Life At The Bird Feeder

Our bird feeder is an exciting place. The first visitor this morning was our Little Bear who carefully tips it up to pour a few seeds into his mouth. He releases the seed cage and lets it swing on the rebar stand. Little Bear is a happy, gentle creature. I enjoy watching Little Bear. Next to arrive are the birds. Today there are two different flocks. I can identify the yellow Gold Finches as one group.  I am not sure about the second group; however, they are not getting along! There is much chasing and darting and flying about. Oh, they each fed at the trough, but after a bite, they proceed to attack the other group in an attempt to gain control. This activity goes on for hours! The last visitor today is Big Bear. Big Bear seems to be aggressive, angry, and hungry! He grabs the metal stand on which the bird feeder swings and forcefully pulls it down to the ground where he lies on his back tipping the seed cage to take all of the birdseed into his massive jaws.  Frustrated once it empties, he smashes the bird feeder into bits of plastic, grunts, and lumbers away.  I can only assume he is off to create havoc and destruction at another location. It looks as if we need to buy yet another bird feeder. How soon until bears go into hibernation?

In the box this week you can expect our Russet potatoes along with sweet corn, beets, and Vidalia onions.  I love the sweetness of roasted Vidalia onions! And although we do not seem able to grow sweet corn ourselves, there are some suggestions for cooking it under “Recipes C – E” about halfway down the page.

Please remember that beet juice will stain anything it touches!  To remove the pinkish stain from your fingers, try rubbing with salt or lemon juice. Also, ingesting beets will stain bodily fluids of people sometimes. This is called beeturia. The discoloration is due to betalain, a natural pigment found in beets. Not all people experience beeturia.  Just don’t be alarmed if you do!

After The Flood

Surreal is good word to use in describing the days since August 17.  The most interesting thing to me was the next day when I went to check our blueberry bushes. Hours before, they had been nearly waist deep in water, but were still covered with berries at the time.  Imagine my surprise to find the bushes alive with insects (both beneficial and pest varieties) and all of the remaining blueberries hanging limply by the stems. I know that too much rain can cause blueberries to get too plump and split. However, I think when the flash flood arrived, the insects simply headed for the tops of the blueberry bushes and began stress eating!

The first step once the flood waters recede is to clean debris from the creek because we want the water to continue to flow and debris causes dams and blockage.  All of our “creek neighbors” were out doing the same type of work. The flood waters take and the flood waters give.  In the process, Robert found heavy, square, red, picnic table on our property.  Once we determined who the rightful owners were, Robert used leverage to maneuver it onto the back of the farm truck. I wish I had snapped a photo as it filled the entire bed side to side and front to back! We made the return delivery one evening and enjoyed speaking with the owner who has lived in the area longer than our 28 years. He said he has never seen Cane Creek so high! It reached his back steps, but did not seep into his home which is a Blessing. We knew it was high because for the first time in 28 years, it came OVER the berm around the field in which we garden. The berm was built in the 1960’s by the Army Corp of Engineers.  They also straightened the creek at the time to allow better flow, I suppose. The picture of a winding meandering creek bed is romantic until it is flooding ones crops and livelihood!

Robert began our flood cleanup process as soon as the ground was dry enough; and then is rained some more simply postponing the work which lies ahead. Usually the fall cleanup starts a couple of months later in the year, but it is always just the reverse of the spring set up. Old plants must be pulled out or mowed down, binding ties must be cut and collected, fencing and fence posts removed, the holding staples, drip tape and irrigation mainlines  must be collected, then the fabric staples pulled, and finally the fabric folded up and set aside for another season. Fortunately, we still have our drip mainlines and fabric to give the extra clean up attention to this year!

I do not know if this was a 50-year or 60-year flood event. I do know it was much worse in some parts of WNC than it was here in eastern Buncombe County. The fact that the ground was already saturated when Hurricane Fred made his way into the area was certainly part of the problem.  I was reading online about the WNC July 1916 flood which was horrific. I can only assume this was not a 100-year flood.

