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COVID-19 Update

Posted by: on Mar 29, 2020 | No Comments

Hello to our dear farm members and friends,

We are working in every way we can to find ways to offer fresh food safely as everything changes. Our goal is to get you produce as directly as possible, with the fewest people and handling steps in the chain from field to you.

My family and farm crew thank you so very much for the Summer, Spring and Deep Winter CSA sign ups, the pre-orders and market attendance we’ve seen in the last few weeks. Making the connections with you now, in the creative ways we can, is the way we can keep farming. Please stay tuned for how to get our food, and if you’d like to follow our farm news, sign up here.

Farmer Sarah in the greenhouse with the plants. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram, and visit the tag #RedFireFarmSchool for some fun close-ups on crops and things happening around the farm.

Agriculture has been designated as an essential service and we are moving forward. Spring is always risky on a farm, like a trust fall, but we are going forward like we have for the last 20 years, adjusting plans a little, planting for a summer of delicious food for you, our community. Our greenhouse is already full of beautiful plants and we have begun planting in the field! Strawberries will be ripening so soon!

Food Safety:
At the farm, we follow food safety protocols all the time to keep your produce safe, and we maintain GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) food safety certification, with regular farm inspections by state officials. We also have extra steps in place right now to help keep things clean and keep our employees healthy.

Some details about our COVID-19 policy on the farm. as of 3/28/20:

  • Regularly sharing resources and staff training on COVID-19 symptoms and to stay home if you are sick or if a person in your household is sick, or if you know you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, and review of our paid sick time resources.
  • Social distancing during work of 6 feet, and remote work options for our office staff.
  • Continuing to require proper hand-washing
  • Increased sanitization of frequently touched surfaces
  • Limiting on-farm access to essential services only, and reducing staff access to our packing department.
  • Delivery, CSA, and market protocols for sanitizing surfaces and reduced contact.
  • Frequent review and communication of updates from the CDC and state.

We will keep updating our policy as developments happen!

For our Summer CSA, we plan to follow the active CDC guidelines when shares begin and adapt by offering pre-boxed produce and social distancing practices for pickups as needed. We will figure out how to best offer choice options during pickups while still making it safe. With most of our shares happening at well-ventilated or outdoor locations, I think it’s going to be a great way to get your food!

Resources: A helpful and continuously updated resource for science-based food safety tips now is Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats. Also, the CDC has a page about how to take care if you get sick, and more resources to explore from there.

Food Security:

We are worried about how we all are going to get our whole community fed while many people are out of work. We are offering sliding scale options and payment plans for our summer CSA and also SNAP/EBT payment options at the lowest end of our scale with HIP reimbursement. Please get in touch with us if you need a different payment plan, or if you would like to help subsidize CSA shares for lower income members.

As we have for years, we continue to donate produce weekly to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and we will find ways to rescue and donate even more. We will be working with our partners in the Worcester and Boston area during the summer CSA season, like Food For Free and Lovin’ Spoonfuls.

Please get in touch with us via email if possible for any questions, as our office phone coverage is limited now.

Thank you very much for thinking of our farm during this time!

~ Sarah, Ryan, Wally and Chester Voiland, and all the farm crew.

‘Refer A Friend’ Rules & Guidelines

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2020 | No Comments

Here’s a quick rundown of the Rules & Guidelines for our ‘Refer A Friend’ CSA gift package program. If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at thefarmers@redfirefarm.com or (413) 467-7645. Thanks!

1. Only the first, initial person to refer a new member is eligible for the gift. For example: Sue tells Mary about the CSA program and Mary signs up, mentioning that Sue referred her. Sue would receive the gift package. Mary cannot then also get credit for Sue signing up, as Sue was the one that referred Mary. If Mary tells others and they sign up, then Mary will get referral credit for each new signup. Sue would receive more referral credit only if she then went and referred other, different new members to sign up.

2. Valid for people who are new members to the Red Fire Farm CSA ONLY. If they had a share with us in previous years and signed up as referred by you, they would not count toward your referral credit. Only if they haven’t done our CSA before and sign up would you receive the credit toward a gift.

3. In order to receive credit for the referral, the person signing up must provide your name at the time of signup. For example: If Mary signed up but didn’t give Sue’s name, then Sue would not get a referral credit even if Mary told us later that Sue referred her.

4. Only current 2020 CSA members are eligible to receive referral credit, as we have their contact information already from signing up and know how to reach them with their gift later in the season.

5. We will keep track of referrals and contact you via email about how we are sending your gift packages to you (it will occur during the CSA season at your pickup location).

6. We’ve had the “Did a friend refer you?” box on the signup form for a while, so anything received in in signups that were submitted before today will be valid and count toward referral gift credit.

National Popcorn Day!

Posted by: on Jan 16, 2020 | No Comments

These beautiful cobs can be popped as-is in a paper bag in your microwave!

You might love popcorn, and not even know, that this very Sunday, January 19, is National Popcorn Day! A wintery Sunday is perfect for celebrating  this amaizing food :). Nowadays it’s claim to fame is as an excellent accompaniment to movies, but popcorn has a long history, and we have compiled a few tasty bits to enjoy below.

 Harvested in the fall and dried naturally in our greenhouses, RFF popcorn is a real treat!

You can pick up a cob or two (or five or six, because who can say no to popcorn) at our winter farmers’ market booths this Saturday in Northampton, Somerville, and Wayland, and at Red Fire North, and every weekend at our farmers’ markets.

