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Getting Your Fall Garden Underway

By Nancy Dockter
ALFN Vendor, Great Day Natural Produce

It is time high time to prepare a fall garden space. Most fall crops are planted late August through mid-October, so the sooner the soil is turned and amendments added, the better.

The heat. Even with the current break in the heat, this may the biggest barrier you face. Wear loose clothing (think baggy, thin, all-cotton dress shirt), bring along a bucket of ice water and a towel. Follow the shade. If it is still unbearable, make a large box fan your companion. It really helps.

Winter sun. Before you get started, envision the sun’s path during fall and winter. Right now, it is high in the sky as it moves east to west. Come fall, it will be low and southerly. Trees that then may put your garden in the shade might not be much of a problem once leaves have fallen, but that does not happen until November. Plants needs the bright, sunny days of October to size up before short day length slows them down in November.

Tools. You’ll need a spade and garden rake. I also recommend a short-handled mattock. A really good tiller may help, but to deeply turn the soil, you’ll need a spade or shovel. It’s a full-body workout, so you can skip going to the gym.

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A mattock tool

Clearing a bed. I once used a hoe to do this, but that created a mess of turned-up soil and weeds. One of the most valuable things I was taught at farmer school was how to “skim a bed.” To avoid churning up the soil as you work, attack weeds with a horizontal swipe of a spade, aiming the blade just below the soil surface. This separates a plant’s roots from its growth tip and top growth and renders most incapable of re-growth. Then rake away the chopped-off tops of plants. Use the mattock and spade to hack out the rest. If not too bulky, roots can stay (with the exception of Bermuda grass runners, which will re-grow). With the bed clear, you can now dig deeply (a foot at least) to loosen the soil. Then smooth the soil with a garden rake turned upside down. Take a breather and congratulate yourself.

Skimming a bed
Skimming a bed – a great arm workout!

Amendments. People write books on this topic. This hardly covers it. Did you get your soil tested? As a general rule, unless your garden’s soil is very fertile, compost won’t be enough to build strong, productive plants. You likely will need a source of more potent energy (think nitrogen) such as aged manure, blood meal, alfalfa meal, feather meal, fish emulsion, bat guano, or a commercial product. Your garden likely needs trace minerals (Azomite and kelp are sources) and lime to balance pH and add calcium, a critically important soil nutrient.

Mix all amendments together, broadcast, turn lightly, and rake smooth. Avoid displacing soil (and amendments) from one spot to the next. Water well to help amendments penetrate soil. If you are applying lime, it is best to do this several weeks before planting.

Planning. The U of A Cooperative Extension’s Year-Round Home Garden Planting Guide says what to plant in what month. Some plants do best by directly sowing seed; others do best as transplants (allow about a month to get them started). I recommend:

  • Direct sow: carrots, radishes, parsnips, turnips, spinach, and salad mix
  • Transplants: broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, collards. Scallions do much better as transplants but need about six weeks before moving to the garden. They will still be tiny, but they are very tough, so don’t worry if the soil falls off their roots during the process. Just stick them in the ground.
  • Either approach: kale, beets, mustard, lettuce, but any have a better chance as transplants

Try to get carrot seed (pelleted seed is worth it) in the ground late August to mid-September. Carrots need the abundant photons of the still-long days of early fall to bulk up. That is probably also true for other root crops. The greens can go in a bit later.

Moisture. For seeds to sprout, they need consistent moisture. That generally means watering twice a day. Don’t drown them. Even if the soil still looks moist in the morning from the watering the night before, seeds in a sunny spot will need more before the day is over. This is most true of carrot seed.

Gardening books. Check out Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon and The Book of Garden Secrets by Diane E. Bilderback and Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

I can be reached at nedockter@gmail.com.

Grilled Mexican Street Corn (Elotes) Recipe

If you’ve ever looked at your buttered corn-on-the-cob and thought to yourself “wow, this is pretty boring”, then you’re ready to try Elotes, the traditional corn-on-the-cob Mexican street food. Elotes are the Chicago style hot dog of corn: more toppings = more exciting.

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You only need a few things to make this simple but sassy dish:

(makes 4 servings)

4 ears of corn

1/4 C mayonnaise

1/2 C cheese (crumbled Cotija is the Mexican cheese traditionally used for this dish, but a finely grated parmesan will also do the trick)

1 tsp. chili powder

Lime wedges

That was easy. Now four simple steps and we’re done!

  1. Pull back the corn husks and clean away the silk.
  2. To roast the corn, heat your oven’s broiler to medium-high. Set the corn under the broiler and roast it until it crackles, turning it frequently so each side chars. I had the most luck with the oven, but you can also do this on your gas burner or in a very hot frying pan.
  3. While the corn is still hot, slather it in mayo (a brush works best, but a spatula or spoon also works) and dust it with cheese and chili powder.
  4. Serve with a squeeze of lime. Delicioso!

4 Surprising Reasons To Buy Local

More than ever, consumers are choosing to buy locally sourced food and products. ALFN’s mission is to connect Arkansas to these farms and businesses so that everyone can enjoy locally grown goods! You might have heard that locally grown food is good for you and supports the local economy, but here are 4 more reasons to buy local food that might surprise you:

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  1. Local farms preserve open space. Having nearby farms preserves open space and keeps developers from sprawling outside of urban areas. In New York City the CENYC stated that nearly a million acres of local farmland had been covered in cement and asphalt over the past 50 years alone. Thanks to strong support for local food, Little Rock residents can enjoy green spaces like the Dunbar Community Garden, Little Rock Urban Farm, and Heifer Urban Farm.
  2. Local foods attract tourists. A variety of farmer’s markets, local restaurants with access to fresh food, and the chance to visit local farms promotes tourism in a region.
  3. Local food is good for the soil. Local farmers generally use more environmentally-friendly farming practices than industrial farmers, which means healthier food and healthier soil. Sustainable agriculture reduces erosion, which is responsible for the loss of 30% of the world’s arable land. It also keeps our soil and water free from harmful pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals.
  4. It is a safer food supply. Food traveling a long distance has a greater opportunity to be contaminated on the journey, and outbreaks become harder to trace due to the multiple points of contact in the food supply chain. The high volume demanded from industrial farms and confined animal feeding operations can mean weaker food safety standards. When buying local food take the opportunity to research the vendor you’re buying from, what their farming practices are, and (in the case of meat) what processing plant they use.

