The Milkweed Diaries

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meadow Mushrooms**

Earlier this week Christopher noticed that jillions of mushrooms had sprouted up in the horse pasture next door. Fortunately, our favorite wild mushroom expert was coming over for dinner on Friday night, and quickly identified them as Meadow Mushrooms.

Alan, who knows more about wild mushrooms than almost anyone around (click here to visit his wild mushroom website), explained that Meadow Mushrooms are the closest wild equivalents to storebought white button 'shrooms. Since they are white, and there's a deadly mushroom that grows around here that's also white, we learned that this edible variety is distinguished by pink or brown "gills" on the underside.

C & A harvested some of the mushrooms last eve and we had them for dinner, marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil with fresh minced garlic and then broiled briefly in the toaster oven. I thought they were WAY better than button mushrooms. In fact, they were delectable.

Harvested meadow mushrooms up close

We ate the broiled mushrooms with fresh sliced tomatoes and sauteed veggies (squash, chard, potatoes, onions, garlic) with homemade tomato sauce over pasta, topped with some of that ridiculous beet/basil pesto. Needless to say, it was quite satisfying.

All of the vegetables were from the garden except for the potatoes, which I bought on Wednesday at the Farmers Market - I used one of each of these gorgeous pink- and purple-fleshed varieties (see the photo below...)

The potatoes were so lovely to behold, especially with the multicolored chard stems (see photo of saute in progress, below) and that magenta pesto on top.

Thanks to Alan for the mushroom lesson, and thanks to the meadow for the free gourmet ingredients!

**NOTE: Don't attempt to identify mushrooms for eating without help from someone with expertise and experience. Book learning is not enough!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Anniversaries and Gratitude

And now for a break from the garden.

45 years ago today was the historic March on Washington:

And 25 years ago today, my dad drove and I rode in the passenger seat of a little blue Ford Fiesta from North Carolina to Washington, DC for the 20th anniversary march. This was during the Reagan years, I was 9 years old, and we were marching for "Jobs, Peace, and Freedom." We heard Stevie Wonder and Joan Baez sing, I swam in the reflection pool, and I experienced for the first time the feeling of standing together with thousands of people holding a shared vision for change.

So may it be. May peace prevail on earth. May justice rain down like water, like rain. Thank you to my dad for taking me to DC 25 years ago, and thank you to all of those who came before us, building a more just, sustainable world.

Tomato wars* and pesto update

Yesterday morning, I went out to the garden to see how it was doing after all of the RAIN (!!!) and was met with an onslaught of tomatoes.

Because of all the wetness, a lot of them are cracking and demanding to be dealt with post haste. I harvested a huge basket full (above), brought them in and sorted them into piles according to the level of urgency with which they needed to be eaten, processed, or somehow handled.

I had a lot of other things to do yesterday, so I made a tomato sandwich and tried to ignore the tomato troops massing on my borders.

The sandwich was really quite tasty, and reminded me that tomatoes are not the enemy, but I still felt under seige.

Then, this morning on my garden walk-through I discovered at least TWICE as many ripe or over-ripe tomatoes as yesterday. Plus the rain knocked a bunch of their unripe brethren and sisteren off the vine, and I couldn't let them rot, so I took them in too and gave them windowsill space.

Tomatoes massing on the border

All of which led to a grim report to CF over our morning beverages: "The tomatoes are winning."

So today I put aside everything else and got busy making sauce.

At left are some chopped tomatoes en route to the sauce pot. I'm simmering these and their cohorts on super-low heat with sweet peppers, oregano, basil, parsley, and garlic--all from the garden--plus some sweet onions I bought at the farmer's market yesterday, along with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

It's smelling really delightful already.

Meanwhile, I think I have perfected the pesto that I've been using as a heat-free way to preserve beet tops. It's a LOT more tasty when the beet and other greens are cut with some traditional basil.

Here's a recipe (with no quantities/measurements - sorry!)


1 part basil (maybe about 2 cups?)

1 part mixed greens - I used dark red Bulls Blood beet tops, lambsquarter (magenta spreen and wild green), and flat-leaf parsley

sunflower seeds, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice

Throw it all in a food processor, process, and enjoy!

This is some SERIOUSLY good pesto. And really beautiful with all of the pink and red leafy greens. I've been eating it with a spoon, straight up. I think if I put some on a tomato sandwich I might pass over to the other side. So it turns out that I can live in peace with tomatoes and their ilk (basil).

A small jar of really good pesto

* NOTE to Quakers, pacifists, and all of my fellow anti-violence people: apologies for all of the war imagery! If anyone can help me come up with some diplomatic solution, I'm open to it!

PS: Thanks be to Mother Earth & Hurricane Faye for the rain!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vegetable husbandry, succession gardening, and prayers for rain

The late corn that Bud and LJ and I planted is coming along, though getting a bit choked by it's overzealous bean sisters. It's raining a little today (HALLELUJAH!!!) and I'm hoping the rain will give the corn the boost it needs to outgrow the beans a little.

Since it's such a small patch of corn, we'll have to hand-pollinate at some point soon. I'm excited for our first adventure in vegetable husbandry/wifery, which is far less daunting than the livestock equivalent.

Meanwhile, we harvested a bunch of carrots and beets over the weekend (see below), some of which we enjoyed shredded last night in a delightful salad with white beans, wild rice, sunflower seeds, parsley, celery, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar (plus salt and pepper for those of you who want to try this at home).

The rest of the beet and carrot harvest is either fermenting in one of the various crocks crowding our kitchen counters, or in cold storage (aka the fridge) to last, we hope, until the next round of roots are ready.

We're direct seeding carrots, beets, radishes, and mustards now for the fall--the photo below is C. mulching a carrot/radish bed we sowed on Saturday with heirloom French Breakfast Radish and Scarlet Nantes Carrot seeds.

The idea is that we'll keep sowing beets, carrots, and radishes every few weeks until the weather gets too cold--succession planting so that in theory we should have root crops to eat and share for a good while to come.

In the meantime, I am holding out hope for an long, steady downpour today (it's just a drizzle at this point) for our garden and all of the plants and animals, including we human animals, that are so desperate for rain after so many months of drought.

Let's have some RAIN!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

August Garden Photos

Dirt farming

Last weekend we made supercharged dirt...seed starting mix for our fall starts.

Shannon and Rain and DCT joined us, and we ended up with a WHOLE BUNCH of plant babies.

We used a recipe that we learned in a class we took earlier this spring at Sugar Creek Farm (see below).

Above: Screening peat moss through hardware cloth...

Below: Mixing by hand and squeeeeezing to see if it's wet enough yet...

Top: DCT on hose duty...

Bottom: Hands getting dirty...

Joe Allawos’ Starter Soil Recipe

Thanks to CF for putting this together

This is the recipe we learned from farmer Joe Allawos from Sugar Creek Farm for making soil for starting seeds. It makes about a wheelbarrow load of seed starting mix, or enough for about 20 flats. We ended up with 218 4-packs (salvaged cell packs from Dogwood Hills and elsewhere) or a whopping 872 starts!

Ingredient Volume Purpose

Peat moss 6 gallons Retains water, provides good drainage

Compost 3 gallons Provides nutrients

Perlite 3 gallons Drainage, air and water retention

Vermiculite 3 gallons Soaks up water and nutrients and holds them in the mix until the plants are ready to access them

Lime (pulverized, not pellitized) 1 ½ cups Neutralizes the Ph

Greensand 1 cup Contains all the micronutrients and improves disease resistance

Dried blood 1 cup Protein and Nitrogen

Colloidal phosphate 1 cup Phosphorous

Azomite 1 cup Clay that contains all the micronutrients


  1. Lay hardware cloth across the top of a wheelbarrow. Take chunks of peak moss out and put onto the hardware cloth, breaking it up and pushing it through the hardware cloth to sift it. Do this with all the peat moss.
  2. Add the lime.
  3. Add water and mix it all up with your hands. Wet it enough so that you can squeeze a few drops from the mixture.
  4. Add the perlite. Wear a mask! Spray it down with water as you’re pouring it in to cut down on the dust.
  5. Add the vermiculite. Definitely wear a mask! Spray it down with water as you’re pouring it in to cut down on the dust.
  6. Add the greensand, dried blood, colloidal phosphate and azomite, then mix it up with your hands.
  7. Put the hardware cloth back on the wheelbarrow and sift the compost through into the mixture.
  8. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
  9. You’re done!
Note: for flowers and nightshades, remove dried blood from the recipe.

We planted lettuce, cabbage, kale, chard, brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, and probably some things I'm forgetting. We'll direct seed carrots, radishes, beets, and some other things for the fall garden, too.

Planting seeds...

The flats full and planted...

And a few days later:

The babies emerging....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pesto, pesto, rah rah rah

On the lookout for ways to preserve food as the tidal wave of vegetables continues, I was inspired this morning by Jeff Ashton's musings on pesto in his book The 12- Month Gardener.

Jeff lives somewhere around here and I've taken his classes at the Organic Growers School. I credit him with a lot of what I know about raised beds and season extension. Christopher recently invested in a used copy of the The 12- Month Gardener to help with planning our fall garden, and as I was skimming around in it I noticed an interesting sidebar about making pesto out of unconventional vegetables. At the mention of beet greens, my eyes lit up.

We grew "Bulls Blood" beets this year, a heirloom variety with a deep, dark red leafy top. I love to eat the luscious red leaves, which seem just packed with pure vegetable nutrition and taste strong and hearty. But lately I can't eat them fast enough to keep up with the garden. I'm fermenting the beet roots, but I'd been wondering how to put away the greens without cooking the good nutritional juju out of them. Aha! Beet green pesto preserves the greens raw, with all of the nutritional value intact, and the fact that the leaves are all holey and not aesthetically pleasing after a season of insect snacking doesn't matter after they are food-processed into pestodom.

My previous pesto-making endeavors have been limited to variations on the traditional basil standard. But after the Jeff Ashton tip and on the heels of savoring the purslane pesto that Alan made last week I leapt with gusto into the world of unconventional pestos.

I made 4 different batches one morning last week -- 3 with various combinations of sorrel, beet greens, and Magenta Spreen lambsquarters (above is one gorgeous volunteer plant in the garden, re-seeded from last year) and 1 with a bunch of "sundried" tomatoes from our dehydrating adventures and basil from the garden.

My tasters tell me that the sundried tomato/basil one is the best, but I am partial to a pink pesto that's heavy on the dark red beet greens and bright pink lambsquarters.

Here's an approximate recipe:
  • Beet leaves/tops
  • Lambsquarters (wild green or cultivated Magenta Spreen)
  • French sorrel
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Peeled garlic cloves
  • Lemon juice
  • A little water if necessary to make the food processor swirl
These can be combined in an almost infinite variety of proportions. I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 cup of sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every batch, along with 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and greens to fill up the rest of the food processor. You can skip the lemon juice if you add a lot of sorrel, since it's super lemony.

Which reminds me to sing the praises of sorrel. It's perennial. It's easy. It's trรจs gourmet. It's beautiful in the garden from the time it first appears in the spring to its tall, flowering peak. And it tastes so good! I can't say enough good things about it, really. Sorrel, how do I love you? Let me count the ways. I like it in salads, as a cooked green, in soups, and today I learned it's fabulous in pesto too.

Here's some in our garden (above).

In any case, viva el pesto!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Putting Food By

In an attempt to survive the vegetable onslaught, we borrowed a dehydrator and spent some time yesterday drying tomatoes and squash.

I also desalted a bunch of brine pickled vegetables and packed them in a 4-to-1 water/vinegar solution and put them in the fridge, where they will keep for a few months without heat processing (which would have killed all of the beneficial bacteria from the brining).

Because we were already in a frenzy of food preservation, we figured it wouldn't hurt to add one more food project to the kitchen mix, so we told Alan he could come by to make pesto out of the huge quantity of purslane he, LJ, and I gathered last week while we were up in Pennsylvania.

Purslane is a common weed which is quite tasty and contains alpha-linolenic acid, one of the famous Omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients. There's a little bit volunteering in various spots around our garden, but we came across the motherlode last week as we were passing through Haverford, PA. We gathered a ton and brought it home to turn into pesto.

Above are the squash and tomatoes on their way to the dehydrator, and below is Alan making purslane pesto. We ended up with a little more than 1/2 gallon of pesto, made with nothing but purslane and olive oil. We can add nuts and/or cheese later if we want, but the flavor is so good and tart and juicy as it is that I hate to change it at all!

Above: Alan making purslane can see the jars of brine-pickled squash, cucumbers, and cauliflower at the left of the photo, too.

Below: triumphant end-of-the-day photo of the same table pictured in yesterday's blog, much emptier after a day of preserving. Alan, Christopher, and I feasted
last night on fresh veggies, including a
very tasty Italian edible gourd and some of the aforementioned pesto
, around a candlelit centerpiece of the remaining tomatoes...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

High Harvest

Clockwise from 6:00: peppers, okra, cherry tomatoes, dill, onions, tomatoes, garlic, japanese long cucumbers, zephyr squash, beet greens and celery greens, orange cucumbers, beets, italian edible gourd, more tomatoes, and carrots.

We are experiencing massive garden overload!

Produce is pouring out of the garden faster than we can eat, preserve, and process it.

It's amazing how generous the earth is. We're trying to remember to have gratitude for all this abundance as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash overflow out of our kitchen onto every flat surface in the house.

Anyone want some refrigerator pickles or brined veggies? Tomatoes? Help us eat this food!

A garden shot....

Meanwhile, the garden is swarming with pollinators, beneficials, and a few detrimentals (squished a spotted cucumber beetle today). Sunflowers, fennel, and ironweed are surrounded by clouds of buzzing, feeding, pollinating bugs - hurrah!

Bees enjoying a sunflower...