October 24th, 2012, by Lisa
October 19th, 2012, by Kelly
This is a great undiscovered, never-to-be-appreciated except by North Star Orchard fans kind of apple.
It has an excellent, sweet flavor and very juicy and crisp. Around here, we like these way better than Honeycrisp, both for its eating qualities and tree growth habit. It will never be a ‘commercial’ variety because it bruises much too easily, which is a bummer because otherwise, Honeycrisp would be in BIG trouble! It doesn’t have the funny off-, sometimes bitter flavor Honeycrisp does. It’s sweet without being too sweet and the juice and crunch qualities are awesome.
Besides the bruising factor, the other “strike” against it, from a consumer standpoint, is the yellow color. Over the years, most folks have gotten tired of eating absolutely ho-hum flavorless Golden Delicious, which has made them completely balk from buying yellow apples. But at our stand, you need not judge an apple based on its color or on your previous less-than-satisfactory yellow-apple-buying experiences.
So, poor Stellar is nearly doomed except for trees that thrive in a few small orchards like ours because we can appreciate their fine qualities. These are fantastic for fresh eating and they make great no-sugar-needed applesauce as well. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
October 12th, 2012, by Lisa
This time of year in the garden there is a lot of clean up work that happens- tilling in beds, pulling up plastic mulch and drip tape, storing away greenhouse tables to make room for greenhouse planting, etc. One fun change of pace has been harvesting and threshing 5 different varieties of dry beans that we grew this year. We waited until the plants had completely died and dried in the field before we harvested the whole plants. Because of all the rain this fall, it was a challenge to get the plants completely dry even though they had died down. The first batch had to spend over a week in the greenhouse to completely dry out.
To thresh the beans we placed a layer of plants on a tarp, and with clean boots stomped away until the beans broke out of their pods. Then we collected them for winnowing and sorting. To winnow, we poured a bucket of beans with the plant debris in front of a strong fan into a clean bin. The fan blows all of the debris out and the heavier beans fall straight into the bin. The most tedious part is definitely sorting out the bad beans from the good.
Right now we do all of this by hand which can take awhile, but everyone seemed to enjoy the process. Many small farms don’t grow dry beans to sell because the labor involved in the processing makes it difficult to make even a small profit which is unfortunate because fresh dried beans are nothing like what you find in the store. Store bought beans can be extremely old and as a result have very little flavor. I’m convinced this is why a lot of people think they don’t like beans. Fresh dried beans are amazing and worth the price if you can find them at your market which is still very rare. Hopefully as the demand for all things local continues to increase we will see more staples showing up at our local markets.
September 28th, 2012, by Rachel
Winecrisp is a complex, crunchy, sweet, and very hard apple with a fruity sweet flavor (with hints of berry!) and a beautiful dusky red skin.
When we planted this new variety, it was simply known as Co-op 31 (the poor nameless thing). We only planted one tree, just to try it out. With the first apple, came our “Wow!”….so we planted a lot more of them.
We couldn’t let them remain nameless, however, so we dubbed them “Emperor” (we are challenged in the naming department, but that’s what we came up with). A few years later, the breeder named them “Winecrisp”, which of course is an infinitely better and much more appropriate name; why didn’t we think of that?
Farmer Ike says of Winecrisp: “It is just a damned fine apple!”
So try one (or three or more) this week, and see why!
September 17th, 2012, by Rachel
Shriveled grey-brown pods hang from twiggy short plants. Almost no leaves are left and the few that are still clinging bear marks of battle. They stand in rows as weary soldiers returned from conquest. Yes, they are still with us but much has been lost. And yet, look deeper and you will see that there is treasure hidden there.
Just across the path tiny pumpkin-orange balls litter the ground while their paste-filled counterparts hang from lifeless branches, the suspended sacks dripping snotty putrid goo. Others are still trying to ripen and some have succumb to disease. Some are browning webs and lumpy, others are being taken over by the blackening fungus that started in their infancy.
I’m trying to start a vegetable horror novel. What do you think? Anyone feel the Halloween spirit yet? I’m not really going to write a novel, but as we remove the plants that have sustained us all season we find that the process is both utterly disgusting and also beautiful. We find parasitized hornworms, molting insects, and moles that have made burrows in the roots of the plants.
The dry pods of the beans when cracked open reveal beautiful shiny gems. What a treat for those of us who will get to thresh (separate) them. Yesterday we cut the plants, piled them onto tarps, and drove them down to the greenhouse. They will complete their drying cycle there and then be threshed and then ready for purchase. (As least we hope so!)
