Archive | Farming and Gardening RSS feed for this section

Another “it seemed like a good idea at the time” farm lesson

29 Aug

We’re going to do some Before and After pictures here so that when Spring comes around next year we can refer back to our “lesson” lest we forget.

BEFORE – BEFORE: Nothing fun here, just work, work, work. The door to the hoop house in the back? Yeah, there’s an example of measure once, cut – never mind.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

BEFORE: Weeded, planted and off to a nice start! However, our folly this year (and every year) is over crowding the beds. We just get so excited for our summer fruits!!! And the plant starts and seeds are so small…

Can't you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already?  Can hardly wait!!!

Can’t you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already? Can hardly wait!!!

We even gussied up the front of the greenhouse area and painted the old door, so we could just hang out and relax. Cuz that’s what farmers who milk goats and work full-time do, they hang out and relax.

Almost like, a destination!

Almost like, a destination!

AFTER:

image

Since we are no longer pig farmers, this is not really what we would consider a wildly fortuitous, fabulously abundant crop. More of a pain in the neck, really. Although the smaller zuchettas taste great sliced thin and cooked as the pasta in a pork sausage lasagna with chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara (marinara from last year, mind you as this years crop of tomatoes had a little – ahem, competition for sunlight).

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre,  goat mozzarella and marinara.

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara. Prior to cooking.

So what to do, what to do. The goats are NOT interested in eating this forage. did I mention there are no pigs around?

A  local artist's impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

A local artist’s impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

One of my good friends who I actually met through Craigslist (bartering goats for pigs, what else?) has pigs. He, and his pigs are the lucky beneficiaries of this forest of Zuchetta in addition to numerous buckets of whey from cheese making.

The other day, I was talking to the artist who rendered the pig picture above and she told me that when she grows up and purchases her own farm, she is going to raise pastured pigs. Wow. I guess dairy goats might be too much work for our budding farmer who is calculating having stout fencing in place, lots of silly greenery abundance and gallons of whey (read: free pig food) at her disposal from her parents that don’t do a very good job of remembering “lessons” on the farm. Momma didn’t raise no fool.

Sunflowers, planted by goats.  Who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds.  Maybe they are more work than pigs.

Sunflowers, planted by goats. Goats who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds. Maybe they ARE more work than pigs.

Advertisements

Charcuterie Challenge July: Emulsified Sausage – Black or White?

15 Jul

“Stop singing!” I said to my son, exasperated, calling from the office over the raucous (false) tenor bouncing and echoing off of the pine ceiling obliterating all semblance of creativity or rational thought, for those of us forced to listen to Jack, anyway. Was he an opera singer in a past life? I’ve never met anyone with such a call to wail indecipherable words out with such abdominal abandon. He also sings to annoy his sister, which was the case today so I felt somewhat justified in cutting off the “music” even with the nagging irony that we ENCOURAGE singing most of the time. Parenting…always a new challenge – and the issues are never black or white.

Which brings me to the Charcuterie challenge, black or white? Though I did not follow the apprentice or charcuterie challenges, I was compelled to ask blanc or noir regarding boudin. After some quiet time away from the “opera”, I decided I really wanted to try both of the boudins. The choice though for today was obvious, blanc, as in Boudin Blanc. Why? Because I have eggs, lots of free range eggs, even with a hungry fox out there chasing hens this morning right past the LGD’s. The fox, skinny and desperate was not afraid of the LGD’s or me, until I turned the Dane out. Funny that Lucy, the Dane scared the fox away just by her presence but didn’t see the fox, as she was otherwise too busy chasing doves, again,…sigh. At least she leaves the chickens alone.

Boudin Blanc would also work since I had pork shoulder from the farm, chicken breast from the farm, and spices and milk (local) on hand for this intriguing recipe. Though I also have that elusive ingredient for the Boudin Noir as in “Boudin Noir with Apples and Onions” the ingredient that makes the sausage distinctively noir “on hand” on the farm… no one around here is up to procuring said ingredient right now. Nuff said.

We got home mid-day after some local shopping, ready to start up our fabulous sausages. But before we eat, our farm eats. So as we walked the farm, doing the regular afternoon water and welfare checks prior to feeding, we heard a strange noise from the woods where some of the pigs are kept. A baby piglet noise… As Sophie and I got closer, we noticed that there was a strange looking but very small, very dark animal in the pen with Wally, Roselle, Willow and Dixie. Hmmm. It squealed again, jet-black and wobbly, raising a ruckus with Dixie (the alpha) who was investigating, this little newborn piglet caused Dixie to promptly direct the other pigs away, leaving Willow, the momma, alone to labor on.

