Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Down On The Farm

"If ever you think about the happiest days of your life Cast back your mind for a while And remember the time when you were a child Don't think of things that make you sad Just remember all the good times that you had"

As part of the curriculum at The Princeton Friends School the students, grades 3-5, get to participate in an out of school educational opportunity. The students self-select what activity to participate in and then go to the off school site once a month for the duration of the school year. For each of the past two years  a group of students has come to Z Food Farm. Starting the later part of farm season 2012 the students have: assisted David harvest carrots, potatoes, and turnips. In March of this season they seeded pea seeds in trays and in April they got to put the pea plants into the soil. If all goes as planned, the students should be able to get to harvest and eat the peas that they seeded and planted.
The students have had a great deal of fun and have displayed an interest in what they have done. They have had an opportunity to develop an awareness of how and where their food comes from, that it doesn't just magically appear on their tables.

Here are some pictures of the students in action.

The first two pictures show the students after they harvested two varieties of turnips. The red are called Scarlet Knight; the white ones are Hakurei Turnips. This activity was not a simple 'let's give the kids something to do' activity. The fact of the matter is that the turnips that they helped harvest were part of an order for a restaurant. 

 The following pictures show the students engaged in various stages of planting.

And as always, the loyal and faithful Hule is on the job keeping an eye on the proceedings. 

As always, happy and healthy eating to all. Support the right to know which foods are GMO's. Support local, organic, and sustainable farmers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

And So It Goes

"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."
And a farmer needs to seed, plant, weed, and harvest. Some things just got to be.

Seeding has continued, as it will throughout the season. To bring you up to date, here is the final segment of seeding to date.

 March 21- 25 varieties of herbs. A future post will list the various herbs that will be available at market.
March 21- Two varieties of leeks; two flats.
March 21- Black Magic Kale. This is a new variety of Tuscan kale. It has very dark, crinkled leaves which have rich flavor. Makes excellent kale chips; four flats.

March 29/30- Tomatoes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and eggplants. As with the herbs, a future post will provide additional information about the varieties that were seeded. There were over 60 varieties of tomatoes, 15 varieties of hot peppers, 6 varieties of eggplant, and 10 varieties of sweet peppers. There are also a few varieties of specialty peppers.

April 4- Basil (Italian Large Leaf, Thai, Red Rubin, and Mrs. Burns’ Lemon).

April 4- Ficoide Glaciale. Huh? What? You read that right- Ficoide Glaciale. This plant is nearly unknown in the United States. If known, it might be familiar to some as the “ice plant”. It has fleshy, lightly acidic leaves that are covered with shimmering silvery dots, giving them a frosty appearance. The leaves are crunchy and refreshing in salads, and may also be cooked like spinach.

April 6- Peas

April 13- Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry- David has grown these the past couple of years, so they shouldn’t be a total mystery. Here is a description from Slow Food USA Ark of Taste- “This heirloom is not actually a cherry, but rather a small ground tomato. The fruits were recorded in horticultural literature as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania and are still common today at roadside stands in late summer. This outstanding Polish variety is prized for its clean flavor.  This tomato has pineapple and vanilla flavor.  Because of their high pectin count, they can be used for preserves, pies, over ice cream or in fresh fruit salads”.

Poha Berry- These will be a new offering this season. It is also known as Cape Gooseberry. The Poha Berry is a popular fruit berry in Hawaii. The berry is sweet/tart with smooth, waxy orange skin. The berries are often made in a jam. They are also a treat in salads.

Okra- David grew okra for the first time two years ago. Last year things didn’t work out, but this year okra will be back. When buying fresh okra, look for young pods free of bruised, tender but not soft,and no more than four inches long. They can be stored in the refrigerator in a paper bag or wrapped in a paper towel in a perforated plastic bag for two to three days.

Tomatillo- It is related to the cape gooseberry. Fruit should be firm and bright green. It should also be firm. A staple of Mexican cuisine.

4/14- Crosnes. Ok. First Ficoide Glaciale and now this? What is this? First, it is pronounced crones, despite the spelling. It is an Asian member of the mint family, known for its edible and unusual-shaped tubers. Described as looking like a string of mutant, spiral pearls. Usually about two inches in length, about ½ inch in diameter. They have a crunchy texture and earthy flavor. Similar to a Jerusalem artichoke in taste- Crosne offers a vague, nutty sweetness. They will be available in late fall.

4/14- Yacon (Peruvian Ground Apple). Oh boy, something else you’ve probably never heard of. And what is this? Well, it is grown for its crisp, sweet tasting tuberous roots, similar to a jicama. It has a slightly sweet resinous and floral flavor, similar to violet. While it is mainly used for its tubers, the leaves can be made into a tea.

4/14- Britton Shiso: Green leaves with red undersides. Can be used as part of a salad mix. The larger leaves can be used as sushi wraps. David has grown, and will be growing this season, both red and green shiso. Shiso has a slight lemon/mint flavoring. Apart from adding to a salad or as a sushi wrap, shiso can be used, among various ways, to make a shiso mojito, as flavoring in rice, and to make as a soup.

One of David’s pleasures in farming is to grow items that are off the beaten path. In his passion for farming, David tries to walk both roads of a diverging path- he grows traditional and nontraditional items for the joy of it.

A couple of quick notes- on 4/17 and 4/18 many plants were moved out of the greenhouse to the tables in front of the greenhouse. This will allow the plants to ‘harden’, to acclimate to being out of doors in anticipation of planting sometime late next week or early the week after.
On 4/16, 4/17, and 4/18 David spent a lot of time on the tractor using his spader to start preparing the soil for planting. Freshly turned soil is a beautiful sight.

Eat healthy. Support local farmers. Support organic farming. Support sustainable farming. Support labeling of GMO’s.

 Garlic is growing! Garlic is planted in the fall, usually Octoberish. And then it begins to show itself in early spring. This picture was taken 4/14. The garlic greens first began to show themselves a month earlier.

 This is some of the lettuce that was seeded on March 20. This picture was taken April 11.

These are the onions that were planted on March 15. This picture was taken April 11.

This is David using the spader to turn the soil. You can see the before and after difference in the soil.

A general picture of the greenhouse. If you compare with the pictures from the previous post you can get a perspective of how things have grown.

Baby Red Rubin basil.

Here is a picture of the spader. Imagine using a hand held spade working in your garden. Imagine eight of them working simultaneously being turned by an engine.

Here's a close up of the soil after one pass by the spader.

Baby tomatoes.

A couple of books about healthy eating and cooking: 
Mark Bittman- VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good. His basic premise is to follow a vegan diet before 6PM and to eat pretty much what you want in the evening.
Michael Pollan- Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.
"Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink."

Happy growing, cooking, eating, and drinking to all.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Keep On Seeding

'Seeding on down the line
Hey hey hey
I say keep on seeding
Seeding my blues away'

As of March 30 the weather has been more cooperative. Today would have been a wonderful day for David to be on his tractor doing some fieldwork and taking care of various other tasks requiring his tractor. The only problem with this is that David’s tractor is in the midst of being repaired. Nothing major is wrong with it, but there are a few minor problems that are being corrected. While it is somewhat frustrating that the tractor won’t be ready until mid next week, the upside is that barring some unforeseen problem arising, the tractor should be in good shape for the coming season. Losing a few days now is preferable to having the tractor break down in the middle of the season when its availability will be much more essential. Short-term annoyance for long-term gain.

While waiting to do field work, seeding has continued at a steady pace. Here is an update on what has been seeded.

March 15- Fifteen more flats of onions. Five flats of celery and three of parsley. Three flats of celeriac (celery root).

March 16- A total of fourteen flats of four different varieties of broccoli.

March 17- Sixteen flats of Swiss chard.

March 18/19- Fourteen flats of fennel.

March 19- Twelve flats of four varieties of cabbage. Twenty-two flats of four varieties of scallions. Four flats of celtuce. Three flats of escarole. Thirty-two flats of kale. And ten flats of kohlrabi.

March 20- Twenty flats of seven varieties of lettuce. Nineteen flats of three varieties of spinach. Thirty-three flats of six varieties of beets. One variety of the beets is called crapaudine. “In 1885, the French book, The Vegetable Garden stated this is one of the oldest varieties. Today some experts feel this may be the oldest beet still in existence, possibly dating back 1000 years. This unique variety is one of the most flavorful, with carrot-shaped roots that have rough, dark colored skin which looks like tree bark. Inside, the roots are very dark, with almost black flesh that is of superior quality and sought after by chefs who want real flavor.” (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) If you are interested in more information about this unique beet go to:

One of the critical components of the soil mix used for starting the seeds is mushroom compost. The compost, along with the peat moss and the other ingredients for the soil mix provides the necessary nutrients the seeds need to start germinating.

