Friday, August 19, 2011

The sun will shine again...

Kumari usually does the writing for the blog. Though I have always loved writing, she does such a good job that it was just another one of those tasks that I handed off. But I had mentioned a few times that I had the "itch" to write the next entry. So at 3 am I find myself in my favorite writing chair fulfilling that need to put thoughts on paper. (Kumari will transpose to the computer.) What started out as one Old Nelly story has now evolved into one story with three parts.

Our daughter Karen brings her three girls to the farm every summer for their "haycation." Mira, age 10, Laney, age 8, and Eve, age 4 arrive in Iowa from San Francisco eager to reacquaint with their farm pets and country cousins. My mission is to provide them with the same kind of memories I had as a kid. We pulled weeds out of the beans together. Eve helped clean the chicken coop. They buried and mourned the death of Kasha our dog, who Mira observed, was older in dog years than Grandpa. They delighted in the homecoming of the new puppy, Maisy. The rule was that they had to taste everything out of the garden. Beets were tough! There the beautiful ruby and white gems sat on their plates, totally unappreciated. But Grandma's rule was firm--at least one bite. Oh, triumph as Laney and Eve not only cleaned their plates but asked for more. We "did" the county fair and Grandpa and his friend, Emmet took them on a fishing trip to Bill's farm pond. Sixty blue gills later they proudly presented our supper to me. Ah, yes, it was a wonderful July.

The middle of August promised to bring our garden dreams to fruition. though everything was late, we were getting our first tomatoes. I had to chuckle when I went to the garden and saw bright pink labels hanging from the tomato trellises. Kumari was labeling all of her varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Beautiful purple and white globes were hanging from the eggplants. Peppers of all sizes, colors, shapes, and degree of hotness abounded. The okra was enjoying the heat that was plaguing us humans. This was the year for the old peach and pear tree. Their branches were so laden that the chickens could peck at the green fruit on the peach tree. And then last night! We stood in our kitchen--before we retreated to the basement--and watched in dumbstruck awe as the heavens pelted our house and cars with hailstones the size of golf and tennis balls. In the space of fifteen minutes it was over. We surveyed the damage the house and then anxiously went down the hill to the garden. Mother Nature had taken her weed-eater and left an acre of broken, stripped plants. The produce on the ground looked like an animal had taken bites out of it. The pink labels were gone!

Why at 3 am? Because I was laying in bed next to holden, our 2 1/2 year old grandson, who was afraid to sleep in his crib. I awoke and looked at his sweet blond curls against the pillow and thought, "We are blessed." Unlike some of our friends in this part of Iowa, we still have a roof--albeit it is leaking right now--over our heads and we have each other. And it is August 19th. The sun will shine in the next couple of days and we can replant our fall crops. Although we can not continue to provide our CSA families, we are so grateful that we were able to connect with them for half the season. So tomorrow we don our boots, jeans, and gloves, take a deep breath and attack! Yes, it's August 19th and the sun will shine again.

P.S. Grandpa just found me and with sleep laden eyes mumbled, "If that's a list you're making, put duct tape on it. We used it all last night on the car windows, " and then ambled back to bed. But not before he turned around and said, "And oh yeah, you girls should still get that new weed-eater. The sun will shine again."

Friday, July 15, 2011

CSA Newsletter July 13, 2011

Farm Happenings

The heat is on…And it is making our nightshades grow grow grow. The tomatoes have lots of small fruit but are not quite ready. It is very hard to tell when we will be able to enjoy our first tomato of the season but trust me, I am as anxious as all of you. We are hard at work trellising the tomatoes. We usually let them sprawl on the landscape fabric but are trellising this year in order to utilize more space and aid in harvesting. We are using a system that our relatives in Trinidad use for their tomato production. In true Trinidadian fashion, we (and by we I mean my dad) are salvaging and welding rebar. We are not really sure how it is going to work but as my dad says, “We are gaining experience.”

The peppers have many blooms and a few fruits but are coming along more slowly than the tomatoes. The same is true with the eggplants, as well as the tomatillos, ground cherries, and huckleberries we are experimenting with this year.

The replanted squash are very very small and I fear that their root system did not get a chance to develop. I will replant seeds and hope for a very late crop. A farmer at market told me to sprinkle shell corn on the ground after planting the seeds. The mice will then take that corn back to their nest and leave the seeds in the ground alone. Next year I will do transplants, but this year I will try that method.

For the next couple of weeks we will be biding our time until the tomatoes, peppers, and melons ripen. Until then, we appreciate your patience.

What’s in the Bag…

Dill: Our herb garden is having a rough go this year. We will be replanting our fall herb garden for preserving but this is delicious on fiah or in salad dressing.

Grape Leaves: These are usually stuffed for dolmades but can also be used to wrap fish before grilling it.

Beets: More beets…Don’t forget that the tops are delicious too. The food network has a plethora of beet salad recipes, they all look delicious. We suggest cutting off the greens and storing them separately as they can leach water from the root.

Turnips: More turnips. Get creative folks. I found some good recipes for turnip French fries and turnip soup.

Wild Raspberries: This is it for the season. I can’t say I am too sad about this as picking them is a real chore. Eat them fresh or lay them flat on a cookie sheet, put in the freezer, and break them out in the winter.

Zinnias: These are my favorite flower because they look great with just a single stem and I can fill up my house with flowers.

Broccoli: I am trying desperately to perfect my broccoli growing. I am going to try for a fall crop but for some reason the heads will not get large but the flavor is amazing. Also, I had to dust these with Dipel (see blog entry on Dipel) but these were dusted 10 days and it had rained heavily since.


Caramelized Turnips:

Mashed Turnips and Cheese: Peel 5 whole turnips and cut into quarters. Boil in salted water for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until turnips are very tender. Drain off water. Mash turnips with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper, and/or herbs of choice. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup grated cheese. Mix just until cheese starts to melt.

Beet Cupcakes: My niece Mira made these…delicious.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

To Dipel or not to Dipel?

We try so so so hard to keep pesticides of all kinds off of the plants, but sometimes we are faced with a dilemma. This time, we have a real threat to our brassica crop. Brassicas include, but are not limited to, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. We try to keep a healthy crop of wild mustard around the farm in a futile attempt to distract to cabbage moths away from the brassica crop, maintain a healthy wild bird population to encourage predation of the loppers, and even pick off those cleverly camouflaged critters off the leaves daily. And, as I have said before, I don't even mind sharing...a little. But there comes a time when one party takes more than its fair share and action needs to be taken. I have reached my boiling point. Te cabbage loopers have officially taken more than their fair share.

There are many products on the market to take care of such pests. There are several that are OMRI certified, meaning they can be applied in organic production, according to the label. Despite their certification, some OMRI certified products damage aquatic wildlife and beneficial insects. BT (bacillus thurogenesis) seems to be the safest and most efficient way of saving the brassica crop. I went back and forth about whether to use the product but as I decided and picked off loopers daily, it became apparent that I would lose the entire crop unless I did something drastic.

So I drove to the garden store and bought some BT, brand name Dipel. While I was applying the product, I was trying to decide whether it was necessary or if I had time to come up with a better plan. One walk down the row let me know I was definitely out of time. I did however, see a beautiful thing. (I use the term "beautiful" very very very loosely here. Keep in mind I was building up rage for the cabbage loopers with every hole I saw chewed in the leaves, of which there were an innumerable amount.) A parasitic wasp was dragging a cabbage looper to the top of a leaf where it proceeded to voraciously harm the caterpillar. I of course wanted to then let nature take its course without interrupting, and considered halting my Dipel application process. That, and I wasn't sure what Dipel did to parasitic wasps. As I pondered, I decided to observe and come up with a plan. I alked down a row and counted the number of parasitic wasps versus caterpillars. Final score, parasitic wasps- 1, caterpillars- 27. I decided to spray.

If we were certified organic, we would be allowed to use this, as long as we kept a record of it, but would not be required to let the consumers of our products know. I am a firm believer in letting our customers know what we do with our produce and why. So my choice today was to Dipel. So far, we have used one application and may have to use more before we harvest. Definitely not ideal, but in my opinion, necessary. As a side note, no parasitic wasps were harmed during my application of Dipel.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29 Newsletter

Farm Happenings

I can not believe the fourth of July is almost here. The fourth is the date by which some crops MUST be in, or there will be no crop. Beans and corn are the ones that come to mind. Perhaps because those are the crops I am struggling to get in the ground.

Luckily, we just got done planting the rest of our beans yesterday. We did get some beans in at the main garden, but several varieties had to go in at the McClelland farm. Our idea was to plant pole beans all along the fence, but that just didn’t happen this year. But we have several varieties of pole beans now in the ground, as well as some bush snap beans, bush shell beans, and lima beans. I am not sure when the lima beans will be ready, but if you are a fan, you might have to let us know and pick some up in the early fall, as I am not sure they will be ready before the last pick up. I am thinking that because Easter was so late this year that it is just going to be a late season. Although it sounds funny to base your crop predictions off of Easter, you may or may not know that Good Friday is the last full moon before the vernal equinox. So the tradition of planting on Good Friday has some roots in biodynamic farming. (Though I think some would argue potatoes need to be planted during a dark moon, but that is a topic for another time.) Regardless, I am letting you all know that some of our crops will be a little bit later than we may have expected, but little by little we are getting them in in the nick of time.

