Farm Newsletter August 5, 2013

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Farm Newsletter  August 5, 2013

         Farm News                Crop Forecast                 U-Pick   

Bulk Produce for You       Nuts and Bolts         Recipes


Farm News

Even though the “Septober”weather made swimming less inviting, we had a great time in Duluth last weekend, visiting family and the city, the lake, the woods and the rivers.  Thank you to all of you who encouraged us in one way or another to do that, including our great crew who kept things running — it’s been very good for our mental state!

We love where we live, what we do, and the people we do it with, and we’re both homebodies at heart, so leaving the farm doesn’t happen without lots of intention and effort.  We had the luxury to travel widely before we started this vegetable patch (or garden or farm or enterprise or mayhem) in 2006 , and since then we can count on one hand the number of nights we’ve been away during the growing season–and day trips aren’t much more common either.  While it’s busy here and we make it stressful for ourselves more often than we want to, it is lovely beyond measure, and the vast number of amazing sights and moments while working and living makes leaving almost unwanted.

Perhaps the most valuable part of a trip in summer for a veggie farmer is the letting go of the work that’s not going to get done while we’re off feeding someone else’s mosquitoes.  It’s made easier right now since the end of July tends to be a turning point in the seasonal work flow anyway, where some weeds have seeded and it’s too late to stop them, most crops have moved from infancy to adolescence and on into adulthood, and the scales start to tip so our predominant focus becomes harvest, not weeding and cultivating while also planting and harvesting.  And while harvest is hard work, it is simpler than the zig-zagging and flip-flopping of spring and early summer.

For every incomplete project or unwanted outcome we have each year on the farm there are ten lovely successes, but by and large we tend to focus on what we want to see improve.  And in the back of our heads there’s the knowledge of the secondary list of problems/improvements that there isn’t even brain space for right now, and the hope that we’ll write them down and get to dive into them sometime.  (Or that they’ll be solved by being ignored!)  It’s like when we give farm tours, we have to remember most folks don’t see what we see — the past projects not done perfectly (ie lessons to be learned), the future projects waiting to be done (also lessons to be learned), the one brush stroke we still want to re-do.

So going away, while it’s hard to leave a lovely place in a lovely summer, can help our ambitions take a break.  For now it has helped, though we have to remember to choose not to worry about the challenges, just face them as needed, and face the beauty and successes in the exact same moment.  We were having a good time before we left, but just letting go enough so that we could drive away and say “Yea farm! Thank you farm!” and be at peace, this is good.

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Crop Forecast

Maybe the term “Septober” weather is an old one, but when we read it on Paul Huttner’s MPR Updraft blog, we knew it hit the spot.  In our heads we tend to measure the mildness or intensity of a summer’s heat by the number of days with temps above 90 degrees.  Turns out the National Weather Service even has a chart for that.  (If you “go” there, scroll down through the blog.)  So this summer’s been cool, but check out this highlight–we have had 9 days above 90 degrees already, and the long-term average is just 13!  Maybe our memory is just short, but we had clocked those 9 days as just 2-3 in our mental weather log–either way the veggies love love the mild weather.  Last year we had 31 days over 90 degrees, and sure, we’ve made some improvements as we do every year to how we grow certain crops, but there’s a good chance all the TLC we give is unneccessary in a summer this sunny and mild!

Next on our minds was wondering if all, or at least most of, the tomatoes, peppers and melons would be able to ripen if the “Septober” weather stayed until winter came.  But the other piece of news from the weather forecasters is that there is still some chance for some heat.  Which, it seems, might be their way of saying we can’t forecast that far out but it’s not too late to see some heat later on.  That’s comforting, since things are ripening so slowly right now (hence the 3 cherry tomato limit).  Even some high-80s temps would do the trick, but we sure don’t need to pass last year’s count of hot days!

