5/22 farm notes, “the crazy house”

Though it should no longer surprise us, the weather continues to throw us curve balls. After a winter that never got cold and a spring that dealt us 80 degree weather in March, we now seem to have hit the dog days of summer in May. The fields are dry which is great for fieldwork like planting and cultivation, but it means that we are running around trying to keep water on all of our crops. One old-time farmer that we know likes to say, “wet weather will put you in the poor house and dry weather will put you in the crazy house.” After the last couple of years each with a lot of wet and dry weather in the same season, I’d have to say that I agree!

Fortunately we were pretty well prepared for the dry weather with irrigation already set up on a good number of crops. We just have to remember to turn it on before we go to bed every night and turn it off every morning.

The most difficult crops for us in dry weather are direct seeded crops (like green beans, carrots, beets, radishes, arugula, etc.). These need almost daily water in order to get them started. And while our old well pump works fine with drip tape, it doesn’t keep up as well with the demands of a line of sprinklers. So we’ll keep planting, hoping for rain, and trying to water as much as we can!

5/22 and 5/26 CSA week 1

Welcome to Mile Creek Farm’s 2012 CSA season!

In today’s box (click on linked veggies for more info!)
Broccoli Raab, all green with some florets
Hon Tasi Tai, purple stems with florets and yellow flowers
Head Lettuce, red leaf and green leaf
Bok Choi, we grew a purple leafed variety this year
Red or Green Kale
Garlic Scapes, thin and curly tapering to a point
Strawberries (grown chemical free by one of our neighbors)
Basil Plant

Today is the first week of the CSA so we are going to take minute to let our members know how to find information about their CSA box (don’t worry if you aren’t immediately familiar with everything in your box, we’ll tell you what everything is and give you ideas on cooking all of these great vegetables).

All CSA posts can be found in the CSA category link that you should see in the toolbar to your right. Simply click on the “CSA” link and you can find all posts related to the CSA.

If there is a veggie that you are not familiar with or are looking for new ideas on using less familiar veggies try typing it into the search bar or click on the veggie in the list of veggies in today’s box. Veggie notes can also be found under the “food notes” category.

We will also be posting farm notes with updates and information on what we are working on and how the crops are doing. These notes can be found under the “farm notes” category.

Hopefully all this info will help you get the most out of your CSA boxes and will give you a look into what we do to grow your veggies. Please let us know, either via email or by commenting on a post if you have any questions.

Finally, thanks for your support. We hope that you are as excited for the start of this season as we are!

Bok Choi

Bok Choi is also known as Chinese Cabbage and is in fact related to cabbage as it is a member of the brassica family. While it is normally white stemmed with green leaves, this year we are trying a new red variety that we think is mighty pretty. Like most greens, it grows well in the cooler months of spring and fall. You may notice the flowering stem of the bok choi beginning to form. This is fine as the stems are tender and the flowers edible. Bok Choi can be eaten raw or cooked. Stir fries and soups are the most common use of this nutrient dense vegetable.

Mixed Green and Chicken Stir Fry

Bok Choi and Cashews

Garlic Scapes

The green pencil thin curly stem like vegetable is the flowering head of garlic, called a garlic scape. We harvest the scape for two reasons. First, by cutting off the flower of the garlic plant we are forcing it to spend its energy making nice big garlic bulbs instead of flowers. Second, they taste great! When cooked they are like the texture of a green bean, but have a mild garlicky taste. You can mince the scapes and use in place of garlic or treat them like any other vegetable, cutting into green bean size peices and adding to quiches, soups, sautés, etc. and cooking until tender. You can also have them raw — garlic scape pesto is one of our favorite spring dishes.

Grilled Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scape Pesto

Broccoli Raab

Broccoli Raab is a green whose leaves, tender stems, and flowering head (that looks like a broccoli floret) can all be eaten ( even the little yellow flowers). This green has a wonderful slightly spicy flavor and should be cooked. It is very common in Italy and China so think of these cuisines when cooking. We love to cook sausage then add onions, garlic scapes and broccoli raab, cook for a few minutes and then braise for 10 minutes or so with either salted pasta water or stock and toss with pasta. Broccoli Raab is also known as broccoli rabe and rapini and it is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients.

Broccoli Raab Pizza

Broccoli Raab Brushcetta

 

Kale

IMG_2315Kale, a member of the brassica family, is an incredibly nutritious cooking green with ample amounts of vitamins, iron, calcium and carotenoids.  We grow three types of kale, the green frilly leaved kind pictured here, dinosaur, or Lachinato, also pictured above with darker flatter leaves and a relatively new cross called rainbow kale, which is a cross between red Russian and dinosaur kale. To prepare kale simply pull the leaves off the stem and rip into large pieces. Here at Mile Creek Farm we throw greens into just about everything we make, from burritos to pizza to soup to stir fries. If you are going to use kale in an omelete, gratin, casserole or other baked dish, we recommend cooking it in salted boiling water for a couple minutes first. Kale can also be thrown, without prior cooking, into soups, stir fries with soy sauce and rice vinegar, or braised with garlic and chicken stock. Kale pairs well with potatoes, sausage, tamari, nuts, parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Here are a few recipes to get you started.

