Monday, July 21, 2014

Birch Point CSA Week 6 News: Garlic Out! Fall Brassicas In (hopefully)!

Greetings farm friends! Welcome aboard, Heart of Summer members.  Please see Field Notes below for  this week's farm news.

In Your Share This Week:

Lettuce- Either romaine, butterhead, or green or red leaf.  Despite the last few days of heat, lettuce is still loving life and looking great in the field. We'll continue to have lettuce all summer provided we get some much-needed rain to re-soak the soils, to help keep lettuce happy (not a dry- or heat-loving plant).

Kohlrabi- I know we've sent you home with a lot of kohlrabi lately-- it just happened to thrive this spring/early summer, so we hope you love it as much as we do.  If you get a backlog, remember kohlrabi stores really well in the fridge if you remove the leaves and keep it in an airtight container (e.g. a sealed plastic bag or tupperware). And the leaves can be used just like kale- saute, steam, in soup, in omelets, etc.

Herbs- cilantro, parsley, OR basil (just the very beginning of basil; much more is on the horizon!). Top any dish with fresh minced herbs for more flavor and style.

Garlic- more early small bulbs-- store in fridge to maintain juiciness, or cut stems off and allow to dry at room temp to cure for later use. Come to the farm TUESDAY during CSA pickup to help pull garlic! See Announcements below for details.

Baby Salad Mix- it's back!  We took a little break when the big lettuces were threatening to overwhelm the CSA, but we should be back to an every-week or every-other-week baby salad rotation.  Luckily baby salad mix is planted in one of the gardens that is easy to keep watered, so it's doing great. We'll keep you posted.

And the fun part: We can't tell you what else exactly will be in your share, because every day (Sat-Mon-Tues-Wed) will be a little different! Due to the drought (see Field Notes, below) and late spring, summer crops are maturing later and less consistently than we'd like.  That means we're getting our very first harvests of beans, cherry tomatoes, summer squash/zucchini, peppers, cabbage, etc, but in sporadic quantities every day/week.  So you'll get a nice mix of some combo of those things this week and next! Thanks for your patience while we wait for the rain to help size up and mature all those crops in the field that are just hanging out, being small for now.  I think it's the quiet before the storm, so don't worry, there will be food and in greater quantities; if it'll just RAIN already!


1. Garlic Harvest has been moved UP to this Tuesday, July 22.  Due to the drought, garlic is ready to be out of the field and into the barn.  Sorry for the short notice, but if you'd like to join us, come to the back field during CSA pickup (4-7 pm-- we'll likely be done well before 7, so arrive by 6 at the latest if you want to get in on the garlic harvest). Wear clothes that can get dirty, gloves, and a hat.  There is a chance of rain (fingers crossed!), so bring rain gear to stay dry. There will NOT be a potluck following this garlic harvest, contrary to earlier announcement, but we will have a mid-summer celebration, independent of garlic, just as soon as we get some serious rain (something worth celebrating!!!).

2. Asparagus to Zucchini cookbooks have not yet arrived- it may be next week instead of this.  There are still books available (we ordered a case of 20 but only had orders for 12, so there is still time to get in on that). Books are $15 each.

