Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A New Way of Thinking

Otherwise entitled ‘Why the Basil determines our season’

It’s October 24th and by my calculations we’ve had 10 nights of freezing weather, not just frost, freeze.  We're also to a point where there are only a little over 10 short hours of sunlight a day. Monday I went out with the camera and snapped a few shots of what is still usable in the field.  You’ll have to excuse the fact that some of the photos are blurry, if you will remember – Monday was REALLY windy.  I promise – every photo on this page was taken Monday, October 22nd 2012.
As you can see, the sage has taken on its winter color but all in all is still very usable.

The Thyme too is usable.  As I’ve written in our hints and tips before, Thyme is an evergreen and if you could find it under the snow in winter, you could still use it so it is not surprising that it’s still doing well.  It is a little short as we cut it way back in preparation for winter.  Next spring we want to be cutting fresh new growth from the Thyme and not having to pick out the woody older growth when we harvest so we cut it down to about an inch in the fall.

The Oregano’s and the Marjoram are showing a little red around the edge, signs that it has been cold, but they too are hanging in there just waiting for me to make spaghetti or gyro’s.

Greek Oregano

Italian Oregano

Fresh picked Rosemary went well in our venison steak sandwiches last night.

And this weekend when I am planning on having a guest in the house, I’m hoping to find a way to use some of this Cilantro.

A testiment to the fact that cilantro is a cold weather plant is below - this is a whole row of it next to a row of dill:

With the cold weather, there’s been a lot of soup being made at our house and the Parsley is always better fresh out of the field.  Chives go well in soup too and Winter Savory is my absolute favorite in potato soup!
Italian Flat Parsley
We mow down the Parsley each fall instead of pulling it out.  Then in the spring we just till it and the roots back into the soil.  It helps to add organic matter to the soil and Parsley is pretty disease and pest free so this is one kind of garden debris I don’t worry about leaving.  Although this year I did have Boy leave a couple standing for us to use.
Winter Savory
The Chives might be laying down on the job a little but still worthy of a good soup!

The stores already have Christmas items out and we’ve been having more hot chocolate at our house.  What goes good with holiday baking and hot chocolate?  Mint!  Our spearmint and peppermint are still green and full of flavor.


Our spearmint and Peppermint beds.
Don’t tell John at 10 North Main, but the Tarragon is still doing exceptionally well and looks wonderful!


Which leads me to the other title for this article.  This Tarragon looks spectacular (after more than 10 freezing nights) next to the very sad, very dead, rows of Genovese Basil we have yet to pull out to its left.  Basil loves loves loves the heat.  It begins to look sickly when nighttime temps go into the 40’s and one night in the 30’s practically makes it die right then and there.  Basil makes up the majority of our sales.  If we take Basil out of the equation, we may not make enough to cover costs of labor, transportation, packaging, etc.  Also, without the Basil, our grocery stores would rather go back to their ‘winter’ suppliers as ordering half of what they need from us and half from them is a hassle and quite frankly ticks off the other guys.  So, even though we still have a nice variety of herbs that look great, we just can’t continue to deliver to our customers once the Basil is done.
Also – now back to the real title – I post this topic to try and get people to understand that we CAN lengthen our season.  We are so trained to think that once that first killing frost has come, the garden is done for the year.  I think these photos prove it is not – and does not have to be.  I does require a change in eating habits and in gardening habits and a total revamping of thought.  What it takes is for us to switch from a ‘grow it’ mentality to a ‘harvest it’ mentality.

I wish the industry would quit calling it ‘fall planting’ as what it really is in our area is summer planting.  There will be some items that you need to plant in July or early August, still summer to me, to ensure they are large enough once the shorter days and cold weather hit.  The goal is to have them at just the right stage for picking before we begin to have temperatures too cold for them to grow and days so short they have very little sun.
By calling it ‘fall planted’ vegetables or a ‘fall planted’ garden, the industry does gardeners no favors either.  With those kinds of terms, most people wait until ‘fall’ to try and plant these things.  That might work in Tennessee but not in North Dakota.  So let’s all begin to think of it as late summer planting for early winter harvest.  We also have to stop thinking about it as ‘winter growing’, another term used by the industry.  Let’s not kid ourselves; the only things that grow in ND in the winter are the snow banks, men’s beards, and our eagerness for spring.  It’s not winter growing or winter gardening unless it is indoors.  It is winter harvesting, or fall harvesting.

