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Zoë Abram, 2011 Apprentice

by Zoë Abram

I love Thanksgiving primarily because of the rituals. I love the debates about which pies to make and which to skip this year. (Which are you choosing?) I love the invariably underestimated cooking time for the main dish. I love how food takes on even more of an importance and a central presence … each Thanksgiving I wonder how we can better treat our time together with this much thought and care throughout the year.

On the farm too, Thanksgiving harvest is a special moment. The cold weather keeps us moving, digging parsnips and cutting bok choy.  It’s a good time for CSA — Thanksgiving is one of the times of year that tradition still matches eating seasonally in this region very well. We have many of the root vegetables and hearty greens that usually grace Thanksgiving tables, and it feels so lucky to be able to share that abundance among our members. The long harvest days provide moments to reflect on the season we’ve had, all the produce that came from it and all the work that went in. As this season ends we look forward to hearing your thoughts — what was it like for you this year??

We feel winter coming as we adjust our start time due to frost, or pull back row cover that protects more delicate crops. Already the fields look different — the tomato trellises are gone, black plastic is ripped from the beds that had it, and many fields are mowed or in cover. This year we have 2 fields in daikon, also called “tillage radish” when it is planted as a cover crop. The daikon penetrates the soil deeply, helping to keep it aerated throughout the winter, and holding on to some of the nutrients for spring crops.

Cover crops are one instance in which the focus of this part of the season turns towards next spring. We’re looking towards spring in many ways: this week we moved the new laying hens in with the older ones. They all seem to be getting along fine. We’re so excited to have eggs to sell next season. Probably most importantly, we’re accepting 2012 members and thinking of ways to expand our membership for next year. We look forward to asking for your advice, help and input in that process. As the season turns we feel so grateful to be a part of this community and send all our wishes for the happiest Thanksgivings!

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by Zoë Abram

Early Monday morning temperatures dipped to 31 degrees, so the farm experienced the first frost of the season. Small ice crystals clung to the grass outside the window, and everything looked glazed. And then it warmed up into this beautiful day, and we’ve been out in the fields to assess. When the first frost comes, many of the summer crops die. The cells in their leaves freeze and burst. After the frost, they appear waterlogged, and then they’ll turn brown as they dry. The peppers and eggplant that held on through October are done now. Also dead today is the last of the basil, the okra, and other summer crops. Most of these things we had already stopped harvesting; the biggest effect you might see is less lettuce mix in the share.

This 31 degree night wasn’t that cold, we are hoping that a few things will hang on until temperatures dip into the mid 20s. Some of the greens will keep growing; we’ll put hoops and protective row cover over the baby arugula and mesclun in hopes that they’ll grow a little more despite these colder nights.  And we’ve started beds of lettuce mix and spinach in our high tunnels. The greens planted inside are still small but will keep growing slowly because they are protected and kept warmer.

Frost signals an end to some types of vegetable crops, but it brings out better flavor in others. The amount of sugars in the brassicas increase in response to frost. The higher sugar content lowers the freezing point of the plant’s cells, which helps it survive through winter. So the kale, collards, broccoli, bok choi and even turnips will taste sweeter in the coming weeks. Now that the frost has come, we’ll begin to dig the parsnips, which also sweeten because of the cold.

Often in late summer we notice the season changing in slow ways. We harvest fewer pounds of tomatoes than we picked the week before. The weeds start to grow slower and go to seed when they are smaller. But then there are moments in the season like the first frost that suddenly alter many things at once. We woke up Monday morning and the farm was changed. We can all look forward to the sweet harvest of late fall.

by Zoë Abram

At the Garlic Planting Party this past Sunday, we enjoyed a beautiful fall day in the field, chatted about the season and the CSA, ate delicious roasted garlic, chili, vegetables and bacon dip, drank cider, and somehow got a whole lot of work done also!  We are so happy to have shared the day with some of our CSA members, and we hope more of you will be able to come out next year.

