Category Archives: Gardens

Eating Locally Year Round

At a sustainability gathering I attended this summer, someone asked: “How can we eat locally in New England when our growing season is so short here?”

It’s a good question – in August it’s easy but what about January?

There are also good answers!  The top two being: eat seasonally and preserve the harvest. Both of these were the norm for most of human history and make sense permaculturally. Permaculture principle 2 instructs us to Catch and Store Energy which is exactly what food preservation does. Principle 9 tells us to Use Small and Slow Solutions, such as eating what we have when we have it then turning to home or community-scale food saving.

A July Strawberry

Eat Seasonally

There is no reason we have to eat the same foods every day of the year. In fact, I think it’s boring to do so and can lead to taking things for granted. When a food comes in to season I am more excited for it because I haven’t tasted it for awhile. Salads are for spring and summer. Fresh strawberries in July. Leeks are for fall and winter. By March I am getting tired of roasted potatoes, but when I start digging for them in September my appetite for them has returned. Eating this way also reconnects me to the land and seasons of the place I am rooted with awareness and appreciation.

Preserve the Summer Harvest

Lucky for us, making it through the winter without relying on a vast distribution network was the only option until just recently. People had to develop the skills and technologies to do so or they didn’t survive. We can do these again: drying, canning, freezing, lacto-fermenting and root cellaring. There are also quite a few foods that come to us in a shelf-stable form, such as dry beans. I use all these techniques, finding different foods a good fit for each. Let me touch on each method here…

Drying

Drying Fruit

As soon as the stinging nettles are ready to harvest in the spring, I start drying some for winter use. Most leafy herbs just need a little heat, like a sunny window in the house or car. I put them in paper bags to protect them from the intense light and it just takes a few days. Then I move on to using my electric dehydrator for foods with more  substance.  I find greens such as kale dry well and reconstitute nicely in a soup, stew, or for pan-roasting with other veggies on the stove. I especially love making my own dried fruit: peaches, pears, hardy kiwis, and grapes (raisins) are so yummy!

 

Canned Peaches

Canning Peaches

Canning

I taught myself to can from a Ball Blue booklet back when I had to special order supplies at the hardware store. What a resurgence of interest since then!  I only water bath can so use high acid foods like fruits. This year I put up peaches, blueberries, strawberries, currants, and tried a new pickled beet recipe with vinegar to raise the ph.

Freezing

Freezing Beans

This a newer technology which needs a continuous electricity supply to work, so has vulnerabilities. However, it successfully stores many things that are tricky to do in other ways, such as meat and low-acid veggies which don’t dry well like broccoli and eggplant.

Lacto-fermenting

Lacto-fermenting not only preserves food, but the microbes that take up residence are so good for us. With all the new discoveries about the importance of our microbiome, especially in our digestive tracts, I aim to eat something fermented every day and it has improved my health. Lots of veggies can be prepared this way, cabbage and cucumbers being the most well-known as sauerkraut and pickles, and since we have dairy we also make yogurt and cheeses.

Root Cellaring

Carrots

Burying foods, especially ones that grew in the ground, is an ancient practice. The more modern walk-in root cellars date back a few hundred years. The idea is to take advantage of the cool temperatures, high humidity and darkness underground, like a refrigerator passively powered by the earth. Since we don’t have a basement in our house, we had to dig a big hole and spend a few years doing stonework and other construction. This is the first year we’ll use it. Carrots, beets, parsnips and celery root currently growing in the garden will soon be packed in sand for this trial run!

Long Keepers

Curing Garlic in July

Quite a few foods are happy to stick around a long time with just a little help from us. Grains, beans, nuts and honey are great examples. But quite a few veggies can last longer than you might think. “Curing” certain crops – which essentially means further drying them – helps them last much longer without a fridge or root cellar. Spending a couple of weeks after harvest somewhere dry and warmer than storage temps will give potatoes, garlic, winter squash, and onions a shelf life of many months and better flavor. Sunflower seeds, dried beans and popcorn are currently hanging in our living room near the wood stove as well.

