Work and Play

It may be late summer, but the crops are in fine form.  The end of the extreme heat and drought have revived most of the crops and they have gotten a second wind.  Cucumbers and summer squashes are mostly done and being replaced with fall crops, but tomatoes and peppers are going strong. Blackberries are all but done, but raspberries are coming by the bucket.  If only, they were easier to pick.  Paco did berries this morning and I could pick nearly everything else in the time it took for him to get them finished.

We seeded beets, onions, and lettuces this morning and plan to get more in tomorrow.

After I go the harvest squared away, I got some playtime.  I grabbed an olive dish up on sale this summer with the idea of photographing cherry tomatoes in it.  I set up a little photo shoot this afternoon.

Super Juice

It is sick season and my little girl is sick.  She was home sick last Thursday and since has sort of roller-coastered between sick and not sick and last night just plummeted.  No fever (often her M.O.), but rashy (not a real word), nauseous, and generally terrible looking.

Having homemade juice for her makes me feel like I can do something 100% good for her as her little body goes to battle.  I steam juiced our own grapes, blackberries, and raspberries to make this years vintage of juice.  I don’t sweeten or dilute it prior to canning so each quart actually makes a half gallon.  I put half into another quart jar, add water to double each, and then sweeten to taste with liquid stevia.  This vitamin boost has to do her body good.

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.

Strawberry Freezer Jam with Lily

Lily wanted to help make strawberry freezer jam and got very excited about being on the blog, so here she is.  I have always made regular cooked jam, but a friend said that strawberry freezer jam tastes more like fresh strawberries and it’s true.  The flavor is as close as you can get.  It somehow suspends that just picked flavor–way better than a traditional cooked jam or even frozen strawberries that always defrost into a watery strawberry soup.  We used the super-easy recipe for strawberry freezer jam that can be made with Ball’s Instant Pectin.  
2 TBSP instant pectin
2/3 c sugar
1 2/3 c smashed strawberries
Mix pectin and sugar, add berries, stir and put into freezer containers.

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It really cannot get any easier than that.  Too easy.  Sort of feels like cheating. After we finished our jam making, we went out to the barn to give the chickens the strawberry tops–a favorite food for them.  As you can see, Lily had a lot of fun.
The strawberry season around here this year was very short and the harvest meager.  The crazy cold and wet spring alternating with periods of jungle heat was a bad one for strawberries.  My high tunnel bed did ok, but the outdoor ones were lackluster.  In order to have enough to do jam, I purchased berries from farmer friends at market.
As of yesterday, it is officially raspberry season here at Small Wonder Farm.  A season that will go on and on and on and on and on.  Raspberries produce here no matter what and the only thing that really stops them is killing frosts.  They are so numerous and tedious to harvest, I am always happy to see them freeze!

Best Exercise Around

Yesterday, the sun was out and highs hovered in the 40’s.  I donned a sweatshirt over my long-sleeved t, put on my heavy work gloves (my Ethel ones) and headed out for some solo work time.  I love the quiet of the outdoors and the time to think and recharge.  With hubby home, he and Lily were inside playing/cleaning and I could focus on the job at hand.

There is something so satisfying about putting the garden in order for a new season.  I am not the kind of gardener who does all the cleanup in the fall–leaving perfectly prepared beds for spring.  I’d like to be, but once things actually freeze and die, I am happy to be done with those outside beds for a while.  The spent plants and seed heads make nice food and cover for birds and small mammals.

In about 3 1/2 hours I built the shelves we purchased for the high tunnel; organized tools; pulled, sorted, and stored about 50 stakes; pulled out all the dead plants; used the stirrup hoe to prep raised beds; weeded the garlic bed; and dragged all the plants and other dead plant matter to the brush pile.  There are a few brush piles on the property we add to in this way each year.  Instead of burning them, we leave them for wildlife.  The one back by the garden offers cover to deer, snakes, turtles, and more.  These natural compost piles seem to stay about the same size from year to year–our adding to them balances out with the extent to which they decompose.

And what to wondering eyes did appear–rhubarb unfurling and 3 asparagus shoots coming out of the ground. Spring has sprung from the earth.

As I worked, I gathered weeds in one basket and trash in another.  I threw the weeds into the chicken yard to very thankful gals eager for their greens.

Near the end, Lily came out bundled in a coat and garden gloves.  I was about to go in, but was not going to discourage her wish to help, so I spent another hour cleaning up in the orchard and helping her make a few final pruning cuts to the peach trees. At this point, the garden is in need of some raking and the raspberry plants need pruned and thinned.  I still have tons of frozen raspberries in the freezer and the raspberry patch is far, far bigger than what we need.  It’s time to scale back.  Paco suggested that we take the thinned out plants and transplant them to the back of the property where they can be enjoyed by wildlife.  Good idea!  Paco is a conservationist at his core–he hates the idea of taking things out.  He always hatches a transplant plot.

Today I woke up pleasantly sore and feeling very stretched out.  It’s nice.

 

Where Things Stand

Having 4 whole days without storms and downpours gave me a chance to catch up in the garden.

Done:  Strawberries, Romaine, Asparagus, Rhubarb

Harvesting now:  First few summer squash, basil, cilantro, raspberries, spring onions, handful of cherry tomatoes, broccoli

Soon:  cucumbers, peppers

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Pest problems:  flea beetles on eggplants, using dustbuster

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Fruit update:

Strawberries–ripped out both raised beds full of strawberries.  Added 1 yard of compost soil to top these 2 plus one other raised bed.  I will plant more strawberries in one and start second plantings of cucumbers and summer squash for late summer/fall harvest.

The strawberry harvest was light.  I had allowed them free rein in the raised beds and by this spring (year 2), they were so densely planted that the harvest was light and fruits were small.   I have enough “spillover” plants from around the beds to be able plant the new bed.

Blackberries–the vines are so loaded.  We will be able to bathe in them.  Our first year with a crop so I am unsure about when they will ripen.  Next couple weeks would be my best guess.

Raspberries–the early harvest is ripening and I have been picking about a quart a day. This is their 3rd year on the ground and they are now taller than me.  I think I am actually going to cut them back because they are providing too much shade to the tomatoes.  The placement of the raspberries is probably my biggest gardening mistake so far.  They are in the middle of the garden and there are too many of them.  This fall, we have decided to dig them up, transplant some to the southeast corner of the garden and gift the rest.  I still have many raspberries in the freezer from last fall! 

Trees:  all 4 apples, 2 cherries, 2 peaches, and the sole pear are looking great.  The only fruit we have are 2 peaches–one on each tree.  If we can get these to harvest, we will need to have some kind of ceremony around them!

Grapes–the grapes are loving their new home along the western fence of the garden.  We heavily mulched with compost and growth has been great.  We even have a cluster of grapes

on one of the pinot noir vines.

Kiwi–the hardy kiwi vines, in their third year, have yet to flower, but growth is good.  We will see.

Year in Review: Fruits

Since so much of the installation was in 2008, 2009 was our first big fruit harvest and it kept me busy.  Here is the run-down in chronological order:

Strawberries:  I spent three weeks in May doing literally nothing but picking and processing strawberries!  The harvest was huge and picking of them quite labor intensive.  I had to pick every other day in order to keep up.  They got turned into strawberry syrup (agave, not sugar sweetened) and canned or got turned into jam.  We were making strawberry basil mojitos at La Scala and so they went there too.  I turned that idea into strawberry basil jam–yum.  This coming year I would like to turn some into pie filling.  Planting all the strawberries in 2 of the raised beds was a serendipitous choice.  Strawberries spread like wildfire.

Rhubarb:  this was the first harvest year so the yield was light.   Turned into a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam, a couple of rhubarb cakes, and a pie or two.

Ground Cherries:  The plants are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (nightshade family).  These plants stay low to the ground and trail a bit.  VERY prolific.  It produces a small golden-colored “berry” in a paper husk (think tiny tomatillo).  They have a great vanilla citrus flavor.  Very easy to grow, tedious to pick.  Made several pies and froze quite a bit and still left most of them sit there.  Still have lots.  Will not plant this year.

Raspberries:  we had a small spring crop and then they came on heavy late summer all the way to frost.  I picked and picked and picked and picked……..  I froze lots, made jam, and we ate plenty fresh.  So delicious!

Blackberries–picked a handful only since they were planted fall 2008, but the canes went crazy and I am expecting this year will be a great crop.

Blueberries–planted this spring.  Takes 6 years to get a real crop. 

Apples–4 trees planted in 2008.  All doing fine, but we will need to move them this spring.  Much too close together and too close to the garden.  Live and learn.

Peaches–2 planted in 2009

Pear—1 planted in 2009.

Our grapes–6 planted in 2008.  Only 2 survive.  Likely will plant more this year.