A Really Good Day

50’s outside meant 70’s in the high tunnel and plenty to harvest.  What a wondrous day for the last day of January.  Once I got done with my have-to’s in the AM, I made an executive decision to ignore my need-to’s in the house and spend a few hours working in the high tunnel and the garden.  I was richly rewarded.  Salad greens, edible flowers, and Jerusalem artichokes will be heading to the restaurant with the chef tomorrow.  The weekend’s Jerusalem artichoke chowder was a sell-out hit.  It was great to get my hands into the earth and go treasure hunting for them. Mother Nature does a great job of keeping them crisp and fresh for whenever we need them.  The “candy carrots” are sweet and crisp.  In addition to the harvest, I loved seeing a dandelion in the high tunnel and some beautiful magenta kales.

Dark Days Times Two

Just when I was pondering what our next meal would be for the Dark Days local eating challenge, 2 meals happened back to back without really planning.  

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The first is a meal of lamb burgers with home-canned ketchup, German potato salad, home-canned applesauce, and a cold beet salad.  Meal number 2 was a beef pot roast with carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic.  We had this with some home-canned peaches. Our pot roast meal qualifies as they One-pot Meal mini challenge within the Dark Days Challenge.  The only item not in the pot was the peaches and we ate those right out of the canning jar!

You will notice that our lamb burgers were served without a bun.  We often have bread-less meals due to our daughter’s numerous food allergies.  Makes Dark Days easier too!

The German Potato salad is not a regular offering around here.   A few weeks ago, we visited Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis and I had their German potato salad and I have been craving it ever since.  Shapiro’s is a 100+ year old deli and a bit of a local legend. Hard to believe we had never been their before.  The potato salad, served warm, was the perfect combination of strong mustard, vinegar tang, and just enough sweetness to make it perfect.  I love vinegar, mustard, and the like. This salad had celery (sauteed), but no bacon (most recipes call for it), and came across as elusively simple—the kind of recipe that you might never peg.  My version was not bad, but not as good either. To make the dressing, I used mustard, apple vinegar (our daughter can’t have white vinegar due to corn allergy) and honey. I boiled the potatoes, sauteed the celery in lard, and then tossed it altogether in the mustard dressing and added fresh parsley.  I doubted husband and daughter would even like it (not big mustard fans), but we all loved it.  If anyone out there has more insight into Shapiro’s German Potato Salad, I would love to know.

Here is the score:

Meal One (Lamb Burgers):

Lamb and Lard—Thistle Byre Farm

Applesauce—canned from Butera Orchard apples

Honey (on beets and in potato salad)–Wabash and Reilly Honey

Beets, Potatoes, Ketchup, Onions, Parsley, Garlic, Parsley, Celery–from our own Small Wonder Farm

Outside Inputs: Yellow Mustard, Salt, Pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar,  1 TB orange juice (on beets)

Meal Two (Pot Roast):

Chuck Roast–This Old Farm processing and Glenn Hoover Beef

Onions, Potatoes, Garlic, Carrots—from our own Small Wonder Farm

Home-canned peaches—peaches from Thistle Byre Farm

Outside inputs: Salt, Pepper, Mixed Dry Herbs, White Wine

The Year in Review

It’s been a memorable and mostly good year here at Small Wonder Farm.  Here are some of the highlights (click on the links throughout and you will see all the posts on that topic):

It was our first spring and summer growing in the high tunnel.   Verdict–those poor souls growing in flat open ground are to be pitied.  Raised beds are a must and many crops love the high tunnel. Especially with our always extreme man-made weather.

We lost our dear Pepita in March.  I still think of her everyday and she was a true lesson in perseverance, dedication, and loyalty.  I hate that we live in a world where animals are thought of as less than when they are often more than.

We quadrupled our produce output going to the restaurant.  There were a number of factors at play:

  • I am a better garden planner
  • I have learned much more about soil and we layer on the compost
  • We no longer till–Using only hand-tools and lots of organic matter
  • I am better at companion planting and organic problem-solving
  • We added the high tunnel
  • I am better at fulfilling restaurant needs through crop choices and timing
  • I had a part-time employee (aka The Chef)

This was the year of extreme heat.  It was near 100 for the entire month of July.  Despite being more careful than normal, I became dehydrated enough to have hallucinations.  The heat was awful.  I hate extreme heat.  Still, I would rather be sweating and picking than trapped inside.  Extreme conditions also made my pain worse.  A lot of the picking was of currant tomatoes, which were a big hit at the restaurant. With over an hour of picking time per plant however, we will not grow them this coming year (ok, maybe 1).

