Sunday, July 22, 2007

Must take a hiatus

I need to take a short hiatus to deal with some family issues. Don't worry, I hope to be back by the end of the week. I've got a great topic for Gardening 101. I'm not so sure I'll have an OLS meal this week, but never say never.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Local Summer - Week Four

My time at home this week is very short. I had to hop down to Georgia for a board meeting on Sunday. Tomorrow I leave for Missouri to visit my mother, who is ill. I spent yesterday running around and doing everything that needed to be done in the week in one day.

I fretted over what I could make in a short time and what I could find local at the grocery store. We generally do our local meal on the weekend - when there's time to prepare and savor it all. We are all scattered this week. Charlie had a meeting last night. Monkey wasn't finished with camp until 5:00. I was settling on hamburgers when out of the corner of my eye I saw, on the the refrigerated shelf next to the smoked trout (local), pasta! I've been wanting to make pasta, but let's face it, it takes time to prepare. I found it fresh and made in Charlotte. While I can't verify that the ingredients are all from the Carolinas, I can say that it's made here. So here was our meal. And it was fast to prepare - about 45 minutes from the first chop of garlic to the plate. Active time was closer to 15 minutes. Monkey and I dined like queens.

Linguine Bolognese

Linguine - from Pasta & Provisions, Charlotte, NC - 131 miles

Ground Beef - Spring House Meats, Fairview, NC - 17 miles

Tomatoes - the garden - o miles

Garlic - the garden - 0 miles

Carrots - the garden - 0 miles

Basil, Bay, Oregano - the garden - 0 miles

not local - salt, pepper, milk

Let's not forget dessert!

We don't generally do dessert around here, but it was Monkey's first day of Art Camp and I'm going to be gone for awhile, so we stopped at our favorite local ice cream shop, Ultimate Ice Cream (5 miles from our front door), and picked up a pint of Lemon-Lime Sorbet and Black Mocha Stout Ice Cream. I'm glad that we've instilled in the Monkey an appreciation for small local businesses, where things are crafted with care and are better for it. She even requests the sorbet over Oreo or Bubble Gum. The Black Mocha Stout Ice Cream is made with Black Mocha Stout (duh...) from Highland Brewery. I have to say, that it is one of the best mocha ice creams I have ever tasted.

Dinner was fresh and local and fast.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Weekly Gardening 101

There are many ways to prepare a bed for planting vegetables. Some, like double digging, are incredibly labor intensive. I've spent many a spring soaking a sore lower back and repairing my winter-tender hands after a day in the garden. I've discovered that preparing a garden doesn't have to cause back problems or aggravate my arthritic hands.

Usually preparing a new garden involves three things - removing whatever is already growing there (usually grass or weeds), loosening the soil underneath, and improving the soil. In the past, I've used a shovel, hoe, pick, a rototiller, and my own bare hands to accomplish the first two steps. In the past year I've been using a much easier method. Starting now (or preferably, later in the cooler weather of autumn), you can prepare a bed for planting next spring with minimal physical exertion.

Once you've determined where you want your garden (I'll leave the size and shape up to you, just think that wide beds with narrow aisles allow more planting and less weeding), you can start to get it ready for spring planting. What you will do is leave most of the green stuff growing there to help add organic material (food for your veggies) to the soil. Nature's little helpers - worms and other organisms in the soil, will help loosen the soil. Mulch that you add will also help improve the soil. You'll be able to plant in the spring with minimal effort. I promise. Starting in the fall means that your soil will be improved over the winter with the help of worms and other critters in the soil. Worms are your friends. They will help break down organic material, and aerate and loosen the soil with their little tunnels all through the cooler months.

Here are the steps:
  1. Cut down any tall vegetation and woody weeds in your new garden location. Remove any woody material or things that have gone to seed. Lay a base layer of cardboard or newspapers at full thickness over the area. Make sure to overlap the edges. This is biodegradable and keeps the light from reaching the stuff underneath.

  2. Next add a layer up to 4 inches deep of soil improvers - compost, grass clippings, leaf mold or fallen leaves, composted manure, mushroom compost, or animal bedding (old straw or hay). A mixture of these materials is good. You can buy many of these at a garden center, if you don't have them laying around, but leaves and grass clippings are free (so is animal bedding and manure, if you a lucky enough to have animals! No dog or cat poo though, these can contain icky things that can infect us as well).

  3. Then add a top layer of straw or hay. This will retain moisture and look good. Wood mulch looks good, but a caveat - wood actually takes nitrogen out of the soil as it breaks down. Shredded bark mulch is a better choice, but expensive. I'd stick to straw.

