Monday, August 11, 2014

Winter Squash Fun and Deliciousness

Green Striped Cushaw amidst Butternut

One of the most frequent questions I get is, "How do I cook this gorgeous (insert name of winter squash here)?"

So I've decided to put together a brief tutorial on the deliciousness and preparation of winter squash. Winter squash aren't grown in the winter- they are grown in the Summer and stored for use in the Winter, unlike Summer squash, which is grown in the Summer and eaten within a few days of harvest. On our farm, we grow a variety of Winter squash and they are all delicious no matter the season: butternut, spaghetti, red kuri, pie pumpkins, green stripped cushaw, and tan cheese pumpkins. All of these, except the spaghetti, can be prepared similarly and can be interchanged in recipes, whether it is a pumpkin curry, soup, bread, risotto, or pie. The Spaghetti Squash is a bit of a different monster, so I'll discuss him first.

Spaghetti Squash awaiting purchase

To cook the Spaghetti Squash, cut in half long ways, scrape out the seeds, and put it on a greased baking sheet. Put it in the oven at 350F until it gives and inch or so when you poke the outside shell. Then let it cool for 15 minutes or until you can handle it. Scrape out the insides and use in recipes.

My idea: I like to scrape it out, toss it in pesto, chopped onions, cherry tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Other people use it as a substitute for pasta (hence the name). It is normally prepared in a savoury fashion. The other squashes or pumpkins can be used in savoury or sweet recipes.

The Butternut is famous for being featured in soup and ravioli. Simply roast the squash like the spaghetti squash or cut and peel the squash (as my mother prefers) and boil it in a bit of water (photos below of both methods). You can then add some veggie broth, garlic powder, a bit of sugar, and nutmeg. Bring this to a simmer and finish with some cream (or almond milk if you're vegan). It is so good. You might also want to use a blender depending on how chunky you like your soup.

Green Striped Cushaw

Pie Pumpkins
You can do a similar dish with the red kuri, pie pumpkin, tan cheese pumpkin, green striped cushaw or pie pumpkin. I also like to do savoury soups with my pumpkins. They start out in much the same way- roast the pumpkin or squash in the oven until tender and then scrape it out once it is cooled. In the meanwhile, saute some onion and garlic in a sauce pan. Add the pumpkin when its finished, add some veggie bullion, cream/almond milk, salt, white pepper, and thyme or sage, depending on the taste you're going for.

Red Kuri- a Japanese heirloom that is SOO GOOD

Don't forget to add Winter Squash to curries or risottos. There are tons of recipes out there, but these are some that are like what I like to prepare.

Thai-style Pumpkin Curry
A Spicy Pumpkin Curry
Basic Pumpkin Risotto

A final way to prepare Winter Squash is PIE!! Sure, everyone loves the traditional pumpkin pie, but I'm talking a yummy savoury pie perfect for a chilly day (like we're getting this August). You can use the left over soup if it's not too liquidy, or you can use the soup recipe above and just not add a lot of veggie bullion or cream to make a fresh filling. Simply make a pie crust, add the thick filling, and bake! It's so good. It's so good, I'm actually eating a huge piece of it right now. Just as good as veggie pot pie. Who doesn't love pie?

half eaten pie

Tan Cheese Pumpkin- I used this  to make the pie

So hopefully you will have some ideas now on how to prepare your winter squash. If they have a bad place in them, just cut them out. One winter squash can make quite a few meals, so if you find yourself with extra pulp after the recipe, just put it in a Tupperware container and freeze it. OR make some pumpkin bread and share it with the folks at the office and become everyone's new favourite person.

Below are pictures detailing the cut, peel, and boil method of cooking the squash, and the roast and scrape method of cooking the squash.

A Red Kuri, cut in half

Mom likes to peel the pumpkin

And then cut it up and boil it with a little bit of water.

And here's how I like to prepare pumpkin (or in this case, a Green Striped Cushaw):

A cut up Cushaw, seeds scraped out
the top of the Cushaw
flipped over and getting ready to go in the oven
scraping out the Cushaw and putting it in a tupperware to freeze for later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All my posts could be about the weather.

Calabash, the welcoming committee
After a particularly rainy week, things are beginning to dry out and we're enjoying one of the most temperate Julys I can remember. Last year's rain was annoying, but this year, we didn't get the constant rain, just rain here and there and no temperatures over 100. I hope this doesn't mean that we'll be getting a super-hot August to make up for it. But as always, we're prepared for whatever might happen. I'm loving this weather, but I know my okra and eggplant are not. These heat-loving summer crops are barely producing anything at all!

A sample of the 2013 Chambourcin
We just bottled the 2013 Chambourcin and it tastes delicious. I can't wait to share it with yall. We will have it for sale shortly after we harvest. When we take the grapes up to Raylen for processing, we will bring back last year's wine. Get ready for another fall party to celebrate its release!

In vineyard news, the grapes are all covered. Pierce's Disease is popping up here and there, but so far, no massive losses due to the disease like in previous years. I hope our new spray regimen is helping. It will be a few more weeks before we can really see how everything is progressing. It's hard to tell what's going on in the vineyard right now- the weather is so cool that the ripening of the grapes has slown down. A few weeks ago, when the temperature was normal, or even above average (as it was in June), we were full speed ahead and expecting an early harvest. This rain and cooler weather has thrown a wrench in the works. The weather will always keep you guessing.

properly pinned down netting and a beautiful blue sky
Also, due to the style of wine we are making this year, we will be harvesting the grapes a little less ripe than in previous years. We are making a dry rose with our Chambourcin and Villard blanc. We will crush and de-stem the berries together, let them macerate only slightly (the Chambourcin is normally very pigmented), and then press the grapes. I'm hoping to get some good acidity and crispness which will highlight the strawberriness of the Chambourcin and the pineappliness and passion fruitiness of the Villard blanc.

For the past two years, after harvest, we have simply rolled up the nets and mowed the vineyard and called it a year. This year, I'm going to attempt to do some pre-harvest care of the grapes. This will make the winter and spring better for the vines and for the employees. If we are harvesting our grapes in the second or third week of August, that means that we will have a little time after harvest to "pre-prune" for the winter. We can begin cutting out the stuff that definitely has Pierce's Disease, get rid of the weakest parts of the vines, (visually) choose canes or spurs for next season, and allow the vines to focus on hardening off the branches that we want to keep. I'd also like to give a dose of fertilizer to the vines right after harvest to help them harden off properly. If I can convince dad to mow the vineyard twice in a row, I'll spread crimson clover as a cover crop between the rows to add some nitrogen-fixing flora to our ecosystem in the Spring. All of these actions will ensure a healthier vineyard for the winter and make work easier for us in the Spring. We've got a long enough growing season that the grapes will appreciate the chance to chill out a bit before the first frosts.
Villard blanc, under the nets

The tricky part is making sure that we have finished all of our garden work for the fall so that we have time to do the vineyard work. I've been thinking about ways to time the planting of the fall crops, and I'm hoping that the first or second week of August won't be too early to get our seeds in the ground for the root crops. If we plant our root crops for the first two weeks of August, then harvest our grapes, that means that we can spend the last week in August preparing our vines for the winter.

We might have to put off planting the strawberries until the first week of September and the garlic shortly thereafter.

Last year, due to the rainy weather, there was a straw shortage, so we were unable to properly mulch our strawberries and garlic over the winter. This proved to be an expensive shortage. We had quite a few rotten berries and we had to constantly be weeding the garlic. Hopefully proper mulching this fall will help save us some tedious labor in the Spring.

The winter squash are coming in strong!
I'm sad to report a large loss of melons from our fields. They were a few days away from harvest and then we got a few consecutive days of heavy rain. Almost all of them popped :( Nothing is more frustrating that seeing all your hard work and potential profits go down the drain because of something so uncontrollable as the weather.

Well, that's it for now. We will be harvesting soon, so stay tuned for volunteer opportunities in the near future!


Monday, July 7, 2014

And we're on Auto Pilot!

Happy Melons, Pumpkins, Squash, and Cucumbers
On the Fourth of July, I went out by myself into the garden, and unlike other times, I was struck by a sense of peace and completion. I didn't see any dying plants, no monstrous weeds, no taxing emergencies. I had given my employees the day off and I could handle the rest. I picked for a few hours and then took the rest of the day off myself. It was lovely. It was easy. Scarily so. But there's no catch here. Everything is looking so marvelous. I know something might go wrong in the next few weeks, but this year is so much better than last year! We've had almost a perfect amount of rain, gotten all our plants in on time (even the staggered ones), and only had one major catastrophe: corn seed maggots ate the roots of our cucumbers. We have replanted and are now starting to enjoy a good harvest of cucumbers.

Tromboncino Squash (or Zucchini), a new experiment which is turning out well!

Nevertheless, I know this is the calm before the storm. In the upcoming weeks, we will attempt my all-time favourite vineyard task: NETTING! That was sarcasm. The vineyard looks the best its ever looked. Liuba has done a great job getting everything looking like it should and it shows. The new Villard blanc vines are well on their way. The two year old vines are bearing a few clusters here and there. We're almost to bunch closure. We even have a few varieties of tables grapes which will reach veraison next week. That means we'll need to stretch the bailing twine out for the net supports next week and the week after that, we'll be putting on the nets for the whole vineyard. I'd like to delay this as much as possible, because we still have one more spray to put on the vines and also because we'll have to mow the vineyard at least one more time (and hopefully two closely consecutive times) to keep the grass down while the vines are under the nets for approximately a month.
Our Second Planting of Tomatoes

We got our first Hurricane last week, and I caught myself thinking about hail. It's THE WORST. There's nothing you can do about it and it can destroy your crop in a matter of minutes. Usually we get hail a little earlier in the season, but the berries are starting to swell now and soften, so they're becoming all the more susceptible.

But what good does it do to worry? It doesn't. So I'm going to try to enjoy these few weeks of relative peace before we start the fall garden, netting, and harvest time.

Last year's Chambourcin (2013) is coming out of Cold Stabilization right now. It spent about 3 weeks at 27 degrees. Tomorrow, we'll start filtering and getting the wine ready for bottling. That means that we'll be bringing home another vintage soon. This one is much bolder than the previous year's. Not quite as high acid as 2012. We'll bring it back from Raylen when we deliver our grapes (approximately the first week in September). It will probably be available for sale in early September. But don't worry- we will have a party to celebrate its arrival! Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where did May go?

Baby Villard blanc vines getting sprayed with kaolin clay
This Spring just flew by! It seems like only yesterday we were putting our first lettuce plants in the ground and worrying constantly about freezing temperatures! Now we are getting ready to harvest our first cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and squash. May was a busy busy month with an event almost every weekend: Festivals, Wine Parties, and Farm Tours. We have now sold out of our shares for our CSA and the Farm Stand is open every week with all sorts of locally produced goods.

The vineyard is looking great. After last year's Pierces Disease, and then the cold winter, we now have a strategy for rejuvenating the vineyard. We are going to attempt to cane prune this year instead of spur prune. This will let us get large sections of the vines out which are no longer producing. We are also simultaneously training up replacement trunks for the vines. With a few new sprays, I hope to have the Pierces Diseased portions well under control in two years. Nothing is a quick fix in this business.

Baby Cab Franc

The 10 Cabernet Franc vines we planted this year are doing well. We have yet to decide what to plant in our next field. Remember that trip I took to Texas? And how we planted two test plots of Blanc du bois and Lenoir from Texas? Well, from what we can guess, thanks to all the rain last year, the vines did not grow as much as they should, and they did not harden off properly before the winter. And when it got down to 6F a few times this winter, that just did the little fellas in. We had a 60% loss in one vineyard and a 90% loss in the other. I haven't given up hope for these varieties, but I am now very skeptical about their winter hardiness.

The Vineyard Garden
Right now, dad is putting on the second coating of kaolin clay. The berries are beyond pea size, so harvest is not too far away. About one more month till we will put the nets on! I simultaneously await and dread that week.

The garden is looking good. By far the best job that we've ever done in the Spring. It's all about timing: getting the ground ready in the winter so that when the rains come in the Spring you're not delayed due to soggy soil. The hottest item this year? Peas! I will plant half as much lettuce next year and twice as many peas. They are awesome, delicious, and in high demand.

Our First Bell Peppers of the Season
I've already seen my first Squash vine borer adult flying around. Those little bastards. I wish I could catch them and smoosh them, however they always seems to evade me.

It's hard to believe that only a year ago, we were just opening up our store with hardly any produce inside. One year later, we've got plenty of things for sale and we've already had one of our best months ever. We are truly grateful for all the support and blessings we have received. Now if this rain will only stay away until the kaolin clay dries!

awaiting tomatoes and tomato sandwiches

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Weather and My Amazing Family and Friends

Morning Fire Sunrise

The weather has been one of the most challenging issues for farming this past year. We've seen record rain last summer, along with record snowfalls and low temperatures for the winter. How did I know that this Spring would not give us a break?

Last Wednesday and Thursday nights, we had quite a scare for frost. Our little grapes had just broken bud, and as soon as that happened, almost like weather-karma was out to get us, we saw that we'd have two nights in a row with possible temps below freezing. In the NC vineyard world, there's a legend that you're not safe from a frost until after April's full moon. And that was about right.

Two years ago, we were unprepared for the frost that we got that year. We lost about 40% of our crop to the frost. That didn't mean we could take a vacation or not tend the grapes that year. It meant we had to do all of the work associated with growing the grapes but would reap only 60% of the rewards. It's a heart-breaking situation to wake up to.

This year, we were prepared. In order to create just a bit of warmth and to create a sort of heat vortex to keep the cold temps off the vines, we needed little fires placed throughout the vineyard. We had been saving up fire wood and shredded paper for the past two years. We had a strategy, and as the temperature dropped, we fine-tuned it.

On Wednesday during the day, our employees made approximately 60 fires. Of course it down-poured on the piles of wood the afternoon before the first frost, so that first night, we had to use some high powered propane burners to get the fires started. They struggled to stay lit, and my family and I raced around putting new logs on the fires, lighting them again, and spraying them with kerosene. We started at 3:30am in the lowest part of the vineyard, the part most affected by frost. We only got about 20 fires started that night. The ground was crunchy, but the wind kept blowing throughout the night. As it dipped below freezing, we watched for signs of frost damage, but none appeared. Then we ate breakfast. Yum.

On Thursday, we rebuilt the piles of wood. That night, we started lighting the fires earlier- 2am. Around 3:30, we had some of the most wonderful volunteers come out and help us light and maintain the fires. I cannot say how grateful I am for the help of Alissa, Joel, Brian, and George. Their cheery spirits kept the Dover Family encouraged and a little less insane. They helped us get all of the fires lit and, and as the frost covered the ground and our windshields, we held our breaths and drank a beer. We had done all we could do. As the sun rose we could see that there was very little loss from the frost. A few dead shoots here and there, but for the most part we had escaped unscathed. Then, we ate breakfast again and it was delicious.

I can't express how grateful I am to my family and to these friends who helped us out at such a strange hour. They are just as crazy as I am and I love them for it. For someone who doesn't have a husband and children of her own, I really rely on my parents and friends to help out when emergencies arise. There is a reason that farms are run by families- because families are really the only ones you can count on to be there when the shit hits the fan. And you never know when or at what time of the morning that is going to happen. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

We are OPEN for business-- and the lettuce looks amazing

Baby Buttercrunch lettuces- they won't last long!

So, even after I pledged to blog more on the last post, I failed again. I just wanted to wait until we had something to share! Well, I'm almost certain that winter is over now (I don't want to jinx us), and we now have plenty of delicious produce for sale. Bud break in the vineyard is almost here, and we're about to get very busy.

First off, I'd like to share with everyone that Liuba, one of our long-time employees decided to leave us due to health reasons. We will truly miss her work ethic, her tendency to sing and dance in the field, and frequent Romanian lessons. We have learned so much from her throughout the past few years!

Also, WE HAVE A WEBSITE!! We are working on getting a better domain, but this will have to do for now:

It certainly was a challenge for this Luddite to create, however, thanks to several rainy days, soggy fields, and careful editing from friends, we finally have a finished (but ever-changing) product.

Forellenschluss, one of the lettuces in the Gourmet Salad Kit
On the veggie-front, we are now selling produce on Saturday Mornings 9-12 at the Adams Garden: 4758 Poplar Tent Rd. The weather has been a bit difficult this season, dipping fairly low a few times in the past month. We've had to work hard on the few days when the soil was cooperative, but this Spring has already been one of the most productive we've ever had (not that we've been at this for long...). Our lettuces are ready for picking and we're excited to introduce to our customers the Gourmet Salad Kit. We are cutting whole heads of our gourmet leaf lettuce and selling them bundled in groups of 4. It's like getting salad mix, but for a better value. Sure, everyone loves our salad mix, but it certainly was a time consuming product to prepare.

Also, we still have plenty of space in our 2014 CSA. We have a few versions this year, both in Charlotte and in Concord. Email us at to find out more information.

I didn't get the crimson clover planted between the vineyard rows last fall. I'm disappointed in myself. I always forget to do a lot of things in the fall, because I basically move to Mocksville to work at RayLen after we pick our grapes. Not only was the crimson clover absolutely gorgeous last year, but it was good for the bees and good for the fertility of our soil. Dad didn't have to mow the vineyard until May! We do have a few spots of crimson clover which came up from last year, but this year, we'll have to settle for mid-season white clover. If I can swing it, next year, I'll try to get the crimson clover spread between the rows of the vineyard in the Fall and then spread the white clover in the Spring so that once the crimson clover dies, the white clover will be there ready to take over. Mowing between the rows is a constant job in the summer and if there's anything we can do to lessen that job, the happier we are. Sure, dad loves to mow, but sometimes, the 4 acres gets a little too much for a 70 year old man. Regardless, we are excited for this year. Hopefully we'll have some white grapes for winemaking this year. Fingers crossed for no more sub-0 temperatures!!!!!

1) We are planning a Spring Open House for either late May or early June. No decisions yet.
2) PLAZA MIDWOOD FARMER'S MARKET! We'll be there the first Saturday in May: May 3 from 10-1pm. Can't wait to see all our Charlotte customers and friends!

Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm not very good at blogging and a brief review of last season

Well, so much for my renewed interest in blogging from last year. I was so on fire to keep the blog up to date and interesting, but then it started raining, and if you remember last year’s weather, you will remember that it basically didn’t stop raining from June until August. When it didn’t dry up after a few weeks, I got so depressed that I didn’t feel like blogging anymore. And it just kept raining. Nothing much happened on the farm last year. All of my experiments either washed or rotted away. All the fun things I wanted to blog about were non-existent. And of course, I didn’t want to write about the weather week after week. It would have been something like “It’s still raining on the farm, so we’re not doing much right now” or "We tried to work again today, but we just got stuck in the mud a few times, so we gave up and went home." 

That being said, we did release our first bottle of wine this past year. And, again, I failed to blog about that. It was indeed one of the most momentous events of my life. I was too busy living it to write about it. We had a party at Wanda's to release the vintage. We had over 200 people stop by and taste the wine. My friend Jordan serenaded us on a grand piano that we had rented. Students from Johnson and Wales helped mom and me with the catering. We got a local food truck to provide dinner to those who wanted it. We had a fire pit going in the parking lot of the store. It was easily the most sophisticated night the west side of Concord has seen since the Mexican pool hall closed down a few years ago.

And then came all of the polar vortexes. The plants froze. So, again, we had nothing going down on the farm. Just cold weather. I stayed inside. The Moldovans didn’t seem to mind working in the cold, but there was simply nothing to do since all of our plants died and we had nothing for sale.

Even the snow was not that fun. It was one of the most anxious times of the year for me. I knew that we needed to keep the snow off the high tunnels or they would collapse, however, when I went out that morning to get the snow off, I couldn't get out of my driveway to get to the high tunnels. My dad said he'd come over to help me get out, but he got stuck too. And by the time he got out, and got to me, the tunnels had already collapsed with the weight of the snow. The next day, we got into the tunnels and shoveled the snow out. They popped  back up and no plants were seriously damaged. Sigh of relief. Nevertheless, we will have to replace the majority of the PVC bands that support the structure. 

So, in summary- I am not very good at blogging. Especially when there’s not much going on. I can’t even seem to write about the fact that there’s nothing going on. I really must hire someone to take over the blog next year.

BUT! Spring is around the corner. The garden is planned, the plants are ordered and we'll start getting our root vegetables and peas in the ground at the end of this week. Leafy greens will start going in the ground sometime next week. We're all caught up on the office work and the garages are all sparkling clean and organized (as much as a farm garage can be sparkling clean, that is).