Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wild West Virginia Ramps

Ramps or Wild Leeks
Allium tricoccum, commonly known as the ramp, is a species of wild onion native to the eastern United States and Canada. In West Virginia, it grows in hollows or other shaded, wet areas. The ramp plant resembles a broad-leaved lily and grows in clumps of multiple plants 5-10" high. It is one of the first plants up in the spring, generally in mid-April. It is widely foraged in Appalachia, and people often sell ramps along the sides of roads. All parts of the ramp are edible, both the bulb and the leaves. It is traditionally fried with potatoes in bacon fat or battered and deep-fried.

We knew we had large numbers of ramps growing on the western edge of our property, primarily along the side of the hollow that forms the west property border. In previous years, we had dug a few ramps, but never spent the time or energy to take advantage of this interesting food. They have a strong taste that requires some getting used to.

Fields of Ramps
This past Sunday, a windy rainy day not much useful for anything else, we put on our raincoats and tramped over to the western hollow with the dogs. There were a few clumps of ramps here and there, and we dug as we walked. We found an old logging road that had ramps growing in the road bed, and so we followed along, digging as we went, a few here, a few there, trying not to take too many from a given area. As we followed the road, it crested over a hill, giving a view of the western-facing downhill slope leading to the west property line. The hillside was completely covered with bright green ramps as far as we could see; they covered the forest floor all the way down into the hollow. There were perhaps five acres of ground like this. We were ramp tycoons!

Cleaned Ramps
By this point, we had filled up the plastic grocery bag as full as possible, so we headed back to the house excited about foraging part of our evening's dinner. The ramps were muddy and were covered by a brown skin, and after a bit of work we ended up with a pile of cleaned and de-rooted ramps. For dinner that night we had grilled pork rib chops, baked potatoes, and ramps sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper (with a Zaca Mesa Syrah). The taste of the ramps was a cross between a green onion, leek, garlic, and something more earthy yet. They tasted like the dark black compost in which they grew.
Half Bushel of Ramps
The next morning, we headed back to the ramp fields and picked a half bushel more. We barely made a dent in a tiny corner of the ramp-covered hillside. We dug perhaps 8-10 lbs, which filled a half-bushel basked. They weren't for us, but for a friend who loves the treats we bring from the Farm. We spend about 30 min digging and another 20 min hauling the basket back up to the house. We washed them off with the hose, and packed them into a 13 gal plastic bag for the trip home. The car was pretty stinky.

That afternoon, I made a visit to The Seasoned Farmhouse with a 13 gal bag of ramps in tow. My cooking instructor Tricia Wheeler was absolutely delighted and a bit intimidated with the size of the present, but immediately started cleaning the ramps so she could include them in a salad for her Monday Étoile class. Very few people in the class had ever heard of a ramp, let alone tasted one so fresh. Tricia plans to serve the ramps in a risotto in her upcoming class on cooking leg of lamb.

Ramp Oil
That evening for dinner, we had ramp and pea risotto garnished with a ramp oil. The ramp oil was made by pureeing 2 cups of chopped ramp leaves with 1 cup of olive oil, heating this to a simmer for a few minutes, filtering through a fine sieve, and finally filtering through a paper towel. The oil was dark green and smelled earthy and strongly of onions.

Ramp and Pea Risotto w/Ramp Oil
The risotto started with sliced ramp bulbs sautéed in olive oil, carnaroli rice, chicken stock, peas, and grated parmesan cheese. It was plated and garnished with ramp oil and more parmesan cheese. The flavor of the ramps had softened to a very mellow onion/leek flavor and the ramp oil added a final touch of freshness.

I also made some ramp pickles using ramp bulbs and a pickling liquid made from cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pink and white peppercorns, and cumin, mustard, coriander, and caraway seeds. The pickles were refrigerated and will be ready in a few weeks.

Pickled Ramps
It is a satisfying feeling to eat foraged foods. Of course they are free, but it is also about the labor involved in foraging. What is nice is that the source of the food is certain and it is about as local as possible. It's the same feeling we get eating eggs from our backyard flock of chickens.

