Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Eating a species from the brink of extinction

In an article titled To Save a Species, Serve it for Dinner (free registration required to read), the New York Times reports on Gary Paul Nabhan's new book,titled Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods. Mr. Nabhan has compiled a list of over 1000 endangered American foods, comprising not only heirloom vegetables that gardeners are already keen on, but also American natives used by Native Americans and Europeans alike (pit-roasted antelope, anyone?).

The thing about preserving food species, as gardeners know, is that it isn't about protecting the species and its habitat as it is with preserving most wild species. It's about actually using the plants and animals as food. Heirloom vegetables will only stick around if someone grows them, eats them, and saves the seeds. Heirloom livestock will only exist if someone raises them and breeds them, and that will happen if there's a demand for the meat (or someone has a lot of money to spend on keeping livestock). Just keeping heirloom varieties around as a kind of living museum doesn't work, because unlike wild species, it takes a lot of work to keep them around. That Seneca hominy flint corn doesn't sow itself, ya know.

What's more, successfully preserving heirloom species also involves preserving the knowledge of how to use it. It's hard to get people to save Ny'pa (a kind of salt grass) if they have no idea what to do with it.

The good thing is that many gardeners and small farmers are keenly interested in heirlooms. Many have flavor or other qualities missing from mass-produced supermarket varieties. The tender skins of Brandywine tomatoes, for example, aren't good for shipping, but the winey flavor outshines any pale pink pseudo-tomato you can find in the produce section.

So where do you find heirloom varieties to grow? Some have made enough of a renaissance that they're available in a wide variety of seed catalogs. My two favorites, Territorial and Nichols, carry some, as does Pinetree Seeds. One Green World has a super selection of unusual fruit trees and shrubs. Then there's Heirloom Seeds, an online supplier which features varieties our parents or grandparents grew in victory gardens during the World Wars.

Not all heirlooms make it into the catalogs, though. To find really unusual varieties that haven't reached commercial production yet, turn to the seed exchanges like Seed Savers Exchange. Or ask around the neighborhood to see if gardeners in your area are harboring a local heirloom.

As for that salt grass -- you're on your own there.

The garden in April

You're only getting closeups, garden-porn style, 'cause the rain-snow-rain-sun-rain-freeze-rain-sun-rain-snow weird weather has limited my gardening time while at the same time pumping up the weeds and making the lawn grow like crazy, so the garden looks like a herd of demented flower fairies have been partying every night without bothering to clean up in between, which I guess they figure is supposed to be my job. And they haven't invited me to any of their parties, either. Hmph.

The bleeding hearts are just starting to put on their show:

A native pink honeysuckle that I planted in the hedgerow is in full bloom. Nice foraging for the hummingbirds.

With all the blossoms on my young Montmorency cherry, I think I'll have enough for a pie this year, if I can get to them before the birds do:

A lovely dwarf iris -- wish I knew the variety name:

A little surprise in the new garden: a tiny morel popping up from the bark dust and wood shavings:

I ordered this dwarf hardy pomegranate from Territorial Seed Company. I've never tried pomegranate before. Sounds terribly exotic, and just the thing for the center circular bed in the new garden:

The Labrador violets have been romping all over the garden and they're blooming like crazy right now. Some folks see violets as weeds. True, these aren't fragrant like the English violets (of which I have a few also), but they do look lovely with their dark foliage contrasting with the lime-green Lady's Mantle. There's a little Corydalis "Blue Panda" just peeking out, too, that bit of lighter green foliage with dainty blue flowers. And ya know, I didn't really plan this. It just turned out that way.

On with the weeding... ::sigh::

An almost 100 foot meal in April

A fresh crop of brand-new asparagus, the first of the season, inspired this almost 100-foot Diet Challenge lunch this weekend: a pile of freshly-picked, lightly steamed asparagus with mayonnaise (um, of unknown origin), with a salad cut from my cold frame and served up with a dressing made by a restaurant over on the coast (a little more than 100 feet away, but local-ish), and a slice of my super-duper apricot and walnut and other good stuff homemade breakfast bread and some Tillamook butter.

The DH was away for the weekend and I couldn't let all that good asparagus go to waste, now, could I? Mmmmm...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day: trees, flowers, kids, and rain

Earth Day 2008 is closing with torrential rains, flashes of lightning, and a huge roll of thunder that sent our cats stampeding for the farthest corners of the house.

In spite of the showers all through the day, the university campus where I teach managed to pull off some Earth Day events, including a recycling demonstration in the University Center, and several tree planting and flower planting events with the help of the grounds crew.

Here, in a space where an old, diseased rhododendron had to be removed, a contingent of sleepy-eyed youngsters fresh from their nap at the university's preschool gathered around to help plant a weeping cherry. All the kids got a turn at scooping some dirt into the hole. Some insisted on the "big shovel," with some help from a teacher, while others were happier with a trowel suitable for pint-sized tree planters:

In the meantime, crews of bigger kids planted flowers in some of the large planters and flower beds around campus:

A soggy but good time was had by all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earth Day 2008

It's coming right up this Tuesday.

Of course, every day is Earth Day when you're a gardener, especially if you go organic. Beyond our own gardens, though, anyone have anything special planned?

Ho, ho, ho, Merry April!

Now, I was going to have a lovely, long post about how spring has finally sprung and the flowers are all in bloom:
How the flowers are filling in nicely:

How I sowed the first seeds for cool-weather crops, like broccoli and spinach, and started an experiment to see how early I could start warm-weather crops outdoors using Kozy Koats:

And show everyone some pretty wild-type tulips like these:

And these:

And some other nice tulips:

But yesterday and today we woke up to this:

And more of this:

So what's up with that? Was I suddenly transported to Fairbanks or something?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pea Experiment, Part 3

The great pea-planting experiment continues. To review, my grandmother always planted peas in late February on Washington's birthday, but advice I read in several garden columns for my area advised planting in January. Another said one could wait as late as March and still do just fine. To find out who is right and who is full of green peas, I decided to experiment. I planted Sugar Snap peas in late January, late February, and again in late March. Each time I soaked the seeds and let them germinate before planting.

Now the seedlings are emerging and the results are starting to come in.

Here are some of the January-planted seedlings:

And here are some of the February-planted seedlings:

Hmm, so far the January planting doesn't seem to be ahead in the least. In fact, many of the February-planted peas seem to have the advantage. Both went through a period of hard frost and late snow. It's been a cold, wet, late spring this year.

I mean, look at this:

This was March 27, for pity's sake. Maybe this would be balmy for Saskatoon in March, but snow this late is pretty rare in the Willamette Valley. Heck, snow at all is rare in the Willamette Valley. Freezing rain and black ice are more our usual style.

The March-planted peas aren't up yet. In a few weeks, we'll see who's ahead and who has fallen behind. Eventually we'll see if there's any difference in harvest dates for the different plantings.

My new lemon tree

My free-plus-postage dwarf Meyer lemon tree arrived last week. I've got it potted up in the pot that it came with -- though I added some good, compost-rich soil to the potting mix that came with the kit -- and now the little critter is residing in a sheltered place under the deck awning. I keep it covered with a tube of bubble wrap while the night temperatures are still cool. So far it's chugging along.

Doesn't look much like a tree yet, but give it time, give it time...