16 April 2011


The title is the name of an Outkast song that is both high quality and hilarious.  My good friend August reminded me of this song this past weekend while at Kate’s parents house for a bonfire.  More about that in a bit.  I’ve been on an Outkast kick for the last few days.  Listened to them all day Friday when I washed eggs by myself in the greenhouse, cleaned up the leeks, and even while splitting wood later that afternoon.  As much as I enjoy the outdoors, listening to woodpeckers and other songbirds, and the relative quiet of rural Maine, I also get tired of hearing the chickens and rooster once in a while.  Thus my Ipod came of great use.  Listening to music while chopping wood actually got me into a pretty good rhythm to the point that I didn’t realize I had been chopping for about 3 hours and had blisters on my left hand.
This past Monday I went to a farmer potluck and speaking event by Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute.  He is well-known in agricultural circles, particularly the sustainable ag movement.  The Land Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to researching perennial grains that are suitable as replacements for the current annuals we utilize for grain such as wheat, rice, and corn.  Perennials are much healthier for the environment since they don’t require us to basically create soil disturbance to plant new grains each year and they also grow significantly deeper roots that help improve soil fertility by pulling up nutrients that other otherwise in accessible deep in the ground.  It’s always nice to meet other like-minded people and pull some inspiration from good, well-intentioned individuals.
As for the rest of the week, I mostly did some seedling work including succession plantings of peppers and mustard greens.  For those of you unschooled on the agricultural arts, succession plantings are repeat plantings of the same crop so that you have, say broccoli, maturing over the course of a few weeks rather than having to harvest and sell all of your broccoli in one time period. 
Jeff and I also removed row covers from the garlic on Tuesday.  Row covers are plastic sheets that allow most of the light reaching the ground to pass through while acting as a blanket that keeps the soil underneath a few degrees warmer.  It doesn’t sound like much but those few degrees could mean the difference between the wind and frost killing your plants.  The downside to using the row covers is that they are not easily reused and in that way are a bit of a waste of oil.  Later that day we cultivated the garlic to give them an extra head start over any weeds that will inevitably start popping up.  The tool for the job was a wheel hoe on the outside of the rows and two-handed hoe that you use like a broom to gently disturb the surface soil and cut any weeds growing.  When we get more into weeding I hope to have some pictures of the wheel hoe in action.
We also started putting together a moveable greenhouse on skids, which involved further securing the skids together with big bolts, and assembling the bows; the metal ribs that hold up the plastic.  It is amazing that a semi-permanent structure like a greenhouse can so easily be put up.  And there you have it!  Plant, animal, and human shelter!
Quick personal update for those of you interested in the farmer social life.  My ladyfriend Kate and I have birthdays 5 days apart so we had a celebratory bonfire at her parents’ house.  The cornbread I made was a hit, and there were plenty of tube meats and beer to be consumed.  I got to hang out with cool farm folk there as well.  Another highlight of this past week was the dinner and the carrot cake that Kate made for my birthday.  Fiddleheads are delicious sautéed in garlic and butter.  It didn’t hurt that I had a t-bone steak as well from one of Jeff’s cows.  Mmmmmmmm.  Ok enough about that. 
I hope that everyone enjoys the spring weather, and eat in season!  Pretty soon (maybe already available for places south of Maine), there will be asparagus available for a several week window.  If you eat asparagus at any other time of year that isn’t April/May, chances are you are buying more oil and refrigeration than you are asparagus as it will almost definitely be coming from South America somewhere (Courtesy of             Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent book on farming for her family for a year called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about food).  The quality, and consequently flavor and nutrition, of these cosmopolitan vegetables declines the longer they are harvested without being eaten as they are still alive and consume the stored sugars and nutrients contained within them.  The same can be true of tomatoes during the winter and of course tropical fruits.  So don’t complain about the price of oil when you continue to use it up just so you can have out of season food!  Fight the power!  Here’s a beautiful Pablo Neruda poem that Kate put into my birthday card.  Dunno what the title is…Peace!
Yes: I knew that your hands were
a blossoming clove and the silvery
your notable way with a furrow
and the flowering marls
I saw you delve deeper, dig under
to uncouple the cobble
and limber the roots,
I knew in a moment,
little husbandman,
your heartbeats
were earthen
no less than your hands.

