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Monday, September 27, 2010

WEBSITE MONDAY! The "lawn" and short of it

Chances are, if you've got a garden or had one in the past, you've had grass.  And grass, although it's excellent for many things, can also be difficult to care for and requires lots of water, fertilizers weedkillers and pesticides.  And if you aren't using that lawn for a family game of baseball or throwing around a frisbee with your dog, maybe you can consider a lawn alternative, or a different type of grass.  If this sounds like a good idea to you, then lawnreform.org is a great resource!

This lovely garden belongs to Pam Penick, a top gardener and blogger in Austin, Texas.  Check out her site here: http://www.penick.net/digging/

According to the site, the Lawn Reform Coalition is made up of eleven writers and activists that are pooling their "knowledge of up-to-date solutions to the many problems caused by a lawn culture that demands perfection, conformity, and way too many inputs - especially water, fertilizer and pesticides."  They have links to many great resources for ideas for non-lawn alternatives as well as a section on edibles!  And if you're still attached to your grass, or like lawns in general, they include a list of ways you can improve your lawn care to make it more sustainable, and have a page on different types of grasses or lawn coverings that are more suited to particular regions.

Have you replaced your lawn with something else?  Do you have any ideas for lawn alternatives?  Post a comment and let us know!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We Got Mildew Yes We Do! We Got Mildew, How 'Bout You?

Here is an example of squash with just a few spots of powdery mildew.
 As tends to happen in the late summer, our squash is suffering from powdery mildew.  This problem is pretty easy to identify;  our plants will look like someone tossed some baby power all over them.

It starts small and then just gets worse if left to proliferate.  Powdery mildew sends little tubes into leaf cells to suck out their contents, killing the cells in the process. As leaf cells die and the leaf's surface becomes covered in the white fungus, photosynthesis is reduced and leaves may be lost. Crop volume and eating quality can be reduced.

Here the mildew has been left to keep growing!

So how do you get rid of it organically?  Well, there are quite a few options. 

PREVENTION
According to our own UC Davis Integrated Pest Management, prevention is always the best way to avoid this problem.  In other words, if your garden is prone to this kind of issue, next time you plant squash, melon, pumpkin, etc., be sure to start with a resistant variety.

CULTURAL PRACTICES
You can avoid powdery mildew my making sure your plants receive plenty of sun.  (Because of the location of these plants near the South Building of the Robert Mondavi Institute, these plants do get more shade than others.)  Also be sure to:
  • Provide good air circulation by not crowding your plants
  • Rotate squash beds on a minimum three-year cycle to reduce the chance of a fungal buildup or reinfection from one year to the next.
  • Pull up infected plants and burn or bury them.
We got the dummy whammie--the plants need more sun and they are not disease resistant varieties--so now what?

ORGANIC FUNGICIDES
According to UC Davis Integrated Pest Management, once you have the powdery mildew problem, oils, like neem oil,  tend to work better at eradicating the issue once you have it rather than preventing the problem. 

You may also want to try a biological fungicide like Serenade Disease Control Concentrate, but like UC Davis Integrated Pest Management states, "While this product functions to kill the powdery mildew organism and is nontoxic to people, pets, and beneficial insects, it has not proven to be as effective as the oils or sulfur in controlling this disease."

HOME REMEDY
For those of you interested in home remedies, it seems that you can also try making your own spray of one part skim milk to 9 parts water.  Skim milk works just as well as other types of milk--whole, low fat etc., but no fat means no odor!  Read more about this research finding here:  Using Milk to Control Powdery Mildew.

Did you get the gift of powdery mildew this summer?  If so, what did you do to get rid of it?  Let us know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fruits v. veggies: what’s the diff?

Eggplants and tomatoes are confusing!
Our post about eggplant a few weeks ago spurred a debate around the office.  Is eggplant a fruit or veggie?  We all think of it as a vegetable, but the seeds of eggplant are surrounded by the flesh of the edible portion, like apples or watermelon.  Isn’t that what most people think makes a fruit a fruit?

