Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Field Status

Flowering cabbages and kales are the way to ensure off season floral influence in a winter garden. Lee planned this splash of color back in summer time when she first sowed their seeds....rewarding now during the season of puddles, plants frosted to death and carpets of green grass. When the sun hits the purple of these plants, not even a rainbow could draw your eyes away from their deep purple glow. Immediately to the right of the plants in this photo is the recently graded foundation area for the upcoming barn re-construction....chances are the purple cabbages could be in danger if they fall in the path of construction!

Broccoli frosted! Sometimes it gets too darn cold out here in Sonoma County even for the cold hardly crops. Brassica family plants tend to take the frost with more ease than their flowers....that portion which we so desire as edible including broccolis and cauliflowers. A frosted floret may turn translucent, brown or yellow, and quite simply ugly and for the most part inedible. Eventually it will rot and die off. It is unfortunate that many of the tasty brassica florets have been hit by frost, but others have not. This is where the benefit of crop diversity kicks in. Some lose and others win.

And sweet peas have emerged in time for the Christmas Farm Report. Thank goodness care was taken to sow them at the appropriate moment in fall...exactly when this was I am unsure as I was absent, but perhaps late October to early November? These tiny seedlings are located front and center right out the backside of the farm stand for easy harvest access and full consumer appreciation. A second spring sowing will occur right next to them for an extended harvest and bloom time. I think many of us fell in love with the sweet flowers last spring if we weren't already. I know I certainly cut and sold a ton and look forward to seeing what the season to come will bring. We did save the seeds from last season's crop, of course, so variety and beauty ought to be comparable to last season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Barn Moving

This big, white barn will one day down the road house storage, an improved farm stand and much more for Tierra Vegetables. The first step have finally been taken to disassemble the barn for transport from it's current site on Mark West Springs/River Road all the way down to the farm field at Airport Boulevard (really just a few miles north, but a long ways for an entire barn to travel). Stay tuned as the excitement and progress continues!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hauling in the chile harvest

It's that time of year again....the chiles and peppers have finally ripened and loads of them are now available in their freshest form at our markets, or have been given as a component of the CSA. Not only do our chiles circulate to all of these places, but a grand number of them also make the trek a few miles north to the commercial kitchen off Shiloh Road in Windsor. Here they are cleaned, chopped and prepped for storage in a number of ways including chile jam, hot sauce, dried chiles and chipotles, specialty blends like Mole, chile powders, you name it. Lee is always trying something new and innovative, often reaching back into traditional cultural techniques and recipes to bring the modern day consumer something either they have never tried or something that fills them with nostalgia.

Enjoy your fresh chiles while they are here. It has been a shorter season than normal all around....who knows when the frost might sneak in and rob us of all these summer fare that we are spoiled with right now. Even when it does, you can be sure Tierra will have chiles for you year-round in one form or another.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Summer Cover Crop

A beautiful summer cover crop of buckwheat is peaking right would be the ideal time to till it in right now as it goes from flower to seed and has maximized the amount of organic material it will provide to the soil. Not a nitrogen fixer like cool season legume cover crops, buckwheat is a hearty and vigorous summer cover choice and Tierra has an excellent stand of it right now. Despite the fact that it will now start turning from flower to seed and then be likely to turn into a weed in this portion of the field in future seasons, Wayne cannot bring himself to till it under quite yet....

I caught him in action here...he is pointing out the beneficial insects that are all over this habitat. Tiny wasps, honey bees, you name it. Certainly the bad bugs are present too, but when an area of activity is discovered like this, it sure is tough to rip it out from under all those who are depending on it and enjoying it. Therefore, the buckwheat stays for now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Popcorn and Dent Corn

It looks a bit like yellow sweet corn, but the kernels are larger, flatter, have a slight dent on their outer surface (hence the name dent corn) and have been left to mature to a dry, storage state. This yellow corn is intended for yellow corn meal. From this point on it will be left to dry in the field a bit longer, then threshed off the cob when someone has time to do it. Then the loose, dry corn will store until periodic milling creates corn meal and polenta all winter long. See if you can get your hands on some yellow this season, last year local farm supporting restaurant Rosso Pizzeria consumed nearly the entire crop in order to fill their menu and serve their customers. We couldn't complain, but a few of you did when seeking a traditionally hued corn meal.