Using these techniques it’s not hard to stretch this year’s bounty through to spring harvests, like people throughout history and around the world do as a matter of course.

In my next few posts, I’ll look deeper in to each of these technologies while I’m finishing up using them for our own local winter eating.

Corn Hung to Dry

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Filed under Gardens, Permaculture principles, Weather

Harvest Is Here!

In the heat and long days of July we really start to reap what we have sown: beans, summer squash, cucumbers, eggplant, basil, garlic and more. Now the challenge is to keep up with bringing the produce in and preserving it.

By this time of year, I hope to have planned well enough that we are focused on maintenance and harvest. Big projects and expansions are best done in the cooler weather of spring and fall. This year hasn’t quite worked out that way. Even when it does, it’s just a busy time of year for northern food growers. I try to stay calm and not waste energy worrying about what I haven’t done yet – but there are days that my to-do list brings me to tears I admit!

Lots of Eggplant

 

Have you seen The Biggest Little Farm yet? I highly recommend it and Seacoast Permaculture plans to bring it back to our area this winter 2020. There’s a scene from their early days on the farm when co-owner Molly Chester tells us that it seems to her like every time she checks something off her list she adds ten more items. A lot of us can relate to that, right?!

It’s also a beautiful and satisfying time of year, especially when our lack of drought has led to healthy productive plants. So, I’ll share photos here – a virtual tour of our annual garden in July. Then… back to work for me!

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Filed under Gardens

The Miracle of (Plant) Birth

“As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.”

(excerpt from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy)

Every time a seed sprouts in my garden I am amazed.

This year’s cold, wet spring delayed planting and germinating making it even more of a thrill to finally see my plants coming alive and growing throughout June.

Carrots Are Up!

Most people are more excited by the birth process in animals which is a more dramatic moment for sure. It also stresses me out. Whether it’s the goats laboring or the poultry hatching, it is loud, messy and takes time during which my attention is held and I can’t help but wonder about everything that could go wrong. In comparison, I appreciate the restful quiet of the garden, and the surprise of the seeds suddenly germinating. If it doesn’t work, I try again, without having to dispose of any bodies – literally.

When it does work, I feel triumphant because my planning and care succeeded! I also feel humbled by recognizing how little I really had to do with it and considering what else was involved in bringing me to this moment. The evolution of flowering plants, thousands of years of plant breeding by our ancestors, the work of pollinators and spring actually coming again, to name a few.

Working with rather than against nature is a foundational concept in permaculture and I experience a sense of that collaboration in this process.

Knowing the science of it only makes it more wondrous. Here’s a glimpse at that…

Sunflowers Sprouting

A seed is a method that plants developed to reproduce, sort of recently. As far as we can tell, seeds first appeared about 400 million years ago while land plants have been around at least 700 million years. Currently, over 220.000 plants – 90% of those we know – make seed. Every seed contains a living embryo with its first leaves and root in miniature. Most seeds have a protective coat and a nutrition pack that will last until its roots function. Seeds can be as tiny as dust or as big as 50 pounds with many different shapes. A seed is in a kind of suspended animation until the conditions align for it to burst into life: the right amount of water, oxygen, temperature and light for instance. Seeds can survive, waiting for the right conditions, for years, with the oldest documented living seed being 2.000 years old! Most of our garden seeds are in the 1 – 5 year range.

After 20 years of growing, maybe I should have gotten used to it but I’m glad I haven’t.

Now that we’ve hit July, there will be less seed starting and more watching the plants grow and harvestng. I’m preparing my food preservation equipment and looking forward to the abundance!

More from The Common Living Dirt by Marge Piercy in her book Stone, Paper, Knife

Beets Emerging

As I kneel to put the seeds in
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we ate, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

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Filed under Gardens, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather