Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sweet greens

In just over a week, while we were in Savannah, the garden exploded in size and color!

Last night we picked spinach, chard, kale and mustard greens and I sauteed them in olive oil, a bit of good balsamic and a smidgen of garlic. I didn't know greens could taste so sweet. Delicious! And there's so much more where that came from. A whole season's worth! That, next to some just-arrived Copper River salmon, made for a welcoming homecoming meal.

News tip:
Ballard Market has Copper River Salmon on sale for $9.99 a pound.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There's local... and then there's local

Washington apples, Nature's Path cereal (Blaine, WA), Pacific Foods tomato soup (Oregon) - these were our first purchases at the Wilmington Island Publix supermarket, the best place to purchase organic near Tybee Island, GA, our "home" for the next week. Not quite what I had in mind when I went looking for "local" food among the organics.

We did, however, purchase locally caught shrimp, and Forrest sauteed these lovely pink morsels in butter and garlic in our beach house kitchen.

The winds here are like nothing I've seen, and my hoped-for trip to the Wednesday farmers market to buy our week's food supply was canceled. Fortunately, Savannah has two Saturday markets, and if the weather improves (although rain and high winds are expected every single day we're here), I plan to go to both, if not for groceries, to sample locally grown freshness.

The market near the historic Pirates' House restaurant at Trustees' Garden, not far from Factors Walk (originally a cotton exchange, dating back to the mid-1800s), was established about this time last year as a monthly market, and earlier this month, opened weekly. The garden's new owner is apparently reinventing it as a center of organic and sustainable living. In 1733, not long after Oglethorpe founded Savannah, it was here that an experimental garden for the silk industry was established (mulberry trees?). Manager Tate Hudson hopes it will one day be an urban educational farm.

The Forsyth Saturday market is a project of the local food collaborative. The 30-acre Forsyth Park is a few short steps from Brighter Day, the local organic food co-op, and The Sentient Bean, a frequent stop during my last Savannah trip. It's the closest I found to a good Seattle coffee shop. In the middle of Savannah's historic district, Forsyth is one of 21 "squares" - parks around which the downtown core is built. It's a beautiful place to visit - even in the rain.

Georgia peaches are not a cliche - they really are amazing, as are the shrimp - but it's not the season for fresh peaches. Surely, there must be other delicious local foods (aside from Forrest's favorite - boiled peanuts). I'll report back!

Noted: Seen on an Illinois-licensed tractor-trailer en route from Atlanta to Savannah, somewhere in rural Georgia: "Delivering supply chain solutions to the food industry." - Dot Foods (specializing in "less-than-truckload" food redistribution...). Who knew?

(Photos: Scenes from Tybee Island - turtles, gardenia [if only I could download the smell!], and... the rain...)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weed eaters

So today we take advantage of our first-of-the-season 70+ degree weather and try to get caught up on weeding. And Forrest says, out of seemingly nowhere, "Maybe just one chicken. Well, maybe two..."


We've been around other people's chickens recently. Including my life-long friend Laurel's, who sent us home from Fall City yesterday with a half-dozen fresh eggs, and a handful of colorful birds we met about a mile north of us. Their digging and scratching apparently caught his eye. They'll eat just about anything - and dig up anything else while looking for bugs and worms.

"We'd just have to put foot-high fences anything we didn't want them to eat."

Or destroy... Oh - and we'd have to build a chicken coop (and find a place for one), and generally do all the things that must be done if chickens are to share the homestead. We have a hard enough time managing cats.

No chickens. While chickens are appealing for many good reasons - eggs, weeding, fertilizer - just getting ready for chickens would take more work than digging the weeds ourselves. Besides, despite my complaints, weeding is actually a pretty good workout. Noting how my body feels right now, I have muscles that I'm fairly unfamiliar with!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

If you can't grow your own...

...then do the next best thing and visit a Farmers Market near you. Thanks to The Seattle Times for such a comprehensive list!

