Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter weather

 This has been a tough year for farmers. With the soaking spring and stormy summer, we should have expected this early winter.

Longhaul received 10 inches of snow, along with several fallen trees and several days without power (still without it, in fact). But the day before the storm we protected our growing greens with hoops and plastic and took in anything that could have been damaged by or died in the snow. The most discouraging thing is that we still have tons of work to do! We have to continue to make those beds in the newly plowed block and prep all of our already dug beds for the winter, but the blanket of snow didn't seem to budge today despite strong sun.
Please let there be a few days of fall left in this fall.

Making our beds

With the boulders cleared, we have set to work making beds in our newly plowed block. This involves measuring out the 100 sq-ft beds, shoveling out the paths onto the beds and, of course, continuing to remove rocks. I can't believe they keep on coming...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bed dressing

We've got a neighbor who keeps sheep. He has about 8 and they like to huddle together in his stables, making the mucking out of them an important bi-annual task. So we made a swap with our neighbor-friend: we'd muck out his stable and he'd give us the muck. Everyone wins.

This mucking out is no easy task... the sheep have been compacting this hay-manure mixture for 6 months now. The floor of the stable was actually 2 feet below the hay line, and the further down we got, the more compacted it was. So it took a lot of pick-axing and forking to get it out of the stable and into the trailer. The compacted hay turned into 3 huge trailer-loads.

We plan on putting this organic material on our vegetable beds in the next few weeks so it can decompose over the winter. Then we'll turn it into the soil come springtime before we plant.

[Note: The purpose of the mask was two-fold: to prevent breathing in dirt and hay flecks and because, dang, the air was full of ammonia.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The rock is out!

Just an update! We finally managed to pull that HUGE boulder that a bunch of people were working on during our October-fiesta weekend. It took 5 tries with the large tractor, one broken chain, and about 30 feet of strong canvas straps to haul it out. We even got an offer from a neighbor for it - he's got a client who wants a diving rock for his pool...
Ladies working on that rock

Finally out

Recipe with leeks

Braised leeks

Ingredients: leeks, butter, veggie or chicken broth (or water), lemon juice, s+p

Preparing: Cut leeks in half lengthwise. Keep the greens on - after a good braise they are tender and yummy! Place in a shallow sauce pan with butter and just enough 1/2-inch of broth (or water). Add salt if your broth doesn't have any. Simmer over low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until leeks are tender. For last 5 minutes of braise add juice from 1-2 lemons.

Eating: Garnish with some lemon zest and fresh pepper.

Dish history: We made this all the time in Argentina during the rainy winter months when there was nothing but leeks and kale in the ground. It's such a good way to use the whole leek, rather than having to save the greens for stock or compost.

Recipe with carrots

Lentil soup

Ingredients: carrots, celery, onion, tomato paste, lentils, bay leaf, hot peppers (optional), dijon, cider vinegar, s+p

Preparing: Dice the carrots, celery and onion (the more carrots you use, the tastier the soup). Saute in butter or olive oil. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste and stir into veggies. Add lentils, bay leaf and chopped hot pepper (optional) and water (2:1 ratio of water:lentils, generally). Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, add a few tablespoons of dijon mustard and cider vinegar to the soup and heat through.

Eating: A really hearty lunch that also tastes great with sausage.

Dish history: This is a Deborah Madison recipe from my vegetarian college days. The dijon and vinegar make the soup.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Garlic planted: 1st crop of the season

This week the biodynamic calendar and the fall weather told us it was the perfect garlic-planting time. So we popped our seven varieties of garlic ("popping" means separating the cloves from the head), saved the smallest cloves for cooking, and got the large cloves into the ground. We used a dibber (a wooden hand tool with a pointed end used to make holes in the ground for planting seeds or bulbs) to make holes about 5 inches apart and dropped the cloves in root end down. We topped with a thick layer of grass, leaves and wood chip mulch to protect them for the winter. 

Our 3 beds of sowed garlic cloves will hopefully provide us with 1,000 heads of garlic next summer.

