Monday, January 31, 2011

Stored Harvest Monday

I was very excited because I was cooking up some delicious winter squash lasagna - recipe inspired by a picture in Mother Earth News - with a butternut that had been grown on this land though not by me. This meant that I had something to post for Harvest Monday, hosted by Daphne's Dandelions...

This is one of those four element meals where everything happens at once.

... BUT we must have been very hungry and the lasagna looked so delicious that I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until... well... it was finished.

A dirty tray where once lasagna lay.

At this point, in the blog post, you'll probably be looking for a recipe but I'm not one of those cooks. Most of the time, I just wing it (Of course, with gardening I am a rigorous researcher and executor of orthodoxy. Really). So for those that will leave unsatisfied otherwise here is what I did:

Element 1: Boil thinly sliced rounds of butternut or other neck pumpkin
Element 2: Boil lasagna until al dente
Element 3: Fry onions
Element 4: Make a thick roux (equal portions of flour and butter) with milk, seasoned with salt and curry powder. Melt in a generous amount of cheddar cheese.

Layer with lasagna then pumpkin, onions and roux. Do it again. Top with a final layer of pasta covered by grated cheddar cheese. Put in the oven at a highish temperature and cook until everything looks melty and yummy. I recommend cooking covered for the first half of the time so that the top layer doesn't get too crispy or burnt.

Try to get that f#$%rst piece out. Pair with a salad from your polytunnel. Serves however many people you cook for though portion size will vary.


Admin stuff: For some reason, I can't change the design elements of my blog so note that Jeruselum Artichokes are no longer available.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not
- The Story of Crumbs - Part III
Will it Rot the Right Way?

Why the coat oil? Do you have something non compostable to hide?

Let's just jump in and grab this bull by the horns and then attempt to toss it in the compost pile. Wait that's against the cardinal rule of composting: No animal parts and by that we mean no milk, meat, or oil.

Otherwise, you could risk attracting pests, introducing disease or just smelling up the place.

I've never been very comfortable with this rule. Afterall, life is starting and ending in my yard all the time from the tiny microbes to the more visible vertebrates. Languishing in corners are the carcasses of bird and rodent. These have only caused a temporary smell and no one has mentioned that I should treat them as hazzardous waste. However, they are not in my compost pile and I have yet to introduce road kill into my corn patch so let's disect the problem and see what parts of it should induce panic and which parts can safely turn into humus.

The problem: pests, disease, oil and bones.

Many sources will say that you can get away with adding some dairy and a few will even allow a bit of meat such as the odd dead mouse (really) or flecks of oil assuming you bury it in the hot part of your pile.

Seen from a digestable perspective, the problem with meat and milk is the oils contained. Oil is both hydrophobic (scared of water - watch oil run screaming when you add water) and smothering, excluding two important components for aerobic (with oxygen) composting. Adding great dollops of lard or vats of olive oil is therefore not a good idea but a hot compost pile should have no problem consuming the left over roast duck in orange sauce or that yoghurt forgotten in the back of the fridge as long as carbon to nitrogen ratios are respected.

Disease organisms, for the most part, won't stand a chance in the inferno of hungry organisms and heat, but life is tenacious so I won't make a blanket statement that everything pathogenic will be eliminated. This is also true for plant diseases.(1) For more on this subject, I highly recommend reading the Humanure Handbook.(2) Some diseases, not only require direct host to host transmission but they only survive a narrow range of pH, temperature and moisture. Some, do not. If your beef could have prion disease, for example, I wouldn't compost it. I also wouldn't eat it. Not a bad idea to wash off some of that dirt from your carrot before chowing down too. (Kids did you here that?)

The aroma of free food will attract scavengers. It doesn't matter if it is a rotting apple or a left over t-bone steak. There are enough omnivorous pests that I would argue any decaying food can get the rats, squirrels, ants, racoons, bears, dogs, crows, etc... all excited. I have never had a problem with this in the city. Sure there were squirrels running away with their apple core bounties but I never had my compost strew about. Not everyone has such luck and quite frankily do you want a bear to think of your backyard compost as its fast food rest stop?

