Thursday, December 24, 2009

Farming nightmare...

I had a hard time sleeping last night, so the question is what keeps a farmer up at night?

Well, it was August 8th and not only had we not started the season yet (the peas were growing to ENORMOUS SIZE.) but we had only 12 members. And I was supposed to get more members, in August!?!

I woke up so anxious until I remembered it was the night before Christmas Eve, my family was visiting, and all was right with the world...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

KitchenAid - two things in one day!

If you are a regular or occasional reader of my blog you know how unhappy I am with my KitchenAid Stove and just KitchenAid in general. Well today I get to add TWO items to my "Why I hate KitchenAid" list.

In case you had not noticed Christmas is less then two weeks away! OMG! How did that happen?!?!

Well, I woke up to that reality today, probably because yesterday my niece asked about the BEST cookies, and was I making them? Well the "best" cookies are Christmas tree (sour cream) press cookies covered in an confectionery sugar icing and sprinkles. Last year she ate dozens of the things. I accused my husband and my brother in law of eating them all, and no one noticed that it seemed that Ellie, ALWAYS had a cookie in her hand or pocket. The dog noticed way before us, and took to following her around, and she probably gave him a couple dozen! Anyway with that kind of cookie consumption I better get going!

So I started this morning. First I made a double batch of my mom's "Hungarian Christmas cookie" dough. It is simple: flour, butter, and sour cream. But this simple dough puffs so well! So that got put in the fridge to chill.

Then I made some Springelle dough, and rolled it out, cut them and set them on the wood cutting board to dry until tonight.

Finally, I made a double batch of the sour cream press cookies. The reason I have a 6 quart "Professional" KitchenAid mixer is because of Christmas. I usually make cookies pretty non-stop for 2 weeks. I used to give them as gifts, until I decided they were not appreciated, but still there are a dozen or more types on my list every year, and I make at least a double recipe of each one.

So anyway during the process of making the dough my mixer died. It stopped mixing and starting clicking. I immediately turned it off, pulled the dough off, and it went around OK. I put it back in the dough, it went around one time and stopped!

I yelled a curse word! (or three.) Farmer Hubby came in and asked what was wrong. I told him the damned thing stopped working again! (Two years ago I broke it at Christmas making Marshmallows.) My dear husband is a very handy guy and the first thing he did was break out the screwdriver and pull the case off. About 5 minutes of Internet research reveled that a plastic piece inside the thing was replaced with a metal piece. Huh? Our problem?

Turns out it was. The plastic piece flexes which causes damage to the gears. So I now have 2 gears, a bearing, and (new and improved) metal housing on it's way to us. The damage $83. Last time we had to fix the thing KitchenAid wanted us to send it to them in a special ($89) box so they could tell us what was wrong with it. That time hubby was able to just replace a fuse (3 for $2 at Radio Shack) and the thing was fixed.

This will slow down cookie production, but thankfully I have a second mixer, a 4 quart model (350 watts instead of 525) that was a gift from hubby last year, as a response to my complaints that my 6 quart mixer has a problem mixing anything less then a double recipe, of almost anything. Now I wish he had got me a SunBeam instead of the KitchenAid.

I finished mixing the dough by hand and was ready to start baking. Should be quick, press cookies, one sheet can hold 3-1/2 dozen and bakes in 10-12 minutes. Well, 10-12 minutes if your stove is being good that day and holding temp, which mine is not! So annoying! It comes up to temp at 375 and by the end of the 12 minutes it is down in the mid-low 300s (went as low as 225!) So I started reheating the oven in between every cookie batch, turning the oven off and preheating back up to 375. Added 5 minutes plus to every batch.

Sigh. I hope it behaves better, but I need to figure out some holiday meals I can do without worrying to much about the stove, to spare a repeat of Thanksgiving.

Well, back to work with me! Lots to do in the 4 days before company comes...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My food day!

