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The Farmer’s 7 Step Guide for Growing the Best Fruit You’ve Ever Tasted: Planting Fruit Trees & Blueberry Plants in Your Own Backyard

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2017 | No Comments

Photo Source: District Blue Valley

While in this day and age we are treated to having fruit of any kind available year round, fruit grown locally in season is incomparable in deliciousness! You can grow it in your backyard to enjoy for years to come.  Farmer Ryan Voiland is very passionate about local fruit, and particular about the varieties that taste the best for what we can grow in New England.

In spring at our two farm stores, you can now find his selection of favorite apple and blueberry plants, with blueberry varieties we have tested in our fields, as well as favorite apples from our taste tests.

We want to pass what we’ve learned on to you, giving you the chance to grow the healthiest and most delicious crops of fruit in your own garden. Read on for farmer Ryan’s planting guide:

1) Location, location, location!

Planting your fruit trees in the right place is critical! Water and sun saturation level, soil content, and slope of the ground are all factors that will affect how healthy your tree or bush will grow.

Fruit trees and bushes need soil that has good drainage, so avoid areas where water puddles after rainstorms or from winter snowmelt. Also avoid locations that are shaded by trees or buildings, as these plants need full sun.

Also avoid soils that have a high clay content, or that are too rocky. Trees can grow around some rocks without a problem, but large boulders or ledges must be avoided. Sandy loam soils are ideal.

Trees and bushes can grow on sloping areas, but make sure it is not too steep to mow and work around the trees. Be aware of the expected mature size of the tree or bush variety that you are planting, and space accordingly. Remember that for apple trees, the health of the rootstock will make a big difference on how large the mature tree will grow!

2) Get the pH right

Apple, peach, and pear trees all need a soil that has a pH that is in the range of 6-7. Many New England soils have a naturally lower pH, so adding limestone is often needed to raise the pH.

Photo Source: Fast Growing Trees

You can take a soil test to figure out how much lime to add, which UMass offers. Their “Routine Soil Analysis” for Home Grounds and Gardens, currently $15, is a great basic test for home gardens and will give you recommended rates for how much fertilizer and lime to apply by testing your soil’s pH and nutrient ratios.

Blueberries are an exception and require a low pH of 4-5.5 in order to grow well. If your pH is too high, then elemental sulfur can be used to lower the pH.

Elemental sulfur takes up to one year to fully react with the soil and cause the pH to drop, so in the short term, if planting a blueberry plant consider using a high percent of peat moss mixed into the planting hole. Peat moss has a naturally low pH and will help blueberry plants thrive. A soil test can also aid you in figuring out how much elemental sulfur to use prior to planting.

Photo Source: Liberty for Captives

3) Keep weeds out!

Making sure weeds are eliminated both before and after planting is critical. In fact, being able to prepare the planting area a year in advance is ideal!

Use tillage or mulch (cardboard with straw or leaves on top works well), in order to make sure sod grass and other weeds are killed in the planting area prior to planting. If planting into a lawn or grass area, make sure to dig out and remove the grass chunks prior to planting in at least a three-foot circle or strip from where the tree will be planted.

Probably the best organic approach to managing weeds around new trees and bushes is to mulch them after planting. Use shredded leaves, straw or hay to make a layer that weeds can’t penetrate.

Try to keep at least a three-foot area around the plants weed free. In the absence of mulch (or if any weeds break through) you must hoe or pull those out promptly so that they don’t compete with the young tree or bush! During winter it is a good idea to pull mulch back away from the tree trunk area (in order to discourage mice and voles from chewing on the bark.) Wire mouse guards are a good idea to protect the young trunks.

4) Plant at the right time of year

April, May, and early June are the best times of year to plant trees in MA, though potted plants can be safely planted until mid-summer if well watered.

Photo Source: Gardenality

5) Settle it into the ground with good food

Dig the planting hole at least 25 percent larger than the pot or root ball. Mix quality compost, rotted manure (or for blueberries use

peat moss) in a ratio of 1/3 compost and 2/3 topsoil, and use this mix at the bottom of the hole, and to backfill around the tree roots.

If the tree roots are densely spiraled in their pot, scruff them up a bit on the surface prior to planting, as this helps the roots find the new soil as they start to grow.

Backfill around the root ball with the topsoil/compost mix, tamping firmly in order to avoid air pockets around the roots.

Photo Source: UNM Extension

For apples and pears, make sure that the graft union is two or three inches above the soil level in order to assure that the scion does not try to grow roots!

For blueberry plants, be careful not to plant roots too deep. They should not be planted any deeper than they are growing in their pot! Arrange a ring around the tree that will help keep water soaking into the root area and not running off.

6) Water according to rain levels

Newly transplanted trees and bushes need lots of water right after they are transplanted. Water liberally with 5 gallons of water so that the entire root zone is well moistened. Going forward, if it does not rain one inch or more per week, continue to water new trees on the drier weeks with 5 gallons of water per tree per dry week throughout the summer.

Photo Source: Love to Know

7) Fertilize like a pro 

In soils that have good natural fertility, it may not be necessary to use additional fertilizers beyond the compost at planting, up until the trees begin yielding some fruit after two or three years.

On sandier soils, using some additional fertilizer may be helpful starting a few weeks after planting. I recommend organic fertilizer sources, which release their nutrients to the plants slowly over time.

Dehydrated chicken manure fertilizers with an analysis such as 5-4-3 are good for apples, peaches and pears using 1-2 lbs. per tree sprinkled in a ring under the drip line of the tree.

For blueberries, avoid manure-based fertilizers, and instead use organic fertilizers derived from blood meal, soy or cottonseed meals, rock phosphate, sulfate of potash among others (these organic fertilizer materials are also fine to use on fruit trees).

