Why Natives? The Wyoming Sunflower Helianthus maximilani or the Perennial Sunflower will soon be gracing every open space, every road barrow pit, and my garden. Why my garden?
Nothing is like the warm, golden color of these natives.
Fast Food for the Road: The flowers feed late pollinators, preparing them for migration, hibernation or egg-laying. Seeded flower heads feed migrating song birds as they head south for winter.
Disguised: The “flower head” is actually hundreds of tiny flowers. Look closely.
The Good Bugs: Our native sunflower attracts one very special pollinator: the bee fly (I love this name ~ Bombyliidae). You’ve seen them. Fuzzy little flies with a long proboscis that looks like a stinger, but is used to take nectar. These little insects will fill the centers of the sunflowers, their legs and fuzzy bodies packed with golden pollen. And here is the ecological role of these peaceful creatures: The Bomby is able to detect small holes in the soil where grasshoppers have laid their eggs. The Bomby bee fly hovers over the hole and drops its own eggs into that hole. The Bomby larva hatch first and consume the grasshopper eggs. I love native team members. The first and most important practice in permaculture is observation. Observation is done to understand and apply what nature has developed over tens of thousands of years. This reduces waste of resources and introduction of toxins or other human long-term damage. As practitioners we support, evenencourage natural processes. And so every year I collect the native sunflower seeds and strategically plant them in the gardens near the fruit shrubs, and I offer them water so that they will grow strong.
Yummy: Collect the little sunflower heads when they have gone to seed. Remove the sepals, or leaves, from around the flower head. Brush oil – like olive flavored with garlic or sesame oil. Bake or grill the entire flower head. The flower head will soften and then it can be eaten whole.
My cows are less appreciative of the gifts of the sunflower. They simply put the entire flowerhead in their mouth and pull the crunchiness in, crushing the sweet oily goodness.
One beautiful fourteen inch tall chickpea plant, bright fingered leaves of a legume…tiny dragon-faced flowers… she was the only survivor of last year’s chickpea experiment. She gave me six little chickpeas.
This year I have more hope and more experience, and a new plan. Soon the shelves in my greenhouse will be full of one gallon pots, planted with dry garbanzo seeds. They will get a full 100 days of growth. I will move the plants to a bed when they reach 5-6 inches tall and space them about six inches apart so they are close enough to support each other as the pods begin the weigh the leaves down. They will get more bare, poor soil; legumes live to give. Like my Mother Grape Vine – all of us, really – require a struggle to fruit.
The chickpea plants will get watered very little after they reach 4 inches tall. They will have a clear plastic tent and I promise to watch the weather for cold temperatures ~ snow in June; of course. The plants are frost tolerant and in fact they like things under 80 degrees. Four to six successful plants should provide me with lots of hummus ~ protein, fiber, vitamin C and all the benefits for my body of olive oil, cumin, lemon and the favorite bits: marinated artichoke, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, smoked trout, homemade basil pesto. Pita bread with just a few flakes of black pepper.
The Basics Into The Amazing: Basic Hummus
Add just a sprinkle of baking soda to the water
Low, long boil for the chickpeas from dried beans only
Beans are ready when the skins are peeling off in the water and they can be mashed with your fingers
Do not over cook
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 medium clove of garlic
½ tsp salt
½ cup tahini
If you have any question about your homemade tahini, this is the ingredient you want to spend money on.
Cold water – dribble in to hummus to help make it smooth
And the second most important ingredient in Hummus: tahini. The flavor is so important that I may cheat and buy tahini. I will plant sesame seeds. I will harvest the seeds. Needs shift. Back in Grandma Helen’s day a woman would sit on the porch and remove the hulls of peas, beans and seeds. A cuisine meditation. Then women left the home to work. The cost of living climbed. Money bought the services of foreign women to prepare these kinds of things. Machines took the work.
But in “retirement” – which only means I don’t go into an office to work – I can sit in front of the woodstove next fall and remove the damp hulls from the sesame seeds. I will roast them and store them in jars in the dark cool shelves. If I can grow them….it’s all an experiment.
