Flowers, greens, and chicks - May, you're looking mighty fine!

Angelica's flowers.jpg

We hope you’re enjoying this beautiful month! Come take a walk with us around the farm.

Over the weekend, Angelica tidied up parts of the farm with the flail mower, but she saved this pretty patch of wildflowers. It’s amazing how many wild plants are edible and useful, like wild mustard. So many lovely yellows and purples this time of year. We try to preserve as many wild plants as we can around the gardens.

Here’s what the Big Tunnel looks like in early May. On the far right, is head lettuce. Beside the lettuce, are two rows of peas. Our first pea attempt didn’t germinate well. We replanted the peas, and this time soaked the seeds in water for a few days. The other rows have tomatoes, beets, carrots, and peppers.

Here’s what the Big Tunnel looks like in early May. On the far right, is head lettuce. Beside the lettuce, are two rows of peas. Our first pea attempt didn’t germinate well. We replanted the peas, and this time soaked the seeds in water for a few days. The other rows have tomatoes, beets, carrots, and peppers.

This is Cat 1. On the far right, we have red Russian kale. Last night, we sauteed it with minced garlic, butter, and Dijon mustard. We thought it was delicious, although Silas requested that I “never make this again.” Ha ha! Beside the kale is baby Swiss chard. Or, I should say, “was” baby Swiss chard. It was eaten the night this photo was taken. This is the second time our chard planting has been mowed down by a critter. We have chard seeded, and we’ll keep trying. In the third row, we have green curly kale. (My favorite for soups and salads.) Then, there’s broccoli under the row cover.

This is Cat 1. On the far right, we have red Russian kale. Last night, we sauteed it with minced garlic, butter, and Dijon mustard. We thought it was delicious, although Silas requested that I “never make this again.” Ha ha! Beside the kale is baby Swiss chard. Or, I should say, “was” baby Swiss chard. It was eaten the night this photo was taken. This is the second time our chard planting has been mowed down by a critter. We have chard seeded, and we’ll keep trying. In the third row, we have green curly kale. (My favorite for soups and salads.) Then, there’s broccoli under the row cover.

And here’s Cat 2. In here, we have lettuce, radishes, peppers, and basil.

And here’s Cat 2. In here, we have lettuce, radishes, peppers, and basil.

This is the Little Tunnel.

This is the Little Tunnel.

We spent a day weeding, composting, mulching, and mowing our orchard. We also planted three new fruit trees: pear, nectarine, and peach. Jason and Silas planted 15 pine trees along the border between our farm and a neighboring field. We also added a few American redbuds. Some tiny paw-paw trees will go in the ground when they get a little more size to them.

We spent a day weeding, composting, mulching, and mowing our orchard. We also planted three new fruit trees: pear, nectarine, and peach. Jason and Silas planted 15 pine trees along the border between our farm and a neighboring field. We also added a few American redbuds. Some tiny paw-paw trees will go in the ground when they get a little more size to them.

Another view of the orchard.

Another view of the orchard.

Looking good, Little Tree!

Looking good, Little Tree!

Jason worked as a cook at Family Ties, in Townville, from age 16 until his mid 20s. In those years, he learned to cook from some wonderful people. We’ve been craving the farm’s greens. This omelette is filled with PTF spinach, green onions, and chives. The eggs came from Grandma Darlene’s chickens.

Jason worked as a cook at Family Ties, in Townville, from age 16 until his mid 20s. In those years, he learned to cook from some wonderful people. We’ve been craving the farm’s greens. This omelette is filled with PTF spinach, green onions, and chives. The eggs came from Grandma Darlene’s chickens.

Speaking of Jason, here he is leading his flock.

Speaking of Jason, here he is leading his flock.

A word about the chickens. We purchased a dozen Barred Rock chicks this spring as a means of bug control on the farm. While I wanted their help with the insects, I wasn’t looking forward to caring for them. In the early weeks in the house, they made a disastrous mess of our basement, with feathers, pine chips, and dust coating everything. However, I found them delightful. They are cute and comical, and I’ll actually be sorry to see them leave the yard and relocate to the farm. While I’ve been a vegetarian for about five years, I fully support those who raise animals for slaughter on farms that treat the land and its creatures with dignity, as well as those who hunt. But being around these ladies makes it pretty much impossible for me to even fathom eating a well-cared for chicken.  *Chased them out of my tulips seconds after finishing this post. Ha!

A word about the chickens. We purchased a dozen Barred Rock chicks this spring as a means of bug control on the farm. While I wanted their help with the insects, I wasn’t looking forward to caring for them. In the early weeks in the house, they made a disastrous mess of our basement, with feathers, pine chips, and dust coating everything. However, I found them delightful. They are cute and comical, and I’ll actually be sorry to see them leave the yard and relocate to the farm. While I’ve been a vegetarian for about five years, I fully support those who raise animals for slaughter on farms that treat the land and its creatures with dignity, as well as those who hunt. But being around these ladies makes it pretty much impossible for me to even fathom eating a well-cared for chicken.

*Chased them out of my tulips seconds after finishing this post. Ha!

Earth Day on the farm

Happy Earth Day to you!

Here’s a look around the farm.

This nest is low to the ground, but we’re hoping it goes well for all involved.

This nest is low to the ground, but we’re hoping it goes well for all involved.

