Sunday, May 12, 2013

onions















These gorgeous onions (picked for our expanding local clientele) are one of the treats of spring - and in fact they are generally referred to as "spring onions" when picked before the tops begin to die back and while the entire plant is still edible. Flavor and freshness and aroma are so dominant at this phase that it almost seems a waste to let them mature and be cured for storage.

Our onion seeds go in the ground around October 1. We seed heavily and begin thinning in December, when they are at the pencil-thick stage, and we continue to thin through the winter and spring months. We are actually still thinning now, since we harvest those that are crowding others, giving the remainder a last chance for growth. From little to big, they are good eaten fresh or cooked.

In June the tops will die back and we'll dry the bulbs in the shade on a drying rack or, if inspired, braid and hang long garlands from a branch.

The mystery associated with onions is "day-length." The goal is for one's onions to behave like a biennial plant, waiting to flower and set seed until the second year. That's what these onions would do if left in the ground, sending up a new stalk after a period of summer dormancy. But for that to happen, the onion variety needs to be suited to one's latitude. National seed companies sell short, medium, and long-day onions and provide some general guidance in their catalogs and web sites, but we play it safe and generally shop local. We get most of our onion seeds from Lockhart's, a century-old retail seed store in the heart of downtown Stockton. Lockhart's sells locally-adapted varieties with names - like Solano White, Stockton Red, and San Joaquin - that emphasize the local part. We've also found a few heirloom Italian varieties that do well here. A mal-adapted onion variety is going to misconstrue the photo-period signals and "bolt" - create a flower - before it creates a bulb.

During a recent visit, the folks at Lockhart's suggested that we try some "summer onions" and we purchased some seeds of a variety called "Ruby." Instead of planting on waning day-length, these seeds want to germinate after the winter solstice and will bulb up a few months later than the October-planted varieties. We planted Ruby in late March. The Rubies are now at the pencil stage and looking very happy. In theory we'll have fresh onions through August or September.

Celebrate onions - and mothers! - every day.
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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

transition



















A spring inventory found a number of shovels with worn and cracked blades and a few with loose handles. The one on the right above has been my favorite for over ten years - thin, strong blade, easy to sharpen, wooden handle, perfectly balanced. Before it lost a lot of metal to the file (a dull blade makes for a useless shovel) and interaction with the soil, it looked like the one on the left. The "oldies" have gone to the community garden for light duty in their waning years.

The inventory was inspired in part by some changes underway here. We've acquired a "junior farmer," which I guess relegates me to the role of "senior farmer"! In a trial of a new way of running Kingbird, we've been joined by Lynne Sabourin. Lynne was a stellar wwoofer* here 18 months ago and was seeking a deeper experience. She's now chief grower and manager of our wwoof visitors and seems to have things well in hand. We'll keep her for as long as it makes sense for her to stay and then, if we think the model continues to make sense, we'll look for a future season-long intern from among the ranks of former wwoof visitors.

In combination with this change, we've expanded sales to our favorite culinary magicians at Magpie Cafe in Sacramento and, in collaboration with another inspiring and energetic young woman, Misty Bell, we've started a small CSA**. Misty is a professional photographer passionate about fresh, healthy, local food. She'll manage marketing, billing, and customer relations. And she's seeking out specialty local products (honey, soap, cheese, hand-crafts) to include in the weekly food boxes. The CSA is called "From the Farm" (find us here on Facebook) and will attempt to serve as a window into the local farm-world for local city-dwellers in addition to providing ultra-fresh, healthy produce grown without the use of chemicals. (What we're in transition from, you may recall, is providing most of what we grow to the food bank in Galt. We'll be scaling back our donations but not ending them. And we'll continue our successful efforts to encourage other local growers to donate and to enable the food bank-dependent population to grow their own at the community garden.)

All of these changes have made for a very busy late winter and spring; hence the hiatus on blogging here. We're going to blog more actively now and use this vehicle for reports of interest to our CSA customers as well as to our extended Kingbird family, providing more detail and background than possible with Facebook (but continuing to use FB for alerts). I'm going to encourage Lynne (and perhaps others) to post here as well, so from now on you'll see signed pieces.

Exciting times! We'll do our best to keep you updated on the evolving adventure at Kingbird. In the meantime, please try to avoid the obvious comparisons between old farmers and old shovels!

Mike

*WWOOF is Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
**CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, the concept of linking specific consumers with specific farms. CSA relationships give farmers an assured revenue stream and consumers the opportunity to know exactly where their food comes from and how it is grown.
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