The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly of Tomatoes: Catfacing

10 Jan

Tomatoes and 2011! With the new year upon us, it’s time to get organized, lay the foundation for a bumper crop, and review the previous six months. In what I hope becomes a regular feature on my favorite vegetable–and favorite vegetable to grow–let’s look at some common problems facing tomatoes that the Greyfield garden confronted the past few months. First: Catfacing.

What is catfacing? Well, it’s not a five-alarm fire. It’s neither caused by disease or pests, so you can take a deep breath. Catfacing is, however, a rough, black, misshapen appearance on the bottom of tomato fruits, most often large tomatoes. It occurs when the tomato blossom sticks to the tiny developing fruit, leaving an open cavity that “scars” over.  In the Greyfield garden we had catfacing due to low nighttime temperatures, as we were trying to sneak in a late crop of tomatoes after the bugs and before the first freeze.

The good news is that catfacing, although extremely ugly, does not impair the ripening or taste of tomatoes. In most cases the catface is neither large nor deep, and you can simply slice off the affected end from the ripened fruit. Ways to avoid it include growing tomatoes in temperatures that remain above 58 degrees and planting more cold-resistant varieties. We had large heirlooms in the ground, and like most heirlooms, they were highly susceptible to problems of this sort. In light of the unpredictability of subtropical weather, our late tomato crop this year will focus on hybrid varieties of medium size and smaller.

It’s thought that high nitrogen content and herbicide damage also can cause catfacing, but those are certain not problems on Cumberland.

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Congratulations Are in Order

2 Jan

What better way to kick off the new year than to share the good news about our chef, Whitney Otawka? Whitney has just been named one of the five “Atlanta Chefs To Watch in 2011” by Creative Loafing magazine.

Head Chef at the Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island

Photo by Sarah Love

We at Greyfield hope the honor’s a little bit premature. There’s no doubt that Whitney’s  a fantastic chef with an incredible future–we’d just like to keep her on Cumberland. Read the full text of the article, and while you’re at it, read the Creative Loafing review of an exquisite dinner at Greyfield.

Happy New Year’s!

Cumberland Critters and Unwanted Guests

27 Nov

First the bad: Raccoons in the Greyfield Garden! The danged banded bandits came for the persimmons and stayed for the palm berries…the compost pile…elusive grubs and whatnot to be dug from the side of our furrows. (Good luck with that; there are no bugs in our sandy soil). They pose grave danger to my precious tomatoes, which I have been doting on for most of the year (example below but more on that story later).

Since the raccoons have outfoxed and out-toughed our electric fence, we’ve resorted to extreme measures.  Razor wire, a high-powered rifle, a rain-catchment tank turned guard tower with a .223 rifle and night scope….  Sometimes I wish. How about a have-a-heart trap, instead, baited with persimmons, pears, or winter squash?

Pictured above are captives three, four, and five (plus one possum). As you can see, two were caught at one time, which was quite a surprise and a thing of pride. All were removed to distant parts of the island to make new homes or slowly wend their way back to Greyfield.

Placing, setting, and baiting the traps has been a real test of cunning.  The trap has to be accessible but not too obvious, the edge of the trigger-latch holding the door open by a near defiance of physics, the persimmon located strategically close to the release but not so close that the raccoon might dexterously pluck it out. Then there’s the matter of proper camouflage for both the entire trap and the release. To this point, dead palmetto fronds and Spanish moss have worked well. That is, of course, as long as you scotch each side of the cage because the raccoons would just as soon roll the cage over as go in it.

Each new intruder seems to be more clever than the last. If it weren’t so preposterous, I’d almost believe that the raccoons were sharing intelligence–as if they were huddling together in a war room, poring over maps of the garden fence and reporting on their most recent sorties. These suckers are smart. They quickly wise up to all my tricks. Although my respect for their wiliness has increased significantly, that feeling in no way lessens my desire to see them exterminated. In a garden they are the embodiment of destruction, and I knew there would be no easy detente between us when I saw their tracks running over the crest of one of the vegetable rows, each footprint smashing in a tiny seedling.

As someone famous once said, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

Now for the good, which is much less detailed. The garden has become the home of a darling little toad, which might also be the savory reason for the raccoons’ incursions. I know nothing about this creature, except that it prefers to be covered in the cool, dark soil. And each time I’ve happened upon it, while weeding or cutting down spent marigolds, the toad just as soon begins to bury itself and throw dirt over its shoulder, looking rather inconvenienced and bored.

Without further delay or slim facts to prattle over, I give you said toad in all of his cute, stoic glory:

Look at that warty back:

The Kitchen at Greyfield Inn

6 Nov

Love and marriage, a horse and carriage, the garden and the kitchen—what’s one without the other? And who wants to eat raw turnips? Today the Greyfield Garden pays rightful homage to the folks who make the magic happen, masters of the alchemy of heat, oil, and spice that transforms the homely rutabaga to a sense-rattling feast. Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the kitchen staff at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, to whom our stomachs owe many thanks:

Whitney Otawka—Executive Chef

Hometown: Hesperia, California

Whitney’s love for all things French sent her headlong into the culinary world. While taking French classes at the University of California-Berkeley, she responded to an advertisement for a waitress position at a local French bakery. With absolutely zip waitressing experience, she didn’t get the job. Instead, she was hired as the second part of a two-person kitchen, where she began her career as a budding chef and learned to manage the brain-frying multitasking of the restaurant business. At night the owner, who cooked his mother’s Brittany-based recipes, would give informal lessons on the art of food and introduce Whitney to whatever wine caught her fancy. It was a remarkable experience, and her boss at the time was one of the most generous people she’s ever known. Whitney came to Greyfield after working simultaneously for 5&10 and Restaurant Eugene, the better dining establishments in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia, respectively—much less the country. Although invitations to work permanently in Atlanta came knocking, she didn’t want to fight the grind of the big city. The opportunity as executive chef at the Greyfield Inn, where her first experience had been as a guest, was a captivating way to stay in the South and a unique chance to put culinary creativity into practice and enlarge upon her talents.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Whitney’s responsible for so much, it’s nearly impossible to winnow it down. I’ll say this, since I’ve been here, I’ve never eaten so well in my life.  I often have extra helpings of gnocchi, butternut squash, and pheasant. And, oooh, the lemonade bubbles….

Alberto “The Rock” Gonzalez—Sous Chef

Hometown: Miami, Florida

We are so much a product of our parents’ jobs and life-decisions. Al’s story is a simple one, which as the son of a farmer I can certainly understand. His father was a restaurateur in Miami. After resisting the family business throughout much of his youth, Al eventually discovered he could stay out of it no longer. These things get into your blood, and their lives become part of your own.

Al came to Greyfield after running a hip and happening bar in the sparkling seaside hamlet of Fernandina Beach, Florida (which really has more enticing bars and decent eateries than a place its size should). While job-hunting there, he made friends with Greyfield’s head chef at the time. It’s all about connections.

(Something I learned in the course of this “interview”: Al can play the bassoon.)

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Lemon cottage cheese pancakes. A fabulous treat in your workday: They make plain pancakes seem completely lazy and insufficient. Al also makes a flavorful hot sauce with just the right amount of heat. The guests were recently overhead raving about his garbanzo bean salad.

Georgia Kelly—Pastry Chef

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Georgia says she is not a spontaneous person. She likes plans, preparations, and insurance for her insurance. Yet, after 20 years as an X-ray tech—a temporary job that had forgotten to be just that—Georgia gave it up with nothing certain to fall back on and nothing definite to come. At the age of 40, she enrolled in culinary school in Charleston, throwing herself bravely into a new life. Of course, Georgia had grown up cooking and always loved it (although she says the same could not be said for her mother).

Initially, Georgia completed a 12-week externship at Greyfield as part of her schooling. She chose us over The Ritz on Amelia Island because of the comfort and attention to detail of the small kitchen here (besides the fact that Greyfield and Cumberland are together just a special place). Eventually a full-time position opened up and Georgia jumped on board.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Rice Crispy Bar with Bavarian Cream. The Mount Olympus of sweet desserts. As the names says, this is a rapturous combination of rich chocolate cream and a chocolate rice-bar base like the most heavenly Nestle Crunch you can imagine. It’s decadence plus debauchery plus a little moral turpitude thrown in for good measure. Her carrot cake is a close second, soft and moist yet the perfect amount of nutty crunch. And everyone loves to talk about the French toast encrusted in bran flakes.

