Variety Selection and Seed Ordering

Gathering Together Farm will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, and over those years we’ve trialed just about every kind of vegetable that could possibly grow in this climate. Currently, we plant hundreds of varieties of dozens of crops. Each growing season, new varieties are sown at the farm while others are culled because of poor performance.

Last week, Joelene (seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) sat down with John and Sally (co-owners), Rodrigo (field crew manager) and Rose (human resources, customer service, and marketing manager) to go over the fruit and vegetable variety list from last year and reassess what worked and what didn’t. Each member of the annual planning meeting looked at the same vegetables from a unique perspective, bringing his or her own experience to the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joelene is concerned about seed availability and expense, germination rates, disease resistance, special infrastructure needs (drip irrigation, floating row cover, etc.), space management, and the timing of maturation.

Rodrigo focuses on ease of planting, weeding, trellising and harvesting. He also pays special attention to yield.

Sally, as manager of the packing shed, looks at ease of washing and packing, quality, shelf life, and storage properties.

John, as a farmers’ market vendor, judges appearance, taste, demand, and additive value to the diversity of a display.

Rose sees what is most sought after by restaurants and other wholesale accounts, when in the season crops go out for sale, and how much we are charging for each item, giving insight into what makes money for the farm.

It’s very rare than any single variety is top-rated in every category of judgment. A particular type of vegetable may:

…be gorgeous but not taste great.

…be loved by everyone but get discontinued by seed companies.

…look good but not keep long enough.

…have a high yield under ideal growing conditions but have heavy losses when things are too wet/cold.

…be attractive to customers in the dead of winter but passed by in August.

…have exceptional flavor but be prone to disease.

Often times, the selection process is less a decision about which varieties to grow or don’t grow and more about the proportions of each variety grown. As the farm expands, there is more ground and more need for a diversity of crop types, too.

Joelene has spent many hours recently calculating the farm’s seed needs, reviewing seed inventory, and placing orders. She’s already purchased the vast majority of seed needed to plant greenhouses with early summer tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, etc..  She tries to order just enough of this high value seed because it’s expensive to maintain an excess inventory, and some seed will go bad if stored for over a year.

Joelene will buy many pounds at a time of some types of seed that do store well and will be used in large quantities. For example, she ordered no less than 2,000,000 carrot seeds for the coming year.

Joelene’s major seed and plant material sources are:

Wild Garden Seed (Gathering Together Farm‘s seed-growing partner)

Johnny’s Selected Seed

Osborne Seed Company

Territorial Seed Company

Seeds of Change

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Totally Tomatoes

Seed Savers Exchange

Snow Seed Co.

Rocky Farms LLC (potatoes)

Lassen Canyon Nursery (strawberries)

The first few seeds of the 2012 growing season were sown last week, but soon the propagation greenhouse will be bustling with activity–seeding, grafting, thinning and watering. Joelene will direct seed the first of the early spring greens in greenhouses this week, too.

In the coming months, we’ll be sure to share photos and information on all the greenhouse prep and seedling tending as well as insight into our farming and marketing practices. We hope to see you at our 2012 winter farmer’s markets: Saturdays in Newport, Corvallis, and Portland and Sundays in Hillsdale.

 

Kale and Collards: Varieties, Growing Practices, and Culinary Inspiration

‘winter red’ kale

Kale and collards have always been and will always be staples at Gathering Together Farm. Oregon’s frosty nights and wet climate produce sweet and tender greens when other more glamorous vegetables aren’t available. GTF grows ten varieties of kale and collards on two to three acres of ground annually, and the extended harvest is sold at farmers’ markets, to our restaurant and grocery store clients, and through our wholesale distributer.

bunches of ‘lacinato’ kale headed to several restaurants in the Portland area

Having a diverse variety list of kales and collards (as wells as most vegetables grown on the farm) allows GTF to offer distinctive tastes and looks to our customers. Often times, different varieties of the same crop will have slightly staggered maturity schedules, allowing for a longer and fuller harvest season. Additionally, if for some reason seed of one variety or another isn’t available for a year or is discontinued altogether, Joelene (GTF’s seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) won’t have to scramble to fill in with an unknown variety or seed source. A good majority of GTF’s kale and collard seed is produced on-farm by our partners at Wild Garden Seed, but we also buy seed from Johnny’s Selected Seed and Osborne Seed Company.

