Wednesday, November 24, 2010

December Share!

Christmas is upon us!

At the Burgess Farm that means Christmas Tree Sales for a solid month! It's a lot of fun for everyone and that includes the whole family who is involved at the farm (including Lizzie). But by Christmas Eve we're all happy it's the last day of sales.
A quick note about the apples. They froze in the root cellar during that really, really cold stretch a few days ago. I was pretty bummed when I found them the next morning. But I did some research and found a University of Wisconsin paper showing that they are still fine to be used in cooked dishes like pie or sauce. Keep them frozen and then right before making whatever you are making, thaw them and cook them. In other words, they wouldn't be very good fresh eating because when they thaw they'll turn very, very soft.

I did not get to post a blog for the Thanksgiving shares so I figured I'd try to do it early for the Christmas Shares. Below are some photos of what is in the holiday shares.

Leeks on the left, Turnips in the middle and Australian Butter Squash on the right. This is my new favorite squash! It is interesting to look at, delicious and yields a ton of food! What more could ask for from a squash? Actually, from a gardening perspective it offers more. I've never seen a squash plant yield so many squash as this one did this fall. In the back are a couple of decorative 'Moonshine Pumpkins' and some Falstaff Brussels sprouts. The beautiful dark color will be augmented by the flavor now that they have seen frost. These loose their color as they are cooked.
This photo is from the Thanksgiving shares so it includes New England Pie Pumpkins. I will try to put one in each share but I'll also be putting in Long Pie Pumpkins. Delicious heirloom pumpkins that were the pie pumpkin in Maine a century ago. They are the only pie pumpkin that will ripen consistently after harvest. I picked them mostly green in September and they have been ripening in the root cellar since then. I also have included several types of potatoes in this share and hope you enjoy the variety.
Another shot of the Australian Butter. I love this squash!
Here is a shot of the leeks this morning just after I had uncovered them. They have been frozen and thawed a few times under there but the plastic allows the ground to warm enough to dig them. And Leeks are hardy enough to take a few freezings and still be edible and quite good.

Here is everything all laid out before it went into the box for the Thanksgiving shares. The December Holiday Share will have many if not all of the same things though some of the greens will be different due to the cold snap we just had (No Chard for instance).
A couple of specific notes:
Here is a shot of a carrot that has begun to crack at the bottom and show signs that it is not holding much longer in the field. The portion I'm holding however, is still perfectly good. I put carrots like this in during the winter because 'perfect' carrots are far and few between and there is no reason to discard an entire carrot because one section is bad. Cut off that part and eat the rest. The carrot will be sweeter for the frost. Yummy!
And here is a shot of the Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts. You might have received this one in your share (or one like it) that shows the little black specks on the sprouts and stem. This is a result of excessive fall moisture followed by several freeze/thaw cycles. They don't look great when like this I admit. But, Brussels Sprouts are like several other Brassicas. They taste better after a few frosts. Not all of the sprouts you received will look like this, most look fine. But these specimens are still good. Just peel off the outer layer to reveal the good part on some of them.
Nothing to report on the turnips...I just liked this photo. ;-) They were frozen solid in the field but this is another hardy crop that will be able to stand that. You should be able to thaw them out just before using and have a great dish!
Here is a final shot of the garden for 2010. It was a great season and it was nice to be a farmer. More importantly, it was nice to be your farmer. Thank you for supporting local agriculture and choosing to feed yourselves and your family local, beyond organic, real food from Parker Produce. We hope to see you next season.
Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Final share for 2010

Hi all:
Another season comes to an end for the Parker Produce CSA. It was certainly a great season. The weather made up for its niceness for the rest of the summer. We had 30 mile per hour, sustained winds and horizontal rain for the whole morning and into the afternoon. We tried to stay inside as much as possible but eventually had to brave the weather for a few things. Here Brittany is putting the Leeks into the bags after pulling them off the garden this morning. You'll notice this week's leeks are a different variety and they are much, much longer than last week's.
Blue Hubbard Squash is also in this week's share. It's a wonderful squash. If you're one of the folks who claims they don't like Blue Hubbard because it's too watery...I would suggest that perhaps you haven't tried cooking it quite the right way. Hubbards are a baking squash. Here is a a quick link describing the method I would use These are from our garden and they came out pretty well this season for the stress of a late weeding. We also put in Buttercup from John for those who said they would like it.
Here is a shot of the leeks by themselves. As I said you will notice how much longer they are than the ones you received last week.

You will also find Red Russian Kale, a bunching green in this instance. We've been holding onto these all season and they turned out very well. Here is a recipe that we like in our house Oven roasted Kale is a crispy treat. You'll have to scroll down past all the advertisements, etc. We also don't cut the stems off. They make nice handles for the kale. This is a delicious treat.

