Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Potato- Two Potato- Three Potato- Four.....

Though the longer those batatas stay in the ground the better, I decided today was the day to dig the remaining sweet potatoes. My lack of patience was getting the better of me and besides, now I have new soil to sow more cold hardy seeds in. I may try sowing early carrots and small onion bulbs, covering them with a thick mulch of straw, and then with plastic for the winter to see what happens. Hopefully it will be spring carrots and larger summer onions! Anyway, back to the sweet potatoes....

Here are some photos of the excavation (next year I will plant them under black plastic in an effort to increase yields):

Here I have pulled the vines away and started to dig in, uncovering a couple of good size roots.

This is a close-up of the root system coming down from the original slip. See that long skinny root above the tuber?

There it goes under the boards into the next bed. There are quite a few roots that decided to go next door, problem is my kale seedlings are growing above them.

I was thinking some of these pieces may continue to grow and provide me with slips come Spring if I bring them indoors. Most are pencil thin 'tubers' only, one is a vine with a few roots, and lastly there is a small potato with a section of vine still attached. I planted them in with organic potting mix and some soil from the bed they were growing in and topped it all of with a thick layer of straw. Fingers crossed!

And here is the less than ideal harvest. Nine potatoes in total from I forget how many slips....a couple died along the way. I am thinking there were 4 or 5 survivors. One did not produce any tubers at all, the sunflower roots took over it's territory completely.

Overall I am pleased to have home grown sweet potatoes under the cold and wet growing conditions, but I want MORE, MORE, MORE!!! I think I will attempt to double or triple my slip plantings next year and try more than one variety as well. (These are Beauregard and they came from Johnny's.) Another idea I may try is growing a few as container plants.

Steele Plant Company and George's Plant Farm out of Tennessee have piqued my interest for 2010. I did some follow-up over at Dave's Garden, the watch-dog site. The reviews were positive (Steele here, George's here) and people seemed pleased with their products. If you are looking for more information on growing, harvesting, or storing these beauties Mother Earth News has an informative article here. It's time for me to go fetch those potatoes from their sunny spot......their flavor will improve over the next month or so as starches covert to sugars, think I can wait that long??

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Fall Garden

We all seem to be slowing down as we ease into Fall, lazily following the pace of our gardens. Personally, I feel stuck in limbo, not sure what I should be doing at this very moment. The dozens of unripe peppers, eggplant, and squash continue to tease me from the stalk. I have been saying for weeks now that I should just rip most of them out. Should I? Am I naively continuing to wait hoping the peppers will turn shades of red right along with the oak leaves?

My newly sown seedlings are starting to show some size, and the pea tendrils are a few inches long. The promise of fresh cut greens again some time in the future is my favorite part about the garden right now, well that and the sweet potatoes. I dug a few last weekend, they were thin but we enjoyed them just the same. It was really satisfying to make a dish of roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions- all grown right outside the front door!

The garden is colorful right now. Dahlias and zinnias add little punches of orange, purple, pink, and red.  The asparagus bed has me humming "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." when I water it.  Maybe that was the nudge that had me starting my Holiday shopping today.  So hard to think of snow and Santa when there is still so much green out there. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Grass Really is Greener....

Here is an article from edible SOUTH SHORE magazine with information of grass fed vs feed lot beef and a nice write up about the farm 'my cow' is currently grazing at. The article goes as far as saying eating beef can be good for you, as a good a source as fish for Omega-3's , but better due to lack of mercury. To read this informative write up click on the title above.

Edit: I wanted to add this in too, good for me to remind myself why I pay so much money for the stuff....."An even bigger threat is the change that occurs to a cow’s rumen when it eats this modern and unnatural diet of grains, in lieu of grass. Cows’ guts naturally have a neutral pH. Our acidic one, until recently, had been able to kill off any E. coli that might find its way into our food. Today, however, with grain being the food du jour in feedlots, cows’ rumens are now acidic and certain strains of E. coli have grown resistant to an acidic bath, which means we have lost our natural defense against this killer. "
"Pollan says there is a simple solution to the problem. “Jim Russell, a USDA microbiologist on the faculty at Cornell, has found that switching a cow’s diet from corn to grass or hay for a few days prior to slaughter reduces the population of E. coli 0157:H7 in the animal’s gut by as much as 80 percent. But such a solution (grass?!) is considered wildly impractical by the cattle industry and (therefore) by the USDA. Their preferred solution for dealing with bacterial contamination is irradiation—essentially, to try to sterilize the manure getting into the meat.” Instead of overhauling the whole meat industry with a simple and natural solution of grass feeding, the USDA prefers to put more band-aids on a broken system."
From edible CAPE COD.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic planting season is just about here. This will be my first time putting cloves in the ground so I had many questions left unanswered. I found a great source of information over at Boundary Garlic Farm, such as when to separate the individual cloves (right before planting), spacing options for standard rows or intensive gardening (tighter spacing will result in higher yields per pound, but smaller cloves), that hardneck garlic needs it's tip to be 2 inches below the soil surface, etc....it is a recommended read for any questions one may have on garlic. The last of my deliveries should come this week. I also plan on planting some cloves from a head I purchased at the farmer's market, the variety was not known. Here is a video I came across along the way:

