Category Archives: garden

Weeding

I really like pulling weeds; especially in the herb bed where I can smell the cilantro when I brush it with my elbow, and the blooming parsley and thyme that I push out of the way. Squatting or kneeling on the dirt or grass, head down, looking for unwanted sprouts, grasping them as close to the root as I can and tossing them aside, I let my senses follow the pattern while my mind, freed of attentive work, processes the queue of waiting thoughts. While my hands and eyes are focused on finding and plucking, my mind has space to reorganize impressions and feelings that have been set aside. It is usually mildly cathartic, as I tug at a difficult weed, or pull only the top off a large one, attaching small physical acts to the frustrations and failures unprocessed inside.

It is easy to see my garden as an allegory for my soul. It is difficult but necessary work to weed out those unwanted “bad” plants. Even the “good” plants that are in the wrong place must come out. If I want my garden to be fruitful, the soil must be cultivated, the seeds must be planted, the weeds removed, the plants tended. None of those things are especially easy, and all require regular attentive action. But in the end, I cannot do anything to make the plants. The seed is a grace, a mercy from God: it is life, waiting for my responsiveness.

In both my garden and my soul, the weeds are never completely removed. I try to catch them before they choke the seedlings, crowd out the veggies, or go to seed. Sometimes I have to remind myself that a completely weed-free garden is not possible, but a healthy garden is. Weeding is necessary, but only part of the cultivation process that allows the plants to thrive and bear fruit.

Mid summer update

There has been a lot going on this summer, but not much motivation for writing about it. The garden is doing well, and producing a good amount of food for our table, but it is clearly too small. But then again, we have still not really hit the tomato season yet. We have had a few handfuls off the vines, but the cool June, and cool nights for the last month or so have slowed down production. This cooler weather trend has affected the curcubits as well, and so far we have had only two cukes off the vine. I can see that we may not end up with a very good harvest if the nights continue to be so mild. My dreams of pickles lining the walls of our basement are fading. On a positive note, the small chilies, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Jalepeños have produced well so far, and are drying, pickled, or frozen (respectively). The kale is continuing to produce, and we have harvested 3 cabbages, one of which was enormous at 10 1/2 inches across and I am guessing around 7 pounds. Bea found that she is allergic to the bean vines by harvesting several pounds last week. She will need to wear sleeves and maybe gloves for the next round of picking. The leeks are still getting taller, and are around 3 feet at the moment. While the last minute potato experiment seems to be doing alright, the corn experiment right next to it does not look too promising. We have ears and tassels, but everything looks stunted and yellow. The variety has bantam in the name, but I don’t think it means the entire plant stays under 6 feet tall. A fun surprise was the hops! We planted it and let it go where it wished this year, not knowing how well it would do. It has produced quite a few cones, and the first harvest is drying now. I am not exactly sure what I will do with them, but I know people who brew, so I might send them directions west.

On the animal front, we picked up 9 more chickens from a retiree that had too many bantams. He just loves birds, but was getting to old to move all the cages indoors in the winter, so he switched to the smallest bantams he could find. The population got a little out of hand, so he he asked my friend Jason at Tractor Supply if he knew anyone who would take some, and Jason gave him our number. These little Dutch Bantams are only 7-9 inches tall, and the 4 roosters were full-grown and feisty. They are slowly integrating with “the ladies”, who now seem like amazonian giants. We don’t think we will keep them all, but at the moment, they are producing eggs and entertainment, so they are earning their keep. Ah, eggs. Our ladies just started laying last week, and their eggs are the same size as those from the mature bantams, only brown. They will start laying larger eggs in a few months, but right now we have the novelty of feeling like giants eating 3-5 eggs in the morning with our toast. We also have the 3 rabbits, but I am leaning towards shipping them off. They may be soft, but they sure are not doing anything to pay for all the feed they eat. We have contact with a girl that raises meat rabbits, so maybe we will give away some that we have in favor of some that can “make meat”.

Our freezer is slowly filling with harvested produce and berries. When apple season comes around we will look for windfall apples for making applesauce and cider, and stock up on vegetables that can be stored. We have been drying chilies, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, mustard seeds, coriander, and oregano. Our perennial bunching onions have grown in nicely, so they may be next. The bulb onions are all pulled out and hanging in braids in the carport, thanks to Ariana. She already knew how to braid them! We have noticed that we are missing garlic, so we will be putting that in this fall for next year, along with lots more onions.

I could keep rambling on and on about the garden, and plans for the homestead… but I won’t. We will be pretty busy the next several weeks with family arriving back, and visiting, as well as some serious camping. Things won’t settle down again until near October, which is feeling too soon at the moment.

Cilantro consumed

Originally written May 19th, but I can’t remember why I delayed posting. Maybe something to do with the garden.

Our cilantro, planted back in February was coming to the end of it’s sheltered domestic life, and there are no tomatoes or peppers in sight. So we decided to find another use, and plant more out-doors. I harvested every part of the plants for the following cilantro heavy meal. Although the leaves are the most used, all parts have the fragrance and flavor that I love, so I chopped, cleaned and crushed the stems, stalks and roots and used them for seasoning the carne asada and the rice. I saved the leaves for garnishing the meal itself. It was a great meal.

Carne Asada

Ingredients

2 pounds flank or skirt steak, butterflied

Marinade:
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chile pepper, seeded and minced (if canned chipotle is used, adobo sauce can be added)
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed (best to lightly toast the seeds first, then grind them)
1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped (great flavor in the stems)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

Lay the flank steak in a large glass bowl or baking dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the steak. Make sure each piece is well coated. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.

Preheat your grill over medium-high flame. Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Remove the steak from the marinade. Season both sides of the steak pieces with salt and pepper. Grill the pieces for a few minutes only, on each side, depending on how thin they are, until medium rare to well done, to your preference. Remove the steak pieces to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal.

Adapted from here

Flour Tortillas

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons good quality lard or manteca (butter can be used for a richer flavor)

2/3 cup water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Heat the water and lard, or other fat, over low heat, or in a microwave until it has melted. Gradually stir the liquid into the flour and form into a dough by hand. The result should be a dough that is neither wet nor dry and crumbly. If it seems too wet add a little more flour; if it is too dry add a little more water. Knead the dough very briefly, then allow it to rest for 1 hour. Divide it into 14 pieces. Roll the pieces of dough into little balls between the palms of your hands, then cover them with a slightly damp towel, and allow them to rest for at least 10 minutes, and up to an hour and a half. This will allow the gluten to relax and make them easier to shape.

Roll the dough into rounds 6 ½ to 7 ½ inches in diameter using the technique described above. Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. When the skillet or griddle has preheated, place one of the rolled out dough pieces on it. Within about 30 seconds it should start to bubble and some little brown spots begin to form on the bottom. Flip the tortilla over and cook another 30 seconds. By this time it should start to puff a little more, and the other side will develop light brown spots. Flip the tortilla again at which time it should immediately begin to puff, sometimes into a large, nearly round ball. When the tortilla has fully expanded, remove it from the heat and place it in a tortilla warmer or wrap it in a thick towel. As you proceed, adjust the heat based on the above description. For example, reduce the heat if after about 30 seconds the bottom of the tortilla is beginning to char, or raise it if nothing much has happened. Repeat the process for the remaining tortillas.

Adapted from here

Cilantro Rice

3 cups rice
Juice from one lime or 1/4 cup cider vinegar
Water enough to reach the first knuckle on your middle finger
1/4 cup coarsely chopped and crushed cilantro stalks (about 1 inch long so they can be easily removed)

Place rice in pot (medium sized dutch oven or aluminum cook pot) and rinse twice. Add lime juice or vinegar and fill water to the first knuckle on middle finger. Place on high heat until boiling, and reduce to low. Cook on low for 15 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Black Beans

4 cups cooked black beans (or 2 cans)
1 cup marinade from carne asada

Combine beans and marinade and cook for about 20 minutes, or until you are quite sure the beans are soft and the meat juices are cooked.

Seminal arrival

Our Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds order arrived today. Instead of the 60 seed packets we we expected, there were 78! It looks like we will be flush with tomatoes, green, yellow, orange, pink, and purple ones. Bea is very excited and started going through and taking notes for each variety from the catalog. Now comes the hard part… deciding when and how we will plant them. We will not be able to plant them all, and we still do not have the exact plan for the beds yet. So the next step is to determine which ones need to be started now, and get them in the plugs. I know onions and leeks are on the list, and we will start figuring out which things will be late summer plantings, rather than early spring.

A few of the varieties I am personally excited about:

  • Purple Tomatillos
  • Charentais (European melon)
  • Chichiquelite Huckleberry
  • Tal Jalepeno
  • Cherokee Chocolate tomato
  • White Wonder watermelon
  • Hartman’s Giant amaranth