Finally, here is a shot of Brittany and I in the driving rain (which you can barely make out in the picture...which is weird since I could barely see Emily through it when she was taking the photo. Here we are using water collected from the barn roof to wash the leeks and carrots. This was the last thing we did before going in, sitting by the fire and getting dry. What a way to end the season.
You'll also find some tomatoes that need explanation. Green! We put a few ripe ones in, all that's left in the garden. Brittany pulled the bulk of the green tomatoes off the garden last week and they've been in the milk house. They will ripen in the warmth of your kitchen in the dark. Not all of them will ripen as some of them weren't mature. However, it's worth the effort to put them in a dark, warm place and check them daily or perhaps a little less frequently. This is a great way to enjoy local, beyond organic tomatoes later than possible in our climate. Here is a link to some interesting recipes for green tomatoes. I am actually going to try the pickles. Should be interesting.
I hope everyone has enjoyed the season and that we will see you all in the Winter Club and next season! Enjoy and thank you all for participating in our beyond organic, local, real food chain!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The penultimate share...

Hi all:
We have Internet access again so I figured I'd post a quick blog update for this week's share. Many of the items are the same as last week which is good because I didn't have the camera this morning. Luckily, I took photos last week.
Here is a shot of the radishes just after they are harvested. This is how I count in the field. Bunching them in the field and keeping track of the bunches is the only way I've been able to keep track. This is much easier than guessing and having to come back out to the garden from the packing shed if I don't get enough.
Here is a nice shot of the top of the garden. This is just before the radishes were harvested. You can see the new greenhouse in the background. Happily, I've now completed the doors and end wall on the two ends and I'm in the middle of putting up the superstructure inside. It's much more secure now than it was in this photo. In the foreground you can see some of our low-tunnels which we use to cover things until the greenhouse tomatoes die off from frost and I can move the greenhouses over the fall/winter crops. Many of the things that will be available to our Winter Club members will come from this section of the garden which I can easily access in the cold, snowy winter.
Regarding this week's share, I first want to mention the leeks. Since I didn't have access last week, I hope everyone figured out a few things about the leeks. First, leeks are an amazing vegetable. They are a member of the onion family, they are beautiful, store well and hold in the field throughout the winter months if treated properly (i.e. mulched heavily). Most importantly, they are delicious and smell amazing when sliced and cooked. A couple of things you should know about leeks.
The first is the myth that only the white part is edible. I am continually shocked by the types of people who perpetuate this. Eliot Coleman himself mentions this in one of his books. The ENTIRE leek is good! And it all tastes like leek! There, now that's out of the way. The recipe I have for potato leek soup calls for 6 leeks. The recipe is considering only the white part of the leek. I've made the soup before with 2 medium sized leeks and used the entire leek. It's better. The photo above shows where I would cut the leek. The yellowish part above my finger is what I would discard, the rest is perfectly edible and tasty.
Next, due to the way leeks grow, are harvested and cleaned, they retain soil between the leaves. There is no way around this other than washing them thoroughly when you prepare them. As you can see in the above photo, this is one way the leeks collect water and other nutrients.

Here is one way to clean them. In the photo above, my ring finger is pointing at the outer layer which is often not worth keeping as it's mushy or damaged. You can peel it off like a banana peel. In my thumb and forefinger I'm pulling back a section of leek. You can do this and hold it under running water until it is clean. You will have to do this with each layer. A much better method in my opinion is possible if you are preparing an entire leek for something like potato leek soup. Simply cut the leek into medallions or any other cutting style you like. They put the pieces into a colander and rinse them that way, very thoroughly. You may even consider floating the pieces in a sink full of cold water for a while, then rinsing them in the strainer. It's more work than an onion but totally worth it.
You'll also find some winter squash in the share this week. If you are one of the folks who said you would like conventionally grown squash you'll have Buttercup in there (the green one). Everyone also got some Butternut (the yellowish one). The Butternut is actually from our beyond organic gardens. Those ones did alright after all. Brittany pulled them all from the garden this week and when I got there that day I was pleasantly surprised at how much we actually had. It didn't look like that much in the garden.
You'll also find two mixes. One is a small greens mix which contains Endive, Red Lettuce, Baby spinach and baby beet greens. The other is a braising mix containing Red Russian Kale and Mixed Chard.
Also in this week's share is the dwindling tomato crop. Frost is expected on Saturday night so we (and by we I mean Brittany-thank you Brittany) worked this week to pull all good tomatoes off the garden, green or not. They are all in the milk house, hopefully ripening. You will have received some green tomatoes today too probably (not everyone got green ones with their cherry bunches). You can put them in a darkened place, keep an eye on them and eat them as they ripen. Please note that not all green tomatoes will ripen properly. Simply discard the ones that don't.
Also, this week is the last of the zucchini and summer squash. I know some of you haven't enjoyed that part of the share. I am sorry about that but I have to say it's one of my favorite parts as the farmer. There really are few plants that I know of that will produce as much food from one plant as a zucchini plant. There are lots of options for zucchini of all sizes and perhaps this winter I'll have a chance to get some recipes together for them. That will help next year!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions. Next week is the last week of the CSA season for 2010. Please remember to return all bags and sign-up for the Winter Club.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ready for fall!

