Monday, October 22, 2007

The Great Chicken Round-up of 2007 (so far)

Previously, I wrote about our chickens. We are very fond of our chickens but lately they have started doing bad chicken stuff. It may just be a phase they are going through. Most of the roosters are "teenagers", so maybe they are just acting out. In reality, they are not really doing anything out of the ordinary in chickendom but some things were getting a little out of hand. Chickens on a rampage can be quite annoying.

For some reason, about a month ago, they decided to invade the big lettuce patch. I guess they thought we had put in a salad bar. Anyway, they decimated an entire row of lettuce in about 10 minutes. Chickens are real flockers, so when one hit the garden, the rest of them followed. In their defense, with the drought, there has been very little greens for them to eat this summer and chickens like to eat green stuff so as I said, they aren't doing anything unusual. They just chose a bad place for their foray.

After exhausting every idea we had--from moving one of the Jack Russell kennels to the edge of the lettuce patch (that didn't work because we have trained the JRTS not to bark or chase the chickens....the dog just sat there and watched the chickens run past her...Good Girl, Callie! Good Dog!) to patrolling the perimeter with a long stick of bamboo, looking for marauders and chasing them away (they just looked at me for a moment and went right back to eating).

Drastic events call for drastic measures and so we decided that we would rather put them in a pen than in the freezer. We spent an ENTIRE day rounding them up. As I mentioned in previous entries, they are almost like wild chickens and they are pretty darned smart. We set up a "chicken trap" by using one of the empty dog kennels and rigging up a way to pull the door closed from about 20 feet away while hiding behind a bush. We put bird a special bird netting over the top to keep them from flying out the top. Since I feed the chickens daily, I went inside the kennel and called them and threw out cracked corn like usual. They mostly came up to the wire and cocked their heads from side to side, looked curiously at me and then ran back over to the garden. I guess they figured I couldn't chase them if I was in the pen and Dave was nowhere to be seen (he was behind the bush, remember?) so the coast was clear.

Finally, we just went in the house and let everybody calm down. We eventually caught several of the young roosters, put them in another pen, inside the big pen and the flocking instinct of the birds won over. They never figured out that the other chickens were enclosed in a pen, so over several hours, we rustled them up a couple at a time.

There were two wily roosters and one little hen we were unable to catch and they are still patrolling the backyard, but they haven't been anywhere near the garden. Our chickenhouse and the big fenced area is way down back by the barn, so the free birds are hanging around there with the incarcerated birds, so I don't think we will have a problem with them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Help stamp out Food Snobbery!!!!

I think that it is time that I do my part to bring attention to the issue of food prejudice. Since I am so in touch with food, I am going to address the food snobs of the world here on my blog today. That's right, it is my blog and I can say what I want to about whatever subject I am inclined to write love the power of the blog!! Okay, I am getting a power high so I better get back on subject. This just has to be said.

My simple definition of food snobbery: Refusing to even try or consider trying a particular fruit, vegetable, regional or local dish for any reason at all. If you are a food snob, let me help to set the record straighter on a couple of things:

Sushi versus Chitlins
I went to a Sushi restaurant in Japan once where there were a bunch of fish swimming happily together in a huge tank. We ordered and the next thing I know, the chef is screaming like a ninja and grabbing a live fish out of the tank and flinging it down on the table in front of us. When he pulled out a cleaver and hacked the head off right in front of me, I almost fainted. Needless to say, I didn't eat sushi (or much of anything else) for a while. Chitlins on the other hand are quite civilized by comparison. I have seen them being cooked before but that is it. Chitlin preparation has the good manners to stay out of the public eye as much as possible.

Grits versus Polenta
Grits and polenta are the same thing. If you let your grits simmer too long and they get really thick, you have made polenta. In Northern Italy, where polenta is a staple dish, it was first made when maize or corn was brought there by explorers. It is cooked down more than grits, but there is not much difference except for the seasoning and serving methods. Of course, grits can be pretty bland and boring if you buy those wussie white ones at the grocery store or you don't know how to cook them. I buy stone ground, organic yellow corn grits. Fortunately, I do know how to cook them (Granny taught me) and mine are delicious.

