Crops

We have a wide variety of fruits and produce on the farm. Look here to learn about them.

Louisa’s turkey and chicken pen sometimes has a frenetic air to it, with chickens squawking, eggs laid hither and thither, turkeys wandering around, and everyone pecking at everything and making a racket. Maybe it is just so many loudmouths in one spot, or perhaps it is the everpresent threat of a marauding hawk or eagle swooping in for a quick kill that keeps things on edge, but chaos seems to dominate.

But something odd has been happening in the pen lately–the place seems steeped in serenity. (Reminds us of an editor we once knew who concocted a headline for a slow news day: “Tranquillity Ran Rampant in Yonkers Yesterday.”) The turkey hens are gently rolling their eggs in the henhouse to keep the pre-hatchlings happy. Chocolate, the lone Tom, is leading the young turkey poults on expeditions around the pasture and spelling the hens on the eggs. Even the chickens seem to have calmed down a bit now that summer is showing its face.

Of course, a couple of days of sunshine in June and a bit of peace and quiet doth not always a summer make, and we’ve certainly fallen for this dodge before, so we’re not breaking out the flip-flops just yet. But if this be summer, bring it on.

The latest news is a new pair of goslings that Louisa has added to the fowl pen.

Newcomers

 The young geese seem to be fitting right in, pecking lazily around the yard and mingling peaceably with the rest of the birds, making sort of pre-gooselike honkings at passers-by. We’re not sure of their sex yet–they’re still in that fuzzy asexual stage–but we’re hoping that eventually they’ll breed and add to the farm’s feathered collection. Already, their honks have changed the tone of the pen’s music.

Meanwhile, the rest of the farm is preparing for our annual garlic-peeling party tomorrow evening. Despite the gloomy note of our previous post the party is on. We have about 16 rows of hard-neck garlic left in the field. Louisa and the interns will pull those plants at the last minute and pile them for peeling in the yurt meadow. Rebecca and the interns are already hunting up their favorite garlicky recipes for the accompanying potluck, and our local musicians are tuning up to entertain. By sundown, we expect both the garlic peelers and our barn loft will be stuffed.

Hardneck Garlic

The thing about garlic is that it is both strong and delicate. This crop was planted last fall and over the winter we’ve lost about a third of it to bad weather and mould. Most of our guests will go away from the garlic peeling with seconds–bulbs that are fine to eat but have taken up too much moisture to hang in the barn and must be used now. The rest we will haul up into the barn loft where it will hang in the rafters and dry. As it does it will gain strength, reaching its peak potency by the fall and winter.

There is something civilized and reassuring about gatherings like this, with neighbors and friends, grownups and kids, all sitting in a big circle on the meadow on hay bales and blankets, spending an early summer evening working on something so tangible while trading news, gossip and recipes. There will be music and tables loaded with good food. For us, the season tends to divide itself with these events, almost as much as by the weather and crop cycles themselves. 

We are not always such a harmonious bunch of course, and to be sure this year’s cool, wet spring has created its own set of frictions and frustrations, both down in the turkey pen and out in the field. But warmer weather and the promise of filling the barn loft with bunches of garlic that have passed through many patient hands seems to smooth things over and bring out the best in everyone.

We’d like to believe this sense of peace and harmony will hang around for the rest of the season. But like the weather and the crops, nothing can be taken for granted around the farm.

This week, we’ll be happy with a single wondrous evening of rampant  tranquillity.

Persephone

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The word “bitter” brings up all kinds of unpleasant memories. Remember when you tried coffee for the first time? Or how you felt when that long-ago girlfriend told you that you were no longer her dreamboat? Divorce?–we won’t go there.

But that, as they say, was then. Nowadays, bitter is most definitely in. Hotshot restaurants like New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns feature bitter greens on their menu. Syndicated food writers like Lynne Rossetto Kasper suggest sprinkling them in your Mediterranean Braise. Just about every food emporium worth its boasting rights–and the prices that go with them–is pushing endive, rappini and raddicchio.

