Wednesday, July 31, 2019

2019 CSA Week 7 News

Photo by Farmer Don.

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm! 

Welcome to Week 7 or our CSA.  Week 7 is an egg week.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is August first.  We are already starting to notice the days getting slightly  shorter.  Temperatures and evening thundershowers, however, continue to be very summer like.  Although this July has been unusually hot, we are happy to have avoided the drenching rains of last July.  Hopefully we will also avoid the drenching flooding rains of last August as well.  Some of our neighbors (and our local roads) still have not recovered from the flash floods last August.

In the fields the summer temperatures continue to push along our tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other summer crops.  We are still several weeks from our own tomato harvest.  However, Farmer Don was able to secure a small number certified organic cherry tomatoes from a neighbor for next week.  These will be available as pints of mixed tomatoes on a first serve basis.  Our chard is starting to slow a bit, but our kale continues to look good.  We are monitoring our tomatillos daily and they should be ready for harvest soon.  Basil continues to look good, but some of our other herbs have gone to seed.  Our next planting of beans includes yellow, purple, dragon and flat Italian beans.  The plants are up and beans should be ready for harvest in the coming weeks.  The seed house is slowly filling up with seedlings for our fall crops.  

The other evening, Farmer Don came in telling me he had something to show me in our tomato patch.  So off we went to explore and there in the middle of the sungolds was a fawn bedded down.  Don tells me this baby has been alone for several weeks and recently it has decided the coziest place on farm is in the tomatoes.  Deer do so much damage to our crops, but it is hard to not love this beautiful baby! 

Ok, so I have to admit, I saw something I found even more inspiring than the fawn on this farm tour.  On farm we allow some areas to remain weedy or more wild.  One of the plants we like to allow to grow are milkweed.  Milkweed are a food source for Monarch butterfly larvae.  Several years ago Monarchs seemed to have disappeared and there was worry about the future of the species.  Well, there beside the tomatoes was a patch of milkweed with a large number of Monarch (and tiger swallowtail) butterflies flying from plant to plant!  So exciting to see this species of butterfly becoming more common in Pennsylvania again!  Monarchs really are amazing insects.  Each fall they migrate, over 2000 miles, to a small area in south central Mexico, to overwinter.  In spring the Monarchs fly back north.  So, come September, if you see one of these orange butterflies, wish it luck on its journey to Mexico!  And if you have children in your life, I would encourage you to point these beautiful orange butterflies out to them and help them learn about the Monarch's life cycle and migration.
Today is delivery day, Farmers Don and Phil were just here for lunch and to pick up the boxes for afternoon delivery.  I need to get off the computer and continue checking items off my "to do" list for the day.  So, I will say, in Farmer Don's words, "be safe, be well and enjoy those veggies"!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

2019 Week 6 CSA News

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm! 

Welcome to Week 6 of our 2019 CSA!  Week 6 is NOT an egg week.  We hope everyone is enjoying their Week 5 boxes.

What a difference a week makes.  Last week, I was talking about a beautiful weekend and wanting to spend every minute outside.  This weekend was quite the opposite.  High humidity and high temperatures and even the dogs didn't want to spend time outdoors!  Yesterday brought the rain and hopefully today we awoke to cooler temperatures.  These cooler temperatures are a much needed relief for us.  As I have said before, the hot temperatures are good for ripening our summer crops, but not real good for the farmers or our animals. 

Cucumber season is officially here.  And zucchini season continues. Time for those creative recipes.  Speaking of cucumbers, Farmer Don asked me to talk a bit about the pickling cucumbers being harvested right now.  They are beautiful and as I have said before they can be enjoyed fresh or pickled.  These cucumbers are a variety called "deli star cucumbers", after the barrel of large Kosher pickles seen at your local deli.  These pickles are traditionally brine fermented for preservation, compared with vinegar pickling.  This is the same principle of lacto fermentation used to make sauerkraut and kimchi.  I have fermented a number of different vegetables, but have to admit, I have never made fermented pickles.  Maybe before cucumber season ends I will have to try a small batch.

As I have indicated in previous newsletters, our fields are looking good right now.  Some of our crops (tomatoes and peppers for example) are a bit behind due to the wet spring, but everything is quickly catching up.  Eggplant and tomatillos are looking really beautiful this year and I would anticipate some tomatillos being available in the next week or two.  Eggplant, tomatoes and peppers all have fruit on the vine, so now we wait for them to mature.  Kale and chard continue to look really beautiful and our next rotation of salad greens should be ready in  the next few weeks as well.  Purple and sweet basil is very nice right now and should continue

