Monthly Archives: September 2008

fall’s a-comin’ on — and we’re a-sleepin’ in

At this morning’s farmer’s market, the vendors were petering out.  Gone is Lou, the tomato, melon, and pepper man; only one more week for the wonderful pear lady.  The berry vendor’s time is short, too.

Pumpkins and winter squash are starting to appear alongside peppers and tomatoes.  And suddenly, for the first time since we started marketing, I found myself wearing not only a sweater but also a fleece jacket to protect myself from the cold.

For weeks, when we had nothing to sell but greens, we had nothing but 100-degree weather.  Now, suddenly, September has turned the corner into Fall — bringing with her foggy mornings that stretch out nearly until noon.  It seemed so strange to watch customers arrive at the market all bundled up in sweaters, pants, and fuzzy hats — when just last Saturday it was a sweltering 100 degree day, and tanktops and straw hats were very much in vogue.

But there are two good things about Fall.  (Well, there are many good things about Fall, not the least of which is winter squash and its good friend, soup weather.)  But back to my top two:  it’s incredibly useful for keeping greens fresh.  No more battles with the umbrella and water spritzer to try and rebreathe life into wilted kale, chard, bok choi, or lettuce.  And it means that the sunrise is getting later and later.

These two items led to a small miracle at Foggy River Farm:  the night-before harvest.

Rather than harvesting with headlamps in the dark (which is pretty inefficient, not to mention not particularly pleasurable), Emmett and I tried a Sunset Harvest.  We worked hard, but the evening was so beautiful — cool, but not frigid, and with a gorgeous pink-glow sunset — that we barely noticed.

And best of all, we got to sleep in this morning.  Granted, sleeping in translates to 6:30: Emmett ran over to the field to quickly harvest corn and squash blossoms while I tended to the chicks.  But boy, did it feel good not to wake up in the pitch black — no morning rush, just an easy trip to the farmer’s market and a leisurely set-up.  Best of all, the greens were fresh, thanks to our all-natural, no-energy-required refrigerator:  they spent the night in harvest bins, topped with wet towels, cooled by the chilly Fall air.

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of beans and vitriol

(Above:  Emmett, plucking the last handful of yellow wax beans.)

At what point do things stop being fun?

When you have to do them every single day, in the exact same way, for diminishing — not increasing — benefits.

So it has become with the beans.  The once-treasured beans, the once-poeticized beans, the once shake-your-moneymaker gourmet beans now engender a certain, erm, vitriol in the hearts of we two farmers.

Emmett, unfortunately, has been cast in the role of the Enforcer — the person who, day after day, reminds me that it’s time to pick beans.  This leaves me to play the Dennis the Menace “awww, shucks, not again” character.  Tonight I ended up using the bribe technique:  “Hey mister, want some gelato?”

Honestly, a small treat was the only thing that could get us through the bean-picking tonight.  I knew this based on a conversation Emmett and I had while driving down to the field:

Emmett began, “Really, when it comes to the beans, I’m just about ready to…”

I jumped in:  “Rip them all out and burn them?”  (Yep, definitely time for gelato.)

Why so much angst over the beans?  The purples and yellows — the fancy varieties that, along with the small size and tender quality of our green beans, justified charging $4 a pound for mix-and-match string beans — are all beaned out.  The Kentucky Wonders and Blue Lakes are still going though — going strong but stringy like an old, rusty mule.  It seems that, as the plants progress, the quality of the bean starts to decline.  They start to get shorter, and pod out faster (meaning, get seedy); they also become tougher and more stringy.  Emmett and I argue over whether it is entirely the plants’ fault, or partly our fault for imperfectly harvesting them — letting some of them get too big rather than plucking off every single bean as a tender young little thing.  (“How could we possibly have harvested them more often?  We harvest beans every single day!” I protest.)  So, basically, today’s beans require considerably more sorting, and we end up freezing proportionally more of the harvest for the chickens.  Even with the added sorting and increased amount of throw-aways, we’re planning on dropping the price of our beans next weekend — they’re still quite good, but not quite as perfect as they used to be.

