Monday, August 23, 2010

nature observations in the garden, plus more

Earlier this summer I stopped filling the birdfeeders for a while. The birds don't really need it in the summer time, and I was mostly only getting piggy starlings and grackles that would fling the seed at the feeders hither and yon, and pigeons on the ground to clean up after the grackles. When I did refill the feeders, I first used pure millet, then switched to "dove mix," millet, milo, wheat berries, oat groats and buckwheat; the sparrows and finches like it, but grackles and starlings do not. And I noticed that after I started filling the feeders again, I suddenly had a lot fewer cabbage white larvae in the garden. The birds like to hang out in the garden while they wait their turn at the feeder, and I guess they're picking up some protein snacks while they wait.

However, I also noticed that when I filled the feeder that it would empty out overnight and that the next morning there would be more deer damage in the garden. They browsed my beet greens down to nubs, nibbled on my green beans and ate a lot of my chard, too. (Although it is worth noting that they only ate the row of chard that was planted between kale and peas, and did not touch the one by the tomatoes, so maybe there is something about the scent of tomato plants that turns them off.) I have a chicken wire fence to keep the bunnies out, but I really don't want to put up an ugly eight foot deer fence. So what I did was next time I filled the feeders, I spiked the seed heavily with chili powder. The next morning there were five fresh piles of deer poop around the yard, but the feeder was full and my plants were untouched. It is also worth noting that the beets and chard that they demolished were directly in the path of the birdfeeders, so perhaps they were mostly attracted to the seed and were just browsing some greenery while they were here.

So now harmony is restored to the garden, or at least human-centric harmony. The deer are more than welcome to eat my hostas--in fact, they are encouraged to eat my hostas. Does anybody want some hostas? They came with the house, and I want to plant something more exciting there.

Garden is producing relatively well. My Three Sisters Garden was poorly planned and over crowded, so the beans aren't doing as well as I'd hoped (getting browsed by deer didn't help either) and the broccoli also isn't producing much, but all my greens are lush and abundant (the chard grew back quite well) and there are plenty of beets and carrots. If I don't pay pay attention, the zucchini grow to assault-weapon size (see picture, with cat for scale) and I've got about 20 cups of shredded zucchini in the freezer for future bread and cake. I've also got about 10 cups frozen snap peas. My grape tomatoes are starting to come in, and I've got some volunteer tomatoes that are rather Sungold-esque, although actual Sungolds are a hybrid, so it seems unlikely that any seeds tucked away in my compost would have sprouted. All my larger tomatoes are still mostly green, except for a few Romas that are starting to turn. I've made two big batches of pesto so far, and there's plenty more basil left out there for more. Recently I dug my first new potatoes, tiny little fingerlings with papery skin, and for most of that week at least one meal a day included boiled fingerling potatoes with butter and salt.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

caterpillar explosion

Last week I was remarking to some friends how odd it seemed that I only got two swallowtail caterpillars this year, when I have so much dill and parsley and carrots in my garden. Then Sunday night around 9 p.m. I went outside to pick some dill for my dinner, and when I came inside I realized I had brought in one caterpillar and one egg. I went back outside to pick some longer-stemmed dill for the caterpillar to eat, and with that dill brought in another caterpillar. Monday morning I went out in the daylight and made a formal search and found one more caterpillar and one more egg. Tuesday I went out twice and came back with a total of ten more caterpillars. Today I only did a quick, cursory check, but I'm kind of afraid to look too closely because 15 caterpillars (well, 14 since one of the eggs hasn't hatched yet) is already kind of overwhelming.

All the caterpillars were first or second instar, although several have molted since I've brought them in, and with fifteen of them I can't really be expected to keep track of who's doing what.

All the new batch of babies were found on dill, although I don't think that's necessarily because dill is a preferred larval food plant but rather because they are just easier to see on dill, and I wasn't turning over every leaflet of parsley or carrot greens. I also noticed that my neighbor's dill, which has been judiciously pinched back, seems to contain no caterpillars, while mine, which I mostly neglected and which has mostly gone to flower, is full of them. My neighbors could be picking off caterpillars (some gardeners know swallowtail larvae only as "parsley worms") or he could be raising his own caterpillars or the adult butterflies could prefer flowering dill for some reason. The caterpillars will eat the flowers, although they seem to prefer the leaves, but I wonder if the flowers are more nutritious and the mother butterflies are looking out for their children's welfare. Or the adult butterflies could have been attracted to the flowers for nectar, and just happened to lay their eggs there.

