Monday, September 28, 2009

Using up those eggplants...

Here's a good one to use up the eggplants. It's meant to be an appetizer/dip but I think it might be yummy on pasta too...

Herbed Eggplant Dip
Makes about 2 1/3 cups

1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
a 1 pound eggplant, cut into dice (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch)
1 teaspoon salt
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well, spun dry and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Accompaniment: Garlic flavored toasts or Pita Chips

In a large heavy skillet cook onion and garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring until softened. Add eggplant and salt and cook, stirring until eggplant begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Cover skillet and cook eggplant, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until tender. Remove skillet from heat and cool eggplant. Stir in remaining ingredients and salt an pepper to taste. Put all into bowl of food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely chopped and blended.

If you are going to put over pasta you might want to not put into processor and just toss together over pasta? I haven't tried that yet but the flavor is really good. It would probably be great to add artichoke hearts and some red peppers or roasted red peppers.

Autumn harvest...

Well, I think that fall is officially here when we pull the winter squash in from the field. With the help of a few devoted farmhands, we hauled them all into the greenhouse to cure for a week or so.
Summer crops are on their way out-- less peppers & eggplants (finally!), and more greens, radishes, turnips, and root crops. Lettuce continues to come in by the bushel!
We finally got rain! A whole inch overnight, and more on the way... the 5 acres of cover crops I just planted are soaking it up. Check out the new fields for next year-- they'll be turning green soon with oats, peas, triticale, and vetch. An inch of rain sure makes for muddy harvesting though.
As I was leaving the farm Sunday evening, it started pouring again, but the setting sun still was shining beneath the raincloud. Everyone had just left distribution with their bags of produce, handfuls of flowers, kids, dogs, and aunts. I stood in front of the fields by myself, witnessing this magical light that was falling over the farm. What an incredible place this is. A rainbow arched over the sky as I drove back down the gravel road home.
Dad really did some hauling of that squash.I can't wait to eat these delicata...
Mmmm... squash is the perfect filling food for these cold nights.
Oh! And the first fall broccoli was delicious! Cabbages are soon to come...
And let's not forget the glorious Swiss Chard.
Food, glorious food.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frost and Winter Squash

We got a frost on Saturday night. The temperature was supposed to dip down to a chilly 38 degrees... and I made the decision to not worry about the farm freezing-- I just couldn't believe that it would actually frost this early, and besides, I was really really tired.

I went out to harvest 8am Sunday morning, and saw the icy white crystals on my sweatshirt & workgloves I had left outside the shed. I ran out to the field, it was sparkling in the rising sunlight. I knew the broccoli & cabbage would be fine, but how were the peppers & eggplants? Turns out they survived... but the winter squash took a hit.

The poor pumpkins, butternuts, delicatas, sweet dumplings, red kuris, buttercups, & blue hubbards were lying on the ground exposed, with the leaves of the squash almost completely dead from powdery mildew. The frost settled down on top of the fruits, and left its mark as it thawed. A few hours later the damage could be determined-- all the remaining foliage had turned black & wilted, and about 5-10 % of the squash looked affected by the frost. Not too bad.

We harvested all the squash then-- put it up in the greenhouse to cure for a week or so.

It turns out that lightly frost-damaged squash could possibly cure alright & be saved. But I didn't know that & gave some out at distribution "for immediate consumption"... thinking that the spots caused by the freeze would turn mushy & rot soon. I was saving this food from the compost!

Uncured squash, straight from the field, is for the most part tasteless & bland. Most types of squash need to go through a curing process at around 80 degrees for a week or two-- Butternut especially needs about a month in storage afterwords for the sweetness we're used to.

So... when cooking with uncured winter squash: use lots of spices & flavoring!

- Crock-pot it with lots of other strongly flavored vegetables or meats.

- Roast it in the oven with tons of brown sugar

- Cut it up really small and stir-fry it with hot peppers & garlic

Good luck-- and if the frost-spot isn't very pronounced, you could always keep it in your warmest room for a week or two (checking to see that it's staying together alright!)... and cure it yourself.

Check out the greenhouse to see tables filled with color! (Pictures coming soon)

Monday, September 14, 2009


Pickled Carrot Sticks

1 pound carrots, cut into 3 1/2 inch sticks
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons dill seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Blanch carrots in a 4-quart saucepan of salted boiling water for 1 minute. Drain in colander and plunge in ice water to stop cooking. Transfer to heat-proof bowl. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, garlic, dill seeds and salt in same saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes Pour mixture over carrots. Cool carrots, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 day to allow flavors to develop. Carrots keep in airtight container in refrigerator for up to a month.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Harvest moon...

