Brainy Food

In the later end of Summer, on of my favorite vegetables comes ready for harvest: Romanesco Cauliflower.  This unusual brassica typically takes 80 or more days to mature.  I always start them inside under lights and transplant them out in mid- to late-May.

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The plants are large and generally need about four square feet to grow.  Unlike traditional white cauliflower, Romanesco does not need to be blanched by tying the leaves together to cover the budding center.  Just plant and grow until you’ve got a good-sized head exposed, harvest and eat!

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The beautiful chartreuse color and whorled pattern of this cauliflower make it an interesting and eye-appealing addition to any dish.  Enjoy it raw, battered in a tempura, stir-fried, even grilled.  My favorite way to prepare it is to simply slice and sear in a grill pan, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Serve plain, with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

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The interesting whorled growth pattern is actually ran example of the Fibonacci sequence.  So perhaps, just perhaps, enjoying this nutty, sweet vegetable might improve one’s math skills.  Let me know what you think. 🙂

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Signs of Spring

The Earth begins to emerge

The Earth begins to emerge

Only two days til Spring, and it is a relief at last to see the tell-tale signs that yes, even after a Winter long and brutal as this, Vernal blessings will arrive.  With the high volume of snowfall we’ve seen this year, we are fortunate to be experiencing a slow and gradual meltdown.  We have experienced no flooding, not much water in the basement at all.  The sodden, frozen earth is just emerging from it’s blanket of snow, I can just begin to see the gardens left from last year, and it’s fun to stroll about them and dream of what to plant in each bed for this season.

The birds have really come alive!  I have been enjoying the sight of Robins for a couple weeks now, the starlings have already begun scratching at the house and I’ve seen large trains of Canada geese heading back North.  I hear new calls and see new flashes of color every few days now.  Friends report additional sightings at various ends of the county.  My Midget White turkeys are all strutting about, entertaining passers-by.

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Seeds have been ordered and are arriving, and the long-season crops like onions, leeks and celeriac are already being sown. We also have spouted arugula, mizuna and kale to plant in the high tunnel for an early jump on the season.  We’ll start peppers, eggplants and herbs next.  And I’m sure a flower or two.

Mizuna seedlings

Mizuna seedlings

The Venal Equinox is two days away on March 20th.  From then on, the days will be longer than the nights.  I join in the excitement as the Earth once again begins to stir.

Parsnips, a Mid-Winter Break

Harvesttotable.com

        Right now in Upstate New York we are enjoying what is know as the January Thaw, a fairly predictable period of time in Winter (anywhere from early January to late February) when temperatures rise above normal for a few days, allowing some of the snow to melt off, a few of the insects to come buzzing about again, and perhaps even a bear or two wanders out of hibernation and stretches its legs.  Invariably it may bring gardeners out-of-doors, to stroll and smell the beds put to sleep for the season, likely even find a tool or two that was consumed by weeds back in September.  Bulbs of garlic and tulips that have heaved out of the ground are poked back in, and perennial beds that were neglected are hastily mulched, fingers crossed in hopes that they will again be forgiving and grow on in the Spring, despite our ill-care.

By this time in the Seasonal diet, items from the root cellar like carrots, beets and turnips, potatoes and squashes have become the staple dinner fare, with dried beans, onions, garlic and canned veggies from the pantry rounding out the variety.  It’s hearty, comforting and nourishing food, perfect to carry one through the cold season.  But, oh, would not something fresh from the garden be such a treat?

Enter the Parsnip, planted first thing in the Spring, and best harvested during the mid-Winter thaw!  Days like these are perfect to go out and lift the mulch, looking for the tiny tell-tale bright green shoots that indicate treasure lies below.  Parsnips have traditionally offered fresh fare to liven up mundane Winter tables for generations.

Fresh-dug Parsnips.

Fresh-dug Parsnips. source: Two Chances Veg Plot Blog

Parsnips were very well-known in our culinary history, having fallen out of fashion as of late, yet now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Parsnips look like blond carrots, with their flavor being best described as a cross between a coconut and a carrot, creamy, earthy and sweet.  Unlike carrots, parsnips need to be peeled and are generally eaten cooked, not raw.  Parsnips show two phenotypes, long and slim, and shorter and chunky.  The core of the thicker parsnips can be a bit woody and bitter, I find it best to core the larger ones.

