Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Week 11 CSA Newsletter

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm!  Happy Labor Day!!  This is Week 11 of our summer/main season CSA.  Week 11 is an egg week.

And suddenly it was fall!  Today was fairly warm and I am sure we will still have some warm days (dare I say summer-like?), but this past week has had me dreaming of pumpkins and apples and looking for changing leaves.  I do love fall, but this almost seems like the summer that wasn't, with lots of rain and cooler temperatures.
Our fields are slowly turning over to more fall like crops.  Our greens are loving this cool weather.  Watch for mixed mustard greens, turnip greens and more lettuces coming soon.  We have a small planting of arugula and with a bit of luck, should provide a harvest in the next few weeks.  Winter squash will be coming soon. We are working with some of our neighbors to once again secure sweet potatoes this year.  Unfortunately this cooler weather is not helping our remaining summer crops mature.  We have a final planting of summer squash and cucumbers which are slowly growing and trying to make fruit, only time will tell if these plants produce harvestable fruits.  Our second, and larger, planting of okra is also suffering from the cooler weather, as are our eggplants.  We are thinking our tomatoes will start to slow down in the next weeks.
CSA members will be noticing some new items appearing on our pick list.  New last week were tomato seconds.  These are beautiful and, for the most part, heirloom tomatoes.  They are usually ripe and do  have minor blemishes or cracks and will generally need to be used shortly after they are received.  You will receive approximately 2 quarts of tomatoes for each seconds order.  These are the tomatoes we use on farm!  New this week are no spray sweet corn, crab apples and fall salad mix.  The crabapples are old fashioned crabapples off of a large old tree we have on farm.  This year it is weighted down with apples.  Crabapples are small, hard, sour/bitter apples and generally are not good eaten fresh.  They do however make good jelly, pickle or can nicely and can be used to make chutneys.  As our crabapple tree is unsprayed and un-managed, the apples will have some blemishes.   Here are a couple of websites with information on crabapples, including some recipes.  If all else fails you can do as we did as kids and a great crabapple fight!  Also new this week is fall salad mix.  This is a favorite mix on farm and will include lettuces, mustards, sorrel, herbs, and more! 

Our kitchen is still in preserving mode.  This week we canned tomatoes and I have beans in the cooler to freeze.  Plans are for another batch of tomato sauce and possible more canned tomatoes.  I am thinking ketchup and relish will not be in the plans this year.  But, I may try a turn some of our tomatillos into salsa verde for canning.  We also have plans for our annual batches of sauerkraut.  We have a nice German fermentation crock which holds 10 pounds of fermenting cabbage.  Our plans are to fill this crock, 2 or possibly 3 times, this year.

Farmer Don and I had a night out this past Sunday.  One of our few nights away from the farm this summer!  We attended a "meet the farmer dinner" at the Blind Pig Kitchen in Bloomsburg.  The farmers featured were our friends Johnny and Leah Tewksbury of Tewksbury Grace Farm.  We had a great night filled with delicious food and good friendship.  At least one third of the guests at the dinner were fellow and farmers and friends of ours, so we got a chance to catch up on how everyone's summer was going and swap some great farm stories!  If you have not been to the Blind Pig yet, I would encourage you to do so!  You can learn more on their website.

Farmer Don is busy making dinner as I type and he just told me we are about ready to eat.  So, I end here, print this, so Farmer Don can read it, and eat some pasta with fresh tomato sauce!

Be well, be safe, be kind and keep our neighbors in Texas and Louisiana in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Week 10 CSA Newsletter

