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Know your soil

Washington State is a unique territory when it comes to climate and topography.  The state is technically divided into east and west halves by the Cascade Mountains with the western side being more wet and windward and the eastern side being more dry.  But it is also divided into a north and south, not necessarily by any physical barrier, but more from what happened centuries ago which created different soil types. The northern part of the state was covered by glaciers 10,000 years ago leaving behind what is considered “young soils”.  But the southern part of the state remained unglaciated thereby leaving the old soils in tact. However the Cascade Mountain Range also contains volcanoes which have deposited volcanic as in many of the areas over the centuries. (Fun Fact: there are technically 10 volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range of WA State, 5 of which are considered “active”). The western side of the state also contains a second mountain range, the Olympics located on the Olympic Peninsula.  While the Olympics are no as tall as the Cascades, their placement has another impact on the topography of the state. (Another Fun Fact: the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains are the wettest place in the 48 contiguous states).

The uniqueness of the way in which Washington State is split East & West and North & South, and the variety in climate, vegetation, geology and age, provides the state with soil types from 10 of the 12 different soil orders recognized by the USDA soil classification system.  The formation of these soils, from the surface to their lower depths, develops naturally due to five factors: 1) parent material, 2) topography, 3) organisms (including humans), 4) climate, and 5) time. If any one of the five factors is changed but the other four remain the same, a new soil is formed.  Because of how the various regions of the state have been impacted by elements over the centuries, we find different soils in the different regions of the state, each allowing for the harvesting of different fruits, vegetables as well as livestock.

The western side of the state has a cooler climate, the weather on this side of the state doesn’t traditionally get warmer until late in the summer, this makes the western side more suited for growing what would be “cool season” produce.  Produce that grows will in the western side of the state includes: (Fun Fact: over 41% of the crops exported by Washington State is produce)

Berries (Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Blueberries

Cherries

Apples (Gala, Honey Crisp, Jonagold, McIntosh)

Plums

Pears

Apricots

Rhubarb

Lettuce

Potatoes

Beans (Snap/Green)

Broccoli

Corn

Grapes (mostly wine grapes)

(Fun Fact:  20,000 years ago, towards the end of the ice age, a large ice dam broke in what we know today to be Lake Missoula in Missoula Montana. The colossal 400 foot flood that followed caved out what we know to be the Columbia Valley and created deposits of nutrient rich soil all over Eastern Washington.  This young rich soil is what has allowed the state to produce some of the best award winning “fruit-forward” wines known on the market).

Livestock that you will also find on this side of the state include:

Horses

Cattle

Milk Cows

Mink

Goats

Sheep

And of course there is the enormous amount of seafood.

The eastern side of the state has a drier and more warm climate during what would be the traditional growing season.  It also has a shorter growing season that is faced with dry and windy conditions. The eastern side of the state will also allow for many of the same vegetables, fruits and livestock that the western side has, but on a much larger scale, but it also has many other crops that are more conducive to drier climate.  These include produce and/or crops such as:
Onions

Asparagus

Carrots

Dry Beans

Wheat

Oats

Hops

Grapes

And then livestock such as hogs, and fish such as trout.

You can even see the difference between the north and the south on both the west and east side of the state in that some items on each side of the state will grown better in the northern or southern parts of the state versus the central part.  

Because of the uniqueness of the soils and climate of the state, it is a farmers and gardeners paradise. So weather you are planning just your own home garden, community pea patch or getting started on a larger scale “farm to table” garden for your restaurant, be sure to do your research on the type of soil in your area, be aware of the pH levels and know what grows best in your region and when best to plan and harvest, not all vegetables, fruits and crops can be planted at the same time.  By educating yourself on these details, you will set yourself up to be successful in your agricultural venture.

As a little bonus, I want to share with you a recipe of mine that celebrates the bountiful harvest of Washington State.  I LOVE breakfast on the weekends, and two of my favorites are Eggs Benedict and Lox & Cream Cheese. So in order to not have to choose I’ve come up with a dish that puts a twist on them using ingredients all locally sourced here in Washington State, I call it Latkes & Lox Benedict, it’s a mash up between Eggs Benedict and Lox and Cream Cheese.

Latkes & Lox Benedict

For Latkes:

  • 1½ cups shredded (1/2 pound) russet potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1 tablespoon onion, minced
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup oil

For Poached Eggs:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar

For Lox:

  • 6 oz. Lox style smoked salmon
  • 8 slices red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 Tbsp. capers
  • 1 bunch fresh basil

For Cream Cheese Sauce:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • ½ c. milk, or as needed

Directions:

Latkes:

  1. Shred potatoes with a grater into a bowl of ice water.  Let sit for 10 min. Remove potatoes, squeezing out the moisture into the water.  Dry potatoes with a clean towel. Let water sit for 10 min for starch to accumulate on the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully drain water, reserving the white starch on the bottom.
  2. Place potatoes in a large bowl, dry again.  Add in onion, egg, garlic, flour, salt and reserved starch and combine.
  3. Heat canola oil in large saute pan.  Scoop 2 Tbsp of potato mixture and flatten slightly, fry until golden brown, about 3-5 min.  Flip and fry other side. Drain on a rack over paper towels.
  4. Continue process until potato latkes are complete

Poached Eggs:

  1. Bring a few inches of water to simmer (NOT a boil) in a large saucepan.  Add splash of vinegar to water (this helps to the egg to form together). Whisk water in a circular fashion (also helps egg form).  Crack egg into a ramekin and gently pour into the middle of the pot.
  2. You know it’s finished when the white is just set and the youlk is still runny.  Remove from water with a slotted spoon and gently pass dry with paper towel.
  3. Repeat with other eggs.

Cream Cheese Sauce:

  1. Mix cream cheese and egg yolks together in a bowl.
  2. Stil lemon juice and salt together in a separate small bowl.
  3. Transfer cheese mixture to a saucepan placed over medium low heat; whisk in lemon juice mixture.  Increase heat to medium-low; bring cream cheese mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, about 3 min.  Whisk milk in gradually until desired consistency is reached. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until a smooth sauce forms, about 1-2 min.

Platting:

Place lattke on plate, top with slice of lox, poached egg, basil, sliced onion and capers, then top with cream cheese sauce.  Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

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