Rainy to Hot Day: Week #14

What a strange and beautiful day it has been on the farm today. This morning I awoke to a lightning streaked sky in the east. I remembered waking up in the middle of the night and hearing it rain and thunder a little. I was shocked to see it still somewhat stormy, plus I thought I had dreamed the rain. Inwardly I was groaning since today was a big harvest day. Rain has a way of making everything muddy. We were going to get muddy, the truck was going to get muddy, and the vegetables were going to get muddy. It was just going to be a tough harvest day.

Yet, as usual, the day was unlike what I was expecting. The sun came out as we gathered our harvest tools and supplies. The fields were a little slippery and the veggies were definitely on the muddy side, but nobody fell over in the mud. That is definitely a plus! Then this afternoon I found myself picking tomatoes in the hot sun with sweat dripping down my face. Quite the opposite of what I had thought today would bring.

Sometimes I dread the tomato harvest, only because there is so much to pick. It’s a big job and usually takes two afternoons to complete. But it can also be one of my favorite tasks on the farm. Right now the heirloom tomatoes are going crazy. Well, actually all the tomatoes are going crazy, but I’m most excited about the heirlooms. They take the longest to ripen and the skins crack easily. You only have a short window to pick an heirloom tomato. Today all the varieties of heirlooms were heavy with fruit. I couldn’t believe it. This is an excellent tomato year for me, maybe the best of my farming career. I thought I knew the varieties I been growing for 4 years, and I thought I knew them well. Yet, this year I feel like I’m meeting them for the first time! There’s a pink variety I grow called Rose de Berne. Every year it’s been a small to medium tomato that has either cracked before I picked it, or been too soft to take to market. I don’t know why I’ve kept it around all these years. Yet, each year I plant more Rose de Bernes. This time they paid off! The Rose tomatoes are amazing. They are twice the size they usually are and I’ve been taking more to market than all the previous years combined! Just when you think you know a tomato . . .

As the weather’s cooled down we’re starting to get some crops reappearing in the box. This week we have a small amount of broccoli and haukeri turnips! Pretty soon we’ll have lettuce and spinach again, maybe in a few weeks. Enjoy the box!

What’s in the Box:

Haukeri Turnips– Remember these!? Well, after a long, hot & dry summer these wonderful snacking turnips are back. They’re great for dipping into hummus or any of your favorite veggie dips. They have a great nutty flavor. Eat them raw in a salad or cook in a stir fry.

Chard– This leafy green sautes nicely with olive oil, garlic and onions. Just add some scrambled eggs and you have a healthy breakfast!

Broccoli– Thanks to the cooler weather we have broccoli again! It’s just starting to be ready so these heads of broccoli are somewhat smaller. But as the fall approaches we’ll be getting bigger heads. This is just the first! Yay for fall!

Potatoes-Enjoy these creamy potatoes!

Sweet Onions-Store these onions in the fridge. They have great flavor and can go in any dish.

Celery– This is the last of the celery for the season. I hope you haven’t grown tired of it! I’ve been using it in soups and I’ve been dehydrating some for the winter. You can use the tops to make a soup stock as well!

Tomatoes– More and more tomatoes! Enjoy the mix of heirlooms and slicing tomatoes!

Peppers– All the tomatoes in your box this week are sweet ones, no matter what shape they are. The long ones are Italian sweet peppers and the others are bell peppers.

Chives– these will go great with the potatoes or in the salad recipe below. Enjoy!

Recipes:

Cumin Scented Stir Fried Beef with Celery– from epicurious.com, feel free to add more veggies, like the onions and sweet peppers!

Frittata with Swiss Chard, Potatoes, and Fontina– from myrecipes.com, you can use whatever cheese you want in this recipe. Parmesan is always good!

Chard Enchiladas– from gourmetveggiemama.com

Stoplight Salad– from thelocalcook.com, my favorite summer salad, bar none. Use parsley, basil or cilantro for the herb. You can also use lime juice for the balsamic vinegar. Absolutely awesome

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Busy Bee on the Farm: Week #13

It’s been a busy busy week on the farm! The rain we’ve been having has put me a little behind schedule, but I am not complaining! So this week we’ve been running around transplanting lettuce, broccoli, and cabbage. Plus I’ve been hopping on the tractor any chance I get to do more tilling. Saturday was a long day since I had tilling and seeding to do on the tractor. But thankfully I was able to get it all done. Not to mention I had a class to prep for too. Whew!