 This shows the earliest stages of seeding. A later picture will show how quickly the greenhouse fills up.

The first germination!! A most excellent sight.

This picture taken less than a week after the picture above.

The next four pictures convey a sense of the beauty and majesty of new plant life. These pictures do not do justice to what the greenhouse looks like in person. Some varieties of plants germinate more quickly than others, so virtually each day brings new signs of germination. The process of seeding, watching and waiting, germinating will continue throughout the entire season. The road goes on and on.

As you can tell, David and Rachel have been quite busy. And since March 20 there has been more seeding. The next update will be forthcoming within the next few days. Until then happy and healthy eating.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

And Away We Go

"Only love can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky.
Only love can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high"

Despite the recent snow, and the forecast for perhaps more snow, spring is here. The record shows that last year was the warmest spring on record. This year may not be the coldest, but it sure hasn't been the most pleasant. The greenhouse is heated so with the start of seeding, the trays of newly seeded plants are comfortable. Because of the wet weather no plowing has been done. As has been previously mentioned, plowing wet soil is not good for the health of the soil. So, all the local farmers are waiting for a nice stretch of dry weather and are taking care of business to be ready to get their tractors into the field once the weather gods cooperate.

Over the winter months David invested a great deal of time going through various seed catalogs and planning what was going to be grown this season. As you'll read below, what gets seeded will be documented throughout the season. All the regular items will continue to be grown- kale, Swiss chard,  carrots, broccoli, 60+ varieties of tomatoes, beets, and so on. However, there will be some fun alternate varieties within these vegetables plus there will be some items that will be a little different than what you what expect. Overall a fun growing season is anticipated.

One big task over the winter was putting up a high tunnel in the field; think unheated greenhouse. David had assistance from his brother Peter in this endeavor. Z Food Farm became a true family endeavor with Peter's involvement in putting up the greenhouse. Having a high tunnel in the field allows a farmer to plant directly in the soil in a protected environment. This allows the farmer to have better control over the conditions that the plants are growing in- water, temperature, protection from bugs and disease. As an example- last season David's late planting of tomatoes was doing great. The plants were producing a nice crop of fruit and through mid-October David was bring farm fresh, tasty tomatoes to market. On October 13 there was a killing frost and then there were no more tomatoes (the frost also killed the pepper plants, eggplants, and summer squash). If the tomato plants, and the others, were living in a high tunnel ZFF would have had tomatoes for market through early November. With this said, David is excited and hopeful that this season he will have tomatoes into the beginning of November. A future post will have pictures of the high tunnel.

The semi-official start of farm season 2013 was March 5. On this date David's new intern, Rachel, joined him. They spent a chilly day split between cleaning up some remnants of plastic and row cover from the front field and cleaning the flats in which the seeds get their start. (For the record Rachel has been an excellent addition to the farm. She brings enthusiasm task commitment to the farm. Welcome aboard!!) The flats are first dunked in bleach water, then sprayed with a water/b.each solution, and then rinsed with water. The purpose is to clean the flats of dirt and bacteria. The plants are vulnerable enough to disease, cleaning the flats is one thing that can be done to lower some of the risk of disease.

The official start of the season was March 12. This was the day that seeding began. Starting with this post, and continuing over the course of the season, each days seeding will be documented. While this might not be 'exciting' to read, and at time a bit delayed (like this post), you will get a sense of the ongoing activity at the farm.

March 12- Various onions and one variety of shallots. A total of 53 flats were seeded. Each flat contained 128 cells and 5 seeds were placed in each cell. (That's 640 seeds per flat.) Five seeds per cell is more than will be used for most varieties of other plants. Part of this is due to the expected rate of germination of a specific variety of vegetable (the lower the rate of germination the more seed needs to go into a cell), and with onions the other part is due to wanting to plant the onions in 'bunches' once they are ready to go into the ground.

March 13- This was a slow day with only 7 flats of onions seeded.

March 14- A total of 59 flats of onions were seeded today. Some of today's onions were seeded in flats that had 72 cells (meaning that these cells are larger than flats with 128 cells; the flats themselves are the same size). Today's onions are your bulb onions, your typical larger sized onion, and need more space in the cell as they grow and develop. The onions from the previous two days are smaller in size both in development and at maturity. There is a definite reasoning that determines what variety gets started in what size cell.

