Two of the best things to happen to the farm last year were the award of a grant from the NRCS to build a high tunnel and Martha, the intern who managed its construction last December. Throughout this year, crops have been started in the high tunnel earlier than they could have been planted outside, while other crops, like peppers, survived long past the time they would have if left to the elements outside the high tunnel.
After a recent heavy rain, we discovered what is pictured above. Some of the peppers in the high tunnel appeared to have frost damage and in the dry leaf mulch we found ashes. Mystified, we began eliminating causes and discovered that water had collected in a pool on top of the high tunnel and had acted as a magnifying glass, intensifying the rays of the sun! The peppers had sunburn, the result of rays so intense that they started a fire in the leaves!
Eliot Coleman teaches a method of gardening to allow harvesting produce throughout the winter months. Three factors are necessary. First, you need a high tunnel to eliminate the dessicating effect that wind has on plants. Second, a floating row cover, which is a sheet of lightweight, translucent fabric suspended twelve inches above the ground on metal wickets (recycled political yard signs work great!) and held in place with clothespins, for an additional layer of protection. The third factor is timing. Plants grow very slowly once the sun shines less than ten hours per day, and in Independence Kentucky, that day is today, November 17. But remember that the intention is not to grow produce in the winter; it is to harvest produce in the winter. So by today, the plants are about as mature as they are going to get until the sun starts to shine more than ten hours per day, which isn't until January 26. We have planted several obscure edible greens such as minutina - a cold-hardy salad plant with slender leaves that will produce into the winter. And claytonia, another obscure cold-hardy winter green. The picture above is of a Bull's Blood beet, not grown for it's root but for it's edible leaves that we hope to harvest all winter.
The variety of carrots we have planted in our high tunnel is called Napoli. The cold condenses the sugar in the root vegetable and makes for a sweet treat in the middle of winter.
We pick lettuce greens in November with great gratitude. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh lettuce on a cold fall day (alongside a hot bowl of venison stew!). If all goes as planned, we'll enjoy a fresh green salad, grown here at the farm, on Groundhog Day!
On the farm, we honor the rhythm of life and believe that ultimately we are on this earth to feed and to be fed. One of the many blessings of our work to sustain ourselves here is to harvest deer in the over-populated hills of our property.
Two does, harvested in September, are in the freezer and will help to feed us, our families, and future interns coming to further the cause of sustainable living at Red Sunflower Farm. This seven-point buck was found sitting in the middle of Banklick Creek, the back half of his body paralyzed. Our best guess is that someone shot him with an arrow in the spine on his left side (because a bullet would have made an exit wound on the right side), he ran away, and as the infection from the wound spread, it moved to the spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. We killed the animal quickly to end it's suffering, as it was destined for death by starvation.
A Kentucky hunter is permitted to kill only one antlered deer per season. Under the circumstances, the mercy killing of this buck is a true blessing to our farm. The inordinately long periods of time in a tree stand sometimes means that farm chores suffer. We are blessed to have this animal come into our lives and allow us to have more time to get back to our daily life, making ready to process our Thanksgiving turkey, prep for maple syrup production after the first of the year, and plan for next spring and summer's crops.
Thank you, Mother Earth, for this nourishment that will be provided to us through the winter.
Remembering the smell of spring lavender and the image of our two female ducks nestled in the huge bush just outside the farmhouse, it's difficult to believe that those little hatchlings survived and matured. But here we are at the end of October and our population of ducks is healthy and relatively happy.
In the image above,our one and only male duck is pictured in the middle of all the females. We've named him Mr. Beret for the white tuft that isn't quite centered on his head. Mr. Beret is a lucky duck. His chivalrous manner did not go unnoticed, and he was chosen to be the sole surviving male out of the four, er, five males hatched this spring. You see, we weren't sure about the sex of the youngest member of the brood, one calico duck that we'd grown fond of, until we had chosen Mr.Beret to have the opportunity to sire more little ducks. One day we found an amorous Mr. Beret and the calico both mating with a female. His anatomy confirmed what we really hadn't noticed before that incident.
The dilemma: whether to process the calico or Mr. Beret. We contacted a farmer friend and asked if she had a need for a male duck. She had taken another male off our hands when he had gotten too aggressive with the females and babies back in the spring. As fate would have it, that duck, who is named Son of Chuck, was shooting blanks, so the farmer was happy to trade for a new young male. Son of Chuck had followed in the footsteps of his father, Chuck the Duck, who also had a very aggressive nature until he found himself in hot soup. Now upon Son of Chuck's return, he would become dinner and nourishment, providing some good to the world.