It was a year of big birthdays. Lily turned 7, I turned 40, and the Chef just turned 45.  My birthday wish was a trip to the Mother Earth News Fair.  It was everything I wished for and then some. It was a great recharge for the turning point of 40.  I am very lucky and wise to be already doing the things in my life that bring me joy, knowledge, and fulfillment.

It was the year of many firsts.  I strive to try and make many things new each year.  I know the meaning of life is loving and learning, so I do my best to fill my life with both.  Some firsts:

New Crops:

New Skills:

I finished my first school year of volunteer teaching at NCS and started my second.  Year one included three K and K/1 classrooms and I now work with 6 classrooms-ranging from K to 2nd grade kids.  It is an honor to teach these kids about gardening, the environment, and nutrition.  I’ve learned a great deal and have a long way to go, but I love my kids and feel what I am teaching them is of utmost importance.  We have a lot of fun.  It was so great to start this second year and and see how much last years kids retained from year 1.

The 2 major stories that round out the year-end are our non-winter and our new puppy.   So far, winter has not come.  Temps have been mild and we have had only 2 short-lived snows.  In a way, I am relieved since the cold is hard on my fibro, but some winter would be nice.  Knowing that the source of our always strange weather is man-made has me wishing for a normal season.

Frida, a 7 month old Boston Terrier, came home on December 22.  I knew I would eventually want another lap dog after loosing Pepita, but it took awhile.  I searched for rescued pups on Petfinder for about a month before Frida and I found each other.  I have always wanted a Boston Terrier and Frida is the pup for us.  At 7 months, she is a preschooler.  She loves to cuddle in bed more than anything in the world.  She is the last to get up and is always up for a nap.

Here are some of my favorite pics from the year. 

"Tom Pepper" tomatoes--tomatoes as big as your head and a canning marvelRed Floriani Flint Corn as compared to a 7 year old

Roast Beast

Just like the Whos in Whoville, Our Christmas feast included roast beast, in this case–leg of lamb. We also had roasted carrots glazed with cider molasses (a thicker version of our cider syrup) and mashed potatoes. This meal came mostly from our own backyard with the addition of a beautiful grassed leg of lamb from Thistle Byre Farm. I marinated the lamb with olive oil, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, white wine, garlic, salt, and pepper. The carrots are Napoli carrots from our high tunnel. These are Eliot Coleman’s much lauded “candy carrots” that are sweetened by some heavy frosts and freezes. I harvested them along with some beautiful Jerusalem artichokes on Christmas Eve. The artichokes are heaped with compost in their outdoor bed. Our mild winter made it quite easy to harvest them. The carrots were amazingly sweet and lovely. These holiday gifts from our own farm were a beautiful celebration of the day.

Here’s the official breakdown for the Dark Days Challenge:

Our own farm:
Chicken broth (for mashed potatoes)
Apple cider molasses (home canned from Markle Farm cider)

Thistle Byre Farm:

Leg of lamb

Non-local Ingredients:

White wine
Olive oil

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Feliz Navidad

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Click for slideshow soundtrack: 01 Santa Claus Llego a la Ciudad (Sa

We celebrated a wonderful Christmas here at the farm.  Cookie Chomper (our cat) chomped cookies, our new puppy Frida came home from the animal shelter for her first Christmas and stole our hearts, we snuggled in jammies, and were serenaded by Lily and her karaoke microphone.  A very Happy Holiday from us to you.

