May 2015

Tis' the Season, Squash Season

. . . May 30, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Close up of squashes blossoming

Although the official start of summer is still weeks away, this is the last week of spring at Tubby Creek Farm (that’s right, we make our own rules!).  We want to thank all of our CSA members for supporting us through this challenging spring season.  As you may recall, it was cold and crazy wet, setting us back three weeks in starting spring planting.  We were only able to plant about half of what we had planned but somehow we pulled through and only missed one week of the CSA.  This was a season where the “sharing the risks” part of the CSA was pretty apparent.  We didn’t plan to give the CSA so much lettuce, kale, radishes and turnips, but that is what we had so that is what you got!  New crops are coming in now and soon the boxes will look completely different.  It all starts with the arrival of squash.   
Squash plants looking good!Squash & Zucchin is famous for being prolific.  Garrison Keeler has joked that the only time the residents of Lake Wobegon lock their car doors is during zucchini season, lest they come out of church to find that someone has left a bag of zucchini waiting on their car seat.  In her book, Animal, Vegetable Miracle Barbara Kingsolver writes that she used to think that was a joke until one day during squash season when she came home to find a bag of zucchini swinging from the mailbox.  This while she was plotting to unload a bumper squash harvest of her own.
Humorous anecdotes such as these make me a little jealous and sad.  Summer squash is difficult to grow without synthetic chemicals in the south due to two especially pernicious pests; squash vine borers and squash bugs.  Longer maturing cucurbits like pumpkins and most winter squash are all but impossible.  I spent four years at GrowMemphis trying to convince community gardeners not to grow squash.  I am afraid of jinxing myself but I will say it anyway; we do not have the vine borers at the farm.  I think it is the only regional pest that has not turned up.  This makes growing squash theoretically possible.
In fact, it looks like we are headed for a bumper crop of squash.  Our first bumper crop of the year, and an unexpected one at that.  While we can take full credit for some (but not all!) of our failures, I think farmers can take no more than 50% of the credit for their successes.  The rest is just luck.  After trying new squash varieties every year, it looks like we have finally found some winners.  We have started spacing them closer together to get more plants in a bed.  I saw a few squash bugs and even some eggs while I was picking, but we should have a couple weeks before that becomes a serious problem.  But really, the squash are just growing better for reasons unknown and unknowable.  To my point – we have two rows of yellow squash growing right next to each other.  Same seeds, same fertilizer, planted on the same day.  Yet one row has noticeably larger plants.  Why?  We will never know.  
It’s not all sunshine and daisies.  The peach trees are big enough this year to support a crop of peaches.  Chris and Randy lovingly pruned them and we had loads of blossoms.  Yet, out of a dozen trees we counted a grand total of 2 peaches.  Two individual peaches.  Oh yeah, the tractor is broke again, too.
What the heck is a kohlrabi?
This explanation comes a bit late because full share members got theirs last week.  Perhaps it is still sitting in your refrigerator, pushed to the back.  The first thing you need to know is that kohlrabi is delicious.  The second thing you need to know is that you need to peel it.  The skin is too fibrous to eat.  Folks often mistake it for a root vegetable but that bulbous sputnik is actually the stem.  It is crisp and sweet.  I describe it as the flavor of cabbage with the texture of a turnip, but that doesn’t really do it justice.  It is wonderful raw (I have been known to peel kohlrabi the field with my harvest knife and eat it like an apple) and equally good cooked.  Cousin to the cabbage, it can be grated or chopped into slaw.  It is also fabulous in stir fry or braised with other vegetables.  The leaves are delicious cooked as well, but I recommend removing the stem and treating like mature collards.  That is, stew them in a little broth or blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes before drying and sauteing. They require a little more time to cook than kale.

Squash Problems? And a New Boar

. . . May 20, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Our new boar, Tacitus

Last week I noticed the squash plants starting to bloom.  Hooray, yellow squash and zucchini are on the way!  Then I looked closer.  The plants were covered in female flowers, not a male flower in sight.  Yup, squash and their cucurbit cousins like cucumbers and melons have separate male and female flowers.  Male flowers are borne on stalks while female blooms are found at the end of a miniature fruit.  The male flowers start blooming a week or two ahead of the female flowers to attract pollinators.  Unlike tomatoes and corn, which are pollinated by the wind, squash require a go-between.  Fruit that goes unpollinated will start to shrivel at the blossom end before it develops.
Last year we had another pollination problem.  There were no bees.  After an unusually cold winter, the native bees were conspicuously absent when the squash started blooming, leading to a lackluster crop.  Not this year!  There are now seven hives of honey bees on the farm.  “There,” we thought, “squash problem solved!”          
Now we have a new problem, and much weirder.  The internet has nothing to say about it.  All the publications I can find assure me that the male flowers bloom first.  So we solve one problem only to have it replaced with a tougher one.  What gives, Universe?  At this point, the “why?” is irrelevant.  Even if we knew why the squash were misbehaving (or NOT misbehaving as the case may be) there would be nothing we could do about it now.  Except of course what we are doing, which is waiting and hoping the male flowers catch up.  The plants are big and healthy, mildew free and I haven’t spotted any squash bugs yet (knock on wood), so we’ve still got a little time to get pollination going on.     
Meet Tacitus
Last week Randy drove to Alabama to pick up our new boar hog.  He is an Idaho Pastured Pig, a new breed developed by crossing the Berkshire, Kune Kune, and Duroc breeds.  His first day on the farm, he didn’t make a peep.  All our other pigs are noisy.  They grunt while they root.  They talk to one another.  They scream and squeal when they see us coming.  So we named him Tacitus.  Now that he has settled in, he grunts softly at us but he is still the quietest pig I have ever met.  