The beans have been one of those short, steep learning curves.  I’ll post more on the specific lessons learned later.  For now, suffice it to say, when we planted the beans we had no idea that we were embarking on the newest straight-to-DVD Disney release:  Sleeping Beauty VII.  But today, as we faced down our thicket of beans for yet another evening harvest, I knew exactly how those little furry friends of the princess felt when they came up against the hedge of thorny thicket.  Like that evil thicket, our seemingly insurmountable bean-wall just keeps growing.

So this post is just to say:  Maleficent wins.   We’re letting some of the beans go — and for now, at least until Sleeping Beauty VIII, the princess will continue to slumber peacefully on the other side of the evil bean wall.

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a day to preserve

Emmett and I reserved today as Pickling/Canning/General Preservation day — little did we know that we’d find ourselves pickling late into the night!  It’s 11 p.m., and the last jars of applesauce are finally filled and sealed — but still boiling away on the stove.

Today, we harvested apples (=applesauce) and blackberries (=jam).  We pickled market-leftover Armenian cucumbers, green beans and — new to us — jalapenos & cherry tomatoes.  (NB:  WEAR GLOVES when pickling jalapenos.  My fingers still burn.  And I had quite a nasty surprise when I dipped a finger into a blackberry crisp for a little taste, and instead got jalapeno blackberry crisp.  Blech.)

I’m intrigued, though, to find out how the cherry tomatoes will turn out.  The recipe called for basil, which will be, um, interesting paired with apple cider vinegar.  It could be really tasty, or it could be utterly horrendous.  Only time will tell.

In other bizarre pickling news, something strange happened to our Dilly Beans this time around:  they shriveled.  The skin looks wrinkly now, and every single bean jar ended up a “floater,” despite the fact that we packed them very tightly.  (One of the books suggested using sterilized pebbles to weight pickles down — maybe next time I’ll have to try that.)  I wonder if it’s because these beans weren’t fresh-picked  today; they were a few days old.  I’ll have to taste-test tomorrow, and see if they taste better than they look…  I also wonder how they’ll keep; they all sealed, but they’re definitely poking up into the ‘headspace’ (air part) of the jar.

In bizarre non-pickling news, our chicks have turned into little cannibals.  Well, kind of.  Maybe it was getting too crowded in the brooder:  they started pecking at one another.  This morning, I noticed one Rhode Island Red who’d been pecked — a small patch bare of feathers on her back, with some irritated-looking skin showing — so I put her in a separate cage with Runt (one of my favorite chicks) for company.  Emmett and I went out for a couple of hours to water and harvest, and when we came back, several more chicks had gotten the same treatment.  Two were actually bleeding; one had a rather nasty-looking open wound, and even Nurse Runt seemed to want to peck it.  Now the wounded one’s in solitary confinement with some Neosporin on her back.  Hopefully she’ll be okay.

We also separated out the chicks into four different boxes — hoping that this would alleviate the pecking problem.  (At the very least, if there’s just one cannibal in the flock, the damage will be limited to one box of four.)

Anyway, more updates on the chicks to come.  In the meantime, here are some more photos from our Day of Preservation:

mmmm… smushed blackberries…  we strained out some of the chunks to make the jam a little smoother, and used the leftover chunks for blackberry crisp.

cucumber pickles cooling, post-processing, in a chilled water bath — no room on the counter, so they went on the floor.  cooling them down more quickly allegedly keeps them more crisp.

also, think we picked enough apples?  I got a little carried away.  half a bag yielded one full soup-pot of sauce (about 4 quarts).

blackberry jam!  we just follow the recipe on the pectin box — easy as pie.  except really, pie’s harder.

dilly beans & armenian cukes & (ouch!!) jalapenos…

bizarre pickled cherry tomatoes…

the last batch of the day (errr, night)…  applesauce!

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city girl goes to the garden: summer squash

I’m not sure if I’ve confessed this before on the blog, but for most of my life, I’ve been what gardeners would call a Black Thumb.  In other words, plants tend to die around me.

My brother Craig was always a green thumb.  He’d sneak a few exposed Amaryllis bulbs from the side of the road and within the year turn our sideyard into a veritable Amaryllis forest.  Orchids?  Bonsai?  No sweat.  Meanwhile, I was trying to help out by uprooting “weeds,” aka strawberries.  (Even my mother, who for most of her life has been on a strict meat-and-potatoes diet, had successfully identified and purposefully left the “volunteer” strawberries in our flower-dominated garden in San Diego.)

And then there was the time I was digging with a hand-trowel, helping my mother and brother transplant some new seedlings from the nursery.  While digging, I came across an earthworm that–in some strange wormy gymnastic maneuver– managed to hurl itself up in the air way too close to me for comfort.

I let out a loud shriek and with considerable force threw aforementioned trowel across the garden, where it landed frighteningly close to Craig’s fingers.  A loud “JESUS, LYNDIE!” could be heard across the neighborhood as Craig quickly retracted his nearly-severed fingers.  (Oops, sorry.)

So for this post (and probably some future posts), I’ve decided to toss off my I’m-so-earthy-and-I’ve-always-been-this-way hat and give you the straight-up city girl’s guide to growing.  Truth is, I still cringe slightly whenever husking an ear of wormy corn.  (Never in front of customers:  only at home.)  Crusted poop on chick-butts no longer phases me, and there are a lot of things on the farm that I haven’t managed to kill — in fact, there are many things that have actually benefited from my thumb, whatever shade of green/brown/black it might be.  Clearly, I’m making progress, but for now I’m going to tell you what I really think about summer squash — from the perspective of a currently opinionated, formerly suburban black thumb.

You only have so much space in your garden.  All summer long, zucchini will be a dime a dozen at the local supermarket.  Recipes will flood local magazines and newspapers offering you 101 ways to get rid of your excess zucchini.  (Hint:  it does wonders for chocolate cake.)  So, is it really worth your effort to plant zucchini — or any summer squash, for that matter?

My answer:  yes and no.

No to green zucchini.  Yes to yellow, zephyr (which I haven’t personally grown, but which is absolutely gorgeous and a number of farmers marketers have had good success with it), crookneck squash, and “patty pans,” aka flying saucers.

Emmett says I’m biased against green zucchini.  I am.  First of all, it’s boring, and the grocery store is absolutely 100% guaranteed to have it — while the grocery store might not carry yellow, and probably won’t carry zephyrs, crooknecks, or flying saucers.

Second of all, sometimes green zucchini can harbor a distinctive bitterness in the skin, especially as they get bigger.  I find this flavor is less likely to occur in the yellow or zephyr zuchs.  And thirdly, harvesting green zucchini is a royal pain in the you-know-what.

OK, fine, harvesting any zucchini is somewhat of a pain.  The plants are monsters, festooned with tiny sharp glassy thorns, and the zucchini grows right in the plant’s heart.  They’re not like apples, hung out on branches for you to pluck, or root crops like carrots, beets, or radishes, which require a quick simple pinched-finger tug.  No, harvesting zucchini is a whole-body (or at least whole-arm) endeavor, requiring you to get right up close and personal with the plant.  A plant that’s designed to prevent critters from getting up close and personal with it.  A plant that gives me an itchy rash which lasts for a couple of days and stings like the dickens if I try and put soothing lotion on it.  (Hint:  wear long sleeves and gloves, and carry a big knife.  And maybe a stick, too, like Teddy said.)

Which is why I don’t like harvesting something that is the exact same color as the monster plant.  In my sweaty, itchy harvesting angst, I’m way more likely to miss a zucchini that blends in perfectly with its surroundings. Missing a zucchini just once means we end up with humongous, bitter, seedy green zucchinis — they grow several inches per day, I swear — which slow the plantss production and end up in the compost pile.

Emmett, of course, thinks I’m silly to hate on green zucchinis so much.  I think I’m busy, and don’t have time to be hunting around for stupid boring green zucchinis when their bright yellow neighbors are so kindly, fluorescently shouting “PICK ME!  PICK ME!”  (Thanks to the lovely contrast between fruit and leaves, I never miss a yellow zuch.)