Parsnips are in the carrot family, and thus biennial, meaning they grow leaves the first growing season, then will send up a seed stalk if allowed to grow a second season.  Parsnip stalks are upwards of 5 feet in height, and have flowers and seeds that look much like Dill.  Parsnip seed head and seeds Source: wikipedia

Parsnip seeds like to be planted first thing in the Spring, as soon as the ground can be worked.  Better yet, prepare the ground ahead in the Fall.  Parsnip seeds should be surface-sown, thus they like the wet days of April to keep them moist.  If it happens to be a dry Spring, keep the seedbed dampened until they sprout.  Parsnips grow much like carrots:  They fare just a little better against weed competition, but not much, so keep them weeded and watered regularly over the growing season.  Thinning the seedlings will result in better yields.  One reason Parsnips may not be for every garden is they are a space commitment the entire season and beyond.  However having fresh harvest in Winter and early Spring can more than make up for the space given.

Source: Benedict Vanheems     Parsnips can be harvested at the end of the growing season in the Fall, but they are so much better if left to build some bulk and sugar content through some cold weather.  Mulching the parsnips will protect them from mice or other predators, and makes it easier to dig them out.   Once that warm spell in mid Winter hits, run out and lift the mulch and use a broad fork to carefully extract the delicious roots.  Parsnips can also be left in the garden to harvest in the Spring, but be sure to get out early and pull the before the leaves actively start growing again.  Once they bolt, they should be lifted and composted or left to go to seed for your garden next year.

Do take care not to over trample the garden bed, for soil compacted while wet can take time to recover.  To cut down on soil compaction (and muddy boots), lay some boards, cardboard or even newspaper on the ground where you are working.  No help for the mud on the parsnips, though. :/

Wash peel and core your parsnips, and they are ready to cook.  They can be prepared any way you enjoy carrots: parboiled, steamed, mashed, glazed, baked or even roasted.

They are excellent with butter, cream, parsley, nutmeg, ginger, cheeses, even caraway.

One of my favorite recipes with parsnips is that of Cheddar Parsnip Soup, from Sundays at Moosewood:

1 med onion, chopped                          3 med potatoes, peeled and cubed (~1 1/2lbs)

1 tsp salt                                                  3 cups water

2 Tbs vegetable oil                                1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds

2-3 tsp caraway seeds                          3 cups med sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

5 medium parsnips,                             3 cups milk

peeled and cubed ( about 1lb)         chopped fresh Parsley or sprig of Dill

 

I a 3qt saucepan sautee onion with the salt in the oil on low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 mins.  Mix int he caraway seeds and parsnips.  Stir and simmer gently about 5 mins.

Add the potatoes and water.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Moderately simmer for about 10-15 mins, until potatoes are tender.  Remove soup from heat.

Stir in fennel and cheese.  When cheese is melted, pour in milk.  Cool soup 10-15 mins.  In blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches.  Gently reheat, careful not to boil. Serve hot with garnish or parsley, dill or grated cheese.

 

This soup is so good!

So, if you’ve planted parsnips, get out and pick them.  If not, they are in season at the store or at farmers market, get ahold of some a give them a try.  Then plan to add them to your garden this coming season.  You will be so glad you did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seconds, Please! (Getting More From Your Garden)

Some of the veggies we grow in the garden are very delicate; the slightest stress from weather or bugs and they’re toast. Others seems to thrive no matter what befalls them.  Members of the Brassica family, or Cole crops are especially hardy.  Broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards are in this group.  They will grow in heat, cold, wet, can tolerate dry conditions, and improve in flavor after the fall frosts.  And best of all, even after cut and harvested, they still aren’t done!  Many cole crops are cut-and-come-again, meaning if the plant is left in the ground when the edible part is harvested, the plant will regrow more to harvest!

