Eating Worms

Eating worms comes after a journey of introspection and evaluating priorities. Certainly in the beginning I didn’t intend to, but after a lifetime of struggling to protect cabbage and broccoli from insects in a non-chemical manner, I’m at
the brink of desperation. After my no-see-um netting weakened in the sunlight and split in the wind, I’m ready to remove all row covers, come what may. I’m sick of taping up holes chewed by grasshoppers or perforated by grass and creeping jenny growing right through the cover. And I’m sick of the growing pile of fabric that’s no longer fit for covering rows, but too good to throw away.

But one priority will never change. I will never resort to chemicals to battle insects. The only chemicals to reach my garden are drift from nearby fields over which I have no control or forgetting and throwing on the chicken’s bedding straw without remembering it came from a sprayed field.

So if I don’t use chemicals or row-covers, I’m limited to diatomaceous earth which helps, but is not highly effective, especially for flea beetles. That or living with the insects.

Living with the insects means that some years I may have a damaged crop and some years not. It depends on who gets there first. If I plant earlier and my plants survive a killing frost, they will make progress before the insects become a problem. But that is a big IF.

My sister, a fellow gardener, and I were discussing over coffee an article I had read about a group of vegetarian people who were able to meet their vitamin B-12 needs simply by not washing their garden vegetables so squeaky clean. Without intending to eat insects, they did so inadvertently when they ate their greens. The conversation then turned to the little green worms that camp out in the branches of the broccoli florets. It is impossible to get them out by washing in salt water. They stay stuck in the branches. It is tedious to try picking them out, and besides you cannot see them.

And so what harm is there in leaving them? my sister asked. And I thought, yes, what harm indeed? Our preoccupation with removing them causes stress and is probably not necessary. Leaving them is much easier. Besides, they are harmless and actually could be beneficial, supplying us with a tiny amount of  protein and other nutrients such as the much-needed B-12. If we aren’t so fussy, we can trim the worst damage from heads of cabbage and throw the trimmings to the chickens and make sauerkraut out of the rest. If a head escapes damage, we can wrap that for winter storage in the refrigerator. If  not, then we make more sauerkraut. And as for the broccoli, we can add a few chopped onions, shredded cheese, milk or cream, and who’ll see the worms?

I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I’m game. Especially if it means no more row covers!

Parsnips

Parsnips look like large, cream-colored carrots but are milder, sweeter, and cook quickly. Once you discover their taste, you just might keep on raising them.

Parsnips take patience to start, but once they’re up, they’re hardy and easy plants to care for and can add significantly to your food supply.

Parsnips don’t like nitrogen, but do like cool weather, so in early May, plant your seeds a half inch to an inch deep, two to three inches apart or thicker if you plan on thinning. Parsnips take up to three weeks to germinate, so cover the row to keep it from drying out. You can use a board, paper, cardboard, or mulch. To help you keep track, plant a row of radishes nearby on the same day. About the time the radishes are ready to eat, your parsnips should be peeking through, and you’ll need to remove the cover. Keep checking though as the radishes may grow more slowly than you think.

At first, parsnips look like celery or parsley, but as they grow, they take on their own characteristics. Keep them weeded and watered. They take a long time to develop, so don’t try them until after the first frost brings out their flavor and sweetness.

Parsnips are cold-hardy, and even in the North, you can leave them in the garden all winter and use them in the spring before they start growing again. But you’ll want to use them for food in winter, so in late fall, after you’ve harvested all your other vegetables and before the ground freezes hard, you can turn your attention to your parsnips.

Parsnips grow deeper than carrots so you’ll need to dig with a tree spade beside the row in order to avoid hurting the roots. If your soil is loose, after you’ve dug down a ways, you can grab the top half of the parsnip and pull it up. Cut the tops as you would carrots, leaving about a half inch of stem. Wash, allow to air dry, and package in large plastic bags lined with absorbent material like toweling or an old sweat shirt. Store in the refrigerator with your carrots. Or if you have a root cellar, you might try other means such as packing in sand.

