Seed Starting: New (and Old) Varieties from Lunaria

Well, we’re about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Lunaria farm, which means our blog, and the seasons, have come full circle. Here we are at the end of winter, poised for new beginnings in the coming spring.

Gardeners all over are turning their attention to seeds. Today I attended a seed cleaning workshop at Bartram’s Garden, where we winnowed, threshed, and sifted to prepare packets for distribution. I was lucky enough to bring home some seeds of the unique epazote, a Mexican culinary and medicinal herb.

Lunaria is also offering a variety of seeds saved from last year’s harvest. We have several open-pollinated varieties, including some rare heirlooms, available for purchase online or for pickup in Upper Black Eddy or Philadelphia. Stock up, then refer to our post on seed-starting.

:::HERBS:::

Cilantro/ Coriander
Coriandrum sativum, annual
Direct sow after last frost. Does not transplant well. Will go to seed quickly in hot weather, so sow in successions throughout the season for a continuous supply.

Dill
Anethum graveolens, annual
Direct sow after last frost. Does not transplant well. Will go to seed quickly in hot weather, so sow in successions throughout the season for a continuous supply.

Garlic Chives
Allium tuberosum, perennial
80-90 days, sow indoors or direct sow after last frost
Onion-flavored leaf spears and delicious flowers which bloom late summer.

:::FRUITS & VEGETABLES:::

Melon Hearts of Gold (heirloom)
Cucumis Melo, annual
70-90 days, direct sow after last frost
2-3 lb fruit, personal-size cantaloup with sweet, orange flesh. Suitable for trellising.

Summer Squash Early Prolific Straightneck (heirloom)
Cucurbita pepo, annual
45 days, Direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost.
Yellow straightneck variety resistant to squash bug. Plants can become too large and less productive with age, so try planting several successions a few weeks apart.

Winter Squash Waltham Butternut (heirloom)
Curcubita pepo, annual
100 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
3-6 lb, delicious fruits on strong vines resistant to boring insects. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Winter Squash Blue Hubbard (heirloom)
Curcubita maxima, annual
110 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
Blue-gray skin & orange flesh. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Winter Squash Red Kuri
Curcubita maxima, annual
80 days, direct sow 2-3 weeks after last frost
Red/ orange skin & orange flesh. Harvest just before first frost, leaving part of stem attached. Cure in warm area for week – 10 days, then store in dry area at 45 -55 degrees all winter.

Corn Blue Dent (heirloom)
Zea mays, annual
90 days, direct sow 1-2 weeks after last frost
Protein-rich variety for cornmeal, reaching 7-8 ft. Plant in blocks rather than rows to ensure good pollination. Harvest when husks are completely dry.

Corn Hooker’s Sweet Indian (heirloom)
Zea mays, annual
80 days, direct sow 1-2 weeks after last frost
4-5′ plants with 5-7″, semi-sweet, purple & white ears. Plant in blocks rather than rows to ensure good pollination. Harvest when silks turn brown. Best when eaten very fresh.

:::FLOWERS:::

Marigold African Crackerjack
Tagetes erecta, annual
Start indoors 4-6 wks before last frost, or direct sow after last frost
Large variety reaching 2-3 ft, with orange & yellow 4″ single and double blooms.

Fresh Eggs from Happy Chickens!

Our young chickens have started laying and the ducks aren’t far behind. Our happy hens are raised on fresh grass, bugs, food scraps, and organically-grown, local grains. Because they eat so well and get to scratch in the sunshine, their eggs are higher in beta carotene, omega-3s, and vitamins A, E, & D. They’re also lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Our current flock includes:

7 Rhode Island Red x White Plymouth Rocks
5 Ameraucanas (blue & green Easter egg)
5 Delawares (critically-endangered heritage breed, according to ALBC)
5 Welsh Harlequin ducks (critically-endangered heritage breed, according to ALBC)

Contact us about purchasing our amazing eggs at $4/ dozen.

Source: Mother Earth News 14-source Egg Chart

Tomato Season: Recipes for Making the Most of It

It’s no wonder they’re the most popular vegetable in the home garden – nothing beats a fresh tomato. But how do you make the most of them when they’re coming in full force? Here’s how we’ve been using ours:

Caprese Sandwiches

This is an easy appetizer or a casual, build-your-own meal for guests. Just slice some hearty artisan bread, & top with tomato, basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Fresh mozzarella is optional.

