The High Tunnel Waketh

High Tunnel on March 17, 2012

The lengthening days have finally awoken the spinach, arugula, lettuces and mustard greens growing in the hoophouse.  Their colors have deepened, their leaf growth rapidly gaining size and yummy crisp flavor.  We have been enjoying these delicacies with our dinners, and our customers have enjoyed finding an unexpected treat for sale at market.

Incorporating these early greens is a great way to spruce up the end of Winter seasonal diet, when starches, pickles and dehydrated herbs make up the bulk of what’s left in the pantry and root cellar. Crisp, fresh greens are a welcome change, and are packed full of nutrients your body needs to begin flushing out the Winter’s accumulation of toxins from your system.  Eating them raw is especially good.

These greens pair well with things you might have left from your Winter store.  Add apples, raisins, nuts, and other dried fruits to a fresh lettuce salad.

Ruby Streaks and Giant Red Mustard

 Mustard greens have a spicy radish-like flavor that goes really well with smoked meat.  Bacon ends, ham hocks, even fatty trimmings from a ham can be lightly braised (cooked in about 2 inches of water at med-low heat for about 10 mins) with a bunch of roughly-chopped mustard greens.  Serve with butter, salt and pepper, and vinegar if you like as a side to a nice ham, pork roast or deep-fried turkey.

Arugula has a pleasant nutty-peppery flavor.  It is terrific as a salad alone or as an accent to a rich main dish.  Arugula is classically-prepared by washing the greens and tossing to coat with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  This is an elegant, nutritious salad by itself, or makes a lovely bed for steamed vegetables, poached fish, curry, anything.  Or roughly chop the arugula and spread atop potatoes  the serve with steak or roast beast.  Arugula also makes a fine pesto, and is great on top of pizza.

Arugula

The spinach is enjoyed raw or lightly steamed and makes an excellent side dish.

Spinach

 

Traditional Spinach Salad is made from:

fresh raw spinach

slivered red onion

hard boiled eggs

mushrooms

generous pieces of bacon

To make a hot bacon dressing:  Save the melted fat from cooking the bacon.  While still warm, stir in 2 Tbs brown sugar, 2 Tbs mustard. and 2 Tbs vinegar of choice.

Serve Spinach Salad with Hot bacon Dressing.  Top with salt and pepper.

 

 

Greens are an excellent source of iron and an even better source of calcium than milk!  I remember enjoying them as a child, lightly wilted with a splash of vinegar, salt, pepper, and a generous pat of butter.  Or lighten up by tossing with garlic and olive oil instead.  Greens can be added to scrambled eggs, quiche, soups, stews, stir-frys, and pasta dishes.

The forecast is wonderful to keep the greens growing, and we look forward to delighting or customers at out next market with their choice to add to their own menus.

This St. Patrick’s Day, I got my green on!

 

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Even Farm Animals Like Recycling!

Springtime has come early to Sunny Hill Farm in the high tunnel.  When the weather is sunny, the tunnel is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than outside, especially when it’s windy.  The green things have already begun growing for the season and the smell is wonderfully warm and verdant.  My daughter likes to go in there and take off her shoes, enjoying the feel of grass between her toes a few weeks early.

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Spinach, arugula and mustard in the tunnel first week of March, 2012

Spinach, arugula, mustard and lettuces are waking up and growing again from last Fall’s sowing.  Other green things are growing in there, too:  clover, purslane and especially chickweed.  These weeds need to be removed before we plant the space anew for the Summer season.  I know that many of the plants we consider “weeds” are actually perfectly edible, nutritious, and quite yummy.  Back in the past, many of these cold-hardy greens were a welcome addition to the diet in the earliest days of Spring, when folks were living off their winter store of starchy roots and rich meats and were ready for a fresh change.  Chickweed, in particular, is especially sweet and nutritious, and it grows abundantly in a low spreading carpet.

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Chickweed entangled with lettuces.

Even though discarded weeds are composted to return their nutrients to the soil, I still look for ways to capture even more of the nutrition and resources available on-farm, to minimize our off-farm inputs, reduce costs, and keep our ecosystem as healthy and diverse as possible.  One way we do this is to harvest plants such as grasses and weeds to feed to our animals, especially those who cannot always be out on pasture.  Feeding the animals grasses and weeds is closer to their natural diet than grain, and provides the myriad of vitamins and minerals often needed to be supplemented else-wise.

So my daughter and I have been going out to the high tunnel daily and harvesting this abundant chickweed to feed to our pigs and poultry.  I was unable to find definitive evidence that it was suitable daily for our other animals, so I only feed it to them, not the sheep, cows or horse.  Many of these weeds are good for one species of animal but not others, so always do your homework and check first, being sure you have a positive identification.  In order to keep the horse from getting jealous, we also grab a few handfuls of clover to give to her, too.

This time together is very enjoyable for my Gwee and me, and we are doing two jobs at once, weeding in preparation for this coming season, and giving our animals a little nutrition boost.  Fun, easy, and cost-effective recycling!

Why I Need Winter

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Pigs nestled in their bed of hay

It finally looks like Winter out.  On March 1st.  Better late than never!

There has been much lively discussion on the Media and in Real Life about the weather this Winter, or lack thereof.  Winter sports enthusiasts have been quite disappointed, folks with an eye on their heating bills have not.  Mud season has been in a sort of suspended animation, and the kids have learned that near-frozen mud can be just as slick as ice.  It has been a Winter unlike any I can remember.

The farmer in me wants to be alarmed, for Winter not found within its normal confines means it’s on the loose and can be found lurking about at any time, hindering growing plans.  But the impartial observer in me says all the seasons fluctuate in duration and intensity, why not Winter for once?  It’s natural for all elements of our environment to vary.

So why am I missing those blustery, frozen days?  The Internal Clock, I suppose.  My body, brain and being are all used to taking a break during those dark, cold months.  My metabolism is used to a respite.  My landscape is used to a respite.  My summer wardrobe is used to a respite. The load of paperwork in my office is used to me taking a respite from the field to catch up on it.

My kids are used to a season of confinement and constraint, of focus on school studies and building up dreams of what to do with next Summer’s freedom.  They are used to those sledding forays from which they invariably return frozen, no matter how much clothing and accessories I pile on.  There has been markedly less hot cocoa this season.

This is where we live.  In the Northeast.  Where there’s Winters.  And snow.  And cold.  We need these things to better appreciate the sun, heat and activity of Summer.  Our bodies are accustomed to  the down-time, and just like the plants and flowers who subsist on photosynthesis, we find that it is not only the light, but the periods of dark that are necessary for proper metabolism.

It is in the Darkness we find beauty in the Light.  It is in the darkest of Winter when we learn the true meaning of Faith, to hold fast to the knowledge that no matter how cold and dark, Spring must surely come.

We will again by Summer’s end take the warmth and light for granted, and be ready for another break in the hard work of farming.  We wonder then how we will ever go through a growing season again, the hours so long and the list of jobs endless.  We will be ready once more for a purging of cold, of stillness, of waiting. It is in this crucial time we are recharged, and motivated anew to take on another season of the triumph and tragedy that is farming.

I would not have it any other way.

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