To save seed, leave one or two of your best specimens in the ground to overwinter. Cover with mulch to be on the safe side. Parsnips are biennials. They’ll grow a flower stalk in the second year which will produce seed for you. You can also take a leftover parsnip from the refrigerator and plant it for seed in the spring. As your seed plants grow, stake and tie them so they don’t topple in the wind. In August or thereabouts, cut heads of dry-looking seeds and lay them on screens to finish drying. One plant will provide enough seed for many years, and you can share with friends and neighbors.

You can cook parsnips and mash with butter and salt and pepper. Or you can mash them with carrots and potatoes. Another tasty way to use them is roasted with pieces of potatoes, carrots, green peppers, onions, beets, zucchini, or whatever vegetables you have on hand. Drizzle a little olive oil over, sprinkle with salt and pepper and an herb like basil or oregano, roast in the oven, and enjoy!

A Loving Relationship

Search Amazon.com for gardening books and you’ll come up with about 48,000 telling you how to garden.

While a good book can give you a start, no author knows the character of you or your garden. And no one can predict the relationship that starts up between you and your garden. This is something that grows over time with you being present in your garden, working in it, struggling with it, loving it. You become in tune with its cycles and specific needs. Over time your experience with it teaches you what vegetables grow well and which don’t. What methods work and which don’t. You become aware of its issues: moisture and nutrients, weeds, insects and pests, shade, and what works best to solve them or simply deal with them, maybe just working around them.

The old adage, “experience is the best teacher,” remains true. But first you need to apply perseverence, determination, and a good dose of elbow grease. The more you invest of yourself, the more your garden responds by producing food for you and your family, and you feel gratitude, and the relationship grows even more.

And as time goes by, you become a better gardener and you begin to love your garden like a member of the family. You treat it tenderly, gently supporting bean stems as you harvest, tucking errant earthworms back in the soil, admiring a tiny snail or a swallowtail caterpillar in the parsley. Your children, too, will sense your wonder and pick up on it, and it will propel them into a love of gardening that will last a lifetime. What better gift for the next generation!

So, the best thing you can do if you want to garden is just start. Decide on a plot, till it up, put out your seeds, keep it watered and weeded and ask lots of questions if you like. And over time, as you  observe your plants and see what works, and try different methods, you’ll learn more than reading all the books or taking a gardening course. Because what you learn will be specific to your little garden spot. You’ll know it like the back of your hand. And knowing leads to a loving relationship. Only you will be the best judge of how to garden in this place.

Reading is good. But doing is better!

To Peel or not to Peel

Some folks remove the peel from every fruit and vegetable—apples, potatoes, cucumbers, parsnips, even tender new carrots. A little feeder pig would make good use of all the discarded stuff. And some folks religiously scrub veggies without peeling, thinking there may be fiber and nutrients lurking under that skin.

Some fruits and vegetables of course have inedible skins—onions, garlic, bananas, oranges, and peeling them isn’t questionable. But if the skin you’re peeling is tender enough to eat, you might consider your reasons for doing so.

Are you peeling a store-bought vegetable without knowledge of how it was raised, handled, or if it was sprayed with pesticides or preservatives to prolong its shelf life? In this case, you may be removing a layer of undesirable chemicals. Are you peeling a potato that’s scabby and hard to scrub clean? Or one that has been in storage for awhile and the skin has grown tough and unattractive and bitter? These may be good reasons for peeling. But if you’re peeling a tender-skinned veggie fresh from your organic garden, you’re very likely removing a concentration of  useful nutrients under that skin in the process. You might stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it?

