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Harvesting Potatoes

 Harvesting Potatoes 

The potatoes that we planted in the fall were ready for harvesting this weekend. Fresh potatoes have a wonderful, snappy texture and flavor that I have never found in store-bought potatoes. They are such an easy and rewarding crop to grow. Here in the south, we plant our seed potatoes in November in raised beds that are rich in compost and healthy organic matter. Check with your local extension office to determine the best time to plant in your zone. Once the vines grow a few inches, we give them a good 4-6 inches of mulch to keep them cool and protect them from the sun. Other than that, regular watering is about all that is needed to encourage potatoes to grow strong and healthy. An occasional, maybe monthly, feeding with compost tea or manure tea helps, too. We use Moo Poo tea, as it is natural, easy to use, and good for the soil.

How does one know when to harvest potatoes? Well, the plants tell you. As long as the potato vines look healthy and green, the potatoes are still growing deep in the soil. During this time, you may harvest baby “new” potatoes if you like. This year, I left all of my potatoes in the ground for a main harvest. Potatoes take about 120 days to fully mature, depending upon the growing environment, weather, watering practices, and other elements. Once the vines begin to flower, the tubers underneath the soil begin to swell. Shortly thereafter, the vines will slow down, and begin to turn yellow and brown and fall over. They don’t look nearly so pretty. This is natural, and a sign that the taters are ready.

Several days before you plan to harvest, discontinue watering the potato bed. This is a big help in harvesting, as it is much easier to dig through light, dry soil than through heavy, muddy soil. To begin the harvest, remove any mulch, and pull up all the potato stalks. They are great to add to your compost pile. Then, the fun begins. Most people use a flat tined fork or pitchfork to harvest potatoes, but because I plant a small crop in raised beds, I start the treasure hunt for those beautiful tubers by putting some gloves on and searching through the soil by hand. This does take a little more time, but I enjoy the hunt, and it has a major advantage in that my gentle hands won’t damage the delicate skins of the tubers. If the skin is damaged, the potato will not store well.

Once I have worked my way methodically through the entire bed and found all the potatoes I can, I go back through it again with a pitchfork, slowly and methodically.  I dig section by section, getting the pitchfork as deeply as possible into the soil, carefully turning it over, and piling it on the previous section. This process serves two functions; first, to find the rest of the potatoes that are deep within the bed, and second, to prepare the soil for a new crop by removing any debris and weeds and turning over the soil. Once every every last potato is removed, I finish preparing the soil by adding compost and organic starter fertilizer, turning it into the soil, and smoothing out the bed. Now the bed is ready for a new crop.

Storing Potatoes

Once you have harvested all your gorgeous, fat tubers, you will probably want to celebrate and enjoy some of your harvest immediately. I always do, and last night I made a lovely leek and potato soup, rich with home-cured pancetta, cream and fresh thyme from the garden. I made enough to freeze a batch for later, too. The remainder of the crop should be cured for storage. Gently wipe off most of the remaining soil, and spread the potatoes out in a cool, dark and dry area that has good ventilation. Examine the tubers for any damage, as damaged ones will not store well. Don’t throw these away, but do cut away any damage and use them immediately (I used these for my soup). Unblemished potatoes should be cured for a few weeks, and then stored in well-ventilated sacks in a cool, dark place. Properly cured, they will store well for months. It is not recommended to store potatoes in the refrigerator, as the cool temperature encourages the starch to turn into sugar.

 Leeks and Potatoes 

Leek and Potato Soup with Pancetta


3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup of diced pancetta or bacon
4-6 leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 4 1/2 cups)
2-3 large potatoes peeled and diced
4 1/2 cups (or more) organic chicken stock
1-2 cups half and half
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (for garnish)


Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until beginning to crisp. Add leeks; stir to coat with butter. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add diced potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes. Add cream and thyme, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove thyme sprigs (the leaves will have fallen off ).