Meanwhile my remaining chrysalis from before remains a chrysalis, although he really should be hatching any day now. More news as events warrant.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

it's a boy!

On Tuesday night the swallowtail chrysalid on the carrot was looking darker, although not yet transparent, but by the time I got up at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning the blessed event had already occurred and the butterfly was emerged, flexing his wings, and crawling up the stick and over the cheescloth covering on the jar, so I assumed that he had been out for some time already and was ready to fly. I put off feeding the cats breakfast (which I think is a sin and possibly illegal) to take the butterfly outside, but once he was outside he wasn't ready anymore. So I went back in to feed the cats, and kept poking my head out the backdoor to check on butterfly, and eventually sat down outside myself with some tea to wait for the butterfly to fly. I first coaxed him onto my finger, then onto some liatris, but it was windy and the liatris was blowing around too much and he tumbled off, so then I moved him to a pot of zinnias on the back steps, and he sat there. And sat there and sat there and sat there. Now and then he'd flex his wings again or wash his face, but mostly he sat there. In the morning, that side of my house is in the shade, and I tried moving the pot of zinnias out into the sun, but then then he was less protected from the wind. I was just about to see if the wind was less severe on another side of my house, and just then he flew, up into the lilacs, then across my yard and my neighbor's yard, into the sun. This was at 8:45 a.m. I missed getting video of the first flight by mere seconds, but I got loads of pictures of him sitting around and getting ready.
And it is indeed a boy. Girls have more blue and less yellow. This is the first male of all the swallowtails I've raised. It is also the first that I've found on carrot greens. I wonder if that is coincidence or if the butterflies can somehow choose to lay male or female eggs and if they base that choice on larval food plant. It'll be interesting to see what the dilly caterpillar this year turns out to be.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

pupation in action!

The carrot swallowtail had been in the "sling" position for almost 24 hours and I was starting to worry; I couldn't remember how long it normally took for them to pupate after them slung themselves up, but I don't remember it taking that long.
I was checking on her one more time tonight, and just happened to catch the very beginning of pupation--I've never actually been able to watch it happen before. At first her body was heaving, with each segment pulsing individually from the tail up. Here's a picture from early on; sorry for the low quality but I'm taking pictures in low light through wavy plastic here. But you can see here there are already some color changes.
Then suddenly it looks like the chrysalis just starts growing on the back of her head and starts spreading down her body, and it's not clear until halfway down that her old skin is being pushed off, just like when they molt between instars.
It took a huge about of thrashing and writhing to get the skin to detach from her tail, but the whole process of shedding her skin lasted maybe 60 to 120 seconds. After she was fully pupated she continued to writhe and pulse, and from the time I started watching until she stopped moving was about 20 minutes, and this happened, for the record, around 7 p.m. tonight.
The pupa continued to darken slightly after she finished moving, but last I checked was still green with yellow highlights, despite being on a brown twig with the container sitting on brown paper (the pupa can be either brown or green, depending on the environment).

Meanwhile, the little egg that I brought in a week ago has just molted to instar four already. They grow up so fast!

Monday, July 19, 2010


Last summer was a sadly swallowtail-less; I think I just got my parsley out too late. But this year I have babies again. Or rather, I have one newborn and one teenager.
On Friday, my friend C. found two tiny eggs on my dill (although one of them is a dud--you can see right though it) and I found a big, fat third instar caterpillar on my carrots. The caterpillar molted into forth instar that night and into fifth (pictured above) today. You can also see in the picture above that she has completely denuded a sprig of carrot greens. Fifth instar is the last, so she'll be spinning a chrysalis already in the next day or two.