To forage these ramps we needed only a basket and a garden knife for digging. Hiking sticks helped  get us over the rough terrain. It not as if we saved a lot of money digging ramps, but the satisfaction of eating foraged food is similar to the feeling we get eating food we have grown. Food is such an important part of our lives, and the quality of the ingredients that goes into our food plays such a critical role.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Start of the 2015 Gardening Season

With the return of non-Arctic temperatures and longer days, it's time to start thinking about the 2015 growing season at Dogs Run Farm. As always, we will try and learn from the successes and particularly the failures of the 2014 season. The most successful crops included all four varieties of cabbage, red and orange beets, potatoes, jalapeño and Calabrian peppers, Tuscan kale, and green beans. The less successful but still productive crops included onions that were overcrowded by weeds, cucumbers that seemed to go from gherkin to jumbo in a couple of days, certain peppers, peas, raspberries, and Swiss chard (weak seed starts). Crops that were unsuccessful included eggplant (too cool), several varieties of peppers (especially bell peppers – too cool), plum tomatoes (an August 5th freeze!), asparagus (we missed nearly the entire season), and Lima beans (too short a growing season).

So what can we do about the problems we encountered? Obviously nothing about the abnormally cool growing season, but several crops required too long to ripen relative to the short growing season in the mountains (Lima beans, one pepper variety) so these will be omitted. The freak freeze at the beginning of August completely wiped out our plum tomato crop of five highly productive plants, and if we had been there when it happened, we could have covered the plants overnight to protect them. Missing the short asparagus season was largely due to poor planning of our travel to the Farm. We just haven't had much success with eggplant in our garden, so perhaps this crop will be given less space, as they are a still a highly desirable vegetable to grow.

We have always had a difficult weed problem, as do all farms, and some of this is our own fault. For example, we planted the beets and onions too close together, so effective cultivation was impossible. This year, we are going to use a biodegradable weed barrier to at least help cut down on weed pressure. One variety of barrier has pre-cut holes spaced specifically for onions and beets, so this may help us avoid the urge to cram too many plants in too small a space. I also learned of a strategy for weed suppression that involves tilling the garden plot about 12 days before planting to allow weeds to sprout first. They are killed with a flame weeder, then the plants are transplanted (or seeds planted) with minimal soil disturbance. In the end, however, weed control works best the old-fashioned way: pull them up and dispose of them.

Two years ago I had three samples of garden soil analyzed at WVU, and the analyses showed severely deficient levels of phosphorous and potassium. Over the past two years, I have amended the soil with phosphate and potash and enriched it with organic matter in the form of wood chips and shredded straw. This year the soil analyses showed good to excellent levels of P and K, but in the course of raising the levels of these elements, I have managed to drop the soil pH to below 5.5. As a consequence, I need to put down more than 100 lbs of lime per 1000 sq ft to get the pH back up to around a more suitable value of 6.5. For the nitrogen necessary for plant growth, I found an organic 13-0-0 fertilizer that I can get at Southern States in Elkins.

Yesterday I started nine varieties of tomatoes, four varieties of cabbage, and broccoli raab, a new vegetable. These went in to seed trays and are warming at 80 °F on heat mats. Next week, I will start two varieties of kale, parsley, dill, and Brussels sprouts. The seed potatoes and onion and leek starts were ordered weeks ago, and today I ordered shiitake mushroom spawn plugs to inoculate some oak logs I cut in December. The fruit trees and raspberries were pruned in December, so everything is pretty much ready to go.

Welcome to the 2015 gardening season at Dogs Run Farm.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cooking Momofuku's Bo Ssäm – Korean Roast Pork

This story is about cooking food rather than growing it. The story starts last October, when I enrolled in Tricia Wheeler's 30-week French cooking class at The Seasoned Farmhouse. This was a classically focused hands-on class that met once per week for three hours. There were six people in the class, and each week we cooked an elaborate lunch based on some fundamental cooking technique (e.g., emulsified sauces or braising). During this course, Tricia, our instructor and the owner of The Seasoned Farmhouse, organized a three-day gourmet food tour of New York. It would take several paragraphs to describe the wonderful meals we ate and the baguette baking class we took, but one meal in particular stands out. It was probably one of the top five meals I've ever had, and we ate it at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar. This meal was an elaborate multi-course meal that had the most wonderful pork shoulder roast as the main course. This dish is called Bo Ssäm, which consists of slow-roasted sugar-glazed pork shoulder served with a number of condiments, all wrapped up in a leaf of Boston Bibb lettuce. The recipe is in David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, and this week I attempted to reproduce the restaurant dish at home.

Salt & Sugar Rubbed Pork Shoulder
Finished Pork Roast
The preparation started with a beautiful 10 lb bone-in pork shoulder roast from Huffman's Market. The meat was rubbed with a mixture of salt and sugar (1 cup each) and allowed to rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Excess rub was scraped off and the pork roast was baked in a 300 °F oven for six hours, basting with the pan juices. It was pulled from the oven and allowed to rest for an hour, and then was glazed with a rub of brown sugar and salt in a 500 °F oven to provide a crispy caramelized crust. After all this oven time, the pork roast literally fell apart into tender morsels.

Ssäm and Ginger-Scallion Sauces
The pork was accompanied by ginger-scallion and ssäm sauces. The ginger-scallion sauce was a mixture of thinly sliced scallions and minced ginger plus small amounts of oil, soy sauce, and sherry wine vinegar. The authentic ssäm sauce was a bit more involved. The two main ingredients in this sauce are a fermented soybean-chili paste (ssamjang) and a fermented chili paste (kochujang), both of which I found at a great Korean market in town (Arirang Oriental Market on Bethel Road). These two ingredients are combined with sherry wine vinegar and oil. I found the lack of garlic in either of these sauces surprising, but it was more than made up for by the garlic in following recipe.

Homemade Kimchi
Another critical ingredient in bo ssäm is kimchi, chili-spiced fermented cabbage. This year we grew Chinese cabbage, which did wonderfully and produced giant heads of beautiful cabbage. As with the ssäm sauce, kimchi requires several unusual ingredients, and once again, the Arirang Korean market came through with special chili powder (kochukaru) and jarred salted shrimp, tiny little shrimp preserved in brine that provide the umami flavor of kimchi. The recipe for David Chang's version of kimchi can be found here, so I won't repeat the process or ingredients. His version ferments for several weeks in the refrigerator before it is ready to eat, and I had made two quart jars of kimchi a month or so ago. Kimchi has a pungent smell, partly because it's fermented cabbage (think sauerkraut) and partly because it contains a boatload of chopped garlic. It supplied all the garlic flavor needed for the bo ssäm.

Bo Ssäm
The pork was shredded and we made little sandwiches of the pork, rice, kimchi and the two sauces using a Boston Bibb lettuce leaf wrapper. I can't say whether it was as good as David Chang's, but experiencing the meal at Momofuku Ssäm Bar the East Village in Manhattan certainly helped his version. They were fantastic.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Bountiful Potato Crop

It seems that every year, shortly after we've put our seed potatoes in the ground, we get a huge rain. In past years this has washed potatoes right out of their trenches or caused them to rot in the ground. Consequently, in past years our potato crop has been minimal, perhaps 10-30% of normal. This year was no different, except I managed to put a large tarp over the potato bed before the worst of the rains came. A day or two later I removed it, and the ground looked wet but not sodden. As the growing year progressed, we got quite good germination of the seed potatoes, which we estimated between 75-80%. The two potatoes on the ends of the bed had been flooded worse than those in the middle, so they were stunted in their germination.

Red Gold
The potato sprouts grew and grew, becoming big bushes with beautiful white or purple flowers. We hilled them up with dirt and shredded straw, and the plants were green and healthy. We had no significant pest pressure, which coupled with a good preseason fertilization promised an excellent crop.

Potatoes are ready to dig when the vines have almost completely died back. The first three early potatoes that we dug in late July were three red varieties: Red Gold, Dark Red Norland, and Red Thumb. We got a truly great yield of Red Golds, but only a small yield of the other two. Dark Red Norland is a red-skinned white potato that was great in home fries, while the Red Gold has yellow flesh and is great for roasting. We probably got around 15-20 lbs of Red Golds and perhaps 10-15 lbs of the other two combined.

A month later the rest of the potato vines had died back and they were dug in late August. The yields were amazing and it was incredible fun to use my new broadfork to lift and expose a huge number of potatoes per plant. I filled three 5 gal pails and two large baskets full of potatoes and hauled them down to the house from the garden with my ATV.

