dispatches from the farm


stink bug apocalypse

Apparently stink bugs have invaded the east coast. Since 2009 stink bugs (which are an invasive species) have just exploded all across the northeast. We here on the farm are suffering immensely at the hands of these bugs. We didn’t know it was a whole epidemic thing until I read about it on Gawker (which is weird because since when does Gawker have any relevance to my farming life?). The bugs lay eggs on the leaves of plants and then when they hatch, swarm all over the plant. It’s freaky because the younger bugs are this grey/white/nothing color, so they look really evil. They’ve killed all our summer squash and almost all the cucumbers and melons. We are currently trying to protect the winter squash plants from them, but because we are committed to staying organic it’s super hard! There are already stink bugs on the plants, so the question is how to we kill bugs without using pesticides!? We’ve been using this natural remedy that works pretty well; it’s crushed garlic, hot pepper, a little bit of Dr. Brommer’s soap, and a bunch of water. Spray it on the plant and the bugs die within minutes. It’s mostly the soap that kills them, but theoretically the garlic and pepper will dissuade other bugs from coming. Our friend gave us some tobacco plants which, apparently, are also really great at keeping bugs away. We planted them right next to the winter squash and we are going to incorporate tobacco leaves into the spray next time we make more.

Here you can see all the stink bugs on this squash plant:

Here is a birds-eye view of the same plant. You can see it’s covered in bugs.

And here is what all the rest of the squash plants look like after a few days of the stink bugs at work:

A dire situation indeed. As long as we can protect the future squash from the current squash’s fate, though, and as long as the bugs stay away from our tomatoes and eggplants, it will all be ok.


Best Tomato Sandwich Ever?

So the saying”It’s the best thing since sliced bread” is true. Sliced bread (i.e. the ability to buy actual good bread at a grocery store) is pretty nifty. I started the process of making bread this morning at 11am. At 5:30pm my bread was done. And it’s not even exactly what I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious. Really. It’s so good. It’s just not the puffy, airy, perfect loaf we can all buy at pretty much any store these days. BUT even though my bread isn’t perfect, it’s still better than any puffy, airy, perfect loaf I could have bought. Why? All the ingredients that went in to it (except the olive oil, yeast, pepper, and salt) were grown and processed no more than 20 miles from my kitchen. That’s why this tomato sandwich is, indeed, The Best Tomato Sandwich Ever. Here’s the breakdown.

At 11 this morning I started by making the bread dough. I followed James Beard’s “Polygrain Bread” recipe, with a few tweaks of my own. This recipe calls for yogurt, oats, cracked wheat (I substituted cornmeal), and brown sugar (I used maple syrup). I used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, because the oats, cornmeal, and the whole wheat flour were all grown in Penn Yan by farmers we know. They sell their grain at the Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile (that’s what Penn Yan stands for!) where they will grind all of them for you. So these were all ground for me 2 days ago. The dough turned out extremely well.

After letting it rise for a while, I divided it into two loaf pans (well, one loaf pan and one dutch oven, I only have one loaf pan) and baked it for an hour. It turned out like this:

Then I made mayonnaise out of an egg that was laid today. Again, the lemon is not from here (obviously) but I do the best I can. People are really intimidated by mayo, I think, but I don’t know why! If you have a blender or a cuisinart it’s so easy! The only tricky part is that you MUST use a room temperature egg (which is another thing that freaks people out – you don’t have to refrigerate eggs!). Maybe people don’t like to make mayo because it reminds them that mayonnaise contains raw eggs? But if you’re using ethical, organic, REAL eggs then you shouldn’t be worried about eating them raw! Look how much nicer real mayo looks than that other stuff:

Here is the final result: all the ingredients needed for a Best Tomato Sandwich Ever.

So all in all: it took me almost all day to make, but it was totally worth it because tomorrow it won’t take me all day but I can still enjoy The Best Tomato Sandwich Ever because I have lots of yummy bread and lots of yummy mayo!

tomato heaven

We have so many tomatoes! Luckily for us (although also unluckily) we had some blossom-end rot and groundhog issues, so there are plenty of tomatoes that are perfectly good to eat, but we just can’t sell. We are able to set aside many perfect tomatoes to sell, and also have plenty of imperfect tomatoes for us to eat all day, every meal, every day. You can see one of the tomatoes with blossom-end rot in this picture: it’s the orange one in the basket on the right side. As you can see, the tomato is perfectly fine- there’s just a small area of rot on the end. Once you cut that off, the rest is delicious. If you’re wondering, the varieties of these big tomatoes are Lemon Boy (the orange ones – should be called Orange Boy if you ask me), and Purple Cherokee.

We are growing many varieties of smaller tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and otherwise. You can see all the varieties that are ripe right now in this picture. There are yellow pear, sungold (the orange ones), napa grape (the red ones), and the bigger stripey ones are called violet jaspers. There’s also a japanese egg eggplant in this basket and a larger beefsteak tomato. Luckily for us, our cellar/bathroom in the icehouse stays cool and has good air circulation. The tomatoes will keep in the cellar for at least a week, as long as we don’t pile them on top of each other.

Here is our state-of-the-art tomato storage system. You can also see a bit of our state-of-the-art dill drying system in the corner.

In my opinion, aside from whole with a little sprinkle of salt, the best way to enjoy our larger tomatoes is on a tomato sandwich. This is something I learned at The Mountain School from my dorm parent (and also head of school) Alden Smith. He used to bring these to our dorm meetings occasionally, when tomatoes were ripe. We always used to bug him for the secret – they were unbelievably delicious and we couldn’t figure out why. There was something more than just the delicious ripe tomatoes and good crunchy bread that made it so yummy. He would always demur, telling us that we wouldn’t like the secret ingredient, even if he were to tell us. Finally, he caved. The secret ingredient is, of course, mayonnaise.

Alden’s Tomato Sandwiches

Ingredients: 1 large ripe fresh tomato (preferably just picked, still warm), some yummy bread, sliced relatively thin, mayonnaise, salt

Toast the bread.

Slice the tomato in something like 1/4 inch slices.

Cut the toasted bread and tomato slices in the complimentary shapes. Just make it so the tomato slice will fit nicely on the bread. You want maximum tomato coverage, since this is all about the tomato.

Slather toasted bread with mayo. Use your best judgment here, but I promise that you might want to err on the side of what you think is too much mayo (if you’re like me and have never really been a huge mayo fan, it’s going to seem gross, but it’s going to taste delicious).

Place tomato slice on top. Sprinkle with salt.


Carson said yesterday that every time I make these he thinks ‘Booo, tomato sandwiches again?!’ but then as soon as he eats one he forgets that he thought he was growing weary of them. That’s how delicious they are. We’ve had them for lunch and dinner, every day this week.

In other news, here’s a picture of me and mama kitty. She’s the matriarch around these parts, but she is so little and cute! She rules with an iron paw though.

Today, since it’s raining (hooray!) I am baking bread and making mayo from our eggs and I am planning on constructing the Best Tomato Sandwich Ever. I’ll post on that later.



baby ducks and fruit tarts

Hooray it’s raining! It rained all day today. Not very hard, but it was raining all day, so hopefully we got some good moisture. Very exciting.

Also very exciting: we got some baby ducks! They are Rouen ducks, and are just so cute. We had them inside the kitchen for a while, but we wanted to give them some fresh air so Carson built them a pen outside with a yard. The yard is enclosed and covered, because they are still so small and such babies! We even put curtains up outside the grate because they need to stay warm. Some of the ducks are crested, so they have little pom poms on their heads for now. Here is a picture of a crested baby, their inside pen, and their new outside enclosure.

In other news, I made some delicious tarts this week — one plum and one cherry. It’s so nice we are surrounded by delicious ripe stone fruit. The peaches are just coming on today, and we have waiting in the kitchen a basket full of the juiciest ripest apricots I’ve ever had in my life. I feel like I eat so much fruit in the summer to make up for the whole long winter when I don’t eat any fruit. It almost feels wrong to cook with this fruit.

Hopefully this rain will help out our poor garden. Everything is going so slowly and is so stunted. Tune in next time for photos of striped eggplant, white eggplant, pole beans, and, as always, tomatoes.