Tuesday, December 29, 2009
We are having a series of workshops next month. Start your garden season off right with our Garden Planning workshop on Sunday January 10th. The time to begin you early spring planting is coming soon. Join our Starting Plants from Seeds workshop on Sunday January 17th. There are still a few spaces available for our 6-week intensive organic gardening workshop starting on Sunday January 31st. You can see a list of all our upcoming workshops on our website www.funnyfarmatl.com .
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Last spring was the first time i heard of people eating broccoli leaves. It makes sense though, for a couple of reasons. The first is that they are tender and delicious, tasting like a cross between kale and collards. Also, it provides an additional crop for farmers to sell thus using more of the broccoli plant than just the flower bud. The flooding rains this September washed away or caused root rot on much of our first planting of broccoli. We re-planted but it was really too late to get large crowns. We hope the winter will be mild enough that we can get them through til spring when the crowns will finish filling out. In the mean time we are thankful that we can get some food from the crop this fall and early winter.
We offered the leaves for sale last week and sold some and we brought the rest home for us to eat. We found that some of our customers did not know what to do with them so I decided to create a recipe or two to share hoping to boost sales.
We've had stuffed cabbage leaves a time or 2 when I was in grad school in Massachusetts where there is a large population of people of Polish decent. I figured why not make some stuffed broccoli leaves. Typically cabbage is stuffed with some type of meat, rice and egg mixture and topped with a tomato sauce.
I started with some steamed medium grain brown rice i got for Massa Organics whom i met on twitter. They are awesome! They live in a house they built out of their own rice straw bales. We love ground buffalo because it has great flavor and buffaloes eat grass so i browned it with some garlic and some Indian spices to give it some punch (depth of flavor in foodie-speak). I mixed the rice and the buffalo together in a bowl with an egg from our friends at Carlton Farms up in Rockmart Georgia. The sauce i made from some organic ketchup, balsamic vinegar, a little ground chipotle pepper (kicking it up a notch ala Emeril) and a couple of splashes of carrot hooch into which i had added some sliced lemons and pickled some carrots. You probably don't have that handy in you fridge so you can substitute fresh squeezed lemon juice.
The first time i tried to make stuffed cabbage leaves i didn't know that you needed to blanch them first to soften them up enough to be able to roll them up. This time i put the broccoli leaves into the rice steamer after the rice was done and steamed them for about 5 minutes. They came out beautifully bright green and pliant. I spooned some of the filling and started to roll the first one up. Those fu..(um sorry Joyce. (my mother-in-law)) guys are not the easiest things to roll. Kinda like when you are first learning to roll a joint, practice makes perfect. The key is to not put too much filling on the leaf and put it in the center so you can fold the sides over the filling first, then press the filling back tight against the end of the leaf and roll it up so that the filling stays inside. This will allow you to create a beautiful presentation when you go to plate the dish (foodie-speak for spooning it on the plate).
About a year ago Robin went to an estate sale at the neighbor's house after the old lady who lived there passed (Southern for died). She came home with a pile of aprons (she loves aprons) and a box full of casserole dishes. As she was unpacking the dishes i saw one that was exactly like the one my mother used to make macaroni and cheese in. That was about the only thing my mom cooked that i liked (or anybody else in the family liked for that matter). You see my mom got a degree in home economics but she was a terrible cook. She could turn a beautiful beef roast into shoe leather. I asked her one time why she cooked it so long. She said she could not stand to eat pink beef. She had to compete with her mother-in-law who was a great country cook. Grandmama Marcus could make the best pies and yeast rolls, and apple sauce and head cheese and all kinds of stuff. She never made it past the 4th grade in school but man could she cook.
So anyway, i used that red dish to cook the broccoli in. Green broccoli leaves, red casserole dish; how very festive.
Here's the recipe: Funny Farm Stuffed Broccoli Leaves
INGREDIENTS - pre-heat oven to 350º
3/4 lb. broccoli leaves ( about 24 leaves)
1 cup dry brown rice
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 lb. ground buffalo (or grass fed beef)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 large egg
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
juice of 1 lemon
Steam the rice in the chicken stock until done. In a cast iron skillet saute´ the garlic in the olive oil until tender. Add the ground buffalo and brown.
Cut off the stems of the broccoli leaves and save for stock or juice or compost. When the rice is finished steam the leaves for 5 minutes to make them pliable and bright green. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking and make them safe to handle.
Combine the tomato sauce ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer gently while you stuff the broccoli leaves.
In a large bowl combine the rice and buffalo and taste to see if you need to add salt. Add the egg and mix everything well.
Lay a leaf face up on a cutting board with the stem end pointing toward you. Spoon about 1-1/2 tablespoons of filling onto the leaf just above where the stem met the leaf. Fold the sides over the filling, press the filling tightly back into the leaf and roll it up as tight as possible. Place in an oiled casserole dish. Continue until all the leaves are filled.
Spoon the sauce over all the stuffed leaves. Place the cover over the casserole dish and bake for 45 minutes at 350º.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Every once in a while I am glad my neighbors grow grass. Say what? Well for them to grow good grass they have to rake up all the leaves that fall from the big oak trees in their yard. They very conveniently (for me) put them in paper bags and line them up on the street ostensibly to be picked up by the county and hauled away.
When I was coming home from working with my friends on preparation for our annual winter solstice celebration yesterday I passed by a long line of bags full of brown gold waiting for me to pick them up today and use them to mulch my garden for the winter (should we have winter this year). It took me 3 trips to get all of them, 45 bags total. I laid some cardboard on the path and dumped a bag, laid the empty bag on the path, dumped another bag and so forth until I finally ran out of cardboard. Luckily at the Monastery where Robin works they have lots of cardboard so she brought some home so that I can finish the job in the morning.
I also spread the leaves among the broccoli and cabbages where they will begin to be broken down through the winter by my army of workers in the soil making nutrients available to the current and future crops. In the paths the cardboard and bags will help to smother the weeds so there will be less work for me to do next season. I was able to heavily cover about 2/3rds of my front food - not - lawn garden.
