Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picking Weeding Picking Weeding

Those are the tasks each day, picking the cucumbers, weeding, picking the peppers, weeding, picking the nectarines, weeding, mowing, picking the onions, picking the peaches, weeding. Oh and yes, watering, watering, watering.
This time of year, you can't take a day off from working in the gardens because if you don't, a lot can happen. The cucumbers or squash grow twice their size overnight and then they are too large to be eaten. If you don't pick the tomatoes, then they are too ripe to eat for most people, so only can be used in cooking. The fruit on the trees are a constant trial and error. If you pick them too soon, they are green and loose their flavor. If you wait until they are ripe, then you loose 1/2 of the crop to bird pecks or insects entering into the stem area. So Frank and I usually pick every day or every other day on each tree that looks like it is getting close to being perfectly ripe, hand picking just the ones that are ripe and fresh and ready to eat today.
Then the sorting begins. We sort through the fruits and vegetables to weed out the ones with flaws, too soft, bugs, pecks, etc. Those go into our house box to be used for jams or jellys or freezing by us as we cut out all the bad spots. Then the best of the best is saved for my Community Supportive Agriculture (CSA) members and that produce goes into their boxes each week. If there is anything left over, then I put it out onto my roadside stand. If, by chance there are rotten ones, then that produce goes to the chickens or to the compost pile or to friends who have animals.
You might be surprised and dismayed at how much produce is thrown away by farmers or those that sell at farmer's markets. It is an inevitable part of providing fruits and vegetables to the public and most people think all fruit should be perfect looking, perfect sizes, never soft. If you can or freeze or make pickles, preserves, jellys or jams, ask people at the markets if they sell lightly soft fruits or fruits with slight imperfections. They will be just as good to freeze and can, as long as you cut off anything that has bruises or soft spots. And normally the prices per case/lug are a lot less than those that are considered perfect.
Last week Frank and I put up 18 pints and 3 qts of bread and butter pickles. Today we are planning on processing dill pickles. If you go to the store and purchase a jar of pickles, it now costs more than $3.00 a jar. We are going to use the larger pickles from our garden, slice them up and they will turn out just yummy, especially this fall and winter when the cucumber plants are gone. It is a very gratifying feeling to know that we planted the seeds, watered them, weeded around them, picked them and processed them to eat all year round, right here on Windmill Farm. Canning is an "old-fashioned" thing to do, but in these hard economic times, it may be time to dust off that old cookbook, or bring out your mother's or grandmother's recipes and try your hand at canning fruits and vegetables. You might be surprised how much your family may want to join in on the process or how much they enjoy eating canned peaches; frozen peaches; frozen beans, pickles, whatever you decide to do. And you will be very surprised how much money you can save by putting some food aside now for later.
Well, during the time that it took to write this blog, my cucumbers and squash have grown another inch!!! Better get back to work.
Until next time, remember to buy fresh, buy local, know where your food comes from, support your small local farmer, like Frank and I. Get to know your local small farmers, they love to hear how much you enjoy their produce, we sure do.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bountiful Harvest

