Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fall/Winter CSA Week 8 and Chickpeas with Mustard Greens

It's simply not as much fun harvesting in the month of November.
There, I've said it and that's as much as you'll get out of me in the way of complaints.
It isn't bad in the hoop houses at all, but pulling those lovely small beets and picking kale outside is cool on the hands.

The good news is that there's lots of food, much of it the colour of green. Green is good, especially when there is increasing less of anything fresh to be had that's local in the stores and farmers markets.

I have green. And if you don't and would like it, if you are not in my CSA or unable to get to Bamboo Natural Foods  you are more than welcome to call, email or pop out on Saturdays between now and Christmas and get some green. More mustards than you can imagine as well as chinese greens, chards, kales, collards and a whole lot of arugula. It's good stuff.  I eat it everyday-I do. And I've lived to tell the tale.

I will be open Saturdays between 10 and 2pm before Christmas with the greens, but also preserves, hand knit slippers, a wonderful selection of organic teas, seeds for spring sowing and my breads. 

Sorting beets in the kitchen with help

The CSA baskets today were chock full of greens. Say "hello" to mustard green season! There were many varieties of mustards, as well as choi, arugula, squash and beets with the greens attached.

If Maris, my amazing intern from the summer of 2012 ever reads my blog, he'd be happy to know these beets are now being pulled. Maris planted them late. I mean well into September late.
It was one of those things. There was an empty spot, I had the seed and Maris got it in.
I really didn't know if there would be time, of course it was all out of my hands. 

Those beets aren't big. But they are good and with the nice greens, it's like a two in one veggie deal. The greens are great-make sure you use them!

People often ask me about lettuces for salads at this time of year. I really don't grow a lot of lettuces because I find even the ones that are marketed as winter lettuces don't stand up well to the freeze and thaw cycle. 

I think all the winter greens that are in the baskets make a wonderful and very tasty salad. The mustards are zingy, the arugula peppery and the chinese greens succulent and mild. The kales and chards add a great crunch. Chop some of them up and add a simple vinaigrette for a very tasty salad that's full of flavour.

Or try the following for a satisfying vegan main course.
(From www.blogfatfreevegan)

Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas and Mustard Greens

I’d say this fits into the category of warm dinner salads, but you could serve it as a side dish to up to four people.


  • 10 ounces mustard greens
  • 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 tablespoons vegetable broth, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon agave nectar or sugar
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained


  1. Remove any large stems from the greens and discard. Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
  2. In a deep pot or wok, sauté the onion in a tablespoon or two of vegetable broth until mostly faded to pink, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and red pepper and another tablespoon of broth and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the mustard greens, 2 tablespoons of broth, and cook, stirring, until greens are wilted but still bright green, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the salt, if using. Remove greens and onions from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a serving dish, leaving any liquid in pan.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and agave or sugar to the liquid in the pan (if there is no liquid, add 2 tablespoons of broth). Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by about half. Spoon the chickpeas over the greens and drizzle the sauce over all.
  4. Serve warm, with additional balsamic vinegar at the table.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s) | Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fall/Winter CSA Week 7 and Arugula-Walnut Pesto

The chickens have been out for the last few weeks enjoying the weather and doing what chickens do; scratching, bathing in the dust, eating bugs and well....eating my sorrel.
They do have a good large area to enjoy outside for most of the year, but now with most of the garden finished, they are truly free range.
My chickens have pretty much entered their retirement years. Now they just have fun, live their lives and amuse us with their very essence of chicken-ness.
It's hard to imagine not having them here on my small farm. I love to watch them, hear their chatterings and try to figure out what they are saying to each other.
Despite what some people think, chickens to me seem pretty darn smart.
I love my chickens. I really do.

Baskets today had a tendency of being pretty green. Arugula, mustard greens, choi,  mini cabbage, savoury mint, lime thyme, chard, as well as onions, garlic, walnuts and lo and behold- Jerusalem artichokes.

The artichokes may be a surprise in your basket. Funny thing is, they were kind of a surprise to me too. They are one of those crops that are always there and honestly I just sort of forgot about them this year.
Hope you enjoy them.

The arugula will just keep on coming, as will the mustard greens. Both can be made into a pesto, but I added the my walnuts today because of the recipe for arugula walnut pesto. Thiscan be made into a vegan pesto by adding a bit of nutritional yeast instead of the cheese.


  • 5 ounces arugula, 
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is best)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste and for pasta water
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil (can optionally be replaced by olive oil)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • fresh-ground black pepper
Combine arugula, walnuts, cheese, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor.  Process for a few seconds until coarsely ground.  With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture is almost smooth, with just a little texture.  Add more salt to taste.
Toss with your favourite pasta!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Marvellous Mustards

If you are interested in adding a little zip and zing to your meals, this is one vegetable family you shouldn't ignore.

