Monday, September 30, 2013

...And The Winner Is!

Every year I grow a lot of different stuff.
Somebody visiting on my farm on the weekend asked me why I grow some of the things I do. Like the super ridiculously hot peppers that I don't even pretend I'm going to eat.  Although I do know someone will.
I guess I just like to see things grow. I can grow them, so I do, and if I don't know if I can...well, I'm going to try.
Sometimes I like them, and I keep on growing them. And some things I'm not too crazy about and I don't worry about them again.
So here is a little list of what I liked the best this year. Out of hundreds of varieties, these were my favourites.

-"New to me" tomato of the year- Golden Gates
 The result of the breeding work done by master tomato grower Brad Gates in California.
Mid flavoured and sweet, fleshy and of course just  a darn pretty golden orange striped beauty.

Tomato of the year-Stupice
Well it had to be. These tomatoes started pumping them out in June...and still are. Reliable, delicious and productive, this little red tomato is the tomato that could. And does.

Pepper of the year- Aji Limo
I love this pepper. It's happy bright yellow exterior is my favourite colour, so that's an advantage right off the bat. But the unique citrus flavour, followed by intense heat makes it a winner. It's also very productive.

Hottest pepper of the year-Carolina Reaper
It's hot. Killer hot. I didn't try one, but inadvertently experienced a little bit of the juice on my lip. I still have the lip, but it was a memorable experience. Don't believe me-look it up HERE! What kills me is people want this. Specifically it seems to be young guys who want to prove how tough they are. Yes, you ARE tough and maybe even slightly wacky if you eat this pepper.

Comeback Queen
When I was 10 years old I sent away some boxtops from a cereal box in exchange for some cacti. Why don't cereal companies do this anymore? I bet they didn't think all these years later I would still be enjoying those cacti. I didn't either, especially this spring. They looked pretty rough and I thought that was it. So I put them outside and a miracle happened. They shed the dead parts and sprang forth again. This is awesome and an award well deserved for the older generation.

Ornamental of the Year
Okay, it's a tie. I love, love love my Amish Cockcomb, with their velvety brain look and vibrant magenta colour. But the Red Foliated Cotton is a stunning plant too, with it's deep red foliage and magnificent flower. What do you think?

Volunteer of the Year
Most years I would say tomatillo. They pop up just about everywhere, as do ground cherries, cape gooseberries and morelle de balbis. But this year the chickens with their magical growing powers and a bit of poop, nursed along some amazing tromboncino squash. During the growing season these things doubled in size every week, and most of them are about 3 ft long at this point. The amazing thing is that the chickens don't eat them and neither do the cucumber beetles or squash bugs. They've been very cool to watch.

Veggie of the Year
Yup, it's kale. It just has to be because I eat it all the time. Every day. I may have a kale addiction. I grow lots of different kinds too, but my favourite is the great italian heirloom Lacinato (aka Tuscan, Dinosaur). Great flavour, stunning plant.

Those are my selections-what stood out in your garden this year?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fall CSA Week One and Caponata

I love the fall.
Of all the seasons, it is by far my favourite.
There is something that is somehow comforting about slipping on a sweater that I haven't seen since the spring. The morning chill demands it.
I like the change in the heat, the sun seems to warm you, but not scorch. When you lift your face to it, it just feels so good.

The sense of urgency in the garden is gone. Don't get me wrong-there's lots and lots to do. But the pace just seems a bit slower.
I'm not too worried about pulling out the weeds anymore, and the only watering is in the hoophouses as I urge the crops I've planted for the winter to spring forth.
I know I need to do a little walk about with pad and pencil and make my to do list that will address everything I need to get one before the fall.

It will go something like this:
1) Check the weather for frost and pick, pick and pick the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants before it hits. String and dry some hot peppers.
2) Dig out certain plants to overwinter inside. Take cuttings for others.
3) Collect seeds and hope like heck that all the bean seed dries.
4)Till empty spots and incorporate compost, hay into them.
5)Plant garlic early October. Mulch.
6) Plant empty spots in hoophouses as they become available.
7)Mend tears in hoophouse plastic.
8)Get pump at pond put away for winter, as well as tractor and other equipment and tools.
9)Most importantly-relax and enjoy a different tempo. Breathe.

My fall CSA began today too. I'm doing a bit less this time around, but there is lots of food out there still. With the seed end of my business requiring attention at this time of year, and the house needing some fresh paint and imagination, fewer CSA baskets were required. number 9)!