Then there is the popcorn. There is a visible difference between this corn and the former. Small and hard kernels that burst when provided the right conditions, versus the large and smooth dent kernels shown above that are obviously much better suited for flour processing.

So many types of corn are out there. No wonder scientists have gone crazy trying to modify the genes into the next best thing. Corn crops also cross pollinate readily on their own. On the farm they are kept in separate blocks to ensure this does not occur as we like to keep consistent strains of the heirloom types chosen to grow and save the seed for future corn generations on the farm. This season there are blue, green, yellow and pink cornmeal crops on their way to harvest any moment. The red popcorn is out there and perhaps a few stalks of blue (this was less successful). Is is a fun time to take a stroll in the field to observe the corn in it's mature state. You are always welcome to do just that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bean Cleaning

Tis the season to clean the beans. It is unfortunate that so much happens at once during harvest time. There is really time for nothing but harvest if you want to chase all the things that need tending in the farming world. Wayne is focused in on the beans right now. Mature, harvested, field dried/cured and collected in bins ready for cleaning now the beans are ready for their final stage of processing. The threshing equipment knocks them out of their dried pods, then preparing the beans for cleaning and size sorting.

This here is the Hutterite Bean. It doesn't look so bad, but there is plenty of unwanted material as it is poured into the hopper for cleaning here. Just imagine all the years and hours of cleaning beans by hand before Tierra invested in this timing saving equipment. Some crops just need a little mechanical assistance.

This is the sorting tray that not only removes unwanted debris, but also size sorts as it goes.

And the highly desired Tiger's Eye Bean. If anything ever got attention for it's looks, this would be proof. I imagine this could be my only chance to see this bean before it sells out this fall and winter. Right now there is plenty though and it looks like eye candy as usual.

Time to indulge in the bean harvest! The only challenge is making room for it in your menus along with all the other summer bounty while it lasts. October is the prime moment to enjoy it all before rain hits and short days creep in upon us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Harvey's Bean

Haricot Tarbais

(Harvey’s bean)

Origin: Well known in the southwestern region of France and the city of Tarbes near the Spanish border, this bean might be referred to as the “holy grail of beans” by some folks.

This bean was given to us as seed by a long time customer named Harvey in 2009, hence the name Harvey’s Bean. The 2010 crop is our first with many more to come.

Cooking: Traditionally used in cassoulet recipes (and suggested by Harvey himself), let your imagination run wild.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blogging on hold

As I have done before, I am again removed from the farm for a time as I have gone traveling to work elsewhere for a temporary project. My alternate profession as an archaeologist tends to lure me away from Sonoma County on occasion, a wander lust travel bug sets in and off I go....

This is not a time to let this blog die with it's plethora of existing info. Please browse the topics covered in past season's via the keyword tabs on the right hand side of the page. There is plenty to learn about the farm and it's products and operation even if it isn't a momentary update.

Additionally, as those who remain at the farm send photos or info my way that is blog-worthy, new posts may pop up here and there.

Wish me luck as I wander the environment with an eye for historic preservation down here in north Santa Barbara studies on the side to pass on ideas and info to my favorite farmers back home (yes, I hold a strong opinion always that Tierra is one of the best in practice, diversity, availability, and more).

New topics will kick in when I return. I always do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Farming With The Wild

Look closely and you will note the slender and graceful presence of local reptile assistance on the farm, the garter snake. This particular guy is hunting and subsisting amidst the Nothstein Dent corn (that is your yellow corn meal corn, much of which is likely to be snatched up by Rosso Pizzeria who adores it for their polenta dishes). Scenes like this are indicative of the healthy system and ecosystem alive on the farm. A living soil has worms, a healthy environment contains a diversity of organisms, nature and food production co-exist in harmony at the farm on Airport Boulevard.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nematode Treatment: Round 2

We started into a second round of applying beneficial nematodes last week. What is this mystery product safely secured away in re-used canning half pints? The tiny nematodes that none of us could ever see with a naked eye are hanging out in this clay medium as they await their application into the field which requires very moist conditions. As I understand it the nematodes literally swim to their intended feeding sites (cucumber beetle larvae, we hope!) and require a very moist soil medium in order to do so. This is how they appear in transit as we prepare the timing and fields for fertigating (applying with our watering systems for efficiency) them into our schedule. Upon our initial application, we discovered manual application with a sprayer to be extremely tedious for the scale of the farm. Applying the beneficial nematodes in conjunction with the watering systems was really the only practical solution.

Wish us luck. It will benefit you all too as it will increase productivity and quality of produce if we succeed in decreasing the numbers of cucumber beetles. Unfortunately, the population of the
bad little green lady bugs is so intense on our site that we are prompted to invest in this second treatment and perhaps once more even before the season is done. The problem is that we provide these guys such an incredible environment for survival with great places to live and feed!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Marrow Fat Bean

Wondering when the Marrow Fats might come into season? Here is the latest news....they are sizing up, but still quite green. It won't be long, but it is not time yet. That last sentence could be applied to anything you are seeking in anticipation at the will be ready any moment, but we aren't certain enough to say when, and then suddenly it just appears and you have to be ready for the moment in the season. That is what is so exciting and special about this localized and seasonal food stuff.

We wish we could always have Marrow Fats for you, but if we did, would they be as exciting when the harvest finally occurs? I always have a tough time during fresh shell bean season due to the overabundance of things I would like to eat all at once. We have entered the season of great bounty and I can only suggest to try a little of everything each day and thoroughly enjoy the productivity that enriches your life from your incredible local farm and committed farmers.

Marrow Fats coming soon....stay tuned.

Marrow Fat Beans are supported by Slow Foods in addition to all you customers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Sign Across the Top of the Shed

Here is a small story of those things that people like you do to make the farm a better place.

This is Gerry, posing with her recent work. See all that color overhead, brightening the Tierra Vegetables sign over our farm stand shed? Thanks to Gerry, this is now a much more cheerful space within the farm stand atmosphere.

And here are Gerry and Evie stopping for a cooperative pose, featuring the recently completed sign. But is it complete? Gerry has piece-worked this project over the last few weeks, diligently appearing a few afternoons a week to paint a pepper here and a few flowers there.

And so rarely pictured in my own blog, here Gerry and I share a photo-opp. with the shed painting. This was a real cooperative feat as Gerry often painted right amidst my packing and work spaces. We worked together wonderfully to accomplish our specific goals. The history of this sign goes back a ways, I'm not sure how far. It has been incomplete for some time, often provoking interest in on-looking customers as to when it could be completed beyond the pencil sketch of beautiful vegetables. This is how it was when the original customer who developed it left it behind. Gerry stepped in and invested her time, energy, resources and creativity to make the most of it for all to enjoy, highly crediting the originator of the sign all the while. An ergonomically challenging task, she decided she was finished as most of the space was filled and it just hurt her body to keep at it!

Note some of the detailed imagery including peppers, corn, dry beans, and strawberries.

Golden jars fulls of honey with little honey bees, little hot chiles, and deep red tomatoes that Evie thinks look like really good tomatoes....

And the right hand side has a floral effect, likely somewhat inspired by the flowers I have scattered throughout the stand this season. Note the white beehives hanging out in the upper right in a ghost-like manner. Gerry really tried to capture the overall picture of the farm in her representative images.

We thank her tremendously! This are the kinds of touches that people bring to the farm that really make it special. Filled with hard work, creative energy and giving to each other..these good vibes are always welcome at the farm.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Threshing the Sweet Peas

Here I have caught Wayne in another of his myriad of duties around the farm...of course, this is a self constructed project as farming priorities tend to be. You must pick and choose your battle amongst a never-ending list of options that call at you non-stop throughout a day, everyday. We decided to save the seeds of that bumper crop of sweet pea flowers many of you may recall this early summer. The pleasure of the sweet bundles of flowers pairs so nicely with the spring flush of strawberries. We hope to do that again next season and saving this year's seeds is the first step towards that goal.

Tierra Vegetables is the proud owner of a seed separating device, or Thresher, an investment that became rational as a result of the many dry bean and experimental grain crops that are employed on the farm these days (did you know Wayne has a dream of one day expanding the grain production to service a grain CSA?). If you would like to read on about threshing techniques, equipment and seed/grain processing follow this link or Google more about the process for yourself. This image captures one of two very expensive seed plates we have for this thresher. Although not ideally suited to the size of a sweet pea seed, it would have to do the job as it is all we had.

Here are those little round pea seeds that I diligently begin planting in fall and continue to ensure they make it through pests and frosts throughout the spring. What a wonderful spring of sweet peas we had on the farm this season and I can honestly admit I am quite tired of cutting tiny sweet peas flowers this year. Maybe it is time to rest up for next season now. So this is how the plants are removed from the field once gone to seed. They have been left to dry on a tarp for a week or two prior to processing in the thresher so that they dry up nicely to remove the plant material from the seed. I could slowly and diligently remove seed after seed from the dried up pods with my hands, the quiet and meditative form of seed saving. Alternatively, since Wayne already has this nice mechanical piece of equipment, specifically suited to these purposes, we may as well give mechanical efficiency a chance.

The first of the three steps the plant material goes through, I have forgotten the name of this portion of the machine, but this is where you insert the plant material for crushing/grinding. It then passes through a screen in the inner depths of the machine where my camera does not easily see and then passes either out the back as trash material or falls down a chute into our tub as seed material. Voila! Pounds and pounds of sweet pea seeds saved for future generations of floral pleasure and therefore no need to go buying more down the road. Seed saving is so appropriate to the continuous grower if you have time, space and resources to be doing so. Tierra has also grown out a seed crop of the Early Red Burger onion this season, a good seed crop to invest energy into as onion seeds to do last long and must be purchased annually if not saved.

Here is the trash material going out the back of the machine. Once upon a time, pre-mechanical processing, Tierra staff and friends gathered to stomp and process beans by hand and foot. Changes and choices like these are options that can make a difference in the efficiencies and affordability of particular processes and crops around a small farm. It is really worth no one's time in the long run to be processing grain crops by hand, unless we were going to charge an arm and a leg for them and then you would never buy them. The reality is that the mechanical approach is really the only way to make any sense of the greater picture, unless you are a small home grower who has the time to spend and finds pleasure in the process.

This is what results look like as the seeds began to filter their way to the tub. We filled a good quarter of this tub on Saturday afternoon, plenty of seed for the farm next season and my own personal personal trials as I seed sweet peas around my own home and garden spaces.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yellow Sweet Spanish Onions

Almost ready and quite abundant, here comes the sweet Spanish onion. Missing from the fall/winter of last season, I recall an incredible abundance of these during the fall of 2008 when I first arrived to help on the farm. This year it seems we will have lots! Last season I think the onions had thrips? For some reason, the production was curtailed. We had onions, but not the great abundance of huge and golden ones of previous seasons. This season we are pretty much guaranteed a fantastic fall crop so get set for some nice big, golden skinned, decent storage onions for months to come. The great challenge for the farm post-harvest will be the storage technique. They will likely spend the majority of their time waiting for consumption in a barn at Lee's place on Chalk Hill...let us hope this is a long lasting season that goes far in to winter and keeps us in onions almost all the year round, or at least until the leeks are ready for harvesting.

Here is a nice perspective from an onion's point of view, looking down the row at all the neighbors. It won't be long before the time for harvest and uprooting from this familiar home is upon them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Inside and Outside the Bean Tunnel

What you see here is the entry to the bean tunnel in the Children's Garden. It looks pretty crowded and the question emerged today if it were really accessible for passage. As a result, I went on a field expedition to answer this question.

Once you enter the tunnel of pole beans (the second tunnel, further from the farm stand is much more people friendly in form) the vibrant green of the beans is highlighted from the sun outside like a stained glass window of bean leaves. If there is often there has not been any this summer so far. It is crowded with bean foliage and best for small folks. It is a nice little shelter from the outdoor world and a decent place to hide out.

This view faces out from within the bean tunnel...even if it is a tight squeeze you can see how this makes it a private little spot to explore. Take care when doing so because we do hope to harvest this crop of beans as dry shell beans for winter, but do come and explore and enjoy this garden mystery. That is what it is there for! Chances are you could emerge with a few beans leaves stuck to your clothing as I did. Bean foliage makes fun stick-on clothing decor about this time in the season.

