posts tagged with 'farming'
The boys have been asking for squash soup for, like, a week. Squash soup and garlic biscuits, to be precise. But there were some snags in making it happen: most notably, the fact that we didn't have any squash. After four or five years of great squash crops we had a complete failure this past summer. Animals ate all the initial seedlings, then I wasn't able to get replacements in until much too late, so despite some healthy-looking vines at the end of the season only a single squash was able to reach maturity. Naturally we ate it a long time ago, along with all the ones I bought at the farmers market to compensate. So the centerpiece of this evening's soup had to come from Whole Foods, and sadly it wasn't that good. Not terrible, mind you—it's a butternut squash, how much could go wrong? But it wasn't bursting with flavor, even well-roasted, and it lost out to the celery in the final taste profile. So sad.
It's the time of year when we're starting to think of the new farming season. This year I'm teaming up with my friend Angel: she's going to order and start all the greens and things, and I'm going to do tomatoes and peppers. This is catering to our core competencies, and I expect it will make both our gardens stronger. After the dinner this evening I think I'll add winter squash to the list of things I start indoors, just to be on the safe side in case we get a repeat attack from the critters. Because you know we need our squash!
This afternoon with the rain holding off I thought I could mow the lawn. Only, earlier in the day we had bought straw and marsh hay for the winter bedding (animals and plants, respectively) and the bales were on the lawn in front of the shed. When I went to put them away I found that the rack I built to hold the straw was broken—probably by kids playing on it. As I worked on fixing it I found what was left of the poor black hen, who had been eaten under the back of the shed. So I buried the remains. Then I raked up all the loose straw that had fallen through and around the slats of the rack over the past three or four years, then I finished fixing it. Then I put the four new bales away. Then I mowed the lawn. Although I had to take a break in the middle to do a recorder lesson, because it was time for that. Happily, the rain kept holding off the whole time, and the lawn got mowed! Maybe I won't have to do it again before the snow... because Lord knows I have enough else to do around here!
Some of the time I put a lot of energy into gardening. It would be better maybe to put a consistent amount of energy in, but this is where we are now. And besides garlic probably my favorite this to grow is tomatoes. There's nothing like a sandwich made with a tomato fresh from the garden, a little salt, and plenty of mayonnaise... (this time of year I regret our picnic lunch days because you just can't pack up a tomato sandwich). When everything goes well, life as a tomato farmer is just amazing.
But sometimes—often—things don't go as well. Lots of things can go wrong. Gardeners everywhere live in fear of the fungal blights that can devastate a previously healthy crop in just a couple days; and then there's less dramatic afflictions like blossom-end rot and tomato hornworm. Besides all those we have another challenge: our chickens. They like nothing better than to get in to the garden and peck bites out of every single one of the almost-ripe tomatoes in the row. It's brought me close to tears before. Today I finally just went and put a fence around the tomato bed. I should have done it a couple weeks ago but it makes it a pain to weed, and to pick tomatoes ourselves. But it was either that or kill and eat all the chickens.
We've still been able to pick plenty of unpecked tomatoes. And even the ones they got too still have food on them, if you're not too picky. Which I'm not. After all, these are home-grown tomatoes we're talking about!
Today as part of my lunch preparations I dashed out into the rainy garden and snatched up a bunch of green things: some kale, some collards, arugula, a couple little heads of broccoli. Back inside I just dumped them on the table. Who needs a plate?! And who needs washing—the rain takes care of that, right? We're very formal here. Zion and I enjoyed them the most, he the kale and I the arugula and broccoli. Harvey and Lijah will always eat broccoli too, Lijah nibbling only on the very tips of the buds. I don't know why he doesn't like the stems—those are the best part! I don't know that we have enough of anything to make a real dish of it, but that's fine. We'll just keep browsing.
