In order to stay relevant it’s necessary to try growing something you know people routinely buy. Garlic is one of those plants for us. We love garlic ourselves and had thought about growing before. The issue is garlic is planted in October which is right at the end of harvest and our energy has been spent.
Well, last fall I managed to get motivated and went to a garlic growing class. We purchased 4 varieties of garlic and planted. In the spring scapes started growing from the garlic plants. Scapes are basically the beginning of flowering. Then comes the task of cutting off the scapes as they continue to pop up. Flowering uses a lot of energy that could be going to the bulb, or the part of the garlic you eat. At some point though, you have to give up and let the plant flower and the leaves dry. That’s when the bulbs are ready to pull.
It was a dirty job but an exciting one. Most crops you watch the food grow and harvest when it’s ready, but you can’t see the garlic until you pull it up. It’s like Christmas! The bulbs weren’t very large but boy were they strong! We sold a small amount but kept most to ourselves. Its our first try so we will improve for next year. We will definitely grow more.
My favorite thing to grow is the Cherokee Purple Heirloom tomato. It has an amazing flavor beyond your best beefsteak tomato. It’s a very ugly tomato which grows lumpy with a variety of coloring ranging from a yellowish brown to it’s infamous purple color. Another challenge with this tomato is it’s thin skin. A trait that is common on heirloom tomatoes. When it’s hot and a cool rain comes, the water is pulled by osmosis into the skin and many times creates cracks. All in all the taste is worth the risk.
In our area this tomato is easy to grow and many times grows much larger than the other tomatoes. The one pictured grew so fast it grew around the tomato stake. I had to extract it. You can see where the thin skin peeled partially off. This tomato was huge!
The only problem with this and other heirloom tomatoes is it’s hard to sell to the average person. Customers expect their tomatoes to look perfectly round and red. The majority of Cherokee Purple tomatoes grown do not meet that expectation. I came across a discussion online about the challenges with growing and selling Cherokee Purple and someone recommended a hybrid with a thicker skin that increased successful yield and increased sell-ability. Although I am insistent on only growing and selling heirloom varieties, I plan to try this new hybrid next year and see how it works. It might make a big difference for our customer’s expectations.
“I love heirloom tomatoes” everyone said. We were worried we wouldn’t have enough tomatoes to meet the need! So, like everything we’ve done before, we went overboard to be sure we had plenty of product to sell. We planted three 50 foot rows of 7 different varieties.
One of our neighbors was admiring the tomatoes as they were growing and told me about his friend who did small space indoor hydroponic tomatoes. He said she had incredible yields by pruning off excess leaves and focusing on keeping the central lead stalk without allowing it to branch out or become bushy. With the tight quarters it also kept good airflow to prevent disease. We decided to try the technique and as you can see we had a lot more tomatoes growing than ever before!
The tomatoes became so heavy on the stalks the tomato twine couldn’t hold them up anymore. We had to add additional stakes and more ties and started to pull the tomatoes once, sometimes twice a day.
When the first freeze was announced we pulled all the tomatoes off the vine and stored the ripe ones in the cold room. The partially red tomatoes were set out on tables covered with paper to minimize moisture. The green ones were refrigerated and used to make fried green tomatoes.
The final step with our excess tomatoes was to try our hand at canning. We made 45 jars of canned tomatoes and 27 jars of tomato sauce. There is nothing better than making Italian food from canned heirloom tomatoes straight from the garden.
We’ve already decided to grow fewer tomatoes of our favorite varieties for next year.
There is nothing more beautiful in the garden than fresh basil. We grew two 50 foot rows of it this year. They withstand the hottest and driest of days and need very little care to get them to grow. In order to keep the basil sweet and tender you need to stop it from flowering by constantly trimming it back. This promotes a lot of new tender growth and results in bushy plants. We don’t just sell a small stem of a few basil leaves, we sell a section of the plant that when left in a glass of water in the fridge will last a long time.
Just like most of the other items we grew, there was also too much basil. We couldn’t keep up with the trimming so finally let it bloom. It soon became covered with butterflies and our bees were in heaven! The aroma was incredible.
After considering what to do with the abundance of basil I decided to give drying a try. Everything I tried was adequate at best but the most unlikely process proved to be the best. Following a careful recipe using a microwave had amazing results. The leaves stayed green even after 6 months and the aroma and taste were far superior than what you buy in the store. I may come up with a way to sell this to our customers in the future.
Rather than growing the basil from seed next year I decided to winter over a few plants and create new plants from cuttings. Will also plant less since we had such excess.
The first time we tried okra was fried at a southern food restaurant. It was a big hit for us. So much so we started growing okra in our home garden the following season down south. It was amazing. It grew 7 feet tall and the okra pods grew to full size in as little as a day. The beautiful hibiscus style flower comes up and when the petals die a pod surfaces and starts to grow. You’d find a small pod in the morning and by evening it was huge! So, we started pulling them when they were smaller to prevent them from overgrowing and ended up with many more coming up.They usually say an overgrown okra is stringy and tough, but not ours. They were so tender regardless of size!
I learned how to make fried okra from a southern gentleman who spent his retirement years growing and giving away vegetables he grew in his 1/2 acre plot. He was amazing in his knowledge of gardening and how to cook everything he got out of his garden. He also grew a ton of zucchini and made them into pickles using the the same technique as cucumbers. He even made zucchini pie which was basically an apple pie recipe using zucchini! Unbelievably the man of this house is a huge apple pie fan and agreed it was a pretty good substitute.
Most people who think of okra thing about the slime that is usually in the inside. We’ve found it’s only slimy if you are using frozen or store bought okra. The longer it sits the worse it gets. We try to use it right away after we pick it so we don’t have that problem with. Quickly frying it on high heat, sliced okra rolled in cornmeal, salt and pepper prevents it from even starting.
By the way, the slime is an important part of the vegetable because it’s used as a thickner for a number of dishes. I think everyone can agree that gumbo is very tasty. There is nothing better than fresh okra in a homemade gumbo.
Everyone who has come to the farm always asks the same question. “What the heck is that?” as they point to the pictured pepper.
Something we were introduced to down south was the banana pepper. It was hot but not really hot, tasted great pickled and was added to just about any meal. Our favorite was when it was added to a calzone. Had a Mediterranean feel to it.
We decided to try and grow them ourselves as we had luck growing jalapenos in the past. It was a unique item so wasn’t readily available from your standard seed catalog. We found it through a selective tomato seed company and they referred to it as an heirloom pepper. Being a big fan of heirloom tomatoes, we were thrilled to try this pepper.
Sometimes the best things come from a mistake. Something I didn’t look at closely was the style of pepper this banana pepper was. It was a SWEET version of the pepper. Not the hot pepper. We fell in love with it. It was so versatile. We added slices to salads, omelets, pizza, spaghetti sauce, to home fries and stir fried with garlic and onion, and poured over pasta. It’s a new staple for us.
The most difficult thing about banana peppers is knowing when they are ripe. Deciding when the green color is now more yellow can be challenging, and if you get it wrong you end up with a bitter flavor. This pepper starts off green, turns yellow, then orange and eventually red. Although yellow is considered the ripe color you can eat them at any stage. The pepper taste just becomes stronger the redder it gets. Even a little heat starts when it’s red. We pull the peppers when they are the most yellow without turning orange. This pepper also continues to ripen on the shelf so if you want to have an orange pepper you set your yellow pepper out and it will eventually change color.
If you are one of our customers you should try the banana peppers. I guarantee you will like them.
It’s finally here! The day of our first honey draw!
Unlike other bee keepers we purchased Flow Hives for our bees. They are a new technology from Australia. The hive allows the honey to be drawn from the hive without opening the boxes and pulling out the honey comb. The honey super, which is the top box you see here, has plastic honey comb that collapses on a turn of a key allowing the honey to flow through the spouts and into 2 quart jars, untouched by human hands.
This hive has a large colony of bees we’ve had for a year and a half. They have 2 boxes of honey. One is the honey super and the other is the box below which they will use in the winter for their own food. Plus they should be able to fill another box before winter hits.
It didn’t take long to get the flow spouts flowing. We filled 67 jars and sold them all in a couple weeks. You can see the honey is very dark in color. We were surprised at the strong flavor. Sort of floral from the wildflowers and a little piney. We aren’t sure how else to describe it. It was so strong we were a little worried if the product was sellable. After sitting for a few hours the most pungent flavors subsided and the flavor was amazing. We received so much positive feedback, even from people who had done honey before.
Honey looks to be one of our best sellers at this point and we plan to buy a number of new hives next year since this is the only hive that survived our climate. We hope to be even more successful next year.
You can watch the honey draw on the farm YouTube Channel:
We planted 3 rows of carrots this year because the customers couldn’t seem to get enough. Sweet and juicy, they are our favorite as well.
For some reason it seems to take carrots a lot longer to grow than any of than other vegetables. Beets take off and have no issues with the hot, dry weather. When carrot seeds are initially planted they require constant watering. The planting depth is so shallow they are constantly drying out in the hot sun. Since we use subsurface irrigation we have to hand water the carrots every morning and evening until the roots grow a couple inches down. It’s a time intensive process but well worth the effort.
This year we skipped all the long 8-10 inch carrot varieties because we lost so many the year before. With our clay soil it was difficult to to pull those carrots out without breaking them. We have been trying a number of different carrot varieties and this year we tried 3 different ones. The first variety was a new scarlet version from Europe and the other 2 were different Nantes which grow about 7-8 inches at it’s longest. The diameter of the carrot makes up for the length and it much easier to harvest.
We were sorely disappointed in the scarlet from Europe which looked more like a small turnip in shape. It was juicy, great for cooking and just as sweet as the others, but very unappealing in appearance. The other two did well. So well this year in fact even with all the sales we had more than enough.
The good carrots were still a little difficult to harvest due to the hard clay soil. We have to water the ground to get them out when the weather is dry. Next year we will stick with our Nantes varieties and try moving them to the new expanded plot we have been talking about which will include more sand than the existing plot.
We tried to grow broccoli our first year at the farm and got a lot of leaves with tiny broccoli heads so swore we would never grow it again.
Zoom forward to 2017, as we were planting basil seed and realized we were running out. At the end of the season we collect seeds from everything possible. Unfortunately we sometimes forget to write down what seed was collected on the bag or packet. In this case we thought we had basil seed and what popped up was broccoli! We kept them well watered and in the fall we got the biggest heads to date. It was only the size of a grapefruit but tasted fantastic on salads!
Fresh broccoli is nothing like the stuff you buy in the grocery store. There is no stink to it and there is no bitter aftertaste. That only occurs when broccoli has been sitting a long time. Makes you question purchasing broccoli from the grocery store, doesn’t it?
Even though the heads don’t grow to full size, will we grow broccoli again?
This isn’t something hear a lot of farmers say……”I think I’ll grow celery!”.
When selecting what to grow we usually ask ourselves…’what do I usually buy at the grocery store?’ We make a lot of tuna and chicken salad which uses a lot of celery, so we thought, what they heck. Let’s try to grow it.
Celery takes 12 weeks to become true transplant size and then once planted requires a lot of water. That’s a challenge in the high plains desert!
The strategy on the celery was to plant a few transplants at the end of the row at the down slope so it would have the most water possible. This heirloom variety is not as long or thick as your grocery store variety and it’s a bit tougher, but the taste is much stronger and brighter. You need less for your recipes. We don’t have a lot of customers who ask for celery but once they get it they are hooked! Our home gardening neighbor even traded some peaches for it!