If you’re busy, and don’t like spending time in prickly bushes, trust me.  Next year, plant yellows.  And crookneck squash, which are by far our most prolific summer squash.  The heart of the plant almost looks like a snake’s den — brimming with curved, interlocked yellow babies.  Harvested when young, crooknecks tasty in most dishes that call for zucchini — substitute away!  They also make gorgeous aperitifs:  slice them lengthwise so they look like cute little whales, place a sliced tomato on top, sprinkle with basil, garlic, olive oil, and a dash of balsalmic, bake in oven until slightly dehydrated and serve.  They’re every bit as classy as cucumber sandwiches, so be sure to hold your pinky out when you eat them.

And finally:  flying saucers.  These are heaven’s gift to people who don’t want to go digging around in prickly zucchini plants.  They don’t all cluster at the heart of the plant: later in the season you’re apt to find them practically hung out on branches like apples.  And they’re beautiful, so beautiful you’ll be tempted to save some just to put out on the table as decoration.  Note:  in my experience, these are the least productive of the zucchinis, so be sure to put in a couple of plants if you’re looking to have enough for your own consumption (and maybe the neighbor’s.)

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I didn’t manage to kill any of these plants — green, yellow, or patty-pan?  The seeds are nice and big, which means you’ll be dealing with a fairly robust seedling, not a little wisp of a thing like lettuce or leeks.  Give ’em some compost and plenty of water — and barring some strange disease (more on that when I discuss winter squash later), these plants should take off, and in fact just might take over your garden.  Give them space, and come well-armored when it’s time to do battle with them!

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falcons as starling control

(When the Barbary tiercel — a subspecies of the peregrine — looks the other way, the dog drinks his water.)

Instead of using traps, mylar strips, or plastic netting, Huntington Winery in Healdsburg hires a wonderful man named Jim to fly his falcons around the vineyard. The very presence of his birds keeps starlings at bay. (BTW, starlings are a 200-million-strong invasive species which threatens all sorts of crops from berries to orchards to grapes.)

I know PETA types might raise their hackles over falconry. They don’t like the Iditarod, either. But, first off, both of these things (falconry and Iditarod) are really, really cool — the type of adventurous pastime that manages to inspire wide-eyed young children and scowling cynical adults alike. Secondly, I happen to find a working relationship between man and animal wholly respectable — the animals are truly doing what they love in both cases — and after spending time with falconers and mushers, I’d be hard-pressed to name folks who love their animals (birds and dogs) more.

Anyway, a story about falconry in vineyards (written by yours truly) will run in the New York Times Windsor Times today. Before you get the chance to pick up the paper, feast your eyes on these beautiful birds:

Above, the falcon is exhibits a behavior known as mantling — covering her “prey” after a “kill.” In this case, the prey is a lure (swung on a rope by the handle on the lower left), and no killing actually took place.

Below, Strega the Lanner Falcon, and beneath her, Ros the Saker Falcon.

OK, enough gawking. Back to the farmy stuff: stay tuned for the next post on Foggy River.

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holy quinoa, batman

Quinoa is crazy.  It’s starting to turn a beautiful golden pink, demonstrating that the grain is ripening and leaning towards harvest.  (It quite literally leans; we’ve wrapped it up in pink tape not to package it prettily but so that the stalks support one another.)

The picture below is one plant — a plant which, a few months ago, was a tiny stunted little seedling that looked near death.

More informative posts soon — there are simply too few hours in the day!

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a farmer and his worms

Emmett prepares a wormy ear for bbq.

The worm goes for a daring escape.

…this post is dedicated to all our customers who understand that worms come with the territory when it comes to good organic corn. Thanks for your enthusiasm and good spirit!

In other news, check out this very cool apple peeler-corer-slicer gizmo we came across at a friend’s orchard party in Guerneville.

With this machine, your apple is peeled, cored and sliced in 20 seconds. Having just finished a night of making and canning apple sauce (without aforementioned device), I can say that it is a must have.

To all you home canners, happy peeling and goodnight.

-emmett

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