Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ode to the Lone Kohlrabi

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

Nov. 1, 2010

Yesterday day the farm stand closed for the winter. It was sad. The frost came two weeks ago and the flower season ended -- but the fields kept pumping out fresh sweet corn and lettuce, so our shelves were well-stocked right until the last day.

The farm will continue to harvest and sell vegetables to restaurants and other wholesale accounts into November, but the farm stand is closed now and my job is over.

I had an exit interview with management. I said, "I would like to work here next year." They said, "We'd love to have you back."

That would be sometime in April, when the farm stand opens again.

So I will be going to Southern California for the winter, to work at another farm, but it will only be part-time, and I will be taking it easy.

I will be in Ventura, which is about one hour north of Los Angeles, if this was was 1970 when the freeways ran free, but more like ninety minutes to LA these days.

My sister lives in Venice near the beach, and my brother lives way to the east side in Altadena, so I can spend some time with them.

My son also lives in Venice, working at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Santa Monica.

I have lots of family down there, several nieces as well, plus the sunshine.

Oh, they have what they call "winter" in Los Angeles, but it doesn't amount to much.

And the delights of California culture --- this I have to see and comment on. If America has lost its sense of confidence and optimism, then LA is the epi-center of decline

If America was and is a dream to fulfill, then LA is where dreams are launched -- or were launched. Is it over? or will it begin anew?

I want to see for myself.

Otherwise I will be working at this small farm in Ventura County, learning the soil and the climate.

You will notice, perhaps gratefully, that I am not writing about politics these days. We're having a national election on Tuesday, and I have followed these events closely, but I will not comment.

Except to say that it's good to be working on a farm, and I lead by example. I will say this, "Young man, go to the farm and go to work."

There's plenty of work on the farm and you will find it very satisfying. It will truly be a "growth opportunity."

If you're in the city, build a garden. Start today.

Here is my closing video-poem for the last day at the farm stand. It's about the end of things -- as you see the past slip away and you wonder what the future will bring.

Listen to the "Ode to the Lone Kohlrabi"
-- it's very short and you will enjoy it.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kim Chee Shortage in Korea

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

October 22, 2010

Kim Chee is the soul food of South Korea, that fiery concoction made from Napa cabbage and hot peppers, but the crop failed this year because of bad weather, down to half of the usual amount.

Facing a national shortage, the Koreans had to make humble and import cabbage from China, suspending the tariff that usually keeps foreign cabbage out of the country.

This story in the New York Times
describes the national custom -- making Kim Chee at home every autumn as a family ritual, but now it's more often bought at the store because people are too busy.

The New York Times story only stated "crop failure due to bad weather." I wanted to know what kind of bad weather -- too much rain or too little rain are the most common causes of a crop failure. Insect damage, or an epidemic of plant disease are other likely causes.

How can I find out? I don't know any farmers in South Korea.

I went to Google to search. I found many news items reporting the same thing -- a kim chee shortage, but no explanation of why the cabbage crop failed.

I checked out the website for the U.S. Embassy in Korea, and I discovered the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office.

Of course! Our farmers export billions of dollars of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products to Korea. So naturally we have a trade office there.

(Don't tell the Tea Party about these people -- government employees, waxing fat on our tax dollars, interfering with the free trade of farm products.)

Well, my tax dollars paid for the farm trade office, and I found it useful in providing some statistics.

We export billions of dollars worth of food to Korea -- beef, rice, potatoes, oranges and apples -- everything but cabbage.

I sent an email to the Agricultural Attache Officer in Seoul, and he replied that the crop failure was caused by an excess of rain and a typhoon -- so I had my answer.

One more thing -- we do not export cabbages to Korea, but here in the Skagit Valley we grow most of the cabbage seed that Korean farmers use for their crop.

Pomegranates from Iran. Boy, we're really going to stick it to the Ayatollah now. The market report from our embassy in Korea says:

In the past two years, the U.S has gained a 99 percent market share of imported pomegranates in South Korea due to a devastating freeze and consecutive bad crop years in Iran, Korea’s past top exporter. A great opportunity to secure this market has presented itself as Korean importers prefer the uniformity and consistency of U.S. pomegranates. Pomegranates are increasing in popularity and there is currently not enough supply to meet demand.

So that's the international farm news, here at home:

The Frost Comes. In the Skagit Valley, the hard frost came a few days ago, on a still and cloudless night. The cold sunk in and by early morning the dahlias and zinnias were bejeweled with crystals of frost on their petals - - a beautiful sight, but by noon those same flowers had turned to brown mush, and the floral display is over for this year.

So Much More. I have so much more to write about, but working full time at the farm stand takes up all my energy, and then I'm getting ready to head for California pretty soon.

The farm stand closes October 31, and I leave a few days later.

I kind of miss the scattered and random format of Frog Hospital, but I know it will be good to stick with this more focused effort, so I will continue to write about farming and I hope most of you readers will stick around to see how this develops.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Largest Kohlrabi in Captivity

FARM NEWS from Fred Owens

October 11, 2010

The frost is not yet on the pumpkin, but on some mornings it feels a little crisp and we all know what's coming.

Watch this video for a detailed report about the weather and the "largest kohlrabi in captivity."

The long-range forecast for the Pacific Northwest is for a cold and wet winter. Nobody is thrilled about that.

You have three kinds of people in this country. The first kind love the rain and it makes them happy. The second kind say they love the rain, but they're lying. The third kind just endure it and try not to complain too much.

I'm one of the third kind, and I'm going to Southern California this winter because I need a break.

A lucky break, it turns out, because that same long-range forecast predicts a warmer and drier winter down south.

So, here's the news.

Grape Harvest, from the Los Angeles Times. California's signature crop, the grape harvest is coming in late. What a surprise! It's been a cool, wet summer from San Diego to Seattle and everything is late.

The article states, "most red grapes remain on the vine statewide, anywhere from 10 days to three weeks later than last year."

Late -- and what can you do but wait.

Here's another quote from the article, more complicated, but intriguing -- if you ask me.

"This is a normal cyclical pattern for La NiƱa," says Peter Cargasacchi of Cargasacchi Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. "If you were aware of that, you could incorporate farming practices based on the historical patterns of the weather." For Cargasacchi, that meant leaving a cover crop between vine rows to suck up excess winter rainwater, then deficit irrigation to stimulate the vines into ripening — "to give them a sense of urgency," he says.

Okay, this vintner did more than just wait. He was expecting the La Nina pattern to bring cooler, wetter weather. So he planted grass and clover between the rows of grapes to soak up the excessive rain fall.

Then he did deficit irrigation -- this is the sexy part, almost a tease -- meaning he cut way, way back on his watering in mid-summer -- to make those grape vines work harder, to put down their roots deeper, to conserve their energy and not produce too many leaves -- that is, to give them a sense of urgency.

That is highly anthropomorphic, as he put it -- to give the grape vines a sense of urgency.

Do plants feel urgency? Are they like us in some ways? We gather the grapes, we make the wine, and then we drink it.

That spirit, from the earth, comes to us through our palates.

That urgency, from mid-summer, has now, in fall harvest, become a fullness, and a good vintage is expected for 2010.

It's never a sure thing. Urgency is natural. And Harvest-Home is often the reward.

So, that's the farm news from California. I will be driving down that way in three weeks, and this newsletter will have more reports on the vast complexity of California agriculture. I hope you find it interesting.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Frog Hospital Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257