Laissez-faire Farming

The threat of winter weather pushed right up to the last frost date for my area this year.  Add in my hectic schedule the past few weeks and the result is a late start on my spring garden, and some corners looking to be cut.

These colorful lettuce varieties would normally be carefully planned and planted in their own distinct areas.

This year I am deploying what I am calling a laissez-faire farming method of “mixed lettuces” saving a lot of time and proving that even lackadaisical farming sounds better in french.

Seeding and watering these 9 square feet (around 100 plants) was the work of 5 minutes.

I have to give a quick shout out to the oregano photo bombing the picture above (bottom and right of garden bed).  This now feral oregano self seeded the area around it two years ago when I had the herb planted in this box.  It is so thick and lovely year round that I am tempted to use it as a ground cover along paths.

For the rest of my garden, this year I am doing a lot more grouping than normal, with all of a bed planted with spinach or radishes or edamame, allowing me to broadcast seeds and get everything started a little faster.

Au revoir!

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Lettuce, Oregano, Organic, Pro Tip, Raised Bed Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Thrift | Leave a comment

Spring Again (Maybe)

The average last frost date for this area passed on April 4th but it has been an unusual spring with early season warming trends in February that encouraged strawberries and blueberries to bloom early followed by unsurprising freezes in early March that played havoc with the plants.

My strawberry blooms mostly survived the hard freezes in March and these June Bearers are already showing off green fruits.

The permaculture herb garden did very well over the winter, only dill and tarragon did not survive.  The thyme is already blooming and the sage is just a step behind.

Several asparagus spears were harvested in February then several more killed by one of the hard freezes, but they are loving the current weather and I am harvesting 5-7 spears every 2 days right now.

I lost some blueberry blooms with the freezes, but they also seem to have rebounded more or less with new blooms coming in, though I anticipate a diminished harvest this year over last.

Spring seems to be here to stay at last so it is time to start planting some annuals too!

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Herbs, Oregano, Parsley, Permaculture, Raised Bed Gardening, Sage, Strawberries, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Seeking A Lorax

…for the bees

This headline “First U.S. Bumblebee Officially Listed as Endangered” in a National Geographic article last week says it all.

This is the first US bumblebee, but not the first US bee.  Seven species of Hawaiian bees were declared protected under the Endangered Species Act last year.

I happened to see this one buzzing through my blueberry bushes today and couldn’t resist a sentimental (albeit slighty grainy) pic in light of the news.

Posted in Bees, Conservation, Endangered | Leave a comment

Lessons for the New Year

One of my goals for the coming months is to find lessons for skills I want to either learn or improve upon.  I had a head start a few weeks ago with a class offering by Whisk, a unique, local kitchen-everything shop in Cary (more about them in a bit).

The class was Mastering Knife Skills, a two hour, hands on lesson taught by Ethan Hamme from the Messermeister company who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.  The photos that follow are from another class Ethan taught and were generously provided by Whisk for my use here.

Ethan teaching how to hone a knife

One of my biggest take aways of the night was at the beginning of class when Ethan shared his thoughts on honing.  You either get into the habit of doing it before you use the knife each time or you get into the habit of doing it after.  He thinks it is easier to do it before, making it a step in the mise en place and therefore more likely to be remembered.

Cleaning Peppers for Julienne

The class was focused in particular on the chefs knife and its uses.  We first learned proper grip and then dove right into different techniques for different vegetables.

Ethan Slicing Garlic

I am sure I could have found my way through my first julienne watching a YouTube video, but now I have actually done it.  We then cut the julienne down to a fine dice called brunoise.

Brunoise Dice

An interesting component of the class was the assortment of chefs knives on the table.  This afforded students the rare opportunity of taking different knives out for a test drive throughout the class and see what felt good in their hand.  At the end of class I had to wait in line behind other students to check out with my two new chef/paring knives sets, so it looks like a win-win for students and store.

Whisk was just opening its doors in Cary when I moved to the area a little over three years ago.  By luck, I briefly met Dan, one half of the husband and wife owners, when we both spoke at the same event so I have known about and visited their site many times and knew they held regular classes.  I had even looked at the class listings a year or so ago and thought, “I will have to do that sometime”.  And then a year went by.

