Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chard, Gratined

We just had the most incredible November. What is usually the grayest month of the year, was filled with blue skies and warm temperatures. The broccoli was harvested.... not the huge heads we are used to, but smaller and beautiful never the less. And, the Swiss chard kept growing too.

Here's a favorite recipe for Chard Gratin:

you'll need:

1 large shallot, chopped
3 Tbl. butter
2 cups warm milk
3 Tbl. flour
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 cup grated Orb Weaver Cheese

1 cup bread crumbs or Panko *
1/4 cup grated Orb Weaver Cheese
1 Tbl. olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375

Prepare topping by mixing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Wilt chard in a large pot. Rinse well with cold water, squeeze excess water out, and finely chop

In a large saute pan, melt butter and saute shallot. When lightly browned, add the chopped chard and saute 20 minutes.

Slowly sprinkle 3 Tbl. of flour over the chard, stirring for 4 minutes, to cook the flour. Gradually add the warm milk and stir until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Put in a buttered 9" pan, top with bread crumb mixture.

Bake 45-50 minutes. Till bubbly and browned.

You can also make them in individual ramekins,

* Panko: Japanese bread crumbs


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tractor Love

I love my tractor. Got it almost new in 1984, and it's been all a girl could want in a tractor. The size is good for a short person, and the power is right there for all my needs. Being a city kid, driving a tractor took some getting used to. But now, it's second nature. So it's with real sadness that I find myself thinking about a new one. The hydraulics don't work like they used to. To rise the rotovator today I had to fiddle with the bucket. And it's starting to rust too. So I'm thinking that in the spring ( assuming it makes it through the winter), while there is still some trade in value, talking to either the Kubota or John Deere folks. For now though, I've got my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Must Be The Season Of The Cow

Wizard, Meeting her new Calf, Orbit

We are now entering the season of the cow. Our first cow, Wizard, 'freshened' yesterday. She had a really beautiful heifer named Orbit ( a previously and much loved name here on the farm). We often miss the actual birth, but this time, we were lucky to be around for it. Watching a cow give birth is like watching a calf swan dive into the world. First it's the 2 front hooves, then the nose, then the head, then the shoulders, and, after the shoulders, one more push and's out.
Within an hour, her baby was up and trying to walk.

A still wet Orbit trying out her new legs

And, so it goes... summer slipped into autumn, and is fast becoming winter

Friday, November 6, 2009

Autumnal Surprises and Hopes

The last tree to flower in our area is the Witch Hazel. Most trees flower in the spring, their blooms lost in a sea of glorious color, while the Witch Hazel just sits there, biding it's time. But in November, the Witch Hazel has the last laugh. When the leaves are mostly off all the trees, their early beauty long forgotten, she bursts into full flower. It's startling, really. We have one in the road hedge row and I almost fell off the tractor when I drove by it yesterday. A beautiful, rather wild and unkempt flower. It also has a huge scent... not the sweet perfume of spring, but astringent, and medicinal. Perhaps a scent to get us through the long winter... not to scent our perfumes, but to keep us healthy.

Being the eternal optimists that we are, we're still holding out for a good crop of broccoli. We covered part of it with a large, very light cloth, called 'remay', and taken to calling it our field of dreams

The forecast for next week is for temperatures to be in the 50's. And, if it's sunny too, perhaps we can get the broccoli heads to go from:

to this

Well, we can always hope!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Final Days of The Garden '09

Buckwheat, ready to be tilled in

Now is the time of the growing season dedicated to taking the garden apart, tilling in the summer cover crops, sowing fall oats for a winter cover crop,spreading manure, and generally making sure the garden is ready to greet the spring. Our days are spent pulling up the black plastic mulch that warmed the soil for the peppers, eggplants, and the melons. Irrigation hoses are rolled up and labeled. Tomato stakes are piled up for next year. I wake up each morning with a check list swimming around my head... oats seeded, check, potatoes dug, check.
It's almost time for the winter season of the farm.. cows, milk, cheese,and indoor chores But now, it's still garden time. The leaves are still afire, cows are still on pasture, and I'm so glad our days are still spent out of doors.

Ubu, Timothy and Hershey, enjoying the last of the pasture

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Late yesterday afternoon while walking through the garden, my mind on dinner, I noticed some yellow and red cherry tomatoes. Running back to the house for a picking basket, I then picked about 2 pints ( the very last) of the small red and yellow tomatoes. I also picked a few mildly hot peppers, sweet peppers, 2 ears of corn,some basil and parsley. At first I thought of just making a quick saute served over pasta, and then thought of oven roasting all of the veggies along with some garlic. After all, the tomatoes are not at their sweetest, so why not coax some sweetness out of them by a slow oven roast?

To cut or not to cut?
I was afraid if I didn't cut them they would just turn to mush, and implode. So I halved the tomatoes, cut the kernels off the corn cob ,diced the peppers, minced some garlic and herbs, and mixed them all in a bowl with some olive oil ( just enough to lightly coat all the veggies), and into a pan they went.

They baked( uncovered) in a 375 oven for about 45 minutes, till they were lightly brown, and the kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of garlic and tomatoes.

When I cook pasta I like to think about the sauce and pick the proper shape. I love campanelle, and orchhetti to cradle the pieces of vegetables. Campanelle was on hand, so the choice was easy
Right before the pasta was done I took out about 2 cups of the pasta water to help make a sauce.
To finish the whole dish, I drained the pasta, put it back in the cooking pot, threw in the roasted veggies, 1/2 a cup of grated Parmesan, and enough water to make a sauce.

Then I put the cover on it so it could rest a minute. I then gave it a stir, added a bit more of the hot pasta water, and dished it into bowls.
Any veggies will work for this recipe.
There is still time for fresh produce. Go to your local farmer's market. By something fresh, and support your local grower!
As Barbara Crooker says in her wonderful poem
" Vegetable Love":
Quick, before the frost puts out its green light,
praise these vegetables,
earth's voluptuaries,
Praise what comes from the dirt

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mid September Gardens

The gardening season left me rather speechless. It was long growing season full of sadness... the loss of lettuce to hail, and a whole crop of our various tomatoes ( cherry, plum and regular) to blight. Not just the lost income, but all the work that went into growing them. But now, it's mid September. The days are shorter, and the weather has been crisp, clear, and sunny, and I feel like my speech is returning. In many ways it is the most glorious time of the year. All the crops are either harvested or still in the ground.. no more planting, except for some cover cropping. The shortness of the days make the blue sky somehow more intense, the annual flowers more brilliant.

The garden marches on. The shallots have all been harvested and are curing in the greenhouse.

We've been harvesting loads of huge red peppers ( a fact not many know: red peppers are ripe green peppers ), and soon we'll fire roasting them for salsa, and for drying. Its been very dry, so we've been watering all the lettuces and broccoli.
Along with this stretch of fine weather has come a barn full of beautiful hay. All the rains of June and July led to verdant. lush hay fields. And that led to sweet smelling green hay, and lush pastures too- the cows are still out to pasture, and will be for a while.
It is such a wonderful time of year. And, I'm so glad to be writing about all this again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Trying Year For Optimists

Farming is an act of faith. That the seeds will grow, that there will be rain, and sun, and heat, and a barn full of hay for the winter. That the shelves in the pantry will be lined with jars of tomatoes, and the freezer full of veggies for the long winter.
This summer is one to try that faith .
After our devastating hail storm in June all our lettuce was destroyed and other plants reduced to just bare stems. But the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants continued to grow, and even thrive. It was again looking like this could turn out to be a good year. Never in a million years did I think that the devastating blight that has been blanketing the east coast would touch our beautiful, strong,healthy, green, vibrant tomatoes. On Sunday they were fine, by Tuesday, they were peppered with blight. This is not the "normal" early blight that is common in a wet year, but the blight that caused the potato famine in Ireland. We are doing what we can. We have pulled out the worst, and are pruning off the leaves on some with the hopes of having enough for us, to put up for the winter.
I am hoping for a stretch of some dry weather so we can get in our fall crops, the broccoli and the lettuce. Because, being the optimist I am, we'll probably have a great fall.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

