Tuesday, September 29, 2009

End of the Season Stuff

Because some of you are wondering, I still haven't heard from Re-Imagining Cleveland whether or not I was awarded the grant. I've gotten to the anxious point and will be sending some inquisitive emails over the next day. Later on tonight, I'm going to an Info Session on OSU's Master Gardener program. It sounds very textbook-like in its online description. Being that it's taught over the winter months, I'm not sure if there's any kind of garden lab...

Anyways, over the weekend, I took some time and broke down some of the garden. I picked a final 3 pounds of variety peppers (finally some habaneros!), 12 pounds of green tomatoes, and 7 pounds of purple potatoes. Pulling up one of the tomato plants, its roots pulled up dirt from one of the earthworm habitats and with the dirt came three worms. I was stoked with the 7 pounds of purple potatoes as the Yukon Gold yield was small. It wasn't the 15 to 20 pounds described on the Backwoods Home website, but a good-start nonetheless. I think more sun is the answer.

I made an amazing roasted tomato soup over the weekend. I included a picture of the scrumptious process.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pawpaws to the People! Part 2

About 2 PM, we finally got to Pawpaw Festival, situated on a pleasant lake just a few miles from Adam's house. Upon entry, you're immediately flanked with booths that have little to do with pawpaws specifically, but a lot to do with the underlying bigger picture, solar displays, solar oven displays, nurseries hawking their wares, the Athens Bicycle Co-Op, and the like. That's cool and all, and I'm down with cause, but I'm wondering where are the pawpaws when midway through the info booths I find this totally choice piece of pawpaw paraphenalia, a pawpaw plushie! See picture. Yet still no real deal pawpaws. Nearing the end of the booths, I felt we were getting closer when we found the Pawpaw Beer Tent. The pawpaw beer, an American wheat style that went perfectly with the low summer sun rays, is a tradition at the Fest. Also making its debut in the Beer Tent was the Ohio Spicebush Golden Ale. However, the Golden Ale was repeatedly trumped by the Pawpaw Wheat and I never even had a taste.

So like Wendy's asking, "where's the beef?" I'm like asking, "where's the pawpaws?" After a quick pint, Sarah and I ditch our guests for the elusive hunt. On the other side of the field where the Beer Tent was located, we finally find them in the form of Chris Chmiel's Integration Acres display booth. Chris is the organizer of the Pawpaw Fest and could be decribed as a Pawpaw Guru. He was selling pawpaws by the pound and some pawpaw flavored ice pops and of course had samples to try.

Across from Chris, the non-profit, Ohio Pawpaw Grower's Association (OPGA) had their booth with informative facts and handouts and lots of varieties of pawpaws to sample. The perhaps father and son team were just calling out cultivars and cutting up the samples, somewhat haphazardly and definitely not scientifically, but it was a quick and dirty way to mill through many of the pawpaw flavor nuances.

And across from OPGA, we found the Official Pawpaw Festival Tent. At the Festival Tent, one could buy t-shirts, try and buy the labeled samples of different pawpaws (my fave was the Susquehanna), and listen to assorted lectures on pawpaws. I went to the Grower's Seminar, given by Ron Powell. I don't believe it was Ron's intention, however, his lecture could have been titled, "101 Problems with Growing Pawpaws," complete with slides of all sorts of caterpillars, other bugs, critters, cows, and natural disasters like windstorms. At least, I know what to look out for when starting my patches.

Meanwhile, Sarah took part in the community yoga practice from Inhale Yoga, and Sarah and Adam hung out with their mountain bike polo friends. In the early evening, the beer tent seemed to have gotten the crowd just riled up enough for some old fashioned square dancing. The crowd being comprised mostly of twenty to forty somethings, looking like natural crossovers between crust punks and hippies with tatts, patches, tie-dyes, suspenders, and meatless boots.

