Tuesday, August 28, 2012

CSA Newsletter

Medium tunnel with bean crop  and eggplant on right
Greeting from the Garden!  This week's box has lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, green onions, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, basil and melons.

Field Notes - DRY.  Ken figures we have gotten two rainfalls of an inch or more since July 4th.  One of our irrigation ponds is bone dry.  Since it is dry, we are hiring a man with heavy machinery to dig irrigation ponds deeper, and establish a pond for the garden.  The past few years have brought us extreme temperatures and weather.  We are trying to improve options to buffer these extremes.  

Ken has taken time out from his constant August maintenance to build an eggmobile.  This has been the second summer demand for our eggs has exceeded supply.  Ramping up the infrastructure and buying day old chicks has made us aware of the real cost of producing eggs and other food.  Although one can find cheap food, we believe in producing eggs and vegetables that are as nutrient dense as possible.  And we appreciate the support we have received for this.  We can always use more like minded people.  Please spread the word.  Spending the time and money before we see the eggs and food always makes us feel a bit vulnerable.

Broccoli - last crop's side shoots
With shorter days and cooler nights, some of the heat loving plants - like tomatoes -  have crested their wave; others are at peak - cantaloupe, peppers, eggplant.  This crop of broccoli reminds me fall is coming.  Soon we will be digging and filling the root cellar for winter.  I expect the roots will be smaller due to lack of rain this season.  Often that means two things - great, concentrated flavor and better storage quality.

From the Kitchen.  Although I have been canning tomato juice and soup, I am ready to move on to cooking down tomatoes to sauce.  When we date jar lids, it is always amusing that the July tomatoes are less concentrated, but as the root cellar shelves fill up, the jars become darker and closer to paste.  If you are interested in canning, do not delay.  Supplies of tomatoes are less and less.

Ken's eggplant pickles were a real hit.  I plan to make baba ganoush from eggplants soon.  It freezes well.  And Ken usually makes a batch of lasagne for the freezer.  This year I may take that on as he plays catch up out in the garden and field.  I like to have a couple dishes ready for quick suppers. Now that we have some cool weather lighting the oven is a real option.

We have been eating vegetables in omelettes - green onions, peppers, tomatoes, and more.  Ken likes to slice small tomatoes and grill the cut side as he is making breakfast.  The cut cooked edge is slightly caramelized, and the rest is still "fresh" in flavor.  I was told this is very British.  I don't know...

"Til Next Week - Bon Apetit!

Egg Economics

Chicks last March
  Last year demand for our eggs often exceeded supply.  Ken and I decided to increase supply this season.  That meant ordering some day old chicks at about $3 per chick, and caring and feeding them.  Organic Feed costs $23 per bag.  Chicks take about six months to grow to maturity and start laying eggs.  

We ordered straight run (as they hatch) which comes out to about half males and half females.  The cockerels (males) grow into roosters - they do not lay eggs, and if there are too many they fight and harass the hens.  Why do we order straight run instead of ordered sexed chicks?  The male chicks once sexed, go into the garbage bin.  We choose to give them a life for six to eight months before they head for the freezer.  We butcher our own birds as we believe it is not only less stressful for the bird, the small amount of waste can be kept on the farm.

Ken moving the Eggmobile
Additional birds require housing - minimally during the night when most predators strike (there are birds of prey during the day).  Ken has just completed an "eggmobile" for the hens.

Afternoon feeding
He designed it so there is plenty of light, outdoor access, and easy ways to winterize the structure.

It was a big step, but we hope steady sales from loyal customers will continue to support the expansion.

Fall Preview

After a few cool nights the leaves have begun to change color.  It seems early this year.  Many plants are suffering from dry conditions (we have only had two rainfalls measuring an inch or more since July 4th).  

A maple on our drive and the short plants and ferns in the woods are coloring and turning brown.  
Even with a measurable rainfall it could be a short foliage viewing season.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CSA Newsletter

Flowers for beneficial insects
Greetings from the Garden! This week's box has tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, green or white onions, garlic, basil,  corn, beans, and melons.

Field Notes.  Work continues with an eye toward fall and winter.  First we notice the days shorten, and now the nights are cooler.  Ken says it feels more like most Septembers, not August.  Last Thursday while Ken was at his monthly bee keepers meeting, I checked the weather report at 9 p.m. only to find the low was forecast at 37!  I raced out  (well, do I really race?) with a head lamp to shut the greenhouses before the temperature dropped below 50. The next morning was 41.  The end of heat is coming - when, I do not know.

