Thursday, July 26, 2012

People & Planet CSA July 26, 2012

What's in the box 

Early Italian Garlic,  Dark Red Norland Potatoes,  Mara Des Bois strawberries, flowers with Korean Mint and Rosemary, Onions from the Onion Trial this week it's Firenze Torpedo , Zucchini - Romanesco is ribbed, Genovese is light green, Nano Verde di Milano is dark green, and the round one is Tondo.  Pearl White Sweet Corn,  cucumbers - Delicatesse, White Wonder and Poona Kheera, lettuce, and finally French filet green beans.

From a Distance
Gee, I hope next week brings on tomatoes.   More tomorrow, I'm still in the field irrigating and feeding chickens!  Okay it's tomorrow and I'm in for lunch and I thought I'd tell you about the melon trials.

Melon Trials
Melons have always been a big deal to us.  Melons are tricky.  They need a long season, fertile soil and they have to be picked at just the right time.  Then there's the problem of size.  Some of you may remember melons from the past that weighed 27 pounds and took your whole fridge.  Well we're trying to get away from that.  Times have changed and we need to find melons to fit our needs.

Watermelon in the foreground
We are looking for melons that have a long storage season.  When I visited Spain, I ate these melons that had been harvested 3 months before.  No one thought this was a big deal, but I was thunderstruck.  What if I could give you melons for Thanksgiving?  And so began the quest.  And what a quest it was.  While I was in Spain, everyone I asked what kind of melon it was.  They just shrugged their shoulders.  "Melon it's melon," they would tell me.  So I finally came up with some names, Santa Claus Melon, Christmas Melon, Piel de Sapo (Toad skin melon).  Then of course I could only find seed of one type.  Enter the USDA GRIN germplasm.  They kindly sent me many melons from Spain to trial.  So sometime in September, we will begin to get these.
C41 is Iroquois & W32 is Baby Tsubaba
And then there was the watermelons.  Working off a complaint from one of you that the boxes are getting too heavy to lift, we began to give this some serious thought.  Okay guys you only have to lift one, I have to lift 20 of them, but I get it.  I see your point.  One watermelon takes up your whole fridge.  My poor farm fridge has to make sleeping quarters for all of them.  Clearly we need some smaller watermelons.  It would also be great if we could get watermelons a few weeks in a row.  For years we have grown Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet, because that's all we could find.  Which means first we get all the Sugar Babies and then a couple of weeks later the Crimson Sweet and boom it's over.  No more watermelons.

Ideally, I'd like to have 3 to 5 varieties that begin in August and continued till September.  I'd like them to weigh about 15 pounds.  That's a big enough melon for a family, except for Zack, who's a melon hog.  We'd like them to be sweet and juicy and not so thin fleshed as to not be able to get them to you.
One of the issues we've had trialing melons is that they are a vine and start growing together, and pretty soon, you don't know what you're looking at.  So this year we hit on a scheme.  First we planted a melon and then we planted a watermelon or squash.  In this way,  even though we could NOT prevent them from tangling up together (by the time we go to harvest the above bed, the melons will have covered the plastic and moved on to devouring all real estate in it's neighborhood, sort of like strip malls) we'll know when a watermelon is interwoven with a regular melon because the vines are different.  This is much easier than trying to untangle 2 kinds of watermelon!

Okay, I think I can tell the difference between a Baby Tsubaba and an Iroquois.  Just kidding, there are no square melons in the trial.  But suffice it to say, I can tell a watermelon from a regular melon.  I can't tell you what a Tsubaba looks like because I've never grown it.  The melons came to me in a package from a grower in Northern California named Castanea.  Along with these, he sent me some seeds for yellow skinned watermelon.  He gave me no more information than that.

Why yellow?  Well, when they're yellow, they're ripe.  No more guessing!  It's a funny thing, when I announce that I'm going to do a trial, other farmers send me seeds too.  And many thanks to everyone who sent seed.

Last year's melons
Here's some of the watermelons we'll be looking at:

Asahi Miyanko Ibrido
Winter King & Queen
Pure Gold
Grover Delaney (an old favorite!)
Sugar Baby
Dixie Queen
White Wonder
Cream of Saskatchewan
Golden Midget
Golden Honey Cream
New Hampshire Midget
Sugar Bush
Will's Sugar

It's quite a list.  So get your melon recipes ready.  I received one from a CSA member that I'll put up as soon as we see a ripe melon.

