Daffodils

Orange Emperor Tulips and Narcissus 'Goblet'

Spring in the Rockies!  Nothing is more welcome than a burst of color after a white, snowy winter.

Unfortunately, deer love to eat tulips!  They don’t touch the narcissus (nor do gophers, moles, or voles) because they are poisonous.

We use a liquid deer repellant called Deer Out that’s made from natural ingredients and has a peppermint smell instead of the rotten egg smell of some others.  They say it won’t wash off, but I find we have to reapply after rains and at least every two weeks if it’s under irrigation.

Home-made Sourdough – aka How to Enjoy a Winter Day at Home

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Image courtesy of http://www.history.com. I always break into mine too soon to take nice pictures!

In the depths of winter nothing can really top a pot of soup simmering all day served with a fresh baked loaf of bread. I was lucky enough to have a crafty/foodie friend who a year ago started her own sourdough starter. Since then I’ve baked at least fifty loaves of fail proof, delicious, sourdough goodness. For those who have never seen a starter, it is a fascinating little jar of harmless looking flour-water batter. Add a little flour and water each day and the fermenting mass bubbles and rises, ready for baking any day. Then during times when you know you’ll be busy and not baking daily, the starter is equally happy to rest in the fridge for another day.

The recipe I was given is deceivingly simple – so much so that I doubted myself each time I attempted to bake. I made phone calls to the sourdough starter’s mother, watching my every move and taking care to do each step perfectly. “Really, you can’t mess it up,” she says. “Just add what ever flavors you want, leave it out longer or shorter, it doesn’t really matter. It’ll turn out perfect every time.” Sure. This is coming from a pastry chef who’s kitchen endeavors are nothing short of amazing and beautiful every single time. I trust her though, and begin to experiment…

Long story short, it is true. Aside from using the proper amounts of flour, water, starter and salt, the times and other ingredients are incredibly flexible. The starter has yet to disappoint, and the recipe is unbelievably easy to use. For tips on getting your own starter going, a simple google search will do the trick. This recipe seems like a good one.

Once you have your starter going, or are lucky enough to get some from a friend, follow these easy directions and I bet you’ll never want to buy bread again.

Things you’ll need:

  • kitchen scale
  • plastic tub with a lid
  • colander or wicker basket with canvas cloth (or I use a tea towel)
  • 6 to 8 qt heavy, covered pot – cast iron, ceramic, enamel or Pyrex (I use a baking dish and just cover the loaf with foil because I don’t have a dutch oven, and it works just fine

Maintaining the starter

  • 50 grams whole wheat four
  • 50 grams white flour
  • 100 grams water

Each day, either bake with or throw away half or more of the starter and feed with 50g whole wheat flour, 50 g white flour, and 100 g water

If you’re not going to bake for a while, you can put the starter in the refrigerator for up to several months to store it. To wake it up, just pull it out of the fridge and start feeding it again. Don’t worry if it looks funny (if you leave it for a while it can get a nice looking black liquid layer on top – just mix it back in:)

I’ve found that if you plan on baking, pull it out of the fridge the day before, feed it, and then use it the next day. I never really bake consecutive days in a row, so just put it back in the fridge after you get what you need.

Making a Loaf

  • 100g starter
  • 250 g white flour
  • 250 g whole wheat flour
  • 375 g water at 80 degrees F
  • 10 g sea salt
  • other ingredients (fresh or dried herbs, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, olives, etc)

In your plastic tub, stir the starter into the 80 F water until dissolved. Mix in the white and wheat flours with your hands or a dough scraper until water and flour are incorporated. There is no need to knead, just combine the water and flour.

Cover and allow the mixture to sit for 20 to 30 minutes. This step is called the rest or “autolyse”. This rest period allows the flour to become fully hydrated.

After that time is up, add the sea salt (and any other ingredients here – just use your best judgement on amounts) and mix with your hands (wet your hands first). Cover.

First fermentation: 3 to 3.5hours. Let the dough sit in your covered plastic tub. Each hour, pour the dough out onto a floured surface using your dough scraper to help the dough out. Quickly stretch and fold the dough, pulling the right edge to meet the left adn then pulling the left side to meet the right.

At the end of the first fermentation its time to shape the loaf into a boule. Pour the dough out onto a floured surface. Take a corner and pull into the center of the dough three or four times, rotating the loaf as you fold. Pick up the dough, flip it over so that the smooth side is up, and use both hands to pull it into a round shape, stretching the top (good) side toward what will be the bottom of the loaf. Place the dough onto the cutting board good (top) side up. If the dough is not keeping its shape, gently turn and reinforce the ball shape with cupped hands, stretching the top toward the bottom. Finally, plop the boule’s good side down into your canvas or tea towel lined colander. Make sure the canvas or towel is well floured so the loaf doesn’t stick. Fold the cloth over the loaf, or cover in plastic or a plate, to keep the surface from drying out. Place it in the fridge and let sit for 8 to 48 hours. The longer the dough ferments in the fridge, the more sour the taste will be, and the more likely the dough will stick to the canvas. This second, longer fermentation accomplishes two things: It helps develop flavor and allows flexibility in terms of when you feel like baking the loaf.

Baking

Now you’re ready to bake your bread. Preheat oven and pot or dish to 500 F.

Take the dough out of the fridge, there’s no need to bring it to room temperature. Turn the colander upside down and thump the boule out onto a floured surface.

Slash the boule with a sharp knife or razor blade. The slashes will promote even expansion and prevent ugly cracks and blown-out loaves. I usually make 2 cuts to make an x in the center of the loaf. You can experiment with other patterns – you can use different slashes to correct for problems such as underproofing.

Remove the preheated pot from the stove. Being careful, stick your hands under the loaf and gently lift and drop it into the pot.

Put the lid (or foil) on the pot and put it back in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for another 20-ish. I often go a few minutes less, but the recipe says another 20-25 mins. It should be a rich golden to dark brown. Remove from pot.

Starter-based loaves taste better once they’ve cooled (so they say – I think it tastes the best hot and fresh). It says to let it cool for an hour and it will have better texture and flavor.

Enjoy:)

Challenges of the Greenhouse in Winter

Here at Emmadale we’ve been exploring the potential of producing microgreens through the winter in our greenhouse. It’s been a great test with amazing results, but we are definitely feeling the shortness of winter days and now trying to figure out how to make sure our seeds germinate despite the loss of sun during the day and recent extra-cold temperatures.

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Before we get into the challenges, let me introduce the microgreen. Basically, you can grow any lettuce, salad green, or herb as a microgreen. You could start with a pre-packaged seed mix, look for specific microgreen mixes, or simply choose a mesclun mix to grow as microgreens. A few popular varieties to grow as microgreens:

  • Mustard
  • Kale
  • Endive
  • Arugula
  • Beet greens
  • Spinach
  • Radish greens
  • Watercress
  • Mizuna
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Basil
  • any type of Lettuce

The best time to harvest microgreens is when they’ve developed their first set of true leaves (the first ones are seed leaves, and don’t look anything like the actual leaves of the plant), which is generally about ten days to two weeks after planting. Harvesting is as easy as snipping the sprout just above soil level. Seems pretty easy, eh?

Then let’s move on to the science. Seeds require three things to germinate and grow – temperature, moisture (humidity), and light. Our greenhouse normally maintains an acceptable temperature range for growth, thanks to our clear, sunny Colorado days. [Although recently temperatures have been extremely cold, adding an additional challenge to the mix.]  We are able to maintain moisture with daily watering and management. Light has become our limiting factor. Or so we first suspected. Our microgreen crop started out with amazing success – more flats than we could sell, and now we’ve found enough local interest to sell out our harvest. Over the solstice, however, seed germination started to lag, and we at first attributed this to the shortest days of the year. With a little research, its becoming apparent that artificial lighting may be necessary to keep the little suckers going.

The second challenge, temperature, is starting to seem like more of the source of stunted growth. In order to actually germinate, light should not be as much of a factor. As soon as seeds sprout, however, they rely on having a certain amount of light per day, as well as somewhat consistent temperatures in order to grow. This bit from www.successwithseed.org helps to explain…

“Once your seed have germinated, the seedlings must have light. Light is necessary for plants to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugar (which plants use as food), in a process known as photosynthesis. If light intensity is too low, which often happens during the short days of winter or during prolonged cloudy periods, the plants will be unhealthy, tall and spindly. Plants have the greatest need of intense light when they are seedlings than at any other stage of life. When starting your seed indoors, using fluorescent lights or growing in a greenhouse is best, but if you do not have these available, an unshaded south window will suffice.”

We are obviously beyond using south-facing windows for this level of production – do we invest in artificial lighting? I asked a fellow Colorado microgreen grower about the situation. His response?

“Yes you are correct – healthy microgreens should be grown under lights a minimum of 12 hours per day. You do not need fancy lights just two 40 watt grow lights and a shelf to hang and set growing trays on. Your set up should take a bit of water in your area.”

In addition, the Colorado State University website has endless resources and information on horticulture and plant growth. Their page on light effects on plant growth can be seen here. Again, they suggest that “when starting transplants indoors, generally give plants 12 to 14 hours of light per day.”

Ok, our suspicions confirmed. Light will positively help. Now what about the effect of temperature? As of a few weeks ago, temperatures were relatively mild for our winter here in the Valley. Recently, however, we’ve entered an extreme cold cycle. The fluctuation in the greenhouse is far too much for tender seedlings to handle. Again, the CSU extension website has a great page explaining the effect of temperature on plant growth. Read about it here. Basically, the below zero nights are bringing the greenhouse temperature just too low to sustain the tender little greens. Do we add a source of heat? At what point is the energy input required to maintain these plants no longer worth the return?

Growing food in the Valley is a challenge, but it is one that we are having fun with and hope to succeed in year round. Any suggestions and knowledge are welcome – please let us know your thoughts, experiences or ideas!

 

Weekly Menu [Delivery by Friday January 11]

MICRO-GREENS

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Fresh picked the day before your order is delivered!!!

Organically grown in our heated, cooled, greenhouse in Emma

Micro Greens – $3.00/oz:
·        Mizuna
·        Celery
·        Arugula
·        Giant Garnet Mustard
·        Basil ($3.50/oz)
·        Suelihung No 2 Mustard
·        Beet – Bull’s Blood ($3.50/oz)
·        Radish Red Rambo

We will be producing about 7-10 lbs per week throughout the season. We need to know what your estimated usage will be so taht we can custom order the seed, sow, grow and harvest for continual production.

Microgreens are Ready for Delivery!

Check out our updated menu for microgreens grown fresh in our greenhouse in Emma! Arugula, Basil, Beet, and more. Order by Wednesday for delivery Thursday by 5:30pm.

Microgreen menu

As winter finally makes its way into the Roaring Fork Valley, don’t forget about the potential for ongoing local food harvest. We’re trying hard to keep things going in our little greenhouse on the farm. Petite and micro greens have been a huge success – Altor Mizuna, Spicy Micro-Mix, Mustard, Suehlihung No 2, Giant Garnet Mustard, Cress, Genovese Basil, Arugula, Bull’s Blood Beet, and Early Wonder Beet greens. Great variety and so fresh and delicious. In order to keep up with demand, let us know what kind and how much you could use and we’ll keep it growing!

Thanks so much for your support!!!

Tomato Horn Worm

Just one of the many found amongst the tomatoes!

Yikes! Egads! I’ve come face to face with my first Tomato Horn Worm since Entymology in college. About the length and diameter of my first finger, Chartreuse, Pea and Army Green, complete with that unicorn appendage!

If I didn’t know how devastating a predator he can be I’d almost say he’s handsome.  But the horn worm is no friend of farmer.

The Impact of Whole Foods on the Local Farmer

Well, the long-awaited Whole Foods store has opened in our area.  The Roaring Fork valley is about 45 miles long, and ranges from ½ mile to 1-1/2 miles wide.  The new market will serve probably 30,000 people from 6 or so incorporated communities plus unincorporated areas.  I would guess that the demographic layer cake is fed by a base layer of Hispanic immigrant workers who are tax payers, a little buttercream of the same who are not legal workers, another layer of fairly medium-income working Caucasians with fairly yuppie tastes, a little more buttercream of regular-old retirees,  a final layer of 2nd homeowners who have lots of financial buying power, all topped with a lovely ganache of the uber-wealthy who create the jobs for the rest of us and provide a stable market for arts, restaurants, and retail, and whose purchases fund our schools and government coffers alike.

The upshot is, probably 2/3 of the cake has been waiting for the chance to buy organically raised meats, fish, and dairy, organic vegetables, bulk nuts, seeds and twigs, and chomp on delectable, prepared foods from the upscale deli market.

The grand opening was a party, with locals greeting each other, sharing samples, oohing and aaahing, and generally being thrilled at the first coming of fancy market!

I confess that I love the bulk food section and that big bin full of baked delectable right at eye level with guilt-free names like ‘Gluten-free honey almond raspberry bar’.

However, I am a farmer.   Yup, right here in River City, about 2 miles from the golden egg.  Some of my sales come from a Sunday market in the little town 5 miles from the new box, and some from direct farm to customer weekly sales.  I’m not yet ‘making A living’ at it, but I am trying to make MY living from it.

Perhaps it’s really because kids went back to school right about the week WF opened and no one wanted any more produce, but boy, sales went way down that week.  The farmers’ market seemed barren of all but the most dedicated supporters of local farmers for the next five weeks until the season end and no one, not one person, ordered any more veggies direct from my farm.

Hmmm.  Is it just a fad?  Were my veggies bad?  Were my prices too high?  I’ve got to do a survey and find out.  In my spare time.

Most everyone I have talked to says that they loved my food and the restaurants are still buying so I guess I’m not poisoning anyone.

I checked the produce section at WF and found my prices were either the same or not more than 1$  a pound more for any one thing.

Lots of people, really wanting to help out their local farmer said, ‘hey, you should sell your stuff at Whole Foods!’ So I inquired.  Initially enthusiastic at the prospect of buying truly local, the produce manager then informed me that they only buy ‘certified organic’.  Well, it’s another discussion but that certification is cumbersome, expensive and some people think rather meaningless since there aren’t the kind of follow up inspections you’d expect in food production and handling.  I grow organically, but I’m not ‘certified’.  So, no dice.  And, one more small detail—they pay farmers approximately .50 cents on the dollar compared to direct sales.

So if we’re talking about walking the walk (were we?) a person who buys ‘local’ produce from the big market is adding a middle man to the transaction, thereby reducing the amount of money in the farmers’ hands, while paying about the same money for the same stuff, only kept in the walk-in fridge another week and possibly disinfected to meet FDA standards for ‘retailing’ produce.  Many businesses, specialty organic markets included, contribute to social or environmental causes nationally and in their communities, but I’m guessing that at least some of that dough goes into marketing and maybe administration at corporate headquarters?

Competition is a good thing; I believe in it so that we don’t get stagnant, over-priced, or gain too much power.  But I am concerned with the impact of this retailer on my ability to sell enough radishes to pay my employees at least 50% more than WF pays its, and my ability to support my friends who are restauranteurs, retailers, doctors, tinkers and tailors.