I have been asked if this loss is covered by crop insurance. The answer is no. If we grew only a single crop such as just tomatoes or just potatoes, then such coverage would be available. However, it is not for offered for our direct-to-consumer CSA business model. This explains why most CSA’s request advance payment for the entire harvest season from their customers early in the year! A CSA Farmer’s risk is covered by his CSA farm shareholders!!

We still have some cabbages, carrots, and peppers from our gardens to cover the next two pickup days. Then going forward, we will supplement our many, many pounds of previously dug potatoes with some produce from the WNC Farmers Market. I like to eat organically, so I will look for produce which has ample, layered covering (sweet corn) and hard shells (winter squash) or will be peeled (possibly beets). We do not grow sweet corn and we lost our winter squash and beets!

I have spoken directly to most all of our CSA Members. Robert and I appreciate your acknowledgement of our financial and emotional loss due to this unexpected weather event. We also are grateful that most of our CSA Members have indicated their continued commitment to our farm though the month of October! We have always had farm income through October—sometimes through November and one time through December! But with your continued commitments through October, we shall be able to afford to continue farming again next harvest season! Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottoms of our hearts!!!

In Shock . . .

Robert and I are in shock right now . . . Robert was harvesting furiously in the tornado warning and rain to bring in the vegetables we needed for the next several days of CSA deliveries because we know from experience that this much rain is not good for veggies. He brought the last load of veggies to the house and when we went back down, we could see the tractors needed to be moved to higher ground. We have lost everything in the gardens. Very possible some of our infrastructure as well such as the new fabric we were using for the first season and the drip pipes and connections and main lines.

Flash Flooding of Cane Creek–before tractors moved to higher ground . . .

Never in 28 years have we seen the water come up so far and so quickly. This is the definition of a FLASH FLOOD. We have had water get into the gardens closest to the creek before, but never all the way to the entrance gate! Had we know a flash flood was going to occur we would have harvested all day long and worried about where to store the vegetables later. So much was lost. This is terribly depressing. Our eggplant, bell peppers, cabbages and winter squash are now somewhere in Fletcher or beyond!

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Entrance Gate and blueberry bushes in the distance . . .

If you heard WLOS 13 News tonight, you heard that Brush Creek was flooded and that people in Fairview should be headed for high ground. Fortunately, our house sits atop a mountain! Our prayers go out to all of our neighbors residing along Cane Creek. If it was this high on our side, I know it was on their side where their homes are located.

Front field (lovingly called the “front yard”) and Brush Creek Road beyond . . .

Starting tomorrow, Wednesday, August 18 we will be sending out limited vegetable boxes. I am going to make the produce which we harvested last as long as possible. Eggplant, cabbages, carrots and peppers which have been picked this evening have a refrigerated shelf life. We harvested as many of the tomatoes as possible. Many of them are green or just turning, but we have a decent supply of these under shelter. We have been digging potatoes for the last several days and weeks, so this is another crop we have a decent supply of in shelter.

The boxes will be lighter and the contents will be diminished, but I if you will eat the above mentioned vegetables, we can manage to continue with the CSA a few weeks longer as we have a lot of potatoes!! We were hoping to sell boxes of potatoes in addition to our regular CSA boxes this season, but now it seems the potatoes will be our main stock.

Emptying water from knee-high boots after retrieving the tractors from flash-flood waters . . .

Typically, we are able to prepare CSA Boxes through Halloween, often to Thanksgiving, and one year until Christmas! Never in the last 28 years of farming have we ever lost our entire crop! I don’t know what else to say. We will do our best to continue to communicate with you with regard to what you can expect from our CSA. Please communicate with us. If you intend to quit now, we want to know that; but we trust you will stick with us a bit long . . . going box by box if you feel you must.

The saddest day ever in our 28-years of farming . . .

Carrots, Peppers and Tomatoes, OH MY!

