Farm Newsletter July 8, 2013

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Farm Newsletter  July 8, 2013

Farm News                Crop Forecast                 U-Pick     

Nuts and Bolts                     Recipes

Farm News

Summer has arrived outside with hot sun, late nights and early mornings, mosquitoes and crickets, and it has also arrived inside in our kitchens. With more and more substantial veggies rolling in, the decision about what to make gets easier and easier, and the results get better and better. We love fresh summer eating and are glad you do too! Get out your bags and picking hands, and your knives and cooking pans, here we are!

That long rainy period stopped just in time for a great – but mysteriously short– strawberry season, and for everything else on the farm to stand up and start running.  This warm sun has been fantastic for plant growth all around.  The days are already getting shorter by tiny increments, but inches per day is the norm for growth right now.  We’re also now into prime flower and fruit-setting time for the fruiting crops – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, squashes and cucumbers, etc – and the mild heat has been perfect. We keep remembering last year’s heat wave –which was so hot and long it would have been hard even without the earlier plant stress of the June deluge (when inches of rain per day was the norm)–and which really reduced the amount of flowers that were able to successfully make fruit. The pollination process was simply gummed up by the high heat and humidity, especially at night.  With the heat wave, fires, and severe rains in other parts of the country, every day all spring and summer we’ve been looking around and thinking we’ve got it pretty easy.  So these mild days and cooler nights have been great, and we’re seeing lots of little fruits out there—many of them are visible when the flower petals fall off and the eraser-sized baby tomato or melon is revealed.  It’s almost as magical as seeing a newborn human, in that soft, tender, vital and fertile kind of way.  Like baby-lovers, we’re out there peeking in and checking with gentle fingers every chance we get.

So with apparently good-looking fruit set, we could have a lovely late summer harvest of juicy fruits.  But of course anything can happen with this wild natural world, and we’ve got our eyes on two things that might undo that harvest.  We’ll spell the first one backwards —  “tsorf” –since we don’t like to encourage it by saying its name.  It always comes, but later is better, and with so far a cooler summer we can’t help but wonder if it might bring a cooler fall.  One neighbor expressed this concern the day he finished planting his field corn, a month late.  A late start with an early finish is not a good recipe for abundant food.  We have the advantage of being able to cover and protect crops we’d like to save, though it is loads of work and only works down to a few degrees below that unnamed temperature.  So we’re pushing crops along with irrigation and cheerleading, to make sure we get them to edibility as soon as possible in this interesting year.

The second potential undoing we’re watching is some plant disease in the potatoes, peppers and tomatoes.  We sent a sample of an infected potato plant to the U of MN Plant Pathology Lab, and they informed us it is not late blight.  That was super news, since you might remember we got that from a windy storm late last summer on some tomatoes, and to see it this early could really wreck those crops in the same family.  The bad news about that potato sample is that it has a bacterial infection, which may or may not travel to peppers and tomatoes, it’s hard to be sure.  We’ve seen signs of it in several different crops, but perhaps since it likes wet cool weather the plants are still looking healthy and beautiful.  We’ve also done a lot to keep these plants healthy, and we continue to spray them with probiotics (ie “yogurt” for the plants), so we’re hopeful they can fight it off and become yummy food for us.  And remember, veggies that undergo a little stress sometimes have more nutrition in them than unchallenged ones, so maybe we’ll just pretend we put them through this on purpose for you!

On tomatoes, there are some in an early planting that are almost full-size –we’re watching them for signs of red, but nothing yet!  They’ll be on your plates as soon as they’re ready.

Our best growing to you, and thanks for eating it!

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Crop Forecast

We’re excited to start picking carrots and beets this week, to complement the broccoli, summer squash and zucchini for some fantastic early summer meals.  Cucumbers are also trickling in.  Kale and swiss chard are both looking great.  We’ll have scallions and baby leeks for another week or two, then switch over to sweet onions.  Radishes and turnips are barely hanging on in the heat, they’ll turn too tough and spicy soon.  Head lettuce this week and maybe next.   Garlic scapes are most likely done, if they are then for garlic flavor we’ll wait until the main garlic harvest later this month.
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What’s for U-Pick?

We are completely out of u-pick containers!  Please bring some to share or just enough for your own use.

Green beans are here, as you saw in this weekend’s email.  They should be abundant from now until lots of cold nights in fall, or a “tsorf.”  Coming soon we also have yellow beans, purple beans, and purple spotted “Dragon Lingerie” beans.   (Isn’t it fun to imagine a dragon wearing lingerie?)  Watch the U-pick board and white signs in the bean patch for their arrival.  For picking beans, there should be enough for everyone to pick to their heart’s content.  We do six plantings of beans to help make sure we have them all summer, but keeping them picked, ie picking all beans before they get too big and tough for good eating, will help each planting produce longer.  So with good picking we should have loads for everyone.

Sugar snap peas live shorter lives than beans, but pack extra sweetness and juiciness into that short life!  Pea season is usually 2-3 weeks, but can be cut short by temperatures in the 90s.  Pick pods that are plump — not flat, but before they get bloated– for maximum flavor and texture.  These need to have the string removed, but the pods are edible and part of the yum.   Shelling peas, so named since the shells are too tough to eat, need to be “shelled,” or cracked open and peas removed.  There is a great debate between “the snappers” and “the shellers” (our naming) about which type is more flavorful, and whether or not shelling peas are worth the extra effort of shelling.  We’d like to say we’re neutral here, but you’ll notice we grow 3 rows of snap and just 1 row of shelling peas!

