Monday, October 24, 2011

Our Own Pumpkin Patch

I have a confession to make. This adorable pumpkin patch, with 4 round, tiny, orange pumpkins? Cute, right? And so perfectly coincidental that 4 pumpkins grew when we have exactly FOUR preschool kids enrolled right now, right?

You have to know where this is going. YES, I snuck in a couple pumpkins! Now, two of them are officially, ligitimately OUR pumpkins, grown from last year's jack-o-lanterns. But, we needed four. There really is no good way to divide 2 tiny, adorable pumpkins among 4 children (unless making soup, but these pumpkins were not destined for soup...they were destined to go home with each child). I wanted each preschooler to have a hand in harvesting the 'fruit' of our summer's effort in the garden...especially the pumpkins, since they brought so much excitement as we watched them grow. On one of my grocery trips, I just so happened to find two little pumpkins that I really could not distinguish from those that we grew. I snuck the imposters in, and made a plan with the preschoolers that we were going on a little walk to our 'pumpkin patch'. I was worried that they would notice (since we've been monitoring those babies for months)...but we were all caught up in the exictement and no one said a word...except WOW! YAY! AWESOME! What is it with kids and pumpkin patches anyway? Oh wait a minute...that was ME yelling WOW! It was contagious; the kids easily caught on.

Here we are on our 'journey' to the pumkpin patch, on a slightly drizzly day. I could not have asked for more animated, excited reactions as we finally cut the pumpkins from their vine.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Plenty

Here is a great read, chronicling one couple's attempt at eating locally!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of several books I've read already that start out with a similar mission: the author sets out on an experimental journey (usually of one year), vowing to eat only foods that come from a certain radius of their home. In other words, to plunge headfirst into the locavore movement to see if it is a feasible goal. Of those that I've read (including my beloved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), each has its own flavor and personality to add to the genre.

Plenty is definitely worth reading. Written by both Alisa Smith and her partner, James, there are tender moments between the two...and not-so-tender moments as their relationship centers around their eating. They add plenty of personal background stories, and have some great, well researched pages about the history of human beings and food. There are even some deep moments in which James and Alisa question everything about their very lives, which resonates with anyone who is...well, human. I enjoyed the humor, wit, and pure emotion these two willingly expose along their journey.

What I really like about Plenty is that Alisa and James live in a city apartment, with literally just a balcony. After years of waiting, they have a tiny plot in the community garden, but not enough room to grow a significant portion of their own food. It was inspiring to read about their dedication to finding sources of food within their 100 mile limit. Even if, at times, I wondered about all that driving they were doing (trips to the outermost limit of 99 or 100 miles to find food started to become routine). They did make sure to mention that they had a 'tiny' car with great gas mileage.

One of the challenges that really resonated with me was the difficulty they had procuring rice and flour. Lack of local rice was not a huge shock, but not having access to wheat? I commend them for their commitment to their project even when facing this staple loss! While trying to work with other carb sources, and eating LOTS of potatoes, the theme of searching for wheat was recurring. They were close to victory a couple of times: once getting a tubful of wheat from a nearby farmer who had grown a small amount but found it unprofitable. Their precious tub of wheat quickly became an elephant in the room as they began sorting it...and finding they had to separate almost equal parts mouse poop from the wheat berries (which smelled like mouse urine even after being sorted). What a huge effort filled with disappointment! Once Alisa and James finally find a local wheat source, near the end of the book, I nearly cried with joy with them as they baked and feasted.

When not driving to obscure locations, they walked to farmers markets, or, shockingly, rowed to the sea to collect saltwater in order to make their own salt. Yeah, they did that. Everything else in the book was pretty mainstream for collecting/foraging/seeking out local food, but by adding the saltwater story at the end, I saw that they were willing to take great pains to truly obtain their own food in the future, if they suddenly were no longer able to put gas in that tiny car. Which is a skill that I think we should all be thinking about obtaining!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Grow Great Grub

This is a sweet little book that I wouldn't mind having a copy of!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
With gorgeous photos, delicious-sounding recipes, and hundreds of handy tips, Gayla Trail leads the reader through a fantastic guidebook on growing food when space is very limited.

What I am most impressed by in this book is that Trail goes into detail about every common vegetable plant you might want to try to grow, and gives specific tips for growing each in containers. Many gardening books are loaded with ideas on helping different plants thrive, but on a big scale. This is a super reference for those whose only option is container or tiny-plot gardening.

At the end of the book she gives a simple tutorial on canning, even including reproducible canning labels, which can be copied from the book, or downloaded from her website, She also offers tips on on drying, freezing and pickling your home-grown food.

Gayla's other website is Love it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hasty Harvest

We may have been a little too hasty with our harvest.

A week ago, on a FRIGID Monday morning, which followed a very cold and windy weekend, we headed out to the garden and harvested ALL the tomatoes and peppers. The tomatoes were mostly green. I was convinced that only cold winds, maybe rain, and lots of frost was going to follow the next few days. Did I check the weather forecast? No. I was going by...intuition? I felt an urgent need to go and rescue our beloved veggies. I imagined that if we did not get the peppers and tomatoes inside, they would succomb to disease, blossom end rot..or maybe even get eaten by hungry animals. I was determined to save the harvest!

I was wrong. A week (and counting) of gorgeous, 80 degree, sunny weather followed. All the tomatoes may have had a fighting chance to ripen on the vine! But instead, Lily and I harvested every single last green fruit while the others were at preschool.

All the tomatoes went into a brown paper bag, with an apple for company. I had read that tomatoes will ripen indoors with this method.

We moved on to every last green pepper, habenero, and jalepeno. The habeneros never got hot, which is one of our garden mysteries (any advice???). They will definitely not go to waste, hot or not. We will use them up like we would red or yellow peppers.

The onions, peas, pumpkins, and kohlrabi were spared our hasty Monday-morning harvest. They continue to do well, and have not seemed to miss their tomato and pepper neighbors as they've basked in the gorgeous sun every day since.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Dead One!

Okay, I should not be so excited about this. But look!!!

I would not even have seen that hornworm were it not for the many wasp caccoons on it. Another wasp nursery, yay! Yes, it's gross. Weird. Gives me the heeby-jeebies. But hey, I won't complain about the help these wasps will give me in protecting the tomatoes, this year and next.

Once again, we will LEAVE IT BE! We'll work around this macabre dead beast as we harvest our tomatoes. We want those cacoons to hatch and boost the population of braconid wasps. If only I didn't feel so queasy after looking at it...