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.