Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fresh Garlic

...and, we're back!  It's been an epic couple of months of battling winged and bushy-tailed garden destroyers, off-homestead duties, and a cute little time vacuum, but things are finally starting to slow down enough to devote some eagerly-saved effort to blogging.  But don't worry, grasshoppers, we shall regale you with the full tale of these recent months in due time.

Today, we're talking garlic.  About a month ago, we realized the garlic tops hadn't grown in quite a while and the leaves were starting to turn brown.  Time to harvest!  While we managed to dig up most of the bulbs unscathed, we found three with damage.

(Katie says, "From the trowel you dug them up with?"

"No, no, of course not.  I would never make a careless mistake like that; they had those slices before I dug them up.  There's a new invasive species of Italian worm that makes marks just like those...surprised you haven't heard about it yet  Also, don't bother looking that up."

*Katie rolls her eyes.*)

So, what to do with the damaged bulbs?  They probably won't survive the normal curing process, being full of invasive Italian worm bites and all.

Any fresh garlic recipe will work, but we put most of it on pizzas.  The flavor of the fresh garlic was unreal.  Very different than even the garlic cloves from dried bulbs.  Yum.  As a side note, we didn't think to try Clotilde's use for the inter-clove membranes, which aren't dry and papery on fresh garlic, but you can bet your boots we will next year.

Also, we had a good time with the chopped scapes on the pizzas, but there are lots of other ways we're looking forward to trying next year, too.  For example, garlic scape pesto? That sounds pretty good!

What's your favorite use for freshly-pulled garlic?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Quick Chicken Fence Repair

We found out the other weekend that wire mesh movable electric fences (one of these guys) and lawnmowers don't get along very well.  While trying to get into a tight spot behind the bee hive, the lawnmower managed to reach out and pull one slightly-less-than-taught section of the fence into the blade.

Here's a question for you: given that it takes the human brain around 0.2 seconds to process a stimulus and react, that the lawnmower blade spins at 200 rpm, and that the fence cost $165, can you calculate how many dollars per blade revolution the lawnmower did?  Ready, go.

Easy, you say?  0.2 seconds equates to 2/3 of a revolution, and the fence was obviously destroyed, bringing the total to $247.50 per revolution?

Wait, there's more information: first, we didn't have the fence electrified and weren't planning to since it kept the chickens in just fine without electricity (until we put a big hole in it with the lawnmower), and second, we saved the wire wrapping that our rolls of hardware cloth and woven wire fencing came in, along with plenty of other wire scraps.  Turns out that, as long as we still don't want to electrify it, the cost was more like an hour of Jake's time, or basically, $0.00.

We started by laying the damaged section of fence as flat as possible, figuring out what strands were missing, then replacing the vertical missing vertical strands with pieces of 16 gauge wire.  Where there were a few remnants left, we tried to wrap them around the new wire.  We also fed the new wire through the horizontal strands when they were still intact.

Similar drill for the horizontal wires, except using the thinner wire that the hardware cloth roll was wrapped up in.  Our thinking is that the thinner wire will make it more flexible in the horizontal direction when we eventually roll up the fencing.  In extra-damaged places (like in the first photo), we wrapped the horizontal wire directly around the new vertical pieces.

The finished product doesn't look perfect, but it does keep the chickens out of the garden.  Will it ever be electric again?  Hard to know.  If we decide to try it, we'll update the post.  In the meantime, mission accomplished!

How do you do electric fence netting repair?

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Sampling of Trelli from Repurposed Materials

With the last of the garden finally planted, this last weekend we could turn our attention to the next step in vegetable cultivation: trellising.  (Some would say that should be done concurrently with setting out plants, but that happened to be outside our time budget this spring since we didn't have them built yet!)  We've got tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers that need support, and we're testing out a variety of trellis designs this year to see what works best (and based largely on what we could find in our garage and yard).  A fun exercise as you scroll through is to try and figure out which designs Katie likes.  (Hint: it's not all of them.)

Two quick side notes: in case you were wondering, 'trelli' is not the accepted plural form of 'trellis.'  That would be 'trellises,' which is much less fun to say.  Also, we learned a while back that an unconventional collection of styles can be referred to as 'Bohemian' if you want to impress your visitors.  So, let's take a look at our Bohemian collection of trelli!

First up: tomatoes.  We made this one out of cedar fence pickets ripped in half on the table saw.  Once we had the design in mind, it only took about an hour to build.  The sides are surprisingly sturdy for being built out of 1/2" cedar pickets eroded to significantly less than that in places and held together by only one screw at each juncture.

