Two deer were sited at the pond around 10:30 on the first day of spring. Duck eggs are disappearing and we still can't figure out why. But in the high tunnel everything is beginning to sprout. We have carrots, spinach, arugula, lettuce, turnips and beets, radishes, peas and other seedlings. The fish emulsion is working to protect the plants and even though it's a cold day, we hope for spring's warm breath soon.
Every day the seedlings must be watered. We're building an irrigation system to support the plants in the high tunnel, but until that time - we water, and we water, and we water.
The magnificent magnolia just on the skirt of the kitchen garden decided one day to bloom. It's as if it is reaching to the sky. Off in the distance the flaps are up on the high tunnel and and we are harvesting greens of all sorts.
We reported in our post about our intern, Emil, that Baxter has been confirmed as the duck egg thief. Since then we have made a nest in the kitchen garden for the ducks to lay. Just the other day, we found them in the lavender, nesting on two fake and one real egg. Minutes later, the females squawked making an awful noise and the vigilant males, who keep watch over the laying hens, were at the gate to answer the call.
Our raised beds and seedlings are doing well in the high tunnel. We are busy getting things into the ground for our summer crops. This year, as part of the Sustainable FarmShare C.S.A.(http://www.farmsharecsa.com) we are providing local families and couples with food grown without chemicals of any kind. We're happy to share our food and build community. We are blessed with so many friends of local, sustainable farming.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the farm is the blooming of the bluebells. On approach, our guests are greeted by fields of soft blue color in April. Many wild plants grow on the farm, and many we forage, using in salads. Things such as mustard greens, plantain, dandelions, garlic mustard and more. Next to our spring house, we have plenty of watercress to serve in salad, on sandwiches, and in recipes.Still the wildest, most beautiful of these is the tender bluebell.
Silas has been with us for six weeks now, working through the cold weather and into the warm days that hint at spring. His first task of the day is to feed and water the chickens. Recently he helped to install the new irrigation system that pulls from the creek. When I asked him what he thought of the system, he smiled and said, "I never thought I'd be so happy to see water trickle from a hose." Prior to the irrigation system installation, the labor-intensive task of watering fell to the interns. Now they are free for other things.
Silas is interested in becoming a farmer. He chose Red Sunflower Farm to learn the business of sustainable farming, so that he can take that knowledge back home, enroll in a college and pursue a degree in business. It's been an eye-opening experience for him, and he wakes every morning with the excitement of a young parent, to check the growth of seedlings. He feels as though he is connected on some deeper level with Mother Nature, planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting it.
At Red Sunflower, we regularly have bonfires. It's one of Silas' favorite things to do--pick up his guitar and head for the glow of the fire.
Recently I took him out in the dead of night with a flash light to see the soil come alive with night crawlers. "They're everywhere," he said. His hand trying to mimic the motion of the worms coming out of the ground.
"Silas, what would you do if you had no fear?" I asked.
Silas answered, "Skydive," with a laugh. But then he became serious, "Skip the business degree and go directly into farming." But Silas knows enough to realize that the business degree is an important component to his success.
Our poll continues, only now, Silas is wise to the question that's coming. Which dog would be your favorite? He looked across the yard at Jedi lazing in the spring grass and said, "It would have to be Jedi because his mentality is one of calm. He exudes a protector mode." I can see why Silas would pick Jedi. Silas, and so many of the interns we see give us hope that a legacy of calm and protection will keep our world spinning in a healthier, happy way.
In the time that Emil has been at Red Sunflower Farm, it has been a rare occasion not to see him in his quilted layers and canvas coveralls to keep warm. He has been an intricate part of the business of getting ready for spring and we are so grateful for his work!
