Working between the Rains

The veggies are growing, although not at the rapid clip one would expect this time of year.  We were able to cultivate once with the tractor so far just before a rain about ten days ago – that first rain was much appreciated but it doesn’t seem to want to stop.  Rain keeps out of the fields and we just stand by and watch weeds grow.  

Mulched High Tunnel Planted to Tomatoes
Still, we are making headway.  Last weekend’s heavy rains gave us a nice opportunity to really dive into work in the high tunnel where all our cherry and some specialty tomatoes are planted.  We hoed, weeded, trellised, and mulched all eight rows and things look great.  It’s now just a matter of giving them some time, and, in that environment which plants love (they are kind of like couch potatoes in the high tunnel), they will get as tall as me and just pump out tons of perfect tomatoes. I really can’t wait.   

A Change of Weather

It a wonder what a change in the weather brings.  The difference between this week and last week is remarkable. Last week we had 100+ heat index and a couple days ago I swear I woke up in October!  Canada sending us some cool temps is a nice change, but I’m surprised on how much it effects the growth of produce.

The beans are one example.  Last week I was looking at our second planting and saying to myself, “That planting will be readily easily by next week” as flowers were turning to small beans.  But when Maree and I went out last night to pick beans for the box, the crop was just not there since their growth slowed in the cool temps, so we ended up scouring our first planting of beans for this week.  On the other hand, the slowdown was really nice for cool-loving crops.  We have a third variety of broccoli called Imperial which has been putting on heads and this weather allows them to mature more slowly so you get a better formed head with nice tight kernals.  This is unlike our second variety of broccoli which went form little buds to loose heads in about 2 days of really hot humid weather.

This change in the weather is just a small example of how vegetable farming and CSA is particular is tough beast to plan for.  We have a lot of well-laid plans in the spring, but generally you have to roll with the punches.  Our trick is to raise a crazy variety of things, which, in the end, save us from bringing you a mostly-empty box one week.  Something is bound to come in well no matter the weather.

In the box:
Radishes: Most got French Breakfast variety (look like long fishing bobbers).  Not unlike the French, Mar and I like these things cooked.  Check out this recipe: http://www.tastespotting.com/features/braised-radishes-recipe
Norland Potatoes
Fennel: I always feel like I’m challenging people on this one.  I can just see people say, “What do I do with that?”  Well, below we have a recipe which is really good.  Still, you’ll also see fresh fennel listed in salads and soups.
Fresh Thyme
Green Beans
Beets
A mix of tomatoes: Hey, first of the season, so there aren’t a lot of any single variety.  So there’s a smattering of different kinds.
Sweet onions

Greek Fennel Skillet
from Simply in Season

Serve plain as a side dish or over pasta.  Can also be served over Italian bread that has been brushed with olive oil and toasted.
2 cloves garlic (minced)
In a medium frypan saute in 2 T. olive oil for a minute.

2 fennel bulbs (sliced thin)
1 large onion (sliced)
Add and saute until tender, 5-10 minutes.

1 T. lemon juice
3 medium tomatoes (chopped)
Add and cook over medium heat until part of the liquid evaporates, 10 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

1 1/2 cups feta cheese or mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1/2 cup black olives (optional)
Stir in.

When it rains…it doesn’t rain that much

There is an old saying that goes something like “When it rains, it pours.”  Well, not lately.  When it rains, it sputters is probably a more accurate statement.  As you can imagine, I’m always checking into the NOAA weather website.  When I see anything above a 40% chance of rain, I get all giddy; visions of a tropical downpour fill my mind…I get all excited because I’m getting tired of moving irrigation around.  So, when it comes, it’s one big disappointment.  I really am thankful for anything at this point, but my mind builds up every possible rain event to be something it isn’t.

I know a couple years time is far from a trend, but I’m terribly worried that the weather pattern of the last two years is our new normal.  Sometime in July the spigot gets turned off followed by weeks of dry heat.  Tomatoes ripen up nice in this, which is a plus, but, if this year tracks last year, the big issue is not having enough moisture in the ground before freeze up.  Typically ground moisture works the ground through freezing, but last year the same big dirt chunk in the fall was just as hard in the spring.

