Thursday, December 16, 2010

When the Snow Flies

Most of you know that we do quite a bit of season extension on our farm. We use low tunnels in our South Garden to extend our field harvest and also have the two high tunnels to get us into the back-side of the growing season. These are amazing tools, but they are not flawless. If the ambient air temperature isn't above freezing, then we can't harvest (especially leafy greens). Now in the tunnels, it doesn't take much sunlight to get the temps above 32° but heavily overcast days can still delay the harvest. One of the other tricky things about harvesting at this time of year is that even when the tunnels get warm enough to harvest, we still have to get the vegetables into the house without freezing.

We've learned a few coping techniques over the years. If you're just harvesting enough for supper, then you can tuck your harvesting bag into your coat and make a run for it, though tripping with a coat full of kohlrabi can result in some very some ribs.

When harvesting for larger numbers though, a little planning is required. Our best technique is to haul our big market coolers out to the high tunnel and allow them to warm up a bit before packing them with vegetables and dragging them to the house.  Best of all, though is when there is a little snow on the ground, then we just load them up and ride 'em home! We'll try to get a pic of this crazy fun sometime yet this season ; )

Monday, December 13, 2010

End of an Era

Hmmm, what exactly are we talking about here? Looks more like a crazy technicolor hurricane than an era or anything else for that matter. So any guesses as to what exactly this is? Come on, guys are creative!


So the picture above represents an accumulation of more than six years worth of crochet cotton. Why in the world would anyone need such a thing? Well, for the first 5 years we were at the farm I made crocheted market bags. I made a lot of market bags...A LOT! HUNDREDS...literally! And sold them at our booth at the market. They were a nice complement to the vegetables, they were bright, pretty colors and they didn't wilt in the sun.

But then the re-usable grocery bag trend hit and anyone could pick up a perfectly usable, sturdy bag at their grocery store (or Menards, the state fair and just about everywhere else). And thus the bottom fell out of the of the "Market Bag" market . But that was ok, really! I was tired of making them and I had learned to spin by then and was considering selling my handspun yarn instead. Done!

So back to that crochet cotton. As with almost any project, there are leftovers...little bits, too much to throw away, but not enough to be really useful. So you stuff them in a container and occasionally wonder what to do with them.  So today was that day when I wondered...and there was an idea. So I pulled out the tote full of cotton and sat down at my yarn ball winder (good thing I got the jumbo-size!) and spent most of the morning winding all those bits of brightly colored cotton into this enormous ball.

Next I oiled up my wheel and pulled out some white Shetland wool and whomped out some lumpy, bumpy (really Maggie, it is!) thick and thin singles to ply against the crazy clash of colored cotton. Really, the whole thing was so much more sedate than it sounds...I was listening to Simon & Garfunkel as I was doing it so that tells you something. But now I have this new yarn to take to market on Saturday and I'm calling it "End of an Era" yarn since it wraps up the nearly endless days of crocheting market bags quite nicely. Its fun and fresh and will go with absolutely anything! And given the size of that ball of cotton...there should be plenty to come!

**Added 12/15/10 **
Here's a pic of some of the finished yarn ready to go to market. Its not a great pic, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Last night as we were in town enjoying a movie, our winter chicken coop burned to the ground. The coop housed more than 100 two-month-old pullets (young chickens) that were to become our laying flock for next season. Thanks to the quick response and hard labor of my parents, the fire didn't spread to any other buildings, the closest of which is our house and the small high tunnel.  Blue and Luci are fine, and the current laying flock was unharmed.

So today we filed a claim with the insurance agent and then called the hatchery and ordered replacement chicks. The new babies will arrive around the 17th so we have 2 weeks to rebuild the coop, the plans for which are already on paper.

When something like this happens, it becomes all about perspective.

Its so sad to think of the loss of all those little birds, the waste of time and life, but it could have been so very much worse. My parents could have not seen it, it could have easily spread to the house or someone could have been injured in the fire. Had it happened today, instead of yesterday, the freezing temps would have made it so much harder to fight. In so many ways it could have been worse.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


This past week, we were harvesting in the high tunnel when Kelsey, our steadfast farm crew member, started passing the time by identifying crops that we grow on the farm for each letter of the alphabet. Well, the challenge was on and as we worked our way down the spinach bed we simultaneously worked through the alphabet. You'd be amazed how challenging we found some of the letters. After some supplemental discussions with other associated BGF parties here is the alphabet ala Blue Gate Farm...

A Arugula
B Beets
C Chard
D Dill
E Edamame
F Fennel
G Garlic
H Honey
I Italian Parsley
J Jewelweed
K Kale
L Leeks
M Mache
N Nasturtiams
O Okra
P Potatoes
Q Quercus (Oak Trees) I know, it’s a stretch!
R Radishes
S Spinach
T Tomatoes
U Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle) Hey, we even sell it!
V Violas
W Weeds
X Xanthium (cocklebur) We don't sell it, but it does take up a lot of our time!
Y Yarn (not a crop, I know…but we do make and sell it)
Z Zucchini

Monday, November 15, 2010

How I Spent My Afternoon...

