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On May 7th & 8th, I had the opportunity to attend a Forest Gardening workshop with one of my permaculture heroes, Eric Toensmeier, in West Chester, PA. There were so many awesome aspects to the weekend! To minimize driving, I took the train to Paoli, had a beautiful 10 mile bike ride to the workshop location, and met and stayed with some awesome folks through couchsurfing!

The workshop took place at the home of  sustainability educators Alan Wright & Paula Kline, who had hired permaculture designer Aaron Guman to work his permie magic on their property. We spent some time discussing the clients’ needs and Aaron’s design concepts before helping to install some perennial plantings (above).

Mollie Caitlin Brigid communing with cultivated King Stropharia

Special guest lectures included a whip-and-tongue grafting demonstration with Backyard Fruit Growers founder Chris Manning, and mushroom cultivation tutorials with Jared Urchek. Jared came out from Boulder, CO and discussed mushroom life cycles, varieties, and inoculation techniques with woodchips, straw, and logs.

We also broke off into groups to do site assessments throughout the property, later designing polyculture systems for different patches. Here are some general notes taken during the workshop:

Edible Forest Garden (EFG): Edible ecosystem modeled on the forest; perennial & low maintenance, providing ecosystem services & useful products.

By optimizing impact on land, we can work with its desire to become forest. Diverse polycultures minimize pest problems, and can achieve higher yields than annual cultures.

Utilizing Multipurpose Plants

Direct uses:

Edibles:
nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, flowers & flowerbuds, roots, tubers, leaves, shoots, tea & culinary

Other:
firewood, medicine, craft material, income, livestock fodder, honey, cut flowers, charcoal, mushrooms, seed & nursery stock, silkworms

Indirect uses:
Nitrogen fixing plants
insect nectary plants
habitat
mulch
groundcovers
decomposers (i.e. edible mushrooms)

Imitation

Architecture: layers, soil horizon, density, patterns, diversity

Social structure: niches, guilds, communities

Succession: patches, disturbance, non-linear evolution (mimic mid-succession)

Best Forest Gardening Species (N-fix means this species fixes nitrogen):

Tall Trees

walnut/ butternut/ heartnut
pecans/ hickories
oaks
nut pines
black locust (N-fix)
Japanese pagoda tree (N-fix)

Medium Trees

Chinese Chestnut
persimmon
paw-paw
mulberry
mimosa (N-fix)
alder (N-fix)

Small Trees & Shrubs

pears/ Asian pears
sea buckthorn (N-fix)
mayhaw
hazelnuts
native plums
bamboo
Amur Maackia (N-fix)

Shrubs

Amelanchier (serviceberry, juneberry, etc)
fig
Nanking cherry
goumi
bayberry
elderberry (native insectary)
highbush cranberry (viburnum)
Florida star anise
Ribes (currants, gooseberries, jostaberries)
running juneberry
blueberry
raspberry/ blackberry
New Jersey tea (N-fix)
Amorpha (false) Indigo (N-fix)

Vines

grape (fox & muscadine)
kiwi (hardy & arctic)
groundnut (N-fix)
hog peanut (N-fix)
Chinese yam
Hablitzia (climbing spinach)
maypop (native passionflower)

Herbs

jerusalem artichokes
rhubarb
fuki
Turkish rocket
taro
ostrich fern
comfrey
asparagus
giant solomon’s seal
nettle/ wood nettle
baptisia (N-fix)
thermopsis (N-fix)
sea kale
good King Henry
native perennial ground cherry
sweet cicely (insectary)
skirret
mayapple
large-flowered comfrey
ramps
sylvetta arugula
coreopsis (insectary)
Asclepias verticillata (whorled milkweed, insectary)
sorrel
Astragalus glycyphyllos (wild licorice, N-fix)
Chinese artichoke
water celery (insectary)
camas/ quamash (wild hyacinth)

Ground Covers

alpine strawberry
strawberry
foamflower (insectary)
wild ginger
toothwart
violets
prostrate birdsfoot trefoil (N-fix)
green & gold (insectary)
white clover
Waldesteinia (barren strawberry, inedible)
wild geranium (insectary)
fungi

Yay! Spring and its new beginnings are finally here! Lee and I now have a base in beautiful West Philadelphia, and we’re ready to expand our edible & ornamental gardening services to city dwellers as well as our Bucks County customers. Plus, we’ll be able to do FREE soil testing before April 5, courtesy of Soil Kitchen! So drop us a line and let’s get growing!