At just about any market, you'll find more than just vegetables: fresh, sustainably produced, salmon safe meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish, legumes, ciders, honey, lotions, potions, art, crafts, ready-to-eat food - there's an ample array of all things good, and good for you. And there's one happening in close proximity almost any day of the week.

(Photo: Evergreen State Fair '07 - cooking demo - "what's fresh now")

State soil?

While re-reading Natural Capitalism, I took another book off the shelf to revisit: Donella Meadow's Global Citizen, for me, an eye-opening book. Hers is a voice much missed; I learned of her work through an environmental issues course, unfortunately after her death. But her co-authored Limits to Growth raised the bar on sustainability issues, and Global Citizen is a collection of her essays and newspaper columns that serves as a good introduction and summary of her expansive and important work. Journalist, farmer, environmental scientist (a biophysicist, actually) and teacher, she was a founder of the Sustainability Institute, what she called a "think-do-tank."

Flipping through the pages, I came across an odd tidbit... In addition to state flowers and birds, there are 20 states that have an official state soil. Who knew? If it wasn't for Global Citizen, I wouldn't. Dr. Meadows, while writing about farms, food and land, mentions Wisconsin's state soil, the Antigo Silt Loam. Given my fascination with dirt, I did a Google search. And there it was: Washington State's official soil is "Tokul." (Natural Resources Conservation Service - PDF about the soil). We apparently have more than a million acres of the stuff, all on the west side of the Cascades, and it's extraordinarily fertile ("among the most productive soils in the world").

Really, who knew? Did you? How is this depicted anywhere? A bird, a flower, but soil? Here's a link to the list.

It's about "place"

Thinking about Wendell Berry, poet, farmer, philosopher, conservationist... I'm re-reading Natural Capitalism and in the "Building Blocks" chapter, authors Hawken & Lovins(2) quote:

"What does this place require us to do? What will it allow us to do? What will it help us to do?" he asks.

He also said, "What I stand for is what I stand on" - referring to how we measure what we value - that it can't always be about dollars and cents, but also about a higher purpose.

Every now and then, I'm reminded of Scarlett O'Hara, on her knees at Tara, dirt running through her fingers, and while hardly so dramatic, I understand what it means to feel connected to something, to a piece of land, a piece of my heritage. I particularly love the trees here.

Here's another Berry quote:

It is possible, as I have learned again and again, to be in one's place, in such company, wild or domestic, and with such pleasure, that one cannot think of another place that one would prefer to be - or of another place at all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blossoms & blooms

Despite our consistently weeping skies, the days are longer and the temperatures warmer (albeit not by much...). Nature seems to know when spring arrives even when the rest of us aren't so sure.

Here - a few images of the blossoms and blooms currently in the garden, captured during a dry moment earlier today.
- Apple blossom: a tree in the far west corner of the lot, golden delicious on one side, red on the other. Either my grandfather or great-grandfather grafted it.
- Strawberry flowers - it won't be long now!
- Rhody rescue - came from one of Forrest's job sites; it's huge and didn't miss a beat
- Grape vines - we have red and white
- Pink dogwood - a tree given to my grandmother by my aunt & uncle several decades ago

Phantom plant update

Broccoli successfully moved; tomato plants in. The broccoli now lives on the slope to the east of the gardens, but west of the grapes. They're on the other side of Shiv's garden, where they'll still get great sun.

Other than a couple "wasn't me!" declarations, no one has mentioned anything about having planted them. They're healthy plants - and I'm sure there will be plenty for all of us.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The first greens

Perhaps miniscule, but every bite delicious... Our first harvest: mustard greens. The new little shoots were thinned to make room for more to grow.

Gently pulling the baby greens from the ground, Forrest carefully trimmed the roots and stems and cleaned them. After "spinning" them dry (my salad spinner consists of putting two colanders together and shaking like crazy), we added them to a salad of romaine lettuce with a light oil and balsamic vinagrette.

