Posted 9/24/2014 12:30pm by Judy Lessler.

For the Chronicles of Okra, I have been reading about the history of agriculture and have found some translations of ancient writings--Varro, Pliny and so on. This week I found a very interesting contemporary article on the history of grafting. Here are some cool things I found out. The article is A History of Grafting, by Ken Mudge, Jules Janick, Steven Scofield, and Eliezner Goldschmidt. I found it with a Google search and was able to download the PDF.  

Gathering of grains and pulses began about 10 to 12 thousand BC. Pulses are legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and peas. Soon after, these were domesticated. I am not sure when the Neolithic Era, which is defined as settled agricultural communities, actually is considered to have started. The Neolithic transition includes the development of towns and settled communities, clearing of land, and other characteristics of agricultural communities. Apparently there is no start date, and the transition occurred at different times all over the world. However, food collected from trees fruits and nuts were also an important part of the diet of these more settled communities.  

Growing new trees from the seeds of existing trees was problematic in that they did not breed true. Thus the first orchards were confined to fig, olive, pomegranate, grape, and date palms which can be propagated from cuttings or division of root stock. This type of orchard production was wide spread by the 4000 to 3000 BC. It was not until about 1000 BC that apple, pear, and plum orchards were wide spread. By then people had discovered grafting. This greatly facilitated the spread of fruit orchards and the improvement of varieties.  

Grafting involves cutting a scion from the desired tree, making a matching cut on the rootstock, and binding them together by carefully lining up the vascular cambium layers of the two trees. No one knows how ancient people discovered this. Whoever did was the creative genius of his or her time and has had a larger impact on the world than either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or modern innovative heroes. I suspect that it was discovered in many places by many people.  

When we made our grafts for the coming pear orchard, we wrapped them with masking tape and covered the tape with a tar that kept water out and held moisture in. The ancients used a mixture of lime, bark, mud, and hair to seal the graft. They were aware of the need to keep moisture in, and not having any tape or tar, they sometimes suspended a pot of water over the graft and let water drip on the graft to keep if from drying out.  

The ancients did not know about genetics, and some reasoned that the roots of a plant determined the nature of the fruit and growth because of the liquid that flowed from the roots up into the tree. This posed a serious problem for explaining why, for example, a red rose grafted on a white rose only produced red roses. No hybrid mixing was observed. One theory was that the scion sent down its own roots through the branches and trunk of the rootstock and was, thereby, able to maintain its innate characteristics.  

So cool.

Posted 9/23/2014 8:44am by Judy Lessler.

Creating a Pear Orchard

Harland's Creek Farm is located on  the Alston-DeGraffenreidt national historic site.  When my husband and I purchased this property in the 1970's, we just knew it was a beautiful piece of land with an old house on it.  Later, we found some old farming records that dated back to the early 1800's. We donated these papers to the NC Department of Archives and History, and they, in turn, had the house declared a National Historic House.  Later some of the land was also put into a national historic site.

We did not have heat; we had kudzu growing everywhere, including the porches which we did not consider as a valued alternative to heat. But, we had a fancy name and aspirations to go with it. 

One of the first things we did was to clear kudzu.  We uncovered old pastures, old roads, and an old orchard.  The orchard was to the east of the house and contained pear and apple trees, all of which were gnarled and cracked here and there. We harvested the fruit for many years, and I made pies, apple sauce, and served cooked pears over ice cream.

The pear trees were an Asian pear variety and some were more than 30 feet tall. Over the years, these trees died out, but, occasionally my husband, who died in 2002, would bring up some that he had found in the woods at an old building site. I pretty much forgot about them.

In 2011, I had to cut down most of a stand of trees that were on the south of our main growing fields because the pines and hardwoods had grown tall and shaded the fields. One small Asian pear tree was not cut because if was of no interest to the loggers. In a fit of joy at having survived the logging or maybe just better growing conditions, it put out several bushels of pears--without spots and with absolutely no attention from us farmers. I realized that this was an offspring of the pears in the old orchard and that it was totally adapted to the conditions on our farm. Thus, we came up with the idea to make it the basis for an orchard.

