Winter at the farm

We have seen the season come and go so quickly!  Now almost December, we’ve wrapped up our CSA and farmstand and are beginning our winter work.   We’re pruning the orchard, planting cover crop in the vegetable field, and beginning to make plans for all the work that needs to be done between now and spring (turns out there is a lot).

Thank you to everyone who supported the Cloverleaf at Bridgeway Farms over the last year.  We are very grateful to have had such a community behind us, and we were consistently excited about providing you all with tasty produce.  We’re looking forward to a little rest, and then gearing up for 2013.

Birds on the farm

Fall is supposed to be right on our doorstop and despite the freakish 100 degree October days, I feel like I can still smell the crisp smell of fall through the heat. We usually see one flock of geese overhead as we pick the morning harvest so the seasons must be changing, even if we can’t feel it yet. I’m having cravings for turnips, greens, and winter squash. We are picking the winter squash today and we’ll let it cure for a week, and then we should have it for you by next week!

Birds on the farm are a wonderous joy to me – we’ve seen some coyotes and Gus chased a very fat rat last week (who I think has been the main beneficiary of all the melons on the farm), but birds are the dominant form of wildlife we see. The songbirds lift my spirits when they sing all morning, but I have no idea what kind of birds they are. Not knowing the names of birds makes me miss our neighbor Becca, who I think knew every bird in California, and took me birding not long before she died.

One day on the farm, I saw this crazy looking bird flying over my truck – bright blue, with a Mohawk and a big belly, which I swear looked something like a small Congo peacock. We’ve heard peacocks on the neighbor’s farm, so maybe they have Congo peacocks as pets too!

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However, my favorite birds on the farm are the pheasants. The other day at dusk, I startled a pheasant and then waited to hear it’s familiar call. In a freak accident, it flew right into a white section of a wind turbine that was parked on the highway exit (pheasants fly up to 60 mph when startled). It was a pretty good thud and when I walked over, there was a mighty dead pheasant. I was so sad – this was my friend on the farm! I couldn’t decide whether to bury it or not, but in the end my friend Yumi plucked it and made a delicious dumpling soup. We’re going to take the 20 different kinds of feathers and make some pheasant memorial art too. Hopefully there was a whole family of pheasants and we will see them again at the Cloverleaf. –Emma

Tomatoes and peppers!

We are enjoying the nice temperatures and the slow end of the fresh fruit season at the Cloverleaf. The last week has been a little rough for me as I’ve been in and out of various medical issues (allergy attack, late night emergency room, bouts of nausea). Being sick makes me appreciate two things though: the farm and my farm partners!

I love seeing the vigorous nature of plants – especially our self-seeded tomatoes and peppers. Somehow those plants seem to outgrow the ones we planted on purpose! This week you have a mixed basket of hot peppers that are hybridized from last year’s jalapenos, thai chilis, shishitos and gypsies. Each pepper plant is different but delicious! Some are fairly mild but some are super spicy.

Our tomato plants are doing well too — after we switched to a different kind of drip line, they are doing much better. This week we have over 14 different kinds of tomatoes: Cherokee purple, Eva purple ball, brandywine, striped german, striped cavern (the short red and yellow striped tomatoes), emerald evergreen, amana orange, shah, indigo rose (the black ones), blush cherry, sungolds, sweet 100s, black cherry and of course, Torbert tomatoes (the small red ones)! That’s the tomato variety that my granddad bred and is doing really well. Sadly, he died this spring but his tomato variety lives on!

My farm partners have been awesome this week, coming in with last minute notice to handle our fruit sorting and letting me hang low in the farmstand this weekend. Farmers often don’t have a safety net for when they get sick – my friend, Rory, had to quit her previous farm when she got mono. If we were farming full-time it would be even worse to get sick (as I’ve yet to work on a farm that offers health insurance). Rory was very influential in convincing me to start farming slowly and do it part-time. For the Cloverleaf, it really makes all the difference that the four of us can watch each other’s backs – thanks guys! – Emma

A New Season Approaches

It is that time of year again, when the corn is mowed down, turned into the soil and in its place beets, carrots, turnips, raab, broccoli, the winter bounty is planted. It’s hard to believe with 100+ degree heat that in a few months, winter crops will bask in a cool breeze and we will be sick of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers… Growing vegetables has always seemed somewhat backwards to me. You rarely get to settle on a season and the crops on your farm, you are always looking forward, anticipating what you will  want and need in the coming months. But without an eye for the future, we would be stuck in December without a head of broccoli and come spring, there would no spring onions.

