Posts tagged #gardening

Pruning and Training Chuck's Apple Franktree, Year 4 from Grafting

I’ve managed to make an update video every year of grafting and training my friend Chuck’s apple frankentree. The tree has grown quickly into a well balanced, classic Modified Central Leader form. The Main scaffold branches look pretty good and most of the laterals have been set. That only took 3 years. This 4th year, I just notched a few more buds to get the last few laterals where I want them and the rest is mostly maintenance with light training. If I were to do this now, I would approach it with even a little more intent to get exactly what I want, possibly even a little quicker. To understand the tree form a little better and how to get it, watch the video below on tree forms. I like this tree form a lot. It is not the only game in town, but it is good for making long lived, well balanced trees that are relatively easy to control. It is popular with fruit tree enthusiasts for a reason. It also looks very nice, making a somewhat spreading tree with reasonably good light distribution if well maintained.

This is probably the last training and pruning video of chucks tree as the videos are becoming redundant, but the form is in place and from here on it’s mostly thinning excess growth, and then shortening what is left. maybe we’ll check in on fruiting and maturity in a couple/few years. A playlist with all previous videos of chucks tree is also linked below if you want to follow it’s development from the beginning.


The full playlist… https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60FnyEY-eJCwRV46RC-aoybNgDRjCAw4


The video explains a couple of very good common tree training forms, the delayed open center and modified central leader.

Some August Apple Tasting

In this video I taste some usual suspects, Kerry Pippin, Chestnut Crab and Williams' Pride, and a couple of newer ones, Viking (very interesting) and Salem June (meh...)

Smart Fruit Tree Training, Toward Better Methods and Clearer Goals

Hello friends.  I've been out of it lately, forgetting to post stuff, but  I'm back with something paradigm shifting.  If you don't already expect to see next level, envelope pushing content from me on a semi-regular basis, you can start any time lol.  Here are 3 videos that are a first installment on the subject of training up fruit trees. 

You can also keep up with the Smart Tree Training Playlist for this subject on youtube here.  All videos related to training trees will be added there in the future.

People of my personality type think that everything can be improved.  We can seem contrary by nature, sometimes to a fault, but that is just an immature expression of our nature to question and experiment.  Now that geeks and freaks are more and more influential via technology and the information age, the new paradigm is open source.  It's not just a practice, it's a way of thinking.  It's my way of thinking and it's about time it started gaining some traction!  This new paradigm can come about because we now get less of our information through dogmatic, institutional channels which act as filters and tend toward conservatism.  Also, people that have knowledge and ideas to offer can much more easily get those ideas out.  Information can not only proliferate quickly and easily now, but we have forums to hash out ideas and share experience and experiments, which creates a crucible for testing information and ideas.  In spite of the huge preponderance of weak and incorrect information proliferating on the internet, this more positive side of the information age is having a profound effect on human knowledge and progress.  It is my hope that we will continue to mature in our thinking, and in our vetting and processing of information.

We can't think about and become experts on everything, but we also don't have to buy everything that is handed to us as if someone has figured it all out.  We should be skeptical and critical in a constructive way.  In the case for fruit tree training methods, the same basic rudimentary approach has been in use for a very long time, with minor variations and minimal dissidence in spite often achieving poor to mediocre results over an unnecessarily long span of time.  I used those methods for years and found them unsatisfactory, so I began to tinker with other possibilities.  Then I found a brilliant study that was done from around 1925 to 1930 that completely changed everything.  To quote the authors of that study, A Study of the Framework of the Apple Tree and it's Relation to Longevity, 1932:

“That improvement in methods of heading fruit trees is desirable is evident from even a casual study of bearing apple orchards, where a certain proportion of the trees will be found breaking down from causes that can be traced directly to the way the young tree was trained.”
“The central leader type of tree has been the expressed preference of Illinois growers.  Nevertheless, most of the heads in Illinois commercial orchards are vase shaped.”

The authors found that while growers expressed a definite preference for one type of tree, the practice of cutting back on planting, known as a heading cut, was producing an entirely different type of tree.  In spite of the practice having a high failure rate, the orchardists continued the practice anyway, and it is still the main technique in use today.  Adopting their recommendations and tweaking them improved my results and the time from new tree to framework radically, so I am very enthused about continuing to experiment and add to those methods.

I had already been experimenting with notching buds and shoots to encourage them to grow, but these guys took an altogether more divergent approach to training that bucked one of the fundamental dogmas of tree planting and training, namely, that the tree must be cut back on planting.  This is the most sacred dogma of tree training.  Cutting back is said to balance the root and top, create a more stocky tree with a thick enough stem, and stimulate branching below the cut.  No doubt it can do all of those things, but are they actually necessary?  They put that question to the test rather than accepting it and found that it was not necessary to cut the trees back, which I have so far confirmed.  The authors surveyed the available literature both current and historical, interviewed orchardists and examined orchards to see what was actually happening all the way from initial training, through to failure of the trees.  After those important initial stems which helped define the problem, they designed experiments to test alternative tree training techniques, and ultimately developed a set of recommendations for improvements in tree training that avoided the common tree failures caused in early training.  They were able to achieve the desired tree forms more assuredly, resulting in a well formed, well balanced, long lived tree in a short space of time.  Bravo!

While the study gave specific recommendations on what to do in training apple trees and some suggestions regarding the training of different varieties, it is far from the final word on the subject.  I've already improved it, just by adding notching and transferring the same and similar principals to further establishing specific goals for the secondary scaffolds.  I've also already thought up lists of potential trials and experiments to answer a growing number of questions about variations on their methods, alternative techniques and how different fruit tree species respond to various interventions.  The authors would have thought this was the thing to do, you advance the work.  I've used notching quite a lot on various different species of fruit, but the original study was on apples and that has also been my main experience so far.  More experimental trials are needed to assess these and other techniques on other species.

I'm super stoked if I can help my blog readers and youtube viewers train their trees better, but I have my sights set on much bigger game, the mastodon of  common training recommendations, which I refer to as "clip and pray".  It honestly would be hard to do worse than these common recommendations and even the simple training used to set the trees up in these first videos could go a long way toward improving outcomes.  My main goal would be to evolve informed, but simple and accessible "systems" of sorts for mass consumption with a 3 to 4 year plan using a small number of easy to understand tools and goals.  On the back end, I'd like to see a continuing evolution of understanding about how different fruit tree species grow and respond to various interventions.  Maybe more importantly though, I want to see a paradigm shift in thinking about what we are doing in fruit tree training, and why.  The essence of that philosophic understanding is still evolving, but here are my basic thoughts now.  I've been thinking of the process as guiding a finite amount of resources or growth energy of the tree to achieve very specific goals.  The tree can only grow so much in a year.  Where are you going to encourage that growth to go and what techniques can be use to convince the tree to favor growth in those areas.  Another important concept is creating some kind of balance in growth between parts of the tree.  This balance can vary in form and degree, but we all know drastic imbalance when we see it.  Training is often approached somewhat haphazardly.  By having specific goals in mind and reasons for having those goals, we can then apply the tools we have available to make that tree form happen.

There is much to say and I hope to keep producing videos and essays or lectures on this subject.

The full fruit tree framework study is available to download on the free stuff page

In the meantime, the simple recommendations and information given in these first few videos could go a long way toward improving fruit tree training for home orchardists.  Results will absolutely vary by species and variety, and no doubt by environmental conditions as well.  The tools presented are not new and they were not new in 1925 either.  But the obvious is not always so obvious and for whatever reasons, I've never seen anything like this presented anywhere.  I'm calling it Smart Tree Training and hopefully that name will stick.  It is a great name I think for a non-specific collaborative project that aims to take an informed and goal oriented approach to the problem of fruit tree training.  I feel confident in saying that you can help me improve the practice and outcome of fruit tree training by sharing this information as it comes out, through appropriate channels where it will be put to use.

Tasting Two Long Keeping Apples Out of Storage in Early March, GoldRush and Pomo Sanel

Yesterday I pulled out two varieties of apple from storage to taste, GoldRush and Pomo Sanel.  It is one thing to find apples that keep for a long time without rotting, but that does not mean they will retain flavor or keep a good eating texture.  Some apples will actually gain flavor with maturity, at least to a point, but most will lose flavor.


GoldRush

These were picked later than they should have been.  I suspect if picked earlier, they would store a little better.

gold rush apple 11.jpg

Gold Rush is well known for keeping very well, even without refrigeration.  I have specimens from the refrigerator as well as from a cold room.   All were picked late The apples from the fridge have retained some crunch, though they are not like the super crispy apples that you might find in a grocery store this time of year.  Those apples are stored under controlled conditions with inert gasses to hold them in stasis until they are shipped to stores.  The flavor has developed well in storage.  When this apple is first picked it is edgy and harsh.  I wouldn't say the flavor has improved from a month ago, but it is still complex and full with enough acidity to get my attention. 

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The apples stored in the shed were wrinkled and drying out.  None though showed any signs of decay.  Their texture is rubbery, with no hint of mealiness.  The flesh compresses, then starts to break into pieces.  The flavor and sugar are concentrated and delicious.  I could see storing a lot of these and drying the oldest left over fruits in the spring.  They would be half dry already.

All in all GoldRush is an excellent home orchard apple, and should be considered in any small collection of varieties.  It combines long keeping, flavor, good cultural traits and some disease resistance.  Out of all my dwarf interstem trees, it has the best, easiest to care for, form and high vigor.

 


Pomo Sanel

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Pomo Sanel is a rare apple, barely known among a few fruit enthusiasts in this area, let alone anywhere else.

