As I took my last bite of dinner tonight, I was reminded of how very fortunate I am.
Sitting here in our air-conditioned home, with all of the conveniences that would seem normal to most.
Regularly, I remind myself that I have worked really hard to provide these things, so it’s ok to have them. And then out of nowhere my conscience takes over. I forget when I am surrounded by these everyday essentials that there are others who experience something very different.
Approximately one-fifth of our country lives with an insecurity of where their next meal will come from.
And all of the sudden, that beautiful plate of perfectly steamed farm fresh vegetables, takes on a completely different taste.
I will continue to share what I believe to be an important message and hope that even one more of you will be affected by my message.
If you haven’t done so already, please click on the picture to discover how you can help others in need.
After months of working with our marketing department and shopping different clothing manufacturers, the farm has decided to partner with Fruit of the Loom in designing our Summer T-Shirt Collection. The addition of the farms apparel line comes at a time when more than ever, our customers are asking how they can help the farm…welcome to the farmstand. We are really proud of the fresh new look! Our designs have been spotted all over San Antonio. Thank you to our loyal fans! Now’s your chance to be spotted. See#risingkalefarms on Instagram
The farm is a unique place with big plans for the future. For the past 4 years we have been developing our egg business. Thanks to all of you who support it, it’s thriving. But we don’t just do eggs. We are ready to start the construction of our first high tunnel greenhouse, where we will raise seasonal crops to take to market and distribute to local high-end, farm to table supporting restaurants. The profits from those sales will help change the dynamics of buying locally grown food, eating locally grown food, supporting small farmers who grow that food, and helping families in need change the way they eat and what they eat.
Why? Research has shown that an astounding numbers of families and children in our own community live without fresh food and vegetables as part of their diet, not because they aren’t available, but because they can’t afford them due of their financial situation.
So what does all this mean to you? When you place your order for your t-shirt, we will donate $5.00 to the 501 c-3 / non-profit side of our farm, known as Rising Kale Farms Community. That money will go directly to help feed disadvantaged families and children within the community. It’s simple. We think it’s a really smart way to help those in need. You can go here to order yours today!
What’s next? Kickstarter. You haven’t heard of it? It’s crowd sourced fundraising. When we go live in mid-July, we will launch a video telling the story of the farm. We’ll keep you posted!
Awhile back, I posted a story about my adventures into discovering the world of olives here in Texas. The idea of growing this little sphere of goodness really intrigued me…to the point that it became part of my business plan moving forward into 2017. I mean, I have the space…why not? I have done some trial planting in different areas on the farm and found success has been on my side. My hope was to transform between three and eight acres of wasted, scrubby land into a thriving orchard that would surely bring years of commerce to the farm.
Week #1: The real work behind growing olives is in progress. Behind all the research and my countless questions that I’ve asked about olive production in our part of the country, I have found most of the folks interested in farming this fruit to be helpful in sharing their knowledge, but none so helpful as my new friend Kevin. He is by far the hardest working, most intent on “doing it rightthe first time” guy, I’ve ever met. He has tracked down the machinery, travelled from his farm in Liberty Hill Texas to the farm with the machinery in tow on his 60′ trailer, and spent at least a week ripping and pulling every tree and scrub that stood in his way. “I’m going to treat this as if it were my own,” he said, as he plowed forward into the abyss of Mesquite from inside the cabin of his massive John Deere tractor. With thorny Mesquite you have to get the roots and all, or they will pop again in the next season.
Week #2: Rain…alot of rain!
Week #3: The tractors continue to clear. I know it’s only five acres, but until it’s really done, it is hard to imagine that this vast field of weeds and scrub will actually one day be an orchard.
Week #4: Delayed due to weather.
Week #5: Today the header pipe goes in. This will transport the water to the trees though emitters spaced every 24″ along the drip line. Fingers crossed!
Week #6: Delayed due to weather. “What is with all this rain?”Yikes!
Week #5: This should prove to be a very productive day. Kevin and his crew [Cody] have arrived and begun the final ploughing of the field. Now 6:00 pm…After a quick bite, back to the field they go to work through the night.
Week #6: Now complete…the orchard is ready to plant. Beginning this weekend, myself along with 6 shovel ready volunteers, we will begin the process of planting our first 200 trees!
I think it is fair to say that eggs are a big part of Rising Kale Farms. A very big part. With 165 chickens of varying breeds and 40 Pekin ducks, collecting eggs each day can be a daunting task. Ducks lay their eggs in the morning just before dawn, so collection happens around 7:30 or so. The chickens have been “trained” by light to do most of their egg laying after noon, so we generally collect them mid-afternoon.
