Posts Tagged ‘Vegetables’

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Venison and Potato Chips: Native Foodways Lecture

During the nineteenth century, a number of Adirondack Indians marketed their skill as hunters, guides, basket makers, doctors, and cooks.

On Monday, July 5, 2010 Dr. Marge Bruchac will offer a program entitled “Venison and Potato Chips: Native Foodways in the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Bruchac will focus attention on what might be a lesser-known Native skill – cooking.

The first offering of the season for the museum’s Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

Nineteenth century white tourists paid good money to purchase wild game from Native people, to hunt in their territories, to buy medicines and remedies, and to eat in restaurants or lodgings where Indians held sway in the kitchen.

Dr. Bruchac will highlight stories of individuals such as Pete Francis, notorious for hunting wild game and creating French cuisine; George Speck and Katie Wicks, both cooks at Moon’s Lake House and co-inventors of the potato chip; and Emma Camp Mead, proprietress of the Adirondack House, Indian Lake, N.Y., known for setting an exceptionally fine table.

Bruchac contends that these people, and others like them, actively purveyed and shaped the appetite for uniquely American foods steeped in Indigenous foodways.

The Adirondack Museum celebrates food, drink, and the pleasures of eating in the Adirondack Park this year with a new exhibition, “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” The exhibit includes a 1915 photograph of Emma Mead as well as her hand-written recipes for “Green Tomato Pickles” and “Cranberry Puffs.”

Marge Bruchac, PhD, is a preeminent Abenaki historian. A scholar, performer, and historical consultant on the Abenaki and other Northeastern native peoples, Bruchac lectures and performs widely for schools, museums, and historical societies. Her 2006 book for children about the French and Indian War, Malian’s Song, was selected as an Editor’s Choice by The New York Times and was the winner of the American Folklore Society’s Aesop Award.

Photo: Dr. Marge Bruchac


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Let’s Eat: Adirondack Ginseng

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a perennial herb, once proliferated along the eastern seaboard from Maine to Alabama. It is similar to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and was one of the first herbs to be harvested and sold commercially. The name “ginseng” comes from the Chinese word “jen-shen” which means “in the image of a man,” a reference to the shape of the mature root, which resembles the human body.

Wild ginseng in China and Korea has been relatively rare for centuries, a result of over harvesting. It was discovered in central New York in 1751. By the late 18th century, Albany, New York had become a center of trade in ginseng. Most Adirondack ginseng was exported to China where it was (and is) used as a popular remedy.

By the middle of the 19th century, wild American ginseng was in danger of being eradicated by “shang” hunters, who dug up the brittle roots for sale to wholesale enterprises. Horticulture experts and private citizens alike experimented with cultivating the herb.

The September 5, 1906 issue of the Malone Farmer featured a front-page ad: “Wanted—People to grow Ginseng…Any one can do it and grow hundreds of dollars worth in the garden. Requires little ground.” F.B. Mills, of Rose Hill, NY, provided seeds and instructions (at cost) and a promise to buy the mature roots at $8.00 per pound.

Ginseng farming takes patience. It grows in cool, shady areas, in acidic soils such as are found in hardwood forests. The larger and older the root—which can live 100 years or more—the more it is worth. Ginseng is relatively easy to cultivate, but one must wait for the plants to mature over the course of 5-10 years before seeing a return on investment.

Nevertheless, by the turn of the 20th century, ginseng farming was common, and held the promise of great profit. The July 16, 1908 edition of the Fort Covington Sun ran a headline proclaiming “PUT GREAT FAITH IN GINSENG. Chinese Willing to Pay Fabulous Prices for Roots.” In 1904 a Plattsburgh paper reported that L.A. Childs of Chazy “will make an extensive exhibit of this product at the coming Clinton county fair, and this will be the first public exhibit of it ever made in Northern New York.” Three years later Miss Melissa Smith of St. Johnsville, “probably the only woman in America who grows ginseng for a living,” was reported to have roots valued at more than $10,000.

The actual medical benefits of ginseng have been disputed in Western medicine for centuries. The September 19, 1900 issue of the Malone Farmer expressed the opinion that “The ginseng trade is the most extraordinary in the world. American doctors believe it to be practically valueless as a medicine, or at the most about as potent as licorice.” Users claim it increases energy, prolongs life, and induces a feeling of wellbeing.

The Adirondack Museum’s permanent collection includes this ginseng root harvester, used in Franklin County during the late 19th century. Ginseng is never pulled from the ground. Whole, unbroken roots have the greatest value. This tool was used to dig the soil around the plant, some six inches away from the stem. Once the soil around the root was removed, the shang hunter could lift the root out and carefully brush away the dirt.