Those of us that do have an issue with truly scary magnificent animals visiting their piles may want to use other forms of human food to soil/plant food conversion.

Covering up the Problem

You may have seen composters on the market that claim that they will allow you to compost anything from dog doo doo(3) to meat. These normally use sealed, anerobic composting. They will contain the guck and the smell (hopefully). Alternatively, if you have just come home from a successful day fishing mackeral and want to have all your friends over for a fry up, you can do some shallow grave composting to cover up the allur of fish heads. A good topdress of dirt will cover some pretty ungodly smells(4). You could build a garden bed by progressively digging and covering an enrichment trench.

In The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Pleasant and Martin, they take care of the problems of smell and pests by digging a pit with an animal proof lid. Keeps a potentially unsightly pile out of sight too.

Transforming the Problem...

Composting is all about transformation so instead of lamenting that you have to toss away some perfectly good bones, why not make stock. Boiling bones and meat scraps to get the last of the goodness out of them helps kill potentially harmful organisms, gives you a base for delicious meals and reduces the bone of contention (I'm laughing) into a partially demineralized product that you can leave to dry. Crush the brittle remains to make something akin to bonemeal. I've read of people charcoaling then grinding the bones too.

Egg shells can also be saved and broken into smaller pieces that are more evenly spread around the garden. You could also boil these if you were worried about the little bits of raw egg clinging to them and pour them water and all into your pile. I wonder what would happen if you disolved the egg shell in vinegar first then added it?

... a little more radically

Speaking of chemistry experiments, Bokashi is a composting system that can be done inside using any food scraps by fermentation. This is essentially predigestion of your food into something more immediatley useable in the garden.

Indoor worm bins do pretty much the same thing leaving you with a wonderful crumbly soil at the end for soil ammendment or a pot medium for things like seed starting. I was quite surprised to read what people feed their worms since I had been lead to believe that their delicate systems handled only the most strictly orthodox compost ingredients.

On the internet however, there are people who have set the worm bins (which are communities fo various organisms not just red wigglers) the challenge of consuming a steak or a Tim Horton's coffee cup. I guess once you get to be a master worm wrangler, you could easily give them the last crumbs of your pork pie.(5)

A creature that definitely would have no problem with most table scrap are chickens. When I asked the question on my favourite gardening forum - Homegrown Goodness - what people composted and how, many said that they dealt with the issue of oil by adding it to their feed. Heck, you can buy chicken poop 'all natural' fertilizer in the stores. Someone else said the oil just helped their Terra Preta pile burn.

It sounds drastic but burning in areas where it is legal is another way to deal with problematic organic waste. One hunter makes sure that no big creatures raid his compost by cremating left over carcasses. This potash is then sprinkled onto the garden.

So there you go, deal with dairy, meat and oil by: burying, boiling, pre-digestion and burning.

* I would avoid adding diseased plant material into a compost pile, especially a cold one. Instead, it would be better to cook it in a plastic bag, burn it or dispose of it by some other means to avoid spread. In the literature, minor disease issues are often dealt with by clean up, or tilling under the diseased residue.

** Go on, read it, it's all available online, or buy it as a reference. Yes, it talks about poop.

*** Cat waste is spoken about as more of an issue as it carries toxoplasmosis which is harmful to fetuses and people with compromised immune systems. Other carnivorous animal waste can also transmit disease. I'll talk about possible composting methods in another post. To tide you over, Compost Guy gets the link of the day with a third reference to his site on this page.

**** If your slow burn pile has taken on an anerobic odour and the stirring the slurry seems impossible, cap it off with a couple inches of soil. This has worked for me.

***** I know if you look up feeding red worms meat, you will get the endless repeating of the same thing to avoid meat and dairy. The Copy Crazies, hereforth known as C.C. is an issue on the internet. I assure you there are also people who say otherwise such as this amusingly written article at Earth Worms Galore. The problem seems to be more with keeping the bin user friendly rather than the worm ecologies (more than worms will reside in your bin) not actually being able to deal with these byproducts.

