The season in review

It’s surprisingly cold now, in late November, although dry and clear. As always, we’d love for some of the snow blanketing other parts of the country (hello, six feet in Buffalo!) to bestow its generosity upon us here, but nothing shows in the forecast as yet. Days are crisp and blue, and nights definitely require extra quilts. The sunroom is still full of cardboard trays of slowly ripening tomatoes and peppers; this unheated room works perfectly for cold storage and allows these vegetables to ripen slowly with sunlight but without so much warmth that they’d rot. Certainly something is sacrificed in terms of flavor when crops aren’t allowed to ripen outside, but we have a reasonably short growing season here so we have to work with what we have – and it’s a lovely treat to enjoy our own fresh tomato salads well into winter.

Those cardboard trays are slowly transforming into rustic, delicate ristras and canning jars of salsa and sauce; seeds are mostly dried and packed away. The winter squash bounty hasn’t been tapped into yet; that will carry us through the coldest months and into fragile spring with warming soups and curries. New planting rows for next year have been plowed and filled with compost. The plants we pulled out have been mowed into bits to break down into compost over winter; the beds have been mulched with spent straw and next year’s garlic has been planted. In all ways, our season is gradually winding down and we’re more than ready to tuck ourselves in for a couple of months of much-needed rest.

We’re still reviewing our season, cataloguing our successes and noting what changes and improvements we plan to make for next year. This year certainly had its challenges, but it definitely offered wins, too! Read on for more about the 2022 growing season.

We grow three traditional raspberry varieties plus ‘Anne,’ a yellow cultivar.

Our four rows of raspberries produced spectacularly this year! Early in the season we actually thought we’d lost these plants, but they rallied and for a period of weeks in September we were harvesting a pound or more every morning. Considering the cost of fresh organic raspberries in supermarkets these days, our own homegrown abundance qualified as a cash crop! The rows have some holes where canes have died, so we’ll replant these in the spring and would like to introduce blackberries, too.

Ripe ground cherries are bright yellow with a papery tan husk.

We grow many familiar fruits and vegetables, but we like growing unusual things too. Ground cherries (also called pineapple tomatillos or husk cherries) are absolutely delicious, drought-tolerant and easy to grow. Unlike traditional tomatillos, which grow on tall vining plants similar to tomatoes, ground cherries grow – as you might imagine – on the ground. The tiny fruits are sweet-tart, crisp and delicious, especially once the papery husks have turned from green to beige. They’re also a terrific source of Vitamin C! I’ve saved a lot of seeds this year and am hoping to substantially expand our plantings of this unusual fruit next year.

Quick pickles are so easy and rewarding to make.

Our sweet and hot peppers produced remarkably well. I’ve never before harvested so many green peppers pre-frost – like the tomatoes, these were late starters – and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how well these green peppers have ripened to red. This weekend I quick-pickled a mix of sweet and hot peppers for a bright, tangy, fresh condiment to use on soups and beans. Many of our hot peppers are dried and turned into chile powder; some are fermented into Tabasco-style hot sauce. Capsaicin is never in short supply here.

A colorful calendula mix bordering one of our raised beds.

We’ve expanded our flower plantings to create beneficial habitat for pollinators, naturally repel insects and because they’re just such a joyous visual pleasure. We primarily grow a mix of calendula, marigolds and cosmos; they’re drought-tolerant and easy to grow, but will be adding hollyhock and zinnia next year. Our area showcases gorgeous self-seeding orange poppies every spring; we’ve not yet had success with these, but I’m hopeful that 2023 will be our year. Flowers bring such simple, uncomplicated joy to our lives here on the farm that I want to plant them everywhere.

Aphids run amok on kale leaves.

This season had some serious challenges, too. Our growing season started late thanks to cool temperatures well into June; the tomatoes were therefore badly stunted and didn’t start producing until early September. We also experienced our first bout of tomato viruses; in our high-plains desert climate, viruses are thankfully rare but this means we don’t have much useful experience in identifying or treating. Our best guess is that many of our plants suffered from beet curly top virus (BCTV) which is insect-vectored and was apparently endemic in our area this year. As a result of this infestation, many of our one hundred tomato plants either didn’t produce at all or produced only a handful of small, inedible fruits. We also struggled with soil nutrient issues, and as a result will be moving all tomato plants to a different growing area next year in order to let the soil rest. After last year’s utterly staggering tomato harvest, this year definitely felt like a bit of a letdown – but it’s also a good reminder that crop rotation and soil health matter – a lot. We successfully grew a few new tomato cultivars, including Amana Orange, Principe Borghese and Evergreen, all of which performed well enough to be added to our seed bank.

And of course the aphids went crazy on the brassicas, as shown above.

Silvery squash bugs and their thousands of coppery eggs are easy to recognize.