This session will take us right up to Christmas. 
The first several weeks, and maybe more will see the continuation of some of my favourite summer crops, particularly tomatoes. I have a lot of plants in one of my hoophouses, as well as eggplants and peppers, and should the temperatures dip, it should all be fine for a while yet. 
It will all freeze though, in October I suspect and I'll pull out the spent plants and...keep on planting! I've got some super-duper Chinese greens I'm looking forward to, and they are also terrifically frost hardy. They'll grow much more slowly at this time of year, but grow they will.

Today's basket contents were: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers (hot and sweet), tomatillos, ground cherries, beets, broccoli florets, onions, garlic, apples, basil and a good large bunch of assorted kales.

The following recipe makes good use of the summer ingredients that are still plentiful in the garden. It's a nice side dish. 
(From "The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook" by Andrea Chesman)

1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup green olives, chopped
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped basil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp capers
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a large sheet pan.
Mound eggplant and onion in the middle of pan and drizzle oil over them, tossing to coat. Arrange in single layer.
Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, until eggplant is tender.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.
Let it sit for 30 minutes for the flavours to meld, then serve at room temperature.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jo's (Modified) Harira Soup

I just came back from picking up my basket at Linda's and got to meet a kindred spirit... another of Linda's customers named Tara.  HI TARA!  We were encouraging her to write a blog posting to share her recipe (which includes chard and breadcrumbs, so she had me at 'Hello'), so I thought I'd best get up my latest recipe to share with my fellow kindred souls.

I watch a lot of weird things online.  A few weeks ago, there was a story in the news about a muslim woman who had made Princess Leia buns out of her hijab, and I found myself on her YouTube channel sniffing around.  Well didn't she post a recipe that was right up my alley.  It's a Morrocan vegetable soup with lentils and chick peas. (My two favourite legumes!)  It's called "Harira" and it's a common Ramadan soup used to break the fast.  It's got a tomato base, and aren't I swimming in Tree & Twig tomatoes right about now!!!  In fact, I was able to use Linda's onions and tomatoes in this recipe, which packed more of a punch, seeing as they are of the flavourful organic heirloom kind. 
I modified the recipe from the original (found here: ) and added a zillion more tomatoes, a lot more parsley and cilantro, and crushed the vermicelli to make the noodles bite sized.
Hope you enjoy it! My version makes about seven servings of 1.5-2 cups each

Harira - Traditional Moroccan Soup
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 60 minutes   

    4 cups of tomatoes - pureed
    1 onion - chopped
    1 bunch of cilantro (pureed)
    1 bunch of parsley (pureed)
    1 celery stick - chopped
    2 tablespoons of tomato paste
    2 tablespoons of butter
    3 teaspoons of salt
    1/2 teaspoon of pepper
    1 teaspoon of ginger powder
    1 can of chickpeas (or 1 cup of dry chickpeas soaked in water over night)
    1/2 can of lentils
    1 square of vermicelli, crushed (about a cup)
    1/3 cup of flour
    2-3 liters of water
    squirt of lemon

Put the tomatoes (peels and all) into a blender with some water and make a puree.  Add the cilantro and parsley and puree some more.  Add water until the blender is full to the top, and pour into a stock pot.    Add the chopped onion,  celery, butter, salt, pepper, ginger powder, lentils, and remainder water to your pot. Cover the pot and let all the ingredients cook for 45 minutes on medium heat. Stir from time to time.
Should look something like this while simmering:

Note: If you are using dry chickpeas, add them to the other ingredients in step 1. Otherwise, if you are using canned chickpeas, add them towards the end.

After 45 minutes, add the canned chickpeas and the tomato paste.

Dilute the flour with some water. Slowly pour the flour mixture to the harira while stirring to thicken.  Don't pour too quickly or you will wind up with dumplings.

Add the vermicelli. Cover and let the harira cook for another 10 minutes.

Finish with a generous squirt of lemon juice

The flour thickener and tomato paste really change the colour and consistency and it ends being a very hearty earthy soup that was absolutely delicious.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Summer CSA Week 15 and It's All Over!

What a week it has been.
I had a bit of  frustrating time with my two flat tires that I mentioned last week, one on my tractor and one on my rototiller.  I called a local tire service within 5 minutes of being cursed with the flats, which was a Friday, and they assured me it would be dealt with Monday.
Nothing Monday. I called Tuesday and it would definitely be Wednesday.
Nothing Wednesday, so I called Thursday and it would definitely be Friday. wasn't Friday either.

Sometimes I get the feeling that as a woman, my "farm problems" just aren't as serious as a man's in the eyes of some other businesses. I don't know. Maybe I didn't get angry enough, but that isn't really my style.