Waste Not, Want Not - The Story of Crumbs Part I - baby flies

Waste Not, Want Not - The Story of Crumbs Part II - the how to guide

Now that we covered the easy bits, let's move on to more contraversial waste:

Waste Not Want Not - The Story of Crumbs Part IV - pee, hair and other gross stuff.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your series is not finished!!
and my pepper plant has awesome karma

It has occurred to me that some of my serial posts have left people hanging so I am going to correct that. I am referring to things like Part III of the No-Dig Gardening 'specific veggies and no dig' never being written. For shame! Speaking of which, I am currently finishing background research for the next post on composting. After this series, I'll be going back in the mists of time (while I wait impatiently for spring) to correct my dangling posts.

Remember the Scotch Bonnet, I've been overwintering? It got aphids again but besides tasting heavenly, it must also be saintly because it is now covered in baby ladybugs. I guess not all those adults I transplanted on were ladies... Bye, bye aphids.

P.S. Some very nice readers have contacted me to say nice things. Thanks guys! It keeps me motivated to realize that my hours of obsessively synthesizing plant related information does not go to waste.

P.S.S. Yes, I have been slow on the posts this month. Another writing project has been gluttonously consuming my time. That and life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Harvesting from my indoor garden Monday


As mentioned in my Too Many Seeds post, I started an indoor salad box where I tossed seeds from edible greens to grow a little cut and come again. The peas seem to be very vigorous still so they were the first on the menu: pea shoot omelets. One kid loved it, one kid was suspicious of the colored bits in their egg matrix.

Other things you can shoot this winter:

Allium greens like garlic, onion, green onions
Edible root vegetable tops like beet, turnip, oyster root
Wild roots like chicory, dandelion, burdock.* Grow in darkness if you want a milder tasting shoot. Belgian Endive is a produced by forcing the roots of a cultivated chicory in darkness.
Other vegetables you may have stored with roots such as cabbage, florence fennel and celeriac.

My technique?

I either plant in a light weed free soil mixture or sand that is kept moist. If I want it green, I put it on a sunny windowsill. If it tends to be too bitter to convince my family to eat like dandelions, I force in darkness (though I do manage to get some green dandelion down them too).

* Generally sources mention that burdock greens need to be cooked. I find that scorzonera leaves are better cooked too though they are often mentioned as a salad substitute. My variety is a bit too fuzzy for that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What to do with too many seeds!

I have a lot of seeds.

No, really: A. Lot.

Partly because I was moving last year so I couldn't garden as much as usual, partly because I was in collection mode for my new larger digs, partly because I have lots of generous friends, partly because I won't throw out seeds, and mostly because I love gardening.

I can live no longer with so many unsown packages of promise! Thinning has commenced.

Step 1: Really old seed that will probably not pass the germination test is being tossed into my new garden compost pile. Maybe some of it will germinate and if so YAY! If I recognize the seedlings, they will add to the garden with no further effort from me.

Step 2: Anything that is marginal for germination and an edible green is going into my indoor salad bed.

Ancient peas and spinach that might be as old as my youngest child (5) sprouting along with the fitful starts of short lived orach seed.

Step 3: Bags of left over nitrgoen fixers such as lentils, beans and so on (where did these things come from?) and other quick growing bulk plants are going to be sown when appropriate as green maure.

Step 4: Anything that can handle cold stratification (or prefers it) has either been fall sown in the garden or is to be wintersown in containers. I have retained some precious seed for more controlled germination but the rest is OUTSIDE.

The first set of wintersown containers. These are what I like to call deep wintersown. I have other seeds that I'll start later, sometime in February or March.

Step 5: If I don't want it / have extra and it will probably pass a germination test, it is up for trade. Any remainders will appear on the Seedy Saturday trade table or be donated.

Phew done for now. Still too many seeds. Maybe I'll try some weird tomato growing experiments. Can a tomato grow in the shade, on a rock, in a tree, on a boat, with a goat, eating green eggs and ham.

Order will be restored.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Harvest from-under-the-snow Monday

If it wasn't for the thaw, i'd have nothing (I miss my polytunnel) but we had a few days of mild temperature so I bring you parsley.


That's all (and some stored butternuts).