How to Plant Garlic

Have any garlic tips or variety preferences to share? If so post them here, I would love to hear all about it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

September in Rhode Island

A Morning in the Orchard

An Afternoon at the Wharf

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Little Grass Fed Education

I was reading a local blog, Diary of a Locavore, when I learned that grass fed meat requires a different method of cooking than standard meat. The differences in the make-up of the meat structure, fat content, etc. call for a lower cooking temperature, and maybe some marinating or tenderizing. I am sure most of you know about the health benefits of eating grass fed beef, and that having a "grass-finished" cow is extremely important (a cow finished in a feed lot loses much of it's added nutritional benefits) so I won't get in to all of that here. Check out the Locavore's post for some good recipes.

We have been eating "natural, sustainably raised" beef grazed in VT for many months now and there is certainly a difference in texture. We have said it is a little tough comparatively speaking. My next meat order should be arriving at year's end from River Rock Farm in Westport. This Angus is 100% grass fed, organically raised, and hard to come by. A year on a waiting list was not going to get me a 1/2 side, luckily they reserve some cows for sale solely through my CSA which turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I am very excited to feed my family what I believe to be some of the best meat available locally. The cows are to be slaughtered at Blood Farm in Groton Massachusetts, a farm I used to live just minutes from and one that is USDA approved. Good stuff all around.

Now I like my cow 'still moo-ing', but my husband prefers a medium to medium-well steak, so our meat has been sampled at many degrees of doneness. I did not purchase any roasts in my last order from Rhodemont Farms, just 35-40 lbs of steak, kabobs/stew beef, and ground. We have been very pleased with the steaks and ground beef, but the kabob/stew beef has been almost inedible due to the toughness when kabobed or stewed. Maybe I am doing something wrong? The subtle differences in preparation and cooking required with grass fed beef make perfect sense to me in hindsight though I never thought to seek them out. There are actual books on the subject such as The Grassfed Gourmet, and a number of great articles like this one over at Sustainable Table. Here is a marinade I will be trying today on the honkin' sirloin steak that is sitting in my fridge:

(Marinade recipe taken from Alderspring Grass Fed site)

Italian beer marinade - UPDATE- We did not care for this marinade.
12 oz beer
½ c Italian salad dressing
5 cloves garlic; (minced)
2 Tb lemon or lime juice
1 tb sugar
Salt and pepper
2 Tb ground cloves
¼ c Worchestershire sauce
2 Tb Vinegar

I learned that 30% less cooking time is required and the low fat content begs for some special preparations including adding a little fat and using a lower cooking temperature. All sources say a meat thermometer is a must. I will be doing some more reading on this subject since the incoming 90 lbs of beef is going to last my family a looooong time, I want to do it right. If you are already eating, or have been thinking about finding some local grass fed beef, lamb, or poultry check out the linked sources and join me in my journey of learning the best ways to cook the good stuff.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Honey Bear

This little squash is recent product of breeding out of UNH, a personal size acorn that was a 2009 AAS winner. The fruits are small, around 4 inches according to sources, but my first little Honey Bear didn't quite make the mark. (It doesn't require any curing and should be enjoyed within a few months of harvesting, no problems there.)

I split this little gem in half and filled it with butter, brown sugar, sage, rosemary, and a sprinkling of sea salt and pepper. It was a tasty treat but I could have eaten three of them since I shared it with my husband. I hope the rest of the squash make it to 4 inches. The plant will average three or four fruits per plant so I am trying to decide if it is worth it...... the vine is quite compact making it a perfect variety for small spaces, containers, and square foot gardens which does detract some negativity from the few servings one would get out of the plant. Next year I plan on growing Sweet Dumpling as well. The fruit size is equal to that of Honey Bear but the vines are larger, thus they will need trellising, but will also put out 8-10 fruits per plant according to Johnny's. Here is a picture of the acorn before it went in the oven, pleasing to the eye for presentation on the plate, but not much to it.

For comparison's sake here is what I believe to be a Sweet Dumpling that I purchased from the CSA this week; A healthy sized squash, and what the Honey Bear should be. I placed a baseball next to it as it resembles my first Honey Bear in size. Quite a difference!
If the flavor is similar it will be a tough choice deciding between the two. Knowing me I will just grow both.
Yesterday was CSA day, here are the items included in the share:
  • 4 ears of corn
  • 2 tomatoes (small)
  • 2 Asian Pears
  • 2 apples
  • 1 cuke
  • 2 summer squash
  • 1 lb. potatoes
  • grapes (small portion, maybe 20 in all)
I really liked the variety in yesterday's pick-up and it was fun to have locally grown grapes for the first time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wait for it.........

Holy Mother of God it is an actual MELON!! And it has grown into the chain link! I spied this fella while watering the garden this afternoon, squinting into the sun light thinking I must be having a garden hallucination. But no! There really was a big green ball where a melon should be, so I dropped the hose and scurried over to inspect a little more closely- and to my surprise I found more! So the outrageously good news is that I have melons, the bad news is my vines are a diseased mess and have been totally neglected. Sigh.

I immediately went inside to mix up a fish fertilizer cocktail for the fruiting vines, followed but the removal of the worst leaves, followed by a spraying of Bonide (neem), and here is the really bad part- an innocent bumble bee flew into the path of my poison. In all my haste I forgot not to spray the chemicals while the bees are active. *@#&! I feel horrible. I sprayed my winter squash too (first), not thinking the pollinators will will stopping by all afternoon to do their business. Bee killer, that is me.

Guess I shouldn't have stopped watering those dang vines a couple of weeks ago. Or stopped caring that they were going down hill fast for that matter. I had given up any hope of melons this year after my prized baby stopped growing and withered. Boy was I wrong, lets just keep our fingers crossed these beauties ripen before the vines succumb to the dreaded powdery mildew and other such diseases.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

We all survived the first two days of kindergarten, and I shed fewer tears than expected. Guess I got it all out of my system well in advance of the big day.... not having him home for lunch has been the biggest adjustment for me. He has always been home for lunch!
The saved seeds were rinsed and set out to dry last night. My garlic arrived on Friday (Chet's Italian Red) though it is too early to plant it out by my calculations. Not much going on in the garden. Seedlings are emerging, the squash under row cover are much happier, and the eggplant and peppers continue to be frozen in time. I should either cover them up or rip them out. I am trying to let my beans mature and dry for seed, but possible disease and bug damage are making a mess of them.

The ground around the sweet potato vines is beginning to rise and crack, that must a good sign. I have looked it up so many times, but I can never remember when to harvest them. (Soon or do I wait until we are due for a frost??)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tomato Tasting Results

O.K., so the tomatoes were a little lacking in the flavor department (as our Moms said), but they were still distinguishable. We inhaled them. Nothing like a little bruschetta for lunch! Is this cheating? Probably, but I never sit down and eat a hunk of tomato all on it's own, that is what those little cherry poppers are for. My slicing tomatoes go in something, or with something. So, the tomatoes were sliced into large chunks and tossed with a splash of good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, pepper, and Pistou Basil before being generously heaped onto our little toasts. Hubby and I did not agree on our favorite, though his first choice was my second. Good enough!

First I laid out the tomatoes and labeled their spot and seed collection jar.
(I wrote down the names as listed when I was at the farm so I would not forget.)

They were sliced across the equator and into the jars went the juice and seeds.

