Sunday, August 29, 2010

Amy's Musings: Adventures in Food

It's time for another guest post from my friend and fellow master gardener, Amy Bruhn, who shares her experiences participating in a CSA. All photos copyright Hauk Farms, used with permission.

Ever since reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver two years ago, I have been paying more attention to where my food comes from. I am trying to eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season and at their peak flavor, and I try to buy locally where possible to support the local economy and because food tastes a lot better when it hasn’t travelled a thousand miles before arriving at my doorstep.

For the past two years I have bought all of my meat from Creswick Farms, located in Ravenna, Michigan (which is northwest of Grand Rapids). Once a month they go on the road and deliver meat to customers in Waverly, Okemos, Brighton, and Novi. You have to order a week in advance, so I’ve had to adjust my meal planning a bit, but it’s been worth it. Their prices are higher than the supermarket, but it is all organic, free range, and pasture fed, with no antibiotics or hormones. And when you buy from the grocery store you don’t get to know the farmer who raises your food, as well as his wife and kids. I’ve also learned how far removed we’ve become from the natural cycle of food in just two generations. Last year the farmer’s wife thought it was quite humorous that I wanted to buy chicken in the dead of winter. I’m so used to having chicken year-round that I never made the connection that there’s no pasture for those pasture-fed chickens when there’s a foot of snow on the ground. So I’ve been getting quite the education.

This year I decided to take it a step further and join a CSA. Through the Local Harvest web site I found a relatively new CSA, Hauk Farms, located in Canton, which was reasonably priced and also offered half shares for smaller households like mine. Bryan Hauk is a fifth-generation farmer and he is currently farming the farm his great-grandfather established in 1919.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with CSAs, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. With a CSA, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” in the farm’s crops, with a share typically consisting of a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The farmer benefits by getting some cash flow prior to the planting season and customers benefit by getting freshly-picked, locally-grown produce each week and by getting to know the farmer, and farming practices, of the person growing their food. With my work schedule I can’t always get to a farmers market, so this way it’s like having the farmers market come to me. The only difference is that I don’t get to pick and choose what I buy each week. It’s always a complete surprise! (I believe some CSAs allow you to pick from a list or pick your own.)

Every Friday I get a text message from Bryan letting me know that my produce has been dropped off. Fortunately he has a drop-off point in Dearborn, less than a mile from my home. It’s been interesting to see what is in my box each week and figuring out what to do with it. Some things have been easier to deal with than others. The head of cabbage the first week was easy — I made cole slaw. But then when I got two more heads of cabbage the next week, they became hostess gifts.

I have been approaching this as an adventure as I learn firsthand what is available through the season in Michigan. I also decided that I would give foods that I’m unfamiliar a try. Well, except for the eggplant and the jalapenos. When those show up in my crate I will be finding them new homes. (Monica refers to herself in third person and waves her hand frantically.) I’m keeping a list of what I get each week and what I’ve done with it, so next year I’ll be a bit more prepared and will perhaps find new recipes to try before next summer.

So far, other than the cabbage, we have gotten green beans, sweet corn, zucchini, radishes, cucumbers, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, beets, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, sweet peas, and cantaloupe. The green beans and corn are so yummy when you eat them just a few hours after they’ve been picked. I found my grandmother’s blanching pot in my basement, and I found out that freezing green beans is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I also dug out my canning supplies and made bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, and some refrigerator pickles. I will probably be eating pickles all winter long. I’ve never been a zucchini or summer squash fan, so I’ve been making and freezing zucchini bread too. (It was really, really good, thanks!) I wonder how the bread will go with pickles this winter.

Other produce we should be getting this season are broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, acorn squash, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and two varieties of watermelons. I’m a bit worried about the tomatoes because Bryan told me the plants did better than expected and he estimates there will be two hundred pounds of tomatoes for each person. That is a lot of tomatoes! I can’t even begin to comprehend how many tomatoes that will be. I guess I’ll be learning how to make salsa and spaghetti sauce!

I’ll let you know whether I survived the onslaught of tomatoes at the end of the season. In the meantime, here are some pictures for you to enjoy.

The cantaloupes were blossoming in early June and the first ones were harvested the first week of August.

The first planting of sweet corn made it through several frosts, one freeze, and nearly 20” of rain and yet it was still ready for picking in mid July.

Here are some of the radishes from the first planting that survived being under water for some time.

