September was warm and dry, with less than an inch of rain for the entire month. The contrast with our deluge-inal spring is startling; it will seem very strange if this long dry spell ends up drawing the annual precipitation average back toward “normal”. One thing about Missouri weather, it’s a textbook lesson in the danger of relying on averages for accurate information about a system.
Monarch caterpillars were present, though we saw fewer caterpillars than last year, in spite of allowing lots of Common Milkweed to grow for their benefit. I (Joanna) found the Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillar on wild bergamot while pulling snakeroot in a goat paddock. The black spot did an impressively good job of making this look like an empty, hollowed out shell of plant or animal origin, perhaps a form of mimicry to convince predators that there’s nothing to eat here. It almost tricked me, but a second look convinced me this was a caterpillar worth bringing back to the house for ID and a picture. Since it eats mint family plants, I decided to keep it in a jar with some munchies from the herb garden. Turns out that the specimen had been visited by a parasitoid wasp, perhaps Cotesia congregata? Interestingly, the Hermit Sphinx’s relatives, the tomato-eating Tobacco Hornworms have been minimally present this year. Perhaps we can thank parasitoids for that?
This post also appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Columbia Audubon Society’s newsletter, The Chat, which Eric edits.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers used to be one of our favorite local birds. Colorful and flamboyant, they enliven our feeder in winter and patrol our woods in summer. We love how they chase Blue Jays away from the birdseed yet leave smaller birds alone, how they sidle along our porch railing with heads cocked, how they stash food in the woods through a conveyor belt of looping flights. Their brash and distinctive calls enrich our soundscape year-round. While conducting timber stand improvements in our woods, we’ve left abundant dead snags to support the woodpecker population. Then came the great fruit massacre of 2015.
The September issue of Feast Magazine includes a feature story by Eric, which begins
What would you do without sugar?
This was a very real question for Missourians and their neighbors in the late 1850s. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Northerners became increasingly concerned with finding a source of domestic sweetener that wasn’t linked to the South, where sugar was produced and shipped up the Mississippi River. The answer was found in a new use for an old crop: sorghum syrup. You can still taste this piece of regional history today through the work of sorghum syrup producers across the Midwest, including Sandhill Farm, a certified organic producer in northeastern Missouri.
You can read the full story online in two formats, either as straight web text or the full magazine layout (with photography). This was a fun story to work on, highlighting a common ingredient in our kitchen and a farm we like and respect.
This story was born from a conversation with Stan Hildebrand of Sandhill Farm, who told us that they produced 500-800 gallons of sorghum syrup per year, and sold it as far away as Asia. On one hand, that’s a victory for international trade, but on the other, it struck us as odd that a local producer would NEED to market their product that far away. After all, our own two-person household uses a gallon of sorghum per year, and if even a fraction of Columbia residents (much less St Louis or Missouri residents) matched even a fraction of our consumption, Sandhill would sell out locally in no time. Sorghum syrup could, should, be a bigger part of the local-foods picture than it is. So we set out to learn more, and tell the story of this unique product and its Missouri roots. Continue reading
The remarkable thing about August was the pleasant stretch of weather late in the month, with highs not exceeding the low 80s and lows not exceeding the mid 60s. We enjoyed many lovely August dinners on the porch, amazed by the comfortable temperature and low humidity. Typically, Missouri August comes with amazing food and miserable weather, so to enjoy eating August food in pleasant weather outdoors was a delight! Precipitation moderated in August (in comparison to the soggy months preceding it), though the month managed to give us both too little and too much rain. The bulk of the month’s rain came in a 2.89” one-morning dump, with the rest of the month contributing only about three-quarters of an inch, for a grand total of 3.67”. All in all, not a bad month, given what this state is capable of serving up. We haven’t hit 100ºF all summer (and we’re hoping it stays that way).
Which of these things is not like the others? The answer is below the break (along with many more photos).
This year, our diverse culinary garlic will primarily be available at World Harvest Foods, an international grocery in south Columbia, near the intersection of Nifong and Providence. Look for the display opposite the cheese counter. We grow a dozen varieties, of which about 5 will be available at any given time; stop by regularly to experience the full diversity! If you are interested in a bulk purchase, please contact us directly and we’ll put together your order for pickup at the store.
2015 varieties and ID codes
Each garlic head sold at World Harvest is labeled with an ID code to help you keep track of varieties at home. The table below relates these codes to the variety and its culinary properties.
|Robust & exciting flavors. Heads structured with cloves arranged around a stiff central stalk; cloves generally large and fairly uniform in size.
||Approx clove count
||A good general-purpose garlic. Hot raw flavor, rich when roasted or cooked.
||A family heirloom from a market customer. Delicious sautéd, spicy hot when raw.
||A really nice roaster, sweet & rich. Intense raw flavor. Big cloves for the garlic lover.
||A delight for lovers of spicy food. Adds a zing to salsa or gazpacho.
|German Extra Hardy
||Excellent for roasting, as the cloves produce a complex sweet flavor under high heat.
||Large cloves are a garlic lover’s delight. Carries some spicy heat raw or roasted.
||Peppery and distinct, both sweet and hot. Medium cloves for all-purpose use.
||A “just-right” general-purpose garlic, with moderate clove size and quantity.
||Robust and rich when cooked, an ideal garlic to feature. Our favorite.
|Classic garlic flavor. Heads structured with layers of cloves, which vary in size within a head but are generally smaller than hardnecks.
||Approx clove count
|Chet’s Italian Red
||Rich flavor when used raw; ideal for dressings and pesto.
||Some zing when raw, but minimal aftertaste. A Slow Food Ark of Taste variety.
||Recommended for all uses. Spiciest of the softnecks. Excellent roasted, sweet & well rounded.
Advice on choosing garlic varieties:
Any garlic variety can be used in any culinary situation calling for garlic. No need to fret, for example, if you bought a variety suggested for roasting if you decide to saute; just use it! Chances are the results will be delicious.
However, matching the right garlic to the right use can yield some spectacular results. Here’s a cheat sheet of some of our favorites:
- Favorite roasters: Georgian Crystal, Tochliavri, German Extra Hardy
- Favorite sauteed: Siberian is a standout, but all are excellent
- Favorite raw, if minimal aftertaste desired: any of the softnecks, but especially Chet’s Italian Red
- Favorite raw, if spicy flavors desired (in salsa, for example): Georgian Fire, Russian Giant
Most importantly, have fun exploring the possibilities!
We recorded 8.79″ of rain in July, making it a soggy month overall, but for the first time since early May we finally had dry spells longer than 3 days. We welcomed the return of hoe-able ground. The heat and humidity were rather oppressive, but we managed to take a wide variety of photos when we ventured into the outdoors.
National Public Radio is airing a story about pesticide drift threatening organic farms, which includes a portion of our story from 2014. The nature of radio stories inevitably leaves out details and context, so here we re-link to the three-part series we wrote for our website, laying out our experience in more detail. It’s an important read for anyone interested in this topic:
Experiencing pesticide drift, part I
Experiencing pesticide drift, part II: Calling in the government
Experiencing pesticide drift, part III: how drift isn’t taken seriously
We also wrote an article for small-farm trade journal Growing For Market about the topic.
What’s doing this to our apples?
For weeks, we’ve been finding cavities dug out of our young apples, often with some kind of rot starting within the excavation. We don’t find any insects or caterpillars inside the cavities, nor any frass. Generally the cavities have smaller wounds nearby. This damage devastated the fruit on our William’s Pride tree, damaging over half the fruit. As they were nearly ripe, we were able to carve around and eat some of the damaged fruits, but still lost a lot of apples. About the time the William’s Prides were gone, the same thing started happening on the two nearby Liberty trees, a worse loss because Liberty doesn’t ripen until September, so the fruits are way too underripe to eat. Not being able to identify any insect behavior linked to this has been maddening, until a belated two-part aha moment cleared things up. Continue reading
The month of June has been brought to us by the letters R, A, I, N, and the symbols @$#!. This has been an awfully wet period for much of our region, starting after the first week of May, in which round after round of rain keeps sweeping through. This has caused all sorts of agricultural headaches, including supercharged weed growth, plant disease, soil erosion, muddy farm roads, and soggy, un-hoe-able soil preventing us from planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops for sale or personal use. We’ve been keeping on-farm precipitation records since late 2009; here’s what the cumulative rainfall numbers look like for each year starting at the beginning of May:
While other years had higher totals at times, they also all had longer periods between rainfall events, providing a chance to dry out and get work done. This year, after the first week of May, only TWICE have we gone three days in a row without measurable rainfall, and the daily totals are often heavy. We’re not regretting our sabbatical from the CSA this year, as it’s been stressful enough managing the land under these conditions without the added pressure of biweekly harvest and deliveries.
Nevertheless, we experienced a lot of interesting natural phenomena in June, and took a lot of photos, so read on for an illustrated tour of the farm’s ecosystem during this time of year.
A late April dry spell continued into the first week of May, overlapping almost perfectly the time we would otherwise have expected to find morels. Our farm-total morel count this year was one (technically in late April). Then it turned wet and has remained so; we recorded rain on 18 days of the month. Temperatures were remarkably pleasant, with the warmest days in the low 80s. Despite the overall cool weather, it did not frost in May. Our last spring frost was the morning of April 28, though we just escaped frost on May 20 thanks to persistence in cloud cover. May is always a good month for nature observation; photo highlights below.