Local Food


small artichoke, big hand

Last weekend, I finally spotted baby artichokes on the way. It’s been a wet season for the artichokes – the love all the rain, interspersed with sunny days like this great La Niña winter has given us. The perennial artichoke plants, which die back each summer then re-grow from the roots, seem bigger than ever. The tiny chokes in the center of the plants – they’re, of course, the flower – should grow into yummy full-sized delicacies in a little over a month. I can hardly wait!

Radishes growing in my front yard raised bed

Introducing the radish. Yes, you’ve met before… but perhaps it’s time to become better acquainted.

Radishes are one of two plants that come highly recommended for beginning gardeners – because they’re so easy to grow. It seems like the seeds all germinate, and come up something like one or two days after one starts watering them. The young leaves are very recognizable once you’ve grown them before. Then, in less than a month (instant gratification in garden-time), you’ve got something edible and even familiar-looking.

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Persimmon fruit in my hand, persimmon tree in the background

Persimmon fruit in my hand, persimmon tree in the background

We’ve got a persimmon tree which we don’t get a lot of fruit from. It’s not that our tree doesn’t yield, but between the squirrels, birds and passersby, I think I only had 2 or 3 persimmons from the tree last year.

Persimmons are orange-colored fruit, about the consistency of an apple, and very sweet and yummy. I thought that they were mosty from asia, but wikipedia tells me that there are various varieties from all over, including the Americas. The two varieties that I know of are very different. Our tree and my favorite kind of persimmon is the “Fuyu,” which seems to be the most accessible, easy to eat variety. Fuyus can be eaten like an apple. They’re firm and as they ripen they get softer, until they’re a little bit gooey. I love to cut them up and add to hot or cold cereal. There’s also Hachiya, which are said to be astringent. You can’t eat Hachiyas until they get really gooey. They tend to be good for baking into persimmon bread or cookies.

At least 15 years ago, eco-villagers planted a persimmon tree at the lot at the northeast corner of Bimini Place and White House Place. When the school district decided to tear down the house at that lot, about 2 years ago, we moved the tree to its current location along the alley at the south end of the Bimini Terrace. It’s now very visible to folks walking on the front sidewalk or down the alley. I think that plenty of the Korean halmonis recognize it as gam namu.

When squirrels nibble or birds peck at the fruit it looks like this (sorry blurry photo but you get the idea):

Learning to share our persimmons with other creatures

Learning to share our persimmons with other creatures

The fruit is mostly ripe right now, which seems slightly early – If I recall correctly, they generally ripen in November and December. Maybe it’s global warming or the hot dry summer or just natural variation.

Today I noticed that there were a lot of ants on the tree. At first I assumed that they were going to some of the fruit that looks like the photo above… but on closer inspection I saw that they were especially busy on one branch, which had a great deal of some sort of black lump creatures (which I think are called scale?) on it. Here’s a shot of that branch, which I immediately cut off:

Some kind of scale?

Some kind of scale?

I scoured the tree and could only find a few more of these black lump creatures, mostly right next to ripe fruit. If anyone knows what these are called, and has any recommendations for keeping them under control (using non-toxic tools,) please post in the comments.

I know that ants were probably using tools long before humans were. Ants use aphids to get nutrition from other plants. Aphids are said to be very slow moving messy eaters, so ants help them get around, then eat their leftovers. Ants also harvest and spread molds and various other things that we human gardeners perceive as diseases when ants do their own harvesting of our cultivars. The ants have been really going to town this past summer… I will have to make sure they don’t do too much damage to the persimmon tree.

I recommend a couple of videos that I think are really inspiring for gardeners and farmers to grow our food in harmony with nature. They’re both from a site called Ted.com which features lots of really informative talks about science, technology, creativity, brains, art…

Eduardo Sousa and his Geese

Eduardo Sousa and his Geese

The first talk is by a chef named Dan Barber. It’s all about a Spanish farmer named Eduardo Sousa. Sousa produces foie gras (French for “fat liver”)  a substance that I was unfamiliar with until I heard this talk. Foie gras a delicacy made from goose liver. Sousa farms in such a natural way that wild geese come to stay and live with his domesticated geese. The talk is about permaculture, slow food, history, and the joy of great food as the “expression of nature.” Barber’s excellent talk includes a quote I really liked – from Jonas Salk: “If all the insects disappear, life on earth as we know it would disappear within fifty years. If human beings disappeared, life on earth as we know it would flourish.”  