Let’s all make 2017 be our “sometime”!

Posted in Food Preparation, Home Economics, Kaizen, Kitchen Implements, Knife Skills, Resources, Slow Food, Sustainable, Whisk | 1 Comment

Peeking at Presents

It is the day after Christmas and I wanted to peek at a couple of presents, patiently waiting their turn in the garden.

We have had a few light freezes in the Raleigh area and at least one hard freeze so far this winter so the parsnips and carrots should be busily converting the starches into sugars making them sweet and delicious.

I pulled up a couple of volunteers to roast along with the leftovers for tonight’s meal and am pleased with the weight they have put on in the past 2 months.  Taste Test to come!

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Carrots, Heirloom Varieties, Parsnips, Raised Bed Gardening, Seasonal Eating, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming, Victory Garden | Leave a comment

Kale Chips – Sometimes a Matter of Necessity

The Scarlet Kale in my counter top hydroponic system has been growing by leaps and bounds to the point that they are overshadowing the slower paced cilantro and parsley starts.

I needed to trim some leaves to let more light down to the smaller plants in the middle and a great excuse for kale chips.

I use my hands to toss the rough chopped leaves with a little olive oil then sprinkle with salt (cayenne or any other spice you would like to add) and toss again.

Cook at 350 on a parchment lined pan for until crispy and paper like, apx 10 minutes.

I like to let mine cool on a rack for good air circulation and while I haven’t done side by side experiments, I think it keeps them crispier.

Posted in Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Sustainable, Technology, Thinning | Leave a comment

Autumn Recess

Autumn has arrived in North Carolina, bringing with it the final harvest of bell peppers, roma tomatoes and serrano peppers.

Mid November HarvestThe herb garden has brushed off the first few light freezes and stands ready to make meals fragrant and savory for months to come.  I am confident that the thyme, oregano and sage will over winter well and hope that the french tarragon and parsley will also.

Herbs Before WinterParsley is such a staple of fall and winter dishes that I have more growing on my deck.  I have been poaching from the deck parsley for a few weeks thinking that it would not handle the frosts as well, but so far it is also doing wonderfully.

Container ParsleyIn previous years I have repeatedly removed pine needles from the garden beds only to replace it with a different mulch.  This year I have come to my senses and am embracing the pine trees taking care of mulching for me.

Collards in Natural Pine Needle MulchCollards, carrots, cabbage and parsnips are tucked into their naturally (and effortlessly) mulched beds.

Naturally Mulched Garden BedsThe fall planting of sugar snap peas has been supplying tender pea shoots and now has peas forming as well.

Fall Sugar Snap PeasThe hydroponic herbs were changed over 10 days ago to the varieties I know and love to cook with and are already doing quite well.  I am growing 2 plantings each of my favorite basils and cilantros, 3 of the flat leaf parsley and just for fun I am trying to grow 2 red kales hydroponically.

Hydroponic Herbs and KaleWith the Super Bowl and attendant tomato starts almost 2 months away, this cozy, fall garden that is mostly taking care of itself feels like a recess.

Posted in AeroGarden, Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Bell Peppers, Carrots, Cilantro, Collards, French Tarragon, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Inventions, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Mulch, Non-GMO, Oregano, Organic, Parsley, Parsnips, Peppers, Pine Needles, Raised Bed Gardening, Roma Tomato, Sage, Seasonal Eating, Serrano Peppers, Square Foot Gardening, Sugar Snap Peas, Sustainable, Technology, Thyme, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Aero Garden Update – Day 46

Hydroponic BasilDay 46 of the prepackaged herb pack that came with my AeroBount and I have excellent basil growth, both genovese and thai.  The mint was just starting to grow and the cilantro, parsley and chives never really took off.  The genovese basil, while in the same family, is not the basil I usually grow.  I do not know if it is a function of the variety or of the hydroponics but it bruises extremely easy and blackens quickly on warm dishes.

My Baker Creek order came in last week with seeds for my hydroponic herbs and  counter top microgreens so I decided to ditch the prepackaged herbs and start my own this weekend.

Fillable Aero PodsMy aero garden has space for 9 pods so I planted 2 of each except for the parsley that I planted 3 pods of because fall stews + parsley = YUM!

Posted in AeroGarden, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Cilantro, Heirloom Varieties, Hydroponics, Inventions, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Non-GMO, Organic, Parsley, Sustainable, Technology, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Living Ingredients

Although I have grown herbs indoors for each of the last 5 winters, my indoor garden has always been in a designated growing area and not particularly convenient to the kitchen.  So in a kitchen that is already small on space, I gave over fully 1/2 of my breakfast bar to try the AeroGarden, because the idea of growing fresh, green herbs right where I cook this winter is very appealing.

AeroGarden and Microgreens That probably also explains the microgreens taking up the other 1/2 of my breakfast bar now.

MicrogreensMicrogreens are a great choice for indoor veggies in the off seasons since they aren’t usually around long enough for pests or disease to become a problem and can be used in a variety of dishes.  They do need a little more attention in terms of keeping them moist and harvesting on time, but that is all the easier when they are located in the heart of a home.

My breakfast bar has become a living pantry 🙂

Posted in AeroGarden, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Kitchen Implements, Meal Planning, Microgreens, Non-GMO, Organic, Sustainable | Leave a comment

AeroGarden – Day 18

A quick update on the AeroGarden:

Touch Screen on AeroGardenDay 18, I topped off the water a couple of days ago when it was time to the second application of nutrients.

Day 18 of AeroGardenThe basils are doing great and the mint is beginning to peek out…otherwise, not much happening in the other 5 starter sponges.  I have some replacement starter sponges I purchased with the garden as well as some fresh herb seeds on their way from Baker Creek.  I think a replant with new seed will get the empty spots going.

Posted in AeroGarden, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Herbs, Hydroponics | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Mozzarella (Part 2)

As a cook (and human being) I am much more comfortable in the zone where I am critiquing past performance and looking for areas for improvement over standing on the precipice of something I have never tried.  To that end, one of my favorite phrases is the French culinary phrase ‘mise en place”, which means “putting in place” and is a practice used in recipes that benefit from having all the ingredients measured and prepared before beginning.

For my first ever adventure into home cheese making, mise en place was required…and possibly wine…

Mozzarella Mise En PlaceSoft-cheese making is pretty straight forward (for the practiced) but with some specific temperatures serving as prompts to move to the next phase.  Since this was my first go at it, that translated into me constantly monitoring temps so as not to pass or miss an important temperature window.

Forming CurdsWith the first attempt at anything there are questions…are my curds curdy enough?  Is the mesh in my strainer too large (or too small) that I have curds filling the holes?

Curds and WheyBut then magic!  I made cheese!!

Taste Test of MozzarellaIn the end, like any new recipe, it went mostly well with a decent and edible result.  Then I begin the process of #Kaizen – constant, incremental improvement:

  • The cheese was a little firmer than most of the purchased mozzarellas I am familiar with – did I over work the curd?
  • The cheese was good, but a little on the salty side – I need to cut the salt in 1/2 for the next attempt.
  • My mozzarella was a little more yellow than the milky white mozzarellas I buy – is that related to the milk I purchased, something I did…I need to spend some time on google…

My favorite recipes rarely began as they are today and I am happy to add cheese-making to the list that is being constantly improved and refined until it reaches the point of second nature.

Posted in Cheese Making, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Kaizen, Mozzarella, Organic, Recipe, Resources, Slow Food, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Applesauce (Part 1)

Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Carolinas this morning, just north of Charleston, SC, and more than 5″ of rainfall is expected for the Raleigh region over the next 24 hours.  With the cool, windy and very wet weather keeping most of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard indoors until late Sunday it was time to get cooking.

Ginger Gold ApplesAs part of this week’s CSA delivery from The Produce Box I special ordered 15 lbs of slightly blemished Ginger Gold Apples from a local farmer to make applesauce in my pressure cooker.