A few more melons from last year
Here's some of the regular melons we'll be trialing:
Eden Gem
Golden Honeymoon Honeydew
Bidwell Casaba (the huge one)
Rampicante Zuccherino
Tendral Valenciano
Verde Noel
Golden Jenny
Rugos de Cosenza
Melone Invernale
Farthest North Mix
Hales Best
Long Island Exotic
Sweet Freckles
Toto el Ano
Collective Farm Woman
Verde De Invierno
Long Island Late

Over the weekend Leo and I trialed all the Zukes.  Our favorite remains the Romanesco, the ribbed one.  I wanted to dislike the Tondo.  Wrong Shape!  Wrong Shape!  Not like the others.  But it was surprisingly good BBQ'ued.  I cut it in half and cooked first cut side down and then flipped it, gave it a light dusting of herbs and salt and let it Que skin side down.  When we ate it, we didn't eat the skin.  It was yummy.  It's such a puny bush.  The first 2 died!  So my prejudice aside, go ahead and eat them.

Have a nice week.  This weekend I will start seeds for fall.  Isn't that scary?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SCVWD CSA July 25, 2012

Serpente de Sicily

What's in the box 

Early Italian Garlic,  Dark Red Norland Potatoes,  Mara Des Bois strawberries, flowers, Onions from the Onion Trial this week it's Firenze Torpedo , Zucchini - Romanesco is ribbed, Genovese is light green, Nano Verde di Milano is dark green, and the round one is Tondo.   Tomatillos, an anaheim and a few tomatoes - I'm calling it the salsa special.   Luscious White Sweet Corn,  cucumbers - Delicatesse, White Wonder & Poona Kheera, and finally  carrots out of the carrot trial - Long Red Blunt.
This week's special gift - Plum jam or Strawberry scones.  You got one or the other, except for one lucky CSA member who was kind enough to go to the feed store for me, so she got both.  Thank you.

Long Red Blunt Carrot  

Carrot Trial
We planted a full alphabet of carrots.  Carrots have been hard to find due to the issues with CMS.  What are we looking for?  We are looking for carrots to eat fresh, to juice and to dehydrate.  For years we loved a carrot called Oxheart, but then it just disappeared.  One of the interesting things about carrots are they are outbreeders.  So, you need at least forty carrots going to seed (not eaten by gophers) to keep a variety alive.  Plus you must constantly get rid of the weak and only save the strong which in the plant world is called roguing.  Oxheart is the story of a carrot poorly maintained.  Alas it's like the Dodo now and we can't find seed for love nor money.  So we are on the hunt for a few perfect carrots.  I think these ones are very sweet but without much carrot flavor.  However they might be a perfect bride for another carrot, so that we can keep the diversity going.

It's been a crazy week here at the farm and another late night followed by an extra early morning.   So this will be short.   See you next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

People and Planet CSA July 19, 2012

What's in the box 

Early Italian Garlic,  Dark Red Norland Potatoes,  Mara Des Bois strawberries, a little vase of basil, Onions from the Onion Trial this week it's Firenze Torpedo & Colorado de Conservar, Beurre de Rocquencourt green beans- last of and the first of the French Filets, first Zucchini of the Season - Romanesco is ribbed, Genovese is light green, Nano Verde di Milano is dark green, tomatillos,  Luscious White Sweet Corn, a few tomatoes (what are they doing?), one lowly bell pepper, cucumbers - Delicatesse, White Wonder & Poona Kheera, and finally first carrots out of the carrot trial - Marketgartener.

On Farm Research or what's with all these Trials?

One of the problems with being an organic farmer is that good seed is hard to find.  When you look through the catalogs, it's as if 90% of the seed companies got together and said,  okay watermelon, let's give them Sugar Baby.  A lot of good varieties for organic farmers has just disappeared.  Some of these seeds companies have been bought up by Monsanto, and the seed is just not offered anymore.  Every year it takes me longer and longer to find seeds for the next year.  Two years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands and start hunting seeds, trialing them and sending them along to other farmers.

Onion Trial
So what have we learned?  

1.  Saving seed is hard work.  Make no mistake about that.  We are lucky that the USDA GRIN began saving seeds when they did or some of these varieties would have been lost to memory.  There are seed saving organizations that do what they can with limited funds to keep seeds going.  There are VERY few people working on open pollinated seed for organic or organique farmers.  I myself have been very lucky to have the help of Dr. Carol Deppe, Dr. Alan Kapuler,  Joseph of Utah, the Good folks of Long Island Seed Company, Alan Bishop, Dr. Craig Kolodge, and here the list could get longer, but thanks to our ancestors who saved seed in the first place.

2.  Just because it's an "heirloom seed" does not mean it will grow here.  Some heirloom seeds come without any disease resistance and have low yields.  Some of these seeds just need love.  We need to grow them, rogue them - throw out the sickly, and grow them again.  Some are just not suited to our climate and there's no one to tell me which ones will be the future of the farm.

3. Some seed has just become too inbred, and needs to get out in the world and mix-it up a little.

4.  There are seeds that do not meet my standards.  I eat everything that you eat and more.  I don't like soapy carrots, bitter squash or cukes.  I think melons should be sweet and apples should not taste mealy.  I think veges and fruits should keep for as long as possible, without refrigeration.

Carrot Trial
This year at the farm we continue to trial:

What are we looking for?

Ultimately we are looking for a combination of saladette (small tomatoes), beefsteaks and cherries, various colors, with various ripening times, some early, some late that:
1.  Can be packed.  If I can't get them to you, there's no point in growing them.
2.  Flavor, Flavor, Flavor!  A good tomato should make you eat them till your mouth is blistered, and then you go look for more.  Or I should get fan mail like this:  "My kid stands on a chair and eats all the strawberries in the fridge.  I have to hide them." 
3.  Ought to be able to sit on the counter for a week without becoming mushy or nasty tasting.
4.  Disease free vines.  
From the last 3 years, we have found 3 tomatoes that are raved about by you folks:  Sungold - a yellow cherry, Cherokee Green - it's green!, and Herman's Special.  As the season goes on I can't wait to see what you select from this year.  Naturally, I have another 20 for next year, until all dozen variety spots are filled.
Nanook inspects the TPS
This year's tomatoes:  Giannini, Dona - an old favorite of Leo's, Black Cherry, Juan Flamme, Sungold, Joe's Early, Santa Ana, Thessaloniki, Burning Spear, Mama Leone, Danko, Tennessee Britches (Leo thought that tag said 10 bitches), Milka's Red, Rose de Berne, Me Tarzan, St. Columbe, Green Zebra Cherry, and Herman's Special.  
As the tomatoes really start to come in, I'll label them so that you can vote for your favorites.  This week I saw the first ripe tomatoes, late I think for tomatoes.  Each year we'll keep a favorite and trial some new ones.  One of the things this does for our small farm is that it protects us from loss.  If some bug finds that Herman's Special is just too special, we will not lose all the tomatoes.  If we have a sudden hail, we may lose the early tomatoes, but should be able to still get late tomatoes.

Ashworth Corn being made into Chicos
Okay, so every year I plant Dark Red Norland and Yukon Gold.  Over the years, the amount of potatoes is dwindling.  We plant more and harvest less.  This bodes not well.  Not all of the problem is gophers.  Potatoes are a clone, so we keep planting the clone and it's falling by the wayside, getting weaker.  So this year, we have TPS, True Potato Seed.  The flowers on these will set more seed, crossing with other flowers and we'll get a number of original potatoes.  There may even be some orange ones.  (One of the potatoes was called Orang-atang).  We received seed from Joseph in Utah, Jaap in France and we also bought some from Atash & Tater Mater.  As I started to talk about this problem, other farmers started sending me seeds.  Now we can have seeds and clones. And the potatoes will keep evolving with the bugs.  Now if we could just get the gophers to leave them alone!
Well what was wrong with our onions?  We've always had good onions.  CMS, Cytoplasmic male sterility is total or partial male sterility associated with plant biology.  It is the failure of the plants to produce functional anthers, pollen  or male gamete.  In other words, I can't save the seed.  To think that some brilliant seed person decided to do this, just boggles my mind.  This is one of the biggest challenges we are having to overcome.  Good farmers and the USDA have sent me seed from all over and we are hunting good flavorful storage onions.  You won't see many onions this year, as most of them will be going into seed production.  But there will be leeks!  We have have already sent many varieties of seed to the North and South where they might help other farmers as well.
Okay, so more on this next week. As we delve into the mind of the farmer.  And as this squash is trying to wish you,  blessings on all your little pointed heads this week. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Run Rabbit Run

This beautiful rabbit drawing was created by one of our CSA members.  She has an Etsy Shop (Kleja).  The rabbit is of course our unofficial  farm mascot.  This is the 3rd rabbit that I have received, not counting the ones that Leo rescued and brought home to me...but those were live bunnies.

There's the iron rabbit from Nicole in France.  Who Leo calls "Lapin en Garde". 

And my friend Michelle sent over a stone rabbit, fondly named "Rokataan Janis" (let's rock rabbit, in Finnish).   Please do not e-mail me about the umlauts, I'm a poor farmer and can't afford them.

Run rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is down
Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one...

With the heatwave I am running.  Yes there are holes to dig and artichokes to plant, but alas I think it's nap time.  I'm going to just snuggle in my burrow.