I sure hope the squirrels get to work on all the acorns or I will have the beginnings of an oak forest really soon.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
We are proud to announce that our new 6 week organic gardening workshop. Registration in now live.
Classes meet every other Sunday from 1-4 p.m. Starting January 31st & ending April 11th
- Make compost and manage your soil using free, local organic inputs
- Grow vegetables from seed
- Put biodiversity to work to reduce or eliminate pests
- Use perennial vegetables and fruits as part of a permaculture garden
- Use mushrooms to recycle nutrients and produce high quality protein
- Harness the power of worms to turn your kitchen scraps into nutrient rich worm castings
- Plan your garden to get maximum output of nutritious food
The workshop is limited to 10 people so register today.
Monday, November 30, 2009
I started on Facebook a few years ago because a couple of my friends did. We did the poking thing and played the games that went around. After a while as more of our friends joined it became a good way to communicate with others about subjects of mutual interest, like where and when the next party was going to be. Soon we were using it to spread the word about causes we supported or were against. It became a way to become engaged in building the community we aspire to. More friends came on board, then friends of friends, then people we met ( at the Earl mostly), then people we don't know but who have heard about the work we do.
I started this blog a little over 2 years ago to share our experiences as we went about developing our suburban permaculture model. Slowly, very slowly, the readership has increased as I have learned how to attract people to it by using other forms of social media.
Like Twitter. I joined twitter about a year ago but never did anything with it until I went to an LRBN workshop led by Lady Rogue of Rogue Apron fame (whom I first learned about on Facebook). She taught us how to utilize twitter to make useful connections. So I jumped back into the twitterverse with my newly learned skills. I began to make connections with people with whom I share common interests (but don't always agree with) and I began to learn things. Soon I was sharing my knowledge and experiences with them as well. Again it has become a tool for building community.
I found out about other online communities such as Foodbuzz.com where people share ideas about food. Through Foodbuzz I connected with some really good food bloggers who write about nutrition, cooking, local food systems and share great recipes. All of these networks are interconnected so often I can't remember where I connected with some one first.
So what does this have to do with baking crackers? It goes something like this. I connected with a guy on twitter @theoliveoilblog. He is a self-described "4th generation olive oil producer from Sicily." He tweeted that he was getting started on Foodbuzz and he would send a bottle of olive oil to the 1st 3 people who buzzed him. I jumped over there and buzzed him up and last Monday I got a bottle of fine single estate extra virgin olive oil. I was excited to try it out. But what to make first?
Saturday I was ready to do something with the turkey left over from Thanksgiving so i made some chili and some stock. That put me in the mood to cook more stuff. It was a literal cooking frenzy the rest of the day. I made cheese straws (recipe on Foodbuzz). I decided to make some chicken liver pate´with the chicken livers I got from Natures Harmony Farms last summer. (they have been in the freezer :p). I figured I needed some crackers to the eat the pate´on so I made sesame olive crackers with the new olive oil. They turned out great (recipe below). I updated my facebook status
Duane Marcus making pickled radish, chickn liver pate´, cheese straws, turkey chili, turkey stock, racking blueberry hooch, rockin out to my fave tunes
I got a facebook notification that a friend had made a comment about my status.
Need your pate recipe - post on Funny Farm??? Or guest post on The Frugal Hostess?
She was referring to her blog The Frugal Hostess which is my most favorite blog of the many I read regularly. I jumped at the chance to do a guest post on her blog because I greatly respect what she does and I thought it would be really fun to emulate her totally whacked out style (it was) and because she has way more readers and followers than I do so it will be good exposure for me and my blog. This post links to her blog and my guest post will link to this post and the community gets bigger and stronger. I'm not sure from which social media channel i first discovered her because she's on all of them too. We are now personal FB friends and when she replied to my email after i sent her my guest post she said she heard through the grapevine that i frequented the Earl and that we had some friends in common. So we are planning to meet at the Earl soon for a beer or 3 and get to know each other in the physical world which is what really matters, right?
Oh, yea. If you want a really good chicken liver pate´recipe check out my guest post on The Frugal Hostess blog :)
How 'bout them crackers!
Sesame Seed Olive Oil Crackers
1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together the flours and salt. Add the water and olive oil.
Mix together and then knead by hand on a floured board or counter-top until all ingredients are well blended and a good dough is formed. The dough should be just a bit tacky.
When you are done mixing, shape the dough into a large ball and coat with some olive oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450F degrees.
After the rest period cut the dough into quarters. Roll a section out on a floured board or counter top about 1/8" thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into what ever shape you want. You can also use a biscuit cutter to cut round crackers or various cookie cutters to make other shapes.
Place the crackers on a lightly floured cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Store in an airtight container after they cool.Makes a 24-36 small crackers.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I have been thinking a lot about weeds over the past several years. The dictionary defines "weed" as the following:
a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.
This is the classic agricultural and horticultural definition. The goal then is to remove all "weeds" because their presence will reduce yield as the weeds compete for nutrients. Crops are planted in rows to make it easier to use cultivation techniques to eliminate the weeds. On a large farm this was done with a tractor. On smaller farms and in gardens it is done by a person using a hoe and or by pulling them by hand.
In the natural world, Mother Nature wants there to be a multitude of different plants, animals and other organisms growing together. As gardeners and farmers we are constantly disturbing her plan to suit our need for food and fiber, beauty, dominion over Nature and many other reasons. She never gives up. The force of plant succession is powerful and never-ending. Therefore we are always fighting weeds.
