building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

The Gift of Rose Potpourri Sweet Corn

imageI harvested the first of the Rose Potpourri Sweet Corn on Friday and served it for dinner that night.   My husband and I each took our first bite, looked at the other and exclaimed, “Oh, My God!”  This is an amazing sweet corn!  The response to it seems to be universal.  Whether sharing it with friends, apprentices, or other farm guests, everyone has that OMG reaction.

The beauty makes it special: a feast for the eyes and mind.  The flavor makes it special: a delight for the taste buds and body.  And there is something more: an intangible quality that feeds the heart and soul.  This is Mother Corn.

We opened our weekly farm stand at Bluebird Farm a few weeks ago, and at the end of that first meal, I asked my husband, “How much would you charge for this corn?”

“$12,” was his reply.

“Per ear?”

“Yes.”

And then we both laughed, because we know that few, if any, of our customers would pay $12 for an ear of corn.  And because we know that to put any price on it belittles its true value.  This corn – and every other ear of corn grown with love and attention and appreciation – is priceless.

We won’t be selling this corn at our farm stand.  It is a gift from Spirit, from Sun and Earth, from Love.  We are enjoying sharing that gift, as a gift to others.  And I love hearing those receiving this gift spontaneously exclaim, “Oh, My God!”

 

A Note:  For those who wish to try this corn next year – we bought the seeds from Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seeds company.  What an incredible deal!

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Celtuce and Other Unusual Foods

Celtuce busy growing

Celtuce busy growing with perennial kale

Like many gardeners and farmers, I have this love affair with seed catalogs every winter.  The descriptions of vegetable are often mouth-watering, their potentials amazing.  The veggie beds in my wintertime imagination are filled with astounding wonders.

I have heard rumours that our ancestors of hundreds or more years ago ate a much broader array of plant foods than we do.  The buffet they chose from had a selection that numbered in the hundreds or even thousands of veggies and fruits. Knowing as we do what amazing chemists the various members of the plant kingdom are, this means that the selection of nutritives available to our ancestors was huge.  Fine subtleties in a plant’s chemistry can also make a big difference in the information that is downloaded to our bodies.  With the number of species that most Americans now eat limited to less than 50, we aren’t getting the same quality of nutrition or the diversity of information to which our ancestors had access.

As a food grower, I can reverse that trend, so every year I trial varieties or species that are new to me.  Last year I experimented with Oka Hijiki, a Japanese green also called seaweed plant because it is loaded with minerals.  A wiry little plant, it was a nice extra in my salads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t save seed for it and have discovered that its seeds don’t seem to keep for long.  This year’s germination was very poor.  I will be growing more, once I acquire more seed.

One of this year’s experimental selections is Celtuce.  Lettuce.  Celery.  Celtuce is not a cross of the two, but was promised as delivering some of each flavor.  Lettuce it certainly is.  The early leaves are tasty, but it is the stalk of the plant that is the interesting part.  It grows quite long, compared to a lettuce, without bolting.  I’m not sure it delivers on the promise of celery flavor except in the mildest way.  I have found I like it peeled and sliced in rounds, then tossed in near the end of a saute with other veggies.  It adds a crunchy lettuce flavor where leaf lettuce doesn’t survive.

Jelly Melon is another of this year’s trial vegetables.  I will let you know what it’s like later in the season.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog and Seed Savers Exchange are my favorite sources for odd and unusual foods.

Let me know what new, rare, or plain oddball edibles you are growing!

Nourishing Our Selves

Légumes

Légumes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The propaganda is out: organically grown food is no better for you than conventional food according to a recent study published by Stanford University scientists.  The first question to ask whenever considering scientific studies is, “who funded it?”  Numbers can be manipulated, massaged, and murdered (thrown out, that is), so knowing whose agenda paid for the study is useful information.  In this case, I haven’t discovered the source of funding, but according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Worldwatch Institute, plenty of number manipulation was involved in reaching such a conclusion.

There are earlier studies which have reached very different conclusions.  One, known as the Forman E. Bower study and done at Rutgers University, is startling in the huge differences it found in the nutrient levels of organic vs. conventional foods.  For example, organic spinach had twice as much calcium, four times as much magnesium, and eighty-three times as much iron (1584 vs. 19 parts per million).  Organic tomatoes had five times as much calcium, ten times as much magnesium, and almost 2,000 times as much iron (1983 vs 1 ppm).

Another study entitled “Nutritional Quality of Organic vs. Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains” and published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2001 reviewed all the available comparative studies (41 at that time) and found that organic crops had higher average levels in all 21 nutrients analyzed.  For example, Vitamin C averaged 27% higher, magnesium 29% higher, and iron 21% higher.  I don’t know who funded these 41 studies, either, but it is interesting that the media has never picked up on any of these the way it did on the Stanford study.

If you eat to nourish your body, organic food is still the better bet.  What these studies really tell us is that the root cause of the obesity epidemic is a lack of adequate nutrients – especially minerals – in conventionally grown foods.  In Nature’s design, sugar is linked to minerals.  Think of iron-rich molasses which is extracted from sugar cane.  Sweet flavors are an indicator – in an unprocessed food such as an apple – of good nutrient values, which is why people so often crave sugar.  It’s their body’s way of asking for more minerals, because after millions of years of evolution, your body knows that where the sugar is, the minerals should be too.

In organic growing systems, minerals (and virtually all other nutrients) are kept in circulation by the soil biology.  Plants don’t extract nutrients from soil so much as they trade for nutrients through the complex relationships they develop with fungi, bacteria, and other microbes.  Conventionally grown foods lack minerals because the chemistry they rely on kills the soil biology while leaching out minerals at the same time.  Plant roots in conventional systems have fewer relationships, fewer trading partners, and, therefore, have to work harder themselves, but get lesser results.

As a gardener, it is often easier to relate to the plants and to focus on them.  Fall in love with your soil, however, and your plants will grow and thrive.

The Territory Makes the Tomato

A farmer friend of mine, John Tecklin of Mountain Bounty Farm, attended the Terra Madre Conference in Italy several years ago.  Put on by the creators of the Slow Food movement, the conference is a gathering of small-scale farmers from around the world and is held concurrently with the Salone del Gusto, a gigantic celebration of artisanal foods.  I remember John’s enthusiasm on returning from Italy; he was renewed and re-inspired by all the small farms he had visited and all the delicious food he had eaten.

An article sent to me by a reader reminded me of one of the stories John came home with.  He was wandering the food aisles of the Salone del Gusto, drinking in the vast array of cheeses, sausages, breads, and vegetables.  One of the booths featured a tomato – red, plump, and vital – that attracted John.  After talking with the tomato’s grower for a time, John asked the farmer if it would be possible to get some seeds of this tomato.  The farmer looked at John with surprise, and asked where he lived.  When John told him California, the farmer explained that John could not grow this tomato.  It only grew in the one region in Italy where this farmer lived.

When I first heard this story, I didn’t really understand it.  It seemed that the tomato grower was simply being proprietary and didn’t want his beloved tomato to spread around the world.  Now, however, I understand that the tomato farmer was just being honest.  He understood a great truth about the relationship between a thing – including a tomato – and its environment:  They are inseparable.

Had John taken seeds of this tomato home and planted them, he would have grown a different tomato.  The science of epigenetics has discovered that cells are in a constant conversation with their environment.  This conversation often leads to changes in the genetic material, the DNA, of the cell.  A tomato growing in the climate, soils, and water of California will not be the same as a tomato grown in the climate, soils, and water of Italy, even if they start out with the same DNA, because California is not Italy.

This is a concept that winegrowers have long known, and the word they use to describe it is terroir.  Now vegetable growers and chefs are discovering it as well, and they are beginning to form partnerships that celebrate and develop the unique flavors grown in each unique place on Earth.

My thanks to Anna for this link:  Chef David Kinch: Partnership of Restaurant and Farm.

Gardening, Gophers, and Balance

I trapped a gopher this past week.  My main vegetable garden is next to a large meadow and there is always plenty of gopher activity in it.  So far this year, I’ve lost a tomato, some komatsuna, and several dill plants to the gophers.  Some of the peppers are a bit stunted, and I’m fairly certain this is due to the gopher tunnels running beneath them.  All of this damage I’ve accepted.  I plant extra every year as a “provide for everyone” strategy.  Nature after all is profligate, sowing literally hundreds and thousands of seeds for every plant that comes to full maturity.  Mimicking that behavior saves me a lot of headache and heartache.

I also try to encourage snakes near my gardens.  Rock piles make good habitat for them – as well as for toads who help with slug populations.  Every year I see gopher snakes and king snakes hanging out in the sun or slithering across a slope on our property.  Unfortunately, this main vegetable garden is in a cold and wet spot, which works well in some respects, but is not an asset to snake proliferation.

My agreement with the gophers is that we will live together.  They will take things I’ve planted, and I will be tolerant and patient and appreciative of their digging and tilling.  Until I’m not.  And then I will do some trapping.  And a gopher or two later I will stop.  I will be tolerant and patient and appreciative.  Until I’m not.  We will live with respect for each other and for the dynamic balance of our shared space.  I don’t have to be an angel and neither do they.

Last year passed without me setting any traps at all.

It was the beautiful cabbage that I discovered partially sucked into the ground and wilted that drove me to the traps.  I have this thing for cabbages, plus I love my cabbages for sauerkraut, and didn’t get enough of them planted to want to share them with gophers.  I set my traps in the clean run directly below where the cabbage had grown and used a large pot to cover up the hole.  Within 2 days I had a large, dead gopher.  It’s body will be compost, becoming fertile soil.  I set one more trap pair beneath the peppers.  And then I’ll stop.  I’ll ask for a truce.  Space for me and my plants.  Space for them.  Balance between us.

The World is a Fruity Verb

Weeding the raspberries has been one of my main projects this past week.  We were blessed by some late rains – rain in June is rare here – and I want to make sure the raspberries get the lion’s share of that water.  The grasses, wild lettuce, and yellow dock in the raspberry beds had gotten to three feet tall.  Matching the raspberries!  So, time for me to weed them out, adding mulch in the places where it has gotten thin.  All of this is happening because I like eating homegrown raspberries – and because the world never holds still.  In spite of the grammatical structures I have to use here, we live not in a noun, but in a verb.

When I think about all the processes taking place in my raspberry patch, I find it staggering.  The raspberries themselves are engaged in who knows how many chemical, biological, and physics reactions at any one moment.  Photosynthesis.  Growth.  Assimilation.  Digestion.  Transportation of sap and nutrients.  Breathing.  Add to that all the same types of processes going on in the soil, in the weeds, and in me.  Add the movement of air and atmosphere.  The cycling of night and day.  We do not live in/on some static thing.  We live in, as part of, a moving, flowing expression of energy, light, and information.

I’m not really weeding a raspberry patch.  I’m tweaking an active exchange of energy and matter.  I am a fairly (but not completely) stable pattern of energy, light, and information engaging with other relatively stable patterns.  Thinking of it this way, my whole experience shifts.  The raspberries and the weeds and I all become part of an endless cycle of transformation, playacting an experience of solidity.  I eat a raspberry, and as I do a mosquito eats a bit of me.  A bird or bat eats the mosquito, then leaves a dropping in the raspberry patch.  A small cycle of transformation embedded in bigger cycles.

Because the world is a verb, there will never be a point when we’ve gotten everything done.  Mulch will be digested and become soil.  New seeds will germinate.  The action is never-ending.

Natural Wonders of the Sun and Vegetable Worlds

Solar eclipse Sunday here in California.  It was a partial one, but as the quality of the light began changing in the late afternoon, we took a break from the planting and fencing and other spring doings to watch the shadow coming through the little dot in a piece of paper.  From a crescent to a full circle inside a circle and back to a crescent. It felt bigger, more awesome, than I had anticipated.  And then as we were sitting back from our intent focus on that little shadow, one of the kids with us pointed to all the little crescents being made by the pine tree.  We were surrounded by eclipse shadows!  The pictures don’t do justice to the moment, but it was a great reminder to look at the broader view in everything.

One other natural wonder that came in a bag of carrots my husband purchased last week:

The spring plantings are almost all in.  More time for blogging next week!