Crop Report 2014

A few results from the 2014 growing season, some new-to-us varieties, and some familiar old favorites.UncleSam

Garlic – This fall we planted our 5th generation of Chesnok Red, a hardneck variety, and 5th generation of softneck Kettle River. The ‘seed’ cloves were harvested and cured this summer, and we plan to keep both varieties in our permanent rotation, since they seem able to cope with all kinds of soil and weather conditions. Chesnok-RedThe Chesnok stores much better than the original source described, and the Kettle River can grow extra large if we don’t get too much rain.

Luscious corn – Since we have plenty of feed/flour corn stored up, we splurged on a patch of this bicolor sweet corn. Once we figured out that our germination problem was actually our resident feral doves pulling up sprouts, we protected the replants long enough to ensure a bumper crop. Really tasty corn, nice full ears, and freezes well after a quick blanch and into the FoodSaver.

GunmaCabbageGunma cabbage – The cabbage worms and slugs loved this new-to-us variety, but we still managed to harvest some heavy flattened globe-shaped heads for pickling. A second, late planting did equally well, but the timing was even more beneficial to the hungry bugs. Since we had plenty pickled and frozen, awaiting use as cabbage roll wrappers, we let the chickens have the fall crop when we turned them into the nearly empty garden. They were eaten to the stem within a few days.

NantesFancyNelson carrot – a new variety for us, and touted as a sweet, tender, crisp Nantes type by Fedco Seeds. It was meh. Really poor germination, and just not as tasty as our usual Nantes Fancy. We’ll skip this one in 2015. We planted a late crop of Nantes Fancy (just after the garlic harvest) and they were spectacular.

Scab

Search results for “potato scab compost”.

Carola potato – Just nope! The area we planted potatoes was a little ‘hot’, meaning the added compost could have been aged longer, so a little scabbing was understandable, but these spuds didn’t produce as well as hoped, so the extensive skin damage was another blow. This crop probably won’t store well, so we’re processing them into mashed potatoes, then freezing portions for later.

Desiree potato – A red skinned, white fleshed spud we’ve grown before, but this crop had the same problems as the Carola.

We also planted some Maris Pipers that made it through storage from the previous year, and these did ok after an initial brush with blight. Since potatoes are a land-hungry crop, and we can buy good local spuds when needed, our 2015 potato patch will probably be some earlies for a late spring treat.

Peppers – As usual, we tried growing our own starts with susbstandard infrastructure. With so many projects in the works, an efficient, space-conserving seed starting set up just hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet. So the homegrown varieties didn’t do much, though the three store bought starts (mini-bell, ancho, early jalapeno) managed to hang in there for a decent harvest. I think we’ll refrain from starting our own seeds until we have a better place to do it.

potimarronPotimarron winter squash – Winner! On a whim I grabbed a packet of seeds, even though a big squash patch wasn’t part of the plan. We had grown these years ago in some really crappy soil, and they begrudgingly produced small red-orange fruits. This year the two plants we grew got a wide expanse of perfect soil, and we harvested 17 bowling ball sized squash. We haven’t cooked any yet, but the name potimarron refers to a chesnut-squash flavor, so they should be a nice sweet baking squash.

SweetDumplingSweet Dumpling delicata squash – A regular favorite, this small squash looks like a cross between acorn and delicata squash, and cooks up dry and sweet. One larger fruit serves two people, and is especially wonderful baked with kielbasa or breakfast sausage chunks in the cavity. The two vines we planted produced 37 squash.

BlacktailMtnBlacktail Mountain watermelon – Developed to withstand chilly Idaho nights, this variety was happy with our mild summer and rich soil. We ended up with a surplus of ripe melons and shared them with friends. Even though they taste fairly sweet, the inside flesh doesn’t get very dark. We’re still trynig to figure out the best way to judge ripeness, and will probably keep growing these as long as we have space. This year’s crop came from saved seed, and we saved seed again to keep developing an acclimatized strain.

Miyashige white daikon radish – It’s tough to time planting & harvest of this radish to coincide with the Napa cabbage we use for kimchi makings. Carrot rust flies love this as much as carrots, so getting pretty roots means a later planting. Last summer we let a few unharvested roots go to seed, and some of the feral seedlings were content to turn into nice big un-buggy radishes. I had meant to pull them, but left them when I saw how many bees were taking advantage of the early fall flowers. We’ll probably just buy some when we need to make more kimchi, and enjoy the random volunteer radishes as they mature.

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Temperatures dropped very abruptly recently, and we had just enough time to get some late starts planted out and under a row cover. Once it warms up a bit we can take a look for any survivors. There is spinach, chard, lettuce, kale, parsley, and a wee clump of chives from our Swedish seed bank experiment. Stay tuned for exciting updates!