The other days seeding will be listed in the next post. However, one bit of most excellent and exciting news: GERMINATION has started with some of the seeds. Regardless of knowing that the seeds have always germinated in previous years, there is an annual sense of vague nervousness and apprehension in anticipation of the first signs of life. Hours have been spent seeding and until the sprouts begin to show themselves there is uncertainty about whether all that work will pay off or have to be duplicated. Logically you know that things are going to be all right. Emotionally you are on edge. Once the sprouts have been sighted there is a sense of relief and excitement.

Though belatedly written it is hoped that this provides a sense of the beginning of the season. Stay tuned for more updates on a more regular (hopefully) basis.

Support local, sustainable, organic agriculture.

Here are David and Rachel washing out the flats.

March 5- a beautiful spring day in New Jersey.

The white 'balls' are row cover, the fabric that is placed over the vegetables as they are growing. The row cover helps to keep in warmth and provides some protection from some insects.  On the far left, leaning against the greenhouse are the hoops that provide support for the row cover. In the middle are bags that have been filled with soil that are used to weigh down the row cover so that it won't blow away.

A small portion of the newly seeded flats.

This is the sheet that David uses to keep track of the item being seeded, the date of seeding, the tray size, how many trays of that variety to be planted with the number of seeds to go in each cell, and whether the seed is to be covered with soil mix or vermiculite. 

Another picture showing the trays of seeds.

Peace and happy and healthy eating to one and all.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Say Tomato

What does it mean to use the phrase 'heirloom tomato'? Or for that matter, what does it mean to describe something as an 'heirloom vegetable'? Much has been written about this, and some information on this topic has been previously posted. to summarize- "An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it's valued characteristics." (Tomatofest) For a much more detailed description and explanation go to-

For farm season 2012 David grew 60+ varieties of tomatoes, most of which were heirloom varieties. Among the reasons that David grows so many varieties of tomatoes, especially heirloom, is basic- there are a lot of wonderful tasting tomatoes that are available. Without exaggeration, there are thousands of varieties of tomatoes to choose from. Tomatoes come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors. David's goal is to provide as much variety as possible; this is true for tomatoes and the other varieties of vegetables grown at ZFF.

Most tomatoes that you will find at farmers' markets, especially if you know that the produce vendor is farming locally, are going to taste better and be fresher than what you will be able to purchase in a grocery store, whether the tomato is an heirloom or standard. As a general rule heirloom tomatoes do not 'travel' very well from farm to market; their skins are thinner and are prone to splitting. This is one reason that heirloom tomatoes are not routinely sold in grocery stores and that the best place to find them is at farmers' markets or farm stands associated with the farm growing them. The vast majority of tomatoes sold in grocery stores are those that are commercially grown for long shelf life and have had chemicals used in their development to help them resist disease and to give them their bright red color. (Commercial tomatoes from Florida are grown using an excessive amount of fertilizers and pesticides.) An exception to this rule of thumb of what's available in a grocery store would be if your local store has a relationship with a larger scale local grower. (An upcoming post will provide links to articles that address some of the issues pertaining to the commercial tomato industry.)

Heirloom tomatoes, tomatoes in general, are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. In an attempt to curtail some disease for the 2012 season, David used a hot water bath to sterilize the outside of the tomato seeds prior to placing them in the seeding trays. The hope was that this would allow the plants to be healthier and more prolific. This hope did not materialize as intended. The first tomato planting  experienced a variety of diseases. Despite this David was still able to have a wide range of tomatoes and an abundant harvest. A second planting of tomatoes was much healthier and David was able to have tomatoes available for market through the middle of October. Sadly, on October 13 there was a frost that killed the tomato plants (this frost also killed the eggplant and pepper plants). What was frustrating about this, is that the temperature for the next two weeks was above frost level, meaning that David would have been able to have tomatoes through the end of October were it not for that one night of frost. Such is the nature of farming.

Currently David is working on his seed order for the coming season. As was the case last season, there will again be 60+ varieties of tomatoes. The first tomatoes should be available sometime mid to late July (weather dependent) with the bounty bonanza coming during August. There will again be a second planting of tomatoes which, if all goes well, should carry tomato availability well into October, or at least until the first frost.

Enjoy the following pictures as they whet your appetite for the tomato bounty to come!

If you look closely you can see some of the splitting of the skin. This is a common occurrence with heirlooms. They are not always perfect, but they are always delicious.

