Friday, August 08, 2014

Deep Winter Greenhouse Production

Site for greenhouse and cabin we recently moved for future interns
We at Lida Farm are currently in our 10th year of vegetable production here in Otter Tail County.  Like any organization which reaches such a milestone, we began to ask ourselves what's next.  And, like many others who have been part of the local foods movement in the Upper Midwest, we've decided to extend our season to the extreme by building a deep winter greenhouse.  The idea is to build a structure which will allow us to grow some greens and crops which could do well not only is the cooler temperatures of winter, but the low light intensity as well.

Right now we have a really big hole in our backyard which is making us a bit nervous because it looks like a bigger project than we expected.  However, as soon as tomorrow we'll start framing a structure which will hold 10-inches of insulation in the walls and sit 5-feet below grade to take advantage of the constant moderate temperatures of the earth at that depth.  In the five feet below the soil, we'll have a network of tiling in rock and radiant floor tubing to keep the greenhouse above freezing, even through winters as nasty as the one we left behind in April.  Since we're digging a big hole in the hillside near our house, we also decided to incorporate a small root cellar as well - why not, right?  Our major plans are to offer a limited number of winter and fall CSA shares to provide members greens and storage root crops during the time of year we really crave some good produce.  

In this week's CSA box:
Sweet Corn: Hey, we made it!  It's a mix of varieties, including Bodacious (Yellow) and Luscious (a bi-color variety from organic seed)
A mix of tomatoes:  These are just starting to turn as well, but boy are we happy they are starting up.
Japanese Eggplant: These guys taste just like a standard Italian one and you prepare the same way.
Basil
Sweet Onion
Pepper: Most received a purple variety called Islander which tastes like a green one.  Others got a light-green variety called Biscayne
Summer Squash: Most received green zucchini, but some received a yellow type.

Recipe: Our suggestion is to simply grill everything.  Easy.  Delicious.  You can't go wrong.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Week in-between the Seasons

I think of this week and the week in-between.  As I go out and scout the fields, I see a lot of tomatoes, but very few changing color.  I see many little eggplants, ears of corn not yet ripe or filled out, and peppers close, but not yet mature.  It always makes me both excited and anxious.  Excited for what's close to mature, and anxious because I really want to fill the CSA box with all these wonderful crops.  Typically the week in-between comes earlier, but, here we are, still waiting for these high-season crops at a the beginning of August.  When we look at the forecast, it sure looks like we're going to have some good growing weather with hot sunny days and nights in the 60's.


In the box:
Green Onions
Bunch of Beets
Mini-head of Romaine
Parsley
Kohlrabi
A couple Cukes
Salad Turnip
A little tomato or a pepper (I found a whopping 10 ripe tomatoes out there today, so I thought you would appreciate a sample anyway - everybody else received a Biscayne or Islander pepper)
Red Torpedo Onion
Sweet Onion


Friday, July 25, 2014

Beating Back the Weeds

Last night, like many a night before, we continued with our battle against really big weeds.  This time of year, in good soil, weeds like redroot pigweed and lamb's quarters turn into small trees with roots 6
Our Tine Weeder
inches in the ground.  When I should be looking over our onion field with row after row of beautifully-spaced and maturing white bulbs, I instead see a forest of green going to seed.  We got to this place this year from a wet spring which continued into early summer.  Oftentimes people think the major issue with lots of rain is that it sets back planting, but, on an organic farm like ours, the biggest challenge with a long, wet season is the inability to control weeds.  We use mechanical cultivation to take out weeds when they are just emerging.  Our cultivation equipment consists of an old Farmall H with shovels attached and a tine weeder which drags over the bed.  When not even able to walk on the totally saturated soils in June, we sure were not able to drive a tractor out there, and, once a full flush of weeds germinated at got to a good size, tractor cultivation doesn't do a great job of killing them.  So, it's come down to us, a lot of time, and our hands.  After a few weeks, I feel we are starting to win this war of attrition as we reclaim territory row by row.  It certainly is a great sight when I get to the end of a bed and can look back over the uncovered plants - ah, relief!  Recently rescued crops include the second planting of beans and a pretty bed of carrots.  

It was nice to see some members last week who came out picking peas.   But I know a lot of members still haven't been out.  Please know you are welcome and I'd be happy to show you the sights.  Got kids, maybe they'd like to see the pigs or give Peanut, the milk cow, a leaf of hay?  If you are in the neighborhood, stop on by.  Sunday's are typically good as we are almost always around.  

I hope you've been enjoying the "early season" veggies (hard to believe I'm saying that at the end of July).  I saw some cherry tomatoes turning in the high tunnel a couple days ago and melons starting to swell on the vine.  Over the next couple of week, expect to start making a transition to high season as corn, tomatoes, and peppers begin to ripen.

