The Backyard

The Backyard

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Food, Inc., the movie, encourages viewers to "take part" in helping build a sustainable, healthy environment. They direct viewers to a website, called Take Part and oh what a website it is. It covers everything and anything related to our environment and provides a number of areas that you as a consumer, teacher, parent, advocate, business-owner -- whatever it is, -- can be a part of changing our world in an effort to prevent the environment from growing worse. You can even become an "eco-snoop" if you want. I clicked on the Issues button and went to food, which led me to organic vs local and a plethora of other subjects relating to organic food. There's a good article on buying local vs buying organic (bottom line - buy both and seek out local organics). I'll be reading for a couple weeks on this one. Very, very informative website. Many of the pages link to and many of the organic articles come out of Rodale.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Still Harvesting Carrots and Spinach

Spinach, carrots, and radicchio along with numerous other crops were planted in August specifically for winter growing under glass. The plants grew as planned to maturity until the first official freeze about 6 weeks ago. About three weeks ago, I checked on things and thought for sure it was all gone. It was wilted and lying over. I mumbled to hubby that was a failed experiment. Last week, I thought I'd dig up some carrots to see what was there. Low and behold I harvested carrots. And today, I picked a beautiful batch of spinach and the last two heads of radicchio (small, but edible). I was thrilled to say the least. Root crops seem to fair the best, so that's the thought for next year... carrots, beets, turnips, and possibly a couple potatoes or sweet potatoes. It's obvious plants will "appear" dead in sub-freezing temps, but the varieties hardy to winter freezing like spinach and chard will bounce back. This is an interesting experiment I'm sure to attempt again next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is Growing Dried Beans Worth It?

This is the first season I ever grew dried beans. My thought last winter was I wanted to grow as much of my own organic food as I could. It had to be enough that I could "survive" off of the food I grow and preserve from the back yard; thus, dried beans are a staple. I planted three rows of dried beans -- black, white cannelli, and tiger (like a kidney with a cute little stripe). I also had Kidney beans to plant, but ran out of space so they'll wait until next year (I won't waste the seed). Growing was easy -- all beans are easy to grow. Harvesting was questionable. I read that you can just leave the pods on the plant until they are dry. I clearly left them on too long because the tiger beans nearly all started to resprout (wet season) so I only got about a cup of tiger beans. The remainder I picked and left sit in a basket in their pods until this winter to start shelling. Thanksgiving weekend marked the first bean-pod shelling session. The cannelli beans were up first. After the sprouted seeds and rotted seeds were ditched, I ended up with about 5 cups of dried beans. The black beans were a little more tolerable of the wet conditions and didn't resprout as much. Nearly 8 cups was the final tally of the negros frigoles. I spent about 12 hours total shelling these 12 cups of beans. Each pack of seeds cost approx $1.50 for two ounces. It costs about $4.00 to buy a pound of organic dried beans. So. The final verdict -- are they worth growing? If you are looking strictly at cost. Yes - it's obvious my $1.50 investment paid for itself tenfold or more. Count in my time to shell the beans? Absolutely not. Factor in the energy consumption to soak and cook those dried beans (vs buying a can of already cooked organic beans?) not sure on that one. Hubby claims they aren't worth the electricity to cook them - let the cost of the electric come out of someone else's pockets (but ultimately, we'd pay more for canned beans). I think I'd have to do more analysis on that one. In the long run, I think the bottom line is cost savings for organics so YES, I believe it's worth it and I'm growing them again next year. I'll need to come up with a better way to cook them to save electricity consumption. If only I had a woodstove....

Moving to the Country

Last evening on the world news, 6 upper middle class families from New Jersey were interviewed and asked how they are coping with the downturn in the economy. All lived on the same street, had kids, and all had one or the other spouse lose a job and the families are struggling to make ends meet. I found it interesting that two of the six commented how they found themselves doing what their grandparents used to do to be more frugal. Interesting (we should ALL be living a little more like grandma and grandpa!). Today, I find this interesting article on MSN from a writer for the Wall Street Journal about the younger generation moving to the country and learning to live off the land. While urban and suburban properties aren't really growing in sales, rural properties have seen an increase in value. I do believe the trend has started and is catching on -- more and more folks are realizing there's something to be said for rural life, gardening, homesteading, etc. Maybe, just maybe, with a little luck, the next generation will have a better environment to live in. Keep coming to the country kids! You're doing the right thing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Heirloom Seed Catalog

December is the month we all get inundated with seed catalogs and to be honest, 90% of them end up in recycling unless they have organic, heirloom, or seed savers as sources somewhere on the cover or inside. I shared a review last year on which seeds companies are the best to choose from so you don’t end up unknowingly buying into supporting genetically modified seed production given 50% of all seeds are produced by a handful of seed giants (that produce genetically modified seeds and hybrids). Last evening, I received a catalog from a seed company I read about online, but never had the pleasure of perusing a catalog., a.k.a. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds puts together a glossy, informative, educational catalog: “All our seed is non-hybrid non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. We do not buy seed from Monsanto-owned Seminis. We boycott all gene-altering companies. We work with a network of about 50 small farmers, gardeners, and seed growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available.” I was totally impressed. The owner, Jere Gettle, started the company 12 years ago at the ripe age of 17. It’s grown from 550 catalogs that first year in 1998 to 250,000 catalogs this year. One of the items that caught my attention from Baker was an “Heirloom Package.” It’s a tin of seeds that are packaged to last 4-10 years if kept cool and dry. Talk about money savings! For a tiny garden like mine (yes kids, my garden IS small compared to some), I could invest $55.00 and have fresh, organic produce for the next 10 years. That’s a deal in my eyes. Although, last year I bought SO much I already have plenty to keep me going for a couple more years. There’s one important uniqueness about this catalog – they are ALL heirlooms. If you are unfamiliar with heirloom varieties of produce, read here what they are. Heirlooms are not hybridized or GMO seeds. They are original "pure" seeds of plants without any cross pollination from other varieties. Watch for a post on heirloom seeds vs hybridized seeds in the future. There IS a significant difference between the two in many different ways. It amazes me to see the varieties of heirlooms becoming more available. For instance, Baker Creek lists 47 different kinds of eggplant! I had no idea there were that many kinds of eggplant. Astounding. Of course I have to try a couple. And that's one of the really cool thing about heirlooms - finding out what the plant is like. Two years ago, I discovered heirloom peach tomatoes and have been talking about them since. And you thought gardening was just about sticking a seed in the ground and watching it grow! Keep gardening.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