And a most fascinating and large family at that!

Mustards are many things.  They are vibrantly coloured, they are ripple leaves, or feathered.  They are strap leaves.  They are pungency defined or a subtle cabbage -like flavour.  They are often the beauty and the bite in your packaged salad mix.

Mustards are members of the brassica family, as are cabbage, broccoli and other similar vegetables.  It is believed that all brassicas were originally descended from one single type of mustard, which was continually reselected for the interesting forms we now have.

Mustards are known to have been consumed in the far east in all likelihood since food growing began, but  are only first mentioned in the literature in 5th century B.C.  The Chinese mustards, of which I speak here have never become hugely popular elsewhere.  Despite being a staple to the Chinese throughout history, seeds that were brought back to Europe in the 18th century by missionaries, failed to capture the imagination of Europeans.  Perhaps the taste or lack of knowledge about how to use them was off-putting.

It was really not until the 20th century that mustards have become more popular.  But still....when people hear "mibuna, mizuna, giant red or green wave" the names really don't ring a bell much of the time.  What is a mustard lover to do?

Well....I guess grow it and hope for converts!

And there are lots of reasons to eat them.  Historically mustards were eaten as remedies for a whole legion of conditions-everything from arthritis to stomach disorders to ulcers.  And as with all leafy greens they pack a punch nutritionally, being high in Vitamin A and iron.

I will say that in my family, there aren't too many lovers of strong flavoured greens.  There is, say for example....me.  Mustards, arugulas and even kale are not on the top 10 of the most asked for greens.

But I love 'em.  I can make a whole salad out of these greens in their smaller form.  And the heat and strong flavour is really much more limited to full leaf mustards like Giant red, and the green varieties such as Green Wave .  The beautiful mizunas and mibunas don't bite back- they have pleasant mild flavours regardless of size, but do add unique form and texture to you dishes, with their serrated leaves (mizuna) and strap leaves (mibuna).

And although I don't grow much in the way of hybrids, I do like the newer purple mizuna, and the frilly mizuna.  Art in the garden.

Convinced yet that maybe this is worth a try?

Mustards are very easy to grow.  Like most of their brassica relations, they thrive in the cooler weather.
They can be planted throughout the season, but if flea beetles find your mustards, you will have one holey mess on your hands.  I grow mine only in the cool fall and cold winter in the hoop house when the threat of flea beetles is gone.

As with most greens and brassicas, they like a reasonably fertile soil.  You can dig a few inches of compost into your seeding bed, or rows then sprinkle the small seed evenly down the rows, or broadcast.
The seed should be covered with 1/4 inch of soil or so and will emerge in a weeks time.  To ensure this, keep the seed bed moist until you see germination.

if you are hoping for larger heads of mustard, thin out your seedlings until they are 6 inches or so apart.  But if you are picking the leaves small, keep them planted tight.

If flea beetles do turn out to be a problem, you can very carefully cover your plants with agricultural fabric, or plant a trap crop.  I have planted a crop of a green leafy mustard, like Green Wave around my desired crop in the hope that this crop will lure the flea beetles to it.  Does it work?  To some degree...but when you are selling your produce a few holes in leaves is still too many.  if you are simply eating the leaves at home, a few holes is no harm.

Mustards are one of my most important winter crops however.  They are extremely winter hardy, and in an unheated hoop house, with a layer of ag fabric, can tolerate very low temperatures.  I plant them mid to late September and begin harvesting 3-4 weeks later.  I pick the leaves individually..small for salads, larger for braising mixes.  And in the spring when the plants start to bolt the cheery yellow flowers are eaten as a tasty treat.

This, of course is how I save the seed as well.  In the spring, after the plants have overwintered, the longer days encourage the seed stalk to shoot up, flowering, then forming seed pods.  Mustards will cross readily so if seed saving is your mission, you must bag the blossoms, or plant one variety only.

Hungry to try them yet?  I hope so- mustards are marvellous, dahling!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fall/Winter CSA Week 6 and Butternut Squash Pesto

The weather outside over the last few days has been eerily similar to my own personal temperature fluctuations.
Extreme heat and then extreme chills.
It's all to do with my age.
But the weather, what is the explanation there?

After a beautiful and balmy weekend, which saw the chickens grazing in the yard and Joey lounging in the sun, this morning was a bit of a shock. The chill should have been expected, it is November.  Darn anyways. The warmth was lovely, but of course now back to reality.

Yes it was a chilly harvest today. The squash had already been gathered of course, but the beets, herbs, leeks and radishes are still pretty happy in that cool ground outside.
The arugula, choi and mustard greens are from the hoophouse where the picking was far more pleasant and crops are still growing well.