Lunaria Farm Salsa

Essentials:
2 lbs tomatoes (any type will do), diced
1/2 – 1 onion, finely chopped
1  jalepeno or other hot pepper, very finely chopped
juice of 1 lime or 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Extras:
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
tomatillos, husked & diced

Combine all ingredients, toss, and, ideally, let sit for an hour before serving to allow flavors to develop. Save the remaining juices to use as a base for sauce, marinade, or salad dressing.

Clove-spiced Ketchup/ BBQ Sauce

This recipe was inspired by Aunt Janet at High Oak Farm in Humboldt county, CA. There we picked wheelbarrows full of paste tomatoes, which she transformed into delicious, clove-spiced ketchup – a most excellent pairing with her homemade meatloaf.

3 lbs paste tomatoes
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar (or substitute with white sugar plus some molasses)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt to taste
pinch cayenne to taste

If desired, remove skins and seeds from tomatoes. Blend in food processor or blender. Cook down on stovetop for a couple of hours until thick and almost paste-like. Stir in remaining ingredients. Will keep in refrigerator for several weeks.

Freeze Now, Sauce Later

Slaving over a hot stove on a 90 degree day? Doesn’t sound very enjoyable to us, either. Last fall, we worked at Dandelion Farm, which runs entirely on solar power. Being conscientious about energy use, we would sometimes let sauces simmer down on the woodstove all night, since it was already heating the house. That gave us an idea – why not freeze tomatoes during the steamy summer, then boil them down when we need to warm up the house anyway?

You may want to blanch the tomatoes to remove the skins, but supposedly they can come off easily with warm water once frozen, so we’ve been freezing them skins and all.

How have you been using your tomatoes?

The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans, & Squash

Corn, beans, and squash effectively comprise the collective staff of life of the New World. These crops were so important and complemented each other so well, that they were known as “The Three Sisters,” with many legends celebrating their sustaining virtues.

A Hokkaido Stella Blue squash grown on a fence.

We try to do these New World native plants justice here at Lunaria, but none more than the winter squash, with whom we have a tasty love affair. I personally got so excited about them that I planted a few seeds on March 1, far before any sane gardener would think about squash. These tender crops are typically direct sown outdoors once the soil has thoroughly warmed up; they don’t like being transplanted. Well, ours were potted up and most were kept alive in sunny windows until last frost, and now they’re threatening to take down the fence of “Gary’s Garden” (named after the groundhog that kept infiltrating its perimeter). We have some ripening sugar pumpkins and stella blue hokkaidos that we expect to be ready in a few weeks. This should perfectly fulfill my intense craving for curried tomato-squash dishes.

Another one of our many experiments this year is corn. I’d always thought it somewhat inefficient, as it takes up a good amount of space relative to its cropping. Then, during my residence at Women’s Studio Workshop, I learned that the husks and stalks can be used to make a gorgeous, pale golden-green paper. Well that was enough to convince me to go ahead and try it. We planted 3 successions to stagger the ripening times, including a succession of transplanted corn. This is another crop that dislikes root disturbance, but we take the word of Elliot Coleman quite seriously, and decided to try it. We were elated with the results, as not a single transplant was lost, and they’re all still going strong.

Our Hooker's sweet corn planting in early July. The upper row was seeded a week earlier, transplanted, then mulched with grass clippings.

With most of our meals being vegetarian, we tend to eat a lot of beans – dry beans, that is. We can’t imagine a world without black bean quesadillas, chickpea hummus, or pinto bean chili. But when it comes to green beans… meh. Most gardeners think we’re crazy – “You don’t like green beans??!” – but we think we’re being quite rational. Besides not appealing to our particular palates, beans will always be produced at a loss for the small farmer. They are tedious to harvest, and they must be picked every day, yet they must be sold at rock-bottom prices to compete with industrial farms. Even our so-loved dry beans are uneconomical to dry, harvest, and shell, when organic dry beans are so readily available now. The main advantage of growing beans is their special characteristic of being nitrogen fixers. The legume family, including beans as well as peas, clover, peanuts, indigo, and lentils, capture the nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil, making this essential nutrient available to other plants.

The Three Sisters planting in early July.

So this year’s garden includes a small amount of beans, a good stand of corn, and hopefully a year’s supply of squash. We’re really excited about a certain portion planted in the traditional, Native American, Three Sisters formation. We chose to plant heirloom varieties that would all be ready to harvest in autumn: blue dent maize for cornmeal, drought-tolerant tepary beans, and several varieties of cucurbits, including pumpkins, winter squash, and moon & stars watermelons.

