Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time to start... planting spring greens!?!

This article was first published in the Chautauqua

This week the autumn winds have been blowing in the season change, and blowing the leaves all over our deck and garden beds. In the midst of bringing in kilos of tomatoes and digging our root crops, I am sweeping off leaves and cleaning up my raised beds near the house. After pulling out the remaining plants, I am refreshing their soil with worm castings and compost. Then I am adding one more thing: seeds!

That's right – as the leaves fall down, telling tales of cold temperatures and winter, I am remembering the joy of the first spring greens. Two years ago, while thinking about how things work 'in nature' when humans aren't around to pick, preserve and replant seeds, we decided to try planting some lettuce in the fall to see what might happen in the spring. We planted several varieties in a couple locations, and then waited and watched.

What we found was the head lettuces came up along side the first shoots of grass and grew well in the cooler spring temperatures. It seemed that the leaf lettuces didn't do as well and we didn't really get a jump start by planting them this way. Last fall we let the head lettuces go to seed and didn't disturb the soil around them. This spring, we once again had early head lettuce.

This year we've added two raised beds just off our deck – the perfect place for greens, making them easy to harvest as needed. Therefore this fall I am moving my 'perennial patch' of lettuce. In the next few weeks I will be planting our head lettuce varieties alongside some spinach, arugula and a few other greens. I will stagger the planting over the weeks to help increase their success. If we get some moisture in early fall before the ground freezes, some seed may germinate and begin to grow destroying their chance of making it through the winter. Staggering the seeding means increasing the possibility that some seeds will remain dormant and sleep through the winter until spring brings the right conditions.

Growing them closer to the house, in a raised bed means that their soil will likely warm up sooner thus giving them the right growing conditions, earlier.

I enjoy fall – the fresh air and the beautiful colours, wild berries that get better after the first frost. I will even give winter some compliments when the world is clean and white and is giving us a break from being out labouring in the sun. However spring is still a favourite. Spring when she is bursting into bright greens and first flowers (I am a May baby, after all). So these seeds also hold some promise for me. When the winter is feeling too long and I am missing my fresh salads, I can look out over my coffee cup at the raised beds and take comfort in the early greens waiting alongside me.

Seedy September

This article was first published in the Chautauqua.

Since I have been out of school for many years and I have no children, Septembers of recent years have slipped by as a month of transition from summer into fall, but not one too remarkable. With September 2012 now upon us and this being my first full year back on a farm – I am learning a new appreciation for September.

This September feels like a month of harvesting the abundance of our hard work over the last months. By the time you read this, our pasture-raised chicken will be in our freezers (or someone else's), our new laying hens will be giving us a steady supply of eggs (I hope), and we'll be finishing up our beef and geese for butchering in October.

Then there is the garden to bring in. We've been enjoying fresh produce since early June and have already put up bagfuls of our snap beans and peas, but now its squash, corn, root crops, and the rest. Plus, this year I am carrying an extra basket with me as I go out to bring in our food. It is for seeds.

I've played with saving my own seeds at different points but this year I have been making a conscious effort to leave behind some produce or to let plants flower and go to seed so that I can have as much of my own seed for next year. It has been quite freeing to be able to say, “leave the rest of the beans for seed.” Considering I am having dreams about what to do with all my patty pan squash, letting go of the need to pick and preserve more beans was a relief.

Saving our own seed is a pragmatic action. I am out there already, I might as well gather a second 'harvest' from the plants that I put in during the spring and save us money in the spring time. As well, it can impact the quality of our garden next year. Research is showing that every year you grow a plant in your own garden – it uses information from that year in forming next years seeds, adapting to your specific growing conditions. Our garlic supplier encourages us to buy more the first year and to grow our own seed – they have learned that it takes 5-7 years for garlic to adapt to a specific ecosystem.

Saving seed is not something new but - in today's context – it may be revolutionary. For most of our human history, decisions as to what is eaten and how it was produced were made by the community and people in that immediate ecosystem. In the last century or so – we've very quickly changed that and handed over control and decision-making to the few and the powerful. As more companies patent seeds and call them their own, the common gardener will become a common criminal when they save seed and use it for their own purpose. Even if I am never arrested for saving and using my own seed – my seed saving is about freedom: the freedom to grow and eat and provide for my family and the freedom of nature's knowledge. The idea that anyone can 'own' that which has evolved and developed within ecosystems – alongside generations of human beings – seems ludicrous to me.

I appreciate those who dedicate themselves to providing us with seed – they are part of having a food secure and stable system. However I am looking forward to making this September a harvest of double-abundance: of the fruit and vegetables produced as well as the seeds for next year.

Purslane and New Perspectives

This article was first published in The Chautauqua

Last week (written in August) we ventured into the local farmers market for the first time. I wasn't sure if we had anything of interest to sell and I didn't want to bring in anything that others had, I wanted to compliment the items I've seen at the market.

We (our farm help, Mark and I) cut heads of romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuces, a variety of herbs, and bagged up purple beans. I also picked and bagged purslane, as well as printed out an information sheet on its use as food. I knew this would be a conversation starter, although I doubted anyone would buy.

If 'purslane' doesn't ring a bell – you may know it as portulaca. Yes, that 'weed' that your parents made you spend hours removing from the garden, being careful to not leave behind a root or leaf as it (supposedly) can reproduce from those. That's what we brought into the market and laid out among our other items for sale.

It definitely invited conversation and a lot of reactions. A lot of people said they would be going home to try some from their own garden, although I wonder if the thought made it home with them and if the purslane ever made its way to their table.

I am not sure if it is something I would plant and consciously cultivate however given the fact that our garden has an already established stand of it, I am happy to find out about its nutritional qualities. According to Edible Garden Weeds of Canada: “purslane is richer in iron than any other leafy vegetable, except parsley. It also said to be rich in vitamins A, C, B and omega 3s.

I have also read that it is grown as a companion plant in many countries – providing ground cover, holding in moisture and using its deep roots to bring nutrients to the surface through harder soil.

It is often how we look at things – if we see them as a problem or opportunity. Looking at purslane as a food source and a support for other plants in the garden means that I see the patches of it in our garden very differently.

It's likely no one will ever buy the purslane we bring to market but it gives us a way to start conversations with others and to make our booth memorable. I doubt people remember our farm name, but I wouldn't be surprised if we are referred to as “those people trying to get us to eat weeds.” There are worse ways one could be referred to.