Sunday, May 31, 2015

Eating Turnip Greens Part Two - Blackeyed Pea, Turnip Green, and Ham Soup

About two weeks ago, I tried my hand at trying to figure out a way to eat some of the turnips I'd planted as a cover crop that would be tasty enough that I wouldn't dread eating them if I ever had no choice but to eat turnips.  I'm still a little concerned that I might get shipwrecked Robinson-Crusoe-style with only a big bag of turnip seeds to keep me company and no good idea about how to make them halfway appetizing, so that every meal turns into a miserable battle between starving and choking down yet another bowl of bitter turnip greens.

My previous attempt at cooking and eating turnips wasn't a roaring success, the mashed turnips and potatoes weren't that bad and I could see eating them on a regular basis if I found myself all by myself on an island, but the turnip greens had some sort of bitterness that turned up in every couple of bites that I didn't really care for.

On my second attempt at eating turnips, I decided to make a blackeye pea / turnip green soup.  I'm pretty sure that most of the bitterness comes from the stems of the greens, so when it came time to get some turnip greens I made a point of just picking the upper leaves from the turnips instead of pulling the whole thing and trimming off the stems.  When I was picking these greens it occurred to me that I ought to try cooking turnip greens again with greens picked this way to see if the bitterness factor isn't as bad (stay tuned for that exciting action-packed update).

As an extra bonus for the frugal-minded shipwrecked turnip grower, the turnips will keep growing after pulling a few handfuls of greens from your turnip patch so you can make those mashed turnips sometime in the future without worrying about storing the turnips you've just pulled. 
Only the best of the turnip greens for me
After getting my turnip greens picked, making the soup was pretty simple, I'm not going to be able to cook anything that complicated if I ever find myself stranded on a deserted island so simple needs to be one of the objectives in this whole exercise of turnipy cookery.  To make my soup, I greatly simplified a recipe for Blackeyed Pea Soup that I found online.

I used a pressure cooker and threw in about a cup of dry blackeyed peas, a small ham steak that I found buried deep in the freezer which I cut up into little pieces, a chopped up onion, a little garlic, and about 4 cups of water.  Add a good slug of creole seasoning, maybe a little hot sauce, bring to a boil, then put the turnip greens on top, and put the lid on the pressure cooker.  After about 10-12 minutes of the pressure cooker doing it's whole pressure cooker jiggling thing, it should be done cooking, so either release the pressure or let it cool down on its own.     
Blackeyed Peas, Onion, Turnip Greens, and Ham
Once I removed the lid, I stirred the greens into the rest of the soup and they sort of fell apart and blended nicely with everything else. Cooked this way the turnip greens have a taste that's hard to describe, they blend in with the other tastes almost like a seasoning instead of an ingredient. 
Tastes better than it looks and it doesn't look that bad
A couple of bowls of soup with some cornbread made a halfway decent lunch, and I think I'm pretty confident that I could eat this regularly if I ever find that I have to be Rich Crusoe on an inhospitable island with some turnips that I have to eat on a regular basis.  I could also see eating it without being stranded on a deserted island, it would be a good way to eat your blackeyed peas on New Years Day although you might have to freeze your turnip greens (if that's possible). 

It would be even better if I'd had some better chunks of ham, if I'd soaked the blackeyed peas beforehand, if I'd used some stock (ham or chicken) instead of water, adding more turnip greens might be a good idea, and a little cooked rice added to the soup after it was done might have been worth the effort.

Some kind of soup with beef or chicken, the turnip root, and the turnip greens might also be worth trying.  

The soup more than makes up for the bitterness of the turnip greens, although I still might try the turnip greens again without as many stems to see what they taste like. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Moving Bulls - Change is Hard

For almost two weeks, I've been needing to move one of my bulls to another pasture for breeding season, and for me, "move a bull" usually means sorting out the correct bull, loading him onto a trailer, and then hauling him down a dirt road to the pasture where I've got the cows grazing.   But with all the recent rains turning the dirt road into a bottomless pit of mud, I haven't been too enthusiastic about trying to see if I can pull a stock trailer sideways down a muddy road after it has slid into an inescapable ditch, so I've been putting off moving the bull until it stops raining long enough for things to dry out a little.

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it on this blog but since it's kind of important to the story I'll mention it again, but there are railroad tracks running through part of the farm that split it into two parts and there are a couple of underpasses that allow the cattle to move from one side of the tracks to the other.  For a while, I've had the bulls and a handful of later-calving cows in the pasture near the barn, and the rest of the cows and calves were two pastures away on the other side of the tracks.

I considered just trying to sort out the bull and walk him across the pastures to the cows, but it's not easy at all to walk, cuss, beg, and/or force a lone bull away from a pen full of cattle, across a pasture, through an underpass, across another pasture, and finally through a gate to another herd of cows while slogging though a bunch of sloppy mud.  Even if I had a halfway decent horse that knew its way around cattle and a pack of cow dogs, it would probably still be an exhausting and frustrating undertaking.