As we open our hearts and minds to the complexities of the natural system we learn how we can harness that power for our benefit. Advancements in science and technology have allowed us to begin to understand the interrelationships among plants and the microorganisms in the soil that we call the soil food web. We now know that there is communication among these organisms. In the forest it has been shown that mature trees nurse their offspring by sharing water and nutrients through the vast network of the fungal mycelia. We know that the presence of bacteria and fungi in different ratios support the growth of one type of plant over another, herbaceous perennial plants versus shrubs or trees for example. Dr. Elaine Ingham is doing work to determine how we can use that knowledge to manipulate the soil food web to control weeds in the garden or on a farm.
In the the old days herbalists, shaman, medicine men knew how to use specific plants to promote health and healing. We turned our collective backs on that for a long time but interest is being revived. I gave a talk at a local Evolver spore recently. One of the other speakers was Rob Oliver who talked about foraging for wild edible plants. He would hold up a plant and say how highly nutritious and health-giving it was and I would say oh I have that weed in my garden. After it happened about 10 times I began to think about those plants in a different way. Some I already knew were edible and some were surprising to me. The next day I went out to the garden and starting sampling some of them. Chickweed -good, violet leaves - not bad, henbit -ok, dandelion -really really bitter. I don't plan on making salads out of these every day but now I make it a point of eating some most days. Yesterday as I was pulling chickweed out of a young leek bed ( yes it does compete with the leeks) i ate some and gave the rest to the hens who love it more than I do. A friend of mine has a brain tumor which she is controlling through her diet. She can feel the tumor grow or shrink, depending on what food she eats. She says dandelion greens are particularly good at making it shrink so I harvest them for her.
We have a plant growing in the garden called creeping charlie, Gelchoma hederacea. It spreads all over the place and up until recently I have considered it a frustrating pest. It is an "invasive exotic" having been brought here from Europe because of its curative properties and because it was used to enhance the flavor and clarity of beer ( probably the main reason). Many gallons of Roundup are used every year by people (not me) trying it get rid of it. It is actually an attractive ground cover with nice purple flowers in the spring. During it's bloom time I happened to go to Dr. Richard McDonald's beneficial insect web site to see what new information was on there. He lists plants that bloom at different times of year that attract beneficial insects. He updates the list regularly and this time I saw creeping charlie on the list. I (figuratively) jumped for joy when I saw that. Whoohoo, creeping charlie has moved from my pest column to my beneficial plant column. What a relief because that stuff is everywhere. And anyway, if i keep pulling it up Ma Nature is just going to replace it with something else that might be harder to deal with. So now I keep it out of the garden beds and let it do it's thing everywhere else. It grows in abundance at the bottom of the concrete drive. With all of the flooding rains we have had recently, erosion has been on the increase. I found that where the creeping charlie has grown over the concrete it acts as a trap for the soil which I can collect and put back in the garden. The chickens like it too.
During the summer it was hot and dry. I was out hoeing weeds in the path one morning and I noticed that even though it had not rained for a couple of weeks the soil under the spreading weeds was moist. I thought to myself that maybe I was making a mistake by removing them, exposing the soil to be dried out by the sun. From then on I only removed the really nasty weeds like bermuda grass from the paths. I have always allowed dandelions to grow because they have deep tap roots that reach deeply into the soil to acquire nutrients that more shallow-rooted plants cannot. My supposition is that through the workings of the soil food web these nutrients will become available to my crops. I also leave the violets because I like the flowers and they stay in nice neat clumps, attract bees and (as i just recently learned) are edible.
This experience has taught me to be more thoughtful about the role a plant might be playing in the complex system of the garden. My musings have encouraged me to do more integrating and less segregating which has resulted in increased biodiversity in the garden benefiting my crops and making less work for myself.
One of my twitter friends tweeted this definition of a weed by Ralph Waldo Emerson which I now totally embrace:
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."
Monday, November 16, 2009
I don't plan meals too far ahead. I go to the market about every other week and stock up. I'll get a whole chicken, some inexpensive pork cuts, some ground bison along with a little cheese, mushrooms, grains and beans. We grow all our own vegetables so I don't need to buy those. I'm the only one here for lunch so I either eat leftovers or make a simple dish of rice and vegetables. The night before, i usually think about what protein i want to fix the next day so I can get it out of the freezer in time for it to thaw. I freeze small portions that I will incorporate into a stew or combine with beans and vegetables and serve over rice, quinoa or occasionally pasta. We probably eat meat about 4 times a week on average.
After lunch I start really thinking about how to put together some ingredients for a meal. When Robin gets home from Monkville she expects something scrumpdiddliumptous for dinner. One of whats-her-name's 30 minute meals does not cut the mustard (she loves mustard greens though). Neither would one of the other what's-her-name's semi-homemade concoctions. She wants to eat like a judge on Iron Chef; every night. (obviously we watch way too much Food Network).
Here's what I served her the other night. I call it "Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Quiche-like Dish". A traditional quiche has a wheat crust but we like our food to be both deeelllliiissshhhhuuussss and nutritious so I use brown rice as a crust instead.
We used to use plain old steamed rice but the flavor was bland tasting like, well, rice, so I steamed the rice in chicken stock (made from the carcass of the chicken we ate earlier in the week). We love sweet potato pie so i was thinking this would become like a savory sweet potato pie so I added some broken up cinnamon stick to the rice while is stemed to give it more flavor. I roasted the vegetables long enough to get them soft and caramelized. I blended the squash and sweet potato with the eggs, milk and cheese to make a custard then added the chopped carrots to give the dish some tooth. I read on twitter that sesame seeds were really good for you so I sprinkled them and flax seeds on top to provide some crunch and some added nutritiousness. While the dish baked the seeds toasted up nice and crispy. The nutmeg, cardamom and turmeric (i put turmeric in most dishes cause it's really good for you too) made it taste very much like pumpkin, or sweet potato, pie. Just not sweet.
Robin was happy that night.