Fertilizers should be applied only in spring or early summer. Never apply nitrogen fertilizers after early July as this may lead to weak growth that is not hardy enough to tolerate winter cold.

Ideally, make fertilizing decisions based on soil tests or tissue analysis of growing leaves.

Observe how much new growth occurs on trees each year. In general there should be 8-12 inches of new shoot growth per year, so if there is less than that on your tree, it may need more fertilizer.

With these steps of care, your tree or bush should be off to a good start.

By Ryan Voiland

Making delicious recipes from your trees and your Red Fire Farm fruit share is easy and fun! See below for some tasty things you can make.

Baked Apples

Kale n’ Apples

Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake

Warm Fruit Sauce

Roasted Corn and Peach Salsa

Wintertime Pickles, Jams and Preserves

Posted by: on Dec 7, 2015 | No Comments

Many of us think of the height of summer as prime time for canning, but there are plenty of savory and seasonal goodies to put up during the colder months. Root vegetables like turnips and beets are plentiful, as are alliums like onions, garlic, and shallots. These recipes are wonderful to have on hand for quick and flavorful meals, holiday entertaining, or as presents for foodie friends. Most recipes are easily adaptable for either a few jars to put in the fridge or a bevy of small gift jars to hand out.

To find ingredients for these recipes in the winter months, you can visit us at our various Winter Farmers’ Markets, join our Deep Winter CSA, or order winter produce in bulk for discounts.

Note: Please read each recipe thoroughly– some are meant only for refrigeration and are unsafe for canning and long-term storage. The National Center for Home Preservation Resources has some great tips for food safety when making holiday gifts.


Before you start, check out this guide for the lowdown on pickles and fermentation, and here’s a very adaptable recipe for pickling spice.


Canning Pickled Beets

Pickled Beets with Honey


Japanese Pickled Daikon (Tsukemono)– In Japanese cuisine, pickles are considered a palate cleanser between dishes.

Sweet Pickled Daikon

Indian Daikon Pickle (Mooli Ka Achaar)

Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot (Do Chua)– This quick traditional pickle is a staple of banh mi sandwiches.

Multi-Colored Carrot and Radish Pickle– Instead of the green radish in this recipe, try it with white daikon or colorful watermelon radishes.

Pickled Watermelon Radish– You can adjust the spiciness of watermelon radishes depending on how thick you slice them. This would also be good with black radishes, which are typically the spiciest of winter radishes.

Carrots and Parsnips

Simple Pickled Carrots

Bloody Mary Carrot– A real pick-me-up!

Picante Pickled Carrots

Parsley and Parsnips– Parsnips and parsley are in the same Umbelliferae family, so they may go better together than you think!

Parsnips and Carrot Pickles with Chile


Shredded Kohlrabi Pickle– This one is fascinating! Almost like coleslaw, nice and crunchy.

Curry Maple Pickled Kohlrabi

Turnips and Rutabagas

Lebanese Pickled Turnips (Kabees El Lift)– Tinted pink with beets.

Cabbage and Turnip Turshi with Curry

Pickled Turnip with Kombu (Senmai-zuke)– Super thin slices of turnip layered with kombu seaweed.

Smokey Pickled Rutabaga– With cumin seeds, cayenne, and smoked paprika.

Pickled Rutabaga Strips


Pickled Ginger– More than just a sidekick for sushi!

Sweet and Sour Pickled Red Onions– Inspired by the classic bread and butter pickle.

Pickled Onions with Tarragon and Allspice

Pickled Garlic– Great for chopping up and finishing off veggie dishes. The spiciness of raw garlic is tamed by vinegar, so the flavor shouldn’t be too strong to eat on its own.

Winter Squash

Pickled Butternut with Sage and Cardamom

Middle Eastern Spiced Butternut Pickle– With lemon, coriander, cinnamon, rosemary, and cloves.

Butternut Squash Two Ways– With garlic and peppercorns or brown sugar and apple juice.

Lacto-Fermented Squash– Probiotic and delicious.

Krauts and Kimchi 

Mirepoix Kraut– This kraut uses the classic French base of carrot, onion, and celery along with herbs like thyme, sage, and bay leaves. Try replacing the celery with celeriac root for a similar flavor but totally seasonal.

Small-Batch Sauerkraut– For when one jar is just enough.

Watermelon Radish and Bok Choi Kimchi

Savory Jams

These delicious spreads are wonderful with crackers, on a cheese plate, as a topping for burgers or sandwiches, with potato dishes, or in tarts.

Onion Apple Ale Relish

Onion Marmalade– With black mustard seeds, ginger, and coriander.

Three Onion Jam Recipes– Onion & Rosemary Confiturra, Balsamic Onion Jam, and Sweet Onion Jam.

Balsamic Onion and Roasted Garlic Jam– You really can’t go wrong when you combine these classic flavors.

Caramelized Shallot Jam– Shallots have a delicious delicate flavor with a hint of garlic.

Caramelized Shallots– With rosemary and balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Garlic Jelly– With pectin or without? You decide.



Apple-Ginger Jam

Carrot Cake Jam– Surprising and fun! Would be delicious on crumpets or muffins.

Ginger-Spiced Pickled Pears– A nice twist on a popular holiday fruit.

Sweet Potato Butter– With apples. Perfect for slathering on toast!

Four Farmers’ Favorites for Thanksgiving

Posted by: on Nov 8, 2015 | One Comment

We have so much to be grateful for this year at Red Fire Farm! We had a successful summer season and we’re making a smooth transition into the colder months. Each season brings more reasons to get excited about bringing fresh veggies into the kitchen: leeks, shallots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, Brussels sprouts… so many possibilities to serve at the table! A few of our staff have shared their time-tested recipes that they love to eat during the fall. It’s more than likely that these delicious dishes will wind up on their Thanksgiving menu!

