Monday, July 19, 2010

Celt's Garden - Favas and Everson Farm Stands

The green fava beans are swelling in their pods. Ah, shelly fava beans simmered with garlic scapes or green garlic. Harvest the bottom favas first. If you leave them, they will turn into dry beans, but it will take until late August. As they age, the beans first develop a tough outer skin, which slides off after cooking. Then they harden into dry beans. The pods dry and shatter, so you want to get your favas in as soon as the beans are hard and let them finish drying under cover. Then you can store them or save the seed for your own cover crop.

After they are dry, clean your beans by taking the pods off and then putting the beans in a sifter or sieve and shaking off the dust, pod debris and bug bits. A simple hand sifter available at ethnic grocery stores works well. Home dried beans may have a little bug action. A simple fix is to seal them up in a waterproof container and freeze them for a couple of weeks. Then let them come up to room temperature in the unopened container and transfer them to a jar. A bay leaf in the jar with your beans will keep the bugs away.

Check your home dried beans monthly and plan to eat them over the winter. It's difficult to get beans down to a uniform low moisture level at home. If they get a little yellow powdery mold on the beans in storage, it's not toxic but the shelf life is over. Check over and remove any funky ones, rinse off the powder and cook them up. You can freeze the extra.

If you have some European ancestors, fava beans are your heritage. The old world beans are favas, peas, lentils and chickpeas, all originating in a large blob area in southwest Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Favas, peas and lentils are cool weather beans. This is great for the Northwest. We have lots of coolish weather. The Palouse, which overlaps eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho, grows most of the pulses for the whole country. The dry conditions discourage pulse diseases.

Fall planted favas may survive. I find they do better with a nurse crop of oats. Plant a mixed handful of oats and favas in November. It might turn out to be a cover crop instead of beans. In February, the main fava crop goes in for fresh and dried beans. Favas are upright, so you get a surprisingly good harvest from a garden bed. I plant Banner, which can go to six feet and sets heavy pods of smaller beans. Windsor is the traditional eating fava, but the big beans don't yield as much food per plant.

Lentils and chickpeas are delicate little vines. On a garden scale, they are mainly good for practice recognizing the different growth stages. The yield from a bed fits in your hands. Lentils were prized in the ancient world for their delicious taste. Lentils are such a bugger to harvest and clean that they must have also been grown for their value as a convenience food. They are the only pulse that cooks in under an hour.

Despite all the work involved in growing dried beans, they have always been a portable, long storing way to time shift food energy. Beans and pulses have 1500 calories a pound.

Everson has a new farm stand. Joy Monjure, a laid off City of Bellingham employee, opened Field of Greens at the bend where Everson Road turns into Kale Road on the way out of town. She's working with four local farmers to provide the fresh organic goodies. It's a tad tricky to find: slow down going around the curve. The entrance is through the mini-storage place, onto an apron of chips. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

The Breckenridge farm stand is at the other end of Everson on Main Street. The cream top (non-homogenized) milk was rated "that's really good" by my taste test panel. They also have butter, cream, and the best soft serve ice cream that I have ever had, made from their own milk. 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. M-S

Farther out of town is La Gloria Market at 7310 Everson Goshen Rd. A nice selection of spices, many varieties of chilis and dried goods in the back corner, groceries, Spanish language videos, Mexican style milk candy and soft pastries, run by very nice people. Just walking in the door induces Tex-Mex border culture deja vu all over again. Co-located with the market is Taqueria El, run by a cheerful Spanish speaking lady named Erin. Go figure. Erin makes everything from scratch, the salsas (mild and killer), the rice and beans, the fillings for the tacos and burritos. Taqueria El is worth a pilgrimage to Everson just for the salsa and Erin's real Tex Mex tacos. Not large, not expensive, just flavorful grilled meat on a double corn tortilla with a fresh garnish. Excellent burritos in the Northwest tradition (if you can eat the whole thing, you're either working hard with your hands or nursing a baby.)

Check it out.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira on July 12, 2010 at For more recent posts, check out

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Celt's Garden - Start with a Live Chicken (Rated NV)

That would be rated NV for No Vegans. No 12 year old girls either, who are shocked, just shocked, to find out that meat comes from DEAD ANIMALS and spend the next ten years living on spaghetti with plain Marinara sauce and Cheetos. Vegans, perhaps you would like to check out "That French Feeling" which is a nice earlier post about growing herbs.
To go from live chicken to dead chicken, first you have to catch the chicken. This can be tricky, as chickens are telepathic about being approached with a sense of purpose. Food works sometimes, but your best bet is herding the chicken into a corner. If you have control over the birds' last night, it's best to segregate them about the time you would be locking them up for the night and don't feed them in morning. That gives them a chance to calm down after the catching. Starving the chickens overnight makes cleaning them a lot less disgusting.

