Friday, August 28, 2015

Mid-Season Veg Variety Winners

I've actually had a couple of people ask what the mid-season favorites are for the Veg Variety Winners this year.  Obviously, it is way too early to know for sure how things will end up, but there are some obvious winners so far.  On the other hand, we see things like our melon vines dying off and the number of melons is far fewer than expected.  We were so happy with how that field looked too.  It's just the typical "looks can be deceiving" reminder.

But, without further ado - here are some mid-season guesses on veg variety winners.

Blizzard Peas
The peas were just amazing this year.  Each of our four varieties (Golden Sweet, Mammoth Melting and Oregon Sugar Pod II) did very will.  Actually, a fifth variety (Cascadia) didn't want to germinate, so all was not perfection.  In all of these cases, the variety classifies as a snow pea.  Overall, we think the best taste belongs to Blizzard and Golden Sweet.  But, Mammoth and Oregon have better substance for freezing and stir fry.  As far as production goes, Mammoth (.94 lbs/row foot) eked them all out with Golden Sweet having the lowest yield in pounds per row foot.  But, since Blizzard was close at .86 pounds per row foot and they had the better taste of the two, Blizzard wins. 

Oh, and picking Blizzard is so darned easy and fun!  I am sure the crew would agree with this pick as the overall winner for the peas.  But, the peas were so good this year, don't be surprised is more than one variety makes the list for the year.

Ailsa Craig Exhibition Sweet Onion
We're just starting to pull these in.  This is a variety that we grow every year because the taste is so good.  But, production can be a bit of a roller coaster.  Last year, we pulled in a respectable group of Ailsa's, but it wasn't overwhelming.  This year, I think everyone will be impressed with the quality and numbers.  We've only pulled in the high tunnel Ailsa's, and they are small compared to the field onions.  White Wing and Redwing are also doing quite well for onions this season, with the nod likely going to Redwing if one of them is going to beat Ailsa out.

 Bloomsdale Spinach
We haven't had spinach in a while, but I can still pull out the memory of the wonderful winter batch we got to enjoy in March through May.  And, we still have the Fall and early Winter for Bloomsdale to wow us some more.  Bloomsdale has made the list multiple times, but it actually may get some competition this year as we're trying two more varieties (Giant Winter and Butterflay).

Minnesota Midget melon
We grow Minnesota Midget exclusively in the high tunnel and it seems to really like that environment.  By trellising these vines, we avoid losing alot of space to them as well.  Thus far, our 60 foot row in the old high tunnel has yielded 120 melons and the taste has been great.  The only downside is the fact that we just can't get it to produce enough for everyone in each distribution.  But, next year, the second high tunnel will be going and we shouldn't have that problem anymore!

We've been pretty happy with the cauliflower in the first succession, but we really need more data from the next successions to make a choice.  Goodman, Amazing and Snow Crown all did well and the taste has been excellent.  If the Fall batch does as well, one of these will make the list.

Dragon Carrot
Our stand of carrots in the field and the high tunnel looked pretty good for quite some time.  We will admit that the harvest isn't likely to turn out to be as great as we hoped.  But, we also set our hopes pretty high based on the looks of the greenery.  Thus far, Dragon has been out-performing St Valery's and the consistency has been much better.  Again, it will be a few weeks before they are all out of the ground, so we'll let you know!

Touchstone Gold Beet
The high tunnel batch was tremendous and it looks like the Fall field planting is germinating.  If these do half as well as the high tunnel group, we have a likely entry in the top 10.  The consistency, decent size and excellent taste and texture make this a good one to watch.  The dark horse here is the Fall planting of Chioggia beets.  They are germinating even better than the Golds!

Of course, there are other suspects for this lineup, but some of them admittedly have a tougher road to follow.  For example, it takes alot for our beans to have an exceptional year.  They are looking good thus far, but have to continue to be considered.  I guess you're all just going to have to wait until we publish our top ten in November/December!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Hopefully, we are not as contrary as Mary Mary who has the silver bells and cockle shells!  But, we'll leave that to you to decide if we are contrary or not.  But, I'll tell you right now that you'll likely be wrong!

With all of the introductory silliness aside, we thought we'd share a bit of a farm report.  But, instead of just giving you a list of things that are doing well or poorly, we include pictures!  And, of course, we are working to make these reports more entertaining and potentially useful to those who read it.  As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Are we finally 'Right Sizing' some of our crops?
We have had years where certain crops have gone absolutely bonkers.  Perfect timing for planting, motivations to pick it all and excellent weather for the given crop all have something to do with it.  But, the other thing that often plays into it is the amount of a crop we plant. 
Painted Pony beans in bloom.
Green beans are a great example.  We feel that 750 pounds of green beans for a season is a reasonable goal.  Everyone in our CSA gets a fair amount of green beans.  We get to freeze some for ourselves and we can sell some excess at that level.  From 2009 to 2014, we picked an average of 693 pounds each season.  This includes a really awful year (2010's 181.5 lbs) and a really fabulous year (2012's 1068 lbs).

Right now, we are approaching 500 pounds for the season, which has us on target for our goal.  It won't break any records for us, but maybe that's ok.  We know about what we can harvest reasonably and we know what we can successfully move.  So, hitting a target works well.

