Pickling!

Two summers ago I went to a fermentation workshop at Blooming Glen Farm in Bucks County, PA with Amanda O’Brien of Phickle.com. I really enjoyed the workshop and learned a ton. I left feeling inspired and determined to eat only fermented veg from then on. But I ended up killing everything I tried! My cabbage kraut got dry and moldy and my whey-pickled carrots were just gross. I enjoyed the pickled beets we made during the workshop, but since I had been keeping them in the microwave {uncovered}, the jar ended up overflowing and pink pickle juice was everywhere. I started to think pickling wasn’t right for me.

But this summer I was determined to try again. I attended another fermentation workshop in February, this time hosted by the local chapter of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, and something about hearing some simple recipes and tricks from women just like me made it seem 100 times more doable.

Bormioli Rocco Fido Hermetic Jars

The most important thing I learned that night was to use the swing-top, Fido brand jars for everything. The rubber gasket allows built-up CO2 to escape, and that positive pressure means no air {or mold} can enter the crock. This summer I have made at least 8 batches of pickles in my Fido jars with zero mold. I did a test batch in a regular mouth mason jar with an airlock {like this} with the same results.

Cabbage Kraut JuiceThe second most important thing I learned: If you’re mashing up some cabbage, and you don’t have quite enough water squeezing out to cover the cabbage {even after you’ve added a weight}, you can add more salted water and still have positive results. It seems pretty obvious to me now, but my very first attempt at sauerkraut, way back in 2012, was such a dry, dismal disaster I threw it out and swore I was done with homemade sauerkraut. That’s three summers of no fresh kraut. But my kids decided they love sauerkraut, so I had to give it another try. For my first batch of the season I had such an old head of cabbage, I didn’t think any amount of mashing would yield enough liquid. So after mashing and squeezing as much as I could, I just topped it off with salty water everything turned out just fine.

IMG_5164I’ve been using the Sour Pickles recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He calls for “2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled,” but even with my “epic” garlic harvest this year {approximately 60 heads}, I don’t have enough to do that, so I usually end up doing 5-6 cloves, and 3 Tbsp. dill seeds, plus a “handful” of oak leaves {supposed to keep ’em crunchy}. I fill a half gallon mason jar with water and 6 Tbsp. of salt and shake to dissolve. Once my crocks are packed with veggies I pour the salty brine over everything. Sometimes I need to mix up a little more, but if I have extra I just save it until the next batch. I’ve used the same recipe for pickling cucumbers, beets {peeled and sliced}, and green beans {raw} all with delicious results. {Read here about why a cloudy brine is OK.}

Overall, I’ve been really excited to get pickling this summer and encourage you to give it a try!

{OvO}

In the Garden :: May 30

In the Garden 2015 May 30

Things are growing pretty well…for the most part. The onions are still completely choked with weeds, but the garlic is looking really good. I pulled a few garlic hoping to give the remaining plants more space, so we’ll see…

I harvested the teeniest little carrot the other day, while I was working with the tomatoes. These were actually seeds I planted in the fall, hoping for a “winter garden,” but nothing {no-thing} grew. I was very surprised to find these little guys growing when the weather warmed, and even more excited when I harvested a full-size, grocery-store-looking carrot this week! We haven’t eaten it yet because it’s just too awesome. I’ve been “growing” carrots since we started gardening in…2010?, and I’ve never {ever} harvested a dinner-worthy carrot. Accident or not, it’ll be good eats.