When I starting keeping chickens, it was easy. Make sure they are fed…give them fresh water…collect the eggs. Simple. Then the flock grew. Not only in the amount of chickens that we kept, but the breed we chose for their specific color of egg. Then came the ducks. Of all the things that I had read, the one thing that really grabbed my interest was that the eggs were considered “gigantic.” Thank goodness for their size, or it might be impossible to find them each morning…as I may have mentioned before, duck tend to bury their eggs.
Now that everything is running smoothly, I’m ready to add to our brood. I’ve been doing some research on the little bird known as the quail. It seems common enough, but a very unlikely bird to raise for their eggs. Let’s face it, raising quail for eggs is the polar opposite of the eggs that I collect from the ducks. They are about the size of a large speckled marble. But, they are prized by chefs around the world, just because they are rare…at least in the food world.
I discovered that quail are nothing like chicken or duck in the way they are raised. If you are raising them for their eggs, you keep them somewhat confined to a small space. Yes, they are caged. They nest, breed and lay their eggs on the ground, which is instinctively where they feel the safest. It has been said that quail don’t really care to fly, however, quail will take flight if they absolutely have to, but they are more likely to scurry about on the ground. They can dart in and out of thick underbrush at speeds of up to 12-13 mph. If given room to fly in a small cage, they often will hit their heads on the top of the cage and hurt themselves, often losing consciousness. Yikes!
As for the humanity of raising quail, my plan is to follow what I believe to be the best way to treat these little creatures…as well as humanly possible for the 2-3 year lifespan that they have been given. I will feed them the best of grain and feed, which I plan on making from scratch. I will sprout rye, spelt and sunflower to give them daily with plenty of fresh water. They will enjoy lite jazz and opera, as do my other fine feathered friends. And, although they will be raised in cages, I will provide the recommended square footage per bird, in a safe, protected environment [my new barn] where they will have fresh air and sunshine streaming in through the windows at either end of the barn. I hope that you will follow along as we discover these little creatures and all of their characteristics.
The big egg dilemma: to wash or not to wash inevitably comes up every week at the farmers market. To some, it is simply a matter of preference and esthetics. Eggs we buy at the grocery store have been cleaned, sanitized and pasteurized by a heating process that renders them “safe” to eat and “free” of known bacteria. This means that they must be rapidly heated and then held at a specific required temperature for a specified time. This process is said to destroy Salmonella, but it does not cook the eggs or affect their color, flavor, nutritional value, or use.* These guidelines are set forth by the USDA and local governing agencies to insure your protection. For most, this is the only way they have ever bought eggs, so it is customary and normal. Some will argue that with this “pasteurizing” process comes the removal of flavor. It stands to reason that this is why a farm fresh egg tastes so different.
FACT:The egg shell is a porous surface, and one of the chemical properties of that surface is known as the “bloom.” It is a micro membrane that encompasses the egg shell, thus protecting the potential baby chicken or duck inside from exposure to germs. It is said that if the egg is exposed to cool or cold water, a vacuum action occurs, potentially pulling in bacteria that may come in contact with the shell, but, if heated, the contents expand inside the shell, also exposing it to potential bacteria.
As for those of you who choose to not wash your eggs, or those who prefer to not buy eggs that have been washed, due to a raw egg component of your diet…farm fresh eggs are perfectly fine to sit out on your kitchen counter for up to a month. However, after a couple of weeks, it has been said that their quality may have noticeably diminished more. If you choose to store them for longer periods of time, or if you are buying previously washed eggs, it is recommend that they are stored in a cool environment or refrigerated.
FACT:The best way to keep eggs from getting dirty or soiled is to keep their nesting boxes clean. The other is to collect the eggs often, which will prevent a brooding hen from sitting or sleeping on the eggs.
The big egg dilemma: to wash or not to wash. So what is the right way?
At the farm, we prefer to wash our eggs. One of the reasons is that dirty eggs are not easy to sell at the farmers market. The other reason is that ducks do not lay their eggs in a nesting box, rather they lay them on the ground and then proceed to bury their eggs. When we expose the pile of eggs in their makeshift nest, there are usually 12-15 eggs waiting for me to gather. However, that means that 11-15 other ducks have walked around and over them. When we collect them each morning, more times than not, they are buried deep beneath layers of dust and sand. For those reasons, we carefully wash them in our commercial egg washing machine.
If you have ever kept chickens or been around them when it rains, you soon learn that they do not like water. So the idea of giving one of your feathered friends a bath is bound to be a daunting task! On the other hand, giving the chickens a bath….using diatomaceous earth is safe, effective and potentially the most beneficial way to help them keep themselves clean. At first, I thought it was kind of strange that chickens would roll around in dirt and sand and consider themselves clean, but once your birds discover the abrasive dust, they can’t resist tossing their bodies around in it. Much like you or I having a body scrub, a dust bath helps rubs removes dead skin and dirt, it also smothers mites and lice that may be hiding out in a chicken’s plumage. The result: healthy chickens that look, feel and smell good.
In our run at the farm, we use a children’s wading pool. You could make a simple frame or box, depending on the amount of chickens you have. The simple fact that chickens treat this exercise as a kind of social event, I recommend that you provide a bathing area that is spacious enough to accommodate two or more birds at a time.
I mix equal parts of industrial sand [not play sand] with diatomaceous earth from the farm supply store. I refresh it every week to keep up with the depleted supply that they inevitably toss out of their dry pool. At the farm, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 birds trying to bath on a daily basis, so I keep plenty of both ingredients on hand. They see me coming with a fresh bag or two of sand and the diatomaceous earth, and they come running. It’s kind of like watching a beauty pageant with all of my girls getting ready for a strut down the runway!
As I said goodbye to my last client Nancy on Friday afternoon, she said, “Got big plans this weekend?” To which I proudly replied…“I have beeninvited to attend and sell my chicken and duck eggs at the New Braunfels Farmers Market on Saturday.”“Really?…she said. “I have never been to that market, how is it? Maybe I’ll drop by!” Well, she did. And by the time she reached my booth, she had homemade bread and baguettes from C’est La Vie Baking Company, vacuum packed pork shank from South Texas Heritage Pork who believes that happy healthy hogs produce exceptional pork, as well as a plastic bag of the most beautiful tomatoes and okra, I had ever seen from Peralta’s Farm. In perfect alignment with her desire to stay ahead of the aging process, I spied a tub of Hemp Facial Scrub in her bag from my new buddy Christopher, the owner at Hemp 360…who has a booth directly across from me in “producers row.”
You see, Nancy already buys my duck eggs at my day job…the salon, so even though she didn’t need to stock up, she found plenty of great things to fill her bag.
The day was a success! We sold out of 32 dozen duck eggs and all but a few dozen chicken eggs. Yay!
Prior to being part of the market in New Braunfels, I had this idea in my head that a farmers market was supposed to be about the farmer. I wasn’t interested in a bunch of art and coffee and soap. I wanted it to be about the farmer. The market not only opened my eyes, but my mind…to all of the possibilities. Being with people who just want to be part of the bigger picture is more than I could have asked for. The day was one that came so simply. One of welcoming your neighbor with a smile, a hot cup of coffee and a bar of soap to clean up with, after a long day.
As I pulled away with my signs and table neatly packed in the back of my truck, I felt like I may have a chance at being part of that bigger picture. One of sustainability, one of hope. My sincere thanks to Risa, who brought it all together and made sure that I had everything I needed to have a successful first market, and the countless vendors who made me feel like I was one of them!
Recently, I spent a day touring four different olive orchards in and around the state to see just how other growers got their start. My hope was to gain as much information as I could about the positives and negatives of growing this ancient fruit in Texas. From Sandy Oaks to Cotulla, I embarked on the opportunity to see first hand, the skill involved in the art of growing olives. What I discovered is that everyone who ventures this path continues to discover that there are high points of success and low valleys of learning associated with growing olives in Texas. From the horticulturally seasoned Sandy Winokur and her 230+ acre Sandy Oaks Olive Farm in Elmendorf, to the pair of young fellows, Steve Coffman and his brother-in-law Michael Paz, who single handedly took 140 of the reddest, sandiest acres in Cotulla, [Texana-Henrichson Ranch] and transformed it into a 80,000 tree work-in-progress olive farm.
I met alot of people that day. Some novice, some expert, but one couple in particular that I could actually relate to. Kevin and Melinda Knowles who live on a 40 acre slice of their family farm in Liberty Hill Texas, just outside of Austin. They also own a pretty cool food truck park in known as 5000 Burnet Road, in the center of Austin. They also have quite a bit more olive smarts than I do, that was very apparent, as we sat and talked about their experiences over dinner at the Blue Star Brewing Company the night before. But what I discovered, was that they wanted to share what they knew about growing olives in Texas, and that even though they were further ahead in their planning of their olive farm endeavor than I was, I could actually see myself in 4 or 5 years as a contender in the Texas olive business.
