Friday, August 20, 2010

Photo Fridays: Garlic Chives

This year we finally have blooms on our garlic chives.

Garlic chive plants

A busy honeybee visiting a flowerstalk

I had hoped we would have blooms someday because they are pretty and provide food for bees, but I also wanted to be sure that the plants were actually garlic chives rather than onion chives.  My favorite herb book, Southern Herb Growing by Texas herb expert Madalene Hill and her daughter Gwen Barclay, notes several differences between the two chive types, the most obvious of which is the flowers.  Onion chive flowers are lavender-pink and globe-shaped; garlic chive flowers are white.

The pollinators are happy because they have another food source. The farmer/scientist who likes to identify and categorize things is happy because she now has a positive I.D.  :-)

p.s. There is a lovely post about Madalene Hill, Madalene Hill on a Sunny Day, on the blog Jim Long's Garden.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo Fridays: Beautyberry

A few days ago I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and sort of daydreaming.  Above the sink there is a small bay window looking out into the back yard.  Many times during this regular chore I have seen interesting things outside, including rabbits, deer and fawns, owls, many kinds of songbirds, squirrels, raccoons, tortoises, and of course the many neighborhood dogs who pay a visit to our pool.  On this particular day I noticed that the beautyberries around the compost pile have suddenly ripened.  The purple color is so intense that the clusters of small berries caught my eye.

American beautyberry is a shrub native to Texas and the rest of the U.S. South.  It grows wild around our property.  We don't do anything to maintain it, yet it keeps coming back and entertaining us with its show of berries each fall.  I've read that some birds love the berries, though I haven't seen any birds eating them myself.  Admittedly, I haven't spent a lot of time watching the shrubs for birds, though.  I hope it is true because we try to give the local wildlife as many native things to eat as possible.  I would rather the birds fill up on beautyberries in the fall than our cherry tomatoes!

Regardless, I love the plants for their aesthetic value.

They earn their name, don't they?

Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pickled Peppers

They weren't pickled yet, but we did pick a peck of banana peppers to make pickled pepper rings.  Our pepper plants kicked it into high gear about a month ago and we have been trying to figure out what to do with the bounty.  We sold some but not all at the last Tomball Farmers Market, plus there were a lot still on the plants.

Back in 2008, when we belonged to Home Sweet Farm's CSA, there were a few deliveries which contained a lot more peppers than the two of us could eat in a week.  I preserved them by cutting out the stem end, slicing them in half, tray freezing them, then dumping them into freezer storage bags.  It worked pretty well and we ended up using most of them.  Then last year, when our garden was in full swing, I froze a bunch of our own peppers the same way.  Most of them were still in the freezer as of last month.  Once this year's crop started coming on, I had to grit my teeth and put the old ones in the compost.  Sad but true.

So we decided to pickle the banana peppers instead.  I did try it last year - I made one quart jar using a pickled banana pepper recipe from Jigginjessica's blog What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen.  I need to spend more time poking around her blog - looks like she has a lot of good recipes.  The peppers were tasty but I found that a quart jar was too big for the two of us to finish in a reasonable amount of time.

This year I turned to my trusty canning reference book, So Easy To Preserve from the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia.  They host a great website, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and have produced a great series about preserving food that is available on DVD.  I highly recommend both the book and the DVD set.  I learned to can by watching those videos; the book is full of recipes in addition to instructions for the various preservation techniques.

I used a combination of Jessica's recipe and the Pickled Yellow Pepper Rings recipe from So Easy to PreserveSETP's recipe had a higher vinegar-to-water ratio which produces a lower (safer) pH.  I liked that Jessica's recipe used black peppercorns, garlic and a fresh hot pepper (a way to use our abundance of serrano peppers!).  Here are the ingredients of my hybrid version:

Because Ed is a master of process design and construction (you should see our rainwater collection system!), I asked him to figure out how to set up the water bath canner somewhere besides the kitchen.  It is just too hot in August to be boiling a large pot of water for an hour or so in the house!  In no time he had the whole thing going on a Coleman camp stove sitting on our market table in the garage.  I wish I had a photo.  It was quite an operation.  We had the jars preheating in the canner in the garage, two burners going on the stove (boiling brine and simmering jar lids), and the kitchen island covered with chopped peppers, peeled garlic cloves and spices.

