Smoking Fruits And Vegetables

When Smoking Is A Good Thing

This weekend, my band, Time & Tide, played at the Bainbridge Island Farmer’s Market. As usual, we had a grand old time, and as usual, we brought home fresh produce, but this time, I also snagged some homemade smoked tomato pasta sauce. Wow! That reminded me that my Alma paprikas are about ready to harvest, since you can make sweet, mild, hot or sizzling paprika from the same plant by picking then they are white, yellow, orange or red. Paprikas are tasty fresh, but exceptional when smoked. Smoking gives ordinary food big umami flavor, making it a natural technique for vegetarians and vegans as well as omnivores.

If you use a smoker or smoke food on a covered grill, you already know what you’re doing. If you don’t, consider borrowing one before you invest, but I’m betting you will after you try smoking your own hot peppers, among other things (smoked tofu, anyone?). Why bother? Well, because pretty much anything, from peaches and carrots to hazelnuts to olives or olive oil, can be magically transformed by smoking. Oil? Really? Yup; after your main event is smoked and on the table, pour some high temp avocado or safflower oil (or a blended olive oil) into a roasting pan or deep baking dish and tuck it on the remaining coals for about 15 minutes. The result is flat out astounding and can be gainfully used in sauces, roux, vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, you name it.

Transformational Smoke

Everyone knows about smoked peppers, from chipotles to paprika, but smoking is especially kind to blander fruits and vegetables, since like slow roasting, it awakens deep, lush flavors that are often hidden. Smoked carrots (skinny babies) or mushrooms (whole or stemmed), for instance, make outrageous appetizers or miraculous soups, and add depth and finish to stews. Smoked garlic (whole heads, unpeeled, no oil needed) is a revelation. Smoked corn on the cob (shucked first) is a treat that needs no butter or salt to boost the flavor. Smoked peaches, cherries tart or sweet, figs, or pears make a plain salad fabulous and are memorably zingy sides for fish or fowl. Smoked tomatoes can also be used in a million ways, adding tang to chili and taking tomato soup to a whole new level, but they may shine brightest in pasta sauces.

Those who don’t have access to outdoor cooking may want to try using oven smoking bags, foil packets with various kinds of wood chips enclosed that can be used in a regular oven. You can find hickory, alder, and mesquite versions at high end venues like Williams Sonoma and plenty of plain Jane places too. If you know folks who smoke their own fish or bacon, you might also swap some homegrown produce in exchange for smoking your share as well.

Simple Smokery

Some things, such as peppers, garlic heads, and small figs, can be smoked whole. However, most fruits and vegetables will gain the biggest flavor when they’re halved, so smoke can penetrate their interiors. Unless you have an old beater roasting pan (as I do), you might want to use a foil one, since the outside can get pretty nasty. If you’re using smoking bags in the oven, just line whatever baking dish you use with foil to keep them free of greasy smoke stains. In any case, place your goodies cut side up and smoke them over low heat (about 220-240 degrees F.).

Timing varies; sauce tomatoes, carrots, and firm pears or apples will benefit from 4-6 hours of smoking, while pitted tart cherries or olives are plenty smoky after an hour or less and chopped or smaller nuts only need 20-30 minutes. To figure out your own preferences, start tasting larger, moister things like peaches and tomatoes after a couple of hours to see how you prefer them. Smoking works best with ripe yet firm, meaty tomatoes like San Marzano or similar plum or sauce types, but not so well with tender, juicy slicers. Peppers, whether sweet or savory or spicy, can take less than an hour for fiery little bird peppers or 3-4 hours for larger Italian heirloom grilling peppers or thick-walled bells. My Alma paprikas need 2-3 hours to get dry enough to grind, and jalapenos want about 3 hours to become chipotles.

Smoked Tomato Pasta Sauce

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped smoked tomatoes
2 cups chopped ripe fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
extra sprigs of basil for garnish

In a sauce pan, combine oil, onion, and salt over medium low heat and cook until tender (8-10 minutes). Add garlic and celery and cook for 5 minutes. Add smoked and fresh tomatoes, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in chopped basil and serve over hot pasta, garnished with basil sprigs. Serves 4-6.