Read on for how to  cook up our popcorn, popcorn history, and fun things to do on National Popcorn Day!

How to Pop RFF Popcorn

POPCORN VIDEO: Watch and listen as Dan from the farm makes popcorn in his microwave!

Unlike the microwave popcorn or bagged kernels you might buy at the grocery store, RFF organic popcorn comes to you straight off the cob. But don’t get intimidated — getting it popped is simple and fun!

Microwave method: Remove any damaged kernels and place the cob into a paper bag (brown lunch bags or grocery bags work great), folding the top shut. Heat for approximately two and a half minutes, but be sure to stay close by and listen for the popping to slow. Once the popping is reduced to 1-2 seconds between kernels, your popcorn is done. Let the bag sit for a few minutes and slowly open the top to vent the steam. Pour the popped kernels into a bowl and season to taste with melted butter and/or salt. A few popped pieces might stay stuck on the cob, which, once cooled, can be eaten as well! You can try re-popping a cob with lots of remaining kernels.

You can see some of the popped corn on the cob in this photo by CSA member Isabella Montillo Carter.

 

Stove top method: Remove any damaged kernels and strip off the remaining into a bowl. This can be done with the fingers or by pushing kernels off with a small spoon. If you have two ears, try rubbing them together! Next, heat a tablespoon or so of high-temperature oil (like canola, coconut or corn oil) on high in the bottom of a thick-bottomed pot or saucepan. Pour in the kernels and spread evenly across the bottom of the pan before covering with a lid. When the popping begins, start shaking the pan back and forth a bit over the heat to keep already-popped kernels from burning on the bottom. When popping slows to 1-2 seconds, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the popcorn to a bowl for eating. Season as you like!

Popcorn.org has a crazy collection of popcorn recipes that you can check out and enjoy! Like Adobo and Roasted Peanut Popcorn, which you could simplify if using oil to stick the ingredients to the popcorn, and Caramel Corn Crunch.

A Brief History of Popcorn 

 

Popcorn harvested in Granby.

As you chow down, consider that popcorn was first cultivated centuries ago by ancient Native Americans, Aztecs, and Incas. The oldest known popcorn found so far was discovered in a cave in New Mexico in 1948 and dated back almost 5,600 years. Popped corn was cherished in ancient Aztec society, being used both as a source of food and as decoration for religious ceremonies. Eventually, after the colonization of the Americas by Europeans, popcorn spread across the rest of the world.

 

More recently, popcorn grew in popularity in the United States as farming boomed during the 1800s. Later, during the Great Depression, bags of popcorn selling for no more than a dime became a way for those with just a little money to splurge and treat themselves to a special meal.

 

Today, thanks to the advent of movie theaters and microwave ovens, popcorn remains a staple in snacking both in the United States and the world over. In America alone, it’s estimated that over 13 billion quarts of popcorn are eaten every year. Yum!

 

Get Corny with Popcorn Day Activities:

There’s more to National Popcorn Day than just eating, of course. Here are a few activities you can do with your family or friends at home to help celebrate. Be sure to check out Popcorn.org for the complete list:

  • Popcorn football: Like paper football, but with popcorn kernels! How many field goals can you make? Bonus points for kicking popcorn into your playing partner’s mouth!
  • Popcorn stringing: Christmas has passed, but you can still string up popcorn. Try hanging up outside to draw in local birds for a snack!
  • Write a popcorn haiku: The traditional Japanese 5-7-5 syllable poem, but adapted for popcorn. Here’s ours…

Popcorn in the pan

Blowing up like Beyoncé

In the house tonight!

Have a happy National Popcorn Day!

2019 CSA Pick-Your-Own (Updated 10/8)

Posted by: on Jun 4, 2019 | No Comments

Note: This PYO list is geared towards our CSA farm share members, but we also offer Pick Your Own to the public when the crops are abundant. Read on below for public picking pricing and CSA member weekly amounts. PAGE UPDATED MONDAY PM or TUESDAY AM WEEKLY.


 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).

June picking includes delicious strawberries, peas and herbs- and more fun on the day of our Strawberry Soiree!

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 husk 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.
  • Stand & 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 Stand 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.

GRANBY Pick-Your-Own (Public & CSA 9am-7pm)

Open to CSA and Farmstand & Market Members from Granby, Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester and the Boston area. And Montague and Northampton members visiting Granby.

Pick Your Own details are inside the farm store 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 store is open you can come pick! To find farm store hours you can check our farm store page. The PYO is all self-serve, but please be sure to sign in at the PYO station and check in with staff. There’s extra parking in the Brown-Ellison Park next door if needed.

Hot Peppers

  • Western MA Regular Share: 12 fruits per week
  • Western MA Small Share: 6 fruits per week
  • Boston Area Regular Share: 24 fruits (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • Boston Area Small Share: 12 fruits (if making single visit to farm for the season)

Herbs (Mint, Rosemary, Parsley, Sage)

  • All CSA Members: Pick as needed!
  • General Public: $10 per pound

Cut Flowers

  • Western MA Regular Share: 12 stems per week
  • Western MA Small Share: 6 stems per week
  • Boston Area Regular Share: 18 stems (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • Boston Area Small Share: 10 stems (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • General Public: Sunflowers $1 per stem and all other flowers $12 per pound

MONTAGUE Pick-Your-Own (CSA Members Only)

Of note, Montague green beans died out in the dry period we had.

Cherry Tomatoes

  • Western MA Regular Share:  1 pint per week
  • Western MA Small Share: Half pint per week
  • Boston Area Regular Share: 3 pints (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • Boston Area Small Share: 1 and a half pints (if making single visit to farm for the season)

Husk Cherries

  • Western MA Regular Share: Half pint per week
  • Western MA Small Share: Half pint per week
  • Boston Area Regular Share: 1 pint per week (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • Boston Area Small Share: 1 pint per week (if making single visit to farm for the season)

Herbs (Oregano, chives, thyme, sage, winter savory, garlic chives, chamomile, tarragon, chocolate mint, spearmint, peppermint)

  • All CSA Members: Pick as needed

Cut Flowers

  • Western MA Regular Share: 10 stems per week
  • Western MA Small Share: 5 stems per week

Tomatillos

  • All CSA Members: Pick as needed

Hot Peppers

  • All CSA Members: Pick as needed

Green & Yellow Beans

  • Western MA Regular Share: 2 quarts per week
  • Western MA Small Share: 1 quart per week
  • Boston Area Regular Share: 4 quarts (if making single visit to farm for the season)
  • Boston Area Small Share: 2 quarts (if making single visit to farm for the season)

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, or equipment access. 

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!

The PYO is all self-serve, but please be sure to sign in at the PYO station. 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 Stand Member level, as those members pay at the posted prices per item. 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.

Fun things to do in Montague:

  • Visit our Red Fire North farm store at 485 Federal Street, Montague, MA, with our produce and tasty local products.~ 4 miles from the farm.
  • Check out the Bookmill, a cafe with waterfall, used bookstore, cd shop, art gallery, beer. ~ 2 miles from the farm.

Enjoy the season and the fields!

2018 CSA Pick-Your-Own

Posted by: on Jun 5, 2018 | No Comments

Note: This PYO list is only available to Red Fire Farm CSA and Stand & Market 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).

June picking includes delicious strawberries, peas and herbs- and more fun on the day of our Strawberry Soiree!

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.
  • Stand & 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 Stand 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.

GRANBY PICK YOUR OWN

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

Pick Your Own details are inside the farm store 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 store is open you can come pick! To find farm store hours you can check our farm store 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.

Herbs (Basil, Parsley, Oregano, Savory, Chives, Garlic Chives, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Mint)

  • CSA Members: Pick as needed.
  • Farmstand & Market Members: Pick as needed, no charge.
  • General Public: $10/lb

Husk Cherries (Pick tan pods fallen on ground, not still attached to plant)

  • CSA Members: Pick as needed.
  • Farmstand & Market Members: Pick as needed, no charge.
  • General Public: $5 pint or $3/half pint

Cut Flowers

  • CSA Members: 12 stems for regular share members / 8 stems for small share members  / 20 stems for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members: 5 stems for $1
  • General Public: 5 stems for $1

Cherry Tomatoes

  • CSA Members: Pick as needed.
  • Farmstand & Market Members:Pick as needed, no charge.
  • General Public: $5/pint or $3/half pint

Hot Peppers

  • CSA Members: 16 peppers for regular share members / 8 peppers for small share members / 24 peppers for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members:$3/lb
  • General Public: $3/lb

Tomatillos

  • CSA Members: 1 pint for regular share members / Half pint for small share members / 1 quart for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members:$3/lb
  • General Public: $3/lb

Sweet Mini Bell Peppers

  • CSA Members: 10 peppers for regular share members / 5 peppers for small share members / 1 pint for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members: $3.50/half pint
  • General Public: $3.50/half pint

Pumpkins

  • All pickers: $0.50/lb for jack-o-lantern variety / $0.80/lb for pie variety

MONTAGUE FARM PICK YOUR OWN


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, or equipment access. 

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!

The PYO is all self-serve, but please be sure to sign in at the PYO station. 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 Stand Member level, as those members pay at the posted prices per item. 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.

Herbs (Parsley, Dill, Oregano, Savory, Chives, Mint)

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

Hot Peppers

  • CSA Members: 16 peppers for regular share members / 8 peppers for small share members / 24 peppers for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members:$3/lb

Cherry Tomatoes

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

Husk Cherries (Pick tan pods fallen on ground, not still attached to plant)

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

Cut Flowers

  • CSA Members: 12 stems for regular share members / 8 stems for small share members  / 20 stems for Boston area members
  • Farmstand & Market Members: 5 stems for $1

Fun things to do in Montague:

  • Visit our Red Fire North farm store at 485 Federal Street, Montague, MA, with our produce and tasty local products.~ 4 miles from the farm.
  • Check out the Bookmill, a cafe with waterfall, used bookstore, cd shop, art gallery, beer. ~ 2 miles from the farm.

Enjoy the season and the fields!

Pastured Meat Share Details

Posted by: on Apr 26, 2018 | No Comments

Pastured pork chops, uncured bacon, steaks, specialty sausages, ground beef, roasts, ribs and more come in the Summer Pastured Meat Share!

We are very excited to offer Pastured Meat Shares from our farmer friends at Walnut Hill Farm and their neighbors at Haystack Farmstead. By offering this new share, we are hoping to connect people to these farmers who we know are doing their best to make a sustainable system in raising local meat.

See pricing and details for Pastured Meat Shares here.

Sign up for a share.

They gathered these answers to common questions about how they raise the meat for our Pastured Meat Shares. Please learn more about the farms here.