We made 7 pint jars.  Don't they look pretty with the yellow peppers and mustard seeds, the black peppercorns, and the red serranos?

I am still a canning novice, so I was pleased (and surprised!) that all of the jars sealed.  The next day we opened one of the jars to try a couple peppers.  Wow, did I pucker up!  They are very tart.  Next time I think I will try a little less vinegar.  They are still good, though, and I am looking forward to trying some on a good roast beef sandwich.  I will have to wait until the weather cools off.  The high temperature yesterday was 100 degrees.  There is no way I am putting a roast in the oven until at least the end of September.

Right now I will just enjoy knowing those jars are sitting in the pantry, waiting to brighten up an autumn meal.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Photo Fridays: Sweet Potato Plants

We have a whole row of sweet potato plants which we hope are making beautiful tubers down there in the soil.  You don't really know how the potatoes are growing until you dig them up!

We planted sets in mid-May and they soon took off.  They grow vigorously, not only making a sort of carpet on top of the row, but also running down the sides of the row, across the aisle and into the neighboring rows.  Luckily, both the adjacent rows are empty right now.

The young sets the day after we planted them.

My, how they've grown!

Ed has already trimmed them a couple of times to keep them under control.  We will probably dig them up in early September.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Different Kind of Market Day

This post was inspired by one of Alicia Jabbar's contributions to the Simple, Good and Tasty blog.  Her post Farmer's Markets from the Other Side of the Table describes the farmer's market from the farmer's perspective.  Since we started our farm business, Ed and I have spent most of our time behind the table.  On Saturday we had the luxury of experiencing a market from the customer's side. 

We drove into Houston to shop at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market.  I enjoyed being a customer again, like the good old days.  It sure is a lot less work!  We woke up at 6:30, got ready at a leisurely pace, and even ate breakfast before heading out at 7:40.

For once, I remembered my camera.

A loaf of sourdough and a scone from Angela's Oven

Oyster mushrooms from Animal Farm

Two flavors of chevre from Hammond Farm

A chat with our friends Lori and David Crank of Oaks of Mamre Farm (I had already picked up my eggs and chicken at their semi-weekly delivery in Tomball)

Tomatoes from Wood Duck Farm (our plants are long gone)

Then we headed over to the Midtown Farmers Market at Chef Monica Pope's restaurant t'afia, where I accidentally left the camera in the car.  Houston Dairymaids was out of our favorite, Redneck Cheddar, because they are saving it for a beer and cheese tasting at St. Arnold's Brewery next week.  Luckily for us they still had some of Mozzarella Company's fresh mozzarella, Veldhuizen's Texas Gold and Sand Creek's gouda.  We also grabbed some plain naan from Nisha's.

We came home with a lot of delicious local food.  It was a good day!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Photo Fridays: Ginger

This is the second year we have grown culinary ginger.  It is an interesting plant and very easy to grow.  Last year we had only a couple of plants, but this year we are growing a whole bed.

I think the ginger plant is pretty, in a fern-y way.  There are about 40 plants in the bed.  We planted the pieces of root in early May; little green shoots started appearing a few weeks later.  We can start harvesting them in early fall, but the main harvest will be after the weather gets cold.  We'll dig up the hands (i.e. roots) and bring them indoors to dry.  They tend to rot in cold soil. 

We will sell some, eat some (yum!), and save the rest to plant next spring.  I wish all the plants were this easy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Food Rules, Part II

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Michael Pollan's book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

Part I of the book presented 21 rules for distinguishing real, whole foods from the edible foodlike substances which surround us in the American food landscape. In Part II, Pollan answers the question "What kind of food should I eat?" with 22 more guidelines. He points out the "striking diversity of traditional diets" to demonstrate that no ideal diet exists, but asserts that some types of foods, methods of preparation and food combinations are better for us than others.

I approached this section with a bit of skepticism. I am so tired of nutrition science's focus on identifying 'superfoods' and that special nutrient which magically prevents (or cures!) diseases x, y and z. In the grocery store checkout line, I wince when I see magazine covers announcing the results of the nutrition study-du-jour along with the headlines "Lose Ten Pounds in Time for Summer!" and "Five Easy Dessert Recipes!" next to a photo of an enormous cake. Humph.

