Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Unintentional hybrids Part 2: Seed Saving gone WILD

Last year I wrote about what happened when I tried to save the seeds of my favorite pumpkins.  Basically, having exercised no control over who pollinated the punks, the following year's offspring were inedible gourd mutts.  Like mutts often are, they were wildly successful, but even though I had about 50 of the unsightly things in my yard, I never took a picture of them.  I was very disgusted about it.

This year, I ordered my seeds from a catalog.  Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin and Jaune Gros de Paris.  I planted two of each, and they produced a sea of lily pad pumpkin leaves, which by August was studded with jewel-like orbs of Vitamin A.

In the photo at left, they are the lovely orange globes and pink blobs.  It's hard to tell the scale, but the big pink ones are almost too big to lift.

By now you have noticed that there are more than two kinds of squash in that photo.  I did not plant any of them.  They are the results of benign neglect and a streak of mad scientist in their attending gardener.  These gourds grew in the compost, in the garden, under the pine tree, in the orchard, around the chicken coop, and incognito in the pumpkin patch.  I let them grow where they sprouted because I was curious.  Although some of them were so far undercover that I did not even know about them until this week!

They are the wild offspring of all the cucurbits I have ever grown, in some combination.

It makes me feel like my yard is a place where exciting things happen!

Fermented Pickles

This pumpkin grew near the end of the rain barrel hose.
Nothing to complain about in a Minnesota garden this year. While much of the country struggled with drought, I never had to water my garden!  Some of this was thanks to my commitment to MULCH and my rain barrel, but all in all it was a great natural growing season, with moisture and heat in all the right places.

This year I grew cucumbers for the first time - two kinds, including a cornichon type, so I was excited for tiny pickles!  It turns out you must be a quite diligent farmer to catch them when they are little tiny babies (and they are very PRICKLY, who knew?), and cornichon type pickles do not grow out of infancy with the grace of plump picklers.  Instead they bloat out in weird ways, and they remain DANGEROUSLY PRICKLY.  The prickles rubbed off in a sink-rinse, but it is inconvenient if gloves are required protective wear for cucumber harvesting.

Can anyone offer testimony about small cucumbers that are not lethally prickly?

The other cucumber was supposed to be a standard midsized cuke, but again they were often neglected until they were overgrown, overripe, an alarming shade of raw ocher.  The problem for all the cukes was crowding.  I have been gardening for just long enough that I PREACH the gospel of plant spacing to my garden friends, but not long enough that I do not still learn the hard way every year.  The cukes were a last minute decision, crowded in with the climbing beans.
The upshot of two very productive cucumber vines was about three gallons of fermented pickles!  I feared they would taste weird, but they were  SO.  GOOD.  Craveable.  And it was a proud day when I filled my fermenting crock with cukes, garlic, dill, grape and horseradish leaves ALL from the yard.  After 5-7 days of quiet bubbling on the counter, the pickles were ready, and I transferred them to the fridge.  So easy.

Next year I will give more informed consideration to my choice of cucumber seeds (tell me your favorite!) and I will give them ROOM to stretch, grow, and be harvested with ease.

It might be too late for you to try fermented pickles this year, but it is the perfect time to grab one of these books so you can read up and be ready for next year:

Wild Fermentation is a well known resource for everything relating to fermented foods, including bread, beer, vinegar, cheese, miso, pickles...  the list goes on.  I checked it out from the library a few times before I concluded I needed to just own it.

Nourishing Traditions is a book that changed my life, really.  I won't get into it here, but if you want to read some radically different ideas (so old they are new!) about food, this book is awesome.  It also includes lots of info about fermentation and is just different enough from Wild Fermentation that they really complement each other.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Chicken Divan: First National Chicken and Cow Museum

Mischief is afoot here at Tiny Happy Farm.

 A nebulous challenge, a mysterious stranger, and the First National Chicken and Cow Museum.

 Please come back soon for updates.