A Wild Tangle

Back when I first became interested in the Cretan diet, somewhere I read a saying that I cannot remember accurately but that went something like this: “better my own greens and olives than foreign  sugar doled out to me by others.”  From a health standpoint, certainly, better any greens than any sugar, no matter where it came from.  So after the broccoli under frost blankets in my garden beds finally gave in, having produced most of the winter, I pulled out the broccoli plants for the goat and chickens  and left all the weedy little seedlings under the blankets to grow into salad greens.  In addition to real weeds like wild lettuce and arugula and sow thistle, which sow themselves all over the place at my house,  there are some greens like chickweed which are very weedy in other parts of the country, but which I actually had to start from purchased seed because they don’t grow around here.  Another treat that I am really enjoying in salads right now is celery micro greens, of which I have a large cluster simply because I forgot to cut down one of last year‘s celery plants before it went to seed. Now, tender 4 inch high celery has formed a dense patch over a foot in diameter, and it is very delicious in salad. With a wide enough assortment of wild and semiwild greens and herbs, a simple vinaigrette is all you need to have a great salad or side dish. Add some meat, eggs, or cheese and you have a meal.

I did make sure to have one established dandelion plant under frost blankets, but it is not doing any better than the ones in the open. Dandelions absolutely resist being civilized, and they do not adapt to us. They just keep doing their own gloriously wild thing.  Dandelions also resist selective breeding. I have bought expensive packets of seed that purported to produce larger, thicker-leaved, more delicious dandelions, and they are exactly like all the other dandelions around. This year, in some fit of madness, I spent €24 ordering two packets of highly specialized dandelion seed from France, despite the fact that I know perfectly well they will come out exactly like the common yard dandelion.

Early spring is the perfect time to learn to do a little foraging, if that is not already one of your hobbies. I would suggest starting out with the wonderful book from John Kallas, Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food From Dirt to Plate.  Most of the plants that Dr. Kallas describes will be found in your area, because they are common and  ubiquitous, and he will  teach you to identify like an expert and then get you doing delicious things with them.

Just recently, over maybe the last six months, I have noticed that any post I write that is tagged as having anything to do with wild lettuce gets an astounding amount of attention.  I wish that somebody could explain this to me. Because I have been foraging and eating this plant for a good 20 years, and  despite some strange Internet rumors I feel that I can definitively say as follows: it will not relieve pain. It will not cure insomnia. It will not get you high. I wish I understood where these ideas came from, because they certainly did not come from anybody with a knowledge of foraging wild plants.  Really, if your goal is to get high, please leave the wild lettuce for those of us who just like to eat greens.

Spring Alliums

This time of year there are bushels of green alliums in the garden, and I don’t know of anything as healthy and tasty. Don’t think of them as a seasoning. They are a vegetable, and should be eaten in satisfying quantities.
One proviso: this applies to fresh green alliums from your garden. The leeks that you buy at the store have tough leaves and aren’t suited for this treatment.

My urban homestead

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One of the many reasons that I love green garlic and green alliums generally is that they are among the earliest things to come out of the garden, assuming that you planted in early fall. I have plenty of summer veggies in my freezer, but as the days start to lengthen I get ravenously keen for the first real, fresh greens, and by mid-February I’m eating out of the garden again.

For early green alliums, plant some in a block that you can cover with Agribon or other frost blanket material. I like to put a short row of my regular yellow storage onions in this block in September, and each will divide and make four or five superbly sweet green onions in early spring.

Garlic is another must, and my favorite for early green garlic is Chinese Pink, because it is super-early and is eight inches tall and half…

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Grass-fed beef

I love beef, and I want beef that is produced with respect for the animals and the environment and is healthy for me to eat. I choose only to eat grass fed beef.  In the spring and summer I am able to get a wonderful grade of grass-fed beef at my local farmers market, but this winter I begin to think about the problems of people who don’t have this available but still want to eat as healthily as possible. If you’re a ketogenic eater  you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the quality of the protein in your diet, but really it would be wise for everybody to think about that.  After doing some research on various possibilities, I began buying through Crowd Cow.

Crowd Cow  is a service that brings beef from small, well run farms directly to consumers. They represent both grass finished and grain finished beef, and the farms are listed as one or the other so that you can select only the kind that you want. They allow you to buy individual cuts or small packages, so that you don’t have to buy a new freezer to eat good beef, and the shipping  is an incredibly reasonable $12.99 per package, no matter how much you buy.  I placed three orders this winter, and always had everything arrive solidly frozen, with no partial thaw problems.

