Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Greenhouse Management

Another set of brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccolis) is packed up and ready to head out to the field today. There is some celery and celeriac that is ready to go in the ground too.

This is good timing as things need to be moved about in the greenhouse. As dictated by the waxing moon phase that favors seeding above ground annuals and flowers at this very time, Lee and I worked to put a few more seeds in the soil yesterday including cabbages for sauerkraut (large varieties), colorful cauliflowers (graffiti/purple and cheddar/orange), and some savoy cabbages, more celery, etc...

Here is a look at the brussels sprouts we seeded one week ago, emerging at a sporadic rate, Lee and I spent some time fussing over their conditions. As the season warms, some of the micro-climates within the greenhouse are less suitable (too hot) for seeds and seedlings that require lower temperatures to germinate like a lot of these items we are seeding for the fall harvest time. By moving out the seedlings that are ready for the field, we create more room for other flats of seeds that would prefer the cooler locations within the greenhouse. So we spent a little time finding the ideal homes for all of these little guys....

An overview of flats full of seeds demonstrates some of what we are fussing with here. Keeping track of the soil and air temperatures is constant work and shifts all day long depending on the outdoor conditions. A while back, Lee installed some cardboard above this area to filer the intense light a little bit. When we were working with chiles and tomatoes, the intense heat and light was a bit more favorable. As we work with less heat-loving seeds amidst the early summer time heat, the challenges have shifted to keeping the temperatures from rising too high.

In the cooler, outer room (where the seedlings harden off and live out their final days prior to transporting to the field) it is also getting quite warm. Yesterday, we spent some time putting extra shade over the roof of the greenhouse in order to filter the sun a bit as the temperatures remain high this week. Everything this season in the greenhouse is still a bit experimental since it is a brand new structure.

Hopefully the TLC we invested yesterday will pay off with high rates of germination. It is frustrating to spend so much time working with tiny seeds and to come back and see failed results, but it always happens one way or another. Seeding is such a balance of conditions, healthy soil, balanced water, perfect light and temperature, it is really a full time position to watch over all of this stuff.

In closing, I got another nice shot of celery and celeriac seedlings. The brilliant midday sunlight enhanced the vibrant green of these guys and inspired the photographer in me yet again. They are headed for the field next and hopefully to our tables by Thanksgiving to Christmas time.

Today is a great day to come out in the afternoon and try to catch us putting these little transplants into the ground. If you are stopping in to pick up your CSA share today, think about bringing a hat and setting aside 10-20 minutes to go and check out what is happening out in the farm fields. It is quite a treat to get to see all the steps behind your food production. Make the most of it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Serrano/Fresno/Santa Fe


In Spanish, the literal translation of the word Serrano means “from the mountains.” This title is in reference to the supposed origin of this chile from the mountain ridges, or serranias, located north of Puebla and Hidalgo in Mexico.

Uses: Serranos are primarily used in fresh green form, but will also ripen to a sweeter and more mature dark red. Either color can be used interchangeably in fresh salsa, roasted for sauces, or pickled. This is a great substitute for a Thai chile if one cannot be found. Serranos are mostly used fresh due to their thick flesh, making drying difficult.

Heat: Hot.


This chile was named for the city of Fresno, CA where it was very likely developed by the Clarence Brown Seed Company in 1952. The Fresno chile is a medium sized wax-type fruit and is sweet ad hot, especially when allowed to ripen entirely to its red form. Don’t mistake it for a red Jalapeno, the Fresno has broader shoulders and more heat. It may also be mistaken for a Santa Fe chile that has a similar broad shape, but may be distinguished by color. Fresnos are never yellow or orange like the Santa Fe, but mature from light green to red.

Other Names: May be referred to as chile caribe or chile cera.

Uses: Fresno chiles are often used in the green stage for seasoning, sauces and pickling. They are also excellent for use in salsas, ceviches, stuffing, and may be roasted and added to sauces.

Heat: Hot.

