Purple Orach from Wild Garden Seeds
If you are growing food and flowers, take a moment to consider your seeds- how were they developed? where do they come from? Are they treated, untreated? What is the different between OP, F1 and GMO, really? All plants go from seed, well- to seed. The selecting, saving, sharing and sowing of them is highly valuable work.
In the world of seeds, Frank Morton, and his Wild Garden project is nothing short of heroic. As their statement reads: All of our seed is Organically Grown at Gathering Together Farm along the winding Marys River on the edge of Philomath, Oregon. All of this seed is open pollinated, untreated, germ and vigor tested in living soil mix, and well cleaned. Most stock seed for our crop production have been reselected under stress and disease pressure in our breeding nurseries at GTF and Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, five miles upriver in the colder dry foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. Many of the of these varieties originated in our on farm breeding program for organic conditions and improved fresh market quality. These are denoted by our farm-original mark . Other varieties have come to us over twenty years as heirlooms or reliable commercial standards, now with generations of selection on the farm. Our ecological approach to plant breeding and crop protection generates superior strains and varieties for farmers who don’t use chemical crop protectants and fertilizers. The small-scale care and authentic fertility of our production fields yield fat seed with exceptional seedling vigor, a key trait for organic crop success.
When I first learned about Wild Garden, I was immediately turned on by their philosophy and approach.Perhaps more importantly, however, I quickly discovered that the seeds speak for themselves. Morton’s basic arugula is my gold standard. His Purple Osaka grows with muscular strength and the taste of wasabi. Wild Garden’s lettuce mix – the company’s original offering – stays speckled, vibrant and tender even in desert heat. And I suppose that is the point. The success I have experienced with their varieties, does indeed, inspire me to save the seed from that sweetest head of lettuce and the deepest hued Osaka leaf. Regardless, though, of whether or not you’re interested in saving seed, Wild Garden is a superior source for growing inspiration and high quality varietals.
To learn more – and purchase seed – visit Wild Garden Seed
Listen to Frank Morton describe the relationship between humanity, agriculture and seeds here
In recent years, backyard fowl have become as commonplace as flower beds in neighborhoods both urban and rural. Understandably, as chickens and ducks vastly improve the health of your garden. Birds truly make the best yard maintenance crew; plus, they turn your waste into food. Likewise, you can turn their waste into food. Assuming many of us already keep fowl for these reasons, here are some key tips to making the most of your flock.
-Introduce ducklings. Chickens are more popular than ducks- ducks get a bad reputation for making a mess. Yes, I admit, they are water birds and will surely muddy up wet areas, but they also provide certain benefits that chickens do not. They are superior foragers, feasting on a wide range of insects and grubs, including slugs, which can be devastating to plants. Ducks can also be easily herded and- most importantly – egg laying breeds produce eggs richer in fat and protein than chicken eggs. All the better for superior cake baking.
-Raise the water. Traditional waterers, which sit on the ground, work fine. I find, however, that for cleaner water – and a cleaner coop, a suspended water dispenser works better. You can purchase a set of red chicken “nipples” for only a few dollars. Simply insert these into a standard, 5 gallon bucket using a hand drill. Hang the entire system from a rope. The chickens will naturally attract to the red color and the scent of the water. Adjust the height as the chickens grow. Less mess, less wasted water.
-Move the coop. The grounds of a duck or chicken pen are rich in manure. The easiest way to make use of this natural fertilizer is simply to turn the plot of the pen into a garden. Ideally, you should adopt a seasonal rhythm for your yard – regularly rotating animal spaces and growing spaces. This will overtime, improve the health of your soil. Managed rotation is the easiest and best way to put all of that good bird waste to use. I also like to think the animals appreciate a change of scenery.
-Watch your birds. This may sound unnecessary for such self sufficient creatures, but chickens are highly social and problems can easily develop within the flock. There is often a hen who is picked on more than the others, or a rooster who is too aggressive. After feeding, hang around to see who does what. Is one bird getting shooed away from the scratch? Is the rooster actively assisting hens in finding food? Backyard fowl provide so many rewards to the gardener. In return, make sure your coop is full of happy, healthy (laying!) birds.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” -Masanobu Fukuoka.
Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and philosopher who lived and worked on the island of Shikoku, until his death in 2008. Fukuoka is famous for developing an agricultural method known as “natural farming.” It is sometimes translated as “do-nothing farming.” Although, personally, I find that to be an unfortunate title for a what is truly a rigorous and sensitive approach to growing food.
Fukuoka’s theory is based on the integration of cultivation and nature. In his 1975 manifesto “One Straw Revolution,” Fukuoka proposes a way of a farming that eliminates tillage (human or machine), prepared soil amendments, as well as weeding or pruning of any kind. Using this approach, Fukuoka was able to produce fertile grain fields and citrus orchards, while still maintaining the natural and wild qualities of his surroundings. “Natural farming” essentially describes a classic permaculture design – a sustainable, productive system in which all parts can adapt and thrive harmoniously. Fukuoka, of course, had no knowledge of Permaculture or Bill Mollison when he began farming and writing.
While not every detail of his practice may apply to your own garden, Fukuoka’s style, tone and basic concerns are easy to embrace: “I just emptied my mind and tried to absorb what I could from nature.” His philosphy reminds us why we choose to grow food in the first place. Or, it will at least inspire you to pose that question to yourself next time you are seeding vegetables, picking fruit from a tree, or simply absorbing your natural world.
Learn more about Masanobu Fukuoka and “One Straw Revolution”
I recently recommended using a hand hoe to clear weeds. Another great way to get rid of weeds? Eat them.
One of the most insidious and (thankfully!) tastiest weeds is Lamb’s Quarters. Also known as goosefoot (a reference to the shape of the leaves, Cheno meaning goose and podia meaning foot) and Pigweed – an equally appropriate title. Believe me, I took care of a piglet last summer and she consumed mounds of this stuff.
Lamb’s Quarters are in the family Chenopodiaceae, which also includes the more familiar spinach, quinoa and chia seed. Lamb’s Quarters are a staple in Mexico. There, You would encounter them under the name Huauzontle. Traditional Mexican recipes using Huauzontle can be found in the venerable Diana Kennedy’s “From My Mexican Kitchen”.
When young, Lamb’s Quarters are very tender and you will notice a powdery white film on the surface of the leaves. As the plant grows (it can get to be as tall as 6 ft high) the thick stem will take on a magenta colored striping. Either way, it is a delicious, green addition to your plate. Lamb’s Quarters are rich in calcium, fiber and iron. They are also a good source of B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Use them anywhere you would normally use spinach. Just think of it as “wild spinach.”
Spring farming is rough. Early mornings are still chilly enough for knit caps and afternoons feel like mid July. Row cover blows everywhere and your plants are still tiny. Greens and mustards have not yet matured enough to harvest – even for a modest salad. Spring farming demands patience. I find that eating tasty weeds is one of the most gratifying ways to endure this season. I rely on Lamb’s Quarters (and purslane and chickweed…) to satisfy my very impatient craving for garden food. Eat what you weed!
It’s edible garden weekend at San Francisco’s Flora Grubb Gardens. If you’re an SF resident (like me) you won’t want to miss Saturday and Sunday’s workshops featuring Christopher Shein on Edible Ecosystems and Clarke de Mornay on Vegetables in the City.
This is a great time to start thinking about cultivating a sustainable food supply in your very own backyard. Whether you’re a green thumb or an aspiring one, don’t let that pesky fog belt discourage you! Both Shein and de Mornay know the ups and downs of permaculture in the Bay Area. Perma-what?
According to the Permaculture Institute, “permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.” Eager to know more? Well, it’s time to learn because wouldn’t it be great to have your backyard be the farm in the farm to table dynamic? I think so. See you in the garden!
The best tools always feel like a natural extension of your own body. A simple hand weeder perfectly demonstrates the beauty of an intuitive, efficient tool.
