Monday, June 22, 2015

Culinary Corner: The Great Scape

[ed note: Our third installment of the Culinary Corner by Elizabeth Hinds focuses on a goody that is coming to our CSA members over the next few weeks in their shares.  Scapes are the 'flower stem' of the garlic plant and can be used as a substitute for fresh garlic in most recipes if chopped fine.  Often scapes may need to cook just a little longer than cloves - it depends on how much crunch you want. ]

In 2012 I joined my first CSA in Iowa City. Early in the summer season, I received a curious green shoot called a garlic scape. I came to learn that scapes are the curly tops of hard neck garlic that produces a flower. These shoots are cut just before the flower blooms which redirects energy to bulb growth. The scapes are packed with fresh garlic flavor, and slightly less punch. I like to chop it up and use it in place of garlic in most of my recipes, but here are a few of my scape-specific favorites.

The curly stems on these garlic plants are called 'scapes'
Garlic Scape Infused Oil 
This infused oil can be used for cooking or drizzled over salads for a mild garlic flavor.
  • 2 cups mild oil, such as canola 
  • 3-4 scapes 
Cut the scapes in half to fit in a pint-sized jar, then in half lengthwise to expose the inside of the scapes. Pat dry with a towel and place the scapes in a pint-sized jar, then cover with the oil. Let steep for a week before using. Store in a cool, dark place.

Garlic Scape Stir-Fry
This is a base recipe for a stir-fry I make often in the summer. I typically use whatever vegetables are in my fridge at the time, so the recipe can adapt to the seasons. If you would like to make this without meat, mushrooms are a wonderful, savory substitute.
  •  ½ cup garlic scapes, roughly chopped 
  • 1 med onion, halved and cut into thin slices 
  • 1 lb cubed beef 
  • ⅔ cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • ⅔ cup broccoli (fresh or frozen) 
  • ¼ cup soy sauce 
  • ¼ cup hoisin (also called Peking sauce) 
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar 
  • 2 tbsp oil 
Heat the oil in a large wok and cook the onions over med-high heat until translucent, but still somewhat firm, about 5 minutes. Remove the onions, leaving as much oil in the wok as possible. Increase the temperature to high, add the meat and a bit of salt and cook until just browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the meat, leaving the juice, and add back the onions and other vegetables to cook for about 5 mins (if using frozen veg, add a few minutes for thaw time). Add back the meat and toss in the soy sauce, hoisin sauce and sugar. Cook for 1 min, then serve over rice. Serves 3-4.

Recipe - Garlic Scape and Arugula Pesto
As promised - here is the recipe for the sample provided during one of our CSA distributions this season.

  • 1 bunch of garlic scapes (~10)
  • 1 packed cup arugula
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup olive oil (plus more as needed)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
Chop the scapes into approximately 1 in. pieces. Place in a food processor along with the arugula. Pulse until well chopped, then remove the lid, scrape down with a rubber spatula and add the oil, lemon juice and salt. Pulse to combine, scrape down once more, then process for about 30 seconds until everything has been chopped very fine. The pesto should look shiny and moist, but not too oily. Add a bit more olive oil if needed, and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A High Tunnel - Picture This

The high tunnel is up - with a few things still needing to be done.  That means we need to work on preparing the soil and putting things into it.  But, we thought you might enjoy seeing some pictures form our efforts from Friday June 12 to Tuesday, June 16.

We'll start you off with the time elapse photo video.  Greg Garbos from Four Seasons Tools brought the camera and allowed us to download and edit the file (to get rid of the night time hours primarily).

And, we tried to take photos every once in a while ourselves.  We appreciate the help we received from Sam Larimer and others who took our camera and roamed a bit with it.

We took delivery and had to unload 4-5 tons by hand from the trailer

And we managed it in an hour and 15 minutes. Even if Rob looked confused.

It doesn't look like much at this point.  But, it will change rapidly

We set up a work station nearby.  Needless to say, lots of battery powered tools were used.

The hoops and end walls were built to a large extent on the ground.

That allowed large sections to go up at one time.

If lifting the building once off of the trailer weren't enough, we had to lift it again - in larger pieces.

The super hero Band Saw Man - at work.

Sean Skeehan gets the award for volunteer driving the furthest to help put this thing up.

I TOLD YOU he was a super hero.

There were numerous little things that had to be done - often in sets of 12 or 30 or whatever.

We stretched to put on the plastic in winds that were not quite friendly.

We put in the vent and the door on the East to end Tuesday.  We need to do the same on the West still.

Yup.  We built a high tunnel.
Many many thanks to all who helped us in one way or another.

Greg Garbos and Jeff Mikesell represented Four Seasons Tools and headed up the build.  Jeff Sage was at the farm every day of the build.  Anden Drolet and Elizabeth Hinds were there most days as well.  The Figura clan was well represented (Kory, Emma and Sophie) and we had good representation from our local farmer friends Darrin Enderton, Lindsay Kaiser and Brent Wilker.  Blue Gate Farm was ably represented by the aforementioned Sean Skeehan and Sam Larimer came out on fairly short notice to lend a much appreciated pair of hands.  Jim and Eileen Faux helped make sure the rest of the farm didn't fall apart while we focused on the building and my bro Pete showed up and hit a few stakes and ran a drill for a bit just to show he could!  Jeff and Dawn Kline were kind of enough to provide the loan of a needed ladder.

I think we managed to remember everyone - but if we didn't, please forgive and remind.  The days during the build run together a bit for us now!

Job well done all.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Culinary Corner: Taste Interactions

Guest blog by Elizabeth Hinds
We’ve all experienced that moment in the kitchen when you dip into the bubbling pot on the stove to taste… and something’s missing. You can’t figure out exactly what it is, but it needs something. For the longest time, I would throw different spices at the problem, and though the kitchen smelled wonderful, the dish was still bland. As it turns out, the answer is simpler than you might think. More often than not, when something’s missing, the key tastes are unbalanced.

There are five basic tastes that our taste buds recognize: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami. Umami is the meaty, savory taste we associated with cooked meats, stocks, and mushroom. For the home cook, the answer is usually to add salt or sour, but you can adjust all of the tastes using this handy guide.


Salty, Sour, and Bitter all interact and reduce the strength of one another.
Don’t like very bitter greens? A pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice will do the trick. Accidentally oversalted? A bit of lemon juice will tone it down a notch. Very sour vinegarette? A pinch of salt will balance it out.

Sweet and Umami interact and reduce the strength of one another. 

Want to enjoy a steak? Stay away from sweet sauces that dull the meaty taste. Is your stir-fry so sweet it’s giving you a toothache? Try a dash of soy sauce.

Salty and Umami strengthen each other. 

Does your soup or stock smell great, but doesn’t have much taste? Add a bit of salt to really make it shine.

Where to find the five tastes

Salt: Salt, soy sauce, feta, olives, capers, cured meats (ham, bacon, prosciutto, etc.), salted butter
Sour: Lemons and limes, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, red and white wine
Sweet: Sugar, maple syrup, beets, cream, agave nectar, honey
Bitter: Greens, coffee, dark chocolate
Umami: Meat, soy sauce, liquid aminos, mushrooms, aged cheese, seaweed

Recipe in action: 
Arugula is famously bitter, but this refreshing vinaigrette is just the thing to tone it down a few notches. The sour lemon and a pinch of salt reduce the bitterness of the greens. The mustard in this recipe acts as a binder for the vinaigrette to keep it from separating right away, but doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the flavor. If you really dislike mustard you can opt out, but you’ll be doing a lot of mixing and shaking to bring the vinaigrette back together to serve.

 Arugula Salad with Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette
  • ½ cup lemon juice 
  • 1 ½ cups canola oil 
  • ½ tsp whole grain mustard 
  • ½ tbsp sugar 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped 
Apollo arugula in the field
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, salt, sugar and thyme until the sugar has dissolved completely. Slowly pour in the canola oil while whisking. Store in an airtight container (such as a pint sized canning jar) and shake before serving. (makes two cups)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Picture This

Welcome to June and our first "Picture This" type post of the month.