Beans will not tolerate frost
There are certain tipping point temperatures - for example, several heat loving plants drop their blossoms above 90 degrees, so they don't set fruit. Fifty degrees seems to be the bottom threshold for heat loving plants.  Many, like the tomatoes, have crested their productive wave.  But if we can maintain night temperatures, it will be a slower drop to zero production.  Of course this increases the workload as we open and close hoops daily.

Ken continues planting, harvesting, and cultivating.  He has nearly completed the mobile chicken coop.  Then we will be moving and sorting birds, cleaning and winterizing coops.  We look forward to increased egg production to answer demand.  Thank you for your patience.  And we appreciate the help from various people who helped Ken in the building process.

From the Kitchen.  Canning tomatoes continues here. Last season Ken developed a system to separate juice from sauce early so the tomatoes are less cooked and caramelized for a lighter, brighter flavor. Ken is an efficient food processor, but I have taken over tomatoes so he can tackle building projects.  But he continues to take charge of pickles.  Most are cultured or lacto - fermented, like sauerkraut, not heat treated, so they contain probiotics.  But he did make some wonderful eggplant pickles from a recipe off the internet.  Josephine Caravetta's Pickled Eggplant Recipe.

With the cooler mornings I am moving into hot breakfast mode.  Monday I started with chicken stock, added chopped onion, sliced cabbage, and corn cut from one ear of last night's corn.  If I had eggs, I would have poached them in the soup, but Ken is saving out some for broody hens.  So we had some toast with cheese I put under the broiler.  

Juice, sauce and soup
I have been experimenting with Ken's upside down pizza - vegetables on a pie plate topped with a biscuit dough (see last week for recipe details).  Both last Sunday and this past one I have made it.  Each time a guest has commented that she will be adding this to her repetoire.  It is quite nice to have everything cut and ready and then just assemble and pop into the oven - good not only for entertaining, but also a kid friendly assembly - studies show including children in food growing or preparation often results in more eating and less pushing food around the plate.

With the tomatoes, cucumbers, and green onions, I have also been making tabouleh as a quick grain side dish.  Follow the directions on the bulgur wheat, let cool and then add some lemon juice, olive oil and chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onion.  Some recipes call for parsley, others mint or basil.  Experiment to see what you like best.

Enjoy all the heat loving vegetables - these short days and cool nights signal their time will be ending before we are ready!  'Til Next Week

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

CSA Newsletter

Brussels sprouts - a preview
Greetings from the Garden!  This box has tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, onions, beans, garlic, basil, greens, corn and melon.

Field Notes.  The feel and smell of autumn is in the air!  Ken has been harvesting, planting, cultivating, and working on a chicken coop.  The spring chicks have been in a large fenced in area by the mobile tunnel.  Soon we will be moving them to a coop so pullets can get established before they start to lay eggs.  And the cockerels are nearly large enough to "march into the freezer."  They have been clearing the space of rye, and Ken will plant more green manures after they are moved.  He has been getting beds ready for fall plantings and cover crops by the mobile tunnel, out in the field, and in the garden.

I have been cleaning and organizing the root cellar for the "big dig" this fall.  I have also been canning and freezing produce for next winter.  Now is the time to order canning tomatoes if you plan to can or freeze.  That hot, humid weather led to some stress on the plants, so production has already crested the wave, and is starting to drop.  Call or email me soon for produce to preserve for winter.

From the Kitchen.  Last night I tried Ken's upside down pizza.  It came out great for a first attempt.  I put a large pie plate in the oven and set it at 300.  I sliced eggplant, zucchini, onion, tomatoes, peppers, chopped oregano, and minced garlic.  I got a biscuit dough ready, and before I mixed wet and dry ingredients together, I pulled the pan out of the oven, swirled olive oil, and layered vegetables with the ones needing most cooking time - eggplants in the bottom of the pan, then kept adding vegetables and herbs.  Then I put in a layer of grated cheese, set that aside, mixed up the biscuit dough and covered the vegetables and popped it into the oven and raised the temperature to 400.  Once the biscuit dough browned about 15 - 20 minutes I pulled it out of the oven and let rest a bout five minutes.  Ken did the serving.  I would use more vegetables next time, and add sage to the biscuit dough.