Goodness, more piglets! These were a surprise… 6 born today, 4 boys 2 girls. The little black piglet is a girl. She was obviously the first-born and most sassy! I sense trouble with this one… she’s already been investigating OUTSIDE the enclosure only hours old, she’s got attitude.

With an unexpected piglet delivery crowding out our evening (we wanted to be there, just in case) we started sausages late but we were ready this time, we had organized and prepped, and all of our machine parts were pre-assembled with our grinder, and our food processor (which gets used daily) was sparkling clean and ready for action.

Here is how my little Pavarotti and I made Boudin Blanc:

We ground the 1 inch cubes of pork and chicken breast through the meat grinder, then added the ground meat, salt, pepper and Quatre Epices into the food processor. We added the remaining ingredients per the instructions in the Ruhlman Charcuterie book. After a quenelle check, we added a wee bit more salt, stuffed the meat into the casings and poached the sausages. They were ready to partake in this evenings entrée.

Boudin Blanc with a Beet, Amaranth, Cucumber Chopped Salad and Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

It’s summertime so we’re trying to balance out this rich sausage with a light, beautiful purple salad and fresh yellow squash sauteed with onions, basil and garlic.

Beet, Amaranth and Cucumber Salad:

1 Cup Purple/Red Amaranth leaves roughly chopped (use only the smallest leaves)
1 large bunch or 8 small peeled finely chopped beets and beet greens (process with metal blade)
2 medium sized pickling cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley chopped.
½ Cup Walnuts chopped

Dressing:
1 heaping tablespoon of good quality stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Fresh Thyme, leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or shake up in a mason jar. Add dressing to the salad and serve (this salad can be made a few hours ahead of time, the flavors will develop).

Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

4-5 meduim yellow straight neck squash sliced
½ Red Onion Sliced
1/3 Cup packed Basil sliced into very thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic minced.

Sautee red onions with yellow squash until al dente, about 3-4 minutes. Finish the dish by stirring the basil and garlic into the hot squash. Serve immediately.

Brown Boudin Blanc sausages until re-heated (they have already been poached to an internal temp of 160).

This meal was delicious.  All of the produce  ingredients in the salad and squash were picked the same day and were bright and sweet tasting, a perfect compliment to the nutmeg and cinnamon in the sausages.  If I were to serve this in the winter, I would serve the sausage with mashed sweet potatoes and a simple radish salad.  This recipe is a keeper, the kids loved it!

I have fond memories of “Blood Pudding” (similar to Boudin Noir) a cow or pig blood pancake that I used to enjoy a long time ago served up as an entrée during elementary school lunch – in Stockholm Sweden, while my family lived there on sabbatical.

When evaluating recipes for the challenge, I was tempted to go for it with the Boudin Noir, it has been on my mind because of my childhood experience. My courage was bolstered after a chance meeting with a woman from Sweden, named Maria during a gig downtown when my husband played with Todd Bolton a few Sundays ago. We started talking after the show and the discussion quite quickly turned to Blood Pudding. I had been interested in researching the dish and thought she might have some insight regarding the name, etc. She was very helpful. Perhaps if I see her again downtown I can enlist her help in making some, they have just moved here from Austin and her husband is a singer…

Nothing around here is always either black or white. Parenting, cooking, animals – except maybe today when it comes to sausage and newborn piglets… Thank goodness for shades of gray!  And the Boudin Blanc was fantastic…I mean really, look at the ingredients, how could it not be?

Range chicken garlic scape cilantro pesto sausage with chickpeas and beet greens

15 Jun

A friend of mine from high school contacted me via facebook back in February about moving to Nashville. She had several places in mind in North Carolina but was also considering Tennessee. She was interested in hearing our thoughts on Nashville since we had recently relocated here.

After a few e-mails and phone calls we reunited downtown at Tootsies over a few cold drinks and some good music and caught up over the past two decades (ahem, +). After visiting North Carolina and looking at employment options, etc., our new/old friend e-mailed to let us know she had decided to move to Nashville. We were thrilled!

Once she got here, I showed her some of the sights in Nashville. Since I had to pick up hog casings for sausage so I could make my June Charcutepalooza submission, one of the places we visited was the Butcher Supply store. It was quite the adventure.