So we’re never quick to say it, but this could all add up to a bumper harvest, and you, sharing the risks and rewards of the farm, will likely see an increase in the share size.  This week we’re hoping to increase the “bag size”  on the durable table (with the white bag.)  We can’t guarantee it, but yields might mean the farm can give that much, at least for a little while.  We’ll see.   If it’s too much food for you, remember the leftovers go to the food shelf and people in need–in a good year on the farm, we’re able to donate more, so they benefit too.

Tomatoes will keep trickling, and soon will be in fully — we don’t know if they’ll really start ripening fast without those 80+ degree days, we’ll see.  Peppers should start this week, an early green type known as Cubanelles.  They have a slightly different flavor than green bell, but we recommend using them interchangeably.

For eggplant, the Asian types (long slender purple) are prolific and beautiful right now.  The Italian or globe types should be big enough this week too.  The globes are better for eggplant parmesan, or make a nice big round cut for sandwiches when marinated and fried or grilled.  The Asian ones are more tender and sweet, and the skin is also tender so they don’t need to be peeled.  They are great in stir fries, roasted, grilled, or just about anywhere, including ratatouille where their sweetness is noticeable even among all the other flavors.

Unfortunately we might be running out of sweet onions, earlier than planned.  It appears we had a mix-up of seeds or plants when we were planting them–could have been in the greenhouse or in the field, we’re not sure– and as they’ve matured it’s clear we have fewer sweet onions out there and more pungent storage onions mixed in.  So we’re sad to not have more of those awesome sweet summer treats, but we started picking the “storage” ones early to fill in.  They taste just like regular onions, but won’t last as long since they haven’t been cured.  We should have some type of onion in the share from here on out.  Major onion harvest will start in 2-3 weeks, and you’ll see the greenhouse fill up with them for curing.

This week we also expect to start with napa cabbage, for some cabbage variation.  Napa is awesome in spring rolls, and mixed or added to any other cabbage recipe.  Fennel will wind down this week or next.  All the other summer bounty should keep rolling in.  Soak it up!

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What’s for U-Pick?

Green beans are looking good for now.  Hopefully the next round of fruit set will keep them coming strong.  It looks like we need to plant more of these in coming years.

Cherry tomatoes have been very slow to ripen with the cool weather.  We’re sorry if a limit of 3 cherries seems silly, but there’s nothing we can do about how many are ready.  They’re coming.  And they’re bigger than usual so far, an interesting side benefit of the coolness, we think.

Tomatillos and a few ground cherries should start soon.

For yummy herbs: cilantro, basil, dill, parsley, oregano, thyme, cutting celery, and marjoram.

Please pick basil by pinching off the tops above a “V” in the stems, not by cutting with scissors or stripping leaves.  If you pinch the tops off and leave growing tips and leaves, the plants keep growing and produce much more.  Many of you are pinching well, but there’s a few too many cut or stripped plants out there.  If you have questions about this, please ask one of us–we’d be happy to show you.

There a seems to be a surge of interest in dill this year, so after having reduced our planting amounts a couple years ago (due to lack of interest), we’ll put some more in next year.

And flowers make a rich life even richer, and they make a busy farmer stop in their tracks.

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Bulk Produce for You

We are very sorry we’ve been forgetting to include this offering so far this year!  With the re-formatting of the newsletter this section got left out.  A few of you who have eaten with us for multiple years have been ordering, since you know it’s an option, but we didn’t connect the dots that we need to announce it here, both for bi-weekly updates and for folks who just started coming to the farm this year.  So here it is!

You might know that while most of the produce we grow goes to you, about one-third of what we grow is sold to wholesale accounts.  We deliver 2-3 times a week to Just Food Co-op, St. Olaf College, Carleton College, and occasionally to local restaurants including The Ole Store.  And new this year we’re selling to The Emergency Foodshelf Network in New Hope, MN — a warehouse serving food shelves around the state, and using donations to purchase fresh produce from local organic farmers to distribute to people in need.

To place a bulk order, simply call or email us at least 2 days ahead of the day you’d like to pick it up.  Orders can be picked up at the farm during our regular pickup hours, but it doesn’t have to be your share pickup day.

