Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting to Know Your Farmer

Previously posted by Celt M. Schira at on February 27, 2010 at 5:30pm at Check for recent posts.

Small gardens make a big difference in the gardener's quality of life. In our mild winter climate, a small garden can provide nutrient rich fresh greens all fall and winter and the following spring. But there are good reasons for getting to know your farmer as well.

Don't have a farmer? Check out last year's farm map and talk to some. It's not too early to make arrangements to buy some of the things that you won't be growing yourself, at least not in sufficient quantity. Many farmers will give you a discount if you order now. Bulk garlic and local storage onions are often hard to find at a decent price in September. If you order them now, your farmer can put you into the planting schedule. Potatoes and carrots are available in bulk in late summer but local ones start vanishing as fall progresses. Winter squash sprawls all over, making it difficult in small gardens. It stores well in a cool spot inside. Wash the squash in water with a little bleach added and it will keep for months. You do have to keep an eye on them. If a squash starts to develop a soft spot, eat it.

The urban gardener may want to buy big solid cabbages for making sauerkraut. Cabbages take up precious space in small gardens that may be better used for lettuce. Sauerkraut can be made in wide-mouth quart canning jars for small families. The recipe is from Terre Vivante: scald jars and lids, wash cabbage and slice thinly, pack hard in jars with 1 teaspoon kosher salt per jar, add any combination of juniper berries, whole allspice, peppercorns and a bay leaf and put lid on loosely. If the cabbages are not juicy, pour in boiled water to a couple of inches from the top. Place in a dark place and check often the first couple of weeks, unscrewing the lid to let out excess gas. Then tighten the lids and store. Keeps at least a year. Turnips and radishes work also. With some inventiveness, the recipe can be morphed into a single jar version of kimche. See Sandor Katz's book on fermentation.

I buy and freeze fresh green beans. If I have extra summer broccoli, or extra snow peas, I freeze it. Sometimes people give me vegetables in summer and if we can't eat them all, I freeze them. In general though, I work on growing a winter garden instead of freezing a bunch of vegetables.

Homemade pesto spooned over pasta or warm sourdough bread on a winter's day is one of life's joys. It's difficult to grow enough basil for pesto in the small garden, so that's one worth talking to your farmer about. Most of the expense is the pine nuts (I usually substitute walnuts) and parmesan cheese (takes up space, can be left out and cheese added later). Pesto is fresh basil leaves, salt, nuts, fresh garlic and olive oil, smashed up together. I use a mini-chopper, but use a food processor if you have access to one. Spoon the pesto into scalded 8 ounce canning jars or plastic freezer bags and freeze. Leave a good half inch of headroom in jars, as it expands.

If you make your own tomato sauce or pickles, you may want to check that your farmer can provide the tomatoes or pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers have a low return compared to other uses of row space, so be sure and ask well ahead of time. Only a few farmers around here grow them. I found that one 4' by 8' bed with a trellis produces enough picklers to take a pint jar to potlucks twice a month and still have some for my son to break into. Depends on whether a pickles are a food group in your family.

It takes 4 pounds of tomatoes to make a quart of tomato sauce. Four pounds of tomatoes makes a pint of ketchup. Tomatoes vary greatly in yield. My all time record was 50 pounds of tomatoes from a single plant, a small red Italian market garden variety called a Chico G. By contrast, the amazingly good Green Zebra tomato yielded a dismal three pounds per plant. The standard sauce tomato is the Roma, but don't be limited by that. I have always made whatever excess tomatoes I have in the garden into sauce, and it's always good. One year, I had so many golden cherry tomatoes growing from a 24" pot that I made golden marinara sauce. The Romas come by special order from Eastern Washington. You may want to experiment with varieties of sauce tomatoes that grow well here, San Marzano and Striped Roman among them. I just grow several heirlooms for their wonderful taste and can up whatever isn't eaten fresh.

In a small garden, if you want canning tomatoes, you may want to talk to farmers about gleaning or buying seconds, or pre-ordering your canners.

When I was gardening in a patio, back during the 2001-2003 recession, I found that the best use of my limited space, money and time was to grow an herb bed, a winter garden and tomatoes in summer. As I was buying summer vegetables at the farmer's market, I talked to farmers about what I could buy in bulk and store, can or freeze.

Walter Haugen at F.A. farm gives a 10% discount for vegetables ordered now. Nick Guilford of Sunseed Farm has been known to sell bulk carrots and shallots. Ask around and see what you can find.

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