One thing we noticed, though, was that just leaning against each other, the sides were prone to sliding and falling over, even in our not-very-windy yard.  So we took some scrap pieces of wood, pounded them in near the corner feet of the trellis as stakes, and screwed them to the trellis.

Also, taking some more wood scraps and jamming them in the top gives some more friction to keep the sides from sliding against each other.

After the first trellis, however, we ran out of cedar fence pickets.  So we ripped a few pieces of six-foot 2 x 6 into 3/4" by 1-1/2" strips and screwed them to stakes for the remaining tomato beds.  We can add additional boards/sticks across them as necessary when the tomatoes get larger.  Also, there are a few isolated tomato plants (not shown) we have stuck in the ground or containers here and there, for which we're still using the last few of our wire tomato cages (until they get too bent up to be useful).

Second, the beans: we have three hills, one hill of Scarlet Runner beans, and two of Kentucky Wonder.  For one hill (the scarlet runners), we have a UFO-on-a-stick.

It's actually a slightly-bent bike wheel attached to the post with a piece of 5/16" all-thread with a bike axle nut on top. 

Wires run down to sticks in the ground for the beans to climb up.

A second hill of beans has a tripod of 3/4" x 1-1/2" x 7' posts (also ripped from 2 x 6's).

They're held together by a piece of 1 x 12 with 1-1/2" holes drilled through it with a hole saw.  No screws in there, everything held in place by friction (so far).  We'll update the post if it ends up not being stable like this.

The third hill of beans has a section of woven wire fencing arcing through about 300° of a circle, and held in place by a stick driven into the ground on either end.  The theory is that leaving 60° of the circle will allow us to pick both the inside and outside; we'll update the post if that turns out to be too small.  The fencing is cut so as to leave a piece of wire at the end that wraps around the stick.  This model only took about 15 minutes to build, including finding the sticks!

The cukes get the same type of trellis as the third hill of beans.

What do you use for vegetable trellises?  Do you get them out when you first plant the garden?  Which ones do you think Katie liked?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Homestead Happiness, June Week 4

Lots of developments on fruits, vegetables, and wildflowers this week made us happy.

The creeping bellflower, which is kindly filling in our less-maintained areas with purple June/July flowers, is in full bloom.

It's an invasive species, but other than being an aggressive spreader and difficult to eradicate, it's not as bad as some invasives.  For example, this patch s a hotspot for bee activity.

The squirrels won round two also, picking 90% of our strawberries while they were still green, even with the quick and dirty strawberry cage in place.  So either the woven wire fencing has too large of holes, or we're battling mice instead of squirrels.  (Or we're battling jedi squirrels that can pick the strawberries using The Force...we know they exist.)  We made our quick and dirty strawberry cage slightly less quick but even more dirty by covering it with 1/2" hardware cloth.

We've got an especially delicious-looking strawberry that no squirrel could possibly resist as a test probe.  If it gets picked, our problem is definitely mice.

It looks like we might actually get some raspberries in year two.  Only a handful, but hey!  You gotta start somewhere.

We were thinking we would get skunked on apples, plums, and sour cherries this year since there were only a few flowers on the plums (none on the apples and cherries) and we couldn't find fruit on anything.  But behold!  There are a few plums we had missed.  We're going to have four of them come September.  Quadruplets would normally be very exciting, but it's a good thing we made so much jam last year!

Similarly, the Nanking cherries seem to have survived the winter ok and will be ripening soon.  Our likely-bird-planted versions compete with other shrubs and weeds in the shady areas of our yard, so we don't usually get enough of these to do anything with but make a light snack.  But they're really good, so maybe we should do some plant propagation experiments to give them a chance to reach their full permaculture potential.

Finally, the corn is definitely going to be "knee high by the fourth of July" since it's already thigh-high now!  We're currently devising squirrel-deterring plans for when the ears start to ripen.

What made your homestead happy this week?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Wild Greens Nutrition Comparison

You might be getting tired of all our posts this spring extolling the virtues of wild greens, but we wanted to do one more before giving it a rest for a while.  In particular, we were curious to see how the nutrition of the greens we forage stacked up against the greens we grow, so we made a spreadsheet (of course) to compare.  And as long as we were answering our own questions, we figured we might as well write it up into a blog post!

It's a bit of a challenge to get an apples-to-apples comparison because not all "weeds" have nutrition info readily available, and of the ones we were able to find, not all of the same metrics were available for each (for example, some were missing vitamin K or some of the B vitamins).  On top of that, some of the benefits of eating wild greens are attributed to factors that aren't quantified in normal nutritional analyses, such as content of phenolics, flavonoids, and mucilaginous substances. But, for what it's worth, we can make a few legitimate comparisons.