Broccoli ready to cut

Broccoli ready to cut

Many gardeners already know that after cutting the first head of broccoli, if left in the garden the plant will send out a flurry of fresh tender shoots.  These quickly add up many more meals of broccoli, extra to freeze for later, or more sales at market.  But be sure to pick them when they are prime, for just like the main head, they will shoot up to flower tiny yellow blossoms if left too long.

Broccoli buds

Broccoli shoots

Bee-Friendly tip: To be friendly to honeybees, allow a few broccoli shoots to go to flower, for they are some of the last flowers of Autumn and the bees absolutely love them!  You’ll soon find them busily buzzing and twirling about them, grabbing a last little bit of nectar for the Winter stash.

Cabbage ready to pick

Cabbage ready to pick

It may be a surprise to find out that cabbage will do the same thing!  After harvesting the main head, leave the rest of the plant in the ground and wait.

Within a couple days, 5 little new cabbage buds will appear.  These will grow into 5 new little cabbage heads.

5 little cabbage buds

5 little cabbage buds

5 new cabbages

5 new cabbages

Chinese cabbage will do the same thing!

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Chinese cabbage sprouts

Chinese cabbage sprouts

The resulting cabbage heads will not reach full size, but they are great to eat and really help extend the harvest.  And they’re actually pretty popular to sell at market, with more and more singles and couples looking for smaller portions to keep their servings fresh.

 

 

Fresh harvest from the garden is such a delicious and satisfying treat, it’s great to  know that some of our favorite crops even serve up seconds. 🙂

Storing Basil and Parsley

 

 

Reader Question:

Hi! I was just wondering. Is this the correct time to harvest basil and parsley? Also how do you keep it for use over the winter?  Freeze it?  Thanks for any help.

Red Rubin Basil

Red Rubin Basil

Italian Flat-leaf Parsley

Italian Flat-leaf Parsley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answer:

Basil and parsley can be harvested anytime, if you cut them and leave the plant, it will regrow over and over all summer. Both can be dried by hanging upside-down or cutting just leaves and spreading them on a screen to dry in an airy dark place.  A dehydrator also works.  Or they can be chopped in the food processor and mixed with oil to make a pesto, then packed into ice-cube trays and frozen. Popped them out and collect in freezer bags to use all winter.  Just grab a couple cubes and toss in sauces, soups, dips, whatever you’re making.

My Favorite Pepper

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I enjoy growing a variety of peppers, including Green Bells.  We eat them often and they are easy to preserve for Winter.  Finding a good bell pepper for gardens in the Northeast US can be a challenge. I spent years trying different varieties, and have been delighted to find one that works for me.

It’s all in a name.  Often, started pepper plants from commercial garden centers have names like California Wonder or Golden Calwonder.  The “wonder” lies in why one might grow California Anything here in New York?  I have found great results instead with King of the North, an OP pepper.  There are other hybrid strains that do well here, such as Ace (F1), but I like to use Open Pollinated varieties so I can save my own seed on some crops.

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

King of the North reliable produces multiple fruits

I get King of the North seeds from Fedco Seeds of Maine (www.fedcoseeds.com), though they are likely found with other purveyors of heirloom open pollinated seed.

They do well both in the high tunnel and outside.

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I start my peppers under a grow light at the end of March to set out around Memorial Day here in the Southern Tier of New York.  They like full sun.  Too much nitrogen will encourage leafy growth and leave less time for fruits to develop.  I usually have full sized green fruits to pick by the end of July.  I generally have no trouble collecting a number of red fruits well before frost.

Peppers are easy to put up.  I simply cut the raw clean peppers into chunks or slices and place in quart sized freezer bags to freeze.  They will be flaccid upon thawing, but this texture if fine for the dishes we commonly enjoy, such as pasta sauce or chili.

Let me know what varieties of sweet bell peppers you grow for your region.  I’m always looking to try something new.  🙂

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

Bell peppers produce well without taking up much space

First Fruits

As we reach the height of Summer, the gardens are beginning to yield:  flowers that we have anxiously watched turn to tiny green fruits are at last ripening, and it is the gardener’s delight to find those first fruits; whether it be a cucumber, green beans or summer squashes. The garden picture is finally complete!  It is very gratifying to see results of this labor of love that we call gardening.