The cherry tomatoes which have fallen remind me of a late season pumpkin patch; some beautiful pumpkins still waiting to be chosen and others rotting away on their way back to being soil. While we were removing the larger varieties of tomatoes one of us suggested that we could make “juice boxes” from the tomatoes that still have their skin intact but have rotted into “juice” on the inside. And still others remind us of stained glass as the sun shines through the golden and red skins that have lost their innards long ago.
All the while our compost pile is growing by leaps and bounds! All the plant matter gets heaped up and will continue its breaking down process, resulting in “black gold” to give back to the soil next season. So when you think of fall, think happy decomposing thoughts for all the bacteria and fungus that work so hard to make our lives delicious!
August 10th, 2012, by Laura Beth
We were harvesting Red Giant mustard for the CSA share last week and I thought, “Ugh! I forgot to plant mustard in my garden at home.” But then I realized that I had a whole garden full – I had planted a cover crop of mustard and there was enough to harvest for the whole neighborhood!
Spicy greens hold a special place in my heart. I love spinach and kale, but there’s something about those spicy greens that I can’t get enough of. Once last summer I ate a whole wrap filled with mustard and I found out that yes, you can eat too much spicy greens!
While picking we often wonder if mustard greens are connected to the condiment mustard. And how about wild mustards? Are they all related to broccoli and cauliflower? The seeds look similar, all are beautiful brownish perfect spheres, but they taste so different.
As I did a little research I came across the Triangle of U. Warning: This is my farm nerdiness coming out. If the idea of genetics makes you gag as you remember High School Biology, just skip to the last paragraph.
Woo Jang-choon was Korean-Japanese botanist in the early 20th century. The “U” comes from the transliteration of his name. He proposed and it has more recently been genetically confirmed this system:
The traditional brassicas:
Brassica Nigra – black mustard used in the condiment
Brassica Rapa – Turnip and Chinese Cabbage
Brassica Oleracea – cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower
These when crossed made the:
Brassica Juncea – Indian mustard also used in making the condiment
Brassica Napus – rapeseed, rutabega
Brassica carinata – Ethiopian mustard
The original species are genetically similar enough that they can easily cross-pollinate. When we wanted to save seed from last year’s mustards and kales we had to make sure that there weren’t any other brassicas blooming in the area.
All this to say that family trees in the plant world can be as complicated as those in the human world. There are lots of other step children and adopted children that are a part of this brassica family, and what a beautiful variety of colors, textures, and flavors. If I had to pick a vegetable family to be a part of I would be glad to be accepted into such a delicious and multi-cultural mix!
July 12th, 2012, by Lisa
Every August, I remember back-to-school notebooks and binders, stinging hot car seats, long picnics with books and frisbees in the park, chlorine-scented swimsuits, pitchers of sun tea…. and this August adds a new print to my August collection: the North Star Fruit Share.
I first heard about the Fruit Share almost a year ago, when I applied to work here. I’m pretty sure that my thoughts then were, “They distribute shares to over 700 families? How is that possible for a small farm?” And when we started picking fruit here in June and I became aware of the North Star standard for fruit (VERY high), the fruit share seemed all the more impossible.
The fruit share began, and I have news: it is a reality. Those of you who get a North Star fruit share are nodding your heads vigorously– it is real! It is amazing! It is here! For those of you who are not one of those lucky 700 families, I will explain…..
For 12 or 15 weeks (shareholders can choose when they sign up), we pack a variety of different fruits from our orchard into bags and deliver those bags to different pick-up locations, where our shareholders collect their bags each week. The first week, for example, one group of shareholders got 5 apples, 5 white peaches, 5 yellow peaches, 5 European pears, and two handfuls of plums. The total is 8.5 glorious pounds of fruit. Shareholders can also order extra fruit, which we pack specially for them.
That all sounds pretty simple, right? There are, however, layers of complexity. For example, there are literally hundreds of apple varieties here, and comparable numbers of peach, plum, and pear varieties. We want our shareholders to enjoy that diversity, so each week, one group of shareholders may get an entirely different collage of fruit than another. We also attend about 5 markets during our busy season (now), so we have to pack specific varieties keeping those markets in mind.
Fruit gets picked almost every day; so our two coolers have to be carefully packed so that new crates of apples don’t block peaches for tomorrow’s market, for example. Each crate is labeled with masking tape and permanent marker: the variety and the date it was picked.
Add more complications: we have a staff of over 10 people. We rotate through farm responsibilities, so each week a new calendar appears on the refrigerator white board, depicting who will pack which share on what day, and who will deliver what share on which day to where. Add to that our individual schedules– a doctor’s appointment here, a day off there– and things get really crazy.
This may seem like madness and mayhem. Surprisingly, it is not. Lisa is an organizational mastermind, and she and Ike seem to have mind-to-mind communication abilities when it comes to managing the Fruit Share. Also, the colorful, delectable, dew-covered fruits in that satisfyingly heavy fruit share bag wipe away any potential stress on share-packing days. I am left with a sense of wonder and a dazed appreciation for the magical world of food, and a slight sugar high from peaches, pears, and plums.
(Read this and other posts by Laura Beth here)
July 6th, 2012, by Rachel
Confession #1: I do not can.
Confession #2: I do not even cook.
Explanations to those two?
#1 The last time I canned anything was twenty years ago, when I did up so much strawberry jam I felt I was swimming in it. Turned out great, fortunately. Unfortunately, we don’t really eat jam, so I didn’t really use it. (It did make for great Christmas gifts, though!). Although it turned out great, the reason I haven’t done more canning relates to the explanation of Confession #2:
#2 I get totally, completely stressed out when I cook…so I avoid it as much as possible! Fortunately for me, Farmer Ike is an absolutely FABULOUS cook, so I let him go about his business in the kitchen and then bestow him with lavish praise for his efforts (AND I clean up the mess!). Left to my own devices, like when Farmer Ike is away, I subscribe to the KISS method of cooking….Keep It Simple, Stupid. For me, this means anything raw or mostly so, or steamed. No sauces, multiple steps, or multiple ingredients. Give me a recipe book and I break out in a cold sweat. So, that’s just me…I love produce and good food, but I stick to plain and simple or eat whatever Chef Ike prepares.
So recently, when an email query about local canning classes arrived in my inbox, I was stumped. So I asked for suggestions on our Facebook page. My, the responses we received! If you are interested in canning or otherwise preserving the harvest, below is a collection of all the suggestions Facebook followers suggested. You will likely not see me at any of these events, as I think I’d rather do some public speaking than face a canning pot or kitchen full of ingredients. But I know many of you are not nearly so kitchen-phobic as I, so have a great time with these:
1. Canning and Pickling with Marisa McClellan in Horsham on July 24th. Details here.
2. Greener Partners “Lost Arts” series, which varies over the season. Upcoming workshop on cobb ovens. Click here for more info.
3. Preserving the Harvest at the Rodale Institute on August 18th. Click here for more info.
4. Food in Jars Canning Blog has tons of info!
5. The Kitchen Workshop, located in Paoli, has lots of classes!
6. Classes in Philly hosted by Food in Jars Blog. Schedule is here.
7. Suggestions were made to check with your local County Extension Office, as they often have canning and preserving classes.
8. Essen is a cooking school based in Lancaster which offers classes to adults and children on a wide variety of topics.
9. Ball, yes the jar/lid company, has a website with lots of great info. Plus, they offer suggestions on how to host a canning party here.
I’m sure there are many other great websites and classes out there. If you know of one (or many!), please post the info in the comments section below!
July 1st, 2012, by Kelly
Are you familiar with the idea of a watershed? If you trace back a river to its tributaries – from the large creeks to the tiniest dry bed streams – you find that the water flowing through the river comes from miles and miles of surrounding geography. When I worked for Americorps the year after I finished high school, we traced the entire Bush River. We started with tiny dry stream beds that are only full in extremely wet seasons and during heavy thunderstorms, then moved through to small creeks and finally into the marshes that filter finally into the Chesapeake Bay.
Farming is often about layering clothing so that you can be comfortable from the cooler morning into the hot afternoon, and also be prepared just in case those thunderheads let loose and you’ve got a summer shower to finish weeding in. As we cleaned up and collected all of our things one day, someone said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a clothes tree? We could go and harvest shirts whenever we wanted!” Kelly replied, “Rachel, you almost have that. You have your new lambs that will give lots of wool for knitting or felting.” So we all started thinking of the idea of a Fibershed – all of the cottons, wools, and poly-based fibers we all wear every day.
How about our Foodshed? Think of all of the things we enjoy eating every day: grains, fruit, cheese, veggies, meat, legumes… the list goes on and on. We take in all these things to give us energy and to maintain our health, and because they are yummy too! Even when we try to eat locally and in season there are still many things that travel thousands of miles to sit on our shelves and in our refrigerators.
There are some inklings of local grains that we can add to our foodshed. Farmer Ike told us awhile ago it was time to harvest the rye. We took turns cutting and tying the rye into bundles. It spent some time drying in the barn, and the other day we separated the rye from its heads. Two weeks ago the fields on my family’s farm were harvested and I was able to get some wheat from the trucks before they left. I made some bread the other night and it was delicious!
