Pepper Me This

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Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Peppers always take me by surprise, mostly because I leave alone for majority of the season. Then one day, they are all there, with the bushes toppling over from the weight of the fruits. Many years ago, I used to shop at a hot pepper stand at Union Square Greenmarket. I’d say it was the seeding idea of farming. The varieties, size, shape, colors were breathtaking! Maybe next season, I’d like to convert a shed into a greenhouse and start seeds in mid-March.

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Lemon cucumbers finally started bearing fruit. Unfortunately it seems the heat and humidity also brought on powdery mildew. The irony of heavy rains is that it damages foliage, and yet doesn’t penetrate deep into the earth.

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The row of squash – zucchini varieties Alexandria, Floridor, Costato Romanesco – are also afflicted with powdery mildew. Every year Dan rails against too many squash plants, so I didn’t plant too many initially. I snuck back in to put in a secondary planting when the first plants started flowering. We will be in summer squash for quite a while. As the saying goes, the more you pick, the more they produce.

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Brussels sprouts for the fall continue to grow. I interplanted anise hyssop, which is said to deter flea beetles, which are sending up small purple flowers. A bit of weed pulling and hoeing is in order isn’t it?

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Planting for the fall season began in early Aug. The heavy rains brought up the weeds, so I hand hoe the row next to the sprouting chinese broccoli. Still waiting for carrots and beet sprouts for the fall season.

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Drought Tolerance

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Three years ago I saw my first okra plant and flower. At the time, I thought it was a hibiscus plant. Turns out, they are in the same family – hibiscus, rose of sharon, marsh mallow (the plant, not the sugary confection), cotton. Turns out I picked a perfect year for the plant as it is drought tolerant and loves the heat.

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I love gumbo, but if you dislike that classic gumbo gooeyness, try a 3 minute grill. Sprinkle with pepper and salt. You can make an okradog and sandwich it between buns and add toppings. Try it, you might be surprised.

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Another hot-weather bet are the melons this year. We came across a ripened and split canteloupe in the field. It has decent flavor, just need a bit more sunshine to increase the sugar content.

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About now we stop battling with weeds and just try to coexist as much as we can. Most vegetables are at their peak development, producing prolifically every 2-3 days. Since we harvest at end of week, we receive steroid-sized vegetables. There is humor in seeing dinosaur-sized plants and puzzling out how to eat it. The kale, swiss chard, and broccoli rabe are still growing in their weedy rows. It’s not the prettiest thing, but the weeds provide some respite from heat, and aid in retaining water underground. Most of the swiss chard are still growing, but 1 plant has bolted and gone to seed.

 

 

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Drought Corn, Rain Harvest

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Do you want to hear the bad news, or good news first? As I’ve noted, we are basically in a drought year here in the northeast. The corn crops had a great start with early May warmth, but then were challenged without much rain. An old-fashioned varietal, Double Standard, should have been about 6 feet tall yielding 7-inch ears but grew to only 4 feet tall. The decent sized ears mostly were picked apart by birds, those incessant pests of the corn fields. This year we did not put up bird scare in time. So what we are left with are the second ears on a stalk, shorter and stubbier.
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On the other hand, nature did give us a lot of rain this weekend. Glorious, soaking, summer rains that started on Sat and continued on and off through Sunday. Weeds that we would normally see in April have lunged from seedling to 2-feet-tall, seed-bearing goliaths towering over our crops.

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Sunflowers growing from last year’s seed. It has become an annual exercise to allow the flowers to set seed, dry out on the stalk, and threshed in late fall. It’s a repetitive task to cut the dry stalks, remove seeds, and filtering out the chaff. At once mesmerizing and therapeutic in the breezy yet warm days of November. This year, we will till under a large swath of the sunflowers while it’s green in order to build up the soil in that area.

Okra in flower is a surprising beauty for the Northeast. In the malvaceae family, it resembles the tropical hibiscus, rose of sharon, or mallow flowers near marshes. For folks who don’t like the slippery insides of okra, try a dry sautee in a pan. Heat oil with salt and spices, add whole okra, sautee and leave uncovered until lightly browned.
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Keep your fingers crossed as much disaster may yet befall our melon patch. We opened a watermelon to find that though sweet, it hasn’t turned completely red yet. These are heirloom type “Sugar Baby” and sets seeds. According to the sages, there are 3 ways to tell when watermelons are ripe 1) the tendril near the fruit stem is brown 2) the point where fruit rests on the ground is yellow, 3) classic flick on the fruit and listening for plink(not ripe)/plank(not ripe)/plunk(ripe). Milo and I had a lot of fun flicking watermelons and listening for the sound!

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It’s goodbye to the sugar snap peas and beans for now. The rain prevented me from prepping the soil to start the fall vegetables, but I will catch up on that next week. Maybe I can test out some lettuces for the fall! Maybe it’ll grow this time around! Stay tuned for weekly tomato updates.