Martinmas Day – let the feasting commence!

Seven Trees:

2014 is almost over! Our livestock are ready for winter, either hunkered down in the henhouse, or chillin’ in the freezers. Thanks to modern food storage methods, our feasting isn’t relegated to a few special days, but it looks like our ancestors found ways to extend the party season anyway – “Tween Martinmas and Yule, water’s wine in every pool.”

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

Armistice Day is a relatively recent addition to our calendar of observances. An earlier tradition marked on November 11th is Martinmas Day, also know as St. Martin’s Day and Martlemas. It was a time to wind up outdoor work in the fields and start preparing for the long dark winter.

In Britain (and northern Europe) people couldn’t afford to winter over much stock besides the family milk cows and prized breeding animals. So in November “spare” animals were sent to market. In country areas, families would go in together on a cow to butcher and eat immediately. These markets eventually became known as “marts” after St. Martin’s day, when the markets took place. Martinmas was also an important day in the rural legal calendar. Hiring fairs were held at this time, with their opportunities for agricultural labourers to gain better employment and the chance of a holiday. It was…

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Day of reckoning

I’m sure most of us know that Hallowe’en was originally an old Celtic holiday called Samhain (pronounced sow’an), but not everyone knows that Samhain was about cattle, crops and kin, back in the day.
Imagine you’ve been working your butt off to harvest everything you can before first frost, before winter really hits. The teenagers and unmarried folks have been up in the hills all summer, pasturing the cattle herds on abundant summer grass in a tradition called transhumance. After living in booley huts for the season, they are bringing the livestock back to the lowlands, and you get to see family members for the first time in months.
But a few other important things happened on Samhain. Rent day, for one.

In early Irish society, land was owned, not by individuals, but by the clan (or tribe) as a whole, and administered by a chief. The chief assigned the use of portions of land based on skill, family connections, popularity and politics. You would also be set up with a grubstake of livestock, housing and equipment based on your station in life. At some point you had to repay the inital investment, but any “surplus” livestock and crops you could produce were yours. Sometimes rent was payable in livestock, sometimes in service to the chief, and sometimes in agricultural products like butter or malted barely for brewing. Anyone who wasn’t a chief or clan head owed rent to someone up the food chain, but often a chieftain would use some of the bounty to have a Samhain feast for the people s/he governed.
The myriad details of these transactions were governed by a complex system called the Brehon laws. Another facet of Samhain administered by this law code was the uptick in livestock value that was accounted for on this day. Every animal and piece of equipment on a rath was worth an assigned value (like in an insurance policy). Calves that were born before Beltaine of that year (May 1st) would now be worth even more money. That was always a good thing to a struggling farmer. Samhain is also the day when all crops and wild fruits were considered off-limits. Anything not harvested was food for the fairies or Puca. Children were warned against eating berries left unpicked for fear of angering the fairy folk, that it would make them sick. In more practical terms, farmers should have their crops in by now, and know just how much food they can count on until the next harvest.

So, the cattle are in for the winter, and valued higher according to their age and gender. The rent is paid, crops are in, family are back from the hills, and it’s almost winter. Time for feasting before the cold dark weather settles in for the long haul. And living family members weren’t the only ones ready to reconnect after a long separation. This time of year, the walls between the dead and the living were considered the thinnest, and family members who had passed on were expected to return home, at least for one night. Places were set at the table and around the fire for departed loved ones who might return for a visit.

As times changed, and the Christian religion absorbed indigenous traditions, the focus of Samhain became more about placating ghosts and getting treats than about settling debts and visiting with loved ones. At Seven Trees Farm, we like to celebrate Samhain by enjoying all the harvested yummies, visiting with friends, preparing for winter, and remembering our ancestors.

Feeling a bit sheepish

It took 5 months of waiting to discover that Seven Trees Farm can raise some tasty Katahdin lamb on grass, a few bales of hay, mineral supplement, and a little sweet feed for treats.

Grass at last

Not that the low inputs meant cheap meat. We paid $250 for mom and two lambs, spent maybe $100 more on the non-grazed food, then another $260 for slaughter, cut & wrap.

We didn’t weigh them before slaughter, but mom was biggest, the girl lamb next, then the boy lamb. Hanging weights, which is the carcass after removing insides, outsides and extremities, were 55, 43 and 40 pounds. Cut and wrap brings the net weight down even more, since more bones and fat are removed to make ‘retail’ cuts. Freezer weight of one of the lambs was 32 pounds; mom might have a better ratio once we weigh and do the math.

But extrapolating the data we do have puts our cost per pound of cut and wrapped meat in the freezer at about $6/lb.

