Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Bother?

I was on a gardening forum recently when a women posted that she wanted to grow an organic garden in raised beds built out of cedar. Her husband balked at the cost of cedar and shorter-lifespan of untreated pine.  He wanted to use treated lumber.  When I said I didn't understand using treated lumber in an organic garden, another poster didn't understand why anyone would pay 8x the price for a garden...why bother gardening at that point.

For decades pressure treated lumber was...well, treated...with chromated copper arsenate as a preservative.  Everyone thought this was the answer to all our problems...until research came out that arsenic leached into the soil.  Now, some studies said that there wasn't horizontal leaching (meaning, only the contact area near the wood was contaminated...not 20 feet away), others said there was more of an issue.  As far as I can tell, both sides agree that the soil is containmented for a very, very long time.  There was also some debate over how much arsenic the veggies absorbed and whether or not repeated ingestion of higher (but still small) levels of arsenic was hazardous to human health or not.  Regardless, the EPA banned it's consumer use several years ago.

The new pressure-treated-kid-on-the-block is ACQ: Alkaline copper quat.  There is no arsenic in this, just more copper, which does leach.  I've been to several ACQ lumber-manufacturer websites and they all say in the "safety" information

Do not use pressure-treated wood in circumstances where the preservative may become a component of food, animal feed, or beehives.

I'm having a hard time finding the USDA's official ruling on whether pressure treated lumber can be used in organic farms (maybe for hog pens, for example).  I have found that Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, a National Organic Program (NOP) certifier, does not allow pressure treated wood on new construction on organic farms. Because NOP certifiers are the ones that inspect USDA organic farms, I'm suspecting it isn't allowed.

Personally, I don't see the point in building a new raised bed with pressure treated lumber.  I can see the argument of just using a barrier if you inherited a pressure treated bed on your property.  However, the basic premise of organic gardening is to nourish your soil.  Having copper (a fungicide & insecticide) needlessly leach into your soil, in my opinion, isn't's potentially killing beneficials.  I don't really care if it's just on point of contact or not.  Leaching is leaching and it's the principle of the thing.

I'm not some elitist, though, that says you need to spend thousands on building raised beds instead of a few hundred.  Untreated pine is CHEAP and lasts about as long as the average homeowner plans to stay in their house.  Freecycle and Craigslist abound with cheap and free options for raised beds like cinder blocks, broken pieces of cement and scraps of cedar/redwood.  Then there's also the option of using hay bales.

So, why do I bother gardening with my pricey composite lumber boards? Because *not* gardening isn't an option.  Over the past few years, my garden has given me so many precious moments and delicious meals.  I remember when my first seeds sprouted-- it gave me the inkling of how a proud mama feels.  I remember our precious few strawberries which were the tastiest I've ever had (the chipmunks agreed).  Chocolate-dipped ground cherries remind me of being hugely pregnant, with empty cupboards, and needing something chocolate-y *right now*. 

I also garden to know where my food comes from...and to teach my child that baby carrots have tampered ends like "big" carrots and are not shaped like chubby thumbs.  Nothing tastes better than a home-grown tomato too!

And, finally, I garden to create a better environment around my house and my neighborhood.  I suppose this includes my ornamental garden as well.  Walking around my block it becomes clear that my neighbors don't have nearly as much wildlife in their yards. I see gold finches (and crazy looking birds I don't know their name!) in addition to the robins and crows and sparrows, a praying mantis climbed up my leg last summer and ladybugs are far more common now than when we first moved in.

These things make gardening worth more than the cost of my raised beds for me.  Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May Local Eating Challenge: Week 4

We're nearing the home stretch!  To be honest, the lack (and expensive) of onions and garlic has been what is killing me.  I was so thrilled to see both garlic scapes *and* garlic at the farmer's market that I bought both in some sort of garlic-induced frenzy.  Then, of course, I forgot to buy onions (mine are still quite small).  I also long for some of my pantry meals that mostly rely on frozen vegetables, so there's none of this washing, chopping, and cleaning a cutting board business.  It's been a very busy month for me and being able to pull something out of the pantry or freeze would be so welcomed right now.  Just another week!

Review of last week:
Well, I didn't burn my lunch, so that was a plus.  I'm really getting sick of washing greens though.  All that damn pollen from maples and oaks and other trees gets lodged and stuck to the leaves.  So time consuming!

