Liz’s Farm Memories… So Far

This week’s blog post is brought to you by: Liz!

Hello!

To those of you who haven’t met me, I am a current employee of the Blandford Farm: signed on through October! *Applause*

I am still learning a lot about the plants I help to grow, and how to maintain a farm. I want to have my own farm one day, but I still have a lot to learn. So instead of sharing a specific piece of knowledge, I am going to share a few snapshots of what it’s been like for me to work here this season.

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The sweet acidic taste of a cherry tomato still warm from the sun explodes in my mouth as a line of sweat drips down my back.  It’s been collecting in little droplets between my shoulder blades for the last half hour.  A slight breeze feels delicious, if only for a few seconds. Somewhere ahead of me in the tomato jungle, a work-share is harvesting, too.  I wonder if we’ll be able to sell all these tomatoes at the market tomorrow?

* * * * *

When Aaron told me that I’d be taking the newly fashioned, air-conditioned-cooler-trailer to market for the first time, I was a little worried. Because that meant backing up the newly fashioned, air-conditioned-cooler-trailer. But I figured I’d just tie on my Rosie-the Riveter bandanna, roll up my sleeves and get to it. I had practiced a bit at the farm (backing up near the barn), and when I got to the market, everything went smoothly and without a hitch. (See what I did there? Hitch! …hitch, trailer…yeah…never mind.)

At any rate I’m only kidding.  I made a complete mess of it. A neighboring vendor or two kindly came running over to offer assistance, while the others quietly took bets on how long I’d take to get it right. I can’t prove that last statement. But if I were them, that’s what I’d be doing.  It took me what felt like an eternity, amidst shouts of friendly and conflicting advice, but I finally, FINALLY got it.

Now, a few months later, I’m happy to report that I’ve been told “Wow, you’ve really gotten better with that thing, we hardly notice when you get here anymore!” I think she was the one taking bets. J

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Walking into the greenhouse at the beginning of the season is magical. It’s warm, and smells earthy and rich in a way that the frigid outdoors doesn’t.  I soon shed my outer layers as we begin to seed. We end the day with scallions.  Which, for those of you who have never seeded scallions, means counting to 14. A lot. It’s meditative, quiet, work. Quiet, because counting to 14 again and again is hard to do while carrying on a conversation. It takes a long time, but I don’t mind.  There are worse ways to spend a Monday.

* * * * *

There are so many more memories that I could share, but I’m afraid I’ve made this too long already.  Thanks for reading!

Cheers.

What are all these tomatoes?

This week I will do my annual explanation of all the tomato varieties we get in the shares each week. Now that the later varieties are starting to produce we are starting to see a lot of different tomatoes. Some you may never have seen before, there are new ones for me as well. This year we have almost 30 different tomato varieties. Some I use just for the greenhouse, some are cherry tomatoes, some are heirlooms, and others are the classic red hybrids. We will take a brief look at each one and see how the seed company describes each. I get almost all my tomatoes from either Fedco or Johnny’s. I’ll attach pictures for some, but some are easy enough to describe.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Brandywine – These have always been a classic heirloom and some say they are what made heirloom tomatoes popular. They are usually one of my top picks each year. They are pink colored and have a  “Meaty with just the perfect hint of tartness” flavor.


greenzebraGreen Zebra – 
I also consider this tomato on of my automatic picks each season. They are smaller tomatoes that are yellowish with green stripes. They are a good reliable tomato with good sweet flavor.

 

Aunt Ruby’s Green – These are also a green tomato and each year we always pass by them until we realize we are missing this variety. They can be hard to find since they stay green. The key to knowing when they are ripe is when they show a yellowish and pinkish blush on the bottom. It can have some fruit quality problems, but it is the best tasting green tomato I’ve tried so it sticks around,

Purden’s Purple – I tried this for the first time last year and I asked my self then and now why I grow it. Not because it tastes bad or that it does not produce well, but it is one of four pink tomatoes I grow. When I try it I am reminded that I like it because the taste is just as good as brandywine and it ripens a little earlier. The skin in a little darker than the pink brandywines, but they do look similar. The flesh tastes sweet and has a nice silky texture.

blackkrimBlack Krim – This is my replacement for the popular cherokee purple tomato. They are both the dark tomatoes, but I like these a little better. However, both has very little shelf life. Fortunately this year the fruit quality on them are pretty good, but we’ve still have several that ripened a little too much in the field and went bad very quickly. I really like the taste and the seed catalog says they  have a “juicy yet meaty taste and texture, described as having “…a smoky flavor like a good single malt scotch””

Red Zebra – These are new to the farm. I had seen them before, but haven’t grown them here. I mainly like them for their look. The are red with yellow stripes down the sides. They are a little smaller than green zebra, but all you need is one for a sandwich.

0979-hillbilly-potato-leaf-tomato.jpgHillbilly – I am also trying this variety for the first time this year. I had looked up what heirloom varieties were the most popular or most liked and this was one of them. I hadn’t ever grown it so I thought it would be worth a try. They are similar to the striped german that I have grown in the past. They seem a little earlier and to have better fruit production and quality so far. They are yellow with red on the bottom.

Pineapple – Another favorite that I found was this one. It however, looks just like hillbilly and striped german. We’ll have to see what does better then I’ll take that one as a replacement for spriped german.

Jubilee – I have been looking for a nice plain orange tomato for a while. I was growing one called goldie, but it didn’t seem to produce nice fruit consistently. However, I’ve been very pleased with this one. The fruit has looked great and the plants look nice and healthy. However, I have not tasted them yet so they could just taste awful, I doubt it though. The seed company describes it as sprightly.

Great White – greatwhite.jpgThis is so far the best white tomato I’ve been able to find so far. There are things I don’t like about it, but it is pretty as it ripens. It has nice red streaks that come up from the bottom of the fruit. I like to have white tomatoes around because they are typically low acid, which this is a great example of. It has a nice smooth low acid flavor

Hybrids

Hybrids are a specific cross between two different varieties to get a tomato with particular traits that people want. Typically the traits that comercial tomato growers want is productivity, high fruit quality, and long shelf life. Selecting for these traits can often result in the flavor being sacrificed. However, there is a new mevement of breeders trying to have hybrid quality fruit mixed with heirloom flavor. I tried a few this year and they are pretty good, not quite as good as some heirlooms, but still pretty good. I’ll skip some and only mention the name of other because they are boring red hybrids I grow mainly for their reliability.

tiedye.jpg Pink Berkely Tie Dye – These are one of the new hybrids bred for flavor that I have tried this year. They do have nice flavor and are much better than some of my other hybrids. They also look pretty cool. The plants are not as vigorous as others, but the fruit quality is often better than other heirlooms. I’d say this one will be a keeper for next year.

 

Brandy Boy – Another pink tomato. They are great tasting and being a hybrid they are great producing tomatoes. Even though they look very similar to brandywine I love being able to rely on them to produce a nice crop.

Marbonne – These are a red hybrid, but they have some ridges on the top that look kind of cool. They taste pretty good and I’ve been impressed with how well they are doing in the field now that they are producing. It did take them a little longer than others, but I think we’ll have a decent crop now.

Defient – A small red hybrid that is great for a single sandwich or for salads.

Cherry Tomatoes

Sungold – Orange cherry tomatoes that almost every year are my favorite.

Whitecherry – These are nice little white cherries that are low acid. They don’t produce a ton, but they are nice to have around

Black Cherry – These look similar to the black krim. They are a little bigger than some of the other cherries and they have a flavor that is a little deeper than some of the cherries that are just sweet.

Sunrise and Purple Bumble Bee – These are two different cherry tomatoes that are fairly new. They are both striped and slightly oval shaped. They have a pretty good flavor, but I mainly like them for the way they look.