Recipe with roots

Roasted root vegetables

Ingredients: root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, radish, daikon, celeriac, rutabaga, beets, kohlrabi), garlic (cloves with skin on), olive oil, fresh rosemary or thyme

Preparing: Cut root vegetables: cut the ones that take longer to roast (e.g., beets, turnips, daikon, celeriac) in smaller pieces than the ones that take less time to roast. Throw in whole cloves of garlic still in their skin. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, (could add a bit of broth to the roasting pan for a moister roast), some fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs, s+p, and roast in 400 degree oven for about 1 hour. Test various veggies for doneness before pulling out of the oven.

Eating: As is.

Dish history: Made this for our October-fiesta supper as well. Easy and a great way to showcase all those roots.

Recipe with squash

Veggie chili

Ingredients: kidney beans, onions or leeks, carrots, garlic, chili powder, garam masala (the secret ingredient), chopped squash (crookneck, butternut, acorn, zucchini, any type), beer (optional), tomatoes, s+p

Preparing: Soak your beans overnight. Cook in unsalted boiling water until tender. In a separate pot, saute onions or leeks, garlic and carrots. After a few minutes add 2 tablespoons of chili powder (or up to what you can handle) and 1 tablespoon of garam masala (optional, but the secret ingredient). Add chopped squash of any variety (winter or summer) and your choice of beer. After this boils, add diced tomatoes (fresh or canned), be sure there is enough liquid in the chili, and simmer for hours.

Eating: Always top your chili with fresh accoutrements: grated cheese, sour cream, diced scallions or chives, chopped fresh tomato, matchstick radish, hot sauce.

Dish history: Made this dish for vegetarian, blood type B friends. Also gluten-free, we made cornbread by subbing rice flour for wheat flour.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Harvesting chickens

This morning I harvested chickens. The birds were three-months plump and ready. Farmer friends at a local non-profit farm invited us to help out, and since we plan on getting spring chickens, this was a perfect chance to test my skills and stomach.

The steps to harvesting a chicken are quite simple: catch the chicken, kill the chicken, de-feather the chicken, eviscerate the chicken, rinse and store the chicken. The little tips I learned from the farmers were worth it, e.g., catch the chickens at night when they are more docile, don't feed them grain the day before a harvest so they are cleared out, hold both legs and rest the breast on your leg to calm them, don't cut the head off because you want the brain to keep telling the heart to pump the blood so it drains, and more...

The facilities in this processing room are bigger than we'd ever get: they had a six-cone holder for the jugular cuts, a rotating hot water bath for loosening the feathers, and a large spinner to extract the feathers in 10 seconds. I suppose what we'll be doing next year is plucking those feathers out by hand... but there's still plenty of time to conceive of and build a contraption.

The evisceration comes easier with each bird. There are parts you save (e.g., the liver, heart, neck, gizzard and feet) and parts you toss (e.g., the gall bladder, the lungs, the windpipe). And the clean chicken, standing upright on a small post to drain and dry in the cooler, looks ready to roast (but another tip they told me was to leave it one night in the fridge to tenderize the muscles a bit).

These clinical pointers aside, we can't ignore the fundamental issue of killing a living being for our own consumption. The range of feelings behind this are widespread and often politically- and spiritually-heated. I personally believe that my ability to consume an animal as a human should be tied to my willingness to harvest that animal. And that the harvesting of that animal should be conducted with respect and as humanely as possible. And furthermore, that the full life of that animal should also be respected, which in the case of chickens means protecting them with shelter, providing them with nutritious food, and allowing them to forage in the fields as they would naturally. This is what distinguishes a family or small farm's operation from a modern commercial operation. 

Harvesting chickens? No problem. We'll see when it comes to pigs and sheep.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tilling with a tractor, but just this once

Our generous neighbor, who loves big machines, took some time out of his busy schedule to chisel plow a new block of land for us. To the south of our 40 double-dug vegetable beds - which took an entire spring and summer, 3 men, many helpers, and several pick axes and man-bars to complete - we now have a 4,000 sq-ft growing space, freshly chisel-plowed. And it took our neighbor a matter of hours. Amazing what big machines can do! I swore those 3-foot metal blades would be no match for our tough sod, clay soil and field of boulders. But, much to our good luck, the machine won.

We spent a large portion of our October-fiesta work weekend clearing boulders, rocks, weeds and roots out of the field with the help of dozens of friends and have continued to clear rocks every time we walk through it. The earth looks amazingly rich, darker than what we tilled up in our double-dug beds. Once we're satisfied with our de-rocking process, we'll form beds, load on manure and leaves, sow some winter rye, top it with mulch and let it sit for the winter. We have high hopes. And we'll never bring a machine on there again.

