Straw Bale Garden In the Works

I first heard about this technique a couple of months ago.  The idea is that you can start the composting process in the bales by letting nitrogen (in my case, organic chicken manure) soak into them and allow them to “cook” over the space of a week.  (See previous post for details).  

Now that we have started our rainy season, I have purchased 4 bales of straw and have set them out into our mini farm.  My “farm hands” spread the manure over the tops and soaked them in real good.  We’ll continue the soaking process a couple of times a day unless it’s raining.  Hopefully these guys will start heating up real well and maybe we’ll see some mushrooms poking out.

After the bales cool down when the reaction subsides, the natural nitrogen in the straw will be available for whatever we want to plant.  We will be using them mostly for micro kale, micro cucumbers, pea tendrils, red vein sorrel, and nasturtiums for our Beyond the Kitchen farm dinners.  It’s gonna be great!

THE Way to Grow Vegetables for Your Restaurant or Home

I recently stumbled across an idea that many people have been exploring for a long time.  It’s called Straw Bale Gardening.  It’s got a huge advantage to conventional gardening.  It’s essentially a form of container gardening, but it’s very low cost and extremely  flexible in it’s set-up.  The bales sit up high on top of the ground and you don’t have to deal with turning soil, bending so far over, rocks, poor soil, or getting as dirty.  The only disadvantage that I can see so far is they initially take a lot of water to get them cooking.  After that, an easy drip system will minimize water loss.  Perfect for urban farming, even directly on concrete.  Make sure you don’t mind a little discoloration on the concrete if you do.

What’s happening is that the bales of straw (not hay), after conditioning, start to slowly decompose releasing nitrogen into your plants. Conditioning is easy.  Simply soak the bales in water twice a day for about 10 days.  Add about 3 cups of organic, nitrogen rich fertilizer to the tops of the bales at the beginning of this process so the nutrients can soak down into the bales.  Be sure the ties that are keeping the bales together are running horizontally so that no part touches the ground otherwise they could rot and your bales would fall apart. 

Sometime during this 10 days, the bale will start to get very warm in the middle.  This is the start of the chemical break down otherwise known as the conditioning.  If it does not heat up, it won’t grow your garden.  The heating up will subside after about a week.  After that, you simply lay out some compost on top of your bales and plant your seeds or transplant your starts.  Just water and fertilize as normal and get ready to enjoy some great produce.  The details can be found here.

This is am extremely simplified version of the conditioning phase.  There are many examples out there of watering/feeding schedules to follow and how to achieve the “best” results.   Check them out.   A vast majority of people using this method report much fewer weeds, pests, diseases, and fewer general problems than planting directly in the ground.  Bales will last 2 seasons.  After that, spread them out over the ground to have some great compost to start some new bales.   I will be planting potatoes, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, broccoli, and a few herbs.  I can’t wait to give it a try.  Why not you?

Local Wheat

Here is a pic of the wheat we grew here at the Inn from some local seed stock…  I have never actually seen wheat growing.  It’s a blast teaching the kids about wheat and how you make bread and cereal and all the wonderful other things that are associated with it.  True food, not processed.

Wheat from Dunbar Farms, Southern Oregon

We have spread some wheat berries from Dunbar Farm around our garden a few months ago when it was really cold out.  Actually, it was our chief maintenance man, Trapper who grabbed a handful back in February when I was toiling with what to do with them.  Well, now that it’s warm, and the sun is shining, this is what we have…

 This is a great example of natural selection.  This wheat is grown in this area and selected for these growing condition.  I’m not sure of the lineage of this red wheat before I got it, only that it is an heirloom variety…  But we have kept it going for another season.  Perhaps we will continue to replant it season after season and show how this wheat is much better than GM seeds that have no value after it’s planted.  My seeds have history and can be replanted year after year, adapted to this region, unlike the genetically modified wheat that can only be planted for one season, then it’s lost.  Only time and people can decide what’s better.

Our Micro Greens Revisited

So, I took the plunge and purchased a 50 liter bag of “Hydroton”.  This is the clay like rocks I started experimenting with to grow microgreens under out grow lights in the kitchen.  It cost $35 and we are now converting all our indoor growing operations to utilize it.  Our most recent planting includes pea tendrils, micro radish and micro beets.  The tendrils have been tested and work great (see prior post) but the other items have yet to be seen.  Germination has already taken place after just 2 days.

Farmer Platon Getting Ready to Plant Our Heirloom Tomatoes

Here is Platon working the land and planting his tomato plants.  Don’t know where is farmer hat is…  Can’t wait till we can feature these tomatoes on our Summer menu!

New Hybrid-Hydroponic System Results for Micro Greens in Our Kitchen

Well, here are some photos of what our pea tendrils look like using the new soiless growing medium.  These photos are taken 10 days after germination with just water and organic fertilizer.


 Needless to say, we will be switching all of our indoor growing operations to this new system. 
 It’s remarkable.  Thanks to the Ladybug Store for hooking us up with the experiment.  

New Growing Medium.

We are experimenting with a new growing medium for our micro greens.  It’s natural clay pellets that wick water up.  In the bottom of the pan is natural, nitrogen rich water with the clay on top.  I have sprinkled pea seeds on top.  I then covered it with plastic wrap so the peas can take on the nutrient rich water and then germinate.  I’m hoping this will eliminate the need for soil and will make the growing process quicker, cleaner and more efficient.

What is Sustainable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the USDA Website:

Definition of Sustainable Agriculture

The term ”sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

 

From Yourdictionary.com:

us·tain·able (sə stānə bəl)

adjective

  1. capable of being sustained
  2. designating, of, or characterized by a practice that sustains a given condition, as economic growth or a human population, without destroying or depleting natural resources, polluting the environment

I need to qualify this by saying I am not a farmer.  I respect farmers/ranchers/food producers.  It’s hard work.  It’s also very unpredictable.  Farming sustainability requires an understanding of the relationships between organisms and their environment.  One must benefit the other.  Consider it a closed loop system.  You don’t really need to introduce anything if done well.  Composting, water catchment and wind or solar power are examples of sustainable practices.  It’s important for me as a chef to understand how this works.  I need to understand why a commercial egg costs me 11 cents while a sustainable egg costs me 25 cents.  It’s important for my guests to understand this as well.

Food is getting more and more expensive.  There are reasons why.  Food in the US is cheaper than most other countries.  It’s artificially kept low by the government.  I don’t yet fully understand why.  I’m in the process of studying it now.  The main thing to know is that the food system must change.  If we are to continue as a people, we need to get back to basics and re-learn what our grandparents held dearly.  Are we as Americans generally privileged?  Yes.  Are we softer because of this?  Yes.  Will this be our undoing?  Only you can decide.  For now, support your sustainable food producers.  Just in case.  It may cost more, but can you put a price on a healthy planet?

Micro Greens

Micro Greens growing nice under the grow lights.  Nice to have these…

Farming is the New Cool.

As I have said before.  Youngsters are finding value in hard work again.  Here’s an excerpt from “Cooking up a Story”…

March 10, 2011 As the season begins to change to Spring, I've noticed a lot
more attention being paid to the small farmer. Last week the New York Times
ran a piece on the growing interest of small farming with 20-30 year olds.

Check out the whole article here:
http://cookingupastory.com/interest-in-small-farms-grows?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CookingUpAStory+%28Cooking+Up+A+Story%29

Urban farms are gaining in popularity too.  As a Wise (?) Greek recently told me, The future belongs to the ones who can grow food….

Cooking up a Story…

One of the most comprehensive websites I’ve come across that covers everything from people and local farms to sustainable living.  Stop by for the latest food news and how it affects you.  Great stuff.  “Bringing the people behind our food to life”.

 

 

West Coast Flavors Featuring Jacksonville Inn

Today is the first airing of 6 episodes of West Coast Flavors we shot a couple days ago.  For all of you “Local” folks, it will be on Channel 10 KTVL at 5:00pm every Thursday.  Tune in and check it out…

If you want to check the episodes out on line, they will be posted here as they air:

http://www.ktvl.com/sections/recipes/

Grab 2.5 minutes worth of popcorn and enjoy!

Spring Garden Prep

We are starting to get things ready for our spring garden.  The hibiscus plants that that were planted some 20 years ago have been removed and transplanted to allow more sunshine for the new seedlings.  We will also be expanding the garden area so we can build on our success from last season…

Hibiscus plants removed

 

ALL hibiscus removed.  Will be re-planted with a larger variety of edible flowers like nasturtiums.

 

Almost all of what you see should be expanded to garden space

Onion Soup

Here we take a super rich and creamy sweet onion soup and garnish with pickled chanterelles and duck confit.  We then take caramelized onion soup, shape it into croutons using agar agar and complete the dish with micro winter kale from the garden…

How Fine Dining Continues to Evolve.

Here is another article from last year that shows how fine dining is evolving and changing.   Decades ago, fine dining may have been a white table cloth with costumed servers and large portions of expensive meats and some sort of potato with a random vegetable.  Then it turned to the foie gras and caviars, lobster and exotic, expensive items from around the globe.  Things are changing again and it’s not about how expensive the ingredient is, simply how well it is prepared.   It has long been my philosophy that all ingredients have equal culinary value, regardless of cost. 

http://coirestaurant.com/carrotsarethenewcaviar/

Striploin with Chanterelles and Sous Vide Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese

We trim and cut striploin into paves and sear them.  We plate with Fall sweet peas, baby carrots from our garden, chanterelles from the coast and a “fondue” also made from Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue. 

We take about 8 ounces of the cheese and vacuum seal it.  We then roll it out with a rolling pin and the effect is like marble.  I trim thin strips and use it as a base to the presentation.

Chanterelle Bisque

Here’s a nice soup we just started.  We are using chanterelles from the Oregon Coast to make a silky bisque and pairing it with duck confit, pickled chanterelles, shaved French Breakfast Radish from our gardens, pickled red onions and micro arugula from our kitchen grow lights.  The rich, earthy bisque pairs so well with the salty confit, sweet/sour pickled chanterelles and onions and the spicy radish and arugula.  We will be finishing it off with fresh ground hazelnut smoked pepper.

Sous Vide Filet Crusted With Rogue Creamery Blue

WIth Crispy Potatoes and Peas and Carrots (5-Color Baby Carrots from our garden…)

Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

Grilled Peaches, Fresh Corn Polenta and Garden Greens…

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