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.

What’s in Season?

Each month I will share a little bit about a garden veggie that is in season where I live {Eastern PA}. Some of them I have grown myself, some I have grown at work, but all of them I have cooked and eaten. Look for these at your nearest Farmer’s Market or wherever you buy fresh, local produce!

What’s in season in June? Kohlrabi!

kohlrabi from nuttykitchen.com

White Kohlrabi {photo credit: nuttykitchen.com}

It’s almost summer time, so the Farmer’s Market stands are really starting to fill in. Cool weather means the brassica-family plants (broccoli, cabbage, etc) are still mild and sweet, but as the heat of summer hits, many of these will begin to “bolt,” or direct their energy to growing seeds, rather than developing tender, yummy fruit.

Kohlrabi is a new vegetable to many first-time CSA members and farmer’s market visitors, but its versatility makes it a perfect candidate for culinary experimentation. Delicious raw, pickled, or in stirfrys, Kohlrabi is easy to grow and even easier to eat!

Thinking about growing kale in your garden this year?
Kohlrabi grows in loose, average soil. For a spring crop, direct-sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last average frost; plant ¼ inch deep, 10 seeds per foot. Or start seedlings for a fall crop indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost. When seedlings are around 4 inches tall, thin plants to (or set out transplants at) 5 inches apart in rows 1 foot apart. Keep plants well watered and free of weeds; put down a mulch to help accomplish both tasks. Cultivate carefully to keep from damaging the delicate, shallow roots. Use young leaves in salads and stir-fries. Harvest immature “bulbs” when they are no more than 2 inches in diameter, cutting the stems 1 inch below the swollen stem. Remove the leaf stems and leaves, and use the remaining stem as you would turnips. Kohlrabi will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator and for several months in a cold, moist, root cellar. {http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/kohlrabi-growing-guide}

Need a recipe?
I made these last summer and enjoyed them for many weeks. We eat most of our kohlrabi raw with homemade hummus, but if you’re looking for something a little different, give these yummy pickles a try! This recipe makes one quart of pickles.

fridge pickled kohlrabi and carrots

photo credit: beckyintherootcellar.com

Fridge Pickled Kohlrabi and Carrots

Ingredients:

4 small kohlrabi
2 large carrots
2 Tbsp. salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pickling or kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp. dill seeds
1/2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
6 black pepper corns, crushed

Start by peeling and slicing the kohlrabi. Place in a colander and salt with 2 Tbsp. salt. Allow the kohlrabi to sit for an hour. In the meantime, peel your carrots and cut into sticks. Combine all other ingredients in a saucepan. When kohlrabi is done draining, rinse and pack with carrots into a quart jar. Boil remaining ingredients until all of the salt and sugar are dissolved and pour over carrots and kohlrabi. Cover and allow to cool on the counter then refrigerate. Let this sit in the fridge for two days before jumping in.

Begging your forgiveness…

I don’t have any excuses other than LIFE. Life has prevented me from sharing it with you. It started with chickens. We have 15. We started with 16, arriving June 11, but one little girl was lost at about 3 weeks. I’m not sure what happened. One day everyone was fine, the next she was sitting very still, and 2 days later she was gone. The surviving 15 grew big and strong and now live outside in a moveable chicken house {“eggmobile”}. We asked for 4 roosters {1 each: Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Dominique, Rhode Island Red} but it looks like we didn’t get a Rhody. The Barred Rock seems to be the bossman, but after attacking our daughter this weekend, he’s been put on Death Row. I’m still trying to decide if it would be better to eat him or keep him – he’s the largest and the only one that crows. So for now I don’t let the kids in the pen without me, and I’m trying to “train” him {read: putting my boot in his face whenever he comes near me; seems to be working so far}.

The garden was a huge success {for me}! I planted late, due to our move in April, but we were able to get LOTS of cucumbers and zucchinis, crook neck squash, Bennings Green Tint Squash {a scalloped variety}, and Sungold Cherry Tomatoes. I didn’t plant enough paste tomatoes to make anything substantial, and our larger tomatoes {Azoychka and Black Tula} just didn’t produce much. I was proud of the corn {Country Gentleman} until a few stalks broke {?} and I think the poor drainage and maybe poor sunlight of that corner of the garden led to under-development of the kernels. In August I planted kale, chard, kohlrabi, broccoli and cabbage all of which I hope to overwinter as long as possible. I also planted a few lettuces but I plan to harvest them before any significant cold weather. This weekend or next I will be building one or two cold frames to see what I can do with seed through the winter. Fingers crossed!

We are always searching for land and have visited a few more places:
Monterey, VA: Beautiful landscape, growing local food community. Nearly completely land-locked but huge mountainy mountains. Locals are currently driving an hour and a half to Wal-Mart for groceries every week because there is NO grocery store. No Co-Op, No library, No coffee shop. It’s not a tourist thoroughfare by any means and the only hotel in town is literally crumbling. Oh, and the tiny school system (200 kids, k-12) is shrinking, which tells me the town itself is dying. Very sad. With 30 other couples like us it could be saved, but I’m not sure how that happens…
Floyd, VA: We each spent time here before and after we met, and have always loved this little town. Our recent visit was lovely though very short. The land prices are great: $4,000/acre for most properties. Just 40 minutes from my Alma Mater, it’s high on my list of Towns I’d Love to Live In, but it seems like a lot of things we want to do are already being done by other farms in the area. They are even working on opening a heritage skills school with a grant from the government. Sheesh!

I’ve been looking a lot at Nelson County, VA, though we haven’t visited yet. Nelson County borders the Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive/Appalachian Trail so many of the properties we’ve found have amazing views. I have a couple good friends in Arrington, VA, so I might be able to gain some credibility in the community more quickly than other places…? Plus, there are three breweries and four wineries on the main highway through the county: lots of great things happening in the area, it seems. Only downside: land prices, still high at $6,000/acre.

The gist is: we’re still looking.

But the greatest news is that I have been working on our Mission/Vision and had two amazing brainstorming sessions over the past weekend. Basically, I’ve figured out how to focus my energy and my seemingly endless list of “what kind of things would I like to do on my farm?” into 6 categories: Food, Health, Family, Community, Spirit and Education.

We will make the connection between people and their FOOD, by building COMMUNITY, nourishing whole body HEALTH, strengthening the bonds of FAMILY, challenging the norms in EDUCATION all while honoring the SPIRIT.

No one part of our mission is more important than the other, so we could just as easily say: We will build COMMUNITY by making the connection between people and their FOOD, nourishing whole body HEALTH, etc, etc.

Owl Moon Farms Mission

And, lest you insist this is too much for one family, have no worries. I am starting to believe the only way to accomplish my dream farm goals is to enlist the help of one, or two, or four other families that share similar dreams. Between the lot of us, surely we can build something amazing. Stay tuned…

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Community Garden

I just came across this link and it got me thinking – what a totally terrific idea! Set aside an acre or two and rent them out annually:

Background
Kinder Farm Park’s community gardening program consists of about 125, 20 * 30′ gardening plots. More than 100 gardeners rent plots each year for $40/plot to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, and flowers. A program teaching eco-friendly and sustainable basic vegetable gardening skills to families is located at the Apprentice Garden and is sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension Office Anne Arundel County Master Gardeners.

The community gardening program remains a highly-regarded leisure-time pursuit for many of the park’s neighbors. The waiting list for plots has increased with each passing year. a recent resurgence of people cultivating home-grown food is sweeping the country. Both President Obama and Governor O’Malley have installed their own vegetable gardens in 2009 at the white House and the Maryland Governor’s Mansion, respectively, increasing news stories about gardening (with references to the famed “Victory Gardens” that were popular during WWII).

Community Garden

photo courtesy kinderfarmpark.org

Of course I have no idea what the demand might be, but it’s certainly something to consider! One of my greatest desires for this farm is a strong relationship with our community. I hope to grow a farm-to-school program and even a Heifer International-type program for local needy families. Knowing that our family cannot consume all the milk from even one single cow, I would like to start a Dairy Share program to help finance her upkeep, the milking equipment, and the time involved in caring for her and her calf. So many exciting opportunities – I’m still just trying to decide where to begin!