Fresh gourmet garlic brings a delicious, pungent bite to any savory dish. The season in which gourmet varieties are available, however, is all too short. Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which you can preserve garlic, extending its storage life and allowing you to enjoy it year-round. Dehydration is one good method for preserving gourmet garlic. The process is simple, and the result is crunchy, garlicky golden chips that you can use in a variety of dishes.
Any gourmet garlic cultivar can be dehydrated, and the condition of the bulb doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, dehydration is a great way to use up any garlic seconds since you can cut away any bruised or damaged parts. The biggest task in dehydrating garlic is peeling the cloves, but there are ways to make this task easier.
Our favorite method for easy peeling is to blanch the cloves. Blanching makes the skins soft and supple, and easy to remove.
- Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, separate the garlic into individual cloves.
- When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the garlic to the pot. Boil the garlic for approximately 10 seconds.
- After 10 seconds, remove the garlic from the water. Place the cloves in a large bowl and run under cold water until they are cool to the touch, approximately 3 to 5 minutes.
- Once cooled, cut the small basal plate from the bottom of each clove. Peel off the skins and any underlying membrane; discard.
Once all your garlic is peeled, feed the cloves through a food processor to produce thin, even slices. If you don’t have a food processor, slice the cloves with a knife, approximately ⅛ to ¼ in. thick. You can cut the cloves thicker, even into halves, if you want a chunkier product. Bear in mind, however, that thinner slices will dry more quickly and evenly.
When all the cloves are sliced, spread them thinly and evenly on dehydrator racks. Use your dehydrator on a low temperature as directed, and process the pieces until they are dry and crisp. Dried garlic can be tested for doneness by picking up a chip and breaking it between your fingers. The chips should be brittle and immediately snap. If they bend, they require further drying. Keep testing the chips until they reach the desired crispness.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry the garlic slices in your oven. Purchase wire racks to sit on top of your oven racks. Look for wire mesh with a moderately tight weave; air needs to circulate around the slices for proper drying, but you don’t want them falling through the holes either. If your oven does not have a fan, you may need to keep the door open so that the moisture can escape. Be warned: the smell is very pungent. Heat the oven between 45°C (115°F) to 60°C (140°F) maximum. Any hotter, and the garlic will discolor, cook and become bitter.
Dried garlic can be used in practically any recipe that calls for garlic. For example, you can crumble the chips or use them whole in roasting pans, soups, or sauces. You can even put them through a coffee or spice grinder (I’d suggest a dedicated grinder!), and make your own powder.
Store garlic chips and powder in airtight containers to preserve freshness. Dehydrated garlic will retain its freshness for at least a year, but will last even longer when properly stored. Keep the container in your cupboard, away from direct light. Dried garlic can also be stored in your freezer, which will help to preserve its freshness even longer. With a little planning, you’ll never have to eat bland supermarket garlic again!
Last winter I was kibitzing with my farmer friends about a typical seed bank. Today’s blog is a summary of our observations and analysis. Next week’s blog will detail my recommendations about what seeds I think the ideal survival seed bank would contain. The following week’s post will discuss how to store a seed bank.
The idea behind the marketing of emergency seed banks is to put together a bunch of different kinds of seeds, and seal them in a container, and put them on the shelf so that you can grow a garden if food from the grocery stores becomes unavailable.
Philosophically I think that the better emergency food strategy is to be growing a garden as part of a day-to-day lifestyle, and saving seeds so that they can become locally adapted. Then if grocery store food ever becomes scarce, we already have the knowledge, tools, soil fertility, gene pools, and manual skills to expand on existing gardens. I acknowledge that in today’s world of inexpensive and readily available fuel, it’s easier and less expensive to grow food in another hemisphere and import it into our local grocery stores. If that ever changes, then having a seed bank of maladapted highly-inbred varieties seems better than not having any seeds at all. I’d like to think that we can do better than that.
