The above spreadsheet was created with Google Sheets. In addition to being a journal of what I sow, I use it to record growing and harvest notes from trials. There is also a corn calculator to help track expecting harvest dates. This calculator helps me plan when to sow different varieties to minimize cross pollination and maximize the number of varieties of corn we can grow in a given year.
Without Low Impact Development (LID), lawns can no longer exist. Native gardens become ecological liabilities: less permeable surface than lawns and enablers: of dust /air pollution, vermin population increases, flood, erosion, and wildfires.
With LID, harvesting thousands of gallons of rainwater can be enabled on your property as DYI project(s) or through a LID contractor.
With a rare consecutive year of La Nina (drought conditions in the Southwestern USA), the water situation looks dire. The silver lining is that we should be seeing more normal weather patterns next year. However, we need to act in order to not get ourselves in this situation again.
For those able to make the necessary modifications to their land/property, please adopt and implement Low Impact Development (LID) designs. Agencies tasked with LID are primarily concerned with storm-water management. LID designs divert rainwater from storm drains through infiltration and tanks. The secondary effect of LID is the restoration of the hydrological cycle. This restoration in effect allows for the storage of rainwater in the earth. Millions of gallons of precious rainwater is otherwise lost to the ocean. When water is stored in the ground, our plants can survive on natural rainfall and will only need supplemental water during the hot months. Furthermore, rainwater infiltration flushes accumulated salts from our soil.
Restoring the hydrological cycle is crucial. Without this restoration, lawns can no longer exist. Native gardens become ecological liabilities: less permeable surface than lawns and enablers: of dust /air pollution, vermin population increases, flood, erosion, and wildfires. Without this restoration we will collectively continue to use more water than available– a threat to home gardens.
Our Never Enough Dirt gardens thrives because we capture and infiltrate every rain event. Furthermore, our soil is comprised of a signification percentage of native clay, a water and nutrient retaining medium. One of the simplest yet most impactful action every arid climate gardener can take is to incorporate more native clay into their garden. Start with a 30% incorporation of clay to the soil mix. Afterward, adjust watering and amendment schedules accordingly.
As a stay-at-home dad my focus is on mentoring my young kids (7 & 5 years old.) How I interact with them is how I interact with our garden. With time as the necessary component, I practice what I call, “Harmonious Communication.” This type of communication is a culmination of many principles; with “Nonviolent Communication” principles playing a large part. In addition to, a deep understanding of the principles and mechanisms that drive the natural world enables us to do more with less effort and resources. The natural world is a machine with many moving parts. All these parts interact with one another moving in opposing directions (cause and effect) to generate the propulsion that moves towards a harmonious state.
One understood principle is that pests and diseases are an indicator of a cause and effect loop. Our gardens are planted with this understanding. As a result, I spend time to foster robust and resilient plants; as opposed to spending time to treat them. This is achieved by understanding what nature’s purpose is for a certain pest or disease and putting that to work. The opposite is to act on the problem without knowing that it will exacerbate it. This is liken to removing the natural feedback back effect and replacing it with human driven effort.
It is also very important to note that all growing styles are relevant. Which style a gardener chooses will be dependent on their set of circumstances and the amount of time they have. These tours are for garden enthusiasts; to enjoy seeing what we grow and to understand some of the mechanics of how our garden grows.
Succession Growing, An Illustration
Growing beds with one type of vegetable for one large harvest has been a traditional gardening practice for the longest time. Succession planting for smaller yields and variety, on the other hand, is an impactful re-imagination of this traditional gardening practice. There are many reasons why single harvest methods of growing is the most popular method. Above all, the reason it persists is because this practice is relatively easy to grasp, manage, and execute. Climate is another influencer of how food is grown. Southern California’s climate allows for year-round growing. This means that many types of crops can be grown throughout the year; versus having to grow our fill for the year in a short amount of time.
Crazy About Citrus
Collecting citrus is a hobby of mine. Blood oranges are one category that I enjoy curating.
The Plants Not Often Seen
As someone who has a fascination for the natural world, I am also very interesting it non food plants. They are not often seen or highlighted on my social media content but they do exist. Look for them in the background!
A recipe to turn the joy of growing heirloom dent corn into tortilla for tacos, quesadilla, chips, etc.
Over a thousand year of cultivation In addition to the neat appearance and coloration, heirloom corn have historical, geographical, and cultural significance. These heirloom varieties developed hundreds of years ago (and longer) became a vital food source for the indigenous people of the Americas.
Nixtamalization One of the special qualities of corn is that it is a grain. Corn is grown with surplus in mind; it is then dried and stored to be consumed during the non growing season or times of lean harvests. Dent corn varieties with their starchy qualities are the most ideal type of corn to use as grain. Without machinery, turning this hard grain into an ingredient can take enormous amounts of labor. Nixtamalization was discovered as a process to make corn easier to work with. Developed over 1500 years ago in Mesoamerica, nixtamalization is a process of rehydrating corn in an alkaline solution. This process of rehydrating corn loosens and softens the tough hull and germ. Thus the corn becomes softer and easier to grind. More importantly, it makes corn more nutritious while also removing toxins from mold that may have grown during the storage of this grain. [Source: Wikipedia]
In this recipe, you will be making tortilla from nixtamal masa. (Masa is a dough made from ground dried corn. Nixtamal masa is masa made from nixtamalized dried corn.)
Makes about twelve 5-inch tortillas.