Livermush versus Blood Sausage
Do I even need to explain this one? Yes, I guess I do.
Livermush is decidedly Southern and Blood Sausage is decidedly disgusting.
Livermush probably had its origins with German settlers to the Southeastern areas of the US from Pennsylvania. Blood Sausage never quite caught on here in this area although I understand it is popular elsewhere. My best friend growing up moved to the US from Europe and I helped them to make BS at their house once. I repeat, ONCE. And I never ate any that I am aware of but sometimes when I ate dinner at their house, I was a little confused as to exactly what I was eating.

Okra versus anything
I already wrote an entire blog entry about okra, so refer back to that post from August 16th, to read up on okra. One quick note about okra: it is NOT indigenous to the Southern US (it just loves our climate); it is native to Africa; is an edible hibiscus; and is eaten all over the world.

Caviar versus Catfish Roe
I have eaten caviar once or twice myself, but don't remember particularily liking it. It tasted a little fishy. And speaking of fishy, there are people willing to pay $50+ for Beluga caviar yet look down their noses of folks who catch and clean their own fish and eat the roe. Joke is on them. Back in the late 1990's, the FDA busted a caviar "importer" who had been packaging and selling catfish roe as Beluga for years. Took DNA testing to determine that the roe in question was not from sturgeon, but in fact from the lowly Ictalarus punctatus or the common channel catfish. Nobody noticed the difference because, lets face it, who eats caviar on a regular basis? Do you know anyone who does? Neither do I.

Cow Peas versus English Peas
Cow Peas- A drought tolerant and warm weather crop, cowpeas are well-adapted to the drier regions of the tropics, where other food legumes do not perform well. It also has the useful ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through its nodules, and it grows well in poor soils with more than 85% sand and with less than 0.2% organic matter and low levels of phosphorus. In addition, it is shade tolerant, and therefore, compatible as an intercrop with maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, and cotton. This makes cowpea an important component of traditional intercropping systems, especially in the complex and elegant subsistence farming systems of the dry savannas in sub-Saharan Africa. English peas are just a cooler weather, slightly different cultivar of Fabaceae or Leguminosae, or the legume family. There is nothing sophistocated or gourmet about English (green) peas. In fact, if you compared the common field pea grown in the South to the English pea, the English pea is by comparison a thin and pale relative, as far as adaptability and usage.

Water Cress versus Creasy Greens
If you ever watched the Dobie Gillis show back in the 60's, you most probably remember Mrs. Chatsworth Osborne, Jr., Resident RB&S, who was forever giving parties where they served watercress sandwiches. This is probably about the silliest food affectation I know of, in all of my culinary experience. Watercress on buttered slices of bread with the crusts cut off was supposedly the height of snooty cuisine. Somehow the idea of a weed that grows along the sides of the road, in ditches where there is standing water pasted onto a tiny piece of white bread doesn't really impress me all that much. And why couldn't they even have a "big boy" sandwich with the crusts still on...did those rich people have weak choppers or just still long for mama? I don't get it.

I don't remember my Granny even planting this delightful little green plant, but she certainly got excited once it showed up in the corn field in the fall. It grows in a rosette, kind of like arugula. Today, you can buy creasy green seeds (Upland Cress is how it is sold) and plant some for yourself, but in the foothills and mountains of NC, they were/are considered a wild, uncultivated food, not to be taken for granted. I think maybe planting creasys would not set well with some old timers. Creasy greens are cousin to watercress and the name "creasy" is probably an Appalachian mispronunciation of cress. They are peppery and add a little spice to other greens.

There are lots more foods I could mention, but my fingers are tired and I have to go feed chickens. My break is over and I need to get back to some real work. Hope you enjoyed my little tongue in cheek (Really? Maybe.) missive today.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time to talk about this drought

Time to get serious for a moment. For those of you who read this blog and live in North Carolina, which is where my farm is located, you are already experiencing the extreme drought conditions here in our state. We are not the only state affected, but this is where I live and so this is what I want to talk about.

