Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunchokes - A Great ROI

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

No Corn on this Cob

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 500ยบ. 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 @ 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

Should You Be Stockpiling Dental Floss?

Today is Blog Action Day. Over 7000 bloggers around the world are participating. It is organized by Visit their site to read what others are saying. Here are my 2 cents.

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.
Thanks Joya!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Creamy Sweet Potato Black Bean Soup

Here is a recipe I created last night for dinner. It is simple, nutritious, inexpensive and deellliiissshhhuuusss! So dellliissshhhuuussss that Robin and I both ate 3 bowls each. tonight we'll finish it off with a pan of cornbread. It should serve 8.
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
2 tsp.salt
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

Helping Georgia Organic Farmers Devastated by Floods

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.

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.

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.

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.