That first Cucumber!

That first Cucumber!

In conversations with home gardeners, I have noticed a tendency among the novice to feel reluctant to harvest these first-comers, for they look so beautiful and it’s fun to show them off to visitors.  Resist the temptation to dwell upon this image, and go ahead and pick those first fruits!  What many folks don’t realize is that these first to ripen are merely a bit of a test for the plant, a “feeler” if you will:  How quickly the plant finds itself parted with its first offering is indication of “demand”, thus influencing “supply”.  Simple Economics.  If the first fruits of a plant are allowed to go to maturity and set seed, the plants gets the message to slow down growth, that it has accomplished its mission to reproduce and there is no need to produce very many more fruit.  If those first ones are picked, the plant kicks into production mode and begins to send out several more.

So, to get more beans, cukes or squash, it is important to go through and collect the first ones that appear.  You’ll get the double gratification of enjoying what you have grown and watching many more to come.

So pick all you want!  They’ll make more. 😉

In the Weeds

It has been dry.  We were finally relieved with some pleasant rain showers yesterday afternoon.  Besides the obvious need to water the pants, I am excited because the rain will soften the soil slightly, so I can get out on them with the tractor to cultivate.  I have to be vigilant about when soil conditions are optimal to do so, too dry and the soil will turn to powder and blow away.  Too wet, and the weight of the tractor will compact and deteriorate the soil.

When growing organically, weed control  is a challenge.  I rely largely in mechanical cultivation, dragging blades through the soil to disturb weed seedlings.

Tractor with cultivator set up to weed around two rows

Tractor with cultivator set up to weed around two rows

With this method, timing is essential.  Weeds are opportunistic and vigorous growers.  The younger the weed seedling, the better your chances of actually killing it. Especially if it you have dry weather for a couple days after.  This is true, too in the home garden:  Rustling about with the hoe while the seedlings are just sprouts can save you much work later on.

If the weather is wet for a spell and I cannot get out in to the fields, however, the weeds can quickly grow to the point of shrugging off the cultivator, at least the type I use.  There are other designs for different situations out there.  I have had to at times resort to using a weed whacker or lawn mover if the weeds get too far ahead.

The limitation of the cultivator is that while it eliminates weeds between the rows, the seeds hiding in the row with the crop are untouched.  These must be removed with hand tools or by pulling.

results of tool-bar cultivator with Danish (S) tines

results of tool-bar cultivator with Danish (S) tines

When removing larger weeds by hand, do your best to pull the roots out as well, or they will just re-sprout, often with more branches.  Be sure to completely remove them from the garden.  Tossed into a pile in the corner of the garden or leaving them lie where they were pulled is unwise, for they will easily re-root and resume growing, usually going immediately to seed from the stress.

Regardless of how else your gardening season goes, the best long-term strategy for dealing with weeds is to make it a point to stop all the weeds from going to seed, thus preventing more weed seeds from being added to your soil. Flowers produce seeds eventually, so when weeds flower, get them out of there!

Weeds getting ready to make seeds. Center, ;eft to right: ragweed, grass, campion (white flower), pigweed)

Weeds getting ready to make seeds. Center, left to right: ragweed, grass, campion (white flower), pigweed

You can reduce the current seed load by putting some of your growing space into what’s called a fallow.  This means not growing a crop on the space, but letting the weeds sprout, cultivating them to eliminate, letting another batch sprout, and repeating the process a few times over the course of abut 6 weeks or so to sort of ‘clean out’ your soil.

A rain shower following dry weather is a great time to pull weeds by hand.  Dry weeds have a weaker grip on the soil, and adding moisture allows the roots to easily slip from the dirt. You can achieve the same effect by watering the garden then immediately pulling the weeds.  This is only a grace period, however:  Within hours, those weed roots will drink up the water and attain an iron-like grip. Again, timing is everything:  After yesterday’s rain shower, I pretty much dropped everything and ran out to pull some ragweed that had gotten quite high in the cabbage patch, knowing if I waited until morning it would be rooted in too tight to pull.  Ever.

