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Monday, May 15, 2017

May 16th and 19th

E-Z Seeding

As I mentioned in last week's blog, most of your vegetables come from plants that are transplanted into the fields.  That means at some point they are seeded into containers, or "flats", in the greenhouse, grown to a large enough size, transplanted into a larger container and then transplanted into the field. Although transplanting has a multitude of benefits (as mentioned in the previous blog), it takes much more time than just direct seeding into the field.  The first thing I plant when I fire up the greenhouse in March is onions.  We plant near 20,000 a year and this task has taken me over 3 days to complete.  A long grueling 3 days in which I have lured in family and friends to help...who have never asked to help again.  It takes precision, good eye sight and patience, most of which humans do not have.  So late last summer I invested in an E-Z seeder.  It's a small, very inventive machine created by a farmer couple in Wisconsin.  The machine itself (basically a vacuum cleaner that is set in reverse) is not expensive.  But the metal plates, that are hand crafted specifically for each farms' use are.  Near $200 each and although I could use 5 or 6, I settled to start with 3.

The first step is to sprinkle the seed onto the plate. (As seen above).


Next I play "roll balls into a hole" game.  (After a google search I think technically that is what the game is called.)  You have all played it, I am sure.  A game found in prize gift bags and Happy Meals alike.  I roll the seeds along the plate until the suction (from the vacuum on reverse) holds a seed onto each hole which is precision drilled into the plate.  (In this picture shown above, there are actually 3 holes drilled close to each other so that 3 seeds drop into each "cell" in the "flat".)


Next, I dump any excess seed into a cup and then tip the tray upside down over the "flat" I want to seed.  (Do not worry! The reverse vacuum is holding the seeds in place in their respective holes.)


Finally, I cut the air from the vacuum (the big red lever), releasing the seeds from their holes and dropping them onto the "flat" by gently tapping the backside of the tray to make sure any stray seeds fall into place.  


And, voila!  I have a full "flat" seeded in near 10 seconds, rather than 10 minutes!


Lastly, I cover the seed with soil and then water each flat.  And then praise the E-Z seeder, a worth while investment!


Cheers to seeds, time saving inventions and locally grown food!!! ....and to those who appreciate it, of course : )


This week's Bounty: spinach, lettuce mix, scallions (transplanted late last summer and overwinter in the filed), over wintered parsnips (oh! so sweet!!), storage carrots and more!


The Farmer's Table:
parsnip/celeriac/beet slaw ... all shredded and blessed with vinegar and oil

the most amazing Baby Back ribs (from our pork): http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/marinated-baby-back-ribs

spinach salad

sauteed spinach


Monday, May 1, 2017

May 2nd and 5th

It all Starts with a Tiny Seed


I could go on and on about how the rain keeps going on and on, but I will save that for another day in hopes that the weather will settle soon.  Instead I will focus on the "growings" on in the greenhouse. Beginning in March, this house is heated with a propane heater, set to about 50 degrees.  There is no soil in here, only tables and it is where most of your food starts growing.  Some seeds we plant directly into the field soil (direct seeding).  These are usually plants that can be spaced together quite close and transplanting would be a daunting task.  (dill, carrots, peas....)  Although technically you can direct seed every vegetable, with our wacky climate and short growing season, the majority of our crops get a head start in the greenhouse and are then transplanted from pots to the field.  Starting here allows a controlled environment for hard to germinate seeds and a warm environment for plants to start growing when planting them outside would be too cold (tomatoes, peppers...).  It also protects seedlings from getting eaten by crows or insects (corn, cucumbers, broccoli...). The photo above is of broccoli seeds just starting to germinate (emerge from their seed).


Once the plants in those tiny celled trays reach a certain size, we transplant them to larger pots where they have more soil and nutrients.  They continue to grow in the comfort of the greenhouse until they mature to a big enough size that they can hopefully withstand crow or insect pressure and the outdoor environment.  We then transplant them into the field.  Depending on the vegetable, plants stay in the greenhouse from 2-8 weeks.  Inka makes sure I do everything right in there.


I love working in the green house!  Especially in the late winter and early spring.  (It gets pretty darn hot in there mid summer!)  I am also protected from the outdoor elements and although the fields are too cold or too wet to work, the greenhouse is full of life and smells of earth. ...not to mention the kaleidoscope of lush growth is beautiful to look at.



