There are herds out there that need to be thinned, we are reminded by the pap pap pap of gunfire that becomes most vehement round about sunset. This time of year, the only creature more abundant than the deer in the valley would have to be Santa.
And apparently a fair number of hunters, frustrated by the absence of Bambi, have taken to bagging a couple of the jolly red men. Look at the fallen one in this picture:
I agree we are overwhelmed with Santas but what is shameful is the way hunters will leave the affable fella right where he fell:
Aha! you say. So this is how a tomato farmer amuses himself in winter!
None of my business what the hunters are shooting at these days. We’re in the vegetable business, trying our best to pretend it’s still summer out there. The pigs are doing a pretty good job of it, gorging on the very last of the spotty tomatoes:
And here is Jessi, knocking snow off the roof of the greenhouse while Chris harvests Pak Choi for this week’s share.
We have overstocked some of the share items to make up for blemishes wrought by the Arctic conditions. And even though work on the bake oven has been temporarily postponed, Chris is out there doing his thing this morning:
Zounds! Winter has not even arrived yet! This roller coaster ride is supposed to bring us a balmy weekend so hopefully we’ll have a roof on the oven by my next post.
All right, so maybe I’ve extrapolated a bit maliciously on the theme of Christmas kitsch. I’ve been naughty, as Santa would say.
If we can put a man on the moon, I’ve always said, surely we can place a cold tolerant inflatable Santa in our front yards!
Now there’s a locavore’s mantra! And here’s another: Got any recipes for poached Santa?
“April is the cruelest month,” wrote TS Eliot in what is arguably the only comprehensible line in his most famous poem, “The Wasteland”. He was being ironic, of course, pointing out the cruelty of fresh tendrils of spring-borne life gaining succor from the death and rot of a previous generation.
This year on the farm, November proved to be the cruelest month for similarly ironic reasons. Let me explain:
If you have been to the farm, you have already met Maisey and Delilah, our Jersey heifers, our great white hope. By great white hope, I refer to the anticipated flow of butterfat rich milk, for which Jerseys are renowned. For the past year and a half we have been trying like mad to get the heifers knocked up so that we can proceed with the business of making butter and aging cheese.
And here, rendered by the deft hand of my daughter Gwendolyn, is Cecilia, our resident calico cat, taking time out from her favorite pastimes: hauling in rodents half her size, rolling around on her back and ambushing our black cat, Alice. A transplant from New York City, Cecilia arrived at the farm three years ago and quickly earned a reputation for wide-eyed curiosity, pattering about the packing shed at 3 in the morning as we loaded the truck for market. Or watching at a sly distance in the barn as the heifers and goats butted heads over the hay piled up before them, her instincts grasping that one day, the entitlements due a seasoned barn cat would include a daily bowl of warm fresh milk…
Ah, that milk! How to get it? Plan A had been to watch for one of the heifers to come into heat and then call the Select Sire man to insert “sexed” semen that has been mined from some hunky Jersey bull. “Sexed” semen is a technological breakthrough that has come on the market in the past decade: imbued with superior genetics, the semen is run through a centrifuge that separates the X (female) chromosomes from the Y (male) chromosomes. Inserted into a cow’s uterus, “X” laden semen promises a 93% chance of female offspring, an outcome which would not only increase the size of our milking herd but would spare me a future confrontation with my conscientious daughters over my refusal to keep a young male calf in the pasture as if he were a pet.
Here is a painting of Delilah done by Gwendolyn when Delilah was less than a year old:
One thing I have learned is how to tell when a cow is in heat: she will bawl incessantly. Or one of the cows will try to mount another cow. If Maisey tries to mount Delilah and Delilah scoots away, Maisey is in heat. But if Delilah stays there, Delilah is the one in heat.
Three times when one of the heifers came into heat, I called the Select Sire man to come out and artificially insert “sexed” semen.
And thrice they refused. I called a Veterinarian, who reached deep into both heifers to check on the plumbing and shrugged: “They should be able to bear. Keep trying.”
Well, I was paying good money for those elite gender biased genetics. It may be the case, I thought, that what the heifers would respond to was….the real thing.
