Waltzing through the watermelons

Steve planted the watermelon patch where the potatoes were hatched last year, and my oh! do we have melons! I made a test run of watermelon bread for the weekend market and will tweak the recipe in hopes of improvement for Wednesday’s sales.

Watermelon juice can be boiled down just like maple syrup or made into sugar! When Mountain Lake was being settled in the 1870’s there was a group of entrepreneurs in California who attempted this but the sugar cane industry had too much power (a dark history which still continues) and all such schemes failed. An outdoor fire with a large hubbly-bubbly kettle will inspire some sweet incantations – maybe next year.

Nathan has been tilling up new plots of land in order to prepare the soil a full year before planting the next crop. It is an exercise in patience! A four-year rotation, which includes a year of rest, makes for complicated planning. These plots need access to water – cistern, pond or city – which takes into account the expense of pumps and tubing. After a soil test is made, amendments are added to the soil and a cover crop is planted.

This week’s harvest should include: scarlet turnips, stir-fry mix, the last cucumbers, watermelon, carrots, red bell peppers, tomatoes, kale, Swiss chard, onions, and maybe some eggplant and herbs. Salad mix will be for sale along with potatoes, Hakurei turnips, hot peppers and raspberries. Wild plum jam and a hot pepper relish are new additions.

Swales and keylines

I am thankful that our agroforestry class in Wisconsin was the first week of sunshine they had in over a month. My boots did get to schloop through the muddy spots but no need for a poncho. We learned to measure out the land using an A-frame and how to figure a 1% downward grade in order to make the swales for the water to flow out to the normally drier spots. The idea that we send it all downriver through tiles and storm sewers creates more issues for our neighbors.

The swales that we hope to make across our land will follow the contours. Berms are made with the soil from the swale and fruit & nut bearing trees and shrubs are planted downslope from the berm. A “keyline” cut is made with a subsoiler following the curve of the swale every 4 feet or so. These cuts create underground channels for the water to seep through. The alleys between the plantings of trees are seeded to cover crops or field crops in a rotational manner. Then of course, our pigs, cows, sheep and chickens will have a heyday as they fall in step!

Soil that is bare to the elements diminishes as it is washed away – have you noticed how fast nature tries to cloth itself? When water comes down like rocks from a sling shot it destroys even more; Swiss chard takes it full on the leaf. I made some wonderful Hail-shattered Swiss Chard Custard:

5 Cups packed cups of cooked Swiss Chard

1 cup chopped green onions

1 Tb oil

1/2 lb grated cheddar

½ cup parmesan

1 cup cottage cheese

6 eggs

1 cup milk

The simple procedure is: 1. Fry the onions. Add the Swiss Chard and cook until a bit limp – about 5 minutes. 2. Oil the pan for the custard. 3. Pour boiling water in a larger pan that the custard is to sit in while baking. 3. Mix the eggs, cottage cheese and milk. 4. Layer in some of the grated cheddar, then pour over some of the milk mixture. 5. Layer in the chard, the rest of the grated cheddar and pour over the rest of the milk mixture. 6. Sprinkle on the parmesan on top. 7. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in the hot water. 8. Bake for 1 hour at 400° F. Uncover for the last 10 minutes.

This week the harvest boxes should have celery, parsley, young onions, salad mix and herbs. If the sun shines until Wednesday we hope for more goodies.

Mettling with nettles

Recent observations:

  • May Queen lettuce wrap with homemade cheese is unbeatable
  • Solomon’s seal is delicious stir-fried in olive oil with a few chopped green onions
  • stored butternut squash from 2012 makes tasty soup 6 months later
  • no more morel mushrooms
  • I love to mettle with nettles in the driving rain

What have you been observing? I haven’t woken up to June yet, it feels like April. We continue to have slight drought conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ so these are happy tears coursing through the sky. One could choose to be grumpy: celebrations indoors or canceled, sports in a muddy fields, the sun is hidden from view and there is no rock picking.

We were going to plant trees today along the western edge of our farm. Instead there are cucumbers being planted in the west high tunnel tucked in with camomile and other herbs. I made a mad dash on my bike early this morning in the beginning showers to harvest nettles, cattails, rhubarb and some other fun things. When the wind picked up, a quiet voice kept asking me why I was in a field of nettles getting buffeted by the wind and bathed by the rain. Hmmmm…. Answer: Because I want to make Irish nettle soup for everyone at the market along with some Irish Soda Bread to celebrate our first day of the summer market. I hope you enjoy the treat….I was in the lowest gear riding home into the wind!

Market boxes should contain: radishes, a small bag of salad mix, a large bunch of spring onions, asparagus, chives, Mizuna, herbs, either curly kale or green garlic and a jar of jam. The first fields of radishes and lettuces are ending; others are coming along. The second planting of Asian greens, such as Mizuna, have been under cover to ward off the flea beatles. Garlic failed this year, I think due to drought.

Yesterday, the three baby robins flew out of their nest near our garage door -oof, what a day to experience clinging to some wet limb with water running in rivulets down your back!





Sparkles in the night

Last night was magical! I went out with my headlamp looking for sparkles in the sedum under the grapevines. Sure enough, they were there! Miniscule lights glittering back at me like dew drops. If I were the size of a fairy, they would have been lamps to light my path. I often cruise around the yard in the dark taking out compost or some other late night chore, daring any skunk to scare me. Pairs of eyes glitter back at me and as long as they keep their distance I’m cool with the company. The dew-like sparkles didn’t shine in couplets and moisture gathers in the early morning on flower petal, leaf and spider web so I bent down, nose to grass blade, and saw……a spider! A very small one and at each beacon there was another one! I was seeing my light reflected back in spider eyes!

A neighbor stopped by the other day to ask how I would manage some weeds around the deck that was to be built. The question was if glyphosate would harm bulbs that were underground. My response was that glyphosate is not an option for me, which was repeated several times because it wasn’t being heard. Hmmm. I want to continue reaping what I sow and there are some things I would never want to reap. I know I DO want to continue seeing fairly lights in the hedge rows at night.

Life is precious, great and small. Our dictum as stewards of this planet is to learn to walk in step with the magnitude of nature. Each species that fades away because of our ignorance or greed is like finishing a puzzle of 15,000 pieces and leaving vacant holes where pieces are missing.

There are 4 more weeks of our summer season. Some of you were happy to see the cucumbers finally fade from the scene. We did hand out a bunch to you. Next year, we hope to have more wholesale accounts since now we know how great the harvest can be! We continue to try and be more efficient in order for this “dream” to be financially viable.

We’ve cleaned up our south farm field where our potatoes, corn and winter squash were planted. We took a BIG loss there due to the drought. We will be planting all crops near some water source and looking at harvesting rain water seriously. I have mentioned this before but figure the more often said it will imprint itself on the grand list. We will have spent over $500 on water by the time this chapter ends.

Your market box should overflow with: tomatoes, chard, onions, red peppers, summer squash, celery, parsley, beans (the last), carrots, broccoli, kale, fennel and a wedge of watermelon. We will have raspberries, potatoes, jam, pickles, melons, and beautiful Indian corn for sale.


Fire and rain

Today is the first day in many days, if not weeks, that looks to be an enjoyable day to be out in the fields tending the crops. Oh my, have I cooked wearing my long pants, long-sleeved shirt, work gloves and hat. I gave up wearing boots since I needed some body parts that could breathe!

There seems to be a weather usher to the west of us that sends all moisture to the south or north. Life can hang in the balance when water is scarce. A city water main broke and closed down the water pump where farmers can fill up their tanks. We were using that water to irrigate our watermelons and winter squash out at our south farm. A farmer friend has given us the use of his 1,000 gallon tank on wheels which he parks at the top of the hill while gravity drains out the life-giving water through all the drip tape that we wove through and under the plants. We and you will have him to thank for the produce we hope to harvest from that field. Sweet corn may take a miss this year without the rain.

Days (and nights) are packed with farming, wedding arrangements, family members arriving here and at the airport, and getting the yard into shape as well as a list of other usual activities: meals, delivering babies (3!) church, etc. We should come through in the end ….but whew!

I made a wonderful leek vegetable soup with meatballs last night. It is a typical vegetable soup but I don’t add other onions in order not to mask the leek flavor. I had bits of celery, leeks, potatoes, carrots in the pot. Someday the celery will be harvested to share; I pulled out the plants that were turning yellow…aster yellows?

Through it all there should be a harvest this week of: potatoes (Steve dug them at 5 this morning on his way to deliver another baby!), carrots, onions, beans, Swiss chard, cucumbers, tomatoes, dill, parsley, leeks and maybe a small summer squash.