Maple tapping has begun and it’s complicated, arduous, physical labor in freezing cold weather. The “sap bush”, which is an area of trees that get tapped, needs specific equipment and so does the person doing the tapping. Each tree gets tapped by hand in a different place on its trunk each year and some of the tubing – called a dropline (in darker blue above) – is replaced. The sap line (in turquoise above) stays in place. Every year the tree gets a new tap and Tree Juice Maple Syrup has roughly 8,000 taps to replace. Tapping began this year on January 31st, 2021 in 15 degrees Fahrenheit and it continues this week even in a foot or two of snow, into which even the snow shoes are sinking.
“The tap network is a lot like the body,” says Jake Fairbairn part-owner of Tree Juice Maple Syrup. “The dropline is the capillary, the bigger arteries are the sap lines that lead to the bigger main lines (in black above). As you get more centralized you get bigger and bigger arteries”.
First the barrels had bourbon in them. Then they had Tree Juice maple syrup aging in them. As of 9am this morning, they contained Jenkins + Luekens apple juice, recommended locally as both tasty and well-produced, allegedly the best apple juice in the Catskills which is UV light-treated (cold-pasteurized). JL Orchards based in Gardiner, NY, have 200 acres of apples and other fruit like peaches and plums.
Now is a good time to experiment with cider making; apple season is winding down but there are still plenty of apples left. One 10-gallon barrel (pictured above) will be used to ferment the juice into hard cider that will spend its entire production life in the barrel. Perhaps we’ll go a little wild with this barrel, remove the bung and leave it to take on ambient yeast. The other barrel will be decanted into two five-gallon carboys with champagne yeast, fermented into hard cider and then returned to the bourbon barrel for aging.
This will be intensely flavorful Catskills juice. Watch this space.
Horseradish is a spicy root of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables (that includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, cabbage, and radish), that looks rather like a white, gnarled parsnip. The roots run deeply into the ground and the edible leaves that are bigger than rhubarb leaves, but long and thin instead of round, can grow to four or five feet in height. It’s easy to take credit for a huge horseradish crop, but the reality is that you can never really be rid of it. Once you try digging it up out of the ground, you realize that it’s tentacle-like roots travel far and wide around your garden, so you have to stop digging at some point. Whatever root is left is sure to pop out of the earth and produce leaves the following year. If you like spicy food, it’s a really easy crop to grow because of the low maintenance, frost resistance and it’s prolific growth rate. Hot peppers are much fussier than this hardy root.
Horseradish is most commonly found in a sauce with vinegar, but vinegar plus horseradish seems a little excessive: do we really need to suffer that much? I don’t. You can make it a little gentler on the palette by grating it into a condiment like mayonnaise or ketchup, or soups, or finely grating it into a hollandaise to put over eggs for a spicy benedict. It also goes well in a creamy butter sauce for venison or steak.
Store unwashed horseradish root in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Once washed and grated, it should be put into vinegar to preserve it, but it must be used within six weeks.
Horseradish root is high in fiber; said to improve digestion and metabolism and contains a variety of nutrients like calcium, potassium, folate and Vitamin C.
The last year has been quite an extraordinary one, maybe even the most extraordinary year of my life and quite an incredible experience. The upshot is that I quarantined alone on this hill for over three months without any human contact. I had split up with my husband last August and our farm lay abandoned as I considered my options: go back home to England? Move back to New York City? I tried both, then along came Covid-19.
We had made a mess of beekeeping too. Someone suggested that we smear honey on the outside of the hive, for some reason that I can’t remember, and the bees just kept getting robbed until they absconded for good.
I’m writing a book, so the farm has gone “holistic” for the last week or two and I’m producing a great deal of seeds. Even some of the purslane has blossomed yellow flowers. I’m allowing the asparagus to grow wild, so that the roots will benefit for next year’s season. I also let the Adirondack Red spuds linger too long in the kitchen and they wrinkled up, went moldy and sprouted. The good news is that they smell weird, so the chipmunks won’t go near them. I received a farming pro-tip: throw them in the bed and cover them with straw. Keep the straw wet. I’ve no idea why. It took five minutes in the scorching 90F weather today, so I felt a small accomplishment. We’ll see what happens.