Our new/old friend has read our blog and was intrigued by the Charcuterie challenge along with the recipes and the farm food. Since the sausage stuffing challenge was due on the 15th, we invited her to help us with the sausage making last Sunday, June 12th.

We started the afternoon off with a farm fresh shaved (we used a potato peeler but a mandolin would be better) beet salad, mixed with fresh squeezed lemon (or lime) juice and chopped parsley, a palate cleanser and supposedly a precursor to the evening. This salad is simple and delicious. A customer who bought some beets from our farm gave me this recipe last summer. It’s one of our favorite starters.

We had all kinds of plans including making pesto (which we accomplished) and subsequently the chicken pesto sausage (left for later), having a light lunch at home and then heading out to one of our favorite people watching venue’s, Puckett’s in Leipers Fork then back to the farm for dinner.

Well, the conversation and people watching was incredible and the day got away from us. When we finally got back to the farm from Puckett’s we had not started the chicken part of the sausage and dinner was not (even close to being) ready. However, we all pooled our skills and rolled back our sleeves to stuff sausage for the first time (even with a key component missing on the stuffer). This was a big mistake and the end product was a colossal failure. Instead we made a pasta sauce with the ground chicken and pesto mixture and had a late chicken pesto pasta dinner. It had wonderful flavor.

And we learned what NOT to do in our trial sausage making run. First, have ALL the parts for your meat grinder/sausage stuffer ready and re-read your instructions. Here’s how to do it right:

Cut the white and dark meat off of 2 (*humanely raised) chickens leaving the wings on the carcasses(save the carcasses for making soup later) put the boneless meat in a plastic bag in the freezer for at least a half an hour, you will want it almost frozen.

Prepare pesto

Soak casings for the amount of time specified on the package.

Run the chicken meat through the meat grinder and mix with the pesto. Run the meat/pesto mixture through the grinder again to make sure it is completely mixed with the pesto.

Remove the extruding piece from the grinder and add the stuffing arm (we have a manual grinder).

Make sure the stuffing arm has been sprayed with oil per Mrs. Wheelbarrows post about stuffing sausage…very important. Stuff sausages and cook or freeze, they will keep in the fridge, but only for a few days.

We decided to cook our sausages on a roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes (or until done).

To accompany our sausages, we looked to the garden. Garlic, beet greens and parsley appeared gorgeous and tasty, all perfectly fresh. We also had some left over cooked chickpeas from making homemade hummus a few days ago.

Beet greens and chick peas.

2 cans or 3 cups pre-cooked chickpeas
Large bunch of beet greens, chopped
5-8 cloves of fresh garlic, diced
bunch parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
2 Tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Saute greens, garlic and parsley over medium high heat  in oil until wilted (about 3-5 minutes) add chickpeas, mustard and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sausages and chickpea/greens with a dollop of whole grain dijon mustard and if there is any leftover pesto, add that to the plate as well. Though the pictures don’t do it justice, it was incredible.

Our new/old  friend was not with us to enjoy the successfully completed chicken pesto sausages… however, there are some in the freezer for next time we see her!

*We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these chickens enjoyed life in all the chicken ways that chickens will – given the opportunity to range completely without constraint on pasture and in the woods (with the protection of Livestock Guard Dogs). And when it came time to grace our table, the end was quiet, calm and a sincere apology was offered. This is the most humane end we currently know of. If there is a better way, we’ll find it, as the processing of a chicken is no fun for anyone. How do we know these chickens enjoyed this life and met this described end? We raised them and we processed them ourselves.

Garlic scape cilantro pesto

12 Jun

Pesto is the word around here this summer, or pistou or pestare whichever you prefer. We’re going to grind up a lot of good stuff to make delicious sauces with bright, healthy flavor. Most of these sauces will be flavored with garlic.

There are many varieties of garlic out there, all of which seem to be very easy to grow. I love that it gets planted in October when many of the other garden chores have subsided. Garlic likes the cool fall to set down roots and when spring arrives, your first crop is already in for an early summer harvest.

I’ve got all kinds of ideas beyond the traditional basil/garlic/pine-nutty varieties of pesto. The key is flavor. It’s vibrant and summery and can be tailored to any cuisine.

This year, I will save some pesto for the winter months by freezing it. I plan to experiment with freezing pesto in ice-cube trays to thaw for dressings; in wide mouth mason jars for soups and stews or as a pizza/focaccia sauce and also large batches in freezer bags for pasta sauce or a quick hot or cold potato salad.