Walnut Hill Farm and Haystack Farmstead FAQ

from the farmers, Jill and Rico, and Brian and Breya

About Walnut Hill Farm
Walnut Hill Farm is run by wife and husband team, Jill and Rico, and their two little boys in Vermont’s Mettawee Valley. Together, they raise heritage pigs on pasture with a mixed supplemental diet of non-gmo grain, vegetables, fruit and dairy, plus hay in winter.  Walnut Hill Farm is committed to agricultural systems that are humane, regenerative, and innovative. You might have known them as Little Lake Orchard before they changed farm locations.

About Haystack Farmstead
Haystack Farmstead is a small family farm located in the beautiful Mettawee Valley of Southern Vermont just up the road from Walnut Hill. Brian and Breya produce grass-fed beef from animals raised in a rotational grazing system. During the summer months, the herd is moved to fresh, leafy pasture every day. During the winter months, they are fed hay harvested on the farm and preserved to exacting standards.

Q:  What exactly is pastured pork?  How is it different from grass-fed beef?

Jill, Rico, Julian and Leo run Walnut Hill Farm, raising heritage-breed pork on pasture in southern Vermont. They contribute the pork aspect of our Summer Pastured Meat Share.

A:   Pastured pork generally refers to pork that is from animals raised outdoors for at least part of the year.  Actual practices relating to animal welfare and the environment can vary greatly from farm to farm. At Walnut Hill Farm, we raise our animals outdoors—on rotated pasture—from April to October.  While outdoors, the animals are moved to fresh pasture when the green cover wears thin, and recently vacated pastures may be seeded down with interesting grasses or forage crops for the next group.  In the winter, our animals have ample shelter in a large, airy barn with outdoor access. In addition to mixed grains, the pigs have constant access to hay and are provided with fun extras from nearby farms like apples and sweet potatoes.

Pastured pork is a little different from grass-fed beef.  Unlike beef cows (and dairy cows, goats, and sheep) pigs don’t have a rumen that enables them to live exclusively on a grass diet.  They require a more varied diet that includes grains and may include fruits, vegetables, nuts or dairy products like milk or whey. We have always found that pasture, greenery, and fruit, nut, vegetable, and dairy supplements make our pigs happy and provide our customers with incredibly delicious meat.

Q: What are the advantages of eating grass-fed beef?

A: Cows evolved to thrive on grasses alone. In our experience, animals are healthiest when allowed to do what nature has designed them to do. Beef raised on properly managed pasture are both healthier and happier than those raised in a feedlot setting. This reason alone is worth choosing grass-fed over conventional. However, there are other benefits that include the meat’s healthier fat profile, environmental benefits such as a lightened carbon footprint and net soil improvement and erosion reduction.  And, good grass-fed beef simply tastes better!

Q: What breed of animals do you raise?

A: Haystack Farmstead’s cattle are a cross between Holstein, Black Angus, and soon to come, Wagyu. The Holstein heritage gives our brood cows excellent milk production which enables us to raise healthy, thrifty calves. The beef heritage adds vigor and heartiness that enable these cattle to thrive in a natural pasture system.

Walnut Hill Farm raises pure-bred Berkshires and Gloustershire old spot, large black, Tamworth and Berkshire crosses.  These breeds are vigorous and well-adapted to life outdoors; they love browsing grass and rooting in the dirt.

Q:  How do you manage animal health and welfare?

A:  Both of our farms make animal welfare a priority through calm handling, ample feeding and bedding, and dedication to pasture management. Our animals never receive any hormones and are never treated with unnecessary antibiotics.  We work closely with our local large animal veterinarian, and we find that an attentive eye and a little extra TLC generally prevents any need for medical intervention. Walnut Hill Farm is committed to the stringent standards of the Animal Welfare Approved third party auditing program and is in the process of being certified.

Q:  How do your farms protect the environment?

A:  Our farms protect the environment in many ways.  Both Walnut Hill Farm and Haystack Farmstead are conserved farms; this means that the land is preserved intact for farming in future generations.  Both of our farms rotate animal pastures, which conserves soil and requires fewer energy inputs overall than non-pasture systems. Both farms also practice regenerative agriculture, which emphasizes soil health through cover cropping and reduced tillage—practices that increase biodiversity and sequester carbon.

Q:  What is the difference between this meat and the meat I can purchase at a specialty grocery store?

Brian and Breya manage Haystack Farmstead, with rotational grazing for their beef cattle. They grow the winter hay for their grass-fed herd and store it with specific conditions for the best winter eating.

A: Fundamentally, there is a difference in quality; even if meat carries an organic label, it doesn’t necessarily mean the animals live a healthy life, or that the workers on the farm are paid fairly.  Our meat is single source, meaning it only comes from animals born and raised gently on our farms. Additionally, as a CSA customer, you already know that through this arrangement, you develop a relationship with your farmer and his or her family.  This relationship provides you with transparency and security and enables your farmer to produce the highest quality product while making a living and offering fair wages to employees. It sounds simple, but CSA is still a revolutionary idea in the world of food.

 

Thank you for reading!

 

The Art of Apple Pie, and a Pie Crust Recipe to Use Anywhere

Posted by: on Nov 9, 2017 | No Comments

In our community growing up, my mum Ella Ingraham made the best pie crust, and the best apple pie. This proclamation is based on my love for my mother and my own taste – but I’m not alone! Every year when I was little, our church held an Apple Festival. My mum would be on the team making tons of pies to sell for fundraising. All the bakers in the church pitched in time and pies. I got to try a lot of apple pie there. And when it came to the sale, my mum’s pies always sold out. The word was on the street.

I’d say I’ve informed my pie palate even more since that time, and I still circle back to what I learned then. Ella’s pie is the best!

