Monday, March 31, 2014

Herbs Galore




If you’re going to grow anything, grow herbs. They virtually grow themselves! They attract few, if any, pests and most herbs grow back year after year. The Little St. Simon’s Island garden has been host to an array of herbs for years, but this winter we’ve taken it to another level by installing four huge raised beds right in the middle of the garden designated just for them.  What an orchestration it was getting them in!
  

Naturalists Mike and Laura build bed #3.
The gardener (that's me!) filling the beds.

The whole team of naturalists took part, sawing lumber, nailing boards, raking dirt, and now, we have 368 square feet more growing space to supply Chef Charles with all the herbs he needs to dream up savory delectables for your palate.




Clearly, it takes a lot of growing space to supply a commercial kitchen, but not so for your home kitchen.  You can put a lot of different herbs in a small space in a beautiful display called an herb spiral. Along with the four large traditional raised beds, we built an herb spiral as the centerpiece to our garden.  You can put one by your door so all your herb needs are within reach.

Herb spirals are a permaculture garden design you can adapt to your needs. They’re especially great if you’re short on garden space because you build up rather than out.  By creating height with a wall of brick or stone, you’re also helping to create microclimates in your bed. The stone traps heat. And it creates sunny and shadier places in the space as the sun moves across the bed. The top-level, which you fill with sandy soil, is well suited to herbs that like it warm, relatively dry and super-sunny, like rosemary and oregano and thyme.  Then as you move down the spiral, you add a little more compost and plant herbs that prefer loamier soil like cilantro and basil and parsley until you get to the very bottom where herbs, like mint, need a moister cooler place to thrive. Some herb spiral designs even incorporate a pond at the bottom. 


If you’re inspired to build one yourself, follow some of these links to get started. Spirals can be as little as three feet wide or as big as eight! We watched this herb spiral tutorial on-line, perused a bunch of designs and scouted around the island dump for recyclable materials. For our spiral wall, we had a bunch of old bricks from buildings we’ve been refurbishing on the island.  We also have lots of oyster shells piling up from the evening oyster roasts each week. We used them to build height in the center of the spiral. Many designs call for gravel, but with the mountains miles away that’s not an easy find.  The gravel/shell layer not only builds height but it also helps with drainage.

Part of the beauty of the design is that your garden herb spiral will suit your needs, your own aesthetic and help you make use of whatever you have lying around to repurpose for a wall.  It’s about a day’s work for one person to put together the infrastructure. Wait about a week to let the soil settle. Then beautify it by planting your favorite herbs.  Keeping consistent with permaculture principles, the spiral is low maintenance, requiring little energy and water. You just water the top once a week.  Research says after a year when everything is established, you can just rely on the rain.



Happy planting!



Useful Links:



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Here comes the sun... and the cold


The budding green in the ground is perking up to the sun as it slowly returns to our hemisphere, but the cold of winter is surely upon us. The Polar Vortex and “Snowpocalypse” that gripped the southeast stretched its icy fingers to the coast and brought frigid temperatures to the Little St. Simon’s garden. Our aloe plants, some lemongrass and a favorite pineapple sage have all gone indoors for the season, and we’ve been tucking in our garden beds nights it dips below freezing.

Here are some tips to protect your plants from cold weather:

  1. Harvest.  Before a light frost, take tender herbs, vegetables and fruits to the kitchen. Spinach gets picked when we know the temperatures will dip below 32.  The peppers go, too. We harvested all the lemons left on the Meyers in early January when temperatures dipped into the 20’s.

  1. Cover-up.  Many tender veggies can be left in place if you put a blanket over them.  Our lettuce and chard beds stay tucked in tight with frost cloth. It’s light and water permeable, so it can be left in place for days.  Old sheets work well, too. Just be sure to take them off so your plants can see the light of day.

  1. Insulate.  Mulch your beds or rows with compost, straw or other organic matter.  Do it after the frost to prevent heaving—the contraction of soil as it freezes and thaws which can move your plants up and out of their soil beds to expose their roots. You can also insulate the trunk of vulnerable trees. Polyurethane wrapped around the graft of some of our citrus trees keeps their most vulnerable part protected.  You can also do this with soil, too; it’s called soil banking (and more on citrus protection). Mound the soil up the trunk above the graft union. Do this before the freeze, and remove the soil when temps begin to warm again to prevent disease and pest problems. 

  1. Water. A generous watering before a light frost can help retain some of the day’s heat. But don’t do this before a hard freeze—four consecutive hours of temps below 25.

  1. Plan and plant what’s hardy in your region. Consult a planting calendar for your hardiness zone. In coastal Georgia, Brassicas produce all winter. And generally, carrots, garlic, leeks, parsnips, radishes and turnips can all survive a hard freeze. 

Helpful links:

Predicting Frost: http://www.almanac.com/blog/editors-musings/blog-how-predict-frost

Citrus Protection: http://www.seminolecountyfl.gov/extensionservices/adults/horticulture/english/article480.aspx;
http://farmerfredrant.blogspot.com/2010/11/citrus-protection-in-frost-or-freeze.html

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Greetings from the garden!


A new year is a new beginning. The stuff of last year gets turned into the ground to become fodder for this year’s pursuits, to become the nutriment for new ideas and dreams to take seed and fruit. I’ve recently come “ashore” here on Little St. Simons Island to tend the gardens. I bring with me the experience of growing food in a community more inland in Jesup, Georgia. I also carry the knowledge of my teachers who have guided my hands in their gardens and farmsteads, and in my own soil by their spoken wisdom.  However, nature is the greatest teacher when you’re working with the land, and that knowledge is so particular to place. I’ve much to learn from this island as I work with it to create nourishment for you all when you come to visit.

My! Has the year gotten off to a chilly start.  The sun is returning, providing much appreciated light to the new greens in the ground, but winter is truly upon us.  The island was no refuge from the Polar Vortex that swept in bringing frigid temperatures that dipped to 27!   We had to tuck in our lettuce beds and harvest the remaining citrus fruit. The blustery winds blew the covers off of the trees, but luckily the most vulnerable among them was insulated at the trunk. The freeze zapped the pomegranate leaves to brown and shriveled, but new green growth emerged from the branches just a week later when temps rose into the 70’s again. 

So it goes with maritime winters; the temperatures flail wildly. But as the sun continues to fill the day-sky, the land will warm again and we’ll be planting for Spring.  Look for an array of salad and cooked greens to accompany our new menu selections.  We’ll be growing plenty of fresh herbs for Chef Charles to simmer into delectable sauces— beurre-blanc with a spurt of lemons from our recent harvest for his infamous crab cakes and a delicious mint sauce on seasoned rack of lamb. That’s a just a little taste to stir your senses for what’s to come.

Here’s to a good year and a bountiful harvest,

Melissa Stiers
Gardener, LSSI

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nasturtium inspires "driest-ever" material

Water beads on nasturtium leaf. Photo: Aaron Bell

Biomimicry, using nature's unique designs as models, has proven very successful in many fields. Advancements in water-proof materials are currently being forwarded thanks to a common, unassuming garden plant, the nasturtium. 

Due to the shape of the leaf surface (and particularly the vascular system of the leaf), the nasturtium ranks among the most water repellant materials found in nature. If you're familiar with the plant, you may have seen how dew or rain readily beads on the large, round leaves as well as on the blossoms.  A neat characteristic, to be sure, and one that's gaining attention industrially around the globe. Read more in this BBC article.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kale, microgreens, and more

Pea shoots! (Photo: Aaron Bell)
We had our first kale harvest this week! The Siberian kale, planted in one of our raised beds, has been an impressive crop to date, growing vigorously all fall and providing us with 5 lbs for our dinner-tables this evening. We are also harvesting flats of microgreens and pea shoots. Microgreens have made a splash in the markets over the past few years with their nutrient-dense nature, quick harvest times and relative ease of growth. We are growing radish, mustard, kale, and peas and will be harvesting flats ever 2-3 days through the fall and again in spring. More info on micro-greens can be found here, and if you are interested in trying to grow some indoors this winter, check out this how-to from Organic Gardening magazine.
Zebra longwing nectaring on some zinnias. (Photo: Aaron Bell)

In other news, we're battling loopers and other caterpillars as well as a small number of aphids in the raised beds; hopefully, the next cold snap will drop their numbers and give the Lacinato kale a chance to grow. In the meantime, baby lettuces, beets, and radishes should be greeting us in the next week, while the turnips, collards, and Broccoli Raab are all healthy and happy.  

