Sunday, July 26, 2015

CSA Newsletter for July 26, 2015

Farm Update

Fred was able to eat the very first
ripe cherry tomatoes this week,
 but it will probably be a week or
two before we start having them
in the shares.
Hello everyone!  The heat has really jump started the tomatoes and sweet potatoes, which have both put on a lot of growth over the last week. The tomato plants are now as tall as some of our employees and will be as tall as Fred later this week. The first three cherry tomatoes also ripened this week as well, and they were quickly eaten by Fred, but we should start seeing them in the shares in the next few weeks!  The weeds have continued to be a struggle, so we have been getting some help with weeding from a contract crew.  They have been doing a really nice job, and we can finally see some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel as far as that goes.  As for the chickens, they have been laying well and are happily eating all the summer bugs and green pasture.  Right now is a good time for people and animals at the farm, busy and productive.  Although it still feels like high summer, the back-to-school ads I've been seeing remind me that fall is coming, and with it an entirely new rhythm at the farm.

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

Rows of frisee look like a green
fireworks display in the field!
At the regular drop-offs:
  • Choice of beets or cucumbers
  • Choice of potatoes or blueberries
  • Choice of carrots or broccoli
  • Snap beans
  • Choice of zucchini or basil
  • Choice of romaine heads or spring mix
  • Choice of kale or chard

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:
Beets                         Cucumbers
Blueberries                Potatoes
Carrots                      Broccoli
Snap beans                Snap beans
Zucchini                    Basil
Romaine head           Spring mix
Kale                          Chard

Veggie Spotlight: Zucchini

There is no vegetable that has such a reputation for abundance as zucchini.  Often overwhelming to those who have grown it in gardens, zucchini can put out a lot of fruits in a very short span of time. Fred’s Grandma from up north was infamous for trying to pawn endless bags of zucchini off to friends and fellow church parishioners during the height of the season. Most vegetables that are that productive have been bred for many centuries or even thousands of years, but zucchini is a relatively new vegetable to mankind.  The squash plant was native to the Americas and was brought back to Europe, after which the Italians started selecting plants for a more tender, quickly maturing squash.  The first real zucchinis came out in the late 1800s and were quickly spread through the rest of the world. 

Zucchini plants growing along the
edge of the coldframes.  It makes
 to plant it there because zucchini
benefits from the extra heat, and the
edges of the coldframes aren't tall
enough to accomodate some other
heat-loving veggies such as tomatoes.
Our squash blossoms are a very
popular item with a lot of our chefs,
who usually stuff them with a cheese
mixture and fry them up.
At our farm zucchini is more of a minor crop, and most of the plants are grown on the sides of our coldframes, along with a few plants outside.  These plants are all started in the greenhouse as transplants and then planted in the coldframes once the first early crop of greens has vacated the space.  At that point, we plant the tomatoes and zucchini plants on the space previously occupied by the earliest geens.  Then the zucchini plants quickly grow very large, much larger than they would outside.  These large plants put on large fruit as well, and we have found the squash to be much more tender and much more productive than the outside plants.  Not only do the plants produce the zucchini we look forward to every summer, but we also sell a lot of squash blooms to our higher-end restaurants.   These restaurants usually stuff them with some cheese mixture and then fry them.  We have yet to try this preparation at home, but it does sound delicious! As a farm, we actually make more money off the blooms than we do the fruit, which is often true for small farms like ours.  Unlike most of our crops where we plant many successive plantings, we usually plant just one crop of zucchini. The plants peaked in production last week and are now on the downhill slide.  At the end of their life here, there are a few weeks where the plants will be very large, and they will start to die back from powdery mildew and squash bugs as the hard-working plants will have expended all of their energy.

At our house Zucchini is looked forward to every summer (we are vegetable nerds)! We usually fry it or grill it with some combination of fresh basil and garlic.  This last week Fred grilled some zucchini with grilled stuffed chicken in a shallot-tomato-basil-cheese sauce that was amazing.  Hopefully, you folks will get to enjoy some great zucchini meals while it lasts, and don’t worry, we won’t try pawn big bags of it off on you anytime soon!

There were a whole bunch of zucchini recipes in last week's newsletter, so instead this week, here are a few recipes for snap beans!   

