GOOD FOOD NEWS
Volume 8 Number 24 June 14, 2016
FIELD NOTES: BIG OAK FARM, Sutter Creek
As a child growing up in Martinez, CA, I lived next door to my Italian grandparents. Primo owned a vacant lot next door to his home and every year grew a huge vegetable garden. I can remember the rows and rows of tomatoes climbing on strings attached to wooden trellises, the onions and garlic, and the squashes. Some of my family’s earliest home movies show me at age 2 or 3 “helping” him harvest the ripe fruit. My grandmother, Rosina, would then put up (oven method) a years supply of sauce, whole tomatoes, and juice. As I continued to grow, my mom, Alvina, continued to have a small garden wherever we lived and also put up tomatoes and all different kinds of fruit.
Flash forward to my adult years. We bought a 5 acre all usable parcel on the outskirts of Sutter Creek shortly after we were married and although I t tried a few times to get a garden started, I didn’t have the time or knowledge to make it work. I retired from high school teaching in 1999 and a few years later decided to give gardening another shot. My wife, Viki, and I joined Master Gardeners and as she gravitated toward ornamentals I took a new interest in vegetable gardening. We purchased an 8 X 16 foot greenhouse kit from Costco and were on our way.
Currently I have about a third of an acre deer fenced and in production. I have a lot of gophers here so I built about 20 4X8 and 4X4 raised beds and also have 6 20-40 foot rows in the ground. I don’t’ always use all of them, but I keep them prepared.
I started with square foot gardening and made soil according to the book: 1/3 each peat moss, compost, and perlite. It worked well and I liked the concept but started to go in a different direction. I had the tree trimmers deliver truck loads of their cuttings to the property, let it compost for several years, and then regrind it through my chipper/shredder. This mixture is what I have in all my beds now and it is great! It is nutritious, holds moisture wonderfully, and continues to decompose into a rich, moist soil.
Mother Lode Harvest is a totally new experience. The hardest part is learning how to do succession planting, and this first year I’m attempting it with beets. I started with seeds, transplanted them once, then put them in the ground when they’re large enough. I tried seeding directly but the earwigs enjoyed the shoots as soon as they appeared - so back to the greenhouse. My first crop to sell was fava beans, and I have a second crop coming along (fingers crossed). The first batch of beets will be ready soon, the second is well under way, and a new batch of seeds will go in as soon as I finish writing this article. My grandson, Collin, works with me a bit and has become an excellent transplanter and today he’ll get his first shot at seed planting.
I’m starting slowly this first year with several varieties of tomatoes, several varieties of squashes, a few cukes, watermelons, and pumpkins. I also have a nice herb garden and have started to offer some of them for sale. Through the Master Gardeners I’ve learned about vermiculture and have a great supply of worm castings for fertilizing. I also fertilize with bat guano and blood meal. I’ve learned a bit of grafting and have limited success with it on my fruit trees.
Finally, I must say that I’m having fun. I spend 5-6 hours a day in the gardens and love it. I give thanks for my memories of my Italian grandparents who left everything to start a new life in America and who passed down, through their genes, a deep love of working with the land and growing and sharing great food.
Produce of the Month for June: Strawberries
Strawberries are perhaps the most loved of all berries. Their delicate perfume, sweet taste, heart shape, and red color have long been associated with things romantic. Who doesn’t look forward to spring Strawberry Festivals and to strawberry shortcake at the peak of the season?
Strawberries actually belong to the rose family, and they are unique among fruits because they bear their seeds on the outside, rather than inside the flesh. In ancient times, wild strawberries were found in many places around the world. It is believed their seeds were spread far and wide by birds. The earliest know botanical illustration of a strawberry plant appeared in 1454, and the first hybrid strawberry (‘Hudson’) was developed in the United States in 1780.
Strawberries are very high in anti-oxidants and very low calorie (about 4 calories per medium berry or 50 calories per cup). Ounce for ounce, strawberries contain more vitamin C than citrus.
The Romans believed that strawberries were effective at relieving melancholy, fainting spells, fevers, inflammation, kidney stones, throat infections, and even halitosis. So, enjoy strawberries fresh while they are in season. They taste great, and might even improve your breath, your health, your mood, and your love life.
University of Illinois Extension, Strawberries & More: