Although we are still harvesting 2016-2017 winter shares, most of our work now is focused on planning for the 2017 CSA season and preparing fields for next season’s growing. Our regular season shares will start back in mid-April. We do have CSA shares available for the 2017 season. We do not yet have our application available on our website (although we hope to in January), but you may sign up for a 2017 CSA share by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a wonderful holiday season!
We had our first fall frost Sunday morning, only eight days late, which was surprising given it was in the upper eighties last week. It was a pretty hard frost: 36 degrees under drought conditions can do quite a bit of damage. Almost all of the summer crops (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, green beans, and okra) were either severely damaged or killed with the exception of the second succession of okra, the second succession of jalapeños, the Anaheim peppers (which are adapted to cooler nighttime desert temperatures), and one section of the second succession of bell peppers. We were able to glean some items prior to the frost, which we will hand out at Wednesday pickup locations.
We will start handing out dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal in the coming weeks. These are crops that most CSAs don’t offer, and there is a simple reason: without significant machinery, these crops are incredibly onerous and expensive to produce. We seed, harvest, process, clean, and sort all of these crops by hand. We grind the cornmeal on a stone-mill. There are hours and hours of work in them. Considering that you can buy commercially produced Certified Organic dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal for $1-2/lb., there are few small farmers who choose to produce them for market or even for themselves.
However, many of our region’s heirloom and indigenous varieties are corn and bean crops – none of which are produced commercially. There are several reasons for this: they can be less productive than modern varieties, they are not suited to mechanical harvest, and they do not fit in preset categories (for example, stores sell white or yellow cornmeal, yellow popcorn, and four or five types of dry beans…while there are thousands of other heirloom types of corn and beans). Because it is important to us to help save our region’s heirloom, heritage, and indigenous crops, we choose to grow several varieties of corn and beans each season. I hope that you appreciate them as such…a rare treasure that isn’t available in stores! This season we grew: TN Red Cob corn (cornmeal), Neal’s Paymaster corn (cornmeal, winter shares), Southern Maiz Blanco (cornmeal or seed, winter shares), Dynamite (popcorn), Cherokee White Eagle Blue Corn (seed for us and Farm and Sparrow Bakery), Ottofile Flint Corn (seed), Turtle black beans (CSA), October beans (winter shares), Tarasco Cranberry beans (shellie beans for CSA, dry beans for winter shares), Tiger Eye beans (winter shares), Arikara beans (winter shares), Jacob’s Cattle Gold beans (winter shares), Painted Pony beans (winter shares), Goose beans (seed), Jamapa beans (seed), Selma Zesta beans (seed), Logan Co. Greasy beans (seed), TN White Crowder beans (seed), and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans (seed).
This week’s share: sweet potatoes, heirloom garlic, heirloom dry black beans (need to be picked over and pre-soaked prior to cooking), heirloom popcorn (shown above), choice of bunching green (kale, chard, mustards), choice of salad green (arugula or mesclun mix), lettuce (very beautiful), radishes, carrots (remarkable given how late I seeded them and how dry it is), a little broccoli (hopefully for everyone), choice of herb (cilantro or dill), peppers (sweet and hot), eggplant for Wednesday, and green tomatoes for anyone who wants them.
I am not sure whether spinach will be ready for regular season shares or not. It does appear to appreciate slightly cooler temperatures. We are also waiting on Napa cabbages and green cabbages.
Dry black beans: to cook, presoak overnight, drain, and place in pot with 3x water. You can add other things like epazote, garlic, onions, etc. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Salt. Cook 2 hours, or until soft. Use in any recipe that calls for black beans. Here are some suggestions: http://www.thekitchn.com/11-delicious-ways-to-eat-black-beans-227509#gallery/50809/11
Our In Good Tilth article is out (“Perspectives from a CSA Farmer”)! All the pictures were taken by Sustaining Member Anika Toro. Check out the article at https://igt.tilth.org/perspective-from-a-csa-farmer/
We start harvesting winter squash at the end of August. They are called “winter squash” because some of them (although not all and not in all regions and not in all years) store into the winter (or at least December). There are four species of squash: pepo, maxima, moschata, and argyrosperma. Each species has certain growing requirements and taste and texture characteristics, as well as typical storage capability. Historically, only moschata and argyrosperma winter squash have been grown in this region, except in the mountains where they can also successfully grow some maxima squash. Those species continue to be the only types of winter squash with which we have success, although even that is changing as our summers continue to become warmer overall. Since we receive a lot of questions about squash this time of year, I thought I would share some generally recognized, accepted, and understood information about the different types of squash, as well as our own farming observations.
The pepo species of squash includes: summer squash like yellow crookneck and zucchini and winter squash such as typical jack-o-lantern pumpkins, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata squash. The pepo species is by far the most diverse species group and is sometimes divided into two based on place of origin. Although summer squash can be grown here successfully throughout the summer by succession planting (or using chemicals), it is much more difficult to successfully mature pepo winter squash varieties here. High heat and high humidity or high heat and drought produce the same effects in all varieties: under stress, they mature quickly producing small specimens with mild flavor that do not store nearly as long as they should. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins (especially newer hybrids) can be produced here. Conventional farmers seem to have more luck with the latter, which suggests that there is also a disease component. By contrast, in New York (ten years ago…and that is important), we produced large quantities of sizable, healthy, sweet pepo squash for mid- to long-term storage without much effort. They are most commonly grown in the Upper Midwest.
Maxima squash includes several other non-jack-o-lantern pumpkins, hubbards, banana squash, buttercup squash, and candy roaster squash. These squash as a class do not do well under high heat and are also more susceptible to insect pressure. When Ken and Irena, from Southern Exposure Seed, were visiting, they told me they had never successfully matured a maximasquash. We have had a little more luck in cooler years with candy roaster squash (which were original bred by Cherokee Indians in the S. Appalachians…a very different climate than the valley today). Most maxima squash are grown primarily in the Northeast and the Northwest. They do well in areas with cool summers and consistent rainfall and little insect pressure. They typically store very well and are considered by many the best tasting squash.
Moschata squash includes butternut squash and most other buff-colored squash and pumpkins, regardless of shape, as well as most Central American and Caribbean squash often referred to collectively as calabaza or ayote. As a species, they are much more tolerant of heat, humidity, and disease and insect pressure. They also store fairly well (although this is dependent on growing conditions) and have good flavor and good texture. Although maxima squash are great for baking and eating as is, many people prefer moschata squash for soups, pies, and breads. Season after season, moschata squash are our best producing squash. However, some of the varieties that we have always grown are having more and more difficulty producing well in our climate. Both Waltham Butternut (originally from Massachusetts) and Long Island Cheese pumpkin (originally from New York) show increasing intolerance of heat.
I have been thinking a lot lately about decreasing seed quality as a result of high summer heat (especially in winter squash/pumpkins, corn, and beans). When plants are stressed (particularly by heat), they respond in two ways: they speed up the maturation of fruits already on the plant and stop producing new fruit. This can produce inferior quality seed. If we continue to have hot summers, will our seed quality continue to decrease in some vegetables? I think this is what is happening with Waltham Butternut and Long Island Cheese pumpkin. We have seen variable germination, decreasing seedling vigor, and decreasing plant vigor over the past several seasons. A sign that seed quality is diminishing. I hope to find several sources of butternut next season to trial. We also will continue to trial moschata squash from the Deep South, Southeast Asia, and Central America like Tahitian Butternut, San Jose Club Squash, Ayote, Magdalena, and Upper Ground Sweet Potato. All of these varieties have done well for us over the past two seasons (and much better than butternuts or cheese pumpkins).
The last species group is argyrosperma. Argyrosperma are originally from Mexico but are also common in the Southwest and Southeast because of their high heat tolerance and resistance to vine borers. Argyrosperma are much more mild that other winter squash (some say bland) and do not store as long. They are commonly used in savory dishes or sweetened for pies or desserts. Their seeds are also used in many traditional cuisines. Some have “naked” seeds. There are many heirloom varieties of these squash, and I would love to grow more of them. However, they are a hard-sell amongst most Americans who are used to sweet squash.
This week on the farm, we are continuing to plant summer crops. We have more rounds of summer squash, cucumbers, lettuce, basil, eggplant, green beans, and corn to plant. We are also making final plantings of seed crops, including Cherokee White Eagle Blue Corn, Turkish-Italian Orange Eggplant, and San Jose Club Squash. We are preparing fields for late summer plantings and for summer cover crops like buckwheat, soybeans, and cowpeas. Anna Laura will be at the UT Market again this week, Wednesday 4-7pm, and strawberries are available for pick-your-own Monday-Friday 8am-6pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. PYO berries are $3 per quart ($2 per quart for Sustaining Members). Please call for availability (865)978-0561. We do not allow picking when it is raining.
This week’s share is overflowing. Based on my preferences, it is likely the best bin we have ever given out. This week’s bin includes: scallions, radishes, white salad turnips, Napa cabbage, spinach (last until fall), choice of kale or chard, choice of salad green, lettuce, broccoli, sugar snap peas, fennel, beets, and a choice of herb. We are really glad to have a good spring broccoli crop after two seasons without much spring broccoli. It is mostly due to cooler spring temperatures.
This Saturday, April 2 is our Spring Open Farm Day and Potluck! It is open to the entire community. We will take a tour of the farm from 3-5pm and answer any questions that people have about our farm and our CSA program. I plan to focus on some of the changes on the farm that have occurred or will occur this season, but I will also give an introduction to our farm for those who have never been here. We will share a potluck meal from 5-7pm. Please bring a meal or side to share as well as dinnerware and utensils for you and your family. Also, it is supposed to rain Thursday and Friday, so please bring shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting a little muddy!