Comparing Seed Banks
While analyzing the seed bank, we did comparison shopping by making tentative orders from some of the more expensive online seed catalogs. If the sizes of seed didn’t match the seed bank we bought the next larger packet size. Our bottom-line price ended up being 1/3 the cost of what the seed bank was asking, and we ended up with more seeds.
The seed banks are marketed as having special packaging materials and techniques which greatly prolong the life expectancy of the seeds. I believe that this is mostly hype. Longevity seems mostly about storing seeds dry, not exposing them to high temperatures, and avoiding bugs and animals. I store seeds in glass jars in the spare bedroom. If I lived in a damper environment I’d include a desiccant with the seeds before storing. I test germination once a year. Most varieties store well, and I believe those that don’t would degrade about the same whether they are packaged in glass jars or in Mylar bags. If I had plenty of freezer space I’d store seeds in glass jars in the freezer. Life expectancy of frozen seeds is about 16 times that of seeds at room temperature. I’ll write more about storing seeds in two weeks.
I am especially skeptical of seed banks that claim that their seed can plant an acre of land, especially when the container that holds the seeds is the size of a soda bottle. One of my fields is three-quarters of an acre, so I have a good idea about how much seed is required to plant a field that size. It is much more than 20 or 30 small packets of seed. To put things in perspective to plant an acre takes approximately 14 pounds of sweet corn seed, or 5 pounds of squash seed, or 70 pounds of dry bean seed. That’s around 7 gallons of beans!!! I would expect the seed bank that we analyzed to plant about one-tenth acre, even though it claimed to be enough seed to plant an acre.
Plan for 1/3-Acre Survival Garden
This week’s photo shows the amount of seed that I would want if planting a bare-minimum, staples-only, 1/3 acre survival garden. It includes 13 ounces of landrace sweet corn, 21 ounces of landrace flour corn, 2 pounds of mixed dry beans, 14 ounces of peas, 2 ounces of beet seed, and 3 ounces of landrace squash seed. I took the photo to demonstrate that you aught to be aiming towards pounds or ounces of seed, and not packets. The bottle of beans all by itself is about the same size as the super deluxe seed bank that we reviewed.
In preparation for this article I reviewed the offerings of many survival seed banks. I was mostly dissatisfied with the quantity and types of seeds being offered. For example, one of the banks included 30,000 lettuce seeds and 20,000 celery seeds, but only 50 seeds each of beans, peas, and corn. They skimped on foods that store well and are easy to grow and have enough calories and nutrients to feed a family, and focused on watery low nutrition foods that are hard to grow and do not keep well. Additionally in my garden lettuce has a limited growing season. I can only harvest lettuce about 60 days per year, and my family wouldn’t eat more than a head of lettuce per day even if it was the only food available. A couple hundred lettuce seeds would be more than sufficient. I’d want more like 4000 corn seeds, 2000 bean seeds, and 3000 pea seeds. I’ll write more about that next week.
A common feature of the seed banks I reviewed was that they tended to include lots of tiny seeds for species that are not all that useful in a survival situation such as lettuce, celery, cauliflower, radish, basil, Brussels sprouts, spices, and eggplant. I think that even in good times, eggplant is not a food. Uugh! It makes great ad copy to state that the seed bank contains 100,000 seeds, but what’s the point of including 30,000 lettuce seeds? Fifty corn seeds is less than the amount commonly believed necessary to avoid inbreeding depression.
The seed banks tended to be skimpy on large seeded items for crops that are most useful as staples. A staple crop is a food that is easy to grow in large quantities and that can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. Traditional staples in northern climates are corn, dry beans, soup peas, winter squash, turnips, cabbage, beets, sunroots, potatoes, and carrots. I consider wheat to be iffy as a staple crop because harvesting by hand provides a meager return on investment compared to harvesting corn or pulses.
