Farm Strong vs Ironman

By Jay Ross

As two people who work out at a gym almost every day, Robin and I often discuss what we feel is the physical side of our farming business. This physical training side of the business is what we have come to call “Farm Strong”. Farm Strong training, as opposed to Ironman training. I have done both.

iron-man-cairnsIn training for an Ironman competition, you plan out your training months in advance. You look at every aspect of the event and plan your workout accordingly. Swimming, biking, running and even nutrition and rest are essential factors. You evaluate, guess, project and plan on where you should be physically, ever ready to make adjustments based on injuries or changes you cannot plan for. The same is true for a small farm like ours, where the only workout the tractor gets is turning the compost piles or cutting the grass. All other work is done on foot and by hand or hand tools. You plan when to plant, what to plant, where to plant, when to pick, and who will pick, ever ready to make adjustments due to weather changes, pest pressure, or changes due to factors unimaginable.

For the Ironman, you go to your daily plan, see what is in the plan and execute such, even if this is after your regular job. Then when work and workout are done, you are done. A day well spent. You have accomplished everything today you needed to accomplish. For the farm, you go to your daily plan, see what is in the plan and execute such. This is not in addition to your regular job, this is your job. You check this field, work on the weeds, rake this line, compost this line and then till it, retrieve the seeder and plant the line, go to the other field and work on the weeds, then straw the lines to keep the weeds down. You pick the produce in that field, tear out the line of crops that are now past, compost the line, till the line, plant the line. The crops you tore out get dumped to the chickens. Best fed chickens around. Pick the raspberries, make sure all of the produce picked gets into the cold room as soon as possible. The asparagus needs weeding every week or the weeds will take over. This is true even though the asparagus quit producing months ago. You also have to plan for next year. Oh, wait, it has not rained for a week! Put out or turn on the irrigation. There are caterpillars eating the tomatoes. As you pick tomatoes, be sure to pick off all the tomato horn worms you can find. Don’t forget to feed, water and retrieve the chicken eggs. And so it goes….

Toward the end of my training for the Ironman competition, I was working out almost twenty five hours a week in addition to my job. In Ironman training, it is essential you taper your training before competition. With advice from the more experienced, I planned a three week taper. This is where the last three weeks before the competition your training gets tapered back until the week of competition, when you are doing very light workouts. Then the day of competition arrives! It is all excitement and adrenaline. You are victorious, you succeed, Hurray! Then you crash. You can then take all the time you want or need to recover. You have done it! You are an Ironman! Everyone wants to hear those words as you cross the finish line.

Iron-ManOn the farm, there is no finish line. You rise early, work hard all day, and at the end of the day you realize you have not done all you needed to do. There are more weeds that need to be pulled. There are more crops that need to be removed, composted, land tilled, then reseeded. But the day is done, so you head inside to eat dinner. Then you start thinking about what to do next. Do I change my plan? What seeds do I need to order for the coming season? Is the weather working out for the crops I have out? Is it too hot? Is it too cold? I need to communicate with my customers. The tiller broke down today. How and when am I going to get it repaired? I need to sit down and pay the bills. What new products would my customers like? What new varieties of produce should I try and will they work in this zone? Who has better seeds? Should I use transplants?

In contrast, a regular job and twenty five hours of workout a week and you are done. Compete and then you can relax. The farm is your job, no, your life. You work all day and think on into the evening. This is never ending. You need to earn year round income to make the farm work. There is no finish line, no taper, no “I am done and can now relax for a couple of weeks”. This workout plan we so smugly termed “Farm Strong” is not accurate. What it really is, is the Farm Grind. It will grind you down until you are a greasy spot in the driveway. I have lived both, done both. With that knowledge and perspective, I can honestly say farming is more challenging. Farm Grind vs Ironman? Ironman is a walk in the park! Farm Grind, few survive.

With that said, you might ask “why would you do it?”. Why people choose the difficult job of farming is hard to describe. It might have something to do with a certain sense of independence. Possibly it is a connection with nature. Maybe it is just that I love great healthy food! But most likely the reason I farm is an indescribable sense of admiration and gratitude at the beauty of the farm, the satisfaction of a great crop, the amazing smell of nature, the birds, the snakes, the butterflies, and the old lab that follows me around everywhere. Yes it is hard but I promise; it is worth it.

