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The old microfarm; my love and my sorrow.

The one problem with gardening for me is that I start the year all gung-ho about growing vegetables, but yet by the time September rolls around I have a hard time dredging up the enthusiasm to finish what I have started; especially when I am not confident about what I will be getting.

It has been an odd year here in Duluth. June was almost as cold as April, and then July and August were way hotter than normal. All of the extremes are tough on plants and I just didn’t know what to expect.

We got some serious frosts recently when the weather went from 80s during the day (pretty warm for up here) one week to a series of nightly freezes and days topping out in the 40s and low 50s the next week. Although I covered everything the best I could, after three consecutive freezes it was time to bring in the tender plants. (I know I should have harvested them before the frost, but time has been at a premium lately).

First the bad: The potato tower is a glorious failure. I forgot to report the results of last year’s harvest, but back then the tower only produced potatoes in the bottom 10 inches of soil (i.e. the same output you would expect hilling them traditionally). This year, using my homemade compost and filling in the dirt religiously, I have less potatoes by weight than the seed I planted in April (I think there was too much nitrogen in the compost). <sigh> I am done trying to grow potatoes in the tower; I will grow them in the ground like people have been doing for thousands of years. However, I think that the tower will make a decent tomato planter if I only fill it part way up and take out some of the boards. Besides, trying to keep up with compost production and the potatoes’ growth was more trouble that it was worth.

The good news it that I should have beans coming out of my ears if they dry properly. I grew pinto beans this year, and when the frosts hit about half of the pods were still green. In the past green pods have still matured and dried properly for me, albeit with smaller beans; we will see. By volume, however, I have double the pods of last years harvest. Last year I planted the plants 8″ apart, but that reduced the yield dramatically for all but the outermost plants. This year I put in two plants every 12″ in rows 18″ apart and used drip irrigation to keep the watering even. So even though I planted 40% less seed, I got double the yield. Pinto beans were probably not the best choice; next year I think I will grow Hidatsa shield figure beans again as they are a shorter season variety and still produce well.

This year I also grew tomatoes for the first time. I had a lot of fruit on the vines, but when the frost/freeze warnings were posted they were all still green; I assumed that it was a lost cause. I was lamenting that fact to a customer of mine who had an interesting solution. For years she has been growing tomato plants by the hundred and she told me to pull the vines up by the roots, trim off the excess foliage, and hang them in my basement; she gets tomatoes until December that way.

Here you can see the tomatoes in my basement, and some of them are stating to ripen. If this works as well as she promises I will be doing it every year. The tomatoes are also supposed to mature more slowly, so rather than having them all ripen at once they might last over a longer period. At least there is less of a chance of frost in my basement.

Most of the rest of my plants are hardy and they are still out there in the garden: onions, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, and collar greens. I also grew broccoli, but with all the weather extremes I got just one little florette out of six plants. Next year I plan to rig shade cloth over the broccoli, cabbage, and collards to help keep them cool; we will see if that helps.

At least I have something to show for my hard work, but I am glad I still have my day job.

I realized the other day that most of my blog entries (when I remember that I have a blog) in the last year have been heavy on cooking and gardening, and light on bushcraft. So lets do some bushcraft…

I had the day off, and decided to make it a bush day. I had not been fly fishing since early July and ventured out to my favorite bass stream (and no, I will not tell you where it is; find your own). In addition, I had bought some new boots for grouse hunting (Irish Setter’s for 80 bucks on Amazon.com; how could I refuse?) that needed some breaking in, so I laced up the boots, grabbed the rod, and off I went.

A long story short, I didn’t get any fish. I had a northern check out my fly, but it took off before striking. I wasn’t surprised; I have never had much luck at this spot past July. The water gets to low, and today there were several hawks cruising the river (I don’t know if they were fish eating hawks, but I imagine to a fish a hawk is a hawk).

Fishing being a bust, I decided to check out the area right around the river to see what kind of useful stuff I could find. While still on the subject of fishing, there were some nice bait sources available:

Galls like this form on plants from insects laying their eggs

If you split them open, you can often find a grub to use for bait

I believe this is a green frog. If you are slow and quiet you can often catch them by hand. This guy let me touch his back without jumping away (I didn't pick him up; no point stressing him out). Frogs can make good fish bait too.

There was plenty of animal sign. Some beaver appear to live on the river. No dams, but a few old houses and plenty of chewed wood on the river bank(although that could have come from anywhere upstream). I found the wire and weight for a trapper’s drowning trap set, and it was heavy enough that I assume that beaver is the target. I found a lot of other stuff too:

There were lots of game trails like this leading to the river. (note: it is really hard to get a good photo of a game trail)

I think this is a mink track, but I am no expert. It definitely appears to be the track of some member of the weasel family. It was about an inch wide.

I think the scat also came from a mink. Note the green frog to the left; they were everywhere.

A burrow perhaps? There was a lot of squirrel sign around the hole. Would it be a good spot for a trap? Maybe.

Plenty of pine cone parts and hazel nut shells around the burrow

A whole bunch of scat on a rock. Probably either cottontail rabbit or snowshoe hare; they both frequent this neck of the woods. I took a few pieces for making pitch glue (more on that later). However...

... Right next to the rabbit/hare scat were some pellets from a raptor. Predatory birds often eat small creatures whole and cough up the hair and bones later.

If you are looking for shelter there were plenty of raw materials, but if you are lucky you can find it ready made:

Deer hunting is practically a religion in Minnesota and there are stands scattered all over public land. They can be a ready made shelter, but it is best to leave them alone unless you are in dire need. (you wouldn't like someone going in your tent while you are on a day trip, would you?)

There were plenty of edible plants around too. I am sure that for every species I saw that I missed three more, but here are the ones I photographed:

Thistle. Get past the spines and they are quite edible. This one might be a bit old for eating, but the down can be used for fire starting, and the Cherokee used it to fletch their blowgun darts.

Rose Hips. The outer pulp can be sucked off the seeds, and you can make a drink out of them too.

Raspberries. There were not any fruit left on them, but the leaves were used by the Ojibwe (and many other peoples) to make tea.

I think this is a pin cherry. I find wild cherries to be too bitter to eat straight, but they are supposed to be great for jelly.

Highbush Cranberries. Often bitter, these ones were tart but still pretty good to eat.

I am not positive, but I think that these are Jerusalem artichokes (the leaves looked too elongated to be common sunflower, but I don't really know). I pulled one up and the roots were only a couple inches long, but they are probably not done setting tubers yet.

Beaked hazelnut. I didn't see any nuts on this one, but the squirrels can make short work of them. These are a major score if you need calories. The nuts are a pain to get to (green outer hulls covered with nettle-like hairs and a hard shell underneath), but they are packed with 60% fat and 25% protein.

Not a great shot, but beaked hazelnut bark. The leaves look like those of alder or birch, but the lighter colored lines in the smooth grey bark run vertically, while lines in alder and birch bark run horizontally.

I also found a lot of things useful for their utility purposes:

Wood nettle. The leaves make a good broth (it serves as either tea or bouillon, depending on your needs), and can be cooked and eaten as a leaf vegetable when young. It also makes great cordage, which is what I used it for today.

A nettle stalk stripped and ready to process. You will get stung handling nettles, but if you use only your finger tips it is not so bad. I had a picture of the next step, which is beating the stalk to remove the stingers and crush up the pith, but I seem to have deleted it by accident. You can also see that I have added a Mora knife to my rig. (note: the moss the knife is on could be used as a wound compress or sponge)

After beating and scraping out the pith, you use the basic reverse wrap to make a cord. The Ojibwe used to nettle cordage to make fishing nets, among other things (I can only imagine how long that must have taken). IA Woodsman has a good video on preparing nettle cordage (the link is below). I took some stalks home to clean and dry; I have heard the cordage is better if you dry and re-soak the fibers.