Lee arranging cardboard around The Three Sisters to thwart weeds until the squash vines fill out. (Photo by Theresa Boles)

Corn is wind-pollinated, its tassels releasing their magic dust to the air to settle on the ear silks below. This fact of life prompts a break from the modern American row system – to ensure that each kernel develops (they are seeds, remember), the corn must be planted in blocks, or in this case, mounds. The first mounds, which are 18 inches across, staggered about 5 feet apart, and amended with aged horse manure, are each planted with 4 corn seeds. Then, when the corn germinates and reaches a height of 4-6 inches, a pole bean seed is planted in the same mound, 3 inches away from each corn seedling. In between the corn and beans, we create squash mounds of the same size, with 3 seeds planted in each.

The effect, once everything grows in, is a mutually-beneficial companion planting. The corn provides something on which the beans can climb. The beans fix nitrogen to provide nutrients to the other crops. The squash sprawls along the ground, suppressing weeds and providing a living mulch to retain soil moisture, while its prickly vines help deter hungry critters. And, come harvest, the delicious crops complement each other nutritionally. It’s hardly surprising that these crops were considered to be special gifts from the Creator. All of this botanical, gastronomic, and divine harmony kind of makes you want to enjoy some succotash while you plan your own Three Sisters garden for next year, doesn’t it?

What’s Pickin’ in the Heat of July

Here’s just a glimpse of what’s pickin’ at Lunaria right now, where change is the only constant. The delicious snap peas that started so early are finally winding down in this hot, dry start to summer. The broccoli are plumping out the last of the main florets or sending out their rays of side shoots. We’re starting to get a handful of tomatoes every day, mostly Romas and cherries with the heirlooms not far behind. With the June strawberry season long gone, we’ve stopped pinching the flowers on our first year everbearing varieties so they can focus on fruiting. We planted a few zucchinis only to be met with just as many volunteers, and so starts the season of squash at every meal. The herbs are coming full force; loads of basil, cilantro, chives, parsley, dill infusing the kitchen. Although one of our hens recently molted for 2 weeks (thereby creating feathers instead of eggs), they’re all laying spectacularly once again. and And our standby greens – the kale, chard, lettuce, cabbages – are chugging away through the heat of summer, obliging us with leaves for the taking.

That’s what’s picking, but there’s so much more just focusing on vegetative growth, sending out new stems and leaves and vines every day. Check out what some of the gardens are looking like lately:

The eastern half of the Helen Nast Memorial garden: zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, winter squash, and more.
The sorry-looking slips that arrived in the mail are beginning to look like lush, promising, sweet potato vines.
The mystery brassicas that we thought were broccoli, then maybe cabbage, have revealed themselves as brussels sprouts, to which we say "Yum!"
Our attempt at a sun-trap garden on the shady property: melons & cucumbers on the fence, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, & ground cherries, undersown with radishes & lettuce.
We've had the delight of bringing in a few of these yellow straightneck "siamese squash."

Lunaria at Coffee & Craft Fest!

Homestead Coffee Roasters is about the closest our podunk Upper Black Eddy will ever have to a downtown. And thank goodness for that, because the place is super rad. Owned by the Lewis family since 1979, the Homestead specializes in fair trade, organic coffee roasted in small batches. Plus you can get all sorts of great food and snacks, right next to the tranquil, historic Delaware canal.

This Saturday, June 19, they’ll be hosting Coffee & Craft Fest 2010, featuring coffee tasting, live music, fuzzy alpacas, crafts, and yours truly. That’s right, Kristen will be there with potted plants, aromatic herbs, fresh greens, handspun yarn, and artisan paper goods. So come out and enjoy some lunch, sip some fair trade joe, and support your local economy!

Coffee & Craft Fest 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010, 11AM – 4PM

Homestead Coffee Roasters
1650 Bridgeton Hill Road, Upper Black Eddy, PA
610-982-5121 map
Homestead on Facebook

UPDATE 6/23: I had a such a great time meeting lots of cool local folks and providing people with healthy food and handmade goodies! Here are a few photos of what you missed:

Our bounty of fresh herbs and greens.
Despite the heat, I brought out some of my handspun yarn.
I debuted some silkscreened, handmade paper cards along with other print and paper items.
People really sniffed out these potted herbs.
My quiet, friendly neighbors, the hum-dinger alpacas.
A small glimpse of the array of venders.