Frank and I can’t be thankful enough for all the great vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers that are being produced right here off of the land at Windmill Farm. Of course, it doesn’t happen without a lot of very hard work, pre-planning, and just plain luck too. I had my doubts about a month ago as to whether we would have enough produce to supply my wonderful CSA members with baskets full of products, with a little to spare for my fruit stand. Some weeks were pretty close but not now.
As I had stated in a previous blog, we were fortunate enough to be contacted by Pick A Peck of Pickles family and began a business venture together in that I would provide beets and beans to them for this summer to be used in their specialized jarred foods. With Windmill Farm’s produce, they could acknowledge to their customers that the food that they were processing was very fresh, came from a farm with at least good sustainable practices and that it was grown local.
I didn’t think we could meet their 400 lb. need of beans initially because of our unpredictable spring. It was a late start, but I am happy and proud to state that we delivered 42 lbs of beets to Pick a Peck of Pickles in June. And last week, we provided them with 100 lbs of fresh picked green beans on a Thursday; the next Tuesday we gave them 72 lbs; and yesterday, Thursday we gave them another 64 lbs. We are picking at least 20-25 lbs of beans every day and the plants show no signs of slowing down. AND I have 3 more rows of beans just starting to produce. I will meet their production needs and surpass it. My CSA members will be eating beans all through the summer!!! I even plan on running an ad in our local paper to sell our excess beans by ½ flats to whole flats of beans for the people who may be interested in freezing or canning them.
Another harvest that has really surprised me with their bounty is my flower section of the garden. I made a few mistakes in my selections of flowers, but in general almost all of my plants are just beautiful. Llano Seco, (an organic beef and pork business in Butte Co) business manager, Sarah Reynolds came by a few days ago as she needed a special flower arrangement for a food show that they were doing. We put together a fantastic arrangement. Sarah was so pleased, she came again last evening to the farm with 2 of her favorite large vases and together we picked and arranged a couple other arrangements. My CSA members routinely request an arrangement of flowers to be included in their produce baskets.
Everyone’s favorite flower that we grow here is the Limelight Hydrangea. It is so spectacular, it only takes a couple in a vase and you don’t need anything else. And it dries so well, I have several vases full around my house from last year and the year before and they still look as fresh as they did when I originally picked them. I have occasionally seen them for sale and they are sold normally for about $5.00 a stem. I provide several stems, along with many other fresh cut flowers in an ample floral arrangement for between $4-$5.
Tonight, we ate for dinner a salad made of tomatoes, peppers and 3 different varieties of cucumbers. We had corn and sautéed squash with onions. Dessert was peach cobbler. All the fruits and vegetables, even the onions, were grown right here on the farm and were picked about 30 minutes before I cooked them.
Yes, we are having a bountiful year and we are very blessed that all our hard work is finally showing results.
Stop by any time at our roadside stand to try out our produce or if you are interested in trying your hand at either drying fruit; or canning peaches; or freezing beans, give us a call. We will do our best to supply you with the freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables to meet your needs.
And a special Thank you goes to my CSA members for supporting us so that we can keep small farming businesses, like ours, alive and well.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy 4th July Weekend

When I was young, wearing perfume was so important to me. Getting that special bottle of perfume for Christmas was the best gift. Now that I am a Grandmother, I don’t even own a bottle of perfume but my favorite scent to have on my hands or in the house is Basil. Silly, but when I pick Basil, I always bring it to my face to take a whiff of the magical smell and as I cut it when preparing foods, I just love how it radiates into the kitchen and how it makes everything taste so fresh and wonderful. I have a very long row of basil planted out in the garden, but each year, I always have it planted in several places very close to the back door of the house. That way, if at the last minute I want to have Basil in pasta, or chopped on top of some squash, it is right there close by the kitchen.
When my daughter and I would go antique shopping when she was young, I would test her at the stores to see if she could tell the difference in types of silver, sterling silver, coin silver or silver plate. I thought that teaching her about silver were good lessons in knowing about the finer things in life. Seemed important at the time 20-25 years ago!!
Now I test my grandchildren but in different ways, in the garden. I pick vegetables or fruits and I have them tell me what they are; or I pick pieces of fresh herbs and I have them guess tell me if it is Thyme or Oregano or Sage or Rosemary. They call everything I pick, Basil because they know I like it the best and besides, they are only 3 and 5 years old. Most of the time, they do pretty great. The only other scent I love as much as basil is the smell of lemons and limes. What heavenly smells.
I have had such high spirits about the garden lately, not only how it looks but how it is producing. But yesterday, I was so discouraged because I found 2 large gopher mounds, one in my beautiful cutting flower section and the other in the fruit orchard. And I found 2 bean plants cut off or chewed off right at the base of the plant. Having had lots of experience with gophers, they don’t always eat plants from below. They will also come out of their holes and eat from above.
Rosie, my garden shed resident cat in the past has done her best hunting around the place, but she has an unlimited supply of cat food at her disposal in the shed. So I think she doesn’t go too far from her perch on the garden shed window sill, unless a mouse or gopher happens to walk by just below it!!
Once gophers start eating beans, it can be devastating. They have to be dealt with swiftly before their numbers multiply and expand. Last year I had the most beautiful crop of beans that were at least 3 feet tall and the plants were full with beans just ready to pick. In less than a week, I had lost about 2/3s of the crop to gophers.
I have started putting out the green beans and flowers at my roadside stand. I held off for a few weeks as the weather was so hot, I was wasting the produce and did not want my customers to end up with soft fruits and vegetables.
This weekend is the 4th of July. At Windmill Farm, we fly our American Flag every day. In fact, we have many flags flying at all times, along our fence out front, on my farm stand sign and in front of Frank’s shop. Particularly this weekend, we want to extend our sincere love, thanks and appreciation to all the wonderful military men and women past and present who have made sacrifices. Thank you for the sacrifices you and your families have made so we can all live in freedom. You are in our hearts this weekend.
God Bless, Happy 4th of July and Happy Gardening!! I am off to get me some gophers!!!