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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brining Birdzilla

Happy thanksgiving. Tonight I write the obligatory what am I cooking for Thanksgiving blog entry. I am hosting 8 of my relatives tomorrow and we will be feasting on predominately locally sourced food. I am supplying the Turkey which is a 22 pound pastured raised certified organic bird raised here in Preble County by Dale Filbrun. I am brining the bird as I write this in a solution of 3 gallons of water, 2.5 cup of table salt and 2.5 cups of sugar. He will sit in that bath until 5 am or so, than be removed, rinsed and allowed to dry for a couple of hours before going into the oven to cook for 5 hours (basting every 30 minutes or so after the 2nd hour).

I am also making dressing/stuffing that will use organic bread cubes (which I already made this afternoon), organic celery from Kroger's (our celery got nuked several weeks ago by frost), our celeriac, our onions, our leeks, our apples, our pears, walnuts, the turkey stock I am making right now, parsley, sage , rosemary and thyme from our farm, mashed potatoes from our taters, Spring mix we grew, steamed chard we grew, biscuits and Eugene is making 2 pies-strawberry rhubarb and apple all with home grown fruit. My brother Scott is bringing a pumpkin pie from the Motor City, otherwise Eugene would have made a squash pie.

My sister in law, Doreen, is bringing Mac and cheese and sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows.

I have the silver polished up. It is my grandmother silver and I am also planning on using the chine she bequeathed to me. It is referred to as "The Spode". I seem to have 7 complete place settings and 8 big plates so will have a bit of mix and match in the table setting dept. Same with the silverware. There should be 12 settings but a lot of salad forks are missing along with a couple of dinner forks. Hmmmm...

So there will be a mix of really fancy silver and not so fancy silver. And a lot of great food plus various libations such as home pressed apple cider, home brewed beer, other beer, Oban scotch, water, wine

So you might be wondering about the title, Brining Birdzilla. Birdzilla came into being back in the late 1980's/early 90's. A friend of mine named Amy bought a turkey for Thanksgiving. Amy was (is) a person when food buying tended to go overboard. So for a party of 6 i believe she bought this huge turkey, maybe 30 pounds and put it in a mutual friend, Bitt's, fridge because it had nothing else in it and Birdzilla fit in his fridge. I did not partake in that first birdzilla feast as I had family obligations that year. But after that whenever I got a huge turkey (anything over 20 pounds) I have referred to it as Birdzilla. The biggest birdzilla was over 30 pounds. It barely fit in the oven.

This year Birdzilla is 22 pounds. Dale told me when I went to pick up the turkey at his farm (where I watched the flock of Christmas turkeys roam around with 3 chickens) that because of the long Indian summer the turkeys grew a lot bigger than expected so instead of getting a 15 pound bird I got a 22 pounder. He said I could have gotten a 40 pounder if I wanted (no thanks been there, done that). Birdzilla is brining for the next 10 or so hours and by this time tomorrow he will be history, and a tasty one at that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

CSA: Week Two

I have just finished packing up the second installment of the Boulder Belt Eco-Farm Winter CSA shares.

It was a cold experience, let me tell you. All the food is in the store and we have yet to turn on the heater in there because we are cheap (and green). So it is no more than 35F in that building. It is definitely above freezing because nothing outside of the fridges has frozen yet, but it's still damn cold. It took a good 15 minutes for my hands to thaw out. Yow!

The shares this week contained:
1 6 oz bag of spring mix
1 pound of rutabagas
a pound of carrots
1 charantais melon
2 pints of strawberries from the hoop house
2 green peppers
1 pound of mixed chard (wasn't planning on including this but the weather dictated that it should all be brought in. Now we have about 20 pounds of chard.)
6 or so pears
5 leeks (we have a lot of leeks)
3 tomatoes
A bag of Italian Parsley and 2 other kinds of fresh herbs (Dill, Cilantro, Thyme or sage)

Not a bad haul for the middle of a cold November.

CSA Articles

I was perusing the IDigMyGarden forums and saw there were new posts on the CSA thread someone started about a month ago. One of the posts had a link to a series of articles about being a CSA member in the Washington Post. Each article Chronicles the weekly CSA haul.

I am still reading the chronicle (I've gotten to August 20th) and I have been struck at how small the shares are until late august. I guess we are better than most at keeping quantity, quality and variety. Even in early spring we can generally come up with 8 or 9 items to put in the CSA share. Even as early as early April I could find more than 4 or 5 items either growing in hoop houses, under row covers or still left over from storage. Granted, most will be leafy green things like kale, chard, cilantro, lettuce, arugula. But I could also include garlic (if it still exists that late in the garlic cycle) or garlic powder, radishes, chives, leeks, dried beans, dried herbs and/or honey. By mid May add to the variety asparagus, peas (shelling, sugar snap and snow), zucchini, cucumbers (both from a hoop house), strawberries, broccoli, cabbages, scallions, tarragon, oregano, sage, winter savory, red turnips, etc..

I am now reading the first entry for September. The late summer shares from this farm are quite nice; sweet corn (something we no longer grow), water melon, peaches (something we hope to be able to offer in 4 to 5 years-we have a couple of trees but the deer have had their way with them and well...) blackberries, heirloom maters, peppers, basil, etc.. the writer says her son questioned the need for her CSA share because she already had a lot of produce in the fridge. But she realizes she has to pick up this food and be faced with the challenge of what to do with it all (and so far, every week, she uses everything in the share)

All in all a really good read for either the CSA farmer or anyone who is a member of a CSA or is thinking of joining one. I know I am learning a bit and it is always interesting to see what other CSA's are doing and how the members feel about their CSA and CSA's in general.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Boulder Belt in Winter

Winter is here-it is cold, snowy and most everything that is not we covered is dead. This means things have slowed way down for us (yay!) It is nice to be able to kick back for a month or so before the 80 hour a week grinds starts again.

People want to know what we farmers do in the off season. For us, we spend a lot of November cleaning up stuff like the store, the garden beds, popcorn, catnip, onions. Crunching numbers on the various produce items we grow so we have an idea as to what is selling and what is not selling so we know what seeds to plant for the coming season. Eugene does not do much on the computer so it is me who keeps the blog and website updated and that can be time consuming, especially this year since it looks like Boulder Belt is back in the CSA biz and that means at some point I need to design an informative CSA page for the Boulder Belt Website.

December is too often spent removing snow from hoop houses and driveways. It is also the time we put in our main seed order with Johnny's Selected Seeds (our favorite seed house). In the past we have waited until after Christmas to put in our order but there are rumors that there will be seed shortages this year so I believe I will get at least part of the order in in early Dec. or even late November. December is usually the Month that we start the onions and leeks indoors, though this year I believe the onions will be started today or tomorrow (that would be mid November). The reason for moving up the date is due to the fact we have quite a few Copra onion seeds left over from last year and We decided that those should be planted to see if they have strong germination. If they do than we do not need to order more seed. If they do not than we will know by Dec 1st if the seeds are working or not and can get an order into Johnny's early enough to avoid the dreaded back order that can set one back several months.

If December, January and February are mild (which is the NOAA prediction for us this winter, but I will believe that when I see it) than the crops in the hoop houses will continue to produce pretty much all winter and someone has to go and harvest and package the crops periodically (weekly-as growth slows way down in the winter even if it is relatively warm and sunny). We than sell the greens, leeks, etc., at the Oxford Monthly Winter market and this year the CSA gets their share as well. We also sell through the store via email appointment and occasionally to a restaurant or Miami University.

If the winter months are cold with a lot of precip, than most things quit growing until Late Feb and cannot be harvested, the exception to this are the leeks and scallions. Than we sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting on the greens to come back to life. Okay, we don't spend much time thumb twiddling (but we do start craving greens in a big way and are delighted when things are harvestable again). If it is a snowy winter than we are spending lots of time removing snow from the hoop houses, otherwise they get flattened and are unuseable and have to be repaired or replaced. this has happened a couple of times to us and incredibly the crops under all the snow and plastic are generally unharmed and producing very well when we finally get to them

What we are doing by Feb is starting seriously seeds indoors. This starts out slowly with around 15 pots of onions and leeks planted in Dec/Jan. Those are followed by the brassicas-kale, broccoli, cabbages, etc., and lettuces in mid to late Feb. Those crops are repeatedly seeded indoors through April/May so we have a continual harvest April through June/July. By late March we are also starting early tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and melons to be planted in mid April in hoop houses. In April the main crops of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, celery, celeriac, parsley, flowers, etc., are started which fills up the grow room along with cold frames and hoop houses with thousands of seedlings.