That might seem like a lot, but sheep have two major benefits that other meat animals we’ve tried don’t – they saved us time and effort by keeping the grass down, and they are very low maintenance.

Once we figured out the best hotwire height and spacing, the sheep pretty much stayed where they belonged. Goats would have sauntered over or belly-crawled under those measly two strands of electric fencing. Pigs would just dig out the T-posts and walk over the shorted-out wire once it was safely on the ground. Chickens can be counted on to get out of a hotwired area, then forget how to get back in, to the point of death by exposure or varmint :/

As for mowing, they performed better than our other herbivore experiments. With only three sheep the grass sometimes got ahead of them, but we needed a benchmark for stocking rates, so we supplemented their grazing with periodic mowing. But unlike cattle, their poop just spreads itself out as they walk around doing their thing. Unlike horses, they eat a wider range of plants, including dandelions. And unlike goats, they actually spend more time grazing than they do breaking out and screaming for attention (although the sheep eventually learned to yell for treats too).

Once we settled into our new roles as shepherds, it was down to one big unknown – how would they taste?

The answer: So good that we wolfed down our sample chops with no thought to taking a pretty foodie picture to share. The lamb (6 months old) was tender, mild yet flavorful, with a nice amount of fat. The ‘mutton’ (1.5 years old) was slightly less tender, and a bit more flavorful without being tough or gamey.

We used this recipe as our test – 10-Minute Rosemary Lamb Chops  The simple preparation really enhanced the meat without overwhelming it, but our 1″ chops could have use a minute or so longer. But one nice thing about homegrown meat is that it’s probably not laced with mutant E. coli and Salmonella. Speaking of raw meat, here are the chops, mutton on the left, lamb on the right. waitchopsNotice the little kitchen inspector, ever-hopeful for a bribe.

Since we gobbled up our chops before belatedly remembering the camera, here is a decent likeness, borrowed randomly from the internet. Lamb2Looking forward to our next recipe taste test….leg of lamb maybe :D

Too many tomatoes

Many of us here in the Pacific Northwest have been inundated with a flood of tomatoes. We planted salad tomatoes this year, since we still have a pantry & freezer full of goodness from recent paste variety harvests.

But what to do when confronted with 1.5# beefsteak behemoths? Even though we shared a lot with friends, the last-chance-before-blight harvest netted 20 more pounds. Armed with a shiny new seal-a-meal, the possibilities were endless….

After a few minutes searching keyword combinations like ‘preserving beefsteak tomatoes’ online, I ended up doing this:

  • Pre-heat oven to 350F
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then parchment if you have it.
  • Spread a little olive oil on the pan to coat.
  • Take the ‘greens’ off the tomatoes and cut them equatorially, not down through the core.
  • Make sure the skin side of each half has a good coating of olive oil, then set halves in the pan, cut side up.
  • Sprinkle halves with balsamic vinegar.
  • Drizzle a lot of olive oil over that (I used maybe 1/3 cup over 5# tomatoes in a 12×17″ pan. But I skimped on oil compared to some recipes).
  • Herbs! Fresh thyme, rosemary, basil if you have them (I was lazy and used dried Italian herb mix from Costco).
  • Garlic – I used about 1/3 of a clove per half, and scattered more in the pan.

Once you have a pan full of dressed tomato halves, put it in the oven for about 3 hours. The before and after photos give you an idea of how different sized tomatoes will cook up if left unattended. preroastFor more consistency it would be better to roast tomatoes of a similar size together, and adjust the timing. I put these in to cook while working in the yard, and like the variety of textures. roastedmatersAfter they cooled, I lined a big pizza pan with saran wrap, moved the maters onto it with a spatula, then into the freezer for an hour or so to make it easier to seal them. sealedmatersNow I’m on the hunt for just the right mozzarella-stuffed meatloaf recipe, because these would be unspeakably delicious on or in something like that. Pizza omelets, a regular menu item at STF, also come to mind. Or maybe something with feta…. :)

Fall happens

Wow! Here it is nearly a month since our last post, but we haven’t stood still for a minute of it. Neither has the weather, and even though we were in the mid 80’s last week, the rains have finally settled in for the long haul. fall2014

Stewart is recovering from his eye surgery; Hildegard graduated from puppy kindergarten (Thinking Dog w/Laura Berger); Fergus is still short and cranky. Puppy Class

Class wasn’t all work though. Part of being a civilized canine is learning how to safely interact with other dogs, so each class started out with a serious puppy pack rampage. puppyclass1We brought in our second crop of carrots. Even though things got too hectic to weed as often as we like, Scarlet Nantes outperformed the hybrid Nelson carrot we planted as a first crop. NantesFancyThis year we decided to treat ourselves to some Luscious sweet corn instead of the usual feed/meal/flour corn. Once we figured out that the ring-necked doves were pulling the sprouts out, and replanted, this corn did rather well in our former-rainforest-berryfarm-pasture soil. But the thing about sweet corn is that it starts to decline as soon as it’s picked. And the thing about corn in general is that you have to plant a certain amount to get good pollination. Which adds up to surplus!

So even though we like to maintain a gadget-neutral footprint, it was time for a FoodSaver… seal-a-mealOh wait! Not that kind… After poring over reviews, asking friends & family, and just plain impulse-shopping at Costco, we put this shiny thing on the counter. FoodSaverCertain food just doesn’t can well, corn being a prime example. It’s edible, but 55 minutes per pint in the pressure canner takes away from the fresh-picked, summer vibe. So far it is a solid addition to our appliance line-up. The bags are a recurring expense, but with some thrifty planning and bulk buying, they will pay for themselves in food storage quality. We also used it to freeze the sour cabbage we made (more on that later) for cabbage rolls. SourCabbageLast winter we realized we didn’t have time to press all the cider apples from our trees, so into the freezer they went. Naturally it wasn’t until both freezers were jam packed and we needed more space for the current year’s bounty that we got around to trying out our antique fruit/lard/sausage press. It’s not as efficient as our neighbor’s full-sized set up, but we got about 3 gallons of juice (which is now fermenting in a carboy). PressingMattersThe new dog palace is finally under construction. First step was building a raised deck that will soon have a roof for all-weather lounging. The dog house itself will be in one bay of the hay mow, insulated, with heat and light. The door will be just right of center in the wall, and the 12 x 12 kennel will be sited against the north facing wall. This will give the dog pack full view of the house, hen yard, and most access points. Not that they spend much time out in the weather…so spoiled! DougDogWe also made time for a recreational jaunt, our last one in Big Blue (our 2007 Dodge Ram truck), and Stewart’s first outing since his eye surgery. After pulling up the Google Earth view on the ipad, and some tricky route finding, we drove nearly to the top of 3200 ft. Sumas Mountain, the bit of North Cascades foothills right across the Nooksack river from us. Sumas2It was a bit hazy from all the recent forest fires, but still amazing to see our little piece of the PNW in panoramic view. Seven Trees Farm is nestled behind a treed area to the far left of this picture. SumasMtnPanoAnd speaking of forest fires, the constant blanket of smoke has meant some amazing sunsets this summer. Now that the rainy season has started, we probably won’t see many like this for a long time. Sunset

Minestrone!

The long and warm summer has left us piled with produce. Our favorite way to enjoy that bounty throughout the rainy season is to transform the harvest into heat & eat homemade meals. Here is a wonderful recipe for minestrone, not only tasty and restorative, but a good way to make use of late summer crops like cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onions.

This is the original family recipe from D’s mom. We tripled it for a canner-sized batch, bumped up the cabbage to a full head, added 1/2 a zuke that was hiding in the fridge, plus a couple pounds of fresh-picked green beans and a little leftover corn. It cans up like a dream, and we highly recommend the All-American pressure canner.

1# lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled & cubed
2 carrots, pared & sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup shredded cabbage or kale
1 can (28 oz.) tomatoes

1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp pepper

Brown ground beef and add all ingredients to soup kettle, stir thoroughly.
Add water and/or beef broth to cover. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and
cook for 2-3 hours on simmer. Stir occasionally. Serve sprinkled with
grated parmesan cheese. Makes about 3-4 quarts. Freezes well.

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If you plan to pressure can this recipe, try a batch cooked the regular way first, to sort out what seasonings/ingredients you like best. Pressure canning does a lot more cooking, so you don’t need to simmer a batch first. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but once you decide the best assortment of ingredients, just bring it up to temp enough to can, and let the canning process finish the cooking. If you simmer it for hours first you’ll end up with a mushier version of this recipe and lose some of the nutrients in the vegetables.

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Hildegard is growing fast and learning how to be a vital member of the STF team. She especially likes to help Fergus with the recycling.

The weather is just starting to turn cooler, with increasing rain showers in the forecast, and our resident porch frog is getting ready. It lives under a crate we keep on the porch for recycling, and commutes to a flat of fall veggie starts we have on top of the woodbox. The damp soil draws fruit flies, and Porch Frog hangs out in the plants, hunting for winter hibernation supplies.Porch Frog Wikipedia says Pacific tree frogs can change color seasonally, but we’ve noticed them swapping outfits in just a few hours. Knowing the plant flat is going to be moved to the garden soon, we bought a bushy coleus to repot and leave on the porch until it gets too cold for it. The frog didn’t take long to check out its new real estate, and even managed a quick color change to go with the decor. Coleus Frog