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and silky in texture. Or transfer the soup in batches to a blender to puree. Thin with additional stock if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

For more recipes and gardening tips, visit Carolyn's blog at


Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

  Rhubarb and Strawberries 

A photo of Carolyn BinderWe do not eat dessert often, but when I saw fresh rhubarb and strawberries at the market yesterday, I knew I had to make Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. It is my husband’s favorite dessert, and it’s always a special treat, because fresh rhubarb is hard to come by around here. Those bright red, crispy stalks and the big, fat red berries were calling to be made into a light and fruity fresh, crispy sensation. And crisps are so easy to make . . . they take just a few minutes to throw together.

Crisps are a great dessert if you have fruit growing in the garden or a nice farmers’ market nearby. Easy to make, they are sweet and a little tangy, juicy, and that crispy, buttery, carmelized topping is so simple, yet so satisfying. While this recipe is made with strawberries and rhubarb, feel free to use whatever fresh fruits are in season. The fresher and more ripe your fruit is, the better your crisp will be. Try blackberries with nectarines or use fresh pears, or peaches, or apples! Just use approximately the same amount of fruit, and you’re good to go.  This recipe makes enough topping for two crisps. I use half, and freeze the rest so it is ready whenever the craving for dessert presents itself. And if you want to be really decadent, whirl a pint of ice cold, heavy cream and a little sugar (and maybe a tiny splash of rum!) in your food processor until it’s just barely thick and rich. Plop some of that fresh whipped cream on top of the warm, golden crisp, and your family will inhale it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp 

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp


1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries (about 1 lb)
3 cups rhubarb, diced (about 5 stalks or 1 lb)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup butter, cut into small chunks


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the white sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, strawberries and rhubarb. Let it sit for a few minutes to draw out the juices, and then mix well again. Pour into an 8X8 baking dish.

For the topping, put the remaining ingredients into the bowl of a food processor with the blade in the bottom. Pulse 4 or 5 times, until the mixture is crumbly. Pour half of the crumbly mixture on top of the fruit, and spread it out evenly. Freeze the other half.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Enjoy!

For more easy recipes and gardening fun, visit Carolyn at

Say Cheese!

 Freshly made Ricotta 
Homemade Ricotta Cheese 

A photo of Carolyn BinderI spent several hours Saturday afternoon participating in a fresh cheesemaking class at award-winning Sweet Grass Dairy. I’ve loved their cheeses for years, and if you ever get the chance to taste them, do it!  I love their Asher Blue, phenomenal tangy chevre, and milky Thomasville Tomme. And their Black Swan? It has a foodie cult following! The Littles, Jeremy and Jessica, are second-generation sustainable farmers located in beautiful Thomasville, Georgia. They raise happy goats, and happy goats make great cheese!  Sweet Grass Dairy uses rotational grazing methods and a holistic approach to making their artisan cheeses. Each step in the process is done with care and respect, from grazing the goats, to milking them, to packaging their cheeses and shipping them.  I love to visit their beautiful little cheese shop in quaint downtown Thomasville, not only for their exquisite cheeses, but also for their wonderful wine selections and accompaniments like local honeys and olive oils, authentic Serrano ham, olives, organic whey-fed pork, and more!

Like most really great foods, cheese was born of necessity. It is a way of preserving milk (yet oh, so much more!).  And like most really great foods, cheese only has a few ingredients–milk, an acidifier or culture, such as lemon juice or flora danica, a coagulant such as rennet, and salt.  Basically, all cheeses are made from these simple ingredients.  It is the variables of the processes used–temperature and aging, for instance, that make each cheese unique. Isn’t that amazing?

At our class, we went through the steps to make a fresh cow’s cheese, old-world style.  We tasted some fabulous cheeses and peeked into the spotless cooler and cheesemaking room.  The tangy aroma of freshly made chevre draining wafted through the classroom.  And then we made fresh ricotta. It is so much fun and so easy to make that I encourage you to try it. I made some in my kitchen this afternoon, and it is delicious. This recipe is adapted from Jeremy Little of Sweet Grass Dairy.