There are two factors in the perfection. They are an excellent crust, and letting the apples speak for themselves.

I have been wanting to learn this art of pie-making. Over the last few years, we make a yearly date to produce a set of pies together for Thanksgiving. It is so clear, working closely with her in the kitchen, that she has a feel for ingredients and outcome that is much more patterned and detailed than the written recipe she follows. I could never follow that recipe and get the same result.

Last year, I finally took a bunch of photos of the process, to record the detail of what I’m learning, and what I tend to forget from one November to another. I hope this can be useful to you in creating delicious pies with a wonderful flaky crust!

How to Get Local Apples from the Farm:
We have local apples for sale at our Granby Farm Store, which has open hours through Thanksgiving, and you can also order at discount prices bushels of local apples for pies, sauces, drying and more through our Bulk Order page. We have all sorts of organic produce from winter squash and onions, to sweet potatoes and spinach for bulk order now, and at our stand and markets.

About the Recipes:
These below are my mother’s favorite recipes to use, from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. We have adapted and added details and notes from how we make them at home.

Flour Paste Pie Crust

This recipe makes enough for one double-crust (top and bottom) 9 inch pie. You can double or triple as needed. This is a great crust recipe for many types of pies, including Sweet Potato Pie.

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour (sifted) – we often use about half whole wheat pastry flour
1tsp salt (re-sifted with flour)
1/4 cup cold water for the paste
A little more water when gathering dough together, or unflavored vodka which moistens now and then evaporates when cooking
2/3 cup unsalted butter (or shortening) – use cold butter
Some additional flour for rolling out the crust
Cream or milk for brushing on the crust just before baking

  1. First, sift flour. Add salt, then sift a second time.
  2.  Take 1/3 of your salt and flour mixture and combine with water to form a paste, and set aside.
  3.  Next, cut the butter into the remaining flour. You can do this in various ways, from using your fingers to crumble the butter and flour together, to chopping at it with two butter knives, to a multi-bladed pastry blender, to a food processor on pulse. The important thing is that the texture at the end still contain small lumps of butter, as pictured below. It has been described as “coarse granola.”
  4. Combine both paste and butter-flour mixture, then promptly and gently form into a ball. Add a little more water here if needed, just enough to form it together, see pictures.
  5. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1/2 hour (or overnight.) You can freeze the dough if making ahead. To defrost, set in fridge for a day, or in room temperature for 2 hours. You can also form the bottom crust and freeze it in a pie plate for making pies later.

While chilling is a good time to make the apple filling…

Apple Pie Filling

5-6 cups apples, sliced thinly * see variety notes below
1/8 tsp salt
1  to 1 1/2 Tbs flour or cornstarch
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground if available)
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 Tbs butter – for after you’ve put the filling in the pie shell

  • Important Note, the original recipe recommends 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup white or brown sugar, but we make it without, and like it better 🙂 I think this is one of the changes from other pie recipes that really lets you taste the apples.

Apple Variety Notes
My mum likes a mix of types, including a crisp tart green type, Cortland, and a few others that have good sweetness and complexity. The mix of apple varieties gives a depth of flavor that is one of the keys to making the best pie. She says, “I always use some Cortlands because they taste quite good and they have a beautiful color. They turn pink!” We leave the skins on, as they soften up nicely while cooking and add flavor and color.

How to make the filling:

  1. Remove bruises, core the apples, and slice very thinly, leaving skins on.
  2. Stir to mix the apples with all the filling ingredients, except the butter.

Putting the Pie Together

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. When ready to make the pies, split chilled dough into 2 equal parts. Roll out one at a time on a floured surface until they make rounds about 1/8 inch thick. Work the dough as little as possible. I’ve watched my mum delicately patch holes formed when rolling, pressing the little piece of dough just enough to connect it to the rest. It is a tender thing to keep a crust flaky.
  3. Line a 9 inch pie pan with one round of the rolled out pie dough from above, and trim off excess dough that hangs over the edge of the pan.
  4. Layer the apple filling into the pie, getting them densely packed, and piled high.
  5. Dot the top of the apple pile with the 1 1/2 Tbs butter from the filling recipe
  6. Lay over the top the other round of pie dough. Take the two layers of dough at edges by the pie rim and fold from the top under, so the top dough is hugging around and under the bottom dough, and it all fits nicely on the pie plate. Then crimp the edges down with a fork or finger tips to seal and make a pattern all around the rim. This is kind of hard to explain, so see pictures below.
  7. Poke holes in the upper crust in some kind of design, to allow steam to escape, and to make the pie pretty.
  8. Brush the surface of the pie crust with a brush dipped in cream or milk to give a nice shine to the crust.
  9. Put into the oven to bake at 450 for 10 minutes
  10. Turn down the oven to 350, and bake another 35-45 minutes until pie is done.

How to tell when the pie is done:

You want the filling to boil, so you should hear bubbling or see places where juices have bubbled up. You can poke with a small knife to see if the apples are tender. Consider making a couple larger holes in your crust design to allow knife poking :). Also the crust should be nicely golden brown.

You can use tin foil over the crust to reduce more browning, if it is getting too brown but the inside isn’t bubbling yet. Foil over the whole top, or just in a circle around the outer crust rim will cut back on browning, allowing more baking time.

Serving the Pie

You can serve them hot, or room temperature. If allowed to cool, the pie’s juices will set up better to stay in place when cut. I am quite fond of having excesses of whipped cream around at Thanksgiving to dollop on apple and pumpkin and other pies at serving time. A bit of ice cream is quite nice too.

