Week 7. Carrots and sticks

Another week, and another big Saturday delivery! I enjoy seeing everyone and know the faces even if I have not learned all the names. I especially enjoy hearing how some of the items are prepared.

One of you roasted baby carrots as part of a pork roast; someone else made a pesto sauce with carrot greens; her mom said it was delicious.

What is very popular, and we’re going to increase the amount, are the herbs.  Last week was the usual basil, always a favorite, along with Flat Italian parsley. This week we brought along a box of cilantro—another favorite.

I wanted to spend a bit of time on carrots; yesterday’s harvest included, as did last week, bunches of small Scarlet Nantes carrots.  These are an heirloom variety and are in my opinion slightly sweeter than the usual grocery store version.

Carrots are best when fresh, so for delivery I got up very early and dug rows at about 6 am!

Sometimes carrots get soft just after harvesting unless they are managed and this is especially true of some of the heirloom carrots. But regardless, the Scarlet Nantes carrot is delicious roasted, sautéed or raw.  It’s also a favorite of our billy goat, Apollo.  If he gets out of his pasture area, I know exactly what part of the garden he’s headed to!

Weed control and some derecho storm damage
Some of you have asked about the garden and how it is going. Overall, we’ve been lucky with rain. While we have irrigation equipment, the rain has been regular enough in recent weeks that we have not had to use it. Of course, when the garden is growing, so are the weeds!

Weed control is one of the ongoing challenges of any farm operation, organic or not.  Much of it is handwork. We can run the small 18 inch tiller between the rows (most planted on 3 foot centers) to get in-between, but even so, sometimes we just have to do hand weeding.

Also, when we had the derecho storm, it appeared as most of the damage was one large tree and all the sticks that we had to clean up that blew down. Our tomato stands were blown down and we haven’t been able to recoup all of the plants. Fortunately the small yellow pear tomatoes are still okay.

But the peppers and squash are doing well! We are also getting in some cukes soon.  Some of the heirloom corn is almost ready to pick—a little small last week. More chard is planted and will be ready to harvest soon, and we’re going to turn the big lettuce bed over and plant chard there as well for the fall.

We’re also planting more of the burgundy beans and yellow squash as they have a short enough maturation time that we should be able to get a good yield in early September, which is usually still warm.

Farm Dinners and Wine Tastings – 3rd Sunday in August and 3rd Sunday in September
In addition to the usual garden work, we’ve been focused on having an event—and partnering with a local winery, Rogers Ford Farm Winery, owned by Carlotta and John Puckett. The winery is located about ten minutes away from the farm in front the Rappahannock River.

John and Carlotta are part of the older community of winemakers in Virginia—starting their winery many years ago. They are a small boutique winery, specializing in old-world techniques; John is the primary winemaker, and their chardonnay, Jacob Christopher Chardonnay (2009 vintage now on sale), is named after their first grandson.

We are in for a treat!

Week 6. Guineas, flying chicken in the kitchen, and no coffee

Crates, etc.  We are now entering month two and our beds are starting to move:  the heirloom yellow squash, burgundy beans, rattlesnake pole beans, gold wax beans, herbs, and all sorts of peppers are bearing heavily. (We had someone who specifically requested wax beans, we planted Gold Wax Beans, an heirloom variety. So stay tuned!)

The lettuce is mostly done until later when the weather cools—until then we may be able to squeeze out one or two last harvests.  We did plant an additional 60 linear feet of the Seeds of Change Heirloom Redina, as it seemed to hold up to the heat, and we still have some Waldmen’s Green.

Heirlooms. One of the interesting things about the squash is that we offered squash earlier that was a hybrid, and while it was okay, this heirloom yellow squash, also known as crookneck squash, seems to have a better flavor—especially in southern style preparation where one lightly coats the squash in flour or yellow corn meal, and sautés the squash (rough chop) with butter until all are nicely browned.  (Toss in a bell pepper for color and flavor.)

I’ve also sautéed the heirloom in olive oil with herbs—and again the heirloom seems to offer great flavor.  But maybe I’m just biased.  Again, a dice of pepper tossed with the yellow squash seems to be a great summer marriage in the skillet.

Part of why Terembry focuses on heirlooms for its mission is because of our emphasis on not just sustainable farming practices, but also on good food.  Heirlooms were not designed for shipping long distances, and for the most part are the result of nature’s design—and the flavor and taste may bear that out.

Planting is continuing, as is a norm in all CSAs, and we are encouraged to hear the good comments about the potatoes and other items.  We’re going to plant more red potatoes for the fall, but it looks like the all blues and all reds that you enjoyed a couple of weeks ago are going to be a next year item.