And fortunately, there's enough data to make some charts and graphs!

First up, Vitamin A.  Actually, first we should say that the reported serving sizes vary widely across our source materials (linked at the end of the post), so we had to do some normalization.  Everything here is based on 100 g of fresh leaves, rather than a one-cup serving.  But back to vitamin A: just about all of these greens will give you a good dose of it, but if you're foraging and feeling deficient, aim for dandelion, lambsquarter, and stinging nettle greens.  These three, along with kale, are well over the 100% RDV.  Interestingly, several sources claim that mallow is a good source of vitamin A, and although 28 RDV% is nothing to sneeze at, it hardly measures up to most of the other greens.

However, those same sources claim mallow is rich in vitamin C, and the only quantitative measure we could find put it at about 1% RDV. (Although the flowers have a lot more than the leaves.)  But it looks like we'll have to shoot for dandelion, sorrel, or lambsquarter greens if we catch the scurvy and there's no kale around.

Protein is where the wild greens really start to shine, and finally find a metric where they can beat kale, at least for lambsquarter and stinging nettle.

Similarly, for calcium, the wild greens do well compared to typical cultivated greens.  Stinging nettle blows everything else out of the water, but lambsquarter and dandelion are also higher than anything normal gardeners grow intentionally.  Even the lowly mallow is right up there with kale.

Most of the rest of the items that show up on a nutritional label didn't have data across all eleven species, but if you want to take a look at the spreadsheet, you can find it here.  Also, recommended daily values (RDVs) were based on a 2000 calorie diet.  The RDVs we based our calculations on can be found here.

It would be a shame to spend all this time talking about greens and nutrition and leave you hanging with no evidence of them actually prepared!  So we leave you with this: the dandelion-sorrel quiche we made a few weeks ago should be an excellent source of vitamins A and C!

Did we miss your favorite wild or cultivated leafy green?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Now, the sources of the numbers, in case anyone is interested:

Dandelion, lambsquarter, purslane, and all the cultivated greens came from the nutrition facts database.  In the spreadsheet, when figures were available for cooked greens, we used the 'no salt' option.

Sorrel came from the USDA national nutrient database.

Mallow came from this paper and this paper, using the moisture content to back calculate nutrient content in the fresh leaves.  For the second paper, the moisture content was listed as only 2.8%, which is not typical of fresh green biomass!  So the moisture content from the first paper was used in back calculations of the mineral contents.  Also, vitamin A proper was not given, so the total carotenoid content, which provides an upper limit on the possible vitamin A content, was used.  Also, some interconversion between mg and IU was required for vitamins A and E, which we got from here and here.  Finally, note that the two papers analyze different species of mallow (Malva sylvestris in the first and Malva neglecta Wallroth in the second), so there is some uncertainty in the numbers reported here.  This paper also appears to have the data we're after, but only for a price.

Stinging nettle came from this paper, using the spring data because in the fall, there are so many other things to eat.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Homestead Happiness, June Week 1

Summer is really kickin' into gear around here, and although the spring was a struggle for garden prep and pollinators, there's some good news from the Lab on both fronts this week.

Our wildflowers (Erysimum, Wallflowers) from a few weeks ago were joined in bloom by some feral roses this week.

We haven't seen many bees on either of those, but the wallflowers are being worked by some hover flies.  We think this specimen is Eristalis arbustorum.

Meanwhile, the hawthorn a few feet away has its own ecosystem of insects pollinating it.  Another hover fly (probably a Drone fly), a blue bottle fly, some small feral bee (or small feral bee-imitating hover fly) we couldn't identify, and the honey bees we were hoping to see there.  There were at least two other species that we couldn't get good photos of.  But, in trying to identify these bugs, we learned that the larval stage of many hover flies (although not of these two) eat aphids, and some eat scale and other garden pests.  So, stick around, hover flies, we'll need you soon! (...and feel free to check out the scale on our Meyer lemon tree; we set it by the driveway for you.)

In the garden, our squash have sprouted!

The kale is also up, although it would have been nice to get this in the ground several weeks ago.

Meanwhile, our tomato plants seem to have largely survived (so far) the bi-daily hail storms we've been getting.  We did have to replace a couple pepper plants in what we're referring to as a 'jalapeno emergency.'

Strawberry season is so close we can taste it.

We also got a double-yolked egg from our Red Star hen that broke the 4-oz barrier.  We think there should be an additional category for eggs this large.

What made you happy this week?