Farm-Fresh Tomatoes are true garden delicacies. And since the complex flavors of a True Vine-ripened tomato have yet to be mass produced, we wait for that perfect time of year when the color, fragrance, texture and flavors are in perfect harmony.
It always seems that when we are getting really far behind schedule..beyond the normal crunch, some miracle happens. Last year, we met our friend Bob who brought over his big tractor and helped us plow and plant our first pumpkin patch in the nick of time (see "Pumpkins" post from last fall).
This year, I rotated the pumpkin patch to new ground and was similarly behind in clearing the weeds, subsoiling, plowing, and pickin' rocks from the untamed soil. And, as if there wasn't enough to do, we threw our annual summer party right around the deadline for planting. The party was a blast and we really enjoyed having people join us to celebrate the summer season.
This year's miracle came when two of my good friends from California flew out for the party and hung around a few days to help out on the farm. We had a great time and managed to prep all the new pumpkin and squash beds for planting...again in the nick of time.
We owe a huge "THANK YOU" to our friends Rob and Matt for making the trip and helping out on the farm.
This is a typical day in June....It is just before 6 am and the little blue tractor is loaded down with everything planned out for the day's work.
You'll find 350 tomato and pepper transplants, 150 pounds of green sand and rock phosphate (soil amendments for the new bean garden, and pumpkin patch), stakes for flowering sweet peas, and a seeder to plant a 150 row of snap beans. Inside the blue bucket are hand tools, seeds, gloves and lunch.
And, like a typical day in June, my "best laid schemes" went awry when the farm presented other, more pressing work to do. So while the tractor sat loaded up and ready to go, my friend Joseph and I weeded the blackberry patch, tracked down and pulled thistles to keep them from spreading their seeds, weeded the onion and garlic garden, and hilled up 240 feet of potatoes. Then the day was done.
The tractor and transplants did return a few days later and that job too was eventually accomplished. It seems that, when farming, having a plan and being able to let go of the plan are equally important.
Garlic is really an amazing plant. While I think it can be overused in cooking, there are some places in the kitchen where it really shines. One of my favorite ways to prepare it is to roast in with some salt and olive oil. The buttery soft, sweet cloves then slip out of their papery skins and go deliciously with roasted chicken and in mashed potatoes. The roasted cloves can also be spread on a crostini with some warm goat cheese and herbs of your choice.
Because it provides us with much more than its food value, garlic certainly has its place as one of the all time greatest gifts from nature. It is well known for its antimicrobial and healing properties. And along those lines it can be brewed into a "tea" and sprayed on fruit trees as an immune booster and pest deterrent.
These garlic scapes are actually the flower buds of the garlic plant. They come up in June as the days lengthen (it is almost the summer solstice now) and need to be picked so that the plant does not expend its energy on seed making. We want the energy to go to the developing bulb below ground.
So with all these scapes, what can you do? We tossed them in olive oil and sea salt and roasted them with some Parmigiano- Reggiano and red pepper flakes. Along with some rustic bread and assortment of cheeses, they made a delicious early summer lunch and disappeared quickly.
It has officially been 1 year since we planted our first crop of strawberries (see earlier post for that). The strawberries really like our soil and are bursting with beautiful juicy berries this season. I really have never seen so many.
Organic strawberries in New Jersey? Yes! We do not spray them with any chemicals but rather grow them by building a healthy ecosystem. They seem to thrive. Each berry is picked by hand and walked up to our stand at the road. This is as "local" as you can get. We thank all of our customers who have been enjoying the fruits of our labor.
This little walk behind "tractor" is a workhorse. It can till, plow, chip cut and even throw snow with the right attachment. The greatest thing about I think, is that it does not compact the soil like a tractor would.
In this picture, I am using the rotary plow to kick out rocks, till the soil and make raised rows that will grow our delicious sweet corn. Our nice neighbor Sam took this picture.
We are so much enjoying the early days of spring! The many projects and ideas that were hatched next to the warm fire during the winter finally have a chance to gain wings.
Like us, the daffodils and tulips hibernating in our basement and under snow were eager to feel the warm sunshine...as is our budding young fruit orchard and strawberry patch.
And like clockwork, our farm has silently come to life without the slightest hesitation- as if to say, "Winter? What winter?"
Winter is quiet and beautiful time on the farm. Although at times, we do long for coastal California or a tropical beach in Central America.
There is something about the stillness here that makes you wonder if the lush plant growth and raucous bird and insect songs of the last summer were possibly just a dream.
But the hope of the coming spring stirs the blood of every farmer. We find ourselves drawn to the latest seed catalogs, ordering new fruit trees, brushing the cobwebs off cold steel equipment, and figuring out crop rotations. Regardless of the slight uncertainty that this time will ever come.
When it does happen, spring 2014 will mark the start of an exciting year for us. Our berry patches will be completely planted with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, and gooseberries. Asparagus and herbs go into the ground. We will fill out the remaining 20 trees to make our heirloom fruit orchard 120 strong. And, while the little walk behind blue bomber "tractor" still occupies a special niche on the farm, we are bringing a bonafide 4 wheeler- a Ford tractor on board to add a little muscle to the operation. We also hope to be installing 2 mobile hoop houses to extend our growing season.
So perhaps in the dog days of summer, when our planned projects are all firing simultaneously, we will look back fondly on these dark, quiet and long-shadowed days of winter wondering if it was all just a dream.
For the past few years, Halloween has conjured up some truly SPOOKY events.
Two years ago, a freak late October snowstorm buried New Jersey in heavy snow. Trees snapped under the weight of the freshly fallen snow. The entire northeast came to a screeching halt and we were without power for a week. Everyone lived by candlelight, wood stove, or generator (if you could find one).
Last year, Superstorm Sandy hit on exactly the same day as the previous year's blizzard. Entire forests were leveled. We watched trees snap like matchsticks and fly off "Wizard of Oz" style into the dark woods. THe days following the storm were eerily quiet. As if it was all a dream. But the place was a bonafide disaster area. Again, we kicked into survival mode (for more than a week this time) while the state struggled to get basic services up and running. Halloween was cancelled.
Autumn 2013 has been much more relaxing. Our first frost came October 21st. We took the opportunity to pick any tender fruits still clinging to the vine (peppers, pumpkins, lemon grass). The following 3 nights below freezing halted the last growth spurts of the summer crops.
And like a switch, the urge to prepare for winter creeps into our conscience. The list is long.....
1. Chop wood for the stove
2. Gather fallen leaves and jump in pile
3. Marvel at fall colors
4. Dig bulbs for the cellar and save seeds for the spring
5. Plant garlic, shallots, and fall greens
6. Till rows, incorporate soil amendments and plant winter rye
7. Drain the well and irrigation
8. Carve jack o' lanterns and roast seeds for snacking
9. Dress up and take the kids for neighbor visits and "trick or treat"
10. Breathe in the crisp fall air, reflect on the summer's accomplishments and realize what a nice time of year it is!
Another great surprise on the farm was realizing the bounty of beautiful flowers that bloom well into the cool autumn season. We sort of stumbled onto this during our first year thanks to occasional and random scattering of flower seeds here and there. We cut and regularly mixed in our flowers with wildflowers to offer bouquets and individual flowers at the farm stand.
Since many store-bought flowers are grown in far flung places and treated with a variety of chemicals, it is important to develop a local and sustainable approach to the cut flower industry. Due their many benefits, including attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, we plan to integrate more flower varieties into the crop rotation for next year.