Monday, June 29, 2009

Independence Days Challenge - Daikon Edition

Time for another Independence Days report. You can play along at home too.

Since reading the wonderful book on homescale permaculture, Gaia's Garden, I've been intrigued by the idea of growing some daikon. The author, Toby Hemenway, mentioned the ingenious idea to grow these long, deeply rooted Asian radishes entirely for the purpose of soil improvement. If you have very poor or compacted soil, the mature roots of the daikon can simply be left in the soil to rot. They will add a column of organic matter to the soil while working to break up heavy clay and improve drainage. I absolutely love the permaculture concepts of using the inherent qualities or behaviors of plants to further human goals. It's similar to the way I put the chickens to work clearing new beds for gardening, or just weeding a recently harvested bed before replanting. Letting the diakon do the work of soil improvement is far less disruptive to the subterranean environment than tilling. All the soil based microorganisms aren't disturbed, and buried weed seeds don't get a free ride to the surface where they're likely to germinate.

Beyond that, I've been all itchy and scratchy to try making the Chinese "turnip cake" dish, which is actually made with radishes, and I'm guessing it's not those dainty French breakfast radishes, but the more substantial daikon type. So I got some late season daikon seed, and have been champing at the bit to plant them, even though I should really wait a month. In my typical jump the gun fashion, I decided to plant a few seeds each week from now till the end of August. We'll see which row looks best when it's time to harvest.

I plan to put some daikons for soil improvement under our apple tree, where we plan to put a permaculture bed in place next year. The soil there gets too much rain runoff from the back of our garage, which for some reason never had a rain gutter installed. Very damaged soil under there, but a permaculture bed should heal it, and a rain catchment system is in on our list.

Anyhow, on to the Independence Days report:

Planted - More kale since my kale plants seem to be going absolutely nowhere this year, some parsley and rosemary seedlings that I picked up at the farmer's market for a song, the aforementioned daikons, a few more okra seeds since the seedlings look like they haven't enjoyed all the rain we've had this month. Some flageolet beans to replace the Hutterite soup beans which don't seem to have made it. It's a bit late to be planting beans, but if we're lucky with the timing of the first fall frost, I may see a good yield. Other work in the garden includes more lasagna mulching, hilling the potatoes and leeks, chopping back the exuberant comfrey for green manure, and of course weeding.

Harvested - Clipped a bunch of oregano to hang and dry, Greek-fashion. I harvested about two cups of lemon balm leaves to make an experimental batch of homemade soda. Still eating salad from the garden, and eggs from our ever-reliable girls. Between a late frost in May and torrential June, our springtime yields just haven't been at all what I had hoped for. The garlic already harvested has another week of drying before I trim it up, clean it, weigh it, and select the best bulbs for re-planting before storing the remainder. I'm now harvesting some of my bolting lettuce plants for the chickens. Mostly these are regrowth from heads that were cut earlier, so I don't feel there's much waste there. The girls relish these daily treats.

Preserved - Said bundle of oregano for drying. Not much else.

Waste not - Nothing new here. Same old recycling, etc. But if it counts, I've been managing with fans instead of any AC so far this summer. I'm surprised how much my body has acclimated to warmer sleeping temperatures. I really like to sleep in a cold room with heavy blankets.

Preparation/Storage - Nothing much to report here. Got a book on bean dishes out of the library. I'm looking for ideas to incorporate more of them into our diet. Since we can grow our own soup beans, this could and should be an extremely cheap cornerstone food for us. I just need to figure out how to make that happen. Baked beans aren't going to do it, damn our culinary standards.

Community - I finally made it to the third week of the closest farmer's market. Three of the vendors I was most likely to buy from have moved on to other markets. But there are still nice looking fruits and veggies available.

I missed the scheduled Plant a Row drop-off at the food bank this past week. I may try to make up for it this week. I can certainly spare some lettuce, and the hot weather out there isn't doing them any good.

At a dinner with some friends last night I brought up the Transition movement. I tried to explain what it was and felt I didn't do a very good job of it. I'm intrigued by the possibilities of working at a very local level to prepare for an energy-scarce future. But even when talking to people who were already quite receptive to the concepts, I don't feel well equipped to teach and share ideas. It's not that I'm uncomfortable speaking - I've gotten over my fear of speaking publicly and formally. I just don't feel like I have enough of a handle on the issues to explain clearly or convince anyone.

Eat the food - That homemade lemon balm soda? I got the idea from a couple articles over at Herb Mentor, where they discuss blueberry soda and popsicles made from lemon balm and honey. Since I had neither popsicle molds nor patience, I improvised wildly. It turned out alright, but a little grassy tasting. I was curious how it might differ if I used dried lemon balm. My plants are new and thus small this year. So I'll have to wait for more growth before trying a second batch. I think I preferred my batch of ginger ale, which wasn't homegrown in the least.

I brought the worst looking garlic right inside to the kitchen and have been salvaging what I could of it. Still eating homemade bread (baked in cooler months) from the chest freezer. Also made a cherry clafouti with our own eggs and sour cherries from the farmer's market.

So what's up in your neck of the woods? How does your garden grow?


Maya said...

Hmmm, Lemon Balm Soda - what a fabulous idea! We have a ton of lemon balm in the yard and I regularly make big batches of iced tea and ice cream with it. But soda would add a whole other dimension. I am curious about your method - did you steep the leaves in the sugar syrup?

Kate said...

Hi, Maya. What I did was harvest about two cups of lemon balm leaves and then make a tea out of them with boiling water. I let that steep for 20 minutes, and then added honey. I made it a fair bit sweeter than I would want to drink it straight. At that point I had about a half gallon of liquid. When the temperature was a little bit above body temp, somewhere around 110-115F, I added about 1/16 teaspoon of active dry yeast. This went into a tightly sealed plastic soda bottle.

I left it for a while and then opened the cap to allow more air in, since there was a slight vacuum due to the liquid and air inside cooling down. I also gave it a good shake to distribute the yeast in the liquid. The bottle at this point was easy to squeeze in a bit, even when tightly capped. I left that overnight. The next morning the bottle was so full of extra gas from the yeast that the bottle hardly gave at all when squeezed. At that point I put it in the coolest part of the fridge for several hours to kill or radically slow down the yeast. We drank it all that evening. Good stuff, but like I said, a bit grassy.

maya said...

Hmm,methinks some experimenting is in my future. Thanks for the detailed instructions. I may throw some mint in there to offset the herbaceousness.

Kate said...

Sure, Maya. I'd love to hear your reports on any homemade sodas you experiment with. I'm very much flying by the seat of my pants with the yeasted soda concept!

sue said...

Hi ! I Just happened on your blog by chance.The Transition Movement is really taking off here in the UK.Checkout the main website by googling 'Transition Towns' and in particular Transition Totnes for lots of ideas and an easy explanation of the concept.