In the box: 
Cilantro 
Dill 
Red or Green Leaf Lettuce
Dino Kale 
Cucumbers 
Green Beans: Most of these are a variety called Grenoble I really like because of their dark color and waxy texture.
Pattypan or Staightneck Summer Sqaush
Sweet Onion: A variety called Ailsa Craig

Simple Cucumber Salad
Simply in Season (page 100)

So many of us (myself included) always reach for vinegar and salt when preparing cucumbers for the table, but, with so many now coming in, here's a creamy version which will use a few things from the box

3 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced 
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill weed (chopped)

Place cucumbers and onion in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.  Let stand one hour.  Drain.  Add yogurt and dill and serve. 




Friday, July 18, 2014

A 4-H Family Tradition

Sylvia's champion produce arrangement
When our daughter, Sylvia, was asking about what to bring to the fair, our obvious answer was "vegetables."  Being that this is the first year she could show and place (she graduated from Cloverbuds), it took us a bit to figure out exactly how to present the veggies for the fair.  We read through this publication Extension put together back in the 70's - an oldie, but goodie, I guess.  Then, Tuesday morning, we trounced out to the garden to pull in a assortment consisting of a cabbage, peas, cucumbers, beets, swiss chard, and summer squash.  Maree and Sylvia must have a good eye because she was awarded champion at the West Otter Tail County Fair.

One neat thing about the kids now getting into 4-H and the fair is that they are picking up on a long family tradition started with Maree's great-grandfather, Charles Goetschel.  Settling in Lake Elmo in the 1840's, Maree's family operated a diversified dairy operation up until early 2000's; I always say Maree grew up at the last remaining dairy farm in Lake Elmo, although I really don't know if that's true.  Apparently these guys were fierce competition at both the Washington County Fair and the State Fair, especially in field crops.  Maree's mom passed on this little clipping from the 30's about her grandpa Wally in his last year of 4-H.  

In the CSA box: 
Napa Cabbage
Bok Choi
Green Beans 
Summer Squash: Yellow and zucchini
Cucumbers
Swiss Chard: Colorful green with a blue band
'Imperial' broccoli
Bunch of Cilantro: One with a red band around it.  
Fennel: This one seems to freak people out, but there's a recipe below

Green Bean and Fennel Salad with Shaved Parmesan 

  1. 1 pound green beans
  2. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  4. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  5. 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1 pound)
  6. 2/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
  1. Cook the beans in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until nearly tender, about 6 minutes. Drain them in a colander and refresh under cold running water. Drain well.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice the fennel lengthwise, add it to the bowl and toss, then transfer the fennel to a platter. Add the beans to the bowl and toss with the remaining dressing, then transfer them to the platter. Garnish with the Parmesan shavings and serve.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lida Farm now accepting SNAP benefits

In order to local foods more accessible to more people, there has been a lot of effort over the last few years for farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) through EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer...folks get a card like a credit card).  Our own farmers market in Detroit Lakes got authorized to accept SNAP  about 4 years ago.  It was not a great success.  We tried again last year, but the vendors chose not to pursue it again for this year.  Many felt we were not reaching enough people for all the logistics and effort involved - dealing with credit card companies and the wireless terminal technology does take some effort, much less communicating the program to all vendors at a time of year when everybody's under the stress of the farm season.  

I've always felt that good local food should be accessible to everybody.  Too often the only people at farmers markets or signing up for a CSA have graduate degrees and drive a Subaru or Volkswagen (things which also characterize myself).  So, recently we authorized Lida Farm itself to accept SNAP benefits and got enrolled in a program called Marketlink, funded through the USDA.  Since we were the only vendor authorized at our farmers market, we qualified and now have a iPhone with a card reader and even a wireless printer for receipts - pretty slick.  We will be able to start accepting SNAP at the Lakes Area Farmers Market in DL on Saturdays and also accept SNAP for CSA payments.

For CSA members we'll be open Sunday for a Pea Pick.  If you would like to pick some more peas, please come on out to the farm anytime from 9 am to dusk.

In the CSA box:

  • Green Cabbage
  • Kohlrabi
  • Snap Peas 
  • Radishes 
  • Salad Mix
  • Beets
  • Summer Squash: Most got a yellow summer squash and a zucchini.  You'd use the yellow the same as the green 
  • Cucumbers
Summer Squash Fritters

I'm really into these for breakfast.   They are good topped with some sauteed greens and green onions if you still have some around from a previous box.  