2 Weeks Later....

The regrowth in the garden since the hail storm has been astonishing. I am constantly amazed by plants, and their will to live and even to flourish no matter what is thrown at them. We did end up losing thousands of heads of lettuce, but the nightshades ( tomatoes, eggplant and peppers) are doing double time to make up for all that lost and precious time ( 2 weeks is an eternity with our short growing season). Just look at the plum and round tomatoes below .. all the green growth is new !!

The cherry tomatoes are also growing again with such vigor we have been able to get back to trellising them.

Gardening truly is an act of faith.... faith that a seed will germinate, that even against all odds, new and vigorous growth will continue, and, no matter what, there is always hope and one more chance. Once again, I am truly humbled by these simple truths.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hail in June

And just like that, our beautiful garden ... wiped out in a hail storm. Never, in our 29 years of gardening here have we seen anything like it. The storm just sat over us and dumped pea size hail for about 10 minutes. Thousands of heads of lettuce....gone. I am still hoping that it's early enough in the season that the decapitated tomatoes can do some growing( perhaps that's just my optimism). Don't know about the eggplants, the leaves are just skeletonized ....And the ice itself, will it just freeze the plant tissue?
It's really an amazing sight. There are literally piles of hail on the ground, some around 5"deep. And no, we have no insurance ( even if we could get it for our small acreage, the price would be prohibitive). We do know all about the vagaries of weather, but never expect the worst!

Take a look at these pictures:

I'll let you all know how it turns out, today it seems pretty sad and hopeless, but, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Garden Grows

Summer needs to happen at a quick pace here in Vermont. So much to do each and every day. Just in the last 2 weeks we've planted over 1,400 plants of various tomatoes, peppers and eggplants,put in all of the tomato posts, and now this week we're tilling, beginning to weave the tomatoes, weed,and as soon as it drys out after today's rain, mulch the garden.The corn's been seeded, potatoes planted. And soon, perhaps, we'll have a chance to catch our breath.
As I move from one task to the other, I do try to take in the beauty of it all. It changes so fast, I want to grab the day and watch it go by in a slower motion, appreciate the unfolding beauty.
Thank you for sharing this with me.

young pepper plants in black plastic

Tomatoes after their first weave

Utani, watching the eggplant grow

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Smell Of Lettuce

Once again we slide from one season to the next.
We made our final batch of cheese last Thursday. Today, they were waxed. Today was the last morning milking until November. And, in a seamless stretch to the garden, today we picked the first lettuce of the season. 2 cases of red boston, 2 cases of romaine, and 2 of red leaf. ( each case is 24 heads). I forgot how incredibly fragrant a freshly cut head of lettuce is. It was rainy and cold and really muddy, and I couldn't help but think how fortunate we are to be here, today, doing what we do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A New Season Begins

What a wonderful time of year. A time of great change for everything...birds are in their finest feather, plants lush and green, and, how intense can the flowers be?

Tree leaves are a bit slow this year, not fully unfurled yet, but soon.And here on the farm, the winter season is ending, the summer
season gearing up. Thursday will be the last cheese making until November. That means that Wednesday will be our last evening milking. We'll milk the cows in the mornings for a week, then off to pasture they go!We'll have lettuce for market by
May 29th .

Hopefully I'll have a movie of cheese making soon( first I need to learn how to edit movies). In the meantime, here is a short movie of the cows this evening. Notice how their mouths are moving as they chew their cuds... truly, a sight to behold.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Ah, May. The loveliest time of year. The time of new growth, and blooming trees,the returning of the birds, and, for us, double duty since we're still milking, and making cheese, and getting the garden going. It's a lot, and is the reason I haven't written more. In the garden, we've already planted 2 plantings of lettuce, 10 85' rows of shallots, and seeded peas, spinach, and chard. As tired as I am, it's really a wonderful tired. The sense of accomplishment is huge, and I get to see where I'm going... and it looks pretty exciting from here on the tractor .

tilling for peas

Friday, April 17, 2009

The First Till

Lettuce hardening off before
being planted outside.

Although we've been gardening on this farm for 28 years, I am always amazed and awed by the certainty of the seasons. We always set out the first lettuce around now, but, somehow I am always left breathless by the speed of the drying and warming of the soil. So it was yesterday that I hopped on the tractor, hooked up the tiller, and tilled. There is stark beauty everywhere now. The trees are just showing a hint of color. The hills, usually covered with greenery, shrubs and undergowth, now shows all their texture.
As I began to till, I was thrilled to see the beautiful soil fluff right up. Our soil is a loam, with some good sized rocks, even though we pick them every year, and as I got off the tractor to throw some rocks in the bucket the soft soil covered my sneaker.Soft and warm, so alive. So ready to plant into.
It is at this time, this first moment of the garden that I am so aware of the great promise every time we plant a seed, or a plant. Its the great faith that it will grow, and flourish. That the rains will come, but not too much. That the heat will come, but not too hot. That the pastures will grow to feed the cows, and that this will be the best garden ever.
And so it is, tomorrow,that we'll plant our first planting of lettuce in the garden!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The First Rain Of Spring

We are in the midst of a luscious spring rain. Rain where you can smell the soil waking up. Rain that wakes up the spring peepers, the wood frogs, makes the Canadian geese honk for joy. Makes the grass turn green, and gives the still dormant trees a shot of color. So much is going on. It's measured not by the day,but by the minute. It will probably get cold again, after all, it is April, but for now, I'm soaking up the glory of early spring.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Its All About The Salad

And here it is, our first taste of spring. The succulent tastes of the mustard greens, arugula, Chinese greens, and baby lettuce. A grated carrot ( ours, put up from last fall and still crisp in storage), some blue cheese, and a light sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil... Its really what its all about.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Rumbling Of The Earth

Timothy, Moxie,Boffo and Hershey

What tells the cows that it's time to start grazing? Perhaps its the sun, or the returning red winged blackbirds or even the gulls. One day they are staying close to their feeder, and then, just like that, they hit the pasture. Sure, there's nothing but the promise of green grass. now So maybe they are just listening to the rumble of the earth springing to life. But its there, they hear it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Dawning of the Spring

In deep winter I can only imagine how it all begins. One thing is for sure... it's slow and steady. One day it's the cardinal's song, then it's a flowing stream, or the wisps of smoke from the sugar houses. This weekend we had a crocus on the south side of the cheese house. The snow only had to melt, and there it was. Sure, today it's covered with snow, but the snow is like a blanket, and by tomorrow when it melts, the crocus will return.

seeding lettuce
This weekend we began sowing seeds in the greenhouse. I am always humbled by the act of planting. I hold the seed in my hand and just marvel. I feel like I am holding the whole world right in my palm of my hand. Each seed has what it needs to become the plant it was meant to be. Just some soil, water, and sun, and everything else the seed needs is right there. This is it, the beginning of the growing season. I can only imagine the succulent sweet taste of a red boston lettuce, or the crunch of romaine.
And so it goes. Next week we'll be on to onions and peppers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

In Like a Lion....

A snowy March day....