The last of the 10 Jacob fleeces finally all skirted!
Now back to that little bit about washing...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On-Farm Research

Details to follow...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Frosted Colors

Probably not your normal blog post about fall colors, but we've never been ones to fit the "normal" mold.

Yesterday Mom & I spent the afternoon playing "mad scientist" up to our elbows in acid dyes, wet wool and plastic wrap. The newly dyed wool hadn't dried by the time the sun went down so I just left it hanging on the line. Luckily, Blue and Luci have never shown any interest in the wool as long as I keep it out of easy reach.
This morning when I went out to check it, the fiber was mostly dry, but gilded with a frosty gleam. Wish I could keep that look when it was spun, it was a pretty "cool" sight! Now to get it all spun into a more useful (and salable) form.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Farm Crawl 2010 has come and gone...and what a day it was!
The weather was perfect and more than 1300 crawlers fanned out over the 45 37 mile circumference of the event. Thanks to everyone who came out and enjoyed a beautiful fall day in the country. A very special thanks to our fabulous BGF crew; Mom, Dad, Terri, Maggie, John, Kelsey, Adam, Kristi and the Maly's! We couldn't do this event without you.

For those of you who were unable to "Crawl" here is a quick tour of the event by journalist Michael Libbey:

Monday, September 27, 2010

As the Parade Passes By

Last night driving home through the fading fall light of rural Iowa, I passed a bit of a parade. Now this wouldn't have qualified as a full-blown city parade complete with floats, marching bands and thrown candy. But here in the country, we take note of the more subtle forms of pageantry. As I drove past a narrow country lane, I was met by the following:
Two women leading a colt
Followed by two Boer goats
Then a girl leading a pony
Followed by a miniature donkey
And bringing up the "tail" was a mule
It was all very dignified, as a parade should be. There was no trotting or tussling, just a quiet progressing down a gravel track.

I would have liked to stop and watch their progress, but while they made a cameo appearance in my world as they moved slowly southward, I didn't want to intrude in theirs.
As I continued down the road I did stop, to let a buck and two does cross the road in front of me. This was a parade of a whole different nature, fast and wild and gone in a heart beat.

It was another beautiful and unexpected evening in the country.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Technicolor Bumps

Normally a headline like this would be followed by a photo of a really spectacular bruise somewhere on the body of a particularly graceful farmer. This time it just indicates that I finally got enough accomplished in the garden that I had time to dye some fiber (bumps) this past weekend. Fall is the time that the hand-spun yarn sales tend to take off and we were running woefully low. So now that it is getting dark earlier in the evening, I am ready to do some serious spinning.

Oh and FYI for those of you who might find this interesting, there is such a thing as "too windy to dry wool".
I had hung all the newly dyed fiber on the clothesline to dry and when I looked out the kitchen window later it was as though the house was being surrounded by a crazy, windblown palette of cartoon squids. There was brightly colored wool strung everywhere, all through the garden borders along the house, it was pretty exciting! And when I went out to reclaim it and wind it into the bumps you see in the photo above, the tendrils wound around me too. It made me laugh out loud, though maybe a little nervously!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When Dragons Fly

It has been a while since my last post. Its not that nothing has been happening, but it has been rather a frustrating summer farm-wise and every time I sat down to write a post it came out as complaining. So here it is in (hopefully) non-complaining terms...RAIN! Too much rain, too often (ok, so maybe a little complaining).
May 5.5" (ave. 4.25")
June 13.6" (ave. 4.6")
July 10.85" (ave 4.1")
August to date: 7.9" (ave. 4.5")

Alone, none of these months seems too terribly alarming, but just these four months together total 37.65" of rain...a yardstick stood on end would be under water, along with a lot of other things! Also, note that the average annual rainfall here is 34.7". So in one-third of the year we have exceeded the annual average by several inches. This has translated to a variety of repercussions "on the ground."

Over the summer we lost at least 60% of our crops. The only two crops that have exceeded expectations have been the patty pan squash, which we have systematically buried the CSA in, and the okra.Were it not for the high tunnels which have been producing steadily, we would have been forced to close down the CSA mid-summer. This is the first of "counting our blessings"...we thank our lucky stars for those high tunnels, and the patty pans and okra!

In addition to that, because the soil has been and stayed so wet, we've been unable to do any planting in the fields since May. No succession planting at all...scary! We do have an absolutely beautiful field-wide crop of foxtail growing and as soon as we figure out a market for that, we'll be rich!

But, our house wasn't flooded and our family members are safe and largely healthy. Our livestock wasn't caught in rising waters and our vehicles and equipment are on high ground. Compared to a lot of people in the state, we have been (and still are) lucky. Though it isn't always easy to remember on a moment-to-moment basis in a summer like this.

I've been taking monthly Meditation sessions this summer and my instructor had suggested that maybe it would be a good time to focus on "gratitude". Since the things that were causing me so much stress were completely out of my control. Ok, that shouldn't be too difficult, I tend to be a pretty optimistic person. Hmmm, as in so many things, the theory and the practice are two entirely different realms!