Nicola (l) & Red Pontiac (r)
Carola (upper) & LaRatte (lower)
The August harvest of potatoes included: Carola (20 lbs) and Nicola (42 lbs), yellow flesh potatoes good for baking or roasting; LaRatte (16 lbs), a white-fleshed fingerling; German Butterball (20 lbs), a gold-fleshed potato that pretty much tastes like it sounds; and finally, Red Pontiac (21 lbs), a red-skinned, white-fleshed potato really good for mashing. All together these potatoes weighed 119 lbs. Add to that the minimum 20 lbs of potatoes from the July Harvest and out potato crop came in at least 140 lbs!

Potatoes Stored in the Wine Cellar
I sold 15 lbs of Nicola to the Highlands Food and Farm Market in Davis, which is run by Kimmy as part of the Potomac Highlands Food and Farm Initiative (PHFFI). This is a wonderful market that showcases local farm products, including vegetables, meat, cheese, honey, etc., and even though my contribution was minimal, I was proud that someone was going to eat food that I personally raised.

In Columbus, I sold another 20 lbs to my friend Tricia at The Seasoned Farmhouse, and she used the LaRatte potatoes that I sold her in a cooking class! If you are unaware of this wonderful resource, Tricia has created a cooking school and demonstration kitchen, and offers classes that range from salads and deserts to a comprehensive 30-week French-focused cooking course. If you live in Columbus, please check this place out, but hurry, as the classes fill very fast. I took the 30-week course this past year, and it was an incredible experience.

2014 Onion Crop
Lastly, we also had a decent onion crop this year. We planted four varieties and harvested 38 lbs of onions. We are very happy with these two crops and we've learned which varieties of potatoes and onions are best suited to our soil and climate. The potato bed has been tilled and planted with cover crop, and it will become the home of a different crop in 2015.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 Garden

This year our garden looks to be particularly successful. We've had just the right amount of rain, the potatoes sprouted with about 75-80% success, all the other plants are doing very well with very little insect damage (no flea beetles at all on the potatoes, yet), and things just look really good. Just because of bad timing when we were gone for ten days, we missed most of the asparagus, but it will be even better next year because we did.

We planted lots of onions (4 varieties), eight varieties of potatoes, 40 cabbage (early, late, red and Napa), ten Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, 18 eggplant (Japanese, Italian purple and white), five tomatoes (Roma), 20 peppers (Padrón, Calabrian, jalapeño, Ancho and bell), green beans, Lima beans, cucumbers (picklers and eating cukes), jack-o-lantern pumpkins, sunflowers (cutting and giant), carrots (yellow, orange and purple), herbs (mint, parsley, rosemary, basil and thyme), arugula, plus existing beds of raspberries (4 years old), asparagus (2 beds, 4 & 2 years old)), rhubarb and horseradish. If all continues to go well with warm temperatures and enough rain, this could be our best garden yet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Addition to Our (Octagonal) House

Fig 1. Post & Beam Construction
Our West Virginia home is post & beam construction (Fig 1). It is octagonal and was purchased as a kit from Topsider Homes in North Carolina. The photo shows the inside of the house looking at the roof/ceiling. The house is 800 square feet with the front half being mostly windows and a door. We have nearly 180° views of Roaring Plains Wilderness to the south and Dolly Sods Wilderness to the east. The south and south-east sides of the house are deck, about 9' deep, which is suspended over the hillside in front of the house on 6"x6" posts.

Fig 2. South (l) & South-East Decks (r)
As we consider occupying the house full-time, we will need to expand the house to provide more living space. One aspect of the two decks is that we rarely use the south-facing deck other than for passage (Fig 2). The reason for this is its exposure. In the summer, it is in full sun for the entire day; in winter, the winds come in directly from the west, sweeping straight across the deck with 20-30 mph gusts. We primarily use it for bird feeders.

Fig 3. New Entrance.
So we came up with a plan to expand the house over the deck, making the space into a dining room. In essence, we would push out the front wall to the edge of the deck, and build two new side walls and a new roof. Entrance to the house would be off the far south-east deck via a sliding glass door built into the east wall of the addition (Fig 3). The existing south wall of the house contained two floor-to-ceiling windows and a door, so we planned the addition to make use of these two existing windows and to add two operable windows in order to preserve the view.