Field Notes

      The good news: Hoophouse-grown cherry tomatoes and field-grown green BEANS are just starting to mature; either this or next week, members can expect the first tender, snappy green (and/or purple) beans and a small taste of cherry tomatoes in your shares. (Check out the current issue of Edible Grande Traverse for a nice article about green beans, written by our friend Nic Theisen, in which he admonishes the reader to dress nicely and stand tall when preparing green beans! ) The bad news: still no rain :(  This is one of the most extreme, if short-term, droughts we've experienced on the farm. Over the past month or more, every rain event that has hit our neighbors 20 or 30 (not to mention 300) miles from here has skipped us.  Last week's much-anticipated storm appeared as a bare sprinkle.  Tomorrow night's likelihood of precipitation has dropped from 92% to 62% and still dropping. The garden beds that have been harvested already and mowed down (e.g. spring broccoli, early lettuce, turnips, radishes) are too dry for the tiller to dig in.  We need to be able to till to re-prep beds to replant, whether to another crop or to cover crop.  Drip irrigation isn't cutting it, since some of the beds have dried out so completely and require a good soaking rain to rehydrate enough to be workable.  So the trays of transplants that are ready to go in the ground are waiting. Patient, but needing to get in the ground!
      Spirits are sagging a little bit at the dusty soils and slowed plant growth. We're running irrigation almost 24 hours a day, but since we're still using a domestic (house) well to supply the farm, we're limited in the volume of water we can use at one time.  The current big project is, of course, a new well (if cleaning/flushing/checking the pump for problems doesn't help).  That's been on the horizon for a while now, but this year's reduced flow (even less than past years, indicating a clogged filter, faulty pump, or -worst case scenario- depleted aquifer) combined with the drought has pushed the well to the head of the list. We'll keep you posted on developments (results of cleaning filter and checking pump, as well as a timeline and cost estimate from the well drillers).  Meanwhile, thanks for all the feedback and enthusiasm about the first third of the season, and thanks for joining us for what's turned out (so far)  to be this dry, dry season.
     More good news: a giant load of compost was delivered last week! We buy the majority of our compost from Morgan Composting (an aged compost made from dairy cow manure and bedding, known as "Dairy Doo").  I'd called them to arrange a later-summer delivery, and Diane at Morgan happened to mention that Four Seasons Nursery (a few miles from here) was getting a load delivered the very next day, and that if we had our load delivered tomorrow, we could split the delivery fee with the nursery-- good timing!  So we have an even bigger load of compost ready for the fields, which will increase the moisture-holding capacity, the cation exchange capacity (ability to make nutrients available to plants), the overall fertility (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and micronutrients), and friability (texture) of soil. Like any soil amendment, compost and all its living components (fungi, bacteria, micro- and macro-invertebrates) will really be effective and literally "come to life" when we get rain, and the critters can go to work. Yet another reason to do any rain dance of your choice when you get a minute!
      And last but not least, we've been the lucky hosts of two different amazing groups of people: one is the MSU Student Organic Farm Organic Farmer Training Program students, who are currently base camped at the farm while they tour several area farms as part of their program-- a yearly tradition we started six or seven years ago.  It's always fun to host this year's crop of students, hear what they're learning, catch up with old friends (staff and faculty who accompany them). The other group is Brenin's old college friends!  Genevieve, Holly, and Kelsey all arrived last week, pitched tents and immediately pitched in on weeding, harvesting, and making us lunch.  Holly and Kelsey are on a coast-to-coast road trip, visiting friends and farms, talking to folks about farmland, farm financing, farm business management, you name it. Genevieve took off to visit more friends and family before making her way back home to Chiapas, Mexico.  Holly and Kelsey are still here for a few more days and still helping out greatly-- if you see them at CSA pickup or at garlic harvest, be sure to say hello.

Holly and Kelsey, superstar volunteers:


Kohlrabi Slaw- serves 2, approx.

2 med kohlrabi, peeled and grated OR cut into matchsticks (slightly nicer texture but slightly more involved)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous handful cilantro OR parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp mayo OR dijon mustard (or both-- your choice)
Juice of one small lime (optimal) OR 1-2 Tbsp verjus or cider vinegar (also good but there's really nothing quite like lime juice. Sad that there's a world lime shortage)
dash salt and pepper
optional: handful chopped olives and/or brined capers, dash red pepper flakes if you like a little spice

Mix everything together well, let marinate 15-20 min or longer in fridge. Serve chilled.  This is especially delicious on tacos and grilled things!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Birch Point CSA News Week 5: Try New Things, Garlic and Cookbooks, Share the Benefit; Share the Risk

In Your Share This Week
Kohlrabi-- more crisp, bulbous stems! The most common feedback we get about kohlrabi is in two categories: a)what IS that thing? what do I DO with it?  and b) Wow! I tried it; I loved it!  Never have I had a kohlrabi newbie come back with a negative report-- it may be unknown to some people, but it's consistently love at first bite. However, I've decided from reading popular food/farm blogs and articles that kohlrabi really takes an unfair beating at the hands of certain writers (e.g. --a good article full of delicious-sounding recipes, but a bit kohlrabi-phobic if you ask me).  What do YOU think of this spaceship-shaped vegetable?

