Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farm Bulletin: By the Light of the Silvery Moon

As the brilliant greens, reds and yellows of summer slowly fade into the muted palette of autumn, contributor Anthony Boutard waits for the moon to whisper in his ear that the time is right to plant his fall crops. You can find him at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market every Sunday from 10 am till 2 pm through November 22. The market switches to its twice-a-month winter schedule from December through April.

Like Norma Desmond, our summer crops are showing the ravages of time. The berries, once sweet and succulent are now bitter and seedy, molding even before they are ripe. Culled tomatoes are scattered along the rows like misapplied lipstick. August's verdant bean tresses are yellowing, the leaves dropping to expose drying fruits. The seasonal turbulence is palpable, as summer crops go to seed, autumn fruits ripen and winter greens emerge from the background.

October is a busy time for us. We have started harvesting and curing the winter squash. Ears of flint corn are on racks for the month-long drying. The sweet potatoes will come in next week, and will be put in a very hot, 90 degree room to start curing. It takes about ten days for them to develop the tough skin needed for successful dormancy, and another eight weeks to develop their full sweetness and flavor. The storage grapes need to be harvested and tied up in a warm room.

October is also a important planting month. Barley, wheat, favas and garlic must all go in the ground over the next few weeks. Garlic is planted upon the waning moon, late next week. We will wait to plant the grains as close to the waxing moon as possible, with an eye to the weather. The ground is ready and we have allowed the winter annual weeds to sprout. When ready, we will spread the grains and cover them with a disk harrow, killing off the emerging weeds. Done right, works like a charm, but if we jump the gun, unnerved by the forecast, we will have a weedy mess.

We are really looking forward to this winter's markets. Somehow or another, the plantings all fell into place and the growth of the winter greens and roots has been strong. We will have greater diversity and depth of crops than ever before. It will be great fun.

Anthony includes a note about plums:

Pozegaca is an eastern European prune used to make Slivovitz, the Slavic eau de vie of plum, and Slatko, a plum paste. The plum's flavor is strong and distinctive, and it probably has a fair dose of damson in its heritage, but the shape is pure prune. We have only three trees, so there won't be too many.

We will also have some Coe's Golden Drop (right), a fine dessert plum. It is a hybrid between a greengage and plum called Magnum Bonum. It was introduced to the trade by the famous nurseryman from Bury St. Edmonds, Gervais Coe, in the early 19th century. It is a difficult plum to grow, and we are lucky to have a few this year. Described by Edward Bunyard in The Anatomy of Dessert: "At its best it is a dull yellow green with frecklings of crimson, and at its ripest it is drunk rather than eaten; the skin is rather tough but between this and the stone float an ineffable nectar."

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