The non-dud egg hatched early Saturday morning, and as of this writing it looks like he might be getting ready to molt into second instar. I am assuming it is a black swallowtail, because that seems the most likely, but she looks much redder than other caterpillars I have known (in my experience they are usually closer to black).
In other butterfly news, I also have loads of cabbage white larvae on my broccoli and kale. I would raise them, too, but cabbage whites are non-native and unlike swallowtails they do serious damage to gardens, so for the past few days I've been picking them off and feeding them to my neighbor's chickens, one of whom now recognizes me and starts pacing the coop making whiny begging noises when she sees me in the garden.

Friday, June 25, 2010

fussy lunch

This was my I-have-work-to-do-but-I'm-trying-to-avoid-it-so-let's-make-something-fussy lunch today:
Salad with Forellenschluss lettuce from the garden, kiwi, bleu cheese, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and a quiche with a homemade crust, local eggs, baby kale from the garden, onion, sweet potato, smoked cheddar and bleu cheese. YUM. Kiwi, bleu cheese and balsamic vinegar sounds weird, but they pair really well together

Now I am further avoiding work by posting about it. Later I can avoid work by doing all the dishes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

foraging fail and win

First the fail: Rhubarb season is coming to a close, and here in Duluth it grows everywhere: vacant lots, alleyways, in overgrown hedges, everywhere. I figured that the neglected rhubarb with long, skinny, green stalks would be more tart than maintained rhubarb, but I thought I could simply add more sugar to compensate, so on my way home from the farmer's market the other day I picked a bunch of a scraggly, abandoned rhubarb. But then when I got it home and cleaned it up and tried a bit, I had to throw it all in the compost. It wasn't just tart, but was inedibly bitter and bad tasting, and no amount of sugar or anything else would have salvaged it. I post this only because when I went online to research the subject, to see if everyone but me already knew that you can't eat neglected rhubarb, or to see if there was some inedible rhubarb look-a-like (not really), I found surprisingly little on the subject. So this post is a public service announcement for urban foragers everywhere: unmaintained rhubarb with thin green stalks is not worth harvesting. I tried several stalks from several sites, and even covered in sugar they were spit-out-in-your-hand bad--and I like tart, sour food. From what I understand, rhubarb needs to be dug up and moved every few years or else it will start putting out thinner and thinner stalks, and I guess that also effects the flavor.

Now the foraging win: Yesterday I went out to an undisclosed location in the pouring rain to dig up some wild leeks (a.k.a. ramps). This is the environment I was in. Can you see the leek?
At this time of year, the leaves are completely died back. I was hoping they'd still be flopped over and obvious, but no such luck. So you have to look for this flower stalk:
But not all leeks produce a flower stalk, and I've heard that the leeks that do flower don't taste as good (and any way, you'd want to leave the flower stalk to develop into seeds so that more leeks can grow). So you look for the flower stalk, then poke around in the leaves and duff to find the little leek nubs poking up through the dirt.
If you can't tell from the picture, the leek nubs stick out from the soil maybe a half inch at best, usually less, and sometimes not at all. Compare that to a month earlier in the season, when they are rather a bit more obvious.

But now at the end of June, the bulbs are so much bigger, some of them close to an inch and a half across. The flavor is noticeably stronger than that of May leeks, but I still don't think they're as overpowering and pungent as some other local naturalists seem to think. The flavor now is more garlicky than oniony, but is sharper, cleaner and sweeter than cultivated garlic.

I pulled up enough leeks for a couple meals, and I've been roasting them with olive oil and salt and serving them over pasta. Roasted whole they are crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, like roasted garlic, but what I like best is cutting them in half and separating some of the layers. They crisp up into leek chips and the sugars caramelize and they are swooningly delicious. Slicing them also makes the leeks go a bit further. Wild leeks are at least semi-common, and I know of several small colonies and a few larger ones here in town. But it can take up to 18 months for the seed to germinate and seven years before the plant is harvestable, so it's better to be frugal.

Friday, June 18, 2010

beautiful salad

This was part of my dinner tonight:

Forellenschluss lettuce, baby beet greens, baby kale, baby chard, and the last of the spinach, with dried apricots, raw walnuts, raw garlic sliced paper thin, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. If I had some good crumbly cheese on hand, I would have tossed that it, too.