Fig 4. Nearly Complete Addition w/Front Wall
The original builder of the house, carpenter Shane McCauley, agreed to undertake the construction of the addition. He built a new floor on top of the decking, a completely new roof over the existing roof, and three new outside walls. The construction was made significantly more difficulty because there wasn't a 90° angle anywhere to be found.We put metal roofing on the addition and added two 40"x60" double hung windows to the front wall (Fig 4). The inside drywall is finished, the outside needs to be stained to match the rest of the house, and we will put in a heated tile floor.
Fig 5. Interior View w/Lucca

The addition will increase the floor space by about 150 square feet, and will be a perfect fit for our dining room table and china cabinet when we move them from Columbus in a few years.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Maple Sap and Maple Syrup

This spring we decided to try our hand at making maple syrup. The west side of the property is loaded with maple trees, some more than 18' in diameter. Last autumn, I marked about 20 sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) with green paint. Early this spring, I bought a beginners syrup making kit from Anderson's Maple Syrup and additional supplies to tap a total of 10 trees. This kit uses five gallon blue plastic bags for sap collection and 5/16" spiles for tapping.

Beginner's Maple Sap Tapping Kit
On a Sunday morning  in early March, we tapped ten trees. This involves first drilling a 2" hole 5/16" in diameter, 10° below horizontal into the south side of the tree. The tap is pounded into the hole tightly, the sap collection bag is attached to the red-handled holder, and the holder is clipped onto the spile.

Later in the day as temperatures rose well into the 60s, the sap began dripping into the bags, slowly at first. By evening, there was perhaps 1/2 gallon in some of the bags. It got cold on Sunday night, but when the sun came up on Monday and temperatures rose, the sap started flowing much faster and the bags started to fill up quickly.

Full Sap Bag
By about 11 am, the bags contained between 1-4 gallons of sap each, so we pooled the sap into five bags for a total of 12-13 gallons, tied the tops of the bags with wire, and stood the full bags upright in five gallon pails for transport. When we got them back to Columbus, we iced the sap down in a cooler, and on Tuesday morning I made a run to Cabela's for a propane stove and to a kitchen supply store for a 10 quart brazier.

Then comes the boiling down part, which takes forever. Maple sap is about 2% sugar, mostly sucrose. The ratio of maple sap to maple syrup is about 40:1, so that 10 gallons of sap should give one quart of syrup. The reduction needs to be done outside, otherwise the steam will deposit a small coating of sugar onto walls, cabinets, and anything else nearby. So I boiled all Tuesday afternoon and a good part of the day on Wednesday, producing about four quarts of concentrated maple sap. This was filtered and brought inside, to finish on the stove.

Boiling Down Sap
There are two ways to determine when one has sufficiently reduced the sap to syrup. The specific gravity (or density) can be measured with a hydrometer, one of which was included in the above kit and which I inconveniently left in West Virginia. The second method is to accurately monitor the temperature of the sap as it is reduced into syrup. The process is supposed to be complete when the temperature of the syrup is 7 °F above the boiling point of water, adjusted for altitude. This is about 210.5 °F in Columbus, so I continued to reduce the sap until the temperature registered 218 °F. The product was light brown in color and became syrupy when a few drops cooled on a plate. It tasted absolutely fantastic, very sweet with a nice clean maple flavor. I compared the taste with some dark amber syrup we had in the refrigerator, and the commercial syrup tasted burnt compared to the clean, crisp taste of our maple syrup. I filtered the hot syrup into sterilized half-pint canning jars, which sealed on their own as the syrup cooled. Out of about 12-13 gallons of maple sap, I obtained four half-pints, or one quart of pure, 100% natural, homemade maple syrup.