Smoked Garlic, Radicchio And Walnut Sauce

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large red onion, chopped
1 head smoked garlic, peeled and chopped
2 cups shredded radicchio
1/2 cup dry white wine such as a Pinot Grigio
1/4 cup chopped flat parsley

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil and walnuts over medium high heat and cook, tossing often, until lightly golden. Transfer nuts to a plate, sprinkle with a little salt, set aside. Add onion to oil in pan and cook until soft (5-6 minutes). Add garlic and remaining salt and cook until pale golden (3-4 minutes). Add radicchio and cook, stirring often, until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Add wine, bring to a simmer and serve over hot rice or pasta, topping each serving with walnuts and chopped parsley. Serves 2-3.

Posted in preserving food, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Tomatoes, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

High Summer Huckleberry Heaven

Native Fruit Makes Good (Pies)

Summertime, and the eating is…fabulous, especially now that the huckleberries are ripening. Indeed, f you want, you can skip all the chatter and cut straight to the recipes below, which I promise you will not regret. Anyway, one of the highlights of my summer is always the huckleberry harvest. Yes they are fiddly to pick and yes they are a bother to stem, but nothing matches that tart-tangy flavor of the wild berries. The maritime Pacific Northwest is home to over a dozen species of huckleberries, and several of the tastiest are still quite common despite rampant development. In high summer, the berry-laden bushes are busy with birds and bears, not to mention squirrels, raccoons, opossums, foxes and even mice. Everybody loves a tasty treat, and picking in the wild can be an adventure as various critter fan clubs protect their territory. Luckily for me, I’ve got several kinds of hucks growing along my lengthy driveway, and so far, the fiercest harvesting competition comes from my young housemates.

While many parts of the country lay claim to huckleberries, not all are members of the Vaccinium or blueberry clan, as our maritime Northwest hucks are. In fact, what some regions call huckleberries are nightshade family members, toxic when raw, but our natives are all edible raw or cooked. Not surprisingly, First Nations folks have delighted in these piquant berries since forever, and after a few decades of decline, commercial harvesting in state and national forests has picked up speed again, both for fruit and for florists greenery. However, huckleberries aren’t the only wild thing out there: If you are wandering through the woods and come across bright berries, check for the distinctive circular ripple or ‘crown’ marking on the blossom end. If it looks like the one on a blueberry, it’s edible. If not, leave it for the birds, please.

Huckleberry Friends

Though huckleberry/Vaccinium taxonomy is complex (with around 450 species, no wonder, really), for most of us, the most beloved kinds include both black-fruited, evergreen V. ovatum and red-fruited, deciduous V. parvifolium. Evergreen huckleberries make excellent garden plants, stretching anywhere from 6-12 feet high and nearly as wide over time. Their small, serrated leaves and eccentric form make them especially valuable in naturalistic landscapes, but they can also be sheared into cubes or bloblets if that’s your groove. The dainty pink spring flowers are bee magnets and by high summer, the handsome shrubs are heavily hung with tiny berries, which may be a faded-jeans blue, a deeper midnight purple, or a glossy black. Though they thrive in shade, they can also take quite a bit of sun as long as they also get some summer water during hot spells. Lacking pests and suffering from few diseases, these hard workers make great choices for sustainable garden designs. Two selected forms of V. ovatum, Thunderbird  and Wunderlich, are particularly compact and shapely.

Deciduous and delicate looking, red huckleberry (V. parvifolium) is the quintessential nurse log companion, with soft green leaves and small, vividly scarlet berries. Quite variable in the wild, it ranges from 3-10 feet high, tending to be more compact in sun and taller and more open in form in shady spots. Like the evergreens, these attractive shrubs prefer moist, retentive, acidic soils and do best with morning sun and light afternoon shade. They tend to bear heavily in alternate years (at least, mine do) and their flavor is brighter and a bit sassier than the evergreen hucks.

Hogging The Huckleberry Harvest

Whatever the species, huckleberries start ripening in mid to late August and can continue well into September, especially if we’ve had a few good summer rains. Picking huckleberries is no task for weenies, as the berries are annoyingly small and ripe ones are almost always mixed with unripe fruit, so you really have to pay attention if you want to keep the harvest going. The process is greatly eased by using a two-hand picking container; my favorite is a large Nancy’s yogurt tub fitted with a wide cloth neck band (adapted from an old guitar strap). Wearing this extremely attractive item, I can pull down a loaded branch with one hand and carefully pick off the ripe berries with the other, letting them tumble into the large container just a few inches away.

