Sunday, June 19, 2016

Organic Farm Tour - Day 2

Day two of our organic farm tour began with a visit to Provision Organic Farm in Oklahoma City.  The farm provides organic vegetables and meat for Provision Kitchen.  Both are locally and family-owned.  Here we are at the beginning of the tour with one of the farm managers.


Just like Three Springs Farm (from the blog on Day 1), they have a large hoophouse full of tomatoes.  



The tomatoes are trained up twine that is attached to overhead supports.


They are in the process of building a large barn that will serve several purposes.


In addition to vegetables, they also raise "pastured" chickens and hogs.  This means their animals will never see the inside of a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) a.k.a. Pollution Palace.  Believe me, you do not want to eat an egg or any meat that comes from one of those places.

Here is their chicken "tractor".  It can be moved around to give the chickens access to fresh grass.


LOL.....it is a little bigger than our chicken tractor.  We move ours around with our Gator.  I think you'd need a tractor or a truck to move their chicken tractor.


They have Rhode Island Red chickens.  


And, they raise Berkshire Tamworth hogs.  Although you cannot see it, the hogs are fenced in with electric fencing that can easily be moved to allow them access to new pasture and "rooting" ground.  


Here's a closeup of one of the hogs.  I was standing just on the other side of the electric fence.


Next up on our agenda was a visit to Guilford Gardens  which is located in northwest Oklahoma City.  It is comprised of four city lots, smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.  However, you would never know it was there.  The garden is behind the the family home and well hidden by privacy fences and shrubbery.   Here's our tour bus parked in the driveway.



A flower garden occupies one of the four lots.  It is a commercial venture between Guilford Gardens and Elia Woods of CommonWealth Urban Farms.   Here are some of the flowers that are grown there.  


The Guilford Gardens is owned by Kamala Gamble and supplies produce to her other business Kam's Kookery, as well as to their CSA members.   Kam does catering and treated us to a terrific lunch before we toured her gardens.

Next, we loaded back on the bus for the trip to Ft. Cobb, OK, and a visit to Arcadian Family Farm.  This farm is owned by Rod Ardoin and Nanette Ardoin.  They are originally from Louisiana.  Ron is the second person from the left, in the rubber boots.  I really enjoyed him.  He has a slight southern Louisiana accent and made a point of singling out a couple of OSU professors, who were on the tour with us by asking questions of them.  He'd say things like "Maybe one of the doctors could tell us .....".  I got the feeling that he might actually know more about the subject than the "doctors" did.  Ha!  



They've had a lot of rain in this area recently and there were puddles around.  I think Ron had the right idea with his rubber boots.


Ft. Cobb is located in southwest Oklahoma.  As you can see there are wide-open spaces all around.  One of the crops this organic farm is known for is their sweet potatoes shown below.  Who better to grow sweet potatoes than someone from southern Louisiana!


The black tubing running to the rows is part of their drip-irrigation system. The tubing contains small holes that allow the water to drip slowly right at the base of the plants.  This is so much better at conserving water than the large sprinkler systems that so many farmers use.  The picture below shows how the smaller tubes are connected to the main water line. The picture also shows how black plastic is used to control weeds in the field.  These are onions.  Small holes are punched in the plastic and the onions plants are planted in the holes.


Arcadian Family Farm was the last stop on our 2-day organic farm tour.  By the time we got home that evening, we were tuckered out, but extremely excited by the organic movement in our state.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Organic Farm Tour - Day 1

We've just spent the last two days touring various organic farms around the state.  As I write this, I am overwhelmed with the movement toward sustainability and organic garden management in our state.  I am also in awe of the people who are leading this movement and what they are doing, in many cases with very little resources.

I can't possibly cram both days into one blog post, so I will break it up into Day 1 and Day 2. Several organizations went together to organize and support the tour.   I first heard about it through the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  Here's the flier they put up on their web site.  Kerr Center Announcement
The first day we drove to eastern Oklahoma to Three Springs Farm.  Three Springs Farm
Mike and Emily own and run the farm.  Here is Emily talking to us about the farm.  The little girl is their daughter.  It was wonderful to see a child who spends her days outside running free, instead of indoors in front of the TV or playing a video game.  But, I digress ....  



Mike and Emily do all the work themselves and run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where members "buy" a share in the farm by paying an annual fee.  In return, the members are entitled to a bag of produce each week of whatever is in season.  Members pick their bags up each week at the Cherry Street Farmers Market in Tulsa where Mike and Emily also sell their produce to non-CSA members. They are a hard-working young couple who are devoted to what they do.  

Here are some pictures of their farm. 

Tomatoes growing in their hoophouse

Rows and rows of organic vegetables

Very friendly cat that escorted us on the tour
Family dog taking a dip in this beautiful clear stream that you have to cross to get to their house.  I was tempted to join him!
Elderberry Bushes

After we finished our tour of Three Springs Farm, we drove to Fisher Produce near Slick,Oklahoma.  I think that is a great name for a town!  This is a family business that has been farming their land for 100 years.  They use sustainable practices for all their crops.  They are organically certified for everything, except asparagus and sweet corn which are grown conventionally, but without the use of insecticides.  They do use herbicides to control weeds in the asparagus and corn, but are trying to figure out how they can grow these without herbicides.

I'm sorry to say that I neglected to take any pictures there.  I cannot believe I didn't.  I must have been so interested in what was being said that I just forgot all together!  Anyway, I have included a link below where you can read about the Fishers.  


We ended the day at Langston University where we heard about the farmers market they support there on campus and about their aquaculture program.  Unfortunately, we were running late by the time we got there and were unable to tour the ponds where they are raising tilapia and other fish.  But, we were treated to a catered dinner by Kam's Kookery in an outdoor pavilion there on the campus.

It was an awesome day.  

  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Composting Video



This blog entry is very short.  It's purpose is to give you a link to a video of our composting efforts that was shot by Ever Change Productions .  The video is part of a documentary on sustainability and opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle waste here in Stillwater. 

Ever Change Productions rode with us on our weekly trip to pick up compost ingredients  from a fabulous little restaurant named Good Little Eater. These consist of vegetable peelings, egg shells, and so forth.  They are added to our compost pile which is then turned with a tractor.




Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bee Flowers

Sigh!  So much to do.  So little time.  That's the story of our lives at this time of year.  The summer gardening season is in full swing.  Tom is busy from daylight to dark and, while I don't do a lot of the hard, labor-intensive work, there is always something to do.  As a result, I don't have a lot of time to spend on this blog.

I tend to take pictures with my phone as I go about my daily chores.  Then, at some point, I load them on my computer and ask myself, "Is there a blog in these somewhere?".

Today, as I was looking at the pictures I've taken, I realized there are lots of pictures of bees working over the flowers around the farm.  So, that's what you are going to see today!  Bees, bees and more bees.

I became enamored with the bees earlier this spring when the beekeeper came out and captured a swarm of bees from one of the hives.  I wrote about that in this blog entry:  
Bee Swarm .  Since then, I have taken a new interest in the bees and how they work together for the betterment of the entire hive.

Here is a bee on a kale plant that has begun to flower.  Normally, I would have pulled the kale up at this stage, but after seeing how much the bees liked it, I have left it for them.


And here's one on a blackberry flower.  I believe we are going to have a bumper crop of blackberries this year, partly due to the pollination the bees are providing.


We also have this beautiful Golden Rain Tree in our front yard.


The bees love the flowers.



They like the catmint planted in our front flower bed, too.  The catmint is in the lower right of the picture below.  There is some planted up the steps and in front of our porch, as well.


Here's a closeup of a bee working over the catmint.


I enjoy drinking coffee on the front porch in the mornings.  Needless to say, the audible hum coming from all the bees serves as nice background music as I savor the quiet coolness of the morning.

One of the early spring flowers that blooms in my flower bed is Thread-leaf Blue Star.  Here it is when it was blooming.


This plant provided a valuable source of food for the bees early in the spring when little else was available to them.


Another early-blooming plant that bees are attracted to is clover.  I even mowed around clumps of clover to give them another source of food when not much else was available to them.

I supposed I'm becoming a little eccentric in my old age.....well, maybe a LOT eccentric.  But, hey, I'm retired (from my day job) and I'm loving it!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Garlic Scapes

I've written several posts about the garlic we grow, like  Garlic for the Garden   and   Time to Dig Garlic .  The second link contains a reference to "garlic scapes" which are the flower stalks the garlic bulb makes.  We cut these off so the plant will put all its energy into making a nice large head (root), instead of making a flower and producing seeds.

Depending on the variety of garlic, the scapes will be curly, like this.


Or, they will be long and straight, like this.


They actually make a rather pretty "bouquet".  Scapes have a mild garlic taste and are often used in cooking.  When cooking with them, the part closest to the flower bud is used because it is more tender.  The bottom part can be tough.  The stems can be sliced into small pieces and add to soups and stir-fries.   They can even be used in pesto.

This year, I am trying something new.  I heard scapes were very good when pickled.  So, I found a recipe online and did just that.  Here are the two jars of garlic scape pickles I made.


The one on the left was made from curly scapes and the one on the right from straight scapes.  These are refrigerator pickles.  The recipe I used called for vinegar, water, a little bit of sugar and salt.  These ingredients were brought to a boil and poured over the clean scapes in sterile jars.  The jars were then sealed, allowed to cool and stored in the refrigerator.   Other ingredients could have been added, as well, such as red pepper flakes, black pepper corns or mustard seed.

Never able to leave well enough alone, I wondered if scapes could be fermented.  Last fall, I wrote about my attempt at making kimchi, Making Kimchi .  In that article, I posted a picture of a cheap little fermenting set that I purchased online.  


The kimchi I made with it turned out great.  So, why not ferment garlic scapes?  Again, searching online (isn't the internet wonderful!), I found several references to fermenting garlic scapes.  So, here they are.....fermenting away.


Unfortunately, by the time I got around to doing this, I only had one small bunch of scapes left.  Tom had sold the rest of them to an Asian grocery store in town.  Apparently, garlic scapes are in high demand in oriental cuisine.  So, the jar is not full and they are just sort of floating around in the brine inside the jar.  

The jury is out on how the fermented ones will taste.  But, I can assure you the ones I pickled are excellent!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Apple Gourds

A couple of weeks ago I found some boxes of dried gourds out in the garage.  I can't remember when we grew them, but it has been several years ago.  So, one thing is certain, they last a long time once they are dried.  Unfortunately, rats or mice had gnawed into some of them to get the seeds.  But, I was able to salvage these.


There are several kinds in the box, but most of them are Apple Gourds.  You can see how they very much resemble an apple in shape.  In fact, some folks (who are more artistic than I) make decorative items by painting them to look like apples.



Gourds have an outer coat that molds while they are drying.  Once dried, they have a dull, mottled appearance like the one above.  This coat has to be removed before a gourd can be painted.  Here's a picture to compare what they look like before and after the coat is removed.



The patterns on the gourd caused by the mold can be quite beautiful.  So, rather than painting them, I just leave them as is and enjoy the natural beauty of the gourd.  Here's how I remove the outer coat.

First, the gourds have to be soaked in water to soften that outer coat.  To do this, I use a 5-gallon bucket.  Two gourds will fit in a bucket.  The problem is ..... they float!



So, I have to weight them down to keep them submerged.  I use a large clay flower pot for this purpose.



Once the outer coat is softened, it can be removed easily.  I use a small kitchen knife and just scrape it off.  Here is a gourd that has been partially scrapped.



After scraping, I allow the gourd to dry thoroughly.  All kinds of things can be made from these gourds.  They are great for birdhouses and bowls.

Incidentally, this is what these apple gourds looked like when they were green.



They are quite heavy, as well, but very light when dry.  They grow on vines that get to be several feet in length.  Here's a blog entry I wrote in 2012 about some birdhouse gourds we grew.  It shows how long the vines get:  Birdhouse Gourds

We are not growing gourds this year.  We just don't have enough room.  However, for now, I have these nice Apple Gourds to work on and maybe next year we'll find room to grow some more.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bee Swarm

Last summer, we were delighted when a friend of ours, who is a beekeeper, asked us if she could place some of her beehives on our land.  There are many insects that pollinate crops, but bees are exceptional pollinators.  So, we were really excited to have some bee hives on our land.



Most of the winter, the bees stayed in their hives.  But, on warm days we would see them out and about, looking for pollen.  Unfortunately, there was nothing for them to eat during the winter.  That all changed this spring when flowers started to appear and they became very active. 

Our beekeeper told us there was a possibility a couple of the more active hives might produce swarms.  This is where the hive produces a new queen and the old queen is forced out along with a good portion of the bees in the hive.  When this happens, they normally fly to a nearby resting place where most of the swarming bees stay with the queen while scouts are sent out to find a new home.

We were, therefore, not surprised when we found this in one of the peach trees a short distance from the hives.



It was an amazing sight and we immediately called the beekeeper.  Her first words were "Tell me you don't have a swarm!".  Ha!  Spring is a busy time for beekeepers as the hives come out of hibernation and become active.  At any rate, she came right over and prepared a small temporary hive in which to put the bees.



The hive is a small rectangular box.


Inside the box are frames containing wax cells to give the bees a starting point for their new home.



Once the new hive was prepared, it was time to put the bees in it.  Fortunately, the swarm was not very high off the ground and was within easy reach.  The bees were so distracted that she could touch the swarm without getting stung.  



She held the temporary hive under the swarm and gently shook the branch.



Most of the bees fell right into the box in one big blob.



She had to make sure the queen dropped into the box with the swarm.  As it turns out, there are ways to tell if the queen is in the box, other than actually seeing her.  The main way is to look and see if there are bees at the entrance to the hive fanning their wings with their bottoms pointed up, like this.




They are releasing a pheromone to tell the other bees that the queen is there.  Fanning their wings disperses the pheromone into the surrounding air.  

A few of the bees kept going back to the branch because some of the queen's scent was left behind.  The beekeeper used a brush to brush them into a container and "pour" them in the hive.



After she had captured as many as she could, she set another box on top of the first one and added a container of sugar water to it so the bees would have some nourishment to get them started in their new home.


Then she put a lid on top and bound the 2 boxes together with a strap.  She said it was best to leave the new hive in place for a couple of weeks to let the bees get settled.  Once they are settled in and she is sure they are not going to fly off to look for new quarters, then she will put them in a permanent hive, like the ones shown in the first picture.  


It has been such a fun experience having the bees on our farm.  I've been mowing around wildflowers and clumps of clover to give them more pollen sources.  And, once we have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and other crops blooming, I know they will pay us back by pollinating those and boosting the amount of fruit and veggies we get.