June 2015

Summer is here!

. . . Jun 13, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Our friend and neighbor helping out.

The summer solstice is fast approaching.  Siesta season at Tubby Creek Farm!  We are out the door at first light every morning, and as the days get hotter we like to take advantage of the evening hours when the sun is low.  Besides, we have to stay up until the chickens go to bed at dusk every evening so we can close up their house and keep them safe from predators.  There just aren’t enough hours between dark and dawn to get a good night’s sleep.  So we add a post-lunch nap to the schedule and sleep through the hottest part of the day.
The field has dried out and Nathan has been doing some tractor work for us.  It is finally dry enough to do some hoeing and again we are racing the rain to get the sweet potatoes and okra cleaned up.  Both are very important crops for us, the okra gives up reliable harvests in August and September when less heat tolerant vegetables are flagging, and sweet potatoes have a leading role in the fall CSA.  We can’t afford to lose them to the weeds!  
This week it is out with the squash and in with the cucumbers.  The yellow squash cranked out some really remarkable yields for about 10 days and now, poof, it’s gone.  The plants are turning a little yellowy and aborting their immature female flowers.  Blossom drop is a response to stress.  The damp weather has not been kind to the squash.  I am hoping they will put on another flush of fruit but I know better than to hold my breath.  We are still harvesting some squash and zucchini, but nothing like the incredible yields of the past two weeks.      
Squashes, zucchini, cucumbers and moreThe cucumbers have stepped up to fill the void.  I think that cucumbers, with their sweet, refreshing crunch, are one of the iconic tastes of summer.  This is a relief after the paltry cucumber crop we had last year.  The plants are full of fruit and demand picking daily.  From flower to harvestable fruit in 10 days, cucumbers can quickly become overgrown and seedy.   Cucumbers, like summer squash and zucchini, are harvested while they are immature and still growing so they have a thin, edible skin and small, underdeveloped seeds.  Watermelon, cantaloupe, and winter squashes are harvested at maturity and have thick skins and mature seeds.  If you wanted to save seeds from a cucumber, you would have to leave it on the plant until it becomes fat and yellow and the stem dies.
Cucumbers can also be bitter due to a chemical called cucurbitacin present in the leaves and stems of the plant.  Cucumbers are the Goldilocks of the garden, everything has to be just right.  If it is too hot or too cold, to wet or too dry, the bitter chemical can be present in the fruit.  Fortunately, if you have a bitter cucumber, the bitterness tends to be concentrated in the skin and at the stem end of the cucumber.  To test a cucumber for bitterness, trim off the stem end and take a thin slice.  If that is bitter free, the rest of the fruit will be as well.  If there is some bitterness, you can trim more off of the stem end and/or peel the fruit.        
You may find both smaller, pickling type cucumbers in your share as well as longer slicing types.  If you plan to make pickles, the pickling types really are better.  For fresh eating, both are equally delicious.
Fingerling PotatoesPotatoes Explained
What are new potatoes?  New potatoes are any potato harvested while they are young and typically small.  Compared to storage potatoes, new potatoes have very thin skins, high moisture and high sugar content.  They are harvested while the plant is still green.  Once a potato plant starts to die back, the skins on the potatoes start to thicken and sugar is converted to starch.  This natural curing process prepares the tuber for waiting in the ground until conditions are favorable to sprout and grow into a new potato plant.  Ah, the circle of life!  Because new potatoes are not cured like mature potatoes, they should always be refrigerated and used promptly.
Fingerling potatoes are any variety of potato that produces lots of small, often knobby, and elongated tubers.  FingerlinTgs typically have thin skins and can be either waxy or starchy.  They can be dug as new potatoes or as mature potatoes.     
Sometimes we are asked why we do not grow baking, or Russet, potatoes.  This is not the ideal climate for growing potatoes because our short spring gives way quickly to hot summer.  Russet potatoes require a longer time to grow, but tubers will stop growing once the soil temperature reaches 80 degrees.  We just don’t have a long enough spring or a cool enough summer to grow Russet potatoes well.  If you really want to bake a potato, looks like you are going to have to wait until the sweet potatoes, a crop much better suited to our climate, come in in September.

Holy squash and zucchini!

. . . Jun 04, 2015 | posted by Josephine
Squash, zuchini and fingerlings in the walk in

Holy squash and zucchini!  There is quite bit of summer squash in the shares this week.  It is time to get it while the getting is good.  We are loading you up because we don’t know how long it will stick around!  We should have more next week but after that, who knows!  The squash bugs and fungus spread by the wet weather could take it down at any time.  We have a second succession of squash and zucchini planted but whether or not that will pan out is anybody’s guess.     
Don’t temp fate.  Think I am superstitious for fearing I would jinx myself by mentioning Squash Vine Borers in last week’s newsletter?  Well, then you will never believe what I saw this week.  That’s right, the very first SVB moth I have ever seen on our farm.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Next time I am trusting my superstitious instincts and keeping my big mouth shut!
Randy hoeing weedsGentlemen, sharpen your hoes.  It is June and that means it is time to roll up our sleeves and get serious about weeding.  Sure, there is still some planting to do here and there – more watermelon and cantaloupe, long beans and purple hull peas.  But for the most part the summer garden is in the ground.  The melon vines are reaching out, the okra has sprouted and the tomatoes are setting green fruit.   In the past we have had the unpleasant experience of turning around after the flurry of planting in April and May to find that the weeds are fast taking over the garden.  This year we are in better shape.  I wouldn’t say we are on top of things, but we are slightly less behind.   We hoed all the cucurbits in May.  All the peppers and eggplant have already had a first round of weeding.  How did we get all this done in such an uncharacteristically timely manner?   Mostly by neglecting the spring garden.  Somehow, there is just never enough time.   
The relentless wet weather has made hoeing and cultivating with the rototiller impossible for the past ten days.  I have had to wait and watch, powerless as the carpet of grass transforms the okra and sweet potato patch from brown soil to a sea of green.   It is a slow form of torture.  But the forecast has a little dry weather in it and I am hoping to get after those weeds this week.
Animal Update.  On the livestock front, we have a wobbly goat.  Last Friday I noticed Apricot was unsteady on her hind legs and walking as if she were drunk.  A little research and advice-seeking later we decided that the problem was most likely meningeal worms.  The true host of this parasite is white-tailed deer.  It is transmitted through slugs, which can be eaten accidentally by goats.  The parasite gets in the spinal column and eventually the brain.  There is no definitive diagnosis except after death.  So we jumped to it and are treating Apricot with high doses of fenbendazole, a goat wormer.  Luckily, risks associated with the treatment are low, so even if we are wrong about the diagnosis we aren’t going to hurt her with the treatment.  We caught it early, so her outlook is good, although she may have some permanent nerve damage.  She already seems better than she did on Friday.