In This Post: items in your share, a pickle of a workshop, farm news and crop updates, and recipes at the end!
What's in Your Share This Week?
Lettuce! Two varieties: Devil's Ears (long, pointy deer tongue type), and Red Sails (crinkly red leaf)
Sweet Onions- either Ailsa Craig or Walla Walla, both large, sweet onions that are super juicy- refrigerate these until using.
Beans- either green Jade (my favorite green bean) or our Rainbox Mix (green, yellow, and purple). Did you know purple beans turn green when cooked? Enjoy these raw or just barely steamed if you want to eat purple beans.
Garlic- we've been doing two small, rather than one large, bulbs per share- how's that working out for you? Any pref?
Basil- enough for a small batch of pesto, OR a basil-tomato-fresh mozz Caprese salad
Potatoes- Dark Red Norland, an early redskin with white flesh, perfect for baking, boiling, or roasting. We've got small potatoes this year - see rundown of crops, below, for details.
Tomatoes- more cherry tomatoes (from the field AND the hoophouse, finally!), as well as big heirloom slicers. The first heirlooms in from the field this year are Cherokee Purple, Crnkovic, Moskvich, Valencia, Eva Purple Ball, and Japanese Trifele Black. More varieties to come!
The very first summer cucurbits! You may get Miniature White Cucumbers (which range in color from white to yellow- similar to a Lemon Cuke but elongated, not round), baby summer squash, or zucchini. More of all of these, and green cukes too, in the next few weeks.
Optional Extras: Turnips and Radishes- we pulled an entire old bed of turnips and radishes. That means we have a lot, but some of them are super spicy, and others have some insect damage. There are three types of turnips- Scarlet Queen (red stem, red root), Hakurei (small green leaves, white round root), and Nabo (a spanish variety bred for its leaves and big roots- big green leaves and spicy, elongated white roots). Easter Egg (multi colored) radishes. If you love turnips and radishes, these are yours to sort through and enjoy the good ones. If not, the chickens will happily do it for us ;)
Food Preservation: Dilly Beans and Cucumber Pickles / Thursday August 23 from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Birch Point Farm / 7506 E. Birch Point Rd, Traverse City, MI
Come learn how to make brined and fermented pickles and dilly beans; or if you know how, come join in the fun of preserving food in a group setting. Produce, canning jars and lids will be provided. Each participant will prepare and can pickles and dilly beans hands-on, and take home a share of the jars at the end of the workshop. There will be take-home info and resources available. $25-35 sliding scale. Preregistration required. A partnership of ISLAND, Birch Point Farm, NMSFC, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. For more information or to pre-register call (231) 622-5252 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's been a long time since I've sent any farm news- I hope this update is worth the wait! As you know, it has been a HOT, DRY season. It has been the strangest weather of any growing season to date, in my experience (12 years since my very first farm volunteer gig!). Except for 2009, the year we lost all the tomatoes to late blight, it's been the hardest growing season yet. We've strained the irrigation beyond its capacity, got behind in laying irrigation at all in some places, gotten one or no harvest only from some crops (like baby salad) that normally we'd get two or more cuttings from, weeds have been rampant and loving this heat, and insect pests have attacked in unprecedented numbers and varieties. We lost the entire first planting of cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers) to the heat- newly germinated plants fried and died, so we had to scramble to replant for a later harvest. Also, we've got small potatoes- the drought set back or killed most potato plants after they'd formed spuds but before they grew much. We'll have lots of small potatoes, and maybe the recent rain will re-start the growth of the plants that are still green! We'll see. That's the bad news.
The good news is that some heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, and basil (and the new planting of cucurbits) are doing great! Assuming we got irrigation on as soon as we planted, the plants did GREAT. You will soon be consumed by tomatoes. :) Hopefully cucumbers in the next couple of weeks, too! Peppers are looking good, just barely starting to ripen, but some of the plants are loaded with fruits. The dry weather is good for minimizing rot on fruits, so they have a better chance of ripening from green to red (or yellow, etc) without developing rot. However, dry weather also makes it harder for the roots to absorb calcium from the soil, which results in a condition called blossom end rot in tomatoes and peppers- a black sunken spot on the very tip of the fruit. We can mitigate that by continuing to irrigate, to make that calcium available and absorbable to those plants.
Fall plantings (more carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, as well as the cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Asian greens, etc) all got pushed WAY back this year, as the ground where we wanted to plant these things was a solid brick, from lack of rain, and impossible to till, until very recently. The transplants have been busting out of their trays, and finally getting in the ground! That means all those fall brassicas will be later than normal, and maybe smaller, depending on the weather the next 2 months. We'll continue to irrigate, weed, and hope for the best. (Right now it looks like CSA will run over 20 weeks, possibly the full 22, to make sure everyone can get in on all that fall bounty!) Thanks to my neighbor Jake for coming in with his 5-ft tiller to prep all that planting space, once it was possible.
Every year I learn something useful from the season, and this year a few things stand out:
1. Weather is becoming less and less predictable, and more and more extreme
2. Because of item #1, infrastructure like hoophouses, irrigation, and storage space become more important, to accommodate the unpredictable weather and crop and harvest needs.
