What a beautiful sunny spring! So much growin' on in the garden at
the farm and I am so grateful to be eating fresh greens right out of the
bag (no dressing necessary) again after a long winter. Many more
greens are coming up in the pig garden and it's only a matter of time before I
have green leafy veggies coming out my ears! No complaining here. Just time to
get a little creative! I thought I would share my favorite recipe for any spring
greens. It calls for Spinach, but I use whatever is in my share: Kale, Nettle, Spinach,
Braising mix etc.
One or two large bags of greens
A small block of feta (I always prefer to use the local
stuff if possible)
Some ricotta or yogurt. I have been making my own yogurt
and it has been a great substitute for ricotta. Next up is learning to make my own ricotta!
2-3 cloves of garlic or a few garlic scapes if that's
what's on the market table.
BUTTER! Lots. I tried coconut oil and that worked pretty
well too. I have to say I like it with the butter though.
Directions: Lightly blanch your greens until they are cooked enough so
you can squeeze out excess water This is where you will find you can use up
a lot of greens in one recipe! While you are waiting for the greens to cook,
melt butter or coconut oil in a pan and set aside. When greens are done, cool
under cold water or in the fridge. Then squeeze all the water out (easiest way
is by making small balls of the greens in your hands). Sautee garlic lightly in
some olive oil and add to your drained greens. Crumble in your feta and 1/2-1
cup of yogurt or ricotta. I never really measure. You're looking
for everything to kind of stick together when you try to ball it up. Not too wet
and not too dry.
Now open up your filo, Make sure it has been fully defrosted! It will break if you
try and use it frozen. Unroll and lay flat next to your work area. On a large
cutting board, lay out one sheet of filo. Use a pastry brush to apply butter.
Put another layer of filo over the butter and repeat until you have four layers of filo. Now with a sharp knife, cut your layered filo in half the long way. You will have two vertical rectangles. For smaller pastries,
cut your dough into three long strips (wrapping is tougher this way). Put some
of your mixture (1-2 tablespoons) at the bottom of one of your rectangles.
Fold the corner edge up over the filling to meet the other side of the
rectangle. You should have a triangle. Now fold your triangle with filling
up the edge of your rectangle, now back across. You will continue to fold in
triangles until you run out of dough. I think its about six perfect folds (see pictures below).
Place your pastries on a greased cookie sheet. Now do the other side of your
rectangle the same way. Repeat until you run out of filling.
Brush the tops with butter and bake at 350 until they slightly brown on top and/or
crispy, probably about 35 minutes. Try not to eat them all before you bring them to
Aspen leaves burst and willow flowers enchant us with their perfume. Crocus and daffodils emerge and bloom while poppies sprout vigorous leaves. Honey bees venture farther from their hives seeking nectar. Spring has arrived, and with it comes a flurry of activity on the farm.
Over the last two weeks, ducks, meat chickens, and pigs all arrived on the farm. Nothing says spring like young animals, cute as buttons, growing up into friends. Meanwhile, the teenage laying hens have outgrown their camper and are just about ready to move onto the fields. Here they will be joined by the veteran egg-layers who are entering their last season before retirement. Like all things on the farm, they come and go with the seasons and give back to the land more than they could ever take away.
A few weeks ago, Mike Reid of Paradise Springs Farm helped us plow new ground in the west field below the yurt. As it cut into the earth, the plow blade turned out heaps of dark, wormy soil. The crumbly, silty clay smelled sweet and rich and promises to be some of the most productive land we garden this year. The newly tilled land will serve two purposes. The majority of the garden will be devoted to annual vegetables while a smaller, but still substantial, section will become our perennial garden. This small plot will become a home for herbs like sage, chives, mint, and lemon balm with ornamental flowers to add color and attract pollinators.
