Archive for December, 2012

Last of the Leeks

Saturday, December 15th, 2012
Leeks Under Leaves

Leeks Under Leaves

I took the opportunity of a nice afternoon yesterday to harvest the leeks remaining in the garden.  I had piled up leaves around them to prevent them from freezing.   I could have left them in a while longer, but with rains today and tomorrow, to be followed by some very cold nights, now was the time to get them out of the ground.

Cleaning Out the Leaves

Cleaning Out the Leaves

The Narrow Blade Gets in Tight Areas

The Narrow Blade Gets in Tight Areas

I used my CobraHead Long Handle to clean away the leaves packed around the leeks.  It works well for that task, much easier than trying to use a rake or scraping them out by hand.  The soil was quite soft under the leaves.  If the soil were bare, it would have been frosted.  The insulating properties of the leaves really make a noticeable difference.

Using a Garden Fork to Harvest Leeks

Using a Garden Fork to Harvest Leeks

A garden fork made it easy to the lift the leeks out without doing any damage.  While I had lots of nice fat ones and many long stems, they weren’t uniformly perfect.  Next year, I’m going to follow advice from Eliot Coleman that I learned in a talk of his I attended.  In his greenhouses, he uses a specially designed one inch diameter dowel as a dibble and makes a nine inch deep hole.  He puts a pre-sprouted leek in each hole, but does not fill the soil back in.  He lets the soil in the holes fill itself back in as the holes are watered and naturally collapse.  This method produces uniform long stemmed leeks and I can’t wait to try it.

Some Nice Fat Ones

Some Nice Fat Ones

Here are the leeks ready to be cleaned.  This final harvest represents about one quarter of the leeks we’ve harvested from one bed this year.

After Removing the Roots and Leaves

After Removing the Roots and Leaves

Normally I would wash them outside after cutting off most of the root, but as it was just above freezing and I’ve already put the hoses away for the winter, I just cut off the roots and most of the leaf material.

Almost Clean Leeks

Almost Clean Leeks

Here is the almost finished product.  The final preparation is to clean off any bad ends and dark green leaves, saving only the white and light green parts.

We cut the leek through most of the length, leaving the root portion intact and wash any dirt that may be between the layers.  These leeks will be frozen.  Prep from here is merely to dice and put in freezer bags.  Frozen, they are ready for soups, stir fries and sautés.

Leeks are easy to grow, their culture is pretty much the same as onions.  They almost never have any disease or bug problems and most good cooks consider them an essential vegetable.

Compost Mountains

Friday, December 14th, 2012
Twin Peaks, Wisconsin

Twin Peaks, Wisconsin

Geologists tell us that Wisconsin was once a land of huge mountains with crests as tall as the Rockies.  That Precambrian topography has since gone through quite a few changes.  While the state still has some gorgeous and impressive hills, spectacular snow capped ranges are not part of the scenery.  I’m working to change that.  Here are two mountains of compost covered  by our first significant snow of the winter.

Just last year, the smaller pile – elev.  53″ (1.34 M), was taller than the large one is now, but a turn and a burn have reduced it to less than a third its original size.  It’s still cooking very slowly, but is pretty much ready to start feeding the garden next spring.

The large pile – elev. 72″ (1.83 M), is this year’s collection of weeds and crop residues.  I’ll give it a turn next year and work in the sludge I’ve created in a 55 gallon drum, where I collect all the household compostable materials before I work it into the pile of drier outdoor material.

I talked about the sludge and the worms that miraculously show up in my compost in two previous posts:  Noel’s Sense of Snow and Compost and  Working Worms.

I have a larger property so I have the advantage of an easy-to-work open site, but compost can be made on a very small scale, and enclosed in containers.  If you garden and you can make compost, you should.

Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Agave Cactus

Agave

I recently had the privilege of spending the month of November in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was there to work on improving my Spanish, but I also had the opportunity to do a bit of cultural exploration. Right in the heart of the city is the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca). The garden is located on the grounds of a former Dominican monastery, but for many years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the site was used for military barracks. When the decision was made in the 1990s to turn the grounds into a botanical garden, quite a lot of cleanup was required, as much of area had been used for dumping grounds.

Yes, the spines on this tree are sharp.

Yes, the spines on this tree are sharp.

One Sunday morning my schoolmate Daniel (who happens to be an organic farmer) and I decided to take the tour of the gardens. Usually when I tour botanical gardens I like to take pictures of the plant labels so I’ll remember later what the plants are. However, the garden in Oaxaca has no plant labels. We were reliant on our tour guide to explain to us what most everything was. As is typical with me, I didn’t bother to write anything down. Let’s see what I remember.

We’ll start with the edibles. I’m much better at remembering food.

Sweet potato border

Sweet potato border

Okay, that wasn’t so hard. I certainly know what sweet potato leaves look like.

Raised beds

Raised beds

Ah, another one I’m good with. Marigolds in the front, corn in the back, tomatoes in the middle, and in the back left corner are peppers. In Mexico, peppers are perennials, and their stems were quite woody.

Fountain

Fountain

Well that’s just a neat looking fountain. No other identification necessary. This isn’t so hard!

Cactus Walk

Cactus Walk

Several cactus varieties, but heck if I know the names of them. I think our guide may have called the big slouchy one in the middle a biznaga. I only remember this because it was also the name of a restaurant in town that I frequented. See? Food is what I remember.

Living Wall

Living Wall

This is a wall made of closely-planted cacti. I asked Daniel to jump in the picture for scale. He’s 6’5″.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

You may notice this particular prickly pear isn’t all that prickly. Some commercial varieties have had the spines bred out of them for easier harvesting and handling.

Cycad

Cycad

I really like the way this cycad is leaning.

Elephant Foot

Elephant Foot

If I recall correctly, our guide referred to this as an “elephant foot” tree.

Well, there you go. If you happen to find yourself in Oaxaca (you really should find yourself in Oaxaca), be sure to take the tour at the botanical gardens. There’s a lot more to see than what I posted here, and the history of the place is very interesting.

 

Sweet Potato Black Bean Avocado Salad with Lime

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

Since we had a record harvest of sweet potatoes this year I’m trying to make a point to serve sweet potatoes once a week.  This salad was an experiment based on a magazine recipe I tried a couple of years ago.  The only thing I remembered was that the sweet potatoes were peeled and roasted along with the onions, and I was wishing that the onions were raw.  I also thought that the flavor of the potatoes would be more intense if roasted in their skins.

So here goes the sweet potato ‘margarita’ salad that was a winner for our family.

2 medium sweet potatoes, roasted in skins, chilled, peeled, and cubed to make 3-4 cups

2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed

1 avocado, diced

1 small red onion or about ¼ cup diced

½ cup cilantro, chopped

1 red Serrano pepper, seeded and finely minced

3-4 T. Olive Oil

2-3 medium sized limes

Salt to taste

Scrub and roast the sweet potatoes at 400 degrees for about an hour or until done.  Be sure to poke them a couple of times with a fork so they don’t explode in the oven.   Chill for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator to firm them up before peeling and cubing.  Lightly toss the sweet potato chunks with the black beans, avocado, red onion, cilantro and Serrano pepper.  Drizzle with the olive oil and the juice of 1 lime and toss again.  Sprinkle gently with salt to sharpen the flavor.  Serve with extra lime wedges.  Yum!

Cold Frames Ready for Spring

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Cold Frames

These two cold frames should be in production right now, but as can happen,  I never got around to seeding them this September.  If I had, we’d be eating salad greens, right now.   I’ve had several plantings  with some excellent  production out of my one frame:  Greens Under Glass,  and the second one was give to me this summer by my friend Dave Peterson, who was the primary instigator in getting them built.  I discussed the construction of them in a post simply titled Cold Frame.

Dave never got around to using his frame, and when his wife opted for daffodils over salad greens, I was quite happy when he asked if I wanted it.

The frames are in my compost area, so I don’t have any need for soil amendments.  I’ve worked up the soil, cleaned out the weeds, and positioned the frames facing south.   I’ll be ready to plant in early March.  I’ll just need to scratch up the soil and direct seed or move in some transplants.  Next fall I hope to be more diligent about getting some greens started and having a harvest that lasts well into the winter.