Nature knows. Sesame seed plants also want poor soil, dry conditions, no help. The two plants will be planted together. I will trim leaves from the chickpeas to release nitrogen into the soil for the sesame. The two will bloom almost together.
Tahini can be made with hulled or unhulled seeds
Soak the seeds, pat dry, remove the hulls by hand. Leaving the hulls on can give the end product a bitter taste.
To make the tahini you can hand grind or use a small food processor to create a cream of the seeds.
Drizzle oil into ground seeds. Olive oil is usually used, but try other oils like avocado.
Add salt to taste.
Pumpkin, pickled and frozen beets, pinto beans, chickpeas, sesame, garlic, grapes, chokecherries, currants, buffaloberries, rose hips, elderberries in “perfect timing” years…. It is always an experiment; the weather is never ever predictable. But there is such a full, sweet feeling working with the plants, preparing the fruits and seeds and the warm fragrance in the cabin when the meals are in the oven. I will always have a grocery list, but something more and something different every year makes the moment so much more full of comfort… compensation for the muck, the sore muscles, the scratches and scrapes, the never-quite-clean fingernails, the snowstorms…I’m planting the chickpeas in the next couple weeks, but I’m saving half of the seeds to make my first homemade hummus. Ill post a photo and how that experiment goes.
For now: the cows are still stuck near the shed in pools of MUCK. So it’s time to take them a little hay, some grains and try to move them away. The ducks go into their shelters when I ask them; they are just starting to lay (duck eggs make pumpkin custard so rich). And the snow drifts are just beginning to evaporate. Next week I will also be collecting more willow cuttings for new trees, planting some in the wet drain ditches and selling some to a long-time customer. And I might even get a chance to work on my paintings. Escape garden rules. Plant something to feed the family; plant something new to feed the mind; plant something that feeds your heart….but do it all inside, for now.
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” One of the most frequently used lines from any movie ever made (The Silence of the Lambs; Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter). Not only in the film arts but in the history of human cuisine, the fava bean has been and still is a staple for so much of the world.
Humans appreciated fava beans so much that they brought them home from the wild. Wild Vicia faba or Faba / Fava Beans were growing in the Lower Galilee of what is now Israel at least 14,000 years ago according to radiocarbon dating of plant material found at archeological sites. The first domestication has been found for Neolithic farmers 10,200 years ago. (Source: Caracuta, Science Reports, 2016)
Fava or Faba beans are a legume; when the beans are harvested the plant releases nitrogen from nodules in the roots and that nitrogen feeds surrounding plants. The bean is used to make falafel, similar to chickpeas, also known as garbanzo. An interesting twist in this relationship is that some humans have a genetic defect which causes red blood cell breakdown by a chemical in fava beans. It’s very rare and seems to be mainly in those of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent – the population that originally tamed the bean. It is believed to have caused 33,000 deaths in 2015.
There are many reasons that humans were moved to bring the plants they gathered in the wild close to their dwellings. Those reasons may include: finding safety from predators – animal or other humans; closer to a water source to have more consistent growth and production; religious or cultural rules, such as women going out alone to gather food; and isolation driven by plagues, such as the Black Plague (Bubonic plague; bacterial; spread by fleas). Closer their shelters, the humans assisted those plants by cultivation. Observation and accident led to crop rotation, dried food, seed collection and intentional planting, and seasonal recognition ~ when to plant, when they flourish, harvest.
I ran a test with Chickpeas last year, hoping to be able to make homemade hummus and falafel over winter. I found that they honestly need 100 days and hot dry weather. So this year I will be starting them inside, then to greenhouse until our temperatures get up into the 70 degrees F.
And a medical note: If you are on MAO inhibitors DO NOT eat liver, fava beans or wine. They cancel out the medications. This was an inside “joke” in The Silence of the Lambs: Dr. Lecter’s psychotic episodes could have been exacerbated by his diet.