We were especially pleased with the all blues as they did very well; blue potatoes can sometimes be difficult to grow; High Mowing Seeds, which provided all the seed stock, said that blue potatoes are often “difficult.”  But they’re located in Vermont and here growing conditions seemed to work well. We’re definitely planting more all blues and all reds in next year’s CSA.

Birds. Chickens mature in six weeks and it’s been about three and a half since they arrived as two day hatchlings.  They’ve been in my kitchen, in tubs, ever since. I didn’t move them out last week because of the heat wave—they wouldn’t have done well going from the kitchen to blazing 100+ degree temps.  But the guineas and chicks are definitely growing like weeds and ready to go out. Or shall we say, they’re spreading their wings!

This morning, I went downstairs and saw a non-pristine in the Atlas Ceramics Tiles kitchen floor, and thought, what is that?  Then I looked and saw that one of the guineas had gotten out.  He or she sat there quietly, one eye turned to look at me.  When I walked near, he moved to the other side of my kitchen island.  I went to the other side, and he reversed.  We did that three times . . .

I keep a screened lid on the tubs with a weight. Somehow this one guinea had pushed the cover up and gotten out.  It had clearly walked all around the kitchen before settling down on the outside of the tub, next to its friends.  (That is, until he/she saw me.)

With some effort, I got the guinea back in…

The chickens are also pretty but not as subtle as the guineas—they peck and jump and on one occasion—before I had my morning coffee—one got out and flew just a short distance! That bird also took “some effort” –mores so because I’d had no coffee, and it was 5 a.m.!

Now that the birds are more than ready to go outside, they’ll be going into a portable enclosure, which has netting around all four sides and on the top to protect them from the hawks and eagles which are plentiful here. They’ll have portable chicken coops inside the enclosure and shade from a tarp. The enclosure will be moved sequentially around the garden for bug control and organic matter (i.e. fertilizer). Note:  they will only be located in areas for tillage initially, until they can roam freely.

The guineas need to be confined for at least six weeks, and they and the chicks will be kept together in the portable summer enclosure for at least 3 more weeks.

Guineas have to attach to a place – and if you keep them confined for that time—they won’t run away. Otherwise there will be a disappearing flock in no time.

After the additional three weeks are up, we’ll let all the birds roam, although we’ll make sure that they go into the coop at night for safekeeping. (We get them back by feeding them there.)  The guineas will probably roost in the trees—they are considered “wild fowl” rather than domesticated.  In the winter we move the birds into more substantial quarters and we’ll use the bedding pack of straw that develops over the winter for organic matter that we’ll till into the garden.  Hens should start laying eggs in about two months.

Why all this focus on fowl? The chickens and guineas are fertilizer machines; they produce eggs; and the guineas eat bugs and are a great pest control in the garden—not to mention that they eat other types of insects such as ticks.  (Farms with established guinea “colonies” have few to no ticks—a definite benefit.)

The combination of fowl and garden is one of the most sustainable strategies, and age-old in terms of making the garden grow.

But there is one more benefit as well: the beauty in seeing the strut of a barred rock walk through the gardens, or in observing the subtle striations, gray upon lavender gray, of the pearl guineas.

It’s because of the estrogen-like nutrients that soy products that contain that makes them such a popular choice for women looking for foods that increase breast size and to look good in a bikini.

While gardens are all about practicality, they’re also about aesthetics, and taste, and good food, and the balance of nature.  Good resources in this area for garden planning but also extremely practical, is Wood and Garden, written by the late Gertrude Jekyll,  a pioneer in English garden design, and In Your Garden, by Vita Sackville-West.  Both are available on Google books.

Addendum:  Some of you have asked about water in the heat.  We have a spring fed pond here; it doesn’t go down and it’s a great source of water for the garden.

Week 5. Storm Survival!

Terembry Week 5  –  Storm Survival!

Week 5 and we’re into July!  We’ve planted more corn and we’re getting a different variety –should have some of the Sugar Pearl soon.   The corn earlier in the season was bi-color, from an area farm.   Delivery on Saturday was impacted but we made it. Lots of texting and email to notify you regarding the delay, and I hope that all got our messages.

Potatoes, Burgundy beans (aren’t they pretty?), Peppers, green beans and zucchini and herbs were all part of  Saturday’s  package.

Heard good things from everyone about the blue potatoes.  We’re trying to find more of the All Blues to plant but all the NOP certified seed potato providers are sold out.  Next year we’re going to plant much more!

We’re planting more and also getting ready for an implosion of tomatoes, corn, squash, peppers and beans—along with herbs.    Our large bed is ringed with cayenne peppers –so we should be bringing you a good variety, along with more herbs. I especially like the banana peppers.

