Friday, August 28, 2009

Diggin' taters

I took a walk in the field across the street that I'm thinking about incorporating into the farm next year... a rain cloud came by and dumped on me, while the sun was still shining. The result? A very good sign.
All these photos were taken with my phone; hence the black things in the corners- my weatherproof carrier got in the way.
A most exciting thing: my friends Eli & Doug helped me pull the old potato-digger out of the woods! It's a rusty thing probably 100 years old- meant to be horse-drawn, but we were going to try to hook it to the tractor. We greased & oiled it up-- there are a lot of working gears & levers, all functioning off the rotation of the big rusty metal wheels. I didn't have high hopes. I thought it would just fall apart before we even got to the field. We creeped at lowest speed out to the potatoes. The sun made the oil gleam on the moving conveyor belts. We all stared at the gears in wonder-- it felt like some kind of revolution.
(We had been digging potatoes by hand with a digging fork.)

Lo and behold, it worked. The plow point pushed into the hill of potatoes (we could lower or raise it) and up came everything, the potatoes, the dirt, the rocks. The 2 sets of conveyor belts shook off the dirt as the potatoes rolled off the edge gently onto the soil.

Oh yeah, and there is a seat on it (so you can drive the horses I guess)!
We did a whole 200' row of them.
Doug adjusting the depth of the plow point.

Now we just had to go along & pick them up! No digging like before-- it took a lot less time & muscle.
Okay, turn your head sideways. Here's the old tater digger, hooked up to the new Kubota. It was a beautiful multi-generational cooperation.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fall on its way...

This morning there was a chill wind in the air, and I noticed the big cottonwood tree at the edge of the field is starting to turn yellow. It feels like we barely began summer-- sweet corn & melons just beginning. But sure enough, I smelled fall in the air all day.

It's my favorite season. It's what I got nostalgic for on the west coast: the trees, the blue October skies, the pumpkins & apples. I can't wait. Things are feeling different on the farm too, not much more planting (2 more beds maybe), and just harvest, harvest, harvest. Green peppers are turning red. Fall greens are up-- radishes, salad turnips, arugula, mizuna, tat soi, the same as the spring.

On a different note, I read an alarming article in the NY Times which I occasionally check out online. It concerns our drinking water, herbicides, & cancer. Atrazine is a commonly used weed killer (used primarily for corn growing & golf courses)-- in fact, I saw some in my neighbor's barn. The article reports on various studies done, and debates whether or not levels of this chemical in our drinking water are "safe" or not. The European Union has banned the use of Atrazine as a precaution.

I think it's pretty incredible that Americans could accept any level of potentially harmful chemical in their drinking water, especially one which could cause birth defects or cancer. Is this the sacrifice we make in order to eat lots of processed junk food made from corn products and enjoy a weed-free golf course? I am not ready to make that sacrifice. Unfortunately I feel pretty powerless, and I think that policymakers in the EPA have much more control over these issues, even as personal an issue to me as the water I gulp down every day. I guess I will try to find out chemical levels in our water here in Rochester, and maybe invest in a good filtration system. If you have some time, check out this article.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A way to use up your eggplants!

Baba Ganoush


to serve


1. Pierce the skins of the eggplants several times and place them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400F for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until the outsides crinkle and the insides become very soft.

2. When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides.

3. Using a food processor puree the pulp with the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, parsley, and salt until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

4. Line a warmed pita pocket with leaf lettuce, spoon in the baby and serve as is, or, if desired, top with a sprinkling of feta cheese.

Meal Planning: *preparation Time: 15 minutes; Baking Time: 40 minutes. Serve with soup or salad. *Smoky eggplant flavor and creamy texture of tahini with lemon also makes a good dip with crudites. Prepare as a side dish for a Middle Eastern Combo Plate with Hummus (79) or White Bean Dip (87) and Carrot Salad (p321) *For a nondairy alternative, top with chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped black olives, and alfalfa sprouts. Per 6-oz serving with pita: 247 cals, 11.3 g fat, 496 mg sodium. Recipe From: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd: Recipes with a Vegetarian Emphasis for 24 or More, by The Moosewood Collective