Another option was just combining all the cows and bulls into one herd instead of sorting them out into two breeding herds like I've always done it before.  A couple of weeks ago, I could have just opened up the underpass and the gates, and been done for the year with moving bulls, but I couldn't get over my bias towards doing things differently than I've always done it because for some reason, it's a little harder for me to experiment with something different when it comes to the cattle.  There are lots of reasons both for and against having a single herd with multiple bulls during the breeding season, but right or wrong, I've always tended to think the negatives outweighed any positives.

I finally decided to just wait until it stopped raining and everything dried out enough that I could get down the dirt road without fishtailing from ditch to ditch.  The weather and the bulls apparently didn't like that idea because yesterday I found all the cows and bulls on the same side of the tracks with only a barbwire fence separating the two herds.  Even though I usually check the underpass after every heavy rain, the last rain produced enough runoff to wash the gates open, the bulls found the open gates, and made the decision to quit messing around with all this wait-until-the-rain-stops-and-everything-dries-up-nonsense.  Since there there was no way I was going to get everybody moved back to where they came from, I opened the gate, and now we've got one herd for this breeding season (although I guess I could always sort everyone around sometime later this summer).

Today, I had some cows cycling, the bulls weren't trying to kill each other instead of breeding cows, I didn't have cattle spread out over two pastures instead of one, it didn't matter anymore if the road was muddy or not, and the world didn't come to an end because I changed how I was doing something, so maybe I never needed to divide the herd into two separate breeding herds after all.

After just two days of moving to a single herd instead of two herds, I'm wondering why I didn't do it sooner.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rain, More Rain, Then Even More Rain

It's tough to get a photo that shows just how wet, sloppy, and muddy it is, so this is as good as it gets
I planted grain sorghum on April 26, and in the last thirty days or so since then it's rained just over 21 inches.  All the ponds are full and running over the spillways, it's muddy everywhere, and I'm hoping that it dries up enough before wheat harvest that I don't end up tearing up the fields with a bunch of ruts from the combine.  For over a week, I've needed to haul a bull down the road so I can get the cows bred , but it's been so muddy that I didn't want to risk getting stuck while pulling the trailer so It looks like calving season is going to be a little later next year. 

It's said that you should never complain about the rain, but it's getting harder and harder not to complain.  I'm starting to think that I'm more suited to living in a desert than a swamp or rainforest.  At least there isn't much chance of flooding around here since the farm is up on high ground between a couple of major creek drainages.
No-till grain sorghum field after a hard 3-inch rain
With all this rain it is a little satisfying that most of the rainfall seems to be soaking in instead running off on the cropland.  If this field of grain sorghum had been tilled before planting, I'd expect to have a lot of erosion and ponding in this field after 21 inches of rain in a month. 

Thanks to a combination of no-till, lots of crop residue left in the field, and maybe a little more organic matter due to my soil-building efforts, it looks like I didn't have much erosion in that field even though I planted back and forth with the planter (going up and down the sides of the terraces at times) instead of trying to follow the contours of terraces like I've always done in the past. 

There is some water running off the ends of the terraces and down some fencelines, but it looks like there isn't any soil moving and the water isn't particularly muddy.  Even if my no-till and cover cropping efforts weren't improving my soils, the reduction in erosion would be worth the effort (I'm not really fond of gullies in my fields).  I'm hoping that as soon as it starts to warm up a little, the grain sorghum will start to grow like gangbusters and maybe this will be the year that I finally grow some high-yielding grain sorghum.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Trying To Give a Little Credit Where Credit is Due

I've always tried to stay relatively anonymous online (if that's even possible) by being a little vague about exactly where I live, who also works with me around the farm, how or if we're related, etc., but it seems unfair and a little misleading to not somehow give credit to everyone else that's involved around the farm.  I'd have a harder time getting some things done without a little help, and I couldn't do some things at all without the help I get.

So, I've decided to start referring to people by initials, so that they can still be somewhat anonymous, they can also get a little credit for what they do around the farm, and I don't sound like some sort of go-it-alone guy single-handedly building a farm in the wilderness.

Plus, it will make it a little easier to tell stories about whatever is going on around the farm.

So stay tuned for exciting stories of what Rich and B. are doing tomorrow, or what Rich and W. did last week.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trying to Eat Turnips

My "seed ball" oats and turnips experiment that turned into a wheat and turnip cover crop instead
As a quick reminder, last February I planted a few acres of an oat and turnip mix in a field as a cover crop experiment, then I planted some of that leftover seed mix in my farm garden/test plot area.  At the time I talked about how a few acres of turnips would feed a bunch of people and I promised myself that I would make an effort to eat some of those turnips since turnips and me have had a long running dislike for each other ever since I was a little kid. 