Ben Wheatley—Sous Chef

Hometown: Washington, Georgia

From childhood Ben has loved cooking. He cooked alongside his mother growing up. He cooked in and around the town of Clayton, Georgia during high school. And, remarkably, he cooked in the esteemed kitchens of both Blackberry Farm and 5&10 shortly thereafter. Now, Greyfield is fortunate to have him cooking for us.

Staff’s Favorite Dish—Personally, the steak, cooked slowly over a cedar and oak fire, producing the perfect internal color. I also think he makes some great cornbread.

I put the kitchen staff through this rather whimsical round of inquiries, some of them borrowed from the Proust Questionnaire published in Vanity Fair magazine. Hopefully, their answers partially convey what great, enjoyable people they are and the generally fun mood of the kitchen.

 

What is your favorite food?

Whitney—“My mom’s cabbage rolls.” If she’s paying, Mexican food.

Al—Bistec Empanizado con tostones y frijoles negros. Breaded steak with black beans and rice and fried plantains. Followed by tiramisu. Al loves tiramisu.

Georgia—Comfort foods like soup and chicken and dumplings. “I would go all the way to Colorado Springs for avocado pork burritos.”

Ben—”My grandma’s potato soup with cornbread cracklin.”

What music are you most likely to listen to in the kitchen while you work?

Whitney—Jack Johnson. The Black Keys. She says, “I also really like Dwight Yoakam.”

Al—Pearl Jam. Latin music.

Georgia—Anything light and fun, especially music with brass. The Gypsy Kings.

Ben—Classic Country, Bob Marley, Neil Young. Also: Drive-By Truckers, The Black Keys.

If you could come back as an animal, what would it be?

Whitney—A Tahitian dolphin.

Al—Great White.

Georgia—A peregrine falcon or a gibbon.

Ben—duck.

What is it that you dislike?

Whitney—Spitting.

Al—Saying “um” over and over again.

Georgia—Chewing and snapping gum.

Ben—People who complain openly, also people who constantly talk without saying anything.

What word or phrase do you most overuse?

Whitney—“Just so you know”

Al—“No worry”

Georgia—“Shit!”

Ben—”Huh?” (However, Ben’s really not one to overuse words.)

What talent would you most like to have?

Whitney—Spanish guitar or violin.

Al—Piano.

Georgia—Singing.

Ben—”Badass on the guitar.”

What are your favorite names?

Whitney—Violet. Phineas.

Al—Xavier.

Georgia—Seamus.

Ben—Jezebel.

Greyfield’s October/November Menu

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Wwonderful Wwoofers

17 Oct

Several weeks past, two unstoppable forces of nature landed in the Greyfield Garden. Melanie and Sophie—or Milleniama and Arrow, depending upon your personal feelings about rainbows and stardust—took a southbound Greyhound out of Seattle with Cumberland on their minds. Now, there were some stops and detours along the way—and the girls may have worn out their thumbs between Chattanooga and Fernandina Beach. But by hook or crook, they made it here, arriving to toil and till in the garden as the first Wwoofers on my watch.

Admittedly, I was anxious about their coming. New people in  your work environment can be a disruptive force. What if they didn’t like to sweat? Didn’t know which was the business end of the shovel? Or had a congenital aversion to any of the myriad, big-toothed buzzing things that often come out for breakfast and dinner?

Thank goodness, all of my fears were completely unwarranted. These girls knew how to work. They loved simply being outdoors, taking in the infinite rare experiences that Cumberland Island can give. It’s actually a wonder that I ever had my doubts or suspicions, as anyone adventurous enough to ride a Greyhound 2000 miles would certainly be up for shoveling a cart full of wild horse manure.

I am immeasurably grateful for their help. We got a lot done. We pulled cosmos, with stems like trunks, plantsthat were too happy to flower, instead content to go on growing like Jack’s beanstalk. We dug up rotten beds, with infernal metal roofing tacked to their sides plunging four feet or more into the soft sand (a putative defense agains

t dollar weed, but nothing can stop dollar weed). We consolidated clumps of odoriferous lemon grass to make room for a trellis of blackberries and hardy, grape-sized kiwi. We hoed up furrows for ridges that would house potatoes and Early Wonder Tall-Top beets and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” We planted countless collards seeds in homemade starting mix (pond much and vermiculite), preparing for the fall and winter garden.

