This Week at Cornercopia: Ground Cherries and Tractor Fun

We had a ton of ground cherries at our farmers market stands today and we got of questions about what they are and what you do with them. Ground cherries are not actually cherries, but are a relation of the tomatillo. But instead of being similar to a tomato like the tomatillo is, ground cherries are sweeter and more like a berry and are best when used like one. Courtney was given an excellent and easy to make recipe for Ground Cherry Chai Preserves (over at the Cheese and Champagne blog) by one of our dedicated St. Paul market customers, Jean. This preserve makes a great spread to pair with cheese, crackers and other items for dinner parties, holiday parties or just to fulfill your snacking needs. Take note that this recipe is not intended for water bath canning, and the site does link to another recipe that is appropriate if you would like to do so. The recipe itself only has four ingredients and takes around one hour to prepare since a good amount of simmering over low heat is required.

Ground Cherries: The tomatillo's sweeter cousin.

The other fun part of our week is the shiny new walk-behind tractor that was delivered to the farm. The model allows different attachments to be purchased and switched out, meaning that it's a good, multi-use machine. Our farm has the flail mower attachment and the power harrow attachment. The flail mower is much more powerful than the regular lawn mower we've been using in between our rows and to cut down large areas of tall grass and weeds. It also cuts much closer to the ground, keeping weeds away for longer. Our power harrow attachment also makes preparing beds for planting a lot easier.
But of course, new toys don't come without their hiccups. During our first tests with the flail mower, we managed to run over a hose and the owners manual (CD included was chopped to bits as well). Makes for a good story though.
We can't forget to thank everyone that made it possible for our farm to purchase the tractor: the Campus Club, University Dining Service, Honest Tea and all of our amazing customers!

Courtney using the tractor with the power harrow attachment. 

Graham using the flail mower attachment.

View of the underside of the flail mower.

Our second round of broiler chickens are already set for processing next week after spending their short lives out in the chicken tractors. Unlike last time, we moved some of the chicken tractors out to our newest field near Cleveland Ave. Our chickens help raise the soil fertility in the fields that we move them around in, so those fields are getting a healthy dose of chicken poo which will be incorporated into the soil so it's nice and nutrient rich for crops grown on it next summer.


Otherwise, harvesting is starting to become a more common chore as more and more crops start putting out fruit. The tomatoes are finally ripening, the cucumbers are still going strong and our winter squashes are starting to get fruit as well. The melon vines still only just have flowers, but we're hoping to see fruit from those sometime in September. As always, if you're interested in coming out to volunteer at the farm or bringing a group out to visit, send us an email at umsof@umn.edu.

Look at those lovely heirlooms!

National Zucchini Day


Happy National Zucchini Day, everyone! Yet another one of those I-didn't-know-there-was-a-day-for-that days that we might as well celebrate, especially since we've had zucchini at our farmers market stands for the past few weeks. We thought it might be fun to share some zucchini-related facts and a recipe for all you zucchini lovers out there.

Zucchini Fun Facts
1. Botanically, zucchini is considered a fruit because it's the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.

2. The name for zucchini is derived from the Italian word "zucchina" meaning "small pumpkin/squash". Zucchinis as we know them today were also developed in Italy, after being brought over from the Americas.

3. Many other countries typically harvest zucchinis when they are still very small, around the size of a finger. This is especially common in South Africa.

4. Zucchini are low in calories and have useful amounts of Vitamin A, folate and potassium.

5. Zucchini flowers are considered a delicacy at vegetable markets since they're hard to store and transport. Picking them for culinary use before they can start to produce fruit can often help the over-abundance many gardeners experience with zucchini.

(Facts taken from the zucchini Wikipedia page.)

Zucchini bread is one incredibly popular use for zucchini, especially when you have an overabundance of them. Shredded zucchini, one of the components, also freezes well, making it easy to shred a large amount and then keep it for later zucchini bread baking. Here's a recipe for easy zucchini bread if you don't have one to try:

Mom's Zucchini Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients
-3 Cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-3 eggs
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2 & 1/4 cups white sugar
-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
-2 cups grated zucchini
-1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions
1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.


Taken from allrecipes.com. (Link here)

Chicken Q&A With Wayne Martin



While Cornercopia's main business is growing fresh, organic produce, the farm also keeps a flock of chickens on the farm during the summer months. To give you an introduction to our wonderful feathered friends, I got to ask Wayne Martin, the Assistant Extension Professor that works with Cornercopia on our chicken project, a few questions.


