Tag Archives: greenhouse

Foraging the Fence Line

Sure, it’s May 12th, but that doesn’t mean we’re wearing shorts and sandals on Colorado’s Front Range. Mother’s Day was snowy, today’s wind is cold, and tonight the temperature will drop into the 20s, putting this season’s apple crop in peril. Our wintered-over crops like spinach and onions are slower than normal this year, although what “normal” means anymore is anyone’s guess. As farmers in these days of climate change, we watch the weather instead of the calendar and plant or pick accordingly.

DSC_0765

I had intended to harvest asparagus this afternoon anyway before tonight’s predicted frost, but my friend Wendy’s blog post about foraged asparagus inspired me to take my camera along. Wendy’s post will tell you how to prepare asparagus without wasting any of the precious bits, so I’ll leave the culinary instructions to her.

DSC_0784

Instead, I’ll share what else I found on my walk around the farm. First, I stopped in the bluehouse—our passive solar greenhouse made from recycled patio doors—to check on the lettuces. We’ve been eating greens like arugula and chard ourselves from the bluehouse all winter, but last Saturday we harvested lettuce for all our members on the first pick-up day of the season. Bluehouse lettuce is never as crisp as outdoor-planted lettuce, but we’re not complaining about fresh lettuce in May, especially in this cool spring.

DSC_0767

Next, I walked the fence line on the west side of our property to find the bird-planted asparagus. I’ll let you figure out how that happens. John had picked a first round a few days ago and some of it was already going to seed, but I foraged a half bag of hearty stalks, enough for a quiche soon and some for salad too (I chop in bite-sized pieces, steam tender-crisp, cool, and add to spinach, lettuce, parsley, chopped boiled eggs, and roasted walnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette). I also found cactus in the only spot they grow on our farm, back along the fence line near where our neighbor pastures his cows.

DSC_0776

Snow is still falling in the mountains; normally we can see Long’s and Meeker from our field. Today, only Steamboat Mountain just outside of Lyons is visible.

DSC_0771

On the way back to the farmhouse with my stash of asparagus, I run into John crossing the bridge by the flower garden. I glance down into the ditch, which is still nearly empty because the repairs following last September’s terrible flood are not yet complete, making yesterday’s snow quite welcome for our fields.

The lack of ditchwater hasn’t prevented the appearance of another spring foraging treat: the saddleback polypore mushroom that grows each year on the stump of our former rope tree over the swimming hole. Today’s find is fifteen inches across; we’ve harvested it just in time for optimal spongy texture. We’ll sauté it tonight for an extra treat, maybe with asparagus over pasta or toast.

DSC_0792

Our vegetable crops may be a little behind schedule right now, but I’m happy to be on the cool side of the weather rather than shooting straight to hot. We’re still worried about the above average snowpack, too, since the flood last fall has changed the river in unpredictable ways, but we’re glad to know water is on its way.

As I write in A Bushel’s Worth, on a farm, we work, we wait, and the land gives again. In this 23rd CSA season, we’ll adapt and change and flex and grow in whatever way the climate demands. We may not always get it right, but we’ll do the best we can, drawing on the knowledge, patience, and faith that, so far, have seen us through.

DSC_0782

For readers in the Boulder/Ft Collins area, I’ll be teaching a free interactive reading at the Estes Park Public Library this Saturday, May 17th, from 3-5 PM, with a special emphasis on writing stories about the September 2013 flood. Come join us!

I’ll also be offering a workshop at the beautiful Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon Coast this September 27-28 on “Writing from Nature’s Artifacts.” Just the scenery will inspire you (and hopefully the class will too!).

 

 

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

Midwinter Cuisine: Let the Squash Simmer!

 

DSC_8587

I’m busy getting ready for our yoga and lifewriting women’s winter respite tomorrow, but I want to share a link to a fun article that includes our farm by food writer Cindy Sutter in the Boulder Daily Camera. John and I had to chuckle at Cindy’s mid-winter weariness for squash and roots. We’d probably feel the same way if we didn’t have fresh arugula in our greenhouse for salads and sandwiches and delicious Winterbor kale under row cover out in the field (when it’s not covered with snow) for stir-fries and soups. Those greens add a lot to our winter cuisine.

DSC_3220

We also make our “sundried” (dehydrated) tomatoes a regular part of our diet. Now that the chickens are laying again (they take some time off for the shortest winter days), we’re back to sundried tomato omelettes with herbs (even fresh rosemary from the greenhouse) and chevre. It’s true that our winter meals are less varied than meals the rest of the year, but that’s part of the way we simplify our lives in these darker, colder days.

DSC_6873

Even in the midst of winter, we’re thinking about spring here at Stonebridge. The onions are poking up in the greenhouse flats and the seed order has arrived.