3. The investor model of membership is great! I am a pretty hard-core CSA advocate, and as such I encourage people to become traditional CSA members when it can work for them, but for those who can't, the investor model is working really well. I've gotten good feedback from everyone I've talked to, except a few folks who live on my road and don't always go to town on Sat or Wed for market. It's hard to justify driving 8 miles to market for food grown 1/2 mile down the road, but right now we don't have a good system in place for them. I don't want to start a farm stand- any ideas?
4. The farm passed the threshold of reasonably hand-workable acreage this year. For the first time, we worked up over 4 acres and attempted to manage it all by hand (the only tractor tilling happening early in the spring, and all bed prep and subsequent cultivation with hand tools). In addition to unanticipated stresses from extreme weather, the sheer amount of space I planned to cultivate was too much for our current system, and I ended up calling Jake (the neighbor with the 5-ft tractor-drawn tiller) to till certain spaces more frequently than I'd anticipated. We were dependent on his schedule and equipment maintenance, and if he hadn't been available, we would have been, in a word, screwed. I'm thankful for him and his tiller, but it brought home the fact that Birch Point is ready for its own traction system. I wanted to refine hand work systems enough to not rely on tractor tillage, but this year made it evident that we're past that scale now. I'm considering either a walk-behind tractor (a commercial-scale BCS tiller with mower and other attachments) or a 40-50 hp tractor for tillage, mowing, and cultivation. The BCS certainly costs less ($5,000 vs over $20,000 for a new tractor), but the tractor may be a better long-term investment, as we may pass the scale of walk-behind tractor work soon, too.
This is a hard decision for me- not only is it a huge investment, it goes against my communal nature. On paper I really don't see any reason for everyone on this road to have their own tractors, and we have good relationships with our neighbors (and often bring them veggies or do other favors for each other, which I love). However, the farm has gotten to the point where a week of waiting for someone else to have time to mow for me can result in an acre of thistle seed dropping into three acres of garden, causing unknown future labor cost (hoeing and weeding). Also, I could never have anticipated the difficulty of explaining to Jake a bed-system vs. a row-system, of planting, and what that means for the pattern of tillage in a field (with some weird tillage resulting!). The bigger the scale (up to a point), the bigger the stability of the farm, but also the bigger the risks, whereas before when I had less garden space, every risk was a smaller one, and the benefits of not maintaining my own tractor outweighed the risk of letting weeds go to seed around the garden, for example. Now the benefits of having a tractor at my disposal, on my schedule, seem to outweigh the risks of the investment and tractor maintenance. So traction is the next big thing for Birch Point- hopefully by next spring!
In related news (big things)- we're putting up a heated greenhouse this fall, for transplant production and sale! We (Birch Point and Bare Knuckle, my cohort in this project) will primarily be producing our own transplants to get an extra-early start to the season. However, the sky's the limit in terms of plant production in that space. Ideas include vegetable, herb, and flower transplants for sale at market, custom orders (from other farms or gardeners who don't have transplant production space), perennials for gardens and landscapes, and ornamental annuals. What would YOU do if you had extra heated greenhouse space? We're taking suggestions :) Thanks for reading; enjoy the following recipes, and we'll see you at CSA pick-up.
Any root vegetables you have- potatoes, turnips, radishes (yes, radishes are excellent roasted!), carrots, beets, garlic, onions, etc.
Salt and Pepper
Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)
Dried herbs like rosemary or thyme (optional)
Preheat oven to 400. Scrub and cut roots into bite sized chunks. Toss in a bowl with optional lemon or vinegar, salt and pepper, optional herbs, and last of all, the olive oil, to coat thoroughly. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast for 30-60 min, depending on size of chunks, or til edges are dark brown and caramelized, and centers are soft. Turn/stir at least once during baking. Serve hot or room temp.
Olive Oil or Marinade (optional)
Slice onions into thick (1/2" or wide enough to stick a skewer through) rounds or half-rounds. Skewer through all the layers to hold slices together (you get what looks like an onion lollipop). Baste with olive oil or any marinade you like (or not- they're fine without), and lay flat on hot grill. Cook until layers start to separate and droop, and edges are black, turning over once or twice. Serve as themselves, or with anything you like with onions!
Zee Besto Pesto
2 cups basil leaves and tender stems (remove woody parts, but use tender parts)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, and/or walnuts, and/or sunflower seeds (any nut, seed, or combo will work)
2 fat garlic cloves or more to taste
generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
generous pinch of pepper
Pulse basil, garlic, and some of the olive oil in food processor til coarsely chopped. Add nuts, continue to pulse til they achieve desired consistency (either coarse or fine- try different textures and see what you like best- there's no wrong way to do pesto if your ingredients are good!). Add more olive oil as you go, in case the batch clumps up and needs liquid. Add rest of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and cheese, and pulse to mix. Taste. Add more of anything if you want. I like slightly chunky pesto, where the different ingredients are still identifiable, but creamy, blended pesto is delicious, too. Up to you. If you plan to freeze pesto for future use, some people recommend omitting the cheese and adding it just before using (frozen cheese sometimes gets a weird texture). It's up to you. Seriously- you don't need a recipe for pesto :) Throw some stuff in a blender til it's a nice consistency. Serve it with pasta. Voila.
My Most Recent Favorite Salad (or anything) Dressing
1 tsp ground yellow mustard
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp fine salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup olive oil or any neutral (vegetable) oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey (optional but so delicious) ;)
Blend it all. Dress lettuce salads, cucumber salads, steamed beans, grilled onions, boiled potatoes, you name it. Enjoy.