So both Mr. Beret and Calico (now renamed Smiley) have an opportunity to procreate, producing ducks that provide eggs and sustenance in times to come.
The crop of fall radishes is coming in quite nicely. We have daikon and plumb varieties, along with a special species served in Munich, Germany during October Fest called Muenchener Bier Radish. We'll have more on those later.
We want to share this recipe involving plumb radishes, ready in just minutes with a little dicing and mixing.
Our recipe calls for just 6 ingredients, and as always it is best to get the freshest ingredients possible. When we aren't harvesting from our own garden we buy ingredients that are: the freshest, travel the least distance and are organically grown.
Choose 5 or 6 plumb radishes, tops removed and washed. Chop into small pieces.
Peel and chop a ripe mango. Do you know when a mango is really ready? I like for the skin to have a rudy red blend into green color, and for wrinkles of skin to appear signaling a softness of the meat that lays just below the surface.
Oops, no picture of chopped cilantro, but most of us know how to do that. And drizzle the olive oil and rice vinegar over the chopped ingredients, adding the pinch of salt to mix thoroughly. What you have is a tasty treat good with fish, chicken, or for an afternoon snack. To see the recipe in it's entirety, follow to the end of post.
5 plumb radishes, tops removed and washed, chopped into small pieces
1 large mango, cut into bit size pieces
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
½ bunch of cilantro, stems removed, washed and chopped
pinch of salt
Toss, and eat right away. Also good in 2-3 days
Amid the occasional squawk of a chicken and the near-constant chatter of the ducks, Patty and I sat for a "get-to-know-you" chat. She's been on the farm for over two months now and we will be sad to see her leave.
Patty is a graduate student at the University of California in Davis. She is studying International Agricultural Development, a degree that teaches about programs to help farmers in developing countries. Some of the classes she has taken include Crop Management and Economics of Small Systems in Diverse Countries. The four-hour seminar that was life-changing for Patty was/is called Community Development for Sovereignty and Autonomy. The course examines a sample of contemporary indigenous communities from South, Central and North America with the goal of understanding and evaluating the failure of basic capitalism in these communities and strategies they have adopted to develop and implement forms of sovereignty or autonomous self-management.
As we prepared to make cucumber kimchi, Patty talked about her dream job. When she entered grad school she thought that perhaps she was meant to be a scholar, but now realizes she has more interest in execution than in
teaching. She has some interest in reporting for public radio and I asked her, if she was sent on an investigative trip, where would she most like that to be. “India”, she replied, because she has interned there previously, the population is growing in dramatic fashion, and she once had a class where she needed to discover how to feed 9 billion people. She would like to find out if organic farming, perhaps in some corner of India, could produce enough nitrogen to feed the world's population.
Patty is most proud of her work in the perennial patch. When she arrived it was in sad shape and in need of serious nurturance. She pulled the weeds, helped the runners on the strawberry plants to find direction, and tended and trellised the raspberry bushes, thinking she may want to return to claim the gift of next year's bounty. We would welcome a visit from Patty or any of the other interns who have given the gift of sweat equity to make Red Sunflower Farm what it is today.
Patty also feels that the squash plants that produced the baby squash that appeared in the CSA shares this week are her little babies. She took them from seed to maturation with little oversight from Barry.
Like so many young people who come to work on our farm, Patty has great respect for the vision that Barry and Mackey are attempting to achieve. She identifies with their vision and feels blessed that they have welcomed her into their lives.
Before she arrived at the farm, Patty was worried about her ability to get up early and put in a hard day's work. But she quickly rose to the task and was often first in the field at daybreak. The next intern will have some big shoes to fill to measure up to Patty's work ethic and especially her mulching abilities.
Patty, Jedi will be waiting until you come again. to help us provide nutritious, sustainable food to the community. Until then, study hard and hopefully you will find a way to change some corner of our world.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
If you have a surplus of red, ripe strawberries on your hand, try this low-sugar version of a canning classic. By adding a touch of balsamic vinegar, the final flavor is deep, rich and tangy.