Pomo Sanel was stored in the refrigerator.  It gradually lost it's crispness.  It is not meally or mushy, at least not yet, but all remnants of crispness are gone.  I was hoping it would go rubbery instead, but it didn't.  The flavor has changed, less complex, more appley, banana still prominent.  There is some acidity, but the sprightliness is gone.  I could eat plenty of these, but it is not equal to it's fridge mate at this point and will surely decline from here.  Like GoldRush, it was probably harvested too late and might do better in storage if picked at an earlier stage, as soon as it reaches full size, but before the sugars develop.

Pomo Sanel, still a little lean and green, but closer to where it should probably be picked for long storage

Pomo Sanel, still a little lean and green, but closer to where it should probably be picked for long storage

Pomo Sanel's most interesting attribute is it's late ripening in late December or usually January here.  Given it's high quality straight off the tree at that season, it's a winner here in my climate.  Whether it will store well enough beyond 4 weeks or so if harvested earlier and treated well remains to be seen, but keeping up with the likes of Pink Lady and GoldRush is a tall order and it no doubt won't.  A really good storage apple can be very good, even excellent, but it's still not the same as a tree ripened apple kissed by frost and brought into it's prime in cold weather, nor is the whole eating experience the same.  That paradigm is where Pomo Sanel and hopefully it's offspring will shine.  I sent out many seeds this winter all around the world, so everyone cross your fingers and we'll check in about 8 or 10 years from now.

I'm interested in breeding with both of these and have made some crosses.  If I'm lucky, some of those seedling crosses might bear fruit this year.

Etter's Blood Apples, Unique, Beautiful and Tasty, Red Flesh, Red Flavor

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This year I have three of apple breeder Albert Etter's red fleshed apples fruiting.  They are very unique and interesting apples, though they still represent unfinished work.  Red fleshed apples will be coming more and more into the public eye over the coming years.  They could have arrived much sooner had anyone taken up Etter's work, which was already well started.  With all their faults, these apples are still worth growing.  Also a short video on Gold Rush, which might be the apple I've seen most universally endorsed by home growers for flavor, keeping ability and disease resistance.

Cherry Cox Apple Variety and a Few Others, Tasting and Review

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When I moved here 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was start to plan my fruit orchards.  I well knew then that the time to plant a fruit tree is ten years ago, now I might extend that to 15.  I began doing research on apple varieties, which I was very unfamiliar with.  I figured there must be hundreds of them, but the best resource I had available was a thick book called Cornucopia, a source book of edible plants which only listed a few of what I later found out were probably tens of thousands of named varieties.  I also talked to friend and fruit explorer Freddy Menge, who made his best recommendations at the time.  I had helped Mark Dupont of Sandy Bar nursery graft his first batch of fruit trees many years before, and had an outstanding favor owed for fruit trees whenever I finally got my own place.  I called in that favor.  Looking through their catalogue, they said they had a variety called cherry cox that had become a homestead favorite.  I was intrigued.   They had no trees to sell that year, but Mark sent me a scion, one of the first scions I grafted onto frankentree.  I've since sent out lots of scions to other people all over the country.

Cherry Cox has not disappointed.  It really does taste like cherries, among other flavors.  Few descriptions mention that it has a cherry flavor, suggesting even that the name is for the redder color it has.  There is no doubt though that the name is from the flavor, though I don't doubt that it does not always develop and some say they can't detect it at all.  It was also precocious, being one of the first apples to ever fruit on frankentree and one of the most consistent since.  If anything, it sets too much fruit, though it has taken years off as almost any apple will do when poorly managed.  It seems healthy enough so far, but I can't say too much about that as apple diseases are just getting a real foothold here.  It does get scab, and I think it could be called moderately susceptible.  Don't quote me on that, it's just a vague impression.

Cherry Cox is a sport of the very famous Cox's Orange Pippin.  A sport is a bud mutation.  One bud on a tree mutates into something new and thus begins a new variety, no tree sex required.  While many sports are very minor variations on the parent tree, Cherry Cox seems to be considerably different than it's parent.  It tastes different, performs different, allegedly keeps longer, and I'd just about bet that if you planted rows of each side by side there would be some obvious differences.  I was at my friend Tim Bray's orchard and his Cox's Orange Pippins were notably small and the trunks and branches completely covered in lichens, unlike the other trees.  They are known for their poor growability and have no doubt only survived by the virtue of exceptional flavor.  Cox's Orange Pippin is widely used in apple breeding because of it's eating quality, and is probably the apple most commonly said to be the best out of hand eating apple in the world.  Cox's Orange Pippin is indeed one of the few apples I've ever eaten worthy of the classification "best".  Even at it's best, Cherry cox is still not in that category.  It's a good lesson though that Cox's Orange Pippin seems to do poorly under my conditions and cherry cox is consistently good to very good.

Flavor wise, Cherry Cox has a lot going on, like it's parent Cox's Orange Pippin it is complex.  Obvious flavors are cherry, something almost like cherry cough drops, but in a good way, Anise is also present and I've detected some flavor of spice.  There is certainly more going on, other fruit flavors, but I'm not good at picking them out.  If I were to change things about Cherry Cox, I would.  It could use more sugar, which would bring the flavors out more.  Have you ever noticed how much better fruit tastes when you sprinkle sugar on it?  It's not just that it's sweeter, sugar is to fruit what salt is to meat and savory foods.  Cook a fantastic soup with no salt and you will barely taste the potential of it's flavor.  Add salt to it and boom, flavor city.  The cherry flavor develops early in cherry cox, but the sugar develops late.  It is a fairly acidic apple, and maybe even tart before it gets really ripe.  I would not reduce the acidity, I would just balance it with more sugar.  More sugar would also make it a richer flavored apple.  It can be a little thin tasting at times.  More scab resistance wouldn't hurt.  In the Beauty department it lacks nothing. It's is a beautiful apple.  it can grow plenty large under good cultural conditions, though it is not generally a very large apple.  Cherry Cox is a little known and little grown apple.  I doubt it has great potential as a broader market apple, but it has huge potential as a small scale specialty orchard and farmer's market apple.  And then there is the breeding potential.

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Looking toward improvement, I think cherry cox is very promising breeding material.  If nothing else for the cherry flavor, but it also must carry most of the exceptional flavor gene pool of Cox's Orange Pippin.  My own breeding efforts include Cherry Cox crossed with various other apples.  If my efforts don't breed anything exceptional, maybe they will produce something that is worth using in further breeding.  I've crossed it with several red fleshed apples in the hopes that I might be lucky enough to co-mingle the berry flavors of blood apples with C.C.'s complexity and cherry flavor.  I've also crossed it with Sweet Sixteen, which has sometimes a cherry candy component, while also being a good grower and carrying some disease resistance.  I've crossed it with Wickson for higher sugar content and unique flavor and probably others I'm forgetting about.  I think Golden Russet might be a good candidate since it is one of the best apples I've ever tasted, and it also has an extremely high sugar content.  I'd like to see more crosses made along these lines.  I would like to see Cherry Cox crossed with sweet 16 and Sweet 16 also crossed with the generally scab susceptible red fleshed apples, and the offspring of both back crossed in an attempt to keep Sweet Sixteen's scab resistance, while reinforcing the cherry component and hoping for a red fleshed offspring.... or something along those lines.  I don't know anything about breeding for scab resistance, but the information on dominance of traits is available out there somewhere if one cared to look for it.  I've got all of those genetic crosses made, and then some, so fingers crossed.

Cherry Cox crossed with Rubaiyat in 2013 and with Pink Parfait this past spring, both red fleshed apples.

Cherry Cox crossed with Rubaiyat in 2013 and with Pink Parfait this past spring, both red fleshed apples.

For various reasons, I'll have few Cherry Cox scions to offer for grafting, if any.  Being uncommon, it may be hard to find scions, but I think with a little effort they can be found.  The more that people grow it, the more scions will be available.  If you have a scion exchange in your area, that is a good place to look.  Online scion trading and fruit discussions can be found at GrowingFruit.org and The North American Scion Exchange.  Information on grafting can now by found on my Youtube channel and on this website.

Cherry Cox trees are listed for sale at Raintree Nursery and Maple Valley lists scions and benchgrafts.


Other apples in my cherry cox tasting video that are worth mentioning are:

Egremont Russet:  A nice russet.  Not up to the best russets as it is grown here, but a good performer and very good at it's best.  Stephen Hayes in the UK is a big fan.  Here is his video review.

 Sam Young is an Irish apple that is rare in the US.  My small branch is just starting to fruit, but seems promising. It's somewhat russeted and is also known as Irish Russet.  I'll be keeping an eye on this one.  It is hard and very sweet.  Below are some old descriptions.

Old Sam Young

Old Sam Young

Sam Young:  Fruit small, flattish, about an inch and half from the eye to the stalk, and two inches in its transverse diameter; eye remarkably large, having some of the calyx attached to it; colour yellowish clouded with russet, reddish to the sun; very apt to crack; flesh yellowish, firm, crisp, sweet and well flavoured. In use from the beginning of November to January. Tree flat headed, shoots declining, of a light brown colour ; leaves sub-rotund, acuminate, coarsely serrated, upper surface shining, under slightly pubescent. An abundant bearer, and healthy on all soils.

Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, 1820
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Sam Young, aka Irish Russet:

Fruit of a smallish size, somewhat globular, flattened, about one inch and three quarters deep, and two inches and a half in diameter. Eye remarkably wide and open, in a broad depression. Stalk short. Skin bright yellow, with minute brown spots, and a considerable quantity of russet, especially round the stalk; in some specimens red on the sunny side, usually cracking. Flesh inclining to yellow, mixed with green; tender, and melting. Juice plentiful, sweet, with a delicious flavour, scarcely inferior to that of the Golden Pippin.
An Irish dessert apple, of high reputation, ripe in November, and will keep good for two months.
The merits of this very valuable apple were made known in 1818 by Mr. Robertson, of Kilkenny. It is certainly one of the best of our modern apples, and cannot have too general a cultivation.

A Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden: Or, An Account of the Most Valuable Fruits Cultivated in Great Britain, 1833


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My Hand Watering Tool of Choice, the Fan Sprayer, and Cheap Hoses Just Got Cheaper

My watering nozzle of choice is the fan sprayer.  Unfortunately it's hard to find a good one these days.  Read more below, or watch the video. 

Also, the hoses I just recommended in another video and blog post, Craftsman 50 foot, 5/8 inch rubber hose, just went down in price further for the next day.  They go off sale TODAY.  Someone commented that Sears is in financial crisis and may go under, so it might be a good time to buy some.  They're like "WE'RE GOING DOWN, QUICK, SELL ALL THE HOSES!"  They are 17.99 with free shipping on orders above 50.00,  or free in store pick up even if they aren't actually on sale in the store.  The 100 foot are about twice that much, so same per foot price.  http://www.sears.com/lawn-garden-watering-hoses-sprinklers-garden-hoses/b-1024024

The package says the hose contains lead and chemicals known to cause cancer as everything must in California.  I did a brief search and found this hose to actually score very well against most tested for toxic compounds including lead, of which none was found.  http://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/samples/50-ft-craftsman-premium-heavy-duty-rubber-garden-hose

Quite a few people commented on the video with positive reviews of this hose, including people that have used them for over 10 years.

I like fan sprayer nozzles because they deliver a lot of water and deliver it gently if designed well.  The other major reason I like them is that the spray pattern and water delivery can be adjusted by tilting the head side to side.  I can cover a 3 to 4 foot wide swath 8 feet away by holding it horizontally, or concentrate most of that water in a one foot circle at the same distance by simply tilting the head vertically.  In between those extremes, you can adjust the width by adjusting the tilt.  This versatility and the wide horizontal coverage make them especially good for watering wide beds as well as for variable conditions.  nothing else I know of delivers this amount of water in that sort of versatile pattern.  Unfortunately good ones are hard to find and I can't recommend a new one, though I can recommend some old ones.

Hole size is a major design issue with these.  If sprayers with small holes are available new at all, they will be the exception.  Small holes mean finer streams of water, which equals less trauma to seedlings and seedbeds as well as the fragile soil surface.  High volume and gentle delivery are hard to find in one package.  The older fan sprayers seem to have small holes for the most part.  THE ROSS is the brand I've used most and they are not that uncommon to run into.  THE ROSS #10 shown in this video was patented in 1924.  There are at least two models I can recommend, the #10 and #11. Both have similar holes, but different construction.  Examine old ones for leaks at any soldered or folded seams.  The cast metal body of the #11 can corrode through in some cases, so examine them closely as well.

Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

Three good fan sprayers.  THE ROSSes #'s 10 and 11 and a no name short brass one that is every bit as functional, if a little less durable.

 

A common design feature in new models is a valve in the handle of the sprayer.  I think that is a mistake.  The valve will fail eventually and can't be replaced.  From my experience with hose shut off valves, it will probably fail rather sooner than later.  Most people will want a hose shut off valve on the end of a hose anyway for switching appliances and such without going back to shut off the valve at the spigot.  I have one on the end of every hose, which makes a valve in the sprayer body not only an unnecessary failure waiting to happen, but it's also an unneeded restriction in the line.

Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

Most hoses should have a shut off valve already.  Putting a valve on the sprayer is usually going to be a disadvantage, let a lone redundant.

The vintage ones can be found on ebay or etsy.  Etsy seems to have quite a few, but I had to search "garden sprinkler" and sort through a bunch of results to find them.  They are not super cheap, but given what is usually available on the market now, it might be worth spending 10.00 to 15.00 on a vintage one.  I've found quite a few of them over the years at flea markets and such, but most of mine came from one single estate sale where I found a pile of them.  Lucky me :)  I have excellent thrift store/yardsale/flea market juju though.  Just ask my mom, or my pile of all clad cookware.

My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.

My second hand juju is strong.  Pray to the flea market gods all you want, some of us are just born with it.


A Tale of Three Watering Cans and a Hose Recommendation

I got two videos on watering for ya today.  One is about three quality built watering cans and watering can design.  The other one is recommending the Sears Craftsman rubber hoses on sale now and seemingly every spring at 20.00 for 50 feet.  My friend Mark Albert recommended them saying they are good for 30 years (also confirmed by a youtube viewer).  I've been using them for a few years and plan to keep buying them.   I haven't met a plastic hose that will last yet and If there is one I'll bet it's not this cheap.  If they aren't on sale in the actual store, you can ask for the online price with free delivery and they'll let you walk out with them for 19.99 each.  That's all you really need to know, so you don't even have to watch the video!

Final Selections are in For the Bulgarian Giant Leek Seed Saving Project

I recently went through and picked the final winners in my seed leek trial.  This time I went for some short stout ones, but all were still probably at least 18 inches long.  I think size and up to almost 3 inches diameter are probably a little more practical than the really tall and somewhat more slender ones.  the leeks will now flower in their new home and seed should be ready by fall.

Permanent Soil Improvement Experiments w/ Biochar Continue, Catch Pit for Artichokes

This is the fourth such experiment in long term deep soil modification using a simple system of trenches or pits.  For now I'm using the term catch pit.  The basic concept is a hole where you toss in stuff that builds soil and feeds plants, backfilling with charcoal and dirt as you go.  It's cool.  Everyone should do it so we can find out how well it works.  I think default thinking these days is to let someone else prove things first, but I think that is backwards and everyone's context is different anyway.  I'm not just interested in how the finished soil performs, but how it ends up fitting into people's lives.  To me that part is just as interesting.  A society that feels an obligation not to waste soil nutrients and to build soil for the future is the one I'd like to live in, so that's what I'm doing.  I don't really know about the state of the rest of the world, but I think America would benefit from picking up a shovel more often and investing in an uncertain future.

Of Tan Oak Leaves and Rural Myths, Will They Poison Your Garden?

Here is a look at my first fruit from an intentionally cross pollinated apple seedling!

Now onto today's business.  I've been told for years that you can't use tan oak leaves on a garden because they are toxic.  I've used tons of them for over 10 years without observing any related problems.  This video is about that assertion and the odd tendency for people to latch onto and propagate negative information.

Much Improved Growth of Leeks in Biochar Test Bed

About three years back I set up my first biochar test bed.  I divided the bed into three sections of 10% charcoal, 5% charcoal and 0% charcoal.  The sections were all treated the same, except the 0% section was amended with a small amount of wood ash in an attempt to approximate the amount that would have been added incidentally with the charcoal.  I even dug the 0% section exactly the same as the 5 and 10% sections.

The first year the char sections of the bed performed poorly.  Lettuce failed to thrive in the char sections, but did fine in the 0% section because the charcoal sapped the soil of nitrogen and who knows what else.  several growing seasons later though, it's a different story.  I forgot to mention in my leek planting video that the bed I used was this test bed.  now that the leeks are established and growing, there is an obvious difference in the three sections with the 10% doing the best and 0% by far the worst.  While there could be some other factors involved, it's pretty clear that the charcoal is having a very positive effect.  I would say that the 10% section could be doing as much as 600% better than the 0% section.  The weeds look a lot happier too.

What the exact effect is, I don't know, and while I'd like to know, I don't necessarily need to.  It is just working and that is the important thing.  It seems that the charcoal amended sections are making better use of whatever resources are put on them.  We'll see how the leeks progress through the season.

What I learned from this experiment so far is that 10% is better than 5% and 10 inches deep makes a difference.  I'd like to put in a similar experiment with 10%, 15% and 20%.  I'd also like to do sections of a bed at a constant percentage, but one dug to 2 feet and one dug to only 12 inches.  And there are many more experiments I could do.  Each bed I install will be a different test of some kind.  It is easy enough to set them up and I could potentially learn from them for years.  I hope some of you out there will start collecting or making charcoal and setting up your own experiments.  If you already are, leave a comment and tell us about it.

 

A Few Juicy Accounts of Biochar Use in 19th Century N. America and Europe

Some of you that have been around a while will remember a research piece I did on the use of charcoal as a soil amendment in 19th century America and Europe.  I'm always trying to push this information out there, so In this video I read a few of the more interesting passages, which I'll also paste in as text below if you would rather read them..  This is the information that really compelled me to jump into biochar experimentation with both feet.  I have quite a few experiments installed now and quite a few more I'd like to do as soon as possible.  I have accumulated a pretty good pile of charcoal, so now it's mostly a matter of some planning and digging.  Also down the page is a video that I published last Wednesday of peeling a tan oak stump with a few comments about the historic tan bark industry here in California.

 


 

Every observing farmer who has been accustomed to raise wheat cannot have failed to notice the luxuriant growth of cereal grain round about the places where charcoal has been burned, even more than thirty or forty years ago. The growing stems of wheat that are produced on such old charcoal-beds are seldom affected with rust; and besides this, the straw is always much stiffer than that which grows where there is not a dressing of charcoal.

& from the same publication

The field was sown with barley in the spring previous ; yield small (eighteen bushels per acre). I turned in the stubble the last week in August, harrowed it over, then took about eighteen bushels charcoal crushed fine, and top-dressed a strip through the middle of the acre over about one-third of its length; I then sowed on my wheat broadcast and harrowed it over twice. The result was, the heads when ripe were at least twice as long as where no coal was put on. I harvested all together; the yield was forty-three bushels. I think by applying about fifty bushels of coal to the acre as a top-dressing, made fine by grinding in a common bark mill, it would increase the yield at least four hundred per cent., if the soil is poor.

