Hippie Finally gets her Sh*t Together and Does Something

Lazy rain barrel.

A year-and-a-half ago I bought this beautiful wine barrel on Craigslist, with the idea of making a rain barrel out of it. To be clear, I have tons of interest in making things that are useful to me. The problem is, however, that I have much less interest in ruining cool things because I have tons of interest in making things that are useful to me. And so, the wine barrel sat at the side of our house for six seasons without so much of a glance.

Action shot! Go rain barrel! Woohooooo!

The lack of rain this year finally broke me down, and two hardware store trips later, I have a pretty little rain barrel that I don’t even think I ruined. And, I kid you not, it took no more than fifteen minutes to do it, and $15 (besides for the cost of the wine barrel, which was much more expensive). And that doesn’t even account for the contact high I was rewarded with when the deeply-oaked whiskey fumes escaped holes I drilled.  My tools:

A hand-drill. A drill bit. A faucet. A plug (for the barrel hole).

I’ll be putting a screen over the top to stop the mosquitoes from mak’in babies in it, but for now I’m just pooped from finally having done something. Whew.

Lazy Hippie: Food that Preserves Itself

Dried mustard seed just harvested from the garden.

I just found out that you can cut up vegetables, throw them in a jar full of water and some salt, wait a few days, and they will have preserved themselves. This seems like magic to me. I can’t believe that this is actually the state of the world, and I have just learned about it.  And, not only do these veggies magically preserve themselves, but afterwards they will be brimming with healthy bacteria and, in some respects, the veggies will be more nutritious than the raw vegetable itself.

Mustard seed, grape leaves, salt, and dill in the pickling jar.

I’ve always loved fresh sauerkraut, and have been making my own for a little while now, but I had no idea that this process could be extended to, well, everything. Guacamole, hot sauce, blueberry soda, salsa, vinegar, pickled carrots, grape leaves, and, of course, pickles. The University of MN Extension has a page on safely making fermented pickles and sauerkraut, which, in my opinion, is a little on the overly-cautious side because their recipes ask that you, after fermenting the pickles, kill the ferment by putting it in a hot water bath to avoid spoilage. I’m more of the “smell it cautiously and eat it ravenously” mentality.

I put grape leaves in my jar, because I read that the tannins can help keep the vegetables crispy, and since I have a grape plant in my backyard, it seemed like an easy thing to try. Not to mention the possibility of making my own stuffed grape leaves from the link above!

Green beans, cucumber, and a hot pepper with the mustard seed, grape leaves, dill, and salt.

A Saint Paul Beer Fest tasting glass holding the veggies under the brine.

A lot of the recipes require the addition of whey or kefir to the brine, but I found that this is just to stack the cards in your favor with a “starter” bacteria. By eliminating the whey, you’re allowing the natural bacteria on the vegetables themselves to run the show. The addition of salt, and keeping the vegetable mass under the brine (away from oxygen) allows the “good” bacteria to happily procreate like bunnies without competition from the bad bacteria.

It’s the time of the season where crazy garden harvests begin, and in this moment, having this discovery, it appears that canning does not have to be the impending nightmare that it is. Time to go crock-shopping!

My current “wild ferments.” Lemons, beans, cucumbers. The middle jar is the furthest along, you can tell by the cloudy brine and the washed out color. I’ve been tasting it along the way, and and once it hits the level of tangy-ness I love, I’ll refrigerate it and eat it at my own pace.


The Pesto Portion of the Show has Arrived

The time of the season has arrived where I concede that my basil plants are not getting any bigger, reluctantly harvest the newly-bolting bushes, transform them into pesto, and liberally gob it onto everything I put in my mouth until I run out. This year I made a raw cashew pesto and a hazelnut pesto, which are absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, I used almost the entire bottle of olive oil that I brought back from my recent trip to Italy, which means less olive oil for me to bathe my tomatoes in.

In the past if I wanted to make pesto I’ve procured large bunches of basil for cheap from our local farmers markets. Since my front yard garden has limited sun, the basil never gets bigger than a spindly 10-inch branch. But this year, with my full-sun community garden plot, each basil plant has formed deliciously dense little bushes.

The great thing about pesto is that I feel like I can’t really screw it up. It’s not like you ruin a batch by putting in too much of <insert one the most-delicious-ingredients-in-the-world here>. This time I put in basil, shredded raw milk Romano cheese, crushed garlic, salt, and olive oil with hazelnuts in one batch and raw cashews in the other. To store it in the freezer I divide the batches up into serving sizes and top ‘em off with olive oil. I’m usually too lazy to label them, but this year I actually did. No pesto surprise flavors this year!

The little packs of pesto make an easy, and ridiculously quick meal whether it be some grilled fish or chicken or pasta. Just thaw it out and slap it on. Bonus points for actual slapping.

Community Garden day on Saturday!

Wanna get to know the Twin Cities? Make time on Saturday! Statewide, participating gardens celebrate Community Garden Day  by opening up their (mostly figurative) gates to their communities to commiserate, socialize, share, and show-off their hard work so far this year!

You might be shy about showing up to some of these unfamiliar gardens with unfamiliar people, but I guarantee these community gardeners are so excited about hosting hoards of guests for the day, and more importantly, getting to know their neighbors. Here is a directory of participating gardens and their planned events.  I love the Community Garden Day Map on the CGD website. You can see the locations of the gardens that are participating, and click on the dots to see what’s going on. Many of the gardens are hosting meals, live music, projects, games, classes, tours, and hundreds of other activities to suit your interests.

The community garden I participate in, Sholom Community Garden in Saint Paul, was pretty late to the show this year, but we’re still planning on a casual potluck lunch, garden tours, and lawn games from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.  Many of my fellow gardeners will be there, and I know at least a few of us are so proud of our garden space. With all of the challenges it has given us (mostly having to do with weed-seeds), we’ve still managed to transform a weedy, empty piece of land into a productive, beautiful space. And we really want you to come see it! So please stop by for lunch!

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Some events I noticed:

MCTC Urban Farm Collective in Downtown Minneapolis

3-7pm – Potluck, art in the garden, live music, kids cooking classes, and educational demonstrations of several types of composting

Midway Green Spirit Community Garden  – Pierce Butler Rd & Hamline Ave

12-3pm – visitors can do our Show and Tell Activity at their own pace, meandering through the garden to read what our gardeners have learned and what makes them proud!
1pm – Community Circle: One of our gardeners will talk about the volunteer effort to grow and donate food to a local food pantry.
1:15pm – Growing Peppers for Seasoning: Another gardener has been growing peppers for 10+ years and has developed his own method for preparing the peppers to make spice blends.
1:30pm – Beehive Demonstration: One of our bee-keepers will talk about caring for the beehives at Green Spirit.

NE United Methodist Church Gardens – Cleveland & Lowry NE

7-9pm – Enjoy a grilled slice of the pizza garden; garden tours; recycled garden art activity.

Eat Street Community Garden – 2416 1st Ave

4-5pm – Opening night of “The Return of King Idomeneo: A Picnic Operetta,” by Mixed Precipitation. 5-course tasting menu of performance inspired delicacies served during the show. Donations accepted; reservations encouraged.

5-6pm – Gathering.

North End Community Garden – 3027 Penn Ave N

11 – 2pm – Fresh, homemade foods, using gardengrown ingredients; steel pan drum duo; tours of the garden.

Cornercopia U of M Student Organic Farm – Dudley Ave & Lindig Ave

4-7pm -  Potluck; live music; tours; season extension & composting workshops; croquet tournament; make a Cornercopia T-shirt; plant fall crop seedlings to take home!

Community Garden Day on Twin Cities Daily Planet

Hippie’s Been Had: Sunberries

I’d like to think that This Hippie was not born yesterday. I do a lot of obsessive research about plants, food, and gardening to make sure that I understand what’s going on. But then things like this happen to invite speculation that, perhaps, I am just a chump. In fairness, I tend to have the same compulsions that many edible gardeners have – to find new exciting plants to grow and new delicious food to eat. And so, last spring when I was in one of my favorite shops, Eggplant Urban Farm Supply, perusing the seeds, and ran into this mystery seed pack labeled “Sunberry” I immediately became intrigued and bought a pack for planting this year. And plant I did.

Cultivated sunberry plants in my front-yard edible garden.

After taking a look-see at these plants, I noticed that they looked suspiciously like a weed growing in my boulevard:

Boulevard (“Wild”) Sunberry Plant. Please notice that it is much more mature than the plants that I cultivated.

And wouldn’t you know it. They are the same damn plant. Although not indicated on the “Sunberry” seed pack, I found out from this book that “Sunberry” is merely a name given to the plant Black Nightshade to distract from its relation to Deadly Nightshade, which is highly poisonous. And black nightshade is a ubiquitous weed that grows prolifically in the Midwest including, for example, the uncultivated section of my boulevard. It’s related to many of the most delicious cultivated garden vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes.

The sepal of the deadly nightshade berry extends beyond the fruit. So, for the Love of God, don’t eat it. attribution.

After making sure the Boulevard plant (white flowers; bug-eaten leaves; berry clusters; sepal is smaller than the berry) was not deadly nightshade (purple flowers; generally uneaten leaves; single berries; sepal is bigger than the berry; smells of death), I tasted this unexpected treat, and promptly pulled out two of the three plants taking up space in my community garden plot. In flavor it’s very similar to ground cherry, which I don’t get very excited about – at least when compared to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. And, since it’s in the same family as those other vegetables, it’s competing for the same nutrients as the tomato plants sitting next to it.  I did keep one plant because maybe it will make a unique salsa or something. We’ll see. The one remaining black nightshade plant in my plot is, by far, outperforming all of my tomato, pepper and eggplant plants. So at the very least it is sucking up nutrients which will make lovely compost for a future garden bed.

Eat Local Farm Tour Tomorrow – Free and Self-Guided!

From this month’s Edible Twin Cities:

Cute little pollinator.

Have you ever been curious about the men and women who are operating local, sustainable farms in the Twin Cities area? You have an opportunity this Saturday to meet some of them by taking the second annual Eat Local Farm Tour.

Sponsored by Twin Cities’ co-op grocers, “Meet Your Farmer!” encourages urbanites to discover where their food comes from, peek at the inner workings of farm life and sample products.

Eleven Minnesota farmers participated in the 2011 inaugural tour, which drew more than 500 attendees. The farms, which supply vegetable, meat and dairy products to local food cooperatives, are all within a 100-mile radius of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The free, self-guided tour is Saturday, July 21. Hours of operations differ from farm to farm. Find a free, detailed guidebook with maps at all participating co-op locations: Eastside, Just Food, Lakewinds, Linden Hills, Mississippi Market, River Market, Seward, St. Peter, Valley Natural Foods and The Wedge.

For more information, visit the tour’s Facebook page: facebook.com/EatLocalFarmTour.coop.

Edible Twin Cities Facebook Page

Eat Local Farm Tour Guidebook

Japanese Beetles: A List For Destruction

Japanese beetles in the process of decimating my soybeans. They must be stopped.

For the last couple weeks, Japanese beetles have been making their seasonal appearance, and now they have crashed our party in vast numbers. Boldly strutting into our gardens like they own the place, rudely eating what is not meant for them, and offensively humping on every available surface. It’s like an 80′s coke party except these assholes are stone-cold sober.

The Japanese beetles are an invasive species, and are very capable of destroying many different types of plants. In my gardens they are particular to my grape vine and my soybeans. The beetles start out as grubs that hatch from eggs below the soil surface.

There are a number of things you can do to limit the populations. I am personally against the use of insecticides for the adult beetles that can also harm other insects (not to mention my food), so taking that into account, here is my list, in order of my most preferred, to least preferred:

List for Japanese Beetle Destruction

1. A bucket of soapy water, and knock the beetles in.

My bucket o’ death.

I hate to get all high-tech on you, but the beetles are generally slow to take flight, and in a typical home garden a daily (or every-few-days if you’re like me) walk through will be enough to avoid catastrophe. I keep my bucket of water perpetually on the porch so that I can just grab it quickly when I’m walking by. This was my sole approach last year and was happy with the results. This year I’ve noticed some of the beetles are more willing and able to fly away. Has anyone else noticed this?

2. Parasitic Nematodes.

There are species of nematodes that feed on the grubs. Locally, I’ve known Bachman’s to have nematodes in stock, and suppliers on Amazon.com have nematodes, as well. You apply the nematodes to the soil at night, and then keep the soil moist to keep them alive. Keep in mind you’ll just be reducing the grubs in your yard, and some beetles can (and will) fly in from elsewhere.

3. Plant geraniums!

Geranium flowers can be deadly to the Japanese beetle. A particular amino acid in a geranium flower that causes paralysis of the Japanese beetle is identified in this study, and you can watch the paralysis here. This blogger has had success controlling Japanese beetles with geraniums.

4. Pheromone traps.

Pheromone traps use scents to attract Japanese beetles from surrounding areas, at which point you drown them as in #1, or kill them some other way. There is much disagreement about this approach, because it does seem that the trap attracts more beetles to your area without being able to trap all of them. However, I am of the opinion that I’d rather attract them from a neighbor who chooses not to control their populations and just control the population myself. This is an example pheromone trap on Amazon.com: Japanese Beetle Trap.

5. Milky Spore Disease.

This is a bacteria that you can introduce to the soil that does not affect beneficial insects, but causes disease in the Japanese beetle grubs. I just saw some at my Ace Hardware store. The U of M Extension and at least one entomologist at Ohio State says that recent trials show milky spore has not been particularly effective.


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