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Monday, December 12, 2011


My family loves broccoli; this included two young boys! So, you can guess how excited we were about our harvest this week. We only harvest one loan head of broccoli, but the broccoli plant already has several side shoots. It is the Packman variety and the head is about 6" across. 
I called the boys over to watch me cut the head from the plant. My youngest tried to take a bite out of it right on the spot.

Yeah broccoli!

Now only if the other 10 seeds I planted had germinated...argh!

Check out more harvests over at Daphne Dandelion's Harvest Monday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Herb Update

I keep forgetting that I have an herb garden. This is because it is on the opposite side of the house. The vegetable garden is on the garage side of the house. The herb garden is on the other side, but is closest to a door that leads to the kitchen...see my reasoning. Maybe I should move it and just make that a flower bed. I imagined running out that door to grab some fresh cilantro or basil. Maybe it should stay. I just need to remember to walk over there more.

Anyway it had bad germination as well. But this is completely understandable, given that I planted it and forgot it was there for two weeks, then left on a two week vacation (it's not connected to the automated sprinklers). So anything I get from here (this fall) is a total bonus.

What is most surprising is that anything is alive here. Not only does it get no additional watering (though it has been raining every 5 days or so), but it has been left completely exposed to the 20 degree nights. I thought that would surely kill what came, but it hasn't killed one thing that sprouted.

The sage does show signs of injury (at least I think that is sage). The parsley and cilantro show no signs of injury. I think I'll be fixing some potatoes this weekend!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Around the December Garden

So yesterday I braved the frigid temperatures to take a look at the garden beds. Northerns are probably laughing at me for calling highs of mid 40's and lows of high 20's frigid. But this is about as cold as it gets here.

All of the beds are covered with 1.5mil plastic. This gives them a couple degrees of protection, but it also protects the leaves from frost. So today was about peaking under the cold frames to see how the crops were doing.
Bed 12 (the one on the right above) has our garlic and broccoli. One broccoli plant looks about ready to harvest. I couldn't believe it. Its only been about 3 days since I last looked; this thing looks ready to harvest. The other broccoli plants don't look so well, but I am holding out hope for their recovery. Perhaps they were too small to endure the cold. I planted all of these at the same time, so I have no clue why they are at such different developmental stages. The garlic looks fine, though some of the older leaves are yellow. You can see the garlic around the edges of the 3rd picture below. Per GardenWebForums this happens so I am not worried yet.
In the next bed over (Bed 11) the lettuce is doing very well. The carrots are moving along as well - albeit slowly. The carrots are the little patches of green you see growing close to the ground. They are basically closely-spaced seedlings for now.

The turnip bed (Bed 6) (which was planted at the start of Nov) is almost none existent. There are some seedlings in there, but I am not sure if these are turnips or weeds. Maybe they'll overwinter and start sprouting in the spring. In the south, we need an early start on the spring anyway as it gets hot fast.
And nowwwww (drum roll) The Bed 3. I call it this because this has been my best bed by far. This is the bed that was closest to the sprinkler when we had a leak, so it has always been watered well and it shows. The interesting thing is, I harvested from this bed last Saturday and it looks like I hadn't touched it. I harvested all the way to the ground because I knew the temps would be dropping. So you are basically looking at one week of growth! (Except for the garlic of course). The garlic is doing great and none of it is yellow. The gap in the middle is where the radishes were; I guess I should plant some more. My calendar says we can plant radish and lettuce throughout the winter here. In front is collards and in back is spinach. Under the collards are some mesculin (lettuce mix).
 The only garlic that is not doing well in Bed 3 is the grocery store bought garlic. It looks miserable.
And lastly Bed 9, this bed has broccoli, spinach (that didn't germinate...maybe in spring). and onion (around edges - looks like garlic). The left picture is my broccoli; the haze you see is actually tulle netting. The other broccoli doesn't look as good but you can see the onion in the background!

This is both Disappointing and Exciting! Its disappointing because of my low germination rates. I should have full beds; instead they are mostly mulch. I did direct sow everything, so I guess if I want better germination I'd better set up for indoor sowing or taken better care of the beds until sprouting. I hope the beds will probably be more productive come spring; I read somewhere that seeds will sometimes sprout in early spring if they didn't in the winter. I hope so bc I sure love turnips and broccoli and those don't do well in our spring bc it gets warm to fast. Maybe I'll sow some indoors so they are set to mature in March.

