Happy Berm Day

A year ago the city installed a sidewalk on our street (March 28, 2016, to be exact), and we asked them to not spread the dirt and lay sod after the work was done. We wanted to keep the “berm” created by the displaced soil. At first it was a lot of work to remove big rocks and create a somewhat uniform mound, so we wondered if we made the right decision. And it continues to take effort to (attempt to) fend off the bermuda and crab grasses. Would we do it again? Unequivocally, yes. If entertainment value alone were the only metric: yes, yes, yes. The berm has given us so much:

  • Food for humans and other animals: culinary and medicinal herbs, eggplant, okra, winter peas, sunflower seeds, nectar, and more to come.
  • Community: We are playing or working out there often, so we get to wave to drivers or chat with walkers. The berm is a conversation piece. Some people clearly are baffled and others are inspired. Either way, we eagerly share our experiences, challenges, and future plans. Also, we were flush with cowpeas and now winter peas, so we share with our neighbors.
  • Activity: The berm hums with life. The berm provides opportunities for wonderment and movement with purpose — both are a joy to share with our daughter.
  • Beauty: Flowers! See photos and plant varieties below. I sought out advice for seeds that might have a fighting chance against the invasive grasses. The best performer was cowpeas: They thrived all summer and fall and they’re pretty, edible nitrogen fixers.
  • Buffer: Our house is situated on a curve and the berm gives me a sense of security when we’re playing in the front yard and a car takes the bend too fast. I feel less exposed in general, but even more so when the mammoth sunflowers are up and we have a “living fence.”
What we planted in the spring:
“bee feed” mix*
Oriental scarlet poppy
assorted sunflowers
brown cottonseeds
Heliopsis helianthoides
anise hyssop
calendula mix*
red marietta marigold*
Michels cowpea*
butterfly weed
purple prairie clover
What we planted in the fall:
Austrian winterpeas*
golden sweetpeas
Windsor fava beans
crimson clover

*Most successful

To save money, we planted a lot of seeds and just a few transplants (eggplant, sage, rosemary, hibiscus). We’re hoping that many plants will readily re-seed this spring and we’ll plant seeds I saved at the end of the season.

You Are Here

What does a somewhat anal-retentive gardener do when she goes away for a week in the middle of growing season? This:
garden illustration

After all the planning, weeding, watering, and inherent hope invested in my garden, I felt a bit of heartache about abandoning it for a vacation. (But I got over it!) Luckily my new neighbor was willing to help out, so I created this to offer some guidance. (Overkill?) I’m not sure how integral my crude illustration was in Shawn’s watering success, but I was relieved to come home to my lush garden, cucumbers and tiny tomatoes on the vine, and the promise of more to come.

Mushroom Sauce

I really need to build a culinary repertoire. I rarely make the same thing twice (exceptions: stir-fried bok choy, chicken and dumplings, fruit crisps and cornmeal cobbler), and I’d really like to cultivate some go-to recipes for when I have company. Enter: mushroom sauce. It’s vegetarian; it’s delicious; and it’s easy to keep all the ingredients on-hand. I’m on my way!

Mushroom Sauce
from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (This is a great cookbook. Thank you, Christine!)

:: 3 T butter
:: 2 ½ c chopped mushrooms*
:: 1 c minced onion
:: 1 t salt
:: 7 T sherry or broth (use sherry!)
:: 2 T flour
:: 1 large garlic clove, minced
:: pepper to taste
:: 2/3 c water or broth**
:: 1 c sour cream or plain yogurt (room temperature)

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion and salt. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in sherry, then turn heat to low and slowly sprinkle in flour. Keep stirring for a minute or two after all the flour is in. Add garlic and pepper to cook and stir over low heat 5-10 minutes. Stir broth and yogurt into sauce, mixing well until it is completely incorporated and heated throughout. Serve over hot cooked pasta and top with freshly grated cheese. Fall variation: Serve over sweet potatoes or on toast.

*Don’t you hate it when there is an asterisk with no corresponding footnote? I promise to never do that to you.
To the matter at hand: I used dried golden oyster mushrooms from Om Gardens.
**I intended to use chicken broth for the sauce, but realized I could use the strained liquid reserved from reconstituting the dry mushrooms. It’s full of flavor and tastes earthy, delicious and nutritious.

dried golden oysters
sweet potatoes, gravy sauce, chard
The sweet potatoes roasted while I made the sauce and sautéed chard from my garden (thanks, Chelsey!).

Happy New Year!

I didn’t meet all of my foodie-related goals for 2009, but it’s the pursuit that counts, right? Regardless, it was a great year for oklavorism. I’m pleased and grateful for all the great food and experiences. I organized my recipes, installed a garden (and then promptly moved before enjoying its bounty), and distilled data showing Oklahoma is the leader in direct-farm sales growth. I encountered a piglet (and learned they are quite loud and disinterested in cuddling), volunteered at a co-op delivery day, spent a glorious birthday at The Living Kitchen, worked at a CSA, visited the Cherry Street Farmers’ Market in Tulsa, made marshmallows, attended a bread-baking class, and canned pickles, strawberry jam, and apple preserves. I also learned some lessons: I shirked my due diligence and now have a freezer full of chicken reminding me that if something is too good to be true, it usually is.

This year I’d really like to make the tomato paste happen and I want to read Omnivore’s Dilemma and Salatin’s Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. I can’t wait to get a garden and fruit trees planted at our new house in the city.