After the tedium of picking, rinsing, and stemming the little buggers, here’s what I do with these precious delectables:

Irresistible Huckleberry Pie

2 pie crusts (see below or use your favorites)
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of sea salt
5 cups fresh huckleberries, stemmed, rinsed, drained
1 lemon, rind grated, juiced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, diced

Line a pie dish with one crust, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, tapioca, coriander, and salt. Stir in huckleberries and lemon juice and let stand 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 F. Fill pie crust with huckleberry mixture and dot with butter. Top with second crust, trim edge and flute or crimp. Slit crust a few times so steam can escape, place pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 450 F until crust starts to brown (20-25 minutes). Reduce heat to 350 F and bake until crust is golden brown (35-40 minutes). Remove to a cooling rack and let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Serves at least one.

Perfectly Simple Flaky Pie Crust

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/3-1/2 cup ice water

In a food processor, pulse dry ingredients together 2-3 times, then add butter and pulse 3-4 times until evenly distributed. Drizzle in ice water a tablespoonful at a time, pulsing once each time, until mixture clumps together in small balls. Divide in 2 pieces and chill for 30 minutes, then lightly roll each piece into an 12 inch circle. Makes 2 crusts to fit a 9-inch pie pan.

Lemon Huckleberry Birthday Tart

A few days ago, a dear friend came of age (ok, turned 60) and as my part of the potluck festivities, I made a lemon curd tart dotted with tart, tangy huckleberries. The combination was sumptuous; velvety, spunky, and intriguingly sweet-tart. Despite competition from a magnificent chocolate and coconut layer cake, there wasn’t much lemon tart left at the party’s end (darn). For one thing, everyone knows what a pain huckleberries are to pick, so the labor-of-love part was pleasantly acknowledged.

If you give it a try (and you will be glad you did), it’s wise to use organic ingredients, since you’ll be eating both lemon zest (no pesticide residues, please) and lightly cooked eggs. To make serving easier, use a two-part tart pan so you can transfer the baked crust to a platter before filling it. An immersion (stick) blender makes this recipe a lot simpler as well.

Lemon Cream Tart With Huckleberries

4 large or 6 smaller lemons
1 cup cane sugar
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted pasture butter
1 baked pie shell (can be gluten free)
1 cup huckleberries, stemmed, rinsed, and drained

Grate the rind off 3 lemons, set aside. Juice lemons and strain juice into a measuring cup; you want a generous 3/4 cup. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sugar with the grated rind and rub together thoroughly with your fingers. Whisk in eggs one at a time, then whisk in lemon juice. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water over medium low heat, whisking continually (more or less) until mixture thickens and the whisk leaves little grooves in it. This can take a while, 20 minutes or so, so have a magazine on hand. If you have an instant thermometer, keep going until it hits 180 degrees F. Remove the bowl from heat and cool for 15 minutes, then cut in butter with the stick blender. Blend the cream until light and, well, creamy (2-3 minutes). Cover bowl and chill for at least an hour before filling the baked crust. Cover the top thickly with huckleberries and refrigerate until serving time (3-4 hours is good). Serves at least one.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Tart Crust

This is a great substitute for a graham cracker crust, and works for savory things too. Where dairy is not an issue, you can substitute butter for the coconut oil if you prefer, and many kinds of nuts will do the trick, though very high-fat nuts like cashews and peanuts tend to turn to butter very quickly, so walnuts, pecans, or macadamias make better choices.

1-1/2 cups almonds or hazelnuts
1-1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 tablespoons coconut oil
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a food processor, grind nuts and oats to a coarse meal, add remaining ingredients and pulse a few times until mixture forms a ball (or ring). Pat into a pie pan and bake at 350 degrees F until golden brown (12-15 minutes). Cool on a rack to room temperature before filling. (This crust may be too brittle to transfer so fill and serve it in the baking pan.)

Posted in Growing Berry Crops, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Home Grown Figs Inside Or Out

A Fabulous Fig Feast

The high summer heat of August brings many garden treasures to fruition, from tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers to peaches, persimmons, and plums. Amongst all this bounty, the first ripe figs stand out for their luscious, juicy tenderness. Growing up in New England, I only knew dried figs, which came in tightly pressed rounds threaded on thick string. Dense, chewy and sticky as honey, they only appeared (at our home, anyway) during the winter holidays.

