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Farm News

Pumpkins

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The orange balls of color out in the field are one of the best signifiers that Fall is here.  Here in Northern California we don’t have much going on that screams the season has changed, so for us the pumpkin patch is kind of it.  These are sugar pie pumpkins, which means they are good for exactly that Pie.  I really enjoy reading the history or foods, and learning where they come from.  Here is a short bit on pumpkins from the University of Arizona:

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7000 years to 5500 B.C. Native Americans used pumpkins as a staple in their diets for centuries. They called the pumpkin “isqoutm Squash.” Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine. They also flattened strips of pumpkin, dried them and made mats. Early settlers ate pumpkin as a staple in their diet. Colonist filled a hollowed out shell with milk, honey, and spices, then baked it in hot ashes. This is considered the origin of the pumpkin pie. 

The Beauty of Starts

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There really is something so beautiful in trays of starts.  In this picture you see lettuce at the bottom and cabbages above.  The colors are so vibrant, and each little cell in the tray is a promise of great meals to come.  Before we get to the point of receiving these trays though, Cameron has already put hours of work in.  The first step is determining when we want to harvest a crop.  From there he works backwards, factoring in the days to germination, to days of maturity.  How many weeks do we want a particular crop?  Can we harvest before it is at full maturity?  Lettuce and many of the greens we can pick young, putting together bags of Stir Fry Mix or mixed baby lettuce. 

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Once Headstart sends us the trays of starts, the guys get them into the ground.  Several years back Nigel invested in this Italian transplanter, which seats up to 3 guys.  While the tractor slowly makes its way down the rows they gently take the little starts from the tray and pop them down the planting tubes.  Before this machine, we used a transplanting sled.  The guys would lie flat and work off of a wooden platform, not very comfortable and it was much slower.   

Rose Geranium

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Over the summer Andrew took on the Rose Geranium planting project; his plants are looking great. Last week I took Rose Geranium to Wally’s in Sonoma for distillation, which gives us two products - essential oil and hydrosol. Most of you will be familiar with essential oils, but few people know what a hydrosol is, so here is the official definition from NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy):

Hydrosols, also known as hydrolats, are the aqueous product of distillation and carry the hydrophilic properties (water-soluble components) of the plant in solution as well as microscopic droplets of essential oils in suspension.”

I use the hydrosols as the flavor ingredients in our Drinkwell Softers. We also package hydrosol in 80 ml spray bottles and sell them pure. Hydrosols are great for light burns, like a sunburn, very cooling, but they make a nice light facial toner; naturally a lower pH than straight water. Our’s are anywhere from 4.2 to 4.8 which makes them a little closer to the natural pH of skin at 5.5. Rose Geranium has a beautiful rose like scent. The plant produces very little essential oil. Last year we distilled 200 lb of rose geranium, which gave us 35 gallons of hydrosol and 2.5 oz of essential oil. By comparison the same amount of Lavender Grosso gave us close to 60 oz! And to be honest that 2.5 oz was a great EO yield for Rose Geranium. This is why we wholesale a 5ml bottle for $50.00.

You can imagine we don’t sell much of it. Our number one customer for Rose Geranium Essential Oil is the bakery Miette who uses it in their Macaroons. Did you know you can use a few leaves from the plant to scent sugar, by simply putting the leaves in a jar with sugar and letting it sit for a week? You can also scent a lot of sugar with one drop of EO, which is what Miette does.

I love to keep a few sprigs in a small vase near my bed just to have that beautiful scent near me.
You can use the hydrosol spray on your pillow, but I mostly use it as a refresher for my face and hair. Hydrosols can be diluted with water and turned into ice cubes, making your ice something really special. You can see this pretty little fragrant plant has plenty of uses.