1 acorn squash
1 lg. sweet potato
3 large carrots
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup dry brown rice
1 cup chicken stock
1 2" cinnamon stick
1 cup whole milk
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons each - turmeric, nutmeg, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 lb. sharp cheddar cheese chopped fine
2 tablespoons each sesame seeds and flax seeds
Heat oven to 400º. Cut squash in half and clean out seeds. Peel sweet potato and cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut up carrots into large pieces. Place in a large casserole dish and coat with the olive oil. Place the top on the dish and roast the vegetables for 1 hour until squash and potato are soft.
Meanwhile, put the rice, stock and broken cinnamon stick in a rice steamer and steam until the rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
Put the milk, eggs, spices and cheese in a large bowl. (not the seeds)
Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. Separate the flesh of the squash from the skin. Put the squash and sweet potato in the bowl with the milk, eggs and spices and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Cut up the carrots into small pieces and add to the mixture.
Pour the oil from the roasting dish into a glass pie dish and coat the bottom and sides of the dish. Place the rice into the dish and press down in the center and up the sides to make the "crust". Pour the vegetable mixture into the pie dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and flax seeds on top of the pie and bake for about 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10-12 minutes. Cut and serve warm.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Our grandparents were simple country people. They grew much of there own food, harvested wild berries, bought milk from the farmer down the road. My grandmother only went to school through the 4th grade. It was a struggle for her to write me a letter when I went off to college. Her life revolved around cooking for the family. She was an awesome cook. Her recipes were simple. Well I guess you could say she had recipes but they were in her head, passed down from her mother to her, shared among aunts, cousins and friends. When Robin and I got married at the tender young age of 20 we were hippies and wanted to learn how to do what she did. She and Robin's grandmother taught us how to can, make jelly, make rolls and biscuits and cook some of our favorite dishes.
One of our favorites is cobbler. They either made it with seasonal fruit that they grew or picked wild: blackberries and peaches in summer, apples in the fall and winter, or they used fruit that they had canned for winter and spring use. The ingredients were always on hand and the quantities simple to remember. A cup of flour, sugar and milk; a stick of butter; a tablespoon of baking powder; 3 cups of fruit. They did use a non-stick pan. It's called an iron skillet. This recipe will not work without one. When we learned how to cook from them we got our own iron skillets. Yea we tried the teflon pan and various pans but they are long gone (good thing since they are toxic) but our iron skillets are still in use every day 35 years later.
So, below is the basic recipe our grandmothers used. Being the modern urban sophisticate, i have added some fancy dancy gourmet twists to my version of the apple cobbler. I melt 1/2 of the butter in a small pan and cook the apples for about 20 minutes with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 2" cinnamon stick, a 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. This gives the cobbler a depth of flavor that is not in the original recipe.
OLD FASHIONED SEASONAL FRUIT COBBLER
MUST BE MADE IN A IRON SKILLET
3 cups fruit - blackberries, blueberries, peaches, apples all work well
1 stick butter - not smart choice spread or margarine
1 cup flour - we use organic whole wheat pastry
1 cup sugar - we use organic unrefined sugar, sucanat or agave nectar
1 tablespoon baking power
1 cup milk - we use whole milk
Heat the oven to 350º
Clean, peel and chop up the fruit into medium sized chunks. Put the whole stick of butter in the iron skillet and melt on medium low heat. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and stir together to make a batter. Pour the batter into the iron skillet and spread out evenly. Put the fruit into the middle of the iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown.
Quick and easy!! Make some today!!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Observe and Interact- Holmgren's permaculture principle #1 & Obtain a Yield- Holmgren's principle #3
Back in March of 2008 a friend of ours gave us a large bunch of leeks she collected from an abandoned lot in her neighborhood where they had perennialized. I divided the bunches into individual plants and set them out next to the asparagus beds. Never having heard of perennial leeks, I was eager to observe their behavior so that i could establish them as perennials here at The Funny Farm. They grew for a few months then, at the beginning of the summer, the tops died down. I pretty much forgot about them until the fall when they sprouted back up :) They continued to grow though the fall and by early spring they were ready to harvest. I suspected that if i left some in the ground they would produce offset bulbs that could be divided and planted out so i harvested about half of them and left the rest. Later on they began to bloom. We harvested some of the flower buds and cooked with them as you would with garlic scapes. As the remaining flowers opened up i harvested some, cut off the florets and cooked them too. So we were able to get a yield from 3 different growth stages.
As i expected the leaves yellowed and the plants went dormant during the summer. A couple of weeks ago we cleaned up the asparagus beds and saw that the leeks were starting to emerge again. This time there were not 1 but 3 - 5 shoots coming up. The bulbs had multiplied just like i had hoped they would. Today Laurel and i dug them up and divided them. We replanted 1 bulb back in the original place, filled in the places where the leeks were harvested in the spring and had enough to plant a new row and for Laurel to plant in her garden to start her own perennial leek bed. Yet another yield was produced.
Through observation and interaction we have been able to produce a yield this year and insure an even larger yield in years to come.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Many people who have taken my classes have asked me what permaculture is. This is the definition used on David Holmgren's web site. Holmgren, along with Bill Mollison were the co-originators of the concept and they coined the term "permaculture".
A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is 'Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.
The application of permaculture is based on a set of principles. Holmgren lists 12. The best way to get an understanding of permaculture is to study applied examples of these principles. The website www.permacultureprinciples.com has lots of photos and descriptions. It is very important to understand that these are principles that can be applied in any climate or location. They were originally developed in the dry environment of Australia. How they are applied there is very different from how many of the principles are applied here in the humid rainy southeastern U.S. You must understand the intent of the principle so you can apply it properly to get the maximum benefit.
I have decided to start a series of posts that illustrate the principles in action. These posts will be in no particular order. As I do something here at The Funny Farm that illustrates one of them I will post it. While I have never taken any permaculture training courses my 35 years of practice as a landscape architect has ingrained them into my soul and influenced all my work. Everything we do follows one or more of them.
