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Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter December 21 2014 Market

Sarah West

The Sunday after the brumal awakening is traditionally Calendar Sunday at Ayers Creek. The 2015 edition is quiet, no color and few words. Out of character? Not really. It happens occasionally, often in July and August when the season runs past us. We will bring roughly half tomorrow and the balance for the first market of 2015, so don't fret if you can't make it tomorrow.

That said, if the forecast holds, it promises to be a dark and soggy four hours, so we will be very happy for any company during the vigil. We will have the usual complement of winter squash, sweet potatoes, knob celery, black radish, horseradish, onions and spuds. We will bring preserves and gift boxes along with the grains, legumes, cayennes and pumpkin seeds. Yesterday, we harvested some of the first chicory heads, along with a bucket of good looking rocket.

We produce our own seed for many of the vegetables, legumes and grains we grow, reselecting each year for better traits and quality. This summer, Brian Campbell and Crystine Goldberg of Uprising Seeds asked if they could include some of our varieties in their 2015 seed catalogue. We agreed and the next thing you know, they need to check our corn seed for genetic contamination. It was with a heavy heart that we posted seed to them knowing that those beautiful kernels would be completely destroyed and then probed for any violation of their purity. The reason we grow food is knowing the pleasure it gives the people who eat it, not to have it suspiciously handled by an uncaring and unloving lab technician. We have recovered, but it took a psychic toll. For what it is worth, the purity Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint are unchallenged, free of any corrupting genes. We knew this intuitively from working with the corn so intimately, but the cold, clinical diagnosis provides additional validation of our effort. Ultimately, though, it is not the negative - non-GMO - that we are striving for, it is the lovely, rich flavor those two varieties of corn bring to the table. We are glad that we are of a mind with Brian and Crystine on this substantive point.

Probably the only sunshine we will see tomorrow is the glow from the freshly opened squash. We are often asked for suggestions on how to prepare winter squash. Here is a good variation on the old Turkish treat the sorbet that will keep the glow alive: www.goodstuffnw.com/2014/12/move-over-ice-cream-squash-sorbet.html

Our best for holidays if we don't see you tomorrow,


Carol & Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter February 16 2014

Sarah West


The large predators are often described as indicator species by ecologists. On the 1st of February, around 2:30 PM, our great horned owl laid her first egg and settled in for a month of broodiness. Last weekend, she was dusted with snow, and now her plumage will have to shed the rain. Don't feel badly for her. She would be out in the snow and rain anyway, and her mate is keeping her well fed as she sits on the eggs and later keeps their chicks warm. The second egg was likely laid around Wednesday of this week, judging by the amorous sweet nothings we heard a bit earlier. Otherwise, they discuss more prosaic matters and keep track of one another sotto voce all night long; her voice is low and soft, his moves about the savannah and is higher and sharper with an urgent edge. In about four weeks, we will see the first downy face poke out from under its mother's wing.

For us, the owls are an indicator species with a different twist; the incubation of the eggs indicates it time for us to attend to matters close at home as well. Even though 2013 was, in the technical jargon of farmers, a real stinker at every turn, we always know the next season will be the best ever, our version of the Big Rock Candy Mountains, otherwise why would we bother. Machinery needs maintenance and repairs, perennial crops need pruning and fertilizing, buildings need sprucing up, and the early crops, chickpeas and favas, need planting as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The nesting boxes for the birds need cleaning and we are putting up a new development for the kestrels on the south side of the property. More on that interesting project later.

Consequently, tomorrow will be the last time until July that I load up the van for the Hillsdale Farmers' Farmers Market this season. I will have corn in its various forms, sweet and Virginian potatoes, soft red wheat kernels, adzukis, onions, squash, ash gourds, preserves, cayennes and plenty of horseradish.

We return to the market on the 6th of July. This year, our annual ramble will take place the Sunday, the 5th of October. It is about time for a harvest season ramble, and a good opportunity for you all to see our new harvest shed, as well as the many other changes that are afoot for 2014.

Finally, the disclaimer regarding this newsletter. If the dim prattle irritates, please send a note and I will removed your name from the list. Or you can change your email address between now and the 2nd of July and not tell me.

Maybe I will see you all tomorrow. Forecast to be a fitting end to a stinker of a year.

My best,

Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter January 5 2014

Sarah West

On our first crepuscular Sunday of 2014, we may catch sight of our resident bobcat as we head off to the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The opening chime sounds around 10:00 AM.

The bobcat, Lynx rufus, is a furtive spirit, more often observed by what is left than its actual presence. Our cur, Tito, picks up the cat's scent and has developed the sensible habit of demanding human company and looking over his shoulder when goes out before bed. He is the same way when the coyotes hunt close by. Despite millennia of domestication, he retains the survival instincts of his ancestors. The average bobcat adult weighs about 20# (9 Kg), though individuals can approach 40# (18 Kg). Their diet is mostly rodents, though they can kill much larger animals if the opportunity presents itself, even deer. The bobcats west of the Cascades are distinctly darker than others of the species, and are recognized as the subspecies fasciatus.

We first saw the bobcat in September hunting in the draw, recognizing its feline gait and stalking mannerisms, and an animal obviously leggier and taller than the feral tabby cats that survive being tossed out of cars as kittens by careless souls, but not a positive identification without seeing it face-on. Later in the month, Zenón went out at dawn to pull rocks from newly cultivated field and saw "un gato grande" hunting voles in fresh ground, a more certain sighting. Our neighbor Darwin, a veteran hunter and outdoorsman, made the positive identification in late November when he turned a corner near his blind and came face to face with the cat. As he described it, they both paused, staring at one another for a moment to catch their breath, before the cat bounced away into the canary grass. In the twilight of Christmas morning, we watched the bobcat lope across the field and down the road towards the creek, quarry in its jaws. Evidence points to its denning at times in the briars near the pump station, a hunch with which Tito, his hackles high, concurs.  

Animals that are active during the day are described as diurnal, those at night nocturnal. Crepuscular animals are active at twilight, the edges between day and night. In habitat as well habit, the bobcat is a species that thrives on the productivity of edges. As we have described previously, we are situated where the Tualatin Valley is at its narrowest between the Coast Range and the Tualatin Ridge, providing a short corridor between those two forested foothill habitats. The farm itself is a mosaic of cultivated fields, oak savannah and wetland, offering a lot edges between these ecotypes. The effect of our "edginess" is best seen in the variety of raptors that hunt on the farm. Kestrels, harriers, red-tail hawks, barn owls and great horned owls all nest on the farm, osprey and bald eagles nest in the valley and hunt here. Migrating cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, merlins and peregrines pause to fatten up during migration. Elk, deer, mink and cougar, among others, use the farm as a path between the foothills, but they pass quickly and with purpose beyond our boundaries.

The bobcat is likely a visitor as well, a youngster seeking its own territory. That it has lingered so long explains in part why we have so few chicories this year, even though we doubled our planting. We adhered to our pattern of crop rotation without considering that the planting bordered part of the farm that was in fallow for the past year. Last spring, the population of meadow mice (voles) was low so we paid little heed to them in our planting during the summer; it was an understandable but unfortunate oversight. Unobserved by us, the population in the fallow field skyrocketed over the summer, and there are few crops so well suited as chicories for feeding a hungry hoard of voles through the cold months. By September, we sensed the problem and did everything we could to salvage the crop to no avail. Wave after wave of voles have kept the raptors well fed, and the surplus rodents kept us in the bobcat's hunting territory. The ground is covered with holes barely a foot apart, and the cold snap made the little rodents that much more ravenous. Without a bounty of fat, chicory-fed voles, the bobcat would probably have moved further into the foothills where there is a better cover and supply of prey, and less competition from the coyotes and raptors.

In the popular literature, healthy predator populations are supposed to stabilize prey populations, creating a population equilibrium and thus providing a service to humans. Yes, predators are valuable components of a healthy ecosystem, but it is important to understand that population dynamics in prey populations are driven by many environmental factors. Disease, weather, food and cover availability, for example, all have a far greater influence on rodent populations than the predators. Face it, predators are like us, consumers rather than mere service animals. There is parallel with farming in that no matter how good we think we are as farmers, the weather and other exogenous factors ultimately determine our success. We can plot and plan, but the weather and vole populations defy anticipation for both bobcat and cultivator.

    When you are chewing on life's gristle,
    Don't grumble, give a whistle,
    And this will help things turn out for the best, and
    Always look on the bright side of life,
    Always look on the light side of life .  .  .

Heeding Eric Idle's advise, as you grumble about the sloppy farmers who failed to deliver your chicories this year, maybe it will help to know that a leggy, elegant bobcat is meting out some form of retribution. And a host well-fed raptors as well. And it is, after all, a backhanded compliment to our farming efforts that so many other animals thrive the fruits of our labor.

We will be at the market with the many bits and pieces they left, including:

Dry beans, adzuki beans, dried cayennes, naked pumpkin seeds, stone-ground cornmeal, popcorn, various corn kernels for making hominy, preserves, winter squash, ash gourds, potatoes, and the belle of winter cuisine, freshly dug horseradish.

Look forward to seeing you all tomorrow,

Carol & Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm and Wildlife Feeding Station
Gaston, Oregon

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter November 17 2013

Sarah West

Tomorrow morning, we will pull ourselves together and make slow ascent up Bald Peak, the first leg in our voyage to Hillsdale. Hope to see you all there after the 10:00 AM opening bell.

Ayers Creek Farm PreservesPreservesPreserve production is when we reprise our summer, the good moments and the disappointments. All of the fruit we use, with the exception of lemons, comes from the farm. Many farmers contemplate preserve production as a way to capitalize on surpluses and low grade fruit, throw some sugar and pectin into a big pot and you have something to sell. Extension people call it "value-added." As we warn other farmers, the notion that making preserves is "value-added" is simply poppycock. We must purchase the jars, organic sugar, organic lemons and pay for the use of Sweet Creek's kitchen and staff. We have added an investment and value is added only if and when you sell the preserves for a profit, so there is no sense poking some low grade fruit in glass.

We started making preserves from the opposite end of the harvest. The very first berries to ripen in the field are the highest quality fruit. They set up well without any added pectin and the flavor is brightest due to their higher acidity. For us, taking the better part of the day to deliver ten flats of berries is a waste of time and fuel. So early in the morning, we bring in a few flats each day and freeze the berries. We never crush them; they are packed into buckets whole when frozen. This gentle treatment preserves the aromatics and acidity of the fruit, as many of you know because you handle our berries the same way.

Our preserves are very farmer-ish, just one type of fruit and no secret ingredients or surprising combinations. The preserves are cooked in 2½ gallon steam jacket pots, so the cooking surface is a gentle 270°F (132°C). We cook about a gallon at a time. Paul Fuller has three 275-gallon pots, but at that volume, you have to add pectin in order for the fruit to gel. Several years ago, Carol's brother, Bill, visited the farm and walked us through a series of very carefully documented variations. Tasting the various versions, it was clear to us that adding pectin robbed a vital part of the fruit's spirit, inconvenient and indisputable. Sweet Creek has just two of these small pots, but Paul is adding two more so we can increase production next year. There is no other co-packer in Oregon that would put up with our fussy demands, so as long as Paul and Judy own Sweet Creek welcome us back, we will make preserves.

The most important tool for us is Paul's Omega HH1501AJK digital thermometer. In cooking, the fruit goes through a series of temperature steps. The critical range is 220 to 222°F (104.4 to 105.5°C). The fruit sets up in that range, if you allow it bounce up to 224°F (106.6°C) the fruit has an over-cooked flavor and texture. One year, the cord to the thermometer frayed and we had to use a different one for the last run of the day. The calibration was off and the fruit over-cooked slightly. We now have our own Omega, so if one goes we have a back-up. It also allows us to conduct test runs at home.

As we noted earlier, we see the season reflected in the fruit. The heat wave that came through during our ramble in June destroyed much of the black currant, boysenberry and blackcap crop. We have some, not enough to for the stores. The early raspberry and loganberry crops preceded the heat wave, so they are in good supply. We have done an even better job with the tart cherry preserves, though they are inherently lower in pectin than other fruit and on the runny side. We have yet to perfect pit removal, so there will be an occasional pit in the jars. This preserve is an even greater labor love than the others and we should drop it but we like too much. This year, we have added a small run of grape preserves from the Veepie grape. The goal is a grown-up grape flavor with skins in the mix. The golden gage and mirabelle are back as well.

Speaking of labors of love, Aphrodite is often portrayed holding a quince. Our two small quince trees had such a heavy crop that the trees largely collapsed. We have a small run of quince jelly in memoriam for the efforts of those two unfortunate trees. They will recover eventually and we are planting more because we cannot imagine life without a bit of quince jelly. Eventually, we will add more jellies to the mix. We have several crab apples which should bear good crops in a year or two. The jellies will test Paul's patience even more, which should him some level of beatification among fruit lovers. Though we promise him that we will stop at 19 different preserves, a good prime number, so there are just two more types to go.

In addition to our 17 different fruit preserves, we will have a good supply of beans for the next two markets, as well as Roy's Calais Flint cornmeal and kernels for hominy. No popcorn yet, needs more time to dry.

We will also have a good selection of greens, including sorrel, which is virtually the same as lengua de vaca, the type of sour dock green used in traditional posoles. Kathryn will be demonstrating the fine points of posole construction at this week's market demonstration.

Winter squash has cured nicely and we will also bring in ash gourds, also known as winter melon, for the first time.

The cayenne peppers, Joe's Long and Aci Sivri are ready.

The roots include Yellow Finn spuds, knob celery, black radish, beets and the star of the farm, fresh horseradish. For those disposed towards a libation with Sunday brunch, imagine a Bull Shot or Bloody Mary with good dose of freshly grated horseradish. Might not even need the vodka to enjoy such a fine beverage. The salad and seafood are also improved with a grating of horseradish.

Finally, we will have some chestnuts. Remember, you have to pierce the shell to let the steam escape. There is no need to make a cross unless you want to, a slit is sufficient. When the chestnuts have finished roasting, generally when the kitchen smells like roasting chestnuts, put them in a bowl lined with a wet dishcloth. Cover and let them rest for a few minutes, and then shell while they are still hot. The task is easiest when it is a painful experience. If they get cold, the pelicle or inner skin, is harder to remove. Chestnuts are perishable, difficult to use once they dry. We cure them in our root cellar at 90% humidity where the sweeten up, they will last a few days on the counter, or longer in the refrigerator.

Enough, we will see you all tomorrow.

Carol & Anthony
Ayers Creek Farm