Gardening With Don Quixote

by bdunn on July 21, 2014

in Economics, Factory Food, Food, Garden

The below couple posts notwithstanding, I labor under no misconceptions about the ability to provide a significant portion of my family’s food via my own efforts gardening or otherwise.

Suffice it to say that I’m just making a tiny dent. For now. All the fresh tomatoes and figs, and herbs, and hot peppers, and later on the Japanese persimmons – those are delicacies I am truly happy to have. But I realize I’m not producing enough of any of them (well, maybe the hot peppers) to equal a year’s portion for the family. Let alone all the other fruits and vegetables we four would consume in a year.

Lets just say I am working toward something like such a goal. Which is why I’m expanding an automatic watering system out at the Polka Farm, for instance, although by the time we can actually move out there, the immediate size of our family may be down to two.

Really though, I gloss this over a lot, but it’s good to realize that if one really is intent on not having to rely on the so-called just-in-time expensive grocery store food, even if just for vegetables, one is in for considerable work.

Aside from the preparation of a very large garden plot (a task not at all to be scoffed at), one might need to grow the following amounts, according to various sources that sound reasonable to me:

→ Tomatoes (my favorite) – 8-20 plants (I grew seven this year, and while they were very productive plants, I am sure we will use up all the frozen sauces and tomatoes I was able to preserve long before a year has passed).

→ Potatoes (not my favorite from a waistline standpoint, but quite the sustaining vegetable) – 40-120 plants. That would eat up lots of garden space.

→ Sweet Potatoes (that’s more like it, better for you but pretty much just as sustaining) 20 plants. Actually, I would probably grow more of these and much fewer “regular” potatoes.

→ Summer Squash – 16 plants.

→ Peppers – 20-30 plants (I am growing 18 hot pepper plants alone, which indeed has provided a year’s worth of fresh heat plus hot sauces. But sweet pepper plants are far less productive.)

→ Peas – 100 plants or more.

→ Onions – 160-240 plants.

→ Spinach – 40-80 plants.

→ Lettuce – 40-48 plants.

→ Carrots – 40-160 plants.

→ Cabbage – 12-40 plants.

→ Green Beans – 40-80 plants.

And that’s just for starters. Add in various other family favorites, add in herbs. Then consider how much room this many plants requires. And then consider the time required to preserve those vegetables for winter use.

The result is that one family member would have to make gardening pretty much his or her full-time occupation, if the goal were actually to provide the year-round vegetable and fruit needs for the entire family.

So yeah, I realize that at this stage in the game my gardening efforts amount to hobbying, not farming. And yeah, I realize how much more work would be required to pull off what my forebears did a hundred years ago or so. But hey, I’m retired now, and I have more time than I used to for tilting at windmills.

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I remember my grandma had a basement room brimming with canned applesauce and tomatoes and plums and other fruits and vegetables, and she was always adding to the collection.

Now that’s me, straining under the crush of the harvest and turning it into this week’s meals and next winter’s happy freezer discoveries.

Jamaican Hot Chocolate & Scotch Bonnet peppersYou haven’t heard from me much lately because I’ve been picking and processing tomatoes for the past four weeks, and just as they tailed off, the main fig crop started ripening, in a big way. And during both of those harvests, an experimental row of Scotch Bonnet peppers has produced (so far) about 60 balls of fire for me to play with.

Sauces, salsas, salads, pickled, canned, whole frozen, you name it I’ve been doing it. With pleasure, I might add, considering how much I love a real garden tomato and dislike the way grocery food prices are spiraling.

The wildcard this summer has been the Scotch Bonnets. These are like my Jamaican Hot Chocolate peppers in that both of them are variants of habaneros, sharing the same scientific name. But while the Hot Chocolates give off almost a smokey heat and flavor, the Bonnets are sharp and hit the back of your mouth like little lightening bolts, yet just before the heat comes a fruity taste.

I’ve made hot sauce batches featuring tomatoes, papayas, mangos and limes, with a cast that’s included onions, lots of garlic, mustard, honey and brown sugar. Some are only medium-hot, some are very hot indeed. All of them are made with ingredients that happen to be on hand. Which is why this one, made just a few minutes ago, was inevitable:

Tropical Bob’s Flaming Fig Sauce

Ingredients:
- 12 large figs
- 10 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers
- 5-6 large garlic cloves
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method:

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until quite smooth. Empty blender into a large sauce pan and heat until boiling. Allow to boil hard for 3 minutes, then simmer for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Then ladel into sterilized jars. Screw on lids and can in a water bath for about 15 minutes (my batch made about 5 cups of sauce). I imagine these will keep in the cupboard for a year or more.

The sauce is very spicy, but tempered by the sweet figs, sugar and molasses. Depending on your tastes, you could easily tame this by cutting the number of peppers in half. Scotch Bonnets are abundant in the Caribbean, but rarely offered in grocery stores. If you can’t find any, habaneros make a fine substitute. If you decide to cut them open and remove the seeds (which reduces the heat) make sure to put on a pair of latex gloves first, otherwise you may regret touching these bad boys with your uncovered fingers.

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The crush of the harvest is a problem, but one of my favorites. In a good year, time turns in on itself and an extra month overlaps May and June, called Tomato. We’re having a whopping Tomato month this year, which is good because last year’s never really materialized.

Wash In Cold Water With Like Colors - Air DrySeven stout plants grew from the seed I’ve been saving eight or nine years now, stuck in fertile dirt that hadn’t seen a garden in a long while. As a bonus, at least the top couple of inches of soil probably were sanitized by a very hot fire that ripped through our old garage almost a year ago. Maybe that helped keep the wilt viruses off of the plants this year, I don’t know. The plants grew wide and tall, and once they hit about 7 feet and started to lean, I loosely bound their stems together with twine and secured them to heavy wooden trellises behind them to the north. The plants probably would be 10 to 12 feet tall if they were growing straight up.

So far these seven plants have produced many dozens of large, really tasty beefsteak-type fruit. Enough that I’ve made several batches of salsa, several caprese plates, innumerable slices on sandwhiches, salads and popped raw into my mouth, a large glass dishful of roasted ones for use with fresh shrimp, plenty to give away, and so far three batches of a really good fresh sauce I’ve just learned to make. Today I prepared 14 large tomatoes and put them on two cookie sheets in the freezer. After they’ve been in there a few hours, I’ll transfer them to freezer bags and use them in the winter. Still there are more on the window sills, on top of the freezer and the washing machine.

Good Beefsteak Tomatoes Are Meaty With Small Seed CavatiesI wish I could have them fresh for slicing the rest of the summer and fall, but they spoil fairly quickly if you don’t use them – so into the freezer they go, or another batch of this:

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Ingredients:
→ 4 pounds ripe tomatoes, washed, sliced into eight wedges and squeezed gently to remove the seeds and some of the juice
→ 12 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
→ 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped fine
→ 1 medium sweet onion, cut in half
→ 2-4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
→ olive oil
→ salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Pour just enough olive oil into a heavy, deep pan to cover the bottom. Heat the oil with the burner on medium, then add the oregano and the garlic and stir until the garlic begins to yellow. Slice half of the onion and add it to the pot, stirring for a few minutes until it turns golden.

Stir in the tomato wedges and raise the heat a bit. Mash them down with a potato masher. Add a few pinches of salt and ground pepper, then stir the tomatoes. Allow them to boil, then turn the heat down and simmer them for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Allow the tomatoes to cool a little, then pour them into a blender or food processor (you may need to do it in two batches). Blend until smooth.

Add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil to your pot, and while it’s heating, chop the other half-onion very fine, then cook it until golden. Pour the tomato sauce from the blender back into the pot, and add the basil. Simmer 15-25 minutes, or until the sauce thickens up. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

This should make enough sauce for two 16-ounce packages of pasta. You can double the recipe if you like. Freeze whatever sauce you don’t plan on using right away.

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