Find our produce at Winter Farmers’ Markets, at the Granby Farm Stand (which is open through the day before Thanksgiving!), in our Fall and Winter CSAs, and as Bulk Orders on our website.

Megan Randall, Harvest Manager

Maple-Browned Brussels Sprouts

Megan loves these skillet-browned Brussels sprouts, which she makes for Thanksgiving when she’s cooking a big meal with friends and family. This year she wants to try adding shallots to this recipe

View the original recipe at Outpost Natural Foods.


2 pounds Brussels sprouts, rinsed, cut into quarters, and patted dry

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 ounces butter, cut into 4 pieces

4 tablespoons dark maple syrup

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

salt to taste


1. Heat large skillet over medium high heat. Add vegetable oil. When oil begins to ripple, carefully add Brussels sprouts (oil my splatter). Brown undisturbed for 1-2 minutes.  Shake pan to turn sprouts, and then turn heat down to medium.

2. Add butter and shake pan while butter foams. When butter is entirely melted, add maple syrup and mustard. Toss or stir gently to coat.

3. Continue to cook Brussels sprouts until they are tender but still firm, about 10 minutes. Remove the sprouts from the pan and reserve sauce.

4. Add cider vinegar and salt.  Cook the sauce for 1-2 minutes more, until the sauce thickens, and then pour over Brussels sprouts. Best served immediately.


Andy Skiff, Tractor Operator and Delivery Driver

Mashed Squash and Sweet Potatoes

Andy loves this simple side dish as a complement to everything else that goes on the table during the fall season.


2 sweet potatoes

1 medium butternut squash

2 TB brown sugar

3 TB butter

a pinch of salt


1. Bake squash and sweet potatoes in their skins until easily poked with a fork. Let cool slightly and then scoop out insides.

2. Mash with butter, brown sugar, and salt. Yum!


Brekton Drougas, Packing Barn Assistant

Curried Carrots

Brekton is a carrot enthusiast who recommends a dish that his family makes every year during the fall. He says it’s great with some broccoli added, too!


half a yellow onion

1 TB butter

four large carrots

1 TB brown sugar

1 tsp curry powder

1/4 c. water

salt to taste


1. Dice onion and saute in butter, curry powder, and sugar in a large pan.

2. While onions are cooking, slice carrots into rounds. When onions are translucent, add 1/4 c. water and carrots. Cover to cook.

3. Saute until carrots are flavorful and tender.


Emmett Wald, Wholesale Assistant

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

What could be more divine than roasted garlic combined with rich and creamy mashed potatoes? Emmett is looking forward to serving up a big batch of these potatoes for their “Friendsgiving” celebration later in November.

Here are some great tips for roasting garlic, using whole heads or cloves. Make mashed potatoes according to your usual recipe and mash in a few cloves with your butter and milk. Some of the best potato varieties that we grow for mashing include Purple Viking, Yellow Haze, Yukon Gem, Satina, Nicola, and Salem.

See more seasonal recipes on the blog.

We hope everyone has a delicious holiday filled with fresh and tasty New England vegetables!


Fall Fashion on the Farm 2015

Posted by: on Sep 20, 2015 | No Comments


Some photos of fall around the farm. A few are a bit of a spoof on fashion photos…

It’s time to deck out for fall! We have all this gear and much more at the farmstands and markets now!

Many thanks to our models.


Haley lounges with jackolantern.

Jackolantern gets alone time. You know he can pull it off just fine.



Fall gold. Delicata squash is one of the sweetest winter squash. Not sure if Ruth is enchanted by it or the other way around.

Emmett sports a second hat. Pie pumpkins are sweet and very flavorful for pie, baking, and other cooking.

The fabulous gourds of fall can make you a little crazy in the head.

Decorating a decorative gourd…



Munchkins of various sorts. This is Chester’s badass model face.

Best used just for their looks. Not actually recommended for eating, though Chester thinks they may help with teething.

Wally says white pumpkins are sleek. Get them while they last.

Many types of porch pumpkins available. The more the merrier!

There are mums for the gardens and pathside pots too! Or you can walk around holding them, which can be awesome.

Fiercely festive ornamental corn.

In colors of fire and fall leaves. With Dorothy, Packing Supervisor.

Apple magic. Photo by Roger Ingraham.

Apples in the barn lights.

Wally with the record-setter. Largest ever pumpkin at the Franklin County Fair. We didn’t grow it, but just had to share.

Wally captured this photo of me (Sarah V.) with a final pumpkin. It’s the Long Island Cheese pumpkin, which I thought rather appropriate for this post.

Thanks for reading! Come visit us at the stands and markets for lots of fall beauty. Not to mention insane amounts of produce.


Highlights from Tomato Festival 2015

Posted by: on Aug 30, 2015 | No Comments

Weisnicht’s Ukranian, the variety that won 1st place in the state for best heirloom this year, from Red Fire! Let’s see what won in our tasting at the farm…



Here we have some reports from the 15th Annual Tomato Festival for you, including recipes, best tasting tomatoes from the great Tomato Tasting, and our top finishers from the race. It was a lovely sunny day with many joys to be had with all of our visitors!

Tomato Recipes: Sides, Salads, Soups, and More   (Bulk Order Tomatoes Here)

Tomato Tasting Results from the Festival: The votes are in…

Tomato Trot Race Results: Top Contestants by Age Category


Read on for more…

We just wrapped on Tomato Festival 2015. Thank you to all who came out – we had just about 2,000 guests! Though the fest has passed, we are still swimming in tomatoes – it’s the peak of the season! Our farmstands and markets now have tons of heirloom, red, cherry, and paste types for you to try. And you can also order heirlooms, slicers and pastes in bulk for preserving.

