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Vegetable Care & Storage 101

May 25th, 2015, by Lisa

Carrots

“How do I keep my carrots from getting wobbly and my lettuce from wilting when I get it home?”

Questions along those lines are very common at the beginning of the season, as especially as folks are getting big boxes and bags full of goodies from their CSA share or farmers’ market shopping excursions.

One key point to remember: most vegetables are very high in water content. The chilly air in a refrigerator is very dry, and sucks moisture out of all produce (even beets will get wilted!).

However, since our vegetables are picked so fresh, they should keep a very long time for you in the refrigerator….IF you make sure to keep that moisture contained! For most items, that simply means putting them in a tightly-sealed plastic bag or sealed container and trying to make sure most of the air is removed.

Plastic bags can be used over and over again for various vegetables, and you’ll find that even our fresh lettuces will keep upwards of two weeks in this manner! Carrots stay crispy, chard stays puffy and brilliant – you get the idea! Sure, using a lot of plastic bags maybe isn’t ideal. But re-use of bags helps and air-tight reusable containers (either glass or plastic) are a great alternative.

For ALL green leafies (lettuce, chard, chinese cabbage, kale, etc.), the most important thing is to make sure the bag they are in is sealed as much as possible to keep air out. When I wrap up chard in a bag and store it in my ‘fridge, it keeps for nearly two weeks! Lettuces will keep this way as well.

Carrots, beets, summer squash, peppers, beans, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, cucumbers, and peas will also all keep for a long time in a plastic bag or plastic container in the fridge.

Eggplant can be cold-sensitive. It’s best if you can use them within a few days, but I do keep them in the ‘fridge.

The NOT FOR THE FRIDGE section:
Potatoes, garlic, winter squash, and onions should be stored in a dark environment at room temperature or a little cooler. Something like a cupboard works well. I tend not to store them in a basement, as many basements tend to be damp and humid…but maybe yours is different.

Tomatoes - smallerTomatoes should NEVER go into a refrigerator unless you’re at risk of not using them before they go bad. A cold environment will suck the flavor out of a tomato in very short order, so refrigerate only if you absolutely have to.

If you’re awash in tomatoes and don’t feel like making sauce to freeze or can, you can freeze whole tomatoes! I do this all the time and it provides a great-tasting addition to winter soups and casseroles without the added salt, herbs, and preservatives you’d get in processed tomatoes from the store. Simple cut out the top part of the core and pack them in bags. When they thaw, the skins will just slip off. Sure, they’ll be mushy, but you’re adding flavor to winter dishes, and although they won’t taste like summertime tomatoes, they WILL taste better than grocery store ‘cardboard’ tomatoes!

We’ll try to pass along some other ‘putting by’ tips and tricks during the season.

Here’s a list put out by a farmers’ market that covers everything from artichokes to pomegranates. For the most part, I agree with what they have to say, although I don’t agree with all of their fruit suggestions (please – store apples in the refrigerator!)…so go with our suggestions on that. But since I don’t grow artichokes or pomegranates (nor citrus!), their list may be handy for you to look at.

Do YOU have any tricks and tips to share with other veggie lovers? Comment below!

Farming Whatsit: the Brownie!

May 19th, 2015, by Lisa

Brownie
Brownies are most everyone’s favorite, and here on the farm the same holds true. Although in this case, we’re talking a piece of heavy machinery not a chocolatey edible.

This week, this Brownie will get seriously busy as we begin the two-month-long process of fruit thinning. Unfortunately, it can’t do it all on its own, but rather requires an operator who stands on the platform driving it around and lingering in the tops of the fruit trees thinning away extra fruits.

As of tomorrow, the Brownie will be running pretty much constantly. This year, if you were here to visit, you’d likely see either Paige, Josh, Justin, Nicole, or Lisa up there at any given time.

Last year, Farmer Zippy had a chance (see video below). He wasn’t too keen on it though, so I don’t think we’ll convince him to do it this year. Plus, his little hooves have a hard time manipulating the clippers needed to thin Asian pears!

Swarmin’ Fun!

May 18th, 2015, by Lisa

An unexpected Sunday afternoon adventure!

The bummer is that only minutes after Farmer Ike exclaimed “She’s in!”, the queen came back out and the swarm proceeded to move on over greener pastures (literally).

My thought is that She either thought that hive was too much of a fixer-upper and She did NOT want to deal with it, or that maybe it was haunted by the ghosts of bees past…

:-)

Farming Whatsit: Kevin Costner!

May 13th, 2015, by Lisa

KC
Well, KC, actually – which stands for Kevin Costner – in memory of the film “Water World” – oh, nevermind…

KC ouchiesThis is a water wheel planter, which is a super-nifty gizmo which makes planting oh, so much easier. The dangerous-looking pointy things poke holes in the soil and then the ‘riders’ stick the plants in the holes, all the while each new hole gets a spray of water to get the plant of to a good start.

It all sounds very simple, and if you look at the whole operation at a distance, it seems to be running painfully slowly. But those riders feel like they’re moving at breakneck speed to get the plants in the ground before they pass by any of the holes. It is reminiscent of Lucille Ball in the candy factory. Only in this case, you wouldn’t want to stuff those you can’t keep up with in your mouth or down your shirt!

As for Kevin Costner and the name “KC”? Well, thanks to that movie, our machine here has a much easier, roll-off-the-tongue name than it would have. It’s much easier to say, “Hey, go get KC ready for the day” than “the-water-wheel-planter”. Besides which, then it sounds more like a member of the planting team.

Way to go, KC (and here, earlier in spring, riders Kevin and Sarah, plus Nicole, who was driving the tractor)!
Kevin, Sarah, and KC

Farming Whatsit: Tree Spreaders!

