berry busy planting…stay tuned

No time to write.  Too busy fending off a sore throat, dodging raindrops, fixing supports, getting in those last few plants, weeding, etc. before the papers come in and grades are due.  Enjoy this photo of my currant bush.  I do wonder why one bush is full of berries, and the other (about 3-4 feet away) doesn’t have any.  Weren’t they the same cultivar?  They don’t look alike.  Uh oh.

But I won’t complain.

Neither will I complain about this, my pretty, the first crop of the year.  The haskap berries are ripening!  Not sure why I shot the only berry that was damaged, but you get the picture.  Pretty soon I will have enough to make jam, hopefully before I leave.

The ripe berries look like elongated blueberries and taste tart and sweet, like a cross between a cranberry and a raspberry, or maybe a slightly unripe loganberry.

I managed to withhold buying blueberries (yet again) and some rather promising, if not exactly upright as advertised, huckleberries.

My tayberries are also yearning to break free; I actually have berries the size of my pinky tip.  They might be even earlier than the black caps.

Can’t wait for jam season, for summer to be here.  Enough with this rain, already!

roasted new potatoes with fennel green dressing


Need. Green. This dish is transitional, perfectly balanced between the two seasons vying for control over the PNW.  Darkness or light?  Stay tuned, dear farmers.

The new potatoes were roasted at a temperature higher than I usually choose, 425 degrees, which is really too hot unless you intervene in some way.  This is did by adding just a ladleful of chicken stock with my usual olive oil and herb slick to the potatoes just before I popped them into the oven.  Then I forgot about them, so they roasted longer than usual, steaming then caramelizing with the stock.  They emerged as chocolate brown, perfectly roasted, tiny little things.

The dressing was a salad, really.  In my garden, I had thinned out some shallots and a fennel stalk that was in the way, so I chopped them up together and tossed them with the potatoes, just out of the oven.  Dressed with a bit of olive oil and tarragon vinegar, they were just the thing for this still-tentative spring.

niblets: what shall i put in the hole that i dig edition

What shall I put in the hole that I dig is a question for the ages.  This 1963 children’s classic by Eleanor Thompson offers a series of questions about what things can be planted and turned into trees.  But forget the whole appleseed/apple tree nature learning crap.  Too many possibilities for a teasing big sister:  What shall I put in the hole that I dig? If I put my sister in, will it grow into a weirdo tree?  Etc.

So if I haven’t called you back or graded your paper yet, this is what’s been on my mind.  Yes, spring fever has hit!

Digging holes and putting things in them will be on the minds of all Eugenius gardeners this weekend.

Wondering about next steps?

Finish weeding.  I assume you already have your soil amended and most of your weeding under control, but if not, you’ll want to do this soon before the last of the rain goes away.  Once we get that last shower, the clay soil bakes the weed roots in, often in just a matter of a few days.  To help, consider Grandpa’s Weeder.  This standing weeder has been recommended to me by several people (0ver similar products, too).  They might have them back in stock at Down to Earth now, or will be shortly.

Get ghetto.  Those empty plastic bags from compost/soil/mulch are great to put on the ground so your knees don’t get wet and muddy.  I find them much better than the scrawny little pads, since there’s more room to move around on the bags, and they can accommodate, um, more generous knees.

Get some ideas about how to improve your chicken coop TODAY! May 21 is the annual Tour de Coop — buy your guides to the self-guided tour of local chicken coops at The Eugene Backyard Farmer.

Check out this link from NW Edible Life for creative pea and bean trellises in operation in Seattle.

Call in to the Master Gardeners of Lane County Extension.  The hotline is up and running, and the new office handles walk-ins.  Ask weed, bug, and disease questions, what to plant, and how to fix what’s gone wrong at 783 Grant Street, between Garfield and Chambers. Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m.  Master Gardener Hotline: 541-344-0265.

Subscribe to our Extension Agent Ross Penhallegon’s “Garden Hints” group on Facebook for up-to-the-minute advice on what and when to plant in Lane County.  It’s almost like a telegraphic weather service, noting upcoming forecasts and how various South Valley crops are doing.  Get this man on Twitter!