But you can be guaranteed that I won't be calling on them again. Promising and not delivering is just plain bad business.  Doing it repeatedly is worse.

Today was week 15 of my summer CSA and the last week. That is... the last week of the summer session, but if you have signed up for the fall 15 week session, well that begins promptly next week!
I'm not doing quite as many baskets next season so I can take a bit of a breather, and also finally get around to a few things that are requiring my attention.
I hope that is how it turns out anyways.

I am really hoping the frost holds off for a while because there are still so many tender crops in the garden. I've barely even scratched the surface of the hot peppers and there are lots of tomatoes still too.

Last weekend I pulled out tomato plants from half of my biggest hoophouse. It broke my heart, because the plants were still producing. But with that chill so noticeable in the air now, I knew it had to be done. I had to get cracking on getting winter crops in.

So out they came. And in went pak choi, copious quantities of various mustard greens, arugula-which I am most anxious to taste again- and some fancy kales and lettuces.

I did leave the other half of the hoophouse intact. The eggplants, peppers and tomatoes are doing well, and I reasoned that when the frost hits inside the plastic structure as I expect it will within 4 or 5 weeks, then I'll pull them out, and plant at that point.

There's no huge rush on that because there's still so much good food outside to harvest and I expect there will be for quite a time.

There are lots of carrots, beets, kales, jerusalem artichokes, turnips, radishes, kales, collards, leeks and chards. I pulled up the onions yesterday and the potatoes are dug and stored. I've still got tomatillos, ground cherries and cape gooseberries (yum!) to pick, and lots of seeds that I hope will dry so I can collect them. I am concerned about the beans, which are having trouble drying with all the rain we've been getting lately.

Baskets contents today were: Heirloom tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, garlic, onions, kales, sorrel, rosemary, basil, catnip and sage.

Having trouble sleeping? The catnip will make you a fine tea that may help with that. Or perhaps your kitty would prefer it.

My recipe tonight is nothing more than a suggestion.
Lately newbies to the tomatillo thing have been expressing their love of the tomatillo raw. I don't usually eat mine that way, but have discovered that they do make a good ingredient in a Mexican style salad. Try tomatoes, corn, chopped tomatillos, basil, kidney beans and a nice olive oil vinaigrette.

Really quite good!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Summer CSA Week 14 and Vegetable Fusilli with Beans and Vegan Sausage

Lately my life seems like it could be fodder for a country song. You know- the flat tires on the tractor (and rototiller), the weeds are a growin', and people owe me money.
It's all okay though. I'll get the tires fixed, till through those weeds and ride the tractor to make everything better. The money part- well, we still eat well no matter what.

Funny Mr Eggplant

Right now I am tilling under some of the finished up summer crops. Under goes the winter rye that Maris planted last year, and I'm pretty sure when it goes under with the grains still on the heads, I'll get a great new rye crop which is just a cover/green manure crop for me.
The corn is finished now too and it will go under, complete with weeds between the rows.
Most of the summer crops are still producing very well, and there are lots of fall crops not too far behind.

My biggest priority right now is getting the big hoophouse seeded for the winter. I planted the small one on Saturday in the cooling rain. I seeded lettuces, mustard greens, lots of golden and rhubarb chard. Then in a stroke of brilliance I remembered that I had some small kale plants that had struggled in a low spot this summer with all the rain. I dug out a dozen or so of them with lots of soil around their roots and gently planted them in the hoophouse. I watered them right in the planting hole before filling it in with more soil, to ensure the water got right at the roots.
Even in the extreme heat of today, they look great.

Don't panic-it's organic!

Next week will be the last delivery day for my summer CSA, with the summer beginning right after.
It's been a great season when all is said and done, despite my initial concern about the amount of rain we had in June.
Todays baskets had a lot more fruit in them than my baskets usually do. There were apples, pears and wild plums. I really like the plums, but the skin is pretty tart. The flesh is very fragrant and sweet though and somebody has spent a lot of time under my tree sucking out the flesh and leaving behind the skin. A racoon I bet.

The baskets also contained ground cherries, kale, heirloom tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplants, onions, garlic, chocolate mint, rosemary and basil.

Last night I made a dish that used quite a few of these ingredients. It's simple, quick and good.
Plus Mollie liked it. That was the real bonus.

