Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Insect pressure

Be-headed pepper seedlings
Although I enjoyed never having to shovel snow or wear my long underwear this winter, I am now (cursing it, and) understanding what the implications of such a mild winter are on farming. Sure, spinach, kale, parsley and arugula all survived uncovered. But edible greens weren't the only things to experience an extension on life.

Insect pressure has been fierce this spring. Slugs, which can lay up to 500 eggs in a season and thrive in temperatures above 40 degrees, have annihilated over 300 of our lettuce seedlings, 200 basil seedlings, and have flattened several flats of peppers and eggplants. We now have nightly missions in the garden at dusk picking slugs, some the size of pearl couscous and some as long as a pencil. We throw them with anger into a jar of salt water and watch them perish. 

We have a few volunteer cucumber seedlings sprouting in places and when I reached down to pull them up I saw a curcurbit's worst nightmare: the cucumber beetle. In fact, I saw several of them, even some mating. These pests are harder to abolish than the sluggish slug. They seem to sense you coming and fly away or bury themselves into the soil quickly. I have to go out at 6 in the morning to really catch them at their slowest time.

Salting slugs
And today we were in for the biggest blow of the season so far. We had a bed of beautiful lettuce mix growing, which we meticulously weeded 5 days ago. We were counting on it since the slugs demolished our head lettuce seedlings. But I noticed this morning small sections of the rows eaten down. The stems of the small leaves were still standing, but there was no more leaf. As I peered closer I saw too-many-to-count-or-want-to-think-about caterpillars munching on our lettuce. There were several different varieties, but mostly the cabbage worm. These are easy to squish between your fingers, but with so many, we had to just till the lettuce in and start all over again (after I had myself just a little joy of squishing as many as I could in 15 minutes).

Can you see those caterpillars demolishing our lettuce?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eating seasonally

Eating seasonally is a skill. Trust me, to deprive yourself of fresh tomatoes for all but 2 months a year takes practice and patience.  (Well, not really, because who wants to eat those tomatoes grown in Florida's sand, picked green and hard as a rock, and brought hundreds of miles to your supermarket shelf, only to taste like mealy water the other 10 months of the year?)

Right now we are at the end of our "spring hunger gap" and starting to eat fresh vegetables again. We've polished off all of our frozen greens, pickled vegetables, and stored beets, potatoes and squashes. Our canned tomato sauce is running low. And I used the last of the blueberry jam to make a syrup for some homemade ice cream. Finally, wee have spring greens, herbs and chives coming up in the garden and the salad we had for dinner couldn't have tasted any fresher.

But our current food system has deprived most of us of the sheer joy of eating asparagus for just a few weeks a year, for example. Our culture of food has allowed us to have our favorite vegetable at any meal, any time... but so much so that it is no longer our favorite vegetable anymore.

Eating seasonally is a challenge, not only for your taste buds, but also for your cooking. (There are only so many ways you can make celeriac and rutabaga.) But it is so rewarding, because that first juicy spring peach is a little taste of heaven every year. It really makes you appreciate life and nature, and most importantly, food.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Recipe with scapes

Scape and raab pasta sauce

Garlic scapes
Ingredients: Garlic scapes, broccoli raab, sundried tomatoes (optional, or other vegetable of your choice), olive oil, hot pepper flakes, s + p

Preparing: Be sure the tough part of the scapes and raab are broken off (they generally break at the tender point like asparagus does). The rest is easy: saute vegetables in olive oil. Add a bit of the pasta water before stirring in the pasta.

Eating: Top with parmesan cheese and fresh lemon juice.

Dish history: Early garlic scapes and raab are harvestable at about the same time. The best part about scapes is that you get a similar garlic taste to your dish, but you don't have to peel and mince any garlic.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wild life

As we were finishing up our outdoor work today we heard some squawks from the chicken coop. We didn't think much of it at first, but then Jason went up there to check it out and found a terrified crowd of chickens and a hawk stuck in the electric fencing. I've never been that close to such a huge, beautiful bird. It was scared of me and Jason and kept flying deeper into the netting, but eventually freed itself when we chased it from the opposite direction. Even though it is preying on our chicks we were happy to see it flying high in the sky again.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 member gathering

We had our 2012 season kick-off CSA member gathering this weekend. It was a great opportunity for us all to meet each other, enjoy some food + drink together, and build some community spirit. Thanks to all who joined, and for those who couldn't, we hope you can next time. This will certainly become a tradition!
Enjoying some food, drink + conversation
The spread of food

Visiting the chickens

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


See these 2 blue barrels? They've got a hefty layer of compost and leaf mold in them with some French Fingerling potatoes buried in. As the potato plants grow past the compost-line, we just throw on more compost and more potatoes will grow. Once we hit the top we'll harvest a whole barrel of potatoes... a technique we learned a la John Seymour.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remay, remay, everywhere

Row cover is an organic gardener's best friend. Or so they say...my best friend wouldn't make my beautiful garden look like a sea of white cloth. But I suppose it is doing its job of minor frost protection and keeping flea beetles and other insects away from our seedlings. Once the young plants are established we'll be able to remove a lot of it, but the brassicas tend to need them all season long.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Halfway planted

This weekend we hit the halfway mark: 50 vegetable beds planted out before the last frost date in the Hudson Valley (being near the Hudson River and on the northern tip of Westchester County, we have an earlier date than most of the Valley). That means peas, greens, roots, beans, herbs, potatoes and the onion family are happily nestled in their beds. The next few weeks will be full of transplanting those heat-hungry yet frost-sensitive vegetables: tomatoes, squashes, melons, peppers and eggplant.

We're also recently obsessed with building our greenhouse, having grown out of our cold frame. Drafting up plans now and we'll hopefully start building next week. In our spare time...

Trellised peas + radishes


Lettuce starts

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CDs + scarehawks

Our electric fence might keep our chicks in and ground critters out, but it is no match for the mighty hawk. We've lost two already to these birds, who live above the coop in the tall red pines. We're trying two tricks to keep the predators away... we've strung CDs across the pasture the chickens are foraging in and posted a scare-hawk. Our guide to raising chickens suggested the former method, saying that the sun and wind would move the CDs enough to scare away a hawk or other flying thing from getting too close (this method might not be successful on cloudy, still days... in fact, we lost one of our chickens on such a day with our CDs already strung). And we dressed a fence post in a scary trench coat and hat to see if it might guard our future egg-layers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Work-ation Spring 2012

This past weekend 40 people gathered to help us with our spring work. In our morning session we dug 5  vegetable beds, hauled away dozens of rocks, prepped 750 square feet for potatoes, planted hundreds of onions and created an eye-high compost pile. After lunch, a small group planted 20 pounds of potatoes and the rest of the crowd walked up the road to our additional growing space and prepared 15 brand-new beds for spring planting.

It's amazing what a crowd of people can accomplish together in just one day.

Thank you to all who joined! Looking forward to the next work-ation this fall.