Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence

Archive for June, 2007

Fantastic Fennel Pollen

Posted by Nika On June - 30 - 2007

(Italian porchetta with fennel pollen, on creamy polenta)

Last weekend, while at the Les Dames d’Escoffier – BostonFeast in the Field” event, I had the opportunity to eat something I have NEVER eaten before – Fennel Pollen. It was encased in a heavenly roll of roasted sustainably grown pork belly. I didn’t realize it was there (wasn’t expecting it) but when I took a bite it blossomed in my mouth – bang!

I need to taste it again before I can really describe it in detail. I can say that it was fennel amplified.

This ingredient is VERY expensive and hard to get (need to order it, can’t get it at a local store) but I realized that this MIGHT be a crop which I can grow and market.

To this end, I dedicated one of our unheated raised beds to intensive cultivation of fennel (and I am thinking about expanding this to other areas around our house and potentially, if I can get a system down, some leased land).

This unheated bed is not two feet high like our main garden and fennel seeds are a bit tricky to sow (they are sickle shaped and do not roll out of my hand neatly). For this reason, I wanted to make it easier to plant these guys.

I found this site that describes making your own seed tape. Other sites suggest using newspapers and flour paste, etc etc. That is good if you are going to store it, which I am not, I wanted to plant right away.

Use toilet paper – ours is single ply scott.

Essentially, you use a length of toilet paper (mine was 8 feet long) , a spray bottle with water, and your seed.

Spray the toilet paper and then lay the seed down in the center, at distances that you want to grow the plant. In my case it was in the middle of each square. I know this is tight for normal planting but we will see what happens. Everything else I am growing it planted a bit tighter than is suggested.

Spray a bit more and then fold over one edge and then the other to form a triple ply strip. Spray again and gently pat down the strip.

I rolled each strip onto a small plastic pot that a plant came in. You cant really carry the wet toilet paper around, rolling it up is better.

I then rolled the strips out on the soil. I adjusted them to a desired spacing.

Then I covered the strips with the recommended amount of soil and then watered.

I will let you know how this goes!

Its all about the green

Posted by Nika On June - 28 - 2007


(Tomatoes: Bonnies and Seeds of Change heirlooms)

Its been a busy week or so. As you may or may not know, I am a food photographer (as well as many other things) and activities are picking up a bit in that department. In the last week, I have been out to shoot a local BBQ joint called B.T.’s Smokehouse, a lavish fund raiser for Les Dames d’Escoffier at the Allandale Farm in Boston, and a low key wedding in an idyllic landscape.

We have been working away on the garden too.

Yesterday and the day before, we had temperatures in the mid 90s so things have been drying out but growing like gangbusters.


(mesclun, radishes, carrots, collards, tomatoes)

We are proceeding with the chicken house and also the trellising for the now-desperate peas and beans, waiting for something to climb! We will be growing the beans and squash, that are planted with the corn, up strings to get it away from the corn. Will use slings to hold the squash up. High-rise gardening!

Will update with a shot of these when made.



(The three sisters: beans, corn, squash)

I have planted two 16 foot raised beds with many legumes, such as: black beluga lentils, flageolet beans, cranberry beans, turnips, chard, and other species.


(sprouting black beluga lentils)

Our potatoes are planted in their hay dirt-free systems.


(potato patch in the distance)

Our asparagus has popped up through 10 inches of soil and are now ferning out in their first year’s growth.


(tiny asparagus spears, a foot tall and


just before ferning out)

We are getting various patches of grass growing around the house (including the septic field) and are considering the purchase (or planning what we need to support) a dairy animal (jersey or a goat). We love the eggs from chicken but it would be great to close the loop on the milk/butter/yogurt/cheese because we eat so much of it.

From the jersey, we would get milk and manure, something we really need an organic source of. I just have to determine if we can establish enough pasture to feed it and a calf during the summers and afford to overwinter them with outside bought (unfortunately not organic) feeds.

Whats in a leaf?

Posted by Nika On June - 21 - 2007

Radish leaf.

