Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Plants Take to the Field

Last week, we were a team of five. Clad in muddy raingear, hunched against the persistent showers, we willed our chilled hands to continue pulling out the long roots of spring weeds. The garden beds before us were awaiting brassica starts – a morning’s worth of weeding ensured an afternoon’s worth of transplanting.

On this particular morning we were situated in our upper field, across the logging road from our largest hoop house. It wasn’t particularly cold, nor remarkably windy. Nevertheless, the rain was steady and our layers soaked well through despite the mismatched collection of ponchos, jackets, slickers, and rainpants. By midday our hands were stiff and the garden beds threatening to become mudflats. We called an end to the weeding and took lunch. Our morning’s work, in combination with other weed-free beds in our eastern field, would provide enough row footage to spend the afternoon transplanting.

Slightly more active than weeding, transplanting proved more manageable in the rain. Wielding trowels and hori-horis, hundreds of cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, and kohlrabi went into the ground that afternoon. We were able to keep warm as we moved flat after flat of plants out of our “big coldframe” greenhouse, and smiled to see our collection of starts freed to the open air and fields of dirt. After weeks of careful care, we now had to trust to biology and climatic good fortune. With luck, each plant will grow into the best-case scenario.

To get to this point in the season, however, was the result of much indoor seeding work. Through February and March we seeded thousands of cold-tolerant plants into flats. (Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collards, chard, and kohlrabi fill our seeding shelves early in the season; warmer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash come later – contact us if you have questions on seasonal timing!) These were kept under lights in our basement and watered every few days. As seeds germinated, grew sprout leaves, and slowly developed their true leaves, we monitored them closely. As they sized up, we moved flats to our cob animal-house/greenhouse combination building. Here plants were introduced to natural daylight and the temperature fluctuations between day and night. As they began to outgrow their original cells, plants were potted up into 4” pots and shifted to our “big coldframe.” This building has less thermal mass than the cob greenhouse, and thus temperatures fluctuate to a greater degree. Moving plants into this building was another step in the process of accustoming plants to natural conditions. As time and space allowed, we shifted plants outdoors during the day and back inside at night for greater acclimation. Once plants are out in the field, we have prepared them as best we can for the vagaries of our climate.

These cloudy days and re-occurring showers are beneficial despite the wet clothes and cold hands. Both overcast conditions and steady moisture ease the plant’s shock at being in a new environment. When the sun does shine the plants are ready for growth, eased into their garden locale and ready for a healthy season.

Transplanting is an exciting step in the spring gardening process. It represents a turning point between the equinox and solstice, a phase of transition in which gardens shake off their dormancy and suddenly come alive with the colors and vibrancy of a lush season. Spring will lead us to summer in rapid fashion.

as published in North Country News

Thursday, May 17, 2012

D Acres from a Danish point of view

By Katinka Bjerregaard and Pil Jeppesen from Copenhagen

In the winter 2012 we decided to travel to New England to experience the beautiful nature and landscapes as well as the big city atmosphere. We found out about D Acres of New Hampshire on a work exchange website that led us to the farms own website that tells you pretty much everything you need to know. We’re both city kids with no experience in farming so our concerns were if we would be able to contribute with anything. But as it turned out, that wasn’t a problem at all. And also, we figured that it would be a good way to meet local people.

When we first got here we were amazed how quickly we felt at home and we got our own little tree house out in the woods. Now we wake up every morning to the sound of birds singing – nice!

At the first day we got our first mission to complete – the big pile of doom. A big compost pile had been sitting comfortable for too long and now, it’s world needed to be turned upside down. If we turned the pile in less than two weeks, we would get the super human award – challenge accepted! Starting turning the pile we thought: “Gee! Now were in the country!” Now the new pile is gonna be the Danish Legacy!

One of the many good things about D Acres is that they have a hostel with many people visiting from all over the States. There was a Brazilian couple visiting the hostel and they went to climb near by in Rumney. After meeting them, we got to spent Katinka’s birthday climbing rocks for the first time. We were scared like hell but it was really awesome!

On the farm there are lots of different animals. We had the pleasure to meet both Henry and August (the oxen) – they chill a lot. Apart from chickens and ducks we have met all the pigs and the piglets – they’re so cute! But after this Friday’s event we may not be at the top of their list, though. Oh yes, we helped castrating the poor piglets! Luckily, it was just bad for them for about a minut and then they just ran around their own little pig world like nothing had happened. Brave little fellas! For us to get over it, well... It took a while, but it was really interesting to experience.

Of course, we also need to tell you about the food they make here. Everything is from their own organic gardens so the food is really authentic, fresh and good! Yummie! But still, Pil has to confess that she has now officially potatoed out. The potato dishes are really good but one can only eat so much.

