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Filtering by Tag: Triple Crown blackberries

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 3 August 2014

Sarah West

Who would miss the first Hillsdale Farmers' Market following the Lammas? We will be there, ready at 10:00 AM.

This week we will have Chester and Triple Crown blackberries, long red onions and a mixture of cucumbers, frikeh, popcorn, Amish Butter cornmeal and dry favas. The focus will be on the blackberries. We have even purchased smaller scales so we can fit more Chesters in the van, how's that for dedication.

Several years ago, we prepared a pot of favas for a visit by friends. Cooked slowly with a bit of rosemary, garlic and olive oil, and still in their skins. Prior to dinner, we sat down with a drink. They are well-traveled and full of stories. They recounted how they visited a farm in Sicily or maybe the south of France or Spain, little matter. In the midst of all of the beautiful fruits and vegetables growing on the farm, their hosts chose to serve a simple bowl of favas, still in their skins, cooked with bit of rosemary, garlic and olive oil. They thought it peculiar and offhanded. In the midst of all of the beautiful fruits and vegetables growing at Ayers Creek, the two of us exchanged a quick glance and dinner evolved.

For the farmer, favas are a crop that expresses the very elements of the land. They are the most feline of the legumes, scarcely giving a damn how the farmer tends them. Strong-willed, they grow without supplements or irrigation. Lentils and chickpeas are of a similar nature. They are deep rooted and the land rather than the farmer gives them their character. This is perhaps why farmers distant from one another would act similarly as hosts. It is our nod the soil as the ultimate influence on what we produce.

We have a used copy of John Thorne's collection of essays, Outlaw Cook. It is spotless with the exception of the neatly pencilled word "reread" at the beginning of the essay on ful medames. We have obeyed the previous owner's direction, and commend it. The fava, known as ful and variations thereof through the Middle East, is a fragrant and very nourishing legume. We prefer to soak the favas for a couple of days and then cook them. Cook them slowly and gently until the interior is creamy. At this point you can season them in the manner of ful medames, or add a variety of summer vegetables. They are also wonderful roasted or fried so the skin becomes a crunchy contrast to the soft interior. In the winter we roast them with the root vegetables. There is a fascination in the United States with disrobing the poor dear, discarding the skin and keeping just its soft interior. This is the same place that decided that the skin of chicken is somehow unsavory, so they are sold skinless as well. Suit yourself, the flavor of the skin is essential to our enjoyment of the fava and the chicken so, like most other civilized people around the globe, we enjoy both in their fullness.

Incidentally, these favas are a variety that are traditionally dried. They have a beautiful celandine blush, a sweet flavor and a wonderful fragrance. The favas most commonly grown for their fresh pods are awful dry. Even so, not everyone loves favas. It is a defining rather than an acquired taste.

We will see you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter 27 July 2014

Sarah West

This Sunday morning we will take a break from delivering Chester Thornless Blackberries to Pastaworks, Food Front and New Seasons to, well, to get up much earlier than normal and bring more Chesters to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market where we will lord our own produce section from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Does that sound like a rut, or what. Nonetheless, the fragrance of some many fresh blackberries never wears on us, and even with the last deliveries, we will grab a few off the top as we load and unload them. If you want Chesters from the store, when they bear our yellow sticker they are the genuine fruit.

In addition to Chesters and Triple Crown blackberries, we will bring some cucumbers, long red onions, purslane and amaranth greens, plums, frikeh, Amish Butter cornmeal and popcorn. Probably some other stuff, too, if time permits.

We do not bring in preserves during fresh fruit season; you will need to seek them out at the following stores who are kind enough to carry them:

City Market, 735 NW 21st Ave.
Food Front, both Hillsdale & NW Thurman
Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave
Gaston Market, Gaston, OR
Pastaworks, 3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Peoples Cooperative, 3029 SE 21st Ave.
Vino, 138 SE 28th Ave.

Sparrow Hawks

Ayers Creek Farm is 144 acres, almost a half-mile square, actually more a trapezoidal-rhomboidal hybrid than a simple square. At the northern end of the property we have about 22 acres of oak savannah and the farm buildings. It is a raptor rich area, supporting a nesting pair each of great horned owls and red tailed hawks, two pairs of barn owls, as well as two to three pairs of kestrels.