I figure I should blog, because I am watching Julie & Julia. And since I am watching a show about food blogging, sure I will blog about today's menu in our house. (Please note this is not a typical day.)

For breakfast/lunch today my loving hubby made me his best breakfast. I honestly don't know if it has an official name, but here is what he does. He takes a couple slices of good fresh bakery bread, cubes it and browns it in a pan with some butter. Then he adds some onions and diced potatoes (both ours). When they are browned as well we mix in some of our eggs (beaten) and serve like an omelet with a little ketchup and sarachi sauce. Yummy!

Yesterday we stopped at Costco and hubby tryed some of their lobster bisque which was OK, but a bit oily. They had some huge, beautiful lobster tails so we got one because I was going to try to make bisque. Well, a 1-1/2 pound Bahamian lobster tail is not what you need for that project. You need lots of shells (as it turns out when I looked up bisque recipes.) So instead I decided to make a lobster mac and cheese. I used Ina Garter;s recipe from Food Network and it came out pretty well. Actually, it was the best baked mac and cheese I have ever made, as it did not get oily which they often seem to! But the lobster, while good, was not as prominent as I would have liked with $20 of it in there! Still it was good.

Then came the words out of my hubby's mouth I hate hearing "Did you get anything for desert?" Well no, but today seems to be a cooking day so I will try something new. A Flan! I pulled out The Art of Simple Food and it looked easy enough so off I went. Well, let me say now, I should have known our stove would let me down (yet again, in the continuing saga of my stove) and it baked unevenly and had that bit of scrambled egg flavor that comes with a poorly cooked custard! That and I messed up the topping. The cookbook did not give me a temp, I thought I was at least at the soft ball phase, I guess not. So disappointing.

So my wonderful hubby made it all right. He made me some crostini with some locally cured meat from Chef's Choice in Berea (products I really need to watch, as yummy as they are I think they may exacerbate my migraines.)

So that was my day in food. With 100 other things to do I probably should have done some of those things, but it was a pretty yummy day, all in all.

Now I can finish my movie with less blog induced guilt.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lots of time spent this week hearing people talk about spray rates for this and application timing for this. Not really our type of farming, but if you have 400 acres of onions or 800 of cucmbers you really have no room to not spray! One session showed a photo of a tomato field and the same one 10 days later. The first showed not a hint of late blight. The second was BLACK! In diversified operation there are more things to go wrong, but much less impact if they do!

The biggest suprise was how often we heard about mustard cover crops. In the conventional onion session the growers did not seem impressed, but some of them have machines which lift up the top 4 inches, steririlize it, and puts it back. For us, mustard is a godsend before root crops (or it turns out green beans!) it kills bad nemitiods and soil dieseses!

The trade show was good too, but makes us feel poor! We could spend $100,000 and mmight still lust after more!

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The snow hit today, not that bad but the hotel offered us an extra night for a low price, so we took it! It is so nice to not have to worry about driving tonight since we were going to only drive halfway home tonight anway.

The best quote of the day "Organic vegetables can feed the world, but not on a diet of high fructose corn syrup and hydroginated soy bean oil."

This was from an organic grain farmer with 1400 acres in organic grains.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Wow, are we spoiled in Northeast Ohio! We just got back from Grand Rapids "best bar-b-que seven years in a row." A meal which was not cheap and just a little better then not good!

There are a couple restuaraunts around here which have good reviews but are just a little out of our price range with Entrees at $35 and way up!

The best food so far has been at the Skywalk Deli, a little lunch place with 10 small tables, but good sandwiches and soup.

We have decided that we are just spoiled with so manyy excellent chefs who make their places accessable (even to poor farmers.)

Oh, and I know they have microbrewaries around here, but asking about local microbrews is getting blank stares from waitresses.

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Scrach baking!?!

So I admit it, I am niave. I assumed that the bakery session I attended this morning on "scratch baking" would spend lots of time on, I don't know! scratch baking.