Below is a recipe from epicurious for bean and kale soup which is a regular hit here on the island. It's an excellent way to use kale quickly during times of heavy harvest. Interestingly, kale can also be frozen for months, making it an ideal crop for areas with little or no winter growing season. 

White Bean and Kale Soup


YieldMakes 6 main-course servings
active time1 hr
total time3 hr

ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

preparation


Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Great summer, looking forward to fall!

It was quite the summer here in the Little St. Simons Island organic garden! We had an exceptionally wet season this year. For example, in just a three-week period, we had three storms with a total of 11 inches rainfall between them, and this pattern seemed to hold true for much of the summer.

Burgundy Okra (Photo: Laura Early)
As you can imagine, this is both a blessing and a curse and we've been busy just keeping up with the growth of both friend and foe. Thankfully, those long summer days provide plenty of time to get the work done and stay just ahead of the curve.

As our first tomatoes ripened, the crows got the first taste, but we were able to add garden fresh tomatoes to our dinner salads. Until a few weeks ago, we were still hip-deep (literally) in flowers as well; it's been a zoo of zinnias, celosia, and dhalia, all vying for a spot in one of our lodge-side flower arrangements. We also saw success with Burgundy Okra, Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant, and a variety of peppers and basil. Speaking of which, we've had incredible fortune with a variety of basil known as "Mammoth"- fast growing and hearty, with a taste like Sweet basil and large, wavy leaves.

Siberian Kale (Photo: Laura Early)
The fall season has been great to us so far as well, with the comfortable drop in temperature being just the first of our blessings. We have healthy beds of autumn and winter greens started and, so far, they're doing fantastically. Siberian Kale, in particular, has proven to be a hardy and fast-growing choice that is currently paired with "Misato Rose" radishes in one of our raised beds. This week should see the planting out of the rest of our first round of greens, including Georgia Collards, Broccoli Raab, turnips and spinach. As for harvest, we are in full swing with loads of Meyer Lemons and Satsuma tangerines already showing good color.

Finally, we got the opportunity to finish a year-long experiment in controlling our nematode population through cover cropping. We planted two beds in sweet potatoes, with one bed having been cover-cropped in rye which, in turn, had been plowed in before the planting. That bed produced 40 lbs of delicious potatoes while the other bed, our control, produced only 10 pounds! We will be employing this method on beds from here out and hope to continue to see improvements.

Other improvements we are excited to see include an expanded and extended blackberry trellis to double current size for our four new berry canes, and a more permanent structure for the 3-bin composting systems. Next time you are on the island, we invite you to the garden to have a look (smell and taste, too) at the progress!
Blackberry trellis (Photo: Laura Early)

Friday, May 31, 2013

A garden's evolution

Our gardens provide such a wonderful opportunity to witness close up the transformation all of life  undergoes with the changing of the seasons.   From the new plant life sprouting up as the soils warm, to the insect world expanding rapidly before our eyes and new polinators and benificials arriving to do their part of gardencaretaking, to the sweet cries of the eastern blue birds nesting in the garden bird box.


Here at LSSI our garden tenders are preparing for change this spring as well.  Amy, our gardener since 2009, will be handing off her trowel soon and focusing her energies in the pursuit of tending young minds and planting seeds of possibilty as a teacher.  With deep gratitude Amy has put together a short history in pictures of the gardens evolution.  It has been a wonderful adventure indeed!



LSSI Garden History on Vimeo.



Luckily another local gardener joined our team at LSSI recently, Aaron Bell of Jekyll Island, GA.  
Aaron will take over the garden tending and enhance our "seed to table" program by spliting his time between the growing the garden and assisting the Chefs in the kitchen.   Watch for Aarons passion and creativity to bloom in the Little St. Simons Island garden and dining room!!