Kestrels – those of us over 50 most likely grew up calling them "sparrow hawks" and we like that name better – are the smallest of the falcons and in nest in holes. They have narrow, swept back wings and a long tail, and the head markings often adopted in the ancient helmets of warriors. These traits are shared with their larger brethren, including the merlins and peregrines that linger during migration. These birds of the savannah and grasslands are permanent residents in the Willamette Valley, and you often see them hunting from utility wires. We build 20-foot tall perches to make their wintertime perch-and-pounce hunting method easier across the property. On the lighter summer and autumn air, kestrels will hover above the field. The slighter males have slate blue wings which distinguishes them from their mates that have brown wings.

At Ayers Creek, the kestrels have utilized both natural cavities in trees as well as boxes we build. However wholesome "natural" may sound, as with us, a fine stickbuilt with an ample floor plan is preferred by the birds over a dank cave built by a woodpecker in a rotten tree. The boxes have a 10" x 10" floor, and are approximately 12" deep, with a 3" entry hole. In the British Isles, they use a box that acts more like a ledge than a cavity. Our boxes are used by flickers and starlings, as well as kestrels. All three are welcome birds, even the much maligned starling who may eat a few cherries and grapes, but is first and foremost an insectivore that eats many thousands of grubs.

When offered a selection, the kestrels change nest boxes annually. Just as in organic farming, the rotation interrupts the buildup of pests and diseases. We have come to the conclusion that it is important to offer at least three boxes per nesting pair. The kestrel, starling and flicker belong to three different bird orders, just as humans, dogs and cats belong to different mammal orders, and the three different birds move nest to new locations each year. Last year, as soon as one of our kestrel families left their nest, a pair of flickers moved in and raised their family over the remaining days of the summer. We have three nesting pairs of kestrels close to one another and we suspect this is due to a high density of suitable nest sites.

Their diet in the winter consists of mice and voles. These they carefully eviscerate, abandoning the guts but eating the rest of the animal. We find the entrails left on top of the smaller nesting boxes where the kestrels perch to enjoy their prey. Occasionally they will eat a bird; this spring I watched one grab and consume a junco. They also eat insects, especially grasshoppers, as well as worms and small snakes. The preference is for mice and voles, but in the summer grasshoppers probably assure their survival.

The southern half of the farm provides no natural nesting cavities, nor are there any in the vicinity. There is a grove of trees, but it consists of Oregon ash and hawthorns, neither of which provide a good source of cavities. The ash falls apart before cavities appear and the hawthorn is too small of a tree. As a result, kestrels are rarely seen on that part of the farm during breeding season. This year we added four nesting boxes to the area; a pair settled in and the young are now out of the nest and hanging out in the shelter of the ash and hawthorn grove. One of the considerations in locating the boxes is having cover for the young who cannot fly when they plunge out of the box and are quite helpless for the first few days. Even when they do get aloft, their attempts to land are more akin to a crash onto a limb, and perhaps not the one intended.

Rich Van Buskirk, Associate Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at Pacific University, has been studying kestrels in the valley, including the four pairs nesting at Ayers Creek. The adults have been trapped and banded, and the chicks are banded as well. The female nesting at the southern end of the farm was from one of the clutches Van Buskirk and his students banded here last year. His work will give us a finer grain picture of the kestrels on the farm over time, and their relationships to one another. He has also been studying the success of birds raised in natural cavities compared to nesting boxes. We enjoy seeing the Professor and his students at the farm on their regular visits. We are, after all, just naturalists who happen to grow some food on the side, and happy when people notice.

See you all Sunday,

Chesters Growers Nonpareil
Carol & Anthony of Gaston

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 4 2013

Sarah West

Thursday marked Lammas Day, the day of the loaf mass. The mass celebrates the first loaf baked from the new wheat harvest. The wheat harvest was a time consuming effort involving all members of the community, from the elderly to young children, each playing a specific role. The grain could be cut at maturity and raked into cocks like hay, but more commonly wheat and other small grains were scythed just shy of maturity, at the hard dough stage, bundled in sheathes and tied. The sheathes were carefully stacked for shocking. The structure of the shock varied by region and environmental factors. There were round shocks, capped shocks and Dutch shocks for very wet areas. Shocked grain was easier to thresh as it pulled away slightly from the hull as it dried, and had better color. In the more remote regions of the west, barley and wheat were also "hogged off" by turning pigs into the field, pork being easier to transport than grain. The combine eliminated the shock as a form of regional architecture.

For those of us with a background in tree and other woody plants, Lammas growth is the second growth of shoots that takes place in midsummer, sometimes in response to hail or some other damaging event. In our climate it not a problem, we sometimes encourage it with summer pruning, but in colder areas Lammas growth may fail to harden off properly and suffers frost damage.

We are a bit tardy on our wheat harvest, but it is not that we have been loafing around as will be abundantly clear when we arrive at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. Following ancient practice, the market opens with the chime of a bell at 10:00 AM, or thereabouts.

Coincident with the Lammas, Jeff Fairchild, the produce buyer for New Seasons Market visited the farm on the first of August as Carol was making the first round of deliveries to the various New Seasons stores. Josh Alsberg, the Produce manager at Food Front, has also visited us many times. As members of the Coop, we are one his many of bosses, and when he sells lots of our berries, no only do the stores pay us, but we also get a better patronage check. Some deal. Buffy Rhoades of Pastaworks put in her order as well, and we are waiting for her to visit us someday. Fortunately, all of these stores carry the Chesters, so there is no need to get cut short midweek, stuck with a bunch of grumpy Chester lovers bemoaning your lack of foresight. We enjoy working with Jeff, Josh, Buffy and their staff. As they say in fair Gaston, "Chester, it's the blackberry people ask for by name."

We will also have a good supply of Triple Crowns on hand. The season is shorter for this variety, and they are in the top of their form this week.

In addition to the berries, we will haul in our last Imperial Epineuse prunes. Next week, the green-fleshed plums will take over for a spell. This is the likely the last week we will haul in the preserves, popcorn and dry beans for a while. Real estate in the van is getting scarce and fresh fruits and vegetables need the space. We will have frikeh.  Good looking heads of lettuce and the very first Opo fruits of the Ayers Creek Pepo Project will be added to the mix. More on the ACPP later.

Oh yes, a bit of garlic and shallots as well. Carol spends a lot of time prettying up the garlic, limiting how much we can bring to the market. Yes, it looks lovely, but it will soon be stripped of its blushing raiment so another voice might ask why not let the customer decide whether they want to buy pretty garlic, or just rip off the field covering and enjoy its lusty flavor. If you are disappointed because the last pretty garlic has left the basket and your next meal will be a little less satisfying, tell us whether a dull bulb would meet your culinary needs just as well. The author is spoiling for dismissal and will leave it at that.

With affection,

The Boutards of Ayers Creek

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 29 2012 Market

Sarah West

Yet another relaxing Sunday morning will be denied us as we hasten to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market in order to be ready for you all at the ding of the bell, around 10:00 AM.

Gage Plums & BlackberriesWe are on cusp of September when the shell beans, prunes and grapes will be ready. We just finshed threshing barley and will begin harvesting the chickpeas next week. Fortunately, the blackberries are still excellent, so we will have a very full van. Here is what we will have:

Plums: Reine Claude aka green gage

Those raised on the salty music hall routines of Stanley Holloway, who also played Albert Dolittle in My Fair Lady, will remember his little ditty about one of Henry's wives:

In the Tower of London large as life,
The ghost of Ann Boleyn walks, they declare,
Poor Ann Boleyn was once King Henry's wife,
Until he made the axman bob her hair,
Ah yes he did a rum glum years ago,
And she comes up at night to tell him so,
With her head tucked underneath her arm,
She walks the bloody tower,
With her head tucked underneath her arm,
At the midnight hour.

So what does Anne Boleyn have to do with Queen Claude, aside from both sharing a tragically short life? Boleyn and her sister were Queen Claude's ladies in waiting. Like Claude — la bonne reine — and the various wives of Henry, the green gages will also have a very short life, so enjoy their rich, acidic charms, barely contained within the delicate skin, while they are here.

Indeed, growing the gages is more of a courtship than actual farming; neither plant nor grower knows what they are doing so nothing happens as it should. You may recall the old Gastonian quip: The green gage will break your heart twice, once when growing it, and again as it enters your mouth.

Blackberries: Chesters & Triple Crown, to the extent we can persuade staff to pick them.

Pole Beans

Beets, Spuds and some Onions

Preserves
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A Queen with a Pearl Collar

It is late summer and, as usual, members of Hymenoptera — the insect order that groups together the wasps, bees and ants — are putting on a show. About two weeks ago, a large cohort of male bumble bees emerged. Fidgety and playfully pugnacious, they fly about just inches above the ground, darting here and there, trying to stay out-of-reach of any remaining barn swallows seeking a quick snack on the way to Capistrano. Their shape, coloration and behavior is very different from the females of the colony — the queen and her daughters the workers. The males do not have a stinger.

The male bumble bee develops from an unfertilized egg. In other words, denied sperm an egg paradoxically yields a male. Fatherless male offspring is one of those peculiar twists that makes the Hymenoptera so interesting. Both the queen and her sisters can produce eggs, but only the queen has mated and produces fertilized eggs which develop into the females of the nest. The sperm from her nuptial flights is held in a special organ, and the eggs are fertilized as they are laid, or not in the case of males. Typically, the males appear towards the end of the colony's existence and may have hatched from an egg laid by either the queen or one of her daughters.

Despite their aimless flight pattern and endless tousling with their brethren, the males are ever alert for the emergence of a newly hatched queen, or gyne as entomologists call her, and the opportunity to mate with her. Apparently, the males identify her by sight not a chemical cue, which may explain why a hapless swallow-tail passing through earlier this week found itself mobbed by amorous bumblebees. Discovering this lek of bees, we shared with the males a keen interest in seeing the queens emerge, pausing to survey the area as we passed at various times during the day. The nest is in an old mouse hole in the heavily travelled lane between the blackberry fields. Monday the show began.

The new queens are genetically the same the worker sorority; there is no special queen gene. They are raised in larger wax vessels than the workers, and they are fed more food during the larval stage. In order to survive the winter and a summer of laying eggs, a more robust body is needed. After emerging from their pupae, these large females linger in the nest and fatten up for a few days. They emerge from the nest, mostly individually, groom themselves and then take flight. In seconds, the males converge upon her and, in a airborne scrum, try to do the honors. Once a coupling occurs, the surplus males drift back to their posts and the job is finished on the ground. After mating, the queen quickly seeks shelter. She mates more than once and, well provisioned with sperm, she will spend some time building her fat reserves for the winter hibernation. If all goes well, she will emerge from her hibernation lair in the spring and start a new colony.

We have at least four bumblebee species on the farm. The white-shouldered, black tailed, yellow-faced and the brown-belted – the latter are the queens emerging this week. The scientific name is Bombus griseocollis and translates into "bumblebee with a pearl-grey neck," probably referring to a fine line of hairs that encircle the neckline of the females. The brown belt of the English name refers to a distinct band of brown hairs on second abdominal section of the males, just behind the wings. The newly emerged gyne is very beautiful. Her coat is much lighter than the male's or worker's. Interestingly, the male brown-belted bumblebees darting about are not merely callow Lotharios; it is one of four bumblebee species where the males actually assist in the nest by incubating the brood, an important task.

The bumblebees can be difficult to identify, prompting one entomologist to call them "morphologically monotonous." The key distinguishing characteristic are differences in the male genitalia, perhaps prompting this observation. Fortunately overall appearance is sometimes enough and Rich Hatfield at the Xerces Society identified the bee for us from a photo. Xerces is based in Portland, and is internationally recognized for its efforts at invertebrate conservation. They have produced many useful publications, both print and on-line, and issue a quarterly magazine called Wings. Xerces is a very important and well-run organization.

See you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter August 12 2012 Market

Sarah West

Eamon Molloy and his hardy band of volunteers will transform the parking lot at Hillsdale into bustling farmers' market by 10:00 AM on Sunday.

Here is what we will have:

Chesters, Chesters, Chesters, and, oh yes, we will have good quantity of Triple Crowns as well, about 35 half flats Zenón tells me.

We have told the story about the Chester Blackberry many times. Kathleen Bauer posted the most recent one on her site, even illustrating it with photos of Robert Skirvin, John Hull and Senator Dirksen. Her nickname around here is the "Bauer Bird" because she does such wonderful job of collecting and arranging material for her site. Here is the link:

http://www.goodstuffnw.com/2010/08/farm-bulletin-pt-2-taxonomy-of-chester.html

The berries are also at Pastaworks, both Food Fronts and all 12 New Seasons stores if you run short during the week. Fine establishments all.

Beets, Cucumbers and New Potatoes

Pole Beans: Preacher and Fortex

Garlics, Shallots & Onions

Some Preserves

Frikeh

Wither the Turnips? One of our farm aphorisms is "you are only as good as your next turnip." We collected and cleaned two crates of beautiful turnips, grabbing a handful for dinner. Even Tito, the amazing turnip eating bandy-legged dictator backed away from them. If we had sold those, you could have called us tough, woody folk with a bitter edge. As it happened, our appetite spared our reputation. A week earlier they were delicious, but the heat was their ruination, and they almost took us down with them. New aphorism: Never trust a pretty turnip.

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La Cajita Blanca

Two weeks ago, the little white box returned after a year's absence. For many years, we have used half-flats made from unbleached container board. Four years ago, we were caught short at the end of the season and bought a bundle of 100 with a white liner board. They were soon gone, and by last year there was just one still in circulation. It stood out in the stack and we commented on how many times it must have returned to the farm. At least five times by the initials, though it might have been more because staff typically initial flats later in the season when mold has set up in the field. That way, if someone is inattentive, we can address the situation quickly. The flat also had a small oval sticker, indicating that at least once it was filled with Triple Crowns. Those yellow stickers were left over from the days when we grew melons, and we used the extras to mark the non-Chester boxes. Maybe it also went out filled with mirabelles, green gages or festooned with Joe's Long Cayenne peppers, looking just like a jester's hat. Still in good shape after its many journeys, the box was filled with fresh hallocks, Chesters and sent out into world again last week.

We typically reuse paper flats until they look shabby or their ears get mangled — what we call the tabs that lock the boxes together when the are stacked. We never reuse the green paper-maché hallocks however. There are three good reasons why. First, and most importantly, it is a matter of food safety. We do not know where the hallock was stored and it comes in direct contact with the fruit that is eaten raw, unlike the flat. From a food safety perspective, it is reckless to reuse the hallock without knowing where and how it was stored. Second is food quality. If there is a speck of mold in the used hallock, that mold will infect fruit put in it later. Mold and berries are a match made in heaven if you are into rapid decay. Third, as a matter of federal law, organic growers can only reuse packaging that previously held certified organic produce. Consequently, the used hallocks go to recycling.

Packaging is always a fraught subject, especially for organic growers who want to extend the ecological ethic beyond the field. There are many factors that need balancing in selecting how to present the food. For example, on a hot summers day the delicate greens wilt rapidly, their quality suffers, and we waste a lot if they are sold out of an open crate. In the winter, the kale, collars and chicories fare well in the open air. They remain beautiful through the day and sell well. We try to make sure it is always a judgement call rather than a reflexive need to bag.

In the valley, farmers are fortunate to have a superb plastics recycling service. Located on Waconda Road in Brooks, Agri-Plas, Inc. recycles a wide spectrum of plastic waste generated by farms. Pots, old irrigation tape, barrels, plastic bags, old twine and grain sacks are all sorted and sold to domestic users. When we have to pick up some supplies in St. Paul, we will carry down our recycling and stop by Ernst on the way home. Very efficient.

In the meantime, we will be waiting to see if our little white box returns some Sunday in the future. It is hoped with her ears intact so we can send her forth once more.

Cheers, and see you all Sunday,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
The Costermongers of Fair Gaston