Bee update: the bees left. They must have swarmed last winter because they left a honey super with seven frames of capped honey that had to be processed by hand this week. This took two days with one muslin bag and a sieve. It took four hours to clean up the kitchen. Sticky. We’re all in a sticky situation, so no change here. In fact, the empty frames are still outside in a big plastic tub waiting to be scrubbed.
This is Covid honey, not having been processed in a commercial kitchen and because of the all the finger-licking, probably will have to be eaten by me alone because I’ve no idea if I’m Corona-free or not.
I’ve produced about six mason jars of honey and about five pounds of wax and thinking of ways to eat all this sweet stuff. Breakfast every day is toast with honey using Bread Alone’s health bread – I have few loaves of this in the freezer. What else? Tea with honey, plus if you put a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and stir, this makes a healthful and tasty beverage. Well, maybe not tasty, but definitely makes you feel fantastic. Hold your nose and chug it down.
Recipe ideas welcome in the comments section. Please! Meanwhile, here’s what I did with some carrots. And then I ate the whole lot with a pint of Ommegang Rare Vos. Drink local!
Honey-Glazed Julienne Carrots
This recipe is really easy. Put two cups of julienned carrots in a skillet with a knob of butter and salt/pepper to taste. Personally, I don’t use either. I just don’t find it necessary because I use local vegetables and they taste great on their own. Stir over a medium-to-high heat for about seven minutes. If the carrots dry out, add a splash of cold water and then put the lid on so they steam for a minute. This adds water. If you do this twice in the first seven minutes, you’ll get a half-inch of buttery glaze that the carrots can steam in. After seven minutes, stir in a quarter-cup of honey over the carrots, wait a few seconds for the honey to liquify, and then stir well over the heat for the remaining three minutes. The carrots will be crunchy and sweet.
On March 15th last week, we woke to a bare Catskills landscape like it had thrown off its white quilt in the night and saw a high of 65F that day: such a stark difference from last year on the same day in the same place, where it remained at 37F and covered in snow.
Just before noon last week, we decided to check the last surviving bee hive. To our delight, after five years of trying to keep bees and failing, we discovered that our white hive of bees survived the winter. (The Warre hive into which we had installed a swarm last year did not.)
We re-stocked the surviving bee hive with food patties for the bees, just in case we got another cold snap, and put back the lid. Last year, we built a heavy “roof” for our hive and insulated it with old, woolen sweaters and pillows and this seems to have kept them warm. The hive is thriving.
Six weeks ago, we caught a swarm that was attached to a tree close to our first hive and transferred them to a new, temporary hive. A few days later, we moved them to this new Warre hive (pictured above) – a top bar hive – that comes with viewing windows at the back, so you can see what’s going on the hive without pulling out the frames (pictured bottom).
It’s not clear whether the swarm on the tree was a group of our own agitated bees in the first hive that had been robbed several times. It’s possible that they made a new queen and split. However, six weeks later, this new colony in the Warre hive is very calm, unlike the bees in our first hive, the occupants of which are occasionally defensive. (This can only be an advantage when a hungry bear comes to collect the honey later on in the year. A bear has already come within sniffing distance of the hive – he left evidence of his visit – but departed without trying to take anything despite the heady aroma of honey around the hive. The bees are docile when they’re foraging – now the Goldenrod is out – but are always prepared for another invasion. This trait may cycle out with each new wave of brood.)Continue reading →
On a chance walkabout in the orchard between torrential rain showers this afternoon, we discovered a swarm of bees in the plum tree: an extraordinary sight to behold. Our original bees had come under attack from robber bees three weeks agoand have been having a hard time in the last few weeks, so this swarm could have been our own hive splitting in half and evacuating with a new queen. The original hive is now calm and not being robbed. (We’ll take a look in there tomorrow.)