The best time to weed is as soon as you see a thin carpet of unwanted green surrounding your plants. Obviously, it would be far too tedious to pull each tiny sprout by hand. Luckily, a sharp hand hoe can clear an entire area in a single swipe. Glide the blade along the soil at a shallow depth – just deep enough to kill the blanket of weeds without disturbing the soil too aggressively. Be careful, of course, to avoid cutting the plants you are trying to save. In fact, when you are first getting used to the tool, it is a good idea to hold the stem of the planted crop with your free hand as you weed around it with the other. A new hand hoe will have a sharp tip at the edge of its blade. It is wise to file down this point to further prevent accidental slicing.
By May there will be twice as much happening in your garden. Now is the time to get a good, thorough pass on your rows. The weeds will inevitably persist, but clearing them at this early, mid-spring stage will at least save you more arduous battles later.
I just helped Kickstart Regan and Carey Meador from Southhold Farm and Cellar‘s project. I’ve known Regan for a long time and am excited to see him get his vineyard up and running.
Taking over land abandoned by bigger wine growers, The Southold Farm and Cellar is intent on bringing a series of strange grapes to the North Fork of Long Island including Lagrein and Goldmuskateller. This Spring, they want to kick things off by planting 1 of their 23 acre homestead with Teroldego and the other with some more known grapes like Syrah.
It’s not often you see someone with the balls to start a vineyard. They’re expensive propositions, so if you’ve got a few bucks to spare, give ‘em what you can here.
The Cornell Small Farms Program has just released their new “Guide to URBAN Farming in NYS”. The Guide answers common questions about farming in urban environments, and can help you launch, continue, or expand your urban farm business.
“The 105-page resource guide contains fact-sheets on a myriad of topics, including tips for advocating for urban agriculture, engaging communities, dealing with contaminated soils, intensive growing techniques, urban composting, site security, urban livestock, direct marking options, accepting food stamps, grant and financial opportunities, and many more! Also included is an appendix listing services and resources available from several urban farming organizations throughout New York State.”
Download it here.
Photography: Jackie Snow
Good things come in small batches—just ask the folks behind Dandelion Chocolate. Run out of a factory in San Francisco’s Mission District, Dandelion is a small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker. “Make” is certainly one word for it. Try: roast, crack, winnow, conch, temper—all the many artful steps that go toward prepping the cocoa beans for the final product. Only one other ingredient is added, cane sugar, before each bar is molded and packaged by hand. Dandelion has recently opened a retail space, where they offer their signature treats: three single-origin, 70% cacao, tasting bars. Nutty, fruity, peppery—there isn’t one we wouldn’t want to melt directly into a cup of hot milk, creating the most delicious hot chocolate imaginable.
Who knew that, much like viticulture, the study of chocolate was so complex? Indulging our sweet tooth, we recently chatted with Dandelion chocolate maker Alice Nystrom and did some tasting of our own.
WQ: We all have a childhood notion of what it would be like to work in a chocolate factory. As a chocolate maker, you have first hand knowledge. What exactly are the steps that go into chocolate making and what is the significance of Dandelion’s “small-batch?”
AN: We make our chocolate in “small batches.” This means that all of our machines are much smaller than their industrial counterparts. It also means that we have more room to play. When we first get a bag of beans, we’ll use our test equipment to make a series of 1 kilo batches, roasted to various lengths of time. We decide which of those batches has the best flavor and scale it up to work in our production equipment.
Our production begins by hand-sorting raw beans. We then roast, crack, winnow, grind, melange, and temper our bars by hand. We foil each of our bars, use a machine from 1955 to wrap them in paper, then add our labels.
WQ: When I tasted my first cacao bean, it tasted very bitter (hold the sweet). How is the bean integrated into chocolate production? What effect does the bean’s origin have on the final flavor?
AN: We’d all love to be able to taste finished chocolate when we sample raw beans. It takes a very well-trained palate. If we could taste raw beans on a farm and have a vision for the final product, it would be a great help. When selecting beans, we can taste for a certain level of quality and then we rely on other indicators. Generally, we learn as much as we can about the beans, the farmer’s practices, and the consistency of his production. We then get samples, make tiny batches, and evaluate whether or not these beans will work with our process.
