Three New Crops: Part Two

We eat our fair share of hummus in our household. Since it’s so easy to make, we buy cases of chickpeas and whip up our own whenever we get a craving. So, it only seemed right to try growing our own chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzos, a.k.a. lots of other names. I started shopping around online for varieties that would grow in our zone and settled on Golden Garbanzo from one of the larger heirloom seed companies. The seeds didn’t look like the chickpeas I’m used to but I went ahead and planted them anyway.

20171226_184853734_iOS

They grew great! The plants were small with beautiful, finely divided leaves. Their flowers were rather pretty, too. They reminded me of the flowers of the lentils I once tried to grow, only larger and less blue. Those flowers were tiny! They also seemed to be free of pests, unless you count what must have been a rabbit who bedded down in them one night knocking a few of the plants askew.

20170531_163522777_iOS

IMG_4082

Unlike last episode’s rice they all ripened at pretty much the same time. I only picked a few early dry ones and then, when they were just about ready, we were going out of town and rain was threatening. We went to the garden, cut off every plant and stuffed them in a bag to bring home. I spread them out in the basement to finish drying. When we returned they were nice and dry and I was able to thresh them the same way I do my other beans.

IMG_4990

The first thing I noticed about them was that they were hard, like rock hard, and very rough. As a test I cooked a few. After over an hour of simmering they were still pretty chewy. I started looking around for more information on garbanzos and found out there are different kinds. These turned out to not be the big, round chickpeas you make hummus, falafel, etc. with. What I think they are is a kind of flour chickpea that’s meant to be ground and features in many Indian dishes where it’s known as gram flour or besan. Great. Well, at least I love Indian food.

Again, I spent time messing around with different ways of pounding up these little pebbles. My cast iron mortar and pestle worked OK.

IMG_4993

Like the rice, I could only process small quantities at a time. They had a tendency to pop out of the mortar, but once the skin was cracked they broke up pretty easily. Then I just sifted them through a fine mesh strainer to get any stray remains of the skin out. It was pretty tedious so I dinked around at it off and on (mostly off) for months.

IMG_4994

Then I had a brainstorm. In the cupboard is a coffee grinder we reserve for spice grinding. I figured it was worth a shot and tried a small batch. Success! In less than fifteen minutes I was done and had a small jar of soft, protein-rich, home-grown garbanzo flour.

Photo Feb 28, 9 24 48 AM

Now I just need to decide what to make with it. It’s got to be something kind of special considering the work I put into making it. There are scores of good recipes online for Indian food and I’m open to suggestions.

Advertisements

Three New Crops: Part One

I’ve mentioned in the past that I try to grow something that is new, at least to me, in the garden each year. 2017 was something of a banner year in that respect because I actually planted two new foods in the garden as well as reaped a harvest that was a loooooong time coming.

It’s been a while so I don’t even remember how I got the urge to try growing rice. As a food I’m rather indifferent to it and regard it more as a starchy way to soak up gravy from curries. In any case, I came across Duborskian while paging through a catalog and became intrigued. It is a cultivar that originated in Russia. As an upland variety, it doesn’t require flooded paddies to grow.

Having never grown a grain before I looked up what information I could online about planting and spacing. I chose to start the seeds indoors under lights in small cells since we have so much bird and rodent predation of seeds in the garden. I figured giving the plants a head start would avoid that pitfall. Germination was high and I ended up with around 130 plants, if I remember correctly. Spacing suggestions varied so I opted for a fairly close spacing, plopped the seedlings in their holes, and kept them watered as I watched them grow through the summer. They, of course, looked like grass.

Photo Jul 14, 12 13 10 PM

Most of the plants survived and eventually formed graceful seed heads as the grains plumped up in late August.

Photo Aug 23, 7 15 35 AM

Soon individual stalks started turning brown indicating they were ready to harvest. Growth wasn’t completely even so this happened over a period of time. I suppose in a large field conditions might be managed for more even growth so it could all be harvested at once. Because I just had a small bed I just snipped off stalks as they looked ready and hung them upside down to finish drying.

Photo Aug 18, 3 13 48 PM

Once the whole crop was in and dried it was time to separate the grains from the stems. I beat them inside a plastic storage tub to release most of them and rubbed off any stragglers by hand. There wasn’t much breeze on the day I decided to do this so I resorted to using a box fan to blow the chaff away from the heavier grains as I dumped them back and forth between two tubs.

Photo Oct 02, 10 15 18 AM

I ended up with a modest total of 260 grams of unhulled rice when this stage was finished.