The market value of ginseng has risen and fallen over the centuries, but it remains an important forest crop. In 1977, the US Fish and Wildlife Service imposed restrictions on the sale of ginseng under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. New York State, as well as most states in the Northeast, tightly regulates the sale and harvest of ginseng. No wild ginseng may be harvested on state lands.

Photo: Ginseng Root Harvester Found in Tupper Lake, NY ca. 1850-1890. Courtesy the Adirondack Museum (2001.38.2).


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Northern New York Eating Local Conference

If you are not sure to find fresh-picked asparagus, bright red strawberries, sweet peppers, a crisp mix of salad greens, crunchy carrots, white and brown eggs, chicken, lamb and beef – all grown locally in the Northern New York region, but plan to attend one of three “Eating Local Yet?” conferences to be held May 6-8, 2010.

Conference organizer Bernadette Logozar is the NNY Local Foods Specialist and a rural and agricultural development specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County says the types of information to be shared at the conference include: What is the difference between local, organic, grass-fed and naturally produced foods? What are the different types of meat cuts offered by local livestock producers? Where do you find local foods? How do you cook grass-fed beef? Are there ways to eat local foods year-round?

“More and more people are looking to make a personal connection with their food suppliers, but they do not know how to talk with farmers or how to ask for the types of products they want. The “Eating Local Yet?” conference will provide consumers with the knowledge, information and confidence they need to buy and enjoy local food,” Logozar says.

Jennifer Wilkins, a Nutritional Science Senior Extension Associate with the Community Food Systems Project at Cornell University, will provide the keynote presentation at the “Eating Local Yet?” Conferences. Small workshop learning sessions at the conference will include:

“Getting the Most Nutritional Bang for Your Buck with Nutritionist” Martha Pickard of the Adirondack North Country Association

“Buying Meat from Farmers: What Cuts to Ask For and How to Cook Them” with local chefs and farmers

“Seasonal Menu Planning” with chefs from the NNY region

“Is it Local, Organic, Natural – Understanding the Language of Local Foods” with NNY Local Foods Specialist Bernadette Logozar.

Logozar plans to survey conference attendees about the types of future local foods programming they would like to see Cornell Cooperative Extension offer. Survey items are expected to include cooking classes, whole chicken preparation, basic food preservation and other interest areas.

The conference agenda also includes networking time with locally-grown and processed finger foods for tasting. The Saturday program includes a “Healthy Local Foods Lunch.”

Thursday, May 6, 5:30-8:30pm, Plattsburgh High School, 49 Broad St., Plattsburgh.

Friday, May 7, 5:30-8:30pm, Eben Holden Hall, St. Lawrence Univ., Canton.

Saturday, May 8, 10am-3:30pm, Case Junior High School, 1237 Washington St., Watertown.

Pre-registration for the conference is required by May 1, 2010. The $10 registration fee covers the evening and Saturday conference refreshments and materials. For more details and to register for the conference, contact Logozar at 518-483-7403 or bel7@cornell.edu.

For more tips on selling food locally, go online to the Regional/Local Foods section of the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Permaculture in the Adirondacks Workshop at Paul Smith’s

How can the ecology of the Adirondacks better inform the ways we grow food and make our homes here? On Saturday, May 8th, 2010, from 10am until 5pm, join professional ecological designer and educator Keith Morris for a day-long exploration of the potential for permaculture design to contribute to ecological regeneration and greater food security in the Adirondack region.

This workshop will introduce a process for analysis and assessment of sites, and provide guidance for good ecological design practice that can be directly applied to your home, farm, or lawn. Participants will learn how to consciously apply the principles of ecology to the design of gardens that mimic forest ecosystem structure and function but grow food, fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, ‘farmaceuticals’, and fun. The afternoon will be spent in a hands-on application of forest gardening technique with fruits, nuts, berries, and other under-acknowledged multi-purpose plants suitable to the northern Adirondacks as we plan and plant the next phases of a demonstration garden on Paul Smith’s campus.

Keith Morris is a designer, educator, organic farmer, and natural builder who facilitates healthy and healing human ecosystems. His work combines community building, ecological restoration, integrated structures, and diverse, nutrient-dense food production into beautiful and productive whole systems: farms, homes, homesteads, yards, and regional foodsheds. He is Permaculture Instructor on the faculties of the University of Vermont, Sterling College, Paul Smith’s College, the Yestermorrow Design Build School, and has worked for USAID ‘Farmer to Farmer’ in Nigeria and Ghana.

The program will be at Paul Smith’s College. The cost for the program is $25. Lunch is not included, but can be purchased at campus dining on the day. You should bring a notebook, gloves and a bag lunch, if you don’t wish to purchase one on campus.

Registration is required. The deadline for registration is April 24th. Please contact Tom Huber, Director – TRiO Student Support, thuber@paulsmiths.edu or call (518) 327-6330.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let’s Eat: The Camp Food Grub List

In 2010 the Adirondack Museum will celebrate the food, traditions, and recipes of Adirondack residents, visitors, sportsmen, and tourists with a new exhibition called “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” One of the hundreds of objects featured in the exhibit is a list of supplies for a camping trip made by two New Jersey fishermen.

William Pollack Meigs, Jr. and his cousin Edwin Oscar Perrin took yearly fishing trips in the Adirondacks from 1914 until 1947. Endion, on Long Lake, served as base camp. Over the years, they were accompanied by an assortment of friends and family, and left amusing handwritten accounts and photographs of their adventures. In 2009, Jonathan Murray donated his uncles’ photo album and documents to the Adirondack Museum.

Getting in and out of the woods for an extended fishing trip required careful planning. Meigs and Perrin prepared detailed lists of supplies. Food was a particular preoccupation—what to take and how much were carefully documented for each trip on the “Grub List,” which included Borden’s Milk Powder, Knorr’s Oxtail Soup, bread, chipped beef, bacon, cheese, dried apricots, onions, beans, sugar, tea, rice, prunes, oatmeal, salt, flour, dried potatoes, and—always–curry powder, whiskey, and chocolate.

The men strategically stored food and other supplies in caches along planned routes. Items in their 1946 “Calkins Cache” were “1 can beans, 1 bottle syrup…1 pt Red Eye, 1 lb Sugar—glass jar—screw top, 1 can Hygrade Sausage, 1 batch oatmeal—Tobacco tin—paraffin seal…3 lb salt—In heavy waxed cardboard…and 2 old unidentified cans paraffin sealed.”

At the end of their 1942 trip, taken with friends Ole Olsen and Albert Graff, Ed Perrin tallied up the costs for each member of the party: “You will note that the total amount paid for food was $9.17. That was the only expense we had in camp. That amounts to $2.29 per man per week, or 32 cents per day. We all agreed that we had enough grub for two weeks (or to have gotten along with half as much food), which brings the cost down to 16 cents per day per man….Actually, such a vacation is a lot less expensive than staying at home so, if business gets any worse, we will have to take a lot of trips like this just to save money.”

The men exercised some culinary imagination on that trip with ingredients on hand, making a meal of “Lobster Puree a la Calkins”:

1 can (15 ½ ) old fashioned K beans

1 fried onion

1 cup “Klim” (1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons Borden’s Milk Powder)

2 good slices cheese, diced

1 ½ oz (about 1 jigger) Bourbon, added last

Pour on cupful [of] fried croutons

There is no record of how well this peculiar recipe tasted.

Laura Rice is Chief Curator at the Adirondack Museum. For more recipes, and Meigs and Perrin’s list, visit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.

Photo: “Looking crestfallen after hard day of slash thrashing and rock garden crotch splitting”: William Meigs, Edwin Perrin, Ole Olsen, Albert Graff, 1942.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cooperative Extension Offers Veggie, Herb Seed Starter Kits

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warren County is offering affordable vegetable and herb seed starter kits for the 2010 garden season beginning Tuesday, February 16, 2010. Each kit includes five different seed packs, growing directions, and garden row markers. The vegetable kits also include the Cooperative Extension’s “2010 Booklet on Vegetable Varieties.” The herb kits include information on starting a container herb garden. Each seed kit is only $5 (only $9 if you buy both).

Each VEGETABLE seed kit includes: Five different vegetable seed packs, full growing directions for each seed type, garden row markers and the newest The vegetable seed kit includes ‘tendergreen’ beans, cucumber, lettuce, squash and tomato seed packs.

The HERB seed kits include five different herb seed packs, growing directions, garden row markers and other information about starting a container HERB garden. The herb seed kit includes sweet basil, dill, green scallion onion, parsley and nastursium (nastursium produces beautiful edible salad flowers!).

Proceeds from the sale of the Seed Starter Kits will be used by the Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H (Youth Development Program) and the Master Gardener Volunteer (Consumer Horticulture Education Program) to help support the many 4-H youth programs in Warren County and the Master Gardener Volunteer programs that provide science-based gardening information to people in our community.

The seed kits are available begining February 16 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Warrensburg, at 377 Schroon River Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885. The office is open Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Tel.: 518-623-3291.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Adirondack Cookbook for Fall & Winter

There’s a new cookbook tailored for the season, Northern Comfort: Fall & Winter Recipes from Adirondack Life. Edited by food writer Annette Nielsen, it includes more than 100 traditional and contemporary dishes gleaned from the magazine’s 40-year history. It focuses on regional flavors, including wild game, maple, apples, hearty vegetables and hearth breads. Paperback, 142 pages, $15.95.