Prepping ApplesApples were peeled (not guaranteed organic), cored and cut into 16ths.  Some very small bruises were present and easily cut out.

The Makings of ApplesauceThe apple chunks and spices were placed in the pressure cooker – I used Flo Lum’s recipe with two variations, I added a bit of freshly ground nutmeg and cut my apple chunks a bit smaller for a smoother texture.

ApplesauceThe end result was a delicious treat that will not last long enough to worry about freezing.

I know apples are traditionally paired with pork, but try pairing them with homemade cheese quesadillas, especially for the under 10 yo set!

Posted in Apples, Community Supported Agriculture, Food Preparation, Kitchen Implements, Local Farms, NC 10% Campaign, Pressure Cooker, Sustainable, Technology | Leave a comment

Collards – From Garden to Table

Collards in the GardenThis year I grew the heirloom collards called Georgia Southern Creole, a pre-1880 southern variety that has done quite well overall.

Growing organically means that some of the leaves were ventilated by a mid-summer cross-striped cabbage worm invasion (treated with BT) and that I am currently trying to diminish the whitefly population with a hose and organic soap.  Having no pests is not an option, keeping them in check is the goal.

No matter how your collards were grown, its always best to give them a good soak and cleaning before cooking and the easiest way to do that is to fill up a sink with enough water to cover then swish, swirl and agitate, drain and repeat.

Washing CollardsI have tried a number of collards recipes and variations since moving to the south 3 years ago and this is the one I like best so far:

Braised Collards:

  • 1 lb of washed collards, stems still on
  • 1 TBS oil (I use an extra virgin olive that is good for cooking, but any vegetable oil should work)
  • 3 slices of thick sliced bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on preference)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 TBS red wine vinegar
  • 6 TBS stock (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
  • Salt to season

Remove stems from collards and stack leaves and stems separately.  Finely dice the stems and set aside.  Stack a few collard leaves and roll into a cigar shape and cut crosswise (chiffonade) into 3/4″ pieces, repeat until all leaves are cut and set aside separate from the stems.

In a large frying pan (I like to use my 10″ straight walled pan) on medium-high, heat oil until hot but not smoking.  Add bacon and red pepper flakes and stir until bacon begins to crisp.  Add onion and diced collard stems.  Cook until onions are translucent and stems have begun to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the chopped leaves one handful at a time, turning into the bacon and onion mixture after each handful before adding the next.  When all of the collards have been added and turned into the mixture, salt to season.  When the mixture begins to sizzle, add the red wine vinegar and use a wooden spoon to gently deglaze the pan while turning the mixture.

Add your stock* and turn into mixture, cover and turn heat to low.  Let cook another 10-15 minutes until greens reach desired softness.  If necessary, add more stock to keep from drying out.

*Note – I filter and freeze the water after I have rehydrated morels and use this to add liquid and a delicious umame component to many dishes, including this one.

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Collards, Food Preparation, Heirloom Varieties, Raised Bed Gardening, Recipe, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Fall Harvest Asparagus

This post comes after more than a year of researching every way I can think of and completely failing to find anything related to the matter at hand.  The matter at hand is the second growth of asparagus spears in the early fall, long after the asparagus crowns have been allowed to grow the long, bushy fronds they need in order to feed the crown for next year’s growth and more specifically, whether or not a small portion of the second growth can be harvested.

Fall Asparagus SpearUnable to find any information either for or against sneaking a few of these late season spears, I have had to reason this out for myself for the past two years and while the result is probably entirely predictable (Garden fresh asparagus in fall? Yes please!), I like to think my reasoning well rooted in a layman’s pseudo-botany.  The rationale goes something like this:  the individual asparagus crowns have been photosynthesizing since May, and of the new spears coming up in September/October I am only taking about 1 out of every 3 of the new growth spears and then only off of crowns that already have more than 3 stems that have fully grown out and are working hard to supply nourishment to the crown to take it through winter and make a stronger growth next year.