The swarm on the plum branch seemed like a casual gift, almost accidental – like Mother Nature threw us a bone – to make up for the fact that our original hive was robbed. It was nice to be with bees that were happy. The swarm was docile, as all bees without a home are, as they have nothing to protect. We had to act quickly because more rain was forecast. Continue reading →
An experienced, local beekeeper recommended that, because we have a developing, young hive, we should smear a small dollop of high-quality, raw honey on the landing pad for the bees to eat. This turned out to be another mistake and invited an attempted invasion by a group of opportunistic bees that were twice the size, just proving that beekeeping is such a personal endeavor subject to just about any possible variable. The survival of each hive is unique depending on location, weather, surrounding vegetation or position and each beekeeper should necessarily develop their own style.
The next mistake we made was at the time of the attempted robbery in trying to adjust the entrance reducer while they were defending the hive from the attack to prevent any more robbing bees from entering, but we just got attacked ourselves.
Hive robbing is a common problem during drought or hot conditions. A weak or young hive is especially vulnerable to attack when it hasn’t rained for a while, flowers are wilting or there’s little to no pollen around during that time between spring’s early blossoms like apple and the summer flowers like milkweed that’s just coming up now.
Our bees successfully fought off their attackers last week, but the bandits have returned today and there’s chaos at the front of the hive this afternoon. It makes for very angry bees and we’ve had a couple of bee stings today. We’ve left them alone to defend themselves and hoping for the best. To defend the hive they are darting around the front of the hive like bullets and “bearding” around the hive entrance. Beekeeping is not easy.
After a week, the bees are still there, but they appear to have created a couple of swarming cells which is not a good sign. Not entirely sure we still have a queen present, but we have a good smattering of capped drone and brood cells. They drank all the sugar water we installed in the hive with them last week. Over the last week, the have started building out two new, empty frames we installed in the brood box with them with a waxy comb.
On Friday, we added another brood box refilled their sugar water container. I’m told that this may have made them too cold, but the swarm cells possibly contain a new, growing queen, so an extra brood box may stop them all from leaving for a bigger home. Time will tell.
Upstate Dispatch is now the proud owner of a nucleus (“nuc”) of bees developed for us by a Hudson Valley beekeeper and after picking them up, and driving them home, through the Catskills for over an hour, they were pretty agitated. Not for them the excitement of driving over the top of Kaaterskill Peak, past Kaaterskill Falls in enigmatic fog. We installed them in their new home, gave them sugar solution and fresh water, but they remained pissed off for several hours, buzzing around the hive frantically and attempting to sting us. When bees are pissed off, they fly angrily, darting around like little black bullets, all in perfect unison.
When you pick up your bees, you should do so at twilight, after they have come back to their nuc or hive to rest. Drive them under cover of dusk and install them in the hive after dark. We did none of this because the timing was all wrong. The nuc was suddenly ready, without ample warning and we weren’t able to plan very well, but this is the essence of farming. You do the best you can and Mother Nature does whatever she wants. Continue reading →
I first encountered lion’s mane mushroom last August on a hiking trail. It was growing on a dead log and I took half of it home and sautéed it with scrambled eggs. It was delicious, meaty and delicately fragrant with the texture of lobster. The mushroom is a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients and is said to improve neurological function and alleviate anxiety.
Despite the mid-week snow, on the warmest day of the year yesterday, the potato shoots were popping up, along with a large rash of arugula that looked like all the seeds had sprouted, rhubarb and hard-necked German garlic, the mother of all garlics with cloves as big as your thumb. Whether they survive this week’s plunge into far colder temperatures remains to be seen, but we’re expecting rain tomorrow, more snow mid-week and a steady 40F or thereabouts. Continue reading →
Our early attempts at beekeeping failed when our bees died over one of the Catskills’ harshest winters four years ago and we never got back on that horse again. Past Catskills winters have been brutal with night-time lows as low as 15F recorded on our thermometer, but that was nothing compared to the temperatures we have just been though this winter: -19F over this past Christmas and the New Year. Not sure how any creatures except the penguin survives these kinds of temperatures, but year after year, we find bumble bees pollinating our crops. They must survive in the wild somehow. Continue reading →
Yesterday, the temperature inexplicably rose up into the sixties for a few hours, followed by rain and a severe flood watch. Since then it has plunged back into the teens after an overnight snow storm, during which I woke up to the sound of cracking trees and thundering wind rattling my drain pipes. Never a dull moment here in the mountains. Continue reading →
I know what you’re thinking. This looks hideous. Who would eat this? But, If you’re an avid mushroom hunter, a devotee of all things mycological, then you’ll miss the vast array of mushrooms that were available in the forest during the warmer seasons. Pictured above is a mushroom grow kit, specifically Lion’s Mane, a delicate, fragrant mushroom with a taste and texture that’s a cross between lobster and truffles. I found only one stash of Lion’s Mane back in August in the forest and it was delicious. I’m trying to recreate this mushroom in my kitchen with a grow kit purchased from Catskill Fungi, but I think the room is a bit too light and warm. Mushrooms are extraordinarily sensitive and I have not been able to encourage this packet to achieve its full potential. In the wild, it looks like this: Continue reading →
During the winter, if you have a spot in the house that gets a great deal of sun, turn it into a hothouse for cultivation. It couldn’t be easier to grow your own celery. When you next use celery, chop off the entire root system in one slice. Place the celery, root pointing down, in a glass of water (pictures below) and then plant it once your get some new growth that looks like frilly lettuce (pictured above). Continue reading →
Garlic goes in about a month before the first frost of the season. One clove, planted two inches deep (with four inches between cloves) will grow into one bulb of garlic by next spring. The garlic pictured above is German hard neck garlic and the cloves are huge and juicy. The reason farmed garlic is so much bigger than wild garlic is that every year the largest cloves are planted, yielding bigger and bigger produce. Go to our Instagram feed to see footage of the planting.
Sunflowers are astonishingly beautiful and uplifting, towering over the farm like sentry guards radiating happiness, accumulating and distributing sunshine. They’re also packed with thousands of highly nutritious, edible seeds. Once they start to droop towards the ground, you may have to compete with the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels, who climb up them in search of the seeds and break the stems. When the blooms are resting on the ground, like they’re on some floral time-out, they seeds are fair game. You can either wrap the live heads in paper to stop animals from eating them, or you can cut the heads off completely even before they’re ready to harvest.
The seed is the white pellet underneath the yellow face of the bloom (pictured above). They develop a black strip as the flower dies, eventually turning a dusky, dark grey/black (pictured below). They are even delicious like this without any cooking, and packed full of raw nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin B-6 and high in potassium and magnesium. Continue reading →
The hazelnut bushes are thriving in the orchard and we got hundreds more nuts this year than last year. We have about four or five pounds. They grow in beautiful pods that are like frilly fingers on green hands that offer you the fruit. Once picked, the green frills dry into a husk which you have to peel off to reveal the hazelnut.
Like all nuts, hazelnuts are high in fat, but also a good source of magnesium, iron, fiber, calcium and vitamin D. Hazelnuts are the basis of Nutella, a delicious European chocolate spread. While the nuts dry, we’ll decide what to do with them.
Both the arugula and the bok choy quickly went to seed in the summer heat. A happy accident that yielded thousands of free seeds, shaken from the dry plants, to be planted when it’s a little cooler. Find the video on our instagram feed. Continue reading →
This week is National Farmer’s Market week. The invaluable, local farmer’s market that is sorely missed all winter is more than just a Saturday errand, it’s a living legend, a place where all the hard work, sweat and tears of production finally gets its showcase. Shopping at farmer’s markets greatly stimulates the local economy, creating jobs and increasing access to fresh, healthful food. Continue reading →
One of our first spring crops: a stand of asparagus. There’s nothing like cutting off a fresh stalk and eating it raw, still warm from the sun. Surprisingly juicy, the first bite of raw asparagus is also a satisfying crunch.
Seedling potatoes stored in a paper bag in the basement started shooting straw-like tubers over the winter. Apparently, this is a vegetational hazard; you’re supposed to check your spuds mid-winter. If they sprout you can add soil to the bag and plant them in spring. We’ll see if these spuds survive.