Hi all:
Thank you all for your patience as I've been neglecting the blog the past week or so. It's amazing how autumn brings out the 'stuff to do' list in full force. Speaking of autumn, Brittany and I have been preparing the garden for fall, winter and next spring. It's a great time of year when all of our work throughout the summer culminates in a great harvest season and we can visualize the garden in the coming season. Below are a couple of photos showing some of our work to ensure our fall and winter crops are protected from any oncoming frosts. The greenhouse in the distance will soon roll over the row covered plants in the foreground. You cannot see it but our newest greenhouse will also roll over the row covered crops on the left.
These row covers will protect our crops for our Winter Buying Club. This is the program we have that allows our members to avoid being forced to return to 'produce' from the industrial 'food' system at the end of the CSA season. Each week I publish a list of available produce, the price per unit and our Winter Club members email me with a list of what they would like. Then, I harvest the produce and deliver it to one of several predetermined, convenient locations. It's a wonderful way for our community to enjoy our beyond organic produce throughout the fall and winter. We hope this year to be even more successful at prolonging the season through the winter months. Please email me at if you would like to sign-up for our Winter Club. There is never any obligation to purchase produce.
Finally, the share this week contains one of our squash success stories. Delicata squash! See the photo below for id. This is the first year I've grown Delicata and I'm glad I did. While my buttercup and butternut were doing nothing, these little beauties were working like crazy to produce this beautiful bounty. Here is a recipe that sounds wonderful but it's really just to get your creative juices flowing. There are lots of other preparation methods.
I usually wash the squash, cut it in half lengthwise and then roast it in the oven at a high temp. (depending on the time of year and the outside temp.) on a cookie sheet with the skin side down. I spread raw, local butter on the flesh and sprinkle salt and pepper on it. (Some people like Nutmeg on their squash when roasted this way. I despise nutmeg so I never put it in but people say it's great.)

Also this week is another round of our potatoes. Despite some set-backs, we've had a wonderful crop of many of the varieties planted and we will have more in the next three weeks (Can there really only be three weeks left in this year's CSA season?!?!) You'll also find a braising mix including chard, kale and beet greens. Our tomatoes have slowed down in this fall weather but we're still getting some. As long as we're getting enough to divide amongst our members, you'll be getting them in the share. Also this week is another round of onions, carrots, and our full shares received a rosette of endive. I hope everyone enjoys!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A break in the weather...and now it's fall

Hi all:
I hope everyone is really enjoying this wonderful change in the weather. Brittany and I were ill-prepared for this morning's temperatures at the farm. When I awoke at 5 the wind chill was down to 40 degrees F. We were both wearing long sleeved tops and pants and I even broke out the wool cap! What a difference a hurricane makes. This is what I was talking about last week when it was 98+ degrees F and I was considering that a frost could happen anytime. Supposed to be 40 tonight I hear. We picked the tomatoes pretty hard today. You might have received some tomatoes in this week's share that need to sit a bit on the windowsill. The same message from last week applies. Please go through the tomatoes and get them dried out. I actually rinsed the cherries today because they were cracking so much. Brittany and I did a very good job of avoiding the cracked ones but the weather change is really messing with things. They are so fragile!
Here is a shot of me trying a new idea. We get a lot of fertility off the farm from municipal leaf collections from the town of Newport and Brewer. I don't really like the time it takes or the fact that I have to drive all the way to Brewer with a very large truck to get the leaves. I have done some research and other alternative farmers use the fertility from their own farms as much as possible. It turns out that hay can really increase fertility in the garden. I am trying it and I hope to report good results.
I also want to mention one of the problems we've had in the garden this season. Even in a 'perfect' growing season we can experience problems. I must confess that these problems are mostly of my own making. You've noticed I'm sure that we haven't had many cucumbers. I tried something new this year by growing cucumbers among the corn after reading that cucurbits can be grown that way to keep raccoons off the corn. It turns out that it only works with certain types of squash. Cucumbers aren't quite hardy enough to cope with the shade from the corn. Lesson learned, never experiment without growing the crop the regular way. I apologize to everyone who was really expecting cukes this year and hope we've been able to make up for it with other stuff (i.e. tomatoes...and more tomatoes and tons of other stuff).
Keuka Gold potatoes. This week's potatoes are Keuka Gold. A wonderful potato! Here is a link describing why I purchased this seed originally gold&descKey=7800. I have talked to several small farmers who actually don't like them. I cannot figure out why. I love these potatoes. They are great for making mashed potatoes and good for baking too.
Also, the Kohlrabi is in for the rest of the shares who didn't get it last time. We offered the first of it to about half of you this summer. But that left a few of you who didn't get it. I hope you enjoy it. Here is a link about Kohlrabi but you can learn a bit about it from a google search.