The asparagus didn’t look harvest-able for as long as I was hoping. We got maybe 8 pounds? We ate what we harvested and had asparagus every few nights for about 2 weeks. That’s probably normal but still a little disappointing. I was especially concerned when it didn’t seem like any more would grow – so we wouldn’t have anything to leave through the fall to do its thing. Fortunately, there’s a pretty decent stand of asparagus morphing into tiny trees out there now, so hopefully our patch isn’t doomed…

The raspberries should be ready to harvest soon. Lots of fruit growing. I’m concerned about the nasty fruit flies we had last year… I’m also disappointed that even though we worked and worked to tame the canes last fall, there is so much new growth you can barely even see the mature canes, better yet harvest from them without drawing blood. I’ve found a fair number of wineberry canes around the farm, so if we can harvest a good amount from them I may not keep the raspberries. {If it’s even possible to get rid of raspberries – they put out runners 6+ feet away!}

Some of our tomato starts are actually still alive. Most didn’t make it, but a top dressing of chicken house shavings seemed to help a lot. The starts we got from the farmer’s market are way more full and already setting fruit.

My Sugar Snap Peas didn’t germinate very well. Only 50% even though I’m pretty sure I put two seeds per hole… The four plants that are growing look really great, and starting to set some pods. We’ve actually never grown this tasty snack, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for something edible.

I planted black beans again for drying. I had good luck with the plants in 2012 but didn’t plant enough to actually eat any. Practically speaking, I think I would need to plant hundreds of row-feet to grow enough to eat for the year. If these produce we’ll save some for planting next year and enjoy one special beans-from-the-garden meal sometime this winter. I’m still not sure if planting in the ground will be an option for us here – there are SO many rocks! My pasture management plan is focused on #1) producing healthy animals and #2) building up organic matter. {More on that later.}

That dag-on Winter Rye is still persisting! It even put out seed this month! The kids and I hacked it back and I gave it all to the sheep, hoping we wouldn’t have any accidentally seeding itself in the garden. I think I’ll cover the last remaining bed with cardboard and compost and let it sit for a while. Ugh.

I started my first potatoes this month! I’ve never grown potatoes but I had a rather large bag of spuds sprouting in the pantry to I went ahead and put them in the ground. I had very little hope for anything, but they are all {ALL} growing green leaves and looking really good! I honestly can’t believe it. I *think* they are New Potatoes, but I’m not sure if that just means young potatoes, so who knows what we’ll end up with.

How’s your garden growing?

In the Garden :: April 27

2015 Apr 27 In the Garden

Things are coming along pretty nicely these days.

Our number one biggest success has been the garlic! I planted it in October and basically crossed my fingers. I was surprised not to find any scapes this spring, but the leaves seem pretty tall and full. Out of curiosity I went ahead and pulled “one,” but I actually had 3 little scallions. How did three grow instead of one?

The garlic!

The garlic!

The asparagus seemed to take forever to start growing but we harvested our first handful this week! A friend suggested uncovering the bed, that the straw might be keeping the ground too cool. I am so paranoid about weeds that I just couldn’t imagine taking it off, so in its own perfect timing, the asparagus came up anyway.

Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!

Asparagus grows at Owl Moon Farm!

And now for our biggest failure in the garden. At least, so far. I know using a cover crop is a critical part of creating organic matter in the garden. I searched and read and decided to use Winter Rye; it seemed to be highly recommended. Problem is, what they don’t tell you, is that getting rid of Winter Rye in the spring is next to impossible, at least without mechanical assistance. It just doesn’t die. I’ve spoken with a friend, and found on a few “how to get rid of winter rye” discussion boards, that Winter-killed Oats would have been a better choice, sooooooo… At least I know what I’m going to do next year.

To get rid of the grass in my raised beds I tried cutting it back. I cut the beds with loppers. A few times. Turns out, Winter Rye is crazy resilient and grew back. With gusto.

After being cut. Twice.

After being cut. Twice.

I tried to cut it super short but only had really “dead-looking” grass after I left a heap of it on the bed. It seemed to kill the grass below it pretty effectively.

After being cut back and left to rot.

After being cut back and left to rot.

Dead spot.

Dead spot.

So a friend recommended digging and turning the soil to kill the roots of the grass. It was annoying, but not terrible. Here’s the bed above after being turned:

After turning today.

After turning today.

And here’s a different bed that was turned last week:

Turned a week ago.