I suppose there is something to be said about the strength with which we are greeting March this year. It is truly a time of transitions. One foot stretching towards the promise of longer days, and the other firmly planted in winter. So, today it's 12 degrees outside, the wind is whipping, and the cows are warm and comfy in the barn. On the other hand, our greenhouse is ready to go. We bought peat for our soil mixture, got the propane heater serviced, and will be seeding our first seeds next week. We'll start with with greens for us, then lettuce, then on to leeks, onions...
I know, because all years are pretty much the same, that the snow will melt, that the fields will turn green, and the cows will be able to lie down on green pastures. Soon, very soon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy Cows

Ah, nothing like a barn full of happy cows. We were able to find 100 bales of wonderful hay from 2007. The opened bales are full of pink clover blossoms, purple vetch, yellow birdsfoot trefoil and green sweet smelling grasses. Its rather comical... the cows are fed their regular hay from 2008 and they just stand there. Then, out comes the "new "hay, their eyes light up, and they dig right into it. That's all it takes... a little topdressing, a whiff of the good stuff, and they are in bovine heaven.

Cows really like having their pictures taken. Here's Timothy, Hershey, and Boffo.

We are almost half way through our milking and cheesemaking season. By mid April the cows are living outside, coming inside only to be milked. Then, in May they are " dried off", and spend the summer grazing , chewing their cud, and generally enjoying life. It fantastic for them and for us. We don't have to be in a hot barn in the summer, and they only have to loll around. It wasn't always like this. When we started milking cows in 1981 we milked year round. Day in and day out. Slowly our heard numbers increased until we were milking 30 cows and had almost 50 head. In 1995 we questioned how much longer we could keep this pace up. We were milking, making cheese, and growing a 4 acre summer market . We found a wonderful farm for our cows, sold most of them and kept just 4. Now we milk from November til the end of May. We still have the garden, though it is a bit smaller. We milk 7 cows : Wizard, Timothy, Hershey, Boffo, YooHoo, Bosco and Moxie.
Its still a lot of work, but milking only 1/2 the year makes it all so much more manageable.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Spring in Winter

Its snowing,and its cold. But, the days are getting longer, and its time to think about greens, and flowers, and all things that grow, and the smell of the earth, and the sounds of the spring peepers. First things first, we take a seed inventory. Some seeds can be carried from year to year, but others not. Onions, and the allium family don't carry, but peppers and tomatoes do. So we look through all the old seed packets, count seeds, look at expiration dates on packages, and make lists.
We have garden notebooks going back to 1977. Way back then we'd make beautiful colored diagrams. Now we make lists. Still beautiful, but not as colorful .
This afternoon we'll pull out the catalogs. Johnny's seeds in Maine, and Fedco Seeds also in Maine are our main seed suppliers. We'll have to jog our memories. That beautiful red lettuce, Marimba, didn't size up , and bolted too soon. Is there another vibrant red lettuce to use? We'll stick with ace peppers as our tried and true, but should we really put in any yellow peppers ( their yields are always low)? And Leeks... is this the year to just put in a short row for us and skip selling them? Even though we don't sell flowers, we grow hundreds of them both as annuals and perennials. Just thinking about them makes me smile... the annual flax with those impossible blue flowers, the smell of the evening phlox,and the zinnia's, so beautiful!
Today we'll immerse ourselves in all things spring. Tomorrow we'll shovel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Autumnal Bees

remember fall? Those days when we were all working like mad to get the end of our summer work done. Making sure all our veggies were canned,stored in the root cellar, dried or frozen?
I took this movie of our bees working like crazy to get everything done before the cold got here on the last warm day of the year, December 14th( technically still fall). Our bees are wild honey bees and have lived in a Locust tree right outside our house for a number of years. They help pollinate our crops, and we feel blessed that they chose our tree to live in!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last year's growing season