Many thanks to PD for his love and skillful use of big machines.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Recipe with mushrooms

Sauteed mushrooms in parmesan cheese cup

Ingredients: butter, mushrooms (we used our shiitake that sprouted from our shocked logs), scallions, parmesan cheese

Parm cup w/ mushrooms (with a bite taken out)
Preparing: Make your parmesan cups: Grate parmesan cheese (with the big holes of the cheese grater - works better than smaller gratings) into a small saucepan so it forms one layer. Heat the cheese so it melts together, browning a bit if you'd like. Turn off the heat, and once it's cooled enough to pick it up in one disc, move it to a small bowl, shaping it into the shape of the bowl and let it cool completely there. You now have an edible parmesan cup.
Make your mushrooms: Melt some butter and saute sliced shiitake and diced scallions until tender. I added some white wine at the end and let it boil off.

Eating: Fill the parmesan cups with the sauteed mushrooms.

Dish history: I've always wanted to try the edible parmesan cup. If you use small enough bowls to form the cups, this makes a nice appetizer.

Recipe with turnips

Smashed turnips

Ingredients: turnips, potatoes, butter, cream or milk, salt and pepper

Preparing: Clean and cut turnips and potatoes (I use ratio of 2:1, turnips:potatoes). Boil in salted water until mashable. Drain water, smash with masher, while adding butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper.

Eating: You could add roasted garlic, scallions or wasabi to the smash, depending on taste.

Dish history: We tried this out with a picky eater and didn't tell him there were turnips in there... Mikey liked it!

Recipe with greens

Creamed greens

Ingredients: any greens (spinach, tatsoi, bok choy, mustards, chard), onion, garlic, butter, flour (butter:flour ratio is 2:1), cream/milk, nutmeg

Preparing: Boil greens until tender. Drain and coarsely chop or puree in food processor. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of butter and cook the diced onion and minced garlic. Whisk in flour (e.g., if you use 4 Tbsp. of butter, add 2 Tbsp. of flour - you don't want this to get too thick). Grate fresh nutmeg into the roux and add salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 1.5-2 cups cream/milk mixture (any ratio is fine; and if warmed it will whisk in better), getting rid of all lumps. Heat through, but don't boil. Add pureed greens to cream mixture and warm through.

Eating: Some might top with chopped hard-boiled egg.

Dish history: Made this for our October-fiesta meal. It is another great way to enjoy a mixture of those abundant fall greens. The nutmeg is a must.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October-fiesta 2011

Thank you to all of our family, friends and neighbors who came out for Longhaul's 1st October-fiesta. The weather cooperated and together in one day we accomplished things it would have taken weeks for the two of us to do.

The red pine field is nearly cleared of brush and fallen trees, ready for our spring chickens. Three vegetable beds are now prepped with wood ash, egg shells, compost, manure and mulch, ready for garlic planting in a few weeks. The apple trees have been picked and shaken, leaving only a few out-of-reach fruit for the squirrels. Gallons of cider were pressed - and consumed after the hard day's work. Our newly chisel-plowed block was pick-axed and picked-through, and we hauled 10,000 pounds of boulders and hundreds of horrible weeds out of our brand-new planting space.

The energy of the crowd was so positive and fun. I saw people laughing as they dug around huge boulders, smiling as they shoveled manure. After the work, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal, desserts and all, and topped the night off with drinks and songs by the bonfire.

Many thanks to all who participated. Looking forward to our next spring 2012 Work-ation weekend...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shocking logs; forcing fruit

Our 1st shiitake
We're experimenting with a few of our mushroom logs to see how colonized they are by the spawn we whacked into them during our first and second April Work-ation weekends. You can "shock" a log into thinking it is spring or a rainy autumn season by soaking it in very cold water for 24 hours. Once it's been soaked, you should see small white "pins" sprouting from the log, the first signs of your forced fruit. Then in a few days, these pins should turn into the full mushroom fruit, ready to harvest with a twist. Forcing the fruit just 6 months after inoculation will result in just a small harvest, because the mycelium haven't had sufficient time to truly take over the felled log. But isn't it exciting to experiment with a few this fall, and leave the rest for the spring?