The Larder

Definition of larder according to Merriam Webster dictionary:
1: a place where food is stored : pantry
2: a supply of food
Larder.  I like this word.  It seems to encompass the idea of a real food supply.  Today, pantry most often means a few shelves of boxed mixes and canned foods.  A larder is food security.  A larder gets you through.  A larder is independence.    A larder is a rebellion against processed food and the industrial food machine.  Heck, a larder is a revolution. Every time a big snow is expected, people run to the store to buy frozen pizza and milk.  We hunker down and eat real food.
The larder is complete here at the farm.  A lot of hard work, planning, sweat, and tired limbs went into this year’s larder, as always.  The payoff is well worth it and the process is even more worth it.  My larder, a back porch taken over for food and equipment storage, with the addition of a chest freezer in the garage, is full to the brim.   Tomatoes, peaches, apples, blueberries, cherries, tomatillos, cider, grape juice, pears, relishes, pickles, beets, peppers, myriad jams, and more line the canning shelves.  More canning jars hold dehydrated food and herbs. Mesh bags are full of onions, garlic, potatoes, apples, flint corn, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Other staples that can be purchased locally like honey and buckwheat flour are in there too. The freezer is full of berries, roasted and peeled poblano chili peppers, lamb, pork, chicken, and beef.  Other staples have been purchased wholesale–like rice, oils, various flours, and nuts.
The majority of our food for the year is here right now.  I certainly will not buy meat until next fall.  We are still harvesting from covered outside beds and the high tunnel.  I am picking broccoli, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mizuna, collards, mustard greens, celery, carrots, beets, arugula, parsley, and pansies. I am pretty sure my fingerling potatoes are at a harvestable size, but am letting them keep growing while we enjoy our summer potato crop. We are still eating the last of the cherry and slicing tomatoes as they slowly ripen on the counter.  When they are gone, we won’t have another “fresh” tomato until next summer.
Winter meals are pretty easy when you have an organic supermarket in your house. Today we had roast chicken with home-grown root veggies, home canned peaches, homemade biscuits with chocolate cherry jam, and just picked broccoli.  Home is the unifying word here.  I know what was in everything because I made it all.  With the exception of the biscuits, and some of the jam ingredients, all of it came from our farm.   A meal like that is more than food, it is sustenance.  It is a meditation on self-reliance. It is a celebration of life and honoring of the dead.
The pictures show the farm as it is now, heading into winter.  For the first time ever, we have really cleaned up the outside gardens. They have all been cleared, mulched with a mixture of compost and garden mulch, and seeded with cover crops to reduce erosion and improve tilth.  We planted more fruit in our orchard as well. We added a fig, cherry, and Asian pear trees to our orchard as well as 2 more grapes.  that brings us up to 3 apples, 2 cherries, 2 pears, 1 fig, 2 peaches, 8 grapevines, 4 blueberry bushes, 2 aronia bushes, strawberries, and too many raspberries and blackberries to count.

The Back 40 and the Front 40

This post really has little to do with the farm, at least directly.  “The Back 40” usually refers to acreage, but in this case I will use the term for the 40 years that are behind me as of today.  In general, I am a pretty positive person and find a lot of joy in my life.  I am very blessed,  but I was not looking forward to adding another year.

For the past year or two I have been thinking a lot about my age.  40 seemed to be the point where I could only expect things to go downhill for me physically.  I will explain why here to illustrate why I might have a dour outlook on my health.  I thought that my body, which has never really been on my side, would never be nicer to me than it is now.  My main complaint is fibromyalgia, which is just a fancy word for saying they don’t know exactly why, but I often feel as though I have been beat with a baseball bat.  My daily discomfort is feeling bruised around my entire body.  A poke, an elbow, or bumping a table hurts.  That is pretty tolerable.  When things are not good it means that it hurts to move or sometimes that I really can’t.  There are times that I need help to get up or really move well at all.  Inactivity is bad and over-activity is bad.  Even riding in the car 20 minutes or so means I am often stiff and in some pain before I get my body warmed up again.  The longer the period of inactivity, the more painful and stiff I become.  The opposite is also true.  Spending long periods on my feet can make the pain 100 times worse.  When it gets really bad, it feels like my skin is on fire. I often felt as though now that I know exactly what I am here to do, the clock is ticking and there is no way that I will have enough time and enough stamina. I didn’t want to feel that way.

Then I went on my birthday trip to the Mother Earth News Fair.  I don’t think I can put into words how that weekend changed my outlook, but it did.  Now I feel like the game is mine to lose.  There is no reason I can’t feel better and do more than ever before. I came home with a more positive outlook on the world and my life.

At the fair I attended a seminar about using cover crops that was a lightening bolt of information for me about what direction I want to move the farm in, but was also very inspirational.  The speaker, Cindy Connor, was not trying to be inspirational about anything more than cover crops, but her enthusiasm lit a fire under me.   She was also clearly older than me.  When I got to thinking about it, many of the farmers I call friends and find inspirational are women older than me–some considerably older.

