Sunday, April 25, 2010

Praying Mantis

It's quite likely none of you would ever have ridden in my car prior to receiving this email. It's true that it is usually jammed full of stuff- tools, tarps, 50lb sacks of seed potatoes. But after receiving this email I feel certain almost all of you would turn down my offer of a ride even if I made room for you by moving the backpack sprayer into the trunk.

Last fall I trimmed trees and shrubs around my house. In doing so I cut off many branches that had on them Praying Mantis egg casings. Not wanting to waste them I stored them outside and moved many of them to the incubator farm to try and raise the number of Praying Mantis eating bad bugs at the farm. Apparently one of those egg casings ended up under my front seat and earlier this week it hatched. I got into my car to return home only to find several hundred small Praying Mantises scouring my car for something to eat. I knew they wouldn't bite me but still, it was kinda creepy. I drove straight home and cleaned out the car. Many of them I removed and put out in the yard. Some of them got sucked out when I vacuumed. I thought the car was clean- problem solved, but yesterday I saw one still trying to make my car's interior pest free. I need a truck.

The temperatures lately have been just right for growing spring vegetables. It's been a bit dry but I've fixed that for all of us. On Saturday I ran sprinklers at the farm, not knowing whether or not it would actually rain. The result of my effort is that it did in fact rain (you're welcome) and now all the plants are happy again. With warm and sunny weather slated for early this week it will be fun to watch everything take off.

The Piedmont Farmers Market started it's new season this past Saturday. I did not attend as a vendor. I will not be there next Saturday but I will begin attending the Saturday Winecoff market on May 8th. I will have spring vegetables and SEAFOOD, probably just shrimp and grouper the first week. This is the start of a potential partnership with Flying Fish Seafood in Davidson. They make a weekly run to the coast of the Carolinas to bring back whatever is in season. I'm not sure how well it will sell at the market (it's more expensive than crap seafood from Thailand) but I'm going to give it a try. By the way I'll be down in the lawn area not under the main building (long story) so come and see me.

A big thanks to Shelley and Stacey and Erin and Ethan for coming out to the farm last week to help. It was a very busy week and their help meant more plants in the ground and more seeds sown before the rain. I haven't updated the google calender yet but just so you know we planted: straight neck and patty pan squash, zucchini, pole beans, bush beans, cucumbers, luffa sponge, spinach (one more round) arugula, radishes, swiss chard and onions. We also transplanted tomatoes, peppers and a few early eggplants into the field. Yum.

It looks like we will have enough people to offer a downtown Concord CSA pickup for the Know Your Farms mulit-farm CSA. In all likelihood it will happen on Tuesday evenings at The Old Creamery in coordination with my Phoenix Farms CSA pickup. If you've been on the fence about joining the Know Your Farms CSA send me an email and we'll talk.

Eat Well,


Sauteed Spinach


  • 2 large bunches of spinach, about 1 lb
  • Olive oil, extra virgin
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Salt to taste

Cut off the thick stems of the spinach and discard. Clean the spinach by filling up your sink with water and soaking the spinach to loosen any sand or dirt. Drain the spinach and then repeat soaking and draining. Put the spinach in a salad spinner to remove any excess moisture.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute, until the garlic is just beginning to brown.

Add the spinach to the pan, packing it down a bit if you need to with your hand. Use a couple spatulas to lift the spinach and turn it over in the pan so that you coat more of it with the olive oil and garlic. Do this a couple of times. Cover the pan and cook for 1 minute. Uncover and turn the spinach over again. Cover the pan and cook for an additional minute.

After 2 minutes of covered cooking the spinach should be completely wilted. Remove from heat. Drain any excess moisture from the pan. Add a little more olive oil, sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This guy greeted me one night last week when I went to put the chickens up. He went home hungry. I shoved my camera in his face which provoked this furious picture but really he wasn't hard to dispatch.

For some reason planting potatoes always makes me more anxious than directly sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings. Sometimes when I directly sow seeds they don't sprout. Maybe it was too early and the soil wasn't warm enough or maybe I planted them too deeply or maybe birds ate them- there are lots of reasons for failure but then I just sow more seeds. They are, relatively speaking, rather cheap.

When I transplant seedlings I can see the plant, already growing, the moment after I place it out into the field. Again failure is still a possibility. The young transplants might not get water soon enough. The weather might toss me a curve ball but if the transplants die I can see that happen and I can put something else in that place in the field. Potatoes though, for me potatoes are different. There are very few sources of seed potatoes grown in NC. The seed potatoes are coming from far away places like Maine or Wyoming. They are heavy and so this transportation isn't cheap. Seed potatoes aren't terrible expensive, even certified organic stock, but seed potatoes- especially those of uncommon varieties- aren't something you pick up at The Home Depot.

Then there is the work of cutting them. Each eye on the potatoes, given a chance, will turn into it's own plant and produce more potatoes so smart growers cut potatoes into pieces with one or two eyes each. Cutting up a 50 lbs bag of potatoes takes quite a long time. Then there is the preparation of the bed where they will be planted. You can toss a seed potatoes almost anywhere and it will produce something but if you really want a good return on your investment then you need to properly fertilize your bed. All this work and then the seed potatoes go into the ground and then the waiting begins. Will they come up? And, in the last few days it is apparent that yes, the potatoes I planted several weeks ago are in fact coming up. It looks like I will in fact have scalloped potatoes again this year.

A basic scalloped potatoes recipe baked in the oven.
Cook Time: 45 minutes

4 cups thinly sliced potatoes, about 6 to 8 medium potatoes

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups scalded milk

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

In a buttered 2-quart baking dish, place a layer of about 1/3 of the potatoes. In a cup or small bowl, combine flour with salt and pepper. Sprinkle about half of the flour mixture over the potatoes; repeat with another layer of potatoes and the flour mixture and top with remaining potato slices. Dot with butter then pour hot milk over potatoes. Cover and bake at 375° for 45 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle cheese over the top. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes, or until scalloped potatoes are tender and cheese has melted. Scalloped potatoes serves 6 to 8.

Bees have arrived, or rather I now have two hive bodies with super cells set up and ready for bees. One is at the Incubator Farm and one is at my house. I'll be filing them with bees this spring. Look for honey in future CSA programs. not to mention the pollination...

This past week saw me weeding half of what has been planted with the rest of it to be done on Friday. You're welcome to come out if you'd like. We'll also be thinning the lettuce and the mizuna and the spinach so you won't go home empty handed. I applied compost tea and fish emulsion. I mulched the snap peas and watered them with a soaker hose. I've never been good at peas. Here's to hoping this year is different.

I've already had to water with overhead irrigation twice because of the heat. Despite the fact that the high temperatures have mercifully receded I know I will have to irrigated again before the season is over. When considering my options, drip irrigation seemed kind of expensive until I really thought about the alternative of spraying overhead with sprinkler heads. Here are the problems with doing it that way.

1. It takes a lot of time. I can only water a certain amount of area at a time because of water pressure so I have to water one area and then turn that part off and move on to the next. It means constant management of the operation.

2. It takes a lot of hose. I find myself dragging hose from one part of the field to another. I have to disconnect hose from one sprinkler head and hook it p to another; that or buy more hose and splitter connections.

3. It is wasteful. Depending on a few factors like ambient air temperature, a significant portion of the water that comes out of the sprinkler never makes it into the soil to hydrate the plants. A lot of it evaporates. This wastes water.

4. It can encourage disease. Overhead watering, in certain conditions, can promote the growth of disease.

5. It can wash off pesticides. I only use certified organic pesticides like soap but those too are washed off by overhead irrigation, which means reapplying them which means more time and money.

So this is my long winded way of saying that I have made the decision to drip irrigate everything this year. I've already purchased the bulk of the materials and after a few more items arrive in the mail I'll be installing the system. I think in the long run it will be worth it.

Don't forget about the 5th annual Spring Herb and Plant Festival this weekend in Concord/Kannapolis. See you there.


Creekside Farms

Meat from Creekside Farms will be available to Phoenix Farms CSA members for delivery to the pickup location in downtown Concord on Tuesdays. Get familiar with his products. Go and visit his farm.

what's in your meat?

Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds.

A program set up to test beef for chemical residues "is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce," says the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General.

The health effects on people who eat such meat are a "growing concern," the audit adds.
You can read the rest of the article here.

Or you can read the actual audit report here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

one hot spring

I hope everyone enjoyed spring. I can't remember such a compacted season. The redbuds, which typically bloom in late January or February are just one of the early bloomers now in full swing overlapping with all the other flowering trees and shrubs that typically bloom later; everything all at once. We've gone from extremely cold (remember?) and really wet to day time highs in the upper 80s for quite a few days in a row now. I should have known when the air conditioning system here at the house kicked on today(78 degrees inside) that it was warming up quick. I went from complaining about not being able to work the wet fields to complaining about the heat- dragging hoses all over the fields today to try and save the cold-weather transplants that do not like 80 degree weather. Which reminds me...

I was planning to bite the bullet and pay to drip irrigate my fields at the incubator farm, I just didn't think I'd need it up and running for the first week of April. I'm going to order the needed materials and then have a work day where anyone who is interested can come and learn (as I learn) about how to hook up a fairly large drip irrigation system. Sound like fun?

The upside is that it's beautiful- everything is blooming and the trees are leafing out and the wonderful colour of our region is back. I once went on a 7 day cruise and we spent several days at sea with nothing to see except blue water. We arrived back at port in the evening and drove all night from Florida to North Carolina. I woke up in the morning and will never forget walking out onto the back deck of my childhood home and seeing a forest of green that seemed to hurt my eyes with the intensity of its colour. It hadn't taken long for my senses to forget and then be shocked by the beautiful colour of this place I call home.

The good news is that much is up: spinach, lettuce, mizuna, mixed greens, radishes, beets, carrots, onions, peas, arugula and garlic are all up and off to the races. I even gambled and planted 64 tomatoes last Sunday (fingers crossed) so if it does turn out to be an incredibly short spring at least my first round of tomatoes will have a head start. We'll see how the broccoli, collards, kholrabi and kale take the heat.

There are rumblings about a local food coop that might have a brick and mortar footprint. Imagine being able to go to a store and buy local food, both groceries and prepared food restaurant style to eat with other, like-minded individuals as you enjoy a pint from an NC brewery or an NC produced glass of wine. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one; seriously if this is something you're interested in let me know. We need a small group of interested folk to get this up and running.

Don't forget the Herb Festival is April 17th. I won't be selling there but lots of other people will be. Also there are still CSA shares available with Know Your Farms. It's a multi-farm CSA to which many local growers, including myself will be contributing.

Best Wishes,