1. What is your University position and how does it translate to what you do at Cornercopia?
I am with University of Minnesota Extension. My position title is Assistant Extension Professor, Alternative Livestock Systems. I tend to work with smaller scale farmers, and with all domesticated species, though mainly I provide information and education on poultry, sheep, lambs, pigs, and to some extent, cattle.

It makes sense for me to be involved with Cornercopia chicken production, to provide some knowledge and guidance, and it fits well with the type of work I do around the state. Interest in organic chicken production is gradually increasing, so it's good to be gaining knowledge on how to do so. 

2. What is/are the reason(s) Cornercopia keeps chickens?
Artificial fertilizers are not approved for use on certified organic farm ground, so producers must use other alternatives, which come from either plant or animal sources. Chickens provide high quality manure fertilizer for the crops raised on the Student Organic Farm.

The birds are also raised to give students and community members exposure to animals raised on organic land. We hold workshops during the summer to teach participants how to raise broilers in a pasture setting.

3. What kind of chickens does Cornercopia keep? Will the next round of chickens be a different type?
We typically have broilers, or meat chickens, either Cornish X or Red Rangers. We have had layers for egg production in the past, but no longer do so.

4. Can you describe the "chicken tractors" that the chickens live in and how has the housing for the chickens developed over the years?
“Chicken tractors” are simply portable huts that the birds live in during the time they are on the pasture. Our huts are tall enough to walk inside, and support feeders and waterers hanging from the ceiling. They have wheels to help make moving them easier, given that is done on a daily basis. The huts protect the birds from predators and also give them some protection during stormy weather.

5. What are the general duties of the chicken interns and what are the learning outcomes of the jobs they do?
The student interns are taught to take care of the birds from the time they arrive as day-old chicks, until they are ready for processing. They learn to properly feed and water the birds, and to observe the birds for signs of any illness that might affect the flock. They learn every aspect of good poultry husbandry.

...turns into this guy.
Interns are with our chickens from when this little guy...






















6. What is your favorite part about working with the Cornercopia chickens?
There are many things I enjoy about working with the chickens at Cornercopia. First of all, it’s great to be outside on a beautiful Minnesota summer day. Can’t beat that. Then there is always something new to learn about working with animals. A lot of creativity has gone in to problem solving with the birds, and with designing feeders and huts. Finally, it’s wonderful to work with such interested and interesting students. They are always a great group of eager learners, full of energy and good ideas. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds as well. It’s very easy to get involved with and spend a lot of time at the Student Organic Farm!

Lindsay, who was one of the chicken interns last summer, holds
one of our broilers. 

This Week At Cornercopia: Wild Cooking Greens

This week at Cornercopia, we did something a little odd. Instead of just looking in our beds of vegetables for the vegetables you've come to expect at our farmers market stands, we looked for weeds as well. This doesn't sound too weird until you realize that we were looking for them to harvest, not weed. To say that you're eating weeds seems rather uncivilized, so we like to call this abundance of foraged food "wild cooking greens. There's tons of them out in our fields that the interns have been learning about this week. Amaranth (often called pigweed), purslane, and lambsquarters are the three most common.

Palmer Amaranth

There's many who seem to agree with us when we talk about eating foraged greens. Yesterday, the same day we were selling amaranth at our farmers market stands, an article came out called "This weed is taking over the planet. On the upside, it's delicious!" Palmer amaranth, a relative of the plant that is used to grow amaranth as a grain, is one of the many "weeds" we find in our gardens that can actually be eaten. Lynn Sosnoskie, a weed scientist at UC Davis has an awesome quote about the mindset we have about weeds. "We call these plants weeds because of the way we interact with them. They're in our gardens, they're in our lawns, and they're competing with plants that we prefer to eat. But a lot of the plants that are weeds here in the United States were brought here purposefully - to be eaten." Ms. Sosnoskie has done some reasearch with our friend, the amaranth as well. She and others in the Horticulture department at UC Davis think that these weeds are underutilized and could be utilized as a real food source. Over at Purdue University's indigenous vegetables project, they're looking at the popularity of amaranth in eastern Africa and how this green might have a jump in popularity as the United States gets more immigrants from that region of the world.


