Monday, June 29, 2015

Rhubarb juice?

...that's right, rhubarb juice, and it's surprisingly refreshing, tasty and does NOT need a lot of sugar to be delicious.

1) pick loads of rhubarb. I tend to slice off the leaves right at the plant, and I place them around the base of the plant to mulch it. They break down pretty quickly.

2) chop into one or two-inches pieces.

3) fill a big soup pot

4) add enough water to cover the rhubarb

5) boil until all the pieces have broken down. This is a surprisingly short time.

6) stir up until you don't see any chunks left

7) ladle into a colander over your biggest bowl

8) I found I had to stir the soupy mixture around a bit to speed up the draining process

9) Put the liquid through a finer sieve if you want all the solids out

10) I added filled a quart and added 2 tbs sugar. When serving, I filled a glass half way and filled the rest with cold water. Tastes great chilled.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chimichurri sauce - what to do with extra cilantro

The best way to have a consistent supply of cilantro is to plant a few new seeds every week. Theoretically sounds great; practically nearly impossible.

Last autumn one of my cilantro plants went to seed. Didn't think much of it, harvested some of the seeds and ground them into coriander and called it winter. This spring all those seeds I didn't collect germinated (unlike the ones I try so carefully to plant and nurture in my basement) and I ended up with hundreds of cilantro plants in my herb bed.

Seeing all these plants flower and soon to seed, not only did I see the impending disaster I also saw potential deliciousness. Unlike basil, however, I wasn't sure what to do with such an abundance of cilantro. I looked up a recipe for chimichurri sauce and discovered it was wonderfully simple, I had all the ingredients and it would use a lot of the cilantro.

I went out and snipped with a scissors all of the cilantro except one, so it can go to seed, and went to work for a couple of hours picking leaves off the stems. I ended up with nearly 25 cups of packed cilantro, I felt like a king who had just discovered a cave of emerald jewels.

I then peeled nearly 50 cloves of garlic, which mostly exhausted our supply from last year, a good thing to since most of the garlic was starting to go dry and nasty. I then peeled the rest of the onions we had in the basement, also just in time because they were starting to go bad.

The recipe is as follows:
  • 1 cup packed cilantro
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • five cloves garlic
  • one small onion

I put everything in a food processor and whirred for a bit, and then pulsed. The recipe calls for the end result to be a bit chunky.

After the first batch, I discovered that there was far too much salt for our taste. Jay and I discussed this, and realizing that chimichurri sauce is usually a meat dressing, often found in Brazilian barbecue, it didn't surprise us that the recipe as called for was a bit salty.

So I added more of everything but the salt. After tripling the other ingredients, the salt got back to where I could enjoy the sauce. And is it delicious!

We made many batches, and froze them in 1/2 cup containers with snap on lids. I'm hoping it as delicious this winter as it is today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to build community - greet people

The proposed Mifflin Street Little Free Museum.

My 2015 New Year's Resolution is to work through the popular "How to build community" poster. This week, "Greet people."

Last week, my friend Liz stopped over to pick me up to go to a community theater production. She asked to come over early so we could walk around the gardens and visit the chicken coop together. As we were approached the front yard, Dave waved from across the street. A few minutes later, we talked with our next door neighbor Matt about his newest project, a Little Free Museum.

As we drove away, Liz remarked that her neighborhood was similarly friendly, chatty and open to conversation. She contrasted this with a story a friend of hers related not long ago. He had been visiting Liz and noticed how friendly people were, that they gardened together, had shared backyards for pets and children and even had community meals together.

His neighborhood, however, isn't as friendly. He told Liz that neighbors didn't greet one another, they didn't look up when they were walking around and to top it off, dogs had to have DNA tests done "So they could identify who's poop was being left around." My jaw dropped.

"Seriously?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Who has the time to scoop poop and check it's DNA?"
"Apparently they have hired people who do that," she answered.

My first thought was that with a little more greeting, there would probably be a little less poop leaving. It's hard to let your dog leave a turd on the lawn of someone you've gotten to know, who you'll see tomorrow or the next day, who will wave across the street.

My second thought was that some people simply don't want what Liz and I like about our respective neighborhoods. And, that's ok. However, there is growing evidence that as society moves toward more online "social" interactions, we're missing actual human contact and some people end up feeling lonely.

A simple hello across the fence or across the street could turn into a delightful, social interaction.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How to build community - A Little Orchard

I have the coolest neighbors on the coolest block in Madison.

Before Jay and I bought our house on Mifflin Street, I knew I wanted to install a Little Free Library in the front yard of our future home. During the first spring at our new house, Marilou, our neighbor across the street, let the block know she was planning to build one. Little Free Library (charter #2805) AWESOME!

That same summer, Rachel, our neighbor down the street installed a Little Gallery in her front yard, featuring small installations of locally created art. Rachel works with artists on monthly rotating exhibits.

