It seems like it is going to be awhile before my earliest crops are mature and dried down. The weeding pressure has relented but there is no harvesting to be done yet, so a few weeks of breathing time (camping, hiking, and planning for next year) have arrived. I am anxiously awaiting when the grains, soup peas, and garbanzos are ready so I can have a harvesting and threshing workshop. I think that will be loads of fun.Meanwhile, I have been too busy lately to make more tortillas and I crave them immensely. I had purchased a new Estrella masa grinder a few weeks back at the Mexican grocery store down the street and have been looking forward to trying it out. So I finally spent a few hours this morning making tortillas. I made about 70 tortillas from 8 cups of my Mandan Bride dent corn. Here are some masa-making instructions for those of you who are interested in making your own tortillas:
Dissolve 4 Tablespoons of "Cal"/Slaked Lime (can be purchased at a Mexican grocery) in 12 cups of water.
Add 4 cups of dent corn kernels and slowly bring to a boil over a half hour. Let it boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
Let sit overnight.
Rinse the corn until the water runs clear. Use your hands to briskly rub the kernels to assist in removing the cal. Drain in a strainer
Grind in a masa grinder as fine as you can get it (it won't be fine like flour and you will get a wet, coarse dough).
Make the dough into a ball. Add a bit of water if needed for it to stick together. It should be just wet enough to be able to make a golfball sized ball hold together.
Use a plastic bag to line either side of your tortilla press. Put a bit of oil on each side. Press tortillas and carefully peel them off the plastic.
They should be fried in a cured but dry cast iron pan on high enough heat so that they turn slightly brown on each side in about 30 seconds, but the pan does not smoke.
Note: if you do not have a tortilla press, you can make little patties with your hands, or you can press the dough between oiled plastic sheets with a heavy pan or other flat-bottomed object that you can press down on. But believe me, a good tortilla press is invaluable if you are going to do a lot of this!
Good Luck and happy masa-making.
So far I'm enjoying the summer immensely. Working hard, no doubt, but every day brings new treasures and introspections and simple beauties of nature. The field blows me away every time I walk out there. Most of the crops so lush and vital, the peas and garbanzos are thinking about starting to dry down, the beans still vivaciously filling in the paths so that there will be nowhere to walk come harvest time.
I decided to irrigate this year. Normally I've practiced experimenting with dry farming, but a few dousings is what I will apply this year. Last week I helped Dusty move the 40 foot long aluminum pipes to my upper section of field and we ran the sprinklers for 3 or 4 hours. Celt and I hooked up several hoses and ran them from the nearest spigot to the lower field and hand watered our squash, half the wilting buckwheat, and her beans. Everything has responded so well, and the lushness was beautiful to see afterward. The potatoes still struggle, the soybeans have barely recovered from all the bunny pressure, and the corn is tasselling so short. But I'll have my hands full in another couple weeks with harvest. I better go camping now while I still have the chance!
A few friends joined in today for some light weeding and we got a lot accomplished. It feels so good to be able to have fun, gossip, laugh, and be productive at the same time. I love the idea of having gardening partners in my life regularly, growing food is a joyous thing to share, and a key component to my own happiness.
Well, we had a fabulous turnout for our first work party of the season. It really did sort of feel like a party this time as everyone was super enthusiastic and hard-working! I'm happy I'm living on-site this year, so we could provide a nice meal of the very crops we were working in: beans and corn tortillas! Plus some salad from our gardens. Thanks to the great turnout and energy, we managed to retrive our large field of corn and loads of beans from the weeds and hill up our potato trials as well. Things are in great shape now as a result.
The earlier crops are mostly on their own now, as they've filled in their beds and are starting to wrestle with one another in areas (namely the unruly peas and grains). My barley is lodging (falling over) a bit, which is a pain, and all of my early transplanted corn - although over knee high, deep green and healthy as can be (yay) - looks to be sending up flower stalks already (not yay). I don't think that's a good sign but I can't remember, to be honest. The flax is flowering, one of the prettiest crops I've grown, and the beans are full and lush. It's interesting being right across the farm road from Dusty's traditionally-managed potatoes, getting watered and having had properly fertilized beds prepared. Ours were planted earlier but are much less full so far. I will be curious how the yields compare in the end, but with dry-farmed potatoes you get le
As if we woke up in an entirely new and foreign (and lovely) land, the summer solstice has brought us warm weather and sunshine today, to last all week (we hope). The field is looking amazing these days, with all of the early crops full in their beds and lush. The field feels vital and enthusiastic as if all the crops are feeling content and productive.
Ok, enough of the poetry. We have had some setbacks this year, such as the birds ripping out a whole lot of corn and bean seedlings, rabbits mowing down the soybeans and storage onion tops, and germination issues with some of the seed purchased from seed companies. Heck, this may be a small operation, but my self-saved seed pops up thoroughly and enthusiastically whereas much of the stuff I've gotten from seed companies has been less than reliable.
Despite the setbacks, most of the crops are flourishing. An update to this point includes the following: the soup pea and garbanzo trials are growing fabulously, with most of the peas in flower (the bush peas have white flowers and so far all of the pole peas have two-toned pinkish, reddish, or purplish flowers! The barley and wheat are headed out, I forgot to look at the oats but I don't think it's headed yet (planted late). The lentils are flowering. The potatoes are weedy and could use another hilling up soon, but are holding their own. Sunflowers (oilseed and edible seed) look strong. Transplanted corn is big and robust. Millet is small but germinated well and is filling in the beds thickly. Amaranth is doing well, still less than a foot tall. Same with quinoa but for the second year in a row, we planted too late and don't expect it to get big enough to harvest. All of the bush beans are starting to take off, pole beans are climbing their trellis. Soybeans and cowpeas are growing slower but will love the sun and heat this week.
We've been working hard to keep the weeds down, hoping to stick with hand-tools during the growing. I'm out with the wheel hoe at least once a week keeping the paths manageable. The evenings have been idyllic out in the field and it is fabulous to be living at the farm this year so I can take advantage of short morning and evening tasks, when it is so peaceful out.
Our first work party is this saturday, June 25 from 3-6. Get ahold of us if you'd like to come. We will be sharing a home-cooked meal of beans and cornbread (what else?) at the end. Cheers!
Birds were what welcomed me to the farm this year. There is a big old dead western redcedar high above the field where a bald eagle perches and sends elaborate vocalizations out across the field from. There is a flock of ravens in the same area. They connect me to the earth and make me feel alive when I am working in the field.
I have been lucky up to this point, very lucky. In fact, I'd begun to suspect that farmers don't have problems with all the pests (slugs, deer, rabbits, birds) that us gardeners have. I had no problems in my first three years farming out here. It's been eerily easy that way. It looks like my good fortune has come to an end.
I did the rounds this lovely, misty evening, as I do every few days, checking to see what has newly emerged (soybeans, Celt's corn, late pole beans, millet) and I noticed that all my squash ID tags were pulled out of the soil and laying on the ground. Strange. What small child was out here messing with my field? But as I kept walking I realized with a shock that there were many many beans pulled out as well, just laying horizontally on the ground next to where they were planted. And some corn as well. Birds. Perhaps even my beloved but mischevious ravens. I am staying calm at the moment, but definitely a bit worried.
In the last couple weeks we've transplanted and direct-seeded several types of soybeans, transplanted amaranth and quinoa, planted many types of corn and transplanted squash as part of Celt's "reinvigorate the Navajo Grey Hubbard" project.
I also decided, spur of the moment, to do some root crop dry farming trials. I have several varieties of carrots, beets, and some daikon and we'll see if any are better than the others with the dry farming methods.
Dusty installed our bean trellis poles last weekend and I strung up the wires. The beans planted May 10 are all up and growing and the beans planted on May 16 are starting to come up as well. Pretty quick this year, so we're pleased. The season seems to be off to a great start despite the cool, rainy spring.
It is great living on-site, and I have so far had time to keep on top of weeds and wheel-hoeing the pathways. I intend to keep on top of it throughout the season. The wheel-hoe is so pleasant to use, I wish I could afford to buy my own. I borrow Dusty's wheel hoe but since he uses it for his farm, I only use it in the evenings or weekends, as I don't want to hog it up when one of his staff might need it. His generosity in letting me borrow tools is not to be taken for granted! I hope in the future I can get a grant for the project to buy some tools. The first thing I'd get is a Glaser Wheel Hoe.
I hope you are all jumping into the gardening season and enjoying every rare drop of sunshine we are getting!
