Monday, August 17, 2015

CSA News, Week 16

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

After the many weeks of monsoonal rains we experienced earlier this summer, the sunny weather is affording us the opportunity to make some hay. Summer is the time to make sure the cattle and sheep will have what they need for the winter, however long that turns out to be.

While there is no such thing as a normal season, the general plan is to mow a few fields at a time during the dry weather windows, and between passing fronts which often bring rain. We have developed our own predictability system, which is an interpretation of numerous forecasts available through the media and internet sites. Making good hay is all about managing the moisture in the plants so it can cure properly to preserve the nutrients and store well in the bale. 

This year due to all the rain, not only was the hay making equipment parked for over a month during the prime time, the hay crops were growing and maturing, as were the weeds. The optimum time to cut a field for hay is just before the plant goes into flowering mode. Once flowering, the reproductive tissue has more structure or woodiness to it, making it less digestible and by extension less nutritious. Therefore, we will have to feed more hay each day allowing the livestock to seek out the more nutritious leaves, leaving the stemmier stuff behind (stemmier is a good descriptive farm word but not respected by spellcheck). Additionally, with so much rain, there are lots of taller plants and weeds to harvest, as compared to a dry season. Weeds are generally less nutritious than the grasses and legumes we plant for hay, further decreasing the feed value of the hay. Since the rains stopped, we have cut and baled each of the hayfields, and are working our way back around cutting some fields again at the optimum time for some really high quality winter feed. 

Making good hay requires well maintained specialized equipment, an operator that knows how to make adjustments depending on the conditions, and the ability to predict the weather to perform the various steps at the proper time. First, a disc mower is pulled across the field. This is an implement, about 9 feet wide, hitched to a tractor but hangs off the right side, with a series of discs whirling at high speed that cut the plants just a few inches above the ground, then let it fall behind in one piece. By being offset to the tractor, the wheels never drive over the uncut plants, making for a cleaner cut. This is done after the dew goes off when there are several dry days in the forecast. The plants are left flat for a couple of days to dry, or cure, in the sun. If the field was particularly tall or thick, a tedder (another real farm word) is pulled over the field which is a tractor mounted implement with slow moving steel fingers spinning that gently lift and fluff up the plants to be sure all the hay is exposed to the sun and dries out uniformly. A tedder can effectively speed up the drying process, but every time you move the drying plants around you run the risk of shattering off more of the valuable leaves. When the hay is ready to be prepared for baling, a 20 foot wide rake is pulled over the field, sweeping the wide flat carpet of plants into a narrow windrow, making it more efficient for the baler to pick up as it feeds the hay into the machine, designed to make the rolls you see. When the rolls are packed good and tight, the outside acts like a thatched roof, shedding most of the rain that may fall on it before feeding.

If a rain does fall on the hay during the curing process, it can leach out the vital nutrients in the plants. A hard rain will actually knock off the alfalfa or clover leaves. It also will require another tedding, especially if the soil gets a good soaking. The art of making good hay is mowing one field in the morning with the idea of raking and baling the fields mowed the day before, sort of leap frogging around the farm, dodging showers.

The other aspect of mowing the fields for hay revolves around weed control and soil building, critical to a sound organic farming system. Hay fields this season will be vegetable crop fields in future seasons: remember reading our newsletter about crop rotation and building organic matter in the soil? It does all tie together, in a seemingly complicated, but really easy way of working with the natural systems of soil, sun and plant growth.

As some of us are catching up on hay making, the rest of us continue to harvest everything that is ready for your vegetable shares. Please know that not only was the hay equipment parked for over a month, so were the planters, tillers, and seeders. While we did all that we could, by hand back then, we are seeing a little less variety of produce available to harvest right now since we could not plant or cultivate the ground for so long when the fields were waterlogged. In order to harvest each week, we must plant each week. For example, we have more sweet corn coming, but there is a break now in its readiness as there was a break in it being planted. There is still plenty of delicious food for your shares, just maybe not the wide diversity we desire. As we are able to seed fall crops now and get late summer transplants out, we are actually making more than hay while the sun shines these days!  

In Your Share :
Fresh Herbs

Red Beets

Green Beans




Yellow Squash

Green Zucchini


Kale Greens



Very Versatile Creole Squash
Our thanks to Chef Lisa for sharing one of her special recipes. Lisa has been the Sous Chef at Holly Hill Inn in Midway since Ouita and Chris Michel opened the restaurant. We always enjoy her tasty original recipes!

1 medium onion or large green onions, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
4 C peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes
¾ T fresh thyme, chopped
¾ T fresh oregano, chopped
1 ½ tsp Worstershire sauce
hot sauce, as much as desired
salt/black pepper
1 bay leaf, if desired
3-4 C summer squash, chopped

Options: Can include cabbage, eggplant, cooked chicken or sausage, blanched kohlrabi; any combination of favorite vegetables or meats.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, sauté onion until it turns translucent. Add celery and pepper and cook until soft. Add garlic, tomatoes, herbs, and sauces. Add squash or any other optional items. Cook 15 minutes and serve.

Tomato Bread Pudding
recipe from Edible Ohio Valley, adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis

Butter, for preparing pan
8 oz. challah or brioche, cut into cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Salt & pepper
1 packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 ½ cups (6oz.) shredded Parmesan
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch glass baking dish, add the bread crumbs, set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until slightly soft, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the basil. Pour the tomato mixture and Parmesan over the bread cubes and combine well.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, milk, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper until smooth. Pour the custard over the bread mixture and gently toss to coat. Bake in the center of the oven until puffed and golden and the center is firm, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving.

Beet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Many Beet Cake recipes can be found online, some use cooked beets, some raw like this one.  This recipe originally in New York Times Magazine, adapted from Kathryn “Katzie” Guy-Hamilton at the Breslin.


12 ounces butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½  teaspoon salt
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups shredded red or purple beets (in season try yellow for a corn-like flavor)
½ cup orange juice
½ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, spices and sugar on high speed for six minutes until fluffy and pale.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape down after each egg. Add the vanilla extract.

3. In a separate bowl, stir the orange juice into the shredded beets that have been squeezed of most of their juice. (Save the juice for sorbet, a cocktail, what have you.) Mix until combined, then stir in the nuts. Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

4. Scoop into paper-lined cupcake tins, or spray muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray and scoop batter directly into tins.

5. Bake for 20 minutes until brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool before frosting and adorn with toasted hazelnuts. (Toast your nuts slowly at a low temperature for even toasting from inside out.) Makes 12 cupcakes.

Cream-Cheese Frosting:

12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
8 ounces butter, softened
8 ounces confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of a quarter orange.

1. To keep it smooth and dense, paddle your cream cheese in the bowl of standing mixer on medium speed until smooth.

2. Put the cream cheese in a separate bowl. Add the butter to the mixer and mix on medium speed until smooth. Now add the cream cheese back into the butter, being sure to avoid “whipping” the mixture.  Add the confectioner’s sugar, salt, vanilla and orange. Paddle until smooth.
Tomato Basil Sorbet
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
6 T minced fresh basil leaves
1 lb tomatoes peeled, cored, cut
½ lemon

In a small pot, bring water to a boil. When boiling, add sugar and let boil for 2 minutes until sugar dissolves. Cool the sugar syrup for a few minutes, then add the minced basil and allow it to steep for 30 minutes. Strain the basil from sugar syrup and set aside. Juice the tomatoes and lemon in a juicer. Combine tomato juice and sugar syrup and set in refrigerator to cool for a few hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions or in an airtight container until firm, at least 3 hours. Serve softly frozen and garnish with fresh basil.