Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fall planting

The past two days have felt fall-like... cool nights and mornings, crisp mid-day sun. These late days of August are trying to tell us that it's time to get those last fall crops in the ground.

In July we tried broccoli and cabbage again (I say "tried" because we didn't have much success earlier this season and are crossing our fingers with this planting). We sowed our fall root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, radish) by the first week of August, and have been succession sowing hardier greens every two weeks since then so we have a constant supply through November. These hardier greens include arugula, spinach, tatsoi cabbage, mustards, kale, bok choy and tendergreen. And we still have lettuce in the rotation.

We're also sowing buckwheat, a fast-growing smother crop, in three beds that will be used for garlic planting in October. Getting our hands on "seed" garlic has been tough, only because it is so expensive from many sources (e.g., 2 pounds for $39!). We'll try planting some of the garlic we've bought at local farmer's markets, and might just put in that expensive order, because garlic is just too good not to grow your own.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garden party 2011

Thank you to all of our neighbors who joined us for an evening in the garden!

The weather was beautiful and we had an amazing group of people come out to see Longhaul Farm's progress, to hear about our plans and practices, and to enjoy some farm fresh hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. It is really special to see the community gather and get excited about a project that is so simple and sustainable. We were able to give a brief talk and tour, and announced our 2012 CSA and driveway farm stand plans. And we also learned a few tricks from fellow gardeners who attended.

Thanks again for such a strong gathering and relaxed, pleasant evening!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Preserving: Canning tomatoes and tomato sauce

Alas, more preserving. This is a good thing for our vegetable-starved mouths in February, but a tiring thing in mid-August at the height of tomato harvesting.

Processed Bellstar and Yellow shorts.
We have tomatoes coming out of our ears. Every couple of days we have about 30 pounds of "canning" tomatoes. We planted Bellstar paste/roma tomatoes - not so flavorful tomatoes that are firm and less watery than most, so good for making sauce and canning. We also have a lot of Yellow short tomatoes - not-so-firm, but sweet and flavorful, so we hope pair nicely in the jar with some Bellstars.

We process 7 quarts of canned tomatoes at a time, which pretty much requires 20-30 pounds of tomatoes, depending on size and water-content. I peel the skins off of the tomatoes (after dropping them in boiling water for about 30 seconds), cut out the stem and any bad spots, and then stuff them into sterilized jars. It's important to mash the tomatoes down with a clean wooden or plastic utensil to remove the air pockets. I pour in a bit of lemon juice once the jar is full (to add more acid which helps canned vegetables preserve longer) and then process the jars for 45 minutes in a boiling water bath. We have about 30 quarts of tomatoes right now... more than we use in a typical year, but this will not be a typical year, so we'll see.

We have also been making heirloom tomato sauce and then processing the jars in the same manner. After cooking down carrots, onions and celery from the garden to release their sweetness, we add some red wine and oregano, then garlic, salt and pounds and pounds of roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes. The sauce simmers for about 3-4 hours and then we blend it with an immersion blender and process it. So there's more work up front, but there will be less work once we open the jar this winter.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cover cropping

Now that we've reached 30 vegetable beds and the end of the summer growing season, we are filling any bare or newly dug soil with cover crops.

Sowing wheat+vetch in Argentina
Cover crops are plants grown in order to improve the quality of soils, provide green manure which can be used as mulch or composted for natural fertilizer, provide food for animals, suppress weed competition and help naturally protect against plant diseases and pests. On a small farm that aims to be self-sufficient, cover crops are essential to naturally replace the “boost” given by chemical or organically-approved fertilizers and help maintain the nutritional vitality of your soil in a sustainable and balanced way. Most cover crops are in the legume, grass or cereal plant families and there are many to choose from. Some are perennials, some annuals; some have tap roots up to 7 feet long; some grow so fast they smother other possible weeds waiting to come up; some fix nitrogen in the soil; some you allow to flower; some you mow; some you just incorporate into the soil. Each cover crop has unique contributions to the organic farm.

You might remember we sowed our first cover crop of clover in March with our frost-seeding method. Now we've got our first sowing of cover crops in our newly single-dug beds: oilseed radish and hairy vetch; and winter rye and hairy vetch. The oilseed radish grows quickly (unfortunately, so quickly that it seems to be outgrowing our vetch) and its roots tap down several feet, loosening the soil below and tapping into subsoil nutrients. The hairy vetch is a heavy nitrogen fixer. The winter rye suppresses weeds and is a good green manure. And we are planning on sowing buckwheat in any new plots we dig or harvest completely from because it is a fast-growing smother crop that you can incorporate into your soil as part of your fall bed preparation plan.