What we’re also really amazed about is the rural nature and the beautiful view of the White Mountains.

So all in all, we will leave D Acres with lots of farming experiences such as transplanting, weeding (sigh), turning piles, castrating piglets, getting honey and bread addicted - and last but not least we have had the chance to get to know all the great people who make this sustainable farm a reality.

Thank you so much for this opportunity!

Katinka works at the big pile...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What's on the Menu: Permaculture Weekend II

This time of year can be a challenge in the kitchen, but at D Acres we work with the ingredients of the season. While the garden may be catching up, the weeds are already far ahead, and some of those weeds are exceptionally nutritious. Such early greens like, dandelion, sheep's sorrel, and lamb's quarter are filled with Vitamin C, and qualities that can feel cleansing to the pallate and the digestive system.
This weekend, the Permaculture Design Course filled their bellies with foraged food and the very last vestiges of the root cellar.
Simple Saturday Lunch:
Turnip & White Bean Soup with Basil
Muti-Grain Sourdough Bread
Chive Pesto
Fresh Salad
Early Radish

In the morning, I started the the Glenwood in the Outdoor Kitchen. The day before, I had defrosted a pork shoulder and set of pork ribs to serve for dinner. After a night marinated with a delicious tomato-herb-maple syrup sauce, I set it in a pan to slowly roast in the wood cookstove. Taking advantage of the already hot stove, I decided to cook lunch outdoors.
The Turnip & White Bean soup is simple and delicious. The trick with soup is to let your vegetable cook in the pot prior to adding any water or stalk. Let them sautee with your oil (or butter) of choice, herbs, and a little salt and pepper. The flavors will begin to meld together. After they cook for about 10-15 minutes, then add just enough stock or water to cover the vegetables; let this simmer for a while, again allowing the flavors to begin melding together--imagine simmering a special sauce or gravy. I wanted to use white beans for this soup because the turnips we grew last season are white or a light gold color. I used two types of white beans for this soup, both of which we grew and dried at D Acres: A small white bean called Saturday Night Special, and a large lima bean variety called Limelight. The lima bean was not a successful crop for us for several reason, only yeilding maybe a pound for the 1/4 pound we put in the gound--but tasty nonetheless. The combination of the two different beans turned out to be delicious. The limas cooked to a nice soft and smooth texture, while the tiney white beans we plentiful and added body to the soup. The basil was picked from out greenhouse and added at the end to give the soup a bright green touch and taste.

Decadant Saturday Dinner:
Roasted Pork Shoulder with Special Sauce
Crispy Baked Potato Shreds with Chive
Sauteed Shiitake Mushroom with Collards
Roasted Early Garlic
Fresh Salad

Cooking large pieces of meat can be duanting, but if you get started early enough and have a good working meat thermometer, then the end result will be juicy and tender. Slow cooking meat at low temperatures is ideal, especially if the meat has been marinating in a sauce or brine for over 6-8 hours. The flavors of your special suace will integrate completely. My special sauces are often a concoction of what's in the fridge and maple syrup. This particular suace had homemade tomato puree, homemade salsa, cider vinegar, salt pepper, our D Acres Culinary Herb Blend (oregano, chive, parsley, thyme, sage), and maple syrup.
The potato shred idea stems from potato pancakes. I wanted to make something like a potato pancake without frying them or adding any egg. I simply used a food processor with the grating attachment to shred the potatoes. I then added sunflower oil, salt, pepper and finely chopped chives, layed it out on a sheet pan and baked the potatoes at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. The end result was not exactly what I had hoped for; nevertheless, the diners were delighted by the crispy, slightly salty shreds. And interesting side dish to compliment the meat.
We have logs lining pathways along a couple of forest trails that have been innoculated with Shiitake mushroom spawn. When the weather is just right, they pop out gorgeous mushrooms ready for the picking. After a week of rain, the funghi were ready. The collard greens were grown last year and frozen, ready to cook for any meal. I added only a little salt and pepper to compliment the sweet flavor of the greens.
At garlic harvest last summer, some of the bulbs were missed, so they have resrouted this spring. Pulled out of the ground, the early garlic looks like a very small leek, or a spring onion. This is a simple dish as well (after a little prep cleaning up the garlic bulbs and stems). Toss the garlic with your favorite oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F. for about 20-30 minutes, until the whole stemm is tender and slightly golden in color.

Sunday Salad Lunch:
Bulgur Salad with Tomato, Spinach & Sheep's Sorrel
Agate Pinto Bean Salad with Mung Bean Sprouts
Potato Salad with Spinach & Tahini Dressing
Egg Salad with Homemade Mustard & Mayonnaise
Leftover Roasted Pork
Chive Pesto
Fresh Salad

Bulgur is wheat that has been steamed, then dried before being crushed into various sized grinds (fine, course). It is full of protein and high in vitamins since it has been minimally processed. I like using bulgur because you do not have to cook over the stove. Simply let it soak in water for at least 2-3 hours before draining and serving. Bulgur is the grain used in making the traditional tabouleh salad of the Mid-Eastern and Mediteranean regions of the world. The salad I created is based on tabouleh which used the combination of olive oil and the juice of lemon. This salad used sunflower oil and the tart lemon flavor came from the Sheep's Sorrel. Sheep's Sorrel is a menace in the garden, spreading by thin rubberband-like runner roots. But it nicely grows in easily harvested patches. The spinach is growing in our greenhouses and added more green color and flavor. I went to the cellar for diced tomatoes, canned in the fall of last year.
I happily incorporated bean protein with pinto beans we grew last year. I cooked the beans with whole cloves of garlic and a Spicy Hungarian Paprika pepper that was dried from last season. This salad was further flavored with a little toasted cumin seed, oil, and salt.
Making homemade mustard and mayonnaise is fun and easy. Using a mortar & pestle, crush mustard seeds (either yellow or brown) and add salt, and vinegar. Mix to a preferred consistency, and there you have mustard. Mayonnaise is best made with fresh eggs and a mild oil. We use sunflower oil at D Acres. A food processor is helpful as well. The trick to mayonnaise is a slight and steady stream of oil into your egg yolk, vinegar, salt mixture while the food processor is running. The oil is whipped fast and combines with the egg yolk to produce a smooth and creamy texture. I like to add a touch of paprika for color and spice. 

All in all is was a delicious weekend. If you would like to know more about these menu items and ingredients, please be in contact. Or join me in the kitchen every Third Thursday of the month for the Cooking with Season Workshop. We gather ingredients and cook dinner, then enjoy the meal together.

Enjoy! Regina

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creating an Edible Landscape

As our gardens gradually resume their lushness and vibrancy over these spring months, we are busy tending to the many plants, bushes, vines, trees, (and weeds) which fill our acres of edible areas. Our greenhouses are packed with tiny annual seedlings and intrepid starts not quite ready to face the vagaries of weather unprotected, and our orchard zones and perennial beds are thriving with our hardiest of plants. Although our annual plants receive high profile attention, we spend significant springtime hours tending to our perennial stock as well.

While we have finished our spring pruning of established nuts, fruits, and berries, we have been in a flurry of planting new stock these past few weeks: chestnuts, buartnuts, hazelburts, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, apples, asian pears, mulberries, quince, rhubarb, and lingonberry fill out our list of recent plantings. We’ve also, however, been busy dividing and transplanting established species.

This is a long and varied inventory. Over the past couple weeks you could find us digging about in patches of chives, walking onion, rattlesnake plaintain, and black locust to name a few. Each year, though, we focus primarily on the following species: comfrey, lupine, ella campagne, valerian, and mullein. These species are hardy and plentiful, and do wonders for our garden system.

There is, of course, the aesthetic element – as each of these plants produce beautiful flowers. The bees appreciate this as much as we do; having such species in abundance promotes healthy habitat for our pollinator species. However it is the underground efforts accomplished by these species that is so important to us. With long taproots, they are able to grow deep into the ground, accessing nutrients that other, shallower rooted plants are unable to reach. Furthermore, the ability of plants such as lupine to fix nitrogen through their root system further enriches our soil chemistry. The vascular system of broad-leafed plants such as comfrey, for example, enhances the ability of the plant to maximize its use of solar energy and available soil nutrition. The result is a plant that is invaluable as animal fodder, a compost additive, and as garden mulch.

Attending to perennial stock in this manner, we are boldly working for the future. While annual plants will provide our short-term calories, perennials represent the long-term viability of our homestead: food production, soil fertility, and pollinator habitat are all provided by these species. Edible food forests are our goal and the drive behind our farmer imaginations. The potential of such an edible, perennial system is immense – for ourselves, for our landscape, for our community, and for future generations.

Want to learn more? D Acres, in conjunction with PSU’s Center for the Environment, PSU’s Common Ground Club, Thomas Roberts Salon (Plymouth, NH), and PAREI, are hosting Dave Jacke, renowned permaculturalist and author of Edible Forest Gardening. To be held at Boyd 144 (PSU Campus), 7pm, on Saturday, May 12, Jacke’s presentation will focus on the principles and processes of edible landscaping. Don’t miss this opportunity! Perennial stock is our insurance for the future.

as published in Northcountry News