Farm update – 6/25/2017

You might think that our long summer growing season would result in an unchanging harvest made up of the same veggies week after week. To some extent that may be true, as only the hardiest crops can endure what southwest Georgia throws at them in July. And August. And September. And yet, at least for now, the ebb and flow of vegetable production remains constant. We are starting to see the end of the yellow squash, zucchini, and cucumbers, and some of the tomatoes, but at the same time we’re also seeing an increase in our eggplant production, are picking the first of the okra (a handful of pods a day for now, hopefully soon in greater abundance!), are starting to see our colorful bell peppers turning their vibrant hues, and are eagerly anticipating the maturity of the butternut squash, butter beans, and edamame. Even the peanuts are showing their continued development with a recent explosion of flowers. And so it is that our currently available list is not a static entity, but changes almost daily to match our ever-changing harvests.

IMG_20170625_232251Signs of the changing times: an okra flower, an orange bell pepper, a butternut squash flower being pollinated, and the first of the peanut flowers.

One exciting new addition to the lineup is elephant garlic. We have been patiently waiting to harvest this for 18 months! We planted our very first elephant garlic bulbs experimentally in and amongst our landscaping in the fall of 2015, and didn’t harvest them at all in 2016 to allow the bulbs to multiply. We’ve been watching the leaves yellow and die back over the last few weeks, and felt like they were finally ready to be dug today. As we were digging, I started noticing small “bulbils” growing side-by-side with the larger edible bulbs. I immediately potted some of them up with the hope that they will grow and become starter stock for a new, more permanent location for future elephant garlic production.

IMG_20170625_232811 Elephant garlic cloves and a small “bulbil” being potted up.

Today also saw us back in the beehives. I jokingly said last time that I wanted to sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation with our “woods bees” to figure out why they’re not producing honey like we think they ought to be. In the two weeks since then, it’s bothered me that I hadn’t done a full hive inspection at that time. What if they were trying to tell me that something was wrong, but I missed that part of the story by not going into the brood boxes, not listening to everything there was to hear (or see). I admit that part of the reason I didn’t do a full hive inspection last time is that hive scares me. Just a little! They’re a little less welcoming and tolerant than our other hives have been, so that I try to get in and out with as little disruption to their bee lives as possible. Today, however, the bees and I both had to put up with each other from the top to the bottom of the hive. And they really were quite gracious about it, so maybe it’s time to ratchet down my fear of that hive. All my worrying aside, I could find nothing wrong with them. Although I didn’t see the queen, I saw evidence of her existence by the presence of young larvae. None of the pests that take advantage of weak hives were present. So, funny enough, though I’m grateful that there isn’t anything clearly wrong with the woods bees, I still have no idea why they won’t make us honey!

We were met with some great news during the inspection of the hive that was queenless on the last visit. A new queen has taken over and is busily laying eggs to increase the hive’s population. I have never been so happy to see baby insects in all my life. I was hoping to find this queen to thank her and wish her well, but she remained elusive. There was capped and uncapped brood on several frames, so while I didn’t see any larvae during the last inspection, the new queen must have starting laying pretty soon after the last visit. Our remaining hive, this year’s reliable colony, was rewarded for all their hard work with an empty honey super. With luck and good weather, hopefully they will start drawing comb and filling it with sweet flower nectar!

IMG_20170625_232347A frame of capped and uncapped brood in our formerly queenless hive, and the “Twin Hives”

Farm update – 6/18/2017

Even though the official start of summer is three days away, today was the perfect epitome of the summer season.  It was one of those days where from the moment you step outside in the morning, you know it’s going to be hot. Really, it was best suited for Father’s Day pool parties or trips to the beach.

The has-to-get-done farm work of tending chickens and staying on top of hoeing was completed by lunch. All of the would-be-nice-to-get-done work was put on the back burner, to be completed when the weather was more conducive. A requisite swim and afternoon siesta followed lunch, until finally the sun had moved far enough into the western reaches of the sky to permit outdoor work again. The daily harvesting was thus completed as the evening thunderstorms rumbled in the distance, letting us know that even if we weren’t getting today’s rain, someone nearby was.