As farmers, we know that we will always have to consider any possibility in regard to growing anything. Insects, weather, disease, predation by animals are only a few of the obstacles we face. Because we are dedicated (and certified) to the principles of organic farming, we face more than conventional farmers. Organic farmers and conventional farmers often disagree, sometimes vehemently. There is one point neither can argue, however, and that is that plants and animals have to have water to live, so there is a solidarity between the two factions when it comes to the drought.

I have personally spoken to older farmers (in their 70-80's) who can't remember it ever being this dry for this long and some of them have farmed their whole lives. The local TV weathermen have stated over and over that we have broken yet another record, for heat, for lack of rain. Recently, I have heard mention that this was a "100 year" drought but I read that it has actually been closer to 200 years since we had a year this extreme.

At this point, we are down over a foot of rainfall and we have a couple of months of this year left, so who knows where we will end up for the year. Dire predictions point to a continuation of drought conditions and record high temperatures through 2008 and possible even 2009. They don't know for sure because records weren't kept much past 200 years ago and so can only guess as to whether this is a one time phenomenon or a natural weather cycle. I am sure that it could be studied more easily if logging hadn't decimated NC's old growth forests back in the 30-40's (the rings of trees are generally used to study weather patterns).

While I totally believe that we are in a global environmental crisis and that global warming is real and that we need to FIX IT NOW!!, I am not at all convinced that this is not a completely normal weather pattern for the planet. How can a 200-300 year period of records come close to answering questions about a planet that is billions of years old? Humans tend to be so arrogant about their little blink of an eye on Mother Earth that we can't put into perspective that we are one of the newer species walking the planet. With all of our technology and education, our politics and armies, our philosophy and authority, in the end Nature still holds the trump card.

But, I got off the subject of the drought. Let me return. On a personal level, the drought has affected every waking (and some sleeping) moments of my life for the past 2 months. Because we grow food crops which we market to the public, every day that it doesn't rain, we lose money. The money we make during the growing season has to sustain us and the Farm, through the rest of the year. Farming doesn't just shut down when growing season slows down (we grow food year round, just not all for market), there is still much to be done around the Farm. There is never a real slack time of year at the Farm and the money we have put aside will go toward not just daily living expenses. Maintenence and updates on fences, buildings, etc. that had to be let go during the busier times, soil prep, cover crops, setting up winter beds and greenhouse space are a few of things that have to be done when less growing is going on. The chickens still have to be fed and watered. Tractors and equipment have to be winterized. Long term storage crops such as winter squash and sweet potatoes have to be monitored for deterioration and culled and sorted. There is something to do every single day so a farmer's life doesn't slow down all that much once growing season does.

Being a good farmer means you try hard to stay connected to the natural order of things. Not all farmers are good farmers because some farmers are not really farmers at all. They work for huge corporations who operate giant farms, so the American public can continue have that 99 cent cheeseburger at McMeaty's, which is probably going to kill them (the people who eat at McMeaty's) before global warming ever will, so nobody really cares much about that (global warming, that is). These guys are actually more like factory workers. They are just trying to take home a paycheck to feed the family, like everybody else, so it is not their fault that they are raping, plundering and pillaging the land and water. They are like the crew on a pirate ship. The Corporation is the pirate captain and they are just doing what they have to so that they don't get marooned (get passed over for promotions),have to walk the plank (get fired) or be keel hauled (laid off 6 months before they can collect their pensions). But, I got off the subject again.....

Here are some things a good farmer does:

  • A good farmer is always aware of his/her source of water and manages it accordingly.
  • A good farmer is not wasteful of his/her most precious resource and doesn't need to be told that a little dirt on the car is not a big deal.
  • A good farmer plans and uses conservation without government officials having to tell him to do so.
  • A good farmer doesn't get golf. (You can figure that one out for yourself).
  • A good farmer doesn't waste good dirt on grass and so he doesn't complain about his grass being brown.
  • A good farmer thinks about how his use of water from his well will affect the well down the road and so is ever mindful that this is his neighbors' plight also.

Not having an abundance of water puts stress on everything, from crops and livestock to the farmers themselves. So many aspects of farm life are connected to whether or not enough water can be provided for some use that it is a constant challenge, particularly during a drought. Since we can't change the weather, we must be willing to bend to it. If we are flexible when we bend, we will snap back. If we are not, we will break.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thursday, just another day....yeah, right.

Today is tater digging day. We grow lots of sweet potatoes, which have to be harvested before frost because if the vines die off due to the cold, the tubers will be ruined. Now, whether that is an old wives' tale or the gospel according to Farmer John, we are not going to chance it. So now that there are some potentially cold temps coming, we are a-diggin' so we don't get caught with a surprise frosting with taters still in the ground.

By the way, for those of you who don't know this, North Carolina is the leading producer of Sweet Potatoes in the US, accounting for about 40% of the entire supply. Sweet Potatoes are also native to the warmer parts of North America and have been cultivated for 5000+ years. Sweet Potatoes are highly nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare. Sweet Potatoes are only distant cousins of real potatoes and even more distant cousins to the yam. If you would like to read more about the history of sweet potatoes visit SWEET POTATOES

All kidding aside, we are harvesting sweet potatoes this week. The last of three patches will be dug soon and it will take the better part of the day.The first step to harvesting sweet potatoes on a small scale is to chop down the vines. This is one of the only harvests we do with the tractor. It is just too labor intensive to do it any other way with just 2 people. So, the Farmer will mow down the vines. Next comes the hard part, the part that requires a lot of finesse with the tractor. There is no special implement used for this part, so one of the single blade plows will be used to go down the side of each tow. As the blade of the plow digs down into the dirt, it lifts that dirt along the side of the row.

Theoretically, it will also lift the potatoes out of the ground as it moves the dirt along. I say theoretically because you never know where the potatoes are growing exactly, so you might chop a lot of them into pieces, unless you are very good with the tractor. Thanks goodness the Farmer is very good with operating the tractor. Sometimes it takes 3-4 passes down the rows to get all of the potatoes out, so it is a relatively long process. Very few potatoes come out chopped in two so I consider this a testament to the patience and skill of the Farmer. We don't really like to use the tractor for anything that is not absolutely necessary. Since digging up all these hills of potatoes by hand would take weeks, we bite the bullet and use a little mechanization to help. We have harvested sweet potatoes, one hill at a time but we only did that once...experience is, after all, a great teacher.

After all of the potatoes are up out of the ground, we pile them up and leave them in the field for at least a day in the sun, to dry the skins and make them less susceptible to bruising and scuffing. After they dry a bit, we pick them up and put them in a small trailer and take them back to the 'tater shed, where they are sorted by size. As I sort them, I look for ones that are damaged because they won't store as well over the long haul. We try to use those up ourselves as quickly as possible.

Sweet potatoes tubers grow in a main cluster close to the plant but progressively smaller ones grow out from the larger ones, almost in a chain. You will never see these teeny taters in the supermarket because the ones in stores are graded according to size and only ones that are "baking size" are sent to stores. Also, the big ones that look like footballs are rarely seen. Customers at markets are always amazed at the varied sizes and shapes of our sweet potatoes so I try to explain how they really grow.

It seems to me that there a lot of people who have gross misconceptions about how things grow, which I blame on supermarkets. Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that if a vegetable is not perfect, it is defective when in fact, a totally uniform, perfectly unblemished fruit or vegetable is the one that is kind of unnatural. (I am not talking about obviously damaged produce, I am talking about the shape, size, etc.)

To get consumers to buy them, marketing geniuses have dubbed heirloom tomatoes that grow in irregular shapes "ugly" tomatoes, probably to make them seem novel. The fact is that those "pleated" tomatoes are a specific variety and they have always looked that way. Growing up, I don't think I ever had a tomato that was perfectly round, except for Tommy Toes. My granny must be slapping her knee over that one (Granny passed on in 2001, but she is still looking over my shoulder, critiquing my gardening methods, I am sure of it.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What the heck is a CSA?

