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You’ve probably heard the statistics or seen the memes. Something on the order of 40% of all food grown in the United States is wasted either before it reaches grocery shelves, or (mostly) after it is purchased. And stories early in the pandemic of farmers dumping milk or slaughtering animals that could not be processed, because the “get big and get out” global food system was an epic failure during a pandemic was enough to turn your stomach. Tight margins and a lack of the right infrastructure and storage when the school and restaurant sales suddenly dried up meant that a huge amount of food was wasted. The cracks in our national food system were exposed. Meanwhile, even before Covid-19, 1 in 7 people in this country are food insecure.

National Resources Defense Council Infographic
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Fall garlic planting

We recently got the garlic in the ground. All 600 feet of it – close to 900 cloves. Shout out to my husband for his help! Putting the garlic in the ground always feels like putting the garden to bed at the end of the season. We had our first hard frost on October 21st, and have since gotten down to 19 degrees here (we tend to run about 5 degrees colder than in town). I’m STILL processing peppers, and have a few cauliflower still out there under cover, but for the most part, the 2020 gardening year is “put a fork in it” done. (More wrap up in a separate blog post).

So now is a good time to get back to myd series on garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas and the nightshades (the series is also listed under “gardening” on the DIY homesteading tab above). What better time to discuss the allium family – garlic, onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, chives – than as we wrap up the fall harvest.

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This year’s harvest.

Carrots are one of the first things beginning gardeners want to plant. Nothing says garden success like a handful of carrots pulled fresh from the ground, dirt still clinging to their orange roots! And if you look at gardening books, you learn that carrots are a cool season crop, meaning they can take a frost. And so gardeners are encouraged to plant carrots up to 4 weeks before your last frost. Around here, that would mean early April.

But carrots are also one of the vegetables most beginning gardeners have a hard time with. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked gardening with friends, and they have said, “I planted carrots. But they never came up.” I wrote a whole blog post way back in 2012 on how I used to plant carrots. It was all about doing a scatter method for seeding, and keeping the seeds damp using burlap. This is a great method for raised bed gardening.

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My husband and I met doing bird field work in the Coconino and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. This job involved being up and ready to go at 4:30 am every morning for an entire summer (we worked 12 days on/2 days off) while camping. If there’s one thing we KNOW how to do, its camp.

Bull Lake near Troy Montana. A truly lovely place.
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Yup, August is for Tomatoes! Most of this was sold through Hayshaker Farm.

When we’re in the height of tomato season, there’s always a bit of “tyranny of produce” happening in our house, as flats of long awaited tomatoes start to stack up on counters, chairs, chest freezer lids… you get the idea.

I’ve learned over the years to rotate which preserved foods to focus on year to year, as we often don’t finish up all of last year’s bounty by the following year. So one year I might make BBQ sauce and a lot of salsa. Another I might focus on tomato soup and simple canned tomatoes. Every year I make a few batches of roasted tomato sauce for the freezer.

And lately, every year I make a very concentrated batch of tomato paste, which I call Conserva – though technically, Conserva in Italian just means preserved. And according to Hank Shaw, who’s recipe I am documenting here, I’m really taking Conserva to the next level, which is ‘Strattu (short for estratto, which translates as extract).

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Esterina yellow cherry tomato

Well, tomato season is FINALLY here (we’re late this year due to our cool spring), so I thought the next in the series on garden plant families should be Solanaceae – better known as the Nightshade family.

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Catnip in bloom. One of the best things about this plant family is that bees seem to love them ALL.

This is a continuation in the series on garden plant families. The first installment, on the Brassicas – aka mustards – aka crucifers, can be found here.

Today we’re here to talk about the mints (Lamiaceae – which includes MANY of our herbs). Reminder: as a companion to this series, I highly recommend the brilliant book Botany in a Day. The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel.

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Broccoli, gone to seed and slowly being buried in aphids, a frequent pest.

When identifying plants, people tend to know the names of the individual species. This is echinacea. This is lemon balm. This is a tomato. We rarely step back and ask, what do certain plants all have in common? But this information can be SUPER useful, both in areas such as plant identification, and for things like crop rotation from year to year. So, at long last (I’ve had this idea for years) I’m writing a series on culinary plant FAMILIES.

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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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Jennifer Kleffner

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