But I am excited to be getting something and I am excited about my garlic. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

First Ever Fall Harvest

So this week was an exciting week for me in that I harvested my first ever fall crops. It wasn't much, but it was still a first and hopefully a sign of more to come.

I harvested a basket full of collard greens and 3 nice size radish.
Even though it was a basket full, we all know that they cook down to very little. So we cleaned the collards and added them to a pot of cabbage for a delicious mix.
We also harvested some lettuce and spinach. The lettuce will go in a salad this week and the spinach was blanched and frozen.
And for a sneak peek of whats on the horizon....look was growing under my row cover....
There are several smaller broccoli plants as well, but we had our first freeze here and some of them now show signs of stress. I hope they rebound. Although the next 3 days will have lows in the 20's and highs in the 40's. We'll see. I covered them with some 1.5 mil plastic this weekend in anticipation of the frigid temps.
Check out harvest from around the globe over at Daphne Dandelion's Harvest Monday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Harvest

Below, I share with you how I used my garden harvests for Thanksgiving. Check out more harvests over at Daphne Dandelions Harvest Monday.

This Thanksgiving was a special one for us. As discussed earlier, we decided to try for a 100% local and organic Thanksgiving meal. In the end, we were able to realistically accomplish a 100% local or organic meal. We learned a lot about what is available locally, how much things costs, and now....we also know how the food quality compares.

Now to the how the harvest was used.

We made this eggplant paramesan with eggplants grown in our garden (plus some bought at the store). The tomato sauce used was made from tomatos grown in our garden and canned by us a few weeks ago. The tomato sauce was made using Ball's recipe and it was quite good!

From the garden, we also made zucchini cakes, squash casserole, and spinach brownies.

For meats, we had a locally grown grass-fed chicken which we prepared on the rostisserie, a locally grown grass fed roast which was prepared into a delicious mushroom gravy roast, and a farm raised turkey which hubby smoked to perfection....I'm talking fall off the bone perfection....and we did it on a regular grill!

I used organic flour, sugar, butter, and eggs to make the pound cake. In addition, organic goods were used to make the apple pie and sweet potato pie (pie shells homemade). Sweet Potato Pie is not shown.

The cornbread for the dressing was also homemade with organic ingredients; as was the homemade cranberry sauce (which turned out very good as well --- first time making this!).
This is where organic ends. After making the above, we were out of organic flour and low on organic sugar, out of organic butter and low on organic eggs. Given the expense of buying more, we decided to buy regular nonorganic and possibly nonlocal replacements; as we still had several items to make that needed these ingredients. The expense of doing it all organic had gotten to us, so I guess in a sense we bailed on our original 100% plan.

So, all of the bread is homemade (hotwater cornbread, rolls, and cheddar bay biscuits), but none of it is organic.
So in the end, I can say that we had a meal that was mostly organic and local. Only a very few things weren't local and even less was not organic. I am still pleased that we did the exercise and now we are better prepare to make an informed resolution for the new year.

Now about the food quality first. First thing is that no one could tell that the food was organic. This may sound silly, but if you remember the first versions of low-fat or low-sugar and how horrible they were; then you understand how some (who are unfamiliar with organic) may wonder about the taste difference. Secondly, the grass fed meat was obviously leaner. Almost no fat to remove. We rotisseried the chicken and it gave about 1-2 cups of stock. We usually get at least twice that. This shows us just how much perservatives (salt walter,etc) are being pumped into the store bought chickens. No noticeable difference in the vegetables or fruit. The organic flour is nonbleached which means more gluten which means DO NOT overbeat (best to stir in the flour by hand in this case) when using it for baking or you'll end up with rubbery bread instead of cake. The organic sugar seems fine as a 1 for 1 substitute with no differences that I noticed. Same with butter and eggs.

I will say - though - that having to pay more for the organic sugar has caused me to use it more sparingly. I have used it for about 2-months now and my tea is getting less and less sweet. So perhaps its a good thing; because I would still be pouring the cheap sugar by the cup full; now I only use spoonfuls worth. Same thing with the organic butter. Organic butter costs twice as much and it has made me think twice about adding butter to my food and searching for alternatives....like I used cooking spray to saute my asparagus instead of butter and it was the same! So perhaps having to pay more for food is a good thing. I read in several places that Americans spend less of their income (percentage wise) than most other countries on our food. I can definitely say from this experience that if my food costs this much, I would definitely use less and waste less (through spoilage). So perhaps that is reason enough to totally commit to the switch....only time will tell, we've got about a month to figure it out....will let you know when we do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations

Unfortunately, we didn't harvest anything from our own garden this week, but I did wanted to share our Thanksgiving plans and the local harvests that we have available to us. So, this Harvest Monday comes from harvests found at our local farmers market and market stores. See more harvests over at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday.

What have we gotten ourselves into? Over the last several months, we have been becoming more conscious about what we eat. We've always been somewhat healthy eaters; but now, we are paying attention to things like hormones in milk, genetically modified corn, antibiotics in poultry, food being shipped in from other countries, businesses can write off the cost of shipping food giving them incentive to purchase from out-of-country instead of from up-the-street, how the food industry has become a big business narrowing availability to varieties that are easy to mass produce and holds up well in shipping even if they are the blandest available, etc... I could go on and on.

So we really are changing our eating habits. So much so, that we started a garden this year. We would like to come up with a New Year's resolution that is realistic. We could try to go 100% local like others have. We could try 100% organic. Or we could do 100% local and organic. 100% excludes what we would consider exotic foods like salmon or bananas. That food that is only available in certain parts of the country/world.

Over the last few months, we have gone from farm to farm, market to market, CSA to co-op trying to find a good local source for all of our needs. Yes, we have searched high and low, far and wide. But what is realistic for a goal in the new year? We decided to let Thanksgiving be our dry run. Let's see what is available locally and organic. I know it is November and we are not at the height of harvest season, but if we were to make a goal for the new year, we would have to meet that goal in November.

So our plan was to go to the Dallas Farmer's Market, Whole Foods, a local market store, and Sprouts. At the beginning of the day, our goal was to do 100% local and organic food. Well, by midday we were trying to decide which we should give up: local or organic. We decided to give up local. We felt that organic was more important to us for several reasons, but that we will still try for local. Foods that aren't too tainted by chemical sprays (or have been genetically modified, fed hormones, etc) we would give local the nod. So by the end of the day, our goal was to buy 100% organic, local where possible.

What brought us to this point? Well, you'd think it was the sugar or flour or something like that. Nope, here in Texas we have those local brands. It was potatoes, celery, and turnip greens that brought us to this point. Yes, the farmer's market was humming with all of these items, but none of it was organic. I figured that perhaps some of them used organic methods and just couldn't advertise as organic because they weren't certified. So I asked some and the answer was no. One hadn't a clue what I was talking about, but I figured he was just there to sell the produce. So I have everything I need local and organic, but no veggies. SMH. It was time to compromise. So organic won over local. Our thought is, perhaps as organic sell increase, more local farmers will convert to organic. Not that I am looking for the certification, just the methods.

So after a day of running from here to there, this is our loot...should be enough for a Thanksgiving feast.
Organic milk, Grass fed meat, organic flours (Arrowhead Mills of Texas; some grain grown in Colorado though), shown with wild-caught Gulf shrimp and home canned tomato sauce and zucchini relish. Various other organic vegetables are shown as well. The eggplant are from our garden!
Organic sugar (a line made by Imperial Sugar of Texas, cane grown in LA), most everything else is organic but not local. Except those sweet potatoes and broccoli. I am proud of those. There was one farmer at the market that grew organically and this is what we had left. He was out of turnip greens :(. The squash are from my garden.
Finally, the frozen stuff -- purple hull peas, banana peppers, spinach, zucchini --- is from our garden, the apples, potatoes, and onion are all organic but not local, and the turkey is cage-free and not local. I figure that cage-free, no preservatives, no antibiotics, no hormones was acceptable. Any grain feed may not have been organic, but a roaming bird will have its share of organic meals (grass). But it was either this or no turkey. No one at the farmer's market had a turkey that wasn't already sold. Just FYI, organic turkeys were running $4.5 - $6 per pound if you ordered one.

Can you believe this? I found organic locally grown and made olive oil and I couldn't find organic locally grown celery or cabbage or turnip greens or bell peppers or onion or .....

