Friday, September 24, 2010

When I was preparing Wednesday's boxes, I had the chance to see many many creatures in the gardens.  My favorite residents are  Garter Snakes.  They always surprise me but their presence makes me feel comfortable.  When I was picking turnips in the hoop, a 2 foot biggie slithered out from under the huge leaf mass.  Along with the snake, I saw many American Toads and even a few tree frogs.  Of course there are also bugs - so many flea beetles that I thought they were small turds at first.  But then they hopped.  This year there's a new fuzzy caterpillar - yellowish to grayish - that looks sort of like a Woolly Bear.  They like to hang out in the chinese cabbage and other brassicas.  There's also some bug that is forming cocoons in the chinese cabbage - little brown 1/4" long pods.

The bees are in full swing right now.  They are everywhere.  Some of the basil has bloomed and they're swarming every flower.  Of course they love the ragweed and were also swarming some of the broccoli that had bloomed.  I e-mailed Judy Durfy and suggested she add another super to the 2 hives in our back woods.  Last year they swarmed in early October

This has been the year of the flea beetle.  It has chewed

Sunday, September 19, 2010

And the Food Preservation has begun

I finally started canning in earnest today. I have put it off for as long as I can but now that frost is looming, I decided I'd better get moving before the tomatoes are finished. So I took a box of tomatoes and made about 8 pints of ketchup along with a couple of quarts of fresh salsa. The salsa included one Ghost Pepper, one Fatali (a habenero) and one cayenne. It is spicy. I read my friend Angela's blog posting and followed her advice and wore gloves when cleaning the peppers - that was lucky! The minute I cut into each of the first 2 peppers, I started to sweat. This was just from the scent - and no I wasn't cooking them. Unbelievable! I also made about 10 pints of hotdog relish (equal parts cabbage, green tomatoes, onions and some peppers, along with sugar and some spices) which we really enjoy on an egg sandwich or as an ingredient to make either tartar sauce or french dressing. The children also like to eat the relish as a side dish, which doesn't happen very often. It might not sound like a lot but it sure does take time. I think if everyone made their own ketchup, a lot less would be consumed.

I plan to can about 50 quarts of tomatoes in the next week - we'll see what the garden produces.

I've been lazy about beans, greens and broccoli this year. Last year I froze about 50 bags of beans. In the back of my mind I keep thinking that we can always eat kale from the hoop over the winter. Hopefully that will be the case because the beans are not producing like they did when it was 80 degrees out so I kind of missed the time of plenty.

CSA members - get ready for mustard greens again along with turnips and leeks.

If you haven't bought tomatoes and are still looking for some, please let me know. I think I've given all members the tomatoes you've requested so I'm going to open up sales to the general public now (after our family is set).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crop Report - Fall is here!

September has brought shorter days and cold nights. Consistent night-time temperatures in the 40's will slow down all fruit-bearing vegetables. This includes okra, peppers, tomatoes, beans and squash. Soon we'll be back to the root and cold-weather veggies. For now, we can still savor the last of these tastes as we look forward to leeks, turnips, beets, lettuces, mustard, greens, kohlrabi, etc. Hopefully the brussels sprouts will size up in time for the Thanksgiving box along with the broccoli, cauliflower and late cabbage.

I planted spinach a couple of times in the past month. Some of it is still out there. I think there's a rabbit that's munching away when I'm not looking. Fortunately we have the New Zealand spinach which is coincidentally growing in the large hoop so if the spinach in the field doesn't amount to much, there's that for a back up. I'm currently preparing to plant the hoop and spinach will be one of the main crops grown in there over the winter.

The pie pumpkins produced very well. We had to move some of the vines so that we could build the hoop but most of them made it to maturity which is great. We harvested those on Tuesday and I pulled the vines to get ready for the next crop. I'm also harvesting all chinese cabbage (Napa) from the hoop to prepare for the next crop. There's a lot of Napa out there. It's also in the west garden and is forming some nice heads out there. Watch out for cabbage worms - I'm trying to wash it but they might sneak past our soaking.

Most of the potatoes have now been harvested. There are still about 1 1/2 rows of German Butterball taters that haven't quite completed their growing cycle but all of the Adirondack Blue, Russian Banana Fingerlings, French Fingerlings and Kennebecs have been harvested. Many have been distributed. We have about 200 # in the barn that are curing and will be distributed over the coming weeks.

Many of the butternut and acorn squash have also been harvested and are curing. The spaghetti squash is almost fully distributed as they don't keep as long as the other winter squash varieties.

There are a lot of red onions still in the field; they haven't quite stopped growing and they're best to store in the field for now.

The roma tomatoes are finally kicking into high gear - it's as if they know the frost is coming and they all decide to mature at once. I planted two plantings about 20 days apart. The first were relatively large plants. The second were quite small. They're in two different fields but they're still maturing at about the same rate. Maybe it's related to the sunlight.

I have had a few people tell me that they'd like to participate in a winter CSA. I think I'll experiment with 10 members for this first year. The distribution might be from the Farmer's Market in Ann Arbor - not sure about that yet. If you do want to participate, please let me know. Please understand that this first winter of growing will be a learning experience for us.

I'm going to post a survey to try to find out how your experience has been with the summer veggies. Please let me know if you have any comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Story of our Newest Hoop

Saturday, August 28 was quite a day here on the farm. It was the culmination of a lot of work put into figuring out how to erect a new hoop house, funded in a way that would make sense for our operation. Back in February I learned about the USDA grant program which is administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I first heard about it through the forum on Local Harvest. Everyone was chatting about whether they had been approved or whether they thought they'd be approved and what they could even apply for. Farmers from different states were reporting wide variations about the interpretation of program rules . I went to the NRCS site that evening and found out that the deadline for application was in 1 1/2 days. Time to move. The next morning I called the local office which is close to Baker, off of Jackson Road. I went into the office to pick up an application and ended up with the opportunity to apply. We chatted about the rules and, at the time, they thought that the hoop had to be erected in a place that had been planted the year before. I wanted to erect it in the east field, which is in the first year of crop production but had previously been in hay. So we went on our way - apply again next year was the result.

In mid to late March, I started hearing about the applications that had been approved. Many were for hoops placed on virgin ground. Finally, in mid-April, I called back. It seems that the rules had been clarified after I had applied and a person can site their hoop wherever they want. Luckily, they encouraged me to complete an application because there were rumors that not all of the Federal dollars had been allocated. So I applied. It was a long process. If you've ever gone through the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan process, you know what I'm talking about; the rules and regs can be difficult to navigate, even for the lender. Finally, in late-June, everything came together and I heard from Steve Olds that the application had been approved and that the powers that be had been able to fund it as well. Woo Hoo!

In the mean time, back in March, I met Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb through the Local Food Summit in Ann Arbor. I learned of their loan program and considered applying for the spring build but I was concerned about taking on debt at that time. We had a small hoop and I didn't have all of our CSA memberships sold and the labor expense was starting to kick in along with equipment expenditures, etc. I didn't think it would be a good idea to add debt payments to the mix. So, I thought I'd apply for the fall build. As things go, I was fortunate to meet a lot of the young farmers via the Local Food Summit. Washtenaw Community College also hosted a farm job fair and Victoria Bennett invited me to speak, along with others, about farming. I met more farmers and community members there and was very fortunate to make the connection with our current only part time employee, Sheryl. And the ball was rolling. The sun came out, the snow melted, people came to tour the farm, people signed up, and, finally, after months and months of planning and planting and tending, distributions started at the beginning of June. Big sigh of relief - we had enough food to fill everyone's boxes and more.

But back to the hoop. Jeff & Lisa grow food not far from our house. So every once in awhile I'll stop over to see how things are going and vice versa. I like to make the rounds to other farms when I can. One day Jeff reminded me that the application for fall hoops was approaching. I hadn't known about it - somehow I forgot to add myself to his e-mail list. So, I applied for funding for the difference between the grant and the cost of the hoop and in late July learned that the request had been approved. I also applied for assistance with building the hoop and that was approved. Soon Jeff was calling me to schedule the build. Wow. This was really happening. We scheduled it for August 28. I scrambled around to finish up the final documents with the NRCS, building dept, etc. Dave, Sheryl and I worked to get this place ready for the build and the after-party. And the day came.

August 28 started as a cool day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The wind was just enough during the day to help keep us cool and died down in time to pull plastic. The volunteers turned out. And we built. And we cooked. And we ate. And, as the moon rose, we played.

Lisa wrote a beautiful photo essay that you can check out here.

Thank you so much to everyone. A special thanks to Dave and Julie Montiero De Castro (my sister) and Nancy Leist for preparing so much food and working so hard to help prepare for the party. Of course, our deepest gratitude goes to Jeff McCabe and LisaGottlieb who made a loan to help fund the structure and brought out the volunteers to build it and coordinated the after party and the bands to celebrate it along with their efforts. Thanks to Hullabaloo and Prophetic Synesthetic Kinetic Collective for providing fun and beautiful music. Thanks to Dan Vernia and Rob Kangas for roasting the pig. And of course, thanks to all of our members. Without you there would be no need for a hoop.

I'm still debating on what to do with the greens that we grow this winter. If you're interested in a winter CSA, please let me know. The cost would be roughly $20/week and would include lots of greens and root veggies. I'll probably run it from early November through April with a 4 week break from mid-December until mid-January. It's in the planning stages. I'm also considering taking the produce to market this winter which might be a nice way to connect with the larger community.