The second talk is  by Michael Pollan, who should be familiar with readers of this blog from this earlier post. His talk is sort of a  whirlwind tour of many of the themes his book The Botany of Desire. He suggests that we could see much of humanity as a vast conspiracy of “corn’s scheme for world domination.” The talk concludes with a great profile of Joel Salatin’s permaculture farm in Virginia which is “well beyond organic agriculture.” 

Don’t spend tooooo much time on Ted.com, but check out these two talks, and let them inspire you to get out and garden!

Chokes in front of the Bimini Terrace

Chokes in front of the Bimini Terrace

Mmmmmm… Lots and lots of artichokes in the harvest right now. Artichokes are a relatively trouble-free perennial. Each year they fruit around April-May, then die back above ground in June. In September, they grow plenty of “pups”, maybe three to eight little plants growing from various points on the existing roots. At that point, you can split the roots and plant them as a half-dozen plants. I usually try to do this every other year with mine. The second year growth is very good… but then it seems like the plants get crowded, so splitting them spreads them out. For the most part, they don’t get many insect pests… an excellent plant… and a yummy lunch today!

The same artichokes from a different angle

The same artichokes from a different angle

Pomegranate Flower

Pomegranate Flower

As I mentioned in my last post, the spring gardens are getting down to business… Nature (or at least the somewhat-controlled version that we cultivate) doing her job, having lots of sex. Here’s a shot of the pomegranate out back in bloom.

Pomegranate is a desert plant, thrives on neglect and very little water. The most difficult thing about the plant (it’s nearly more bush than tree) is that it wants a pretty severe pruning seeming all the time, as it shoots up lots of sprouts.

Here are some garden photos I took last week of some of the promising new developments to come along in March. Spring things are happening in the garden! Arranged in alphabetical order… apologies for my blurry cell phone pictures.

The distinctive maroon bloom of Amaranth

The Distinctive Maroon Bloom of Amaranth

Amaranth is one of plants that you grow once and it generates enough seeds to keep popping up in various places in your garden each year. This one is about 2-3 feet tall, but it can get taller than I am (6’3″) sometimes. I’ve never harvested the actual tiny grain (anyone out there have simple instructions for this?) but I do use the young leaves in salads. I’ve also heard (from Ysanne Spevack of Organic Foodee, whom I met through Erik Knutzen of Homegrown Evolution) that the flower itself is edible, too – just cut it up and put it in salads.

Baby Artichoke Begins to Emerge

First Baby Artichoke Begins to Emerge

I grow a lot of artichoke – one of those great perennials that just keeps giving. The first of the chokes are starting to develop… though it will still be another month or so before the early ones will be ripe enough to eat. The one in the photo is in the middle of the my biggest, seemingly nearly monster-sized plant. The fruit pictured though is only maybe 2-inches in diameter.

Bright Blue Borage Flowers

Bright Blue Borage Flowers

Borage is one of those old-fashioned companion plants that you’re supposed to grow somewhere in your garden (also in this group are rue and yarrow… and some others that I will remember as soon as I hit “publish”.) Like amaranth, borage comes back year after year, a bit more than I really want it to. Mine grows out of interstices in in urbanite bed-wall. It has little blue flowers that face downward. They’re edible, tasting like a mild drop of honey. I put them in salads to add a little color.

Yellow Calendula Flowers Starting to Bloom

Yellow Calendula Flowers Starting to Bloom

Calendula is just starting to bloom. Another simple-to-grow plant that keeps coming back year after year (do you detect a theme here?) It has some medicinal uses, though I just grow it for the bright yellow flowers.

New Jujube Growth

New Jujube Growth

In mid-January, we planted a jujube tree. At the time it was completely dormant, bare and a little spindly-lookin’. I just had to trust that it would happily re-emerge from its slumber. I was a tiny bit worried about it for a month and a half, while I built a fancy-looking, perhaps overly-eleborate and formal rainwater harvesting ring to direct water toward its roots… thinking that it would sad if my high expectations for the tree might be unmet. Now, as you can see from the photo, it’s leafing out nicely.

Peach Blossoms

Peach Blossoms

The peach tree that I was pruning in December is flowering and leafing out. The bees love it. Below it is California poppy and yarrow. A few times I’ve had to trim back broken branches as it gets abused by passers-by.

Yarrow A-blooming

Yarrow A-blooming

And how could it be an area that Joe stewards unless there was plenty of yarrow? The very earliest of the yarrow flowers are already in bloom, with plenty more about to burst open.

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