Photo Oct 02, 10 15 26 AM

The next stage was when the project started to suck. The brown hulls adhered tightly to the grains so I needed a way to get them off without crushing them. There are some contraptions online that people have built that look like they work well, but I couldn’t see making something like that for my small crop. I resorted to hulling small quantities at a time by rubbing them between different combinations of surfaces. I started this process in October and, because it was so much not fun, I just finished it this April.

Photo Oct 13, 10 33 24 AM

For the first round I wrapped a rubber jar opener around a block of wood and rubbed small quantities—actually a pinch at a time—on the surface of a clay brick. Most of the hulls would come off and I would take them outside and winnow by dumping from bowl to bowl if there was a breeze or by blowing on them if there wasn’t. I was in and out of the house a lot.

Next, I dumped the rice on a tray a bit at a time and sorted through it by hand, removing the grains still wrapped snugly in their hulls for reprocessing. Then I resumed the rubbing.

I lost count of how many times I did this.

As you can see in this image, some of the grains are still a little greenish and there are some dark ones, too.

Photo Oct 13, 10 33 54 AM

Last week, I finally said “screw it” and ran the last grains over a grippy plastic cutting board with the bare surface of the brick. It didn’t break all that many grains and worked a little faster. At the end I was left with a large pinch of recalcitrant grains I tossed out for the birds and chipmunks to enjoy. I now have 145 grams of cleaned rice to enjoy after I cooked a small test batch. It tastes like rice. Nothing remarkable. I won’t be growing it again.

20180408_155734005_iOS

Perennial Plant Transition

Over the last year I’ve experienced a subtle shift in interests and activities that has led to me blogging less and getting out and enjoying nature more. I still garden as much as ever, but just haven’t felt the need to share so many updates here. My organic kitchen garden is what it is and I still get produce and enjoyment from it in equal measures, but except for a couple of new-to-me crops I’m growing this year, there isn’t much to report. Instead I may be sharing more of my nature explorations, some of which I’m hoping will happen in my own urban perennial garden at an increasing rate.

When I discovered iNaturalist last year I had already been photographing the interesting flora, fauna, and fungi I’d encounter in my explorations. Having a place to share my finds, obtain or confirm identifications, and learn more about the organisms I encounter motivated me to spend even more time out looking around. As I began finding more and more flowering plants in shady habitats I started thinking about how I could incorporate them into the shady urban gardens around our home.

Photo Jun 26, 6 28 22 AM

Over the nearly thirty years I’ve been dragging the gardens back from the neglected wasteland they used to be I relied heavily on ferns and hostas to fill space and create some interesting contrasts in texture and color. At one point I had nearly ninety varieties of hosta, most of which are still going strong. Patches and specimens of native and exotic woodland plants, especially spring ephemerals round out the plantings and mostly provide flowers only early in the season. While they do attract pollinators, especially bumble bees, during their blooming period, hostas don’t produce a lot of flowers for the space they occupy. Since I’ve declared the garden a pollinator habitat I’ve been paying more attention to which plants bees and other insects are visiting in the woodlands and savannas in our area. The removal of some trees in a neighbor’s yard have opened up the canopy more so I’ve started experimenting with adding more floriferous and taller natives.

Photo Jun 26, 6 28 02 AM

I started slowly, first purchasing a single plant of a cultivar of Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium cv.) which did poorly at first because we were out of town when it really could have used some watering. Then I started seeing more about nursery plants being treated with neonicotinoid pesticides which, by design are harmful to insects. While the different interested parties go back and forth over the level of threat they pose in this application, I decided just growing my own plants from seed was probably the safest approach. I’ve had a full semester course in plant propagation and years of experience propagating my own plants by various methods, including from seed.

poke milkweed

The first species I wanted to try was Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) which I encountered dangling its clawlike flowers in the woods of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve where I often walk. I purchased seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery and sowed them shallowly in a single pot that I left outside over the winter to simulate natural conditions.

Photo May 20, 12 12 23 PM

I think nearly every seed germinated this spring and after they’d grown a few true leaves I transplanted them into individual pots. To keep them safe from the squirrels who sometimes dig in my plant pots I kept them inside the propagation cage I built from recovered deck wood. As they’ve grown and I’ve started pots of other species, I realized I was going to run out of squirrel-proof room so this weekend I took up another construction project.

Photo Jun 26, 6 26 33 AM

For years an unused trellis(?) has been laying behind the compost bins. It’s a simple frame of 2x2s with a layer of chicken wire that I realized would be a good size for another propagation box.

Photo Jun 26, 6 26 42 AM

I put together a wooden frame with a slatted bottom and hinged the trellis to the top for a lid to keep squirrels out but let the sun and rain in. I did find chipmunks can get through chicken wire but they rarely do and don’t do as much damage as the squirrels. It’s only 9” deep but that’s sufficient to get plants started and then they can be moved to the taller cage if they need to grow on more before transplanting.