  4. Water this all to settle the layers and keep it all from blowing away.
In the first year, it's best to grow transplants. Small seeds and root crops are suitable for the first year. If time has done the work for you, the light blocking layer will start to break down and the organic materials layer will start to mix with the soil. If you have a problem with bigger perennial weeds, just dig down through the layers of mulch and dig out. You can always add a second layer to help block these out.

I've found that a crop of potatoes is excellent at helping to break up the soil. These can easily grown using thick layers of straw as mulch. But a warning! Once you have homegrown potatoes, like their cousin tomatoes, store-bought will never do. I promise.

This method can also be used with existing beds to cut down the weeds and improve the soil. I did it over the winter with several rows in our garden (I need to see things to believe them, you know) and the difference is amazing. I'm finally winning the battle with mustard garlic and creeping buttercup. This fall all rows get this method.

That's it for this week. Send any questions, and I'll try to answer them. It may help me come up with a topic for next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I want to be in pictures

I'm a Simpsons character. My life is now complete. And I've just taken part in a shameless advertising ploy for a movie. Oh well.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

One Local Summer - Week Three

We went southern this week with the local menu. There we no leftovers tonight. The Monkey had two helpings of everything. Some days nothing satisfies like fried catfish. I grew up on the banks of the Missouri River. With the uncharacteristic heat and humidity we've had, I almost feel like I'm back home. The recipe for the catfish was in this month's Gourmet, which is full of local food articles. It was quick and easy without the mess of frying. Don't think that oven-fried means low-fat; there's 4 tablespoons of oil for 4 catfish filets. I toyed with the idea of making some hushpuppies, but thought it safer for the arteries to pass this time.

Oven-Fried Catfish - NC farm-raised, from exactly where I'm not sure. It's soaked in eggs from the garden and dredged in cornmeal from Blue Hill Farm - around 25 miles away.

Green Beans, Yellow Wax Beans from our neighbors' - 2 miles, and Potatoes from the garden - 0 miles, seasoned with Bacon from Spring House Meats/Hickory Nut Gap Farm - 10 miles.

Sweet Corn from a farm in Old Fort, NC - 20 miles

We washed it down with iced tea. Mmmm...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Market Day 7.7.07

It was another great market day. We had plenty of fresh flowers, carrots, potatoes and beets to sell. We picked up a fat chicken for later in the week, as well as green and yellow wax beans.

Hydrate locally

This past Tuesday I listened to a discussion on Public Radio regarding this article and it really got me thinking. I thought I'd share. Where does your water come from?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Weekly Gardening 101

Every gardener needs a helper

Better People Through Better Food. Liz mentioned in a comment for an earlier post the need to encourage more people to get out and plant a garden. I've been mulling over the comment and have decided to address that issue every Friday. I love gardening almost more than eating the things I grow. I may be a little odd that way. If you are new to gardening, or have been gardening a long time, but are stuck in a rut; perhaps this will help. I've found a lot of inspiring stories and information on various blogs and I'd love it if others would share their thoughts. So let's start with some of the basics.


Many people are totally in awe of the ability to grow anything. It's my belief that anyone can garden. It's a matter of knowing needs and limitations - both the plant's and the gardener's. We'll start with the gardener. What are your needs? What are your capabilities? What are your limitations? How much time do you want to spend in the garden? How much time can you realistically and honestly spend in the garden? The last two questions often have very different answers. Discovering a little bit about what kind of gardener you are will help determine what kind of garden you will need.

Many a gardener, myself included, has been overwhelmed by too big a task. Decide what you are truly capable of doing and plan accordingly. It is much easier to start small and grow than to be overextended and feel defeat with too large a garden. A large garden takes a lot of time to prepare and plant. A small garden can take an afternoon to prepare and a few minutes a day to maintain. If you have no garden, but would like to start one, look for the future location now at the peak of the growing season. Pay attention to where the sun is during the day. Vegetables are generally not shade plants and need full sun for at least 6 hours a day. We'll talk more about preparing a bed later. For now, if you have no garden space you can still, even this late in the summer growing season plant things to enjoy. Check your local garden center for plants or buy a pack of fast growing seeds. Soon, in many regions, you can plant for cool weather fall crops (they are often the same crops that are ready early in the spring).

Vegetables can be stuck almost anywhere you can find a space. When we were the uber-urbanites, living in the city (our total lot size was close to the size of my current vegetable garden) we grew tomatoes and peppers on the south side of our porch where the sun managed to squeeze through the mature trees. Lettuce and radishes was planted in the spring intermingled with pansies and impatiens. It was ornamental as well as tasty. I have a friend who lives in a rather restrictive community. The homeowners' association tells people what color they can paint their front doors and how high their grass can be. She's rather stealthfully planted her yard with fruit trees and artfully arranged a garden that feeds her family for most of the summer and beyond. Charlie even had a design client in Kansas City who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very classic, formal landscape and managed to have a spot to grow her own tomatoes each summer.