I've never grown my own greens before this year, so it is a revelation what a difference there is between store-bought greens and garden-fresh greens. Which makes sense, of course: on cut flowers, the first thing to wilt are the leaves. Last year I learned how much more sweet and tender farmer's market cabbage is compared to to co-op cabbage, but I was not similarly impressed with the more delicate greens like lettuce--because even at the market, it's been plucked for several hours, and then spent several more hours in my fridge at home. But when the first spinach was ready in the garden, I was astounded by how delicious it was, and now I wish I'd planted more; it's too hot to start a second planting, and now I'll have to wait for fall.

I grew up on iceberg lettuce salads with thick, sugary dressing, and even though I've expanded my culinary horizons since then, I was not expecting garden-fresh greens to be so much more flavorful than store-bought greens. I can't imagine dressing this salad with anything more than oil and vinegar, and even that seems a bit extravagant. I was reading a garden book last winter that recommended planting at least six different kinds of lettuce and I thought, "Six kinds? Of lettuce?" but, oh, I am converted now. I was planning to expand my garden anyway, and next year I will plant more spinach, more lettuce, more everything.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

shoots and leaves

The Three Sister garden was a total fail. Out of a packet of 75 corn seeds, I have exactly two (count 'em, two) corn sprouts. I did plant them a touch early, and some of them could have rotted in the ground, but I still suspect squirrels or starlings ransacking the plot, since the next day my mounds were rather flattened and there was a large amount of bean seeds tossed aside. So the beans themselves have a less-than-ideal germination rate, and, surprisingly, the kidney beans from the pantry were more successful than the Kentucky Wonder Pole beans. (The navy beans also sprouted, but rather sporadically.) I have no idea if kidney beans are a bush or pole bean, but I guess I'll find out. And now I'm going to have to go buy stakes or something for my Kentucky Wonder Poles.

Just about everything else is doing smashingly well. The basil was a little slow to germinate, but it's filling in now, and the other herbs are also coming in very slowly and maybe kind of thinly, but that's my fault for not weeding as well as I should have. The beets are currently gorgeous (see photo above) and getting big enough that I can thin the rows and eat the baby greens. The lettuce (see photo below) is equally gorgeous, and I picked this variety specifically because it is so pretty (the name, Forellenschluss, means "speckled like a trout"). The spinach is already bolting, so I guess they really weren't kidding when they named it Gigante d' Inverno (Giant of Winter). The weather has not been seriously hot (we had a few days in the 70s) but perhaps that is still too hot for the spinach, and I will have to wait until fall for a second planting.

Kale and chard are coming in, although the chard seems a little slow and spotty, which is disappointing because it's my favorite green. I've been pulling up a handful of radishes every day recently--thumb sized at best, but crisp and juicy--and the carrots are coming in nicely behind them. Pea vines are flinging tendrils out around each other and the sticks I put out for them to climb up. The transplants are all doing what they're doing. Transplants are kind of boring this time of year.

And look: I have wild strawberries. There are many plants throughout the yard (I wanted to try to mow around them all, but it's hard to keep track of them; I need to weed out the turf and dandelions and plantain and etc.) but, coincidentally, the biggest patches of strawberries are on either side of my garden gate. And, not so coincidentally, the biggest, most robust strawberries are on the inside of the gate, where they've benefited from a dose of Hobbes' compost.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

hillside represent

I was too shy to actually go to the planting yesterday (crowds of friendly people? oh, how terrifying.) but my neighbors did something awesome and deserve recognition:

Orchard Vision Blossoms on Duluth's Hillside

Monday, May 24, 2010

headlong into the garden

Is it crazy to plant a Three Sisters garden in a climate that is not especially hospitable to two of the three elements? Is it crazy to put out frost-tender plants before June 1 in Duluth? Perhaps, but what fun is a garden if you can't be a little crazy, and besides, I figure that if there are volunteer squash sprouting in the compost pile, that it is officially warm enough to plant squash (and tomatoes and peppers and etc.) in the garden, which is mostly compost anyway.