Santa Fe Grande

The Santa Fe is a type of guero chile, a Spanish word for blonde. This word applies to any yellow pepper or chile in Mexico. Although the Santa Fe ripens fully to a deep red, it is often used in a mature yellow phase therefore making it relevant as a blonde/guero chile. These chiles are grown throughout the southwestern U.S.

Uses: Santa Fe chiles have a thick flesh and perhaps a melon-like flavor with a good sharp heat. Traditional uses are in yellow moles, salsas and they may be pickled. Additionally, ornamental quality of these and other small chiles is not to be overlooked.

Heat: Hot.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poblano, Ancho, Mulato


The name Poblano is derived from the name of a valley called Puebla that is located south of Mexico City where these chiles were first cultivated.

Other Names: Poblano refers to the green, or less mature, stage of several different varieties of chiles including Ancho and Mulato.

Uses: This is one of the most popular fresh chiles used in Mexico. Always use cooked or roasted, roasting enhances the full and earthy flavor. The large size and thickness of flesh of the Poblano makes them ideal for chiles rellenos or other stuffed chile dishes.

Heat: Mild to medium spice.


The name Ancho means broad, referring to the broad and heart shape of these pods once they have dried. Anchos are probably the most commonly used dried chile in Mexico where many varieties are cultivated. Anchos are so popular they may be found under cultivation somewhere in Mexico year-round to supply market demand, but will also grow well in the right regions of the U.S.

Other Names: Ancho is the red, ripe form of the green Poblano chile. Not to be confused with the Mulato, both chiles are called Poblano in their green chile stage, Ancho ripens to a deep red and Mulato a dark chocolate brown color.

Uses: This is an excellent all purpose dried chile and chile powder. The medium spice combined with the sweet dried and concentrated flesh is perfect for most recipes including sauces, moles. When in season, try roasting a perfectly ripened Ancho and indulge in a superb fresh chile.

Heat: Variable from mild to medium.


Mulato means and is a light brown cultivar of a ripe Poblano, comparable to the ripe, red Ancho.

Other Names: This chile ripens from a green Poblano to a chocolate brown chile. This chile may be found mislabeled as a Pasilla in the U.S.

Uses: This is an excellent dried chile and chile powder. The medium spice and sweet brown flesh pair perfectly both fresh and dried. Try feasting on a fresh roasted Mulato chile when in season or snack on a few dried pieces as you formulate the perfect recipe for such a flavorful chile. Mulatos are a great choice for sauces and moles.

Heat: Variable from mild to medium.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm starting a new research project. During the winter it was dry beans. Now as I prepare for a fresh upcoming chile season, I'm applying my brief experience with the farm so far to create some interpretation for customers into all of this chile diversity that is going on both in the dried storage season and in the fresh harvest season. As I work my way through the extensive list of chile varieties using my chile library that is comprised primarily of books by the author Dave Dewitt (if you want to seek out your own info) I will share my rough drafts for your learning pleasure here.


The name Pasilla comes from the Spanish word pasa, meaning raisin. Specifically, Pasilla translates to little raisin. This is a result of the physical brown and wrinkled appearence of this chile when dried.

Other Names: Chilaca, or Chile Chilaca refers to the fresh form of this chile. It may also be referred to as chile negro on the west coast of Mexico. Often Pasillas are confused with Anchos and Mulatos in our commercial produce industry.

Uses: Pasillas are mostly used in dried form, often as an ingredient of mole sauces or adobos. It is described as a component of the “holy trinity” of chiles used for traditional mole sauces, along with Ancho and Mulato chiles. This unique chile has a gentle flavor that is mostly used in dried pod or powder form. Make your own mole, or try ours!

Heat: Mild to medium spice.

A Peek Inside the CSA Box for June 18th, 2009

Lee and I were enjoying the look of the packed box this week as she was preparing to depart with the deliveries that go to Benton Street and Yulupa Ave. in Santa Rosa on Thursdays. The palette of colors was full in the selection this week from deep red berries to pink and green buttery lettuce and the mixture of basil, the white flageolet beans, the standard orange color of carrots, and hiding in this photo is a great purple/red onion and a surprising nopal or cactus paddle hidden inside the old piece of newspaper. What diversity of colors and textures and possibilities. We were both inspired for a few more photos for our on-going collection.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Returnable Mesh Bags

The CSA is getting beans this week. They are coming in a yellow mesh bag that we hope to use and re-use throughout the season. As a reminder, we have left a little note on the bag so folks might not leave their beans in the bag and forget all about it. Please, please if you will not use your wonderful beans right away, transfer them and send back your little yellow bag so we may find new creative uses for them when packing your weekly CSA share. We thank you for doing your part to make this operation more efficient and sustainable wherever possible. Farm stand and CSA customers (and Ferry Plaza) are incredible about returning re-useable items! Keep it up!

Making Basil Bouquets

This job falls into the category of my Specialty Harvesting responsibilities. While the crew of five guys out in the field takes on the majority of the harvest with their strength and endurance, I get to jump into the rows closest to the farm stand to gather up light, pretty and specialty products including basil bouquets.

Lee and I have seeded so many varieties of basil I am not sure of the total number. Somewhere in the 5-10 range. So the basil selection is diverse. There is traditional Italian Genovese, purple, lemon, Greek, spicy, bush, variations on each of these, etc...

When the market time is right, stems are cut to mix together for a diverse blend of basil that is fragrant, beautiful and functional. Basil bouquets are a component of the CSA this week so this is my first round of large scale production. They will also go to the Ferry Plaza throughout the summer season and may always be available to farm stand customers who know to ask.

On the right is a portion of my basil bunching operation. I harvest boxes full of individual types and then organize all the components for a large scale assembly of basil stems. This is really more efficient than running around harvesting a little bit of each at a time.

It is a fun little specialty harvest job because I get to apply some creativity to my work, much like bundling flowers. Each bouquet is unique and perfect in it's own way.

CSA members enjoy your basil this week. Garnish everything with some first-of-the-season basil flavor, stick the stems in a vase to make them last, share the diversity of types with your friends and family. If you find flowers on a few of the stems, add them as edible flowers to your salads. Basil flowers can be viewed as a nuisance to be pruned away to encourage more new growth if you are a grower, but also can be appreciated for a different form of basil flavor in the kitchen. It is just another component to the diversity.

Enjoy your basil!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Greenhouse-Thinning

Yesterday afternoon Lee and I found time to work in the greenhouse. It gets tougher this time in the season now that the CSA is in full weekly operation, the farm stand is open Tues-Sat, and the farm fields demand more time than all of us could ever devote all on their own.

There are small plants in the greenhouse that demand attention too. These are mostly those we seeded a couple of weeks back including celery, amaranth, and a slew of new brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, etc).

As Lee set to work sowing another round of celeriac seeds for the fall, I focused my efforts on thinning the current inventory of seedlings. Above is cabbage (I think, could be broccoli, I wasn't paying full attention after a while as I was in high speed thinning-mode in an effort to accomplish all we could in our single greenhouse afternoon). When seeding, you can drop one seed per cell assuming this one seed will grow and produce the plant you are attempting to have come transplant time down the road. Sometimes the seed packet contains a less than ideal germination test rate on the label as a warning that this might be a bad idea. At least two seeds per cell doubles your chances of having that germination success. This also uses up twice the seeds. In some cases, a small pile of a few seeds is better when it comes to things that are prone to poor or slow germination. This is the case with the celery and celeriac. Additionally, sometimes the seeds are so small that it is nearly impossible to drop in just one seed, like the amaranth. One must juggle the seed success rate, with personal ability and experience, with seed supplies, and then optimal greenhouse conditions and watering to follow through and make all this effort worthwhile. Lots to consider at once as usual and this is just in the seeding stage of farming!

So, my job yesterday was to thin all these plants down to singles to prepare for their new phase of growth and life prior to transplanting. Now that the seeds are up, we can see the success, in this case the cabbage seeds popped up ideally and we are thinning it down to one plant to eliminate the growth competition and have the single seedling ready for transplant when that time rolls around. I could have just sown one seed, but what if that seed never came up? Then I'd be here three weeks later with no plants. A little extra insurance is good when you are providing food for people who are relying on you to do so.

I snipped away the small stem of the brassica-type plants, lettuces and amaranths. I found the celery plants a little easier to simply weed down to one plant as the disturbance was minimal to the roots. This is moves along much quicker since I can drop the cumbersome scissors and work with two hands, doubling my efficiency. Technique with this task aims to optimize growing conditions for the plants you will save, that means the least amount of root disturbance while you eliminate the competition.

The tiny little celery plants above now have all the room their roots systems need to grow big and strong to prepare to go out into the wide-world that is the farm field.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Biobags-an alternative not a solution

I returned to the Ferry Plaza this week after being absent from the scene for a couple of months. In the meantime, the plastic bag issues and regulations have been fully enacted. That is, vendor distribution of plastics is against the market rules and customers are encouraged to either come up with their own packaging solutions or Biobags are offered at a small price by vendors when customers find themselves unprepared and bag-less with am armload of fruits and veggies.

My observations of the operation are mostly positive. I did not sell off one Biobag all day, I sent away many jam and dried chile purchases straight into ladies purses or men's backpacks, watched the regulars shuttle their bulk purchases around in our little card board jam boxes from the scale to their own bags, baskets and bins. This is the ideal system. People are thinking ahead and coming up with creative alternative solutions to single use waste. I am proud to see this and cannot wait for the behavior to filter into new market areas and consumer behaviors as a whole. Once you adjust your perspective, it is hard to look back.

As for the Biobags themselves, they are there if you need something that suits the rules of the market. I watched the flimsy handles on one bag hanging off one customer's arms, wondering how long they would hold out while this person worked to try and get everything into the single bag for efficiency. Later, I watched those same flimsy handles give out on a poor lady trying to shove in one of our giant red onions. Luckily, I had a large paper bag on hand to offer after her small mishap. Our un-named neighbors at market are quite dissatisfied with the new regulations as they are purveyors of micro-green type produce. Biobags are just not as friendly to this sort of product, but they will move it from point A to point B. They do not seem as durable nor do they seem to offer the storage capabilities of good old un-environmentally friendly plastics, but I don't think that is what to expect from them. Their purpose is as a single use tool (or as long as you are able to make one last) for transport when all other pre-planning has failed. If you really wanted strong transport for your heavy produce at market, hopefully you thought to bring your cloth bags, woven baskets, metal cart with wheels, re-useable plastic from the commercial grocery waste stream, etc...

Biobags are ideal for light products that don't need specialized storage conditions. I have not done any extensive research on this topic, but am speaking from common sense, observation thus far, a few personal experiences and feedback from others. This bag is meant to break down, that is both a pro and a con and must be factored in to it's use. If it is not the solution for you, simply bring your own plastics or whatever else you want to cart your goods around within. I use them only when they are slipped into my personal inventory by someone who is relying on them for packaging, say like the cherries I brought yesterday which were quickly removed, washed and transferred to a bowl up on arriving home, empty Biobag looming for some re-use already. Let's save all the Biobags for incidental and last minute tourist purchases and bring our own instead!

On a final note, a great pleasure to see all the familiar faces that wander about the Ferry Plaza Market in the city on Saturday mornings. Customers, farmer's and vendors alike, this is a weekly community scene of great people, food, ideas, etc...a pleasure to be a part of it. If you have not been, come and visit us there. It gets a bit crowded, but it is only because there is so much good stuff to see, eat, smell....and buy. When spending at market there is no doubt your money is going to support the best small business out there, your local food production system.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

Here you have a peek into what the CSA pick-up on the farm looked like on Tues, June 9th. This week those who subscribe to receive a share from the farm got to take home a generous half pound bag of lettuce, a head of garlic, a selection of the first summer squash of the season, pak choi or pac choy (however you want to spell this one), a half a cabbage, a pound of beets, a pound of carrots, a handful of radishes, and two heaping baskets of strawberries!