Looking it up online warranted even more confusion however, as many sites referred to eggplants as vegetables (which is what most of us call them, right?) but in more formal classifications were referred to as fruit.

So we did what we do whenever we are confused – we turned to food genius (and awesome guy) Harold McGee.

According to Harold's book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, it turns out that the distinction isn’t as clear as some people would think.  According to Harold, a vegetable is “essentially…a plant material that is neither fruit nor seed.”  Fruit, on the other hand, has both a technical and common definition.  According to botanists fruit is “the organ that develops from the flower’s ovary and surrounds the plant’s seeds.”  But for culinary or "common" purposes fruits are what we typically think of - apples, peaches, cherries - the sweet things we can eat right off the tree or put into pies.  So technically, green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, corn kernels and peppers are fruit.  But chefs consider them vegetables.  Why is this?

It turns out that this culinary distinction has to do with flavor, which is a result of the basic makeup of the plant.  Fruits are engineered to be appealing to animals because it benefits the plant if animals eat the fruits because it helps to disperse the seeds.  As Harold says, “they are one of the few things we eat that we’re meant to eat.” They usually have a high sugar content, complex aroma, and they soften themselves; all characteristics which add to their appeal.

On the other hand vegetables are not meant to be eaten, and sometimes even have chemical defenses that are meant to keep animals from consuming them. (Think of the strong flavors and aromas that raw onions and cabbage have!)  Vegetables also remain firm and have either a very mild flavor or a very strong one and usually require cooking to make them palatable.

So basically it depends on your intentions for the fruit/veggie.  If you are a botanist, a fruit is something completely different than what it is to a chef.

Still not convinced and think that one is more correct than the other?  According to On Food and Cooking, the definition was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court in the 1890s:

“A New York food importer claimed duty-free status for a shipment of tomatoes, arguing that tomatoes were fruit, and so under the regulations of the time, not subject to import fees.  The customs agent ruled that tomatoes were vegetables and imposed a duty.  A majority of the Supreme Court decided that tomatoes were ‘usually served at a dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish or meat which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally as a dessert.’  Ergo tomatoes were vegetables and the importer had to pay.”  

The distinction was so difficult to make it had to go all the way to the Supreme Court!

So is eggplant a fruit or a vegetable?  It depends – are you a botanist or a chef?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chive Harvesting

Let me start off this entry by saying that I am one of those people whose anthropomorphic skill set extends beyond projecting human characteristics onto animals and inanimate objects.  I do the same with plants, and I believe that our proud chives need some attention!  They were mistakenly overlooked in favor of  the ever-popular basil, lavender and mint plantings at last week's free herb harvest.  I think it may be because people don't know how awesome they are!  They are hearty (hard to kill), perennial, beautiful (their flowers are gorgeous), and can be a delicious part of every meal!


At our next harvest (date TBA) check out our chives!  Harvest the stems that are not yet flowers like the one below.  Do you see how it is about to grow a flower yet, but hasn't?  This is a good choice.  Snip it at its base so we avoid that unattractive chive stubble!


There are a variety of ways you can enjoy this wonderful herb; it's not just for topping your potatoes!  With a milder flavor than onion, chives are usually snipped raw as a finishing touch for salads, soups, sauces, vegetable and fish dishes. Chives also work well in egg dishes such as quiche and omelets.  Here are the top 20 chive recipes according to Allrecipes.com.

Is there an edible that you love, that seems to get overlooked by more popular (common) fruits, vegetables, or herbs?  Why do you think it has an image problem?  Let us know!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FREE HERB HARVEST this Thursday, Sept. 9 from 9:30 AM - 2:00 PM!!

 
Download the flyer above by clicking here.  (Adobe Acrobat is required.)
We're hosting another herb harvest this Thursday, September 9 from 9:30 AM - 2 PM.

Pretty much every herb is available for harvest (oregano, basil, sage, chives, rosemary, thyme, mint and lavender).

If you are interested, please RSVP to goodlifegarden@ucdavis.edu so we know how many people will be attending. Directions to the garden can be found on our website: http://www.goodlifegarden.ucdavis.edu/location

The give-away is free to attend; we just need you to bring the following items:

* scissors or pruning shears
* a bag to hold your herbs
* wet paper towels to put in the bag with the herbs (if you don't have a refrigerator to keep them in for the day)
* water to drink (because it's going to be hot!)

BE SURE TO WASH ALL HERBS WELL BEFORE ENJOYING THEIR FRESH TASTE!

Our gardener Pat will be there all day to answer your questions about the different herbs and the harvesting process, as well as to direct you to the correct plants. We ask that no one remove entire plants or remove more than half of the leaves or flowers from any particular plant.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Eggplant eggstravaganza!

imperial black beauty eggplant variety

Eggplant is definitely one of our favorite vegetables here at the garden.  Not only are they pretty, coming in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, but they are also incredibly delicious!  This season we are not only growing the familiar chunky purple variety (imperial black beauty), but also the Rosa Bianca and white "snowy" eggplant.

Hearty and scrumptious in so many different types of food - stir fries, lasagna, baba ganoush... I could eat it every day!  At only 27 calories per cup cooked and packed with pigments like nasunin which may help protect brain cell membranes from oxidative damage, eggplants seem almost too good to be true!  They are also high in fiber, potassium and Vitamin B6. 

Want to learn more about eggplant history and health benefits?  Visit our website or whfoods.org.

Check out the bounty from the garden this week!  Pictured here are the imperial black beauty and snowy eggplants, as well as maglia rosa tomatoes in front, black and brown boar, pink Berkeley tie dye and green zebra tomatoes, dark star zucchini, lemon cucumber and reve scallopini in back.
This is one of my favorite recipes for eggplant: sausage and eggplant stuffed pasta shells in tomato basil cream sauce.  It's decadent and time-consuming to make, but a crowd-pleaser every time!  And now is the perfect time as  eggplant, tomatoes and basil all ripe right now!  (Recipe tip:  I leave the cream out of the sauce as the dish is rich enough with the sausage, eggplant and variety of cheeses.)

Eggplant can be a tough nut to crack in the kitchen though.  Grilled?  Sauteed?  Roasted?  Last night I sliced an imperial black beauty roasted it in the oven with some olive oil, sea salt and pepper.  I ate it on toasted wheat bread with melted mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and arugula, and it was delicious!  But the roasting took a very long time!  It is hard to wait when you know how yummy it will be!

In the past I've sauteed them, but they seem to soak up too much oil.  Do you peel them? Do you eat the skins?  The skins apparently hold much of the nutrients, but are often tough and, if grown non-organically, sometimes covered with wax which traps in pesticides--in this case peeling seems necessary.

Food experts out there: we need your help!  How do you prep and cook your eggplant?  What are some of your favorite recipes?  We need some more ideas for this appetizing edible!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Website Wednesday: Edible Yardworks



Ever walked out to your garden with a big to do list full of great ideas, only to find yourself standing in the same spot ten minutes later thinking "Where do I start?" Well we think we may have found an answer to that question. The Edible Yardworks website is a great place to look for a starting point for various gardening projects. And did we mention it is a Northern California specific webpage! This website is an amazing resource for people looking for that starting place.  It has 15 different 'How-To' topics for those interested in finding out more about everything from composting to mushroom farming.

The creator of this site, Stacey, also offers private classes on how to grow organic and cook great meals. Even better, her price for a class with more than three students is $15 per person! We think that is so reasonable, so, for those of you in Northern California get some friends together and make a night of it!

Stacey also posts several great video from very reputable sources. Her videos are in the "Case for Edible Yards" tab at the top of the page which has 9 reasons why being sustainable is so important including Biodiversity, Industrial Agriculture, and Climate Change.

Stacey uses a clip from this movie in the Industrial Agriculture section
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