I feel especially optimistic about 2010—sort of like I’m emerging from a fog. Things seem clearer and full of promise, more so than new years past. I hope to have less chaos in my life and head so that I can be a better listener and more mindful in my daily round.

How do you feel about your 2009 goals? Anything in particular you’re focusing on for 2010? Please share.

Garden Update

We finally put plants in the raised bed on May 3rd. Whew, that felt good! Plant dates kept getting postponed due to the weather or my schedule. I’m glad we didn’t hold off any longer since it has remained rainy and overcast ever since.
I bought the tomato and pepper transplants from High Tides and Green Fields; everything else is from seed. I started basil, dill, and cucumbers indoors, but they were pretty mopey by the time I got them in the ground. The cucumbers that were directly sown already look better than the transplants.

2009 garden guide
I got these neat curly tomato stakes when Nicole took me to North Haven Gardens in Dallas. I’m counting on them. Come through for me, unique tomato stakes!
The circle garden near the raised bed: strawberries and freshly planted ground cherry plants. There’s also a struggling overwintered red cabbage plant. I should put it out of its misery.
Potatoes! I’m trying Yukon gold, all blue, and yellow finn. On the far side is the lettuce patch. Sadly, they’re not doing so good. But Abbey is good. She’s such a sweetheart. She never tries to escape, unlike her mischievous sister, Chimay.

I stay organized with this spreadsheet, which helps me remember varieties and plant dates and to make better decisions next time. I’m also using it to keep track of costs, though I haven’t put a lot of effort into that yet. Maybe it will help you get organized, or maybe it will help you feel better about your own system.

Garden Upgrade

One reason I love gardening is repeat opportunities for improvement, learning, and tweaking. As each season passes, you learn what worked and what didn’t, and right away you can implement these lessons. I don’t put much pressure on myself to get it right the first time (or second, or third…).

Last year we gardened in two small plots. Since most of our yard is treed, we used a small plot in a semi-shady area to grow lettuces and potatoes. We’re doing the same thing this year; we’ve put forth a little more effort using the no-dig method (aka “lasagna gardening”). Our small full-sun area is precious, so we must save room for crops that necessitate full sun. Last year the sunny area consisted of a circular bed where we Matt removed Bermuda grass. Lots of space was taken up (and taken over) by the ground cherries. And I mostly unsuccessfully grew tomatoes in an assortment of pots. I had good luck with potted herbs.

Inspired by Nicole and Christa’s successful no-dig garden, I thought to give it a try this spring. No more digging up Bermuda!? Matt was pleased. So we added a raised bed in the full-sun area and we’ll continue to make incremental improvements, in both technique and set-up. I’ve found that if I approach gardening as a process, a recurring cycle, I’m more relaxed about it. The merry-go-round keeps spinning, you can jump off and get back on once you learn to balance and/or not drink a chocolate milkshake before riding.

We followed these instructions, which worked great with one exception: the 1/2-inch screws for attaching the galvanized brackets are too short, so we used 1-inch screws instead.

Supplies came to about $200. We got free compost from a friendly acquaintance. We may have been able to save more money by acquiring materials from the Building Materials Reuse Association, which I just learned about today.

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s just an initial investment—the following season’s gardens will be cheaper, until we decide to expand.

building the raised bed
Matt is putting together the frame. He loves this sort of work.
building the raised bed
Chelsey and Matt are installing the fittings for the hoops.
making the lasagna
And we start making the lasagna: hardware mesh to keep out the moles and newspaper to smother the grass.
free compost!
Thank goodness for front-end loaders. Getting free compost by the truckload was a huge help. Thanks, Bob!
making the lasagna
On top of the newspaper, we sprinkled bone meal, blood meal, and hay. Then we laid the soaker hose and piled on the compost.
raised bed
Ta da! Our awesome raised bed (4’x24′) complete with hoops for bird netting or row covers.
DIY seed tape
Using DIY seed tape, I sowed lettuce seeds in the shady plot. It made me realize just how much easier it is to work with a raised bed.
This particular type, Forellenschuss, comes from Seed Savers Exchange and sounds very promising since it stands up well to heat.

lettuce bed
I converted the desk to a seed-starting station.
Bushy cucumber seedling. That’s basil in the background. These will go in the raised bed at the end of this month.

Check out this article on the monetary value of one family’s garden.

A New Year of Food

2009: The year I delve into all things food related, also known as the year seed catalogs arrived in the mail without my requesting them! Oh, and how lovely they are. I feel like the real deal, now. Happy New Year!

What are some food-related things you would like to accomplish or learn in 2009?

Here’s my list, some of which I have already mentioned in previous entries. Forgive the reiteration (if I say it enough, maybe it will actually happen):

  1. Make tomato paste.
  2. Bake a 100% Oklavore pizza.
  3. Learn more about keeping bees and chickens.
  4. See a persimmon tree.
  5. Cuddle a piglet.
  6. Expand the garden by adding some no-dig beds.
  7. Drink more water.
  8. Take a “sleep on it” approach to publishing blog entries. I often lie awake pondering if I misspelled something or used too many freaking em dashes. That’s also why I am rewriting this “New Year’s” post; I forgot to add several things in my initial entry.
  9. Post more often; less lag time between actual event and blog post.
  10. Find out if the vintage pressure cooker I got for Christmas is safe to use; if not, I’ll have to have my own MacGyver Challenge.

pressure cooker
National Pressure Cooker
Eau Claire, Wis.