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And Sunchoke Bounty!

The fall root vegetable harvest has definitely begun around here. The day before I started harvesting sweet potatoes, I finally got my new machete sharpened and chopped down all of the withering sunchoke plants. I needed that bed for winter vegetables! So I pulled the first plant out of the ground.

sunchoke2

Look at all that food! So I kept going…

sunchokes

That is one huge bucket of sunflower tubers! I haven’t weighed them yet, but it’s at least 15 pounds out of a small bed that was interplanted with several other things. This was the cowpeas bed last year that I sheet mulched over the winter. After these plants were established they never received any supplemental irrigation or additional amendments.

sunchokes3

After I was done raking and digging for sunflower tubers, I immediately added a bucket of compost, raked the bed back out flat, added some more wood to the edges, and planted mizuna and purple cabbage seedlings for winter. I also pulled out all the damn bermuda grass that had crept in over the summer. Today I’m following the advice of Masanobu Fukuoka and seeding clover everywhere there’s bare ground- especially in the garden paths.

So now I have an entire produce bin in my fridge full to the brim with sunchokes! What’s your favorite sunchoke recipe?

Sweet Potato Surprise

Record-keeping is an area of needed improvement for me. In the spring I planted a handful of sweet potato starts. I don’t remember exactly where they came from and of course, I didn’t write it down. The starts took a while to “catch” but once they did, they really went wild. Here’s a photo of the center of the forest garden completely covered in sweet potato vines.

sweetpotato3

A couple weeks ago I was walking along the edge of the path (the rest of the path being swamped by sweet potato foliage) and pulling weeds. A weird shape caught my eye down in the path, and I reached down and pulled back the vines… to find a sweet potato as long as my foot heaved up most of the way out of the ground, and bright green.

sweetpotato2

Thinking of green potatoes and freaking out that my sweet potato crop was ruined, I started clearing vines immediately around that sweet potato and pulled another five sweet potatoes, each at least a pound. Each one was at least partially green. They were all big and felt heavy but were strangely pinky-beige everywhere they weren’t green. I took some photos and posted them with a slighty panicked plea for advice on the local gardening group and then googled for another hour. The consensus was that they weren’t poisonous, but no one knew whether they’d still taste good. So I decided to let them cure and see what happened.

sweetpotato1

My husband was baking some sweet potatoes from the store last night for dinner so I told him to pull a couple out of the crate on the front porch and throw them in the oven. They took a long time to cook through- longer than the store sweet potatoes. The skin was almost burned. When I cut them open I found out why. I somehow planted white sweet potatoes. This one was dry and dense, not as sweet as the orange-fleshed ones, more like a chestnut flavor. Really good. Comparing varieties, I’d say these are either Nancy Halls or O’Henry’s. I have only harvested sweet potatoes from one vine, so there may be some orange ones out there. If the area I dug up is representative of the whole bed, I am going to be pulling a whole lot of sweet potatoes.

Fermented Hot Sauce

The peppers are finally coming in! Earlier in the summer I had a serious infestation of Papaipema nebris, stalk borer. These moth larvae bore into the stems of all kinds of plants but in my yard they only attacked the chile peppers. They bore into the base of stems and live inside the stem, sucking out the plants’ juices and eating the interior pith, until they emerge to pupate. Even if I decided to use pesticides for some reason, broad-spectrum pesticides are useless against larvae inside plant stems and I didn’t want to invest the time or money into the only effective resistance, which is injecting each infected stem with Bt. I decided to wait it out. Almost all the plants lived and now are producing a bumper crop of peppers- thin-walled mild and fruity aji cachucha and bright and hot scotch bonnets and habaneros. I’m regretting planting the scotch bonnets and habaneros, frankly. They are producing like crazy and they’re too hot to do much with. I wish I had planted the mildly hot peppers I planted last year. I think next year I’m going to start the peppers late and see if I can break the pest cycle.