Ingredients (8 half-pint jars)
- 6 cups mashed, ripe (or frozen and thawed) strawberries (about 2 pounds whole)
- 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
- 1/4 cup + 1/2 tablespoon low or no-sugar pectin
- 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
- 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Prepare and sterilize jars and lids according to jar manufacturer's instructions (we just run them through the "sterilize" mode in our dishwasher). Set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the berries, balsamic vinegar, and apple juice over medium heat. Turn the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. If the mixture begins to foam, you can add the butter to help reduce the foaming. Add the pectin after the first boil.
Once mixture is at a full rolling boil, add in the honey or syrup and the pinch of salt. Bring the mixture back up to a boil and boil hard for one full minute. Remove from heat.
Ladle the mixture into hot jars using a funnel. With a clean, damp cloth, wipe off the rim of the jar, place on lids and then tighten rings until just secure.
Flip the jars over and let them rest on their lids for 15-20 minutes (the heat from the cooked jam helps seal the jar this way). Flip the jars back over and let cool completely. A jar is sealed when you press in the middle of the lid and the lid doesn't flex up and down. Any jars that aren't sealed can be stashed in the fridge and eaten within 3 weeks.
Note: More modern canning directions have called for a 10 minute water bath after you've filled and closed the jars of strawberry jelly. We've never done this in my family, but if you want to be extra cautious, you can.
Here's the easy-to-print recipe without the pictures:
Ingredients (8 half-pint jars)
- 6 cups mashed, ripe strawberries (about 2 pounds whole)
- 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
- 1/4 cup + 1/2 tablespoon low or no-sugar pectin
- 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
- 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- Prepare and sterilize jars and lids according to jar manufacturer's instructions (we just run them through the "sterilize" mode in our dishwasher). Set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottom sauce pan, combine the berries, balsamic vinegar, and apple juice over medium heat. Turn the heat to high and bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. If the mixture begins to foam, you can add the butter to help reduce the foaming. Add the pectin after the first boil.
- Once mixture is at a full rolling boil, add in the honey or syrup and the pinch of salt. Bring the mixture back up to a boil and boil hard for one full minute.
- Ladle the mixture into hot jars using a funnel. With a clean, damp cloth, wipe off the rim of the jar, place on lids and then tighten rings until just secure.
- Flip the jars over and let them rest on their lids for 15-20 minutes (the heat from the cooked jam helps seal the jar this way). Flip the jars back over and let cool completely. A jar is sealed when you press in the middle of the lid and the lid doesn't flex up and down. Any jars that aren't sealed can be stashed in the fridge and eaten within 3 weeks.
- Note: More modern canning directions have called for a 10 minute water bath after you've filled and closed the jars of strawberry jelly. We've never done this in my family, but if you want to be extra cautious, you can
Two interns in the last eight months are studying in programs related to sourcing and cultivating food. Meet Vicki, who isn't afraid to put her hand in a laying box where a hen is sitting atop an egg. Vicki calls Cleveland home, but currently lives in Boston where she is attending BU for a master's program in food anthropology. Vicki once worked in finance, traveling with a consulting firm, working with large corporations. One evening, she was sitting in an office in Des Moines Iowa, having traveled every week for three years, and only home on the weekends. The lights went out, the employees of the company had all gone home. Vicki realized that her work had lost it's appeal and that she wanted to do something else,
She began her degree program without a clear goal in mind. However, it will have something to do with food, and it will be fulfilling. She sees huge gaps in the world food supply. She wants to solve the problem of getting corporations to give more than the perfunctory donations of money to help end starvation. Someday, we may see Vicki leading the way in organizations such as OxFam of Canada, or UNESCO. For now though, she has gained a new appreciation for what is behind the fresh food that comes to her table.
For more than a month now, Vicki and her co-intern have whipped the garden into shape, uncovering weed-infested rhubarb, mulching tomatoes, and setting seeds for the summer growing season. Vicki came to the farm when we could be compared to dogs chasing our tails with weeds everywhere. She dug in, literally, and started cleaning up the place.
Vicki is first generation American. Her parents migrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in order to take advantage of the education system. They don't quite understand what Vicki is doing. When she realized that she wanted to study gastronomy and food anthropology, she created a 36-page PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents that this was for real.
Like so many young Americans, food has become very important to Vicki. She has learned, at Red Sunflower Farm, about what a farmer goes through. She recently took part in processing some chickens and observed that due to competitive pricing at supermarkets and even some farmers markets, farmers are challenged to raise animals for less than $4.00 per fryer. She scrunched up her nose and said, "I'm okay with paying more now." A bird that ranges free, is fed non-GMO feed, and has a fairly happy life, blessing our tables with rich protein takes much more than $4.00 to go from chick to table.
While Barry was away on a nine-day vacation, Vicki and her co-intern Patty managed the farm. They had an interesting experience when we went through one of our few dry spells. The crops in the high tunnel needed watering and the irrigation system would not work. They did a systems check, made sure everything was connected and finally were able to fix the problem. That day, Vicki felt that she had mastered something so unfamiliar, and felt empowered with their accomplishment.
Baxter has won Vicki's heart. She said, "he's such a little kid." Our poor Baxter, along with Jedi and Wylie, were pent up for a while in order to give a young groundhog a fighting chance to escape their treachery. The dogs find mice, moles, anything that swells from the ground and will bark and scamper until the animal either gets away or is caught. Baxter just wanted to give us his signature, wrap-around-the-leg hug instead of being shut in the barn.
Take a moment to enjoy some of the sights on the farm in August.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Soon to become America's largest moth - Wild Saturniid Silk Moth - Cecropia caterpillar. Four and a half inches long and an inch wide!
No doubt this growing season has been a challenge. If we based our growing season on the previous year we would have geared for dry, hot weather, but that didn't happen. So on a relatively dry day in July, the conference of Kentucky extension agents visited the farm to see what we're doing. The conference is held in various areas around the state every year. When Northern Kentucky was decided on for 2013, the agent for Kenton County organized a visit to Red Sunflower Farm. It became a learning opportunity for both the agents and us at the farm.
For the weeks prior to the visit we spent 80% of our time knee-deep in weeds, a common issue exacerbated by the unyielding rains. Just prior to the agents showing up, we had completed mulching with leaf mold from a local municipality.
Questions volleyed between our team and the agents regarding the best way to keep weeds down, to build high tunnels, to lay bedding for roads. We told them about maple syrup production, a distant thought in the middle of summer. Our chickens and the careful way we free range them feeding them non-GMO products was a source of whispered, side conversations, because, while the agents are available to help with organic farming, they also tend to conventional farming as well, some not buying into the idea that our food source must be chemical free.
We're proud of our high tunnel and the produce that has come from it. The agents were very interested in its use on Red Sunflower Farm .
Touring the berry patch, covered with netting to keep the birds out.
Jedi and the rest of us were happy to entertain the extension agents, satisfied that when they loaded up the caravan to visit the next farm, that we'd welcomed them with the hospitality we extend to all visitors. Until the next time...
Anastasia and J.C. are most recently from Southern California. They have begun a trek across the country to investigate sustainable and organic farming. Their ultimate goal is to open a retreat center somewhere in Central America and they would like a farm to be a part of the retreat center, providing food for retreatants. They envision a center for cultural and spiritual growth, including yoga, meditation, gardening, art, and music.
They came at a time when RSF needed hands, lots of hands. Rain has been persistent this year and weeds had overrun the garden. J.C. has an extensive background in construction and almost single-handedly installed a support system for netting to keep birds from scavenging the entire crop of black raspberries and blackberries. He also laid a fabric base under the garden road and the irrigation nozzles to prevent weeds from taking over the garden again.
Each morning, Anastasia donned knee pads and mudders to begin again the arduous task of pulling weeds through rows of strawberries, basil, peppers, and onions. She loves to cook so she experiments with recipes that use what the garden is producing, taking time each day to cook the noon time meal.
To divorce themselves from cultural norms is the goal of these two idealists. They envision a community cooperative where families live and bring various gifts to the overall vision of a retreat center. The writings and philosophies of Wendell Berry and Harlan Hubbard have ignited a flame in both J.C. and Anastasia, hoping that they, too, can attain sustainable and Earth-connected goals.
Before this lovely couple went back to work I asked them which of the dogs they like the best. For Anastasia, Baxter is her favorite, he's like a dopey teenager. To J.C. Jedi is like a sweet baby boy.
J.C.and Anastasia packed up their RV and left us recently on their way to yet another farm to explore the phenomenon of sustainable farming. They shared their website that pertains to their project: http://www.goodfootproject.com
. Check it out.