August photos

Okay, this one's not from August:
It's hard to believe that just about 4 months ago the farm looked like this-- bare soil just plowed up, skeleton trees, no green anywhere. Here we are in April planting the first onions in the ground. And here is last week, in the lush pick-your-own flower garden:
And here we have our mature onions, cured in the greenhouse, now going into storage for distribution from now until November. They are huge and beautiful, many of them weighing over 1 pound each!
The farm is just swimming in green right now.The sweet corn is tall & majestic, and the fall plantings of greens, broccoli, turnips, radishes, and cabbages are filling out the rest of the empty fields.
The winter squash is a huge jungle, hiding it's fruits below in the shape of pumpkins, butternuts, delicatas, and hubbards!
The bees have been relishing the flowers.
This is definitely the year of the cabbage.
It seems like all I do these days is pick, pick, pick. 4 days a week from 8am-8pm just about. Leaving a few other days to get everything else done!
The melons are in! Yummy cantelopes and a few watermelons too.
My cousins came out from New Jersey & helped with the harvest too!
It's nice to do the washing part when it's really hot out-- you get to stand in the shade, and the water is very cool.
Sometimes everyone just wants to get their hands in the tub!
We've had a few deer break-ins (hoof prints in the soil) but not too much munching lately. The raccoons have found the sweet corn I think. But at least my neighbor Jack planted a few acres of soybeans nearby that distracts the herd of deer from our veggies! You might not see them in the photo, but there are about 12 deer grazing in his field:
Here's Luke in the Kale Forest:
Hot peppers, oh yeah, we have them. Hungarian hot wax is mild in comparison to the long green cayenne chiles. Beware!
Sweet peppers are starting to turn colors, finally, with the heat. Did you know green peppers are just young red peppers that haven't changed color yet?
Here's the planting of the fall broccoli & cauliflower:
And the sunflower harvest. What a joy it is picking them, even if they are huge, heavy, awkward, & spiny.
This work is great. I love being a farmer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eulogy for our Tomatoes

Sweat dripping from my face, I walked down the tomato rows pulling stakes, cutting twine, and yanking up irrigation line. It was like the land of the living dead. Half-rotted fruit squished underneath my sneakers, brown and green vines fell tangled on the ground. This is the first week that it's finally felt like summer, the storm clouds staying away for more than a few days, and the temperature climbing up towards 90-- and all the tomatoes turned red at once. Unfortunately, though, when you reach to pick one of these luscious fruits of summer, you realize that on the other side it's completely rotted, or has a brown spot-- the mark of Late Blight.

I tried not to get too emotional over it all, as I prepared the beds for tilling in tomorrow. Good riddance, I said to myself. Tomatoes? What tomatoes? I didn't plant tomatoes. Who needs 'em anyway? So much work...

As the summer heat beat down on my straw hat & longsleeve shirt, I recalled all the events that led up to these poor tomato plants. The seed (expensive, heirloom varieties) was planted in the greenhouse in March, April, & May, on heatmats that kept the soil at a comfortable 80 degrees for germination. Then, tiny seedling by tiny seedling, we transplanted them into larger trays of soil, and they grew happily in the greenhouse, requiring only water every day or two, and the occasional dose of seaweed/fish emulsion. When they were ready for the field, we brought them out & put them in our nicely marked beds, pre-fertilized & composted. The first batch didn't make it-- it was too cold & windy, and they started looking sick. I pulled them out, re-tilled, and started over. The second batch went in healthy, and we covered them up on cold nights with row cover.

Then came the straw mulch. It prevents weeds, and also controls soil-borne fungal diseases (apparently not late blight though). We got old Bob's dump truck started, and drove a few miles down the road to Jack's barn to load up wheat straw bales. We trade Jack vegetables in return for straw, and tractor expertise. Then, in crews, we dispersed the bales of straw 3" thick over all the 5' beds of tomatoes. Almost 10,000 square feet. The baling wire was carefully saved for future inventive uses. The straw had wheat seeds left in it, that sprouted, and had to be pulled like weeds.

As the tomatoes grew, green & rambunctious, they needed support. After making calls to all the farmers I knew, I decided to go with electrical conduit for staking them up. It would last forever, and be easy to handle in the field. Two separate trips with a minivan were made to Maynard's Electric in Henrietta. Then I sawed the 10' "sticks" in half, loaded up the harvest cart & brought them out to the field. Each one was pounded in several times with the post-pounder. I've always thought that working with tomatoes just has to coincide with sun and sweat. The kind of times when you need to wear sunglasses, but you sweat so much underneath the sunglasses that you keep having to take them off in order to see properly.

Then the tomatoes were tied up with twine (expensive, biodegradable natural twine), the "Florida Weave" way-- wearing a backpack loaded with a huge spool of the stuff, wielding a stick through which the twine fed onto the row of tomatoes: under the plants, around the conduit, under the plants, around the conduit... down the whole 200' row, and back up the other side. It's kind of satisfying. And back-breaking. And then we tie off the twine at the end, and wait. Until the plants grow another 8 inches or so, & you do it again. I only got 2 layers of twine up the first plantings, when the blight hit.

Warnings came through friends & family, who'd read about it in the newspaper. Panicky emails started circulating the northeast organic farming network. I called my mentor, Dave, in the Hudson Valley, who'd never sprayed a thing in his life. "What are you doing to prevent this late blight thing?" I asked him. "Ignoring it." was his response. It's all hype: everyone's getting all worried for nothing-- after stressing about it for a few days, I let it drop a bit.

Then the spots showed up. The Cornell Cooperative Extension agent said, yes, that is definitely Late Blight. So I ripped out the first row of tomatoes. Into plastic bags, into the trash. It felt very wrong. But we were controlling it-- I sprayed a beneficial fungus & bacteria onto the remaining healthy plants to ward off the invading fungus. It continued to spread.