peppers

So I had to do something with the sudden bounty of extra-hot peppers. I found an interesting recipe for a fermented hot sauce but I can’t just use habaneros- none of us will eat it. The aji cachucha is for ajilimójili and sofrito but I decided to use them to tone down the fierce heat of the habaneros. I want this to be a hot sauce I will actually eat.

tangledoaks

The recipe calls for a sweet white wine like a Riesling. So off I went to Wards Supermarket to find a bottle of German Riesling. As my daughter and I are searching the shelves for Rieslings and finding nothing, this bottle of wine caught my eye. Why not? The wine is sweet, like the recipe specifies, the fruitiness will probably complement the fruity habaneros, and it’s local.

fermentedhotsauce

 Here’s the mashed chiles and salt, before adding the wine. Isn’t it beautiful? I can’t wait to see how it turns out. See the link above for the recipe and instructions if you want to try it yourself. It’s autumn- ferment all the things!

Changing the Plan

I think my meal planning habits and our usual diet are going to have to adjust. My food “standards” started when I was a homeschooling mom with three young children and an additional part-time job. I was busy but my schedule was flexible. Our budget was very tight and I am naturally thrifty so meeting those self-set standards became a point of pride. It became part of my identity as a mother and wife. I cooked almost everything from scratch, shopped at multiple stores and markets each week to eat seasonally and get the best prices, and seldom bought “convenience” foods. You can eat a very healthy diet for a reasonable amount of money if you’re able and willing to devote the time to it. Healthy food isn’t expensive. Healthy convenience foods are expensive. I never factored in the value of my own time or the amount of time I was devoting to food preparation.

For many years our diet has been based on seasonal produce, whatever we bought at the farmers’ market. We’d had the common American quick breakfast/light lunch/heavy, full dinner pattern of meals. I did one large grocery shopping trip once a week because that’s the best way to stay on budget.

Our current family life is just too hectic. My husband’s business keeps him incredibly busy with an erratic schedule. My kids have evening classes and band practice. I am regularly stuck between beating myself up for another failed meal plan and killing myself to make my over-ambitious meal plans work. We all have been splitting the cooking between us- the kids starting dinner prep and I finish when I get home from work, my husband cooking on his nights at home, and lots of oops nights when dinner ends up being at 9pm or we eat scrambled eggs. Lately it’s been me chasing three teenagers around, haranguing them to eat the dinner that I spent an hour cooking after my 10-hour shift. This habit is no longer working for us. I have to change the way I think about meals for our family.

So, loyal readers, give me some suggestions. What works for your family? Do you eat a larger lunch and simpler dinner? Do you cook ahead? Do you spend the money on high-quality convenience foods? Tell me what works for your family.

Garlicky Lacto-Fermented Giardiniera

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I am a total sucker for the discount bin at the grocery store. Today I scored a cauliflower and a bag of five yellow sweet peppers for $3. How can you pass that up? Since I already had carrots, more peppers, and garlic at home, I decided to try a new ferment- Italian pickled vegetables, also known as giardiniera. I read a recipe for a winter salad based on muffaletta (which is one of my favorite foods) that included giardiniera and I need to add more fermented goodness to my diet. So of course I started by reading a couple dozen recipes on the internet and found that most giardiniera recipes aren’t lacto-fermented at all- they’re briefly soaked in brine to draw out moisture and then either marinated in olive oil or pickled with a vinegar brine. Now I have no idea if giardiniera was ”traditionally” lacto-fermented  or not (vinegar pickles have a very long history, too) but I’m going to try it.

giardiniera2

Garlicky Lacto-Fermented Giardiniera

I will admit to playing it fast & loose with pickling brines. I don’t measure carefully but the goal is a 2% solution of salt to water. I live in Florida where there’s plenty of warmth and bacteria, so ferments live most of their lives in the fridge. If you don’t plan on refrigerating yours, measure carefully.