Things going on at the farm:

Bounty continues! The distribution shed is filled as ever, with summer crops and the beginning of fall things like spicy greens, radishes, and salad turnips.
The theme of the summer is eggplants & peppers. Especially hot peppers!
Swiss chard is huge as ever-- these greens can be cooked just like spinach in any recipe, and the stems are edible too, if you cook them a bit longer.
Amaranth Harvest! You may have noticed the tall flower stalks next to the corn-- magenta & orange & burgundy-- Amaranth is a grain that was a staple food for the Aztecs & is still eaten in Mexico. It's supposed to be a "superfood" with more protein & other nutrients than wheat, corn, rice, etc. We harvest it by hand, lay it out in the greenhouse to dry, then we'll take the tiny seeds out, winnow the chaff, and either grind it into flour or try to pop it like popcorn. Quite a little experiment. Luke thinks I'm crazy. I just like eating flowers.
Weeding the fennel today we found a monarch butterfly caterpiller. We hope it stays there and makes a chrysalis! Praying mantises are also everywhere on the farm right now.

I expected this year to be full of "learning experiences"... and mostly my experiments have been pretty successful. Some challenges I've had lately:

Sweet Corn: I had never grown it before. The first few weeks of harvesting were awesome, we got lots of tender delicious ears. So I kept picking... I must apologize for last week's corn! It was horrible! I guess no one ever told me that sweet corn turns its sugars into starch very quickly. The grilled corn on the cob I had last week tasted like livestock feed. Next year, if I decide to do corn again, I'll plant more successions so that we can harvest just a few times off one planting, then move to the next one, to keep things fresh & sweet!

Melons: How to tell if a watermelon is ripe? Last time I picked melons, almost none of them tasted sweet. I think that this fall weather is confusing such a summer-y crop. I apologize for any unripe melon experiences. But the ones that are ripe are pretty good, right? Next year I promise to plant more watermelons & less canteloupes.

Mexican Bean Beetle, Cucumber Downy Mildew, some weird Squash Virus: These creatures have reduced the amount of summer squash, beans, & cucumbers we've been getting lately. I will research more about these things to prevent them from decimating our crops next year.

Powdery Mildew on the Winter Squash: This fungus blows in on the wind, and sticks around, helped by moist weather & cool nights. It is killing our winter squash very quickly-- but we might have a few mature ones out there. Right now it's a race between the squash vines and the mildew. We need some cheerleaders.

No Rain! Can you believe I'd say that this summer? Well, the crops are doing fine, with the help of the drip irrigation. But I have to plant 6 acres of cover crops for the winter, and the window in which I can do this is quickly disappearing... and you can't really irrigate 6 acres of rye or oats. So let's hope we get a big rain soon, so I can get this seed in the ground and green up those plowed & tilled fields!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking forward to next year...

Just as the season's beginning to wind down, and I started thinking that my work load was easing up a bit-- it's time to start preparing for next year! I have surprised myself with how much food can be produced on 2.5 acres by one person-- and the waiting list for next season grows. I will be doubling the CSA membership. Thus, we'll need more land to farm! After talking with the landowner, Bob, about it, I decided to open up the fields near the railroad track, and down by the creek. That field below is pretty huge, 3 acres-- 600' long!
After we spent 2 days bush-hogging, measuring, and staking out the fields, I taught Luke how to plow. The soil is lush with life: earthworms, field mice, snakes, beetles, toads-- I bear the responsibility for taking care of this ground. I feel a bit guilty for clearing the goldenrod that the honeybees were feeding on, and disturbing the whole universe for thousands of little creatures.
But so it goes with farming. Wrestling food for human consumption from the rich black soil is a constant battle. Although it offers up generous eggplants, shiny peppers, and sweet corn, seemingly benevolently, it really wants to become a forest. And so I plow under the sprouts of trees & perennial wildflowers, in the ancient agreement that humans have with the land-- I take, and so I also must give.
I hope to spend the rest of my life learning how to give back to the land in exchange for all that it gives me every day.

Can you hear the grass growing?

Some of you may have noticed the very tall corn growing near the flower garden-- it's broom corn, actually a sorghum. It was (and still is) used to make brooms. I like to grow it for it's ornamental use, in holiday wreaths and autumn decorations. Also I just like to grow it because its so darn tall.
I planted a lot more of a different kind of grass last week: Winter Rye. I scatter these seeds, mixed with Hairy Vetch, on empty ground as a cover crop. Cover crops prevent erosion during the winter. The Vetch is a legume that will add nitrogen to the soil (enabling us to use less fertilizer), and the rye will add a lot of organic matter. I will plow these in in the spring. The front field by the greenhouse will become the pick-your-own garden for next year!
I use this heavy thing to pack the seeds into the ground & cover them up a bit. It's called a Cultipacker. I pulled it out of the hedgerow-- it's another one of Bob's old farm pieces, rusty but still functional.
This is the seed before I mix it into the hand broadcast spreader:
And Voila! We have tiny sprouts! I timed the planting right before we got a few days of rain (the remnants of a hurricane off the coast)... and they had just enough water to start their life. Hopefully we'll get some more substantial rain in the next week to speed these little ones on their way.
We will be planting more rye soon on the new fields, and oats too. After I till in a few rows of crops, I will plant more rye & vetch to cover the soil for the winter.