Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farm Fresh Food

Comments by Jeanne

Near the end of winter, I start craving vegetables.  I think my subconscious knows that soon the Farmers’ Markets will be open and all that wonderful produce will be available.  The catch is in knowing when some of my favorites will be at the market.  Is the gentleman with the white eggplant coming this week? What about those fabulous Mountain Climber beans?

There’s only one way to really know, and that’s to grow some of the things yourself.  Fortunately, the library has a number of books on growing vegetables in small spaces.  Here are some of our newest entries:

Many folks have heard of “square foot gardening,” but how about “square INCH gardening’?  In Fresh Food from Small Spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal takes the concept even smaller, describing how to use even window boxes to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.  This book is very good for the “how” of constructing containers, including self-watering boxes, cold frames, etc. but doesn’t go into much detail as to specific varieties.  Still, it’s a good book for ideas, and he talks about sprouts for eating as well as for starting plants.  He even includes a few recipes.

Urban Farming by Thomas J. Fox discusses the reasons behind sustainable living before going into more practical considerations.  Don’t be put off by that first part: it really is a very good hands-on, practical book.  It contains projects with step by step instructions, a good discussion of the types of dirt for filling containers, information on good container plants and some trouble-shooting tips.  The writing is friendly but not flippant and is fairly thorough.  The color illustrations are excellent and make it all look very easy. This is a book I’d give to any friend who might want to try growing vegetables or fruits—or to myself, if I weren’t fundamentally lazy.

For the more ambitious among us—or those who want some of the ambiance of Key West-- the library has two new books on domestic fowl.  Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow is just what we’ve come to expect from the Dummies series:  lots of good information in a readable, non-technical style and basic illustrations.  They cover choosing chickens, housing, feeding and health.  In The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, part of the emphasis is on natural and sustainable, including using homemade chicken feed.  There are some very inventive houses (some portable) and good fencing ideas.  The book is illustrated with color photographs, including a section on butchering chickens which includes how to remove various organs.  (If you prefer chickens as pets, this might be a part to avoid.)

If your taste runs more to amusing books about OTHER people raising fowl, by all means try Bob Tarte’s Enslaved by Ducks, reviewed previously in this column.  See Kitty Cornered & Enslaved by Ducks

If you’d rather let Mother Nature do all the work, there’s The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer.  This is a guide to identifying edible wild plants.  It includes the best ways to harvest them (note:  some of the harvesting is a lot of work!), prepare and store.  The book is well illustrated with color photographs and warnings about similar non-edible plants.  Thayer is sometimes a bit dry and technical, but he does let his personality shine through occasionally.  While I don’t know that I’d eat something I found in the woods, it does make for interesting reading.  I remember hearing about many of these delicacies from family stories. I also remember reading about too many people who mistook one wild mushroom for another and ended up in intensive care or in a coffin, so I think I’ll just read about these things.

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