Monday, April 19, 2010

Four Sisters Gardening

After much delay, we finally managed to get the pasture garden tilled last weekend (or at least a large portion of it). Every year we expand our garden a bit further, amending the soil with our own "home grown" compost. When we first began gardening on this little patch of land at the back of our property, it was nothing more than rocky, hard pan clay soil. After 3 years of amending, it's finally beginning to look like good garden soil. I estimate that it will take another two years of soil amending before the ground is the quality that I would like it. The good news is that we will never run out of compost!

At the back of the garden plot (the west end), our grains will be planted: camelina, amaranth, quinoa, etc. Next will come the usual corn, beans, squash, melons. This year, I am excited to be growing Oaxacan green dent corn (used for making green corn flour!). I will also be growing two different heirloom pole beans, and training them to grow up the corn stalks, in the traditional manner. There will be plots of heirloom bush beans, and black beans, giant sunflowers, four different varieties of heirloom winter squash, three types of heirloom melons, and two heirloom watermelons, of course spread out over my two different garden plots to try to prevent cross-pollination. For those who have been following my previous posts, I have begun converting an old goat pasture at the far east end of the property into my second garden plot. I will unfortunately not have the time to complete this 2nd garden this year, but I have it about a 1/3 of the way amended/planted (and filled with onions, leeks, artichokes, and herbs). It's going to be a great gardening year!

My tomato plants are doing fantastically! I have had to replant most of them into gallon pots, and many are flowering already (one even has a little green tomato on it!). I feel proud for what I have accomplished thus far.

I have converted two raised beds into heirloom potato patches, and am waiting for Ryan to build me a third bed. This year, I am raising All Blue, Red Norland, Russian Banana Fingerling, Kennebec, and (the one I am most excited for) Purple Cowhorn (whose true name translates into "Bear Poop" - it hails from Scotland, go figure!)*. I am also excited to see if any of my potato plants go to seed this year. Raising potatoes from true seed is a fun and interesting way to discover new potato varieties. However, potato seeds do not reproduce themselves true to form, but will often produce throwbacks to ancient potato varieties, or sometimes the seed simply won't be viable. Still, with a little time and patience, it can be a fun way of growing potatoes (though you should never rely solely on potato seed for the following year's crop! Always save tubers from your harvest for planting.).

I will also be raising the now almost unknown pot herb, Good King Henry. This versatile plant -
one of the earliest greens in summer, and one of the last greens of fall - is great for extending your salad season. The leaves taste like spinach (and are high in vitamins A & C as well as calcium), and the stem can be eaten just like asparagus (& tastes similar). Good King Henry was once very popular, but is now almost impossible to track down (I managed to find seeds for it at Fedco Seeds and Bountiful Gardens). More people should grow this plant in their gardens, and help to preserve this valuable herb from our past!

Lately I have become absolutely enamored with two books written by Seed Savers Exchange member and Master Gardener, William Woys Weaver. I discovered him through the local library (where I checked out his Heirloom Vegetable Gardening), and scrimped and saved until I could afford to purchase a copy of my own. That book has now become one of my most treasured volumes, and recently I also purchased his "100 Vegetables and Where They Come From." Both are what I consider the Bible on heirloom vegetable gardening. I absolutely recommend reading them!

* = Cowhorn is also known under the synonyms Purple Cowhorn, Purple Cow Horn and Seneca Cowhorn. Though listed as a fingerling in most databases, its name comes from its general appearance. It is oblong, thickest at the far (apical) end and curved to a narrow end at the stem attachment. Skin is dark purple. Flesh is cream colored. Eyes are shallow and few in number. It has large spreading plants. It is valued as a 'quick bake' baking potato. Specific gravity is 1.069. Maturity is mid-to-late and it is low yielding. It is a heritage variety with uncertain origins. It has been grown in New York state since before 1853. There is some speculation that it might have been developed in Vermont. There is further speculation that it might be identical to La Crotte d'Ours (Bear Poop), a Canadian heritage variety, thought to have roots to Scotland.
- Cornell University's "Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners" website

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Apothecary Farm's Palak Paneer


  • Paneer Cheese
(we make our paneer using our own fresh goats milk roughly 2-3 hours before we plan to cook the meal)
  • 2 cups cooked Rice
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4 Egyptian Walking Onions, chopped
  • 5-8 (dried) Chiles de Arbol, finely chopped
  • 1 large colander of freshly picked salad greens (we use a ratio of half spinach, and the remainder made up of Good King Henry leaves, Garden Sorrel, and Wild Arugula - but we encourage you to try your own greens combinations!)
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil


Heat the olive oil in a small stock pot, and fry the onions until clear (about 2-4 minutes). Add salad greens, cumin, coriander, peppers, and paneer and saute until greens have wilted and cheese has begun to melt slightly (~1 minute). Add rice, and serve hot!

For a carnivorous take, try adding one pound of cooked ground lamb!


February 26th - April 13th, 2010

We had such high hopes for this long-awaited little girl, but even from the beginning, we knew that there was something not quite...right...with her. She failed to thrive like the other babies, and even though the entire family did everything they could for her, a sudden and dire case of pneumonia struck, and the joyful flame that was Captain Flowers was snuffed out before it even had a chance to burn brightly. Thank you, Dr. Lea at Pacific Veterinary Clinic, for going above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to save our beloved little baby goat.

A baby lost - a life cut short - before it even had a chance to begin.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In this time of darkness, we await the return of light...

It has been a dark and dreadful winter, and though the calendar may say it's spring, the occurrences here as of late demonstrate that the time of light and hope are anything but near...
Well, we are in the final stages of wrapping up the fiasco that was a distracted driver wreck on our property. On Saturday, March 27th, a distracted driver (ogling at the animals, I'm sure) plowed her vehicle through our two (largest) front pastures, completely destroying the fencing. Thankfully, the woman did not hurt any animals or pedestrians, and she herself and her young son were uninjured. Because of the gaping holes in the pasture fencing, we had to quickly round up frightened animals and create very sketchy temporary pens for them. The donkeys had to be moved into a NON-equine-proof goat pasture, the male goats had to be moved into the baby goat pasture (and share a fence line with the female goats - the thought of any possible unplanned breedings has stressed me out immensely (yes, I know it's unlikely, but goats are wily...)), and the babies had to be moved into a dark empty stall in the barn (with NO pasture). The llamas and angoras had to be housed together in a tiny pasture with a very leaky shelter on the far end of the property. All told, this wreck displaced 21 animals. Dealing with the driver's insurance has been an absolute NIGHTMARE. Instead of treating us as the hapless victims, they have acted as though we were the culprits! Refusing to pay for anything but "patching" the fence at the metal posts (not feasible), we have had to fight with them to reimburse us for numerous other costs related to the wreck. Because of being housed in a non-equine pasture, my beloved little donkey jack, Moonie, got his foot caught in the gate grid, and nearly broke his leg trying to get free. Thankfully, I was able to rush into the pasture, keep him calm, grab a set of bolt cutters, and cut his foot out of the fence! He limped for the rest of the day, and rubbed all of the fur off from where the fence chafed him, but was otherwise okay. I have never been so terrified...while trying to research boarding options for our displaced donkeys (which was nearly pointless with an intact jack and a broken trailer), we discovered that the person we had been in a legal contract with to buy a certain donkey went and sold said donkey to someone else right under our noses! When asked why they broke a legally binding contract (and yes, I have the contract and signatures in my filing cabinet), the person replied, "Well, I thought since you already had a donkey you were proud of that you wouldn't care if I sold this one." So, we are currently involved in a legal battle over that. Next, a wind storm two days after the car wreck downed a large oak tree in another animal pasture, destroying that fencing and forcing me to herd more animals into an already cramped makeshift pasture. The wind storm also toppled our ornamental plum tree in front of the house (which thankfully fell AWAY from the car that was parked next to it!). Ever since that terrible windstorm last September, which broke the oak tree next to the house in half and sent it crashing into the roof above my head, I have developed full blown panic attacks any time there is bad wind on the property. That being said, having more downed trees two days after a very traumatic wreck did NOT help my anxiety disorder.
We finally got a contractor lined up to do the fencing repairs on the pastures, and it seemed as though everything was going well...then my truck died, and required a tow in to the service center. I was about ready to sit down and sob at that point, not only for wondering how we were going to pay for expensive repairs, but also for the fact that I needed to get hay that weekend and had no vehicle to haul it in! Thankfully, employee perks paid off, and we managed to get the truck back before the hay ran out...I thought to myself, "Okay, things are finally looking up." This past weekend rolled around, and my husband and I planned a relaxing day-long date of library visits, wine tasting, plant bartering, and movie/dinner. We had to clean out the barn stalls that morning before setting out on our planned date, and as I was in the barn I heard a terrible crying coming from the baby stall. My grandmother happened to be closer, and reached the scene first. She found our long-awaited Captain Flowers crying on the ground, unable to stand, and acting as though her legs would not even work. We rushed her into the vet, where she nearly died while they were trying to figure out what was going on. The vet finally discerned that it was a nasty case of pneumonia, possibly brought on by asphyxiating on some milk. The vet kept Captain Flowers overnight, and on Sunday called and said that she seemed to be doing better. The vet asked to keep her one more night, and if she was still looking good they would send her home the next day. Well, this morning I got a call from the vet, who told me that around midnight last night, Captain Flowers took a turn for the worse. They had to pump fluid out of her lungs every few hours, and she was currently completely catatonic and barely hanging in there. The vet said that they thought it was some sort of congenital birth defect that caused milk to go into her lungs any time she nursed, because every time the vet fed her, Flowers' lungs filled up with fluid. I have to say, we all thought there might be something wrong with her from the start. It wasn't anything you could put your finger on, but she failed to thrive the way that the other babies did...In any event, the vet is giving her a few more hours to see if she improves, and if not, they are going to have to put her down. I had to break the heart-rending news to my grandmother, who absolutely adored her little "Cappie." It's been a truly awful day, and this is bringing back all of the memories of losing my beloved Jugi, whom I still think about every single day.

I can only hope that this the end in a long string of horrible events. Captain Flowers, you were so loved, I am so sorry to see you come to this sort of end. A life cut short - a baby lost - before it even had a chance to begin.