Biodynamic farming is on the rise wherein farmers integrate their crops and animals. “I’m trying to feed my neighbors – and if everyone did that, we would be able to replicate this,” says one California Farmer.
A brief article about Lyme from NPR. A local event focussing on Lyme at Table on Ten in Bloomville. Another good article about Lyme research from NPR here. Note that these experts say that most people are bitten while gardening because ticks lurk in their hedgerows.
Pure Catskills brochure is an excellent guide to farm stands, markets, farms, restaurants, stores, producers and much more in the Catskills: an invaluable resource.
It’s maple season: find our list of maple syrup sellers and producers here in the Catskills and some of the beautifully designed packaging makes these products excellent gifts. Maple syrup is vegan and packed full of vital nutrients.
If you thought farm work ceased over the winter, think again. Before Christmas, Kristi Burnett of Burnett Farms in Bovina Center was figuring out the water system for the pigs: they have a boar, two sows and a couple of piglets to “winterize”. At the beginning of December, the pond had frozen and when they ran the hose, it froze. They put a heater in one of their big cow troughs, so they can pull water out of it. December and January are months during which the Burnetts work out ideas for the forthcoming season. Farmers swap notes and share ideas at community dinners. “You definitely need a bit of rest time, but if you have animals you have to take care of them. The fence goes, water freezes, you carry buckets of grain and you’re slipping. It’s hard.”
From the Imperial War Museum in London: in addition to being asked to “keep calm and carry on”, citizens of England were encouraged to start their own small farms and allotments during World War II to supplement their strictly rationed diet. In fact, we only have carrot cake because of war-time rationing. As sugar was almost non-existent in England for years, finely grated carrots were used instead. Of course, upstaters can use maple syrup or honey. Most upstate dwellers have at least a kitchen garden and, if you want to control the quality of your food, growing it yourself is the best way of doing it. It’s hard work, though, and tough lessons are learned. It takes trial and error to find places where food grows well on your property, and in a short growing season this kind of challenge can take years to overcome, but the rewards are infinite.
When farmers retire and sell, “typically it’s a large corporation that purchases that land”. American Farmers are rapidly retiring. Who will succeed them? From Modern Farmer. “The lack of replacements for aging farmers is a real concern. The average age of U.S. farmers is 58.3 years, and over the next 25 years, more than one-fourth of all farmers are expected to retire, which would require an additional 700,000 to replace them.”
A very important film about seeds and a short clip from the Lexicon of Sustainability about how we eat hardly anything that our ancestors ate even 100 years ago and why this is the case. “The diversity in our seed stocks is as endangered as a panda or a polar bear”. And: “When we invaded Iraq, we destroyed that seed bank and we destroyed the ancient seeds that had been collected for the benefit of mankind”.
From the New York Times, could ancient remedies be the answer to the looming antibiotic crisis?
“Humankind, despite its artistic abilities, sophistication and accomplishments, owes its existence to a six-inch layer of farmable soil and the fact that it rains.” Anonymous quoted by John Jeavons. “In Nature, soil genesis takes an average of 500 years on the Earth to grow one inch of this wonderful element. This means it takes 3,000 years to grow six inches”.
Hazelnut bushes experience quite a transformation during their growing season. By the end of winter, they bear long, cream-colored tendrils that hang like old, decrepit Christmas tree decorations from their bare branches. By the time summer comes, those tendrils are clusters of bright green, frilly seed casings (pictured bottom) that each bear one hazelnut. It’s essential to harvest them before the squirrels and chipmunks grab them.
After picking, the garlic has to be hung out to dry for three weeks, which has been tricky during these past few weeks of heavy rainfall. A neighbor put his garlic in the wood-drying kiln because his property was so wet. Home grown garlic is so different from store bought garlic, but the main difference is that a clove of home grown garlic bursts with oil when you cut it.
For the first two years of my radio show, I ran a series called The Economy of Farming and interviewed local farmers and their advocates here in the Catskills. The subject has been dormant on this website for a while, but deserves some intensive focus because farmers of smallholdings are struggling. If you watch those videos circulating on social media depicting the deprivation of animals – and their hideous death – in industrialized meat production facilities, there’s something simple you can do about it. Buy locally raised meat that is ethically reared and humanely slaughtered.
If you let your rhubarb go to seed every year for two or three years without harvesting, it’ll become so strong and well established that you’ll end up with robo-barb: a fat, thigh-high bush with stalks as thick as broomsticks. It will be worth the wait to eat rhubarb from a three year old plant. I’ve tucked a little one-ounce shot glass from Amsterdam to help with the comparison here (pictured above). Pick stalks that are ten inches long at least. The shorter one here pictured above was taken by accident. Take only half the plant, as you need your rhubarb plant to go to seed before the winter. The best thing about rhubarb is that the animals hate it more than the asparagus, so it goes untouched year after year. Its season varies from April to June and although it’s considered a vegetable, it’s used like a fruit. It can go to seed as early as a month after the first harvest. Some brave souls eat the stalks raw. However, the leaves are poisonous, containing oxalate, so cut them off with at least an inch of the stalk and discard immediately.
The three pesticide-free beehives that were installed last May on Chasing Honey Farms natural apiary in Fleischmanns have survived the winter. Moreover, the bees have been collecting pollen for the last two weeks. When it was 80F in the middle of March, all three hives were active.
Proprietor Chase Kruppo had to start his beehives from scratch again a year ago because the bees he had installed the previous year had died over the winter. Once the new bees were installed in their hives on May 2nd last year, they were left to their own devices with wax foundations in the hives.
Chase is opposed to doing any artificial feeding of established colonies, but to start them last year, he said they definitely need a little boost. They arrived before the blossom, so they got one serving of sugar water for a week or two, in a one gallon bucket via the drip method. Chase noticed that the bees had stopped using the sugar water a week or two after going in the hive so he removed it. The carniolan bees had already surprised him with their industriousness, because they had formed a patty of wax comb inside the box in which they were transported.
Published on New York Upstate out of Syracuse today was the news that Kelsey Grammar is to open a farm brewery in Margaretville, a town here in the Central Catskills. After a long discussion on our Facebook page, however, local sources say it’s actually New Kingston, which is one town over. The brewery is allegedly only in the planning stages, but the news has caused quite a bit of excitement.
The New York State brewery revival started a few years ago with the advent of the new Farm Brewery Law as reported in the Watershed Post by your humble correspondent. Since then breweries have been springing up like wild-fire. Local historians have said that New York State was the largest hop growing state in the country one hundred years ago. Here’s to retrieving that status from the annals of history. Like the hops plant itself, pictured above, the Catskills craft beer industry is reaching for the sky with some of the tastiest beer in the country.
Hazelnut bushes in the orchard, planted in 2007, get a chance to properly flourish this spring possibly because they now have a sturdy fence around them. In years past, we’ve only harvested a handful of the nuts that grow in a thick, green, furry casing. The bushes, which can grow into large trees, are self-infertile so it’s necessary to plant at least two together for cross-pollination. The male catkins, pictured above, which produce pollen that they release onto the red female flowers, are a food staple of ruffed grouse throughout the winter. The nuts are a preferred by squirrels, deer, turkey, woodpeckers, pheasants, grouse, quail and jays.
Upstate Dispatch now has a YouTube Channel for all our video content. Please take a look around. We are in the midst of uploading video taken at the tops of all the Catskills mountains, doing farm tours and reporting on food and the arts in our region. Above is our 20-minute short of the day we spent with Chase Kruppo while he inspected his beehives and prepared them for winter. Chasing Honey Farm is a pesticide free apiary in Fleischmanns in its first year of business. He installed his bees in May of this year and after the summer, he harvested 147.625lbs pounds of raw honey comb plus 10lbs of liquid honey for his CSA members.
Last week, I spent a morning on Chasing Honey Farms in Fleischmanns watching Chase Kruppo harvest honeycomb from his three hives. I had to beat a hasty retreat after the bees became agitated and it turns out I was correct to turn on my heel when I did. Shortly after my departure, some of the bees swarmed and stung a fellow observer, but I’m told the chap took it like a champ.
Local lore has it that the Catskills was once Cauliflower Central having been first planted here in 1891. From 1900 to 1940, cauliflower became a thriving industry here and it’s one of our healthiest foods. The cauliflower originally came from Cyprus, and was introduced to France from Italy in the middle of the 16th century. Mark Twain called it “cabbage with a college education”. Delicious smothered in cheese and baked, or roasted in oil, it’s high in fiber, calcium and vitamin C; it’s also a good source of magnesium and potassium. The 12th Annual Cauliflower Festival will take place on Saturday, September 26th from 10am until 4pm at the Margaretville Village Park and Pavilion in Margaretville.
Chase Kruppo of Chasing Honey Farms in Fleischmanns has been harvesting the honey from his pesticide-free apiary recently. Chase operates a honey CSA which is more like a club membership where customers “buy-in” on a hive and reap the benefits come harvest time. They can either keep their share of the produce of the hives, or Chase will sell it for them. This year is Chasing Honey Farm’s first harvest from the bees he installed earlier this year. Many beekeepers I know lost some or all of their hives last year due to extremely cold weather and Chase lost the bees he installed in 2013. This morning I joined him for what he thinks might be his final harvest of the year and will be interviewing him later for an update. By the time he had harvested the first hive and opened the second, the bees were quite agitated and one dive-bombed me in the face, so I beat a hasty retreat. The farm property is dotted with very old apple trees, a thick carpet of blackberries and strawberries and a field of waning golden rod. His product will be raw and unfiltered. You can’t call honey organic because you can’t be sure where your bees have roamed, but you can use chemical-free hives and operate completely without pesticides. The honeycomb (pictured above) melted softly in my mouth: light and delicious. Find Chasing Honey Farms’ website here and check back for a harvest update.
It has been a remarkable summer for wild apple trees that seem to be everywhere you look. Much more conspicuous this year due to being so heavily laden with fruit, they’re all full to bursting with apples that are about two inches in diameter and mostly green in colour. Here in the Catskills, bear and deer are going to be feasting on them well into winter. The fruit is very tart to taste but make a superb apple sauce with the addition of sweeteners like honey, sugar or orange juice. They make a fantastic compote with berries. A noteworthy source of vitamin C and fibre, the apples will fit in just about any pie, cake or sauce. Soak them in vodka for a tart cocktail, a replacement for Cranberry juice, or add them to cider.
The old asparagus plant that was planted three years ago is now over six feet tall as is the rhubarb. Only a few spears were cut in its second year and this year we harvested over twenty spears. The point of letting the asparagus go wild in its third year is to allow the long stalks and buds to transfer nutrients to the roots which will improve yield for forthcoming years.
Green shoots are emerging from the raspberry sticks; the beetroot is flourishing; the cauliflower is shooting; the asparagus is prolific, as is the rhubarb; the hops are hopping, but the spuds and blackberries have yet to emerge. The dog is already too hot and has dug a mud hole under some equipment. His home for the summer.
On May 1st, we planted a long bed of twenty new asparagus and in less than ten days we already had a six-inch tall shoot from one of the mounds (bottom middle of the picture). All the other roots planted have shoots of about an inch. The image of the “tall poppy” below was taken yesterday morning.
Back in England, I have a friend who has a spud bucket, a large metal rubbish bin filled with soil, into which she thrusts a needy hand and miraculously pulls out a spud or two for dinner. She keeps it in the backyard and, needless to say, does not need to buy spuds, ever. Potatoes need well-drained, loose soil, but lots of rain, so they are perfect for high elevations here in the Catskills. To have your own potato bucket simply:
1. Drill three or four holes in the bottom of a bucket, about half the size of a garbage pail;
2. Line the bottom of the bucket with a three-inch layer of rocks for drainage;
3. Add a six-inch layer of peat and compost on top of the rocks;
4. Throw in four seed potatoes;
5. Cover with a two-inch layer of peat/potting soil mix and pat down.
Asparagus is going in at Upstate Dispatch HQ. A perennial, it takes a few years to get started with a low initial yield, but it’s a low maintenance crop that’s ideal for the novice gardener. Not only is it delicious, highly nutritious and otherwise quite expensive, it freezes well so you can eat it year-round. Let the asparagus grow to long ferns in the first year and the whole plant can last 20 years. Today, two beds (6-12 inches deep and 6 inches wide) were dug and a 2-3 inch layer of wet compost and peat mixed together was added. 10 asparagus roots went in each bed, 18 inches to 2 feet apart from each other. Soak the asparagus roots for a half hour before you plant. Spread the roots out like a flattened spider, lay crown-up, and cover with a 2-3 inch layer of dirt. Don’t fill in the trench with dirt until the shoots make it through their individual dirt pile. Keep adding dirt as the shoots grow over the forthcoming weeks. The weeds you see growing in the middle of the trenches are last year’s over-wintered parsnips. They were pulled.
“The goal of farming,” wrote Masanobu Fukuoka, farmer and author of One Straw Revolution, “is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”.
The delicate words of this Japanese maestro echo all over the Catskill Mountains as young people, city-bred and country-born, return to farming in droves. Agricultural courses spring up like new shoots across the Northeastern states to respond to demand. Furthermore, there’s a flurry of articles regularly in the media about diverse people quitting New York City. Young, old, wealthy and those tired of the city’s rising cost of living are all looking to make upstate their home. Homesteading is an art in itself and the Catskills are bustling with creative activity. Small-scale farming, the kind that covers the property’s operating costs, doesn’t have to be an enormous amount of work and new busy upstaters with enough capital can now hire farmers and farmer’s apprentices to run their farms while they continue their existing businesses. City transplants who have made the leap quickly find that there’s an invigorating honesty in land cultivation that is rarely found in city life.
Novice homesteaders looking for an exquisitely picturesque organic farm on which to model their fledgling operation should look no further than Two Stones Farm in Halcott, New York.
Knowing your soil and knowing what grows well in your environment is key to getting illustrious crops year after year.
Shortly after moving to a 2500ft elevation in the Catskills, Michael Urbanski was advised to plant berries, among other crops, and they are thriving in the rocky, mountain soil. The berries have literally gone wild, growing underneath the garden fence and into the neighboring field and overtaking neighboring raised beds. They were started with a few reeds and, despite extensive winter pruning, still return aggressively every year yielding abundant crops well into October.
You can see the two original wooden raised beds in the image below:
The two original wooden raised beds: blackberries on the right, raspberries on left, dog in the middle…
The blackberries overtook the bed to their right and went underneath the fence and out into the wild:
Blackberries growing underneath and into the next bed on the right
A similar pattern occured with the raspberries growing in the left bed. In the picture below, they started in the bed on the right and over time spread into two adjacent beds and out into the main garden area.
Says Michael: “I’m curious to see if the reeds growing beyond the fence will produce next year, and if so, if they’ll survive the local scavengers long enough to be harvested. They are prolific growers, and require very little maintenance except for an annual prune. Be warned though, never plant these things anywhere near other projects that you have because as you can see they will quickly spread and overtake a large area if left unattended”. With minimal effort, these garden berry crops are yielding at least two to three pounds of fruit a day over the Summer season and into the Autumn simply because it’s an ideal location for them. Plant food that thrives in your particular environment and trade with neighbors.
The afternoon’s haul after half the crop was picked.
In 1976 the New York State legislature passed the Farm Winery Act, a law that allowed small wineries to sell their products directly to customers for the first time. The success of Finger Lakes Wine Country in the 30-odd years since that Act had legislators pondering if they could do the same for the state’s beer industry and in 2012 they passed the Farm Brewery Law. The law took effect in January 2013.
The Farm Brewery Law allows for the issue of a new Farm Brewery License. Supported by New York State Senator David Valesky, it’s designed to provide an incentive for farmers to grow hops and other agricultural products associated with the production of craft beers and cider. Continue reading →