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Tag Archives: food

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There she is! I call her the compost beast. She lives on a tarpaulin on the upstairs deck. How beautiful she is, basking in the morning sun.

Let’s open it up and see more of her.

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The right end of the beast is the input end, AKA her “mouth.” This is where the new “compost food” (kitchen scraps, mostly) goes in. The left end is the output end, AKA her (well, you can figure it out).

150222-1050At right is a close-up of part of the input end. There are moldy fruits, egg shells, various other food debris, and you might also notice some bits of shredded paper.

A few chicken bones are allowed into the stream to add more phosphorus and calcium as they slowly break down. There are also a few twigs and stems of garden cuttings, but not the ones that have lots of viable seeds.

In the past I used to take the time to carefully break up the compost food into bite-size chunks, as a way of “pre-chewing” it so the beast could digest it better. But nowadays I don’t bother to pre-chew her food, because she does a very good job of it as the food decays inside of her.

Time to get to work!

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Before I can add any new compost food I need to do a bit of “grooming” using a soft-tined garden rake. With this type of composting one must act as a sorting agent, bringing the largest bits of undecomposed material back to the input end from the output end. They get re-cycled through the beast until they either break down or are removed during an operation I call “slimming down” that will be described in another post.

To accomplish this debris-sorting the rear end is groomed up toward the front end, bringing those larger bits back for re-digestion. Even though this grooming is only done to the surface layers, over time it is a very effective way to keep the beast sorted from front to back.

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Above is today’s “meal.” You can see citrus peels (often considered too acid for making good compost, but the beast can handle them). There are also avocado peels, egg shells, and a coffee filter (the grounds are there too!) and underneath are some rotting eggplant parts and much more.

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Above: A shovel has been used to open out the input end, creating a flattish space where new food can be added. But we are not ready to do that yet.

150222-1117The kitchen scraps alone would not make good compost. They are too dense and wet, and they are chemically unbalanced. First, I have to add some absorbent, high-carbon content bulk.

That’s easy enough. Like most suburban households, we generate a fair amount of scrap newsprint. This excellent material is sliced into strips with an old-fashioned paper cutter and deposited into the beast’s open mouth.

However, we don’t just use any old paper. Fortunately, the right kind is readily available for free. It’s mostly made of local free newspapers, almost all of which (these days) use good paper and non-toxic, soy-based inks. That’s what we want.

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I’m almost done! The compost food is deposited on top of the shredded paper, and mixed around a bit with the shovel. Any really large chunks are chopped into a few smaller pieces.

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Above: The beast’s mouth is re-closed by moving debris from around the edges back up on top of the new food. Now she is ready to digest her meal. Notice how she is all humped up around the new stuff. That hump will drop down over the next day or two, as the kitchen scraps rapidly decompose.

Below: Back in her tarpaulin robe, the compost beast lies in the warm sun, peacefully digesting her new meal.

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I am happy to announce that with the completion of a certain long-term project in coming weeks there will be a new opening for a regular deep nature garden client (or other interesting commitment!) up to three hours plus per week. This is an exciting opportunity to begin a brand new garden transformation.

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Want to know more? Read about the principles of deep nature gardening. I’m available for long-term garden transformations and in-depth consultations to help you evolve your own deep nature garden.

If a deep nature garden is not quite what you’re looking for, but you’d still like to help support my work, the best way is by spreading the word about what I do. Your kind referrals have always been my lifeblood in this work.

Can you think of anyone in your life that would like to learn more about naturalistic, edible, or artistic gardening? I can give you some business cards, or you can send them to this web site, deepnaturegardens.com.

The new opening in the weekly schedule does not have to be filled by a deep nature garden. It could be an eco-farm greenhouse or an enclosed aquaculture / crop ecosystem. There are other possibilities too. For more creative ideas, look in this site’s top bar under the menu called “our offerings.”

140416-0553Anyone who refers someone who signs up for regular visits or any other paid offering will receive their choice of:

    • dinner with me at an <insert ethnicity> restaurant
    • one hour of garden consultation, in person or on the phone
    • three hours of hands-dirty gardening
    • five eco-packs from our current collection

I’m activating the deep nature referral network… who will turn up the next lead?

Thanks in advance to all the great fans of deep nature gardening! What a cool way to serve the world.

Nick Turner

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Spring Special from deep nature gardens

Want an abundant harvest this summer? Now is the time to plan and plant your veggie garden!

This year our Spring Special is all about growing food – and doing it in style, with ease, diverse abundance, and surprisingly low water use. With store-bought fruits and vegetables becoming not only more expensive, but also more and more coated with icky chemicals, isn’t it time to grow your own organic, yummy food plants?

Let’s get together on your property for a fascinating hour to discuss what’s possible in your garden.

  • What edibles do best in the sunny part of your garden?
  • What edibles thrive in dappled forest shade?
  • What edibles are already in your garden that you aren’t aware of?
  • How can you make best use of reliable and productive perennial edibles like fruit trees, rhubarb, artichokes and asparagus?
  • What kind of garden might maximize your harvest? A traditional raised bed garden, an integrated garden where your edibles are a part of your flower garden, or a collection of containers? Or perhaps there’s an innovative garden design that would boost your harvest.

After our on-site visit, you’ll receive an email containing a summary of what we discussed along with any additional advice and information that you might need. If desired, I can include tips for tasty ways to prepare some of the edibles we found in your garden.

 

140402-2138An hour of this kind of intensive garden-planning consultation is usually priced at $90, but until April 30 you can have this useful and inspiring conversation for only $75.

Are you ready to start producing lots of great edibles this season?

Get in touch and let’s set up your appointment!

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The first “domestic” (human-bred-for-hugeness) strawberries of the year are now almost ripe. This is the first year that the volunteer strawberries in the container garden are receiving the brand-new seed-free ultra-compost, and it shows. Just look at these beauties!

The red-veined stems in the left rear belong to another volunteer, a strapping young seedling of Swiss Chard. It will be relocated into a new pot before it outgrows this one.

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130430-0814Yum. These are not the only nearly-ripe domestic berries. There are at least 30 more in various pots throughout the upstairs container garden. All of them sprouted as volunteers, right out of the seeded eco-compost (which contains many seeds of food plants, having been created partly from kitchen scraps).

The sturdy young plant pictured at right is also being fed the new seed-free ultra-compost. It has sent out six tendrils (one is not visible in this picture) three of which are being rooted in another pot, which is out of frame below.

Looks like a good year for big, fat strawberries!

Meanwhile, deep in the shadowy recesses of the deep nature garden downstairs, the smaller wild strawberries have been blooming and fruiting for several weeks already. Those wild berries are small, but wow, what flavor they have.

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Always, with commercial agriculture, it seems like we have to compromise between flavor and nutrients on one hand, and sheer production mass on the other. Which is better?

I like the results when commercial strains are carefully grown with lots of love, hand-pruned and hand-fed, to create huge berries that actually taste good, that can be left to ripen naturally until they are bright red and plump. Yum!

But those little wild type berries sure are tasty.

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This time of year we see bittercress (Cardamine spp.) in gardens around the Bay Area. It is related to the Arabidopsis thaliana “research cress” that is used around the world in genetic plant research.

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There are several species that are difficult to distinguish. If it’s blooming now, in January-March, it’s probably hairy bittercress (C. hirsuta). If it blooms in early summer it could be little bittercress (C. oligosperma). There are a couple of other less common varieties. All of them are small, cute, and totally harmless.

Although hairy bittercress is native to Europe, in my experience it is not at all invasive. You might read other opinions though!

130303-1431From the earliest stages, bittercress is distinctive. The rosette of tiny, pinnate leaflets with one larger, terminal leaflet is unique.

No matter whether you find them invasive or not, please don’t spray herbicides, as some authors suggest.

Instead, may I suggest you eat them? They are small, brightly flavored, and excellent as a flavor enhancer in salads. All parts of the plant are edible.

These tiny gems are always welcome in my gardens. They need moist, nearly bare ground to grow, and are often seen in shady corners where the moist ground has recently been slightly disturbed. Their sweet little flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, but their exploding seed pods are extremely cool.

As you might expect, bittercress tastes fairly bitter. But chop a few of these miniature leaves into a micro-salad for a nice little extra bite of sharpness. They are high in vitamins and very good for you, as long as you don’t spray refined chemicals in your garden.

By the time they start looking like the mature plants surrounding the pretty rock in the picture below, they are past edible. I generally pull them out at this stage, enjoying the mini-explosions of their ripe seed pods, spreading more seeds of this delicious little salad enhancement all over my welcoming garden.

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The pyracantha shrub at the extreme east corner of the garden is bursting with abundant berries. Actually, they are technically not berries but pomes, similar in structure to apples and pears. Each fruit contains a tiny clump of seeds surrounded by flesh that is bitter but edible – to both birds and humans. Here are two recipes for pyracantha jelly. I haven’t tried either one yet.

Also known as firethorn, pyracantha is native to Europe and Asia. There are several species with berries that are white, red, or yellow. They also have exceptionally nasty thorns, making them good shrubs for human-impenetrable security hedges.

This particular firethorn used to be a giant ovoid of dense leaves enclosing a thick mass of spiny branches. It was frequently sheared back by gardeners with their awful hedge trimmers. Sadly, there are no photos of its original rather ugly shape. When I took over the garden I chopped it back all the way to stumps, but those were allowed to remain and try again.

It sent up dozens of new stems, many of which I simply pulled right off. New wood emerging from old was very easy to break! In the picture at right (taken in November, 2011) the entire space framed was originally filled with a tall, globular mass of spiny brown branches, covered by a thin shell of tiny leaves.

Within weeks a new, beautiful form grew in, with a radically different shape.

It kept on growing and growing and the remaining shoots became thicker, denser, and more vigorous. Each stem became covered with even more amazingly nasty thorns than the ones the plant used to bear. Each thorn is as long as my little finger, with a super sharp needle point at the tip. Pruning such a vastly spiny creature can be challenging, but the reward is a plant of rare beauty.

In May of 2012, when it had already become taller than the six-foot fence behind it, it covered itself with thousands of gorgeous white flowers that attracted bees, flies, beetles, and many more pollinating insects. Standing next to it, one could hear the combined buzzing of all the bugs.

By  this time it was clearly getting out of control. Although it was densely in bloom, its wide-spreading branches were intruding across the path, causing human pedestrians to risk getting punctured by the sharp spines.

Reluctantly, I pruned it back, right in the middle of its blooming phase. Not good for most plants, but this pyracantha, invigorated by its recent complete chopping back, didn’t seem to even notice. Now the garbage collection guys and my neighbors could pass by without damage.

By June 2012 the flowers had dropped their petals. In their place were vast bunches of small green fruit, promising an abundant crop. One of the smallest, lowest branches of the bush was already so heavy with fruit that it broke off at the base. This was to happen to several other small branches during the rest of the summer as the fruit became heavier and riper.

The berries ripened and turned red quite suddenly, taking less than a week from green to punchy, fluorescent crimson. Now this proud pyracantha stands like a thorny sentinal at the east corner of the deep nature garden.

A favorite plant is this sweet little blueberry bush, inherited from a neighbor. It was planted in this spot when it had only two tiny branchlets. The first year it bore nine berries, but what sweet, plump juicy treats they were.

This year, after a lush crop of more than 100 white-pink flowers, its six branches were laden heavily with plump, blue, edible gifts. While some of them were shared with the birds and slugs, most of them ended up inside of me. With the berries long gone the bush shows a different color as its leaves turn bright red.

Blueberries are in the family Ericaceae, a huge group that includes cranberries, heaths, manzanitas, madrones, strawberry trees, azaleas and rhododendrons. Most of these prefer low-fertility, acid conditions. My favorite close blueberry relative is Hawaii’s little red ohelo berry, which I have enjoyed while hiking in the lava fields near Kilauea volcano.

It’s hard to determine exactly what variety of blueberry this is. All of them are Vaccinium species, but there are several wild types and many cultivars. My best guess is that it is a hybrid of V. corymbosum (highbush blueberry) and V. angustifolium (lowbush blueberry). That would make it a half-high blueberry, very hardy and typically grown in California.

Follow back through time and read the previous blueberry post. From there you can follow further back to even earlier posts.