Monday, April 14, 2014

A Garden Sense of Home: What's on Your Plate?

Mother Nature is seriously messing with us.  I suppose she feels we (people) have it coming.  Gardeners are just the collateral damage.

Overnight the rain turned to snow.  It is a heavy snow, but it doesn't appear it is primarily  sleet clinging to the needles of my white pine and various shrubs, so that's all to the good.  The last couple years with the fits and starts between winter and spring, we have had a couple bad ice storms which knocked down power lines and brought down huge branches from my monumental white pine, bouncing them off my tiny hobbit home like it was the backstop on a baseball field for an angry pitcher told to practice.

Ice storms so bad, you remember the dates; last year's on April 10, two years ago on April 12.

Conversations, though, are turning to gardening.  Even among the eaters, who have benefited from my gardening without the work input required.  "Eat local, know your farmer."  For them, I am that, their source of local produce.  Seems beautiful sister-in-law (SIL)has been sharing the wealth, without leaking that information up, or down," the food chain."

And the big concern, is this year, the farmer is less than able-bodied, she has a cane.  She moves slowly.  And the location of the family garden may be in flux.  Change can happen slowly or rapidly.  This is a year where change could be quick.

I look around at my own home space, and April looks like April; a little browner, this morning a little whiter.  There is an inch of white mulch on the pansies and the two types of leaf lettuce and sugar snap peas I have planted in my large satin apple green pot on my deck.  The Honeoye strawberries are covered as well.  My one wish is I had managed to plant my collards and spinach.  These plants are inured to the cold and the rain hydrating them properly before the snow helps, too.  The cranberry bog farmers turn on the irrigation when it get close to freezing.  Freezing is freezing after all.  Water doesn't get any colder than 32 degrees (F).  Cold without all the rain and snow is when you have to worry.

Upstairs, under the grow lights, dance all the happy little peppers and tomatoes.  There are also many annual flowers and the cole crop transplants, varieties of cabbage and broccoli.  Since my injury and still transpiring recovery, I have noticed how produce prices have shot up.  How the drought in California has shown no remorse, nor retreat.   Fresh produce will be a premium product and even in the sustainability oblivious bubble of central Wisconsin, there seems to be more interest concerning what may or not be on our plates this year.

Finding the best varieties for easy culture in less than ideal spaces and those thing that tease our palates is difficult here.  My extended family is blended at best, geographically, origination, and culturally.  It is not unusual to have a polyglot of languages spoken at family gatherings these days.  Food culture is difficult, too.  We have two confirmed gluten intolerant among us.  Food cultures are a blend as well, from Nordic to Germanic, to Iberian, with a stray Russian or Slavic dish tossed in as well.  There are varieties of Vegans among us.  In this group traditional family foods are necessarily taking a hit.

Nothing speaks of home quite so much as food.  Early last fall found me in a happy place of having been able to store a mess of frozen berries, sweet strawberry jams, dried apple rings, sun-dried tomatoes in oil and not.  I was in the late stages of canning tomatoes and freezing peppers and tomatillos.  I came home to a packed freezer, even if most of my canned items did not return from the locusts' feast that is my brother's household with three boys and my son stopping by.

SIL and I suspected tomatillos would freeze well, as well as regular tomatoes.  I am happy to report they do.  Unsure and unable to do anything else immediately after by fall.  We (my son, his girlfriend, and I) frantically husked, washed, dried and zip-locked a 3-gallon pail of tomatillos I had picked the previous day and froze them.  Twenty seconds in the microwave and chopped, they make a great addition to any fajita filling.

(Just a note, the lighter, yellow toward whitish green the riper this variety is.  There is a variety that "purples up" when ripe, too.)

So as a family, and as the family's "farmer", we are struggling with our new normal.

What should be on our plates?

It has to taste good, grow well and easily with out chemical inputs, and provide for us no matter what Mother Nature throws at us during our growing season.

Last year I had a bumper crop of strawberries, even with the late freeze the previous year which took the king berries, my Honeoye put out.  Perennial fruits like these are a winner here in the sand.

I also had a bumper crop of blemish-free Honeycrisp apples.  I will admit to one spraying of a well-timed dormant oil very early in the growing season, while the tree was still in blossom.  That's about as chemical free with good results as I have ever gotten.  My apricots (Moorpark) dropped, from the effects of the cold spring and late freezes.  My pears (Seckel) put out, but I was unable to harvest them; my son disinclined and busy, did not.)

So far, this year, the fruit trees show no inclination to bud up.  They may have better communications with Mother Nature than the hard sugar maples.  My father is the maple syrup maker in the group and he tells of a dismal season this year.  A successful maple sap run is determined by a precise temperature fluctuation which has occurred on only a handful of days this year.  Seeing the sap run was not up to expectation, he tapped those other members of the acer genus, the weedy box elders.  The syrup made from box elders is not so sweet, darker, more earthy with other subtle tones.  Myself, I prefer the sweeter, clearer, high notes of the syrup from sugar maples.  A couple of my sisters do prefer the box elder, though.  Luckily this frees up supply for my sole pint of real maple syrup.  (In plentiful years, I manage to obtain a couple quarts for my larder.)

In the growing year's succession of food, next up are the chives and rhubarb.  Nearly all the family have these growing in a corner somewhere.  There is little need for me to provide these.  Sometimes when someone moves a new start will be given.  This year, I detect an interest in transplants each of us can grow in a container.  I have those in abundance already growing under lights.  As their farmer, transplants of basil, and tomatoes may be in big demand.

NEXT POST:  A look at what is under the lights, and a list of the varieties planted for transplant this year. 

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