Here is a wonderful addendum to the last post from my dear friend, Mary Ann Segal who is also a recent MOB as her daughter was married July 12 in NYC! Thanks for the wonderful link! I’ve watched/listened to it several times and will continue to enjoy! Hope you all do too!
Everyone in the Saint Louis area is enjoying the mild weather we have had lately but it isn’t really good for the farmers. For one, we need the hot sunshine for the more typical summer crops to multiply and ripen. We love cool weather as much as anyone else but we prefer to have it when our spring crops are in the midst of growing. Instead, our tomatoes, green beans, cukes, zukes, eggplants, okra and melons are begging for the heat and aren’t getting it. Sure, you can grow tomatoes in Michigan in the summer, but you can’t get the volume we are interested in producing in order to make sauces and ketchup and the like! Those types of endeavors are best made using 15-20lbs of ripened fruit per batch which means nearly that many per day! Ripen, darn it, ripen!Besides the lack of heat, we are horribly dry here with nary a rain shower since the infamous wedding weekend (4 weeks ago now!) when we had rain galore! I mention this very shyly since we would be about the only Saint Louis-ans who are currently complaining about the weather! We are watering steadily and watching the weather reports with not much precipitation predicted for another week at least. This seems so contrary to the national reports of flooding in our area, but do remember that the flooding is from all the rains and snow melts from up river, and not so much of what we have experienced here.
Despite the Debbie Downer report, we are still ahead of the game since a recent farm report from Dave tells me that at 840+ pounds of harvest YTD, we are 263% above last year at this date. No wonder we are running out of refrigerator and freezer space! But the fact that blueberries are outweighing tomatoes by 6 pounds at this juncture is quite telling! Uh oh, the broccoli is also still making bundles of edibles. And the birds are all on their second batch of hatch-lings! These three wee robins took off from their nest a couple of days ago and the barn swallows are not far behind with their second batch of the year. Dave is nearly finished digging potatoes but with one more row to go, he is just shy of 200 pounds. They are gorgeous and tasty as we can attest from our recent first tasting of the year. It will be nice to clear the potato patch since it was getting weedy and we will gladly till that area under so as to plant another fall crop in its place at the end of next month. (The potato patch also seems to be the source of some of our recent chigger bites- ugh!)
We have enjoyed many veggie filled dinners and hope the friends who have picked up the fruits of our labors feel the same. Our onions aren’t as sweet or large as the ones in the grocery, but they caramelize nicely and compliment our other dishes.Here is one of our faves. A simple zucchini/onion sautee on very, very low heat in the pan with quality olive oil and fresh pepper and salt. A little thyme at the end of cooking finishes this dish nicely with extra flavor from the herb garden. We will fix this again tonight! The peach crop in our area was devastated by the winter cold and a late snap. We aren’t affected to the same degree as the big orchards since our trees are so young and frankly, it isn’t our bread and butter crop. But, here are some of our ripening peaches. The norm for picking in our area is usually the third week of July…but we will not hit this mark this year. Also indicative of the cooler weather, we have apples that are turning red already! Understand, this shouldn’t be read as a complaint, but this isn’t the normal, seasonal order of things!But when all else is wacky with the world, take a moment and look at what the bees are doing! Here is another interesting article in the NYTimes editorial section last week.
Our area has had an exceptional honey harvest this year, (despite all of the negative reports about bee health) Jurgen and Helen’s bee yards are productive to the point of being overwhelmed. For me, this translates into a great first year as an apprentice. I feel as if I’ve had quite the education so far and last week was no exception. Jurgen and I spent Thursday and Friday evenings pulling off the second, mid-season honey harvest in terms of 22 honey supers from 3 bee yards. This is an energy and time consuming thing to do but we got into a rhythm and were able to deposit 22 honey supers into their garage after two days…ready for extraction this past weekend. When we pull the honey supers away from the hives, the bees are rather curious as to where their hard work is going. Here are some of the honey supers in the back of our truck, under the towels, waiting to be carted away for extraction. The bees continue to cling to the sweet boxes of honey. We have to make a mad dash away with the honey, trying to keep the bees from following us. Jurgen and Helen extracted all day Saturday and took away 12.5 buckets full of honey which hasn’t been weighed yet but should be the most of the season yet. Bravo! They are marketing at several locations in town but would probably send some off in your direction if you want some of the best honey around!