The American wheat culturist: 1868

 


 

By keeping the surface of the earth well stirred, no crops appear to suffer by drought that are manured by charrings, but continue in the most vigorous health throughout the season, never suffering materially by either drought or moisture”.

“A Dictionary Of Modern Gardening” 1847

 


 

In the midst of the disastrous drouth of last summer, while crossing a field in Moriah, occupied by Mr. Richmond, in pursuit of some Durham cattle I wished to examine, I observed a lot with its surface deeply and singularly blackened. -Upon inspection I found it thickly strewn with pulverized charcoal. The field presented a rich verdure, strongly contrasting with the parched and blighted aspect of the adjacent country.
The following detail of this experiment, supplied at my request, attests the value of this material as a fertilizing principle. “The soil is loamy. The charcoal was applied on four acres of dry land, and one acre of moist soil, by top-dressing. The amount used was about one thousand bushels to the acre, spread on so as to make the surface look black, but not to incumber or obstruct vegetation. It was applied in September and October, 1850, at an expense by contract, of forty dollars. It was procured at a furnace, from a mass of pulverised charcoal left as useless, and was drawn one mile and a half. The effect was immediate. The grass freshened, and continued green and luxuriant after the surrounding fields were blackened by the early frosts. Although the last season had been so unfavorable for vegetation, Mr. Richmond realized one-third more than the ordinary yield of hay, and sufficient to repay the whole outlay. He thinks that he cut nearly double the quantity of grass upon this lot, that he did upon any similar meadow on his farm, and that the quantity of the hay is improved.”

 

“I began the use of it in the year 1846, and first employed it as a top-dressing on a strong clay soil, which was plowed in the fall of 1845. I spread on about fifteen wagon loads of the dust to the acre, after the wheat had been sowed and harrowed one way. I was surprised to find my crop a heavy one, compared with my neighbor’s, raised on the same kind of land. The wheat was of better quality and yielded four or five bushels extra to the acre. I have since used it on similar land, sometimes mixed with barn-yard manure, and sometimes alone, but always as a top-dressing, usually on land seeded for meadow. ‘ The results were always the most favorable. I find my land, thus seeded, produces more than an average crop of hay and always of the finest quality.
“I have also used the dust on loamy and interval land, with the potato crop. During the series of years in which the rot almost ruined the potato crop, I scarcely lost any potatoes from that cause, and supposed it was owing to the coal dust I used. My manner has been to drop the seed and cover it with a small shovel-full of the dust, and then cover with earth. In this way I have used all the coal dust I have been able to save from the coal consumed in a forge of five fires, and which amounts to about 250 loads per year.”
In the colder regions of the Adirondacks, charcoal dust has been used with great advantage. The note of Mr. Ralph presents the experiment in tho following language: “As a top-dressing for meadows, charcoal dust and the accumulation of ashes and burnt earth left on old charcoal pit bottoms have been used here with remarkable results, and I judge from the trials which have been made, that this application has added at least one-third to the hay crop, where it has been used. It was remarked during the past very dry season, when vegetation was almost burnt up by the long continued drouth, that those fields which had been dressed with this substance were easily distinguished by the rich green color of their herbage.”

The cultivator, 1853


 

“NEW” FERTILIZER FOR GRAPES.  Our impression is that the benefit to be derived from the use of chopped up cuttings has been greatly over-rated. We tried the plan once, selecting out the smaller shoots and cutting them up with a straw cutter, while the larger we cut with a small hatchet. We applied the prunings of ten vines to the roots of five, and then we invested the amount which we thought we ought to have for our labor, in charcoal which we applied to the remaining five. We thought the charcoal produced the best results.
Since that time we have disposed of our prunings of all kinds by converting them into charcoal and at the same time burning with them a quantity of heavy clay. The greatest difficulty is to make the heap sufficiently compact to allow it to be covered conveniently. This we accomplish by means of a few stout hooked stakes. After all the rubbish from the fall, winter and spring prunings, has been collected together, we lay a few stout branches or poles on the top. These poles are then pegged down by means of two or three hooked sticks applied to each pole, and in this way the mass is rendered so compact that it is easily covered with sods and similar matter. The heap after being kindled is allowed to smoulder away, more earth being thrown on as the fire progresses. Several days generally elapse before the work is finished,
but at the end of that time we find ourselves in possession of several tons of material of the very best kind for fertilizing vines or any kind of fruit trees. It consists of a mixture of ashes, charcoal and burned clay, and our present opinion Is that there are no better fertilizers for fruit trees, and especially grape vines and peach trees, than just these three articles.

Country gentleman, Volume 33
 1869


 

his trial on a field of four acres with potatoes in 1847, was very remarkable. They were planted in ridges, or, as termed here, ‘lazy beds;’ one-half the field manured with farm-yard manure, the other with peat charcoal only, about a handful thrown on each seed. The result was more than a double crop from the charcoal; and he informed me that he was himself so astonished at the fact, that he requested Lord Donegal to see and vouch it. At my suggestion he planted oats the next year On the whole field without any further manure, and he assured me the increase on that portion manured with charcoal was nearly in the same, ratio as the potatoes.  In February last he planted a large field in drills, manured as usual, not then having charcoal; but in. April he got some, and, before the potatoes being earthed, he top-dressed a few yards at the foot of all the drills as far as he had charcoal. He authorizes me to state that the result was not only very nearly a double crop, but that there was not a taint in one of them, while all the rest of the field was more or less diseased.

I must tell you his reply to my inquiry as to his experience of its value for grass land. He said,1 Nothing can exceed it; and there is little or no labour in using it.’ My friend Fenwick swears by it, and he declares he will write his name on the best grass in the country with black charcoal, and it will be the greenest part of the field in ten days.”

The Plough, the loom, and the anvil, Volume 2
 1849

 




Comparative Merits of Charcoal and Barn-yard Manure as Fertilizers.

In the year 1788, my father purchased and removed upon the tract of land in Hanover township, Morris county, N. J. The land, owing to the bad system of cultivation then prevailing, was completely exhausted, and the buildings and fences in a state of dilapidation. The foundation of the barn was buried several feet beneath a pile of manure, the accumulation of years: little or none ever having been removed upon the lands. Even the cellar, beneath the farm-house, was half filled with the dung of sheep and other animals, which had been sheltered in it. The former occupant of the farm had abandoned it on account of its supposed sterility

The barn, before referred to, was removed to another situation soon after its foundation was uncovered, by the removal of the manure to the exhausted fields; and its site,
owing to the new arrangements of the farm, became the centre of one of its enclosures. During the seventeen years which I afterwards remained upon the farm, the spot could easily be found by the luxuriousness of the grass, or other crops growing thereon; though the abatement in its fertility was evident and rapid. On revisiting the neighbourhood in the autumn of 1817, I carefully examined the corn crops then standing upon the spot, and was unable to discover the slightest difference in the growth or product, upon that and other parts of the field. This was about twenty-eight years after the removal of the barn.
Upon the same farm and upon soil every way inferior, were the remains of several pit-bottoms, where charcoal had been burned before the recollection of any person now in the vicinity, and most probably, judging from appearances, between the years 1760-70. These pit-bottoms were always clothed, when in pasture, with a luxuriant covering of grass, and when brought under tillage, with heavy crops of grain. Eleven years ago I pointed out these facts to the present occupant, and his observations since, coincide with my own, previously made; that they retain their fertility, very little impaired, a period probably of about seventy or eighty, certainly not less than sixty-five or seventy years.
Here then is an excellent opportunity of observing the comparative value of charcoal and barn-yard manures, as a fertilizer of lands. The former has not, after at least sixty or seventy years exposure, exhausted its powers of production, while the latter lost its influence entirely in twenty-eight years, and most probably in much less time.
I have since had many opportunities of’ observing the effects of charcoal left in pitbottoms, upon vegetation, one of which only,. I will relate. The last season, in the northern part of Ohio, was one of uncommon frost and drought . In May, the wheat fields, when promising a luxuriant crop, were cut off by frost;—especially in the valleys, and very much injured in the high lands—which was succeeded by the most severe drought ever experienced in the West. The moiety which escaped both these scourges, was afterwards very much injured by rust. Near the village of Canton, upon a farm on high ground, which had been mostly cleared of its timber by its conversion into charcoal, it was observed that upon the old pit-bottoms, the wheat grew very luxuriantly—was clear of rust—and had ripened plump in the berry; while in the adjacent parts of the field it was short in growth, the stem blackened with rust, and the berry light and shriveled..

The Farmers’ cabinet, and American herd-book, Volume 11 1847

 


 

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
For two years past I have used some fifty loads each season of refuse charcoal, and being fully convinced that it pays, I wish to recommend it to my brother farmers. I have tried it on grass, corn and potatoes—hare tried it alone and in the compost heap, and in all situations it has proved faithful to its trust. As a top dressing for grass, it gives a green color and luxuriant growth.. Applied to half an acre of early potatoes the last summer, the yield was 75 bushels of as fine healthy potatoes as could be desired, that sold readily for one dollar per bushel, and yielded the best profit of anything raised on the farm.

..It absorbs from the air those gasses offensive to the nostrils, but the main food of plants. And this it will do, not once only, or for one season, but very possibly for a century. Where an old coal-pit has been burnt, the land never seems to wear out, and the first settlers point to the coal bottoms that are fifty years old, still by their exuberant vegetation marking well the spot where the wood was converted into coal.

The New Jersey Farmer Vol. II, No. 1, September 1856

 



CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
It will be recollected by our readers, that in our last two volumes we have published several able papers upon the virtues of charcoal as a fertilizer of the soil, and of its supposed efficacy in the preservation of wheat from rust. One of these papers, by Judge Hepburn, particularly points out cases in which lands which had been dressed by charcoal had grown wheat free from rust, when wheat grown on other lands, contiguous, which had not been so treated, had suffered greatly from that cause. We allude to these circumstances now, with a view of introducing the subjoined paragraph to the notice of our readers ; by which it will be seen, that in France the same virtues have been ascribed to charcoal as in our own country. 

We have been astonished at the enormous increase of the wheat crop in France within the last eight or ten years, and have devoted some attention to the investigation of the subject. It appears that charcoal—an article that can be obtained here for a tithe of its cost in France—has been extensively used, and with marked effect, in fertilizing the wheat lands in that kingdom. A correspondent of the New Farmers’ Journal, an English print, states that during a sojourn in one of the central departments of France he learned that some of the most productive farms were originally very sterile; but that for a number of years their proprietors had given them a light dressing of charcoal, which had resulted in a large yield of wheat of excellent quality. Since his return to England he has tried the experiment upon his own lands with the same happy effect. The charcoal should be well pulverized, and sown like lime, after a rain or in a still, damp day. Even in England, the writer says, “the expense is a mere trifle, in comparison with the permanent improvement effected, which on grass is truly wonderful.”— He states one other very important result from its liberal use. “I am quite satisfied that by using charcoal in the way described rust in wheat will be entirely prevented; for I have found in two adjoining fields, one of which was coaled and the other manured with farm-yard dung, the latter was greatly injured by rust, while that growing in the other was perfectly free from it.”—Buffalo Commercial Advertiser.

Southern planter, Volume 3 1843

 


 

ln striking cuttinps or potting plants, fine charcoal is a valuable substitute for sand, plants rooting in it with great certainty. Plants will flourish in powdered charcoal alone with considerable vigor, and, added to the other materials used in potting, it is found greatly to promote healthy growth in most plants.)

Fruit recorder and cottage gardener 1875

 


 

there are two features connected with its use which have always commended it to my favor. One is its mechanical effects upon the soil, rendering it more open and friable, and consequently more easily worked, and more open to the action of the atmosphere. The other is the warming effect produced where it is applied in any considerable quantity. A dark soil, we all know, has the power to a greater extent of absorbing heat than a light-colored one. This, in many locations, is a great desideratum. Many plants which it is desirable to grow, but which, for the want of a sufficiently warm soil, is next to impossible, may be cultivated by the use of charcoal....   In gardens, therefore, I esteem it highly, and have found it, for the purposes briefly named above, most excellent

The American farmer:  1861


 

Charcoal is undoubtedly a powerful fertilizer, and one of great duration, as is shown by the continued fertility of places where the aboriginal inhabitants of New England built their camp-fires more than two hundred years ago, while nothing peculiar to those spots can be discovered beyond the admixture of large quantities of charcoal and clam-shells with the soil.

Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents, Part 2 1855

 



Charcoal as a Fertilizer.
Mr. Bateham:—Sometime since there was an enquiry in your paper, respecting the use of charcoal as a fertilizer. I have one word to offer on the subject, which is this: some 15 or 20 years since, while owned by another individual, there was much coal burned on my farm while in the act of clearing the land. The land since that time has undergone much tilling, with little or no manure and not much rest until lately; and notwithstanding the time that has elapsed, the places where the coal pits were burned, produce the best of crops of every kind whenever the fields in which they are found are tilled. I am so much pleased with it that I wish my farm was covered I 3 or 4 inches thick with pulverized charcoal. I think the benefits of it could never be exhausted.

Ohio Cultivator vol. 3 No. 1 1847

 


 

CHARCOAL AS A FERTILIZER.
We have all noticed that where a charcoal pit has been burned the soil remains good for a long time. On the mountains of Berkshire we have seen white clover growing luxuriantly on the bed of an old charcoal pit, making an oasis in the desert of ferns and briars that surrounded it, and on inquiry we found that the coal pit must have been burned half a century ago. On digging into this soil we discovered the charcoal with little if any appearance of decay, and promising to do good service for half a century more.

Agriculture: twelve lectures on agricultural topics:1871

 


 

The first day of our trip, we saw the farmers engaged in burning stocks of millet, &c., in heaps of earth, as it is done in the manufacture of charcoal, in order, we supposed, to bring out their fertilizing properties. It a very likely then, that, in China, they have known the value of charcoal as a fertilizer long before us, It’s use for that purpose being among us of a recent date.

 

Commercial relations of the United States with foreign countries 1872

 


 

Refuse Charcoal.  The refuse charcoal, obtained from the rectifiers of spirits, from the Railroads where wood is burned in locomotives, from old charcoal beds, &c., is a very useful material in the garden. As a mulching about fruit trees I consider it very valuable. It keeps out frost in winter: it keeps the soil loose and moist in summer, and it does not afford a harbor for mice or insects. In the soil, it assists to promote moisture in a dry season;........ It is an excellent mulching for Strawberries, in winter or summer.

The Gardener’s monthly and horticultural advertiser, Volume 9  1867

 

10 Yellow Terrors!: dissolving myths and fears about using urine as a fertilizer:

"  Keep in mind that by simply saving your urine, you will divert the great majority of the plant nutrients leaving your body from entering the waste stream.  That is probably the most important and relevant nugget of truth to remember and spread, because it allows people to take a step now, rather than waiting for some hypothetical future when they will build, manage and use a composting toilet."

I've wanted to do a somewhat extensive post on using urine as a fertilizer, instead of just mentioning it all the time in other posts.  The main problem in adopting it's use seems to be a plethora of the fears and misconceptions surrounding the idea, so I figured that addressing those concerns would probably be the most useful approach.  What follows are largely my opinions, though some facts may be sprinkled in for entertainment purposes ;)  Don't take my word for anything without thinking it out or doing research yourself to find your own comfort level.  I'm just some guy out there that has access to the internet like everyone else, so why should you trust me?  This information is based on a mix of practical experience and book learning, but the practical experience is the important part.  I'm a keen observer and I like to push limits to see what happens.  I used urine as my primary fertilizer in the home garden for many years.  It's awesome.  The only reason I stopped is because I wanted to start doing market gardening and it seemed inappropriate, and no doubt illegal.

In reading forums and articles I have seen the same concerns and misinformation about using urine as a fertilizer expressed over and over again.  Gardeners like to get all worked up over things that are supposed to be bad for soil or plants, and then pass that common knowledge on without actually ever really putting it to the test.  The use of Urine seems to have many pieces of that kind of common knowledge attached.  I too believed and no doubt propagated some of the following items.  This is my small attempt to correct some misconceptions, quell some fears, and give people the confidence to move forward with using this awesome source of plant nutrition.  I would really like as many gardeners as possible to read this, because using urine makes so much sense for most of us. Hopefully we can evolve out of the dark ages here and move into the golden age of illumination.

#1  Neeeooooooooo !!!!!!!!  Fresh urine will burn plants, aged urine is better!: In my experience it is aged urine which is more likely to burn plants if anything.  If you put too much fresh urine on one spot plants will be stunted, burned or die, but it takes quite a bit to tip the scale from beneficial to destructive.  Peeing one whole bladder full on one little plant might negatively affect it, but in general fresh urine seems safer than aged, though that is just my general observation and the thing could stand to be tested in a way that would be definitive.  See also below...

Yep, that's some live action there.  This Oriental Poppy gets a golden shower, a whole bladder full even!  some time later, I'm sure at least a month, not only is it not dead, but it appears to be doing relatively better than the rest.  What about diluting it 10 times?  What about the salts?  What about the ammonia?  What about it?  In my general experience, breaking gardening dogmas developed by the dissemination of common knowledge goes pretty well.
Yep, that's some live action there. This Oriental Poppy gets a golden shower, a whole bladder full even! some time later, I'm sure at least a month, not only is it not dead, but it appears to be doing relatively better than the rest. What about diluting it 10 times? What about the salts? What about the ammonia? What about it? In my general experience, breaking gardening dogmas developed by the dissemination of common knowledge goes pretty well.

#2  OMFG!! !!    !!!! Aged urine will burn plants, urine must be used fresh!:  If I’m right, aged urine may indeed be more likely to burn plants, but it definitely can be used when diluted with water.  I have no real substantive proof of this, but aged urine seems to contain "hotter" compounds than fresh urine.  In particular, I suspect this is due to the break down of complex proteins into ammonia, which may increase the potential for leaf and root burning.  I dilute aged urine at least 2 to 1 water to urine apply to wet soil followed by watering in.  Using too much at once can still burn plants but that's okay, because frequent small applications at intervals of 1 to 4 weeks is actually a better approach when using soluble fertilizers than putting it on all at once.  I have used mostly aged urine because that's just how it worked out.  Even if plants are burned, it is not generally fatal.  Most will recover and grow on to be reasonably healthy.  Just flush them with a lot of water and don't feed for a while.  No reason to get your boxers all in a bunch.