Well, we’re about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Lunaria farm, which means our blog, and the seasons, have come full circle. Here we are at the end of winter, poised for new beginnings in the coming spring.

Gardeners all over are turning their attention to seeds. Today I attended a seed cleaning workshop at Bartram’s Garden, where we winnowed, threshed, and sifted to prepare packets for distribution. I was lucky enough to bring home some seeds of the unique epazote, a Mexican culinary and medicinal herb.

Lunaria is also offering a variety of seeds saved from last year’s harvest. We have several open-pollinated varieties, including some rare heirlooms, available for purchase online or for pickup in Upper Black Eddy or Philadelphia. Stock up, then refer to our post on seed-starting.

:::HERBS:::

Cilantro/ Coriander
Coriandrum sativum, annual
Direct sow after last frost. Does not transplant well. Will go to seed quickly in hot weather, so sow in successions throughout the season for a continuous supply.

Dill
Anethum graveolens, annual
Direct sow after last frost. Does not transplant well. Will go to seed quickly in hot weather, so sow in successions throughout the season for a continuous supply.

Garlic Chives
Allium tuberosum, perennial
80-90 days, sow indoors or direct sow after last frost
Onion-flavored leaf spears and delicious flowers which bloom late summer.

:::FRUITS & VEGETABLES:::

Melon Hearts of Gold (heirloom)
Cucumis Melo, annual
70-90 days, direct sow after last frost
2-3 lb fruit, personal-size cantaloup with sweet, orange flesh. Suitable for trellising.

Summer Squash Early Prolific Straightneck (heirloom)
Cucurbita pepo, annual
45 days, Direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost.
Yellow straightneck variety resistant to squash bug. Plants can become too large and less productive with age, so try planting several successions a few weeks apart.

Winter Squash Waltham Butternut (heirloom)
Curcubita pepo, annual
100 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
3-6 lb, delicious fruits on strong vines resistant to boring insects. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Winter Squash Blue Hubbard (heirloom)
Curcubita maxima, annual
110 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
Blue-gray skin & orange flesh. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Winter Squash Red Kuri
Curcubita maxima, annual
80 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
Red/ orange skin & orange flesh. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Corn Blue Dent (heirloom)
Zea mays, annual
90 days, direct sow 1-2 weeks after last frost
Protein-rich variety for cornmeal, reaching 7-8 ft. Plant in blocks rather than rows to ensure good pollination. Harvest when husks are completely dry.

Corn Hooker’s Sweet Indian (heirloom)
Zea mays, annual
80 days, direct sow 1-2 weeks after last frost
4-5′ plants with 5-7″, semi-sweet, purple & white ears. Plant in blocks rather than rows to ensure good pollination. Harvest when silks turn brown. Best when eaten very fresh.

:::FLOWERS:::

Marigold African Crackerjack
Tagetes erecta, annual
Start indoors 4-6 wks before last frost, or direct sow after last frost
Large variety reaching 2-3 ft, with orange & yellow 4″ single and double blooms.

Our young chickens have started laying and the ducks aren’t far behind. Our happy hens are raised on fresh grass, bugs, food scraps, and organically-grown, local grains. Because they eat so well and get to scratch in the sunshine, their eggs are higher in beta carotene, omega-3s, and vitamins A, E, & D. They’re also lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Our current flock includes:

7 Rhode Island Red x White Plymouth Rocks
5 Ameraucanas (blue & green Easter egg)
5 Delawares (critically-endangered heritage breed, according to ALBC)
5 Welsh Harlequin ducks (critically-endangered heritage breed, according to ALBC)

Contact us about purchasing our amazing eggs at $4/ dozen.

Source: Mother Earth News 14-source Egg Chart

It’s no wonder they’re the most popular vegetable in the home garden – nothing beats a fresh tomato. But how do you make the most of them when they’re coming in full force? Here’s how we’ve been using ours:

Caprese Sandwiches

This is an easy appetizer or a casual, build-your-own meal for guests. Just slice some hearty artisan bread, & top with tomato, basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Fresh mozzarella is optional.

Lunaria Farm Salsa

Essentials:
2 lbs tomatoes (any type will do), diced
1/2 – 1 onion, finely chopped
1  jalepeno or other hot pepper, very finely chopped
juice of 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Extras:
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
tomatillos, husked & diced

Combine all ingredients, toss, and, ideally, let sit for an hour before serving to allow flavors to develop. Save the remaining juices to use as a base for sauce, marinade, or salad dressing.

Clove-spiced Ketchup/ BBQ Sauce

This recipe was inspired by Aunt Janet at High Oak Farm in Humboldt county, CA. There we picked wheelbarrows full of paste tomatoes, which she transformed into delicious, clove-spiced ketchup – a most excellent pairing with her homemade meatloaf.

3 lbs paste tomatoes
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar (or substitute with white sugar plus some molasses)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt to taste
pinch cayenne to taste

If desired, remove skins and seeds from tomatoes. Blend in food processor or blender. Cook down on stovetop for a couple of hours until thick and almost paste-like. Stir in remaining ingredients. Will keep in refrigerator for several weeks.

Freeze Now, Sauce Later

Slaving over a hot stove on a 90 degree day? Doesn’t sound very enjoyable to us, either. Last fall, we worked at Dandelion Farm, which runs entirely on solar power. Being conscientious about energy use, we would sometimes let sauces simmer down on the woodstove all night, since it was already heating the house. That gave us an idea – why not freeze tomatoes during the steamy summer, then boil them down when we need to warm up the house anyway?

You may want to blanch the tomatoes to remove the skins, but supposedly they can come off easily with warm water once frozen, so we’ve been freezing them skins and all.

How have you been using your tomatoes?

Corn, beans, and squash effectively comprise the collective staff of life of the New World. These crops were so important and complemented each other so well, that they were known as “The Three Sisters,” with many legends celebrating their sustaining virtues.

A Hokkaido Stella Blue squash grown on a fence.

We try to do these New World native plants justice here at Lunaria, but none more than the winter squash, with whom we have a tasty love affair. I personally got so excited about them that I planted a few seeds on March 1, far before any sane gardener would think about squash. These tender crops are typically direct sown outdoors once the soil has thoroughly warmed up; they don’t like being transplanted. Well, ours were potted up and most were kept alive in sunny windows until last frost, and now they’re threatening to take down the fence of “Gary’s Garden” (named after the groundhog that kept infiltrating its perimeter). We have some ripening sugar pumpkins and stella blue hokkaidos that we expect to be ready in a few weeks. This should perfectly fulfill my intense craving for curried tomato-squash dishes.

Another one of our many experiments this year is corn. I’d always thought it somewhat inefficient, as it takes up a good amount of space relative to its cropping. Then, during my residence at Women’s Studio Workshop, I learned that the husks and stalks can be used to make a gorgeous, pale golden-green paper. Well that was enough to convince me to go ahead and try it. We planted 3 successions to stagger the ripening times, including a succession of transplanted corn. This is another crop that dislikes root disturbance, but we take the word of Elliot Coleman quite seriously, and decided to try it. We were elated with the results, as not a single transplant was lost, and they’re all still going strong.

Our Hooker's sweet corn planting in early July. The upper row was seeded a week earlier, transplanted, then mulched with grass clippings.

