Saturday, October 01, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Summer Into Fall

While city folk can live in denial of the change of seasons, refusing to bring in the patio furniture and insisting on dining outdoors until the first snow flies, farmers have to acknowledge summer's end and prepare for the onset of winter. This week contributor Anthony Boutard lets us in on the preparations at Ayers Creek Farm.

The harvest has shifted from blackberries to beans and corn. Last Sunday, as the furies vented in Hillsdale, it was a sunny and warm afternoon in Gaston, not a drop of rain and nothing but the merest zephyr was observed. Zenon and Abel shook their heads in disbelief when we described the rain and malicious gusts of wind that that bedeviled us. Any thought that they were teasing us was banished by buckets of freshly harvested and very dry Dutch Bullet beans. Bean season was officially open.

About half of the beans of each variety were dry and ready to pick this week. With rain forecast for next week, it is a good idea to harvest everything that is ready. Since last Sunday, it has been a steady and relentless march through the bean rows. After picking, the pods are threshed, and then the beans are run through a fanning mill to remove debris. The beans are laid out on screens where they will remain until they are absolutely dry. We run a dehumidifier to hasten the drying. Fully dry beans have a distinctive click when you run your fingers through them.

Virtually all beans in the United States are mechanically harvested with a combine. This works well for the standard commodity beans which have been carefully bred for tough skins that allow them to survive in the maw of the machine. Our beans are thin skinned and split far too easily to go through that ordeal. One year we tried using the larger thresher and we had an ugly mess on our hands. The beans we grow have to be hand harvested and gently threshed, there is no way around that fact. The culinary quality of beans with a thin skin make the effort worthwhile. Nonetheless, we are one of a tiny handful of farms willing to grow these beans.

Today, we shifted to harvesting the flint corn. Last winter, Giana Bernardini, baker emeritus at Nostrana, was entrusted with selecting the seed ears, so we are dubbing the 2011 harvest the "Bernardini Collection." They are beautiful ears, Giana. Like the beans, we finish drying the corn under cover, and the air is filled with the sweet fragrance of corn. The ears are laid out on the same screens we use to dry the frikeh and beans. They will need several weeks to dry enough to store. Because we planted more rows of corn, we will need to assemble more screens. The Amish Butter needs a couple of weeks more before we start harvesting it. That variety always provides ample grounds for nail biting, especially in a late year like this.

A couple of showery days will allow us to assemble more screens and dig the sweet potatoes. They will need to cure in a 90 degree room for ten days, and then six weeks at room temperature. Then our attention will turn to the squash, as well as planting garlic and wheat. It will be a busy month, but we will get the preserves done.

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