Pure Land Organic

Summer Pre-teens

Alright! We have ripped right through the spring and are barreling headfirst into summer. We went through a busy period of rushing to get everything planted, but now we enter the Calm Before the Storm. Gotta keep everything alive and healthy, but it'll still be several weeks until we can eat off 'em (except for the squash, which are threatening/imminent. Let's see how the kids are doing, shall we?

Remember those tomatoes that froze? Mother Nature threw us a bone - they came back.  The vast majority, anyway... a dozen or so are gone for good, but the rest (a good hundred plants) just bushed right back out from the base of the stem. That guy above was frozen to about an inch off the ground, so we're assuming there was just enough residual daytime heat trapped by the plastic mulch to keep the roots alive. Amazing! The plants are finally blowing up, they love this hot, wet weather. And they're just starting to set the first few tomatoes. Yippee!

Elsewhere in the Nightshade family, the peppers are coming along quite nicely. I've heard some people top their peppers, which makes them bushier and more productive. Has anyone tried this? Think I'll try it with a few to experiment. 

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And the bush beans look the best we've ever grown so far! Green beans are one of my very favorite garden treats, I just think the difference in quality between a garden green bean and a grocery store one could fill the Grand Canyon. Very excited to see how these do. So far so good! 

Across the way, the cucumbers also look the best we've ever grown. There might just be something to this improving soil quality and biology thing, huh? Strong, shiny, dark green leaves… well, until the cucumber beetles roll in. Mama's ready for 'em, though. I got a sweet li'l ATV with a 30 gallon spray rig to throw in the back. It's on.

We've kept the summer squash under row cover to keep the squash bugs at bay as long as possible, but as soon as these flowers start opening, we'll throw it back to let the bees in. I'd say we'll be eating the first of them within the week. I have missed squash. Yes, I actually just said that out loud, after topping out at consuming a couple pounds of squash per person per week last summer. I refused to buy one all winter. Bring it, squash. I ain't afraid of you.

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And down in Melontown, the first set of cantaloupes have begun to sprawl. Squee!

Finally, although we did end up losing a lot of blackberries to frost, there are still soooo many on the vines. I am beside myself. Dey gonna be so good.

We'll be harvesting the earliest variety of garlic in a couple days! Onions won't be far behind...

What happens when it's very, very, very windy

As all our local friends know, we had one of those rough Texas spring storms a few nights ago. In places nearby there was up to 4-inch hail, but we were fortunate, ours topped out about dime-sized. The hail itself didn't do much damage, but boy that howling wind whipped our pretty tender li'l greens about pretty hard. Not so much that they won't come back, for which you must feign gratitude, but enough that now you've gotta wait a bit for it. Bah.

The Romaine fared the best of the lettuces. As you can see, it's not fully grown, so I'm not nearly as bothered by the damage as I would have been if it happened in 2 weeks. Look at me, tempting fate. Tempty tempt tempt. 

The more tender butters were not so happy. They look particularly wimpy here because this was taken the morning after the storm, so the leaves had been desiccated by the wind all night. They don't look as bad now.

The bok choy and Chinese cabbage are really shredded. Wind is such a jerk.

And here are the beets greens leaning heavily downwind, bent but not broken. (Message!)

As aggravating as it is to miss a market, we were ultimately fortunate. Local sustainable ranchers Rehoboth Ranch were not so lucky, they were devastated by a tornado that formed out of the storm. They lost all of their barns and suffered significant damage to their homestead. They're wonderful people committed to raising animals "the right way", you've never had a Thanksgiving turkey so flavorful and juicy. You can see the damage here and make a donation towards their rebuilding.

Well, the farm's pretty soggy today, and we're happy to watch the pond fill up. Farmer Pop, Cute Husband and I popped the first hundred tomatoes into the ground on Saturday, and boy that felt good. We seeded the first set of melons (yes!!!), summer squash, and watermelons. Soon as it dries out a bit, peppers get transplanted! And then bean seeds, sweet potatoes, winter squash, yee-haw! 

Checking in on Garlic

Let's take a peek and see what the garlic has been up to. The warmer weather has them putting on leaves like crazy. Remember, you learned all about how we grow our garlic in this post

Here were the California Early White softnecks at the end of January.

And here they are a few days ago, about six weeks later. Much much taller, and bushier!

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The California Late Whites, then:

And now, leafsplosion!

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And finally, all the heirloom hardnecks went from these goofy little squirrely things...

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To these proud, less goofy things. 

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Things are certainly a-changin' with this beautiful weather! Woohoo!

Happenings of Late: March 13

Well, there's not a lot to see at the moment down on ye ole vegetable farm, which is why I haven't posted much. We're still recovering from that terrible freeze, although a lot more did survive than I initially expected. The 10-day forecast is looking awfully nice, but Mother Nature is a cruel mistress… don't trust her. She builds you up to break you down (cow). It'll probably freeze at least one more time before it's over for the year.