I have decided to take on “the front 40” with a wide-open, anything-is-possible attitude.  I am making green smoothies for breakfast daily (getting in 5 veggies and fruits before 10 am everyday) and being much more watchful of diet.  I bought myself an exercise bike for my birthday to keep my muscles working year round when I can’t get my exercise from hoeing and swimming, and am doing lots of other little things to make sure I am doing my best by my body and soul.  A new medication has helped the daily pain greatly and I work with a Naturopathic doctor (Deb Lightstone) that has helped me immeasurably over the past 3 years.

In these past few years, I feel as though I have fully become myself.  I feel very grateful for all the wonderful things in my life.  I have been lucky in that I was born into a happy and loving family, a safe environment, and a world of opportunity.   There have been plenty of interesting and fortunate twists in my life.  I don’t think I got here by accident though.  I have always been about vision.  If I believe in something, I will go after it full tilt.  Believing in myself is one of the great gifts my parents gave me.  If you can do that, you can do anything.  If I had followed my head and not my heart I would not have gone to my fancy college, married the Toast Boy (inside joke) after a whirlwind 6 month courtship, started a restaurant by selling a car, trusted that fate would give me the daughter I was always meant to have, became a farmer, or teach kids about growing food.  And then where would I be?

So I need to take that risk on myself.  I believe I can improve my health and make the coming years even better than the ones behind me.  I am more resigned than ever to live life fully and the way I want.  There is plenty of time and I can do anything I set my mind to.  Big things are already brewing.

Find the Kitchen, Change the World

The most empowering thing that a person can do right now in our culture is not just the farming, but discovering your own kitchen…We are a culture that has never spent more money on kitchen remodeling and gadgetry and been more lost about where it is.  —Joel Salatin

I love this quote and I love the idea that the world can change by making dinner.  Not everyone will or could grow their own food, but we can all care about where our food comes from.  Living in a capitalist society, money has the final word.  We can stop buying processed, toxin grown, corporate food and heal the planet, our bodies, and our economy along the way.  Pretty powerful.

We had soup for dinner last night and I was so thankful my daughter was eating home grown potatoes, kale, carrots, celery, onions, and local beef.  A simple and good meal that left her and I both satisfied.  I knew her body was being truly nourished and that I was serving her a real bowl of goodness.

The Mother Earth News Fair

So, the fair quickly became too hectic and physically overwhelming to keep an ongoing blog journal. There was so much to see, hear, and do, and I wanted to absorb as much as I could. We are now on our way home, 3 hours to go and here are my first reflections:

First of all, it was so nice to spend 3 days in a place surrounded by pretty like-minded individuals. I spoke with a few fellow fairgoers and could overhear conversations about ducks, making nut milks, and the like. These are my people. The only other time I really feel that way is at the farmer’s market when I get to see my farmer friends. Farmers are absolutely the most brilliant people I know. They are also the most spiritually grounded and happiest. I am convinced that a connection to the land is what is missing in many lives. If you are farming or involved in the sustainable food movement and aren’t getting the big picture and embracing the joy of life, you aren’t paying attention.

There were roughly 130 different sessions covering everything from cover crops, getting started with chickens, solar energy, herbal medicine, to the grim state we are in environmentally, disaster preparedness, GMO’s, and inspirational thinkers. Sessions ran back to back from 10 AM-7 PM Saturday and 10 AM-5PM Sunday.  There were 14 stages (some indoors, other outdoors)–all holding sessions every hour.  The fair is massive.  Around 9,000 attendees were at the 2010 PA fair.  One estimate this year I heard was 15,000.

I studied the program for days at home, cross checking the speakers to make sure I was not passing a ho-hum sounding description and missing a great speaker. I decided I was going to pass up classes focused on the negative–like the very possible (and already happening) disasters and whether humans will endure humankind. I chose to focus on seeing visionaries and learning some new skill sets.