Vegetable Fusilli with Beans and Vegan Sausage

Fusilli -2 cups dry
2 Tbsp olive oil
Medium size onion, chopped
2 close garlic, chopped
2 peppers, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup cooked romano  beans
1 bunch kale
fresh basil
2 vegan sausages- sliced( I like the tofurky spicy Italian ones)
Salt to taste
Cook pasta according to directions.
Just before pasta is cooked fully, add kale to pasta water to cook it as well.
Saute onions and peppers in olive oil until soft. Add garlic  and saute for about 30 seconds, then add all other ingredients and saute till warmed through.
Drain the pasta and kale, retaining 1 cup or so of the cooking water, and add to vegetables, stirring to mix in.
Voila- dinner is ready!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Summer CSA Week 13 and Curried Pickled Zucchini

It was with a little tinge of sadness that I waited with Mollie at the end of our lane for the school bus this morning. Neither of us slept too well. She was excited and I was just worried that we wouldn't get up in time, so I tossed and turned till 6 am.
It is the unofficial end of summer as she heads back to school, and it was a whole lot quieter around here today without her.
It seemed the weather accepted this verdict too, and it was a cooler day today after a hot Labour Day weekend.

It makes me realize I have to get right on my fall and winter plantings in my hoop houses. Of course I have no doubt that when I do this, beginning tomorrow after I harvest the remainder of the week's CSA baskets, it'll heat right up again and I'll be watering very regularly.
One hoophouse has to be cleared of tomato plants, eggplants, zucchini and weeds before I plant, and the other, the largest, I will leave half full of those crops, and remove the other half. Hopefully though all the weeds will go.
Some of the late planted tomatoes are just going to turn colour and the varieties are exceptional. So they'll stay and produce for a while yet, I hope.

I'll add compost to both planting areas, till it in, level it and begin planting.
I do have some small kales, collards and chards I am going to carefully dig out of the garden and move in, but the rest will be direct seeded. There will be more chard, my favourite winter crop, many mustard greens, lettuces, spinach and I'm soaking some beets seeds tonight as well for planting tomorrow.
Hope I get it all done. Bet I won't.
Two weeks remain in my summer CSA, and the fall one begins right after.

Todays baskets were once again loaded. Heirloom tomatoes, sweet and hot (and super hot) peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, beans, garlic, cantaloupe, orange scented thyme, golden purslane, basil and zucchini or summer squash filled them up quite well.

Thanks to Trish for sharing these recipes with me to use up the zucchini and tomatillos. She gave me a jar of the zucchini pickles and they are really delicious, as is the bread she shared.

Curried Pickled Zucchini
Author: Marisa McClellan
-Makes 4 pints

  • 2 ½ pounds of zucchini
  • 2C apple cider vinegar
  • 2C water
  • 1C granulated sugar
  • 2T pickling salt
  • 1T madras curry powder
  • 1T brown mustard seeds
  • 1tsp tumeric 
  1. Wash zucchini and using a mandolin, cut into ½ inch thick slices
  2. In a large pot combine apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, salt, curry powder, mustard seeds and turmeric and bring to a boil.  Add zucchini slices.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the liquid returns to a boil and zucchini starts to turn yellow
  3. Pack zucchini into prepared pint jars and cover with liquid.  Ensure there aren’t any air bubbles trapped between zucchini slices.  Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath caner for 10 min.  When time is up remove jars from canner and place on a towel to cool.
  4. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool dark place for up to one year.  Let pickles remain in jars for at least 48hrs before opening.

Zucchini Bread (Whole Foods Market)
Serves 10-12 
  • Natural cooking spray (I just used butter)
  • 1 ½ C whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 C expeller pressed canola oil
  • 1/3 C unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 T plain yogurt
  • ¾ C sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C grated zucchini
  • 1/3 C finely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease an 8 inch loaf pan and set aside
  • In a large bowl sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In a separate bowl whisk together egg, oil, applesauce, yogurt, sugar and vanilla.  Add flour mixture and stir until combined.  Fold in zucchini and walnuts then transfer batter to loaf pan.  Bake until risen, deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes clean (aprox 50-60 min)
  • Cool in pan on a rack for 30 min then remove bread from pan and continue to cool on a cooling rack

Tomatillo Salsa (from Practical Paleo)
Yield: aprox 1 cup
  • 2C tomatillos, outer skin peeled and fruit quartered
  • 1 tsp jalapeno pepper minced
  • ½ tsp garlic minced or grated
  • 1-2 tsp fresh horseradish minced or grated (to taste- using more will yield a spicier sauce)
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar or distilled vinegar
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Serve chilled.
For a less spicy version leave the jalapeno out and adjust the horse radish