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Fruit and Root of the Summer

001We are starting to pull garlic and hanging it to dry in the barn. A fresh garlic is full of liquid and is amazingly great for … mosquito bites. (I swear by a garlic rub as soon as a mosquito bites. It stings a little so you know that the chemical compound, allicin, that lends garlic its antibacterial and antiviral potency is working. For me, the sting relieves the itch, and also reduces the inflammation and swelling.) Some of the garlic areas got weedy and grassy so require additional effort to dig and pull, that’s for next week.

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The summer squash and zucchinis are upon us, this is fair warning that we will begin leaving squashes for friends, family, and enemies alike.

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This is a view of the weedy ditch banks. Despite the drough-like summer, weeds are thriving just fine. I was aiming to buy a sickle bar mower this summer to deal with this, but our mentors just got one and I’m waiting to use their equipment.
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I love beets, but this did not turn out to be a beet-friendly season. Here are the bull’s blood beets in all their purple glory. There is still another chance for fall beets, and I am waiting for a bit more rain before planting seeds.
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Last few seasons, we dragged out large 4×12 metal fencing so that cucumbers have something to climb on. This year, I’ve planted seeds closer and will not bother with trellising or staking. They should form a nice tight mass of leaves which shade the ground and provide a bit of cover for the fruits.

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Peas and Beans

It poured twice this week and everything is come up peas. I think I can hear the weeds clapping too. This Sat was also unseasonably cool, reaching about 70 under an overcast sky. Strange-weather season it is.
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While the sugar snap peas continue their journey to the top of the trellis netting, I have to begin thinking about planting for fall already. Assuming 60 days to maturity, if I plant pea seeds in mid-July, it will start producing pods in mid-Sep and continue for about 3 weeks.
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String beans among a mess of grass. The purple string beans turn green once cooked.
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I had a few minutes to prepare a chalkboard sign so that Milo can have some fun and run a stand. No one stopped in yet, but we are not on a heavily traveled road.
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Normally we grow a lot of sunflowers along the road, but this year, I wanted to deal with a bindweed problem creeping into the field. As we started pulling up garlic, I realized maybe our farm logo should be garlic instead. It’s now 4 weeks after cutting the garlic scapes, if I leave them in longer the cloves begin to separate, which affect storing over winter.
008Tomatoes are setting. Within two weeks, the plants really grew up and out. The next 2 weeks will be weeding, pruning and working on a support system for the vines.

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Leafing Behind

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Even with our “weed cover” providing water and shade for cool-weather plants, the heat of summer make many leafy vegetables bolt. Spinach are starting to bolt and I am curious whether we might be able to create some seed for the next season.

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Found this bok choy varietal in a row that was replanted with herbs. I guess the seeds were good, but there was not enough rain. I will retry a planting for the fall harvest. Incidentally, the tiny holes in the leaves are beetles that attack brassica crops. There are several ways to combat the critters – pyrethrum-based insecticide, physical row covers, planting out of beetle cycle. I actually tried growing pyrethrum, a flower in the chrysanthenum family, during our first season. That didn’t work out, and the more I thought about possible toxicity and exposure, the less problematic the holes in brassica became. At the end of the day, I think the tradeoff for safety is worth a bit of an ugly vegetable.

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July means it is halfway over, too late and too hot to make up rows that didn’t germinate. It means weeds are growing at breakneck pace over the entire farm and will overtake us. It also means summer squashes, lots of them, in a neverending parade. This is the start of it all – a precious 5 or 6 on 2 plants. In 2 weeks, a new one sprouts each time I walk past. I like summer squashes, they come in different colors and shapes. They are pretty, and they can feed an army once they start producing fruit. As the plant ages, the fruits are less tender and the skin toughens faster. But as I discovered last season, you can accidentally revive a plant by removing tired vines and old leaves and inundate yourself with additional, unplanned squashes that take over your refrigerator. It is also the time that neighbors lock their doors when they see me.

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Cucumbers are in the same family as summer squash, but they have not fared as well without rain. We removed weeds and started watering, they will be latecomers this season.

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Winter squash plants are also relatively small.

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The carrot row got a haircut last weekend to remove tall lambsquarter and amaranth plants. The carrots are hiding in the grass, and the roots are pipe-cleaner thin. They are work to seed, work to germinate, work to weed – none of which we spend enough time doing. But kids and adults seem to love pulling them up and eating them right on the spot.

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A Family Who Waters Together

We have learned a lot in three seasons, but this year we figure out irrigation. The black dirt has very high water retention capability – just a bit of rain usually suffices. But this year, a combination of no rain and no weed cover makes apparent just how dry a season we have. Unlike what you see in the video, our lanes were full of crabgrass and weeds in the past.

Dan is driving the tractor and trying not to run over any vegetables. Milo is sitting on top of the back mower monitoring the water in the barrel. I walk behind and direct water right to the roots of watermelon and cantaloupes. We pumped water out of the well, put it into the rain barrel, hook up a portable pump and connect hoses. How hard can it be right? Well, First Law of Plumbing states that one will not find the correctly sized part on the first try. Let’s just say there was a lot of finagling.

