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 self.com 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.

EDIT 10/19/15: A recent article (covered also here) took a more sophisticated approach, but came up with chard and spinach ranking much higher than kale, which was on par with dandelion greens.  Evidently, they were able to find more complete nutritional data than we did, but they also mention that their ranking system is similarly limited by lack of data on things like phytochemicals.  But we also wanted to mention that watercress, which topped their list, is an excellent wild green, too!  Now if only they had included some of our other favorite wild greens, they would have a perfect article...

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?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Makeshift Tripod for the Fire Pit

Having newly constructed a fire pit in the yard for a marshmallow roasting workshop, we were confronted not long afterward with an unopened package of brats in the freezer.  Much preferring a brat grilled over an in-ground hardwood fire to even a charcoal-grilled one, we concluded that an open-fire grilling apparatus was needed immediately. "'Immediately," in this case, meant, "in less time than it would take to drive to the store and buy a tripod."  Fortunately, with a little whatchagotamology, we were able to piece something together in less time than it even took the fire to burn down to 'cooking stage.'

The main features are three sticks with fork-like features at the top, three short chains, a long chain, and a grate stolen from a regular grill.

The long chain is attached to the three short chains (which were extra parts from the fluorescent light fixtures we used in the aquaponics setup) by a bent nail we pulled from some piece of free Craigslist wood.  The long chain runs up through the top of the forked sticks, and can move up or down to adjust the height of the grate above the fire.

The three short chains are attached to the grate in a similar manner, spaced evenly to make the grill level.  Also, putting the grate upside down helps keep brats and hotdogs from rolling off.  Or at least, you can tell people that if you accidentally put it on upside down.

A screw in one of the legs can be used to fix the location of the chain if, like us, you were in too big a hurry to find sticks with a suitable branch.

Brats cooking safely, lovely company, summer initiated.  Crisis averted.