The meat has been high-quality and delicious. The steaks are superb, but I try to concentrate on less lavish and expensive cuts, and those have been great too.  They also offer pastured chicken, but the problem is that when a chicken sale starts in the morning, the cuts that I want are usually sold out by lunchtime when I have time to look at the website, so I have only gotten one order of chicken. It was very delicious, though, and produced in much the same way that I raise my own meat chickens when I do that.

The link below will take you to Crowd Cow and, if you order, earn a $25 credit both for you and for me.  But it will be the first bonus I ever received from them.  I don’t accept any “free samples“ of services from anybody, and I do not write about something until I have paid exactly the price that you were likely to pay and determined in my own mind whether a good cost/benefit ratio exists. In this case, I really think it does, and gives people a chance to buy high-quality beef and to support the sort of farms that produce such beef.

https://www.crowdcow.com/l/ugp3uonsg

Food Diatribe II: Leafy Green Season

Medscape just published an article worth reading. The information is from a prospective study of older adults living in the community, and showed a direct linear relationship between consuming one or two servings a day of leafy green vegetables and slower cognitive decline. In fact, eating leafy greens daily offered the cognitive equivalent of being 11 years younger.

One expert neurologist asked to comment on the findings responded with confirmation: “This study adds to the rapidly evolving and convincing evidence that you are what you eat when it comes to brain health,” Richard Isaacson, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City, said. “From a practical clinical perspective, regular intake of green leafy vegetables should be a standard part of a risk reduction paradigm to delay cognitive decline throughout the lifespan.”

Amusingly, another expert said that it was “too soon” to recommend leafy greens, and advised waiting for further confirmation from future studies, a typical recommendation for new drugs but not typically applied to foodstuffs that healthy people have been eating for millennia. I do of course see his point, which is not to jump into thinking of leafy greens as a cure-all, but really now. So here is my response as a gardener, a doctor, and an avid reader of research: don’t wait. Some of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world have had  markedly high  consumption of leafy greens. There is no downside and no dangerous side effect to worry about unless you are on warfarin. So just do it. You can read the article here if you want, and it contains a link to the study. Then, just do it. Grow them if you can. If you have a small garden patch, make an investment in your family’s health by filling it with greens. If you don’t garden, you can haunt your farmers market or start making foraging trips. If you prefer to eat salad, choose darker greens, not lettuce hearts or iceberg, and eat a big bowlful.

Right now I’m still eating last fall’s leafy greens from under frost blankets. The collards and Savoy cabbage held up best, and are uniquely delicious after exposure to cold. I harvested Swiss chard for people and chickens all last summer, and then put a frost blanket over half  the row.  The new leaves of spring are the meatiest and most delicious that a chard plant ever produces, and the protected ones are nearly eating size, while the unprotected ones will come in some time next month. Just be sure to get them before the central stalk starts to elongate, because they lose their sweet meatiness and get strangely dirty-tasting when the flowering stalk starts to form. Green alliums are coming up everywhere, and my nettle patch is sprouting strongly.

If you keep animals for food, feed greens to your animals (not nettles, but chickens do love the leftover cooked ones.) I have a carnivorous friend who eats supermarket meat and insists that he’s a secondary consumer of vegetables, and I keep trying to tell him that on the contrary, he’s just a secondary consumer of GMO corn. Unless you are buying animal foods known for a fact to be grassfed or pastured and not grain-finished, you aren’t consuming the nutrients of vegetables.  But if you keep your own, it’s astounding what quantities of greens chickens will eat if they get a chance, while cattle, sheep, and goats can be raised to butterball fatness on grass and greens alone if you have enough. The nutritional profile of the eggs and meat is enhanced and the animals are much happier. I’ll have more to say about meat in the near future.

