Fall is in the air! Here at Bella Luna we are enjoying the best that September has to offer with dewy mornings, cooler evenings and yet still warm and sunny afternoons. We sure hope you and yours are well as the kids head back to school, the late-season produce comes off the vine in the gardens, and the official start to fall approaches.
We are enjoying seeing the blue jays and squirrels dashing noisily about, competing for walnuts and hazelnuts which they hide for winter, and the honeybees busily collecting pollen and nectar, and filling their hives with honey for their winter food. In the garden, we continue the everyday ritual of harvesting fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash from the beds and hoophouse; the rainbow of colorful dahlias and perennials in the cut flower garden are thriving, boding well for next years’ plant sales and flowers for events.
In the next few weeks we will harvest the apples and pears in the orchard. The crisp, tart Honeycrisp and Akane varieties will be the first to be plucked; next up come the Asian pears, along with the continuing Italian plums and last of the grapes. In the gardens, the kale, cabbage and broccoli seedlings are going into the ground to overwinter (under a covering of Reemay fabric to discourage the pesky rabbits), right as the garlic and storage onions are coming out of it. Cover crops are being sown in the fallow plots along with a healthy dose of compost for turning over in the spring, enriching the soil with nutrients for when we begin to once again prepare for next years’ crops.
We’ve been kept busy with summer with weddings and other special events, and the kitchen continues to bustle even on non-event days with pickling, preserving and canning as we put away the summer bounty. September is always spent crafting big batches of Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce to carry us through the winter months. We are also putting our favorite Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne cucumbers to delicious use in small-batches of our signature French-style cornichons. Made using the traditional recipe that we’ve shared with you below, each jar is packed with a Grapehouse grape leaf during pickling to keep these tiny pickles crunchy and crisp.
We hope you enjoy, both the recipe and this most pleasant start to September!
These crisp pickles are incredibly fresh-tasting thanks to the addition of pearl onions, peppercorns and even a fresh grape leaf.
Makes about 4 pints of pickles
2 pounds garden-fresh Parisienne or other cornichon-style cucumbers
3 tablespoons kosher salt
12 fresh pearl onions, peeled
1 quart of white wine vinegar
Fresh tarragon sprigs
Fresh grape leaves
1. Gently wash and rub the spines off the cucumbers. (They should only be 1-2 inches long.) Place cucumbers in a colander and toss with the salt. Leave to drain for about 4 hours, then rinse and drain.
2. Sterilize a potful of pint or half-pint jars and their lids by placing them upside down in a pot of water, covering and boiling for 10 minutes. (Add a splash of vinegar if your water is hard.)
3. Bring the vinegar to a vigorous simmer or low boil in a medium stockpot.
4. Without touching the inside of the jars, remove each jar from the water with a pair of tongs and flip it over on a clean work surface. Place ½-1 teaspoons peppercorns, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds and a large sprig of tarragon in each jar. Add a small fresh washed grape leaf if available. Add 2-3 pearl onions and cucumbers to within ¾-inch of the top of the jar. Cover with hot vinegar.
5. Wipe the rim of each jar and screw on the lid tightly, removing the lids from the water with the tongs. Wipe off any excessive moisture from the outside of the jars, then store in a cool, dark place for at least one month before eating.
As we head into the dog days of August, the heat-loving crops are starting to ripen more each day, and the animals continue to seek the afternoon shade to stay cool—during the middle of the day the chickens are often burrowed in the cool dirt of their enclosure and the girls can be spotted lounging under the canopy of trees in their pasture.
As much as the sun-ripened peppers and tomatoes are loving the sunshine, other more tender crops, such as the lettuces and greens, are now needing a good drink of water each day so that they continue to thrive. Even with a later ripening date due to the cooler than usual spring, our fruit crops are still proving to be bountiful, from the big, juicy blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to colorful red and yellow plums.
As busy as it is around Bella Luna this time of year—both with tending crops and hosting the special events we hold so dear—we also spend quite a bit of time in other people’s gardens, too, through our landscape design firm, Parterre. We conceptualize and install tranquil, natural gardens and outdoor living spaces all around the Puget Sound, as well as care for them using organic, low-impact gardening techniques. With its long daylight hours, this abundant season keeps us bustling between projects.
During the lingering evenings, we are busy preserving all the gorgeous summer delicacies. In addition to fruit preserves, our “jam sessions” will also include pickling cucumbers and canning beets, as well as making small batches of our Nonna Pat’s famous tomato sauce with vine-ripened tomatoes plucked fresh from the garden. By the end of summer, we usually stow away around a thousand jars, which are always beautiful reminders of the glorious, sun-kissed summer during the cold winter months that will arrive all too soon.
It’s July and everything (finally!) seems to be in full summer bloom here at the farm, bursting to life in vibrant color, and keeping us busy watering, weeding, and harvesting from dawn to dusk.
The bold and beautiful tiger lilies that grow near the house have just begun to bloom, and during the warm afternoons, the goats are often spotted resting and ruminating in the sunshine. (They keep this up until the evening hours when things start to look a little livelier out there when fresh hay for dinner arrives in the barn.)
Summer chores continue in the gardens, where we marvel at the growth of the beans, peas and cucumbers that climb their trellises by inches each day. Apples, plums and pears are developing on the trees and the Montmorency pie cherries will hopefully be ready to harvest in the coming weeks! We also are eagerly anticipating the first crop of fresh, juicy Tulameen raspberries that are just now starting to ripen. Some of these tart-sweet berries will be destined for a summer fruit crisp or for snacking, but a good portion are always set aside to use in our favorite fresh raspberry jam.
The honey bees are also loving the pleasant afternoons and buzz busily amongst the many varieties of blossoms, working hard collecting pollen and nectar; the blackberry flowers are a special favorite for them, being one of the honeybee’s main food sources here in the Pacific Northwest.
We hope you enjoyed a safe and happy 4th of July, and that you enjoy all that midsummer has to offer this month.
Despite the wet and cool spring weather over the past couple of months, it seems as if the signs are finally beginning to point towards the start of summer, from the baby birds leaving their nests to the abundance of beautiful blooms now seen around the farm.
During rain breaks, we have spent lots of hours in the garden and now the arrival of June means the summer crops are just about planted and the first of their shoots should soon start popping up out of the soil. The lettuces and other greens are all thriving, in addition to the Romano beans inching their way up the trellises (tempting the pesky rabbits!) and the fragrant herbs growing in the Walled Garden. Preparations for planting summer cutting flowers are finally underway now that the weather is more favorable and we can get out in the field to till and plant.
Warm weather plants such as tomatoes and peppers are ready to go in the hoop house, with the eggplant and summer squash starts to follow. We’ve begun checking the strawberries to see if any buds are turning into green berries, but we will have to be patient as ripe, juicy fruit looks to still be at least a couple of weeks out. In the meantime, we will enjoy the peonies and sweet peas as they start their vibrant season as well as the first flush of English roses are almost in bloom.
Around the rest of Bella Luna, the animals are enjoying a ‘spa day’ to brush out the last of their thick winter undercoats, and the donkey (aka Stinky) will get a much needed bath! Dave and Beth Richards of JohnnyAppleBeez will soon come to retrieve their orchard mason bee houses from the garden, which will be filled with the cocoons of baby bees; the Richards will help these bees become next year’s crop pollinators.
Enjoy these first few days of June and we hope you and yours continue to be well as summer approaches!