We've been enjoying the warm and sunny weather this past week. It's a change from the summer up until this point! A big task for us at this time of year is the garlic harvest. Last fall we planted about 7000 bulbs of garlic and now the harvesting begins! We've harvested 2 beds with another 10 to go. I hope that we can finish up in a week or so. So far, the quality looks great. We've seen a small amount of rot, which is either due to the wet conditions or nematode damage. We're hoping the first because it's a much smaller problem than nematodes. Nematodes are a tiny soil organism that feeds on garlic and persists in the soil for years.
We are also seeing some tomatoes starting to ripen and the eggplants are slowly growing the size. The peppers are still green but I hope to see some colour in a couple weeks. Not much longer and these vegetables will make an appearance in your shares!
It's hard to believe but I have also done half of the planting of our fall brassica crops. Today I planted 4 varieties of cabbage as well as some cauliflower. In another week or two I will be planting kale, broccoli, fall kohlrabi. These vegetables will mature in late September and early October.
You'll notice that potatoes are a choice item this week - for those with potato add-ons you will not receive your add-on this week. Add-ons will only be on the weeks that potatoes are a non-choice item.
Savoy Cabbage is a choice item this week and is a favourite of mine (well, all cabbage are, actually). Savoy cabbage is a green cabbage with crinkly leaves that are mild and tender. Use it any way you would use other green cabbages or try one of the recipes below! I particularly like it sliced thinly and added to soups near the end of cooking.
Roasted Savoy Cabbage
Farfalle with Savoy Cabbage, Pancetta, and Mozzerella
Apple, Walnut, and Savoy Cabbage Salad
Do you have any topics or issues you would like me to highlight as a blog post? Any burning question you have about how we farm? I'd love to hear what share members would like me to write about. Send me your thoughts via comments below, email, or at the share pickup!
This week I thought I'd talk a little bit about my planning process and how I choose what's in each weekly share. But first, a few notes about this week's share. We have a few exciting additions! The beans are just getting started and everyone will get some green beans this week. The first week of picking beans is usually fairly light but will definitely increase the next couple weeks. And, new potatoes! We taste tested these on the weekend and they are delicious. Those who have bought a potato add-on will receive it this week. I plan for 10 weeks (not necessarily consecutive) of potatoes over the season so we will enjoy these early potatoes and then a new variety will be ready in a couple weeks. We will also have cucumbers for real this week. Although I predict things right about 95% of the time, sometimes what I think will be ready for the shares doesn't end up being ready, which is what happened with the cucumbers last week.
On that note, let's talk about my planning process. A few years ago I wrote a similar post that outlined my planning process particularly as it relates to my winter seed orders and assessing the value of each share. To learn more about these things, read the post here. Today, I thought I'd write about my decision making process as far as what is included in each weekly share as well as in the trade-in bin.
When I design the shares there are a few things I use as guiding principles. First, I want every single share to include at least 1 salad green and 1 cooking green (kale, chard, cabbage, etc.). I also want every share to include something from the allium family (onions, garlic, leeks). Then, I prefer that most weeks include 1 - 2 root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes, spring turnips, radishes). Once these basics are in the share, I add whatever seasonal vegetables are available at that time. Peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, and others all fit into this category.
Some share members have noticed that the trade-in bin often includes vegetables that aren't in the share on that particular week. This is by design and my way of ensuring that members have some opportunity for customization. Occasionally, there are a few vegetables that I grow only for the trade-in bin. These are typically unusual vegetables or vegetables that I am trialing and just growing on a small scale. Examples of these include: patty pan squash, tomatillos, and celery. The trade-in bin is also a great way for me to use small harvests of vegetables that are typical on either end of a crop's harvest window. For example, each crop that I grow has a specific window of time that it can be harvested due to the quantity that I plant and the plant's ability to 'hold' in the field. Broccoli generally has a short, 2-week harvest window and does not hold well in the field. So after this harvest window there will still be a few plants that are just maturing the broccoli but not enough for everyone. Hence their appearance in the trade-in bin. On the rare occasion we have a crop failure, any of the crop that does survive will be included in the trade-in bin as well.
I also try to take into account vegetables that combine well together in recipes and ensure that they appear together in one share. Examples of this include: potatoes and leeks, or radishes and salad greens. I also try to make the bonus herbs match the vegetables: dill and cilantro combine with summer crops, and sage and thyme combine with fall crops.
While each week includes most of what is available in the field at that particular time, it doesn't necessarily include every possible vegetable. I will rotate through the vegetables that hold well in the field for long periods of time so that you aren't receiving all of them, all the time. Some vegetables that hold well in the field include: onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, kale, chard, collards, and some herbs. We also do succession plantings of these crops (and many others) so often times we will have enjoyed a few weeks of the first succession of a crop but then take a break while we wait for a second succession to size up. This happens most often with carrots, beans, lettuce, or potatoes.