Click here to hear an interview with editor Annette Nielsen by Todd Moe, of North Country Public Radio.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

What to Do With All Those Carrots

Since we’ve already had our first snow, I figured it was about time to dig up the carrots. So yesterday I braved the wind and rain when I got home from work, grabbed my grandfather’s spading fork and a bushel basket, and headed for the carrot patches. At first I tried pulling the carrots right out of the ground; after all, we’d had plenty of rain lately, so I figured the ground was probably wet enough to let the roots go easily. It’s a good thing I brought the fork.

I planted several varieties of carrots this year, ever hopeful that some would grow well. I’ve not had much luck with carrots, you see, which is surprising, considering how sandy our soil is. Loose sandy soils are usually great for growing carrots, for their roots can push down easily, growing to great lengths before harvest-time. I suspect, however, that soil isn’t so much my problem as crowding is.

In early June I scatter the tiny carrot seeds and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping them watered is a challenge, especially since I’m trying at the same time not to wash them away. Once they germinate and get growing, I feel so grateful that any survived this long that I feel guilty if I thin them out. Thinning is really important with carrots, though. If left crowded, few, if any, of them will grow to any size worth keeping. So, bite the bullet and thin them out.

Thinning can be accomplished multiple ways. Traditionally, you pulled out the superfluous sprouts. This, however, can disturb the remaining ones, so the modern backyard gardener goes out with little gardening shears and snips the tops off the extras. I still couldn’t quite bring myself to cut their little carrot lives short, so I tried relocating the extras this year. I found out yesterday that this did work, sort of. Some of my transplants grew in very odd shapes – all bent and curled.
Some, however, did just fine, while others still remained pretty runty.

So, I forked my way through the carrot patches yesterday, tossing the dirt-covered roots into my bushel basket. Surprisingly, it filled up quickly. In the past I’ve been lucky to fill up a single bag with my carrot harvest. This year, however, I already have two bags of carrots in the fridge, and now I have a bushel more to put up for the winter. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that more than half of these carrots are more than two inches long. I’d even be willing to claim that more than half are over four inches long!

Some sources say to wait to dig your carrots until late in the fall, and then only after several sunny days. It seems our sunny days ended about mid-September, so I dug mine in spite of rain. Then these sources tell you to leave your freshly dug carrots out in the sun to dry for a few hours. This will make removing any clinging soil easier, and it will kill off the root hairs. If you plan to store your carrots whole, say in a root cellar, then you want these root hairs killed of, for this will make the whole carrot go dormant. If the carrot doesn’t go dormant (or if dormancy is broken during storage – more on this in a bit), it will rot.

Now, if you are going to cut up your carrots and freeze them, as my family always did, this next bit won’t apply. You can just go ahead and wash them, cut them up, blanch and freeze. If you want to store your carrots raw, read on.

Clean the soil from the roots. You want to do this gently, with as little handling as possible. Some authorities say to use well-chlorinated water when you clean so as to kill off all unwanted pathogens. Use your own judgement. Take your clean carrots and trim off the tops to about two inches. Now you have a choice to make. Do you want to store the carrots in your fridge, or in a root cellar type of system?

If going the fridge route, take your carrots and place them in plastic bags that have holes in them. You want to be sure the carrots get some air circulation. Then stick them into the coldest part of your fridge. Carrots want to be stored between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and they want to be kept moist. Below 32 they will freeze, and over 40 they will break dormancy and either start to sprout or start to rot.

If you opt to store in the cellar, garage, non-heated attic, or on the porch, you can go with the traditional storage system. Take a crate, box or barrel. Fill the bottom two to three inches deep with damp peat moss, sand or sawdust. Place a layer of carrots on top, staying two to three inches from the sides. Cover with another two to three inches of damp peat/sand/sawdust. Add another layer of carrots, etc., until you reach the top. The last layer should be your insulating material. Place the container in a cold, moist area. Again, you want the temperature to be steady, somewhere between 32 and 40 degrees. If your carrots are stored in an area where the temperature fluctuates, even if it is only by about five degrees, your carrots will break dormancy and either sprout or rot.

My last two carrot harvests, which, as previously mentioned, only filled a single bag each year, did very well in my fridge all winter long. I chopped them up for color in my omelets, diced them into the dog’s food, and added them to stews. This year, however, because I have so many carrots, I will probably be blanching and freezing most of them. Some will stay in the fridge, though – a garden fresh carrot is a welcome taste at any time of year.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato News: Late Blight Spares Some Crops

Tucker Farms in Gabriels is in the midst of what’s being described as a good potato harvest. According to co-proprietors Steve and Tom Tucker, the 300-acre farm’s crop seems to have escaped late blight.

