Archive for September, 2013

September 30, 2013

Exotic Vegetables for the Garden – Asian Vegetables

Now that the 2013 gardening season is winding down it is not too early to start planning for 2014. Most gardeners have their favorite varieties of tomatoes, peppers or potatoes and already have a plan in mind as to where they will go and how much will be planted. Anticipating the coming of the seed catalogs later this year, gardeners with a little flair for experimentation may want to add some exotic or ethnic vegetables to their 2014 planting roster. This week I will talk a little about Asian vegetables.

Vegetables from Asia that are familiar to many American gardeners include bok choi and Chinese cabbage. There are other Asian greens though, that are easy to grow plus pack a great deal of nutrients. Komatsuna is a relative of the turnip family. Also called spinach mustard, it is a large leafy green grown in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. With dark glossy green leaves it is rich in calcium and vitamin A. They can be harvested at any stage and prepared like spinach in the early stages and more like cabbage as they mature. The flavor grows stronger and hotter if allowed to mature and if grown in hot weather. Komatsuna can be stir-fried, pickled, boiled and added to soups or used fresh in salads. Tatsoi is a very similar green that is becoming popular in North America.

Komatsuna Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Komatsuna Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Tatsoi Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Tatsoi Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Pickling is a quite common way to preserve vegetables in Asian countries. Greens, such as the ones mentioned above, as well as just about any vegetable grown, are pickled in one form or another in Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Melons are no exception as with the aptly named “Pickling Melon.” Similar to pickling cucumbers of the west, but much larger, the young melons can be eaten raw or added to a salad as you would a cucumber. Pickling though, is the most common preparation used for this vegetable in Asia. The pickling melon is also versatile enough to be baked stuffed with beef, pork, chicken or vegetables or even used in a stir fry.

Bitter melon is another cucurbit that can be pickled, stuffed, or used in soups. It is native to Southern China and thrives in the heat and humid climate of mid-summer. It has twice the beta carotene of broccoli and is high in potassium and calcium. It also contains high amounts of fiber, phosphorous, and Vitamins C, B1, B2, and B3 and lutein, an important nutrient for eyesight.

 

Bitter Melon Photo: SeriousEats.com

Bitter Melon Photo: SeriousEats.com

 

Daikon Radish is a very large rooted relative of the radish. Used in many ways from Japan to Bangladesh, this vegetable can be stir fried, baked, or used in soups. It can also be used fresh in salads.  In several cuisines the leaves are used in various ways. These include a dish, made for the Japanese Festival of Seven Herbs, which is seven-herb rice porridge (nanakusa-gayu) that is eaten on January 7. The daikon can grow quite large and there are contests for the largest daikon in Japan. It is used frequently in Korean kim chee. Like many Asian veggies, the daikon is often pickled.

 

 

Daikon Radish Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Daikon Radish Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Yardlong Bean, also called Chinese Long Bean or sometimes Asparagus Bean, is a bean that is not directly related to the common pole bean, but is grown in much the same way. As its name implies, it grows from 14 to 30 inches long. It is used in many stir fries, soups, or in many dishes that call for green beans.

 

Yardlong Bean Photo: Lion Seeds

Yardlong Bean Photo: Lion Seeds

 

Chinese broccoli or gai-lan, a broccoli relative, is also called Chinese kale or kailan. The edible vegetable consists of a tender green flower stem with buds of what will become white flowers. The leaves and stems are light to medium green in color. Different varieties of gai-lan vary in stem length and color from light to medium green. It grows best in cooler weather and is great in stir fries.

The vegetables mentioned above are grown in much the same way as their western counterparts. The leafy greens and the daikon are grown like other brassicas, the melons like other cucurbits and so on. The list I have discussed only includes a few of many more vegetables grown by Asian gardeners that can just as easily be grown in our country.  If you feel a little adventurous try an Asian vegetable in your garden next year! In Future articles, I will talk about vegetables from other parts of the world.