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm!  Welcome to Week 10 of our Summer season CSA.  Hopefully all our members are enjoying their week 10 boxes.  Week 10 is not an egg week.  Week 10 is a chicken week.
Did everyone get a chance to experience the eclipse this week?  Quite the media hype and such crowds of people traveling to see darkness fall during the day!  I have to admit, I would have loved to experience the darkness!  On farm, we didn't get the fancy glasses, and obviously we didn't experience darkness, but we still were able to view the event.  Thanks for farm volunteer/helper Stacy and her beautiful eclipse viewing box, we were able to watch the moon move partly over the sun.
WOW!  That is all I can say about the upcoming weather.  The humidity and, what seemed to us like daily rain showers, is being replaced by sunny mild days and cool nights.  This dry stretch will be very welcome after such a wet growing season for us.  However, the weather forecast just showed some predicted overnight temperatures in the upper 40's.  Soon we will be saying the dreaded "f" word.  Frost!  Generally, here on farm, we get some light frosts in September, and a killing frost in October. 
So, what does all this talk of frost mean to the farm and our crops.  The killing frost will generally mean our true summer crops will come to an end.  These crops include, tomatoes, summer squash and beans.  We will harvest what we can of these crops right before the frost to save what harvest we can.  However many of our crops actually improve with the cooler weather.  Greens, both salad and cooking, love cooler weather.  Their growth will slow, but with some minimal row covers greens will survive some fairly low temperatures.  As the temperatures cool, kale will become ever so sweet and chard will deepen in color.  Lettuce will also become sweeter and more tender.  And yes, the animals will also enjoy the coming cool mornings.  Cool mornings is when I really miss having cows and horses on farm.  Watching a horse or cow, run and buck through a frosted pasture, is sure to bring a smile to my face.  But, it is also fun to watch Rosie and Shady run around in the frost or watch the pigs snort and charge around their field.  The cool weather will even have the chickens more active and foraging more.
Ohhh! All this talk of frost and here it is August and we are in the middle of an explosion of summer crop harvest!  There are still lots of crops growing in our fields and lots of harvests still to be done.  It is officially tomato season on farm!  Lots and lots of tomatoes are being harvested and they should continue for quite a few weeks to come.  Farmer Don has started some tomato tastings at market and it seems everyone has a different favorite.   I think the heirlooms, obviously, have the best flavors and I am still amazed at the differences in taste from variety to variety.  And who can deny that sungolds are a universal favorite.  Looking to do some tomato tasting, stop by one of our markets and ask Farmer Don for a sample.  We should have beans available for quite a few weeks, as our plantings are finally really starting to produce.  Lettuce and salad mix should become readily available again and kale and chard will continue.  We have an arugula planting which has germinated and we are awaiting it to size up and hopefully not be devoured by bugs!  Asian greens are in the ground and will become available in the upcoming weeks.  We also have another planting of summer squash and cucumbers which are looking really good and we should be harvesting from these in the upcoming weeks.
We are busy planting and preparing for this year's Fall/Extended season CSA.  To assure crops are available, we are planting our greenhouse and building mini greenhouses in our fields to protect plants for the upcoming cool temperatures.  Storage crops; potatoes, winter squash, sweet potatoes and carrots, will be harvested and made available as well.  We already have quite a number of members signed up for this Extended Season.  Thank you to everyone who has signed up!  We do have some memberships available.  Please remember, as is always the case, we hold your membership when we receive your payment. We do anticipate limiting the number of membership for this part of our CSA.
The kitchen was busy this past weekend with tomato processing.  It was tomato sauce weekend!  50 pounds of Roma tomatoes were processed and cooked down to 20 pints of canned sauce.  Processing tomatoes can make a quick mess of the kitchen, but the ping of sealing jars somehow makes the mess seem unimportant.  And 20 pints of sauce cooling on my kitchen table is a beautiful sight, even if I am still wiping tomato splatter off my wall!  The cool, wet summer has me a bit behind in canning as crops have taken their time in ripening.  My plans for this year's preserving is to still can some tomatoes and possibly another batch of sauce.  In the upcoming weeks I will also freeze some green beans and hopefully some cooking greens.  Not sure I will get much else "put up" this year, only harvest and time will tell.  I do love preserving!  I find spending a day putting food away for the winter months extremely satisfying and it brings back such fond memories of my childhood and many summertime hours spent with my Mother, Grandmother and sisters canning, pickling and freezing.
This weekend looks like a beautiful weekend for market!  If you haven't visited one of the local farmers markets, I would encourage you to do so.  On Saturdays Farmer Don is at the Back Mountain Library Market in Dallas and on Sundays he is at the Mountain Top Farmers Market at the Crestwood High School.  If you are at one of these markets, please stop by our table and say hello and ask to sample some tomatoes.  We really love to meet and connect with our members and markets allow us that opportunity.
So, the sun is up now, the dogs are patiently, ok not patiently, waiting for their breakfast.  Time to get off the computer and get on to the chores of the day. 
Until next week......