Turned a week ago.

Takeaway: DON’T use Winter Rye in a raised bed, especially if you’re hoping to grow something early in the season without using mechanical tillage. I’ll be using oats next fall and will keep you posted.

Seed Starting

We’ve been planning and scheming and getting ready to start seeds. Two weeks ago I thought I bought a seedling heat mat but when we got home I could not. find it. anywhere. Farmer Tripp set up the trays and the mini greenhouses in the workshop while I was at the National Ladies Homestead Gathering Annual Board Meeting in Georgia, but we still haven’t started a single seed! I searched the garden shed, the car, and finally the Google for the 4-tray heating mat I found at Fifth Season Gardening in Charlottesville, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I checked with my dad twice to make sure we didn’t leave it at his house, before finally giving up. I called Fifth Season and asked them to send me another one. These starts better be good!

Seed-Starting Setup

Seed-Starting Setup

Four trays with vented covers plus a 48″ shop light with 2 Kitchen & Bath (5000K) and 2 Sunshine (3000K) bulbs. Once the heating mat arrives we’ll be growing all kinds of veggies in the workshop! Can’t wait!

Germination Test 2015

After putting together the garden plan, and our 2015 seed order, I looked through our seed box and found nearly every seed we wanted already on-hand! Some of the seeds were a few years old, so I decided to do a germination test. Plus, it was a great chance for the kids to see some seeds sprouting indoors!

We placed 10 seeds of most varieties (we didn’t have quite enough for 10 of all varieties) in a wet paper towel, and placed those paper towels into two Ziploc bags. I put the bags on the mantel above the wood stove and checked them occasionally to make sure there was condensation in the bags. We checked them all after 3 days, and again after a week.

Germination Test Kentucky Wonder Bean

Kentucky Wonder Bean – 100% germination!

About a third of the seeds sprouted in 3 days, and most were sprouted within a week.

Germination Test Garden Journal 2015

Germination Test Results (Thanks C & O!)

In the end, we ordered Sungold Cherry Tomatoes from Johnny’s Seeds and Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Old Virginia Tomato and Tennessee Red Cob Corn from Southern Exposure. Now we just can’t wait to get started!

What’s in Season in October? Pumpkins (of course)!

PumpkinsPumpkins and squash are believed to have originated in the ancient Americas. These early pumpkins were not the traditional round orange upright Jack-O-Lantern fruit we think of today when you hear the word pumpkin. They were a crooked neck variety, which stored well. Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the “Three Sisters” tradition.[1]

Thinking about growing pumpkins on your homestead?

Planting

I think one of the most surprising and frustrating things about growing pumpkins I learned early (though not early enough) in my gardening career, is that pumpkins should be planted in the spring! Seems obvious to me now, but thinking of carving pumpkins in spring was a strange adjustment for me.

Pumpkins appreciate soil well supplied with organic matter. Mulching helps to control weeds that would be difficult to hoe out from the spreading vines. Don’t hurry to plant them. What you want is a well-developed storage crop, not a quick harvest. Planting at the end of May allows plenty of time in most areas.[2] Start pumpkins with a generous shovelful of compost or well-rotted manure in each hill. When the plant starts to develop vines, anticipate the squash borer by firming two or three shovelfuls of oil over several vine nodes to encourage auxiliary rooting. Most varieties need a kit if space; a hill will ramble over an 8-by-8 foot square of ground by summer’s end. Planting at the edge of the corn works well. The vines wander among the corn and help to discourage raccoons.[3]

Harvesting 

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the stem has started to dry and the pumpkin skin has begun to harden. Leave about an inch of stem. Handle with care. Don’t carry them around by the stem; if it breaks off, the pumpkin won’t cure or store well. If the weather is dry and sunny, pumpkins can be cured in the field in about a week. Cover or move inside if a hard frost threatens.[4]