Purchased at a specialty grocery, the baby greens are potentially expensive - both in dollars and, quite likely, footprint. These sweet greens took a bit of muscle energy, sunlight, reclaimed water and some nicely composted soil. And we have a whole lot more to look forward to.

I think it's a pretty good deal.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Visitor

Today is Mother's Day, and in just over a week, it'll be nine years since my mom died. Born in 1936, the youngest of four, she grew up in this house with her mom, dad, siblings, and countless pets. Somehow, they made it work - six of them in this 900 sq ft, barely two-bedroom cottage; some years, they even took in others.

Mom also spent much of her adult life here; we moved in when I was a teenager to care for her mother, my grandmother, and she didn't leave until the last year of her life, when she needed more care than I could provide.

Mom didn't talk much about her childhood, but thankfully, she took a creative writing class where she put a few of her best memories on paper. In a tribute to her on Mother's Day, here's one of her stories.

The Visitor

“Ruf, leave those flowers alone,” dad yelled from where he was hoeing carrots and beets. “And stay out of my garden. You’re ruining it.”

He tried to sound angry, but he was fond of Rufus, so he wasn’t too convincing. She continued on her way, picking blossoms here and there and dropping them, leaving them where they lay. She was quite a clown, parading about in her rusty-red coat and bright red hat. She darted around on her spindly little legs, completely oblivious to dad’s warning.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember Rufus so well because she was such a frequent visitor. So much so that she was like a member of the family. She arrived most anytime of the day, timidly tapping at the back door.

“Hi, Ruf,” said mom, as she opened the door. “Come on in and set a spell. How are you today?”

Accepting the invitation, Rufus entered shyly, looking to see if the dog or cat were anywhere nearby. She wasn’t really afraid of them, just cautious. She made a quick tour of the house and greeted each member of the family in turn, checking to see if there was any activity going on that interested her. Usually not finding, she finished her inspection and headed for the kitchen to look for her special treat. Mom always had a little something for her, and she always hid it in a different place. Rufus poked around until she finally located it. She was a good snooper.

Rufus seemed to know instinctively when it was time for dad’s lunch. While he cleaned up, she perched in the chair next to his and waited, and then, as he ate, watched patiently. Her begging brown eyes followed every move of his hand. She looked plump and well-fed, but I guess dad felt sorry for her – soon he was sharing his meal with her.

She had her fill and went looking for mom. She was especially fond of her because mom took such good care of her during her tragic, near-fatal illness. Rufus followed her around the house like a lost puppy; they went from room to room, dusting, cleaning and making the beds. She wasn’t any help, but mom enjoyed her company.

The only thing that Rufus seemed frightened of was the vacuum cleaner. We couldn’t imagine why because it had never been used when she was there. But she became very flustered and gave it a wide berth whenever it was left in the middle of the floor. I often wonder what would have happened if it had been turned on.

When she decided her visit was over, Rufus left the same way she came. She hopped lightly down the stairs and went about her business. She seemed to know she’d be welcome when she came calling again.

I remember Rufus so vividly because she was our pet chicken, a beautiful, tawny-feathered Rhode Island Red, with a brilliant crimson top-knot. She was part of a flock of chicks, hatched in the old barn behind the house, by a cackling, mean biddy. She was smaller than the others, so they picked on her, a rather common occurrence in Chickendom.

We never knew what really happened, but one day, when mom went to collect the freshly laid eggs, she found Rufus, prostrate, in the corner of the henhouse, half-dead and almost completely paralyzed. The others were pecking at her mercilessly. Mom screamed for help, so we brought her a warm blanket and she gently wrapped Rufus up and brought her into the house. Tears glistened on the rims of mom’s eyes as she carefully laid Ruf in a box by the roaring fire. Day and night she watched over her, talking softly, gently massaging her almost lifeless body. Day and night, she cried a little and prayed a little. At last, she coaxed her to accept some food, and slowly, the battle was won. With mom’s patient and loving care, Rufus returned to life.