So, today I added a Fuji and a Gala apple tree to our orchard. We now have 4 varieties of apples. I planted them along the edge of the drainage swale that carries storm water from the street down into the woods below us allowing it to return to the watertable being cleaned up by the soil food web along the way. Behind the swale is a wild area that serves has habitat for birds and insects that will help to control pests in our little orchard. beyond that are beds of perennial vegetables. Sunchokes, asparagus, leeks and herbs. Further up the hill are the remaining apple trees. The new trees are close enough to the older trees to serve as additional pollinators for each other.
The edge between the wild and cultivated spaces will now be more productive with the addition of the trees.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Last spring I planted Sunchokes (once called Jeruselem Artichokes but changed for marketing reasons (?)). I put them in various locations around the Funny Farm. Some in perennial beds, others in nooks and crannies not suitable for growing annual vegetables. I bought a pound of organic tubers at the farmers market. I planted about half of them which was 6 tubers. To each hole I mixed in a shovel of wormcastings. In a few weeks they emerged from the soil. I had read that it was important to stake them because they get really tall and can be blown over in a storm pulling out the root mass and the growing tubers with it. When they got 5' tall I staked them. One 5' stake driven in the ground beside each plant and the plant tied to the stake. That should do the trick I said to myself. About the time they got 8' tall we had a small storm and afterward some of the plants were leaning over and one had been uprooted. The stake had been pulled out of the ground! I was able to straighten most of them. This time I drove 3 stakes in the ground around each plant and tied them up again. I severely pruned the one that was uprooted and replanted it hoping it would revive. It did not. In September the plants were 12' tall and covered with hundreds of small yellow sunflowers. (They are in the sunflower genus, Helianthus tuberosa.) Then we started getting the major storms that caused all the flooding around here and over they fell once more. The root mass was only partially uprooted so I figured I would get a partial crop at least. I really had no idea how many tubers I could expect from each plant.
This past week I harvested them. I dug up the first one that had fallen over and I literally gasped when the mass of tubers was exposed. There was a whole bunch of them that's for sure. I collected them and weighed them. 7 lbs....from 1 tuber which weighed about 2 oz. I excitedly dug up the rest of the plants and collected several baskets. I have not weighed them all yet. They are curing in the garage now. I'm sure there is at least 30 lbs of tubers. We will sell some the the market, store some for eating this winter, and pickle some I think.
After I harvested the tubers there was still a large mass attached the the stem of the plant which I replanted in the same place. Next year these plants should be much bigger than were this year. This week I am going to identify a bunch more nooks and crannies and plant tubers in them. I want to have 150 lb. harvest next year. There are places along fences where I can plant them which will allow me to tie them to the fence to keep them from falling other. In exposed areas I plan to drive 2 metal tee stakes on either side of the plants. That should do the trick (I hope).
Sunchokes can be eaten raw or cooked like a potato; roasted, boiled or fried. They can be used in soups, salads, sliced and fried for chips, mashed with garlic. Here is a link to a pureed soup recipe from my friend Tami Hardeman who has a great blog called Running with Tweezers. I plan to try the recipe this week.
What more could you ask for from a plant? Beautiful, easy to grow, pest free, comes back each year and produces lots of food.
What a great return on investment!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
We gathered together in the chilly damp mist this past Saturday to begin our journey into the world of cob led by my friend Aviva Creatress. After introducing ourselves, we formed a circle and did some stretching and a couple of team-building exercises. I usually don't like that part much. These were kind of fun. No, they were really fun. We were all laughing at the end, ready to get to work.
So, "what is cob?" you might be thinking. Cob is an ancient building method in which clay, sand, water and straw are mixed together, rolled into balls (cobs) then stacked and squeezed together to make walls. Cob has been used in many cultures to build houses, stables, ovens and walls for centuries. There are many benefits to building with cob. The materials are all natural and inexpensive. Only simple hand tools are required. Cob walls are fireproof and have high thermal mass so they retain heat and moderate temperature extremes.
To build an oven you need a foundation on which to build it. In this case local granite rip rap was used. You can use broken concrete, recycled brick, found stones. Anything you can scavenge for free that can be mortared together. Here at the Funny Farm I am building my base with concrete pavers we have leftover from landscape jobs. Free!!! The base is about 4' high to facilitate the loading of the oven. To create the shape of the oven, we mounded and packed sand in the shape of a dome to support the cob walls. Then we built up the walls, layer by layer, one cob at a time. We finished the day by placing an insulating layer of straw coated with clay slip over the whole surface of the oven.
The next day was perfectly clear, the sky bluer than blue. We did some more stretches and some more fun and games then we got back to work. We learned how to make sculpting plaster from chopped straw, clay slip and sand. We smeared a coating of the plaster over the straw insulation. That was really fun. Aviva determined that the oven's spirit animal was a fox so she sculpted a fox face above the door. Then we sang Happy Birthday Foxy Brown! It was hilarious. Because the cob has to dry first we could not put the finishing plaster on the oven so Aviva taught us how to make several kinds.
After the oven construction is completed and the cob is dry, the sand will be removed from the cavity and cooking can commence! A fire is built inside the cavity and maintained for a couple of hours. The walls absorb the heat getting up to 500º. Then the embers and ash are scraped out and pizzas, bread dough, cookies are baked. It takes a very short time to bake them and the oven retains heat for a really long time so lots of cooking can be done from one firing.
Cob building is hard, but satisfying physical work. Cob building projects work well when a group of people come together to complete the task. Traditionally the village gathered to help their neighbor build his home. Building a cob structure is a great way to build community and make new friends. We will be building our oven next spring. If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to join in please let me know. For information on Aviva's workshops you can send her an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org. I am sure she would be glad to come to your area to lead a workshop. She is a great teacher. The workshop was very well organized and thorough. I am really excited to get our oven up and cooking.
We'll roast some corn and sip some hooch for sure.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
During the summer of 2008 we were very concerned that our pond was going to dry up completely. 3 weeks ago it overflowed 2 times. It has been so wet recently we have mushrooms growing out of our garage door. And this is historically the driest time of the year for us here in Georgia. In California earlier this year fires destroyed farms. Now torrential rain and hurricane force winds are damaging crops. In South Dakota 2 feet of snow in already on the ground and in other parts of the midwest constant rain is keeping farmers from harvesting their crops. They are greatly concerned the crops will rot in the fields. This summer in the northeast unusually cool moist weather helped to spread a devastating disease through their tomato fields.
Is all this a result of global climate change caused by human activity? I have no idea. Could it be? I think so. Farmers and gardeners depend on historical climate patterns to know when to plant, how long it will take for a crop to mature, when it can be harvested. Yes it is true that we have always complained that is is too hot, or too cold or too wet or too dry. However, if climatologists are correct in their predictions that we will see major changes in the weather patterns, farmers will have an increasingly harder time doing their jobs of feeding an exploding population.
Mother Nature could not care less whether or not Homo sapiens continues to exist on the planet. Look what happened to the dinosaurs. The earth will continue on with or without us. The goal of every species is to perpetuate itself. Our actions seem to suggest that we might be the exception to that rule. Do we, as a species, have the collective will to do what is necessary to perpetuate ourselves? I'm skeptical. If we don't, many more of our kind will suffer great hardship than already are. In the world of privilege in which we (Americans) live, we want to maintain our quality of life. In much of the world people just want to be able to survive from one day to the next with the hope that their lot will improve in the future. It is up to us to make the hard choices so that can happen.
We chose not to have children back in the 70's partly because we felt that the future was not too bright. There were dire predictions of the population explosion that would result in global starvation. Environmental degradation would cause great calamity etc. Mostly, our generation ignored all that. We could have done something then to avoid the situation we are in now. We failed to do so. My fear is that we will collectively continue on with our heads in the sand until major shit hits the fan. I hope that is not true. I am around many young people through the various groups in which I am involved. Many young people take my classes on organic gardening. I always tell them that they must get directly involved in politics if we are to set things right. It is not enough to vote for a candidate who sort of believes what we believe then try to convince them after they are elected to pass the appropriate laws and promote the correct policies. That is not working. We need our people to be senators, governors, city councilers, county commissioners, PSC commissioners, Secretaries of Agriculture, Health, Energy. The people who hold these positions have the power to make the changes necessary to insure a bright future for human kind or not. Should we continue to collect rainwater, use energy efficient light bulbs, plant gardens, weatherize our houses? Certainly so, but that is not enough.
I'm going to buy some dental floss now, just in case.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
We got the corn meal from Mills Farm in Athens, Ga when we were at Field of Greens - Organic Farm Aid a couple of Sundays ago.
This recipe will fit the bill for Tami Hardeman's Eat on $30 challenge this week. Check her out.
1 med. onion- diced
1 med. green pepper- diced
1 large sweet potato - diced
1 lb dry black beans
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
6 slices bacon
1 tsp. pepper
combine black beans and chicken stock in a pot, soak for 1 hour them bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until soft. A couple of hours.
fry bacon, remove from pan. Pour off most of the fat and save for later. Chop up bacon and put into bean pot.
Saute´ onion, green pepper, and sweet potato until onion is soft. about 10 minutes.
Add to bean pot. Add salt and pepper to bean pot.
Pour in milk and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Serve with hot corn bread.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
As many of you have heard, many Georgia organic farms were damaged severely by the floods. Fortunately none of the farmers at our market suffered major damage. Love is Love Farm in Douglassville was one of the worst hit. All of their fall crops were washed away and along with them their potential income until next spring. Because the river flooded the farm, they have to have extensive testing done to determine if their soil has been contaminated. They had a work day at the farm today to start the long process of returning their fields productivity. Decatur was well- represented. I was there along with Mike Gallegher, co-owner of The Brickstore Pub and Leon’s Full Service and a large contingent of his staff who came out to lend a hand. About 20 people came out to help altogether.
They are not the only farm to suffer considerable damage. There are many others. There are opportunities for you to help support our local organic farmers in need. Slow Food Atlanta has set up a Georgia Flooded Farms Relief Fund. You can go to their web site to make donations. http://www.slowfoodatlanta.org/index.html
There are also other opportunities to help out.
Brick Store Pub and Leon’s Full Service will donate 20% of all sales on Thursday, October 8, with proceeds going directly to flooded farmers.
On Wednesday, October 21, all seven metro Atlanta Whole Foods stores, including Harry’s Farmers Market stores, will be donating 5% of their net sales to the Georgia Flooded Farmers Relief Fund. The Briarcliff, Cobb and Duluth stores will be holding special farmers’ markets, where you can purchase produce directly from local farmers. Chef demos are scheduled, too.
October 11th – Woodfire Grill is having a 4 course dinner with wine pairings to benefit Love is Love and the Georgia Flooded Farms Relief Fund. www.woodfiregrill.com
October 17th – The Peachtree Road Farmers Market is selling Jim N’ Nicks BBQ plates from 10 to 1. All proceeds will benefit the Peachtree Road Farmers Fund. www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com
We will have a donation jar at the market if you would like to make a donation when you come to shop over the next few weeks.
Please do whatever you can to help our farmers get back in production as soon as possible. We need them to thrive so we can continue to gain control over our food future.
Friday, September 25, 2009
The universe has blessed us with a nice mixed flock thanks to our friend Kyle who had to move and could not take his girls with him. When we moved here 2 years ago we converted a former goat pen into a hen house. This past spring we secured the future chicken run against the dogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, hawks, owls and whatever other predators that might care to dine on some fresh chicken. Then we got busy with the garden and never got around to getting any chickens.
I built a small chicken tractor last week, loaded it in the back of my truck on Saturday and went to pick the girls up in the middle of the deluge that hit our part of Georgia. They immediately settled at their new digs. We have been blessed with some tasty eggs and lots of entertainment this first week.
