We made a modest planting of winter squash and thus harvested adequate quantity for our fall and winter needs. We intend to cook some yummy dishes throughout the holiday season.
While this picture may not do justice to the twenty pound size of this unique squash we thought we might have an accidental hybrid and waited for it to mature in order to taste it. Four of these beauties dotted the field, each the color of spaghetti squash but with the shape and size of a pink banana squash. We waited until frost to harvest it, and held it up like a large mouth bass for photos. Turns out, it was simply a pink banana squash that didn't know it was supposed to be pink!
The weather is turning cold. Thanksgiving brought us closer to those that we love and gave us a new feeling of gratitude for the world around us. That squash that lay in our field, an accidental hybrid of pink and banana squash, we finally harvested. The squash is indicative of our journey here on the farm. Six years of growth, sometimes small, sometimes large, and sometime accidental. But always filled with the bounty of the earth.
The nature of change is often difficult. Natural change such as butterflies leaving, bees reaching the last of the nectar, and squash growing that last bit of flesh, make sense in a world that sometimes feels like insanity itself.
We've planted the winter crop in the high tunnel and are setting our sights on planning for maple syrup, and perhaps some other varieties of syrup. But for now, enjoy this photo collection of our summer at Red Sunflower Farm.
Under the forest canopy, birds call out to one another. Maybe they warn of the encroaching human. Leaves glisten with dew in the morning sun. Movement above, two birds flying between branches. That's when the spider web comes into view. It's spider season.
Yellow jacket laden with pollen, moves as if drugged, too much of a good thing. Caught in the twining, thin yarn of a spider who waits and watches for death to come to the dumbstruck insect.
Spinning as a trapeze artist might, across branches tall and short. under the branches the woods are alive. Their populations far beyond that of human civilization. We can't count the number of species, nor could we know their every purpose.
Sunlight's hue is different now that September is here. The summer is nearly exhausted. It tires of day light, seeking early darkness, and harkening a change.
The last of the beans have been picked. The tomatoes are sauced on shelves in the pantry. All that remains is jewelry of nature, a necklace of sorts to adorn the dressing of the woods and fields.
The American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is found growing wild throughout the US and it's blossoms have become a highly-prized addition to craft beers. The blossoms of it's European counterpart (Sambucus nigra) are the main ingredient in the very popular St. Germain liqueur. The American Elderberry plant grows to a height of twelve feet, and flowers in lovely white clusters in mid to late June.
Pictured here are the unripe, green berries that will turn deep purple when mature. We were contacted last year by a local distillery that wants to experiment with some elderflower distillations. We sold them 19 pounds of the blossoms from our three mature bushes and from wild bushes we found around northern Kentucky. We also rooted some prunings on the hope that he would want more of the blossoms in future years.
We now have 50 new starts to put in the ground before fall, but sadly, we've been informed by the distiller that the distillation experiments have not fared well. He seems to think that the American elderflower does not have the intensity of it's European cousin. We'll plant the starts anyway, as they make a beautiful addition to the landscape and we can harvest the berries to make jelly and syrup. And what we don't harvest, the birds will enjoy!
This time of year we are flush with tomatoes of all colors and stripes. From the website: my recipes, I found this one, http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chilled-yellow-tomato-soup-10000001875607/. I have enhanced the recipe to my own tastes. I chose 7 ripe yellow tomatoes from the field.
The recipe is relatively easy. I began by retrieving homemade chicken broth that we made in the spring from the freezer and letting it thaw overnight. I used only 4 cups of broth as opposed to the 6 suggested and could have cut it by one more in order to create a thicker consistency.
Warm the olive oil in a dutch oven or stock pot. Then saute two roughly chopped yellow onions until translucent. Add fresh or dried thyme. We had a rough winter this year so our thyme struggled. Thankfully, we dried last year's crop. The aroma will make any kitchen smell great.
Core and chop tomatoes. Don't worry about peeling them, the skin is soft enough to cook down and not get all curled up like some thicker skinned tomatoes do.
Add tomatoes and broth to the onions and thyme. Cook for 30 mintues and let cool.
Process the soup and serve hot or cold. We found that adding goat cheese to the warm soup added another layer of texture and flavor. If served cold, it is best with a slice of country bread.
Our current intern is Olga, a young woman from Poland who is interested in the study of naturopathy, defined by Wikipedia as " a form of alternative medicine employing a wide array of 'natural' treatments, including homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as diet and lifestyle counseling."
