Now it seems like the new year on the farm has really begun with the arrival of our apprentice team for the season. We have a new group this year and they have arrived with a welcome burst of enthusiastic energy. The whole crew took a turn driving our Suffolk Punch draft horses, Gwen and Gena, as they ploughed a round in the potato plot, yesterday, with oversight from Ken and Caesar. The apprentice team and I also spent the better part of the day wrestling with row cover for the early garden planting. Row cover seems like one the necessary evils of organic farming. We are using it this time of year just to keep the soil warmer where we have tucked in the early garden seeds and it does make quite a difference in the early garden growth.
Bill van Zanten actually arrived a week earlier than planned because the weather was so warm and we were over whelmed with all the early spring work to be done. He helped us get our hoop houses ready to go and worked in the greenhouse and with the early planting. We aren’t sure what the weather is going to do from here on out. We have left the strawberries covered hoping that it will protect them from the extremely cold nights we have just had. However, we don’t want them to start growing under the mulch because that is also hard on them, so we will have to uncover them soon and hope for the best. Our early peas, spinach, carrots, beets, radishes and mesclun are planted out doors. One of our hoop houses is planted to spinach and we are going to plant more of our hoop houses later this week. It is a challenge to time it so it will all be ready at the right time to go with our perennials of rhubarb and asparagus and then be able to dovetail with the outdoor plantings so that we have a continuous supply of produce once we start the CSA pickups.
Ken’s new sawmill did arrive. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had time to do much more than try it out, because all the fields are calling to him. We are expecting to have some windows of time to do some sawing a little later after the oats are planted. The earlier you plant oats the better they do. We are hoping to get them planted before the end of March, but we are still waiting for our new seed to arrive. The early spring has everyone feeling like they are behind before we even get started!
We have finished up a good year here at Orchard Hill Farm and are anticipating a good season in 2012. Our apprentice positions for the 2012 season are filled. We interviewed for our last apprentice position this week with and on farm visit. Another 2012 apprentice, Bill van Zanten, came to drive horses for the morning on Wednesday.
We spent today planting more garlic just for insurance for next year. The weather has been so mild and we had some extra garlic left over so we decided to pop it in.
The greenhouse construction is continuing and we finished putting the poly carbonate on the west wall today. We are waiting for the ground to freeze up so we can mulch the strawberries…I getting ready to order seeds and map out the gardens for the coming season. Already I am noticing the days starting to lengthen out bit by bit and am excited as I anticipate a new greenhouse to start our seedlings in.
Our composting pigs are tamworth, a rare breed, and their winter coats are beautiful red hair that glistens gold in the sunlight. I couldn’t help wanting to take a picture to share.
December is already half over and we wonder where the time goes. Our last Fall CSA pick-up was on December 3 and it finished up well. The mild fall certainly worked in our favour. I enjoyed the extended harvest of the fall crops in the garden and the ability to share the bounty with our CSA members. The greenhouse greens were a help especially on the last pick-up, but it was surprising how well even the outdoor greens were growing with the use of row cover. Once the CSA customers stop coming to the farm we don’t have much of a sale for our free range eggs and because we don’t push our hens with lights through the winter they usually stop laying when it gets cold. We decided to butcher our old hens and only winter over the hens that were new this year. It is not an easy thing to do, but whenever that time roles around I always remember my Aunt Betty and my grandmother, who were both very practical farm women, showing me how to eviscerate a chicken when I was a young women and we had our first old hens to butcher. We do eat meat and it seems fair to me that I should be able to kill a chicken that has had a good life. Many people think nothing of buying chicken wrapped up in plastic at the supermarket and don’t consider that it has been fed antibiotics and genetically modified grain and lived it’s whole life indoors. I have the chance to humanly butcher my own chickens that have been raised organically and allowed to run around outdoors and it seems wasteful not to do just that.
Our greenhouse is coming along. We are now waiting for some special screws to arrive and a calm day to put on the poly-carbonate plastic sheets that will cover the roof and wall areas. I look forward to having the greenhouse to start our early transplants in.
Our Suffolk Punch Draft Horses are having a much deserved rest after all the work of the season. Unfortunately, the mild fall weather and all the rain has made their paddock a muddy mess. I will be happy when everything freezes up and we get a nice cover of snow. Mabel, the Jersey cow, has been bred three times by artificial insemination and we think that she took the last time which means we can look forward an August calf.