Emil was born in India and is a naturalized citizen of the United States. When asked where he's from, one would expect, given his appearance, to respond with a location somewhere in Asia. Quickly and glibly, his surprising reply is "Texas!" He traveled to China to teach English, serving the people and learning about their culture. He has aspirations to join either the Peace Corps or the military. Should he choose to apply for the Peace Corps, he knows he is required to spend at least three working months on a farm in order to enhance his experience in a developing country. So he intentionally came to Red Sunflower Farm to learn about farming.
In the early morning crispness, Emil and Silas (another intern) work feverishly in the high tunnel, watering plants, while Barry checks for frost. I asked Emil what he has learned while on the farm and his eyes lit up as he said, "Oh where do I start?" Changing an oil filter, carpentry, splitting logs, grinding corn, plumbing and irrigation, bush-hogging honeysuckle all came to mind for a bright, young man with a winning smile. In his gentleness he took a breath and said, "What I have enjoyed most is maple syrup production."
Emil also learned to cook during his stay, making pancakes, eggs, grits and sausage. When he lived in China he didn't have to cook because restaurant food was so cheap. Now, Emil leaves with a few more skills in his pocket, and hopefully some very good memories. He left behind a tall pair of boots for the next intern to fill!
Emil left us and is off to a farm in Connecticut to learn about livestock farming. Before he left, I asked him which dog he liked best. That question triggered a conversation about ducks laying eggs that we can't seem to find. We have been trying to solve the mystery, and Emil came up with a great idea. "Why not use the trail (motion-activated) camera to find out who is getting into the nest." Brilliant idea! And Emil's favorite dog is the culprit, getting into the nest in the dead of night. Hmm!
Back in the summer, when our intern turned dear friend Rose visited the farm, we made beet root kimchi. And now that we seem to be on a kimchi kick, dreaming of warm days and fresh produce we thought we'd share that recipe with you. It comes from the Down Under, in Australia, except that Rose likes her kimchi very hot and spicy so we ramped up the seasoning in the Red Sunflower Farm version of Beet Root Kimchi.
The folks at Milkwood give step-by-step instructions on the process. The taste and rich color are undeniably beetroot.
Korean Kimchi Recipe
When Crystal, our intern from South Korea, stated that she could teach the method of making kimchi, no time was wasted in setting up a kimchi-making party. As four women gathered in the kitchen at Red Sunflower Farm, the snow swirled outside and the knives chopped inside. The only disappointing part was having to purchase most of the ingredients rather than collecting them from our gardens.
At Red Sunflower Farm, we have previously made kimchi using various ingredients, such as pac choi, beet root, and Chinese cabbage. The culturing medium is usually whey that is simply drained from cultured yogurt. However, South Korean kimchi is specific in its preparation.
The biggest challenge of the morning was trying to figure out how to juice ginger root. We minced the ginger root first, added a few tablespoons of water, then let it sit for about an hour. Then, we ran the juice produced from the ginger root through a cheesecloth.
We talked about farms while chopping twelve heads of cabbage. Conversation turned to a goat about to give birth as we chopped yellow onions and julienned green onions. As Crystal referred to a Korean recipe that her mother suggested we use, I thought about my grandmother's worn notebook, bulging with slips of handwritten paper that had recipes which read: a pinch of this and a dash of that in script. Food is universal. It may be kimchi prepped in a brine instead of with whey, or using crushed red pepper, fish sauce and the juice of ginger root, but in preparing food, we form community.
The recipe that we worked off of called for 2 pounds of cabbage, but we increased the recipe so there would be enough kimchi for all of us to take home. What follows is the original recipe, translated from Korean to English and then the recipe we used to make 16 and 1/2 quarts of Korean kimchi. Thank you Crystal!
Crystal is another blessing to the farm. She is a citizen of South Korea and has been in the US for four years on a student visa. Her US home base is Brooklyn, New York. She chose her "American" name during an English class in middle school. Crystal earned an art history degree at Emory University in Atlanta and is presently finding internships in the United States that have to do with food, a new passion she's developed since her high school years on the outskirts of Seoul.