Fresh Garlic!  The first, small bulbs out of the field.  We'll be trickling in garlic over the next week or two, then we'll hold our big garlic harvest party; stay tuned for the date and time! Store fresh garlic in the fridge for best quality-- it's so juicy at this stage that it can be susceptible to mold at room temp.  Also, USE the tops-- the stems and leaves are GREAT in soups/stocks.  After you remove the bulb to use, plan to make soup, and just stick the whole stalk in your soup pot til it cooks completely through, then remove to the compost pile. The flavor will then be in your soup. While the bulb wrappers are still fresh and juicy (rather than papery, as later-season, cured garlic will be), you can use them in soup stock the same as the stalks, just for flavor. If you can't figure out what to do with fresh garlic, make a stir-fry out of greens, chop several cloves finely, add to greens, toss with lemon juice and/or vinegar, enjoy.  And/or get your hands on a copy of Asparagus to Zucchini (see Announcements, below).

Swiss chard OR Kale- your choice of two mainstays.  If you ever are at a loss for how to use kale or chard, I've got two words for you: 1. eggs  2. massage.  Eggs for omelets, scrambles, frittatas, or even egg salad w/chopped greens.  Massage coarsely chopped leafy greens by hand in a bowl, with some coarse salt, until they appear cooked-- basically this breaks the cell walls, like the heat of cooking does, without destroying enzymes or nutrients in the leaves (the argument against cooking posed by raw-foodies everywhere).  Enjoy well-massaged greens with an acidic condiment of your choice, like lemon juice, vinegar, or tomatoes (soon to be in season!), to make the calcium and iron in greens even easier for your body to absorb.

Lettuces- all kinds!  The late, wet spring meant head lettuces (like butterhead, romaine, and leaf lettuces) got off to a GREAT start and are still going strong (now that the heat wave has passed).  We also have a ton of baby leaf salad greens in the field, but those hold a little better in the field than "big" lettuce. And when everything is ready to to harvest at once, we have to triage who goes and who stays in the ground another week.  So we're sharing the bounty of big lettuce with you right now; expect to see a return to baby salad mix soon!  This week you may see les Oreilles du Diable ("devil's ears"), green leaf, red leaf, butterhead, or romaine in your share.  It's still salad season (see "Field Notes" below), though we're verging on grilling season, so I hope you're enjoying lots of big, crisp lettuce salads, as well as lettuce on sandwiches, in spring rolls, as lettuce wraps, etc.  There's really not much you can't do with lettuce.  Romaine tends to store better than more delicate-leaved varieties, so if you need to prioritize, use the romaine last.

Herbs- your choice of cilantro OR parsley

Grab bag surprise-- You may also get one or more of the following (different by pickup day): Bok Choi, Broccoli, Scallions, the first baby zucchini or summer squash, the first hot peppers, or surprise veggie.  These things are just starting to come on in small quantities (zukes and peppers) or just finishing their last wave for spring (choi and broccoli), so we still wanted members to have them even though everyone's share will be slightly different as a result!

1. Asparagus to Zucchini cookbooks will be available next week.  It's a cookbook generated by and for CSA members and farmers' market shoppers, organized by vegetable instead of type of dish.  Each section has nutrition and storage info for each veggie, as well as several simple recipes.  It makes a great gift for anyone just getting into local, seasonal eating, as well as serving as a survival guide for some new CSA members!  $15 per book. We're ordering a case of 20 unless we hear otherwise. Email ASAP to reserve a copy. Pay when you pick up your books.

2. Heart of Summer shares start NEXT WEEK. For Saturday folks that's the 19th. Monday the 21st, Tues the 22nd, or Wed the 23rd.  Heart of Summer shares run six weeks, and pickup time/location is exactly the same as full-season shares.  More Heart of Summer shares ARE still available if you know folks who'd like to join-- please share the invitation!

3. Garlic Harvest Party is coming up soon!  We'll gauge the timing based on weather and maturity of garlic, but it will be in the next two weeks.  Keep your eyes peeled for date and time--it's a great work party followed by our first CSA potluck of the season.