We now have a mountain of compost sitting in the field, slowly but surely, we will load wheelbarrows full of dark brown goodness and spread it in our fields. The ground is hard and dry from the heat and lack of water. Our soil has a fair amount of clay, which makes it sticky in the winter and hard as rock in the summer. We use our shank to dig into the ground and break up the crusted top and hardpan. The rototiller fluffs the soil, for ease of planting and root growth. There is a rhythm to soil preparation that comes with repeating the same task bed after bed.

Although we are planting for the fall and early winter, the joy of living in the Sacramento Valley and particular in our distinct microclimate, is that come November, we will still have ripe tomatoes on the vine and peppers in the field.

Northwest Adventures

I just got back from a 10-day adventure in the Northwest in honor of my sisters wedding. My fiance and I drove from the hot Sacramento Valley into the hills and mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon, and slipped into the cool, foggy Northwest. I love hot, dry weather. Being in the Northwest reminded me of winter, damp, cool and dark. But I must admit, it was wonderful to eat handfuls of raspberries, salmon berries and gooseberries, none of which grow well in Davis. With that said, I could not be happier to be back in the hot and dry desert, where melons ripen before September and tomatoes are sweet and tangy.

  Ruby Queen Corn

It is amazing how quickly things change on the farm, everything is growing, growing, growing! In only 10 days all of the corn was picked and sold. Luckily, I was able to scavenge some Ruby Queen Sweet Corn, a variety I was looking forward to. Before I left, I was not sure our tomatoes would ever ripen, yet this past weekend we were able to pick baskets full of red, orange, pink and purple cherry tomatoes. The trees of course are dripping with fruit, white and yellow nectarines, peaches and apricots. The bounty is still in full swing!

I am lucky to be part of a farm partnership that allows its partners to run off in the middle of the summer. In most other farming situations, I would not have been to leave the farm for 10 days at such a busy time of the season. Partnerships allow for flexibility, which lets farmers not only fulfill their responsibilities to the farm but  also to their family and friends. Thank you Marisa, Aubrey and Emma for letting me be part of my sister’s wedding extravaganza!

-Sasha

Peach/Nectarine Salsa
Adapted from Tom’s Kitchen (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/07/toms-kitchen-grilled-pork-tacos-spicy-gazpacho)


4 ripe peaches/nectarines (or apricots…..)
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 fresh hot chile peppers, such as serranos
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lime
Cilantro (optional)

Chop all ingredients and mix in a bowl. Eat with chips, white fish, chicken, tacos, etc….

Rabbits

If only rabbits really just ate carrots. The reality is, they are just as smart and wily and sarcastic (oh trust me) as Bugs Bunny, but really, they will eat anything, including plastic. They saunter down the rows of green beans nibbling off the growing tips, one by one. Amazingly, they don’t actually eat the beans, just the shoots and the flowers, which stunts the plants. But even worse, they have discovered our MELONS. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to hunt around for these sweet gems, only to find the baseball-sized melon half eaten. They are voracious, and we honestly worry about our melon supply.  Did we plant enough for the CSA and the rabbits too?  We’ll find out!

What are we doing to control them, you ask? Well, we put up a fence. That worked for about two months until they started wriggling underneath it. Then they started having babies and the babies can get through the holes. I think we might have a benevolent coyote or a raptor, because one morning we arrived and there was a rabbit all tangled up in the fencing, missing a head. Let me explain, before you get teary eyed, that these are not cute cuddly rabbits. These are jack-rabbits, the lean, steely eyed, quick-witted ones that will out-smart you and then go eat your drip tape. Oh, yes, they’ve been chewing holes in our drip tape, which is probably the worst of their crimes. It means that each time we irrigate, it’s a farm circus for hours, as we run around trying to patch all the leaks springing from rows all over the field. What a headache. But I digress. In terms of pest control, we also have Gus. Gus is Aubrey’s ridiculously small, achingly adorable side-kick of the canine persuasion. If you are too close to the ground, he will attack your face with kisses until you fall over.