She likes the American education system because she has more freedom to study in ways that are not normal in South Korea. There, she must study from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. without the experiential learning she has been exposed to in the U.S.
In the middle of a very busy sugaring season at the farm, Crystal talked about her desire to become a chef. She worked for a while at the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul where she learned that the food service industry can be a very tough business. Crystal said, "I didn't know adults cursed!" referring to one such chef trying to talk her out of becoming a chef.
Crystal has worked with Allrecipes.com collecting South Korean recipes for their website. Crystal traveled her homeland for several months, discovering authentic South Korean cuisine. Since her return to the U.S., she is considering entering a doctoral program in anthropology. Crystal believes that our sources of food are very important and she wants to know more about how food has traced through the history of our world.
She is astounded by the magnificence of nature at Red Sunflower Farm, away from the urban life she's used to. Maple syrup production is teaching Crystal that her schedule isn't always congruent with Mother Nature's schedule. That is evidenced by the fact that she has gone to bed in the evening, planning to help with collecting sap early in the morning, only to be awkened in the dead of night to collect sap because some of the collection jugs in the woods may overflow.
The dogs swirl around Cyrstal. Wiley is hunting for mice. Baxter is the endless teenager who plays with a maturing Jedi. Crystal is enamored with Wiley's quiet presence, and yet she has fallen victim to Baxter's constant need for attention. He leans into a person trying to get as close as possible, while still having four paws on the ground. We think he may have been a lap dog in a former life.
Crystal is with us a few more weeks and we are taking full advantage of her culinary expertise. A bulgogi (Korean dish of grilled, marinated beef) evening is in the works as well as a kimchi-making session.
This time of year, when cabbage curls in the remnants of the fall garden, the silent production of sap by sugar maple trees is evidenced on the farm by so many bottles and jugs collecting the precious, sweet liquid. Indistinguishable from water to the eye, the refreshing taste is like drinking nature's sweet tea, right from the tree.
The trees were tapped on the new moon, January 12, and we have been collecting sap ever since. The weather regulates the sap flow, and the trees quit when it's either cold or warm both day and night. But when it's cold overnight, then the mercury rises and the sun warms the trees, we're collecting and cooking sap day and night from all over the farm, into a 35 gallon tank strapped into the Gator. When conditions are right, we have harvested 84 gallons from 84 taps in one day, enough to make 2 gallons of maple syrup.
Our sugar shack is a converted corn crib. Inside are two 25-gallon stainless sinks converted to cooking vats. We run a wood fire that give the syrup a unique flavor. Asked to describe sugaring in a nutshell, Barry says it's 5% tapping trees, 15% collecting sap, 25% finishing it off, and 55% splitting firewood!
We bring the sap to the sugar shack where a fire is fed day and night. When at least 42 gallons of sap have been poured into the vat, and it reaches 212 degrees, it has boiled down enough to transfer it to our kitchen cooktop to complete the finishing process. We then continue to boil the sap to 219 degrees when it becomes syrup. Then it is filtered and bottled for sale.
At Red Sunflower Farm, we provide our interns all of their food, which includes produce from the garden and meat from the freezer during the growing season and produce and meat from the freezer in the dormant season. Luke and Stephanie were given a deer heart but never got around to preparing it. So Stephanie took the heart home with her to Indiana. She shared what she did to prepare a hearty meal.
Stephanie marinated it in reduced balsamic vinegar, a bit of pear-infused white vinegar, olive oil and thyme. In her words: "Holy mother of pearl." The meal turned out to be a fantastic experience.
Stephanie says in an email: "It was amazing! I had two meals out of it, but could have easily had four--after eating just over half of the above portion I felt my body going, "Whoa, this is loaded with goodness, I can't take much more! I've never felt such an immense sensation of satisfaction."
Stephanie also cracked a couple pounds of black walnuts. "And with the walnuts I'm going to make a gluten-free shortbread. Woohoo! I'll let you know if they turn out well."