And then last night just as the sun was settling toward the western horizon, the dragonflies arrived. We live in the country, near a number of ponds so there are always dragonflies around in the summer, but this was something different entirely. There were thousands of them, apparently all the same variety, swarming across the yard. We could see them hunting smaller flying insects, like mad-bomber-flying-aces. Occasionally we could hear the sudden rustle of translucent wings, but otherwise the only sound was the cadence of the cicadas. It went on for more than an hour, a mad ballet and aerial dogfight in the heavy, sponge-damp air of an August evening. Ah, this is gratitude...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Going 'Home'

Hobby Farm Home is one of a family of magazines targeted toward those who live or want to live the country/homesteader life.
This past spring we were contacted by a writer who was doing an article for the magazine on home-based canning businesses run by women. The author, Lisa Kivirist, has her own food and farm based business so we had a few things in common as we talked. It was a fun interview to do and I was looking forward to seeing the finished product. Though there is always a little reservation in this, as Sean & I have both had enough encounters with the press as to always be a little bit leery. Not to have worried, the magazine arrived last week and it is a lovely article featuring 3 women who use their canning skills to supplement their farm/business income. There are several tips and suggestions on getting started with a small canning business and we even included the secret recipe to our popular Cinnamon Pear Butter. Now I just wish I could meet the other 2 women in the article!

Here's a peek at this issue from the HFH website.
September/October 2010 - Table of Contents

And if you've never seen the magazine, search it out. It's worth it for the pictures alone!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Treats

This past weekend we hosted our annual Ice Cream Social for the CSA members. It was a great afternoon with agreeable weather, fun visitors and plenty of good food. We also had lots of requests for recipes so here are the most requested of the foods served at the event:

Chocolate Zucchini Birthday Cake

2-3c. grated zucchini
2 c. flour
1 ½ c. sugar
1 tsp salt
½ c. oil
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1/3 c. cocoa
2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together, pour into greased & floured 9 x 13” pan. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes.

When cool, frost with Hershey’s Cocoa Frosting
1 stick butter
2/3 c. cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium mixer bowl melt butter, add cocoa and stir until combined. Alternating between powdered sugar and milk, add to cocoa and butter, mixing between. When thoroughly combined, beat in vanilla.
Makes +/- 2 cups.

BGF Chocolate Ice Cream

5 (1 oz) squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
1 (14oz ) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 c. half and half
2 c. whipping cream

In a large mixer bowl, beat chocolate, condensed milk, vanilla and coffee granules until coffee is dissolved. Stir in half and half and whipping cream.
Pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.
Recipe adapted from : Great American Favorite Brand Name Cookbook

BGF Zucchini Bread

3 eggs                                         1 tsp soda
3 c. sugar                                    1 tsp baking powder
1 tbs vanilla                                 1 tsp salt
3 c. flour                                     3 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 c. grated zucchini                1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 c. oil                                         1/2 c. dried cranberries (optional)
                                                    1 tbs fresh grated ginger (optional)

Combine eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Combine flour, soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to egg mixture. Then add zucchini, oil, cranberries and ginger. Mix well. Put into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 1 hour.

Rosemary Butter Cookies

1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary (for more herb flavor, grind rosemary with some of the sugar)

Beat butter at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating until blended.
Combine flour, cream of tartar and salt, gradually add to butter mixture. Beat at low speed until blended.
Stir in rosemary (or rosemary sugar mixture).
Shape dough into 2 (10-inch) logs; wrap each log in wax paper & chill at least 2 hrs.
Unwrap dough, cut each log into 1/2" slices and place on lightly greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool. Yield 3 1/2 dozen.

Recipe source: Gloria Beebout (BlueMom)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Breaking and Entering

This morning when we woke up, the screen was pushed out of the storm door. No we weren't burgled, though our house was entered without our consent. Last night after I went to bed, Sean stayed up in the living room to watch TV. He heard the dogs tussling out on the front steps but they quieted down after a bit and he didn't think much about it.

Sometime later, ready to go to bed himself,  he got up and turned off the TV, but when he walked into the kitchen, there sat Blue and Luci in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking guilty. Huh.

For those of you who aren't familiar with our house (and our dogs) we do not have house dogs. Blue and Luci are outdoor, working dogs. They do not come in the house unless there is seriously severe weather, and then they only get to come into the back porch...not the kitchen.

So apparently, while wrestling they managed to push the screen on the front door partially in and then, naturally, decided to avail themselves of the dog-sized opening. The best part is that the front door is in the living room, where Sean was sitting at the time, so they had to pass within 10 feet of him. Clearly they knew they weren't supposed to be in there, since they snuck past him into the kitchen.

I can only imagine what mischief they could have gotten into had we both already been in bed. Yikes!
Oh and just moments ago Sean hollered, "Blue, NO! Bad dog!"  He heard her this time, as she pushed her head against the screen and was part way through the door. Little sneak! Suddenly our brave farm dog has decided that house life looks pretty cushy! Grrrrr...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vampire-free Zone!