As always, gardening this year has had its frustrations. The boys and I went to both the local nurseries today looking for butternut squash seedlings to replace ours, nine out of ten of which were eaten within a couple days of sprouting. Also nearly all the kale was nibbled in the same time span, which was pretty discouraging. Clearly we need better fences. Fences at all, actually; right now there are giant gaps where I took down wire or even posts in order to improve the construction. With my dilettante sort of farming it's tough to plant and weed and make infrastructure improvements, so I guess this year the priority is the latter. Besides the fence I also finally upgraded the raked raised beds with actual wooden sides. I was doing that while I was also trying to get plants and seeds in, which wasn't optimal... but next spring they'll there all ready to go! And this year, even with all that, we're still getting lots of good things.
Those were the first strawberries, which Zion and Lijah picked yesterday. (You see they're not in an enclosed raised bed yet, since they were already growing. But this should be their last year in that spot, so we'll move them to one for next year.) The peas, well-protected with their own private fence, are also doing well, and so's the arugula and mixed greens. Tomatoes are looking strong. We ate all the asparagus we wanted, and lots of green onions. The garlic looks like it'll be the biggest ever, and none too soon: last year's crop is almost gone. And, while we failed to find any butternut squash plants, we picked up a bunch of pickling cucumbers instead. The boys like pickles better than squash anyways.
It's been a bit of a tough spring for gardening, in that we haven't had three consecutive dry days since March 26-28 (literally). But work is proceeding well nevertheless, since the boys are now old enough that I can ignore them for hours on end in order to pursue landscaping projects. Plus they and their friends helped start lots of seeds way back in the beginning of March, so there's no shortage of plants to put in once I make beds for them. Now of course, two plus months in cell packs or three-inch peat pots isn't the best growing environment, and the tomatoes especially were showing some signs of stress as we headed into the second week of May. The first dozen of them are now in the ground, and I'm happy to report that they they're much happier after just a couple days in our well-composted soil.
Tomatoes are very gratifying actually. The seeds stay good for years and always germinate well, they do their best to grow in whatever container you give them, and then once you do plant them out they take off so fast I wish I had a time-lapse video of their growth. New leaves are already springing out, and with the benefit of compost and the pinch of fertilizer in each hole they're noticeably darker green by the day. I have high hopes for them... how long til we're eating our first tomato sandwich?
Fall felt like it raced by this year; I didn't do lots of the things I had hoped to do. Now it's totally winter, and the year is still racing. But at least the boys and I caught up with one fall task this afternoon: mulching the garden. Since it wasn't only me being slow and out of it that delayed my fall tasks—the weather was a factor too—other folks are still doing leaf cleanup, and it turns out they're happy to give us their leaves! (I've never talked to anyone else who regrets having a yard that doesn't produce enough leaves...). We imported four bags today, which was just enough to cover the remaining beds. The boys aren't always up for helping in the garden, but they were enthusiastic participants in the work today. I think the way I described the project to Lijah was just the thing to get him interested—I said we needed to give the garden beds their blanket of leaves. All three boys also had fun using garden rakes, and miraculously nobody was injured. And now I can feel like the garden is ready for the winter, and check something off my endless to-do list. Up next in garden projects: ordering seeds!
So I haven't written anything about our apple trees since last time, but I should have: they lived up to the promise of those blooms and produced an impressive crop. Impressive for us, anyway, since except for the crab apples it's the first time we've gotten any fruit off of any of our many fruit trees. This year we ate countless Macintoshes, five Golden Russets, four Moonglow pears, and the one precious Honeycrisp apple, watched carefully over long months of ripening, and finally picked last Tuesday (as pictured in this post). All those trees are done, but the Northern Spies are just now coming into their own.
Back in the end of September I picked that pile—the ripest ones I could find—to make a pie. Because that's what Northern Spies are for, I'm told; that's the reason I planted the tree. How good are they? I had to find out!
Very good, it turns out. They made a pie with plenty of juice, but with each apple slice still entirely distinct and firm. Impressive and delicious. Of course, it was also the first time I ever made a pie with apples picked less than an hour before, so maybe that has something to do with the good results too. Either way, I'll take it!
I'd also love to take credit for our bumper crop of fruit this year, but I probably shouldn't... apples are doing great all over this year. What I can take credit for is properly using the ones we have. All over town I see trees laden with unpicked fruit, surrounded with drops. Sure, they might not be the tastiest apples for eating out of hand, but they can at least be applesauce or jelly! Or even cider... what if we could have a shared community cider press?!
We're leading the way in full utilization of the Malus family by even using our crab apples, to make the jelly so beloved of our middle child especially. We didn't get any last year because of the late freeze, so it was gratifying last week to be able to pick a couple gallons. Of course, now I need to find the time to actually make the jelly!
Of course, if you ask the kids apples are really just for eating. I was excited to pick those finally-almost-ripe Northern Spies for the pie the other day, but we've actually been getting apples off that tree for a while because Lijah, notably, much prefers "a green not-ripe apple from the tree!". The Macs were all ripe by mid-September, so he had to move on. Northern Spies now. They're so big, he gets plenty of enjoyment out of each one. We do like our apple days.
In the midst of the cool wet weather last week I noticed something thrilling: our fruit trees had flower buds. We have five apple trees and two pears, plus a couple of crab apples, and to this point only one of the crab apples had ever flowered. Considering I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to tree care I wasn't surprised, but it's still been a little disappointing every year—five years of disappointment. Well, in 2017 we're at least moving in the right direction, because all nine trees are in flower!
At just about the same time we have blooms on the the six-year-old Macintosh and Northern Spy apples, the four-year-old Honeycrisp, the three-year-old Golden Russet and Cox's Orange Pippen apples and Seckel and Moonglow pears, and the crab apples. The flowers might not be the most beautiful, but to me they're precious and delightful.
Now all we need is for the pollinators to do their work. It's a little disturbing how few I've seen so far—a subject for another post—but there's time yet. The weather looks like it'll be cool but not too cold for a while, and now that the rain stopped those bees can start getting busy. I wish we still had our own; it would be great to watch them in action. A project for next year!
In the middle of the winter when the green of our garden is just a memory, looking at the pile of winter squashes on the counter makes it real again. Butternut squash is one of just two storage crops I've managed to grow in any worthwhile quantities—the other being the garlic—and we've started the past three winters with a significant number of them taking up space in the dining room. At this point in the season the pile is smaller, but there are still squashes! It feels like a success. It also feels like a success to turn one of them into delicious food.
One of my favorite ways to do that is by making roasted squash soup. It's pretty easy. Peel a squash, split it in half, and take out the seeds. Then slice it up, splash some olive oil and salt on the slices, and bake them on a cookie sheet until they're soft and browned on the edges. You can do that ahead of time. (You can also eat the delicious squash morsels right off the sheet when they come out, but not too many—or else you'll have to do another one to have enough for your soup.)
Then it's time to make the soup part. Chop a big onion, a couple carrots, and two-three stalks of celery. Melt a lump of butter in a stock pot and when it's hot toss in the vegetables. Cook them for a while, over not-too-high heat, stirring every once and a while. When they seem ready, toss in the roasted squash and enough chicken or turkey to cover it all up. If you have some delicious roasted-vegetable turkey stock made from the carcass of a pasture-raised bird you're all set for ingredients; if your stock is milder you'll probably want to add some salt, at least. Simmer it all together for a while.
If you have a stick blender, now's the time to put it to use. Blend everything up into a beautiful puree. If you don't, all the ingredients should be soft enough to mash with a potato masher. Don't bother with a blender—what a pain. Lumps are fine too. If it's too thick—not everybody wants to be able to stand a spoon up in their soup—add some more stock or water. Taste it. If it isn't wonderfully delicious, you can add a little maple syrup and a little cayenne pepper... but if you started with well-roasted squash and good stock you won't want to.
And that's our squash soup, beloved of adults and small children alike (the bigger children aren't quite so appreciative). There really should be a photo of the finished product, but it didn't last long enough.