Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chaga Mania

The hype surrounding these medicinal mushrooms is turning into "Chaga Mania" in these north woods. There are 2 chagas in this picture, are they calling your name? One is too small to harvest so leave it to grow for another 3 years. We have some beautiful birch forests around Fireweed Station so looking after the trees is a big concern. The snowshoeing is superb right now, there's a crust so you can go just about anywhere. I love being able to wonder aimlessly, staring at birches in the morning light.

You can carefully harvest Chaga without damaging the tree if you're not greedy. I just pop them off with my trusty hatchet and don't dig further into the tree trunk. More mushroom will grow back and may eventually kill the tree, but I'm happy to let the natural cycle tick along without my help.

There's plenty of reasons to collect Chaga for health benefits. One quick google and you'll think that it's a miracle cure-all and wonder why you're the last one to catch the bandwagon. I'm always looking for wild edibles and free medicine so this is just my cup of tea. It does seem to have powerful antioxidants, immune boosting properties, anti-aging compounds and generally stimulates the body to heal itself.

Here's a great link for facts without the hype:

Hopefully I have enough to last the winter and pass some on to friends who could use a boost. I've found it helps to let it thaw before trying to grate it, some say to use the blender but I'd rather thrash my 50 cent grater than the pricey Vitamix. I'll dry it and then enjoy the "tea" whenever I need a power surge. I'm looking forward to making some with the new spring birch sap in May.

Use the magic snail for extra joy in your cup.

Oh yes, and watch out for hippie chicks carrying hatchets in the woods!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Veggie Dreams

 Oh yes, the seed catalogues have begun to sprout! There are dog-eared glossies all over the house. I love dreaming about the gardens while it's snowing outside, a reminder that this too shall pass.
I've been gardening in Alaska for almost 20 years now so I have a good idea of what varieties work for our climate. Some of my stand-out, no-fail favorites are Belstar Broccoli, Scarlet Nantes Carrot, Snowball Cauli, Sugar Snap Peas, Mei Qing Pac Choi, Pacific Beauty Calendula and of course the amazing Veronica Romanesco.

Romanesco - aka cauliflower on acid!
We used to own a nursery business here so I still have notes from when I used to start millions of seeds for spring garden starts and hanging baskets. Wholesale seed catalogues are full of great growing information and I used to spend hours comparing different seed houses for number of seeds per ounce, color trends, prices, packaging, shipping etc. The catalogues I get now are a breeze, it's a joy to have only 30 different kinds of lettuce to choose from!  It was fun to be able to experiment with new varieties and colors for the customers, on the other hand I am greatly relieved I won't have to spend hours transplanting tiny Lobelia ever again. (75,000 Lobelia seeds to an ounce).

This year I'm on the look-out for beauty as well as function. The Talkeetna Farmers Market germinated last year and I had so much fun selling some of my extra veggies that this year I've got my eye out for what looks like it will sell well at the market. I'll grow more French Breakfast Radishes, Bright Lights Chard, Zephyr Zucchini, purple Kohlrabi, trying to have more types of veggies that you don't see in the store around here.

Last year Tom renovated my greenhouse into a thing of beauty, my tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs did so well! This year I'm feeling confident, so a couple of heirloom tomatoes will make the list and of course the English Cucumbers to vine up the gable end.

All this really comes down to is that I'm missing eating fresh veggies from the garden.  I'm growing some sprouts in the kitchen for a quick green boost but nothing replaces grazing in the rows or biting into a warm tomato while watering the greenhouse. Meals at Fireweed Station are always a good time to share the joy of gardening, whether it's edible flowers and fresh peas in the summertime or rhubarb salsa from the root cellar in winter. It all starts in the pages of the seed catalogues, my garden notebook and a healthy imagination.