1 head of cauliflower
2 carrots
5 yellow sweet peppers
1 red Italian pepper
1 stalk of celery
10 fat cloves of garlic (no really! Ten!)
1 tbl whole coriander seeds
1 heaping tbl dried oregano
3 quarts filtered or boiled tap water, warm
3+ tbl sea salt

First wash the vegetables carefully with warm water and rinse well. The break the cauliflower into small florets and cut everything else as small as you want it. I left my pieces on the large size. Slice the garlic cloves. Then take a gallon jar with lid and wash it thoroughly in the hottest water you can. Then pack the vegetables into the jar (you can put them in pretty layers if you want) with some of the spices and sliced garlic between each layer. Then pour three tablespoons of salt over the top. Pour in warm water until the water completely covers the vegetables. If you added more than two quarts, add about a teaspoon of salt for each cup of water over two quarts. Add your jar weight if you use one (I use a plastic lid weighed down with a small bowl) to keep the vegetables submerged. Put the cap on loosely and put it somewhere you can keep an eye on it. Check it every day for a week to make sure the vegetables are still submerged. The brine will get cloudy and then clear up slightly, and start smelling like pickles. After a week, take a pair of clean tongs and fish out a piece. If it’s sour enough for you, put it in the fridge for another week, then eat. If you like it more sour, leave it on the counter and taste every couple of days.

Puffball for Dinner

I ate a wild mushroom and I lived!

Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve eaten foraged mushrooms or wild mushrooms… I’ve been chanterelle picking in Oregon with my sister, and I’ve purchased foraged chanterelles and honey mushrooms from Southeast Mushroom at the farmers’ market many times, but this is the first time I’ve found an edible wild mushroom myself, identified it, and cooked it. The best part- it came out of my front yard, and there are probably more!

old puffballs

I have been finding these old, dried out puffballs under the mulch in the herb garden for over a year. The herb garden was one of the first sheet mulching mounds and is always full of fungi. I was just joking with my husband a week for so ago that this was one of my most successful crops- it’s too bad we can’t eat them. This photo above is composed of dried out puffballs discovered over two weeks. That white sphere is a lacrosse ball for size reference.

puffball youngOn Monday I found my first young puffball! I was weeding the herb garden and touched something cool and damp and yielding under the mulch. I thought it was maybe a toad burrowed down in the mulch, but when I uncovered it, it was a beautiful white young puffball!

puffball split

I knew puffballs were edible, but I still had to make sure what I had was actually a puffball mushroom. First I googled (Thank you Green Deane, as usual), then I posted photos on a local garden group, then I took the mushroom to a local mushroom forager for an in-person ID. Michael Adler of the Edible Plant Project confirmed that it was definitely an edible puffball.

trimmed puffballI thought the smooth skin meant it was free of worms and bugs, but when I started cutting it up I found that they were hiding under the skin. By the time I trimmed off all the bad spots there wasn’t much left, about enough for one person. This turned out to be fortuitous, since my husband declined to try any, declaring that one of us should be able to drive to the hospital, just in case.

sauteed puffballSliced puffball, sauteed simply in butter with salt and pepper, served with fresh bratwurst cooked in beer with sauerkraut, and roasted cauliflower and home-grown sunchokes tossed with sage and blue cheese. It was all delicious! And I didn’t die!

Now I just have to figure out how to find the puffballs hiding under the mulch while they’re still young enough to eat.

Ginger & Turmeric First Harvest

The subtitle to this post is “How To Do Everything Wrong”.

Most of the crops I am planning on growing out at the farm are in the ginger family. I played hooky from basically everything this morning and spent the morning watching youtube videos and reading ag websites on ginger farming. I watched farm videos from Costa Rica, India, and the Philippines. I downloaded cultivation and processing guides from India and Ghana.

