Thursday, September 15, 2011

Newest farm additions

  We've been wanting to get pigs for years now.  We've just been afraid we weren't really ready!  This week though, putting fear aside, Eric brought home two weaned pigs (about 50 lbs each.)  We were mostly ready for them.  We have plenty to feed them.  When milk was overabundant this spring, we let the skim milk clabber, then strained this for "cheese" and froze it.  So we have a good reserve in the freezer.  (We would have just fed it straight if we had been ready with the pigs.)  We also have a good supply of local non-GMO grains for them - wheat from neighbors and what looks to be a good surplus of the open-pollinated white corn we're growing.  And then there will be kitchen scraps and garden waste.  And we hope to move them through the sweet potatoes and peanuts to forage for what we miss when we dig these crops.  And then maybe even run them through the oak grove to feast on acorns this fall.  So we think we're ready to feed them right. 
  The big question though, and the cause of our hestitation, was how to contain them.  We have hopes of relatively simple electric fences to rotate them through gardens as they can be useful.  But until we get to know each other better, we wanted a more secure system.  For the first few weeks here, we had plans to put them in a movable cattle panel cage.  Sure enough, the little guys could squeeze right through the holes.  So we lined the cage with some smaller welded wire fencing.  And they seem happy in their new home.  We're also hoping that moving them one to two times each day for starters will help them off to a clean, healthy start on our farm.  We're trying to keep them well fed and familiar to us, in case we should have to call them home sometime with a slop bucket.
  We'll keep you posted on our newest adventure here on the farm.

How to grow strawberries

This picture is from this past April.  It's time to plant your own patch.
   Now is the time to set out strawberry plants for fruit next May. We maintain a part of our strawberry patch each year after the harvest and through the summer until now, when we dig up the multiple runners and plant them out in a newly prepared section of garden. The plants establish themselves in the fall, then begin to really put on new leaves on warm days in the winter and in the early spring. By about the end of March they should begin flowering, and about the end of April/early May the harvest should begin and last for about three or four weeks.  These are the same plants we've sold strawberries from since we first started selling in 2004. We normally plant our strawberries in double rows. We space the two individual rows about 10-12 inches apart with about 24-32 inches between double rows. We space the plants about 10 inches apart in the row.  Sometimes we'll mound up the double rows a little, especially if we have any concerns about poor drainage: strawberry roots don't like to stay wet. We mulch lightly with straw (or poor hay) for protection from the hardest winter cold, then mulch heavily in and around the plants in the early spring to suppress weeds and keep the berries from getting mud and dirt on them. Bare root plants will require very regular watering until they get established. It is time to begin getting plants established, though, so if you can't keep them well watered in the garden, you might want to plant them in small pots or flats as an intermediate step. It's also important not to plant the plants too deep.  Find the growing point in the middle of the plant and make sure not to cover it with dirt. 
   If you've realized how hard good organic fruit is to come by, strawberries may be an excellent place to start growing your own.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Planning for the off season

May 11, 2010
What if you've become convinced that food grown who-knows-where and who-knows-how isn't what you want any more? What if you wanted to try to eat (and support the production of) only local food -- food that you either grew yourself or got directly from the source -- grown with old-fashioned organic integrity (free of any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, etc.)? What would you have to do to make it happen? How could it be done? We want to consider these questions as they apply to a full spectrum of food groups, but for this week we want to talk about vegetables.
   Vegetables may seem like the easiest food group to "go local" with, and they can pretty easily and conveniently be found from small farms and backyard growers. When it comes to vegetables, the challenges lie in eating in-season and in putting up surplus for the off-season. If you limit yourself mostly to a small handful of familiar vegetables, you're likely to encounter lots of weeks where there's little or nothing on your list that's in season. Learning to enjoy a wider variety of vegetables, besides being healthier, will surely help a lot in the effort to eat locally. Last year, even with several crop failures caused by all the spring rain, we had at least 7 (and as many as 14) different vegetables (and multiple varieties of many of those) to offer every week from the beginning of May through early November. Of course, some of those crops were more abundant and others sold out quickly, but even just from our farm there's a lot of variety to be had if you know how to enjoy it. One of the big advantages to a traditional CSA box (where members simply receive a full assortment of whatever is in season as opposed to custom ordering their boxes as our CSA members normally do) is that it encourages families to eat more like they were eating from their own gardens and to enjoy a fuller variety. Of course, eating with the seasons also means cooking with the seasons. Instead of letting a recipe or menu dictate your shopping list, eating in season generally turns things around: if you're eating in season, you'll probably start with what's fresh and in season and let that determine what you cook.
   As winter begins to set in continuing to eat locally mostly means relying on crops that you froze or canned or dried or simply put in the pantry earlier in the year. Sweet potatoes, garlic, and winter squash will keep well in the pantry all through the off-season without any special attention. Freshly dug fall carrots will keep for many weeks in the fridge. Most vegetables are well suited to simple freezing: butterbeans, October beans, broccoli, collards, sweet corn, roasted eggplant, field peas, kale and all the other cooking greens, leeks and onions, okra, garden peas, bell peppers and banana peppers, also roasted peppers, spinach, fava beans, and even tomatoes and tomato juice and sauce, etc. Canning intimidates a lot of people, but there aren't really that many vegetables for which canning is the only good way to preserve them, and if you want to learn to can, it's simple. (We'd be glad to teach you.) We use canning for green beans, beets and pickles (cucumbers as well as pickled beets and dilly beans.) Irish potatoes can be kept in the pantry for a few months (longer at cooler temperatures), but we can some potatoes for later in the winter. We prefer to can most of our tomatoes (whole tomatoes, juice, sauce, salsa), but we also dry tomatoes ("sun"-dried) in a cheap dehydrator, and we freeze oven-roasted tomatoes and tomato paste. We don't actually can (with heat) our sauerkraut, but we do make it in canning jars and keep it along with the rest of our canned goods. The Ball Blue Book is the most common "guide to home canning, freezing, and dehydration", and an old version is our standard reference book. Putting up vegetables for the off-season does require planning ahead. If there are crops you'd like to put up for the off-season that you'd like to get from us, please talk to us about your particular interests ahead of time, and we'll try to help plan for you to get larger quantities of those things to preserve for later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Southern heritage staple

