Thursday, November 13, 2014

ice and inspiration

Today the weather took a turn towards winter, showering Gresham with snow followed by freezing rain, and leaving everything covered in a sheet of ice. Meanwhile, the wind continues. So my thoughts naturally have turned towards my garlic, still unmulched in the field. I keep worrying about it, but luckily I'm also reading the fantastic book, Growing Great Garlic, in which the author assures me that my garlic is just fine. In fact, he says, based on his 10 years of fairly scientific investigations, garlic will even keep growing while the ground is frozen and the weather is nasty. He continues:
We're on the verge of another winter now, and I can't help but feel a bit nervous as I gaze across mulched fields lying still and quiet beneath winter skies. I suppose all farmers know the feeling. But I suppose the garlic will survive and flourish again this winter despite all Nature's surprises and all my thoroughly human anxieties. Indeed, I don't seem to be psychologically prepared for real winter yet. But the garlic--it's just ended its period of natural rest and started its season of growth.
Encouraging words, these, and just at the right time. I'm not ready for winter yet, either. But there's something deeply satisfying, even moving, about the idea that the garlic I planted last month is already starting its odyssey towards next summer.

Still, at the first opportunity this weekend you better bet I'll be out there, spreading the mulch.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

last day before the freeze

The wind was intense today. It scoured the tiniest weeds from the soil, knocked out power to the farm, and added wrinkles to my face. Alaska's big storm is on its way to Oregon, and with below-freezing temperatures forecasted for tonight and freezing rain coming by Thursday, I got myself out to the fields to bring in the last of the peppers and stock up on some other possibly frost-sensitive produce, like cabbage.

peppers in November?!
heat for the soup pot!
beautiful Marner cabbages
My plans to mulch the garlic with the gorgeous (and gourmet) straw I bought from Naomi's was thwarted, however, when I realized that any mulch I put down today could end up spread out over the entire farm by tomorrow. So that task was left for a calmer day. At least I got the bales set out along the bed before the ground re-muds itself.

mulching mission: impossible

Lotus garlic already up!
One good way to spend a blustery day is inside. So once I'd done all I could do in the fields, I headed into the barn, where I was finally able to finish the job of shelling Vermont Cranberry, the last of my beans that were taking up space on the barn floor. I still have more beans to shell, but at least those are picked from the plants and neatly stowed in feed bags. I can work on them at home, maybe in front of a movie!

The bean-shelling project is one I've decided to call One Task, Many Tactics. I already posted some pictures of the first method, the Bean Dance, which was the most fun. I've also spent some relaxing days shelling beans by hand while listening to audiobooks. Not the fastest way to get the job done, but it works. Today I finished with a tactic I learned from my neighboring farmer, John. I call it Beating the Beans. (As John noted, maybe there's a reason "threshing" sounds so much like "thrashing.") Basically, it means taking a handful of beans plants and whacking them over and over against the sides of deep wheely cart that John loaned me. For lack of a better name, I'll call it the "box cart."

the work to be done: box cart with beans in the background
the box cart was salvaged from the downtown Meier & Frank!
proper hand grip for thrashing
after the thrash
The first day I tried it, I learned that this tactic is best done while wearing a dust mask and ear plugs. Better equipped today, I got through all the beans, only to realize at the end that because the power was out, I couldn't winnow them with my table top fan as usual. I thought I might try to do it the old-fashioned way, using the wind. Unfortunately, the wind had other ideas. It refused to blow only in one direction, and the higher gusts were fierce enough to blow the beans right out of the bin along with the chaff.

it seemed like a good idea at the time
Luckily, by the end of the day the power was back, and I finished the job with my boring old fan.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Tonight I ate 14 cloves of garlic. It wasn't some kind of fad diet (though I'm sure garlic is good for me in some ways...just not sure which ones). No, I did it because this week I planted seven different varieties of garlic on my farm, and I was just bracing myself for the inevitable questions.

See, when you're a farmer people expect you to be the authority on the produce you grow, and that includes most prominently its taste and use. But a good palate isn't necessarily in the skill set for many farmers. At least, I know it's not for me. I like to eat vegetables with good stories--stories about where they were bred or how they were grown--and I like to cook them with ingredients with good stories too. I think I'm a decent home cook with somewhat high standards, but I'm still just a home cook. I'm not sure my sense of taste is always up to par.

Nonetheless, I know the questions will come. Next year, after I've mulched and fed and weeded and watered and harvested and cured and cleaned my lovely bulbs of garlic, I will be asked about the differences between them--the tastes and the uses--and I will have to come up with something intelligent to say. So tonight, I laid 'em all out there and I tasted.

First, I tasted a sliver of each one raw. I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to raw garlic, so mostly I just noted the ones that were the spiciest. (They were all spicy.)

Then I threw a clove of each, in numbered order, on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. I promptly forgot them there, as often happens when I cook, so after pulling out the carmelized (aka burned) cloves I put one more of each into the oven. This time I remember to take them out.

two of each kind: one baked, one burned
tasting notes
Mostly, I have to say, they tasted like garlic. But I did discern some differences, which I promise to share with you when you ask me sometime next fall!