Chinese cabbage flanked by ragweed

Chinese cabbage flanked by ragweed

 

Yellow dock

Yellow dock

 

Docks are another weed with a firm grip that pretty much shrugs off the cultivator.  Burdock is best hoed out as a seedling, and yellow dock is advantageous to pull after a rain.

 

 

 

Get to know the seeds growing in your area and their growth habits, and you can get a fairly good leg up on them with vigilance and persistence.  I don’t ever expect to eliminate every weed from my fields, for a few around are beneficial for biodiversity, water retention, and insect habitat, but I do keep in mind that ever tiny weed left behind has the potential to become a 4’x4’x4′ shrub by season’s end.  So I do my best, knowing that somehow, a few weeds always get left behind.

Kimchi

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First batch for the season using Napa cabbage.

I make it by first soaking greens in salted water overnight.  Rinse 3-4 times, then I make a paste of garlic, onion, fresh ginger, salt, sugar, chili flakes and Cayenne flakes and a little sesame oil.  Amounts depend on how big the batch of greens.  I leave in a bowl covered with a cloth and set to ferment, 2 days to 2 weeks depending on the weather.  Adapted from recipe given to me by Old Barn Hollow.

Planning Ahead to go Local for the New Year

As we make our New Year’s Resolutions, one good one to keep in kind is that of producing or keeping more of your own food.  Now is the perfect time to plan for the coming growing season.  While it would be great  to provide all our own food for the year, taking on this entire task alone is unrealistic.  Many a well-meaning family has tried, only to become overwhelmed and give up.   In today’s world, it is very unlikely that one would be able to provide  all your own food, but one can certainly provide a number of key items for your family, and put a bit of a dent in your grocery bill.  The secret is using baby steps. Master one project at a time, try adding something new after your first successes.

Winter is traditionally a time of planning and dreaming about the summer garden.  Seed catalogues have arrived, and the chilly days and slower pace are perfect for sitting and musing about warmer days to come.  But it is also the time when your family is eating the foods that you’re going to want to put up for yourself.  Now is the time to pay attention and take note of what you are eating and buying at the grocery or market.  Local, seasonal eating takes practice, and working with what you are already doing is going to make the transition much easier.  Keep lists or a notebook if you need to, or keep  you grocery receipts.  See what veggies you are buying, which canned goods, which meats you eat the most often.  These are the foods to concentrate on when planning to provide your own.

And be honest with yourself:  One of the first canning projects many people undertake is cucumber pickles or relish.  Yummy as this is, it’s not really going to mean much to your family if they really don’t eat them anyway.  Find yourself eating more salsa instead? Marinara sauce?  Go for these items when canning instead.  Certainly, eating local and seasonal means learning how to eat what’s available and keep it interesting, but again, successes with your staple items will inspire you and your family to expand your palate and diet.

 How do you use fruit?  Do you  enjoy bread and jam, or chunky fruit with your oatmeal or yogurt?  Do you want whole strawberries for your Christmas cheesecake? Or do you enjoy strawberry sauce over ice cream?  Or both?  Keep these things in mind when planning how you can best prepare these items when preserving for yourself.

When your’e shopping at the store, stop and notice all the different ways foods are presented for you  to buy:  You’ll find items fresh, frozen, canned, dried.  How do you use these foods?

Once you’ve figured out which foods you use the most and want to try to provide for yourself or preserve for winter use, it’s time to come up with a realistic plan.  Again, using baby steps, figure out which foods you want to grow, which you should start buying in bulk to save money, and which you should purchase in bulk locally and put up for the winter.

Break it up into two groups:  What you can grow, what you can buy in bulk to can or freeze  to put up yourself.

Consider what you have available in terms of space to grow, freezer and pantry space.  If you have adequate space to grow some food, you can put some energy into that.  If you have freezer and pantry space, consider focusing on preserving foods you use often, and look for ways to save money by using your freezer.

Keep in mind that freezers are vulnerable to power outages, though these usually occur during winter months when the cold weather gives you an advantage.

Try to keep your freezer is in a cooler space (ours are outside our home.  My second choice for placement within the house is my pantry, which is off my unheated porch just a hair warmer than outside).  They come in many shapes and sizes, and often can be found rather in expensive in the classifieds.