Saturday, July 18, 2015

CSA Newsletter for July 18, 2015

Farm Update

Jane and Jessamine went
out to the blueberry patch on
Friday morning to help Fred
collect some blueberries.
 Hello everyone!  The fields have been very wet this week, and our cool season crops like beets, onions, and cabbage, which thrive in this type of weather, have some of the best flavor I ever remember them having!  The blueberries have also been doing really well, and the berry size has really increased this year, due to the favorable weather, irrigation, pruning, and better soil fertility.  The tomatoes in the coldframes are really starting to take off, but the outside tomatoes are at a big risk for disease because having moisture on their leaves is really detrimental.  So Fred has been keeping a close eye on them.  The zucchini and cucumbers are also growing really quickly, so we'll have plenty of them in the shares this week.  Another thing that is growing really well with the warm and wet weather is the weeds, and staying on top of them has been a real battle.  This is definitely the year of the weeds, but fortunately the weather that benefits the weeds also benefits the things we actually want.  So it should be another great week of veggies, and we hope you all enjoy your shares!

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:
  • Choice of kale or cabbage
  • Choice of green onions, shallots, or basil
  • Blueberries for everyone!
  • Choice of beets and broccoli
  • Choice of carrots and cucumbers
  • Choice of large-leaf salad mix, spring mix, or romaine heads
  • Zucchini for everyone

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:
Kale                          Cabbage
Green onions            Basil
Carrots                      Cucumbers
Beets                         Broccoli
Blueberries               Blueberries
Zucchini                   Zucchini
Spring mix                Large leaf salad mix

Organic Pest Control:  How We Protect our Plants from Bugs and Other Tiny Pests

We often get asked “So, how do you control insects on your crops?” While conventional farms have a vast array of pesticides and pest-resistant GMO varieties in their arsenals, it is tricky to keep insects under control organically. We do take some crop losses here and there because of our dedication to not using synthetic chemicals or GMO varieties. The main thing we focus on is plant health and growing as much as we can in the right season, so plant growth is strong and vigorous and can fend for itself well. If a plant is under stress due to poor soil or adverse weather conditions, it is more susceptible to attack by pests.  A good example this season was our potatoes that got hit hard by potato beetles because they received frost damage twice in the spring, which weakening plant health considerably. A big part of helping our crops grow vigorously is by feeding the soil the right balance and amount of nutrients. We do this by taking soil tests and foliar nutrient tests, and then using the results to determine the right mix of natural fertilizers for our soil. However, some pests attack no matter how healthy the plant is, and some insects (like squash bugs and flea beetles) have given us quite a bit of trouble over the last few years.

A common misconception is that if a farm is organic, it doesn’t spray anything on the crops, which isn’t actually true.  We don’t spray anything synthetic, but there are plant extracts and other naturally occurring substances that can be used in organic systems.  We do use things like Pyganic, which is a chrysanthemum extract that deters and kills some insects. We also use Bt, which is a bacteria that easily infects soft bodied worms like tomato worms and cabbage loopers, but is harmless to people. Neem tree extract and food grade diatomaceous earth (fossilized ocean shell powder that make small lacerations on insects exoskeletons) are also ingredients we use. We apply the ingredients by mixing all four of them together and diluting them in water, then using a motorized backpack sprayer (basically a commercially modified leaf blower) that blasts a mist of this mix into the plant foliage. We use all four ingredients on the plant at the same time to make the plants the most inhospitable to the insects as possible.  This technique has been much more effective than spraying individual ingredients and we have gotten nearly complete control of several pests over the last couple years due to this way of applying organic sprays.

None of these natural products have the same effectiveness as the synthetic chemicals used in conventional systems. However, it is important to us that the food we eat does not have pesticide residues that we would be ingesting, and that the farm is a safer place for us, our workers, our animals, and the environment. Our fields and our surrounding areas are also teeming with a lot more insect and reptile life than in conventional systems. Synthetic chemicals often have a lot of side effects on other insect and reptile life in the environment, and it is good to see the great number of snakes, frogs, toads, bees, and other pollinating insects that make their home in our fields every year.

