Archive for August, 2011

How does your garden grow?

Last month we rehabbed Wei’s home office, which has not been touched in more than a quarter century, other than to pile stuff into it. As you know, Wei does things right, so instead of just rearranging and re-storing the boxes of paper, he went through everything, and found this:Which now looks like this:

So how does that happen?

Well, get out a shovel. Start digging. In twenty years, you’ll be out of grass.

Seriously, for the first decade that I gardened (the first photo is about 1994, maybe 5 years into the whole gardening thing), I focused on the ornamental garden and did vegetables just in a small way— lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs. Somewhere in the 90s I put in the Wagon Wheel; the picture above is the earliest evidence we’ve ever found of this.

The vegetable area is so small and safe here. You can see the Wagon Wheel shape quite clearly. (And yes, I had four, possibly five trees planted within a 20 foot stretch. Needless to say, they are now gone. I am very hard on trees.) As late as 2004 most of the gardening work was still ornamental as I added beds and switched from annuals to perennials learning as I went what worked and what didn’t. There’s a lot of little green guys in plant heaven because of my ignorance. It was putting in the Serpentine bed that jump-started the veggies.

Once you switch to perennials, the ornamental beds start to take care of themselves. I still divide plants of course, and move them around (kind of like moving furniture, and one of my favorite garden tasks). Along the way the perennial bed has had trees in and out, added a trellis, and now a tiny prairie grassland. The porch was, literally, moved and part of the old area turned into a pond. A new ornamental bed succumbed to the lure of the edible and is slowly morphing into a berry patch.

I’ve tried something new every year, although I’m kind of running out of space, and have managed to avoid intriguing plants that I know we won’t eat, like kohlrabi and exotic peppers, and high maintenance ones that I know I won’t take care of, like roses and tropicals.

So how did the garden grow? I dug out my old journals and reconstructed, year by year:

Somewhere in the dim mists of time: raspberries and the garage garden
1999- the basic vegetable garden takes shape in the Wagon Wheel (the bed itself was built I think mid 90s, because the kids remember it from grade school): snow peas, lettuce, broccoli (don’t remember doing broccoli that far back, but there it is in a journal!), carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers.
2000- fennel for the first time (stuck with it for 8 years before finally giving up)
2001- first pumpkin
2002-3- can’t find the journals, but cucumbers and zucchini snuck in here somewhere. This is the first year since then that I’ve done zukes again.
2004- first actual reference I can find to cucumbers, but I’m pretty sure I had done them before. We all remember of lots and lots of pickles.
2005 and 2006 (shared journal, and cleverly did not differentiate the years) the Knot garden (Serpentine) goes in as an herb garden, with 10 types of herbs. Also put in beets for the first time. Also the first time I grew heirlooms, and the first saved seeds, of my Black Krim tomatoes (still saving them. By this time it’s my own backyard cultivar).
2007- added squash
2008- inspired by MyFolia.com I put in my first eggplant, turnips, chard, despite this being the year I broke my ankle right after the main planting. I also experimented with attempting a full second crop of summer vegetables, with mixed success.
2009- corn (I think I did corn before this, but cannot find any references), brussels sprouts, cabbage, and wintersowing, alpine strawberries (from seed)
2010- climbing beans (always did bush beans before), asparagus, blueberries, indoor seed starting
2011- strawberries, multiple types of peppers (instead of just green bells), potatoes for the first time.

I think pretty much the only thing I haven’t tried is celery.

How did your garden grow? Link or describe it for us!

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Have you ever eaten lambsquarters? Chances are you have some of it growing right now in your yard, neighborhood or local park. The only state it isn’t native to in the United States is Hawaii, and it’s even found its way there as a naturalized weed. It’s part of the goosefoot family, which also includes beets and spinach, and it’s the most wonderful little weed. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s not really a weed at all. This homely, now under-appreciated, plant was actually once grown, cultivated and domesticated by native peoples of the Eastern North American continent. It was actually farmed for its leaves, shoots and “pseudocereal”, similar to quinoa.

Lambsquarters, pictured here with borage blossoms, make a great summer substitution for spinach.

Now it goes completely unnoticed, or it gets pulled, sprayed, stomped and discarded simply because of its broadleaf status in our sparkling grassy yards. I, personally, love this little plant. I use the word “little” endearingly here, as, left to its own devices, it can grow several feet tall.

In the heat of the summer, my salad greens are struggling, having either bolted in a last ditch effort to reproduce or flopped over, giving up the ghost completely. This summer has been especially hard for them, as they were waterlogged for the first few weeks of the growing season, and then it was just a short time before daytime temperatures spiked into the 90’s. The one green that has shown all of the rest up in my garden is the lambsquarters. It grows as if it didn’t feel the heat, drought and other summer stressed.