1.5 cup dried dent corn (~two 6-inch ears of ‘Cherokee White Eagle’ corn. )
1 tablespoon pickling lime (also known as calcium hydroxide)
Turning dried corn to nixtamal masa to tortilla is a two day process. Recommended equipment: a food mill capable of making masa (or food processor,) cast iron skillet or carbon steel pan, 8 quart pot, colander, shallow bowl, wax paper, two small cutting boards (or a tortilla press.)
Nixtamal masa Simmer and Steep Fill an 8 quart enameled or stainless steel (non reactive) pot a little more than half way with water, add 1 tablespoon of pickling lime, and bring to a boil. Add corn and let boil for about a minute before reducing to a simmer. Simmer for 15-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the corn to steep overnight (12 hours.) The alkaline solution will soften the hard outer hull (pericarp) and give it a membrane like characteristic. While the solution is safe to handle, do note that it is caustic to some degree. Handle with care until you know your tolerances.
Rinse and Clean Next day, drain and rinse corn in a colander. At this point the membrane, tip cap, and germ can be removed from the kernel. This is done by rubbing hands against the corn and removing individually. This is necessary for recipes that call for a very smooth masa; like tamale. For our tortilla, a little bit of grit gives it great texture. It therefore will not be necessary to remove everything entirely.
Mill and Dough The next step is milling the nixtamal into nixtamal masa. Feed the masa mill a little bit at a time (less than a handful) and mill at the finest setting. Adding a tablespoon of water during the milling can help. Experiment with adding some water here and there to find what works best. A food processor is an alternative. Work in small batches and experiment with adding water.
Once all the nixtamal has been milled, add a couple of pinches of salt and knead the loose nixtamal. Add a little water at a time until it comes together into a large ball. When the dough is too dry, it will not stay together. When it is too wet, your hand will be sticky with nixtamal. An ideal ball of nixtamal masa will not leave your hands wet like you just washed them.
Making tortilla Allow the masa to rest for about 15 minutes. 5-inch tortillas are easiest to work with. Shape a ball about the size of an extra large meat ball. Place one sheet of wax paper over a medium cutting board. Place the dough ball in the center of the wax paper. Then lay (on center) a sheet of wax paper on top. Using another cutting board, place it center over the dough ball and press straight down.
When the desired thickness is reached, set aside the top cutting board. Slowly peel away the top off the wax paper sandwich. Then gently place the wax paper back on top of the tortilla. Grab the bottom wax paper, flip it over and gently peel the wax paper away. Transfer the tortilla onto the palm of your hand. Finally, transfer the tortilla onto a heated pan. Carbon steel pans or cast iron skillets work best. Cook until one side is slightly toast before flipping it over and cooking the other side.
Finished tortillas are great as snacks, quesadilla, tacos, and even fried up as chips.
Recipe notes: This particular garden to table combines an ancient corn processing technique developed over 1500 years ago in Mesoamerica with a variety of corn that was developed in North America.
Brian Truong is a kitchen garden cook. He enjoys cultivating historically and culturally significant ingredients for a garden to table experience. See what he is up to on Instagram and on YouTube @neverenoughdirt and also at https://neverenoughdirt.com
In this video, I give a walking tour of the various areas on our property where we are growing our tomatoes this year (2021.) On this tour, I will go over some of the different microclimates and ways we are supporting our tomato plants. You will be also able to see 95% of our growing space and catch a glimpse of what else is growing at the moment.
In our garden we happily found huitlacoche (a fungus that took over development of an ear of corn). With it, we prepared in a quesadilla. So as to get a good gauge of this delicacy, we used minimal ingredients. In our tasting, we found the dark pasty part of the huitlacoche to have a nutty taste that is mild. Its texture is a very fine grain. When crushed between teeth, it has a tiny pop that is nice. The white membrane that encases the dark paste is airy and snappy with a fresh corn taste.
Huitlacoche has long been a delicacy in Mexico. In fact, corn truffle as it is also known also dates back to Aztec culture. What makes this a delicacy is rarity. The conditions that allow for this fungus to grow has to be particular. Rainy and weather is usually the key. Up until recently, in western cultures finding fungus in a corn patch was disheartening. Farmers and growers would call it corn smut.
Somewhere along the way, the secret got out. Corn fungus is tasty, unique, and contains amino acids that the body does not produce. The kinds of goodies that help fight infection among other things. Suddenly there was not corn smut to be found. Rather, there were harvests of huitlacoche and corn truffle.
One of the things we are doing this year is experimenting to see how early we can start our plants. We started many plants a month earlier than usual. In February we sowed plants like tomatoes, corn, and watermelon. Sweet corn usually requires warmed to sweeten up so we started with non sweet varieties first like ‘Strawberry Popcorn’ and ‘Seneca Red Stalker.’ Since these varieties are flint corn we had to wait until the plants dried before harvesting them. With them dried and the ‘Roma’ tomatoes ramping down in production, we took this time to clear and transition the beds to plant something else.
With the space, my son and I sowed seeds and are hoping to see 20 strong ‘Oaxacan Green’ dent corn plants.
As for the watermelon:
The ‘Klondike Blue Ribbon’ could have used a few more days to develop its exquisite crispy texture. Nonetheless, the flavor and sweetness was present. On the second tasting of a ‘Sweet Siberian,’ we find that the flesh is rather smooth and just sweet. Once again, the typical watermelon flavor is either non-existent or rather subtle.
Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA