Monday, November 26, 2007

Garlic Mulched

Well, the weather has definitely shifted and those 60 degree days we had in October are gone for this year, I think. However, today was a very nice high 30s that already feels warmish to me (hard to imagine!) after some pretty chilly days. In honor of the nice, dry morning with promise of afternoon rain/sleet, the dogs and I decided to finish one last remaining farm task - mulching the garlic! This is normally a not so nice job, as the straw usually has gotten wet by now and we have heavy, moldy, slippery nasty straw to deal with. Not this year! We invested in an extra-large tarp to cover it with last year, and it is up on a hay rick near our swale field, so it's off the ground, which allows it to drain if it does get wet. I was pleasantly surprised to find only a couple of damp bales, and mostly dry intact ones. I loaded them into our garden cart, and made 4 trips to the beds with the garlic, where it was relatively easy to break up the bales, and heap it up onto the beds. I also discovered, or actually, Mr. Smeems discovered, a nice warm cat nest in the heap of straw under the tarp. There were 6 kittens that look about 5 weeks old. I think Mr. S thought it was the best day of his life to have made such a find, but I made sure that he didn't terrorize them too much, and made them a safe nest out of harm's way. We had been hoping that someone had inhabited the straw bales because it did look cozy, warm and dry in there! Charley, Spencer's dad helped us to plant our garlic on November 2nd, which we really appreciated. He was a great hole maker as Spence and I scooted along and filled in the holes with the garlic cloves. We had promised ourselves and the garlic that we'd make it back out to the field before too long to do the final step - mulching with 6 inches of straw to ensure early season warming and encourage those bulbs to throw out green shoots when the time is right. Also, it helps to keep down the weeds in those early weeks of the season. Alas, it took us nearly 4 weeks as we got over colds, and dealt with other tasks before I made it out there to finish the job. We won't be pulling the garlic until around July 15th, so it needs a happy, healthy spot to rest for the 8 months. We have found that it really likes going into the place where our potatoes were. The garlic we grow is very similar to a German Extra Hardy Hardneck variety. We actually don't know what it is exactly - we obtained the original seed garlic from a farmer named Ann-Elise Johnson when she was leaving the Intervale 4 years ago, and she got it from someone else who got it from someone else who got it we call it Ann-Elise. We've continued to select for the largest cloves to plant, and were finally able to sell some of it this year for the first time - we have grown our original stock of around 150 cloves (1 clove = 1 bulb of 5 or so cloves when mature) to 2000! Of this, we will sell 1000 bulbs green in July, 500 dry through the fall, and we'll plant the remaining 500 bulbs into our fields next November. We hope to keep building our planting stock up, which means we'll be able to sell more and more each year. This is some amazing garlic! People get very pushy about the garlic when it makes it to our farmstand in July (most of it goes to chefs, I must admit, who put in their orders in January for hundreds of bulbs of green garlic!), because they don't want to miss out. We've even had to withhold it from people we previously said we'd sell it to just to make sure that we can have enough to plant next year. Sorry if you happen to be one such person - we simply want to keep the crop growing so that we can sell it to you next year! The green garlic I mentioned earlier is so special because it is not as pungent as cured, or dry garlic, and it is soooooooo much easier to peel since you don't have to deal with all those papery skins. Our garlic is particularly nice because the cloves are so huge, you don't need to peel as many to get the requisite amount for a recipe. We are constantly amazed by how big these cloves are and estimate one clove to be on average the size of 3 normal sized cloves. Yum! We had our friend Gregory Poulin paint a couple of renditions of garlic for us, and the ones you see here on the blog are both his. His interpretaions of our scapes is a particular favorite. Sleep well, garlic - I'm already thinking about my favorite summer garlic recipes!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey Judgement Day

Well, I have decided that the time has come for me to justify my meat eating ways, and gain an up-close understanding of the slaughter process. And with the upcoming meat-focused holiday, what better way than to hook up with my friendly neighborhood turkey farmer and offer to help on the fateful day? Well, that's exactly what I did, and we made plans with Dan & Dawn Boucher to go to their farm this past Sunday. They run Boucher Family Farm and Green Mountain Blue Cheese in Highgate Center. They farm the heritage breed of turkey called the American Bronze. You can click here for the lowdown on this heritage breed from the American Livestock and Breeds Conservancy.

Did you know that before partaking in such an activity, you can desensitize yourself with great videos of the turkey slaughtering process on YouTube?! For all you novice hunters out there, you can learn in great detail how to field dress a deer, too.
Both Spence and I were adequately prepared for the deed on Sunday morning, and we could hardly wait! You know, there's nothing clean about slaughter. There's blood. But, there's also lots of water for cleaning every step of the way, and before you know it, the gobbling bird fairly quickly resembles what we're all used to seeing on our tables T-day. We never actually did any of the killing, but we did pluck and eviscerate - I'd say we earned our keep, and we were rewarded with our very own turkey for our feast on Thursday. I have posted some pics below of our experience, not too graphic, really. Just enough to represent the process and show you what we did. THANK YOU to Dan & Dawn, who also fed the crew an amazing post-harvest lunch that we're still talking about. We got a terrific tour led by Dan of the entire farm and got to see the cows getting milked, and the cheese rooms where their great cheeses were aging (award winning blue cheese!). Check out their farm blog and see what they're up to! Sign us up for turkey killin' day next year! We learned so much about another way to farm - it's good for us to get out now and then and realize that not everybody farms veggies. Enjoy the pics, and happy Turkey Day!

There they are, the tools of destruction: inverted buckets with the bottoms cut out and mounted on a backsplash, and loppers. Yep, turkey guillotine = loppers.

Dan with the American Bronze turkey.

Turkey goes in bucket, lopped, drained and rinsed in this spot.

Turkey goes into scalder to loosen feathers...

Turkey goes into the tumbler, which acts like tons o' fingers and plucks most feathers off.

Turkey gets hung upside down, and de-necked, de-intestined, de-cropped, de-gizzarded, de-livered, de-hearted, de-lunged and de-footed here. The livers, gizzards, hearts and necks go into a bag to accompany the turkeys. We also pick off remaining feathers.
Trying my hand at eviscerating...

Spencer was great at getting the lungs out all in one piece!
He's done it again! After this, they get iced, and then off to final inspection.
Dawn's dad was in charge of final inspection.
And voila! Time from lopping to bag for each turkey is about 10-15 minutes; it was a very smooth process that we actually really enjoyed. See you on Thanksgiving, Mr. Turkey!


Helianthus tuberosus
Also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, these vigorous perennial tubers can be dug in the fall and stored in tight
containers to conserve moisture, or in the spring for an early fresh vegetable. Taste and texture resemble water
chestnuts. Also used as ornamentals for their 6' annual foliage with golden daisy-like flowers on top. Caution: plant sunchokes in an area that is easy to control; they will spread and are nearly impossible to eradicate."

So we read in the Fedco Moose Tubers Catalog last year. We were particulary interested in the Walspinel variety because of the promised rosy color. Waldspinel sunchokes are from Austria originally, wald means forest/woods and spinel is a gem. We liked the idea of planting an invasive forest gem because we have some great perimeter woods that needed something low maintenance. Besides, sunchokes are indigenous to NE, though the indigenous variety is called Stampede, and you can get that one from Johnny's. These guys are called Jerusalem Artichokes because of a misnomer. The Italian word for sunflower is girasole, and that sort of sounds like Jerusalem, and incredulously, the name seems to have stuck. We like calling them sunchokes because of their sunny faces all summer - a much more fitting name. We planted ours in early spring. We literally just dropped the tiller in the woods and tore up a 3'x5' spot for them. We planted 5 pounds and harvested nearly 30 pounds on November 13th. They key to keeping a nice productive sunchoke patch is to not harvest all of the little knobs, and they'll divide and proliferate in spring. Theoretically, we won't have to plant them again - unless we want to try some other varieties, of course. This year, they were the last crop out of the ground, and they all went to The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond for a Farmer's Dinner event on November 14th. Chef Steve Atkins roasted them and turned them into an amazing pureed soup with a brown butter drizzle and fried sage leaves. It was stupendous, and I can't help but think that they tasted particularly good because we let them sit in the ground through a couple of frosty nights. Search out sunchokes for winter eating - they're a great keeper and awfully tasty, too. They roast up nicely like potatoes and are good in gratins, soups and roasted veggie dishes. And in the spirit of the season, they think that the Wampanoag Indians of Plymoth Plantation fame are said to have eaten these and shared them with our intrepid pilgrims. Enjoy!!

You dig them up with a pitchfork, trying really hard not to spear them with the tines. Note my interested helpers standing by...

There they are! They just kept coming, and I'm sure I missed enough to ensure a good crop next year!

A close up of a nice pink knobby specimen.

The whole take cleaned up and ready for delivery! 30 pounds!
(we did save 7 pounds or so for ourselves!)


Another very important happening in the fall was the welcoming of our new puppy, Bullet! Looking back at the blog I couldn't believe that we hadn't officially announced the arrival of Mr. Smeems' partner in crime, who joined us in September! He is a super sweet pup with a personality all his own, but Mr. S is definitely curious about this little dog who has come to stay. Mr. S is simultaneously elated with and completely unimpressed with this little guy, as all big brothers are, I suppose. He's a pretty good teacher, and they definitely have fun together.
Here's a sampling of their days:

Hello, Bullet. This is my toy wolf. We will play with it together.
Forget the wolf - we will play with each other!
Bullet letting it all hang out.

He's a camoflaged pinto bean!
Or a snail...

He does love hiking in the woods...

Bumping along Intervale road to the farm...

and howling with the pack!

Mr. S doesn't howl.

He's frisky and crazy and a lot of fun!

More as he grows up....

Dia de los Muertos...

Well, here we are at the end of our season, and there's so much to catch up on, it's fairly embarassing! We were going to post all sorts of pictures of us putting the farm to bed - the taking down of the tomato trellis, disking in the fields, planting the garlic, etc. And we would post those pictures, except for some strange reason they all have vanished. So, we have post-clean-up pics anyway, and those pictures we'll definitely share.
My whole Dia de los Muertos theme was going to be about the taking down of the mighty hoophouse trellis system accompanied with pictures of the mighty soldiers falling as we took them down. Well, at any rate, I get to show off my nifty Muertos figurines and we can remember our dedicated crops and how well they served us! This year we did only tomatoes in the hoophouse for the majority of the season - we did have mache in there in the winter, head lettuces in the spring, and then the tomatoes soldiered through the rest of the summer. We had around 500 plants in the greenhouse, which really turned into a jungle, they did so well! We did plant some tomatoes in the field, but after having such incredible quality in the hoophouse, we begin to wonder why we grow anything in the field! It's so nice to have to worry so little about diseases (it's not raining on the plants and spreading disease), pests (bugs have a harder time finding the plants) and watering (we set up the infrastructure in the early spring, so we're always able to water), and the marketability of the crops is so much greater - the fruits are much higher quality. So, there it is - we loved our hoophouse and plan to expand the amount of our acreage that is under cover in the very near future, barring approval through a lot of red tape with putting up agricultural structures at the Intervale. More on this later.

It was very satisfying to finally find our tomatoes dead on the morning of October 29th after a much awaited killing frost. We were so ready to be done with tomatoes, that we actually left the sides of the hoophouse open so that they would freeze. We were done canning, and ready to clean up and plant the mache for next year, so we were glad that Nature did the deed for us! It took us about four hours to clean it out after we harvested the surviving tomatoes - around 80#, I'd say. It's the latest harvest we've had of tomatoes yet, which is testament to the awesome power of the hoophouse! Now there's 12 quarts more sauce in our cupboard, and the hoophouse is spic and span! It is kind of sad to see the huge midden pile we've created with the dead tomato plants, but they have served us well, and we can't wait to see them next year! We planted the mache, watered it all, and called 'er done for the year. Thank you tomatoes! They were the number 2 crop this year, trailing behind the mighty micros, no small feat!
We had so many nice days this fall, it was hard to decide when to plant our cover crop this year, but we did decide to put it in October 11th, a task we always enjoy. This year we did a rye, pea, vetch mix on our main field - we hand broadcasted it as we do every year. Sure, we could use a tractor, but why do that when it is so much fun to just feel the grains slipping through our fingers as we purposefully fling it about? Remember in the movie Amelie when she described one of her favorite feelings - pushing her hand into a barrel of lentils or rice or peas at the market? It's sort of like that. Maybe that's why we grow microgreens the way we do - I really like the feel of the seeds in my fingers as I mini broadcast onto the seedling trays.... But I digress. Thanks for a great year, tomatoes! Enjoy your rest, we expect great things from you next year!