Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter Squash - Part 1

Winter squash has several varieties within the genus cucurbita. The classes of cucurbita are maxima (hubbard, kabocha, buttercup, banana), argyrosperma (cushaw), moschata (butternut, Long Island Cheese, Musquee de Provence) and pepo (acorn, delicata, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, Marina di Chioggia). Your good old Halloween pumpkin is part of the cucurbita genus; it's specific family being cucrbitaceae. (That's probably more information than you want or need, but now you know.) Simply put, all winter squash are cucurbita. And just for the record, there are far more varieties of whinter squash than those that were mentioned above.

During farm season 2010 David had a very successful winter squash harvest. For farm season 2011 David, based on how well things had gone in 2010, planted nearly twice as much winter squash. Sadly, primarily due to weather conditions (too much heat, too much rain), the resulting crop was about half as much. Though David eliminated a couple of varieties from last year, and cut back on the number of plants of a couple of other varieties, this seasons planting was again significant. Despite some hurdles presented by the weather, and though some varieties did not do as well as others, the overall harvest was quite bountiful.

People at market responded very favorably to the winter squash that was brought to market. David started bringing winter squash to markets the end of September. By the last market, on December 1, David had sold out of spaghetti squash, delicata, sugar dumpling, acorn, and honey nut. All that remained was a small amount of kabocha, about a crate of butternuts, and a smattering of varieties that are not as familiar to people as the others. Below you will see pictures of the different varieties of winter squash that David grew with a brief description of what is picture. The pictures and descriptions will be broken into two posts. Stay tuned for part 2.

In this picture there are delicata in the front left corner of the basket (the slender ones with the green veins), spaghetti squash (the back row) and butternuts (front right corner).
Delicata- very creamy flesh. Light and bright tasting. Flavor hints of summer squash.
Spaghetti- Can be baked, boiled, or micro waved. When cooked use a fork to 'scrape' at the flesh which will form spaghetti like strands. Use instead of spaghetti.
Butternut- Smooth, rich, dense flesh with a distinctively nutty flavor.

The display at the Rittenhouse Square Market. Notice the crate of watermelons on the right side of the picture. Melons were planted late and overlapped with the winter squash.

Another picture at Rittenhouse. Please note the tomatoes on the left side of the picture. The tomatoes were part of the second planting of tomatoes. Also, notice the basil. At this market, in addition to other goodies, winter squash, tomatoes, and watermelon shared the stage. The orange pumpkins in the center of the picture, the ones that look like small Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, are pie pumpkins. The flesh of Jack-O-Lanterns is usually watery and bland and do not make for good eating. The flesh of pie pumpkins is usually dense and is sweet to taste.

Pictured here are Long Island Cheese Pumpkins. Believed to be one of the oldest domesticated squash varieties selected for food, this squash dates back to the early 1800's. Was especially famous in the 1800s through the first half of the 20th century for making pumpkin pies. Named because it resembles a flattened cheese wheel, it looks similar to a pale pumpkin. Its flesh is smooth and sweet, and lacks the stringiness found in many squashes, making it excellent for baking.

The big gourd like 'pods' in the center of the picture are Blue Hubbards. The long, narrow squash on the right side of the picture are Guatemalan Blue.
Blue Hubbards- sweet, fine-grained, golden flesh. Great for baking, pies, and soup. The hard, blue-gray shell helps these keep for long periods in storage. Dates back to the late 1700's.
Guatemalan Blue Banana- When grilled or baked, the  golden flesh becomes rich and creamy. 

Galeux d'Eysiunes- The sweet orange flesh is used for soups and also can be baked. This heirloom's  French name translates as "embroidered with warts from Eysines," that being a small town in southwest France. This heirloom pumpkin's random "peanut" warts bedeck the flesh-colored outer skin. A unique decorative piece, but also a richly flavored eating pumpkin.

Musquee de Provence- Another variety from France. Big flat fruits are reminiscent of big wheels of cheese. Green when immature and ripen to a deep, rich brown when fully ripe. Deep orange flesh, very fine flavored. Great for baking. Introduce to American gardeners in 1899.