Here at Persephone Farm we’ve been growing these greens for years. We’re not going to boast that we’ve been ahead of the culinary curve–not too much anyway–but we can still recall the days we’d lug this stuff to the farmers market on Saturday morning for a smattering of hardcore foodies and try to explain to the other shoppers why they would want to add such a puckering element to their salads.

It was a long hard slog. A lot of those greens came home after the market. Still, Rebecca has always had a slightly perverse yen for bitter–chocolate, beer, veggies, sometimes even a mate. So we kept at it. Only a relatively small percentage of the greens we grow here qualify as “bitter” but we eat a lot of them.

Lately, though, we’ve had a hard time keeping up with the demand for them, both from our CSA customers, market shoppers, and from the restaurants we supply. Take dandelions. The compost bin used to be the preferred place for those lawn despoilers. These days, though, dandelions are the star of the salad bowl.

dandelion greens

How did this happen?

Well for one thing eating seasonally has become more desireable–thank you Michael Pollan. Our bodies tend to crave certain kinds of chemicals and vitamins, especially after a long dreary winter, and spring is when a lot of bitter greens are available if you like to eat seasonally.

Kale and dandelion greens, for instance, are big sources of phylloquinone, or vitamin K, which helps heal cuts and strengthen bones. Here’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of top vitamin K veggies. Add collard or turnip greens if you want good sources of vitamin A, which protects your body’s immune and reproductive systems. Rapini, or broccoli rabe, and cress are also nutrient powerhouses.

Put them all together and guess what, you have a salad of bitter greens.

The trick, says our friend Brendon McGill, the owner and head chef of Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island, is to add a bit of salt and olive oil to bitter greens, either while you cook them or as a salad dressing. “They balance out the bitterness,” Brendon says, “and make it more pleasant.” He also suggests adding a salty goat cheese to salads to smooth out the tang of bitter greens.

Bitter is not for everybody, but you never know. There will be plenty of endive, arugula, raddichio and cress in the salad when the CSA subscribers show up for their weekly produce boxes later today. And we’ve got some recipes posted on our farm website, www.persephonefarm.com if you are unsure what to do with the stuff.

Like your mom always told you: “Eat your greens.”

Persephone

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purple sprouting broccoli--out

Memorial Day has become another one of those holidays that have pretty much lost their meaning for most people and become interchangeable. It’s not that folks don’t care about the casualties of war, but war itself has become an object of disrespect, something fought by others, elsewhere, for reasons that seem so vague–or dishonest–that we don’t have much connection. For most of us, Memorial Day is just another shopping exercise. Maybe George W. Bush was right–shopping is the ultimate patriotic act.

At Persephone Farm, Memorial Day is about Purple Sprouting Broccoli and parsnips—out with the old, in with the new. We generally work on the holiday because nature doesn’t take time off and we lose ground if we put it in idle at this stage of the season. Besides, it is still too chilly and rainy to swim or bask at the beach. Better to get the carrots into the ground.

parsnips--in

This is one of the things we like about the farm. Elsewhere, the world seems to be constantly in motion, moving in and out of focus, like one of those slideshows that keep on clicking even when you want to linger on a particular picture. Nature, on the other hand, gives its ground at a more measured pace. Everything has its time and place.

We planted the Purple Sprouting Broccoli on the lower field late last summer, knowing it would be up and ready for the farmers market this spring (unless of course the voles, or mice, or a killing frost, got there first.) Our market customers, the ones who show up year after year knowing the farm’s rhythms as well as we do, pretty much cleaned us out when it arrived. Now everyone knows it’s time to give broccoli a break and move on. There is a pleasing pattern to the whole thing that carries us all forward.

It is one way of thinking about eating seasonally. Unlike our interchangeable holidays there is a clearly defined spot in the rotation for each vegetable. Right now, for example, it is asparagus’s moment on stage. We don’t raise asparagus on our farm, but we buy and eat plenty of it during these days when our neighbors are harvesting their crop. One benefit of this year’s cool spring weather is that the asparagus season seems to have stretched out longer than usual. But it will be over in another week or two. Same for spinach. Then we  will move on to peas and strawberries.