Kale Chips

Kale Gratin (you can use any other green in place of the cabbage)

Potato Kale Soup

Tillage

Last night I was out in the fields literally until I couldn’t see anymore! Fortunately the task at hand was tilling with the tractor and good light was not a necessity. Even so, I didn’t quite get everything done and first thing this morning I went out and finished up. Now, for some of the fields this first pass with the tiller was simply to turn under weeds and cover crops that had been growing since late fall/early spring, but over half of our four acres are pretty much ready to plant (i.e., most of the previous year’s crop residue is broken down and the ground is worked 6-8 inches deep). Of course this happens every year, but you see, it is still April. And last year at this time we had done NONE (as in we hadn’t even been able to mow, which can be done well ahead of tillage, in the fields) of our field preparation. In fact it wasn’t until mid-July that we had prepped as much as we have prepped by mid-April this season. What a difference a year makes, and what a difference a dry spring makes for our field preparation.

Of course as we are used to doing, we are tempering our enthusiasm and not letting ourselves get too excited that this will be the perfect weather year…but it sure has started off nicely.

Building a Vacuum Seeder

I’ve been meaning to post this description of how we made our vacuum seeder for a while now, but the weather has been so summer-like that we’ve been outside and I haven’t gotten to opportunity to type it up…anyway, not a bad problem to run into in early spring! If you’re not familiar with the basic principle behind the vacuum seeder you can google it to see professional ones in action.

So, other farmers have told us how much use they have gotten out of their vacuum seeders and we wanted to try inserting one into our operation, but we didn’t want to pay the $2500 dollars for a brand new professional quality seeder at this time. I found some plans for homemade seeders online, but they seemed a bit complicated so I simplified them a bit and have come up with this design that has worked well so far, cost under $20 for materials, and took only a couple hours to put together.

The basic idea is to create a box with two chambers – one that will fit snugly around your plug flat and another that the vacuum attaches to in order to suck the seeds onto the holes – that are separated by a piece of plexiglass with holes drilled in it.I made the sides of my box with a 2×8. For a standard 1020 flat size you’ll be able to get all the sides out of one 8′ board. Before cutting that 2×8 into pieces you will want to cut the groove where the plexiglass will fit. If you use a thin piece of plexiglass one pass with a circular saw or table saw will do the trick.

Make sure you cut the groove so that you have at least a 1/4″ of space above the top of your plug flat. You don’t want the seeds dislodged by accidental contact with your flat. Also, make sure that your line and cut are straight.

After cutting the groove, measure and cut the four sides of your box. Remember that you want the box to fit snugly around your plug flat without touching it. Also when assembling the box make sure that the groove lines up all the way around the edge so that your piece of plexiglass will fit in without any issues. You will either need to cut the plexiglass or measure very carefully and have the hardware store cut it for you.

Before attaching the fourth side of the box slip your plexiglass and plug flat in and mark where you want the holes that will hold and drop the seeds into place.

Next you will need to drill the holes in the plexiglass. For pelleted lettuce seed and other large round seed, you can use the smallest bit in a standard drill bit set, but for smaller seed you will need very small bits that are available in a drill index. You won’t be able to find a drill index at one of the big box stores, but anyone with a well outfitted shop may have a set and they are available online. Also, with the really small bits you’re standard drill won’t grip them. I just wrapped the bit in masking tape and then tightened it up. In the course of drilling the holes I just had to re-wrap the bit once. Once the box is assembled caulk the edges of plexiglass so that the vacuum doesn’t suck any air around the edges of the plexiglass. Then drill a hole where you will attach your shopvac. Ideally you want the shopvac to fit snugly in the hole so that it does not fall out when handling the vacuum seeder. Finally cut a piece of plywood or OSB to fit on top of the vacuum chamber. Once the caulk dries – you don’t want all your seeds sticking to the caulk! – you should be ready to test out your seeder.

A couple tips:

1. It helps to make dibbles in the plug flat before seeding.

2. Sometimes you’ll get more than one seed sticking to a hole. Banging on the back of the seeder will usually dislodge the extra seeds.

3. Lower the seeder slowly onto the plug flat so that you don’t accidentally dislodge seeds before you turn off the vacuum.

4. It helps to pour the excess seeds into something like a measuring cup and then back into the seed packet.

Growing organically

Certified organic. It sounds very official, and it requires a lot of paperwork and record keeping to legally get to call our produce “organic,” but what does that organic label really mean? At the most basic level it means that we don’t use any synthetic chemicals. But this simple definition misses how much we do in order to insure that our plants remain healthy through all of the environmental stresses present during your average growing season.

For example, take potting mix, which we’ve been working a lot with recently. When we started farming we went out and bought a pallet of commercially produced certified organic potting mix. Unfortunately just because this mix did not have any synthetic products and was thus certifiable, did not mean that it provided a healthy growing medium for starting our plants. We tried two or three other brands of organic potting mix, and were similarly unimpressed by the results. So we decided that we would have to make our own. Fortunately we knew a more experienced grower who was making high quality potting mix and who very generously shared his sources for some of the materials that we needed. Today we make a mix that contains really high quality locally produced compost, peat, vermiculite, perlite, an innoculant and some high quality balanced organic fertilizer. The innoculant is a package of beneficial bacteria that help the plant take up nutrients. Just as we know the role that good bacteria play in our health so we also have to make sure that our plants have the healthiest environment possible from the moment of germination. Finally the organic fertilizer is a blend that has the full complement of macro and micronutrients that plants need to thrive.

All in all it took us many batches of potting mix to get a blend that really got our plants off to a good start. And while both our mix and the commercial mixes that we experimented with initially are allowed in organic agriculture we know that our mix produces healthier plants! OK enough writing about potting mix…time to go start more seeds! Be sure to check back in with us throughout the season. We’ll try to show you what goes into producing healthy, organic food.