The rest of the share holds the usual fare. We are also saving lots of seeds this year, as much as we can anyway. Below are some beautiful beans. The color is amazing and I can't wait to harvest the majority of them. They are even more beautiful when they are fully dried.

I will be getting in touch with all of you in the coming weeks about some of our future plans for next season and your thoughts on this season. I hope everyone is enjoying the share.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Update on the previous post

I forgot to mention an important fact about the potatoes. Green on the potatoes needs to be cut off. A lot of people don't know this but that is actually indicative of the presence of a toxin that the plants produce if the tuber (the potato, actually not a root but a tuber) is exposed to the sunlight. The chemical is toxic but take it from someone who has eaten his share of it, it takes a lot to make the average person sick. But don't take the chance and cut it out. All the green means is that the mulch we used didn't quite cover that particular potato. The rest is edible and you can just cut the green part out. Here is a link to information about the green you might find on some potatoes.
There are always some potatoes that don't get covered up. In the industrial, global 'food' system, they are discarded because they don't look right. In a local system, they are recognized for what they are, a good, hearty food that might require a little extra work to remove the part you don't want. Thanks for participating in the latter! Enjoy.

Potatoes, Tomatoes and Decisions

Evening all:
I'm short of pictures tonight, as well as time since I'm prepping for high winds so I'll make this brief and just include some information about certain things that need to be taken care of in the share.
First, the tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes are suffering a bit from this heat and lack of water. I don't really irrigate except when it comes to seedlings being planted out. They need a bit of a boost. Other than that I really try not to irrigate because it is very, very damaging and has long-term consequences that people haven't begun to think about (unfortunately). Thus, sometimes crops begin to become stressed. Hopefully the promised rain from the hurricane will help get us back on track.
The stress in the cherry tomatoes is showing in thin skin. The moisture is being sucked out of the cherries into the atmosphere. Also, the plant itself is unable to give up as much moisture to the fruits as it's simply attempting to survive at this point. Thus, the skins are weak on the cherry tomatoes. It is very, very important that you remove your tomatoes from their bag, look them over and rinse them lightly in a colander. This will remove any tomato juice that may be on them from any cherries that split or burst in transit. Carefully go over your tomatoes and look for signs of splitting. This is especially prevalent in the cherry tomatoes. Remove any that have split. You may wish to eat them right there is that's the only thing wrong with them. If you don't have fruit flies (sometimes at this time of year they are a menace) you can leave the rest of the tomatoes right in the colander overnight to dry. Then store them as you normally would. This is all very important as it will prolong the life of your tomatoes through the week. If you don't do this, please expect some rotten tomatoes in the bottom of your bag before too long. Isn't biology fun?
Second, Potatoes are in! We've included the first of the potato harvest in today's share. I don't have the camera or I'd include the photos I took today. Sorry. But they are the ones in the brown paper bag. Please note that potatoes do not go in the fridge. When potatoes get that cold the starch (i.e. the thing that makes a potato a potato) turns into sugar. If you've ever tried to eat one after that's happened you know not to do it. Not very appetizing. So please store them in a dark, cool place with lower humidity. Here is a link about storage of potatoes (this link applies to all of the potato varieties you'll get this season from Parker Produce. And here is a link to Johnny's Seeds page about Kennebec potatoes. Just for information about the specific variety.
Also this week is Basil, Garlic (Inchelium Red), Onions, Carrots, Zucchini and Summer Squash.
The 'Decisions' part of the title implicates our thought process as we move closer to potential frost. I realize most people probably think the idea of a frost is just silly in this heat wave. However, the average first frost date of fall in Newport is September 15th. That leaves us only two more harvest weeks prior to the potential. Thus, we have to start harvesting things as though there will be no tomorrow. Certain things in the garden can survive a frost or two...winter squash is a good example. However, some things are not tolerant of any frost at all...Tomatoes and Basil are good examples. They immediately shrivel and turn into disgusting masses of previously wonderful stuff. In fact, as soon as the nightly temperature starts to consistently drop into the 50's, tomato growth is done. (We have some in a greenhouse which gives us a buffer on that.) So we have to start harvesting very hard and you may start to get things like green tomatoes in your share. I'll try to explain when that happens but just a heads up.
Please see the link at the right about storage information from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Emily took this class last year with her sister as a fun thing to do and a great way to learn some very, very valuable information. It has proven very useful in our household. I don't agree with all of the over-protective steps they sometimes preach but the class is very valuable and exposes people to a great way to preserve the harvest. Check it out and see if you can get to know someone who wants to/does preserve food this way. You'll love going to the root cellar in the winter and finding all of your hard work of fall lining the shelves.