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Week 9 CSA Newsletter

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm!  Welcome to Week 9 of our Main/Summer Season CSA.  Hopefully our CSA members are enjoying their boxes.  Week 9 is an egg week and Week 9 is the half way point of our Summer CSA.  Next week, Week 10, will be a chicken delivery week.

We have had an unusually wet (and somewhat cooler) summer here on farm.  This is evident by our need to still mow our grass.  Usually by now the heat of summer combined with a the usual need for rain, leaves our grass brown and dry.  Not so this year!  In fact, Farmer Don is mowing right now.  Unfortunately, this year of lots of mowing, our riding lawn mower seems to be in need of a transmission.  So, we are now mowing more than half our yard with the tractor!  The tractor makes the task of mowing go quicker, but it does tear up the lawn a bit.  Maybe next year we will finally bring sheep on farm and allow them to do the mowing for us.  I think we will also have to budget for a new mower!

Tomato harvest is in full swing, with lots of cherries and heirlooms being picked.  Farmer Don asked me to mention that we harvest our tomatoes, especially the heirlooms, slightly on the green side.  We do this to prevent the tomatoes from cracking and therefore spoiling in the field.  For this reason, the tomatoes you receive in your boxes may require a day or two the kitchen table to fully ripen.  With the varied colors of some of our heirlooms, it is sometimes tough to determine when they are ripe and ready to eat.  I like to tell people that ripe tomatoes will feel slightly soft to touch.  Speaking of tomatoes, we are getting some certified organic bulk Roma tomatoes from a neighbor.  If you are interested in making sauce, please contact us.

Continuing on with harvest.  Beans continue to be available, as do summer squash.  Cucumbers are almost done and will be available in very limited numbers going forward.  Barring any nasty blight outbreak, we anticipate tomatoes to be available in good numbers for quite a few weeks.  Swiss chard continues to look great and our next planting of kale will be sizing up shortly.  New last week, we saw collard greens become available. Escarole and dandelion greens will be harvested for several more weeks.  We are still harvesting salad greens and heads of leaf lettuce should again become available in the next few weeks.  Tomatillos are looking good and a small planting of ground cherries are starting to mature as well.
The seed house is still a flurry  of activity as we finish up seeding for the season.  Lots of lettuces, Asian greens and cooking greens being seeded and germinating.  Fall crops are being planted in our fields, as well.  Last week we direct seeded fall greens and radishes and today we planted rutabagas.  Winter squash and pumpkins are looking good and with a bit of luck we will have a nice harvest this year. 

In years past, I used to feature a crop each week and pass on recipes.  I am thinking of bringing this tradition back for the next few weeks.  This week I want to talk a bit about tomatillos.  Tomatillos or husk tomatoes are a staple in salsa verde or green salsa.  They are high in vitamin C and fiber and also provide dietary sources of potassium, magnesium and niacin.  Tomatillos have a papery husk around the fruit.  To use, peel the husk away and rinse the fruit.    On farm, we add tomatillos, raw, to salads.  One of Farmer Don's specialties, this time of the year, is pico de gallo, which he also adds tomatillos to.  Tomatillos pair very well with pork.  I would suggest getting the slow cooker out and making a pot of chili verde using a pork shoulder.  I can't seem to find a weblink to my recipe, but here is a fairly straight forward recipe (  Another farm favorite tomatillo recipe is Tomatillo Bread Salad.  The addition of black beans to this salad makes it a meal for lunch or dinner.  The recipe comes from a CSA farm in Arizona  ( ).
In our kitchen, in addition to using tomatillos, we have starting to binge eat tomatoes.  Our kitchen table always has a bowl of cherry tomatoes for snacking and several large heirlooms ripening.  As mentioned above Farmer Don keeps us supplied with fresh pico de gallo.   Tonight for dinner we had a farm favorite -- BLT's.  It is so nice to have our own lettuce, tomato and bacon!  And the bread was locally made as well!  This weekend, I am planning to make and can some tomato sauce.   Hopefully this year I will also get some tomatoes canned and some ketchup made.
This past week we said good-bye to another of our summer interns.  Jane will be heading a bit south to start her freshman year at Gettysburg College.  Thanks Jane for all your help this summer!  Good Luck at college, you will be missed on farm.

