Sunday, June 20, 2010


(Photo by Sierra Young)

Any plant that has spikelets ranks high on my long and growing list of cool things about Ebey's Reserve. Hordeum vulgare, or barley, is a grass grown as a cereal grain, livestock feed, and hops for brewing beer. At this time of year the spikelets give verdant fields all over the Reserve a soft look, especially when the wind creates wave patterns across acres of barley, inviting onlookers to relax and set their thoughts free onto the prairie.

Local farmer harvests barley on Ebey's Prairie in front of the Ferry House (Photo by Mitch Richards)

Barley is an annual grass, meaning it must get its seeds into the soil in order survive, unlike perennial plants, like the sunchoke, whose roots survive underground and store energy over the winter to sprout new growth the following year. Wild barley grows spikes that contain the seeds, and when these spikelets reach maturity they split open so that wind and animals can disperse the seeds. Domesticated barley, however, has a mutation so that its spikelets are non-shattering, making it easier to harvest the ears. Farmers then plant new seeds for the next year's crop.

Ancient Egyptians used barley to make beer and bread. It has also been a staple in Tibet since the fifth century A.D., where it is made into a flour product called tsampa. Today it is cultivated in temperate climates as a summer crop and in tropical climates as a winter crop. Barley thrives in cool conditions, but it not very winter-hardy, making the mild climate of Central Whidbey Island an ideal place to grow it. It is also relatively tolerant of soil salinity, making a practical seaside crop, as it is here.

(Photo by Sierra Young)

As you walk, bike, or drive through Ebey's Reserve, by all means enjoy the more distant vistas of the rugged Olympic Mountains, Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, but don't forget the simple beauty of barley fields on the prairie--the same fields that the pioneers began farming here more than 150 years ago.

Post by Sierra Young

Monday, June 14, 2010

Helianthus tuberosus

What do potatoes, artichokes and sunflowers all have in common? They are all ways I have heard sunchokes described. Heliantus tuberosus, known commonly as sunchoke or Jerusalem artichokes, is a type of perennial sunflower, with a tall stock that grows in the summer and blooms with a yellow flower, smaller than that of the common sunflower Helianthus annuus.

Sunchoke plants at the Coupeville Farmers Market on Saturay (Photo by Sierra Young)

After the stock dies back it grows tubers underground, like potatoes, to store carbohydrates through the winter. Those tubers can be broken off the main root of the plant and harvested all winter long. The plant gets the name Jerusalem artichoke because of its sweet nutty flavor, akin to artichokes.

Sunchokes have a crisp texture when raw and make a tasty addition to a salad. They can also be treated just like potatoes when cooking: au gratin, boiled, added to soups and casserols, you name it.

Post by Sierra Young

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I was a "Sesame Street" fan as a kid. On the show, Kermit the Frog lamented about being green, singing "Bein' Green." That song came to mind yesterday afternoon at the Coupeville farmers market while I looked at a table of lettuce, leaves "tired" after a few hours on display.

"Bein' Green"

It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be

The lettuce that farmers cultivate today began as a weed in the Mediterranean Basin. References to it go back more than 4,500 years in the form of Egyptian tomb paintings. Greek scholars also identified various types of lettuce. Christopher Columbus allegedly introduced it to the New World.

Available May through October at the Reserve, lettuce provides cool, crispy refreshment on even the hottest summer day. I love sitting down with my salad at dinner and reflecting on my conversation that day with the farmer who picked and washed the greens the day before. I hope to someday feel a similar connection to all my food.

Photos and post by Sierra Young