Alot of work will need to be done between now and then. First, the field needs to be stripped of it scrub trees. Next, the field will have to be disked and the soil will need to be amended. Although sulfur is a major component of the soil, in order to have future success in growing olives, we will need to get as much nitrogen back into the land, between now and planting. Next, will come the planting of a cover crop of sorts…most likely clover or winter rye. Then we will re-disk and turn the soil again to work the cover crop back into the soil, and to create berms, on which the trees will be planted. And so, this chapter in the journey begins.
Back in January the ducklings arrived, and since then we have discovered alot about ducks. They are messy, stinky, needy, loud and messy. Yes, I said messy again. Albeit they are much smarter than chickens, what they make up for in brains they lack in cleanliness! Forty ducks, as you might imagine can be messy. Their basic routine is eat, drink water at the same time you eat, swish the food around in your mouth, sit around, nap, poke your bill at things, poop, repeat. And as you may or may not know, they are very loud when the entire brace gets chatting. That is what they are called as a group.
Now that you have the basic idea of what it has been like since they arrived in late January, I will now describe in two words what my venture into the world of raising and keeping ducks has been… pure love. Yes they are messy…we have established that. But, when it comes to personality and overall cuteness, they win hands down in comparison to chickens. Before ordering the ducks I was led to believe that they were beyond adorable. They would follow you around like a shadow. I read somewhere that they would sit in your lap and cuddle. I also read that they were more like pets than most people understood. All of which are big fat lies! They do not want to sit in your lap, nor do they follow you around like a puppy. In fact, they go in the opposite direction that I am going. I go toward them, and they scamper the other way! I installed a six foot wide, 18″ deep galvanized tank for them to swim in, and they get in and splash most of the water out of it…pure love!
Anyway, since the new chickens had made it to their 10 week birthday, but still too young to integrate into the coop with the older chickens, I thought we should see how the girls got on with the ducks. To my surprise, everyone is pretty darn happy! The chickens are growing fast. In about 8 more weeks they will start to lay eggs. But something about the chickens being with them, has sped up the ovulation of the ducks egg laying cycle. Each afternoon when I arrive at the farm, my noisy brace of ducks seem to be saying “look papa, I layed another egg!” They are smaller than they will be when their systems are fully developed, but they are eggs…pure love.
Today is Sunday, January 17th. That’s right, January. The temperature made it up to 65 degrees. It was the perfect day for preparing the Spring garden. And, for the past two growing seasons, we have worked on this soil, known as “Houston Black” to improve its drainage and overall performance. For the Spring garden, we have about 5000 square feet of planting space, which will give us more than enough room to grow an abundance of market fresh vegetables. In the past I planted a lot of things that I wanted to grow, to see which will do well without our having to bring in truckloads of soil that has been made somewhere else, just to make this garden work. There are certain vegetables that seem interesting and all, but to this soil, are not made for its high sulfur content. What does do really well here is what will be on the list of available vegetables come Summer.
As we dig and turn the soil for the early Spring vegetables, we are deciding on the varieties of kale, broccoli, collards and chard, [considered Fall/Winter vegetables] mostly because they grow rapidly, and will do fine until the real heat of Summer kicks in. Once we see the heat of the soil has risen to the point when the tender young roots of tomatoes can survive, in they will go, with other Summertime favorites like squash, beans, and melons.
In addition, this year’s planting will include a whole host of herbs that are beneficial to the growth and development of the baby duckings. Basil, parsley, mint and dill, just to name a few.
So, while we wait the arrival of our transplants from our local grower, we will continue to work on the fodder system that will continue to provide our little babies with the added nutrients needed for health bone and skeletal growth.
It is hard to believe that it has already been four years that we have been keeping chickens! We made it through the infancy stage, the teenage months and the multitude of adjustments as they discovered their individual personalities and pecking order. We made our notes and documented the stages of their growth all the way to ovulation, and felt the overwhelming excitement and pride as the first of their eggs landed in the nest! Now it’s time to add to the sustainability of Rising Kale Farms with baby ducks. “What…?” and “Are you crazy?” have been the typical responses…and then after I explain that the plan is to raise them for their eggs, there is, “What do you do with a duck egg?”
Raising ducks will not only add a different dimension to the sights and sounds of the farm, but an added bonus with the beautiful eggs that will come in the next 20-25 weeks! Much like raising the hens, raising ducks will require a warm place with plenty of room to waddle about, fresh water, and fresh vitamin rich crumbles [15 to 16 percent crude protein] as their food source. Their bedding will be hay, lots of hay. And, they will need my full attention.
Considered a hardier bird than a chicken, ducks can grow to become an equally substantial part of the farm. From providing eggs [often considered a much more proficient layer of eggs than chickens] to feathers, raising ducks can be a rewarding endeavor. And, their manure will add a great source of increased fertility to the garden! As with the baby hens, the ducklings will be raised in the new barn at the farm. We will start them off in a 500 gallon galvanized water trough with heat lamps clamped to its sides to provide the necessary heat for the delicate little birds. As they grow, they will transition to the 10 x 15 foot open topped cages that were once the home to the baby goats.
As with chickens, attention to the correct lighting is a great consideration to ensure as they come into their time of laying, they are as productive as possible! [13 – 14 hours of natural or artificial light daily]
In answer to the question, “What do you do with a duck egg?”… you can eat them just like you would a chicken egg. Whether it’s hard boiled, deviled, scrambled, fried or poached, just think of them as a large chicken egg, only creamier. And, a duck egg also keeps it’s freshness longer than a chicken egg, with up to four months in the refrigerator!
In my research, there doesn’t seem to be too much concern raising ducks [temperature wise] with so few days that dip below the freezing point here in Texas. Their feathers and thick layers of down protecting their bodies, seem to be incredibly insulating and help protect the birds against any wet and cold.
Wish me luck…and check back to see the progress of the new birds. They arrive next week!
With everyone in urban America jumping on the backyard chicken bandwagon, I thought this might be a good time to bring to light the idea of supplementing your girls daily diet. Whether you are them feeding a costly, organic feed…or you are simply picking up a bag of Purina Layer Feed from the local Tractor Supply…what goes in has a big impact on what comes out.
With the winter months approaching here in Texas, the temperatures will drop to the point that everything living in the garden with the exception of the cold weather crops ends up dying back..which means little to no green supplements for the girls. Sometimes even a simple handful of green grass tossed in the run can change everything! So once again, we dust off shop lights, set the over-night timers on the heaters in the barn and stock up on our barley for sprouting, or what is referred to as fodder.
Food for Thought…setting up your fodder system is really pretty simple, and the reward that comes with feeding freshly sprouted grain to your girls will outweigh the effort in no time. Whether you use whole oats, rye, barley or wheat, [here’s where we buy ours] once sprouted, the fodder, should be fed whole…the greens, the sprouted seed and the roots…everything! In my experience [107 chickens and counting] Barley seems to be about the easiest of all of the grains to grow. Just like everything else the girls consume, attention is paid to the levels of nutrition they receive. Protein and fiber play a major role in their survival, as with humans. But monitoring the amount is what will aid in the production of a larger, creamier yolk. The use of barley in your fodder set-up will offer about 12-13% of protein, and about 5% percent of fiber, in seed form. [both of which will increase once you have taken time to sprout them]
It just makes sense…sprouted grain versus plain old grain is overall better for your little cluckkers.
Here’s the easiest way to set up a simple fodder system:
You’ll need two types of plastic bins. One for soaking the grain, and seven bins [one for each day of the week] with 1/8″ holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. I use bins that I bought at Home Depot that are 23″ long, by 16 ¼ wide, by 6″ high [with lids] Obviously, you do not have to use so many bins if you just have a few hens, but my crew will devour one days worth in no time, so I grow more. Start by turning one of the bins upside down and drill random drain holes in its bottom, and set aside. [this is known as your drain bin]
Step One: Fill one of the bins [no holes] with approximately 1/2″ of dry grain to cover the bottom of the bin adding enough water to cover seed. Let this soak overnight.
Step Two: The next day, dump the soaking seeds into one of the drain bin and allow to drain. Shake it around abit, leveling out the seeds and cover with lid. Lights out! [there is no need for light at this point, since there is nothing sprouting yet]
Step Three: Repeat steps 1 & 2 depending on how many chickens you plan to feed.
Reminder: For the next 6-10 days, depending on how fast your fodder grows, as well as what you choose to grow [with or without added light] each bin should be opened, sprayed with water, allowing excess water it to drain and re-covered [2 times daily] Once your sprouts are 2-3″ high the lids can be removed and exposure to natural light or artificial light will help in the growth.