Listen to Pat Patterson’s radio show, The Hatch Patch, on KPNW (1120 AM) from 9-noon on Saturdays.  Pat, the Master Gardener that the Master Gardeners turn to for advice, has encyclopedic knowledge about our area’s flora and fauna.  The radio program has a FAQ for PNW gardeners on their website, including info about moss on roofs and tomato blossom end rot.  (Note: this is the station that hosts Glenn Beck, so be sure to turn your radio off after Pat.)

Buy warm weather starts and start to transition them to your garden.  The most fabulous developments in Eugene gardening in 2011, as far as I’m concerned, are:

  • Log House Plants‘ grafted vegetables, selections of which are available at Jerry’s and that bookstore in Cottage Grove whose name I am forgetting.  Wonderful, fragile heirlooms grafted onto hearty stock for admittedly high prices, but it’s worth a try at least a plant or two in this miserable (so far) season.
  • Jeff’s Garden of Eaton‘s amazing selection of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and winter squash.  I went out to his place yesterday and picked up a dozen or so peppers, mostly Hungarian varieties that we can’t find anywhere else, but also some Sichuan ‘Facing Heaven’ pepper plants — peppers I’ve been searching for ALL OVER THE WORLD — and the peppers they use to make Ethiopian berebere spice and Turkish harissa.  The photo above is one Jeff sent me last week of my Facing Heavens as they were growing at his place.  It was like one of those adoption agencies where you get photos of the darling baby or puppy that will one day soon be yours.  Come home to mama!  Jeff’s plants are available at the The Hideaway Bakery Farmer’s Market (the Other Saturday Farmer’s Market), which is located behind Mazzi’s Restaurant on East Amazon in South Eugene from 9-2 p.m., and at his home in Santa Clara (2650 Summer Lane off River Road — look for the giant greenhouse in front!) most days from noon to 6 p.m. through June.
  • Lonesome Whistle beans, available at the downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  It’s perfectly fine to plant dried beans now.  Just sprout them under a wet paper towel for a couple of days first.

Or just say forget it and go down to Marché Provisions for a bottle of dry rosé, spring’s hottest drink, to drink on your weedy, unplanted patio.  Wine buyer Ryan Dawe-Stotz is a rosé fanatic, so he’s a great resource for consultation. I had my first glass yesterday, so take notice, winter, it’s all over for  you.

chop chop!

We’ve been eating copious amounts of salad.  When lettuce gets tiring, and it soon does, consider a spring vegetable chopped salad.  This one is grilled chicken, breakfast radishes, carrots, garlic chives, two kinds of arugula flowers, and parsley.  Toss with any salad dressing — ours was a tarragon vinaigrette.  And an asparagus chaser.

where the bee sucks, there suck i

Happy Mother’s Day to my mama, who gave me enough literal and figurative space to stretch out.  I wouldn’t be a gardener or a cook if it weren’t for you.

One of my happiest childhood memories was watching the cycle of life on our property.  For me, the new year started with lilacs. I would pluck off the little blossoms and suck in the lilac pollen from the little tube for a hit of pure, uncut lilac blow.  Probably should have tipped someone off that I wasn’t that interested in reproducing.  But still.  It’s hard for me to even imagine the true glory of that towering lilac hedge that ran a length of the property line when I look at my fledgling ‘My Favorite’ lilac  bushes now.  These hybrids were developed by Hulda Klager, she of lilac development fame, and the flowers do kind of look like “purple popcorn,” as the article suggests.  I’ve been waiting for three years for them to bloom for the first time.  Behold their purple popcorn power!

insert chicken manure here

I wrote about my front bed expansion this winter, a slimy, heavy, massive, frozen, half-rotten leaf moving project.  Going through the photos, I had flashbacks to the project and cursing the fair citizens of Eugene for throwing garbage in their piles of leaves that the city recycles.  It was really disgusting, and I won’t be getting leaves from the city again.  I had to pitchfork with a heavy fork just to pull chunks out of the compacted mountain, woven together with long pine needles, and then comb through for ivy, bamboo, and various pieces of metal, candy wrappers, and renovation debris.  It really sucked.  Too bad, because last year the leaves were nice and fluffy and fresh, and helped my garden out immeasurably.

The plan was to expand the 2009 Dissertation Draft Memorial Bed, pictured above in the little strip.  This bed is one of the hottest areas in the yard, and it grew fine peppers and eggplant last year.  I wanted to fill in the grass around the bed and create a full patch for growing more heat-loving crops like squash.  So I laid out cardboard and mounded the leaves on top about a foot or so high.

And lo!  The leaves have now mostly rotten down into a viable compost for the new beds, and the worms are a-squigglin’.  We’re ready to go.  I’ll probably build up the soil this year and leave the bed in the front right of the photo above mostly fallow, but the bed that follows the property line between the houses will be planted.  There will be a path between the original Dissertation Draft bed and the haskapberry hedge-to-be at the property line, so I can have access to both sides of the bed and the berries.

Now it’s time to get serious!  I’m going to till in some chicken manure compost, and get to planting ASAP.

salmon canning and hazel switches

I joined a fellow Master Food Preserver volunteer yesterday to teach salmon canning at the Siletz Confederated Tribes center in Eugene.  I was just the sidekick; Dale is our fish expert.  She teaches albacore tuna canning classes each year.  (Last year, with her help, I wrote up an illustrated guide to the process if you’re interested in trying tuna at home.)

Above: Dale in action and salmon, before and after (or after and before, rather).  When salmon is canned with the skin on, it can be layered in the jar to make really lovely patterns.  Some people made a checkerboard pattern, and others opted for their own creative designs.  Someone commented that it looked almost like a snake coiled in the jar.

Leaving the skin on can be kind of a pain if you want to de-skin the salmon before serving it, but the skin provides healthy fat and flavor.  Salmon doesn’t need to be deboned before canning, as the pinbones dissolve and the spinal column turns soft and edible, providing lots of calcium.  We left it up to the students to decide how they wanted to proceed, after learning how to fillet a hunk of salmon, for those interested in canning without the bones. Easy!

As far as canning classes go, it was probably the most plush gig I’ve taught at.  The organizer, Adrienne Crookes, had all the supplies arranged — from salmon to clean jars to cutting boards to newly sharpened knives — and she even taught the filleting process!  She did quite a bit of work to make this event a success, and it showed.  It’s always such a pleasure to be led by an organizational pro.

A lovely treat was a delicious lunch of salmon burgers made from previously canned fish, as we waited for the long processing to be completed.  The burgers were seasoned with parsley, onion, garlic, and bound with mayo and egg.

After lunch, we were joined by a project coordinator for health and cultural programming for the Federation, Sharla Robinson, who shared a presentation on native foods and reintegrating native plants into the diet.  She stated that Native Americans are particularly susceptible to diabetes and by returning to a more traditional diet, the risk would be reduced.  This is also suggested by a study cited in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, in which diabetes rates plummeted for aboriginal tribes who switched from so-called Western diets high in sugar and refined grains to traditional patterns of eating and living.

For the Siletz Federation, there has been great interest in educating youth at culture camps, but this year marks the first year food is included as part of culture, Sharla noted.  From her poster, replete with photos of food gathering and preparation, I could see that preservation is a crucial aspect of educating new generations about food traditions.  For example, eels are trapped among rocks at the bottom of waterfalls, then smoked like jerky so they’re available for year-round eating.  Huckleberries, salmon berries (and manzanita berries (?!)) are collected for drying.  Fruits like plums, game meat, and fish can be canned.

Pictured above are a lovely jar of beet-red plum halves, a basket of herbs, two jars of deer or elk stew meat, a baggie of what Sharla called “ocean tea” made of a local herb, canned salmon, and giant mussel shells.

What’s ready for traditional projects now?  Hazel branches!  Sharla brought a large armful of switches that had been just cut, and the group of students were persuaded to help peel them for basket weavers.  The Siletz Federation has a language teacher, Bud Lane, who teaches basket weaving.  You can see one white peeled switch in the middle of the leafy pile. While they peeled, I graded exams.  Party pooper, I know. But I did get to see some lovely photos of finished baskets and basket caps, used as part of the ceremonial regalia (thanks, Adrienne!).

Soon enough, the jars were ready and we lifted them out of the canner.  I think we had a 100% seal rate, which wasn’t too shabby at all for a first-time group.  All the students were able to take home a couple of jars.  It was a great group and really fun, plus I learned quite a bit about native flora, fauna, and people.  Thanks, Siletz Confederated!  I hope you have us back to teach more classes soon!