As you can see from the above photo, BGF is now a vampire-free zone! No pale-faced, night stalking blood sucker could make it through our massive garlic moat!
Well actually, its not technically a "moat" since its mostly hung from the rafters, but it sounded good. All kidding aside though, I had certainly not planned to harvest garlic this week as it is about 3 weeks too early, but our obnoxious weather pattern of late was putting the crop at risk. When we pulled a test batch to give the CSA earlier this week, we discovered that the garlic was actually sitting in water just below the surface. Not good!

So we took a break in the battle with the weeds and did some serious garlic harvesting, to the tune of more than 2400 heads. Whew! That is a lot of garlic, for us anyway. We did lose a number of heads to rot, and let me tell you there is nothing quite like the "heady" aroma of rotting garlic...blech! But it wasn't as bad as I first feared. So now all of it is bundled and 90% of it is hanging. I ran out of drying space in the packing shed, so now I'm working on annexing part of my parent's garage to finish out the last of it. Surely they would appreciate a little protection from vampires too?!?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em!

Rain. Rain. Rain! We've had lots of it this month...more than enough for 3 months put together. So far, in June we've poured 12.75" out of our rain gauge and there's still another week left...yikes! Even though we sit at the top of a hill there is still water standing in the gardens and let me tell you, vegetables don't like wet feet! Crops are failing; spinach, salad, cabbages, broccoli, edamame, peas. A number of crops are holding their own, but even those are so buried in weeds that its a little hard to tell. The high tunnel crops look great, but they just aren't ready quite yet.

At market, we can squeak by with a thin produce offering, because we have other products but CSA is always our greatest concern and this weekend I was fairly sure that we would have to cancel Tuesday's box delivery. The only thing I could find in the garden that was healthy and plentiful enough to go in 35 boxes was spring turnips...beautiful turnips true, but I can't just give people a box of turnips! So at market on Saturday I started telling any CSA members that stopped by the booth that we would likely cancel this week, that I would send out an email after inspecting the gardens again that afternoon.

Later that day as I walked through the beds with the mud sucking at my boots I admired the 100's of feet of summer squashes covered with their beautiful, glowing yellow blooms. Blooms...blossoms...squash blossoms...SQUASH BLOSSOMS! That's it! We have squash blossoms, though we've never harvested them as such, a number of farms do and they are considered quite the delicacy! And daylilly buds, we have those too! Plus a beautiful crop of basil ready in the high tunnel, I think we can do this. But what will we do for greens? We always have greens in the boxes and there isn't enough chard in the tunnel for 35 boxes and nothing else is ready. Nothing except all the damn weeds that are taking over everything! Then a thought struck...We've been custom harvesting edible weeds for a market customer for the past year...could we do it for the whole CSA? Why not? Braising Greens for everyone!

In addition to the chard, we collected purslane, lambsquarters, amaranth, sour dock, sorrel, violet leaves and dandelion. All quite tasty and very nutritious greens and many of which you will see featured in the multitude of herbicide commercials running on TV right now. And I can sympathize with the people who use those chemicals right now, as those weeds and many less palatable ones are taking over the gardens.

So it took a little longer, as foraging/weeding/harvesting is a little more time-consuming than harvesting a cultivated crop, but harvest we did and the boxes came out looking ok. They contained:
Basil, Braising Greens Mix, Uncured Garlic, Peas,Squash Blossoms or daylily blossoms and Turnips. I'm always nervous about the boxes in thin times...I want them to always be full-to-the-brim, bounteous goodness and I'm uncomfortable when they aren't. But regardless, we filled them with everything we had, loaded up the vehicles and headed for the delivery sites.

Many members asked how things were going and if there was anything they could do to help. "Just enjoy your produce and embrace the adventure." We told them, what else is there to say when you are delivering carefully harvested, cleaned and bagged weeds and flowers?
Then later that evening we received this message from a member:

"We greatly relished Tuesday's Clan of the Cave Bear/Euell Gibbons retrospective forage food box...It was a very creative, retrospective supper." -David

Clan of the Cave Bear/Euell Gibbons retrospective forage food box! I LOVE IT!
That's the best thing I've heard all week! Hopefully we won't have to resort to quite this level of foraging in the future, but from now on whenever we harvest "wild greens" that's what we're going to call them.

Its still a hard season, but with such wonderful members and customers who are willing to embrace the adventure of supporting a small, local farm, it sure makes it easier.
Thanks guys!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lavender Harvest

The first lavender harvest of the year and the best one to date. Looking forward to tins of lavender sugar and possibly some lavender syrup.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Morning Peace

This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over slightly misty hills. I made my morning coffee and sat down in the office, while the computer slowly woke I looked out the window to see how the world looked today and I noticed a strange shape a ways out by the pasture fence. It was a deer, but something looked strange about it. I grabbed the binoculars and looked was a doe and it looked strange because she was bent around, bathing her nursing fawn. It was quite a sight, this little peek at nature. Then as I watched, a large bird flew into my little binocular-aided circles of vision. It was a large Bard owl, and it settled on a fencepost a distance away, but still within my still-life view of doe and fawn. What a picture!

