Monday, September 1, 2014

Spotlight on Leeks unfinished

I have always wanted to grow leeks. There is something unique and mysterious about a leek. I made a few feeble attempts to grow hem in the past and failed. But the last couple years were different. I read up on how to grow them.  Then I planted seeds in a flat in February and let them grow. In the spring when they looked like thin blades of grass I transplanted them into rows in the garden. Throughout the season I weeded and hilled them a few times. Then I mulched them with thick straw. They grew beautifully and a few weeks ago I started harvesting lovely leeks.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Greens Galore

Our mild salad mix contains 3 types of baby lettuce, beet greens,
spinach, mizuna and baby kale.
Summer is now nearly upon us. Here on the farm the garden is growing and the area Farmer's Markets are in full swing again. Some of our favorite veggies to grow are a variety of different greens. We strive to have a wide selection of greens all season long. We are in an ideal location for growing greens with our higher elevation and cooler nights.
Do you know what all those different greens are and what to do with them. Greens go way beyond just lettuce and salads. They range from peppery to bitter to lemony and you can use them in everything from omelets to soups to stir-fry. Instead of just sticking to the familiar why not try something new? I always love to try something new! Here is an overview and description of some of the many types of greens there are with a few ideas of how to use each and even links to recipes for a few of them. Many of these we grow here at Simple Gifts Farm throughout the season.

Not only are greens delicious, colorful, and versatile they are among some of the healthiest foods there are.
Colorful lettuce displayed at the Farmer's Market

Lettuce- There are so many different types of lettuce, it is hard to know where to start. Of course there are the standard Romaine, Red and Green Leaf varieties. Some of my other favorites includes Red and Green Butterhead which has a smooth, tender texture, Red Oakleaf, which adds great color and variety to salads, and a unique speckled variety called Flashy Trout's Back.

A bed of spinach
Spinach- Round to oval, dark green leaves. Delicious used both as baby leaves or full size. Spinach has a mild, sweet flavor. It is one of the most well known and also versatile greens. You can't beat a spinach salad but it is also excellent in lasagna, quiche, as a pizza topping, or with garlic scapes made into pesto.

Beet Greens- Beet greens make a colorful addition to salad mix. They are also delicious lightly sauteed with some butter or olive oil. The flavor is mild and slightly salty. My two favorite varieties for greens are Bull's Blood which has lovely deep red leaves and Early Wonder Tall Top which is fast growing with bright green leaves and red veins.

Frilly red and green mustard greens
Mustard Greens- Spicy with a horseradish type flavor, mustard greens come in a variety of colors and shapes. The traditional variety is bright green with large somewhat serrated leaves. I love the frilly bright green and deep red varieties in a salad. They add so much color and texture with a nice burst of flavor.

Arugula- I love Arugula. It has a delightful peppery and nutty flavor that goes well with fruit and cheese. I think the flavor is best in autumn grown Arugula, it tends to be milder and sweeter at that time of year. I enjoy arugula mixed with other salad greens but it also makes a delicious salad on its own. Other ways I enjoy using it is in pesto or on pizza.

Mizuna- An Asian green that has deeply serrated leaves and comes in both green and purple varieties. The flavor is a bit like mustard greens, but without the heat. I mostly use it in salads, but it can also be cooked in stir-fry or soup.

Collard Greens- Traditionally grown and used in the south and something I had never had until we began growing it, Collards are another delicious green. Similar in flavor and texture to kale except with smooth round leaves. It can be used in many of the same ways as kale. In the South it is also traditionally cooked with salted and smoked meats. The round leaves also make great wraps.

Swiss Chard- One of the prettiest and most colorful greens, Swiss chard has large savoyed leaves with thick stalks that range from white, yellow, pink, and red. I like to use it in soup, sauteed, steamed, or even in stir-fry. The flavor is mild, sweet, and a bit salty.

Kale and Cabbage make a nice autumn salad
Kale- Kale has been all the rage lately and with good reason. It is healthy, delicious and versatile. There are several varieties of kale to choose from. There is the standard green curly type, the flat serrated Russian types, the wrinkled dinosaur types and even a beautiful purple curly type that we have enjoyed growing. Certain types are best suited for different purposes but they can also be used interchangeably. I especially like the Red Russian as baby kale in our salad mix; it is very tender, sweet and mild at that stage. The larger curly and dinosaur types are excellent sauteed, in soups, in smoothies, or one of my favorites made into kale chips.