It took many weeks for Rufus to regain all her strength. When it was time for her to return to her former residence, she objected strenuously, and the other hens weren’t very welcoming. She never did completely re-orient to her old way of life; from then on, she was only a part-time occupant of Chickenville. Whenever the notion struck, usually at meal time, she flapped her wings, cleared the fence, and came calling on her adopted family. I’m sure, in her little chicken-mind, she felt she was really “people.”

I don’t recall whatever happened to Ruf. I suppose she’s somewhere in Chicken Heaven, picking flowers, leaving them where they lay. Back in those days, chicken was often on the dinner menu. But I hardly think such an awful fate could befall a delightful, captivating and well-loved pet like Rufus.

- Anelda

(Photo: this yellow rose bush was a gift from mom, probably around the time I graduated from high school)

Friday, May 8, 2009

A work in progress (pictures)

A few pictures... top to bottom:
- yard clean-up begins, blackberries are now gone... (4-06)
- advice from Shiv (4-06)
- "let's plant a garden"... (4-06)
- Anthony's garden looking north (foreground, 7-07)
- Anthony's garden looking south (7-07)

In search of Roma's

Shoreline's Sky Nursery recently expanded, and I've been eager to check it out. But it's not on my beaten path and I didn't want to make a special trip. Today I ran some errands in the north end, so I dropped in to find organic Roma starts.

From the highway, it's a giant greenhouse, adjacent to a funky little store that's housed the garden center for a half century or so. Stepping inside, the plant choices seem endless.

And out of hundreds of tables and display areas filled with plants, only one - count 'em, one! - offered organic vegetable and herb starts. That's it, just one. I asked a staff person if I was missing something and maybe there were more somewhere else, but she, and not very friendly, mind you, said no, that was all they had.

With all the information available to the public now about our barely-regulated food supply, the harm to land and body from chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides (and the need to lessen our dependence on petroleum-based products), and the ever-growing interest in organic food, how could so little space be devoted to organic plants?

To their credit, they have organic fertilizers, seeds and other materials that support organic gardening. But I'm surprised that demand for organics isn't higher - after all, we live in a pocket of the country that's environmentally savvy, supportive of local farms and food, and we're fervent recyclers.

If it's a matter of supply, the number of organic growers in the Northwest increases every year; surely there must be other sources. These starts came from Rent's Due Ranch, a Skagit County farm that also supplies PCC Natural Markets.

But PCC didn't have tomato starts, nor did my neighborhood grocery, despite great choices in herbs and other plants. I'm sure the weekly farmers market has them, but I don't go often.

I'm not an organic purist. I can't afford to be. But since I'm now growing my own, I'm aiming for organic as much as possible. Growing organic makes sense - it's cheaper, better for the planet, and more nutritious than conventionally grown.

Perhaps the thing to do is help create demand by voicing my concerns in a letter to the nursery. If enough of us use our voice to express the things we care about, change happens. Or... I'll just shop elsewhere.

(Photo: Skagit Valley's Rent's Due Ranch "Roma's Best" tomato plant, purchased at Sky Nursery, 5/09)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fern parts

A notice landed in my inbox tonight that Misty Mountain Mushrooms was following me on Twitter. The polite thing to do is to "follow" back, so I clicked on the link to find out more. Based in Richmond, BC, this guy is following nearly 2,000 people, has almost 500 followers - and only one update. How does that work???

Anyway, his one and only post read, "Does anyone want some yummy fiddleheads?" with a link to his web site.

It reminded me that we've got a record crop of fiddleheads in the yard. The unfurled new growth of a fern is purported to be so named because of their resemblance to the scroll of a violin head, which somehow doesn't have quite the same ring when talking about something edible...

Ferns grow best in wet weather areas - along both US coastlines and parts of Canada. And trust me, you haven't seen ferns until you've been to the rain forests of Western Washington or the west coast of Vancouver Island.

