June 26, 2012

A few things I've learned this week

I have spent much of the past week writing and organizing for next fall.  So, things are happening, but I don't have anything exciting to show for it.  (I don't think you'll find eleven pages of scientific writing as exciting as I do.)

In gathering together notes and papers I've been collecting for the past year I've come across some cool facts about food, and food culture.

#1.  Spinach is my all time favorite green.  Harvesting it is a labor of love because each leaf has to be cut individually.  But, it will grow, as in make new leaves, at only 40 degrees and those leaves will be 2 brix degrees of sweetness higher.  What is a brix degree you ask?  The grams of sugar dissolved in 100g of solution.  I don't really know how much a gram of sugar is or how the brix scale actually works, but I do know that winter grown spinach is noticeably sweeter.  Some that I grew last winter was like candy it was so sweet and that is a good thing.

#2.  The average person spends $20 at a farmers market.  Hopefully this is not the only thing at which I am above average.

#3. During winter months much of the produce consumed in the United States is grown in Arizona or California and transported to consumers via truck.  In a Michigan study, locally grown winter salad greens grown in low and high tunnels use less energy to produce than greens imported from warmer climates.  

Sources: #1, #2, #3

June 19, 2012

Growth rate research questions

Since my growing season is over, and I no longer have any plants in the greenhouse, most of my time is spent organizing data, writing and trying to answer all my research questions.  I have lots of questions.  The ones below pertain only to the growth rate of greens and the economic of growing them because that's what I am thinking about right now.

June 15, 2012

The first lady knows what low tunnels are!

"I couldn't image how any of our vegetables would survive in temperatures that drop below freezing.  I had heard that some farmers use a plastic covering to extend the growing season into the winter.  But while I was intrigued by the prospect of keeping the garden alive, and I was open to experimenting, I was skeptical that a sheet of plastic would keep the plants warm through the D.C. winter. 
In spite of my doubts, we went ahead and built what are called low tunnels, or hoop houses, simple metal frames that stand about two feet off the ground and are covered by a clear plastic tarp.  To my amazement and delight, under those simple structures, several of out crops continued to flourish, even in very cold weather - and were unusually sweet.  I later learned that since sugars don't freeze, the plants produce a lot of sugars to protect themselves from the cold." 
Michelle Obama in American Grown

June 14, 2012

A really cool thing: Basil rooting

A few weeks ago in my post about basil I mentioned basil could be 
propagated by cutting (aka if you put basil in water like cut flowers 
magically roots will appear).   I stuck a few of the harvested basil stalks  
in a cup of water and left it on my windowsill.

Two days ago I said "Nothing is happening!  We should just eat this basil."  
I stuck the cup in the kitchen so I would remember to use it. 

As I groggily put the kettle on this morning I saw that magic had happened - 
little roots had burst out!  (At 6:30 this morning I was the only one actually excited about this.)

Look at them all!  What a relief that we had fish for dinner last night and not pasta.  
All the basil we planted in our tiny garden is not very happy because 
it has been so cold and rainy.  Hopefully, these will be their replacements in a few weeks.

June 11, 2012

Home made green pasta

Last week I went to a pasta making class.  It was really fun, and I discovered that hand shaping pasta is pretty easy.  Of course, when I tried doing it at home I put in some greens to make green pasta!  I have lots of pureed mustard greens in the freezer.  I defrosted some and added it to the flour and water right at the beginning of dough making.

I have very little pasta making experience, but my green pasta seemed to work really well.  I cut it into short strips because I was doing it by myself and was lazy.  Topped with pesto it was a pretty good lunch (and dinner)!

June 6, 2012

Pak choi - a green for next winter season

I'm getting together a list of greens to try out during the next winter growing season.  Pak choi is definitely on the list.  The greens on the left of the picture above are variety of pak choi called joy choi (tatsoi is on the left).  Pak choi part of the Brassica rapa var. chinensis group.  Originally we didn't think it would be a very good baby green because it forms heavy heads.  It seemed to work out in the tray above and grew faster than the tatsoi!  The stems were thick and crunchy but the taste was mild.  Pretty much exactly what I want to be eating in the middle of winter.

June 4, 2012

Arugula seedlings in a petri dish

Yesterday morning I woke up to find the arugula seeds I've sprouted in a petri dish had started to push off their cover.  They are so big I might try sticking them in my garden, filter paper included.  

I have a soft spot for arugula because I grew it for my senior thesis project.  I love its spicy taste - which is totally different from hot mustard greens even though they are both in the Brassicaceae family.  I've been reading all about the brassica family's evolution.  It is just as complicated as any family tree, even though plants don't move.  It's fascinating, and you'll read all about it soon.

June 1, 2012

Sprouting seeds on my countertop

After just 30ish hours I have hundreds of seeds sprouting in petri dishes on my counter.  I'll explain why I'm doing this later once the experiment really gets going.  Right now I'm just observing what seeds sprouting in petri dishes look like.  Aren't they cute?