I hope this give you some insight into what is in your weekly shares! If you ever wonder why something is included or not, just ask. I'm happy to talk about my thought process.
Cucumbers are a popular item with share members! I think this is partly because they are often loved by adults and children alike. And, cucumbers don't really take much prep work to eat. It can be as simple as slicing them up and eating plain or with dip. This year we are growing three varieties of cucumbers: a specialty yellow cucumber, a pickling cucumber, and a standard slicing cucumber. The standard slicing cucumbers take about 7 - 10 days longer to mature so they are not in the shares the week. But you will find the first two varieties included. The yellow cucumber is a delicious, mild, thin-skinned cucumber that has won taste tests and awards. The pickling cucumber is a crisp, green cucumber that isn't just for pickling! Use them any way you would use a standard slicing cucumber. I'm not going to include a cucumber recipe this week because you won't be receiving them in big enough quantities to warrant a recipe. Instead, here are a few ways to enjoy your cucumbers:
Week 5 of the shares and the zucchinis / summer squash have kicked into high gear! While we harvest most crops within 24 hours of delivering to share members, there are a few that have to be harvested every day or two and summer squash are one of those crops. I went into the field this morning to harvest any squash that had grown big enough since my last thorough harvest on Friday. And I came out of the field with 95 zucchini. Since I will harvest at least two more times prior to delivering shares this week there will be plenty of squash to go around!
You may notice that I use the terms zucchini and summer squash interchangeably. This isn't actually biologically correct but easiest nonetheless. We grow a variety of summer squash, including zucchinis. Zucchini are what most people think of when the term summer squash is used and they can be either solid green, solid yellow, or green and white striped. The clearest distinction is the shape: zucchini are long and narrow. There are also green, yellow, and variegated summer squash but their shape generally diverges slightly or greatly from the long and narrow shape of zucchini. Summer squash may have a curve, or one end will be bulbous, or come in radically different shapes like patty pan squash which are shaped like flying saucers. Oh, and all zucchini are summer squash but not all summer squash are zucchini. But it doesn't really matter to me what you call them: they can all be used the same way! We LOVE summer squash in our house and quite often consume them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For breakfast I love a plate of pan fried or roasted zucchini with an egg on top. And for lunch and dinner the sky is the limit as to how you can prepare these vegetables.
In other non-zucchini news on the farm, the bees are doing well. Rob has been busy adding supers (bee boxes) to hives and catching swarms. Bees swarm when the population of the hive gets too big. The hive senses this and starts creating queen cells (which will turn into a new queen). The existing queen then leaves the hive with a bunch of workers. Swarms generally go to high location not far from the original hive. So often we find swarms in one of the trees surrounding the hives. Swarms tend to happen more often when we receive a lot of rain. This is because rain prevents the bees from leaving the hive to die. The population builds up quickly as a result and eventually becomes too great for one hive to support. While a few swarms are a nice way to increase the total number of hives we have, we don't want the hives to swarm too much, especially the closer we get to fall. A newly swarmed hive will have a lower population and no stored up honey. This means that they need time to build up enough strength and resources to survive the winter.
Just a quick reminder to share members that we have frozen whole chickens available for purchase at $5/lb. Our chickens are pasture raised and fed 100% certified organic grains. To place an order, simple email me with the number of chickens you would like and I will make arrangements with you to bring to our CSA pickup.
Well, since I talked so much about zucchini all ready in this post, I might as well include some recipes to use this vegetable! Visit the links below for some zucchini inspiration:
10 Easy and Healthy Zucchini Recipes
Got a Boatload of Zucchini? 15 Tasty Recipes to Help You Use It
The summer vegetables start in the shares! This is an exciting transition for many people as the shares start to be filled with more familiar and favourite vegetables. We start with zucchini, broccoli, and snap peas this week. And in about 2 weeks we will have exciting additions of cucumbers, beans, and new potatoes.
For today, I wanted to tell you a little bit about one of our farm certifications: Bee Friendly Farm. There is much overlap between the requirements of organic certification and the practices on bee friendly farms. Some of the practices that we follow on our farm include:
1. We plant a great diversity of pollinator friendly flowers, trees, and shrubs so that there are continual blooms throughout the entire foraging season.
2. We do not mow ditches and leave many unmowed areas of our property to provide food and habitat to pollinators.
3. We do not use any insecticides or other sprays that are harmful to insects. For us, this also means we avoid all organic-approved insecticides.
