Sunday, April 26, 2009

If beef's the king of meat, potato's the queen of the garden world. ~Irish Saying

Just this past week I planted approximately 50 potatoes in my garden.  If this crop does even moderately well I believe that I will probably have enough potatoes for myself and to trade or sell to others.  But as I planted all of these potatoes (8 different varieties) I began to wonder about the potato itself.  For the potato is one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in America, second only to corn.  This seems appropriate since these two vegetables are native to the Americas.  However I think you must look at the history of the potato to truly appreciate its rise to stardom in America.  For a little over 140 years ago the potato was nearly non-existent as a culinary dish in the United States.

Archaeologists have found remains of potatoes that date back nearly 2500 years in the modern regions of Peru and Chile.  The Incas grew and worshiped the potato as a divine gift.  The Incas would have storage sites along their roads.  Within these storage sites potatoes would lie waiting for the hungry traveler who needed their nourishment.  The conquistadors of course invaded and conquered the Americas in the 1500's. In 1565 a Spanish conquistador named Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada took the potato back to Spain in lieu of the gold that he was supposed to have found.  Although this may not be the first time potatoes were brought to Europe it is the first recorded event of when they were brought back.  The Spanish were so taken with the potato that they kept them on all of their sailing ships.  It should also be noted that on ships where sailors ate potatoes scurvy did not occur.  

However it should be noted that the potato did not receive as good a reception from the rest of Europe as it did from Spain.  It was considered by many to be a weird, poisonous. and evil plant.  In France the potato was thought to cause leprosy, syphilis, narcosis, scrofula, early death, sterility, and rampant sexual behavior.  Many farmers also believed that the potato would destroy the soil where it grew making it impossible to grow anything else where it grew. The town of Besancon, France passed an edict in opposition to the potato that stated, "In view of the fact that the potatoe is a pernicious substance whose use can cause leprosy, it is hereby forbidden, under pain of fine, to cultivate it."  Legend has it that a Spanish ship wrecked off the coast of Ireland and potatoes washed ashore giving the Irish their potatoes. 

However, it wasn't until the late 1700's that potatoes really made a show in Europe.  French military chemist Antonin-Augustin Parmentier won a contest to create a stable food crop that would help stave off famine and offer the French military an abundant source of food.  Parmentier convinced King Louis XVI to allow him to plant potatoes on 100 acres of worthless land just outside of Paris.  He also convinced the King that a group of soldiers would be needed to gaurd the crops during the day and night.  A couple of months after the potatoes were planted he arranged for the soldiers to be absent one night.  As Parmentier predicted the local farmers scrambled across the fields in search of a crop that was so important that the King would set men to guard it.  After this night the potato became a staple crop in every French farmer's garden.  In the 1790's Marie Antoinette would wear potato flowers in her hair.  Because of this all the ladies of France during this era would wear the flowers of the potato in their hair.

Luther Burbank a horticulturist, in 1872, develops the Russet Burbank and with this development the Idaho potato industry begins to take off.  The secret behind the Russet Burbank is the fact that it is close in taste to the Irish potato but much more disease resistant.  

"Money is the root of all evil, and yet it is such a useful root that we cannot get on without it any more than we can without potatoes."
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), American novelist

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Garden Raisin'

This past Saturday Naomi and I went to a friends house to help them redesign their garden area. This process involved the moving of dirt and plants in one area to a new area and redoing the pathways between the beds. In the beginning of the day we all moved with a gradual motion. The hot sun made us a bit lethargic in our work. However after lunch (which was great so thanks Kathy) with the impending sense of rain we worked with a renewed speed and as the first few drops were felt we picked up the pace and began to finish the project. This time was well spent because it gave me a feel of community and camaraderie that only comes from truly helping out a friend.

While I was at their house I took a look at their fruit trees and grape vines. Fruit trees are not a part of our garden nor our plan (at least at this time). Fruit trees take a bit more patience than what I seem to have. You can plant a fruit tree but you might need to wait three years or so before anything comes of it. I sometimes have a hard time waiting for the vegetables to grow by the end of summer. So I have a bit of respect for Kelly and his wife who can dedicate that kind of patience to a plant. I am sure they will see big dividends when the time finally comes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Grayslake Farmers' Market

Well for the past two weekends I have once again enjoyed the chance to go to the Grayslake Farmers' Market. Although this Saturday version is just a warm up to the extravaganza that takes place once it moves to Wednesday afternoons, I am still happy to be able to buy locally grown/ raised products. However, as you can probably expect for this time of the year, much of the items for sale are breads, pastries, meat, and canned items. For the past couple of years I have been trying to buy some of my meat from locally raised providers and the rest from companies that certify organic For example when I am at the farmers' market I try to buy meat from the people selling it there. One such person is Lester, who raises and sells buffalo. He usually has a wide variety of steaks, sausage, ground meat, and more. Interestingly enough, he also still has some apple cider (frozen) left over from the fall. This is a welcome treat especially when your own supply of frozen cider has just recently ran out.
This past Saturday we purchased a dozen eggs from Farmer Nick and a whole chicken the Saturday before. Farmer Nick has a nice selection of pork as well, such as nitrate free bacon. If you have never been to the Grayslake Farmers' Market or one near where you live I suggest that you go there and experience it. You never know what you may discover.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rain, Rain, Stay Right Here

Looking outside right now a smile comes to my lips as I see the rain drops hit the ground. It isn't a hard rain but just a slow soak. The perfect kind for the day after planting seeds. I know most people disdain the rain and on a cold day like today I can somewhat understand. However it is rains like these that really do the job for us gardeners. Of course I am sitting here right now wishing I had put my rain barrels outside this past weekend. That will definitely be on the list this coming weekend.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Year of Locally Grown & The Friends of Ryerson Woods

America's disassociation with its food maybe one of our biggest cultural crimes. A majority of children and adults go through their day without any real clue of the effort and resources it takes for thier food to reach their plate. Additionally many people make decisions regarding their food that damages not only their health but the health of our planet. Many of us may have heard the term locally grown or locavore in the past year or two, but what do these terms really mean and how can they help not only us but our planet?

Well these and other questions like them will be taken up this year by The Friends of Ryerson Woods and their Year of Locally Grown. They will explore these ideas through a varitey of media.
Go to their website and see how they can help you to better understand these ideas.

Garden Book Club

On April 26th Sandhill Organics will host the first meeting of The Friends of Ryerson Woods book discussion group. Ryerson Woods is a 552-acre conservation area near Deerfield. The discussion group will meet in Sandhill Organics' greenhouse at the farm to discuss Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. The discussion will be led by Linda Bubon of Women and Children First, an independent book store in Chicago. You may register online at For more information about The Friends of Ryerson Woods visit

Its been awhile but a lot has happened

This past weekend Naomi and I spent our Saturday afternoon installing our fencing for our vegetable garden. This process although long went very well, except for the loss of cable. It seems that our cable line was not buried very deep. In fact it was only a couple of inches below the surface. So the green pole that I hammered into the ground split it in two. Leaving us without cable for a few days. This on the whole was not too bad since we both spent the evening hours reading. This weekend we also prepared some trays with seeds; onions, basil, tomatoes, melons, peppers, sage, and sunflowers.

Also, my sampler pack of potatoes came from Seed Savers Exchange. This included 8 varieties and 20 pounds! Needless to say I have been dealing potatoes out from my house. Handing them out to anyone who wants them from just a couple to a small sack. I am looking forward to growing potatoes this year as they are another one of the vegetables that we still seem to buy from the store. The varieties that were sent by Seed Savers Exchange are Yukon Gold, La Ratte, Austrian Crescent, Purple Viking, Red Gold, All Blue, All Red (aka Cranberry Red), and Kerr's Pink. I am quite excited about the All Blue and the Purple Viking since I love unusually colorful food. I am also interested in the La Ratte which is supposed to be a fingerling with excellent flavor. I am told that its flavor contains a hint of nuttiness.

Today Naomi planted spinach, multi-colored carrots, beans, red leaf lettuce, radishes, and cilantro. I also checked up on my garlic (German Hardy and Georgian Fire) which I planted during the fall. As I lifted up the straw to take a little peek I was happy to see some shoots staring back at me. I find it amazing how happy I get whenever I see any sprouts sticking up through the soil. Knowing that my work and care wasn't for naught.

Today I also worked on adjusting the gate to our vegetable garden. It kept getting hung up on one of the walls of the raised bed. However after a bit of shaving and cutting I believe that the gate swings open fairly easily. Although the gate is not exactly the way I wanted it and I can see myself tinkering with it in the coming months. I believe that it looks much better than our old one and it quite a bit more functional.