 IA Woodman’s Video

Slender Nettle (similar to stinging nettle but with more slender leaves). Different subspecies, same uses.

An old fallen spruce can be a good source for pitch wood (also called fatwood), which is full of resin and will burn in all conditions.

Here is a knot from the old spruce which has been cut open. the reddish areas at the top are full of resin. Old conifer stumps are also a good source of pitch wood.

Spruce root, also called watap; the mending wire of the woods. By digging gently around the base of conifers you can find plenty of small roots which pull up quite easily.

A blurry picture, but running the root through the split end of a stick will help remove the bark.

The peeled roots coiled and ready for use. If they dry out be sure to soak them to make them pliable again. The most famous use of watap is in the making of birch bark canoes as the split roots were used to sew the birch bark together. I tried to use this as a bow drill cord, but it was too short and I ended up breaking it because it was too tight; live and learn.

Healed wounds on conifers are great sources of pitch. I have burned pitch before, but I had never made pitch glue so I gathered a bunch of hardened sap to take home. (note: if you use your knife to pry pitch off of trees, you will spend a long time cleaning the blade later).

Back at home I ground up 5 parts hardened sap, 1 part charcoal, and 1 part rabbit scat (remember the scat? rabbit and hare scat is more like compressed sawdust than anything else).

My pitch making rig. It is just a flat stone angled to drip down and melt the sap. It was too windy for a fire in my yard so I used a five wick survival candle.

My not-so-pretty pitch stick. I don't think I got enough heat from the candle, and the sap didn't drip down as planned. I ended up mixing everything on the sap end of the rock with the charcoal and fiber, and so it is full of impurities. It hardened up well and it might still be functunional; if nothing else it will burn like a volcano.

My not-so-pretty pitch stick. I don't think I got enough heat from the candle, and the sap didn't drip down as planned. I ended up mixing everything on the sap end of the rock with the charcoal and fiber, and so it is full of impurities. It hardened up well and it might still be functional; if nothing else it will burn like a volcano.

Here is a good resource for learning to make pitch glue.

A feather I found on a game trail. Useful as fletching for an arrow (for people skilled enough to make bows and arrows), making field expedient fishing flies, and writing the Declaration of Independence. You are limited only by your imagination.

Human garbage. It's hard to go anywhere and not find it. However, it can be a life saver in a pinch. The plastic bottle would make a great canteen, and the foam could make a bobber for fishing.

An old beer bottle. Can hold (and potentially boil) water or could be broken or knapped for a sharp edge.

What all of this is meant to demonstrate is that the wild places of the earth are full of opportunities for the resourceful. If push came to shove I am not saying that you or I could live off only what we could hunt, fish, gather, and build. But if I die lost in the wilderness it won’t be for lack of trying.

And as a final note, I highly recommend Irish Setter 9″ Wingshooter boots. They are nice and soft now from my day of walkabout, and I walked through plenty of mud and standing water without a drop seeping in the boots.

“I’m going out with my boots on…”

Summer is a really hard time to maintain a blog. It a season of doing, not of reflection. Unless, of course, you think snowmobiling is the meaning of life and you are lamenting how long it seems until winter. If you are one of those people, please keep it to yourself.

I figured I ought to at least check in since it seems that no matter how much I neglect this blog, people still keep reading (especially the blog about making hard cider in your closet; I don’t know what that says about you people, but I like it).

Here you can see what has occupied most of my free time up until now. The garden is coming along and I might even have something to harvest this fall. After fighting with that plastic mesh fencing for the last two years, it is really nice to have a permanent fence with a gate.

What I am most proud of, however, is that the potato tower appears to be working. The fence post next to it is five feet tall, so you can see how the potatoes have really shot up as I have been adding soil and boards. Buds are starting to form on the stalks and they should flower within the week.

As a parting note, I have invented a simple recipe for walleye (or any fish for that matter) that has been in the freezer for too long. I sometimes forget that I have fish in the freezer, and hate to just throw them out (if you are going to kill the buggers you should at least eat them), but they are past their prime when I find them (especially if they were caught through the ice and have not been cleaned yet). Here we go:

Pineapple Teriyaki Walleye

  • 2 lbs Walleye Fillets
  • 3/4 cup Teriyaki Sauce
  • An 8 oz can of Sliced Pineapple
  • Parsley to garnish

Mix the teriyaki sauce with the juice from the canned pineapple, and pour into a plastic bag. Add the fish and pineapple slices, and marinate overnight. When you are ready, broil the fish and pineapple on high heat for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Garnish with the parsley and consume.

Peace out!

Buying and moving into an actual house has put me, once more, into a self reliance kick. I have been doing all of the obvious things to save money; installing compact fluorescent lights, using power strips to turn off all of my “standby” appliances when not in use (some flat panel TVs use almost as much power on standby as when fully running), and programing my thermostat to keep the house cooler when I am at work or sleeping. However, I have also been exploring some perhaps more unconventional methods of energy savings.

I have always been intrigued by pressure cookers, but for most of my life they fell into the same category as dynamite – useful in expert hands, but a disaster waiting to happen for the novice. The pressure cookers of my parents’ generation were often prone to failure. If the sole pressure release valve became plugged they could become a steam powered grenade, and thus took on a bit of a stigma in this country. Moonshiners could adapt them serve as distillers, but most everyone else stayed away.

However, they are a life saver to the rest of the world. I became reacquainted with them while reading “A Cook’s Tour” by Anthony Bourdain (a great book by the way for wanna-be travelers who appreciate the irreverent style of someone who has done everything that was warned against in your high school health class and has lived to tell about it). In his chapter on Morocco he discusses how pressure cookers have simplified life for Moroccan women who cook foods like couscous and tagine which require long cooking times when prepared traditionally. Pressure cookers have at least partially severed the chain holding women to the kitchen in countries where frozen pizza and TV dinners are simply not a viable option.

Pressure cookers cook using pressure (thank you Captain Obvious!).  Water boiled at sea level in an open pot will only ever reach 212° F, but when put under pressure the temperature will rise substantially. Water also will transmit heat much more efficiently than air alone, so that the higher temperature will translate to the food much faster than in an oven. A pressure cooker will cut cooking time by 70% or better versus conventional methods and will do that cooking on a much lower burner setting, resulting in finishing food faster and with less power consumption. You can also save money on food because you can use fresh produce (which is usually cheaper and probably better for you anyway) and lesser cuts of meat instead of frozen, pre-cooked meals which cost a premium for the convenience. Pressure cookers are also much improved from the old days and the good ones have a second safety release in case the primary should fail. I don’t like spending more money than I have to, but in this case it is better to buy a quality pressure cooker (I have a Swiss Kuhn) to have some peace of mind.

I decided to try my first pressure cooker meal last week on St. Patrick’s Day (I am not Irish, but I should have been) by making a corned beef brisket in the pressure cooker. I had tried a brisket several years ago in the oven and the results were less than encouraging. I thought that I had cooked it correctly, but it was as tough as shoe leather. I ate it anyway, but it soured me on making brisket for a long time. For the pressure cooker I made up my own variation, and here is my improvised recipe:

  • 1 Corned Beef Brisket (well rinsed as “corned” refers to the large-grained salt that it was preserved in; save the pickling spice packet)
  • 1 can of Guinness (allowed to go flat)
  • 1 large Onion, thickly sliced

With each pressure cooker there should be a metal trivet to raise foods off of the bottom; make sure that you insert it before cooking meat like this. Lay the brisket in the pressure cooker, making sure that you do not obstruct all of the holes in the trivet. Pour the whole Guinness over the brisket, and sprinkle the pickling spice packet over the top of meat (I also let some fall into the beer to add flavor theoretically, but it might not make any difference). Finally, top the brisket with the sliced onions and seal the lid. You start off on high heat to get the liquid boiling and to pressurize the cooker, but once the valve is about where it should be you drop the temperature to the lowest setting that will maintain the pressure desired (I have an electric range and I had to remove the cooker from the burner after dropping the setting to keep it from over pressurizing while the burner cooled a bit). Once you are at the right pressure you begin the timer. I cooked the brisket for 50 minutes on medium-low and then put it on a cold burner to depressurize slowly (NEVER try to open a hot pressure cooker or you will end up in the hospital; the good models are built to stay locked until the pressure gone).

The results were amazing! I had my family over and they thought it was the best corned beef ever. It was so tender that you didn’t even need a knife to cut it. It was as close to alchemy as you can get on a cook top.

In conclusion, I highly recommend pressure cookers for anyone who does not have all day to cook and wants to save some money on food. Just remember to put safety first; read the manual that comes with your pressure cooker as different models have different settings, and make certain that you clean the valves thoroughly and test them for free movement before cooking.

GSI also makes several versions for outdoor cooking; I might have to give that a try in the future; I could truly be a gourmet camp chef. I have a pork shoulder in my freezer right now; I am thinking that pulled pork will be the next thing to try. And as it will cook potatoes in seven minutes, I will be able to cook this Fall’s potato harvest in short order (assuming I get the garden in on time and we have a good season, of course)!

Party on Wayne; party on Garth!

I really like chocolate.

For the most part I tend to lean towards savory foods: meat, fish, potatoes, cheese, bread; stuff like that. However, at the end of the day I do usually have a hankering for something sweet and chocolate fits that bill.

But what do you do when you come downstairs at 11 at night in search of chocolate only to find out that someone else in the house (you know who you are) ate the last of the chocolate cake? Although thoughts of swift and decisive retribution immediately come to mind, that in and of itself will not produce the aforementioned chocolate.

Time to make a cake. Not a bake in the oven at 350 degrees for a long period of time cake, but a 2 minutes in the microwave cake!

My mom sent me this recipe a while back and I finally tried it a couple of weeks ago. I was skeptical about “baking” in a microwave (I don’t really like microwaves all that much; I am more of a toaster oven kind of guy), but this really works. Here is what you will need:

  • 1 Large Coffee Mug
  • 1/4 cup Flour (all-purpose is fine)
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Egg
  • 3 tbsp Milk
  • 3 tbsp Oil (vegetable, not motor oil)
  • A healthy splash of Vanilla
  • Chocolate Chips (to taste)

In the mug mix together the flour, sugar, and cocoa thoroughly (it will help cut down on lumps later). Crack in the egg, add the milk, oil, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Add in your chocolate chips (if desired) and nuke it in the mug.

The original recipe said to microwave for 3 minutes in a 1000 watt machine, but I have found 2 minutes to be better (it gets really hard in the middle if you do it too long). If you like more of a pudding cake you could even go as little as 1 1/2 minutes.

You will see the cake start to rise above the rim of the mug, but that is okay; no need to panic. When it is done just turn the mug over onto a plate (it should slide out on its own) and serve with ice cream or whiskey. I warn you, it is addictive.

I know that this is not really a hillbilly themed posting, but hillbillies are resourceful critters and this is about being resourceful in the face of a problem. Using only the materials found in a standard kitchen, you too can conquer the late night growlies.

It has been a while since my last post; I have been finishing up my accounting degree and looking for an upgrade in my profession. But alas, with the economy in a depression (my theory is that it is recession if you have a job and a depression if you are looking for one) I have been unsuccessful thus far. If anyone out there is looking for an entry level accountant in northeastern Minnesota who also has a history degree and the ability to start fires with a bow drill, I am the man of your dreams.

