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Hazelnut Harvest

The hazelnut or filbert bushes produced a nice crop this year.  We have three plants.  Two are the same age, with one over eight feet tall and the other languishing with no real growth and about two feet tall.  I bought another hazelnut since it takes two to pollinate and I was afraid the little one would die.  The new plant has put on good growth this season.  I saved some human hair to place in muslin bags and hang on the little tree to try and keep the deer from nibbling it.  That seemed to work last year.  Once it gets big enough, the deer won’t be a threat anymore.

Most of the nuts are from the large bush.  The tiny one made three nuts.  The big one produced a solid dry quart of nuts in the shell.  Hazelnuts form on the plant inside a large, feathery husk.  There can be one to as many as five husks clumped together on one stem.  The bigger the clump, the smaller the nuts.  The husk is peeled away to expose the shell inside.  The shell is cracked to get the nut meat.  The raw nuts in the shell are usually dried for a time to age the meat.  Freshly picked nuts have a higher moisture content and taste slightly different than dried nuts.  I like them either way.  Hazelnuts are my favorite.  I’m excited to finally have decent nut production from my orchard!

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Velvetleaf

Here is a new plant to me, one I’ve never seen on our farm or anywhere else.  I discovered this foot-tall specimen growing in the turf near the gate to the horse paddock.

A search with Google images led to identification as Velvetleaf, Chinese jute or Indian mallow, a member of the mallow family native to China and possibly India.  It was brought to America in the early 1700s for use as a fiber source in rope manufacture.

Since then the plant has escaped into the wild and become a pest of various crops, particularly corn and soybeans.  It seems to have several scientific names, the most common being Abutilon theophrasti.  Velvetleaf is edible and in Asia the plant and seeds are part of native cuisine.  

The velvet name is due to the very soft texture of the heart-shaped leaves.  Feels almost like moleskin it is so fine.  The large, strange seed pods or fruit attracted my attention.  The plant also has yellow-orange flowers up to 1″ across.  All the flowers were closed on the specimen I found.

I suspect the seed for this plant either dropped off the tractor of the local farmer who helps me spread manure or possibly came in grain for the chickens or horses.  Velvetleaf is found in midwestern cornfields and a tough-coated seed could have sneaked into the processed grain then passed through an animal’s digestive system intact.

Following my policy of identifying any new plants found on the farm, I realized Velvetleaf would be an unwelcome addition.  It is a prolific seeder, highly competitive with other plants.  The last thing I need is another invasive weed.  I pulled little Velvetleaf and popped it in the garbage before the seeds could mature.

Painted Lady Butterfly

It seems to be a good year at the farm for butterflies.  Little yellow Sulphurs are everywhere.  I have seen several Monarchs.  The past few years, Monarchs were becoming rare sightings.  Perhaps the nationwide attention and emphasis by private individuals on planting milkweed has helped this species.  Another butterfly that sometimes feeds on milkweed is the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui.)  This insect has orange wings with black and white markings.  There are four eye spots on the outsides of the bottom wings.

We have a good supply of Painted Ladies this year.  Here at the farm the caterpillars feed on thistle, mallow, milkweed and aster, among other plants.  They are not such specialized feeders as the Monarch, perhaps helping their numbers to stay more plentiful.  The Painted Lady larva need to finish munching on the fall asters soon, turn into butterflies and head south.  The very mild weather we have been experiencing the past week, with near-record warmth, will not continue.  The butterflies migrate all the way to Mexico to over-winter.  They need to get started before the frosts come to Maine.

Already our tree leaves are turning color and beginning to drop.  There has been no frost yet, but the decreasing light has triggered the trees’ autumn show.  As long as the heat continues, the zinnas will bloom in abundance in my vegetable garden.  When frosts hits, they die immediately.  Painted Lady butterflies seem particularly fond of zinna nectar.  I often find several of these insects on the flowers at one time.

Sunday the temperatures soared to near 90F, yesterday we hit 86F at the farm and today promises more of the same.  This is idyllic weather for the two week period that comprises the life span of the adult Painted Lady butterfly.  As they begin their trip south, the insects will continue to feed, mate, lay eggs and die.  The progeny will progress toward warm Mexican winter homes, sustaining the Painted Lady population for another year.

Garden End of July

This spring was a rough start for my garden.  Right after I planted we had over a week of rain.  Many of the seeds must have just rotted in the ground.  I replanted the beans when only three sprouted and the second time got better results.  Slugs ate every one of my lettuce sprouts during the rain and something will not leave my basil alone.  Not sure if I will get any basil!

The mystery peas are doing the best of all the garden veggies.  The indian corn is also fairly happy with the frequent rain and hot days.  Lia is about 46″ tall.  The corn is well over her head and not tasseling yet.  Lia has discovered the joy of eating raw peas right off the vine.  She is very proud of the peas she helped plant.

Even the flowers I sowed in the garden did poorly this year.  I have a few zinnias and bachelor buttons, but not as good as previous years.  The rain was really hard on the seeds.  Beets and carrots suffered similarly.  The tomatoes are producing a few yummy fruits and the pumpkins that managed to sprout are coming along well.  The volunteers are all the sunflowers we have this year.  Not a single seed came up and I planted nearly 20.  Depressing.  Yet, the weeds always do so well.  Here are my first Early Girl tomatoes.

On a bright note, I saw a monarch butterfly on the 27th in the apple orchard when I was mowing.  Perhaps people’s efforts to plant milkweed are paying off.  This seems to be a good butterfly year, there are many varieties present in the gardens and on wild flowers.

Mystery of the Peas Solved

A few weeks ago I blogged about planting peas from a 5 lb bag of organic whole dried green peas that I purchased at the health food store last winter.  I bought them to sprout for salad but didn’t really like the flavor of the sprouts.  I’ve been rehydrating them and eating them like raw peas, which isn’t too bad.  I also made mushy peas with them and that was good.  So I decided to put some in the garden and see how the unknown, mystery peas developed.

Well, I’m amazed!  These are the strangest peas ever!  They started out as normal sprouts, but then began sending out extraordinary amounts of tendrils.  They didn’t make any leaves at all until they were almost a foot tall!  Just huge amounts of tendrils.  The poor things looked so desperate for something to grab on to that I ran strings on poles.  They grappled on and kept reaching for the sun.  In late June, these crazy peas started to bloom.  They had lovely creamy-white flowers in profusion.  Soon baby pea pods formed.  Still the plants climbed and produced profusions of tendrils.  I opened a couple half-ripe pods yesterday and the peas are delicious.  The plants are covered with pods and still making flowers.

I did a little research and discovered these are a new type of pea called hypertendril (good name!)  They are a natural hybrid developed from a mutation called parsley peas.  The benefits of the hypertendril mutation are, among others, the peas don’t require trellis support, they hold each other up, and the lack of leaves increases airflow to prevent mildew and other diseases.  They are also heavy producers and easy to harvest.  What a surprise for me!  I had never heard of hypertendril peas.

This variety is pretty amazing.  The minor support from the stakes and strings has made a wall of peas with pods hanging on both sides that are very easy to see and pick.  But as a sprout pea, hypertenrils are certainly not the right choice since they have hardly any leaves.  I serendipitously stumbled onto this type of pea and am glad of it.  There is a variety of hypertendril called magnolia blossom that has gorgeous pink and purple flowers.  Next year I’m going to try them in the garden.

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Hazelnuts In Bloom

The three young hazelnut trees I’ve planted in the orchard all survived the winter and are in bloom.  Each plant has male and female flowers.  The males are long catkins filled with pollen.  The females are tiny, round, bud-like forms with projecting bright red styles.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinators, which explains why such copious amounts of pollen are produced.  The plants must cross-pollinate to produce nuts, they are not self-pollinating.  The woods are full of wild hazelnuts in bloom; some of their pollen could also easily reach my little trees.

The largest hazelnut bush grows in leaps and bounds every year.  This spring I trimmed out some of the oldest, least productive limbs.  I gave the trimming to my rabbits.  Bunnies love hazelnut wood!  This largest plant has produced a crop of nuts for the past 3 years or so.  This year it is covered in blooms, so if all goes well I will have hazelnuts to eat in September.

The other two trees are smaller.  One, the same age as the the largest bush, is only starting to thrive after its transplant a few years ago.  The other hazelnut survived the second winter.  The white bags on this tree are an experiment I conducted over the winter.  Last year, the poor sapling was nibbled by deer.  The original leader was nipped off and a side branch has become the new leader.  I had heard of placing human hair in cloth bags and tying them to the branches to deter deer.  When my husband got a haircut last fall, I collected the hair and tucked it in some small muslin bags I had on hand.  To my surprise, the tree was not touched by the deer last winter, although they had plenty of opportunity.  So perhaps this strategy actually works!  I’m glad, since this was an expensive little hazelnut, purchased from Stark Bros. nursery.  The other two were quite inexpensive and came from The Arbor Day Foundation.  I bought the Stark tree because it is supposed to produce large nuts.  Hazelnuts are my favorite for eating, so I’m rooting for these trees to do well.