4. We provide water sources throughout the farm. In addition to a pond we dug, we also put out water for the bees at very dry times of the year.
Later this summer, I plan to make both a bumblebee house and a mason bee house to encourage these native pollinators. If you are interested in adding either of these features to your home gardens, you should check out the book: The BEES in Your Backyard by Wilson and Messinger Carril. This fascinating and beautiful book provides detailed photos and information regarding bees in North America and also includes plans for making the above-mentioned pollinator houses.
What I have found most fascinating in our time here on the farm is that as we focus on increasing the biodiversity of one group of species (pollinators), many other species of birds, animals, and others also increase. Every year we see more toads, frogs, song birds, and snakes, in addition to many native pollinators. It just shows that if we give nature what it needs, it will respond with greater diversity and health.
Some of you may have heard on the CBC that our native barn swallow population is becoming dangerously low in Ontario. To learn more, you can read the article here. Each season, we have more barn swallows that call our farm home. We have had the same pair of swallows using a nest they built on the light over our back porch for at least the last four years. And we were excited to see that this year we also had several nests being built in the driveshed. Not long ago, four young barn swallows hatched in the nest on our porch. Now, when we go outside at dawn and dusk in particular, there will be a family of swallows swooping and diving around our heads.
Napa Cabbage is a quick maturing cabbage that is perfect for summer slaws or stir-fries. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, Napa cabbage will last for many weeks in the fridge. But at this time of year we enjoy eating it as fresh as possible. Our preferred way to eat it is thinly sliced and tossed with grated carrots and sliced green onions, and drizzled with toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. If adding to a stir-fry, add at the very end of cooking as it is best when still a little crisp. For other ways to use this versatile vegetable, try one of these recipes:
Shredded Napa Cabbage Salad with Radishes, Golden Raisins, and Dijon Dressing
Sweet and Sour Roasted Napa Cabbage Wedges
Already week 3 of the share and things are ticking along nicely here on the farm! The spring vegetables will slowly taper off over the next week or two and some exciting summer vegetables will be ready to take their place. Although we were a bit late getting most things in the ground due to wet weather at the beginning of May, most crops seem to have caught up.
We have carrots in the share this week, which is an exciting early addition! Normally, carrots are a couple of weeks later but I started these carrots earlier than normal under cover of one of our caterpillar tunnels (a movable hoophouse). This early and protected start means that they are ready to go earlier than normal. We will have a couple weeks of early carrots, then take a break for a few weeks and then there will almost always be carrots for the last half of the shares. For those with a carrot add-on, you will not start receiving your add-on until the later carrots start.
When I was doing my field walk yesterday I was pleased to see mini broccoli, zucchini, and cucumbers forming so these crops will all be coming soon. Our peas were one crop that were late to be planted and then were swamped with water but it looks like we will have enough peas for everyone next week. And our first planting of early potatoes is just starting to flower so new potatoes will follow a few weeks later.
On the weather front, we are on day two of no rain which is a bit of a record so far this spring! And it looks like, from the weather forecast, that we should have a stretch of nice days coming. Believe it or not, some of our fall brassicas have been seeded in the greenhouse and will be planted in the fields in just a few weeks time! Farming is a complex combination of working very much in the present moment, while simultaneously thinking ahead several months. Sometimes it makes my head hurt but mostly the balance is fun.
Collards will be an option again this week and I think they make a great alternative to chard or kale because they can be used in a way that those other greens cannot. My all-time favourite way to eat collards is to use them in place of wraps, buns, or bread. Today, we had bean and rice burritos with all the toppings all rolled up in the collard leaf. Everyone in the family loves this and it's a healthy gluten-free alternative. You can also wrap up burgers or sushi rolls using collards. For people that find either kale or chard too strong tasting, you might enjoy the milder taste of collards. Early summer collards are the nicest because their leaves are tender and easily pliable.
Alternatively, you can try this yummy sounding collard recipe:
Baked Eggs with Collards and Cheddar Garlic Grits
1 large bunch collards
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 - 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
4 - 6 eggs
Oil individual baking dishes. Heat over to 400 degrees. Wash collards; cut out stems. Chop greens. Steam or saute until just wilted. Sprinkle with vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Set greens aside. Place 3 1/4 cups of water and garlic in saucepan and bring to boil. Stir in quick grits; lower heat, cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in cheese and half the cooked greens. Portion grits into baking dishes. Make a well in the center, nestle the remaining greens into the indentations, and crack an egg over the top of each. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until eggs are set, 10 - 15 minutes.
Taken from: From Asparagus to Zucchini: a guide to cooking farm-fresh seasonal produce by Fairshare CSA Coalition