Thank you Klay. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

SCVWD - CSA July 11, 2012


What's in the box 

Early Italian Garlic,  Dark Red Norland Potatoes, Last of the  Beets,   Mara Des Bois strawberries, a little vase of basil, First of the Spring Onions from the Onion Trial, Beurre de Rocquencourt green beans, first Zucchini of the Season - Romanesco is ribbed, Genovese is light green, Nano Verde di Milano is dark green, first of the Tomatillos, and the First Corn - Ashworth Sweet corn

This week's special gift - Strawberry Ginger Marmalade (Let me know what you think).

Ashworth Sweet Corn
According to FEDCO Seeds, Fred Ashworth of St. Lawrence Nurseries originally named his variety "'Rat Selected' in honor of the rodents who broke into his seed storage room and alerted him to certain kernels that they preferred."  So my buddy Joseph, also known as St. Joe the farmer of Paradise, crossed this corn with another sweet corn and sent me this seed.  This is the first open pollinated sweet corn we have every tried at the farm.  As this is an OP corn, we can save the seeds.   It does however have one drawback, you need to use it right away.  The sugars will start to convert to starch quickly, so gobble it up.  

Great Zukes it's a Romanesco!
This is a Foothill Farm Landrace.  About 20 years ago we planted a Purple de Milpa tomatillo.  Then about 5 years ago we planted a Cisneros Grande Tomatillo.  The two crossed, re-crossed and basically now we have a Purple Grande or a Cisneros de Milpa.  As the season goes on, we should have a lot more of these, enough to make your favorite verde recipes.   When we have just a few, I make Mexican Pizza, or toss them into salad.

Testing Sweet Corn, right after this I feel off the bricks  Thirsty - in a few weeks we'll have enough to try these.
Maria Verde
1 lb. of Tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 a Seedless Cucumber (peeling the cucumber is optional)
2 Tablespoons of Grated Horseradish
1/4 Teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon of Green Hot Sauce
The Juice of Half a Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon of Celery Salt
1/4 Teaspoon of Salt
1/4 Teaspoon of Pepper
8 oz. Vodka
Tajin Spice Blend for the rim (It is a peppery-limey-salty spice that is way better than just regular salt or celery salt on the rim.)
Eclipse Calif

Roughly chop the cucumber and tomatillos. Add the chopped tomatillos, chopped cucumber, horseradish, worcestershire, hot sauce, lemon juice, celery salt, salt, pepper, and vodka to a blender. Puree until completely liquified. Rim the glasses with Tajin spice and a slice of lemon or lime. Add a few cubes of ice to some glasses. Pour and enjoy!
Mexican Pizza with Corn, Tomatillos, and Chipotle Chiles
Adapted from Everyday Greens
Serves 4-6
Spanish Torpedo
By all means, make your own pizza dough if you have the time.  Substitute 1 cup of cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup of Monterey jack cheese mixed together for the Cotija if you prefer.  You can make this pizza with a pizza pan or even a cookie sheet instead of a stone.

One recipe Pizza Dough
1 1/2 tbsp. Chipotle Puree
1 large red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1/4 pound tomatillos, husked, and chopped into small pieces
2 ears of corn, shaved, about 2 cups of kernels
3/4 cup canned black beans, drained
Fine cornmeal for dusting
1 1/2 cups crumbled cotija cheese
1/2 a large avocado, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat it to 500°F. 
Season the tomatillos with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and add the onions.  Cook until tender and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  Add a little more oil to the pan followed by the corn.  Season the corn with salt and pepper and cook until tender, 3-5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
Cal Early Red
Roll out the pizza dough and place it on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the dough.  Spoon a little (or a lot!) of purée over the dough followed by a thin layer of cheese.  Next add the corn, onions, tomatillos, black beans, and the remaining cheese.
Bake the pizza in the oven until the crust is golden and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, lay the avocado slices on top and sprinkle with cilantro.

ugh.  Spoon a little (or a lot!) of purée over the dough followed by a thin layer of cheese.  Next add the corn, onions, tomatillos, black beans, and the remaining cheese. Bake the pizza in the oven until the crust is golden and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, lay the avocado slices on top and sprinkle with cilantro

Want more?  Go here  Top 10 Tomatillo recipes.
The beautiful Carrot Trial.  The Giant White flowers are the future of our carrots.

What's Coming?
Cucumbers!  I saw them this morning, peaking out from under their vines  and carrots from the carrot trial.  Prepare to be amazed!  Over the 4th all of the melons finally got planted.  All 320 of them!   Leo and I were dropping by the end of the week.  Finally we will get to the bottom of great melons, with a little help from you guys.  We also planted more beans and more corn, more lettuce, NZ Spinach and and and.  If this weather holds, looks like we'll have you all with us till Thanksgiving.  Have a great week.