Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fava Beans

Suddenly, the fava beans are ready to harvest, at least it seems sudden, since I've been away in San Antonio for a couple of days.

I harvested a mixture of Egyptian fava beans and Super-agua-dulce (from Italy) this evening and prepared them as follows:

  • Pick, shell, and peel beans
  • Boil in water until tender
  • Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, chopped chives
  • Salt to taste
They were heavenly! It's amazing how the flavors of these ingredients blend -- you'd swear there was meat and cheese in there somewhere! I don't know whether favas from a grocery store would be as good. I've never bought any and never eaten dried ones from the garden, so I have no idea what they're like other than freshly picked.

Spinach, also from the garden, was the perfect accompaniment. The meal took about 10 minutes to prepare once the beans were shelled and peeled. Peeling fava beans is a nuisance. But it's not so bad, really. In fact, shelling and peeling fava beans while sitting on the kitchen step looking over the herb and flower garden is downright therateuptic. Sitting there, listening to a flock of grackles who'd stop by to visit, I could view the hectic week I had at work from afar, like a distant memory of a book I read once, a long time ago.

A Visit to the Antique Rose Emporium

Although I sometimes wish I could spend every day in the garden, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that there are many things about my double country/city life that I enjoy. Two of these are Fanick's Nursery and the Antique Rose Emporium, both in San Antonio. I can drive from San Antonio to Lockhart via IH-10 which takes me east to Luling, where I exit and drive north to Lockhart; or via IH-35, which takes me north to San Marcos, where I exit and drive east to Lockhart. Both routes are about the same distance and take about the same amount of time. The IH-10 route passes within a mile or so of Fanick's Nursery, and the IH-35 route within a few miles of the Antique Rose Emporium. I took IH-35 today.

It's worth going to the Antique Rose Emporium just to stroll through the gardens, but of course I can never resist buying a plant or two. They have an overwhelming selection of roses and also sell a wide assortment of ornamentals, herbs, shrubs, and vegetable starts. I had to hurry past the tomato seedlings without looking too closely, to avoid being tempted, since I had excellent germination of all the seeds I planted and already have more tomato plants than I need.

I bought a Duchess de Brabant shrub rose for a hedge-in-process, an ox-eye daisy, a John Fanick phlox (I planted two last year, and they performed so beautifully, I wanted to add another), and a couple of white blooming pentas. And some marigolds in flower, because I just can't wait until the ones I started from seed are old enough to bloom.

The pic is of sweet peas planted in a container. What a great idea! The sweet peas in my Lockhart garden are only about 6 inches high right now. Lockhart is about 45 miles north of San Antonio and lags about 3 weeks behind in the spring, but the ARE's sweet peas must be at least a month ahead of mine. Need to plant them earlier next year.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obamas Will Have Veggie Garden at Whitehouse

I was very happy to see this news today:

On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring Time For Real

Spring sneaked up on me this year, perhaps because the countryside was so dry there were no wildflowers to speak of. Seems as though one week I was thinking there might still be time to plant some more garden peas, then suddenly the mesquite trees are leafing out and it's time to plant corn.

I took off work early today and spent the last few hours of the afternoon in the garden. There was a wonderful point just to the west of the southwest corner of the house where the scents of jasmine and sophora mingled. I do wish I could make odographs, but to do it right, one would have to capture the warm Gulf breeze, because that too was part of the whole effect.

There were scores of butterflies visiting the flowers, and later in the evening moths, but only a few bees.

The potatoes are poking their snouts out of the ground, but no sign yet of the corn and sunflowers I planted over the weekend. Garden surprises of the day: tiny volunteer basil cotyledons coming up all over the kitchen door herb & flower garden and a pale yellow Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly sipping from the deep purple petunias.

I planted Weinlanderin beans this evening, just before dark.

Monday, March 16, 2009

HR 875

I am concerned about laws with vague language aimed at food producers. It would be tragic if local food producers such as Will Allen were regulated out of business. As with most government regulation, the food regulation laws have the potential to harm small businesses, while large businesses will be able to get their people on regulatory boards, bribe regulators, and so forth. Here's the text of a letter I sent to a local Congressman:

March 7, 2009

Mr. Henry Cuellar
336 Cannon HOB
Washington DC 20515

RE: HR 875 – The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

Dear Congressman Cuellar,

I live in San Antonio, and have a country home in eastern Caldwell County. Thus, I barely miss being one of your constituents. However, I communicate on a regular basis with your constituents, some of whom are my clients, some of whom sell me goods and services.

I am writing to you today, because you are a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, to which HR 875 has been referred. While government regulation of industrial scale agricultural producers and food processors may be a good thing, we do not need regulation of small farmers who sell their produce locally. In fact, this law as written could put small farmers and farmer’s markets out of business and destroy a source of food at a time when many food producing regions of the world are experiencing severe drought and food shortage is of real concern.

The bill as written is so broad that it could even be applied to backyard gardeners, and the definition of contaminant is so vague that the law could end up making organic farming illegal, since organic produce sometimes contains insects.

This is NOT the time to put small farmers out of business! Please consider the implications of the bill as written, and insist on amending it to exempt small farmers who sell their produce locally.


Barbara Lamar

Growing Power in Urban Food Desert


The store at Growing Power’s Milwaukee farm is the only place for miles around that carries fresh produce, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and homegrown honey. Even in winter, customers find the handmade shelves and aging coolers stocked with fresh-picked salad greens.
Growing Power co-director Karen Parker, who has worked alongside Allen since the project started, says, “It’s a wonderful thing to change people’s lives through changing what they’re eating.” Parker believes her parents would have lived much longer with a healthier diet. She takes a deep pride in providing fresh, healthy food. “Last summer during the salmonella problem with tomatoes, I was able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to worry. These tomatoes were grown right here.’ I found myself selling out of tomatoes.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blowing the Tops Off Mountains

Here's another reason to to learn how to live well using less electricity, at least until there are better methods of producing it than oil and coal. Videos like this should be required viewing for everyone who uses electricity produced from burning coal.

Appalachian Voices is a website devoted to fighting the practice of mining coal via mountaintop removal. This process involves clear cutting the forests, then removing several hundred feet of soil and stone in order to expose seams of coal. This is done with explosives. The soil and stone are pushed off into valleys, disrupting the flow of streams and burying topsoil.

Homes and people located near the mining operations are damaged in the following ways: structural damage caused by the shock of the blasting; ground water contamination; flooding caused by blocking valley streams; polluted air caused by the blasting.

One of the most traumatic moments of my life was when I was around 10 years old. There was a creek I thought of as my friend. I knew the place it started, bubbling out of the ground and forming a pool that was ringed around with horsetail reeds. I would often follow the creek through the woods to where it joined a larger creek that had a sandy bottom and flowed through a pasture where the sun broke into hundreds of sparkling jewels on the water's surface. There were small black catfish that lived in the creek. I loved to sit very still with my feet in the water and let the black catfish nibble my toes. One day when I came to visit the creek, the water was black, and all the plants that lined the creek were dead. There was an oil well being drilled on a neighbor's land, and the drilling had somehow polluted the spring that fed my creek. I screamed and cried and beat my fists against the ground. I was furious with my parents, who did nothing about this terrible thing that had happened. Several months after the drilling had stopped, the spring ran clear again, and the creek looked almost as it had before. But I never again saw those black catfish.

It makes me cry to think of what's happening in Appalachia. I don't know whether any animal species will die off, never to return, as my catfish did; but the damage to the land is far, far more serious. Nature is robust, and spoiled land tends to recover surprisingly quickly. But I'd guess it will take hundreds, maybe thousands, of years for the mountains to recover from what the coal companies are doing.

Spread Sheet for Seeds

I got the idea from Carol of May Dreams to keep an inventory of seeds on a spread sheet. It was such a great idea, I didn't even procrastinate but started right in on it.

Here are my headings:

1. Description
2. Source
3. Date (on packet if purchased, or when given if a gift)
4. Date Planted
5. Germination (% germination)
6. Comments - this includes how well the seeds grew, whether the plants were as the seed producer advertised, whether the plants were uniform, etc. It also includes where the seeds are stored. Since I lived in two different places, I sometimes have trouble remembering where I've put a packet or jar of seeds (I keep saved seeds in various recycled containers).

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

This post is for Carol's blog, May Dreams, where people from all over the world share what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

Rain at last in central Texas! Many trees are beginning to leaf out, and some of the peaches and pears are blooming. But let me not waste words when I have pictures. This is chicory, which I planted once, because I like to put a few leaves in salads. It reseeds itself with abandon.

Cyclmen is a luxury -- requires protection from freezing, likes moisture but hates wet feet, doesn't like the hottest days of summer.

Jasmine takes care of itself, long as there isn't a hard freeze. In fact, it tends to be somewhat invasive, but I can't hold that against it when it gives me such beautiful, fragrant flowers in the early spring.

I've never grown Osteospermum before. I bought this one at the grocery store a few weeks ago -- it had just arrived from a wholesale nursery, so it was still in good shape. It settled into its spot in my garden as though it had been there all its life.

I love the delicate colors of pear blossoms and pink evening primrose.

Of course, I have to bring some of the spring beauty into the house.

Here's a list (although I always forget a few):

roses (all of them are blooming except Fortune's Double Yellow, which seems to be suffering from the drought, although I did water it from time to time throughout the winter)

pansies & violas
dill, parsley, and cilantro (I use the clusters of tiny blooms in flower arrangements, as well as in the kitchen)
artichoke (first buds of the season are forming!)
salvia - Indigo Spires & native cedar sage
pear & peach trees
a few late blooming tulips
spider wort
Sophora (Texas Mountain Laurel)
a few vounteer zinnias (the little pink ones that must be similar to the wild form of the flower)
a few late blooming narcissus
plumbago (in protected locations)
oleander (budding)
patio tomato in protected location south of house (already forming fruit)


lettuce & other cool weather salad greens
turnip greens
Swiss chard (silver beet)
beet greens
fava beans
garden peas
a few Chandler strawberries (when I can beat the birds to them)
green onions
garlic leaves
cilantro, parsley, chives, dill, etc.


Irish potatoes
sweet peas
tomato, chile, and eggplant starts (moved from seedling flat to 3 in containers)
marigolds, zinnias, vinca in seedling flats



Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why to Boycott GM Food Products

Leaving health issues aside, because there is not enough evidence one way or the other -- the reason anyone who values his or her life should refuse to buy GM foods is that the courts in the U.S. and Canada have interpreted the patent laws in such a way as to make it impossible for anyone, even home gardeners, to save their own seeds for any crops that can cross pollinate with plants whose DNA contains patented genes.

The videos in my two previous posts illustrate the law in action.

Monsanto Continued


ille potens sui
laetusque deget, cui licet in diem
dixisse "vixi: cras vel atra
nube polum Pater occupato

vel sole puro; non tamen irritum,
quodcumque retro est, efficiet neque
diffinget infectumque reddet,
quod fugiens semel hora vexit."

-- Quintus Horatius Flaccus

I have lived this afternoon pulling weeds in the garden, breathing the scent of Sophora flowers as the mocking bird sang. This evening I looked at photographs (on a stranger's blog) that were like reliving a day of my childhood. No matter what happens tomorrow, this peaceful beautiful day, was mine.

Here's the photo blog that was somehow like seeing the world through my own four year old eyes:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Serenading Mockingbird

The mockingbird who hangs out in the pecan trees near my Lockhart house has been singing his heart out tonight, running through a range of central Texas birds from bluejays to cardinals to crows to hawks to sparrows -- though I have not yet heard him attempt the whining of a paisano or the hooing of an owl. There are no paisanos here in town, so perhaps he's never heard one, but owls come around from time to time.

I can't pick a favorite bird, but there are 4 I especially like: the paisano, aka road runner; the cara cara, aka Mexican eagle; the mocking bird; and the Eastern meadowlark. Eastern meadowlarks don't seem to live in central Texas. I've only ever heard one around here. I remember them from mornings in Houston and Austin County, Texas when I was a kid.

The paisano I like because of its curiosity and entertaining vocals, including its puppy-dog whine.

The crested cara cara I like because it is beautiful when it soars but at the same time very practical and down-to-earth, being quite willing to clean up a mess of carrion when the opportunity arises. Here are some especially lovely photos of crested cara caras: I would love to paste one in here, but the photographer is a professional who makes a living with his photography. His photos are so beautiful I am tempted to ask for his price.

The mockingbird I like because of its wide range of vocals and its playful and occasionally belligerent personality (which is amusing to see in a small bird but which would be a terrible thing if the bird were 10 times its actual size).

The Eastern meadowlark I like because of its yellow breast (yellow has been my favorite color ever since I was a very small child; probably ever since I was able to distinguish one color from another) and its song, which always spoke to me of hope and joy.

The Hacker's Diet

This is one of the few diet books I've seen that makes sense, combining both the engineering aspects of weight control (e.g. how much exercise will burn 1 kcal of fuel; how much fuel is available from various foods), and diet management (how to successfully apply the knowledge one has about exercise and food). Don't be put off by the facetious subtitle (How to Lose Weight and Hair Through Stress and Poor Nutrition).

Here's an excerpt:

Weight: what's the connection?

Management in isolation struggles with constraints that can frequently be eliminated. Engineering in isolation seeks permanent fixes which sometimes don't exist and, even when found, often require an ongoing effort to put into place and maintain. Each needs the other to truly solve a problem. So it is with controlling your weight. First, you must fix the problem of not knowing when and how much to eat. As long as you lack that essential information, you'll never get anywhere. Then, you have to use that information to permanently manage your weight.
Diet books reflect the division between engineers and managers. When they focus on a ``magic diet,'' they're seeking a quick fix. When they preach about ``changing your whole lifestyle,'' they're counseling endless coping with a broken system. This book presents an engineering fix to the underlying problem, then builds a management program upon it to truly solve the problem of being overweight.