This year has been an easier year for us to control pests in general as insect pests tend to thrive when field conditions are warm and dry.  So far we have had a lot of rain, and this has helped keep the insect populations from taking off.  Our biggest problem so far this season was with our potatoes, where the reduced plant health from late frosts left the plant very vulnerable to infestations.  In most years our potatoes do not get hit with frost and the beetles are just a minor and easily controllable nuisance.

Like many other aspects of organic vegetable production, pest control is a lot trickier than in conventional systems, but it is worth it.  I like that our kids can grab carrots or lettuce leaves and eat them right out of the field, and I don’t have to worry about what else they’re ingesting.  I also like that the way we grow things supports not only a healthy diet, but also a healthy ecosystem.


Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas
We are finally into zucchini season, and I am super pumped about it!  This morning I made several loaves of zucchini bread to freeze and pull out for a nice accompaniment to breakfast, or to bring to a last-minute potluck.  And as I still have a large pile of zucchini on my kitchen counter, I can't wait to try a bunch of these 26 Zucchini Recipes, particularly the Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas and the Zucchini Fries!  And in case you're interested in my zucchini bread recipe, you can find it right here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

CSA Newsletter for July 11, 2015

Farm Update

All the veggies are set up and looking great at
last week's Alma drop-off!
 Hello everyone!  The crops are looking pretty good this week at the farm!  Our cool season crops continue to have really excellent quality since it has been a cooler summer so far, and our warm season crops continue to be slower to start.  They've had more growth over the last few days though, as it's been a little warmer.  We've had quite a lot of weed pressure, and we actually had a contract crew come out a few days ago to weed our onions and carrots, because there was just no way we'd be able to get all of it done ourselves.  We've also been irrigating a lot this weekend, and we're starting to put in our larger plantings of fall veggies!  We've actually been having a lot of trouble with rabbits lately; they've done some significant damage to our sweet corn and beans, and they also ate an entire planting of small kohlrabi.  Fred has been taking care of the rabbit issue the last few days.  There are six of them who are no longer with us, and many more of them seem to have gotten the message and made themselves scarce.  There are plenty of animals around the farm that we are happy to see, though!  The population of snakes, frogs, and toads is out in full force, which is actually a very good thing.  They are indicators of a strong and healthy farm ecosystem, and we love to see them thriving.  The snakes also keep any rodents under control who might think about moving in and giving us trouble.  I never would have thought in my younger years that I would ever cringe at bunnies and be happy to see a large snake population, but that's farming, I guess.  Over the last five years, it has already grown and changed me in ways I never saw coming, and I know there are plenty more lessons coming in the next few decades of battling animals, weeds, insects, and the weather in order to bring healthy and delicious food out of the ground.

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:
The tomato plants are getting a slow start due to
the cooler summer, but they've put on some growth
in the last few days.
  • Cabbage
  • Choice of head lettuce, spring mix, or large salad mix
  • Choice of carrots or cucumbers
  • Choice of kale or chard
  • Choice of blueberries or beets
  • Choice of zucchini or small head lettuce
  • Choice of herbs or onions

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:
Cabbage                    Cabbage
Head lettuce              Large leaf salad mix
Carrots                      Cucumbers
Kale                          Chard
Blueberries               Blueberries
Zucchini                   Zucchini
Herbs                        Onions

Fruit and Veggie Spotlight:  Blueberries

One of our blueberry bushes full of
unripened berries.
Unlike many fruits and vegetables that migrated from Europe or Asia to the New World, the blueberry was already here when European settlers arrived centuries ago. Many Native American tribes, most often in northern regions of the Americas, used blueberries in many ways. It was very common for them to dry them during the summer to eat during the winter months, but they also used the plant for dyes and medicinal purposes as well. The modern blueberry varieties that we have today are actually not far removed from the original wild plants here in the Americas, as the first significant varietal selection from wild blueberry plants did not occur until 1908. Michigan is currently the leader in blueberry production here in the United States because the berries thrive in the high water tables and acidic sandy soils that are commonly found throughout the state.

At this point in the season,
not all of the berries are ripe,
but in a few weeks, they'll all
be blue and delicious.
Our blueberry patch actually predates both of us, and we are not even sure of when it was planted, but we do know that it was at least 40 years ago.  It is actually on the property of our neighbors, Mike and Sherri Isenhath, a retired couple who live up the road from us and have let us manage the blueberry patch for the last several years.  We were able to have the patch organically certified in our first season of management, because it has been a very long time since anything had been sprayed there, and Mike and Sherri have given us great advice on how to care for the plants.

Blueberries are always formed on the new growth held on the woodier parts of the bush. In the spring there are new shoots of vegetative growth that grow longer throughout the season. In the fall, the leaves fall off the plant as the bush goes into dormancy for the winter. Then in the spring the new shoots that were formed in the last season bloom. There are millions of blooms at the same time, and the patch hums with the sound of bees and other pollinating insects. Then the leaves come out and the flowers turn into berries that began to ripen and fill out.  Blueberries are actually extremely cold-hardy; this year we had three frosts while the blooms were on the bushes, and they still formed berries without any trouble.

Our blueberries are pretty easy to raise most of the year, and picking is the most labor intensive part of raising them.  We have been able to get bigger berry size this year due to better irrigation and a better organic fertility mix. This year the bushes look nicer than in any other season, as the weather has been favorable and our own experience raising them has improved plant health and vigor.

Our little girls are excited blueberry season has begun, and so are we!  This week we should have close to enough blueberries for everyone in the CSA, but we will still offer it with another option to be on the safe side. We should have blueberries for the next few weeks, so if you don't happen to get any this week, there should be a few more opportunities!  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!


Chances are pretty good you already know exactly what you'll be doing with your blueberries, if they even make it all the way home. :-)  So I'll give you some recipes for the other thing you might be wondering about: cabbage.  Check out these 23 Easy Cabbage Recipes for everything from your traditional cabbage soup to Baja Fish Tacos and Buffalo Burgers with Cabbage Slaw.

Friday, July 3, 2015

CSA Newsletter for July 3, 2015

Farm Update

Today Fred and Keegan laid
down a bunch of white
plastic for the newest cool-
season transplants.  Basically,
the plastic keeps the soil a
little cooler so our cold-loving
veggies don't get stressed from
the heat of high summer.
Hello everyone!  Happy 4th of July weekend!  Like most of you, we are actually going to be able to get away from the farm for Saturday and do something fun, so this is going to be a pretty short newsletter this week!  My guess is that you guys won't mind that much, because you'll likely be vacationing, cooking out, and generally enjoying the holiday.  Here at the farm, things are going pretty well.  It's been an abnormally cold beginning of July, which means that our cool season crops (like the lettuce and greens) are enjoying this part of the year a lot more than they usually do, but our warm season crops (think tomatoes and sweet corn) are getting a slower start.  The insect pressure is starting to drop a little, which has been nice, but the weeds are really flourishing (although they are meeting their end as I type this, because the weeding crew is out there right now getting things back in order).  We've also seen a little bit of disease on some of our lettuce, as plant diseases are more prevalent in cool, wet conditions.  So you win some, you lose some, and sometimes the best plan of action is to step back, breathe, and take a day off so you don't burn out.  (At least that's what I tell myself.)  So that is what we'll be doing tomorrow, and I hope you all get a chance to do the same!  Enjoy your holiday, and we'll see you next week!

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-off:
  • Choice of spring mix or large-leaf salad mix
  • Carrots for everybody
  • Choice of kale or chard
  • Choice of radishes, onions, or bok choy
  • Choice of cabbage or beets
  • Surprise veggie!  (Basically, this means that we'll have a bunch of odds and ends becoming ready in the field, but we don't know what's going to be ready on what day.)
  • Choice of kohlrabi or herbs (might be chives, cilantro, basil, or parsley.)

For home/office delivery:

A Share:
Spring mix
Savoy cabbages, all clean and ready to go
to the drop-off!
Surprise veggie

B Share:
Large-leaf salad mix
Surprise veggie


I often have people ask how to cook a particular veggie, and this last week the one I got the most questions about was the chard.  So if you're wondering how to use your chard to best advantage, here are a few ideas!

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Parmesan Cheese:  This is pretty similar to how we usually prepare chard at home, but gussied up a bit with lemon and onions!  This is such a quick and simple side dish!

Or try out these 24 Swiss Chard Recipes from Martha Stewart.  You'll never run out of great ideas to try here, and there is a great mix of recipes that run from simple to fancy, depending on your tastes, time available, and skill in the kitchen. :-)