Pete Seeger, that old leftie, quoting Ecclesiastes, sang it best: “For everything there is a season…” Makes you wonder why we insist on apples in February and tomatoes all twelve months a year. The supermarkets, trucking outfits, shippers, brokers and the rest of what we call agri-business are happy to meet that demand. But when you insist on strawberries in March, something has to give. So what you get is something that looks like a strawberry, but tastes like…well, it doesn’t really taste like anything at all, does it? What has happened when you grow a strawberry that must travel a thousand or more miles to satisfy an out-of-season craving is that you keep the name, but lose the essence.

Kind of like what has happened to Memorial Day,or Labor Day, or Presidents’ Day, or all those other Days.

We’ll wait for our strawberries. And meanwhile, we’ll savor the last of the asparagus and dream of peaches to come.

Persephone

Maybe it’s the weather, or tradition, or the fact that one of Persephone Farm’s farmers is named Slattery, but March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—generally marks the start of potato planting around here. That’s the day when we transfer the sacks of seed potatoes that have spent the winter chilling out in Louisa’s pump house to a sunnier spot to begin to bring them back to life.

This year, the potatoes, which are about the size of hen’s eggs, have spent the last couple of weeks on the floor of the greenhouse, basking in the sun like Florida vacationers. Some years, when it is still cool, Rebecca brings them into the farmhouse to warm them up. One year, we had a couple of hundred stashed under the bathtub for a few weeks. But we’ve had an unusually warm winter in the Northwest and some of the more ambitious varieties, like the All Blues, already had nine-inch green shoots pushing up from the potato bodies when Rebecca, Louisa and the interns moved them out to the lower field yesterday.

Potatoes are a one-day planting extravaganza around here. By noon, the farmers had eleven 50-foot beds prepped and ready to go. The winter cover crop of rye grass and field peas were mowed down with the weed whacker and rototilled under, laced with compost, then tilled again. The interns got their first try at using a broadfork, a peculiar device that airs out the soil. Ours comes from Johnny’s Select Seeds in Albion, Maine, and was designed by Eliot Coleman, a icon for microfarmers everywhere. It has two wooden handles and five long tines. You jump on it and wiggle it around to loosen things up, then pull back on the handles. Like this:

We are planting eight varieties of potatoes this year: Ozette, Desiree, German Butterball, Carola, Rose Fir Apple, All Blue, Red French Fingerling and Yellow Finn. Some of these are heritage varieties, potatoes with a past, with histories as colorful as their names.

Ozettes, for example, came up the coast from their original home in South America in 1791, carried by Spanish explorers to the far northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The peninsula’s fierce winter storms drove the Spaniards out after just one season, but they left their potatoes behind. After that, the knobby little fingerling potatoes all but disappeared from circulation. The only farmers who raised them on this continent were the Makah Indians, whose reservation sits on the rugged outer coast, and they weren’t discovered by outsiders until the 1980s. Now our farm and a couple of other small farms in the area raise Ozettes and they are becoming a  local star, much prized by chefs for their creamy texture and earthy flavor.

When the potato harvest concludes in October we will hold a potato showdown in the packing shed. Rebecca prepares samples of each spud variety, boiling some and roasting others with a little olive oil and salt. Then everyone sits down–farmers, apprentices and anyone else hanging around—and digs in. The potatoes are rated on their flavor, texture and general eating pleasure. Based in part on this scientific process, we usually drop some varieties and add others every year, but every variety has its fan club and no potato wins all the time.  Louisa always votes for the Red French Fingerlings; Rebecca is a Rose Fir Apple fan. Our current interns, Greg and Caitlin, who have some potato experience after a hitch on a farm in Maine, already have announced they are voting for German Butterballs, which they say make the best home fries and hash browns.

We’ll see. But everyone agrees that the heritage breeds are much tastier than the bakers you buy at the supermarket. Each year, we send out a questionnaire to our CSA subscribers at the end of the season. And every year, in the comment section, several subscribers sing the praises of our potatoes over storebought varieties. (Well, not every year. Back during the Atkins low-carb diet days no one seemed to want any kind of potatoes. Thank goodness that’s over and done with.)