DSC_0594 (2)

One of the next plants I would like to grow is Early Figwort (Scrofularia lanceolata) as it produces a lot of nectar for the size of its flowers. The specimen above was growing in an open prairie, but I’ve seen it in shadier edge conditions and believe it could thrive in my garden.

My list of seeds to obtain for this garden transition has been growing and I’ll be spending some time this summer deciding which species to focus on next. My goal is to have a long season of bloom with no interruption in nectar sources for the pollinators I’m fortunate to have visiting the small oasis I hope I’m creating for them.

Photo Jun 26, 6 29 50 AM

Do you consider pollinators when you select plants for your garden? I would appreciate hearing about your successes in the comments below, especially with native plants that grow in partial shade to shade.

Naked Gardening

October is here and we’re turning our attention to scary orange things! Actually, this story goes all the way back to last year. At Halloween I like to save some seeds from the pumpkins I carve for the occasion. Like so many other people, I wash and roast them and then sit around peeling and eating them. As I did so one chilly autumn evening, I contemplated the pepitas one buys for Mexican cooking. They don’t have that hard, flavorless shell my pumpkin seeds have that need to be cracked and peeled before consuming. I occurred to me there must be some trick to doing them in volume economically. A machine maybe? I did a little searching on the Internet and discovered something even better: naked pumpkin seeds! Well, more properly, hulless pumpkin seeds. These are varieties that have bred away the hard seed coat to where it’s just a thin, soft membrane. I don’t know that these are what are grown make the pepitas at the store, but they sounded like such a good idea. Unfortunately, pumpkins are space-consuming crop to grow so I filed away this tidbit for when we have a bigger garden.

Then, as luck would have it, one of the bloggers I follow did a post about a hulless pumpkin aptly named ‘Lady Godiva.’ The author of My Food and Flowers is a Taiwanese gardener living in Canada who, apparently, grows absolutely everything in the world. When wrote about ‘Lady Godiva’ and I mentioned I wanted to grow this kind of pumpkin some day she kindly sent me some seeds.

IMG_7570

I started them indoors in April and then set one out when the ground was nice and warm in the beds I had designated for squash and cucumbers. The vine grew pretty long, but I was able to weave it in and around other plants to accommodate it. By early September I had one nice pumpkin that was ready to pick.

Photo Sep 09, 9 43 39 AM

Photo Sep 09, 9 44 45 AM

The dark seeds were easy to see through their thin, transparent shells.

Photo Sep 09, 9 44 50 AM

Photo Sep 09, 9 57 55 AM

It was practically no work at all to rake the seeds out of the stringy flesh with my fingers. They came out nice and clean and only needed a rinse before roasting. There was about half a cup of seeds in this one pumpkin. I didn’t want to spend this precious bounty in a sauce where the flavor might not be as well appreciated so I opted for roasting them as a snack. I spread them out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled on some salt and left them in the oven until they started making popping noises. They’re delicious! Given how easy they are to grow and harvest, I would definitely plant these again in sufficient numbers for real cooking once we have the space.

Garden Green

I visited the garden this morning to check that everything was OK before the heat wave hits. Not looking forward to that. It’s going to be “a real stinkroo” as my friend Martha puts it. In any case, I found lots of green.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 04 AM

The next round of broccoli is coming along nestled in blue green leaves.

Photo Jul 20, 7 54 52 AM

Plenty of little green lanterns on the tomatillo plant. I see enchilada sauce and jars of salsa in our future.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 33 AM

Many bell peppers. Big, green and solid!

Photo Jul 20, 7 59 13 AM

And look at all the Poblanos! I grew two this year because last year’s made such a poor showing. Now both are laden with their dark green fruit.

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 32 AM

And tomatoes! Green tomatoes! These are Amish Paste, I think.

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 02 AM

Lots of little, green cherry tomatoes, too.

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 41 AM

Even green striped tomatoes. Green on green…

Photo Jul 20, 7 53 54 AM

And this big green dude. Yup. Green. More green…

Photo Jul 20, 7 45 51 AM

Uh, huh. Yeah, we saw green Amish Paste already…

Photo Jul 20, 7 51 44 AM

Enough, already! I want a ripe tomato! Last year I was at least getting a hint of color weeks earlier. What gives? In 2014 I was picking cherry tomatoes on July 10.

Photo Jul 20, 7 59 51 AM

Ah! Finally. The lone tomato showing any color. It’s an Opalka, a paste variety and it has many, many green compatriots hanging on the vines. They’d better ripen soon. I’m getting a little tired of green. Open-mouthed smile

Garden Update Mid-May

I made a quick visit to the garden the other day so I thought I’d do a quick update to share what’s going on. The short version is: not much. The weather has been on the cool side so the things I have planted or transplanted are poking along and other things, like beans, that I would have pushed other years haven’t even gone in yet.