Funny how different the pulp is in color, this heirloom stuff is gorgeous!
Clockwise from top left: Green Zebra, Purple Stripey, Red Stripey,
and Costoluto Genovese.
My husband like the Costoluto Genovese best. This tomato had a nice, clean, fresh, true tomato taste. It was my second favorite and one I now plan on growing. The shape when sliced was as pleasing to the eye as the flavor was to the palette, a great combination. I was delighted by the Green tomato. It's flavor was bright and crisp- a bit of lime maybe? What ever it was it clearly stood out from the rest. LOVED IT! Must have more. The remaining two tomatoes did not stand out so much. I was expecting more spice and smoke out of the Purple Stripey as this is how it was described at the farm stand. Must be where the 'watery tasting tomatoes this year' comes into play. It smelled more complex than it tasted.
It would be nice to still live right down the street (as our parents still do) from such a fun tomato vendor so I could do a tasting every week and know what I was eating. The markets down here just say "Heirloom" above the basket of mixed tomatoes, and the choices are no where near that of Kimball Fruit Farm. http://www.kimballfruitfarm.com/ Kimballs, oh how I miss you already. (On a side note the musk and watermelons we picked up were the best we have ever had. All the rain certainly didn't ruin those melons!) Edit: after checking the link I discovered a great video on heirloom tomatoes on their site, go over and check it out if you 8 or 9 minutes to spare.
Here is an updated picture of the garden taken today. The bed in the far left corner used to house the tomatoes. After amending the soil with too many things to mention I sowed more spinach and a row of bunching onions. The cold frame will go in the other half of the bed this week. ( I am thinking lettuce.) The winter squash are covered with row cover. I am hoping this extra bit of insulation will allow me to get some mature fruit of them. What is there seems to have stopped growing. I will trade lack of continued pollination for a few good squash. (FYI- The ugly row cover in full view is the down side to having a front yard garden. Sorry neighbors.)
Just outside the fence on the left is my recovering grape vine. I still need to cap the posts with copper and add a second wire for the trellis. I just hope everybody leaves it alone this winter and I get some grapes out of it in a couple of years!
O.K., time to get back to work. A bag of Ginger Crisp apples and a slew of mashed potatoes are waiting for me to make something delicious with them. I am thinking Cottage Pie and Apple Crisp.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The New

Yesterday was Out With The Old as I ripped out the blight infested tomato plants and straw that accompanied them, two 30 gallon trash bags full to be exact. Today I am looking forward to doing a tomato taste test with some heirloom varieties I picked up at Kimball's Farm in Hollis New Hampshire yesterday, followed by an attempt at seed saving. Then it is on to more sowing of cold hardy vegetable varieties, and maybe even some cold frame construction. Well that last bit is probably more wishful thinking than anything else, but eventually there will be two cold frames in my garden!

These are the directions I will be following for my seed saving:

From http://www.seedsave.org/ : Tomato - Lycopersicon esculentum

HARVEST: If possible, allow tomatoes to completely ripen before harvesting for seed production. Unripe fruits, saved from the first frost, will ripen slowly if kept in a cool, dry location. Seeds from green, unripe fruits will be most viable if extracted after allowing the fruits to turn color.

PROCESS: Cut the tomato into halves at its equator, opening the vertical cavities that contain the seeds. Gently squeeze out from the cavities the jelly-like substance that contains the seeds. If done carefully, the tomato itself can still be eaten or saved for canning, sun-drying or dehydrating.

Place the jelly and seeds into a small jar or glass. (Add a little water if you are processing only one or two small tomatoes.) Loosely cover the container and place in a warm location, 60-75° F. for about three days. Stir once a day.

A layer of fungus will begin to appear on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This fungus not only eats the gelatinous coat that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also produces antibiotics that help to control seed-borne diseases like bacterial spot, canker and speck.

After three days fill the seed container with warm water. Let the contents settle and begin pouring out the water along with pieces of tomato pulp and immature seeds floating on top. Note: Viable seeds are heavier and settle to the bottom of the jar. Repeat this process until water being poured out is almost clear and clean seeds line the bottom of the container. Pour these clean seeds into a strainer that has holes smaller than the seeds. Let the excess water drip out and invert the strainer onto paper towel or piece of newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely (usually a day or two). Break up the clumps into individual seeds, label and store in a packet or plastic bag.

The Mothers were complaining of watery tasting tomatoes yesterday so I am prepared to be disappointed by the beauties sitting on my counter top, I am at least hoping for a distinct flavor difference between the varieties.

I tried my first Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry recently and it was awesome! I keep searching for another papery husk ripe and ready for the eatin'. Want to know more about the ground cherry? See an old post on them here. Next time I will try and restrain myself from eating them until I have taken a picture.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Good Stuff

I guess I will start by sharing a new zucchini recipe I tried this week, it was wonderful and a nice deviation from the normal 'zucchini bread' fare. The recipe is for a savory zucchini-basil muffins, I made mini's and they disappeared very quickly. The recipe can be found here at Synergy Farms, they did a three zucchini bread recipe taste test, and this was the favorite, give it a try!

Next in line, today's CSA share. I am happy with the contents this week, but once again the condition of the produce was not good. Today's 1/2 share included the following:

  • 2 pieces summer squash
  • 2 cukes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 apples
  • 3 ears corn
  • 1 lb. potatoes
  • 1/2 lb. onions
  • kale
The cold nights and mediocre days are doing a number on the garden.....the vegetables have not increased in size at all this week, and that is a bit worrisome. I have so many peppers and eggplants out on the vine, I would hate to lose them all to cold temps. Luckily a few things are still producing and don't seem to mind the evening's temperatures, here they are pictured below:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Egg Industry Exposed

I am not a vegetarian, nor will I ever be. (Though sometimes I want to be.) I read this and wanted to post it, I have read many horrific scenarios about the chicken industry. As a result I try to make better decisions as to where my food comes from, but this I was unaware of. Please read and form your own opinions. Mine are that I am so thankful I can buy eggs from local farms, that we as a human race are the most cruel creatures on earth, and that there are people dying from starvation around the world and we grind up chicks like unwanted yard waste because when pumped with artificial growth hormones they don't grow fast enough. Oh, and these ground up chicks are probably then fed to their own species. Nice. (Note: I did not watch video)

Video shows unwanted male chicks ground up alive at Iowa egg hatchery
Associated Press Writer
(AP) 03:19:14 PM (ET), Tuesday, September 1, 2009 (WASHINGTON)
An animal rights group is calling on the nation's largest grocery story chains to post warnings on egg cartons that unwanted male chicks are ground up alive, after videotaping the common industry practice at an Iowa egg hatchery.

In letters sent to the companies this week, Chicago-based Mercy for Animals says its undercover videotape at Hy-Line North America's hatchery in Spencer, Iowa, "exposes one of the industry's best kept secrets _ that the egg industry tears male chicks' bodies apart in grinding machines while they are still alive."

The group wants the chains to include a label on egg cartons that says, "Warning: Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry." The letters were sent to 50 chains, including Walmart, Whole Foods, Safeway, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's.

"The violence that you will see is standard and acceptable within the egg industry, and consumers have a right to know about this cruelty so that they can make informed and compassionate purchasing decisions," wrote Mercy for Animals' executive director, Nathan Runkle.

A spokesman for United Egg Producers, a trade group for U.S. egg farmers, called the proposal "almost a joke." Spokesman Mitch Head said Mercy for Animals had no credible authority, as well as questionable motives. "This is a group which espouses no egg consumption by anyone _ so that is clearly their motive." The video does in fact end with a call for people to adopt a vegan diet, which eliminates all animal products _ meat, eggs or dairy.

Hy-Line said in a statement it has started an investigation "of the entire situation," adding that it would have helped their investigation "had we been aware of the potential violation immediately after it occurred."

The video, shot with a hidden camera and microphone by a Mercy for Animals employee who got a job at the plant in May and June, shows a Hy-Line worker sorting through a conveyor belt of chirping chicks, flipping some of them into a chute like a poker dealer flips cards.

These chicks, which a narrator says are males, are then shown being dropped alive into a grinding machine.

In other parts of the video, a chick is shown dying on the factory floor amid a heap of egg shells after falling through a sorting machine. Another chick, also still alive, is seen lying on the floor after getting scalded by a wash cycle, according to the video narrator.

Hy-Line said the video "appears to show an inappropriate action and violation of our animal welfare policies," referring to chicks on the factory floor.

But the company also noted that "instantaneous euthanasia" _ a reference to killing of male chicks by the grinder _ is a standard practice supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community.

According to Mercy for Animals, male chicks are of no use to the industry because they can't lay eggs and don't grow large or quickly enough to be raised profitably for meat. That results in the killing of 200 million male chicks a year.

The United Egg Producers confirmed that figure and the practice behind it.

"There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens," said spokesman Head. "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."

Using a grinder, Head said, "is the most instantaneous way to euthanize chicks."

There is no federal law that ensures the humane euthanasia of animals on farms or hatcheries, according to Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of the Humane Society of the United States.

Hy-Line says on its Web site that its Iowa facility produces 33.4 million chicks. Based on that figure, Mercy for Animals estimates a similar number of male chicks are killed at the facility each year. Hy-Line did not comment on that estimate.

Runkle, of Mercy for Animals, said most people would be shocked to learn that 200 million chicks are killed a year.

"Is this justifiable just for cheap eggs?" he said.

As to more humane alternatives to disposing of male chicks, Runkle said the whole system is inherently flawed.

"The entire industrial hatchery system subjects these birds to stress, fear and pain from the first day," he said.


On the Web:

Mercy for Animals video: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/hatchery