In the morning, set up your work area. You will need a place to kill the chickens, a large pot of almost boiling water to get the feathers off (your canning kettle is a good size), a very sharp large knife, a work surface that you can keep clean, a small pair of needle nose pliers, a covered container for the guts, another container for the feathers, and a bowl for the innards. If you are refrigerating or freezing your chickens, a cooler of ice water to quickly bring down the body temperature is very helpful.

For one or two birds, killing them outside and plucking and cleaning them in the kitchen sink works fine. For a big chicken killing day, an outside work area is much easier to clean up afterwards.

Here's my method for killing chickens: one at a time, hang the bird securely by its feet. It will flop around a lot, so I wire it up with piece of electrical cable. Being upside down sedates the chicken. Then hold the head firmly and thank the chicken. If you feel too self-conscious thanking an upside-down chicken, take a minute to reflect on the oneness of all being, or bless the chicken. I am partial to "Blessed are you, the source of all life", which is not from any organized religion. Not addressed to the chicken, of course.

Then take the knife and quickly cut its throat. Watch out for your knuckles. Hold on to the head. The wings will flap furiously. The wing flapping helps to pump out the blood, which you want for better meat. After scrubbing chicken blood off vinyl siding, I learned to keep holding the head during the flapping stage and just let the warm blood run down over my hand. It's respectful to the chicken. You're not twelve years old, right?

If the chicken gets loose, you will have a graphic example of the expression "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." This is bad, because you want to keep the wound clean and have the chicken rapidly bleed out. It's also a big mess.

Other methods for killing chickens can be found on you-tube. The one of the two good old boys, fairly lit up on beer, using an orange traffic cone to hold the chickens, is at least good for entertainment value.

Once your bird stops flapping, take it down and cut off the head the rest of the way. Hold it by the feet and immediately dunk it in a large pot of water just off the boil. The hotter the water, the easy to pull the feathers off. Grab handfuls of feathers and stuff them into the receptacle which you conveniently staged during set-up. Get off as much as you can, using the pliers to pull out the wing feathers as needed. Then cut off the feet and put them in the offal container. There will be pinfeathers left on. Best to clean the guts out before rigor mortis sets in and come back later for the pin feathers.

The chicken is starting to resemble something you would buy at a supermarket. Take a sharp knife and cut carefully around the anus, being careful not to pierce the intestines. Make a shallow cut from thigh to thigh to increase the opening. Now, reach in and remove the guts. You're still not twelve years old, right? Gently reach up the back of the opening and pull out the insides. Here's where starving the chickens overnight really helps. The intestines go in the offal can.

The liver looks just like what comes in those little paper packets inside a purchased chicken, except that it's attached to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is full of green bile, which will ruin the liver if it ruptures and spills. Carefully cut off the gall bladder and set aside the liver in the bowl. The heart is recognizable, set it aside as well. The gizzard is a large nasty looking ball that holds gravel. Chickens have no teeth; they digest food by grinding it up in the gizzard. Slice the gizzard along the equator and open it up inside out. Pull out the gravel and food remains. There is a tough membranous yellow muscle covering the gizzard. Peel it off and put the gizzard into your useful parts bowl. Sometimes the lungs will partially adhere to the inside. It's not a problem. If you have ever wondered what that stuff is on the inside back of a purchased chicken, it's lungs. Cut off the neck and set it aside. Remove the crop, the sack the chicken holds food in. 

If you are butchering an old layer, you will get quite a bit of egg laying apparatus out. You may find a fully formed egg. The egg is fine to eat, and the immature eggs are fine to use in cooking if you care to. Retired layers are mostly feathers, fuss and egg laying apparatus. There's not much meat on them, but they make superb soup.

Now, rinse off the chicken and use your pliers to remove the pinfeathers. This is the most time consuming part. If you are freezing or refrigerating the chicken, drop it in a cooler of ice water to cool down, then drain and package. If you are eating it immediately, cut up (if desired) and cook.

If you are butchering a retired layer or cull rooster, the best cooking method involves liquid and long, slow cooking. A true free range chicken is a tough bird. If you want to raise your own meat chickens, get a breed intended for the purpose. Plan to raise a batch to the age of 10-12 weeks and have a chicken butchering day.

In countries without refrigeration, the chickens run around until they are eaten. Authentic chicken curry and chicken tandoori recipes involve sauce and hours of cooking on low heat.

The feathers can go straight onto garden beds, or into the compost. The heart and gizzard can go into stock. The liver is delicious cooked up immediately. If you have a lot of livers, they freeze well.

Turkeys are butchered just the same way. I like to respect the bird's life by using every bit except the offal.

The first time butchering a bird takes a while, and an emotional readjustment from buying packaged, impersonal food. You will pick up speed with practice. Be sure to allow time for clean up and packaging and freezing your birds. If you have have household members who bond unduly with dinner, send them out while you do the deed. Otherwise, they may be so emotional as to be unable to eat the nice meal that you have worked so hard to prepare for them.

It is about impossible for a backyard chicken grower to sell a plucked and drawn bird legally in the State of Washington. However, if you buy (or get free) a live bird and butcher it yourself, the transaction is totally above board. You might be intending to to keep it for a pet, eh? There are folks who don't want to butcher the layers they have grown attached to, and don't want to keep feeding them in their dotage, either. Try to get the old girls for really cheap or free. There's not much to them, for the amount of work involved.

Liver and Eggs:
hard boiled egg
chicken or turkey liver
Slice onion, saute sliced onion and liver. When liver is brown outside, but still a bit pink in the center when sliced through, mince up liver, onions and hard boiled egg. Season with salt, thyme, savory and coarse black pepper. Originally a recipe for stretching a single liver to make an appetizer for many, this is excellent on crackers or toast rounds while you package up those birds for freezing.

If you have meat chickens or a purchased bird, you may want to cook up only the breast and legs for dinner, saving the neck, back and wings for stock. Reserve the heart and gizzard.
Put legs, neck and wings in a baking pan. Cook in a 300 degree F oven for an hour, turning halfway through. Put the meat pieces, heart, gizzard, a bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and savory in a four quart soup pot. Pour some water or wine into the bottom of the pan the chicken pieces baked in and scrape off the bits. Pour it into the pot and add water to cover. Simmer on very low for one hour. Strain out the pieces and remove the meat from the bones. Put the bones back in the pot, with a chunk of carrot, some celery and a piece of onion. Simmer for another 1-2 hours on very low heat. Strain out the broth. This makes about two quarts of stock. The meat and stock can be used to make soup immediately. Otherwise, use the meat in something strongly flavored, such as curry or tacos. It won't keep long.
Stock stores very nicely in quart canning jars in the fridge. Mayonnaise or spaghetti sauce jars are not recommended. I've had them literally burst at the seam, spraying boiling stock everywhere. A layer of fat will rise to the top of the jar as the broth cools. Don't disturb it. The fat seals air out and preserves your stock. When you are ready to use the stock, you can peel off the fat layer if you like. Traditionally, the schmaltz (the fat layer) was used to brown the onions and garlic for the soup. Home raised birds sometimes have a lot of yellow fat, which was used for cooking in the days before vegetable oils were readily available.
If you intend to freeze the stock, leave a full inch of head room in the jar and let it cool first in the refrigerator. Then put the jar in the freezer with the lid off. When it freezes solid, put the lid on. This keeps your jars from cracking.

Coq au Vin Rouge:
That extra rooster that came in the shipment
2-4 cups red wine
plentiful garlic, carrots, onions, black peppercorns, rosemary and a bay leaf
A crock pot or heavy soup pot.
Butcher rooster. Assemble rooster and other ingredients in the pot. Add stock or water to cover. Cook a long time on very low heat, adding more water if needed, until the meat falls off the bones.
Serve meat and broth over cooked egg noodles or red potatoes. Amazing.

Consult the Joy of Cooking, Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook, or other general purpose cookbook for directions on freezing your birds.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on July 3, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Cheap Garlic Tricks

It's time to go out and snap off those cute curly garlic scapes. You want the plant to be frustrated in its reproductive mission and direct its photosynthesis into making a bulb. The bulb stores energy for another try next year, unless you get there first and put it into the spaghetti. The scapes have become quite the high priced delicacy, a side benefit of growing your own. It's also time to hill up the potatoes. This means burying the stems so that the plant will grow more tubers. Otherwise, you get all top growth and few spuds.

Your early garlic may be ready to harvest. When the stems fall over, any growth that is going to happen has already happened. Growers harvest the field when half the stems have fallen over. Gardeners can be picky and get their garlic as it is ready. You want to catch the bulb at that point where it is fully mature, but the top has not yet opened up. Open tops allow dirt to get in among the cloves. Wash those ones off and use immediately; they won't keep. When you have the bulbs out of the ground, brush off most of the dirt and lay it out, stalk and all, on newspaper indoors or in a covered porch. If you have a well-ventilated barn with an elevated drying rack, more power to you, but then you hardly need tips from me.

The main season hard neck garlic comes on in August. We're getting the early soft neck varieties now. If you are looking for an early garlic, try planting Chinese Pink from Territorial in October for an early summer harvest next year.