May 6th, 2015, by Lisa

Spreader
Pointy little metal things stuck in trees at crazy angles. Egads, is this torture in the orchard? Well, we can’t exactly get the trees take on it, but I hope not!

As you probably know, sunlight is one of THE key ingredients for plant growth. It’s also instrumental in good flavor development in the fruit. So, when we have young trees where the branches are all crowded together reaching for the sky, there’s not much way for the sun to squeak through. Spreading branches not only allows sunlight in but also encourages good airflow, which helps keep disease pressure down. So, spreaders to the rescue!

In spring our gang goes out armed with these pointy objects of varying lengths (no running, gang!) and place them in strategic spots amongst the branches to encourage them to grow at a better angle for tree and fruit health. After a few weeks of training, the tree figures it out and we can remove the spreaders.

Hey – kind of like braces on teens, right?
tree with spreaders

Peach Pruning!

April 16th, 2015, by Lisa


Josh is busily pruning peaches. Thank goodness for ‘The Brownie’. It is certainly louder than a ladder, but makes the job SO much easier!

Farming Whatsit: Mulch Layer!

April 9th, 2015, by Lisa

It starts looking like gardening is going on once some mulch gets put down!

For some crops we lay down straw for mulch, and for others we use this machine to install biodegradable, plastic, or paper mulch (depending on the particular crop). This machine makes installation a snap – and it installs the irrigation line under the mulch at the same time.

Next week, we’ll put plants in there!

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Research in the Field

February 27th, 2015, by Lisa

Ike - scaled

Did you know what kinda fun scienc-y stuff Farmer Ike is up to at NSO? Sometimes his wild and crazy willy-nilly hair looks appropriately scientific as he goes about his projects. Check out this article in Grid Magazine, “Research in the Field” to learn more about some of the unusual goings-on here!

Click to page 38 for the scoop!

Farmer Zippy’s Notebook: Green Tomatoes!

November 14th, 2014, by Lisa

Green Tomatoes
Do you ever feel like you’re all thumbs? Me too!

Well, that is, I feel like I’m all hooves sometimes…I don’t have thumbs!

You know why I feel like this today? Because I was paging through my notebook of this year’s farm adventures and came across this entry about green tomatoes which I never shared with you because the pages in my notebook were stuck together and my clumsy hooves missed the page! Sometimes it can be frustrating being a wee little sheep. But, on the other hoof, I’m so cute that I get lots of hugs – so I’ll take it!

Ok, well, here’s all about green tomatoes:

On the farm, we grow lots of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes taste WAY better than regular tomatoes, which were bred for looks rather than for flavor. They also come in lots of funky colors. My favorite ones are the green tomatoes!

Just because it’s green doesn’t mean it isn’t ripe! These green tomatoes don’t ever turn red, or even orange! When they’re ripe, they’re a sort of yellowish-green color. They don’t taste funny because they’re green, though. They’re some of the best tasting tomatoes I’ve ever had! I’ve heard people say that they like Malachite Box even when they don’t like any other kind of tomatoes. I can’t get enough of them!

Malachite Box isn’t the original name of this kind of tomato. The real name is in Russian, and it’s really, really hard to say. “Malakhitovaya Shkatulka.” Thankfully, Malachite Box is much easier to pronounce! A sheep’s mouth just doesn’t move the way it has to to pronounce a complicated name like that! Does yours?

Fun Fact: Malachite Box grow on indeterminate tomato vines. Do you remember what that means? I wrote about it in my notebook a couple weeks ago! If you said yes, you remember, then I’m very impressed! If you didn’t, then you can read about it here (Ike had to tell me twice before I remembered . . .).

Farmer Zippy’s Notebook: In the Washroom!

August 15th, 2014, by Zippy, translated by Hannah

Spinach with Hannah
I got to work in the washroom today! I was really excited, because I’ve wanted to work in the washroom ever since the season started. My thoughts, after helping out there all day: it’s much harder work than I thought it would be. BUT, it was still fun. Lots of fun.

Farmer Tara’s in charge of the washroom, and she’s really good at keeping everything organized. I don’t know how she does it . . . there’s so much to keep track of on harvest days. The field crew brings down so much stuff, and it all has to be sorted and washed and counted. I especially don’t know how she keeps track of that last one.

I got to work next to Farmer Hannah the whole day, and she showed me how to do everything in the washroom. Each kind of vegetable has to be washed and packed differently, and there’s lots of cleanup to do, too, because there’s water everywhere when you’re washing, and water everywhere makes a big mess.

My favorite job in the washroom is packing. It’s so much fun to put things into bins, and getting it all organized, and making it look pretty! My favorite thing to pack was the spinach. You wash the spinach in the sink, and then you dry it out in a big orange hand-cranked salad spinner, and after that you package it into .50-pound bags. There are scales in the washroom that you can use to make sure you get the right amount in each bag. Some of the farmers are really good at it! They get it super close to .50 every single time. I’m not so good at it . . . my first try was .67 lbs, and so I tried to put in less the next time, and ended up with .35. Whoops. Farmer Hannah says it gets easier after you’ve done it a few times. I hope she’s right!

My least favorite job is washing all the bins after you’re done using them. You use a hose and wash them off out back, and the water splashes off of them and sprays all over you. It made my wool all wet. :( Farmer Tara finished the rest for me, though, once she saw how much I disliked it. She let me clean the water off the floor again with a giant squeegee. THAT was fun!

After working in the washroom all day, I decided that I really like it. I hope I did a good enough job that I get to help out again next week!

North Star Orchard • Ike & Lisa Kerschner
Email: Lisa@northstarorchard.com • Phone: (610)-593-0314
3226 Limestone Rd. • Cochranville, PA 19330
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