Certainly parents and grandparents teach you to do things a certain way, and it’s understandable if you continue in that teaching. But sooner or later you reach a stage in life when you begin thinking for yourself, thinking outside the box. It’s ok to question. After doing and studying and contemplating, you’re free to keep the ideas that make sense to you and to discard what doesn’t. You don’t have to do something a certain way because that’s the way it’s always been done. This holds true in all areas of life and is what makes you a strong, freedom-loving person. It’s what drives you to guide your children instead of brainwashing them.

So next time you pick up your paring knife, give yourself the third degree. Then reach for your vegetable brush. A good brush will get in cracks and deep-set eyes and even remove some scabs after a potato has soaked a bit. Scouring pads also work well for scrubbing potatoes, and an old tooth brush works for potato eyes.

If you insist on peeling, save the peelings in a bag in the refrigerator until you have enough to make vegetable broth. Some folks make potato peel crisps by sprinkling peelings with salt, pepper, chili powder and popping them in the oven until done.  Or you might consider peeling after cooking, as vegetables cooked in their skins lose fewer nutrients into the cooking water. As a last resort you can throw peels to the chickens or the feeder pig or add them to the compost pile.

In the end you do what works for you and your family. If some members simply won’t eat unpeeled vegetables, you have no choice but to peel. It’s better to eat peeled veggies than none at all.

Humility

Gardening and raising your own food are good for the soul. They keep you humble. Just when you think you are on top of things, and you have a strong sense of accomplishment and pride in that flourishing garden and that thriving flock of laying hens, nature has a way of throwing you a curve ball that destroys these feelings. In fact there are so many things that can go wrong, and you’re always struggling, that there is no way you can brag about anything you’ve done.

The more different things you try, the more chance for some kind of failure and the accompanying humble feelings. Onion maggots invade your booming crop of onions, and you end up throwing half of them on the burn pile before the critters grow up and fly away to make new maggots. Or you linger at a Fourth of July celebration too long instead of hurrying home to shut your chicken coop for the night, and a raccoon takes one of your beautiful, rosy-combed, free-range, laying hens. Or in spite of diligent and time-consuming weeding, the creeping jenny sends vines all over your peas and beans and garlic. And potato beetles strip the leaves from your new variety of spuds in the field garden while you were preoccupied with weeding the yard garden and with your family and day job. No bragging rights here.

But there are gifts in humility. Lessons learned in losses benefit you in the future and may make you a better manager. And when you are no longer thinking the success of your food raising is the work of your own hands only, you are then open to an acute sense of the miraculous. The life unfolding in a sprouting bean seed, the daily progress of an onion or a stalk of sweet corn, a tiny chick hatching from a seemingly lifeless egg bring a profound sense of wonder and awareness of the forces of nature at work around you, forces not only propelling healthy growth but destruction as well, and over which you have little control. Would you have noticed all this without humility?

After a string of failures, it’s natural to feel discouragement. But take heart. Even the most experienced gardeners and food raisers fail. Keep in mind the things that are out of your control. You either wait for a better year or find a way to deal with your problems and plagues. Even though you don’t feel like bragging because of your failures, remember the odds are in your favor. Successes outnumber failures. The important thing is that you keep on trying.

So even though nature sometimes destroys your pride, a little persistence and diligence will result in enough food for your family even in a bad year. And you can still  take pride in what you have accomplished, knowing you’re at the mercy of natural forces. Your pride will be tempered with humility, which makes it the best kind of pride.

Chives

For an herb, chives can provide a significant amount of food, enough so you don’t want to ignore it. Its mild onion flavor goes well in soups, salads, main dishes,  vegetables, or biscuits, and you can use it raw, frozen, or dried.

You can order seed from seed catalogs or you can get clumps of plants from a neighbor, separate them, and plant them in your garden or in a large tub. Planting them in a tub prevents grass and weeds from overwhelming your chives patch. If, after a few years, persistent weeds do get started, you can empty it
out, separate the plants, then replant them in fresh dirt.

