You may have made from-scratch buckwheat pancakes or used a mix. Or you may have ground your own buckwheat flour. But have you grown buckwheat?
Our field of buckwheat serves many purposes. It improves the soil's fertility as a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers by 1)adding nitrogen to the soil as it grows and 2)providing compostable material when tilled into the soil post harvesting. 3)The tiny blossoms, when they become part of the whole, are a mass of solid white that can best be described as a snow-covered landscape. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. 4)Finally, the blossoms feed the bees that in turn 5)provide us with dark, intensely-flavored buckwheat honey.
Today, a neighboring farmer mowed the buckwheat in preparation for harvesting after the stalks had transitioned into autumn hues of caramel, gold, cream, and rosy red and the blossoms had dried and turned black.
Unhulled buckwheat, which has the outer coating intact, produces a flour that is darker and more intensely flavored making a heavier pancake than hulled buckwheat (aka buckwheat groats).
Here is an amazingly light, tender buckwheat pancake recipe that is a perfect way to savour this season's autumn harvest.
It happened sometime Saturday, June 9. A milestone. Phoebe laid our flock's first egg... on the ground outside the chicken coop. We placed the egg in one of the coop's fourteen, straw-lined nesting boxes to show Phoebe, as well as the remaining five hens in our flock, the proper location to plop their eggs. Human intervention proved unnecessary, as our hens' innate nest making ability kicked in. Today, I discovered three eggs in a perfectly formed nest hollowed out atop a bale of straw leaning against the coop's interior wall. Apparently, we have hens that politely, patiently wait their turn.
To prepare for the arrival of a flock of hens, that a local farmer raised from baby chicks for me, I loaded our shop vac and an extension cord into my wheelbarrow and headed to the chicken coop. Cobwebs daintily draped every corner. So very pretty glistening in the sun streaming through the windows, but they had to go. Since we don't house our hens over the winter, and trees shade the coop during the hot summer months, a few sporatic pieces of cardboard insulation hugging the coop's interior walls weren't necessary and they were in nasty condition. So, with chisel and hammer, I pried lathe loose that held the ragged cardboard insulation in place. Before I knew it, I had a huge pile of debris. Oops. I may have approached my task a wee bit aggressively.
The coop did look so much cleaner and apparently the boards that I had removed were not structurally crucial, as the coop hadn't toppled to the ground. To complete my cleanup, I inserted clean straw into each nesting box, spread pine shavings on the floor for bedding, filled containers with water, feed, grit and oyster shells, and opened a window to freshen the air. Oh, yes. I'm ready.
And here they are. My six 18 week-old Black Star Hens. Pearl, Flossie, Olga, Phoebe, Cora, and Henny-Penny.
A Black Star is a first-generation hybrid chicken bred from a Rhode Island Red Rooster and a Barred Rock Hen. They are bred to be superb egg layers that lay five to six large brown eggs each week beginning at 19 1/2 to 20 weeks old. The adult males (roosters) are black with white barring, while adult females (hens) have gold feathers on the neck and breast. Black Star Chicks of both sexes are black, but a white spot on the head distinguishes the males. Hybrids, such as Black Stars, are not recommended as breeding stock because the chicks will not retain the same characteristics in future generations. (It's like saving seeds from hybrid vs. heirloom plants. Seeds collected from heirlooms for replanting in successive years will produce plants true to their parentage. Hybrids do not. New seed must be purchased each year.) I have no rooster and don't intend to hatch chicks, so this breed is a good choice for me. The only problem I have with my hens being hybrids is that man has messed with nature. We do too much of that.
I plant seed potatoes on May 20th, my father's birthday. It's what I've done since I began to garden. Because as kids, May 20th was the marker that gauged when our parents began garden planting here in central Minnesota. Seedlings were not transplanted into the ground until after Memorial Day due to the risk of a late spring frost. Upon the death of my father in 2005, at the age of 94, my sister Rita and I have planted seed potatoes each spring on May 20th in honor and remembrance of him. Today, I prepared for tomorrow's potato planting. You were with me in my garden today, Dad. You guided my hands as I cut each potato, just as you did when I was a young child. You knelt beside me as I prepped the soil and marked the planting plot. You reminded me to lay the cut side of each potato gently into the earth so as not to sever any sprouts. Your back no longer caused you pain as you worked alongside. I chatted with you about some new methods I had learned in my gardening books. I was in no hurry to plant seed potatoes just to say I had completed the task. No, it was the time spent with you today that was important. What a sweet time it was. We didn't put a single potato into the ground. That is for tomorrow.
Growing up, potato planting involved the entire family. It began with cutting potatoes, leftover from winter cellar storage, into chunks with 2 to 3 "eyes" in each piece. An eye is a bud where the stem will grow from. The natural blue pigment in these purple potatoes provides extremely high levels of anthocyanin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries and blackberries are good sources of anthocyanins, too.
In addition to a purple variety, I also chose to plant red, white, and blue potatoes. Look at the size of the white seed potatoes that arrived in my mailbox! A special gift from my sister, Rita, is a "Bintje" Seed Potato that was developed in the Netherlands in 1905. I will make a special marker identifying its place in my garden.The potatoes have begun to sprout, so now I will allow my seed potato chunks to "cure" for a couple days before planting to allow the cut side to heal to lessen the risk of the potato rotting in the ground. According to Ithaca, New York's Cornell University web site, curing isn't necessary if soil is well-drained, has plenty of oxygen, and soil temperatures are between 50 and 65 F as these conditions promote rapid healing in the ground. In my case, curing isn't essential because... 1)My soil isn't clay so it doesn't hold excessive water. 2)A week ago, I spread well-decomposed compost and cow manure onto the soil then turned it into the ground with a spade to aerate the soil. Incorporating compost or manure loosens the soil better and lasts longer than turning just the soil. 3)My soil's temp is 68 F.
To amend the soil, I made Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) following the recipe in Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts. The fertilizing mix, which is made entirely of natural substances, supplies the plant's requirements for nutrients and boosts the nutritional value of the garden vegetables that I harvest. I combined 4 parts seedmeal, 1/4 part agricultural lime, 1/4 part gypsum, 1/2 part dolomite lime, and 1 part bonemeal and spread it on my garden's soil at a ratio of 4 to 6 quarts of COF for each 100 square feet of raised bed. For easy measuring, I used a one-gallon (4-quart) ice cream bucket. Solomon stated that, "Complete decomposition of COF takes about two months in warm soil during which time nutrients are slowly and steadily being released." He suggests side-dressing seedlings with COF a few weeks after they poke through the soil, or when they are transplanted into the garden, then repeatedly side-dressing the plants every 3 to 4 weeks throughout the growing season. I highly recommend adding the books, Gardening When it Counts and Square Foot Gardening, to your gardening resource library.
Finally, I pounded nails at one foot intervals into the wooden frames housing my raised beds and stretched twine across the length securing it to the nails. This formed my garden layout as described in Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening. My son-in-law, Patrick, notched his wooden frames at one-foot intervals instead of using nails. I envision a more efficient removal of the string markings than my method. I will plant one seed potato chunk into each one foot square. Tomorrow.
Over the years, our wooden fences have begun to return to the earth from whence they came. One such fence had stoically held its place in time well beyond what one can ask. It was weary and pleading for a replacement. Also, the bittersweet vines that the fence supported had become entangled and dead branches prevented new growth from tapping into the plant's maximum energy source. Side by side, Dick and I breathed new life back into what had become a scene reminiscent of Miss Havisham's mansion in Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations or the beyond overgrown garden described in Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel Secret Garden. I meant to take a before photo,
but the fresh rails and end posts and the pile of dead twigs and leaves we removed tells the story.
The final days of October... Most leaves have fluttered to the ground, but the maple trees bordering my veggie garden are ablaze with color.
I have cleared away the dried vegetation from my veggie garden, but the Swiss chard continues to produce brilliant green leaves that add mega nutrients to the vegetable soup that I make at time every year.
Each October, Cub Foods Grocery in Brainerd (Minnesota) stocks a "soup mix" of amazingly colorful root veggies from Harmony Valley Farm, an organic CSA farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Some of the varieties included in the bag are purple top turnip, rutabaga, carrots (purple, orange, red, yellow, and white), golden beet, and parsnip. Look at their beautiful fields! (Photo courtesy of Harmony Valley Farm's web site.)
The overnight temperature dips have resulted in several morning frosts that have caused the demise of many plants, but the mums, lamb's ear, and salvia faithfully beautify the stone walkway leading to my front door.
The landscape's shades of grey are becoming more prominent as bare branches are exposed, but the tiny crabapples' brilliant red provides a cheery pop of color near the path that leads to my chickens' coop.
My completed stone walkway... I love it very much. Yes, I do.
The stones take me home... to my front door.
After Tom Dix from Wood Spirit Gardens in Backus, Minnesota completed the walkway, he trimmed two Dwarf Korean Lilac Bushes that had grown well beyond their "dwarf" status and were blocking the front porch view. Next, he continued his magic by artfully creating a woodland garden on each side of the stone path. He scouted our property for moss-covered logs, sheets of moss, groundcover (e.g., thyme, sedum, hen and chicks), stones in varying sizes, perennials begging to be divided, root bound potted annuals that I had unintentionally neglected, and salvaged discarded plants from local greenhouses that rapidly began to thrive when planted in the ground. My little woodland garden quickly took shape with visions of fairies and gnomes making their home in the tree stump (right side of photo) created when Dick sawed off a dying jackpine that, in its prime, resembled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Sweet.
This annual (lobelia), sprinkled with tiny delicate blue blossoms, is shown in the top photo planted to the walkway's left side. It was one of the "root bound potted annuals that I had unintentionally neglected" until Tom lovingly breathed new life into it. He was confident that it would quickly revive with water and space to grow. He was right.
It formerly looked sickly like this callie coral pink "calibrachoa" annual, which is one of my favorite (I have many favorites) annuals. I have followed Tom's lead by finding a new home for it in my lovely woodland garden. Callie will soon be sporting fresh green leaves and heavily-laden pink blossoms with happy yellow centers.
My woodland garden makes me very happy. Tom's sweet, gentle, joyful spirit remains in every nook and cranny.
I hired Tom Dix from Wood Spirit Gardens in Backus, Minnesota to tighten up the stone walkway leading to my front door. He moved chunks of stone closer together and filled in smaller spaces with rocks. As he worked, my hens were becoming a nuisance. The freshly dug soil was an invitation to scratch. That's what chickens do.
My eldest granddaughter, who was visiting from New York, had a solution... a string strung between two sticks and a twig sentry to stand guard. Notice the sentry's skirt and flowing head covering that she made of leaves secured with pliable strands torn from a freshly trimmed dwarf Korean lilac bush branch.
Yes, that ought to keep my hens at bay. As a backup plan... a few sprays of water from the garden hose worked like a charm, too.