Lambsquarters
Challenging the "weed mindset" is not terribly difficult once you actually try eating some of these greens. Amaranth, for example, can be cooked like spinach, lambsquarters tastes like spinach as well and the young shoots are excellent in salads, and purslane, another common weed, can be eaten like a sprout. My favorite discovery so far is purslane and cottage cheese. Yum. Many of these greens keep well in your fridge as well. Purslane is a succulent green so it stays fresh for longer than a flat leaf green. Amaranth has an impressive taproot that is fairly easy to pull up, so when harvesting, pulling out the whole plant and wrapping the taproot in wet paper towel keeps the plants fresh longer.


Purslane
So now that you've made the amazing discovery that all of these things are indeed edible, go out and grab some, if you know what they are. ALWAYS be sure of identification before eating. If you're unsure about the weeds you're pulling from your garden or yard, check with someone who can identify the plant for you. Better yet, hop on over to the farm and we can teach you what it is you're looking for. We've got TONS of amaranth that you can come out and pick for free that we can send you home with as well. You've got it right: Free U-Pick Amaranth.


If that doesn't persuade you, we've got some adorable baby animals on the farm right now. Graham, one of our interns, is doing a research project with baby bunnies that just arrived at the farm this week. We also got our second flock of broiler chickens in. Nothing like hundreds of peeping fluffballs (two hundred to be exact) to brighten up your day! If you're interested in coming out to the farm to help us pick amaranth or help with any of our other farm jobs, you can contact us at the email listed in our info section on the right hand side of the page!

You could meet this little guy!

Or these cuties and 170 of their closest friends!

This Week At Cornercopia: Berries and Squash Bugs

We've had another busy week here at Cornercopia. Earlier this week, we saw the emergence of our first berries and fruits! There were only a couple pints so they got snapped up quick at our St. Paul farmer's market stand, but even after they were gone, most of you still asked about them. Yes, we'll try to have more next week.

Another question many of you asked was "What is a serviceberry?" 

THIS is a serviceberry!

Many of you probably have seen serviceberries growing wild around Minnesota and just didn't know what they were or know it by another name. It has a lot of them. Some of them are saskatoon, shadbush, juneberry and sugarplum. I actually had known them as sugarplums first before I knew any of the other names. If we were to be all scientific about things, this berry bush is called by the same name as it's genus: Amelanchier. No wonder we call it something different because someone is going to need to hand me a pronunciation guide for that one. The reasons behind the common names are all very interesting. Here's a portion about it from it's Wikipedia page:

"The name serviceberry comes from the similarity of the fruit to the related European Sorbus; it is also said that their flowers heralded the roads in the Appalachian mountains becoming passable, which meant that the circuit-riding preachers would be coming soon and church services would resume; also, that the ground was thawed enough to dig graves, and funeral services could be had for those who died over the winter. Juneberry refers to the fruits of certain species becoming ripe in June. The name saskatoon originated from a Cree Indian noun misâskwatômina (misāskwatōmina,misaaskwatoomina) for Amelanchier alnifolia. The city of SaskatoonSaskatchewan is named after this plant. Shadberry refers to the shad runs in certain New England streams, which generally took place about when the trees bloomed."

Pretty interesting stuff. This genus has about 20 species of shrubs and trees in the Rosaceae family and is used for it's fruits, it's foliage and shape in landscaping, and is important to several different wild animals, birds and insects. It's a very sweet berry, and I always like to describe the flavor as like a blueberry but without the tart-ness. If you want to know more about the serviceberry, I suggest checking out the Wikipedia page. 

Besides the berries, another main event this week has been battling squash bugs and squash vine borers, the nasty buggers. They've been laying eggs on our squash plants and we've had the pleasure of going around to scrape all the eggs off. Lovely. We've also been on the lookout for the adults to, well, squash (pun intended). 

Squash borers, our first enemy, lay their eggs on the stems of the squash (although we have found them in other places) and when they hatch, the larvae burrow themselves into the stem.Not so great for our squash plants. So it's much easier to kill the eggs than try to perform surgery on the poor squash vine to get the bugs out. These eggs we simply scrape off. The adults are pretty brightly colored, which helps in spotting them zooming around the squash patch. 


The second enemy are the squash bugs. Some people know them as stink bugs because they let off a gross odor when threatened. I personally think it smells like nail polish remover. Their eggs are a bit more tricky. They'll lay them in clumps on the bottom of the squash leaves and you have to make sure to pick off all of them and, unlike the sqaush borer eggs, drop them in soapy water. Yuck. 





Other than that, we've been doing lots of weeding, planting and trellising of tomatoes (they're growing like crazy!) But now we're all off to enjoy our Fourth of July weekend. We certainly hope yours is lovely as well!