“Food forest” is one of those permaculture terms that always feels like the secret language of only special people with special knowledge. Folks, it’s a windbreak, a privacy hedge, a hedgerow in the oldest sense. But it is a well-thought out windbreak or hedge. One that fits with the terrain, and the human, and the resources. It is truly organic, rising from the environment. Why do I keep the lowest branches and suckers trimmed up? To let the sun in on the lower plants and to be able to see the gliding markings of the local snakes including the rattlers. One moved in about two weeks ago. Almost four feet long, I saw him twice before the field of fire near the cabin was clear to safely move him on to his next incarnation. My knees started to shake ten minutes later, while his head was still moving, looking for a target. Building habitat does not mean pretending to talk to the animals. I love my 6 foot bullsnakes; they supervise me daily as I water in the nursery. Permaculture or “back to the land” does not mean drinking some Earth Mother KoolAid.
I’m posting some short videos on the Tara Farm and Nursery YouTube channel on my “food forests” here in the Great High and Dry Wind Corridor of Central Wyoming. This one is Number 2, so when you are there take a look at the first video as well (Food Forest: Tier One). Number III will be on the groundcover that I use and why. The information can be applied to a city lot, a suburban property or on the rural homestead. #thegardenisnotclosed !! Just ask the snakes….
All Together Now: Free Remote Consults Beginning March 30
Text, Email or Messenger & Get Discounts
Every spring I get texts (got one today!!), emails and phone calls with questions on plants, gardens, water, soil and design projects.
Starting March 30, 2020 I will be taking questions and brainstorming by text, email, Facebook Messenger or by message from the The Refuge Permaculture Center website (www.tarafarmandnursery.com).
You can attach photos or videos to texts and emails (bigger files are better on emails.)
[“I had leaves! Where did my leaves go??” “Is the ground wet?” “Yes.” “What do you see in the mud?” “Oh. Deer tracks. Never mind. Thanks.” ]
The NEW part is that everyone I work with remotely will also receive a 15% discount on the following:
Plants and Seeds from the Nursery
On Site Consultations
Concept and Design Work
Classes (except for OLLI classes through Casper College)
Full Design and Installation Planning
So any time after 8:00 a.m. on March 30, 2020 reach out! I will answer your question or get back to you for discussion as soon as possible. I will then add your name and contact information to the discount and email list so that you can receive messages about upcoming events.
Visits to The Refuge: Later this summer (depending on the status of my little friends the grasshoppers) I will be opening up for small tours – either individuals or up to five in a group; (hugging or kissing of plants only!!)
“What About Classes?”: I am also working on adding narration to some of my PowerPoint presentations and packaging them for viewing online. The cost of access will include the above discounts as well as free remote consults.
“Will You Be At Natrona County Master Gardeners Farmers Market ThisYear?”: If things continue to go well, I am still hoping to set up a plant sale in town late this summer or early fall (which is still a great time to plant perennial shrubs and grasses.) It may not be at the Ag Ext building, but I will post locations. (Possibly Tractor Supply if public gatherings seem safe by then.)
The Earth Abides, and so will we, with planning, creativity and calm.
Duck egg / asparagus / mushroom / mozzarella scramble last night. It was the last of the 2019 frozen asparagus; the duck eggs were fresh. (I’m getting a dozen every couple days and sharing them with my neighbor.) The ducks are presently cultivating the Meditation Garden, the little vineyard and the the Ribes Patch (gooseberries and currants). I will pull the ducks out in a week or so because with a little bit more moisture the asparagus will start to break through. Ducks spot the tender spears before I do and nibble them right down below the ground surface. Here we take a close look at asparagus – a perennial vegetable that grows really well here, liking alkaline soils, and hates to be moved. Nothing like fresh asparagus! NOTE: I didn’t mention it in the video but don’t blanch the asparagus before you freeze it. That makes it mush when defrosted. Just wash with very cold water, chop into pieces or leave as spears, seal well removing all air from the freezer bag (or use a vacuum process) and get it into the freezer quick. To preserve for a few days use, make a fresh cut at the base of the spear and arrange the spears in a Mason or other jar with cold water, just like a flower arrangement. The spears will continue to “drink” for a day or so. Enjoy!
