Farming in -35 C ~ CSA Week Three
This was a week of intense Winter weather with snow squall warnings, plummeting temperatures and white-outs across the Tantramar Marsh. Now that weather conditions are unpredictable and often uncomfortable, outdoor work dwindles to only the necessary – plowing the driveway, taking the compost and wood-stove ashes out, checking the cooler and walking the dog . In this line of work, I am constantly being reminded that nature is still in control; The conditions making it impossible to continue work on outdoor projects and pushing me to surrender and rest. Winter on the farm has been beautiful so far. It's very quiet; the atmosphere lending itself to spending days storm-stayed and watching the wildlife emerge from the forest at the back of the property. This month's sightings included a family of deer, rabbits, an owl, osprey, a loose Angus cow and a small family of coyotes. Diego the German Shepard is also loving the weather, enjoys chasing the snowblower and patrolling the yard, even in the most violent of stormy weather. He takes his job as farm-protector very seriously.
A bit of a farming emergency occurred this past week when I went out to check the cooler, the temperature inside had dropped below freezing. I thought this would only be an issue much later into Winter when temperatures steadied around -20 C. Last season, the cooler was also situated in a garage and it stayed at 2 C throughout the Winter, without the need for a heater. The new cooler has thicker layers of insulation in the walls and ceiling, so I was confused as to how it was loosing so much heat. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the layer of spray-foam on the top of the cooler had cracked and left a big open gap for the heat to escape through the metal ceiling. I also noticed that the thermostat, which I installed on the wall right beside the door, was effected by some draft coming in around the door and around the air conditioner. It was reading the temperature by the door which is much lower and more variable than the rest of the cooler. I was able to set up a little space heater to bring the temperature back up and it turns out that no produce was damaged during the temperature drop. The gap in the ceiling will be re-filled with spray-foam and the gaps around the door will be sealed as well, then everything should be back on track :)
Enjoy your unfrozen produce this week!
Blue Curly Kale
This past week I dug up my notes from a root cellar workshop that I attended about 3 years ago. There was a note on the storage of kale that struck me as both ingenious and uncommon. This workshop was very in depth and full of old school practices including planting leeks (roots attached) into the dirt floor of the root cellar. The recommended best practice for the storage of kale was to dig up the entire plant and store them in large perforated plastic bags. I use (and re-use) perforated plastic bags for humidity control when storing root crops and cabbages, but I don't store entire plants, roots included. The air in the cooler is cold and dry, perfect for onions, but the roots and cabbages need more moisture, so the plastic bags create little micro-climates of high humidity. This idea makes a lot of sense considering that produce starts to loose its vitality and quality as soon as it is harvested. Keeping the roots on the plant and the leaves attached to the stalk will prolong the life of the kale, keeping it alive, though dormant. This would be a good idea if you loved kale and wanted a lot of it in your cooler and if you had the space to store all the large plants!
Red Express or Deadon Cabbage
After the seed saving workshop at the Acorn conference, I was interested to go back to the seed catalogue websites to see which of my plants I could have saved seed from this year. If the name of the variety includes an F1, this number indicates a hybrid seed, meaning that the parents of the plant from which the seed was saved were not of the same variety. This means that if saving seed from a hybrid, next year's plant, grown from that seed, will not necessarily produce fruit that is true to form. So, it is best, if you plan to save your own seed, to choose open-pollinated varieties, meaning that “the offspring will display the same characteristics as the parent plant”. If you are interested, here are a few informative online resources that can help you get started:
Deciphering terms in your seed catalogue:
Beginner's Guide to Seed Saving:
Carrots (I don't know which variety!)
We had our annual seed meeting last week and I was looking through the seed catalogue, comparing varieties and making choices for next year. I grew Napoli, Yaya and Bolero carrots this year and I absolutely cannot tell them apart. Bolero is the standard storage carrot that boasts having the best flavor even after being in the cooler for months. Napoli and Yaya are earlier season carrots. I also didn't distinguish where in the field the different varieties had been planted, so it was difficult to tell them apart when I started harvest. This is a record keeping issue and something that I hope to get better at in the future. It's helpful to be able to distinguish which varieties display the most desirable traits, especially since each farm's micro-climate is different and the farmer will be looking for different traits depending on her marketing plan. I'll continue to grow Yaya carrots because I like their shape and because they mature earlier and I want to be able to stagger my harvest. Bolero will also be on the list for next year because of its reliability and I'll hopefully be more diligent with my organization in the field. Eventually it would be great to be able to trial several different varieties!
American Purple Top & Melford Rutabega
I've had great success with Melford variety Rutabega. For the past two years, Melford has produced giant Rutabega that are seldom bothered by the root maggot. The only issue with this variety is that the roots have green shoulders instead of the more traditional purple, which make them more challenging to sell at market For some reason, the conditions this season caused the once giant Melford Rutabega to be very small in size compared to the huge American Purple Top that I had decided to grow. The purple top Rutabega were also spared from damage by the root maggot, but I think this is because of their growing place in a field that has not yet developed a root maggot population. There's only so much you can plan for: Each season comes with surprises that are sometimes never replicated.
Potatoes this year were demolished by the Colorado Potato Beetle. I has such good intentions at the beginning of the season to keep on top of this pest problem. I went out to hand pick, sweep, squish and kill potato bugs in huge numbers, so many more than last year! Still, the effort was futile, and the bugs soon killed the plants, causing the tubers (the potatoes) to be smaller in both size and number and to easily succumb to disease and disfiguration. Alas, though not economically viable, I would still consider the potato crop to have been successful for this year. I was able to harvest enough for myself for the Winter and to fill the CSA shares. I'm going to experiment next season with several factors including covering the plants and planting later in the season, hoping to save the plants from the potato bugs.
You can use these potatoes in the chowder recipe provided at the end of the newsletter!
This week I learned that frozen onions can retain much of their quality once thawed. I had way too many onions to fit into the cooler so a few trays were left outside the cooler, just in the garage, and I've been using them for myself. They all froze a few days ago and I thought I had lost them. Once thawed, they were totally fine. Good to know, since most of what I've read about storing onions states that they will go rotten if exposed to below freezing temperatures. Maybe this refers to their marketable quality or long-term storage quality after having been frozen. So, don't worry if for some reason you leave your onions in the car overnight, just put them in the fridge and eat them sooner rather than later and you should be fine!
Carnival or Tuffy Acorn Squash or Blue Ballet Hubbard Squash
I will admit that, until a few days ago, I had never eaten an Acorn Squash. I'm a Hubbard squash lady and I just didn't believe that the Acorns could be as good. This poses a problem for me because, as a farmer who relies heavily on the storage quality of the crops that I grow, I had been consistently choosing to grow squash that did not do well in long-term storage. The Acorns develop an extremely tough skin that makes them great storage squash – as long as they don't get damaged while being transported from the field. This tough skin also makes them really dangerous to cut! The Acorn that I ate (roasted with coconut oil) was extremely sweet, with a hearty texture and had a nice crunchy skin when roasted. The result of this realization will be a greater variety of Acorn squash grown on my farm next year! A whole section of the seed catalogue once ignored, now teeming with possibility.
Mix Blue Oyster & Lion's Mane Mushrooms from Moonlight Mushrooms or Spicy Tomato Sauce
Those who receive the mushrooms this week will get the pasta sauce in the next share and vice versa. The tomato sauce is made from tomatoes, dried cayenne peppers and parsley grown at Windy Hill Organic Farm and my own garlic. It's very spicy! If you don't like spice, I'd suggest adding a can of organic tomato paste to mellow the flavor.
The pasta sauce and mushrooms will go well together as will the pesto from last share and the mushrooms. The tomato sauce has been frozen directly after canning. This process ensures the quality and safety of any canned tomato product (stewed tomatoes, sauce or ketchup) It can be defrosted and kept in the fridge for up to two weeks.
The mushrooms come from my good friends in Moncton who run Moonlight Mushrooms. They grow a quantity of delicious varieties and their mushrooms can be purchased at the Dieppe Farmer's Market at the Local By Atta stall or at Fleur Du Pommier! The mushrooms are hearty and filling and can be used as a substitute for seafood or meat in chowder or pasta sauce.
Experimenting with Recipes
These are both from Isa Chandra's amazing Vegan cookbook: You can check out her recipes here:
Vegan Banana Muffins
This has nothing to do with the Winter CSA, but I made these muffins this weekend and they were so good
Very dense and melt in your mouth!
3 -4 mashed, overripe bananas
2 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup applesauce,
5 tbsp molasses
1.5 cups organic flour
1 tsp baking soda & 1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 1/2 tsp each cinnamon, allspice and ground ginger
1 1/2 cups any combination of chopped dates, chocolate chips, chopped walnuts or frozen (frozen because they will be local!!) berries
Oven at 350 and grease enough muffin tins for 24 muffins (These muffins freeze very well).
Mash the bananas until a smooth puree is formed. Add the remaining wet ingredients and the sugar and blend thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and spices. Slowly add the dry ingredients, folding into the banana mixture. Finally stir in the nuts, berries and/or chocolate chips. Fill the muffin cups to nearly full and bake.
Baking time = 18 to 20 minutes. If you have a convection oven, you might only need 15 minutes.
Vegan Clam Chowder
This was so Delicious!! A recipe for using your mushrooms, carrots, onions and potatoes.
1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours 2 cups vegetable broth 4 teaspoons organic cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 large yellow onion, diced medium 2 medium carrots, peeled, sliced into 1/4 inch thick half moons 3 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick 4 oz shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced 8 oz white button mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks 3/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste Fresh black pepper 1 to 2 nori sheets, finely chopped (these are the seaweed sheets used for rolling sushi) 3 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Optional: fresh chopped parsley or chives for garnish Saltines for crushing over the top
Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute onion and carrots in the olive oil with a pinch of salt, for about 10 minutes, until carrots are softened.
In the meantime, we’ll make the cashew cream. Drain the cashews and add them to the blender along with the vegetable broth and cornstarch. Blend like crazy, until smooth. This can take anywhere from one to five minutes depending on your machine. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every now and again to make sure you get everything.
Back to the soup. Add mushrooms and celery. Cook briefly, for about 3 minutes, just until mushrooms are softened. You want them to keep their texture.
Add the potatoes, salt, pepper, nori and vegetable broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Be careful to keep a close eye so as not to overcook them or they will turn into mush.
Stir in the cashew cream mixture, and gently heat, uncovered, for about 7 minutes, until nicely thickened. Add the tomato paste and lemon juice and taste for salt and seasoning. Add a little extra water if it seems too thick. Serve garnished with parsley or chives, if you like, and a few saltine crackers. A wedge of lemon looks pretty, too.