Fall AsparagusWith 16 crowns all together (8 Jersey Knight and 8 Purple Passion) all of which are enjoying a youthful resurgence right now, this equals out to around 4-5 spears per week that are coming indoors and leading to some interesting, not-normally-on-the-same-plate combinations.  This afternoon for lunch, I sauteed some asparagus picked 30 minutes earlier along with some Italian kale harvested at the same time.

Asparagus and Italian KaleBut my favorite has been adding asparagus to my Whatever Is Fresh Scrambles!

Scramble IngredientsThis one featured rehydrated morels, 4 spears of asparagus, 4 cherry tomatoes and 2 red serrano peppers – all from the garden except for the morels.  I saute all ingredients except the more delicate tomatoes in butter with a little olive oil until the asparagus is just shy of done.

Sauteeing Scramble IngredientsWhen the asparagus has softened, add scrambled eggs to the mix then fold in the quartered cherry tomatoes.

Asparagus Mushroom Serano and Cherry Tomato ScrambleWhen the eggs have finished cooking, plate with a little shredded cheese of your choosing – I have used both colby-jack and mozzarella and both have worked wonderfully.  Top with your choice of fresh herb (I alternate between basil and dill) and voila – delicious and nutritious meal in just a few minutes!

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Chef John, Cherry Tomatoes, Food Preparation, Jersey Knight Asparagus, Kale, Morel Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Non-GMO, Permaculture, Purple Passion Asparagus, Raised Bed Gardening, Recipe, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Taking The (hydroponics) Plunge

It all started so simply…I was looking for a birthday gift for a friend.  She does some gardening and is always looking to eat healthier so I went to a few of my favorite online shops and searched Gifts For Gardeners to see what came up.

What came up (over and over) were the counter-top, hydroponic growing contraptions that promise fresh herbs, greens and veggies faster than their soil bound counterparts.  The reviews spanned the positive to strongly positive and some of the user videos showed amazing results.

I have been resistant to the idea of hydroponics because it is not a natural system and doesn’t even attempt to mimic a natural system.  Food plants grown hydroponically are not dining at the full banquet of known and unknown plant (and human) nutrients, minerals and components found in organically rich soil, but instead are fed a simplified diet of nitrogen, phosphate, calcium and magnesium diluted in water.  What does that mean for the creatures that are eating them?  But there is the not-so-small matter of having fresh herbs to cook and garnish with through the winter months…  Many of my outdoor herbs are still doing very well, though my beloved basil is already beginning to look pretty rough and with fall officially here, some of the others will begin to say good-bye for 2016 in the coming weeks.  This is the time of year I usually begin my indoor herb garden in the dormer nook upstairs as a stop-gap measure to cover the basics (basil, rosemary, oregano, cilantro) until they can be sown outdoors again.

Overall, my indoor herbs usually do pretty well each year in their little corner of the house, though they do have to cope with occasional fungus flies, aphids, powdery mildew outbreaks and a water deficit when I travel.  The more I considered it, the more it seemed that growing a mix of fresh herbs through the winter months right on my kitchen counter, right where I cook and where I can be a bit more attentive on a day-to-day basis, even if it is hydroponically, is maybe not such a bad idea.  Herbs are especially dense on flavor and hopefully will not have a watered down taste.  Enter the AeroGarden for my friend and myself.

Unboxing AeroGarden Bounty EliteI opted for the Bounty Elite from William Sonoma because it has the most space for plants (up to 9 depending on variety) and the LED light can raise from 15″ to 24″ as plants grow.

Hi-Tech Control PanelI have to admit, I was impressed by the touch screen display that shows days since planting, days until nutrient add and monitors and alerts for water level.  It is programmable by plant group being grown (herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, flowers, etc).

Seed PodsIf you happen to have kids under the age of 10 in the house, the space age looking pod domes are an added bonus.

So I am taking the plunge, I hope this particular horticultural/culinary experiment works out well – if the herbs I am growing are as robustly flavored as their soil bound brethren, it will mean my indoor garden upstairs is relegated to spring seed starting and even more herbs are making into everyday meals than they already are.  Updates to follow!

Posted in Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Inventions, Kitchen Implements, Non-GMO, Technology | 1 Comment