Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A beautiful day, a good harvest and some seed saving

Apologies for the lateness of this posting! One blogwriter was ill and others were out of town, so a quick update for Saturday, September 19th....

Harvests continue, though the total was down from last week’s bumper high. If memory serves, the total for the 19th was about 125 pounds. And thanks to the DePaul Oxfam group and the Loyola vegetarians for their help!

A number of volunteers worked hard harvesting the Italian beans, which have continued to produce well:

Check out the eggplant, daikon, radishes and carrots ready for transport:

And we were happy to see a good crop of red peppers:

It seems like the neem oil treatment is helping the cucumbers and zucchini. The cucumber plants don’t look beautiful but they have continued to produce both the more familiar dark green variety and the paler, striated Armenian variety. There was some debate about whether to pull up the plants this week so that a cover crop could be sown, but we decided to give them another week since there were a number of smaller yet-to-be cucumbers still on the vine.

The zucchini look fab, and this blogwriter can vouch for their lovely sweet taste, delicious grilled with a little olive oil and rosemary. (Last week, a rather large specimen was overlooked during harvest and serendipitously ended up in my kitchen.)

Super-volunteer Al was the only one brave enough to continue the seed-saving process. Having fermented in the shed for a week, the cups of saved seeds did not look appealing:

But Al set about washing and then drying them on plates so we’ll have them for next year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Our bumper harvest

After the cool summer of 2009, which slowed the growth of some of the warmth-loving veggies, we're finally hitting peak production.

On Saturday, September 12 we welcomed volunteers from Chicago Cares and with their help, picked a total of 212 pounds of fruit and veg to donate to Vital Bridges' Groceryland food pantry.

We also saved seeds from about 15 tomato varieties for planting next year, and rounded out the day with a pot-luck to send off our star volunteer, John Cahill, who is moving to Massachusetts.

Our haul this week included two crates of pears, 60 pounds of plums (two crates like the one below)

48 pounds of tomatoes, our first really red bell peppers

pumpkins, cucumbers, patty-pan squash, collards, kale, and a host of other goodies.

With the harvest picked and heading off to Vital Bridges, we turned to a few seasonal tasks. One group picked herbs for drying, another scraped paint off benches in the front garden (we'll seal these with soy sealer before the weather gets too wet), and others weeded the more recently sown beds.

After a while, we brought everyone together to help with saving tomato seeds from some of the varieties we grew this year. We started by assembling a collection of some of the weirdest, most prolific and best tasting fruits known to homo chicagoensis.

Then we assembled a fine collection of willing volunteers and instructed them in the simple art of saving tomato seeds. You start by selecting a fully ripe tomato from a variety you enjoyed. Then you slice it vertically into chunks and separate the seeds from the flesh in a bowl of clean water.

Unbelievably, one of our longer-serving volunteers then instructed people to take the tomato flesh and throw it in the compost pile. It took a particularly smart Chicago Cares volunteer to come up with the bright idea of just eating the leftover tomatoes, instead.

Then, the next task is to strain the water off the seeds. Our makeshift solution for this was a mesh floored seed tray that has been sitting behind the shed for as long as we can remember.

After that we scraped each variety of seeds into it's own small pot to begin the only slightly counter-intuitive part of the process: fermenting the seeds for 3-7 days in order to rot away the gel coating on each one. The gel contains a chemical that suppresses germination, so it has to be removed before the seed can be dried and stored. The seed pots have to be fermented until they have a thick coat of mold on the surface. But at the start of the process, they look pretty appealing:

We finished up the day with a pot-luck send-off for John Cahill, volunteer, writer and former carpenter. We wish him well in Massachusetts. (Check out those garden-grown tomatoes, basil and sorrel upon which we feasted!)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fun with fungi

I don’t think anyone at Ginkgo really believed it at first, but we picked our first crop of wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata) on Saturday September 5. There was no sign of these on Tuesday September 1, but two days later our Thursday watering team had noticed a sizeable crop mushrooming from the bed under the plum tree where we had spread inoculated straw on June 19. Not being any kind of mushroom experts, we took care to create a spore print to confirm that we really had what we expected and weren’t going to be flooding local emergency rooms. As expected, the caps released a fine film of dark purple/brown spores.

By Saturday, we had wine caps everywhere in the straw bed, but none in the woodchip bed next to it. We had read that wine caps’ favorite food was hardwood chips, but it may be that the bed with the chips hasn’t been as damp as the straw bed, or not quite the right temperature. We decided that as this was our very first mushroom crop, we should volunteer for the role of official food tasters. OK, maybe the decision to barbecue the first week’s crop wasn’t entirely selfless. A quarter hour of rummaging through the straw produced a crop of maybe 3 pounds of mushrooms (we were so eager to clean and grill them that we never weighed them properly.) We barbecued most of the crop (sprinkled with olive oil and herbs), along with a couple of peppers and our last onion.

I think all the tasters were pretty satisfied with the flavor, and so far there have been no reports of illness.

Most of the crops we grow at Ginkgo are productive over the span of several weeks. We always have to decide what’s ripe enough to pick now, and what will last another week. With mushrooms this timescale is really compressed. It only take a couple of days for a wine cap to go from a tiny button, through the most tasty domed stage, to a mature, slightly upturned cap. Equally, it’s hard to predict how long a particular “flush” of mushrooms will last. It’s going to be a challenge to time our harvests to get fresh mushrooms to the Groceryland food pantry.

Before the mushroom harvest, we did pick our regular selection of veg and fruit, including two nicely golden pumpkins, a small flotilla of patty-pan spaceships and one of the few cabbages that made it this far.

And the tomato harvest is still strong, with 38 pounds picked this week.

Several of our fruit trees are drooping under the weight of ripening fruit. We picked a crateful of pears this week, to finish ripening off the tree. And our plums look like they'll be ready next week.

We're also enjoying the largely random selection of wildflowers that have fought their way to maturity in the new bed at the end of our patio area.