Here's the haps:

  • Farmer Pop has been plowing the winter cover crop up on the second terrace in preparation for summer crops. Yay! We had a giant pile of decaying wood chips and compost he spread everywhere that we'll pull into the beds. The babies will like that. 
  • We lost a bunch of our first set of tomatoes to some weird fungus in our potting mix. It had been sitting around a while. We chucked the rest of it and we'll just buy some transplants from a local nursery to make up the difference. Easy come, easy go. The second set of tomatoes and all the other babies look great. As I said to Pops, that's a mistake we'll only make once… unfortunately there are a couple hundred distinct possible mistakes at any given time, so even if you don't make the same one twice, there's always a new one nearby to rip your heart out. Now it's time to start working on tomato cages!
  • We planted another 700 heads of lettuce on Tuesday in an hour. Damn speedy! 
  • The early peach trees are budding out. As the blooms open we'll start losing sleep over the forecast… a frost will kill the blossoms, meaning no peachies for the entire year. It's the one thing you just can't fight, short of getting a helicopter to fly above them blowing the cool air away (seriously, people do this). I may lose just a little sleep in advance anyway.
  • White Rock Local Market comes back this Saturday!! We won't be selling, but we'll surely be shopping. It's starting out at the Lakeside location, 9150 Garland Road.
  • Our produce will be all over the menu at our pal Chef Robert's fancy pants dinner Saturday night at Patina Green Home and Market. They're one of our greatest supporters. As the weather gets nice this spring, take a Saturday to stroll the square in McKinney and get an amazing sandwich from them.
  • This baby goat and I are BFFs. It's pretty awesome and you should be jealous. 
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Roast Salmon and Broccoli with Chile-Caper Vinaigrette

I love when recipes turn out exactly how they sound, as though you can taste them right through the page. I gravitated towards this recipe immediately because the quick-pickled jalapeño reminded me of one of my sushi restaurant favorites, yellowtail with jalapeño, and everybody knows everything's better with capers. (Except fruit pies, just ask Bobby Hill.)

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We're continuing to enjoy the spoils of our first successful broccoli crop. The leaves in particular have been a revelation; when cooked over high heat, the thin leafy bits brown to crunchy deliciousness at the same time that the stems become just tender-crisp. I may even bring some to Coppell Farmers Market this weekend to share with all of you. Maaaybe. If everything didn't freeze last night, that is. The roads were too icy today to head up and check, so we'll see tomorrow. Fingers and toes, y'all. 

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I generally find Rachel Ray pretty heinous, but she has good ideas from time to time. One of those is to immediately wash, prep, and put away all your produce when you get it home from the market. That way it's all ready to go whenever you need it, and it's just quicker to handle it all at once than a few minutes every day. I hate you just a little more for making me thank you for something, Rachel Ray. 

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1 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rings (I used about half of a big one to get a couple dozen thin slices)

2 tbsp capers, salt cured are best (Jimmy's has them), rinsed

2 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar

1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you say EVOO, Imma slap you)

2 salmon filets (we're exclusively eating sustainable-as-it-gets Verlasso salmon now, and it is so good)

2-3 cups broccoli florets and leaves, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. I know it seems goofy to preheat the oven when you're actually going to use the broiler, but I think everything cooks a lot more evenly if you do. 

Next, combine the jalapeño, capers, rice vinegar, and a little kosher salt in a small bowl. Make sure the jalapeño slices are submerged. Top with the extra virgin olive oil. Leave it on the counter for a good half hour before you eat so it can pickle. 

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions and set aside. Anecdotally, I find it always takes more liquid than they claim it should. 

The rest of this will go pretty quick. Turn on the broiler to low (or high, if your broiler isn't very hot). Toss the broccoli with a little olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Spread into a single layer on a tray. Coat the salmon with a little more olive oil, season, and arrange on another tray (or use one huge tray if you have it, my broccoli leaves took up so much room I actually did need two trays). Pop the trays under the broiler for about 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon filets. Don't cook the crap out of nice salmon, it should be served about medium. Also, if you're using broccoli leaves, make sure to monitor them for burning, giving them a shuffle on the tray half-way through cooking. 

Whisk your vinaigrette a bit before serving. Plate the salmon and broccoli atop a mound of quinoa and top everything with the chile-caper vinaigrette. 

Serves 2.

Hawaiian-style Braised Pork with Stir-Fried Cabbage

What to do when a kindly neighbor gives you a gorgeous cabbage bigger than your head? I've got a ham, cabbage, and potato soup in mind for later today, but the first thing I thought of was this recipe I've been making for a few years from an old Bon Appetit

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Apologies for the crappy picture, I was hungry and couldn't be bothered to drag my lights out. After seeing exactly how crappy it is though, I shan't be so lazy again.

Although I'm sure you could use many cuts, the recipe calls for boneless country-style pork ribs to be braised in soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and Chinese five spice powder until totally fall-aparty (a technical term in our house). The result is tender, salty, umami porkiness. It's similar in style to my other favorite braised pig dish, Burmese red pork stew, but the five spice really takes it to a different place. A happy place. A place you should visit. 

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The cabbage side is very simple (cabbage, ginger, and sesame oil) but tastes greater than the sum of its parts, made all the more impressive with a sweet organic cabbage picked at the peak of the season. I love friendly neighbors.