We got out of the Festival around 8 PM. We had had our fill of pawpaws, and Adam and I needed to get a second wind for the Makebelieves rock show at the Union that night. I left determined to plant several small orchards here in Cleveland of this remarkable fruit. I also left with a certain contentedness after experiencing this post-mining New Wave of Appalachia that's looking future-forward to solar not coal and local food, while giving its nods to the old ways like bluegrass and canning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pawpaws to the People! Part 1

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my friends, Adam Hughes and Sarah Harter, in Athens for the 11th Annual Pawpaw Festival, proletariatly entitled, "Pawpaws to the People!" I had a total blast and can't wait for next year's fest. Now if you're scratching your head, wondering what a pawpaw is, don't worry you're not alone. A pawpaw is a wholly unique fruit that is actually native to North America. When I say unique, I mean it's the only temperate species of the Annonaceae Family, known for the cherimoya. The pawpaw's flavor is totally tropical, mixing elements of papaya, mango, and banana custard. It's flesh (what you eat) is custardy in texture. The pawpaw is about 200 times more exciting than a pear or apple. As of two centuries ago, a chilled pawpaw was George Washington's favorite dessert. As of 2009, the pawpaw is Ohio's native fruit tree.

And for 11 years now, the folks of Athens, Ohio have been celebrating this revered fruit. To truly describe this great weekend, I must indulge in a little more than just the Festival and begin with Saturday's breakfast at my favorite restaurant, Casa Neuva, a totally crossover Mexican joint with plenty of options for the picky vegetarian or the snobby meateater. Casa Neuva has been a pioneer in the local food movement since 1985. The back of their menu is a list of some 30 odd farms from around the area where Casa sources their offerings. Anybody up here in Cleveland interested in local food movements should make the journey down. Heck, it's probably prime time for Casa Neuva to write a how-to/journal of their experience over the last 25 years. I'd buy it.

After my luscious breakfast of habanero/lemon pork with black beans, dippy eggs, a perfectly wheated tortilla, and coffee with Snowville Creamery 1/2 and 1/2, we visited the Athens Farmer's Market, which was a totally huge and hopping affair. I bought some sparklin' golden mid-sized Yukon Golds from a mostly-garlic organic farmer. Some of the cooler items at the market were the variegated egg-sized eggplants, the mini-white-Ichiban-lookin' eggplants, and the longbeans. The value-added items also really stood out, especially the bread stand with their Asiago bread in the shape of a plate-sized coral flame with its flame pieces meant to be broken off and eaten. The other major highlight of the market were all the farmers' softball-sized melons, which is the size I was able to grow this year. I thought it was just me or just me up here in the Northern latitudes.

Meanwhile, while breakfast was eaten and a Farmer's Market visited, the Sarahs both realized that they both had forgotten their suntan lotion! Which is a totally unlikely scenario that is prompting me to play the Mega Millions this week. So a trip back to the log cabin was warranted for sunblock. On the porch it occurred to me that even though I knew the folklore of the pawpaw and what a pawpaw fruit looked like, I didn't know what a pawpaw tree looked like in the wild, and I knew that Adam knew where some patches were on and around his property.

I asked if we all could take a little break prior to the Festival and check out some wild pawpaws first to get more acquainted with the species. My timing was perfect! The kids nodded off in the car and were napping! Down a hill, over a snapped oak and barbwire, we (being me, Adam, and my wife, Sarah, and not Adam's wife, Sarah-clarified here for the sake of child protective reasons) came to 20 foot by 20 foot pawpaw patch on a southerly facing hillside just loaded with delicious bean-pod lookin' fruit. Being the inexperienced pawpaw harvesters that we were complete without basket, stool, or ladder, we shook the ripened fruits from their homes out of our reach. We felled about five pounds this way stuffing our camo-ed short pockets, but we bruised the flesh considerably. I should note here that the easily bruised flesh (think more easier to bruise than a banana) is a major drawback to the commercial viability of the pawpaw industry. Nonetheless, this pawpaw patch and its pawpaws was like having "been to the mountain" and was an excellent primer for the Festival, which will be described in Part 2.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things Coming Up

Yesterday, I dropped a log into a rubbermaid of water to indicate to the shiitakes that the end time is near and to hopefully stimulate a mega flush of mushrooms. We'll see about that.

This weekend is the world famous 9th Annual Paw Paw Fest outside of Athens. It's everything pawpaw-beer, plants, growing seminars. This should be a blast. I'll have a full report after the weekend.

At the end of the month, OSU has their first Master Gardener Information seminar for the winter inductions. Still waiting to hear from Re-Imagining Cleveland, I've been told the awards will be decided this month. So I'm a bit anxious every time I get the mail.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Mushroom Picture that Doesn't Exist

Back in late spring, my dad and I inoculated a couple of oak trunks from Casa de la Hush with shiitake and maitake mushroom spawn. We used the old techniques of drilling the logs, hammering in the dowel rod spawn (I guess I should have pictures), and coating the holes with wax.

I imagined the logs would need a good year's worth of incubating, but as of yesterday there was a little sprout of a mushroom (called a pinner in myco-language) coming out of one of the inoculation points. The funny (actually annoying) thing is that as of today there is no more mushroom to be found. That pinner was eaten down convexly into the log. Some critter had a happy hour on my baby shiitake.

Regardless of what happened to the volunteer shiitake, this is a sign that the log is ready to bear a flush of mushrooms. Me, as cultivator, need to nudge this process along. The nudge will come as a cold water bath for the log. Pictures to follow...I hope.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What I Been Doing

So my friends have been like, "Yo, J! Where ya been at?" "Whataya been doing?" "We haven't seen you lately..." Retorting, I'm like, "I've been processing the fruits of my summer labors." And their like. "huh?"

All in all, that's about 2.5 gallons of spaghetti sauce, a couple cups of shucked green beans, and about 10 pints of tomatillo salsa. It may not look like much, but each bag or two of sauce takes about a day, and each batch of jars takes another day. Let's not even talk about shucking those beans. That top photo is about seven full days of work. The processing is an amazing time-suck. Anybody else feel the same way? And then ultimately still compulsed to do it again with the next 15 pounds of heirloom tomatoes.

At this point, I'm admittedly a little bummed that the garden has slowed down, especially since all of my baby bok choy sprouts have been totally chewed down despite my diatomaceous earth applications. However, I am breathing a sigh of relief that I can actually manage the yields trickling out of the garden these days.

For the last batch of sauce, I tried something new. Instead of the classic boiling method to remove the tomato skins, I harkened back to all that pa am tomaquet that I've been eating throughout the summer. So instead of using fossil fuels and boiling water, I used some calories (of which I have plenty to spare) and proceeded to grate all the tomatoes. In hindsight, the process took just as much time as boiling, but seemed less of a hassle. Of course, seeds were left in the sauce-more fiber my mom tells me.

This year's sauces for the most part have been Cleveland Brown orange colored because of the multiple colors of tomatoes used in each batch of sauce. But for next year's sauce making and ultimately tomato plantings, I want to keep more purity of the heirlooms in their individual sauces. I think green, purple, and white sauces would be sweet looking and would provide a total wow factor when actually taking that first bite. I will probably need to forgo the plum lemon and orange banana varieties for the sake of room.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Natural Born Tillers

Or as the worms churns... I finally had the chance to build some earthworm habitats right in my garden. The project required about six months of stale bread (or any basic non-oily carb), newspaper, and mulch.

Now the reasons to do this project are multitude. One, the worms act as a natural tiller, burrowing through the ground and leaving the soil naturally aerated. Plus, their castings are a nutrient rich and great for plants. Two, by making these habitats now, I can have a source of Ohio worms for vermi-posting through the winter months, as traditional composting doesn't work too well when it's freezing. Three, I can physically remove these worms from my property to the land bank property (grant permitting), as I would like to do this earthworm project on a much larger scale with corporate stale bread sponsors (Hint, Great Harvest) with leaf humus composted on site.

Building the earthworm habitat was easy enough. Basically, it's a layered sandwich of newspaper/carb/mulch/newspaper/carb/thick mulch with a little mist of watering in between. The second photo shows the layers fairly clearly: Newspaper/ Brownberry/Wood Mulch/Newspaper/Ak-Mak/Leaf Humus.

The newspaper provides a sort of shelter for the worms, as even worms like their security. However with all that bread just above, the worms just can't help but dug on in. The multiple layers serve the dual purpose of providing more habitat, while keeping that habitat cool.