Friday, July 31, 2009

NY Times article about Late Blight

Featuring my mentor Farmer Dave Hambleton, from Sisters Hill Farm in the Hudson Valley:

Did you know you can pickle summer squash?
I like taking those tiny yellow squash, or cutting up the medium-sized ones, and fermenting them in salt water for a probiotic pickle that I will enjoy in the winter when summer squash is not around anymore. A good way to use up the excess in your fridge!

Layer squash, slices of onions or crushed garlic cloves, hot peppers, & sprigs of dill in a jar, leaving an inch or two at the top of the jar. (Gently press down to fit more.) Then mix up salt-water in another jar or bowl, about 1 Tablespoon to a quart (or to taste-- it should taste like seawater!) It's important to use salt without iodine, like sea salt. Mix up until salt is dissolved. Pour into jar with squash.
Now you have to make sure that nothing's floating on the surface & that all squash is covered with water-- I do this by putting a smaller jar that just fits into the larger jar (or if you're using a 5-gallon bucket: a plate). Fill the jar with water to create a weight that will push the squash down under the water. (or if you're using a plate, fill a large jar with water & set it on the plate) I place this whole assembly into a large bowl or tray just in case there's leakage. Drape a clean towel on top of everything. Let sit in a warm room for a week or two. It should start bubbling and smelling sour like pickles.
You can continue fermenting it until you feel that it's sour enough for your taste. Then transfer it into jars with lids, and refrigerate it. Keep the jar lids somewhat loose, since it will slowly continue to ferment. Enjoy now or in 6 months from now!

PS. same recipe applies for pickling cucumbers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Recipes for survival

As the sky darkens with thunderclouds and the familiar rumble ensues, the field prepares for another drenching shower. I am reminded once again of how unpredictable the pursuit of growing food really is. As neighbor farmer Jack said to me the other day, "A dry year will make you nervous, a wet year will kill you." Farmers have always struggled with the uncontrollable factor of the weather.

I am also aware, looking up at the swiftly moving clouds, that the climate is changing faster than anyone who's ever farmed before has experienced. Global warming doesn't mean that Rochester will get warmer. It might mean more storms, stronger & unpredictable. We will need innovative farming tactics to be able to adapt with the changing weather. As I look into the future of vegetable production (& vegetable eating), I imagine certain practices will be more & more useful to us.

Number one on my list is diversified food plantings. As human beings we can eat a lot of different things-- think about how different the traditional Mexican diet is compared to an Asian diet. (I would like to also hint that Asian diets hardly ever contain tomatoes or potatoes!) As Americans, we like to mix up cuisines often-- this is a good survival skill. This year, for example, we are experiencing a cool, wet summer: perfect for crops like cabbage, lettuce, & beets to thrive in. I even planted artichokes as an experiment-- they are thriving in this Meditteranean-like climate. Maybe next year I will try a whole bed of artichokes! But maybe next year will be hot & dry... guess I won't give up on tomatoes for good.

Learning to cook tasty meals with these different foods (or the abundance of one food) can be challenging. Adapting to a vastly-changing diet requires us to be creative & adventurous in our preparations. Another skill needed is food preservation. Canning. Pickling. Fermenting. Drying. Freezing. I am still opening up jars of homemade heirloom tomato ketchup I made last September with the abundant harvest. If we preserve the surplus of one year, it can help tide us over through meager years. This is a lesson learned long ago, that I feel needs to be resurrected in the face of the approaching uncertainty.

Other practices in agriculture are still in experimental stages, and I will be traveling a little this winter to try to discover more sustainable methods for the future of farming. I think that a movement towards more permanent, perennial plantings of crops is inevitable. Our reliance on big fuel-guzzling machinery can't last forever, and repetitive tilling is not only damaging to the soil, but releases more carbon into the atmosphere. Looking to the future I see more people involved in efficient hand labor on farms, composting playing a key role, and attention paid to creating habitat for beneficial insects & creatures to control pests.

Farming practices such as using genetically modified seeds, harsher chemical sprays, extensive plastic mulch, row cover, irrigation, & high tunnels will probably all increase, although I doubt the long-term sustainability of these choices. While they help us get a larger yield from our crops this year, future generations pay for the consequences of these practices. Farmers have thousands of decisions to make about how they grow their food. I am striving toward a truly responsible practice-- one that may leave a positive impact on the land, instead of just taking from it. Any ideas, comments, or suggestions are welcome.


Crunchy Kale Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse leaves of curly kale, and pat dry with a clean dish towel.
Chop into bite-size pieces.
Mix in a large bowl with enough olive oil to lightly cover the surfaces of all the kale.
Sprinkle in salt to taste. (Or try hot pepper, curry powder, garlic powder, etc.)
Spread on a baking sheet.
Bake for about 10-15 minutes, then stir, and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until crispy!
Kale chips burn easily. Make sure you constantly check them. You don't want soggy, half-crunchy chips-- the ideal texture will snap-crackle-pop in your mouth.
Store in airtight container, as kale chips will quickly re-hydrate in humid weather.

Roasted Fennel
Cut fennel bulb into 1/4" slices. Mix with plenty olive oil & salt.
Spread on a baking pan & bake for about 30-40 minutes on 350 degrees, or until tender.

Cabbage recipes from the winners of the Great Cabbage Cook-Off Contest:
Thanks for participating!

Sour Cream Cabbage- From Karen Lauder
Melt 3 T butter in skillet & brown 3 cloves crushed garlic. Soften 8 cups finely shredded cabbage in 1/4 cup boiling water (cook on low). Combine 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T lemon juice, 1 T sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed-- beat together & stir into cabbage, & heat through.

Cabbage Rolls- From Mary Kay Parrone

Filling- Mix together:
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 egg
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 large chopped onion
1 large green pepper
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (brown)

Sauce- mix together:
1 can tomato sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
2 t onion flakes

Take one head of cabbage, blanch to soften, and remove leaves. Roll about 1/2 cup meat mixture in cabbage leaf, place in 9 x 13 pan. Pour sauce over rolls, dot with butter if desired and bake 1 1/2- 2 hours at 350 until tender.

My friend suggested that you use the large outer leaves to cover the rolls before you put the sauce on-- she said this keeps the rolls from burning and the leaves can be discarded. I bake them covered for half the time (foil) and uncovered the rest of the time.

Apple Coleslaw

6 cups chopped cabbage
2 unpeeled red apple, cored & chopped (I used Braeburn)
2 unpeeled granny smith apple, cored & chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
4 green onions, finely chopped

2/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 T lemon juice, or to taste

In a large bowl, combie cabbage, red apple, green apple, carrot, red bell pepper, and green onions. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Pour dressing over salad.

Serves 8-10

Did you know that you can eat beet greens? Beets & Swiss Chard are actually the same exact plant-- each bred for different uses: beets for the root, chard for the leaves. Thus, anything you can do with swiss chard you can do with beet greens! You can even chop up the stems finely & add to whatever you're cooking.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You say potato...

The sun tried its hardest to make us believe it really is summer for the past week, but today turned again-- cool & rainy. We just got 1 1/2 inches of rain last night. Which is great for most of the vegetables in the field-- they had been getting a bit thirsty so I had started irrigating again. But the tomatoes aren't happy at all. In fact I think I heard them groaning as the storm clouds approached. Moist, overcast days are exactly what tomato plants fear most-- because it leaves them very vulnerable to fungal infections. Like Phytophthera infestins (Late Blight).

The Cornell Cooperative Extension expert was out at the farm last week. My tomato plants have Late Blight & Early Blight... and the potatoes have Late Blight too. Early Blight is something that most tomatoes get and deal with-- it kills them slowly, yellowing the lower leaves first-- and you can still harvest a bit. But Late Blight apparently moves quicker. A farmer who had it on his tomatoes a few years ago said that his plants just melted, and he lost the whole crop.

The expert suggested I spray Potassium Bicarbonate, which is organic & basically like baking soda-- it dries out the leaves so that the spores of the blight cannot spread as quickly. So I bought a backpack sprayer & tried it. It takes a long time to spray 1200 feet of tomatoes, and another long time to spray 1200 feet of potatoes. And there's not even a guarantee that it will work.

So what does all this mean for CSA members of Mud Creek Farm? Well, we'll start with potatoes. You will get plenty of early "new potatoes" but maybe not as many storage potatoes.

"New Potatoes"
Immature potatoes harvested during the spring or summer are called new potatoes. New potatoes are not a separate variety of potato, but younger versions of other varieties. We are harvesting most of our potatoes early because it is uncertain when the Late Blight will take the plants down! And because they're so delicious...

The skin of new potatoes is generally thinner and flakier than the skin found on older potatoes. For this reason, new potatoes are rarely if ever peeled before cooking. Restaurants and cafeterias use special machines with rotating abrasive wheels to remove some of the peels from new potatoes, but home cooks may just want to wash the new potatoes thoroughly and keep them unpeeled.

