Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Digging the Dirt / July in the Garden

Published in the Hoopa People Paper 2008, Copyright Harvest McCampbell

(The following information on flooding is from 2008, but the issues are not much different today . . .)

Millions of acres of agricultural land have been inundated during recent Midwest flooding, and it may not be over yet. Very little of this land will produce food crops this year, and much of it will never be the same. Flood waters, as devastating as they have been, are actually the least of most farmers’ worries. Those flood waters carry a burden of sewage; slurry from large hog farm manure lagoons; agricultural chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers; numerous chemicals from homes, hardware stores, and other outlets; and petroleum products from service stations and oil recycling locations. As the flood waters recede, farmland, wells, and homes are left with a layer of toxic sludge.

This devastation will affect food prices and availability in the short run--through this winter and on into the summer months of 2009. It may affect food quality for many years to come. Fortunately, here in the Klamath-Trinity region, we have been blessed with mild weather. It is not too late to get out in the yard and create your own little Garden of Eden!

The Calorie Connection

We normally depend on our garden produce to be low in calories; however, with all the Midwest agricultural flooding, we ought to think about increasing the calories grown in our gardens. Most of the calories in our diets come directly or indirectly from the Midwest: high fructose corn syrup, flour, bread, tortillas, pasta, cookies and crackers, as well as pork. Much of the feed used in poultry operations for both chickens and eggs, and the feed used to fatten beef, is also grown in the Midwest. Prices on all these foods, feeds, and related products have already been rising; they are now headed even higher.

Most of us could stand to lose a little weight; so perhaps the news isn’t all bad. Calories, however, are our bodies’ only source of energy. It might not be a bad idea to grow your own, especially if you are on a budget. July is a good time to think about planting some carbohydrate and calorie rich root crops. Beets, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, and parsnips all do well when planted in the summer or early fall. Plant them now, in a shady spot, for delectable roots this fall through early winter. (Add a little nitrogen rich soil amendment before planting; perhaps some composted manure or bat guano. Increasing the nitrogen will help prevent your summer crop from bolting.) Plant another batch in late summer or early fall, in full sun, for fresh produce this winter straight through to early spring.

Root crops do best when seeded into the spots where they will grow. Transplanting can cause damage to their developing roots. They can be grown in deep containers or raised beds if gophers are a problem. Be sure to keep the seeds and seedlings evenly moist until the young plants are established. Then check them every day, and only water as needed. A few young leaves can occasionally be pinched from each plant to add to salads. After the first month or so, the largest roots can be pulled for salads or side dishes to make room for the others to grow. You might want to try a number of different varieties. When you find some you really like, and that do well for you, you can plant a row or bed every few weeks for a continuous crop.

The Power of One Turnip Seed

One turnip seed, planted in rich soil, in a five gallon container, can grow to feed a family; if it is carefully nurtured. First, that little seed will send out tiny leaves. Those leaves will eventually grow large and plentiful enough that you won’t mind pinching a few to add to salads and soups. As summer fades into the cool part of the year, the plant will produce many leaves. Each leaf only lives a month or so. By watching them carefully and experimenting, you gradually learn when they are best for adding to salads (young and tender) and how long you can wait to use them as cooked greens. Your turnip plant will continue to produce leaves straight through winter and on into earliest parts of spring.

Once the days begin to grow longer, you will notice your turnip plant begin reaching upwards. Tender and delicious buds will form, which can be snipped with a few tender leaves, and added to salads, stir fries, and soups. The more buds you snip, the more the plant will produce, so go ahead and snip as often as you like. When you tire of the buds, the plant will begin producing flowers, which are also edible. The flowers can be used to garnish bowls of soup or salad.

The flowers will be followed by tender turnip “beans.” The young edible seed pods are tasty, cooked or raw. They can even be pickled if you are feeling industrious. But be sure to let some of the seed pods mature. Because the seeds that will follow have even more promise, even more to give.

Mature seed pods are the color of straw, and the pop when squeezed, revealing a number of amber to nearly black, small, round seeds. Collect the stems with mature pods into a brown shopping bag and allow them to dry completely, away from irrigation and other moisture. Once dry, use your hands to crunch up the stems and pop the pods. Slowly remove each stem, popping any intact pods as you do. Then shake the bag to encourage the seeds to settle at the bottom. You will have a mix of chaff from the seed pods and seeds in the bag. Reach into the bag with both hands, grab a handful of the chaff, and toss it back and forth to further encourage the seeds to fall. (The chaff and the stems make great additions to the compost pile or your garden’s layers of mulch.)

When you get to the bottom of the bag you should have more turnip seeds than you really want to grow. Plant out a row or two, and save the rest of the seeds. You can pinch the young greens as you did with your single turnip, and you can also begin pulling tender young turnips in six to eight weeks. Turnips are excellent raw, roasted, mashed, fried, steamed, or boiled. Extra seeds can be shared with friends and family. They can also be grown and used just like alfalfa sprouts; and the dry seeds can be ground or used whole as a tangy mustard seed substitute.

Turnips have been utilized as survival foods and as staples in many parts of the world when grain crops, trade, or transportation have been problematic. For fun, for variety, and for food security, consider planting a row of turnips in your garden this month. Don’t forget to save a seed to plant in a five gallon container, so you can demonstrate the power of one turnip seed.

Cooking from the Garden--for Diabetics

If you are having trouble finding creative recipes for your garden produce that you can confidently serve diabetic loved ones, I have a solution for you! 501 Delicious Diabetic Recipes is your complete source; step-by step instructions, nutritional information, the number of servings per recipe, and the exchanges per serving are all included. The exchanges used in the book are the ones developed in collaboration by the American Diabetes and the American Dietetic Associations. Ask the folks you are cooking for how many of each of the exchanges they can have for each meal, and you are on your way to planning a fabulous menu. Many recipes contain vegetables, but gardeners will find the sections on “Starch Side Dishes” and “Vegetable & Fruit Side Dishes” particularly useful. You will find a great selection of recipes that will enhance all “gardening cooks” home-made meals. Roasted Green Beans, Orange-Glazed Beets, Szechuan Broccoli, Curried Cauliflower, and Dilled Spinach with Feta are just a few I plan on trying. 501 Delicious Diabetic Recipes, Oxmoor House, 2004, ISBN 0-8487-3052-6. Available by request on-line, from bookstores, or your local library.

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