I wish I could have shared it, the actual picture, but we don't have anything nearly that powerful in the way of cameras, so you will simply have to take my word for it and use your imagination.

The grasses are a golden green this morning, headed now with blooms and immature seed heads. The light is soft as the morning mist hasn't yet burned away and the sky is a clear blue, finally empty of the recently persistent rainclouds. The Red-winged blackbirds, Chipping sparrows and Meadowlarks are singing loudly, making their morning declarations of territory and above it all the roosters crow, announcing their intentions to start the day. Here on the farm, this is our morning peace.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Day at the Farm

This post was supposed to be about Blue and Luci, but I came upon some pics from a couple of weeks ago and I just couldn't pass them up. My favorite red-heads were visiting the farm, which always makes for a good time and great photo opportunities. This day, bubbles were the theme...

N provides the bait

Z goes in for the bite

and as the boy does, so does the dog!

Luci was somewhat baffled by the bubbles and preferred to keep her distance.

In other news, Blue and Luci continue to be the best of dog buddies, though Blue takes very seriously her responsibility of teaching Luci the rules. If Luci jumps up on something and we scold her, Blue will grab Luci by the leg and pull her down, which is pretty entertaining and generally leads to some serious wrestling on their part.

However last week Blue demonstrated some rather impressive corrective behavior. The farm crew was in the garlic patch, weeding. The dogs had been keeping a supervisory eye on our activities while playing around the perimeter of the garden. Luci has been struggling a little with the idea that the white electrical tape the surrounds the garden is a "barrier" that she must not cross, after all it is several inches over her head and the gate opening is just that...wide open. So as we were working, Luci walked through that gate opening and was standing several feet inside the garden (strictly forbidden here), when I looked up and noticed her. I pointed outside the garden and said firmly, "Luci, OUT!" As is common when receiving a command, Luci froze and stood there staring at me. Blue however had no hesitation, she ran through the gate into the garden, grabbed Luci by the neck and dragged her outside of the garden. When they had cleared the fenceline, she dropped the puppy and laid down as though nothing had happened. Upon being released, Luci hopped up, tackled Blue and a full-out wrestling match ensued.

The farm crew saw the whole thing and just stood there staring at the dogs. One of our crew members said, in an incredulous voice, "Did I just see what I saw?" That was a pretty good summation of the scene.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You just never know...

Saturday as the mad rush that was the opening farmers market was winding down, I grabbed my hat (those of you in the know, know which hat) and ducked across the street to show off my fine chapeau to our friends at Vanderploeg's Bakery. As I was donning my hand-knit finery and entertaining Marcie, a customer walked up and asked to take my picture. Um well, why not..."sure, go ahead."
And then the day proceeded as normally (for us) and we packed up and went home. Got to spend some quality time with my sister and nephews, went to bed at 9pm. It was a good, though exhausting day.

Then Sunday evening, after my sister had returned home, she sent me an email saying a friend had forwarded her a blog link and it was "Too Funny!"

So always up for a good laugh, I clicked on the link. Ohhhhh....well,, see for yourself:
Opening Day

What fun, a blog about the market and and local foods.
So of course I left a comment, and the author sent me a very kind email, from which we have started up a conversation. Its a small world out there, it was true back in our theatre lives and is certainly true in the Local Foods scene. What fun to find another like-minded person who enjoys locally grown foods, supports the farmers market and has a sense of humor!

Oh, and the fun continued on the follow-up posting as well:
be careful what you post

Too funny indeed! Thanks Amy, for the shared laugh!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pinched Hummus

No, I didn't steal hummus from Gateway Market or anything. Though I've recently been craving it just about enough to do so.

Sometime during our "All-Out-Bash-Opening-Farmers-Market" on Saturday, Sean stepped out of the booth for 2 minutes and grabbed a couple loaves of bread from our favorite bakery at the market...ah sweet mystery of life, I do love that bread! I know, I know, I can make my own bread, only theirs is so damn good and I don't have to bake it. And at this time of the year that is critical.

So I had good bread, I wanted hummus...good hummus.

Then today I was pinching back trays and trays of basil starts and it hit me...hummus with basil. Oh yeah, that's exactly what I want!
I grabbed a few different recipes from the internet, plugged in my food processor and away we went.
Needless to say, tonight's supper was bread and hummus...period. Sometimes life is very, very good!

BGF Hummus

5 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed
1 cup basil trimmings (or leaves)
2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained
2/3 cup of tahini
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a bit more
1/2 teaspoon of salt

In a food processor, combine the mashed garlic, basil and a shot of olive oil.
Process until it looks like a loose pesto.
Add garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, water and remaining olive oil.
Process until smooth. Add salt, starting at a half a teaspoon, to taste.