The black dirt heats up very quickly, and the shades actually provide a respite by shading the ground and preventing evaporation during the day and aiding dew point conversion at night. Unfortunately, they also usually grow quicker than crops. The detritus is from hand-weeding – I am determined to get some watermelons this year!

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Rainbow chard in situ – the brilliant colors on the stems are amazing.

 

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Red russian and Siberian kale. Our first serious kale growing season started off badly, and we had to do-over a few times.

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When to pull garlic is a question for the sages. Too early and the bulbs are not at the maximum size. Too late and the cloves begins to split, reducing its storage capability over the winter.  I’ll be aiming to pull them up about mid-July.

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Oh boy will there be sugar snap peas next week! Each year I begin the harvest of sugar snap peas by jealously guarding the skinny peas and warning Milo not to pick the flat ones. Just seven days later, it’s pea season. Time for a pick-your-own event!

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Woodchuck and the Pea

As summer solstice approaches, all seeds for the summer season are in the ground, biding time, The chance for do-over rows or replanting diminish. Now it’s a test of stamina against the weeds. This season I have taken a no weeds approach between the rows of plants, logging tractor time and tilling very close to the seedlings. But it is not an optimal solution as it leaves soil bare and wind erosion is a real problem. I haven’t yet found a solution – although I am seriously thinking of driving the pickup truck with the door open, and bolt a cultivator to the undercarriage.

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I counted 6 sugar snap peas, and looking forward to the first small bag next week. Then there will be at least 6 weeks of 50lb crates coming home every week. It’s a popular pick-your-own veggie and I will need all hands on deck.

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Nibbled, but not too bad

Uninvited visitors helped themselves to these sweet tasting pea tendrils. I tried some of the garnish pea leaves and can’t say I blame the critter. This morning, I watched a family of three deftly time traffic on our road. The “mom” stood up, looked around, probably feeling for vibrations of cars on the road. When it was all clear, she crossed the road and two “teenagers” followed shortly after. Then they began to feast on some wild weeds (good) and started toward our fields (bad).

Alas no picture this time, but we did a mobile irrigation exercise by putting a water barrel on top of a tractor implement, hooking up a gas-powered pump, and me walking behind with a garden hose to spray at the roots of plants. It worked well enough, maybe we can do it again next week!

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Flapping in the Wind

Actually it was a very productive weekend, planting the remaining pumpkin seeds, soybeans, hot peppers, and new rows of veggies. But literally, my t-shirt was blowing up the back and I have a lumbar sunburn to show for this weekend’s work.

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Some surprise notes from a dry season – flowers. I scattered a pollinator flower mix and they are making their way up through the tall grasses. Duly noted to plant in rows so it can be weeded, then mow the weed grasses in between.
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The borage plants are growing into huge masses of prickly oddball plants. I knew they spread and will self-sow liberally, but did not account for the spread. Somewhere below the leaves are hapless strawberry transplants that need a new home.
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Next up, chamomile tea. They took forever to germinate, then went through a sudden growth spurt. In the background, you can see wild purslane with red stems cropping up.
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Peas without trellis support. This is a garnish pea that puts out a lot of tendrils and I’m trying it without trellis support.
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Sugar snap peas with trellis support. Normally by mid Jun the plants are about 4 feet tall, but we have at least 3 more weeks to go. Setting up a trellis is a time-consuming task. Weeding the base of it is even harder. I don’t particularly like plastic netting, but its weight and the 250 foot length is why I keep buying it each season.
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Finally the piece de resistance, the garlic scape. When garlic sends up a flower stalk, we remove it and wait a few weeks for the bulb to size up. About 2-3 weeks after cutting the scapes, the top 2 leaves yellow and die back, and then it’s garlic harvest! Hardneck garlic planst send up a single stalk, which curls upon itself once or twice. As it matures, the fibers in the stalk get tough and it straightens out. This is the first time I’ve seen a multi-stalk garlic.

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Transplant Water Repeat

To plant tomatoes, we put down a black plastic, called mulch, and space the plants far apart. We have colorful cherry tomatoes, grape and plum tomatoes. In our situation, anything bigger is really asking for trouble in picking, transporting and storing.
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We use some tomato cages, but our plants will quickly overtake the cage and spill out everywhere. Last year I tried to tie sisal as support, but didn’t use enough. The vines spilled out everywhere, and the more I trimmed, the faster they grew.

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We don’t usually irrigate, the soil retains moisture well. But with transplants, you have to water it well. We’re trying to pull water from the ditches, but the pump is struggling, the hose is collapsing, and once water makes it into the rain barrels, I’m not quite sure how it’ll make it out to the field. Makes a strong case for bringing electricity to the farm in my opinion, Dan doesn’t think so.

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