Blogs for April, 2014
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
checkout the archived city farm blog articles to learn about our takes on farm & city life
My memories of May Day stem from my pagan youth in the public school system of Eugene, Oregon. We decorated construction paper to staple into a colorful cone for the wildflowers we picked. Teachers herded 8 year olds into a circle around a makeshift, maypole, where we grabbed hold of the thick ribbons attached at the top, and learned how to bob and weave amongst each other, wrapping the pole in a beautiful braid of spring colors.
I had no idea why I was doing this dance. And now, I’m more aware of the first of May as a day of protest for workers’ rights around the world. But while I’m raising my voice on behalf of justice, I’d also like to regain a bit of the celebration of spring. According to Brittanica.com, the celebration of the first of May probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals – where people gathered flowers and branches, wove floral garlands, and danced around the maypole. It may have been a ritual to ensure the good growth of crops, and as the site reminds us, when our crops and food flourishes, we all flourish.
Though May Day is traditionally the celebration of spring, in southern California, it’s already looking a lot like summer. The days are getting longer, the sun is warming up the earth, and I’m dreaming of flip-flops, sundresses, and backyard barbeques. Visiting a friend’s front patio this weekend, I saw the beginning of her corn crop, planted in a wooden container, and wondered if I could make space in my courtyard apartment to grow some of my own.
Since corn grows up, not out, you don’t need a huge container, but, in order for it to pollinate properly, you do need to plant the seeds in at least three rows of three or more plants. And because it’s a tall crop, you can plant smaller plants next to your corn, a la the “three sisters” plan: corn, beans & squash, that, as legend has it, Native Americans grew together, ate together, and celebrated together.
SFGate.com tells us city-growers to choose a sweet corn that doesn’t grow as big, such as the “Precocious” or “Golden Bantam” variety, and to have patience before you plant, the soil should be about 70 degrees F. Plant the seeds two inches deep, 4 inches apart, with rows separated by 8 inches. According to SFGate, soil must remain moist but not wet at all times until the seeds sprout, which can take one to two weeks. Once the seeds sprout, thin the seedlings so the remaining plants are 6 to 8 inches apart in the row.
I’d love to bring freshly picked ears of corn to toss on the grill at my friend’s next BBQ. I’m just wondering if I could borrow this truck I saw parked in my neighborhood to do so? I can already see myself in it, wearing sundress & sandals, a bundle of home-grown corn in a City Farm satchel on the passenger seat: it fits perfectly with my urban farmer or vineyard owner dream / alternate reality! Read more on growing an edible garden here.
Photo credits: The City Farm Satchel; Growing Sweet Corn; Rebecca’s dream truck
I spent a few of my formative years in the south, and though it took me some time (and lots of swimming pools and iced tea) to adjust to the heat, humidity, and slower pace of life it enforces, I miss it. I miss that the very air has a weight to it, slowing you down as you move through a day that I can only describe as “soupy.”
I find ways to revisit the south, through literature—the stories of Flannery O’Connor, or television—if you haven’t seen the first season of “Rectify,” watch now to live inside a gothic southern story. So when I saw that “Mud” was streaming on Netflix, I settled in to be transported to the dark waters and swamps of the Arkansas Delta, a region of the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, sometimes called the Mississippi embayment. In it, Matthew McConaughey pays a man who is known as Mud. On the run from the law, Mud befriends two 14 year old boys. It’s a beautiful story about the belief in love, the friendships that can sustain you, and what to do in case of snake bite. (Spoiler alert – but really? The foreshadowing is pretttty heavy-handed for that one.)
Watching Mud struggle to survive on a deserted island of the Delta, I began to wonder. If he’d just been a Boy Scout, might he have foraged his meals from the land, and not have to convince kids to steal cans of beans for him?
Googling edible plants in the Arkansas Delta, I discovered Osmunda claytoniana, the “Interrupted Fern,” named for the gap in the blade that wither and fall off. “Fragmentary foliage resembling Osmunda claytoniana has been found in the fossil record as far back as the Triassic,” Wikipedia tells me. So clearly the plant is a survivor. But could it help our man Mud survive his time in the wild, as his bag of sandwich bread runs low?
They’re beautiful ferns. I recommend planting them, if you live on the eastern side of the U.S. And a bonus, they’re deer-resistant. But. “Unlike those of the Ostrich Fern, the Interrupted Fern’s fiddleheads are not readily edible, due to their bitter taste and a tendency to cause diarrhea. The base of the stipe and very young buds are edible.”
They lost me at diarrhea. A man on the lam does not need that. Moving on.
Not surprisingly, dandelions grow on the Delta, and as I previously posted, dandelion greens are the fountain of youth, and would have kept Mud supplied in iron and vitamin E.