‘winter red’ kale
‘white peacock’ kale

Kale: ‘Lacinato‘ and ‘Lacinato Rainbow                                            Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Lacinato kale (aka black kale, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale) is exceptionally flavorful and is the most sought after by our restaurant clients. Unfortunately, it is one of the lower-yielding varieties that we grow. It takes the longest growing period of the kales to reach maturity, and overwintered lacinato is the first variety to bolt in the spring, producing a nice raab and then dying off early.

Kale: ‘White Russian                                                                                    Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

White Russian kale is arguably the sweetest flavored kale that we grow. It’s also the most vigorous and cold hardy of our kale varieties, and overwintered white Russian kale produces an abundant spring flush of new growth. Both seasoned and novice gardeners would be well-served by growing this variety.

Kale: ‘Winter Red                                                                                            Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Much like white Russian, this red Russian-type kale is delicious and produces heavily in the spring.

Kale: ‘Red Ursa                                                                                                Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Red Ursa kale is very showy and attractive with its signature frills. It is the last of the kale varieties to bolt in the spring, producing the last raab.

‘green Russian’, ‘lacinato’, and ‘winterbor’ kale bunches at the farmers market
‘lacinato’ kale

Kale: ‘Winterbor‘ (hybrid)                                                                              Seed Source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Winterbor kale is a favorite among the field crew because the leaves are so ruffled and dense that only a few of them make an entire bunch.

Flowering Kale: ‘Red Peacock‘ and ‘White Peacock (hybrids)   Seed Source: Osborne Seed Company

Confusingly, flowering kales are so named because of their ornamental leaves not because of any exceptional flowers. Gathering Together Farm grows flowering kale types only in the fall because the varieties won’t transform into the vibrant shades of pink unless they’re chilled at night. Peacock kale varieties are sold in bunches at the farmers’ markets and to restaurants, but much of it is cut at a young stage for salad mix.

Collards: ‘Champion‘                                                                                      Seed Source: Wild Garden Seed

Collards: ‘Flash                                                                                                 Seed Source: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

‘red ursa’ kale
‘lacinato’ kale

For fall/winter-harvested kale and collards, Joelene seeds one planting in the greenhouse in late June that gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She seeds a second planting in the greenhouse in mid July that also gets transplanted out about three weeks later. She also direct seeds a third planting the first week in August. (Jolene recommends that home gardeners direct seed fall kale and collards in mid-July or the very beginning of August.) Johnny’s Selected Seeds advises spacing plants every 8″ in rows 18″-30″ apart.

The field crew begins harvesting kale (and collards) in mid-September, but the greens don’t reach their peak of flavor until they get consistent nighttime frosts. The plants will go dormant because of lack of light and heat in December and January, but the fall kale that doesn’t die off due to extreme cold will begin growing again in February. Depending on the variety, kales will begin to bolt in March or April, producing edible kale raabs (the bolting stems and buds on any plant in the brassica family–kale, turnips, broccoli, etc.).

‘winterbor’ kale
frosty ‘lacinato rainbow’ kale being grown for seed

Joelene seeds another batch of spring kale and collards in the greenhouse in late February that gets planted out three or four weeks later. The tender transplants spend the first few weeks outside growing under floating row cover. Around the time that the overwintered kales and kale raabs are winding down (early May), the field crew begins harvesting the new crop of spring kale. Though it will keep growing over the summer, its taste intensifies as its sugar content decreases with the warm weather, so spring kale is usually abandoned and eventually tilled under in late June or early July.