A landmark of the Children's Garden Area, the bean trellis is a destination to explore. While out there, keep your eyes on the pumpkin vines on one side and the cherry tomatoes on the other. The tomatoes could use picking and the pumpkins are fun to watch as they will soon set their fruit and ought to be monitored by young and interested folks until harvest season comes about.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chantenay Carrots

Giant Chantenay carrots have returned and this wonderful customer (whose name I did not catch) graciously allowed me to capture her image with her carrot purchase before she departed the farm stand the other morning. This was about a 2 pound carrot, flavorful and tender through and through. Perfect for giant round carrot "chips," or less processing for carrot-featured dishes. Don't let the price intimidate, it is the same quantitiy and price as a handful of single carrots in the long run, but if we have abundance we will try to round down as much as possible on the intimidating root vegetables. Don't let them intimidate you! Instead, bring them home as novelty sources of learning more about your vegetables. They taste great and offer new experiences in shapes and cooking/snacking approaches.

We grow a lot of Chantenay carrots for their reliability and flavor. You may recognize the blunt shape of them as featured in the above photo. By far my favorite carrots, I am not surprised there is an entire website devoted to them. Browse this basic site for a little more info and ideas about this specific carrot. Another article I Googled up has some good info to share on the favored carrot variety as well.

If you have not yet experienced Tierra grown, mature Chantenay's, now is the time! It ought to go on and on throughout the summer and into winter if the planning has been executed well in the field, but don't take their availability for granted. We get so used to them that once they are gone it is almost like we lost a best friend and life just is not the same.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seasonal Recipe: Blackberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Blackberry-Rhubarb Cobbler by Rhubarb-loving customer, Pam. A huge thanks to her for sharing, the recipe will soon be available on the recipe page of the Tierra website, but consider going out NOW and gathering some perfect black berries from your local Sonoma County foraging spot and a small arm load of our rhubarb while it lasts for the season.

4 cups Tierra Vegetables rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
2 cups blackberries
1 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Shortcake Topping:
1½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into ½” pieces
⅔ cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°

Make the filling:
Combine cornstarch and ¾ cup sugar with rhubarb in a large bowl and let macerate for about 10 mins. until juicy. Add cardamom and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Dump into an 8x12 (or similar size) baking dish. Toss blackberries on top, then sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup sugar and set aside.

Make the shortcake dough:
Mix together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles very coarse meal. Add milk and stir until a sticky dough forms. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto the fruit, spreading out to cover, but leaving gaps here and there.

Bake approx. 45 mins or until top is nicely browned and juice is bubbling. If the top begins to brown too quickly, tent loosely with aluminum foil until finished.

Let cool for 15 mins. then serve as-is….or better yet, with ice cream, whipped cream, crème fraiche….etc. YUM!!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Barn Moving

I'm not sure of the age of this barn, but am very curious. It is old, historic, perhaps not relevant enough to have made it onto the National Register of Historic Places, but certainly worthy of preservation and functional for continued use....if it can be saved from the fate it currently faces.

The location is off River/Mark West Springs Road, east of the freeway over pass on the south side of the road. This is the property that you might pass as you enter the Wells Fargo Center for events, it is a property where one day in the future you may visit for appointments and emergencies at Sutter Hospital who will be moving in on this site starting this fall. It is a property that once served as a historic agricultural center in Sonoma County, this barn being one of the few features left of these classic early days. While the use of the land is certain to evolve and serve the modern needs of the community and local health care....the barn is up for negotiation.

Sutter has gifted this barn to Tierra Vegetables. It is ours....if it can be moved. It CAN be moved, experts have consulted and agreed. Skinny roadways and power lines are negotiable, the most likely route being the stretch of 101 between River and Fulton exits, but Old Redwood and Fulton could be alternatives. You never notice all the low power lines until you have occasion to notice...

Wayne, Evie and myself dropped in a chit chatted with a couple of guys working at the barn for the Wells Fargo Center yesterday. They were supportive, intrigued and excited over the possibility of salvaging the barn versus the demolition that could result if nothing is done. It is a community resource and no one wants to see a structure of our past like this destroyed. It has value that is sentimental, aside from all the aesthetic and utility value.

For the farm, the possibilities are endless. Coincidentally, the farm is in a time sensitive need for an ungraded structure to house the on site farm stand. While nothing is wrong with our current stand, the location will be taken from the farm by Caltrans as road work continues on the highway 101 and Airport Boulevard upgrades and expansions. We need a nice barn....and look, there is one right down the road that needs a new home. Isn't it nice when all the pieces fall in place?

On the right Wayne enthusiastically describes to Evie how the barn would sit in the field and the many uses it spaces would provide to the farm. Improvements a building like this would offer to the farm include an indoor/outdoor farm stand where we could set up shop and lock the door at the end of the day (versus the daily assembly and dis-assembly the stand currently requires each day). This would save so much time and labor. The barn would have indoor work space, a space for use for events, storage for grains, onions, potatoes and other important storage crops that we feed you with (many of these are carted up to Lee's place on Chalk Hill Road still, causing transport and resupply needs regularly). We could have office space right on the farm, telephones and computers on site. Currently, our office operation is located on Shiloh Road along with the commercial kitchen. An on site office would be a huge benefit for customers calling in orders and questions, farmers making critical decisions that are best done on site, time saving consolidation of daily business and farming operations, etc...

It is all of these benefits and dreams for what could be better that keep Wayne, Evie, Lee and all us surrounding folks pushing for this to go through. Suddenly, the time line is upon us. Perhaps we ought to have acted sooner, but upon consulting with the Sutter contact, the barn needs to be gone within weeks. Before September 1st? More or less. In recent days Wayne has consulted with moving experts, approved the idea with engineers, Sonoma County Open Space representatives, leaving only the formality of dealing with permits and utilities (a significant hurdle). Then there are the financial somewhere around $100,000 in estimated costs, this is not necessarily a "sustainable" effort for a small farm. While in the long run the function and utility will serve and benefit the farm, it will also upgrade our service to the community, salvaging and restoring a historic resource and improving and upgrading what we are able to offer as a local farm. We are seeking help via any outlet possible. Please contact us if you have any ideas, input or resources to spare.

The story of the barn is a long and evolving one, Wayne has been talking about it pretty much all year. I'm sure I have omitted interesting details but this is a pretty good overview of what is happening right now. The bottom line is that our farm stand is soon to be gone, this barn is right there, and it just makes sense to act on the changes confronting us. Please support our efforts, if only in your thoughts. It is a pooling of community resources that assists grand projects like this one and we welcome anything you might have to offer.

How can you help us? It is quite simple, we realize our average customer is not sitting on a pile of financial resources waiting to be invested in a barn moving event to support their local farm (although we would not turn you down, were that the case). Instead, we ask that you come and shop. We could use your money, but not for nothing. We do, in fact, have plenty of fantastic fresh vegetables to trade as is always the case and it is under these circumstances that we put out and extra call for your business. This alone will contribute to the finance of our efforts. If you want to let us know that your interest in helping is why you have dropped into the stand that day, please let us know. It is satisfying to know we are working together to execute a project that is so monumental. So please take that extra step to drop by once more per week, grab a few extra carrots when you are at the farm, or just spread the word and tell a friend or two who you always thought would enjoy our produce and/or would appreciate what we are doing. We thank you in advance and look forward to seeing your faces.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All Blue New Potatoes

On Friday Wayne had to dig up a small sample of blue potatoes. Tentatively scheduled to go in the CSA boxes next week, we had to check on the progress of the crop before making the decision to include them in next week's harvest. The results were good and the decision was made. New red potatoes last week, and blue this week. Sorry we did not have red, white and blue for the 4th of July. Maybe next season!

We are thankful for the new potatoes, planted back in end of March-early April, I forget exactly when, but do recall the afternoon that Lee raced to the back of the field and ensured the tubers were planted in a timely manner, always revolving around the moon cycle and weather conditions. It has been a slow season as the summer vegetables struggle to kick in with a lack of hot temperatures and things like new potatoes are there to fill some of these harvest gaps. We hope you appreciate them like we do.