If you are someone set on knowing where your food is grown and how it is done, this is the farm for you. Only is it very rare that something is brought in to the CSA from another source. 99.9% of the time Tierra has planned and provided for the CSA as a priority. Occasionally a fruit component has been added in from a neighboring farm. Often Tierra has creatively extended their own harvest to keep the CSA in local foods as long as possible. For instance, during the winter months popcorn, corn meal, sauerkraut, and dried chiles and beans have made up for the less productive winter months.

The first of the season's desired crops go to the CSA before any other market outlets. For example, this week farm stand customers are coming and and seeking summer squash, but the squash harvest has been saved for the CSA. These are the customers who chose to pay up front and trust the farm to provide their food on a weekly basis. There are benefits that go with that trust. The situation will be the same with tomatoes before long. CSA subscribers get what is first, new and best. That is just one benefit to the system.

A recent article in The Press Democrat displayed an overview of a plethora of CSAs in our region this season. What an incredible resource it is for our county to have access to such a variety of options in chosing fresh and locally produced foods. As a resident in this commuity, you are sitting in a cultural mecca for this sort of thing. Food systems with such a bounty and such integrity are not found so plentifully elsewhere in our state and nation. Enjoy what you've got! Support the farms so they can continue and improve all that they are offering.

There are many variations in how the CSA is formatted and I can speak from personal experience having worked to pack a few of them around the county and having interacted with a few of the farmers. Some are packed in plastic bins, others in boxes, perhaps a canvas bag. Some buy in additional items not produced on the farm in order to extend the harvest season and diversity of product available. Others include add ons in the form of breads, meats, and cheeses to give you a one stop shop type of situation. This is a great customer convenience, yet it also takes from the time and productivity of a farm that is trying to grow food and often requires an entire new level of business management. Some close up for the season when winter sets in, others try to continue through the winter months in a creative manner either planting crops under the cover of greenhouses or purchasing produce from other sources.

Back to the Tierra Vegetable CSA. At Tierra Vegetables, we are a diversified vegetable operation with a good abundance of strawberries, especially right now! The CSA is just now beginning for the season and will continue through December. At that time, a monthly share is continued for those who are interested in the winter bounty. As winter climate slows growth and productivity of a farm, once a month has been determined the optimal way to continue to offer produce while being sure to have enough for everyone and keeping the production entirely from the farm. This is how things have ironed out after years and years of experience and trial and error. This farm is, in fact, as old as I am.

Ideally, customers come and pick up their share at the farm. At this time you fill your own bags, sometimes chose and weigh out your own share, take the kids for a short stroll around the fields to see where the food has come from the earth, and pick up a few extra items out of the farm stand. This is the most efficient way for the farm to get the product to you and for the customer to enjoy a full experience of gathering your food for the week. Maybe stop have a quick chat with your farmer's Lee and Wayne and your local farm stand figure and CSA manager, Evie. Alternatively, deliveries are offered for those who cannot make the trip to the field due to the busy-ness of life.

Any CSA in Sonoma County is a grand choice for getting your hands on some quality produce. Please enjoy the opportunities at your finger tips! Tierra is a great option for all local, extremely diverse, and a full farm experience. There are still openings for the season if you want to give a try for the season. Evie is your point of contact to sign up.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Watering the Chiles-Drip Irrigation

Yesterday Jose and Kara got the water on the chile and pepper plants. These plants are watered using drip irrigation versus overhead sprinklers for various reasons, many of which I'm sure could be better explained by Lee and Wayne.

The number one reason for using t-tape of drip irrigation on crops is usually water conservation. Compared with overhead sprinklers, the amount of water used and the concentrated placement of the water is specifically managed to water each plant at it's roots. Plants like peppers may become fragile and top heavy as they mature where overhead water might cause them to topple over and snap. The plants may not respond well to water all over their recently pollinated flowers and foliage as they try to mature to healthy plants without disease and full of sweet and spicy fruits. Weed management is simplified with drip irrigation. While there is now a plastic tube in the way when you do want to cultivate around the plants, the area being watered to encourage surrounding weeds is much less than areas that have been sprinkled. There many many benefits to drip irrigation!

Alternatively, there is cost in this process. Not only is there investment in the resources and infrastructure such as that giant roll of plastic tape and all the fittings and fixtures to make the system complete, but also there is the time and care that goes into setting it all up. Luckily it is just a one time thing for the season until a gopher chews a hole through a tape and maintenance is obligatory, or until frost hits and the entire set up must then be disassembled.

Kara and Jose went about the motions yesterday getting the tape carefully placed around the plants, another practice to ensure best growing practices and conditions for production in the fields. It was a bit breezy out there yesterday as it seems it is any day you are trying to haul super long pieces of tape down crop rows. Rather than breaking her back and hunching over to keep the tape from blowing in the wind as Kara walked it down each row, she smartly innovated a technique of wrapping it around her ankle as she walked to keep tension on the tape out of the wind while keeping her body ergonomically protected from farm work.

Overhead sprinkling absolutely has it's use and niche in the farm fields, I think a majority of the crops at Tierra are given overhead water. Obviously, the set up can be less trouble, there is more freedom of cultivation, the water may benefit some kinds of plants in washing away pests, it may assist in germination of dense or smaller seeds that need even water coverage throughout the rows, etc... These are just a few more things to think about when planning and operating the farm.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

End of Spring-Start of Summer Field Tour

I left town again for a little more than a week, plenty of time for change to occur in the farm fields. I walked the fields yesterday to catch up on what is suddenly in season and how recently planted seeds have come along. It is really hard to get past the strawberries though.

Strawberries are in season!!

They are so sweet and available in abundance. The CSA is lucky to have enjoyed them once already and there seems plenty to go around. I really hope you are making the trip to the farm stand to gather your share of early berries this season. I know road-side cherry vendors can be tempting (wherever in the Central Valley they are being imported from), but these berries are the local fruits of your farm's labors and what grows well here. Bring your family to get some sweet and fresh treats right out of the ground with no question of growing practices and no need or worry of washing. Sonoma County is so lucky to have such a reliable source of such incredible edibles!

Lettuce remains perfect. How can you pass up salads on a nightly basis when there are ingredients like this at hand? Lettuce is harder to maintain throughout the summer months and must be planted again and again to beat the heat or else it will quickly become bitter and flower. The time is now for perfect lettuce, but I know the farm will work hard to keep it around as long as possible and all season if possible. It is unlike Tierra Vegetables to not have something available if it is at all possible to grow it in our region.

Spinach is coming to a close for the spring. I hate to see the yellowing leaves that indicate a spinach crop is near the end of it's time and the heat it taking it out until the next fall. This particular spinach I found in the field yesterday was a second spring sowing and is doing quite well. It's time is limited as summer approaches, but for now, it is something to take advantage of for the next week or two. There is something about the flavor and texture of spinach leaves that it is one of my favorite things to munch right out of the fields. I always diligently check for bugs first, of course (this is a good practice I got into after eating a fig with a beetle surprise in the middle last season).

Sugary snap peas! This is another one to enjoy before it is too late. Many people come looking for "vegetables" and don't see all the bounty at a time of year like this. Squash, tomatoes, beans, corn....all this summer stuff is great, but look beyond into all the things that are only spring, winter and fall products. That goes for radishes too. Here are two perfect ingredients for your spring salads with the abundance of lettuce and spinach. I'm already overwhelmed by the possibilities and abundance of food this season. An incredible benefit of working in the world of farming is access to so much great stuff to eat all the time....from this point on it will be hard to decide what to opt for each meal from amidst the bounty of the harvest.
Beets and carrots are ready to go too. Sweet roots ought to be a kitchen staple. The quality of root production on this farm is near perfection in my opinion. Big, sweet and full of nutrition with deep dark purples and oranges infusing your body with it's needs for healthy survival. It is now time to keep up with your weekly ration of sweet candy carrots.

And, in closing for this post, a tease for what is to come. This is literally one of five Sungolds I saw out there, but one of these days the plants will be covered. We are now just weeks and days away from a sweet cherry tomato season. Meanwhile, enjoy your beets, carrots, peas, radishes, salads, greens and strawberries....that is plenty of flavor and texture to hold you over until tomatoes emerge for the season.