Spring Egg Yolks

During the longest nights my laying hens take a rest, and if I want eggs I have to buy them at the Co-op. This is probably a good thing, because it keeps me aware that even the best winter eggs from local farmers aren’t as good as the glorious golden-yolked beauties that my hens start to lay in February. Greens and flaxseed make the yolks full of omega-3s  and carotenoids. The effort of keeping enough greens going under frost blankets to supply the chickens as well as my own kitchen really pays off now. Later on in the spring they will lay like crazy and I’ll have eggs to share and I’ll be making profligate dishes like low-carb cheesecake, which involves 16 egg yolks. But when the first tiny golden crocus crysanthus blooms in February, I begin to get the first few treasured eggs, with yolks of the same gold as the crocuses. For now, I get a couple of eggs a day and every one is cherished. Even low-carb bread becomes something wonderful when dipped into a rich creamy fried egg yolk. As far as I’m concerned, top-notch fried eggs go with everything, and I love a plate of cooked veggies and fried eggs for dinner. A fried egg or two makes any plate of vegetables into dinner.  But there are tons of other possibilities.

In celebration of earliest spring, I took a look at what other bloggers have done with eggs. Here’s a brief round-up.

First, I can’t resist pointing out one of my own favorite old posts.

https://albuquerqueurbanhomestead.com/2016/11/18/eggs-in-a-hurry/

 


Hank Shaw is one of the most wonderful foragers and foodies that I know of. As soon as I have more eggs, I plan to salt-cure some yolks by his method and grate them over greens.

https://honest-food.net/salt-cured-egg-yolks/

The wonderfully herbal green buttered eggs from The Nourished Caveman are a go-to recipe for me, and I vary the greens according to availability and mood.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/green-buttered-eggs/

This one will never come out of my kitchen, because I can’t stand sardines in any form. But it is so nutrient-rich that you should have a look at it.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/nutrient-dense-fishermans-eggs/

Crispy fried eggs are wonderful for making a salad into a meal.

https://nomnompaleo.com/post/104615214153/sunnyside-salad-crispy-fried-eggs-on-greens

And Martha Stewart adds mushrooms to an eggs and greens skillet.

https://www.marthastewart.com/852125/fried-eggs-greens-and-mushrooms

Or scramble your eggs a bit on the hard-cooked side and toss them into greens or salads as an ingredient.

 

Raw Grass- fed Milk from De Smet Dairy

If you are a fan of raw milk, or would like to become a fan of it, we are finally in luck in central New Mexico. De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms is producing certified raw milk from mostly Jersey and Jersey cross cows, and it is truly delicious. Even better, their cows are 100% grass fed, making their milk a nutritional powerhouse on a level that is very difficult to find elsewhere.  Way back when I had a Jersey cow of my own I had milk that tasted like this, but never since then.   They also sell cream top yogurt made from their milk, and eggs from pastured chickens. There is a tiny little farm shop down at the farm itself, or in Albuquerque and Santa Fe you can buy the milk at La Montanita Co-op or at Moses Kountry.

I have to  add that if you drain the yogurt overnight in a double layer of cheese cloth until it is reduced to about half its previous volume, it is so creamy and rich and delicious that you can hardly stand it.

I borrowed these pictures off their Facebook page, and you can connect with them on Facebook if you want to.

Under the Frost Blankets

I have always tried to protect a couple of winter crops with frost blankets, but this year is the first time I got really serious about it at the right time of year. The right time of year is October, when you figure out which beds are going to be open during the winter and prepare them for planting.   Clean them of the debris of their previous crop, and fertilize a little more heavily than you usually would. Since I planned to grow mostly green things, I used blood meal and organic kelp meal.  If I had had more finished compost on hand, I would’ve used some of that too. Whatever you decide to use, fertilize, turn it in, water, and let the bed sit untouched for about a week.

Next, hunt your frost blankets. I cannot say enough good things about the heaviest weight of Agribon agricultural fabric, the one called Agribon 70. I got mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  After a couple of years of fooling around with lighter fabric or two layers of lighter fabric, I have concluded that nothing but the 70 is worth spending my money on. The others all tear in our desert windstorms allowing the plants I have tended so carefully to be dessicated and killed.  It comes in rolls of 12 foot wide fabric, and 100 feet of it is one of the best gardening investments I ever made.

This is a heavy weight fabric and will actually smother the crops if it is allowed to just lay on top of them, so you need some kind of support.  If you are even slightly handy, no doubt you could rig something up with thin PVC pipe hoops, which I think would be the best possible solution.  I am not remotely handy, and so I bought a package of bamboo garden hoops.  These seem flimsy when you handle them but actually will do the trick.

Put the fabric over them and weight it down all around. Don’t use fabric staples, because you will need to move it a lot for watering and harvesting. I use a small load of bricks that I bought from a neighbor. They need to be placed at least one brick per foot, because otherwise you will lose it all in a real windstorm.

Next, decide what to plant.  Broccoli was an easy choice for me because I love it and also consider it one of the healthiest vegetables around, and the leaves and stalks are as edible as the buds.  I had planned to start my own from seed to get a known cold hardy variety, however in late October I saw some plants in my local garden center and decided to buy them because it would save time and trouble. Most of the broccoli sold in my area is chosen for heat tolerance, not cold tolerance, so no doubt I could have had heavier yields with a different variety, but this one is working out well enough.  I put the plants in 18 inches apart each way, which is pretty close, but they are not going to get quite as big as those growing in the open in other seasons.

One of the joys of having a growing oasis in the winter is sticking your head under the frost blanket and just inhaling the scent of green growth. I also frequently break pieces off the broccoli leaves to eat while I’m watering. I try to restrict myself to the lobes at the base of each leaf, so that the overall appearance is a little less ratty, but as I see it nobody but me is really looking under there anyway.  Here, at the base of the leaf, you see the tiny little bud cluster that is going to become a side head after I cut the main head of broccoli.

A few of my heads got brown bud, as you see above. There seems to be no real consensus about what this is, except that it probably is not a disease caused by a pathogen but related to growing conditions. I did notice that the plants that got the least water developed this condition. It also happens sometimes with my outdoor broccoli in very dry conditions. When I see this, I cut that head off and I am sure to keep that plant watered, so that it can concentrate on growing large side heads.  Overall, I still get a fairly good yield out of those plants.

A delightful part of having a winter garden is that some of the things you let go to seed in the past come back around. Here you see a particularly healthy arugula plant that will go into a salad in the next day or two.  One of the reasons that I was careful to enrich the soil thoroughly is so that a lot of things could grow without hampering the broccoli very much

Here are a few interesting things going on. This is an area where a goji berry came up in the middle of the bed last year, and I cut it back hard before I covered the bed and I’m hoping to get some edible shoots out of it. You cannot get rid of gojis once you have them, so whack and eat them enough to keep them within limits.  This is a section of a few feet in the middle of the bed, where I planted Snow Crown cauliflower, and those plants died by November. I have done very well with the same variety in the open, so I don’t know what happened, but I do know that they did not like the conditions under the blanket. No problem. In the open space that they created by dying, you see leeks, garlic, arugula, chickweed, and celery coming up.  You might be able to spot tiny little leaks in the foreground from one that I let go to seed last summer, and then you can see larger leeks growing where I harvested last year‘s leeks  by cutting them off a few inches below the surface and leaving the base and the roots in the soil.  In each place that I did that, there are are two or three healthy leeks coming up from those roots. I am very pleased with this way of growing them, and I plan to keep experimenting with it.  The garlic is there because, after I planted my regular garlic beds, I had a lot of seed garlic left over and just stuck it in all over this bed before I covered it. My hope was to have green garlic earlier than usual, and it seems to be working out well.

A closer look at the celery seedlings. These are the offspring of a hybrid celery called Tango, and the offspring of a hybrid are not necessarily true to the parent. However, it is likely that some will be close enough, and I’ll weed out the rest.

A closer look of the green garlic, growing lustily. These are the same shoots that you will see in the picture below, prepared for cooking.

Above you see Shirley poppy, bladder campion, and chickweed joining the party wherever they can find room, next to a sturdy leek.

People who live in other parts of the country might be appalled to know that I planted chickweed on purpose, but it’s a tasty nutritious salad green and good edible ground cover that doesn’t grow here naturally. So whenever I see it seeding itself around a bit, I am quite pleased.

Mallow seeds itself around my garden, and I let some of it grow for greens and because the bees like the blossoms.  It will never be a favorite for greens, because it is just a touch on the slimy side, but as long as it makes up a quarter or less of a greens mixture you won’t notice that.  Behind the mallow you can see a small sow thistle, and I was hoping that these would get larger and more tender under the frost blanket than they do in the open ground, but so far this is not the case and I am not very impressed with them. Oh well.  The whole idea is to try things and see what works.

Lunch was a head of broccoli seasoned with the green garlic shoots above and fried eggs from the one valiant hen who is laying this time of year. Eating off your own property just feels good.