What’s in the Bag…

Green Garlic: This is the last of the fresh garlic until we have our large cured bulbs.

Shell Peas: More shell peas…Happy shelling!

Snow Peas: More Snow Peas.

Beets: More beets…Don’t forget that the tops are delicious too. The food network has a plethora of beet salad recipes, they all look delicious. We suggest cutting off the greens and storing them separately as they can leach water from the root.

Turnips: You have tasted the greens. Now you get the roots. I personally like them both, but the roots are a little more versatile. They make a great addition to mashed potatoes.

Onions: These are stronger than green onions, milder than our winter onions.

Napa Cabbage: Just to let you know, I am trying a different variety of Napa Cabbage in the fall. This variety was not my favorite…for taste or performance in the garden. I like to eat my Napa Cabbage raw, though this is wonderful braised.


Head Lettuce: There are a couple of different varieties of this growing in the garden but they are similar. Did someone say lettuce wraps?


Due to the electronic nature of this newsletter, I am going to include links to some recipes, rather than the recipes themselves.

Lettuce Soup:

Linguine with Pea Pesto:

June 22 Newsletter

And another one...

Farm Happenings

It seems like something is always trying to get in the way of our crop. This time it is the weeds. It happens on every farm, around this time. The weeds get a little out of control. But it is time to take the crops back. I am continuously planting things like beets, carrots, and some greens, but my energy is going to be focused on getting some of the weeds out. Now, the weeds are large enough that they are easily used as mulch that will not blow away, so if there is an upside to weeds, that is it.

My other grievance is the mice. I think they were following me as I planted the squash seeds and eating them out of the ground. I picked out four varieties of summer squash that I wanted to grow- golden zucchini, yellow crookneck, Benning’s Green Tint, and Odessa. Out of all of the squash seeds I planted (200), 2 of them are sprouting. The rest have little claw marks, dirt mounds, and half eaten seeds where they once were. So now we are left with what they had for half price at Sherbondy’s. Yellow Straightneck, Yellow crookneck, and what may or may not be a green zucchini plant. Hopefully they will make it and we will some summer squash. I am not totally convinced that Dan is not releasing mice into the summer squash patch as he hates zucchini.

Despite all of this, I am very pleased with the garden so far. I am confident we will get the weeds under control, I am sure mice do not enjoy zucchini plants as much as the seeds, and I realize we will never control the weather. So we will plod along and keep giving you what we have every week. This week have some of the old and some of the new, just the way I like it.

What’s in the Bag…

Green Garlic: This is a mild garlic (think green onions) and can be used just like regular garlic.

Shell Peas: More shell peas…Happy shelling!

Snow Peas: More Snow Peas. There may be some of these that look like shell peas in your bag, but the pod is edible. In fact, I think these are my favorite snow pea—even when they get full, the pod and pea is absolutely delicious. I save my snow pea snacking while I am picking until I reach this row.

Rainbow Chard: Love the chard…Again, this can be used a s a braising green.

Beets: This is the first of the beets though there will be more to come. We have many varieties planted so prepare to be surprised. The greens on the top are also delicious.

Turnips: You have tasted the greens. Now you get the roots. I personally like them both, but the roots are a little more versatile. They make a great addition to mashed potatoes or roasted.

Napa Cabbage: This is the strangest napa cabbage I have seen. Usually it grows into a dense head but because I attribute everything to the weather, I am saying the weather made it grow into a very loosely packed head. Whatever reason, the leaves can be used in the same way. To me, they have a mustard-like flavor.


Head Lettuce: This is the variety Blonde de Paris. It is the only head lettuce that made it out of the greenhouse. I will be trying a different variety this fall although this is very tasty.


Due to the electronic nature of this newsletter, I am going to include links to some recipes, rather than the recipes themselves.

Turnip Gratin:

Linguine with Pea Pesto:

Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes and Napa Cabbage:

Braised Napa Cabbage with bacon, red wine vinegar, and mint:

June 15 Newsletter

Okay, I am a little behind on posting my newsletters. But it is time to catch up...

Farm Happenings
The flood waters are rising, and with it, there has been an influx of wildlife, as well as confirmation of wildlife already residing here. We have confirmed that there is a bobcat and raccoon stealing our broilers and laying hens so egg production is at an all time low. We are planning on increasing the flock but have to wait until we get the predator situation under control. We foresee this problem getting worse as the flood waters are pushing wildlife out of their normal habitat into our timber.
We love birds at Old Nelly Farms but have never dabbled with pea fowl. However, it looks as though some pea fowl found us. There were several pea fowl wandering around the farm yesterday, up and down the hill. They were not afraid of the vehicles, but a little shy of people. I am sure they were displaced from their home and only imagine they feel our love and are hanging around until they can make their way back home.
The garden is growing, as are the weeds, which is always a constant battle on the farm. We are in the process of pulling out some spent plants, using them as mulch, and then replanting. We are also patiently awaiting the arrival of our heirloom tomatoes and red peppers, but until they arrive we will continue eating greens. Next week we should also have some beets, Chinese cabbage, and more peas.

What’s in the Bag…

Green Garlic: This is a mild garlic (think green onions) and can be used just like regular garlic.
Shell Peas: These are the first shell peas of the season and are wonderful. The pods are a bit on the small side but our larger podded variety has not quite filled out the pod. We should have some of the larger podded variety next week.
Snow Peas: Most of these snow peas are the variety Melting Sugar Mammoth. As the name implies, they are a large snow pea. There are also snow peas of a smaller variety that look like small unripe shell peas. The pod is very tender and the taste is exceptionally sweet.
Rainbow Chard: Swiss Chard is a wonderful braising green. The stalks come in a variety of colors and look great on the plate. This will keep turning up in your bag so learn to love the Chard.
Rhubarb: This will probably be the last of the rhubarb as it is time to let the plants regrow for next spring.
Lettuce: This is our mild lettuce mix made up of different varieties of romaine type lettuces.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Old Nelly Farms Wild Kingdom

Pardon the second post of the day (and its graphic nature), but I had to share what we caught on the trail cam...

We are losing chickens right and left. During the day and at night, the hens and the broilers are disappearing. Not quite vanishing, as we are left with evidence if their disappearance in the form of feathers, and various other chicken parts. It reached a boiling point when the predator managed to steal three chickens during the day, while dad was nearby working in the vineyard. Let's just say the scene was so gruesome and heartbreaking dad skipped dinner that night because he just couldn't stomach eating.

Although we know we have been losing chickens, our attempt at live trapping has only resulted in catching all three of our cats, one of them twice. Our trapping attempt was a failure once again, but we had all of our suspicions confirmed this morning when we checked our trail cam footage. (Never mind the date on the picture, it is not set correctly) We are clearly dealing with more than one predator. The first three pictures are of our resident bobcat, who we assume is our daytime (and perhaps nighttime) predator. The final picture is of our nighttime predator, the raccoon.

While it is fascinating to catch them on tape, the fact remains that they are eating our livestock. This is sad for two major reasons. The first of course, is the plight of our animals. I know bobcats and raccoons need to eat also, but I wish they would eat something we were less attached to, like wild rabbits or even wild turkeys. In recent weeks they have halved our hen and broiler population, gotten two of our pet turkeys, and a guinea. I must admit, I take it a little harder when my laying hens and pet birds get eaten.

I know it seems strange that I would be sad about the animals eating some of the poultry we raise to slaughter and eat, which brings me to the second issue I take with this predation. And that is the fact that I am raising these animals for my family and customers, and not so much for the wildlife that we share this land with. It is labor intensive and costly to raise these birds and getting them swiped by something that will survive just as well on wild game makes it hard not to take personally.

However, we have to take action. I will confess we threw around the more inhumane ways of taking care of this problem. We of course, dismissed these as they are not only illegal, but also go against what we believe in. But we must figure out a plan to save the chickens we have, especially before we get replacements. So far we have decided to lock in our laying hens at the house immediately after they go in at night. As for our broilers, they will have to give up life in the vineyard for a chicken run with a roof and a predator-proof nighttime shelter. We are also in the market for a bobcat chasing, chicken loving dog. Lucy, may she rest in peace, loved the chickens to death more than once, and Kasha is a little too old to snap at anything but flies. I would consider a llama if I didn't think it would eat everything in sight.

Between the cabbage moths systematically eating our brassicas, and the bobcat and raccoons doing the same to our chickens, it is hard living the organic lifestyle. The up side is that we got free Chipotle after market on Saturday...I am glad someone recognizes the hard work we put in...even if it is not the bobcat.