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5/13/2009 08:07:00 PM

Red Onions

As I munch down on my tuna sandwich as I write I can't but help thinking how under appreciated the red onion really is. I use it for so much but I can't remember when it was that I ultimately decided to start using it. I certainly didn't grow up with it in the food my mother cooked as my father is a green onion kind of man.

Whenever it was, I have at least discovered the wonderful flavor of this particular onion and I have one in my fridge at all times. I chop it finely to put in my smooth chicken salad. I have never liked chunky chicken salad sandwiches, I prefer for everything to hold together and it is only with my chicken, tuna can have chunks, but my chicken salad must be smooth. I had diced red onion to my tuna (like now, yum). I really enjoy it in a good salad and I made one not too long ago as a remake of a salad I had while visiting Atlanta.

I posted the recipe on Garden Girl's forum, but I never quite made it over here to post it and since I'm in a red onion mood, I'll post it now.

This salad isn't horribly complicated and if you're a vegetarian/vegan you can omit any offending ingredients. Another note is I made this for myself so I'm giving a list of what I did for a single plate.

1 small handful baby spinach leaves
3 romaine lettuce leaves, torn into bite sized pieces
5 or 6 cherry or plum tomatoes of choice
1 small bunch of shredded carrots
1 complete sliced ring of red onion, separated and broken into pieces
5 or 6 strips yellow bell pepper, broken into pieces
5 or 6 Kalamata olives
1 tablespoon of crumbled feta cheese
1 strip of bacon, crumbled
1 grilled salmon fillet
Black pepper to taste

Wash and pat everything dry. Take the stems off the spinach and tear up larger leaves. I originally tried this with Greek vinaigrette but thought it was better with a balsamic vinaigrette.

That was an awesome salad. And that ring of red onion just set it off. I've discovered several things about red onion in different capacities. It is always crisp but in my tuna or chicken, it has a spicy flavor, in my salad it lent a sweet onion tang. It compliments instead of overpowering.

I'm looking forward to growing some in the future. I still haven't fathomed the idea of aeroponic root crops like potatoes, carrots and of course onions. I'm still working on that. But you can bet it will be in my raised beds when I finally get some!

5/13/2009 07:23:00 PM

So ship them already!

I placed an order for part of my orchard weeks ago. And to my amazement, the shipping dates keep getting pushed back. I've been watching for the past couple of weeks as they trees don't show up that the trees won't be shipped for another week or two. How depressing. In this case, I'm not very patient because the last minute changes keep occurring.

At any rate, things are slow. The destruction of my small garden last week is still disheartening and I don't think I'll have a chance to get another one really started before I have to leave. It would be a shame to take all that time and then never get a harvest off of it, so I'm resigned to reading and wishing.

I know there are many of you out there that are the same way and I feel your pain. I've been looking more and more into aeroponics because of this little disaster I have experienced. I'm sorely in need of something growing that I put together myself but it just isn't happening and it is driving me nuts. When the seed wish list is not longer a wish, the tools have been purchased and are just hanging out all shiny and new and you can do... nothing. I can start plenty but will never see it to it's end. I'm anxious to get this move over so I can finally have my home with my little garden.

5/03/2009 10:48:00 PM

Knoxville Permaculture Guild

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Knoxville has it's own Permaculture Guild. From the looks of the site it is still relatively young, but it is there none-the-less. I was slightly stricken that I should find this with my impending move to the PNW, but if nothing else, I can join in and have some fun before I go (if I go, the employment situation up there is looking a little grim, the hubby is threatening to return to Knoxville if this keeps up). I'm looking forward to snooping around the site and having a look at what the community is all about. With luck I will be able to attend some gatherings and workshops on various aspects of permaculture.

5/02/2009 04:30:00 PM

Sustainable Living

They are just springing up everywhere, the little Victory Garden now renamed by most people the Freedom Garden. From the White House to lovely backyards. But is it enough? A little vegetable garden will certainly help Americans get back to eating healthy and help everyone world wide lift some of the burden that is the food demand. But can a good tasty salad, some beans, peas and corn be enough?

Some say not.

There are many folks looking for alternative ways to sustain themselves without having to move out of their urban setting and more now than ever, they are looking not only for the garden, but for the meat supply. To know what is in it, what it was fed, how it was treated are becoming very important to folks these days. This is inevitably a follow up to such stories concerning antibiotics, hormonal treatments and lousy husbandry that has been drifting in and out of the news for the past several years.

A list of things to consider for urban and non-urban settings alike:

Chickens (urban and non-urban)
Quail (urban and non-urban)
Rabbit (urban and non-urban)
Goats (urban and non-urban)
Bees (non-urban and in specific circumstances urban)
Shrimp (urban and non-urban)
Fish (urban and non-urban)

When I say urban, I don't mean the 10 acres sitting on the edge of town, I'm talking about sub-divisions and residential areas that have small plots of land. Yes, you can have acreage in town, I know because I lived on 3 in Knoxville. But not everyone will have this land readily available. Hence bees being in specific circumstances. I don't think it would fly too well if someone in a 75 house subdivision with lot sizes of 10 by 40 for a back yard decided to start up a bee hive. Definitely not.

There are laws to consider. Licenses in some states, cities, counties. Neighbors to annoy. But once all that is worked out and you have decided what it is you can do, what is stopping you?

And it isn't just meat anymore:

Yogurt and other dairy staples
Grain growing and milling
Mead and alcohol and here

It doesn't really stop there either. Homemade wind generators and solar power are also becoming more popular due to the high costs associated with buying packages and having them professionally installed. And for those lucky enough to be near water, there is water generation to consider.