When I spent a few years in Italy, I discovered a new world of fresh figs, meltingly tender, and succulent. I vividly recall picking small green figs so ripe they burst open at a touch, the soft skin parting to reveal lush pink inner flesh, the effect weirdly both sensual and somehow suggestive of invasive surgery. More formally, raw figs came to the table dressed in balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, draped with prosciutto, or dabbed with soft goat cheese and thick fruit conserves. Figs were also baked with chestnuts, broiled with savory cheeses, or grilled and brushed with honey.

A Fruit As Old As Time

For obvious reasons, ripe figs have delighted diners for thousands of years, and were among the earliest to be domesticated. Largely native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, figs have gradually been bred to withstand cooler climates. Today, these hardier fig varieties may be grown throughout the United States, though where summers are cool, figs are most productive if espaliered against a warm south-facing wall. As well, many kinds of fig can flourish in containers, since restricting root growth promotes heavier fruiting. Given the protection of a greenhouse or heated sunporch, figs may be grown successfully even in harsh environments.

Though figs are pollinated by tiny wasps, Smyrna and Calimyrna figs need a non-fruiting pollinator partner called a caprifig, or wild goat fig tree, in order to set fruit. Self-fertile or common figs produce well without pollination, often in both an early ‘breba’ crop that forms on old wood and a later, larger crop on new wood from the current season. Popular common figs include cold-hardy types like Chicago, with intensely flavorful, medium-sized purple fruit, and Brown Turkey, which bears large, succulent brown fruit. Other notably cold hardy figs include Adriana, Brooklyn White, Celeste,
Dark Portuguese, Paradiso White, and dusky Violetta.

Italian Honey Figs

My personal favorites are the Italian Honey figs, of which there are several varieties. My young Lattarulla, the classic form, is espalliered on wire mesh on my south-facing deck, where it seems quite happy so far. Lattarulla delightfully combines a slightly tangy green skin with sweet, rosy innerds. A fairly recent import from Sicily, Peter’s Honey is also exceptionally flavorful, with pale green skin and honey-tinted flesh. Both need some protection from frost in order for their early breba crops to ripen well, so give them a warm spot against a south-facing wall if possible. In the ground, these fellows can exceed 20 feet, though when grown for production, hard pruning keeps them smaller.

Perhaps the most enchanting fig I’ve ever seen, an Aussie figlet called Little Ruby is billed as a natural dwarf that offers masses of adorably tiny, burgundy skinned fruits. Native to Australia rather than the Mediterranean, Ficus rubiginosa can get enormous, but is very often bonsaied to splendid effect. Little Ruby snuggles happily into large containers and will overwinter in a sun room or on a deep windowsill in colder regions (though it’s hardy to zone 6). Another dwarf fig variety suitable for container growing, Black Jack crops generously at a young age, often stabilizing at around six feet in height when container grown. The green skinned fruits turn purple when ripe.

Making Figs Happy

In gardens, figs prefer full sun and deep, well drained soil, amply amended with mature compost. Most figs are disease-free and have few if any pests. Water young trees consistently until they are fully established, and give them an inch of water a week in summer. During hot spells, figs may drop fruit if drought stressed, so water deeply every other week to keep roots well irrigated. Mulch with mature compost and flaked straw to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Don’t be tempted to over-feed them; high-nitrogen feeds tend to encourage foliage rather than fruit. However, container-grown fig trees will need a mild (5-5-5) monthly feeding from late spring through mid-summer. To enjoy the fruit of your labor, cover fig trees with bird netting as figs ripen. Harvest figs as they ripen and grow soft, as they won’t continue to ripen once picked.

Tough commercial growers prune figs hard, unless they are espalier trained, figs rarely need more than light pruning. Fig tree sap can irritate skin, so always wear gloves and protective clothing when pruning. In late winter, remove dead, damaged or diseased branches as well as any that cross or rub another branch. If a fig tree seems crowded, remove inward growing branches to open the plant’s core to light and air. Prune off all water shoots (straight, upward-growing shoots along lateral branches) as well as suckers from the base of your tree. To keep pruning balanced, begin with the lower branches and work your way upwards.

Reveling In Ripe Figs

Though you can store fresh figs in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, they taste at room temperature, and really are best when sun-warm and just picked. Their complex flavor profile makes figs as versatile as raspberries or tart pie cherries, equally at home in savory or sweet dishes. To start your day of well, add chopped fresh figs and almonds to morning oatmeal or muesli, or spike fig and banana smoothies with a dash of maple syrup. Split fresh figs in half and fill with asiago or pecorino cheese, or garnish a green salad with slivered fresh figs and toss with a citrusy dressing.

Fig And Feta Salad

4 cups mixed greens
1 cup shredded arugula
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
4 ripe figs, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons finely sliced basil

Toss greens with green onions and divide between four plates. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil and feta, set aside. Divide figs, olives, and nuts between plates, drizzle with feta dressing and serve, garnished with basil. Serves four.

Grape Stuffed Figs

8 large red or green seedless grapes, frozen
1 ounce fresh goat cheese or mascarpone
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped
8 ripe figs, whole

Gently roll grapes in soft cheese, patting as needed to coat thoroughly, then roll in chopped nuts. Slit each fig and insert a grape, leaving the fig partly open. Makes 8.

Fig And Honey Ice Cream

1 pint vanilla ice cream, homemade or any
4 ripe figs, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons local honey

Let ice cream stand at room temperature until slightly softened (10-15 minutes). Combine chopped figs and honey and swirl into softened ice cream. Repack into a freezer container and freeze until hard (at least an hour). Serves at least one.

Posted in Early Crops, fall/winter crops, Garden Prep, Pruning, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Time Tricks For Treating Moss

Safe & Easy Ways To Get Moss Gone

I like moss. When I first came to the Seattle area, I was delighted to see plush carpets of emerald mosses spreading under big, shady trees. My early taste in garden design was heavily influenced by reading English children’s books, especially the kind that feature secret and/or magical gardens. To this day, I find the look of mossy, overgrown pathways enticing. Who knows where they might lead? After some forty years in the maritime Northwest, I feel that nothing gives a garden a more natural look than mossy pots, mossy trees, mossy un-lawns. I’ve even developed a simple formula to encourage moss on fallen logs or raw new terra cotta containers. (Hint: it involves diluted buttermilk and crumbled bits of your favorite moss.)

However, as a home owner, I’ve had to reconsider my romantic ideals. I still encourage moss instead of lawn where lawns don’t thrive, and I still love mossy woodland paths, but I am no longer captivated by mossy sidewalks or roofs. I’m also disenchanted with the pollen and mold buildup which tends to accumulate on fences, furniture, and house walls. While you can to some degree disguise this build up by painting outbuildings and outdoor furniture a similar color (a not-unpleasing grey green nicely matched by Benjamin Moore Nantucket Grey and/or Sussex Green), it’s better for the long term well being of your real property to power wash the stuff off every few years.

When Romance Fades

In my own case, my romantic vision caused me to allow moss to accumulate on the north side of my roof and to infiltrate the brick pathway to my front door. Actually, I didn’t realize just how mossy the roof had become until an infestation of roof rats encouraged me to remove all the trees that hung over the house. It cost me a pang (and a chunk of change) to remove the trees, even though most of them were misshapen from years of bad pruning (before my time, I need hardly say, right?).

Only one, a graceful Japanese maple, was actually handsome, but it was rapidly outgrowing its position and those arching limbs nearly hit the ground in places when the leaves were wet. Though I didn’t want to admit it, this tree obscured the main entrance and caused some major awkwardness, as when the EMTs coming to help get my tumbled Mom back in bed couldn’t find the front door and squeezed in past my car through the narrow carport to the back door. That tree also overhung the roof, creating perfect conditions for moss mats to form and spread and suddenly romance gave way to practicality. Roofs are not cheap.

Light And Air Are Moss Enemies

Once the trees were gone, it became clear that a lot of silent damage was being done to my infrastructure. Yikes! No more Ms. Nice Gal. Now, sunlight and good air circulation can help keep moss at bay but they rarely make it go away. We started repairs by power washing the deck and house walls. Power washing does a pretty good job of removing pollen, but it’s not very effective for keeping moss away. For one thing, moss develops tiny tenticular rootlets that penetrate wood and brick and stone. You can blast away the top growth, but unless the rootlets are also zapped, the moss will creep back.