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1.5 lb country-style boneless pork ribs, diced into 1" chunks

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced (do 1.5 tbsp, because you'll need some for the cabbage too, below)

2 scallions, thinly sliced, plus extra for sprinkling at the end

1 cup chicken stock, low sodium

3 tbsp soy sauce, low sodium

1/2 tbsp brown sugar

pinch of dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp Chinese five spice powder

~ 1 lb cabbage, thinly sliced

1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced (from above - mince once!)

1 tsp sesame oil

1 cup white rice

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a heavy pot that has a lid, like a Dutch oven. When hot, season the pork chunks lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and brown them on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan so they brown up nicely like in the picture above. Next add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, allowing to soften for a minute or two, then add the chicken stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and five spice powder. Scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Resist the urge to add more salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and forget about it for an hour or hour and a half. At this point, I like to use a wooden spoon to press on the chunks to see how tender they are. When they break apart with little pressure, they're ready. I like to actually use the spoon to flake the pork into smaller bits so every morsel of it gets coated in the sauce.

While the pork is braising, cook your rice according to the package directions and set aside. 

When the pork is ready, heat a drizzle of olive oil over high heat in a large non-stick skillet. Add the ginger for just a moment, until aromatic, then add the cabbage with a pinch of kosher salt and sauté, tossing, until wilted and browned in places, somewhere between five and ten minutes. Turn off the heat and drizzle with the sesame oil.

Serve the pork and cabbage atop your rice and sprinkle with more scallions. I like a few dollops of Vietnamese chili and garlic sauce to finish it off. 

Serves 4.

Tomatoes get their big-boy pots

Sunday, Pops and I got out the Solo cups and potted on our tomatoes. It's a pretty simple process, won't you take a looksee?

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Our li'l teematers are all growns up *a single tear*. And they look great!

The first thing we do is prepare the potting medium, which we mix together from a bunch of good stuff like coir (made from coconut husks, a sustainable alternative to peat moss), compost, fertilizer, mycorrhizae, yadda. 

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Then we pop out the transplants. Where there are two plants in one soil block, we gently separate the roots in the block (well, we rip the block in half) and each plant gets their own cup. This happens because I sometimes sow two seeds in one block when they have a crappy germination history to raise the odds that I'll get at least one viable plant in the soil block.

Next we shake a little potting mix into the bottom of each (sterilized) cup and plop a transplant on top. Tomatoes do this magical thing of rooting out all along their stem; we like to take advantage of this by sinking the transplant deep in the pot and burying as much of the stem as we can, resulting in a stronger plant.

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All that's left to do is top them off with more potting mix, gently firm it in place, and water. Now, they're really going to take off. They'll double in size within the next two weeks. Yee haw! Spring is a-comin'!

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The warm spell has been a great shot in the arm for most of our crops. There's an inch of mizuna already grown in where I harvested it on Friday. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and with a few freezes in the forecast, we threw all the row cover back on. Ow. Docta says I need a backiotomy! 

(Anyone?)

Low tunnels and another Summer Babies Update

Here's some of what we've been up to this week. After transplanting several hundred heads of lettuce over the weekend, we assembled some hoops to build a low tunnel over them. The hoops are simply lengths of thick coiled wire and are installed by jamming the ends into the sides of the bed.  

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The main function of the tunnel is to hold row cover over the plants, providing protection from the cold. Despite the absolutely glorious weather down here right now, it's still only February and very likely to freeze again. Pops and I have learned our lesson there, that's for sure. It is much, much easier on both body and mind to apply a row cover well before freezing weather becomes imminent. Set it, and forget it. 

Another nice thing about a low tunnel (as opposed to just flopping the row cover right on top of the plants, which is all we do for a lot of stuff) is that it allows the more delicate plants like lettuces to grow unimpeded, without distorting. We want big, fat, nicely shaped heads. The crops to the left of the hooped row are broccolis and greens that we'll cut from, so we're not too concerned about them needing hoops unless we get another freezing rain or ice weather event. Please cross your fingers we don't.

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Once the hoops are installed, we roll out the row cover, lay it over the hoops, and secure it with bricks. This is much easier said than done when the wind is blowing 30 mph. Securing or removing row cover is merciless on the quads and hammies, too, but hey, I welcome the side effects of that.

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Voila. Those guys ought to be ready to pick in just a few weeks! 

Yesterday, I took a peek at our tomato and pepper transplants. Here's what they've been through so far:

Their birthday

About 2 weeks old

And now, they look like this:

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Oh. Yeah. These guys will need to be potted on in just a few days, already! I'll bury them right up to the top set of leaves, tomatoes will root out all along their stem and that makes for a much stronger plant. I'll thin them down to just one per pot, too. I love handling tomato plants, they smell sooo good I just wanna rub my face in 'em. Someone needs to bottle it. 

The peppers are doing great too. Here's a variety of big jalapeños appropriately called "El Jefe". 

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And these are Padron pepper plants.

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Everybody's looking beautiful. T- about 4 weeks until they're in the ground! We'll keep ya posted!