(note:  I actually did a test once upon a time, wherein I took two pints of pee, one aged and smelling of ammonia, and one fresh from the source, and dumped them each in one small area on some lentil plants.  Neither suffered any visible damage, there was no noticeable difference between them.  My main point, aside from acting like a dick and making fun of your unfounded fears, is that both fresh and aged urine can be used to good effect! :D)

#3  DIDN'T YOU KNOW?! EVERYBODY KNOWS!!!! Urine must be diluted at least 10 times with water in order to be safe for plants!!!!  NEEOOOOO!, YOU’RE GOING TO KILL YOUR PLANTS!!!!!!!:  Soluble fertilizers, including urine and more especially aged urine, are best applied to wet soils and then watered in.  By doing so, you are essentially diluting the fertilizing solution a great deal, whatever it is.  Dilution of 1:10 urine to water for actual application from a watering can is very inconvenient.  With a 10:1 ratio I would have had to apply many more watering cans full compared to using the concentration of 1:2 which I customarily used!  Screw that, it took long enough at  1:2!  I sometimes even used a dilution of 1:1 especially with fresh urine, on plants that like lots of nitrogen just because its faster.  I've even used it straight.  It must be said though, that I've almost always "watered in" after application.  Watering in not only further dilutes the urine, it spreads it out in the soil and washes it down to the plants' roots.  Of course all of this is dependent on the strength of the urine.  I used to drink water like a fool and pee clear all day.  Now I've learned better than to flush out all my electrolytes, and my pee is a lot stronger than it used to be.  You can also put too much or too little on, whether it is diluted or not.  Bottom line for me is, I would never dilute more than 1:3, and always water in immediately.  Anything more seems like a waste of labor.

g
g

#4 No worries. Its all good.  Urine is sterile bro!:  Human urine can occasionally contain infectious organisms in spite of the oft stated "factoid" that "urine is sterile".  But ask a doctor or nurse if urine is safe, and they’ll often tell you that it’s sterile with little or no qualification.  If it was always sterile, there would be no such thing as urinary tract infections!  However, fresh urine is usually basically sterile, and safe enough for use.  I think most people have more important things to worry about than the minimal risk posed by using urine in the garden.  If final applications are kept away from edible parts for a at least a few weeks before use there seems little reason for concern when its "all in the family".  Ecosan recommends using urine fresh in family situations, claiming that other modes of transmission of disease are more likely to take place within the group than handling the urine during application, or when eating the food from the garden.  I would however be hesitant to let dirty smelly hippies who have been traveling in the tropics pee on my garden.  Rotting urine is probably somewhat more of a health risk than fresh actually, since it has bacteria growing away in there.  According to one study, urine stored for months (how many is temperature dependent) basically sterilizes itself by the production of ammonia, so that is an option to look at if you're concerned.  I basically view this issue the same way I view animal manures.  If I’m not afraid to shovel a bunch of homegrown chicken poo or other animal manure in various stages of yuckiness on my plants, then I’m not any more afraid to put on some rotten urine.  Possibly less.

urine sample
urine sample

#5 Ahhhhhhhggggrrrgggaaahhhh!!!!!! The salts in urine will kill your garden!:  I eat a lot of salt, no really.  I used my urine in large amounts on my gardens for about 10 years and stuff grew pretty damn well!  I can't say that one would never see any negative effects of the build up of various mineral salts in the soil.   Almost any garden can be bigger, better, more productive.  However, my garden kicked major ass powered by pee.  I must say though that I have free draining soil and a fairly high annual rainfall.  I might be more concerned if I had very low annual rainfall or a non-draining hardpan layer beneath the top soil.  In the case of the low rainfall, extra water can be channeled onto the garden to wash away excess salts during the rainy season, such as from the house gutters.  Either way, I would still encourage a person to at least set aside one bed and see what happens if it is fertilized regularly through several years with urine.  Try is first, and then panic if stuff starts dying or doing poorly.  Whatever happens soil salting can be rectified by soil flushing if the experiment is on a small scale.

#6 eewwww gross!  Urine will make my garden smell like a subway :(    Welp, it won't actually.  if you pee on concrete it just sits there and supports a bunch of anaerobic bacteria that convert nutrients in the pee into nasty smelling compounds.  If you pee on healthy soil there are gajillions of organisms just waiting to make use of those nutrients and break them down into useful fertilizing compounds.  The clay in the soil will also hold and neutralize most of the smelly stuff.  Peeing in hard lifeless environments like cities and bathrooms creates a problem that does not exist when peeing outside on the ground.  As long as one doesn't pee in the same spot over and over and over, there won't be any appreciable smell.  Urine collected in a bucket and then used in the garden can stink up the place pretty good, but that will dissipate quickly if the urine is watered in and shouldn't last beyond half a day, if that.  Using fresh urine and applying before it starts getting funky should create no appreciable smell.

Sterile human environments become quickly unsterile because there is no web of life consisting of trillions of organisms to make use of the resources that we generally consider to be waste.
Sterile human environments become quickly unsterile because there is no web of life consisting of trillions of organisms to make use of the resources that we generally consider to be waste.

#7 Urine has too many soluble chemical thingies and will kill the soil life!  SOLUBLE FERTILIZER BAAAAAAHD, ORGANIC MATTER GOOOOOOOD:  Maybe urine could kill a few good guys in the soil because it is too soluble and too hot, hell if I know, but consider the following.  What are you killing, maiming or breaking to pieces when soil is dug to mix in manure or other fertilizers?  Ultimately what benefits are you gaining by incurring heavy plant and root growth by using a kick ass soluble fertilizer?  What benefits are all those trace minerals, vitamins and nutrients ultimately doing for the life systems of your soil?  I really don't know what urine does or doesn't kill when applied to soil, if anything.  Maybe it would be good to have some science on this, but I doubt its out there and I don't feel like looking for it, and actually, it just doesn't matter, because when you use pee on your garden it’s going to grow like darned heck!   And what are the alternatives?  Lets consider the non-chemical alternatives:

Make compost instead: (maybe even with the urine)  Everyone with experience knows that producing tons of compost for a large garden is a big chore. The compost also has to be dug into the ground to be really effective as an actual main fertilizer, unless you can use tons of it.

Import animal manures:  (Which are usually full of urine by the way.)  Manure is often full of weed seeds including noxious weeds that you may not have yet.  Requires transportation.  Inelegant.  Dependent.  If you have manure from your own animals, hell yeah, way to go!  You get a gold star baby!

Buy a non soluble nitrogen source and use that: (blood meal, "feather" meal, alfalfa etc...).  Usually have to dig it in.  Dependent again.  Costs money.

#8  All the drugs and chemicals in my pee are going to kill the soil life!  Jeeze, maybe, but then aren't they also killing all your intestinal life too, and maybe you?  I was on heavy continuous doses of antibiotics for two and a half years some time back.  I did have some reservations about using that pee in the garden, but I did it anyway.  I couldn't tell that it hurt anything much.  Dunno, try to take less stuff I guess.

#9  You HAVE to keep a lid on the pee or use it FRESH or ALL the nitrogen will evaporate and be WASTED!  Geeeeezzz.... (eyeroll):  Ok, its probably true that some of the nitrogen can evaporate if the lid is left off of aging urine.  With a little mental gymnastics though, the loss  can be seen as a benefit.  Urine is not the most balanced fertilizer ever, being fairly top heavy on the nitrogen for some crops.  I have never found that to be a major problem in practical application, in fact, not at all, but it would be a theoretically more "balanced" fertilizer if it was lower in nitrogen.  I grow a large garden here and have never used even 1/3 of the pee generated.  Most of it was wasted or directly "applied" to a tree or something.  Unless you have big crops, lots of trees etc, you're likely to have more than you need, so letting a bit of nitrogen evaporate is just not that relevant.  you'll want to keep a lid on it anyway, because it smells, but don't lose any sleep over a little ammonia wafting away.

#10 If I pee on my plants my incipient ego force will wreak havoc on the living organism of my farm and turn my aura yellow!  Screw that!  As near as I can gather, around the neighborhood of the turn of the century, (the 19th/20th one) a mystic by the name of Rudolph Steiner, who claimed to have received, or perceived, intelligence from spiritual realms, gave a lecture or series of lectures on appropriate modes of agriculture that eventually became the bio-dynamic movement.  Apparently, the use of human wastes directly on food crops is somehow discouraged or prohibited in this system.  I'm not entirely clear on the reason, but you can try to interpret the quotes below.  The stuff reads to me like the ramblings of a religious nutcase.  Seriously, this stuff is really out there!  I have no more reason to believe the ramblings of Rudolph Steiner than I do anyone else making random assertions based on exclusive intelligence received from invisible realms.  Although I can't find anything specific to the use of urine on crops and don't want to waste any more of my precious hours here on earth looking for such a passage from Steiner (feel free to post in the comments if you know one, or want to attempt to enlighten us), there are some tasty quotes below which I hope will keep you from being discouraged by biodynamic religious dogma, because that’s all it is.  Biodynamics is quickly gaining popularity supported by the general public who think it sounds great, but have no concept of its roots or the actual practice.  It would totally suck if the spread of biodynamics keeps people from cycling human excrement back into food growing systems and puts us back at square one in regards to that practice, wherein we would be ruled by ignorance and superstition rather than benefiting from the kind of open inquiry and observation needed to solve the fertilizing problems we now face.

A position in opposition to biodynamics
 http://biodynamicshoax.wordpress.com/

Tasty Rudolph Steiner quotes: "Here you encounter a relationship which you will think most paradoxical, even absurd at first sight, and yet you cannot overlook it if you wish to understand the animal organisation — and the human too, for that matter. What is this brainy mass? It is simply an intestinal mass, carried to the very end. The premature brain deposit passes out through the intestines. As to its processes, the content of the intestines is decidedly akin to the brain-content. To speak grotesquely, I would say: That which spreads out through the brain is a highly advanced heap of manure! Grotesque as it may be, objectively speaking this is the truth. It is none other than the dung, which is transmuted — through its peculiar organic process into the noble matter of the brain, there to become the basis for Ego-development.
In man, as much as possible of the belly-manure is transformed into brain-manure, for man as you know carries his Ego down an to the Earth; in the animal, less. Therefore, in the animal, more remains behind in the belly-manure — and this is what we use for manuring. In animal manure, more Ego potentially remains. Just because the animal itself does not reach up to the Ego, more Ego remains there potentially. Hence, animal and human manure are altogether different things. Animal manure still contains the Ego-potentiality.
Picture to yourselves how we manure the plant. We bring the manure from outside to the plant root. That is to say, we bring Ego to the root of the plant. Let us draw the plant in its entirety (Diagram 19). Down here you have the root; up there, the unfolding leaves and blossoms. There, through the intercourse with air, astrality unfolds —the astral principle is added — whereas down here, through intercourse with the manure, the Ego-potentiality of the plant develops."

and...

"Silica came from the Cosmos into the Earth with a consistency similar to that of wax, and then it hardened. I described yesterday how pictures of the Cosmos arise in clairvoyant contemplation of this hard, rocklike substance. These pictures represent a more spiritual aspect of the
phenomenon that was once concretely perceptible as a kind of plant-form in the portions of this transparent, waxlike silica emerging from the Cosmos. Any observer of Nature will know that in the mineral kingdom today records of an earlier age are still to be found. When you look closely at certain stones you will see something like a plant-form within them. But in that distant past a quite unusual phenomenon was that pictures were projected from the Cosmos into the albuminous atmosphere within the waxlike substance, where the pictures were not only seen but were reproduced, photographed, as it were, within this substance.
And then there was a noteworthy development: the fluid albumen filled these pictures and they became still denser and harder; and finally they were no longer merely pictures. The silicious element fell away from them, dispersed into the atmosphere, and in the earliest Lemurian age there appeared gigantic,floating plant-formations which remind one of the algae of today. They were not rooted in the soil - indeed there was as yet no soil in which they could have taken root; they floated in the fluid albumen, drawing their own substance from it, permeating themselves with it. And not only so - they lit up, glimmered and then faded out; reappeared and again vanished. Their mutability was so great that this was possible.
Try to picture this vividly. It is a panorama very different from anything to be seen in our environment today. If a modern man could project himself into that far-off time, set up a little observation-hut and look out on that ancient world, the spectacle before him would be something like this: he would see a gigantic plant-formation somewhat like present-day algae or palms. It would not appear to grow out of the Earth in springtime and die away in the autumn, but would shoot up - in springtime, it is true, but the spring was then much shorter - and reach an enormous size; then it would vanish again in the fluid albuminous element. A clairvoyant observer would see the verdure appearing and then fading away. He would not speak of plants which cover the Earth but of plants appearing out of the Cosmos like airy clouds, condensing and then dissolving - it was a process of "greening", taking place in the albuminous atmosphere. Of the period which would correspond more or less to our summer, an observer would say that it was the time when the environment of the Earth became "green". But he would look upwards to the greening rather than downwards. In this way we can picture how the silicious element in the Earth's atmosphere penetrates into the Earth and draws to itself the plant-force from the Cosmos, in other words, how the plant kingdom comes down to the Earth from the Cosmos. In the period of which l am speaking, however, we must say of the plant world: it is something that comes into being and passes away again in the atmosphere."

and...

"Man is in this way seized by the forces which, coming out of the earth, determine him; so that, if we picture these several points, we get a remarkable line. This line still holds good for our epoch. The spot in Africa corresponds to those forces of the earth which imprint upon man the characteristics of early childhood. The spot in Asia corresponds to those which give man the characteristics of youth, and the ripest characteristics are imprinted on man by the corresponding spot in Europe. This is simply a law. As all persons in their different incarnations pass through the various races, therefore, although it may be argued that the European has the advantage over the black and the yellow races, we should not be prejudiced thereby."

Rudolph Steiner

No need to hold it against all those asians and blacks just because they are underdeveloped and have to be reincarnated more times to achieve the superiority that comes with whiteness.  Eyeroll.  I guess he didn't notice that the Chinese invented like 90% of everything while his ancestors were probably still living in huts.

Steiner.  Nutcase, or prophet, or both?  Rumor has it that he is immortal and deviously pursuing his dream of an eco-fascist state of superiour whities as a popular actor.
Steiner. Nutcase, or prophet, or both? Rumor has it that he is immortal and deviously pursuing his dream of an eco-fascist state of superiour whities as a popular actor.
Screen shot 2013-12-07 at 7.46.41 AM
Screen shot 2013-12-07 at 7.46.41 AM

Whether I'm exactly right about all the details or not, the fact remains that my gardens have kicked some major butt fueled by pee.  Fears abound, but the consequences of any complications that may arise are likely to be pretty minor rather than devastating.  And not only is peeing on your garden not gross, it totally sexy.  Just check out this gardening hottie at about 5 min 45 sec.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtbcYJPOVmM

So, pee in a bucket for a while, and do a few test plots to see for yourself.  For more reading on using urine as a fertilizer, see the literature made available by ecosan.  They’re on a mission to stop the waste, grossness and disease caused by the viewing of human manures as a waste product, aiming to bring them into use in the areas which need them most, and which also have the worst sanitation issues.  Ecosan rocks, and their urine diverting composting toilet system makes the popular humanure system look clunky, labor intensive and unsafe.  

Keep in mind that by simply saving your urine, you will divert the great majority of the plant nutrients leaving your body from entering the waste stream.That is probably the most important and relevant nugget of truth to remember and spread, because it allows people to take a step now, rather than waiting for some hypothetical future when they will build, manage and use a composting toilet.

Guidelines for the Safe Use of Urine and Faeces.... Ecosan.

Posted on December 8, 2013 and filed under Garden Stuff, Uncategorized.

FAVA BEANS!

I used to think of fava beans as a cover crop only and not as a food.  People said they were good to eat, and I tried, but I found them to taste awful.  Somewhere I ran across a short and vague reference to slipping them from their skins which lead me eventually to the fact that the outer skins are fairly inedible.  You would think that out of all the mentions I read and heard about fava beans in conversations, books and seed catalogues that someone would have mentioned as much?!?!  WTF?  Anyway, they are really good after all.

To start from scratch, fava beans are a sizable plant that has been cultivated for geons for both food and soil improvement.  It seems to be fairly common knowledge that a small percentage of people are deathly allergic to them, but I haven't met one yet.  Maybe most of them are dead.  Favas are a relatively robust plant that I've seen outgrow me in height under really fertile conditions.  The large pods contain large seeds that are edible.  The plant is in the legume family and, like most legumes, it has a relationship with some specialized soil dwelling bacteria that colonize it's roots forming small nodules.  The plant provides a home for the bacteria and the bacteria returns the favor by fixing nitrogen out of the atmosphere which the plant then gets to use in it's processes.  I'm anthropomorphizing here.  Honestly I don't know exactly how the relationship plays out in the long run, but there seems to be a mutual benefit.  Like many relationships though, there is probably some compromise along with the good times.  Anyway, legumes are high in protein at least partially due to this relationship.  That bacteria/plant relationship also makes favas a good cover crop as both the plant and the roots with their nodules are high in nitrogenous matter.  They can produce a lot of bulky material for the compost pile as well, which is important if you use a lot of compost, as I do.  They can also be turned under the soil if you dig your beds, which I don't.  Or, you can just cut or break them off at ground level leaving the nitrogen rich root nodules in the soil to decay gradually, which is the method that I favor.

Favas grow best in cool weather.  They can be planted as early as late summer here (Northern California coastal ranges @ 1800 ft) but won't flower and set pods until spring.  I plant them anywhere from late August through November.  Since I don't normally dig my beds, I'll sometimes plant them in among a crop that is already in the ground, but which will eventually be killed by frost or just pulled up as it starts to decline in cool weather- like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants etc...  The fava plants remain small through the winter, biding their time until a hint of spring hits the air, at which time they explode upward and put on a good number of fragrant flowers which are visited by copious numbers of buzzing things.  I would say in general that I have not found them to really actually cover the soil that well, so they are maybe not such a great soil protector.  Soil protection is very important here in the winter with our torrential rains.  An area with "heavier" rainfall might not have this problem because it simply drizzles lightly nonstop, but our version of heavy tends toward intense downpours which literally hammer the soil, followed by sometimes long breaks.  Your mileage may vary by climate, but an under story of smaller thicker legumes such as clover or vetch can help provide more soil cover... I find that weeds work pretty well too:)  The plants lodge easily which, if you are unfamiliar with the term, means to fall over in the rain, wind, snow... actually, they will sometimes pretty much fall over without provocation, though they will fall over sooner and more definitively in inclement weather.  For this reason I really like to stake the plants up.  It's not so much that the beans mind falling over, they will continue growing and making pods, it's more that they fall into the paths making it hard to access adjoining beds and to harvest the beans.  Here we put one stake on each corner of the bed and then a stake every 4 feet or so along the bed edges.  Then a string is wrapped around the outside every foot or so.  Wrap the string once around each pole as you go around.  This is one of those jobs thats easy to ignore, but which I have decided is well worth the relatively small effort involved when you have to access beds over and over through the spring season.  That sentiment is more pronounced this year as our timing was off and all the favas lodged in a snow.  Once it happens, you can't really put them back, so we've had to live with the mess.