What happened at the Festival? Check out the photo album.

Our wooden crates were bursting with seasonal goodies! Hot peppers, peaches, eggplant, summer squash, and so many other types of organic produce was at the Festival.

Tomato Recipes for the Peak Season

Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite tomato recipes. Do you have a recipe you’d like to share? Email to tell us your favorite ways to celebrate the tomato.

Sarah Voiland giving a demonstration on how to preserve tomatoes, farmer-style. See for the recipe below.


Mary Nelen, the Valley Locavore, showed her audience how to fry green tomatoes in cornmeal and roast little cherry tomatoes.

Recipes for Preserving Tomatoes

Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Tomato Sauce Farmer-Style – the recipe Sarah Voiland did for the Tomato Canning Demo at the fest.
Canned Plum Tomatoes

We have half bushels of heirlooms, reds, or paste tomatoes that you can order for pickup in the Boston area and around Western MA at our farmstands, markets and CSA pickups. Everyone is welcome to order.

Fun Recipes for Fresh Tomatoes

Roasted Tomato Basil Salad Dressing
Fresh Tomato-Corn Salsa
Tomato Basil Salad  
Panzanella: Tomato and Bread Salad 
Dekal’s Tomato Bean Soup
Husk Cherry and Cherry Tomato Salsa
Ratatouille Outside the Box
Garlic and Herb Ratatouille

And what we’ve been waiting for….

The Famous Tomato Tasting  ~ Results 2015

Green Zebra tomatoes are this year’s overall winner!


There they were – the many many varieties of tomatoes, ready to taste.

If you came to the tasting at the Tomato Festival, you received stickers to assign to your favorite tomatoes in any way you like. As the tasting goes along you can see which ones are working it by the collection of stickers on their card.

It is hard to taste all the varieties laid out there anyway, so the outcome is skewed by which tomatoes people choose to taste more. And I would say the tasting also favors those tomatoes with fresh eating qualities, as opposed to cooking or saucing qualities.

The votes are in…The public has spoken!

Overall Top 20 in Heirloom and Cherry Varieties – Type, Variety Name, Total Votes

Heirloom Green Zebra 42
Heirloom Mexico 39
Heirloom Chef’s Choice 29
Heirloom Brandywine 29
Heirloom Ispolin 29
Heirloom Pink Beauty 25
Heirloom Janet’s Jewel 23
Heirloom Orlov Yellow Giant 23
Heirloom Gary Ibsen’s Gold 23
Heirloom Juanne Flamme 22
Cherry Sungold 16
Cherry Black Cherry 15
Cherry Rosita 14
Cherry Sunlemon 12
Cherry Pink Princess Gene Pool 7
Cherry Mt. Magic 7
Cherry Jasper 5
Cherry Jelly Bean 5
Cherry Sweet Treats 4
Cherry Blush 4

Thanks very much to our tomato chopping volunteers and staff who spent hours slicing and dicing all of these samples for us to try.

Tomato Trot 5K Race Results

Into the finish! Patrick Homyack, last year’s third place winner, placed first just seconds before Joanna Johnson, who won first place in 2014.

And they’re off!

Top Results for Ages 1-12:

Aidan Messier (#60), first place male

McKenna Childs (#56), first place female


Top Results for Ages 13-19:

Orion Cable (#16), first place male

bib #73 – whose name we are missing :), first place female


Top Results for Ages 20-59, Women’s Category:

Joanna Johnson (#23), first place in this category and overall

Biliana Mihaylora (#31), second place in this category and overall

Christine Leonard (#26), third place in this category and overall

Julia Merton (#40), fourth place


Top Results for Ages 20-59, Men’s Category:

Patrick Homyack (#93), first place in this category and overall

John McCarthy (#109), second place in this category and overall

Erick Line (#24), third place in this category and overall

Jared Buckley (#25), fourth place


Top Results for Ages 60+:

David LeFrancois (#14), first place male

Peggy Kocoras (#17), first place female

View more photos of the Tomato Trot on Facebook.

Congratulations to all runners for a great race!



Thanks to all of our crew for making this huge event run smoothly!

Thanks to all for a great festival! It will happen again next year, round the same time, when the tomatoes start to weigh heavy and ripe on the vines.

Stay tuned for more recipes, stories, coupons and events from the farm with our e-news – you can sign up here.

~ Sarah Voiland


Celebrating 25 Years at Old Depot Gardens in Montague with Old Photos!

Posted by: on May 15, 2015 | 2 Comments

Way back when Ryan Voiland was 12 years old, he set up a little roadside stand at 504 Turners Falls Road. He thought it would be better than his paper-route job, based on some trials of selling wild harvested berries, and pumpkins in years past. The backyard garden produced the goods. In the kitchen, he made some preserves, like pickles and jams. And he raised bees for honey. It’s been 25 years since then and Old Depot Gardens is still going! Open daily from May through October, you can find the same freshness, but a lot more local food!

His backyard fields were one of the earliest farms to be certified organic in Massachusetts!

In the time since then, Ryan also started Red Fire Farm, with a farmstand in Granby opened in 2001 where we are celebrating 15 years this year also! You can read more about what drives his work in organic farming here.

Come celebrate with us at the Garden Party and Anniversary Celebration on Saturday May 23 in both Granby and Montague. Door prizes, lots of samples, tons of beautiful organic plants, workshops and more!

Here are some old photos of Ryan and the fields back in the day!

