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This morning I was so excited while sending in my online rose order that I gave a shipping date of a month earlier than was wise. Now I have to call them and explain that my desire to get these new roses in the ground overwhelmed me, but I finally realized I have to bow to the realities of our Heath climate.

Having put off planting dates, I satisfied myself by settling back to finish two excellent but very different books that I have been reading.

The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot Bloomsbury $25) is by Chip Brantley, a local author who has written extensively about food and flavor.

I confess that when I first saw pluots being sold at the supermarket, I thought it was some kind of marketing ploy, and that fruit farmers were simply operating under the theory that consumers would buy more of anything new. I did not think that farmers were actually looking for fruit with wonderful flavor and sweetness. Brantley has disabused me of that un-generous thought.

Brantley also explains why I, and many other shoppers, have hesitated in front of the plum bins at the market. There are dozens of plum varieties that ripen over a long season. The simply labeled black or red plums that you buy on July 1 are not going to be the same black or red plums you buy on July 15 or August 1. You’ll be getting a different plum as the different varieties ripen. This explains why I have hurried back to a store to see if I could get the plums from that particular shipment because they were so good. It never occurred to me they were good, or only OK, because I was getting a different variety each time.

Some fruit breeders in California like Floyd Zaiger who have been growing and hybridizing fruit for more than a half century, wanted to make the plum more flavorful and crossed plums with other fruits, resulting in pluots, plumcots, and apriums, all plum-apricot hybrids. Brantley learned that one of the measures of a good hybrid was its Brix measure. The Brix scale measures sugar content.. A Brix of 12 is poor, 21 is really good but 26 is outstanding.

Brantley reminds us that Luther Burbank, one of the great hybridizers, was a Massachusetts native, growing up in Lancaster, and moving to California in 1875 where he started improving all manner of plants including the plum. He was the first to use the term plumcots and in 1907 introduced his Santa Rosa plum, which was the most widely sold plum in the U.S. for over 50 years.

We also get to meet Rod Milton, whose family had been farming for over 100 hundred years, Mike Jackson who decided to ‘chase flavor’, as we learn all about Dapple Dandies, Flavorella and Dinosaur Eggs in the most entertaining way.

In Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History (Algonquin $19.95) Diana Wells takes us through centuries of myth and history to give us weird, wonderful and poetic facts about 100 familiar and not so familiar trees. For example, how many of you have been stumped when a child asked you what is frankincense? Or even worse, what would the Baby Jesus need with frankincense?

According to Wells Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt sent to the Land of Punt (now Somaliland) for 32 frankincense trees to plant near an Egyptian temple in 1482 BCE. As you might imagine from its name, the small frankincense tree produces a resin that is used as a high quality incense. It was extremely valuable.  As for the Baby Jesus, I always imagined that the three gifts brought by the Wise Men financed the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, and kept them afloat until it was safe for them to return to Nazareth.

The maple which is native to many parts of the world, gets a substantial entry ranging from our native red maple to the varied and delicate maples of Japan and the Norway maple which has become a dangerous invasive in our country.

I have long wondered about the Monkey-puzzle tree which shows up in so many English mysteries and novels. This tree, Araucaria, is originally from Chile; seeds were was brought to England in 1795. It is so ancient that it was growing in the days of the dinosaurs. It has been thought that those strong prickles protected the tree from browsing dinos.

Monkey-puzzle trees were very popular in England, especially during the Victorian age as a weird and exotic specimen tree. I saw a couple in California, and did not see the appeal, but it is a different time.

Many of the trees Wells describes are ancient varieties, or ancient in their current self. There is a bristlecone pine in California that is called the Methusela tree because it has been calculated to be 4700 years old.

Olive trees send up shoots after the main trunk is cut down, regenerating itself  for centuries. Some olive trees are thought to be 1000 years old.

For a time coffee was one of the most dangerous trees. It was banned by both Muslims and Christians at different time. Coffee drinkers could even be put in sacks and drowned in Constantinople for a time.

So many trees.  So many stories. More than enough to while away the hours before rose planting season. ###

Hope to see some of you at the Greenfield Winterfare on Saturday, February 6 from 10 – 2 pm at Greenfield High School. Fresh produce, barter fare, workshops and Soup for Lunch.

Between the Rows  January 23, 2010

Beautiful – but . . .

The skies are brilliant and the snow is pristine.

Krishna surveys the snow-filled Sunken Garden at dawn and wonders why there are no cows,  or milkmaids to thrill with his pipes.

But my thoughts have gone beyond snow, to sweet soil and seeds. I could not resist the display of Botanical Interest Seeds at the Farmer’s Coop in Greenfield yesterday. I will have my Castor Bean plant this year! And many colors of  morning glories and bush beans in the new vegetable patch I am planning. The mung beans will be sprouted before the next Winterfare farmer’s market in Greenfield on Feb. 6. The days are growing longer.

Wonderful Winterfares

Northampton Winterfare

In the February/March issue of Organic Gardening magazine, Gordon Hayward who gardens in Vermont, talks about our ‘food shed.’ I know about watersheds, that protect the quality of our water, and was amused when I heard people talk about their ‘view sheds’ the landscape view they enjoyed from their house, but I had never heard the term ‘food shed.”

However, aware as I am of the 100 mile diet, I should have realized the term put me on familiar ground. Hayward quotes Cornell University’s definition of food shed as “a geographic area that supplies a population with food.”

With all the recent talk about national security, especially airport security, there is not so much talk about ‘food security.’ Fortunately, because of our food shed, we in this region are enjoying substantial food security; we could feed ourselves very well indeed, even if there were some catastrophic event that kept the refrigerator trucks from California making it all the way to western Massachusetts.

This blessing of this security was brought home to me last year when I attended the Second Annual Winterfare  Farmer’s Market at Greenfield High School. It is one thing to have a garden and even know that the farmstands are full of wonderful fresh produce in the summer and fall, but I was amazed at how much fresh produce is available locally during deep mid-winter. Granted, many of the farmers were selling frozen meat, potatoes, squash and all manner or root crops like beets and carrots which can be harvested in fall and stored properly for use during the winter, but some farmers had beautiful lettuces and other greens that are such a luxury during the winter.

I could hardly carry away my share of the bounty which included not only vegetables like tender greens from Red Fire Farm, but Clarkdale apples and cider, Hillman Farm cheese, El Jardin bread,  Warm Colors Apiary raspberry honey, and Real Pickles. Our food shed is varied and delicious.

Seeing so many people giving of their time and energy to put on this terrific event made me determined to do my share this year. Whether you attend the Northampton Winterfare today from 10 AM to 2 PM at Smith Vocational School or the Greenfield Winterfare on Saturday, February 6 at Greenfield High School I will be on hand to demonstrate the growing of sprouts.

Sprouts are the most local of food crops. Mine grow on the counter next to the kitchen sink.  To increase my experience with sprouting  I sprouted wheat for the first time. When I visited Cliff Hatch, and his daughter Sorrel, at Upinngil during the summer I bought a couple of bags of wheat berries. They have been waiting patiently for me to learn to make wheatberry salad, and this workshop prompted me to try sprouting them. I even bought  a hemp and flax Sproutbag at Green Fields Market to expand my horizons further.

The information sheet that came with the Sproutbag said that it was better than a Mason jar for sprouting wheat and other grains as well as beans. And here I thought I was just doing my best for the consumer economy.

I will bring my sprouted wheat bread to Winterfare, along with salad sprouts in Mason jars in two different stages for those who may not be familiar with the process and not realize how easy it is.

The magical thing about sprouts is that in the process of sprouting the nutritional value of the seed shoots up, increasing the amount and number of vitamins A, B complex, C and E. The amount of protein and fiber also increase. What is not mysterious is that none of this nutritional value is lost because it develops on the kitchen counter and is eaten in that same kitchen. There is no nutritional loss as when vegetables are shipped from far away, and of course, no gas or oil are used for transportation.

My presentation is only one of several presentations being offered today. There will be information about canning, how to store root and other crops for winter use, how to make your own nut milk and how to make cheese.

Those who have a surfeit of jam or any kind of good produce can bring them along to the barter session.

CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is a sponsor of Winterfare. Logon to their website, www.buylocalfood.org or www.winterfare.org  for full details. I hope to see you there – or in Greenfield.

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I heard from Daniel Botkin after my article about Laughing Dog Farm last week. I said that his goat bedding and manure could be used fresh on the garden and didn’t need to be composted like my chicken manure. Goat manure is not hot like chicken manure but he wanted to make this clarification:: “The goat manure, although it is more readily usable for organic gardening (because 1.) it is pelletized 2) it is pre-mixed with hay and 3) it breaks down much faster than most, more dense, anaerobic “slop” manures), it is still not safe around ripening food crops and never goes near any edible or soon to be edible plant parts when fresh. I do apply it fresh around trees, shrubs and as sheet mulch on fallow, non-edible landscapes.”

Thank you, Daniel.

Between the Rows   January9, 2009

Know Your Farmers

It was 10 degrees, but sunny, when I left Heath for the Valley yesterday, joining the crowds who attended Northampton’s First Annual Winterfare Farmer’s Market to get to know their farmers. CISA was one of the sponsors.

Tom Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farm

Clarkdale in Deerfield had a table right near the entrance, so Winterfarers were greeted by the smiling faces of Tom, and his son Ben.  I think Ben makes the fifth generation of growing premium fruit on their magnificent farm. I always buy a bag of the Clarkdale apple pie mix. My friend and expert pie baker says the secret of a really good apple pie is a mixture of apples, and Clarkdale has put it all together for me.

Sarah Davenport of Apex Orchard

Apex Orchards was on the other side of the room where the sun dazzled shoppers. I bought a bag of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite Spitzenberg apple. Apex also sells apple cider vinegar from their own apples, and honey from their own hives.

Warm Colors Apiary

Warm Colors Apiary of Deerfield was offering test testing of the different flavors. I chose a darker fuller bodied wildflower honey. I’m going to be talking to Don Conlon in a few weeks to find out the latest challenges for bee keepers and how that will affect all of us honey lovers.

Paul and Amy of Sidehill Farm

Paul and Amy of Sidehill Farm brought lots of yogurt in various flavors for all of us yogurt lovers, and fortunately they had a little left by the time I made it to their table.  In season, they also sell gorgeous vegetables.

Barberic Farm

At the Barberic Farm booth you could buy frozen lamb, fleece, yarn, pickles – and book Eric Goodchild for a bagpiping gig. I settled for pickles this time.

Red Fire Farm greens

There was a long line at the Red Fire Farm operation. People were eager for the opportunity to buy fresh local greens (of many types) in January!

Ryan Voiland

Ryan Voiland, the genius behind Red Fire Farm, was busy, along with staff members, keeping the bins stocked and the customers happy.  Ryan is in the process of moving the farm from Granby to Montague where he grew up. Closer to us!

Root Cellaring workshop

In addition to buying opportunities, there were learning opportunities with a range of workshops like this one about how to store garden crops through the winter – with demonstrations of what can go wrong.

Corn grinder

Some Winterfarers found more active learning opportunities like this boy who spent some time grinding corn into cornmeal.

More Greens

Northampton’s First Winterfare was fun, delicious and a great success – a success that will be repeated at the Third Annual Winterfare in Greenfield on Saturday, Feb. 6 from 10 -2 pm at Greenfield High School. Hope to see you there.

Sprouted Wheat Bread

Sprouted wheat bread

Bread is the staff of life. I love making bread in general, especially in winter when the oven helps warm the house, but in preparation for my sprouting workshop at the Northampton Winterfare on Saturday, Jan. 9, I decided to make sprouted wheat whole wheat bread. I got a good recipe from the Sprout People website, and the result is delicious.

The recipe made two loaves. One, the prettier one, went into the freezer so I can bring it with me to the workshop. I sliced into the other loaf to test it and make sure it was workshop worthy.  It is!  I sat down with a strong cup of tea and bread slathered with butter and a friend’s homemade blackberry jam. Hard to say which was crunchier, the spouted wheat or the blackberry jam, but so delicious – and nutritious.  Did you know that when a seed sprouts the amount of vitamins and protein and fiber increase in an amazing way!
Sprouted Wheat on FoodistaSprouted Wheat

Winterfare in Northampton

This Saturday, Jan. 9, I’ll be giving a Sprouting workshop at the first annual Winterfare in Northampton which will be held at the Smith Vocational School, near Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

This event is patterned after the Winterfare market that has been held at Greenfield High School and will be celebrating its third annual festival of fresh produce, workshops, bartering, and refreshments. Northampton’s Winterfare will be serving delicious soups (bring your own mug) provided by 5 local eateries: Cup and Top Cafe; Serio’s Market; Paul and Elizabeth’s; Side Street Cafe; and Sylvester’s Restaurant. These will sustain you while you decide what to bring home for the week’s meals.

CISA is a sponsor of Northampton’s Winterfare and there is a lot of information about the event on their website.  Or go  to Winterfare.org.

I hope to see you there.