Archive for the 'Crops' Category

It’s guava season

Guava (Guayaba in Spanish)guavas

– is a delightfully fragrant fruit, revered and hated throughout the world. I love its smell and taste so much I can’t imagine hating it, though I know some folks don’t like their smell.

Here in South Florida, commercial plantings are typically of big-fruited Asian varieties, harvested and eaten green. At this stage, they are crunchy like an apple, without much aroma, and often eaten with salt and a sprinkle of hot pepper – much like a green mango. However, there are many other varieties, and a few growers grow them for ripe eating. There are some closely-guarded groves with old-fashioned types, considered to have the most flavor. Many years ago, guavas escaped into the wild – thus they are classified as invasive and not recommended for planting here. Not that there’s much wild left here…

Wild guavas exhibit a lot of variability. They could be small or large-fruited, oval, round or even pear-shaped, with creamy white, yellow, orange, pink or red interior, and they vary from subacid to sweet in flavor.

No matter what kind of guava you grow, though, in South Florida we have a terrible problem with fruit flies. Often, by the time the fruit ripens, they are completely infested with squirming larva that hatch in the center pulp and eat their way out.Ripening is what triggers the hatching.  Many growers spray pesticides, and also bag the fruit in a cloth or plastic bag to prevent the fly from laying eggs in the fruit. When you see a field full of “bag trees” – think guavas!

Guavas can produce multiple crops throughout the year, with a heavy crop in late summer and often a light crop around December. It’s guava season now, and it’s time to take advantage of the bounty.

What to make with the windfall? First, harvest them just before they start to turn soft and yellow. This will minimize the hatching and development of fruit fly larva inside the fruit. The eggs will still be there, and maybe some young ‘uns, but as I like to say, “it’s 33% protein”. When harvested early, they’re confined to the seedy pulp, which can still be processed to make jam, guava butter, juice, and other delicious things. Why can you do this? because the seeds are so hard you’ll end up straining the seeds out, along with the buggies, leaving delicious pulp. But if you’re a die-hard vegan, stay away, because there will always be some tiny eggs slipping through and even some tiny larva, all completely harmless. Squeamish? get over it, and you’ll enjoy much deliciousness.

My favorite way to deal with guavas is to make “Cascos de Guayaba” with the shells, and guava butter with the pulp. They’re both very easy to make. Sometimes I get inspired and make guava leather with the pulp (heavenly, with some cinnamon and hot pepper). You can also make juice with the strained pulp.

Cascos de Guayaba  aka Guava Shells guava-shells

(and bonus pulp for other recipes)

  • Wash a bunch of guavas (as many as you’d like to use).
  • Remove any left-over sepals sticking out from the end of the fruit and lightly trim off the rough end.
  • Cut each guava in half. Using a spoon, remove the inside seedy pulp, taking care not to dig into the shells. (Set the seedy pulp aside for guava marmalade, guava butter, or even juice.)
  • In a deep saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil. The amount of sugar you use depends on how sweet and thick you want the end result. You can make a light syrup or a heavy syrup, to taste. Add a stick of cinnamon, and (optional) 3 or 4 pieces of star anise. Also optional: the juice of 1 lemon or lime, and a very small pinch of salt.
  • When the syrup is boiling, cook the guava shells in batches. Don’t overfilll the pan, so you don’t damage the shells as they cook. The longer they cook, the softer and darker they will get. Again, this is to taste, so play until you like the results.
  • Carefully remove the cooked shells from the boiling syrup and put them in a bowl or a jar. Repeat, until you’ve finished cooking all the guavas. Pour the syrup over the cooked shells, and cool.
  • Serve chilled, with a dollop of cream cheese (the traditional Cuban way), drizzled with some of the syrup. Save the extra syrup to use on pancakes or angel-food cake, or use as a deliciously-flavored sweetener.

What to do with the seedy pulp you saved?

If you have a macerating juicer (the kind with an Archimedean screw (it looks like a long corkscrew), it works great to separate the pulp from the seeds before cooking. Dump the seeds – they are really hard, and do NOT soften in cooking. If you don’t have one of these handy devices, don’t despair.
  • Cook the pulp (with or without the seeds) in enough water to encourage the pulp to separate from the seeds. If making guava butter or leather, don’t add a ton of water, or you’ll be stirring it for hours while all that extra water evaporates.
  • When it’s sufficiently soft, strain the seeds out and save the pulp. I like to extract every last scrap of pulp, so I will often pour a bit of water through the strainer and scrape the strainer to get more of the goodies. Be careful, though – too much scraping and you might push some seeds through.
  • Sweeten to taste (you need less than you think, because as the water evaporates it will concentrate the sweetening power). If you feel the need, look up an apple butter or a jam recipe to get an idea of amount of sugar to use per cup of pulp. I always cut it to half of what the recipes say, but that’s me – I don’t like super sickly sweet jams.
  • Add a bit of lime juice (optional). If have a lot of syrup left over from the guava shells, you can use it in place of some of the water and sugar.
  • You don’t need pectin with guava, as they have their own.
  • Cook slowly, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Start with a medium heat, then lower the temperature as it thickens, so it doesn’t burp in your face.
  • For apple butter, you need it thick enough that it will spread on a slice of toast without being runny. You can keep going, and make jam or marmalade. In that case, use a thermometer, or use the “sheet test” – scoop up a spoonful and slowly let it drip off the side of the spoon. If it comes off in a curtain or a sheet instead of pouring off in drips, it’s ready. Pour it into a jar, cap, let cool and refrigerate. If you want to keep it shelf-stable, then run it in a canner (canner).

Fruit leather

If you want to make fruit leather, you’ll need a dehydrator, with silicone trays or sheets. Cook it to the butter stage, then spread it out on the trays – not too thick, as it will run off the edges. Dehydrate at 115 – 130, rotating trays if necessary, until it’s leathery. Roll them off the sheets, cut the rolls into 2″ sections and wrap indivirually in wax paper. Store in a ziploc bag. To prevent spoilage due to our high humidity, I like to keep my dried fruit in the refrigerator. It lasts indefinitely that way.

Juice

For guava juice or nectar, it’s best to have a macerating juicer, so you don’t have to deal with the seeds. You can also use a blender, adding water first. Pulse a few times. Don’t blend too long, or you will break up the seeds into tiny shards that will make your juice “sandy”. Strain the liquid, using a wooden spoon to stir the glob inside the strainer. Pour more water into the strainer to help extract more of the pulp from the seeds. Repeat a few times. Throw out the seeds.
Add more water to the pulp and sugar to taste, or sweeten with some of the syrup from the guava shells you made earlier. Chill and drink. Stir before serving.
Enjoy!

Tomato Madness – peak of the season

Heirloom tomatoes at season's peak

Heirloom tomatoes at season’s peak

With names like Podland Pink, Gold Medal, Black Cherry, Opalka, Green Grape, Zelta Gaelis, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Lime Green Salad, Cherokee Purple, Homestead 24, Chocolate Stripes….my mouth waters when I gaze upon these beauties. It’s peak of season for these old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes. We have over 60 varieties planted out on the farm – many of our tried and true favorites, and always a few new ones to explore.

Come to our booth at the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers market tomorrow (9-3). Buy yourself an assortment. Enjoy the amazing variety of colors, sizes, shapes and flavors. Take note of which ones you’d like to grow for yourself next fall. We’ll be selling the starts in October at our second annual GrowFest! event at the Redland Fruit & Spice Park.

In the meantime, munch upon these yummy jewels now, because pretty soon they’ll be done for the season.

See you at the market!

…around the farm the past few weeks

Preparing the rows for planting – after we form the beds with the tractor, we add fertilizer and level off the tops. If our soil was a couple of inches deeper, the bedder attachment would have done this for us – it almost does it in some of the deeper soil areas (6″-8″ mounded). Pretty good for our “shallow, Krome gravelly soils”, as the USGS labels them.

IMG_5486Here I’m documenting what’s being planted in the rows. This is good farming practice, and is required recordkeeping for organic certification. Why? These kinds of records allow the farmer to keep track of what’s planted where, so s/he can maintain a rotation plan for the crops, helping to keep crop-specific pests and diseases minimized, and prevent excessive soil nutrient depletion.
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The baby Lacinato Kale plants are coming right along, with their drip irrigation delivering water right to the root zone of the plant, where it is needed.

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These D’Avignon French Breakfast radishes are popping out of the ground, ready to be harvested. Yummy!

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Just a few weeks later, here’s those kale plants last week, nearly ready for first harvest as bunches. Look for some at the market on Sunday, and soon in the CSA shares.

IMG_5955farm pictures courtesy of Marian Wertlka-RedlandRambles.com

 

…aaaand, we’re BACK!