These are going to be working girls. The chicken tractor is sized to fit over the garden beds so we can use the girls to eat the weeds and insects, scratch up the soil and improve the fertility with their poop.
Of course we had to name them. The buff Ameraucana is Ginger. Her name was inspired by a red-headed friend of ours. The white Ameraucana is Big Mamma. My protege´Laurel named her that because she likes to herd the 3 Silkies around. The black Silkie is named Missie after Missy Elliot. She really acts like a rap star. The larger of the 2 white ones is called Prissie. She is a badass. She is named for Darrly Hannah's character Pris in Blade Runner. The little one is Sissie because well, that's what she is. Of course the Barred Rock has to be Barbie.
Now that we have them we can close one of our production loops. The worms will feed the chickens; the chickens will provide us eggs; the manure and straw from the hen house will feed the compost pile which will in turn feed the worms
Monday, August 3, 2009
Slice squash in half length wise and scoop out seeds w/ a spoon. Coat with olive oil and roast cut side down for 30 minutes at 425º.
1 strip fatback (or bacon)
render fat from fatback in a iron skillet
1 chocolate sweet pepper ( any sweet pepper will do) diced
10 garlic chive scapes ( 2 cloves garlic)
saute´peppers and garlic until tender
3 ears sweet corn
1 cup raw milk
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts, almonds or other nut)
4 tomato slices
Cut kernels from cob and put into skillet with previous ingredients. Turn up heat and fry corn until slightly carmelized. Turn heat to medium low. Pour in milk and cheese and reduce down until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste at some point during this process.
Turn squashes over and fill each with corn mixture. top with chopped nuts. Bake for 15 minutes at 400º.
Top with tomato slices. Put back in oven and turn broiler on high. Broil for 3 minutes.
Take out of oven and eat.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
DeKalb Neighborhood Leadership Institute is a year-long adult leadership development program focused on potential and emerging leaders who represent the low-income community to moderate in
She asked if she could bring a group of women in this program to visit the Funny Farm. I told her i would be happy for them to come for a visit.
They came this morning. It was the most beautiful cool, clear morning we've had in a long time, an ideal time to tour the garden. I'm pretty sure from the questions they asked that they were expecting something completely different than what they found. A farm in a suburban neighborhood? "What did the neighbors think?" was one of the first questions they asked.
Most of them had little or no experience with gardening. They were very excited to see the source of a potato and a zucchini. Some of them got a little freaked out by all of the bees and other insects flying about but they were very interested to learn the roles the insects played in the process on an organic farm. When i showed them that zucchini had separate male and female flowers, someone asked how you could tell the difference. Another woman rubbed her belly and said " the female is the one with the fruit on it just like us". They so got it!
They got to taste fresh basil and smell dill. A few did have gardens and they got to take home some dill and coriander seeds. They were fascinated to see how a lettuce head eventually put out a flower stalk and then produced a seed. They were disappointed that they missed the blackberry harvest by a week :-)
I showed them our compost and vermiculture processes. They loved the idea.
When we got to the chocolate mint they asked what we did with it. Make Mojitos i said. Immediately everyone wanted to know if they could have a piece they could take home and root so they could make their own. I think that was the highlight of the morning.
They asked about where i got my seeds. That gave me an opening to talk about the crisis in the seed industry as Monsanto is trying to take control of all the seed sources. I asked who had heard of Monsanto. Only 1 out of 30 raised her hand. Someone asked why i did not grow soybeans. I said i did not like to eat them and went on to explain how in Eastern cultures all the soy is fermented before it is eaten. Tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari. I explained to them that here in the goodole US of A. Industrial Ag has tried to convince us that eating unfermented soy and soy-based derivatives that are found in many processed foods is a good thing. I told them how studies are showing that this consumption is harming our children.
I know that i live in an insular world where most of the people i am in contact with regularly know about these things. Clearly we have a lot of work to do make the general public aware of the problems in our food system.
I was truly inspired by this enthusiastic, engaged and totally fun group of women. This is the kind of experience that motivates me to keep on doing what i do because i know it is helping others.
Thank you ladies for a wonderful start to a fabulous day.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Saturday we did a workshop on various preserving methods. I asked the attendees why they wanted to learn these skills. Most said they had a garden and wanted to learn how to preserve the excess. One person was a CSA member who wanted to do the same thing. Almost everyone said that her/his grandmother (not mother) used to can food, make pickles and jelly. Both of us had grandparents who preserved as well. They grew big gardens, had fruit trees, picked wild berries and bought by the bushel from neighbor farmers what they didn't grow themselves. When we got married 455 moons ago we planted a garden, bought a canner and a bunch of jars and learned from our grandparents how to do what they did. In many if not most families today those skills are lost so it is up to those of us who still know how to do it to teach others.
In the class we started a crock of sauerkraut. We packed jars of green beans, cherry tomatoes, zucchni spears and mixed vegetables (baby squash, carrots, turnips, baby eggplant, garlic herbs) then covered them with a salt brine. These will ferment and turn into deellliiisshhhuusss sour pickles ready to eat in a couple of weeks. Fermented vegetables are highly nutritious, aid digestion and help fight disease.
We made bread and butter pickles out of cucumbers. We pressure canned a marinara sauce I made the day before. We canned acidic tomatoes in a hot water bath. All together we preserved about 20 pounds of vegetables for future consumption. We all had a great time working together and learning new skills.
If you would like to learn more about these methods you can download the handout i gave to the class by going here or, if you live in the Atlanta area you can take the next session of the class. You can download that information by going here.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I water my garden by hand. I like to do it that way. It requires patience and being in the moment to do it properly. No twittering or playing lexulous on my iphone while i'm caring for my precious friends. I like that the robin (the bird not my wife) follows me around pulling worms out of the moist ground. I noticed the first signs of borers in the delicata squash vines in time to take care of them before it was too late. There sure are a lot of spiders scurrying around. They remind of the children's song about the intsy weentsy spider going up the water spout.