Come see me on the farm.
Jay

butterfly

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Nutrition and Cancer

Mary BrownIt is amazing how many of our CSA members join because they are dealing with cancer. Realizing your life is on the line is a great reason to do everything possible to make changes and take care of your body. There are many wonderful reasons to eat a diet loaded with fresh clean vegetables, for not only cancer survivors, but everyone! Don’t wait until your health is in danger to think about these things. The best cancer cure is cancer prevention. Here are three excellent reasons to load your plate with fresh vegetables, for everyone who is actively dealing with cancer or doesn’t want to get cancer. That is all of us!

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants are like house keepers. They clean up free radicals that, if left unchecked, can damage cells and eventually lead to cancer. Radiation, toxic chemicals, stress and inflammation, cigarettes, and even some of the body’s own metabolic processes can create free radicals. Our bodies need the antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to neutralize them. The brighter and more colorful the produce the better, because these often are the highest in antioxidants. Sometimes doctors will recommend vitamin E or C supplements, which are both antioxidants. Although this might be a great recommendation, nothing can replace the multiple benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are pure and simple. If your diet is high in colorful produce, hopefully it will be low in sugary, packaged, processed, fast foods, and junk foods. If you look at the labels of most packaged and processed foods, there is a long list of unknown ingredients, many of which are questionable as to whether we should be eating them at all. Packaged foods are much more likely to contain unhealthy fats, sugars, preservatives, GMO products, flavor enhancers, artificial colors, artificial flavors, chemical sweeteners, and the list can go on and on. Many people eat these things and believe that if they don’t get sick or have a reaction right away, then they must be safe. My opinion is that if it is not “real food”, we shouldn’t eat it. Those mysterious ingredients are not real food, and they don’t nourish the way real food can. At the very least, processed foods are not supplying the nutrients and enzymes we need, because they just aren’t there. Don’t eat them. Fill your plate with colorful nutrition and health (phytonutrients, enzymes, vitamins, minerals) that you get from your local farmers who provide pure and simple real food. It is worth the extra trouble.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is normally lower in simple carbs and helps keep blood sugar normalized. There is some evidence that significantly reducing carbohydrates may slow the growth of some cancers. Nearly 100 years ago, biochemist Otto Warburg observed cancer loves sugar. It avidly consumes glucose, even more than healthy cells, as it creates new cells and grows. Because of this, some scientists now suggest that drastically reducing consumption of carbs might slow cancer growth. Although there may be disagreement on this topic, it only makes intuitive sense that eating lots of fresh vegetables must be a better choice than chowing on sugars, desserts, French fries, potato chips, breads, and most other high carb foods. Additionally, obesity seems to have a direct relationship to cancer, and obesity is often correlated with higher blood sugar and insulin levels. Is it possible that this correlation between cancer and obesity is related to higher blood sugar levels? A diet low in processed carbohydrates and high in fresh vegetables will likely have multiple health benefits, based on simply managing blood sugar.

Although this article is specifically addressing why people dealing with cancer should be joining a CSA or heading down to the farmers’ markets, it really is about all of us. Don’t wait until your life is on the line to think about the nutrients your body needs. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more important that just something delicious on your plate. Our health and life may very well depend on it.

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Book Review: Deadly Harvest by Geoff Bond

deadly harvest

Book Review: Deadly Harvest by Geoff Bond

This extremely well cited book examines the intimate relationship between the food we eat and our health. If you bring it up on Amazon, check out the reviews. You will quickly realize it is a very influential book, just by the review titles. Check out this list: “Revolutionary insights rescued me from excruciating bad health”, “Eradicate chronic disease”, “For the self-motivated with an open mind, courage and determination” , “Best Overall Resource”, “Excellent Book”, “Rational, scientific approach to better health”, “Everyone should read this book”. Overall it is rated 4.5 stars.

