What’s Pickling?

This is our 3-year anniversary of owning our home!  And 2-year anniversary of hosting an awesome wedding – congrats again Megan and Brandon!  And coming up fast on our very own first wedding anniversary.  What an exciting, busy time it has been.  I wish I had written a daily journal of all the adventures and projects, but I never sit down to do it regularly enough.  No time like the present, though!

One of our favorite things about growing vegetables is having the chance to grow less common foods and then learn how to prepare them.  It’s educational and we have fun updating each other with ideas for the next crazy thing we should try.  Sometimes we hit a winner, but even when something is a flop, it makes for a good story and another check in the ‘remember when we tried that’ book.  In that spirit, I have 2 pickling experiments going right now:

Okra pickles are hardly a new idea to the South, but neither of us have ever had one and are not quite sure what to expect.  I’ve just picked my first couple pints of okra (new crop this year) and they are sitting in the refrigerator in dilly vinegar.  The flavor is nice so far, but they drip mucilage when you pull them out of the jar.  Hard to imagine that being a hit with guests.  I am, however, hopeful that the snot will somehow break down in a couple weeks and they will be just crunchy.  Open to comment if anyone has tried this at home.

The other new one this season is pickled walnuts, which once again neither of us have eaten before.  They get great reviews online though and are an English delicacy to pair with strong cheese, so I am going to like them.  Family pride will surely tip the scales if I have any doubt.  Here’s an early stage picture…. the finished product in the jar is basically invisible because all you can see is solid black.  It will be about 5 more weeks before they are ready for the taste testing.green walnuts

I learned about this product over a year ago, but was too late picking them last year.  You have to pick the walnuts before they form a shell and I was just slightly too late.  So it’s been on my to-do calendar all year and I think I hit the timing just right this year.  There are recipes online that go into the details, but the basic process is to brine them in a couple changes of salt water, sun dry them until they turn fully black, then pickle them in a strong, spicy, sweet vinegar bath (messing with flavors there will be the next bit of experimentation).  Then they sit on the shelf waiting for dinner parties and cheese pairings.  Fascinating, right!?  I can hardly wait to eat them.

More culinary favorites and new foods to come….. hope you are all enjoying the bounty of summer!

 

Advertisements

Summer Scheming

FullSizeRender

My last post said that it felt like spring had started – and now it officially has.  We’ve had a couple cool, cloudy, rainy days though so I’m enjoying some time inside and trying to do paperwork.  There are tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash planted out in the field, along with potatoes and sunchokes which are still safely underground out of the elements.

I’ve got a much more complicated layout plan for the field than I did last year and am still going back and forth on what to plant where.  The bar counter is covered in tiny bits of paper and crayon color-coding that I shuffle around sometimes to come up with the cleverest, easiest-to-harvest, most logical arrangement.  Last year I went for a visually pleasing layout largely based on height, but this year will be more mixed together to create shade and wind breaks.  Harvest times are important, as many roots will be in the ground through the winter and others will be out by July and replanted.  Aesthetics matter too and I have some work to do on my landscape design skills.  Hopefully some of the ideas work out as envisioned and the rest will bloom where they’re planted and make a forest of color and food.

One thing I’m less concerned about this year is remembering where things are.  I learned that by the time I start the seeds, transplant them, weed, and generally worry over them, I know what’s where.  By the second week of picking zucchini, I know the individual plants.

While I spend every free daytime moment putting plants in the ground, Jeff is spending evenings planning the best summer cover crop blend.  We just had a soil test done and seem to be progressing well on improving the organic matter content.  Plenty of work to be done still though by those hard working legumes and grasses.  There are so many options depending on your location, time constraints, and goals, but it seems whichever we go with we will be reabsorbing far more carbon then we emit each year.  Saving the climate with tasty vegetables!

Remembering spring

Today was sunny, after so much rain here.  And warm, although we have a couple chilly nights coming up.  It’s still winter, but if you ignore the official calendar, today was the start of spring.  It was like deja vu to last year – all of a sudden I remembered how tired my feet were at the the end of the day, how thirsty I got, how excited I am to see the buds and leaves coming out, and how fully the dog falls asleep after dinner.

I did my favorite job of the entire year – potting up tomatoes plants.  Fortunately, I’m only half done so I get to do the rest in a day or two.  Something about their smell and the prettiness of the leaves and their enthusiast growth rate makes them my favorite seedlings to deal with.  I may have planted them a bit too early this year, but it will be a strong motivation to get the field ready and have an early start to summer.

Everything outside is still too muddy to dig, but with a few days of sun we should be able to plant some perennials out and mow some pathways.  The cover crop is shooting up every day.  And, right on time, the almond is starting to bloom….which means we got engaged a year ago.  This spring should be calmer without a wedding to plan, but hopefully the year will be just as wonderful as the last one!