Since the sidewalk needed rebuilding by this time, each brick was blasted before replacing it in the new, wider walkway. Even so, within a few months, the green proto mosses were creeping back. To stop them, we spread baking soda heavily over the entire path. After a few days, the mossy bits turned rust colored and could be swept away. However, wet weather always brought the green guys back. The long term solution that works best is to repeat the baking soda treatment every time any hint of green appears. Luckily, baking soda is cheap, especially when bought in hefty 13 pound bags at a box store.

Don’t Knock Baking Soda On Wood

The baking soda treatment also works on wooden decking and stairs, and is especially effective in the warmer, dryer months of summer. Wet down the wood, sprinkle on baking soda generously and let it sit for a few days. When the moss dries out and turns rusty red, sweep away the gunge and repeat as needed. For wooden furniture and stair risers, power washing can be followed up by brushing on a paste of baking soda and a little water with a little bit of dish soap for a sticking agent.

For the past few years, I’ve kept my north-facing roof moss free by sprinkling it with baking soda each summer. Or rather, more truthfully, I have caused younger people to do the sprinkling, since I no longer climb on ladders. The first time they did this, my intrepid crew scrubbed off the thickest moss with stiff brushes that would not harm the composition shingles (as even low-power power washing can do). The thing is, here in the maritime Northwest, rooftops can accumulate not just moss but a clingy matrix of mosses, algae, fungi and lichens. Each has its own gnarly root system and when meshed together, they can be very difficult to remove.

Keep It Safe & Simple

Chemical ‘fixes’ abound, but few are environmentally friendly and some are seriously unwholesome (including bleach, which can stain the roof). For badly infested roofs, the best treatment is a staged series; first, gently scrub off the accumulated growth. Next, brush over the affected areas with the paste of baking soda, water, and dish soap as described above. Let that stay on until rain washes it away. Next summer, repeat the brush on treatment over any areas that still show signs of moss, and sprinkle baking soda anywhere on the rest of the roof that used to have moss, even if you no longer see any.

Unlike most commercial moss killers, baking soda won’t harm garden plants, soil, or water. True, dumping a whole bagful on a given plant won’t be beneficial, but runoff from a roof or deck cleaning job won’t hurt anything. Several readers have asked whether they could safely collect garden-irrigating rainwater off a roof if a toxic moss killer had been used to keep the roof clean. The answer is NO: Rainwater contaminated with zinc, iron or copper should certainly not be used on edible plants. Moss killers based on zinc or copper create toxic runoff that can harm fish and aquatic life (as well as people, in high enough concentrations). Iron solutions are less toxic (though not entirely harmless) but they can permanently stain roof shingles, decks, siding, and lawn furniture, as well as concrete walkways.

Wise Avoidance Techniques

I am also often asked if it’s possible to prevent moss from invading lawns and garden beds in the first place. Well, here in moss heaven, that’s not an easy proposition, but there are some things that will help. Most important are to improve the amount of light and air circulation in the garden, and to change soil from fungal to bacterial domination. Have a skilled arborist prune trees to allow more light and air to reach shady areas. Reorganize beds so pathways are spacious and hedges are divided from beds by service walkways (this really helps when pruning time rolls around). Changing up soil domination is best accomplished by adding compost annually to beds and lawns. Over time, this will balance out soil Ph and help open up compacted or clay-based soils. Finally, don’t over-plant tall shrubs and trees again!

Almost equally simple is this anti-fungicidal solution, which is effective against powdery mildew and molds on plant foliage. It’s also safe to use on edible plants (just rinse well as usual before eating them), and on lawns with red thread or fairy mushroom rings. in addition, this baking soda solution helps prevent early blight on tomatoes, a common problem in the maritime Northwest.

Baking Soda Blend For Plant Problems

2 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 gallon water
1/4 teaspoons mild castile liquid soap
(Dr. Bronner’s or similar)

Thoroughly wet down affected foliage/lawn, then apply this mild treatment, shaking the spray container frequently to keep solution from separating. Spray foliage top and bottom (if applicable) or saturate well (lawns). Repeat weekly or as needed. Rinse sprayer in warm, soapy water after each use.

Posted in pests and pesticides, Pets & Pests In The Garden, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Weed Control | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments