you’re talking to a gardener and they give you that “really? You didn’t know that?” look of amazement, just stare them down and tell them that no, you didn’t, and it’s amazing but there are people who don’t in fact know everything there is to know. (Okay, I guess don’t say that, it wouldn’t be polite, but don’t be intimidated by the know-it-alls.)

Don’t believe what you hear at garden centers

They want to sell you something. If you hear something that sounds weird, go to the internet or the library and look it up. Better yet, join Twitter #gardenchat, and some of the excellent Facebook garden pages.

Don’t be surprised at the love you start to feel

It’s love, never doubt it. (thanks to reader Daphne G for the link!) I really think I feel romantic love for my garden. It’s possible that I want to marry my garden. Not sure how my husband feels about this, and frankly I don’t care, as long as he keeps carrying the heavy stuff for me.

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Sunday Photos: Spring

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature,
the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

– Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)

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Spring has been very slow in coming for us here at Chiot’s Run this year. I’m always happy to see it come, especially after a long cold winter. Seeing color in the garden again is inspiring and uplifting.




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In Chicago, we’ve been complaining about the weather reports, that keep focusing on the warm weather they’re getting inland. At the lakefront, we’re still pretty wintry, although this weekend has been warm. I got out into the garden today cataloging sprouts and putting out all the little gods that inhabit my yard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here at Unearthing this Life, the weather has been a bit warmer. We’re about four weeks ahead of the rest of the crew here. The funny thing about spring is that we sometimes actually have one! Usually it’s a bit like Monty Python’s Holy Grail and we skip from winter and go straight to summer … or something like that. This year we’ve had a pretty mild spring with some chilly and rainy days, even if we are about a week and a half ahead of schedule.

species hyacinth
epimedium
lily pads
tulips after rain
turkey poult

… and we couldn’t have spring without chicks around here!

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Michigan weather has been quite the bummer lately. Tanglewood has been a mess of mud and unfinished projects, and the rain, cold and clouds have dominated the weather report for weeks. Our grass didn’t even begin to green up much until yesterday when the sun poked it’s little head out for a few hours before sun down.

Other than the swelling buds on the raspberries, and the bits of new grass poking above the old out in the fields, there are few signs of spring on the plant life thus far. So rather than leave you with photographs of mud and last year’s mess, I’ll be providing you with general spring farm photos.


Our lambs haven’t landed yet, so these are from our ewe’s breeder’s farm.

 

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Have the colors of spring arrived in your garden yet?

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I know it’s a bit early for a post on strawberries (for most folks anyway) but if you want to add them to your garden I suggest ordering bare root plants as soon as possible!

You know, in most cases it’s actually true: the strawberries you enjoyed as a child were better. I’ve been growing strawberries with my mother since before I can remember. I often think of standing in my childhood kitchen, enjoying the first “Strawberry Dance” of the season, in which one who is experiencing the nirvana of a particularly good strawberry flails and dances around like one possessed. My mother was always better at it than I was. 🙂

Okay, so how many times have you taken a bite from a modern grocery store strawberry only to discover a dry, white, hollow at the center of your bite? Oh boy, you can thank the more recent hybridizations of the garden strawberry (specifically the genetic traits coming from Frageria chiloensis) for that!

The strawberry has been carefully cultivated for more than three hundred years. Even before that it was collected wild in Europe before 200 B.C., and the first European settlers in the Americas recorded collecting small wild strawberries in Virginia. An interesting fact I stumbled across while reading about those wild Virginian strawberries is that they were cultivated by the Native Americans long before European settlers arrived. What we call our native “wild strawberry” is the ancestor of a carefully bred cultivar… of course, it doesn’t surprise me that most strawberry histories glance right over the Native American involvement in the fruit. That’s a whole other can of worms, though.The strawberries of the past were definitely different compared to the modern grocery store disappointment, but do not fret. Did you know that there are several different species of strawberry available to the hobby gardener that never see the florescent lights of a grocery store produce aisle?

Okay I admit, I am a total strawberry geek and I’ve accepted that, but more than that in the past year I have learned to embrace a whole new level of  strawberry snobbery. I absolutely cannot stand the pithy texture or the plasticy taste or even the size of the “modern” strawberry. In my mind, a strawberry is supposed to be red throughout. It’s supposed to have more than just a sugary flavor; it’s supposed to be have complex overtones like a good cheese or wine. Alright, I know I might be taking it a bit far.

In my garden I have three species of strawberry so far. I have garden variety strawberries (Frageria x ananasa), woodland strawberries (Frageria vesca) and Virginia strawberry (Frageria virginiana). Each one has their place both in the garden and in the kitchen.

The garden variety strawberries (Frageria x ananasa) are the ones most people are familiar with. In most cases they’re a hybrid of the Chilean strawberry (chiloensis) and the North American wild strawberry (virginiana). The chiloensis lends it’s gigantic size to the miniscule virginiana, but the more crosses back to the chiloensis led to the garden strawberry gaining more than just size. While “grocery store strawberries” were being bred to be disease resistant and prolific, as well as absolutely gigantic, they were also picking up traits like the hollow core, fibery texture, lower sugar content and white center.

The lesser known garden varieties that I grow now are slowly gaining popularity across the nation. I try to grow the smallest and softest of the hybrids, which generally means they are the most flavorful. My absolute favorite varieties are the Sparkle, bred in New Jersey in 1943, and the Mara des Bois which is a new arrival in the states and was bred in France in the 1990s from four difficult-to-find heirlooms (if I could find the parent plants, I would grow them instead. I’m also an heirloom snob.) These strawberries are best for freezing, baking and cooking with, as well as eating fresh. They’ve got a bit more size than the others do, and they produce higher yields as well. They reproduce via runners and when I began with single Mara des Bois plant I never dreamed I’d be nurturing more than 30 daughters from her the first year! All it takes is a little heat and a little babying and you can propagate an entire patch in just a year or two. Another song of praise for the Mara des Bois that I always forget to sing is that last year mine were still producing berries until the berries themselves froze through! If only I’d had the presence of mind to put them in a cold frame, I would have continued to enjoy them well through October and in Michigan that is a song to sing!

The next species in my garden is the wild Virginiana strawberry, native to Michigan as well as several other areas of North America. This little tiny itty bitty (did I mention it’s small?) berry is packed with so much flavor it’s worth the tiny size! There are four subspecies, and I am growing the virginiana subspecies. The berries are about the size of a pencil eraser, though I’ve seen a few get as big as 3/4″ on very rare occasions. The plant spreads like crazy and I have been working with great success to naturalize it around our property. The local native plant nursery that I bought my plants from (Wildtype, in Mason, MI) confirmed that these are of a Michigan-native genome, so I feel like letting them run wild is just fine from a native ecosystem approach. When I went to pick up my plants, I discovered the people who lived in the house at the nursery had completely done away with their grassy front yard and replaced it exclusively with these hardy little berry plants! If you have the patience for a mini strawberry for fresh eating or jams only, these will not disappoint you. I’m going to try to dry some this summer to see if I can preserve them that way.

The final strawberry species living in my garden is the Alpine strawberry (Frageria vesca). There is a lot of confusion about this strawberry, mainly because it’s common names have a lot of cross over with Frageria virginiana and Frageria moschata (musk strawberry). These small conical strawberries come in a lot of modern “improved” varieties, though I have tried both the heirloom and improved and find little difference between the two. While some reproduce via runner the bulk of them reproduce exclusively from seed or rhizome (underground stems). I have varieties that runner as well as some that don’t, and I can’t find a difference in the fruit quality except the yields in the plants that runner are lower during hot spells. They make up for it by producing tons of daughter plants (sometimes going a little crazy like the virginiana) so then you have thrice as many plants producing berries. Their taste is much more varied than the virginiana berries as well.

