Welcome, Spring!

After possibly the shortest, warmest winter on record, we are back on the farm, and along with everyone else in the country, practicing social distancing due to the novel coronavirus.  Living on a small farm in a rural community that is fairly self-sufficient, it’s easy to forget the world outside. But we are welcoming Spring, planting our victory garden, helping neighbors, doing what we can to stay healthy and to help keep others around us healthy.

We traveled to the East Coast for most of this past winter, specifically New England and DC, spending a lot of time with kids and grandkids, and experiencing some early American history firsthand. For the time being, we are without any animals here on the farm (excepting the abundant wildlife, and our dog, Diamond) but plan to add chickens and lambs again later in the spring.

maple syrupOur 2020 maple season was successful, and that beautiful amber syrup is now processed and ready to see us though until next winter.  We had a fine sorghum harvest last fall, and all our bee colonies made it though the winter, so the local sugar outlook is good.  

Our Jane’s Grains breads are in demand and available once again, both here on the farm and from the DeCamp Gardens farm store in Albion.  Check out what a difference fresh, healthful, whole grain breads make in your diet. We also make a variety of cookies, cakes and scones, as well as home-made jellies and jams.  There’s good eating on this farm, year round!DSCN0014

Since we planted seeds in our hoop house last October and November, we have been able to harvest fresh salad greens in March. Carrots came up and are ready to thin. Parsley, cilantro and chives are thriving.  Our fall garlic crop is popping through the straw in the kitchen garden, and we’ve added spring garlic plantings in the hoop house.  Not quite time to plant  yet outside, but pea, radish, and beet seeds are waiting and ready to go in as soon as the rain stops and the soil warms a bit.  Today we started our tomatoes, onions and peppers indoors. We plan to grow lots of carrots, potatoes, beets and squash this year in the fields we fallowed last season.  And in a month, we’ll be harvesting asparagus again. Spring is such a hopeful time of year!

Our hope is that you are staying healthy, eating healthy and keeping a hopeful outlook this spring.  Be well, help your neighbor, know your farmer, and enjoy your family time!

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Slowly, Fall Arrived

October arrived with temperatures still close to 80. Some rain and cooler temperatures later in the week brought on the autumn, slowly, but without a hard frost until Halloween night arrived with snow and nighttime temps in the 20s. That gave us plenty of time to harvest what was left of the garden and put it to bed for the oncoming winter.

We love our small unheated hoop houses. Here we are in early November, harvesting carrots and parsley, planting salad greens and watching snow peas grow tall. Will they produce? Don’t know, but at least they’ll fix nitrogen for next year’s crops. The cold took out the last of the green peppers and the San Marzano tomatoes, but we had a good crop of each, along with a bumper crop of cucumbers from one little hoop house.

The main garden is still producing arugula, leeks, celery, lettuce, Swiss chard and horseradish, and there are still a few potatoes left to be dug. Our 2020 garlic crop was planted in early October and covered with straw. We sowed cover crops on last year’s garlic plot. All things considered, it’s been a good year. We canned and preserved a lot of goodies for the winter and shared with friends and family – the best part of gardening! Share the love!

Enjoy this lovely fall season and watch for our sorghum updates, coming soon.

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Drowning in Cherry Tomatoes

Seems like cherry tomatoes are the first to ripen when we’re craving those big, round slicing fruits, and then they keep us busy picking all summer long. What to do with baskets of cherry tomatoes when you’ve snacked on as many as your tummy can tolerate?

I often prep winter meals at the end of summer by roasting the cherry tomatoes and freezing them. It’s such a simple task to thaw a bag of roasted tomatoes and toss them with some freshly boiled pasta, perhaps some olives, topped with grated cheese. And it’s so delicious to taste that summer goodness in the depths of winter!

Here’s how: Wash tomatoes, halve with a sharp knife and arrange on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment baking paper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, shaved fresh garlic, snipped fresh basil (also readily available this time of year) and top with a few generous squirts of extra virgin olive oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. The tomatoes will shrivel a bit, caramelize, and smell heavenly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before scooping it all into a quart freezer bag.

That’s it. So simple and so delicious! Preserve this lovely fruit at the height of the season. You’ll be glad you did!

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Aronia Berries Top Pick on the Farm in August

June speaks of strawberries here in the Midwest. August speaks of aronia berries here on the farm.  Never heard of aronia berries?  Here’s the scoop:

aronia berries.jpgAronia berries, also called chokeberries, are native to North America but grown in many other countries.  They grow on a tall bush that sports beautiful white flowers in the spring.  They’re high in nutrition and antioxidants.  But don’t think you can put them on your ice cream or make a cobbler – they’re much too astringent; besides being hard and solid, like a cranberry, they leave a dry taste in your mouth.  BUT, they’re great for good health!

