News and blog
All About Sweet Potatoes
Lets's start by explaining the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Botanically speaking, they are utterly different. Yams are not a type of sweet potato, and sweet potatoes are not a type of yam. Yams grow only in tropical areas, with a 300 day growing season, get to be very large (up to 4 1/2 feet long and 130 pounds!), and taste very different than sweet potatoes. They are related to lillies. Most people in the United Stated have never seen or eaten one. Most grow in Africa, where they are native, although they are also popular in Jamaica.
Sweet potatoes are originally from South America, are related to morning glories, and come in many many colors and consistencies. Many people call orange sweet potatoes "yams", and although it is technically incorrect, what's the harm in it? Call them whatever you want, I don't care. Whatever you call them, they're one of my favorite things to grow. Here is a picture of them after a full season of growth, ready to harvest:
It just looks like a mass of green, but really they are long trailing vines. Next we cut the vines off of the tubers, move them out of the way, lift the tubers up by running a large bar attached to the tractor underneath them, and the bed now looks like this:
All that remains is to pull them out of the ground with an expression of calm satisfaction, as Angel is doing here:
Or with a broad smile, as exhibited by Juan:
Both Angel and Juan help plant the "slips", as young sweet potato plants are called, and it is a long season and a lot of work to care for, so it's no wonder they are pleased. Not pictured is the crew who spent many hours weeding the plants during June, July, August and September-- Matthew, Ella, Charles, Suzie, Stella, Jose, Evelyn, Jim and myself. I know it sounds like I have a lot of employees, but half the above named are relatives-- which means I don't pay them, so technically they aren't employees-- and nobody is full time. Except me.
And finally here I am holding the largest (so far) tuber of the year:
It weighs 5 1/4 pounds.
Here is my favorite sweet potato recipe:
Boiled Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients: sweet potatoes
Directions: cut up sweet potatoes and put into a pot of water. Bring to a boil and boil until soft. Remove sweet potatoes from the pot, mash with a fork, and add butter and salt.
I don't spend much time cooking but I know what I like! By the way there is no need to peel a sweet potato, ever.
As you can imagine, now that spring is here our sleepy little farm is transformed into a hotbed of activity with preparing the fields for planting, planting itself, finishing up winter projects that I put off a little too long, and so on. Here are some peas just pushing up through the ground:
Peas are always uncertain in the spring due to the possibility of the seeds rotting in the ground, being eaten by birds, or, worst of all, attacked by the dreaded pea seed maggot. This is reflected in the Medieval English pea planter's rhyme, as follows:
One for the rook
One for the crow
One to rot
And one for the dreaded pea seed maggot.
Which, in a bad year, doesn't leave too many for us. Our first two plantings of peas did well enough, but the third was almost completely destroyed by maggots. So, I replanted in another part of the farm, and didn't tell the maggots. Don't anybody tell the maggots!
And here are some spring onions just starting to send out shoots:
And those same peas and onions 2 weeks later (April 28th)
Quite a difference!
And here is a nice cover crop of rye and vetch, taken two weeks ago:
We just mowed it, in preparation for incorporating it into the soil, where the biomass from the rye and nitrogen fixed by the vetch will feed the crop and give us the second best pepper harvest ever!
Not that everything here is work work work. Especially the younger generation finds time for a little fun and relaxation. Here is a picture of my nephew Matthew and daughter Evelyn weaving a hammock out of used irrigation drip lines:
Waste not, want not!
Hello everyone! Lately we've had a few long time shareholders sign up for a couples share, when they had previously gotten the family share, due to their children being adults now and moved out of the house. How quickly they grow up! My eldest child is also turning 18 this May and it got me thinking about what impact our vegetables may have had on their lives over the past 11 years we have had a CSA. How many school lunched had carrots or sweet peppers in them instead of chips? How many extra bowls of salad at the dinner table? How many cries of "yuk!" when confronted with a steaming dish of eggplant or Swiss chard?
Speaking of growing quickly, despite the snow(!), we have been busy in the greenhouse and elsewhere. Here are some seedlings a few weeks away from transplanting. Hard to believe that each one will grow up to be a 4 pound cabbage! Especially hard to believe since these are spinach sprouts, not cabbage.
We've also been busy pursuing my Belgian endive obsession. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Belgian endive is a tasty winter treat, grown in a dark heated room from roots harvested the previous Fall. Here is a picture of the endive growing in trays, almost ready for harvest.
And here is some already harvested. So you have a sense of scale, the gnome is life sized.
Unsurpassed for winter salads, and if I ever line up my Autumn ducks sufficiently in a row to offer a winter share, endive will be part of it.
Bye for now!
Hello! Its been a long, restful winter and now we are getting back into the swing of things. The big news here is baby goats. It happens every year-- 14 times this year so far with one goat yet to kid-- but the novelty never really wears off, each time is special and thrilling. Here is a picture of Ramona and her babies just minutes after they were born:
This is Ramona's 4th time of becoming a mother and she knows just what to do. I also took a little video of her caring for her kids, but I can't post it here without a lot of bother, so if you want to see it, you'll have to email me and I can send it as an attachment.
Unfortunately its not all baby animals and buttercups around here. Remember that big snowstorm we had a few weeks back? This is what it did to our high tunnel greenhouses:
Oops! Totally collapsed from its guggle to its zatch. It was so bad that I had to resort to drastic measures and uttered a four letter word-- "help". And I'm pleased to say the response was terrific. In one short weekend we disassembled both structures so they now look like this:
Huge thank you's to Ken, Rachel, Steve, Ollie, Serena, Emily and Evelyn.
Now we begin the work of salvage and reassembly. We'll have another work party when its time to put them back up, stay tuned-- you are invited!
Other than that we are busy seeding in the one remaining greenhouse and getting supplies and seeds together for the upcoming growing season.
Apparently yesterday was national CSA signup day, which I think is a little silly, but if you haven't yet signed up for the 2016 season, why wait? You can click here to navigate to our signup page. We have added a new delivery location in downtown Harrisburg.
Bye for now!
Some years we have at least a few fields plowed and planted by St. Patrick's day, but not this one. Cold weather in February and March, and a good heavy snow on the Spring equinox, have meant we have had to find other ways to amuse ourselves. The other day it struck my fancy that I should very much like to clean out the goat pens, so I grabbed a pitchfork and wheelbarrow and got to work. It had been a while since I'd emptied them out, and so at the end of the day's work this is what I'd managed to accomplish:
It looks bigger in real life. Notice the fine hat Evelyn crocheted for me. I am reminded about the story told of John Adams, who, after being the second president of these United States, retired to his farm in Quincy and, every morning after breakfast, went out to admire his manure pile and chortle with a tankard of hard cider. Now I know just how he must have felt, minus the parts about being president (although I am secretary of the Boalsburg Farmers' Market) and the cider.
Of course I am just kidding, I didn't really muck out the stables by hand. Here is a picture of what actually happened.
The young man operating the machine with such skill is Suzie's fiancee, who she somehow convinced to come over and do the job for us.
So, I'm sure you are wondering what I am planning on doing with all that manure, other than admiring it, and so I'll tell you. Some of it I will mix with finely chopped green grasses and compost in our static aerated composting facility, and the rest we will let age, like a fine wine, until it is just right for worms. Then it's vermiculture mania!
Still haven't signed up for a 2015 farm share? You can do so by clicking here, or, to read more about our share options, click here. Were planning on having the best season ever-- you won't want to miss it!
It isn't spring yet, but the longer days and brighter sun cause hope to spring anew in the heart and unease in the gut, when I realize how much I still have to get done before Spring comes. So, it's back to work despite the cold! My father just got back from three weeks! in Mexico, leaving me behind to face the snow and bitter cold with nothing but a thin, watery gruel to eat, so upon his return I wasted no time in putting the old man to work. Here he is sowing a pollinator seed mix.
We prepared the ground last fall, and as the snow melts, the frequent freezing and thawing should work the seeds snugly into the earth, and we will have a nice stand of flowering native plants come summer. There are 27 species alltogether in the mix, all selected to support native pollinators and provide habitat for other beneficial insects.
And here is dad again starting to prune the orchard.
Its a little early, but we hate feeling rushed, and with 80 or so trees of different kinds, we can no longer do the job in an afternoon. Now that some of the trees are old enough to bear fruit, pruning takes on a new kind of excitement.
I've been busy too! With what? I'll tell you later.
Here it is, the dead of winter, and although I like to pretend otherwise, spring is still a long way off. Lots of people ask me what farmers do in the winter. First let me clarify: there is usually a pretty big difference between what we intend to do and what we actually do in the winter. I have a huge winter project list, ranging from the mandatory (tractor maintenance, building repairs) to the to the whimsical (an outdoor sauna, a fireman's pole from the upper barn to the lower barn). Some of these will actually get done, but these last few weeks I've been staying indoors a lot, trying to keep warm (which would be easier if I set my thermostat above 52 degrees, but I don't). Anyway, I have used this indoor opportunity to replace the impossible to clean linoleum that was on the kitchen floor, and instead have now bright, cheerful, easy to clean TVC tiles. I had planned on a puce and pink combination, but apparently puce isn't a very popular color these days. (It is a brownish purple, in case you were wondering). They didn't have maroon either, or burgundy, so I settled on purple and yellow (see photo). Nice, huh?
We also had some excavation work done. We are having gutters installed on out barn roof and put in an underground storage tank to collect the runoff. Then, we can use the water to irrigate our high tunnels, and since rain water has no minerals in it, we won't have to worry about salt buildup in the protected environment of the tunnels, where it never rains. Also, the water won't run down our driveway and wash it our periodically, as has been the pattern over the last decade. here is a picture of the manhole cover to our new irrigation source.
yes, I know it is an extremely ugly picture, but what else can I post this time of year? No cute baby animals, no growing plants, no happy farm workers going about their daily tasks....