King Corn, The Documentary

Awesome! If you have the chance to get or borrow the DVD, it's worth the watch. See the trailer here. It's all about how we are made of corn - literally! One of the "stars" of the movie has a hair analysis done and the carbon in his body is derived mostly from corn. He had corn hair. And the corn comes from corn by-products in over 60% of our food. Either as preservatives, sweeteners, or flavor enhancers of some sort. The movie is funny, educational, and of course, thought-provoking about what you put in your mouth.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Sustainable, Organic Advocacy Legend in Our Backyard

Little did I know yesterday when I was having lunch at the White Dog Cafe I was eating at the restaurant that was started by a legend, Judy Wicks. I've read and heard oodles about the White Dog Cafe and another business trip to Philadelphia gave me the opportunity to witness first hand the cafe known for serving organic and local food. My Sun-dried tomato and hummus sandwich on multi grain bread was served with fresh organic greens drizzled lightly with vinaigrette. It was truly delightful. But what I didn't know was the history of the gal who started the Cafe and her incredible life achievements for building communities through volunteerism, promoting local sustainable foods, and advocating organic and fair trade products. The woman has a list of awards, appearances, and recognitions a mile long for her life-long accomplishments in entrepreneurism (she started a bunch of businesses, one of which is today's well-known Urban Outfitters), socialism, local sustainability, etc. She's written dozens of articles on local living economies. Her and/or the cafe have been featured in all the popular media spots - Wall Street Journal, Oprah, Inc. Magazine, CNN, New York Times, Newsweek and so on. She's a legend, and from Philadelphia -- our backyard. I'd say Pennsylvania is on the map for local sustainability and organics and has been for years. We live in an awesome state for supporting local organics and farms. Make sure you do! (or grow your own!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You Gotta Know Where Your Chicken Comes From

Hubby and I get into chicken arguments ALL the time -- he prefers the cheap chicken wrapped in plastic and styrofoam containers (for him, it's all about the mighty dollar!) while I will only buy the organic and free range birds from local farmers (and I buy very little because of hubby complaining about me spending too much money!). Maybe today's article from Rodale, Supermarket chickens Tainted With Bacteria, will finally make him see the light. Rick has been a huge fan of Perdue chicken for many years, and even their chickens tested 56% tainted. That's a significant percentage of contamination. Tyson, one of the largest chicken producers, had 80% tainted. The article goes on to mention this bacteria is killed during cooking, but can still be transmitted during the preparation process. All the more reason to BUY ORGANIC and/or from your local farmer. Or, don't eat meat! I'll opt for the later.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Buying Local at the Reading Terminal

My work had me in Philadelphia on Friday, and I couldn't help but take advantage of the time there to see the infamous Reading Terminal. Of all the things to see in Philadelphia, I head straight to the Reading Terminal when my work is done and didn't see a single site EXCEPT the Terminal. I've read about it numerous times in many books, magazines, and on websites and it IS everything its cracked up to be. Farm to Philly is probably the one site that had me convinced to hit the Farmer's Market. Yes, I was impressed. Stand upon stand of fresh produce and meats -- much of it local and some organic. There were numerous other eating stands, seafood, beverages, bakeries, etc., but my focus was the local stuff (although I simply couldn't refuse the millet muffin at the Metropolitan artisan bakery stand -- OMG). My boss is from Philadelphia, and she commented how Philadelphians are thrilled to have these stands and the availability of the food to them. But she also commented how nice it must be to be where I'm from and have the same food grown in my backyard. It was exhilarating to pick up a bag of organic spelt berries from Small Valley Milling (7 miles from my home) at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Terminal. You can't imagine the satisfaction in witnessing the connection first hand of Farm to Philly. Having seen the spelt fields and sharing the stories of going to the farm to buy the spelt flour, and now seeing the berries on the shelf in a market in Philly was very, very cool. Besides the spelt, the one notable product I must comment on was the Red Bourbon Turkey from Griggstown Quail Farm and Market. The Red Bourbon is a breed of turkey that was popular in the 30's and 40's, but fell to decline after the introduction of the now well-known, white commercial turkeys. The Red Bourbon is known as a heritage turkey because of the rarity of finding these breeds. I was thrilled to see one in the freezer case at the market and probably would have bought it if I didn't have to drag a friggin' turkey home on the train. Hubby would have absolutely hit the roof on the price tag -- $127.00. That's not unusual for rare, heritage turkeys. If I had the Reading Terminal in my backyard, I'd be eating free-range meat, but I'd probably be broke in the process. It was an exciting day.