Last year at the confrence I attended a bakery session and was amazed that EVERYTHING the did was either from a mix or a dough! I thought "scratch" would mean - well - scratch! NOT SO!

There are 4 degrees of "scratch" baking according to the presentor. First degree is actual scratch baking, second is from mixes, third is from doughs, and forth is thaw and sell! And don't be emarrased to say you "bake from scratch" regardless of which of these 4 you do.

The speaker pointed out that at their orchard their "signature" apple pie is a frozen pie they add their own carmel and nuts to! They also sell apple fritters they just thaw and sell. And if the stpped selling them "their customers would tell them about it!" I wonder if their customers even know they are not buying a product with their apples? Be aware

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hotel Lobby...

Right now I am sitting in a hotel room in Grand Rapids at the Amway Hotel and the Satalitte TV is starting to flicker. I am getting a bit worried about the weather as the snow starts to fall. We only have this room at the confrence rate until Thursday morning. This hotel is pretty expensive (at normal rates) so I hope we don't have to spring for anouther night, that one night will cost us as much as the other three, although that would be preferable to driving a couple hours in a rental car and bad weather! We are only planning on driving about 2 hours Thursday, but the confrence goes to 4:00 so in bad weather that would not be fun...

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DiVinci - Machines in Motion

This is some kind of ball bearing system which my farmer hubby had a fancy name for. It really impressed him, to me it looked like balls in a ring.

But then I would have probably been the person who saw the first wheel and asked "wouldn't it be easier to just carry it!?"

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Another catalogue...

We got a new catalog this week that is very much geared for very large growers, their descriptions actually come out and say what they are, for example:

Justice III - Zucchini - "A medium dark hybrid with powdery mildew resistance plus transgenic resistance to ZWMV, WMV, and CMV. Highly productive on vigorous bush plants."

WOW! I thought most veggies were still safe.

Remember this winter produce stickers have numbers on them. The five digit numbers that start with 9 are clearly organic. However, four digit numbers indicate conventionally grown produce. And apparently a five digit number beginning with an 8, reveals that the produce has been Genetically Modified in some way.

Possible GMO produce includes: corn, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa sprouts, zucchini and yellow squash. In addition to the ones we know are widely GMO: field corn, soybeans, canola, and (in 2009) sugar beets.

Monday, December 7, 2009


You know before we got our Rottweiler (a rescue) six years ago, you never could have convinced me that he would like a crate. I thought they were basically cages for your dogs, and if you needed a cage for your dog you did not need a dog.

But he was a four month old handful! He had so much energy and a tendency to chew, a hole in our new box spring, a pair of good shoes, two comforters, and more!!! So finally we listened to his trainer and bought a crate for him. He took to it very fast and we kept him in it when we were out of the house, until he was about 10 months old and over the chewing phase. Since then we only occasionally close the door on his crate, but it sits in the corner of the living room and is his favorite spot. He brings his toys in there, he lays and sleeps in there, and it is so nice to be able to send him to it if he is getting underfoot (at 120 pounds there is a lot of him to get underfoot.)

I have been thinking about dogs recently. We are thinking about getting geese or ducks but we have a lot of coyotes around here. People use guardian dogs to protect livestock. Dogs who live on pasture with the livestock to protect them is an age old practice. But I am someone who thinks that dogs are family members would I send a family member out to sleep with the Geese? But these are breeds of dogs who are breed to be guardian animals (protective against other animals, but with good socializing friendly with people.) Breeds like Great Pyrenees. Would they really like it? Would it be cruel?

People who work with these dogs swear that they enjoy doing there job. Maybe what we have to do is not to assign human feelings to our pets or working animals...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Diffrent worlds...

My farmer hubby often says we don't need alternate dimensions we live in a world full of alternate dimensions. Typically, this comes up when watching a documentary or when our travels bring us through a very poor area (either in Appalachia or Italian cities.)

Recently we had an experience a little closer to home.