Although I say “we,” it was really a lot of “they.” I normally mumbled some directions twice too long and went about other chores with total confidence in their intelligence and industry. That kind of trust in a work relationship, no matter how brief, is rare; and it is a total luxury. Three bodies working smartly meant the garden underwent almost a complete transformation in about ten days.

For all of this I’m grateful. But more than anything, I’m grateful that these two luminous girls somehow passed by Cumberland in their wild orbit. I can think of few other people who might enjoy the full moon here as much or whose presence would be a constant melody of laughing. I knew they were keepers when walking to the inn, I heard them singing Madonna in the garden behind me.

Greyfield will miss you girls, you vagabond mermaids. We hope to see you soon. And as you make your way through this world, should you need them, we’re happy to write any professional references.

Be part of the answer.

Variations on a Theme: Clouds over Cumberland

27 Sep

Sunrise over the Airfield

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that if I ever write a memoir of my time on Cumberland, some part of the title would include the phrase, “Days without Rain”; as in Days without Rain: Learning To Grow Vegetables in an Island Desert and Loving Every Minute of It. Such has been this experience so far, relentlessly hot days without the remittance of the tiniest raindrop. With our sandy soil and its near pathological phobia to retaining water, getting the fall crop in the ground has been, frankly, impossible. By 10 am, even in late September, the dirt (to use the term loosely) is scalding.

Patiently, assiduously, I’ve been preparing the garden for a break in the weather. Based on conversations with guests and family throughout the Southeast, it seems we’re not the only ones suffering from a prolonged and irregular drought. North Georgia, I’m told, is about as dry as a saltine cracker. Yesterday Raleigh, NC received its first rain in 33 days.  And–I’m enthralled to say–this afternoon, a slow, nourishing rain has finally blessed us here.

This post, which would very much like to define desultory, is first a token of thanks. And I can think of no better words, touching upon the great longing and wonder of rain upon the earth, than those borrowed from a Navajo prayer:

With the far darkness made of the dark cloud on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the he-rain on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the dark mist on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the far darkness made of the she-rain on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the zigzag lightning flung out on high on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the rainbow hanging high on the ends of your wings, come to us soaring.
With the near darkness made of the dark cloud, of the he-rain, of the dark mist and of the she-rain, come to us.
With the darkness on the earth, come to us.
With these I wish the foam floating on the flowing water over the roots of the great corn.

Secondly, by way of a smattering of photos, I want to  point out the fact that even though the skies have been devoid of precip, they have not ceased to be truly astounding. If nothing else, Cumberland Island is generous with handsome scenes (note the panorama of the sunrise over the old cotton field above). Because of Greyfield’s position under an almost constant ocean breeze, these are scenes often populated by sturdy rain clouds so tantalizingly close, pushed out of reach into mainland Georgia or to the wider north end of the island by that unrelenting wind.

But the weird plumes, twisted cords, and nephological shrouds are almost a worthwhile trade-off for the rainless days.

Although as the Spanish moss drips outside this window, you’d better believe this little gardener isn’t complaining.

Dog Days on Cumberland: Keep on Trucking

9 Sep

Tuesday, mid-August—It is just one of those days. I think all farmers and small business-folks and anyone with ambitious schedules suffer through exasperating mornings where everything that can go wrong does. And then it does again.

Greyfield has just finished two weeks of “haul out.” Every year in the middle of the Dog Days swelter, the inn shuts down to undergo a complete cleaning and refurbishment. Carpets are rolled, furniture moved, and rooms broken down to clean every nook and corner, dust every book spine and seashell fragment. A small band of painters stays on the island throughout scraping and putting a new bright coat on the building’s exterior. By the end of it, Greyfield has received a first class makeover. She seems to know it, too, preening a little bit more than normal in the late summer sun.

Collapsed tomatoes with driftwood stakes in the background.

The garden needs its own haul out, which I’ve been trying to accomplish bit by bit each day. Honestly, it’s a mess. The heat has stricken most of the beds, leaving sad clumps of dead plants and dry root balls. Many of the boards framing those beds are rotten. The palm arbor over the worm bin has fallen in. And the driftwood that had served as tomato stakes have finally given up their tenuous position in the sandy rows. Those not lying on their faces are fractured and crumbling. The tomatoes, consequently, have taken quite a sprawling stumble.