Seed Bank Vegetable Variety Offerings
The choice of varieties in the seed banks I reviewed was also troubling to me. A lot of them included varieties of tomatoes like Beefsteak or Brandywine. These are fine tomatoes if you have a long growing season of near perfect growing conditions, but they are not as productive nor as reliable as varieties that produce smaller fruits more quickly. The first tomato harvested in my garden is always a cherry tomato. I would have liked to have seen more cherry tomatoes offered. The seed banks often included Roma tomatoes which are very susceptible to blossom end rot. Why include a variety like that when there are so many non-susceptible tomatoes to choose from? Some of the seed banks included things like decorative corn or jack-o-lantern pumpkins. I’m certainly not going to be growing decorations in the midst of a food emergency!
Only one of the seed banks that I reviewed mentioned regionally adapted seeds. They claimed that the varieties of seeds that they put into their bank are chosen based on the region that the buyer is located in. I was somewhat pleased with that approach. They didn’t bother to mention what seeds are going to what regions, but at least they acknowledged that the problem exists. I am disappointed with the seed banks that were offering a one-size-fits-all collection of seeds for every garden in the world. In my ideal world, the seed bank manufactures would offer seed collections specific to each eco-region. In the usa there are 12 major eco-regions. I’d like to see each seed bank manufacturer offer at least 12 different versions of their seed bank with varieties selected specifically for each major eco-region. Those regions can be further subdivided into a multitude of smaller eco-regions.
I would have liked to have seen more varieties of each species rather than more seeds of a single inbred cultivar. Instead of one species of bean, I would have liked to have seen a dozen species. There’s no telling whether a particular variety or species will perform well in any specific garden, especially if there are climatic, or social, or environmental issues which interfere with normal cultivation practices. It’s much better in my opinion to throw 3 to 10 varieties of many different species into the ground. It seems like that is a more reliable way to find something that thrives. Then the second year we could grow seeds from the most productive and well adapted plants.
I really like the idea of mixed seed for an emergency seed bank. I was first exposed to the idea of packets of mixed seed about 20 years ago in the catalog of Pinetree Garden Seeds. I bought a packet of mixed radish seed. I loved it. Today many seed companies offer mixed seed. I think that they are one of the most useful and inexpensive ways to stock a survival seed bank.
I’d be perfectly happy including some types of hybrid seeds in a survival seed bank. For example, I would have included hybrid tomatoes. The reason that hybrid tomatoes have taken such a huge market share is because they tend to perform much better than highly inbred heirloom tomatoes. Even if the hybrids don’t breed true, their offspring are likely to perform better than open pollinated varieties. They will turn into landrace or open pollinated varieties once we start saving seeds from them.
A Call for Locally Adapted Seed Banks
Overall, we were highly disappointed with the offerings of the survival seed bank marketers. I think that we’d get a better product if there were growers in each neighborhood that offered locally-adapted landrace seed banks specifically selected via survival-of-the-fittest for that neighborhood. This is part of the reason that I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through the use of common sense and traditional methods.
In part two I’ll explore the varieties and quantities of seed that I think should be included in a survival seed bank. In part three I’ll write about long-term seed storage.
Here is just one potential Christmas feast maximizing flavor from the herbs still providing in the garden at Christmas:
- Fig preserves with rosemary cheese for appetizer
- Rosemary inspired rack of lamb
- Garlic and herb roasted vegetables
- Fresh greens with hot bacon dressing
- Topped off with cranberry mint sorbet
Fig preserves and rosemary cheese
To make the rosemary cheese, combine 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 3 ounces softened goat cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper. Blend until smooth. You can serve in a beautiful crystal dish or go for a mold. For a molded cheese, put the mixture in the mold, chill for 2 hours, unmold onto serving plate (you can run warm water over the top of the mold to get it to release easier). You are now ready to cover with fig preserves and serve with your favorite crackers.
Figs are super easy to grow in pots. I bought a Chicago hardy fig that survives in our Zone 6 garden. If given a large pot, they will produce many fruits over the summer and fall season.
If you want to make your own preserves, simply cook in a medium sauce pan 1 pound of fresh, ripe figs (washed and stem removed) with 1 cup of sugar for 30 minutes, uncovered. If keeping in the refrigerator, you can pour directly into a sterilized quart jar or 2 pint jars, leaving a 1/8 inch head space. If you want to store in the pantry, you will need to “process” your preserves. This is really easy. Just put in a large stock pan, covered with water. Heat until boiling and cook for 5 minutes. Remove using tongs, allow to cool, and store in a dark, cool place.
I put my hot jars on a kitchen towel so they are not “shocked” by the cold counter top. I also use Weck canning jars since they are all glass, including the lid.
Rosemary inspired rack of lamb
Stop by your local meat market and get a French cut rack of lamb. Remove the fat and gristle, coat the outside with olive oil then cover with a 1/2 cup crushed rosemary and 1/4 cup sea salt mix. Roast fat side out at 425F for 35-40 minutes in the oven or on the grill until the interior temperature reaches 150F. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing so that the juices won’t be lost during cutting. If you prefer garlic, here is another rub option-2 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons parsley, 2 teaspoons chives, 2 teaspoons thyme, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Mix together and coat the rack of lamb and cook as above.
Rosemary can overwinter indoors. You can also pick up some pretty potted rosemary in many stores this time of year.
Garlic and herb roasted vegetables
This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like. Here is one variation. Cut 4 sweet potatoes, 3 medium turnips into 1.5 inch cubes, and 2 large onions into 1.5 inch wedges. In a gallon plastic bag, place 12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram, 2 teaspoons salt, 6 tablespoons olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture. Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast in a 450F, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.
Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions. Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic. Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.
Mixed greens with hot bacon dressing
An old Southern favorite is hot bacon dressing. Cook 4 slices bacon until crisp, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings (grease). Crumble the bacon and set aside. In a small sauce pan, combine 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon grated onion, 1/8 teaspoon dried mustard, bring just to boil and add bacon. Remove from heat and whisk before serving.
There are greens still growing in the garden that are a perfect pair for the sweet hot bacon dressing-chard, sorrel, spinach, mustard greens and even some winter hardy lettuce. Mine are doing great in their Earthboxes in the mini portable greenhouse.
Cranberry mint sorbet
I am not a huge fan of the gelatin cranberry sauce. This is a great way to include the traditional cranberry in a totally new and refreshing way.
Combine in a medium sauce pan 3 1/4 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar, bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add 3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, 2 tablespoons fresh mint and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Allow to cool and strain.
Combine another 3/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup cranberries in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Cover, simmer for 8 minutes or until skins pop. Cool completely. Use food processor, process until smooth. Strain out solids.
Combine orange and cranberry mixture and pour into 9x12” pan, cover and freeze. Reprocess in food processor, half at a time and refreeze until ready to serve.
Mint can be overwintered indoors to be able to take snips when needed to add a refreshing taste to many dishes and beverages.
If you are new to vegetable gardening it is hard to know what crops do best in your area and when to plant them. The same goes for folks who may have gardened for years but then moved to another part of the country with a new climate. There are numerous books about growing vegetables, but not many speak to the climate conditions specific to the different areas of the country. Timber Press has sought to remedy that with a series of books, each organized the same way—a Get Started section, and month-to-month and Edibles A to Z sections. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange covers the southeast region of the U.S. with her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. The official publication date for this book is December 11, however it is available now from Southern Exposure’s online catalog.
The Southeast region is not all the same and Ira distinguishes between the Upper South and the Lower South. Southern Florida, where the temperature never goes below freezing, is not covered in this book. I’ve never lived further south than I do now near Richmond, Virginia. This book helped me understand gardeners who live in the rest of the region. In the Lower South, the hottest times in July and August are a transition time, with not much coming out of the garden save for okra, sweet potatoes, and southern peas. Whereas a little to the north, we are busy harvesting tomatoes and most other summer crops. Nevertheless, there is heat and humidity throughout the region and Ira addresses the issue of heat very well. If you live elsewhere, but have a friend in the Southeast, you might benefit from reading this book as a means of understanding your friend’s gardening habits and schedule.