Once the seeds are started we are tied to the farm. The seeds need daily tending-watering, fertilizing, pricking (this means to re pot into a larger container), making soil (we make our own soil mix for seed starting as we have a hard time finding soiless mixes that don't contain petroleum products or chemical fertilizers. Add to that, we start seeds in soil blocks and we make our own soil blocks so the soiless mix has to be just so for it to work for us. Making our own soil blocks means we use very little plastic when starting our seedlings. It probably saves us around a thousand bucks a year as well (of course it increases our work load by at least 100 hours as we have to make a lot of soil and a lot of soil blocks.)

So you can see that we small sustainable farmers really don't have much down time at all. Some day, perhaps, we will quit this idea of winter growing and marketing and will shut the farm down in November and go to the Caribbean for 4 months.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Winter CSA; Week 1

The first installment of the CSA went very well. All the shares were picked up and I ended up putting far more food into the shares than I had planned on because we have a lot of stuff coming in that has a fairly short shelf life and needs to be used. And who better to use the food than the CSA members.

I realized this week that I made an error in planning this CSA. Past CSA's have been weekly affairs and I have created shares and charged accordingly. But this winter CSA is bi-monthly which means the shares should be twice as big as what I am used to putting together (though the shares for the first week are close to a 2 week share) and I should have charged the members twice as much as I did. So what is likely to happen is I am going to dole out big shares (except in January when I expect winter to come in and shut the fresh greens growing down for several weeks) and the members are going to be very happy and I am going to rip off the farm by selling food at too huge a discount. This is what I get for throwing the CSA together so quickly-I did not think out all the minute details. Ah, c'est la vie.

This is not all bad. We are getting additional income from the CSA that we would not have gotten otherwise and low cost with lots of food should make all the members happy campers and thus loyal customers and repeat CSA members. And this is making me think hard about the details of a main season CSA

So what did the Boulder Belt Eco-Farm CSA members get this week?

They got:

2 pints of strawberries
3 leeks
4 peppers
1/2 pound baby heirloom lettuces
1 pound Napa cabbage
1 small bag of either tarragon, thyme or dill
3 heads of heirloom garlic
1 bunch Easter egg radish
1 charantais melon
1 pound turnip greens
2 pound keiffer pears
2 pound Dr Matthews apples
1 pound yellow onions

Which is worth $45 if I were to sell the stuff at the store or farmer's market. Great deal for the CSA members but not a great deal for Boulder Belt Eco-Farm if Boulder Belt Eco-Farm wants to be economically sustainable (and we do, otherwise we go out of the farming biz, sell the farm and get jobs as Wal-Mart greeters or fast food "cooks". Okay it probably would not be that bad). Now all that said, the winter CSA and it's huge shares will not shut down the farm. But if I were to continue to do this for into the spring summer and fall we could end up in financial difficulty.

I have learned in the 15 years of selling what we grow is underpricing one's harvest is a sure fire way to put yourself out of business (as can overpricing. Setting prices is an art and a science)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Boulder Belt Eco-Farm Dogs

Every now and again a farm blog needs to post pictures of the farm dogs and here is that post for Boulder belt Eco-Farm. I give you Nate, Arlo and Danny, our farm dogs

Arlo and Danny looking busy by the chicken tractors

Danny by some ornamental grasses (that he has most likely just pissed upon)

Nate and Danny looking out the back door

Nate is helping Eugene hunt for voles along the edge of a hoop house. Actually Eugene is ripping up the edge of a hoop house in order to move it off one crop and to another and Nate knows that there have been voles hiding in the plastic just waiting for him to catch and eat them.

Arlo and Nate with the Buddha

This is a fake dog we found in the barn when we moved here. For 3 years he stood guard over the asparagus and was real looking enough to fool the deer and kept them from eating the spears. Sadly the stuffed dog, after 3 years out in the weather rotted away.

Arlo in the spring sun

Nate in warmth of an Indian summer evening.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Boulder Belt on Facebook

Are you on Facebook?
Are you a fan of Boulder Belt (either this blog, the farm or both)?

Than join the Boulder Belt Eco-Farm group on Facebook