As the rains come down and average temperatures rise, our paper garden lists are shifting to what-to-plant-this-week lists. Cold hardy greens are my usual first crops, but I’m also considering crops that pack a nutritional wallop. Why? Here in the Maritime Northwest, awareness has been building around several possible scenarios that could result in communities getting cut off from our usual support systems. Earthquake, anyone? Tsunami for afters? Mudslides, rivers flooding, volcanoes erupting…sounds like a second string action film, but local governments, especially along the coast, are asking citizens to get ready for The Big One, in whatever form it may take.
Seriously? The political scene isn’t enough to keep us on red alert? Well, yes. Seriously. Here on my home island, Preparedness teams are coming together to help teach folks how to take care of themselves when the need arises. I’ve been asked to join a team that focusses on food security, since it’s pretty clear that 24,000 people will still need to eat even if the many daily trailer trucks can’t get to our grocery stores. We’re looking at local open space that could become viable farmland, but we’re also looking into high-yield food production techniques that anyone with a backyard can adopt. Like what? Well, for starters, there’s French Intensive, with it’s focus on double-depth digging (one time only), and Biodynamic French Intensive, which seeks to create closed cycles of soil nutrient use/replenishment. Both an be emulated with less soil disturbance by making mounded or raised beds that combine native soils with mature composts. In very limited spaces, boxed beds filled with excellent and frequently replenished soils can be nearly as efficient even on a small scale.
Biggest Nutritional Bang For Your Energy Buck
Fortunately many people have been exploring ways to step subsistence farming up a notch or six. Worried about overdoing it? There’s really no downside to growing abundance: whatever your family can’t eat can be passed on to friends and food banks. Most practitioners start by growing as wide a range as possible of foods with the highest ratios of nutrient/acreage. For home gardeners, this mainly means growing lots of varieties of beans and potatoes, traditional subsistence crops that have served many cultures well for millennia. Next come hardy leafy greens, from kale and cabbage to winter hardy lettuces and Asian greens. Along bed edges, we can insert storage onions, garlic, and leeks, along with clumps of perennial chives and other hardy herbs. Not so different from what we might grow anyway, but the quantities might be significantly greater and we might choose more long keepers over fleeting treats. We can also “grow the rainbow”, since the most colorful forms of anything edible are generally the most nutritionally rich.
We might also pay a lot more attention to selecting OP varieties. OP stands for Open Pollinated, which means that seed strains have been grown long enough to stabilize and you can save and sow the seed yourself with a reasonable expectation of raising crops that look and taste the same as their parents. Seed saving also involves selecting a few of the best plants and allowing them to go to seed, then collecting and preserving that ripe seed for another year. That’s important, as it’s tempting to save seed from less desirable plants but logically, that will lead to weakening the stock. Pollinator friendly flowers and herbs are just as important to food security as the main crops themselves, of course, and room must be found for these (again, along bed edges and ends are great spots).
Try Tastier Tubers
Introduced to Europe nearly 500 years ago, plain old potatoes quickly became staples for the peasantry. Eventually the rural poor became so dependent on them that when late blight wiped out Ireland’s potatoes in the mid nineteenth century, thousands starved and thousands more emigrated to the New World. The first disease-resistant potatoes were bred to be good commercial crops, bland long keepers that stored and shipped well. These days, truly tasty potatoes like Yukon Gold and German Butterball are game changers, followed by dozens of heritage varieties and new hybrids that combine pleasingly complex flavors with disease resistance and good keeping qualities.
Relative newcomer Yukon Gold is already popular, thanks to lovely color and rich taste. Waxy, firm-textured fingerlings are top picks for potato salads, from Pink Fir to Peruvian Purple. Rounded, oblong Carola potatoes are widely considered to be the perfect potato, an excellent keeper that’s equally good for baking, boiling, frying, mashing, or salads. Late season German Butterballs are ideal for baking, boiling, or mashing, while Russet Burbanks are still the best for hash brown and fries. Heritage Yellow Finn fingerlings are excellent roasted, mashed, or in salads as are pink skinned, rosy fleshed Blossom fingerlings. Blue-skinned Caribe and pink-tinted Mountain Rose are excellent early potatoes, while dusky Purple Majesty potatoes combine satisfying, buttery flavor with excellent texture. A foodie favorite, Ozette potatoes are lumpy little fingerlings with an earthy, nut-like flavor. They were brought to the maritime Northwest by Peruvian Jesuits in the late 1700s, and though the rain soon drove the missionaries away, the Makah people continue to grow the delicious potatoes they left behind.
No crop offers as much protein per plot as beans, and there are dozens of heritage types to try. Small, tender and mild in flavor, Adzuki beans are often used in Asian sweets as well as soups and teas. Anasazis are heritage, all purpose, easily digested beans with few gassy compounds. Small, firm Black Turtle beans are popular in Central American, Cajun, Creole, and Spanish cuisines. Italian Cannellini are a type of White Kidney bean often used in soups, chili, and for baking with ham or bacon. Big, tender Christmas Lima beans have distinctive red markings and a bold, nut-like flavor that’s perfect with pasta and cheese. Plump and speckled Cranberry beans are widely used in Italian, Greek, Turkish, and South American cuisines, while Dutch Browns are equally good eaten fresh or dried in soups and casseroles.
Now Try Something Yummy
Parmesan Potato Muffins
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 cups coarsely grated yellow potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a muffin tin. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, stir in flour and salt to make a roux, then stir in milk. When thick, add cheese and potatoes, spoon into muffin cups and bake until tender (30-35 minutes). Makes 12
French White Bean Salad
2 cups cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
1 cup thinly sliced artichoke hearts (packed in oil)
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons capers, drained
Combine all ingredients, toss gently and serve. Serves 2-4.