One of the many benefits of a community garden is…community! The most interesting people can become friends, and relationships that help facilitate learning and growth can enter into the everyday things that make life wonderfully abundant.

An example of this is: the other day, when I was visiting one of my new found friends, she suggested that we try one of her pickles from a jar she had been fermenting on her kitchen counter for a couple of days. Now, I have been curious about fermentation, and tried my hand with some kefir curds but those soon became so plentiful I had to stop for lack of people to share them with. Anyone who has harvested kefir curds knows this dilemma. I have also heard about the digestive benefits of fermented foods for years, but the only thing that came to mind was Kim Chi, which was not at all interesting to me-so I  just never investigated any further than that.

But, I had tried this friend’s fermented string beans a few months back, and enjoyed it, so I thought it would be safe and possibly satisfying. Lo and behold the fermented cucumber I tried was the single best pickle I have ever eaten in my life! It was unmistakably a dill pickle, but it had a flavor that rocketed beyond mere dill. Being a novice at spice experimentation I wasn’t sure what was in the brine, but my palette had never been happier.

Needless to say I got the recipe, and have a jar fermenting on my counter as we speak. If this works for me I will have an answer to the many cucumbers that are waiting for my attention.

A word about fermentation and its history: Fermenting happens naturally and pre-dates humanity, however humans took control of the fermentation process and have been using this method from as far back as 7000 BCE . In short, fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates or sugars into alcohols and carbon dioxides using yeasts and/or bacteria under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions.

This process is employed in the making of wine and beer, or for foods like yogurt and sauerkraut. The science of fermentation is known as zymology. Fermentation is also what happens during the pickling process however, with the common techniques of canning the fermentation process is ceased when the jars are boiled and sealed. With straight fermentation the process is halted when the jar is places below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The jars are not subjected to heat or pressure, which allows the lactobacilli to remain in tact and give our digestive systems the some of the healthy enzymes it needs to function properly.

I am sharing my friend’s recipe with you, I am sure you can use whatever spices you like.

A note of caution: there is always a risk of botulism with the consumption of canned foods, so take care to not use plastic containers when making fermented foods and follow all directions carefully. Glass canning jars are nice and greatly reduce the risk of illness.

Fermented Cucumber Pickles

1 t. coriander seeds

 ½ t. ground black pepper

1 t. yellow mustard seeds

1 t. dill seeds

1 t. caraway seeds

1 t. celery seeds

9 cloves fresh garlic

6 dry bay leaves

6 T. Kosher salt

1/2 t. dried red pepper flakes

Dry dill heads & stalks

Take 1 quart boiling water; add salt & dissolve. Place 2 bay leaves, 3 garlic cloves & cucumbers in quart jars. Add 1 1/3 c. salted water to each of 3 quart jars, add 1/3 of combined spice mix, top off with fresh filtered water, leaving 1” head space.  Cover jars and shake to distribute salty water within jar, & make sure all veggies are still submerged. Place glass cup or custard cup into jar as needed to make sure all garlic and cucumbers are completely submerged.  Leave in dark, cool place for up to 2 weeks, checking and tasting as needed till pickles are as tangy as you like. When taste is right, cap tightly and store in refer or root cellar for 6 months or more, or till pickles are tangier than you like.

Happy Fermenting everyone!

Intensive Urban Gardening Concepts and Baby Greens Salad with Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

Here is the winning blog entry for our Mother Earth News Fair contest. Thank you for your submission Amanda-it is insightful and looks delicious! Enjoy everyone.

This spring I have home grown vegetables in spades. I planted my first squares of sugar snap peas, beets, carrots, greens, and radishes on March 21st, the first day of spring. Nine weeks and a couple plantings later, I have lots of short plants, and am already harvesting my first baby greens for salads.

Since I am gardening in a community garden, and only have a 5’x8’ plot, I am maximizing my space by gardening intensively. I have gleaned concepts from many helpful sources. Here are a few:

Square Foot Gardening 

One of the concepts taught by square foot gardening is eliminating the space wasted between rows of plants. Instead you make a grid of square feet in your garden, and each square foot can be planted with a certain number of plants. You can see the influence of square foot gardening in my patchwork blocks of greens.

On the left side of this photo you can see alternated squares of spinach and mesclun greens. To the right of the greens there are squares of kales and chard. This picture was taken six weeks after planting.

Dick Raymond’s Gardening Year

This out-of-print gardening classic was my ever-present companion in my teens. I read it over and over, learning about planting in wide rows. The advantages of planting in wide rows include: it keeps roots cool, discourages weeds, and makes the most of limited garden space. Basically you plant as closely as the seeds allow in blocks or rows up to four feet wide. At the bottom of this photo you can see my blocks of peas.

And here are my blocks of bush beans. They’re just coming up now.

Another reason I love planting this way is that I am addicted to seed catalogs. The descriptions sound so delicious and the pictures are so lovely that I want them ALL. All the seeds. The end.

This picture is of one of the blocks of greens. Rather than spacing them evenly, like they recommend in square foot gardening, I scattered the seeds in a wide row sort of way. This makes for a really full and fluffy square of Mesclun for salads. I’m drooling just looking at this mix of red lettuce, arugula, kale, dandelion greens, and who knows what else.

Companion planting

This is so romantic: the idea that by planting vegetables together makes each of them better. Awwwwww!! I am experimenting with a few combinations that I have learned:

Carrots and Radishes

Carrots and Beets

Tomatoes and Basil

Behind the row of mixed onions you can see baby radishes companion planted along with carrots. The basic idea is that the radishes will mature quickly, and will be removed just as the carrots need the space. Meanwhile, there are few weeds, and no wasted space at all.

Succession planting

Succession planting is a relatively new concept to me. Basically it means planting an area several times during a growing season. As one crop matures, you replace it in the same year with something else that will grow to maturity before the end of the growing season. This seems to require a degree of planning and thought. Some plants do better in cool weather. These are better planted in the early spring, and then again at the end of the hot summer, before the frost sets in. These types of vegetables include peas, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and fava beans. Other vegetables, like potatoes, tomatoes, squash, carrots, green and shelling beans, and corn need the heat to grow well. By scheduling your plantings, you can make a tiny gardening space work overtime.

Everything is growing so quickly now that the weather has warmed up. This picture was taken a couple days ago. You can see how much everything has grown in just a couple weeks since the first garden picture was taken. Particularly the blocks of greens have really filled in and are starting to look pretty crowded. You know what that means…Dinner time!

Baby Greens with Raspberry vinaigrette

Thinnings from veggie plants

Some good ideas include:

Lettuce, spinach, kale, pea shoots, green onions, baby radishes, ½” diameter or smaller, with greens on, sunflower sprouts (with no more than 2 leaves), arugula, tiny dandelion greens (yes, the ones that are weeds, as long as they are first year plants, and they haven’t been sprayed), beet greens, radicchio, fennel with bulbs less than 1/4”

Do not use:

Tomato greens, potato greens, pepper leaves, carrot tops

Pinch off the roots and wash the veggies well. A good soak will help to loosen stubborn soil. Drain and dry your greens. You can chill them at this point and they will make an extra crunchy salad. Just wrap them in a paper towel and put them in an airtight container or zipper bag in the fridge.

Meanwhile, you can make the simple dressing.

¼ cup frozen raspberries, thawed, with juice

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Honey or brown sugar to taste

Whisk all ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Keeps in the refrigerator for a long time.

Arrange the greens on a plate. Drizzle the dressing ever so lightly over the greens. Serve to your friends, or anyone you want to impress. Expect ooohs and aaaaahs.

– Amanda Feldman Liddle

Season’s Eatings