Monday, October 27, 2014

Harvest Monday - 27 October 2014

Welcome to another Harvest Monday report from Eight Gate Farm!

Not much happening on the actual harvest front. Just more raspberries and watermelon radishes picked this week. Unless you count 10 billion leaves as a "harvest."

But I had an opportunity to finish processing a prior harvest. Here's a repost of a picture from a few weeks ago, showing our "Floriani" Red Flint corn drying in the sun room.

Having judged it was dry enough for storage, today I shelled all of these 150+ cobs. I built a simple shelling tool I saw in Mother Earth News. It's just a piece of scrap wood, with a 2-inch hole bored. I drilled four holes at a 45 degree angle, and tapped in nails. Super-easy, and refreshingly low-tech.

It's just a matter of twisting the cob through. When it pokes through enough, pull from the other side and continue twisting. The kernels pop off, and then you use your hands to completely shell whatever's left on the cob. Be warned, the kernels fly everywhere, and bounce even further. On the plus side, the bouncing kernels became very amusing cat toys.

After doing 4 or 5, my bare hands learned what my brain already knew--it is called flint corn for a reason! I quickly switched to a pair of new thin leather gloves.

The 2-inch diameter hole was perfect for all but the very fattest cobs. I guess I drilled the nail holes a little big, but it worked out fine since the nails could be adjusted by sliding up or down. About 3/4 of the way through the project, I had to replace the nails as they had bent and were too loose.

After about 2 1/2 hours, the job was done! It yielded over 25 pounds (11.36 kg.) of corn goodness.

I don't yet have any experience with this, but I read that one cup of kernels yields 1 1/4 cups corn meal. So doing some rough math, and weighing a cup of kernels at 5.65 ounces, that's about 88 cups of corn meal. Wow!

Now we get a chance to use our "Wondermill Junior" hand-crank grain mill. I predict lots of corn muffins, corn bread, and corn pancakes in my future! Yum, yum, and yum! I've also bought some pickling lime for nixtamalization, to make grits and tortillas. Even more yum and yum!

An offering of cobs to the corn gods, to be gratefully placed on a sacrificial bonfire:

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and happy harvests to all! And thanks to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting Harvest Monday.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Harvest Monday - 20 October 2014

Welcome to another Harvest Monday report from Eight Gate Farm. Thanks as always to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting this forum.

This week we had several days of unseasonable but lovely warm and humid weather. But today (Sunday) the thermometer did not even reach 50 degrees (F.), and tonight we will most probably get our first real frost. Time to bring in the very, absolute, last of the tomatoes. While we were there, a good chance to harvest chard, kale, raspberries, and watermelon radishes:

The radishes weighed 9 oz. One of the chard plants had been uprooted by a vole. So I sprinkled MoleMax. I can't believe I had to do this so late in the season. The voles seem to only like eating the root stem. But some of the leaves had been damaged by leaf miners. Again, why this late in the year?

The Kitchen Goddess harvested all the tender herbs, and some hardy ones too. Here they are after a visit to the dehydrator:

That's chives, winter savory, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, and cutting celery. So nice to have these put by!

Earlier this week TKG roasted our accumulated watermelon radishes as an experiment. Here they are prior to roasting, tossed lightly with olive oil, kosher salt, and thyme:

Aren't they pretty? And here they are after 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven:

They kept their lovely color but lost their bite. The result was a pleasant root-vegetable tasting product. I preferred it hot; TKG cold. However, we both decided we like them better raw.

Say, can I have some of your purple berries? How many old-timers (like me) get that musical reference? TKG made jam with our frozen blueberries and raspberries. And a special "you've been a good boy" treat: a big jar of raspberry liqueur!

In other garden news, an old-as-time apple tree butt finally fell over this week, and of course landed on the garden fence and one of the raised beds therein. Fortunately, the bed was nearly empty. We were able to horse it off the fence, and here it will stay until my chainsaw comes back from the repair shop.

And lastly, garden bench refurbishment #2 was completed. This is before:

And this is after:

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and happy harvests to all!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvest Monday - 13 October 2014

Welcome to another Harvest Monday post from Eight Gate Farm! Thanks as always to Daphne's Dandelions for hosting this forum.

We are well past our average first frost date, and have not had one yet. But last night and this one there were frost warnings issued; this coupled with the fact that the fenced garden is getting very little direct sunlight now prompted me to go out and take all the rest of our solanums.

The 60 or so "Sugar Plum" grape tomatoes you see here are but a fraction of the hundreds we have harvested from a single plant this season. I sure have enjoyed them, and am going to miss having 4 or 5 in my morning cottage cheese. If I'm feeling frisky I add a dash or two of Frank's Red Hot sauce.

So what's left in the garden? Watermelon radishes are still going strong. This has been such a fun crop to grow.

Also chard, kale, and still-teeny carrots. As mentioned, the fenced garden is exposed to only a few hours of sunlight this time of year, which prevents me from doing a lot of fall crops.

The fall raspberries are still giving us a cup or so a day; not much, but it is adding up nicely in the freezer as you can see.

Speaking of kale, this week The Kitchen Goddess served a delightful Irish dish of kale and our own mashed potatoes called "colcannon." If you haven't heard of it or tried it before (I hadn't) here's a good recipe from the always-informative Mother Earth News. The following day TKG had coffee with a Scottish friend, and the two of them got into a heated discussion of the relative merits of colcannon vs. something called "Bubble and Squeak." I'm not making this up.

There was a "Soloist" Chinese Cabbage left from the group I planted in summer. This one was always runty and took many more weeks to mature than its siblings, but it finally sized up enough to harvest.

I also took the rest of the "Floriani" Red Flint corn. Here you see our entire haul of 156 ears now husked and drying in the sun room.