Farmer Don and I do try to carve out some non-farm time for ourselves.  One of our activities, after farm chores are done, is to go for a drive and get ice cream.  We usually load up the dogs and drive up through the Sullivan Falls area to Ricketts Glen park.  We stop occasionally to soak in some of the magic of the woods and to give the dogs a chance to explore.  We sometimes also take a quick drive through the park campground.  This week during our drive temperatures were still in the upper 80's with stifling humidity.  This got Farmer Don and I talking about campfires.  Farmer Don loves a campfire, something he learned at an early age camping all over the country with his family.  No matter how hot (or rainy), there is always a campfire if Don is around!  On this drive, he was convinced at least fifty percent of the campsites would have fires.  So, we started counting.  The results?  The jury is still out.  Farmer Don is convinced he was correct, but since we quickly lost count and started reminiscing about past camping trips, I think the data is inconclusive!  There are two campgrounds at this park and one had quite a few (at least fifty percent) fires, but the other campground was surprisingly void of fires.  A debate to be continued, perhaps around a campfire! 

I will end here.  The crew is here harvesting and need to get ready for a doctor's appointment.  Lots of appointments coming up in the next week, so I will be busy.  Thank you again for your support, by joining our CSA, by buying from us at market and by keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.

Until next week.... be safe, be well and enjoy those veggies.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Week 5 CSA News

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm! 

Welcome to Week 5 of our 2019 CSA!  WEEK 5 IS A CHICKEN WEEK!!!  So, if you purchased a chicken share, please be sure to check for a cooler at your drop site.  Our site hosts are not able to store your chicken for you.  Week 5 is an egg week.  Remember ordering of our CSA begins every Thursday at 6 pm and ends on Sunday at 6 pm.

I am sitting on the back porch still enjoying the coolness of the morning, but I fear the coolness will be short lived as the hot and muggies are on their way with highs in the 90's predicted into the first part of next week.  Highs in the 90's and overnight lows in the 70's are not great for the farmers, but our summertime veggies will be loving life.  And, I must say "Wasn't this past weekend just beautiful!"  I know I spent as much time as possible outside enjoying the low humidity and sunshine.  
As I have reported in recent newsletters, our fields are looking good.  A bit weedy, but crops are growing nicely.  Our tomatoes are large and healthy and we have fruit on the vine!  We are still a few weeks from tomato harvest, but it is encouraging to see the plants setting fruit. Eggplants are also looking good and like the tomatoes are also setting fruit.  Our chard and kale continue to look healthy and produce well.  Zucchini and summer squash harvest is in full swing, so get your recipes ready!  The other night Farmer Don brought me a beautiful bulb of fennel  and a tomatillo (the gifts a farm wife gets  - be still my heart!).  We will allow both of these crops to size up a bit more, but look for them on the choice list soon.  We are harvesting small numbers of beans currently, but have large plantings which should be ready in several weeks.  Cucumber harvest has started as well, with pickling cucumbers being the first to be ready.  Don't let the name fool you, picklers are also good for eating fresh, although the skin is a bit tougher than slicers, so you may want to peel them.  Sweet and purple basil is beautiful  and harvest should continue of these herbs for quite a while. 

As many of you already know, my most recent health issues have caused me to leave a full time off farm job.  This has been quite an adjustment for both Farmer Don and I, as I cannot remember the last time I did not have a full time job.  Farmer Don would tell everyone I worked 2 full time jobs; one off farm and then on farm for him in my spare time.  Farmer Don is now intent on keeping me busy and involved in the farm.  Most recently he has decided I can take over our seeding of fall crops and has set up an efficient work station for me on the back porch.  Although this seeding is a huge task and I am not nearly as efficient as Farmer Don and his farm  helpers, it has felt good to have my hands in the dirt again.  So, I will be spending time in the coming days and weeks trying to convince only one tiny seed to fall into each cell of our seedling trays!  I will keep you posted about my new on farm job.

In our kitchen, simple and quick is still ruling for farm dinners.  Last night we had a large salad consisting of a mix of greens and topped with an assortment of fresh veggies and some leftover chicken.  I have started to do some preserving as well, with freezing some berries.  My next task will be some simple freezer pickles.  I use a recipe from one of my canning books, but this web recipe is very close to the one I use  (  
Like this recipe, I do not add any pickling spices to my freezer pickles, as I remember reading somewhere that freezing the spices could result in off tasting pickles.  I find these pickles are good as a topping to salads, atop burgers or pork sandwiches or stand alone as a small side salad.  And as a bonus, they are super easy to make!  As always, stay tuned as to how my freezer pickles turn out!

So, I have literally been writing this newsletter for over 12 hours!   More like 48, if you consider the versions I started over the weekend and never finished!  So, I will end here, with a promise to try and get newsletters out in a more timely manner in the future.

Thanks to each of you for reading and as always thank you for your support of our farm.

Monday, July 8, 2019

CSA Week 4 Farm News

Greetings from Dancing Hen Farm! 