Although, at times I felt like the author used wording and stories that played into the popular “paleo” jargon, I was able to look past that and see he does make some very good points with his “nutritional anthropology” ideas. The author asserts we are not eating foods in line with how are bodies were designed. Some of the bad food choices most people are making are a result of government recommendations, as well as arbitrary and incorrect “dietary guidelines”. We have been manipulated into believing sugar, grains, legumes, potatoes, corn, dairy, and processed oils are good for us. In reality, they make us obese and sick. The author suggests we eat a diet rich in non-starchy plants, modest animal protein and fats, and low salt/high potassium. This should result in a low glycemic, low insulinemic, high fiber, low sodium, healthy fat, low inflammatory diet, which supports good health.

This is similar to the way Jay and I eat, however, not exactly. We choose lots of fresh vegetables, probably more meat than this author would suggest; we eat cheeses and liberally use olive oil, butter, and coconut oil, a few beans, and we add salt to our cooking. We do not eat (except on extremely rare occasions) grains, sugar, processed foods, or starchy vegetables. I hesitate to suggest people should embark on an eating plan that is so restrictive it takes the pleasure out of food, however, by the same token, gaining pleasure from food at the expense of health is a poor trade-off. In my opinion, this author makes great points about how off-base most people have become by eating too much sugar, grains, processed foods, and potatoes. However, I believe that unless someone is allergic, getting rid of beautiful handmade cheeses, real butter and meat from grass fed animals, and even beans in moderation, might be too restrictive for most people. The most important points from the book are: ditch the sugar, grains, processed foods, and potatoes, and add tons of veggies and moderate grass fed meats. These things are the first steps toward improving your health and nutrition.

Eat your veggies…ditch the junk!
Robin

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Veggie Bomb Breakfast

breakfast veggie pile small

Did you know you should be eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day? According to researchers at Harvard University, including this amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet reduces cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and cancer, as well as improving gastrointestinal health and vision. That sounds great, until you consider this: most people who think they are eating healthy, are actually only eating 3-4 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Remember, potatoes don’t count! If you eat some fruit at breakfast, a salad with lunch, and two vegetables at dinner, that only makes 4 servings, which is more than most people are eating. My husband and I have found the only way to get enough veggies in our diet is to include them for breakfast, as well as all the other meals. So, here is one of our favorite veggie breakfasts: the Veggie Bomb Breakfast. This has at least three servings of veggies. Add this to the other four you hopefully eat during the day, and you are at seven! Not bad. Eating veggies at breakfast is essential to getting enough fruits and vegetables for optimum health. Here is the general recipe for the Veggie Bomb Breakfast:

veggie bomb    organic eater veggie breakfast

Ingredients:
• Lots of chopped veggies. My favorites are kale, onions, squash, hot peppers, garlic, spaghetti squash, and tomatoes. Use your favorites.
• Fresh chopped herbs (lots of them!).
• Big handful of kale sliced into thin ribbons (stalks removed if you prefer).
• Bacon or sausage with no chemicals, from pasture raised hogs (optional, you can make this meatless if you prefer).
• Eggs from pasture raised hens (again, optional, but either eggs or meat makes it tastier).
• Butter (organic/grassfed) or other good oil

organic eater veggie bomb

Directions:
• Fry some good sausage or bacon. You can also use any leftover meat in your fridge instead. If this is a “meatless” Bomb, start with step 2, but you will need hot fat in your pan before adding veggies.
• Add your veggies. Add the ones that need longer cook time first (onions, broccoli,etc) then the ones that need less cook time later.
• Pile the cooked veggies on a plate.
• Cook the eggs to your liking and put on top of the veggie pile (I like the poached or over easy).
• Add the cooked sausage or bacon to the pile.
• Add a handful of fresh chopped herbs of your choice. I love sorrel, basil, oregano, chives, thyme, tarragon..actually I use them all!
• Drizzle with good olive oil and your favorite vinegar.
• Add a spash of hot sauce or real parmesan cheese, if you like.
• Enjoy!

You can use any vegetables you have around the kitchen. If you have some leftover grilled eggplant from dinner last night, chop it up and use it! I love it if I happen to be lucky enough to have some cooked spaghetti squash. I fork it out and put it on top of the kale before I add my sautéed vegetables. What pulls this all together is the runny egg yolks, olive oil, vinegar, and bacon or sausage. You can put almost any veggies you want in the middle with fresh herbs on top, and it will taste amazing!