So depending on what you can do will depend on how many other things you can accomplish. For example: If you keep bees you have honey to make mead, you can potentially make vinegar from the alcohol from the mead, you can make candles from the wax, cosmetics from the wax and honey and have honey to use as a sweetener in lieu of sugar. The bees will in turn pollinate your vegetable and grain crops and orchard. Grains, vegetables and fruits mean food for you, food for beef, chicken, pork, game. Meat from any of these, eggs from chickens and quail, dairy from the cows and goats. You can see where all this is going.

A nice little package that is, no? While it does cost upfront to get started in land (providing you aren't paying for it already), supplies and labor, it pays off in the future. Once established, its maintained, and less work is involved. Less work, not no work but still less work all around. There are many testaments to this. Blogs are numerous that show examples of this type of urban sustainable living. Some of them are a little outside of town, some are smack dab in the middle.

One thing I learned growing up is the ability for a community to trade. Ok, so you can't have bees on your back 40 and you can have noisy chickens and there is just not enough room for goats. Gotcha. That doesn't stop you from making friends with a local bee keeper or farmer. Trade is good. Farmers markets are a priceless resource for such things. I was part of a small farmers market in Knoxville selling homemade soaps. I traded for potted herbs, fresh baked breads, other homemade soaps, fresh vegetables, locally produced honey, locally made salsas, jelly, jam, preserves. I still have contact with some of these folks, even if I don't get to make the homemade soap for the market anymore and I get discounts from these people for trading with them in the past for their locally produced wares and when I have something to trade, they know about it.

It didn't cost me anything but my own initiative, sweat, and time. I was already at the market for my own reasons, building the network was a bonus. Everything depends on how much time you want to put into this sort of life. It is a life style change. I dare say that once you start eating french fries from your own potatoes, it would be difficult to go back to fast food. There is nothing in the world like fresh beef.

Growing up, I moved from small town to big city and the transition was difficult. Everything tasted like plastic, fresh foods didn't seem to have the same textures, colors, flavors or even aromas that I knew. My husband is the grandson of a butcher so when we decided to buy a side of beef, the savings were a huge factor, but afterwards, we wouldn't have cared if we'd paid thousands of dollars. There is just no contest.

How to get established:

First, give up on the idea of perfect looking vegetables. You want uniformed vegetables, go to the grocery store. They throw out enough odd looking food because it isn't desirable. Your garden is not a commercial grower. Your garden is a place of out of the norm shades of the rainbow, of dimpled tomatoes, crooked potatoes, pointy ears of corn. Food is misshaped, so what? You're likely to be cutting it into chunks and tossing it into something anyway, what does it matter what its exact shape was when it came out of the garden?

Second, mother nature giveth and she also taketh away. You will have losses. There will be bad years. There are going to be times where you seems as if nothing you've done amounts to a hill of beans. Literally. But this happens. Blight wiped out the American Chestnut trees to almost near extinction. The chestnuts we see now are Asian. Disease is threatening the main type of banana you see at the store today, we'll switch to another kind that is resistant to the disease. Disease is threatening our citrus, again, we'll stitch to a disease resistant kind. Large scale, these things are utterly devastating, it is a economic disturbance, etc. In the home garden, it means you get to find another tasty variety to grow that is resistant to whatever happens to be plaguing you. Do not see it as failure. See it as a learning experience that enables you to try something new that will dazzle the family, neighbors and friends at the dinner table.

You start small. In my mind there are musts. Rain barrels. Compost. Good soil. Start there and then work into the garden. A lot of beginners make the mistake of jumping in both feet and then are unable to continue when several disasters hit in rapid succession or all at once. The small ecosystem that is being established takes time. I was reading on one of the forums I enjoy and a new gardener was just freaking out. She'd started her garden that year, she had numerous plantings and had no experience with any of them. She was over run by pests and disease and she was losing heart. It is difficult to establish a proper area all at once. Start with a few items you wish to grow first - after you can maintain them with your rain barrels and ideally be able to supplement with your compost (not a requirement, but still handy). Think amendments, too, comfrey in the compost, comfrey tea, manure in the compost (you know from your chickens and cows), manure tea, kelp in the compost, kelp extract. Blood and bone meal.

After you've got some beneficial insects attracted to your garden with a few items, expand it. The beneficial insects will keep returning and will aid in balancing the destructive ones. Will you have pest problems? Yep, you surely will, if not, why do we have all the insecticides that we have on the market? Will there be disease problems? Absolutely. But it is easier to handle a couple of problems at a time instead of ten and it is all about the balance. The first time you plant something new, you might get lucky and never have a problem with that item, but that won't happen every time you plant something new or even things you've planted for five years in a row. Red wigglers, lady bugs, bees are all beneficial creatures for the garden and you can buy them online to be delivered. While bees take more effort, the worms and lady bugs are released and go to work.

As for adding critters. You can establish them first or second. If first, you'll have a feed bill. If second and you've decided to plant what they will eat and handle it yourself, it might take you a while to get there. Feed is getting more expensive, so consider what it is that your critter of choice will eat and then grow it in the first or second batch of gardening you do so if you plan to not have a feed bill, you're not blind sided by blight, mold, fungus, or insects the first year and end up with an expense you were not expecting. There are numerous sites that have recipes for home made feeds for all sorts of farm animals and game for proper nutrition. If you have enough area, let them forage for themselves. Most of the animals we eat have been around for a long time, they didn't always have us hanging out to feed them either and yet they survived.

Everything is a circle. Your garden feeds you and your critters, your critters will help clean up the garden when its done and help you to fertilize and aerate so you can garden again. The benefits of these things are that you can make your own foods and store them so that you are not depending on a hormonally grown, genetically altered, chemically treated system. The more you do, the better off you are. If you are unable to do as much, you can benefit from a network of trading. Its time and patience and most of all it's a choice.

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