So, the hour is getting late.  Farmer Don just came in from late night animal chores.  I need to print this newsletter, allow him to read it and hopefully get it sent out either tonight or early tomorrow morning.

As always, thank you for your support of our small farm and sustainable agriculture.  "be safe, be well and enjoy those veggies".

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Week 8 CSA Newsletter

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm!  Welcome to Week 8 of our Summer CSA.  Week 8 is not an egg week.  Last week, Week 7, was an egg week.  And next week, Week 9, is the half way point of our summer CSA!

An early August  morning and a cool 50 outside!  Fall, could it be?  The past few days have certainly felt more like fall than the heat of summer we usually feel this time of year.  I am sure there are plenty of hot days still to come, but still I am seeing and feeling fall.  Apples are falling, golden rod is blooming, days are getting shorter and the geese have started flying over the farm. 

Our harvest, however, is still saying summer!  Although these cooler temperatures, make Farmer Don's job of predicting harvest a bit tougher.  Our summer crops still need some warmth to fully mature.  Tomatoes are starting to ripen and we anticipate their availability to continue for quite a few weeks.  There are a lot of cherry tomatoes being picked right now and heirlooms and slicers should follow in good numbers shortly.  Summer squash continues to produce, while cucumber production is falling off a bit.  Okra should become available next week or the next.  We are closely watching several plantings of green beans and these should be ready for harvest in the next few weeks.  Greens, cooking and salad continue to be harvested.

Continuing on a bit with fall.  New this year, we are offering a Fall CSA share.  The fall share will begin in October, right after our summer season ends, and will run for 8 additional weeks.  Many of our Summer CSA members have already signed up for our fall season and we thank each of you for your support.   We do still have memberships available and you do not need to be a member of our Summer CSA to sign up for Fall deliveries.  Please visit our website or contact the farm for additional information. 

Boxes, yep, boxes again!  Please return your share boxes!  As I have said in the past, these boxes cost the farm between 1 and 2 dollars each.  This cost adds up quickly, considering we have 100 CSA members.  In the beginning of the season we generally budget 2 to 3 boxes per member, but this budgeting is based on members returning their boxes for re-use.  Unfortunately, this year, we are needing to go to the produce supply house on a regular basis and purchase boxes.  Please help us out and if you have share boxes at your house, return them to your drop site so we can pick them up.

Our kitchen is still in summer mode.  Grilled meats and veggies continue to be the theme for most farm dinners.  With tomatoes coming on, they are taking a more prominent role in meals.  Grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches are always a favorite, as are BLT's.  I do like to roast cherry tomatoes.  The roasting really intensifies the flavor.  Cherry tomatoes can be placed in a shallow roasting dish, along with salt, garlic and perhaps a few herbs.  Stir to combine the ingredients and roast in a hot oven until the tomatoes are soft and their skin is bursting.  These tomatoes can be served as a side dish, as a pasta sauce or as a topping for a toasted baguette.  Or, half way through the roasting, add salmon or chicken to the pan.  Spoon some of the tomatoes and their juice over the meat, turn down the oven and continue to roast until the meat reaches the desired temperature.
This week we said "good bye" to one of our summer workers, Blyss.  Thank you Blyss, for your positive attitude, hard work and dedication to the farm this summer!  Blyss will not be helping on farm, but she will still be helping out at the Back Mountain Farmers Market.  If you see Blyss at market, be sure to thank her for helping us grow your food this season.

The sun is now up, the temperature has warmed a bit and farm is buzzing with activity.  Time to say "good bye" until next week.