Now, How to Make Apple Pie, in Photos!

Scroll down for some more detailed tips on parts of the process.

Here’s what the flour paste looks like:

 

Cut the butter into the flour until it looks like the mixture below – with some reasonable little chunks of butter in there. These butter nubs are key for achieving flakiness in the crust.

Mixing the flour paste with the butter-flour mixture needs to be a gentle and quick process to reduce the formation of gluten (which makes crusts more chewy than flaky). You can add a little more water if needed, a teeny bit at a time, to get the whole thing to gather into a ball:

When the dough is together it should not be wet, it should just be together enough, as shown below. Setting the dough to cool allows the flour to absorb moisture and chilling it before another handling will reduce the formation of gluten. Cover it to protect the moisture:

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Again, handle it as little as possible. It does tend to stick, so you could use a parchment paper underneath your flour to help lift it. My mum uses the rolling pin to help carry the dough to the pie plate:

Trim the edges of the dough and patch holes with the trimmings. Leave some overhang to help make a nice thick edge crust when paired with the upper crust:

 

 

Mix apples and spices for the filling in a big bowl so you can get all the apples well coated:

Fill up the bottom pie crust, trying to get the apples as densely packed as possible. If you have enough upper crust dough, you can make the pile nice and high, as the apples will settle and condense while cooking, and you’ll get more apple in there:

Put the butter up on the top of the apple pile:

Now you can lay the top layer of crust dough, and you want the top layer to be big enough to fold over and under the bottom crust lip. You put both crusts together, and then fold the double layer under to create a sealed container of dough:

Here is how you get that fold:

Below you can see how the top crust fold happens, and once you have the fold, you can crimp the edges down with your fingers to bind it. This type of fold helps keep the pie juices in the pie!

Make some good holes in the crust to let steam escape, and you might as well make a design! You can do these with a fork, or cut designs with a knife. You can also lay on extra dough cut into shapes for more styling.

Ready to set the pies in the oven!

Here’s a pie, all golden and done, where we used a fork around the edges to crimp and make a pattern.

Here’s another kind of top you can make, by cutting shapes in dough and laying them in a pattern on top of the apples:

Everyone’s excited when it is time to cut into the pies! Here below we made a streusel topping.

Thank you all for reading! Thanks to my dear mum for sharing her art! I hope everyone has a wonderful season, filled with pie!

Cheers,

Sarah, Ella and the Red Fire Farm crew.

Preserving the Summer!

Posted by: on Sep 1, 2017 | No Comments

Perhaps it is my zen-like presence practice, but in the peak of crop season I have a hard time really conceiving that winter will come. It’s so far away that it seems foggy, and maybe imaginary.

There is much evidence, however, that winter will indeed come. And so, when it seems we might be overwhelmed with tomatoes, that’s exactly the time to give a nod to your future self, and lay away some of the deliciousness of summer.

We have lots of gorgeous produce during the late summer at our farm stores in Granby and Montague, as well as in quantity at discounts through the farm’s Bulk Orders where we offer half bushels of tomatoes, bags of onions, boxes of peppers and such.

A shout out to all the cooks and recipe writers over the generations, because we are in a time of inordinate wealth of ideas for how to preserve our seasonal bounty, from the hundreds of cultures all across the Earth.

Here is a brief collection, a jumping off point, for your own forays into preservation.

Recipes for Preserving the Summer

Canning

I’ve been fond of canning because we don’t have much freezer space and you can keep your canned goods on the shelf. The jars also make beautiful gifts. We usually make a bigger batch of something special each year that we can share later during the holidays.

CANNING RECIPES FOR PEAK SEASON:

Freezing

One of the quickest ways to preserve food. Each year we freeze sweet peppers for use over the winter – just chop, bag and freeze. You can also bag and freeze tomatoes whole and raw, after coring out the stem. Then chop frozen for use in winter cooking. You can freeze tomato sauce and puree very successfully. Frozen corn brings the summer into winter cooking and I try to set up a good amount of that each year.

With our smaller freezer, I emphasize freezing things that don’t take up a lot of room but add lots of flavor to dishes over the winter, like herbs, oven roasted tomatoes, and my favorite flavor mix I’ve learned so far – Sofrito.

Things to remember when freezing, courtesy of National Center for Home Food Preservation.

  • Freeze as soon as you can with the freshest produce possible.
  • Freeze at 0 degrees or lower, if you can turn your freezer down, to make things freeze faster.
  • And don’t overload your freezer with too much to freeze at one time.

RECIPES AND TIPS FOR FREEZING:

Fermentation

Lacto-fermenting cucumbers with garlic scapes and a couple wild harvested grape leaves to help keep them crunchy. You can see my methods here for keeping the cukes under the brine :)… Another canning jar full of water on top and a plastic bag twist-tied over all to limit air flow.

Here’s a way to preserve while creating recipes full of wonderful probiotics for your body! Lacto-fermentation typically uses salt and a cover of brine to create an environment where good bacteria thrive and turn foods into tasty pickles, krauts and more! Once you get a finished kraut or the like, you move it into the refrigerator or a cool but not freezing spot in the house to maintain the ferment at a certain stage.

Some folks make big barrels or buckets of sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables in their basements, as a way to keep them cooler.

LACTO-FERMENTATION RECIPES:

Drying 

At home, we do lots of herbs, as they are as easy as hanging a bunch up from a string. I always do some halved cherry tomatoes, because they have uses all over the place. And my kids love dried apples and other fruit, so we try to do as much of that as we can.