This spring, our next door neighbors (and chicken co-parents) Matt and Marisa announced a kickstarter for a Little Free Museum to be installed in their front yard and feature small science and technology exhibits. There is a nice article about the project in Madison's Isthmus newspaper.

[NOTE: stop by for the June 11, 3 p.m. grand opening]

These kinds of projects remind me that community building doesn't have to take place in a community center, doesn't need a folk singer in a park or any other massive installation, intervention or investment. These slow foot traffic (and even some car traffic from what I've observed), encourage conversations and inspire inventiveness. Matt and Marisa were inspired by the gallery. And I'm inspired by them.

During our first spring at our new home we installed a front yard orchard. I've always had the vision to install a sign to explain the trees, shrubs and flowers, and point out the mostly hidden but very effective water harvesting system in place. Marilou, Rachel and Matt and Marissa have inspired me to design and install that sign.

My goal is to show people that permaculture design can be practical and beautiful, inspire people to plant perennial food crops and design yards to collect and store water in their yards.

I look forward to showing you what it looks like.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The new chicken run

Thought you'd like to see the new chicken run Jay built last weekend.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Today I found a secret garden in my neighborhood

Shortly after moving to our home on Mifflin Street, and expressing my interest in neighborhood community gardens, I began hearing about an abandoned garden just down the street from our home. I've heard it called "Marge's garden," and people have given me various instructions on how to find it.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a walk around the area I thought people were talking about, but found nothing but a few scraggly trees, certainly not worthy of being called an abandoned garden.

I again heard someone describe where this was at a community meeting a couple weeks ago, and tonight I further investigated the area and found it!

All I know so far is that a woman from the neighborhood actively gardened this area guerrilla style, and the city didn't seem to bother her or the garden. Even today, it's an overgrown mess with lots of wonderful evidence that someone had done a lot of work at one time. I'll let the following photos tell their own stories.

The approach, doesn't look like much at first

Looks like a sunken bathtub



Hundreds, or more, walking onions

Tomato cages in a raised bed
Looking at the neighborhood from the garden shows how close it is to the street.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The joys of discovering something for free

Last autumn, I found, hauled and shredded leaves from my block to make four large compost bins. I mixed the leaves with coffee grounds and let them sit over winter, mixing several times this spring, and had beautiful compost mulch for nearly all my gardens.


I was so pleased with the resulting compost that I wished I had hauled more leaves home last autumn, as dry leaves that don't contain grasses and weeds are hard to find in the spring and summer.

A treasure of shredded leaves waiting for me to haul away.
The other day while eradicating Canadian thistle in my community garden, I wondered over to our compost pile where I was sure to find some. Indeed, I found the mother of all thistle colonies. While there, I also discovered a beautiful pile of shredded leaves. It must be where the landscapers for the surrounding area dumped them.

I immediately recognized the solution to my lack of leaves problem. Today, while running errands around Madison's east side, I backed my car up to the pile and dug in. The leaves on top were crispy and not very decomposed, but just a few inches into the pile and they were wet, decaying and smelled wonderful. I filled two collapsible containers and the trunk (which I had lined with a tarp).

Passengers, you can't see in the photo, but they are belted in!
I stopped at the two Starbucks that are on my way home from work and one of them paid off with four bags of coffee grounds. Not enough for all the leaves I had collected, but a good start.

Back at home, I filled a compost bin, put down a layer of coffee grounds, then a load and a layer of too fresh horse manure, then a load and coffee grounds. I'll add water (or let it rain, whichever comes first) mix it up a few times and it will be a steaming pile in a few days; and should be beautiful compost to put my beds to sleep with this autumn.

My plan is to repeat leaf and coffee ground collection until all four of my bins are full. This should be enough for autumn mulching. After I empty them this autumn, I'll fill them again with leaves from the block. My ultimate goal is that I don't need to buy hay for mulch any more. I almost made it this year, but ended up buying two bales at the last minute when I ran out of my own compost.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Microblogs on Twitter or Instagram?

In an unusual co-mingling of my day job (social media specialist) and my passion (urban gardening) I found myself wanting to post pictures with one or two sentences that didn't seem to fit here, in my blog. And since I use MailChimp to broadcast recent posts (an extra step after writing a blog) that wasn't particularly handy as I walked around San Francisco this week.

So I'm wondering from you all, if I were to "microblog" any thoughts on which platform, Twitter or Instagram? One pro for Twitter is it can accommodate both photos and links. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Widespread public composting!

The picture says it all.

Nasturtiums as weeds?

It appears that mild and long growing season affords nasturtums the opportunity to become weedy.

Brief gardening notes from san francisco

This is just one of the series of brief observations well I am in san francisco. I'm well aware the growing season here is greatly extended from we have in wisconsin, but still, a few notes about what possible here are in order.

For example, I think that fennel is a weed here. This appears to be on abandoned lot where final has run around and. I can hardly get a few to grow in Wisconsin.