To successfully have garden fresh items well after the first, second or even third killing frosts, you have to think of it as growing it earlier to harvest it later.  There are many things, including the herbs I’ve pictured here, spinach, mache’, kale, chard, carrots, rutabagas, beets, salsify and more that can take the frost and still be fine.  The key is to plant these items while there are plenty of warm days left.  Root crops can be left in the ground until the ground is frozen, this cooling and hardening off period actually makes them better tasting!  Some greens can literally freeze overnight, thaw with the sun and warmer temperatures of daytime and be ready to use again for lunch.

Carrots from our raised kitchen garden, just think – all these carrots from two six foot rows along the edges of our raised bed.  We like the little ones for fresh eating, the big ones for soup and the middle sized ones for salads.
So this year when the  seed catalogs arrive in our mailboxes, let’s start by making TWO lists.  One for seeds we will plant right away in the spring and the other list will be our ‘summer’ garden for ‘winter’ harvest!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Catching up

It's time to play catch up.  I know that I promised myself, and you, in May that I would write a blog post every week and I know that I haven't done that - not even close.  When you are trying to run an herb farm with wholesale deliveries, farmers markets to prepare for and sell at, CSA shareholders to tend to, weeding, watering, building in a new location AND another full time job on top of it - well,  let's just say it gets busy. 

So here's an update.  It has been Basil city - Basil CRAZY  - around here lately.  Poor Amber, our summer employee has thought she might never get out of the basil rows.  The first succession of Basil is getting tired.  It really didn't like those cool nights and heavy morning dews we had for a while and all of the picking has taken its toll.

Although it looks tall and wonderful - 24 inches tall now - a closer examination shows that there isn't a lot of the high quality stuff we sell left in there...

See the brown spots and the little holes - I call this ugly basil and I don't like picking it.

The second succession is looking good and although it didn't like the cold and dewey mornings either, we're still able to pick from it with success.  The third succession shown below went into a funk and didn't grow any when we had those really hot days - of course it would have helped if we had watered it a bit more, so it's not quite ready for picking.  We have begun to water it more and if Mother Nature holds off on sending in Jack Frost, hopefully we'll get to pick from it in a few weeks.

The Lemon Basil looks good - it always looks good.  It seems that 'Mrs. Burns' is a harder worker than 'Genovese' and takes the cool night weather better.  We could get by with just one planting of Lemon Basil but we always do at least two and that's more than plenty.
The first succession of Dill and Cilantro are also tired.  They've been pushed and pushed harder than any little plant should be.  You can see them starting to form seeds and flowers.  While we normally would just pull them out, we've had such a high amount of requests for pickling Dill, we've decided to let the Dill heads go and we'll try to fill some of those requests.

Barry has been pouring the water to our final succession of Dill and Cilantro trying to coax it into readiness. It seems reluctant but we're hoping by next week we'll have some fresh stuff for everyone.

Overall the whole field still looks pretty good.  With TDH's new toy, the PlotMaster, we've been able to keep all weeds in check and have less maintenance to do than we did in our last location - which only leaves more time to do other things, like pack for shareholders, contact new customers and work on completion of the wash/pack facility.  Which by the way, TDH put a window in there the other day - just my height - hooray!  The windows in our last wash/pack were too high for me to look out of!

That really tall stuff is the fennel - monstrous isn't it?

I'd like to say that I'll be better and next week I'll do a blog post again, but I hate to promise something I can't deliver.  Next week we're hoping to turn this...

Into this...

Minus the snow built up on the outside, TDH's large coat and of course with the solid end walls installed again.  That means busy, busy, busy.  Right now, I have to head out and pick Lemon Basil and Parsley for tomorrow's farmers market and Tarragon, Sage, and Mint for our shareholders.  All the while I'll be dreaming of the day when I can again say I have a clean house and a stocked pantry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Holy Basil Batman!