Even dinner let me know what season it was. Since I haven’t yet given in to the need to turn the air conditioning on, I wanted a dinner that wouldn’t add too much to the heat in the house or that would take long to prepare. A few minutes in a cast iron skilled resulted in some pan-fried eggplant served with a chilled tomato-cucumber-pepper-red onion-basil chutney and a glass of cold roselle hibiscus-mint herbal tea. It was as I sat eating dinner, thinking about how perfectly suited eggplant and tomatoes are for one another, and for summer itself, that it dawned on me that every moment of the day, though unintentionally, was underlain with the markings of summer. Such is the power of food, to connect you with a certain place or certain season. Hope you are also enjoying the taste of the season!

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Farm update – 6/11/2017

This week we’re offering $5 and $10 Whole Farm baskets. For the smaller basket, choose two items from the list below. For the larger basket, choose four items.

  • Yellow squash (1 lb), zucchini (1.5 lb), squash medley (1.25 lb), pickling cucumbers (1.25 lb), slicing cucumbers (1.5 lb), cherry/grape tomato medley (8 oz), large bunch parsley, or herb sampler.

This week’s highlight for us has been making a line of cutting boards. They range in dimensions from small cheese boards to standard cutting boards to long and skinny boards, ideal for filleting fish. And they are just in time for Father’s Day! Each comes with a jar of food-safe cutting board finish, made from mineral oil and our very own beeswax, which will help ensure the life of the board. For more info, check out our cutting board gallery.

Besides the pleasure of creating cutting boards, this has unfortunately also been a wormy week, from armyworms to wax moth larvae. I don’t know if armyworms are so named because they descend upon your crops in leaf- and fruit-eating droves, or because you feel as though you need to deploy your own army to combat them. Maybe it doesn’t matter:  both scenarios are true. They found our tomatoes this week in a big way. About half of our gorgeous, unripe, huge Gold Medal slicing tomatoes had to be stripped from the vine and chucked into the compost because they were full of armyworm larvae. Knowing how anticipated the tomato harvest is, losing that many tomatoes was pure heartbreak.

On top of that, our hive inspection this weekend revealed that our orchard bees, that tough, strong, productive hive – our very first – was a total loss. Lost to wax moths, an opportunistic pest that moves into weak hives and literally eats away at them from the foundation up. Furthermore (yup, that wasn’t all) our woods bees still haven’t built any, none, new comb in the empty super we bestowed upon them many weeks ago. It’s enough to make me want to sit down with them and grill them on how exactly they spend their days and if they’re really all that interested in producing honey for us.

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And (still more bad news to come!) one of our “Twin Hives,” this year’s additions, inexplicably lost its queen in the last 3-4 weeks. We know the approximate timing because there was a minimal amount of capped brood still present (they emerge after 28 days), and no uncapped brood, but there were also 10-12 queen cells that were already open, and they take 21 days to emerge. Hopefully there is a recently hatched emergency queen ready to take the helm. Just in case, though, we gave them a frame with eggs, lots of adult bees, honey, pollen, and capped brood from their twin hive to give them a little bit of every resource at hand.

The silver lining to this hive inspection was that the other hive of the Twin Hive duo is doing exceptionally well. The original queen is still present, she’s laying strong, they have two supers nearly full of brood, honey, and pollen, and they are teeming with life, completely oblivious to the strife every other beehive is causing. This is exactly what they should be doing at this stage of development, and it won’t be long before we can give them a new empty super in which they can start storing honey for harvest. Though if I’ve learned anything this last year of beekeeping, it’s not to count your honey until it’s harvested.

Bee losses and armyworms notwithstanding, the rest of the farm is continuing on well. Our little “twin row” peanuts make me smile as I go by, the edamame, tiger eye beans, and butter beans are starting to flower, our wide variety of peppers is starting to bear in abundance, and I swear if you stand there long enough, you can watch the okra get taller!

Farm update – 6/4/2017

For this week’s Whole Farm basket, choose one large, two medium, and one small item OR three medium and one small item from the lists below:

  • Large items: kale or eggs
  • Medium items: yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, or cherry/grape tomato medley
  • Small items: one each green bell and sweet banana pepper, large bunch parsley, or herb sampler

In addition to this week’s Whole Farm basket, we will continue to have available a squash basket, consisting of 3 lb of yellow squash and 2 lb of zucchini. A perfect amount to get some in the freezer for use once squash season comes to an end!

This weekend we partnered with the Colquitt-Miller Chamber of Commerce to do a mini-farmer’s market event in Colquitt. It is always fun to meet new people who are interested in what we do, and yesterday was no exception. We look forward to continuing to be able to provide veggies to the Colquitt community, possibly through a mid-week drop off at the Chamber of Commerce building. If you live in the Colquitt area and would be interested in that, please let us know!

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Summer veggies are slowly but surely maturing. We harvested our first eggplants over the weekend and should have many more throughout the summer. Eggplants were a hit last year, and we planted extra this year to try to meet the eggplant demand. We know everyone is also eagerly awaiting the first slicing tomatoes of the year (as are we!). It’s hard to watch them take their time ripening, but it’ll be worth the wait! We’re anticipating that they’ll be ripe for harvesting in another two weeks. In the meantime, we have available now a beautiful cherry and grape tomato medley.

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The rain I mentioned being in the forecast for this past week did not disappoint. We were even able to use it to our advantage today to make the first batch of pickles of the year. That task would have happened regardless of the weather, actually, but it was nice to feel like we were not neglecting outdoor chores while we stayed inside during some heavy rain to prepare and process 13.5 quarts of pickles. They’ll be ready none too soon, as we are nearly out of last year’s pickles.

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Before today’s rain came it, we were able to finish weeding the entire field. It makes me very happy and very proud to walk down the entire length of the field and find it in nearly immaculate condition. Sometimes, as I’m weeding, I wonder if it’s worth the effort, as it is a never-ending job and a substantial amount of the labor required to run an organic farm. But when it is in such good shape, everything else is so much easier. Harvesting is easier because you can see and access the crops without sifting through weeds to get to them. Pest management is easier because there are fewer hosts for pesky creatures. And most important, future weeding is easier when you start from a clean slate. This time last year, we were struggling to keep our heads above the weeds. We learned from our agonizing weed problems last year and minimized the area of the field we need to weed this year, and have made every effort to stay ahead of the weed situation. I guess I’ve slowly but surely learned that it is in fact worth the effort.

If you were looking for us this weekend at the Tift Park Community Market in Albany, you’ll be happy to know that we are planning to be at the market this coming weekend!

Farm update – 5/29/2017

While we give the peppers and tomatoes another week before adding them into Whole Farm baskets, this week highlights cucurbits – members of the squash family. Each basket will contain 3 lb of yellow squash, 1 lb of zucchini, and 1 lb of cucumbers. Check out our online farmers market for a la carte items – though we don’t have peppers and tomatoes in abundance yet, we will have limited quantities available throughout the week!

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We are definitely finalizing the transition into summer. Except for Swiss chard, and a little bit of remaining kale, everything we planted for spring has been fully harvested. Last year, we were selling spring veggies until the end of June, which continues to show how much earlier spring came (and went) this year – as if we needed more evidence! Even the weather is finally on board with what season the calendar says it is. Looking ahead at our 7-day forecast, six days show at least a 30% chance of rain, so our summer afternoon thunderstorm pattern seems to be settling in. Last week’s rains were so welcome. We went most of the week without having to irrigate the veggies, and the bees should certainly benefit from an increase in nectar flow in the surrounding vegetation.

We planted peanuts for fall harvest this weekend, with seed saved from last year. As we were planting, it made me happy to know that what we produced last year could be carried forward to provide another harvest this year. We also visited the “bamboo forest” again, this time for make bamboo tepees to support our pickling cucumbers. The new arrangement makes it so much easier to see and harvest them!

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Speaking of cucumbers, a few weeks ago at the grocery store, I noticed a bag of cucumbers labeled “Fresh Pickles” and giggled a little at how silly that seemed. IMG_20170527_122450950In the time since then, I’ve caught myself thinking about them a few times, wondering if there was something I’d missed. Maybe they were in a brine, and they were freshly made commercial refrigerator pickles. My curiosity got the better of me, so I walked by them at the store again this weekend, and sure enough, it is simply a bag of raw pickling cucumbers. I want to know the story behind it, but certainly it involved some market research that concluded consumers don’t know that pickles come from cucumbers, or that cucumbers are now passe but pickles have a more favorable ring to them, kind of like how prunes are often sold as “dried plums” to avoid negative associations people might have with prunes. It made me realize how fortunate and happy I am to have such a direct connection with my food and with the people who consume it – all of you! No gimmicks or marketing ploys needed – just good fresh food, from our farm to your table.