Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Miracles Every Day

Snow on the dogs:

Snow on the boy:

Snow on the blueberry bushes:

Snow everywhere:

In my own mind, miracles are the unexpected things that go my way. These are not to be confused with what a Cajun would call "lagniappe," the unexpected little something extra that comes along with the usual expected events/items, or a bonus. These events stand on their own.

Just lately, I've experienced the Atlanta area's first white Christmas since 1882, the last ping-pong table tomato's not being eaten until TONIGHT (almost the end of December!), and finding a live bat in my kitchen (also tonight!). The mail lately has been stacked high with seed and garden-related catalogues, and everyone at my house is well during the holiday season (usually, someone has a cold). Right now, I am feeling really blessed in this season of miracles (yes, weirdly enough, even with the bat).

If you count as miracles the flashes of insight that sometimes strike people, I've had a couple of those, too. They are both related to a book Joe gave me for Christmas, "The Resilient Gardener," by Carol Deppe, who also wrote "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties." I am using that second book as a guide in dehybridizing my favorite canary melon.

In "The Resilient Gardener," Deppe points out that she has a large garden only because she and a friend lease a two-acre property on which to grow it. Her own house's yard is too small to grow many veggies. If she can lease garden space, it is likely that I can, too, if I really want more garden space. That is definitely something to think about.

The other insight was something I've suspected but haven't wanted to totally face: if I want to find a really good list of veggies that do well here in metro-Atlanta, I can't wait for a seed company to pull that together for me. I have to make that list myself. It's going to take some work, researching seeds and sources, and it could take years of experimentation. I've been growing veggies here for a long time, but it seems I have a long way to go . . .

Deppe recommends that gardeners begin with seeds from a local, or at least regional, seed company. There isn't one for the Southeast, not really. Park Seed in South Carolina is the closest, but it sells plenty of varieties that are more trendy than region-appropriate.

The next closest seed source that might count as regional is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and it is in Virginia.

Locally, my best source so far in a lot of ways is Ladd's Farm Supply up in Euharlee. It offers some seeds, to measure out from bins, that local farmers have been growing for years. It's a good starting point, but its offerings also have a lot to do with what is commercially available. For example, the owner would like to offer some other varieties in particular that customers have asked for, but hasn't found a good source for those.

I have a lot of work ahead of me! That, too, is a miracle. How wonderful it is to have goals and plans.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Food Traditions

I am pretty sure that gardeners think about food more often and in different ways than a lot of non-gardeners. Since I am the only vegetable gardener where I work, and I get to choose most of the news “briefs” that go into the little newspaper for which I work, it wouldn’t be a surprise to any of my gardening friends that the paper contains a fair amount of food related news.

However, a week or so back, a non-gardener asked why we’ve included so much news about kosher foods (it’s a Jewish publication), threats to kosher food rules around the world, new certifications, and sources of information about keeping kosher. My thinking is that food plays a very important role in tying people to their cultures and to their families. The laws of kashrut (kosher lifestyle) are an important part of Judaism, even though not all Jews follow the rules in their daily lives.

Many less observant Jews, though, do follow the kosher laws to the best of their ability during the High Holidays, the holiest days for the community. My belief is that food traditions are a strong connection to community and to the past, that following the food traditions of Judaism during these times provides a great connection to the Jewish community, and can even light a way back to the community for people who have not been actively Jewish in the rest of their lives.

Since I think that community is important for the happiness and well-being of people in general, I keep including information about kosher foods and laws.

I am not Jewish, but my family has some food traditions, too. One that is important to me is making egg-noodles for holiday meals. The dough has to be rolled out, dried for an hour or so, cut into noodles, and then dried some more, so making these noodles doesn’t exactly provide instant gratification, but taking the time to make them connects me to a kitchen-full of older female relatives --an assortment of aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers, now all dead-- who put together huge holiday meals in Claremore, Oklahoma. The noodles, cooked in broth made from chicken “parts,” also connect me to the frugal frontier cookery of my family’s past.

Of course, we have some other food traditions that are less frugal. One is Aunt Mickey’s fruit salad, which includes Jello, whipped cream, and a whole lot of fruits that are not all in season at the same time. I don’t make this one any more, but my Mom does, and so do some nieces (who learned how from Mom/Grammy) and probably a sister or two. We also eat a lot of pie during most holidays, and some of us have convinced ourselves that pumpkin pie, in particular, is a healthful breakfast food.

