Month: July 2015

Biochar Update: Potato Harvest and Data Collection

One of my favorite crops to harvest is potatoes.  I love pushing my hands through the soil, searching by feel for the little spuds, and grabbing just enough for a batch of oven-baked fries or sausage, potato, and greens soup or red onion-potato-feta frittata. 


Sounds kind of romantic, pastoral, right?  And it is.  Until you need to harvest pounds and pounds and pounds of potatoes.  That’s when reinforcements and machinery come in pretty handy.


Last week we entered the final phase of this year’s biochar project: harvesting potatoes.  The goal was not only to harvest but also to collect data about what was harvested.  As I’ve talked about before, the biochar potato patch was divided into 12 plots in a randomized block design: 4 plots with no biochar; 4 with 10 tons/acre of biochar in Year 1 and Year 2; and 4 with 20 ton/acre in Year 1 only. From each of these twelve plots, we needed to harvest 10% of the potatoes, record the weight, and grade for quality.



From this data, we’ll get an idea of how the applied rate of biochar affected the growth of the potatoes.  Dr. Kevin Gibson from Purdue also gathered the potato plant foliage so he could weigh the plants and have them analyzed for nutrient deficiencies.


This first round of potatoes of was harvested by hand by Dr. Gibson and two of his students, my cousin Dirk, our 10-year-old neighbor Luke, and, of course, Dan and Sarah.



The rest of the potatoes could be harvested by machine.  We used our BCS walk-behind tractor with the Root Digger (also known as Potato Digger), an attachment we purchased from Earth Tools with some of the recipe contest prize money.



This was our first time using the potato digger, and we discovered pretty quickly that for it to work effectively, we needed to cut back the foliage of the potato plants before harvesting.


Once all the potatoes are harvested, Dan will sow a cover crop (oats and peas) on the biochar plots.  The other five farms participating in the project will do the same to prepare the soil for next year’s crop: cabbages!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.  We’ve still got potatoes to harvest and, just as important, potatoes to sell.  When garlic goes on sale in less than two weeks, so will lovely Red Norland potatoes, so get out those recipes: fries, soup, frittata—and whatever else you love to cook with these fresh, delicious orbs.


Recipe: Spaghetti with Caramelized Garlic and Tomatoes

The garlic harvest for 2015 is complete, thanks to the help of our intern Sarah, her family, my family, Dan’s family, and one of our neighbors.  I’m so excited about this I’m even going to use a cliché: Many hands really do make light work!



This year we harvested the largest bulbs of garlic ever, thanks in part to Dan’s constant tweaking with cover crops, his use of strip tillage, and—crazily enough—all the rain.


Right now the garlic is curing, a 2-3 week drying process which concentrates the garlic’s flavor and makes it possible to store until next year’s garlic is ready.  (We actually just composted our 2014 garlic—and some of it was still usable.)  Our garlic will go on sale August 10, so the recipe I’m sharing today is kind of a teaser, but I can guarantee it will be worth the wait to use Perkins’ Good Earth Farm hardneck, gourmet garlic in this recipe!

A couple years ago I found a used cookbook from the Gilroy Garlic Festival (which Dan dreams about attending some day so he can eat garlic ice cream), and this winter Dan discovered a recipe in there for Linguine with Caramelized Garlic by Kimra Foster, his inspiration for this recipe.

You’re going to need three heads of garlic, which amounts to about 18-24 cloves.  Yes, this is a serious garlic-lover’s recipe!  But don’t be afraid—the caramelizing will bring out the sweetness in the garlic.

Begin by separating the heads into individual cloves and peeling them.  For easier peeling, Foster recommends placing the cloves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, cooling, and then peeling.  (We’ve never tried this; to loosen the peel, I gently crush each clove with my chef’s knife.)

Next, heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.  Once the oil is sizzling, throw in that garlic!  Just like with caramelizing onions, you’re going to want to reduce the heat to low and very slow sauté the garlic until it begins to brown, stirring often.  This could take anywhere from 25-30 minutes, so I recommend having a glass of wine, LaCroix on ice, or some funky dance music to keep you company.