Despite the fact that the bee report is usually last, I’m interrupting this tradition to report on a little thank you luncheon that I hosted last Friday for the gals from Garden Savvy (with Mary Ellen Hetenyi at the helm) who helped with so many of the landscape details and beyond during the wedding preparation time. It was really good for me to stop my daily chores and prepare a special thank you lunch with fun treats and lots of wicked laughter. I learned from my dear mother how to set a pretty table and enjoyed using some of the dishes from my grandmother. We feasted on Seven Oaks fruits and vegetables in the form of Roasted Cherry Tomato Pizza, Bibb Lettuce Salad with radish, green pepper, blueberries and my home made vinaigrette, followed by a fresh blueberry fruit cup dessert. One of the guests, Tammy, brought flowers from her garden in a lovely arrangement that she showcased when returning one of the vases from the wedding tables. These made the table all the more special!After a wonderful champagne toast to a successful endeavor, we all agreed we need to stop more often and gather to enjoy the moments like these!
Making sauerkraut isn’t exactly a conversation magnet for most folks. Nor are any of the details of fermentation that go along with it, but I won’t let that stop me from giving you all the information I have about my recent experiment with making Sauerhoff Sauerkraut at Seven Oaks Farm. As you know, I had my first experiment with fermentation when I started sour pickles a couple of days ago. These are doing quite well and look and smell just like they should despite the fact that they need several more weeks to come into their own. So with several more crocks waiting their turn and plenty of cabbage (or so I thought) needing to processed, I did my research and set about this task last Tuesday morning after blueberry picking. What joy, 4.5 more pounds of nice large berries!
It turns out that kraut making is really simple. The hardest part of this is to cut up the cabbage in what the books say is quarter thin slices. I can’t tell you how many people have told me about the box cutters their grandparents used for this. Hmmm. I bet they were all wishing they had my Cuisinart, since I wasn’t really relishing spending hours and hours with a box cutter and bloody knuckles! I put the slicing blade on my machine and made wedges out of my cabbages before putting them thru the feed tube. Again, the ‘recipe’ I decided to use was from the University of Minnesota Extension Services since they seem to know what they are talking about when it comes to fermenting. The recipe said to use 25 pounds of cabbages which luckily I didn’t have. I only had 10 pounds, but it seemed like a lot at the time. Sure, a cabbage head is a heavy thing, but once you shred it to pieces, the volume is unreal!
Luckily the recipe had instructions that were for 5 pound batches which was easy for me to follow. For every 5lbs, you mix in 3 tablespoons of canning salt. I was going to do this in my 3 gallon container but that only held the first 2.5 pounds I had! So I looked around for something the size of a kiddie pool to mix the rest of this in and found instead the white elephant in the room, our umbrella holder which is in reality a crock. I bought this thing at an antique store years ago since I was attracted to the large “S” on the front of it. That “S” was undoubtedly for Sauerkraut and not for Sauerhoff, but it came in very handy that day. For purposes of scale, here is Dave wrestling with it. I used it to mix the ten pounds of sliced cabbage with the salt. I was amazed at how fast the salt went to work on the cabbage structure, wilting it down in volume to fit into the 3 gallon crock not long afterwards. One day later, I transferred it to the two gallon crock. There was so much brine at that point that I have three quart jar filled with water weighting it down. Since then, I used another 12lbs of cukes to make a 3 gallon batch of the sour pickles since the 4 gallon crock is turning out some delightfully dilly smells. The fermentation of all of these crocks will take several weeks of patience before the next steps, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I turned another 9 pounds of cukes into traditional sweet pickles that we so love.
I’m still working on additional ways to preserve the harvest and have discovered that one of the best ways to keep zucchini is to dehydrate it. Lucky me, I have a new dehydrator to use. But even if you don’t there are lots of other ways to do this. My favorite finds were these two web pages about the Italian way to do this.