My first pesto of the season utilizes garlic scapes, which come from the hardneck variety of garlic as flowering stems that shoot up in the spring. For the bulbs to keep the energy and mature into garlic cloves instead of making seeds, the scapes must be broken off before they flower. For us, this happened right at the end of May and early June this year. Almost overnight we noticed curling stalks in comical ringlets winding around as if confused, looking for the sunshine. We intervened and found quite a bounty!

Note: break off or cut the scapes and wait to harvest the hardneck varieties until the bulbs are ready, up to several weeks.  In the picture above Jack has harvested some softneck (the type you find braided) garlic.  The kids enjoy harvesting both scapes and garlic.

I knew garlic scapes had good culinary use and flavor but had no idea how delicious they could be as a substitute for garlic cloves in pesto. I will grow hardneck garlic next year for the scapes alone! This year, we planted Rosso di Sulmona from GrowItalian.com.

The Viola Francese has always been my favorite because I like large purplish cloves and the flavor is wonderful but when I planted the Rosso seed garlic, I could tell this would be a keeper. The cloves were smaller and firmer with a nice reddish color, I also liked the pungency and the more assertive garlic flavor. I think it might hold up a little better in marinara or other sauces that cook a long time.

With all of those scapes, I decided to make pesto. My recipe is adapted from this article.

It is still somewhat early in the season so the basil isn’t yet bushy, but with the heat, the cilantro is starting to fade so I opted to use cilantro; you can use parsley or basil or a combination of several different types of herbs depending on your ultimate flavor goal.  You can make pesto with multiple herbs including dill, oregano, sage, fennel, marjoram, thyme, mint, etc., you get the picture. There are no hard and fast rules, be creative!

Garlic scape and cilantro pesto

2 cups Garlic scapes flowers removed and chopped into small pieces.
1 cup walnuts
1 bunch cilantro
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
Squeeze of lime
Pinch salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

3/4+ cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in food processor fitted with the metal blade and add olive oil slowly as you process it.  Stop adding oil when the pesto is the consistency you desire.

This recipe makes a very garlicky pesto and with the cilantro it has a clean, fresh flavor. It can be used to season hummus, sour cream or plain yogurt for dips or dressings. I wanted a pesto with a strong enough flavor to hold up to ground up chicken for a chicken pesto stuffed sausage aka my June submission for the Charcuterie Challenge…

A ripe tomato and the dog days of summer.

4 Jun

Our first ripe tomato of the 2011 growing season! Never mind that it was started indoors in November and the variety is called “Glacier”.

Glacier is a smaller tomato that packs good flavor and is a fine producer.

Although there are many more tomatoes planted in the ground here at the farm (last count 192), Glacier is always the first to produce (well, since we started growing it last year, anyway).

Our rescued Dane, Lucy witnessed our first ripe red tomato of the season too, but really doesn’t care much about tomatoes…

She’d rather just hang out in the shade with her human pal Sophie, getting lots of pets and attention.

Which makes it difficult to do things like weed and tend the garden…

On farm, all farm breakfast…

15 May

This morning we rushed to finish chores and make breakfast in order to get downtown for a Mr. Pink Guitar gig on Broadway with Todd Bolton. We’d originally planned an obligation free Sunday for our breakfast sausage-making for the Charcuterie Challenge/Charcutepalooza the apprentice challenge this month (due today – nothing like waiting until the last minute…). However, Mr. Pink Guitar got a call late last night to fill in for the Sunday show, as the other drummer had canceled. So suddenly our Sunday was wiped out. Ruh, roh.

Waking early, we opted to divide and conquer. Mr. Pink Guitar and Jack finished the morning feeding chores while Sophie and I harvested tatsoi and collected eggs.

Oh, and herbs,

Tatsoi on the right, Napa cabbage on the left, onion “companions” interspersed:

We’d hoped to harvest our February planted fingerling potatoes…but alas they were not ready. So, no starch today for breakfast. With feedings done, we cubed our pork, chopped herbs and sprinkled seasonings;

ground our sausage;

Cooked the patties; wilted the chopped greens in sausage drippings (yes, the tatsoi has a few bug nibbles, we don’t spray insecticides).

fried up some farm fresh eggs;

And ate the most delicious, satisfying and nourishing breakfast ever. No kidding.