Because of her personal experience with an eating disorder and having food allergies, it is important to Olga to figure out what is the healthiest means of fueling the body. She has read about the Paleo Diet and some of it makes sense, and she is a follower of Weston A. Price. She knows that by entering Warsaw University of Life Sciences in the fall, she will become more enlightened about food and it's source. Frankly, we are impressed with how much Olga already knows about a healthy diet, fermentation, and the affect that processed sugars and grains have on the body.
On this particular day, Olga was in the kitchen making garlic scape pesto. "What do you like about being on the farm?" I asked. She thought for a moment then replied "Not weeding. Weeding is my personal hell." She said she has loved learning about how to plant seeds and starts, using our new method of applying cardboard, then leaf mold.
On a day when our field of sunflowers began blooming, all the flower heads faced east. Olga had thoughts of returning to Poland, working hard for a couple of years, saving money and returning to the farm. "Barry and Mackey are really unique." She intends to come back, to work, to know the land more intimately.
This year our ducks have been prolific. Eleven ducklings were hatched by two elder mamas and one duckling was hatched by a yearling mama. We watched as the father tried to kill any duckling and while the two elder mamas went after the yearling's baby, maiming it while trying to kill it. So we wanted to instill our sense of justice upon the ducks but alas, the lesson we learned is that our way is not the way of nature. There are six ducklings left. The mamas insist on going to the creek overnight instead of the shelters near the house where the dogs patrol at night.
On a recent day we found the ducks tunneling into a storm drain. We watched as they went in one-by-one. Enjoy a glimpse of the fun.
This Midwestern summer, with temps in the high 70s and low 80s, has been great for the gardener but not so great for the garden. In July, according to the NOAA, "record and near-record cool temperatures were observed in the Midwest" along with below-average rainfall. We've been able to counter the lack of rainfall with the irrigation system, but with the lack of heat, we've harvested few ripe tomatoes in the garden, which should be in full production by now.
Despite the weather, we are still experiencing "the plague of the summer squash". We can't eat it and put it up fast enough...and the bees are loving it. Look closely and you will see a honey bee pollinating the squash flower.
If not for the tomatoes, eggplant, and okra planted in the high tunnel, we'd still be waiting for our first ratatouille and our first batch of salsa! Aunt Ruby's German Green and German Pink tomatoes are the size of softballs. And okra! What is a garden without okra blossoms?
As you can see, we are preparing the beds for our winter garden on the left in the picture below. We are using the same treatment of cardboard, leaf mold and bordered rows.
"Never let your weeds go to seed." Ignore that sage wisdom, like I did in 2011 and 2012, and you'll pay a dear price for the result. After allowing pigweed, thistle, and morning glory to mature, they distributed literally millions of seeds into the garden. In 2012 and 2013, we were running a CSA, so two days a week we were harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering produce. The other three days a week, eight hours a day, we pulled weeds. After a long winter's reflection we decided to rethink the way we were doing things.
We decided to raise food only for ourselves until we can get on top of the weed problem. We did sell fifty pounds of strawberries to a local brewery and twenty pounds of elderflowers to a local distillery. But for the most part, we're focused on farm infrastructure for now. And we are following the mentorship of our Extension agent who advises "don't till more than you can tend." Before we plant will build a bed as pictured above. 1 by 3 lumber separates the planting bed from the walkway. The bed gets two drip hoses for irrigation, then a layer of cardboard, then filled to the brim with leaf mold delivered to the farm at no charge by a neighboring municipality. The walkway gets a layer of landscape fabric covered with wood chips delivered at no charge from tree trimmers working in the area.
The land where nothing is planted is tilled, bringing thousands of seeds to or near the surface. The seeds germinate and the seedlings are subsequently tilled under. We hope that this bimonthly process will eventually exhaust most the weed seeds in the garden.
With the exception of a bit of nutsedge seed that appears to be riding in with the leaf mold, the farm is in better shape than it's been in three years. We're grateful for the hard lessons we're learning about how much is enough in every aspect of our work. Instead of letting the farm run us we have turned things around and now feel that we are running the farm.
Purselane is one weed we are grateful for. It's nutritious and delicious, and in the heat of summer when lettuce bolts, our BLTs become BPTs. Its a wonderful addition to potato salad, or can be eaten with a bit of seasoning and an oil and vinegar mix.
The high tunnel serves us well for growing through the late fall and winter months, into early spring. We have grown traditional and non-traditional crops and have had the luxury of greens for most of the cold months. With the advent of warmer temps we have raised the sides enough to let the breeze blow through.