While our yard ferns don't compare, it never occurred to me to pick and cook the fiddleheads. Though they're cultivated by places like Misty Mountain, fiddleheads are a true foraged food - available to anyone with a sense of adventure. Like mushrooms, some are quite toxic - foraging requires some research. The ostrich fern is the type most likely to be flavorful and cause the least stomach distress.

I've only had fiddleheads once as part of a meal. I remember a strong bitter taste, not particularly appealing, despite a slathering of butter. I hear they taste similar to asparagus, but that's not my recollection. I love asparagus!

However, health and wellness is another passion, and at our house, we try to eat whole, local and organic food whenever possible. Fiddleheads are apparently very high in nutrients - they're loaded with iron, potassium, and vitamins A & C, the B vitamins Niacin and Riboflavin, along with trace minerals and other nutrients. For those of us interested in greater self-sufficiency and getting the most nutritional bang for the buck, so to speak, these are both good reasons to give them another try.

To reduce the bitterness, fiddleheads must be well-cooked. Boiling is most often suggested (imagine that!), although other methods could work. Their season is short, no matter the locale, but they can be purchased frozen (I think Trader Joe's even carries them in their frozen foods section). Fresh fiddleheads are a crisp bright green, so if you're foraging and come across fiddleheads with fuzzy brown scales, leave them behind.

I'm sure the farmers markets sell them in season. Or find them in the woods when out hiking, or maybe in your own - or your neighbor's - back yard. Other than the massive dose of butter, that makes them pretty affordable, too!

(Photo: Ferns, sans fiddles...missed the opportunity window...)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Phantom Plants

There are phantom plants in our plot! The space we reserved for tomatoes, of which I bought three at Tilth's Edible Plant Sale this weekend, is now filled with broccoli - at least I think they're broccoli - starts. No idea where they came from... although I'm suspicious of Shiv and his desire to continually expand. But I honestly don't know for sure. We each have our own designated areas, so I find it difficult to imagine anyone planting anything anywhere else. Hmmm....

Move them? Put a little sign out asking for whomever planted them to please pull them up and put them somewhere else? I'm not sure what we'll do, but we have until this weekend to decide. Perhaps by then, the phantom planter will show him- or herself, and we can politely request that the plants be moved.

To be continued...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Harvesting rain

Water - it's essential to life as we know it. And here in the wet Northwest, it seems like we're blessed with more than we need.

Our rainfall is ample. Winter snowpack on nearby mountains ensures water for most of the year. Yet in the hot, dry months of late summer, we sometimes face shortages.

I curse the rain when it pours for days on end. But that energy is better spent giving thanks for the rain barrels that store the surplus.

Water is a big deal. Because of my work with local farms, I know they're working to reclaim water and create better on-farm water storage. Water rights are a big issue. Water - too much or too little - can threaten our very survival. It's the subject of international discussions and a reason for potential conflict (right up there with oil).

Seattle, fortunately, encourages rain water harvesting, although individual permits were once required state-wide. Recognizing the futility of enforcement in Seattle, where so many homeowners harvest their rainwater through catchment systems, the state granted a region-wide permit. Here in the northwest part of the state, it makes good environmental sense, too - surplus water would otherwise runoff into Puget Sound, carrying with it all the "stuff" that accumulates on our surface areas - motor oil, animal waste, chemicals, pesticides (although not from my yard!).

Plants must have water in order to grow the food we need to thrive. Why wouldn't we capture some of that rainfall for future watering needs? I'm looking forward to a lush, edible garden this year, grown as sustainably as possible, using organic or heritage seeds and plants, deliciously composted soil and the water we've stored in our eclectic collection of rain barrels.

And in case you're interested, here is more information and other resources pertaining to water.
HarvestH20 - online rainwater harvesting community
Rainwater Collection - Washington State Dept. of Ecology
and, while a different issue but no less important and interesting:
"Water for Life Decade - 2005 - 2015" - UN Millenium Development Goals

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day, and lilacs at last!