Friday, August 27, 2010

No sleep but lots of tomatoes!

Hi all:
The Parker family is just back from the opening of the American Folk Festival. I hope everyone gets a chance to go see some cultural events and check out the great music and dancing. We like to see some of the groups from Louisiana with our Cajun princess!
I didn't get much sleep last night. Not sure why. I was a bit worried about the shares this week I guess. I wasn't sure we were going to have much because of the heat. I never have had so few greens as there are right now in the garden. Actually we have lettuce and endive along with the Chard but it has been so hot and dry that they have all turned bitter. Usually I'd be able to pull off those plantings right up through fall when the next round comes in. Not this year though. However, after last year's solid summer of rain and cold when greens and lettuce where the only things that would grow, I'm not complaining. Plus, my fears were lessened when I went out in the morning to the milk house and took in what was on offer...the results of a hot, dry summer keeping the late blight (now as close as Dixmont) at bay. It will come to the farm eventually when the weather turns but hopefully by then we'll be nearly done harvesting tomatoes anyway.

Look at all those beautiful tomatoes. As I said, I usually have more variety than this at this point but it's been so hot that we're down on variety right now. Luckily, we're up in volume. I could barely lift the coolers today to take to Bangor. I haven't tallied up the harvest record sheets for today yet but I'd say we harvested several hundred pounds of tomatoes and gave out quite a few pounds to each of you. I'll be running some numbers this week if I get a chance and you'll all be getting an email from me regarding totals for the summer and other housekeeping business. We're down to about 7 weeks left and we'll soon be into a different type of weekly offering again with root crops and fall hearty veggies. We'll also be bringing back some of the cool weather crops as we're planting right now for fall and winter. Until then, have fun with the tomatoes! Below is a beautiful shot of the pole beans that were harvested and bagged today. What wonderful color. I'm always interested to know what are people's favorites, not just amount varieties but which ones. In other words, I like to hear from people that they like tomatoes and could do with less lettuce (or vice verse) and also, which types of tomatoes, lettuce, beans, etc. you like best of the ones received. This information and communication is invaluable to me as the person who grows your food. I need to know what you all like to make decisions for next year about what to purchase for seed and grow out.
A tid-bit about tomatoes that you'll need to know when summer weather changes drastically and briefly as it did this week. We've had a solid month of no substantial rain. That means everything is very, very dry. In the Parker Produce gardens we use age old techniques to mimic nature and protect against fluctuations in weather. This includes loading the soil with organic matter, planting close together and mulching when possible to avoid bare ground, retain moisture and allow for natural cooling around the bases of plants. Therefore, our plants survive without irrigation for longer than most conventional 'farms'. However, plants have defense mechanisms just like humans when things go too far toward one side of the spectrum as this summer has with hot and dry. Tomatoes are a good example. The fruit forms with less water than what is ideally needed. But this week we got a lot of rain in a hurry, the temperature dropped for a day. Both good, except they happened too rapidly after too long. Then the temperature spiked again and the sun came back. With tomatoes that combination (along with harvest schedules) lead to what you see below. Cracking. This is different than the cracking you have seen on some of the large heirlooms. This is a sudden wound that opens in the tomato and doesn't have time to heal the same way as the larger versions that just grow around the opening and callous over. These tomatoes are still edible but you need to eat them right away. Essentially, they are leaking on the rest of them in your bag. If I notice them while bagging I don't put them in, but the volume of tomatoes that Brittany and I deal with means that inevitably, you'll probably get some like this (see below). I ask that our members open up their bags when they get home and go through everything. Take a look at the tomatoes. In fact, the best thing to do is gently poor them out of the bag into a colander. Rinse them to get rid of any tomato juice from a cracked cherry or two and take time to find any that are cracked. Eat them right there or save them for dinner, or whatever. But get the cracked ones out of the pile. Then you can let the others air dry and then store them like you normally would until ready to eat. Not too much work but necessary to keep the one bad tomato from spoiling the rest. Hope you enjoy. See you at the Festival!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Here is a bit of irony. Each Friday we have to discard a certain amount of detritus and refuse while bagging. This week it was mostly just tomatoes that had blossom end rot, got damaged in transport up to the milk-house, or generally that I didn't think were good enough to put into the share. This bucket has just tomatoes for the compost pile. In other words, on Friday I threw away more tomatoes than I harvested all year from the garden last year! What a difference in seasons.
We also pulled enough Green Zebra tomatoes off the garden this week for everyone to have one. This is actually ripe when green. Well, when it blushes yellow like those in the photo (and in your share). Another delicious, interesting heirloom.
You may have already come across this but below is an example of something we're likely to miss when bagging. These yellow tomatoes are 'Gold Nugget'. They tend to get this brown spot pattern on them when the plants are nearly done producing. I just can't spot all the spots (play on words not intended). I don't recommend you eat them. They won't hurt you but they certainly don't taste very god. I highly suggest that people go through their tomatoes upon arriving home and remove any that are damaged from transport, have spots, etc. Discard those that have the spots and eat the cracked or bruised ones immediately.
With every plus comes a bit of a reality check. People everywhere seem to understand that this has been a 'good season' for gardening. That's been true. However, we're running into the hard facts of climate change. Below is a photo from Friday morning just outside the milk-house. John's (Em's dad) already has lots of squash and pumpkins ready. It's August. That's not right. Everyone is experiencing the same thing. Everything is early. The age old agricultural patterns and rules are falling away. Who knows what will come in the future. Anomalies like this will only get worse and more frequent according to the vast majority of climate and environmental scientists.
By participating in a local, beyond organic, food chain involving a small-scale, family farm, you are helping to make changes that might help us turn this around. At the very least, you'll be able to alleviate some of the most difficult pressures that will come when the oil economy collapses. It currently takes 10+ calories of energy to produce each calorie of 'food' in the industrial, global food system. That doesn't even count the calories that come with transporting the 'food' around the globe. You are participating in a different paradigm. Thank you!