Even though spring is a long way off, my "vacation", as it were, is really almost over. Seeding of onions and early lettuce and spinach starts in two weeks, and with the advent of longer days and warmer temperatures in February, I start to get that feeling of unease and dissatisfaction if I'm not working on some farm project. How much of my to- do list will actually get done? Stay tuned!
Actually, I have no idea how to keep your marriage interesting, but here's what I do for mine: every time I go out for something out of the ordinary, I always tell my wife Dana the same thing. What I say is "I have to go see a man about a dog." Sometimes what I bring home looks like this:
(In case somebody is confused, this is actually a calf, not a dog.) Once-- and only once-- I actually did bring home a dog, our beloved Sparky, who is now just like one of the family-- but I won't say which one. Two weeks ago, though, I went to see a man about a dog and look what I brought back!
I am referring to the shiny new orange tractor, in the background, with me astride it. Hannah and Suzie are in front, transplanting lettuce. The tractor is great. It starts reliably, has a brake lock, a fuel gauge that works, and an functional electrical system-- all things lacking in the old tractor. And, thanks to 0% financing, I'm able to enjoy all these features any time I want, even at night, because this tractor has headlights which work, too! This is the first new vehicle I have ever owned and probably will be the only new vehicle I ever will own. Take that, midlife crisis!
Other than that we have been very busy with field work and planting. We planted carrots, peas, all sorts of greens, radishes, beets-- all the early stuff. Here is a picture of a newly germinated pea.
Unfortunately the weather cooled off right after the peas germinated and most of them rotted in the ground. Frustrating. Today I replanted. Keep your fingers crossed.
Please note: there can be a big difference between a good marriage and an interesting one. Probably for a harmonious union, you should always consult your spouse before bringing home livestock or agricultural implements/ vehicles. Oh, and also remember their birthday.
Now that the ice has finally melted and the danger of frostbite is diminished, we have begun to be more active outside. Most exciting is that we actually planted things in the ground! I even had Hannah take a great picture of Suzie planting kohlrabi, but unfortunately the camera I gave her to use had no memory card in it, and no film either, so instead here is what they looked like in the greenhouse before being brought to the field.
You'll just have to imagine someone planting them. In addition to kohlrabi, we also planted lettuce, spinach, kale, broccolini, bok choy, cabbages, and, most importantly, escarole. Well, it's important to me, anyway.
We have also been pruning our fruit trees and bushes. Here is a picture of me contemplating a partially pruned currant bush. I have such a stern frown on my face because I really don't know much about pruning currants and find the task difficult and stressful.
and here is the fully pruned bush. There, that wasn't so bad, was it?
We also started another orchard. Every year, we plant about a dozen fruit trees. The first were planted in 2006, so most are still too young to bear, but some of you may recall that we were able to offer pie cherries and both Asian and European pears last season. We also have a fair number of apple trees, five peach trees, plums, two apricots, medlars, quinces, paw paws, persimmons.... in a few years this place will be a regular fruitopia! Here is a picture of a newly planted Asian pear tree.
Doesn't look like much, does it? Just wait!
Other than that we are still waiting for some dry weather so we can finally get in the ground with the tractor and really start planting in earnest-- peas, carrots and beets are all begging to be planted ASAP-- not to mention radishes, salad greens, arugula....
Next week: tips on how to keep your marriage interesting. (really!) Stay tuned!
I was going to call this blog entry "waiting for Spring" until I realized that is what I called the last entry two weeks ago. apparently, we are still waiting, although this warm spell gives us hope. Also, the maple sap is now flowing, which means things are starting to happen. We have very few maple trees on our farm but nonetheless Dad and Hannah managed to make about 3 quarts of syrup last year-- and it only took them two whole days! You can see why maple syrup is so expensive.
The farm is slowly coming to life in other ways, too. I planted beets and carrots in the high tunnel yesterday for an early crop. Here is a picture of me pushing the seeder through the newly raked bed. Please note the look of steely determination on my face.
You will notice the wooden boards along the carrot bed. I read a charming little book last winter about late 19th century French intensive gardening, and was so inspired I have decided to adopt a few of the techniques therein described. Chief among these is raised beds, although I am utilizing the greenhouse effect for heat rather than the 50 tons of horse manure per acre as was done in 1900. For those of you unfamiliar with typical manure applications, that's a lot of poop! But, in the days before automobiles, horses were more common than they are today.
One of our interns from last year, Steve, is currently visiting us for two weeks, and naturally we put him right to work. Here is a picture of Steve adding rodent proofing to our second walk in cooler. Please note the look of steely determination on his face.
Never mind, I guess you can't see his face. We will be using this cooler for crops that like to be stored cool, but not too cold-- mostly tomatoes, eggplant, okra, zucchini and melons. Hard to believe that when we started out nine years ago all we had was an extra refrigerator in the barn!
Our chickens are really enjoying the warmer weather, going outdoors and basking in the sun. I have promised to move them to fresh pasture as soon as the ground thaws. Here is a picture of a Buff Orpington hen, on the right, setting on her eggs with what can only be described as a look of steely determination. The Rhode Island Red X Leghorn on the left is merely curious.
Harvest share signups are continuous and ongoing. Why not sign up today?