Baby Bok Choy
Bok Choy- Very popular in Asian stir fries. Bok Choy grows in a vase shaped head. It has thick crunchy white or light green stalks with darker green rounded leaves. The flavor is mildly mustardy with a little sweetness.

Fresh lemony sorrel is one of the first greens in the spring
Sorrel- Sometimes called Lemon Sorrel or French Sorrel. I remember this one from when I was a little girl, my Dad had some growing in the garden. It is a perennial so it comes back in early spring every year. It was always fun to snack on it whenever we were outside. It has long slender bright green leaves. It bolts or sends of flower stalks very easily/early but it doesn't seem to affect the flavor, I just break them off and it continues to grow. The flavor is tart and lemony. It makes a nice addition to salads and also can be used with fish.

Endive, Escarole, Radicchio- I am going to lump these three all together. They are all in the chicory family and all have at least a somewhat bitter flavor. I have not had as much success growing these greens and personally do not care for the bitterness.

Our spicy salad mix contains 3 types of lettuce, arugula,
3 types of mustard greens, and wrinkled crinkled cress

Cress- These delightful peppery greens are common in Northern Europe. They are used in soups, salads, sandwiches, and garnishes. The flavor reminds me of Nasturtium; both spicy and sweet. I like to grow Wrinkled Crinkled Cress. It has small frilly leaves and grows quickly.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Homemade Popsicles

I can remember my Mom making my sister and I popsicles when we were young. They were always a fun, refreshing treat in the summertime. My boys love them now as I carry on the tradition. They are so easy to make at home, cheaper than buying them, and you can control what ingredients go into them. All you need is a little plastic popsicle mold (I found mine at the thrift store for $0.50),your kitchen freezer and a little imagination. You can really make them out of so many different things; yogurt/kefir and fruit smoothies, 100% fruit juice, homemade lemonade, homemade chocolate milk, use your imagination... Today my boys are having lemonade popsicles. These do have sugar in them, if you would rather avoid added sugar then the fruit juice ones or smoothie ones would work better.

  Lemonade Popsicles

1/2 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup organic sugar
1 quart water

 Mix all ingredients well. Pour into pospicle molds. Freeze for several hours or I find that over night works best. To remove from molds run briefly under warm water. Give them to your kids and send them outdoors to eat them, they will be messy! Have you ever made popsicles? What fun varieties have you tried?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Growing Within Our Climate

Late Spring Snow, April 27, 2014
Yesterday I posted a photo of the snow we woke up to in the morning. The reality is we live in cold area. Our little mountain valley is up at 2700 feet elevation and the particular spot our farm is located is a frost pocket. We get late frosts and early frosts every year. Sometimes we have late snow, one year we had a frost every month.
When we first started farming there were a couple other market farmers in our region and they were both growing pretty much everything; from corn to melons to cabbage. So that is what we tried as well. Some of the crops were always a fight for us to get at all, others were hard to get as early as the other farmers. But we sure tried, it was like a competition to see who could bring the first zucchini or cucumber to market. It became discouraging and frustrating to be fighting our climate all the time.
Garlic is one crop that does very well for us.
Over the last several years of farming we have learned a lot and have adapted what we do to fit our climate. We have learned which crops are not worth growing at all in our location, which ones are worth giving extra protection to and which ones do especially well for us.
While at first our cooler season seemed like a disadvantage it has turned out that if we work within it, it can actually be an advantage. Greens and lettuce do exceptionally well in our cooler summers. Potatoes don't mind it a little on the cool side and we can grow beautiful garlic and onions. We now focus on the things that grow really well for us and don't                                                struggle so much with the others.

Hoophouses and row covers are two ways we extend our season

We have found that most warm weather summer crops like green beans, cucumbers, squash and zucchini do just fine for us as well but generally don't come on as early as other areas of the county. We like to grow one hoophouse of zucchini and cucumbers to get them earlier and that seems worthwhile at this point. But other than that we don't rush to have the earliest crops, that way we can plant a little later and not have to worry as much about the weather. We do use row cover fabric on most crops as a boost for the first couple weeks or until they start blooming. We also grow tomatoes and peppers exclusively in a hoophouse because they do so much better in there. Although this year I am cutting way back on the tomatoes and am growing mostly cherry tomatoes. I have had a hard time getting nice large  tomatoes without splitting.