Basil and garlic make a great pesto.  And many people who do not eat butter use pesto to top corn on the cob.  It is a delicious alternative.  I often make pesto for pasta and and serve corn as a side dish.  It is a great summer combination.  Ken likes roasted corn.  He places the ears still in their husks in water, and drains off the water and sets the ears on coals when grilling.  It adds a slight smoky dimension to the corn.  Delicious!  Corn boiled for 6 minutes can be cut off the ears and frozen for winter.  Once it is cut off the cob, corn takes little freezer space.  If you want to buy additional corn to freeze, now is the time.

With the cooler mornings we are returning to cooked greens.  Ken made soup and poached eggs in the clear broth soup with peppers, onion, tomato and greens one morning.  It was a great way to start the day!

New crop of beans today! They are a heat tolerant variety with good flavor.

'Til Next Week!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Preserving food

As the days shorten, and the nights become cooler, my thoughts turn to winter.  Like the ant it is imperative that farmers prepare for winter on many fronts.  Building repairs need to be done before it is  to cold, decisions about which animals to over winter.  And as the volume of food exceeds what we need to eat now, what do we want and need to eat during the winter.

Of course there is processing our food like tomatoes and Ken makes lacto fermented vegetables.

I also buy fruit we don't grow when it is in season and less expensive.  Canning means it is ready to eat and I have used energy once to process the food.

But there are some foods like beans and broccoli and strawberries and raspberries that I freeze.

Soon we will be filling the root cellar!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

CSA Newsletter

Onion bed post harvest -ready for next planting
Greetings from the Garden!  This box has salad and heirloom tomatoes, peppers, Asian eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, green onions, beans, cabbage, lettuce, kale, basil, and the first corn.

Field Notes.  We got welcome rain last week!  All the crops looked less stressed after the rain.  We are still in rainfall deficit, and are grateful for what ever we do get. 

Last week began the "fall" harvest as Ken got up the red, Walla Walla and yellow storage onions.  The onions are the first of the crops harvested for the fall and winter.  As the days shorten and the nights cool down, I think of the story of the ant and the grasshopper.  Each crop is important, and weather this time of year is crucial.  The lack of rain means the difference between storage cabbage heads that weigh four or eight pounds.  This year with less rain, the root crops look smaller, but should keep better in storage.  And too much rain this time of year could mean melons aren't as sweet or winter squash that are like water balloons and won't keep.  We shall wait and see!

Onions drying in field
From the Kitchen.  Each August we have a week or two where growing lettuce is a challenge.  Lettuce likes cool, damp weather, and we have had a hot, dry summer.  When its eight week growing time is hot and dry, the lettuce has a stronger flavor and tougher leaves.  Gone are the huge spring tender heads - they will return in fall once it cools down.  And why am I writing this in the cooking section?  Because if there is lettuce in this week's box, you might want a stronger flavored dressing to suit the greens.  Garlic, for instance.  And there are other vegetables to use for salads.

Tomatoes are so versatile.  I like to cut them in chunks or wedges and dress with a combination of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic or onion and chopped basil.  Whenever I bring this to a pot luck, the serving bowl is empty when I come to collect it.

And cucumbers are versatile, too - sliced, salted and dressed with something creamy like yogurt, or an Asian dressing.  Another salad vegetable during the heat of the summer.  Ken just saw a recipe to add cucumbers to beverages with lemons for a refreshing hydrating alternative.

As for green, there is basil.  Certain flavors are summer flavors.  Basil is one.  Basil and garlic are great combined as pesto.  Pesto can be frozen for winter use.  Some people use an ice cube tray to freeze pesto cubes so they can add a small amount to recipes.  They pop the cubes once frozen into a freezer bag.  I tend to use freezer jam jars with a thin layer of olive oil to maintain the deep green color.

Ken made eggplant pickles from a recipes he found on the internet.  Quite good!

'Til Next Week!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First full season crop harvest - Onions

Everyone has different ideas about when a season starts.  For some people spring starts when the dock goes in or fall begins when school starts.   The fall harvest starts today for me.  

Ken has been harvesting onions.  These seeds are planted early in the year, and onions are one of the first crops transplanted.  

They are the first of the full season crops that we harvest to be eaten all winter.  

What a beautiful sight!