Week 4:
As I've already mentioned, garlic had arrived!  I'm so excited.  I feel kinda exhausted from all the meal planning lately, though.  I just want to go on autopilot a bit and buy some frozen corn and canned tomatoes for chili which we can eat off of for days & days & days.  But I will resist.

I spent $45 at the grocery store & $50 at the farmer's market.  Note, however, that $10 of the grocery store trip was in arborio rice because the bulk bin lever let the rice flow faster than usual.

Here's what I did get at the market: bacon, tongue, pork shoulder, lots of apples, garlic scapes (!), garlic (!!!), 2 bunches of asparagus, tunips, & 2 broccoli crowns.

Meal plan:

My lunch: Kohlrabi pasta (kohlrabi from the garden, garlic scapes)

My husband's lunch: Tongue braised with turnips (tongue, turnips, garlic and some stock made from the carcass of the chicken I bought a few weeks ago).

Saturday: We ate leftovers

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: BBQ Pork with Kohlrabi & Apple slaw (pork shoulder, kohlrabi from the garden, apples.  Also served with baked beans)

Wednesday, Thursday: Vegetable Risotto (asparagus, broccoli, bacon and e more stock from the farmer's market chicken)

Friday: either leftovers or hummus flatbread sandwiches (with salad from the garden)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Garden Planted!

Well, mostly planted.  As of Mother's Day weekend.  Which was awhile ago.

Thing are lookin' fierce right now.  The kohlrabi really needs to be harvested and the beans are no longer laying on the ground.  Also, the potatoes I planted wrong (apparently no piece should be under like an ounce or two.  I cut them in much smaller pieces.  Oops) are looking like they should.  I direct sowed some winter squash (delicata) and slugs have taken down teh seedlings so I need to replant that.  And finish harvesting the Deer Tongue Lettuce that spilled in the tomato/nightshade bed so that I can finish planting peppers and eggplant.

Ground cherries, tomatoes & mushrooms from all this rain!

Onions, kohlrabi & potatoes are dwarfing my carrot seedlings.

Squash & cukes...still babies.
How's your garden growing?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May Local Eating Challenge: Week 3

Review of last week:
I totally burned my dal.  Like, so bad we had to throw the pan out because there was just no way to recover it.  Given no farmer's markets on Monday (at least near me) and my overall lack of time, take out it was.  I ordered a week's worth of steamed chicken & vegetables from the Chinese restaurant down the street.  I'm kind of angry that I wasted some home-grown kohlrabi and even angrier that I ruined a pan.  So, my lunch wasn't very "local" unless you count supporting a local business. :)  Otherwise, we basically followed the plan.

Week 3:
Egads, this week has been Insane.  The capital "I" is intentional.  Between work and final projects and having houseguests, I have no idea how much I've spent at the grocery store or farmer's market.  All I know is that I bought a bunch of food, usually forgetting what I actually needed.

But, overall, I'm more excited about what I'm seeing at the farmer's markets.  Strawberries!  Baby zucchinis!  Yum.

So, I don't have any pictures of the haul this week (forgive me!) but I can remember almost everything I bought: 5 onions, 1 bunch of scallions, 1 basket of baby zucchinis, 1 quart of strawberries, 2 bunches of asparagus, whole chicken, ground beef, pork roast, apples, 3 bok choi heads, lots of broccoli crowns, and 1 bunch of tiny carrots.

Meal plan for the week:

My lunch: Lentil Salad with Tomatoes and Goat Cheese (minus cukes) (local tomatoes from grocery, herbs from garden)

Husband's lunch: Ricotta Pasta with Sauteed Greens, Mushrooms and Bacon (local mushrooms from grocery stores, greens from the garden, bacon from farmer's market)

Saturday: Date night out!

Sunday: Moosewood's Chili Burgers, roasted vegetables & oven fries (baby zukes, asparagus, carrots, onion and --leftover from last week-- potatoes from the farmer's market, lettuce from the garden)

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Chicken Mole Enchiladas with salad (chicken from farmer's market, lettuce from garden)

Thursday, Friday: Cashew Stir-Fry with Rice (bok choi, scallions, broccoli from the farmer's market)

Recipe: Lamb Pitas with Radish Raita

This is what my husband said after eating 2 bites of this meal: "Ya know, sometimes with this local eating thing I feel like we're just making do with what's available, but this is fantastic!  I'd eat it even if we could eat tomatoes from Chile."