Jason weed-whacks around the berries. Angelica spent her whole day hand weeding about 300 feet of berries, then I finished off the last 100 feet in the evening. Before weed-whacking, Jason ran the flail mower down the pathways. After planting the berry canes last season, we didn’t have time to properly tend to them. However, this ended up being a blessing in disguise, because the tangled mess protected the baby bushes from deer. This spring, the bushes look fantastic. It’s a mix of red and golden raspberries, and a few blackberries.

Jason weed-whacks around the berries. Angelica spent her whole day hand weeding about 300 feet of berries, then I finished off the last 100 feet in the evening. Before weed-whacking, Jason ran the flail mower down the pathways. After planting the berry canes last season, we didn’t have time to properly tend to them. However, this ended up being a blessing in disguise, because the tangled mess protected the baby bushes from deer. This spring, the bushes look fantastic. It’s a mix of red and golden raspberries, and a few blackberries.

This year, we’re maximizing our use of high tunnel space. We planted lettuce down the sides of one row, and seeded radishes in between. Just so you know, Silas walks exactly like his father.

This year, we’re maximizing our use of high tunnel space. We planted lettuce down the sides of one row, and seeded radishes in between. Just so you know, Silas walks exactly like his father.

Hot peppers and sweet peppers in the Big Tunnel.

Hot peppers and sweet peppers in the Big Tunnel.

This is year No. 2 for the rhubarb. We have 100 feet of it. I’m curious to try recipes for rhubarb that are savory, rather than sweet. (Although it is delicious sweet for sure!) Looking forward to the day our CSA boxes have lovely bunches of rhubarb.

This is year No. 2 for the rhubarb. We have 100 feet of it. I’m curious to try recipes for rhubarb that are savory, rather than sweet. (Although it is delicious sweet for sure!) Looking forward to the day our CSA boxes have lovely bunches of rhubarb.

Bright curly green kale in soup - can’t wait!

Bright curly green kale in soup - can’t wait!

The broccoli is thriving, except when a critter chomps it down. Our trap hasn’t caught the culprit yet. We added row cover tonight, but we know that groundhogs aren’t easily intimidated.

The broccoli is thriving, except when a critter chomps it down. Our trap hasn’t caught the culprit yet. We added row cover tonight, but we know that groundhogs aren’t easily intimidated.

French breakfast radishes that are almost ready to harvest.

French breakfast radishes that are almost ready to harvest.

Green onions going strong after several cuttings.

Green onions going strong after several cuttings.

Evening sun lighting up salad heads in the Little Tunnel.

Evening sun lighting up salad heads in the Little Tunnel.

Mommy and Silas.

Mommy and Silas.

For the record, I’m actively trying not to wear my squinty concentration face (pictured here) so much in 2019.

For the record, I’m actively trying not to wear my squinty concentration face (pictured here) so much in 2019.

First major planting! Almost 1,000 feet of deliciousness

It was a great couple of days on the farm.

On Saturday, Angelica and I redid Caterpillar 2 (the one dismantled by the wind last week), then Jason helped us fix Caterpillar 1’s wind damage.

After those issues were set right, Caterpillar 1 was filled with broccoli, Swiss chard, and kale transplants.

On Sunday morning, we planted in the Big Tunnel for the first time ever! We started with lettuce and pac choi transplants. Then, Angelica and I planted the first tomatoes of the season. (Returning CSA members will be happy to know that sungold cherry tomatoes went in the Big Tunnel! These bright, orange, cherry tomatoes are fantastic for snacking and cooking. They taste like sunshine.)

Doesn’t this Asian green look crunchy?!

Doesn’t this Asian green look crunchy?!

Later in the day, Angelica practiced using the seeders. (We have a Jang and an Earthway.) Carrots, peas, beets, and French breakfast radishes were seeded in the Big Tunnel. Last spring, we spent hours weeding and trellising several hundred feet of peas, only to have the deer munch the vines down to stumps overnight. However, with the Big Tunnel, they should be safe. This was just our first major planting of the season. Many more to come! - Stella

Here’s the weekend rundown:

Carrots: 90 feet

Lettuce and pac choi: 95 feet total (Pac choi is an Asian green. Tasty in stir-frys and soups.)

Red Russian kale: 100 feet

Green curly kale: 100 feet

Swiss chard: 40 feet

Broccoli: 100 feet

Red cherry tomatoes: 80 feet

Sungold cherry tomatoes: 45 feet

Peas: 90 feet

Beets: 90 feet

French breakfast radishes: 90 feet

Baby broccoli under a Caterpillar tunnel.

Baby broccoli under a Caterpillar tunnel.

Friends who would know - is this a silvery checkerspot?  UPDATE: CSA member Dianne checked with her husband, Rich, a zoologist. This butterfly is an Eastern Comma, one of the first butterflies to arrive for the season. Thanks, Rich! This particular Eastern Comma was rescued by Jason from under plastic.

Friends who would know - is this a silvery checkerspot?

UPDATE: CSA member Dianne checked with her husband, Rich, a zoologist. This butterfly is an Eastern Comma, one of the first butterflies to arrive for the season. Thanks, Rich! This particular Eastern Comma was rescued by Jason from under plastic.

Few repairs, now time to get cranking!

