The Weather

The regular CSA season is winding down.  Instead of talking about hibernating for the winter, or eating bugs (it’s a topic percolating in the back of my mind), I decided to share a few thoughts on this season’s weather.  Well, the climate, to be more precise.

What makes my opinion on the weather more poignant than “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” or The National Weather Service (NWS) office at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport?  I live across the creek from the Farm…and, I have a weather station in my backyard.  So, the elements I observe are very similar to those experienced on the Blandford Farm.

Since writing about numbers is pretty boring, I’m going to present them in a table and let them speak for themselves.  Following are select pieces of climate information gathered by my weather station during the 2017 CSA season:

Month Average Temp Departure from Normal High Temp Low Temp Rainfall Departure from Normal
May 56.7 -2.0 87.2 26.1 1.86 -2.12
June 68.3 -0.1 91.9 43.5 5.18 1.41
July 71.0 -1.5 90.5 50.1 1.97 -1.81
August 66.5 -4.3 87.1 43.7 2.20 -1.39
September 63.4 0.6 95.1 37.7 0.58 -3.70

A couple of notes about the numbers:

  • “Departure from Normal” is the official buzz phrase for the difference between the temperature and the average temperature observed at the NWS office at Ford International. Same is true for rainfall.  Minus numbers mean it was cooler (or drier) than normal.  The NWS calculates a “normal” value by averaging 30 years of information.  The latest “normal” I could find was from 1981 – 2010.
  • No snow fell in May (whew).
  • In general, temperatures were cooler than normal this season and drier than normal. So, if your CSA vegies look a bit smaller or weirder, the climate could be the culprit.

And just in case you’re curious about a summer in Texas, here are comparable numbers for my last full year in Dallas – 2013:

Month Average Temp Departure from Normal High Temp Low Temp Rainfall Departure from Normal
May 72.6 -0.2 92.8 38.9 4.17 -0.13
June 83.1 2.5 102.2 61.9 2.84 0.44
July 83.7 -1.3 101.7 63.8 1.73 0.03
August 87.3 2.8 104.9 65.3 0.19 -1.61
September 82.0 4.6 103.7 58.1 3.49 0.59

You’re welcome.

Why do I do this?  It’s a hobby.  I’ve always been curious about watching and measuring the weather.  When I was in high school, I had a weather station at my parents’ house.  My Dad was never fond of climbing up on the TV mast to install my wind equipment…but he wouldn’t let me do it, either.  These days I have a self-contained weather station sitting in my backyard.  It transmits weather information wirelessly into my house.  A couple of small computers display the information as well as host it on the Web.IMG_20171001_140125 (2)(modified)

Anyway, I’ve signed up for the Winter CSA.  I’ll watch how the climate effects my share vegies.  And maybe next season I really will write about eating bugs.  I’ve always been fascinated by the topic.

DG

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

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A Better Cook

Last season, a certain CEO asked me, “Are you a better cook?”  We were picking up our CSA produce.  Jokingly, I said, “yes.”  But I started thinking about that answer.  I realize I’m a different cook.  And, perhaps, a better one.  I believe I can trace this improvement to being a CSA member.

No, I’m not trying to plug the CSA here.  The delivery of fresh produce, weekly, has forced me to change my relationship with food.  It has also forced me to plan menus differently.

How?  My cooking now revolves around the actual vegies in my CSA half-share.  They determine what I’m preparing.  My brain has shifted to figure out how I can use this lettuce, or that cucumber, or geez I have all those little tomatoes.  And tomorrow is pick-up.  It’s like I’m trying to drink from a fire hose.firehose

My previous approach was a carryover from my years in Dallas.  Cooking was focused on making as few trips to market as possible.  I used a spreadsheet and planned a week ahead.  Meals would include restaurant trips, reuse of “doggie boxes” in meals, and use of leftovers from our Grand Sunday Dinner.  I loathed going to the grocery store (and it was a Whole Foods to boot) because it was still a big box store, requiring driving on nasty Dallas-area streets, and suffering through an ocean of parking.

So the CSA has changed my habits by allowing me to focus on cooking.  Not on the logistics of acquiring food.

In addition, I pay attention and use seasonal produce.  It’s a mindfulness thing.  No longer can I pick a recipe because it “looks good” or “we haven’t eaten this for a while” and assume the ingredients are available somewhere.  I either adapt my favorite recipes, or try new ones with what’s available at the moment.

Now I feel I’m moving up to the next level of cooking:  from being an adequate house cook, to perhaps a gourmet cook (but still a long way from a prep chef).  Instead of taking a recipe to market to find ingredients, I’m presented ingredients and must find a suitable recipe – or create one.  This isn’t bad.  It’s actually kind of fun.  Now my creative juices are engaged.  My memory is tested.  But it really is moving to the next level of the culinary arts.