So how do you eat them? Here on the farm, I wash and freeze the berries in quart bags. Easy!  Then I toss a handful of frozen berries into my fruit smoothie every morning to boost nutrition: every ounce of aronia berries provides 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 12 grams of carbohydrate, 10% of daily value vitamin C, 9% of daily manganese, and 5% of daily value Vitamin K, as well as supplying folate, and vitamins A and E.

We also make juice for jelly: In a heavy saucepan, add the berries, cover with water and boil gently until they soften or burst.  It’s similar to the way you cook cranberries.  Press the cooked berries through a food mill and add the pulp to your compost pile.  You can further clairfy the juice by filtering it through a jelly bag or tea towel (it will stain the towel!).  One of our favorite winter jellies is a crystal clear, beautifully red aronia berry-cranberrry combination.  Amazing flavor!

If you’ve tried acai bowls, why not go local and simply substitute your frozen aronia berries for acai powder or puree – you’ll get the same beautiful purple color and the flavor is similar.  Great nutrition with low calorie count. And, it’s locally grown on small farms!

Check the internet for aronia berry recipes, and stop by our store for a bag of frozen whole berries.  You’ll be glad you did!

Posted in DID YOU KNOW?, Uncategorized, What's IN STORE for you!

It’s a Good Week

The sun is shining, it’s finally summer, what’s not to love?  It’s a good week.

Although some ground is still puddled with stagnant water, the excessive rain that we’ve endured since April is drying up, leaving soil cracked and hard, but nonetheless dry.  We’re grateful.  In every growing season, there’s good and less good. The heavy rains and cool spring this year provided a great asparagus crop; we’re seeing few pests so far in the potatoes, cabbage and brassicas; the onions, rhubarb, and peas are growing well, strawberries liked the chill weather, and so far, tomatoes are looking pretty good.

Our sorghum crop was planted on June 6 – we had a few days of no rain and were able to get it in the ground and it’s growing well.  We rotate crops – one of the plots planted to sorghum last year is full of bell peppers and squash this season.  Last year was tough for all our peppers and our squash was destroyed early by insects,  so we’ll be watching carefully to see if a new neighborhood is good for growth.

filone

Crusty Italian bread, fresh from the oven.

Old Loon Farm’s store is open on Fridays only this season, and that seems to be working well for us and for the neighbors that stop in to buy eggs, frozen chicken, jams, fresh breads, cakes, syrups and whatever is seasonally ready from the garden.  Last month it was asparagus, strawberries and lettuce; this month garden peas, Swiss chard, salad greens, celery, rhubarb and various other vegetables are fresh and tasty.  Seasonal is the way to eat!

Also this week on Old Loon Farm we start to welcome kids, grand kids and other relatives and friends. It’s a joy to have a full house and activities in the yard and on the lake.  It’s a good week!

 

 

Posted in What's IN STORE for you!

It’s All About That Sweet Sweet Sorghum!

This has been a busy week here at Old Loon Farm.  Asparagus is in full growth mode, although the heavy rains we’ve had this month, coupled with the saturated soil, have made harvesting a bit of an extra chore.  We’re still working on a remodel of our summer screen porch where we gather as family during the warm months.  We’ve got some Frozen broilerlovely salad greens, herbs, and strawberries coming to maturity in the hoop houses, along with seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, okra, onions and cucumbers. Although potatoes, radishes and garlic and doing fairly well in the garden outside, and peas, beets and carrots are beginning to push through, most beds are empty – too wet to work, too chilly to plant.  Every season is a challenge; patience with Mother Nature the necessary virtue of the farmer.  Meanwhile, our chicks are growing, layers are producing fine eggs, and we took our first batch of pastured broilers to the butcher this week; they’re safely in the freezer waiting for sales.  IN STORE FOR YOU THIS WEEK:  Fresh asparagus, free range eggs, frozen pastured broilers, sorghum and maple syrups, and fresh bakery items (Friday only).

sorghum 2018 But today we want to talk a bit about our sweet sorghum.  Have you tried our Indiana Natural* pure cane sorghum syrup yet?  It’s a local sugar, like honey and maple syrup.  It’s pressed from the cane of the sorghum plant, evaporated at a ratio of about 7:1, and bottled.  We plant the variety Honey Drip in early June, tend it for about 100 days with hand weeding and cultivation – no pesticides.  Sorghum is drought-tolerant and will grow in marginal soils, so is quite a flexible crop.

Come harvest time, the cane is cut at ground level, the seed head at the top is chopped off (can be used as feed for the animals), and the cane is put through a chopper/press. The juice is boiled in an evaporater and turns into a beautiful amber syrup.

So what’s so great about sorghum?  It can be grown in small plots – one-quarter to one acres is a manageable plot.  Small farmers can work cooperatively to share planting, tending, harvest and transport to the processing facility; or a small press and evaporator can be set up on a small farm.  It’s a great local product to sell at farmers markets, add to gift baskets, and use at home in cooking and baking.

And best of all, unlike white sugar, sorghum has high nutritional value.  One tablespoon of sorghum provides 32 mg. calcium, 21 mg. magnesium, 210 mg. potassium (about the same as half a banana), and 12 mg phosphorus. In addition, sorghum contains iron, zinc, and B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and B-6. (USDA National Nutrient Database Report 2017). Check the nutritional label on sugar: empty calories!

What about flavor?  Sorghum speaks of the earth – grains, sweetness, fruit.  It pairs well with apples, pears, peaches, raisins and dates.  It enhances oats, barley and other whole grains.  It brings a richness to pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash.  You can dream of it with vanilla and caramel on ice cream, popcorn, and other snacks.  Anything made with buttermilk tastes even better sweetened with sorghum. Barbeque sauce, salad dressing, iced coffee, even your favorite cocktail – experiment with this versatile ingredient!

Cheers to a better diet and a more healthy YOU!

DID YOU KNOW?  Do you sweeten your yogurt with honey or jam?  Try a spoonful of sorghum! It pairs so well with plain yogurt.  Add a piece of banana or a few blueberries and you’ve got a breakfast or snack that is delicious AND nutritious!

*Indiana Natural Pure Cane Sorghum is produced by a cooperative of local small farms. Look for each farm’s name on the label. Indiana Natural also produces value-added sorghum products such as caramel corn, cakes, cookies and barbeque sauce.

 

Posted in DID YOU KNOW?, Sorghum Syrup Project, What's IN STORE for you!

Enough Rain, Thank you!

magnolia tree in bloom 2019It’s been a chilly and wet spring.  That could be the understatement of the year. The spring bulbs have finally flowered and the grass is growing so fast we may need to bale it.  Our sour cherry and pear trees are in blossom, as are the redbud and our beautiful magnolia, but the soil temperatures are still low and the garden is too wet to get much tilling or planting done.  Such is life: every season has its challenges. It’s a blessing to have the small hoop houses that give spring crops a boost.  Our strawberries are thriving and in bloom, and we’ve started some seedlings in Hoop #1.  They’re small, but with the chilly weather, no need to be long and leggy just yet.

spring saladWe were able to take advantage of the slow spring to take a short trip to the east coast to visit family, and came home to find some nice salad greens popping up in another of our little hoop houses.  Coupled with fresh seafood that we bought and iced from the day boats just before we left Connecticut, we’ve enjoyed some delicious meals this week!  We have wonderful fresh lake pan fish here in Indiana, but fresh seafood is a great treat.

Something – we suspect a large dog – got into the chicken yard just before we returned an killed or ran off with 20 of our 30 free range laying hens.  Sigh.  Generally our little dog, Diamond, keeps theses predators away from the birds, but she wasn’t home either. We’re thankful the meat birds were penned up and didn’t get molested.  They’re nearing maturity, and we expect to have frozen broilers available in June at our store.

asparagusOur asparagus crop is coming back to life. We need a lot of good sunshine now to get it really producing. Lots of requests are coming in and we can’t keep up.  An envelope of cilantro seeds I tossed into the hoop house last winter has produced a lively crop.  Potatoes and peas are finally starting to show their leaves from our early April planting, and of course, fall-planted garlic is going strong.

This year our sorghum crop was very good, and we’re marketing this local sugar across the region.  We also had a nice production of maple syrup, and several bee colonies made it through the winter this year. That’s very sweet!  So we’re looking forward to the warmer weather, new summer honey, and fresh crops from the garden that we can share with you.  Our farm store will be open on Fridays only, but our specialty products are available through the DeCamp Gardens farm store in Albion every day.

DID YOU KNOW?  Here at Old Loon Farm, we provide a place for our lake resident neighbors to dispose of their leaves, seaweed and other plant matter.  Burning leaves, or worse, raking them into the lake, is a huge pollution problem for our air and water resources.  Composting creates new, organic-rich soil on the farm, and helps our neighbors too. We are glad to be of service, and happy that our neighbors care about our beautiful lakes.  Everyone can farm!

Happy Spring!

 

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