Today is May 1st, and at last, the lilacs are blooming. They're late this year - where we are in Ballard, they're usually earlier than the rest of the city, which means by mid-April, they've come and gone. Today feels like one of those days to be truly thankful for. It's sunny, warm, fragrant and vibrant.

May Day, originally a Pagan holiday, is barely noticed in North America today. Still celebrated in parts of Europe, the most recognized symbol of May Day is the legendary Maypole, a tall, typically wooden pole festooned with greenery, flowers and ribbons for May Day celebrations. Despite my Scandinavian heritage and growing up in the Norwegian and Swede-heavy burg of Ballard, the only time I danced the Maypole was in summer Girl Scout camp.

“May baskets” were the May Day tradition I grew up with. As a kid, I’d make baskets from paper, fill them with fresh-picked flowers (from ours or neighboring yards), and then gently carry them, delivering them to the doorsteps of the older ladies on the block.

Most of the ladies who lived here when I was little even knew my mom when she was that young. An only child, they all looked out for me. In tribute to them, I think I'll pick some lilacs today and leave them on doorsteps.

Clearly, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic. Lilacs do that - it must be their extraordinary fragrance that plays tricks with time. We have both white and purple here - white lilacs apparently represent "youthful innocence," while purple are symbolic of first love. While creating something new and different in this house, this garden, and even on this block, the memories of youthful innocence sometimes visit.

I think May Day should be resurrected among acknowledged holidays. It's a happy day, a good "get to know your neighbor" day, or a reminder to show appreciation to those we do know. Knowing who lives nearby has its benefits - we chat casually, look out for each other, share cat sitting and run the occasional errand. It all adds up to a stronger and safer community. Not a bad thing in today's crazy world.

For those who know the block or the garden and are curious about the aforementioned ladies, here's a glimpse into the delightful women who used to live here:

  • Mrs. Johnson (Todd & Martha's place now) - on the southeast corner of 73rd, whose husband baked the most delicious bread and often delivered just-caught salmon (the Johnson's owned the lot where Shiv's house now stands), she kept beautiful rose bushes all around her house
  • Mrs. Decker (Caden's house) - who with Mr. Decker, had a funny little cockapoo, and would make woven rugs with my aunt in a back room she dedicated for crafts; the rugs covered the floors throughout my grandparents house
  • Mrs. Bean - she's still here - and still driving - bless her 95-year-old heart. She grew up on a farm near Yelm and has great stories to tell about living through the depression. She's been widowed now for at least 15 years but still wears her husband's glasses
  • Mrs. Nolte (Jackie and Bill's place now) - I have her silver-plated angel candle sticks
  • Mrs. Vaercamp - we still say hello by telephone on the "neighborhood night out" thanks to Doug down the street who stays in touch
  • Mrs. Carlson - with the long, steep driveway where I'd ride my bike, I remember many evening visits in front of their fireplace; her husband took his own life after her death - he was unwilling to live without her
  • Miss G (now Leann & Cody's place) - with a German last name I couldn't pronounce, many of us shortened her name to Miss G. She was old and decrepit, barely able to walk; rumor had it she'd never married, and she outlived any friends. She sat next to her front window looking out at everyone who passed, barely visible; I visited often and always waved when I walked by, whether or not I could see her, just in case
  • Dorothy (Laura, Devon, Kasey & Tessa's place) - a widower and sister of Emil, who owned a 1963 white Chevy Impalla that she drove until cataracts made driving impossible, but it accompanied the hearse at her funeral. Her mother, old Mrs. Wurm, lived there, too, and sat in a rocking chair near the window, rocking her doll; she'd reverted, we said, back to childhood, our then-understanding of Alzheimer's
  • Mrs. Newton (Karen's house) - whose daughter BG looked just like a model but who otherwise I barely remember, even though she lived just next door
(I have pictures to post when I finally get them scanned...)