brassicas

Black Plastic Mulch

This season, we are hoping that black plastic mulch will be a better way for us to control weeds.  Although it is a bit of labor at the start, once in place the fabric should suppress weeds and decrease our labor during the season (so we can focus on our plants, harvest and markets).

Bed prep

First, we reshaped the planting beds (goal was 36″ beds and approximately 30″ pathways).  Compost and minerals were raked into the beds, and the bed surfaces were evened out nice and smooth.

Fabric mulch

Next, we laid down the fabric by hand and used soil to keep in place.  We will be getting more fabric to cover the pathways and staples to hold everything in place.

Template

Jordan made a nice template.  The spacing works out to be 12″ between holes.  This spacing will be used for our market cabbages, kales and greens.  Jordan used a hand torch to burn the holes.

Sunset transplanting

Finally, the plants were transplanted into their beds.  On the right is the red cabbage bed all tucked in.  On the left is the green cabbage bed being planted.  Row covers are used to protect seedlings from bugs, strong winds and heavy rains while allowing air and moisture to get through.

Why are we going with fabric?  We are the only “employees” at the farm, and it is very challenging for us to maintain the garden and work full-time on the side.

The fabric mulch should keep weeds at bay while still allowing water and nutrients to pass through to the soil.  It will keep our beds more intact by protecting them from wind and water erosion, and the mulch should help retain moisture.

Plus – the fabric should last us up to 10 or more years.  The ability to reuse was important to us.  It may be labor to remove and lay the mulch elsewhere depending on crop rotations and spacing needs, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Challenges so far – I am not a good hole burner.  Mine are far from perfect.  Jordan is spot on with the template and torch.

I am still learning about the temperature regulation.  The black mulch heats up the soil and the row covers bump up the inner temperature.

Although the fabric should help retain moisture, the inner temperature of the tunnels have stressed the new transplants a little.  Frequent watering has been necessary to prevent drying of the soil and to cool the inner temperature of the mini-tunnels.  I now open the row covers just enough for air exchange but not enough for chicken invasion.

Is it really supposed to be 80degF in April????

The other challenge…chickens.  They have been free range and can get in and out of the garden easily through little holes in the deer fencing.  In the near future, some electric perimeter fencing will be installed to keep deer, dogs and chickens out.

Cabbages, kales and greens

Rainy day alternatives

I swear it seems longer than 40 days and 40 nights of rain. Well, chalk up another rainy weekend to the mix.

We were sorry to miss the market today, but our family needed us. There just wasn’t any way we could be there for them then harvest, clean and prep last evening for a morning market today. I guess sometimes ya just need a break.

But what to do? The list of garden chores is rather long and growing…but more rain pretty much delays the “must-dos” yet again. One can only do so much weeding before one gets discouraged by the endlessness of that task. So…what are some alternatives?

Being that we stayed in the burg for last night and today, I chose to tackle two tasks that are stress-free and rather enjoyable:

1) preparing for fall by starting some seeds

and

2) BAKING!

Ok, hopefully by now y’all understand that I/we love food. We love growing it, cooking it and eating it. I also rather enjoy baking it. I’ve been eyeing a recipe in our Cooks Illustrated – Cook’s Country magazine for weeks now…chocolate sugar cookies. I will cut to the chase. You will see no pictures of the process or of the results. Basically, my cookies were a fail for appearance (flat and spread out instead of round, cracked and plump), but they scored on taste. Too ugly to post but never too ugly to eat. I’ll have to work on these more to generate the result that looks like the recipe photo.

Bake take two – bread. I loooooooove homemade breads. Love them. And there is one book that I have that I cherish for bread recipes:

Best bread book

Best bread book!

And my favorite recipe in this book of consistently good bread recipes is:

Challah!

Challah!

The secret to good Challah is to definitely use honey rather than plain ole granulated sugar. Anyway, the process starts by mixing your yeast, honey, warm water, salt and a little flour to form the active base.

The yeast base

The yeast base

Then you stir in the remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Yes, I am sitting on the floor to do this as it requires a little oomph. I also am using my great grand-ma’s stainless bowl (YaYa Varlas) that she used for making bread back in her day. Not seen are the four-legged helpers (Wonder Dogs wondering if this was a bowl they got to lick) stalking me and my bowl.

Adding flour

Adding flour

Next is the critical part of bread making…the kneading. Must be soft and springy.

Kneading

Kneading

Please try to overlook my man-hands.

After the necessary kneading, the dough goes into a large bowl coated with cooking spray (toss in then turn over so both sides are coated), is covered with plastic wrap and a clean towel then allowed to let the yeast do its thing to make the dough rise and double in size.

Dough in a greased bowl

Dough in a greased bowl

Covered dough

Covered dough

Then…you go do something else. Like start seeds for fall planting. Here is what is going on in the basement:

Broccoli starts

Broccoli starts

Cabbage starts

Cabbage starts

An experiment with cauliflower

An experiment with cauliflower

So, a lot of brassicas are underway (broccolis, cabbages, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi) and some summer lettuce was planted today (since I can’t do it out in the fields at the moment).

Trying pelleted lettuce seeds

Trying pelleted lettuce seeds

I am already in love with the pelleted lettuce seeds! Well, worth the extra amount it costs. Can’t wait to see how the pelleted carrot seeds are. Anyway, some of the fall crops that we are planning to try are underway in the basement. It is a much friendlier environment than the field is at the moment. Ahem.

So, after some work in the basement. Wash up and take a peak under the towel. Ta-da:

Dough doubled and then some!

Dough doubled and then some!

The dough is ready! I like to do as the recipe suggests and make braids. Punch the dough to deflate it then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface (for all the flour I have used all-purpose). To form the braids, divide the dough into 3 equal (as best you can) portions. Pinch the ends to seal then work the strands to form a braid.

Dividing dough

Dividing dough

Forming braid

Forming braid

Once the braids are formed, place the loaf onto a greased (cooking spray) baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest (will rise a little more). Brush with rich egg glaze (whole egg lightly mixed with half-n-half) and top with poppy seeds (my favorite because of the color and crunch) or sesame seeds.

Ready for egg glaze

Ready for egg glaze

Egg glaze

Egg glaze

Sesame and poppy seeds

Sesame and poppy seeds

The loaves are ready for baking. Pre-heat the oven to 350. Put the loaves on the lower racks of the oven. We are lucky to have a double oven, so all loaves got baked at once. They bake for around 40-45 minutes or until they turn golden brown. A secret I use to ensure moist bread yet a nice crust is to throw a couple of ice cubes in the oven (bottom) just before I close the oven door.

Adding ice

Adding ice

Try your best to endure the amazing smell that will be coming from your kitchen for the next 40 minutes or so….

Then….

Golden brown crust Golden brown

Ta da – golden brown crust and a heavenly aroma. Remove from the oven and allow the loaves to cool, if you can stand it.

IMG_0785Oh crap. Ignore the flat cookies in the first photo. Focus on that luscious Challah loaf! Once it cools, she will be moved to the wire rack. It will get cut while it is still warm….we are never able to wait for complete cooling. There is just something about hot bread out of the oven with melted butter that is just too good.

So pretty and guaranteed to be delicious. That recipe (actually the whole book) is a must for all bread bakers. Give it a try! You will agree. Now I must be off to make sure that all of the loaves are, cough, edible.

Bad bug news

As I eat my lunch, I thought I would share today’s bad bug news…..it has happened. We have cabbage worms. GASP!

I know I know, you are horrified, but it was unavoidable. I’ve seen the butterflies flying around, and it was only a matter of time before the green cabbage worms showed up…on the kales, cabbages, and collards. Who doesn’t enjoy a nice brassica?

So. What do we do? An experiment, of course!

I have been reading about natural pest controls. Obviously, prevention is key, but we have a few more years of pampering our soil until prevention can really be impact full. For now, I am investigating companion planting.

Companion planting is a technique where you can combine plantings of varieties in a way to either boost production, flavor and/or pest protection. There is a nice summary from Cornell that describes the possibilities. I will be trying blending plantings of French marigolds and nasturtiums with my pest-prone plants: brassicas, cukes, squashes, tomatoes and eggplants. I will be combining corn with soybeans, and I’ve already got beans growing with various lettuces. I’ll let you know how it all goes.