Some Old Things and Some New Things

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi

Up until a couple of years ago we grew Kohlrabi.  One of the problems we had was size. It grew quite large rather quickly.  It is also known as the German Turnip, although it is not related to turnips. It is in the brassica family, and is a cultivar of wild cabbage. I love kohlrabi and I grew up eating it, as it was a common vegetable in Germany. My mother would buy it whenever she found it, and always made it the way she made cauliflower, in a delicious béchamel sauce.

Diet is like fashion, how people eat can change fairly dramatically.  In today’s world, a lot of people are gluten free, and some of us are just looking for ways to reduce our carb intake and get more fresh veg into our diets.  Kohlrabi is one of the vegetables people use for making “noodles”.  If you compare 140 gm of spaghetti (which is 1 cup) to 140 gm of Kohlrabi you are looking at 43 gm of carbs for pasta and just under 9 gm for Kohlrabi. 

I’m not really trying to sell you all on the virtues of Kohlrabi, but I realize growing vegetables is no longer as straight forward as it used to be.  There are many things we now need to consider.  The truth is I am looking at trends and don’t honestly know how the majority of our members eat.  But I would guess having ways to incorporate more fresh vegetables by and occasionally replacing it for dried pasta might be of interest to many of you. 


Spigarello

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As for the new thing; I met a farmer from the East coast a couple of years ago at the Market one Saturday. He asked me if we grew Spigarello, which I had never heard of, so obviously the answer was no. He was touting all it’s virtues, delicious, easy to grow, great yields, his customers were going crazy for it, and no one was growing it. Naturally I told Nigel about it but with life as it was for him the last couple of years, we never got around to trying it out. A member reminded me of it, when she posted a recipe on our Slack group (do you all know about our Slack group?  If you aren’t on there, email the office for the link).  Another member gave it a thumbs up too.

So what is Spigarello? Apparently it is the parent to broccoli rabe, and native to southern Italy. It is long stemmed, with curly leaves and tastes much like broccoli.  It doesn’t produce florets, but the flowers are edible.  You use it like kale or other greens, raw in salads or cooked. It grows to full maturity in 45 days, but we can begin harvesting baby leaves at only 21.  I am hoping to get seed ordered this week and get it into the ground as soon as possible.  It is pretty tricky planting it direct, rather than as transplants.  If we have really hot Indian summer weather it won’t be happy. But, as Nigel said, farming is a gamble, so I am going to give it a try. If it grows well and quickly from seed, it could be a nice addition.

Flea Beetles & Other Pests

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As Cameron and I walk the fields checking out various plants, we are now looking for unwanted, tiny critters.  I am sure many of you have experienced our greens with tiny holes in them.  And checking out a small planting of tomatillos we found lots of little holes and tiny black bugs.  Cameron was explaining what he learned in class about the flea beetle.  They will eat little holes in leaves, but they also can spread viruses.

Nigel was a big believer in letting nature take her course, but I think our balance is off. The problem you create when you use pesticides, even natural ones, is you often kill the beneficial bugs along with the pests.  That makes sense, but what do we do about holes in our arugula and kale?

I have been doing a little bit of reading on our options.  Sticky yellow traps are one possibility. I know Nigel used them in the past.  And even though the yellow will attract the good bugs, we would not be saturating a field killing everything out there.  There is no spraying involved so that is plus. If we did spray we could use a mixture of kaolin clay and water.  This is completely natural and non-toxic. It makes the leaves very unappetizing, so bugs like flea beetles don’t eat them. Their predators would still have them to eat and we wouldn’t be killing those beneficial bugs.  Perhaps this would be a positive way to bring things back into balance.  One more option I would like to research further is the use of natural predators.  We all love ladybugs and when they come in at the right time they do wonders on the aphids. Ladybug larva can eat up to 40 aphids in an hour! There are beneficial nematodes that kill the larvae of cucumber, scarab, Japanese, flea beetles, chafer, thrips, white grub, corn root worm, bilbug, CO potato beetle, black vine weevil, root mealybug. Pretty exciting stuff for a wanna be farm girl. Who would have ever thought?

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