  We want to draw your attention this week to one of our most special and at the same time most basic products, our Southern heritage staple.  Do you want to break away from the standard corporate food/agriculture system?  Do you want to resist the take-over of our farmland and our food supply by GMO's (genetically modified organisms) and everything that goes along with them?  Do you want to help build a comprehensive local food system, independent of pesticides and non-renewable chemical fertilizers?  You should try our cornmeal and grits and make them regular staples in local kitchens again!  If we can recover that foundation, imagine what further steps our local food system could take!  If local agriculture is going to expand into grains and field crops (and all the animal products that depend on them), it's all going to have to start with the same grain that was most practical for our great-grandparents.  In terms of how land in America is farmed, field corn (which is corn that's harvested when the kernels are hard-dry) is singly more than 5 times as significant as all the fruits and vegetables we consume put together.  Cornmeal isn't just for cornbread and grits aren't just for breakfast!  
  Besides basic cornbread, we use cornmeal in a number of recipes including some of our regular favorites - okra fritters and cornmeal spoonbread.  We also make a basic cornmeal pancake.  Eric likes the cornmeal pancakes best unsweetened, topped simply with butter.  Of course, cornmeal is great for breading all sorts of things, from vegetables to poultry to fish.  Hush puppies are another southern classic worth remembering.  Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina has several cornmeal and grits recipes on its website well worth checking out:
   Grits are, of course, a great breakfast staple, whether with eggs or cheese or country ham... For expanding beyond breakfast, shrimp and grits are the classic low country combination, but one of our favorite ways to eat grits is to make an extra large batch for breakfast and pour the leftovers into a greased bread loaf pan and refrigerate until gelled...then we'll slice the grits about a half inch thick and fry in butter until the surface is crispy.  It makes a great starch to go alongside most any meat and vegetables.  It's certainly different from rice, but it roughly fills that niche for us in a local, homegrown way.  We also use cornmeal for a crust in casseroles that we'll top with things like black beans, chicken, tomatoes, cheese, peppers... 
   If you'd like to read the specifics about where our corn came from and what we do with it, see our blog entry
    We've optimistically planted more than double the 'Floyd' corn this year than we've ever grown before (and convinced a neighbor to organically grow even more.)  We'll be hand harvesting it all fairly soon.  An interesting thing about 'Floyd' corn is its recessive trait that leads to a small percentage of ears that are entirely dark red.  If you'd like to help out in this year's harvest, let us know!  If you have any custom grinding requests, or if you'd like whole kernel corn to grind yourself or to make nixtamal with for tortillas, we're happy to accommodate with a little extra advance notice.  (By the way, we're looking for a mentor to show us how to best make nixtamal/tortillas starting with whole kernel corn.)  If you have any questions about differences in using homegrown cornmeal or grits like we're offering, please ask. 
   We're excited to be able to offer what nowadays is a very unique product.  There are some historic mills that still grind corn, but we only know of one other person in all of North Carolina (in Old Fort -- he also happens to be a farmer with his own mill) that's grinding locally grown heirloom corn.  We believe it's important to preserve these heirlooms not just to maintain non-genetically modified options, but also because these varieties weren't bred to depend on high rates of conventional fertilizer, on chemical control of weeds, diseases, and insects, and on combine harvesting. That means they're all around suitable to local use on small farms and to communities deciding how to grow their own food.  If you share our desire to restore a comprehensive local agriculture that doesn't depend on non-renewable chemical fertilizers and pesticides and genetically modified crops, consider making our corn a staple in your kitchen.  There's a lot to enjoy.

Thanks to Lee

  The nice rains from tropical storm Lee last week have brought on a nice flush of shitake mushrooms this week.

Pickin' up paw paws

  We were excited to try a paw paw for the first time the other day and even more excited at how good they tasted.  Our young trees have yet to bear fruit so we visited the man we got our trees from in Wilkes County.  He treated us to a taste from his trees and the paw paws are as close to a mango as you can get this far north.  We also had our first jujube from our own tree the other day - a great date like little fruit.  This was the only fruit from all three trees, but we're looking forward to bigger harvests in the years to come.  In the meantime, some of our other fruits are coming on strong - we've been enjoying figs, asian pears, and even some muscadine grapes (from our much neglected vines). 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Corn Bread Variations

Buttermilk Corn Bread

2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon bacon fat or butter

Preheat oven to 375. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in the buttermilk and honey and beat in the eggs. Melt the fat in a cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter and bake in the skillet for 20 to 25 minutes, until risen and browned.

Cakey Corn Bread

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
2 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter or lard

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add honey, eggs, milk, and fat. Beat until just smooth. Pour into greased 9x9x2 pan. Bake at 425 for 20 to 25 minutes.

Corn Griddle Cakes

Melt a couple tablespoons of fat in a cast-iron skillet. Mix cornmeal and a bit of salt with enough honey and water to make a sloppy batter. Spoon into hot fat and cook on one side until solid enough to flip. Cook on other side until done.