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State of the Farm: Reckoning 2023

The harvest is done. The experiment for this year is complete.

(Picture: our wee carrot harvest. Including rocks.)

Now, we decide what it means.

I have a spreadsheet with all of the plants we planted, including the fruit and nut trees. But we will not dwell on that level of detail here. Instead, we’ll hit the highlights by category.

The goal this year was to make a dent in the actual calorie count from the garden, nut, and fruit crops. In some ways, it was a success. In others, a failure. In the remainder, something in between.

Fruit

As I mentioned in previous posts, many of the fruit trees didn’t bear at all this year for various reasons. In the case of the peach family and the pawpaws, it was the late frost. The exceptions to this were the persimmons, medlar, and cherries. The medlar is a medieval fruit that vaguely resembles the taste of apple sauce. We have about a dozen or so on the tree but we can’t pick them until after the frost.

We had a good apple crop—at least, for us. We have a low fruit/tree ratio we’re trying to improve. We dried them and they are good to eat in the winter.

The persimmons did very well. We’ve made wine and persimmon bread. We tried persimmon pie but it didn’t work out so well. The astringency made the pie inedible. Yet another occasion where I miss the chickens. The bread turned out well. Since both were made from the same batch of fruit, we’re scratching our heads on that one. The difference might be the bread had rum in it and the pies did not. Possibly the alcohol mitigated the astringency.

The sour cherries were reasonable this year. We didn’t try all that hard in picking them and so got one pie worth.

Non-tree fruit included the melons and the grapes.

The melons did poorly this year. We always have trouble with melons. It’s either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. We’re still experimenting with variety.

The grapes have developed black rot and we have to deal with this. Most of the grapes either didn’t produce well or the grapes withered before harvest. We also had a vacation in the middle of harvest and so we ended up feeding the birds, too. We did get about ten or so pounds of Concords so five gallons of wine are percolating on the counter.

The new strawberry patch is too new.

Spices

We have much pesto from the basil. The dill didn’t do well. The fennel was nice—had a nice fennel and cheese dinner last night. But while Wendy can taste the anise flavor, I could not. The flaw might be in the taster, not the taste.

The mint came in very well. We have about two pints total of ground-up mint for my tea this winter. That’s a win.

Sugar?

Not sure where to put the sugar beets. They’re a vegetable, I suppose, but we’re making sugar from it. We planted an eight-foot row and got about ten pounds worth. It’s reducing to syrup downstairs right now. I’ll be making sugar from it today or later in the week. Significant animal damage in that whole section: carrots, turnips, and beets. Have to think on that next time—if there is a next time.

Nuts

We now have three chestnut trees online and this year we got on the order of 30-40 pounds dry weight of chestnuts and we’re still processing them. We use it as flour adding it to bread recipes, and soups. We tried to make pasta from it but failed. We’ll try again. A definite win.

We also got about sixty pounds of black walnuts from a friend as a “gift.” We’re figuring that one out.

Vegetable

The biggest category of all.

We did fairly well with most of them. We had problems with carrots depending on location. Starting was an issue everywhere but the full sun carrots ended up giving us about five pounds of good yield. The carrots under the trellis were put in later and ultimately shaded by the beans. They gave us many tiny carrots.

Cucumber, eggplant, and peppers were pretty good. The cucumbers gave us many pickles and the eggplant came in strong. The problem with eggplant is it doesn’t store all that well and it’s hard to use up fifteen pounds before it rots. But we managed. The peppers did all right but we also didn’t really work on them. Hot peppers did well.

We had some trouble with the cold crops: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and the like. We do have some sprouts waiting in the garden until I get to them but it was only four plants. There’s also some bok choi waiting for us. We did plant five cabbages and got five cabbages, so that’s a win. By and large, I’d say the cold crops were a wash.

Turnips were in the same area as the sugar beets. We got three big ones but the others were chewed up.

We like to grow celeriac (celery root) because it tastes good in soups. Usually, they sort of pod up like kohlrabi. These didn’t and looked like brittle stars or hairy snakes. Not sure if this is the variety we used or something in the environment. More investigation needed.

Finally got some zucchini. Usually, we’re pulling literal feet of them from the garden but for some reason, they didn’t really get started until mid-August. So, we got a couple of big ones but nothing like the usual crop. Again, more investigation needed.

We did well on the beans. About eleven pounds total, which is a pretty terrific return on investment from four packages. Runner beans gave us two pounds. Pole beans gave us nine. We didn’t do so well with the pinto beans. I think that was a location error. No idea regarding the bush beans as we picked them fresh and ate them. I think we did all right but I have no numbers to back that up.

Finally, the potatoes. We did very well with the potatoes. Right now we have on the order of forty pounds in storage that we’re working through.

Conclusion

The goal was to aim to make an impact on our calorie consumption from our crops. Between the chestnuts, the beans, and the potatoes, I think that experiment succeeded. That said, two of those crops are starch heavy so they’re good for calories but don’t contribute all that much to protein. The beans are an exception there.

We use beans in stews and soups. I’ve been told that one pound is the equivalent to one preparation and that preparation results in about three meals. That means we have on the order of thirty-plus meals from the beans. If we say two pounds of potatoes/meal (which is fairly generous), that means twenty or so meals there. Presuming this is mostly dinner, that’s fifty meal/days from those two crops.

The chestnut is harder to quantify since we don’t actually use it as a meal. Instead, we add it to other things. Chestnut flour might, for example, end up in one of those soups.

The remaining crops that we’ve stored such as persimmon, carrots, etc., add to a meal but don’t constitute a meal in themselves. They have an impact on the pocketbook but not necessarily on meal/days.

We haven’t yet determined our loss from storage. I’ll know more about that come spring.

Every year we try an experiment. This year was the sugar beets. It looks like I’m going to get about a pint of syrup from ten pounds of beets. This translates into perhaps a half pound of sugar. At this point, it has an interesting and not unpleasant taste. Pulling this into production requires handling the pest problem and figuring out a better way to extract the sugar. According to my research, the most efficient way of getting sugar is also the most efficient way of getting an off, beet flavor. We chose the more inefficient way which gave us about four gallons of “sap.”

We might try the grinding method and then attempt to filter out the bad taste.

Next year, I think my experiment will be sorghum. There are a couple of varieties that seem to have high yields and good taste. We will see.

That’s it from the farm until next year.

Authors

6 thoughts on “State of the Farm: Reckoning 2023”

  1. re: finding ways to eat chestnuts – we’ve got three mature trees as well so we’re always looking for new ways to eat them. Our favourites are chestnut fritters, chestnut and potimaron gnocci and chestnut chocolate cake.

  2. Jennifer Stevenson

    OMG Chris, chestnut chocolate cake!? Sounds fiendish! Anything like hazelnuts with chocolate? (I’ve had that as a flourless chocolate cake, omg yes.)

    When do we get your farm report, Chris?

    Steve, I had no idea you guys were working so hard on this truck farm! Yikies, so much weeding and digging and things. Congratulations on the yield! Thank ghu I have a double lot with 35 mature trees … zero arable land without tree roots and 80% shade all day long, or I’d be tempted. I can grow opossums.

  3. FWIW (and this was forty years ago and at the Southeast end of the state) my father significantly reduced the animal-related loss by covering his garden with black plastic and cutting holes for the plantings. The animals did not like to step on the plastic, for reasons best known to them. It also substantially cut down on weeding, since the weeds didn’t get any sun. On the other hand, we never, in all the years we were there, managed to get a single cherry from our cherry tree before the birds took them all, so you’re way ahead of the game.

  4. Madeleine: I have seen several truck farms in the area using black plastic. I’ve been nervous about it since it seems the span of the plastic is about 3 feet–I’m not sure how much water gets in and there doesn’t seem to be any irrigation tubing. But, maybe I’m just paranoid.

    Jennifer: Chestnuts are bit of a PITA. We: 1) Dehusk them. They husk is a spiky mess. But if we wait for the nuts to come out on their own we end up feeding squirrels. 2) We poke holes in the remaining shell and nuke them, followed by drying them a bit to make the shells more brittle. 3) break off the shells. 4) Dry them to within an inch of their life. That’s how we store them. For flour, I found a Chinese flour maker–I don’t use the word “grinder” as it’s more like an coffee grinder on steroids. I feel I’m taking my life in my hands every time I use it. But it was $60 and the lowest price flour grinder I found was, at the time, $350.

    Also, if you have 35 mature trees, possibly you could lose a couple… That said, I’ve been told opossums are good eatin’. 🙂

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