A&C Pickling Cucumber

Another crop that we have shown the ability to grow is actually going to have much lower numbers than in recent years.  And, it isn't because we didn't have good production from the vines.  It has more to do with our not having the time to get it all picked.  When you combine this with a bit less demand and the motivation to get it all picked won't be there.

In 2012 and 2013, we harvested over 5000 cucumbers each year.  Last year was a down year and we only harvested a little over 2000 cucumbers.  And, we did a decent job of meeting demand.  As a result, we reduced our goal to 3500 cucumbers for a season and we are sitting at 2800 at this time.

We should reach our goal.  But, part of us remains disappointed in this.  We know what we CAN produce.  In fact, we harvested over 7000 marketable cucumbers in 2010.  But, sometimes it isn't always the best thing for the whole farm to maximize a particular crop. 

Some crops on our farm have been a real struggle.  There are many reasons for this, with the primary reason often being the weather combined with our farm's soil types.  But, this isn't the whole truth.  Another reason is the simple fact that it is NOT easy to scale every single vegetable crop we grow up to a proper size for our farm.  Some of the issues have to do with tools, some with techniques and some with knowledge.

We all live in a yellow submarine.....
Think about it this way.  You play the hurdy gurdy (why not?  it sounds like fun!) and you want to learn one song and play it well for a concert.  You have one week to learn it and then have a performance.  If you can play the hurdy gurdy already, this might not be so hard.  But, what if you are told that you have to learn to play TEN songs in one week for a performance?  Suddenly, it doesn't seem so easy.  This is a fairly decent analogy for what we have tried to do over the past several years.  We have learned to grow crops on a larger scale in a fairly short period of time.  But, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we weren't able to figure out all of the tools and techniques that work for every crop at our farm immediately.  And, even when you figure out the best ways to do things, there is not much you can do if a string breaks on the hurdy gurdy or the weather is contrary to growing a particular crop.

Touchstone Gold beets love the high tunnel
As you might have guess by the pictures, the two crops we are focusing on for this section are potatoes and beets.  Our heavy soil makes it difficult to grow root crops.  This is especially true if there is a need to get them in the ground earlier.  While we aren't saying we will never have problems with these crops ever again, we can say that we have more tools in our toolbox that put the odds more in our favor.

Potatoes have been difficult the prior couple of years because we could not get into the fields to prep the soil for planting.  But, the real issue was the fact that we simply didn't have the tools on hand to get the ground worked fast enough if a window presented itself for planting.  With Rosie the tractor and some assorted implements, we can now take advantage of much smaller planting windows than we ever have.  The results?  We put half of our potatoes in before May 5 and the rest in by May 15.  As a result, we have already harvested two rows of potatoes and are a quarter of the way to our goal of 1 ton of taters for the season.

Our solution for beets has been to stop growing them on our farm and let Jeff Sage grow them.  However, we really wanted to grow some specialty beets in hopes that it will meet the needs of persons who just can't stomach the red beets.  So, every year, we've made a half-hearted attempt to grow Touchstone Gold beets and Chioggia beets.  It wasn't until this year, when we worked to add the second high tunnel, that we allowed ourselves to use some high tunnel space for beets.  The result?  We were able to introduce our CSA members to golden beets!  We beat our modest goal of 100 pounds of beets for the season and we're wondering if our Fall field planting will add to that total.  Who knows?  Maybe if we challenge them?  Tell them to try to beet our previous record?

Sorry, I can't help it.  I must pun.

Continued Incremental Improvements
If you have a diversified farm, such as ours, you need to avoid the approach known as "delayed perfection" and adopt the "incremental improvement" mantra.  It doesn't mean that there is no planning or research that goes into it.  But, it does mean that you have accept that you can't do everything exactly the way you want to immediately.

Some crops that are showing better results because of incremental improvements are our peas, onions, melons and cauliflower.
These melons are 2+ weeks away form being ready.
After some early successes that we think have to do with a combination of beginner's luck and perfect weather, we think we are finally getting a handle on how we can best grow the heirloom melons we favor.  Last year was a reasonably successful season with nearly 400 melons harvested.  But, this year, we felt fairly confident that we would pass that number easily - but that's during a season where the weather has been a bit cool for their liking, so we shall see.

If we think back to how we used to grow melons, we are easily amazed by how many adjustments and changes we have made.  We used to do what every gardener has done.  Make a hill and place 3 to 7 seeds in each hill.  Water as needed, weed when you can and then harvest.  The problem with that model?  It doesn't work when you want to start growing enough to have 500 to 1000 melons for CSA and direct sales.

Then, there are the peas.  We had an awful year in 2014 because soil conditions didn't support germination, but we've had some decent production prior to that.  This year, everything came together and we blew past all prior years with over 400 pounds of peas (as opposed to the average 119 pounds from 2011 to 2014.  The final piece of the puzzle was our trellising techniques and timing.

