Edible Flowers

We’re harvesting flowers! Flowers are awesome. They help attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden, they look lovely, and the squirrels don’t like them. More for me!

In this photo (clockwise from upper left): Calendula, Nasturtium, Borage, Lavender

In this photo (clockwise from upper left): Calendula, Nasturtium, Borage, Lavender

But what do I DO with them? Well, as a general rule they add colour to salads, desserts, and even sandwiches if you feel like it.

Calendula is a mild flower, with lovely colour. Commonly infused into oil, and then used in other preparations such as lip balms, salves, etc. Allow them to dry before infusing.

Nasturtiums are my personal favourite - they love the California heat, and grow quite wild when allowed! Their flavour is peppery - add them to a sandwich or a salad! I’ve heard legends people make pesto out of them.

Borage is a beautiful, and delicate flower! If you want pinterest worthy cupcakes, throw some of these on top! Candy them if you want them to last longer.

Lavender is a different beast entirely! Woodsy and fragrant, I don’t recommend eating it straight. I enjoy simmering it simple syrup (and then straining!) to make lavender lemonade. Grind it and throw it in your favourite baked goods, or try using it as a substitute for rosemary. A little goes a long way!

Many flowers make great tea. A garden favorite is chamomile. Those pretty little daisy-like flowers help induce restful sleep and calm the mind.

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Early garden preparations 2019

Soil&Water has been formalizing our planting spaces this year. While we choose to plant in the ground rather than raised beds since they dry out faster, boundaries do make a huge first impression. So we are creating borders around all our planting spaces. This has the added bonus of letting visitors and volunteers know where to/where not to step.

Fresh Hops Beer

I have been excited since the garden started last year to grow hops and make beer with them. It is a bit harder to do it than I first thought however. Do I have tall enough trellis space? Will they take over a section of the garden? I had lots of reasons to overthink it but decided to just plant one anyway. I planted a Cascade Hops variety because others report that it grows well in our climate and is easy to grow.

Success! This first yield gave me enough hops to do a fresh hops brew!

Cascade Hops: Harvested early October 2018

Cascade Hops: Harvested early October 2018

Hops, I learned, are ready when they feel dry if you squish in your hand but bounce back like a pillow. They also leave a strong smell of hops on your fingertips. If they feel moist or dense, they are not ready. The first half of our harvest became ready early Oct and a second harvest late October early November (which was dried and frozen for later use).

To brew with fresh hops, they need to be used soon after picking. The More Beer store in Los Altos gave great recommendations on ways to highlight the fresh hops flavor so hubby and I made an ale using malt rather than extra grains so as not to mask the hops.

Primary Fermentation process:

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Add malt and boil.

Add hops. These mesh bags aren’t necessary but make removing the grains/hops easy.

Add hops. These mesh bags aren’t necessary but make removing the grains/hops easy.

Boil. Then remove hops and cool.

Boil. Then remove hops and cool.

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When cool add yeast and then transfer to 5 gal bucket with CO 2 release valve for 1-2 week primary fermentation.

When cool add yeast and then transfer to 5 gal bucket with CO 2 release valve for 1-2 week primary fermentation.

Secondary Fermentation step: Once your beer has been in the bucket for 1-2 weeks, it is ready to bottle. This step is basically to remove as much of the sediment as possible. Beer is siphoned from the primary fermentation bucket into a bottling bucket and then into bottles. Cleanliness is key!

Beer is ready about 2 weeks later (the full process takes about 4 weeks from hops to beer). Enjoy!

Beer is ready about 2 weeks later (the full process takes about 4 weeks from hops to beer). Enjoy!

Tamales at the Soil&Water Garden

On Saturday, August 18, Soil&Water garden held a cooking demo making and enjoying tamales.  A huge thank you to Dulce and Agustina for demonstrating their traditional method for making tamales using the corn leaves (not husks).  Everyone attending watched the demo, learned the recipe and then washed their hands to have a try at wrapping these lovelies.

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Tamales really are a family event; always made in bulk with everyone pitching in to wrap them up. 

Tamales really are a family event; always made in bulk with everyone pitching in to wrap them up. 

We steamed them right at the garden! During tamale steam time, Jason held Dirt Detectives, a science activity using microscopes and magnifiers for the kids (and adult kids!). Here is the earlier blog post link about that event with a few more pictures below. Some of the things observed under the microscope were corn stems, cabbage leaf cross section, carrot root, sunflower pollen, dandelion fuzz, pine needles and bug parts. You're awesome Jason for putting this together, I loved this about as much as my kids.

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As part of the scavenger hunt, the kids observed  sunflower pollen  up close using magnifiers. That is pretty cool but you can also bet that we take every chance to show them how amazing bees are. 

As part of the scavenger hunt, the kids observed sunflower pollen up close using magnifiers. That is pretty cool but you can also bet that we take every chance to show them how amazing bees are. 

Once finished, we enjoyed the tamales topped with fresh tomatillo salsa, cotija cheese and sour cream.  Minati and Dulce each made salsa using tomatillos and chillies grown at the garden.  These tamales were a vegetarian version but can be made any way you prefer to stuff them. They were so good!

We've also made it a regular thing to have infused water at most workdays.  It is easy to use a fresh selection from the garden.  This day's selections were cucumber & mint infused water and refreshing hibiscus tea. 

Thanks everyone for making this event so much fun!  It really is what this Soil&Water project is all about....  To bring people together around food and learning. 

And for those of you interested in growing hops, we are growing them! These cascade hops seems to be doing well.  

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Squirrels took our corn!

Squirrels can be a big nuisance (to put it lightly)!  We lost most of our tomatoes last year to the resident squirrels so we netted the tomatoes this year.  If you've been by the Soil&Water garden lately, you might have seen our stake and netting structure.  It helps with the tomatoes but that means they are eating other stuff.

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We have been excited about our 11+ foot corn.  We are growing a variety called Evergreen Sweetcorn, non-GMO white sweet corn, which was given to us by SlowFood USA.  The corn was doing really well with several ears on each stalk.   Some gardeners that attended a workday over the past couple weeks were lucky enough to have harvested several ripe ears.  We have been waiting for the corn to ripen for a big harvest but the squirrels got to it first!  Argh!!! 

Unfortunately on this past Wednesday, the squirrels ate every ear on 2 full rows of corn.  Gardeners arrived on Wednesday morning's workday to find stalks all over the place.  Those sturdy stalks providing the climbing structure needed to get to the tasty ears of corn.  What could they do but clean it up and harvest what they could.  How do squirrels figure out exactly when it is all ripe anyway?   

By Saturday's workday, the squirrels got it all!  Not an ear left in the entire garden!  We must have had nearly 100 ears of corn growing only to provide food for those thieves.  Sad.

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A bountiful summer harvest!

This week we harvested (clockwise from top): cabbage, kale, scallions, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, bitter mellon (indian and chinese), sungold tomatoes, strawberries, squash, green beans, tomatillos, and cucumbers. Photo: Jason O'Grady

Potatoes and Onions

This past Wednesday, we harvested our third batch of potatoes.  In February 2018, we planted Yukon Gold potatoes and Onion sets in the garden.  They have been growing for a few months and are now pretty large and ready for harvest.  A few weeks back we harvested our first potatoes and posted on Facebook about what we found with pictures (www.facebook.com/soilandwatergarden).  

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The onions became ready shortly after.  We stopped watering them one month prior to harvesting and are getting a nice harvest of those too.  Onions and potatoes make a perfect combination for so many recipes so we thought it was good time for a cooking demo day.  Two of our gardeners, Archana and Shruti demonstrated recipes on-site at the garden.  Shruti's recipe was a take on masala taro Punjabi style.  Archana made saag aloo.  Dulce shared a Mexican potato cake recipe.  We had a nice time chatting and watching the cooks.  Unfortunately, the electrical had some trouble during our demo so we weren't able to finish the saag aloo for tasting but we enjoyed the masala potatoes/taro and Mexican potato cakes!

Shruti's masala taro and potato

1) Peel taro root. Thinly slice potatoes and taro root. Put some olive oil on a griddle and pan fry the potatoes and taro. 

2) When the taro root is almost cooked, add sliced onion and cook for 1 minute as the onion begins to soften.

3) Add masala:  Chili powder(to taste), salt(to taste), turmeric(slightly less than salt), pomegranate powder(1.5 - 2 times salt), mango powder (1.5 - 2 times salt) and garam masala(about a third of the salt).  Some extra oil might be required to ensure that the masala gets coated evenly. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all the slices are coated with the spices evenly and cook for about 2-3 minutes till the masala gets incorporated.

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Indian Chai

Indian chai for many is part of a daily ritual to be enjoyed in the morning with breakfast.  It is also a warm treat enjoyed with friends.  Served with fresh snacks in the afternoon, it is refreshing and a lovely way to relax.  

The traditional drink is made with black tea, milk, ginger and spices (like black pepper, cardamom, and clove).   It is good for digestion and tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee.  It is easy to grow herbs in your garden that make fantastic combinations for chai.  In fact, at the Soil&Water garden in Heritage Park, we have planted many herbs that are great for tea.  Make sure you harvest some of these herbs next time you join a workday.  