Garlic comes in soft neck and hard neck types. The soft neck varieties keep longer. That's the ones that can be braided. To braid your garlic, lay it out and let it dry until the tops are no longer green but not completely shriveled. Clean off the dirt as it dries. Then start with three bulbs at the top. Cross the stems just like braiding your kid's hair, adding another bulb with each cross. Cinch the bulbs up good and tight as you braid, because the stems will continue to shrink as they complete the drying. When the braid is as heavy as you want (over enthusiasm results in a braid heavy enough to pull the hook out of the wall), finish braiding the stems and put a knot in the end to hold the braid together. Or decorate with a calico ribbon and some rosemary branches, if you want to impress your friends.

With a little practice, you will be making very nice garlic braids. The point of this work is to get the garlic in a compact form where it can be hung up in a well- ventilated spot with sufficient humidity. Your kitchen out of direct sunlight is an excellent spot. I keep mine in the basement.

Hard neck garlic has stems too tough to braid. For storage, pick the best ones and lay them, stems and all, to dry. The stems will shrivel, but leave them on so that the bulb cures properly. As they dry, clean off the dirt. When the stems are fully dry and the bulbs resemble something you would buy in a store, clip off the stems and store the bulbs someplace well-ventilated. A small net bag hung on the wall works well.

Besides the pricey scapes (excellent in stir-fried dishes), you can use the bulbs and stems that are too small, oddly shaped, or have open bulbs. Cut off the bulbs to use fresh.

The stems are hard and fibrous. Here's Walter Haugen's garlic stock recipe:

Clean off the dirt and shriveled leaves from the stem. Cut into short pieces. Use fresh, or freeze the pieces. When you want to make garlic stock, pull several stem pieces in a pan with some water and simmer. Use immediately, or keeps in the fridge for several days.

Garlic is a notorious source of contamination in preservation. To use garlic in pickles, peel the cloves and cut off the heel. Then clean up any dirt on the counter before going any further. Rinse off the cloves.

Here's a five-minute garlic dill:

Scrub pickling cukes thoroughly with a soft brush. Get your steam canner ready to go, and fill the reservoir with boiling water. Pack cukes into scalded jars with a dill head and one or more garlic cloves in each jar. Add pepper corns, a bay leaf, an optional small hot pepper and 1 level teaspoon of kosher salt per quart jar. Pour in boiling white wine vinegar until the jar is half full. Add boiling water to fill within a half inch of the top. Seal with scalded lids. Process in a steam canner for 5 minutes.

If you are up in the north country around Birch Bay, check out the Farmer's Market. Local meats (Keizer, buffalo, Farmer's Market house brand), fish (Barleans), poultry, dairy (Edaleen, Twin Brook, Appel Farm cheese), Barb's pies (Ferndale), honey (Guillumette's), knitted items, two local coffee roasters, bulk beans and rice, garden center, gifts, huge decorative clay flower pots (Mexico and Thailand). Plenty of vegetables and fruits. The fruits and vegetables are conventional and predominantly from elsewhere, but they look good.

The new owner might be open to carrying more local fruit and vegetables in season. John Sheehan, owner of Sundance Beef, purchased the Farmer's Market from Terry Smith and will be renaming it The Sundance Market. The place is larger than it looks from the road, and has more stuff in it than can be comprehended in one visit. The market has 10,000 square feet, which is the size of a supermarket in the 1960's. The Smiths added a huge pole barn last year, so business must be good.

A word to the entrepreneurs out there: they could use more local value added products, such as soap, herb teas, pasta, salad dressings, salsa etc.

Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 3591 Birch Bay Lynden Rd, Custer, WA 98240.

Buffalo Link Soup (Buffalo Beenie-Weenie)

Soak 1 cup small white navy beans in water to cover over night and simmer until tender, keeping just enough water to cover.
Slice and brown a small onion and the buffalo links in a soup pot. Cut up the links.
Add 1 quart garlic stock (or other stock), savory, thyme, a bay leaf, cooked beans and 1/4 cup tomato paste, and simmer it all together for a bit.

For a fast workday meal, make garlic stock and cook beans ahead of time and store in the fridge. The then whole soup goes together quickly. Buffalo links are really good. A bit pricey, but one package can be divided to make two batches of soup. It's actually better that way, with a higher bean proportion to balance the rich flavor of the links.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 24, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Moo Juice Season

"Wow, that is really good. That tastes so creamy!" "Now, that tastes like the milk we used to get out of the tank back on the dairy farm." Jackie's Jersey milk got raves from my taste test panel. Jackie's Jerseys (Terra Organica, Coop, Sumas IGA) is a dairy farm with 18 cows, all Jerseys. Eighteen cows is too many to be a hobby and nowhere near enough for a conventional dairy. The normal conventional dairy in Whatcom county has 500 - 600 cows. In California, dairies can have 10,000 cows.

