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All About Lettuce!

babyheadsWhenever I think about Blue Moon’s baby lettuce heads I think about Alex Levine, Whole Earth Center’s beloved deli manager. Last year when I delivered the seasons’ first baby lettuce harvest, Alex pulled a glistening head from the box, tore off a leaf, and began feasting—right there in the walk-in cooler. It was the first, fresh greenery he’d had since the previous autumn, and judging by the ecstatic look of satiety that filled his eyes, it was much needed. Like Alex, I’ll often eat lettuce straight from the head—greedily, luxuriating in the texture, the taste, the privilege of eating local lettuce so early in the season. And after a winter like this year’s, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Lettuce is so ubiquitous we rarely stop to think about its origins. It was the Egyptians who first cultivated the plant, turning it from an oil-producing weed into a crop grown exclusively for its leaves. They used lettuce to honor their reproduction god, Min, whose stamina was purportedly benefited by copious consumption of the crop. These early lettuce strains resembled a large version of romaine, and later spread to the Greeks, and then the Romans, and finally to Europe. It was the barbaric Christopher Columbus who brought lettuce, along with pestilence and disease, to the Americas.

Originally, lettuce had to be sold close to where it was grown, thanks in part to its short life span and delicate nature. But with the advent of new packing, storage and shipping technologies in the early 1900s, lettuce began to proliferate. The later development of ‘vacuum cooling’, which allowed for the crop to be cooled and packed in the field, only added to its popularity.

Blue Moon Acres Baby Head Lettuce - SaladAt Blue Moon, we grow five varieties of baby lettuce heads. Red “Little Gem”, Green “Sucrine”,  Green “Oakleaf,” Green “Sweet Crisp”,  and red “Incised”. The first harvest of these beauties is always a special occasion—they are the very first crop of the season, and, as such, mark the arrival of spring. And whether you choose to enjoy them in a salad, on a wrap or sandwich, or, like Alex and I, straight from the head, they’re delicious.

By | March 27th, 2015|News|0 Comments

A Brief (and Mouthwatering!) History of Risotto

imagesI was never a Risotto fan. In fact, before we started growing Italian rice here at Blue Moon, I can’t even say that I’d ever had the dish. But then one day, resident rice connoisseur Jim Lyons brought some freshly-cooked risotto into our office. I was hooked. Within a week, I was using our Arborio to make my own Risotto, a ritual I’ve repeated a half-dozen times since.

Risotto’s history is an interesting one. The shorter-grain rice varieties that would later be the dish’s foundation made their way into Sicily and Spain by way of Arab merchants. From there, they spread throughout Italy, consumed mainly by the upper class. But it was not till these varieties caught the attention of elites in Spanish-occupied Milan that the techniques we now associate with modern Risotto—slow-cooking; the use of stock, onions, butter, wine, parmesan, and saffron—were developed. Today, the dish remains largely unchanged.

Almost without exception, Risotto is made from one or more of the following varieties: Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, and Vialone Nano. It is because of their ability to absorb liquids and release starch that these are used. Generally speaking, the higher the starch content (amylopectins), the more creamy and textured the final product. That’s why long grain rice—very low in amylopectins, flakier and dryer— makes for a poor Risotto.

As a vegetarian, I’ve never made classic Risotto. Instead of chicken broth, I use vegetable broth, adding spinach and tomatoes, or sometimes even—yes—kale. Their version incorporated our own organic Maratelli rice, and contained, among other delicious ingredients, morel mushrooms. Morels are to Risotto what peanut-butter is to jelly: it’s an amazing combination, one I highly recommend you try ASAP!

pumpkin-zucca-risotto-14-1000Of course, there are a number of traditional variations on Risotto. There’s Risotto alla Milanese, made with beef stock, bone marrow, lard, and cheese. And Risotto al nero di sepia, prepared with the black ink sacs of cuttlefish. And then there’s Risotto alla zucca, made with pumpkin, nutmeg, and grated cheese.

But no matter how you prepare your Risotto, one thing is certain: With so many varieties of Italian rice available at Blue Moon, it’s hard to go wrong!

By | March 13th, 2015|News|0 Comments

Pasture-Raised Eggs Made Easy!

imagesIf you’ve ever tried our pastured-raised eggs, you know how eggcellent they are. Bright orange yolks; sturdy, perfect-for-hardboiling shells; and uncommonly good taste. But have you ever wondered what goes into pasture-raising? Or wanted to try doing it yourself?

Although the practice of pasture-raising has yet to be formally defined, it’s generally agreed to signify a few crucial things. First, the animal is free to spend his/her days roaming spacious plots. Second, a significant portion of the animal’s diet comes from the live worms, grubs, seeds, and grasses foraged on that plot. And third, the plot must be organically certified.