Old Depot Gardens in the beginning… With Ryan in a bee hat. The blueberries in this photo were likely harvested from the old Blue Meadow Farm on Meadow Road, where we now farm.


First fields in Montague, in Ryan’s parent’s backyard. Done with shovels, rakes and a rototiller.

Spreading compost to enrich the back yard field! Ryan’s brothers Luke and Adam helped a ton in the early days.


Ryan with his homemade dried flower wreaths.


A honey bee swarm with young beekeeper Ryan. By starting young as a farmer, Ryan was able to get through the very thin first years of having a small farm while still having basic living expenses covered by his parents. He reinvested all of the farm income back into the business to be able to do more.


Paul Voiland and Ryan hoeing in the field as he got a little older. Paul and Jean, Ryan’s parents, supported him in so many ways, from driving him to farmers markets on Saturday mornings, to constructing the stand buildings, to picking up loads of composted manure. And they still do!


Old Depot Gardens nowadays. If you walk down the path, you’ll find little kiosks full of vegetables and local goods, like jams, dressings, maple syrup, milk, cheese, and more.

Red Fire Farm Stand in Granby. Within the historic chestnut-era barn, you will find seasonal selections of produce, and an array of locally made products from all around Massachusetts.

You could say that Ryan grew up with the local food movement, and so did his farm. Thanks to the many local people who have supported his work over all these years. Without you passionate local eaters, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Come out and celebrate 25 years with us!

Garden Party Celebration Details

Farmstand Locations for Granby and Montague – open 7 days, 9am-8pm.

More History about the farm.

Farmer Favorites- On The Table This Thanksgiving

Posted by: on Nov 12, 2014 | No Comments

By Lauren McMullen

It’s that time of year again. We’ve been craving it since the leaves started to fall. Time to gather with your families, make a giant mess of the kitchen, and taste all of the warm flavors of fall. Here at the farm are know how to turn the seasons bounty into a plate of something delicious, and we’d love to share some of our inspiration with you.

You can find our produce right now at the Winter Farmers’ Markets, at the Granby Stand (Open through 11/25), in our Fall and Winter CSA, and as Bulk Orders for parties or storage.

Let’s see what’s cooking …

Catherine Raddatz Roasted Potatoes

When I asked Farmer Jenn what she was looking forward to most this Thanksgiving, she didn’t hesitate to reply “My Mom’s roasted potatoes” here it is:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Cut Potatoes in half, boil for 7 minutes and then drain (large white varieties are best, we have Superior and Elba)
Melt butter and vegetable oil in oven
Add Potatoes and roast for an hour – turning potatoes over occasionally to coat


Potato Leek Soup

This is a legendary recipe around the farm that I tried myself for the first time last week, I made a few alterations and think that the results are worth sharing.

5 large white potatoes (peeled and chopped)
5 cups chicken broth
1 TBS butter
3 large leeks (sliced using whites only)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
celery salt
1 Cup light cream

Peel and cut potatoes, slice leeks. Melt butter over medium heat in pot. Add leeks and let sit for several minutes. Add potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf, celery salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes). Once potatoes are soft, remove from heat, remove the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender or food processor to liquify. In a separate pan slice mushrooms into tiny chunks and sauté. Return the soup to heat, add cream and mushrooms and simmer until desired consistency is reached. Enjoy!


Maria Rodale’s Pumpkin Pie From Scratch

This is a classic recipe that our flower manager, Andrew, returns to season after season. He’s tested it, he’s shared it with his family, and he keeps making it every year.

Pie Dough

1½ cups organic flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
10 Tablespoons cold, or even frozen, lard or butter
6 Tablespoons ice water


1. Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
2. Cut the lard or butter into small bits (if it’s frozen, I use a cheese grater).
3. With your fingers, smoosh and mix the fat and the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse “corn meal” mixture. Be gentle, relax, and enjoy the sensual pleasure of mixing the fat and flour!
4. Add a few tablespoons of water and mix together gently until the dough sticks together.
5. Wrap up the dough in wax paper or a plastic bag and put it in the fridge for a half hour.
6. Flour your work surface and flour your rolling pin, too. Take the dough out and roll it until it’s as thin or thick as you want it and the right size for your pie plate.
7. Carefully lift the dough off the surface and put it into a pie plate, and press it gently into place.
8. Crimp the edges.

You can put the leftover dough into the oven on a cookie sheet with some salt, and bake until crispy, and your whole family will come running to eat it…just make sure to wait until the pieces are a bit cool or there will be burnt tongues all over the house!

Pumpkin Pie Filling


2 cups cooked pumpkin*
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
Dash of molasses (1 or 2 Tablespoons)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon salt

* If you are making the pumpkin from scratch, as I usually do, take a baking pumpkin and cut the top off and pull the seeds out. Bake it in an oven until it collapses (350 degrees for about an hour). Peel off the skin, the rest is the good stuff. Put it into a blender to smooth it out. If you just mash it by hand, the filling will still taste good, but the texture will be stringy as opposed to smooth. Both methods are fine.


1. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together until you have a brownish gooey mess.
2. Pour into the crust.
3. Bake in the oven for about an hour: Start the oven at 425 degrees, then after 15 minutes, reduce it to 350. If the crust starts to burn before the pie is done, cover it with tin foil.
6. Test for doneness the way you do a cake–stick a knife in and if it comes out clean, it’s done.
7. Enjoy with ice cream and whipped cream!

See more seasonal recipes on the blog.

We hope everyone has a delicious holiday filled with fresh and tasty New England vegetables!

Reporting from Tomato Festival 2014!

Posted by: on Aug 29, 2014 | No Comments


What you might read about here below….

Lovely Tomato Recipes…. including ways to preserve tomatoes (Bulk Order Tomatoes Here)

Tomato Tasting Results from the Tomato Festival. The votes are in…

Tomato Trot Race Results.

…Read on

Rosie and Darrah enjoy the Tomato Tasting with over 140 varieties this year!


Posing with their vegetable sculpture!

We just wrapped on Tomato Festival 2014. Thank you to all who came out – we had over 2,000 guests! Though the fest has passed, we are still swimming in tomatoes – it’s the peak of the season! Our farmstands and markets now have tons of heirloom, red, cherry, and paste types for you to try. And you can also order heirlooms, slicers and pastes in bulk for preserving.

What happened at the Festival? Check out the photos on Facebook.

Tomato Recipes for the Peak Season

We all have favorite tomato recipes. Here are some of ours. Click the links to read the recipes.

One of our favorite Boston Chefs, JJ Gonson of Cuisine en Locale. She did a demo in the Chef Tent on finishing touches, using herbs and flowers to flavor and dress dishes.

Roasted Tomato Basil Salad Dressing
Fresh Tomato-Corn Salsa
Tomato Basil Salad  
Panzanella: Tomato and Bread Salad 
Dekal’s Tomato Bean Soup
Husk Cherry and Cherry Tomato Salsa
Ratatouille Outside the Box
Garlic and Herb Ratatouille

Recipes for Preserving Tomatoes

Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Tomato Sauce Farmer-Style – the recipe Sarah Voiland did for the Tomato Canning Demo at the fest.
Canned Plum Tomatoes

We have half bushels of heirlooms, reds, or paste tomatoes that you can order for pickup in the Boston area and around Western MA at our farmstands, markets and CSA pickups. Everyone is welcome to order.

The Famous Tomato Tasting  ~ Results 2014

Tomato Tasting at the Tomato Festival

There they were – the many many varieties of tomatoes, ready to taste. This year the harvest included 147 varieties! Though we planted about 190 in the field, not all are ripe at the time of the Festival.

We laid them out in the tasting barn in sections by type with the categories of Cherry, Paste, Heirloom type, and Red Slicer. Unbeknownst to many there is also another category in our farmer minds – the Cocktail Tomato (which we break out in the results). What is a cocktail tomato… not quite a regular tomato, not quite a cherry tomato, a little bigger than a bite.

If you came to the tasting at the Tomato Festival, you received five stickers to assign to your favorite tomatoes in any way you like. As the tasting goes along you can see which ones are working it by the collection of stickers on their card. I wonder if we had the votes hidden if it would affect the winners.

It is hard to taste all the varieties laid out there anyway, so the outcome is skewed by which tomatoes people choose to taste more. Cherry tomatoes anybody? And I would say the tasting also favors those tomatoes with fresh eating qualities, as opposed to cooking or saucing qualities.

The votes are in. The public has spoken.

Overall Top 20 – Type, Variety Name, Total Votes

Cherry Lemon Drop 136
Slicer Tomimaru 84
Cherry Honeydrop 83
Heirloom Giant 11 81
Cocktail Green Tiger 75
Cherry Golden Sweet 74
Cherry Five Star Grape 69
Cherry Black Cherry 64
Cherry Matt’s Wild 60
Cherry Sungold 59
Cherry Jasper 58
Heirloom Green Giant 51
Cocktail Blush 45
Cherry Green Doctor’s Frosted 38
Cherry Sunpeach 37
Cherry Bing 37
Slicer Clermon Cluster 32
Cherry Sweet Treats 31
Heirloom Big Orange Stripe 27
Heirloom Brandywine 27

Thanks very much to our many tomato chopping volunteers, very especially Matt and Linda Soffen – who help organize the tasting.

Top Tomatoes in Each Category

Cherry Tomatoes tend to be big winners.

Results this year held many unexpected winners. It’s a rainbow of winners too! Lemony yellow, green and striped, and two pinks!

Lemon Drop won best of Cherry Tomatoes – this is a break out year for Lemon Drop, which has always had the requisite balance of sweet and tang to make it a winner.
Green Tiger won in the Cocktail Tomato category, a new variety for us this year.
Giant 11 took top honors for Heirloom style tomato. A find! One of the diamonds in the rough of our exotic tomato patch, and one you are sure to see more of on the farm next year.
Tomimaru Muchoo proved most worthy in the Slicing category. This is a pink greenhouse variety, and along with the greenhouse red Clermon Cluster did well in the top 20 – so believe us when we say that in-ground greenhouse growing makes awesome tomatoes!

And we are calling the contest off for the Paste Tomatoes, as we only had three in the running due to Late Blight in our Montague patch, and only one of them got a vote. They are much better turned into sauce.

If you would like to see the full results from the tasting, click to see the PDF of Tomato Tasting 2014 – All Results.

Tomato Trot 5K Race Results

Joanna crosses the finish line!

Congratulations to Joanna Johnson for first place! This is significant in a race which has been won by males since the first run! In fact women took two of the top four places in the race with Meredith Beaton finishing a mere .7 seconds behind 3rd place Patrick Homyak. Eric Ciocca took second place.

The Tomato Trot 5K is a cross-country style trail race through farm fields. Did you run the race and want to see your time? Click here to see the race results.

Trot race photos on Red Fire’s Facebook.

Congratulations to all runners for a great race!


Thanks to all for a great festival! It will happen again next year, round the same time, when the tomatoes start to weigh heavy and ripe on the vines.

Stay tuned for more recipes, stories, coupons and events from the farm with our e-news – you can sign up here.

It’s one of the few days where everyone can come enjoy the farm Pick Your Own – here we have the cherry tomato patch where you can see almost all those varieties on the tasting table growing in the field!