Speaking of class prep, Sunday night found me sorting through my worm compost pulling out worms for class. I’ve got a worm bin of red wiggler worms that eat my kitchen scraps. It’s been fun to see them eat up the bits of veggies and turn them into worm castings (a fun way of saying worm poop!). These casting are great for putting on house plants or garden plants. I sometimes use them on my transplants before they go out into the field.

I was sorting through them Sunday night because this week’s class is all about making compost. The students have put together a few different types of worm bins, from the fancy store bought kind, to the scrounge around and find something that works kind. I have to admit the sorting was not fun. I think it was one of the most tedious things I have done in my life. It took me four hours to come up with a pound of worms! I hope those students appreciate my dedication!

Enjoy the box!

What’s in the Box:

Arugula– The first of the greens to return! And it’s some of the best looking arugula this season too! Try a beet and arugula salad, the flavors are amazing together.

Beets– Have you tried roasting these on the grill yet? Just wrap them up in foil with some olive oil and you have got yourself a yummy side dish.

Garlic– Did you know you can roast garlic? Cut the tops off and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the whole head. Roast at 325 for 45 minutes and then spread on a baguette. So good!

Kale– Thanks to the cooler weather earlier this month the kale is really looking good. Try the kale chips (recipe below), they’re so good!

Parsley– More than a breath freshener parsley has a lot of vitamin C and adds a nice fresh flavor to any dish.

Peppers– You’ll get a mix of sweet peppers in the box this week. Enjoy the colors.

Scallions– These are zesty little onions if I do say so. We started tearing up at the end of harvesting them. They a packed with great flavor!

Tomatoes– Enjoy the colorful and flavorful tomatoes! This week you’ll get two kinds of heirlooms; Black Prince (a mahogany color) and Rose de Berne (a pink color). They’re two of my favorites. Enjoy!

Recipes:

Baked Kale Chips– from allrecipes.com

Sauteed Kale– from foodnetwork.com

Arugula Salad with Beets and Goat Cheese– from simplyrecipes.com

Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce– from Kalynskitchen.com. This is a blog with pictures and the full recipe at the end.

Surpise! It’s School Time! Week # 12

It has been an exciting weekend and early in the  week. The farm itself is plodding along. We got quite a bit of rain yesterday, which was a surprise! The tomatoes are growing, the kale looks good again, we’re transplanting and seeding in the fields, and the weeds are continuing to try and take over the farm. You know, the usual.

The excitement started Friday afternoon, between my market in Lake Bluff and the CSA pickup in the afternoon. As I was taking time to catch my breath and eat a little I got a call from the Horticulture Department Chair at the College of Lake County. Turns out they are a little short staffed this fall semester and she was wondering if I would be available to teach a class on Organic Growing and Sustainable Methods in Horticulture, and by the way the class starts this Monday. Holy Smokes!

So after a crash course on the previous instructor’s plans, I have set out to teach a semester class on organics and sustainability at the local community college. I have to say I am very excited, scared, but excited. This will be a new experience! How do you like that? Your farmer just became an adjunct faculty member at CLC!

Enjoy the box!

What’s in the Box

Green Beans– once again we are getting green beans from the Learning Farm at Prairie Crossing. I don’t know how they did it, but they are having a bumper crop!

Italian Sweet Peppers-These are the long red peppers in this week’s box. They’re sweet!! Not hot at all! I have been waiting and waiting for these peppers to be ready. Now, they’re here!! They are by far my favorites. Enjoy

Shallots– These petite teardrop shaped bulbs pack in a whole lot of flavor. Shallots are often characterized as a cross between garlic and onion. They have a smooth delicious flavor that takes any dish to the next level!

Cucumbers– These veggies always have a refreshing effect on me. I love them, even when it isn’t 100 degrees outside.

