from the farm: happy fall!

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With fall just two days off, the weather seems to be in that totally bipolar phase when it doesn’t know if it’s summer or fall.  We had a soaking rain last week (a blessing in light of current wildfires) but quickly hit 99 degrees in the shade this past weekend.

Apparently no one told the summer squash that their time is almost up.

Rows of perennial shrubs are still full of life, and the tomatoes are robust and heavy with fruit.

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Those resilient plants that can straddle the seasons and perform well in these rather confusing conditions are just beginning to yield.  Heirloom beans that (you might remember) were planted a few weeks back are now thick with blossoms and beginning to set fruit. Peppers are still prolific and loving the current heat wave.

It’s always important for us to keep an eye to the coming season, however, and we begin harvesting as aggressively as possible before there’s any danger of losing crops to unexpected changes in the weather.  This is happy news for green tomato lovers (like me), because green fall tomatoes are back on the menu at the girl & the fig!

photo 1fried green tomato sandwich bacon marmalade, tomato & smoked paprika aioli

If your tomato plants are winding down, be sure to look back at our post on trellising tomatoes – to find out the secret to fall tomatoes and even ripe tomatoes on your Thanksgiving table!

Happy fall!

from the farm: how to grow winter squash, part 2

how to grow winter squash

(This is the second installment on growing one of our favorite types of vegetable (well, fruit if you’re getting technical): the winter squash.  Part 1, on preparation and planting, is here.)


Fall is in the air today.  Mist hanging in the valley, dewy drops on the vines, and a chill in the air that makes you want to curl up in a sweater for thhow to grown winter squashe first time in months.  Which makes it the perfect time to talk about the beautiful winter squash.

We’re so fortunate at the farm project to have an immediate outlet for produce as it becomes ripe.  If ever there is a crop that’s too plentiful, we’ll use pickling or preserves to put it all to good use in our busy kitchens.  However, for the home gardener, keeping up with bumper summer harvests can be challenging, sometimes even exhausting (I’ve reached the point at being mad at zucchini), which is why I’ve come to love growing winter squash: nature’s own shelf-stable storage system.

Someday I’ll make a list of plants for the lazy gardener, and winter squash will be at the top.  I’ve had some of my best squash harvests grow from “volunteers” in the compost heap with almost no assistance from me.  So – read up on part 1 on starting your crop, watch it climb all over your yard through summer, and you’ll be ready to harvest come fall.


how to grown winter squash

The most important thing to know about harvesting (and curing) any winter squash is to be sure it’s fully matured before picking.  You can tell when they’re fully colored, the stem is withered/dying, and the skin has hardened so that when pressed with a fingernail it will dent but not pierce. Now you pick – but be sure to harvest with about 4 inches or so of stem remaining on the plant.  (This will create a complete seal.)

Curing is as easy and straightforward as everything to do with growing squash; once harvested, your beauties will need a dry spot with good air circulation to cure for about 2 weeks.  If some portion of the fruit is not fully-colored, feel free to expose it to the sun until it does so.  This period of time releases some of the moisture and intensifies sugars.  It also allows the skin and stem to dry and harden off to allow for long-term storage.

Length of storage time varies, but for the most part they’ll keep well all winter long (hence the name!) – if you’re storing them in a shed or closet, be sure to check on them from time to time for pests.

how to store winter squash


We’ve arrived at the best part: eating your winter squash.

Here are a few of our favorite recipes to get you started~

Butternut Squash Soup from Sondra’s cookbook, Plats du Jour

Honey-Glazed Winter Squash (also from Plats du Jour)

Roasted Acorn Squash by Marth Stewart

Do you grow winter squash?  What’s your favorite variety?

 

from the farm: why you should grow winter squash

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As summer rolls into fall, and our final harvests of the season are coming in, I love to see bright, colorful winter squash ripening in the rows, and appearing at markets and stands.

Winter squash have become my all time favorite plant to grow – they ask so little and give so much.  They’re prolific and nutritious, require a very small garden “footprint” (if given the chance, they’ll scramble up anything standing still: fences, compost piles, trees, roses, other unsuspecting plants in your garden!), and, true to their name, most will keep all winter (while maintaining high nutrient levels) without any special storage requirements.

winter squash

They’re also a favorite of our chefs at the girl & the fig and fig cafe (and have a starring role on this week’s Plats du Jour: Grilled Pork Tenderloin with honey glazed squash & pomegranate.  Yum!), but we’ll get to all of that in a moment!

HOW TO GROW

Growing winter squash of all varieties is relatively simple and very rewarding.  Seedlings literally rocket out of the ground when planted in warm spring soil, and their pace doesn’t slow from there.  On long summer days you can almost watch them growing right before your eyes.

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In our climate, most squash seeds can be sown in early May, however you might wait as late as June to plant them.  This works well at the farm project (and in home gardens) because it gives you the opportunity to get a full early-spring crop from a bed before sowing it again with winter squash, thus getting a whole lot more productivity from a small space.

Whatever you decide, plan to start seedlings in a protected spot about three weeks before you’re ready to plant them outside – or, just jump right in with direct outdoor seeding in May or June. All squash appreciate a warm, fertile, and sunny spot in the garden.  Turn approximately 1 inch of compost into the first 12 inches of existing top soil.  You may wish to plant your squash in mounds, but we prefer rows (approximately 3 feet apart, with roughly 18 inches between plants) for easier harvest and irrigation.

Water plants deeply as needed (we find they do not require daily irrigation if the soil is well prepared and has abundant organic matter).  As they develop, you may choose to remove the “male” flowers that develop to use stuffed or in other preparations.