Camellias are edible as well – and since they often bloom in the late fall, they can double as garnish for your holiday meals. Mud was a man of faith, in the power of love, in the curative properties of bonfires, in the luck inherent in certain objects. I think he would have boiled some camellias into a tisane. The flowers are used for teas, and known for their antioxidants, they may also play a role in treating cancer. Though the studies are inconclusive, green tea from the camellia plant contains polyphenolics that may inhibit the formation of tumors.
Sassafras – Trails.com notes that sassafras is a main ingredient in the making of gumbo, and the small bush has black colored berries that have been used in the United States for over four hundred years. If Mud could procure molasses, the roots of sassafras, when boiled, could be made into his own, artisanal, criminal-on-the-run root beer.
If you were deserted on an isle, would you know what to eat? Check out my previous post on growing edible gardens. I’d love to know what you forage from your garden, or from your morning walk – leave us a note in the comment section, or on Twitter @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
(Photo credit: Interrupted Fern; Dandelion Greens, Sassafras, Camellia)
I don’t know why, but while researching “the history of tulips,” I sit up straighter, and the voice in my head pronounces the phrase in a British-nanny accent, a la Mrs. Doubtfire. Which is odd, since the flower was first cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey), and imported into Holland in the sixteenth century. There’s something about tulips: at first right and proper, they turn wanton, wild with abandon, fully open and flouncing their last days, dropping their velvety petals to the ground.
I visited Portland, Oregon last weekend. Usually known for its roses, was the City of Tulips. Everywhere I turned was a riot of brightly colored blooms, reaching straight toward the bright sun, a rare sight in the spring sky.
If you’re like me, by the time tulips are on your radar, it’s too late to plant them to enjoy them in your own garden. According to SF Gate, tulip bulbs require at least 14 weeks of cold weather to help them store the required nutrients to bloom when the weather warms. 14 weeks is three and a half months. So … (This forced me to do actual math, you guys. It was not pretty. I’m a writer, not a wizard.) If you want to see spring flowers, you’ll need to set your Google or Mac calendar alert to plant your bulbs in early or late fall, depending on your zone.
Even though you’re looking ahead to fall, it speaks of spring and hope, to open your calendar so far in advance, and plan on what you will plant, to set a foot in the future. The Farmer’s Almanac advises planting six to eight weeks before a hard frost is expected and when soils are below 60 degrees F. This timing ranges from early autumn (Zone 4) to late autumn (warmer zones). And though tulips prefer a site with full or afternoon sun, when in Zones 7 and 8, choose a shady site or one with morning sun only.
Seems a good time for a tulip festival. The Skagit Valley fest in Northwest Washington state runs through April 30th, and besides the beautiful tulips, there are wineries to visit, a distillery where they make vodka and moonshine, whale watching trips, a street fair featuring arts and crafts from over eight states, and more. Moonshine & tulips. Carpool?
Share photos of your tulips with us on Twitter: @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely
Could a dandelion save your life? Maaaaybe not. But it could make it a whole lot longer. The NYT Magazine piece entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die” references the Grecian diet of dandelion greens that contribute to this small isle’s longevity. Dr. Ilias Leriadis, a local doctor on the Greek island of Ikaria, a place populated with healthy 90-somethings, spoke about a local “’mountain tea.” Made from dried herbs endemic to the island, the tea is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. “He mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon. ‘People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,’ Leriadis said.”
I always loved dandelions, the bright yellow flowers cheery, the puffy white heads just begging to be blown into the air. With one puff, the beautiful seeds float away into the air, slowly landing wherever the wind took them. Then I was caught – a spreader of weeds in my mother’s garden. But, as DailyOm’s Madisyn Taylor notes, “one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.” Weeds are defined by their tendency to thrive, often where they are not wanted. “In a sense, weeds are harbingers of this wildness, pushing their way into our well-ordered plots, undermining more delicate flora, and flourishing in spite of us.”
I tend to thrive in a wild, overgrown garden, too. And, as food prices rise and I continually learn how important digging in the dirt is to both my soul and my stomach, I love being able to eat from the earth, especially in case of that pesky zombie apocalypse. And, if you don’t want to treat your lawn with chemical fertilizers or weed-killers, harvesting your dandelions will help keep them in check.
According to SF Gate, dandelion greens “provide four times as much calcium, 1.5 times as much vitamin A and 7.5 times as much vitamin K as broccoli. This leafy green vegetable also contains twice as much iron and three times as much riboflavin as spinach, and, while spinach provides no vitamin E or carotenoids, dandelion greens boast 17 percent of the daily adult dose of vitamin E and 13,610 international units, or IUs, of lutein and zeaxanthin per 3.5-ounce serving. However, dandelion greens are lower in vitamin C and folate than either spinach or broccoli,” so mix up your garden and your diet.
To eat like a Greek, add dandelion greens to your tea or salad, Ikaria-style. The lifestyle on the island sounds like a dream for those of us longing to escape the race of rats in the city. Describing a day in the life of one couple, Buettner writes, “Like that of almost all of Ikaria’s traditional folk, their daily routine unfolded. … Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk.”
Who’s moving with me to Ikaria? As long as my Netflix works there, I’m IN.
If you’re not ready to retire to a Greek island, are you ready to embrace the weeds in your yard? If you’re foraging for dandelion greens, be sure to avoid places where weed killer may have been sprayed. How will you prepare them? “The tender leaves can be sautéed like kale, and the flowers are prime for dipping in tempura batter and frying or baking into a sunny loaf of bread. Even the root is edible, making for a coffee-like drink or base for ice cream,” writes Leslie Kelly, over at SeriousEats.
So the next time you see the delicate puffy ball of dandelion seed poking up through your garden, let go the stress of a weed-free life, enjoy blowing the beautiful seeds into the winds, and then reap the benefits and greens of the dandelion.
(Photo Credit: Ramon Felinto)
I recently received two boxes of City Farm Caramels as a gift. They are delicious…but then how could anything whose main ingredients are butter, sugar, and cream be anything but perfection? After the first box of caramels was gone, I searched the internet for recipes that used caramel candy. I found two. The first one is from Cooks.com. The second one is from BettyCrocker.com.
CANDY BAR COOKIES:
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
Cream butter and powdered sugar. Add vanilla, evaporated milk, and salt; mix well. Blend in flour. If necessary, chill for easier handling. Roll out dough, half at a time, on floured surface to a 12×8 inch rectangle; trim sides. Cut into 3×1 1/2 inch rectangles or 2 inch squares. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 12-16 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
1/2 lb. light colored caramels
1/4 c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. butter
1 c. powdered sugar
1 c. pecans, chopped
Combine in top of double boiler caramels and evaporated milk. Heat until caramels melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, sifted powdered sugar and pecans. Spread 1 teaspoon filling on each cookie.
1 (6 oz.) pkg. Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate morsels
1/3 c. evaporated milk
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. powdered sugar
Melt chocolate morsels with evaporated milk over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, vanilla and sifted powdered sugar. Top each cookie with filling with 1/2 teaspoon icing. Decorate with pecan half.
CARAMEL CANDY BAR COOKIES:
14 ounces caramels
1/3 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.
Heat caramels and milk in 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth.
Stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and egg in large bowl. Stir in butter with fork until mixture is crumbly. Press half of the crumbly mixture in pan.
Bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips and walnuts over baked layer. Drizzle with caramel mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool 30 minutes. Loosen edges from sides of pan; cool completely. For 54 bars, cut into 9 rows by 6 rows.
Never have I spent so much money at Trader Joe’s. Never have I felt so badly for my Uber driver, who voluntarily lugged a box of bottled water up the steep incline to my apartment. After a series of 4-5 point something Richter-scale earthquakes in the southern California region, my father sent a loving, wise, and panic-inducing email. Having lived, unprepared, through the 2011 earthquake in Tokyo, Japan, Papa Snaves (as you’re allowed to call him if you should ever have the pleasure) sees some patterns, and advised me on what he wished he had done in the days leading up to the “big one.”
My shelves now stocked with non-perishable cans of tuna, peanut butter, and nuts, I am set to enjoy the. most. disgusting of emergency meals, should the big one hit Los Angeles. Though I plan to re-stock my wine & chocolate stash to eat by candlelight, to make up for the tuna / peanut butter combo, I now wish I’d planted an edible, earthquake friendly garden to graze when the stores shut down for lack of supplies and / or electricity.
What can you plant that requires no electricity or water to feed you well should an emergency shut down your usual food supply? According to SeriousEats.com, “most edibles want ‘full sun,’ or about six hours per day of good quality sunlight. (There are exceptions, like lettuces, which do well in shade.)” And if you’re lucky enough to get more than six hours of sun, take some time in your space to scout out areas that have natural shade as the sun rays shift. Sunset Magazine has a page of links to dig into to tease your edible gardening taste buds. And after you’ve done the work, take a seat on a tree stump and eat straight from your garden, from beans and lettuces to tomatoes and potatoes.
If, like me, your green space in the city is limited, check out GardeningGuides.com for the sizes of containers you need to grow a delicious salad of radish, pepper, cucumber, carrot and more!
And if the big one does not hit, my nerds assure me you’ll still need to be ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. So. Let’s get growing. (I like the idea of hosting a garden tea party with your local zombies. What do you think would be their favorite veggie?)
Share your stories of eating straight from the garden with us here in the comment section, or over on Twitter, @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.
(Photo credit: Tomato Picking: Shutterstock; Picking Radishes: HGTV; Garden Party: RentCafe.com; The Walking Dead: AMC)