Archive for April, 2010

April Eating and Gardening

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Spring has been wonderfully early here in Southern Ontario and most people feel that we are about 3 weeks ahead of schedule in the garden.  It is still a challenging time to eat seasonally but I do find that there is a surprising amount of food, one just has to be creative.

Here is a list of what I have available to me

  • carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes in my root cellar
  • one last butternut squash
  • mung bean and alfalfa sprouts in jars on my counter
  • sorrel, chives and garlic chives in my herb bed
  • kale and green onions in the garden -  I plant about 12 bunches of green onions in August specifically to leave in the ground over the winter, they survive almost every year without any special care.  Kale always comes back as small leaves on the larger plants that were in the garden in the fall.
  • Spinach in the garden – last August I planted an 8 x 4 foot bed of spinach and harvested it throughout the fall.  I made sure that I left 5 or 6 leaves on each plant in November and then covered it with about 6″ of straw.  This spring about 2/3 of the bed had survived and I have been eating spinach salads for about a week now.
  • Garlic in the garden – I always plant about 50 cloves of garlic in the fall specifically for spring eating.  They too are mulched with straw in November/December and most of them survive.  This garlic I eat like a green onion, harvesting the whole shoot when it is about 8-10″ tall.
  • Buckwheat and Sunflower seed sprouts that I make in trays of soil and grow under lights or in a sunny window.  These sprouts do require soaking and are then broadcast in about 1/2″ of soil.  (See the March chapter of From Seed to Table for detailed instructions).
  • Jerusalem Artichokes in the garden

So, that is the list.  So far this month we have enjoyed baked squash, raw carrots, Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Soup, Pasta with garlic, green garlic, and chives, stir fries with carrots, onions, and mung bean sprouts, egg salad sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts, spinach and sunflower sprout salads with hardboiled eggs, feta, mushrooms, and/or toasted sunflower seeds,  fish in a wonderful sorrel sauce, Vietnamese Fresh Rolls with buckwheat sprouts, julienned carrots, and chives  – a new invention and very yummy, and lots of mixed bean salads with red onions, chives, garlic, and garlic chives.  I seem to have problems getting to the kale!  When I finish writing this blog I am heading out for some wild leeks for this weekend’s supper.

If you are planting a garden, there are many things that can go in in April.  Green onions, more green garlic, radishes, peas – shell, snow, and sugar snap, salad greens, lettuce, spinach, and beets all can be planted and don’t mind a few frosty nights.  I like to start green onions, lettuce, spinach and beets in flats indoors in mid March so I get a head start on the growing season.  The other way that I speed up my harvest is to cover my April planting with a layer of floating row cover.  This cover is available from Seed catalogues and will warm your soil up by about 4 degrees celcius.  I find it works better than a cold frame and speeds up my harvest by about 3 weeks.  Nothing grows quickly in cool soils!  Around now I like to start another flat of lettuce, endive, beets, fennel, and green onions to be planted in the garden mid May.

So surprisingly lots to eat and a few hours worth of planting for April – all in all a great month!

Why is growing our own food so important?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Someone once said that you could solve 95% of the world’s problems if you addressed the issues surrounding food.  As I thought about this statement, I began to see all of the aspects of our life that food touches.  I thought about greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, waste issues, obesity, stress, degenerative diseases, poverty and loss of access to land and water in developing countries, genetically modified organisms, corporate control  – the list just kept on getting bigger.  The ways in which we set up our systems of food production governs much of the way that our society, and the societies that we trade with, function.  So, it would follow that if we changed our relationship with food, we could begin to reshape our society and address the problems that we face.

A century ago, almost everyone knew how to grow something, growing food and harvesting and storing it were very much part of day to day life and therefore part of a person’s education.  Often the academic year was arranged around the growing season, to allow children to help with the work on the farm.  Food was relatively simple, unprocessed and unpackaged.  But food production has become big business and today fewer and fewer people are actually involved in the whole process.  This has led to several generations of people who have very little understanding of their relationship to food or to the land that grows it.  I also believe it has led to a host of very poor environmental decisions that are beginning to have real consequences.

As an organic market gardener, one of my first real lessons in understanding consequences came when I was faced with an outbreak of cucumber beetles.  These tiny beetles are very fast and hard to catch, and they can easily destroy young cucumber plants.  I remember going to the local farm co-op store and looking at the remedies – this was before they had organic insecticides.  I read the labels, looked at the price (very high), and actually bought a container of something and brought it home.  Then I went out into the garden and as I worked I thought about the chemical, about the whole physical action of putting it on my cucumber plants, and then finally about harvesting those cucumbers and feeding them to my family.  I realized that the chemical insecticide was just not an option.  I think we lost most of that cucumber crop, but there were lots of other things to eat, and the next year we paid far more attention to the growing conditions for cucumbers.

Growing one’s own food also brings up many questions concerning value.  Science, technology, and industry have replaced so much of what was once an inherent part of human existence with artificial alternatives.  Why would anyone grow a head of lettuce when it can be bought for 60 cents at the grocery store?  Having grown my own food for 25 years now, I would ask why anyone would want to forego the experience of harvesting and eating something they have grown themselves for something that has no connection to their own life.  Taste and quality are definitely superior, but more than that, it is the satisfaction and the richness that gardening brings to my life that cannot be replaced.  In harvesting my own food year after year, I feel the sun, the wind, the soil.  I also feel deeply grateful for all that the earth has provided.  Somewhere along the way I have made a big shift from thinking that I grew my own food to realizing that what I am doing is caring for this miracle that is the soil and in doing so, am blessed with abundance.  For me, this is a way of knowing and of being in the world that comes only through thoughtful and mindful work in nature.  I also believe that it is the foundation for the kind of earth centered philosophy that we need so badly if we are to preserve this planet for future generations.