There is one thing to be said for the massive amount of rain we have been receiving: It makes the soil much easier to pull carrots out of the ground! If you have been in our CSA for the last 15 – 18 years, you know we have grown some rather funky carrots over the years. This year we are seeing the sweetest and prettiest carrots EVER. We are not sure why this is . . . the variety, the location in the garden, or just pure luck! Of course there will be some interesting funky carrot shapes, but there are many more pretty straight ones in 2021!

Getting Hands Dirty Digging Carrots–In the Rain!

I trust you understand that much like the phases of the moon, the veggie production in the garden waxes and wanes. The patty pan and zephyr summer squash and zucchini are waning as are the cucumbers. The stress caused to the plants by the great amounts of rainfall followed by the heat and extreme dryness caused some much misshaped fruits and in some cases a bitter flavor in the cukes—in case you want an explanation for what you see and could possibly taste!

The green beans have been awesome as of recent; the okra production as well. We have some pretty cabbage heads. We are starting to see some tomatoes. There is actually ONE in each box on Friday. Like all other crops in the garden, they will start slowly, but we trust we will fill you up in the end.

Variety of Cabbages

The eggplants are beautiful this season! We eat skins and all and do not use salt in our preparation. They are growing rapidly right now which makes for tender skin with no bitterness.

Many of the potatoes have been harvested.  The first went out this week.  They are Russet baking potatoes; although, I made some awesome potato salad with a pot of them! Here is another variety just coming out of the ground—fewer of these, but one of our favorites!

Potatoes . . . YUM!!

We are also getting the first of our bell peppers.  Some are longish and some traditionally shaped.  All are sweet and chocked full of Vitamin C! If these peppers stay in the garden and hot sun long enough, they will turn red, yellow, and orange.  I trust there will be some colorful peppers later in the season.  The only problem is that as they become colorful and sweeter, the insects are more prone to “enjoy” them.  I wonder if it is the flavor or the color that attracts the insects?

Blueberry Bushes? Or Blueberry Trees??

We are eating blueberries.  If you want to come and harvest some blueberries, let me know and we will work out a time for you to come.  You are welcomed to eat what you want in the garden.  Anything you harvest we can go “shares on” meaning you take half and you leave half. This is the way my friend with the “commercial bushes” is doing it. Robert spent many, many days last winter trimming the bushes and removing weeds and sticker plants. Alas, they grow back too quickly.

We are entering the cornucopia of summer harvest season.  Enjoy!!

First 2021 Carrot Harvest

FOOD FROM A POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE

Have you ever thought about food from a political perspective?  Food often sits at the center of revolutionary movements. This is part of why Robert and I do what we do. We value fresh, local, organic food and knowing where and how it was grown! We do not want multi-national companies telling us what to value in our food. We want to decide for ourselves! We are very aware when in the grocery store of marketing, product shelf placement, and of the temptations to buy convenience and highly-processed, addictive foods.

Zucchini, summer squash with potatoes on the far right–foliage is now brown indicating time to harvest.

The Ploeger household is a make it from scratch family eating primarily food we have grown ourselves. We rarely buy processed foods. I will not say never because we do purchase some organic crackers and organic cookies which are processed food. We do not have time to make everything! But, we find it empowering to think of taking habits back that the large, multi-national companies took from us. One’s choice of food has that power to take back control from the powerful companies, their lobbyists and the elected officials they’ve placed in D.C. with a the specific mission of safeguarding their profits. This empowerment begins at the local level. Purchasing your vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, and milk from local farmers is voicing your opposition to the large powerful companies while at the same time improving your nutrition and the quality of food you consume! It is a way for consumers to make the food system work for them versus the wealthy multi-national companies. It is a way to bring family and friends together around the dinner table. It is a delicious way to resist and be a rebel with a nutritious cause!!

Beautiful Eggplant in two varieties . . .