One Pint of Maple Syrup
Finishing the Syrup
At the end of March/beginning of April, temperatures soared into the 70s, and the sap literally flowed from the trees. In this second production process, after reducing probably 15 gallons of sap, as I was finishing of the syrup on the stove I decided that I had not boiled down the first batch sufficiently far, so three half-pints of the first batch were combined with the second batch, and a hydrometer was used to determine the end point of the reduction. The syrup ended up at just over 66% sugar as measured with the hydrometer, and boiled at around 220 °F. It was now a medium brown with a strong, clean maple flavor. The total 2014 production of maple syrup was 2.5 quarts. The pint jar shown above represents the reduction of five gallons of sap. It is delicious.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Factory Meat, Milk & Poultry Production

This is a carefully crafted video that illustrates factory production of meat, milk and poultry.

It is taken from the movie Samsara, which is a Sanskrit word meaning the wheel of life. The movie is a non-verbal documentary made by Ron Fricke. While the film itself appears to be an entertaining visual experience, the cut embedded below is not.

It isn't intended to shock, rather to illustrate visually the assembly line movement of animals through processes. It is not graphic in the sense of gore and cruelty; it is graphic in the sense of the scope and scale of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

If you eat factory farmed meat, I hope this video will give you pause the next time you buy chicken at Kroger or order a hamburger at Burger King. This is not an acceptable means to produce food for people.

The video will undoubtedly leave you speechless. I hope is leaves you with a new perspective.

N.B. It is illegal in most states in the U.S. to take film of CAFOs. The laws that prevent this are called "ag-gag" laws. The people who own and run CAFOs are scared that you might see how meat and milk are produced.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Potato and Swiss Chard Frittata

We made this frittata last night for dinner. It was delicious with a chilled white wine from Languedoc.

Makes two individual servings.

1 medium waxy potato, peeled and medium diced (1/2")
1 cup of chopped Swiss chard, wet
hot red pepper flakes, to taste
1 jalapeño, seeds removed and finely diced
1 medium clove garlic, finely diced
8 eggs, well whisked
1/2 cup grated cheese, preferably a mix of a sharp cheese such as cheddar and Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and ground black pepper

In a medium saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, hot pepper flakes, jalapeño pepper and a pinch of salt, and saute 1-2 minutes until softened. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the chopped chard and cover the pan. Saute over low heat until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

In a small pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook; the potatoes should still be firm and keep their shape. Drain.

Mix the potatoes into the chard mixture.

Set oven to broil and preheat.

In an 8" non-stick oven-safe skillet, add half of the eggs and half of the chard mixture. Cook over medium heat with stirring until the eggs start to set on the bottom half. Sprinkle half the cheese mixture over the eggs and place skillet under the broiler. Watch carefully and remove when the frittata has cooked through and the cheeses are bubbling and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Slide the frittata onto a plate and serve. Repeat with the remaining eggs, chard and cheese.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Strange Assortment of Eggs from Our New Chickens

Last April, I bought 15 each of Golden Comet and Barred Rock chicks, and my friend Santos raised them at the horse barn where I ride. We still had two of our original Golden Comets, but their egg production had slowed considerably to at best one per day. On July 3rd, we "switched" chickens, giving Santos our two old ones and bringing home two each of the new varieties. There was no way to introduce new chickens to our coop without lots of fighting, but our two old chickens settled in at the barn without incident.

Around September 1st, one or two of the chickens started laying, and around the 15th of September, another started production. What is strange is the lack of uniformity in the eggs. Mostly, we get large darker brown eggs, but with the addition of our third layer, we've been getting these really small off-white eggs and once we got a gigantic lighter brown egg. I don't know what's up with this, and whether things will settle down to a more uniform size and color.

The chickens are happy, getting all of the vegetable table scraps and trimmings from our garden produce. They still don't like being handled, but they're getting better. We feed them organic layer rations.

In any event, it's good to have fresh eggs again.

UPDATE 10/1: For the first time, we got four eggs, one per hen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Building a Garden Shed & High School Geometry

When we built our little barn a few years ago, we had a 12'x12' concrete slab poured and built a building with a loft and a slanted roof. This was supposed to house the Gravely, the ATV, the tiller, and other gardening stuff. Then we built a work bench and got a table saw and a miter saw. I wanted a workshop, but it was too crowded with all that stuff in the barn. Subsequently, I built a 8'x12' lean-to shed next to the barn, and that's where the ATV, Gravely, and ATV trailer are stored. Now we have a chipper-shredder and the tiller, and these are really difficult to transport up to the garden and back down. Both pieces of equipment have been sitting outside up by the garden most of the summer. Exposure to sun and rain will take a toll on equipment, and so the obvious thing to do was build a shed dedicated to storing garden equipment. Then the barn can become a dedicated workshop.
Figure 1. Shed Plans (6'x8')