Basic chai recipe (ginger): Add fresh grated ginger to 1 cup water and boil until you smell an aroma.  Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water.  Add 1 cup milk, chai masala (mix of spices) and sugar (optional) to taste.  Continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise. Allow the mixture to rise but not overflow the pan 2-3 times and then take off the heat.  Strain and enjoy.  Makes 2 cups.    If you don't drink milk, you can add a milk alternative of choice.  Almond milk or soy milk work well.

Here are a few other chai favorites from gardeners at Soil&Water:

Mint chai:  Use fresh grated ginger.  Use same method as above.  Add mint and chai masala (optional) at the same time you add your milk.  

Cardamom chai:   Use same basic chai method as above.  Add cardamom (to taste) instead of chai masala at the very end after removing from heat.   I like mine with a lot of cardamom!

Lemongrass chai:  Add fresh lemongrass and grated ginger to 1 cup water and boil until you smell an aroma.  Add 1 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.  Enjoy!  Adds a lemony flavor. 

Fresh lemongrass and fresh grated ginger added to 1 cup water. Boil until you smell a nice aroma

Fresh lemongrass and fresh grated ginger added to 1 cup water. Boil until you smell a nice aroma

Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.

Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.

Strain tea

Strain tea

Enjoy!!!!

Enjoy!!!!

 

At the garden we are also growing chocolate mint,  this herb added to black tea makes a really nice chocolat-y-mint black tea.  I personally add this alone without any other flavors since it is a strong flavor alone.   Works well as a simple black tea bag steeped in a mug and add the mint to it. 

What is your favorite chai recipe?  Please share so others can try it  too.  Leave it as a comment below!  If you decide to experiment with a flavor combination, I'd love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

Curry Leaf Plant

On this past Wednesday workday we planted a small curry leaf plant along with a hops, rhubarb, and a kids bean teepee.   Things at the garden are starting to take shape for this planting season.  We'll post something soon about our planting design for this year's summer garden.

Gardener Minati shared the following story about the curry leaf plant she donated to the garden. 

Curry leaf plant

I have had this plant for over about 2 years in my patio, in a pot and would love to share some history about it!

I was always interested in adding a few Indian plants to my patio and was looking for some leads to buy these. I stumbled upon 'The Curry Leaf Man' on craigslist! The Curry Leaf Man is a San Francisco native married to an Indian woman. He was introduced to curry leaf by his wife's family. He decided to cultivate a few Indian starter plants like Curry leaf, jasmine, drumsticks etc from seeds / cuttings and donate all the money from plant sale to charity for kids education in villages in India. This was a win/win for me! I get to buy some cool plants and also get to donate! Apart from curry leaf, I also bought a couple other plants like lemongrass and jasmine. 

http://curryleafman.wixsite.com/curryleafman/about_us

I was pretty thrilled to find someone growing starter plants so close to home in Palo Alto! And I am happy that this plant now has a home at Soil & Water.

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Feb 21, 2018 workday- Biochar/IMO-1

We have been busy at the garden planting during our first few work days this year.  We have planted potatoes, onions, and blueberries so far.  It is so nice to come back to the garden and have stuff ready to harvest.  Our first week back, we harvested loads of kale and chard, carrots, and way more parsley than we know what to do with.  We donated this to the Community Services Agency in Mountain View.   We also cut calendula flowers to dry and will be using this later.

 Our friend Peter, the Biochar guy, came to the workday with a very curious Biochar-IMO experiment.  He brought with him a mesh bag full of a mixture of wood chips, grains (oats, wheat, barley) soaked in worm tea, biochar and an added IMO-1.  The idea is that you bury this in your native soil for 2 weeks and then dig it up and see what you get.  If it works, you will proliferate the indigenous microorganisms in your soil that help break down organic matter.  The method is taken from a methodology called Korean Natural Farming.  

Stay tuned to see what happens.    

DIY Peppermint Chapstick

We thought it would be really cool if we could use beeswax from our resident bees. The beekeeper, Todd Waltz, helped us out and donated beeswax that the little workers made.  We grew calendula flowers and made an infused oil.  Calendula oil is known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.  We purified the wax, melted it down and combined it with our calendula oil and some peppermint oil to make chapstick.

Here is the recipe: 1/4 cup beeswax, 1 cup calendula infused oil, 20-25 drops peppermint oil

Melt the beeswax using a double boiler (or some form of).  Strain calendula oil to remove flowers.  Combine.  Adding the room temperature oil may re-solidify the wax.  If this happens, dissolve it again to get a homogenous liquid.  Add peppermint oil.  Mix and pour into tubes or containers of choice.  It will harden quickly as it cools.  

 

 

Dried calendula flowers grown in the Soil&Water garden.

Dried calendula flowers grown in the Soil&Water garden.

