White Acre Cowpea

The White Acre Cowpea is one of many varieties of cowpeas, the most familiar of which is the Black-Eyed Pea. We normally trial many varieties of a given crop before settling on one or two favorites, but this is one of the few cases where we liked what we saw early on and just kept growing it. We originally bought seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and have been saving our own each year since.

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This cowpea has a bush habit. The plants grow quickly and tend to do a pretty good job of shading out weeds, though a bit of hoeing early on is usually a good idea. The long pods contain quite a few seeds, though the seeds themselves are relatively small.

The flowers are quite beautiful.

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Though the peas can be eaten green, they’re a lot of trouble to shell, so we generally let the pods dry fully. We harvest by hand when the pods dry enough to sound crinkly at picking times, then we run them through a mechanical sheller. Winnowing with a box fan yields reasonably clean seed.

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Sometimes we cut back the spent plants prior to frost as a nice supplemental goat food.

Cowpeas have a very nice flavor and can be used in diverse ways; we’ve used them for everything from hummus to refried beans. We somewhat prefer the flavor of the common dried bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), but we find that the cowpeas produce a more reliable crop and are less susceptible to molding in the pods if the harvest period is rainy.

Sugar Maple

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Tap the tree in the spring to collect its sap and boil down maple syrup. Cut down small maples and rot them with shiitake mycelium for delicious mushrooms. Enjoy the color in the fall. As far as we’re concerned, this is a lovely and useful tree, in spite of MDC’s concern about maples taking over the state’s forests. On a vegetable farm, we perceive a benefit from having trees around that don’t produce acorns to attract deer, squirrels, and other pestiferous mammals. Maybe it comes from spending some time in Vermont, but maples are among our favorite trees.

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Andover Parsnip

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Andover is usually our choice variety of parsnip, largely because organic seed is (sometimes) available for this variety. (Sourcing organic parsnip seed can be challenging.) We haven’t noticed major quality or yield differences between this variety and a couple others we’ve tried, though we haven’t done side-by-side trials. Perfect parsnips are usually accompanied by a high percentage of small/split/oddly shaped ones, but that just seems to be the reality of growing parsnips in our soil. We think they are delicious enough to be worth the hassle.

We’ve learned the hard way to avoid weeding parsnips in the morning, especially on sunny days. Contact with the leaves, seemingly in conjunction with sun exposure, can cause a skin reaction in the form of blister-like bumps. Based on a small sample size, we’ve concluded that a high percentage of people exposed to parsnip leaves and sun will develop this rash. However, we wonder if the growing conditions matter; we’ve been growing parsnips for years, but had hardly encountered this problem until the severe drought year of 2012.

More on parsnips in the kitchen here.

Organic seed source: Fedco.

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Astro Arugula

Arugula is a cool-season crop grown both in spring & fall at Chert Hollow Farm. Depending on weather conditions (temperature & moisture), soil fertility, and plant age, the flavor ranges from nicely tangy to intensely potent/bitter. The taste buds of the eater also are a factor: Eric loves the strongest flavors that Joanna thinks taste awful if eaten plain.

If you love strong flavors, using arugula is easy. If you’re not a fan of the intense flavor of arugula, the trick is to combine it with appropriate flavors. For salads, mix it with other greens (which is often how we distribute/sell it anyway), perhaps top the salad with a combination of cheese & fruit (apples or raisins, for example), and a strong dressing. Or, saute it; garlic and a dash of good balsamic vinegar really help to balance the flavor, as well.

Carpetweed

Carpetweed is a summer annual that does well in vegetable growing areas, particularly in places that are unmulched. True to its name, a single plant can sprawl over a good-sized area in a low-growing carepet-like mass. The good news with carpet weed is that it doesn’t grow tall, so it virtually never shades out desirable vegetables. Also, it is quite easy to control by hoe, and low-density populations are easily controlled by hand, as a single taproot can feed a widespread plant. We could appreciate carpetweed as a living mulch if it weren’t so fast to set an abundance of both flowers and seed.

White Tomesol Tomato

White Tomesol are medium to large slicing tomatoes with a nice, fruity flavor. This is an open-pollinated variety.

Seed source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
(As of 2012, we do not know of a source for certified organic seed.)

Korridor Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is an odd vegetable: not a root, not a fruit, not a leaf, but an enlarged stem. (The leaves are edible, too.) When grown under good conditions, the flesh is crisp and sweet, somewhat reminiscent of an apple. Peeling the skin is optional, though it is sometimes a bit tough. Delicious eaten as chunks for a snack, grated into slaw, or used in stir fry, to name a few possible preparations.

Kohlrabi is a cool-weather crop. We tend to grow them in spring.

We’ve tried a number of open-pollinated varieties of kohlrabi, but we have often had difficulty with poor growth and development of woodiness in the stem, making the result pretty unappetizing. Kohlrabi seems to be a vegetable that benefits greatly from hybrid vigor, which is not surprising given that brassicas are generally outbreeding plants. So, we’ve settled with buying hybrid seed for kohlrabi, and Korridor is one of the varieties with readily available certified organic seed.

Seed is available from High Mowing Organic Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Hakurei Turnip

This is a hybrid turnip that grows quickly to form nice, uniform white roots. The flavor is quite sweet and mild for a turnip, and may appeal even to those who do not consider themselves turnip-lovers (like Joanna). Roots are good both raw and cooked, and the greens are nice cooked. These are great diced and sauteed with other vegetables in dishes like stir fry, fried rice, frittata, and more.

We generally prefer open-pollinated varieties to hybrids, but we finally tried these in 2012 and certainly agree that this variety is a winner.

Organic seed is not available for this variety. Seed is exclusively sold by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Monstrueux de Viroflay Spinach

An excellent spinach for overwintering. Winter flavor is sweet & candy-like. Spring leaves can grow quite large. This is an open-pollinated variety.

A September 2011 planting provided some harvestable yield in each month from November through the following April. Growth habit in the winter requires tedious leaf-by-leaf harvest, as the leaves are positioned parallel to the ground. In spring, growth habit becomes more upright and it is easier to harvest by knife.

Seed source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Honey Locust

Honey locusts are especially common here in former, now overgrown, pastures. The vicious thorns are the most obvious identifying characteristic of this tree, and they help to deter herbivores from nibbling on the branches or bark. Some trees have only a few, while others are armored along nearly every inch of trunk. Lower branches often die back and drop thorns onto the ground, posing a hazard for boots, tires, and goat hooves. In the fall, the trees produce long pods which have a sweet, slightly fruity smell when broken open. Goats are quite fond of the pods, which are probably reasonably nutritious given that the honey locust is a member of the legume family. Honey locust wood is dense and an excellent source of firewood if you can manage the thorns.