As a gardener in the Southern US, the foods I grow in the yard help connect me to the South. Sweet potatoes, especially, play a larger role in my winter diet than ever before, because they grow so well in my yard. I’ve been eating more greens, all kinds, and in summer I’ve had tomato sandwiches after my neighbor-across-the-street, a Southern girl, told me how much she likes them. If I had a bigger yard, we would have more corn and more crowder peas.

I would say that these are also foods that mostly grow well in Oklahoma, but when I was a kid we ate a lot of magazine-inspired meals that involved cans of cream of mushroom soup. Holiday foods were an exception (except, obviously, for Aunt Mickey's fruit salad).

As I begin to put together my garden plan for next year, one of the things on my mind is making sure that the varieties are totally appropriate for the place where I live, the Southern US. I’ve made a lot of progress in this direction over the past almost-twenty years, but I sometimes get pulled off-track by the amazing descriptions in seed catalogues. If I choose carefully, though, the foods I grow will be great ingredients for traditional Southern meals.

In this way, gardening and then eating what grows in the yard serves as a reminder of my connection to the geographical and historical place where I live and have raised my family, and to the community that is here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Mexican Food Miracle

The unprotected cilantro survived the hard freeze! We had a low of 14 degrees F in our yard last week, and the cilantro is still there. I had fully expected it to keel over in the cold.

I can't take a picture because Joe has the camera in Austin where he is visiting his mother, but the plant is definitely looking perky and green. In other winters, the cilantro has not made it through such low temperatures.

In other news, my friend Eddie, of the persimmons, sent a correction to the previous post:
The persimmons I gave you were not American but Asian. The tree you got from me might be an American type that has seedless fruit.

He also added that the weeping persimmon's name should be Diospyrus kahki 'pendula.' (Thanks for the update, Eddie!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Persimmons and a Friend

A friend sent an email note that he had persimmons and did I want any. Of course, the answer was "Yes!" Joe and I went over to to his house, and we saw that our friend's little weeping persimmon tree was loaded with fruit. He stayed with us out in the Very Cold weather, picking persimmons. This is what we brought home:

I have some work to do! These will all need to be washed and then pushed through the ricer to separate the pulp from the skins and large seeds. The work will be worthwhile, though. The flavor of the pulp is exceptional.

My friend Eddie Rhoades grafts fruit trees, and he has grafted a piece of his weeping persimmon onto a sturdy rootstock, so he will have another one of these little trees producing fruit in a few years.

There is a persimmon in my backyard that he grafted. It should produce fruits that have few or no seeds at all. If I am lucky, it will start bearing in another year or two. It has already been out there for two full years, and the scion was from a fairly mature tree.

We have a young Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro (Asian persimmon) in the front yard that set three fruits this year, but they disappeared about midsummer. I am hoping for more next summer, and for them to stay on the tree until ripe. This particular persimmon is supposed to be non-astringent even when hard; American persimmons, like those that my friend Eddie gave us, are powerfully astringent until they become fully ripe.

Eddie is also the source of my shiitake mushroom log. His haven't produced mushrooms yet, either, but I am thinking that this spring we will both get plenty.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seed Catalogues!

The seed catalogues are arriving! Actually, I think most people around here call them catalogs, but either spelling is going to get the idea across.

The first few came last week, but the ones that arrived earliest aren't my favorites. However, yesterday the Fedco catalogue arrived, and today I got one from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. These are two of my three favorites, so I am a very happy woman.

Actually, it is hard to know whether the early arrival is a good thing. On the one hand, the results of the 2010 gardening season are still pretty fresh in my mind, which should make seed selection easier. I won't have forgotten which varieties did really well and which were a total bust. In addition, this makes my husband's seasonal shopping a lot easier. I can just circle what I want, and he can buy it for the next gift-giving occasion. It's hard to think of a better present than the promise of spring.

On the other hand, I haven't had the down-time from gardening that makes a new catalogue in January seem like such a ray of light in the cold and early-dark of winter.

Luckily for me, I can have the best of both worlds. The catalogue for Sand Hill Preservation Center, the other of my "top three" favorites, always arrives in January.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Hard Freeze on its Way

Over the weekend I saw a weather forecast for my area that included temperatures as low as 19 degrees F. That cold weather should begin tonight, with a predicted low around 23 degrees and colder nights to follow, so I spent some time on Sunday getting the garden ready.

