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Behind the Scenes: Fall and Winter Garden Prep

In this week’s Optimistic Gardener, I’m signing off for the 2020 Victory Garden season and sharing tips for getting your fall and winter garden prepped. We cover annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs, vegetables, herbs, mulch, grass, and houseplants. Shazam! It’s a lot.

Because the article was lengthy, I didn’t include any links for more information–so here you go.

Honeybees, near and far

We were in London in February, getting home about two weeks before the world shut down for COVID-19, and discovered Fortnum & Mason. We’re not typically souvenir kind of people, but I bought tea and biscuits for everyone in our family. Because the Queen. But I’m on their mailing list now because when it’s safe to travel again, I’d like to go back to England. Today’s newsletter introduces readers to the honeybee hives at Picadilly, on the roof of the F&M building. It made me think of Mr. Sickles and his honeybees, across the pond here in North Carolina.

Fall garden prep: mulch

Over the weekend we finished spreading our first truckload of shredded hardwood mulch from Country Farm & Home. We’ve joined the ranks of so many gardeners I interviewed this summer who were fans. My husband is a fan of their beekeeping and chicken sections, and we bought some really healthy fruit trees a couple weeks ago. This mulch validates our decision to shift gears to a local garden shop. But back to the spreading … I think we’ll need at least two more loads to cover all of our garden beds. Cross your fingers that we won’t need four (my back will thank you)!

Microgreen harvest

Yesterday I harvested our first batch of arugula microgreens. They are D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. But they are a pain in the ass to harvest. Tiny trims with sharp harvest scissors, just a couple shoots at a time. I have a new-found respect for microgreen farmers, and could totally get behind the microgreen union raising the prices for these tasty superfoods. The process made me happy that our family are subsistence farmers and the community-at-large isn’t relying on me for microgreens. But like I said: tasty. I can feel their superpowers surging through me now. So thank a farmer, and find a microgreen farmer in your community to support. You’ll both be happy.

Behind the Scenes: Microgreens

Last week I caught up with Tenita Solanto, Navy veteran, farmer, and all around badass. She owns Green Panda Farms in Siler City, where she and her wife live, and is a fount of knowledge on a gigantic subject: microgreens.

According to the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, “As the World’s population grows at an unprecedented rate, food systems must be revised to provide adequate nutrition while minimizing environmental impacts.” It goes on to state that “in the US, food production utilizes 50% of land and is responsible for 80% of total freshwater consumption.” Smart farming is the way to go, and microgreens are a smart solution.

You can read about Tenita’s journey from technology and electronics to farming in this week’s Chatham News & Record. She’s been and done a lot of things on her life’s journey, but she says with great humor, “I consider where I am now a success. Maybe not a financial success, but me as a person and how much more growth and development I’ve had, and my connection with the community.”

But I wanted to give a little more background on microgreens here.

Runner’s World has this easy explanation: microgreens are vegetables and herbs that haven’t yet matured—the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. “Tiny as they are, these young plants deliver intense flavors, vibrant colors, and unique textures.”

If you’re going to try and grow your own microgreens, consider this list from Healthline, listing the most popular varieties of microgreens are produced using seeds from the following plant families:

  • Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
  • Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
  • Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
  • Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
  • Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
  • Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash

Tenita told me that if I wanted to grow them at home, I just needed good soil, with densely sprinkled seeds on top (in a single layer), and a little water. I planted a patch of arugula yesterday, so I’ll let you know how it goes. If you like more formal instructions, check out:

If you’re a fan of cilantro, try Tenita’s recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:

Microgreens from Green Panda Farms are available directly through Green Panda Farms, at the Durham Co-Op Market, and Chatham Food Hub.

NOTE: All photos in this post, along with the recipe (and pretty recipe card) are copyrighted by Tenita Solanto and used with permission (even though the newspaper copy didn’t attribute it correctly).

Fall garden prep: edging the beds

I’m allergic to bees, wasps, and hornets (I’ve been to the ER thrice), so there’s a point in the mid-summer where I give up garden maintenance for everything but the Victory Garden to Mother Nature. Usually by mid-September it’s safe to get back out in the dirt, and one of the first things that gets my attention are the weeds. Last fall, we traveled a bunch and didn’t put out new mulch, so this fall everything’s particularly hairy. But that’s okay because one of my very favorite things to do is edge out the garden beds. I am merciless in my approach, one that I perfected twenty years ago: I dig it out with my shovel. Through the years my husband has tried to use attachments for his mower or tractor, or the weed wacker; none of it works like the spade.

The remnants of Hurricane Sally are coming through today and tomorrow, so I’ll order a truck of mulch from my man Peanut to be delivered next week. I’ll post photos of the finished product.

Behind the Scenes: KIWI

I caught up with my friend Lindy last week to talk about her kiwi vines. Those things are pretty awesome, let me tell you. To think that her mammoth twining vines started out as tiny little plants is amazing, particularly since being near them feels like standing in a copse of kudzu.

Beyond my local grocer, I didn’t know anything about kiwi until I talked to Lindy. Then I did some research. Healthline said that kiwi:

  • can help treat asthma;
  • aids digestion;
  • boosts the immune system;
  • reduces the risk of other health conditions;
  • helps manage blood pressure;
  • reduces blood clotting; and
  • protects against vision loss.

And Good Housekeeping adds to that list of benefits by sharing that kiwi may:

  • promote healthy skin and hair;
  • support immunity;
  • promote good digestion;
  • support healthy weight loss;
  • slow aging and help prevent chronic diseases; and
  • benefit moms and babies.

So whatever reason you choose to eat kiwi—whether it’s one of the points above or simply that you love the taste of it—get some kiwi the next time you see it at the store. Here’s hoping she’ll share one or two at book club next month!

For more information:

We’ve got eggs!

On August 23, one day shy of 22 weeks old, we got our first egg from our chicken squad — Scarlett, the biggest of the Rhode Island Reds was super surprised when she went for a drink of water from their hanging water bucket and laid an egg beneath. We had a good time visualizing the rest of the girls backing away from her like maybe she’d been abducted by aliens and dropped back in the coop with a thing that fell out of her ass. Well, her cloaca, but you get my drift.

Scarlett’s petite egg was so cute, so well-formed. And so tasty. Two days later, Maude laid her first egg. Two days ago, little Nemo, with her stunted short-feathered wings, rounded out the dependable Rhodies and laid her first egg. And yesterday, sixteen days after Scarlett led the pack, we got our first Americauna blue egg. We think it’s June Carter Cash, but that’s because she’s the biggest of the three Americaunas. It might’ve been Lady Gaga, the mouthiest of the bunch, but we’re certain it’s not Lilac, the little princess. In these seventeen days of eggs, we’ve gotten nearly two dozen eggs for our family. We’ve worked hard this summer to share vegetables and now eggs with our family, and our small extended social pod of extended family and friends. And it makes me think, now more than ever, how important it is to thank the farmers in your community.