Saving Seeds

Collect seeds from fully ripened fruits that have developed a good hard rind. Halve the pumpkins, fork out the seeds, wash off the pulp, and dry the seeds for a week or so indoors. You’ll notice a few flat seeds. Since these lack embryos, they’ll never grow. You can winnow them off or, if you’re handling small batches of seeds, pick them out at planting time next year. British horticulturalist Lawrence Hills declares that pumpkin seeds improve with age – up to a point, of course.[3]

Storage

Pumpkins do well with more humidity than squash – 70 to 75 percent rather than 60 to 70 – because their skins are slightly more tender. Also for this reason, they don’t last quite as long in storage as do squash. High storage temperatures will make them stringy. Cook and use them in the fall or cut them in thin slices and dry them.[2]


[2] Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel, 1991

[3] The New Seed-Starters Handbook, Nancy Bubel, 1988.

[4] The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Edward C. Smith, 2009

What in the world am I doing?

It’s the end of August, and another summer not living on a farm is almost gone. In April we “moved to town,” and I tried to figure out how that could be a step in the right direction. Although our chickens are living on someone else’s farm and my neighbors are less than 100 feet away all around us, I do feel closer to realizing my farm dream. Since March I have been working for Barefoot Gardens, a small market garden within the borough limits of Doylestown, PA. Eric and Linda grow vegetables for the Farmer’s Market, a local food distributor and at least one restaurant. They grow everything from roots, to greens, to herbs, and flowers. Linda operates a small herbal shop in town where she is able to offer her clients medical advice as well as homegrown herbs and remedies.

Starting in March gave me an opportunity to see the growing season from the very start. I spent my first few weeks freezing my rump in the unheated greenhouse, seeding most of what we would be growing throughout the season. Lettuce, onions, and kale, and eventually tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. My fingers were numb, but all that quiet, one-on-one time allowed me to ask 100s of questions. Why this variety and not another? Why seed into this size tray and not the bigger one? How do you know when to transplant? Why a market-based CSA this year? On an on it went, for days, weeks!

In April and May we spent more time seeding and some time transplanting those little seedlings to the field. My first few beds were terrible, due to my inexperience, of course, but also the age of the seedlings. Many farmers experienced the same long, cool, wet spring we had, so getting transplants into the ground was often a race against the rain. My little Cauliflowers, Broccolis and Kohlrabis were too small to transplant into the 6-inch holes our transplanter made. Fortunately, my teacher was very patient and encouraging, and even though the Cauliflower and Broccoli were overcome by weeds and never harvested (!!!), the Kohlrabi was a huge success at market. As we started transplanting lettuce {1-inch blocks of soil}, we realized the 6-inch holes {filled with water} were just not going to work. So we devised a quick-fix out in the field. We raised the transplanter wheels so they wouldn’t pierce the ground, but we kept the water turned on. As we drove down the beds, the water trickled along and I was able to plug the tiny lettuces into the soil very easily. This method also allowed us to plant at a little closer spacing – we used 4″ spacing on one variety! I wouldn’t recommend that going forward though: our weeding tools were too wide to fit between the heads of lettuce. Depending on your tools, I wouldn’t recommend anything closer than 6″. The soil does have to be pretty soft to make that work effectively too – we tried in rain packed soil and were nearly breaking our fingers!

In June it was time to start harvesting. And weeding. And harvesting. And weeding. Luckily our crew grew from 2 to 6 people so all that work was spread out just a little. Our ages range from a freshman in college to a university english professor, and we have a great time together. I learned more about managing farm employees, managing the workload, and what a hot, humid summer can do to your plants – or rather your WEEDS! I got to pound 6-foot tomato stakes into the ground in 90+ degree weather. And then I got to see what happens when you don’t have time to string up those tomatoes! Harvesting from plants that are not trellised is my number one mistake to watch out for in the Owl Moon Farms Garden.

When the Farmer’s Market started I was responsible for posting the week’s Harvest List on the farm’s Facebook page. Posting the list on Thursday or Friday let the CSA customers know what to expect at market, and allowed them to plan to arrive early if necessary. One downside of a Market-based CSA is that your members are competing with the other market goers for the best selection of produce. Our market opens at 7am, so unless you’re a really early bird, you might miss something like Asparagus or Strawberries or even Lettuce which often sold out by 9:30am. We talked about putting out half of the veggies at 7 and half later, but that never really happened. Our market stand was always one of the busiest and we just didn’t have time to make a run back to the farm.

My other responsibility during the market season was to find, format and provide recipes for one or two veggies that were new to the stand. Many CSAs do something like this throughout their harvest season, either through a weekly newsletter {emailed or included in the share box}. With such a small team, Barefoot Gardens doesn’t have a history of consistent communication with CSA members, so if recipes were going to happen, I had to print them and bring them myself. Luckily, customers seemed to really appreciate it – especially if they hadn’t seen a particular vegetable before. “Oh, these are Fava Beans?!?! How should I cook them??” “Why, here’s a recipe to try!” I did Kohlrabi, Asparagus, Kale, Zucchini, Squash Blossoms and more.

So, even though I don’t live on my own farm yet, I’ve finally become a farmer, and it feels great. I’ve been seeding, planting, growing, harvesting, weeding, and composting two days a week since March and I feel confident that I could handle a fairly large garden plot.

What’s in season in August? Okra!

Okra, native to Africa and a beautiful relative of hibiscus, was brought to North America in the 1600s. This tropical plant quickly became popular in the Deep South both as a side dish and as a thickening for gumbo and stews. It can, however, thrive in any climate where corn will grow. Depending on the cultivar, the large-flowered, fast-growing plants reach 2 to 6 feet tall. Varieties with colorful stems and leaves, such as ‘Burgundy’, make attractive garden borders.

Thinking about growing okra in your garden?

Planting
Okra needs full sun. It will grow in ordinary garden soil but does best in fertile loam, particularly where a nitrogen-fixing crop, such as early peas, grew previously.

In short-season areas, start plants indoors 6 weeks before setting them out (3 to 4 weeks after the last frost date). Sow two seeds per peat pot and clip off the weaker seedling.

When seeding okra directly in the ground, wait until after the soil has warmed and the air temperature is at least 60F. Use fresh seed, and soak it overnight or nick each seed coat with a file to encourage germination. Sow seed ½ inch deep in light soil and 1 inch deep in heavy soil; spacing is 3 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Thin seedlings to 18 to 24 inches apart, always leaving the strongest of the young plants.

Growing Guidelines
When okra in 4 inches tall, mulch to keep out weeds ad conserve moisture. Water during dry spells. Every 3 to 4 weeks, side-dress with compost or feed with compost tea. In areas with long, hot summers, cut the plants back almost to ground level in midsummer to fertilize to produce a second crop.

Problems
Okra seldom succumbs to pests or diseases. Hand-pick any stinkbugs that appear; these light green, shield-shaped bugs cause misshapen pods. Fusarium wilt, a soilborne disease, is sometimes a problem in hot regions. If the disease causes leaves to yellow and wilt, pull and destroy affected plants. Crop rotation is the best preventive measure.

Harvesting
About 50 to 60 days after planting, edible pods will start to appear. They are tough when mature, so harvest daily with a sharp knife when they are no more than finger sized and when stems are still tender and easy to cut. Pick frequently and the plants will keep producing until killed by frost. Be sure to remove and compost any mature pods you might have missed earlier.
Many people find their skin is sensitive to the pods’ prickly spines, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting, or plant a spineless variety such as ‘Clemson Spineless.’

Source: www.organicgardening.com

Need a recipe?

I made this last summer with over-ripe, tough fruit and it was still yummy! I will be trying it again this summer with the fresh, tender fruit and expect an even better result.

Pickled Okra
a canning recipe from Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan

Ingredients
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons pickling salt
4 lemon slices
4 Tablespoons Pickling Spice, divided
2 pounds okra, washed and trimmed
4 garlic cloves, peeled

Directions

  1. Prepare a boiling water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, 3 cups water, and pickling salt in a pot and bring the brine to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, put a lemon slice and 1 tablespoon pickling spice in the bottom of each sterilized jar. Then pack the okra in, first laying them in so that the points are up. Then insert another layer with the points down, so that they interlock. Nestle 1 garlic clove among the okra in each jar.
  4. Slowly pour the hot brine over the okra in each jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Gently tap the jars on a towel-lined countertop to help loosen any bubbles before using a wooden chopstick to dislodge any remaining bubbles. Check the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.
  5. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Let the pickles cure for at least 1 week before eating.

What’s in Season in July? Zucchini!

growing-zucchini-how-to-grow-zucchini-summer-squash2Someone I know said “We’re not even growing any zucchini in our garden this year!” because it is so very prolific and some members of her family aren’t big fans. Zucchini definitely grows well, but it is also incredibly versatile in the kitchen, playing the lead role in savory dishes as well as sweet ones. It can be cut and roasted or sautéed, baked into breads, used as a pizza topping or even made into noodles and eaten like spaghetti!

Even the blossoms of this large plant are edible! If you decide to harvest them, make sure you grab only the male blossoms, saving the females to grow the fruit!

zucchini blossoms male female

Thinking about growing zucchini in your garden?

Soil preparation: Zucchini likes well-drained, fertile soil that’s been amended with lots of compost.

Planting: Plant seed outdoors when the soil temperature has reached 60°F—about a week after the last frost.

Spacing: You want to give your squash a lot of room to spread out and grow. Plant them about 3 to 4 feet apart in rows 8 to 12 feet apart.

Watering: Zucchini like consistently moist soil. To prevent problems with disease, always water from below.

Fertilizing: Spray plants with compost tea two weeks after seedlings come up. Spray again in three weeks or when the first flowers appear.

Special hint: If space is limited, put up a trellis for vertical support.

Pest Watch 
Pale to brown blotches on leaves are the work of squash bugs. Squash vine borers cause plants to wilt suddenly.

Disease Alert 
Powdery mildew may strike the plants, leaving whitish powdery spots on leaves that turn brown and dry. Plants that wilt and ooze a sticky sap when cut may be infected with bacterial wilt, which is spread by cucumber beetles.

Harvesting 
Harvest zucchini when the fruits are still small—about 3 to 4 inches across or 4 to 6 inches long. You can store zucchini in the refrigerator for about a week.

Source: http://www.organicgarding.com

Need a recipe?

This recipe came from a member of the CSA for which I work. It comes with such a high recommendation it’s the first recipe I’m sharing that I haven’t prepared myself yet!

Zucchini Cobbler

photo credit: dazzledish.com

photo credit: dazzledish.com

Ingredients

Fruit
8-10 cups zucchini, peeled, cubed and seeded
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. fresh nutmeg

Cobbler
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ cups chilled butter
2 +/- tsp. cinnamon
1 cup granola or oats (optional)

Directions

1) Place the prepared zucchini in a bowl with 1 cup of sugar, stir frequently and let sit until the water is drawn out of the zucchini and a syrup has formed (this process can take a few hours or it can sit over night).

2) Add lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. (If you’re in a hurry, you can expedite by cooking the zucchini, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.)

3) In a separate bowl: mix flour, the remaining 2 cups of sugar, and butter. Blend together using a pastry knife (or butter knife).

4) Mix 1/2 cup of the pastry mixture in with the zucchini as a thickener and place 1/2 of the remaining mixture in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Use your hands to press it into the dish to form a crust.

5) Pour the zucchini mixture on top of the crust. Add to the remaining pastry mixture and your ‘finishing touches’ (cinnamon, granola, oats, etc.). Pour this mixture on top of the zucchini. Place in the oven and bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes.