Saturday, June 26, 2010

The first ripe tomato and other garden ramblings.

A few short weeks ago as I was working out in the garden I had a brilliant idea for a blog post.
It would be entitled "A Primer for Growing Vegetables on Clay Soil"
And the text would be:

I don't really wonder why there aren't many (read any) market gardeners in my area because I know the unique challenges of working with clay.
I get on the land late...long after my counterparts with that lovely loamy soil do. And when I finally can get out there, things grow slowly.
And for me it was late this year.
When there was a good window of opportunity to get in the garden, I was right in the middle of transplant sales. Filling orders, writing plant labels, moving plants, on and on.
Then the window closed, as the rains pummelled us in June.
But now I think I have passed the crisis-despair mode, and will say (not too loud) the garden looks good. It has dried up really well, and things are growing happily.

I STILL am in planting mode, but have a lot of territory to cover this year, as the tomatoes are in my big 4 acre field which has never been home to tomatoes before.
They seem to be lovin' their view of the Welland River!
This freed up lots of space in my regular garden, so I'm into my fourth, then next week fifth BIG bean planting (one can never have too many beans).
I feel the same way too about beets, carrots, chards and am still putting in more. Why not? No shortage of seed or space and there still is time.
Also I am into the routine of my weekly planting of salad mix.
And of course the sign it is all coming together guessed it, the first ripe tomatoes.
The tall stalky STUPICE tomato plants that I started indoors in Feb, and got into the hoophouse later than I planned, are gorgeous, deep green and strong. What a wonderful variety of tomato. Wow, it tasted great to have that first bite.

The little Saturday morning market I have here chugs along. I'm happy.
I live in Wellandport and have no illusions about being mobbed. I think many locals eye me with a sense of distrust and are skeptical of what I do. I live in BIG farm territory, and the BIG tractors roll by everyday. I imagine they chuckle at me as I bounce along on my little John Deere, and hand weed, water and squish bugs as I see fit.(Bad bugs only!)
But I appreciate everyone who comes out, and I do have my regulars every week. It is so great to see people and chat. And the greens are so nice at this time of year, I am pleased with what I am selling.
There isn't a whole lot yet, but I feel confident that what there is, is good.
I'm also doing the bread myself right now, as my friend Wolfgang is heavy into catering season.
My pie lady, Tressa Maniaci has a regular following now for her seasonal fruit pies. Really just fabulous.
Most of my sales remain with the restaurants and I have picked up some new ones this year.
My Organic Gardening magazine test garden looks good. So far, there appear to be no flops.
The marigold to the left is one I am testing, and is blooming nicely.
Perhaps most impressive so far is "Atom" basil,(High Mowing Seeds) which I direct seeded in early June. It has pretty much caught up to my basil I started from transplants,and tastes lovely.
I have been having a bit of a roving eye in terms of looking to relocate. That is how frustrated I get with my clay.
But now I am getting out of my early -spring -and I've got clay- rut, let me tell you about the good clay can do.
When I till my soil, I smell that mineral richness in it. Those minerals and nutrients end up in my food that I grow.
And I am sure there are folks that would disagree, but tomatoes taste best grown in clay- yes, that is my contention.
They grow more slowly, take up the mineral richness and perhaps struggle a bit more to get the fruit out.
Because of the clay, and it's ability to hold moisture, I water my tomatoes very little...really just to get them established. I think this is a good idea really for tomatoes growing anywhere. Water less for better flavour. There is a term for this:dry farming. Makes sense to me....think about how watered down tomatoes taste in a rainy year.
A little struggle for all of us makes us stronger....the tomatoes growing in the clay, and me growing everything on clay!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saturday morning market and COBBLER recipe!

My little market here at the farm has been powering along since May 1, and this time of year it is all(well, not ALL) about strawberries.
I have grown strawberries on and off over the years, but last year I ordered a whole bunch of plants from Strawberry Tyme farm in Simcoe, as well as raspberries and a few more rhubarb plants.
The raspberries are for everybody else. I mean, I like them okay, but my husband and youngest daughter Mollie go crazy for them. As for me, I'll take strawberries any day.
And they have done very well. I have picked oodles of strawberries.
If you are looking for unsprayed "orgamic" strawberries (see-I didn't say it!), I have them.
As well, Saturday I will have strawberry jam, strawberry-rhubarb jam, strawberry pies and strawberry rhubarb pies. AND strawberries! Said it again.
Also is the time for garlic scapes-that crazy curly seed stalk on the garlic plant. I'll again be making garlic scape pesto, and also have the pickled garlic scapes ready to go. As well as the actual scapes themselves which are yummy and good (my chef buddy Joel tells me) blanched quite simply, or added to just about anything savoury. They are great with eggs, and frittata too, which was one of my suppers this week.
I'll also have greens and herbs out, eggs as well if there are any left, bread, honey, baking (including my sisters' phenomenal blueberry sell-out muffins.)
But now, the recipe for the strawberry cobbler I made this week. It is YUMMY!
It's best eaten warm and on the same day you make it. Add a bit of vanilla ice cream and you have a great treat. Enjoy! And I hope to see you Saturday. I'm open from 8-noon, but it always seems to go a bit beyond that too.

Strawberry Cobbler

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
3 cups fresh strawberries, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, chilled

Beat 1/4 cup softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer.
Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, beating well.
Add egg and vanilla extract, mixing well.

Combine 1 and 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.

Add to butter mixture alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Spoon half of the batter into a greased 8" square baking dish.
Arrange strawberries on top, cut side down.
Cover with remaining batter.

Combine 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
Cut in 1/4 cup chilled butter with a pastry blender until crumbly.
Sprinkle over strawberries.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I went home

And they say you can't go back.
Well I did, but of course everything was different.
After talking it over with myself, over and over again, I hopped in my trusty old Honda, and headed home.
Just a gorgeous day as you can see from my pictures. Sunny and cool.
I wasn't feeling any huge sense of guilt for not plugging away here at the never ending planting schedule. My clay was just too darn wet after the torrential downpour of Saturday night.
I checked in with the Bogles, who are now renting the land at my old family farm. They are in the bird seed business and have it all planted to sunflowers this year. Then over I went, taking a deep breath, and heading in the driveway. Chills. Really.

The house and barn are...rough.
The renter who lived there was a slob, not caring at all that he ruined the house. His landlord, the "developer" didn't care either.
But the land is gorgeous. That is the BEST soil in the world. My dad always said it was prime market garden soil, and he was right. Not too light like some of the sandy soils down here.
Makes me wonder why the hell I work so hard on this clay here. I'd think I'd died and gone to heaven if I had soil like that.
I walked through the fields. Back the long lane to where my mom's garden was. And still sort of is.
My mom's grafted apple trees, huge and tall and one of her rhubarb plants still chugging along in the shade. Some of her herbs still fragrant.
I laughed when I saw the stones in the field. When I was a kid, we would come home from school in the spring and pick stones. My dad had an old Massey that pulled an old wooden wagon with steel wheels, and the 5 of us would go all over that farm and toss stones in it.
I couldn't figure out why every year there were more, and larger stones. My dad's response to that was that every year the small ones grew bigger. Well....for a long many years I was good with that response, until one year it struck me that stones don't grow. Dad!
My parents are both gone now. Actually the day I went up to the farm was the 13th anniversary of my dad's passing.
So I was weepy on and off all day. I love my parents and I am a pretty emotional person.
But walking around the farm, so much came back to me. The fields where I ran with my dog, Pacer. The hill up to the house where my sister "Muff" crashed my mini-bike into the sunroom storm door.
I even walked behind the house, and..weird...ducked to go under my mom's clothes line-which of course, isn't there anymore.
The best place in the world, with the
best memories.
It ended up being a bit of a fact finding mission too.
Much like our property here on the Welland River, because of the creeks on the farm the conservation authority is involved...perhaps in charge?
The Bogles told me that the property can NEVER be developed because of this and my sister tells me my dad knew this too. So the owner, who lives in California is trying to unload it because he now knows this too.
Because the potential for development quite simply isn't there, and the rundown condition of the house and barns, the asking price is way out of touch with reality.
So I'm going to keep my eye on things.
But I think regardless, I'll still have to buy that lottery ticket.
It is priceless.
As are the memories.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


My sister Susanne, who lives in Dundas called me up today, and told me something that sort of set a different tone to the whole day.
"The farm is for sale again"
Our farm...home.
If only.
There really is no place on earth I love more than the farm I grew up on.
Our farm is in West Flamborough, and my dad, who passed away 13 years tomorrow, sold it in 1989. It is 75 acres of wonderful sandy loam soil, the most fabulous soil for a market gardener.
I have so many wonderful memories of growing up on this farm and know it intimately.
From the barn and its' tap with the best tasting and coldest water that we drank with a tin cup, the chicken coop where I played with my cousins when I was young. The bush in the back with it's stream I could skate on in the winter, or in the spring collect tadpoles.
My mom was an avid gardener, and was growing tomatillos, ground cherries and vine peaches 30 years ago. As kids, we sat out at the highway with a little wooden table and waited for people to stop and buy our asparagus, raspberries, currants and sometimes strawberries.
Particularly with the asparagus, we saw the same city folks year after year. I still have that table, and the memory of my mom weighing a pound of asparagus with a balance and a 1 lb stone.
My dad was a farmer first, but also a school teacher. As was my mom. They were both very hard workers and I remember looking out the window at night to see my dad on his tractor with the lights showing the way, so he could plough. Sometimes I like to hop on my tractor at night and work. I don't have to, but I like the feeling it gives me.
My mom and dad and our farm. It was the best life.
The farm is now for sale for 1.6 million dollars.
I know whoever buys it is buying it with the hope of redeveloping it....that has always been the hope of those who came after us. It is a prime location, but rezoning has always been denied. The house and barns are terribly run down, the renters not caring. My 2 sisters and I have a hard time driving by it. It was once glorious and immaculate. No more.
If only I had that amount of money I would snap it up. Before my mom and dad sold it, I remember walking through the fields and wishing I could buy it. I was a single parent at the time and didn't see any way.
I have an urge to take the day off tomorrow and go up to see it. I want to walk around those fields, see my mom's old gardens and the trees she planted, walk in the bush. Think about my parents and slow down for the day.
Maybe I'll buy a lottery ticket. It is good to dream.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The most wonderful bread recipe!

By request, I am re-running this bread recipe which I originally posted on the Eating Niagara blog. This recipe is fabulous..hands-down the best recipe for bread I have ever tried. You will be a baking star!
It is not at all labour intensive, but requires that you are around a bit when it needs to be put in the oven.

No Knead Artisanal Bread
From: Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern

I love this plain or made with 2 parts all purpose flour and one part whole wheat. Or add 1 cup pitted black olives, 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper. Another variation is 3/4 cup each toasted walnuts and golden raisins. Or...3/4 cup each coarsely chopped dark chocolate and dried cherries. Or 1 cup golden raisins and 1 tbsp. lightly crushed fennel seeds.

3 cups all purpose flour ( or part whole wheat)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water, plus 1 tbsp, at room temperature.
Extra flour, wheat bran,cornmeal, sesame seeds, etc.

1) In a large bowl combine flour salt and yeast. Stir in water. Dough will be a sticky mess. Cover with plastic wrap. Cover with tea towel. Let sit at room temperature for 12 - 24 hours. Dough should double and have bubbles on the surface.
2) Lay clean towel on counter and flour heavily. Scoop out dough (it is a little messy) and pat into rough rectangle. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit 15 minutes.
3) Place another clean towel on work surface. Rub with flour and sprinkle with bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. (Use enough flour so dough does not stick). Fold dough into thirds and brush off any extra flour. Fold into thirds again to form a rough cube. Place seam side down on second tea towel and dust top with flour, bran, cornmeal or sesame seeds. Fold tea towel over top. Let rise for 2 hours.
4) After 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 450 F. Place a medium-sized, heavy cast iron pot with a lid, empty in the oven, and heat for 30 minutes.
5) Very gently slide your hand under tea towel holding bread. Open tea towel, carefully flip bread into hot pot. Cover and bake at 450 F for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 20-30 minutes longer or until browned. Cool on a rack. Be really careful. Bread and pot are extremely hot!

You can use nearly all whole wheat flour.
It is great, seems to work every time!

Friday, June 4, 2010

And I sing.."Tomato Fields.....forever"

This is one of the most gruelling of chores on the farm here- back breaking, heavy lifting, (monotonous-never!), and of course the prize goes to----PLANTING TOMATOES!!!
The field pictured at right is my blank canvas. Steadily, day by day, we are sketching out reasonably straight rows of holes and making it just gorgeous with tomatoes.
This year of course has had it's own unique set of challenges.
When I began tilling the freshly disked field, it was so dry, really not a touch of moisture apparent, and the weather was stifling hot.
My process is to till until I have a nice loose planting area, dig nice deep holes, and to each hole add a lovely shovelful of compost, before tucking the plant(clearly labelled) in.
Well we have about 900 or so plants in, with more to go. 2 gals, me and Lisa- on a mission.
We have been working through very difficult heat, 2 tractor breakdowns, rain on and off delaying things and of course the personal commitments that always need attention..(you know-laundry,pets, kids,meals,...and of course needy husbands, and chefs!)
But we're getting there, and will continue to plug away.
The beauty of it is that it is a blank canvas that I work with every year, and every year has the promise of something different.
Without question the last 2 years have been difficult gardening years. Last year was cold and wet, the year before, just wet.
It is great to be able to face each year with a sense of optimism for what is ahead. I tell everyone that this is going to be the best garden year ever...and it could very well be because no one can prove anything different.
I'm excited to see what the tomato field will do. Some new ones I haven't tried are intriguing, and perhaps more so because I have no clue at all as to what they will be. Some seed came from France with no description whatsoever. I chose them based on name alone... so what is "Lemon Head"," Visitation Valley" or Tuxhorn? Can't wait to see!
The planting continues next week, but each plant holds so much promise, that it is hard not to feel accomplishment with each plant tucked in. Good luck chums I say to them all. (And I do!) We'll see the rewards of this work in August.