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Calendula oil: Strained the oil using a coffee pour over and filter

Calendula oil: Strained the oil using a coffee pour over and filter

Room temperature oil added to melted wax.  It solidified immediately so we had to melt it again.  

Room temperature oil added to melted wax.  It solidified immediately so we had to melt it again.  

The mixture stayed liquid long enough to fill the containers but then hardened quickly.

The mixture stayed liquid long enough to fill the containers but then hardened quickly.

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THE TSUNAMI OF SQUASH

As you can probably tell from our harvest pictures, the summer squashes are definitely coming in. Pounds and pounds of them. As problems go, “too much squash” is thankfully not terribly dire. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is one plant per family, unless you really like squash. If you’re not drowning in squash, try pollinating your plants by hand, because from what I can tell it has been paying off in our garden!

Why are they so prolific?! Well, it’s to do with plants trying to make seeds - if you remove the part of the plant making seeds before it gets all the way there, the plant… tries again! This is why deadheading a flower makes more flowers. Nutritionally, it’s the reason a summer squash (mostly water) is so different than a winter squash (lots of carbohydrates) - very similar plants, very different stages of development.

COOKING SUMMER SQUASH
 

How I cook thee, let me count the way! You can braise, roast, saute, fry, grill, boil, or steam these guys to great success. Many people like to turn them into long noodles, by spiralizing or slicing, for a veggie-sort-of-pasta. You can pickle them, too, if you like pickles. 

Grating them is also a great way to cook with them! You can use them in fritters, or in a fritatta. Putting them in baked goods (muffins, quick breads, or even brownies) is a very popular way of adding moisture and fiber, but more importantly, using them up. 
 

You can also eat the blossoms, if you want to shake it up. They’re often served stuff with cheese, or breaded and fried.

Honestly, I’m a fan of sauteing them as a side with dinner, because it keeps my house cool in the summer. But, you don’t have to be as lazy as me - see the bottom of this post for a bunch of links to recipes for inspiration!
 

TASTE TEST!

I decided to cook the main 4 types of squash that have been coming in, and compare them! All of these squash belong to the same species (Cucurbita pepo) but all all slightly different subspecies or cultivars! Cultivars meaning a plant variety that has been cultivated for human consumption, which I did not know before today.

From Left to right:  Green Patty Pan, Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini (marrow, courgette), Yellow Patty Pan

From Left to right:

Green Patty Pan, Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini (marrow, courgette), Yellow Patty Pan

I sauteed slices of all 4 in a pan, with olive oil, salt, and pepper. They were all tasty, and the friends I roped into my experiment ate all of their squash, and could detect very minimal differences. We agreed the zucchini was a little more watery, the crookneck the sweetest, and the green patty pan having a lovely texture and vaguely green bean taste. The yellow patty pan seemed the most mature of all of them, and the most texture. 

They were definitely more similar than different in terms of flavour, so I say go ahead and pick based on shape or nostalgia! The zucchini offered the best shape for spiralizing into pasta. The patty pans could be hollowed out and stuffed fancily. One of my friends grew up with crookneck, I grew up with more patty pans, and we both found we slightly preferred them.

 

RECIPES

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried, and enjoyed! 
Quick Zucchini Saute - Smitten Kitchen

https://smittenkitchen.com/2007/08/quick-zucchini-saute/

 

Zucchini and Parmesan Topped Chicken - Hello Fresh

https://www.hellofresh.com/recipes/au-zucchini-and-parmesan-topped-57b4d87fb5793fb3038b4568/

 

James Beard’s Zucchini Bread http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/james-beards-zucchini-bread-56389932

 

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter, but with zucchini substituted for noodles

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/spaghetti-with-tomatoes-and-anchovy-butter

 

Zucchini chocolate chip muffins  http://www.wellplated.com/healthy-zucchini-muffins/

Kavita makes the following modifications to this recipe: 

-reduce the honey to ~2 Tbsp (Use either honey or substitute maple syrup) and reduce the brown sugar; since the banana and chocolate chips already add sweetness.   

-1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour + 3/4 cup mix of flours (whatever I feel like: amaranth, teff, flax, oat, almond)  

Summer Harvest 2017

Here are few pictures of the Summer Harvest from our Garden. and more to come..

Create-your-own garden tote bag event

Soil&Water hosted a fun create-your-own garden tote event on June 24, 2017 in the community garden at Heritage Park. We supplied blank canvas bags, rubber stamps, paint, markers and stencils and you did the rest! It was a fun event for all ages – so much so that we repeated it on Wednesday! A great time was had by all and everyone got to pick some farm-fresh produce and bring it home in their personalized garden tote bag. Special thanks to Eva Reutinger from the Google Community Garden for the stamps!

Some photos: