Cleanin’ and Gleanin’

gleaningIt’s time to clean up the garden, which means that suddenly the produce becomes precious again. Today I pulled up the tomato vines and took the cages out to the barn. I pulled up the watering systems and rolled the hoses I can use again and disposed of the few hoses that had sprung more leaks than it is worth trying to plug. It is fun in August to try to aim the leaks at different spots in the beds to get maximum usage from beat up hoses.

tomatoesFor meals, I’ve been happily turning to leeks and potatoes, but tomorrow I’ll be using the remaining tomatoes for one more fresh sauce. I’ll make my new favorite quick sauce from a book I got for Christmas last year, pasta Puttanesca. The book is Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Sauces & Shapes and it is encyclopedic. The recipe caught my attention because of the capers and olives, but also because of the origin of the name– a sauce so quick that “professional women” could make it for their clients. Here is everything you need to know about making it, though there are other more complicated recipes around.  Make a paste from anchovies packed in oil, cooking that quickly with garlic in olive oil, then simmering with tomatoes you can core and seed on the spot, capers, and chopped olives while you cook the spaghetti. Serve with parsley if you have it, and Parmesan.

daikonAs I cleaned the beds, I picked up a few of those remaining tomatoes from vines and the ground. I also harvested the daikon radishes– three pounds worth. They were starting to poke their snaky selves up out of the ground. Unfortunately, the Chinese cabbage didn’t do as well. So instead of more kimchi, I’m going to make some sweet pickled daikon and carrots. It’s a Vietnamese recipe that can be used in spring rolls, pork sandwiches, or basically anything. I’m torn between a Vietnamese woman’s family recipe and the clearly much sweeter New York Times recipe. I’ll probably reduce the sugar and use rice wine vinegar, so a combination. I do like the idea of massaging the vegetables first.

I also got the final results of the “plant carrots everywhere” strategy. The good news is that there were over four more pounds of medium and full-size carrots. I gave them the damp sand treatment and put them in my new storage benches in the basement.

big carrotsmini carrotsIn addition to that score of carrots, there was four pounds of little carrot stubs. No one wants to clean and eat those carrots– no, that’s not exactly true. No one wants to clean and peel those carrots. If it were mid-season, I’d probably just throw them on the compost pile. But right now they’re the last fresh carrots I’ll see until maybe next July!

I’ll put some of the bigger ones in the fridge and use them in roasted vegetable dishes while I still don’t mind chopping. But most of them I’ll just clean, trim, and throw in the food processor. Once ground up and frozen, I can use them for carrot cake. Carrot cake!

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CSA Experiment

fall harvestToday is the last major harvest for my little CSA experiment. Last night we had our first light frost, and today was a day to dig roots, break off Brussels sprouts and cut delicate lettuces in the cold frame (whose frame went on two days ago).

This year I weighed my harvests. Each week I put together a bag or box for my sister-in-law and delivered it. She received produce from May 7 through September 30. The first delivery was asparagus and greens. Things got more interesting by June 4 with the first broccoli delivery. The last delivery includes 2 lbs of leeks, 1 lb of Brussel’s sprouts, a daikon radish, 4 oz of lettuce, as well as a few final tomatoes and baby carrots tossed in the bag. (She got parsnips and turnips last week.)

parsnips and bsproutsOver the course of these six months, she received 105 lbs of produce I would value at $285 if selling in individual portions. My total harvest so far is 515 lbs of produce. That includes a lot of potatoes, the meager winter squash harvest, and more than 80 lbs of tomatoes, definitely a record.

The CSA was definitely a success– she got a great value and the best of the produce, cleaned and delivered. She said each week she was at the very edge of being able to use/freeze all the produce, which is definitely success. However, it is also the problem with the CSA model. Next year, I have a list of a few people interested in buying produce from me. My plan is to send out a weekly e-mail with what I have available and then have a turnipspick-up either here on the farm or at the retreat center where I work. My goal is for the garden to pay for itself, which means about $500/year, and also provide us with the bulk of our produce for the entire year. That would be homesteading. The addition of the greenhouse will extend the season and increase my production slightly (I have to say I’m at the edge of what I can do in terms of work as well!) In the end, the challenge for me was in the cleaning and prepping of the produce for sale. I’m not sure that’s something I want to do– it’s easier and in some ways more satisfying to give away the surplus.

And now, as we go into fall, I’m enjoying the arrival of stew season. Those end-of-season tomatoes really do their work and I am amazed at how flavorful everything is in these last versions of the saute-and-serve meal we eat about four months of the year. Last night, for example, I made this Ciambotta from didn’t follow the instructions exactly– I’m not sure why they pre-cook all the vegetables. It’s much better to make the mirepoix, then add the eggplant, potatoes, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes, and finally fold in the beans. My green beans are long past, so I used dry beans, which I rehydrated ahead of time. Every bit of it came from the garden (except the celery, which a rabbit ate, so I got some from the Farmer’s market). Stew is pretty forgiving of puckering zucchini and peppers. I’ll remember, in May, when we’re choosing from among four fresh vegetables, what it means to have nine fresh items to throw in a stew in late September.

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Project: Brined Berries

20141125-bar-tartine-cover-chad-robertsonI am still drawn to the crazy foodie ultra-local ultra-farm-to-table restaurateurs out there. Even though my cheese making stops at mozzarella and I have no plans to cure my own ham, at the first sign of real fall, I want a project. One year it was nasturtium hot sauce; last year it was making my own ketchup. Both of these were great and have not been repeated. I do think I’ll make ketchup again, but I was smart enough to score a bottle made by the Crow River sustainable farming association who run the garlic festival this year.

I ordered another cookbook, Bar Tartine, after reading an article in Food & Wine about the couple behind the cookbook and the San Francisco restaurant of the same name. It was all about powders and was clear they dry everything. They dry eggplant. They make something called black garlic powder that involves roasting garlic for 72 hours then grinding it. The cookbook is equal parts techniques and recipes.

It’s a good read. And it showed up in time for me to have one day for a project. I mean, yes, I dehydrated cayenne peppers overnight and ground them, and am dehydrating celery leaves right now, and also harvested some brown coriander seed this morning I’ll later  grind. So, four projects. But those are simple things.

pickling berriesThe crazy thing is a jar of brined berries that will now cure for two months and then I can use them in lieu of capers.

pickled berries in jarThe key to this project is a variety of unripe berries and seeds. I found I had cilantro berries (coriander), green/yellow fennel seed, green nasturtium seeds, and wild onion seeds in both dry black and green berry form. It was labor intensive to separate them from their stems, but also pleasing because they’re quite fragrant. Once they were cleaned, I added a dash of salt (the recipe calls for 3 percent, and I had about 40 grams of berries/seeds) and covered them with a brine that was 1 cup water/2 Tbs kosher salt. They’re in a clean, dry, non-reactive jar and I’ll shake them now and then until they’re a little sour. Then they can be used wherever I would use capers, in stews, on salads, in pasta sauces, etc.

pickling flowersReally, what Bar Tartine seems to be about it flavor. Spice. Preserving flavors so you can combine them in all sorts of ways. I’m all for that!


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Grasshopper Hunt

OK. So I went out and paid $30 (that’s 10 dozen eggs if you’re keeping track) for this.

kitty box layer box

No, I did not get a cat (though I’ve been lobbying). But I am desperate to get these chickens to all lay eggs daily. I’ve read that they will use a covered kitty litter pan in a pinch. And this is definitely a pinch.

Even if I leave them in their run until 3:30 p.m., I have been getting this:

2 eggs in coop

And I was thinking about all I’ve read and maybe that it is true that four is the maximum number of chickens who will share a brooder box, even a large one like their coop. I needed to provide another, maybe.

Meanwhile, I kept breaking down and letting them out– if there were THREE eggs by 3 p.m., they could go out. There were pretty much always 3 eggs by then. No more and no less.

I am totally lame and don’t know how to do basic video editing. I’m also very tired. So if you want to watch 3 minutes of raw, unedited video, which begins with my thumb over the camera lens, to see my happy chickens chasing grasshoppers, click here.  You will definitely understand why I just HAD to let them out in the afternoon.

The silly kitty box has been out there for four days. No one showed too much interest in it. But today, I worked until 4:30 and when I got home, OMG. Four eggs in the coop, and one egg in the kitty box. We’re back in business. Hooray.

five eggs in the hand

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The Warden

chickens 2

Four girls and one in the coop hopefully thinking about laying an egg.

One day last week I opened both the chicken coop door and the pen door first thing in the morning. I was thinking they’d go about their usual business: taking turns going in the coop to lay their eggs, eating some scratch and feed, drinking some water, and then head out to find grasshoppers.

When I came back that evening about five, I herded them in from the garden to the pen. I opened the coop to collect the eggs and gasped. No eggs. Not a single egg.

They’d gone off somewhere and made a secret nest.

I walked around to their obvious haunts: the raised bed completely shrouded in asparagus fronds, the old garlic beds that are still somewhat mounded with straw, under the pine tree, back in the deep brush by the pond, even under the oak out front where they’ve been sitting around a lot lately. No eggs. No sign of a nest or eggs.

And so, new plan. They now have to stay in the pen until they lay at least four eggs. Even if I’m not going to be home until five, they have to stay in the pen. If they haven’t laid their eggs, they don’t go out. Today we were taking off at noon for a drive to see a prairie, and there were only two eggs. Sorry girls, and have a nice day.

When I come outside they run up and cluck at me. As I’m headed back to the house in the morning there’s very loud clucking. I’d like to take them on a little “scared straight” trip over to a commercial egg operation. “Look! See how good you have it! I even poured in half a bag of leftover popcorn before I left. You’re not suffering. Your pen is enormous by pen standards. Now get busy!”

