Tag Archives: Sunspot Urban Farm

A Soil’s Co-operative: A Guide to Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil

As Winter’s brisk air starts to warm and March winds blow Spring in, the time to sow our seeds begin.

Here at the Food Co-op we are feeling the affects of the new season as local greens and radishes start to decorate our produce cooler. Though we mostly offer food in it’s harvested form, we find it important to share knowledge pertaining it all things food, including how and where food is produced, with our valued Co-operators. With that said and in light of the season, today we wish to share with you, especially those beginner gardeners out there, a guide to building and maintaining healthy soils

Nourishing a Living Soil Community
Soil is a living ecosystem that is home to earthworms, insects, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. A balanced and healthy soil life produces soil nutrients, aids in controlling disease, improves soil structure, retains soil moisture and helps to reduce workload.
Should I get a soil test?
At first, soil tests can be confusing to read and may over complicate gardening. On first season beds, focus more on strengthening soil ecology.

-Soil testing is recommended after a bed’s first growing season or thereafter.

-Fertilizer needs are best determined by a soil test.

-Add fertilizer only if a nutrient is deficient and only add what is need-ed, not more.

-Support independent labs such as Logan Labs. A standard test is currently $25 dollars

Understanding Garden Happy Soil
A healthy balance of air (25%) water (25%), organic matter (3-4%) and minerals (47%) is needed for the ideal structural and functional environment for plant roots in gardens.
Soil Types
-Clay- Small particles, sticky when wet, holds water and nutrients well, poor drainage and low oxygen.
-*Loam- Dark color, soft and crumbles easily. Ideal soil type for gardening!
-Sand– Large particles, gritty, doesn’t hold water and nutrients well.
Soil pH
pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of a material. The pH scale ranges from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. A pH of 6.0 to 7.2 is optimal for the growth of most garden and landscape plants. How-ever, soil pH in the range of 7 to 8 is adequate for many plants, as what is commonly seen in Colorado.
The major problem created by alkaline (high pH) soils is the reduction of nutrient availability to plants.
Soil Compaction is a reduction in large pore space, which leads to…
-Decreased drainage
– Decreased oxygen levels
-Decreased rooting volume
-Limits water and nutrient uptake

Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil
Prevent Compaction
-Create walking pathways
– Stay off wet soil
– Apply organic amendment (compost)
– Avoid excess tilling, destroys soil structure
To Till or not to Till
-Tilling destroys soil community and soil structure.
– Not recommended unless starting a new bed, if necessary, only first few inches.
– Creates a bacteria dominate community, more ideal for weeds than vegetables.
The Magic of Mulch
-Maintains soil moisture/ cuts irrigation needs
-Creates and nourishes ecological environment by feeding microbes
-Blocks weeds
-Prevents erosion
Blanket the top of soil with a thick (3-4in) layer of leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, or straw.
Do not till in non-composted mulch materials.
Try using a “green manure” as a cover crop. Broad-cast seeds of clover, rye, barely, or wheat grass over your soil for nourishment and protection.

Adding Organic Matter
An organic amendment, such as compost, is an important energy source for the living soil community such as bacteria, fungi and earthworms.
Organic matter improves soil structure in both sandy and clayey soils. It improves water infiltration, drainage, air infiltration and improves rooting volume.
Be aware of over-amending!
When adding organic matter, in any given year, use no more than:
1” animal-based compost or manure
2” plant-based compost
Over amending can result in
-High salts
– Excessive nitrogen
– Low nitrogen
– Micro-nutrient imbalance
Though adding an organic amendment such as compost can work wonders on building soil health, too much of a good thing can have a negative impact.

Adding Minerals
Mineral rich solutions may be added to soil periodically to give plants an extra boost.
Some examples include…
– Liquid Kelp: Good source of micro-nutrients for immunity boost
– Compost Tea: Good source of nitrogen and living microbes
– Vermi-compost Tea: Enhances plant defenses against disease and improves crop yield

Don’t forget to stop by and pick up some organic seeds!

Happy growing Co-op friends!

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Preserve Our Food, Preserve Our Planet

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As summer winds slowly die down and our sunlight begins to dwindle so does our beloved growing season here in Colorado. Though modern conveniences such as refrigerators, freezers, supermarkets and mass food distribution companies create a world of food accessibility and the illusion of a year-round growing season, there use to be a time when we didn’t have such luxuries and surviving through the winter relied heavily on food preservation and storage.

Much to our dismay, we are literally living in a time where we are seeing and feeling the effects of our consumption and watching our world’s finite resources, such as oil reserves, water-tables and land, decline and degrade, while simultaneously seeing costs increase.

Fortunately for us, the art of food preservation has not been lost. Preserving foods through methods such as canning, smoking, salting, drying and fermenting, not only provide us with delicious and nutritious foods with long shelf lives and no need for chemical-based food preservatives, but also helps us lower our overall carbon footprint. Preserving food at home lowers gas use of refrigeration storage and transportation of food from long distances, as well as lowers food waste and minimizes packaging waste that ends up in landfills.

How does one do such food preservation? One very simple and delicious method is by lacto-fermentation. This form of fermentation pickles vegetables in an oxygen-free environment in which “good” bacteria release lactic acid to produce the tangy flavor we desire. Fermented foods not only maintain high levels of nutrients already in vegetables but also increases the absorption of these nutrients and aids in the digestion of foods.

Please note that any vegetable you desire may be used in this process. At the Fort Collins Food Cooperative, we have over 30 locally sources fruits and vegetables available this time of year. We have local green beans and carrots from Native Hill Farm, garlic, cucumbers, and green peppers from Sunspot Urban Farm, cabbage and hot peppers from Ole Dern Farm, onions from Fossil Creek Farms and much, much more for your fermenting pleasure. We also carry over a hundred different spices in our bulk department, as well as a variety of iodine-free salts such as sea salt and Himalayan pink salt that are packed with essential minerals that keep our bodies strong.

Here is a recipe published by the web-resource, The Kitchn, written by Emily Han.

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Lacto-Fermented Mixed Pickles

Serves 8

3 tablespoons sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt (see Recipe Notes)
1 quart water (see Recipe Notes)
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1 cup carrot chunks or slices
1 cup red bell pepper chunks or slices
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1-2 grape leaves (optional, to help keep pickles crisp)

Combine salt and water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt is dissolved. (You can heat the water first to make the salt easier to dissolve, but it’s not necessary. Let it come to room temperature before making the pickles.)

Place the remaining ingredients in a very clean, large jar (a half-gallon mason jar works well). Pour the salt water over the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar. If necessary, add more water to cover the vegetables. (Optionally, place a small bowl or jar on top of the vegetables to hold them under the brine.)

Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature. About once a day, open the jar to taste the pickles and release gases produced during fermentation. If any mold or scum has formed on the top, simply skim it off. (If using a jar fitted with an airlock, you don’t need to “burp” it; just open occasionally to taste.)

When pickles taste to your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment very slowly, but cold storage will largely halt fermentation. As a fermented food, these pickles will last for quite some time, at least a month or longer.

Recipe Notes:

  • Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.
  • Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can. It is also recommended to rinse the vegetables in un-chlorinated water rather than tap water.

Happy food preserving!

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Ain’t No Ordinary Onion

Facebook_Picture_OnionOf all the vegetables on this planet, the onion may be the most widely acclaimed of them all, being of precious dietary significance as far back as 5000 BC to being just as important to this day. Belonging to the allium family, a cousin to other household favorites such as garlic and shallots, it is estimated that over 9,000,000 acres of onions are grown annually, far exceeding any of its relatives.

Onions are denoted by their pungent flavor, dry papery outer skin, and their indistinguishable layered and bulbous body. Though a variety of wild and domesticated types of onions exist, yellow onions are the most commonly produced today, followed by red and white onions, each maintaining their own unique taste profile and culinary use.

While the vast and flavorful culinary uses for onions are undeniable, being used raw, sautéed, pickled or baked, they provide outstanding health benefits as well. Onions are high in vitamin C and an excellent source of dietary fiber and folic acid. They also contain a unique antioxidant compound called, quercetin. Quercetin has been shown to help eliminate free radicals that cause cell damage which can lead to cancer, as well as serve as protection from heart disease.

At the Fort Collins Food Co-op we carry yellow and red onions year-round, as well as do our best to provide local onions from neighboring farms such as Fossil Creek Farms and Native Hill Farm during the later summer months and into the autumn season. Don’t forget to try the infamous onions’ cousins too, such the mild and beautiful shallot or hard-neck purple garlic from Sunspot Urban Farm grown just a mile away.

Want to try something new? How about making your own caramelized onions to add a little gourmet to your home-cooked meals.

Prep time: 10 mins                            Cook time: 45 mins

Yields about 1 cup of caramelized onions

Ingredients:

2 medium onions (yellow, white or red based on preference)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions:

  1. Cut onions in half and slice thinly
  2. Melt butter in medium frying pan over low-medium heat until foaming
  3. Add onions evenly over pan and allow to cook slowly, stirring occasionally until golden brown. (about 45 minutes) If sticking or burning starts to occur, lower the heat.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  5. Enjoy on top of sandwiches, meats or pizza, topped on soups, or on its own!

The trick is to let them cook slowly, allowing the sugars to come out naturally.

Enjoy!

Sincerely, Isabella

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