Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food….

We’ve been waiting for the Wentworth Greenhouses to kick off the Winter Farmers’ Market because we were in the market for fresh cut Brussels sprouts for our Thanksgiving table. The Thanksgiving menu has been planned. We’ve pre-ordered our turkey, our Edwards Virginia ham is on the way, and now we need our vegetables. We’ve come to the right place……

I was startled by the first person I encountered as I crossed the parking lot. He was a jolly old fella who laughed when I asked for his photo. The Christmas Season was definitely not on my mind today…. but, hey, St. Nick must celebrate Thanksgiving, too.  He had a big bag of produce that he carefully loaded into his sleigh…. errr….trunk.

Farmers’ Markets are still somewhat new to me. At the entrance, I surveyed the marketplace. The scene reminded me a little of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The area was packed with hustle, bustle, buying and selling, but there was a big difference here. There were no agitated, impatient, loud folks in this room. Shoppers of all ages, adults and children, sampled wares, stood patiently in line, mingled, laughed and chatted with the growers. Sights, earthy aromas, and textures permeated the throughout. Everyone was having fun.

No, I did not sample the raw goat milk but I couldn’t pass up the goat milk soap!

The sign with the pastas listed such amazing flavors as herb pappardelle, spinach fettuccine, garlic scapes linguine, lemon basil linguine, potato chives casarecci, squid ink spaghettini and more. I would like to sample them all.

So after mingling, sampling, buying, connecting with the growers and admiring their wares for over an hour, we purchased our fresh Brussels sprouts and made our way to the car.  Thank you to Wentworth Greenhouses and Seacoast Eat Local for providing fresh from the farms for local folks and a day’s entertainment…. of foods, crafts and rooms full of festive Christmas plants and adornments. I swooned over the glorious winterberry (Ilex verticillata), my favorite holiday trimming.

California Farmer’s Market

Easter morning was spent browsing the wide variety and kaleidoscopic colors of fruits and vegetables at a neighborhood Farmer’s Market. Just wandering from booth to booth was a visual circus for the senses. A photo sampling of our adventure is much more desirable than words. We hope to see some of these wonderful vegetables in our own New Hampshire gardens before too long!

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Winter Farmers’ Market

We just arrived home from the Winter Farmers’ Market in Rollingsford NH. It was an indescribable experience so I’ll say it mostly with pictures.

Days are growing longer by almost 3 minutes a day, one of the farmers told me. Did you know that winter greens thrive on these lengthening days? We found plenty of greens at the market, such as different kales, lettuces, bok choy, and beet greens. We found carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash galore. There were also rudabagas and beets.

The mother and daughter team selling at this booth were bee keepers and vegetable growers. It is mainly a one woman operation with help from her daughter when she is home from school. This farmer said she worked from 9 am to 9 pm harvesting vegetables yesterday. We bought her honey.

I didn’t expect so much meat to be available. They offered organic beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Yes, mister gardener could not pass up the pork spare ribs and a few strip steaks.

Did you know that beans are one of the world’s oldest foods? I’d never seen such variety. Have you ever heard of Marfax, True Red Cranberry, or Yellow Eye beans? These beans are a lot fresher than the ones in the grocery store that could be years old.

Lengthening daylight also brings an abundance of eggs. Locally raised eggs are amazing, full of flavor and nutrition. The farmers were quick to tell me their chickens are treated humanely. I thought the colors of the eggs were gorgeous.

The eggs we ended up buying were quail eggs. This farmer raises 3 varieties of quail and was excited to talk about each. I wonder which one laid my eggs.

We evidenced cookies, doughnuts, granola (tasty samples). We could have had breakfast or lunch of cheeses, pastas, crepes, soup, milk, yogurt and a breakfast sandwich that looked hot and delicious. We settled on crepes…. savory with organic cheeses and herbs for mister gardener and, alas, Nutella for me.

There were many bread bakers and we love bread. We choose some whole wheat yeast rolls for dinner tonight.

Author Kathy Gunst was cooking up a storm and serving samples of several different recipes from her newest cookbook. Mister gardener loved the roasted root vegetable and lettuce salad but this bean dish was delicious, too.

“It’s an award winner,” the owner said as she handed us samples of her maple syrup. Couldn’t pass this up! Our bags were getting heavy: meats, cookbook, bread, honey, maple syrup (and candy), eggs.

Rugs, slippers, blankets, mittens, hand-dyed wool was all prepared by this happy farmer. She loves her craft and it shows.

Finally, we stopped to enjoy the music of MiKe & MiKe who now have Lily Hope sleeping through the entire show.  Mike Morris, guitarist and Heather Mike, fiddler, entertained the crowds with foot stomping high-energy folk music. What a treat!

Women Are Better….

