Tag Archives: sage

Visiting the Early February Garden

In the wintertime, I rarely take the opportunity to visit my Northeastern Ohio vegetable garden. This is doubly true in February, as this month is when I often forget I even have a garden. So on a cold, partly cloudy, early February Sunday afternoon, I breached my protocol and took a backyard tour.

Early February 2017 Garden
Early February 2017 Garden

Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, which I have to admit is mild for this time of year. I’d actually been out digging in the dirt a few weeks ago when we got up into the 60s. Why would one be working a shovel during a notoriously slow garden period? To dig up some food, silly. I purposely left potatoes, turnips and Jerusalem artichokes underground to store them. The earth is a much better place to keep these root vegetables from going bad than the refrigerator or the basement. Looking around, those uncovered places were now a dark rich brown. Everywhere else I inspected, the ground was covered with plants or other mulch, just as I planned it.

Garlic Under Straw
Garlic Under Straw

My garden design employs a blanket of organic material, whether it is fall leaves or common weeds. Covered soil is happy soil. Even in this bleak winterscape, the soil is alive with activity, albeit slowed down by the cold. I observed green even underneath the blobs of snow that dotted my raised beds and garden paths. Of course this green was not the bright vivid green of spring, but a dull representative of a future only a month or two away. After closer examination, I discovered some living leaves to sample. The citrus taste of lemon balm, the bitter garlic of garlic mustard, the spinach tang of Swiss chard, and the distinct flavor of oregano all reminded me that warmer weather was around the corner. The straw-mulched garlic peeked out from its blanket, becoming greener by the day.

Garlic Peeking Out
Garlic Peeking Out

Gazing around my semi-frozen field, I realized I had left plenty of untouched vegetable remains as tributes to fall’s frosts. Dead pepper plants stood blackened, as they can’t withstand even a touch of cold. Lamb’s quarters branch towards the sky, spreading their millions of tiny seeds with every winter blast. Tomato vines, long dead, twine through my fencing, reminding me to start their seeds soon for summer planting. Again, leaving these all here was done intentionally, as overwintering “good guy” insects need spaces to hide and survive.

As I returned to my house with numb hands and eyes squinting from the unusual bright sun, my thoughts turned to my perennials, as those need less care and return year after year. Strawberries were visible, even now, though it would be April or May before I’d see flowers. My Egyptian walking onions, so named because they spread themselves around the garden, were weak but present. The sage sat with a few leftover leaves on top like helicopter blades. Twelve-foot high Jerusalem artichoke stalks whipped in the winds, each one marking a treasure trove of calories and fiber we will enjoy this spring. Even the infant trees (maples, walnut, and honey locust) which coexist with my annuals made their presence known, though they all were still hibernating. I guess it takes a gardener to truly see what the future holds for this mostly brown dull rectangle of possibilities.

Abundance

The Snarky Gardener writes an abundance of words about abundance.  Imagine that.
snowpeas
Too many snow peas? I think not.

To the Snarky Gardener, abundance means having plenty (even too much) of a thing. Often people are concerned with what they can’t grow or what’s not doing well because of pests, lack of sunlight, or poor soil. But if you take this “problem” and turn it on its head with abundance, your mindset totally changes. The question, “What can I grow a boat load of?”, offers up all kinds of possibilities. I believe food growers should build upon their successes, with new and experimental plants taking only a small amount of total resources, and removal of those that produce poorly. At Snarky Acres, that means growing more sunchokes, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, garlic, onions, greens, zucchini, corn, Swiss chard, comfrey, and herbs (especially perennials like mint, lemon balm, oregano, and sage). It also means growing less (or no) broccoli, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, spinach, and beets. It’s hard to stop trying with those fruits and vegetables we love to eat, but not everything grows well everywhere, even in the same relative climate.

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Too much mint or not enough mojitos?
How to create abundance:

1. Grow a lot more of what grows well.
2. Look for alternative resources (weeds, trees, native species)
3. Create environments where abundance happens naturally (perennials and self-seeding plants)
4. Save seeds, plant extra starts (tomatoes, etc), and start new plants from cuttings.
5. Grow in non-optimal spaces (shade, poor soil)
6. “Invasive” also means “Abundance”

How to utilize abundance:

1. Find trading partners (food swaps, seed swaps, time banks, neighborhood barter systems)
2. Learn to preserve (canning, freezing, drying)
3. Find other uses (dynamic accumulators, medicinal)
4. Learn to create products from your produce (extracts, salves, pesto)

Perennial Food Crops – Part 1

Growing food that doesn’t need planted again saves time, effort, and money.

Sunchoke or Jerusalem Artichoke

The Snarky Gardener was tasked with writing a paper for his permaculture class. This is part 1 of several written about perennial food crops from a permaculture perspective.

Perennial versus Annual Food Crops

With our current agricultural systems, annual monoculture plants rule with corn, soybeans, rice, and wheat being the primary crops. Every year, lots of money and non-renewable energy is used to till the soil, plant the seeds, remove the weeds, protect the crops from insects, and fertilize. Perennial food crops, when planted in a polyculture (ie with many other plants), help to mitigate much of these costs while providing a long term answer to growing our food. This is not to say that annual crops don’t have a place in a permaculture future, but their dominance will need to be reduced for designed systems to work to their full capacity and potential. Biologically, most annual plants are weeds, needing disturbed ground to thrive (thus all the tilling). This churning of the soil is very destructive to the web of life that exists under the surface. Earthworms, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms work in harmony to break down dead plant material and create the conditions plants need to survive and thrive. Perennials reduce the havoc tilling causes as they don’t need to be planted over and over. There are also some annual no-till systems that achieve some of the same goals, like the use of cover crops and special equipment to punch planting holes for corn and soybeans, but unfortunately they have been slow to be adopted.

Conventional Garden Perennials
Strawberries

Some perennials are commonly utilized by gardeners.  Many perennial herbs (like mint, sage, thyme, oregano, chives, horseradish, and lemon balm) are easy to grow (sometimes too easy as mint and horseradish can be invasive).   Living up to 15 years, asparagus is one of the first plants to be eaten the spring.  Its spears can be grilled or baked with olive oil and parmesan cheese.  Strawberries come back year after year, spreading by the use of runners.  Rhubarb (which was planted next to the strawberries by my grandmother) produces reddish stems which can be used in desserts (strawberry rhubarb pie anyone?) or soups.  Note: the leaves and roots are poisonous.

Rhubarb
Sunchokes in bloom
Lesser Known Garden Perennials

Perennials unknown by many people can also be used in the garden.  Ramps (aka Wild Leeks) are found wild in the eastern United States and grow in shady and/or wet areas.  Also a native of the eastern US, the groundnut (a nitrogen-fixer) grows in 6 foot vines and produces tubers that taste like nutty-flavored potatoes.  Sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes) are a North American native related to the sunflower.  They grow from 6 to 12 foot tall and have crisp, sweet tubers.  Egyptian walking onions get 3 foot tall, set bulbs on their tops, and then fall over to spread to others parts of a garden.  Crosnes (or Chinese Artichoke) is a mint relative that spreads using runners and and have crisp, sweet small white tubers.  Good King Henry is a traditional European leafy green spinach relative.  French Sorrel has lance-shaped leaves good for salads.  

Egyptian Walking Onions

Playing in the Dirt in January

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1/4/2014 – potting up rosemary

January in Ohio is tough on the gardener as we have at least 2 months until working our outside gardens is feasible. But today on 1/4/2014, the Snarky Gardener had the opportunity to play in the dirt. I’d been soaking 4 rosemary cuttings and it was time to pot them up. Easy work as I just stuck the rooty ends into the small pots, poured the dirt in, and watered briefly. Luckily I had some starter soil and pots in the house so I didn’t have to make the treacherous trip out into the snow and cold to my storage shed. I’ll have to admit it was fun to get my hands dirty on this winter’s day. These starts are for my January swaps – the Countryside Conservancy food swap and the Food Not Lawns Cleveland seed swap on 1/25.

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1/4/2014 – starting lavender, mint, and sage. The 20 – 3/4″ square soil blocker is on the left and the 4 – 2″ square blocker is at the top of the picture.

Another reason for my dirt play date is the box I received yesterday from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I ordered a full set of soil blockers and wanted to see how they worked. I bought 2 blockers – one that produces 20 – 3/4″ square blocks and another that makes 4 -2″ X 2″ blocks. The really cool part is I added an Insert Set with “dibbles” to my order which will make 3/4″ square indentions on top of the 2″ X 2″ blocks.  This way the smaller start blocks can be added later to bigger blocks as the seeds grow out.  There was also an available single 4″ X 4″ blocker but it was a little out of my price range for now ($99 normally but just went on sale for $93.60 until March).  As you can see by the picture above, I planted lavender, mint and sage.  The mint and sage seeds are a few years old, so I’m dubious if they will germinate.  But if they do, I’ll have more starts for my swaps 🙂

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The outside garden on 1/4/2014. No digging in the dirt out there for the Snarky Gardener.

The Snarky Swapper

On 11/19/2013, the Snarky Gardener attended the Countryside Conservancy Food Swap held at The Grape and Granary (915 Home Ave, Akron OH).  Advertised as a monthly event to “trade homegrown and homemade items with other DIY-ers”, it did not disappoint.  The Snarky Girlfriend (aka SGF) talked the SG into attending the swap two months ago with encouraging results, trading our organic herbs and greens for other things (including beer!).  This time was better as we were much more prepared.

First, we needed to decide what to bring. Thanksgiving herbs (rosemary, thyme, and sage) seemed a natural and straight forward decision. The next idea we came up with was baking dog treats. These used up our organic wheat (which the SGF is intolerant of) plus we added our mint and parsley. My terrier River was a willing taste tester.  I was concerned she wouldn’t like them, though that was sort of silly as she’ll eat pretty much anything. Our third idea was to put some “adult” herb infused vodka marshmallows into little jars. We made this with our basil, thyme, and rosemary a few months ago after seeing it on Pinterest. The SGF used her crafting skills to make our offerings appear more professional though I would love to get some sealable plastic bags with the Snarky Gardener logo. Of course, I need to get an official logo first.  Any suggestions?

Our Snarky offerings - Thanksgiving herbs , herb infused vodka marshmallows, and mint/parsley dog treatsOur Snarky offerings - Thanksgiving herbs (rosemary/thyme/sage), herb infused vodka marshmallows, and mint/parsley dog treats
Our Snarky offerings – Thanksgiving herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage), herb infused vodka marshmallows, and mint/parsley dog treats

The event went well as we traded 2 jars of adult marshmallows, 3 bags of doggy treats, and all 3 bags of herbs. In return, we received bags of wheat and corn flour from Breakneck Acres, the same place we purchased the whole wheat that was used in the dog treats (ah, the circle of life). Also, we got lip balm, chocolate covered pretzels, cookies, bars, and canned goods (all homemade). All in all, not a bad haul. So now we have to come up with what we will bring to the swap next month, though I’m sure they will all have a Christmas theme.

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Jackpot!