The crops are all in and the lettuce is bolting

This morning I ate my first home-grown raspberry.  It was delicious!  There are a handful more for this evening and quite a few boysenberries and black berries coming along.  By next year, I expect we’ll have a real crop.  Some time after that, the fruit trees will start producing and the supply of farm smoothie ingredients will really start flowing!

In more immediate crop news, the past month has been all about planting, along with a lot of tractoring, weeding, and mowing.  The rain this winter made the grass grow like crazy compared to last year.  It seems to regrown right behind you, so we are pretty much constantly mowing, hoeing, and hand pulling very luscious weeds.  Let’s hope the marketable plants are as productive!

On the menu this summer are a large assortment of tomatoes (8 varieties of cherry, canning ones, slicing ones, drying ones), 5 kinds of cucumber,  summer squash in cute shapes and many colors, peppers to snack on or fry (padrons!), and hopefully the elusive sweet corn that did not work out last year.  At least half the space is filled with staples for the winter, like sweet potatoes, sunchokes, pumpkins, popcorn (yes, that’s a staple), and a rainbow of dry beans.  And of course we have a few unusual treats growing as well to share with any farm visitors.  So come by this summer and see what’s in season!

I don’t have any good pictures of the field to post, but will put some up soon.  In the mean time, these are some lovely flowers I picked earlier this month.  The peony smelled amazing.

IMG_2158[1]

National Geographic Backyard

Yesterday we rescued a great horned owl. The baby had fallen out of the nest and spent the afternoon on a branch halfway down the tree. We were hoping he might make it back up somehow, but it didn’t look promising. Jeff laid out a crash pad of row cover for him and we went back out before bed to see what had happened. The little ball of fluff was on the ground and clearly needed to come in, so we tucked him into a box with a soft fleece blanket. Not having any freshly caught rodents, I tried feeding him some marrow from a dog bone in the freezer, but he seemed more interested in sleeping. At 7 am, I called the California Foundation for Birds of Prey and dropped him off with them to hopefully raise until he can return to the wild.IMG_2123[1]IMG_2118[1]

I knew we had these owls on the nearby, but I feel much more appreciative and aware of them having seen this little one so close up. A larger sibling and parent are still up in the nest and I am keeping as close an eye on them as I can to hopefully see a bit more into their lives. They are spectacular animals to have living in the backyard.

There was also a third sibling who sadly did not survive. We found that one at the base of the tree a week ago. Had it been anywhere else, or if Jeff were less observant, this one would almost certainly have met the same fate.

One hope I have for this farm is that it will help me come to terms better with the cycle of life and the deaths that are an unavoidable part of nature. There is so much new, but also so much loss this spring. It’s an emotional roller coaster for me, and probably always will be.  I try to philosophize about the big picture and the beauty and wonder of it all when driving the tractor over small rodent habitat while hawks circle overhead.

Valentines

This post is a bit late, but my resolution to write a monthly farm update is still strong. All the visiting family last weekend and the beautiful weather must have kept me off the computer. And when I do sit down indoors, wedding planning is more likely on my mind.

That’s really all the news that’s necessary for February. Jeff and I got engaged on Valentine’s Eve and are getting married this summer! There will be mountains, farm produce, fresh flowers, and homemade local good times!

IMG_2007

A tree pretty enough to propose under.

A few other things also happened this month. I disked and plowed part of the field to try out the new tools and make more planting space.  The nectarine, peaches, and plums started to bloom and the cover crop is growing fast. We even fit in a ski trip finally for a spectacular change of scenery.

I was missing winter already since it hardly rained and was mostly in the mid-70’s during the day. Fortunately, there seems to have been just enough water in the soil for the plants to hold on through all that warmth until this week’s storms.  It was lovely of course being out in the sun with everything lush and green, but a few more nights of fires and soup will be very welcome. What a difference a few days and 3.5” of rain makes.

January

January has turned out to be a beautiful month here.   There is no real off-season, or down-time with a climate like this, but the schedule does feel more open and it’s wonderful to be able to work outside midday without fading in the heat. Also, the longer nights make us come inside at a reasonable time and enjoy the evening with a roaring fire.

The weather has been about ideal. It started cold, but clear, for a big New Year’s bonfire with friends and family. The rain has been plentiful and regular enough that I’ve only needed to water plants inside the greenhouse, and yet never quite so much that anything drowned. The pond hasn’t filled all the way, but is holding enough to look decent and even be functional now that the smaller pump is set up on the dock to use when we need occasional running irrigation water.

I’ve got hundreds of little seedlings coming along for the summer garden. It’s a challenge to decide when to start them so that they are ready to go when the ground is ready for them, but don’t get too big or risk getting too cold. Space on the indoor heat pads is limited, so before I can start more, others need to move out to the greenhouse, which is a less controlled environment. The plants out in the ground are growing very slowly, but do mostly seem to be progressing. We finally caught the gopher who was eating a kale plant every night, so I am hopeful for a large spring batch of greens, peas, fava beans, and potatoes.