Another nice thing about potatoes, from the farmer’s perspective, is they offer plenty of bang for your buck. Most years, we can expect ten pounds of harvest potatoes for each pound of seedlings we put in the ground, A really good year might get us up to 20 pounds. It all depends on rain and the summer weather.

Of course we’d be nuts to predict in April what kind of weather we’ll be getting in July. Oh, why not? Our potatoes are safely bedded down for this year and we won’t see any late blight, or flea beetles, or whithering sun, or untimely frost, and we’ll need dump trucks instead of wheelbarrows for the harvest.

April fool.

Persephone

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When we started discussing the idea of writing a blog about a season on Persephone Farm, a few years back, we were still on the cusp of the local food movement. The term “locavore” wasn’t on anyone’s tongue and microfarms like ours were off the industry’s radar. We had 25 laying hens and our Saturday veggie sales at the Bainbridge Island farmers market sometimes were skimpy enough that we ate the leftovers through the following week. By June, when our CSA began, we were still scratching for subscribers. We did select a terrific pair of young interns that year—out of a handful of serious applicants.

How times change. The opening-day lineup of our loyal market customers grows longer each year, recession or no. Our farm’s livestock inventory is now 130 White Leghorn and Golden Sexlink chickens, five heritage turkeys and five sheep. We’ll be expanding again this year—and that doesn’t include Cleo, our resident pea hen, or the farm cats, Selmo and Oberon. Our CSA subscriber list is filling up fast and it is only March, and we picked this year’s four new interns came from more than 100 applicants. The last time I Googled “locavore”, there were 452,000 entries.

With all this going on, we figured it was time to get to it and invite people to come along as this year’s farm’s season unfolds. So here we are with a brand new blog. We plan to keep everyone up to date on what’s happening on our little farm—the good, the bad and the really, really dirty. You will get a chance to see what it is like to start from scratch—quite literally from scratch as we dig the furrows that hold the seeds, that grow the plants, that become the meals for the hundreds of people we feed each season.

Tom Posey friend of Persephone

You’ll get to know everyone around here, from the newest arrival, Mongo,  an exuberant mixed-breed husky/shepherd, who arrived last week with one of our interns and promptly chased Cleo onto the chicken-coop roof, seriously wounding her pride and barnyard status, to Tom Posey, one of our CSA subscribers, who showed up years ago to pick up his first box of produce on a Wednesday afternoon, and has come back every Wednesday since then to help out, getting dirty and sweaty along with everyone else. Tom even brings beer to share when we are done for the day.

We’ll introduce you to the farmers, Rebecca and Louisa, and to our interns, Greg, Caitlan, Joel and and Mondrian. We’ll show you around the place—the lavender patch down near the gate, Louisa’s orchard, where the plum trees are already in bloom and the apples are starting to bud out. You can visit the gardens where we grow 53 kinds of veggies and watch as we harvest salad greens so delicate they have to be picked at dawn, before the sun gets at them. If you stick around you can watch while we pluck a chicken and sample the new tomato crop. We’ll introduce you to our neighbors, Wise Acres Community, who include some world-class chefs and musicians, and with whom we share a meal every Monday evening. You can sit in on our garlic-harvest party in July, watch our apple pressing in October, and help choose this year’s farm entry for the annual Bainbridge Island zucchini race.

Along the way, we’ll spend some time chatting about more serious things like the economics and politics of food—subjects that are reshaping what we grow, where we buy it, how we eat it, and how it is changing our lives. Turns out, microfarming like we’ve been doing here for the last two decades, has suddenly become the hottest part of agriculture—the world is catching up and we’re right in the middle of…you got it…a trend. Don’t just take my word for it, ask Michelle Obama or click on the Farmville website, where 72 million vicarious farmers checked in last month.

So welcome to “The Season.” Be prepared to get some virtual dirt under your fingernails. It should be an interesting and exciting year for us all. We’re glad you are here, hope you’ll stick around and tell more people about us.

Persephone

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