Cue the AC/DC – We’re Back!

You see that down there?

HooooRAYYY!

HOOOORAYYY!

That’s some baby garlic coming up in the field. Yeah, I’m excited. And for those of you who’ve had the Keith Stewart Rocambole, I’m sure you are, too.

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Hello, Starshine. We are so glad you could join us.

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Copyright Sarah Merusi

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Friend Sarah’s crazy fish lens captures the the mom/daughter planting excitement

The spinach is up. So is the kale, lettuce, beets, salad greens, assorted herbs and a plethora of other baby veg. The peppers are almost all up at this point, and every day my mom walks into the greenhouse and speaks softly and sweetly to the eggplants and tomatoes, coaxing them with promises of fun and parties if they hurry up and germinate (which I think Pennywise the Clown did too, right?)

tomato box

Tomato Kingdom

tomato country

And we seeded like 35 types of tomatoes, by the way.

In the field, the sorrel is chugging along, the perennial herbs are making their small and sturdy resurgence and the peas, radishes, beets and spinach I sowed last week should be up soon. Sometimes I find myself standing on the edge of the field wanting to seed and sun dance for them like the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro…but our field is just too close to the road. Too many people slow down to look at what weird things we are doing in the field on a day-to-day without drawing extra attention to ourselves.

And the garlic is up. THE GARLIC IS UP. Did I mention that? You can’t see this but I have paused in my writing to hug myself in excitement.

Two weeks back I took myself on a last grand adventure for the season. I headed out to Pittsburgh – one of my favorite drives and one of my favorite cities – to visit some dear friends, see Neutral Milk Hotel be great and spend hours in the Phipps Conservatory, a huge beautiful greenhouse building full of the most beautiful and exotic plants I’ve ever seen. It was a great way to kickoff a farm bound season in the beautiful LV.

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It’s a banana tree! In the middle of Pittsburgh!

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Oh look, a room full of airplants!

Not that there aren’t things to do in the beautiful Lehigh Valley. My friend Steve and I are slowly working our way through those delightful cases of our  Belgian tripel – and it was really satisfying to take a couple down to Philly and have the boys be surprised at how great it tasted (I am an okay baker, but the Keith boys know I am renowned for big ideas and bad delivery when it comes to cooking – see the twig debacles of 2012). The other day we transferred our maple coffee porter into glass for a couple weeks and added some bacon infused vodka – soooo we’ll see how that goes. But I’m excited nonetheless. I spent part of yesterday reading about herb-infused beers, and I can’t wait to give those a whirl this summer.

And this past weekend I had the pleasure of a lovely dinner with My Grandmother’s Table, a friend’s catering and dining experience company out of Allentown. A bag of sorrel for the dinner got me two seats at her small-party table at Ruby’s Floral Factory in Bethlehem for a night of food and fun that owner Dina Valentini Wanamaker modeled after her childhood Easter Table. I had a blast, made some new friends and she turned my bag of baby sorrel into a fantastic salad with Bulgarian Feta, watercress and garlic vinaigrette.

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The first field greens of the season. Makes my heart sing.

Add another five courses of pork marsala, chicken roulade with sage and mozz, and homemade raviolis, and you can imagine the evening we had. We’re working on a vegetarian festival meal for September, so stay tuned. We’re talking apps, herb-infused drinks and some amazing vegetable entrees, so get stoked.

sorrel and feta salad

Sorrel and feta salad. Yummm.

It’s been a season with a lot of potential already. It makes me nervous, but I can’t help but feel lucky and excited, too. My cousin got a small cafe in Coopersburg to give me a call about buying vegetables this season. The sous chef at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn reached out a couple days ago on Facebook. My boys have their folks at the Alehouse interested in some after-market vegetables. Tonight The Support Center for Child Advocates is auctioning off a CSA half share for an amazing cause at its Annual Benefit. The guys at Philly Foodworks and I haven’t met in person yet, but we talk frequently and are thrilled to be working together this year.