Hi all:
Sorry for the delay in posting this week. I forgot the camera at the farm yesterday in my rush to leave for Bangor deliveries! Got it today though after working in the garden. First, I want to let everyone know some exciting news. Johnny's Selected Seeds held a contest for the best farm stand marketing display...and I won! I just got the news this week that our farm stand will be featured on Johnny's blog this week. I've posted a link on the right and hopefully we'll be able to see it.
Now, onto the good stuff. This week's share has some firsts for the season. The first onions were pulled out of the field on Friday morning. Everyone should have a bunch of smallish onions in a bag with some carrots (pictured below). These are 'New York Early Onions'. These have not been cured (which means they haven't been dried) so they will not store in the root cellar for months or anything. They will last a long time in your crisper though.

Also, we've harvested the first of the eggplants from the garden. These are 'Diamond' eggplants. Delicious and beautiful. Eggplant is one of those crops that I rotate through the shares. So only Newport shareholders received eggplant this week. Next week it will be another group and so-on. Here is a link to a website that lists preparation tips for eggplant. I'm a huge fan of oven-roasted eggplant. It makes a meaty, creamy addition to any stir fry. Scroll to the bottom and click on the 'next page' links to get to the actual prep. tips.

Also, we finally pulled enough Lillian's Yellow Heirloom tomatoes off the garden this Friday to allow for everyone to get one. Lillian's Yellow is my absolute favorite tomato. I absolutely love these tomatoes. They are meaty (meaning they don't have a lot of seed and seed-gel inside, just flesh) and one of the most unique, sweetest tasting tomatoes I've encountered. Plus, they are amazingly beautiful. I hope you enjoy. I just slice them and put a tiny bit of salt and pepper on them and eat them fresh. They are also the best tomato I've found for tomato sandwiches!

This is a photo of the carrots I mentioned before. These are just the carrots that were thinned from the patch. We take these out so the rest can mature and fill out completely. In the industrial food system these would be thrown away. They are 'too small', 'not uniform in size enough' to be marketable. Some of them would have been put into industrial, freezer bag 'meals, etc. but for the most part they would be discarded. Thank you for participating in a food chain that doesn't waste food simply because it doesn't fit some cookie-cutter, carbon copy idea of what is 'marketable'.

I'll make another post with some other photos but here is one of something you should know about tomatoes. Blossom-end-rot is a malady that hampers some tomatoes. We are able to cull most of them in the field but when you're dealing with the volume of tomatoes we do on a Friday morning, eventually one might get through. I would just compost the whole tomato if you get one of these. It's been my experience that the inside is usually rotten enough throughout enough of the tomato to make it not worth trying to salvage anything. You're welcome to try obviously.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thank you Nature.

Hi all:
I hope everyone has had a great week. It's been hot in the gardens and we could use some more rain but the thunder storms this week did dump some on us so that's good. I want to follow up my rant about corn last week by thanking the folks who offered feedback. I also wanted to let everyone know what my daughter Lizzie thinks. See below...
I think her vote is quite clearly defined.
Also, at the top of the blog is a photo of some of our garlic. You'll find a bulb in your share this week (two bulbs if you have a full share). This is the first of our garlic harvest (which is now all out of the field and curing in our greenhouse under a shade cloth). This variety is "Chet's Italian Red" and I'd like to know what everyone thinks of it, especially any garlic aficionados out there. I hope you all enjoy it. If you're looking for something to do with it, you could use some of it with the basil in this week's share to make pesto! Finally, everything is in sink to offer you pesto with both the basil and the garlic produced right here!
Pole beans are here! For those who don't know, pole beans are a long season crop in that they take a long time to come in and then - if everything goes well - they keep producing for a long time. We have several varieties in the garden and the first ones have come in. Pole beans are (in my opinion and that of many gardeners around the world) far superior to bush beans. They offer more diversity of appearance and the flavors are out of this world. Below is just one example. "Gold of Bacau" is the yellow bean in my hand. You can see how large it is and it's still tender and delicious. A bush bean that had beans inside the pod this size would be nearly inedible. This particular bean weighed 1 oz. Hey, I was curious. In the background are "Royal Burgandy Bush Beans". Don't let me give you the impression that bush beans aren't great...they have their role to fill in the garden of the sustainable Maraichere (Market Gardener). These Royal Burgandy beans are actually something I purchased as a trial this year, never intending to put them in the shares (I do this every year with several things and only grow them the next year if I like them). But they are yielding quite well and I really like them. They are excellent raw as a snack or appetizer. The beautiful color will fade when they are cooked.