You would think that by now there wouldn't be anything left to do, but there was plenty. The bok choy and broccoli are likely to get "freezer burn" in the low twenties (let alone the high teens), so I harvested all of the best parts of all of those plants. That means I brought in the last two bok choy and the last four heads of broccoli.

When I cut the broccoli, I noticed new ragged edges on the leaves; they were the ragged edges caused by caterpillars, and I was a little surprised to see an actual green and growing cabbage worm on a broccoli leaf. I had thought that the weather had been cold enough to stop those little guys, but I was mistaken.

I also harvested the rest of the winter radishes, the last turnip, and a big bunch of cilantro. These were all out in an unprotected bed, and I didn't want to leave them out to turn mushy. The turnip would have been fine in the cold, but it would have been out there all alone if I left it, and leaving it just seemed wrong somehow.

Also, I brought in a lot of lettuce. This would probably be fine under the plastic tent where it had been growing, but I won't want to pull the plastic back for harvesting while the weather is so cold, and I will want salad before it gets warm. I picked plenty, so we can have lettuce every night for a week or more.

In fact, the lettuce-eating started tonight, with tacos. The beans were prepared using peppers from the garden (chopped and frozen) and a tomato from the ping pong table; lettuce and cilantro from the garden were piled on top.

Also on Sunday I added another sheet of plastic over the top of the little tent that houses the lettuces and some vegetable babies. I thought about doing something with the carrots but decided to just wait to see how they fare.

Here is a picture of winter radishes, Moksha, and me:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Southern Seed Legacy

The Fall 2010 issue of Seedlink, the newsletter of the Southern Seed Legacy project, contains some news that made me a little sad. SSL, which has been housed in the Anthropology department at UGA, is moving to the University of North Texas (in Denton). This really great project saves heirloom Southern seeds and their histories.

The move is probably good for agrobiodiversity, because it is likely that more seeds and their stories will be able to be gathered as a result of the move, but it seems like a real loss to this state.

One way that Southern seeds have been gathered is by having students hunt them out (visiting old farmers and gardeners to see what they are growing) and then record histories of how the seeds came to the family. A lot of the seeds saved through the project have been beans and southern peas (crowder peas, cowpeas, black-eye peas, etc.), probably because these are easy to save.

To keep the seeds alive, rather than having them all warehoused in a freezer somewhere (although I am sure that some are kept exactly like that), members of the project can request some seed to grow for themselves. This would make the project kind of like a "Johnny Bean Seed," except that one third of the resulting seed is supposed to be shared back with SSL and another third with another gardener. This practice keeps these heirloom Southern seeds alive and in use.

I have not actually requested and grown out any of their seed, but I have taken the idea to heart. I have shared my own favorite crowder peas, "Pigott Family Heirloom," with a few people already, and at least one couple has liked them well enough to save some for subsequent years. This has made me very happy.

My Pigott Family Heirloom peas were purchased through Sand Hill Preservation (one of my top three favorite seed sources), and their catalog, which is pretty much the last one to arrive in the mail each year, says that the variety came from Louisiana.

These are some of the Pigott Family Heirloom peas:

They don't look like much, but they are delicious! Also, they are not available in many places. That is the point of SSL, to find those seeds that are not generally commercially available, seeds that have been grown for generations by a family here in the Southern U.S. so that the seeds are adapted to this region.

I have been supporting SSL for a few years, and I have enjoyed the Seedlink newsletter. I am including an excerpt from the most recent issue here:

Fred Lunsford, an Eastern Cherokee elder and Baptist preacher, told me a story about leather britches that he and his wife preserved and prepared from a Yellow Hull Cornfield bean that he had originally acquired from his grandfather in Clay County, N.C. In 1995, Fred had a heart attack and was asked by the dietitian at the hospital to record the foods he was eating at home. Day after day, leather britches was prominently on the list. The dietitian from the North couldn't figure out why in the world Fred would be eating his leather britches. Well, she tried to investigate by asking the nurses, but Fred was onto her confusion and told them not to tell her what leather britches were. Finally, the dietitian asked the cook if she knew and she replied, "Boy, I reckon I do. I'd like to have me some right now." - Jim Veteto, Director, SSL

I am sure that not everyone in the north is clueless about leather britches, but the story is a reminder that some really good foods that grow well in the Southern U.S. could be lost without efforts like those at SSL.
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