Last Saturday we had our first Fall CSA pick-up at the farm. Ken and I had a taste of harvesting in the rain without our apprentices to help. We did have some help from CSA friends and were very pleased to have a good showing of produce. We moved into the bunkhouse in anticipation of colder weather before the final pick-up in early December. Also our summer pick-up area doubles as our woodshed in the winter and we have it full of firewood to keep us warm this winter. The fall Cauliflower stole the show for the pick-up, but all the tomatoes from the hoop house were a close second. We had to use the bunkhouse couch for the pumpkins. Ken wanted to put the potatoes there so we could give “couch potatoes”, but I thought they were a bit too dirty.
Now that the pick-up is over we have been able to go back to work on the greenhouse. We have used cut outs from patio doors. They have insulation between layers of aluminum and we screw nailed them to the outside of the foundation wall. Now Ken is busy back filling around the outside and then we can put the rocks inside for a heat sink. It is going to keep us busy getting it all done hopefully before the snow flies.
We finished up our main CSA season with a great group of apprentices. We tackled a number of jobs during the apprentices’ last week to complete the season. The garlic for 2012 was planted with our Suffolk horses, the potting soil for winter started transplants mixed up and stored away, the corn ground and this year’s garlic ground was worked up and seeded to rye. We also managed to work on the foundation for the greenhouse. Our garden area for next year was worked up and seeded down to rye and oats using our draft horses and the grain is coming up nicely.
Ken and Andy took a bit of a holiday and went to Horse Progress Days in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the month. The Mules caught their eye. Many of the Amish use mules further south because they do better in the heat. However Ken isn’t ready to switch to mule power yet! Gena’s Suffolk foal has been named “Eli” and he continues to grow well.
It always seems like the garden is really producing when we have our first zucchini and broccoli and they have started. We have said good-bye to the peas and strawberries and the string beans are about to begin.
Our working shares continue to give us a boost with the garden harvest and washing of vegetables. It’s a great way to get to know new members and renew our connection with old members. Children benefit from being part of the work that goes into the produce they take home each week and it helps them realize where the food they eat really originates! We believe it adds to the richness of their CSA experience.
We have lots of Swiss Chard that we will be putting in our CSA “Extras” each week. In the winter I visited our daughter, Ellen, in Portland, Oregon. She was graduating from a Chef’s Studio course taught by Robert Reynolds. Robert gave me a book he wrote inspired by recipes of his French friend and mentor, Josephine Araldo. From a Breton Gardenby Josephine Araldo and Robert Reynolds has lots of recipes for vegetables that Josephine’s grandmother used and we grow. I thought that it would be good to share some of the recipes with the CSA and I am finally getting around to it! (We must be caught up in the garden!) They use both parts of the chard like it is two different vegetables. My mother did the same thing when I was growing up.
CREAMED SWISS CHARD WITH CHEESE
Swiss Chard and cream is a combination that allows for limitless possibilities; the cream could be replaced by walnuts, quatre epies, or whole grains of mustard. The vegetable can always accompany a roast duck and sauteed potatoes, and a wine such as Cahors or Madiran.
2 bunches Swiss Chard
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion
1/2 cup bechamel (white sauce made with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon flour cooked together over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes and then 1/2 cup milk added and stirred until it is thick, cook over very low heat for several minutes).
1/3 cup grated cheese
1/3 cup cream
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg
Prepare the chard by removing the center stalks. Reserve for another use. Blanch the green in boiling salted water until limp. The cooking time depends on the tenderness of the greens. If they are young plants, cook only a minute or two; if they are older and more fibrous, they may require more time to blanch. When they are done, remove to a colander and flush them under cold water to stop their cooking. Remove to a cutting board and chop coursely. In a dry skillet, dry saute until the leaves render their water, set aside.
In the same skillet, melt 1 to 2 tablespoons butter and saute the onion for a minute or two. Add the chard, which should be well drained. Stir in the bechamel and cheese; toss well to coat with the sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
Combine the egg and cream and stir into the chard mixture. Once the egg is added, do not cook. It can be warmed, but if subjected to too much heat, the eggs will hard cook. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot.
Note: The recipe calls for both bechamel and an egg and cream liaison. One or the other can be used alone, or both can be replaced by heavy cream reduced until it coats a spoon.
An alternative to cream or bechamel is a flavorful oil, such as extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil,hazelnut oil, or colza oil.
SWISS CHARD GRATIN
This gratin goes well with a roast of pork accompanied by sauteed apples and a white wine from Savoie, an Apremont or a Crepy.
INGREDIENTS Serves 4 to 6
1 or 2 bunches Swiss chard with ribs
1 cup white sauce ( see recipe below)
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the Swiss chard stems from the greens and save the greens for another use. Remove the tough outer fiber of the stalks by slipping a knife under the cut end of the stalk and peeling it away. Cut the stalks into 1/2 -inch pieces on the diagonal. Blanch the stalks in boiling salted water until done, about 4 to 6 minutes. Darin in a non-aluminum colander and flush in cold water. The vegetable water from cooking can be saved and used for a flovorful stack.