flowering ‘peacock’ kales
‘flash’ collards

Kale has a mostly undeserved reputation of being tough and having a strong, unpleasant taste. That may be due to the fact that some folks are eating kale in the summer or in climates that don’t get frosty nighttime temperatures. The reality is that good kale is tender and sweet. It is easily prepared in a quick stir fry with a splash of soy sauce and a sautéed leek, or in the recently trendy form of “kale chips”, but if you’re looking for some slightly more complex inspiration, check out these kale-centric recipes:

Lemon Kale Salad + Seared Salmon from Sprouted Kitchen

Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup from Joy the Baker

Potato and Kale Skillet Gratin from The Year In Food

Roasted Yam and Kale Salad Rolls from The Bounty Hunter

Enjoy!

Lucky #1 Sourdough Levain

One of the best experiences of the past year was developing technique and recipe for our country levain. Working with sourdough is an exercise in patience and love. The sourdough culture that gives this bread its character, its profile, and its lasting power is fed every day. In return it helps us to make bread. The culture is years old, and this loaf was started 48+ hours ago. Any shortcuts taken subtract from what this loaf can be. We bake our bread in a wood-fired oven. Another exercise in patience and love. An oven is a fickle thing and must be watched carefully if one wants the best results. But what results! The oven spring can’t be matched.

Liverwurst in the Style of GTF…

Liverwurst in the Style of GTF:

If you have a whole pig by chance, make some liverwurst and serve it to a gaggle of friends with red wine and crackers. It makes one feel elementally healthy. Split some firewood or something.

 

 

ingredient

Weight(g)

%

Scraps, shoulder, kidneys

500

33%

Liver

500

33%

Picked head

500

33%

salt

27

1.8%

pink salt

3

.2%

pepper

6

.4%

cardamom

.45

.03%

mace

1.35

.09%

ginger

1.35

.09%

onions

75

5%

Beef middles

 

Place your pigs head in a big enough pot and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim all of the scudge that comes to the surface. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add all the normal aromatics (whole carrots, onions, celery, bay leaf) and simmer for 4 hours.

Remove the head from the pot and let cool enough to handle. Strain the poaching liquid. Return it to the pot. When the head is cool enough to handle, pick all the meat from the head. It is a bit gnarl,y but you needn’t be too choosey. Everything but glands and bones is fair game. Don’t forget the tongue. Weigh the harvest from your pig’s head and calculate the recipe.

Julienne the onions and sauté till translucent and beginning to color. Pull off the fire and leave to the side at room temperature.

Weigh and poach all the scraps left over from your butchering, the shoulder sliced into pieces that will fit into the grinder, and any organs such as kidney and heart until cooked through.

Remove from the poaching liquid but keep the pot and liquid on the fire.

Take the still warm head, the bits you were poaching, the onions and the liver and pass them all through the grinder. It will be soupy.

Add all the seasonings and mix well.

Now would be a good time to test the mixture. Lay a piece of plastic wrap  flat on the table and put a tablespoon of the mixture in the middle.

Wrap up the liverwurst like a beggars purse and tie the end. Toss the little liverwurst grenade into the simmering poaching liquid for five minutes. Remove and place in ice water for five more. Taste and correct seasonings.

If it tastes right, and I bet it will, stuff into beef middles.

Place the wursts into a pot that will hold them with room to spare and fill with cold water.  Salt the water generously. Bring  to a simmer over a medium heat and poach until the wursts reach 150°F internal temperature. Drain and cool under cold running water for five minutes. Leave to cool in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Call your friends and enjoy.

 

 

 

CSA 2011 – Week 20: This Land is Your Land

As many of you know, we have added on small chunks of land here and there for the past few years now. One of our newest additions is right across the street from our main production greenhouse. This past spring, the owners of the property had the hybrid tulip poplars removed and we transplanted our fall brassicas into the field in July. Those brassicas are now thriving and that is where your past few week’s of kales and collards were planted.