Welcome to Week 4 of our 2019 CSA.  Week 4 is not an egg week. 

The weather word this last week has been humidity.  Today we awoke to a morning of rain.  We had not anticipated this.  We knew there was a good chance of showers today, but assumed we would be dealing with those all too familiar passing summer thunder storms.  Instead it seems a band of rain is stalling over us giving us what I would classify as rain, not showers.  We also anticipated cooler temperatures this morning, but we awoke to temperatures still in the 70's!  As Farmer Don likes to remind us, Mother Nature always bats last!  I did just check the radar and it looks like the rain is slowing slipping past us, so some muddy field work will be possible a bit later today.

Our fields are looking good.  We are having our usual battles with deer and groundhogs, but in general most crops are growing well.  We are now planting our third plantings of chard and kale and soon will begin seeding our fall crops for planting in August.  I always find it odd that we seed fall crops in the heat of summer!  Cucumbers look really good and we should begin harvesting them in the next week or two.  We are still harvesting peas, but they are slowing down due to the heat.  Summer squash continues to produce and soon we will be harvesting eight ball zucchini, yellow squash and patty pans, with zucchini harvest continuing.  Our Swiss Chard and Kale is really beautiful right now and we should continue to have these available going forward.  Tomatoes are looking good, but will most likely be a later harvest for us.  Our tomatoes got a late start and unfortunately one of our four legged pests now seems to have a taste for tomatoes and has been trimming them back for us with their eating.  In the past certain crops, including tomatoes have been safe from deer and ground hog but I guess the new generation of wildlife has a different palate.

I want to take a bit of time to thank some of those who help us out here on farm.  First, a big thank you to CSA members Alex and Maria.  Alex and Maria spent the Fourth of July on farm helping Farmer Don finish up some planting and they also helped out on Sunday at the Mountain Top Market.  Also a big Thank You to Farmer Phil.  Farmer Phil has helped us for a number of years now and many of you know him as Farmer Don's helper at the Back Mountain Farmers Market.  Phil also helps with CSA deliveries and is in charge of weighing and portioning in our pack house.  Stacy is another helper on farm.  Stacy has been volunteering her time for several years and can be found early in the season helping in the fields.  Now that the CSA has started, Stacy spends a long day on farm harvesting and washing share items.  Joyce, another volunteer, can also be found here on harvest day.  Joyce not only helps with harvest, but also becomes my driver when Farmer Don cannot accompany me to doctors' appointments and therapy sessions.  Ken, another farm volunteer is a bit of a jack of all trades, helping in the fields, harvesting and running a mean weed eater.  And last, but not least, Lori.  Lori works, as Farmer Don says, second shift.  She arrives late in the afternoon and works into the evening helping Farmer Don pack CSA boxes. 

As a side note, we are always looking for good volunteers or work share people.  Due to weekend farm markets, hours generally need to be daytime Monday to Friday.  If interested, please contact us and we will try to work something out.

In the kitchen, we are still using the grill to try and keep the heat out the house and farmer Don is still doing his specialty, grilled zucchini.  Last night we had grilled eight ball.  For those of you not familiar, eight ball zucchini are zucchini which grow round rather than long and they are good for grilling as they are easy to slice uniformly.  We also are still eating a lot of chard and peas.  I have never frozen peas, but I asked Farmer Don to pick some extras for me today, so I can experiment with freezing some.  Freezing peas will be new to me, as I have always thought peas are best eaten fresh, usually right off the vine!

Market season is in full swing.  Saturdays you can find Farmer Don at the Back Mountain Farmers Market in Dallas and Sundays you can find him at the Mountain Top Farmers Market.  Both of these markets are growing with some great farmers and vendors selling their wares and are well worth the trip.  If  you are at either of these markets, please stop by and say hello. 

As many one you may recall from a past newsletter, I am a bit of a bug person, having spent many, many classroom and work hours studying bugs.  This has made me aware of insects and their unique behaviors.  Recently, I have been watching stunning shiny black, almost blue, metallic wasps. These are spider or pompilild wasps.  The other day, I was able to watch the behavior I was looking for.  I saw one of these wasps nap a spider out of its web, paralyze it and carry it off.  So efficient and so incredible!  The wasp will use this spider as a vessel to rear its young.  I will not bore you with the details, but just say - "how cool is that?!".  A venomous insect attacking and paralyzing another venomous arthropod and then using it as a kind of food filled nursery for its babies.  Yes, I know probably way too much science and probably way too much talk of killing and paralyzing, especially, just, as I got done talking about cooking and food!  And maybe the doctors are right, now that I have retired early, maybe I do need a hobby!  But, the next time you see one of those shiny black wasps, think about following it and watching it catch a spider.

Ok, time to wrap up!  The rain has stopped and although it is still cloudy, the sky seems to be brightening.  Have a great week!