We were delayed in getting the second plastic side up on the big high tunnel, so a day of prolonged 20 mph wind Wednesday yanked the man/tractor doors off. The wind was relentless on the hill for about 12 hours. The sound of the gusts beating on the plastic really put your nerves on edge.

The wind also whipped the plastic off Caterpillar No. 2, and partially undid Caterpillar No. 1. While the day was a bummer, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed/redone. Like anything else, when you have a chance to do something all over again, you usually come up with ways to do it better.

The good news is, the big high tunnel was ultimately fine. We put up a temporary cover on the door, and Jason and Angelica worked until dark Thursday to get the second crank-down side up. (I was home Thursday afternoon with a sick little boy.)

Here’s one of the crank-down sides. Metal poles are screwed together, and shoved through a pocket in the plastic. Pulleys are fastened down the length of the side, and there’s a winch in the tunnel.

Here’s one of the crank-down sides. Metal poles are screwed together, and shoved through a pocket in the plastic. Pulleys are fastened down the length of the side, and there’s a winch in the tunnel.

I untangled the Caterpillar No. 2 mess with little trouble, and finished shoveling the raised beds in the big high tunnel. When I tapped out to take care of the little sick patient, Angelica stepped in to spread mushroom compost on all of the big high tunnel rows.

We have eight raised beds in the big high tunnel. We shoveled these by hand because the walking tractor wouldn’t have been able to squeeze that many rows in this space. That’s mushroom compost spread on the rows.

We have eight raised beds in the big high tunnel. We shoveled these by hand because the walking tractor wouldn’t have been able to squeeze that many rows in this space. That’s mushroom compost spread on the rows.

So we are now ready to plant in there! And that’s good because there’s a lot ready to go in the ground. As you can see here:

Kale, Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other greens are ready to go in the high tunnels ASAP. These trays were started in our basement, under grow lights. They spend a few days in the propagation tunnel to “harden off” before being planted. That’s what’s shown here.

Kale, Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other greens are ready to go in the high tunnels ASAP. These trays were started in our basement, under grow lights. They spend a few days in the propagation tunnel to “harden off” before being planted. That’s what’s shown here.

2 girls and a grandpa put up caterpillar No. 2

Last Thursday, knowing that deep winter would be returning for a few days, we hoped to get the second caterpillar high tunnel up.

We’d put the plastic and rope on the first caterpillar the day before, with a team of Angelica, Grandpa Gary, Jason and me. As with a lot of farm projects, we all followed Jason’s lead.

So, on Thursday morning, when Angelica asked what was in store for the day, I sheepishly said we’d have to wait until Jason returned home from work to do caterpillar No. 2.

In the past four farm seasons, it’s only been Jason and me in the early spring. Angelica came aboard last year, but not until the middle of May, so this is the first time we’ve had someone here to help with early farm projects. I guess this realization truly sunk in for the first time that morning.

The weather forecast was perfect for high tunnel work, with almost no wind and just a chance of light rain. Angelica was here to help, and Grandpa Gary was home, too. So what were we waiting for?

So, a short time later, Angelica and I took turns with the sledge hammer, pounding in the stakes that help hold the caterpillar plastic in place. Then, under a light rain, we moved the step ladder down each hoop, tethering the whole caterpillar together with a long strap. When we discovered we hadn’t left ourselves enough strap at the end, we traveled the length of the caterpillar once more, one hoop at a time.

Grandpa Gary took a break from cutting fire wood to help with the plastic. The plastic is about 120 feet long. During this stage of resurrecting a caterpillar tunnel, you became well acquainted with the plastic’s green and brown sludge, and rotten fish smell. It was a perfectly still day, so pulling the plastic up and over the hoops took a few bursts of all-out strength from everyone, but was relatively easy.

When the plastic was on, Grandpa Gary returned to the fire wood, and Angelica and I hurried to tie it down with rope.

We made fun of the wind when it kicked up a few minutes too late, fluttering harmlessly under plastic that was already securely in place.

We’d accomplished an important annual task ahead of schedule, and freed up Jason’s time to get something else done later in the day. Saving a few hours here and there is a big deal on the farm in the spring.

This week, our mountain of compost is expected to arrive. With Angelica’s help, I’ll be able to spread the compost in the high tunnels twice as fast. Then, we’ll transplant flat after flat of kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, and lettuce - all of our cold-hardy plantings.

In the farm’s pre-season, after Angelica and I work during the day, Jason will head up to the farm after his day job. This time of year doesn’t determine the farm’s overall seasonal success, but it certainly helps to start off on the right foot.

The two caterpillar high tunnels. You can see where they get their name.

The two caterpillar high tunnels. You can see where they get their name.

Early spring at PTF

The weather may be all over the place, but it’s definitely the first week of spring on the farm.

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Jason plants lettuce in the little high tunnel.

Jason plants lettuce in the little high tunnel.

Silas helps in the little tunnel. All of the lettuce was started from seed under grow lights in our basement. We have much better luck with transplanting lettuce than we do with direct seeding it.

Silas helps in the little tunnel. All of the lettuce was started from seed under grow lights in our basement. We have much better luck with transplanting lettuce than we do with direct seeding it.

Silas’s socks are fun to wash.

Silas’s socks are fun to wash.

The water is back on at the farm. Every fall, we shut down our water system to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Fortunately, the only repair to the system this spring was a $9 water pressure gauge.

The water is back on at the farm. Every fall, we shut down our water system to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Fortunately, the only repair to the system this spring was a $9 water pressure gauge.

In addition to the little high tunnel and the brand new big high tunnel, we have two caterpillar tunnels. The plastic on the caterpillars is removed each fall because the hoops can’t support snow. Thanks to a perfectly still evening, Angelica, Gary, Jason and I had the plastic and rope on one of the tunnels in under two hours.

In addition to the little high tunnel and the brand new big high tunnel, we have two caterpillar tunnels. The plastic on the caterpillars is removed each fall because the hoops can’t support snow. Thanks to a perfectly still evening, Angelica, Gary, Jason and I had the plastic and rope on one of the tunnels in under two hours.

The caterpillar tunnels get their name from their caterpillar-like appearance when the rope is tightened.

The caterpillar tunnels get their name from their caterpillar-like appearance when the rope is tightened.

Sunset from inside the new high tunnel.

Sunset from inside the new high tunnel.

With April just around the corner, we’re happy to report that the CSA is over half full. This is great news for early spring. We have a good idea of how many members will return each year, so we’re on track to sell out for the fifth year in a row.

Hope you’re enjoying your spring. It’s been busy but good at PTF.

~ Stella

Mud, blood, wind, sun, and plastic

With a lot of sun and just a little wind in the forecast for the first day of spring, we decided to take a crack at putting the plastic on our new 95-foot by 30-foot high tunnel.

Past experiences with the caterpillar tunnels taught us that even a little wind spells big trouble when you’re clinging like a clothespin to a giant sheet of plastic, but we have to get planting in this tunnel ASAP, so we just needed to go for it.

Our crew for the day included me, Jason, Angelica, Gary (my dad), and Garrett Gleeson, of Fat Hawk Farm. All ten hands were constantly at work from morning to late afternoon, wrangling giant rectangles of plastic.

In total, the tunnel is comprised of five separate plastic sheets. We needed to put up the end walls first, and those went surprisingly smooth.

Next up, was the roof, and that 40-foot by 110-foot rectangle proved to be more of a challenge, especially as the wind kicked up.

At first, we attempted a more experimental method. The plastic came to us folded up in a long strip. Jason tied one end of the strip to a rope, and then we all helped feed the strip up to the top of the frame, where Garrett sat, pulling the rope.

Our first attempt at the roof plastic. An internet video, coupled with boundless optimism, made us try pulling the plastic in one big strip over the very top of the frame. We all fed it up, while Garrett (seated) pulled it. It ended up slipping down one side. It’s certainly possible this method could work for someone with a little tweaking.

Our first attempt at the roof plastic. An internet video, coupled with boundless optimism, made us try pulling the plastic in one big strip over the very top of the frame. We all fed it up, while Garrett (seated) pulled it. It ended up slipping down one side. It’s certainly possible this method could work for someone with a little tweaking.

We were attempting to drag the plastic strip along the very top of the frame, and then let the plastic sides drape over. While demonstration videos prove it is possible, our attempt was unsuccessful. The plastic strip ended up slipping to one side.

So, we went with the classic approach. We tied two baseballs on one end of the plastic, and then tied ropes around the baseballs. A couple of us went to the opposite side of the structure and started pulling the ropes, working the plastic up and over the frame, while other helpers worked hard to feed the plastic up by hand, either on the ground or on the ladder. The baseball and rope method is what we’d recommend.

What says spring more than a baseball? Two old baseballs made the plastic task possible.

What says spring more than a baseball? Two old baseballs made the plastic task possible.

Jason ties a baseball in the plastic. We tied ropes around two baseballs and used them to pull the plastic up and over the roof.

Jason ties a baseball in the plastic. We tied ropes around two baseballs and used them to pull the plastic up and over the roof.

However, when we had the plastic up and over the frame, we weren’t paying close enough attention, and Angelica was the only anchor on the one side. One person is absolutely no match for the wind when it gets under that much plastic. The wind flipped the plastic completely off the frame.

For our second attempt, we were more vigilant about the wind, and clung to the plastic at key points as tight as we could. To hold the plastic in place, you work metal wiggle wire into metal channels. As soon as we started this, we realized we weren’t getting a good, tight fit overhead. The roof plastic was sagging. Garrett came up with the idea of bunching the end of the plastic with a baseball inside, tying a rope around the baseball, and then tethering it to Gary’s tractor. This worked like a charm. The tractor supplied the needed weight to pull the plastic tight and get out the sags.

When we started putting the metal wiggle wire in the metal channel, to hold the roof plastic in place, we noticed the plastic was sagging. Garrett came up with the idea of tethering the plastic to the front-end loader. The tractor’s weight pulled the plastic tight and eliminated the sagging.

When we started putting the metal wiggle wire in the metal channel, to hold the roof plastic in place, we noticed the plastic was sagging. Garrett came up with the idea of tethering the plastic to the front-end loader. The tractor’s weight pulled the plastic tight and eliminated the sagging.

After a total of about five hours, the end wall and roof plastic pieces were firmly in place with wiggle wire and screws with over-sized washers.

A plastic project that size would have been impossible with just Angelica, Jason, and me. Once again, family and neighbors have stepped up to bring a project to fruition. Today, Jason and I will start on the tunnel’s plastic sides, which should be much less difficult than the ends and top. We should be planting in this tunnel in a matter of days.