DSC_2113

At last Saturday’s ditch meeting, we were assured that we’d have water by May 1st, if not before. The St Vrain river will be re-connected to our irrigation ditch (with our annual ditch fees going up 200% for the next 27 years!). The snowpack is heavy, which any other year would be great news. This year, spring run-off in the damaged river channel worries all of us, but we are happy to have snow levels up again. We know some Boulder County farmers are facing much more difficult situations following the flood. We can’t help but be grateful that our farm fared as well as it did. Farming is a tenuous undertaking in any year, but farmers are a hopeful lot. As I said at the end of the Camera article, farming is forgiving because you get to start over every season.

gloveline copy

If you’ve still got winter squash in your pantry, here’s the recipe for the soup I’m making today for our respite tomorrow. I know it’s not as authentically Thai as it could be, but it’s still wonderful and warming and very adaptable, perfect for a nourishing January meal. And your house will smell amazing while it’s simmering!

Thai Butternut Soup

I put my sliced lemongrass rounds in two large mesh tea balls and immerse those with the squash as it simmers. That way, I don’t have to strain the soup. I didn’t want to strain it because that’s a hassle and I don’t want to lose any squash texture. I also put my lime zest in a mesh ball. I use a Stonebridge blended chili powder to taste. You could use whole Serrano chilis instead, removing before pureeing. An immersion blender works like a dream for this soup. You could also transfer in batches to a food processor or blender.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 Tbl olive oil
3 pounds butternut squash (1 very large squash or 2 medium), peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
. To peel, slice in rounds first and then, laying the rounds flat on the chopping board, slice the skin off the edge of each piece by moving the knife around the round.
1 cup dry white wine
10 cups vegetable broth (2.5 32-oz boxes of an organic brand, perhaps more depending on desired thickness)
2 stalks lemongrass, coarsely sliced or chopped (see note above)
Zest of one lime
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (I use two large limes, room temp and squeezed in my 1940s juicer)
1/4 cup fish sauce
3/4 tsp salt
 or to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1/2 tsp hot pepper powder or to taste

Cook the onion, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add the squash pieces and wine; boil, uncovered, until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the broth and simmer, covered with a little venting, until squash is tender, about 45 minutes. (Here’s when I immerse my tea balls of lemongrass and zest so they simmer with the squash, removing them when the squash is tender).

Puree the squash mixture well with an immersion blender or in food processor. Return to pot and blend/stir in lemon grass & lime zest (still in strainers, if using) lime juice, fish sauce, chili powder or chilis, and salt and pepper. If you’d like it a little thinner, add some more veggie broth.

Simmer 20 minutes with the lid slightly open.

Season with salt, hot pepper powder, and regular ground pepper to taste. Freezes well.

12 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Fresh in February

I bought a head of lettuce yesterday, something I haven’t done for years. We grow our own most of the time and when we don’t have lettuce in winter, we usually can find some other green like fall-planted spinach or wintered-over chard or kale to provide something fresh for our meals.

But yesterday the spinach was deep under row cover and snow. I could have foraged for some leaves but I didn’t want to disturb its sleep. Better to let it rest under its blanket until the snow thaws and the days warm up again.

We also normally have greens growing in our smaller unheated greenhouse this time of year, but that building is being renovated right now. Nothing for a salad is growing in the construction zone. So I went to our thirty-year-old local natural food store and purchased a lovely head of organic lettuce.

The Bluehouse renovation with salvaged glass

We were having a guest for dinner; I had planned to put spinach in the lasagna, as I usually do, and to make a spinach salad with our own sundried tomatoes as well. I could go without the spinach in the former but couldn’t completely give up the latter.  I wanted something fresh, despite February’s chill. Remember American Pie: “February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered”? February is the month that can go either way—sun warmed or frigid cold, on any particular day. We’ve had plenty of snow and low temps so far but not like last year when schools closed because of below-zero temperatures. I grew up here and so did my daughter but never did we get a Too Cold Day off from school.

My mother and me sledding in 1965

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of farming in terms of efficiency vs ecology. We’ve just lost the fight against GMO crops on our county open space land and pro-GMO advocates and their big backers are organizing to influence the upcoming county commissioners race. Organic farmers and organic consumers are small potatoes, so to speak, in the world of Big Ag. Even the biggest organic producers still maintain a very small part of the overall market.

It’s not just being smaller, though, that makes us less efficient. Being sustainable—and I mean that in the environmental sense, not the co-opted financial sense purported by the ag industry—brings a commitment to ecology that precludes some kinds of efficiencies such as chemical inputs, i.e., synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

Another efficiency, monocropping, lessens plant diversity and, even more worrisome, the rush to patent all forms of seeds threatens to diminish even the continuance of plant availability. Loosing diversity will bring untold vulnerabilities to our food systems—think Irish potato famine—as well as increased dependency on food and seed monopolies.

None of that is ecological. Industrial agriculture doesn’t support a balanced ecosystem in which farmers work within natural systems as closely as possible to produce food that is healthy and nutritious while preserving soil, water, and air for future generations. Further, the efficiency imperative puts more and more power in the hands of a few biochemical companies, increasing costs for small farmers that is already driving them out of business. It may increase efficiency—bringing down the cost of raising food but not necessarily of food itself– until the point that vulnerabilities to unforeseen consequences (the rise of resistant diseases, for example) or uncontrollable circumstances (our increasingly volatile weather patterns) overwhelm the system.