~ Sarah Voiland

2017 CSA Pick-Your-Own

Posted by: on Jun 17, 2014 | 2 Comments

Note: This PYO list is only available to Red Fire Farm CSA and Farmstand members.

 As part of your Vegetable CSA membership, you have access to our Pick Your Own patches. The farm is family-friendly, so bring your little ones and check out our land. PYO includes herbs, flowers, berries, peas, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers, and more (changes with the season).

Late July, August, and September are great months to come for pick your own, as by then we’re brimming with crops like cherry tomatoes, basil, tomatillos, hot peppers, green beans, herbs, flowers, and ground cherries.

Pick Your Own is a perk for members that can make it out – we still aim to give all members the value of their share in harvested and delivered vegetables :). But of course, we want you to come out to visit. The whiteboards located in barns have the most updated PYO limits and info, so please follow those if they differ from what is written online.

  • If you are traveling to the farm for over 1 hour to do the picking (Boston area and Worcester members), then you probably will come for picking only a few times during the season. This means that when you are here you can pick a lot at once, once the limits have gone up.
  • If you are a member from Franklin, Hampshire or Hampden County and you can easily make it to the farm each week, then we ask that you pick weekly but not as much each time. This is why there are different limits posted for each crop depending on where you are coming from.
  • Farmstand & Market Members ($300 level) can pick a lot at once if desired, but you must pay as you go (by using credit from your card). Prices are posted for each PYO crop on the board. There are sometimes limits on crops for Farmstand Members.


What to Bring and Where to Go
Come ready for outdoor weather. Also please bring containers to take your pickings home in, and leave the quart and pint containers for reuse if possible. If you have a car, share a ride! Meet some other local food loving people. You can post on our facebook seeking rides. Read below to find out which farm location you should visit based on your CSA pickup location.



Open to CSA and Farmstand & Market Members from Granby, Springfield, Worcester and the Boston area.

Pick Your Own details are inside the farm stand in the center of the barn at 7 Carver St., including a map of field areas and a list of picking limits, and often containers for harvesting. Any time the farm stand is open you can come pick! To find farm stand hours you can check our farm stand page. The PYO is all self-serve, but please be sure to sign in at the PYO station. There’s extra parking in the Brown-Ellison Park next door if needed.

Oregano,  Savory, Sage, Chives, Mint, Chamomile and more!

CSA Members: Pick as needed.
Farmstand & Market Members: Pick as needed, no charge.


We now have a patch on our Montague farm at 184 Meadow Road. This section is small, so there’s capacity for Montague, and Northampton area members only!

Please park on the grass along Meadow Road, not blocking any thruways or driveways. 

Pick Your Own information is at the large old tobacco barn next to Meadow Road near the red hand-painted Red Fire Farm hanging sign. Pick Your Own details will be there, including an informational map attached to the side of the barn facing the road, a list of picking limits, and often containers for harvesting and measuring. Bring containers to take things home!

Self-serve. You can come to pick any day 9am – 8pm. There will be a log book, so you can keep track of your picking if you are at the $300 Farm Stand Member level, as those members pay half of retail price for PYO items. Please tally your purchases as you go, and we will process them periodically at the office. PYO for CSA level members is free up to limits provided.


Oregano,  Savory, Sage, Chives, Mint, Chamomile and more!

CSA Members: Pick as needed.
Farmstand & Market Members: Pick as needed, no charge.

Fun things to do in Montague:

  • Visit our Old Depot Gardens farm stand at 504 Turners Falls Road in Montague, very cute, with our produce and tasty local products.~ 2 miles from the farm.
  • Check out the Bookmill, a cafe with waterfall, used bookstore, cd shop, art gallery, beer. 1/4 mile from the farm stand.

Enjoy the season and the fields!

Tomato Planting Tips for the Home Gardener

Posted by: on May 18, 2014 | One Comment

It’s tomato planting season!  We have been busy putting early season tomato plants in our greenhouses, and gearing up our bedding plants to be sold at markets and stands.  Some of our most popular garden plants are our juicy, colorful tomatoes.  While it can be fun and simple to grow your own tomatoes, they do have their quirks.  We thought we’d share some of our tomato planting tips with you, the home gardener!

Start with Good Soil

To begin, it’s important to know that soil quality is key for growing healthy tomato plants.  They are most happy where they can get full sunlight in fertile, nutrient rich soil.  Spreading compost is a very effective way to give your tomato plants a healthy environment.  You can buy it at garden centers, or make your own at home.

If you’d like to test your soil to find out the pH and how you are doing for nutrients, Umass offers soil tests. Their “Routine Soil Analysis” for Home Grounds and Gardens, currently $15, is a great basic test for home gardens and will give you recommended rates for how much fertilizer and lime to apply.

Compost in the making

Timing Your Planting

In Massachusetts, it is usually safe to plant your tomatoes outdoors towards the middle or end of May, keeping an eye out for frost to protect them as needed.  Memorial Day weekend is the classic time for planting tomatoes. Tomato plants can be transplanted as late as the end of June and still have time to ripen their fruits before fall cold arrives.

How to Plant

When you are ready to plant your tomatoes, dig a hole in the ground, deep enough to cover the base of the plant and all its roots. You can mix compost into the hole, or fertilize the whole area.  Settle the plant in, fill in the hole around the plant, and pick off any leaves towards the bottom of the plant that are touching the ground.  If your plants have a “leggy” look (their stems are overgrown), you can plant them on their side in a trench with just the top point and a few leaves above ground (remove any leaves that will be underground).  Tomato plants grow roots from anywhere along their stem, so they will straighten themselves upright a few days after planting.  Place tomato plants 18’’-36’’ apart from each other.  If you have had problems with cutworms in your garden, you can try protecting your tomatoes using a collar around the base of the plant such as a paper cup or toilet paper roll.  Once your plant is nestled in the soil bed, pat down the soil, and water it in to secure its placement.