The worst habit that the lambsquarters has is that the large leaves can become a little tough in drought. They don’t get the terrible bitter taste that spinach often does, and the small leaves stay tender pretty much in any growing conditions I’ve seen.

So whether you’re a seasoned forager, or you’ve never eaten anything that didn’t come from a seed packet, I encourage everyone to give lambsquarters a try. It has many uses, and if you simply google “lambsquarters recipes” you’ll find a whole slew of them including lambsquarters lasagna, lambsquarters quiche – even a lambsquarters cocktail! In the deep, soul-leeching heat of the summer it stands tall, strong, green and tasty, waiting for you to enjoy!

Have you ever tried lambsquarters? What about other common forageable weeds?

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The throw away nature of our society kind of depresses me. When I go to auctions and look over all the things that have been collected throughout someone’s life I wonder about what will be left from our lives. These older folks were still using tools the pyrex they received as newlyweds. Most people no longer purchase things with the intent of keeping them for the rest of their lives. Everything is disposable and as a result, nothing has value. Instead of spending our money and investing in items that will give us a lifetime of service, we purchase things that are “cute” “stylish” “go with my new paint color” etc. It seems that everything in our lives has become like the latest fashion. It’s good for a season then it breaks or we replace it with something new.

Why is this the case?

Are we so wrapped up in keeping up the appearance of being in style that we waste our money?

Do we not want to go to the hassle of fixing something so we just buy new? Do we not want to spend the time to research and find a product that will last a long time or for the rest of our lives?

Do we focus on spending the least dollar amount on something instead of looking at it full life value?

I’m not quite sure what it is – but I’ve been working hard over the past 5-6 years to avoid falling into this trip in my life. Six years ago Mr Chiots and make a commitment to not buy anything we didn’t need for an entire year. It was tough, but we stuck to our goal. At the end of the year we found we had less stuff we didn’t need in our home, more money in our bank account, and a whole different outlook on life. As a direct result of that year and continuing our goals in the following years, we were able to pay off our home 6 years later, because we funneled all the money we used to spend on useless stuff to our mortgage. It’s amazing how quickly a few dollars here and something new there adds up to a lot of money in the course of a year!

We now focus on buying good quality items make from natural materials that will last a lifetime (if we can find them used or a local person making them all the better). We no longer purchase items that we love because they match this, or things that we don’t really need. We no longer go shopping for entertainment (we actually loath going to the store now). We no longer replace things that still work. Often we don’t even replace items that break, we make do without them (like our microwave, dishwasher, toaster, etc). The things we do buy are often more expensive, but since we’re buying fewer things we don’t end up spending as money in the long run. Since the items we buy last a long time or are made to be fixed, we don’t spend money replacing items often either. All of these things have given us a sense of permanence in our lives. It also makes me appreciate the things that I do have.

The mason jar is the perfect symbol of this. Years ago companies sold their products in mason jars because women knew the value of the jar. They saved these jars and canned in them for years (I have a few of my grandmother’s). Now that everything comes in plastic that you throw away or recycle, I can truly appreciate the usefulness of a simple glass jar. I love mason jars so much and what they represent that I wrote blog post about them on the Your Day Blog earlier this week.

Do you have any old items that you use all the time? How much of what you buy do you think will still be in service in 15 years?

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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In the industrial west, we’ve largely forgotten the rhythm of the earth.  On the theory of “it’s 5:00 somewhere,” we eat strawberries in February and tomatoes in May. We think food is fresh if we buy it in the produce aisle instead of in a box, or from Whole Foods instead of Safeway. We paste a tracking label on every blessed apple, for pity’s sake.

Lammastide, August 1, is the traditional celebration of the first harvest. In the northern zones, we’re creeping up to the 90th day since planting. The tomatoes, the peppers, the beans, the corn, the roots, all ripening at once. We’ve been getting dribs and drabs–the berries, the peas, the greens–but now starts the downward slope into winter, when you gather in what you’ve grown, to tide you through the dark days. I just counted my tomatoes–there are about 150 fruits right now, just starting to “pink;” the carrots, parsnips, and turnips are crowning and the corn silk is darkening and drying out.

The festival’s counterpart at the beginning of the summer, Beltane, is, the planting of the crops and the marriage of the god and the goddess. Where Beltane has the joy of promise, Lammas has the joy of bounty, but melancholy too, as the god begins to prepare for his yearly sacrifice and death, and the goddess begins to remember her anger over the yearly loss of her daughters.

In modern patriarchal theology we think of lightning as a phallic manifestation-the god’s weapon- but I think this is a modern confluence of noise with guns. August storms are the fury of a woman, the despair of the goddess who cannot save the earth her daughter from her imminent death, year after year after year. She rages while she brings us daily bounty, more than we can use, as both fruited gift and fruitless bribe.

How do you celebrate the harvest?

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