A couple months ago I had my wisdom teeth removed. They were fully impacted so required a trip to an oral surgeon. This week my (poor) sister had two (one side) of her also impacted wisdom teeth extracted, but she is in Germany.

My experience went like this. I went into the office on a Friday afternoon. I went into a nice room. The surgeon came in, confirmed that I wanted to be knocked. Over in the corner was a tray of tools I never actually saw beacase they were covered. The very nice doctor tried to start an IV (I say tried because the only unpleasant part of my experience was the 7 times it took to get it to take (It was 3 in the afternoon and I ad not eaten or drunk since the previous evening so I was dehydrated).) At which point I was put to sleep. I woke up, was given heavy duty pain killers and antibiotics and sent home with strict instructions to spend the next 2 days laying down with ice on my face as much as possible... Directions I followed easily, due to my regular use of the aforementioned pain killers! In the end I felt fine by Monday morning, and had more bruises and swelling from where the IVs were tried then my face. A couple people actually asked me "I thought you were having your wisdom teeth out?"

My sister (my poor sister) had a much less pleasant (and pain free) experience. She went into the high end clinic which does (no really!) botox, laser peels, and... wisdom teeth extraction... Really!?! She goes in and they give her Novocain shots. You know that nice gel they use here before they give you shots, based on the balance of her afternoon I doubt they gave her that! They then start pulling out the tools in front of her. "Is that a hammer!?!" She asks. "Yes" says the German dentist. "Are you going to use that?" To which the answer is "Maybe a little, ha ha ha..."

You may have gathered by now that no nice IV was coming her way, not even a nitrous mask!!! When they started they put a heavy drape over her head. No headphone systems in Germany. She got to hear everything, and when it got farther into it they had to hold her head down! As they pulled her head just moved... She said the sounds were awful, and she had to make them give her more Novocaine. When she was done, they gave her post op instructions IN GERMAN! And for pain killers they gave the poor girl Ibuprofen! And with a hubby in the army and two little girls she probably won't be able to spend the weekend resting.

So I guess the moral of the story is, DON"T HAVE DENTAL SURGERY IN EUROPE!

My teeth hurt just thinking about my poor sister, recovering with no good painkillers... :(

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Suprises in our seed catalouges...

This year we are noticing an interesting trend in our seed catalogs.

In our more commercial ones we are noticing quite a few little stars next to certain veggies (particularly summer squash.) Why are those stars there? Are they really good?

They look really good, without exception these seeds have amazing descriptions, diseases resistances, tolerance to bugs, and overall amazing qualities! But wait? These stared seeds cannot be shipped to Vermont, Maine, or Canada.

Want to venture a guess why?

In 2005 Vermont passed a bill that holds seed manufacturers liable for the impacts of genetically modified genes.

If the seed manufacturers felt that GMO seeds were really harmless than what would be the problem? The problem is that we don't know what they will do in 100 years or 200 years? We don't even know what they are doing now!

I guess the point is be sure your farmer knows what varieties they are buying. It used to be that most GMOs were corn, soybean, canola, and (most recently) sugar beets. But now more and more veggie seeds are GMO.

Know your farmer so you can know your food. And remember there is no requirement to label GMO food, so if it is important you need to know your food.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dirty Dozen...

So it is now winter, we can no longer deny it! Thanksgiving is past and nights are regularly dropping into the 20s.

With the cold weather, for us, come those (unusual in the summer) trips to the grocery store! In the summer we hardly ever go, our grains, meat, and milk all are local. We raise our own eggs and grow our veggies. Fruit we get at the farmers market, in season. Sugar and flour we tend to buy in bulk. So with the exception of a trip for Organic Ketchup for our yummy spuds, or olive oil to put on them we, mostly, stay away.

However, that is no longer possible. We still have some of our own veggies in the freezer, potatoes and onions in the pantry, and a handful of collards in the field but if I want something fresh it means I need to go to the grocery store.

So the question becomes (since I am just a poor farmer!) what to spend the money to buy organic? Well first, we ALWAYS buy domestically. If it is a veggie or fruit needs to come from the US, the closer to us, the better. But outside of that, what should we buy?

Well here is a list of pesticide content of fruits and veggies: Complete list

To summarize the Dirty Dozen (in order from most to least contaminated:)
  • Peaches - Fruit is as sweet to bugs as it is to you!
  • Apple - Don't assume if the orchard is local it is organic, but it will probably be better then grocery store conventional, which are grown to be perfect!
  • Sweet Bell Pepper - Nice thin skin which you leave on!
  • Celery - No skin at all and a LONG growth period so lots of time for bugs to find it.
  • Nectarine - More fruit.
  • Strawberries - See Apples.
  • Cherries - See Strawberries.
  • Kale - No Wonder! In our garden the Kale is a flea beetle buffet!
  • Lettuce - Consumers want perfect heads.
  • Grapes - Imported - As I said we don't buy imported fruits.
  • Carrot - They have a tendency to grow in a way which makes them "unsalable" unless you spray them. They fork, twist, or don't look perfect. Plus! Organic carrots are cheap!
  • Pear - Basically, buy organic fruit!

Read the whole list for more, but avoiding these 12 things unless organic, will cut your pesticide exposure by almost 80%!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The day before you drop dead, hire someone!

What a great discussion. What do farmers need to do to create a "Credible Local Food System?" We need to realize that our farms are businesses...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Learning a lot by bouncing around.

The conference next week can feel so strange. There are some things which we are eager to hear about and others which are outside of our type of farming. Take the Tuesday morning session on Pickling Cucumber (yes two full hours on growing pickles!)

-Using Technology to Track and Avoid Losses from Downy Mildew
-Tank Mixes, Higher Rates, and Crop Rotation to Improve Weed Control in Continuous Pickle Production
-Enhancing Pollination Through Use of Wild, Feral, and Domesticated Bumblebees, Honey Bees, and Other Insects
-Efficiency and Economic Returns with Current Pickle Harvesters You can probably guess which of these four we may slip into... - Hint: it doesn't involve expensive single crop technology or mix rates for chemical applications.

Most of the conference is like this, with us bouncing from session to session between the two of us we may sit in on 4 different session in any given time slot. Or we may pop in and then leave and come back. Take the Grape session for instance:

-YES - Development of a Sustainable Protocol for Grape Growers in Southwest Ontario

-no - Mechanization Strategies for Profitable Production of Concord Grapes

- maybe - Grape Decline Diseases in Michigan

- no - Controlling Grape Berry Moth Using a Phenology Model and New Insecticides

-YES - Evaluation of Strategies to Achieve Sustainable Production of Concord grapes in Michigan

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Lakes Expo...

This time next week I will be at the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo. We went to this show and learnt a lot, first among them being that once there we were not in Kansas anymore. Welcome to the big bad world of commercial vegetables where we are not even small fish in a small pond, more like a goldfish in a bowl where we can see the small pond out the window!

There are half day sessions on lots of different things. A half day on carrots, a half day on onions, a full day on blueberries, a full day on apples, and on and on. Most of the focus is on conventional, but the sessions are broken into a series of half hour long pieces and we can float in and out and hear those sessions which we can use.

And Organics? Not so much. It is actually pretty funny, the expo hall closes at 12:00 on Thrusday at 1:00-3:00 that day they have the organic sessions. That being siad the organic sessions last year were very good. This year they look excellent: The Cornell Soil Health Assessment Protocol and the Connection Between Soil Health and Root Health, Biofumigation and Soil Health with Mustard Cover Crops, Soil Management in Organic Tomato and Pumpkin Production, Sweet Potatoes: The Next Big Crop for up North?, & Organic Weed and Soil Management: Insights from a NY Vegetable and Grain Farmer.

I can honestly say I learnt a ton more at this conventional confrence then at any of the