This may be the year of the pea?
I think we have shown that onions are no longer a fluke on our farm.  We've written about this one before, so I'll just link you to a prior post!
White Wing onions
And, then there is the cauliflower.  We haven't pulled in many yet, but hey are coming.  And, they look fabulous!  This is a case where it is a matter of finding the varieties that work on our farm.  Sometimes, a vegetable type just doesn't get enough attention because our energies are focused elsewhere.  But, finally, cauliflower is getting its due and we're pretty certain that we like the triad of Amazing, Goodman and Snow Crown.  As with all things, finding the varieties is not the only thing that has changed over time, but appears to have been the last key we needed to identify to increase our reliability with this crop immensely.

Don't know what it is, but a head of cauliflower in the field is very rewarding to the farmer
And things beyond our control

Then, there are things you can't do anything about.  For example, we like to grow Listada de Gandia eggplant and Rosa Bianca eggplant.  Listada is the top photo and Rosa is below.

We acquired seed for each and started plants.  We got them in the ground and they are growing fine.  Listada looks good and is beginning to produce.  The Rosa's?  Well, their fruit look alot like Listada - even if the plant looks alot like a Rosa Bianca plant.  So, clearly there was an issue with the seed.  We will not get any Rosa Bianca's this year because of it.  But, we'll test the fruit the plants do produce to make sure they taste fine and go from there.

I saved this item for last as a reminder to myself and to everyone else that there is always more to learn and there is always a chance that mistakes will be made.  It is also a good reminder that, even if you think you did everything 'right,' things can still go wrong.  So, I may be speaking with confidence about our abilities to grow things, but I always know how easily Mother Nature can make me look very silly.  I am also painfully aware of my own short comings.

So, with that in mind - we're still doing pretty darned good and we're just planning on getting better.  If things go wrong (and they will) we will make more adjustments and do what seems best to the best of our abilities.  I don't think we can say fairer than that!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Festival and Heirloom Tomato Tasting at GFF

We'd like to cordially invite you to our annual Summer Festival at the farm this coming Sunday (August 30).  If you would be so kind as to RSVP that you plan to attend, it would help us immensely with our preparations.

Festivals at the Genuine Faux Farm are family friendly events.  Attendees are CSA farm share members, customers of our produce and poultry, family members and farm friends who support what we do.  We also invite those who are interested in joining our CSA farm share program in the future. 

Food at our festivals center around a potluck style system.  We encourage people to bring something to share and we will also provide a grill for those who wish to cook something for themselves.  Some people will bring extra to grill and will use that as an item to share.  The farm will provide iced tea, water and lemonade to drink and, of course, various veggies will make their appearance on the tables as well.  If you wish to bring other beverages, we would prefer that they be non-alcoholic. 

One of our goals for our events is to have "minimal to no waste" events.  We will have table service (plates, silverware) for approximately 50 people and encourage attendees to consider bringing their own table service if it is easy for you to do.  We also encourage you to bring lawn chairs as we have a limited supply of our own. 

Summer Festival Schedule (subject to change if needed):

1:00-3:00  Tom Sawyer Work Time
For those who have interest, we could use some volunteers in the early afternoon to help with set up and preparation.  If you are willing to help, please indicate that this is the case in your RSVP.  If we get enough volunteers, we could have a few people doing other work on the farm.  For example, a few people might help us collect some over ripe cucumbers to feed the birds later on.

3:00-5:00  Huck Finn Play Time
The festival officially starts at 3pm.  It is possible that there may be a little bit of prepping still going on, but we'll certainly start making the transition to just enjoying the day at this point.  We will have a couple of art stations available for all ages.  Please note that we will have some latex paint.  So, if you have children who want to paint, you may want to have them wear appropriate clothing.  We will also try to set up a colored chalk drawing area as well.  We also intend to do our photo scavenger hunt again this year.  You need not attend early to participate in these activities.  We don't anticipate shutting them down unless the weather or other circumstance forces the issue.

For those that have a lawn game that they might like to play (and share with other interested persons), let us know you will bring it and we'll make sure an area is open for the game you have chosen to share.

3:45 Farm Tour #1
Rob and Tammy will provide guided tours of the farm at two or three points during the gathering for those who would like them.  We'll give you the nickel tour and you can feel free to ask questions as we show you our fields and the critters on the farm.

3:45 Feed the Birds
It won't cost tuppance, but I bet the turkeys might like a few cucumbers or other things to eat.  Interested persons can help us get some food to our always interested poultry.

4:00-5:00 Live Music
We have arranged for the Buskers to play at our festival this year.  Rick Truax and Scott Hammerlinck have an acoustic set that will run for an hour and then break for some food.  If we all give them the positive feedback they deserve, they just might play for a bit more after they've had a chance to eat something.  If you attended some of the early Waverly Farmers' Markets on Saturdays this season, you will have had a chance to hear them and have an idea of what they play.  If you haven't had a chance to hear them, then you should come to the festival and enjoy.

Last year's winner: Black Cherry

4:15-5:00 Heirloom Tomato Tasting
The tomatoes have been a bit slow this year, but we should have plenty of varieties for everyone to try.  We will put out a spread of different tomatoes for everyone to taste.  You all get to vote for your favorite.  The winning tomato gets a 'free' blog post and a bump in production for next year!

5:00 Farm Tour #2
If you are not famished and want the nickel tour, here is a second chance for you.