Less important but surprising: the tomatoes in a shared Saranac Lake garden plot were turned to brown mush by the blight, but untreated potatoes in a mound surrounded by those plants produced lots of apparently healthy tubers.

Steve Tucker has heard similar reports from other gardeners. “Tomatoes are a little more tender to the blight apparently,” the farmer says. The airborne fungal pathogen has destroyed fields of tomatoes and potatoes around the Northeast this year, introduced on shipments of tomato plants to big box stores. Cornell Cooperative Extension reported in July that an unidentified commercial field of potatoes in Franklin County “was completely lost and has been mowed down.”

The Tucker brothers took precautions, spraying the foliage as often as once a week with fungicide. If invisible late blight spores ever reached the Gabriels farm, the fungicide probably killed them. Once the blight enters the plant, however, fungicide won’t help, Steve says.

Because this region is remote, high and relatively pest free, the Adirondacks is a source of seed potatoes for the rest of the state. Tucker Farms sells seed potatoes as well as table stock. Tom Tucker explained that Tuckers’ eating potatoes can also be planted because, unlike most supermarket potatoes, they’re not treated with sprout nip, a chemical that inhibits eye growth. The potatoes in the Saranac Lake garden, by the way, were Tucker Farms’ Adirondack Blue variety, and they were delicious.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Tucker


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: The Corn Maze

This year we will be hunting space aliens in Gabriels. Yes, crop circles have been found in the Adirondacks, though this time they can be proven the direct result of human effort, not the paranormal. For the fourth year in a row the design for the maze at Tucker Farms is from the artistic work of Scott Rohe. He didn’t even have to perpetuate any crop circle myth by going out in the dead of night to complete the large-scale land art. He just came up with the design so the Tuckers could plant the corn in a grid-like pattern. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dealing with Frost in the Adirondacks

Last night the Weather Gurus predicted a low of 25 degrees Fahrenheit for Newcomb. Brrr. In anyone’s book, that is chilly. Thanks to a wet growing season, followed by a very dry September, I find that my garden has needed very little in the way of frost protection. With the exception of a couple pumpkins, this year’s garden is unconcerned with crisp weather.

But perhaps your garden is a different story. Are you one of the lucky few who have tomatoes? Perhaps you have squash and corn still ripening. Or maybe you put in some late season veg, like kale or other greens. If you fit into this category, then you’ll want to be alert for freezing forecasts and ready to ward off Jack Frost.

Some veg are hardy and can take the cold. In fact, there are veg that improve with cooler temps, like carrots. Many a gardener has claimed that carrots only get sweeter with the cold. I’m testing this theory this year by leaving most of my carrots in the ground as late as possible. But other veg are more tender and in need of some TLC if they are to survive.

Over the last couple of years I’ve invested in floating row covers. These fibrous white sheets come in varying thicknesses depending on the amount of protection you desire. The thicker the cloth (heavier the weight), the more protection. This is beneficial for frost protection. Row covers also reduce light transmission, so in the springtime lighter weight material might be preferable so that the plants can get enough light to sprout and grow.

A cheaper alternative to agricultural row covers is bed sheets. Sheets, towels and blankets sprout in many a garden with fall rolls around. Like row covers, they are draped over plants and pots, keeping the frost from killing tender leaves and fruits. A key to remember here is that you don’t want your cover to touch the plants. The cover is acting like a roof and walls, keeping the warmer air of the day trapped around your plants, and keeping the cold air of night away. If the cold air can get under your blankets, or if your sheet is touching the plant beneath it, the cold can still cause damage.

Usually, though, I find that by the time killing frosts arrive, the thrill of the garden has faded somewhat. The novelty of picking beans and making tomatoe sauce has worn thin. I go out and drape tender plants with sheets, row covers, blankets, using clothespins to hold them all together, but if the frost sneaks in and kills the beans and tomatoes, I find I can get over it pretty quickly. Usually it’s the still unripe winter squash and pumpkins that that merit the most attention.

You could go the route of The Fan. The idea here is that the fan draws the warm air up from the ground and sends it out over your plants, displacing the colder night air. Or you could try misting your plants before night settles. There’s a claim that misted plants will develop an outer layer of ice crystals that will protect the rest of the plant from damage. Hm. Then there are smudge pots. These essentially create localized smog, which traps heat and keeps the plants from freezing.