When there’s about 5 minutes left on the garlic, cook your spaghetti (we use Aldi’s gluten-free brown rice spaghetti), chop a tablespoon of fresh thyme, and chop some fresh, preferably heirloom tomatoes.

Once the garlic is caramelized, stir in the thyme and cook for a couple more minutes.  Then add about 1/3 cup chicken stock, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer this altogether for about 5 minutes.  (Note: While this won’t look like enough sauce for the pasta, it really is!)

When the spaghetti is finished, toss the pasta with 2 beaten eggs, then add it to your pot.  Combine the pasta with the garlic mixture, then add Parmesan cheese and tomatoes and do a final toss.  Give it a taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.  Serve immediately and enjoy!


 Note: When Dan made this recipe in the winter with fully cured garlic, the garlic browned much more easily.  He made the recipe picture in this post with fresh, uncured garlic and had a harder time achieving full caramelization, we think due to the higher moisture content.  Search Google Images for “caramelized garlic” for examples.

Photography: Julie Oudman Perkins and Sarah Lindvall

Spaghetti with Caramelized Garlic and Tomatoes
Serves 3
A creamy pasta dish with caramelized garlic and fresh tomatoes.
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  1. 3 heads fresh garlic
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  4. 1/3 cup chicken stock
  5. salt and pepper to taste
  6. 6 oz spaghetti
  7. 2 eggs, beaten
  8. 3 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  9. 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  1. Separate and peel garlic cloves.
  2. Heat oil in large pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic. Reduce heat to low and saute garlic for 25-30 minutes, until garlic begins to brown. Stir often.
  3. When there's about 5 minutes left on the garlic, cook spaghetti according to package directions.
  4. Chop tomatoes.
  5. When garlic is caramelized, stir in chopped thyme. Cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes.
  6. When spaghetti is finished cooking, toss with the eggs. Combine the pasta with the garlic mixture in the pot and toss with Parmesan cheese and tomatoes.
  7. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.
Adapted from Linguine with Caramelized Garlic by Kimra Foster
Adapted from Linguine with Caramelized Garlic by Kimra Foster
Perkins' Good Earth Farm

Thoughts on ‘Crafted’

Up until a week ago, I had never considered what goes into making one of the most essential kitchen tools: the knife.  I’ve thought about how food is grown (obviously), how food is cooked and what it’s cooked in, and what it means to be nourished—but knives?  I’ve always just used the Cutco set Dan earned peddling knives door-to-door when he was a teenager.

However, now that I’ve seen the short documentary Crafted (2015) by award-winning director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), I’m saving up for a Bloodroot Blade, made by artisan knife-makers David Van Wyk and Luke Snyder.

We’ve known Luke and his wife since 2006 when Dan and Luke met at Taylor University’s Master of Environmental Science program.  We’ve visited the Snyders in their hometown, where Luke’s family made a carrot cake for Harper’s first birthday.  And the Snyders came to our farm with a group of Taylor friends right after we moved here to help us clean up the property (we ate homemade calzones for dinner that night).

But, as too often happens with friends once you move away, we lost touch over the years beyond the occasional facebook post, which is where I heard about Crafted.

The 25-minute film follows the stories of three food-related artisanal companies: the pottery business of Yuji Nagatani, a seventh generation Japanese potter; the San Francisco restaurant Bar Tartine; and Bloodroot Blades of Arnoldsville, Georgia.  The individuals behind these companies create beautiful, hand-crafted products—rice cookers, gourmet dishes, knives—and they take their time doing so.

“We’re in this business not for the money but for a lifestyle and for joy, just the joy of the craft,” says Snyder in the film.  Dan remembers that back at Taylor, Luke was always talking about his knives.  What do you think Dan was talking about and working on in every spare moment?  That’s right, growing vegetables!  What a privilege it is to earn a living honing a craft you love and, in doing so, creating a product that those around you love too.

To watch the film, click here.  It’s free if you have Amazon Prime and costs $1.99 if you don’t.  If you want to purchase a knife from Bloodroot Blades,  be warned, you’re going to have to be patient.  These knives are so quality there’s a 28-month waiting list.  

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