5:00 Food!
In case some heirloom tomatoes are not enough, we will have the grill going starting at 5:00pm and the potluck officially starts.  The grill will run until everyone is done.

6:00 Farm Tour #3 and more Huck Finn Play Time
In case anyone is still interested.  We'll figure to offer a tour one more time. And, hey - if we have all these neat games and art making opportunities and music around - why would we stop?  If you can still move after eating - go for it!

7:00 Bonfire and s'Mores?
It is GFF tradition to have a bonfire and some s'Mores after the potluck winds down.  The tradition only holds if the weather allows.  If it is too windy, we may opt to not start a fire since it has been fairly dry lately.  If conditions are reasonable, we will start a fire and people can opt to make s'Mores.

7:30-8:00 Time to Wind it Down
 As it starts to get dark on the farm, the farmers start to turn into pumpkins.  Well, not literally.  But, they do still need to do some chores after everyone leaves.  If you are willing to help with a little clean up, please let us know.  We might appreciate three to four pairs of hands to help in that department.

We Compost (and more)
In an effort to reduce waste at GFF events, you will notice that we will have containers with different labels.  All food waste will go into the COMPOST bucket.  We do realize that some meat might go into these buckets, but the relatively low volume as compared to our compost piles will not make much difference in this case.  We will have a BURNABLES container for napkins and paper produces.  Another container will take the dishes and silverware we provide (if you bring your own, you'll have to take it with you, of course).  A RECYCLING container will be available for standard recyclable items.  And, a TRASH container will be for whatever is left (it should not be much).
I picked the right bucket!
Weather Whethers
At present, the extended forecast shows some very nice weather for Sunday.  We will publish particulars if that should change. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Culinary Corner: The Mighty Eggplant

Elizabeth Hinds' latest installment is an entry on how to use eggplant.  Please note her comments about sweating eggplant and her addendum about smaller/younger eggplant.  We tend to agree that sweating isn't something that is appealing and neither of us care for a bitter tasting eggplant.  From a grower's perspective, we can tell you that part of the key is getting eggplant fruit that are "younger."  They may still have some size to them, but that is a function of the growing conditions of the eggplant.  During perfect conditions, a young eggplant can have some decent size.  During poorer conditions, even a small eggplant can be on a plant too long and get bitter.  In order to do our best to insure that you get younger eggplant, we pick try not to leave any fruit on the eggplant for more than one week.  Any fruit that seem 'off' to us are discarded. [ed. RF]

Black Beauty eggplant
I haven't always loved eggplant. Like many people, I was introduced to the underwhelming eggplant parmesan dish and assumed I just didn't like the vegetable. It's not impossible to find good eggplant parmesan, but more often than not the meal is rubbery or soggy, or drowning in sauce. No thanks.

I also found that many recipes required heavy salting to sweat the eggplant and I disliked the resulting texture and no matter how hard I tried, the end result was always too salty for me (**see below). 

Casper eggplant
The real turning point came when I attempted to recreate a spicy eggplant dish for my mom from one of her favorite restaurants. The result was an almost creamy eggplant that was sweet, and savory and salty with a little kick from chili flakes. Because the original recipe includes a lot of ingredients that those with allergies may find problematic, I've included a few ingredient alternatives and where to find them!

Spicy Eggplant
  • 1 lb Eggplant
  • 1 tsp Tahini (OR 1/2 tsp cornstarch)
  • 1 tbsp Raw Sugar (OR 2 tsp honey)
  • 2 tbsp Soy Sauce (OR 2 tbsp Tamari {Gluten-Free, available in organic section at Hyvee or online},OR Coconut aminos {Soy-free, available online}, OR 3 tsp Worcestershire with 2 tsp water and 1/4 tsp salt)
  • 2 tbsp Oyster Sauce (OR Worcestershire)
  • 1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp chili flake (optional)
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Brown Rice, to serve
Extra tools to gather before you start:
  1. Baking sheet lined with a towel to place the cooked eggplant
  2. A metal slotted spoon to remove the eggplant from the oil
  3. A large, heat-proof container for the hot oil after frying
In a medium pot, heat about 1 inch of oil over medium high heat. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Peel the eggplant with a vegetable peeler, then cut into 1 inch cubes, and use one of the cubes to test the oil. When it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready. 
Working in batches, fry the eggplant until golden, stirring occasionally, about 2 mins. As the eggplant cooks, remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on the towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Once you've cooked all the eggplant, pour off the oil into a heat-proof container and set somewhere safe to cool. Place the pot back on the stove and add the sauce ingredients. Cook for about a minute, then add the eggplant back in and stir to coat. Serve with brown rice. 

Pintung Long eggplant

**Even though every eggplant recipe I've ever found instructs you to sweat the eggplant to prepare it for cooking, it's not always necessary! Smaller eggplants, such as those you'll get from GFF, don't have the same bitterness of the large purple vegetables you'll find at the grocery store. If you decide to try this recipe with grocery store eggplant, you still don't have to sweat it first! The high heat of frying will remove the bitterness.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Look in the Mirror

In this case, the peak I took was into the rearview mirror.  I was looking for a particular picture and I got an idea to look through our files for electronic August farm pictures and see what kinds of things spoke to me.  These are the pictures that caught my attention and I thought I'd share them.

2010 - Kids and Young Turkeys
Mutual Fascination
This is one of those pictures where I wish I had a higher definition picture to share.  But, this is before the arrival of a decent digital camera on the farm.  You need to look carefully, but there IS a fence between the two girls next to the cart and the turkeys.

For those who do not know, we do feed our turkeys vegetables that are not deemed fit for our farm shares or other sales.  When we have festivals, it is not uncommon for us to give our young (and young at heart) attendees a chance to feed the turkeys (and chickens and ducks) some of the produce that is set aside for them.  Also, turkeys know the difference between their farmers (the BIG turkeys) and other people.  So, the picture above illustrates the cautious interest the birds have in the smaller humans.  We also don't think the placement of the cart is a mistake for the two girls!

This is also interesting to us because this was the first season the turkeys were in the pasture North of the Poultry Pavilion.  In fact, it would be the first season the Poultry Pavilion was used for turkeys.  Prior years saw the turkeys residing in the old barn.

2011 - Ye Olde Barn

The last time the barn looked this good
It has been quite some time now since the barn had siding and a roof that almost kept the elements off of whatever was inside.  In fact, there isn't so much an inside to our barn anymore.  Or, at least that is true for the West portion of the structure.

Looking at the picture, I am reminded how much we agonized over the decision to give up on the barn.  The barn is and was a symbol in many ways to us and our farm.  But rather than getting into that, I would rather remember a moment in that barn where I got a real sense why many good rural memories have something to do with a barn.

A neighbor of ours had some bales he needed to store and asked if he could use some of the area in the north half of the barn that still had some decent cover.  We agreed and helped a bit with loading and even more with the removal as he needed bales.  It was a calm day - not too hot, not too cold.  We worked to help Kent unload some bales.  It was good, honest work that didn't require a great deal of thought.  Just a little exercise and the proper amount of caution.  The hay had a fresh scent and the three of us finished the job quickly. 

We took a moment to rest and watched as dust motes floated through beams of sunlight that were coming through holes in the roof or sides of the barn.  We were at peace.  The barn was a place where you could feel good about yourself and the farm.

Up to that point, most of the barn had been a bit of a 'wild and untamed' place for us.  A couple of rooms were in use for hens and turkeys.  But most of the rest was not frequented by us at all.  It was just a puzzle that needed to be figured our and a problem to be solved.

It was at that moment that I realized how a barn like this fit into the life of the farm and how it could be a place of comfort and calm.  It was also at this moment that I understood that this particular barn had lived its life and it was time to begin the process of dismantling it.  Perhaps, one day, we'll have a new building that fits the needs of our farm as we run it better than this one ever did.

2012 - Graduating to Bigger Equipment

Durnik requiring a little problem solving
While we purchased Durnik, the Ford 8n, in 2010, it took some time to acquire equipment to make it useful on our farm.  And, it took even more time for us to learn how to efficiently use these larger tools.  In a way, I feel like this picture illustrates a bit of a graduation on my part to understanding better how to make the tractor and its tools work for us.   I am not trying to tell you that working with equipment like this is impossible or that it was particularly hard.  But, what I am saying is that anytime you learn something that is very new to you, there is a good bit of energy and effort involved - along with a fair bit of trepidation.

I will also gladly admit that I am still learning.  And, I hope that I always will.  But, I can also say that I have become fairly comfortable with these tools over time.

2013 - If the Weather Won't Get Better, Then I Will

Adjusting the flex tine weeder/ Williams Tool Bar
Starting in 2010, the weather for growers such as ourselves has been difficult.  In fact, 2010 was absolutely miserable.  But, by the time we got to 2013, we had made a number of significant adjustments.  Even though we had some conditions that were similar to 2010 - we were better prepared to handle them.  We can't say we had perfect success, but we had many fewer failures.  We were more able to meet obligations and kept our sanity (if you all agree we ever had it).

Every year we have climbed a number of learning curves.  Each season, we try new techniques, tools and resources.  We have not stood still and we continue to get better.  If you could take this picture back in time to the first couple of years on the farm, I might have argued that someone Photoshopped this picture.  There was no way I'd ever work comfortably with that sort of equipment.  But, then again, we thought our CSA farm share program would never have any more than 40 members (if we even got that far).

2014 - A Living Farm Changes

The yellow cart that cost all of $10 to buy and some trials to get to the farm for use.
The picture above shows more changes to me than it might to anyone else because I can see the past configurations of the farm superimposed over this image.  When we first moved to the farm, there was a hog farrowing building at the right.  There was no fence for the poultry pasture in the background.  Instead, that was all giant ragweed and thistle.  We had an old blue truck named Grover (rather than Chumley the red truck).  Our biggest pieces of equipment were a lawn tractor and a walk behind tiller.  Even the green cart at the left was added in our 2nd year - and I suspect there are a couple of people who might remember trying to put one of those together.

There is much more in the picture that shows how things have changed.  But, what is most obvious to me is how well we use what we have.  There are very few tools and resources that do not get used on our farm.  And, if there are some things that fail to have use, we usually give them a chance to live elsewhere once we determine they are no longer useful. 