In the box:
Pontiac Potatoes
Napa Cabbage: The big green cabbage.  You can use much the same as you would a traditional green cabbage in a slaw or something, but it’s ideal in a stirfry.
Rutabaga: Yes, I know you may have gotten one of these big monsters last week too, but I assure you this will last in your crisper til January.
A mix of Peppers: if you still have a bunch sitting around from previous weeks, you can easily preserve peppers by cutting into strips and freezing in a freezer bag (no need to blanch or anything).
Tomatoes: The end of the line on these guys.
Eggplant
Small Beet Bunch
Parsley
Eggplant
Butternut Squash: The big tan one.  You can bake as you would any winter squash like buttercup: cut in half, scoop out the guts, and bake flesh-side up on a cookie sheet with a little water in the pan. Store all winter squash in a dry, sunny place.  Butternut keeps under these conditions for months, so no hurry (the flavor actually improves with time).  You may try this recipe below for a glazed/caramelized squash recipe.
Delicata Squash: The little stripy ones.  These are also called “sweet potato squash.”  The shell is thinner than a lot of winter squash, so you shouldn’t put in a water bath like butternut, but bake dry instead.

Caramelized Butternut Squash from food.com 

Ingredients

    • 2 medium butternut squash ( 4 to 5 pounds total)
    • 6 -8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 1/2-1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut off the ends of each butternut squash and discard.
  3. Peel the squash and cut in half lengthwise.
  4. Using a spoon, remove the seeds.
  5. Cut the squash into 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ cubes (large and uniform is best), and place them on a baking sheet.
  6. Add the melted butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
  7. With clean hands, toss all of the ingredients together and spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  8. Roast for 45 minutes to 55 minutes, until the squash is tender and the glaze begins to caramelize.
  9. Turn the squash while roasting a few times with a spatula to be sure it browns evenly.
  10. Adjust seasonings if needed.
  11. Serve hot.
  12. Enjoy!

Dealing with Bad Weather on the Farm

I swear I spend half of my time complaining about weather on this website, but this week I have good reason. 
Monday night we got some serious hail.  Typically we experience 30-45 seconds of hail when the weather front first comes through, but this time it just kept coming down for a good ten minutes.  You’ll see evidence of this on the produce like white blotches on the peas where they took a hailstone or greens with healed over holes. 
Some of the best advice I got from my mentor on whose farm I apprenticed was “if you get hail, don’t even look at the plants for a couple days.”  Even though hail inflicts a lot of damage, it’s amazing how quickly the plants recover. 
Now, today, I’m sitting in our kitchen writing this because our power’s out after a major streak of lightening tried hitting our house while a rain poured on my head out picking peas.  I can’t even fill the tanks to harvest and wash produce.  But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I fired up the PTO generator just to make some coffee. 
In the box:
  • Snap peas: fatter peas, which are edible pod, so don’t try shelling.  You’ll see these white marks where hail hit, but I’ve been eating a bunch in the field and I think they are fine.
  • Snow peas: the flat ones
  • Kohlrabi: see recipe below
  • Red Sails red leaf lettuce: the leafy red green
  • Radicchio: the small round red green.  It is often mixed into a mix of other greens in a salad.  It’s got a pretty strong nutty, bitter flavor, so it’s not for everybody.  
  • Small Romaine lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Green cabbage
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • A couple sweet onions (Alisa Craig variety)
  • First cucumber of the year
Honey-Mustard Kohlrabi from St. Paul Farmers Market Cookbook
2 cups kohlrabi, peeled and sliced
2 T olive oil
2 T honey
1-2 T Dijon mustard
Steam kohlrabi until tender, about 10 minutes.  In a bowl, mix together oil, honey, and mustard.  Taste and adjust for flavor.  Toss with cooked kohlrabi.  Makes 4 servings. 

Why Raise Livestock on a Produce Farm?

We mainly raise vegetables, but we have been expanding livestock on the farm.  For the past four years, we have raised broilers (chickens for eating, not laying) along with laying hens and a flock of sheep; last year we even tried our hand at a few pigs.

Why?  Meat is tasty and allows us something else to offer CSA members and other customers, but one really big reason is manure.  Veggies need a lot of fertility, and, when raising produce organically without high-powered manufactured fertilizers, you almost have to have livestock manure.

We keep experimenting with ways to create good compost out of manure.  One thing we have been trying is doing a slow composting method where we let the manure pack break down under a roof and out of the rain for 6 months + which keeps more nitrogen in the compost instead of leaching out in the elements.  

Tools of the trade – a manure fork and a grain shovel

Last week I shoveled out the chicken shed in preparation for this year’s batch of 200 broilers.  We let last year’s chicken litter break down since last August and we’ll spread in a windrow in a shady spot on our hill to break down some more for fall spreading on the fields.    

Filling up the manure spreader
The finished product – half-complete compost
Shed ready for new birds!