After a dormancy approaching 2 years (really? really!! time flies!), I realized it’s time to crank up this blog again – just in time for the new season.  We didn’t REALLY fall off the face of the earth. We’ve continued to send out emails, and have been active on Facebook, with some Tweeting thrown in from time to time, but I know that a number of our fans don’t “do” Facebook, not everyone is on our email list, and many don’t appreciate being bombarded with constant emails. So, I’m brushing off the rust, oiling the gears…ready to blog it!

Lots of things have happened in the intervening months. It’s the cycle of  life on a farm – preparing, planting crops, weeding, harvesting, selling, delivering, removing, recharging, then starting all over again. And in between each one, there’s weeding, dealing with unexpected stuff – sometimes good, sometimes not – more weeding, and in the summer, mowing and mowing and mowing – oh, and weeding! Then somewhere in the mix, throw in a crop of baby chicks to replenish the flock, after decimation by coyote and feral dogs… yep, life on the farm is NEVER boring.

Bee Heaven Farm collage

Last year on the farm

We saw new markets start, and others die out. The Homestead Market at Losner Park and the Overtown Market on 10th Street did not return in 2011-2012, and were sorely missed. But the slightly less hectic pace let us concentrate on the Pinecrest Gardens Green Market, where we had a great season. We’ll be back in Pinecrest in December.

Last year we started using Farmigo’s  CSA software system. We’ve fully automated our CSA enrollment process and are now able to offer more flexibility with share options and payment plans. In the summertime, when the CSA isn’t running and we don’t sell at the farmers market, we’ve always had a prepaid system (open to anyone) to order seasonal summer items – mainly tropical fruit. We implemented Farmigo’s webstore functions for this, and expanded our summer pickup locations to include the Upper Eastside Market, where our more northerly customers could pick up their orders without having to schlep down to Joanna’s Marketplace in the Dadeland area or to the farm in Redland. That’s worked out really well!

Our CSA options expanded last year, with the discovery of locally-grown Sem-Chi certified organic rice right in the Clewiston area barely 100 miles from the farm, and the debut of local salt farmers Midge & Tom with their Florida Keys Sea Salt. As more local organic (or pesticide-free) producers come online, we continue to develop additional stability and more variety in the shares.  We’re always looking for new crops, too. We have an amazing opportunity in South Florida to explore tropical food crops not available in the rest of mainland USA, and we’re all about that! Of course, Mother Nature always has the last word.

…see you around!

Transitioning

Summer’s muggy heat is easing up. Fall is here. You can feel a certain coolness in the evenings now. We’re definitely transitioning from summer in to fall, the start of our winter growing season.

It’s time to dig! …well, figuratively speaking, that is, if you’re in the “Krome Gravelly Soils”, as the USGS euphemistically classifies our solid limestone rock base, with its light dusting of soil on top.

Large commercial farms, and some small farms, hire the services of a ‘rock plow’  to break up the rock and release the soil trapped in the many pores characteristic of limestone. The rock plow is a big yellow bulldozer, specially equipped with a big solid steel ‘plow tip’. It’s mounted on the front of the machine. The plow is run repeatedly back and forth across a field, each time ‘slicing’ and breaking up a thin layer of rock and loosing the soil to a depth of about 6 or 8 inches. This becomes the planting media for the year’s crops. Many growers repeat this process every year or two. The rock plow was patented in 1943 by two local growers – check out the patent record here.

Unlike organic growers, chemical growers treat the land not as living soil, but as a substrate to hold plant roots, expecting to add everything the plant needs for survival. This is because limestone is alkaline (has a high pH), and plant nutrients are more tightly bound in the soil and not as readily available to plants. This is where organic matter, microorganisms, and the soil chemistry immediately around the plant’s root hairs comes into play.

One of the basic tenets of an organic farm is nurturing the life of the soil. So organic farmers use techniques such as composting and cover crops to help build organic matter and provide a good environment for soil microorganisms to flourish. In a healthy soil, the ‘bad’ bugs and fungi are kept under control by ‘good’ bugs and fungi, in a natural balance. This also helps maintain more acidic conditions in the immediate area around the plant’s root hairs, where all the nutrient absortion action takes place.

A good compost pile goes a long way toward recycling nutrients, reducing the size of our landfill, and buildingup soil health. This process can go on year-round. Cover crops are used with several goals – reducing weeds during the off-season, building up organic matter, and, depending or the cover crop used, reducing some pests and diseases.

Here in South Florida, we don’t grow many vegetable crops in the summer. Heck, we don’t even want to be outdoors much in the summer (except maybe at the beach). It gets pretty grueling out there in mid-summer. Although some things grow well in summertime, like okra, cowpeas and their relatives, and bitter melon, to name a few, most of the common food crops we like to eat will not. Cover crops are the perfect solution, and at Bee Heaven Farm we take full advantage of them.