I talked to my uncle, Uncle LQ, who taught horticulture for years, and he recommended that we graft them on a smaller tree to keep them from growing 30 or 40 feet tall. Unfortunately LQ died in late 2012, and our plans to do this together were never to be. Thinking of him and of this tree that had such a long family history on this farm, I decided to go ahead without LQ.

I did some research and contacted Lee Calhoun who is a master orchardist and author of Old Southern Apples. Lee came out to help us and we grafted about 100 trees this spring. About 50 of them have survived. We are now in the process of preparing the planting area.  The first step has to be putting up a fence to deal with the pesky dear.  We should have a full crop in 5 years. 


Posted 9/15/2014 12:55pm by Judy Lessler.

Okra grows in the field from summer until frost. It is at its peak when it the weather is hot, hot, hot, but will continue to produce during the chiller days. Because of this, you can find in season okra just when the farmers' markets and CSA boxes in our area start also having salad mix. A green salad with Okra Croutons can be the center piece in many easy meals. For example, try it with a grilled cat fish or hamburgers. If you have small amounts of okra, you can use it in cornbread or corn muffins. At the Burkville Alabama Okra Festival I had corn muffins with hot pepper and okra. You could use a muffin mix and add the jalapeno and the okra. I would not use more than half a jalapeno pepper with the seeds removed and finely chopped. After all you do not want to look over and find your spouse or children picking through their muffin to remove the jalapeno.  

Another great recipe for okra and late season eggplant comes from Virginia Willis's wonderful okra cookbook. It is a large recipe and makes use of both okra and eggplant and would be good choice for entertaining. I modified it a bit to fit with the oriental eggplant that HCF CSA customers get in their boxes. Iranian Okra Khoresh.

Tags: eggplant, okra
Posted 9/2/2014 10:45am by Judy Lessler.

Cooking:  On Saturday at the Burkville Alabama Okra Festival I had the best succotash that I have ever eaten. It was made by Doris Green who is the sister of Alice Stewart who was a founder of the Okra Festival (see below). Doris was dead tired on Saturday after cooking multiple dishes for the festival, and I still need to get her recipe for the okra succotash. I think, however, I have a good idea why it was so good. It was how she had prepared the vegetables. She used okra, squash, tomatoes, and onions. She had thinly sliced some baby squash and the okra—piece were less than a quarter inch thick. The onions were cut into pieces that matched and the tomatoes were in small pieces. There was some other squash that was quartered and also sliced into small pieces. It was salted, probably on the heavy side since I like salt a lot and did not have any desire to add any. She did tell me that she used no oil and just gently simmered the dish. I aim to experiment when I get home and to get in touch with Doris to find our more details.  

Farming and Thinking:  I am writing this from Montgomery Alabama where I attended the Okra Festival in Lowndes County Al on Saturday. This is a very small community festival started some 15 years ago by Barbara Evans and Alice Steward who lived across the street from each other on Harriet Tubman Road in Lowndes County.

Harriet Tubman Road is a narrow paved road, more like a track road. It is the size and structure of what we would leave as a gravel road in NC because, in NC, we have enough freezing and thawing that a paved road would not survive the winters without buckling, cracking, and forming potholes. They do not have that problem in Alabama where signs on bridges do not say “Bridge Ices before Roadway” but rather give a mile warning “Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather.” Alice died in 2002 but her family still participates in the festival with her sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and assorted others coming together to cook food and welcome people to the festival.   Amos Kennedy, an artist who does letter press printing, has made a poster for each year of the festival since 2002.

Barbara is a community activist and many of the poster have a message that leans in that direction. Examples include:   2014: GO GREEN EAT OKRA; 2012: WE PICK OUR OKRA FROM THE LEFT; 2011: THE PEOPLE'S VEGETABLE  

More about this festival in later posts.   


Posted 8/27/2014 11:53am by Judy Lessler.

Farming and Thinking: I once asked Vicki Roberson, who along with her husband Bobby, collaborates with us on our CSAs) what kind of pumpkins she was growing. She said that they were "Old-Timey Pumpkins." Not finding such in any seed catalog, when we both had more time, I asked her again. It turns out that years and years ago she asked a farmer from whom she was getting pumpkins where the seed came from. He told her that they were old-timey pumpkins and that he had been saving the seeds from year to year. Vicki and Bobby Roberson have continued this practice of saving some of the best pumpkins and using them for seeds.  CSA customers got these in our boxes this week.

