August 29, 2011 – Parched August

The weather service has officially put our county in the “drought-stricken” category, up from “abnormally dry.”  We’ve received less than .3 inches of rain in August and are at about 60 percent of the normal rainfall to date.

Cracks in the soil, ready for rain.

Of course, I don’t need this fancy NOAA map showing the rainfall deficit/surplus over the past three months.  Looks like over the past three months we’re short 6-8 inches of rainfall from normal.

one year ago…”About those Eggs…”

August 28, 2011 – Iowavertible

There’s likely not too many 4×4 convertibles on the road, and likely fewer pickup convertibles.  Although, technically this doesn’t count as a true convertible as it can’t convert back to having a roof, it’s not doubt a fun beating around the farm truck.

The cab was crushed in the storms in July and the owner just sawed it off.  He thought he might put a roll bar on the back and add a snap canvas top to it as well.  But at least for  a dry August, it’s stylin’.

one year ago…”Linda Recognized as Outstanding Ag Educator”

August 27, 2011 – Putting Tomaotes Up

Today was a long-anticipated day. Last year, we only had enough tomatoes to can seven quarts (it was a good thing we had canned 89 the previous year and had enough left over to get us through). This looks like a great tomato year. It was wet to get them going, hotter than blazes in July, now bone dry in August (avoids bacterial wilt and fungus).

Martin with the first sweep through the garden of the year looking for ‘maters.

A bushel of Romas waiting to be skinned and peeled.

To enable safe boiling water canning of tomatoes, we add 2 tbsp of lemon juice and a tsp of salt for taste.

We throw the tomatoes in boiling water until their skins crack and then put them in cold water to cool.

Then cut out the stem and slip the skins off.

Take about 1/6 of the tomatoes and crush them and bring them to boil, then slowly add the rest (no need to crush).  After all the tomatoes are added, bring to a boil and boil for five minutes.

Put in cans and boil for 50 minutes.  Today’s haul was 28 quarts of tomatoes.  Seems like a lot, but it’s only about two jars a month.  These are a staple in our cuisine.  Love them as the base of a minestrone soup and an essential part of red hot dish!

one year ago…”Ag Incubator Ribbon Cutting!”

August 24, 2011 – Tomatoes

As promised, some tomatoes, grown as though taste mattered.

striped roman tomato

This is a relatively new addition to the garden, and probably a permanent addition – an heirloom variety called Striped Romans – Martin calls them “fire tomatoes” as the orange and red stripes are reminiscent of flames on the side of a hot rod.  They are also good enough for table use, although the skin is a bit thick.

Of course, we never put all our eggs in one basket and planted another more traditional Roma variety as well for canning.

one year ago…”East Side of House Done (well, almost)”

August 21, 2011 – Tomatoland

Ever wonder about those things called “tomatoes” you get in the grocery store in the winter and wonder how they could be so different than the one you get in the garden?

There’s a new book out that ties together many of the problems of  “industrial agriculture.”  The book is called Tomatoland and you can read an except and hear an interview with the author.

The issues are interwoven, and repeated with many common foods, namely pork and eggs in Iowa.  The problems exposed in the book relate to taste and nutrition, human rights, environmental degradation, and human health, among others.

Without further ado, some comments from the NPR story and book:

As one large Florida farmer said, ‘I don’t get paid a single cent for flavor.’ “He said, ‘I get paid for weight. And I don’t know of any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes before she puts them in her shopping cart.’ … It’s not worth commercial plant breeders’ while to breed for taste because their customers — the large farmers — don’t get paid for it.

Florida applies more than eight times the amount of pesticide and herbicides as does California, the next leading tomato grower in the country. Part of this has to do with the fact that California processes tomatoes that are used for canning — and therefore don’t have to look as good as their Florida counterparts. But part of this also has to do with consumers.

“It’s the price we pay for insisting we have food out of season and not local,” he says. “We foodies and people in the sustainable food movement chant these mantras, ‘local, seasonable, organic, fair-trade, sustainable,’ and they almost become meaningless because they’re said so often and you see them in so many places. If you strip all those away, they do mean something, and what they mean is that you end up with something like a Florida tomato in the winter — which is tasteless.”

“My mother, in the ’60s could buy a tomato in the supermarket that had 30 to 40 percent more vitamin C and way more niacin and calcium. The only area that the modern industrial tomato beats its Kennedy-administration counterpart is in sodium.”

“Of the legal jobs available, picking tomatoes is at the very bottom of the economic ladder. I came into this book chronicling a case of slavery in southwestern Florida that came to light in 2007 and 2008. And it was shocking. I’m not talking about near-slavery or slavery-like conditions. I’m talking about abject slavery. These were people who were bought and sold. These were people who were shackled in chains at night or locked in the back of produce trucks with no sanitary facilities all night.

“These were people who were forced to work whether they wanted to or not and if they didn’t, they were beaten severely. If they tried to escape, they were either beaten worse or in some cases, they were killed. And they received little or no pay. It sounds like 1850. … There have been seven [legal cases] in the last 10 or 15 years … successfully brought to justice in Florida involving slavery. And 1,200 people have been freed. The U.S. Attorney for the district in Southern Florida claims that that just represents a tiny, tiny tip of an iceberg because it’s extraordinarily difficult to prosecute a modern-day slavery case.”

In Vermont, where I live, as in much of the rest of the United States, a gardener can select pretty much any sunny patch of ground, dig a small hole, put in a tomato seedling, and come back two months later and harvest something. Not necessarily a bumper crop of plump, unblemished fruits, but something. When I met Monica Ozores-Hampton, a vegetable specialist with the University of Florida, I asked her what would happen if I applied the same laissez-faire horticultural practices to a tomato plant in Florida. She shot me a sorrowful, slightly condescending look and replied, “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” I asked.

“There would be nothing left of the seedling,” she said. “Not a trace. The soil here doesn’t have any nitrogen, so it wouldn’t have grown at all. The ground holds no moisture, so unless you watered regularly, the plant would certainly die. And, if it somehow survived, insect pests, bacteria, and fungal diseases would destroy it.” How can it be, then, that Florida is the source for one-third of the fresh tomatoes Americans eat? How did tomatoes become the Sunshine State’s most valuable vegetable crop, accounting for nearly one-third of the total revenue generated?

Enjoy those summer tomatoes! In the next few days, we’ll take to the garden to pick the first batch for canning.
one year ago…”Canning Raspberries”

August 20, 2011 – Expanding Claire’s Horizons

Today, Claire and I woke up bright and early to bring most of this year’s lambs to the sale barn. Although, sharp-eyed readers may debate that either “Colfax Lives” or that we should have brought Linda’s latest knit socks along instead of some lambs.

Isn’t it nice to see Claire on a gravel parking lot wearing knee-high rubber chore boots? Better yet, inside, was no one younger than me, nor of the opposite sex, save for the teen running the concession stand. Surely a different world than that of Washington DC or college. We aim to produce well-rounded children with a wide variety of experiences second to none – and surely, few, if any of her classmates at school or co-workers in DC, have had parents to avail their children to such an experience!

one year ago…”Bees Keeping Cool”