Friday, January 23, 2015

January Garden? Waste Nothing.

With luck, our lettuce may last until it bolts in May. My fellow Virginians will declare me daft for saying how mild our season has been, without real snowfall other than a dusting twice. I miss snow greatly and the hard freezes that were once more common. At least, in both November and early this month, we did get a good freeze. It heaves the soil well for spring, when I'm going to get serious and plant our entire 6500 square feet of garden.  Yet even now, in the deepest part of what passes for "winter" here, there is something stirring in the garden.

Mostly it is fallow, though a few brave onions and garlic wait out the dormant season. This time of  year means letting the chickens turn soil on rows that have nothing as I peek, on warmer days, into the row-covers where we have some real food waiting. With only a bit of work in fall, any gardener around here can manage it. This year, I have harvested beets and radishes (now done), plus we continue to get lettuce, collards, and broccoli.

My focus for this post is the final item. We long ago harvested the main heads of broccoli; the side ones got nipped in the last really cold weather, even under the row-covers.  But something else remains: the greens. They taught me a small lesson this year.

Americans who enjoy broccoli rabe probably have not given much thought to the tender leaves and small stems of broccoli itself. I found, when making broccoletti this fall, that the leaves work really well when chopped and sauteed. My recipe uses pine nuts, lots of garlic, and sometimes, since we have strong palates, anchovies. We top it all with aged Romano or Parmesan.

As we came to crave this pasta dish as much as we do pesto, I wanted to stretch my supply of broccoli. I was delighted to see that the leaves are great for cooking. They compare well to my collards and kale, so it would be a shame to toss them in the compost heap.

My interest in that part of the plant made me think about what other edibles we casually discard in the garden. In the leanest part of the year, every little scrap counts. Partly my attitude comes from not wanting to waste anything in soil I prepared myself. Partly it comes from a family story of the Depression, when my father and his mom, not long arrived in the US from Lebanon, went to open fields to pick Dandelion greens so they would have a vegetable for dinner. It shamed my dad and he did not tell the story too freely, but it did not shame me. Nature is an abundant gardener, if we know where to look.

If you have a garden, be sure to go out as soon as the wild onions are up. Eat them and be thankful that the lean months are behind us. And then think about what you don't want to waste from every plant you grow. I guarantee you will both eat well and throw a lot less food away.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Small Farms And 2015

Having just set up Beepasture Farms LLC, I do want 2015 to be the year of small agriculture. I've now a personal stake in it, as we move toward retirement from academic work and toward a "sideline income" from producing food without inputs of pesticides, herbicides, or petrochemical-based fertilizers.

Today is a watershed moment, as California's Proposition 2 bans some of the worst practices involved in the intensive rearing of caged animals. Americans have long been distanced from their food, and animal-welfare issues are only the visible aspect for an industrialized method of producing what we eat. I am as concerned with the invisible and slow effects of GMO crops; we do not know the long-term effects of trace amounts of herbicides that build up in our bodies from eating mass-market food. I suspect that in my remaining years, we'll find out and the results will not be pretty.

Writer Bill McKibben has urged America to become a nation of small-scale food producers again. We began that way. With our LLC I'm the only member, and it shields a producer from liability against his personal property. Only the assets of the LLC could be seized in court. It gives a member the flexibility to write off expenses, as long as the firm shows a profit at least every third year. A hobby, on the other hand, can only cancel income with expenses. It cannot show a loss. But mine is no hobby; it's a future small business and part of a much larger future for how we produce and eat food.

An LLC also provides a method to license with the state; some Libertarian friends disliked my doing that (it's not any of their darned business how I conduct my affairs, which should be a Libertarian principle, but I try to be cordial on Facebook). My incentive is licensing with the State Corporation Commission is to establish the firm for the long term. If I pay a few taxes now, it makes it easier to scale up to a larger operation when I begin to lease or buy more land for production nearby.

For now our horizon is small: 400 pounds of hot peppers for one restaurant in 2015 and a small annual profit after the loss shown for starting up in 2014. We ordered seeds, bought a post-hole digger for the tractor, and had several other incidental expenses related to fencing. It's a very hopeful start to the new year.