Jean and I spent most of this drizzly day harvesting spinach under the protection of the hoop house.  But its description will be for another blog : )


Thank you for joining us for another season of wacky weather, hopefully blogs not too complainy and awesome vegetables from Little Ridge Farm!!!!


This week's harvest: carrots, onions/shallots, celeriac, beets, potatoes and turnips from the root cellar.  Freshly dug parsnips and fresh spinach!

Click on the veggie list on the right for our favorite recipes!

Monday, April 3, 2017

April

Looking for Spring

Warmer days mean I need to start watering the hoop house (the unheated house that has spinach and lettuce growing in it).  The tricky thing is, I can barely find the well head beneath all the snow!  


Simon LOVES winter.  Except for the new smells that come out in the melting snow, he would rather we have snow year round.  (This year it seems like he's getting his wish!)  He also loves to go on hikes and skis.  And now his buddy Chicken likes to go with us too!


While I was in Peru, Chicken followed Zach out into the woods.  At first we were concerned, I mean he is duck and his 3" legs can only take him so fast.  But we soon realized he can hold his own.  He flies on the straightaways and zips along on top of the snow.  If the snow is soft and he sinks, he scoots through the snow on his belly like a penguin.  I posted a short video on Facebook, but I still can't capture the hilarity of it.  And I can not capture the sound of his webbed feet "pat, pat, pat" in the snow, it's really cute.  


It's sugaring season as well, so Simon and I (we leave Chicken at home), head up the road to help our friends collect sap.  It's a good physical workout to prep us for the upcoming season (me lifting 5 gallon pals of sap and Simon racing through the woods with his best friend Bear).  This is the 10th year I've helped in this sugarbush and I know Mitch's woods like my own.  Although I don't drive the horses, I have become pretty comfortable around Dick and Doc.  I'm still partial to my tractor, but I'll admit the quiet of the horses in the woods and the smell of animal sweat verses diesel in the cool spring air is pretty nice and I look forward to it every season.


We've been busy here on the farm too.  The 30,000+ onion seeds are seeded along with some lettuce, chard and lots of Brassicas.  This week I will start peppers and celery.  The seeds have taken longer than usual to germinate since we are only getting sun just about every other day.  The greenhouse is heated at night, but the little plants still need sun for energy!  
  

Simon would rather be in the woods than in the greenhouse, and he still does not fully understand why I work so much rather than just play all day.  If only I could teach him to transplant seedlings.... 


The Farmer's Table:
Rendered Tallow for the best chicken nuggets and french fries
Beef Liver Pate (with bacon!)
Carrot and Red Cabbage Cole Slaw
Celeriac Soup

Blessings on the Meal!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Peru!

A Magical Trip

Zach and I spent a marvelous 2 weeks in Peru.  I had a hard time picking out photos that capture the mind boggling architecture, vast agriculture, sheer steepness, vivid colors, culinary uniqueness and cultural traditions that make this country so incredible. 


Many crops were harvested by hand and carried on backs to sell at market or to feed livestock.


Steeped in tradition; many people still wear bright colors which were hand sheered, hand spun, hand dyed with local fruits and herbs and then hand woven to perfection and practicality.


Right off the plane in Cusco, we taxied down in elevation toward Machu Picchu Pueblo about 2 hours away.  On the way, we passed through the Chinchero District, a breathtakingly beautiful agricultural patchwork of cover crops, potatoes, grains and corn.  As well as free roaming sheep. pigs, donkeys, llamas, alpaca and cows.

Our first few days were spent in the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo.  Pictured here are the Ollantaytambo ruins which were built by mining massive rocks from the tall mountain you see on the left, pushed/pulled (by hand) across the valley and then back up the hill to the ruins.  It was our first insight into the magical powers of the Incas and the Sacred Valley.  The Incas were avid farmers and terraced sheer cliffs to provide growing platforms which included detailed underdrainage to handle torrential rains that fall December-February.


Inca built terraces are still used widely today.  The area remains rich in agriculture, focusing on grains, corn, fava beans, peas and potatoes.  I am not sure if the terraces are owned individually or if they are rented from the district, but each terrace was carefully managed, weeded and irrigated with Inca built waterways.  

