Saturday, May 25, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Turnover Pie Recipe

Strawberry Rhubarb Turnover Pie Recipe

We've been enjoying the first fruits of spring while we watch our own crops grow. Fresh, local asparagus from an Amish farm down the road along with their early strawberries grown in their hoop-house. With the sun out again, we made grilled asparagus and garlic-Parmesan chicken wings. Soon we will be enjoying this dish with out own home-grown chicken wings! 

While we hope to establish our own asparagus and strawberry patch next year, we do have a few nice looking rhubarb bushes! They're just starting to turn red, so what better to make then Strawberry Rhubarb Pie! 

All-Butter Crust:

-2 cups flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-10 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1/4 cup water
-1 tablespoon melted butter
-1 teaspoon sugar


-2 cups sliced rhubarb (sliced 1/2 inch thick)
-2 cups sliced strawberries
-1/2 cup sugar
-3 tablespoons flour
-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. In a food processor or in a medium bowl with a pastry blender, combine the flour, sugar, and salt for the crust, mix well. 

2. Cut the 10 tablespoons butter into smaller pieces, I like to cube them, then add to your dry ingredients and mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. 

3. Add 1/4 cup water and mix until dough just starts to come together. Remove from the bowl and kneed for a minute on a clean, lightly floured surface. 

4. Pat into a 5 inch round  ball of dough, wrap with plastic wrap and let it firm up in the fridge for an hour. Before you roll it out, let it warm up for 10 minutes outside the fridge.

5. When it's time to make the filling, start by washing and then slicing your rhubarb and strawberries. Gently combine in a medium-sized bowl along with the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

6. Preheat your oven to 375 F. 

7.. Roll out your all-butter pie shell so it's 14"-17" wide. Transfer to a large non-stick baking sheet. 

8. Stir your berry mixture again then evenly spoon into the pie shell, leaving a good 3" border for turning over.

9. Fold the border dough over onto the fruit, pinching and tucking in any excess dough.

10. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and brush over the dough, feel free to put some over the fruit in the center as well. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar. 

11. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 375 F, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is starting to brown.

12. Let cool for 30 minutes, then dig in!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Farm Update: 5/2013

On the Farm...

A Purple Kohlrabi transplant doing well outside 
It's been awhile since we've had the time for a farm update, but we finally got a good, long rain last night and this morning.  So there is little we can do outside in the mud, beside get muddy. 

As always, we've been busy on the farm, Farmer Don has been working on turning almost 2 acres of our pasture into seedbed for the CSA's next plantings, plowing and tilling the pasture under with our tractor.  Farmer Figgins, has been planting and transplanting our cold season vegetable crops in the field--Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Lettuce, more Onions, and Arugula.

Rows of Spinach and Broccoli

Soon we'll be transplanting and seeding the first of the warm season vegetable crops, sun-loving plants like dry beans, green beans, cucumbers, and summer squash! We started summer squash and cucumbers inside to get a jump on the season. We have a variety of dry beans planned--Kenearly Yellow Eye, Midnight Black Turtle Soup, Calypso Beans, Hutterite Soup Beans, and Tiger's Eye beans--which CSA Members can expect a couple pounds of come the last few weeks of the season. 

Since the last farm update we've also had a few new additions to the farm. A 3 year old Jersey cow named Rosie, and 10 piglets that we are raising on pasture. We've also moved the turkeys and meat chickens out to pasture since our last farm update, and some of our egg layers have started laying! 

An unusual Spring...

While we are new to this climate, it has felt to us like an unusual spring thus far. 

First we had the 100-year flood rains in late April that pushed our first planting back nearly 2 weeks. But since then we've seen unusually hot and rainless days, a late frost threatening our transplants in mid-May, and hail to the east of us just last night. We've been lucky so far, and more than thankful for our row covers when that late frost hit.  

Because of these setbacks we couldn't plow until later than expected, so our CSA Shares are likely going to start early June.  

