Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Planning for Winter

The Hillsdale Farmers' Market is one of two year-round markets in the area, the other being People's Farmers' Market in SE Portland. Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm have been stalwarts of the Hillsdale winter market since its inception.

When we first started farming here, autumn marked the time to wind down and put the fields to bed. That changed in July 2003 when Hallie Mittelman, with barely a season under her belt as a market manager, asked a few of us if we would consider growing crops for a winter market. We immediately dusted off the seed catalogues and got to work. Almost all of our crops are sown directly into the ground, and we have nothing under cover. In November, we will start our fifth winter season of harvesting purely field grown winter greens and roots. It is wonderful to see the verdant patches of winter crops offsetting the senescence of the summer crops.

A few years ago, we got a call from someone at OSU [Oregon State University]. They were putting on a conference panel dealing with season extension. The person told us they heard we harvested greens through the winter, and asked us what type of hoop houses and season extensions we employed. We explained that we used variety selection and diversity to grow through the winter, and had nothing under plastic. The person curtly responded that the panel was looking at structure options for season extension. We feel promotion of hoop houses is overdone, and an unnecessary capital expense in the Willamette Valley. We also know the greens are better when bathed gently in the moist Pacific rains, rather than sequestered indoors where they need to be watered.

The strictly field grown approach is not risk free. Each year, the mix is different, reflecting challenges and opportunities that happened months earlier. Unfortunately, shortly after the first planting of chicories, we had that nasty heat wave that literally steamed the emerging chicory seedlings. Second planting looks good, but a tad late. On the other hand, the mustards and turnips fared much better, as we planted them just as the flea beetle infestation ebbed. Sweet potatoes, corn and beans are all in good shape, but winter squash will be short. It is the summer heat, or lack thereof, that influences the winter harvest. For the most part, the plants take the winter in stride.

For the next month, we will be scurrying around planting durum, barley, wheat, garlic and favas, all to be harvested after the 2009 summer solstice.

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Until then, Anthony leaves us with a recipe for those piles of tomatoes you may still have around:

Moroccan Tomato Soup
Here is our version of the classic tomato soup of Morocco. It is closer to a perfumed salad.

Take 3 to 5 pounds of tomatoes and run through a food mill. We use a mix of paste and slicers. Shoot for about six to eight cups of tomato pulp. The original recipe suggested peeling and de-seeding them first, but it is only necessary if you use a food processor. Put a quarter cup or so of olive oil in a pan and heat very gently. Add three or four cloves of minced garlic and cook until transparent. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander and cook until they foam slightly. If the spices or garlic burn, which happens in a thrice, discard and repeat. You want to warm the spices to make a fragrant oil. Add 2 tablespoons of paprika. Turn off the heat and stir gently for a few more moments. Pour the mix over the tomatoes. Squeeze in a lemon, stir, add salt to taste. Serve in a bowl or glass with some diced celery on top.

This soup is equally delicious fresh, after sitting for a few hours, or the next day. You can also run some peppers or cucumbers through the mill with the tomatoes to vary the soup a bit. But it really is perfection in its original state.

Ayers Creek and barley photos by Josh. Tomatoes by Kim Ferris.

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