I found a nice set of shed plans (Fig. 1) on the Mother Earth website, and altered them slightly from a 6'x8' shed to an 8'x8' one. When I got to West Virginia this past Wednesday, the ground was perfectly dry, so my hope was that I could haul construction materials up to the garden clearing with my truck. Between late Wednesday and early Friday it rained 1.27", turning the road into a muddy mess. No chance of getting the truck anywhere. I went ahead and ran to 84 Lumber in Elkins and got the 2"x6"x8' floor joists, a 4"x4"x8' post for the supports, concrete piers to support the shed, and two sheets of 3/4" treated plywood. This is so easy with the full bed on the truck: everything just fits flat on the bed with no need to tie anything down or have anything stick out. As expected, I got the truck into the house clearing but not up the road. I got the boards up to the garden just by stacking them on the front and back ATV racks with the concrete piers in the trailer. The plywood was another story. Eventually, I figured out that I could take one sheet at a time, lay it cross-ways on the back ATV rack with the front laying on the seat. I sat on the wood to hold it down and drove very slowly up the road, eventually getting both pieces up. Treated plywood is very heavy, particularly because it was waterlogged from sitting in the back of the truck in the rains. It was way too heavy for me to pick up.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

More Spuds

These fingerling potatoes are the last of the 2013 crop to be dug. It's about 1/2 bushel of potatoes.

Overall, this year's potato crop wasn't as bad as we feared after all the April and May rains. I think we probably got 40% of what we could have raised. We've got some plans for the 2014 planting that don't involve putting the potatoes into deep trenches, which are vulnerable to flooding. It seems that you can shallowly bury the seed potatoes and cover the whole bed with straw and more dirt. The yield is lowered relative to conventional methods, but we shouldn't have a flooding problem with heavy rains.

(As a note, we received more than 10" of rain on the farm during the month of August. Since the rain gauge was installed in early May, we've had nearly 22" of rain, for an average of about 1.25"/week.)

As another note, here is a bit of food porn. This is what we did with our potatoes, poblano chilies, cheese, cherry tomatoes, cumin & onion: potato stuffed roasted poblano peppers baked on a bed of sauteed onions and tomatoes. Email me if you would like the recipe.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Jams, Jellies & Pickles – So Far

strawberry-pineapple jamstrawberry jampickled beets w/caraway
straberry-rhubarb jamorange-rhubarb jamcandied pickled apples
blueberry-lime jamblueberry-lemon jamapple pie applesauce
peach maple jamrhubarb jampickled golden beets
concord grape jellysour cherry preservessweet pickle relish
peach BBQ saucestrawberry saucegreen beans
honey-lemon jellypeaches w/vanillagarlic-dill pickles
applesaucepickled jalapeñosdilled pickled beans

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Update on the 2013 Harvest

This post will mostly be pictures, as they somewhat speak for themselves. The pictures are small here, but click on them for a larger version.

First to be picked starting May 1st was asparagus. This was the third year for this asparagus bed, and we picked about 40-50% of the spears. In addition, we planted another bed of 25 plants, which will be ready to pick in 2015. I really don't need to describe what these tasted like. Many of the smaller spears didn't make it out of the garden before being consumed.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Inevitable Demise of Chemical-Based Agriculture

The popularity of organically grown food has increased dramatically over the past decade. Growth in the sales of organic food has risen more than 10% per year recently, and now represents over 4% of total food sales. That may sound like a pretty minor fraction (4/100), but it is clear that this increase will continue. Right now, over 10% of fruit and vegetable sales are organic, and much of this increase is due to public perception that organic foods are healthier than their conventional counterparts. Although there is little to no evidence that this is the case, and also given the questionable practices allowed in certified organic farming by the government, this shift represents a major change in the manner in which an increasingly larger portion of our food is grown. As I mentioned earlier, large agribusiness firms own the majority of organic food brands. This must change to allow a shift in how sustainably our food is produced. I believe such a change is inevitable.