Field Notes
     It's DRY here.  Despite several small rain events, the cumulative rainfall has dropped ... er... precipitously below that of the beginning of the season.  This week's challenge is getting irrigation to sections of the fields that previously had none. We're setting up new drip systems, running sprinklers constantly, getting mulch hay and straw delivered, and looking forward to Tuesday's predicted storm (fingers crossed!).  The dry soils have slowed production in some areas, threatened survival in others, and caused farmers to shake fists at skies and sing our friend Chris Dorman's "Wandering Wanda" song to the skies.
     We've had several visits from old friends recently, and anticipate even more in the next week! Farm season is of course also vacation season. Since you live here, you're probably familiar with the phenomenon of friends and relatives on vacation who come to visit and want YOU to be on vacation as well.  We work all summer, but feel extremely fortunate to have a lifestyle that allows for visitors, flexibility, and even fun rolled into the work day-- it's incredibly gratifying to be able to catch up with visitors over farm lunch, weeding carrots together, or other tasks that are part of our day but still enjoyable to visitors, allowing us to be productive and still reconnect with dear friends. Often we just need to crank through a day's work, but when it is possible to relax, weed, plant, or water and chat at the same time, we're thankful.
     Crops looking great: beets, kale, beans, onions, summer squash, peppers, potatoes, leeks, tomatoes, eggplants, rutabagas, turnips, lettuces lettuces lettuces, parsnips, celeriac, basil, dill, and more. Crops in need of love: carrots need some serious moisture beyond irrigation, and more weeding. I think our first carrots will be even later than the late spring was already going to make them-- but we will have lots when they're finally mature! Cabbage needs irrigation and fertility.  Early cabbages were planted in the back field, with the least organic matter (OM) of any soil on the farm (there's lots of variability from garden to garden here). They got fertilized, but the low OM combined with low rainfall makes for some slow growth-- my hope is a good infusion of fish emulsion combined with tomorrow's rainfall will push them over their hesitation, and we'll have gorgeous cabbage soon. Following cabbage: a heavy application of compost before replanting those areas to crops or cover crops.  Crop failures: no new bad news to report! hooray. We'll see how the season progresses ;)
     This is what the "share the benefits; share the risk" mantra of CSA is about-- we grow a diversity of good food, and you can be assured of getting a good quantity of a good mix of fresh, delicious items.  Every year is different, so we never know exactly which crop are going to be amazing and which will be lacking.  So you agree to take on part of the risk of not knowing, and also end up benefitting from those that do well.  We're benefitting from lettuce right now, taking a hit on peas.  We'll benefit from hoophouse tomatoes (soon!!!) and hope that the predicted cool temps don't set back our field-grown tomatoes and other heat-loving crops too much. You and we took a risk by growing at two different locations this year (here at Birch Point and also at Brenin's family land in Grawn, where he's been farming the past four seasons), and we're benefitting from the heavy clay soil down there-- it retains moisture much better than the sandier soils here, meaning less rainfall is less of a problem down in Grawn, which is good since we're there only once a week. The list goes on-- whenever you're curious about how your food is grown, please ask when we see you at CSA pickup.  Thank you so much for sharing this farming season with us, financially, socially, and culinarily!

Michelle's All Time Favorite Greens (Kale, Chard, Collards, Beet Greens, etc- use what you've got)
1 bunch hearty greens of your choice
1 onion or several scallions
a few cloves garlic or more if you're a garlic fanatic, or a handful of scapes if you have them
a generous handful or two of chopped, toasted nuts (I like walnuts, but pecans, pine nuts, or sunflower seeds are also good)
a generous handful or two of dried (or fresh) cherries, raisins, or currants (or OLIVES to take it in a different direction!)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar OR lemon juice
salt and pepper

Chop and saute, in olive oil over medium heat, onions with leafy green STEMS- having separated the stems from leaves, cook them first so they have a chance to tenderize equally with the quicker-cooking leaves.  Add chopped or chiffonaded greens, garlic, and cherries, saute til tender but still bright green and vibrant. Remove from heat. Toss in toasted nuts and vinegar/lemon, salt and pepper, serve with rice, pasta, other grains, anything you like! You can use this formula for any leafy greens:

Leafy greens
+ allium (onion/garlic family representative)
+ acid (e.g. lemon or vinegar)
+ fat (e.g. oil)
+ extra yummy bits (e.g. cherries, nuts, olives, use your imagination)
Dinner, or at least a good part of it!