Eating healthy, local foods is a theme that can cause favorable change in one’s personal dietary life. For example, did you know the average American drinks more soda than water each day?! Sodas contain chemicals, bromide, and sugar for starters. Sugar impairs the white blood cell’s ability to fight off infections! And researchers have found people who drink sweetened beverages are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.  Long before there were sugary sodas, there was seltzer. Apparently, the seltzer bubbles themselves seem to excite the brain almost as much as sugar. If one wants to make changes in one’s dietary choices, shifting from drinking soda to drinking plain seltzer may be satisfactory enough to resist the temptation of soda. And there is always plain water. Water represents a critical nutrient, the absence of which will be lethal within days. Or develop a green tea drinking habit. Some studies suggest green tea may promote and improve cognitive functions!

Food has power and can be a unifying force.  Food is central to the lives and livelihoods of us all. I practice what I preach when it comes to diet. My lunch . . . a baked sweet potato topped with sweet, green peas. This is the last sweet potato from 2020, but the organic peas came from a grocery store freezer aisle.

Potatoes–the crop that keeps on giving!

I told many CSA Members how we lost the first picking of beans due to a naturally occurring bacterium in the soil (and air which cannot be controlled).  The fungus splashed up on the plants during those hard rainfalls causing tiny, dark spots on the beans. The spots are actually the bean plant’s attempt to isolate the bacteria and prevent it from spreading! Plants are so intelligent! Still, so sad . . . and such a waste of time, effort, and potential crop; but there will be some beans with fewer spots! Mother Nature is in control and it is easier to work with Her than to fight Her; but we can do without those 2.5 inch downpours in our gardens!

Steamed green beans with no strings attached!

We usually steam our okra for five minutes, then sprinkle with sea salt and eat using the stem as a handle. Recently a CSA Member told us they roasted okra, so we tried it and find we like that method, too. We toss the okra in a bit of olive oil with sea salt and bake in the oven on a tray at 350 degrees for 20 -25 minutes, depending on the size of the pod. No matter how you like to prepare your okra, this is shaping up to be a good harvest season!

Steamed and roasted are our favorite ways to prepare okra.

In the upcoming CSA Boxes you can expect a variety of patty pan squash and zucchini and zephyr squash. These crops will be slightly dwindling, but some may be around for at least another month!  2021 is a good year for squash and our specialty cukes!  Also expect traditional eggplant, Asian eggplant, cabbage, green beans and/or okra, depending on the day. A variety of potatoes are being harvested and sweet bell peppers are on the near horizon. Tomatoes will be late, but are looking good. They keep growing and Robert continues to tie them higher up the stakes! It is SUMMERTIME and the eating is good–even if our evening meal frequently takes place after 10 p.m.!! Oh, yeah . . .

Last of my endive and first of the cukes and carrots.

Summer Soup and Special Bouquets

I am an optimist. I get up in the morning and put on sunscreen in hopes of it being a sunny day. We do not need any more rain just now. We need sunshine. Too much rain causes the vegetables to deteriorate! Another thing that makes veggies deteriorate is not having one’s refrigerator set to the proper temperature. It can be easy to accidentally move the dial on some units, so we always suggest people buy a thermometer and monitor the temperature of one’s refrigerator. Now to the garden . . .

The snow peas have been picked off clean and we trust they will provide a second bloom and harvest.

Pea pickin’ and eatin’–right in the garden!

I made a vegetable soup last week using patty pan squash, zucchini, peas, and carrots! (Yes, carrots are in the future!) This batch of soup has a wonderfully “fresh” flavor. Some do not think of soup in the summer, but we love soups year ‘round at our house! We are exceptionally busy (in case you had not gathered) and often need a quick meal . . .

The last Romaine salad of the season and summer soup!

The potatoes are growing. We should have lots of Russets for baking and plenty of our “special potato” that has a slightly golden flesh—and no, it is not the Yukon Gold potato. We have grown those in the past, but love this particular one EVEN MORE!!