Since the word “better” is so subjective, I will adopt the meaning:  “showing some tangible change or improvement.”  With that definition, yes, I’m better.  Being a CSA member has inspired me to be flexible, creative, and to value the quality of freshness.  And so my answer to Jason was correct.  Yes, I am a better cook.  And like so many things in life, I can’t go back.  Although I would like someone to tone down the fire hose.

DG

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

A Briefer Guide to U-Pick Beans

What can you say about string beans?  …yup, I thought so.  (Now I’ll hear from various “beannies” on the Web, accusing me of having a “tomato-centric” worldview.  But I digress.)

As a companion to talking about U-Pick Cherry Tomatoes, I thought I’d give a brief guide to the U-Pick string beans.  I’m basing this on my observations, plus photos and write-ups from Johnny Selected Seed’s web site.  If I’ve gotten these wrong, I expect Aaron, Liz, or Mark will set me straight.

Common

Name

Picture/

Details

Dragon’s Tongue

03175_01_dragonstoungeAn alternate name for this variety is “Dragon Langerie”.  Go figure.

  • Unique flashy heirloom.
  • 6-6- 1/2″ flat pods are pale yellow with purple streaks.
  • They are tender and sweet and good in salads or cooked.
  • Purple disappears upon cooking.

Jade

00016g_01_jadeWhat we think of as “green beans” are the Jade variety.

  • Long attractive pods.
  • Jade’s 6-7″, slender, deep green pods are exceptionally tender and delicious.
  • Large, upright plants keep beans clean and straight.

Royal Burgundy

02944g_01_royalburgThe “purple beans” are the Royal Burgandy variety.

  • The brilliant purple, 5″ pods are eye-catching at market
  • Easy to spot when harvesting
  • Add stunning color to salads when used raw.
  • The pods do turn green when cooked.

A tiny blue damselfly in the U-Pick beans.Just to remind you that you are not alone when U-Pick, I observed a damselfly competing for beans.  Rather pretty.

DG

Source for bean photos and details:  Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Source for damselfly:  the author

Updated:  8/8/2017.  Liz set me straight about the varieties.

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Brief Guide to U-Pick Cherry Tomatoes

We’re experimenting with something new this year.  We’ve prepared some aids In hopes of helping you enjoy the U-Pick portion of your CSA (half) share.  These aids come in two forms:  a brief guide to the different cherry tomato varieties, and signage in the patches showing where each variety is located.   The guide appears below.  You can print it, or pull it up on your smartphone when you want.  This same information for each cherry tomato variety will appear on signs throughout the patch near the individual vines.

Common

Name

Picture/

Details

 

Apero

 apero
 
  • Exceptionally flavorful
  • High-yielding cross between a grape and cherry (tomato)
  • Oval fruits with very sweet, rich flavor

Source & Photo:  J

 

Aunt

Molly’s

(Ground

Cherry

Tomato)

 AuntMollyGroundCherry 2
 
  • Ground Cherry Tomato
  • Sweet and zesty
  • Some compare the flavor to pineapple

Source:  F, Photo: F & G1

 

Black

Cherry

 blackcherry
 
  • Dusky color and complex flavor typical of the best black tomatoes
  • Somewhat late for a cherry tomato, fruit ripens slowly and individually until frost, but worth the wait.
  • Examine each plant closely at picking time: the dark-hued cherries are easy to lose in the foliage.
  • Best flavor if left to ripen on the vine till nice and dark.
  • Sweet and robust.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Esterina

 esterina
 
  • Massive yields on big clusters.
  • Flavor is very sweet, but well-balanced with a tangy kick. Smooth, even texture adds to their exceptional snacking quality.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Fargo

Yellow

Pear

 FargoYellowPear 2
 
  • Pear-shaped cherry tomato.
  • Each plant produces about three dozen sweet tasty 1 oz fruits.
  • The meaty morsels are crack resistant.

Source:  F, Photo:  F & G2

 

Five

Star

Grape

 fivestargrape
 
  • Grape tomato
  • Excellent, sweet flavor
  • Firm, meaty texture with few seeds and little juice.

Source:  J, Photo:   J

 

Indigo

Cherry

Drops

 indigocherrydrops
 
  • Striking dark-blue pigment over red flesh

Source: J, Photo:  J

 

Purple

Bumble

Bee

 purplebumble
 
  • Purple, round cherry tomato with metallic green striping
  • Excellent sweet flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

Sun

Gold

 

sungold

 
  • A perfect combination of deep sweetness with a hint of acid tartness
  • Intense fruity flavor.
  • Exceptionally sweet.