Gee, thanks?  I guess?

To be honest, I have been uninspired at the farmer's market.  We're both getting really bored of greens and there's not much variety beyond those and the occasional brassica or root vegetable that look awesome.  But this week I decided to embrace the challenge with all the vigor I did back in October.  We had ground farmer's market lamb in the freezer to use as inspiration.  And, after making some quite delightful radish tea sandwiches for a Royal Wedding Viewing Party, I wanted to do something with them too.  Enter spiced lamb meatballs tucked inside a warm pita with home-grown lettuce and a radish raita.  I served this alongside a modified tabbouleh (the usual bulgur, but made with parsley, onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, oregano instead of mint and leaving out the tomato/cucumber.)

Spiced Lamb Meatballs (Serves 4)
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson, goddess of all things yum)

1 lb ground lamb
1/4 c finely scallions
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/8 c parsley
Crusts from 3 slices of bread (tea sandwich leftovers!)
1 egg
Vegetable oil, for frying

1. Pulse the scallions, spices and bread crusts in food processor until a paste forms. Add this paste and egg to the lamb and gently mix until just combined.
2. Form meatballs (I made about 20 balls).  Place in fridge for at least 1 hr to firm up.
3. Heat oil in skillet and cook eat ball for about 1 minute per side or until done & golden all around.  Place on plate lined with paper towel to drain.

Radish Raita
(Adapted from

1/2 c plain yogurt
1/4 c diced radish
1 tsp diced scallion (white part)
1 tsp fresh lime juice (I cheated and used fresh lemon because we had one that was going to go bad).

Mix everything together & chill. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Recipe: Kale Colcannon

Ah, the quest for new ways to make greens!  For some reason the Cooking Channel is showing vintage episodes of Tyler's Ultimate. You know, back when the premise of the show was him travelling to see how different "experts" used an ingredient or made a dish.  One episode stuck in my mind: Potatoes.  A woman in Ireland was sharing her recipe for colcannon, a potato dish made with boiled cabbage & ham.  But I don't have cabbage and the farmer's market doesn't have cured ham.

So, I improvised and the recipe below is still 100% delicious if not a bit blasphemous.  I did, however, leave the potatoes unpeeled as I boiled them, which the Irish woman recommends.  Probably something more suited for fall (this is seriously comfort in a bowl), but even my little baby licked his bowl clean.

Kale Colcannon (Serves 2)

3 medium-large potatoes (at least the size of your fist)
1 lb kale, de-stemmed and chopped
4 slices of best-quality bacon, diced
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter

1. Place potatoes whole in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes or until done.  In the last 15 or so minutes, add the chopped kale & a good pinch of salt to the boiling water & cook until tender.  Drain.
2. In now-empty pot, render fat from bacon & cook until crispy.  Take off heat.
3. Add potatoes (peeled if you like) & kale to bacon.  Mash with potato masher.  Add butter and enough milk to reach desired consistency.  Stir in scallions, adjust seasoning.  Eat.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May Local Eating Challenge: Week 2

I actually did most of my farmer's market shopping on Thursday and then I forgot to take a photo of everything.  So, you get a view of my dinner + some of the other stuff I bought.

Review of last week:
We followed our meal plan pretty well and had one apple and some scallions leftover!  However, no one at the market had garlic and garlic scapes aren't up yet.  This is a Big Deal in my family as almost every dish begins with a clove or two of it.  Also a Big Deal is $20 for a whole chicken.  Ouch.  I love making soup with greens and chorizo, but sinking $20 to make stock for it (yes, I realize I'd have meat for something else) is daunting.

Week 2
I spent $38 at the grocery store this week (mainly yogurt for the kiddo, lentils, lots of grains, local mushrooms, milk, pita, tortilla and cheese).  I spent $35 at the farmer's market (3 broccoli crowns, 4 medium-sized bok choi heads, 5 lb bag of potatoes, 4 sweet potatoes, 5 apples, 2 onions, 1 qt. strawberries, 1 bunch radish and 1 bunch parsley).  Grand total for the week is $73, which is under the $100/wk we budget.  However, my pantry is pretty well stocked currently and we still have meat from our last big farmer's market meat purchase (we'd go once every other month in the winter & stock up).