Storing July’s Fruits and Veggies

The heat is rolling in and so are the summer fruits and vegetables. Below is a list of produce that are now available on the market, and how to best store them to outlast the summer heat.

First up and my personal favorite, PEACHES!

Freestone and clingstone, yellow, white and red: peaches are queen of Arkansas in the summertime. Offered by Barnhill Orchards and Green Acres Atkins, consider packing these ripe jewels in jars, cakes, cobblers and parfaits for a wonderful summertime treat. And for those fruits that make it past their prime, consider processing them into a savor BBQ sauce courtesy of Ball Canning Company.

Next up, King Corn reigns supreme in the vegetable kingdom.

Order them from Barnhill Orchards or Kornegay Berry Farm. Grill, steam, or boil them then drizzle with butter, salt and pepper and let the summertime stick to your teeth.

And of course, who could forget the versatile tomato!

The season has just begun with green, red, vine ripened, cherry, Roma and Slicer varieties; all available on the market.

To round out the dinner plate consider the fiber filled magic of purple hull peas available from Arkansas Farm to Table and Kornegay Berry Farm. Add a bit of Grass Roots bacon, a corn muffin from Lily Chanel Sweets and some ANP Mustard greens for a true southern summer meal.

Enjoy the summer bounty and visit the ALFN Online Market to plan your next seasonal meal.

-Written by preservation extraordinaire and ALFN Board Member, Angela Gardner

Images courtesy of Frugal Living NW

10 Ways to Eat Local Foods

We get asked these two questions a lot:

1) How do I eat local foods?
2) Where do I find them?

For those of us who live in central Arkansas, the answer to those two questions has become much easier over the last several years. We are blessed to have dozens of family farms within 100 miles of the Little Rock metro area who bring their produce, meats, eggs, honey, and other goodies into the city for sale. You can buy almost everything you need to eat from local Arkansas farms!

The article below is from a blog we like called The Spruce. It lists 10 great ways to start eating locally and the tips they share are exactly what we tell friends who ask us the same question.

At ALFN, we are proud to say that we have the best selection of locally grown and produced goods of any market in our area. It’s all conveniently available on our online market. For more information about how our market works, visit this link or call us at (501) 396-9952.

Written by Board Director Tifany Hamlin

Seasonal Produce: July In Arkansas

EatThisNowJULY.jpgWe’re counting down the top produce to expect this month at the market, and it’s looking pretty tasty. If you don’t see any produce listed yet, be sure to check back soon! Here’s what’s in season during a hot, Arkansas July:

Watermelon

Apples

Cantaloupe

Grapes

Butter Beans

Eggplant

Sweet Corn

Tomatoes

Don’t forget that blackberries and blueberries will be out of season soon. Now is your chance to eat them while they’re still fresh!

Best Selection of Local Food In Arkansas

Did you know that the online market through the Arkansas Local Food Network has the best selection of any of the farmer’s markets in Arkansas?  I say that confidently because for the market this weekend, there were more than 1,000 different items – 1,039 to be precise.  There are 58 different vendors approved to sell at the market and their products are as diverse as you can imagine.
 
If you want fresh zucchini, we’ve got it.  But if you want zucchini pickles or zucchini bread, we’ve got that too.

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There’s sourdough and sandwich bread too.  And rolls, ciabatta, and gluten free hamburger buns.
We’ve got bacon, bratwurst, and baby back ribs.  We’ve even got lamb, buffalo, and elk.  Of course, there is everything from filet mignon to chicken wings.  We’ve have dried black peppercorns, cumin, oregano, and chili powder (a many more) to season everything up right.
 
Want ultra-fresh eggs?  We’ve got them in 6 packs, by the dozen, or 18 at a time, if that’s what you need.  Oh, and did you want chicken or duck eggs, I forgot to ask.
 
baby_romaineThere are fresh blueberries, blackberries, and peaches right now. And if you don’t have the freezer space to stock up, we have frozen ones along with jams and jellies year-round for you.
 
If you are not feeling well, stock up on some herbal tea blends, or make your own with fresh herbs in whatever mix you need.  Have sensitive skin? The homemade soaps, creams, and cleansers might be the perfect fix.  There’s even bug spray for those sultry summer picnics.
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Have a sweet tooth?  There are cakes (cheese, pound, pineapple upside-down, to name a few), cookies (like ginger molasses, lemon tea, pralines), pies (banana cream, blueberry, or buttermilk).  Did I mention the ice cream? Strawberry buttermilk is my favorite.
 
Not hungry?  Maybe you need a hand knit dish cloth, crocheted washcloth, or even hand-pieced quilt.  Or maybe you fall in love and want to spread the love by wearing an Arkansas Local Food Network t-shirt or apron, or sporting a canvas tote or even a bumper sticker.
 
I could go on and on (clearly), but I think it’s time for you check it out for yourself.
-Larissa Barry, ALFN Board Member