End plastic and roof plastic in place. What a relief!

End plastic and roof plastic in place. What a relief!

Notes:

*** The world traveler returns ***

As you can see, Angelica is back for her second season with us. She arrived on Monday morning after spending the winter with her mother on the Dutch-owned island of Bonaire, off the coast of Venezuela. On the island, she had a job, and she also volunteered with a sea turtle conservation organization. Before returning to the United States, she and her mother went on an incredible backpacking adventure across part of Europe. Her favorite place was Spain, with its flamenco dancing and delicious paella. Angelica spent a few days with us before hopping on a plane to Florida for a wedding, and time with family and friends. How we loved catching up with all her adventures! She’ll be returning to the farm in a few days.

*** Fat Hawk Farm ***

If you follow this blog, or our Facebook page, or you shop at local farmers markets, you probably know of Garrett Gleeson and Fat Hawk Farm. Garrett’s Guys Mills farm is located just a few roads over from us. He has the know-how and dedication to grow thousands of garlic heads each season, along with a list of other produce. Garrett helped us with several stages of tunnel construction these past few months. Thanks in large part to his ideas, skills, and time, the project went well. He’s what you’d call an all around good egg. You can follow along with his farming adventures on Facebook, under “Fat Hawk Farm.”

*** Mud and Blood ***

What’s a day on the farm without a few mishaps?

To protect the names of the innocent, we’ll simply list the incidents and not the victims.

— Someone tripped over a rope while running to catch a corner of billowing plastic and went face first into the mud. There may very well be a perfect forehead and nose imprint up there.

— Two other people accidentally took a seat in the mud bog in the farm driveway.

— And someone else accidentally drilled the back of their ear. OK, they didn’t actually drill, but they did catch themselves in the back of the ear with the drill. After all the work this person did atop a 12-foot step ladder in the wind these last few weeks, we’ll cut him a break about this one.

No farm project is complete without a little blood.

No farm project is complete without a little blood.

*** Birthday in the sun ***

March 20 was the first day of spring, it was also my birthday. Spending my special day outside, under a warm spring sun with great people was the perfect start to my new year. Thanks to my mom, the day was topped off with a homemade birthday dinner. No. 34 looks promising!

This was my hair all day, thanks to plastic static.

This was my hair all day, thanks to plastic static.

~ Stella





Barbecue Black Bean Lime Chili

Serve this Barbecue Black Bean Lime Chili with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, chopped green onions, and a sprinkle of paprika. You can also add crumbled tortilla chips and shredded cheese. Make sure you have a good chunk of buttered bread, too!  PLOT TWIST FARM PHOTO

Serve this Barbecue Black Bean Lime Chili with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, chopped green onions, and a sprinkle of paprika. You can also add crumbled tortilla chips and shredded cheese. Make sure you have a good chunk of buttered bread, too!

PLOT TWIST FARM PHOTO

In the cozy days of winter, we have plenty of time to tinker in the kitchen.

A big pot of soup or chili works best around here. We like leftovers, especially since Jason takes his lunch to work. 

This is my first time sharing an original recipe here, and I actually had to root through our recycling to remember what I put in and how much. Chili’s best trait is that it’s almost impossible to mess up. As long as you have a basic guide, you’ll get a perfectly fine result. The method of making chili is almost as comforting as the chili itself.

In the summer, this will be made again, using fresh ingredients from our farm and other farms. But, for now, here’s the winter edition.

Barbecue Black Bean Lime Chili

*** This makes a large batch of chili. About 8 servings. Adjust according to how much you want to make. Remember, it’s chili, so don’t overthink ingredient quantities. Let your eyes and taste buds be your guides.

*** INGREDIENTS ***

·       Black beans (Canned or dried. I used 4 cups of dried black beans. Follow dried bean instructions, if using dried.)

·       Pinto beans (Canned or dried. I used 1 can. Follow dried bean instructions, if using dried.)

·       Tomatoes (Fresh or canned. I used a combination: 1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes and frozen Plot Twist Farm heirloom tomatoes.)

·       2 carrots, diced

·       2 onions, diced

·       1 large sweet pepper, diced

·       Garlic, minced (Add the amount that suits your tastes. We like a lot of garlic. I used 2 whole heads.)

·       Cilantro, chopped

·       1 can red enchilada sauce, medium hot

·       1 can green chiles

·       1 lime

·       Water

·       Barbecue sauce

·       Cumin

·       Paprika (Smoky paprika would be excellent, but a little goes a long way.)

·       Sugar

·       Salt

·       Pepper

·       Butter or oil of your choice

·       For garnish: Sour cream or plain yogurt and chopped green onions

·       Fun extras: Crumbled tortilla chips and shredded cheese

*** HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHILI ***

In a large pot, heat up enough butter or oil to sauté your diced carrots, diced onions, diced pepper, and minced garlic. Cook until tender. Add tomatoes, green chiles, enchilada sauce, black beans, pinto beans, and chopped cilantro. Add water, gradually, until you’ve achieved the thickness you prefer in chili. Zest the lime, and then squeeze in the lime juice. Add to taste: cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, barbecue sauce, and sugar. If desired, add more butter or oil for flavor. 