Turnip, Leek, and Cheddar Omelet (Serves 1)
As a belated birthday present, Jeff and Amy gave me today off so that I didn’t have to go to market.  I only had to do animals chores this morning.  I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast this morning and what a treat it was!  My taste buds went off like fireworks at the delightful mix of sweet turnips, mildly pungent leeks, garlic, and of course melted cheddar.
·       ½ tablespoon of butter and ½ tablespoon of lard or oil
Melt a ½ tablespoon of butter with either lard or oil in a pan on low heat.  The butter is key to enhancing the flavor.
·       One small or half of a medium turnip, chopped into small pieces
·       One small leek, chopped
·       One clove of garlic
Add the chopped turnip (a brassica in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabaga, and cauliflower) and leeks to the pan until the turnips begin to soften and the leeks become translucent and tender.  Then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
·       2 or 3 eggs, well-beaten
I learned this trick in some video on cooking I found on the internet.  When you’re ready to pour the eggs into your pan, keep the fork you used handy.  After gently pouring the egg in, once in a while just sort of break the cooked egg bottom up with the fork.  This technique allows you to thoroughly and evenly cook the egg without turning it too brown on the bottom.
·       ¼ cup of grated or chopped up cheese of your choice (can’t go wrong with cheddar or even feta in an omelet).  This might make it too cheesy for your liking so add as much or as little cheese as you want.
Last step!  Add the cheese as the egg comes close to being completely cooked and allow it to melt.  Fold the omelet as you please (tri-fold is easier and less professional, but really who cares as long as it tastes good?).  Salt and pepper to taste and you have a breakfast fit for a person who gets up early on Saturday to do animal chores a.k.a. a king!

07 April 2011

Escuchela, la ciudad respirando

Ah, Blackstar how I enjoy your lyrics.  Hello citizens of the internets.  It has been a busy time since I last wrote.  Alas, my body continues to breath, sleep, and of course eat as the winter’s sluggish grasp releases itself from the northern hemisphere.  This of course means more daylight, more sun, more temperature, and more fun!  For the most part things have continued as they have on the farm.  We still pull logs out in the morning when the ground is still frozen.  In many ways this is a race against time; specifically the time it takes the mud to unfreeze.  That doesn’t take very long on a sunny day.
Seedlings are continually monitored and planted as we gear up for transplanting into the soil in the coming months.  Now the tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and spinach have sprouted into some more green company for the numerous, grassy onions.  Watering has become a daily task and an important one at that.  Seedlings are like babies.  They are finicky and need things just right.  The right temperature, the right amount of sunlight (generally a lot with a few exceptions), not too much or too little water.  Get these things wrong in the early stages of growth and you can delay harvest by weeks, which could mean the difference between having a bountiful harvest and perhaps a complete failure.  Just as a baby would not grow as tall or intelligent as their potential allows if not properly fed, the plant responds similarly to poor growing conditions.  So take care of those seedlings!
Other random things I have done lately are to build 36-foot long skids for a moveable greenhouse out of boards we milled from trees cut earlier this year.  It took a lot of cutting 12-foot boards, squaring them, measurements, and probably 200 screws to hold it all together.  I also consolidated things into one storage room for more efficient cooling of what we have left of produce and canned goods.  It’s a lot of work to keep food fresh and stored.  Good thing I loooooove eating!
Off farm adventures include visiting another horse-powered farm on Monday in Whitefield owned by Donnie and Kathy Webb.  Their whole family is extremely warm, nice, and hard-working.  I hope to work their horses a few times in the coming year as per Donnie’s invitation.  Jeff and Amy bought Bill and Perry from the Webbs once upon a time. 
I also got to go whitewater canoeing with my friend Kate and her family this past Sunday on the Kennebec River.  The water was not exactly raging but was moving fast enough in sections to be exciting.  We spent three hours canoeing and taking in the forests and farmland bordering the Kennebec.  They also provided snacks, which I devoured ferociously like White Fang (I just read it in a day while I was sick on Tuesday and Wednesday; thanks Frank!).  If you haven’t read White Fang, like dogs, would like to be a dog/wolf but don’t have the means or imagination, want a quick read, or all of the above, I highly recommend it.  I spent all day today imagining what the farm dog April was thinking whenever I saw her.  Then I imagined how she would act if she were a wolf instead of a dog.  However, I digress.  I can’t wait until we have asparagus; I daydream about those as well.
For those of you intrigued by the delectable dealings of cornbread, have a try at the recipe below.  I promise you won’t regret it unless you burn your house down in the process.  You may then regret it a little until you eat some.  I use the recipe below minus the corn and the hot chilis since there are not really either of those in abundance right now.  They are superb additions to an already pleasant treat.

Corny Cornbread a.k.a. Cooooooooornbread (from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)
Don’t have this without butter or honey.  It’s the bomb.
·       2 cups cornmeal
·       ¼ cup sugar or honey
·       1 teaspoon baking soda
·       1 teaspoon salt
Combine in a large bowl.
·       2 cups milk, yogurt, or a combination of both (I found that a half cup of yogurt and the rest milk makes the cornbread nice and moist while not too soggy or expensive)
·       3 eggs, beaten
Mix in.
·       2 cups corn
·       1 teaspoon hot or mild chilies minced (optional)
Mix in and pour into a greased casserole dish or large, cast-iron skillet (I prefer this).  If you use the skillet, it helps to put it in the oven while preheating it.  Place into a 350 degree preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.
Make sure you have butter or honey at hand.  Seriously.  Goes good with some chili.  I dare you not to eat half of it.  I dare you!

“This instant is the only time there is…”  - The fortune cookie fortune in my wallet