If you don’t have an extra freezer, plan to dehydrate or can your foods.  Canning really is optimal, because the foods are safe from power outages.  You will of course still need storage space, for the jars both full and empty, but we Americans are accustomed to accumulation, and this for once is for a very useful cause.  If you don’t have a collection of  jars, put the word out with your friends that you are looking, and keep an eye on the classifieds, often people will sell their entire collections at once.  Canning kettles are fairly inexpensive, and a good one will last you for years.  And they come in different sizes, depending on how much space you have on your stove top.

A small dehydrator will not cost you    much and can really help with saving    summer bounty.  Kids love dried apples and peaches, and many other fruits and veggies dry well to be used later on.  And you can save  a ton of money drying your own herbs.  Fo’ schizzle.

Think about this for your meats, too.  Often you can get a discount if you buy in bulk.  Sometimes you need to find the right supplier, not all smaller operations can afford a substantial discount.  Or you may be able to buy whole or half animals, this is usually cheaper than the retail prices even with discount.

A family of six can easily take down at least two pigs a year, and it is so awfully handy to have it all in the freezer, rather than running to the store every week!  Buying a whole pig twice a year is a real money-saver.  Look into doing this with whatever meats your family enjoys.

Buying fruits like apples, peaches, pears and plums and canning or freezing for the winter is great for both better product and saving money. These can be used all year for so many things, and again so handy to have your own stash.

Berries freeze well alone or can be made into jam.  Jam can be used for cooking in a variety of ways, it’s becoming a real staple condiment in a true Foodista’s kitchen (sorry, Guys!  If you’re going to do it, you’re still a Foodista.  There is no ‘Foodistus’).

Think  pragmatically when planning what to grow.  Balance how much you consume with how much you can effectively grow.  Tomatoes are great, but they can be a lot of work and take up space, and if you need to can 50-100 jars, trying to grow that many if you have limited space may be impractical.  Buy those in bulk at market instead.  Grow for yourself instead things like salad greens and herbs, which can be pricey at market but fairly easy to grow.

When growing lettuces, ask around and make sure you get good varieties that do not bolt or get bitter easily.  Do not plant Black-Seeded Simpson.  Keep replanting every two weeks starting in early spring until it starts getting hot in June. Plant herbs in spring and keep cutting and drying your leaves so they keep growing back all summer. Bring them indoors if you want in the Fall.

Other items to grow that use less space and yield well are summer squashes, green beans, beets chard, collard and other greens, and scallions.  Onions can work out well, too, if you have the time (or a good trick) to keep them weeded.  Again, it all depends on how much room and fertility you have.  But in general, plan to buy-in and put up other veggies like sweet corn, winter squashes, melons, cukes, peppers, eggplants, etc. These items take more attention and space to grow, and might not be the best choice for beginners who are also trying to put up their own food.

Some of your pantry staples can be gotten in bulk, as well.  Check around and see if your community has a co-operative buying club or similar venture.  Flour, sugar, pasta, dried beans, rice, etc. are also handy to have in storage.  But do take caution, and keep your pantry items well-sealed against grain moths and moisture, both of which will ruin your foods.  Again, planning is important when taking on the responsibility of storing your own food, and it must be kept healthy and safe.

Do take this seriously:  It will do you no good to go through all the trouble of collecting  food all summer if it is tainted in storage.  This means diligence.

Make sure your freezers are running properly.  And plugged in.  Make sure your children do not leave the doors open.

Your pantry must be cool, dark and dry, but shouldn’t freeze.  Dehydrated items must stay dry until use.  Canning jar lids should always be double-checked for a tight seal before opening to use, and get in the habit of sniffing each and every jar before you serve.  But these things re just that– habits.  You’ll get used to doing these things, and they will become second-nature. Every little bit takes you one step closer to food independence.

That’s enough for now. Next few posts we’ll talk about different ways you can procure your own food in different living situations.  Whether you live in an apartment in town, in a house in suburbia or out in the sticks, there are different things you can do to get more of your own food locally and in season.  So stay tuned and start planning!

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