I was glad to see that the first rule in Part II was "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves." Wow! What a relief. We don't have to stress out about which vegetable or fruit is THE BEST. When a customer at the market asks me which is healthier, the broccoli greens or the kale, my answer is whichever one you like better because you will eat more of it. Pollan would probably say "both". Rules 25 ("Eat your colors") and 29 ("Eat like an omnivore") stress the importance of a varied diet. Rule 24 suggests a hierarchy of foods based on how many 'legs' they have: plants and mushrooms have 1, poultry have 2, and mammals such as pigs and cattle have 4.

Rule 36 is a little gem about processed breakfast cereals. I probably would have written something like this: Avoid highly processed, fortified breakfast cereals, especially those marketed to children, because they generally are calorie-dense, often made from highly refined flours, and contain chemical dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives. Pollan skillfully condenses it into this memorable phrase: "Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk". Great imagery. I love it.

As a person who has struggled with an unhealthy attachment to sugar, I found Rule 39 especially meaningful: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." Sort of rules out Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream, my drug of choice, doesn't it? Considering the number and complexity of the ingredients, though, I guess Part I already raised a flag about those addictive little pints. I have tried to take this guideline to heart. I rarely buy ice cream anymore. That is a big step for me. I have tried a couple homemade desserts which have worked well: 1) chocolate pudding from scratch and 2) frozen overripe bananas pureed in the food processor with peanut butter to make a sort of ice cream substitute. The pudding is a lot of work and makes a lot of dirty dishes. Washing the food processor is a pain and we don't often have overripe bananas sitting around. So I don't make these very often, which is exactly Pollan's point.

My favorite rule of all is #30, which ties right in to what we are doing here on our farm: "Eat well-grown food from healthy soil". Instead of using synthetic, quick-fix fertilizers to push our plants to maximum production, we have made the commitment to build up the fertility of our soil with plenty of natural organic matter. The compost, manure and wood mulch we continue to add to the soil make more nutrients available to the plants. We believe healthier soil produces stronger plants which are better able to resist diseases, repel and outgrow insects, and handle harsh weather. Pollan states that research supports the hypothesis that "soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food: that is, food with higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals."  Sounds good to me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Photo Fridays: Melons

I haven't posted in a while because I have been out of town.  The garden changed some while I was gone.  Ed pulled out more plants which had succumbed to the mid-summer heat, then planted buckwheat, our summer cover crop.

The melon and cucumber plants keep rolling along, apparently loving every minute of 90+ degree weather.  We have the cucumbers growing up a trellis, but the melon plants are just sprawling all over the place.  They are at the top of the garden, near the fence, and they keep trying to escape by growing up and through the fence.

If you look carefully, you can see the melons hiding underneath the leaves (center and right side of photo).

This melon is almost fully ripe.

We're growing only one melon variety, Ambrosia, because it is the best-tasting melon we have ever had.  It has a wonderful floral aroma when it is fully ripe and the flesh is sweet with a lot of flavor.  I don't know if I could eat one of those watery grocery store cantaloupes again.

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Photo Fridays: Tomato Harvest

Our kitchen has been taken over by tomatoes.  We pick them when they just start to blush to stay ahead of the birds and the stink bugs who also love tomatoes.  Then the tomatoes sit on the island in our kitchen until they ripen.  In the past 6 days we have harvested 154 slicing tomatoes.  Yikes!

Sorry about the lighting and the color.  I am not a very skilled photographer, but you get the idea.  It doesn't help that our kitchen countertops are a dark teal color - a very odd choice made by the original owners of the house.

Here is one of the Green Zebras.  It is beautiful and tastes delicious, too.  Ed made Insalata Caprese last weekend with four different tomato varieties and Green Zebra was our favorite.

I wish the plants made more fruit, but lower production is often the price we pay for growing heirlooms.  In many cases they just can't keep up with the hybrids.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy a fresh local tomato this weekend.  Have a great one!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Photo Fridays: Tomatillos

We are growing two varieties of tomatillo: Toma Verde and purple.  The purple variety is producing better than the Toma Verde, but the tomatillos aren't really turning purple.  Some of the husks have a purple tint on the outside, though, and a few of the smaller fruits have a couple dark blotches on them.

I am just happy they are growing at all.  Last year all the ones we grew from seed died and the emergency replacements we bought from Wabash Antique and Feed Store grew very well but didn't produce a whole lot, probably because we planted them too late.  From the whole summer, I only had enough for cooking a few times and there certainly were not enough to sell.  This year the production is much better.

One of the plants in late April

Today, a view down the row; tomatillos are the tall plants, low plants in foreground are ground cherries


Purple and green tomatillos on the plant

A basket of harvested fruit, ready for fresh salsa or enchilada sauce!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Photo Fridays: Eggplant

I have been enjoying the Gardens, Chickens, and Folk Music blog and like the idea of Toni's Peaceful Fridays posts, so I'm borrowing it.  I think my version will be 'Photo Fridays'; I will pick something in or around the garden to highlight each week.
This week my subject is eggplant.

We are growing a Taiwanese eggplant called Ping Tung from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I have great hopes for it.  The plants are not very tall but they are lush and have many flowers.  I think they are the prettiest plants in the garden right now.  You can judge for yourself:

A developing fruit.  Isn't the color gorgeous?

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Michael Pollan's Food Rules, Part I

I have had Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, sitting on my desk for a few weeks now. I read it cover to cover when I first bought it, and now refer to it from time to time. I am letting it sink in slowly. I have already noticed changes in the way I think about my food and the way I eat.

The book is short, just 139 pages, many of which either have only a short amount of text or a graphic. Yet it is packed with useful information. There are 64 guidelines, or 'rules'. They are so practical and make so much sense that I had a tendency to think "Well, of course, I knew that". But Pollan's gift is taking complex ideas and distilling them into short, meaningful phrases. Remember edible foodlike substances from In Defense of Food? When I first read that, I felt the light bulb switch on in my head. What a perfect description of everything that is wrong with the American food landscape, summed up in a simple, catchy phrase. It stuck with me. Every time I went to the supermarket or a restaurant, those words popped up as a warning flag in my head.

Pollan does that again in Food Rules, many times over.  Little of the information is new; we have heard most of this before. We all know that eating fresh vegetables is better for us than eating highly processed fast food.  I have read many excellent articles by and interviews with Harvard School of Public Health epidemiologist Walter Willett which included dietary recommendations based on the amazing long-running Nurses' Health Study.  As a long-time subscriber to Cooking Light magazine, I have observed the evolution of nutrition science as that publication has gracefully changed its course away from 'dietary-fat-is-the-enemy'.  But I was still confused, like Pollan at the beginning of his quest to answer the question "What should I eat?".  Food Rules answers the question in practical terms, with no numbers or calculations (calories, fat grams, percentages) in sight.  Nutrition science is translated into, and in some cases replaced by, common-sense concepts and guidelines.  No need to follow all 64 rules; taking one or two of them into consideration as you make your food choices can help you change how you eat.
Part I addresses the main question of what to eat, and gives the short answer: "Eat food".  The goal of the section is to help us distinguish real foods from those ubiquitous edible foodlike substances.  Some of my favorite rules are "If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't" and "It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car".  The best one, in my opinion, is "Buy your snacks at the farmer's market"!  I have been putting that one into practice, first by learning to snack on our own vegetables.  I was quite surprised to find that raw green beans make a pretty decent snack.  Also, I've been buying some of the prepared foods available at our farmer's market.  Those foods are likely to be made by humans (Rule #17) and contain only ingredients a third-grader can pronounce (Rule #7).

I'll get to Part II and Part III in a future post.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Picture is Worth...

Here are a few photos which sum up the reality of the garden these days.

Wondering when the tomatoes will ripen,

Waiting for the garlic to dry,

Watering (again), and,

Wishing the squash would slow down!

Friday, May 21, 2010


A few people have told me they wanted to post a comment on the blog, but had trouble or couldn't figure out how to do it.  So I decided to try it myself, since I didn't really know how to do it either.  It was a little confusing.

This is how you do it:

1. Go to the bottom of the post you want to comment on and click the link which shows the number of comments.
2. Type your comment in the box.
3. Click the drop-down menu next to 'Comment as:' under the box and select 'Name/URL'.
4. In the 'Edit profile' box which pops up, enter whatever name you want to show with your comment.
5. Leave the URL box blank and click the 'Continue' button.
6. Click on the 'Preview' button if you would like to see how the comment will look.  Then click 'Post Comment'.
7. There is one last step which helps prevent comment spam by proving you are a human being rather than a computer (it's sad that this is necessary, but it is).  Type the weird wavy characters into the word verification box and, once more, click 'Post Comment'.