Pink Princess – This might get close to my favorite cherry tomato. It is sweet like the sun gold, but have a little more depth to the flavor. They are nice little pink tomatoes, but they seem to split a little easier.

Jasper – These are a productive and sweet red cherry tomato. They are a little small for my liking, but the plants are super vigorous and productive.

indigo.jpgIndigo Cherry Drops – These are really pretty. They start out purple color, but when they ripen they blush red. Make sure you look for them. They are pretty tasty as well.

Yellow Pear – Yellow oval/pear shaped tomatoes. I like the color and the shape, but sometimes the fruit will split a little along the top. I have not found one better yet so we get to stick with this one.

 

 

Nice melons and cucs

Even though we had some of the early summer and early July crops looking as well due to the weather and bugs our mid summer crops are looking great. Mainly the crops that are ripening up right now. I was not expecting our melons to be ready yet, it is 2-3 weeks earlier than other years and the cucumber patch we have in the field is the best cucumber patch I think we’ve had here. This is why is is so nice to grow a diversity of crops.

After a couple years of decent cucumber patches I tried growing some in the greenhouse and thought the productivity and fruit quality was great compared to the field. This year I planned to grow the majority of my cucumbers in the greenhouse, but this year the field cucumbers are doing better than the early greenhouse cucumbers. I can only attribute that to the weather we’ve had. It has been hot, they have been getting plenty of rain lately, and  I am not seeing quite as many cucumber beetles as other years. All great things for the cucumbers.

The melons are another crop that look great. I was really surprised last Friday when we cut one open and it was ripe already. I don’t remember ever having ripe melons in July. The plants also look really healthy yet so this might be just the beginning of a great melon year. They also taste great by the way.

As I said, the best part of growing a large diverse set of vegetables is that every year you’ll have some crops that don’t do well and some that does exceptionally well. It has been a few years that we’ve been this hot so it has been different and at times difficult, but with how nice many of the summer fruit crops are doing it really isn’t a bad season. It’s just different.

The amazing working shares

Last year I wanted to try something that I had seen on other farms, but hadn’t tried for the Blandford CSA. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go, but it has been great. Our working shares have been a great help on the farm and I’ve been very appreciative of their help and company.

For the last two seasons we’ve had between 5 and 10 people sign up to do a working share. I encourage people to work either 2 or 4 hours a week during the CSA season. I haven’t had anyone opt for more, but it is possible if someone wanted to put in longer shifts for a bigger discount. I leave the jobs that people do fairly open due to different interests or capabilities. My hope is that each person can find something that they would enjoy and feel comfortable doing while helping do an important job.

There are people who like to come out and just weed for a couple hours. I’ve offered other jobs to mix it up, but that is all they want to do and I don’t complain. Some people help with harvesting, some help with washing the produce, some help with seeding and potting up in the greenhouse, and some come and we put them to work doing whatever we happen to be doing at the time.

It is great to have consistent volunteers every week. Sometime when we get a random volunteer it takes a while to get them set up and for them to become familiar with what we have going one. When we have people who are able to come out every week and pick up right where they left off it really does make a big difference. It also helps our moral when we were working alone or when we get a new person to talk to after long days on the farm. There are times when it is nice to work alone, but it is generally good to have someone else around to be able to talk to and you feel empowered to keep going to get the jobs done. It makes the job less daunting.

I was thinking the other day about how many people it takes to make the farm work. With the addition of the working shares we are able to cut down the number of people who we need to hire. With just 5 people working around 4 hours a week that equals one part time person on the farm.

I hope that the working shares also help people feel more apart of the farm and the farm community. If you’ve never been to a farm you can learn a lot about how the food is grown here. You can also get to know the people who grow your food and how we do things.

So thank you to all you working shares that have helped out on the farm. Your help really does help out a lot. I know last year and this year the onions would not have been as weeded and big,

Trying some new tools

Every season I like to try some new tools for the field to improve life on the farm in some way. This year I bought a new tool and I’ve borrowed a couple to try out before investing in them. So far I have mixed reviews on everything, which is half the fun of trying new things.

The tool that I purchased for the farm is called a tine rake. I’d looked at tine weeders that 7408_2_go behind the tractor before, but I found one that is a hand tool. The great thing about tine weeders is that you can drag it over small plants or transplants that you just put in and it won’t pull them out. The weeder will pull out all the small baby weeds. I used this tool over the onions and leeks a couple times and it is really nice for running through a bed quickly. It is an odd feeling to be able to drag the rake blindly over your entire bed and not worry about pulling out good plants. The drawback to this tool is that you have to time when you go through just right or you’ll be too late and the weeds will be too big or if you are too early you may pull out the plants you want. It was worth the 30 dollars I spent on it, but I haven’t been able to use it lately as we have fallen behind on everything and haven’t been able to use this tool in time.

The next tool I tried was one that I borrowed from another farm for the potatoes. It is a HILLER-BEDDER-CULTIVATOR-TILLER-IMPLEMENT-ATTACHMENT-3PT-1-ROW-CROP-SET-A-PIC-2-500-PIXEL-WHITE_thumbhiller that goes behind the tractor. You can pull it behind the tractor and hill up the soil around the plants. This can help reduce weeds and potatoes produce better when hilled up. I think we had a little bit of bad luck with the rain since we’ve planted the potatoes because they are not growing as well as I would like. This has made the weeds growing right next to the potatoes grow better. With the potato plants being smaller the hiller didn’t work as well as I hoped. This tool does have potential, but again the timing has to be right for it to work well. I am not sure if I would buy my own or just keep borrowing it when I need it. The jury is still out on this one.

The final tool I tried out is a subsoiler. I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a while and 155712776_new-fred-cain-1-sk-subsoiler-3-point-free-ship-1000-miI finally found one to borrow. This tool is used to break up the soil deep into the ground. Most implements only work the top 6 inches of soil. which after a while can create a layer of hard soil where the deepest implement can penetrate. This tool will break that up allowing plants to easily drop their roots down deeper. I also helps with drainage problems by letting the water go deeper into the ground easier. I have used it on a few areas this past month so I cannot say if it has been helpful or not. I will borrow it again in a month or two when I am cleaning out the onion field because that area is a little compact and holds too much water. I hope that next year that part of the field will look a lot better after using this tool. They are not too expensive so if I like what I see I should just buy one.

These are the fun new tools I’ve been able to try. There are many more that I’d like to try some day, but they are either hard to borrow or just too expensive at the moment. I do hope to invest in more tools in the future as they help reduce labor costs and can improve soil and life in general on the farm.

A Food Journey: My Father’s Day Gift

Last season I wrestled with storing my Blandford Farm CSA bounty for later use.  After overflowing our refrigerator, I started using a room in our basement.  It was a hit or miss affair.  I had to come up with a storage scheme.  And I tended to forget I had food in the basement.  I’m still getting used to having a basement – they were rare in Texas.

Are potatoes aliens in disguise?

Our winter CSA potatoes started taking on lives of their own:

 

 

 

My greyhounds came to the rescue.  I still don’t understand how dogs suddenly develop opposable thumbs, but who am I to question?

Father's Day card from Duncan and Gigi. (Original is off-center.)

For Father’s Day, they gave me a harvest storage rack from Gardener’s Supply.  Some assembly required, of course.

Orchard Rack...Some assembly required.

After about a half hour of effort (and absolutely no swearing), I was successful.  New veggie storage rack, assembled.

Now I need to work on balancing the environment in my basement.  The  temperature is about 68 degrees with 77% humidity (as of this writing).  Things are cooler in the winter.  While the storage rack is in a room without a window, the adjoining room has plenty of sunlight which clearly beckons growth.  I’m thinking of covering the rack with a dark cloth.  I’d rather not add a door to the room.

Did some background reading about storing foods in the basement.  What I could glean from the MSU Extension  wasn’t encouraging.  It made reference to another document, Storing Vegetables at Home.  Both advocate a much lower temperature (just above freezing) for storing root veggies.  In my basement, that’s not happening.  Even the instructions that came with the storage rack suggest colder temperatures.

Does this mean I’m doomed?  No, I don’t think so.  I’ve learned I don’t fully understand a topic until I start implementing it.  CSA membership has started to make me aware of many issues to fully understand and appreciate eating local.  I think storing veggies is another of those issues.  Besides, my greyhounds would be disappointed if I didn’t use their gift.

Actually, I can draw on my years living in Texas.  Like I said, basements are rare.  I did have a pantry in my kitchen…well, more like a tall cupboard with a door.  I’d store onions and potatoes in it.  They would last a month or so before going wild.  The pantry was quite dark.  Temperatures in the kitchen were typically in the upper 70s.  In fact, it was difficult to keep the house temperature below 80 during the nasty summer months.

And a couple of other web sites here and here give me hope that some root veggies can be stored at more reasonable temperatures.  All is not lost.

This has gotten me to thinking about a few side issues for eating local, being a member of a CSA, and trying to store (root) vegetables.  I’ve established I live in a house with a basement, but what about:

  • If one lives in an apartment? How do they store veggies for an extended period without basement or spare closet?  Are they at a disadvantage?
  • How about retirees? I know I’ll be downsizing in a few years as I age.  I see an apartment or condo in my future (presuming there’s room for my greyhounds).  Will I have the problem of storing veggies off season?

When potatoes go bad…

I guess I’ll content myself with having a new storage rack and focusing on the environment of my basement.  Hopefully, I can avoid close encounters of the ‘tater kind:

 

And if you’re curious, the catalog name for my gift is the “Orchard Rack, 6 Drawer” from Gardener’s Supply:  http://www.gardeners.com/home.  Cheers!

About 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.

 

The Transitional Period

The era of Salad Season is now coming to an end. With the days continuing to get hot and we move into July we won’t being seeing so much lettuce and other salad ingredients in the share. It is also the end of all those flea beetle riddled Asian greens.Before we enter into the next big seasonal era of vegetables – the summer fruit crops of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and eggplant – we have a few weeks of transition.

This year the weather has played a role in ushering out the spring seasonal crops earlier. I could see the lettuce, Asian greens, spinach, and cilantro really struggle towards the end because we’ve had so many 90 degree days. Many of these crops will start to flower much sooner resulting in smaller yields and they can taste not as good from the heat. This makes this transitional period feel a little different because not all of the summer crops are here yet. I’ve been worried that we are going to have a couple small weeks of shares, but this week isn’t too bad.

The shares actually shouldn’t get too small because  some of the crops we are starting to see this week are ready sooner than other years due to the fact they grow better when it is hot. For example, we picked just a quart or two of the field cherry tomatoes today, which must be the earliest we’ve ever picked them before. So expect u-pick cherry tomatoes to start in a couple weeks.

A couple of other crops we will see during this transitional month into the summer fruits are cabbage, carrots, beets, and I hope broccoli. I say I hope for broccoli because I had such grand plans to have a bumper crop of broccoli, but it is a crop that does not like hot dry weather. It also needs to be planted in a highly fertile spot. Unfortunately, it has been hot, dry, and they are not in the best spot. So I’ve seen a lot of small heads forming. Let’s hope they will size up.

Eating seasonally is one of the best reasons for joining a CSA. You get to experience what eating seasonally really is like. Each season you get excited by the new crops that are coming in then as you begin to see them each week they become boring and you wait for the next big exciting thing. This is how we’ve eaten through most of history so it just feels good to eat this way and experience it first hand.