While we’re on the topic of crop rotation, we also learned the hard way that moving the squash plants just a few yards to avoid the devastating squash bugs we first noticed last year DOES NOT WORK. Because of climate change, squash bugs are now proving much more of a problem – their larvae can actually overwinter in the soil, as winter temperatures are no longer cold enough to kill them (much like the mountain pine beetle). So the terrible squash bugs that we had at the end of last year were a far bigger problem this year, as they were absolutely everywhere. As a result, squash yields were far lower than expected; on the positive side, I learned how to identify and handpick the coppery eggs off the leaves. As with the tomatoes, we’re relocating the entire patch west of the animal corral next year in a valiant attempt to eradicate our hungry nemesis. I’m not too sad about the loss of the zucchini, but the winter squashes do play a key role in our off-season diet so our poor yields are disappointing, to say the least. Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson and can improve next year.

Definitely not thrilled about this paparazzi experience.

We’ve had some unusual wildlife encounters recently, including a bear, a great horned owl, feral cats, numerous hawks and raptors, badgers and this little guy – the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Fun facts: the porcupine is North America’s second-largest rodent after the beaver (Go Beavs!) and the scientific name translates to ‘quill pig.’ They can climb trees and are excellent swimmers. You will likely be the most popular person at your holiday gatherings when you bust out these super-useful trivia tidbits. (Porcupines are also primarily nocturnal, so all credit to N for capturing this incredible photo!)

Such funny creatures – inquisitive yet skittish.

And finally, our four rescue alpacas and our stoic, elegant llama (can you spot him?) remain content, healthy and as stand-offish as ever. We’re so glad to have them, even if our dreams of an alpaca petting zoo will likely never come to fruition.

Thanks for reading, dear friends. We love having you here, too.

The bean harvest

Our eight bean varieties from the 2022 harvest.

Here we are, dear friends, and yet again I’m singing songs of love and devotion to beans – specifically our own 2022 harvest! My total and complete adoration of dried beans is no secret. Not only are beans one of the most inexpensive yet nutritious whole foods available, but as nitrogen-fixing legumes they actually improve soil. They grow well in our tricky high-plains desert environment, they don’t require much water and they’re very low-maintenance. There can hardly be a better edible crop to grow! Plus, as the world gradually starts to realize that a meat-centric diet for nine billion people simply won’t work, beans (and other nutritious legumes and pulses) will become ever more important as plant-based proteins. We’d like to get ahead of that curve and start cultivating more edible legumes on our farm, for both our own health and our soils, so this year we planted a test crop.

The bean rows in late spring, prepared with stakes, support line and irrigation.

Last fall, we dropped the marker in and plowed five new rows west of the raspberry patch, each about twenty feet long. Add rebar, braided baling twine, $17 of drip irrigation tubing and we had a new bean plot. Oh! Don’t forget the hours of digging, removal of large rocks, and addition of animal manure to enrich the soil. This area of our farm hasn’t been planted in who knows how long, so amendments and enrichment are definitely a must. In mid-June I planted eight different bean varieties, some from local seedstock and others that I’ve saved over the years in our seed bank. All were bush (rather than pole) beans; most were types that I hadn’t planted before. I was so excited to grow our own long-keeping plant-based protein source!

The bean plants in early September, just starting to yellow.

I definitely noticed extensive variation in germination rates on the varieties I planted; some of my seed beans were at least seven or eight years old, and I didn’t get stellar germination rates off these. I replanted some portions of the rows two or three times to make sure I effectively used all the available planting space; this did improve yield but also meant that rows contained different varieties – which means I still have a lot of sorting to do!

Last year’s scarlet runner beans; notice how the pods are dry and brown.

All of these beans were intentionally grown for dry beans, so we didn’t start harvesting until the pods were ‘rattle-dry,’ crisp and papery. Starting in mid-September we began running the rows every couple of days to collect the dried pods; the beans matured at different times so some days we harvested a lot and others only a few pods. We pulled everything that was fully mature prior to our hard freeze two weeks ago; some plants still had unripe pods, so I left these as an experiment. Now that we have another stretch of cool, dry weather, these beans may continue to mature and dry. As with any long-term storage crop, it is imperative that all moisture is removed before storing, otherwise the beans will mold and rot. All told, we harvested about twenty-two pounds of dry beans off our five rows with some varieties yielding far more than others, as is true of most heirlooms. Read on to learn about the individual beans!

Yellow Eye

Also called Maine Yellow Eye, these are a classic small New England bean, traditionally used for Boston baked beans and other similar cold weather dishes. The yield was pretty stellar on these and we’ll likely these plant again.

Tiger’s Eye

This seedstock was older and a bit of a gamble, but the beans are so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. Tiger’s Eye are a kidney-shaped bean, likely originating in Chile or Argentina. They’re not often seen outside of specialty growers, and although the yield wasn’t great, now I have newer seedstock for future plantings which will likely improve production substantially.