My attempt at lasagna gardening didn't really work--I should have put a lot more organic material on top of the cardboard--so this spring I had two big loads of compost delivered from Hobbes at Garden Magic (which, for the locals, I highly recommend: this is beautiful compost) and I planted directly into that. That was in early April, and the cardboard from last fall was still completely intact; now when I dig deeper in the garden to put in transplants, the cardboard is almost entirely disintegrated, and I swear that the native soil underneath looks better than in the rest of my yard, although it doesn't seem possible for the soil to have improved that much that quickly.

Over the past month or so, I have planted round one of my garden, and now everything is in the ground, many of the seeds are sprouting, the spinach is big enough to harvest some baby leaves, and the tomatoes, peppers and squash have all survived their first night outside. The corn and beans of the Three Sisters garden went in late last week, and I though that my biggest challenge to growing corn would be cool summer temps and hungry raccoons, but the corn might not even make it that far: a few days after planting, the little hills looked disheveled, and I think that squirrels or birds dug up a lot of the seed corn already, and in the processed displaced some of the beans. The beans themselves are somewhat experimental; my packet of Kentucky Wonder Pole beans wouldn't cover all the hills of corn, and I didn't want to make a trip to go buy more bean seeds, so I planted some kidney beans and navy beans that I had in my pantry. I have no idea if they'll mature in time, or how many will even grow--I seem to be finding a fair amount of lightly nibbled kidney beans on the surface of the soil.

So! This is what I'm growing this year in my vegetable garden:

Sugar Snap Peas
Gigante d'Inverno Spinach
Forellenschluss Lettuce
Early Wonder Beets
Calabrese Broccoli
Little Finger Carrots
Saxa II Radishes
Lacinato Kale
Bright Lights Chard
Evergreen Long White Bunching Onions
Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans
Kidney Beans (from the bulk aisle at the co-op)
Navy Beans (from the bulk aisle at the co-op)
Luscious Sweet Corn
Easter Eggplant
Toma Verde Tomatillos
Celebrity Tomatoes
Roma Tomatoes
Grape Tomatoes
Patio Tomatoes
Jalapeno Peppers
Joe's Long Red Cayenne Peppers
California Wonder Peppers
Banana Peppers
Sweet Slice Cucmbers
Russet Potatoes
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Fingerling Potatoes
Raven Zucchini
Butternut Squash
Cantaloupe (unknown variety; from my neighbor)
Genovese Basil
Elephant Dill
Giant of Italy Parsely
German Chamomile
Lemon Balm
Cilantro (unknown variety; from my neighbor)
Mammoth Sunflowers

All that in a roughly 15 by 30 foot plot. I'm trying to use the space as effectively as I can. The carrots and radishes, for example, are intersown, because the radishes will be in and out in no time and after I pull them there'll be room for the carrots to mature. Because the scallion are so small, they're sown between the rows of other plants (I'll do that for additional plantings of radishes, too). The Roma tomatoes are planted between the rows of spinach; the spinach will be mostly done by late June/early July, so they will be out by the time the tomatoes are getting big. And since Romas are determinate and produce all their fruit at once, depending on when the fruit matures I might even have time for another planting of greens between the Romas in the fall, where the spinach is now. In a few weeks, I'll be putting in additional plantings of carrots and beets in between the peas, so that when the peas are finished in midsummer there will be something else growing in that space.

It seems very large and complicated written out like this, but when I am actually in the garden is feels small and haphazard. And when I look out in the yard all I see is wasted lawn space where I can expand my garden next year.

Monday, May 3, 2010

garden update

The broccoli was up to nine sprouts, but then the next day it was down to four, and the zinnias still had one sprout, but it was a different sprout than the day before. I had deer mice in my mudroom last fall/winter, and had hoped that as the weather warmed up that they had moved on to greener lands, but apparently not.

So the whole sprouting set up had to move to western windows of the front porch, because I don't have a lot of other cat-proof options. At current count, "Elephant" dill has 33 sprouts, lemon balm (no variety name) has 25 sprouts, "Genovese" basil has eight, "Giant of Italy" parsley has seven, the broccoli has five and the zinnia has four. The only seeds that haven't sprouted have been the tomatoes ("Pink Henderson," I don't really know anything about them, they were free) and the moonflowers. I feel bad about the moonflowers, because my grandma has sent me moonflower seeds every year for the past two or three years, and I've never been able to get them to sprout. I have a few left to try. I've been soaking them in water to try to presprout them, and I think that might be the ticket; some of them have little tails unfurling in the water. Now the trick is to keep them growing after I put them in dirt.

Spring has been mild enough that I took a chance and planted my peas and some spinach on April 18, which was probably still a skosh too early, but they're finally germinating now. The spinach ("Gigante d'Inverno") is filling in its rows nicely, although the peas ("Sugar Snap") are a little more patchy. Both my neighbors have either a greenhouse or fancy floating row covers, and I ache with jealousy. Maybe next year I can get fancier. Once the current storm system moves on, I can plant my lettuce, and in another week or two I can put it beets, carrots, radishes and chard.

And when its sunny enough to plant the lettuce, I can also plant the bareroot raspberries I bought from the community garden program on Saturday (attn. locals: they have more raspberries left, and some beautifully huge apple trees too, check out the hillside farmer's market on Wednesday and Saturday). This spring I also mail-ordered some fruit trees from St. Lawrence Nursery (a "Zestar" apple, a "Bali" cherry, a "Nova" pear (which is supposed to be self-fruitful) and two wild serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis)). I was a bit worried because spring was so surreally early this year that even though they shipped them at the "right" time and I planted them right away that it was still too late somehow, but the apple, cherry and one of the serviceberries have already broken dormancy and are starting to leaf out, and the pear is on its way (the remaining serviceberry looks a bit questionable). It'll be a couple of years until they start producing fruit, but it's really nice to put some stuff in the yard and daydream about the future.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

broccoli FTW!

In the sprouting race going on in the mudroom, Calabrese broccoli is currently in first place with a whopping nine sprouts (the first ones poked up on the 16th, five days after planting). In second place is Bright Jewel zinnias with one sprout that just came up today, and everything else is tied for third place with zero so far.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I wasn't planning on starting seeds indoors this year. I don't have grow lights or a heat mat or even a suitable place to set them up, so I was just going to buy transplants of long-season crops and direct sow everything else. But then when my seed order came from Baker's Creek, then sent along a free sample pack of tomato seeds, and I can't not plant them, but in Duluth tomatoes need to be started indoors. So I went and bought peat pots and some soil and cleared of a shelf in front of the south-facing window in my mudroom. And then I remembered that my grandma sent me moonflower seeds that I need to start early, oh and I guess broccoli should be started indoors, and while I'm at it I can start some of my herbs, and, well, one thing led to another.
There's no outlet in the mudroom, so I couldn't even set up up a grow light if I wanted to (I could maybe snake a cord in from the kitchen) so I'm hoping sunlight will be enough, because now I've made an Investment. Two days and no sprouts yet, but, well, it's only been two days.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


If you, gosh darn it, just can't get enough of me, stuff that I write can currently be found in a few more places:

1.) I've been writing a regular outdoors column for Zenith City News. The paper comes out every three-ish weeks, and for the time being my column appears on a rotating basis with a couple other columns, so it's kind of sporadic, but there it is. Here's a direct link to my most recent column. Next one should be in early June--or sooner if the paper gets more advertisers and can expand.

2.) I started an Urban Nature blog at the beginning of the year, with the idea of making this blog more geared towards homesteading. And now that I've publicly announced that, maybe I'll actually get around to sorting out links and making a new banner.

3.) I have just been invited to blog for Urban Garden Casual. I don't have anything up there quite yet, but soon will be making two posts a week.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

future pie

The rhubarb is coming up.
It doesn't quite look like something I would want to eat yet.

Friday, March 5, 2010

local news

I know these people! They're awesome!

Fisher-Merritts are Organic Farmers of the Year

Congrats to Farmer John and family!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

freezer madness

For years I have wanted a stand-alone freezer, and even gave serious thought to whether it would be possible or practical to haul a little chest freezer up the stairs of my last apartment. When I was getting ready to buy a house, one of of the first non-essential things I wanted to get for it was a stand-alone freezer, but then I got lucky and the house I bought came with a freezer in the basement. Like everything else in the house, it is old and inefficient, but it still does the job.