Organic Garden Workshop/ Work Party: 6/12/10

It’s our first workshop in Pennsylvania! And what better way to kick off the curriculum than with an organic garden work party! Come learn how to turn your lawn into an thriving, abundant, edible paradise!

Lee has designed a simple raised bed vegetable garden for a woman who was interested in growing her own food. We will be erecting an 8 foot deer fence, as well as a skirt extension to keep groundhogs out, assembling a raised bed, filling it with soil, and planting lots of veggies!

Come learn about organic gardening, lend a hand, eat some food (lunch will be provided at 1:00), bring an instrument, and have fun!

Please RSVP on the Facebook event or email if you’ll be joining us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

@ Dorothy’s House, 1751 East Saw Mill Road, Quakertown, PA map

UPDATE 6/23: Photos!

Before the workday, Lee dropped off the soil on site
The wood was cut to size to create a 3' x 15' box, secured with L-brackets.
We lined the bottom with uncoated cardboard to suppress any grass or weeds.
The box was filled with soil.
Our helpers arrived and began working on the fence while we raked the soil level.
To deter groundhogs, we made a skirt around the perimeter out of a 4' roll of 1"x4" welded wire.
Deer netting was installed overhead and around the perimeter.
We planted seeds and transplants and watered them in.
The final garden, ready to thwart critters and feed a family!

Transplanting Time: The Move Outdoors

Great news! Our little corner of Upper Bucks County seems to be beyond the reach of frosty nights until fall. That’s right, our last expected frost date is May 15 around these parts. I might have just jinxed it, but we gotta talk transplanting.

So hopefully all of you have followed the directions in our first post, and now your windowsills and newly-built coldframes are full of little tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, and all those other yummies that would quickly perish in cold weather. If they have at least one set of true leaves, the seedlings are ready for the next stage of life. Here’s what to do with them:

Hardening off seedlings on the porch

Step 1: Hardening Off

If they’ve been started indoors, those seedlings have led a very sheltered life thus far. They’ve never felt a northwestern wind, a driving rain, or the full force of a sunny day. Experiencing all of these new sensations can sometimes be quite a shock. Take care of your young ones and ease them into the elements. You can start indoors by opening the windows or putting a gentle fan on them or even jiggling the table they’re on. This kind of movement will encourage the seedlings to grow the sturdy stems necessary for life in the great outdoors.

A warm, cloudy day is the best time to expose them to the outside world. Place them in the shade, where they’ll be sheltered from strong winds. This first day they should only be out for a few hours. Gradually, over the course of a week, the length of time they’re left outside, as well as their exposure to full sunlight, is increased, until they are macho enough to be out day and night. After acclimating to nighttime temps, they should be ready to go in the ground.

Step 2: Transplanting

So hopefully while the little guys have been hardening off, you’ve been thinking up the best spot for them to live and prepared a bed for them. Depending on the plants’ needs, that might mean loosening the soil or mixing in organic matter, so the roots can start growing deep and strong as soon as they’re put in the ground. To avoid baking your tender transplants, choose a cloudy day or evening. We like to go on transplanting binges before rain, so the roots can get watered in nice and deep.

Hold like so, & tap the pot until the root ball releases

When you’ve figured out the best spot and spacing for the plant, cut a hole with a trowel into the soil, carefully release the seedling from the container, and place it into the earth, disturbing the roots as little as possible. It is well known that tomatoes can be transplanted deeper than the original soil line – they will send out roots at any point on their stem. Some research has shown that peppers and brassicas (cabbage family) can be planted a little deeper, but if in doubt, transplant to the original soil line. Fill in any gaps in the hole and pat the dirt around the roots, making sure the plant isn’t sunken below, or mounded above the soil level. Then, water your transplants deeply, promoting good contact between the roots and soil.

Step 3: Tending the Transplants

Keep your transplants well-watered for the first week or so. This will buffer them against shock and guard against withering in the hot sun. Some plants, like sweet potatoes, benefit greatly from some protection from direct sun at first. One trick is to cut the bottoms off of plastic pots and put them over  the plants for a few days. Let the transplants focus on root development for a couple of weeks before adding any manure or other nitrogenous fertilizer. Then just keep an eye on the weeds and water occasionally, and wait for the harvest!

