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