All of the ingredients came from our farm except the balsamic vinegar, butter (local) salt and pepper. That, my friends , feels like quite the accomplishment. Mr. Pink Guitar wants me to do a post on how hard the work is on a farm, how it is every day work that is a labor of love and costs a fortune. He’s correct but that stuff is boring.

So as I sit downtown at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on Broadway, writing this post, worlds away from the farm, my gratitude for the animals, vegetables, hard work and time it took to bring this incredible food to the table is a bit overwhelming. The brick walls of the venue, the worn plywood floors, the tiny front window stage and music reverberating around my head and through my core inspires me; but the farm food sustains me.

My friend Farmer Joe always shares words of wisdom whenever he delivers hay to the barn or when I see him at the elementary school where both our kids attend. He tells me stories about hog killin’, making lard, the design of their scalder (it was set in a hill) how it was an event for multiple families and brought the community together. He says… “we ate really good for being such poor people”. Joe is one of the smartest farmers around, we’re lucky he shares his stories, insight and wisdom with us.

And he’s right, the food is so undeniably delicious, it doesn’t seem fair. If you want access to the freshest ingredients, meet your farmer, lend a hand, help out, the rewards are immeasurable.

Sausage recipe: (Adapted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s breakfast sausage recipe)

1 Pound Chopped pork (we used what would be pork chops along the back bone from a primal cut) so there was already a lot of fat on the meat
1/4 Pound Pork fat (see primal cut reference)
1 small bunch sage
1 small bunch oregano
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme (no stems)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Generous shake of kosher salt (be liberal if you like salt)
Many grinds from the pepper grinder (you decide)

Mix all ingredients together and grind into sausage. We used a manual meat grinder.

Form patties and fry in lard until browned, flip and repeat. Wilt the greens in the sausage drippings, remove and then fry about 6-8 farm fresh eggs in a little butter.

Enjoy!

Like a,…a bull in a china shop?

4 May

Our steer is currently living in our back yard (Roselle kicked him out of his stall in the barn) and he’s now paired with the goats, of whom he’s reluctantly beginning to acknowledge as his current herd. He thinks goats are weird and stinky. He’s right.

We keep them in a rotational grazing pattern to mow our lawn because it’s free food and well, the real reason is that our mower is broken. While necessity may be the mother of invention, lack of a new mower is the mother of cow plops in the yard. We’re going “green” in our lawn care operation and did I mention it’s free cow/goat food? Never mind, it’s a big yard.

However, “Cowie”, our once bull-calf, now steer who we refer to using endearments of female bovine terminology (immediately belying our city roots to county folk) is allowed to roam around while we relocate our goat/steer tractor, (the goats stand tied, they cannot be trusted – they eat fruit trees). We took a lunch break and Cowie decided to check out the kitchen garden “greenhouse”.

YIKES! Nobody panicked except me, a completely normal reaction after being trained in the unexpected/unpredictable flight response of and by equines, I s.l.o.w.l.y walked over to the doorway (well it will be one someday, anyway) and…got no reaction. He didn’t even eat or trample the vast array of lettuces, chicories, chards, Bulls Blood beets (ahem) or radishes. No bull in a china shop here.

We love our Cowie. His name is T-bone. I wish he were a heifer, because then he would get to “stay” and give us milk. Mr. Pink Guitar is adamant that we have to eat him. I want to train him to pull a plow, in which case he would be considered an “ox”. He is 7/8 Simmental, very gentle and easily trained. I will have to work on this topic with Mr. Pink Guitar.

When we told Farmer Joe about our bottle calf, he just shook his head and reminded us of what we already knew; that this calf will be with us for a very long time, until he dies of natural causes – right here at Pinkguitarfarm…

One day we will be “real” farmers, until then, our motto is: fake it ‘til you make it. Or not, we really like our brisket…

Heritage piglets, heirloom seeds. Happy Easter!

24 Apr

Though we have not slept in for eleven years (kids) our morning started more gradually than it should have. Mr. Pink Guitar ran a hay/mulch errand, meeting up with Farmer Joe, one of our kindest farmer friends who offered to give us rotten hay rolls for the garden. Free mulch, what’s not to love about that?

Mr. Pink Guitar indicated that he would do chores when he got back, so the rest of us drifted around sleepily making breakfast, reading and starting seeds. Mr. Pink Guitar must have spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with Joe (who is a wonderful conversationalist and oozes wisdom) because it seemed like hours before he got back. We’d finally decided to start chores just as the big ranch truck rumbled up the drive, trailer laden with hay in various states of decomposition.

Sophie left the house and wandered off to the barn right after the truck pulled up. Soon after I heard her scream, when I looked out the window she was running, arms flailing towards the truck. I got my muck boots on quickly, mentally prepared to face something terrible.

Roselle had farrowed, but what should have been a joyous occasion became somber as the situation revealed itself. Roselle was not showing interest in her piglets and had crushed two. Two more had not made it through the birthing process. We counted six tiny piglets skinny and shivering huddled in the corner, ignored. We tried to put a heat lamp on them and Roselle freaked. Well, at least she was being protective.

There were a lot of hushed comments about letting nature take its course and leaving the new mom alone. Because it was Roselle’s maiden voyage into motherhood, we needed to give her a break, and the birthing conditions were not ideal. We had wanted her to farrow out in the woods separated, but comfortably close to her herd the best way for a gilt/sow to farrow in our humble opinion.

But Roselle had become Houdini and would be held in by NO pen, maybe she wanted to range with the chickens, but with babies on the way, we didn’t want her nesting in the woods somewhere – way out there. We put her in the barn (well, actually she walked right in because that’s where she was hanging around) two weeks ago, in a horse stall, ousting our calf; and with fasteners, clips, hog panels, power tools and stall mats, we were able to keep her contained.

The critical time for piglets or any newborn is the first 24 hours, the piglets needed colostrum and warmth and if they made it three days we figured we could announce with confidence the arrival of 6 purebred heritage Red Wattle piglets.

Update: Roselle has calmed down and is taking wonderful care of her babies, they are all fat and sassy. She just needed some time to figure things out and get used to the idea that it is not all about her right now. She does still like her “me” time a little more than the other sows seemed to. However, all is well in piglet world with 5 females and 1 sturdy male, who nurses at first position.

One piglet had an injured foot, so we had to do a little doctoring, which gave us an opportunity to cuddle (!) with her. This piglet is a runt and her name is Zinnia.

Heirloom seeds are one of the greatest gifts on the planet, at least to me. Great things come in small packages and I love seed packets. I collect them like a pre-pubescent baseball card junkie of olden days hoarding them in boxes and containers; I even turned my wine fridge into a seed vault.

So when we got an Easter care-package in the mail from our wonderful friends Bob and Kathy a few days ago we carefully cut the tape and opened the box with rapt anticipation. Care-packages are always exciting. Among the goodies, plastic Easter eggs filled with treats and treasure as well as several thought provoking books “Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating” by Jane Goodall and “The Good Good Pig, the extraordinary life of Christopher Hogwood” by Sy Montgomery. Both authors are vegetarian, one – Vegan.

Interesting how I had just come across this article and was pondering the debate about humanely raising animals for food versus the Vegan perspective – all this after watching Food, Inc.

I find it’s important to look at all sides of an issue with an open mind. Research and contemplation of an issue so close to home is a much better alternative than ignorance.

So what else was in the box? Some nice Easter cards and news clippings with great information about farming and food, mentoring us further along this journey, and last but far from least, was a small innocuous looking bag from the gift shop at the venerable Monticello Estate. I carefully unfolded the small sack to reveal the most marvelous selections of Heirloom seeds!

A cache of 12 historic plant varieties! Cardoon, Prudens Purple tomato, Bloody Butcher corn, Lemon Balm, Early Curled Siberian Kale, Purple Calabash tomato, Fish Pepper, Brown Dutch Lettuce, Sesame, Red Calico Lima Bean, Cow’s Horn Okra, Balsam Apple. WOW! Hey, what’s Balsam Apple?

From Packet: “Jefferson planted this tender annual vine along the winding walk flower border on Monticello’s West Lawn in the spring of 1812. The Balsam Apple’s glossy, delicate foliage, small yellow flowers, and bursting orangish red fruit are a curious and unusual addition to the summer flower border. Plant the seed after the last spring frost and provide support with a fence of trellis. The vines will twine to ten feet in a sunny, fertile site”.

This year will be the year for cardoons and artichokes, multiple varieties of purple tomatoes, herbs and pink corn, unique peppers, amazing lettuces, beans of all shapes and sizes, several types of okra and Balsam Apple! What am I forgetting? Oh, I need more land…

What a wonderful Easter Sunday: heritage piglets and heirloom seeds, it doesn’t get any better than this. We also planted a mini-orchard with 10 fruit trees (orchard now totals 50), moved the chicken coop so our 27 new chicks could be closer to the house and to make room for our 7 Bantams and 6 Pekin ducklings.

Reflecting back two years ago exactly, the enormity of our move away from friends and family was sinking in. We had just lost a favorite uncle with no opportunity to say good-bye. We were alone on the holiday and phone calls to loved-ones made the distance more painfully clear. We did the only thing we knew to do, face the future and embrace it, and plant an apple tree in honor of Uncle Wayne.

Pinkguitarfarm is in its infant stages. We keep on keeping on against various odds because we have cherished friends who have lent us huge amounts of emotional support, not to mention gifts, seeds, rotten hay, fencing, green house supplies, free pig and bull-calf castrations, community endorsements, wagon rides, songs and music, wisdom, social invitations, articles, links, books, mentoring, care packages, a skype camera, visits, wine and late night conversations. We have farmers market customers that try our vegetables and recipes even though the vegetables and recipes might seem weird, and those that buy our fabulous pork. Thank you for being a part of this crazy adventure!

There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~Thomas Jefferson~

Peas, Favas and Garbanzo’s

26 Mar

Spring is here!

The Eastern Redbud and Dogwood flowers are blooming, reminding us (nagging us prettily) that it is time to plant crops!

Here in Middle Tennessee the change of the seasons is so dramatic and definitive I’m awed and humbled each time it happens and in every unique season.  Spring must be my favorite where the bleak brown/gray landscape pops verdant green seemingly overnight.  Of course this has everything to do with the warmer temps, longer days and frequent rains.

Jewelweed, good for that poison ivy outbreak that also comes with spring!

Phenology is the art of observing seasonal changes in a manner that provides clues, reminders or nudges; multiple road signs along the annual gardening loop with hints of what to do and what’s to come.  Though Mother Nature is brilliant, you know she’s also facetious because a killing frost does surprise the too early to flower fruit tree as well as those overzealous, impatient gardeners.  I would know.

Old timers around here might tell you to heed the calendar instead of planting by the moon or using methods of phenology.  Plant peas when the buttercups bloom certainly sounds great, but I would have had a little problem had I heeded that advice this year.

Old timers keep records and journals of the planting seasons for reference and future planning that go several years out.  This blog is my record, so for now, spring means planting around the thunderstorms and hoping seedlings don’t get washed away or rot in the ground.  Getting the crops in around the weeds and the bugs is a challenge and to do so immediately following the last frost is more luck than art, forget science (we’ll leave the science in the soil for now).

Phenology is interesting and valuable in that it reminds me to pay attention to the details provided by nature.  Phenology hints that I should feel the rhythm of the anticipated within an awareness of the unanticipated.  It’s a dance to a familiar tune performed by unknown musicians.  I just want to get the moves right, ya know?

This is a fava bean flower.  We grow favas in the spring and the fall (if I’m organized enough and the weather cooperates).  I am also attempting garbanzo beans (for the first time) and peas of the shelling, snow and snap varieties, a few of the exciting crops here this spring.  Driven by the longing for tantalizingly fresh produce, I envision grilled favas, hummus dip and fresh from the vine peas savoring these flavors even before the seeds have germinated.  No doubt, a passion for the best ingredients drives my efforts in the dirt.  And these dreams do sometimes disappoint with such lofty expectations prior to harvest!

Anything can go wrong.  Every year is different; luckily something always seems to do well to compensate for what doesn’t.  Growing multiple crops in rotation through four seasons and taking precautions with some (transplants) while sowing other seeds with abandon is the best way to guarantee food production on our small farm.  Tomatoes and green beans didn’t do very well last year but our peppers and eggplants were amazing.  Who knows what this year will bring?  Hopefully gorgeous tomatoes!

Cousin Itt? Nah, just onion seedlings.

16 Jan

Farm seedlings for January: Onions

I went a little crazy with the onions this year. I’m told that onion seeds lose a large percentage of viability after the first year so I gathered up all of my old (and new seeds) and planted them. They all germinated! Now the challenge is to figure out where to put them all when spring planting time comes.

I believe that all great meals start with something from the allium genus. Good for companion planting with cabbages and in helping to deter rabbits, onions are a must in any garden.

Here’s a little preview of what we’re growing this year at Pinkguitarfarm.

Rear, left to right:
Scotland Leeks – an heirloom variety from Scotland this leek is described as “hardy, short-shanked, (with) excellent flavor and texture.” Seeds of Change. I bought this because it is a good variety to overwinter or keep in the greenhouse. I immediately envision a creamy potato leek soup when I see the picture on the package. However, this spring I’ll be indulging in some roasted baby leeks with an herb marinade and baby leeks with fennel braised in cream, hmmm, I wonder if they will all make it to winter.

Shimonita Negi – Japanese Bunching Onion Single Stalk Type. From the packet: “(365 days) King of the Negi, this single stalk Japanese bunching onion is worth the wait in seed to harvest time. It doesn’t get better than this for flavor which only gets sweeter with cooking! The short and fat white root makes the Shimonita Negi look more like a leek than a scallion. The chunky shape means this variety does not need deep soil mulching and a lot of extra work around harvest time. From the sowing to harvest (typically December)this is a one-year crop….The Shimonita Negi is popular throughout Japan, but particularly so in its place of origin, Shimonita Town, famous for its produce. Tourists are advised not to miss a particular Shimonita rest stop where the onions are sold during their season.” Kitazawa Seed Co. I’m a sucker for this kind of marketing, what can I say? Hope it’s worth an entire year of raised-bed real estate!

Mini Purplette Bunching Onion. From the packet: “The first purple red-skinned mini onion. Early maturing with delicate, mild flavor. Attractive either topped or bunched and can be harvested very young as baby bunching onions with purple pearl ends. Turns pastel pink when cooked or pickled”. Seeds of Change. Mmmm pickled!

Ed’s Red Shallot. From the packet: “Red skin with red interior. One bulb will produce up to 30 bulbs. Unique flavor is great for flavoring soups, salad dressings, vegetables and grain dishes”. Seeds of change. Cool! No more buying shallots at the grocery store…

Garlic chives. From the packet: “Heirloom, medicinal…Popular in 16th century European gardens for adding garlicky flavor to soups and salads. Hung inside homes to ward off malevolent spirits. Green seeds impart rich flavor to cooking oils. Leaves and flowers add spice. Also used in Chinese medicine to warm the kidneys and treat lower back and knee pain”. Seeds of Change. This one is indispensable for the garden, kitchen, household and body! Don’t you love the word “garlicky”?

Center, left to right:
Red Beard – Japanese Red Bunching Onion Splitting Type. From the packet: “This popular specialty red-stalked bunching onion has a mild pungent flavor and tender leaves…The red color is stimulated by cold temperatures. Mature plants can reach 26” tall. Used in stir-fries, salads and as a garnish. Red Beard makes an unusual and attractive addition to the garden”. Kitazawa Seed Co. Hmm. Wonder if it will be a big seller at the local farmers market, I may have to bring some recipes with this one. Can’t wait to see how it looks at maturity.

Texas Early Grano. From the web-site: “Texas heirloom, ‘The Mother of All Sweet Onions’ This Vidalia-type onion is a good choice for the Mid-Atlantic and the South. Best started in the fall or winter and transplanted in early spring. Large top-shaped bulbs, thin skin, soft white flesh, with sweet mild flavor. Good resistance to splitting. Short keeper”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Sweet onions are my fave, French onion soup anyone?

Japanese Bunching Onion Splitting Type – Menegi. From the packet: “This delicate white green onion is a young shoot of the wakegi scallion. Specially cultivated to produce young shoots that are used as a sashimi and sushi garnish. Menegi are harvested very soon after planting when the scallion has grown to a height of only 3”-4”. Because they are harvested when they are young and thin, Menegi need heavy planting”. Got the garnish, need the sashimi! Oishii desu ne!

Front, left to right:
More Scotland Leeks, see description above.

Cipolla/Long of Florence. From web-site: “Long (4 inch) narrow red onion. Wider in middle than the ends. Mild sweet taste. Beautiful. Medium/long day type. Mid season harvest. Use in salads but stunning grilled or on skewers”. GrowItalian.com I LOVE, love, love ALL my Franchi seeds!

More Cipolla/Long of Florence, see directly above.

More Texas Early Grano, see above.

Bunching, Deep purple. From the web-site: “A new development in bunching onions. This reddish-purple variety develops and retains its color throughout its growth period and through high and low temperatures”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like purple.

Here’s to a great year of onions! Onions are easy to start and grow. From quickie chives to large bulbs there are enough varieties to keep you in onions year round in your own garden, so people, please start your onions!

%d bloggers like this: