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My neighbors think I'm crazy, but they love the veggies...  RSS feed

 
Missy Brown
Posts: 7
Location: Central Arkansas
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INTRODUCTION

As a renter in the suburbs whose life depends on having a sustainable, productive garden, I find myself resorting to guerrilla permaculture to accomplish my goals. When I rented this house, the yard was a major selling point. "I could have a great garden with all this space. I could basically live outside all spring and fall. Sure, the rent is high and the actual dwelling is subpar, but the property is fantastic!" There was so much potential, I thought, totally disregarding that there's equal potential for disaster as there is for success. My optimism had a head-on collision with reality when the rain and snow came. The front yard became a bog with even the slightest precipitation; runoff from the yards across the street and masses of overflow from the drainage ditch (basically, the whole neighborhood's storm water) contributed to the problem by washing topsoil and organic matter from the yard and across the (concrete) driveway into the (now clogged with sediment) drainage channel that goes into the woods on the edge of the property. The yard that I had envisioned transforming into an edible landscape, a haven for birds and butterflies, refuge for my inner peace was, as it lay, a swamp.

Perturbed but not deterred, I grew a 10x10 raised bed I made out of my moving boxes and some salvaged landscape timbers in the back yard and grew a ton of food. The neighbors' gardens died off mid-July because of the heat and dry spell, but my tomatoes are only suffering because they outgrew their cages and the vines eventually bent over and cracked under the weight of the fruit (but I'm still giving away many, many pounds of tomatoes and veggies every day...and today I harvested my first tomatillo ever!). Now that I've learned about hugelkultur on Permies, I've started calling that garden "My HugelBoxes" (more on those later?)...and they were wildly successful at growing all sorts of things. So I might have been confident-bordering-on-cocky about my ability to turn anything into a garden when I saw the tree service truck down the block. And I might have seen the wood chips as a permanent solution to the grown over gravel circle drive swathing 1/3 of the front acre with shrapnel. So I told them if they needed a place to dump their chips, I'd be happy to have them in my yard. When they brought the first load, I told them I could handle all the chips they could make clearing the local utility right of ways. The chips were perfect for composting since it's ramial wood that's already hot composting when it comes off the truck. The tree company foreman was grateful for a local place to dump them and said they'd been driving 20 miles across the city to pay a landfill fee per load. The thought of all that usable organic material being hauled out of our county to be encapsulated in a pit full of city-dweller carnage never to decompose and become the rich fertile humus nature had intended...it was just too much for my poor heart to bear; I told him to bring me all the chips they could make.

This is the story of those orphaned chips, collateral damage in the war between nature and the creature comforts some call civilization. Consider it a journal of this rental's yard's transformative journey, and one where audience (is anyone actually reading this?) participation is encouraged and appreciated. I realize that diverting mass quantities of material from the waste stream and importing it to your property is frowned upon by many permaculture practitioners, but this is a desperate case/desperate measures approach to dealing with the runoff and erosion issues before the fall precipitation makes my yard useless. My goal is to leave this piece of property much better than when I moved to it; I'd like to incorporate as much permaculture as financially feasible and reasonable given the restrictions of living in a suburban neighborhood. Though I tend to resent not having property of my own where I can make a plan and implement permanent improvements, I've found a certain peace in knowing that if I am a good steward of this land while I occupy it, it will give back what I put in. I hope that being on the permies community and learning from everyone's experiences will help me put in enough that it will thrive once I'm gone, even if it's completely neglected by whomever comes next.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Missy: Welcome to the forum... I look forward to posts, and perhaps photos, of the transformation of your place, and the vegetables you grow and share.

Also, I feel like offering an apology in case you have read any of my posts in which I say that I don't import external organic materials onto my farm. I'd don't imply by my choice that other people are doing something wrong if they import wood chips or mulch. I'm sure that in the long run, I'd have a more productive farm if I did allow external inputs. I'm a special case because I market my vegetables to anti-cide purists. When the university conducted a study of my customers a few years ago, the thing that most surprised me was that something like 80% of the people I feed didn't care whether or not I applied poison to their food. I suspect from a purely chemical point of view that the health benefits of having extra organic matter in the soil would cause more good than the harm done by any residual cides that might come in with the wood chips. People generally don't spray trees that are such a nuisance that they need to be removed.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
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Missy Brown wrote:Today I harvested my first tomatillo ever!