Collard greens purchased from my church's co-op garden! Organic and Local!

I'll share our preparations later in the week. But until then, check out the chart that I made below. It shows each item that I bought for our Thanksgiving meal; how much that item cost local and organic, not local-but organic, local but not organic, neither local nor organic. This chart upset me some; we paid $75 more. I mean, I understand that it costs more to allow a cow/chicken to roam and have space to do so than it does to raise them in an overcrowded warehouse. I understand there is more risk with organic crops and more precautions have to be made. I know small farmers have small profit margins, etc..., but some of the prices (by comparison) seem very out-of-whack. And I am not just talking organic, some of the local food costs a lot more than nonlocal food. I am not going to pretend to know why; I'm just upset that it costs so much more. It almost cost us double to buy organic and we can't afford that month after month - that is the bottom-line, no matter how much we want to.

So what have we learned: organic food is not widely available here, organic food can cost the same or twice as much as nonorganic, local food at the farmer's market can cost more or less - just be careful, a basket of tomatoes for $4 sounds good until you realize that there is only 4 small tomatoes in the basket. Buying local could mean having very little to pick from. The local tent at the market was not even half full; several local farmers talked about how their fall crops were delayed or ended by the drought.....the drought that we're just now starting to get relief from. Buying organic is sometimes harder than buying local; due to demand or the ability to advertise as organic.

So what do we do? Buying local is unsustainably costly, buying organic isn't always an option...neither is buying local for that matter. Possible answer: grow more food. The best resource for local, organic food may be our own backyard. We've got about one-month to figure it out. We're not giving up. Pay a little more for healthier food now, or a lot more for prescription drugs later. That's what I say.

The underlined cost is what we paid.

categoryitemfromBothOrganicLocalNeitherPaidif Min is Paid
condimntbrn sugar 1.5#TX $       4.39  $       3.99  $       1.67  $        4.39  $               1.67
condimntHoneyTX $       4.99  $       3.99  $        4.99  $               3.99
condimntpstry flour 2#TX $       2.00  $       2.40  $       2.29  $        2.00  $               2.00
condimntSugar 2#TX $       5.19  $       3.99  $       2.29  $        5.19  $               2.29
condimntwht flour 2#TX $       2.99  $       2.40  $       2.29  $        2.99  $               2.29
dairybutterCA $       3.50  $       2.50  $        3.50  $               2.50
dairyeggs (farmer)TX $       4.50  $       3.89  $       1.50  $        4.50  $               1.50
dairyeggs (sprouts)TX $       9.00  $       8.42  $       1.50  $        8.42  $               1.50
dairyMilkTX $       6.00  $       6.00  $       2.69  $        6.00  $               2.69
meatchickenTX $    19.50  $    12.95  $       6.45  $      19.50  $               6.45
meatlean grnd beef (5#)TX $    24.00  $    25.00  $    18.45  $      24.00  $            18.45
meatroastTX $    13.56  $    14.00  $       9.98  $      13.56  $               9.98
meatshrimpLA $    12.99  $       8.99  $    12.99  $       5.99  $        8.99  $               5.99
meatturkeyUSA $    58.37  $    19.00  $       6.37  $      19.00  $               6.37
producebroccoliTX $       6.00  $       6.00  $       3.00  $        6.00  $               3.00
produceCabbage $       2.50  $       3.00  $        2.50  $               2.50
producecelery $       3.00  $       4.00  $       1.54  $        3.00  $               1.54
producecrnbry (8 oz)CA $       3.69  $       2.00  $        3.69  $               2.00
produceFuji ApplesWA $       3.99  $       6.00  $       3.87  $        3.99  $               3.87
produceBell Pepper-2 $       3.00  $       4.00  $       0.98  $        3.00  $               0.98
producepotatoOR $       5.00  $       8.00  $       1.35  $        5.00  $               1.35
produceRed Onion 3#CA $       2.99  $       5.36  $       1.47  $        2.99  $               1.47
produceswt potatoesTX $       3.75  $    10.35  $       3.75  $       2.03  $        3.75  $               2.03
produceturnip greensTX $       5.78  $       6.00  $       3.54  $        5.78  $               3.54
producewhl mshrmsCA $       3.69  $       5.00  $       2.00  $             -    $               2.00
 $    166.73  $            91.94
 $            74.79