… at choosing, arranging and tending to flower gardens, that is according to a 2011 poll by Roundup of 2,000 Brit gardeners.  Men agreed they were better suited for cutting the grass, looking after the vegetable garden, minding the patio and decking. They also admitted they were better at fixing and painting fences, digging and preparing the ornamental gardens beds, building a garden house or a greenhouse.

mister gardener's fence and vegetable garden

Women gardeners, on the other hand, acknowledged they were more skilled in the area of choosing plants, laying out the landscape plan and taking care of the flowers. They are more skilled at planting hanging baskets and choosing garden ornaments. Do you think the study would have the same results in the good old USA? According to ME, strengths in our gardens seem to be divided along these same lines.

Ann's playground

Whether men are better or not at gardening is irrelevant. I don’t think we are any better. I think they are just darn smart. Although the planning, buying and planting is great fun, it’s the weeding, trimming, deadheading that takes the most time. The Roundup survey found that tending the garden is the most consuming job with the average gal Brit spending about 9 hours a month making sure the garden is weed free, watered and trimmed. By the time I’ve filled three wheelbarrows with weeds and debris, mister gardener has finished his veggie garden maintenance, showered and sitting with a glass of wine watching me work.  Smart fella.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Farmers Markets

Tomatoes (USDA OPC)

Image via Wikipedia

We all love our farmers markets and we’re delighted to have an area market, the Williamsburg Farmers Market, voted as one of the top 3 medium-sized markets in the nation by their patrons in an American Farmland Trust contest. According to a recent New York Times article, there may be a glut of farmers markets in parts of the country and profits are shrinking as markets compete.  Are they reaching a saturation point?  Farmers markets in America grew by 17% in 2010 according to Bloomberg Business Week and have tripled since the mid-90′s according to the USDA. The New York Times states that 1,043 markets were established this year alone.

The glut may be more acute in larger populated areas like Seattle and San Francisco, perhaps with a marketing technique of a coffee shop on every corner. In Gloucester county, there are two official farmers markets and a number of other individual markets along our country roads touting vegetables, fruits, jellies and fresh-baked goods. To top it off, we now have Walmart vowing to double sales of locally grown produce. In Gloucester, they are carrying locally grown melons.

All this may be good for the customer who is looking for the best, the freshest, organically grown produce but what does this say about the future of farmers markets? Have the number of farmers markets outpaced demand? What do you think? Perhaps only the farmers can say for sure.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Happy Papa

Not only is it a very happy Father’s Day for mister gardener, it’s also a happy day as the proud papa of the first warm-from-the-sun juicy tomatoes harvested from the garden. Here’s a photo of the 2nd tomato. Sorry, I ate the first one. Ummmmm…..

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gardens, Gardens, Gardens in Virginia

After returning home from my trip, I hit the ground running trying to catch up with life. My gardens are a big priority and you can picture how any gardens will look after two weeks without care and attention. In addition to borders filled with weeds, the grounds were extremely parched. I decided this was the ideal time to assemble my new drip irrigation system.  Tedious, labor intensive and somewhat daunting, I spent hours and hours uncoiling 1/2″ tubing and attaching couplings and tees and plugs and 1/4″ tubing, elbows and micro-sprayers. Just learning the language was trouble enough. Mister gardener strolled out to watch me and seeing my water drenched and dirt covered body punching holes and attaching tubing, he suggested, “It might be better if you turned the water off until you’ve punched all the holes.”  “I’m testing the system….” I almost hissed in frustration. On a later visit, he suggested, “Don’t you think a soaker hose would be a lot easier?”  “No, I really don’t,” I snipped.  After 24 hours, the new drip system was finished. It is invisible to the eye and I expect that plants in that area will be much, much happier than their drier neighbors. I was beaming with pride and satisfaction.

Later mister gardener appeared in the kitchen with the most beautiful romaine lettuce I’ve seen in any grocery. “Is this from the garden?”

“Yep. Have you been down to see it since you’ve gotten home?”

“Well, I’ve glanced that way but didn’t get a good look inside,” I answered, stretching the truth a tiny bit. “Is it doing well?”

“Yep,” he answered. “I’m using a soaker hose this year.”

“Oh?”

click photos to enlarge

I know that since I’ve been home we have enjoyed the most succulent spinach and the most mouthwatering lettuce, sweet radishes, and tender onions in a variety of salads he has made. So the next morning, I grabbed my camera and walked down to the garden to get a good look. There among the lettuces, the tomatoes, the onions, the cabbage, the potatoes, etc. was the soaker hose that has fed and nourished plants through dry conditions the last two weeks.  I saw that the hose was carefully snaked around the vegetables and it was slowly squeezing out tiny beads of water like sweat accross a forehead.  The ground wasn’t puddled with moisture. It seemed to be absorbed slowly into the soil around the plants and it is working well. The plants are green, large and healthy. Well, well, well….  little did I realize that the soaker hose is also a very effective form of drip irrigation. There must be a tiny bit more evaporation with mister gardener’s soaker system but it’s a heck of a lot more efficient than the sprinklers we used last summer in every garden. Must I tell him he is right?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Twas…

It’s Christmas morning and the only creatures stirring are mister gardener and me.  Two sleeping offspring are still snug in their beds. Who knows if visions of anything dance in their heads?  The gifts are all wrapped and under the tree just waiting for chaos that will surely be.

All the early morning activity is taking place in the kitchen. The turkey is in the oven, the stuffing is made, and pies, cakes and Christmas candies are in nature’s deep freeze on the porch. Mister gardener has harvested all that he can from the winter garden.  Brussels sprouts and broccoli will be on the menu for a late afternoon meal served to 18 family members.

We are looking forward to a magical day. Here’s wishing you the best of the holiday season and an appreciation of  of the wonders of our natural world.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

mister gardener’s winter veggies

Mister gardener’s outdoor garden is growing but he grumbles that things are not going well.  He points out that the sun is lower in the sky and hidden behind the trees much of the day and his vegetables are ‘sun starved.’  So, while mister gardener was away for the day, I decided to take a peek at how his garden is progressing. From my point of view (the dinner table), I see nothing amiss with the vegetables that are harvested. We have eaten radishes, broccoli, arugula, curly kale, collards and we’re on hold for the cabbage, beets, and brussels sprouts. I’ll just have to see for myself if the garden is in trouble.

As one can see from these photos, I found mister gardener’s vegetables in fine shape. The radishes are numerous and very healthy.  The collards and arugula are growing vigorously and have been delicious on the dinner table.

broccoliradishes

curly kaleThe kale is thriving and lovely… but what’s this?  I see some telltale holes.  Could we be sharing our kale with visitors?  Yep, beneath the leaf are cross striped cabbage worms.  I wonder if mister gardener has noticed. I must let him know that garlic juice or red pepper powder have been shown to be effective organic controls for this little pest. Overall, except for the pokey brussels sprouts and beets, the winter veggies are flourishing.

cross striped cabbage wormsNow that he is not spending hours in the outdoor garden, mister gardener has prepared his annual hydroponic Aero herb garden right on the kitchen counter. For those who may not know about the Aero Garden, herbs or other plants are grown in water in a compact appliance with timed lighting and alerts when the plants need more water or nutrients.  This is mister gardener’s third year growing hydroponic herbs. You’d think a person who loves to work hard in the soil all summer might scoff at marjoramgrowing plants in water but he loves his fresh basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme and parsley. Plus, the handy little device does all the thinking for him. Once the herbs are depleted, he plants our favorite hydroponic vegetable: lettuce.  In no time we enjoy green leaf, red leaf, butternut and romaine on sandwiches and in salads.  In the spring, he will use the Aero Garden to start seeds for his REAL garden. Easy. Quiet. Fun. Tasty. Organic.  And it keeps him gardening for 12 months of the year.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Tomato Harvest

glorious tomatoesAhhhh… the August tomato.  This time of year brings us the most wonderful fruit of the season, the slightly sweet, slightly acidic, juicy tomato that tastes equally incredible with an ear of corn or on a tomato/mayo sandwich. All summer mister gardener has nurtured and cared for his tomatoes and it was time for The Great Harvest.

With tomatoes at their peak of ripeness, mister gardener turned to me over breakfast on Friday and announced, “I’m going to can today.”  Each year I am excited to hear this announcement.  It’s a process that takes two days from start to finish with aromas of onions, celery, and tomatoes permeating the house. It lifts your spirits and adds a bit of buoyancy to your step, much like the joy at Thanksgiving with bouquets of turkey and stuffing wafting throughout the home.

It is a labor of love for mister gardener but it is labor.  He must blanch and peel the tomatoes, clean, core and cut dozens and dozens up along with copious amounts of celery and onion and garlic and whatever else he uses in his family recipe.  Chop, chop, chop goes on for hours each day. It is a labor-intensive task that he has shared in with his family since childhood.  At the end of the process, he is able to put up about 12 quarts and 10 pints of stewed tomatoes that will go through the winter with us and last until the first ripe garden tomato of 2010.

stewed tomatoes: 8/29/09Left on the vine are green tomatoes. I’m going to push for a few fried green tomatoes that mister gardener can barely tolerate but I adore.  With what ripens in September, I will make half pints of tomato preserves.  My mouth is watering. It’s no wonder the tomato is the most popular and best loved garden vegetable in the USA.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester