While we are still experiencing pleasant, sunny days as we start the month of October, the cooler nights and increasing rain sessions tell us it truly is now fall.
Here at Bella Luna, the leaves are just beginning to turn color—brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange, and the local wildlife are beginning to stash provisions like crazy. Squirrels are busy darting to and fro, carrying off acorns, walnuts and chestnuts—some as big as their heads—to bury for food during the winter months. The blue jays are also busy squabbling with one another, battling the squirrels and each other for hazelnuts.
With the last of the grapes behind us, the apple and pear harvest has officially begun—the sweet, aromatic Macoun and crunchy, mildly-tart Liberty are the first apples to ripen in our orchard, with the Asian and European pears right behind them. We admit to snatching a few, fragrant and crunchy, right off the tree while walking past to do chores in the barn or garden, with the donkey enjoying an apple here and there as well! Soon, we will press and enjoy our first batch of fresh cider, and start cooking up homemade batches of applesauce and apple butter in the farm kitchen.
In addition to the time spent tending our clients’ gardens for our landscape design firm Parterre, we are also hosting a few fall weddings and other small gatherings; we are especially excited to welcome weaving expert Lisa Liedgren for a workshop event held through The Field Trip Society on the 17th. (This particular event is sold out, but be sure to keep an eye out for future collaborations!) In between times, here at home we are pulling the last of the heirloom tomatoes out of the hoophouse, which are destined for more batches of our Nonna Pat’s tomato sauce. As the tomatoes end their season, they make way for fall plantings of kale, cabbage and Swiss chard to overwinter for early spring harvest. These hardy crops always renew our excitement for fall—foraging for mushrooms in the woods, or enjoying the distinct flavors of autumn over a cozy supper.
We hope you are well and also enjoying the month of October!
Fall is in the air! Here at Bella Luna Luna Farms we are enjoying the best that September has to offer with dewy mornings, cooler evenings and, yet still, sunny days. We sure hope you and yours are staying safe and well as 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, pumpkins and squash that take us into winter. The early apples will be the first ready with the crisp, tart Honeycrisp and Akane varieties; 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 have been 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 a traditional recipe (which 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.
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. Our fruit crops are proving bountiful this year, 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 now back to 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” 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. In all, we have stowed away a thousand jars so far, sure to be beautiful reminders of this glorious, sun-kissed summer during the cold winter months that will arrive all too soon.