If you have only a few plants that need protection, there are some nifty options out there that you can try. One is called a water wall. This plastic device is essentially a plastic cylinder that you place around your plant. The cylinder is made of pockets/tubes that you fill with water. During the day the water absorbs heat, which at night is released slowly, keeping the plant within its embrace nice and warm. At about $12 a pop, this can be expensive if you’ve got, oh, say 90 tomato plants to protect.

We used a similar but much cheaper option in the greenhouse where I used to work in New Jersey. We brought in our empty milk jugs and filled them with water. During the day the heat of the greenhouse warmed them up, and at night they released that heat, keeping the inside temps relatively steady as the outside temps fell. I’m sure it would work just as well in a garden, especially if you covered the plants and sun-warmed jugs with a sheet.

Straw bales can also provide your garden with some protection. Stacking up bales around your sensitive plants will block the outside air. Toss a blanket, or old window, or a frame covered with plastic, across the top and you have a temporary greenhouse (or cold frame) that will serve you well.

Gardening in the Adirondacks can be tricky even in a good year. With frost possible in June and August, we are left with only a few short weeks to breathe easily in the belief that our plants are safe. But with some careful planning (the selection of seeds and plants, the layout of the garden, the construction of cold frames, a collection of plant protectors), we can extend our season and eke a few more days or weeks out of our harvest. And if you really want to get into it, you can build a greenhouse, or a high tunnel system, that will permit you to have harvests all year ’round…but that’s another story.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Growing Garlic in the Adirondacks

Whenever I mention growing garlic, I encounter people who tell me “you can’t grow garlic up here.” What? I’ve grown garlic successfully now for two years (can’t say as much for onions and leeks)! After conversations with folks, though, I think I have discovered the answer: timing.

Garlic is something you plant in the fall. Don’t try planting it in the spring with your seeds and transplants. You may get lovely stalks, but you won’t get bulbs. Once you discover this, you’ll find growing garlic is a cinch.

First, find some good bulbs. Around these parts, you probably should stick to hardneck garlic. The stuff you buy in the grocery store is softneck garlic, and it is comprised of a bulb that is clove after clove right down to the center (and it probably comes from China or India). Hardneck, on the other hand, has a hard stem in the center which is surrounded by six to twelve cloves, depending on the variety. You don’t get as many cloves, but you get something that is hardier and grows well in our northern climate.

You can purchase garlic from many gardening/seed catalogues. If you place your garlic order in February with your seed order, don’t expect it to arrive with your seeds. Any company worth its salt will not ship garlic until the fall.

I discovered, however, that catalogue garlic is really expensive. For a mere fraction of the cost, you can go to a garlic festival (like the one in Sharon Springs, which I just found out is cancelled this year) to purchase bulbs. This is what I did last year. The comparison is amazing. Catalogue garlic: get about 20 cloves, pay over $20. Garlic Fest garlic: get 100 cloves, pay about $8. It’s well worth the trip to a festival. The nearest garlic festival I could find this year is probably the Mohawk Valley Garlic and Herb Festival in Mohawk on 12 September, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.

Once you have your garlic, wait until October to plant. The later the better. You’ll want to prep your bed, removing weeds, adding compost, etc. When the day arrives to plant, you’ll want to be ready, so have your bulbs sorted – choose only the largest bulbs and the largest cloves.

It’s planting day. Separate the bulbs into individual cloves. Press each one about two inches into your soil (with the pointy end of the clove upwards) and cover with soil. Space them three or so inches apart. When you have the bed filled, cover it with about six inches of grass clippings – good mulch. Last year I used leaves and I don’t think they worked as well. For one thing, they decomposed and blew away a lot more readily than grass clippings will.

Do not panic if you start to see green shoots poking out of the mulch before the snow flies. This is normal.

Next spring, the shoots will grow (or continue to grow). Just let them do their thing, making sure the soil stays evenly moist (but don’t over-water). Garlic is pretty low maintenance. As summer progresses, the tips of the stalks will loop around a couple of times and develop swellings at the end. These are called garlic scapes and they are quite attractive. They are also edible and are considered a gourmet item, but I I found I couldn’t give ’em away this year! No one wanted to even try them. You can steam them and serve with melted butter like asparagus, or you can cook them in a stir fry; I’m sure the internet is full of recipes just waiting to be tried. I’ve even read you can store scapes in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to three months. If you don’t plan to eat them, however, be sure to pinch them off. Otherwise, they will develop into bulbils, tiny bulbs, taking energy away from the main bulb underground. You want the plant to put its energy into the main bulb, so eliminate all competitors.

Sometime around mid-July, the stalks will start to turn brown. When the bottom three or four leaves are brown, but the leaves at the top are still green, it is time to harvest your garlic. You will want to stop watering a few weeks before this – this will make your garlic better for storage.

Pull up your garlic gently and by hand. You want to be careful not to bruise the bulbs, and don’t leave them in the sun. Trim the roots, and gently brush off the soil. Then you you need to place them in a well-ventilated, but out of the sun location to cure. Curing takes about two weeks and hardens the bulbs up for storage. After curing you can trim the stems and move the garlic into storage. Hardneck garlic doesn’t braid well, thanks to those hard stems. So, instead of long decorative braids, I cut the stems short and stick the bulbs in old onion bags I’ve scrounged from friends.

Never store your garlic in the fridge. Room temperature is good, or in a root cellar where temps are about 32-35 degrees Fahrenheit. Low humidity is also a plus. A fridge is simply too warm and may cause your garlic to sprout prematurely.

Garlic has a history that stretches back more than 5000 years. Coming to us from central Asia, this bulb is full of good stuff that our bodies need. You don’t have to go overboard like me and plant a couple hundred cloves, but everyone with a small garden should at least give it a try.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Adirondack Gardening: Habitat Close to Home

When the editors of Adirondack Almanack asked me to take over Ellen Rathbone’s garden columns while Ellen is on vacation, I couldn’t help thinking, they have got to be kidding! Me, write a garden column? I guess they don’t know that I’m more of an anti-gardener. Not anti in the sense of “against” (I love other people’s gardens), but in the sense of “antithesis of.” In short, I’m a weed-loving wildflower nerd who will risk drowning and broken bones and heart attacks and Lyme disease pursuing additions to my wildflower “life list,” but I faint at the thought of cultivating the plot behind my house. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Adirondack Gardening: Is All Poo Created Equal?

In gardening parlance, manure is pure gold. It has all the necessary ingredients for successful plant growth: nitrogen (helps plants produce the proteins necessary to build green stems, sturdy roots, and lots of leaves), phosphorus (facilitates energy movement within the plants), and potassium (regulates photosynthesis, helps move nutrients within the plants, and helps make plant proteins). In addition to the big three (NPK), manure also contains humus, a mixture of plant and animal remains that form a bulky and fibrous material that is not only nutritious for your garden, but also makes the soil a better growing medium by fluffing up heavy clays, providing food for the critters that live in the soil, and retaining moisture during times of water shortage.

And yet, while some farms can’t give the stuff away, others of us have the devil’s own time trying to acquire it.

For example, I live in a very small rural town here in the mountains. If I walk down the street a few hundred feet from my house, there’s a family with a bunch of horses. I called one day to see if I could relieve them of some of their no doubt copious piles of manure. Sure…that’ll be $300 a load. Oh, and the “load” is mostly “topsoil” with a little manure throw in. I decided to look for other options.

There’s the bison farm about half an hour away, with all the free bison doo that you can cart away. Likewise, there’s the goat farm down towards Thurman – nannyberries galore, yours for the taking. Sounds great! But how do you cart away a load of manure when all you have is a Prius? Another acquaintance of mine, who raises sheep and chickens, has offered me a load of dung…sometime. I think I’ll follow up on this lead while I’m on vacation next month, maybe offering an exchange of labor for this largesse.

As I made the rounds trying to find a good source of poo for my nutrient-starved garden, I was struck by the variety of manures available within a short distance of my home: horse, bison, sheep, chicken, alpaca, goat. About the only types we don’t have nearby is cow and pig. I started to wonder, then, just how much of a difference there is between each type. I’d heard that goat droppings are a “cool” manure that can be put on the garden right away without danger of “burning” the plants, unlike horse or cow manure, which is “hot” and must age for at least six months before use. So I decided to do a little homework to see which type was best. Here are my findings.

Pig and poultry poop are very high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen can burn your plants. If you use pig or poultry poop, you need to let it age for several months before use. Bird droppings are often quite prized by gardeners (as are bat droppings, which are also very high in nitrogen). One of the greatest inventions for utilization of poultry poop is the mobile chicken coop. This nifty device makes garden creation a snap: you set up your chickens in a location where you want a future garden. The birds spend the summer scratching up the dirt, fertilizing it, eating the bugs in it and basically turning it into a pre-fab garden plot. Next spring you relocate the birds and turn their old run into ready-to-use garden beds.

Horses and cattle (and bison) spend a lot of time grazing, and what goes in must come out. As a result their dung is very high in the fiber department, which means you will have lots of good humus if you use horse or cow manure. On the other hand, you are also likely to get a lot of weed seeds. Horse and cow manure both need to age before you can use them. The general rule is to let it rest and decompose at least six months before use. During this time you can decrease the weed seed problem if you cover your manure pile with plastic and let it really cook for those six months. My pumpkins liked the horse manure I planted them in last year, but the books say that horse and cow manure are both rather low in those essential nutrients N, P and K. You can do better, but if this is all you have available, it’ll work just fine.