HOW TO DRY VARIOUS THINGS:

 

We hope you can try some of these methods!

Down the line in the depths of winter we can thank our selves for having foresight to save some of the very best local things from a warmer time to taste and enjoy!

3 Ways to Get in a Pickle, and More Pickling Tips

Posted by: on Jul 2, 2017 | 2 Comments

Sarah Voiland and Steve Munn canning pickles. Having a pickling party can make time fly by! Be sure to swap recipes, too.

Welcome to the wonderful world of pickling! Whether you’re a vinegary veteran or just learning about pickling, we hope this page has some new and interesting information for you. We include a couple basic pickling tips, a breakdown of 3 different types of pickling – from canned pickles to refrigerator quickles to lactofermented foods – plus a few recipes, and resources.

Order in Bulk for Preserving

If you’re planning on pickling in large batches, you can place a Bulk Order with the farm. Please place your order by 12 pm two days before your preferred pickup date. Check our bulk order page for new kinds of produce available as the season progresses!

 

Basics of Pickling

–Always use the freshest quality produce possible.

–Do not use any produce that is discolored or rotting. Pare down to the good parts only.

–Sanitize your equipment and jars as required by each recipe, and maintain a clean workspace.

–Recipes and ratios are important. Never alter the vinegar/salt/water/produce ratio of a pickling recipe for canning. This is what keeps the pickle preserved, and a weaker brine could result in harmful bacteria growth. Only use canning recipes for canning, as Quickles recipes will likely not be strong enough. Salt to vegetable ratio is key for ferments, so make sure you attend to your salt when lacto-fermenting.

–Pickle new things! Bet you never thought about pickling snap peas, rhubarb, peaches, mustard greens, or garlic scapes, did you? Don’t forget about foraged wild foods too– ramps and fiddleheads in spring make popular pickles as well.

Here’s a rundown on some basic pickling facts and a few recipes from Colorado State University.

A Couple Good Tips:

Trim the Ends
The blossom end of a cucumber contains enzymes that will make your pickles less crunchy, so cut 1/8 inch off that end. It usually has a teeny brown spot, and the other end has the stem. If you don’t know which end it is, do both ends 🙂 True for all three types of pickles!

Save the Brine
You can save the brine from favorite vinegar pickles (yours or store bought), boil it, and pour it hot over more vegetables to make quickles with very similar flavors. Store in the fridge. This can make one feel like a kitchen wizard.

Use the Picklers
A word on types of cucumbers.
While you can pickle any type of cuke, pickling cucumbers (aka kirby) are built for it. They have thinner skin that is more permeable to flavor and smaller fruit size for fitting into jars. They also strike me as a little less juicy, which is good for retaining structure. Slicing or salad cucumbers are okay for pickling, but better for salads and such. Also of note, some grocery store cucumbers may be sealed in a little wax, so it is better to get yours at a farmers market or to ask and make sure you are not getting waxed fruit at the grocers.

What to Pickle

Garlic scapes make a lovely, spicy pickle! Though when packing they always want to e-scape the jar.

Cucumbers, carrots, beets, green beans, garlic scapes, radishes, sweet or hot peppers, snap or snow peas, summer squash, zucchini, asparagus, cabbage, parsnips, turnips, green tomatoes, mustard greens, shallots, daikon, melon, onion, okra, apples, peaches, rhubarb, basil, and more!

Pickling flavor combinations:

While you can’t alter the ratios of vinegar/salt/water/produce in canned pickles, you can alter the spicing of pickles to be what you like!

For dill flavor on any produce, cukes, green beans or other: Dill, white vinegar (for vinegar recipes), salt, garlic, peppercorns. Add celery seed and mustard seed for more flavors. Dill seed can be used in the winter season when fresh dill is unavailable.

For spiced sweet pickles: Cider vinegar (for vinegar recipes), sugar, salt, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric. Add ground cloves, peppercorns, cayenne for more flavors.

Add kick to any pickles with crushed red peppers, cayenne powder, or a whole fresh hot pepper or so in the jar. Whole peppers make your jars good-looking too.

More spice ideas to play with: cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, coriander, fennel seeds, whole cloves, allspice, anise, curry powder, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, fresh oregano, thyme, savory, tarragon, basil. You get the notion 🙂

 

3 Ways to Pickle….

1. Quickles or Refrigerator Pickles

Quickles made with red radish and kohlrabi. You can see the pickling spices there on top!

Quick pickles don’t need to be canned– you just mix them up and put them in the refrigerator. They are good in the fridge for a week or a few months, depending on the recipe. These are a great way to start making pickles. While some people say to wait x long in their recipes, you can always start tasting them right away and know that the flavors will keep developing.

Upsides to quickles:

  • They are very quick and easy.
  • You don’t need to be as concerned with your brine recipe–while you should always be careful in preparing your recipes and using the correct amounts of salt and vinegar to preserve the product, refrigeration will help keep quickles preserved.
  • Because you can make them in small batches, quickles can be a good way to test out different flavor combinations before undertaking a larger canning project.

Downsides to quickles:

  • They take up valuable fridge space.
  • They won’t last nearly as long as a well-canned pickle.

Try some of these Recipes:

Dill Quickles from Red Fire Farm

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas from Smitten Kitchen

Easy Japanese Pickled Cucumbers from The Kitchn

You can also use any canned pickle recipe you find for quickle making, and just put it in the fridge instead of canning it.

 

2. Canning Pickles

Bread & Butter Pickles, canned. These things take any sandwich to the next level.

At least one summer day spent over a hot, humid stove is a small sacrifice to make for a stocked pantry of homemade preserves and pickles. Be on the lookout for recipes that only make small batches or single jars, of which there are many in The Pickled Pantry book listed below. This way, it will be a lot easier to whip up a patch of pickles when you don’t have much time, want to try a new recipe, or are working with a limited amount of produce.

On the other hand, I like to plan big days of pickling to get things dirty once and come out with a lot of pickles for eating and presents. If you are doing this method, here are some steps to plan your day:

  1. Set a date in the season of the produce you want to preserve, invite friends if you like
  2. Choose your recipes and figure out where you will get your ingredients ahead of time, aiming to get your produce as fresh as possible
  3. Inventory your equipment and jars a week beforehand so you can get more of anything
  4. Set up your kitchen the night before, imagine where you will put things, and plan for an easy lunch the next day
  5. Start early on your designated day, because I can’t count the numbers of times I took longer than I thought 🙂

If you are new to canning, I recommend finding a friend who has done it before, or a local group, to can with, as the process has many little steps, and it will just be more fun to learn in person than by reading a book. That said this Complete Guide to Home Canning by the USDA is a pretty good resource for learning, as are the books in the section below.

Make sure you use a recipe designed for canning, as getting the right vinegar/salt/produce/water ratio is key for safe preservation. Also make sure to use vinegar that has a measured acidity of 5% labeled on the bottle, as that is the acidity expected for canning recipes.

Recipes to Try:

Classic bread and butter sweet pickles from Red Fire Farm

Fiddlehead Pickles from the University of Maine

Basic Pickled Jalapeno Peppers from Food in Jars

Here’s another great resource for canning recipes and methods: The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

3. Lacto-fermented Pickles

Lacto-fermenting cucumbers with garlic scapes and a couple wild harvested grape leaves to help keep them crunchy. You can see my methods here for keeping the cukes under the brine :)… Another canning jar full of water on top and a plastic bag twist-tied over all to limit air flow.

These are easy and really good for you. Fermentation preserves foods without cooking out the beneficial enzymes and probiotics. When you boil your jars in canning, that’s just a simple way of pasteurizing the contents. However, as you boil away potentially harmful bacteria, you also lose some of the really helpful microbes that your body needs to function and digest.

You can create a context for those beneficial bacteria to thrive, one that is also safe to eat. Thats how lactofermentation works. By submerging vegetables in a salty brine, you create anaerobic conditions that make wonderful, flavorful foods!

For more information on the health benefits of fermented foods, check out this page from Greenfield’s own Real Pickles. And there is new news that fermented foods may help reduce anxiety, which is lovely.

How to make them:

Wash and prep your vegetables to whatever size you like for eating. Weigh them out, and then weigh out salt at 2.5% of your vegetable weight. So for 1 lb of vegetables you would weigh out .025 lb of salt. Massage the vegetables with salt and pack into a very clean non-metal food-safe container, like a quart glass ball jar. Mash down with a weight of some kind, cover to prevent flies or dirt getting in (the less airflow the better), and let sit a few hours to bring out juices. If juices do not submerge the vegetables, add a little water until vegetables are fully submerged. This liquid is called brine. Let sit covered and weighted in a cool spot out of the sun for 3 weeks or so checking every couple days to skim mold off the top of the brine. You can taste them as they go and stop the ferment at any time you like it by putting it in the fridge. Read more details in the recipes and books below.

I have also had good success making a brine of about 2-3 Tbs salt per quart of water, mixing the 2 Tbs into some water and pouring that over cut vegetables in a quart jar, filling to cover the vegetables. This method is less exact. Half-gallon ball jars are pretty great containers for doing a batch for my family of four. In summer, lean towards more salt in the brine, especially for cucumber pickles.

Basic Tips:

  • Use only sea salts or kosher salts that do not contain iodine or caking agents that could mess with your bacteria.
  • Use non-chlorinated water.
  • Keep vegetables submerged in brine at all times.
  • You can ferment pretty much all produce and combining is fun, as is adding various spices and herbs.
  • Add a few grape leaves, oak leaves, or horseradish leaves to your cucumber ferments to provide some tannins to help keep them crunchy.

Fun with your Brine:

Use your leftover brine, after eating your ferments, in mixed drinks and other food. Probiotic dirty martinis anybody 😉 Also great for adding to salad dressings, and anywhere else you can think of.

Fermenting Recipes:

Daikon Ginger Pickle from Red Fire Farm

Homemade Sauerkraut from Nourishing Kitchen

Fermented Sour Pickles from Wild Fermentation

Fermented Nettle Kimchi from The Fermentista’s Kitchen

Books We Like

Consider supporting your local book store if you purchase these titles! Most allow you to pre-order for pickup.

The Pickled Pantry: from Apples to Zucchini, 150 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys & More by Andrea Chesman

Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves by Karen Solomon

Put ‘Em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Wild Fermentation: the Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz

Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes, and Pastes by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey

 

It can get rather silly in the kitchen.

Happy pickling! We’d love to see photos of your final products and swap recipes: send them to recipes@redfirefarm.com, or share on our farm Facebook or Instagram.

You can get ingredients for preserves by ordering in Bulk from the farm. We update our bulk order page frequently to reflect what’s seasonal and available. Or visit our farmers’ markets and produce stands for daily selections of organic produce. Thanks for reading and we hope to see you around the farm!

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