The other beans in your share are these beautiful, striped pole beans. They are quite tasty and very interesting. They also produce a beautiful dry bean later in the season (if I can let any of them stay on the vine that long...they are so good).

Finally, this week's share is one that involves a lot of tomatoes. I am thanking Nature for thus far sparing us from the blight. I haven't been able to get my greenhouse up and covered as fast as I had wanted but with help from Jim, John and Brittany, we're making progress and that's something. With Nature's help we still have tomatoes and they are coming in like crazy. You'll find several varieties in your share this week. I want to take a few moments to explain some things about dealing with heirloom tomatoes. I am interested in growing mostly heirloom tomatoes as opposed to hybrids. Heirloom varieties (for all veggies not just tomatoes) are those that have been passed down through generations from one grower to another. They come true to form and thus allow farmers to save seed. Hybrids do not do this. Also, heirlooms taste far superior to any hybrid (with the exception of Sungold Cherry Tomato...which several people are trying to de-hybridize). The reason that most of these varieties aren't grown in the global, industrial food system, is that they don't survive travel and don't 'look good'. I actually disagree with this as I find them terribly fascinating and love the look of nearly all heirloom tomatoes. I prefer variety and interest to carbon copied clones devoid of flavor and nutrients. But, they do have cosmetic 'flaws' and thus make them hard to market through visual means (i.e. t.v. ads and supermarket shelves). Heirloom tomatoes are how I know small farmers will survive. You simply can't produce this variety and flavor with hybrids that are designed to be picked before ripeness and shipped around the world in boxes stacked as high as a tractor trailer truck.
My basic rule about tomatoes is this: "Before you mention the way it looks, taste it...then we'll talk". This is what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. I actually remember the day I ate my last industrial tomato. I was at the diner up the road from my house and I ordered a salad. It came to the table, the iceberg lettuce was limp and pale and the tomatoes (I have a hard time even calling them that)...were beyond description. I took one bite, put down my fork and slid the salad back to the edge of the table. That was about 3 years ago. Now, I only eat tomatoes that are fresh from the garden (mine or another local farmer's) or were processed in my home by Emily and/or I for the purpose of canning, saucing or freezing. Bite into some of our tomatoes and I think you'll see why. Once you've had an actual tomato, you'll have an hard time going back. It's worth waiting 9 months a year for the real thing...kind of like asparagus except there you wait 11 and a half months.
That all being said, there are some things you should know about heirlooms to enjoy them fully. They have, as I said, cosmetic flaws. The two pictured above are displaying what's called, 'cat-facing' (one in a spiral, the other in a web). It's very common in larger tomatoes like the yellow/orange ones in your share. It's perfectly fine, it just means the tomato was growing fast and healing itself as it stretched. Just cut that part off and eat the rest. I usually slice them from the bottom and just leave the top green part for the pigs, chickens or compost pile.
Below are some other examples of things you might see. On the left is a paste tomato with split shoulders. Again, just cut around it and eat the rest. In the middle is a 'Goldie' tomato that shows signs of vine stress (meaning it probably was growing with the left side against the vine or trellis rope and grew abnormally) and cracking. This cracking (on the bottom) is also very common in heirlooms and is particularly a bane in Brandywine varieties. Same solution...cut around it. It's easiest to slice the tomato first and then cut the parts out that you don't want. Finally, in the lower right hand corner on this other Goldie with green shoulders is a small wound in the skin. It has scarred over. Most of them do this. If you get one like that, you can probably guess what to do. Cut around the scared part and eat the rest. The one in the photo isn't quite fully ripe with the green shoulders but when it has a spot like that I pick it anyway so it won't continue to grow, thus reopening the wound.
Finally, as I mentioned, these are delicate, extremely so, tomatoes. They wouldn't survive the industrial food system. In fact, some of the ones we harvested this week were damaged in their crates on the way from the garden to the milk house. This brings me to my final point. If you get one with a fresh crack or bruise on it, you need to eat that one right away. Perhaps check your tomatoes over when you get them home and look for damage. It could even happen in the bags and coolers. Any that are freshly wounded (you'll be able to tell) should be eaten that day or at the very latest the next day after being in the refrigerator. All others can sit on your window sill and be absolutely fine for a few days. Any longer and they should all go into the fridge. I hope you all enjoy and please keep the feedback coming. I appreciate hearing from everyone that has contributed to the Parker Produce CSA through feedback. It's valuable, important and great! Happy eating!