So enter Plan B, aka Squirt.
Squirt was a yearling bull in my friend Harold’s pasture, a randy young creature whose growing passions were making life difficult for the other inhabitants of Harold’s pasture. Squirt stood a good hand and a half shorter than Maisey and Delilah when he entered my pasture back in April. And boy, what an introduction ensued: the spit firing hormones, the charade of emotions, the beefy animals circling and crooning, their motivational centers gone haywire on account of some musk that provoked no sense of rapture from me.
The new approach seemed messy, random, unscientific. Squirt brought to mind another Nobel laureate poet, Seamus Heaney, who, drawing much of his inspiration from the farm he was raised on, published his first collection, Death of a Naturalist, a year after TS Eliot’s death. The outlaw in Heaney’s poem, “The Outlaw”, is an unlicensed service bull. Heaney describes the brief business transaction that transpires the day he takes a cow to visit this bull:
His knobbled forelegs straddling her flank,
He slammed life home, impassive as a tank,
Dropping off like a tipped-up load of sand.
There’s no ambiguity about Heaney’s word choice here. Years ago, before he won the Nobel Prize, when I was just out of college and I fancied myself a budding poet, I met Seamus Heaney at Grasmere, in England’s Lake District. I was riding my bicycle through the region and was lucky enough to have a friend who was presenting a paper at the William Wordsworth Conference there. He was a big man, as I recall, a framework fit for farm chores, a big man with a magical voice and a genius for teasing perfect meanings out of his words. A very different poet from TS Eliot. In retrospect, I must have imagined myself, just out of college, to be more in the metaphysical, opaque camp of a TS Eliot. But these days, I keep a collection of Heaney by my bedside.
At any rate, I would never have imagined back then that I would one day earn my keep as a farmer. I watched the interactions between Maisey and Delilah and Squirt, watched to see the young stud “slam life home”, but every time Squirt tried to straddle one of them with his “knobbled forelegs,” my girls slipped out from under him. Maisey and Delilah just ignored him, as though he was some pesky little brother.
Whatever. The demands of a vegetable farm distracted me from the pasture as spring gave way to summer but every so often I wandered absent-mindedly into Squirt’s realm, to mow the pasture or to retrieve a water container, only to find myself resorting to rodeo clown antics for survival, shooing and waving and backing away from this hoofing beast that wanted to square off with me. By summer’s end, Squirt stood as tall as the gals he had been brought in to mount. And yet, every time he tried to do his thing they scooted away coquettishly and then held counsel among themselves. Clearly, we had a dearth of fertility up here on the hill. Or maybe the girls just wanted to hang out and chew cud a little while longer, without the burden of raising children. Like so many twenty and thirty and forty somethings out there still living with mom and pop, Maisey and Delilah longed for an extended adolescence.
And poor feckless Squirt took to bawling his nearly soundless bawl, having been metaphorically castrated by two heartless heifers. By the time we were pulling tomato stakes out of the ground, I deemed him too dangerous to keep in my pasture. My God, what if a fallen tree broke the fence down and he raced into the neighbor’s yard to enact his sexual frustration? Harold informed me that he wanted to put Squirt to the auction, which made me sad because I had grown fond of the rambunctious beast and there was virtually no chance anyone would buy him, horns and all, for a service bull. In exchange for his reproductive services to me, I had fattened him on my pasture. Within a few weeks, he would be meat.
Hetrick was called in. Hetrick is the guy with the trailer who shuttles livestock to an fro for a reasonable fee. Everybody calls him Hetrick but he prefers to be called Brian to his face. I sequestered Squirt in the barnyard and Hetrick backed his trailer up and together, Harold, Hetrick and I began coaxing and teasing Squirt, who must have known where all of this was leading because he reared and bucked and ransacked the barn in his efforts to stay put. But Hetrick was a pro at these situations and somehow managed to get a frantic Squirt to gallop thunderously up the ramp into his trailer.
After Hetrick pulled away, I was overcome with gloom. Of course, I know that on a farm it is business as usual to send livestock males to the butcher but I was new to livestock farming. Plus, to make matters worse, I found poor Cecilia dead in the barn, probably trampled to death by Squirt in his last fight to stay alive. A victim of her own insatiable curiosity.
Well, I thought, time to get all of my bad news over and done with. I called for the veterinarian to get a pregnancy test for my two prudes, knowing full well that it is business as usual on a farm to send sterile cows to the butcher, too. Maisey was easy to rope to a fence but Delilah put up her usual fight. She was almost as tenacious as Squirt in preventing me from tying her down for the preg test but the Vet helped out and soon we had her, too, under control.
Well…all I can say is that Squirt did not venture into my pasture solely to put on weight. And like most of us, they went about their business with the utmost discretion because none of us even knew. I suppose Squirt had to grow some more to gain my girls’ respect because it took about two and a half months from his first day on my farm to make them both pregnant, which is a lucky thing because the calves are due in early March and not the dead of winter.
Needless to say, we are all celebrating on the farm: thumbing through cheese recipes and studying the chemistry behind mold and shopping for butter churns and pasteurizers and cheese molds. Blueprints are being cobbled together for a makeshift milking parlor and a cheese room. The cheese room is the bovine equivalent of a nursery. Who cares whether it’s a boy or girl?
Two lives taken, and two given. Goodbye Squirt. Goodbye Cecilia.
And goodbye Seamus Heaney, who died in August at the age of 74. Somewhere on the planet, a future Nobel Laureate is submitting his first collection of poetry. All I know is it ain’t gonna be me.
Deeper into radish season we go and dang nammit, those tomatoes refuse to die. We did suffer some ice burn on the plant tips but our southern facing hillside with its perpetual breezes kept King Frost from doing his ashes to ashes dust to dust thing. All hail the belated arrival of Indian Summer: pale blue sky unblemished by cloud but for the manmade one rising stealthily to the south of us from the ever chuffing Limerick towers. Out on the horizon, the wind had sculpted our endearing nuclear puff into what looked to me like a mirror image of the boot of Italy so I tried to take a picture of it with my iphone but somehow it didn’t come out so well.
So I settled on more organic pictures reminiscent of Italy: one of the cold loving Italian chicories growing in the field.
Another of CSA manager Stefanie Angstadt nourishing herself from the same soil that has nourished her ancestors since the 1700s.
Here she gnoshes on a tangy esoteric red mottled green named after the Italian village, Castelfranco, where it is famous. Full heads of radicchio should make it into your shares by next week. Although Stefanie is staying in the area to complete the book she is working on, she is stepping down from her duties at Eckerton Hill Farm. We are grateful for her energy and her ability to organize a farm that was a bit overrun with weeds, both literal and methaphorical, when she arrived.
A huge thanks goes out to the Eckerton Hill crew, to Maryann Terillo and especially to Mario Juarez, for the amazing food that was served Sunday at our annual pot luck/pig roast. And thanks to all of you who contributed to a splendid event. Mario, too, is moving on to work in the kitchen at Bolete, so those of you who pick up your shares there will still have him around. Thanks for your creativity in the kitchen, Mario!
Don’t be surprised if Santa drops some sungolds into your stockings come December!
Season of zinfandel sunsets and great blank sheets of morning miasma dissipating soundlessly above the burbling streams that form the backbone of the Oley Valley. Watch you don’t run over the wooly bear making its madcap trek across Lobachsville Road! Or that wooly bear! Or that one! Yikes! Now that tomato season has given way to radish season, the blood has begun to thicken and I have time to contemplate things like the mortality of reckless young wooly bears. Ah, the luxuries of farming! You will be wishing those wooly bears were cabbage worms when you see the broccoli in your shares this week. And gladly would you run them down! Hopefully we dropped cabbage worm- free broccoli in your share. But just in case, we gave you two heads each. When we take the broccoli to Greenmarket in New York City, the sparrows descend from park trees to clean the worms for us. Like you, they prefer their broccoli organic. Anyhow, that’s how you know we didn’t spray! Dunk your broccoli in cold water to get them out.
Ok, to get away from wormy subjects: We are finally getting around to forking out the potatoes that we abandoned back when the tomatoes started to bomb. And it’s been such a phenomenal tomato season that WE STILL HAVE TOMATOES! Potatoes, beets, broccoli, bread still warm from the hearth. Make yourself a hearty warm meal tonight and think of us up on the hill as the wind swarms down out of the north to finish off the tomatoes and basil and eggplant and peppers. Luckily we have lots of cold hardy crops and nine greenhouses still in operation to keep our ark afloat through the cold dark days ahead.
Don’t forget our annual pot luck and pig roast at the farm this Sunday. Let us know if you can make it.
Remember, we are just beginners. Although we have been a farm for nearly 20 years, we are only in our second CSA season, and we are still learning. It was only last winter that we dipped our proverbial toes into the CSA water with our pilot 35-member program. We received overwhelming positive feedback from this courageous inaugural group, and so, we decided to do it again…
…with you: our cherished 80 members that are the reason we wake up every morning. Here we find ourselves in the second season, this time, full of summer’s bounty, and we have to stop and ask all of you, how the heck are we doing? Whatever we can do to make it better, please let us know. We are doers. We act on your suggestions as best as we can, as our winter CSA members can attest. We are committed to making you 100% happy in this CSA experience, and we welcome any feedback you may have – positive or negative. So, don’t hold back!
Click below to answer the 8-question survey. It will only take a few minutes and will help us forever! And we hope it well help you, too!
Everyone thinks they are special. But we folks at Eckerton Hill Farm really think we’ve got it going on. Tim’s no-spray sweet corn is a rare find in this valley, and it was all worth the grind. No pesticides or fertilizers were used in the making of this food; the sweet kernels were born from peat and reared in soil nourished with mushroom compost. Pests were kept at bay by carnivorous insects and transistor radios. And each ear was lovingly hand-picked by a human.
Enjoy it raw, roasted, steamed or grilled. Read on to learn more about the beginnings of Tim’s sweet corn here…
New potatoes: those ineffably delicate-as-butter spud nuggets pulled out of the ground in pre-adolescent condition, before their skins have even been able to form completely. Here are Mario and Chris forking out red-gold new potatoes for this week’s share.
While marching around the grounds, offering my two cents to Chris and Mario as they toiled away, I quickly became aware that I was not the only pest in the potato field. The dreaded Colorado potato beetle had found us. It does not take long for a phalanx of these slimy orange creatures to reduce a field of potatoes to leafless stems. So oozy and disgusting are they that even the most organic of growers will feel an urge to unleash an arsenal of chemicals aimed at saving the spud.
Well, there are chemicals acceptable to organic standards that some farmers use on the potato beetle. There is even a GMO potato with an organic pesticide, Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), genetically inserted into the cells of the potato plant. The potato beetle takes one bite out of the plant and drops dead. The savvy consumer is left with the question: What happens when I take a bite out of the same plant?
So I wish I could impress you with my own patented super sophisticated organic technique for doing away with this icky pest but I am sorry to inform you that my methods are a little more uh…shall we say…cave man-like. In the past, I would wade through the potato field and squish the little buggers between my thumb and forefinger until my hands were stained a sickly yellow. This method is a throwback to my gardening days, when the potato section of my garden consisted of a couple dozen plants. As my potato patch grew larger over the years and I began to hire employees I found that squishing Colorado Potato Beetles between thumb and forefinger was one job the help unanimously refused to do at Eckerton Hill Farm. So I spent hours and hours squishing the little buggers and dropping them amidst the growing potatoes.
This year, as the potato patch has grown to one full acre, I have settled upon a new tactic. From the sink, I snagged a spent strawberry yogurt container, drying yogurt still adhering to its sides. Then I began knocking potato beetles live into the yogurt container. Many years ago, when the rose garden would become infested with Japanese Beetles, we used to put gasoline into a glass container and then fill the container up with Japanese Beetles, which magnified like splendid metallic gems as they drowsed permanently in the fumes behind the glass. Gas was cheap back then, I guess. No way I was going to enlist petroleum in my so-called sustainable methods. To pick all of the potato beetles off my plants took me as long as it took Mario and Chris to fork out all of the new potatoes for this week’s share. I was left with quite a stash of live Colorado Potato Beetles.