To help visualize this cow, Elsie, the mascot of Borden's cheese familiar from the label, is a Jersey. (Despite Elsie's mug on the package, Borden's cheese tastes like glue.) Jerseys are small (800 to 1200 pounds) brown to grey girls, beloved for their sweet temperament and high-butterfat milk. They have very good grazing efficiency due to their small size, which means that it is possible to pack more Jerseys on a pasture and actually get more for the milk from the same area.

That genderless bovine on the Whatcom Transport Authority bus is a Holstein heifer, a young female whose udder will be noticeable after she calves, technically called a Holstein-Friesian. The familiar black and white Holstein is the mass market milk cow. Holsteins were brought to the U.S. in the 1850's and have been the dairy industry's cow of choice since. They remain popular because they produce abundant milk on grass. Which is interesting, because the big California dairies don't actually feed the cows on grass.

Holsteins have been bred to give astonishing milk production, in the neighborhood of twenty gallons of milk a day. There has been concern about using recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) to boost milk production even higher. By comparison, the famous prize cow in Ten Acres Enough (written in the 1860's, available in the library, well worth reading) gave five gallons a day and she was legendary throughout the whole county. All that hyped up milk production is hard on the cow. Modern Holsteins have a productive life of 4-6 years. In the 1920's, cows were expected to give 4 gallons of milk a day (already up from 1860 averages) and had a productive life of 12-14 years.

All of which would just be more about cows than you really wanted to know, except that Jackie's Jerseys got in trouble with the Raw Milk Police. There is no way to have a conventional dairy business model with 18 Jersey cows. However, Jackie's does raw milk, and it's really good stuff. They are targeting a niche market and the Raw Milk Police targeted them. Two people in Washington State got sick from e-coli recently. There was no evidence that the e-coli came from Jackie's milk, but it was the only thing that the investigation could find in common. Hence Jackie's was in big trouble.

This happens all too often. Joel Salatin tells exactly the same story of raw milk producers in Virginia in "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". If anyone gets sick from e-coli, the milk is blamed, even though they could have contacted the bacteria cleaning up dog poop on the street or any number of other ways. If the dairy survives the investigation, the publicity alone may put them out of business. Grace Harbor went out of the raw milk business after an e-coli incident and even got rid of their cows for years.

When I heard about the e-coli incident, I ran out and bought a half gallon of Jackie's milk. It was such a hit, I plan to keep buying it.

It is seldom pointed out in e-coli scares that the human digestive system processes small amounts of e-coli very well. There were no Health Department inspectors checking the milk in our thousands of years of pastoralism. We are co-evolved with the little critters.

However, cows evolved to eat grass. Normal cow digestive system e-coli eats the grass the cows eat, breaking down the cellulose into vinegar. When cows are fed a high grain diet, they develop a different strain of intestinal flora. We are not adapted to it, and it can be lethal to persons with compromised immune systems. In California, the dry conditions allow keeping mind boggling numbers of cows. They are fed plenty of grain to keep milk production high. One dairy cow produces 148 pounds a day of manure. The poop product of 10,000 cows is difficult to imagine. In California, runoff from monoculture dairy production in a desert contaminated the irrigation water used for monoculture spinach production in the desert and bagged spinach sickened people all over the country.

What to do, besides staying away from vegetables that come packed in little bags of nitrogen? The local milk is very good right now. The rainy weather grew excellent grass. The taste test panel also really liked Fresh Breeze, which jumps through all the hoops to maintain organic certification and Twin Brook, which is "98% organic practices but paperwork free". Local conventional dairy Edaleen's milk was judged so far superior to Haggen's store brand (both available through WIC) that taste tester's shopping habits have changed.

Jackie's beat the rap. The State of Washington was able to identify the culprit DNA strain and it was not from Jackie's. Grace Harbor is back in the cow business, with a really good yogurt. Yogurt is a pasteurized product, unless of course you make it yourself from the other half of a container of raw milk.

1 quart raw milk
1 cup commercial yogurt (look for the label "contains live cultures", you want the bugs)
or 1 envelope yogurt culture (look for Yogourmet brand)
dial immersion thermometer (Cash and Carry, an excellent investment)

Warm milk to 120 - 130 degrees F. Ignore all propaganda about higher temperatures, otherwise why buy raw milk in the first place. 

Allow to cool to 110 degrees. The really organized recommend immersing the pot into a larger pot filled with ice water for rapid cooling. This resembles work, so I generally just let it sit there and cool off. Add culture. Ideally, keep around 80 degrees for six hours until it sets. I put the oven on warm, then turn it off and set the pot in there. 

This produces a thinner yogurt than commercial products, more like a yogurt drink. Attention to detail (rapid cooling, keeping it warm during culturing) will result in a somewhat firmer product. Flavor with a little vanilla and sugar or maple syrup, if desired. Really good stuff. Smash up some fresh strawberries and stir in the yogurt for an amazing beverage.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 21, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Crunch Time in the Garden

The summer garden planting time is upon us, and a right good trick it is. In between the downpours, it's time to rush out and plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, summer and winter squashes, sweet corn, beans and cucumbers. Those brave and blessed with a good microclimate may try some northern adapted melons. Russian Collective Farm Woman melon is my choice this year. Last year, I planted a French heirloom cantaloupe thingy and got a half dozen drippingly sweet softball sized melons. The full force of weather off Bellingham Bay hits my garden, and melons are a stretch.

It's also time to get the big brassicas that will take you through the winter started in little pots to transplant in six weeks: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts. Look for broccoli and cabbages that say fall, winter, overwintering in the description, such as January King cabbage and Purple Sprouting broccoli (a show stopper, that one.)

We could use a dry stretch to get the herbs harvested. They are flowering, or just about to flower. That early flowering stage is just what you want. Wait until the dew has dried on the herbs to pick them. Late morning, or an overcast day, after a night without rain is best, but it's to the point that soon we'll have to get them in as best as we can, and spread them to dry on the dining table if necessary. Try to avoid the really soggy stage, because the herbs tend to mold instead of drying. The lavender is just budding out. For potpourri and medicinal use, harvest the lavender when the buds are fat but still unopened.

Meanwhile, the garden is trying to revert to temperate rain forest. Blackberries are springing up in the lawn. Small trees are sprouting among the shrubs. The weeds are waist-high. In last year's seed production beds, there is a sudden abundance of kale, a mat of stringy volunteer beets coming up too close, a thicket of radishes already bolted and flowering. No doubt your lawn, or what is left after you put a garden on it, is reaching for the sky as well.

While you're doing all that gardening and keeping up with your day job, strawberry season is upon us. The map of u-pick berry farms from Sunday's paper is on line at There too, a dry day is best, because wet berries mold. Sometimes they mold before you can get them home.

As you are up late stirring jam before getting up early to start work the next day, it may cross your mind to wonder why bother putting in hours planting, drying herbs and jamming up on top of everything else you already have going. Good question. I ask myself this every year, particularly when it's past bedtime and I still have jars to fill and process. Then in winter, I crack open a jar of homemade jam and the fragrance of strawberry fields in June fills the air. Could I buy organic broccoli in winter and artisan preserves as good as homemade? Sure, but then I'd have to make twice as much. Far better to spend the time here than driving I-5 to some techno-geek job in Seattle. I did that for a while, and decided that with the garden as part of my business plan, I had far less stress and about the same take home income, after the cost and time of commuting. Besides, it's difficult to get laid off from gardening.

Go for it.

And, hey hey, if your potatoes are flowering, the new potatoes are ready. Reach in, feel around, and taste the summer.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on June 10, 2010. For recent posts, see

Monday, June 21, 2010

Celt's Garden - Getting Real About Winter Gardening

Just as a filthy cold spring is delaying planting the summer garden, it's time to get ready to plant your winter garden. The winter garden feeds you, your family, and possibly your laid off friends through next fall, winter and spring with fresh delicious veg. That eight months of food you grow yourself provides fresh food when it is most expensive and most likely to be imported from California, Mexico, China and Chile. Personally, I wish Chile all the best in a changing world, but tying a great chunk of their national prosperity to our continued ability and desire to buy air freighted perishables in midwinter deserves a rethink.

As Kenyan green bean and flower growers discovered when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull blew in Iceland and disrupted air freight for a week, it's a vulnerable business model. As Kenyans fed roses to cows by the truckload and scrambled to find closer markets for green beans (Kenyans don't eat green beans), Britons got a view of their supply chain that most people never notice. In Kenya, distributors struggled to stay afloat, growers were hit hard, field hands were laid off and had no pay packets to take home to momma. In Britain, eaters got an abrupt insight into just in time supply.

Despite all the publicity around local eating, we're not organizing our supply chain much differently from the British. I ran smack into that in November 2005, when I was gardenless. I was suddenly back to buying fresh food. Good ruddy luck buying winter vegetables from Washington, much less the Fourth Corner region, in a state that raises a good part of the world's supply of seed for winter vegetables. Yup, you heard me correctly. Washington State grows 50% of the world's cabbage, carrot, spinach, cauliflower, brussels spout and table beet seed, 40% of world radish seed and 20% of world onion seed. (Source: WSDA, dig around and you can find it.)

So I wander into the Co-op on a Tuesday in November and ask the nice lady in the produce section about local winter vegetables, seeing as all the chard, kale, onions, beets, spinach, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and suchlike are from California. First response: the local farmers want a vacation in winter after the summer growing season. Thinking of farmers I know who have winter jobs to keep it together, that sounded doubtful. Second response: not enough farmers. She was putting out two and a half cases of kale a day and local farms couldn't supply the volume. Winter vegetables don't grow around here because the farmers don't plant them. That makes sense: no market, no planting. Since we were standing in a market, I kept on it and got the third response: kale and suchlike doesn't grow around here in the winter time. Now, I had to tell her that I been eating kale out of a patio garden in Bellingham for five winters. By which time, wanting to get back to arranging the organic tomatoes from Chile and clearly fed up with idiots like me, she told me that if I wanted local winter vegetables I should grow them myself.

So back by the canned beans aisle I found Derek Long, who at that time was in charge of the Local Food and Farming initiative with Sustainable Connections and also on the Co-op board. I asked Derek about the shortage of local winter veg. Derek rolled his eyes, gave an exasperated snort, and said "Get real, Celt! What do you expect from us?"

Derek is normally a fairly easy going guy, so I took this as indicative of tripping over a larger issue.

In fact, I had tripped over the kale strand in a whole plate of organic vegetable production spaghetti. Just one piece of it is that the Co-op (and Terra Organica, which really tries hard to buy from local growers) has to make margin to stay in business, and making margin means adopting supermarket standards. Customers expect fresh tomatoes in midwinter and they don't expect to find a sign that says, "Sorry, all out of kale. Fred's Farm in Snohomish County will be sending a shipment Thursday."

Another piece is that the big growers in far away places can offer lower wholesale prices. Even with the paperwork for USDA organic standards jacking up the price and hysteria over illegal immigration (there is no other kind for Mexican farm workers, the legal immigration quota is zero) choking the supply of skilled agricultural workers, the big growers in California can offer a reliable volume at a lower price than local growers.

Even with the economies of scale for big growers, multiple subsidies to the energy industry to get the produce transported here, multiple subsidies to the water industry to grow irrigated vegetables in the desert, and considerable taxpayer subsidies for the overhead of organic certification programs and rest of the USDA, the stuff isn't all that cheap by the time it hits our shelves.

Growing your own is one answer. If you have some space that you can devote to a winter garden, it will save you beaucoup bucks. If you have 10-20 square foot per eater, you can have something fresh all winter. The storm in 2008 froze out my normally reliable winter garden, but even then it got growing again after a couple of months.

If you are growing your own starts, June is the time to get the heavy veg (leeks, cauliflower, winter cabbage, and brussels sprouts) started in little containers for transplant July-August. Kale tends to bolt in summer's heat and can wait another month. Beets, chard, bok choi, napa cabbage, Walla Walla onions and carrots are direct seeded in July. Winter spinach, mustard family greens, radishes and lettuce are direct seeded a bit every week July through September. Arranging some protection for tender greens will extend the season and give you fresh salads until it gets really cold.

The other option is to get to know your farmer. Attempts by producers to generate a market for the off season have failed miserably so far. Growing Washington kept the farm stand on Railroad Avenue open last fall until it was clear that it wasn't going to work. Various farmers have tried to offer extended season CSA's. That hasn't worked either. If we want local farmers to plant for us instead getting jobs bookkeeping and fixing cars, they need to feel comfortable that they have customers through the winter. We eaters will have to step up and make a commitment to buy consistently.

The longer season at the Farmer's Market is a step in the right direction. Talk to the farmers there and see what you can arrange. There are many more farmers in the area who aren't selling at the Farmer's Market. Look for them on the Farm Map, and by asking around. If you are out in the county, look for on-farm sales signs. The Smith Road is one long farm stand. There's a cluster around Ferndale, another around Everson, and a few down Highway 9 towards the county line.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on May 28, 2010. For recent posts, see

Celt's Garden - Eating to Scale

A few years ago, just as the local food movement was popping on to the radar, Joel Salatin, farmer and writer, wrote a passionate book titled, "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". Salatin's point is that a half century of consolidation, increasingly large food processors and "eliminating the middleman" has eliminated the middleman. Nearly the entire local food processing and distribution system has gone out of business or been buried in regulations. In some cases, the regulations are aimed at controlling industrial food processing facilities. In other cases, they seem intended to eliminate the small processors.

Salatin has more than once had to pay legal fees, enlist his his legislative representatives, invest in expensive infrastructure, drive hundreds of miles to have his meat processed in an abattoir with the right certification and spend hundreds of hours of grief and time better invested in his farm.

The federal regulations are the same, although they may be differently interpreted by inspectors in different states. The state regulations vary. Salatin's head-on collisions with the State of Virginia differ in the details from what we are up against here. There has been increasing support for local value added products from the Washington Ag Extension service and WSDA during the last few years.

Larry Stap, owner of Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, gave a tour a couple of years ago and told the tale. This is a story with a happy ending: the family farm is still in operation, still in the family, and Twin Brook Creamery products have a solid local following. Larry's story of getting there was just gruesome. Twin Brooks uses returnable glass bottles. People love the milk. Turning an old farm building into a licensed bottling facility was very expensive and took a couple of years of paper work on top of the renovation. Larry's tale of the regulatory hoops they had to jump through to get up and running was sobering. Seems the glass bottles are made in only one factory in Canada, more infrastructure that we have lost. Larry abides by 98% of organic dairy regulations because he feels that it's the right way to farm, to take care of his customers and his animals. He refuses to apply for organic certification because he feels the paperwork is not a good use of his time and the other 2% of the regulations are just a scam.

Salatin is surrounded by small producers of baskets, jam, cider, etc. He can't sell any of it in a farm stand because it isn't his product. The other producers are not interested in dealing with the public for one transaction at a time. Selling one chicken to a neighbor, by the book, requires a $100,000 investment in upgrading the road, installing handicapped accessible bathrooms, and on and on.

And then there's the certified kitchen problem. No value added product can be sold to the public unless it is made in a certified kitchen. In Washington, a certified kitchen has to be separate from the family kitchen and have a separate entrance and a stainless steel double sink. That's an impossible barrier for someone with four bushels of backyard fruit to jam up. It's too much fruit for the family to eat and there's no legal way to make it into jam to sell. The only option is to give it away. Meat, eggs, dairy and baked goods each have their own intricate regulations, separate from the jam and salad dressing rules.

Tiny entrepreneurial enterprises need to start in the home kitchen. No sensible person starts a small business by investing $30,000 - $50,000 in a commercial kitchen before finding out whether they like getting up at 3:00 AM to bake scones every day. No sensible entrepreneur spends three months making jam without spending a couple of years in low overhead mode, testing recipes on customers first. The barriers to entry are too high for most people to attempt.

There are some local nano-capitalists out there. The burrito lady retired but there is a tamale lady on the east side of town. Tamales like you have never tasted (unless you have a Mexican granny), if you know the tamale lady. I did some chicken deals in parking lots years ago. My middle-aged hippie friends cracked up at the story, because it reminded them of drug deals from the 70's. "Leave the money in the glove compartment, the chickens will be in a cooler in the back."

We are seeing some progress away from a condition of complete paralysis of the local food system. The Washington State Extension service has been positively small farm friendly by comparison with Salatin's experiences in Virginia. The Northwest Agricultural Business Center ( rents an approved poultry processing kit to farmers. Demand has been high. They tried to offer ten-month class on value-added products for farmers last year but it didn't happen. Seattle, always the home of the micro food enterprise, has a few restaurants buying local animals and doing their own charcuterie. San Juan County was out front. After a multi-year process to get a USDA inspected mobile abattoir for small farmers, they got a co-op up and running, hired a butcher, jumped through the hoops and started operation in 2002. Demand is so high that they are adding a second trailer.

Investing in a certified kitchen has been a disaster for two local small businesses and the kiss of death for one. One guy has been able to make it work because he started with a tiny residential kitchen in an old house that was previously absorbed into commercial zoning. As work space, it is terrible - it's a one-butt family kitchen and there is no room to process 100 lbs of fruit or pickles. But it came with the required bathroom and two doors. With a fire extinguisher, a stainless steel restaurant sink and two refrigerators in the former back mud room, he was up and running in an affordable space.

Even as there are a few hopeful signs for local food processing, we are still losing infrastructure. Reid Boiler Works, possibly the last U.S. manufacturer of small scale commercial canning equipment (called autoclaves and retorts on that scale) auctioned everything to the walls this month. Hey, the waterfront property in South Bellingham is a great location for more upscale condos to add to the unsold inventory already lining South State Street.

If you are interested in food nano-capitalism, the Green Book is a summary of Washington State food processing regulations. It's available as a free download. Dig around on the WSU ag extension website. It is always advisable to get a food handler's license and take some classes from the Master Preservers before jumping off the deep end. And of course, test your recipes on friends and family.

Salatin's book is in the library. The queue is a couple of months long.

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on May 22, 2010. For recent posts, see