Merchandizing with Shapes and Colors

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Fun event this weekend at Greenwich’s Garden Education Center where I participated in a little vegetable stand for their Dahlia Show Open House. Bringing back 14 crates of veggies in an open back truck, under tarps and bungee cords was a first for me. I was hoping to bring back a vertical stand to lay out veggies, but decided last minute that it would be better not to have a metal rack fly off the truck on the NYS thruway.
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Here’s an up-close look at a share of our CSA this week. I’m glad to be moving back into leafy vegetables.

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Found, Lost, and Eaten

019This time of year, farm nights turn far chillier than city nights. The first question of the day is “how cold will it get tonight”. An early light frost ruined a lot of cayenne peppers last year, something I am trying to prevent this season. I’m also keeping a watchful eye on pumpkin progress, not that there’s much to be done except pray against frost and hurricanes. There are many immature squash as the vines and leaves brown and die out.

022I could have sworn I planted way too many blue hubbard squashes, giant blue winter squash with a rind as hard as a steel jacket. But they are nowhere to be found. Instead, I found Dan’s favorite, acorn squash, growing well this year.

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New vegetables started in August are struggling to grow. I had purposely left this field open all summer to beat back bindweed starting in the field, so for the fall planting, this was a perfect plot. Though they made their way through the dry weeks with our once a week irrigation, survived the heat on black soil. but they were defenseless against deer and/or groundhog appetite. I put in some stakes, mounted a flashing solar lantern, a smiley-face beach ball, and some human-scented t-shirts.

026Must protect sugar snap peas!

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The Deep End

026 I waded into the pumpkin patch and found these guys ready to pose for the camera.

018By wading, I mean battling through tall weeds, looking at a field of still-green vines, and plottng how to step through without destroying too many vines.

030The nexus of pumpkin varieties. This is the end of the winter luxury pumpkin, meeting up with a French heirloom Rouge Vif d’Etampes, with a jack-o-lantern type sneaking in on the right.

017This Rouge Vif d’Etampes surprised me. I am fond of growing heirlooms and have learned that they don’t always produce well, or uniformly, or timely, or in enough quantities. This is a deep red, gorgeous, cheese-wheel shaped squash, that announces its presence in the field.

021Another surprising hit, the miniature white pumpkin. I’ve tried several times with larger white varieties to no avail. But these little guys seem have prospered. We cut them, and store them out of the sun so they don’t get a sunburn and turn yellow. Usually pumpkins sit in the sun to cure, which forms a hard shell, and allows it to keep for a long time. Out of the sun, it needs to stay at 85 degrees with good air circulation.

027The delicata squash, still blooming and vining.

029Winter luxury pumpkins are coming soon! Beautiful netted skin. Dry flesh, not stringy. This makes a wonderful pumpkin pie, the first type that got me cooking pumpkins and the only type I will use.

031New crop of flowering broccoli rabe. They struggled through August heat and drought, but were helped by some weeds providing shade and moisture in the roots. While I wouldn’t say hand-weeding is efficient, the fall season does make the work less tedious as weeds don’t crop up week after week with the same tenacity. I

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Taking A Breather

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It’s time to begin checking in on pumpkins and winter squashes. These baseball-sized pumpkins are cute and beloved by PTA’s for the fall. We start cutting them off the vine, and letting them cure in the sun to form a hard shell.

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Okra plants continue to flower and form pods prolifically. As the plant ages, the leaf shape changes into thin finger-like leaves. It really was a good year for 50 feet of okra.

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The weeds finally overpowered all the watermelon vines, so I went treasure hunting. I was not expecting a full cart of them though. These are heirloom, seeded watermelons. One type has yellow flesh, but I can’t seem to find them in the ones I crack open.

These first few weeks in September offers a view to the end of the season. The newly planted crops won’t have as much weed pressure this late in the season. We’re still waiting for a bunch of rain to fall from the sky to kickstart germination. Pumpkins need a few more weeks to fully ripen, so there isn’t much to do there. Usually this would be a good time to can and jar produce for the winter, but lacking a kitchen, I’ve been spared that task this season.

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Watermel-yes Cante-nopes

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All the upfront weeding, and watering during the drought is paying off in the form of old-fashioned, sugar baby watermelons. Using the plink/plunk flicking of watermelons, we determined this one was ripe enough to try. It has turned red throughout, has a crisp texture, and is sweet!

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Canteloupes, on the other hand, fared well-enough on the sunny side. On the dark side touching the ground, they are experiencing some softening and rotting. Oops. With the last two rainy weeks, the moisture from the ground is taking a toll on the fruits. Growers need dry weather around harvest season, and often spread mulch under the fruits to keep it dry.

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A good year for shiso leaves. These are lush and stand five feet tall. I have to try a stirfry and see if the flavor would be suitable as an alternative to spinach! There is a drink recipe to react shiso with lime juice, which turns a muddy brown infusion into a bright pink cocoction.

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Nature’s checks and balances in action. Hornworm caterpillar edging along a tomato vine. Parasitic wasp larvi feeding on the caterpillar. If I look at the picture too long, it gives me the heebie jeebies.

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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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