First, in order to ensure that the birds receive adequate natural nutrition, you will need to construct a movable coop—sometimes called a “chicken tractor”. Not only will this afford the hens ample fresh pasture, it’ll also serve as a natural means of controlling weeds and insects, as well as providing natural fertilizer in the form of manure. Examples of movable chicken coop can be found here.

After you’ve constructed your coop, you’ll need to choose which breeds best suit your situation. An average chick costs around $2, with adults clocking in around $40. The breed’s temperament, its adaptability to confinement, how noisy it is, and the size eggs it lays are all factors you’ll want to consider. Certain breeds fare better in hotter climates; others prefer cold. A few versatile varieties include the Rhode Island Red, the Leghorn, the Buff Orpington, the Black Star, and the Ameracauna. PawNation has a great page about breed selection.

Now that you have your land, coop, and birds, you’ll need to consider supplementary nutrition. True, pasture-raised hens derive much of their diet from the pasture they feed on, but they will absolutely need feed, especially in the winter. Feed can be purchased at a local feed store, or, if you have enough acreage, home-grown!

Of course, you’ll also need to regularly check your birds for health, providing them with plenty of fresh water, and keeping their living areas clean. Keeping them safe from predators and ensuring environmental sustainability are other important concerns.

downloadSo what are you waiting for? Go get some chicks and get started!

By | February 27th, 2015|News|0 Comments

A Brief (and Interesting) History of Rice!

rice bagEver since we at Blue Moon started growing our own rice, I’ve found myself wondering about its history. Where did it originate? How long have we been cultivating it? What makes it so special? Rice, it turns out, is a fascinating crop—and not only because of its history.

When you get right down to it, rice is basically a seed—a grass seed.  There are two major types of rice: Indica and Japonica. Indica is the non-sticky, flakey, long-grained variety; Japonica is the sticky, short-grained variety. Basmati and jasmine are two well-known indica rices; sushi rice and Arborio are two well-known Japonica varieties. Indicas are generally grown near the equator, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. Japonicas, on the other hand, are grown in temperate and mountainous regions, including Japan and Korea.

According to Chinese legends, rice domestication began under Chinese Emperor Shennong, the inventor of Chinese Agriculture. (Though from what we know about emperors’ propensity for self-aggrandizement, we would do well to assume it was invented by one of his minions!) More reliable genetic evidence shows that rice originates from a single domestication some 8,200 to 13,500 years ago, in China’s Pearl River valley region. From there, it was introduced to Europe, and later the Americas.

These days, rice plays an enormous role in global nutrition. It’s the staple food for over half the world’s population, providing 20% of total global dietary energy supply. It provides more than one fifth of calories consumed by human beings. And it’s the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize. All of which is to say that rice is a pretty big deal!

Rice’s history is a long and interesting one, and we at Blue Moon Acres are humbled to play a small part in its future.

rice field

 

By | February 13th, 2015|News|0 Comments

5 Cheap and Easy Ways to Build Your Own Micro-Greenhouse!

When we think of greenhouses, most of us think of hulking, ship-like monoliths made of plastic or plexi-glass.  But greenhouses can be small, too. Small enough to fit in your back yard, in fact. Or even in the palm of your hand.

A greenhouse, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a structure enclosed (as by glass) and used for the cultivation or protection of tender plants.” Greenhouses allow for more control over the growing environment of plants. Temperature, sunlight levels, fertilizer and water amounts, can all be regulated. Plants are protected against the worst of the elements, extending the growing season. And while most greenhouses are large, there’s no hard and fast rule where size is concerned.  Below are five examples of truly mini greenhouses!

single soda botte1. Two liter soda bottle

What could be simpler? Or littler? Simply remove the top and the label from an (empty!) soda, juice, or water bottle; and turn upside down! Can be used directly on the ground, or around a small planter.

 

 

 

 

salad container2. Plastic salad-greens container

How ironic! A product that once held greens being used to grow… greens. But anyway. The picture pretty much says it all, but for those of you who prefer narration: fill bottom of container with topsoil and seeds, and cover with either lid or another container. Check out this video for another take on this easy garden hack.

 

 

window greenhouse3. Used Windows

My personal favorite! Brace four old windows together, using a fifth window as a lid. The base can be made from an old pallet or crate, or even a simple raised bed. A superbly effective way of not only extending your growing season, but keeping those old windows out of a landfill.

 

 

 

aquarium4. Aquarium

Look how happy that couple is with their aquarium greenhouse! Simply take your old unused aquarium greenhouse, turn it over, and, voila: instant greenhouse!

 

 

 

comforter bag and crate5. Milk Crate and Comforter Bag

If you’re like me, you saved the plastic bag that your comforter came in, thinking you would use it to store your comforter come summertime. But you’re not that kind of person, which is good news, because now you have a perfectly good excuse to build a very cool mini-greenhouse. Just get an old milk crate and place it inside the comforter bag! You’ll be sprouting seeds in no time!

By | January 30th, 2015|News|0 Comments