I thought the damages from last year's growing season was over and done with, but it turns out, I was wrong. With all the rains of last summer, the hay was hit hard too. Normally when we open a bale of hay, it's like walking in a summer field. Bright green and full of legumes ( red and white clovers, alfalfa, and the beautiful yellow bird's food trefoil). This year, no legumes, just a barely palatable hay. The cows are not happy. We feed them their hay and they look ( o.k., beg) at us with their beautiful dark, soulful eyes to please, give them something better. And, there is nothing more distressing than unhappy cows, except unhappy cows with a metabolic imbalance, which, it seems is why Hershey couldn't get up today. She was " down" in the barnyard, in the snow, when our wonderful vet, Joe, came and gave her some calcium IV. She was able to get up and walk into the barn where tonight, she's in a pen getting pampered with one of the few bales we had left over from last year.
It has not been an easy winter. I think it's time to start looking at the veggie catalogs.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Warm and Crusty Loaf of Bread

Cheese making and bread making are almost one in the same. Where we use milk , bacteria and heat to make cheese, in bread it's flours and bacteria ( yeast) and heat. Both take time and patience, and both are the most ancient and basic of foods. I'm going to write more about our cheese making process soon. But today on this cold, cold, winter day, I think a nice loaf of bread is just the ticket. Yes, it takes time, but if you start with the "starter" tonight, you can have a wonderful loaf of bread tomorrow with dinner.
Here's the recipe (It looks more intimidating on paper than it actually is in real life) :

Italian Bread

2 cups unbleached white flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup warm( not hot) water

3 cups unbleached white flour, & extra for dusting work surface & hands
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water.
3 teaspoons salt

Flours: substitute no more than 1 cup whole wheat for your first few times.
Parchment paper ( not wax paper!!)
Pizza stone

1. For the Starter:
Combine flour, yeast and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed until it forms a dough, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temp. until it begins to rise, about 3 hours. Refrigerate ( no need to stir it down or anything) at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours.

2. For the Dough:
Remove starter from the refrigerator and let stand while making dough. Combine flour, yeast, and water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook; knead on lowest setting till it forms a dough, about 3 minutes, Turn mixer off and, without removing bowl or hook, cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap; let rest 20 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap, add starter and salt to bowl, and knead on lowest setting until ingredients are incorporated and dough is formed, about 4 minutes. Continue to knead until dough forms a more cohesive ball, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise in a draft free spot until risen, about 1 hour.
Remove plastic, punch down dough ( push it down in the middle, and turn over… you can put some flour on your hand if its too sticky). Let rise 1 more hour, punch down again and let it rise again.

3. To shape the Dough
Dust work surface liberally with flour. Turn dough out of bowl onto surface. Dust dough and hands, and, using minimal pressure, push dough into a rough 8-10 inch square. Fold top left corner diagonally to middle, repeat same with top right corner, Begin to gently roll dough from top to bottom. Continue rolling until dough forms a rough log. Roll dough onto its seam, slide hands underneath each end, transfer dough to parchment paper. Gently shape dough into 16 inch football shape by tucking bottom edges underneath. Cover loaf, and let rise about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425. Make sure baking stone is in oven, and you have a pan on the bottom of oven that will hold about 2 cups water

4. To Bake
using a single edged razor, cut 3 or 4 ½ inch deep diagonal slashes. Slide parchment sheet with loaf onto a baker’s peel or upside down baking sheet, then slide onto hot baking stone. Pour 2 cups water into hot pan that’s in the oven . bake 10 minutes, reduce oven temp. to 375, and spin loaf around using edges of the parchment paper. Bake until deep golden brown, about 45-50 minutes longer. It should be a rich, golden color
Cool on rack

To give you an idea of the time involved, I've added a bread making time line:

Day 1 : Make starter, let sit for 3 hours than refrigerate overnight
Day 2:
0:00 Remove starter from fridge and set on counter. Mix the flour, water and yeast for the dough 3 minutes, then let rest 20 minutes.
0:25 add starter & salt. Mix 5 minutes, transfer dough to large bowl and allow to rise
1:25 punch down dough and let rise
2:25 punch down dough and let rise again
3:25 shape the dough, place on parchment paper, and let rise
4:30 slash and bake dough
5:30 cool bread on rack