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.