In the Great High and Dry of Central Wyoming (USA) one of the first plants to wake up will be the asparagus. Usually in April. it is so difficult to wait until a dozen or so spears poke up through the soil. I only harvest a few of the new spears, and then daily based on how many healthy spears break through. During the season I only harvest half of what is produced. The rest I leave for the fern texture , the flow movement, seed for future plants. The other two plants that wake up about the same time are the currants ( primarily Ribes nigra “Black Currant”) producing shy, light violet, bell-shaped flowers, and Rhubarb, unfurling dark green crinkley leaves. If the weather holds in the 50s for a week or so at this time, the bumble bees will come out of hibernation and shake the currant bushes with the hum of their wings. These early perennial fruits and vegetables can be the only food you will get from your perennial gardens in some years. Farmers Almanac says this year will be wet and cool. If that comes to pass other fruits like chokecherries and first crop of everbearing raspberry may not even show. If a fruit shrub is happy in spring – wet and cool – it often will not produce stress hormones which cause flowers to be produced. Without flowers, no fruit. Let the soil dry out before watering in a wet, cool spring. It is so difficult to wait for all of it, to be patient. I’m trying an heirloom chickpea to make hummus next winter and I cant even start them inside until May … breathe, draw pictures, create plans, be ready. ** Scheduling Garden Consults, Classes and Plant Sales very, very soon…..
Winter is dipping into my garden again tonight. I bundled up and put Bridget the Highlander in the loafing shed with some grain, MSM for her arthritis and some hay. I let the Angus girls in for water and over-night shelter. I told the ducks and geese that it was time to go into their houses, which they do with very little other direction. The weather station screen in my mudroom shows 25 degrees. The woodstove is hot and I’ve put the extra blankets on my bed. All of which tells me that it’s the season for planning next year’s projects, dreaming next year’s landscape. This year I will be doing this comfortably by the fire along with sips of homemade rhubarb liqueur.
Also color pencils. Mine are kept in pieces of Styrofoam so that I can see the colors. And no matter where, no matter when, I am never without a notebook, a sketchbook and the camera and SMemo app on my phone to capture and record ideas, inspirations, questions, colors, textures. So the first step is to prioritize things that need to be done and things that I would like to see done. Then I pull out all those scraps, notes, photos, color palettes.
**Review of 2019 Projects: Livestock Loafing Shed. Goal: Repair, restoration, cleaning and organization. Methods: (All contractors in Casper WY) Cleaned and sanded exterior and painted metal siding (special paint from Diamond Vogel); pens cleaned, corral cleaned and grading for drainage (Glenn Ross Excavation); repaired and restored broken metal fences around corral (Double D Welding); repaired / re-stretched wire and re-secured cattle panel fences; installed wood posts and three metal gates (gates purchased at Tractor Supply); and repair of frost free hydrant (again Glenn Ross Excavating). I also completely cleaned out the storage area – disturbing at least one 6 foot bull snake – organized surplus materials from scattered storage, and stored small hay bales (from my East Field by JW, my Neighbor)for times when the cows are confined. The painting of the metal fence around the corral will have to wait until 2020.
The cows are still figuring out where all the new gates lead…typical.
For You: Be patient with yourself, with your list. But the most important step toward getting a project done is to take the first action. Study garden catalogs; sand the wood; collect the materials; find what you love, what comforts you, what makes all the work worthwhile.
Rural folks know that everything will eventually have a use. Parts and pieces pile up in sheds, barns, fields ~ frustrating the more organized members of each family. In this very short presentation the permaculture strategies of Recycle,Reuse, Restore and Technology Transfer might just clean some of that up and put it to good use. Vertical gardens are all the urban rage. This little project just might serve several strategies: diversification of income (sale of broken pipe), recycle/reuse/restore, technology transfer, wise use of resources, obtain yields in the form of food and soil conservation and restoration. Even the worms win…