It’s complex but thinking about how efficiency and ecology can overlap, both on small, organic farms and in the larger scale of agriculture, is helpful to me. Next week John and I are going to the Colorado Big and Small conference. That says it all. How can the actions of Big not threaten the existence of Small? And can Small become any bigger without subscribing to the problems inherent in Big? We’d all like to think we can work together as “good neighbors,” but the stakes seem to be getting pretty high. I’m just not down with world domination of seeds, no matter how efficient that may seem. We’ll see what people have to say.

February is a transition month. Our small starts in the big greenhouse look good, our members are sending appreciative notes, and we’re excited to get back into the fields.  A new season always brings promise. That’s the encouraging thing about ecological farming. We’ll get our “bluehouse” rebuilt and grow some winter greens; the spring will come around; and we’ll get a fresh start once again.

PS Did you notice that today’s date is palindromic?

2 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

A Rogue Tomato and ’70s Quiche

I’m making a favorite recipe tonight, Tomato Tart, something I traditionally make with green tomatoes picked right before the first fall frost and ripened in the greenhouse. But this year the first frost was so late (Oct 27), the tomatoes had finished ripening well before, as if staying on the vine until the end of October was unnatural. I could have made it earlier with tomatoes gone red in the field but I hadn’t thought of it. No green tomatoes in the greenhouse, no tart.

Then last week John brought in a partially ripened tomato from a rogue tomato plant still growing in our greenhouse. Not in the shelf garden where we plant cherry and cluster tomatoes, but from a monstrous vine that had seeded itself in the soil floor of the greenhouse and grown up through the slats of the long table where we set out flats of starts each spring. In the greenhouse’s humidity, the vine had grown more exuberantly than it ever could outside in our dry heat; now in December tomatoes as big as our fists are slowly starting to ripen and one is red and ready for tonight’s tomato tart. Yahoo!

Made in the oversized stoneware pie plate that I routinely use for our Stonebridge Big Quiche, this tart is rich with a buttery crust and two cheeses and savory with herb-spiked olive oil drizzled over the tomato slices. I like that something delicious can be made from a tag-on, leftover vegetable that might have been disregarded after the season’s over.

But then I love anything on a crust. I grew up with my mom’s Bisquick pizza and grandmother’s pumpkin and apple pies, but the discovery of quiche when I was a sophomore in high school opened my eyes to pie crusty cuisine.

I drove my parents crazy in high school for all the usual reasons but also because I took up natural food. Even before the dangers of transfat were warned in the media, I insisted on butter instead of margarine. I would only eat whole grain bread or cook with whole wheat flour. I didn’t completely quit eating my mom’s homemade cookies, but I wouldn’t eat them frosted, or frosting on anything for that matter. I made granola cookies and unfrosted carrot cake and banana bread, a big change from my junior high daily snack of root beer floats and Ding Dongs. I also ate at least one banana every day, which earned me enough of a reputation that one friend gave me six bunches of bananas for my seventeenth birthday.

That was the spring—1976–my friend J. and I discovered quiche. A new restaurant had opened “near the college,” which was code in our small conservative town for “kinda kooky.” It was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks in a neighborhood we hadn’t even known existed. I’m not sure how J. and I heard about the place but we went looking for it one day, driving around the unfamiliar and slightly seedy side streets until we found a little hand-carved sign in front of an old, two-story house: The Harvest Restaurant.

We were seated in a booth with the requisite macramé and given simple menus listing salads, sandwiches, and something we’d never seen before and certainly didn’t know how to pronounce. The description sounded intriguing: cheese, egg, and vegetable filling on a whole wheat crust. We pointed to the dish and told the waitress we wanted that. “The quiche,” she said, undoubtedly realizing we had no idea what to call it. Yes, the quiche please.

The dish more than lived up to our expectations. To eat something with flaky crust that wasn’t just sweet seemed revolutionary to me—or European, same thing. I wouldn’t get to Europe until right after graduation but I had a sense that food was more extraordinary there than the casseroles, fried chicken, and roasts of the time. I loved the quiche, so much that I took my mother to The Harvest for mother’s day. I don’t think she was quite as impressed as I was, and probably more concerned with the neighborhood than with the food, but it was a step in forging my independent cuisine identity, and a well timed one since the restaurant closed shortly after that.

I wouldn’t have quiche again until I went to Europe. Until then, I didn’t have a recipe and I didn’t know where to look for one in those pre-epicurious days, but after I got back, I found one somewhere for an authentic “Quiche Lorraine.” That fall when I went to college, I found the Moosewood Cookbook and changed my eating forever, and two summers later I learned how to make great crusts from my former mother-in-law who got tired of making pies from all the blackberries I picked in Maine.  So now I’m making tomato tart for dinner, delicious and homegrown and still slightly Europeanish. Bon appétit!

3 Comments

Filed under memoir, sustainable agriculture