Kikuza- A Japanese variety introduce to American in 1927. Very thick-fleshed with excellent eating qualities. Perfect size for baking and roasting. This Japanese heirloom, introduce to America in 1927, has orange flesh that is sweet and dry and has a spicy flavor.

One last note- Winter squash are generally harvested all at once, sometime during the early fall. They will finish their ripening off  the vine prior to being brought to market. David first brought his squash to market at the end of September and still had, as mentioned above, some butternut and kabocha squash, with a smattering of other varieties, left at the beginning of December. These remaining squash are still in great shape and will stay that way for weeks, if not months, to come. As a general rule, winter squash can be stored, out of direct sun/heat, out of freezing temperatures, for months. The length of storage will be determined by the specific squash that you have. As long as the squash are not bruised, they will be ready to be cooked whenever you get around to using them.

Happy and healthy eating to one and all. Support your local farmer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Memoriam

A couple of months ago David arrived at the farm to find the farm cat, Maple, dead in the bike lane in front of the entrance to the farm. A car had evidently hit her, but it was impossible to figure out what happened. She tended to be skittish of cars and had not been seen to go on the road. However, the fact remained that sometime over night she had been hit by a car and killed. As might be imagined this was an extremely heartbreaking occurrence for David, Lynn, and me. She had become far more than a farm cat that kept the mice population at bay. She was as much a pet/friend as any house cat could be, as much as any pet/friend a dog could be.

The general cycle of farming is about life and death. Plants are seeded, they germinate, they are planted, they produce, and they die. So it is with the animals in our lives. We obtain a kitten or a puppy. They grow and mature and become an integral part of our lives. Their passing, in the natural course of living, is a painful and normal occurrence. When a death is not anticipated, when it is sudden and out of normal expectations, the death is more painful and lingering in its emotional impact. While the daily routine of working the farm continued without missing a beat, there was a pall that hovered over the mood and spirit of all. The passage of time has helped to soothe some of the raw edges of Maple’s death. However, her absence is still keenly felt. The following are some pictures to celebrate her life. 

Maple loved to sleep in baskets. 

Cat on a hot tin roof. And she did get help getting off the roof.

Another day, another nap.

Here's looking at you kid.

Another action packed day.

No basket? No problem. I'll just curl up on this blanket.

While Maple and Hule didn't actively play together all that much, they did get along well with each other. The phrase, 'fighting like cats and dogs' did not apply.

This is Peanut. She and Maple enjoyed playing with each other. It was very cute.

You want me to move? I don't think so.

 Peace and love

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


It has been way too long since last writing about the happenings at Z Food Farm. So, much belatedly, and probably out of order, forthcoming there will be a few posts to provide a sense of what has been happening. 

The first item is the weather. Certain crops can survive temperatures into the low 30’s. Some can survive cooler temps if they have row cover to protect them. However, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, and summer squash are not among plants that can tolerate the lower temperatures. So it came to pass that on October 12 that the temperature went down to 30 degrees, which resulted in the death of the 
above-mentioned plants. While frost and the death of plants is routine for this time of year, the frustrating thing about this was that it wasn’t until November 5 that the temperatures were again that low. But for that one night David would have been able to have tomatoes, peppers and the others to bring to market. Such is the nature of farming

Staying with the weather theme, you might have heard of a certain hurricane by the name of Sandy. The farm came out of this storm relatively unscathed. In three places a tree fell on the deer fence and the power went out for five days. In total these were minor inconveniences that, when all is said and done, is nothing to complain about. Considering the staggering impact that the storm had throughout many parts of New Jersey and New York, and the severe damage sustained by other farms, Z Food Farm was extremely fortunate. Z Food Farms  great fortune is a blessing that is not taken for granted. 

On the heels of the hurricane, there was a Nor’easter storm that came through the area November 7. The storm dumped about six inches of snow on the farm and this proved to be more of a problem than the hurricane. With the hurricane the biggest issue was being unable to get crops washed following harvest in anticipation of getting to market. No power meant no water, as the well’s pump requires electricity. As he has in the past, Farmer Matt of Cherry Grove Organic Farm was a great friend to David. Since Z Food Farm was without water to wash the produce, Matt, whose farm did not lose power, gave David access to his sinks. This allowed David to wash the field soil off of everything and to bring things to market in the manner to which all are accustomed. As has been said before, thank you Matt. 

The snow was more problematic. The short version is that the harvesting scheduled was thrown out of wack. This resulted in the absence of a couple of items at the Philly market on Saturday and the New York market on Sunday. Again, in the overall scheme of things, these were inconveniences, not tragedies. The writing of this is to provide a historical perspective of the happenings at the farm. It is not a complaint about these two events. The reality, beyond the hurricane and the Nor’easter, is that farming, large farms and small, is always at the mercy of the weather. 
The support and concern of all who asked about the well being of the farm is greatly appreciated. Thanks to all. 

Prior to the first frost, the third planting of summer squash was producing a bounty of produce. Sigh. Something to look forward to in the coming season.

Kale is very hardy and is quite able to tolerate cold temperatures. If anything, the cold weather enhances the taste of kale.

While these fennel fronds look good in this picture, the cold temps of recent days has taken a toll on the fronds. The fennel bulbs are still in good shape and will make it to market.

Leeks are another very hardy item. These leeks will actually 'winter over'; they won't be harvested for this season and will be available for harvest in the spring. 

Something to look forward to- organic strawberries! Strawberries are planted in the fall and produce fruit in the spring. The big challenge will be for them to survive the deer. Deer are a very expensive pest for farmers, home gardeners and anyone trying to grow things. 

These two pictures show a couple of the trees that fell on the deer fence. Some chain sawing and restringing of wire will fix things without too much fuss or bother.

 Again, thanks to all for your concern about the well being of the farm. 
Support your local farmers. Know where your food is coming from. Peace and good health to one and all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Here Comes Yet Another Day

The cycle of farming is relentless. Currently the Midwest is being ravaged by heat and drought. We will all see the consequences of this in food prices in the months to come. Locally there has been heat and humidity with an excessive amount of rain. These conditions make life 'uncomfortable' for those involved in farming. Yet farmers persist in their endeavors. It is not for love of money that keeps them moving forward. They do it for the passion they have for the land, their belief that farming is a noble vocation, a commitment to being stewards of the land. The pictures that follow reflect the end result of the work that David has been doing with his workers- the produce that that is brought to market.

 The origins of the Speckled Lettuce date back to 1660 in Holland. In the late 1790s the Speckled lettuce was brought to North America, first arriving in Waterloo County, Ontario.  The name, Speckled lettuce, comes from the German Forellenschluss, which means “speckled like a trout”.  The lettuce is a loose-leaf variety that has juicy, thick, light green leaves that are speckled with maroon quarter-inch dots.  The speckled leaves have a pleasant, muddy flavor, which is similar to watercress.(Source- Slow Food USA - Ark of Taste)

Celtuse, also called stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce, is a cultivar of lettuce and used primarily for its thick stem and is used as a vegetable. It is especially popular in China. It is crisp, moist, and mildly flavored, and typically prepared by slicing and then stir frying with more strongly flavored ingredients.

The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Kohlrabi leaves are edible and can be used interchangeably with collard and kale

Look at the top of the garlic bulbs leaves- that is where the garlic scape grows from. Garlic scapes are the "flower stalks" of hardneck garlic plants, although they do not produce flowers. These stalks start to appear a month or so after the first leaves. They are usually cut off of the plant, since leaving them on only diverts the plants strength away from forming a plump bulb. If left on, they eventually form small bulbils that can be planted to grow more garlic, but it takes 2–3 years for them to form large bulbs. Many gardeners simply toss their scapes in the compost, but garlic scapes are both edible and delicious, as are the bulbils.

Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, adding a refreshing contribution to the ever popular Mediterranean cuisine. Most often associated with Italian cooking, be sure to add this to your selection of fresh vegetables from the autumn through early spring when it is readily available and at its best.  

Hakurei Turnips (the white ones below). This outstanding Japanese turnip has an excellent sweet and mild flavor that makes it a favorite salad ingredient. The slightly flattened round roots are crisp, smooth and white. The smooth dark green tops can be eaten as well. 
Scarlet Turnips- These  turnips have sweet, crisp, white flesh with spicy, red skin. Internal red splashes of color add to the appeal when sliced. The hairless, dark green tops have attractive red stems and can be used in salads, or cooked on their own or with the roots.

 Long Red of Tropea onion. Calabria near the southern tip of Italy, is the site of a famous onion festival every August. Elongated like torpedos, these are thin-skinned glossy maroon bulbs with lighter interiors that slice easily into even rings. Sweet, mild and delicious. Excellent bunched fresh for farmers market in midsummer. Restaurant chefs love them for grilling or braising. 

Cippolini Onions (the white ones). Pronounced chip-oh-LEE-nee, this is a smaller, flat, pale onion. The flesh is a slight yellowish color and the skins are thin and papery. The color of the skin ranges from pale yellow to the light brown color of Spanish onions. These are sweeter onions, having more residual sugar than garden-variety white or yellow onions, but not as much as shallots.
The advantage to cipollinis is that they are small and flat and the shape lends them well to roasting. This combined with their sweetness makes for a lovely addition to recipes where you might want to use whole caramelized onions.

Personal note- my favorite onions for fresh eating that get even better when roasted or sauteed.

 A fingerling potato is a small, stubby,  finger-shaped type of potato may be any heritage potato cultivars. Fingerlings are varieties that naturally grow small and narrow. They are fully mature when harvested. Popular fingerling potatoes include the yellow-skinned Russian Banana, the orange-skinned French, and the Purple Peruvian. Due to their size and greater expense compared to other potatoes, fingerlings are commonly either halved and roasted as a side dish or used in salads.

This is just a small sample of what has been/is available at the farm stand on Wednesdays and Fridays and at the Rittenhouse Market in Philly and the New Amsterdam Market in New York. If you ever have any questions about any of the items available, please ask.

 Support local farmers. Support sustainable agriculture. Support organic farms in your local community.

Happy and healthy eating to all.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long Days And Short Nights

Sorry for the prolonged delay in writing this. The past weeks have seen long days (12-14 hour days have been routine for David) in extreme heat and short nights. Not complaining on David’s behalf (at least not too much), but long hours are a natural part of farming. To reconfigure an old expression, if you can’t stand the heat (or rain or long hours, or the bugs, or the cold), get out of the field. The fact of the matter is that if you are going to farm you have no control over the elements and have to find a way, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically, to get things accomplished. And so it goes. Here is a brief summary of the past weeks events.

Some crops have been doing great. Some crops got consumed by weeds. Some crops got eaten by bugs. Some are being decimated by disease. The situation is chaotic and all is normal. Overall the spring and early summer have been less productive than had been hoped. However, as the season is continuing things are turning around and a good late summer into fall is anticipated. On a positive note, if you are a tomato head, some of the heirloom tomatoes, as well as some cherry tomatoes along with a couple of ‘regular’ tomatoes have started producing. A limited supply of tomatoes have been available the past couple of weeks, but the quantity and diversity of available tomatoes should start to increase within the near future.

Both farm and market share members of the farm have been able to take advantage of the bounty. The farm share members indicate that they have been enjoying the varied produce that they have been receiving as determined by David. The market share members indicate that they have been enjoying the flexibility of being able to buy what they want, when they want (in some cases stopping at the farm both Wednesday and Friday). Overall, the expansion of the membership of farm/market share members has been successful. If you are not a member and think that either a farm share, full or half (this latter being new for farm season 2013), or a market share is something of interest for next year, please let us know and provide us your name and email address. (Stop by the farm on a Wednesday or Friday or send an email to David at Sometime in the fall you will be contacted to assess your interest and will then receive information spelling out the program in detail.