I knew this was possibly my only chance to hear speakers like Joan Dye Gussow, Frances Moore Lappe, Ed Begley Jr, and the great Joel Salatin. I am so glad I went to every one. They were all wonderful in different ways. Gussow, the mother of the local food movement, talked about how she created the first college courses looking at the issues decades and decades ago and said she had to teach them because no one else was. She also related her recent gardening struggles with poor soil and how the humble sweet potato saved her. That was a had to be there moment. In her discussion of the soil building sweet potato, she talked about glomalin (the stuff that helps hold soil together, just discovered in 1996) and that there are billions of residents in every teaspoon of soil. There are more microbes in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the earth. This soil fact, one that I was aware of, became a recurring theme over my weekend. If an instructor wanted a essay from me about the conference, the connecting thread would that below our feet is the key to life itself. Not only does a teaspoon of soil hold billions of living organisms, but millions of different ones, miles of fungal hyphae, and more.  We know very little about them and how they work interdependently.  Soil is alive.  As we kill it by dumping toxins on it, we are threatening our own existence.

I was most surprised by France’s Moore Lappe. She wrote Diet For A Small Planet, which was published exactly 40 years ago. I have of course heard of it, but have never read it. I went to her talk on reputation alone. It was clear from all the conference materials, that she was a big, big, deal. I think her presentation was the one that probably made the longest lasting impression. Her message was a positive one and hard to sum up here. She certainly recognized the reality of where we are, but she asked us to re-frame our thinking in an ecological mindset instead of a scarcity mindset. We already have all we need and all the solutions we just need to think as an ecosystem-interconnected and throbbing with life.  Here is a review of her latest book that helps explain better than I can:

EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want is one of those repercussive works that thinks outside the box. The same old arguments about sustainability and food politics aren’t recycled here. Instead, Lappe looks at the conceptual frameworks that lead to the same old arguments, the same old walls and the same old reasons not to try. Lappe’s ‘thought traps’ explore the ingrained beliefs that prevent people from thinking in a way that would move food policy (among other environmental policies) forward. Her ‘thought leaps’ are the restorative, rejuvenating jolts forward that the environmental movement needs. ‘EcoMind’ refuses to submit itself to barriers, and changes the environmental game with its forward-thinking perspectives.

The message that the solutions are already here were supported by Ed Begley Jr and Joel Salatin as well. 40% of ready to consume food globally each year spoils-much of it due to the fact that we store and ship it too long and too far. A local food community can be more efficient and responsible. 35 million acres in the US are currently lawns and could be gardens and edible landscaping. The sun is already making all the power we will ever need. It is washing over us every day….

Joel Salatin is such a great speaker and his message so unapologetically bold and true that you know when you hear him that you would vote him president, follow him into battle, and pee your pants rather than give up your seat. In fact, it was clear that his arrival was eminent when the stage he was speaking at began to fill up halfway through the speaker before him. My mom and I got seats about 25 minutes before he was to come on. By the time he got going, the entire (very large) tent was entirely full with many people standing and the grass area surrounding the tent was 5 people deep. People carried chairs from 3 tents away. If the sustainable food movement has a rock star, he is it. The audience, my mother, and I were all on the edge of our seats for the full hour. All sessions were 45 minutes and Mother Earth News was great about keeping speakers on schedule so that the whole thing didn’t start to break down. Salatin was the one exception. He used the full 60 minutes and Mother Earth News did not shut him down. He was at his most entertaining talking about those billions of soil organisms. Another had to be there moment. He assured us that the battles going on underground are far more thrilling and dramatic that any Spielberg battle scene.

I left with the conference feeling better about the outlook for life on earth than I usually do.  I am more resolved than ever to carry on my work.  For our time and place, what we are doing with our land and our restaurant is breaking ground.  Our mission of producing safe, very high quality food for ourselves and our clientele is important not only as far as nutrition and taste, but also as an example of what is possible.  This year we quadrupled the amount of food being grown for La Scala at our own farm and people are taking notice.

Even more importantly, the volunteer work I am doing at my daughter’s charter school is essential.  Last year, I met weekly with the three kindergarten classes.  This year the program has expanded to 6 classes to cover the first graders, some second graders, and the kindergarten kids.  My most vivid memory of my kindergarten year was of watching some bean seeds germinate.  I love every one of those kids and am more resolved than ever to help them grow into caring citizens of planet earth.  I spent every moment of the conference looking and listening for items to share with my students.  I believe, to my core, that the lessons I am teaching them are among the most important they will receive as they grow.  Not because I am some amazing teacher (not at all), but because I think that the topic is of the utmost importance.  I have been waiting years to get my mitts on these kids!

So there you have it.  There is my first post of reflections on the fair.  The vision and energy that I eagerly absorbed.