The oat/turnip mix I planted in the field had to be killed about a month ago so that I could plant my grain sorghum (I'm not sure if planting oats and turnips in the spring if I'm planning on planting grain sorghum will work around here), but the turnips I planted in the garden have grown into a great crop of nice-looking turnips.  The oats never came up, so instead of oats and turnips, I ended up with a nice mixture of turnips and wheat.  It looks like a weedy mess to the uninformed, but there are a bunch of nice looking turnips in that mess.

Perfect looking turnips with nice green tops and bulbs
So I decided that the day of reckoning was here, it was time to pull some turnips and see how they tasted, and if I was going to eat turnips, I decided to go all out and eat both the turnip greens and the actual turnips.  I cleaned the greens in cold water to get any dirt off of them (I imagine that gritty turnip greens are less than delicious), trimmed off the stems, cut them up, and wilted/steamed them down in a pot with some bacon and onion.  The turnips were just peeled and cooked with some potatoes to make some mashed potato/turnips.
Cut up turnip greens, onion, a little bacon, and steam
As I was cooking the greens, they looked pretty good, I taste tested them to make sure that they were tender. etc. and they tasted alright, but when it came time to eat them I couldn't get over the way an occasional bite would be overly bitter which might have been from the little bit of smaller stems I didn't trim completely off.  A little sugar sprinkled over them seemed to help a little, but they were still a little too bitter for my tastes.  I'm not sure, but I had the thought that it's possible that that bitterness would lessen or would "work" if the turnip greens were used in some sort of soup (it seems like I've seen some sort of ham, bean, and turnip green soup somewhere).

The mashed potatoes and turnips were fine, with just a little turnip taste, but what's the point of eating turnips if they taste sort of like mashed potatoes?  I'd rather eat mashed potatoes instead of eating mashed potatoes and turnips just for the sake of eating turnips.

I feel almost like a five-year old that's throwing a fit about having to eat spinach, but I have to admit that I'm still not that fond of turnips, at least the way I cooked them.  Results and tastes may vary, so feel free to try them for yourself and comment if you have any suggestions.     

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2015 Cover Crop / Garden Experiment

For those that haven't been following along from the beginning, I have a garden/test plot area on the farm that I've been using as an experimental area to test out different ideas with cover crops, terra preta, etc.  Last summer, I planted a cover crop mixture in this area that eventually grew to be mostly sorghum-sudangrass since it's such an aggressively growing plant.

Once the sorghum-sudangrass started heading out in late summer, I ran a lawn mower without the mower engaged over all of it so that I could flatten everything to the ground instead of chopping it all up with the mower.  The idea behind that was to terminate the growth and also create a thick mat of residue.  After I'd flattened the entire area, I spread some biochar over the area (about a 30 gal. trashcan of biochar spread over a 2000 sq.ft. area?).  Most of the sorghum-sudangrass eventually regrew after that to a height of about 36" before it was winter killed in early fall.

This spring, I was surprised at how good the soil looked in that area, I still had some residue on the surface, I had a thin wheat stand growing (not sure if that came from my cover crop cocktail mix or not), and it was easy to find earthworms almost every time I dug a hole in the cover cropped area (I've never really noticed that many worms in my gardens before).  It looked so good that I almsot didn't want to run the tiller over it.  I've built about four gardens, so far this one is the best one I've built, and I'm starting to think that growing warm season grasses like sorghum-sudangrass as a cover crop works quicker and better than growing cover crops of cool season grasses like wheat to build soils. 

I'm hoping that the part of my cropland that I planted sorghum-sudangrass and grazed this winter improves in a similar way.

This year I decided to combine some cover cropping and growing some actual food by planting what I'd call a modified Buffalo Bird Woman type of garden (you can find the actual book online at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/buffalo/garden/garden.html ).  Some people might call it a three sisters type of garden with corn, beans, and squash.  Typically corn is planted in hills about three foot apart in a four row block, with hills of beans and squash in between the larger blocks of corn.
2015 Combination Cover Crop / Garden Experiment Plan
I don't really want to do a bunch of hoeing in between the hills, I want it to be almost like a jungle of growth to get more of the cover cropping benefits.  So I decided to plant rows of alternating corn and beans, and rows of beans and watermelon to greatly modify the methods that people like Buffalo Bird Woman were using hundreds of years ago. 
A bucket with both beans and corn, a string line, and a planting stick and you're good to go
Planting alternating hills of beans and corn in a straight line can make your head explode if you make it too complicated, but with a string line and a planting stick marked every foot, it was easier than I thought it would be.  
 Everything coming up, from L to R, turnips, corn/beans, beans/watermelon, corn/beans, tomatoes, potatoes
With all the rain we've been getting since I planted, almost every seed has germinated and in a few more weeks it should look even more interesting, but the "before" photo is pretty interesting already with the alternating bean and corn plants.  Stay tuned for updates on this hopefully edible cover crop experiment.

And, so I can better remember what I planted, the corn is Minnesota 13, (an 87 day field corn) and the beans are just ordinary pinto beans from the grocery store.