Many hands made light work and we planted three of our ten varieties of garlic. We began with three rows of Russian Giant, a purple-striped hard neck variety with huge cloves (which you may have recently seen in the share and at market) and then we moved on to Siberian, an equally large, marbled purple stripe variety, and Chesnok Red, a fiery and hot standard purple stripe. We separated the heads for all the hard neck varieties, sorting them by size: large cloves that will produce sizeable heads and smaller cloves or double cloves to roast and eat. Members and friends helped to push the cloves approximately 2 inches into the ground, six inches apart, and to rake soil over top of them. Later, we will mulch with straw to insulate them from the cold, maintain moisture, and to suppress weeds.

When you plant a clove of garlic, the root comes from the bottom of the clove, where it attached to the head, and the tip of the clove becomes the shoot. That one clove will develop into the fibrous stalk in the middle of the head, and new cloves will grow around it. Garlic planted in fall will begin to sprout a root, hopefully just enough to keep it from “heaving” out of the soil when the ground freezes. It will sprout more in the spring, eventually growing the long curly garlic scape you remember from earlier this season. We pick off the scape to encourage the plant to put more energy into developing a large head. Then, when the plants begin to die back in early summer, we watch and wait until 2/3 of the leaves have yellowed. That is when we know it is time to harvest. We pull the plants and hang them to cure, providing good air circulation, which dries the wrappers of the garlic to ensure proper storage and flavor development. Then, we count out and set aside some of the harvest to save for seed for the next season. Last, we eat it – in everything!!

Members and farmers market shoppers have been asking – can I plant garlic I buy from Colchester? The answer is yes! Organic seed garlic from seed companies can run up to $20/lb. Our garlic is not certified organic, or certified disease free, but we use no chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and the heads seem healthy enough that we choose to plant them ourselves at the farm.  Over the years, we have grown, saved, and replanted these varieties of garlic to increase our stock from only a few heads purchased years ago.  We’re happy to answer questions about the garlic growing process. Spice up your garden – plant some of our garlic in it!

Roasted Garlic

Here is the easiest ways to enjoy garlic. We like it because it really features the garlic’s flavor, and because of the simplicity of the recipe.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Place cloves of garlic (still in their wrappers) in tin foil packets. Add olive oil to coat lightly, and some salt. Roast the garlic for 30 – 40 minutes, checking towards the end to see if they have softened. Allow to cool, and then enjoy! We like to bite the cloves out of their wrappers like you would an artichoke. Some people like to squeeze the cloves from their wrappers onto bread. You can also puree garlic roasted this way and add to soup, or hummus, or pasta, or … almost anything else.  You can also try this with different varieties and see if they taste different to you.

by Zoë Abram

This season, we’ve been constructing a second high tunnel which we’ll use to do more extended season growing. We bought the skeleton of this high tunnel used from a grower who was selling equipment in the process of moving their farm. We began this project in the spring, put it on hold during the busy months of this growing season, and resumed construction a few weeks ago.  This project has been keeping us busy for some time!

A quick run-down on the process… We began in early spring. I remember my first weeks working here, I practiced paying attention to detail as we pounded posts into the ground and tried to level and straighten and align them. We then inserted the hoops into these ground posts and drilled holes and bolted together.  We then secured purlins to  connect the upper part of the curved hoops that form a series of archways. We added baseboards and hip boards next, using untreated wood for the baseboards because it comes in contact with the soil where we will grow food. Finally, on wetter days this fall we’ve spent time building the wooden end walls of the tunnel, constructing and hanging doors and painting on a waterproofing finish. We’ve even put on the track for the “wiggle” wire that will secure the plastic tight to the end walls.  Now we are just waiting for a calm morning to “skin” the tunnel.

This project has not been without challenges, though many of them make us laugh. Learning to hang doors (how tightly but-not-too-tightly a door should fit in the frame) has been a challenging experience with lots of fine-tuning and trials and adjustments. The rechargeable drill batteries go dead, a lot. We’ve broken several (4) drill bits while drilling through the metal posts. Sometimes the customer service representatives at Lowes don’t quite know what to make of us when we are trying to find things.

One of the best parts of this construction project was that we’ve had willing and knowledgeable help! We’ve had a work share come out multiple days on some weeks, bringing his tools to supplement ours. He taught us how to use saws I’d never seen before and he shared with us how plywood is made. Now I can’t help but see the patterns in the outer plys, where the knots repeat themselves as the ply was shaved from the circumference of the tree.   We also “roped” a board member in to helping; she had lots of greenhouse experience to share, and laughter and lunch too. Now the project is nearing completion; soon we’ll be able to grow food during the colder months. Today Theresa rototilled inside the frame, and so we’re one step closer to being ready to plant!

Please come welcome the high tunnel (it appreciates “oohs” and “aahs”) at the garlic planting party on Sunday October 23, from 12-4.

by Zoë Abram

This past week you began to see more of our fall greens in the share … lettuce mix as usual, but also arugula and the mesclun mix. The cooler weather is perfect for fast growing, direct seeded greens. We plant five varieties of mustards and asian greens for the mesclun mix, a diversity of tastes that leads to an interesting mix of fresh and spicy. Each week we harvest the greens from their separate rows, and then mix them together after we wash them and spin them dry.

Here’s the breakdown.

Early Mizuna – High in beta carotene and other nutrients, mizuna is a cold tolerant mustard grown for eating raw or sautéed. Your salads will benefit from mizuna’s crisp stalks and beautiful green frond-like leaves. In the salad mix, it has a mild flavor that grows peppery as the plant matures. The word “mizuna” means “water greens” in Japanese. Mizuna is primarily cultivated in Japan, but is native to China.

Garnet Giant – Garnet giant is a dark red mustard, with leaves that are almost maroon. It develops spice as it grows, but is relatively mild until it’s largest size.

Ruby streaks – These are the deeply serrated, almost lacy leaves in the mix. It is both spirited and tender, adding texture and variety to salads.

Suehlihung – Though this mustard is similar to mizuna in appearance, it tastes quite different. Suehlihung tolerates a wide range of temperatures; it does well when the weather is cold but it also is slow to bolt if we get some hotter weeks unexpectedly.

Tatsoi – Similar to pak choi, tatsoi is a mild and delicious green. It is small and tender, perfect for salad. The appearance of the tatsoi in the field is a record of the weather. When it is warmer, tatsoi grows more erectly, and when temperatures drop close to freezing, it forms flat rosettes. In this first succession of greens planted for mesclun, the tatsoi did not germinate as well as some of the others. But hopefully it will be a bigger proportion of some of the mixes to come!

As described in the Garnet Giant section above, many mustards develop heat as they grow. Because of this change in flavor over time, our mesclun mix may be spicier or less spicy each week depending the stage of growth of the mustard greens. Unlike the lettuce, the arugula and mesclun can be eaten raw or cooked. If, on any given week, either option is ever too spicy for you to eat raw, simply sauté and the greens taste more mild.

(and, we hope, the volunteers!)
by Zoë Abram

Welcome back, sunshine and shadows! It feels so good to emerge from the extended wetness of the past month and the winds of the stormier periods. We were far enough East to miss most of the storms; crop loss and damage reports from farms in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont make us so grateful to see minimal damage in our fields.

Farming during that string of rainy days was a challenge. The washer did many loads of muddy work clothes, and we tried to stay focused and positive, getting the harvests in when we needed to, and finding non-fieldwork tasks when we could.  You kept going too! Thank you for braving the rainstorms for pick-ups, for the help setting up the tent and loading and unloading the truck, and for the words of support and questions about how we were doing.

We had to make decisions about what tasks were okay to do in the rain and which would do more harm than good. We felt the sadness of knowing we were potentially spreading disease through wet tomato leaves, but we would waste so many tomatoes if we left the vines alone, and everybody loves tomatoes, so we harvested anyway. There is a buckwheat summer cover crop in several fields, and the rainy period came just when we needed to mow it to prevent it from going to seed in the field. But mowing was impossible; the tractor might get stuck, and worse, the tires compact the soil when wet. We might see some buckwheat growing as a weed in the future as a result. There were many days it was better for us not even to walk in the fields. So, we cut and stored all the garlic that was hanging up to cure.

Walking the fields today, I notice that things look unexpectedly beautiful. The asian greens and mustards are growing quickly in this cooler weather. The thrips that eat at the growing point of the scallions have drowned (or something) so the greens look better than ever. But it’s the craziest thing – to walk around the farm now and see how wild it looks with a few weeks of soil too wet to weed. As the sun dries out the soil, we hope to catch up on some of the field work. Today, with the sun on our backs, we were finally able to weed some of the lettuce mix that is coming in. Even so, it was still too damp to think the weeds might dry out and die in the sun. We carted them in buckets out of the field so they would not re-root and keep growing. Soon it will be dry enough for wheel-hoeing, but for now we hand-weed right around the plants.

There is so much to do and sun brings a new energy! If you are feeling that energy too, or if you want to save the little lettuce and baby broccoli from the big bad grasses that out compete them in the wetness, come join us one day! Weeding is good for mindfulness and clearing stress, for uninterrupted conversations, and for your vitamin D absorption. We would love to have you. We will welcome volunteers in these days of weeding. We work from 7 – 12 and from 1 – 4. (Feel free to come for all or part of the day.) To help with weeding, please come on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday. E-mail me before you come to let me know when you’d like to come out.

by Zoë Abram

We’ve all been to a workshop today at the Seed Farm, an incubator farm in the Lehigh Valley. We’re back and ready to rest before tomorrows harvest, full of new ideas and inspiration and having had some great conversations with other people excited about farming vegetables on a small scale. We saw some really cool equipment useful specifically at a scale similar to ours. We also heard about the Seed Farm’s model which encourages young people to start their own farms by providing a supportive structure starting with one year of training and followed with an opportunity to rent land, greenhouse and walk-in space, and equipment at low rates. I feel, as always, so grateful to be doing this work and part of a growing number of people interested in growing food for their communities using responsible, regenerative practices.

This week I wanted to share an article and a recipe with you. Both of these things, the inspiring one and the delicious one, are in my mind right now as part of how lucky I feel to be part of this work. The article is by Josh Volk, a farmer and writer in Oregon whose writing always makes me to think more deeply about growing food, especially about CSA. I find it important and helpful to check in about how other farmers are thinking about the work they do and the way they conceptualize the CSA model. This article talks about the differences Josh finds between growing for CSA and growing for market. Some of it mirrors our experience and some of it is different, but I hope it can serve as a good access point for thinking about the role this CSA plays in your lives and also gives you more information about how important it is to the grower and the way growing food happens. Here is the article: http://slowhandfarm.com/Blog/Entries/2011/7/23_Community%2C_the_first_word_in_CSA.html

This recipe is from the most recent Colchester Cooking Class, with Beth Rocca.  This was the first class I attended here, and I was so impressed! I learned a few key things that made me more confident and gave me a broader range of ideas for things to do with Colchester produce. This recipe is for a tomato vinaigrette. The dressing is that beautiful orange color that fire-roasted tomato soup turns. It feels rich but it has only tomatoes, herbs, salt, vinager and oil in it. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Tomato Vinaigrette
10-15 plum tomatoes — Quartered and seeds removed  (When we made it in cooking class we didn’t use plum, we used normal red tomatoes and it worked great!)
quarter cup salt
1 shallot
1 clove garlic.
half teaspoon pepper
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups olive oil

Place tomatoes and salt in a colander and let sit a few hours or overnight to draw out moisture and acidity. Rinse excess salt from tomatoes. tomatoes. Puree in the blender with remaining ingredients. (We also added basil to the blender, and a very small amount of onion … maybe one slice of onion. You can also add a small amount of garlic.) Strain and chill.