Gus our lean, mean, (albeit small) rabbit-hunting machine

He also hunts baby rabbits. He would try for the adults but his legs are much shorter. Much, much shorter. But his hunting skills are on the up and up.  Go Gus! Sasha is getting better at catching the babies by the hind legs. She got one back in June, and I relocated it to the Putah Creek Reserve, but not before getting attached (because I am a sucker for baby anything and I was concerned it wasn’t going to have enough food. I know, it’s embarrassing.)

Sasha exhibiting her rabbit-catching skills

Our current rabbit plan is to find where they are slipping in under the fence, and stake it down with some irrigation staples. We are also thinking about putting up some cardboard along the bottom two feet of fence to block their view of our oasis of food, and keep these babies from squeezing through the holes. Hopefully they can’t jump more than 5 feet high.  Ha.  I won’t make any bets on that.  The rabbit battle continues!

-Marisa

This week in your boxes:

Full share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Onion
Garlic
Basil
Parsley
Sweet corn
Cucumbers (organic from Mike  Madison’s farm, Yolo Bulb)
Chiogga beets
Cherry tomatoes
Shishito peppers
Jalapeño (hiding in the basil bag)
Chard
Okra
Summer squash (not organic from Susan Ellsworth)

Half share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Onion
Garlic
Basil
Cucumbers (organic from Mike  Madison’s farm, Yolo Bulb)
Parsley
Tomato
Jalapeño (hiding in the basil bag)

Fruit share:

July Flame peaches (transitioning to organic)
Brittany gold apricots (transitioning to organic)
Flavor top nectarines (transitioning to organic)
Triple crown blackberries (not organic from Bridgeway Farms)

Recipe of the week:

Sauteed Shishito Peppers (half share folks, you’ll receive Shishito peppers in the coming weeks)

Shishitos are a delicately sweet and usually mild pepper from Japan. They are often likened to Spain’s famous Padron peppers for the flavor. They are best when picked green and small. We love them sautéed in garlic and olive oil with a dash of coarse sea salt on top for a tasty snack.

Ingredients:

1 basket of shishito peppers

2 tbsp oil oil

2-3 cloves of garlic

Coarse sea salt to taste

Heat the olive oil on medium to high heat, add  garlic and peppers at the same time and toss. Sautee until peppers are slightly browned and wilted. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve. Yum.

Enjoy!

Royal Blenheims

Today Sasha and I sat with a box of newest apricots to come on the scene: the Royal Blenheims. We carefully inspected them for color, taste, and texture in order to determine what they look like when they are ripe enough to eat, when they are overripe, and when they are immature. It only took about 10 of them, and it was a delicious experience. We learned that the Blenheims are tastiest when they have a bit of green on them. If they are completely orange, they start to get a bit smushy or mealy and then lose their flavor. If they are mostly green, they are hard and too tart. So the apricots that we will put into your baskets and sell at the farmstand will have good orange/yellow coloring on the “shoulders”, but there will also be some green on there somewhere.
After the farm I came home and looked up more information on Blenheims and turns out, we aren’t the first to discover this!
“The Blenheim is both sweet and tart with an intensely aromatic scent of honeysuckle. The apricot ripens from the inside out causing fruit pickers to develop specific harvesting habits for the apricot that included picking fruits that still had a faint green tinge.”
http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/ark_product_detail/blenheim_apricot/
Just wanted to make sure you all knew we were giving you green fruit for a reason.

The other exciting thing that happened on the farm today is that we were filmed for America’s Heartland, a TV Series on PBS. Many thanks to Liya Schwartzman of California FarmLink for suggesting The Cloverleaf’s collaboration with Rich as a land-linking success story. For those of you that don’t already know this story, California FarmLink helps prospective farmers find land, and land owners find farmers. Emma and Sasha went through FarmLink last year to find Rich Collins and Bridgeway Farms.
At this weekend’s filming, we each interviewed with the crew for about 15 minutes. They also filmed us doing our thing on the farm, which included picking apricots, pounding tomato stakes, setting up the farmstand and selling to customers. It was nerve-wracking for each of us to be in front of the camera, but it was also fun. Luckily, none of us knew at the time that this show has 1 million viewers! We will let you all know when it’s going to be aired. We always knew that farming would be our ticket to fame and fortune! 😉
-Marisa

Garlic Harvest

At the end of a farm day on Sunday, I craved pizza.  It was all I could think about.  At first I assumed our 12 hour work day had just stirred up a fierce appetite–but this craving was so specific.  I realized that my senses had been filled all day with the smell of fresh garlic.  We spent much of the day Sunday digging up our garlic that has been growing since November.  

In the winter, when our onions and garlic were the only plants in the ground, we tended them diligently.  But as the season moved forward, they lost our focus, and we lost sight of the garlic in a forest of dandelions.  Emma started referring to the northern edge of the field as the wild side.  I stressed that if we let the weeds grow too tall, we may lose the garlic.  But I heard a piece of advice from a fellow farmer that has quelled my worry (for more than just the garlic).  The advice was: sometimes, doing less is the best thing to do.  

Did leaving the weeds improve the garlic?  Not likely.  But by letting the weeds grow in the garlic, we could turn our attention to other crops and balance our time a bit.

And to our delight, we began to harvest garlic on Sunday and it is beautiful and fragrant, and will be a staple in your CSA boxes throughout the season.  And after transporting the garlic to storage, its smell will be a staple in my car for at least as long.    

After harvesting garlic, we hang it in bunches to cure it.  The stalks dry out completely to help prevent rot, and the flavors settle in a bit so the garlic is not so strong as when we first harvest it.  The garlic you’re receiving today has been curing for about a week.  You can use it now, or you can hang it up in your kitchen and let it cure for another couple of weeks.

Either way, its fragrance will make you crave pizza too.  If I were you, I’d roast the entire head of garlic and add roasted garlic cloves as a pizza topping.

How to roast a head of garlic:

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1-2 tsp. olive oil

Method:
Peel off the outer papery covering of the head of garlic.  Using a sharp knife, slice off 1/4″-1/2″ of the tops of the cloves, so that the inside of each clove is exposed.

Place the head on a square of aluminum foil (unless you have a small clay pot for roasting garlic.  In which case, I am envious).

Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the cloves, and use your fingers to spread it around well.  Fold up the foil over the top of the clove, so that it is fully enclosed.  Either place the pouch directly on the oven rack, or you can place it on a pan (or muffin tins work well if you’re roasting multiple heads of garlic).
Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until the garlic is soft and lightly browned.  Remove from foil and remove individual cloves from paper. 

-Aubrey

Yummy Yummy Yummy

This past weekend was hot, I mean 100 degree hot. In that type of heat, you cover every inch of skin and wear a ridiculously large hat that covers your face, neck and shoulders. But even with all of that protective clothing, I was burning up and there was no amount of water that could keep me hydrated. I stumbled out of the field around 3pm, almost the hottest part of the day. Marisa was behind the farm stand selling cold and tasty popsicles to sweaty, hot and uncomfortable tourists stuck in the central valley heat. There sitting behind our tables topped with beets, chard, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, jams and nuts was a box of “seconds”. Seconds are fruit that we do not sell because of bruises or small nibble marks from birds. My personal opinion is that seconds are the best because you know they are ripe.


I picked up a baseball size apricot, it smelled like every apricot dream you ever had and it was just soft enough that I knew its juice would drip down my chin. I took a bite and just as I thought, the sweet juice rolled down my chin streaking my shirt. I normally am not one to brag, but our Robada apricots are some of the most delicious stone fruit I have ever eaten. I may even go so far to say, they are some of the best fruit I have had since I moved to California. When you get one just right, they are intoxicatingly sweet and aromatic, and their skins are just sour enough that they offer a depth and complexity not experienced in peaches or nectarines.

I did not grow up with apricots and until this summer, I did not understand why people went crazy for fresh apricots. To start with, the trees themselves are fussy. They don’t like to be pruned in the winter like most stone fruit, they send tall flimsy branches up to the sky to create sails that crack and break in the wind, and they seem to be susceptible to everything. Even fresh apricots had been disappointing, every one I had eaten was too sour, too mealy or too bland. But I can now say that I am a lover of apricots and I get what the fuss is all about. When you can find that perfectly ripe apricot with just the right texture, smell, and flavor, your tastebuds are in for a ride.

* Note. Our peaches, apricots and nectarines are in transition to certified organic.

-Farmer Sasha-

Weeds!

One of the first things you may notice on our farm (and on many organic farms) is the weeds. We have a lot of them! The four of us spend a large portion of our time weeding, or trying to ignore the weeds, and then compulsively pulling a weed out when we’re supposed to be walking by. Today, however, I wanted to write a short ode to these silent and plentiful participants on our farm.

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Marisa checking out the chickweed

Our farm is infinitely more weedy than our neighbor’s, who uses this nifty tool called RoundUp. When we compare our barley/mustard field to his wheat fields, we see why organic grains cost so much at the store.   We put a massive amount of work into keeping weeds at bay so our crops can grow to full size.  

However, I also like to look at those weeds as the most biodiverse part of our farm. While a neighboring field will have likely 99.99% of one plant genotype, I would estimate that our field (in addition to the 40+ crops) has at least 15 dominant weeds and some 20+ rarer ones. After a recent day of weeding, our farm is likely comprised of 60% crops and 40% weeds.  We do the majority of our weeding by hand, so we’re in close contact with both our crops and some unexpected gifts.  While weeding a recent bed, we realized that okra and zinnias had reseeded themselves from last year and are now flourishing.  Rather than pulling them and calling them ‘weeds’ for being out of place, we just extended our drip lines so these now get plenty of water to keep growing.  We would never have noticed this had we been eradicating every weed from the farm. 

This isn’t to say that we aren’t hoping to do some tractor weeding sometime very soon (really, really soon). Many long-term farmers buy bigger and more powerful tractor equipment every year that they farm specifically to make weeding an easier task. It’s pure economics. But what are the real costs and benefits of both? You hear a lot of talk from scientists saying things like, “we need appreciation of biodiversity as a public good with economic and societal value.” So, can we find some of this value in our weeds?

We think so.  For one, you can eat them! We have a couple very tasty weeds on the farm: right now lambs-quarters and purslane are the main ones. This winter we had chickweed, miner’s lettuce and of course the ever-present dandelions. Mustard raab is quite tasty if you get the right variety when it’s tender and well watered.

This winter I met a farmer and scientist from Italy, Adolpho Rosati, who asked if we sold our weeds. I explained that I would feel ashamed to put these out at  market – it would feel like hoodwinking our customers with a crop we hadn’t paid for or intended to grow. He exploded with a list of reasons why I should proudly offer weeds to customers. Adolpho runs a bed and breakfast in Italy where he shows visitors how to make entire meals out of weeds. He explains to the visitors how they can increase their nutritional value of their diet by eating more biodiverse foods. They also end up eating foods that are supremely well suited to grow with minimal inputs in their climate and location.

We currently have a lush bed of lambs-quarters growing on the farm.  When I mentioned the idea of putting these weeds in our CSA baskets, Aubrey immediately said “No way!”  However, when I brought up the idea a second time, she agreed to cook a bunch of them and see if they met her standards for tasty greens. And guess what? They are really tasty, even for a greens connoisseur! Aubrey tried them both in a salad and as sauteed greens and enjoyed their texture and nutty (but mild) flavor in both dishes.   

We included lambs-quarters in the CSA baskets this week and we hope that our members have a new sense of appreciation of what they mean for our farm. And if they like them, we’ll continue to include an occasional taste of the wild side of the farm in the baskets.  

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Emma harvesting lambs-quarters