The fun thing about these little guys is that they come in three different fruit colors: red, yellow and white. Some say the yellow variety tastes like pineapple; I think they just taste tangier. These berries do not keep fresh well at all. They are extremely soft and pretty much melt in your mouth when you eat them, but they make for a fantastic strawberry preserves and if you use them right away their tangy flavor makes some great strawberry short cake!

Now, this year I hope to add the musk strawberry to my list of species. I don’t know much about it, but I do know that it is another small wild-type strawberry with a very musky taste. I can’t wait to try them!

I encourage everyone to try strawberries in their gardens (unless, obviously, you are allergic!) I hear from time to time that they’re “difficult” or “impossible” to grow, and to be honest, I may just have some crazy luck. They have all been easy to grow for me, as long as I keep them well mulched in the winter. Many people cut their strawberries back in the fall, but I find that if I leave them through the winter I can just cut back the leaves/stems that need attention in the spring and they thrive. They are, by nature, evergreen plants, and they provide beautiful fall colors of red and gold. The only maintenance that they really require other than spring thinning is an occasional revamp of a patch. If your patch is older, try digging everybody up, replanting some of the plants (or replacing them) with better spacing and in the mean time use the daughter plants (young plants from runners) to expand!

Also, another great (and fun!) activity with fresh strawberries is to make ice cream with them. This is especially great if you don’t have enough for preserves or short cake.

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

Ingredients and Materials:

  • 1/2 c milk or cream (or goat/sheep milk!)
  • 1 tbsp sweetener of your choice (sugar works well, or try maple syrup or honey!)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 1 handful of fresh, washed and hulled strawberries
  • 1/2 c pickling or rock salt
  • 2 plastic zip-type bags (haven’t figured out how to do this without plastic yet – bummer!)
  • ice cubes

Add your milk, sweetener, vanilla and strawberries into one of your plastic bags and seal, trying to leave very little air in with the ingredients.

Squish this bag around until your strawberries are all mashed and mixing with the cream. Then place that sealed bag inside the other bag along with your salt and ice cubes.

Seal your external bag.

Shake – shake – shake señora (or señor!) for 5-10 minutes and your milky mixture will slowly become ice cream! The salt causes the ice to melt rapidly, releasing the cold much faster than without salt.

Open, serve and enjoy! This recipe makes one serving (or scoop) of ice cream. If you wish to make more, just double/triple the recipe as necessary. The larger your recipe, the longer it will take for the mixture to firm up, but it’s definitely worth it! This makes an excellent birthday party activity, and we had a lot of fun making it with my father for his birthday last year.

Another geeky note: Did you know that strawberries are not actually berries? They’re “receptacles” which is actually a thickened section of stem! Want to understand the receptacle a bit better? Imagine plucking a raspberry from a bush. The little tiny white cone left on the stem after you pick the fruit is also a receptacle. That little white cone the same shape as an itsy bitsy strawberry, and is essentially the same botanical part, but less tasty!

Do you grow strawberries? What varieties/species do you grow?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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okra

Every year that I garden I realize so much more just how important heirloom plants are. I know that I’m carrying on a legacy and helping to keep a variety of plant alive another year. Some of these plants are considered in danger of extinction by Slow Food USA via the Ark of Taste.

Take the Cherokee Trail of Tears for example. This one I find close to my heart since we live in former Cherokee land.

The Cherokee Trail of Tears bean memorializes the forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians in the mid-nineteenth century. They carried this bean throughout this infamous walk, which became the death march for thousands of Cherokees; hence the Trail of Tears.’*

All heirlooms have a little story behind them, whether they were the county fair winner 70 years ago or have a tremendous impact on the lives of a people like the Trail of Tears bean. We even try to “grow” heritage chickens to keep the lineage going for another few years.

basket of 'maters

Some may call me a plant snob (including Hubby), but I’m fine by that. When I plant heirlooms I’m free to save my own seed without fear of losing any of the original plant’s qualities as you can with hybrids. I know that my tomato plants will be disease resistant and have great flavor. I also know that I’m avoiding GMOs and will avoid repercussion from any companies by saving seed legally or illegally.

jacob's cattle

If you plan to save seed, avoid any hybrids. I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself. I’ve bought plants thinking I was purchasing an heirloom, only to find it was an F1 hybrid. Ack. You can’t save seed from an F1 hybrid because the resulting seedlings will not come true to seed. I bought turkeys thinking they were an heirloom breed, but they’re a hybrid and grow too big to reproduce naturally (and I am not about to assist them). Besides, turkey’s don’t require a paintbrush to reproduce as most open-pollinated plants do….

Do you grow heirloom or rare plants in your gardens?

*From Ark of Taste

You can also find me blarging away at Unearthing this Life where I ramble about living with a dozen chicken, 3 guinea, and 3 turkey – and I’m not referring to family.

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Growing your own food isn’t just about saving money, it’s about so much more. I truly believe that as humans we posses an innate desire or need to take a hand-on role in the production of the food we consume. Whether through growing your own, foraging in the wild, hunting or even going to a local farm, knowing exactly where your food comes from provides a deep sense of appreciation for what you eat.

When you think about how Americans acquire their food and the detachment from where it comes from it’s no surprise to learn the staggering facts about food waste in this country:

  • In the US, food waste has increased 50% since 1974
  • Americans throw away 25% of the food they prepare
  • Americans waste 94 billion pounds of food per year
  • 40 percent of all the food produced in the US is thrown out
  • Food is the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste

Mr Chiots and I have noticed that the more we take a hand-on role in what we eat, the less food gets wasted in our home.  When you’ve nurtured spinach from a tiny seed, you’re not about to let it get slimy in the fridge. When it’s past it’s prime for salads, it gets thrown into a pot of soup or cooked and frozen for a future meal. When you’ve spend hours collecting and boiling down maple sap, not a drop of syrup gets left on your plate. When you spend time searching for a local farm to get milk from and have seen how hard the farmers work to produce great quality milk for you, it never spoils in the fridge.  It’s true that buying from a small farm and locally can cost a little more than the grocery store counterpart, but when you figure in the savings of the food you won’t be wasting you’re really not spending any extra.  Plus if you grow some of your own you can offset the cost of that pastured beef or bacon.


Take this omelet we ate the other night for example, it contained:

3 pastured eggs from Martha’s Farm which cost 70 cents
Spinach, potatoes, dried tomatoes, & chives from my garden which were all free
Local raw milk artisan gruyere cheese that costs $17/lb, I used about $2 worth

Since my tomatoes, spinach, chives, and potatoes were homegrown, I could afford to indulge in some raw milk local cheese, even at $17/lb. The entire meal for both of us was only $2.60 – now that’s a cheap meal, even for non-real food. When people tell me they would eat locally if they could afford it, I tell them that Mr Chiots and I are actually spending less on food now than we did 6 years ago. Sure some of that is because we grow some of our own, but when you’re paying $8/gallon for raw organic milk, and $17/lb for your cheese it still adds up. We spend less on groceries because we waste less and we eat less. Generally good REAL food is more nutrient dense so you don’t need to eat as much. Since our food is so nourishing we no longer feel the need to snack between meals, if we go get hungry we often enjoy some raw milk, yogurt or some dried fruit. We do not feel the need to buy dedicated snack foods.

But growing your own and eating REAL food isn’t just about the cost. When you take the time to grow REAL food you will find that you will cultivate a deep appreciation not only for the food that you produce, but for the process in and of itself. Growing your own food nourishes not only your body, but your soul as well – and you certainly can’t put a price on that.

Has growing your own, or seeking out REAL food changed your attitude towards food? Have you noticed any less food waste in your home as you’ve transitioned to REAL food?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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