The sowing never stops!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Saving seeds

Fermenting cucumber seeds.

Saving seeds is at the heart of our mission to be as self-sufficient as we can be. We learned a bit about doing it in Argentina and have read up more recently. We eye our vegetables closely to see which plant is the perfect specimen worth reproducing the following season.

Potato fruits (with seeds inside)

Each type of vegetable, and more generally, plant family, requires a different method for saving seed. For example, most brassicas (e.g., cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) cross-pollinate with each other easily (which means if you plant different varieties near each other you may end up with a cross-breed the next generation) and are biennials (which means that their seed is produced in the second year). Being in New York, this makes it hard to save seeds from this family since we have to transplant and overwinter the plant before setting it back out the following spring. Some seeds require fermenting before they are viable (e.g., tomatoes and potatoes; cucumbers). Others just need to dry - on the plant, preferably, or once pulled, hanging upside down (e.g., peas and beans). For leafy vegetables (e.g., lettuce, chard) you have to choose the right plant - one that doesn't bolt too quickly.

Saving Jacob's Cattle drying bean
Saving seeds is certainly a science. And people have been practicing it for centuries. Of course, there are corporate efforts trying to undo our ability to produce food without having to spend money or involve a middleman (e.g., by producing a terminator seed, one that produces plants with sterile seeds). But small farmers and gardeners continue to save away despite lawsuits against them. Here in the Hudson Valley, we purchased some of our first batches of seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which collects regionally-adapted seeds from its members. Hopefully next season our seed order will be much smaller because we'll be planting our own saved seeds.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preserving: Sun-dried tomatoes

We harvested 80 pounds of tomatoes yesterday. We gave some as a thanks to our compost collectors and have been preserving the rest. One way to make tomatoes last through the seasons is to sun-dry them.

We didn't want to use the oven (it takes about 20 hours in an oven at low heat), so we set up a station for the sun. In our cold frame we blocked up two raised screens, cut the Fargo Pear and Yellow Short tomatoes (saving the Bellstars for canning and the heirlooms for sauces and salads) in half, squeezed out some of the seeds, and laid them on the screens. We put another screen on top to keep the bugs and animals away. And now we just let them sit, baking in the sun. Sources say it should take 2-4 days.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Recipe with summer squash

Squash and carrot pizza

Ingredients: summer squash, carrot, onion, garlic, pizza dough, tomato sauce, blue cheese, mozzarella cheese

Preparing: Saute diced onion and carrot until tender. Add garlic and diced summer squash and saute a few minutes more (but only a few minutes, because the crunchy squash and underdone garlic are part of the effect). Add some fresh oregano or rosemary. Prepare pizza as you normally would, but use some blue cheese in addition to the pizza cheese.

Dish history: In Argentina we used to saute leeks and carrots together as a veggie pizza topping. But the leeks aren't ready until fall and the squash is crunchy and ripe.

Recipe with cucumbers

Cucumber salad

Ingredients: cucumbers, red onion, dill, sour cream, lemon, salt and pepper

Preparing: Slice the cucumbers and red onion to desired thickness. Mix up some sour cream and lemon juice with salt and pepper for the dressing. Stir in with cukes and onions along with fresh dill.

Dish history: A simple salad. Also try: cucumber and fresh tomato salad with a vinaigrette (lemon or vinegar with a bit of olive oil) and fresh oregano or basil leaves.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Holy insects

What in the world is going on here:

And here, the fattest caterpillar I've ever seen:

Recipe with radishes

Radish refrigerator pickles

Ingredients: radishes, vinegar, water, sugar, salt, garlic clove, spices

Preparing: Bring to a boil a half vinegar/half water solution with some sugar, salt (I use 2 cups water to 2 cups vinegar to 2 tablespoons sugar to a huge pinch of salt) and some spices (e.g., coriander seeds, bay leaf, red hot pepper flakes, whole cloves, allspice). Meanwhile, clean and cut radishes to desired pickle size and fill a jar with them and a garlic clove or two, some herbs (e.g., thyme sprigs, dill, shiso leaves) and more spices, if desired. Once the vinegar solution boils, pour it over the radishes and fill it about 1/4 inch from the top. Seal the jar, allow it to cool, and leave in the refrigerator for at least a week to pickle nicely.

Eating: This is one of our go-to snacks we put out with cocktails. The red skin of the radish dies the pickles a muted pink so they add great color. And since the radishes aren't cooked, they've got great crunch.

Dish history: This is based off of an Alice Waters simple recipe. You can use any type of vegetable - carrots, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, super-fresh-cucumbers, beets, jalapeno peppers and garlic are our favorites. Since the jars aren't processed, the pickles should stay in the fridge.