Saturday, May 23, 2015

BBQ Garden Connection

Sharing another note written for our local community garden members . . .   Some of it won't apply to the public at large, but some may prove useful!

While everyone knows there are many things we can grow in the garden that are tasty cooked on the grill or used in a sauce, some people may not have started experimenting with using garden grown natural smoke flavorings yet. Get your taste buds ready!

Rosemary at Growing Together Gardens
Rosemary is the most well known garden smoke flavoring, and we do have some rosemary to share in the garden. We have two varieties of rosemary, one is a tender version and one is more woody. The woody one is the one you want for the BBQ, and ours is a little over grown and needs cut back. It is growing in the large octagonal bed that was formerly tended by Adam and Melissa. This is the one closest to both the rows of rectangular garden beds and to Water Street. The part that needs cut back in hanging out of the garden bed. If you pruned a four inch piece, that would give you enough to try, and it would leave the rest for other people who wanted to try it as well. This is also the best rosemary for drying and grinding to use as a spice. If it turns out that no one wants it for the BBQ, maybe latter in the season someone will want to dry it for use in their kitchen. 

Another thing we have in the garden, which makes an excellent smoke flavoring is our raspberry canes! In fact, all the related cane fruits--raspberry, black berry, thimble berry, logan berry, and so on—produce a very tasty smoke. The canes themselves add fruity flavors, and the leaves which also have fruity notes, are more complex and hard to describe. If you have used fruit wood on the BBQ or in the some house, cane fruit is more like cherry wood than anything else, but really, it has a taste all its own.

I recently pruned back one corner of our overgrown raspberries in the garden, primarily to get them to resprout as more compact plants to give away through the food bank. That left a little pile of young canes with their leaves attached. Looking at that pile made me drool; however, I no longer run a little smoke house and I won’t be BBQing at anytime in the foreseeable future. If you would like to take some or all of those canes, they are on the ground between the new staked beds near the black compost bin and the berry patch. If no one is interested, once they are thoroughly dry, they will be safe to bury in a compost trench or to be clipped up into small pieces and put in a compost pile. If nothing else, they will contribute to our topsoil! Nothing need be wasted in an organic garden!

Questions are always welcome, in person at the garden or right here as a comment. In fact, if you want to share some BBQ tips on using anything from the garden, that would be grand.

Photo added 11.13.2016.  Text and photo copyright Harvest McCampbell.  Please feel free to use the buttons below to share.  All other rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waxing Poetic about Garden Volunteers

This is a little note I was sharing with the community garden members where I currently garden, and I thought I would share it with you all as well . . . .

In the garden, wherever I (and others) have used the compost produced by our garden, there have been a bunch of interesting seedlings. At first I thought, hoped really, that they were chives. They had that grass like look of young Allium seedlings.

But, no, what looked like a single seed leaf, divided into two long narrow seed leaves, very typical of the Umbelliferae family, but other than that I had no idea what they were. They didn't really look like carrot seedlings, and I was hoping they were not hedge parsley, often called 'stick tights' or 'miners lice,' which spreads like wild fire. It is totally edible and choice, by the way, but not many people know it or know how to use it.

Meanwhile, the seedlings have been coming in thicker and thicker.

Today I noticed a seed coat still posed on the end of one of the seed leaves. I have been watching to see what the first true leaves look like in an attempt to identify it. That seed coat looked amazingly like a fennel seed, so picked it off and tasted it. Yep, fennel. And it is coming in, in some places, as thick as turf grass.

The good news, is that fennel seedlings are totally edible in soup or salad. They don't taste like much now, and they don't amount to much either. But if you can tolerate them a few weeks, they will be yummy and tender.
I can tell you exactly why we have it in our compost. Last year, I was waiting for the fennel seeds to become mature, and I was going to collect them for tea and flavoring--for myself and to possibly share with the food bank if people were interested. But then right before they were mature, someone cut the fennel down. And honestly, I did not investigate further.  But apparently they were put in the compost.

Fennel normally does not have this rampant kind of germination rate, at least not in California where most of my garden experience comes from. Many kinds of seeds, especially but not exclusively those of the Umbelliferae family, have built in dormancy, so that only a few will germinate at any one time, staggering the germination of the seeds over days, months, and even years. It is a built in survival mechanism, which allows at least some of the plants' off spring to survive all kinds of quirky weather changes. Dormancy, however, is built into the seeds at the end of their development. So, if you time it just right, by picking the seeds after they have developed viability, but before they have developed dormancy, you can end up with perfect germination as soon as everything else is in line--such as day length, moisture, and temperature. Apparently, someone caught the fennel, in the exact perfect zone.

For future reference, never ever put fully mature or nearly mature seed heads of any kind in the compost--unless you either want volunteers or you know for a fact that the compost is going to get hot enough to sterilize them. Making truly hot sterilizing compost is an art and a science and it takes a careful blend of materials and attention and work. Yes, it does sometimes happen by accident. But don't count on it.

All gardens get volunteers. Plants that show up, because the seed bearing parts rotted in place or in the compost. Some times the wind blows them in, or they arrive by birds, or perhaps even fairies.  Volunteers are one of the delights of gardening, as far as I am concerned. I love surprises in the garden, and they are often superior to hybrids in taste and color, and nearly always superior to hybrids in vigor and hardiness. Volunteers rock. But not necessarily when they are coming in like turf grass . . . .

Gardening, of course, is a learning experience.  Community gardening is even more so.  We learn together in community.  We learn about gardening and garden materials management not just from our own experience, but from the experience of other gardeners as well.  We learn also, grace; to take the good with the bad and to turn sow's ears into silk purses, to turn a plethora of fennel seedlings into beautiful food.  

Nature abhors bare soil.  Sun light degrades soil nutrients in bare soil, and rain water dissolves them and washes them away.  In nature, if there is enough light, enough warmth, enough soil, enough moisture--the ground is always covered with either green growing things or with a deep natural mulch.  Nature attempts to do the same thing in the garden.  Nature gives us weeds and volunteers to save our soil.  It's our job, in the garden, to accept nature's innate system  and manage it to work in our favor . . .