This week’s selection is : Lettuce Mix for $5 / lb, Carrots, Beets, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Summer Squash for $1 / lb, Asian Eggplant for $1.75 / lb, Kale and Swiss Chard for 3.50 / lb.

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Nuts and Bolts

Farm Potluck THIS Saturday, August 10th.  Save the Date!  Farm tour at 4:30, Potluck Dinner at 5:30.  (Toddler schedule.)  Bring a blanket or chairs and a dish to share.  We”ll have some table and chairs, but probably not enough for everyone.  It’s fun to see each other, tour the farm, and have a chance to eat together.  Feel free to bring anyone along who might enjoy it.  We look forward to seeing you!

Budding Farmer Activity Day — Tuesday, August 13, 3-4:30 pm.  Field Day-Open Hands Farm

Now Certified Organic!   Though we’ve always grown according to the organic standards, for a few reasons we decided to apply for USDA organic certification this year.  We applied this winter, had an inspection this month, and were granted certification last week.  We chose to certify primarily to shrink the grey area — to be publicly clear about our practices, so you and anyone who eats our produce knows we haven’t done anything to your food or the land, on purpose or by ignorance, that goes against the agreed-upon standards for organic farming.  And better yet, that we’re building soil for future generations.  Thought you’d like to know!

Blueberry Picking next door for probably just one more week!  Pick lots and lots!   It’s gleaning time, with reduced prices.  We freeze about 20 quarts / pounds each year, and count it as winter medicine.  And then we pick more to eat fresh while we can.  We know people who freeze more too!  The picking is pleasant and fun to do alone or together (catch up with friends and/or family as you work your way down the row), and the bushes are so often loaded at Little Hill that we enjoy the chance to sit down!

Blueberries are among the easiest foods to freeze yourself– dump them into a freezer bag and toss them in the freezer.  We love them as snacks, or easy additions to oatmeal or cereal, in muffins, pancakes or smoothies, the list goes on and on.  If you would like to receive notification of picking times click here to subscribe to the Little Hill Berry Farm email list, and mange mange

Share Pickup Hours   —    Monday, Wednesday Friday 2:00-6:00pm.  You can U-Pick any time.

Please Drive Carefully  —  Children are everywhere.

Thank you!

Your farmers,

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


Penne with Eggplant and Tomato

From Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

Dry ricotta salata cheese is often a key ingredient in vegetable pastas at the restaurant. It is a salty, dry, aged sheep’s milk cheese that has a tangy sharp taste. It is not hard like Parmesan or pecorino; it crumbles easily and softens as it warms, blending well with the noodles and vegetables.

2 large globe eggplants (or 4 Asian Eggplant)

Olive oil

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 handful basil leaves

1 handful parsley leaves

1 pound penne pasta

Sherry vinegar

2 cups tomato sauce

Red pepper flakes

½ pound ricotta salata cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the eggplants in cubes about ¾-inch square, toss them lightly in olive oil, and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Peel and finely chop the garlic and the herbs, separately, Put the pasta on to cook, al dente.

Heat a large sauté pan and sauté the onions in olive oil until just caramelized. Add the garlic, cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and the chopped basil. Heat the sauce to simmering, drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and toss gently. Serve with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley and ricotta crumbled over the top.

Serves 4 to 6.

Chilled Cucumber-Mint Soup with Yogurt or Sour Cream

from Farmer John’s Cookbook

4 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 4 cups)

1 to 2 cups water

2 cups plain yogurt (or 1 cup plain yogurt combined with 1 cup sour cream)

1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

several fresh mint leaves

2 Tbsp fresh dill or 1 tsp dried dill

1 Tbsp honey

1 to 2 tsp salt

2 scallions, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

  1. Combine the chopped cucumber, 1 cup of water, yogurt, garlic, mint, dill, honey, and 1 tsp salt in a blender or food processor. Puree the ingredients, adding more of the water until the soup is the consistency you like. Season with more salt to taste.
  2. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and chill for several hours. Garnish each serving with chopped scallions.

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