Lots and lots of tomato plants…

The first planting of green beans went through it all: frost, freeze, hail, record rain, and then bugs.

(I'm glad to report that Amy gave me beets, corn, tomatoes, jalapenos, and three kinds of pickles she canned and several loaves of zucchini bread she baked. I'm still holding out for eggplants.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August Blooms

I was just thinking it's been a while since we've walked around my garden together and it's even time for the August Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!


I have to start with this retro green and rusted lawn chair, which I found curbside. I struggled with at least five contortions before fitting it into my non-hatchback Focus. At one point it fell out of the trunk and was dragging on the road (I am not exaggerating)... and it hit my foot on one lift. But I'm stubborn and just knew it would make the perfect plant stand for my pot of elephant ears, ferns, and coleus.


I grew potatoes for the first time this year. I decided to use a storage tub (with holes drilled in the bottom), so I could fill it with composty goodness. You know they're ready to harvest when the foliage dies. I started them from seed potatoes, and they were ridiculously easy to grow and they tasted so good. And digging for the taters was fun — there's just something about sticking your arms elbow deep into a nice soil-compost mix and rooting around... aaaahhh!


Here's my second harvest of 'Bintje' potatoes. Nom nom nom!


I'd more or less given up getting eggplants this year, when I saw a tiny 2-inch fruit on August 8. Holla! I thought it was solely because, as Lisa put it, they were "abused as a seedling" (I left them in those small cell packs way too long before transplanting), but it turns out several others have reported their eggplants are late this year too (Ha! it's not all my fault!). We had a really heavy rainstorm and on August 14, the eggplant had tripled in size.


Tomatoes are looking a little small compared to everyone else's, but I don't have too much sun and the soil is bad here, despite improvements, so I'm glad to get even a few tomatoes per plant. They're all heirlooms and each plant is a different variety. I have another two tomatoes in the ground out of view, plus five more in containers. I just realized this whole shot, with my home-made compost bin and rain barrels, plus the random stuff I have set around to squelch weeds, makes this an excellent #uglygardens vignette.

I've saved my first tomato seeds of the season. Easy-to-follow tomato seed saving instructions, with photos, are here. This is my second year saving tomato seeds. I first used paper towels to dry the seeds in the final step, but the seeds really stuck to that. I then tried plain white paper and that worked a lot better. This year I found Colleen's instructions and I got some paper plates, which was genius. No sticking at all and much faster drying times.

The other thing I did differently this year was to wait for mold to form in the initial seed soaking. This fermentation step isn't necessary in terms of seed viability or vitality, but it makes the seed coating (gooey tomato gel) come off the seeds much more easily. Last year I skipped that step and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed in a sieve. That worked, too, but was a lot more work.


My cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum*) is only 5 feet tall, though they can get to 10 feet in optimal sun. I wrote a bit more about it here.


Look who I found on the cup plant blossom — the soldier beetle is not only a pollinator, but it eats aphids. I love beneficial insects. Plus, it's just so cute!


Despite my laziness in not having planted this nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum) since my friend gave it to me in {looks around furtively} early June, it's blooming and doing well!


I love the almost-ready-to-bloom buds of rough blazing star, Liatris aspera.

Big Bluestem

Love the turkey-foot shaped seed head of big bluestem grass, Andropogon gerardii.


I have several clumps of tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), this one along the neighbor's fence.


Butterfly bush is bright and cheerful.


One of my many cultivar Viburnums. I love the berries. I do have a native arrowwood Viburnum, too. :)


I adore the buds of Japanese anemone. (All together now: "Noogie!")


Some of my Japanese anemone have already starting blooming.


The berries on this purple beautyberry shrub will turn bright, vivid, holla! violet in another month or so.


The front bed taken from the driveway, looking south. (Pinky says hi.)


The front bed along the house, taken from the porch facing south.


The front bed on the other side of the walkway, taken from the front porch looking west. (Say hi to Bizi** so she can ignore you!)


One of my favorite garden spots. I love the rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) paired with the Russian sage.


And that combo close up.

Mexican hat.


The sunflowers I sowed on July 4 are about a foot tall and look like they're getting buds!


The Mexican petunia Sweetbay sent back in May finally has a bloom!!


My first-ever rose 'Golden Wings' is blooming again since I pruned the dogwood, which was blocking her sun, waaaaay back.


