Sunday, January 29, 2012

 Dormant Season
This week it has been overcast.  On this quiet and still winter (67 degrees) afternoon, walking through the farm gives one the sense of waiting.  The crops aren't measurably bigger than last week.  No sign, yet, of the seeds planted last week; kale, spinach, Chinese cabbage. I'm beginning to wonder if the spinach, planted in September and, according to the packet, due for harvest in November, will ever mature. Time seems suspended.

In the meantime, this week I made my first ever tomato sauce. The harvest from last week's pulling of the vines was many small tomatoes. First, I put them - whole - in the freezer, so that, upon thawing them, it was easy to remove the skins. They then sat in a colander overnight to seep out as much liquid as possible.  Cooking them in a saucepot further broke down the pulp, but they still needed to be put through a strainer to separate out the solids (mostly the seeds). This was a lot of work, and took quite a long time.  If I continue to do this, I will invest in a tomato mill! 

If the tomatoes had been larger, as I understand, you would peel and core them first, negating the strainer \ tomato mill step.

Back in the saucepan, I added onions which had been sauteed for 45 mins., to make them sweet, and some chicken stock, which had been conveniently also on the stove, and some dried basil. Very delicious and fresh tasting.

The tomatoes pictured made enough sauce for about 4 pasta dinners.  We definitely need to plant more tomato plants!

Friday, January 20, 2012


This week we:
~ Pulled the tomato vines out.  They have been in the ground, I believe, one year.  Which means we've nursed them through the summer and through at least 2 frosts.  Their end-of-season bounty was worthy, and I expect to preserve much of what's pictured; probably in sauce form. Practicing good crop rotation (roots, craving potassium, follow fruits), we will put in beet seed, as soon as this plot gets turned over with new compost.
~ Planted two plots. With more Chinese Cabbage, spinach and kale.  I think I've learned that to successfully grow Chinese Cabbage, they need to be way further apart - need lots more room to grow properly.  So, I've interplanted them with spinach which, I surmise, won't crowd the cabbage.  And then, I've planted more kale because it's delicious and nutritious, and everybody's eating it.  Last year, kale was the single longest crop that we harvested; from the end of January (when I finally figured out what it was - seriously, I'd been composting it before then!) to the middle of June. With the planting of these plots, our little farm is all-but stuffed.
~ Harvested first sweet peas. This line of peas were put in September 27. They are, according to the packet, 1 mo. behind schedule for harvest. More testimony to the fact that this is the dormant season and things take 3-4 weeks longer, and that the general information is for other parts of the country.
~ Put up more seed in "nursery". Theoretically, a seedling will be ready to go in the ground as soon as something comes out. Although the flats are not, I don't think, much warmer than ground planting, as we don't, as yet, have a greenhouse or hot box. One advantage is that it takes less cheesecloth to protect the babies from rapacious birds.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Broccoli and Chicken Noodle Soup

I await the broccoli harvest with great anticipation, ever since I first tried this recipe.  It is from Cooking Light Magazine, so it is heart healthy, delicious, creamy and satisfying.  And especially good on a cold winter night.  Serve with nice salad and pair with a crisp Pinot Grigio.

2 c chopped onion
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
3 T butter
1/4 c all-purpose flour
4 c 1% milk
14 oz. chicken broth
4 oz. uncooked pasta - sm. pieces
2 c shredded cheese
4 c cubed cooked chicken
3 c sm. broccoli florets
1 c half-and-half
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Drizzle pan with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. Add onion, mushrooms, and garlic to pan; saute 5 mins. or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium; add butter to pan, stirring until butter melts. Sprinkle mexture with flour; cook 2 mins., stirring occasionally. Gradually add milk and broth, stirring constantly with a whisk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 10 mins. or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Add pasta to pan; cook 10 mins. Add cheese, and stir until cheese melts. Add chicken and remaining ingredients to pan; cook 5 mins. or until broccoli is tender and soup is thoroughly heated.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Although it is the dormant season - and the farm grows frustratingly slowly - we are just starting to harvest lettuces.  I think lettuce is the easiest crop to grow in the south west.  Or maybe it is just the first crop I ever grew, after I moved here 13 years ago.  Last spring we let the end-of-season lettuces bolt and go to seed.  Then we collected the seed and stored in plastic bags over the summer, and planted in early October.
Lettuce, as an above-ground, leafy crop, likes a lot of nitrogen.  In regular crop roatation, lettuce should follow beans or peas, which "fix" soil by putting nitrogen in the ground.  To prepare the lettuce bed, I start by digging deeply - 8" to 10" - to break up the soil.  Then I remove the top 4" (adding to compost pit), and replace with a top dressing of rich, loamy compost.  Then dig this in.  Planting lettuce is easy in that you can scatter the seed directly onto the ground.  Cover with a scant 1/4" of dirt and water well.  It is important to keep the seeds moist, or they will not sprout. 
For personal use we leave the seedlings close together.  To harvest, you just cut off the tops of the leaves with a scissors like a hedge.  More will grow.  For market, we transplant and spread out individual seedlings in mid February, to about 6" apart.  Those will be ready to harvest as head lettuce starting in early April.
Lettuces, besides being an excellent source of fibre, also pack a punch with vitamins A, K and C, and the B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, and with minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.  A salad a day . . .

Blood Red Beets, shown here, are generally grown for their gorgeous & nutrient-rich leaves, so I have started harvesting just the outside leaves and adding to my daily salads.  They are so beautiful, and I can't wait 'til we harvest the full bulb, even though I don't really like beets.  Maybe this year we will discover a recipe I like!