If the tops are harvested early for compost or mulch when one can maximize the amount of nitrogen left in the soil; but, then you don't get any beans.  I'm not saying that early harvest is a bad idea, but I rarely do it as it doesn't work into my scheme of things so well.  I've read that you're supposed to cut them while flowering and before starting to set beans in order to leave the greatest amount of nitrogen in the soil.  Sometimes I harvest some of the beds early, but I try to let as many of them seed out as possible because a lot of them are consumed in our kitchen both in season and out of season.  Also, I don't feel that I have to maximize nitrogen in the soil that way.  I see it as just another option that I can choose from when planning and harvesting.  And maybe maximizing nitrogen in the soil that way isn't always the best choice.  Where does all that nitrogen in the root nodules go?  Into the tops and pods and beans of course.  I only eat the actual inside of the bean seed and the rest (which is a lot!)makes it's way to the compost.  I lose some nitrogen there in the compost to the processes therein, but some of it makes it through.  Besides, the nitrogen I do eat mostly gets peed out and that also makes great high nitrogen fertilizer.  Besides, the longer the tops grow the more biomass they produce and I need lot's of biomass for composting.  In the process of growing things in the garden, and the processes of life in general, there is a net gain.  That's how we got this far with our fertile soils and abundance and diversity of life.  My personal observation has led me to think that it doesn't seem to be necessary to calculate everything down to a gnats ass in order to achieve good yields; yields that are in acceptable proportions to the time and energy I have to put into the system.  So I just let them go to seed and make food for me if they aren't in the way of planting something I consider more important.  It is around mid June here right now and the beans are starting to come in in large quantities right now.  This is a late year though.  Most of the beans will be harvested over the next 2 weeks before we start pulling them to plant some vigorous winter squash starts... also late, but 3 months should be enough for most of them and later maturing winter squash will keep that much longer through the winter.

When pulling the tops to clear the beds the plants are simply cut or snapped off low down near the ground and the roots left in place.  If a root mass is in my way during transplanting of the next crop it is pulled and thrown in the compost.  By the end of the season they are usually pretty well rotted away.  I do feel though that the best use of the roots is to leave them in the ground to rot whenever possible, more especially since I don't dig beds and it is important to get organic material into the soil.  Worms pull some down and more gets sifted in during incidental digging like transplanting and root harvest, but roots left in the soil may be the largest contributer.

There are many different strains of Favas out there some of which are alleged to be the more gourmet varieties, but not so many are available through standard sources.  I haven't yet met one on my plate that I didn't like.  Bell beans look like the same thing, but are much smaller.  They aren't so good for eating, so I plant only favas.  At this point I plant whatever I can get that's cheap or free and I figure I'll start selecting a sort of land race for size, flavor, hardiness and so on.  Hardiness is an issue  .I've had them die off in a cold winter, which is not really all that cold here- above 15 degrees fahrenheit.  Not all of them died, but some of the fancy and allegedly gourmet, varieties keeled over.  You'll have to do you own research on that stuff, I'm going for the survival of the fittest plan.  I plant the seeds on about 8 inch centers in a grid pattern so that each row is staggered from the next, like laying bricks.  On this planting plan, the beans end up planted 8 inches apart in every direction. I don't measure the spacing, but just eyeball it and push them in quickly... remember, I have other things to do.  Pushed in an inch or more deep they usually sprout up and grow pretty well.

When favas grow well, which they usually do, they produce copious quantities of beans. The beans can be harvested at various levels of maturity.  Some israeli guys told me to eat them when very young with the skins on.  I tried it.  No thanks.  Firstly, there is very little to them when they are that small so I'd rather let them grow.  Also, they taste bad, but there's no accounting for taste so your mileage may vary.  Different varieties vary in size, but I'm usually not harvesting till the beans are at least above dime sized.  There does seem to be an ideal level of maturity where they are not too starchy, nor too underdeveloped.  Again, that is a judgement call, so your taste may indicate otherwise.  Besides, sometimes these things are perhaps more a failure of creativity or knowledge on the the cooks behalf and less the fault of the vegetable.  I go by the look of the pod as well as the feel of the beans inside.  Look for pods that have well developed lumps and squeeze them to check for size.  Sometimes the lump is deceptive- hiding more air than bean.... other times the lump looks big, and is full, but the beans are still small and underdeveloped.  The lowest beans on the stalk tend to mature earliest, with the rest ripening consecutively up the stalk.

There are specific ways that I remove the beans from the pods and then the inside of the bean from it's skin.  I'm certainly open to finding a better way, but this method is pretty fast.  I not too long ago found myself joining a table of people who were nearing the bottom of an enormous pile of fava beans.  I was ripping through them with my superior shelling technique, but only one person seemed to notice and make any effort to imitate it which, by the way, isn't difficult.  I made some paltry effort to clue them in, but was drowned out by small talk and complaints about the quantity that had to be processed cloaked in encouragements that we were almost at the end of the pile.  Anymore I find myself less willing to put effort in that sort of direction as I'm all too often actually mocked for even stooping to paying attention to such a thing as efficiency in work.  I think that points out something that is fundamentally wrong with the society I live in, but I guess some people think it points out something that is fundamentally wrong with me.  I'll admit I'm over the top at times by most people's standards since I like to improve things, but it works for me.  People seem often more inclined toward, or I guess place more value on, symbolic acts than they do on actual results, but when work becomes more of a symbolic act than an effort to accomplish a goal, then we have become- lame.  I think that's material for another blog.  For me in my context, I have a lot of things I want to do, most of which I will never get to because I only have so much time and energy.  One of those things is to grow and process a sizable quantity of my food.  It's not that I don't enjoy growing and processing food, but I don't want to do it all the time and the truth is that the longer each thing takes the less time I have for other things that I want to do.  Then, too, the more I grow and process the less I buy, and I like that.  Investing some thought and experimentation in how to process food efficiently (and I think this can be a parable for other work) can yield great savings in time and energy leaving more time for growing more food, engaging in other useful activities, partying, going to thrift stores, writing blogs &c.  And it's not that it costs me more effort when I'm doing it, it costs much less effort!.. which is my whole point.  It does take some very small investment, but the unwillingness to invest that attention or, maybe more so, the lack of awareness that it behooves people to make that effort at all, is what puzzles me to no end.  If you have a better way, please out with it, I'm all eyes.

To remove beans from the pods:  Using both hands, grasp the pod on either side of a bean lump.  The thumbs go on the back of the bean a little as you simultaneously twist and squeeze the pod to break it open and push outward away from you.  The breaking outward with a twist opens the pod and the squeeze pops the bean out into a bowl in front of you.  pop, pop, pop, pop, pop and the shell is dropped in the compost bucket.  So elegant, so fast, so efficient... sigh....

To remove the skins:  grab each bean with the three digits of one hand (thumb, fore and middle).  with the other hand, nick the end of the skin with your thumbnail while simultaneously squeezing the bean with the holding hand.  The tearing of the skin is important.  It should proceed the squeeze, but just barely.  With practice, it almost blurs into one smooth motion.  It isn't necessary to tear it open, usually a small nick will suffice.

To freeze, the shelled beans should be blanched.  Drop them In boiling water for 5 minutes and then cool in cold water.  Drain well and freeze in the skins or out.  I like to freeze them in the skins as I think it protects the bean.  I like to lay them out on a towel for a little while if I have room.  Doing so dries them off a bit which means less ice in the bag.  I don't think it's necessary to dry them all the way though.  Pack into ziplock bags and toss in the freezer.  To use them: drop some into boiling water and when fully thawed, pip them before cooking further.

The beans can be cooked all the way in the skins and then pipped.  They are a good snack when cooked in salted water and squeezed out into the mouth, much like edamame (sp?).  Great for a before dinner appetizer while dinner is being cooked.  Cook them until just done or the skins will make them taste bitter and funky.

If I'm going to cook the beans other than for out of hand snacking, I will tend to cook them just a little, pip them and then cook them further.  If the beans are cooked too long in the skins, the color goes off, the water turns a dingy shade and a peculiar bitterness infuses the beans.  Did I make that sound bad?  Good, because it sucks.  If the beans are more mature and starchy it takes longer to cook them making this phenomenon more relevant.

Plain favas of a medium maturity, that is a little starchy, but still fine grained and tender, cooked in water with just the right amount of salt and coated in butter with a sprinkling of black pepper are pretty damn good.  Sorry to share too much, but I'm salivating.  Maybe we could add a little bit of crushed bacon.  As with pasta, I would recommend using a lot of salt in the water, how much?  a bunch.  you might lose more nutrients in salted water, but in terms of flavor it's hard to beat infusing the beans with salt rather than just putting salt on the outside after they are done.  The ideal amount of salt would leave the beans adequately salted without any further addition, but I can't tell you how much that is as I'm attempting to cultivate a feel for quantities in such matters by rarely measuring anything.  I think it's working.... I think.

Another good way to cook the pipped beans is by wet sauteing.  I just put a lid on the saute pan and use a low-ish heat maybe drizzling a bit of moisture in once in a while.  Some butter, a little ham, some mushrooms and onions.....

Overcooked, the beans will fall apart, but they are quite good smashed with some butter or fine olive oil and salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of paprika.  They also occasionally make it into soups.  They are very good in minestrone, though if over cooked they will dissolve and cloud the broth.  That tendency could probably be used to advantage in some other soup but, in my considerable opinion, it ruins most soups.  Honestly I feel that I've just scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways to use fava beans and am looking forward to exploring further.

I was just recently clued in that the tips and flowers are also good to eat.  I was hesitant to try them as I had come to view the whole plant exclusive of the inside of the seeds as being nasty and inedible.  I was talked into sampling a tip by a professional cook and wasn't unfavorably impressed.  That just goes to show... something.    I'm still a little hesitant I guess, but plan to explore that option as it seems like the tips could be a valuable addition to winter and spring table fare.

When shelling, you can save seeds that are more mature to dry for re-seeding the following year.  The seeds tend to be expensive and you can use a lot in a big garden.  I can get bulk seed from my local farm supply that is pretty cheap, but I try to save some too.  The seeds rare usually mature enough to dry for a seed crop if they are big, the small umbilical part is released, they feel on the harder side and are starting to turn more yellow than green  I've dried them that way for a while and it seems to work, but I'm not really paying that close attention.  Dry thoroughly in an airy, but not too hot environment before storing in a jar or paper bag in a cool dry place till next season.  If you are a fava eater, then you are probably going to want to save the largest beans.  Good luck, we're all counting on you!

Posted on June 25, 2010 and filed under Garden Stuff, Uncategorized.