Even though I cut my sneezeweed back over a foot in early July, it's blooming now. 'Mardi Gras' has long since finished, and now it's time for 'Moerheim Beauty'...


...and the native yellow Helenium autumnale. It's tall and makes a great screen for one of my rain barrels. (See how you can't see it?)


I just love it close up.


Bees love my dahlia 'Bonne Esperance.'


I'd say my one (and only) 'Uchiki Kuri' squash is ready.


The ironweed (Vernonia missurica) outside my front door is a good six feet tall. I've read it likes it wet, though I never water mine. I also read it can spread, but mine hasn't (though it is true I collect its seeds).


I love its vibrant purple flowers.

And that's about it for today. It's too humid and there are too many mosquitos. Let's go in and have some zucchini bread and lemonade.

* I'm marking native plants in this post by also giving their Latin name. (No Latin name = not a native plant.)

** Bizi is Fiona's nickname; Jimi is James' nickname. People often mention "all your cats" and as much as I'd love to be a crazy cat lady, I have just those two. It hit me that perhaps the nicknames were interpreted as individuals, esp. as Bizi isn't so obviously derived from Fiona.

Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ride with Me

Lately I've been meeting my sister in law to walk her dogs at Lillie Park. The beauty is, whether I walk Butch (left) or Brandy, I'm never on poo patrol! I ride my bike to the park and then take a longer ride after walking the dogs. I thought you might like to come along. Relax, you don't have to worry about mosquitoes or humidity, and I'm doing all the pedaling.

I ride through Mary Beth Doyle Park on the way to meet my SIL. I talked about this retention basin last time, and you can see the water level has gone down.

After leaving Lillie, I take the new bike path as far south as it goes. I'm heading out of town, so I see pastoral scenes like this with corn as far as... the next subdivision.


Having an odometer is a mixed blessing. It's cool to know how far I've gone, how fast I'm going, and what time it is, but it also kind of pushes you to do more miles to round up (13.56 miles is for wusses! Gotta do at least 15). I often add miles on side streets, which is how I discovered Freedom Drive. It's a ridiculously short dead-end street off another mostly-forgotten dead-end street with light industrial buildings, many abandoned. I guess it makes sense that freedom hides in a dilapidated place many of us never choose to go. And biking is freedom for me. One of the few ways an otherwise inelegant person can fly.

Sometimes I also ride through subdivisions. Caution: I brake for free plants.

Free Lilies Oops Irises

I didn't need any lilies, oops, irises, but I loved the sign.

Heading west, I generally take this dirt road though it can be bumpy, which reverberates through your whole body in a disconcerting way. The tall plants on either side are invasive, non-native reed grasses, Phragmites australis. A horticulturist once described the ID process this way: "If you're in a wet area overgrown with a single kind of really tall grass, and you're not sure if it's Phragmites... It's Phragmites."

A boardwalk view of the marsh at Marsh View Meadows Park.

I always get excited when I see burdock because my first thought is always prairie dock! Burdock is a biennial thistle whose seed pods stick to your clothes. The mosquitoes were wicked in this spot.

Ann Arborites know you can forget about the summer when the sumac is on fire.

"In harmony?" Yeah, I'm not buyin' it either...

Just because they kept the silos, doesn't mean the farm's not gone. Not harmony.

But, look, here's a working farm, just down the road from said bid'ness park.

And here's the best location for listening to frogs in southern Ann Arbor, Morgan Woods Nature Area, northwest corner of Morgan and Stone School Roads. Can you see the jewelweed at the bottom left?

I was hoping some of the alpacas would be out at the local alpaca farm, but they weren't. You'll have to make due with this trumpet vine. I know it's not the same, but it's what was there.


A killdeer!

Heading back into suburbia now.

I love the contrast of this working farm and south Ann Arbor's two tall buildings to the west.

The same farm, looking south, contrasts with a small light industrial complex.

Directly across from the farm to the east is a strip mall, which includes my high-end soil supplier, the Grow Show. The two duuuudes who run it are awesome.

The last time I passed that farm, they had an 1800s buggy (minus the horse) for sale.

This tractor is way cooler.

This sign is in a friend's neighborhood, not on my normal route, but it could just as easily be. It's so quintessentially Ann Arbor.

OK, fess up. Did the title get you humming Nelly or John Mellencamp? I went both ways!