IMG_1999[1]

little peppers

The lack of growth is actually nice with some of the perennials because I don’t have to worry yet about how they made it through the winter. Or the deer munching in the case of the orchard trees. I just let them sit there and know that it’s perfectly normal for them to look like sticks.

We did decide on one important new farm acquisition this month that should make a huge difference over the years. A 45 hp New Holland tractor now lives here! My ’51 Ferguson is still here as well and ready to try out the engine repair we did in the fall as soon as the field is drier. The new one will be able to pull much heavier implements though and will be more reliable since it has less than 500 hours on it and is almost 60 years younger. It also has a sun shade and the exhaust does not blow out at eye level!

IMG_1998

My first farm auction purchase and the tractor to pull it.

Happy ‘middle of winter’!  I hope 2016 is treating you well.

Irrigation

As you might have gathered from recent Facebook pictures, we’re in the middle of some major irrigation work right now.  It’s pretty crucial to get this right and get it done quickly, because my planting is outpacing my watering ability.

For something that every California farmer needs, it’s amazingly complicated to get all the parts and piece together a water system.  We’ve almost collected all the materials, after weeks of orders, pickups, last minute changes, and missing couplers.  Now there’s a lot of arranging, cutting, and gluing to do.  And a few more trips to each of my new favorite hardware stores.  When it’s all ‘done’, there’s the shoveling of all that dirt back into the trenches.  I’m glad I didn’t quite think ahead about all the work this would involve, or I might have been discouraged.  Now that I’m in it, I just plug along.

Hopefully, of course, this is a one time investment of money and time, with only occasional upkeep for years to come.  Please knock on wood and wish us luck with that.

The reason for all this tubing and timers and pump upgrades is the fun part, and probably the only part most people think of when they visit a farm.  The crops!  In addition to the fruit trees planted this winter, we now have a bunch of other plants in the ground (and in need of regular watering).  Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash, corn, capers, flowers, and berries are all in, with more to follow.  Even our early summer cover crop of buckwheat is seeded and harrowed.

So despite the exhaustion, I’m trying to power through this and reassure my plants that water is on the way.

greenhouse trench

Humming and sneezing my way into spring

I’m sitting inside this morning, hoping to give my allergies a chance to subside before tackling some of the many projects awaiting me outside.  Some of my earliest memories are of loving springtime in the garden and also of running inside to wash my eyes and blow my nose when the allergies got too bad.  It appears I haven’t changed that much.  Just imagine how giddy I would get in the spring if I could breathe right and spend the whole day in the flowers.

Some years I thought I had outgrown this problem.  But then I’d realize I was living in a city and working inside at a desk, and when I went to lunch it was in an air-conditioned building surrounded by parking lot.  They probably don’t plant the offending foothill natives in the planting beds at those places.  So now I’m dealing with it as well as I can and thinking of finding a diving bell I can wear over my head for a couple months.  Even so, I love this time of year like everyone else does.  The colors and little leaves are irresistible.

I’m alone here often during the day, so I end up singing to myself quite a bit, which definitely came from my mom.  Some of the songs that come out are almost embarrassing, but have clearly been stuck in my head for years.  They make me think I couldn’t have picked a more appropriate job – or really had no other option in the long run. “Dirt, you made my lunch” as I sweep mud out the garage.  “Inch by inch” as I weed or plant seeds.  “Why do we need the rain, anyway” despite the fact that noone has complained in a very long time about getting rain in California.  They’re not trendy, grown-up songs, but they still make me smile through the sniffles 🙂

Happy Spring!

One of Everything!

People often ask me what we will grow on the farm.  Sometimes, it seems like they are expecting a short answer, like “alfalfa”, or “pumpkins”.  I’m still working on my stock response, but tend to go with something more like “everything!”.  Because once you start visiting nurseries and looking at catalogs, how do you not want one of everything?

I’m on a kick with corn varieties and spices currently.  In the end I will probably have to narrow the corn options down so they don’t cross-pollinate into an unusable Frankenstein, but I haven’t decided yet which to put off for next year.  Japonica is a Japanese variety with rainbow striped leaves and purple tassels.  Our winter cornbread could be red, blue, or green.  And strawberry popcorn is almost guaranteed a corner of the field so I can tempt the kids that come to the farm.

The perennial herbs are an investment for future seasons that I feel fully justify themselves.  They’re not expensive as tiny plants or seeds, and I hope many will become established as a nearly self-sufficient spice cabinet and specialty market.  Some I’ve never used, including sorrel, hyssop, black sesame, and valerian.  Others I’ve just never had backyard access to, like turmeric and capers.

Then there are the basic vegetables that even grocery stores sell in rainbow packs, like carrots, peppers, and tomatoes.  So that ends up being more like a dozen vegetables than just three.  And fruit trees are being strictly limited to a couple carefully selected varieties of each so they don’t take over the property.  As much as I’d love an expansive orchard, there are so many other things to grow!

Who wants to come over this summer and cook, dry, and can all the excess?!