Eat your veggies at every meal!
Robin

photocredit @organiceater

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Eat the Purple Carrots!

Bonnies tomato basil salad

One of the best things about a Saturday visit to the farmers’ market is the huge array of colorful vegetables. Not only are these vegetables beautiful, they also are loaded with healthy plant flavonoids. These are also sometimes called phytonutrients. They include a wide range of chemical substances from plants that are biologically active, but not a vitamin or mineral. They most often occur as pigments in plants. Some examples include anthocyanins in blueberries, lycopene in tomatoes, and flavones in parsley. Most bright colored fruits and vegetables are loaded with them. I think we are just now beginning to understand the potential health benefits of these plant compounds.

In plants, flavonoids provide the beautiful colors you see in leaves, fruit and flowers. They may also be a part of the plant’s defense mechanisms to help ward off insects, fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Flavonoids may also provide some antioxidant protection to plants that enables them to survive oxidative stresses such as drought, salt, and heat. It is possible the same antioxidant properties of flavonoids that protect plants, are also part of what makes them so healthy for humans to eat.

There is strong indication that phytonutrients might have important health benefits. In vitro studies indicate that flavonoids may be anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, antifungal, and anti-cancer. There are at least two publications documenting that flavonoid intake reduces the risk of gastric cancer. (González CA, Sala N, Rokkas T (2013) and Woo HD, Kim J (2013)). There are also multiple studies examining the effects on cardiac risk factors such as inflammation, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and hypertension.

One of the best known examples of the health benefits of flavonoids is blueberries. If you Google “blueberries memory” you will find multiple articles and videos about the brain boosting power of blueberries. The Annals of Neurology published an article stating that eating two or more servings of blueberries a day may delay memory decline in the elderly. It is not the vitamins in the blueberries doing the work here. It is these lesser known plant chemicals! Blueberries aren’t the only super foods. All plants contain some. In general, brightly colored plants contain the most. It is a great idea to make a concerted effort to include bright fruits and vegetables in your diet. Things like berries, beets, dark green leafy vegetables, rainbow colored chard, purple carrots, and many others. You will find them all over the farmers’ market. Make it your goal to search out the most colorful items you can find.

I believe we will begin to hear more and more about the benefits of these phytonutrients. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables very likely has benefits even beyond the healthy vitamins and minerals: phytonutrients!

Eat Your Veggies,
Robin

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Pork Roast with Fresh Figs

Figs and pork seem to be made to go together. August is the time in North Carolina when figs are ripe, so it is time to cook this elegant dish. Although this dish is very simple, everyone will think you are a cooking genius because it looks complex and tastes delicious. My good friend Sheila Tennaro gave me the basic idea for this recipe.

pork roast with fresh figs before

Ingredients
• 5-6 fresh figs, chopped
• Grand Marnier
• Boneless pork loin
• Thyme
• Salt
• Pepper

pork roast with fresh figs recipe

Directions
• Cover the chopped figs with Grand Marnier and let sit for 30 minutes
• Butterfly pork loin lengthwise.
• Drain most of the Grand Marnier and spread the fig mixture on the butterflied pork roast.
• Season the mixture with thyme, salt and pepper.
• Close up and tie it if it won’t stay closed
• Season the outside of pork with salt and pepper
• Sprinkle some fresh thyme leaves on the top
• Bake at 350-degree for about an hour
• Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes.
• Cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. You should see the fig mixture in each slice.

pork roast with fresh figs

The season is short for figs. Be sure not to miss your chance. Have fun impressing everyone with this one, and don’t forget to include plenty of fresh veggies!
Robin

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July on the Farm: Chickens

kids in the chicken yard

Finally! Rodney the Rooster is going to be a father! One of his ladies is sitting on a big pile of eggs! This is great news. For months, these chickens have been living in a separate area of the farm, designated specifically for reproduction! We were beginning to wonder what was wrong. Why is it that ladies in the laying area will go broody all the time? Then we put three ladies and a rooster in a beautiful wooded area, just to have babies, and NONE of the ladies wanted to brood. We honestly were getting very close to dispatching Rodney and putting his three ladies back in the laying area. I think they have finally come through though. One lady is brooding away. Rodney looks proud. Maybe it took longer than we expected for them to adjust to their new home.