Well, aren’t we lucky! An entire day without rain. Actually, two. But today was the day the soil was dry enough to till. And with 100% rain forecast for tomorrow, it appears it may be the only day in the first half of May that tilling has the opportunity to occur. I feel eternally grateful that Dusty was able to squeeze in my needs this morning, in and around the zillion other tilling and dry day tasks that he was rushing around doing. The second he began tilling my late-season planting area, I dove in, with transplants, seeds, trench-digging hoe, clipboard, stakes, sharpies, and measuring devices flying in all directions. I had no time to lose. With only two hours between the soil prep and the time I needed to leave for doctor’s appointments in town, I was determined to do as much as possible in the fluffy new soil. I have had enough of planting after the pounding rains have compacted the ground.
I was in paradise. Today was one of those days when you realize that the depth of joy and contentment welling up inside is unsurpassable, and a pure sign that you are doing exactly what you ought to be. I finally feel like a farmer. I want to do this more now than ever. And right in tune with how a farmer ought to be prioritizing life, I called up and cancelled my doctor’s appointment. It seemed like the stupidest thing in the world to leave the field when this may be the one and only day I get to feel the warm, cool, softness that is newly tilled, moist soil in the sunshine. So my two hours turned into five (I didn’t cancel the massage appointment I had later in the day, as I knew I’d need it!). And I planted 14 varieties of dry bush beans (20’ each), a 100’ row of pole beans (10 varieties), transplanted garbanzos, corn, and storage onions, and marked beds for millet, quinoa, and soybeans. Everything is immaculately staked, labeled, and measured for ease of comparing yields. Rows are evenly spaced. Pole beans are marked for pole installation.
It’s been a challenging spring. The early stuff has lots of grass coming up already, because it wasn’t properly tilled (didn’t get the right weather). I gave it a good hoeing last night, though, so it’s fairly well under control. I wish you all the best despite the challenges. May your gardens also thrive in the face of cool temps and rain rain rain.
After two very unseasonably cold weeks, our peas, flax, wheat, and barley have popped up! Through freezing nights and a mid-april snowstorm, the little buggers still knew it was spring. I'm a little concerned that neither type of garbanzo is showing its face yet...but keeping my fingers crossed for my favorite crop!
My farming buddy and I continued with another variety of barley and wheat, some "what-the-hell" green lentils from the Co-op bulk food bin, favas (since my overwintering favas were blasted by last November's sudden drop down to the 20s), and four more varieties of potatoes. Dusty has finally been able to do some proper field prep around the farm, running his harrow all over the place, so things are shaping up at last!
We decided to do some of our bean trials, corn, and winter squash in the lower field where it is wetter and holds soil moisture better. That'll allow us more separation for different varieties (especially corn) and give us a better chance with the dry-farming of the squash. The squash, by the way, fits into our expanded storage crop philosophy of focusing some of our energy upon experiments with growing other storage crops with less inputs.
Oh, and by the way, if any of you haven't grown garbanzo beans before, get a good variety adapted to our climate, and plant a few in a pot, just to see how adorable the little leaves are when they first come out! You'll love them.
It's mid-April already and we have half our crops in the ground! Last week we planted the barley, wheat, flax, black garbanzo, popping garbanzo, around 10 types of dry soup peas and a new one: camelina.
Camelina is an oilseed crop in the mustard family that has been largely ignored because it was never developed for large-scale, industrial farming. We were given some seed by Diana from Scratch n' Peck, our local organic chicken feed mill, and asked to try growing it. She is trying to source more of the feed ingredients locally and camelina is an important highly nutritious ingredient. Camelina should grow similarly to flax and thus should do well here. We are excited to see how it goes.
Yesterday we planted several hundred row feet of 12 potato varieties in an attempt to not lose sight of perhaps the most important and reliable calorie crop for our climate. We started out the afternoon by struggling with the various attachments for grandpa's 75 year-old high-wheel hoe, then abandoning the idea when the plow part didn't appear to belong to that particular contraption! The backup plan was the shovel, but I must admit that I was eternally relieved when our humble and generous farming landlord stepped up and went for the walk-behind rototiller with potato-trench-digging attachment.
Lesson being, the more I grow, the more I appreciate the labor-saving devices. There will be plenty of hand-hoeing and foot-threshing to come. 10 minutes with a small machine for 300 feet of potatoes seems well worth it, much more worth it than an equivalent amount of gasoline in my car!
Krista is a life-long resident of Whatcom County, Washington State. She has been gardening and farming in the area for over 15 years.