*** GARNISH ***

Drop a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt. Top with chopped green onions, crumbled tortilla chips, and shredded cheese. If you want to give the impression that you’re a fancy person, add a dash of paprika.

May your thoughts be warm, and your belly, too.

~ Stella

 

Color & Crunch - Peek Into 2019's CSA Boxes!

The sight of grass and mud has us in spring mode. And while the snow is sure to return, something else will be arriving on our doorstep: about $1,200 worth of seeds.

Here are a few of the wonders that will spring from Plot Twist Farm soil into your 2019 CSA boxes:

*** Poniente Cucumbers

These cukes were our most expensive seeds. They were about a dollar per seed. However, they’ll be worth every penny. Poniente is a long, European cucumber, with improved disease resistance. Have you ever tasted a fresh-picked cucumber? We’re talking crazy crunch. Wonderful as a snack, on a salad, or, say, diced up and tossed with black beans, feta, and dressing. These will be planted in one of our high tunnels. That means EARLY cucumbers!

*** Sweet Chocolate Bell Peppers

Eye-catching, with a lovely, chocolate flesh, these mild peppers will be ready early.   

These are Sweet Chocolate Bell Peppers by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s is one of our favorite seed providers. Don’t these look delicious?

These are Sweet Chocolate Bell Peppers by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s is one of our favorite seed providers. Don’t these look delicious?

*** Lunchbox Peppers

These cute, sweet peppers are perfect for snacking. Dip in your favorite dressing and crunch away, or stuff with cream cheese, sprinkle with salt, and toss on the grill.

*** Adriana Lettuce

We are especially excited about this lettuce. The dense, dark green heads are packed with flavor. For us, the big deal is that Adriana can take the heat. It’s hard to keep lettuce from burning and bolting in the summer. This variety tolerates the hot temperatures. After some experimentation last year, we decided that growing head lettuce was a more sustainable way of increasing the number of times CSA members have salad in their share box. And more lettuce is one of our main goals this year. We want more in the boxes, and more at our market stands. Jason is even taking a course on lettuce this winter.

We’ll be growing a great deal of Adriana, by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It’s able to withstand summer heat - a major plus for us, especially since we’re ramping up lettuce production. In past seasons, we’ve used loose leaf lettuce, but this year, we’re converting to lettuce heads.

We’ll be growing a great deal of Adriana, by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It’s able to withstand summer heat - a major plus for us, especially since we’re ramping up lettuce production. In past seasons, we’ve used loose leaf lettuce, but this year, we’re converting to lettuce heads.

*** Atomic Fusion Tomato

Every fruit has its own combination of color, but each one is sweet and meaty. The outside flesh is lavender, with multicolored streaks coaxed out by sunlight.

This inviting-looking tomato is Atomic Fusion, which we purchased from Wild Boar Farms.

This inviting-looking tomato is Atomic Fusion, which we purchased from Wild Boar Farms.

*** Artisan Tomato Collection

These crisp, little beauties will make a lovely rainbow in your boxes this summer. They’re refreshing with a satisfying crunch.

*** Indigo Apple Tomato

These tomatoes are striking, and they’re sweet tasting. The sun ripens the shoulders to black, with the bottom and inside red.

*** Magic Molly Potatoes

We’ve grown these before. On top of being delicious, they’re good conversation pieces. These potatoes have a dark purple skin, and a beautiful purple flesh. They keep their purple hue even when cooked. Mollies are fun and tasty!

*** Baltisk Rod Purpurkal Curly Kale

Say that 10 times fast. Jason was flipping through a seed catalog when I plopped beside him and spotted this kale. It was breathtaking! How often do you say that about kale? “We have to grow that!” I said. According to Fedco, the company that sells this seed, this kale has a feathery texture that’s enjoyable, and it has a sweet aftertaste.  

Baltisk Rod Purpurkal Curly Kale - what a beauty! We ordered this seed from Fedco Seeds, another favorite seed company.

Baltisk Rod Purpurkal Curly Kale - what a beauty! We ordered this seed from Fedco Seeds, another favorite seed company.

*** Red Ace Beets

Fresh beets are out of this world. You can eat the entire beet, including the greens. Jason has a phenomenal beet and beet greens recipe that we’ll share in our weekly CSA box newsletter when a bouquet of these beauties greets you.

We love root vegetables on this farm, and fresh beets top the list. These are Red Ace by Johnny’s.

We love root vegetables on this farm, and fresh beets top the list. These are Red Ace by Johnny’s.

These are just a few highlights. A well-rounded selection of seeds will go in the ground this season. And it will all be grown with zero sprays. As we say, “It’s food you can feel great about.”

~ Stella

2018 in Review: Rounding a Corner

In April, when the air was crisp and cool and full of promise, a pair of bright-eyed young farmers declared this blog would receive timely updates all season long.

Whoops!

*** New Face, New Place

Alright, let’s rewind to Memorial Day weekend, when a new face arrived at the farm, and hundreds of feet of tomatoes and peppers went in the ground. The new face was Angelica. Just a few days earlier, the Bolivia native graduated from Edinboro University with her environmental studies degree. She made Plot Twist Farm history as its first part-time employee.

Angelica joined the farm in 2018. We’re happy to report she’ll be back in 2019.