 

PurdueUniversity has several publications on growing Asian vegetables including: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1996/V3-488.html

And  http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-187.pdf

A couple of sources of Asian vegetable seeds are:

Kitazawa Seed Company http://www.kitazawaseed.com/

Evergreen Seeds http://www.evergreenseeds.com/vegetableseeds.html

Advertisements
September 23, 2013

Saving Tomato Seed is Easy

It’s the end of the garden season and, in taking stock of what you produced this year, you may have some standouts in taste and quality among the tomatoes included in the bounty of your garden. You may have received a really great heirloom tomato from a friend and wish you could get some of those seeds for yourself.

Or you may have a true heirloom, one tomato that has been passed down from generation to generation. There are many reasons to save seeds from year-to-year. Some other reasons that I did not mention above are that saved seeds are free and it is a lot of fun to do-it-yourself. To show you how to save seeds from every vegetable grown is nearly impossible in one article, so since tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown, I will demonstrate saving tomato seeds.

One word of warning, saving tomato seeds can be kind of gross, but the following is the way it is done by commercial seed companies. It is also the way it is done for other kinds of produce with interiors that can be described as gloppy or gooey, such as cucumbers and cantaloupes. In fact, in nature these types of vegetables take advantage of the fact that an animal will carry its fruit away, but not eat the gooey part. Nature uses bacteria then to separate the seed from the glop.

An  heirloom variety that I am saving

An heirloom variety that I am saving

 

Another variety I am saving that started as a volunteer

Another variety I am saving that started as a volunteer

To save tomato seed the first step is to pick out specimens that have qualities that you want to keep. Whether this is size or taste, choose what you want to see growing next year. Tomatoes are self fertile so what you save will more than likely breed true. That is to say, you will get the same variety when you grow the seeds again. This is not necessarily true of hybrids though. They may revert back to one of the breeding stock that they were derived from rather than their current form, but there is also a chance that you will get the same hybrid. This is called hybrid stabilization. Also, pick fully ripe fruit from healthy, disease free plants.

 

 

"Goop" in a clear jar with a little water added

“Goop” in a clear jar with a little water added

The seed from the tomato will be fermented to release it from the goop in the tomato. To start this process, cut the tomato across the “equator” of the fruit. Scoop out or squeeze out the “goop” with the seed that is encased within it into a clear container, such as a jar. (Cutting across the “equator” of the fruit makes it easier to squeeze out the seed). Add a little water to the jar to help suspend the seed; it does not need to be full. Too much water will slow down the action of the bacteria that are fermenting the fruit.

Mold forming on the surface of the seed-water mixture

Mold forming on the surface of the seed-water mixture

 

 

After a couple of days you will see mold forming on the top of the water. When you see this appear, gently stir the seed and water. If you do not stir, the mold may affect the viability of the seed. In a few days the viable seed will sink to the bottom. Skim off all of the material that floats, including any floating seeds. Dump the remaining seed into a strainer or colander that has holes that will not allow the seed to pass through.

 

Viable seeds have sunk to bottom

Viable seeds have sunk to bottom

Using a garden hose (preferable) or a kitchen faucet, spray the seed to wash away the remaining glop. The seed may stink at this point and you may want to do this outside. Once the seed is clean, you will want to place the seed on a coffee filter or on a wooden surface so it can dry. If you use a paper towel or a piece of office paper the seed may stick. Plastic surfaces may cause the seed to rot before it is dry. Put the seed in a warm dry place and let them dry until they break readily, instead of just bending. Store the seed in a cool dry place in an envelope or in a dry mason jar. Some people freeze seed but you really need to know the moisture content to do this as the seed may rupture if the moisture content is too high.