On April 9th, the first CSA shares went out. Since then, shareholders have received two more crates worth of greenhouse greens, turnips and radishes, and storage crops. As these crops play out, it is time to transition out to the fields as warm weather and plentiful rains bring the soil to life. The now mature mustards and flowering kale have largely been ripped out, fed to the chickens, and replaced with tomato plants. In the hoophouse, we’ve greatly extended tomato season using “Wall-o-waters” to protect our newly planted cherry and hybrid tomatoes. The greenhouse has taken on a more artful look as nasturtium and marigold provide companionship for the numerous tomato plants. Just days ago, we planted three varieties of basil, adding texture and aroma to the already lush solarium.
As soon as the soil was workable this spring, we began preparing garden beds up in the pig garden (the easternmost field up on the hill past the barn). Since that time, we have planted crops like lettuce, peas, carrots, beets, onions, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. All the while, garlic planted last fall is taking off, sending flat shoots into the air.
Last week’s sun and a couple days of rain have brought on a dazzling green wave of life, ornamented by the yellows and purples of budding wildflowers. Amidst this backdrop, the farmers of Snowdrift flutter with the spring winds across the property, making sure that the life of spring grows to beautiful maturity by fall.
I was lucky enough to be Snowdrift’s first WWOOFer (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and I couldn’t have asked for a better match. After finishing my sophomore year at the George Washington University, I traveled west to Victor where I spent a month with the Snowdrift family. Coincidentally, Emily Sustick is a GW alum and former rower (I’m currently a coxswain on the women’s team). What are the chances that I would find a connection way out west… small world! I did not have any farming experience before arriving at Snowdrift but Erika, Georgie, and Sue were all patient and fantastic teachers, and interns Ken and Althea quickly got me in the loop.
I’m interested in pursing a career in the field of sustainable agriculture, so having the opportunity to get such hands on experience was priceless. I dove right in on my first day by shoveling animal poop with Ken and setting up fencing with Georgie. It sure was a warm welcome to the farm! Over the course of the month my duties included planting, hoeing, weeding, watering, feeding the animals, harvesting, cooking, and much more… with plenty of adventures in between of course! The living accommodations were extremely comfortable and there was never a shortage of fresh veggies to eat!
Erika had I write down my goals at the beginning of my stay at Snowdrift, and I can confidently say that I reached all of them. I learned about the practices of local organic farming, particularly biodynamics; I lived a healthier and more active lifestyle; I explored an area of the country that I was completely unfamiliar with; I experimented with new foods and ways of cooking; I became more in touch with earth, nature, and the outdoors; I formed awesome new friendships and learned something from everyone I met along the way; and I took the time to step back from my normally hectic life and focus on myself.
I am so grateful for my experience at Snowdrift Farm and how much it helped me to grow as a person. I learned many valuable lessons that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I cannot wait to return here and create even more lasting memories!
Spring is officially here and with it comes a ferocious craving for greens. Lettuce, mustards, kale, spinach – my body wants more of them all! Luckily, our greenhouse recently underwent a transformation from barren and chilly to thriving and balmy. Before long, we’ll have far more greens on our hands than we can eat.
For those of you who do not have a greenhouse, cold frames are a simple way to grow veggies during the shoulder season. Early in the season, cold frames allow us bring hardy greens to the table in abundance. In Europe, farmers have been building structures to extend the growing season since the 17th century, but their efforts picked up in the 19th century. They experimented with cloches (bell-shaped, glass row-covers), hot beds, and glass frames to grow local vegetables during the early spring, late fall, and into the winter. As the industrial revolution made glass affordable, farmers developed greenhouses and the cold frame.
Cold frames are used all over the world to extend the growing season, and for good reason. They are simple to build, require no additional heat, and are easily managed. From a plant’s perspective, cold frames provide a protected microclimate that allows them to endure chilly temperatures and snowfall. As days get shorter in the fall, plants enter a sort of torpor and slow their growth. This means that they should be sown early enough in the fall to allow for harvesting into mid-December in our area. In the spring, plants get a head start sensing temperatures warm enough for germination and grow more and more quickly as days get longer.
We are still experimenting with hardy crops that can sustain cool temperatures. Nevertheless, we know that kale, spinach, Asian greens, arugula, beet greens, carrots, and lettuce all tolerate these temperatures just fine. For a more complete guide to planting dates for fall and winter harvest, consult Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook.
About a week ago, my father and I built two 6’ x 4’ cold frames from recycled materials (paying only a couple bucks for fasteners). So many people are recycling windows that if you keep your ear to the ground, you may be able to find some really cheap (or even free) options. Scrap lumber is in almost every construction dumpster you can think of if you are adventurous enough to search through the heap. (Just be sure to ask permission before you dive in.) Hinges are worth buying if you can’t find something heavy enough, but even these are floating around in the world of excess building materials. Our design was simple and easy enough for the two of us to put it together in two days.
To provide enough insulation for our climate, we used 2”X lumber for the framing. If you have extra insulation available, feel free to experiment with lining the frame, but this step is not essential. The glass should provide enough heat gain to keep the soil above freezing. You can also add large stones to the corners of the cold frame to act as a heat sink, but this limits growing space. The most important design feature, more so than insulation or a heat sink, is the angle of the glass. With too steep of an angle, growing space is lost. Too low and solar gain is diminished. Eliot Coleman recommends a 4” rise over 4’ for this altitude (a 7.5 degree angle). In other words, if your windows are 4’ long (from front to back), you will want the back wall to be 4” taller than the front wall.
Once you have constructed your cold frame, place it in a strategic location. To achieve maximum solar gain, it is important to have the frame angled south (approximate is fine but due south is best.) In addition to light, it is essential to place the frame on good soil or soil you can amend with compost. Because your frame will be made of untreated wood, it should be placed on top of the soil to avoid rotting. Also, place the frame somewhere you walk by every day. On the way to the driveway or out the front door would be ideal. It is surprisingly difficult to go outside and check on your plants in mid-March or early-December if they are not near the house or a place you go regularly.
The benefits of this structure are only truly appreciated when you harvest your first greens in March and your last crops into December. Winter is long enough in Teton Valley to go without fresh greens, and those from your own garden are unbeatable. With a little bit of handiwork and some old scrap materials, a cold frame goes a long way toward year-round greens on the table.
For a detailed construction plan, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
On February 2, Punxatawny Phil forecasted an early spring when he emerged from his humble groundhog hole and took his morning constitutional. As luck would have it, the world’s foremost woodchuck did not see his shadow. Now, I’m not superstitious, but I think there might be something to his prediction. Last Thursday I saw a butterfly on the east side of the house. He emerged from his pupa stage early, fooled by unseasonable temperatures and plenty of sunlight. Two days ago, the musky smell of thawing ground filled the air while the last bits of ice and snow slid off the roof.
Even though the skiing may soon deteriorate, the prospect of an early spring is encouraging. In the greenhouse, seedlings await transplant while five-week-old chicks hunger for fresh pasture. But an early spring has its drawbacks. If we go through another growing season like last year’s, water resources will be in short supply. This year’s snowpack is currently below average, and early warmth will cause it to run off more quickly. If irrigation water runs short in Idaho, farmers could suffer losses like Midwestern farmers did last summer. It’s still too early to tell whether we’ll have a drought this summer, but in these parts, it’s prudent to expect the worst. Fortunately, there are steps we can all take this summer to better conserve our water resources.
If rain doesn’t fall and irrigation water doesn’t flow, we must preserve the moisture already present in the soil. The high clay content in our soil holds more water than rocky, sandy, or even silty soil, but turns to hard-pan with prolonged drought. To avoid hard-pan and hold even more moisture, organic matter (OM) is essential. Unlike the clay particles in our soil, OM acts like a sponge with exceptionally reactive surfaces. Crop residues, animal manure, and even hoed-down weeds are all types of OM that have this sponge-like character, once broken down. Just be sure to watch out for too much decomposition in the garden which may rob plants of essential nutrients and inhibit germination.
Our favorite way to increase OM is to add compost. Unlike raw plant materials, compost adds readily available nutrients, directly enhances soil structure, and feeds valuable soil organisms, especially earthworms. Earthworms integrate OM and develop channels for water to flow deep into the soil. If you have it, compost loaded with worms is the ultimate soil amendment.