Peregion

These beans are a bit of a mystery; they’re likely Peregion, but the coloration presented differently than in previous crops. These have a creamy off-white background with definite black stripes; prior crops have offered a more pinkish background. Nevertheless, these were a fill-in crop for areas where germination of other varieties failed, and they produced abundantly. This one is definitely staying in our rotation.

Jacob’s Cattle

These Jacob’s Cattle kidney beans are another older variety that didn’t offer high yields. As with Tiger’s Eye, though, the beans are gorgeous and I’m happy to have fresh seedstock for future planting.

Golden Anasazi

These were a gift from a local grower and I’m ecstatic to have these in our seed bank; they’re a variation on the more well-known Anasazi bean, which are a mottled burgundy and white. They’re similar in appearance to the Yellow Eye beans, although these have a paler golden hue and more color than white – but sorting these definitely requires careful concentration! Note that certain Indigenous groups consider the word ‘Anasazi’ to be derogatory and disrespectful; there is also quite a lot of controversy around the bean’s apocryphal origin (supposedly found in Indigenous ruins in New Mexico in the early 1970s) and the (white) trademarking of a native bean. This is a delicious bean but obviously needs a rebranding. Maybe we should rename this the Palomino bean, since those horses traditionally have yellow coats and white tails?

Orca, Calypso or Vaquero

These might well be my very favorite beans we grew, even though there aren’t enough to eat – only just enough to replant next year! These gorgeous, plump, black and white beans go by many names, including Orca (obviously), Calypso (less obvious) and Vaquero (cowboy). I only had a few old beans for planting, and the germination on these was absolutely abysmal, but now I have enough for a full row next year, and I’ll expand from there. I know these will be amazing in a grilled corn salad!

Dutch Yellow or Hopi Yellow

One tricky thing about growing beans and keeping breeding lines true is that names often vary from place to place…or certain beans may just be passed down, with no names at all. These beans were given to me as Dutch Yellow, but I’ve never been able to satisfactorily trace that genealogy. More likely they’re Hopi Yellow, which would be appropriate from a geographical sense. An interesting observation about these beans: they produced abundantly, but some are smaller and properly round, while others are larger and have a more squared-off shape. Preliminary research indicates the smaller, rounder beans are the true heirlooms, and the square beans are a result of unintentional hybridizing, as might happen with any open-pollinated crops. I’ll read more on this, but am likely to eat the larger beans and save the smaller beans for seedstock in the hopes of cultivating a true heirloom line.

Aztec White

There are hundreds of varieties of dry white beans, including Navy, Tarbais and Marcella; we’re partial to these small, creamy, high-yielding Aztec Whites, from the same local grower who gave us some of our other seedstock so well-suited for our environment. Final tallies haven’t been made for each individual variety, but these were likely our best producer this year. White beans are flavorful and versatile and easy to grow; if you want to experiment with growing your own dry beans, start here!

We are so pleased with this season’s harvest, and are already planning to expand our bean plantings next year; I’m definitely adding garbanzos and black-eye beans to the plan. It’s utterly thrilling to grow long-keeping storage crops that improve our soils and offer us great nutrition! Do you grow dry beans? Do you have any favorite varieties? Please share!

P.S. We’re in the (very) early stages of planning a Colorado Bean Club, similar to Rancho Gordo‘s. If this is something you might be interested in – no binding commitment required, of course – let us know!

Seed saving + free class!

Mid-October and still no hard freeze here yet…not even a frost. We had such a late start to our growing season this year that I can’t really complain about the extended warmth, but it’s time to wrap things up. The forecast for this coming weekend shows that we might be in for a big downward shift in temperatures, and we are ready. But! Before then, there is much to do, including harvesting everything and collecting all our seeds for future planting.

And to that end, I am teaching a free class on seed saving at our local library on October 22. We’ll talk about how easy yet how important seed saving is, and you’ll learn how you can benefit our local foodshed’s seed sovereignty as well as help the library’s seed bank! The class is free but advance registration is required; more information here, if you’d like to attend. No matter where in the world you are, please consider saving and sharing your seeds!

Hello + free class!

Hello there. It’s been a minute, no? This growing year has presented a new array of challenges and learning opportunities. We will shortly mark the fall equinox; like most (all?) farmers, we pay close attention to these seasonal transitions and how the gradual changes in light and warmth impact everything we do. Things are winding down here and we can tell that our bodies and minds are ready for the natural rest offered in late fall and winter. Humans may think they’ve evolved ‘beyond seasons,’ but the truth is, we are still agricultural beings at heart, and paying close attention to those shifting rhythms benefits everyone.

Before the much-welcomed slowdown, however, there is still lots of preserving to be done for the (hopefully long) winter ahead! And to that end, I’m teaching a free canning and preserving class this weekend at our local library. More information can be found here. If you’re in the area, please come out and say hello!

We’ll be back again soon with tales of our growing adventures, book recommendations and project highlights. Wishing you all a safe, healthy and pleasant fall.