Pea tendrils should keep being good, and soon will produce snow peas of their own.  Since the rain stopped they haven’t gotten any water up on the sandy hill there, so the flavor might not even qualify them for the above debate.  We’ll try to give them a drink and a seat at the table.   Cilantro is going strong.  Basil is off to a slow start, we’re going to plant it much earlier from now on.  Dill is still a couple weeks away, though we’re ready to have some with those cucumbers.  We often have mint and lemon balm in the summer, but they did not come back up this year due to the frigid temperatures in January.   We also dug up and moved the row of perennial herbs (a project planned for 3 years ago to give better access to the raspberries there) so those herbs and flowers are smaller than usual this year, but they should be up and running next year.  We might have a few offerings from there this year, we will see.  We will be opening parsley, oregano, thyme, and marjoram this week.  The limit will be 1 handful per herb until they size up.

Flowers  are starting to open up, we’ll have limits as they get started and hopefully unlimited later.  For now, keeping them picked, like the beans, and your flowers at home, encourages production of more blossoms.  The more the merrier!

Strawberries are in there, but will be slimmer and slimmer picking as the week goes on.  We are surprised they’ve come and almost gone so fast–with our variety we expect a 2.5-3 week abundant season.  Last year we learned a lot about growing bigger berries, now we will be researching keeping the later ones bigger too, and if there’s anything we can do to lengthen the season in our little patch.

Regarding picking amounts for strawberries, we have changed our strategy a bit and would like to share that with you.  In other abundant years we have gone to unlimited picking in the strawberries very early in their season, but we’ve been moving away from that, towards simply setting higher picking limits per share.  Our concern was that some folks were getting lots more berries than others, and our goal is now to make sure each pickup day gets the same number of quarts over the course of the picking season.  So far this year everyone had a shot at at least 4-5 quarts over the course of the last 2 weeks, and though we’d like another abundant week of big berries, we feel good about that number.  On one hand we think we’d like to be your single source for a year-round supply of organic strawberries, and raspberries for that matter, but on the other hand, that would be a whole ‘nother business to enter into, with its own expenses to cover and labor to fit in to our yearly schedule.  The cost of the farm share doesn’t cover the cost of growing any more berries than we already do, so we expect to keep our planting amounts about the same, but we’ll keep learning and managing them for maximum yield and quality so you get the best possible harvest from their growth.

While we’re at it, the same goes for raspberries too.  We’d love to plant more, but the plants are relatively expensive, and there’s that pesky fruit fly that might make raspberry production difficult for everyone in the region.  Also, some of our older plants are struggling to grow much at the moment, either due to weeds +/or fertility issues, we’re not sure.  They yielded low last year too; if we can learn what they need we could have lots to go around, but there is a chance it will be a slim year for them.  We’ll see, as with so many things on the farm right now, we’ll get to find out in the next couple months.

Thanks for understanding, and supporting the farm so it can support you!  Let us know if you have any questions or comments about any of this.


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Nuts and Bolts

We need U-pick  containers!  Clean ’em up and bring ’em in, there’s lots more for everybody to pick.  Yogurt containers work best, other similar-sized containers are useful too.  Thanks!

New reusable produce bags are in  — Check them out on the sign-in table.  They’re colorful Chico Bags, the same size as our clear produce bags.  They work well for picking up your greens and can be used for other crops or uses too.  They’re made from recycled plastic water bottles,   94% post-consumer waste, and designed to hold produce.  They are specifically advertised to store summer squash, broccoli, carrots and celery, and we’ve found they work ok to store greens for a few days but not a full week.  For best storage, these bags can be used for transporting your greens home, then put them in a tupperware container in your fridge to store for the week.  We can mark your bag with a sharpie at the 3/4, 1/2 , 1/4 level for ease of collecting your share, and they can be machine washed and dried–without any sneaky shrinking!


Share Pickup Hours

Monday, Wednesday Friday 2:00-6:00pm.  You can U-Pick any time (when U-pick crops are in season.)

Please Drive Carefully  —  Children are everywhere.

Your farmers,

Erin and Ben, with Allia, Jesse, Martin and Veronika


Long-stewed Kale

from Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook by Alice Waters

1 slice smoked bacon

1 onion

1 small carrot

3 cloves garlic

2 bunches kale (about full clear bag)

Salt and pepper

½ cup cream

Grated zest of ½ lemon (about ½ teaspoon)

Cut the bacon into small dice and render it over low heat for about 8 minutes. Peel and chop the onion, carrot, and garlic into small dice and add to the bacon with a splash of water. Cover and stew the vegetables until they are soft and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

Wash, stem, and coarsely chop the kale (or a combination of kale and mustard greens, or other hearty greens). Add the kale to the vegetables along with some salt and cook uncovered over moderately high heat; the greens will give off a lot of water. Keep cooking until the liquid is almost evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add half the cream and simmer until it has been almost completely absorbed, then add the other half and keep simmering until it, too, is nearly absorbed. Add the lemon zest, taste and correct the seasoning, serve.

Serves 6.


Potato, Squash, & Goat Cheese Gratin


serves six

2 medium yellow squash, about 1/2 pound
4 small to medium red potatoes, about 1 pound
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil or thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 1 1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Use a mandoline or chef’s knife to slice the squash and potatoes into very, very thin slices, 1/8-inch or less. Toss the sliced vegetables with the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl.

Place 1/3 of the squash and potato slices in the bottom of the dish — no need to layer them squash-potato-squash; just spread evenly — then season with salt and pepper. Top with half of the goat cheese, scattered evenly in large chunks. Repeat with another 1/3 of the vegetables, seasoning again with salt and pepper and topping with the other 1/2 of the goat cheese. Finish by layering on the final 1/3 of the vegetables and seasoning with salt and pepper.

Pour the milk over the entire dish. Top with the parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 more minutes, until the top browns. Scatter on the fresh basil, if using.

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