Goats and sheep are prolific poopers and their dung comes in tidy little pellets (so does alpaca poop). Because of this, it breaks down quickly and easily, which means you can make use of it sooner than you can horse and cow manure. In general they have more K than horse and cow manure, but N and P are about the same. Unless… I read that if your goat droppings come from goats that are kept indoors (like milking goats often are), then you will likely get additional nitrogen in your manure load because you’ll get the goats’ urine mixed in with the hay and droppings that are mucked out of the stalls. Can you put goat or sheep dung directly in your garden without aging? Yes and no. You really should age/compost any manure first, but because the droppings of goats and sheep are small, they break down more quickly. You can put them directly in your garden, but be sure to keep them off roots and away from stems.

After doing my research, I’ve concluded that any manure I acquire will be a welcome addition to my gardens. And if some of it doesn’t have, say, quite enough K, then I can supplement with something else, like greensand. The bottom line is that you cannot keep taking nutrients out of your garden without somehow replacing them. Manures are probably the easiest source of nutrients around. So roll up your sleeves and make friends with your local farmer. Swapping some labor in exchange for a load of poo seems like a pretty fair deal to me.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Contemplating Carrots

“Eat your carrots – they’re good for your eyes.” What mother hasn’t intoned this mantra to her children? Well, I’ve always loved carrots, and yet I’ve worn glasses since I was in third grade. Go figure. Still, carrots are good for you, and, even more importantly, they are easy to grow in the Adirondacks!

One of the things that makes the Adirondacks (or at least a good chunk of the region) ideal for carrots is the loose sandy soil. Root veggies need loose soil so they can grow big roots. If you suffer from heavy clay soil, you will have a tougher time growing things like carrots and beets, but with plenty of soil ammendments, you can still make a go of it. Afterall, my parents’ garden had terrible clay soil, it made weeding a misery, and yet we grew plenty of carrots and beets every year.

When it comes to picking out what carrots to grow, it can be difficult to choose. I tend towards heirloom varieties, partly because they have neat names, partly because they have some unusual colors, and partly because I like to support the folks who are protecting our seed diversity. I don’t particularly like the idea of one or two companies owning the patents on produce and making it illegal for folks to gather their own seeds from these plants. But that’s another story. This year I have Scarlet Nantes, Red Cored Chantenay, and St. Valery among my carrot selections.

Now comes the “hard” part: planting the seeds. Carrot seeds are tiny. Carrot seeds are light-weight. Planting on a windy day can be a disaster. They say to plant your carrots in rows two inches deep. This is difficult to do if you aren’t planting in rows. I mix my carrots with my onions – onions supposedly keep carrot pests at bay – but this means that I’m not planting in rows. So, I end up scattering my seeds on top of the soil and then raking the soil over the top. The trick then is to keep my shallowly-planted seeds wet enough to germinate.

Once they sprout (which takes a while), I discover that my scattering technique needs work. Vast areas are carrotless, while small patches are thick as turf. This leads to the next chore with carrots: thinning them out. I have always hated thinning my veg – it seems like I am wasting food! However, if you don’t thin, then you end up with runty carrots. Runty carrots are difficult to peel, although they make great snacks for the dog.

So I’ve come up with an alternate solution to thinning: transplanting. I tried this last year with some success, so I figure I’ll give it a go again this year. The goal is to take those thick clumps of carrots and spread them out into the Spartan spots; carrot seedlings are so much easier to handle than those weeny carrot seeds. All I have to do is gently remove the clumps, separate them into individual plants, and carefully stick them back into the ground, doing as little damage as possible to the root.

It’s worth the extra time and effort, however, when late summer and fall roll around and the time has come for the carrot harvest. They say that the later you harvest your carrots the sweeter they will be. Some even suggest you leave your carrots in the ground all winter, digging them as you need them. These pundits obviously don’t live in the snowbelt like we do. Dig them in winter? With what, a jackhammer? Nope, I’ll dig mine before the snow flies, thank you.

The final decision is what to do with your carrot crop. My family always froze our veg, so that’s the route I usually take. Still, I do like the idea of fresh raw carrots in January and February, and with a little planning, you can store your carrots all winter to use as needed. All you need is a deep container of damp sand. You fill your container partway with the sand and then lay down a layer of carrots. Cover with sand. Add more carrots. Continue until container is full. When you want a fresh carrot or six, you simply dig them out of the sand.

OH, and you’ll need a cool place to store your container(s), like a root cellar. I don’t have one of those, so I will stick to freezing my carrots.