Well, I hope everyone has had a great week.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And so it begins!

Talking to many farmers and gardeners amongst my friends there is a common refrain. We all agree that its nice to go out in the garden and remember why we do what we do. After last summer, this year's weather is a wonderful change. When I walk through the garden I see things growing the way they were meant to...and it's great. You'll notice a huge increase in the amount of tomatoes in your share this week. I have great fun harvesting them, bagging them for all of you and eating the ones I bring home for our family. Again, especially after last summer.
To save on plastic we bag the tomatoes all together. If anyone has any questions about what type of tomato is in the bag, please let me know. But to get into some other information pertinent to tomatoes I have posted a photo below of several stages of tomato ripeness. The front-right row is a row of tomatoes that are not yet ripe. Behind them is the same row of tomato varieties that are actually ripe. You can tell because they are lighter in color when they aren't yet ripe. Also, sometimes they have what are called 'green shoulders'. A great example of this is the fourth tomato up which is an Orange Banana Paste Tomato. You can see there is green around the top.
Tomatoes can be ripened in two very easy ways depending on your goal. When you have some that are almost ripe, you can place them on the window sill in the sun and they will ripen in a couple of days. If you ever get one from us that is mostly green (which may happen as we approach frost) you can put them into a brown paper bag in a dark drawer. They ripen in the dark. You just need to check them frequently to ensure they don't over-ripen.
Also this week is the first installment of sweet corn. For those that have heard me talk about corn before, you may want to fast-forward through this part. I'm about to go off on a bitter tangent. Our corn is planted by hand using a single-row seeder. We do not currently use machines to cultivate (keep the weeds down). We do not spray anything on the crop to keep the weeds down. All weeding is done by hand and with very simple hoes. That being said, consider the following. This year we had to break down and plant hybrid corn. Hybrid seeds are generated under laboratory-like conditions and are patented, thus making farmers dependent upon seed companies (hybrids cannot be saved because they don't come true the next year). We had to plant hybrid seeds because our output needs to be consistent to match our member's demand for sweet corn. Bottom line is that open pollinated varieties are way better tasting but cannot match hybrid vigor. So, we have to plant hybrids as much as I dislike them. Now, each of our CSA members received 5 ears of corn today. In total we harvested 187 ears from our first planting. That 187 came from a patch of ground that is 30 feet wide by about 100 feet long. That's a huge patch of ground. In the same patch of ground, the amount of other food that could be grown would blow your mind. This is especially true if you consider that some varieties of food are 'cut-and-come-again'. A corn plant, under the very best conditions, will produce 2 good ears...and then the plant is done. In order for optimum conditions to be met and for us to produce enough sweet corn to meet demand, we will have to plant way more land to corn, use tractors and large cultivating equipment, which will take fossil fuel. The long and the short of it is that I don't like planting corn. In a sustainable world, it has not place on the scale that it is currently planted. If everyone planted enough corn for their own needs it would be different because small plots of corn are easier to manage, weeds, pests and all. I hope to compile a survey of a few things at the end of the season. One of the most important questions will be whether or not you, our members, want us to grown sweet corn.
Finally, I included a photo of one of my favorite things to do with tomatoes. In the upper left hand corner of this photo is a plate full of thinly sliced tomatoes with a leaf of basil on each one. On top of that is a small square of locally produce, raw milk cheese. What an awesome treat! If you don't have any basil left from last week, you can do this next week. It is delicious.
Lastly, I want to include a bit of information about beans. I'm sure that at this point in the bean season some of you might have run into this but hopefully you haven't or if you did you got around it. The top bean (which I'm pointing to in this photo) is suffering from a mushy, mold problem. This happens when the plants get big and really close together. Air doesn't circulate around the plants as well and some of them tend to mold. Usually, we can spot them on the plant and we discard them. However, sometimes one slips by. Then, it might spread to others in the bag. All you have to do is pick out the bean. I usually just discard the whole bean. The second bean has what looks like rust on it. This is less of a problem because you can eat the rest of the bean after cutting that part off. This one tends to happen when the beans get too big. It's nature's way of telling us to pick faster...or plant fewer beans next year. Hopefully, you've all been enjoying the beans and other things and have been able to get around it if you've run into this.

Also in this week's share is:
Bull's Blood Beets/Greens
Tete Noire Cabbage
Provider Green Beans
Golden Butterwax Bush Beans
Royal Burgandy Beans (these are the beautiful, dark red beans in your bag. They are great raw and cooked but the color will fade when cooked)
Summer Squash