There are a couple of vegetables that we don't even grow at all because they like heat too much  and the chance of ripening them at all here is slim. They also take up too much space in a hoophouse to be worth growing in there. The two main ones are corn and melons.
It is actually really fun to learn and adapt to growing within our climate, learning what does well and focusing on that. The reality is that a late snow or late frosts do not hurt us or set us back very much at all, because we have learned to work within our climate.  

I would encourage any vegetable farmer just starting out to take into account their climate and make the best of it by doing what works well there. Don't feel like you have to do what everyone else is doing. Be open minded and adaptable to new ideas and plans. And don't forget to enjoy the journey along the way.

Monday, April 14, 2014


One of my goals here on the farm is to eventually grow many different types of edible fruits, berries, and nuts. I don't know if we will ever be selling any, but I like the idea of having a diversity of things growing for our family and to share with friends. Imagine my excitement when I ran into a neighbor a couple weeks back who knew of someone locally who had hazelnut bushes for sale! Of course I called them right away. So this last Saturday we went down to pick them up. I got two very nice large bushes plus several smaller ones. The man we bought them from was very knowledgeable and friendly. He said they should be planted 8-10 feet apart and grow to about 16 feet tall. He recommended having 6-8 bushes for best pollination. He also said that they do not do well with grass growing around them. This morning we dug our holes and dug out the grass around them. We decided to plant them along the yard fence as a kind of hedge. We added a little bit of composted chicken manure fertilizer and planted the bushes. David and Matthew had a great time digging in the dirt, throwing the fertilizer around them and watering them. It was a great family project. By the time we were done though Matthew had accidentally been sprayed with the hose and was having a meltdown and they both boys getting hungry and tired. So we went in and had some lunch, then it was nap time for the boys.
Getting ready to plant on of the larger bushes.

David working on digging the hole bigger.

The last hazelnut bush in the back of the pickup.

The boys had a great time "helping"

Starting to bud

Digging in the dirt

Two little boys in two holes

David watering the hazelnuts after they are planted

Friday, April 11, 2014

Frugal Friday: Farmgirl Fashion: Cute Mud Boots

As a farmer/farmer's wife I spend  a lot of time outdoors, in the dirt and mud. It can be easy to just wear grungy old work clothes all the time and to start feeling not so cute. I like fun, cute things and so I get tired of that sometimes. One thing I have always thought would be fun is a pair of cute mud boots. I have had the same pair of old, plain black, slightly too big thrift store mud boots for the past four years. They were finally starting to wear out and crack so I started looking for new ones. But being the frugal farm wife that I am I didn't go down to the store and just buy a pair of cute boots, after all they cost around $30. No, I kept my eyes open at thrift stores, figuring I would probably end up with a decent, practical pair that fit. I was excited when I found found this pair of cute polka dot ones (did I mention that I love polka dots?) for about $5! Now I may be covered in mud when I'm out working on the farm, but at least my feet feel cute!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Pepper Flakes

Last summer I had an abundance of hot peppers! I love having an abundance of fresh things from the garden. Sometimes it can feel like we are not selling enough of something that we have lots of, but in the end it is usually nice to have the extra. I do not like to let anything go to waste and very little does. When we have extra produce I either use it or store it for ourselves, give it to friends, donate it to the food bank and sometimes compost it or feed it to our chickens.

In this case I ended up drying lots of hot peppers. All different types; Jalapeno, Serrano, Hungarian Wax, Fish, Habanero, Cayenne and probably a few I've forgotten. I used a couple different methods to dry them. One way that is fun and also makes a pretty decoration, is to take a needle and thread and string the peppers on that and hang them somewhere to dry. I also did quite a few of them in the food dehydrator. I just spread them out on the trays and turned it on. I think I may have poked holes through the skin with a knife, but can't remember for sure. They took a few days to get completely dry. Then I stored them in jars or paper bags. 
They are great for throwing into chili, soup, or stir-fry to add a little extra kick. But I had a lot of them and sure wasn't using them very fast. So I decided to turn some of them into red pepper flakes. The thinner skinned varieties like Cayenne or Hungarian Wax work the best for this but I used several of the others too. I did mine by hand in several batches with my mortar and pestle. It was fun, I have more time for projects like this in the winter. If I was more in a hurry I would have just used my food processor and I think that would have worked just fine, too. Now you know one idea for using up an excess of hot peppers. Another great way to use them is in a delicious roasted pepper hot sauce. I will be posting the recipe for that at some point, too.

Making red pepper flakes

Mortar and Pestle

A Lovely Jar of Red Pepper Flakes