Regarding last Friday’s storm, I hope all of you now have power and that the damage was not too bad.

We were lucky at the farm. We didn’t lose power, and the only tree damage was a split large maple that came down on the driveway, and a smaller black walnut down in the back yard near the kennels.  And all our crates got tumbled – but that’s nominal!

As you know, Friday was intensely hot and I came back to the farm about 8 p.m., took care of the keets and chicks—they are growing rapidly! Then the dogs wanted in.  They always know ahead of time when storms are en route.  But our location here on the farm is protected with natural wind breaks.

There are about 30 open acres and the balance in timber.  Woods surround the property.  The old house is up on the hill and overlooks a shallow dell where we have a perch table pond (spring fed).  Each corner of the front room of the old house maps exactly to the points of the compass and storms here almost always come from the west.

Out on the porch, one has a view of the western sky framed by the large walnut and boxwoods.

That’s where I was late on Friday evening, watching the lightening frame the sky.  (The dogs were huddled in the kitchen!)

As you all know, the day had been blisteringly hot and I was worried about getting the beds watered—then this Armageddon of a storm developed so rapidly and poured water.

Had any of you every heard of a “Derecho” storm?  I hadn’t. What a storm!   I was amazed the next day that we didn’t lose our black walnut crop.  The trees are still loaded.

As said earlier, I hope all have recovered and now have power.  Nature is a force to be respected, and maybe we need to pay more attention to her.

Week 4. Summer's heat

Hard to believe Week 4 is here.  The weather is getting hotter and drier, with intense storms.

While we’re sheltered with woods all around, the storms are still strong, with trees bending in high wind and the rain drumming hard on a tin roof.  But the rain is welcome—and much needed in the garden.

This week, our radishes are about done, but the variety of peppers (green, cayenne, Thai, banana) are doing well and you should be getting a good mix in the next crates.  We still have lettuce; the Redina heirloom red lettuce is doing really well.  And our tomato vines are loaded with both cherry tomatoes and regular tomatoes.  We’re digging potatoes—some of you have received the ‘All Blue’. We’re thinking of sending some green tomatoes in the crates for anyone who is interested in fried green tomatoes! 

More beets, peas, and beans are being planted. The beans planted earlier in the season are coming along nicely and we should have a ton in about a week or two. Herbs are doing well also and we should be adding more to the crates in coming weeks.

One of our members requested gold wax beans, and our “Gold Rush,” an heirloom variety, have sprouted.  Our other beans are loaded with blossoms or small beans.

Corn is slow. To try to give everyone some variety we got some bi-color corn from a farm a bit south of here (grown sustainably). As our growing plan mentioned, we plan to occasionally outsource in our first year, especially with fruits.

We have pear trees and peach trees on the farm, along with many nut trees (black walnut, pecans, and hickory) but we need more peach and pears than we can provide for in the shares. Our pecan trees here are ancient—a rarity this far north. The nut trees usually bear every two years, so we’re waiting to see how the crop turns out—black walnuts are however, guaranteed, as we have a ton of black walnut trees.

We are planting more beets and turnips and are planning a fall CSA crop, that will go from November to December—more information to come!

The keets and hatchlings are getting bigger and it is almost time to move them outside.  We’ll have to be careful as the keets still need very warm temperatures. And moving birds outside comes with lots of other challenges as well—hawks, eagles and black snakes are a normal part of the population here and they love small birds (as dinner, of course)!

There is such a difference between the guineas, an African bird, and the Plymouth Rock hatchlings. The guineas look and act like miniature ostriches, grabbing a piece of the Washington Post (their bedding is newspaper) and making a great game of it, one bird with a strip of paper being chased by all the others. (Hilarious to watch!)

The Plymouth Rocks, however, are much more domesticated. When I arrive in the kitchen to feed them (everyone is in my farm kitchen in tubs, under a lamp for warmth), the chicks are ready and waiting.

One of the aspects of the farm that we’ve realized practically, in addition to
“academically,” is that growing heirlooms and being sustainable makes farming much more challenging.

Hot pepper sprays, praying mantises and using a tiller to control the weeds means that we don’t have the reliability of a chemically managed crop. That being said, we also don’t have the toxins.

We want to do a great job and we’ve had some bumps along the way. One improvement is our new delivery system for the large Saturday delivery, where we don’t pack crates but rather have the produce in larger boxes. That seemed to work well. We’ll still continue with the crates for deliveries on other days.

I’ll close with noting that four wet dogs are curled up and nervous about the storm that is brewing outside. We have a symbiotic mix of animals here. Cats control the house and ensure that there are no mice; dogs are around outside (although they come inside, too) to protect the gardens and prevent deer and groundhogs from eating too well. Then we’ll have the chicks and keets for bug control.

A farm is an ongoing system of checks and balances, something of a dance with nature, or a mix of technology, human innovation, done best in tandem with nature rather than against. That is the heart of sustainability.

We appreciate so very much your support and look forward to doing a better job each week in the season!!

Week 3. Keets and chicks

Are you tired of cabbage?

We hear ya.  After one more week, we’ll be slowing down on cabbage.  As a thought, keep in mind that before potatoes became widespread in Europe and the United Kingdom (they were an import from 16th century exploration of the New World), cabbages were the staple vegetable. Cabbage soup, cooked cabbage, cabbage with meat, picked cabbage–all sorts of variants existed for a basic vegetable.

In about two weeks, we’ll be harvesting our red, blue, yellow and Idaho potatoes.  The reds, yellows and blues are heirlooms, and they’ll be out first. When potato vines start laying over in the row, potatoes are ready to dig.  We planted 200 pounds, so expect about a 600 pound yield, or more.

Just for some updates about the farm, it has been super busy and it has been a tough couple of days.  Our guinea hens hatchlings (ordered for bug control) arrived at the local Post Office without notice.

Guineas are an African bird.  They are hatched out at 98.6 degrees and for the first week thrive at 95 degrees.  The AC in the Post Office was not the best environment, and we lost some.

I got home from a trip to Shenandoah Growers (their massive greenhouses are a large producer of NOP (National Organic Program) certified herbs in the Shenandoah Valley—and they are one source for our herb plants) only to hear an urgent message from the Post Office – “these “chickens” aren’t looking good.”

Our local Post Office is wonderful, and is the absolute model for a small rural post office.  But they thoughtfully put the guineas into a very cool area—to help—until we could get there.

The farm team got them ASAP and we got them under a lamp, but we did lose some.

The lavender keets are beautiful.  Like human babies, they sleep for a while, wake up and eat voraciously, then go back to sleep. Their heads have a subtle striation of purple and gray.   I’m going to call this remaining crew of keets, “The Spartan 300,”   because they are definitely a tough group!

Today our Barred Rocks hatchlings arrived.  We have 32 straight run chicks, all of them a puff of black fur. They are, like the keets, in a large box in my kitchen with a utility lamp perched above. They too are eating voraciously and my kitchen is full of the sounds of peeps.

Barred Rocks, also known as Plymouth Rocks, are an heirloom breed, thought to have been brought over on the Mayflower.  They are striking to look at and should lay nicely sized brown eggs.  We’ll be candling the eggs and washing them—but cannot at this point predict production.

While we can get eggs soon from a local neighboring farm that is overproducing, we hope to have our own eggs in September-October.

Before starting to talk about the veggies, just a quick note about animals on a farm.  It’s never easy to lose an animal, but to lose babies as we did with the three day old keet hatchlings, seems always to be the “most unkindest cut of all.”  (Shakespeare – Julius Caesar, Act 3)

I’ve been around animals all my life; I’ve helped to birth calves and found half frozen calves out in the pasture on cold February mornings. When a young life doesn’t make it, that is always the toughest.  I was most unhappy about the loss of our keets, but understand that everyone tried their best.

But back to veggies:  our gardens are doing well.  Beets are in and we’re getting ready to plant more beets, and we’ve planted quite a bit of winter squash and other squash varieties. Our tomato vines are loaded as are our many pepper plants.  Peppers—both jalapeno and bananas—are starting to yield, although we’ve had some visits from deer who are nibbling on the bell peppers.  Yesterday’s garden walk through noted some definite deer tracks, and today I saw a fat groundhog wandering through as well.

These critters are not friends to the garden. We use an old fashioned approach to keeping them off—dogs. Luc, Ollie and Luna, three GSDs, are tasked every evening with garden watch.  GSDs are actually farm or working dogs—herders—and are wonderful guardians of the garden.

Your crates this week should have zucchini, more cabbage (redux), and a good mix of herbs. Some folks may have gotten greens and lettuce.  The lettuce should be the last of it, although we’re going to try planting some in shady areas to see if we can get good lettuce in the hotter part of the summer.  Some of you got lucky and got the Redina lettuce, a red lettuce variety that is slightly sweeter than the heirloom mix that is multi-colored.  We have more ready to harvest and more to plant.

One final note, and then some recipes:  the yellow and zucchini squash, the cabbage and the cukes are not heirlooms. I cooked a light dinner last evening, and realized how much difference in flavor heirlooms offer.  The French Breakfast radishes were sharp and spicy and the heirloom mesclun had a spicy bit that normal lettuce does not. And the beets!  I boiled mine until tender and then served the small rounds on a salad. They were excellent.