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a chaos of weeds. The canna lilies and luffa vines are conspiring to take over the entire garden. The dollar weeds, with runners spreading out just below the soil’s surface, are their pawns. Elsewhere, melons and squash shoot fifteen yards in every direction. They insinuate themselves amongst the strawberries, okra, cherry tomatoes, heirloom cotton, and cosmos. They wrap together in a huge net trapping the best, most fertile part of the garden. The weeds around them are almost accessible, and any attempt at hand-pulling usually means the sacrifice of some big, funky African squash.

Cosmos and African squash running amuck.

T.S. Eliot, no doubt shut in by yet another rainy day in London, began The Waste Land thusly: “April is the cruelest month…..” Obviously, he’d never visited Cumberland Island in July or August, where the calendar gets downright villainous.

Of course, when everything beyond human control would seem to be so inclement—and there’s so much to do, nothing on this bright morning will come easily. The problem is the tiller, mainly. Having been stored up for a few months, it’s hardly prepared to be unleashed furiously upon the weeds like a Shakespearian dog of hell. First, the fuel tank is empty. No problem, right? Actually, yes. Besides the Park Service, Greyfield Inn has the only fuel dispensary on the island. A combination lock secures the pump, its code a closely guarded secret—which as a new employee, I am not yet privy to. Second, after filling up a small gas can and returning to the dark shed where the tiller is stored, I find that the tire is flat—so flat, in fact, it’s no longer attached to the rim.

By now, it’s ten o’clock, and the sun’s turning on the broiler. I’ve got to manhandle this hulking tiller to pull it out of the shed and remove the wheel. I’ve got to root in the shop for Come Alongs, chains, or straps of some kind. Then, I’ll pray that I can get the tire tight enough on the rim to create a seal. If all goes right, I’ll have air in the tire and the wheel back on within the hour. If not, who knows? Worst case scenario, I send it on the next boat to Fernandina to be repaired, and I get it back tomorrow.

(Most creative scenario, I pour gasoline on the wheel, set it on fire, and watch the flames seal the tire to the rim by eating up the oxygen inside. My brother did this once. I saw the tire shoot ten feet up in the air. The rubber went up in a blaze half that high. But he got his seal, albeit charred. And on second thought, I will not be attempting this solution.)

This too shall pass, as Solomon says. The situation is not impossible. It’s just going to take a lot of sweat and a lot more water. All the obstacles and inconveniences are going to feel magnified by the stifling heat and the relentless bugs. But I’m not deterred. I’m just going to remember these frustration as I look over the garden in October and November, the shimmering kale leaves, and think what hard work brought such beautiful results.

This too shall pass. Or as another wise man once said, keep on trucking.

New Beginnings

23 Aug

This marks my first post as the new manager of the garden at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. My name is Donn. I was raised on a farm in Chestnut Mountain, Georgia. But we can get into all that later.

I have been here for three weeks. Finally, my feet are wet enough to talk about what it is that I do here. As we move forward, I intend to get thoroughly into the nuts and bolts of gardening in such a strange and spectacular place. But before that, I’d like to use this inaugural entry to describe briefly my daily existence on Georgia’s southernmost barrier island.

If it weren’t for the comings and goings of guests and coworkers, I’d totally lose track of time, which for the record isn’t a bad thing. Simply, I wake up and I’m in the garden early, before sunrise if possible. I watch the bats zigzag through the bluish light before retiring for the day. I’m hunched over in the dirt at midday, when it’s so hot not even the horseflies have stopped biting and the soil is almost scalding. And I’m closing up the electric fence and locking the gate in the soft light after sunset. The gloaming, I think that time is called—such a right and lovely word. The bats soon reemerge in the lavender sky. Two nights ago I watched a big great horned owl hop among the branches of the live oak that overhangs the southeast corner of the garden. There are squirrels near there. But I also think he’s peering into my little spot, looking for something delicious. I know there are raccoons with that very same thought, although instead of a field mouse or a snake, they’d happily gnaw on a melon. Darkness brings out interlopers and thieves. I almost tremble at the thought of what hard work might be lost each night. But that fear and all the myriad things here going bump in the night are part of the enchantment of Cumberland Island. This is a wild, almost impenetrable place. As the sun goes down, a world rises that can only be touched by imagination.

And then I’m back up again, crack of dawn. I’m watering, pulling weeds, plucking tomatoes, turning the compost. I’ll do the same the next day and the day after that. The job is never done.

