We Will Work Side by Side

I grew up singing the hymn, They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love, and was particularly fond of the lines we will work with each other, we will work side by side as they represented for me a strong sense of community. Even as a very young girl, I sensed the unity God wants for his children.

On a recent evening in the fields at First Fruits Farm, this idea played out in the simple act of planting cabbage.  A little ingenuity and team work went a long way to maximize efficiency – and save some backs – as you’ll see from the photos and video below.

Gary Fearnow and Bill Riley feed cabbage seedlings into the planter, while Rick Bernstein and Kevin Fabula check for gaps.

Many volunteers work together throughout the year to further FFF’s mission and the Lord continually brings people with open hearts and myriad skills and backgrounds who, when they work together, create a beautiful synergy.  Last week when it was time to get the cabbage in the dirt, the First Fruits Farmers sought to improve upon the old way of doing things which entailed making holes with a stake and setting the seedling in by hand. They had purchased a transplanter on the Eastern Shore and with some minor adaptations could use it as a cabbage planter.  The beauty of the endeavor was that while more efficient, it still requied team work.

Gary and Bill take a short breather while Wes prepares to begin another row.

Dan Millender provides cabbage quality control.

According to the University of Maryland Extension, cabbage can be planted in the spring for summer harvest or in mid-summer for a fall harvest.  Cabbage is very hardy and can survive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees.  Flea beetles and cutworms have been known to plague cabbage, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, collards. FFF has battled with flea beetles in the past, though it’s too early to tell yet what this planting will bring.  While FFF is too vast to farm organically with its current part-time volunteer staff, one alternative to pesticide application is a dusting with food-grade diatomaceous earth.

Cabbage comes in several varieties including green, Savoy, red, Napa, bok choy and brussels spouts, which are mini- cabbages. We have Bravo and Late Flat Dutch growing in the fields at FFF right now.

Bravo and Late Flat Dutch Cabbage

To harvest the cabbage, twist the entire cabbage head to separate it from the large cabbage stem or cut it from the stem with a sharp knife.  Green cabbage will be ready to harvest as soon as the head is fully formed, and feels solid to the touch, but before it cracks.

Cabbage can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  This time of year, I love cabbage salad, which I think of as cole slaw without the mayo – much healthier that way and still delicious!

Cabbage Salad

Ingredients

  •                     1/4 cup vinegar
  •                     2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  •                     2 teaspoons garlic salt
  •                     2 teaspoons sugar
  •                     1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  •                     6 cups shredded cabbage
In a small bowl or jar with tight-fitting lid, combine vinegar, oil, garlic salt if desired, sugar and tarragon. Place cabbage in a large bowl; add dressing and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
If you have a favorite cabbage recipe or any tips regarding growing cabbage, we’d love to hear from you!
– Diann Churchill

Beware the Zuke! by Elizabeth Tracey

Psalm 31:24Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.”

Farmers need both courage and faith when they grow zucchini, otherwise known as ‘zukes’ around FFF.  Courage because these plants are so unbelievably prolific, catalyzing that magic alchemy of sun, soil and water into a formidable array of vegetable biomass that then must be harvested, and also faith, that homes can be found for these members of the squash family, even when they are prodigious in size.

Mr. Dan reports that as of June 25, 2012, FFF has already harvested over 4.5 tons, yes indeed, that’s thousands of pounds, of zukes for the hungry. There are 1.5 acres of zukes on the farm this year, and since we’ve been blessed with wonderful weather, they are productive indeed.  Volunteers are hard at work harvesting, although some don’t like the prickly leaves of the plants brushing their arms and legs as they search for fruits. Might be a word to the wise to wear long sleeves and pants in the zuke patch.

Successfully removing zucchini from the plant is best accomplished using a twisting motion, Mr. Dan instructs.  Simply grasp the fruit at the blossom end and rotate in one direction until the stem breaks.  Even zucchini that are broken off a bit are still good at FFF, since the harvest is transported right away and the zukes eaten promptly.

Keeping up with a happy zuke plant is quite an endeavor, however, since the plants seem to grow harvest-size fruits virtually overnight, and there always seems to be at least one baseball bat-like zuke lurking about undetected beneath those gigantic leaves!  At FFF, zukes up to the size of footballs are thought to be fine for eating, while the bigger ones are offered to volunteers to be turned into zucchini bread or other favorites.  Diann Churchill shares her favorite recipe for zucchini bread here:

Zucchini Bread  #1

3 eggs

¾ c oil

1½ c sugar

¼ t lemon extract

½ t vanilla

2 c grated zuke

3 c flour

¾ t salt

½ t cinnamon

¼ t ginger

¼ t nutmeg

1 t baking soda

2 T baking powder

1 c chopped nuts (optional) 

Mix all ingredients.  Pour into 2 greased  loaf pans

Bake 350degrees for 45 min.