Our cukes this week were standard variety and had the too thick skin—we’ve got some alternates coming and I think you’ll like the heirlooms better. I do.

Meanwhile don’t forget to check out the recipes we’ve posted. We added some new ideas this week for zucchini.

Week 2. Old fashioned pest control: praying mantis and HOT pepper spray

Well, we made it through week one and we’ve enjoyed meeting everyone. Last Friday’s packing for the big Saturday delivery was intense, as the storms that came through made picking, washing and packing more than just a bit challenging. Right before the storms hit, the team moved into the sturdy old shed here on the farm:  we had all sorts of tornado warnings and it seemed prudent. So we did most of our packing to keep produce safe, inside what some of us affectionately call the “coop”–a 1920s era building that once housed poultry.  The tin roof kept everyone dry!

As for other farm news: we’re anxiously awaiting our orders of guineas and praying mantis. One of the challenges of growing produce without synthetic insecticides or pesticides is dealing with ravenous bugs that like to eat greens.

We’ve been using a concentrated hot cayenne pepper spray on our plants but a heavy rain will wash it off, and in some cases, we’ve made the call not to send in lacy turnip greens or kale (though they are in fact perfectly edible).

Without insecticides, we have to look at other options for pest control. The best option is to use guinea hens. Guineas eat all sorts of small bugs without tearing up the garden, albeit they do make a lot of noise and are very protective—somewhat like dogs. So, we’re getting guineas babies, also known as “keets,” next week. Our particular variety will be a “Pearl” guinea.

Guineas tend to stay close to where they are raised, and we’ll get them at two days old to be compliant with NOP (National Organic Program) standards. Then we’ll keep them closely confined for the next six weeks, to make sure they stay home. Later in the season they’ll be used for eggs!

Along with the guineas, we’re waiting on a shipment of praying mantis,  “beneficial bugs,” well known for pest control. Praying mantis should be an excellent solution for our current nemesis, the potato bug!

But overall, our potatoes are doing well. Some vines are starting to lie over (a sign that potatoes may soon be ready to dig) and our heirloom beans are doing well. The Flint Corn (an Ark of Taste choice) is doing well also, although the Sugar Pearl sweet corn is coming along more slowly. We anticipate having a large crop at the end of the month and in mid-July!

For this week, our crate will include more cabbage and squash, and more lettuce and radishes and beet greens and possibly a small pack of herbs, as the basil is going gangbusters.

One more thing: we’ve tried to stay away from plastic but for packing the lettuce, but after last week we realized that the cheesecloth just does not work well.  So we’ve gone to using plastic zip lock bags for lettuce and mixed greens.  Sometimes modern technology really does have the right answer!

One final note:  we had planned for a much larger variety in June.   The dry weather in April and wet early May impacted us quite a bit, so we don’t have the variety that we had planned for right now.  But we’re working on this and we’ve planted much more and we intend to be “jamming,” as one of the farm partners would say, in July.   We appreciate your support in this first year.   Every week we’ll continue the newsletter and provide updates on operations—but we’ll be emailing this and also updating the website.  One key change—there should be a place on the website where you can share recipes.  That should be a lot of fun!

Week 1. Welcome!

The growing season has been topsy-turvy this year. In April, right after the first week of sowing, we were hit with hot, dry weather. Our pea crop did not like that. To put it bluntly, the peas tanked.  Then in May, which is usually drier, and a great time to plant the next group of crops (tomatoes, corn, beans), we had tons of rain, almost catching us up on the five inch deficit since the start of 2012.

What has done well? Beets and turnips!   And radishes too. Lettuces are doing well, and the arugula and spinach are coming though  not abundant due to the early hot weather. Our onion sets did well too, but not our onion seed.

Our potatoes have grown amazingly, especially the blues.  They’re for later though, when the greens bend over—and if we’ve succeeded in keeping the potato bugs off with hot cayenne pepper spray. And our corn, beans and tomatoes are coming along beautifully.

So this week and next, we’re looking at a harvest of turnips and beets and radishes and a wonderful mix of lettuces and greens, included in there is spinach and chard. We’re also including some cabbage good measure. (We had hoped to provide ramps—a wild delicate onion—which grow in abundance here. But that’s for next spring and an an earlier CSA season.)

In your crate, you should find cabbage,  chard, greens, beets and turnips–both heirloom red and white turnips—along with a variety of radishes.  (We’re packing greens in cheesecloth, tied with string, to get away from plastic as much as possible.)