That's it!  Only seven steps :-)

Critters of Rain Song Farm

We don't have any livestock, just two indoor cats.  However, there are many critters who have decided to make Rain Song Farm their home.  Some of them may have been here before we were!

We have lived here for nine years, and though we only started the 'farm' in 2008, we have been following organic practices for the land since we moved here.  Long before we decided to grow vegetables, we managed the property with wildlife and conservation in mind.  We don't use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers anywhere on our property, and we have left most of the land natural, with trees, brush and whatever grasses, wildflowers and groundcovers that happen to grow.  We have also planted wildlife-friendly plants such as lantana and mulberry and fig trees.  Many of the plants were so wildlife-friendly that the wildlife (deer) loved them out of existence.

Here is a selection of the critters with whom we share Rain Song Farm.

A butterfly enjoying cilantro blossoms

A tortoise who disappeared suprisingly quickly after I took this photo!

Luna moths mating on the side of the greenhouse

Baby house wrens in a nest inside the greenhouse

Snails mating on the side of, you guessed it, the greenhouse.
There's something about that greenhouse, isn't there?

A monarch caterpillar munching on butterfly weed

Male eastern bluebird perching on the mailbox, looking for insects.
Can you tell he sits there often?

Barred owl perched on the back garden fence

Mama and baby.  So cute.  A few days later I watched that fawn strip all the leaves off one of our blueberry bushes.  The deer are the primary reason we built a 6-foot fence around the main garden.  But we still ooh and ahh over the little fawns every spring.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Little Babies

There are little babies showing up all over the garden.  I could be talking about insects, because they certainly are making plenty of hungry offspring right now, but I really mean baby veggies.  The powerhouse crops of late spring are starting to produce their fruits.

We enjoy watching the plants grow from seeds to seedlings, through their 'childhood', and into fully mature, blooming plants.  Then we get to watch the little babies emerging out of those flowers which were fertilized.  The past week or two we have been delighted to see the first tiny tomatoes, squash, and snap beans appearing on the plants.

Here are some photos (for a closer look, click on a photo to display it in a larger window):

The tomato in front has a shriveled blossom hanging from its end

A tiny snap bean still holding on to the remains of a blossom

This pattypan squash is so new, its blossom hasn't opened yet

An Eight Ball squash

Zucchini, Jr.

Botanically speaking, the fruits are not plant 'babies'.  Seeds are truly the babies.  Fruits are the ovaries which produce the seeds.  I think that is most apparent on squash and zucchini plants.  In the zucchini photo above, the young fruit is part of a female blossom; there is an immature male blossom immediately to the right (green, on the end of a slender stalk).  The young fruit/ovary will continue to grow while its blossom is open, but if the blossom is not fertilized, the fruit eventually shrinks and falls off.  We are never sure that the first few squash fruits we see in the spring will actually survive.  Soon, though, when there are male blossoms open on several plants, odds are good that the bees will get around and transfer the male pollen to most of the female blossoms.  In fact, the bees were quite busy among the squash plants while I was taking these photos.

By the way, this is why cross-pollination is not a problem in the first generation.  The fruit forms from the tissue of the 'mother' plant.  The seeds are the only parts which contain genetic material from the 'father' plant.  So, if you grow a bunch of varieties of squash or peppers together, you don't have to worry about getting yellow zucchini or hot bell peppers this year.  It is only a consideration if you plant seeds saved from those fruits next year - then you may end up with some interesting crosses.  I have to remind myself of this every season, it seems.  In the back of my mind, for just a minute or two, I still wonder if that spicy serrano plant will corrupt my sweet little Italian peppers.

I find the science behind what is happening in the garden to be fascinating and I believe it is essential knowledge for an organic gardener.  Yet, when I walk through the garden and see the growth and change, it still feels like magic.  And that is the best part.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


We are small-scale farmers who support local food, sustainable and organic growing practices, and the farm-to-consumer marketing model.  We value these things because we believe they are good not only for our own health, but also for the health of our customers, our community, and the future of our species and our planet.  A natural outcome of these values is the practice of cooking and eating fresh, minimally-processed, responsibly-produced food that is nourishing for the body and the soul.

When charismatic, articulate ambassadors for this kind of food do things that reach a large audience, it makes me happy.  I recently came upon two posts on Chef Andrew Little's blog (thanks to Blue Heron Farm and GreenAkeys Farm blogs for pointing the way) linking to videos of excellent TED2010 talks about improving the food we eat.  I found both inspiring.  The information is presented in an interesting, thought-provoking way that fires me up to do something about it!

The first video is Chef Jamie Oliver speaking about overhauling the American diet.  This talk gives us a chance to hear the ideas and motivation behind his project in West Virginia without the reality-TV gimmicks.  The bar chart of mortality statistics is arresting; Oliver points out the irony of our obsessive fear of homicide while we are killing ourselves with food and lifestyle.

When he talked about encountering children who are the third generation to grow up without a family tradition of cooking, at first I wasn't surprised.  But then I really thought about it and I was astounded by the idea.  Ed and I both grew up in homes in which we sat down with our families almost every night to eat a home-cooked meal prepared by our mothers.  Both of my grandmothers baked bread from scratch, cooked meat from animals they raised, and preserved home-grown produce.  I can't imagine growing up not only without knowing how to cook, but also without thinking of cooking as a normal part of life.  With so many Americans so far removed from preparing their own food, is it any wonder that we, as a nation, are dying of diet-related diseases?

I had another 'aha' moment when Oliver spoke about how fast food restaurants (and prepared food manufacturers and other restaurants) have "weaned us on to these hits of sugar, salt and fat, and x, y, and z".  I think the term 'hit' is perfect.  That is how it feels to me, now that I am aware of it.  How many times have I continued eating something after I am no longer hungry, still trying to get more of that 'fix'?  Our palates have been trained and our bodies and brains now expect regular doses of these concentrated flavors.  With that perspective, it is easy to see why so many of us are disinclined to eat real food - it doesn't push those buttons with the intensity and immediacy of food-like substances which have been designed to do just that.  Though these ideas have been well-discussed in the past (Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma come to mind), I was glad to be reminded again of the challenges which have been built into our culture's food landscape.

Oliver concludes with his wish as winner of the 2010 TEDPrize: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."  He already has a great start on this with his Ministry of Food program in England.  It sounds great to me!  Let's cook!

I'll get to the second video, Chef Dan Barber talking about sustainable food production, in another post.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Toads and 'Todes

After a wet winter, we have had a somewhat dry spring.  Since the middle of March there has been hardly any rain.  Our rainwater tanks were basically empty.  So we were glad that there was rain in the forecast for last weekend, though we hoped the rain wouldn't come in the middle of the farmer's market.

The sky looked threatening most of the day Friday and Saturday, but the rain didn't come and we stayed dry through the harvest and the market.  We were also able to get the pepper plants in the ground on Saturday afternoon, which was a very good thing.  They were pretty tall and becoming root-bound in their little pots.

We got half an inch of rain in the middle of the day Sunday.  I would have liked more; I guess we farmers are never quite satisfied!  The timing was perfect for Ed to apply our latest natural pest control: beneficial nematodes.  These microscopic worms are parasites of soil-dwelling insects.  They are a different species from the plant-parasitic nematodes which cause root knots on tomatoes and other plants.  They are a bit finicky about the temperature, sun and moisture, so it is important to apply them in the right season, weather and time of day.  Sunday afternoon after the rain turned out to be perfect.

I had a good laugh when Ed told me he was going out to spray some "todes".  The nematodes come in some organic matter and basically need to be "dissolved" in water and then diluted before being sprayed on the soil.  After a little while, I could hear Ed pumping up his hand-held sprayer.

I wandered out into the garden to admire the tomato and pepper plants and enjoy the cool breeze.  Ed was making his way down a row from which we had just harvested the last of the beets and carrots when I heard him chuckle.  He called me over to see what had amused him.  While he was spraying near the end of the row, he had seen something move.  When he stopped and looked closer, this is what he saw:

This funny little toad had decided to take up residence in the hole left by a carrot.  He sat there calmly as we leaned in closer and closer to take the photo.  Apparently he felt very safe in his hideout.

It just goes to show that we never know what will happen in the garden.  Some days, squash and beans seem to appear overnight.  Other times, we go out to harvest a perfectly ripe tomato, only to find out that some critter has been there first.  And, every once in a while, we end up spraying 'todes on a toad.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mystery Plant

There is a stranger in our midst, a mystery plant growing among the Brussels sprouts.  One of the transplants we got from a friend last fall must have been labeled wrong.

We didn't notice anything unusual for quite a while.  Its leaves were the same color as those around it.  To me, Brassica-family plants look pretty similar when they are young, anyway.  But after a few months we noticed that its leaves looked more like broccoli raab leaves.  Then it started forming a swollen stem like a kohlrabi.  Still, it didn't look quite the same as the kohlrabi plants we had planted on purpose further down the row.  Our best guess is that it is a cross between kohlrabi and broccoli raab.  Maybe we should call it "brokohlraab" (Say that five times fast!).  Wherever this seed was produced, some industrious little bee must have carried pollen a long way from a field of broccoli raab and dropped it into a flower in another field of kohlrabi!

We decided that the best course of action was to eat that brokohlraab.  At some point.  Then the spring planting blitz hit and we forgot about the mystery plant for a while.  The next time I really looked at it, I saw it had sent up a bunch of flower stalks and pretty little yellow blooms were opening up.  And the bees had found it.

At that time, there were very few blossoms in the garden besides the favas, which the bees were pointedly eschewing.  We love our pollinators and do what we can to encourage them, so I didn't have the heart to chop down our little mystery plant and deprive the bees of their feast.

A month later, there are hundreds of flowers on the brokohlraab and the pollinators still think they are the bee's knees (couldn't resist that one).  Soon we will have to remove it to make room for pepper plants.  Luckily, a lot of other plants are blooming now, both in the garden and in the yard, so we can rest easy that there will be plenty of food for our apian friends.

I still intend to eat it.  That kitchen experiment may show up as a post in a few weeks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opening Day at the Farmer's Market

Saturday was opening day of the spring season at Grogan's Mill Village Farmers Market in The Woodlands.

We were very busy last week getting ready for the market.  Although the fall season market ended in mid-December, less than 4 months ago, we were out of practice.  Everything seemed to take a long time, I guess because it was no longer routine.  Plus, this is the first time we have grown some of the fall/winter crops for market.

I did a few things ahead of time, like dragging out of the closets all the market paraphernalia, such as containers and bags, signs, and other things we have with us in the booth.  I had also printed some flyers and recipes.  Still, there was a lot to do come Friday.  Luckily, we both had the day off.

The first step on Friday, after we had done the routine stuff like watering, was to harvest the vegetables.  Here is our rainbow of veggies, fresh from the garden:

Swiss chard, carrots, beets, spinach and kale

Red leaf lettuce, scallions, and radishes

Once we had harvested the veggies, we cleaned them up, weighed them, split them up into bunches, and put them in coolers to keep them fresh.  After that we repeated the process with the herbs, but I forgot to take pictures of those.  We also sorted out the tomato and herb plants we wanted to sell.  Then we started working on setting prices, making signs for the table, and figuring out how we were going to display the various veggies on the table.  Decisions, decisions!  Once that was done, we packed as much into the truck as we could ahead of time, and collapsed into bed.

When we got up Saturday morning, there was a light fog, which is actually good because it helps keep the produce from drying out.  We loaded the rest of the stuff into the truck and headed out to The Woodlands.  About halfway there, we drove straight out of the fog and could see the sunrise.  It was nice to be on the road so early with hardly any traffic.

Spirits were high among the vendors as we all set up our booths.  Everyone seemed happy to be back and excited about the beautiful spring weather.  We were glad to see friends again, but had little time to chat because the customers started coming early!

Here are a couple of photos we managed to get when we were almost done setting up:

I forgot to put out the lettuce and the cut herbs before Ed took the picture - oops!  As you can see, the fog followed us, but it didn't stick around long.  It soon lifted and we had a gorgeous, sunny spring day.  The market attracted a lot of people; we stayed busy the entire time.  It was fun to see familiar faces and also to meet a lot of new people.

We will start it all over again tomorrow, but this time should be a lot easier!