What is a picture this post?  Well, this sort of post happens when Rob can't come up with a cohesive theme, but he has some new pictures that he is willing to share on the blog.  He uploads some that look interesting and then writes around them - whatever they are.  It can be a bit 'current event - ish' in nature.  We hope you enjoy.

Even a Poor Iris Year is a Good Iris Year

We're not entirely sure what the reasons are for it, but many of our iris decided to either not have bloom stalks OR the bloom stalks withered away this year.  The exception to this rule are the iris in our newer perennial bed and some that re-introduced themselves to us from their locatios in our old perennial beds by the high tunnel.

We believe the name of this iris is Sing Out.  Or - you can just call it pretty.
In any event, we don't like to be greedy - but we do love our iris and can't help but be disappointed when some of our iris friends don't show up for the party on a given year.  Now we have to wait another year to see their flowers (we hope).  But, those that did show up have been gorgeous - as always.  And, we're glad we get to see them.

Could it be the year of the carrot?

Carrots can be a difficult crop for us on our farm since the window for successfully planting them is very short.  This is why Jeff Sage works with us.  He's got the technique and the soil type to make it work better.  But, that doesn't mean we don't try every year.  Last year, we didn't have much success.  The year before, we harvested about a half ton of carrots and actually left some in the field.

Carrots are the triple rows in the center

Same carrots, right after their first weeding.

Carrot seedlings in the high tunnel
This year, it looks like we hit the timing just right for the field carrots.  And, we are experimenting with a Spring planting of carrots in the high tunnel.  Both are looking good right now.  The field carrots are weeded and they took off once we got rid of the competition.  I suspect a rain would double their size fairly quickly at this point.  The high tunnel experiment is part II.  Part I occurred last season where we had trouble getting them to germinate.  Part of the issue is we planted too late and the soil temps in the building were too high.  The other issue was the irrigation technique - it just didn't get the coverage necessary to encourage germination. 

The Little Columbine that Could

A while ago we took a picture of a columbine plant that is growing right next to the Poultry Pavilion.  It doesn't seem like the most hospitable place to us, but this plant is entering its second year in this location.  In fact, it has some offspring attempting to take hold in cracks just inside the building now.  We meant to take a picture of it in its full glory (covered in flowers).  We missed the peak, but it still was looking pretty good for this picture.

Yes, that is ONE plant.  It likes to say hello as we walk by it every day.
A Raised Bed Experiment
We built three raised beds a couple of years ago in response to wet fields.  We used old barn roofing boards that were already showing signs of decay.  But, it was supposed to be a temporary solution.  One of the beds got a facelift (thank you Darrell and Sue) with some corrugated steel.  We'll see how this works out.  The biggest issue was the sharper edges, but it looks like the old garden hose should address the problem.

Onions and spinach, together again.
The Fork of Damocles?
The first batch of broilers are maturing.  One way we can tell?  Well, they come out much further form their trailer when they see a human coming.  The human might have food, treats or water.  They must check it out.
Processing date is June 30.  So, if you want to reserve some birds, we'll be able to get them to you that week.

You might be wondering about the Fork of Damocles.  Ok, I would be if I were reading this instead of writing it.  At one of our farm lunches with our workers, we were discussing the idea of a Times Square type ball that would slowly drop towards the broilers as the date of their "Trip to the Park" approached.  We all agreed that it might be better to make the item that slowly drops over birds a FORK.  Then we can stick a fork in them when they are done.

Ten Thousand Piece Jigsaw Puzzle
The original plan was to have the new high tunnel up by mid May at the latest.  The original original plan was to put a building up a year ago.  The new plan is the most solid of the batch.  We'll start the high tunnel build on June 12. 

Rob inspects the trailer loaded with about 7400 lbs of metal.
The building arrived on Tuesday morning at 8AM.  We don't have a fork lift - and even if we did, the pallets were heavy enough that it would have taken a sizable forklift to move the pallets.  So, we had to unload the trailer by unbundling the whole thing and removing it one piece at a time.