Simple Ingredients for Ricotta
Simple Ingredients for Ricotta 

Homemade Ricotta Cheese


One gallon cold whole, organic milk
One quart cold organic buttermilk
Juice of about three lemons
Kosher salt


Heavy stainless steel stock pot
Slotted spoon


It is essential to clean and sanitize all your equipment and the area in which you are working. I took this as an opportunity to give my kitchen a good, thorough cleaning, with hot, soapy water and a little bleach. Make sure to rinse everything well in cool water. You don’t want your cheese to taste like bleach. Okay, now for the fun part!

Combine the cold milk and buttermilk in the stockpot and slowly heat the mixture over low heat. Don’t rush it. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent the milk from scalding and promote even heating. Heat the milk to a temperature of 160 degrees. It took me about 15-20 minutes to heat the milk to the appropriate temperature.

Once the mixture has reached 160 degrees, remove it from the heat, and slowly drizzle in the lemon juice, just a splash or two, while stirring the milk at the same time. Be gentle! Stir just until you see curds begin to float on the surface of the milk. I did not need to use all the lemon juice. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the curds and transfer them to a colander that is lined in cheesecloth. The whey will slowly drain through the cheesecloth, leaving the beautiful curds of cheese. I drained the very nutritious whey into a big bowl and saved it, because it is reportedly excellent for acid-loving plants in the garden!  The cooled whey will be going on my citrus trees and blueberry bushes later today.

Once the whey has fully drained from your cheese (about 15 minutes), add some kosher salt.  Add a teaspoon or so at a time, mix it in well (I used my gloved hand) and taste it. I added almost three teaspoons of salt. At this point, you may also add herbs if you’d like. Try a little bit of fresh minced rosemary or thyme. I ended up with about two pounds of fresh, organic cheese.

Store your fresh cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and enjoy it as soon as possible.  Or pretend you’re an artisan cheesemaker, and wrap it in fresh, clean fig leaves for a beautiful presentation. I’m told that ricotta freezes well, but I have not yet tried that myself.  Use ricotta to stuff shells or ravioli, in an amazing lasagne, or as the base for Italian cheesecake. Slice some fresh fruit over a spoonful, and drizzle it with honey for breakfast. It’s a truly enjoyable foodie experience!

For more fun recipes, visit the Cowlick Cottage Farm blog or find us on Facebook at Cowlick Cottage Farm.


Meet a Few of My Buds!

A photo of Carolyn BinderIt is definitely an early spring at Cowlick Cottage Farm. This morning, I harvested the shallots that I planted last fall … a full month early. Those beautiful, pink orbs are taking a sunbath right now, drying out a bit.  Harvesting them is fun. Just take a trusty trowel and insert it deep under the entire shallot bunch. Then pop them out. Be careful not to damage the beautiful shallots! I’m going to make a shallot and lemon thyme vinaigrette to celebrate the harvest tonight. I love shallots, and the homegrown ones are ever so much more flavorful than what is available at the market (if you can even find them). 

Shallot harvest 
A spectacular shallot harvest! 

Before the shallot harvest, I took my customary morning stroll through the garden, camera and coffee in hand. Everything is coming up roses!  Take a look at some of my buds.

Baby Sungold nectarine  
Baby Sungold Nectarine 

This is our one-and-only nectarine from our brand new tree. I treasure it and check on it every day. We planted lots of fruit trees this year – a whole little grove, including Sungold nectarine, Satsuma, Ponderosa lemon, Meyer lemon, Key lime, and Pummelo. We already have Shinseiki pear, Alma and Celeste figs, and Flordahome peach trees in their second year. I am not expecting too much fruit from them this year. They are an investment in the future.  As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is today!

First tomato
The first tomato! 

We have planted several varieties of tomatoes, mostly heirlooms. This is a little hybrid tomato called Totem. It is already loaded with fruit and will definitely be the first of the tomato harvest this year. I’ll probably dress it simply with Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt. And a bit of fresh goat cheese and herbs. Can’t wait! We are also growing Black Cherry, Purple Cherokee, San Marzano, Homestead, and a few others. Tomatoes are like shoes…you cannot have too many!