The economy is tight right now. Hiring rates are low, wages are frozen, and yet costs keep rising – especially when it comes to food. Between shopping at the grocery store and watching all of the reports about the price of food, I have no doubt that this is new to anyone. You can blame ethanol subsidies, global warming, or whatever else you like, but the fact remains that costs keep rising (it almost makes you wish we were still on the gold standard – but that is a different topic). Most people seem content just to grumble about it, while shelling out ever more money. I say “no more!”

During WWII food was being shipped by the kiloton across the world to feed our soldiers, sailors, marines, and to shore up our hard pressed allies; the drain caused massive shortages at home. We have all heard about rationing (I actually have an old ration card from the War; it still has a few stamps on it I could try to redeem), but another solution was the victory garden. The government issued seed and instruction to our citizenry to encourage them to help the war effort by growing as much of their own produce as they could to reduce the strain on the food supply. America responded in force by planting victory gardens on every scrap of available land. Backyards, vacant lots, prison yards, even the strips between the sidewalk and street were tilled and sown by dedicated Americans who wanted to do their part to win the War. By the end of WWII, 40% of all domestically consumed produce was grown in a victory garden.

While we are not coping with massive food shortages anymore (thank goodness), the same mentality can help save you money on food. Growing your own produce; even just a few square feet of salad greens, can pay dividends.

garden

This is my victory garden. It is officially my Garden MkII, and is an improvement over last year’s Garden MkI. Last year I tried to grow a “three sisters” garden – where corn, beans, and squash are grown together in a mutually beneficial relationship. It actually worked fairly well and I got about a gallon of dried corn (which I grind into flour with a hand mill), two cups of dried beans (which swell to four cups when soaked and cooked), and a half dozen medium sized squash out of my 12′ X 12′ plot. You can tell by those numbers that I wasn’t exactly going to feed myself on that. I was growing the corn and beans in 16 hills with six smaller squash hills in between. Squash is a warm weather crop and didn’t like last year’s cold early summer. The beans had poor germination and there were not enough viable plants to produce many beans. The corn did the best; I used a variety called painted mountain corn (the link will tell you a lot about it). It is a very hardy variety and did pretty well this far north with its quick growth cycle allowing the corn to grow and dry before the first frost. It was a good start into the world of gardening, but I wanted a more productive garden this year. Enter the Garden MkII…

Let’s start from the ground up. I double dug the garden to a depth of about a foot and fertilized it with a heavy dose of compost and some dehydrated poultry manure. On a garden this size, that one 40 pound bag of manure could hypothetically last me 20 years, so you do get your money’s worth. The only radical thing I did with the soil was to add 14 pounds of crushed charcoal (about one pound for every 10 square feet). What I am trying to do is to replicate the famous Amazonian terra preta do indio, Portuguese for “Indian black earth.” In Brazil these ancient man made soils allow, even today, intensive agriculture in what is otherwise a green desert of water leached, acidic soil. Scientists are still trying to unravel what makes these soils so productive, but the primary ingredient is charcoal. Charcoal (also known as biochar when used for agriculture), is like a sponge for chemicals, which is why activated charcoal is used as a treatment for poisoning as it can absorb the toxins before your body metabolizes them. In agriculture, biochar can help hold nutrients and moisture in the soil that would otherwise leach through the soil; this means, in theory at least, that you should have to add less water and nutrients to the soil to get a good crop. I am not sure if this is due to the porous nature of charcoal or chemical bonding (or both); I am not a chemist and have heard all sorts of theories as to why it works. People who have experimented with it have reported much higher yields than normal, especially in subsequent years of planting.

I was going to try and make my own biochar at first, but I found natural lump charcoal (the kind with no additives; not briquettes which are made of sawdust and flammable chemicals) on sale at Home Depot. I brought it home and crushed it myself, which was a really unpleasant process. It takes a lot of pounding to crush charcoal to a fine level, and it throws up a ton of choking black dust – I might have taken a few years off of my life in the process. I have since found a place to order preprocessed biochar online. It is not all that cheap with shipping, but per pound is about on par with the natural lump charcoal and I don’t mind paying a premium to not have to crush it again. I cannot speak to the effectiveness of charcoal yet, but it certainly is not hurting the plants at all.