If you haven't yet, get those contracts and payments sent to us! You won't find a CSA this cheap, and we're offering lower prices this year because it is our first year!

Late-germinating beets struggling with the heat

So far our Lettuce, Kale, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, and Potatoes are looking good.  Unfortunately our Spinach, Beets, and Carrots are slow to germinate in this unseasonable heat, and may be a little later to the table than hoped.

The potatoes have started emerging! 

There has been some more rain finally. Blessed rain dumping down on our hillside.

I spent last year working at a CSA farm near Boulder, Colorado, where the average annual precipitation is 14" during a good year. Last year was not a good year. 

While much of the country struggled under the oppressive heat and drought of last summer, Colorado was one of the worst, with weeks worth of days in the high 90's and 100's without rain for months. Denver set a new record for days in a row above 100 F. The heat and the drought created the perfect conditions for wildfires, which ravaged the state in one the most costly and deadly years of wildfires in Colorado's history. 

So we are glad for these storms, whether they threaten flood or hail, we are glad. Just another reason why we moved to Michigan.


T'is the Thinning season...

As our seedlings emerge and our transplants take root our first round of weeding and thinning must begin. 

Thinning is the practice of removing extra plant seedlings to give the strongest plants the necessary space to grow. 

We over-seed in the spring, using 3 seeds for each plant we hope to grow. One for the bug, one for the bird, one for the farmer, as it goes. But if all three seedlings emerge, its necessary to manually thin out the excess. 

If planted too close, root crops like radishes will push each other's round roots out of the ground, limiting their water and nutrient availability and exposing it to the sun and sunburning. That's right, plants can get sunburned!  The plant's leaves will lean on each other and grow long and leggy.  Also overcrowding can lead to higher soil temperatures and humidity, and a higher risk for disease. 

The point is, gardeners and farmers have to place a limit on growth. We have to understand the specific plant's needs and then make sure they are in the best possible environment for growth. Though it hurts to thin those precious plants, it must be done. 

 On the bright side, the turkeys and chickens get to enjoy eating the young sprouts and greens. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Oink! Oink!

Our New Hogs!

"I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."
-George Bernard Shaw

So this weekend we picked up our 10 hogs.  We picked them out from a local raiser, Hinz Hogs in South Haven, MI.  We want to give a huge thank you to Brandon who runs Hinz Hogs.  He runs a really nice operation allowing his hogs open pasture when able and helped us pick out some real winners to get us started.  

To use the correct terminology, our pigs are called shoats, which refers to their age, 8 weeks, young but weaned.  Females who have not given birth are gilts, castrated males are barrows.  

We have a mix of three breeds allowing us to decide as the year progresses which gilt/gilts we would like to keep for breeding stock. We're thinking at most two gilts will be kept as sows, or mother pigs.  We will be picking our stock on a number of criteria, such as how quickly she grows, good health, how she lays down (important so that she kneels rather than flopping over on her young piglets), and most important to us is personality and ease of handeling.

The shoats we picked out are: 
2 - Berkshire Gilts (Black with white faces)
2 - 3/4 Berkshire, 1/4 Duroc Cross gilts (Red and the Spotted)
4 - 1/2 Yorkshire 1/2, Berkshire gilts  (White/Pink)
2 - 1/2 Yorkshire, 1/2 Berkshire barrows (White/Pink)

These breeds all have particular advantages we wish to explore.  The Berkshire is a heritage breed pig known to have fantastic meat quality, as well as make good gains on pasture.  The Berkshire Duroc Crosses should be a hardier pig that should combine the benefits of the Berkshire and the bulk of a Duroc.  The Yorkshire crosses should be the best mothers of the bunch, coming from stock that gave birth to as many as 20+ piglets in a single litter.  WOW!