Making a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables will always be a labor here. Yet despite this infernal heat, this soil that almost wants to repel water, these infinite pests that bore and crawl and swoop, it’s worth it. My job forces me to know life on the island intimately. Everyday I watch the crabs and leaf-footed bugs scuttle away from me. I watch ospreys glide in from the marsh. I watch the plants rise and fall with the intensity of the sun. And I learn what it takes to survive on Cumberland. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

No surprise—as I write this I find a tick on me. And another. I feel that I’m living my definition of Thoreau: sucking the marrow out of life. Strip away the romance, however; and I’m breaking my back, with the odds and opponents stacked against me. Either way, it’s going to be one fabulous adventure.

I look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Slow movement and speedy growth

29 Jun

Lately I have been thinking more about how thankful I am about what I have and the things around me and I wanted to share a photo that I took on the way to work in the morning not long ago. Cumberland Island really is a place of beauty and the serenity that can be found here is almost unbelievable at times. Wherever you are be thankful for what you have and take a minute to realize how special this planet is.

Horses on the way to the garden in the morning.

Summer is in full swing and here in the low country the humidity is as heavy as a truck load of compost. We are still experiencing a bit of a dry spell unfortunately; before too long the humidity will fatten up the clouds and they will start dropping on us every afternoon.  Plants are amazing on many levels but the ability to store water and produce a fruit made mostly of water is one thing that makes me more aware of the incredible abilities of mother nature. For example, our melons and cucumbers are looking great right now and we are not watering all that much. Our soil has been developing over the past year and it has gained a good bit of organic matter which enables it to hold water as well as other nutrients that it may not have been able to last year. We are harvesting several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, beans and cucumbers currently. Our melons are looking tip-top (let’s hope those raccoons don’t get them before I do), the herbs are strong, our flowers are busy with bees and the okra is about to start blowing up.

squash, peppers, tomatoes mmmm

I have had several conversations lately about organic farming practices with guests in the garden and would like to share some thoughts. A guest  asked me about a problem with his squash plants and described what to me sounded like vine borers… I took him over to one of my plants that had fallen to these pesky creatures to make sure this is what he was describing. Sure enough, the borers were eating his squash. He asked me what I do to deal with this problem. I said that I try to keep an eye on the plants for signs of the pests and pluck them out when I do see them; I told him I had tried using diatomaceous earth when I ran into a serious infestation. He asked if sevendust would work…. I just finished reading  Silent Spring and proceeded to explain that sevendust destroys all life in the soil. We had a brief discussion about the use of chemicals and that even though they do get rid of certain pests they are often misused and their effects are felt in areas outside of their application. This discussion often arises in the garden and I feel that it is my duty to inform folks about the harmful effects of chemicals. Perhaps I am stating facts that are obvious when I tell someone that the chemical they are using is harmful, but maybe they did not realize how harmful. I always applaud folks that grow their own food and I think that the ability to work the land is a life skill that more people need to practice. I do my best to persuade individuals that use chemicals to take the next step in growing healthy food for themselves and their family by explaining organic farming practices and the benefits of building a healthy and active soil. 

composting in place x3

The above photo is an example of one way that I build organic matter to be added to our garden. composting in place is a great way to feed plants during their growth while simultaneously allowing the materials inside the barrel to decompose and make beautiful soil that will be spread after the removal of the preceeding crop. This method is also less laborious than turning a pile or spinning a barrel and it is perfect for raised bed gardeners. The barrel can be placed in the middle of a bed leaving room around it for planting and once the crop is finished the compost is already in place and ready to spread. I started saying “Feed the food that feeds you” and began to realize that feeding food is actually something that is very important and often overlooked. What we put into the soil is what when get in the form of our favorite fruits and vegetables. The importance of caring for and properly treating our soils is something that is gaining attention on some levels thanks to the hipness of the organic food push but it should not be treated as a trend. Soil is very real and we only have so much topsoil to work with. Please help everyone by doing your part to compost, buy from your farmers’ market, and start pushing for this type of education in our schools. Our children are the future and if we can get them excited and educated about healthy food and healthy soils then we are headed in the right direction.

This bee was a little stumbly, I think he had too much to drink.