Source:  F & J, Photo:  J

 

Sunpeach

 

sunpeach

 
  • Delicious, pink cherry tomato
  • Sister variety to Sun Gold, but not as tangy and acidic
  • Very sweet with excellent flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

Sunrise

Bumble

Bee

 sunrisebumble
 
  • Yellow, round cherry tomato with red stripes and pink interior marbling
  • Excellent sweet and tangy flavor

Source:  J, Photo:  J

 

A little background on the information in this guide and on the signs.  The Common Name is how the variety is listed in the seed catalogs (and on web sites).  The Details are distilled from the description for each variety.  The Photos are downloaded from the seed company web sites.  We are using this information to help educate about the cherry tomatoes.  We are grateful to the following companies for the photos and source details (they’re footnoted after each variety using these letters):

F – Fedco Seeds:  www.fedcoseeds.com
G1 – Google search, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:  www.rareseeds.com
G2 – Google search, Seattle Seed Company:  www.seattleseed.com
J – Johnny’s Selected Seeds:  www.johnnyseeds.com

DG

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

…And it begins.

Liz here. I just got done harvesting one of our first rounds of summer squash.  And it was exciting! Because summer squash is exciting! …For about a week.  Maybe two weeks.  And then, the squash plants are so prolific that it’s just overwhelming.  So while for now you are still (hopefully) excited about summer squash, sooner or later you might get overwhelmed by an inevitable question: What do I DO with all this squash in my share? I thought I’d provide some preemptive inspiration in the form of three recipes that I snatched from the internet.  Hopefully, this will help to get you thinking creatively about summer squash.  It’s all about perspective: instead of dreading round after round of sauteed squash, perhaps a new recipe will help bring new life to this CSA classic.

 

Garlic Parmesan Yellow Squash Chips

An incredibly flavorful, crispy, and absolutely delicious snack!

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 20 minutes

Total Time 35 minutes

Servings 6 Servings

Author Katerina | Diethood

Ingredients

  • 4 yellow squash (small to medium), sliced into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper , to taste
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • cooking spray (I use Organic Olive Oil by Pam)
  • Serve with Non-Fat Plain Yogurt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450.
  2. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine squash, olive oil, salt and pepper; mix until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine panko crumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, and garlic powder.
  5. Dip slices of squash in cheese mixture and coat on both sides, pressing on the coating to stick.
  6. Place the squash in a single layer on the previously prepared baking sheet.
  7. Lightly spray each slice with cooking spray. This will help with achieving a crunchier texture.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven; gently flip over all the slices, lightly spray with cooking oil and bake for 8 more minutes, or until chips are golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven; transfer to a serving plate and serve with a dollop of Non-Fat Plain Yogurt.

Recipe Source: http://diethood.com/garlic-parmesan-yellow-squash-chips/

 

Summer Squash Succotash

Serves 4 as a side

1 fresh ear of corn, husked
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
12 small pattypan squash, sliced in half or quartered if large (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 baby zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 scallion, diced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the kernels off the corn and place in a bowl. Use the back of your knife to scrape the juices off of the corncob into the same bowl; set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let cook until soft, about 3 minutes, then add the red pepper and continue to cook for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the squash and zucchini, cut-side down (as best you can) and another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes without moving them so they brown on one side. Stir in the chickpeas and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in the corn, corn juices, and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the cherry tomatoes, scallion, and paprika. Stir and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and basil. Season to taste as needed.

Recipe Source: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-summer-squash-succotash-233931

 

Curried Squash Soup

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large summer squash, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Sour cream, freshly cracked black pepper, cilantro sprigs (for serving)

Preparation

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, and curry powder; season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, 8–10 minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until very tender, 25–30 minutes. Purée until smooth. Serve soup warm or chilled, topped with sour cream, cracked pepper, and cilantro sprigs.

Recipe by Allie Lewis

Recipe Source: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/curried-squash-soup

 

The Zen of U-Pick

Consider the quiet solitude of threading through the vines, choosing succulent cherry tomatoes.  Moment to moment, we focus on the different colored fruits,  they almost mesmerize us as we fill our baskets.  There’s a Zen-like, meditative quality to it.  We’ve forgotten the stress of the day or our trip to the farm.  We don’t even realize there are several others doing the same thing among the vines.  It’s that rare time when we leave reality and lose ourselves.

Indigo Cherry Drops on the vine

Indigo Cherry Drops on the vine

This, of course, changes as the season progresses.  Near the end of the season, we wonder if we’ve become part of a B-grade movie, where the vines will slither up and devour us (like Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors”).  Or maybe a collection of mosquitos will gang up and take one of us hostage (I’m imagining a high-pitched squeaky Jimmy Cagney imitation, “no spray or the kid gets it, see?!?”). Then again, maybe spending too much time among the vines triggers such thoughts.

