Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Scene Outside My Window

When life gives you snow...go sledding!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Peace After the Feast

My three-year-old nephew shares a little quiet Christmas time with our cat Daisy. It was like experiencing our own little Christmas miracle, as only minutes before he had been chasing her round and round and round the house. May we all have a little peace this holiday season.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crack Pretzels - The Recipe

When I created this recipe, I called it Toffee Pretzels, but friends Maggie & John got a taste and promptly renamed them Crack Pretzels, because they are just that addictive.

It's one of my favorite holiday recipes, ok honestly, I make it whenever I have an excuse during the winter. And unless you live in an arid location, I recommend that it remain a winter tradition as humidity turns it into a sticky mess. I based the recipe on my Grandma Henderson's Butter Toffee recipe and just went from there. I don't think she'd mind, though I wish I could have shared them with her.

Its a simple recipe, but you do want to have your ingredients measured ahead of time and ready to go. Also, a reliable candy thermometer is a must.

Crack Pretzels
1/2 bag small pretzel twists (traditional pretzel shape, the small ones) (2010 update, use the square ones!)
1 cup butter (use the real stuff)
1 cup sugar
3 TBS water
1 TBS corn syrup
6 oz semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli for this)

Place pretzels in a single, solid layer on a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides), put aside.

Melt butter in a heavy sauce pan.
Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
Add water and corn syrup, stirring to combine.

Heat to 290°, stirring frequently. Watch closely after 280°, it goes fast.
As soon as temperature reaches 290°, remove from heat and pour quickly over pretzels, covering as many pretzels as possible.

Allow toffee to cool slightly (a couple of minutes), then sprinkle surface with chocolate chips. Allow chocolate to heat through (it will become glossy) then spread over surface of toffee.

Allow to cool completely, then break into bite sized (pretzel-sized) pieces.
Store in a cool location and try not to eat them all at once!

Hint: Don't discard the little bits that remain in the pan after removing the toffee pretzels, those bits make a killer salty/sweet ice cream topping!

12/21/09 Update: I tried the recipe with Butter Twist pretzels today and they are very tasty. More density of pretzel flavor and saltiness (but also more expensive). Either way, its a decadent recipe that makes a great little gift, stocking stuffer or bribe : )

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winter News

18" of snow in 36 hours was kind of fun, until the 50 mph winds started in with the subzero temperatures, then it quickly became less fun. It took us a couple of days after the blizzard to get out to the high tunnels. As soon as I got the first door open, I felt my heart was the smell of rotting vegetables. Damn! We've never had significant problems with crops freezing in the tunnels, and certainly never this early in the season, but here it is. Everything suffered at least some damage and many of the crops were a total loss...again, damn! Some of those crops will likely recover, like the kale, spinach and some of the salad greens, possibly the broccoli (much to Sean's dismay). But the cabbage, radishes, peas, beets and choi are just gone...sigh.

Ah well, another lesson learned another layer of experience added. It would have been so much more convenient to learn this lesson AFTER the winter market this coming Saturday, but nature isn't too much interested in our schedules. Thank goodness for our other farm-made products!

There was one bright note this week, our friend Cathy writes for and she recently wrote a post listing 12 Great Places to Shop Across Iowa, and included BGF as one of those places! We are honored to appear alongside many of our favorites as well including, Prairieland Herbs, Picket Fence Creamery, Seed Savers and Frisian Farms. You can see the full list here:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Farm Safety

Everyone says that safety is important. Many of us talk about it around the dinner table or at a gathering of farmers or to kids around the farm. But then we go outside and in a rush to get through the endless list of chores we take shortcuts with our equipment (and our safety) to try and get just a little more done. I would hazard that we have all done something along those lines at some time. Maybe it was something small like forgetting to wear safety goggles when using a chainsaw or weedwacker, or maybe it was running a tractor across a slope that was just a little too steep. Regardless, you never know when things might go wrong.

This is a video that was recently released by ISU Extension on Farm Safety. It features our friend and neighbor Kristi and her family. I hope you will watch it and share it with anyone who works with machinery big or small, we could all use a reminder.

my name is Kristi from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Preview

Well so much for doing a better job of keeping the blog up-to-date.
As I sit at the computer today I can look out the window at a beautiful snowy wonderland. We got about 4" of fluffy snow last night, and suddenly its winter on the farm. This is only an appetizer though as we are predicted to get up to 12" in the next couple of days.
Hard to believe a week ago we were harvesting radishes, salad and other greens outside. This likely marks the formal end of the outdoor gardening season for us, and I sure am happy that we have the high tunnels, as we still have one CSA delivery and one farmers market to go.

I will try to get pics of the high tunnels posted in the next day or so. The crops in there are still lush and beautiful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

High Tunnel Progress

I've been very remiss in keeping the blog up to date recently, so here are a few pictures to track the progress in the high tunnels in the past month or so:

The end of the summer crops (September) in HT1:
zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

HT1 with winter crops on November 4th:
beets, kohlrabi, pac choi, radishes and kale

Summer crops in HT2 on Oct 15th:
peppers, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, chard & eggplant

HT2 on Oct 16th (the 16th was a big day!)

HT2 on November 4th:
chard, broccoli raab, broccoli, spinach, Chinese cabbage, peas, salad greens and carrots.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crawling Video

Just when you thought the posts about Farm Crawl were through for the year (honestly I did too), this arrived in our email box.

How cool is that?
This video was shot and produced by Farm Crawler Patrick Boberg.
And honestly, its the first time we've gotten to see the whole crawl since we are always tethered to our own farm. So thanks Patrick for the wonderful video and for sharing Farm Crawl 2009 through your eyes. We think its brilliant!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Holy Basil!

No, not the actual holy basil, just the exclamation that I uttered when I first saw the leaves like in the photo below.

We have been trying to get all the mid-season crops cleared from the high tunnels. But before the chance was past, I wanted to get photo evidence of the amazing results in our basil crop. We grew two varieties of basil in the tunnel, the Genovese was as expected, nicely sized and productive, but the real treat was the Lettuce Leaf Basil. The seed was sourced from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

The field-grown plants were similar to the Genovese, nice, but not particularly special. But those in the tunnel were amazing. Basil leaves the size of my hand... and nice flavor to boot! I think this goes on the annual high tunnel crop list as a "must have"!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Crawling, in Review

Welcome to Farm Crawl 2009 at Blue Gate Farm

Our awesome sales team is ready to move some product

Our fabulous summer harvest crew, ready to greet visitors

The crowd rolls in...

...and the fun begins!

We love hosting Willow Ridge Fiber at BGF...lots of fibery goodness for everyone!

John peaks the interest of a future spinner.

Mom's beautiful photo cards were popular with visitors and made a beautiful display

Sean gives one of the many tours of the day

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crawled On!

Farm Crawl 2009 is now history. Holy cow and what a day it was!!
The weather was mild, the winds light, and the people enthusiastic! Here at Blue Gate we counted more than 960 visitors, that's about 350 more than last year. Again, holy cow!

It was truly a great day and we couldn't have done it without the wonderful help of our family and friends, and Blue of course! In addition to all of their help setting-up, manning the booth, parking cars, demonstrating the new baby chicks (thanks Megan!), demonstrating spinning and helping clean-up, some of our amazing friends and family also managed to find time to take pictures.
Will try to get those up by tomorrow. All in all it was an amazing day, huge thanks to all who helped and to everyone who came out to enjoy a beautiful fall day in the country!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crawl On!

This Sunday, October 4th is the big day...Farm Crawl 2009!

For the uninitiated, Farm Crawl is a group of diverse, small family farms in south-central Iowa who get together every year and host simultaneous open houses. The farms are situated in a rough circle around the bustling metropolis of Melcher-Dallas . The route includes a goat dairy, corn maze, pumpkin patch, vegetable farms, an apple orchard and a locally-harvested pottery.

We here at Blue Gate Farm are the slightly twisted instigators of this event which we modeled after our favorite Art Crawl in Houston. We started with 5 farms in 2007 and are now up to 7 farm locations and featuring 9 local families. There were some doubts in that first group (most of them our own), but everyone decided it was worth trying, hoping we would at least get 50 people to come out for the afternoon. Imagine our suprise when more than 500 people showed up that first year. We were all a little overwhelmed and absolutely thrilled.

The event has continued to grow and develop, while still remaining small enough that our country roads can handle the increased traffic. Interest has grown and at least one other event in has been modeled after our Crawl.

So if you're within driving distance...come on out for a day in the country. Pet a goat, eat an apple, see the baby chicks, get lost in the corn, talk to the turkeys get your picture taken with a giant pumpkin and take home a souvenir pottery piece...its all here, in the beautiful rural Iowa countryside!

For more info, directions and a listing of the individual farms, check out the website at

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peach Perfume

Recently, the still-warm evening breeze has carried a distinctive perfume, the heady aroma of ripening peaches. It was an amazing scent to be sure and the sign of things to come.

Yesterday afternoon the time arrived, peach harvesting time. The tree, a native Iowa white peach, is still relatively young, around 15 years old, so it wasn't a huge harvest, but around 120 pounds. So now, resting in large black crates, are somewhat small, white peaches aging to their final ripeness. Sometime this week I will skin, slice and freeze these peaches to be made throughout the upcoming season in to our Ginger Peach Jam or Peach Butter. They aren't great fresh eating peaches, but in preserves they are perfect.

Its a good thing that we added a second big freezer this year, because next to the peach crates are a tall stack of pear crates, awaiting a similar fate. Its going to be a busy week!

A branch of nearly-ripe Iowa white peaches

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Color

With the cooling of the weather, people clearly are getting the urge to "nest". At the market, jam and hand-spun yarn sales have blossomed. Its certainly a boon to the bottom line, but it is a bit of a struggle to keep up with the making of these things at this busy time of year.

Recently, in an effort to get ahead of the sales, I spent an evening dyeing wool roving to be spun after sunsets later in the week. Here are some of the rovings from the dyepot experiments

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Today's Harvest

The harvest from our high tunnels today:
Eggplant (final harvest): Calliope & Orient Express
Sweet Peppers: Ace (red), Golden Marconi (long yellow), Islander (purple) & Sunray (yellow)
Heirloom Tomatoes: Big Zebra, Dr. Wychee, Mule Team, Paul Robeson, Redfield Beauty

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ice Cream Resolution

You will have to read today's earlier post titled "Torture" for the following photo to make any sense...

...ahhhhhhh...French Silk Bliss!
(thanks, Maggie!!!)


Those of you who know me, know that I am rather a connoisseur (addict) of ice cream, especially homemade ice cream. I come by this trait honestly, between our household and my parents we own 5 ice cream freezers (for 4 people, but we share!) We hold an Ice Cream Social every year for our CSA members and most larger family gatherings include some kind of homemade ice cream.

Well, last Saturday at the farmers market, my dear friend Maggie arrived at our booth with a full quart of her own homemade french silk ice cream base! This stuff is like a swoon, a scream and a sigh all rolled into one. I wanted nothing more than to rush home, pull out my little Cuisinart ice cream freezer and whip that baby into service. Alas, it was only 9 am and we still had 3 hours of market left and then some errands to run before we even got back home.

When we finally arrived, and the market stuff was all unloaded I started looking for the Cuisinart...hmmm, where was it? I knew I had used it since moving from Houston, so we hadn't done anything foolish like leaving it behind. I looked everywhere....well, everywhere except the far east door of our storage closets in the back porch. It is buried behind a pile of coolers, spent honeycomb waiting to become filtered beeswax, holiday decorations and the 55 gallon honey extractor.

I kept asking Sean if he remembered seeing the ice cream freezer, hoping that he would volunteer to find it, as he is rather skilled at spelunking through the storage closets, but he replied that he hadn't seen it, and didn't take the bait to help me find it. (hm, no ice cream for him in the eventuality that I EVER find the stinking machine).

Finally I had a moment of extreme determination and I scaled the pile and managed to open the east storage door...
See the barely visible shiny object, half hidden by the cardboard box...yep, that's it and there was no way I could even touch it while standing on a step stool, let alone get it out of there.
This was really an inhumane form of torture for a Beebout, anyone who knows us well will attest to it.

There are few things that would have pushed me forward at this moment, but ice cream is one of them. I will spare you any more of the ugly details, but spurred on by the thought of Maggie's french silk ice cream, the Cuisinart is now on my kitchen counter and the freezer bowl has been in the deep freeze for 24 hours, so later today, I am going to sit down to one luscious bowl of happiness...and I'm not sharing either!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A whole month??

Today I checked in and realized it had been a full month since I last posted a blog entry, yikes! So we haven't been the most scintillating read recently, but it wasn't for lack of material, or even desire...simply a lack of time. Things have been a bit crazy here in the past month. All my seasonal help has gone back to school, so its pretty much me and the veggies out there, staring each other down...and in all honesty, the produce is winning!

This has been one crazy growing season...first too wet, then too cool, then hot for a week and back to cool. I actually had to install a bunch irrigation lines this past week, because there isn't enough soil moisture to germinate the fall crops. Most of the earlier crops are finishing up for the season, all except the beans. We are still picking beans from our first sowing...there were never beautiful plants, stunted from the lack of warmth, but they have just produced like crazy...thank you beans!

The high tunnels have been worth their weight in gold this season. They were the only places that got enough heat and water at all the right times (thanks to irrigation) so the crops in there have really been outstanding. We have just started turning the first of those crops over to cold weather crops. One bed of eggplant was evaculated after they failed to thrive under the onslaught of a flea beetle invasion and last week the cucumber trellis finally failed under the hundreds of pounds of insanely productive vines. Winter carrots have already germinated in the former eggplant location and winter peas and cabbage are going into the cuke beds later this week.

The quick score sheet for the season would read:
Winning Teams:
high tunnel peppers, cukes, zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, chard & basil
bush and pole beans

Losing Teams:
field cabbages

I promise to post some high tunnel and harvest pics later this week, and will try to be better at my weekly postings. Its at least a little easier now that its too dark to work outside after 8pm!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Peace Disrupted

It is a beautiful morning here on the farm, cool and clear. As I was sitting down at the computer enjoying my cup of coffee a familiar sound reached my ears. The drone of a spray plane (crop duster) whined through the morning quiet, and it was close! The plane flew right over the house and proceeded to spray a field a quarter mile from us, at times circling directly above us at low altitude.

photo curtesy of the ISU Entomology Department website

Now the pilot was well within the law and the conditions were perfect, nearly still wind and before the 8:00am stop time for spraying within a mile of registered honey bee hives. But still, given our past experience with herbicide overdrift, I always get a little queasy at that sound. Blue wasn't very happy about it either and ran around "chasing" the plane when it got close, barking wildly to scare it off. She looked rather triumphant when it would fly away, only to start up again when it circled back.

The plane has now moved off to further fields, but I can still just make out the drone of its engines as it passes back and forth over a field to our southwest. I understand the "need" for this kind of chemical control and application in the large industry of mono-culture, but it doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Today's Harvest 07/26/09

The high tunnels continue to perform admirably this season. The above photo is just today's harvest from the two tunnels. The harvest includes:
Cucumbers (2 varieties) : 45 lbs
Peppers (3 varieties) : 4.5 lbs
Tomatoes: (6 varieties) : 20 lbs
Zucchini (2 varieties) : 27 lbs

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Boys of Summer

Z & N sharing the first Suyo Long cucumber of the season

Received this photo of my nephews this week. It is currently my favorite veggie themed photo and I thought others might enjoy it too. Thanks, Brenda for sharing it! Here are a couple other
shots of my favorite veggie-lovers from our archives...

Golden Rave Tomato, anyone?

Just a little something to tide me over until lunch.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Refreshing Mint Soda, Anyone?

During the summers we go through a lot of seltzer water. Sean drinks it plain and I drink it mixed with my favorite elderflower syrup or fruit juices. We aren't big fans of consumables in plastic bottles, so when our regular store brand of seltzer recently had a significant price increase, we decided it was time for a change. Sean's brother Paul had mentioned during a recent visit (thanks again, Paul!) that his family uses a "soda machine" to make their own seltzer so we decided to look into it.

We found the info online and were discussing purchasing one. Then we discovered that our area Kohls stores stocks them, so a little side trip after the CSA delivery this evening and we are now the proud owners of a SodaStream Fountain Jet, and we are LOVING it! It can produce highly carbonated fizzy water from our own rather tasty tap water and added to our own "farm-made" herb and fruit syrups, the possibilities are nearly endless. LOVE IT!

I started with a lovely Mint Lemon soda this evening and am partway through a homemade gingersnap soda. And I haven't even started thinking about the possibilities with "adult " beverages. Oh my!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A brief observation

This past Friday I saw a flock of geese flying south at sunset. It was a beautiful sight with their stark arrow of bodies silhouetted against the glowing end of the day. Sheer poetry it was.

Then I realized its July 18, I'm wearing a sweatshirt and have been wearing it most of the day while harvesting...and the geese are flying south. Not a huge flock, mind you, but a flock nonetheless. Huh. I'm sure it was just a fluke, that they were simply moving to a pond for the night. But regardless, it did make me pause.
July 18.
Geese flying south.

Friday, July 17, 2009

From There to Here

Last month my friend Claire surprised me with a wonderfully crazy fiber batt to play with. Its a wild blend of different wools, lumpy slubs, sparklies and whatnot. Here's half the batt and the ball of roving made from the other half, all ready to spin.

The real fun with a batt like this is that you have no idea what the resulting yarn will look like.
Here's the result...

And a gratuitous close up for you real yarn junkies...

What a fun project this was, thanks Claire for the treat!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Neighbor

Today as the harvest crew was finishing up lunch and heading back outside, we noticed a Cedar Waxwing flying close to the door and calling repeatedly. I was tickled to see one, as they are one of my favorite birds, but since they are normally rather shy birds, the behavior was notable. Then I heard an answering call very close by. Looking down into the small garden beside the back door we spotted this little fellow perched among the heuchera.

Cedar Waxwing fledgling

I'm quite sure that I was much more excited to see him than he was to see me. So I tried to be quick about getting a picture and leaving him alone with his chaperone, who continued to call from the overhead Ash tree. When we checked again later in the afternoon, both birds were gone, but I could still hear the occasional call from the hedgerow, so I hope the fledging was a success. I'd love to have them as long-term residents of Blue Gate Farm.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Small-scale Gardening

I don't give too much thought to small-scale gardening, although most farmers would consider what we do to be "small-scale". I'm talking apartment-sized, balcony "small." But when I saw this link today from, I though it was brilliant!

VERTICAL VEGETABLES: "Grow up" in a small garden and confound the cats! - More DIY How To Projects

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Don't Touch My Tomatoes...

...or I'll cut your little arms off!"

Yes, this phrase was spoken in a strong tone at Blue Gate Farm this week. It was not exactly what it might seem though. You see, the zucchini in the high tunnel are beautifully healthy and growing aggressively. Several of them have gotten so big that they are now crossing the aisle and encroaching on my Big Zebra and Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes. Nothing nobody, messes with my Paul Robeson tomatoes and gets away unscathed, so my warning was a sincere one.

Today, immediately after this photo was taken, the zuccs received a little reminder of my sincerity. You could almost hear the sighs of relief from the tomatoes.