2015 - Taking Leaps of Faith
The new high tunnel
Of course, the final picture would be of the new high tunnel.  This picture represents our willingness to take significant steps when we feel it is the right thing to do.  Sometimes we wonder why we work so hard to give ourselves more work to do.  We realize demands for our products have changed and that there are uncertainties from season to season.  So, investing the time, money and effort into this project was no small thing for us.

Even so, we are beginning to adjust and integrate the building and new field configurations into the way we do things on the farm.  We don't do a double take every time we go by these fields like we did for the first four weeks after it went up.  The trench that was dug for the water lines isn't the obstacle that it was.  It's now just a normal task for us to go open up the tunnel in the morning and close it at night.  And, in the next couple of days, we'll get our first harvest of green beans from the planting in that building.

We'll be sure to take a pot full of those beans and cook them up for ourselves.  And, when we enjoy eating them at the end of the day, we'll remember why the hard work that brought us to this point was worth it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Sun Always Sets (in the Evening)

We've had a number of great sunsets this year and Tammy has been very good at grabbing the camera and taking a few shots.  No further words are necessary at this point.  Enjoy the pictures.  If you wish to see them in more detail, click to open them in their own window.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Reason to Duck

We do raise a number of poultry on the farm and we have featured our chickens and turkeys in blog posts in the past.  And, a quick look at our blog shows that we've even talked duck in the past year!  But, we finally managed to get a few new pictures and figured it was time to share a bit more about our ducks.

It's not easy to see, but there are 14 ducklings with mama in this picture.
The impetus for this blog post is the successful hatching of some ducklings by the Muscovy ducks we overwintered on the farm for just such a purpose.  Both of our Muscovy hens and all three of our Silver Appleyard hens sat on nests for several weeks.  In the end, only one nest resulted in hatchlings.  And, to be honest, we figured we were going to have no ducklings hatched from these nests.  so, it was a pleasant surprise.

It wasn't easy, but Tammy managed to pick up a handful of duckling.
Earlier in the season, we made the decision that the ducks weren't going to be able to raise their own this year, so we went ahead and ordered some ducklings to be raised for meat.  We managed to get them moved from the brooder area in the Poultry Pavilion a couple of weekends ago.  The process was a bit traumatic for the ducklings, but they tend to act like everything is traumatic until they reach full size.

The adult male Muscovy (Diggle) and one of the females adopted the young ducks
We had some difficulty getting them to stay where we wanted them and had a not so memorable morning clearing brush and moving young ducks AGAIN.  But, eventually, the other adult Muscovy decided she was willing to adopt 20 some young ducks with a little help from the Muscovy drake.

Diggle is looking a little shell-shocked.
Just imagine twenty some odd teenagers moving into your house and looking to you to be their parent.... OY!

But, what about the Silver Appleyards?

Dippet and the Dippettes
Sadly, none of their eggs hatched successfully.  But, that does not mean the grand experiment halts here.  We'll probably keep these guys around another year and see if we can't provide them with a better environment (with more water) to help them out.

Unlike the Muscovys, the Appleyards do quack.  They have decided that Rob needs to be told what to do every so often.  This is especially true if the food is low or the water is dry.  They have been known to line up (about 5 feet away) and outline very clearly in "Quackese" what should be done.  If you look at the picture above, they are starting to get into formation for a 'talking to.'  I suspect this quack session had to do with all of the young ducks now in their pasture.  Sadly for them, this will not change any time soon.

Apparently, this session was more about wanting more water too.  Because they immediately took turns taking a bath in the water right after I got the tub filled.

Well, at least they got results.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The New High Tunnel at Work

Back in June of this year, we put up our second high tunnel.  If you would like to see more about that process, check out this blog post.  It even includes a neat link for a time lapse video of the actual build.

We were finally able to match up a calm day with our full complement of workers AND no CSA distribution on that day where we could move the high tunnel over the plants we put in the ground.  The first time we moved our other high tunnel was a bit rough, so we wanted to be prepared to discover some issues as we went.

The new high tunnel in the West position.
We built the high tunnel in the West position in part because it was closer to a good staging area for the build.  The East position is simply further away from any resources we might have wanted to use.  And, we had less access to grassy areas that we could work in during rain.  As it was, we had to work in plenty of mud - so it was nice to have options.

Unfortunately, the soil in the West position was pretty close to unworkable.  We attribute this to two problems.  First - our excavation work didn't happen until this Spring.  And, the excavation resulted in pulling up some clay that got mixed into the top soil.  Second - we had rain during the high tunnel build, this helped to create a very solid crust in the top six to eight inches of soil.

If you look at the picture at the right, you can see an area that Rob managed to broadfork.  The best he came up with were some BIG chunks of dirt.  If that picture doesn't work, try the next one.  It gives a little more perspective so you can see exactly how bit some of those chunks really are!

It was NOT a pleasure working with this soil.

In any event, the meant we had to give up on the idea of planting in this position of the high tunnel this year.  So, after a good bit of work, we were able to prepare the soil in the East position and get it planted.  You can read about this towards the bottom of this blog post.

New high tunnel in new field position for the rest of the year.
We managed to get the building moved in a little over half a day.  This is longer than it takes to move the older building.  But, the first move is always the most difficult.  As you can see from above, the only weed that was really being successful inside the high tunnel in the West position is button weed.  That alone should tell us something.

Plants acclimating themselves to having a roof over their heads.
The plants currently in this high tunnel position are there for us to attempt to extend some summer crops late into the Fall months.  We already see some success with the bean row getting ready to flower.  The jury is out on the peppers and tomatoes.  The melons should be ok and the sweet potatoes on the far end are an experiment.  We'll see.

Our two high tunnel plan is to move one building in the Spring and one building in the Fall each year.  This allows us to focus one building on early production extension and the other for late season extension.

An in-building water source.
There are couple of major differences between the old building and the new building.  The new building is larger.  But, the odd thing about that is the fact that I don't see this building as being so big.  In fact, I get surprised by how small the other building is.  I'm not sure what that says about me.  The other major difference is the presence of  a water supply inside the building.  It's nice, but not necessary this time of year.  But, once we get into November, it's value will increase significantly.

Now, we need to spend some time addressing the soil quality in the West position.  We've got a plan.  Now we've got to execute it!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Culinary Corner: From Cucumber Cooler to Sandwiches

Elizabeth is not able to provide us with a post for this week, but she will return next week with a post featuring eggplant!  For this week, we'll share a mix of things.

Basil Lemonade
If you were at distribution the past couple of weeks, you were given the opportunity to try Basil Lemonade.  We had a recipe there for interested persons to take a picture of it, but we thought we'd get it out on the blog in case that didn't work for you!

Making the Syrup
  • 2 cups basil
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
(or you can double this with 4 cups of each)
Boil the syrup ingredients together for about one hour.  Let cool and then strain out the basil.  You can store the syrup in the refrigerator if you do not intend on using it all immediately.

Making the Lemonade
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups basil syrup
  • 5 cups of water
Stir the ingredients together and add ice for a refreshing twist on lemonade!

Cucumber Cooler
We also had this refreshing drink available to taste test at our distributions recently!
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 qt cold water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
  • pinch of salt
  • ice cubes
  • additional cucumber (sliced in rounds)
Partially peel the cucumber and slice off the ends.  Cut into 1 inch cubes and puree in a blender or food processor for one minute.  Strain the juice into a large pitcher, using a spoon to press out as much juice as possible. Add honey, lime juice and salt to the pitcher and stir well.  Finish with ice & cucumber slices.

We'd like to first refer you to our recent post on dealing with the bounty of the season.  If you've looked at it already - great.  If not, take the word of several of our CSA members who have told us that the post was timely and useful.  And, if you have now read that post, you won't be surprised if we tell you that stir fries and frittatas are not uncommon for us.

Stir Fry to the Rescue

The great thing about stir fries is the ability we have to put wide range of veggies into them and then we have an equally wide range of things we can put the stir fry ON!  We're starting to dig potatoes, so putting the stir fry on a baked potato is something we are known to do.  We also use various types of pasta and rice as bases for our stir fries.

Here is one example of a base for a stir fry that we might do:

Swiss Chard with Garlic

  • 3 pounds Swiss chard (about 2 large bunches)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Tear Swiss chard leaves from thick white stalks and coarsely chop leaves, reserving stalks. In a large saucepan or kettle of boiling salted water simmer stalks until tender, 5 to 10 minutes, and drain in a colander. Chard may be prepared up to this point 1 day ahead, stalks cooled completely and leaves and stalks chilled separately in sealable plastic bags. 

Mince garlic. In a large skillet heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook garlic, stirring, 30 seconds. Add leaves in 2 batches, tossing to coat with oil and stirring after each addition, and cook until leaves are wilted. Add stalks and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Season chard with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings. Gourmet March 1998

We realize that this doesn't use up a whole bunch of produce.  But, it illustrates a couple of things.  First, you could split preparation time for when you are able to do things.  Tammy, in fact, actually does not boil the chard before using it in a stir fry and we have no problem with that.  But, it gives you a way to have the chard ready to go in advance if you want.

What this recipe does is give you a basic start on a stir fry with swiss chard (for example).  It is not hard to cut up some zucchini, onion, summer squash and pepper and put them in the pan with the garlic.  I might suggest cooking the garlic for a little bit first, then add the harder items and finish with the greens.  The more volume you add to the pan, the more you time you might need to cook it. As you add to your stir fry, you will be amazed by how much produce can be used in one dish!

The Foil Packet on the Grill is Grate... er Great.
If you are grilling something for dinner, add a nice big foil packet of veggies to the items on the grill.  Depending on the veggies and amount your are grilling you may want to put them on prior to the meat (assuming you are grilling meat as well) so they have a chance to cook sufficiently.
Touchstone Gold beets

We have had great success with golden beets, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, kohlrabi, cucumbers (yes, cucumbers), carrots, eggplant, peppers, onions and other items in foil packets. 

The really great thing about this?  You could make a foil packet for each person in the family.  Do you have someone who absolutely cannot swallow a carrot?  Well, they can put their selection of cut up produce into their packet.  They can opt to add spicing, olive oil, etc as they wish.  Seal the packet up, put it on the grill and remember which packet belongs to each person.