And on days when I go out at two or three p.m. and there are four eggs, or even five, and I open the door, they trot out happily and either follow me into the garden or go about the business of finding meat in the prairie, Biggie leading the way.

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Late Heat

five color pepperI’m not really in a good decision-making place this late in the season, but my sense is that there’s been more quantity than quality in the garden this summer. Maybe the quantity just makes one weary! After several dozen cucumbers, they just don’t taste quite as good. Tomatoes? I never thought I’d get sick of tomatoes.

Also, some things hit their peak right as the season is shutting down. The ornamental peppers look so gorgeous right now on the patio, especially with the flowering Thai basil. But it took until September for them to become the five-color that was promised on the seed packet.

feher ozenFeher ozen paprika peppers take forever to turn red, and they’re starting to shrivel before fully changing color. Today I’m roasting and peeling them for my jar of roasted peppers in oil. I’m also blanching and dicing my one red pimento pepper (we’ll see if any of the others have time to fully ripen) for the freezer.


We did have one week of heat– humid heat, unfortunately, the kind where you don’t even want to run the dehydrator inside, let alone the oven. We call it “Minnesota State Fair weather.” It threatened the lettuces toward early bolting, and it also spurred one last broccoli plant to head out and the eggplant to kick into full gear. Come on! It’s way too late for the eggplant to get busy, but I’ll take the last immature fruit just before the first frost.

late eggplant

late tomatoesThe tomatoes loved the heat but hated the humidity, and boy do the plants look sad. The fruit also looks a bit sad, not quite getting to full on redness, kind of hanging out in the orange stage. Still makes mighty good sauce. I’m really liking the New York Times recommendation to grate them as a way of getting most of the skin off without a food mill. I’ll probably be making sauce to freeze today as well.

Meanwhile, we’ve entered “seasonal” temperatures this week. There’s nothing more glorious than fall in Minnesota. And I’m never sad, despite the short season, to put the garden to bed.

chicken dirt bathAnd the chickens are so happy. It’s great fun watching them chase grasshoppers, and the grasshoppers have lured them into new territory. Also, anything off limits is fenced, so they’re enjoying the dirt baths!

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Winter Squash

winter squash 2015eggplantThe only actual “fail” in this year’s garden has been the winter squash. And yes, it has been an epic fail. I mean, sure, the rabbit ate the chard and celery, and we only got two eggplant (but look at that beauty). However, I’m used to getting dozens of delicata and having butternut squash until April. Not so this year.

What happened is I just ran out of garden space. I didn’t get enough “good soil” to make a new bed, and just brought in bags of topsoil and compost and made a little rim to a large space for the squash vines to grow. Under that trucked in soil was a fairly compacted (tilled, but still) patch of land that had been sprayed and sprayed with Round-up in past years just to keep it from being a giant weed bed. Also, it’s shady. Also, chickens trampling the vines all the time.

failed squash bedThis fall I’ll push to get it seeded in grass. I’m not interested in doing the work it would take to make it a better bed– especially since it’s inaccessible to machinery coming in and doing multiple tillings and dumping large amounts of compost. Next year I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to move my tomatoes and peppers into the greenhouse and will have a few raised beds freed up for winter squash.

la ratte 2015Or, I could always plant fewer potatoes! The potatoes have overproduced (like almost everything, it’s been a banner year). I started digging up the La Ratte fingerlings and after about 1/4 of the way down the road had a large bucket about 2/3 full. I freaked out and stopped. I actually went inside and lay down for a bit.

It’s possible it’s just a very good year for potatoes– I had no potato bugs for the first time ever, and it rained so regularly they were well watered. But it potato bedalso could be that after four years of amending that garden plot, it is now in great shape. Not knowing means I can’t decide whether to plant fewer potatoes next year and put the rest in winter squash or not… I might try that, though. Because it’s nice to have winter squash in a place where the vines can spread unencumbered. And because, SO many potatoes!



tiny melonAs far as the winter squash, I got exactly ONE of every squash, and four delicata. One Canada crookneck, one butternut squash, one Sweet Dumpling, and one Lakota squash that actually rotted on the bottom so went straight to the compost pile. One teeny tiny watermelon that is unlikely to ripen before the first frost. One pumpkin. One pumpkin!! Good vines once it warmed up, and even multiple flowers, but the plants just couldn’t sustain the fruit.

Ah well, we’ll just eat more frozen beans and potatoes this winter! And I’m going to have 20-30 jars of tomatoes.

tomatoes august 31

Also, I just have to share this photo. Walking up our front steps the past few weeks means being enveloped by Monarch butterflies. They, like the crops, have slowed down now, but there are still some fluttering on the Blazing Star all the time.

monarchs on blazing star

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