It was obvious the Peruvians practiced precise cover cropping and crop rotation.  During the crop rotation, they would also rotate livestock through the fields by tethering them.  Once the space was eaten, the farmer would move the animals to a different position until the field was gleaned.

We stayed two nights at El Arbergue.  It is an historic hotel which has wonderful views and a fantastic restaurant that is provided for by an onsite farm.  We took a tour of the farm with Oscar, the resident farmer.  What an amazing backdrop to work by!!

We enjoyed lunch with freshly harvested vegetables and meats cooked in the traditional Pachamanca style.  A hole is dug in the ground and the meat and vegetables are covered with hot rocks, a wet canvas, more hot rocks and then soil.  The first layer of rocks are covered with huacatay, a type of marigold whose leaves have an incredible spicy minty flavor.  This herb is used in many Peruvian dishes.

Choclo con queso.  This classic street food is boiled corn with a chunk of fresh made cheese and huacatay sauce.  The meaty kernels are 4 times the size of corn you find here in the states and are easily plucked from the cob with your fingers. Yum!

Peru is the place were tomatoes, potatoes and many other roots originated.  The potato especially is revered and consumed in Peru.  Each has a unique shape, size, flavor and use. The Incas found ways to dry and preserve certain potatoes. Some even think they buried them (like a squirrel would) along their treacherous trails to provide nourishment during their long journeys.

We took an amazing tour of 4 different ruins which brought us through farm fields and rolling hills. Although we did get caught in pouring rain, a hail storm and 2 thunderstorms during our trip, I was happy that we traveled to Peru during the rainy season.  It allowed for lush vegetation, bright colors and potato plants (left) that were in full bloom.



One day was spent at a Botanical Garden along the Mandor River in the Sacred Valley.  We saw huge brightly colored birds, tiny hummingbirds, a ferocious waterfall, indigenous fruits and several species of orchids.

Another trip was to Maras.  A town in the Sacred Valley that has naturally occurring salt.  Hundreds of evaporation ponds, started by the Incas, produce well known Peruvian salt. 

Here I am overlooking the Ollantaytambo Valley and the "granaries" where it is believed that the Incas stored food.

Zach, being a "water guy" was mesmerized by the ingenious Incan water ways which are still in use today.  This llama was particularly happy for the Incan invention, as he drank from the hand built rock fountain during this sunny day.

And for the big moment....Machu Picchu!  Just. Unbelievable. 

Llamas mow the grass on the Inca laid terraces.

We hiked Machu Picchu Mountain which reins over the ruins.  A near 2 hour hike up crazy steep 10,000 ft peak.  The downside to traveling during the rainy season....typically the view from this peak is a mind blowing 360 degree spectacle.  We saw nothing but dense fog and lots of flowering plants. Maybe it was better the fog hid the cliff faces, I might have been terrified.

This is Sacsayhuaman, a ruin in Cusco.  I have focused this blog mostly on the plant and ag side of our trip, but I have to show you how incredibly amazing the Inca stonework is.  Not only in its precision (no mortar used) but also the sheer vastness of these rocks which weigh over 360 tons each and are stacked on top. of. each. other!!!!!!!!!

The last part of my trip was spent in Lima.  I visited a college roommate whose husband works at the International Potato Center.  They maintain the largest gene bank of potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Not only does this center save seed potatoes so varieties will never be lost, but they also focus on ensuring agricultural production in developing countries and they are currently researching if it is possible to grow potatoes on Mars.  

There are several potato varieties found in Peru.  They may not all taste good, but they all are important to food security. Each variety carries a trait which may be pertinent to cultivating a new/better preforming variety.  It takes ten years to grow, test and hybridize a plant to perfection. 

The center has several methods of preserving potato diversity. One is in thousands of sterile test tubes, called In Vitro Conservation.  Each plant can only survive in its tube for two years, so scientists are perpetually dividing and retubing plants to keep them alive.  Another, more recent discovery, is Cryopreservation.  In this method, plant tips are frozen, suspended in a tissue protecting solution and kept frozen. This method not only takes up much less space and time, but the tissue can be kept frozen indefinitely with no harm to the plants' vitality. 