With most of our meals being vegetarian, we tend to eat a lot of beans – dry beans, that is. We can’t imagine a world without black bean quesadillas, chickpea hummus, or pinto bean chili. But when it comes to green beans… meh. Most gardeners think we’re crazy – “You don’t like green beans??!” – but we think we’re being quite rational. Besides not appealing to our particular palates, beans will always be produced at a loss for the small farmer. They are tedious to harvest, and they must be picked every day, yet they must be sold at rock-bottom prices to compete with industrial farms. Even our so-loved dry beans are uneconomical to dry, harvest, and shell, when organic dry beans are so readily available now. The main advantage of growing beans is their special characteristic of being nitrogen fixers. The legume family, including beans as well as peas, clover, peanuts, indigo, and lentils, capture the nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil, making this essential nutrient available to other plants.

The Three Sisters planting in early July.

So this year’s garden includes a small amount of beans, a good stand of corn, and hopefully a year’s supply of squash. We’re really excited about a certain portion planted in the traditional, Native American, Three Sisters formation. We chose to plant heirloom varieties that would all be ready to harvest in autumn: blue dent maize for cornmeal, drought-tolerant tepary beans, and several varieties of cucurbits, including pumpkins, winter squash, and moon & stars watermelons.

Lee arranging cardboard around The Three Sisters to thwart weeds until the squash vines fill out. (Photo by Theresa Boles)

Corn is wind-pollinated, its tassels releasing their magic dust to the air to settle on the ear silks below. This fact of life prompts a break from the modern American row system – to ensure that each kernel develops (they are seeds, remember), the corn must be planted in blocks, or in this case, mounds. The first mounds, which are 18 inches across, staggered about 5 feet apart, and amended with aged horse manure, are each planted with 4 corn seeds. Then, when the corn germinates and reaches a height of 4-6 inches, a pole bean seed is planted in the same mound, 3 inches away from each corn seedling. In between the corn and beans, we create squash mounds of the same size, with 3 seeds planted in each.

The effect, once everything grows in, is a mutually-beneficial companion planting. The corn provides something on which the beans can climb. The beans fix nitrogen to provide nutrients to the other crops. The squash sprawls along the ground, suppressing weeds and providing a living mulch to retain soil moisture, while its prickly vines help deter hungry critters. And, come harvest, the delicious crops complement each other nutritionally. It’s hardly surprising that these crops were considered to be special gifts from the Creator. All of this botanical, gastronomic, and divine harmony kind of makes you want to enjoy some succotash while you plan your own Three Sisters garden for next year, doesn’t it?

Here’s just a glimpse of what’s pickin’ at Lunaria right now, where change is the only constant. The delicious snap peas that started so early are finally winding down in this hot, dry start to summer. The broccoli are plumping out the last of the main florets or sending out their rays of side shoots. We’re starting to get a handful of tomatoes every day, mostly Romas and cherries with the heirlooms not far behind. With the June strawberry season long gone, we’ve stopped pinching the flowers on our first year everbearing varieties so they can focus on fruiting. We planted a few zucchinis only to be met with just as many volunteers, and so starts the season of squash at every meal. The herbs are coming full force; loads of basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, dill infusing the kitchen. Although one of our hens recently molted for 2 weeks (thereby creating feathers instead of eggs), they’re all laying spectacularly once again. and And our standby greens – the kale, chard, lettuce, cabbages – are chugging away through the heat of summer, obliging us with leaves for the taking.

That’s what’s picking, but there’s so much more just focusing on vegetative growth, sending out new stems and leaves and vines every day. Check out what some of the gardens are looking like lately:

The eastern half of the Helen Nast Memorial garden: zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, winter squash, and more.

The sorry-looking slips that arrived in the mail are beginning to look like lush, promising, sweet potato vines.

The mystery brassicas that we thought were broccoli, then maybe cabbage, have revealed themselves as brussels sprouts, to which we say "Yum!"

Our attempt at a sun-trap garden on the shady property: melons & cucumbers on the fence, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, & ground cherries, undersown with radishes & lettuce.

We've had the delight of bringing in a few of these yellow straightneck "siamese squash."

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