2 eggs 
2-3 summer squash 
Salt and pepper
T oil

Grate the summer squash like hashbrowns into a bowl.  Crack in a couple eggs, mix with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.  Heat up the oil in a skillet at medium-low heat.  Pour in the fritter mix and fry til firm and browned a bit underneath.  Flip and brown the other side.  Top with salsa, sour cream, whatever you like. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Haying Season

We've finally reached one of my favorite times of the year: haying season.  I was a long time coming because of the rain, which has been messing with everything this year.  This has caused the fields to become overgrown and unruly.  One thing I most appreciate about hay cutting is the feeling I get when all the bales are being driven to the barn loft for stacking.  Looking back over the field, everything look so clean; together with smell of the baled hay, and you really have a rich feast for the senses.  .  I liken it to vacuuming your house or even getting your hair cut.  For just a little while, all is in order and you can sit back and appreciate.
Sylvia's photo of front hayfield

We actually have a lot going on in the fields and pastures this year.  In our front hayfield we currently have 5 pigs who will be assisting us in working up the field.  If there's one thing hogs like to do, it's rutting in the ground.  Since we're running out of space for produce, we need to utilize that field, which probably hasn't seen anything other than bromegrass for about 20 years. I'll first chisel plow the field and later we'll let the pigs loose on it!  Nice thing is that they fertilize while they work.  Starting this spring we now have a family milk cow in the back pasture plus a calf - exciting because bovines are new to us.  Throw in the bees behind the barn and our small flock of sheep, there's a whole lot of life going on out there!  Like the pigs working up the front field, the key to all these animals on a vegetable farm is that they integrate well into the operation to support the fertility of the fields so plants are healthy, and, in turn, the crops feed the animals.  It's a beautiful thing.

In the box:
Basil: Please don't refrigerate unless you like black basil.  There are two schools of thought to keep basil.    One, treat it like a flower; cut the end and put in a shallow vase.  Two, wrap in a damp paper towel and    keep in an open plastic bag to retain moisture.
French Breakfast Radishes
Snap Peas: These are edible pod peas, so don't shell them, just eat them
Strawberries: These aren't the prettiest of berries, but I think the flavor's there.
Dino Kale: A nice dark green kale...my favorite which Mar will make into kale chips - great.  See recipe  below from Simply in Season
Zucchini Summer Squash
Green Onions
Green Leaf Lettuce
Kohlrabi: Funny looking bulb.  Many simply peel, slice, and eat raw...can be added to salads like a radish.

Savory Kale 
(page 203 for those with cookbook)

1 onion, thinly sliced: In a large frypan saute in 1-2 T olive oil over medium heat until brown and crisp, not just soft.  Remove to a serving dish. 

1 bunch of fresh kale or swiss chard: Stack leaves, roll together and slice about 1/4 inch thick.  Saute in frypan for 1 minute. 

Several tablespoon and 1/4 teaspoon salt to taste: Add, cover, reduce heat and steam until tender.  Add water as needed.  Kale cooks in 10-15 minutes; swiss chard cooks a bit faster.  When greens are tender, drain in colander.  Return onions to pan and heat to sizzling. 

1 T tomato paste: Add and stir.  When this mixture is hot, return the greens to the pan.  Mix, heat through, and serve.  


Friday, June 27, 2014

Starting a new CSA season

I've been blogging about our farm since 2006 and today marks the beginning of my weekly blogging for 2014.  I'm really off and on during the off-season, but, since this is the first week of the CSA, I consistently write about farm issues and provide news from Lida Farm every week as well as provide information about what's in the CSA box with a recipe. 

Like a teacher looking at the new school year, I'm always a bit apprehensive about a new growing season.  Will first box be ready in time?  How do the veggies look?  Will insect pressure overwhelm us?  How about weeds? Weather?  Stress?  Kids?  Oh, boy, no matter what's thrown at us, the season is started and there's no turning back for the next four months.  

Putting together the box for today, however, a lot of those beginning of season fears fall away as the lettuce looks really good as we're harvesting, there's more broccoli than I thought, and, yes, we actually got a cultivation in with the tractor before this weekend's rain.  A sign which gave me even greater comfort was the garter snake which surprised me this morning near the lettuce patch.  Like any reptile or amphibian, the snake is a sign of good health and I appreciate their presence even though I'm deathly afraid of them.  It was almost as if he made his appearance today to welcome us to a new season.  

In the Box: 
Green leaf lettuce 
Bok Choi (small stalk with round, green leaves)
Green onions aka scallions
Swiss Chard (bunch of greens with colorful stems)
Mizuna (bunch of light greens with jagged edges )or Tatsoi (dark green bunch of greens with round leaves):      These are both Asian green which are great to add to a stir-fry right at the end or simply saute a bit and        top eggs
Broccoli 
Arugula (bunch of greens with elongated oak-like leaves): I like these in pasta or raw in a Italian-style salad with olive oil, balsamic, and parmesan cheese...you can also make an arugula pesto.
Parsley

Recipe of the Week:
Arugula Pesto from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
2 cups arugula
1 clove garlic crushed
2 T. walnuts or pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil, more or less
Place arugula in a food processor or blender with the garlic, nuts, salt and about a 1/4 t. pepper.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and pulse a few times.  With the motor running, add additional olive oil to make a creamy sauce.  Use within a day.

We like to add cheese and use it as a substitute for traditional basil pesto with pasta. You can also throw in some of the parsley to make the arugula taste more mild.  Bittman suggests using the pesto on grilled chicken or shrimp.