Photo of current day potato harvest in the Sacred Valley.

Papa Arariwa, the Protector of Potatoes.  He, along with Pachamama, the Andean earth mother, protect this Sacred country full of agricultural riches, deep traditions and beautiful peoples.  I am grateful to have made the trip.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

February

February Fun

Daily winter walks are our routine here on the farm.  Lately the sky has been clear blue and the sun warm and bright.  I have worn my Trax more than any other winter due to the ice, but I'll admit the firm walking conditions have made our hikes a breeze.  Simon loves it too, he can whirl through the woods like the Tasmanian Devil, staying on top of the snow sniffing, hunting, chasing, playing.  


Even Inka has gone on a few walks with us, making cute little cat tracks as he tags along.  It's a respite I don't have time for in the summer.  Space to stretch my legs, rather than being hunched over on my knees and space for my mind to wonder.  It's still usually thinking about the farm: planning, organizing, revisiting goals and reflecting.  The more my legs go, the faster my brain turns.  I have taken to bringing a small note pad with me or my phone to record my thoughts.  Otherwise, as soon as my legs stop and the walk is over, my brain switches from processing mode to task mode and I forget all the monumental ideas I formed : )


Winter is also processing time!  I generally do not have time to process food in the summer, so I freeze items and make jam, tomato sauce, pies, syrups and render lard in the winter.  Plus, it heats the house up and makes it smell like summer!  It also restocks the pantry shelves and gives us fabulous food for another year.  


We are adding Organic Mushrooms to our repertoire in 2017!  We are buying inoculated blocks from a facility in Gardiner, mostly shitake and oyster.  Here we are experimenting with them in our home, but we will erect a tiny hoop house to grow them in over the summer.  We think it will be a wonderful add on purchase to the summer shares! 


This Month's Bounty:
carrots, parsnips, kohl rabi, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, red cabbage, beets, turnips, celeriac, leeks, onions, garlic, winter squash and spinach

The Farmer's Table:
Beet Borscht with cabbage, celeriac, carrots and potatoes
Plum Clafoutis 9aweseom with any fresh/frozen fruit)
Celeriac Latkes
Ribeye Steaks with sweet potatoes and peas 
Sweet potato and sausage soup
Caramelized onions and butternut squash lasagna
Sweet pepper, spinach and local feta pizza

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January

Dash into 2017!

Last fall, FEDCO (one of our local seed companies), called and asked if i would model for their 2017 cover. Of course, I agreed and couldn't be happier with their mock up of me. Buff arms, tight legs...ok a little bustier than usual, but looking good!  

Alright, I admit, just joking.  Actually I should email FEDCO and tell them to make this into one of those "put your face on this body" images, I think it would be a hit!  So I may not physically look like this, but it's a good image on how I feel about the upcoming farm season right now.  Ask me midseason on a sweltering hot day, I might have a different opinion, but right now I am super psyched!

One reason why I am psyched, is that it is my job to order my farm seed/tools/supplies from awesome companies like FEDCO.  In this state alone we have 6 seed companies (Johnny's, Allen Sterling Lothrop, Pinetree, The Maine Potato Lady and Wood Prairie Farm).  Not only are these seed companies located in Maine, but several of the seeds/seedling/plants offered are grown right here on farms in Maine.  So, when you support me, you are also supporting other Maine farms and businesses!
  
Reading through the FEDCO catalog this year, I was laughing at the crazy drawing/images they filter through the pages and was reminded how lucky I am to be a part of this big picture.  Fully committed to small business, organic farming, the environment and health.

Winter made her appearance hard and fast.  Although my second attempt at snow blowing the hoop house, was not nearly as pleasant as the first, it was still much easier than shoveling it all by hand (we did have to do some hand shoveling and ice block chucking).  If only I could get people to pay me to remove the snow.  A farm version of the Iron Man or Spartan Race.  

Winter rested just long enough for Jean and I to harvest the spinach out of the hoop house today. Although many leaves were still frozen to the ground and, at times, my fingers froze to the leaves, we pulled out a solid 50 lbs for pick up.  Ready your taste buds!  Yes, of course, you can buy spinach year round in the grocery store, but does it taste like candy?! 


happy winter, everyone