Kiwis in Iowa: a potentially awesome vine

When I’m creating with the landscape, my top three criteria are usually local, organic, native. But I’ve been totally intrigued with the idea of adding kiwi vines to the yard. I repainted the windmill a few years back, only to have invasive hops run rampant over it. Hardy kiwis (Actinidia arguta) are native to China and Siberia, and produce lovely (I hope) little fuzzless kiwis. After doing enough research to determine that, having never actually tried a hardy kiwi, I completely lacked the knowledge to figure what varieties I really wanted, I opted to go with a variety pack from Stark Bro’s.

 

It included two Anna Hardy Kiwi’s, a male pollinator partner for them, and an Issai Hardy Kiwi. The Issai self pollinates. The plants are beautiful, and I managed to get them in the ground, mulched, and deer-fenced within a day of them arriving. They probably won’t produce fruit, even with the best of care, until 2019 or 2020. But it will good to see something with potential growing in the next few years, versus the hops.

Creating an orchard

When I was nine, my grandfather would let me mow the hayfield with the tractor. He would supervise from the edge of the field, wearing a long-sleeved plaid shirt and straw hat, eating an apple fresh from the tree.

31 years later, I wear long-sleeved plaid shirts and a straw hat to protect me from mosquitos, thorns, ticks, and the sun. I inherited a McCormick Farmall Cub tractor older than I am. The only thing missing was the apple tree.

My friend Craig has been trying to give me a pair of apple trees for about two years now. I have always demurred, because apples need sun, and that’s not something I have a lot of living under the canopy of an oak savanna. But this spring I was watching the cardinals and chickadees in the thicket of mulberries, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle that had grown up under the dead oak tree, and I realized that I do, indeed, have a sun spot.

The oak tree died back in 2000, before we moved onto the land. It is gradually crumbling in place. Woodpeckers are aiding its decomposition, and more small twigs and bark slough off each year. If enough sunlight in the area is allowing the birds to plant  and grow a thriving orchard of invasive trees and shrubs, its enough sunlight for a few more desirable trees as well.

Armed with a chainsaw and a shovel, I started clearing and planting. Since I had no idea what kind of apple tree I wanted (the kind that tastes good?), Craig started me with a lovely variety of heirloom eating apples: a Chestnut Crab, a Yellow Hardin, a Golden Russet, a Ribston Pippin, a Rhode Island Greening, and a Yates.

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On the Wild Menu

As part of the wild foods foraging program today at Indian Creek Nature Center, we were able to bring together a  very local, very fresh, gourmet menu.

Appetizer: serviceberries

Salad: purslane leaves, lambsquarter leaves, dandelion leaves, yarrow leaves, red clover blossoms

Salad dressing: orange champagne vinegar and basil infused olive oil

Main course: milkweed blossoms sauteed in butter with catnip and mulberries on the side

Common milkweed buds are edible when cooked. If you arent sure about what youre picking, develop a relationship withyour local nature center or other outdoor enthusiasts so you dont eat something poisonous
Common milkweed buds are edible when cooked. If you aren’t sure about what you’re picking, develop a relationship with your local nature center or other outdoor enthusiasts so you don’t accidentally eat something poisonous.

Drink: sumaconade (staghorn sumac drupes, honey, cinnamon stick)

Staghorn sumac drupes are edible and high in antioxidants. Posion sumac has white drupes, not red.
Staghorn sumac drupes are high in antioxidants.* Posion sumac has white drupes, not red.

Dessert: paw paws and aronia berries (frozen last year), and elderberry jelly and wild plum jelly (preserved last year)

After dinner tea: chamomile leaves and buds, stinging nettle leaves, red clover blossoms, wild ginger root, wild rose blossoms, mountain mint leaves

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Chamomile isn’t native, but it is also not a problem for restoration. It prefers dry, sandy soil and no competition.

* Sumaconade Recipe*

Gather 9-12 staghorn sumac drupes in late summer. Hang them and cover with a paper sack to keep them clean and dry-they will keep until the following summer.

Soak them in 1 gallon of cold water, 2-12 hours

Wring or muddle the drupes with your hands into the water.

Pour the mixture through  clean t-shirt material 3 times to filter it.

Add 1/2-1 cup honey (may be mixed with a bit of warm water to dissolve)

Add 1 stick of cinnamon

Chill before serving

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_13

 

Chirping on Twitter as @pocketmousepub!

