Saturday, July 04, 2009

Living Deliberately - Food

Rhonda Jean talks about food in today's post on the Home Audit. She walks her garden, looks at her pantry, and discusses how we use what we grow or buy most efficiently. One suggestion she makes is to use only "open-pollinated" seeds, i.e. heritage, non-hybrid types. This makes sense because you can save your own seed from year to year. I am not the only gardener in the Park who bought expensive seeds which never germinated this year.


Rhonda asks that we "take stock" of what we grow. Well, we have a relatively short growing season, and vegetables that require really hot weather, like the okra I planted, apparently are a waste of time. You can see here that the okra I planted has never done a darn thing besides come up and sit. It's never developed leaves or grown at all. I have finally decided to pull it and replant the entire area with kale.

So one has to plant what will actually produce. Tomatoes do well here, though it will be weeks before we have any ripe ones. The zucchini squash is probably three or four days away from providing two squashes. The beans are blooming, or are getting ready to bloom, depending on the type. Let's just say while Rhonda can walk her garden and find enough to feed them, we'd be losing a lot of weight in a hurry if we had to depend on ours.

But as we do our "audit" we take into consideration what we must do differently next season:

1) This fall I will set up an insulated "grow space" for starting seeds on the storage unit at the end of the deck. I want to build a frame with clear Coroplast panels for the walls and doors. Over the outside I want to be able to attach removable sheets of rigid pink styrofoam insulation to provide protection from cold nights (and days for that matter). I want two long shelves each topped by a row of grow lights which can be adjusted for height.

2) The 4 x 4 bed in back will be amended with a large bag of sheep's manure and a lot of compost. The topsoil in it now is too heavy.

3) I am not sure about the performance of my SIPs. While the tomatoes planted in them are doing well, they are not doing as well as I'd hoped. Ron's up the way are much more vibrant than mine, and they are just in large containers. This may be because his get morning sun and are protected from the hottest sun of the day, but tomatoes like heat and sun, so I am not sure. The two containers that I sat in larger containers and water from the bottom are doing better than the ones in SIPs. So next year I may set containers inside the SIPs.

4) I will move my zucchini container to a sunnier spot next year. Right now it gets only about three hours of sun a day, and I'm surprised it's doing anything.

5) I will grow potatoes. They used to be "cheap", now a four pound bag of potatoes can be $6.00 - 7.00. The small red potatoes we like cost $4.99 for a two pound bag! I found a you tube video showing how to grow potatoes in a large plastic garbage can, so next year I try this method and will add taters to my list.

6) I will put long planter boxes in the vertical planter in the front and plant salad greens, strawberries, and other plants which tolerate some shade there. One spectacular (i.e. purchased pre-planted) hanging basket for the front will be all the container flowers I mess with.

Of course Rhonda and my situations are different. She has a large area to garden in, a year-round gardening season, room for chickens, room for fruit trees and berry bushes. I have a four-month growing season, a dozen containers and a four foot by four foot raised bed. And while I know I can do better, I will never be able to produce enough food to keep our table supplied. So I buy most of our vegetables, and all the fruit we eat. We are in a food-growing region, and the "first fruits" are just now beginning to trickle into the produce stands. In the coming weeks the trickle will become a flood and I will be buying fruit and vegetables like mad, not only to eat, but to put away for the winter. I primarily dry food, because I haven't the room to store a lot of canned goods, and we don't have a freezer, other than the small one in the fridge.

In the Kitchen

My "pantry" (alas) is my kitchen cupboard. Not a lot of room to store food. But I took stock and we're not in too bad shape. We have lots of the staples we use all the time, like tomatoes, beans of all kinds, canned milk and creamed corn, which is Tony's quick-fix when he needs carbs in a hurry to lower his potassium. Plenty of rice, oatmeal, rice noodles, and spices. I now know what to add to my shopping list, and what to take off. It's not unheard of for me to buy something I already have in the cupboard, which is not a disaster, but can be an annoyance when it's something that takes forever to use.

Rhonda says: "Things to think about:"

Menu planning I regularly fall off the wagon on this one. Menus are a challenge since Tony has gone onto a gluten-free diet.

If you're growing food, how do you intend to use your excess? We may have more tomatoes than we can eat. After I have shared them with neighbours I will dry any excess. Extra zucchini will be dried into zucchini chips for snacking on in winter. I can't see having an excess of anything else. I did plant soup peas, but so far they have not even bloomed, so I may not even have to worry about drying those.

How do you safely store your food? Dried very well, canned goods at cool room temps, in glass or plastic jars, fridge for perishables.

Have you minimized food waste? When I'm having a good week yes. If I'm not feeling well, no. I find food goes to waste when I don't feel well enough to cook. I hate it and feel guilty about it. With so much hunger in the world no food should be wasted.

Do I use leftovers wisely? Leftovers are usually eaten at the next meal or two. We are not too fussy to eat soup for breakfast.

Skills - learn to preserve/can, blanch and freeze, bake, sprout, ferment, fruit cordials She left out my favorite, which is drying. I can do all the above, plus more, but don't often.

Make space in your cupboard to store recycled bottles and jars. Yep, last cupboard to the right.

Do I have enough good cooked from scratch recipes to cover a two week meal rotation? No problem with recipes. I tried something new a week or so ago and Tony didn't much like it (nor did I). It sounded good, but wasn't. We were troopers and ate it though, agreeing it wouldn't be something we have again.

Do I have a good selection of quick and easy fast meal recipes? I am the QUEEN of quick-n-easy (or we'd live on chips and hot dogs)!

Is the fridge cooling as it should? The thermometer in the door says yes.

Do I use my oven efficiently? The question should be do you use your oven? I've used mine twice in 18 months. It burns everything on the bottom and leaves the top raw, even with a new thermostat. Bleh. Thinking of buying a toaster oven, but I'm not sure how well low-wattage ones (suitable to run on a 30 amp RV circuit) bake foods. I do miss baked goods and casseroles.

Is my kitchen set up properly for the tasks I carry out frequently? Yes, I rearranged and organized all that just recently.

If you're composting, do you have a covered container for your kitchen scraps? yes, and the compost bin is 20 feet from the door.

Do you have enough dishcloths and tea towels/dish towels Yes

Do you have enough large glass or plastic storage containers? Yes

I'm in pretty good shape in the kitchen, or at least the kitchen is in pretty good shape. I've even been inspired to write up a menu and shopping list for the week. Lately I've just been going in and buying whatever looked "okay", with no plans for how I was going to use it. This is not very efficient or economical. I will do better!


Anonymous said...

Hi there - I found your blog via the comment section on Down to Earth and as I read your post, I realized a lot of the lessons you learned through today's audit were identical to the ones I wrote about as well. Isn't it great to get a little kick to get us started in the right direction? :) Keep up the good work - your blog is lovely!

Anonymous said...

Auntie Deb, you're such a wealth of information!

I love the kitchen audit....and can say "yes" to most all the questions. We have a big pantry and it's probably over stocked. I've been working on using it down. Other than milk, bread, eggs (locally grown), and salad stuff, we're eating what's already here.

Menu planning...I don't do a day by day. I prefer looking in the freezer and deciding what I want to cook for the week. We frequently cook all the entrees on Sunday afternoon for the next week. Any leftovers from dinners become lunches for one or both of us.

Love and hugs, Susan