: able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
: involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
: able to last or continue for a long time
With almost two years under my belt in the sustainability project, known as Rising Kale Farms, I have discovered that it’s a lot more than just dirt and water. It’s about timing…record keeping…patience…research…hard work, and money…lots of money. I have been incredibly fortunate to have the right people on my side. I have also learned what it is like to deal with absolute idiots who were never lucky enough to have the common sense most people have. I also now understand the meaning of good neighbors and the real value of having a strong pair of extra hands. I have become mindful that although I wear I watch, I don’t look at it much. And, I have discovered what the true meaning of sweat is, and I revel in the consciousness of accomplishment that comes with it. Everyday, after putting in a full day at work, I head to the farm to do my chores and gather the eggs. Along the way, I discover yet another project that needs my attention and my brain starts spinning. As we move into the cooler weather, the Fall/Winter garden will be planted for market, the pond will be stocked with fish and the baby ducklings will find their new home in the barn. I hope that you’ll follow along on my journey.
There must have been something on the news last night that I missed about the benefits of eating broccoli and kale greens, because when I sat down in front of my computer this morning, in addition to receiving the usual orders from my customers for their weekly eggs, my inbox order form was inundated with well over 20 orders for both of the fore mentioned vegetables. Yikes! Then it hit me…there are quite a few folks out there who have no idea when certain vegetables are actually in season and available locally. So I have put together this handy seasonal planting guide that will help those of you who plan to plant a Fall garden this season, or a Spring garden next year. The list will also benefit those of you who do not, or cannot plant a backyard garden, and choose otherwise to buy your produce from a local source.
In addition to the year round [multi-season] vegetables like, beans, lettuce, parsley, peas, peppers and various squash…the items listed below are seasonally available based on cool weather and warm weather conditions.
Three simple words that say so much, especially in a day and age that knowing where our food comes from is as important as what we eat!
Now 18 months in the making, the sustainability project, known as Rising Kale Farms is continuing to make its mark on the local community in so many ways…thanks to you!
At an all time high head count of 108, the chicken population at the farm is testimony that if treated humanly, and with concern…a chicken can live a healthy, vibrant life.
Our hens are protected from territorial preditors such as hawks and raccoons in condo-style dual barns, with 24 hour accessibility to the outdoors, fresh air and sunshine. Misters overhead if they get too hot in this Texas heat, and indoor-outdoor fans keep a cool breeze blowing ’round the clock.
They are fed a diet rich in nutrients to include fresh seasonal greens and root crops grown especially for them. In addition, the girls who rule the roost, keep entertained for hours with things like the bouncing cabbageand the Summertime favorite, theice block challenge, a big mixing bowl mold that we fill with whole kernal corn, hominy, fruit cocktail or green beans. We add water and then freeze it. The girls and the few roosters we have love to peck away until they reach the morsels hidden within the ice. Plus, it keeps them cool during these seaonably high temperatures.
I started growing eggplant about 5 years ago in my home garden simply because it was a hardy, fool-proof vegetable that come mid-July put out “fruit” until the weather turned cool in early November. The problem was, no one in our house liked it except for me. I was giving away bushel baskets as fast as it would grow. “That’s it,” I thought...”no more eggplant!” Then I found myself reading this book called Eating on the Wild Side and discovered that what I grew each season should have something to do with what the vegetable can do for my body, not just my tastebuds!
So, at the beginning of this Spring, right about April 1st, I planted 2 flats  plants of Ping Tung Eggplant. It happens to be one of the most prolific eggplants that I’ve ever grown. Once it puts on its fruit it is fully developed and ready to pick within the week if not sooner. I have discovered that most who don’t like eggplant just don’t know what to do with it.One of the easiest ways to prepare it is to roast it. I cut it up into chunks and drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with sea salt or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, place it on a cookie sheet and roast it for about 10-12 minutes @ 400 degrees. Easy. But just as important as how it tastes, is what it does for your body…
Heart Health: The antioxidants discovered in eggplant have been linked to indicators that tell us they can decrease the risk of heart disease. Yay!
Fiber: If you combine the flesh with the skin of eggplant, you practically double the amount of fiber intake, based on your daily unit requirement of about 10%.
Bone Strengthening: Major players in bone strength are manganese, potassium, magnesium and copper. Guess where you can find them? Eggplant!
Weight Loss: Of course, when fiber is present, so is fullness. The combination of Vitamin B that is present in the eggplant with the natural fiber can add to significant weight loss.
Cancer Prevention/Antioxidants Performance: Eggplant are a fantastic resource of the phytochemical known as BEC5, which is believed to kill various cancer cells without harming the healthy cells in your body.
Vitamin B1, B3 and B6: Eggplant is rich in all the B vitamins which play a vital part role in the proper function of the central nervous system, energy production, hormone balance and healthy liver function. In addition, eggplant are incredible for playing a balancing act with blood sugar and can effectively reduce cholesterol.
Get Brainy: Eggplant contain an antioxidant group known as an anthocyanin, which plays a major role in brain function. The direct link is on nasunin which aids in neutralizing free radicals, making it an excellent anti-aging phytonutrient.
Over the years, I have grown several different types of hot peppers, but none so powerful as the almighty habanero. With its combined shape and incredible color vibrancy, the almighty habanero packs quite a punch! Weighing in at between 100,00 and 600,000 on the Scoville scale, habanero peppers are prized for their ability to make a salsa sing, your favorite chili recipe punch its way from five alarm to six, or your homemade barbeque sauce take control of your grilled meats. By the way…the Scoville scale is the recognized method used today to gauge the intensity level of what makes a pepper hot, it capsicum or spiciness. As with most chili peppers, you can greatly reduce the intensity of its heat by removing the seeds.
Growing habanero peppers is really pretty easy. You just have to give them plenty of sun, well drained soil, and as with most vegetables, you have to water them. The almighty habanero loves the morning sun, and a slightly acidic soil. So be mindful when planting these powerful peppers to monitor your soil when creating the ultimate growing environment.
With more than 18 varieties of habanero peppers being grown around the world, [and counting] the heat that the pepper produces will range from variety to variety. As for the old myth of its color being directly related to its heat properties…you can disregard that one, it’s a myth. Want to grow some? Visit one of my favorite sites to start them from seed next season!
This year’s Summer garden at Rising Kale Farms is chocked full of test vegetables. You see, the soil which is known as “Houston Black” is rich is both sulfur and nitrogen. We discovered that the Fall/Winter garden last year did phenomenally well with the temperatures staying between 50 and 65 degrees, allowing the soil to maintain an even richness perfect for broccoli, kale, kohlrabi and other cruciferous vegetables. But for the Summer crop, the soil changes with heat. The components of the soil seems to be more obvious…somehow more alive than that of the cooler weather. So we are testing different varieties of vegetables for endurance, not only to the heat factor, but the soil factor. One such vegetable that has earned high marks is the Costoluto Genovese Tomato.
The Costoluto Genovese Tomato is classified as an old-world indeterminate Italian heirloom type of fruit, recognized for its fluted shape that has been around since early in the 19th century. It has become increasingly more popular with chefs around the country, prized for being unusual enough to catch the eye and tastebuds of farmers and restaurant foodies alike.
This variety is a standard in Italy for both fresh eating and preserving; known for its intensely flavorful, deep red flesh. Although the tomatoes can also taste different from year to year, based on climate, growing conditions and soil, the Costoluto Genovese Tomato has a soft texture, abundantly juicy and has a slightly tart taste, brought to life by the tomatoes acid content.
As for its growing preferences, it does well in rich garden soil, and of course as with all tomatoes…full sun. It will grow all season long and will produce best when staked or trellised.
With so much attention being focused on what we eat nowadays, the question is…should you be more concerned with buying local versus organic? For many years, both the large and small farmers and market gardeners around the world have found themselves face to face with the question of whether or not to move in the direction of organic certification. The biggest hurdle is the cost involved with becoming and partnering with the USDA. As consumers, our beliefs and convictions regarding what we eat and what we buy have been influenced by the media. Extensive research into the potential health risks and benefits of both sides of the argument, have guided many of us in the direction of what we choose to believe in. Of course, no one wants to eat or feed their families chemicals, but the facts put forth are often “dressed up” to appear solid, when in all actuality they are speculations at best, substantiated by large company spending. Your choice as a consumer to determine what’s right for you and your family is just that….your choice.
Recently I was our local grocery store, and was snooping around the organic section of the produce department. Then it hit me…Something is very wrong and something has got to change! We live in one of the greatest states in the nation, with more farm land than most other states could even dream of having. We have year-round growing opportunities that allow us to have the most abundant supply of fruits and vegetables of anywhere in the world. And we are importing from…where? As I snapped a few pictures for this article I wanted to pose the question of what you really want when it comes to choice…local versus organic.
This article is not to imply that eating foods from other countries is a bad thing, but then why are we told not drink the water when we vacation in Mexico, or are we warned to not eat the fruit in Nicaragua because of health risks? Why are we so afraid of the potential health risks, yet are quick to scoop up a bag full of apples from Argentina…or a pound of tomatoes from Mexico, just because they claim to be organic?
After being witness to the California oil spill of the late 1960’s, Senator Gaylord Nelson, recognized a immediate need for increasing public awareness about protecting our environment, starting with air and water conditions…better known as “pollution.” His belief was that we needed, as a nation to be taught about the environment, and the ways in which we could protect it for generations to come. The repercussions resulted in a national day of awareness known as Earth Day. On the 22nd of April, 1970, streets and parks across the country were jam packed with environmentalists, rallying for the common good: to create a sustainable environment through shared awareness.
Today, some forty five years later, we have seen monumental changes due to Earth Day awareness like the formation of the U.S. EPA, as well as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. As one of record, Earth Day has become the largest global force supported by more people than any other traditional non-holiday.
So, what can you do this Earth Day? Create awareness…get involved in your local recycling program…be more cognizant of your use or overuse of water…volunteer to pick up rubbish alongside your local roadway…anything that involves protecting the environment!
For some backyard gardeners and small plot farmers it may seem a little late to get the Summer garden planted at the end of April, especially here in the south…but the transplants just arrived two weeks ago. Due to a very wet Spring, I have been at the mercy of the organic grower where I purchase my transplants. With tomatoes now in the ground, I will spend the upcoming weekend dedicated to building tomato cages…what I mean by that is, that my farmhand Andrei will be building them! The varieties that I have planted include Black Prince, San Marzano and Costoluto Genovese, all are known as indeterminate tomatoes. [ones that will bear fruit throughout the season, versus determinate tomatoes that produce tomatoes all at once, and then die]
There are so many ways to support a tomato plant, from a simple wooden stake to a store bought tomato cage…I have tried them all. The problem with deciding on the right support structure, is that so many of the newer varieties of tomatoes can bear so much fruit, if they are grown properly and with the right care, that the support system usually ends up not being strong enough to do its job. Result: tomatoes that drag the ground and become susceptible to all sorts of diseases and pests.
After researching everything out there on the internet about building tomato cages, I discovered that some very common components found at the big box stores will give me the chance to provide the right support to my newly planted tomatoes. First, we’ll start with a role of welded wire steel mesh that is used for foundations and slab work. It sells for around $100.00 for a 150 foot roll, that measures five feet tall. From each roll, we can make 25 cages. The openings in the mesh are 6″ square. So what we will do is cut a 6′ long piece [12 squares] and allow it to roll onto itself to make a 2 foot across-by 5 foot tower. It will be secured together with the loose edge that we cut it from the original roll. The bottom edge will be cut to allow 6″ prongs [like a traditional tomato cage] which will act as support in the ground. Once in place, we will give each cage added strength by placing a 4 foot length of ⅜” rebar. [one on each side, tied to the cage with gardeners twine or jute]
Check back later this season to see the progress and the final support of this weekends project: building tomato cages
By now you can see a theme running throughout the pages of this story…right? Yes it’s kale. I mean, I guess that some might say that I am obsessed. I really not, I just realize the potential behind the goodness of each and every leaf I eat. So, I grow it. And, when you have 6-100 foot rows of kale…you better have a plan on what you’re going to do with it when it’s time for harvest!
Recently, I discovered that making kale pesto was a delicious alternative to the traditional basil pesto. In addition to the obvious similarities of both being green, and that both types are loaded with garlic…both basil and kale contain incredible vitamin compounds that are proven to have intense disease fighting properties. Some of the most notable nutrients that link them both together are beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin A, potassium and manganese. So in addition to the preparation possibilities and outstanding unique flavors of both basil and kale, rest assured you are getting a powerful bunch of goodness!
Instead of the commonly used pignoli nuts, I opt for the nuttiness of pistachios, or sometimes cashews. Of course garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese are essential in making any pesto. I also add a good solid squeeze for fresh lemon juice after I zest the entire lemon into the batch, just to add a little zing. Hope that you’ll try this the next time you reach for that kale at the farmers market!
"a delicious alternative to traditional basil pesto"
Place lightly chopped kale and garlic in bowl of food processor. While in pulse mode, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Next add zest, lemon juice, pistachios and parmesan cheese. Pulse until desired consistency.