Boy, the weather outside has been frightful! An atrocious heat wave (which won't leave us here on the farm), coupled with a nasty storm that slammed into Duluth, is making this a very crazy couple of weeks of weather around these parts. 2016 just keeps heating up in all the wrong ways. Our hearts go out to our northern compatriots who faced off with Mother Nature's fury last week. Us farmers (who know the helplessness one feels in the face of catastrophic weather) hope you all have power back and the work of repairing your communities is well underway.
A report from the fields...
Well, there is so much to report on this week, from newcomers to the farm, invasions of the blood snatchers, crop successes and crop failures. As you will see in this weeks share, the heat and humidity we have down here is bringing our summer crops into fruition with the first of the season zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and even eggplants showing up.
But first off we are excited to have our newcomers on the farm, four new little pigs who are coming on as part of our long-term strategy for building up the 'herd' (which is actually known as a sounder of swine... who comes up with these names??). We got two female Large Black piglets, a female Berkshire piglet, and a male Berkshire piglet, all who will join our additional female Berkshire who has been with us since April. With a little bit of luck we will have 4 litters of piglets next spring!
Unfortunately we had another population of unwanted critters show up on the farm over the past week. Oddly enough, 8 inches of rain seems to be the main ingredient in whipping up an indomitable horde of blood-sucking mosquitoes. Now, this farmer is a Minnesota grown boy who is no stranger to working outdoors, and has spent plenty of time up in the Boundary Waters. More than familiar with Minnesota's honorary state bird. But I have rarely in my life ever seen such a plague of blood snatchers. Walking through the fields one sees a mist rising from the ground, and in true B Horror fashion come to realize it is actually thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes. Anyone remember those old 80's commercials for Off! where they put a person inside a glass cage filled with a maddening swarm of mosquitoes to demonstrate how effective their product is. Yep, we are living inside that glass cage... uggh!
Well, we have had a series of successes, struggles and failures this year.. which is to be expected as we get to know this land and its quirks (we all have them, right??) And of course, you add Mother Nature's occasionally fickle spirit to the blend, and you have a recipe for intrigue.
One crop we fear to mention, but still want to share, is that of the... (sweet corn)..((shush!))..(((the bears and raccoons may be monitoring this website))) It is growing well, tall and proud. Having lived through several windstorms that laid them near flat. But as they ripen into rich, sweet golden kernels, Nature may come a calling, and the aforementioned critters can decimate a crop.
But we shall defend them with our lives...!!
One sad early season crop loss were our melons. The first planting had an abysmal germination rate on the level of total failure, and the re-ordered seeds got consumed by a chipmunk... yeh, that happened. This is one we had to chalk up to a Fail, and make better plans for next season. Another crop that is dissappointing us is the winter squash (an absolute favorite of this farmer). While still too early to completely write off for the season, but many of our winter squash plants are doing very poorly, some due to insane levels of weed pressure and other to poor fertility in the section of the field they were placed in. We are holding out hope that our rescue plan from the weeds and a beautiful Fall could still bring in a decent showing, but we are preparing for little luck in this crop.
Let's cook our stormy mosquito-ridden blues away!
Okay, so now we are getting to the part of the season where I just want to cook so many different recipes with the produce available. Yummy! Sadly, as a farmer, finding the time to cook in the Summer is quite difficult, so I will simply have to live vicariously through you all!!
Okay, first order of business is to discuss the illustrious Fennel Bulb you will find in your basket this week. While some of you may be familiar with this odd little treat, many of you likely are not. Fennel is a versatile vegetable that plays an important role in the food culture of many European nations, especially in France and Italy. Its esteemed reputation dates back to the earliest times and is reflected in its mythological traditions. Greek myths state that fennel was not only closely associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of food and wine, but that a fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men.
The bulb (which is the white part supplied in the box), stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.
Fennel's aromatic taste is unique, strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy texture. Fennel's licorice/anise flavor is much more potent when raw, but once cooked/baked, the flavor mellows considerably.
I personally love to roast Fennel, as I like the flavor mellowed out just a touch. One of my favorite things to do with Fennel Bulb is to use it in making Potato Au Gratin, and add it in to whatever level desired (I usually do a 50/50). However, here is also another way to make it that I have enjoyed:
Roasted Fennel with Parmesan
(this recipe can be found at The Food Network)