It is Wednesday and since we don't really work the 9-to-5, there is no getting over the middle of the week hump. Monday and Tuesday of this week were dedicated to picking and delivering to our CSA members. Friday and Saturday, likewise. CSA is one of the ways that we market our crops. I haven't mentioned too much about what a CSA is in this blog so far, so maybe this would be a good opportunity to do so.

"Community Supported Agriculture"

In basic terms, a CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Members or shareholders of the farm or garden pledge, in advance, to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and the farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as the satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land. Members also share in risks, including poor harvest due to unfavorable weather or pests. -- as defined by the USDA

This is a great way for a small farmer to market all or a portion of his/her crops. The premise of our CSA is that it is simply a farm share, or a share our harvest for the year, purchased in advance, by our CSA members. No work at the Farm is required. Our obligation to our members is a top priority. While do grow some of our crops just for the family, we also distribute some of these occasionally, if we have a bountiful harvest. Several larger crops like okra, winter squash and sweet potatoes are grown for both CSA and the general market.

Each week for a pre-designated number of weeks members receive a share of everything we harvest for the group. Each year, we have a specific number of shares and once those are filled, there are none added. This would dilute the member shares and that would not be fair. There is also a specified number of weeks in a share. This year it was 30 weeks, from April until November. This year, with the extreme drought we have experienced, we have had to suspend pick up for a couple weeks but members will still receive the specified number of weeks that they signed on for. There are 2 pick up days, at 2 locations, where members come to pick up their weekly share.

We do not count the share by dollar amount, but rather the amount harvested. Produce is picked the day before, weighed and measured and then divided equally among the number of members at that specific location. When there is bounty everybody shares. If not, they share that also. The intrinsic value to belonging to a CSA is that members have a connection to a real farmer, on a real farm and that close relationship can give real insight into just what it takes to grow food crops and therefore, a deeper appreciation and connection to what is on the dinner plate.

Belonging to a CSA is not like a buying club or co-op because participants are supporters of a specific farm. Sometimes several farms will partner in the CSA, but generally it is only one or possibly two. CSA members accept that they will be subject to both the risks and the rewards of their particular farm. The "community" in CSA is the collective group of people involved, not the location or area where the CSA operates, although being provided with local produce is another big plus to belonging to such a group.

I love the concept of CSA. Twice a week, I get to see "friends", chat about the weather, swap recipes and so on. It is kind of like a chat with the neighbor, across the backyard fence, only across a table full of organic veggies. Don't get me wrong, it is hard work and requires a lot of organization, a lot of communication and a lot of dedication. On the other hand, there is nothing I would rather be doing right now so the balance is there.

Gotta head out to feed the critters now. Later.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Follow up to Pear Butter Post

Thought I would be back here posting before now, but best laid plans....

The pear and apple butter came off without a hitch. The pears were just ripe enough to produce a butter that has a full on pear taste. About the last 30 minutes that I cooked it, I threw about 6 pieces of crystallized ginger into the pot. I have made this butter before and put a piece of ginger in the jar when I poured the hot liquid in. This makes the ginger flavor really strong, which is nice. I am getting some more pears next week and I will probably make a couple of jars that way.I have also put a thin slice of lime in the bottom of the jar, which has a more tart end result.

I also have some golden raisins that I have been soaking in brandy for about a month and I will be using them in a chutney that I will be making with some this next batch of pears. I love chutneys, but they don't have as many uses as spreads, so I will only make a very limited batch. Probably post that venture, as many people have never made (or eaten, for that matter) a chutney.

Sunday's apple butter is probably the best batch I have ever made. After I cooked the apples for a while, I added about a 1/2 cup of dried cranberries to the 2 quarts of apples I had and a couple of pieces of the same ginger I used in the pear butter. The only spice I used was some cardamom and a dash of Grand Marinier. The final butter I put in the jars is a gorgeous mauve color and tastes like heaven. The apples were very sweet and the cranberries bring a nice counterpoint to that taste. The ginger is very subtle and only enhances the flavors of the other two.

