Squash experiment a bust

My trial at growing butternut squash was a bust; I pulled all the plants today. The two I planted in pots and kept on my deck stayed small and anemic-looking all summer no matter the fertilizer, fresh soil or nails stuck into the dirt (for iron). The two I planted near my potatoes and peas by the retaining wall grew larger and were a darker green, but really didn’t do anything at until mid-July. Even when they started blooming at the end of July, they never set any fruit.

The mystery squash that popped up with the zucchini in my raised bed grew much better; it vined out into the yard and had some flowers and fruit. Mystery solved — it was a buttercup. However, the fruit was no larger that a shooter marble, so I decided to pull it up so that it stopped stealing moisture and nutrients from the zucchini plants.

I’ll try something new next year, maybe more potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes.

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Frost

Luckily I don’t trust the National Weather Service. Our forecasted low for this morning was 40 degrees, well above frost danger. And no frost warning appeared on their little colored map either; however, I remember one night late last summer when a night with a predicted low of 40 turned into a freeze of 29 degrees.

My weather-paranoia paid off again last night when I decided to cover my tender plants. This morning my thermometer read 34 degrees; with the low recorded at 33. Warm enough not to frost at the house, but my beds are in the backyard, which drops sharply downhill; the temperature would be colder down there. Frost crept up the from the fence and lapped at the edges of my lowest raised bed. Had my eggplants not been covered, they’d be toast.

The frost didn’t reach up to the other three beds, but the sheets at least helped keep the plants warm. I’ll cover them again tonight, and possibly tomorrow night if this cold front is still hanging around. I’d like to eke out a few more days for my eggplants before I pick them.

Farmers’ market finds

Fresh from the market

The Custer Farmers’ Market was jumping this morning; in fact, I was so anxious to get there that I forgot my camera. At least I took pictures when I got home. Tomatoes are just starting to make an appearance; several producers mentioned having a good crop, but that they’re just beginning to ripen. I scored a few ripe ones for fresh salsa, but serious salsa-making will have to wait a couple more weeks. I also bought a fresh cranberry-orange scone, but it didn’t last long enough for its close-up. It was delicious though.

Egg recall expands to SD

Recall of tainted eggs expands to include South Dakota, 13 other states

The Associated Press rapidcityjournal.com | Posted: Friday, August 20, 2010

WASHINGTON — The nationwide recall of tainted eggs expanded Friday as a second Iowa egg farm was linked to the ongoing investigation of a salmonella outbreak that has already sickened more than 1,000 people.

Iowa’s Hillandale Farms said Friday it was recalling its eggs after laboratory tests confirmed illnesses associated with them. The company did not say how many eggs were being recalled or if it is connected to Wright County Egg, another Iowa farm that recalled 380 million eggs earlier this week.

An FDA spokeswoman said the two recalls are related. The strain of salmonella poisoning is the same strain linked to Wright County Egg.

The eggs recalled Friday were distributed under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Wholesome Farms and West Creek. The new recall applies to eggs sold between April and August.

Hillandale said the eggs were distributed to grocery distribution centers, retail groceries and food service companies which service or are located in fourteen states, including Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

CDC officials said Thursday that the number of illnesses related to the outbreak is expected to grow. That’s because illnesses occurring after mid-July may not be reported yet, said Dr. Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Almost 2,000 illnesses from the strain of salmonella linked to both recalls were reported between May and July, almost 1,300 more than usual, Braden said. No deaths have been reported. The CDC is continuing to receive information from state health departments as people report their illnesses.

The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight hours to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems.

The form of salmonella tied to the outbreak can be passed from chickens that appear healthy. And it grows inside eggs, not just on the shell, Braden noted.

Thoroughly cooking eggs can kill the bacteria. But health officials are recommending people throw away or return the recalled eggs.

From the Aug. 20, Rapid City Journal website

Widespread egg recall

Salmonella recall expands to eggs sent to 17 states

Hundreds of people may have been sickened in massive outbreak

From MSNBC

The Iowa producer of shell eggs linked to hundreds of illnesses in a massive salmonella outbreak has expanded its recall to include eggs sent to 17 states, federal health officials said Thursday.

Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, now says the potentially tainted eggs were distributed to wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in California, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

At least 380 million eggs have been implicated in the outbreak, which is confirmed to have sickened people in four states and is suspected in several more.

A salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds and led to the recall of hundreds of millions of eggs from one Iowa firm will likely grow, federal health officials said Thursday.

That’s because illnesses occurring after mid-July may not be reported yet, said Dr. Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Almost 2,000 illnesses from the strain of salmonella linked to the eggs were reported between May and July, about 1,300 more than usual, he added. No deaths have been reported. The CDC is continuing to receive information from state health departments as people report their illnesses.

“I would anticipate that we will be seeing more illnesses reported likely as a result of this outbreak,” said Braden. The recall of 380 million eggs from Iowa’s Wright County Egg is one of the largest shell egg recalls in recent history.

The outbreak could have been prevented if new rules to ensure egg safety had been in place a few months earlier, an FDA spokeswoman said.

The rules, which require producers to do more testing for salmonella and take other precautions, went into effect in July. The FDA said at the time that could reduce the number of salmonella cases by nearly 60 percent.

“There are measures that would have been in place that could have prevented this,” said Sherri McGarry of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

She and other officials declined to say what specific measures would have prevented this particular outbreak, citing an ongoing FDA investigation.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to investigate the illnesses. No deaths have been reported, said Dr. Christopher Braden, a CDC epidemiologist involved in the investigation.

Initially, 228 million eggs, or the equivalent of 19 million dozen-egg cartons, were recalled by the company Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa. But that number was increased to nearly 32 million dozen-egg cartons.

Other states have seen a jump in reports of the type of salmonella. For example, California has reported 266 illnesses since June and believes many are related to the eggs. Colorado saw 28 cases in June and July, about four times the usual number. Spikes or clusters of suspicious cases have also been reported in Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.

At least I’m not worried about the eggs in my fridge, they’re from free-range chickens just up the road. This is another example of how local food systems are safer and more transparent. The FDA can talk all it wants to about how new regulations would have prevented this outbreak, but a food supply chain that sends Iowa eggs to Texas and California is the real problem.

 

Zucchini bandits

Around this time of year, folks who never lock their homes or cars carefully lock up because of the zucchini bandits. You know who you are. They’re more like bandits in reverse since they don’t steal summer’s most prolific vegetable, they deliver it. If people don’t lock their cars or houses, they’re bound to come home to a bag of green baseball bats.

All joking aside, August brings a bounty from the garden that can be shared with friends and neighbors without gardens. With the profusion of severe weather we’ve had, sharing your surplus with someone whose garden was lost to hail would make their day. My garden delivers an abundance of lettuce, spinach and chard which I share with my neighbors. Our weather is normally too cool to allow the zucchini to reach herioc proportions, so my neighbors are usually safe.

One suggestion for those bat-sized squash, give them to someone with chickens; they’ll devour them, and maybe you can get some eggs in return.

Historic seed bank threatened

Though it hasn’t been on the mainstream news, an historic seed bank in Russia is threatened by urban sprawl. A judge recently cleared the way for the Pavlovsk Seed Station to be destroyed in order that developers may erect new housing developments. Read this from Food Democracy Now:

World’s First Seed Bank Could Be Destroyed
Posted by Lisa on August 10, 2010

“Twelve Russian scientists famously chose to starve to death rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants they were protecting for humanity during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the second world war. But the world’s first global seed bank now faces destruction once more, to make way for a private housing estate.”  – the Guardian, UK

It’s defies logic, but the fate of the world’s first seed bank in Russia, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, hangs in the balance for something as frivilous and temporary as a housing development. A Russian court will decide this week if, as argued, that the seed bank has a right and the protection to exist considering that it was never apparently registered with the Russian government. If not, it may be destroyed.

According to the Guardian:

“At stake, say Russian and British campaigners for the station, is not just scientific history but one of the world’s largest collection of strawberries, blackcurrants, apples and cherries. Pavlovsk contains more than 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries from dozens of countries, including more than 100 varieties each of gooseberries and raspberries.”

The article goes on to say…

More than 90% of the plants are found in no other research collection or seed bank. Its seeds and berries are thought to possess traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests and drought weaken the varieties farmers now grow.” (emphasis ours)

For a unique perspective on this situation, please take a moment to read Wes Jackson’s speech given at the 50th Anniversary of Khrushchev visit to the Garst family farm in Iowa to discuss farming and food with farmer and seed entrepeneur, Roswell Garst. Wes eloquently takes us back in time to realize that the many choices that we have made, from dependence upon nitrogen fertilizers to the abuse of our soil, the consequences of such could not have been realized when the lightbulb went off. The consequences of such are breathing down our necks now.