No space to plant? Find a few 5 gallon or larger black plastic pots. These are used for shrubs, and small trees. Your local garden center may have a few they'd toss your way. Fill them with potting mix (preferably organic) and you have instant garden space. Tomatoes thrive in pots and are less likely exposed to ground-born diseases. My back patio is filled with them right now.

As you start your garden, read. There are many gardening books available. One of my favorites is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, by Edward C. Smith. It's full of easy to read, practical information. Check your local Agricultural Extension - they aren't just for farmers! They can often give very practical advice for your area.

And my last word of advice this week is "have no fear". Plants are actually quite easy once you know what they need. Generally they just need the right amount of water, nutrients and sunlight. Finding that out is often as easy as looking in a book or asking a friend. Sometimes a little experimentation is needed, but that can be part of the fun.

Next Week: An easy, almost no sweat way to prepare a garden bed!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

One Local Summer - Week Two

We shared our meal with Chef Boots and Dr. E, who came up for the day from Winston-Salem. Chef Boots didn't bring bread or dessert, which made me slightly sad, but he made up for it with the wine. Sorry, it wasn't local - on bottle was from California though! We chatted and relaxed and put together an impromptu afternoon feast. A few non-local ingredients were used, but they were already open in the fridge (and just where am I supposed to find North Carolina olives???) It may seem like we're in a rut, but it's a tasty one. Here's the Independence Day menu chez Little Creek.

Grilled Steak - from Virginia (which falls into our "traveling" category of local - it's grown in the county where we spend about a week a month working) - pastured about 5 miles from the worksite.

Cole Slaw - made with cabbage, onion and parsley from The Garden - 0 miles. (The oil, salt, pepper and celery seed were not local, but the vinegar is from NC)

Roasted Potatoes - The Garden - 0 miles.

Carrot Salad - made with carrots, shallots and parsley from The Garden - 0 miles. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (Italy), calamata olives (Greece), salt and pepper were not local.

The carrot salad was amazing - beautiful, simple, satisfying and intense. I plan on making a lunch of the leftovers today. The carrots were so sweet that the last thing they needed were traditional raisins (or as Chef Boots likes to add, dried cherries) We tried some calamata olives and a savory basalmic viniagrette, which Charlie remembered from somewhere, and it was perfect. Since the baby carrots were really too small to shred like in a traditional carrot salad, Dr. E sliced them up, which left them crunchy and showed off their color. The viniagrette I made was simply a little organic olive oil, equal parts baslamic and white basalmic vinegars, sea salt and pepper. Mixed bites with the cole slaw were quite tasty and we thought next time we might combine the two.

We finished off the day watching fireworks in Black Mountain from the school's playground, with friends; our friend, Dave, picking the Star Spangled Banner on his guitar. Perfect.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Celebrating Local

The updates of week one of One Local Summer are up. It's so exciting to see everyone's meals from all over the country (and out of the country too). I spent last evening perusing various entries. I'm getting lots of ideas. It looks like I'll have new blogs to read. Now I just have to find the time.

In the garden I've pulled out the onions. They are small this year, but have good flavor. They are curing now. Charlie has bought lumber to start construction on the root cellar under the porch. This year we won't have to store potatoes under our bed! I've planted more haricot verts, golden wax and Roma beans. I like the Romas for canning. I've also started to fill in where we've dug potatoes. I'm planting cow peas and black eyed peas in those spots. I may not get much of a later crop, but they make a good cover crop and can be left on top of the row over the winter. I've somehow managed to squeeze in lots of garden work in lately. Now if only we'd get some real rain...

Eating locally and gardening go hand in hand. We are finally getting to the time of year when we can go out to the garden and pick dinner. The tailgate market has been a giant boon to the whole process. We've met neighbors that we haven't had a chance to meet in the three years we've lived here. There are many more like-minded people in this valley than I expected and it makes me hopeful that we'll never have subdivisions popping up. There's seems to be a genuine concern to keep this area agricultural and natural. We've also found lots of things we can't grow ourselves - beef, pork, sweet corn. Last night Monkey and I (Charlie was up in Virginia) ate an almost entirely local veggie meal of black-eyed peas and rice, early sweet (very sweet) corn from the co-op in Old Fort, and salad from the garden. The only non-local items were salad dressing, butter and the rice. That's not our "official" OLS meal this week, mind you. We're planning that for later in the week...