Have I said lately I love my hoophouses?
When you are an outdoors kind of person as I am, it is a tough transition to darker days and more indoor time. It's easy to feel less alive and optimistic in the winter months. Browns and greys colour the landscape.
The hoop house is my solution. How can you not feel wonderful in the dead of the winter, when you are surrounded by the smells of good things growing, earthy and delicious.
On a cold winter's day, it takes just a touch of sun to warm up the hoop houses and warm your soul at the same time.
Good for the body, good for the soul. It's a superb escape.

How about something a little different to do with your squash?

Butternut Squash Pesto

Servings: 8

1 small butternut squash (or 1/2 large squash)
1 cup fresh basil, tightly packed
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra to brush on with squash)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
1 cup soymilk (more or less, as needed)
salt and pepper

-Halve squash, and brush with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Bake until tender at 350 degrees.

- Scoop out cooked flesh and puree in food processor. Add other ingredients and puree again. Add more soy milk and process again, as needed, until creamy.

-Toss with cooked pasta.


Monday, November 12, 2012

(A Little More About) My Southern Ontario Winter Hoophouse.

Here's a repeat of a post I did about a year ago. Seems to still be pretty current!


Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest days for me here on my small Niagara farm.
And why? Well, the weekends are right around the corner, and those are the busiest times for restaurants, the ones I sell vegetables to anyway.
I'm happy to say that this continues to be the case year round.

This time of year the picking is time consuming...one leaf at a time. Small leaves, medium leaves or big leaves.  Those really are the choices.

I have about thirty different varieties of greens planted in the hoop houses. I have many varieties of mustards, from the typical to the less common, and also collards, chards and some tasty chinese greens.
These crops will make it through the winter-the radishes and carrots should too.

I have 3 hoop houses in total. The two larger ones are about 84' long, and hold a whole lot of food.

When I plant them I have to prioritize. So sadly, this means pulling out summer crops that are still producing, like heirloom tomatoes, and getting the winter ones seeded.

I aim for having crops in by late September, with the goal being that the crops will mature by the first week of November or so, when the days become shorter, and growth slows.

This fall has been a good balmy one, and I lucked out. I did get things seeded a little later, but the growth has been very good. In fact last week I seeded more bok choy, and it was up yesterday. It will grow very slowly.

When it gets very cold, the growth pretty much halts. That's when the great cover up begins.
I'll fashion little hoops out of plastic coated wire, and lay my agricultural fabric completely over all my crops. My goal with the hoops is to keep the fabric from touching the crops directly. It will get damp from being in the humid hoophouse and freeze on the leaves, thus ruining some of them.

One of my hoophouses has a double layer of poly, with a blower, which fills the cavity between the two layers with air. Clearly, things do quite well in this hoophouse. The other hoophouse is a single poly, but it actually does very well too. There isn't a huge difference.

When the hard freezes come, the greens underneath the fabric will in fact freeze. But when I wait till the hoophouse heats up, usually mid-morning, the greens are fresh and as unfrozen as can be. And all that much sweeter for having been nicely frosted. Amazing, but true.

When I pick, I pick one leaf at a time, instead of cutting out the whole plant, because the leaves continue to produce. I just don't run out of produce, until the time when the days are longer and the signal is sent to the plants to send up their seed stalks...spring is here! The flowers of the winter crops as well as their tender seed pods are very tasty too, but then the time comes. Time to yank out the winter plants, or till them under and get the tomatoes planted and the greenhouse tables set up for the transplants.

Then back to the season of pests and watering and weeding.

Ah-yes. That's yet another appeal of winter growing, less garden work.

Sound like fun? It actually really is, and quite amazing. Good food, fresh food all winter long!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Christmas Open House and Tour - November 25,2012

This year I am holding my annual Christmas Open House on Sunday, November 25 between 1-3 pm here on the farm.
If you are looking for simple and unique gifts or gift baskets, or just want to come out and have a peek at what is growing for the winter and have a warm drink, that's okay too.
It's a great chance to view the entire line of preserves that we are calling "Tree and Twig Preserved". Good name, eh?
And that's what it is. My produce preserved in interesting and different ways.
Here's the line-up this year:

 Tree & Twig Preserved 
Basil Jellies (8 varieties)
 Hot Pepper Spread,
 Apple Jelly
Aji Limo Hot Pepper Jelly
Pickled Beet Stems
Heirloom Tomato Jam (Bourbon & non bourbon),
Tomatillo Salsa,
Beets with Red Wine, 
Salsa Jam,
Zucchini Relish,
Wasabi Pickled Beans,
Dilled Carrots, 
Pickled Beets,
Pickled Pepper Rings

I can do up gift baskets containing the preserves, or could add a very home spun touch, in the form of beautiful hand knitting. 

Also available at my Open House will be beautiful seeds, baking (pies!), teas, and Tree and Twig Gift Certificates which can be redeemed for seed, seedlings or produce. 
And of course there will be produce available as well, because that's what I do.

Come on out and meet some great people, enjoy a cuppa and chat.
Hope to see you here!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fall/Winter CSA Week 5 and Chard Cheese Pie

It was a chilly harvest today, although not quite as cold as it was yesterday.
My scuba gloves that I use for washing the veggies sprang a leak and I had to pop in the house a few times to get a bit of feeling back into my fingers.
Wuss, eh? The real cold isn't even here yet and I know that.
The older I get the more I have problems with the cold, but on we go. The winter garden is growing and it needs tending too.

Surprisingly some hot peppers have survived the cold nights.  I suspect however that this will be it and I'm sure that some of you will be breathing a sigh of relief.  Yes indeed, the peppers did well this year. Very well.
The baskets today contained a final trace of summer with the peppers and green tomatoes, as well as carrots, beets, radishes in various forms, choi, chard as well as another green like escarole and thyme.
After today more of the crops will be from the hoophouses, so expect lots of greens in your future.

There are all sorts of mustards, chards, kales, arugula, chinese greens and more. It all is looking good and growing in the warmth of the hoophouses. It is surprising how lovely and warm it can be out there even in the chilly overcast weather.
I have a chair set up in my hoophouse so I can go out and relax in the warmth. When the sun shines it is a treat. The rays go right through you and it feels so tremendously good. That's my vacation-a chair in my hoop hose and I am not complaining!
The following recipe is a great way to enjoy your chard.

Recipe: Chard Cheese Pie
Serves 4-6
2 cups cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups lightly cooked chopped chard, well drained*
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees; generously grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Beat together the cottage cheese, eggs, lemon and salt. Stir 1 cup of this mixture into the chard and press it into a baking dish. Spread remaining cottage cheese mixture over the top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and paprika. Bake until set, about 1/2 hour. Let stand several minutes before 
cutting into squares.

Recipe is from The New Laurel's Kitchen by Laurel Robertson

*Sauté the stems in a small amount of olive oil for 8-10 minutes and leaves for 4-6 minutes; after it cools, squeeze with your hands or in a colander to release excess water before adding it to the cheese mixture.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Storing Root Crops

This week has not exactly gone as I had hoped or planned.
With my old Honda Civic demanding a bit of cash outlay to keep it on the road over the past few months, I sensed it was time to find a new (used) vehicle. A 16 year old vehicle is deserving of a rest.
In the back of my mind was my dad's voice telling me that buying a used vehicle is like buying someone else's problems.
It seems he could be right. My first week with my new car has not been the best. It refuses to start at times which is never a good sign. And after all the rain I found a puddle on the rear carpet. Not just dampness...a puddle.
I relicensed the Honda and am trying to deal with the rest.

Thank God for a good root crop harvest, a bright spot in a less than stellar week. I may not get where I need to go, but I'll have food to eat. Might as well look on the sunny side. I guess.

It's true though. I have lots of roots. Far more than we will eat or I will sell in the short term.
Carrots, beets, turnips and radishes as well as a bit of kohlrabi.

Big beets, Mollie!
In the ideal world (which is not my world) the rains would not have come when they did.

The carrot patch

I would have preferred the carrots to stay in the ground through a number of heavy frosts to sweeten them up a bit. As it was though they were sitting in a low spot and when they were dug up it was clear they were sitting in water and would rot. So...out they all came.
When we dug them they were very, very muddy and wet.
In storage wet carrots simply won't last, so we laid them out in the small hoophouse to dry up. I was glad for the cloudy skies and cool temperatures for this process.
The green tops need to be snapped off all storage root crops before tucking them away, so while they were drying I began this process with the carrots. I also don't wash the veg before they are stored. They store better with the dirt on them

Today I got the vast majority of the carrots stored. I placed some dry straw in the bottom of large plastic bins, put in a layer of the carrots, added another layer of straw, more carrots and continued this way till the bin was full, with the top layer being straw.

I put lids on the bins, because if I don't I have no doubt the mice will get in and nibble away.
Nothing more wonderful too than reaching in a bin for a carrot and finding a mouse.

This works for all root crops, as well as the kohlrabi, but with it, I pull up root and all and leave it on for storage. Cabbage stores extremely well this way too, root and all layered in straw.

I store the bins in my cold garage, and anticipate the crops will last well into the spring.
It could be that this year the garage is full of bins, and it might as well be.
Who knows-I may not have a car!