The farm stand has been busier than the past two years. Some of this is due to the increased number of members who come to the farm to pick up their produce. Beyond the members, there are a core group of regulars who come to the farm on Wed or Fri or both. In addition there are an increasing number of ‘first timers’ who have discovered the farm stand and are now coming on a regular basis. To all of you, a heartfelt thanks! Your patronage of Z Food Farm is greatly appreciated.

The Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market is now in its seventh year and seems to have become an integral part of the neighborhood. The impression is that the people who frequent the market do a significant part of their weekly shopping on Saturday mornings. Rain or shine, heat or cold, the people of the Square area come to the market. Thanks to all for supporting Z Food Farm in its third year at the market.

The New Amsterdam Market, now starting its second year as a weekly market, is still in the process of becoming an integrated part of the area in which it is located. There are not as many people who live in the immediate area as there are in Philly, but there are a growing number of people who make the Market a regular part of their weekly routine. What is most exciting about the New Amsterdam Market is the vision that the market manager has for the future of the market and the old Fulton Fish Market, in front of which the NAM is located. To find out more about the history of the area and the visionary plans for the future of the market go to Coming up in August are two special events. On Sunday August 19 there will be the Ice Cream Sunday where various vendors of artisan ice will present their creations. And on Sunday August 26 there will be a Tomato Fest. Hope you can attend.

As July heads towards August David and crew are moving full speed ahead with seeding, germinating, planting, weeding, harvesting, and selling at markets. Again, thanks to all for your support and we look forward to seeing you at markets.

Happy and healthy eating to all. Support your local farmer. Support sustainable agriculture. Support organic farmers when possible.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


A long delayed post about the hops plants that were planted last season. The plants, which survived 'benign' neglect, last season, survived the winter and resiliently started to grow again this season. Hops plants, like asparagus, take a couple of years to produce enough hop cones to be called a crop. Wanting to ensure that the plants would survive this season, and to increase the future production of the plants, a plan was implemented to trellis the hops. Hops, which can grow upwards of 18/20+ feet tall, need to be trellised. To design and build a trellis takes time; a commodity that is in short supply. To accomplish the task of putting up the trellis the assistance of a friend of Z Food Farm, Michael Guzman, was enlisted. Mike adapting from research that he did, designed the trellis and, with David, put up the trellis. The step after the building of the trellis was to cut back the numerous offshoots from the root ball. What is needed to promote the growth of the hop vines is four shoots from the plant. Once you have your four vines, the vines are 'attached' to the rope that is part of the trellis and, if all goes well, up they grow. At this time some of the plants are doing quite well. The implication of "some of the plants doing quite well" is that some of the plants are not doing well. Time will tell as to how the plants do. Also, due to a shortage of time, not all of the plants have been cut back to the desired four vines and thus some of the vines are still sprawled out on the ground. The goal is to find the time to get the remaining plants trimmed and to get the vines growing up their rope.

The following pictures will illustrate some of what was described above.

Here are the multiple vines spread out on the ground.

 Mike and David working on the trellis. Also, you can see the length of the trellis.

Anchoring the ropes into the ground.

A hop vine that, hopefully, will grow up the rope to its full length.

David pruning the plant and getting it started on the rope.

 A view of the trellis. The front end loader was used to hoist Mike up the the top of the trellis in order to attach the rope to the cable.

Another view of the vines placed on the trellis rope.

A close up view of part of the trellis.

A view of how the trellis is anchored  into the ground.

A general review of the status of things at the farm will be coming shortly. Overall, in the most general of manner, things are coming along. While things could be better David accepts that farming is a marathon, not a spring.

Happy and healthy eating to all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


For those of you who are interested in growing some herbs, or some vegetables at home, Z Food Farm has a number of potted plants available. What follows is a list of the herbs that are available.

 Anise Hyssop – Smell and taste of anise (similar to liquorice, fennel, and tarragon). Herb lovers claim it as a culinary herb, using the fresh or dried leaves in tea and crumbling the tangy flowers over fruit salad.

Chamomile- A daisy like plant. Are best known for their ability to be made into an infusion which is commonly used to help with sleep and is often served with either honey or lemon.

Lemon Balm- It is a citrusy and fresh scented herb. Fresh leaves can be stored in plastic bags in the fridge for a few days or they can be frozen. Can be used to add zest to sweet or tangy dishes. A wonderfull addition to fruit salads, green salads, herb butters, fruit drinks, sorbets and marinades for fish.

Lemongrass- Provides a zesty lemon flavor and aroma to many Thai dishes. Look for heavy, long, relatively green stalks with chubby bulbs. Be sure to cook thoroughly. May be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 weeks. Can be frozen and kept almost indefinitely, thouogh some of the perfume and freshness may be lost. Can also be dried and stored in airtight jars.

Lovage- Can be chopped and added to salads or stuffings or to soups. Is also said to be delicious with eggs- stir leaves into omelettes or scrambled eggs. The flavor is like parsley and celery combined with a hint of anise and curry.

Mexican Mint Marigold- Licorice-anise flavor; a stand-in for French tarragon. To use, chop fresh leaves and use them to season chicken and tossed green salads, or brew them into a sweet, anise-flavored tea. Dried leaves retain their fragrance well if kept in a sealed glass container.

Mountain Mint- Has a spicy, mint-like flavor that makes it a seasoning for meat. Medicinally, the leaves are brewed into a refreshing herbal tea for that run down feeling.  Very aromatic.

Nira (garlic chives) Used in oriental cuisine in a manner similar to regular chives, green onions, or garlic.

Papalo- Similar to cilantro used in Mexican cooking. Must be used fresh, as it does not dry well. Used raw to flavor tacos.

Red Veined Sorrel- Same sharp, tangy flavor as regular sorrel. (See below) Main difference is its distinctive appearance.

Shiso- Also known as perilla. Lemony-minty flavor. Can be chopped up and used in a salad. Other uses- added to stir-fry, shiso-miso soup, sushi wrap, shiso Mojito

Sorrel- The leaves may be pureed in soups, stews, and sauces or added to salads. Tart, lemony flavor.

Vertissimo/Chervil- Mild, sweet anise flavor. Popular for salads, micro mix, and garnishing.

Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm)- Was considered a medicinal plant by Native Americans and was frequently made into a tea (often sweetened with honey).

Winter Savory- Has a reputation for going well with beans and meats. Strong flavor while cooked. Loses much of its flavor under prolonged cooking. Has a strong spicy flavor. A sprig of the plant, rubbed onto a bee sting brings instant relief.

Za'tar- A variety of Marjoram- A mild, sweet, oregano-like flavor. 

In addition to these, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, swiss chard, sweet peppers, 
 hot peppers, spinach, leeks, and tomato plants are also available. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's Market Time

Today, Wed, June 6, marked the first market of the season! The weeks of exhaustive effort by David and Oscar came to fruition at Z Food Farm's farm stand. The first of the bounty consisted of kale (Tuscano and Red Russian), Swiss chard, radishes, kohlrabi, six varieties of lettuce, spinach, Asian greens, and garlic scapes. Potted herbs, tomatoes, basil, and other varieties were also available for sale. (A complete listing of the herbs will be forthcoming in the next day or so.

While the start of the market season is always fun and rewarding, today's start was special. It marked the start of the expanded CSA that is part of the farm. After a pilot program last season, the size of the membership was increased this season. It was great to welcome back returning members and to welcome to Z Food Farm all the new members. The support of the membership is greatly appreciated and it is hoped that all of you will enjoy the wonderful bounty in the months to come. It was also gratifying to welcome back many regular customers from the past couple of seasons. Your support is as important to the success of the farm as are those who are members of the Z CSA. We look forward to seeing you all over the course of the coming season.

What follows are some pictures from today's market.

Thanks again to returning members, new members, and all who stopped by at the farm today.

Happy and healthy eating to one and all.