Holy Basil!  Or should we say Genovese Basil!  That's been the words of the day at our place for several days now.  We've just kicked into full swing this past week and for some reason all of our wholesale customers wanted their basil fix this week.

We did plan for this...

This is our planting fields.  We plant in blocks, two to three rows to a block.  The majority of rows in this field are Genovese Basil, 12 rows actually.  All rows are about fifty feet long - give or take, depends on how much I was paying attention to my iPod or to my seeding when I was  putting them in.  Anyway - we've got PLENTY of basil.

The stuff is looking GORGEOUS!

Big and full, large leaves and I sure wish this blog had smell-o-vision - what a scent.  However - this week we have had orders for over 27 pounds of it already and orders for 12 more pounds to go.  I don't mind picking basil when it's like this.  It's quick and easy and fun.  The end of the season when the basil has been worked hard and its tired and ready to go to sleep for the winter is a whole 'nother thing!  The upcoming weeks will be the same as this week as Tall, Dark, and Handsome picked up another wholesale order in town today for about 6 to 8 pounds per week and the one wholesale order for this week that was 18 pounds will go up to 30! 

Our shareholders received their first orders of Basil this past Monday.  Marv and Ilene Baker of North Star Farms, who helped us with the pick up of shares, reported the shareholders were surprised at the quantity.  I guess, when you're used to the little one ounce store packages, a quarter pound does seem like a lot.  I have one word for people who think it's too much basil....
OK - back to  picking basil...wish you were here!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why I Have A Dog

Ok folks, one LAST blog about non-gardening, non herb things before I go back to our regularly scheduled bloggin...

Why I Have A Dog....

Because who else could snuggle in the curve of your arm this way?

Who else would oversee the watering of seedlings the way she does?

Or let the wind blow through their hair on a warm spring day?

Who else would help me vaccum and clean the house?

or remind me that it's quitting time for work and time to play...ball that is...

Who else would share an orange push up with TDH?

or model the clothes I make with such style?

And who else would bound with abandon in the tall grass as we explore our new her running suit of course...

Only my dog would.  That's why I have a dog.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Under The Same Sky

So, just a couple more blog posts that are not garden related, I promise, then I'll go back to photos of herbs, talking about mulch and our growing season.  I just have to take this one post to share something with a few people I love - and the rest of you of course!

I was on the phone with my sister the other day. At one point in the conversation I said "oh, the neighbors are getting rained on," so she replied "it's raining there huh?" and I said, no, just at the neighbors, they're two miles away but its pouring over there. That's how the ND prairie and ND weather is. You can watch it roll past or watch it come right up on you. If you keep your eyes peeled you know just how long you have before you need to run for the house and whether or not you can grab a lawn chair and watch the storm or head for shelter. (Disclaimer here - ALWAYS head for shelter when storms head your way - its safer.)

You see, Boy - yes, the one who is miles away in a forest filled land - is missing home.  He's missing the farm, the big ND sky, the ND stars, the ND weather.  He's missing flying our big kite in the ND breezes and sitting in the shade with the birds, insects and critters talking away.

So I thought I'd send him a little of what he's missing.  Here at the new farm we are truly blessed to be a part of the landscape.  A small and insignificant part, but yet a part of something wonderful and big.  One of my favorite sayings is "from here, if you stand on a kitchen chair, you can see tomorrow".  It's true you know, from my place you can.  Take a look at what I mean...

Whether its early spring snow on the ground and in the sky...

Or late spring sunsets with Easter colors...

The big white billows of the first day of summer...

Or the unsettled storm clouds of June.

We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon." ~ Konrad Adenauer

And from where I sit, you can't beat the view.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Preparing For Father's Day When You're NOT Betty Crocker

Warning - this blog post has nothing to do with herbs or gardening or even country living in North Dakota.  It does however, have everything to do with the lengths a woman will go to for the man in her life.

So, tomorrow is Father's Day.  I've been thinking about it a lot in the past few days.  You see, neither Tall, Dark and Handsome nor my father are with us any longer.  So, the only Father we have close is Tall Dark and Handsome (TDH).  To add to that, it's been way too long since we've been together with Boy (yes, as in "Mrs. Mawby, You Have A Boy).  You see he's been living far away and having vehicle trouble, and working three jobs...not much time to visit with your folks when that's the case.  TDH and I both miss him terribly, so I have been thinking about what I can do to honor TDH, the one who works so hard on our farm, does everything he can to please me and has a heart the size of Texas.

TDH isn't the kind of guy who likes or needs material things.   Making him exceptionally hard to buy for.  He's more of an internal, giving, loving kind of guy.  In fact, we took a magazine survey once - it agreed - he really does live to please others.  So buying him something was tough.  After some thought, I tried the following line of logic:

TDH is really Father to Boy.  So what would Boy do if he were here?  Well, Boy has always like to cook.  He's also liked to be totally immersed with his food, from scratch - beginning to end - thus the pickled cattails experiment

And his enjoyment of venison - from field to plate
And sharing the things he cooks with his Dad has always been his way of showing he cares for us

AND, coincidentally, TDH LOVES FOOD TOO!  I think what he enjoys most though is what food can do, such as bring people together for a fun evening and a mystery dinner party
or celebrate the holidays and good friendships with a progressive supper

Or maybe even sharing a liquid lunch with a favorite relative

Boy got his first cookbook when he was about 8.  Yes, ladies, teach your sons to cook - the payback is enormous!  One of TDH's favorite things for Boy to cook when he was little was a made from scratch chocolate cake.  When Boy grew up and moved away he took not only his cookbooks with him but some of mine too - leaving me without the best loved cake recipe.  I knew I would have to improvise.  The only chocolate cake I had ever made from scratch was an old family recipe for German Chocolate Cake, but I hadn't make the cake since I was a teenager and do you think I could find the recipe?  After MUCH looking and several emails to my sister, I finally found the recipe and thank heavens I had everything it took to make in the cupboard (including the back-up plan of a boxed mix).  TDH had to march in a parade today so I knew I would have all day to create the masterpiece.

I laid out the recipe - and quickly concluded that the recipe had been copied by me when I was in junior high school as an assignment for what we used to call 'Home-Ec' - now called Family and Consumer Sciences - how politically correct!  I knew this as the name on top - my maiden name and half the recipe was missing - mainly some of the ingredients, the baking temp and time and most of the directions for mixing. 
A quick phone call to the older sister - who always cooked and baked more than I do - who wasn't there to answer her phone in my hour of need and I knew I was on my own to fail,

This is my garbage can - with the first try of cocoa powder and water - I learned to boil the water first, then add it to the powder, not add the powder to the water and boil it...
And the mounds of dirty dishes...
I finally got it all mixed up and in the oven
After the cake came out of the oven, I began the critical part in the mind of baked good is complete without frosting.  After the prescribed 12 minutes of cooking and stirring, I added the coconut and returned the frosting to the stove to "cook until spreadable" - I stirred, and stirred, and stirred and 25 minutes later, the frosting still wasn't to the ''spreadable" state I was looking for.  Turn up the heat.  Stir, stir, stir...stir, stir, stir - 30 minutes -- This is ridiculous!  So I decided surely it would stiffen up when it cooled. I removed it from the heat and waited for both the frosting and cake to cool to the point of putting them together.

Yes, you guessed it, I cooked the frosting too long, so instead of spreadable, I ended up covering only the middle and top of the cake with a method I now know to be a cross between play-dough playing and removing gum from your shoe.  Sticky beyond belief - but I must say, it tasted good as I licked it off my fingers.  I finally had a made from scratch chocolate cake kind of frosted and full of love.
After a quick search of the house for the cake carrier - where I soon rediscovered the old adage of you can't fit a square peg in a round hole (notice the square plate under the cake), I was able to put the finished product safely in its hiding spot in the basement.

Good thing I have T-bone steaks marinating and Vodka rhubarb slush to soften the blow of my 'special' Father's Day dessert.  5 hours of cooking, several failures and several close saves and TDH should be set for a good Father's Day.  Now where'd we put that hammock????
Happy Father's Day My Love!