Farm update: June 6

Hello, friends. Here are a few things we’ve been up to on the farm lately, if you’d like to see.

Look! Asparagus!

We are excited to announce our first official asparagus harvest. ‘Harvest’ is likely a bit of a misnomer, as virtually all stalks were snapped off and consumed fresh in situ, but still an event worthy of note. Asparagus is most commonly planted from crowns, which are often purchased at two or three years old and therefore more expensive; we started asparagus from seed two years ago (with a replant last year) which is markedly less costly. Starting from seed, however, is definitely not the way to go if you’re looking for rapid results. We now have eight healthy crowns and they’ll continue to produce for at least ten years, if not longer. Next year we’re very much looking forward to harvesting enough asparagus to actually use in a salad or pasta!

We love bees! Bees love dandelions! Therefore, we love dandelions!

Loathed by suburban homeowners nationwide, dandelions are yet another example of something in nature that wants to help us live healthier lives, but we insist on poisoning it so that we can maintain a biologically dead non-native bluegrass carpet. Not only do they provide the bees with one of their earliest foods, typically long before other pollen sources are available, but this year the dandelion greens were especially tasty. Dandelions have been used in traditional medicine for centuries; they’re rich in numerous vitamins and minerals, plus they fight inflammation and are packed with antioxidants. As long as you’re harvesting in an area that hasn’t been sprayed, the entire plant is edible; the root is often made into a tea, and the greens are delicious cooked or raw.

Here’s Fiji, looking remarkably cooler after his beauty salon visit.

The alpacas were sheared this past week, just in time for summer’s intense heat. You may well remember that we were more than just a little nervous about our first shearing experience last spring; that went smoothly, thanks to the calm professionalism of our shearer, Luke. This year’s shearing was also handled by Luke in record time and with no injury to beast nor human, and the animals will be far more comfortable this summer. Our motley and feral crew will never win any prizes, to be certain, but we know full well that they’re living a good, safe, healthy life here with us.

We dug this hole out by hand. It’s a lot deeper than it appears.

We have six frost-free ag taps on the farm; they’re connected to our domestic water and are designed to provide water to plants and animals even in the dead of winter. We also use ours to operate our drip system when we’re not running irrigation water, so it’s essential that they’re all in good working order, particularly during the growing season. Our primary tap started leaking last fall, and we dug it out, removed the tap, insulated the line with alpaca fleece and capped it for the winter. After pricing out a replacement, we opted to cannibalize one of our existing taps, one north of the house and little-used. This required digging a second two-foot-deep hole – by hand, of course – and relocating the entire apparatus. All our repairs seem to have held strong, so now it’s time to fill in those treacherous holes. As always, with each small success we gain ever more confidence in tackling all manner of farm projects.

And finally, if you’re searching for a spectacular celebration of the natural world, may I wholeheartedly recommend this.

We have much planting to do. Wishing you a peaceful week.

The new normal

Spring “branch-breaker” storms do so much damage to precious trees.

If you grew up on the Front Range, you’re probably familiar with the old adage to “plant out on Mother’s Day.” The idea was, of course, that any chance of a hard frost was past, and delicate warm-weather crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant, would be safe for the summer growing season.

If you’ve lived and gardened in the Denver area over the last twenty years, however, you know the very idea of planting on Mother’s Day is pretty laughable. This year, the holiday occurred as early as it possibly can – on May 8. Between Thursday and Friday last week, the temperatures in some Front Range areas plummeted from the high eighties to the low forties, with heavy, wet snow and overnight lows well below freezing. If you chose to “plant out on Mother’s Day” and your plants weren’t carefully protected or relocated indoors, you’re likely headed back to your friendly local garden center (hi Anne, Dave and team!) to replace your summer vegetables.

Obviously, Denver weather is known to be erratic, and these massive diurnal shifts are one big reason (after overdevelopment, of course) why the Front Range no longer has a commercial fruit industry like we do on the Western Slope. But while Denver was in the grip of a monster late-spring storm, the East Coast was broiling under record high temperatures and excruciating humidity. Locally, our area has seen more than its fair share of severe weather recently, including unseasonal hard freezes that absolutely crushed peach and cherry growers. A certain number of extreme weather events are to be expected, of course, but it is no longer possible to argue that they’re the exception. They’re now the rule.

In less than a decade, Colorado has experienced two “hundred-year weather” events – the devastating 2013 floods and the scorched-earth Marshall Fire this past December. That stunning fire, of course, was precipitated by bone-dry conditions and hurricane-force winds – and followed a few hours later by about ten inches of snow. Too late, obviously, to prevent the loss of a thousand homes; the Marshall Fire quickly enthroned itself as the most expensive “natural disaster” in Colorado’s history. Is it even accurate to refer to these disasters as natural, since they’re entirely our fault?