Barred Rock 2

Meanwhile, back in the laying house, the ladies are hard at work. We finally seem to have gotten the upper hand on the snake problems. I’m not sure if we relocated enough of them to thin out the population, or if summer is just time when there is so much food available to snakes, they don’t have to be bothered with going in the chicken house.

black snake

Some of our young hens are thinking about laying their first eggs. We found a very tiny egg recently. Often, young hens will lay really small eggs when they first start laying. It was barely bigger than a robin’s egg! The mature ladies are hard at work doing a good job with their egg production. They haven’t slowed down much due to heat. They normally are quite happy in July, because they get some of their favorite produce. Chickens absolutely love tattered old kale that we pulled out, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and melons. We throw tons of these types of scraps to them in the summer. They can eat bins and bins of produce scraps in no time at all. The only thing bothering our chickens are the hawks coming around. We have young hens, that are small enough for a hawk to think it can snag one. These young hens are small enough that some of them squeeze through the fence and get out into the open area, where hawks can see them. That normally doesn’t end well. Not only that, but once hawks realize there are easy-to-snag chickens around, they tend to come back again and again.

young hens on the loose

We heard a big ruckus in the chicken yard the other day, and a huge red tailed hawk was out there sitting on the ground eating a hen. The chicken was too big for the hawk to carry away, so it killed it and just sat on the ground to eat it. Needless to say, the other ladies were not happy at all about this. Jay shooed the hawk away and composted the poor dead hen. Without a doubt, this hawk will be back. Many chicken farmers struggle with how to deal with this situation without resorting to shooting a beautiful and protected hawk. It is difficult because, as I mentioned, now that the hawk knows where dinner is, it will be back. Our solution has been to put tomato stakes in the ground all over the chicken yard. The goal is to create a space that is so littered with stakes, the hawk can’t get in there and navigate very well with its broad wingspan. You can tie long strands of silver ribbon to the top of each stake to make the area even more confusing and difficult for hawks to swoop in.

ladies and yard stakes

We also make sure there is plenty of overhead cover, such as a shack they can run in, and huge oak trees to hide under. Although these strategies work pretty well, none of this is perfect. This is one of the main challenges with growing chickens with full outdoor access. It is so much easier to keep them in a protected house. Now you know why eggs from pasture raised chickens cost more. It is because pastured hens are so much more difficult to manage. Chicken farming would be much easier and cheaper if we just closed the hens in the henhouse and let them happily lay eggs, well protected from predators. Sometimes I wonder if they might be calmer and happier under such a scenario. Then I come to my senses and consider how happy chickens are rolling in the dust and chasing around bugs and worms. I also believe eggs that come from hens that are eating a diverse diet of plants, bugs, worms, and anything else they can find, are of much higher quality and better taste than any other eggs. So our ladies are going to have to keep dodging the hawks!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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July on the Farm: in the Office (part 2)

Fall is coming.

seedlings

I know it is hard to believe, but July is the time we plan for fall crops and get the seeds ordered. The fall crop actually gets planted by mid-August. We often try to be the first to market with several crops, so we may even push the common wisdom and try to plant some of our fall crops by early August. We have a few gardens with good afternoon shade and irrigation that work pretty well for this. Our planting strategy is to first plant the fields that are closer to the house and have irrigation. This is essential because it is so hot here, these fall crops will not germinate and grow without adequate water. We will plant our second planting of fall crops in the fields that are farther away. Seed selection is tricky for fall plantings because the crops planted in late summer need to be very heat tolerant, and the crops planted later in the Fall need to be very cold tolerant. Read and choose varieties carefully if you are a grower. Also be careful to choose varieties resistant to the insects and diseases you think you will encounter during the growing season you are targeting.

seed packets

I am perusing the seed catalogues now. I love this part of my job. I want to plant everything! The only problem is that ordering seeds takes a pretty big hit out of our monthly budget each July and January. We make it work in January because we have spring CSA sign ups during that time, which brings in income with the sign up fee. There is no fee for our existing spring CSA members to rejoin for the winter, so no sign up fee money is coming in. Not only is July too early for most members to start thinking about a winter CSA, but they are still trying to figure out what to do with all the summer eggplant they are getting! My favorite seed choices for fall include brussel sprouts, mixed lettuce, mixed kale varieties, colorful root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and cool season herbs. Each one has its own strategy behind which variety to choose.

Lettuce Garden

Lettuce: Choose a heat tolerant variety for early planting then shift to a cool season variety for later plantings that will be harvested in the winter. Plant the warm season varieties in places with afternoon shade and irrigation. Plant the cool season varieties in full sun and in fields farther away.

Kale: The most heat tolerant varieties I have found are Lacinado and Siberian kale. These go in first. Then I plant Red Russian for later season harvests, because it tolerates cold much better. I also specifically look for something colorful and different. I might do Redbor this year, or even a Portuguese kale.

Broccoli and Cauliflower: As with all winter crops, I buy heat tolerant varieties and cold tolerant varieties for successive plantings. For broccoli and cauliflower I also look for good disease resistance as well as pretty colors. The seeds for colorful broccoli are extremely expensive, but these crops do demand a slight premium at the market. The key is to not waste any of the seeds. This means I need to germinate them in a seedbed, then transplant the seeds into the field. If I direct seed them into the field with my seeder, too many get wasted. It has to be done by hand. I used to contract with a local greenhouse grower to grow out my seeds into transplants. That got too expensive and I couldn’t justify it based on the price I can get for the crop.

brussel sprouts

Brussel Sprouts: These are a challenge because the time from when the plants emerge to when they can be harvested is very long. They also are not very heat tolerant, so they cannot be planted too early. This means that if they are planted in early September when it finally cools off a little bit, they may not have time to mature before it gets too cold. We use two strategies. The first is to find varieties that have some heat tolerance and the shortest possible days to harvest. The shortest I have found is 90 days. Plant them early, and be ready to cover them with frost protection if you have to. The second strategy is to find very cold tolerant varieties with a long days-to-harvest and try to overwinter them for an early spring harvest. I’m going to do some of both this year. Last year it didn’t work because it got so cold that everything froze out. This year might just be a little warmer. Everyone loves Brussel sprouts. It is worth the extra work and a bit of risk.

Baby Mixed Root Vegetables

Root Vegetables: I choose sweet turnips, colorful beets, colorful carrots, and different types of radishes. I don’t hesitate to direct seed these crops with close spacing, because I can remove some of the crop as baby root vegetables, and allow the rest of the crop to mature to full size. If is funny, but root vegetables sell well as babies, but it is much harder to sell full sized beets or turnips.

Herbs: Great winter herbs include several types of parsley, dill, cilantro, and chervil. We plant all of these and love them. These also make great beneficial insect habitat, so I love having them all around the farm.

Herbs

By the end of July, we have at least half of our fields empty and are preparing to plant Fall crops in August. The chore list for the last week of July includes removing many of the tattered summer crops, composting, tilling, raking, and preparing to plant. I can hardly wait! I love fall crops, and honestly think I might be better at growing cool season crops than summer crops. Not only that, I love the huge diversity of cool season crops. Bring on the winter farming!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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Choosing Seeds for Fall Planting

Bells Farm

July is the time to choose seeds for fall planting. Many fall crops are planted in August in North Carolina. My favorite seed choices for fall include Brussel sprouts, mixed lettuce, mixed kale varieties, colorful root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and cool season herbs. Each one has its own strategy behind which variety to choose. Normally, when I think about which varieties to plant, I have two main criteria. The first is environment. I want to know the variety I pick will thrive in the temperature I expect the crop to be growing in. After that, I look for disease resistant varieties because we don’t spray fungicides, copper or sulfur on our farm. If you look closely at the catalogue description of the seeds you are considering, it will normally tell you if the variety is tolerant of heat or cold, as well as give you a list of the diseases to which it has reasonable genetic resistance. Don’t ignore these details. It can be the difference between a successful crop and a failure. Ability to tolerate the environment and resist diseases is more important that how pretty the picture is. Below are my choices.

Lettuce

Lettuce: Choose a heat tolerant variety such as Tropicana for early planting then shift to a cool season variety such as Winter Density for later plantings that will be harvested in the winter. Plant the warm season varieties in places with afternoon shade and irrigation. Plant the cool season varieties in full sun and in fields further away. Look for disease resistance to downy mildew, viruses, and bottom rot.

Red Russian kale

Kale: The most heat tolerant varieties I have found are Lacinado and Siberian kale. These go in first. Then I plant Red Russian for later season harvests because it tolerates cold much better. I also specifically look for something colorful and different. I might do Redbor this year, or even a Portuguese kale. There are very few diseases of kale in the winter, so I do not worry about that when choosing seeds.

cauliflower

Broccoli and Cauliflower: As with all winter crops, I buy heat tolerant varieties and cold tolerant varieties for successive plantings. For broccoli and cauliflower I also look for good disease resistance, as well as pretty colors. The seeds for colorful broccoli are extremely expensive, but these crops do demand a slight premium at the market. The key is to not waste any of the seeds. This means I have to germinate them out in a seedbed and then transplant the seeds into the field. If I direct seed them into the field with my seeder, too many get wasted. It has to be done by hand. I used to contract with a local greenhouse grower to grow out my seeds into transplants. That got too expensive and I couldn’t justify it, based on the price I can get for the crop.

brussel

Brussel Sprouts: These are a challenge because from the time the plants emerge to the time they can be harvested is very long. They also are not very heat tolerant, so they can’t be planted too early. This means that if they are planted in early September, when it finally cools off a little bit, they may not have time to mature before it gets too cold. There are two strategies. The first is to try to find varieties that have some heat tolerance and the shortest possible days-to-harvest. The shortest I have found is 90 days. Plant them early and be ready to cover them with frost protection if necessary. The second strategy is to find very cold tolerant varieties with a long days-to-harvest and try to overwinter them for an early spring harvest. I’m going to do some of both this year. Last year it didn’t work because it got so cold here that everything froze out. This year might just be a little warmer. Everyone loves Brussel sprouts. It is worth the extra work and a bit of risk.

Root Veggies

Root Vegetables: I choose sweet turnips, colorful beets, colorful carrots, and different types of radishes. I don’t hesitate to direct seed these crops with close spacing, because I can remove some of the crop as baby root vegetables and allow the rest of the crop to mature to full size. If is funny, but root vegetables sell well as babies, but it is much harder to sell full sized beets or turnips.

Herbs: Great winter herbs include several types of parsley, dill, cilantro, arugula and chervil. We plant all of these and love them. These also make great beneficial insect habitat, so I love having them all around.

Seeds

Growing fall and winter veggies is one of the best things about farming in the South. The possibilities are endless. Time to get out the seed catalogues!

Eat Your Veggies,
Robin

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Chicken with Dijon and Tarragon

tarragon-chicken

I try to include herbs in our CSA bags each week. Surprisingly, our members have more questions about how to use these beautiful herbs than they do about the veggies. Here is a great way to use tarragon. You can make this recipe with either French or Mexican tarragon.

Ingredients:

• Fresh pasture raised chicken (whole or cut up)
• 2 garlic cloves
• Dijon mustard
• Olive oil
• Small bunch of tarragon
• Salt and pepper

Directions:

• Heat your oven to 375
• Chop up and mix well the garlic cloves, small bunch of tarragon, a splash of olive oil, and a squirt of Dijon. I use my “Magic Bullet” for this, and it is very quick and easy. It should make a sort of paste.
• Smear this all over your chicken, including under the skin. If you are using a whole chicken, don’t forget to smear the inside and maybe shove a peeled onion in there.
• Wrap the chicken up and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Or, if you don’t have time, then go right ahead and move to the next step.
• Sprinkle with salt and pepper and put the chicken in the oven uncovered. Cook until done. For pieces, it will take about 40-45 minutes. It will take longer for a whole bird.
• Enjoy with the rest of the beautiful veggies in your CSA bag! And you can go here for other veggie recipes to accompany this chicken.

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