I have posted these photos of bees because I think they are pretty cool pictures and because I began participating in something called the Great Sunflower Project. A guest brought to my attention that some research is being compiled about wild bee populations and that the scientists needed help across the country to compile data. I checked out the website and signed up, you should do the same! 

http://www.greatsunflower.org/

 

Borage flower and a busy bee.

 

Remember, “Feed the food that feeds you” and do your part to sustain the earth’s topsoil and the health of  we creatures that inhabit it. Until next time, take it easy (on the planet)!

Farming Adventures and Gardening Pleasures

24 May

Hello and all the best to everyone reading. We have gotten through six weeks or so with very little rain and now the heat is building up. The garden is a little parched but still very pleasant. Swarms of beneficial insects accompanied by a medley of annoying pests have resurfaced with the change in season. We are constantly keeping our eyes peeled for hornworms, squash borers,  and aphids at this point. Insect pests are lower on the bad guy list than armadillos in our setting. If anyone knows a good way to keep these destructive mini tanks out of the garden please share your secrets!

Monarch and milkweed

Greyfield Inn has been pretty busy which means we have been giving lots of garden tours. I always enjoy the enthusiasm of guests entering the garden bursting with questions about their personal garden, organic food, and sustainable lifestyles. The goal of my garden tour is to allow guests an opportunity to connect with the food they will be consuming as well as simultaneously exhibiting our efforts to provide a unique culinary experience.  The way that food brings people together is often overlooked and taken for granted, my thoughts on the subject are simple. Stay in touch with your food. Buy from the man or woman that grew your food at your local farmer’s market. Grow what you can for yourself, it tastes better trust me! Feed the food that feeds you. Compost. Think about the distance your food has traveled to make it to your plate. Take time to share a meal with your family and better yet get your family involved in the growing, planning, and purchasing of your foods.

The colors are similarly beautiful.

View from the south beds looking north.

I have taken some time to visit a few local farms over the past weeks and spent some time with some incredible people.

Mr. Ben Walter of Hermitage Farms is a good friend of mine with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I describe Ben as an intellectual that is obsessed with soil health and sustainability. He is running a five acre family farm equipped with a pecan orchard, a flock of chickens, several vegetable plots, shitake logs, and a lovable border collie named Jada.  Ben is located in DeLand, FL so if you are in the area look him up!

Veggie plot amongst acres of pecans, chickens, and wild flowers.

Hermitage Farms, Deland Florida. Farmer Ben Walter

Maggie’s Herb Farm is owned and cheerfully operated by Dora Baker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman with an obvious affinity for plants.  The plants are of the most excellent quality and it is obvious that they are expertly take care of. We have beautified and filled out our herb garden at Greyfield with plants from Maggie’s and could not be more satisfied.

Herb classes are offered and workshops occur frequently, check them out!

Sapelo Farms is a family owned and operated farm located in Brunswick,GA. They have been producing delicious and beautifully cared for fruits, vegetables, goats, chickens, beef,  and bees since 1947. This farm is perfect. The fig trees have a wisdom about them and one blueberry patch is over fifty years old. The mother daughter duo that run the place are inspiring and their dedication and compassion for the property is incredible. They run a CSA and sell to local restaurants. Chef Whitney, myself, and Robbie took a day trip to the farm in hopes of making a local connection to grass fed beef, goats, and seasonal fruits and veggies. We walked away with a half gallon of wildflower honey and nearly a goat!

Amazing family run farm in Brunswick, GA. Beautiful people and delicious food!

Greyfield Garden is putting properly nourished produce on the plates of our guests and the energy coming from both the kitchen and garden are apparent on the dinner plate.  Here are a few pictures of what is coming out of our garden at the moment.

Amaranth being cleaned in the sink with the plants and garden in the background.

Squash blossoms prior to being tempura fried and put on top of a fresh garden salad

I have drawn inspiration from each of these places and hope that no matter where you are in the world it is possible for you take a trip to a local farm and enjoy the feelings I have felt visiting these places.  The farms I have visited lately have reassured me that the direction we are heading in at Greyfield is on par with other local farms and gardens.  The places I have highlighted have many things in common but the one that really stands out to me is the dedication to wholeness that is present in many forms; the unity of a family,  biodynamic practices, community involvement, and the knowledge of the land  work together like thousands of bees in a hive… truly amazing.

Remember, live simply so that others can simply live.  Know your food, or at least be better acquainted with it. Enjoy the life that you have and take care of yourself and your family.