Some of them are beauties (I've got big hands).

Of course, others are just cobs with few kernels. But we should have a good amount to store for later grinding. I can't wait.

I also took the last of the Waltham butternut squash. It turned out to be the largest, too.
It wasn't entirely ripe, but I figured it would do better in the sun room than being left outside. So it joins the corn, and a bunch of sunflower heads, in soaking up the passive solar energy, when available. We also are drying a few of the nicest corn husks for tamale wrappers.
That's is for this week. Thanks for reading, and happy harvests to all! Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to Canadian readers!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

War With Aliens!

I'm at war. It is an alien invasion. I'm fighting the aliens. You should be too. My property is at risk of becoming alien territory. Already they have made many inroads, and some seem unstoppable.

I'm speaking of course of invasive alien plants. Many of these were intentionally planted in gardens of New England in past centuries. Why all of a sudden are they spreading out of control, after being somewhat well-behaved for years? Dare I suggest climate change? Or perhaps once they reach a certain critical population level they multiply exponentially?
The first task is to recognize the invaders and recognize the threat. But sadly, most of these are going to be impossible to eliminate. The best you can hope for is control. But even if you can control your own property, there are just too many waste/neglected areas where no one is paying attention. My neighbor "Farmer Dan," owns a large wooded area behind my land. I was talking to him recently and mentioned the invasives. His response was, "Nah, I don't have any of those." I beg to differ.
Let's start with the worst of the worst, to me that is. It's Black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae). There is nothing redeeming about this alien, either in looks or behavior. To give you an idea, it's also called the dog-strangling vine. I don't know about dogs, but it sure can trip you if you try to walk through it. It's in the milkweed family, and apparently monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on it, but it provides the larvae no sustenance and they die. As if it wasn't bad enough!

It's an herbaceous perennial vine that can flourish even in complete shade. As such, it quickly forms a carpet that crowds out any native flower or ground cover. Then it climbs any support it can find, where it forms tapered seed pods that burst open and distribute downy parachutes, which float for miles.

In the past year it has formed numerous colonies in my woods, and along the stone walls and fences, and it keeps trying to invade the vegetable garden and all other landscaped areas.
Just try to pull one out of the ground. The root ball, resembling asparagus crowns, will break off, and even a tiny fragment left in the ground will quickly regrow.

There is only one treatment for it, and that is Roundup. Believe me, I had to do a lot of soul-searching before I decided to use it. But there is just no other way to get this hideous plant under control. And I certainly can't spray where there is any desirable vegetation, so in those areas I can only cut it back before it flowers. At least where I sprayed last year along the stone wall that runs along the road, what did survive was much less vigorous this year. I gave it another shot. Here's what it looks like once the Roundup has taken effect. Die, alien!

Yet even if I manage to get it under control, and I'm a long way from that, there are so many on nearby properties that it would not be long before it recolonizes if I am not vigilant.
The next-worst is Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). It is really nasty vine that twines around desirable foliage, frequently overwhelming it. Because of its red berries, people love to make Christmas wreaths with the twigs, which may have helped it spread so much. Here you can see that it overtops what it has grabbed on to.

Its stem can get very large. This is a common sight in “infected” woods.

It has taken over a large part of the fence surrounding the meadow.

The only way to control woody invasives like this is to cut them down to short lengths, then spray the remaining foliage with Roundup. You will use less Roundup that way, better all around. But it's a lot of work, and a lot of brush to haul off. Here's the same view, after cutting but before the Roundup has taken effect.

Next is Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). It has lovely fragrant flowers masking brutal thorns. Trying to remove this plant even when wearing thick gloves makes you look like you lost an argument with the cat.

Next is Winged euonymus, or burning bush (Euonymus alatus). It is still commonly planted as an ornamental. It does have stunning foliage in the fall, but let me tell you it escapes and colonizes the woods. It is now banned in New Hampshire.

Next is either European or Japanese barberry (Berberis sp.). It doesn't matter, both are invasives. They've also been widely planted as ornamentals, but have escaped. I have seen many of them in my woods. More nasty thorns.

This is Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus). It's an herbaceous perennial that stays green well into the winter. It is attractive, and has many herbalist uses, but is invasive on my property. I haven't gotten around to eradicating it yet, but I'm starting to see it encroach on my small patch of lovely and desirable Spotted jewelweed, so I will get to it. I should be able to just dig it up.

 Two plants I consider invasive, but are not alien, are Staghorn sumac and Wild Cucumber. Both are well-established on my land. Sumac is well known, and attractive, but once it gets in it is almost impossible to get out.

Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is an annual vining plant. It starts out looking like a volunteer squash plant. It grows like crazy. It's a native or nearly so (naturalized), but grows like an invasive--strangling whatever it lodges on to. I pull it up when I recognize it.

Two other invasives I don’t presently have, but I’m keeping an eye on:
Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This one has gotten on the radar of many people, as it is spreading in many countries. They say only herbicides can control it. I fortunately do not have any yet, but there is a large patch about 100 yards beyond my property line, into Farmer Dan's woods. All I can do is keep an eye on it.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the deadly beauty. Everyone in the Northeast is familiar with it. Along rivers it has formed dense mats, stunning to look at in bloom, unless one knows how insidious it is. But it colonizes almost any damp place, and even some that don't look damp at all. It just seems to need full sun.  A colony is established a few hundred yards down the road. But I'm on the lookout for it, and will eradicate any plant that starts.

Supposedly there are some insects from its native region that eat only it, and scientists have been introducing them here. I've heard that for years, and have yet to see any effect. And something about importing the parasite to kill the imported plant strikes me as dangerous.

So those are the major invaders plaguing or threatening me. I encourage you to read up on them, and by all means, help prevent further alien attacks!