The All Blue is a challenge to doesn't look so blue when coming straight out of the soil, but rather blends in with our soils. The harvest crew must be careful not to miss any and the customer must trust the beautiful quality that lies beneath the dusty layer of clay and silt that will accompany the potatoes when they acquire them. We will not wash your potatoes for you. To go to this effort would only decrease the storage capacity of your tubers. When we pass on potatoes to you we leave you with the choice of how you will manage your produce. Unwashed potatoes are more likely to store in a dark place as if they were still underground, versus a washed potato that is ready set to cook and eat. Giving them to you with the dirty layer gives you more versatility to wait and use them when you are ready.

So, what will we all do with our brand new, All Blue potatoes this week? Salads, roasting, boiling, mashing, grilling, soups.....the options go on and on. No matter the preparation and consumption choice, it is going to turn out an attractive azure blue shade. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Alyssum, Nematodes, IPM

Organic? A key word that really tells us nothing these days. A set of standards and a third party verification of a check list of growing practices, or regulations.

Much more interesting....integrated pest management and best management practices as they are executed on your local small farming operation.

That said, I cut to an image of flowers? Yes, flowers are a huge part of this grand scheme. Alyssum specifically here, lovingly seeded by Lee and closely surveyed by Wayne on a recent farm walk, this well known garden flower was planted with the intent of luring in the "good bugs." Not only was it planted to bring around beneficial wasps and whomever else in the insect world decides it is a fun hang out spot, but it was placed and timed to benefit specific crops that would benefit from the presence of such insect assistance. This is what you call Integrated Pest Management and a great example of how your farm is working with the environment to serve you all they are able. In working with the balance of the environment, it is hoped that that balance might be maintained and stable throughout the farm, eliminating large outbreaks of pest problems.

Another overview of the alyssum. Still young, it is just now starting to attract a community of insects...come and see for yourself some time. It smells incredible and looks beautiful once is spreads into a white carpet of fragrance.

Speaking of the balance of insects around the farm and IPM, we also have another timely situation on our hands. This time it is the cucumber beetle, as it is often the cucumber beetle who is causing the problem. Little green beetle monsters who munch almost anything on the farm. They prefer corn roots as larval pests and squash/melon/cucumbers in their juvenile and adult beetles stages, but also eat greens, lettuce, chard, basil, flowers, you name it, they destroy it aesthetically if not the edible quality at times too. And they are bad at the field on Airport Boulevard. Worse than I see in my home garden and at other farms I have frequented. Why? We aren't sure. Perhaps an ideal environment, crops they prefer for survival? Whatever the case, they are thriving and it is a problem. Crops fail....they will eat seedlings of baby cucumbers before anything can be done. You can cover crops to protect them from the beetles, but you cannot very well cover up 17 acres. It just isn't practical and then you'd never see what is going on anywhere! Not to mention all the pollinators being excluded. They fly around spreading diseases from crop to crop too. They eat and weaken plant roots. The problems are never-ending.

Here are a couple of specimens hanging out in one of the cardoon flowers that are so showy in the front of the farm right now. Like I said, they are everywhere. This is a good place to have them as they are not doing much damage to the farm up here in this purple flower, but if they are here, you can be certain they are everywhere else too.

So, what is the IPM solution? Wayne and I have talked and talked and a moment of action is upon us. He has invested in an experiment and will soon treat the soil with a large number of beneficial nematodes. They are in the fridge, waiting for application once timing and final quantities are calculated. Who are they, those nematodes? Well, there are so many kinds (often bad) I get a little mixed up over them all. Bottom line, these guys are meant to attack the larval stage (underground worm) of the cucumber beetle (AKA corn root worm when a larva). This effort is meant to bring down the overall population, one step at a time. Likely, to be effective, it needs to happen more than once and it is costly. We are crossing our fingers for notice-able results, but if nothing else there is the piece of mind that some effort has been employed to improve the situation. It is now that the beetle is everywhere, breeding, laying eggs, preparing for future generations, and thriving.

Wish us luck and in the meantime appreciate the efforts put forth to bring you food safely and come out for a walk and find the alyssum so you can observe interesting insects while enjoying a whiff of the sweet white carpet it creates.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chile Crop Status Report

The topic of this photo is in the back drop, in the foreground you see the mature foliage of the Chandler strawberry crop (soon to be finished with their June-bearing annual life cycle).

The background contains the chile and pepper crops, inching their way along to maturity. It won't be long now as initial fruit set has begun on many of the varieties and heat has finally kicked in around the county. At this time Lee usually begins harvesting many of the early fruits to promote more flowering and then more production down the road. If you are lucky this week you may have run into a green chile or two if you intercepted one of Lee's market days. Again, one of those special surprises you can never quite predict around your local farm.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shopping in Season

If there is one thing that gets predictable when presiding over a seasonal and local selection of vegetables and fruits, it is the customer habit of seeking what is missing. No matter the time of the season, it is noticed and questioned that items long passed or weeks away are absent from the current selection. What about all those things that are present, fresh and in season?

We have been conditioned in the grocery store scene for years to expect everything at all times. More so now, there is focus on seasonal highlights. People at least seem to realize summer is for tomatoes and cucumbers, but for a local production they often come seeking too soon. One day of hot sun and swarms of harvest season produce seekers are wandering the farm stands.

We started running out of strawberries by the end of the day this week, leaving the end of the day customers out of luck. Often, a strawberry seeker comes no further than the entrance of the stand and then quickly retreats in disappointment when the fruit they came for is no to be found. Other times, people come wandering with an eye only for tomatoes, corn, can tell something is wrong and when starting into discussion on the topic it is a great challenge to get them to recognize all of those wonderful things that are there right before their eyes. Sure there are not a lot of tomatoes yet, no cucumbers at all, corn is a few weeks off at least.....but I stood in that farm stand all winter when we had no onions (now there are tons of freshly harvested and wonderful red onions), we had run out of winter carrots, committed weekly customers and I were experimenting with things like cardoon and trying a new dry bean each week. My point being, it could be a lot worse than it is right now as we wait for the summer bounty to kick in and have the full array available to our fingertips at all times.

There is a technique to shopping from farms and farmer's markets that defies expectations. Your experience will be so much more fun and rewarding if you enter these food outlets in search of what they offer rather than what you are expecting to find. You are certain to encounter something unique, likely to not find something that your predetermine recipe calls for, and it should not really bother you. Realize that what is on the shelf today may be gone tomorrow.

The seasons move on fast and crops pass us by more quickly with each year I work with this stuff, much like the years of life. Recently, I have been anxious for the end of peas. We have seen some incredible Asian greens come and go in recent weeks. As the strawberries respond to the weather and season, I anticipate the favored Chandler variety passing for the season and the permanent switch to the Seascape berry.

These are the small details of seasonality. If you are a hardcore farm stand customer who enjoys the detailed fluctuation of what Tierra brings to the table you are likely to notice these small shifts and also have confidence that one day the summer bounty will be there with plenty to enjoy in the meantime. There really always is plenty to eat, I have been with this farm long enough to know this fact for sure.

The message here.....when you come in search of a specific item, please don't neglect to observe all those other things that are available at a particular moment in the seasonal farming scheme. It could be that the item you come looking for next time was right there in front of you. It makes a lot of sense to adapt your cooking and planning around what is harvesting...this is absolutely how you ensure you ingredients are at the peak of freshness and flavor and offers a creative challenge in the kitchen.

If you MUST have fresh peppers in early summer, you can go to your local grocery big box source and find some that were grown hundreds of miles away down in the desert. The difference includes a lack of freshness, perhaps flavor and the fun of finding the seasonal diversity of those peppers and chiles found on your local farm.

How many weeks until all the other stuff is ready? Always hard to say, a couple of weeks (depending on weather)? What is coming next? I think the answer is tomatoes....keep your fingers crossed that this warmer weather holds out. Maybe a better question is "what won't be here anymore next week?"

Enjoy your seasonal and local bounty, whatever your shopping approach.

A late spring, early summer array during a tough season to get things going in farming....recent weeks have featured great seasonal products like peas, carrots, rhubarb, cabbages, abundant lettuces and other greens, strawberries and much more!