Squash plants are susceptible to certain pests and plant diseases, but I’ve found that if the plants are vigorous and well-nourished they’ll produce abundantly even if you do have some pests, a little powdery mildew, or the like.  Essentially, feed your soil well and you won’t need to fret!


 

Please stay tuned for our next installment; how to harvest, cure, store, save seeds, and, most importantly, some of our favorite recipes for winter squash!!

 

from the farm: the seasons turn

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It’s always slightly bitter sweet watching the seasons change at the farm.  There’s a small amount of longing that summer has blown by so quickly, and also anticipation looking forward to one of the best times of year in this valley – fall, and with it, harvest and crush.

There’s still quite a bit of summer in the garden, (and beautiful summer farm tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash on this week’s Plats du Jour at the girl & the fig!)  Padron peppers are producing well, and enormous heirloom tomatoes are coming into their own.  A few varieties of summer squash, Armenian cucumbers, and heirloom eggplants are also going strong.

Last week we talked about compost as this is the perfect time of year to begin compiling the “ingredients” for your compost piles.  If you are a year-round grower, it’s also time for what might be your final plantings of the year.

Priorities in the garden for August and September fall into three categories: Harvest – it can be hard to keep up with production right now!  But keeping plants harvested will keep them producing, and spoiled or overripe produce in the beds will invite pests of every assortment.

Which brings us to the second order of business: Clean-up.  It’s time to begin clearing fallen fruit (if you haven’t already), compiling your heaps of “browns” for later compost pile building, and, lastly, planting.

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If you’ve gardened anywhere other than California, it can seem totally strange to start new seedlings at a time of year when it feels like the garden is winding down.  But this is actually a wonderful time of year for growing; the heat is subsiding, the pace of growth slowing, there are fewer weeds and bugs to contend with, and those lovely, green veggies that won’t tolerate summer’s intense temperatures are back on the menu.

It’s time to sow seeds of beets, carrots, peas, spinach, and radishes.  Lettuce and brassica transplants can into the ground in September, as well as fennel, dill, and cilantro.

On the subject of growing year-round, I recently stumbled on this article about growing a “garden cocktail.”  I love the idea of growing a perennial bed for herbaceous garden cocktails!  Many of the ingredients that come to mind – mint, celery, fennel – can all be planted right now.  (Find a comprehensive list of perennial herbs for the Pacific North West here.)

What’s your favorite thing to grow this time of year?

Happy gardening!

 

from the farm: fall fodder

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Can it really be possible that the first day of fall is only one month away?

At the farm, the transition from profuse summer growth to slower and less abundant yields has begun, and plantings of cool season crops such as brassicas and roots are slowly taking the place of cucumber, squash, and peppers.  The crisp mornings and cooler night temperatures along with spent and withered plants in the rows confirm that summer is indeed winding down.

Which makes it the perfect time to revel in those fleeting summer flavors.  This week at the girl & the fig, the seasonal, three-course Plats du Jour featured a fitting fusion of robust summer flavor with fall-like comfort foods; “farm project” produce had a starring role in the Provençal Vegetable Tart with garden vegetables, farm egg, tomato vinaigrette.  Almost too pretty to eat.  (Almost.)

provenal vegetable tart

The landscape of the farm is changing as well, and with the withering of the vines in the cucumber and squash beds, it’s time to begin preparing one of the most essential components of our organic garden: the compost pile.

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Compost is everything in organic farming.  It adds organic matter, nutrients, beneficial microorganisms, and helps the soil to retain moisture (imperative in our current climate). There are three basic types of composting: aerobic, anaerobic, and vermiculture.

Anaerobic is the type of “compositng” that’s happening all the time in nature; it’s composting without aerating the pile.  Slow-working bacteria and fungi gradually break down a pile of organic matter over the course of months or years.  It works, of course, but not fast enough for a gardener’s purposes.

Vermiculture (worm composting) is a fantastic tool for composting kitchen waste (learn more here), it doesn’t involve turning (the worms simply go to work for you), and you can include items that might not otherwise be able to go into a pile, such as food waste.

Aerobic composting is what most gardeners use.  www.benefits-of-recylcing.com states that “high nitrogen waste (like grass clippings or other green material) will grow bacteria that will create high temperatures (up to 160 degrees). Organic waste will break down quickly and is not prone to smell.”  It’s the ideal scenario for turning organic matter into usable compost in the shortest amount of time.  It just requires a few key components (see What to Compost here).

First, a good balance of “greens” to “browns” – that is, nitrogen-rich materials (as in vegetable scraps) to carbon-rich materials (as in dry leaves).  Once you’ve accumulated enough debris to start your pile, layer these greens and browns at a roughly 2 parts “brown” to 1 part “green.”  Like so:

Layered "greens" and "browns," Image Credit: www.growveg.com

Layered “greens” and “browns,” Image Credit: www.growveg.com

Water your pile down thoroughly, and keep it watered (it should maintain a moisture level similar to that of a wrung cloth).  At this point, happy and hard-working bacteria will begin their job, and very soon your pile should start to radiate heat.

From this point forward, the pile should be turned regularly (about once per week).  If you notice that the warmth emanating from the pile diminishes more quickly, turn it more often.  (Cooling indicates that the bacterial activity is slowing and you want to kick it back into gear.)

When your compost is rich and crumbly and smells like sweet soil, it’s ready for the garden!  Our staff is specifically trained on how to collect kitchen scraps for proper composting, and since beginning we’ve reduced our waste in the restaurants by 25-30 percent!

This is what our hard work is rewarded with:

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With fall’s approach, there’s ample fodder to begin composting for the spring planting season.

Stay tuned for more fall garden prep next week, and come enjoy the fruits of our labor very soon at “the fig” and cafe!