We just got our first Guinea Hog pork back from the processor, and it looks fabulous.  But the bottom line is that our Guinea Hogs only got to about 125 pounds at nearly 2 years old.  It isn’t really economical to process such a small pig.  We plan to cross the IPP with our AGH to produce a small pig that grows a little faster and gets a little bigger, say 200 pounds in 15 months.  Hopefully Tacitus will fit the bill.

Weaning Pglets & Rosie Troubles

. . . May 16, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Pigs & piglets

It is May and as such lots and lots has been happening on the farm.  A few weeks ago we got 30 Guinea Fowl chicks and they are growing happily in the brooder.   We weighed all and weaned most of our piglets.  I say most because four out of the eleven escaped and found their way back to mom.  We had hoped the gilts would wean the piglets themselves but at nine weeks Bon Bon was just too skinny to leave the piglets on any longer.  Randy took our first four boar hogs to the processor on Monday causing all sorts of happy and sad emotions.  In the vegetable garden we have been setting up irrigation, seeding okra, weeding the onions, preparing the soil to plant cover crops, and generally trying to keep the chaos at bay.  We are still feeling the effects of our cold and very wet late winter/early spring, but we have managed to get back into our stride for summer crops.  The solenaceous crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and cucurbits (squash, cucumber, melons) are looking good and the second round of all the above are in the greenhouse and will be ready to plant out very soon.     
My Love/Hate Relationship with Rosie
Randy disking with Rosie in JanuaryRandy and I fixed the tractor.  The clutch was out of adjustment and the bolts would not break free of the adjustment screws (in case you were wondering).  We spent about three hours working on it early last week before throwing in the towel and calling our tractor guy.  He was out of town for the week.  We called a neighbor, to ask about barrowing his tractor but now that the soil was finally dry for the first time since 2014  he couldn’t spare his tractor.  Randy even flagged down someone with a small tractor going down our road.  Same story.  The manager at the local Co-op gave me the name of a guy who works on tractors.  He said he’d come by, but he didn’t.
We were on our own.  On Thursday morning, we took another stab at it.  We had both had time to think about the problem and come up with new ideas.  Randy understands how machines work.  But I am the one who has to lie under the tractor and reach up through the ridiculously small hand hole into the dark and greasy tractor guts and drop tools on my face.  He tells me what to do, and I try to explain why that is impossible.  Think you’ve got a great marriage?  I’ve got a way to test it.
Tractor malfunction is a panic attack inducing experience.  There are so many unknowns.  Exactly why isn’t it working?  Can we fix it?  How long will it take to fix it?  I hate spending hours and hours trouble shooting only to find that we need a new part or that the problem requires taking the tractor to the doctor.  I hate taking time away from what I was planning on doing to work on something that makes me feel panicked, incompetent, and powerless.  At least that is how I used to feel.
I am cultivating a more resigned approach to tractor maintenance. Sometimes the tractor works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Fixing it takes as long as it takes.  Maybe we can fix it, maybe we can’t.  No use worrying about what else I need to be doing right now.   While I would not say I had fun working on the tractor, it didn’t tie me into a percolating ball of rage as it usually does.  I only started crying once and very briefly, I only wailed on the tractor with a tool once, and I only swore at Randy in jest.  Could I be turning over a new leaf in my relationship with Rosie?   Also getting covered in grease makes me feel really hardcore.     
Together we put 12 hours in, but the tractor is working.  For now.  Rosie is unreliable.  It’s not her fault, she is an antique.  She is also small.  Preparing the soil for planting takes longer with Rosie because it takes so many passes back and forth across the field with the disk harrow.  And at 11-or-so horsepower, there is just a lot she cannot do.  We need a bigger tractor.  Time to start putting our pennies in the jar to save the $30,000 our new tractor will cost us. We may even start a fundraising campaign, more on that soon.

Goat Update & Our Intern Chris Peterson

. . . May 06, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Chris mulching tomatoes

You will be happy to hear that the goats are doing great.  Moms and babies have settled down from the trauma of weaning.  It will be another three weeks at least before we put them back together.  The weather has dried out finally and the soil is  perfect for tractor work.  Unsurprisingly, the tractor is out of commission.  Rosie’s clutch is out of whack and Randy’s mechanical know-how combined with my excellent ability to follow directions is not enough to get her fixed.  Let’s hope this weather holds while we figure out a solution.
Meet Chris Peterson, Tubby Creek Farm Intern

Chris mulching tomatoes“Aren’t you a little old to be an intern?” Alright, so nobody has actually asked me that question since starting as an intern at Tubby Creek at the beginning of April. However, variations of this sentiment along with a confused glance is the general response when I tell people what I’m up to these days. I understand it. The stereotypical farm intern today is in his or her early twenties and is trying to “find him/herself.”…a little hard work, some simple living, and the realization that law school is probably less work and more financially rewarding in the long run than farming. That is not why I’m interning at Tubby Creek farm this year. I want nothing more than to make a career out of farming. By swallowing my pride and admitting to myself that I still had a ton to learn about farming, I think I have fallen into the perfect opportunity to help me become the farmer I want to be.
            I quit my paying job at GrowMemphis about a year ago with the ambition of starting a farm. My wife, Claire, and I, were lucky enough to be offered the chance to take over my grandparents 167 acres in Saulsbury, TN and take a shot at our farm dream. While lot of folks weren’t surprised when we threw caution to the wind for this, many were taken aback by my decision to take it slowly and intern part time. Interning is great. As an intern that also lives and works on my own farm, I have the opportunity to apply the lessons I learn at Tubby Creek—from annual budgeting and pasture and crop plans to how and when to move pigs and goats-- in real time on my own farm. Splitting my time also forces me to slow down, start off small, and not get in too far over my head in my first year. My stipend and CSA workshare also takes the pressure off me to have to produce at any particular scale on my own farm, which in turn allows me to concentrate on getting systems and routines in place for future success.
            Tubby Creek Farm was an obvious choice for my farm internship: 20 minutes away, Certified Naturally Grown, a good mix of vegetable and meat production, and a schedule that allows me the flexibility to spend time on my own farm. More important than the practical reasons though, Claire and I have been CSA members since Josephine and Randy got started four years ago. We have always really believed in and tried to support this farm, and I hope that this personal commitment will help me to work harder and offer more than the average intern would. After all, farming is ludicrously hard work and not always fun. Whether you are planting tomatoes in the rain, chasing chickens and/or goats out of Mrs. Wilson’s yard, or getting banged up and greasy changing an axle, who you are working with can be as important as what you are actually doing.
             I hope I will get the opportunity to meet those CSA members that I don’t already know. I’m at the farm Mondays through Fridays and will be at the market from time to time as well. Please say hello if you get the chance. If you want to know more about my farm, Loch Holland Farm, please check out my personal blog I would love to talk to you about our plans to build a goat cheese dairy, our Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs, or how frustrating raising farm fresh eggs can be

Greens & Goats

. . . May 01, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Goat kids on their own, eating browse

The box this week is just brimming with leaves.  Red and green, sweet and spicy, crunchy and tender.  Afraid you’ll spontaneously transform into a rabbit if you eat any more leafy greens?  Don’t worry, more “real” vegetables are on the way.  Beets are coming soon (hopefully next week!), and more turnips including Scarlet Queen and Purple Tops in addition to more of the white Hakurei you have already seen in your box.  Kohlrabi won’t be far behind and even the cabbages have started turning their leaves inward to make heads.   Last year we had onions, yellow squash and cucumbers by late May so let’s keep our fingers crossed for a repeat performance this year.  Even with some more “hard-crunchies” there will still be lots of greens in the shares.  Here are some of the ways we’ve been eating our greens on the farm:

  •     Kale soup with white beans and potatoes in homemade chicken broth
  •     Baby mustard greens sautéed in bacon fat with a fried egg on top
  •     Radish, radish green, kale and egg stir-fry with rice and Flora at Bluebird Farm’s “Mississippi Kimchi”  
  •     Grilled cheese-and-wilted-chard sandwiches (great with arugula, too!)
  •     Green salad with fresh strawberries, apple, walnuts and honey balsamic dressing

If you still can’t power through all those greens, consider blanching and freezing some.  Kale in particular freezes very well.   Just drop in boiling water for about a minute, drain, and freeze in small bags to use during the annual greens gap, i.e. July through September.
The Blissful Quiet of Rural Life
It has been a noisy few days on the farm.  We have been weaning the goats.  The does and their kids cannot see each other, but they can sure hear each other and have been calling back and forth non-stop!  I want nothing more than to let them all out so that they can be reunited.   This is our first time weaning, and everyone does it differently.  Some people deworm at weaning as a regular matter of course, others don’t.  Stress and being separated from the antibodies in mom’s milk for the first time can cause health problems.  It’s no picnic for mom either and her bags fill with milk and no suckling baby to relieve the pressure.  Now that the deed is done I am second guessing all our choices.  The constant crying in the background doesn’t help, of course.   I know we just need to keep an eye on things and wait it out until everyone settles down.