May 31, 2010

Market Prep

The thing about a family farm is that everyone has a job. Idle hands are rare, when there is always some other task that needs completed. For our oldest daughters, that translates to bagging lettuce this week. As you can see, they actually enjoyed it ... even if we did get to sneak in some math lessons, while they were sorting:


May 29, 2010

The Broccoli Song

Our two oldest daughters thought the veggies needed a catchy marketing jingle, like all the restaurants and stores have. So, they made their own:


May 28, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Hot Peppers

Hot peppers intimidate some, are a sign of bravery for others. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and intensity, and can be used in so many dishes, so many ways. Today, I'll just highlight a few of the hot peppers we produce.

Overall. hot peppers are a great source of Vitamin C. The heat from the pepper comes from the capsaicin, which is actually located in the white internal membrane of the pepper, not just in the seeds. There is even an official scale for pepper heat, called the Scoville scale. The general rule-of-heat is the smaller the pepper, the more powerful the punch.

Jalapeno are probably our most popular and are the ones we use the most. Not only are jalapenos the main pepper when we make salsa, they are also the featured ingredient in our Jalapeno jellies and Bread-and-Butter Jalapenos. They are about 2 inches long and can be green, red, or purple. A couple years ago, we found a Fooled You hybrid jalapeno, which looks like a regular jalapeno but lacks the heat. That's the pepper we use most when making stuffed grilled jalapenos, because the girls can eat them with no problem. (FYI, chipotle peppers are just smoked jalapenos.)

Habanero peppers are smaller than jalapenos, shaped like a lantern, and can be red, orange or yellow. Habanero is a very hot pepper and the one featured in our Chocolate Habanero and Habanero jellies.

Serrano peppers are a red or green pepper that is usually 1 to 4 inches long. It has a strong heat to it, not scalding but definitely distinct.

Closer to scalding is the cayenne pepper. These little peppers are long and skinny and pack a punch. They dry well and can be stored over the winter months. I like to add them whole when I'm making chili, to add flavor with without adding the heat.

Sweet bananas and hot banana look similar but taste quite different. They are both shaped like a banana and most often are green, yellow, or red. Sweet bananas, as you might guess, are a more mild pepper, while hot bananas will add more heat to the dish.

Anaheim peppers look and taste similar to the banana peppers and are actually what you get in a can of "canned green chilis." They are a medium-heat pepper and often used in Mexican food.

Poblana peppers round out our selection. Poblanas look like small bell peppers but have a surprise heat to them. Chili rellenos is usually made by stuffing poblano peppers.

As far as recipes, how you prepare the peppers is as varied as the peppers themselves. One golden rule to remember is that the same capsaicin that makes the peppers taste hot can also cause a burning sensation to your skin... or to your eyes, if you are unfortunate enough to forget and rub your eyes while cutting hot peppers. For that reason, it is best to wear gloves while preparing the peppers.

Grilled jalapenos
8 jalapenos, cored and deseeded
8 slices of bacon
8-oz cream cheese, softened

Put the cream cheese in a sandwich bag and snip the corner.
Use the bag to squeeze cream cheese into the hollowed jalapenos.
Wrap a slice of bacon around each jalapeno and secure with a toothpick.
Place in a pepper grill pan  (available from Clay Gourmet in Clay Center) and grill on medium heat until bacon is just starting to crisp.

Another great way to feature hot peppers is to make fajitas. Slice and saute a variety of peppers, keeping them sorted by heat. Then, the eaters can add as much or as little heat as they want. I like to use bell peppers, sweet bananas, and jalapenos in my fajitas. Pair it with grilled, marinated chicken, beef or pork, sliced carmelized onions, and a little shredded cheese and sour cream ... YUM!

May 27, 2010

Weaving Tomatoes

Space is at a premium in the high tunnels, and bulky tomato cages take up prime real estate. So, to help our tomatoes grow upright and to give them extra support, we use the Florida weave method. Here, Jay demonstrates how to do it.


May 25, 2010

First zucchini

So, yesterday's post showed us putting small zucchini plants in the ground outside. Today, we have the first zucchini! The zucchini in our high tunnels, planted on April 5 and transplanted around April 18, are about ready to harvest.

This variety is called Sultan, with a 48-days-to-maturity. Perfect Pick and Caveli are the other varieties yet to produce. This picture was taken late last week, so by Wednesday or Thursday, we should be dining on zucchini. And, if you are worried that your plants aren't near this big, keep in mind that these plants are in the movable high tunnel.