Delicious with good bread, fresh veggies or chips.
Freezes well.
Makes about 3 cups.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring Doin's

You know, if I could bear to blog without including pictures, I might be more timely in my updates. I often think... "oh, I should blog about that" and then never get around to taking a picture of whatever the subject might be, and thus it never makes it to the blog and I go weeks without updating. (nice excuse, huh?)

Here's what we've been up to recently:

I wish there was some way to include scents on the computer. Because right now the farm smells like this...(seriously, the fragrance wafting on the wind is simply amazing!)

It has been a busy couple of weeks since my last post. We recently returned from our encore performance of "Potatopalooza" in the gardens. I was starting to think we might never get through them all. We planted about 1,000 row feet of seed potatoes, all by hand. I know other farms do more, and more power to them! This is enough for me.

The big high tunnel is coming along and should be in good shape for the opening farmers market on May 1. This tunnel contains chard, choi, salad greens, radishes, spinach and arugula.
Just a week ago I was in a mild panic thinking that the crops wouldn't be ready in time. But as usual, I was just being angst-y. Today I harvested these, and in two weeks they will be perfect on the market table.
We've also been laying out and prepping beds for planting. Just yesterday, the first seeds went into the fields. We are by no means ahead of schedule, but as of yesterday, we are caught up and on schedule.

Other recent things worth mentioning:
  • The Fruit Tree Grafting class at Seed Savers was marvelous! We'll see how well we put the new knowledge to work.
  • We are getting more than 10 dozen eggs a day. There is a limit to how many eggs two people can eat.
  • The Blue and Luci show continues to be good entertainment. They are quite the pair, I wish I had video to share as photos don't due them justice. Luckily the "interest in the chickens" seems to have waned, hopefully permanently.
  • We've have some wonderful folks come out and volunteer their time to do a "working visit" to the farm. Big thanks to Maggie, Terri, Linda, Dawn, Michelle and Danelle for their time and willingness to "work and learn".
I'm sure there is more to share, but I'm tapped out for now. Will write another update soon and hopefully it will include stories of morels we've found (not yet, though).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Dog's Day

Its been two weeks since Luci joined us on the farm, and what fun it has been! We were a little concerned about how Blue would react, as she takes her job of alpha dog pretty seriously, but they have become fast friends...literally. They tear around the farm together like a couple mad animals. There is much growling and posturing, but they are clearly having fun. The favorite game is the rope toy tango.

First Blue teases Luci mercilessly with the rope toy.

Then eventually Luci gets a hold of it and they play tug of war. Keep in mind here, that Blue weighs about 50 lbs and Luci weighs in at about 4 lbs.

So given that Luci is a true Terrier at heart (stubborn) and Blue is all Blue Heeler (ornery) this is what usually happens. Blue pulls so hard that Luci tips over, but Luci refuses to let go of the rope. So Blue just drags her around the yard on her side. Never fear, no dogs were harmed in the playing of this game. Its clear from watching them that this is pure canine fun.

Now if we could just explain to Luci the difference between a toy and a chicken...sigh. She's cute and smart, but alas, she isn't perfect. Back to the training regimen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It must be Spring Vol. I

A few days ago we experienced a first here on the farm...our first 100-egg day!

It is rather a banner event, but at the same time, what the heck are we going to do with all those eggs? If it was market or CSA season, it wouldn't be an issue, but its not. So when life gives you too many eggs, our default solution is to make noodles!
So we did and we tried out a new drying method that we think is an improvement over the "drying them on every horizontal surface in the cabin" method. Isn't this why they call it a drying rack?

And the bonus is that as the noodles dry, they eject themselves from the drying rack onto the nice clean bed-sheet on the floor. (Don't worry Mom, I'll wash the sheet before you have visitors!)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Now....'s Luci!

I'd like to introduce you to the newest member of our farm crew. Luci is a Jack Russell Terrier and once she gets a bit bigger she will be in charge of the "banishment" of all crop-eating mammals. Right now she's not much bigger than the rabbits she is to control, so it might be a while. Blue is fulfilling her role as resident puppy trainer and behavior modification specialist and while not in love with the newcomer, she hasn't tried to eat her...yet.

Edited 3/21 to correct spelling of her name. Luci is short for Lucia which means 'blue ocean'. All in keeping with our cerulean farm theme~

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Noodle Day

With our hens finally increasing their egg production and our pullets starting to lay their first eggs, we are finally getting buried in "chicken seeds" again. We can only eat so many omelets, so celebrate the occasion I declared that today was Noodle Day!

Since my very lucky purchase last year of the $12 pasta maker, and my realization (duh!) that I can make the dough in my KitchenAid, pasta-making isn't quite the major chore that it used to be. However it is still a significant event that generally involves my taking over my parent's cabin so that I have enough surfaces to dry the cut noodles. Mom & Dad are in town for the weekend, so I took advantage of the situation and made a mess.

I sure hope they don't come back early : )
This should mean that we will have Herbed Whole Wheat Noodles to sell at the early farmers market! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rice Cooker Magic

I love my rice cooker. Period.
The rice cooker that we have is a basic PHD (push here dummy) version, just an on/off switch. No fuzzy logic, bells or whistles.

In the past we used it about once a month whenever we made rice, but since last year we use it nearly daily, especially in the winter. That was when I discovered that I could use it to make our breakfast oatmeal. I dump steel cut oats, water, salt and dried cranberries in the night before and when I wake up in the morning I hit the switch and walk away. About 20-30 minutes later we have perfectly cooked oatmeal, ready to dress with maple syrup and eat! Love it!

Then this winter my insightful friend Maggie sent me a recipe for using the rice cooker for making polenta. Ohhhhhh...

I keep medium grind cornmeal for my bread baking, so I tossed it into the cooker and gave it a try. Cornmeal, water and salt, cooked for a little more than a full cycle, dressed with butter and BGF honey, be still my heart! It is my new favorite breakfast. If you have a rice cooker, give it a try!

Edited to add:
Should have included this to start with...

4 cups water
1 cup coarse grain yellow polenta
1/2 tsp salt

Place water in rice cooker bowl, add polenta and salt.
Stir 15 seconds with a wooden spoon or plastic rice paddle. cover and set for porridge or regular cycle. A few times (or once!) during cooking, open the cover, stir 15 seconds, then close cover. At the end of the regular cycle , taste the polenta and make sure the desired consistency has been reached. If not, push the button and let it go a little longer.

For breakfast I just dress with butter and honey. If serving at another meal, you can add in 2/3 c. shredded Parmesan at the end.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

PFI and Trees Afire

Thursday we had to leave the farm shortly after dawn to make it to Ames for the PFI Cooperators meeting. This is an annual outing for us and one last opportunity to visit with a large group of farmers before the season begins. It is also the place where we commit ourselves to various field trials that we want to work on during the upcoming season. In the past we have done trials on tomato trellising systems and high tunnel profitability. It appears that we will continue the recent high tunnel trial, and add one on HT fertility. We also volunteered to do a study on low tunnel technologies in the field, which basically translates to "how do we keep the damn row covers on when its windy?" Details to follow on all of these, I'm sure.

Anyway, as we got ourselves and our chores ready for our departure the sun began to rise and lit up every surface covered with hoarfrost. It was absolutely glorious and looked like the world was ablaze in an icy fire. They aren't the greatest pictures, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Za'atar Flatbread

The bread-baking craze that has been sweeping the nation in the past couple of years has certainly visited here regularly, though mostly during the winter. I am a firmly entrenched acolyte in the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (AB5) movement. I own the book, I read the website, I make the recipes. Well true confession: I'd been borrowing the book, but have had it WAY too long and need to return it to its rightful owner (Thanks Mama P!), so I ordered my own copy and it should arrive tomorrow.

Anyway, the flatbread recipes are some of my favorites, mostly because I am completely impatient and I LOVE being able to have fresh bread seven minutes after I decide that I want it. One of the recipes that I had been wanting to try was the Za'atar Flatbread (page 161, for those of you with the book).

My first challenge was a lack of the Za'atar itself. Za'atar is a middle-eastern spice blend with ground sumac berries as its base, its a spicy, tart flavor that I just love. Then a couple of months ago I happened upon a new Middle-Eastern market in Des Moines that had bags of ground sumac and a great price. So a $3 bag of sumac, a little recipe research on the net and I had my very own Za'atar blend. I combined parts I liked out of several recipes, so here's what I used:


¼ c. ground sumac

2 tbs. thyme leaves

1 tbs. sesame seeds, toasted

1 tsp coarse salt (skip if sumac contains salt)

* optional, 2 tbs oregano

Grind together.

Besides the flatbread recipe, Za'atar is great with chicken, lamb or pork. It's also nice on green salads or sprinkled over olive oil as a dip for bread.

The Za'atar Flatbread recipe in the AB5 book makes a foccacia-type bread, that you bake in the oven but I was in a serious hurry, so I made the Naan recipe (page 173) that cooks in s cast iron skillet on the stove top. As soon as the first side cooked, I turned the bread over, brushed with garlic olive oil and sprinkled on the za'atar. Three minutes later it came out of the pan and onto the plate. It was delicious! Seriously, buy the book, make the bread and wont be sorry!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Chicken Hat

This might very well be the best gift I've ever received...certainly the funniest, if nothing else!

The backstory: My very talented and slightly crazy friend Claire arrived at the Winter Market this past December wearing a hat that looked like a 3-D, hand-knit chicken perched on atop her head. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen at market (that's saying something) and I nearly had to walk away I was laughing so hard.

So last week when I attended our annual spinner's party at Claire's home, she presented me with a very special gift, a chicken hat of my very own. Now you must understand, this is a special-occasion hat, not something you wear out wood-cutting or doing chores. I'm not sure who had the better look on their faces when I modeled it, Sean or Blue.
But I have to tell you, this hat is a built-in attitude adjustment. Its awfully hard to be grouchy or stressed out when you look like this!
(Thanks to my personal photographer, aka Mom, for the chicken hat photo shoot!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ice, Ice Baby

Yeah, I know...passe pop culture reference, but I just couldn't help myself. Our whole world is ice right now, everything is covered in a solid 1/2" casing of slick crystal weight.