In his speech at this historic event attended by Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, Wes asks for a cooperative effort between the Americans and the Russians in agricultural development. He honors in his speech the seed bank that survived as the scientists protecting it starved.

It is time now, indeed, to harken that spirit again. To do anything else is a global tragedy of unheard proportions – and defiles the memory of twelve heros.

Visit the Food Democracy Now website to sign a petition to the Russian government supporting the Pavlovsk Seed Station.

Dollars, but mostly cents

Most of us have watched our grocery bills climb in the last couple of years; one might assume that farmers and ranchers are making more money. One would be mistaken.

Recently I received a flyer from Senator Tim Johnson’s office regarding the Farm Bill. A graph illustrating farmer’s share of the retail food dollar demonstrated how our current food system shafts the producers who actually grow the food we eat. I wish the graph’s intervals had been broken down into smaller amounts since the farmer’s share of most of those items was far less than a dollar.

For example, a five-pound bag of flour costs approximately $2.75, of which the farmer keeps less than 50 cents. A gallon of milk priced at just over $4 brings the farmer about $1. A loaf of Wonder bread costs nearly $3 at the store, but the farmer who grew the wheat only receives a few cents. Top sirloin steak, commanding over $7 per pound at the meat counter, leaves the rancher with about 80 cents. The statistics aren’t any better for ham, eggs, bacon, beer, carrots, or cola.

The fact is the food processors and retailers take most of every dollar we spend on food. The way we can fight that trend is to buy direct or through a farmer-owned co-op or CSA. The fewer middlemen there are, the more money producers get to keep. The upshot of this is not only that we keep farmers and ranchers on the land and our rural communities alive, but also that we tend to buy more whole ingredients. Yes folks, actual food.

We may not be able to find local sources for all of our food, but every effort we make is worthwhile. As demand increases, more sources will pop up as farmers see new opportunities to sell their products. That money will circulate here at home rather being siphoned away to the home office somewhere in Boston, Los Angeles or Houston.

Aaaaahh, basil…

Basil is the quintessential summer herb. I direct-seeded these plants in June.

Basil truly is a girl of summer, thriving in sun and warmth. Being a primadonna as well, she doesn’t ship well, which is why mid-winter grocery store basil resembles wilted baby spinach.

Take advantage of this seasonal treat while it lasts, add it to pasta dishes, pizza and salads. Make pesto, which is this herb’s highest calling. Pesto is my preferred method of basil preservation. I make a large batch and freeze it flat in small freezer bags. Simply thaw it out in a bowl of warm water and add it to pasta or use it in soups or on bruschetta. Before freezing it for winter, be sure to enjoy as much of it as you can; there is no such thing as too much pesto.

Pesto

  • 2 -3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper until finely chopped. With the food processor still running, slowly add the olive oil until a nice, thick consistency is formed. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. *I have also added the cheese while the pesto is still the food processor and pulsed it a couple of times, that works fine too.

 Remember that pesto will turn dark fairly quickly, so if you’re not going to use immediately, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap – press the wrap directly down on top of the pesto – and refrigerate.

This is not zucchini

This mystery winter squash came up with my zucchini

I know, I know — duh. But what is it? It was supposed to be zucchini; that’s what I planted. So how this rogue winter squash sprouted there, I’m not quite sure. Since it just began blooming, chances are I won’t harvest any actual squash from it, but I have left it there in hopes that it will at least set a couple babies so I can see what they are. Butternut? Acorn? Who knows.

The other reason I have let it grow is that I can pick flowers for frying since there isn’t enough time to grow the fruit to maturity. Fried squash blossoms are delicious seasonal treat. I’ll post recipes soon.

My squash in the pot isn’t doing well; it’s very small, rather anemic, and lacks blossoms. You win some, you lose some. The other

Squash and potatoes grow out of my compost bin

 surprise was the squash that sprouted in my compost bin. It looks identical to the one in the raised bed and seems to thrive amongst the coffee grounds and kitchen scraps. Potatoes also sprouted — that was a first! So I’ve stopped turning the compost for the time being in order to allow the vegetables to grow undisturbed; they don’t seem to be bothered by fresh scraps from the kitchen every couple days.

You never know what you can (or can’t) grow until you try. When nature takes its own course, just go with it, it may be a nice surprise. Or at least a potato.

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