I love the excitement of the firsts. This tiny zucchini will be sauteed in a little bit of butter and divided among six plates...unless the other plants shoot out a few more for us to devour by then!

May 24, 2010

Transplanting zucchini

Blame it on the end of the school year, but I cannot stop singing the song, "This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth. This is the way we brush our teeth, so early in the morning!"

And so, "this is the way we transplant zucchini, transplant zucchini, transplant zucchini. This is the way we transplant zucchini, so late in the day." (You can thank me later for putting that song in YOUR head.)


May 23, 2010

Broccoli Beginnings

All those hours spent planting, watering, transplanting, weeding, watching, waiting.... tah-dah!

This is the Blue Wind variety, which is an earlier maturing variety. The others, Arcadia and Green Magic, should be coming along shortly. We hope to be harvesting the Blue Wind variety in about a week!

May 21, 2010

Friday's Featured Foods: Green Beans

There are some food traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, traditions that are about much more than the food. These traditions are about making time to do something as a family, working toward a common goal. Some are more complicated and time-intense. Others are as simple as, well, snapping green beans.

It isn't truly summer until I am sitting on the front porch with three bowls: one full of freshly picked green beans, one for the "trash" ends, and one of the good pieces. I enjoy the taste of green beans and they make routine appearances at our dinner table, but my favorite part of green beans is the cleaning. Why? Because I remember cleaning beans with my mom, she remembers cleaning them with her mom, and now my girls and I are continuing the tradition. You see, cleaning beans doesn't take a lot of mental fortitude, which means you can talk about all sorts of things while you are sitting there. And that is what makes food traditions so wonderful.

Enough about the sentimental stuff... on to the facts.

Green beans are an excellent source of of vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and iron. They are a low calorie, low fat, filling food, and a great pairing with so many dishes. Because they are so easy to can and freeze, I try to preserve enough beans to feed us through the fall and winter, and we usually have them 2-3 times a week.

Like most of our vegetables, the "normal" color isn't enough for our crazy garden. We have yellow, green, and purple green beans, although the purple turn green when you cook them. We have tried pole beans -- meaning the plants grow up a lattice of some sort -- but were disappointed with the production so only planted bush beans this year. Specifically, the green varieties are Contender, Provider, and Jade.

They are also super-easy to prepare. The fruits and veggies matter Web site recommends that you either take green beans out just before they are cooked the way you like, or plunge them into ice water immediately to stop them cooking further.

Our standard treatment for green beans is to boil them in water for 5-6 minutes. Drain. Drizzle a little bit of EVOO or melt a tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle lightly with garlic salt or garlic powder and serve. I also tend to eat them raw, straight from the garden, with the sun's heat making them just the right amount of warm... but I should recommend that you wash them first.

There is of course the famous green bean casserole and three-bean salad, too. What creative recipes or family food traditions do you have?

May 20, 2010

All the pretty colors

When you ask people what color a tomato is many will respond, "Red". Well our food system has developed a stereotype that all vegetables have only one color and one choice. At our house, if you ask our kids what color a tomato is you would probably hear, " yellow, black, purple, orange, white, bicolor, green and finally red". As far as shapes, we also have cherry, grape, pear, roma or big tomatoes. Alot of what we do is about exposing others to all the different choices available. Here is a short list of the colors of vegetables we are growing.

Tomatoes: Red, Orange, Yellow, Black/Purple, White, Bicolor and Green
Peppers: Red, Orange, Yellow, Lilac, Purple, White, Chocolate
Carrots: Red, Orange, Purple and Yellow
Cauliflower: White, Green, Purple, and Orange
Zucchini: Green and Yellow, but we have round and ribbed ones too!
Lettuce: Red, Green, and Red and Green
Bok Choy: Red and Green
Radishes: Red, Red and White, Pink and White
Potatoes: Yellow, Red, Purple and White

Here is a picture of some of our lettuce. I think it is very colorful and beautiful and very TASTY!

May 17, 2010

Nearly 750 Tomato Plants

What does it look like if you plant 747 tomato plants on less than 4 acres? Here, let me show you:

Building A houses the about 100 big (not cherry) tomato plants and 450 tomato seedlings.

Building B houses the remaining big tomato plants, just transplanted this week. We planted these extra big tomatoes after a local restaurateur asked about buying locally grown product from us later this summer. We had the seedlings and the space, so it just made sense to stick them in the ground.

Building C houses, among other things, 83 hanging tomato baskets. If all goes well, we will have less than 5 of those baskets remaining in 3-4 weeks.

Building D houses all our cherry tomato plants. To maximize the space in the high tunnel, we have onions planted along side these plants. I walked down this row, just to give you a more accurate idea of how many plants are growing in there.

We have itsy-bitsy tomatoes ... about the size of a marble ... growing on the big tomato plants, and lots of blooms on the rest of them. Now, we just sit back, weed, water, and hope for a great harvest.

May 14, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Fried!

I have a confession to make. I have a weakness for fried foods. Fried cheese, fried chicken, fried ice cream... you fry it, I'll try it and probably love it. My love of fried foods combines with my love of veggies quite often. Jay jokes that I have learned how to make every veggie a little less healthy.

It's true that cooking veggies can decrease their nutritional aspect. Fried foods are less healthy because the foods absorb the oil while they are cooking and because of the added fat from the breading. I try to minimize the negatives of frying food by by using a thin, light batter, such as tempura. I also prefer to fry in canola oil, which has a lower amount of trans and saturated fat compared to other cooking oils. Now, the nutritionists out there will tell you that it is still bad. I know this. But, a girl's got to have some bad habits, right?

Back to the batter. As I mentioned, I like to cook the veggies tempura-style, which is defined as deep fried veggies or seafood often eaten in Japan. Tempura batter is super-easy:
  1. Beat one egg in a bowl. 
  2. Add 1 cup ice water in the bowl. Be sure to use very cold water. 
  3. Add 1 cup sifted flour in the bowl and mix lightly. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

See? Easy! The difficult part is deciding what to fry. We have fried fresh broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, onions, carrots, green beans, pickles, radishes, green tomatoes, and just about anything else that pops up in our garden.  Now the rest of the process:
  1. Wash and cut the veggies and set them in a bowl of ice water until ready to cook. 
  2. Heat oil to 340-350 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  3. Dip the prepped veggies in the tempura and set them into the hot oil. Watch out for splashes of the hot oil!
  4. Fry for 2-3 minutes, or until batter turns golden.

Fried Squash Blossoms is another delicious fried treat we made last year. It truly has very little nutritious value, but it was such a delicacy and oddity that the entire family had fun eating it.

Squash Blossoms can be stuffed with whatever you wish, then dipped in batter and fried. Our favorite recipe had a mixture of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and spices inside. You can go all out, with Emeril's crab stuffed squash blossoms, or keep it simple, with no stuffing. They are a heavy food, in that you won't need to eat many to be full. We budget 2-4 per person when making them for our family or friends.

And while you have the oil heated up for the squash blossoms, why not throw in a few other veggies... just for fun. Or, do the right thing and balance all that fried stuff with a fresh garden salad. Either way, yum!

Edited to add: I love that, once I posted this, Google changed my ads on the right to "cut down on belly fat" and "Fried Cinnamon Rolls". It cracks me up!

May 12, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go AWAY!

Come again in June, July and August! It always seems that we can never get the rain when we need it and when we get it, it is too much. If it wasn't for our high tunnels, I would have very little planted this year. It has been very wet or, back when it was dry, our schedules or my injury didn't allow much planting outside. So I thought I would share what is growing inside and out.


Inside: We have tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers, lettuce (4 types), spinach, beets, swiss chard, carrots, hanging baskets of tomatoes, and tomato, pepper, cucumber and squash transplants.


Outside: Hail damaged broccoli, potatoes, radishes, cauliflower, leeks, onions, spinach, beets, beans and carrots(if they came up!)

What needs to be planted: Green Beans; Okra; Lemon, Dragon's Eggs, Armenian, and Slicing Cucumbers; Bell Peppers; Hot Peppers; Purple Cauliflower; 10 types of Squash; a few more tomatoes; lettuce; and more beets.

When the weather straightens up, we will be very busy. The good news is that school is out next week and I will be allowed to dedicate more time to the garden.

Let the Season Begin!

Saturday kicked off the 2010 Farmers Market season for us, with a cold morning in Clay Center. We had a few cool season crops for sale (spinach, lettuce, onions, radishes, turnips), our jellies, and lots and lots of plants. After about an hour, we had to put the pepper plants away, though; they didn't take too kindly to the 40-degree temps. All in all, it was a successful start to the season.


May 11, 2010

Night Gardening

Picking produce Friday night for Saturday morning's market. How's that for fresh? It always seems that we run out of time after school on Friday's picking. So, this is another advantage of a high tunnel. You can run out the extension cords and plug in lights. While you could do the same thing outside, it is much nicer to work inside with no wind and warmer temperatures.

May 10, 2010

Conventional versus locavore

Food, Inc. has kicked up a lot of heated discussion about conventional ag versus the eat-local, eat-only-organic movement.

We don't understand the "heated" part of it. Why does it have to be an us-versus-them mentality?

Take a close look at this picture:

Do you see what that is? It's agriculture. It's a high tunnel, a way for a young producer with small acreage to build a profitable operation. It's also a family farming operation, working the field on the hill, maintaining a profitable operation that supports multiple generations. Which one should we cull? I should hope neither. Both have their place, both have their niche, in our food system. They can co-exist.

Now check out this picture, because it brought tears to my eyes:

That's not just a bunch of weeds. That's a 40-foot barrier between the crop field surrounding our property, and our garden. That is the decision of the amazing family who farms that land, making the decision to not spray there, to protect our garden, to protect our income. That is us understanding that they need to spray their fields, to protect their income. And that is conventional ag coexisting with locavores.

It's not an us-versus-them, it's a "we". What can WE do, together, to feed the world, the way the world wants to be fed?

And the answer is, we can do so very, very much, if we just listen with an open mind and a considerate heart.

May 9, 2010

Oh, hail.

We live in Kansas and it's spring. It's not a matter of if it will hail; it's a matter of how big and for how long. For last week's storm, the answer is pea-to-marble sized for about 5 minutes.

First, the good news. Here's the damage to the buildings:
Yep, that's it. There are just a handful of little pings on the north sides of the buildings.

Now, the bad-but-could-be-worse news:
The radishes took a beating, and the broccoli didn't come through unscathed.

  Here are before and after pics:
Before is above, after is below... in case you can't tell.

So, it just has little holes in the leaves and some "branches" broken off. It could be worse! But everything else looks just fine and dandy, and the broccoli will be just fine. Here's hoping our good weather luck continues.

May 8, 2010

Beans = Fail

Just in case you think our green thumb is golden, check out this beautiful picture of our green beans:

It is the third consecutive year that some animal or insect has taken out our first bean planting. Jay tilled under the first attempt and replanted them tonight. It won't set us back too far, and it will be so worth the effort. Green beans are delicious!

May 7, 2010

Friday's Featured Food: Eggs

Old Man Sleichter has a farm
And on that farm he had some chickens

Yep, we've got those too. And aren't they pretty? (FYI that hen is eating an apple peel.)

We have had laying hens for 4 or 5 years now, and are up to 41 hens and 1 rooster. That number has fluctuated quite a bit, especially the first couple years when the coyotes were outsmarting us. Did you know a coyote can climb a 5-foot sheep panel? But, since our chicken yard got a "roof", we have lost very few.

Our chickens are what I would call semi-free-range, but industry would qualify as completely free range. They always have access to the outside yard. Since they love to eat seeds and to peck at bright red fruit, they do have to stay confined when we have new seeds planted or ripe tomatoes. Otherwise, they can go as far as their little legs will carry them. I was surprised to learn that hens will always come "home to roost" around sunset. It doesn't matter how much free space they have to roam, they always venture back to the chicken house in time for the sun to go down.

When they are laying, our hens will produce almost 2 dozen eggs a day. However, they aren't laying right now. Half of our chickens are a year old, and we had separated the young hens from the old, just to make sure our old ones are still laying. But, the door that separated them had glass in it, and someone who shall remain guilty shut the door too hard, breaking the glass, intermingling the chickens and scaring the eggs right out of them. (Actually, it was the stress of the change that made them stop laying for a bit.)

What do we do with all those eggs, when they do start coming again? We sell most of them at the local Farmers Market or through direct sales.

How do the eggs differ from store-bought? The most noticeable difference is the yolk. The yolk of our eggs are a deep, bright yellow, making anything you cook with eggs a bit brighter.

And speaking of cooking, we do eat a lot of eggs around here. L and N (daughters 3 and 4) love scrambled eggs, K loves fried egg sandwiches, and M loves boiled eggs. My favorite is Eggs Benedict, but that takes a lot of work and a lot of butter, so we don't make it too often. If we had to vote on one egg recipe that we all love, it'd be Egg Pie, known to the rest of the world as a quiche.

Quiche Sleichter

Pie crust for a 9-inch pie
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup shredded cheese
1 small onion, chopped
5-6 spinach leaves, shredded
4 large eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Steam the spinach in the microwave, following the directions on a Ziploc steam bag.
3. Prepare the pie crust and put it in the pie shell. I use the Betty Crocker pie crust recipe, because it's easy and delicious.
4. Sprinkle bacon, cheese, spinach, and onion onto the pie crust.
5. Beat eggs.
6. Add cream, salt, and pepper to eggs and beat until well blended.
7. Pour egg mixture into pie crust, covering bacon, etc.
8. Bake the quiche in the oven for 15 minutes.
9. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The recipe I base this off of says it will take 30 minutes, but it always seems to take 45 minutes or more to get it completely done in the middle.
10. Let it stand 10 minutes before serving. That will let it set up just a little bit more.

May 6, 2010

Time to Make the Jelly

Our jelly inventory is running low, and Farmer's Market starts on Saturday. That means, it's JELLY TIME!

Jay teaches during the day, so 11 p.m. IS jelly time in our house.

Green Jalapeno Jelly is first on the list, made with our peppers, of course.

We do love our new sanitizing dishwasher.

I love how the jelly tastes but my kitchen will make me cough for the next 12 hours. Not as bad as when he makes the habanero jelly, but still....

And, lastly, necessity is the mother of all inventions.

We have talked with some professional food gurus about making the jelly in bulk, about producing it by the hundreds of jars, rather than 6 at a time. But at this point in the game, at this point in our farm, we like doing it ourselves, one small batch at a time. Call it quality control or just wanting to be in control, but it's how our jellies are made.

May 4, 2010

New Additions

Allow me to introduce the newest additions to our farm:

These are Katie's 4-H pigs. She has shown pigs since she was 18 months old, thanks to the open class peewee class at a local fair, but this is the first year she's old enough to have 4-H project pigs, pigs that she takes care of. Not only does she love them, she even loves scooping out their pen. "See, look how good I'm getting at scooping the poop, Mommy!" Oh, how I hope that excitement continues. These piggies get talked to every morning, afternoon, and night, but Katie, Maggie, and Lainie.

This one is named Crazy, because "she just runs around all crazy and tries to get piggy-back rides." Actually, Jay and I are pretty sure she is cycling and just feeling a bit amorous.

The Duroc on the left is Wilbur, and Brownie ("the one with the yellow earring, I mean ear tag") is on the right. All three pigs came from Grandpa Jerry, who has been raising show pigs for many years. I don't know who is more excited about Katie showing this year, her and her grandpa! I must admit, it is so nice to have such great animals to chose from.

We are also lucky enough to have a concrete slab for the pigs to live on, thanks to the generosity of our neighbor. We own about 5 acres, and he owns all the land around us. Just across our property line are two concrete slabs, from back in the day when this was all a pig farm. Instead of tearing them out, he offered them for us to house some 4-H pigs, and we are all very grateful.

We know Katie is a sensitive soul and wondered how she would handle the terminal aspect of this project. She calmed those fears with one simple statement: "Daddy, I think these pigs are going to make some GOOOD bacon!"

How's THAT for a farm girl! :)

May 3, 2010

Moving High Tunnels

We told you how we made moveable the high tunnels; here's a bit more about why.

Early in the spring, we transplanted broccoli into the movable high tunnel that we call M1. By putting them in the tunnel, we were able to plant the broccoli earlier than if we were direct seeding outside, and we could protect it from late winter or early spring storms.
From April 4

From April 19

Now that the risk of a freeze is all but gone, M1 has been moved down the hill, exposing the broccoli to the elements. How did it handle the transition? I'd say "pretty darn good"...and here is the evidence to prove it.

From May 1

On the downside, without the protection of the high tunnel, we had some anxious times this past week. Severe weather moved through the area, with small hail and wind gusts above 60 mph. Thankfully, the worst of it missed us and what we did get didn't injure the outside plants nor the buildings.

Five days and counting to the start of our Farmers Market season! Are you ready? Are we?!?

May 2, 2010

A Difference of a Week

It is always surprising, how quickly plants mature. Look at these two pictures of the same building, the first taken on April 14 and the second taken ten days later:

Under the hanging baskets are beets. They are a dual-purpose crop: you can eat the fresh beet greens in salad and eat the beet that is growing in the ground. These beets need about 4 more weeks; the greens we've already been eating.

The hanging baskets aren't looking to shabby, either. We didn't lose any plants in the transplanting, and these baskets will get to go to a new home starting next Saturday... the start of Clay Center's Farmers Market.