If you’d like zucchini bread recipe 2, write us!

Just how much fruit does an average zuke plant produce?  Three to nine pounds of young fruits per season, depending on weather and other variables.  That’s a lot of zukes!  To obtain that much, though, keeping those giants off the vine is important, since Mr. Dan reports they cause the plant to stop production.  Another thing that shuts them down is really hot weather, which causes the blossoms to drop.  Thankfully pests aren’t much of a problem since the plants are sprayed, and critters don’t find them very attractive. And that’s a good thing because here at FFF, we also have a bumper crop of deer.

We thank God for His abundance in providing so many zucchini this year.  For FFF, these are the least expensive of the crops we grow, easy to germinate, and very rewarding to harvest.  Here’s another recipe shared by a colleague for those with many zukes on hand.  Enjoy!

Parmesan-Crusted Zucchini

If you’ve ever chosen to eat deep-fried zucchini sticks instead of French fries or mozzarella sticks because you thought they might be a tiny bit healthy, I feel ya. Yes, it is a vegetable, but once breaded and deep-fried, it crosses the border into artery-clogging land. Mollie Katzen’s recipe for Parmesan-crusted zucchini from The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without is a great alternative—it gives you the crunchy outside and the tender insides of zucchini sticks, but with an extra kick from the Parmesan and crushed garlic. I would put it in a crusty roll with a little tomato sauce as a twist on the decadent eggplant parm sub. 

Ingredients

1            tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2            teaspoons minced or crushed garlic

4            small zucchini and/or summer squash (slender ones, about 6 inches long), halved lengthwise

               Salt, to taste

               Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 to 2   tablespoons fine bread crumbs (optional)

2 to 3   tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the broiler.

Place a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Turn down the heat, add the garlic, and sauté over medium-low heat for just a minute or two, being careful not to let the garlic brown.

Place the zucchini halves facedown in the garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the zucchini are just slightly tender when poked gently with a fork.

Transfer zucchini to a cookie sheet, sprinkle with bread crumbs and Parmesan and place under broiler until slightly brown. Serve.

Tomato Time!

To every thing there is a season,

And a time to every purpose under the heaven;

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…

Ecclesiastes 3

Finally, tomato time is here on First Fruits Farm!  After a rather strange warm spell in early spring, seems like the real warming has just started, and we know from US agricultural zone maps it’s finally safe to plant tomatoes.  And planting has taken place: about 20 volunteers came out and planted about 1100 Mountain Fresh tomato plants, and 1500 green bell pepper plants.  The plants are the gift of Kevin Fabula, who grows them with the intention of donating to triple F (that’s the insider’s jargon for First Fruits Farm, so now you’re an insider, too). God bless both Kevin and the multitude of volunteers for getting all these plants in the ground, just in time for abundant rain.

Let’s talk a bit more about the tomato itself, the Mountain Fresh variety.  Mr. Dan (that’s Dan Millender, one of the farm’s main men), says this particular variety is practical because when it’s ripe it retains firmness, so the tomato can be transported in good shape to the Maryland Food Bank and all the other destinations where hungry people are fed. It can get to be about a pound in weight, so could be used for a tomato sandwich.  Mr. Dan confides that his favorite tomato sandwich is on lightly toasted white bread with bacon. lettuce and mayo.  My own favorite is on toasted to within an inch of being burned whole grain bread with mayo, Vidalia onion and fresh pepper.  What’s your favorite? We’d love to hear.

The tomato plants may be strung up this coming Memorial Day weekend.  Stakes will be placed on either side of the plants and string tied to the stakes.  As the plants grow they will remain upright so the fruits don’t trail on the ground and rot.  Before staking, though, one more pass through the rows to turn up the ground and discourage weeds will be made.

And speaking of rot, that’s always a concern when we’ve gotten as much rain as we have lately, all at once.  Mr. Dan says he’d rather have more rain than less, though, and so far the potatoes, planted several weeks ago, are doing just fine. This year about 80% of the seed has germinated. And both corn and beans have germinated and are growing fast. Praise the Lord!

 

– Elizabeth Tracey