Welcome to U-Pick.  That’s shorthand for “you pick”.  Meaning you (or me) pick the small, numerous cherry tomatoes or string beans.  There are so many and they’re so intertwined in their greenery that it’s more effective if you or I pick the veggie.

Whether you consider U-Pick as meditation or a visit to Hell on Earth, you really want to take the time each week to make the trek into the field.  You see, U-Pick is a very valuable portion of your CSA (half) share.

I’m at home with spreadsheets.  Since I’ve been a CSA member, I’ve kept a spreadsheet measuring each week’s half-share (for me), and then calculating its value.  I published my results in 2015.  I failed to publish for 2016 because I finished the tally late in the season.  Looking back, here’s something I learned in 2016:  I received about $429 of produce for my $300 half-share investment.  Of that $429, $66 was for all the U-Pick cherry tomatoes.  My U-Pick tomatoes were about 15% of my CSA half-share harvest.

(Note:  My numbers are based on buying equivalent produce at my local Meijer’s.  $66 is based on the cost of buying NatureSweet Cherubs.  Retail Price:  $3.99 for a 10oz container.  These were the closest I could find matching the size and variety of cherry tomatoes in the CSA U-Pick.  I also calculate price on a “per ounce” basis where possible.  As always, your mileage may vary.)

So as we’re about to enter the U-Pick part of CSA season, be sure to take the opportunity to fill your pint or quart baskets with tomatoes and beans.  It’s worth your time (besides, you paid for it).  And who knows?  Maybe you’ll discover aliens hiding in that mass of vines hoping you’ll take them to an old Steve Reeves movie.

DG

About thImage_20150822_01e author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Farm Rhythms, with a tangent on keeping cool.

Hi, everybody!
I get to write the blog this week, and I thought I’d share some things I’ve been learning in my second season at the Blandford Farm.
Growing seasons have a rhythm to them, and as I continue to work as a grower, I become increasingly aware of those rhythms. Greens, alliums and brassicas are the first transplants to go in the field. Flea beetles are among the first of the pests to appear. (The holes in your Asian greens, arugula and radish greens were the work of flea beetles.) As we harvest greens, scallions and radishes, we are transplanting peppers, tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini. Soon, we will be harvesting their delicious fruit and transplanting fall crops, such as brussels sprouts and root vegetables which will be ready in their due time.
Then there are weekly rhythms. Mondays are for planning and general farm maintenance, Tuesdays and Thursdays are harvest/market preparation days, Wednesdays and Fridays are market days for Mark, and general farm maintenance days for myself and Aaron. So you’d probably never see us moving animals to a different pasture spot on a Tuesday, and we wouldn’t harvest greens on a Friday.
Last year was my first year at Blandford Farm, and I spent that year getting acquainted with all these seasonal and work patterns. This year, I am taking on more responsibility. I have been handed the baton on CSA communications, and I’m also responsible for our direct seeding schedule. (These are seeds that get planted directly in the ground, instead of started in trays and then transplanted. Some items that we seed directly into the soil are: carrots, beets, radishes, peas, beans and cut greens.)
It’s a different perspective. Instead of being told what to do and when to do it, I am in tune with what needs to happen enough that I can arrive to the farm in the mornings and just start doing what needs to be done. I can see a field full of weeds and know which section needs to be weeded first.
It’s a good feeling. Even though I have much more to learn, I feel like I’m growing as a fledgling farmer.
I’ve also been learning good tips to keep cool while working in the fields, as it has been draining-ly hot lately. My #1 hack for keeping cool on hot days is: don’t work on hot days. …At least not in the hottest part of the day. I’ve been coming in to work earlier than usual and leaving earlier than usual to try and escape as much of the heat as I can. It is much more pleasant to work at 7:00am these days than it is to work at 3:00pm.
Tip #2: Wear a bandana around your neck and keep it cold and wet. This can be achieved by periodically drenching it with a hose. It’s amazing how much cooler I feel when the back of my neck is cool.
Tip #3: Wear a hat with a wide brim. Create your own shade!
Tip #4: Stay hydrated. You’ll sweat more and thus stay cooler.
Tip #5: Wear sandals, not shoes. Your feet can feel the breeze, and you can occasionally put your feet under the hose. It’s very refreshing.
Tip #6: This one is mainly for those who sunburn easily. (And as a redhead, I can tell you that I sunburn easily!) It is easier to wear light, long layers than to apply sunscreen constantly throughout the day. I find that I get just as hot in shorts and tank-tops as I do in long pants and a *light* long sleeved shirt. So I opt for the longer option so I can protect myself from constantly getting sunburned. My farmer’s tan cuts off at the wrists!

Blog Photo

I’m the one in the straw hat, following *most* of my own advice for keeping cool!  The rubber boots were a bad idea. (At least as far as heat goes.)