Connect with Pocket Mouse Publishing on Twitter @pocketmousepubPocket Mouse Publishing is on Twitter!  Yes, you will hear Jean (itsabeeslifeforme) and Lee (brightskymom chirping tweeting as @pocketmousepub now!

Since we’re brand new, we will bumble around like the fledgling social media-ites that we are.  If you’re on Twitter, we’d appreciate well-known, obvious, how-could-you-not-know tips — I don’t think we’re ready for amazing insider secrets yet!

We hope to see & hear you in the fields and trees, tweeting interesting tidbits about #nature and #forage and #organic and all kinds of things!  After all (to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, April IS National Poetry Month!):

The world is so full of a number of things,
I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Syruping Season

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As the maple syruping season winds down, Indian Creek Nature Center is sharing the first harvest of the year with the community this weekend. The daytime temperatures have been unseasonably warm, in the 60’s and 70’s, and the night time temperatures have also been unseasonably warm, in the high 30’s and mid 40’s. Without the nights getting below freezing, the trees have produced a modest 280 gallons of sap-only enough to make about 6 gallons of syrup.

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Maple syrup boils at 219 degrees, or 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of water. Wood, sustainably harvested at the Nature Center during restoration projects, provides the fuel for boiling.

If you only have one or two trees to tap or lack a good thermometer, consider drinking the sap or using it to make soups and stews. It has great flavor and is rich in minerals.

 While the temperatures will likely get cold again, the silver maple trees are already budding out, signaling that the sugars (=good syrup) are changing to starches (=bad syrup). Many of the trees have simply stopped producing sap altogether.
Another sign that the seasons are shifting:

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Mallard ducks are beginning to pair up.
The syruping is ending, but the next wild edible to emerge-stinging nettle-is just beginning to poke through the softening ground.
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As spring progresses, keep an eye on the maples. Their flowers in March attract bees, and their sap attracts other things all year long.

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Yellow bellied sapsucker by Gabrielle Anderson from Hunting Red.

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Healthy Soil for Healthy Food

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In this, the International Year of Soil, I hereby propose a Clean Soil Act for 2015! Healthy soil, a finite resource, is the lifeblood of healthy food. For fun soil activities, visit here.

 

by guest Scott Koepke, New Pi Soilmates Organic Garden Educator.

Current law allows us to apply certain classifications of chemicals to soil that microscopes indicate can greatly diminish biological life. Them’s fightin’ words in the Corn Belt. In my outreach, however, I have found that there are ways to find—excuse the pun—common ground with both conventional and organic farmers on this vital issue. We are building bridges on themes of biodiversity and cost savings. Let’s look at some of the science:

septemberherbsatelaines 017Exhibit A: Organically-farmed soil is biologically robust, teeming with microbial diversity that, as it consumes and decomposes organic matter in what is called the “poop loop,” produces chemically-available nutrients for root systems to absorb. Regenerative—not extractive—practices that build organic matter, like composting and cover cropping, are nature’s free gifts of fertilizer. They also create soil structure that retains hydration more effectively during drought conditions. Organic methods grow nutrients.

Exhibit B: Soil samples from fields that have been conventionally monocropped with corn and soy rotations, and sprayed annually with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, often test to be biologically sterile. The soil itself is less friable and hard-packed. Elevated levels of nitrates, phosphorous, neonicotinoids, atrazine, glyphosates, anhydrous ammonia, chlorides, and heavy metals (to name a few) also leach into municipal water sources.

garlic dicing 007This is a debate that threatens certain corporate interests and can often boil down to an impasse about “safe rates of application.” How much glyphosate can I apply and not have it be destructive?

I would suggest that conventional agriculture isn’t going away anytime soon, and that we all need to, at the very least, consider the ever-changing science that provides ample evidence of pollutive thresholds, for which models like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts mandate regulations. There comes a time when enough is a enough. I’m encouraged that, to their credit, farmers of all persuasions are increasingly acknowledging the need for safer alternatives. As my dear Grandma Helen used to remind me, “Scotty, just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.”

 

3-14-15 Organic Challenge

Being organic should be fun as well as tasty. Today, in celebration of National Pi Day, we are making a lemon pie. You will need a glass of water and:

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Zest the lemon skins, slice the lemons in half, and squeeze out ½ cup of juice.