So, having sowed our SudeX sorghum-sudangrass hybrid cover crop seed back in June, we sat back (not really – we were busy with our avocado crop, catching up on paperwork and other sundy tasks). After a false start & reseeding due to a period of no rain, it grew to about 6 feet tall. Then it was time to mow it down and till it in.

But wait! The rains were in full summer monsoon mode. The soils were completely saturated. You can’t work the soil when it’s in that condition, or you will kill the soil life and destroy its structure (tilth – see last year’s post). So we waited, increasingly anxoiusly, until we had 3 days with no rain. Luckily, these same limestone soils drain very well, and finally, this past weekend, we were able to mow the cover crop down. We finished tilling yesterday. Now we wait for a week or so, to allow weed seeds to germinate. Then we’ll till one more time, form up the beds, put in the irrigation, and plant them seeds!

In the meantime, we’re preparing the plant starts, for transplanting and for our annual heirloom tomato starts sale at FTG’s Edible Garden Festival October 23-24. See you there!

February 28th Market Details

I’ve been meaning to do a post about our farmer’s market on Sundays. This week I was finally inspired by the beautiful weather as well as by the colors and freshness of the produce. All of these pictures where taken in the early morning either as we were setting up or shortly after.

The variety of radishes is what got me started. From left to right: French Breakfast, a mild and almost sweet radish, Purple Plum, another mild and sweet variety, Daikon, a sharp Japanese radish commonly used in pickling and Red Round, a classic mild variety.

Rainbow Chard is always a favorite of mine. I really enjoy harvesting it and making bunches with the saturated jewel tone stems.

Red Potatoes and Heirloom Beans, a couple of staples at our stand. The beans were damaged by the frost, but certain varieties have recovered better than others so we have been able to bring a small quantity every Sunday; they sell out fast!

Whenever we can bring Paradise Farms’ Oyster Mushrooms, we do, because they are beautiful, succulent and fresh.

If you like tartness you should try these pints of little Tangerines. This tree on the farm is a favorite pit stop for us when we’re working as well as for farm tours. I love the fruit and I love the smell of the flowers even more which resemble Orange blossoms.

Canistel is another staple at our stand. When I walk the market I’ve never seen any other vendor selling this fruit. I consider it a pride of South Florida because the trees grow and produce abundantly down here and the fruits are uniquely delicious. I find their culinary versatility very interesting and fun to play with.

For the past two weeks we have been able to bring quarts of Loquats (for an amazing price of $3.00 each!). A friend and CSA memeber, Steve, has a 15 acre grove which just got certified organic of mostly Lychees and other fruit trees. He has been calling us over to pick the hundreds of perfectly ripe Loquats and we’ve been going! This item is a real treat, hopefully it lasts a couple more weeks.

Last, but not least, I’d like to mention our bouquets. They change from week to week based on what’s blooming on the farm. Lately I’ve been using a lot of Amaranth, which is a deep burgundy panicle that contrasts beautifully with pale toned flowers and bright greens. I love to use herbs, both leaves and flowers, as much for their look as for their scent. This bouquet features a few of my favorites including Amaranth, Mint, Nigella (a relative of cumin), Lemon Basil and Kailaan flowers (a Chinese Kale).

If you haven’t been able to make it to the market in a while, or you’ve never been, I hope this post inspires you to come out next week.

We are at the Pinecrest Green Market at Pinecrest Gardens on Sundays from 9am-2pm.

Agri-Council Annual Farm Tour

Last week we hit the big time – the annual Agricultural Tour of South Dade came to visit us. Every year, the tour highlights an aspect of local agriculture. This year’s emphasis was on alternative agricultural activities, and the effects of the freezes in January.

Three busloads of local dignitaries, politicians, snowbirds, media personnel,  and local residents took turns visiting a fish farm, a bromeliad nursery, an organic farm (us!) and Farm Share, charitable food distribution organization that receives donations from local farmers and distributes them to needy families and organizations that feed the hungry.

It’s great to see that we are now recognized as legitimate agricultural producers. It wasn’t that long ago that local organic growers worked pretty much underground, without any support infrastructure – in part due to lack information. Land grant universities,such as the University of Florida, now have organic and sustainable agriculture research and training programs. The explosion in consumer demand for organic products has encouraged growers to convert to organic production.

You can listen to the WLRN/Miami Herald reports after the tour here and here.


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