In related news, the high tunnel trials continue to go well. To date, with the current crops in the tunnels, we have harvested:
Basil: 2.5 lbs
Bell Peppers:8 lbs
Cucumbers: 2 lbs
Eggplant: 1.5 lbs
Swiss Chard: 99 lbs
Zucchini: 63 lbs
Still no tomatoes yet, but they are looking promising.

The field-grown crops aren't doing quite as well. All the rain from the past 2 months pounded every bit of air from the soil and the sun then baked it into something resembling adobe bricks. Doesn't seem to hamper the weed growth, but the crops are suffering for it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Update from the Mud Zone

While I try to resist it, there have been a few recent flashbacks to last year's flooding. The storms, the heavy rains, the wind, the weather radio going off in the middle of the night. Still though, I'm not complaining, truly things are no where near last year's mess. While we have had to replant a few crops, the bulk of them are doing well. Plus we still have not just one, but two high tunnels standing and full of crops (and promise.)

As I've mentioned before, we are participating in a season extension field trial with PFI to look at the profitability of high tunnels as compared to crops grown in the field. To that end we have the following currently planted:

High Tunnel #1 (26' x 48'):
Zucchini (Eight Ball & Sebring)
Tomatoes (Big Zebra & Paul Robeson)
Peppers (Ace, Golden Marconi & Wenk's Yellow Hots)
Eggplant (Listada De Gandia & Orient Express)

High Tunnel #2 (42' x 48'):
Peppers (Islander, Sunray & Mini Bells)
Basil (Genovese & Italian Large Leaf)
Tomatoes (Dr. Wychee, Juliet, Mule Team & Redfield Beauty)
Cucumbers (Diva & Suyo Long)
Swiss Chard (Bright Lights)
Eggplant (Ping Tung Long & Rosa Bianca)

In addition to minding our cultivated crops, we are also ready for the next wave of wild harvesting. The elderflowers are just coming into maturity and the mulberries and black raspberries are just starting to ripen. So many weeds to pull, crops to harvest and jams to make!

And now that the official start of summer is here, the temperatures are finally starting to feel like it. Late this past week, we made our first batch of herbal sun tea. Lemon balm and mountain that's refreshing!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spring means Baby Birds

Well, after several adjustments to my computer settings and several false I am the guest blogger, bluemom. I have to admit after enjoying Jill's past writings, I'm am more than a little intimidated by the responsibility, but here it goes!

Spring is such a special time on the farm. My two favorite things are birds and flowers (That's right after grandsons "N" & "Z"). Last week we had a wonderful "bird event," when five baby phoebes fledged during the rain. I'm sure the mother bird was having the same thoughts as I did, "why on earth would you choose to leave a dry nest for a wet first flight?" I suppose five baby birds in one small nest was enough motivation for them. Anyway, I was checking the nest as usual ( at least 50 times a day) and they were gone. So, I looked around and noticed the adult flying around a low cart. Sure enough, there was a tiny bird, looking rather forlorn. It was wet and cuddled up to the edge. Another one was near by and it was making quite a racket. I'm sure it was calling out "feed me, feed me." The adults were doing their best to feed everyone.

Later in the day, I was on the other side of the cabin and there was another baby bird sitting on the deck rail. It saw me and did an instant freeze. If you've seen the mad bluebird picture, it was just that same look. I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. The bird was not impressed! Can you tell?

Fledgling Phoebe

A couple of weeks before this bird event, Jill and I were mushroom and ramp hunting. We saw a baby barred owl. I think she mentioned this in a prior blog. Anyway, I went back later that day and was surprised to find the owl in the same tree as before. So, this time I had my camera and was able to get several pictures. I know 25 is more than several, but that's the beauty of a digital camera. I hope you have all discovered how much fun it is sans film. The owl seems to have the same look that the phoebe gave me.

Barred owlet

I hope you enjoy these little neighbors on Blue Gate Farm. We certainly have a wonderful neighborhood.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

House Concert

A brief interlude from farm work...
House concerts are something I miss from our Houston days. For those not familiar, here is what Wikipedia says about them:

The definition of house concert is not definite but is generally taken as a concert that's presented in someone's home, or a nearby private space, for example a barn or back yard.

  • Usually, but not always, the audience capacity is smaller than at a coffeehouse or club.
  • Usually cash is collected at the show. Generally tickets are not sold in advance.
  • The money collected usually (but not always) goes straight to the performers, with no "profit motive" on the presenter's part.
  • Often, but not always, house concerts are conducted "by invitation" (for practical reasons), rather than as "public" concerts like a club or concert hall.
  • Often - again with exceptions - there is little or no "sound system" - performers play and sing acoustically, unless someone needs a little amp for their keyboard.
  • Refreshments, if any, are usually either a "pot luck" brought by the listeners, or provided by the hosts using a bit of the gate receipts.
  • Sometimes - but definitely not always - the performers get a meal and/or lodging with the presenters as part of their compensation.

