Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Garlic scapes are up, time to harvest

Garlic scapes, the thick stem growing out of hard neck varieties, have been spotted in several community garden plots. I like to write about them to a) let you know they are up, b) remind you to remove them and why and c) what to do with them. In a word - delicious.

Garlic scapes are that curly "whip" that grows up the stem of hardneck garlic. Softneck garlic does not have this whip, and I recently learned that most commercial garlic found in the grocery store is softneck precisely because growers don't have to deal with the scape.

"Deal with?" you ask. If the scape is not removed, the plant will put lots of energy into developing a flower and seed pod, thus leaving less energy for the underground crown which is what we harvest in July. Removing the scape not only helps develop a larger crown of garlic, it's also tasty.

This year I planted more than 100 cloves, which means I have that many scapes to harvest.
Wait until the scapes curl. Harvesting them too early and they'll grow back.

What to do with them:
1) use them as you'd use garlic in any food preparation
2) chop up into stir frys
3) they make a spicy and crunchy addition to salads

Monday, June 13, 2016

Diversity and potential at the edges

In permaculture, we notice that edges are places in the world that offer huge diversity. Have you ever noticed how fence rows between fields, or tree lines between fields and woods, or the marshy areas between dryland and wetlands are teaming with a wide variety of plants and animals? This is because these in between parts benefit from qualities of both sides of that line, and therefore are able to support a huge variety of life. Walking down my driveway recently, I noticed an edge I had not considered before.

We have a cement driveway between our house and our neighbor's house. It collects a lot of solar gain and moderates the nearby temperatures. On either side of the driveway is a three-foot strip of dirt. When we moved in, our side of the driveway was a shabby garden bed with trumpet vine (still digging it out four years later) and an invasive little bulb that just won't quit. It gets a lot of mid-day sun and I turned half the 60-foot length into a perennial herb garden, and the rest of it is our kitchen garden with one cherry tomato plant, basil and other annual herbs.

The other side of the driveway is technically our neighbor's property. She doesn't use the driveway and it's on the north side of her house, so it was nothing more than a mass of daylilies that didn't bloom because it didn't get nearly enough sun. With her permission, I created a raised bed with low retaining walls, mimicking our side of the driveway. For several years I have successfully grown grow kale and other shade tolerant plants.

In between the wood wall and the driveway, on both sides, is a sliver of dirt, in some places no more than a quarter inch wide. Here is the edge where I noticed an amazing diversity of plant life. Following are photos of what I discovered in this "edge." All of the plants below are "volunteer," seeded from last year's stock - evidence that truly we can cultivate food anywhere - to think I had once considered "weed eating" this edge.

Volunteer lettuce from last year's plant that went to seed in the vicinity. Time to harvest!

Borage. I can't believe I started some this year, I've got it everywhere, including the crack between the cement and the retaining wall. I'll leave it for the pollinators, and I love the little flowers.

Dill! I'll let this grow tall and then harvest the fronds or the seeds for pickles.

Cilantro. Going to seed. I'll harvest some and let one seed for next year.

Fennel. The bulb won't get big, but we'll eat the fronds and later, the seeds.

A wide-angle shot of everything except the lettuce, which is on the other side of the driveway.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Coop Tour

Jay, Matt, Marisa and I participated in the June 4, 2016 Mad City Coop Tour, a self-guided tour of 11 chicken coops around Madison and surrounding suburbs that (presumably) allow back yard chickens.

The weekend before the tour Jay and I cleaned out the coop, just like you would if you were having guests over for supper. We changed out the bedding, scrubbed down the walls and power washed the exterior to take off a year of dust. I also cleaned out a layer of litter and chicken poop from the run, and discovered that indeed, our decision to fill the run with gravel was a very, very bad idea. (The sand had filtered down to below the gravel, and digging out the run brought lots of gravel with it. Once composted, I will have to sift out the gravel. My long-term goal is to dig out all the gravel (a couple yards of it) and replace with sand which we’d replenish once a year.)

The tour lasted from 9 AM to 1 PM. Jay and I had the first shift from 9 to 11, after which I took my nieces and nephew to the children's opera for a 45-minute version of “The Magic Flute." We set a table with literature that the coop tour organizers provided, a stack of magazines, a few printed maps of the other coops on the tour, and some snacks. We also had a foot washing station for people to step into — a 1:32 solution of bleach to water to help prevent the spread of disease from coop to coop. The 2015 Coop tour was canceled due to an outbreak of bird flu in Wisconsin. Fortunately, that your I did not hear of any backyard flocks affected by the disease, but several large-scale poultry operations had to destroy it many, many birds and the coop to organizers did not want to take that risk.

I really enjoyed putting together a slide show of the coop building and the first year of the bird’s growth, and printed it out for people to page through. I thought you’d enjoy seeing in, and thanks to the Internet and decent bandwidth, you can download a Powerpoint or a PDF of the show to see photos of the coop construction and photos of our birds.

PowerPoint Coop tour slide show (this will start a download, after which you can open in PowerPoint)

PDF Coop tour slide show (this will open as a PDF. For best results, after opening, select the "expand" icon (see example at right) to view in full screen.)

Jay and I prepared a table with sprinkles of rain in the air. The light drizzle passed before the tour started.

I created signs to hang on the coop to highlight some of our favorite features and lessons learned.

The coop tour organizers even provided us with sidewalk chalk -- we marked the road too.

So impressed with the tour organizers, they provided magazines, extra maps and other literature. We added some of our favorite books and the snacks.

All set and ready to tour.