Robert says the 2021 Harvest will be the best potatoes he has ever grown!

We will be getting some okra soon. You may have a favorite method to prepare your okra—many people like it fried or in a gumbo. I was not a fan of okra until I discovered the following way to cook it. All I do is steam the entire okra for about five minutes! Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, and sprinkle with some sea salt. Using the stem as a handle, bite into the okra and enjoy! They are not slimy when prepared in this manner. The “slime” makes an appearance once the vegetable is “cut into.”

We like okra small. I think large ones are for making Christmas tree ornaments!

If you interest in whole chickens, the following is from a neighbor and friend who has for sale fresh and frozen whole pastured Cornish Cross meat birds.  Most are around 5 lbs at $5.50/pound. She cleans them very meticulously and then vacuum seals them for a beautiful product if you like tender chicken. Available while supplies last at Cloud 9 Farm in Fairview. By appointment only, so call ahead. Contact: Janet Peterson, phone: 828-545-9611, or by email at: janetpeterson9@bellsouth.net

A good year for the gladiolas in our front yard! I keep a constant bouquet in my kitchen.

There are bouquets and then there is the “Farmer’s SPECIAL Bouquet!” Coming one day soon to a veggie box, along with okra, potatoes, patty pan and zephyr squash, green and yellow zucchini, cucumbers, broccoli, and maybe cauliflower or kohlrabi, eggplant, and green beans, depending on the day. It’s summertime in the garden!

Nice and sweet this season–but they may not all be this straight!

Cucumbers & Eggplant & More

Last Wednesday we got 1 3/4 inches of rain on the farm. Robert had not irrigated for a couple of days in anticipation of rainfall so it all soaked in nicely. We much prefer rain from the Heavens over using our deep-well, drip irrigation system. Now I hear thunder again. Small amounts we like as long as the sunshine comes out afterwards!

I must relate a story about the cute, little patty pan squash. When presented with a variety of shapes spread out on the kitchen counter a five-year old asked, “What are those?!” His mother replied, “Patty Pan squash.” The child who is already and avid gardener stated, “No, they are cupcakes!” And his three-year old sibling promptly put one into his pocket and carried it around for the remainder of the day! Gotta love the parents of children who have been raised to think of veggies as desserts!

There baby beans and thousands of blossoms on the bean fence! One day we expect to be Blessed with green beans–no strings, just tender green beans.

Robert inspecting the bean blossoms.
The bean fence is covered up on both sides!

The eggplant are looking great as are the peppers. This is but one of the “waves” we have planted. We like to spread our plants out in different areas of the field to ensure growing success.
Here are the carrots and more eggplant.
The carrots are small, but growing!

CSA Members saw the first of the cucumbers in their boxes last week. This coming week will see the first of the Asian Eggplant. They are not plentiful yet, but the are getting started. There may be random escarole and endive. And green and yellow zucchini, zephyr squash and patty pans, and broccoli and kohlrabi?

Baby okra on the plant

Someone asked me about okra. Yes, there will be okra this year. We have not grown it for some years, but this is looking like a good year to start back! Our garden is a joyous place! I trust you enjoyed this brief tour.

Season Change Into Summer

This is the first time we have had romaine and lettuces this far into the season, but all things must end! There will still be some escarole and endive, however. Here are some ideas for how to use it when one no longer has romaine, lettuces, and chois to make a salad. The escarole and curly frisée endive are both bitter greens. I am told that the more bitter the green, the better it is for the liver; the stimulation of bile flow is important to break down fats.

Like the lady in the video below, I too grew up in the Mid-west, but our vegetables DID NOT come from a can! On the other hand, I never had escarole until we started growing it for our CSA. Same thing goes for the endive! Seed catalogues are enticing with their offerings and Robert loves to try and grow new items.

Escarole is in the chicory family.

From the MasterClass online I found these five ways to serve frisée (curly endive). Frisée’s bitterness allows it to complement and balance richer flavors.

Add frisée to a sandwich with whole-grain mustard for a slightly bitter note. Or, make a hot salad by pairing frisée with bacon, eggs, and diced onions topped with a mustard vinaigrette. Or, for a cold salad serve frisée with slices of peaches or diced orange slices and top with walnuts and blue cheese dressing! Or, for a side dish, toss frisée with a vinaigrette made from roasted fowl or pork drippings and rice wine vinegar. Or, saute frisée in olive oil with finely chopped garlic cloves. Once cooked, it can be stored in the refrigerator and used as a garnish or snack if you are so inclined!

Curly Endive or Frisée

I got an email this week which asked “I’m curious, what exactly are the oddly shaped round things, with ridgy edges?” Obviously, I have dropped the ball when it comes to writing Blogs! In the boxes this last week and next week, and hopefully for the foreseeable future, are patty pan squash, some zephyr squash, and zucchini in green & deep yellow.

The patty pan squash have cool names like lemon, sun burst, star ship, Y-star, and other unidentified varieties!

This is our first year for growing the zephyr summer squash. The zephyr looks somewhat similar to a yellow crookneck squash but actually a cross between the Delicata and yellow Acorn winter squashes. They are they longish squash which are greenish on the bottom and yellow on the top.

The hurricane seems to be going to miss WNC for the most part which is a very good thing! We can handle up to 3/4 of an inch of rain at one time, but more than that or that amount for days on end is most destructive to the garden!

Friday’s Addition . . .

In the Friday boxes we have red and green romaine and red butter head lettuce, endive, escarole, green and purple kohlrabi, no-so-pretty broccoli and pretty cauliflower. Added this week are snow peas! (I erroneously referred to them as sugar snap peas earlier in the week.) We call these “the Farmer’s Candy.”

Also, starting Friday are a variety of patty pan squash, the oblong green and yellow two-toned squash, and green and yellow zucchini. Here is a photo of today’s harvest. I shall divide them among everyone getting CSA Boxes. Obviously, you will not get much this week. I suggest you dice them up for salad toppers. Or, the chef could saute and eat them before the rest of the family comes home! You can cook all of these in one dish if you like as their flavors mingle well.

These little patty pan squash are just too cute for words!

The plants look great! If the weather holds up, we should be able to have you crying UNCLE when it comes to squashes and zucchini. On the other hand, there can always be another year like last season . . . we harvested them for two weeks before it started raining and all of the plants died! Pray we do not have a repeat of this in 2021.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July Holiday and hold your puppies close. I have yet to meet a dog that enjoyed the booms and bangs of fireworks. Our son’s dog was visiting last weekend and when early fireworks were set off in the neighborhood, I had to cuddle him like an infant–never mind the fact he weighs about 80 pounds!

BUSY WEEDING

We strive for a thriving partnership with Nature! So far this season, Mother Nature has been pretty good to us. Those potato plants I posted a picture of last time are even taller and forming a delicious root crop we will enjoy one day. The patty pans and zucchini and cucumbers are looking strong–but nothing to harvest yet. Robert has been mounding and tying up the tomato plants. He had to relocate two, fat male rabbits who were eating to the ground our tomato plants. Never before in our 28 years of farming on this property has this happened. Very strange! And weeding . . . Most of the last two weeks has been spent WEEDING in the garden! Too bad the weeds will just come back in another month . . . but for now our plants have a fighting chance! Did you ever attempt to weed five plus acres by hand?!

Enjoy your salads–like everything else, they will not be seasonal forever!

This week we have red and green romaine and red, butter head lettuce, endive, escarole, green and purple kohlrabi, no-so-pretty broccoli and pretty cauliflower. Added this week are sugar snap peas! We call these “the Farmer’s Candy.”

Eat the entire pod! Or slice and put into your salads to make them go farther.

I found this recipe online. Next time I will make a larger dish because it was even better the next day!

This casserole was even better the second day!