Whenever soil is exposed to the air, it is vulnerable. At the same time, exposure allows the soil to “breathe.” In other words, soil must be covered enough to limit wind and water erosion, desiccation, and weed colonization, but not so covered that it inhibits gas exchange. To find a balance between too much exposed soil and too little, we will experiment with a variety of mulching methods this season. The first method is to lay down straw mulch in between raised beds and among perennials. This will protect the soil from heavy rains (and our feet) while holding moisture beneath it. The other method is to plant “living mulches.” These include plants like clover and vetch, which provide excellent ground cover and fix nitrogen. “Living mulches” are planted in between crops and left to winterkill after the crop has been harvested. The following spring, the remains of these mulches can be left as regular mulch or incorporated into the soil to build more OM.
As the “living mulch” concept suggests, one should allow plants to do most of the water conservation work. This summer, we hope to develop, divide, and propagate perennial plants to create diverse polycultures. Perennials generally develop more expansive root systems than annuals and often provide better soil cover. Many, like comfrey, clover, and lupine accumulate nutrients in the soil while adding large amounts of OM. Others leave behind channels (much like worms do) that funnel water deep into the soil. Through experiments with new species and varieties of edible, ornamental, and biologically beneficial perennials, we hope to create areas that are self-sustaining with very little rainfall.
Some perennials are ecologically beneficial and provide food. Fruits like apples, raspberries, and strawberries get plenty of attention, but currants, serviceberries, gooseberries, and thimbleberries are delicious and more drought-resistant. With a little bit of practice, an enterprising gardener can divide and graft these bushes to develop a lively berry patch. There is also a wide range of perennial vegetables that do not get all the hype they deserve. Nettle, sunchoke, rhubarb, lovage, horseradish and many others are well-suited for this climate and add unique character to home cooking.
Of all the perennials already living on the farm, the most important group is the grasses. Grass maintains balanced soil cover, provides habitat for beneficial insects and birds, serves as pasture for our chickens and pigs, and, you guessed it, increases soil OM. Along with the neighboring forests, the grasses on the property are the cornerstone of the farm ecosystem.
If last week’s warm weather is any indication, growers should be prepared for a hot summer. If you are a home gardener, start building organic matter in your garden by composting food scraps and any other plant materials you can get your hands on. While you’re at it, find a handful of earthworms to mix in. For the long term, try to establish an array of perennials and slow-growers like apple trees and fruit bushes. Once everything starts popping up, feel free to add some mulch (living or non-) to protect your soil. Your efforts will reduce water use and allow the garden to thrive, even if the rains don’t come.
This week's sun has brought new life to Snowdrift Farm. In the glass greenhouse, carrots, spinach, arugula, and tat soi germinated and put on their first true leaves. Onion seedlings are emerging from their flats, stretching out their crooked necks. Basil starts needed some coaxing with heat coils, but now reach for light with their developing cotyledons. Meanwhile, the sound of chirping chicks permeates the air as if spring had already arrived.
Over at the plastic hoop house, kale from last fall is holding strong. These resilient Brassicas were sown last October along with pea shoots, spinach and Swiss chard. Each of these crops germinated and put on its first leaves before winter truly settled in. Over the course of the winter, mice and voles devastated everything but the kale and a little spinach, but the weather had little effect. By enduring cold at such a young stage, the plants were able to acclimate to the harsh winter conditions that dipped well below zero during a January cold snap. Now that they have made it through the darkest part of the winter, they are taking off as light becomes available.
Along with successes, we have had some challenges. The greenhouse in early February is not warm enough for most seeds to germinate, so it took nearly a month for some of them to emerge. Carrots require temperatures above freezing to germinate, but they may take up to 50 days if the soil temperature is around 40°, which ours was. Optimally, the soil temp for carrots should be around 85°. Spinach has similar preferences but can tolerate colder conditions. It may only take about a week for spinach seeds to germinate at 50-60°. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until a streak of sunny days, beginning last week and continuing into this week, that our crops really began to take off. If you are unsure what your own plants require, seed packets usually explain temperature requirements for a specific crop. The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel is another great resource.