Meal plan for the week:

Weekend lunch: Wheatberry Salad with mustard greens (kinda like this recipe, but with greens instead of root vegetables. Mustard greens from the garden & onion)

My lunch: Dal with Kohlrabi (kohlrabi from the garden, onion)

Husband's lunch: Moosewood's sweet potato and black bean burritos (sweet potatoes, onions, cilantro from the garden)

Saturday, Sunday dinner: Vegetarian Stir-fry with rice (broccoli, bok choy, scallions from last week, mushrooms & cashews in a sauce of oyster sauce, soy sauce, green part of the scallions, brown sugar, and lots of dried hot peppers...from last year's garden!)

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday dinner: Lamb meat balls with salad on pita, hummus & tabbouleh (lamb is from our last big farmer's market meat purchase, onion, radishes, parsley & lettuce from the garden)

Thursday, Friday dinner: a kind of Colcannon except with kale (from the garden) instead of cabbage (bacon from last week and potatoes)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Garden is on a Roll- Harvest Update

It's taken 3 growing seasons, but I think I'm really hitting my garden stride.  What used to seem so difficult is now easy-peasy and...dare I say it...I'm having trouble keeping up with the harvests!  (It does definitely help that this has been a glorious spring.)

Since my last harvest update post, I've picked the rest of the arugula (over 3 lbs), all of the kale (over 1.5 lbs), some more mustard greens (12 oz) and just 4 kohlrabi (2 lb 2 oz)!  My total for the season is

::::::::::::::::::::::::::drumroll please:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

13.94 lbs!!! 

If I didn't have a food scale, I'm not sure I'd believe it, but it's true!  In the whole of last year I only harvested 26 lbs to put in perspective how monumental this is for me and my little patch of dirt. But, as I said before, as exciting as getting these big-for-me harvests are, the lingering question is: How can we possibly eat this many greens?  I'm getting over greens & I haven't harvested *any* lettuce yet, btw.  Yikes, right?

Worse case, we'll blanch & freeze.  Or see if mustard greens pesto is any good (and freeze that). 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Local Eating Challenge: The May Edition

It's that time again when my family only consumes local fruit, vegetables and meat.  As you may recall back in October of last year, I had my first go at it and set up the rules of my game.  Overall, I didn't feel like I was ultimately spending more money on food (and, in fact, I was eating more fruits/veggies, less junk). I kept up with the local eating or at least seasonal eating as much as possible until the winter really set in.  Then I turned to frozen vegetables a lot. My life was getting busier as the baby got more active and my classes started getting more time consuming.  Convience became key.  I didn't revert to eating processed foods all the time, but I became less focused on where my fruits and vegetables came from.  However, I am proud that we've continued to buy organic (albeit non-local) dairy and, aside from chicken, our meat has mostly been local too.

Back when I started this challenge, I was convinced that by the time May hit, we've have something other than greens to eat. And, I was right.  There are greens, potatoes *and* onions at the farmer's market!  Hahahahahaha.  I suppose there are also tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, but those must be greenhouse or cold frame grown, so not exactly "in season" as I personally define it.  Damn me & my principles!! But, it's OK.  Greens we shall eat.  They are good for us, at least.

Here's what I bought at the market (total cost: $41.50):

3 apples & 2 asian pears (not shown), 2 bunches of spring onions, 1 bunch of young onions, broccoli, buffalo chorizo, bacon, 1 pint of new potatoes, a block of cheddar

And, I'll be using arugula, mustard & kohlrabi from my garden to supplement. I didn't really buy anything other than ricotta, yogurt for Sprouter, and pizza dough at the grocery store this week; our pantry is pretty stocked.

Here's the meal plan:

My lunch: Chorizo, greens & bean soup (I'll use most of the chorizo, onions and some garden greens)

My husband's lunch: Beef tongue braise with rice (He'll use some onions. We got the tongue from the market a few weeks ago)

Breakfast: Oatmeal with apples

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: White & Greens Pizza (I'll use some of the cheddar with some store-bought ricotta and make different pizzas using 1 link of the chorizo, the broccoli and arugula.)

Wednesday, Thursday: Frittata (I'll use the new potatoes and some greens.  We'll also have a salad)

Friday: Take out night! (aka, I'm tired of cooking)

Snacks: Asian pears, salad

Note: The baby just eats what we do at this point, so he'll be having what we're eating this week.