So I attacked about 8 pounds of zucchini and yellow summer squash yesterday. How simple it was to slice them up and put them into my dehydrator. I must say I hesitated on how to slice up the Siamese triplet here. Isn’t Mother Nature curious? This belongs in the annals along with Quasimodo’s Lips Strawberry. I set the temperature for 135 degrees and the timer for 6 hours and woke up this morning to these beautiful specimens that fit nicely into a zip lock gallon bag. I’ll store them next to the dried turnips and will gladly look forward to more squashes from the garden soon and also to using these in winter meals. Besides all the pickle making I’ve also been busy dispatching with hordes of eggplants. In two days time, I processed 37 of them into either roasted vegetables or Parmesan eggplant patties which freeze nicely for delightful meals all winter long. Here they are before baking.
Here they are afterwards. This is less than half of what I put into freezer bags. As always, the bee report is last. Although it has not been a week since I put the empty honey supers on the hives for a bit of a clean up, Jurgen decided that 3 days was sufficient and advised me to remove them today. With exceptionally cool weather to work in, I jumped at the chance this morning to do this. I set about opening the hives to discover that the bees had indeed cleaned up the combs. It was slightly unnerving that they were still pretty interested in the empty space and I had to forge ahead and displace them from the frames before I could remove them, first with a sharp thwack and then with my hive brush. As you can see, I brought the leaf blower just in case but did not have to use it. I carried all four empty frames away for winter storage.
I’ll pop them into the basement freezer for a day or two first to kill off any stray mites, but not before observing one frame that had several young bees emerging from their cells into the world. It isn’t easy to activate your cell phone wearing a bee suit but I managed this video despite not being able to clearly see where the camera was pointed. Forgive the amateur file. The bees take so long to emerge that I don’t have their final flight from the cell, but this should be an indication. Also, I just upgraded this blog to enable videos and I’m experimenting with the format, so be patient.
As reported earlier, Dave has been busy digging potatoes and a little early afternoon rain today has only helped with this effort. He started with the Yukon Golds and has done just a small portion so far but the volume was sufficient enough that we needed move forward quickly on storing them. With about 50 pounds at first glance, I decided to look for burlap bags. A visit to OK Hatchery in nearby Kirkwood was productive today. When I explained why I was looking for the burlap bags, they went looking for some but I guess burlap isn’t as efficient as other materials for storing and transporting goods today. Instead, I found these nice yellow mesh bags to be best for our purposes. These had whole peanuts in them originally which are sold in large bins in this supply store. (This is a great place to buy things like bird seed, chicken feed, and all sorts of gardening supplies.) They were happy to give me these bags and I’m sure I will go back for more of them soon!You don’t wash the potatoes before they go into the bag but we needed to contain the dirt a bit as we loaded the bags so we set up the mesh bags over a kitchen trash can in order to proceed. The first 50 lbs will go directly to the basement for storage. We aren’t nearly done with digging potatoes since we have not even begun to dig in the Pontiac Red rows but this is a good start. We look forward to tasty potatoes all year long now!
Here is a short bee report: The bees had a real treat this morning when I gave them the empty frames of honeycomb after yesterday’s extraction. The bees love to clean up the last bits of honey that remain in the honey supers after the honey has been extracted. After they do this work for us, the fully drawn frames will be clean and ready for next year’s season. I will leave these on the hives for one week and then I’ll take them off for the winter storage. This is what the hives at Seven Oaks looked like today with the extra honey supers on top for a great feasting opportunity! I’m busy dreaming up the ways in which I’ll transform 36 pounds of honey into beautiful jars with Seven Oaks labels!