Sweet potatoes and southern peas, along with peanuts, are some of the staple crops I’m adamant about growing. I’ve written about how I’ve prepared them in my Homegrown Friday posts. Those crops and many more are in the Edibles A to Z section of the book, which has growing, harvesting, variety, and seed saving tips for each crop. The Get Planting section of the book has a chapter for each of the twelve months. At the beginning of each month there is a page with things to do to plan, prepare and maintain; sow and plant; and what could be harvested fresh from the garden. The rest of each chapter has gardening information and something specific to that time of year. I like that there is much mention of using transplants and extending the season using floating row covers.
Learn more about Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast at Homeplace Earth. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, the Mountain States, or the Northeast, you might find the Timber Press books on those regions helpful. Even though I’ve been gardening in the same place for many years, I’ve discovered that it is helpful to reread some of the gardening books that got me started. Now that I’m at a different level in my gardening I’m finding things that may not have been of interest the first time through those books, or reminded of things I should be aware of. Even if you are an experienced gardener, you will find something of interest in these regional books.
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at http://www.homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/.
When you have a small yard, pots are a great way to extend your garden and harvest. You read that you can grow anything in pots. And you can. So, how do you decide what is best to plant in the ground and what is best for your pots?
Deciding what to grow can be exhilarating and overwhelming. The varieties are endless, the options infinite. Where do you begin when you are deciding what to grow for the first time or for the tenth time?
First, grow what you love to eat! Make a list of your favorite veggies. The caution for a new gardener, start small. From your list of favs, pick your top 5-7 to start with.
So, if I were to share the easiest to get started with, what would I grow my first spring season? I would start with plants and grow lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard. If I loved beets, carrots, radishes, peas and turnips, I would plant these as seeds. If I liked to cook with onions and use chives, I would get Egyptian walking onions because they are perennials and can be harvested year round and love their home in a pot.
If you are just starting out and have limited space, look for descriptions like “patio”, “compact”, “great for pots”, “container”, etc. Here are some recommendations for your garden.
- Beets - any. You can plant these around a beautifully colored swiss chard.
- Cabbage - Golden Cross 45 day cabbage did really well for us in pots this year and has a short enough time to maturity. I would plant one cabbage per pot. You can add pansies for color in spring and fall or petunias for summer color.
- Carrots - get the short ones like Atlas and Parisian.
- Swiss Chard - I love all the colors to choose from (see picture above). Perpetual Chard is not as beautiful, but is particularly hardy.
- Collards - any. These will produce all winter.
- Kale - look for “dwarf” in the description, but any will work if you plan on continuously harvesting the lower leaves. Many kales will survive all winter.
- Lettuce - any as you can harvest the lower leaves and the plant will continue
- to produce. Look for descriptions like “cold hardy”, “early winter”, “overwintering”, “winter-hardy”, “cold tolerant”, “bred for winter production” for spring, fall and winter lettuces. Choose varieties with the words "slow to bolt" and "heat resistant" in the descriptions.
- Onions - I grow Egyptian walking onions in a pot. You can use the bulb for cooking and the tops as chives. Chives and garlic chives are also great for small spaces or pots.
- Peas - Look for “compact” varieties for growing in pots, like Green Arrow, Sugar Ann, Cascadia or provide a support for them to grow onto.
- Radishes - I would stick with the round types like Runder Schwarzer Winter or Rudoph.
- Turnips - any. I plant in a circle with lettuce in the center in cool seasons.
You can add in warm season crops like tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers as the cool season crops wrap up the spring season. Just look for "compact", "patio" and "bush" varieties.
I noticed that W. Atlee Burpee & Co. seed company started showing a clay pot with a check mark on the lower right hand corner of their seed packets this year to indicate which seeds were appropriate for pots. This makes it much easier to know than reading all the descriptions!
A couple of tips for extending the season as long as possible:
- Place your pots on the south side of the house as this is the warmest side and gets the most sun.
- Putting your pots up against the house gives them extra warmth.
- Place your pots in an area that is protected against the wind.
- If on stands, placing the pot directly on the ground helps.
