With the changing landscape that is Covid-19, a LOT of people have returned to gardening, or put in a new garden for the first time this spring. Stories of empty seed racks and searches for local compost abound. Because feeding yourself is powerful in these uncertain times.

Because I’m part of several Facebook groups for local farmers and gardeners, I’m seeing a lot of newbie questions and common mistakes. So I put together a list of my top 10 things I wish beginning gardeners knew, in no particular order. This isn’t a definitive list. But it is a place to start if you’ve never grown a plant that you’ve then eaten in your life!

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Sprouted onions from the latest cull, on May 21st. While these can still be used, I find the flavor changes significantly once they have sprouted, so they normally are enjoyed by the sheep instead.

Back in late October 2019, I reported on the grow out of 7 different onions; 6 yellow storage onions (5 open pollinated and one hybrid as a control) and one red storage onion, in this post.

I kept the 10 largest onions from each variety (except the red), and put them into storage in my garage pantry, where the temperature never gets down to freezing, but is otherwise unregulated. In short, typical of most home storage. The room tends to be 10-20 degrees warmer than the outside temp in the winter, and cooler than outside but warmer than the house in the summer.

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I don’t remember when I first started eating spanakopita, a Greek “spinach pie” traditionally made in individual phyllo wrapped triangles. It took me years to learn to really enjoy eating greens, so I would have avoided it in my twenties, but I’m sure I had it in a Greek restaurant at some point and thought, this is actually pretty tasty.

But all of that pastry brushing of butter onto phyllo dough, the amount of butter involved, and individually wrapping each “pie” kept me from making them at home for a very long time. And then I found this recipe in Eating Well magazine (December 2008). They had an option for making one large tart rather than individual tartlets, and I thought, that’s probably worth a try.

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Rhubarb is an interesting plant. A perennial in the family Polygonaceae (buckwheat family) that dies back to the ground in winter, it can often be found growing on old homestead sites, when the homestead itself is long gone. Grown for its tart stems, which can vary from all green to a deep red, its large leaves contain high amounts of oxalic acid (also found in much lower quantities in spinach) and anthrone glycosides, which can be toxic. Though you’d have to eat many pounds of the leaves in one sitting to actually poison yourself. My sheep love the leaves and have done damage to more than one fence to reach my plants.

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Sourdough crackers, salami from our trip to Seattle in early march, a bit of leftover quince jam from last fall, and homemade farmer cheese.

I’ve written several blog posts (here and here) about my adventures in sourdough. But then, as I’ve aged, I’ve found that I have a lot less aches and pains when I don’t eat gluten. So I’ve become one of THOSE people, who mostly doesn’t eat wheat. And because of that, I’ve mostly stopped baking (though I do really like this paleo pizza crust and I occasionally make this gluten free bread).

And then coronavirus hit. And in a nostalgic mix of “baking = comfort” and “OMG stores are sold out of flour and yeast” panic, I bought a 50 lb bag of Smalls Family Farm unbleached all purpose flour from Andy’s. I figured I could always bake for the neighbors. This also necessitated me scrubbing out and bleaching several 6 gallon plastic buckets that originally contained coconut oil for soapmaking, but had been repurposed to hold grain for sheep or other random farm uses.

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I’ve been a subscriber to the Nutrition Action Healthletter for years and years. This recipe originally appeared there, as a quick healthy easy weeknight dinner. They called it “Chicken and White Bean Cassoulet”, but since the bulk of the recipe is cabbage, not an ingredient one would find in any traditional French Cassoulet, I renamed it.

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It’s funny. On some level, I’ve been preparing for this current situation for more than 20 years. And I’m finding that, not surprisingly, its one thing to be intellectually prepared for people hoarding toilet paper. It’s another to weather the emotional fall out when people around you are frightened and you can’t even give them a hug.

Other than the persistent feeling of angst, watching small businesses (many of which are also friends) suffer, a fear of running out of chocolate, and the hypochondria of “is that a tickle in my throat” (news flash, so far its not), we’re fine. Heck, there’s still hot and cold running water and electricity to surf the internet. We’re MORE than fine. And we’re doing our best to facilitate old fashioned neighbor to neighbor communication and assistance. Reaching out to those near us. Working with a local church and sign maker to put up a bulletin board for actual physical notes from neighbors in need.

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When I was making breakfast this morning, I got onto my blog to look up this recipe, and realized it wasn’t there. I can’t believe I’ve never posted this! It’s easy, filling, healthy, inexpensive, and utilizes pantry staples. PLUS it can be eaten for dinner OR breakfast. What’s not to love? This recipe is adapted from the original in Eating Well Magazine, March 1998.

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Heads up. This is a LONG post. And if you are just here for cute animal pictures and recipes and aren’t interested in farming as a business, a pretty boring one. But this stuff IS important. If you make it through to the end, thanks for reading!

It’s funny how things just chug along in life, and then the collective unconsciousness bubbles up and you start hearing similar ideas from multiple directions.

Last year, I went to the Balancing Profitability and Access in Local Food Systems conference in Boise. During one of the talks, this graphic appeared on the screen.

It hit a chord with me, I photographed it from the Power Point screen, and tracked it down later. A friend with a masters in marketing taught me years ago that consumers choose to purchase for one of three reasons; price, quality or status. Competing with big box store prices is simply a race to the bottom (and how we ended up with things like Confined Animal Feeding Operations – CAFO’s – a disaster for the animals, the environment and our health). But just marketing to the tip of that preference pyramid isn’t enough either.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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