Fall, Food and Fodder for the Future

There is a tinge of lemon on the poplar leaves and that all too familiar bite in the air. Summers are crazy when you live as far north as we do…just over 1200 kilometers (760 miles) north of Vancouver, BC.

When spring arrives summer is hot on its heels, licking up all the ice and snow and churning out so much fast growing greenery it takes your breath away. My father loved to tell us to be careful not to stand in one spot in the field too long because the grass was growing so fast it would knock you off your feet. As a kid you almost believed it.

Then along comes a string of days like the ones we are having now, with that undeniable shift in the air. Yesterday a flock of Canada geese winged past our apartment window. They weren’t forming their practice V’s like they will be in a few weeks, but they were starting to gather together, sharing gossip, showing off their babies and discussing flight plans.

As for me, I am trying to find a direction for the surge of energy that always comes with this time of year. In my old life I would be elbow deep in the vegetable harvest, busy taking any surplus honey from the bee hives and stacking enough hay to see the horses through to spring grass. Instead I drive down to the community garden and take stock of my tiny plantdom. Someone snapped off the tops of¬†my onions and threw them beside one of my raised beds. I’m not sure what the motivation would have been. Maybe they were trying to pull them up, but the stalks broke and they threw them down in disgust. But why give up so easily? Why not root up the bulbs? Or at least take the stalks and chop them up in a soup or stew or something.

And then it occurs to me that I am annoyed with the vandals for their laziness in not taking my produce. But still. Others report beets pulled prematurely and tossed to the side and  a few immature ears of corn snapped off the stalk and tossed on the grass. The metal hose bracket has been broken off the side of the shed.

It’s the nonsensical waste that irks. If someone just took the produce we would tell ourselves they needed it more than we did, but to pull up plants and toss them about or destroy things like the hose holder is crazy making.¬†We also have lots of “share beds” painted green and clearly marked. We tend these beds communally for public consumption. Why not just harvest from them?

Ah, but what use is anger? It’s simply swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Everyone cleans up their plots and carries on.

I still have some beans, onions, garlic, beets, kale and some sad looking tomatoes, carrots and zucchini. I tap my watch, look pointedly at the skies and tell the latter three, Get it together will you? We’re almost out of time. We have ate most of the potatoes already since there is nowhere to store them in the apartment. I have a few plants left and might try keeping some potatoes¬†in the storage locker in the basement, but it isn’t very cool even down there. At best they’d likely only keep for a month…two at most.

I realize now that a large part of the reason I loved gardening was the sense of security¬†I felt every fall when our little log house groaned at the seams with the year’s harvest. I would look in the cold room at the rows of canning jars, dried herbs¬†and baskets of root vegetables and then note our wood cook stove and know that we would be okay no matter what happened. I liked the illusion of being in control of my future.

In our apartment I feel at the mercy of the masses. I feel vulnerable. I am pretty sure I have a few teensy control issues, though preppers would say I was just being smart. Or stupid, depending on how you look at it.

 

Speaking of prepping, I had a strange series of experiences one day last week.

First I walked downtown to meet up with my husband for lunch and across the street from the restaurant the local food bank had set up a display of over 600 pairs of shoes depicting the number of residents who had to access the food bank in a single week. It was a pretty dramatic, sobering display that certainly was effective in making its point.

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Secondly, Shaw’s system had crashed earlier that morning leaving half the city without internet access and no way to accept debit or visa payments. We were lucky enough to have a little cash on us-both to donate and for our meal-but many others arrived at the restaurant and found they were unable to pay for the meal they wanted to order and had to¬†go elsewhere. Some no doubt had lightened their wallets of cash at the food bank booth, only to cross the street and find they couldn’t buy a meal for themselves. The irony!

Thirdly, after lunch I walked home and discovered I had lost my “secret” horseradish patch I told you about in the last post. I am no longer your go-to gal for horseradish should a disaster strike the city. According to a plastic sign and the distressed look to the once healthy green leaves, the city had came along and sprayed¬†the patch of “noxious weeds” ¬†into oblivion.

Here’s what they looked like when I passed them on my way home. Sad enough, but now all the lovely horseradish plants are absolute goners. Just dried up husks right down to their spicy roots. I know they are invasive, but it still makes me sad. I’ll miss walking by and wondering how they came to be there.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for our future food security, but I still harbor hope for a kind of utopia where no one goes hungry and our urban centers¬†become self sustaining. You do hear stories about it happening more and more. Instead of ornamental trees, the cities plant edible fruit trees-which ours already have done here and there. In San Francisco there is a Guerilla Grafting movement grafting fruit tree branches onto sterile ornamental trees in public spaces.