So far though, no real complaints as we still have electricity. There was one little hiccup at 4:05 this morning, whereupon we lay in our warm bed discussing how we would ever get the generator out of the barn and up the hill in this ice rink. Fortunately, we've had steady power since then, so no immediate need to figure out that little issue.

We did finally acquire two pairs of YakTrax yesterday, so now we are much more sure-footed in our current glass world. Blue is not so lucky and she would undoubtedly prefer the world of sod, or even snow under her paws.

Late last night when out to do boiler chores, the world was rather remarkable. Sparkling wherever light touched any surface, but the sound was unearthly. Trees all around creaked and groaned under the enormous weight of the ice. Now and again a loud, shattering crack as a limb gave up the fight and crashed to the ground. Dangerous beauty, indeed!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I know the following post will be a total non-starter for some of you, but I also know that a select few will get a small surge of joy that one more person can be added to the ranks of
"Seasonal Affective Sock Disorder!"

Yes, here it is folks...My very first hand-knit-by-me sock!

And look...
It even fits!!
Now I just have to finish the other one...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Good Frosty Morn

The temperatures have finally returned to a more normal realm for this time of year, enough so that we actually had fog this morning. Winter fog often produces one of my favorite weather-related phenomena, hoar-frost. It seems to me that nothing else can create quite the same magical quality.
After so much snow and WIND (sheesh! Enough already!) our poor little tool shed looks about to be overtaken by the unstoppable and ever-changing snow dunes...

Its hard to judge from the picture, but the snowdrift on the right is at least 4' tall, has completely encompassed our picnic table and is about 6" from the top of the herb garden gate.

A few days ago on my way to nightly boiler chores, I actually tobogganed down our lane on one of our big marine coolers that needed to be returned to the packing shed. It was full dark out, but the massive, white snow reflector gave off quite enough light to see by. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, making me yell and laugh like a loon, fully convincing Blue that something was terribly wrong. She ran alongside, barking and whining as though the cooler was taking me off towards the dark woods against my will. Ah, such is the life of a lunatic farmer in the deep clutches of an Iowa winter!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Annual Conference

As long as we can dig out of our lane (no certainty there) and safely manage the nasty road conditions, we are headed to the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) conference today in Marshalltown. We look forward to this gathering of innovative farmers all year long. Will talk more about it upon our return, and will bitch bitterly if we can't make it. Details on one or the other to follow...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Night Song

As I've mentioned before, the late night stocking of our wood-fired boiler is a mixed blessing. It is awfully hard on sub-zero nights to don winter clothing and make the walk down to the shed just as I am thinking about going to bed, but it also affords a few benefits.

Without this forced evacuation from our snug home (well, yeah we'll just let that go) I would miss any number of nature's gifts. Tonight, the temperature is -4° and the sky is crystal clear. As the moon hasn't yet risen, and stars blanket the heavens from horizon to horizon. It is so cold that the snow squeaks underfoot and passing the line of pine trees I could hear the faint clicking of the pine cones opening and the seed being dispersed out onto the ground. The first winter we were here, it took me nearly a week to figure out that sound, as it only happens at the coldest temperatures and seems be limited to the nighttime hours.

Finally, my fire chores complete I stopped on my way back to the house, my favorite sounds wavered across the snowy landscape. A pair of Barred owls were calling to each other across the timber. The chatter went on for a long time and standing still, it was the only sound I could hear. Beautiful! Its moments like these that I truly appreciate the life we live here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Recipe for Sub-Zero Chores

  1. Think to self, "I really do have to go do chores."(insert sigh here)
  2. Drink large mug of hot coffee to fortify self
  3. Begin to add layers of clothing to protect self from cold
  4. Drink more hot coffee to further fortify self
  5. Add final layers of outerwear protect inner-layered self from deep cold
  6. Look thoughtfully at empty coffee pot and realize your self now has to go to the bathroom
  7. (insert deep sigh here)
  8. Begin to strip off layers to find overheating self buried within
  9. Take self to bathroom
  10. Start over with Step #1, skipping over Steps #2, 4, 6 & 8 if you ever hope to actually make it outside
  11. Fill buckets with hot water for livestock, spill some on self
  12. Slowly move self outdoors under the weight of hot water buckets to work through chores.
It seems somehow appropriate that this process works out to 12 steps.

And just in case you are from the south and are unfamiliar with how to dress when choring (yes, here in rural Iowa that is a word) during sub-zero temperatures, here's a hint...
If more than your eyes are visible, you wont last long!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Blue Full Long Nights Moon

The full moon closest to the Winter Solstice is called the Long Nights Moon as it is the longest night of the year with a full moon This full moon is particularly special because it is also a Blue Moon, meaning it is the second full moon to occur within this calendar month (and not, much to Blue's dismay, named in honor of our fine canine friend).

Regardless, it is quite an auspicious way to welcome in the New Year. So Happy New Year everyone, we hope it brings good luck, much joy and abundant blessings to you and yours!