And then I looked outside at my ginger patch, I realized I have been doing just about everything wrong.

ginger bed

Well, sort of wrong. Wrong in that irritating “It depends” sort of way. What I’ve been doing is just fine for the home ginger patch in the back of the garden. Not so much for farming. Farming gingers, which as a plant family include turmeric, galangal, ginger, and a bunch of other edible and medicinal rhizomes, is quite different.

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In order to grow great ginger, you have to mound soil over the tops of the rhizomes as they grow. This is a preliminary ginger harvest. See the green at the tops of the roots? That ginger is not fit for the market. See how the rhizomes are long but shallow? That’s because I grew them right up under an oak tree and next to a low gardenia- the ginger had to compete with these other plants for root space.

galangal1

This is my meager galangal harvest. I guess this is decent considering the “mother” was a small chunk of half-dead root with three live “eyes” brought home from a Vietnamese grocery store in Atlanta. Not enough fertilizer, not enough soil mounding, not deep enough soil. I may split up and replant the larger clump as “seed” for next year. 

turmeric1

This preliminary turmeric harvest was the most disappointing. Unlike other gingers, turmeric wants sun and lots of it. This turmeric was planted too closely together and definitely in too much shade. There’s only one “hand” and it’s very small. I expect fresh turmeric to be my #1 money-maker so I need to get good at growing this.

seed turmeric

This is “seed” turmeric from a local nursery. This kind of turmeric is fine for a backyard garden plot but I have no idea what variety this is. I would invest in a named turmeric variety from India if I could, but to import things like that you have to buy huge amounts. So I’ll probably pay out the nose for organic varietal seed turmeric from Hawaii.

I have a half-dozen other Zingiber-family plants to sort out, too! There’s so much to learn, and I love it.

Winter Garden

One of the perks of working at a farmers’ market is getting the first pick. I see what comes in in the morning, and if it’s something I really want and I think it will sell out, I can ask the farmer to “put one back for me”. Last weekend one of the farmers had a great deal on winter seedlings. I knew they would sell out fast, so I had him put a few 6-packs under the table for me- Chinese mustard, russian kale, swiss chard, mizuna, and red cabbage. He sold out within two hours.

broccoli seedling

Then I went to the feed & seed and bought something I’ve never tried before- the 20-packs of “pro” seedlings. These are bundles of seedlings with tight root balls, very little soil and no pots. I snagged two bundles of broccoli. I don’t even remember the variety.
winter garden2
This winter I will become the broccoli master. Broccoli everywhere! The kids and my husband really like broccoli, I like broccoli, it can be easily frozen if necessary, and it’s fairly expensive at the farmer’s market. All perfect reasons for trying to grow it myself. I spent one entire evening clearing this grass-and-weed-infested raised bed by hand after my younger son ripped the grass up with a mattock. I added a few buckets of compost but the incessant rain has discouraged me from adding any more soil nutrients, since most of what I use are liquid.
winter garden1
This is the second bed of winter cole-crops- more broccoli, kale, swiss chard, and red cabbage. This bed in the forest garden was completely full of tithonia all summer. As soon as I cut down the tithonia for the compost pile, the betony started popping up. I am not clearing the betony out of this bed- yet. I know from experienced that the betony is unstoppable. The thick hay mulch last year was the perfect environment for betony and the roots rocketed through the beds. There’s no stopping it without digging everything up, sifting the soil for the tubers, and then laying it down and re-planting everything. And frankly, that’s just not going to happen. This is one of those experimental less-is-more opportunities for observation. Will the broccoli in this bed do better than the broccoli in the raised bed with no weeds? The other way around? We’ll see.

I still want to try growing carrots again now that the soil has better texture and I want to try fennel bulbs. Both will go in after I dig up the sweet potatoes and cut down the chiles next month. Birds or ants ate up all the dill seeds that I scattered in the herb garden and raked in- I don’t have a single seedling. So much for seed saving. I’m still going to need to buy seedling parsley and dill, or start it in the greenhouse. Onwards, October!

