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By Seth Connell

Aquaponics is a wonderful way to grow lots of food in small spaces without any harmful chemicals. When most people hear the term they assume it deals with marijuana and abandon any interest. That needs to change. So, just what is aquaponics all about you ask?

In a few words, aquaponics is the future of food production. These systems can symbiotically grow plants, fish, and gourmet fungi together using only 5-10% of the water used with in-soil methods. Food is grown in dense raised beds with water and media instead of soil. One pump can run an entire farm, allowing gravity to pull water from bed to bed; drastically reducing any utility bill. Add vertical farming and you have high-density and sustainable urban food production in very small spaces.

Natural processes break down the fish poo into absorbable micro-nutrients and compounds that feed plant growth. Fungi eat the leftovers then the cleaned water returns to the fish to repeat the cycle. As a result we have contained ecosystems with all the players in position to provide a healthy bounty of diverse organic food. Since no horse-manure or mammal fertilizer is used, there is a greatly reduced risk of food-borne illnesses.

system left

Here’s an example of one system.

Systems come in all shapes and sizes. From tiny 5 gallon fish-tanks outfitted with custom grow-beds to giant multi-acre commercial farms, each system follows the same ecological principles of biomimicry. That is, using only naturally occurring organisms and compounds to imitate nature. There is no room for GMO’s, pesticides, chemicals, or antibiotics.

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Here’s another system.

The above principles are just the tip of the aquaponics iceberg. There’s a lot to learn but help is available! Here in Washington the main places to learn more are:

Come join the aquaponic revolution and support yourself and your community!

Seth is Seattle-raised and has been an aquaponics professional since 2012 after becoming certified through U. of Hawaii & NOAA. Having interned at Olomana Gardens for 9 months under Aquaponics Guru Glenn Martinez, he learned to properly manage, design, build, and quote systems. He has built for colleges, restaurants, churches, K-12 schools, and individuals. Bringing his experiences back to the PNW he aspires to improve the local food economy and to establish our local-food security. To find out more, go to Anything Aquaponics on Facebook and Meetup.com, or call him directly at 206-451-9188.

Most people think of the town of Leavenworth, WA as a place to experience a bit of Bavarian life but there is also a lovely community garden to be explored.

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Brilliant blooms

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Tomatoes are ripening.

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Lots of beans.

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Sunflowers

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Cabbage

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Basil

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NIce spots to sit.

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Picnic spot

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A lovely gate.

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All about two minutes from downtown Leavenworth.

 

Zucchini Leaf Pesto

By Garrett Okrasinski

It was recently just my mother’s birthday. Every year as her birthday comes around, the tomatoes start to ripping, zucchinis are plumping and the basil bolting. With my garden in full swing, I decided to make her a veggie summer pasta dish. Everything harvested from the garden goes in! This year I tried something new, I made Zucchini Leaf Pesto to add to the pasta.

As a lover of traditional basil pesto, my mother was a little apprehensive of this pesto experiment. I have already made for her nettle pesto, spinach pesto and arugula pesto which all turned out well. So I continued to push the boundaries.

Earlier that day I had trimmed up my zucchini plants to make sure enough sun, water and pollination was happening. I had all these beautiful green health leaves that I felt bad just putting in the compost. After searching the internet, I found in fact the leaves are edible. In Italy, leaves can be found at the market and are used to make soups or to stuff tomatoes with. The reason the leaves are not used here is because we tended to be further from farms and leaves wilt quickly. From my research, I gathered they are just another leafy green.

I simply created zucchini leaf pesto like any other pesto.

Delicious!!

Delicious!!

Ingredients include:

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of blanched tender zucchini leaves
  • 1/4 cup pine-nuts (or almonds)
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine blanched leafs, garlic and pine-nuts in blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add oil and continue to blend. Slowly add the cheese of your choice (parmesan or pecorino) and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add a dash of ground red pepper! You can either use immediately or put in the refrigerator. I have found if you let it sit for a few hours the flavor deepens.

I love to use pesto as a spread on bread for sandwiches, so I intentionally left out some of the oil and added a little more when I mixed it with the pasta.  Thicker consistency can be used for a spread on bread.

I used this pesto with penne pasta and it was a hit! Who knew you could use those leaves?!

 

Crazy Carrots

By Garrettt Okrasinski

Carrots are simply fun to grow. As the green stalks get bigger it fill my garden and my anticipation of chomping into a fresh carrot builds! Then I pull them and they are nothing like I imagined. This year my carrots are odd twisted and leggy looking. Oh well!

The twists and splits in carrots happen when they run into an obstacle in the soil (guess I had a lot of obstacles this year). If you have “hairy” carrots, this can be caused by too many nutrients in the soil.

Though they are not perfect, my carrots still taste great! Below are my top contenders for Crazy Carrot this year.

Even if they are misshapen, it is still fun to pull a carrot and see what you got. Good news, you can still plant another batch of carrots and try again.

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Do you have any photos of funny carrots you would like to share?

 

 

Garden Fresh Potato Salad

A summer staple for my family is a hearty garden fresh potato salad.  We have this sustaining dish with almost every outdoor meal and prepare it for guests as well.

Walking through the garden I found onions, nasturtium flowers, peas, purple potatoes and new eggs from the hens. Ready for 4th of July picnics it’s time for a fresh as can be garden potato salad!  Best of all you don’t need to leave your yard and head to the grocery store.

Directions:

  • Roam your garden and pick what’s ripe.
  • Make the vinaigrette dressing with a dollop of Dijon mustard, a clove of garlic, red wine vinegar, a bit of salt and olive oil.
  • Quarter and boil your potatoes, drain them and put them in the bowl.
  • I add the eggs in with the potatoes to hard boil as the cooking time is about the same. Peel and slice the eggs.
  • Add in whatever other tasty items you can find in your garden.
  • Drizzle with the dressing and enjoy.
Fresh garden potato salad

Fresh garden potato salad

 

How to Use Anise Hyssop

Anise hyssop is a lovely plant that grows well in our climate. This edible licorice flavored member of the mint family can be grown from seed, divided from another plant or purchased at a nursery.

use of anise hyssop

Minty anisey and delicious!

Here are some of its many uses:

  • Cut flowers
  • Dried flowers – the flower heads dry to a pretty navy blue
  • Pot pourri – it blends well with lavender and lemon balm 
  • Tea – it makes a nice tea on its own or can be combined with lemon balm and/or chamomile, it is reputed to calm nerves
  • Addition to fruit salad – the minced leaves add zest
  • Flavoring for sweet breads or cookies – mince flowers and add them to the dough for an anise touch
  • Sprig in a glass of ice tea – simple but tasty

This plant will self seed and it’s roots will run underground as will other members of the mint family but it is not invasive.  It is beloved by rabbits but supposedly avoided by deer.

Let me know if you find other delicious uses for this delicate herb!

 

 

 

 

Uses for Love in the Mist

Along with having a beautiful name Love in the Mist or Nigella damascena has many other uses.  This native to southern Europe self seeds prolifically so be ready to weed or put it in a place where it can run wild.

The blue, white or pink flowers look great in cut flower bouquets.

The blue, white or pink flowers look great in cut flower bouquets.

With its deep jewel tones it’s easy to see how this flower has been popular in cottage gardens since Elizabethan times.

The dried seed pods lend shape and interest to dried flower arrangements.

The dried seed pods lend shape and interest to dried flower arrangements.

A relative, Nigella sativa, is known as black sesame and is used as a cooking spice in Indian food.  It is questionable whether the seeds of N. damascena are edible or not so I would not eat them; some sources say they are tasty and others say they are actually quite toxic!

The dried seeds can be used in craft projects.

The dried seeds can be used in craft projects.

 

 

I just harvested the onions I planted back in February.  The tops were turning yellow and flopping over a few days ago so I knocked the rest over and stopped watering to let them start to dry out while still in the soil.  Once they are pulled it’s important to let them dry completely before storing them.  Don’t rush this process or you may get a lot of moldy onions.

harvesting onions

I pull the onions then put them on the roof of a shed to dry.

Once the onion skin and tops are dry you can either braid them, (like you do with garlic) or put them in mesh bags with lots of airflow.  They should be stored in a cool dark place; a root cellar or basement is ideal.

braiding harvested onions

Braided onions doing a final drying out before heading for the basement.

Now there’s some new space to start putting in that winter garden!

 

With our mild climate you really can eat fresh veggies all year but you need to start planning for your fall and winter garden now. This can be hard with a garden full of warm season favorites but it can be done.

All the onions just got pulled so it's time to weed a bit, add in some compost and gear up for the next crop!

All the onions just got pulled so it’s time to weed a bit, add in some compost and gear up for the next crop!

I just harvested my garlic, peas and onions so in the new bit of bare soil I am planting crops for fall. As our rains start in early October it’s important to prepare the soil so it drains well. I usually loosen the soil in my raised beds and add in lots of compost.

Where possible remember to do crop rotations to minimize soil nutrient depletion and reduce pests. I usually follow the leaf to root to flower to fruit method as it’s easy to remember. In the place I harvested the onions I am planting kale and in the spot where the peas were I am putting in carrots and beets.

Beets and Lambsquarter seedlings are coming up from a recent planting.

Beets and Lambsquarter seedlings are coming up from a recent planting.

The next step is to choose what to plant; our first frost date is usually around late October so pick something that will survive the frost. Mid-July is a good time for roots and greens. If you get started in early August then I would do lettuces.

With a bit of planning you can have fresh greens all winter.

With a bit of planning you can have fresh greens all winter.

Once the seeds are planted water them in the morning and at night until they begin to sprout. If the days are really hot then shade them with an old umbrella or a piece of light cloth like Reemay. When the plants are established mulch them to hold moisture in the soil. I like to mulch with dried grass clippings but watch out for weed seeds if you use this method. You may need to control for slugs in September. One of the best ways to do this is to hand pick them in the early mornings.

You can plant Lambsquarter now and get some nice plants for stir fries.

You can plant Lambsquarter now and get some nice plants for stir fries.

Enjoy the summer and think ahead to your cool season garden!

 

 

 

Garlic Braids

Right now is a good time to harvest garlic.  Braiding it then hanging it in a cool, dark place is a great way to store it for later.

how to make garlic braids

If the garlic isn’t well dried it will rot.

First dry the garlic until the leaves are limp and the outside of the bulb is getting papery.

how to make garlic braids

It’s ok to leave some of the dirt on the bulbs.

Gently brush off the dirt and trim the roots off.  Be careful not to bruise the garlic as it will spoil more quickly if damaged.

how to make garlic braids

If you’re new to braiding then getting someone to help will make a smoother braid.

Line up three bulbs with good long stalks and begin to braid.

how to make garlic braids

Make sure there is some space between the bulbs so they can continue to dry.

With each cross over add in another bulb until you have a braid that is about a foot long.  If you go longer it can be quite heavy and hard to hang.  It’s also nice to keep the braids a bit shorter to have more to give as gifts.

how to make garlic braids

Ready to hang. If you are a big garlic user then hang in your kitchen, if not put in a cool, airy place and take off heads as needed.

Here is the finished braid!