If we think of ourselves as oceans, our food comes to us by way of many rivers.
We have the North Star River, the Lindenhoff and Hillsacre Pride Creeks, Alison’s Bakery Stream, the Bay of ___________ (whatever grocery store fits your taste).
Our foodshed is a wonderful mix of many loving people hoeing in the field, as well as the distribution warehouses that amazingly ship teas and grains all around the world. We live in a time where we have such a diverse choice in food. We can eat mangoes and avocados, samosas and plantain chips.
Our country is a wonderful mix of many cultures and so we are also blessed with many flavors!
June 24th, 2012, by Rachel
Happy 4th of July! Nothing feels like sumer more than a good barbeque, picnic or trip to the beach with family and friends. Luckily we have tons of delicious veggies to choose from to help us plan our menus for the festivities this week!
One new lovely addition is dill. Your favorite potato salad never tasted better using our freshly-dug new potatoes and this wonderfully feathery herb. Dill is not only good paired with potatoes, but compliments most fish nicely as well. One of my favorite ways to use dill is in Yogurt Dill Biscuits (click here for recipe). Delicious! Dill has also proven to be useful for stomach ailments so don’t hesitate to brew up some tea if you have a stomach ache.
Dill is not only good to eat, but it is also an easy addition to your herb or butterfly garden. Dill can attract Black Swallowtail Butterflies to your garden. The butterflies lay their eggs on the plant which will hatch out into uniquely spotted caterpillars. These guys will munch on your plants, so depending on how many and how much of your dill you are willing to share, this may or may not be an issue.
Rachel and I saw a Swallowtail Butterfly just the other day hovering around the dill in the field. In the past I have never had the caterpillars cause much damage, but it could be a possibility. You can also attract these butterflies by planting parsley and fennel.
Dill, along with other herbs and flowers, can also lure many beneficial insects, such as predatory wasps and hover flies, to your garden . These beneficial insects will help keep a natural balance in your garden by feasting on pests that can cause damage to your plants. A well-planned organically managed garden should always include herbs and flowers along with your vegetables to provide habitat for these beneficial insects.
So, if you have a garden or are hoping to in the future don’t forget your herbs and flowers. They bring diversity, habitat and beauty to your garden!
There’s something delightful about opening the pod and finding the treasure inside of a pea. Enid, my three year old, can’t get enough! Last week she came down to the garden with her teeny tiny backpack and started to work. She filled it up and then sat down with a cup and started shelling. After a whole cup full she got out some kiddie chopsticks (the kind that are attached at the top) and ate and ate and ate! All winter long she spent digging around in the freezer for bags of frozen peas and finally it’s time for fresh ones! The only problem is that she’s eating so many fresh ones I don’t know if I’ll have any to freeze for this winter! Well, I guess it’s not a bad thing if she wants to eat a pound of peas every day!
And really, who can blame her, they are so cute and sweet and easy to pick. It takes a long time to shell out enough to make a pot full, but we enjoy them as snacks in the car or at the beach. I wish they could grow year round – we would never have to buy chocolate!
Peas are a part of the pulse family which includes many of the beans we know – both dry and freshly eaten. The Caseload which we planted are a shelling variety and only grow 2 ft. tall. The Sugarsnaps however have reached 6 ft. tall and are continuing to grow. Peas, like beans, can come in different colors and with varying tendrils. Farmer Ike was telling us about one kind that only has tendrils – no leaves!
Peas come from the Mediterranean basin where they have been cultivated since the 3rd century. For 14 thousand years they were grown to be dried and cooked. But somewhere in the 17th century a new idea took off. Perhaps it was a new variety or an accident, but someone discovered the garden pea. These sweet delicacies were presented to Louis XIV in pomp and circumstance when they were discovered by the French ambassador to Holland. Word was out and now eating peas was all the rage, everyone wanted in on these sweet treats!
Peas travelled with European settlers to the New World and so our gardening founding father, Thomas Jefferson, had to have all the varieties that he could find! It is said that his garden had over 30 varieties. A hundred years later a Austrian monk began his work with peas and thus began the basis of modern genetics. Who hasn’t had a high school biology class that begins the genetics chapter with Gregor Mendel’s famous experiments?
Vegetables are amazing! Peas have reached world wide to inspire biologists and to be presented as a royal gift. Next time you pick up a pea, think of it as meeting a celebrity. (It probably won’t change the taste, but it makes it more fun!)