To a plant, water management is personal, very personal.

Capturing and managing the use or loss of water is not an idle activity, its not passive. For the plant it is hardwired. Just as we have arteries and veins to conduct blood, our little ocean, throughout our bodies, so too does the plant have tubing to route water across it’s body plan.

Corn sprout.

Plant physiology is fascinating and I may explore it’s complexities further later but today I am going to tell you one simple thing – those water routes in the plant are composed of Xylem cells. You may have heard of phloem cells, they make the tubing that routes the food or carbohydrate laden water.


This is a triptych of stained xylem cells from a ficus plant. (Photos of vessels at (Ficus sp). taken at sept 2002 in university of Sidi Bel Abbes/Algeria. Shoots are treated in HCl (15N,40mn) solution,then stained with Toluidine-Bleu (5%). All photos have been taken under the Carl Zeiss microscope, by Youssef Bouterfes for the Wikipedia Project. This is a creative commons photo from the Wikipedia.)

Collard greens.

As in my pictures, you may see leaves that have these ordered arrays of water droplets. Some of these may be the result of water collection as mediated by the architecture of the leaf or may be the release of water from a water-logged plant through hydathodes (a process called guttation).

“At night, transpiration usually does not occur because most plants have their stomata closed. When there is a high soil moisture level, water will enter plant roots, because the water potential of the roots is lower than in the soil solution. The water will accumulate in the plant creating a slight root pressure. The root pressure forces some water to exude through special leaf tip or edge structures, hydathodes, forming drops. Root pressure provides the impetus for this flow, rather than transpirational pull.

Guttation fluid may contain a variety of organic compounds, mainly sugars, and mineral nutrients, and potassium.[1] On drying, a white crust remains on the leaf surface.” Source


I borrowed this micrograph, showing a hythode, from the UW-Madison BotWeb

image clearinghouse. There is so much there to see and learn about!

Hydathodes, often found at the end of vascular bundles, are other derivatives of stomatal complexes. Their guard cells cannot be closed, unlike those in normal stomatal complexes. Water secretion by the hydathodes is called guttation; salts, sugars, and organic compounds dissolved in the guttation water crystalize on evaporation, forming a white powdery substance.” Source

Droplets on collard sprouts.

Take some time one sunny morning, after a stretch of wet days, and go into your garden and see these drops for yourself!

Carrot tops.

Learn More:

First Salad

Posted by Nika On June - 17 - 2007

I just wanted to share with you our first salad. Our first batch of mesclun is ready to be eaten, the radishes are plumping up, and the baby spinach is tender and delicious!

Am about ready to seed in the third succession crop of both radish and mesclun.

7 beds, all in a row

Posted by Nika On June - 15 - 2007

Oh my goodness! Ed and crew are FINALLY done with the seven raised beds (with internal radiant heating system). You can see them in the photo above.

Now we turn to the chicken house. I will share that process as it comes along.

I am also now going to start seeding the three brand new beds.

I have brainstormed on the placement of the first aquaculture tank and I will share some of that planning as soon as I have it mocked up in a document.

Amphibious visitors

Posted by Nika On June - 12 - 2007

Bufo a. americanus

Our raised beds must be getting rave reviews in the “Riparian Times” because a whole host of toads have been moving into the neighborhood. Ours look to be of the Eastern American toad (Bufo a. americanus) flavor. We all know that these guys eat insects so we are mighty happy to host them.

We finally got our asparagus bed built.

I am using a modified “Square Foot Gardening” planting plan where, instead of the 4/square foot they do, I am doing one crown per square foot on top of compost and topsoil (with some organic bone meal to modify the phosphate levels).

Here is a shot of the tomato patch from the end.

Here is an update shot on one of the seeded beds.

Here are some plants ready and waiting for the 8×8 bed. Notice that we have some sweet potatoes in there. I am not convinced that these will like it here but we will find out!

The Way Forward

Posted by Nika On June - 11 - 2007

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am mapping out where and how each seed is planted in the beds. This may seem to be overwrought but I do not think so. The reason I am doing this is so that I can know what each seedling is as it grows so that I can watch it’s morphology change, be alert to the different types of insect predators, see which seeds do not like this soil, see which are thriving, which like being next to the other, etc. I think it is worth the time to know what I have planted, where and when so that this sort of analysis is easier.

I am also planting in the vein of “Square Foot Gardening” (though with some pretty big differences) by Mel Bartholomew which means that I am planting intensively. I am also seeding in companion crops to bolster the health of the micro-ecosystems I am creating.

The four maps below are for the beds we have completed and seeded. I have also put a link to the flickr page for each if you would like to look at the images closer up. There are two more 8×16 beds and then a 8×8 bed. We are also finishing off the 4×8 bed for the asparagus (companion planted with tomatoes? perhaps though I am still thinking about it)

Bed 2

Flickr link

Bed 3

Flickr link

Bed 4

Flickr link

Bed 5

Flickr link

More to come!

Related Posts:

Enter the Flea Beetle

Posted by Nika On June - 7 - 2007

See that little black speck to the right of center? That little guy is eating little holes in some of my tomatoes and also in some of the other seedlings.

I looked on the internet and have found that it is called a Flea Beetle. When you go to pick them off the leaf you have to be careful because they will jump away like a flea. They are very easy to kill tho, very unlike a flea.

Since this is an organic garden, I want to deal with this problem with no chemicals.

The internet says to:

  • Use covers (not an option because these guys likely came with the dirt)
  • Use a trap crop like radishes
  • Use a pesticide
  • Use onion or garlic or pepper spray

Its this last one that I will be trying today. I am going to get some garlic and make a solution of it and then swab it onto my affected plants. I am going to start it off at a relatively (as it seems to me) concentration.

I am also having another issue.

My transplanted pimento peppers (Bonnie from Walmart) are growing some gnarly looking leaves since their transplantation. Is this a fertilizer issue? A too much water issue? A pH issue? If you know, drop me a note!

Ed is working on the fifth bed today, 6th soon and then a large 8×8 herb garden.

We got some Mary Washington asparagus (with a bonus extra pack), 40 in all. Now we are deciding where we will put these guys. As you may know, eating these wont happen until like 3 years from now. They take up a lot of space vertically so they do not want to be IN the garden…

I am still working on the 4th garden in terms of seed placement, almost there. I am also working on seeding in the companion crops to help deal with bugs and get some synergistic benefits.

This guy is growing like a weed but we are not going to weed him.

Four beds rising

Posted by Nika On June - 6 - 2007

Here is the latest panorama. You can see that Ed has finished the 4th bed on the right! I need to plant that one and the ends of the bed furthest to the left.

I have put a small preview of the map template for each bed (below). I measured the pH of various parts of each bed (as well as nutrient content) so I will be adding that to the maps as well. I will share those when I finish them.

Every day I spend time picking weedlets. I use it as a growing zazen practice. Its precious quiet time.

Sometimes I put on my Maya wrap and take Baby Oh out so he can have some freedom from the tyranny of the older middle 3 year old sister.

He loves it. He listens to the birds, he watches me weed, he doesn’t make a sound and has huge eyes, looking at everything.

Here is bit of an update on the most advanced bed.

The mesclun has moved on to it’s secondary leaves and is looking much like mesclun. Its almost time to plant the next batch in the succession.

The radishes have also gotten their secondary leaves. These are the itchy scratchy ones.

Here is the cinnamon basil which has ALREADY gone to flower. I snipped them and have pruned it to make sure its going to get bushy.

Rainy updates

Posted by Nika On June - 1 - 2007

Thankfully, rain and mist has been our weather so our plants are germinating and growing nicely.

Dragon carrots, horizontally.

Seeds of Change basil diversity pack of 6 types of basils.

  • Genovese Basil
  • Greek Basil
  • Cinnamon Basil
  • Lemon Basil
  • Lime Basil
  • Opal Purple Basil

View from the end of one of the beds.

About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.



    r20220616_161752_1039no name definedTenebrosoPiano