Monday, February 27, 2017

Harvest Monday - 27 February 2017

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year! Queue the rich, merry tenor voice of Andy Williams. OK, now try to turn it off in your mind. Ha, you can't! But we are not talking about Christmas. No, this was the tag line of The Kitchen Goddess's Facebook post from a week ago, with a picture of a bucket hanging from a tree. Yes, maple syrup season has come (and gone) at Eight Gate Farm!

Saturday the 18th began a very unusual warming trend here in the Northeast. And by warm, I mean really warm. In fact, on Friday the 24th it reached the 70s, and we enjoyed eating dinner outside on the screened porch, listening to the babbling brook just over the northern property line. Most of the year this brook is just a trickle or even a seep, but swelled with the rapidly melting snow it turned into a relative torrent.

You can see our property line tailing off into the woods on the right. 

A classic maple sap run has days in the 40s, and nights below freezing, which typically occurs in very late February or early March, and extends for several weeks, with days when it temporarily shuts down. But this was almost too warm, with no freezing nights. This is supposed to have an adverse effect on the quality of the sap. Something about the sap going up to the tops of the trees and staying there, which causes cloudiness in what you harvest. It's chemistry, or physics, or something like that...I don't know. Science is hard!

I've written a series of posts in the past that shows how we make maple syrup on a small scale. You can find it here, and here, and here. This year we again tapped the four large sugar maples next to the barn, one tap per tree. In just a week we had all the syrup we need for the year, and maybe enough extra to give some small gifts. An average year is a 40:1 ratio of sap to syrup. But this year, with a little over 20 gallons of sap, we yielded 3 1/2 quarts of the delicious nectar.

You can see a half-full jar in the middle. This was the last boil. Not sure why it is so much darker. But all the boils produced clear, super-sweet syrup (after being allowed to settle, of course). So the over-warm temperatures did not seem to affect us, but did substantially shorten the required season. 

As in the past, the local high school's forestry program requested our permission to tap our little "sugar bush" of young trees, which we gladly gave. They've placed over 30 buckets there, and the students come by every few days to empty them. They typically leave us a quart of syrup at the end of the season, adding to our stash.

So it was a highly successful season that was over before we knew it (the school taps much longer, so they are just starting). Well, it was easy for me. TKG had the tedious part of tending the boils. I kept singing "Most Wonderful Time" just to keep her amused.

In the store yesterday they featured "Certified Organic, Non-GMO" syrup, which made me laugh. What else could it be? The price: $14 per quart. Again, this is not something we do to "save money." The equipment (buckets, taps, boiler) we can amortize over many years. We spent maybe $25 for propane to run the boiler (a repurposed turkey fryer), so it is certainly not "free." No, this is something we do for self-sufficiency and just because it's neat to "raise" your own food, just like gardening.

Oh, and a downside to the warm weather. I went out into the woods on Saturday to change the memory card in the game-cam. It's just 50 yards, but coming out I found 6 ticks crawling up my legs. In February! Yuck! Thank you Climate Change.

Thanks for reading, and thanks as always to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting Harvest Monday.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Harvest Monday - 16 January 2017 - Potato Salvage Operation

Hello and Happy New Year from Eight Gate Farm. No harvests to report (of course); instead I have a post on using the crops.

Once again the storage potatoes have not lasted as long as expected. I'm keeping them in complete darkness in a bin in the basement, but I was unable to get the humidity down in the fall, and it wasn't very cool either. Consequently, the entire remaining crop has softened and sprouted. But they do not need to go to waste. Once peeled and trimmed, while you wouldn't serve them baked, they are just fine for many other purposes. On Sunday The Kitchen Goddess did a marathon salvage operation.

First, some were sliced and put into the dehydrator. The resulting "chips" are perfect for au gratin or scalloped recipes, and seem to keep forever.

Also, some were cubed and dehydrated. These are great in soups. Being thicker, they take much longer to dry, but again should keep indefinitely.

Then a whole bunch were riced and "magically" (from my perspective!) turned into a huge quantity of gnocchi. After rolling and shaping, she froze them on trays, then they are dusted with cornmeal and placed in freezer bags for use anytime. I love gnocchi!

Some of the riced potatoes are being kept aside for adding to soups, or mashing.

So while it is disappointing that the whole potatoes would not keep any longer, they can still be put to good use, and provide lots of food value. This gives you the opportunity to continue to enjoy the fruits of the garden, even when the ground is frozen solid!

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Michelle for guest-hosting Harvest Monday.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Harvest Monday - 5 December 2016

Until this weekend, I haven't really set foot in the vegetable garden since my last post (Halloween). At that time, we had taken all the crops, but we hadn't dug up the chard and kale plants. That interlude allowed them to grow some small but welcome leaves, despite the cold nights and waning sun. So we get to join the Harvest Monday party one more time this year.

Then there's this. We were in California for Thanksgiving, and the last night I tripped and fell kinda hard. Here is the result:

Two unpronounceable fractured bones in the wrist. The Kitchen Goddess said to post this picture because it shows off my "green thumb." I guess she was "casting" about for a joke. Ugh, that was "lame."

"Enough!" I hear you say, and rightly so. Don't feel bad for me, it's TKG that has to pick up the chores I normally would be doing for the next 5 weeks. And imagine if this had happened during gardening season!

I hope all the Harvest Monday community is staying warm and planning next year's garden like I am. Thanks to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting this forum.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Harvest Monday - 31 October 2016

Hello again, and Happy Halloween from Eight Gate Farm! When I was a child, Halloween was my favorite time of year. These days, living out in the semi-sticks, we don't get any trick-or-treaters, which is sad, as I love to see the excitement in the childrens' faces, reminding me of my own tender years.

We were slated to get a hard frost this week, so we picked all the rest of the peppers and eggplants.

Looks decent, right? Well how about I put a raspberry in there for scale?


Never mind that, this weekend we stripped the kale:

And the chard:

And the pak choi:

And the watermelon radishes:

And the "personal-sized" Chinese cabbage, the second crop of which got too late start this year to get big:

Probably the most fun were the leeks. We've been sampling them as the year progressed, and Saturday my MIL took 16 of them, giving me the opportunity to say "she took a leek in my garden!" [Apologies to those not enamored with boy-humor.]

The remainder are presented here:

At the supermarket I saw leeks (from The Netherlands) for $1.99 apiece. These aren't as big, but certainly fresher! As I've said before, gardening for most of us does not really "save" money, but you have to think there's a large amount of value sometimes. Trimmed, they weighed 7.5 lbs.

So that pretty much puts paid to this season. It's had its ups and downs, of course, but overall it was pretty good!

Here's one of my "farmstand" pictures, showing the final harvest:

Uh oh, the freezers are already full to bursting. What will we do if I get a deer this season? I've already been out a couple of times.

I want to thank all the readers who have viewed and commented on my posts. Harvest Monday really is a community! Thanks especially to Dave at Our Happy Acres for keeping this tradition thriving.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Harvest Monday - 24 October 2016

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm. Harvest Monday is graciously hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres. Please join me in viewing all this week's posts.

Our happiest harvest this week was this unexpected treasure:

We planted 7 artichoke seedlings this year, and 6 gave us lots of petite but delicious 'chokes. One plant stubbornly refused to produce anything. But with the others long finished, this one decided to reward us. I'm not sure why. The 'choke is more oblong than the others; could it be a different variety that sneaked into the Imperial Star seed lot?

You may have read that the entire Northeast had a terrible tree-fruit year. Here's more proof. Last year, we picked over 6 bushels of apples, and the quality was great. This year, not even 2, and the fruit is misshapen. Not even enough to bother with a batch of hard cider (we still have plenty left over from last year).

I've mentioned that two of our eggplant starts had mysterious but recognizable tobacco seedlings spring up. This amused me, so I left them to see what would happen. The tobacco grew robustly, and the resulting plants totally overshadowed their companion eggplants. One was over six feet tall! So we harvested this week. It's funny to compare the "unintentional" on the left with the "intentional" we grew. Don't call me Philip Morris.

We picked more watermelon radishes to give some as a gift, because nothing says giving like a radish or two!

The raspberries are still producing nicely:

And we've really been enjoying Asian Green soups and stir-fry, so we took more tatsoi.

This week promises several frosts, so all tomatoes were taken, in the hope at least some will ripen indoors.

Lastly, some parsley and sage for the dehydrator.

That's all for this week. Are frosts threatened in your area too? Time to get busy. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Dave for hosting Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Harvest Monday - 17 October 2016

Hello again from Eight Gate Farm. I guess I'm a simple man, but to me there are few things finer than a crisp fall evening in New England, with the fading light strangely intensifying the colors of the changing leaves, and the scent of wood smoke in the air.

Can there be downsides to fall? Well, yesterday I went out into the woods to change the memory card in the game-cam, and got totally beaned by a terminal-velocity acorn.

And of course, the real downside is the inevitable first frost, which brings me (finally!) to this week's harvests.

On Friday the overnight low was supposed to be 35 F., which is within the tolerance of a potential frost. So we picked all the sizable eggplants, peppers, and zucchini, and any tomatoes that showed any color.

We covered the two Rutgers tomato plants with a tarp (they've been the only productive ones), and let everything else fend for itself. It turned out that we did get a light frost, enough to kill the zucchini, and the eggplants don't look so good either.

We also picked our only winter squash. This is a Jarrahdale pumpkin, weighing about a pound and a half. The blue-green rind belies the intense-orange flesh, or so we hope when we finally cut it open. I got the seeds from a friend, and maybe I'll save some for next year.

The Kitchen Goddess picked quince (quinces?) from the dooryard of the 1750s farmhouse across the road, with permission of course.

When asked, she said she was going to make "quince cheese," which is a thing, in case you didn't know. I sure didn't.

I always grow some coleus from seed, and every year TKG is dismayed about how tiny the seedlings are. And every year they grow huge and lovely. Ha! Here's a last picture before a hard frost takes them down.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and my apologies to those who commented on last week's post and I didn't respond. I had to go to San Diego for work, and didn't get back until Thursday night. Thanks as always to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting Harvest Monday. Please join me in viewing all the interesting posts from gardeners everywhere.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Harvest Monday - 10 October 2016

Welcome to another Harvest Monday update from Eight Gate Farm! Nothing too exciting this week. It's that time of year.

A first harvest this week was scarlet runner beans.

The green pods will be allowed to brown and crisp up before I take out the beans. Overall this will be much less than last year, but at least there will be enough seed to plant for next.

We took a few more of my prizewinning watermelon radishes (well, second prize). The larger ones are billiard-ball sized.

A Yellowfin and a Cocozella Di Napoli zucchini. The Yellowfin looks like a deflated pufferfish.

Some solanacea:

Clockwise from left: Rutgers tomatoes, a single Martini's Roma, some Umberto tomatoes, a Maule's Red Hot cayenne, Mellow Star shishito peppers, generic hot cherry peppers, and a Rosita eggplant in the middle.
Some Asian greens:

Left: tatsoi, right: pak choi. Slugs apparently love Asian greens.
Finally, continuing pickings of red raspberries like this:

So as you can see we are winding down for the season. No frost yet, but it's a matter of time. Hopefully a few more solanacea will size up before the inevitable.

That's it for this week. Please see all the lovely posts on Harvest Monday, which is hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres. Thanks, Dave!