Squash blossom
Squash blossom 

We also planted many varieties of squash…more than ever this year. There is butternut squash from our own saved seed, several varieties of heirloom pattypans, old-fashioned sugar pumpkins, and an heirloom lemon squash. We love them all.

Baby Huey and Ginger 

Our chickens, the Spice Girls, are always nosy and curious about what we are doing. We get beautiful eggs from them every day, and we reciprocate with fresh treats from the garden. They devour everything from cabbage to strawberries and herbs. 

  Spice Girl eggs
Spice Girl Eggs - Fresh Daily! 

We had an abundance of eggs this week, so I used the gorgeous, rich yolks to make vanilla custard ice cream. With real vanilla bean and organic cream. Topped with barely whipped, rum-scented heavy cream. Because I’m just a little naughty!

Yolks for Vanilla Custard Ice Cream 

And if that is not decadent enough for you, I am also harvesting strawberries, and it’s been a fantastic season for them. Deep red, large, and juicy, they are Jacob’s favorite. I’m preserving some today by making old-fashioned strawberry sauce…to crown the homemade ice cream. Ta-da! 

Camarosa Strawberries 

On the ornamental side of things, the roses are amazing this year. Their color is incredibly vibrant. In my almost-wild side border, heaven-scented honeysuckle is clambering through the pink roses. Their sultry scents are heady and intoxicating. 

Rose and honeysuckle
Rose and Honeysuckle 

Coral geraniums are planted in our huge patio pots, along with sweet potato vine and ornamental red grasses. They should be gorgeous in a month or two!

Coral geranium
Coral Geranium 

  And a big pot of petunias with sweet potato vine and euphorbia greets family and friends at the back door.

Petunia and euphorbia  

Petunia and Euphorbia 

Gardening is rewarding in so many ways. It feeds our senses, reconnects us to nature, and makes our spirits sing!  Gardens give us hope. Are you experiencing an early spring this year? What do you dream of growing?

Little Signs of Spring

I woke up early this weekend, happy to have a warm and sunny day in our garden.  It's only February, but the feeling of spring was in the air.  There are lots of pleasant chores to do in the garden at this time of year, but first I grabbed my camera to capture the essence of a beautiful spring morning at Cowlick Cottage Farm.

Dawn Over the Pecan Grove 

I never tire of the constantly changing scene in the adjacent pecan grove that abuts our rose hedge.  The other day, I saw the entire herd of cows chase a red fox off into the woods! I am certain they were protecting the newest members of their family, the wobbly little calves.

Golden Snow Pea Blossom 

These beautiful blossoms are Golden Snow Peas. I love their beautiful color and pansy-like shape.

We harvested our first Golden Snow Peas this weekend 

We harvested the first Golden Snow Peas this weekend. Their golden color makes them stand out like little flags against the green vines, making them easy to pick.  Quickly sauteed with fresh baby carrots with just a little homemade butter and orange blossom honey, they were a welcome taste of spring.

Planting Lancelot Leeks in a Ditch 

We planted our Lancelot Leeks in our potato bed.  Along with some herbs, the combination of leeks and potatoes will make a wonderful, creamy soup.

A Squash Seeds Emerges From the Soil 

It is miraculous to wake up in the morning to see a new seedling reaching up for the light.  Notice how the soil is pushed aside and the outer shell of the seed is atop the new little leaves, like a newborn's hat!

A Beautiful Cabbage is Almost Ready to Harvest 

The voluptuous cabbages are so pretty in the garden. Here in north Florida, we plant them in the fall for harvesting in spring.  The light frosts that we get here actually improve their flavor.