Dave called me then, intending to warn me that his tomatoes got the blight, and I better spray something to prevent it. I had to tell him the disappointing news. He had gone out and bought a $600 blower-sprayer to cover more ground efficiently and was spraying copper, until he realized that would only prevent blight; and he had blight already.

We tried to slow down the inevitable death. We sprayed potassium bicarbonate several times, which dried out the leaves so that fungus can't spread as quickly. But it just kept raining. Overcast, stormy days-- there just wasn't enough UV rays from the sun to help sterilize the spores. I gave up.

Does this story have a happy ending? Maybe a few folks learned they love fried green tomatoes. Maybe we all realize a little more how the weird climate changes are really affecting our food supply. Maybe we learn to be creative with other vegetables & adapt our taste buds to the changes. Maybe it's just a hard lesson.

So, next year, will I do the same thing again with tomatoes? Go through the same actions, hoping for more sun & heat, less storms, and the absence of Phytophthera infestins? Probably. But maybe I won't bother staking them up. And maybe I'll also plant more carrots.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crop report

Well, it seems like everyone's been enjoying the summer bounty ...

...and the pick-your-own flower garden is overflowing with blossoms!It's time to say goodbye to spring cabbage (sadly, I know!)... but we've just planted the fall cabbage, so we'll have lots more in a few months!

Chinese, or Napa, Cabbage was a big hit this spring. A BIG hit-- with heads weighing over 6 pounds! I won't be growing any this fall, but there will be more treats, like purple & orange cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.

You could say we've had some "steady beets" all summer... you can look forward to more of the same through the fall.

Summer squash seems to be slowing down a bit-- the cloudy moist weather has produced an environment favorable to Powdery Mildew, a fungal disease that appears in white splotches on the leaves. The winter squash (pumpkins, butternut, delicata) have some of this on their leaves too-- I will be spraying some Potassium Bicarbonate (organic approved) on them to keep it in check. What a crazy summer!

The carrots have been huge & beautiful-- we have a lot more on their way too. Maybe we should have a carrot cake contest next.

The onions have all been harvested from the field! A little early-- the wet weather forced us to pull them a little prematurely, but they are still huge & beautiful. We gave out the last of the "fresh onions" and now we will be giving out "cured onions"...

If you've peeked into the greenhouse lately, you may see all these onions curing on the tables there, with fans to dry them out, and burlap to keep them from getting sunburned. After a few weeks, the tops turn brown & crispy, and the papery husk has formed around the onion to give it that storage quality we know so well. I will be storing the onions until November, giving them out a few every week with shares.

The cucumbers have started rolling in-- hope you found a good pickle recipe! If you want to learn how to make lactofermented pickles (the way they used to, with a salt brine & no vinegar), ask me sometime. Grab some flowering heads of dill while you're out in the flower garden.

And the eggplants. One of my favorite vegetables. I think they taste best roasted on the grill or in the oven, with plenty of olive oil & salt.

Speaking of olive oil & salt, add a little cornmeal to the recipe, and you've got the perfect fried green tomatoes. Who says that late blight has to keep us from enjoying tomatoes? We just have to be a bit creative this year...

Other crops:

Beans are in-between plantings right now. We picked about 8 times from the same bed and now it's ready to retire (be tilled in)-- the new bed is just starting to produce beans. We'll have plenty more beans soon on their way. (Pickled dilly-bean recipe anyone?)

Sunflowers! Yes!

Potatoes: at this point they are no longer "new potatoes" since they have been "cured" in the ground for the past 2 weeks. They now theoretically have a longer storage life, although with blight being all around, I suggest cooking the potatoes in a week or so.

Melons-- watermelons & canteloupes-- looking huge. In the next week or so I'll be cracking the first one open for a taste!

Sweet corn-- I grew sweet corn. The ears are almost ready. It was an experiment, since I've never grown it before. We'll see how it goes!

Peppers, bountiful. If it ever gets hot, they might think about turning red. Until then, I give out green peppers. Hot peppers up the wazoo! Hungarian hot wax, jalepeno, Czech black.

Fall crops to look forward to: parsnips, celery root, rutabagas, turnips, radishes, arugula, tat soi, chard, kale.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Recipes for Green Things

Fried Green Tomatoes

* 4 to 6 green tomatoes
* salt and pepper
* cornmeal
* bacon grease or vegetable oil

Preparation: Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 - 1/2-inch slices. Salt and pepper them to taste. Dip in meal and fry in hot grease or oil about 3 minutes or until golden on bottom. Gently turn and fry the other side. Serve as a side dish - delicious with breakfast!

Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 hot peppers, chopped
  • Salt to taste


1 Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well.

2a Roasting method Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

2b Boiling method Place tomatillos in a saucepan, cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove tomatillos with a slotted spoon.

2 Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, sugar in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator.

Serve with chips or as a salsa accompaniment to Mexican dishes.

Makes 3 cups.