Fall on the Farm

Had a workday today.  Picked lots of pepper and tomatoes, sowed lots of cover crops, planted a whole bed of radishes (only 21 days until they are ready!), and took some time for pictures. The beautiful spider lacework this time of year is breathtaking–especially when covered by dew.  I also disturbed a young garter snake in the potato bed I was sowing with green manure.  He was too fast for a picture.    

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Reclaiming Corn

Corn is genetically modified to enable it to be drenched in RoundUp.  After harvest, it is splintered and fractionated into a million different products and applications.  There are 38 ingredients in a Chicken McNugget and 18 are derived from corn.  Crazy.  Crazy that we are smart enough to make a whole world of products from the humble corn seed, but not smart enough to see that as a problem.  Seems to me like we are just smart enough to hang ourselves.  It’s amazing that we can modify species on a genetic level, but so stupid that we think there are not huge consequences to that.

My daughter is allergic to corn.  We found this out this past April.  Pulling all the corn from her diet has made a huge difference in her.  She has more energy, is happier, and is no longer complaining of daily stomach aches, headaches, and irritated skin.  Corn is in EVERYTHING.  Citric acid, ascorbic acid, caramel coloring, iodized salt, dextrose, white vinegar, and on and on and on.  I guess 90% of items in boxes and cans on grocery shelves contains corn.  Extreme overuse is at the heart of the huge wave of food allergies and sensitivities.  I think GMOs play a big part as well.

This year I grew 2 heirloom corns and I will use to make cornmeal and I hope my daughter will not react to them.  We will see.  I harvested them yesterday and they are drying now.  They are so beautiful!  They were worth the effort for beauty alone.  Red Floriani Flint Corn and Oaxacan Green Dent are the 2 we planted.  Beauty and diversity has been kicked to the curb by uniformity and technology.  The only way to fight the tide of mono-culture is by growing and consuming heirloom foods as diverse as possible.  The gifts of this planet are so plentiful and awe-inspiring.

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Officially Fall

It’s fall for sure here at Small Wonder Farm.  I used the steam juicer yesterday to make grape juice.  For the first time ever, the grapes came from our farm.  Very exciting!  I have blogged about this other years if you are interested in the process.  I also made grape syrup with them.  This was a new one for me.  The recipe, a simple one required grapes, sugar (I used agave), and a bit of water.  After boiling the 3 together, I ran the cooled product through my food mill and got a yummy syrup.  We will use it like maple syrup and also add it to carbonated water to make grape sodas.  Yum!

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Other signs of fall are everywhere–including the kitchen where I have 1.5 bushels of apples staring at me waiting to be sauced.  The tomatoes are only coming at a trickle now, but the cucumbers, peppers, and zucchino rampicante are still producing heavily. I harvested a few ears of each of the flint corns to get a good look at them.  Beautiful does not do it justice.  Most people know, I am a huge fan of color and the Red Floriani Flint Corn and the Oaxacan Green Dent corn are exquisite. In addition, potatoes, onions, and garlic are getting cleaned and bagged for long term storage.

Got lots more seeds in the ground today and the things planted a week and a half ago are coming up nicely.  Today I planted chard, lettuce, more spinach, more scallions, and more carrots. I am excited about the new garden season and so happy to leave the worst of the heat behind.  Today I needed long sleeves to have my coffee and granola on the porch.

Decisions, Decisions

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We are occupied these days with planting fall crops.  As soon as a crop is in sufficient decline, we have been ripping it out to plant fall transplants or seeds.  So far, I have planted Bridger onions, Lisbon bunching onions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Napoli carrots, arugula, and various beets.  There is still a lot to plant. Yesterday, Lily and the chef helped pull out spent tomato plants to make more room for seeding.  She was quite proud to be pulling the vines out of the ground and then hauling them back to the brush pile.  While she and dad worked on that I picked currant tomatoes and Tinsel guarded the goats while they meandered the farm.  I have been sprinkling all the cole crop starts with cayenne to keep my garden rabbit, Junior, away from them.  Sometimes the decisions are pretty hard to make.  I know right now is prime planting time for high tunnel fall and winter crops, but I find it hard to pull out plants.  As August marches on, the decisions are becoming clearer.  Tomatoes have slowed greatly, but peppers and cucumbers are going strong. The Zucchino Rampicante in the high tunnel continues to produce heavily, but the one on the main garden is dying back. I wish it were the other way around.

Overall, the high tunnel has been a joy to work in and has worked miracles for the farm.  I have already been hinting at where I want the chef to build the next one and he seems to be accepting the inevitability of it.

Mr. Tom Pepper

People out her in Westpoint, Indiana have a clear advantage when it comes time for canning tomato sauce.  Hamilton’s Greenhouse, just 30 seconds down the road from me, is one of my favorite places. I was delighted to find a greenhouse so close to us when we made the decision to move to the country.  They never disappoint.  This family business is a labor of love.  The greenhouse was begun by Glenn Hamilton who and is still run today by his wife Eva, daughter Wendy, and granddaughter Jeneva. Their selection, knowledge, and passion is all you can ask for.

Customers know to buy the “Tom Pepper” tomato.  In 1987, a man from around Danville came by the greenhouse and asked Glenn if he would grow some tomatoes for him and gave him seed from tomatoes his brother had grown.  The tomato was a cross between a tomato and a green pepper.  The man later came back for a few plants and encouraged the Hamiltons to grow and sell them.  They were amazed by the huge size, dense flesh, few seeds, thin skin, and great flavor.  They christened them “Tom Pepper” and began to give them away to customers the following year to try out in their gardens.  Once people saw these marvels, they kept coming back for them.  They have become the number one selling tomato at Hamilton’s Greenhouse–and for good reason.  All they ask is that others not sell them.

"Tom Pepper" tomatoes--tomatoes as big as your head and a canning marvel

“Tom Pepper” is a big “small wonder” and a great example of the real diversity that is out there to be had if we pay attention.  You can’t buy it at Wal-Mart (thank goodness) or from a seed rack at the grocery store.  This tomato is right here.  It’s a wonderful story, a great tomato, and most importantly for me, available from great neighbors that I am happy to call friends.

For years, I have been dropping not-so-subtle hints that if they ever needed help, I would be glad to come and pitch in.  This year, I got to help up-pot flower plugs into flats and help work the till one Friday night.  I was a gardening rock star.

Indiana State Fair 2011

We took a day off from picking, cooking, planting, and canning and went to the Indiana State Fair.  We had some fun, saw some stuff, and ate greasy food.  As a kid, we always went to the Ohio State Fair so it is an important marker of summer.  Fairs have their root in agriculture–tractor parades, pioneer village, the biggest pumpkin, spinning wool, the honey queen, making art out of gourds, and all matter of livestock.  We saw some cattle, met an immensely cute donkey pulling a cart (I told him I loved him), and took in some of the horse judging.  The sad part of it was that no one was standing in line to see the biggest watermelon, but they were queued up to buy deep-fried kool-aid and ride the rides.

My favorite part of the fair is the Pioneer Village.  Beeswax candles, rug-hooking, quilts, wood artisans, maple syrup, potters, tractors make me happy.  Lily enjoys the kids’ farm where kids are given aprons and baskets and let loose on the “farm.”  The fact that my daughter prefers picking up balsa-wood apples instead of real ones, makes me a bit peevish.  The kids collected little bags of corn and soybeans and were to give them to the cow and pig statues. Before I could remind her that such a diet is the practice but completely wrong, she told me herself.  I know she did it to stop me from saying it, but I am proud–just the same.

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Farming in Extreme Heat

July has made up for the cool and wet May and June–and then some.  Half of the days this month have been over 90.  We even had a 100 degree day.  Heat advisories have reached as high as 115+.  That is some serious heat.  Coupled with this, we have had only 3.4 inches of rain.  Granted, most seasonal crops now love heat, but not such an extreme, prolonged heat.

When plants are broiling in high temps, many stop the reproductive cycle in order to stay alive.  Tomatoes will drop their blossoms when overnight temps stay over 75 for an extended period.  Corn may not pollinate in temps higher than 95. I personally am picking a lot of tomatoes right now, but I do not see a lot of new fruit forming. My cucumber vines are strong and huge with prolific blossoms, but few fruits are forming.  My peppers are still producing well.  Most of the summer squash vines have been taken out by vine borers so it has slowed to a trickle.  The Zucchino Rampicante is big and lovely, but not a lot of new fruit is forming.   Looks like we will see a drop in temps later this week and I sure hope it is for good.