Red Express cabbages in the great outdoors

The Stoked List

As you might have discerned from the lack of blogging, Lee and I have been particularly busy lately. Part of the reason is that we’ve been tending our new farm away from home. Truth be told, Lunaria is little more than a swampy yard of heavy clay with some spots of fleeting sunlight. So we felt like some lucky ducks when we found out that we were given the use of a sunny plot of land up the street! This corner garden was worked and loved for decades by a special woman named Helen Nast, providing the neighborhood with plenty of fresh food and flowers. We’re grateful to be able to continue that tradition and honor her legacy.

Unfortunately, in Helen’s later years, the garden was left untended, and grass has taken over, obscuring any clues to the original garden plan. Racing against rainy weather, we’ve spent days battling that stubborn turf, using a combination of hand digging, sheet mulching, tarp killing, and rototilling. We even have plans for some squash strangling for the real tall stuff. We were able to carve out enough beds to get some potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and jalepeños in the ground.

Lee finishing the poultry tractor

Constant farm tasks have met us on the home front, too. In another attempt to rid our hens of lice, we sprayed each of them generously with orange oil, and then watched as they wobbled away high and briefly disabled. We built Poultry Tractor 2.0, into which we tried to assimilate the lately-separated chicks and ducklings, but the larger ducks turned out to be bullies. We also received about 300 blueberry, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb, brassica, and tomato plants that we’re still catching up with.

On Monday, after a sonorous thunderstorm that kept us up half the night, Lunaria farm had a particularly trying morning. The duck tractor proved to not be entirely watertight, and their heat lamp had shorted out at some point. The upper level nest box area of the chicken tractor had collapsed, and the hens laid their eggs in their food. Despite our fencing, a groundhog had gotten into the greens garden and eaten half the lettuce and some of the cauliflower. When I went up the road to the corner garden, I found that our rototilling methods hadn’t accounted for the necessities of drainage, and the paths between our rows were flooded with 6 inches of water. I planted 100 tomato plants in the mud while Lee dug a trench to sink a groundhog-proof fence into. Then it started raining again.

We were ready for some coffee. Just about every day, Lee and I have a “business meeting,” when, for few minutes, we discuss priorities. But it’s really just an excuse to sit down and drink coffee. This time, feeling as dampened as we were, Lee suggested that we start out by making a list of things we were stoked about. Here’s a summary:

blueberries are in the ground!

we have kombucha brewing!

happy ducks!

healthy chicks!

5 eggs every day!

we’re farming the neighbor’s unused sunny garden!

we harvested pretty radishes!

all the healthy, free plants!

our fresh eggs for fresh bread exchange!

200 Roma tomatoes!

rain!

safety-first Lee & get-her-done Kristen are a perfect match!

we have a new french press!

we got some gigs playing music!

Needless to say, we both felt a lot better after recounting only a few of our blessings. The universe will continue to provide, and we’ll go on being grateful. We highly recommend opening with a stoked list before your own business meeting, or just as a way to perk up a dreary day.

Enjoy some recent photos!

Duckling cuddle-puddle, before their move outdoors
Art by Joyce Murphy (pictured, right) and Sheena Mae Allen (on wall) at RAT Gallery Opening, 5/1/10
Frogs in the pond
Bird found dead in the radish bed, any idea what kind?
Magic hour sky at Lunaria

Preparing for a Weekend of Art & Music at R.A.T. Gallery

Hey folks, today I’m going to diverge from poultry and plant talk and spread the word about a cool community space in the area. R.A.T. Gallery is a non-profit radical art team focusing on emerging artists “who are not governed by conventionality or status.” Our first visit to the R.A.T. was for Friday’s open mic, which is held weekly. In all honesty, I usually have low expectations for open mics, but the quality of the music, the space, and the energy was fantastic. (A video of Lee and I performing Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” that night has since surfaced.)

This weekend there will be the usual Friday open mic, but on Saturday there’s a new exhibition opening. Organized by Laura Esposito, the show has been given various titles – Give a Rat’s Ass for Art, Diversity of Community, while I’m a personal fan of Consciousness: Visual & Vibrational. Whatever you call it, come out on Saturday night and see some art and performances.

Here’s a sneak peak of a piece I’m working on for the show, The Official Territorial Claims of Antarctica. Hope you can make it out to see this and more!

OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday, May 1, 7 – 9 PM

Open Mic every Friday 8 PM – 1 AM

R.A.T. Gallery
5207 Point Pleasant Pike
Gardenville, PA 18902 map

R.A.T. Gallery on Facebook
R.A.T. Music on Facebook

This event is sponsored in part by Brad’s Raw Chips, Murphy & Klein Floral Studio, and generous volunteer & monetary support from lots of rad people.