The bean’s origin and the farmer’s practices have significant impact on the final flavor we can create in our chocolate. For example, I was lucky enough to visit the farm that grows our Madagascar beans last year. These beans grow in the Sambirano River Valley. The Sambirano River overflows frequently, leaving the soil fertile and rich. The farm that grows our beans, SOMIA, also has great biodiversity. SOMIA grows fine cacao, bananas, ylang ylang, peppercorns, and vanilla. These factors together produce bright red cocoa beans with powerful, fruity flavor. The farmers at SOMIA work hard to develop the flavor of their beans through fermentation and drying. The farmers carefully control the temperature and length of fermentation, developing flavor precursors. They then dry the beans in a way that releases some acetic acid, but does not mellow the flavor. By the time the beans arrive at our factory, we work hard to process the beans very lightly and to highlight the flavor they developed on the farm.
WQ: As a chocolate maker, what are you tasting for when you taste chocolate? Is it, for example, like wine tasting? Is there a ritual? Terminology? Any mouth sensations? Aftertaste?
AN: We try not to make our tastings too strict. We have our process, but there’s no wrong way to taste chocolate! We like to take a square of chocolate, bite it a little to break it up, then slowly let it melt. This way, we notice a distinct beginning, middle, and end of the flavor.We also pay attention to the texture and melt. Finally, if the chocolate’s particularly acidic, we often notice a puckery mouth sensation. The vocabulary for tasting chocolate is very similar to wine, beer, or coffee. We often notice sour, roasty, bitter, tannony, fruity, and nutty notes.
WQ: Not everyone has a sweet tooth (full disclosure: I’ve only developed mine in the past few years or so). What would you say to those savory inclined folks out there that might convince them to nibble on some Dandelion Chocolate?
AN: Not everyone loves dark chocolate right away. We work hard to create a variety of flavors in our bars. Some of our bars are easy to love, real crowd-pleasers. Others are bold and striking to tasters. Hopefully, everyone can find something they like.
Our cafe will be all sweets, all made with our chocolate. We’re sticking to what we know and love. We’ll have a full menu that covers dense and rich, light and fluffy, hot, cold, gooey, and crumbly.
WQ: I can imagine that your taste for chocolate has evolved over the years and that you’ve tried chocolate of all shapes, origins, and flavors. What’s an unexpected food that is perfectly complimented by chocolate? Do you have an all-time favorite chocolate shop or favorite chocolate recipe?
AN: I’ve learned a lot about pairing chocolate from our neighbors! I paired chocolate with cheese at Mission Cheese, chocolate with beer and savory food at 18 Reasons with the folks from Abbot’s Cellar. I have quite a few favorites from those nights — pork belly dressed with mole definitely stands out.
I’m excited for our chocolate cafe to open! Our pastry chef, Phil, shares treats everyday. I can’t wait to cozy up in the front of our space with a hot chocolate and a pastry. Hopefully our cafe will become my all-time favorite chocolate shop.
“A carrot is not a work of art. I’m not proposing that anyone think of a carrot as a work of art. But what I am saying is that a carrot and the art I make here are both results of the same process.” Peter Nadin
In the 70s, Peter Nadin was an IT artist running a gallery with social activist and painter Christopher D’Arcangelo. After the partnership dissolved, The Times describes Peter as having a nervous breakdown, which “caused Nadin to begin seeing the world in a fundamentally different way.” The painter revised his work – popping up here and there in select and famed galleries. Rather than continue to climb the art world ladder, “he became, for all intents and purposes, a farmer, sitting out an era in which the art world, from the template established in the frenzied 1980s, transformed itself into a fundamentally different place, a behemoth increasingly driven by the demands of commerce and popular culture. The few times Nadin’s work has surfaced anywhere in the last few years, it has been far from that world, in places like Cuba…”
But, you’re in luck. If you missed Nadin’s show in New York last year, The Horticultural Society of New York has your number. The group of merry gardeners is hosting an exhibition of Nadin’s Taxonomy Transplanted. Like much of his recent work, this series of paintings on handmade bamboo and cattail paper was created on Old Field Farm. The work is inspired and facilitated by the farm’s plants, livestock, products, activities, and landscape.
The exhibition opens with a reception featuring a short film by Nadin and Aimée Toledano (see trailer above), as well as a Bootleg Buying Club with products from Old Field Farm, including honey, jams, chutneys, and tea.
Wednesday, December 12, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.
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