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Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Stir the yolks together with the sweetened condensed milk, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into pie crust and bake for 17 minutes. Put the lemon rinds in the glass of water and drink it while the pie is baking.

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Lemons are full of nutrients and vitamins. Pi is the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. It never changes, and it is irrational. 3.1415 is just the beginning. Wait until the pie is cool before you use it for math! But you can eat it while it is still warm. It goes well with whipped cream.

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J4 Organic Challenge 2

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Being organic isn’t primarily about doing what’s right for the environment, although it has a lot of environmental benefits.

It’s not about eating food that tastes better, because there’s no evidence to support that it universally does.

It’s not about eating food that’s more nutritious, because you can find everything from organic peanut butter cups (which are delicious) to organic soda pop.

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Being organic is first and foremost a personal decision, about limiting the amount of chemicals you put in your body. What makes your yoga mat springy—Azodicarbonamide—is the same stuff that makes your conventional bread springy. Ponder that while we gear up for the second J4 24 hour organic challenge. The four of us who attempted the first one failed. Read more about that here.

All you have to do to play is commit to eating only organic food for 24 hours. It is so, so simple. But those nonorganic items are insidious, and doing the challenge together gives us a forum for learning and sharing. Try it by joining us on Thursday, February 19.

Jeff’s tip: keep it simple and extra healthy. Drink water and fast for the 24 hours.

Jerry’s tip: To avoid sticker shock, start “replacing” staples with organic items. In Cedar Rapids, organic avocados sell for $1.25 at the New Pioneer Food Coop. Hy-Vee sells their freshly made, organic bread at buy 1 get one free starting at 6pm, bringing the price down to $3 a loaf.

Jan’s tip: Make sure you have organic coffee. It’s easier to make it through the 24 hours if you don’t have to change your routine, and easier to do everything when you’re not in caffeine withdrawal.

J4 Organic Challenge 1

J4 issued a 24 hour eat organic only challenge, and this is what we learned:

  • Most of us have some organic things in our kitchens, but not enough to make complete or typical meals.
  • Our drink rituals-be it coffee, tea, or soda-can be our biggest downfall.
  • A trip to the local grocery store to fill out the planned meals in organic fashion resulted in sticker shock and non-availability.

From Jan:

The challenge was on – I had to eat only organic foods for the next 24 hours. Piece of cake! Well, maybe not cake but I was already mentally taking an inventory of my cupboards. Whole grains, beans, fresh fruit and veggies, granola – healthy food, right? Upon opening the cupboard doors I realized the quinoa was non-GMO, gluten-free, 100% whole grain but not organic. The whole grain kaniwa “superfood” touted the same labels but not organic. Neither was the heart-healthy whole grain pasta, or the natural granola. Okay, on the beans that I soak and simmer before eating. No luck. I was going to have to work harder at this. Yes! Finally, an organic banana was lurking on top of the microwave. Breakfast was in the bag but I’d better get ready for caffeine withdrawal because the coffee did not qualify. Nor did the tea. So on to lunch … a large container of organic spring greens would make a lovely salad and after rummaging through my freezer I found some dehydrated cherry tomatoes from last summer’s garden. Score! Dinner was looking a bit dismal. The yummy pumpkin soup I’d made from a volunteer pumpkin in my garden was disqualified by the chicken broth base that certainly was not organic. A frozen package of squash emerged from the depths of the freezer. Yes, this was a gift from a friend who belonged to an organic CSA last fall. Things were looking up. Then I remembered the venison steak my brother-in-law gave me. Hmmmm – local but I wonder what was on that corn that deer raided from the farm fields. It will have to do. I know this deer only ate grass! Now there are some black raspberries from the wild and the jar of dried mushrooms from last fall’s walk in the woods. Whew! I will survive but I think there is a trip to a different store in my future and I am starting to plan my 2015 garden!

Tip of the Challenge: Choose wisely where you shop.

  • Join the Iowa Valley Food Coop to get good prices on local, organically-raised meats. Shopping on-line at the co-op saves time hunting at the grocery store. http://www.iowavalleyfoodcoop.com
  • Fill in the gaps at New Pioneer Food Coop. Almost everything is organic and prices are close to the typical prices of non-organic items at conventional stores. As it is a further drive for all of us, a bit of planning is essential.  www.newpi.coop