You cannot really see the fence in the garden picture, but I am using a simple plastic 5/8″ mesh fence that is tucked under the weed cloth at the bottom which covers the outer walkway. I have been pleasantly surprised at it effectiveness –  I have had no problems with deer, rabbits, squirrels, or any other vertebrates (bugs can be pests, but I have enough spiders living  in the garden to keep them manageable). I have a group of rabbits that have made my yard home and figured that they might find their way in to the garden, but they have not been an issue. Really, there is no reason (local laws allowing) that you could not treat offending small game as a secondary crop. A wire snare or two could gain you some free protein and more than compensate for the calories lost from animals pilfering in the garden.

OwlI also have my guardian plastic owl to hopefully help deter invaders. On the one hand I have not seen any animals too close to the fence, but on the other hand there are bird droppings on its head, so they cannot be too intimidated.

This year I am growing sweet corn, cabbage, Swiss chard, midget cantaloupe, beans, and two kinds of potatoes.

Triple Play Sweet Corn – Although the painted mountain corn grew well last year, I wanted to try a sweet corn that could double as a flour corn. This type is also short seasoned and is said to produce two 6″ cobs. Unfortunately we have had lots of overcast skies and cooler temperatures (in the 60s through most of July) so I am not too optimistic about what the results will be, but there are still a couple of months before it starts frosting regularly and they might still yield a crop. The corn is at the back left of the garden picture.

Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage – A compact cabbage with a quick growth cycle. I have just planted it recently for a fall harvest, and so it is the void in the lower left of the garden picture. I love sauerkraut from the can, so I figure the homemade stuff would be even better. If anyone has a good recipe for sauerkraut please feel free to post it in the comments. If you are wondering what the white things in the cabbage plot are, they are buried clay flowerpots with plastic lids that are filled with water. The unglazed clay will slowly seep water into the soil and act as subsurface irrigation. It is similar to what Native Americans in the southwest have done for centuries (if not millennium). It works, but is probably unnecessary in my fairly wet climate.

Swiss Chard – I love anything that has more than one use, and Swiss chard fits the bill. It is a good salad green, especially when young, and is great on sandwiches even as it gets big. The leaf itself can be cooked just like spinach, and the cooked stems make an good asparagus substitute. I find the leaf to have a mildly salty spinach flavor (which I like) and the stems taste like a cross between asparagus and a green bean (which I also like). It is the bushy row to the right of the cabbage. It grows like a weed (I only planted 8 seeds, but now have a virtual hedgerow of Swiss chard), will grow back over the season if you don’t over-harvest individual plants, and as the most expensive green in my supermarket, saves me money by growing it at home.

Minnesota Midget Melon – I have always wanted to grow cantaloupe, but it is difficult this far north to achieve the necessary heat and length of season to do so. I found this melon, which was developed back in 1948 (or something like that), that will produce a miniature cantaloupe in a much shorter season. They are planted below the trellis in the garden picture, but the cold and overcast of this summer is not doing them any favors. Hopefully August and September will be warm and sunny to aid their growth.

Paint Dry Bush Bean – Legumes are one of the greatest foods a person can eat and have the added bonus of adding nitrogen to the soil in which they grow. While green beans are the garden favorite, dry beans (while being edible in their green stage) are much easier to preserve without freezing or canning. They are perfect for baked beans, chili, or any other dish that you might otherwise use canned beans to make. Last year’s beans were a pole bean (Hidatsa shield figure beans), which produce more per plant than bush types, but require trellising. I planted these beans 4″ apart to see how well they perform in an intensive growing situation (that is 324 plants in a 6′ X 6′ area). They have been growing well in terms of foliage, but the acid test will be how many beans they produce. In hindsight I wish I had planted a couple of rows conventionally for comparison. They are starting to flower, so cross your fingers for me.

Potatoes, Kennebec and Peanut Fingerling – There is no other crop on earth that can provide so many people with so many nutrients from so little land. During the worst of English oppression against Irish Catholics in the two centuries after Oliver Cromwell ransacked the Emerald Isle, the Irish were able to survive quite well on potatoes, milk, and a little salt (which is actually a more balanced diet than the wheaten bread that the English gentry were feasting on). I am growing 32 plants (30 of which sprouted) on a 4′ by 8′ plot, which could yield anywhere between 15 and 45 pounds of tubers (according to what I have read; this is my first year growing them) Even at 15 pounds yield, that far exceeds on 32 square feet what I got from 144 last year. So far the Kennebecs (a full sized Maine potato) have been the most vigorous growing with the fastest leaf growth and fewest insect problems, but both seem to be loving the wet cool summer we are having up here. I am using the straw method where the seed tubers are only slightly buried in the soil, and then straw is heaped around the growing plants. This allows closer spacing and less work than the traditional hilling method. I also fabricated an irrigation system with PVC pipe put together to form four parallel rows with 1/16″ holes drilled through, top and bottom, every foot. At one end I have a bucket attached via a t-section of PVC from which I feed the system water. The small holes create enough surface tension that not much water leaks out until the whole system is full of water, and so each plant gets a pretty even watering. It is not really necessary on a plot this small, but it is a test for future, larger gardens.

When trying to provide a little homegrown food for yourself, don’t over look what nature provides as well. In the woods behind my garden there are plenty of good wild edibles. There is a massive thistle patch right behind the garden which once dethorned provides asparagus-like stalks in early summer, and edible roots in the fall (which I have not yet eaten, but I hear are sweet). I also have burdock (which has tasty if somewhat tough roots), dandelion (more vitamins per ounce that any other plant), broadleaf plantain (good potherb when young, and a good astringent if you are bleeding), and stinging nettle (the young leaves make either a tea if you add sugar, or a soup base if you add salt, and the stalks make a decent cord in a pinch – the Ojibwa often used it for fishing nets and animal snares). There are also plenty of raspberries (the ones in the store cannot compare to their wild cousins), thimbleberries (like huge raspberries with a more complex taste – they would go well with a good blue cheese, perhaps Stilton), and beaked hazelnuts (its a pain to remove their spiny husk and shell, but they are quite tasty and a great source of vegetable fats with an up to 60% fat content – be prepared to fight the squirrels for them). The tree right behind the garden is a pin cherry (or chokecherry, I get them confused, but both make good jam from what I hear), and there are apple trees in my side yard (not wild, but I didn’t plant them so they count). My yard is by no means unique, and you might have just as many great resources in your yard, if not more. Wild edibles can make a great addition to your diet, and they are free! Just make sure that you identify them properly or rising food costs will be the least of your problems.

Animal resources can be great as well. I already mentioned potentially trapping nuisance animals that want to raid your victory garden (with a proper license where required). I like to go fishing whenever I can and my freezer is currently stocked with four pounds of catfish fillets, four pounds of walleye, and half a dozen whole perch – all locally caught and from only two fishing outings. I fish with simple gear and the catfish were caught on chicken liver (cheap from the butcher) on a plain hook, and the rest were caught on crawlers with a simple harness (two harnesses actually, a northern took one). The math breaks it down to no more than $2.00 per pound (including my fishing license, but not counting the cost of beer) and they were fun to catch. You won’t find that at the store.

To sum up, the victory garden (and the wild resources surrounding it) can be fun, economical, give you a better respect for your food, and act as insurance against tough times. A couple of books to get some ideas would be Fresh Food from Small Spaces and the Vegetable Garden Bible; I think they are good anyway.

Okay, enough preaching from me. Get outside, crack a cold one, and make summer count.

Fresh Food from Small Spaces