Support Systems

Tomato plants grow wildly; they would sprawl all over the ground if you let them.  You can let them do this, however, it is often preferable to give them some standing support, so the tomato fruits do not end up compressed on the ground or scalded by sun.  If you only have a few plants, you may want to buy cages like these that you can place around each plant, or make some out of concrete reinforcement wire.

Stake & Weave Method – sandwiching the plants between string

Another option is to use a stake & weave method, which is what we use for our tomatoes.  Secure wooden stakes deeply in the ground (roughly the height of your future plants) about every three plants in your row of tomatoes.  Using a thick string that will last the season, go down the row at the level of the current growth, looping the string tightly around each stake, and then go back down the other side, effectively sandwiching the plants between a string on each side.  We find it effective to string a row along the bottom of the plants, another one along the middle, and a final one along the top, as they grow.  The string should be pulled tight to provide a stable structure for the plants to stand within.

To Prune or Not to Prune

As your plants grow, you will notice them growing “suckers”.  These are new growing points that grow in the “v” between the main stem and lateral branches.  Suckers will eventually grow and produce fruit.  You can pinch suckers off to prevent your plants from getting top heavy, and to focus the plant’s energy on the main stem.  Pinching the suckers will mean fewer, but larger fruits.  We only do this for our greenhouse tomatoes, and don’t find it necessary in the field. If you are going to prune, only prune indeterminate varieties of tomatoes (most types, see labels at the stands or look up your variety online). Determinate varieties grow only so long and set their fruit all at once – some paste tomatoes, for example, are determinate – so you will prune away part of your total yields if you remove suckers.

Diseases and Late Blight Resistant Tomatoes

Late Blight – the scourge of 2009, seems to return every year now

Tomatoes are fairly vulnerable plants in our climate.  There are many diseases to watch out for, some you can prevent, and others you just have to cross your fingers and hope you don’t get.  Early Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot are common problems that many tomato farmers in the area experience every year. These two diseases slowly kill the foliage of the plants.  Early Blight is a disease that overwinters in the soil, so rotating the tomato placement in your garden each year can help.

Late Blight now seems to come every year to our area towards the latter part of tomato season, and when it arrives makes quick work of the foliage and the fruits of the plants.

We sell quite a few Late Blight resistant tomato plants that we recommend mixing into your garden plot to add variety and prevent against the loss of all of your tomato fruits, should blight happen to find a home in your garden.

Our Late Blight Resistant tomato plant varieties are:

  • Defiant
  • Mountain Magic Cherry
  • Iron Lady – also resistant to Early Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot. Which basically means you should grow this tomato.
  • Plum Regal Paste
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry

Look for them at our farm stands over the next few weeks as you begin your planting. Each one is its own unique variety with its own unique fruit. Matt’s Wild, for example, has little red fruits that have excellent tomato flavor and cherry tomato sweetness, often a contest winner!

Blossom-end Rot is another common problem.  This is caused by low calcium intake due to uneven moisture or to low levels of calcium in the soil.

Be sure to water your tomato plants regularly if nature isn’t keeping up, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  You want to provide your plants with constant water, yet not create a soggy soil.  Try not to water from above; aim your sprinkler at the base of the plant to keep the leaves dry.  Airborne diseases are more likely to infect wet leaves.

Some tomatoes will have a split skin or begin to crack.  This can happen when there is a sudden change in moisture (after a period of extended dry weather), or when the fruit is overripe.  Not to worry though, split skin tomatoes are still perfectly healthy and delicious to eat if you get to them quickly.

If you see a disease or problem on your plant and would like to identify it, a great resource is the Vegetable MD page at Cornell.

Harvest Time

As your plants bear fruit, harvest the tomatoes when they are in their expected full color and size.  Then onto culinary feats!  Tomatoes can be used in all sorts of ways in the kitchen.  Some are delectable sliced raw into salads, while others are designed for making sauces.  Check out our recipes to find unusual ways of cooking with tomatoes. Do note that tomatoes lose flavor when refrigerated, so keep them on your counter instead!

More About Variety Selection

We typically grow 150 varieties of tomatoes, many of which have won awards!  From slicing, heirloom, cherry to paste, our tomatoes come in all sorts of shades, and have all sorts of flavors.

Our recommendations for a good red slicing tomato are Jet Star and Big Beef.  For heirlooms and specialty tomatoes, try a mix of colors and types. Brandywine and Wapsipinicon Peach both have won awards for flavor at our farm.  If you’re looking to make sauce, choose a paste tomato variety, bred to cook down quicker with less juice and more meat;  Federle is a great heirloom, and San Marzano is very productive.  For a simple snacking tomato, we love Sungold Cherry Tomatoes. Having a mix in the garden is the most fun.

If seeking low-acid tomatoes, try Pork Chop- a yellow tomato, Jet Star – a red slicer, San Marzano – a paste tomato, or Sungolds for nice golden yellow cherries.

If you like tomato salads, growing a selection of tomatoes with different colors can make a stunning salad. Try Green Zebra, Black Prince, Cherokee Purple, Striped German, and Gary Ibsen’s Gold.

These and many more varieties – that we have taste-tested and field-tested at our farm – can be found at either of our farmstands in Granby and Montague as well as at our summer farmers’ markets, Tuesdays in Springfield, Northampton and Boston, and Thursdays in Stoneham.

May you have a bountiful harvest!