S stands for Simple and Sandwich
A sandwich does not have to be 75% meat, 15% bread, 5% condiments and one small slice of lettuce.  When you have quality produce available, much of it should be fair game for sandwich making.  The two of us and our crew have been enjoying the ability to add fresh heirloom tomatoes, peppers and lettuce to our sandwiches.  Often, the tomatoes are so good that we find ourselves stacking more tomato than meat on the bread!

If you like a bit more of a crunch on your sandwich than a few chunks of pepper might provide, you can try some slices of cucumber or a thin slice of kohlrabi.  And, don't forget a little onion!  But, if raw onion doesn't do it for you, cut part of an onion up and caramelize it.  This can be a nice treat to add to your sandwiches.  If you want to get a bit more exotic, caramelize the onion with some chunks of eggplant (cut to whatever size seems to work with you and your family).

We have found that a nice leaf or two of chinese cabbage is mild enough that it works very well as a lettuce substitute.  Or, if you like the taste of kale or chard raw, they will work just fine for you on a sandwich.

Enjoy the fresh produce and have a little fun trying some new things!
The most important thing is that you should take a moment and let yourself enjoy the season of fresh produce.  That season is a mere fraction of the entire year, so don't let the bounty detract from the opportunity you have right now to enjoy veggies at their peak!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Flower Power

A prior post discussed how we try to feed our pollinator workers on our farm.  We actually had someone ask us a follow-up question that we thought was worth responding to.  They wanted to know if we could show some results of our efforts to attract pollinators.  And, they are correct, if you work hard to accomplish something, it makes sense that you should assess whether or not you are achieving your goals!

Our Flower Companions at GFF
Since we do not grow flowers so we can cut and sell them (though it seems we could do that), it might seem like it might not be an economically sound model to spend time on the flowers on our farm.  But, in case you do not end up buying my arguments by the end of the post, there is one reason that is good enough for us.  We (Tammy and I) like flowers.  Since where we work is also where we live, it makes sense that we should grow some things that make us happy.

So, reason number 1 is...
1. We like the way they look!

Zinnia - from the State Fair mix.

Autumn  Beauty sunflower

 But, we actually have some other reasons why we select some of the flowers we do.

2. They really attract the pollinators

Look in the center and you'll see a bumblebee
 Unfortunately, I'm not always ready to take pictures during the times of the day when the pollinators are most active.  So, you'll have to take my word for it that they love these flowers.  Bees seem to like clover, borage, bee's friend (oh.. now there's a surprise) and squash/melon vine flowers among others.

Oh, and they like buckwheat flowers too!

So, part of the strategy is to make an area so attractive for the pollinators that they will not need or want to go all that far afield to find the nectar they desire.

buckwheat far left, then melons, then zinnia, then melons, then borage.
The more activity there is, the more likely the cash crop you have will be pollinated - and pollinated WELL.  The photo above shows you what we strive for in many of our vegetable plots each season.  But, we rarely accomplish it as well as this.  This year has been a special one for the melon patch and we're very proud of it.

3. Increased Pollination Services Increases Yield and Yield Quality
So, if you are wondering why we are willing to expend some effort in growing flowers other than the "we like them reason" - how about increases in crop production?
Yep, pollinators were here.
Some crops, such as melons, rely heavily on pollinator presence.  Melons and zucchini, for example, will abort inadequately pollinated fruit.  So, if you see small starts that get soft and turn yellow (and then brown) they are examples of a fruit that was not pollinated sufficiently to produce a fruit.  Remember, plants are growing fruit to produce seed so they can propagate - that is their number one goal in life.  If a fruit isn't going to carry viable seeds, the plant will not spend its energy growing it out.
Beans do not rely exclusively on pollinators
Other plants, such as green beans, do not rely exclusively on pollinators.  Wind, rain and other disturbances may be enough to pollinate.  And, some plants are 'self-fertile.'  However, it has been shown that even these plants will increase production when there are more visits by pollinators.

4. A Host of Additional Reasons
There are many other reasons - and maybe I'll spend more time this Winter writing something up.  But, one big reason is the diversity provided by the flowers in the growing space.  Diversity interrupts pest cycles and breaks up paths that pathogens can travel.  In other words, the simple act of NOT growing one type of thing in a given area makes it harder for pests and diseases to attack our crops.  I will not claim it is impossible for them.  But, there is a difference between what we do and placing a giant blinking sign on our fields that say "Eat at Joe's" for all of the aphids (or other pests) traveling around out there.

Then, consider the habitat we are providing for the things that EAT the pests.  We have a host of toads, frogs, snakes, katydids, ladybugs and other helpful workers that love to sit in the shade of these flowers and their cash crop companions.
And sometimes, the flowers provide cover for a cash crop
I like planting zinnias next to tomatoes that tend to have wispy foliage that does not cover the fruit well.  Exposed fruit tend to have problems with sun scald.  A nice hedge of zinnias can help provide cover, in addition to all of the benefits listed above.  Ideally, I like the zinnias to be on the South side, but I'll take North side as well if that's what works for the current placement (as above).

Here's hoping we can continue to be this successful with our flower crops in future years!