Broccoli

The broccoli is looking great. Cold doesn’t phase it. I’ve been really happy with this particular hybrid, Belstar.

Brussels Sprouts

The same can be said for the Brussels sprouts. I didn’t start seeds for the sprouts this year but instead bought a four pack at the farmers market. I planted all four for insurance since last year neither of the two plants I put in made it to harvest.

Cauliflower

This blurry leaf is cauliflower. I hadn’t planned on growing it but picked up a packet of seeds at the seed fair on a whim. I figured since I had such great luck with the broccoli last year I’d try something similar.

Chard

The first chard is poking up. I planted about a dozen seeds with the plan to thin them back to a couple of the colors I like. We don’t eat enough of it to give over much space but it’s nice to have some available and it just keeps producing.

Garlic

Garlic is, of course, looking awesome having been growing for over six months already. I came upon a strange thing this spring. There were a few tiny garlic plants growing in a line in one of the paths, at least I think they’re garlic. Can’t think of how they could have gotten there since I harvested whole, undamaged bulbs from the adjacent bed and I snapped off all the scapes so none of the plants went to seed, a rare thing for garlic to do anyway. I’ve moved them to a bed to grow on and see what happens.

Onions

The onion plants are starting to show new growth so I’m assuming they’ve got some new roots put down. I quit growing onions from seed a couple years ago because the way I was doing it took up so much space in my seed-starting area of the basement. I’d rather use it for other crops. An allium I don’t have a  picture of are the leeks. Despite starting them very early they go into the garden the size of hairs instead of pencils like everything I read says they should be. In spite of that, they always end up growing huge.

Lettuce

In the leafy plants department, lettuces are coming along nicely.

Covered Lettuce

The lettuces I started in the basement and then transplanted had to be covered because something was grazing on them. The peas, too. I hope it doesn’t find the lettuce seedlings coming up in the other bed. My guess is it was turkeys or rabbits.

Cilantro2

The first cilantro is starting to show and looking good.

Parsley

Not so with the parsley transplants. I think I set them out too early. Must make a note on my planting schedule. They all three are still alive but looking rather yellow.

Spinach

Spinach is always carefree. Looking good so far.

Rutabaga

The rutabagas (I think this is them) are looking a little beat. My guess is flea beetles. They’re such a problem in the spring I don’t even try to grow some things like arugula until fall.

Radish

The radishes are even worse. I don’t really care because they’re something I can take or leave and the seeds were free. Radishes are supposed to be easy but I rarely have success with them.

Endive

Here’s something I’m giving a try again this year, never having succeeded in the past. It’s endive. I’m planning to grow it up, store the roots and force chicons this fall/winter.

Herbs

In the end of the herb bed the old mint on the left is doing fine and the new one I bought so I’d be sure to have spearmint on the right is doing even better. Between them, the chives I moved for the third time in as many years hasn’t missed a beat. I will be grabbing some of those flowers to put on salads this week.

Cal Poppies

Next to the herbs, on either side of the entrance, I’ve sown California poppies, another free packet of seeds grabbed on a whim. Clearly I’m going to need to thin these as they get bigger. This year I’m doing different flowers from different sources to try to break my calendula and marigold monotony. In fact, right now the most weeding I need to get on top of is removing the calendula seedlings that have sprung up so thickly in some areas.

That’s it for most of what’s in at the moment. I’m preparing the spaces for tomatoes and peppers but I haven’t even started hardening them off, having taken a much-needed vacation out of town. With any luck the weather will start to warm now.  I’ll just keep reminding myself that everything will happen in time and fit in between all the other things.

First Digging

I did my first real digging in the garden for the season. I’d like to say it was a big session of planting or even working in compost, but it was some less glamorous maintenance. The garden committee, during the annual checking of the corner posts decided to also start policing path encroachments again (there had been some hub-bub last season around that topic.) So it was that my pathside edge where I had sunk boards to slow weed encroachment was torn out and tossed into the plot. The previous gardeners had apparently expanded the garden a bit and I just continued on the tradition.

Garden Edge 2016

It only took about an hour of digging and fiddling around to get the boards reinstalled in compliance with the rules—or so I hope. The bare soil along the path now will be seeded with Dutch white clover for the pollinators. I even found some concrete pavers I used to make a welcoming entrance to the plot. Of course, I also restrung that green rope to make it clear that the welcoming entrance is purely visual. It was nice to get into the soil. It’s perfectly moist and friable right now. The veggies are going to love it. I would rather have been working with them, but this was a good warm-up to the season, which has been slow this year. I was reminded once again that the muscles I use to dig are different from the ones I use to lay around and read all winter.