Ramp-a-Roma & Other Tales

There is much to tell from the last couple of weeks of working, eating, playing, and cooking.  I had to put together an image file just for this post, so I could remember all there is to say.

Last week and this we’ve been working on painting and cleaning in The Kitchen in Clinton.  There’s so much to do to bring an old restaurant back online–scraping, washing, painting, scrubbing.

I totally want to eat this color–it’s called dolce plum.  I think we’ll have to be a bit sparing with it in the dining area, but in the entryway–it’s fabu-licious.

Bonnie’s Bloomers (greenhouse attached to Bonne’s Hometown Grocery in Clinton) is open–she has a second greenhouse now, and I picked up a couple of begonias and some vinca to fill some hanging baskets out front of the cafe.  It seems like it’s warm enough now to leave them out–I hope so because in order to take them down, I need to haul a ladder out of the restaurant.

There was a near miss with fire the other day in one of the greenhouses–one of the space heaters ignited briefly, but the newspaper man saw it and turned off the propane.  That could have been a very scary thing, but it was caught, and with hardly any loss of plants and no damage to the structures.  Bonnie was also glad the fire department didn’t put out over the radio that her bloomers were on fire. 😉

I went from wringing my hands over having no garden space and now having lots of it.  Some friends who live off Hwy 75 tilled a 40 x 80′ plot for me, and I have gotten a few things in–three varieties of potato and a double row of leeks so far.

The potatoes are Romanze (a red–substitution for the original variety I ordered), German Butterball (a buttery yellow as the name suggests), and Austrian Crescent–a large tan variety of fingerling.  Because the garden is on an old alfalfa field, the soil underneath is pretty compacted–I have been spending a lot of time on my broadfork, levering it up.

They wind was brutal on the day I trenched in these Blue Solaise leeks.  I only did one double row that day–it was all I could take with the cold howling nastiness.  The leeks I planted amounted to only about 1/6 of the flat–so there are lots more to put in for fall harvests and maybe overwintering.

Back to cooking–last weekend was the Community Gospel Concert in Ortonville–very well attended and with volunteers from the local foods group putting together the food.  I made a little over 100 cheddar and herb scones (posted on earlier), and had a few left over for H’s and my enjoyment.

They were especially good dipped in the lamb stew I made Sunday night–tender chunks of grassfed lamb browned and then cooked with brown mushrooms, organic carrots, one of those huge sweet onions from the 50lb bag I bought, plus a can of chickpeas, some canned diced tomato, and what (I think) was the last jar of home-canned tomato sauce.  I used some mild curry spices and cut everything big and chunky.

Most distressing this week was the discovery that some of my tomato plants are coming down with some kind of illness.  There is browning in the leaf margins and distorting of the foliage.  So far, I’ve had to dump all four of my Amish Paste, my two Sungold Cherries, one of the San Marzano, and one other I can’t remember off the top of my head.

At least the potato-leaf varieties don’t seem to be susceptible, but I’m already down two varieties and five of my canning tomato plants.  Yikes!  I know I was wringing my hands about garden space, but that didn’t mean I wanted fewer crops to plant!

Speaking again of garden space, a few nights ago, both my soil for the raised beds and the crew to till my home garden space showed up at the same time.  A couple of my neighbors wandered over to help, and soon it was a veritable party–albeit with shoveling and raking.

We partied gardened ’til the sun went down, as evidenced by the darkness of the images and the box of empties.  I planted my Talon yellow storage onions in the garden plot yesterday evening, and planted one of the raised beds tonight with Space spinach, Hakurei turnips, Helios radishes, Astro arugula, and Johnny’s Encore salad mix.  Another bed got about 1/3 filled with Purple Haze and Bolero carrots.

I’m not direct-seeding in any of the in-ground plots early this season–except for the larger-seeded (and easier to hoe around) crops like corn, beans, and squash.  Maybe once the emerging weeds are under control, I’ll put in some fall-seeded greens and roots in larger quantities, but for now, I’ll just plan to keep small patches of direct-seeded crops in raised beds for myself and wait it out ’til next year when the weeds will have a year’s worth of hoe-down.

The new, wider reel mower came Thursday, and I assembled it that night and mowed the front yard.  Yesterday morning, I mowed the back.

There is a lot of lawn back there–I keep trying to think of more garden projects and other things to eat up that yard space so there’s not so much of it.  Wonder what the Clinton ordinances are relating to backyard chickens?  I am planning a fire pit at least–there’s a good amount of rock left from front yard landscaping projects and plenty of branches and twigs to fuel a blaze.

The mower came with a sharpening kit and grass-catcher.  By the time it arrived via UPS, the grass was pretty long, so I could only make a couple passes before needing to empty it.  That produced some nice nitrogen for the compost and mulch for the raised beds.

People tend to think that reel mowers are ancient, heavy, hard-to-push contraptions, but they’re actually easy and pleasant to work with if you have a fairly level yard.  I much prefer the reel mower to a loud engine–and upkeep is simple and do-it-yourself.  No gas to burn or buy, either.

On a final note (and relating to the title of this post), I spent most of the day down at Moonstone Farm in Montevideo at their Grasp the Nettle workshop.

It was a wild food foraging extravaganza, and the mid-afternoon meal we foraged and assembled/cooked was fantastic!  While we didn’t harvest from the ramp-patch they’re establishing, we did get plenty of nettles, cattail shoots, burdock root, Virginia waterleaf, daylily shoots, violet leaves and flowers, and dandelion leaves and buds for the feast.

My friend and colleague, Tom Taylor, was good enough to drop off some ramps he’d foraged, so we had some of those as well.  Last week when he was up helping with the Clinton Kitchen project, he gave me a couple of ramps, too, so I was inspired tonight to forage for dandelion greens in my backyard, which I’ll have sauteed with my lone remaining ramp (currently smelling up my whole house) and a little local sausage.

Oh, and some sourdough bread from my starter, which has developed a pronounced and delicious tangy note within the last week.  Bon appetit!

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