Personally, I would love to see more multi-density housing with rooftop gardens that supply all the produce needed for the residents that tend them, complete with root cellars in the building’s basement for keeping produce through the winter in colder climates such as ours. I like that idea far more than every man for himself bugging out to the bush, armed to the teeth to protect his potatoes.¬†Or their onion stalks and immature corn for that matter.

We live in interesting times to be sure, which means we need some interesting solutions.  I believe we will find them. In the meantime if you have a few dollars, cans of food or garden produce to spare, I know the food banks would sure appreciate whatever you can give them.

Lady vegetable gardener

Inside Scoop on Horseradish and Other Vegetable Matters

Our city is riddled with chutes, which I take great delight in going through. I am not sure where the pleasure comes from. Maybe it’s because they¬†feel like a secret passage transporting¬†you to some hidden oasis, even though they merely take you to another part of a subdivision or launch you onto the walking trail. But I like them, just the same.

The one below takes you from a busy street into a new subdivision that only three years ago was nothing but a field.

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This is perhaps my favorite chute, because of the horseradish that grows rampantly beside it. I like to walk past it and wonder how it got there. It is evidence that¬†the field-turned-subdivision wasn’t always just a field. Perhaps there was an old homestead here long ago and these are the horseradish plants from that long-forgotten garden.

Lord knows these plants are tough. And tenacious. Just like the homesteaders who planted them. If, indeed that is how they got here. All I know for sure is that once you have horseradish you always have horseradish.

I have a bit of a pioneer/prepper/self sufficiency mentality so I also take pleasure in knowing of a public source for horseradish. This could be important when the SHTF (a prepper acronym that stands for Shit Hits The Fan and encompasses all manner of mayhem from banks collapsing to city-wide riots to weather catastrophes).

Should the SHTF I can stand up and say, “Everyone calm down.¬†I know where I can get some horseradish.”

Because we all know what a life saver horseradish can be.

And because I use horseradish…well, I never use horseradish. That stuff is crazy spicy. But if the SHTF and you find yourself in dire need of some horseradish, I’m your go-to-gal.

Did you know that even harvesting horseradish is spicy? I read somewhere once that¬†you should wear goggles and hold the root underwater when you peel it just to keep the fumes from overpowering you. See? I know stuff. Prepper stuff. I’m prepared. Sort of.

Speaking of growing food, my community garden is ripening off. Here is what it looked like about a month ago…

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But things have gone a bit downhill since then. My zucchini and spaghetti squash have been struck down with powdery mildew and almost everything else is going decidedly yellow. My green pea harvest was nothing to write home about and most of my onions went to seed before producing much of a bulb, but the dragon tongue beans, potatoes and kale are all doing pretty good.

One bed of beets up and died while another patch in an adjoining bed are doing fantastic. Go figure. I should get a few decent carrots, but they should have been thinned better.

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And look…I even got one lonely vine ripened tomato! I love these dragon tongue beans as much for their name and purple streaked appearance as their taste. Once you cook them they turn green though, which is unfortunate. These potatoes are Yukon Gold.

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My favourite variety is this Red Russian kale. I should just eat it in salads and green smoothies but I like it best tossed in salt and olive oil and then baked for about half an hour in a hot oven until crispy. Kale chips! Delicious. But probably not super healthy.

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Here’s my garden as it sits right now. It’s not looking super healthy neither. The dead yellow vines are purple mist peas that I am letting ripen for soup peas. I should get all of two cups by the looks of things : ) The deep purple plant is a Kalette that I wrote about awhile back. It’s a cross between kale and brussel sprouts. It takes a long time to mature so we’ll see if the frost gods are kind. And the sad little vine to the right is a wanna-be spaghetti squash that has no hope of producing anything in time to beat the frost but I just can’t pull it up. At least not yet.

 

 

 

Holy Huge Hairy Spiders Batman!

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Spotted this critter hanging out in her web on our balcony this morning, just soaking up the morning sun. And waiting for breakfast to arrive. I also spotted a wayward grasshopper on the deck. Fortunately for the grasshopper, he didn’t bounce into the web. At least not yet.

While I expect to encounter the odd flying insect such as bees, flies and mosquitoes, I am always surprised to see the more earthy type critters on our balcony. We’re only on the fourth floor, but still that’s a long climb for a spider.