Celery– This vegetable adds such a bright and fresh flavor to salads, soups, and stir fries. Though the stalks are small, they pack a punch. You’ll never want celery from the store again.

Potato– Another round of these tasty spuds!

Purslane– Remember this crazy green from two weeks ago? It has reddish stems with rounded green leaves. It’s high in beta carotene and omega 3 fatty acids. Chop it up into a salad or just lightly saute it. It can substitute for spinach in a recipe too.

Sweet Onion– I love these versatile onions. Sometimes I carmelize them, sometimes I roast them, sometimes I chop them raw into a dish.

Tomato– More tomatoes! Yay! Remember to store them stem side down on the counter. Enjoy the different colors!

Thyme– This is one of my all time favorite herbs, and it’s not just because the name lends itself to a world of puns. I love thyme in my soups, in potatoes, salad dressings and tomato dishes. It’s a major part of Italian seasonings. Nothing beats fresh thyme!

Recipes

Grilled Shrimp with Shallots and Fresh Thyme- from foodandwine.com

Gazpacho Recipe– from foodnetwork.com

Tomato, Cucumber, Purslane Salad– from simplyrecipes.com

Green Bean and Celery Salad– from foodnetwork.com

Roasted Thyme Potato Slices– from food.com

Tomato Season: Week #11

Well, shoot! I can’t complain about the weather anymore. We’ve had rain and it’s cooled off. What in the world am I going to write about this week now?

The tomatoes are definitely taking over the daily tasks now. If we’re not harvesting them, then we are tying them up onto their stakes, weeding the walking aisles or I’m spraying them with some deliciously smelly organic fertilizer made of ground up fish parts. (The tomatoes love it, I do not.) The tomato plants are already 5 ft tall and are promising to grow even more. It’s an amazing sight, especially since last year my tomato plants struggled so much. Last year we had a huge rain in July and I had standing water in my tomato field. That resulted in either dead tomato plants or stunted ones. Well, that was last year. This year the tomato plants look fabulous and they are keeping us very busy.

Of course we  only work in the tomato field after 10 am. We do this to avoid working among the plants when they might be wet still from the morning dew. We don’t work in the tomatoes when they are wet. That way we avoid transmitting possible diseases from plant to plant. Tomatoes are susceptible to many diseases in the midwest so we do our best to limit their exposure. They’re just to precious! Thankfully in dry summers like we’re having diseases are a minimal risk. Still, it’s good to be careful!

Enjoy the box!!

What’s in the Box:

Cabbage– great tasting, smaller heads of cabbage.

Yellow Potatoes– creamy tomatoes that are wonderful mashed with a little butter and garlic

Beets– delicious red beets. Excellent with goat cheese!

Celery– fresh, flavorful celery goes well in almost anything. Check out the awesome tomato basil bisque recipe below. One of the secret ingredients= celery!

Tomatoes– another mix of colorful tomatoes. Remember to store them stem side down and keep them out of the fridge and on the counter if you can. They keep their flavor better that way.

Sweet Onions– these onions are wonderful in any dish. Use them raw or carmelize them on the stove. I just can’t get enough of them.

Garlic– another round of this great tasting garlic! Have I mentioned how much I love garlic?

Confetti Basil– this week’s basil bunch is a mix of my red and green varieties. The red basil has a great basil flavor with a little peppery finish. I love the colors together. They will make any dish stand out!

Recipes

Chunky Tomato Basil Bisque– from tasteofhome.com, I used fresh tomatoes (about 8) and omitted the tomato paste and red bell pepper. It was awesome!

Italian Peasant Soup with Cabbage, Beans and Cheese– from eatingwell.com. Time to celebrate the cool weather with this hearty soup!

Creamy Cabbage and Potato– from seriouseats.com. A wonderful take on the Irish dish colcannon. Very simple and very tasty.

Beet and Goat Cheese Crostini- from myrecipes.com. You can wrap the beets in foil and roast on a tray instead of in a covered dish. Soooo yummy.

