Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Surprise... A New Co-Blogger!

As you probably already know, part of my mission at Homestead Revival is to pass along homesteading skills to the next generation. I'm gushing here just a bit, but I'm a proud momma at this moment, introducing my daughter, Kate, to the Homestead Revival crowd as my new co-blogger!

She'll be writing a weekly post, most likely on Wednesdays, and sharing from her own homesteading and farming experience. And oh, yes! Does she have experience!

Kate has spent plenty of time around farming, food, and even food distribution, including:

• several months in Indonesia working on an organic farm where they grew bok choy, broccoli, and other vegetables
• a local organic farm (see her first post below)
• an assistant to the chef at a latin American restaraunt (including large event catering)
• a site manager for a organic farm food distribution group (much like a CSA)
• she is my co-beekeeper, often tending them herself when I'm unable to
• and if I can let another cat out-of-the-bag here... she's headed to Virginia in December to visit Polyface Farm and the Salatin family for a couple of days (wish I could schlep her bag and go along!)

As an anthropology and journalism major, Kate is a fabulous cook, an avid reader, and a prolific writer. I think she's really looking forward to joining us... 

Welcome, Kate!


Growing Leafy Greens
By dawn most Tuesdays and Thursdays during the past summer, you could find me on my hands and knees in the middle of the "greens" field on the local farm where I work. Every six weeks we would rotate-in seven to ten more rows of lettuce, spinach, arugala, chard, and braising mix, so there would be a continuous harvest of greens from June to the end of October. 

Most can be harvested 1 - 2 cuttings per week for up to six weeks. After that the greens grow too tough to eat without cooking them to death.


Tangleweed Farm Lettuce Mix
Lettuce seems like an easy crop, but the leaves are as delicate as flowers and one good frost can take out six weeks of growth. It takes less than a week to germinate the tiny two-leafed seedlings which is best planted two weeks after the last frost.  Most commercial lettuce seed mixes use about fifty percent curly leaf which is more prolific than mint and really more of a filler since it doesn't pack as many nutrients as purple or green romaine. Beware though... too much of this copious plant and it can suffocate other varieties. On the other hand, it can stand up to just about any weather in summer, making it a farmer's favorite friend!

If you control the curly leaf in the seed mix by combining your own variaties, you can balance your crop for a nice harvest. If you use a standard lettuce mix, the best method to prevent an over abundance of curly leaf is to wait until the seedlings are about two inches tall and thin as you weed around the plants. Both of these things aerate the soil around your lettuce making it both stronger and healthier. 
You'll know the lettuce is ready to harvest when the greens are about three inches tall, unless you're growing head lettuce. It's easy to harvest by cutting an inch and a half above the soil line. Just remember with any green, never cut it when the ground is wet because the roots on greens are more delicate than a lot of other vegetables and if you cut when the ground is wet, you could lose the entire plant.

It will take a week in midsummer and two in the fall for the lettuce plant to grow back. As it does you will want to cut above the last line or it will not grow back right. In six weeks you will be able to taste the difference between the first cutting and the last cutting. 

My favorite tool to harvest any green is similar to a hand held sickle. The blade is about two inches long and curved at the top. For left handed gardeners, this can also double as a weeder because it is sharpened on both sides, so it flips over nicely. 


Spinach is one of the most versatile vegetables! You can use it in soups, salads, sauté it, cream it, and it freezes well, too. However, it's a bit trickier to grow in that the weather determines the flavor. Cold springs and early autumns grow the sweetest spinach because the cooler early morning temperatures trap the plant sugars in the leaves instead of making them grow larger or being used by the roots. The larger the spinach leaf the more fiber you will be eating, which is why baby spinach is the sweetest; it has less fiber. Like lettuce you can cut several times on the plant before it gets too tough to eat. My mom likes to grow the greens out after they are too tough for human consumption and harvest them to feed to our animals. I've noticed they like to see her coming! 

Chard, Arugala, and Braising Mix

Leafy Green Crops at Tangleweed Farm
Chard, like spinach, is good in almost anything and I think it's the most beautiful of all the leafy greens. Both at home and at work we grow orange, red, purple, yellow, and white stemmed variaties. For light sautés and eating in salads, you'll want to harvest it when it's about six inches tall leaving about two inches in base growth. At that point the stalk is edible and full of nutrients. When the leaves are anywhere from ten to twelve inches stores will harvest and bundle them for soups and quiches, while the larger chard is good for storage.

In my humble opinion, arugula is a royal pain. It's either too buggy or too small. It never grows back like you want it to or it grows so much that it turns the peppery green flavor into a bitter mess. The good thing about arugala... you'll easily know when it is no longer edible because the outer stalks get thick and prickly. Chicken feed for sure!

For some crazy reason people (like my Mom) love this peppery leaf... so we grow it on the farm and at home. It's  certainly resilient, but you have to make sure the plant is harvested clean of all it's leaves or instead of producing new tender growth, the old leaves will get thick, prickly, curling around the plant, making it more difficult for new leaves to develop. 

On the farm where I work we grow a special mix of greens (bok choy, arugala, and purple kale), perfect for sautéing and mixing with vegetables. We package them together because they compliment each other perfectly, bringing a wonderful array of flavors. In this mix, the arugula can outgrow the bok choy and kale, but by trimming the tops you can get an extra harvest of arugula. The goal with the combination is to keep everything the same size, so that the greens are proportionally mixed. 

There are so many more different types of leafy greens, but these are probably the most common in American cooking and they suit many of the nutritional needs we may have. The environment these greens grow in helps them develop specialized phytonutrients for the physiological needs of the people living there. Much like bees develop honey with antibodies for different allergies, greens are nourishing, full of everything that is good for you. So I hope you enjoy growing and eating plenty of local leafy greens this fall! 


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