- Put your pots in a huddle against each other to protect them from the wind, with the most tender plants in the center (like lettuce).
- Buy a portable green house to put over a collection of pots that have your greens in them can possibly keep your greens surviving until warm weather arrives.
It is wonderful to be able to just step outside your door and get fresh produce all through the seasons.
For more tips on gardening in small spaces, visit my blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com
Let’s take a little field trip back to 1943. Go ahead and hop in those time machines! We’re going to explore the day and age when the world was at war and our food supply was in peril.
American Life in 1943
Think about this: The average family in 1943 was living on $29 a week. Food staples were rationed out to families in order to provide for the troops. As you can imagine, fresh fruits and vegetables were in short supply. In order to keep the nation from starvation, the U.S. Government encouraged folks to help out in any way that they could. Propaganda posters popped up in every town urging families to plant ‘Victory Gardens’ to provide their own produce.
Over 20 million American families took up the call for ‘victory.’ They collaborated with friends and neighbors and took control of their own food supply. Even schools got involved in the cause by planting gardens in schoolyards to provide supplemental food for school lunches. The number of canning supplies sold more than quadrupled from 1943 to 1944. Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged her fellow citizens by planting a victory garden at the White House in 1943.
The plan was a wild success across the nation. As the National WWII Museum website indicates, “By 1944, Victory Gardens were responsible for producing 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the United States. More than one million tons of vegetables were grown in Victory Gardens during the war.”
FORTY PERCENT of all vegetables? Holy moly! Can you imagine if we did that today??
The U.S. Food System after World War II
After the war was over in 1945, victory gardens began to steadily disappear from backyards and rooftops. Grocery stores popped up across the nation and buying everything we needed from them became commonplace. Commercial foods became more widely available and Americans didn't see any reason to continue growing their own anymore. New and different problems began to crop up in our nation’s food supply…
“The effort of the victory gardeners was directed toward the defeat of an easily identified enemy - the Axis powers. Today, our ‘enemy’—the eco crisis looming on our horizon—is more elusive and complex and is potentially a greater adversary.”
—Phillip Wenz, San Francisco Gate
All right, let’s hop back in those time machines and return to the present day.
Today, we live in a very different world than that of the 1940’s. With the opening of commercial grocery stores in towns across the country, the food system has adjusted to meet the ever-increasing demands of the public. Scientists have genetically modified our food in labs. Farmers have resorted to using industrial methods of growing food and raising livestock. Vegetables are now coated with poisons in the fields. Animals are kept in tight quarters where they lead miserable lives. All of this happens even before the food is packed onto a truck, shipped across the country, and stocked in a supermarket. During the long journey almost half of this produce will spoil.
Producing food isn’t what it used to be, and our bodies and wallets are taking the toll.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at the produce section. Do some investigation. Become a food spy. You can even wear a trench coat and a spiffy hat!
Try this: Check out the labels to see where the produce comes from. Consider the massive amount of fuel it takes to get a piece of produce all the way across the country. Consider the nutritional value of food that traveled on the road for two weeks before it arrived at your store. Also consider how hard it is for your local farmer to compete with industrial produce from overseas. Farm workers in other countries are paid pitiful wages and food safety practices are lax, which makes it cheap and easy to produce low quality, sometimes down right poisonous foods.
Food is our energy source; it is what we give our bodies to run on. Food matters. And everything that is done to it before it gets to your mouth matters, too.
So, What Can We Do About It?
Our agricultural system is a mess, it is enough to make your head spin. There’s a slew of information available to cover the various problems we’re facing. It’s not my goal today to depress you, it’s my goal to give you hope. If you’d like to research on your own, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. I’m here to tell you there is something that we can do about this.
Our problems today may be different from that of 1943 but our solutions are in many ways the same. We can take a lesson from the wisdom of the past and go back to our old ways. We can take control of our food: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and what goes into it. This power can be in your hands, and let me tell you, this is the most almighty of powers!
Bring Back the Victory Garden!
Even without food rationing and propaganda posters, people all across the nation are taking notice of the condition of our food supply and choosing to do something about it. Consumers are starting to look more closely at food labels and are refusing to buy things with unpronounceable ingredients. Organic foods are becoming an increasingly common sight on grocery store shelves. Farmer’s markets are popping up in neighborhoods across the country.
Even Michelle Obama got into the act and planted a kitchen garden on the lawn of the White House as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity and advocate healthy eating.
Obama was the first First Lady to plant a garden on the White House lawn since Eleanor Roosevelt did so in 1943. 70 years later, her actions give us hope for a new age of agricultural awareness. She says of her efforts:
“It is my hope that our garden’s story – and the stories of gardens across America – will inspire families, schools, and communities to try their own hand at gardening and enjoy all the gifts of health, discovery, and connection a garden can bring.”
–Michelle Obama, American Grown
Our collective outlook on food is changing for the better. Once again, families are taking control of their food, and you can too!
Victory Garden Resources
National WWII Museum
Victory Garden Foundation
Living History Farm
Bring Back the Victory Garden
Posters provided by Victory Garden Foundation
What are you doing inside at the computer? It's time to get outside and get gardening!
Why? Because what you do right now may lead to next year's gardening success ... or failure.
There are four things you need to get outside and do on whatever days you aren't buried in snow. Take my advice and your spring garden will be smashing.
What four things? I'm glad you asked.
Gather Tons of Leaves!
In some parts of the country, it might be almost too late for gathering leaves, but in some areas, there are still plenty lying around for the taking. Roadside paper bags stuffed with leaves? Grab them. A neighbor about to burn a huge pile? Help them throw the pile over your fence instead. Trees work really hard to make those leaves, gathering lots of nutrients from the soil as they do. Get them for your yard. You're going to want them for the next step.
Build a Compost Bin and Make Compost!
Your bin doesn't have to be anything brilliant. A ring of wire works as well as a lovely hand-crafted sustainably harvested cedar lumber model with sterling silver handles. Or you can do what I did once: gut a refrigerator, lay it on its back, and voila! Compost bin!
Those leaves you just gathered are going to be the carbon for this puppy. Good sources of nitrogen include waste from a local farmer's market, urine, animal manure, food scraps, etc. Wet your pile down really well and if you're lucky, you can get it hot enough to cook all winter ... and be ready to feed your gardens in spring.
Sheet Mulch New Garden Plots!
If you'd rather apply your compost directly and not fiddle with a pile, sheet mulching is a fun and productive way to do it. Crop an area of your lawn, spread a layer of cardboard or a multi-page layer of newspaper right on top of the ground, then pile up organic matter. Rotten straw, all those leaves you gathered, shredded paper, the remnants of summer's garden ... pile it up and wet it down. I like to go at least a foot thick. By late spring, it's likely that the grass beneath is good and dead ... and the ground is teeming with worms. I transformed an area of hard rocky clay into loamy earthworm-rich soil over a couple of winters with this method. It works!
Assess Your Failures and Plan for Success!
Ever garden year has its own problems. I ended up hating the way some of my beds were laid out one year... so over the fall and winter, I changed them. You're not actively tending anything at this time of year. It's a chance to let ideas flow. Read seed catalogs, read some new books, talk with friends and don't be afraid to make great and glorious plans. In my mind I've built vast greenhouses that could contain forests, constructed arbors that would rival the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and grown a million different varieties of heirloom vegetables. In real life, I sometimes don't even get all my beds planted... yet sometimes my fall and winter daydreaming have led me to solutions I just didn't have time to consider in the heat of the growing season. Let your imagination fly.
As the holidays sneak up on us and the cold shuts down the remnants of our gardens, don't you shut down. What you do now will lead to healthy soil, less work and grand ideas that will fuel you right on through 2014.
Get out there and get cracking. It may be cold ... but it's worth it!
For daily organic gardening inspiration and lots of tips on growing food in tough times, visit FloridaSurvivalGardening.com.