The point is, it is no longer feasible to expect the weather to act the way it’s always acted. It is no longer possible to change the trajectory that we’re on as a population and a planet; there is absolutely no hope of achieving the 1.5 degree warming limit by 2030 and it’s foolhardy to pretend otherwise. All we can do now is adapt to our rapidly changing climate – stop building in wildland-urban interfaces, create a resilient and regionally-adapted agriculture system and learn how to live with the ‘new normal.’ Hundred-year weather events should be expected every ten years, if not more frequently, and we need to ready ourselves for these, instead of acting shocked and horrified and surprised every time they occur. We cannot continue to behave as we’ve behaved in the past and expect that the weather will accommodate us. Also, we should really, really stop irrigating the desert to raise cattle and lettuce (looking at you, Arizona) and we should outlaw Kentucky bluegrass – actually, lawns in general – in the American West. (We can’t even hide bodies in Lake Mead any longer!) The sooner we accept our harsh new reality and learn to live with it, the better off we’ll all be.

We have an abundance of starts for sale!

Here on the western edge of Colorado we didn’t get quite as much of that storm’s moisture as we would have liked, but in the state’s driest county we’re always grateful for anything we do get. And since we, too, experienced freezing temperatures this week, perhaps our readers here need to replace their summer crops? Never fear: we have hundreds of spectacular, unique heirloom tomato starts, all from our own saved organic seeds, plus pollinator plants, herbs and much more. Everything we grow is completely organic and well-suited to our challenging high-plains desert environment. Send us a message if you’d like to learn more about any of the plants we’re offering for sale this year.

Have a peaceful week, friends, and best of luck with your planting wherever you may be!

Farm update: April 25

Hello, friends. It is the busiest time of the year on the farm and we have ten thousand different projects on at the moment. Here are a few things we’ve been up to lately, if you’d like to see.

Tomato starts before splitting.

The sunroom is packed with hundreds of starts, mostly warm-weather crops like tomatoes and peppers. I’ve started seventeen different tomato varieties this year, some new and some tried and true classics, plus thirteen different peppers ranging from mild and sweet to incendiary. After last year’s pepper bounty, I’m committed to expanding our production of the larger bell peppers; I believed that our growing season was too short for the full-size peppers but 2021 certainly proved me wrong. As always, the vast majority of the plants we grow are from saved open-pollinated seed so that we’re protected from the vagaries of the seed market. That said, I tried starting ‘Sungold’ tomatoes again this year; they’re a hybrid but if you’ve ever tasted these incredible gems, you know exactly why people go mad for them. I’ve obviously grown thousands of tomato plants and consider myself a pretty experienced grower, but three years in a row now my purchased ‘Sungold’ seed has failed to germinate. I contacted the seed company – a reputable Front Range outfit – about the poor germination and have yet to receive a response. Frustrating situations like this are exactly why we save our own seed, because we cannot rely upon companies to provide our food.

We will ship you a free kitten.

We live in an exceptionally impoverished county; a direct consequence of that is an absurd population of stray dogs and cats, because people do not spay or neuter their animals. In late March we unfortunately discovered that a feral cat had chosen our hay barn as a warm, protected nursery; now we have one adult cat and six kittens. While we’re happy to have some assistance in controlling the mouse population, we definitively do not keep any household pets so fate will run its course with this lot. An apocryphal quote attributed to Gandhi reads, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” In this (see also: CAFOs) and in so many other respects, the U.S. is failing entirely.

So pretty! So aggressive! So invasive!

If 2021 was The Year of the Goathead, 2022 looks to be The Year of the Thistle. We’ve written before about cotton thistle (Onopordum acanthium), which is hugely invasive in our area and produces massive, thorny plants that are dangerous to humans and animals. As we work on spring cleaning and tidying around the farm, Thistle Patrol is a key task. If we can dig out the plants by the roots when they’re small, we can prevent them from becoming these treacherous four-foot monsters and of course from spreading seed to produce even more thistles. We travel around with a small shovel at the ready, prepared to vanquish our spiky foe wherever it might be found.

All the little blue tape pieces mark areas that have to be repaired. Sigh.

We are also at work on The World’s Lengthiest and Most Tedious Tiling Project, involving a complicated and not particularly interesting tale of obtuse angles, poorly manufactured countertops, a rickety garage sale tile cutter and many, many other challenges, surprises and obstructions. When (if?) we ever finish this project, it will hopefully look incredible; the road to reach that lofty point, however, still appears long and winding. Also someone in all those DIY YouTube videos should really mention that charcoal grout against white tile shows every chip, imperfection and error. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” has never seemed so apt; we’ll chalk this one up to hard-won learning.

Will we harvest any fruit this year? Time will tell.