I haven't gotten brave enough to learn to can things yet (this year for sure!) so most of my food preservation thus far has been through freezing, and in the basement right now I have three half-pints of crabapple butter, three or four pints of applesauce, one half-pint each of raspberry jam, lemon curd and lime curd, a little bit of diced cayenne and a little bit of pesto, and at least one loaf of homemade bread. I also have leftover soup, curry, cooked beans, packaged frozen fruits and veggies that I stocked up on when they were on sale, and some half-priced baked goods from 3rd Street Bakery. I love visiting my freezer, it's like having a grocery store right in my basement, and last fall when I was bringing down an armload of applesauce I felt downright homesteady.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count

Attention nerds and treehuggers: The Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up this coming weekend, February 12-15. This is an annual event where citizen scientists (that's you) can help provide data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help them track bird populations. Here are two posts I made about it last year: Birds, Climate Change and Citizen Science and My Un-big Day.

I don't get a lot of birds in my own backyard yet--I need to plant for trees and shrubs so that they have some cover--so I'll probably only do a tiny count at home and will do another count out in the city somewhere. Last year I counted at a bus stop for 15 minutes and scored a Merlin. I don't think I'll be quite that lucky this year, but even if I only see a few chickadees and a downy woodpecker, it's still a worthy contribution.

Monday, February 1, 2010

organic grocery costs

Up until recently I worked at the local co-op, where I got a lot of free food and got an employee discount on the rest. Now I'm working full time as a freelance writer and have to actually, like, budget out how much I spend on groceries. So I kept my receipts for the month of January and tallied them up. Subtracting HBC and household stuff ($16.92) and cat food ($48.33 to feed two cats canned food plus organic raw chicken and turkey) I spent $168.05 on groceries this past month for one person, which comes out to $5.42 a day or $1.80 a meal. According to the USDA, that falls somewhere between "thrifty" and "low-cost."

I buy all my groceries at the co-op, so this is all organic, local and/or natural food. And I should say, I eat very well for $5.42 a day, and I don't feel like I am scrimping and saving. My food budget include indulgences like maple-roasted cashews or a lump of gouda or fresh tomatoes in January (they are local hydroponic/greenhouse tomatoes, but still) and even very occasional packaged/convenience food. I do make most of my food from scratch, including bread and other baked goods, and my groceries mainly consist of perishables like soymilk, yogurt or fresh produce, plus stocking up on whatever non-perishables are on sale. I like to keep a well-stocked pantry, and it's pretty rare that I pay full price for things like pasta or or coconut milk or frozen fruit. The conventional wisdom for saving money on groceries is to make a menu plan and stick to it, but whenever I tried that my grocery costs shot way up. I save a lot more money by buying whatever's on sale or what looks good and is in season, and working around that, and I think it makes me a more creative cook, too.

Still, I think I can get this lower, and it'll definitely be lower in the summer when I have my garden up and running and can go to the farmer's market. If anyone's interested I could post monthly updates as to what I'm spending on organic/natural groceries.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cabbage Carrot Cashew Stir Fry

I made some yummy lunch today, and since I haven't done a food post in a while, here it goes. Measurements are approximate, since it was a cleaning out the fridge/throwing stuff together kind of meal. Very filling, high in protein, and almost vegan (and you could sub agave for the honey).

canola or sesame oil
4 oz. firm tofu, diced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 cups green cabbage, chopped
1 cup leftover cooked quinoa (I used red and white mixed together)
3 tablespoons cashew butter
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup raw cashew pieces

Heat the oil in a a large frying pan and cook the tofu over high heat until it is just starting to turn golden brown. Lower heat to medium-high and add vegetables and quinoa and cook until veg are soft. Meanwhile, whisk together the cashew butter, tamari, cider vinegar, honey and red pepper flakes in a bowl. When the vegetables are cooked to your preference, lower the heat even more, add the sauce and cashews and stir well to coat. Serves 2-3.