We are ever so busy here! I left town for a couple of days but not before ordering some fermenting crocks from the Ohio Stoneware Company in Zanesville, Ohio. I’ve been dreaming about making the old fashioned ‘sour pickles’ of my ancestry (as well as some sauerkraut with our cabbages but that will be another posting) but I felt I needed the appropriate containers for this new adventure. The crocks and their lids, which arrived Friday, were packaged with great care including a wooden crate type of base which we are going to keep for future use somewhere. We joyfully unwrapped them and set them out for display…1, 2, 3 and 4 gallon sizes. Today, after a morning of beekeeping (more about that later) I began the relatively labor-free method of fermenting cucumbers into sour pickles. Our ancestors were really smart…this method includes very few expensive ingredients but rather employs patience, which is something no one has today or else they wouldn’t be planting the seeds, weeding the fields, harvesting the fruits, washing and paring them and then combining them with ingredients to make what will be a marvelous batch of pickles after they sit and ferment for six weeks! I certainly can relate to the wine makers and cheese makers who have the patience to garner the products to make their craft so valued. Perhaps we need better marketing for pickles…
Anyway, the process was quite basic. After researching various methods, I found my favorite source was the University of Minnesota Extension which had careful and detailed instructions.
I’m not one to follow recipes with strictness but this was an exception. I was able to easily gather 16 pounds of 4 inch cucumbers from the recent harvest in order to make a batch for the 4 gallon crock. I scrubbed them up and cut the bloom end off of each one. I counted the ends and found it took exactly 120 fruits to make this happen. Then, I added some fresh dill from my herb garden. I also peeled fresh garlic that was grown by a woman whose bees we care for. She was harvesting from her garden one day last week when Helen and I were making our rounds to the bee yards and she gave us both a head of garlic as well as some rabbit foot fern starts. (More on the ferns later). Fermented cucumbers turn into sour pickles with a marginal amount of ingredients and an even smaller degree of effort since there is no chopping or slicing to speak of…weren’t our ancestors smart! For my 16 pounds of cukes, I added 16 heads of dill, 2 cups of canning salt and only 1 cup of vinegar in addition to the garlic and 8 quarts of water. Here are the whole cukes which I added to the crock.I layered the spices, and here they are with the top layer. Then I added the brine which made everything float to the top…just like swimming in the ocean. This, of course is why you have a weighted lid. I put that in place and now, tick, tock, the waiting begins. I’ll check on these a couple of times a week for 3-4 weeks, removing any scum that forms on the top surface, while they are fermenting. If all goes well, I can store them in their original crock for 4-6 months but it is even easier to put my canning expertise to use and pack these into quart jars and put them through a hot water bath to store for future consumption. I’m now reading up on a similar process to make sauerkraut which I will make in the 3 gallon crock with the cabbages that are ready to pick. In the meantime, we are harvesting lots of zucchinis and green beans as well as tomatoes and eggplants galore. The potatoes are ready to dig. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a light rain before working on this chore to make it easier to get them out of the ground! The farm report as of yesterday pushed us over 500 pounds of produce in 2014 at a rate of 156% above last year at this date. Case in point, we have 4 times as many blueberries this year (54.5lbs) so far with some varieties still patiently waiting their turn to be harvested. The bee report this week is incredibly exciting for several different reasons. For one, Jurgen is back from Germany and is again the captain of the ship which is fortunate since we hit some rough waters yesterday. While he was gone, we noted that a hive in one of the bee yards was consistently inactive. It was a relatively young hive in a yard with 4 larger hives as well as 3 nucs, which are smaller start up colonies. Hive 12 in the photo was the inactive one but between it and hive 13 are the three smaller boxes – the nucs – that have only 5 frames in each. When Jurgen returned, he checked more thoroughly into hive 12 to see what was going on with it. He found the queen but she was not busy laying eggs and so he was planning to replace her this weekend with a queen from one of the nucs. Instead, when we arrived Saturday morning, we found that the bees from one of the other hives had attacked this weaker hive and had robbed them of their honey and killed most of the bees. What a crazy mess! We looked for the marked queen and couldn’t find her even tho she was present the day before so it is likely that she was killed by the attacking bees. So Jurgen decided this hive (whats left of it) had to be moved, along with