A variety of cherry tomato called Black Cherry. Over the past two seasons it has become the second most popular of the cherry tomatoes that David grows.

Basil in the top left corner. Hot peppers in the lower left corner. Sun Gold cherry tomatoes on the lower right- the sweetest cherry tomato you will find. The most popular cherry tomato David grows. In the middle is a variety of cherry tomato called Sun Cherry. It has a nice full tomato flavor, a little on the sweet side.

The New Amsterdam Market had a Tomato Fest event. A number of chefs had tables at the market and cooked a variety of dishes featuring tomatoes as a primary component. David was asked if he would be available to answer questions people might have about tomatoes. He took his role 'very' seriously.

The yellow tomatoes on the left are Garden Peach. A sweet, juicy tomato. Just pick it up and eat. In the middle are Red Zebra, sweet and flavorful. On the right are Eva Purple Ball- almost always perfectly formed with a nice fully balanced tomato flavor. 

Green zebras- adds a nice color to a salad. Has some sweetness on first bite with a little tartness later on.

On the right are mixed pints of cherry tomatoes- various colors, shapes and flavors. In the middle are Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries- This heirloom is not actually a cherry, but rather a small ground tomato. The fruits were recorded in horticultural literature as early as 1837 in Pennsylvania and are still common today at roadside stands in late summer. This outstanding Polish variety is prized for its clean flavor.  This tomato has pineapple and vanilla flavor.  Because of their high pectin count, they can be used for preserves, pies, over ice cream or in fresh fruit salads.(Slow Food USA - Ark of Taste)

Striped Germans- a delicious tomato with a fruity tomato flavor. As gorgeous inside as out.

Seeding for the coming season will be starting some time at the end of February. Seeding and tomatoes- things to look forward to. Happy and healthy eating to one and all.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Squash - Part 2

What follows are more pictures of the various winter squash that Z Food Farm sold at market this season.

Kabocha (green)- Has an exceptional naturally sweet flavor; even sweeter than butternut squash. Flesh is smooth, and good for baking, mashing, and pies.

Spaghetti Squash- These were a huge favorite this season. They can be baked either whole or cut in half prior to cooking (if cut, place face down in a baking dish with enough water to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 45 minutes. Turn squash over and cover with foil and bake for another 15 minutes). They can be boiled (Boil for half hour or so, depending on size. Pierce with a sharp knife.). And they can be microwaved (about 10-12 minutes then let stand 5 minutes. If using microwave make sure to pierce the flesh; like you would if you were baking or micro waving a potato).

Honey Nut- Tastes very similar to a butternut squash but is slightly sweeter. Great for those who want a smaller or individualized portion.

Acorn- Fibrous texture but with a nutty-sweet flavor.

Delicata- Very creamy flesh. Light and bright tasting. Excellent for stuffing and baking. Actually, most winter squash are excellent for a wide variety of dishes.

Kabocha (orange)- Basically, the same as the green kabocha above. Since all winter squash are able to be kept for a goodly amount of time, having both colors, and different varieties, makes for attractive decoration throughout the holiday season.

Sugar Dumplings- Think of them as round delicata. Nice sweet flesh.

Jack-O-Lanterns- One customer hollowed out the flesh and, using a Martha Stewart recipe, filled the cavity with broth and other goodies, put the whole thing in the oven and baked. The customer told us that the resulting soup was delicious.

Foreground- Pennsylvania Dutch Crook Neck- A popular 19th century Pennsylvania variety that is still grown in many Amish communities. Sometimes called "Neck Pumpkin" because of its long, flesh-filled neck. It kind of resembles a giant butternut squash with a very long neck; they can reach 20 lbs in size! The flesh is superb, being deep orange and richly flavored, making it so popular with Amish wives for making their delectable pumpkin pies, butters and other desserts. A favorite of ours and a good keeper. (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds).
Background- Dill's Atlantic Giant- The world's largest pumpkin variety!! One of David's topped out at about 80 pounds. The world record is slightly more than 2,000 pounds!!!! It's the great pumpkin Charlie Brown. Go to for more information about the amazing pumpkin.

Part of the display at the New Amsterdam Market.

Part of the display at the Rittenhouse Square Market.

Well, that's it for winter squash. Happy and healthy holiday season to one and all. May the coming year be full of fun eating! Peace, good health, and hopefulness to all.