Chives are tough perennials and one of the earliest plants to come to life in spring. They are a nutritious addition to that dandelion greens salad your body needs after a long winter of frozen or store-bought vegetables.

Because chives have so many uses, you might put your chives tub near the kitchen door, so that you can run out and grab some for the dish you’re preparing, whether it’s a topping for baked potatoes, or the final addition to your salad.

You’ll find that your chives grow much faster than you have use for. The simplest way to deal with the excess is to freeze it. Cut clumps of it off with a scissors, sort out debris, wash, snip into pieces, pop into freezer bags, and toss
into the freezer.

Make sure your chives tub has drain holes so you can water it freely. This will give you several cuttings in one summer. If the chives get to the flowering stage, throw the flowers into your green salad.  If they get past this point, the flower stalks will get tough, but you can pick them out and still use the leaves. Save any seeds your chive flowers make and start a new tub or share them with a friend.

Here are some recipes:

  • Chives and Potato Soup
  • 1 cup chopped fresh or frozen chives
  • 2 large potatoes, diced
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups chicken broth or other broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp sour cream
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Saute the chives and butter briefly in a large pan, stirring so as not to let them scorch. Add broth, potatoes, salt, and pepper and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add the milk and sour cream and heat to the boiling point. Turn off
heat and let stand so the flavors blend. Mash some of the potatoes if you prefer a thicker soup. Enjoy the flavor!

  • Buttery Chives Biscuits
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsps aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, buttermilk, or cream
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup finely chopped chives
  • 1 tbsp minced onion

Mix dry ingredients and cut in butter. Add cheddar, chives, and onion. Stir in milk slowly until batter is thick enough to roll and cut with biscuit cutter. Bake in 425-degree oven for 12 minutes. Enjoy!

Beets

Who doesn’t love the rich, dark red of beets? So rich that you must take care not to nick the skin or the color will bleed into the cooking water. And if color is any indicator of nutrition, then beets win hands down. In fact some authorities list them among the world’s healthiest vegetables, claiming they protect against cancer and heart disease.

Beets like cool weather, so you can plant your seeds before the last frost. Some folks soak the seeds overnight or crack them with a rolling pin to encourage germination. Plant seeds a half inch deep and about two inches apart. After your beets come up you can thin them, although beets push each other apart and upward if crowded. Weed and water as needed. Adding a bit of mulch will slow moisture loss and weed growth.

A dual-purpose vegetable, beets can contribute significantly to your food supply. You can harvest greens, using the tender small ones raw in salads and the bigger ones as cooked greens. Use them sparingly, though, as they feed the growing roots. After the roots are big enough to harvest, you can also freeze the greens in quantity as you would any other green vegetable. Blanch in boiling water two minutes, cool, and package.

Some folks store beets in root cellars or the refrigerator and use them as needed. But they take such a long time to cook, that you might want to do that job once and get it over with. At the end of the season, pick all your remaining beets, cutting the tops and saving those for blanching and freezing. Leave a bit of stem and the long root string so the beets won’t bleed their color as you cook them. After washing, sort by size into different kettles. The smaller ones will get done sooner and you can begin with them while the big ones are still cooking. When the beets are fork tender, drain and place in cool water until you can handle them. At this point, slip their skins, cut off the stems and tails, and slice into pieces. Place smaller pieces into freezer containers or bags and into the freezer. For pickles, pack larger pieces into washed pint jars and cover with a boiling syrup of 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar or honey, 2 cups vinegar, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 tablespoon cinnamon. Seal and process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

You can thaw your frozen beets and heat them and add a little yogurt or sour cream, salt, and pepper. Or you can toss them into salads. Or make a salad with beets, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, celery, chives, cucumbers, peanuts, cumin, and sage, and your favorite oil and vinegar dressing.

In summer you can pick a large beet, peel and shred it, add the chopped greens with stems, simmer until done, add a dollop of yogurt, a little salt and pepper, and enjoy!

You’ll be glad you raised beets!