What to do with my Colorado Potato Beetles? It did cross my mind that I could include the affable critters in this week’s share. Live yogurt coated potato beetles? The chefs in New York City pay mucho dinero for a delicacy like this one. And here we are offering it to our valued CSA members….
OK, ok. Time for a Plan B. “Why not feed them to the chickens?” suggested Jessi, which made me think of the potato beetles’ vibrant orange color and how the same beetles ingested by our layer hens might make for some downright neon yolks in the frying pan. So into a feed bowl went my pests. But alas! Our hens nibbled on a few of them and then lost interest. So over to the pigs they went, where the pigs trampelled more of the beetles than they actually snorted up.
Not one to give up easily – after all I have been farming for 18 years — I decided to try and enhance the flavor of the Colorado Potato Beetles for the palates of my most discriminating hens. In fact I kicked off my own cooking show for the benefit of those hens, which you can view at the bottom of this post.
If only I could speak with Julia Child’s accent, maybe I could convince those hens….
So we’ve made it to week six and the brassicas are having their heyday. Note the sassy collards and the full heads of broccoli in your bags. Cabbage will be coming your way next week so blow some dust off that cabbage shredder if you are sauerkraut minded.
The muddy conditions dished up by the elements have somehow managed to make the team merrier in the field. If you can’t beat the weather, join it.
We’re blessed with a fair weather team here. Which brings me to another point. A lot of people asked me whether it was true that we actually slept out with the tomatoes through those cool nights in May as I asserted in a previous blog. The answer is no. Tomatoes subjected to prolonged periods of human snoring are susceptible to blossom end rot. OK, ok. So now I’ve covered one lie with another lie. A lot of BS gets slung around here on the farm as you might have guessed. What do you think that spreader is for? Your carrots and beets will be sweeter for the compost added to the soil in which they grew. And so will your lettuce. A little BS goes a long way.
Feel free to stop and say hello to the goats, heifers, laying hens and little piggies when you pick up your vegetables at the farm. And check your calendar to see if you can make it to the farm barbeque on June 30, when the first bread of the season will be coming out of the mouth of our just completed bake oven.
We send a thank you out to Kutztown University student Maggie Rineman for her media project on Eckerton Hill Farm and local food systems, “Occupy…Your Refrigerator? Eckerton Hill Farm’s Local, Organic CSA.” Follow this link to read it!
On the farm: Tuscan kale and rainbow chard grow tall in the warmer weather – finally!
Ok, so we’ve made it to week two, and once again I’m going to talk about the weather. I guess it must seem like us farmers have nothing better to do.
We are most grateful for the industry of those tomato hornworms who came out of hibernation early to spin protective cocoons around the 20,000 or so tomatoes we had planted outside before Monday night’s frost.
We’ve got them trained well. Thanks, too, to all of the members of the team who slept out in those cocoons so that their body warmth could function as a sort of radiator to those tender young seedlings. After two cold nights with the tomatoes, we are all walking around with a pretty nasty case of the aphids, but that’s the farmer’s life.
Things are back to normal again. Normal temperatures, normal weeds dwarfing the carrots and the beets, normal flea beetles riddling the bok choy with holes. Out in the pasture, Squirt and Delilah took a moment to pose for the camera on their way to the bovine prom.
Yes, it’s that season all right. Hopefully, Squirt will put us on the road to plentiful butter in ways that the artificial inseminators couldn’t. But I don’t know, Delilah is being a bit of a priss. We may need to bring a master “heevah havah” on board to get the job done. You’ll have to consult your Pa. Dutch dictionary for a sound definition of the the term “heevah havah”. For now, enjoy the fresh veggies and the accommodating sun.
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Shop items are pre-order/pay for pick up Wednesdays & Saturdays at our market stand in the NYC Union Square Greenmarket.
Order cut-off is 2:00 pm the day before market. We cannot guarantee order fulfillment after this time.
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