Luckily we have wonderful music-loving friends from our Houston days that have recently relocated to Des Moines, and last night they hosted a house concert with musicians Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart. The Thompson house was a perfect venue for 70-some friends to get up close and personal with this talented duo. This was my first exposure to Stacey and Mark and I've become a quick fan. You can check out their music at Stacey Earle & Mark Stuart.

Huge thanks to our Thompson-friends for hosting this wonderful event and for including us in the fun!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Still Here

No we haven't died in some mysterious farming accident, buried under a two-ton pile of compost. Nor have we chucked it all and returned to our theatre lives. No, its just spring and if I had a web cam pointed outside, you would see me crawling around on hands and knees transplanting vegetables like a mad woman.

Last weekend was all about tomatoes, eggplant, edible flowers and herbs (thanking my lucky stars for family and Terri help!). This weekend was bed-prep followed by transplanting garden huckleberries, ground cherries, hot peppers, okra, cucumbers, patty pan squash and zucchini. The haywagon which was once a solid block of transplants is now just dotted with orphan plants and the yet-to-be-planted herbs. So the bulk of the transplanting is now complete, then there's the weeding...
I haven't forgotten about the blog, I just can't seem to find a way to get everything I want to get done, done.

So yesterday while transplanting ground cherries I had a eureka moment, followed by a "duh" moment which involved smacking myself in the forehead with a muddy glove. It can be summarized in two words...
"Guest Blogger!"

I know, its not exactly revolutionary thinking, but I had been encouraging my mom to start a blog to show off all of her wonderful nature photography from around the farm when I realized that I could provide the forum and she could help update and beautify the blog. So keep checking in, as new and exciting content is on its way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Buckets of Basil

Well ok, not buckets actually, but a really big collander full.

I was a little tardy pinching back the basil starts this spring and when I finally got around to it, they were looking pretty leggy. The pinching back will encourage stronger stems and a more compact shape in the long run. In the short run, it gave me my first basil harvest of the year. Not to be wasteful of such a precious commodity at this time of year, I promptly tossed it all into the food processor and we enjoyed fresh pesto on homemade crusty bread. Ahhhhhh.....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Going Topless at Market

No, its not what you are thinking, it was too damn cold for that!
Yesterday was not a banner day at the farmers market. It was cold and windy, though the sun was out most of the morning. Several market tents tried to make an arial escape early in the day and throughout the morning you could hear the crash of various products, signage and shelving hitting the ground. We gave it up as foolish early in the experience and just took the top off the tent. It looks a little odd, but still allows us to post all our signage and keep our hanging displays without risk of damage to the tent or passers-by. Just think of it as a market booth with a sunroof!

Huge thanks to our customers that braved the cold wind and came out anyway.
We hope next week will bring better weather for the market.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Tenant

I have been very negligent of the blog recently. I appologize for the long break, but spring on the farm takes no prisoners. Things are being planted, weeded, harvested, weeded, tilled, cultivated, harrowed and yes, weeded. So its a little crazy around here.

We've been trying to make it into the woods for a little mushroom hunting a couple times a week. So far we've found about 9 pounds. Its been a weird year for morels. Our tried and true spots aren't producing but we are finding them in new places. We even had one come up in the flower garden beside the back door! I'm hoping we might get one more flush this week.

Our new discovery on the farm this week was a 3 1/2' long snake. Sean found it in the prairie grass near the lane. I couldn't immediately identify it, so had to take photos and do a little research online. Our new friend is a Prairie Kingsnake, a breif description from

A medium sized Iowa snake that is 30 to 42 inches in length. It is

Prairie kingsnakes are dietary generalists and feed on a wide variety of
prey. Mammals, birds, birds eggs, snakes, lizards, frogs, and reptile eggs
have been reported as food. Prairie kings, like other kingsnakes, will eat
venomous snakes. They are immune to the venom of North American venomous
snakes and such snakes will use other methods to escape kingsnakes. Instead of
striking, the venomous species will throw loops of coils at the kingsnake in an attempt to bat the head and make a quick escape. Prairie kingsnakes are even known to consume other prairie kingsnakes (Smith, 1961).
Kingsnakes are constrictors; killing their prey by suffocation before devouring it.

Always something new to learn around here!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Local Coverage

While not quite as exciting as a Morel sighting, there was a Blue Gate Farm sighting on local TV today. As part of promoting the opening of the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market this weekend, our NBC affiliate Channel 13 came out to the farm to talk about local foods and season extension. You can watch the clip here:

Oh, and Blue will be signing autographs for her loyal public.

Iowa Lobster

On Monday I had my first sighting of 2009. No, not the Eastern Oriole or the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, or the Brown Thrasher, or even the absolutely amazing Bard Barred Owl mother and owlet, all of which we did see this week. But the real "ex-sighting" news... I found my first Morel mushroom of the year (also known as the Iowa Lobster).

photo of a past harvest

For the uninitiated, this is a huge deal. I LOVE Morels! The hunt, the find, the taste, bring it on, I love it all! So far I've only found one, but its just the start of the season so in the next couple of weeks there should be many more. So why the nomiker Iowa Lobster? Well they are a seasonal and somewhat regional delicacy that sell for a seeminly ridiculous amount of money. But like the Maine-variety of lobster, try them just once, prepared well and you will spend the other 50 weeks of the year just waiting for next year's Morel season.

My mom recently found a wonderful article about Morels and I thought others might enjoy it as much as I, learn, revel and start looking, the season is on!

Stalking Morels
by Cristina Santiestevan
(article copy removed due to copyright issues)
You can find a full copy of this great article at
Just click on 'Stalking Morels' in the right column.

As seen in Flavor Magazine, april/may 2009 •

Sunday, April 19, 2009

At the End of the Day...

Warm, dry spring days tend to be busy here on the farm. This shot was taken at the end of just such a day when The Tall Farmer was just plain worn out...

He was sacked out cold (I did check to make sure he was breathing before running for the camera) and slept soundly there for nearly an hour. Blue watched over him and protected him from any opportunistic vultures who might have flown over.

We have done a few things other than nap, new bees have been installed and most of the seedlings have been transplanted up to their pots and are ready to go out the the high tunnel for 'hardening off'. Half of the shelving is up in the smaller high tunnel, ready to receive the seedlings. Much weeding has been done in both tunnels, though there is still much to do. And so farm we are pretty much on schedule with our garden seed sowing. The peas started poking up through the soil in the past couple of days and the asparagus is now growing with purpose. Probably the most exciting new development this week was the nearly magical appearance of our first eggs! Right on schedule (at 26 weeks old) the first of our hens have started laying eggs. We're only getting around a half dozen right now (from 75 birds) but its a good sign that we should start seeing more in the near future.

I know that those of you who know us well probably read the phrase "nearly magical appearance" and thought we had found the first mushrooms of the season, but alas no...just hasn't been warm enough yet. The forcast for the upcoming week is looking good though, so I am predicting that the Morel season will start in southern Iowa within the next 7 days. You can look forward to a full "fungus" report coming soon.

The least exciting event of the past week was the untimely demise of our car (which had more than 150,000 miles on it). Now we are left with "le petite" cargo van for our weekly errands, or one of my parents' cars which they are very generous to lend us. So we find ourselves in the market for a new-to-us car, something with five doors (to facilitate CSA deliveries), good gas mileage and a reliable countanence. This was not a line item on the proposed 2009 Blue Gate Farm budget, so we will see what happens. Until then, if you see a large, white cargo van winding through the gravel roads of Marion County, its just us.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sowing with Abandon

It was a busy spring weekend on the farm, and one that was sorely needed. The conditions were just perfect for getting a number of crops into the ground. Probably the most important of these was the potatoes, which had arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. We had 100 pounds of seed potatoes and thanks to a significant family effort we got about 80 pounds into the ground in the South and East gardens before rushing off to a big family gathering Saturday evening. The remainder of the potatoes will go into the Center garden, which is still too wet to till. Huge thanks to my family for their help!

Sunday was a bit of a blur as more beds were prepped and spring crops sown, before the forecast rain. Luckily the weather held until we had everything sown that was possible for the time and the conditions. So far we have the following crops in the ground:
Beets, Broccoli Raab, Carrots, Green onions, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, and Turnips. Plus the crops that are growing in the high tunnel which include: salad greens, choi, spinach, radishes and chard.

And today it is a cool and rainy day, so I stoked up the wood-fired boiler and made my favorite cinnamon biscuits to celebrate the accomplishments of the weekend and the miserable weather outside. The recipe follows, and don't be too alarmed by what appears to be a ridiculous amount of sugar for the filling, it really needs all of it, since there is no sweetner in the dough itself.

Sweet Cinnamon Biscuits

2 cups Flour
1 tablespoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Baking soda
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
3/4 cup Buttermilk
4 tablespoon Butter softened
3/4 cup Sugar
2 teaspoon Cinnamon
½ tsp ground Cardamom (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a 9 in round baking pan lightly.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and mix well. Stir in vegetable oil. Add buttermilk and stir just until blended. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Roll dough into a 15x8 in rectangle. Spread butter over the dough. Combine sugar, cinnamon and cardamom in a small bowl and mix well. Sprinkle over butter. Roll up rectangle, jelly roll fashion, starting from one long side. Pinch seam to seal. Cut the roll into 1 1/2 in slices. Arrange the slices, cut side up, in prepared baking pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 15-20 mins. Remove from oven. Serve hot.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not Your (My) Average Day

Yesterday started out ordinary enough. Sean was away at a PFI field Day, so I had the farm to myself. Over breakfast I started a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in the next couple of was an impressive list. Actually, it was a paralyzing many things that needed to happen, each more important than the one before. I decided to start small, run out and load up all the wood that I had split the day before.
Cross that off the list, then take a quick spin out to the timber to check the ramps...still too small to harvest (sorry Lois!)
Cross that off the list, then notice that the list doesn't look any shorter. My goals for the day are beginning to falter, yikes, how will I ever get everything done?

Then the phone rings, the ID says Reichert's cell. Probably Lois calling to check on the ramp status, oh  she is going to be disappointed. Nope, wild leeks are the last thing on her mind, she has a goat in labor and things aren't progressing as they should. Could I come and give her a hand?

Ah, a reprieve from 'the list', "sure, I'll be right there."
Now that said, its not like calling in an expert. I used to work with horses, not goats. My only goaty experience is through Reichert's Dairy Air. I don't know anything about does (girl goats) in labor...but off I go to 'lend a hand'. Luckily for us all, I was in charge of the "head end" of the goat and Lois took care of the other end. It was a tough situation and I had the only easy job.

We worked at it for a couple of hours and finally made some progress. It's a good thing that its dark inside a goat, because if that first baby had seen the hand reaching for her head, ready to drag her out into the bright world she might never have come out. At one point, that was our fear, but come out she did, with lots of help. And not too much longer her sister followed in similar fashion. Whew!
I have no doubt that today, that was one sore mama goat, but I'm sure relieved that all turned out so well.

And, according to Lois, now I'm an official Dairy Goat Doula! I was even honored to have the first little girl of Reichert's 2009 kidding season named after me. Now you know how to make a farmer blush!

So welcome to the world Lil' Jill & Brenda, it was a tough start but we know you'll like your new home!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hmmm, quiche

I recently ran into a crustless quiche recipe on the Farm-Raised blog that looked so simple and quick that I had to give it a try. I like quiche, but its one of those foods that is just never on my "make it" radar. So this morning it was on the schedule.
Here is the recipe as given:

Crustless "Quiche"

1 cup cream, half-and-half, milk or a combination, gently heated just until warm
3 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup grated Emmenthal, Gruyère, Cantal or a combination
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or hard pecorino
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
Butter as needed.
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and set rack in middle of it. Combine all ingredients except butter and beat until well blended.

2. Pour into 4 to 6 buttered ramekins (or a buttered gratin or pie plate) and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until almost firm; it should still jiggle just a little in middle. Cool on a rack, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Yep, that's all well and good but as Sean often complains, I rarely follow a recipe word for word. So here's the Blue Gate Farm version:
1/2 c. Half and Half
1/2 c. 2% milk
5 little pullet eggs courtesy of our friends at Coyote Run Farm
3/4 c. Dubliner Cheese
1/4 c. Feta cheese from our friends at Reichert's Dairy Air
1/4 c. ham, finely chopped
1/4 c. Chickweed, finely chopped (could use spinach or other greens), from our high tunnel
1 small leaf sour dock, finely chopped, from our high tunnel (aka weed!)
1 TBS fresh chives, chopped, from our herb garden
1 shallot, finely chopped, from last year's garden
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne

Throw it all together, pour into buttered pie plate and bake for 40 minutes. Wow, was it good! Though because of the ham and my choice of cheese I could have lowered the amount of added salt a bit.
Oh, and the "Cool on a rack" part...yeah, right! I let it cool for the time it took me to make toast, then served it up and dug in!

Think I'll try it cold for lunch later.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring Ramblings

Things in the sunroom are starting to get a little cramped. I started transplanting tomatoes this week from 72 cell flats into the 4" pots where they will live out their time before moving to the garden. Logistically what this means is that we go from this:
To this:
With each plant now occupying more than 4 times the amount of space than it was last week. Yep, things are starting to get a little crazy in there, and it will only get worse as the rest of the tomatoes and the eggplant will be ready for transplanting in the next several days.

We have been taking advantage of all the nicer weather to get things moving outside as well. Yesterday in a mad rush to get things accomplished before the forecast snow (which hasn't arrived as of this writing) I decided to tackle the asparagus patch which hadn't been cleaned for two years. Armed with the weed wacker and a rake I went after all the dead growth with a vengance. Luckily I wasn't so blinded by my enthusiasm for the project that I overlooked two rather amazing discoveries:
First, the asparagus is up. Holy cow, its seems too early for that to be possible, but Sean reminds me that I say that every year. Our asparagus bed is on a south-facing slope so it tends to come up earlier than most. I'd like to plant a second bed in a flat or north-facing slope to help expend our asparagus season. Its on the "to-do" list, but hasn't happened yet.
My second discovery was almost more exciting than the first, can you guess what it is??
I know it looks bad, I always thought so in the past and we've burned some of these thinking that they were nasty, fruit tree eating bugs. In fact this is a praying mantis eggcase, which is a very beneficial insect in the garden. They eat all sorts of bugs that are a problem in vegetable gardens and fruit trees. According to my recent research, this egg case contains from 50-200 individual eggs and a female will lay 15-25 of these weird-looking cases in a brushy area, which recently describes my asparagus patch rather accurately.
So for now this little treasure has moved into the row of pine trees near the herb garden for its protection and hopefully later this spring the new babies will hatch and provide us with a new generation of bug-eaters.