Welcome to Permies! I apologize for responding to just one sentence from your wonderful introductory post, but I'm gonna do it anyway. What did you think of the tomatillo?

I ask because I grew up way up north where they don't grow without (maybe) a heated greenhouse and anyway aren't part of the cuisine. I never saw one until I was an adult, and until yesterday (when I harvested my own first-ever tomatillo) all I ever had was supermarket tomatillos. I wasn't a fan of supermarket tomatillos; they struck me as being like a green tomato (which are delicacy to some but which I never liked), except even more sour and crunchy. I can't even say why I planted some seeds this year, curiosity I guess. Anyway my first one seemed ripe yesterday (I'm not sure how I'm supposed to tell, but it outgrew its husk and popped the husk open) and I cut and tasted it with some trepidation.

Doofus me, I should have known that a supermarket tomatillo bears the same relationship to a fresh vine-ripened organic tomatillo that a green square crunchy supermarket tomato bears to a sun-ripened tomato from the garden. It was indeed a bit sour and a bit crunchy, but the sourness was part of a fresh bright citrus-y flavor that made it instantly clear why these things are popular in salsas. I'm not sure what else to do with them, but my plants -- which I kept in pots for too long -- aren't really thriving, so I won't have a huge number this year anyway. But I will definitely be growing them again!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
498
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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Dan & Missy: Congratulations on the tomatillos. Tomatillos are not commonly grown around here, so I didn't know how to use them.

I've been growing tomatillos long enough to observe that there are huge variations in flavor from plant to plant. Some are sweet as can be, like eating a plum. Others are sour or even bitter. It's my intention this year to taste every tomatillo before saving seed from it, and replant only the best tasting ones.

My favorite tomatillos this year and last turn yellow when ripe. Oh my they are sweet!!!

I typically wait to pick tomatillos until after they have fallen off the vines. (I might shake the vines if the husk has turned brown but not yet fallen off.)

I love eating tomatillos in omelets.
 
Missy Brown
Posts: 7
Location: Central Arkansas
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I haven't eaten one yet, but mine are purple. I did a very happy garden dance when I saw them peeking out of their papery houses this morning...

A picture, for now, more project photos and a thorough response after the sun sets...
image.jpg
[Thumbnail for image.jpg]
First Tomatillo Harvest
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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books fungi hugelkultur solar wofati woodworking
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Missy Brown : Welcome to Permies.com and our sister site Richsoil.com. A very nice post and some pretty good photography !

We will want to see a lot more of you future projects ! Here are a couple of links to make your time here more enjoyable :


http://www.permies.com/t/34193/tnk/permies-works-links-threads
http://www.permies.com/t/43625/introductions/Universal

With your Location posted we can make sure that our always well meant advice is Germain to your area !

For the good of the Crafts! Big AL
 
Missy Brown
Posts: 7
Location: Central Arkansas
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Wow, it's nice to be somewhere that folks can appreciate a homegrown tomatillo. In real life, people are like, "Here comes Missy with another freakin' vegetable" and I'm pretty sure that explaining it's really a fruit doesn't improve my social alienation factor. Which is fine: I much prefer plants over people, and now I have the permies forum 😝.


Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I feel like offering an apology in case you have read any of my posts in which I say that I don't import external organic materials onto my farm. I'd don't imply by my choice that other people are doing something wrong if they import wood chips or mulch. I'm sure that in the long run, I'd have a more productive farm if I did allow external inputs. I'm a special case because I market my vegetables to anti-cide purists. When the university conducted a study of my customers a few years ago, the thing that most surprised me was that something like 80% of the people I feed didn't care whether or not I applied poison to their food. I suspect from a purely chemical point of view that the health benefits of having extra organic matter in the soil would cause more good than the harm done by any residual cides that might come in with the wood chips. People generally don't spray trees that are such a nuisance that they need to be removed.


There is absolutely no need to apologize...I've lurked in several threads where the pro's and con's of external imports has been discussed and totally understand where both sides are coming from. I'm a pretty pragmatic person and enjoy listening to new viewpoints and seeing research and results that make me re-evaluate my own theories and practices. I will say that when I lived in the middle of nowhere/heaven up in the Ozarks, I knew a lot of die hard organic gardeners. Because we were so remote and had to haul our trash and recyclables 30 miles to town, I started composting all of our household paper and cardboard, mostly in the form of sheet mulching. I caught all sorts of flak about how processed it was and I think one of my friends nearly fainted just thinking about all the terrible things that could possibly be in the ink just waiting to turn the humble heirloom tomato into a poison apple. I mean, serious drama, and I'd thought I was doing a good thing that might even impress them. But those same people would stalk the tree trimmers all over the county trying to get those chips dumped at their house. Quarrels with the neighbors over (I'm actually not being melodramatic here) this scarce resource that could provide so much organic matter to their soil (which grew rocks better than anything...think they used compost and manure for backfill when they pulled all the rocks out of the beds...there tended to be a lot of volume that had to be replaced). It's a good thing they were all peaceful types who would rather lay down their life than own a firearm or there might have been duels. There's no way they didn't know the potential risks of importing wood chips, but I guess they worked for them so they managed to turn a blind eye to whatever ecological horrors they might be committing. But line your garden paths with newsprint and you're going straight to hippie hell where they only serve CAFO meat on GMO wheat buns with hothouse tomatoes and there's nothing but Diet Coke to drink. The irony makes me think that maybe as people striving to improve our planet by growing things, maybe we should just focus on doing the best we can with what's available to us...and continually educating ourselves to find the best practices and implement them as we are able in our own close environment.

As for your market...I was a reluctant yet enthusiastic raw vegan for a while (as a committed omni, I'm not sure how I managed it, but I'd probably do most of it again if I had the equipment to make it less labor intensive). I was always confused by the ethical vegans who bought big box organic produce because large scale farming takes a tremendous toll on grassland wildlife. And most organic soil amendments are made out of animal products. A year or so after I fell off the wagon I started dabbling in hydroponics (I like the idea of growing food in my living space in a sterile medium in the off-season...also not permaculture, unfortunately). When I discovered that there was an organic vegan hydroponics nutrient line I was quite impressed that someone had managed to come up with a way to make bunny safe lettuce that was never fed animal byproducts. It's actually quite an accomplishment, and I can appreciate that even though that's not the way I would choose to grow food. Similarly, I can respect the belief system held by some people that would create a market demand for that product despite not following those tenets myself. I do a lot of things that don't seem to make sense to anyone else, but in my head it's completely logical. I don't figure most folks aren't a whole lot different than me in that regard. So I figure people who prefer not to import materials have their reasons, and that's good enough for me. There's a good chance I'll still learn something from them, even if they think using chips means you deserve pasteurized cheese product made from the milk of cows treated with growth hormones on your frankenburger in hell 😇
 
nancy sutton
gardener
Posts: 659
Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Might be helpful...Canadian report on ramial wood chips (branches, twigs, etc., - not straight heartwood chips)

http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_org_research.php?id=69

Oh, and the Back to Eden film - watch the whole thing here :)

http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/

 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I've been growing tomatillos long enough to observe that there are huge variations in flavor from plant to plant. Some are sweet as can be, like eating a plum. Others are sour or even bitter. It's my intention this year to taste every tomatillo before saving seed from it, and replant only the best tasting ones.

My favorite tomatillos this year and last turn yellow when ripe. Oh my they are sweet!!!

I typically wait to pick tomatillos until after they have fallen off the vines. (I might shake the vines if the husk has turned brown but not yet fallen off.)

I love eating tomatillos in omelets.


This is useful info, and the flavor variation (I dunno why that should come as a surprise) is great news! I was surprised at how good my first one was, even though it wasn't quite fruit-sweet. I've never seen yellow ones or the pretty purple ones that Missy has. More experimentation needed! I swear that before this week, my attitude about tomatillos was "why grow something that's *at best* inferior to a green tomato?" I need to have more faith in the merits of unfamiliar foodways, and do less assuming (I know better!) that a supermarket examplar of something tells me what I need to know about the flavor of that thing.

Waiting for the tomatillos to fall makes a lot of sense; this would be another way they resemble that other husk fruit, the ground cherry. It's also good news for me, because my color vision problems make using color cues tricky.

Missy, I know just what you mean about people being unenthused by unfamiliar vegetables. This summer my biggest surplus has been lemon cucumbers; these pretty yellow round balls are pure cucumber once you cut them open, but people have been taking one look, asking "what's that?" in a dubious voice, and saying the equivalent of "thanks, I think" when I gift them some.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2569
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
498
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
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It seems to me like the diversity of flavors is much greater in tomatillos than in tomatoes.

Here's what some ripe tomatillos looked like last fall.
 
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