Stove rack with seedlings
The glass greenhouse is an excellent way to start seedlings and grow early season crops, but not everybody has access to one. Another option available to the home gardener is to start crops in the house. Our greenhouse is still too cold to start our tomatoes and peppers, so we decided to put the wood stove and refrigerator to good use. The top of the fridge is one of the warmer spots in the cabin while the wood stove stays warm (but not hot) for hours. In an effort to avoid melting our trays on the stove, we constructed a small rack out of 2”x lumber that fits up to six flats. You may consider building a similar rack depending on the heat source in your house. Once seedlings have emerged, trays will go back in the greenhouse.
Though the first week of March is early to start tomato and pepper plants in this climate, we intend to plant most of them in the glass house after our first flush of greens stops producing. We will start another batch later this month for plantings elsewhere. If you plan to grow at least a portion of your tomato plants outside in “wall-of-waters,” low tunnels, or an unheated greenhouse, it is important to start them roughly 6-8 weeks before the last frost. In Teton Valley, planting around the beginning of April is a safe bet.
Our stock of canned goods and root cellar veggies is running low, but budding rows of green plants bring new energy to the farm. With the spring equinox fast approaching, the excitement of the farm season is already upon us.
A batch of 150, day-old Buff Orpingtons arrived Tuesday after a long day of travel. To get them settled, we picked each one out of the box, dipped its beak into water to ensure it knew how to drink (you have to teach them almost everything without their mothers) and placed them into a large feeding trough under heat lamps. We sprinkled food around the floor, gave them plenty of water, and tucked them in for their first night in Victor. The next morning we were pleased to see that all of them made it through the night and were looking healthy. However, some of them had runny poop from their first meal and risked becoming septic through a clogged anus. Since then, few butts have needed clearing and they have moved to larger feeders. After a week in our care, the chickens are looking spry and fit with clean little butts and stuffed little bellies. As of today, all but one is looking terrific.
These cute critters are going to grow up fast, so we’ll have to move them to a bigger coop early this spring. Currently, we are planning to retrofit a short school bus to be used as a movable chicken coop. Why a short bus? First of all, chickens are, well, chicken. Some of them get freaked out if you just walk briskly towards them, and in our backyard, chickens have reason to be scared. Most nights over the summer, the high-pitched squeal of coyotes pierces the night air, and quite often they are lurking right outside the chicken coop. This can be very stressful for laying hens and affects their egg yields, so housing them in something with hard sides comes as a great relief to both them and us.
Secondly, we need to move the chickens from paddock to paddock. This practice ensures that one area is not overgrazed and that the chickens have a fresh helping of insects while evenly spreading the nutrient-rich manure. In previous years we have moved the chickens from about every two weeks, and even then the field takes a few days to bounce back. Rather than hitching up an old camper trailer to a truck each moving day, we would just have to fire up the old Blue Bird and cruise down to the next paddock. This would save lots of valuable time and effort.
Lastly, a school bus is prime real estate for chickens. Buses have large windows in all directions to let light in which helps keep things clean. They also have a bomb-proof plastic floor that is easy to clean and will last a long time. Also, most buses come with luggage racks that make for excellent roosts. The only drawback is that they have to take the stairs.
We have high hopes for our chicken mobile, but there is still one major problem. We don’t have a school bus yet! It’s not too difficult to track down the burly, full-sized All-Americans for a fair price, but they are simply too large to be driving round the farm. So if you, or anyone you know, knows about a short bus or nursing home bus or something similar, let us know. These little guys won't be little for long and would love their own home.
Welcome to the Snowdrift Farms blog! Most of you cannot make it out to the farm often, much less on a regular basis. So we will bring a piece of the farm to you. Though this is no alternative to witnessing the animals, tasting the produce, breathing the fresh air, or experiencing the complex farm ecosystem available here at Snowdrift, this blog will fill you in on what’s happening. In addition to keeping you posted on farm events and experiences, we will provide information that may contribute to your own farming, gardening, or food experiences. Many authors will be featured throughout the growing season and we welcome submissions relevant to farming practices, food preparation, etc. Whether you can make it out to the farm or not, please enjoy this blog.