Livin’ On a Prayer (We’re Halfway There) Week #10

This week we hit the halfway mark in the CSA! Can you believe it? We’ve had ten weeks of veggies now and we’ve got ten more weeks ahead of us. Are you humming a certain Bon Jovi song now? Well I hope some of you are, because I certainly am. And yes, I definitely feel like the farm is living on a prayer. But so far, so good. Plus, the tomatoes are ripening, so life is good!

This week the CSA is getting a little assist from the Learning Farm at Prairie Crossing. There are multiple farms all inside Prairie Crossing, including Wild Goose Farm. One is an education-based nonprofit that works with elementary through high school students. This summer they are having a bumper bean crop, so I am taking advantage! This week we’ll have green beans supplied by the Learning Farm.

It’s been great farming next to a bunch of other organic vegetable farms. We can commiserate about the weather and bugs, share little tricks we’ve learned over the season, strategize on common problems, compare notes and just have a good laugh. At times we’re able to help out one another with crop shortages too. I’ve really enjoyed the other farmers around me through the years. We’re great people, if I do say so myself. 🙂

Enjoy the box this week!

What’s in the Box:

Green Beans– Thanks to the Learning Farm we get this summer favorite. I love them steamed with a little butter and salt.

Purslane-This succulent green is high in omega 3 fatty acids and beta carotene! You can use it fresh in salads, add it to your taco fillings or lightly cook like spinach. You won’t even realize you’re eating weeds from the farm!

Celery– Ever had fresh celery before? This will put the grocery store version to shame. It actually has flavor!

Carrots- I hope you enjoy the funny shapes of these carrots as much as I do. They will store better if you remove the greens.

Potatoes– These yellow potatoes are incredibly creamy. I don’t even bother peeling them since the skin is so thin. They’re my favorite kind of potatoes.

Sweet Onions– More of these awesomely versatile onions!

Juliet Tomatoes– These tomatoes look like a mini plum tomato and are absolutely wonderful. They have their own distinct tomato flavor with less juice and more meat. They are wonderful in salads, just like the recipe below!

Slicing Tomatoes– Enjoy the mix of colors, sizes and shapes. Remember that tomatoes are ready to eat if they give slightly when you squeeze them gently. Store on the counter with the stem side down.

Garlic-You can store this garlic either in the fridge or on the counter.

Parsley– This herb is super high in vitamin C and adds a bright and fresh flavor to any dish.

Recipes:

Purslane Potato Salad– from another CSA farm, Hidden Villa

Huevos con Verdolagas (Eggs with Purslane)– from examiner.com, a great new egg dish

Fancy Green Beans– from Paula Deen at foodnetwork.com, guess what, it’s got bacon!

Flank Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Salad– from bonappetit.com, use the juliet tomatoes in this week’s box instead of the cherry tomatoes. I just love the idea of this dish!

A Link Through the Ages: Week #9

This week we’ve been busy harvesting potatoes. Thankfully we got them all out before our little rainstorm in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning. This year the potato harvest was an adventure. I had a new potato digger to work with thanks to my dad’s determination and hard work. A couple of months ago my dad brought a very old potato digger back from the family farm that my cousins run in west central Illinois. How old is this potato digger? Old enough that it was originally designed to be pulled by horses! That’s right, this potato digger, which is basically a spade with a grate behind it and two handles, used to be hitched up to a big draft horse. It required two people, one to drive the horse and one to manipulate the digger. My dad saw that old piece of machinery and saw a possibility to help his daughter get those potatoes in quickly this year!

So, after much sanding off of rust, adding a couple wheels and replacing some bolts, the potato digger found it’s way up to Grayslake and onto my farm. I was a little apprehensive at first, wondering if this machine was going to create more work rather than less. Well, we tried it out this week with some moderate success. We did manage to break one wheel on the digger, but thankfully it stayed on long enough to finish the potatoes! We had to also do a little hand digging to get some of the potatoes out as well. But overall, it was definitely a back saver and we had a good time trying to figure out just how to get this thing to do its job. Hurray for new life on old machinery!

Enjoy the box! This week’s theme is SALSA!!

What’s in the Box:

Tokyo Bikana– This Asian green has a wonderful mild flavor and I use it as a replacement for lettuce. It has a slightly different flavor, but is crunchy and a green that will grow in the heat.

Carrots– More of these tasty and funny shaped carrots.

Potato-Another round of these great potatoes!

Sweet Onions– These onions are great in any dish, raw or cooked. Keep in the fridge because these have not been “cured” or dried.

Tomato– The first of the tomatoes! Here’s a mix of the red and yellow tomatoes that are finally ready! I love the little yellow ones since they have less acidity than the red ones. Store tomatoes on the counter if they’re not quite ready yet and put them stem side down. They’re more sturdy that way and don’t get moldy.

Bell Peppers– the first of the peppers are ready! Right now they are still green, but eventually they’ll turn orange, red, and yellow.

Basil– remember to keep this fragrant herb in a glass of water on your counter. The fridge is just too hot.

Cilantro– another great and fragrant herb. Salsa anyone?

Recipes:

Fresh Tomato Salsa– from allrecipes.com, you can leave out the serrano peppers for a mild version

Balsamic Roasted Baby Potatoes and Carrots– from food.com

Steak Fajitas– from simplyrecipes.com

Balsamic Tomato Basil Pasta– from food.com

Rain! Rain! Rain! Week #8

What a difference a week makes! Since the last newsletter (sorry for the bogus link last week) we’ve had 3, count them 3!, inches of rain! I can’t believe it. Plus, each rain has mostly been a gentle rain, slowly accumulating over time, which is perfect! No downpours for me, thank you very much. Even this morning was a gentle rain. It definitely looked ominous. As I drove to the farm the sky was black, and not because it was so early in the morning. We were braced for a huge storm to break. We even had a discussion on where we were going to run for shelter if the storm got too crazy. Well, I guess it’s always good to be prepared. Instead we spent half the morning in the greenhouse sorting through garlic (!) and seeding lettuce. Then we ventured outside since the skies were no longer threatening disaster and spent the rest of the day out in the fields and at the washing station getting things ready for the CSA box and the farmers markets. Despite the ominous clouds it was a very calm day. You just never know what to expect on the farm!

Now you may be wondering how does all this rain affect the farm and the drought? My answer, it’s a mixed bag. All this moisture is definitely soaking in and thankfully there isn’t much run off. There isn’t even any standing water in the fields, which is perfect. The rain will definitely help the crops that are already growing. It’s been such a relief to have to move irrigation around and decide what gets water and what doesn’t. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there is already drought and heat damage that this rain can’t undo. I’ve lost about three seedings of crops such as turnips, beets, salad mix, greens and carrots already. They just never germinated. I think the soil temperature must have been too hot and I just couldn’t water enough to give them the moisture they needed to grow. It’s not a death knell for the season, but it is terribly frustrating. My heart goes out to the farmers who only grow a couple of crops that take the whole season to grow, like soybeans and corn. The farmers only get one shot at growing those crops each year. So in a year like this many farmers aren’t going to get a crop. The corn and soybeans aren’t as tall as they should be and predictions cite a 10% yield on such crops. Some farmers have already started to till in the crops, not waiting for the ears of corn, but chopping it up for to feed livestock the silage (chopped up cornstalks). All I can say is, it’s tough being a farmer, no matter what you grow.

On a happier note, the box is full of goodies. This week we’re putting in the first of the garlic! Enjoy!

What’s In the Box:

Red Potatoes- another helping of these wonderful potatoes

Cipollini Onions– a sweet Italian onion that is great in any dish

Carrots– they may be funny shaped, but these carrots are full of flavor!

Cucumber

Eggplant– this week we have an Italian globe eggplant. They are great in eggplant parmigiana or grilling.

Gold Beets-another bunch of these great tasting beets! These I think are my favorite.

Dill– this refreshing herb will go well with the cucumbers!

Garlic– the first garlic of the year! enjoy these wonderful bulbs!

Recipes:

Eggplant Parmigiana– from foodnetwork.com

Grilled Eggplant, Tomato and Goat Cheese– from allrecipes.com

Roasted Beets with Balsamic Glaze– from simplyrecipes.com

Roasted Carrots– from foodnetwork.com