I get my fruits cooked to the very soft stage (covered until that point) I use an emersion blender and puree the fruit until it is the consistency of applesauce. Since it only takes about the first 1/4 of the total cooking time to get to this stage I remove the lid then and don't put it back on. At this point, I turn the heat down to a simmer and make sure to stir it about every 20-30 minutes. This slow cooking process is done on very low heat, mainly just to help to evaporate the water out of the fruit and to let the natural sugars thicken the mixture. During the cooking process, I probably use the blender on it 2-3 more times, so that by the end it is as smooth as I can make it. Processing is done according to standards, in a hot water bath for the proper amount of time.

As far as how much time I took making these spreads, I started working on these butters at about 10am (washing, prepping, peeling, quartering)and put the finished products into their jars for final processing at about 9pm. The end result of this one day of effort on my part (the pear and apple trees worked a lot longer then I did...) is a treat that we will enjoy over the winter, when there is not much fresh fruit available. Because there is no added sugar, we don't have to feel like we are eating something that is all that bad, especially since we don't use that much at a time. Nothing brings a little sunshine to a cold, gray winter day like something that brings to mind the bounty of summer.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday Musings

Sunday morning again. It took me almost a whole week from the last time I posted to get back here again. Guess I was busier this week than I thought.

I am sitting here at the 'puter typing this entry, listing to The Farmer play his guitar. Earlier this morning, the two of us were discussing some of the changes we are going to be making at the Farm next year. Some of the changes are little tweaks to our system, but some of them are major! Farming is a daunting proposition when growing conditions are good. This year has been the biggest challenge we have faced since we started growing the majority of our food, 7 years ago.

Our first order of business around here is to put in a well. We dry farm, as I have mentioned in previous entries, for several reasons, not the least of which is the cost of putting in a well and irrigation system. This year has been a killer for us and we can no longer look to our typical climate/rainfall for what we need. Production this year has been about 1/4 as much as we usually have and, of course, that hits directly in the pocketbook.

There have been more than a few unusual circumstances this year,including extreme drought conditions, extremes of heat and cold, insect populations at times of the year (brought on by the drought, heat, etc.) when they should have been gone. We usually don't see flea beetles past June but we still have them in the garden now and it is October.

The crazy spring weather this year effectively wiped out our strawberry crop which cost us thousands of potential dollars. This was the first year for this field of plants to produce because we moved our strawberry plot to its new permanent location. Because the plants were young and newly planted (in the fall of 2006), they simply couldn't stand up to the stress of the meteorological roller coaster of February, March and April, 2007.

Strawberries are perennials and will establish themselves over a season, put out runners with new "baby" plants that root eventually and when the runner dies, there is a new plant. This produces a mass or "matted" patch in about 2 seasons. In the very cold temps of winter, strawberry plants go dormant and when it warms up in the spring they burst into life, bloom and produce berries like crazy and then the plants just spend the rest of the year growing and putting down strong roots and making runners (baby plants). That means that next year, even if we have another bout of weird temps, the plants will have enough reserve to bloom again later in the season because they have followed their natural life cycle more closely that the forced cycle method that many growers use.

Today is also a "preservation" day for me. I have almost a bushel of pears that have been donated from some wonderfully generous folks who have pear trees. The pears are not organic but they haven't been sprayed with anything (not necessary). I also have some mountain apples that we got from the "Apple Man".

The Apple Man is from up in Sparta, NC, just north of us and brings down truck loads of apples from the orchards in his community. He has a group of regular customers in our community and comes by every couple of weeks during apple harvest seasons. He sells all kinds of apples, like Rusty Coats, Stayman Winesaps, Jonah Golds, Red Delicious, etc. Usually his visits stretch over several months with all kinds of apples. This year he came once and won't be back....said there are not apples in the orchards he usually sells from. This year he only had one variety.

Now back to my preservation. I decided since I got the apple peeler/corer out anyway, I would make pear honey and apple butter. Making fruit butters my way is an all day event. I don't use added sugar so the fruit has to cook and cook and cook and cook....about 8-10 hours to get it right. And it has to be stirred a lot, too. After you spend hours peeling and prepping the fruit, you sure don't want to scorch and ruin it, so you plan on hanging around the house all day on preservation day.

I will be making pear honey, which is like a "butter" but because of the texture and water content of pears, they will never cook down thick enough to call the result a butter. Butters are supposed to be smooth and pears stay grainy, no matter how much you cook and puree. Pear honey can be made any number of ways, but my favorite is just pure pears with a little ginger.

When you make butters, if the fruits are ripe and sweet, you don't need to add sugar. The sugars in the fruit are quite enough. I think this is a superior product to sugary jams and jellies but there are some fruits you can't make butter out of, because they will never thicken properly on their own. Another reason people make jams and jellies instead of butters is because it takes about twice as much fruit. Citrus fruits, for example. But I have made butters out of strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, apples, blueberries and in combination with bananas or as mixed fruits. We use them in winter on toast, English muffins or my favorite, over whole grain griddlecakes.

On the other hand, apples cook down into a smooth, creamy buttery consistency even with no sugar added. I make mine several ways, sometimes spiced with cinnamon, mace, cardamom and nutmeg or plain. This time I am going to make some with cranberries and ginger.

Got to go get to peeling now. I'll take a taste for you and let you know how it turns out!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Its Monday again....

It is Monday morning and my week end is over. Of course, we don't have weekends in the same sense that everybody else does. Farm work is seven days a week, as many hours as it takes to get it done. Sunday is the one day of the week that we slow things down a bit and usually only work in the fields for 3-4 hours instead of our usual 8+.

Today is a picking day. We will pick everything that is harvestable in certain areas of the gardens today for our CSA pick up tomorrow. CSA is a farm share, where our members have paid for a share of our harvest for a specified period of time. Our CSA runs for 30 weeks from April until November. This year, because of the drought in our area, we have taken several
weeks off to give things a chance to catch up, so the 30 week period will not finish up until sometime in December. Each week, we pick and prepare for each member a "share" of whatever was harvested on their picking day. This week we potentially have butternut squash, a variety of eggplant, grape tomatoes, arugula, okra, basil, field peas and possibly some greens if there are enough to go around this week. We also have sweet potatoes almost ready to dig and stored onions from earlier in the summer. All of our greens are about a month behind their usual harvest window so we are patiently waiting on them to be ready to harvest. Since most greens are not really good when it is this warm (days in the high 70-lo 80's, nights in the mid-50's). The good news is that they can take our mild winter temps and will continue to grow, even if slowly, until at least January or maybe even February.

Since we "dry farm" or grow with mostly just the rain that falls, having the worst drought conditions since 1874 has not made this an easy year for us but we have managed to keep things going here. We do not have a well for irrigation here at the Farm for several reasons, the main one being the cost involved. Simply didn't have the money for a well this year, but since all indications point to the drought lasting through 2008 and possibly into 2009, we are trying to come up with a creative way to raise the money to put in a well/irrigation system. If you want to send a donation.....

The dry, warm weather has also given the insects the perfect year to go forth and multiply. We still have several insects in the gardens that are usually long gone by this time of year. Iam hoping that the beneficials are as prolific as the non-beneficials and that seems to be the case as far as I am able to observe . A couple of days ago, I discovered a young praying mantis on my front door screen, which I promptly removed to the herb garden and hopefully, a measure of safety. One of my chickens was already eyeing her, but I shooed the hen away. For the last several years, I have had a large female mantis in my herbs and every spring we see the tiny babies everywhere. It can't possibly be the same female, but obviously the progeny keep returning to the same spot. I have also seen lots and lots of other predatory insect activity all over the Farm, so I am optomistic that the balance we have here with our insect population stays in check.

Well, its time for me to head out to pick okra and eggplant....later.