And finally, we’re excited to see blossoms on most of the fruit trees we planted in our first full season here. We of course live in the heart of Colorado’s commercial fruit territory, but the changing climate means that no plant is guaranteed survival any longer. Of late, we’ve endured punishing fifty-mile-per-hour winds plus overnight temperatures in the 20s; the big propane-fueled fans in the surrounding orchards have been on a few times recently in a desperate attempt to save their year’s harvest because these frigid temperatures are devastating for the fragile blossoms. The cherry trees in our area are likely gone for good, thanks to last year’s freeze. Many growers have started culling their delicate peach trees in favor of hardier apples; though peaches sell for far more per pound, the risk of losing the entire crop is also far greater. We are doing our best to adapt to a drier, hotter, windier place and to keep our plants (and ourselves) healthy while doing so.

And with that, we’re back to work! Wishing you a pleasant week ahead.

Hello there

“We are bewildered at what can happen out in the world in such a short time. We are not qualified to make heads nor tails of it all, and it is humbling to be able to do so little in response. However, we do our work of peaceful and close-to-home living as best we can. Try not to depend too much on the larger greedy systems that perpetuate war and its profits. The daily points where our bodies remain connected simply and physically to the Earth still need looking after – food, shelter, warmth, family –  the seeds sown, the wood chopped, the flour ground, the dough mixed.  It’s a blessing to be given the time and space to do those things, thoughtfully and with humility.”

-Barn Owl Bakery, Lopez Island, WA, March 2022

Kale: strong, resilient, nutritious. The plant I aspire to be.

Hello there. We are here, and we hope you are, as well. In a world that feels ever more suffused with madness each passing day – e.g., the IPCC thoughtfully released its latest report three days after the invasion, thereby guaranteeing we will all continue to ignore the existential crisis staring us right in the face while we focus instead on a pointless and devastating and intentionally distracting war – we are planting seeds, tidying winter debris, plowing new beds and generally readying ourselves for another productive growing season at Quiet Farm. Collectively, we’ve careened wildly from one catastrophe to the next over the past two years, and we are all exhausted, drained, sad and anxious. Once again, getting our hands into the soil and quietly producing something real, substantial, edible and nourishing seems far and away the most useful response to the ever-increasing chaos out there.

We hope you, too, will plant something this year. We’ll be back again soon.

Farm update: November 22

Hello and what’s new in your world? Here at Quiet Farm we very much wish that winter would appear already. We haven’t had even a dusting of snow since that frost back in October, and it’s barely cold enough to freeze the animals’ water or kill off all the aphids on the kale. Far too warm for late November – but don’t you worry, our trusty politicians are taking care of that pesky climate collapse issue even as we speak.

Our fall harvest has all been successfully preserved; the last of the ripe tomatoes went into the sauce pot yesterday. Chiles are drying in the sunroom, ready to be pulverized into chile powder; pumpkins and squash are neatly stacked on shelves; apples and onions remain in cold storage in our insulated woodworking shed. We are stocked and ready, and we invite Serious Winter to show up immediately if not sooner.

Here are a few more things we’ve been up to recently, if you’d like to see:

Bright, tart pomegranate seeds make these amazing waffles even better.

Obviously we’ve discussed the waffles previously, but yet here we are again. I made a fresh batch last weekend and since holiday brunches and family gatherings and all sorts of festivities are lurking just around the corner, I must evangelize the waffles once more. Please, dear friends, if you do not make one other thing from scratch this holiday season, please make these waffles. I know this level of devotion to a seemingly innocuous breakfast food seems a bit over the top, but trust me – these are the best waffles ever, and you can stop Googling ‘best waffle recipe.’ Plus they’re very easy to make, and they freeze beautifully – you can just have fabulous homemade toaster waffles any time you like, and you can also stop buying expensive processed frozen waffles with mysterious ingredients! The recipe hails from Fannie Farmer by way of Marion Cunningham’s brilliant The Breakfast Book, which I highly recommend. (But seriously, go make these waffles. Do it now.)

Hot sauce doesn’t have to be just painfully ‘hot.’

Making hot sauce is always part of our farm preservation work each year. Although I’ve experimented with lots of different types of hot sauces, for the moment I’m keeping it simple – one fiery-sweet red version, very loosely based on Sriracha and this Melissa Clark recipe, and one fermented serrano version, a rough knock-off of green Tabasco. The red hot sauce is definitely milder, with a gentle undertone of sweetness from the red bell peppers, while the green is a tangier, sharper vinegar-based sauce, used more sparingly. As a personal rule, I don’t love aggressive, punch-in-the-face hot sauces; I want a bit of heat but would still like to taste whatever I’m eating. Hot sauce is simple and inexpensive to make at home, keeps indefinitely and is a thoughtful consumable gift for anyone on your list who likes things spicy. (P.S. If you buy classic Sriracha, save, wash and reuse the iconic squeeze bottles for your own homemade hot sauce.)

Small part. Big impact.