For everyone,I am passing on some old-timey knowledge. I have been reading an annotated translation of Pliny the Elder's Natural History. Pliny lived in the first century AD. He has a chapter on how long it takes certain plants to germinate that fits with our experience, with arugula (called rocket in the translation) coming up in 3 days and parsley taking up to 30 days to germinate. I was impressed with this and became more impressed when I read the note that pointed out that Pliny had copied most of this from Theophrastus, a Greek who lived and wrote some 350 years before Pliny. So amazing.  

Theophrastus succeeded Aristotle at the Greek School of Philosophy called the Peripatetic School because supposedly Aristotle walked around as he lectured. This last might be an urban myth because apparently there was also a place with a similar name where the students met to hear Aristotle's lectures. We will probably never know the answer as to whether or not it is a myth.

Pliny the Elder died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. As well as being a famous naturalist and agronomist, he was an admiral in the Roman Navy. He was on a peninsula just west of Naples and could see the clouds from the explosion. Somehow he got a message (probably through a Morse code like flag system) that a woman called Rectina, who was a close friend, was terrified of being killed. Pliny had already been considering sailing over to view the volcanic explosion, something very tempting for a naturalist, when he got that message, and it was the tipping point that made him decide to go.

Pliny was killed by volcanic fumes while there; however, many of his crew escaped. Pliny's nephew, Pliny the Younger, wrote a contemporary account of his uncle's death based on the information brought back by the crew. You can read it (in English, no need to know Latin) at this web site:     

It is amazing how connected we are to those who farmed 2500 years ago.  There is a continuing thread of gradually building knowledge and those, like Pliny, who documented procedures made great contributions to this accumulation of knowledge.

Posted 7/16/2014 12:11pm by Judy Lessler.

Andria's Summer Tomato Salad  is a great easy summer meal.  The Andria in the title grew up on what is now Harland's Creek Farm, and is my daughter.  Andria now lives in Oakland CA. She worked for many years at Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco which was located within walking distance of Golden Gate Park.  I loved hanging out  in that area when I visited  her.  Occasionally, the bakery staff would all me to volunteer at the bakery so that I could see how the process worked. Getting fresh baked goods on the shelf at the right times is an intense and tightly controlled process. Having a volunteer was not necessarily an advantage, but I got to do it because of having status as a mother of an employee. Their baked goods are fabulous.  If you go to San Francisco, try and visit Arismendi  Bakery.

Andria is now studying and hoping to be a vet.

Posted 7/1/2014 11:39am by Judy Lessler.

Cooking:  Everybody deserves a  red, white, and blue meal for July 4.  Her is a recommendation:

Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, Southern Cold Slaw, and Amazing Beet Salad. Blueberries and honey dew melon.

You will find everything you need at the farmers market, although honey dew melons might be rare.  Other white fleshed melons are Sprite and Casaba. Of course, you can vary this menu and make a watermelon and blueberry salad. Just cut the watermelon into pieces about an inch or so big, mix with the blueberries, add some basil, and dress with a mild vinaigrette dressing. 

We have NC hard neck garlic this year, and it came out really well. There is a hard core down through the cloves. Use a knife to flip the cloves off the core. We cut the core too short today; however, for future deliveries, we will leave a longer neck so that you can hold it to take the cloves off.  This is the  the best garlic we  have ever grown on the farm.  Because the seeds, which are really single clovers from a garlic bulb, came from NC, they were adapted to our climate.  Most of the garlic I had grown before came from California or Washington State, and did less well.  Garlic is subject to "genetic drift" in that if you select the best bulbs from this one year's crop for the next year, your crop will be better the second year.  We lost only about 1 or 2 percent of the planting this year, whereas in past years, we lost about 15 to 20 percent. 

Boiling beets is an easy way to prepare them to use in recipes. Here's how: Cut the large beets to equal the size of the small ones, trim off some of the hairy parts, and boil unpeeled beets until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Cool and slip the skins off, and store in the refrigerator to use in the recommended recipes. If you are in a hurry to peel them, you can cool them in cold or ice water 

I have become a local hero with the Amazing Beet Salad, having made it for several pot lucks with lots of the new garlic.  


Posted 6/24/2014 11:20am by Judy Lessler.

I am in Baltimore helping my daughter-in-law care for my 3 month old grandson while my son is away at a conference in Seattle. Today Alexander and I are having a long solo time together because my DIL (Lauren) is off to the university.

It is a really different life in the middle of Baltimore. This morning I put the baby in his wheelie, which holds his car seat, and walked to Starbucks for an iced latte, to Radio Shack to replace my phone charger, and to Safeway to buy vinegar and tuna. I sat in the shade, drinking my latte, and Alexander enjoyed his thumb while snoozing in the wheelie/car seat. 

Wheelie + car seat = Giant Stroller. The Durham Farmers' Market is full of these. Parents can store a week's worth of produce in them along with babies and children.  There may be a washer and dryer underneath so that they can do laundry at the same time.  


Posted 6/17/2014 11:42am by Judy Lessler.

Cooking: This week the CSA members  got meal plans with lots of cold dishes. LINK TO MEAL PLANS.  It is going to be in the 90s all week long. I have reacted to this by giving you lots of cold dishes in the menu plans. If you have a porch or patio, it is a good time to turn on the fan, eat late in the day, and sit outside and listen to the peepers and croakers settle down for the night. I recommend buying some melon to eat as a desert with these cold meals.  

You can go even colder: The cabbage dish is from the NY Times. Last year they published an article called A Dozen Recipes for Slawless Cabbage. My spell checker objects to slawless as a word, as do all the online dictionaries. Maybe one can just add a suffix "less" to any word and get a new word meaning none of the root word; however, it seems kind of awkward. Hatless, shirtless pictures of Putin abound. But would one really want to say, for example, "My house is snakeless, dogless, and catless"  if one eschewed pets of these types? Glutenless? Fingerless?  Are these OK?  Anyway, it is the NY Times, and several editors probably approved; so, I am passing it along regardless of any grammar concerns. I put in a link, and you could go with their Thai salad or Cabbage Caesar Salad if you do not want to turn on the heat at all. Also, instead of frying up some burgers for M4. you could get slice deli turkey. The best I have found  and one of  the cheapest is Sara Lee Cracked Pepper Turkey Breast.  

Farming and Thinking:  In the cycle of the year, greens are the first and last things the earth puts out for us to eat. I think that it is interesting that we have foods with such high nutritional content both before and after the cold non-producing months. This gives us a boost before the long cold period and reinvigorates us afterwards. And, given the long series of 90 degree plus days we are looking at, I think we are seeing the end of the greens.  

Our chickens are down in the field in Plot I, which is where we will have the main crop of vegetables next year. I go down every night to close then in the chicken tractor to protect them from possums, foxes, and raccoons. As the days are getting longer and longer, the hour I make the trip gets later and later because the chickens will not to in their abode until it gets dark.  I almost always wish I did not have to make the 10 minute trek to the chicken tractor, and, after I do, I am always glad I had this last walk with the dogs and last chance of the day to see the garden and hear the animals as they settle down for the night. This last week, we have had a full or near full moon, and I have not even turned on the flashlight.

Posted 6/10/2014 11:04am by Judy Lessler.

Farming: We are starting into the seam or the transition period between the spring and summer vegetables. We are beginning to harvest potatoes and squash; however, the lettuces and greens are still plentiful. I know some of you are ready to see greens disappear and to find a box full of compact things like tomatoes, beans, okra, and eggplant. That time is coming.  

The okra that is "on stage this year" is growing. We have planted two types, Star of David and Clemson Spineless 80. Ann Silverman, a local artist and paper maker, is going to make paper from each type of okra. Below are a couple of pictures we made last week when we thinned the okra. Ann came over for the thinning and took some of the young pieces plants.

The first picture shows Ann and Erasmo. Ann is holding some of the thinning, Thinned okra is on the left and to be thinned is on the right. The second picture shows Rene and Erasmo in the process of weeding and thinning. Rene is holding a bunch of quelite, which is a green in the amaranth family that grows wild on the farm. We consider a weed. It actually is delicious and makes a good braising green; however, we have not been successful in selling it. I carried that bunch to the cooler for Rene, and his family had if for dinner that night.



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