To acclimate them to the electric wire, which you can see in the bottom of some of the pictures, we have them in the starter pen we built for them.  We also placed a wall of straw bails in front of the pen to limit the temptation to shoot through the fence when they get a shock.  I want to assure anyone concerned about the humane-ness of the wire I have tested it on myself it certainly will cause no lasting damage besides the memory.   They have already shown how intelligent they are seeming to only need one or two accidental encounters for them to understand what the fence is.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

First Spring Planting 2013

First Spring Planting

We've been busy busy hobbit-folk here at The Shire Farm, catching up in the wake of the epic rain we've had the last two weeks. When I say epic, I mean a 100-year flood. Grand Rapids and Ionia near us were particularly bad hit, the Grand River swelling and overflowing its banks to take over streets and fairgrounds.

Rosie and the chickens enjoying some lush pasture

Thankfully we live on a sandy hillside, and had no problems with flooding.  Once the soil was dry enough to work we got cracking, seeding snap peas, lettuce, radish, arugula, spinach, green onions, red and sweet onions, kohlrabi, beets, and carrots with an Earthway Seeder. The Earthway Seeder parts the soil, drops the seeds at specific intervals, and then drags a chain over to cover the seeds. Yesterday we also planted seed potatoes--Red Nordland, Goldrush, Yukon Gold, Russet, and Yellow Finn. 

Snap peas sprouting in the field

We transplanted onions, leeks, and green onions from our grow room, and will be transplanting more plants next week, just waiting on the plants to get stronger and older. We've covered our first planting with row covers, to protect our transplants and new seedlings from any unexpected rain, hail, snow or a freeze. 

Swiss Chard-Bright Lights in the grow-room

Row covers can increase the temperature underneath them 10-20 degrees, giving us a cushion against the unexpected. With the welcome heat we've been having this week however, row covers have to been taken off in the morning and put back on in the evening to protect the plants from overheating. With all things, balance. 

Our first planting of leafy vegetables, and up the hill is our first
planting of root vegetables.

Already in the field, the radish and arugula have sprouted, writing green lines on illegible beds. When you start a garden of any magnitude, you will inevitably find yourself staring at your seed beds and trying to envision your plan, for some a rough sketch, that exists in every gardener's head. 

The soil underfoot has to be mentally divided. Aisle--Seedbed. You have to train yourself to walk here, not there. An errant foot out of place can compact the seedbed, squishing sprouted seeds or compacting the soil making it difficult for them to sprout or break the soil surface. So instead we have to tiptoe and hop over the beds in a kind of contorted lunging dance to the safety of the hard-packed aisles. 

Rows of Arugula 

We measure out our beds and our aisles, but they both look like blank pages. We sow our seeds and imagine green sprouts and future crops in long straight lines, like these sentences. But these sentences are rooted, they will grow and expand over time, swelling with captured water and energy to be plucked at that perfect moment and disappear. 

Spring on the Farm

"What a rich book might be made about buds, including, perhaps, sprouts!"
                              -Henry David Thoreau

Spring is a time of revelation and discovery. For us, this spring doubly so. 

When we were looking at properties to buy a farm, we saw many of them in the fall. When we looked at the property we ended up buying, most of the perennials had already lost their leaves, and neither of us have the skill and knowledge to identify a bare tree. We resigned ourselves to waiting until spring with a plant identification book in hand, and here we are. 

This spring then will be for us a literal period of discovery as we find out just what we have on the farm, including a small orchard of 13 fruit trees (we know there's a red delicious apple tree and an apricot tree among them) and 2 small berry patches (in which we can spot a few blackberry bushes). 

So we thought we'd share some pictures of Spring on the farm, and see if anyone had any ideas on what plants these might be. Leave a comment if you can identify any of them! Either way, we'll be exploring the farm with a plant identification book as everything starts to leaf out!

In the Orchard...

In the fields...

A large shade tree near the barn

A willow tree?

A hardy small shrub in front of the house
Some kind of tall, ornamental shrub 

A tall shrub budding on the back pasture