I saw a bunch of welsh onion seedlings that volunteered to grow in the swale beside their mother's bed. They germinated there after i watered last week. Now i'm thinking i might grow those onions on the edge of the bed so i'll have space to grow something else in the bed they occupy now.
This train of thought would never have occurred had i not been watering by hand.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Robin works at the monastery. They have a kitchen there where they prepare food for the monks, employees and people who come there on retreat. They get their food from the commercial food supply giant Sysco. Robin brought home some boxes to use as weed control under the mulch. We got as far a putting the boxes down on top of the weeds but have not gotten to mulching yet. No mulch on-hand being the reason. Today i was walking over the boxes to get to the water spigot when i happened to look down and read the words printed on the end of a box that contained oranges. The box said that the fruit inside had been treated with one or more of the following: pyrimethanil, fludioxinil, thiabendazole, imazalil ..... I started googling these scary words.
What the box did not say was that these pesticides are to varying degrees known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, developmental or reproductive toxins, ground water contaminators and other equally bad things.
This is what we are being fed in cafeterias and restaurants everywhere.
Do you really want to eat that?
Friday, June 26, 2009
I space my tomatoes pretty far apart to allow for good air circulation so that conditions that favor blight will be reduced. I am also on the lookout for opportunities to multi-crop. I got the idea earlier in the season that it might be a good idea to grow some bush snap beans between the tomatoes. There were 4 possible benefits i reasoned. 1. the tomatoes could take advantage of the nitrogen fixed by the rhizobium bacteria that colonize the bean roots. ( i inoculated the seed). 2. the beans would shade the soil which would reduce evaporation and keep the roots of the tomatoes cooler. 3. We would get 2 crops out of the space. 4. The blight organisms live in the soil and get onto the lower tomato leaves by being splashed by the rain. By having the beans between the soil and the tomato leaves blight infestation might be reduced.
I waited until the tomatoes were about 3' tall before planting the beans. The beans are starting to produce now. The tomato plants are doing well. No blight so far.
Seems like it is working.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Lots of crops are producing abundantly now so we are busy eating a lot, selling some and preserving the rest for later. We love canned green beans so we can lots of them for the winter. We like preserves on our biscuits and cornbread so we are making blackberry preserves. We like fermented vegetables too so we are making kraut from purple cabbage and fermenting big jars of mixed vegetables. The ingredients will change with the seasons. Right now they are filled with carrots, white turnips, zucchini, yellow squash and broccoli. We have 2- 1 gallon jars and 2- 1/2 gallon jars going now. Robin gets them for the kitchen at the Monastery where she works. They came with pickles in them, ironically enough. Each jar is flavored with different herbs and seasonings. Rosemary in one, garlic and basil in another, thyme in a third and jalapeno peppers and spicy oregano in the last one.
The great thing about fermenting is that they are live cultures that have many health benefits. They aid digestion increasing nutrient absorption. Studies have shown that the fermentation of vegetables in the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts,, collards, bok choy...) converts glucosinolates in them into a powerful group of cancer fighting compounds called isothiocyanates. The same lacto-bacillus that ferment the vegetables live inside our digestive systems.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
All components of the aquaponics system are fully functional now. The water in the fish tank is crystal clear. The fish are healthy and eating voraciously. The plants are looking good. Right now i have growing basil, marjoram, peppers, and oca (a tropical tuber producing plant in the oxalis genus). I will be adding my favorite komatsuna greens soon.
the one issue is that there is a lot of splash so i have to add water more often than i would like. I am using rain water so it is free. I will make some modifications that should reduce the splash a good bit. It does force me to do water changes which i probably wouldn't do otherwise. With the few fish we have i don't think it is necessary anyway.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
A couple of days ago we planted the first corn in one of the no-till beds. Most of the rye did what it was supposed to do and died. Some survived. The survivors i cut again with the weed whacker. As expected, where the cut rye and clover did not cover the ground thickly some weeds have started to grow. Other than a few tough perennial plants such as burdock the thickly covered areas have very few or no weeds germinating. I started the corn in 2 1/4 inch pots 3 1/2 weeks ago so they would have a head start when the no-till bed was ready for planting. They were about 6-8 inches tall with a good root system when i planted them. I put a handful of alfalfa meal as a nitrogen source where each plant was to go and worked it in as i planted. I watered them in with a solution of fish fertilizer. We had a thunderstorm the following evening which added some more nitrogen from the atmosphere.
I think this just might work!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Robin and I had a very rare day off together today. She spent most of the day outside pulling weeds. She likes to pull weeds. She doesn't get much time to work on the garden so she was very happy to be able to do so today. I piddled around outside some. Mostly I was harvesting assorted things for the all day feast we had. While I have nothing against grilling, we chose not to contribute to the huge amount of particulate pollution generated on a national day of grilling out. Instead we focused on preparing and eating a series of courses of local food most of which we grew ourselves. We started with a lunch of Georgia shrimp scampi. It was deeelllliiiisssshhhhuuusss!
Next we had roasted baby yellow squash, english peas cooked with our own kifir and garlic chives, garnished with lemon juice, smoked black salt, pickled radish, and borage flowers. Beautiful and satisfying.
Following that we had refried beans with beech mushrooms and leek flower buds, topped with zucchini blossoms stuffed with a mixture of neufchatel cheese mixed with parsley, lemon juice, sea salt and black pepper which we coated in tempura batter and fried in canola oil. This dish was garnished with chopped cilantro and leek flower buds. Leek flowers are a very pretty purple hue. I'll post a photo soon. This was Robin's favorite dish.
Soon we will end our feast with a dessert of chocolate shortbread cookies in made this morning, topped with strawberry jam Robin made, sliced fresh strawberries the chipmunks left for us and a dusting of powdered sugar. Eating chocolate this late in the evening usually keeps awake late but it will be worth it.
A deeellliiisssshhhhuuusssssss day!