Gluten-free Apple Butter Gingerbread

Part of my dedication to local eating is to teach my kids to recognize that eating foods from far away and out of season is a treat. Apples don’t grow here, therefore we don’t eat apples that often. When I was in North Carolina in July I picked up a jar of homemade apple butter at a road side stand along with my usual jars of sorghum molasses, but we also don’t eat that much toast any more and the jar was still sitting there. I was worried that it would get moldy, so I decided to bake with it.

apple butter

There don’t seem to be any cookbooks or blogs for the kinds of baking I want to do- rich in fats, eggs, whole grains, and fruit but uses no refined sugar. Every sweet quick bread is an experiment so any time I make a really great one it’s like a wonderful surprise. This is a really great cake. It’s tender! It’s moist! It has a great crumb!

applebutter gingerbread

Gluten-Free Apple Butter Gingerbread

1/2 c butter
1/2 sorghum molasses
1 egg
1 c apple butter
1 c oat flour
1 c GF baking mix (I used Namaste)
3/4 c buttermilk (or clabbered milk)
2 scant tsp baking soda
1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaping tsp ground ginger

Heat the oven to 350. Butter a 9x5x3 loaf pan. Gently melt the butter, then add the sorghum, egg, and apple butter and mix thoroughly. Mix the baking soda into the buttermilk. Add the baking mix, oat flour, cinnamon, and ginger to the wet mixture, and mix it halfway in. Then add the buttermilk & soda mixture and mix thoroughly.  Scrape into the baking pan and put immediately into the oven. Bake for 1 hour, start checking at 55 minutes. Bake only until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out and let cool over night before slicing. This stayed moist for three days tightly wrapped in aluminum foil.

Flowers on the Equinox

Happy Fall Equinox! We are celebrating doubly because the evening temperatures fell below 70 a few nights ago. Unlike homes up North which are shut up all winter, homes in Florida are shut up tight all summer because we all have the AC running (if we’re lucky). Once the night time temps fall below 72 or so, the windows can be opened and the AC turned off most of the fall through the late spring. Throwing open the curtains and opening the windows set off a flurry of cleaning. While I was looking out the front window, I spotted a ripe butternut squash that got completely missed!

surprise squash

We only had about six weeks of truly hot weather, but that was enough to see the changes that the cooler temperatures are bringing already. The butternut squash, luffa, and birdhouse gourds have started putting out new fruits again. The cutleaf coneflower, which I despaired about all summer, is finally blooming. The cutleaf coneflower, monarda, and tropical sage are making quite a display right now.

native bed september

As Ginny Stibolt reminded us recently, I don’t put out “bird feeders”. I plant gardens. My mostly-natives bed has half gone to seed but I’m resisting the urge to deadhead. Those seeds will feed migratory birds and the rest will reseed the garden for the spring. The beach sunflower is unstoppable, filling all of the gaps in the natives bed. The small yellow flowers brings clouds of bees, flies, and wasps every sunny day. I also don’t put out hummingbird feeders full of sugar water. I plant lots of firebush instead (red flowers in the background) which blooms for eight months straight and keeps the hummingbirds coming back every day.

native bed 2

Growing comfrey here is a struggle. I have three comfrey patches established but this one, the only one that doesn’t benefit from at least some shade during the day, died back to the ground in July. It’s rapidly recovering with the changing season.

reviving comfrey

The sunchokes are also flowering! It’s interesting that the sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosa) and the beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) attract different pollinators. The sunchokes attract a lot more beetles than bees so far. It’ll be interesting to see what the 8 ft tall swamp sunflowers (Helianthus augustifolia) attract once they bloom.

jerusalem artichokes

I am one of the rare people who wishes summer would last forever. I don’t like cold weather. My favorite seasons are Spring and early Summer. I still do my best to live in the cycle of the seasons, to not resist the changes happening around me. So I will embrace fewer mosquitoes, ripe persimmons, cane boils, and scarf weather, and plant my winter garden.