Everyone had an opportunity to carry plenty of pieces of the building to a staging area and we got it done by 9:15AM.  Unfortunately, the crew couldn't quit for the day at that point.  After a start as forklift substitutes, we had to pick, clean and pack for our first CSA delivery of the season.  Oh - and we planted a few hundred tomato plants.

We're a pretty good team.  But, I bet Jamie and Andrew, who were at the farm for only their second day, are wondering what they got themselves into.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Farm Report: June 1

We are hoping to provide you with a farm report on the first of each month during the growing season.  Depending on the state of the farmer - you will get more or less detail.  Depending on the state of our stock of current farm pictures, it will be more... or less... visual.  We hope you find this interesting and informative!

Working on Some New Things at GFF

Every year sees change at our farm as we continue to find ways to make the farm a better place to grow good produce.  But, it feels like the changes are coming fast and furious this Spring.

Anden, Darrell and Elizabeth planting bushes
We continue to try to improve our buffer strip on the borders of the farm by adding bushes.  The mixture of bushes include Ninebark, Highbush Cranberry, Nannyberry, Serviceberry and Arrowood.  They are all bare root stock from the Iowa DNR and we're working hard to get them into the ground and get them mulched.  They actually provided us with a good project when fields were much too wet to work in.

Holland transplanter

Another change is the addition of a transplanter to our arsenal of tools that will work with our tractor (Rosie).  We have yet to try this thing yet - for a host of reasons.  But, we are looking forward to it.  It is possible that it could reduce our transplant time significantly in the future, which is important for us since windows of opportunity can be short in the Spring for our farm.

The Snort continues to sit and stare at us
And, of course, there is the matter of a second high tunnel to put up so we can grow things in it.  The recent wet weather hasn't helped us there.  We still have dirt that needs to be moved so we can put up the building.  But, we are also still waiting on a delivery date to be confirmed for the building kit.  We thought we were busy in May?  Wait until June gets rolling.

High Tunnel at Work

The current high tunnel has been used slightly differently this Spring because we knew the second one was scheduled to arrive.  We actually used the building for starting trays, potting plants and giving those plants and trays a place to stay warm.  This took up space we would normally use to get an early start on a number of crops.

But, of course, we do have things growing in the high tunnel now as we move more and more of the trays and pots out.  They may have gone in later than we ideally wanted, but they will produce well for us if early germination and growth is an indication.  Currently in the high tunnel: snack tomatoes, earlier season peppers, melons, beets, carrots, green beans and onions.  Oh, and a few cucumbers as well.  It's a good mix and we look forward to harvests of all of these things.
Golden Beets making an appearance.
Flowers Make Farmers Happy
We like our flowers.  And, Rob especially likes his iris friends.  They help us feel as if the farm is a good place to be.  And, we often will stop to take a picture of one, or two of them in hopes of sharing them with you.

Proud Tradition Iris

Nelly Moser clematis

Red columbine
Quick Crop Report
We've had a typical Spring for us.  Often the fields are too wet for much progress.  But, the good news is that we have been working over the years to acquire tools and knowledge that allow us to take advantage of much smaller windows of time and get more done during those windows of opportunity for field work.

Lots of trays and pots of plants waiting to go in the ground
We've continued to increase the number of crops that we start in trays and transplant into the ground once they reach a certain stage of readiness.  This allows us to get crops started even though the ground may not be ready.  It also helps us get some crops ahead of the weeds that would have germinated at the same time as the seed we plant in the ground. 
Radishes and turnips
But, when it comes to direct seed crops, we can often get to those more efficiently and hit good planting windows.  The germination of the radish, arugula, mustard, spinach and turnip in the field shown above was excellent.  Most of our pea rows have started well, as have the carrots and potatoes.  We have several beds of onions in the ground and our first iteration of broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, kohlrabi, chinese cabbage, pok choi and cabbage are also in the ground.  It's a strong start for what we hope is a strong season.