And I know grasshoppers can fly, but I think of them more as an earthy insect. A very bouncy earthy insect, but earthy. Though the way they bounce is ridiculous. I was coming into our apartment building a couple days ago and one launched itself from the step and ricocheted off my left eyebrow. I know my mouth was hanging open, as I was that surprised, so it was only the luck of the bounce that prevented me from having an impromptu snack.

I had just come back from a walk and was feeling a little peckish, so maybe it wouldn’t have been all bad. They do eat grasshoppers in some regions of the world. I’ve even heard of chocolate dipped hoppers, but let’s be real. Anything dipped in chocolate is going to be edible. Well…almost anything. This grasshopper was not coated in chocolate. Just naked and very, very bouncy.

Speaking of insects, I have noticed that even though I have all these containers of flowers on our deck the hoverflies and bees only hang out on a select few.

They shun the petunias, despite their beauty. You’d think there would be at least some nectar of interest in these bold blooms.

Instead the pollinators buzz the lesser blooms like the purple straggly spikes of this blazing star and the tiny fuzzy borage blossoms.

Next year I am going to add more¬†insect friendly blooms I think. And some for hummingbirds too. We’re not allowed to feed birds on our balcony, which is reasonable enough. I understand the concept of what goes in must come out, and bird crap all over the building would be a bit disconcerting. However, I have never heard of anyone complaining about hummingbird poop. It has to be the size of a pin head, after all. I mean look at how tiny their bums are.

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Well, I think that’s all I’ve got floating around in my head this morning…hairy spiders, naked¬†grasshoppers and¬†tiny hummingbird bums.

And all of this before 9 am.

I just know it’s going to be an interesting day.

 

 

 

What Kind of Wood are Toothpicks Made of?

Toothpicks are made out of birch. Unless they’re made out of plastic and string.

Toothpicks predate humans with evidence of their use dating all the way back to Neanderthals. As humans arrived on the scene the upper class used bejeweled metal instruments while lower classes relied on twigs and porcupine quills.

Charles Forster is credited with being the first American to produce toothpicks for the masses.  He started out making them by hand but by 1860 he was using a machine.

At first it was a slow go convincing people to part with precious coin to buy something they had been accustomed to whittling from a nearby bush. Forster took to hiring people to demand toothpicks when they were in restaurants or other public venues. His marketing strategy worked.

There was such a demand that his¬†factory in Strong, Maine could not keep up, which led to¬†competitors¬†springing up alongside. At one time Strong, Maine was¬†the source of over ninety percent of the toothpicks¬†produced in North America earning the town its¬†proud moniker¬†“The Toothpick Capital of the World”.¬† During their peak production period just after WWII over 75 billion toothpicks were being turned out from the towns factories every year.

Forster Manufacturing closed up shop on April 29, 2003 conceding to the popularity of plastic floss sticks and dental floss.

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So handy for getting those pesky bits of spinach out but not nearly as environmentally friendly as birch toothpicks.

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The Long Goodbye

I am wondering how others deal with depression when they are watching their parents slowly fade away. The last decade has been like one long goodbye. Sometimes my sisters and I feel like we have been standing on the dock watching our parents pulling away from shore, all of us waving and crying the entire time.

Excuse me if that sounds melodramatic.

It’s just so exhausting.

We’ve been grieving for so long and it’s hard to think of the good slice in all of it. Of what there is to look forward to.

Our parents aren’t our parents anymore. At best there are days when Mom is sort of like her old self and then she throws out a zinger and you know that everything is going south.

Like a couple weeks ago when she had me come over because her TV quit working.

“I got up in the middle of the¬†night and decided to rearrange the furniture,” she said. “And I must have done something to the TV because now¬†it won’t turn on.”

After I arrived her story changed a bit and she explained that there was something behind the couch she had been trying to fix but she couldn’t remember what it was.

The cable cords were pulled out and both the cable box and television set had been unplugged. I put it all back together while acting like it was no big deal but inside my head a panic festival was going on.

A few deep breaths later I thought I had figured out what she may have been thinking.

When she moved into her new apartment in assisted living she had wanted the television set up on the opposite side of the room from the cable hookup, which meant running a long cable cord along the wall under the window. Maybe this cord running along the wall in full view bothered her and she was trying to hide it behind the couch. By moving furniture. In the middle of the night. Well okay then.

And so we continue.

Onward ho, as one of my sisters says.

We just keep waving.