I don’t in any way fancy myself an influencer, but if I can influence you to NEVER, EVER buy GE appliances, please allow me to do so. We have a full suite of GE appliances in our kitchen – all of which came with the house – and every single one has failed at least once. Most recently we found ourselves without a functioning oven, which is quite challenging for someone who bakes on a more or less daily basis. Some investigation and a few helpful YouTube tutorials later, we ordered a new igniter. (Of course, I foolishly ordered the first igniter from GE and it arrived pre-broken, thanks to their careless packing. The second igniter, from an entirely different company, arrived in perfect condition, but obviously it was now two weeks later. Thanks again, GE. You’re tops.) We successfully installed the new igniter – a five-minute job, though gaining access to the compartment and putting everything back together neatly made it more like an afternoon – and lo and behold, we thankfully once again have a working oven. As always, successfully learning to repair things ourselves goes a long way towards our goal of self-sufficiency.

Crispy, salty, savory and delicious hot or at room temperature – galettes are winners.

And of course with a working oven, we can once again make delicious meals like galettes! Like the waffles above, we’ve extolled the virtues of galettes previously – they can be sweet or savory, hot or cold, made in advance or pulled fresh from the oven – and they lend themselves well to using up whatever odd bits and ends you might have on hand. They’re also beginner-friendly, if you’re intimidated by all the perfect pies you’re seeing right now; galettes are designed to be “artisanal” and “rustic” which – fun fact! – are both Latin for “messy” and “imperfect.” This time of year our galettes are most likely to have fall flavors, like delicata squash, caramelized onion, peppery goat cheese, sage and rosemary – but honestly, you can put pretty much anything you want in one. If you’ve got a couple rounds of pastry dough in the freezer you’re halfway there; galettes are easy to prep for holiday gatherings and perfect as a vegetarian main dish or as a simple, impressive dessert.

Available now as an NFT: “Untitled: Llama and Alpacas at Rest, 2021”

And finally, it’s always nice to observe our camelid herd lounging peacefully in the pasture; if they’re at rest, it means they’re getting plenty to eat. We’re regularly challenged by this rebellious bunch of feral miscreants, but they add a certain flair to Quiet Farm, and we’re glad to have them here.

Wishing you all the best during a tough time of year, dear friends.

A word on seeds

“The best way to oppose a system is often to create something better to replace it.”

Scarlet runner beans, grown mostly to attract hummingbirds but also delicious to eat. Plus the beans are gorgeous.

I read a Wall Street Journal piece recently that really stuck in my craw. The article details the ongoing global supply chain challenges, specifically focusing on the Halloween season:

“Ben Wieber, a 27-year-old professional services consultant in Kalamazoo, Mich., struck out trying to purchase a miniature haunted house in-store to add to his Lemax Spooky Town collection, a line of Halloween-themed animatronic figurines and buildings. He was also broadly disappointed in the amount of Halloween décor available at stores near him.

“I went to Lowe’s, Home Depot, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods and I’m already seeing Christmas stuff replace the Halloween stuff, which is ridiculous,” Mr. Wieber says. “I’m like, hello? Are we just skipping Halloween this year?”

This appalling anecdote immediately brings to mind two things: 1. Obviously the pandemic is over and 2. Even more obviously the apocalypse is nigh. Late in 2021, after more than eighteen months of crushing loss and death and isolation and sickness and disinformation and loneliness and unrest and economic devastation and fury, we have clearly reached the point at which all of our mental energies – and our time and gas! – can be laser-focused on buying yet another cheap trinket that we don’t need but are angry that we can’t get. I’m like, hello?

We grew spectacular peas this season.

I am particularly caught up in this obsessive need to buy tacky, energy-intensive, disposable, Chinese-made plastic holiday decorations because at the moment, much of my own time and energy is focused on saving seeds from this growing season. We’ve talked about seeds regularly here at FQF HQ, but in the wake of what’s occurred over the past year and a half, and what’s certainly coming down the pipeline (I’m like hello, irreversible climate change!) seeds have taken on a new significance.

Cleaning saved basil seeds is a bit labor-intensive – the seeds are actually those tiny black specks in the lower right – but worth the effort.

To understand why seeds are so essential to human survival, it’s important to understand just how much has changed in only the past century. For about ten thousand years, since the shift from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribal living to established agriculture, humans have saved seeds. No seed companies existed until recently, of course, so the only way to ensure food for the following year was to save seeds from this season’s harvest, and to trade and barter with neighboring farmers for their seeds. Because seeds were so necessary for human survival, they were rarely shipped and therefore didn’t travel long distances; by their very nature, these seeds were perfectly adapted over generations to the unique microclimate of the area in which they were grown. Saving seed is so painfully obvious – the ability to grow food so clearly a basic human right – that it never occurred to small farmers that a seed could be patented as intellectual property, like a song or a book.

The squirrels didn’t steal all of our sunflower seeds this season!

This system worked beautifully until Big Ag wanted in on the action after World War II concluded. To summarize an incredibly complex situation in a few glib words: much of the world’s food supply is now based on patented hybrid and/or GMO seeds. Three large multinational corporations now control over 70% of the world’s seeds, and therefore over 70% of the world’s food. It is illegal under a variety of laws to save and propagate these seeds, and in most cases the seeds won’t breed true anyway. This global movement away from seed sovereignty (“the farmer’s right to breed and exchange diverse open-source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled by emerging seed giants”) threatens everyone on the planet, yet apparently we’re too busy looking for unavailable Halloween decorations to care about that.

Even now, there are only a handful of seed companies in the U.S.; there used to be thousands, each with their own regional specialties. Buy from Johnny’s or High Mowing and you’ll likely get seeds grown out in Maine or Vermont or somewhere else in New England. They’ll probably produce, yes, but Maine and Vermont are pretty different climactically from the high-plains desert we grow in, and I’d like to have a greater chance at success with seeds adapted to my region. And of course we all remember what happened in the spring of 2020. Seed companies were entirely overwhelmed by demand once it became clear that the pandemic was here to stay, and seeds weren’t available anyway; if they did arrive, it was long after planting season. I’m simply not willing to stake my household’s food security on the rickety scaffolding of unprepared seed companies, global panic and the USPS.

Onion seeds are easy to harvest and save, but they must be collected before they’re wind-dispersed.

Back in September, the U.N. – an utterly useless pretend mafia of pompous self-important incompetent blowhards, if you want to know my real opinion – convened the first Food Systems Summit, which was theoretically designed to “determine the future of agriculture.” Yet the small farmers who actually grow the majority of the world’s food were not offered a seat at the table. Instead, in a move surprising to precisely no one, the loudest and most prominent voices were those of Big Ag and Big Pharma, mainly companies who have committed grievous biopiracy by patenting landrace seeds and inventing GMO crops that threaten both the planet and human health. Dear United Nations: Praising Monsanto/Bayer for its breathless promises to cure global hunger – an issue it directly causes AND profits from – by patenting seeds is like praising Jeff Bezos for his commitment to solving climate change. In effect, you don’t win a prize for claiming to “fix” a problem that you directly helped create (and made billions along the way!).

All this is to say: convening a bunch of billionaires – who have probably never grown a single tomato in their lives – in some sparkly ballroom in some fancy city far from any actual agriculture isn’t likely to solve the world’s food problems. And for that reason, hundreds of food sovereignty organizations, indigenous and smallholder farmer groups, and scientists boycotted the U.N. summit, and rightfully so. It is absurd to think that Big Ag and Big Pharma would have even the slightest interest in working in tandem with small farmers on improving food systems; their respective interests are entirely at odds. Seed companies don’t make money if people save their own seeds! To maintain the very profitable status quo, power must be kept in the hands of the few, and making seed saving illegal (and useless, in the case of GMOs and hybrids) is one very effective way to maintain that power. (These corporations would still do well to remember the other side of the coin: most revolutions start when people are hungry.)

Be careful with cayenne pepper seeds – gloves are recommended!

It is so easy to feel entirely hopeless and dejected in the face of the world’s mounting problems, and to feel as though our own actions don’t count in the slightest. It doesn’t matter that we conscientiously sort our recycling and bring it to the drop-off center; virtually all of America’s “recycling” is actually dumped straight into the landfill. It doesn’t matter that we don’t use A/C or heat in our house, and instead try to maintain comfort with fresh air and warm sweaters; most of the country is now accustomed to perfectly-calibrated indoor temperatures requiring vast amounts of energy. What does matter, however, is our seed bank. Saving our own heirloom, open-pollinated seeds, and sharing them widely with other growers in our area, actually makes a difference. That classic question about what you’d save in case of a fire? It’s a real consideration where we live, and our small, compact, lightweight, portable seed bank would be at the top of the list. With those seeds, we can feed ourselves, and there is no greater human accomplishment than self-reliance.

Marigolds always remind me of our travels in India.

We save seeds here at Quiet Farm because we want control over our own food supply. We save seeds because we want to share seeds and encourage others to grow food. We save seeds because we want to steward unique, rare varieties of plants that grow well in our challenging climate. We save seeds because we believe the only way to reasonably face climate change is through adaptation. We save seeds because we do not believe that Big Ag and Big Pharma have our best interests at heart. We save seeds because anyone can claim to be an ‘activist’ while not actually doing anything – but stewarding a seed bank is a tangible, useful, productive way to protest against our rapidly dwindling power as small farmers. We save seeds because it matters.

So save your seeds, friends. You might well need them someday. And save your animatronic haunted houses too – apparently they have some value on the resale market. Try Ben in Michigan.

Kale typically only sets seed after its second growing season here.

P.S. If you’re in our area (or even if you’re not!) and you’d like to learn more about saving seeds, please consider joining the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance,  “a nonprofit organization working to assure an abundant and diverse supply of local seeds for the Rocky Mountain region through education, networking, and establishing community-based models of seed stewardship.”