Fermented seed before cleaning

Fermented seed before cleaning

Cleaning seed with a hose

Cleaning seed with a hose

 

Seeds after  cleaning

Seeds after cleaning

If you save only the best seed year after year you will have a true heirloom, totally acclimated to the climate of your garden location and you will have varieties of tomatoes you can call your own. As I said, the process above can be used for cucumber and cantaloupe seeds. You will have to let the fruit of these become very yellow and ripe and save seed from fruit after the vine has died. There are many publications and websites that show how to saves seeds from all possible vegetables grown.

The Seed Savers Exchange has a tutorial on saving tomato seeds here:

http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Webinar-Archive/#tomato

The author, Nancy Bubel, has written several books on seed starting and saving:

http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Seed-Starters-Handbook/dp/0878577521

Another good book on saving seeds was written by Robert E. Gough:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Guide-Saving-Seeds/dp/1603425748/ref=pd_sim_b_6

September 18, 2013

2013 Golden Beet Award Winners Announced

Image

Monica Eng, Chicago Honey Co-op, and Community Shares Project of Rogers Park are among the 2013 Golden Beet Award winners named at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s annual Harvest Celebration in Springfield on Sunday.

The Golden Beet Awards grew out of a desire by Illinois Stewardship Alliance to highlight ingenuitive local food practices so that they might get the recognition they deserve, and so that they can serve as a guide for others.

“There are so many people doing really exciting and original things when it comes to local food. A lot of time those people don’t get any recognition, let alone the recognition they deserve. We think of the Golden Beet Awards as a way to highlight some really special people and draw people’s attention to what’s going on with agriculture in the state,” Wes King, Illinois Stewardship Alliance executive director, said.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance solicits nominations from the general public for the following categories: farm to school; restaurants and institutions; community food projects; innovative farmer; scaling up; and other.

A committee then goes through the nominees and decides on the winners in the specific categories. The committee can decide not to give an award for a certain category if the nominees for a category don’t fit within the Golden Beet parameters.

 

The 2013 winners are:

 

Community Food Project

Name: Community Shares Project of Roger Park.

Website: http://www.glenwoodsundaymarket.org/communityshares.htm

The Community Shares Project is a cutting-edge community food access program.  A collaboration of Glenwood Sunday Market, St. Ignatius Church Food Pantry and Christopher House, the project purchases Community Supported Agriculture shares from the farmers of Glenwood Sunday Market and gives the food away at no charge to food insecure Rogers Park families. Rogers Park is the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago where nearly 50 percent of children under the age of five live below the poverty line. Community Shares includes an educational component presented in English and Spanish that helps the participating families learn how to incorporate more local, fresh fruits and vegetables into their everyday diets with the goal of helping families develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This unique project purchased 15 CSA shares from local farmers in its first year (2012) and gave away the 3,000 pounds of produce to more than 100 food insecure families.

 

Innovative Farmer

Name: Michael Thompson, owner of Chicago Honey Co-op

Website: http://www.chicagohoneycoop.com/

Chicago Honey Co-op's previous location in North Lawndale Photo:Chicago Honey Co-op

Chicago Honey Co-op’s previous location in North Lawndale Photo:Chicago Honey Co-op

Since 2004, Chicago Honey Co-op has been a pioneer in urban beekeeping. Officially becoming an Illinois registered agricultural cooperative in 2006, it uses cooperative principles as a guide to foster greater understanding of the honey bee’s place in an urban environment, the close relationship between pollinators and the food supply and the good that can come from deep community relationships. One of three founding members and a lifelong beekeeper, Michael Thompson has been mentor to a countless number of students, trainees, neighbors, and new beekeepers. His commitment to sustainable chemical free agriculture has been a hallmark of the Co-op’s mission. The honey that results from this work is just a bonus that helps enable it to continue.

Restaurant and Institutions (tie)

Name: Ken Myszka, owner, chef, of Station 220

Website: http://www.stationtwotwenty.com/

Ken Myszka Photo: Station 220

Ken Myszka Photo: Station 220

Ken is a native of Illinois who went to culinary school in New York and then went to Las Vegas to get a degree in hospitality management followed by working in restaurants across the U.S. before deciding to come back to Illinois to his family’s farm with the goal of growing his own ingredients for a farm to fork restaurant. Ken is the farmer and the chef, splitting his days between his farm and restaurant. I love eating at Station 220 not only because of the fresh, local, and delicious food but because the servers know so much about the food that they are serving. They can tell you how the food was grown, as well as how it was prepared. As Central Illinois’s only farm-to-fork restaurant they are not only providing a great place to eat, but they are educating consumers and other hospitality professionals about the beauty of the sustainable food movement by providing an outstanding dining experience. Station 220 is at: 220 E Front St  Bloomington, IL 61701

AND

Name: Dan King chef at Camp Ondessonk

Website: http://www.ondessonk.com/

Dan King has helped initiate Camp Ondessonk’s local food sourcing program.  For the first time in the over 50 years of Camp Ondessonks operations, their food service now sources local produce and pork from Southern Illinois Farmers. Camp Ondessonk operates year around, but serves over 2,500 children during 9 weeks of summer camp.  Campers are now served local greens, cucumber, melons, garlic, peppers, and other local seasonal produce that has been incorporated into the daily meal service.  In addition to using local produces they have also started to source local pork products from a local Southern Illinois Farmer, the meat is processed at Open Gate Meats of Ana, IL. 2012 was the first year of Camp Ondessonk’s sourcing local initiative, but this will be a great foundation to grow from. Camp Ondessonk is located in the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois, near Ozark, Illinois

Other Varieties

Name: Monica Eng former Watchdog Reporter for the Chicago Tribune, current producer at WBEZ

Monica Eng Photo: Chicago Tribune

Monica Eng Photo: Chicago Tribune

Monica was nominated in recognition of her focus on cooking, health, sustainability and local food in her writing for the Chicago Tribune. Her in-depth coverage of the local and sustainable food scene, her efforts as a watchdog reporter as it pertains to food issues as well as her writing on subjects ranging from traveling to a farm to procure a live turkey for Thanksgiving to butchering a whole hog has given her readers an unvarnished look at food.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a nonprofit that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, local food systems through policy development, advocacy, and education.

To keep up to date on Illinois Stewardship Alliance, visit

http://www.ilstewards.org/

or

https://www.facebook.com/ilstewards

or follow ISA on twitter, @ilstewards.

goldenbeetpic

September 17, 2013

Save Eggplant Seeds the Seed Savers Exchange Way

Saving seeds from heirloom varieties is one of the greatest ways to be local and sustainable. For those who are interested The Seed Savers exchange will be hosting a free webinar on eggplant seed saving. From the SSE website:

“Eggplant is a wonderfully diverse crop-type that can be addictive for chefs and seed savers alike. Though its spongy flesh makes seed removal a bit more complicated, saving seeds from this self-pollinating Solanum is fairly straightforward. Join us to learn how you can grow and maintain many different varieties in your own backyard.”

The webinar will be on September 23, 2013 7:00 p.m., Central Time

If you wish to attend this free webinar please register here.

September 17, 2013

Illinois Stewardship Alliance Publishes Legal Guide for Farmers

Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Stewardship Alliance today released a legal guide for farmers wanting to sell directly to consumers, restaurants and others.

The guide is intended to be an introduction to the legal framework surrounding agriculture for beginning and current farmers who are interested in being part of the fastest growing sector of their industry – direct farm marketing of vegetables, fruits, meats and other products.

Specific to Illinois, the guide is a handy reference on topics like taxing, zoning, liability insurance, cottage food laws, and regulations that pertain to specific foods.

“I’m excited about the potential of this guide to help beginning and current farmers make the leap into local and organic food sales,”Wes King, Illinois Stewardship Alliance executive director and guide co-author, said.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance first published a legal guide for farmers interested in direct farm marketing in 2003. Changes to the laws and rules regarding food, such as the passage of the Cottage Food Act, compost reform, and federal Food Safety Modernization Act, demanded an update.

“My hope is that this guide will help people grow safe food, form successful business ventures and make the vision of local and organic food as an engine of prosperity for our community, our state and our region real,” Rich Schell, an attorney that focuses on agriculture-related issues and guide co-author, said.

The guide, officially titled “Guide to Illinois Laws Governing Direct Farm Marketing,” is also in the process of being translated into Spanish. The Spanish translation is set to be released later in the year.

In addition to farmers, King said the guide will prove useful to educators in the field of local food and economic developers who provide technical assistance to farmers and entrepreneurs.

Hard copies of the guide can be obtained from the Illinois Stewardship Alliance by calling 217-528-1563 or emailing isa@ilstewards.org. A PDF of the guide is available at ISA’s website, www.ilstewards.org.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is a nonprofit that promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, local food systems through policy development, advocacy, and education.

To keep up to date on Illinois Stewardship Alliance, visit https://www.facebook.com/ilstewards or follow ISA on twitter, @ilstewards.

September 13, 2013

Ratatouille – Fresh Garden Tomatoes, Peppers, Zucchini, and Eggplants all in One Dish

Among the most popular vegetables planted by gardeners are tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Among the reasons that these particular vegetables are popular is the fact that they are easy to grow and each gives a lot of produce while taking up a relatively small area. This is especially valuable for city dwellers who may have only small plots to grow on and do not want to take up a lot of space with crops that will give much less produce per square foot.

Photo: www.courierpress.com

Photo: http://www.courierpress.com

 

Many of the unique varieties of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant are also give heavy yields. This leads to a problem, that being what do you do with what you have left after you have canned, frozen, and given away the bulk of your crop? You may want to use them all in the same dish. One thing you can make is Ratatouille. Ratatouille is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice. The full name of the dish is ratatouille niçoise. According to Wikipedia:

Ratatouille Photo: Wikipedia

Ratatouille Photo: Wikipedia

“The word ratatouille comes from Occitan ratatolha and the recipe comes from Occitan cuisine. The French touiller means to toss food. Ratatouille originated in the area around present day Occitan Provença (French: Provence) and Niça (French: Nice); the Catalan samfaina and the Majorcan tombet are versions of the same dish. The southern Italian ciambotta is a related spring vegetable dish.”

Occitan is a language spoken in the South of France.

Emeril Lagasse' version of Ratatouille Photo: Food Network

Emeril Lagasse’s version of Ratatouille Photo: Food Network

Ratatouille is a perfect way to get rid of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant that are piling up this time of year. The following is a recipe for Ratatouille from Emeril Lagasse borrowed from the Food Network:

Ratatouille:

(Emeril Lagasse’s recipe)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed

1 1/2 cups small diced yellow onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 cups medium diced eggplant, skin on

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 cup diced green bell peppers

1 cup diced red bell peppers

1 cup diced zucchini squash

1 cup diced yellow squash

1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Set a large 12-inch saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the eggplant and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the green and red peppers, zucchini, and squash and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Stir well to blend and serve either hot or at room temperature.

 

Emeril also uses yellow summer squash in his version of this dish. There are many other versions and like I said this is a great way to use all of these popular vegetable up in one dish. Of couse anybody, even those without gardens, can make it asl well. Farmers markets are flush with most of the ingredients above so it is a way to eat local too!

 

September 10, 2013

Chicago Area Folks Flock to See Backyard Birds

Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts Present the 4th Annual Windy City Coop Tour

Chicago, IL – On Saturday, September 21 and Sunday, September 22, nineteen Chicagoland keepers of backyard poultry will again open their yards to visitors during the 4th Annual Windy City Coop Tour, sharing their enthusiasm for raising chickens, ducks, and more in the city.  Visitors can tour any or all Host coop locations during this free, self-guided event, which starts at 10AM and ends at 2PM each day.