the nucs, to another location. It just so happens that Seven Oaks was a good candidate to receive the new set up so we moved the hive this morning at 6am. This was rather involved since we had to shut the hives down and keep the bees inside during this process. Jurgen and Helen have some great equipment for carrying a hive from place to place. We loaded the pickup and took off for Seven Oaks with the nearly defunct hive #12 as well as the three nucs. We moved hive 11 to the middle of the stand and added 12 to the end which follows the concept that hives on the ends thrive better than their neighbor in the middle. Hive 11 was already our strongest hive so this would give 10 and 12 on the outsides a better chance of growing stronger. We did another thorough search for the errant queen since we wanted to make sure she was not present before we added the queen from one of the nucs. It took us a while but we got the two deep brood boxes set into place and then added the bees from one of the queenless nucs. Then Jurgen showed us how to join two new mini colonies together. After we got the first nuc loaded into bottom boxes, he laid a single sheet of news paper on top and used his hive tool to cut slits in the paper before adding two more hive boxes on top of it. This paper barrier serves to keep the two colonies slightly separate until they get used to each other. The bees will eat through the paper (the slits get this started) to be with each other on a gradual basis before the paper dissolves and the two groups join into one. Into the top boxes, we unloaded the frames from one of the other nucs…this one was the one that had the active queen in it. Then we gave them some food since there was hardly any honey in their combs and put the inner and outer covers back on and we will hope that this little experiment ‘takes’. The other hives are young enough that they should allow this new hive to get settled in peace. We then put the third nuc on the stand by itself to continue to develop. Jurgen was trying to get a queen to emerge from a queen cell in this one but it had not emerged for several weeks so it must have been a dud. Here is what it looked like after we removed it. Before all the turmoil of yesterday’s discovery of the bee robbing, we had the excitement of pulling the first honey super off of hive #11 in order to extract the first of Seven Oaks Honey! This was my first experience of pulling the honey supers off. This involves putting a vapor board on the top of the super which is sprayed with a liquid that makes the bees want to move down into a lower box. They don’t all move away so we use leaf blower to help some of them leave. Here is Jurgen carrying the Seven Oaks honey super to the truck. We took one from Seven Oaks and seven more from another bee yard yesterday. These weigh between 30-40 pounds each so it is a lot of work on a hot day when you are wearing a bee suit!The first Seven Oaks honey extraction took place today! The frames of honey were nearly perfect! Here are some after we uncapped them…aren’t they gorgeous!?! Helen and I were in charge during extraction time since Jurgen was glued to the World Cup game, cheering his home country to a win.Here is the honey that came off the Seven Oaks frames after it went thru the extractor.
While we were extracting honey from the Seven Oaks honey frames, Dave was busy digging potatoes among other items to harvest today. OMG, we are in serious harvest time! As a final note, it has been a very busy week at the farm but it has not been without the recognition of dear friends who recently passed from this life to the next. I was so blessed to know both Mickey and Laurie. RIP.
So much has been happening at the farm since my last post! Dehydrating turnips seems like ages ago. I’ve been trying to accommodate the other harvest items that are pouring into my prep kitchen this time of year. Obviously, it doesn’t just ‘pour in’ since we are actively harvesting daily and then must immediately ‘accommodate’ it (wash, etc.) until we eat it or preserve it or hand it over to friends. We definitely know how to cook/prepare/eat it, and I’ve been working on multiple methods to preserve it in various fashions but it is the sharing part that we really need to work on. That is the part of the equation that we want to accommodate but oddly it is the most difficult to fit with our schedule. I must work on a better way to get the produce shared with those who would like to enjoy our fresh fruits and vegetables. Our goal is to set up a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) whereby we distribute set shares of produce to people who buy into our system either weekly, biweekly or monthly. We have used several friends as guinea pigs to help us learn the ins and outs of how this might happen in the future.
It should be simple, right? We have excess FRESH, produce. They want FRESH produce so we should be able to get a reliable system going. The challenges aren’t that great so I think it is just my mentality towards putting effort towards one more thing at a very busy time of year. I’ll work on a business plan when I have more idle time … I think I said that last year!
Dave, my number crunching hubby, has our yearly harvest weights on a spread sheet and presents me with a Seven Oaks Farm Report nearly every morning which reflects our latest daily harvest as well as cumulative YTD from the last two years as well as a comparison. This report also has a column of TOP CROPS (YTD) by weight. He bounced a sheet onto my desk this morning that indicates that the 2014 harvest is now 117% above last year’s at this point in time…405 lbs vs. 186 and this trend is continuing with yesterday’s harvest weighing in at twenty pounds! Inundated with the perfect sized cucumbers, I jumped in to make the first pickles of 2014. I was thrilled to have my own dill growing in my herb garden. So with that I gathered the other basic ingredients for making hamburger dills. White vinegar, canning salt, mustard seed and whole black pepper corns are paired with the dill heads. Plus plenty of cukes! Of course you know you have FRESH cucumbers when the blossom is is still attached to the ends. They clean up nicely after some gentle scrubbing. There is nothing easier than making these yummy bites. The spices go into the bottoms of the freshly washed, hot jars followed by the sliced cucumbers.Then the boiling brine made from vinegar, water and canning salt is poured into the jars. This mixture immediately turns the cukes from bright green to a dull green color. I then wipe the rims of the jars, cap them with a two piece lid and pop them into a boiling water bath where they continue to process for 15 minutes. Out they come, a bit more of a yellow green. They will now sit to cure for 6-8 weeks in my pantry before we taste them. I made two batches using approximately 8.5 pounds of cucumbers. It is a good thing I started making these since Dave presented me with 10 more pounds from the garden that afternoon! I’m also working up the blueberries which have surpassed last year’s meager 13.5 pounds as we are now over 50 pounds and the season isn’t even half over yet! I’m trying to do a better job of picking the ripest blueberries and not just everything that is blue. What I’ve learned is that really ripe berries will have red stems (they start out with green ones) and they tend to hang down rather than stand upright. Picking these is a challenge for most of the Sauerhoff family since the net height is at most 5 feet high, so we all have to stoop but I’m the least affected by this, meaning I’m the shortest of the gang. When Peter, the tallest was here last, he found that he could sit on the ground and reach up to pick quite comfortably. Blueberries are the easiest fruit to manage once they are out of the patch. I wash them and spread them out on a terry cloth towel to pick over and dry before freezing them in gallon sized bags. Of course we eat them fresh all day long but especially in the mornings on our cereal or with yogurt. Are coins getting smaller?
Last night I worked up 6 large green peppers as part of our dinner. I sauteed them with olive oil, garlic and dried red pepper in a skillet. Patricia Wells has a wonderful 3 pepper recipe for a pasta sauce in her book Trattoria. http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Wells-Trattoria-Inspired-Restaurants/dp/0060936525 (The name of the recipe is Tagliatelle with Tricolor Peppers and Basil.) I didn’t have 3 colors of peppers so I just used all green and it was delish. We ate this with another large batch of eggplant Parmesan that I prepared yesterday as well. With so many veggies, there was no need for the pasta!
Time for the bee report: While Jurgen was away in Germany, I had three separate bee adventures without him which means I’ve been gaining valuable experience. His wife, Helen and I made our rounds one day and checked on the bee yards and fed the ones that were still getting syrup. These are the younger hives that are not really making honey for our consumption but rather just making it for their food next winter. We first made the syrup by heating sugar and water and added Honey Bee Healthy as a vitamin ingredient. Then we put it into feeding buckets or jars and distributed it to the hives. A week later, my friend, Joan Moore did the rounds with me in a borrowed bee veil. This is a good way to experiment with beekeeping and to find out if you like being around the bees. Joan was very calm and acted like an old pro. Best of all, we got to spend a productive morning together at all the bee yards. We discovered that the honey super on hive #11 is now fully capped so we gladly added another honey super to this very active hive. Here is a good article to give you an idea of how important beekeeping is for our future: http://online.wsj.com/articles/efforts-grow-to-take-the-sting-out-of-the-bee-die-off-1403886935
It won’t be long before there is another honey extraction weekend and this hive may be in the mix as it was not full of honey the last time. If you want honey from the first extraction (which is prized for it’s lightness and wonderful flavor) Helen and Jurgen still have some available and are selling it from their home. It is $10 per pound and they sell it in both one pound and half pound containers. Of course, I have Gherkins for sale as well!