And for the biggest announcement – The Food Trust has given me a Wednesday Market in the La Salle-ish neighborhood in Philly. I’ll be over at the intersection of Mt. Pleasant and Chew on the Germantown/Mt. Airy border! I can’t wait. After a year of playing the scrappy huckster, I feel almost shell-shocked that folks have reached out to me to learn more and get involved in procuring some vegetables. Coupled with the Farm to City East Falls market, I am looking forward to a full and busy season in the city.

Which, of course, means wayyyy more vegetables need to be up and growing than last year. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, especially with all the weather delays this season, but my dairy boss reminds me regularly that everyone is in the same boat and that you can’t control these things. Which makes me feel better most of the time, aha.

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It can be scary to go out there and seed three or four times as much of a crop than I did last year, but I know it’s well worth it. Folks were so happy with what we had to offer last year, and with a little more experience hopefully there will be more of all the favorites. This is still a big experiment year – I am trying lots of different varieties of each vegetable to discern what works best in my soil and this area – but I hope all this research and studying pays off. People see my hauling this backpack of magazines and books around and ask me if I’m still a student – and while I know what they mean and assert that I’m not, I really am.

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In other Farmstead news, my folks are more than halfway moved up to the new home. Glenn has dreams of an orchard like the one on his childhood farm, so we ordered a pile of fruit trees from our Willow Haven Farm neighbors and got them in the ground last week. I spent a couple minutes making a cute and readable map for my parents to keep track of these guys, since they technically aren’t part of Crooked Row Farm (until I start stealing fruit in a few years, maybe).

Farmstead Tree Map

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

Right now they look much less exciting than the photo image

We’re doing a lot of mulching and they are doing a lot of painting and sanding and cleaning to get the current house in order to sell. Hope these new buyers enjoy all the secret tomatoes that are sure to pop up all around the landscaping by summer.

Glenn is also trying out a new toy – a Bobcat, which is really a glorified golf cart with shocks that drives faster. Matthew came up to seed tomatoes and make me some herb shelves the other day, and we spent a fair bit of time whipping around on this puppy. Old man Strider dog also enjoys a good ride in it.

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So excited he made some market shelves!

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Matthew is excited.

And so our journey continues. I just spent the morning seeding a bunch of herbs, and now I’m off to help landscape for the house sale. Here are some plant babies in almost-real time:

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Mizuna! Non nom nom.

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Itty bitties.

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Red Russian Kallllleee!

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Mesclun – coming to a salad bowl near you.

All the best!

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The Fall of Tomato Kingdom – The Greens Uprising

Well, it came to Pennsylvania, and then it came to New York, and then it came to Orange County, and then it came to Keith’s Farm; late blight. We found some last week while we were harvesting, and now we are in full on tomato harvesting. We must pick as much as we can and Keith has resolved himself to spraying copper on a couple different areas to keep some of the plants going for as long as we can. But our main goal for the past few days has been to harvest everything salvageable and let them finish ripening in our root cellar and cooler.

But late blight was not the beginning of our tomato problems. We began our season with blossom end rot in our heirlooms because someone planted a tomato stake right through the drip tape, so when folks irrigated that field the water gushed out into nothing and some of the tomatoes were never watered. This is how I learned the importance of checking drip lines EVERY TIME you irrigate. Holes and leaks form all the time – from wear and tear, from small critters with sharp little rodent teeth, from tractors and loosely-tied ends. And tomatoes succumb easily to a number of diseases (ours have a few) and need a lot of maintenance for a successful crop.

But when you get tomatoes, it’s totally worth it – in addition to a half dozen variety of regular red tomatoes and four cherries, we had a solid planting of Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Pink and Yellow Brandywine and Amish Paste heirlooms that New York’s tomato connoisseurs gobbled up each market. Keith also sells a low-acid yellow tomato called a Taxi that sort of stinks flavor-wise, but people looking for low-acid tomatoes adore, and we were regularly the only stand picking green tomatoes to sell at market, which were overall very well received.

Though folks are sort of over tomatoes now with our rapid descent into fall, tomato season was still something to behold. I am relieved that it is winding down – some harvest days were extended full hours because there were so many tomatoes to pick – but seeing a truck filled to the brim with such vibrant colors is really a sight to behold.

But our silver lining is our greens. Our kale, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage and other fall treats look pretty amazing right now. Our chard is spotty from Cercospora leaf spot, which apparently travels on quick weed (which we have in abundance on this farm), but we’ve cut off the diseased leaves and the chard we took to market went over well. We are still struggling to hussle our Mizuna at the stand – which is insane to me, because I could eat Mizuna bunches all day – our Asian greens kick butt, and this one is long and stringy with a mild mustard flavor when you sauté it.

But what are you going to do? As people experiment more with their fall greens, they’ll come around on Mizuna, I’m sure. We also took giant Tatsoi heads to market, which look totally cool. Being down a camera has been a huge drag for the blog, but I’m going to invest in one this weekend so you readers can see the amazing produce we are growing right now. Our fields of kale and broccoli are incredibly to see. And they are fortified behind the Great Wall of Keith’s Farm, so they should be relatively safe from pests.

Our winter squash is also looking incredible. We have huge butternut and acorn ripening in the field, our Delicata looks scrumptious and our Jack-Be-Little pumpkins and cooking pumpkins already make it feel like Halloween up in 09. We took some to market yesterday and some came back, but once it gets a little colder it will allegedly fly off the shelves.

As far as market, Wednesdays have been clipping along nicely. Yesterday it rained heavily twice and the threat of rain made for a slow morning, but after the sun came up business picked up considerably. Not our best day, but still fairly decent. Apparently now that it’s after Labor Day business will fly through the roof because folks have officially returned to the city for work. It’s cool to think of being even busier than we have been, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

On the personal business end of things, our tomatillos and husk cherries are giving us only small returns at each market, but it’s still fun to have something of our own to take. And the fields of black dirt where Keith started set onions in the spring have given way to two bands of broccoli raab that our coming on nicely. We’ll make good money off those if the field doesn’t flood and if deer don’t eat them – people at market have been clamoring for it since we ran out.

I was too tired for a few weeks to be excited about Wagner Farmstead, but after a day of Wagner picnicking because Jess was home from California this past weekend, I’m totally amped again. We talked to my family about farming all day, and Melissa’s boyfriend Anthony has offered a lot of advice and potential aid that has me feeling excited that we could actually pull this off. I’m going home this weekend to measure my starter field so I can officially start working on a crop plan and field map for the spring. I’m staying on here at Keith’s until the last market before Christmas, and then I’ll be ready and eager to start setting things up for my farm ahead. I can’t wait.

Like I said, I don’t really have any pictures to include of the farm at the moment, but my good friends Lauren and Kevin invited me up to their apartment at Yale a couple weekends back, and I brought them some seconds from market that they turned into a real feast. So here is a before and after shot of that.

A beautiful spread for a beautiful couple.

Fork-crushed blue potatoes, shirazi salad, salmon and a medley of deliciousness. Lauren is an amazing cook.

Lavender cake!

Also, Flavia and Keith had us over for dinner before Parker left to return to Bard for school, and Flavia bought us each a handcrafted hat from a novelty shop in town. Keith adores these hats and always has one on at work, and it was really sweet and thoughtful farm gift for us. I love mine so much that I went to the store and bought one for Jess (who, fashionista that she is, was less receptive). But here’s a few goofy picture of us in our hats Flavia sent around.

Clearly, we are all business.

With the lady of the house!

What were we talking about? No one can remember, but it sure looked serious.

And now, duty calls. But stay tuned. I’ve vowed to start writing more again with my renewed confidence and energy. And the forthcoming photos will be well worth it.

-Farmer Liz

 

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