Keeping backyard chickens is allowed in Chicago and some surrounding suburbs, including Evanston and Oak Park. In recent years, more area residents are raising chickens at home, often integrated with backyard gardens, compost systems, beehives, and other elements of urban food production.
 
Visitors on the Windy City Coop Tour meet chickens and their people, and learn how city dwellers are incorporating chickens and more into their yards and lifestyles. Visitors can ask Tour hosts about coops, feed, breeds, costs, and their experiences raising healthy chickens in the city and suburbs.
 
Tour organizer Martha Boyd, Program Director at Angelic Organics Learning Center in Chicago, looks forward to the Tour each year. “It’s a great chance for people to see examples first-hand and meet members of the growing network around Chicagoland sharing information, advice, and resources with each other.” On November 9, the Learning Center will again offer its comprehensive Basic Backyard Chicken Care workshop, with instructor Jen Murtoff of Home to Roost Urban Chicken Consulting.
Coop de Hill
 
For more information, including maps and descriptions of coop locations on this year’s  Tour, visit the Windy City Coop Tour page on the Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts website, www.chicagochickens.org.
 
 
The Windy City Coop Tour is organized by the Chicagoland Chicken Enthusiasts, a forum for people in and around Chicago who keep, or are interested in keeping, backyard chickens.  Tour sponsors are Angelic Organics Learning Center (http://learngrowconnect.org), Home to Roost Urban Chicken Consulting (http://urbanchickenconsultant.wordpress.com/), Chicago Pet Direct home delivery service (www.backyardchickenrun.com), and others including: Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), The Heartland Cafe, Christy Webber Landscapes, Niles Animal Hospital, Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, and the Glenwood Sunday Market.
September 4, 2013

Vive le Terroir – A Review

“Even McDonald’s here features onions from Brittany.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/sunday-review/vive-le-terroir.html?ref=stevenerlanger

A really good article in the Sunday New York Times expressed a thought that I feel a lot of people in the local food movement have about eating local. Many people who don’t share the sentiment of those who like to eat local feel that it is all about some kind of contest where one has to prove that all of the food that they ate was procured locally. It is really more sophisticated than that and in explaining what the term “terrior” means to the French, New York Times news analyst Steven Erlinger has also articulated what many of the folks in the local food movement are, I think, generally trying to say.

Photo: New York Times

Photo: New York Times

Terrior is sometimes translated as”a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of a product. It is a loanword from French who use it to describe both the qualities that a wine has as well as its use for other products such coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, wheat, and tea. In other words soil, water, and the weather in a locale can effect the quality and taste of a product grown or raised in an area. The concept is also applied to other Protected Appellations of Origin (PDOs a form of geographical indication), products such as cheeses.

Mr. Erlinger explains that while this definition may apply to French products living up to an E.U. bureaucratic technicality it also has a deeper meaning. And although in parts of the article he seems to discount what terroir means to local food with sentences like “Though related to the farm-to-table and locavore movements of a new generation, terroir is not about proximity, but about honesty and community,”  he goes on to to point out the importance of the word to the French and in doing so, its relation to the local food movement:

“The importance of terroir to the French psyche and self-image is difficult to overestimate, because it is a concept almost untranslatable, combining soil, weather, region and notions of authenticity, of genuineness and particularity — of roots, and home — in contrast to globalized products designed to taste the same everywhere.”

Thus the meaning of eating local!

Photo: howdoyousaythatword.com

Photo: howdoyousaythatword.com

Overall the article basically says that the French had a sense of what the concept of “eating locally” was centuries ago. It is a notion that is beyond ideology, not conservative or liberal, but of something deeper. As the French in the article say it is not just about proximity or being organic, “local” or “terroir,” are concepts that give a sense of place. They help to tie people to the land, give people roots and a connection to the past, and help to grow a local culture.