Monday Afternoon, Sky Dancing in the GardenPosted: February 14, 2011
I was thinking about writing a gardening and food post, then Kat mentioned gardening in the Monday Reads and so I ran with it.
Up here in the northern-westernest part of the lower 48 La Nina has been mighty boring. I’m grateful for this, but sorry that her pattern of weather moved south and blasted the rest of the country with such misery. We’ve had normal temps and less rain that usual, although that is changing. This means my partner and I have been out working on the farm. He got the parts of the field we need later this month and next tilled and ready for planting. I’ve been working on conquering the weeds in the herb garden.
Weeds (northeastern, northwestern, california, midwest and south): the bane of life with organic gardening, little tiny buggers that grow from the very air it seems, seeds stored for 20 years or more in buried earth just waiting for a bit of sun and light, little bothersome indicators of both soil gone wrong and soil gone right, rotten, overpowering… bleh. Weeds. Since our farm started as a cow pasture and hay field, our worst weeds are grasses, particularly what we call ‘zip’ grass, because of the sound it makes when you rip it out by the roots and discover to your horror the roots run right under the 3 feet of weed matted and graveled pathway and out the other side. Ziiiipppp indeed. One little stem of that stuff and it’ll grow another 4 foot long run of root, little grasslets sprouting all along the way.
I made the mistake of putting store bought chicken manure on the fields for a while. This brought in other kinds of weeds: pig weed and amaranth cousins which grow like the dickens in the early summer. They are easy to pull out, but you’d better do it before they put on a flower head or you are doomed. Laid to rest, wilting and dying on the compost heap, they will quickly open their flowers and set seed just to spite you! Their seed can lie dormant for over 20 years in the deep soil, waiting for some shovel to turn them back up to the surface with light and air so they can grow.
We switched to our own goat manure for fertilizer as soon as we got the goats. Yay! That too brings in weeds, but not as badly. We’ll get the occasional oat or rye grass from the straw with which we bed the goats. This straw and manure makes a great mulch on any of our growing, herb, or flower beds, just as long as it’s laid down thick. There’s often legumes coming from the alfalfa we feed the goats. The worst weed from the straw and alfalfa is bedstraw or cleavers (Galium aparine). It seems innocuous, but its seeds are like little prickly balls of hell which nest into your animals’ fur, or your socks or pants or sleeves, and burrow down to create sores in everything. When it’s green its stems have silica blades which can cut your hands and arms very efficiently. Cleavers indeed. And yet a related plant, Lady’s Bedstraw, was used all through the Middle Ages, and probably beyond, to make mattresses. Why? Because it doesn’t break down when dry, it’s still springy because of the cleavers. Lady’s Bedstraw was also used to coagulate milk to make cheese.
In the greenhouse it is time to plant peppers, both hot and sweet, basil, brassicas of all kinds, lettuce and onions. These, except for the peppers and basil, will be planted out into the fields under reemay in 4 to 6 weeks. The peppers live all their lives in the greenhouse or hoop house. We can plant them in the field, but we are a little too far north to get reliable heavy crops from them this way. We can suffer frosts in early July! Tomatoes, planted next month, also stay in the greenhouse and hoop house along with the very tender basil.
So that’s a bit of what’s going on here. As the day lengthens and the sun returns more people are thinking of their gardens. Here’s a few interesting links along that line.
10 ten nutritious vegetables and how to grow them: The instructions for growing in the article a bit sparse, but enough to get a person started. I know, from experience, how exciting it is to grow vegetables in pots on the verandah of your flat. No, it doesn’t feed you for every meal for the season, but it sure is satisfying. Key ingredients for growing anything in a pot or in a bed or the ground are good fertility (look for manure, if it’s raw, compost it), water management and attention to pests. In a pot the plant will use all the nutrients in the soil fairly quickly, so if it’s meant to be in the pot for a while remember to give it a feeding from manure tea or a water soluble organic fertilizer from time to time. Potatoes, kale, cauliflower, lettuces, mustards and all kinds of other vegetables can also be grow in pots. I’ve even grown corn in pots, with adequate support.
So what won’t farmers and food specialists eat,and why? I found this article interesting. I didn’t realize canned tomatoes were a problem. We don’t eat that much of them, because I process and freeze tomatoes grown in the hoop house, and that usually lasts us from summer to summer, but I still use canned toms for convenience. There are a few things I would add to the article. Pay attention to Country of Origin Labeling (Cool). I try very hard not to buy vegetables from other countries, no matter how badly I want that early season asparagus. It’s not that I’m super concerned about the safety of the food, although that is a worry, but I don’t approve of the enormous amounts of fuel it takes to move these things around the world. Remember that conventionally grown onions will have fungicides sprayed on them all their lives to reduce their chances of rotting in storage. Conventionally grown potatoes are the same.
All of this leads to the recommendation to buy local and buy organic. But frankly, this is impossible for some people, because of where they live, the season, and/or budget concerns. In that case buy fresh, wash and peel assiduously and know that every fresh vegetable or fruit you eat, as opposed to something processed, is a huge step in the right direction.