Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oooh, Baby!

Succulent. Snappy. Juicy. Luscious. Bright. Juicy. Tender. Mounds of baby ginger, dug fresh and scrubbed clean, test the marketer's thesaurus. An artist might be better equipped. See for yourself:

An enumeration of features we adore about this tropical rhizome extends from its otherworldly beauty to its lush growth in the greenhouse, its sweet, powerful flavor, and its extraordinary versatility in the kitchen. Happily, members of our CSA and now a growing number of restaurant and wholesale customers share our sentiments. Really, who doesn't love a beautiful baby?

In our third year of cultivating fresh ginger—plus a test plot of turmeric and the bright purple ka chai dom (Thai ginseng)—it seems we're getting the hang of coaxing an abundant tropical harvest from our upstate New York hoop house.

Here's how it's done: We buy in organic seed from Hawaii (order early; our supplier sells out every year), and keep it cozy in crates of damp potting soil stashed in the warmest corner of the farmhouse—in the laundry room. Sometime in April, when the the soil in the hoop house has warmed to 70°F, we plant out the rhizomes, two rows in each bed with a thick layer of wood mulch to keep down weeds and hold moisture in the paths. For the next six months, we flood the ginger beds regularly with captured rainwater, feed the emerging plants with fish emulsion and compost tea infusions, and mound soil—amended with fluffy, composted horse bedding—around the sprouts to encourage robust rhizome formation. To optimize quality of this rather perishable product, we dig, wash, and deliver baby ginger on the same day.

Melissa Bahret of Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA, developed the system we've adopted back in 2006, with funding from a SARE grant. In our area, we share the niche with Muddy Fingers, The Good Life, Shelterbelt, and Humble Hill farms. This year's big ginger innovations at Tree Gate Farm feature a bubbler (as in: jacuzzi jets). Throughout the growing season, a repurposed hot tub motor blows air into our compost tea (a project worthy of its own blog post) and during harvest season into a dedicated set of pipes and tanks in our wash station. It's noisy, but a tremendous boon in terms of labor and water conservation.

The Tree Gate Farm ginger story wouldn't be complete without a shout-out to the folks at Regional Access, a wholesale food distributor founded in 1989 by a local farmer. My uncle worked for Regional back in its early days and introduced me to an array of specialty food products unknown in my mother's kitchen. Fast-forward two decades: Our farm is an easy five-minute drive from Regional's warehouse and their catalog features our baby ginger available for shipment throughout New York State.

If you haven't yet tasted baby ginger, ask around at your local farmers' market or get in touch with us to place an order. The season is short, intense, and ooh, baby, is it delicious!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brief farm update

Hello friends of Tree Gate Farm. Sorry to all those who don't follow the farm on Facebook and have missing out on the updates there. Since we've neglected the blog for most of the summer, here's a quick rundown.

We're only holding one farmstand a week this season. We can be found outside of Red Feet Wine on Thursdays from 4–7 (starting at 3:30 this week due to overwhelming demand). Harvesting and going to market on back-to-back evenings really wore us out last year, and since we've doubled our CSA membership from last year AND increased sales to restaurants...and are providing crops for Crooked Carrot (more on that relationship below), we thought it was in our best interest to slow down our pace just a bit.

And in that vein, we've bought a used greenhouse (30'x96') that we'll install this fall, picked up a well-worn walk-in cooler (10'x12') for $500 -- which we are in the midst of rebuilding and repairing -- AND we'll be building a new root cellar thanks to a grant we applied for last year. That's our idea of slowing down on the farm.

Of course this time of year there are (not quite literally) tons of produce we bring to market.  Piles of yellow crookneck summer squash, rainbow chard, cukes, and fancy French green beans. The sweet corn is basically done, so maybe we won't bring any tomorrow. One of the crops you won't see at market is paste tomatoes. They don't sell well at the market, and this year we are growing them on contract for Crooked Carrot, a local business making all kinds of lacto-fermented pickles, kimche, and a fantastic small-batch tomato-basil sauce. And I'm not saying that just because we got a jar tonight to taste before it even gets placed on store shelves. So awesome to have a local company using so many local ingredients right from the farms.

A jar coming back to the field for a visit

Not only can you get Crooked Carrot's great creations through their Community Supported Kitchen, but now the Piggery and GreenStar have them on their shelves too!

One of the great features of the farm's relationship with Crooked Carrot has been working with Silas on varieties and timing. Silas was the field manager at Stick and Stone Farm (where their kitchen is) before launching Crooked Carrot. So he really knows the farmers' view of growing, harvesting, even delivering the produce to their operation. Which REALLY makes a difference when there is a late harvest due to a cool summer, or a short season due to some pest or disease. Also, he knows the coversations about the next year's plantings begin now...not a few weeks before you want the produce.  At this time of year, a farmer is already thinking about which cover crops to plant this fall so that next spring the beds are ready for certain crops at the right time. Or preparing additional soil amendments for specific crops. Few chefs or bulk food purchasers think with that kind of lead time.

We've been lucky. Our main commercial customers, The Piggery, Just a Taste, and Felicia's Atomic Lounge are run by farmers or great gardeners who understand seasonal produce and appreciate the bounty that this area provides, and when it is available. I guess I'm feeling particularly appreciative of all of our customers these days when reading about the difficulties so many other beginning farmers have finding suitable land and good markets. We have a CSA loaded with people who appreciate the effort it takes to bring food to their table and we enjoy hearing about the great family meals we've been able to contribute to.

I also just noticed how late it is, and that we have to get up at dawn to harvest everything for market. Hope to see you under the tent.

Monday, May 5, 2014

T is for Transplant

Much like fashion professionals, farmers with hoop houses get to work a good bit ahead of the rest of the world. There may still be snow on the ground, but we're thinking spring. Spring finally breaks and we leap ahead to summer. Come fall, we're eking out even more vegetables after the first frost has cut short the outdoor season. It's amazing what the sun and a sheet of plastic can accomplish!

This past weekend, we transplanted tomatoes and peppers we started back in March into one of the hoop houses. We won't be able to transplant the paste tomatoes in the field for another month—and by then the varieties in the hoop house should be at least a foot tall.

Because we start all of our tomatoes from seed—once you start a few, you may as well go for volume—we offer transplants for sale to home gardeners, as well. We favor indeterminate varieties, for their grace on a trellis, and with each plant we sell, we offer a little tutorial on tomato transplantation and pruning.

This year, we'll offer nine varieties, in nearly every color of the rainbow:

Black Cherry: Purple and perfectly round, a rich burst of flavor in one bite. Beautiful in a salad of mixed cherry tomatoes.

Cherokee Purple: A beefsteak-style heirloom whose brownish-purple, one-pound fruits retain their green shoulders even when ripe. 

Garden Peach: As fuzzy as its namesake—and similarly colored—this salad-sized fruit is mild and juicy. Picked green, it will ripen indoors after the first frost has blackened its vines.

Gold Medal: Bright gold, one-pound fruits streaked with red. A juicy, sweet sunset on your plate!

Green Zebra: The name says it all, but for describing its incredible flavor. Never red, but the best tasting salad tomato you'll try.

Peacevine: The organic, non-hybrid answer to the Sweet 100, a prolific and delicious red cherry.

Pink Brandywine: Famed for its challenging disposition in the garden and its extraordinary flavor, this thin-skinned beefsteak averages one-pound fruits.

San Marzano: a sweet, low-acidity plum prized in Italy for its meaty flesh, easy peeling, and sparse seeds.

Sungold: The only hybrid tomato we offer, this brilliant orange and prolific cherry boasts the sweetest fruit we've tasted. Even sweeter dried for winter snacking.

Yellow Perfection: A perfectly round, thin-skinned and versatile saladette that fruits early and yields heavily throughout the season.

Of course, there's more to summer gardening than tomatoes (we've heard) and so we'll also have available at market: certified organic German butterball seed potatoes, Diablo brussel sprouts, Prisma red shallots, Ping Tung Long and Rosita eggplant seedlings, King of the North sweet and Hidalgo serrano hot peppers, and purple tomatillo plants for sale. Perennial offerings include potted sage, valerian, and an heirloom yellow primrose. We'll offer licorice and horseradish pre-order, only.

Market starts on May 15. Look for us every Thursday from 4–7pm under the red tent in front of Red Feet Wine Market in the Franklin Plaza.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

S is for Support

As this bitterly cold and blustery winter howls on, the Tree Gate Farm CSA is living proof that while the acronym CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, the relationship between members and farmers is about more than money. Here at Tree Gate Farm, the material support our members furnish comes with phenomenal and unstinting moral support. Lucky, lucky farmers we are.

The latest reminder of that support was the CSA fair, a marketing event hosted by Tompkins County Cooperative Extension in a local middle school cafeteria.

Early each March, we update our brochure, put together a slide show of farm photos, assemble an array of colorful produce, display some of our handmade soap (a special gift for new members), and get ready to talk. Over the course of three hours, a few hundred prospective locavores wander through, visiting with purveyors of everything from apples to zucchini (ha, ha), picking up brochures, and asking a LOT of great questions. 

Tree Gate Farm drew a spot between a sprout CSA (best salad ever!) and a mushroom CSA. Also represented: hard cider, bread, pickles, even bison meat. Was there ever any question that we live in the absolutely most fabulous place to eat local?!

Perhaps the highlight for us was the number of participants from our 2013 CSA who came by to say hello and renew their membership for 2014. I can't remember the last time I got that many hugs! Or maybe the highlight was their many friends, family members, and colleagues who explained that one of our members had sent them to learn more about our quirky model for providing affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables, pastured meat, even cut flowers, vigorous garden transplants, and handmade soaps. Wow -- we're honored!

Once again, we printed so many brochures we were sure we wouldn't run out -- and then we did. So for folks who didn't make it to the fair or who missed out on the text version of what we offer, click here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dinner on the farm

On Sunday, we went to Remembrance Farm to help out with the Health Food For All dinner. Some volunteers help organize, greet, or wait tables. We wash dishes. By pitching in, we support an effort we believe in, (Tree Gate is a participating farm) and I don't have to interact with too many people. ;-)

This time, we got to meet the chefs from the Carriage House Cafe and taste some their wonderful, locally-sourced food. Growing up spending time in the back of the house at the Tarrytown Conference Center, I remember dad creating stunning plates heaped with delicacies "born" from the impenetrable walk-in cooler. At least it was scary to me since I couldn't reach the door handle, and the fear of being locked in was instilled by my big sister, who occasionally threatened to lock me inside .... uh, more on the childhood traumas some other time perhaps.

Anyway, even though the busy summer season is in full swing, we do try to sneak in some good meals with all of the produce coming out of the field. Tonight we gussied up one of our favorite meals, home-made pizza, with some chanterelle mushrooms, kale, and oven-roasted garlic. Each of the four pizzas had something different. One with our hot serrano peppers. They haven't turned red yet, but still probably a three on the Scoville scale. Another had local sauerkraut in place of the tomato sauce. Sounds totally weird, right? Sooo goood.

But now that dinner is done and the chickens are put to bed, it's time for good little farmers to go to sleep, too. We're harvesting tomorrow, starting shortly after dawn, and then off to set up our farm stand outside of Red Feet Wine Market. See you there?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Holy cow -- the rhubarb my mom divided for us three years ago has exploded this year. Lots of composted manure, sheet mulching with cardboard, and a mountain of wood chips has really paid off.
It's great having all this rhubarb to fill out our booth at market and as something special for our CSA customers early in the season. Among them, Felicia's Atomic Lounge, Just a Taste, and The Good Truck can go through 30-40 lbs a week too!

The pigs moved into their second pastured area yesterday and the chickens are enjoying hanging out under the Mirabelle plums, which have just finished blossoming. Fingers crossed that this year, we'll have fruit!

The bread truck we're borrowing from Red Tail Farm is parked behind the shed these days, while we build out a homemade cooler in the back for our mobile market. The CoolBot -- a high-tech hack that transforms an air conditioner into a veggie cooler -- arrived in today's mail. This weekend, we'll pick up the rest of the components and finish framing and insulating the back of the truck.  Pictures to follow when we have our grand opening -- or at least when we get it washed off. It's been sitting for a while and looks a little grimy.

Time to get back out and finish planting and transplanting. We seeded all of the sweet corn yesterday for our fourth season of Three Sisters planting trials (Here's a link from 2010 where we describe our trials). We're growing 2,000 row feet this year with three different corn varieties (thanks to Michael Glos of Kingbird Farm, for the consult!). After the corn is established, we'll plant a menagerie of squash and beans.

Half an hour until the next wave of rain comes our way and the beet seeds are calling my name . . .

Friday, April 5, 2013

Send in the Reinforcements!

Early in spring, we labor primarily in the greenhouses, where a few swipes of a hoe are all it takes to prepare the soil. That's the joy of the permanent raised bed system we created. Swaths of soil alternate with the strips of grass where we walk and drive. Thick mulch blanketing the planting beds insures that the earthworms and other mini soil movers deep in the dirt have plenty of fluffy organic matter to aerate. Since we keep our heavy feet and the equipment tires in the grass, we refrain from needless soil compaction and the veggies get the benefit of loose, rich soil in which to set their roots.

In the pasture, however, it's another story. To work that soil, we bring in the real digging experts:

Piglets -- and the hogs they'll become over the next six months -- are incredible earth movers. They seem to take no greater joy than rooting about in the perennial weeds that are a legacy of our land's long history of corn and hay harvests. By using electric fence to keep them focused on one plot at a time and moving them frequently, we give the pigs plenty of self-serve salad and tubers to supplement their diet of organic whole and milled grains and they give us weed eradication. They leave behind fresh manure, which we til into the soil before seeding such crops as buckwheat, peas and oats, and winter wheat to further aerate the soil with their roots. And then the following year, we plant potatoes -- or tomatoes, corn, cabbage, kale, tomatillos, or any of the dozens of other veggies we harvest each summer.

But at the moment, we're talking piglets:

Aren't they super cute? That dark skin and hair is no accident. The farmer who raises them knows we need heavy pigmentation for critters who will spend a full summer in the sun -- so much better than pharmaceuticals for killing germs and promoting health -- so he makes sure we get the pick of his darkest colored litters. A white pig with a sunburn is a deeply unhappy creature. And can you imagine putting sunscreen on a hog? Talk about catching a greased pig! 

When their job on the farm is done, the pigs will weigh about 300 pounds -- the perfect size for a butcher to transform into bacon, chops, ham, roasts, and sausage. There's no mistaking the flavor and texture of pastured pork for "the other white meat." For details on how to fill your freezer with this delicious product, e-mail us: treegatefarm [at] gmail [dot] com!