Angelica joined the farm in 2018. We’re happy to report she’ll be back in 2019.

On the business side of the farm, an employee meant a whole new set of laws to learn. For the first time ever, we experienced what it felt like to have someone else’s paycheck be our responsibility. While this was stressful at times, we met our payroll obligations, and we realized how much more can be done with just the addition of one smart, hard working person.

Adding a helper meant we could expand the CSA to 60 households, and we could add another farmers market. The market we chose was the Market House, in Meadville, on Saturday. This was Angelica’s territory, while I returned to the Titusville Open Air Market on Tuesday and Saturday. This was year two for us at the Titusville market (now located on Route 8).

*** The Vegetable Report

When people ask us, “How did the garden do this year?” The simple answer is, “Good.” Overall, we were happy with the crops and variety. Shortcomings were usually because we ran out of time to do something. (Tomato trellising just didn’t happen again this year. It was still a beautiful tomato harvest, but it’s going to be even better next year.) The insect problem persists, namely cucumber and squash bugs. We’ll be enlisting the help of feathered friends with that matter in 2019.

Our efforts to discourage cucumber beetles (screening in a high tunnel, planting tomatillos as a diversion plant, and sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth) paid off somewhat. We carted out about 400 cucumbers per week for several weeks in the beginning of the season. Eventually, the beetles did their dirty work, but we still considered this crop a success.

Our screened high tunnel helped keep the cucumber beetles at bay for awhile. We harvested about 400 cucumbers per week for several weeks in the beginning of the farm season.

Our screened high tunnel helped keep the cucumber beetles at bay for awhile. We harvested about 400 cucumbers per week for several weeks in the beginning of the farm season.

One disappointment this year was peppers. In 2017, we had a fantastic pepper year, with just a few rows in a high tunnel. This year, we went big on peppers, and they ended up overtaken by weeds. By the time we tamed the whole mess, it was too late. We know we need to “weed” (hoe) all rows before the weeds are even visible, it’s just a matter of time and human power.  

*** The Year of Scary Finances

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones when he’s scrambling away from the big rolling boulder? And when he escapes the boulder he finds himself staring into the arrows of angry natives? Well, that was how this year felt for us financially.

At the end of the farm season, we had about $6,000 in unpaid bills. About $5,000 of this was expected. There was a $1,000 bill that was an unpleasant surprise due to an error we made. (It was trial by fire this year, as far as how to be an employer.)

The $5,000 in anticipated bills included our approximately $3,000 annual Farm Service Agency loan payment. In 2017, we borrowed money from the government to purchase our walking tractor and its implements, and two high tunnels. It’s a low-interest, seven-year loan. No regrets about that decision. We could never have afforded the walking tractor without it. And without a walking tractor, we never could have expanded our farm.

The remaining $2,000 in payments was what we decided to contribute to a grant for a new high tunnel we received from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The grant was for $7,000. We knew this was probably our only chance to get a big high tunnel, so we decided to kick in our own money and purchase a 95- by 30-foot structure.

The grant was also a reimbursement grant, which meant we had to pay for the high tunnel out of our own pocket, and then be reimbursed the government’s $7,000 portion.

In the end, we pooled together the money we needed with personal income, farm revenue, a temporary, zero-interest credit card, and a few financial events that ended up being sheer luck.

Would you take this year’s farm season and turn it into a PowerPoint presentation on how to manage a farm budget? Uh, no. But we made it through and learned our lessons.

We’re working on season five’s budget now.

With Angelica returning next year, we solidified a big chunk of her payroll in CSA share payments. When the season starts in June, her cash will be sitting in an account already. No more mid-season fear when a market stand isn’t performing the way we’d hoped.

Alright, enough whining. Things got scary. Wah wah. Time to wipe away those tears with a big kale leaf and get to the good stuff.

*** The Good Stuff

Having a part-time helper unlocked so much farm potential. So much so that next year Angelica will be full time for the majority of the season.

On the farm, the beginning of the week was the same as the previous season, with me working on the farm as much as possible during the day, and Jason joining me in the evening. Silas turned 4 last summer, so he spent a lot of time in the gardens with us, but, thankfully, we still have grandparents to rely on for child care.

In the second half of the week, we had Angelica’s help. Thursday and Friday were the big harvest days, and Saturday was delivery and farmers market day.

The biggest, best change this year was that having an extra set of hands on the farm took out the sheer exhaustion factor of the season.

In season one, Jay did everything. We only had eight members in the CSA, but we did have a new baby. During season two, we sold our house and moved the farm to a brand new location. This is known as The Season from Hell, and the thought of it still makes Jason scratch the scars he got from a stress-induced case of shingles.

Season three was a whole new world. I quit my full-time job to take over farm management, and having me on the farm so much more showed us the possibilities that lay ahead. However, the season was still drag-yourself-into-bed-with-dirt-caked-all-over-your-body exhausting.

In 2018, season four, with me full time, Silas a bit older, Jason on the farm weekends and evenings, Angelica part time, and some extra help one day a week, things got … pleasantly tiring. No more packing boxes until midnight. Boxes were typically ready to go by early afternoon, or sometimes even in the morning, which left plenty of time to harvest for the farmers markets.

In my first season full time on the farm, the share boxes went alright, but it still felt like 18 weeks on a runaway train. What would be in next week’s box? Will there be enough of this? Will there be any of that? What actual edible recipe can we put together in the newsletter with this hodge-podge?

This season, the share box newsletter went from being a 1 a.m. Friday chore, to a relaxed task that I could start on Wednesday or Thursday because I knew what would be in the week’s box. Also, rather than staring at what we gathered on Friday, and then frantically trying to find a newsletter recipe to fit the box, I found myself studying recipes first, and then assembling the ingredients list. Kind of like going grocery shopping on our own farm.

Another step we took this year was to include herbs in most boxes. While this wasn’t our first year growing herbs, it was our first year having any time to harvest them. Picking 60 bunches of parsley alone takes a good chunk of a day, but with Angelica and our Friday helpers, time could be found. Cooking with fresh herbs is a lot of fun, and we were proud to provide that experience for CSA members.

A good dose of summer fun was still had, too. (We went to Presque Isle twice! Unheard of in Ruggiero summers past!)

*** The New High Tunnel

The clock started ticking on our high tunnel grant in early 2018. We had a whole year to get the frame up, but, as you know, a year goes fast.

Our choice was whether to do it in early spring, or late fall. The middle chunk of the season was too hectic. Well, as it turned out, early spring wasn’t exactly a time of leisure, plus we were hoping to raise money to cover the high tunnel cost, rather than charge it, and wait for our reimbursement.

So, fall it would be. The high tunnel builder was holding off sending our shipment, in the hopes he could sell a few more tunnels, and all of the farmers could split the shipping cost. But, we were closing in on Thanksgiving weekend and getting nervous that the weather could turn any day. The high tunnel moved with amazing speed from Missouri to Erie, and then languished a week for reasons we’ll never know.

When the semi finally arrived, the driver had the best of intentions, but accidentally sunk his right tires into a deep, muddy ditch in front of our house, raising the rig in the air. There were a few hours when the trucking company was saying that when the semi was out of the ditch, it was moving along with our high tunnel still aboard. No! No! No! How would we ever get 4,000 pounds of high tunnel back to Dingman Road? Most importantly, we’d lose invaluable time and good weather.

Thankfully, our neighbor was able to pull the rig out, and the trucking company agreed to let us unload.

With the high tunnel bundles safely up at the farm, we could let out a little of the breath we’d been holding in all year.

Grandpa Gary and his tractor, and several friends helped with our big high tunnel project in December.

Grandpa Gary and his tractor, and several friends helped with our big high tunnel project in December.

Jason with one of many big, stupid rocks we dug out of the earth before setting the high tunnel poles.

Jason with one of many big, stupid rocks we dug out of the earth before setting the high tunnel poles.

Every decent day in December that Jason had off from his day job, we worked on the tunnel. We had help from Grandpa Gary and his tractor, and from friends, and childcare from family and friends. The weather was sometimes cold, always muddy, but overall, fairly mild. Holes were dug. Poles set. Clamps tightened. Piece by metal piece, it went up.

With help from a federal grant, we put up a 95- by 30-foot high tunnel in December.

With help from a federal grant, we put up a 95- by 30-foot high tunnel in December.

On the evening the last hoop went up, a beautiful sunset surrounded the farm. I had a few minutes alone, so I poured a cup of coffee and experienced two blissful events: my hands were finally warm, and the biggest worry of the farm season, was released.

*** Farm Crew Updates

  • Jason – This winter, Jason is back at it again with his Excel spreadsheets. Over the years, we’ve learned that you sure can’t plan for everything, but you’d better try. We’re always excited about the new plans he cooks up, but never more so than this season. You see, we’ve got that great big high tunnel now, and the possibilities are endless. In late fall, Jason took a full day to stock our small high tunnel with lettuce heads, kale, Swiss chard, and green onions. Thanks to his work, we’re still harvesting from that tunnel and selling to a local shop in Oil City each week. Jason’s spending his winter finishing up work on the new high tunnel, enjoying time with Silas, and working on art projects, particularly ink drawings. He’s also taking an online lettuce growing class this winter.  

  • Silas – Little man was caught somewhere between being a toddler and a true big boy this year. It’s a complicated, trying, wonderful stage, and we’re not wishing it away too quickly. There were times when he was an actual helper on the farm, gathering tomatoes in the greenhouse and playing independently when work needed to be done. He talks all the time now and has a sense of humor. Silas has a best friend now, a little boy almost his age who we met thanks to the CSA. Watching him play with this new pal is like watching him cross a bridge to Little Boy World. It’s wonderful and makes me proud, but I’m also acutely aware that I’m left standing on the shore.

  • Angelica – She’s currently living on an island off the coast of Venezuela. She’s spending time with her mother and working. We get regular updates from her, and we’ll be sending her farm data soon, at her request, to help her gear up for the season.

  • Me – This winter, I’m enjoying being with Silas, writing a new script, coming up with my own recipes to share in next season’s newsletters, committing to eliminating as much garbage waste as possible, brewing kombucha, heating the house almost solely with wood, and, unexpectedly, reading about money and the basics of the stock market.

The stock market and farming having something in common, I’ve learned. It’s all about the long game.

Happy New Year, friends. See you in 2019.

— Stella

That’s me, harvesting lettuce heads in the little high tunnel this winter.

That’s me, harvesting lettuce heads in the little high tunnel this winter.