Extreme heat is hard for us as well.  I am picking as early as possible and spending the afternoons in the house doing canning or in the pool.  Many, many a time, I have been out and can felt heat exhaustion coming on.  I had been pretty careless about it in the past, pushing through the dizziness and pounding of blood in my head, but have been much more careful recently.  Here are the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stoke from the CDC.

I take lots of water out with me–as many as 3 liter-sized bottles.  A good, long drink goes a long way toward keeping you comfortable and safe.  I usually wear thin, long-sleeved shirts. Long sleeved shirts protect arms from scratches and a shirt soaked in sweat cools you more than bare skin.  I also mist myself with a hose.  Some like to garden in hats, but hats have always bothered me.  I don’t mind the sun on my face, but hate sweat running into my eyes.  I have some buffs–stretchy water wicking headbands I really like.  I am usually so soaked with water and sweat that I strip my dirty clothes off on the porch and dump them right into the washer.  (Yet another great reason to live in a place where no one can see you.)

Obviously, growing in extreme and dry weather requires more irrigation too, but I won’t get into that today.

Blackberries started coming ripe this week and I am happy it is going to be a light harvest this year 😉




Garden Goliath–Zucchino Rampicante

We are big fans our an heirloom Italian zucchini called Zucchino Rampicante.  It must be gaining converts, because it is the number one search term that brings people to this blog.  It is also known as Tromboncino Zucchini or Tromboncino Squash.  It is a vining zucchini that produces huge summer squash or can even be grown as a winter storage squash.  The best way to describe it is with pictures.  I have harvested 8 this week and there are plenty more coming.  It is a much firmer zucchini and has an excellent flavor.  The long neck is seedless.  Because of the firm texture and lack of seeds it is a standout as a zucchini parmigiana.  We also cut it into long spaghetti noodles with a spiralizer.  See more about how to make noodles and how to grow it.  When you grow your food yourself you can grow wonders like these that will never show up in a grocery store.  I wonder how long it would take me to get to another Italian restaurant serving these.

Life and Livelihood

I have been picking a lot of raspberries over the past month or so.  It is tedious, slow, hot, and thorny work.  It’s not my favorite garden chore, but not my least either.  I’m not quick about it.  I look under every leaf and branch, where they like to hide.  I wade into the hedge a bit to make sure I get them all.  Of course, I have to wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves.  The majority of the berries go into our freezer and some to our restaurant for cocktails and desserts.  One particularly hot morning spent picking, I was pondering why I was there.  The obvious reason is the berries–fresh, chemical free, and nutrient dense. Raspberries such as these are worth a lot and having picked so many of them, I never begrudge local farmers the prices they charge.  It’s a bargain.  I could buy them locally.  Since I run a restaurant, I could also order them for a song through wholesalers.

I was trying to explain to one of my nephews this past week that picking them is not cost effective, but it is not about cost.  I don’t think I did a very good job, so I will attempt a clearer explanation here.  I can buy them much more cheaply, so why all the hard work?  We make our livelihood from running a restaurant.  My husband is the Chef and I am the farmer (and reluctant accountant).  We both wear many hats in our myriad roles of running the business, but my favorite “hat” is my gardening one.  I could have an employee out here picking berries, but I think that misses the point.  I want to be the link between food and customer.  If we looked at the restaurant as purely a business, hours spent per week picking raspberries are probably not maximizing profit.  However, that is not the goal.  Sure, we need to make a living and we try to run an efficient business.  More importantly, we try to run a business we are proud of.  We both feel strongly that customers are taking notice to the difference between restaurants that cook real food from whole (often local) ingredients which are few and the vast majority that are just assembling factory made pre-prepared food.

In the end, I would be growing these berries anyway. They are a small wonder and that is what it is all about for me.  Growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious and non-toxic food for our family is my passion.  The work that goes into them is what makes them so special.  It is about creating a life, not just a livelihood.  We are so incredibly lucky.  A chef and a farmer that get to work together and pursue their passions while creating a real life.  For both of us, the journey matters the most.  If I was not out there sweating and picking I would not be witness to the small wonders around me–like this golden tree frog pondering his next move in the strawberry patch.  I hope some restaurant customers enjoy a raspberry chocolate mint mojito or a panna cotta with Small Wonder Farm berries and really appreciate the work behind it.  Even if they aren’t aware of the work that goes into it, we are.