In a bowl, season the chard stalks with salt and pepper, and then mix with the white sauce; set in an oven-proof casserole. Sprinkle the surface with cheese. Dribble the melted butter over the top and brown the gratin in a preheated oven. The gratin can also be place under the broiler provided the mixture has been warmed before being put into the gratin dish.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup hot milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and then the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to simmer (over a very low heat) 20 minutes; reserve and keep warm.
Last Saturday we had a Plowing Bee at the farm. Teamsters showed up from far and wide to help us plow a four acre field. We had ten teams plowing at one time. It was a lot of fun for all concerned. Our apprentices enjoyed the chance to try out the walking plow. Some CSA members made it down to the field to see the fun.
A stray cat showed up at the barn this spring. She was very thin and shy. We began feeding her and the thin cat started getting a big tummy! We now have four very cute kittens at the barn. They are timid, but the apprentices are taming them.
Our CSA flowers are coming along. For a number of years I have tried to grow Foxglove for the CSA Cut Flower Garden and this year it finally worked out.
The warm weather and rain are helping to get the garden growing. We are waiting for the sugar snap peas and are hoping to have some for our Saturday pick-ups. After our cold spring it seems that the garden if finally ready to take off. Our radishes are bigger this week, more like what we have been used to in other years.
All of our early transplants are planted. The second run of brassicas (cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli) were the last of our major transplants to be planted. It was a happy day for us when we were able to tuck them in. Now everything just needs to grow and we can concentrate on weeding!
Our apprentices are off to a CFAFT Day today where they will visit another CSA farm. It will include a farm tour, a workshop on “Marketing”, pot luck lunch and a work project. It is also a nice opportunity to socialize with apprentices from other CRAFT farms.
We are into our second week of our CSA pick-ups. It is always a big push to get set up for the season. Now we are changing the rhythm of our work week to include harvest and pick-ups twice a week. Working Shares are signing up to come out and help with the harvest and we are getting to know new members and renewing our ties with others. It has been a challenging spring with the cold and wet weather. We continue to plant and transplant between rains and are now waiting for the ground to dry out yet again, before we can plant the peppers, melons, eggplant and tomatoes transplants in the main garden.
Last week the resident stallion, Chester, died due to some sort of internal problem that the vet couldn’t cure or clearly identify. We are sad and reminded again how fragile life can be. We shared ownership of Chester with another Suffolk breeder and who just had a filly foal sired by Chester. Two of our mares are due to foal in June and July so Chester will live on through his offspring.
Rhubarb is a main stay of our early CSA pick-ups. Go to pommeroyale.com (Ellen’s blog) from “Links We Like” in the side bar for a recipe for Rhubarb Compote with Wee Almond Cakes to accompany it. I guess almonds go with rhubarb because CSA member Bonnie Wietzel has also sent her husband’s gluten free Rhubarb/ Almond recipe:
We are looking forward to our first CSA pick-up tomorrow. Just when we thought the weather was warming up we have gotten another cold wet series of days that has brought the asparagus growing to a halt! We are taking a leap of faith and starting regardless of the weather. Speaking of asparagus, our daughter, Ellen, has posted an Asparagus/ Bean Salad recipe on her pommeroyale.com blog (see “Links We Like”).
Last Wednesday we hosted a CRAFT DAY at our farm for the network of apprentice farms that we are part of. (See CRAFT ontario on the “Links We Like” for more info.) About 70 people participated for the day. Ken led a workshop on Soils and our apprentices were the “stage crew” holding up different puppet soil components to demonstrate their interactions in the soil. We enjoyed a great pot luck lunch, farm tour and a work bee where we mulched our half acer squash and pumpkin field in 20 minutes! Many hands really do make light work!
We have been very busy planting between the rains. Our 2012 strawberry plants are in and the potatoes for this year as well. We also have a 20 year old team of Belgian mares leased for the summer. We are really missing Jasmin, our Suffolk mare we lost to colic in December. Our apprentices need to have well trained horses to drive. We also purchased a Belgian mare, Princess. Suffolks are a rare breed of horse and it is not always easy to find replacements. It goes to show what a great horse Jasmin was that we need three horses to replace her!
Lots of transplanting has also been going on onions, leeks, shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pac choi, kohlrabi, fennel, celery, celeriac, head lettuce and radicchio have all been transplanted outside. The west side of the garden, that was previously too wet to even plow, has been plowed and our greenhouse of tomato transplants have also gone in. So….we have been very busy. Today we worked in the greenhouse and are getting the pick-up room ready for our big start tomorrow.