This next year is going to be a whole new story for us. We are taking over the lease of a 70– acre plot of land formerly farmed by a transitional organic grain farmer. Much of this land is 3 years away from being certified organic, so we are coming up with what to do with it until then. For now, Dan and John are in the process of moving the whole compost operation and equipment over there right now. We may lease some of the land to livestock raising, or maybe grow some transitional organic sweet corn there.

The main goal and excitement behind this huge chunk of land is not to actually grow more vegetables, but to be able to give large parcels of land a rest. We could then grow cover crops for longer, while cutting disease pressure at the same time. This is still in the works, but there’s no doubt it leaves a lot of possibilities for the future at GTF.

Parsnip Puree
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces.
2-3 medium baked potatoes
1/2 cup cream or sour cream
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook parsnips in boiling salted water about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and puree in a food processor along with scooped out potato flesh. Add cream, butter and ginger and process until well blended. Season to taste. *Parsnips have a wonderful sweet flavor, and go great with carrots too. Try using them in soup, or roasted!

Squash Towels! Have any old large bath towels laying around the house that need a new home? Bring them down to GTF! We have been enjoying a wonderful squash washing season and are in need of old towel donations for drying them. We’ll gladly take them off your hands!

What’s in the Box?

1.5 lb Red Potatoes (Colorado rose or Rose gold) – Steam, roast, fry, mash, these are versatile.

Carrots, bulk (~1 lb) – Shred them on salad, sauté in butter with salt, or eat plain.

3 onions (2 yellow, 1 red)– Caramelize, eat raw sliced thin on sandwiches, or add to a slaw or potato salad.

1 bunch beets– Cut beets off greens. Boil, roast or fry beets. Try grating them raw. Use the greens too! Sautee with olive oil or butter, salt, and pepper.

1 ambercup squash– Cut in half, remove seeds, place on a sheet pan, flesh side down. You may oil the pan a bit so it does not stick. Add a couple cups of water too, so the squash steams slightly. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes-1 hour. You can use this squash in place of pumpkin in any recipe, or make a soup with it! Ambercup tends to be a bit on the dry side so it may need more moisture.

Bok Choy– Sauté in butter or olive oil and salt. It goes great with fish. Add chile flakes for a kick.

1 red Italian pepper, 1 red bell—Grill, roast, or just eat raw; they are sweet.

2 Leeks– Use in soups or sautés. Chop them, then rinse them a bit. Dirt gets inside leek layers easily.

Parsnip-Chop into small pieces and use in soups or roast with other vegetables.

1 tomato– Chop and put in soup or salad. Add to sandwiches or wraps.

Balsamic Carrot Salad
1 pound carrots, peeled and julienne small (thinly sliced pieces)
2-3 celery stalks, chopped fine
2 red peppers, seeded and cut into small slices
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cups balsamic dressing

For the dressing:
2 teaspoons Dijon-type mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix the mustard and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking or mixing the vinegar. Add salt and honey to taste.

For the salad, combine all the ingredients and serve. You may use grated kohlrabi in place of the celery. Try adding some finely chopped red onion, or grated beets!

Beet Soup
6 medium beets
4 tablespoons butter
1 quart filtered water
Sea salt or fish sauce and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions or parsley for garnish
crème fraiche or sour cream

Peel beets, chop coarsely and sauté very gently in butter for about 1/2 hour or until tender. Add water, bring to a boil and skim. Simmer about 15 minutes. Puree soup with a handheld blender, or food processor. Season to taste. Garnish with chopped green onions and sour cream or creme fraiche.

Ambercup Leek Soup
1 ambercup squash
2 leeks
2 tablespoons butter
6 cups water, or stock
1 cup milk or cream
Salt and pepper

Chop the leeks into small slices. Heat a large pot up with the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the leeks. Meanwhile, cut the rind off of the squash; either a knife or a peeler may work. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash up into 1-inch size cubes. Once the leeks are soft and cooked, add the squash and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or so. Add the water/ stock and milk. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the squash is cooked all the way. Puree with a handheld or standup blender. Season to taste and serve.