New potatoes can be stored at room temperature, but because they have not been cured, they won't last as long as regular potatoes -- several days instead of several weeks. When refrigerated, the starch will begin to convert to sugar, so if they're chilled for very long they'll taste sweet. Make sure you always store potatoes out of direct sunlight, because they will turn green, become bitter & inedible.

Because new potatoes are very small in size, they are well-suited to boiling and roasting. Boiled new potatoes retain their shape and texture, and can be seasoned to match the overall tone of the meal.

Steam new potatoes in a tightly closed pot until they are tender enough to be pierced with a knife, about 12 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, beat together 2 tablespoons softened (not melted) butter and some chopped onions or scallions and herbs (parsley and savory are particularly good). When the potatoes are cooked but before they cool, toss them in the herb butter and stir to coat well. Serve hot.

Okay. Now the tomato report. A few of them are starting to ripen, very very, very slowly. The brown spots of the blight are jumping from leaf to leaf, and will soon be on the stems. Some of the flowers are turning brown & falling off. If we get a few tomatoes harvested, they probably won't keep more than a few days before they also start turning brown. Is this stuff pretty depressing?
I think so-- tomatoes are pretty great. A tomato-less summer seems dismal. When I start getting sad about it, I think about all the other crops we're growing here that are completely healthy and in fact incredibly bounteous!

Watermelons & canteloupes are as big as softballs right now, cucumbers are loaded with flowers & inch-long fruit, eggplants are growing quickly & look very healthy, peppers are coming in very soon-- green sweet peppers & hot peppers (red comes later), beans both green and purple, summer squash kicking out tons of zucchinis, yellows, and UFO-shaped patty pans, beets rolling in from all corners of the field, bunches of carrots popping out really soon, and sweet corn? Yes! I planted sweet corn. Kind of an experiment-- we'll see how it goes. The stalks look healthy and I saw a tassell yesterday. And did I mention the onions? Oh boy, we have some onions. Big onions. Hopefully all these sweet summer offerings will more than fill the void that the tomatoes have left.

Being part of a CSA farm means that you get to swing along with the ups and downs of a growing season which is entirely dependent on the local weather-- sometimes one crop will suffer and another will benefit. That is why I am growing 45+ kinds of vegetables-- kind of a buffer against things like the Irish Potato famine. I hope that you all have been exploring the creative joys of cooking these myriad veggies! Thanks,
-Farmer Erin

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

July crop report

Summer greens abound! The Red Russian Kale shows its glory in the early evening sunlight, while colorful Swiss Chard stalks glow nearby. This field radiates health.

Pick-your-own edible flowers are starting! My favorite is Borage, a small blue star-shaped flower that tastes like cucumber. There are also spicy nasturtiums & bright calendula.
And the peppers are not far off... I found a green pepper 5" long already!
These fields of broccoli were tilled in, along with the sugar snap peas, radishes, turnips, and spring greens. We are now approaching summer crops! (Are you ready for green beans?)
And the onions are sizing up really fast, because of all this rain we've been getting. They are delicious, too.

Openings for a few new members...

Mud Creek Farm is accepting a few new CSA members for this year if anyone knows of a friend who wants in. Please email me as soon as possible, because I'm sure the spots will fill up fast.

The reason is that we've had a few work-trade members drop out-- therefore we also need more help! If anyone would like to learn and experience harvesting, planting, or just come out for a few hours to weed in the evenings, please do! Wednesday & Thursday we harvest 8am-5pm, Saturday & Sunday we harvest 8am- 4pm. Evenings are possible too-- just let me know ahead of time.

Farmer Erin

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Great Cabbage Cook-Off Contest!!!

Well, looks like mother nature may be holding back on the heaps of tomatoes we were expecting to harvest, but hey!-- the weather's great for cabbages!

So when life gives you cabbages...

Get ready for the Great Cabbage Cook-Off Contest!

Here's your chance to prove just how creative of a cook you are-- can you transform the most humble of vegetables into an exciting savory dish?
Take home up to 4 cabbages this week at distribution, and next week bring back your favorite cabbage dish for all CSA members to taste and vote on the most delicious recipe! The winner will receive a gift basket of goodies, and fame & glory.

Rules of the game:

- All entries must be at the farm by the beginning of distribution (4pm Sunday July 19th or 5pm Thursday July 23rd).
- Bring a serving large enough for about 35 people to sample, with serving utensil.
- We will provide sampling cups & silverware.
- Include a copy of the recipe, with title of the dish only (don't put your name on it).
- Electricity will be provided if you have something to keep the food warmed in.
- Voting will be by ballot, and tallied at the end of distribution.
- We will hold onto your dish for a week if you want to leave it, just tape your name on the back.

Recipes from the winning CSA members will be shared with all!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rain, Big-Box Stores, and Dog Hair

Well, first the good news:

I have temporarily solved the groundhog problem. I've been picking up bags of dog hair from local dog-grooming places and scattering it around the edges of the fields. This is supposed to scare away groundhogs, deer, and possibly rabbits. So far they've eased off enough for us to have harvestable lettuce in the new few weeks (if we get there before they come back!). I will continue to re-apply this newfound free repellent... it's easier than keeping a dog around, plus it's a good addition to the soil anyway! Did you know that hair has some of the highest nitrogen content (once it's composted)?

Okay, now the sad news:

We've been getting too much of a good thing: rain. Cold, cloudy, thunderstormy weather is great for spring and fall crops like spinach, cabbages, lettuce, etc. but AWFUL for heat-loving plants like tomatoes. Green fruit is hanging off the vines, just waiting for that 80 degree July weather we usually get. ( They don't know about global climate change yet.) But while the tomatoes are waiting to ripen, the constantly wet days we've been having are creating the perfect environment for disease to spread. Maybe you've heard:

1. Big box stores imported tomato plants to sell in their "garden centers" that happened to have "Late Blight"... a pretty serious fungal disease that affects tomatoes & potatoes, and actually caused the Irish Potato Famine.
2. Home gardeners took these plants home and grew out the disease. Spores from these plants became windborne, carried in the storms, and started infecting commercial farmers' fields.
3. I have found a section of my first planting of tomato plants that have been positively identified by Cornell experts as Late Blight.

I am looking into options to prevent the rest of the plants from becoming infected. They include:

1. Removing & destroying the infected & surrounding plants.
2. Praying for a week of hot, sunny weather. Apparently UV rays kill the spores, or at least stop them from spreading as fast.
3. Using a certified-organic spray. While I am usually against spraying anything, at this point it might make the difference between having tomatoes this summer or not.

On a brighter note, humans can't contract Late Blight, and many other crops seem to be coming along quite fine, not a bit concerned that their solanaceous sisters are shivering in their roots! Unlike the Irish at the time of the famine, we have a diversified palette of food options here at Mud Creek Farm... coming up soon: onions, carrots, more beets, more cabbages, kale, more swiss chard, more scallions... and then later in the summer: beans, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, melons, corn, & more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Farm photos!

Things have been going so wonderfully at the farm. I thought I'd share some photos that have been taken recently out at Mud Creek.

Tat Soi in the morning light-- Bill came out at 6am to help us harvest!

Thursday morning harvest crew brings in the haul.

Aiden with a cabbage bigger than his head:

The shares were HUGE!

Beets are the latest crop to come out of the field.

We harvest even on gloomy, rainy, thunderstormy days.

Swiss Chard looks amazing, its bright colors shining in the field-- it is my favorite thing to harvest.

Chinese Cabbage is super sweet, delicious cooked or even raw.

A few of these weird asian greens have made themselves staple in our salads lately. The Tat Soi looked pretty luscious this week.

In order to give you super clean vegetables, we wash everything really well before boxing it up and storing it in the cooler at 40 degrees for the ultimate freshness. The extra time it takes us to dunk, sort, spray, scrub, and rinse, is worth it when you see the final product!

Turnips: Hakurei (or Tokyo) are the white ones; Scarlet Turnips are the red ones.

A new planting of tomatoes gets watered in with our drip irrigation line:

You know that summer is here when the zucchini start growing like mad.

Pick-your-own sugar snap peas are just about over, but boy has it been a bountiful harvest!

Hope you can make it out for one last picking before the season's over until next year!

Speaking of the season being over, we tilled in the Bok Choi bed, as well as the earliest spring greens. These cool-season plants will quickly make flowers instead of leaves when hot weather's here.

Sadly, the Kohlrabi is almost gone too. Who knew that such a crazy UFO-looking vegetable could be so sweet & crunchy?

Planting continues... we will keep planting for the next month or two, successions of squash, cucumbers, beans, herbs, beets, carrots, scallions, etc. If you want to be involved in any of this, please come out sometime! Evenings are a nice time to work, I am usually out there until around 8:30.

Thanks to farmer/neighbor Jack for fixing the old Farmall Cub so we could hill the potatoes & cultivate!

The grass keeps growing, so I keep mowing.

Everything has just exploded in green since all this rain.

U-Pick flowers are beginning! Hope you have your vases ready for a freshly-picked farm bouquet!

Enjoy the greens (and reds & purples & yellows & blues).