No matter where you live, I hope you enjoyed visiting our garden. For more photos and recipes, visit us at 

New Year, New Life

Berries add winter color to the farm and feed the birds 
Berries add winter color to the farm and feed the birds

It is the New Year, and the winter garden is bursting with new life. It grows more slowly at this time of year, with its shorter days and very cold nights. We have had freezing temperatures for the last couple of weeks, but still the garden grows. Seed pods burst and spread their seeds, which will spring up as the weather warms and the days lengthen. Winter root vegetables and greens provide us with hearty soups and stews. The snow peas are blooming, as are narcissus and the first of the camellias. The chickens feast on arugula and cabbage leaves, happy to have something green to nibble. Green shoots of garlic and French shallots peak through their blankets of hay. Red berries feed the birds, and dried grasses and weeds have their own special beauty.

The Spice Girls and Nancy Pelosi, our rooster, enjoy a warm day The Spice Girls and Nancy Pelosi, our rooster, enjoy a warm day

This is the chickens' first winter, and thus far, they are handling the weather quite well. When it’s really cold, they roost in their coop and snooze. They have not produced eggs for a few weeks now, but they deserve a rest. We spoil them with fresh greens from the garden.

The first camellias bloom The first camellias bloom, a little late this year

Camellias are a Southern favorite, and I love them.  We have ten or twelve old camellias along our driveway, and they are truly amazing when they bloom, especially because they are at their most beautiful in January and February, when most everything else is in hiding.  They are romantic and rich.

New growth on the rose hedge. New growth on the rose hedge

The roses look a little bleak … until you look closely and see the rosebuds!  It won’t be long before the hedge is in its full glory.

Baby seedlings sprouting up in the Wok garden Baby seedlings sprouting up in the Wok Garden!

I am absolutely delighted to see that the seeds I planted in our Wok Garden are sprouting, despite the freezing temperatures.  They must be magical!  These Asian seeds are a gift from my friend, Eleanor Hoh, of Wok Star fame.  Cannot wait for the bok choy and the mustard and the broccolli raab!

Stunning and delicious Red Sails lettuce Stunning and delicious Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce is simply gorgeous and delicately delicious.  It really handles the cold weather well, as you can see!  I love to make a winter salad of lettuce, scallions, dried cranberries, and blue cheese crumbles, lightly dressed with olive oil and a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar.  I highly recommend Red Sails lettuce for our climate.

Thyme, one of my favorite herbs Thyme ... one of my favorite herbs

Herbs are a great way to start your garden.  They are perennial, and add year round beauty to the garden.  Fresh herbs will improve your cooking tremendously, and they are very good for you.  For example, thyme has natural antiseptic and antifugal properties that can treat everything from pinkeye to bronchitis!  Don’t ask your doctor about it, though, because he won’t know!

Seed pods and grasses have their own winter beauty Seeds pods and grasses have their own winter beauty

Grasses add winter beauty of their own to the farm. They are fuzzy and catch the light and the breeze. Grasses are easy to grow and especially complement a cottage garden or a coastal landscape.

A crown of brocolli A crown of broccolli

This broccolli will be eaten over the weekend!  We will just lightly steam it or maybe stirfry it with some fragrant olive oil and garlic from the garden.

Narcissus Paper Whites scent the garden Narcissus Paper Whites scent the garden.

It’s wonderful to have the surprise of winter flowers like Narcissus in the garden.  Plant the bulbs close to where you hang out, so that the scent carries to you.  Eventually they will naturalize and spread on their own.  Heavenly.

Enjoy the slower harvesting and lighter work of the winter garden.  In no time, it will be time to plant for spring!  Thanks for visiting Cowlick Cottage Farm, and our best wishes for a very blessed and happy New Year.

Satsuma and Bourbon Marmalade

PhotoAIt’s chilly, windy and gray at Cowlick Cottage Farm, so I am making Satsuma and Bourbon Marmalade this morning.  Homemade jams, jellies and marmalades make thoughtful gifts for friends and family.  Satsumas are a sweet, juicy citrus fruit similar to tangerines, but they don’t have any seeds, which makes them really easy to work with.

Marmalade and other jams and jellies are simple to make, as long as you follow the basic rules of preserving…your kitchen must be super-clean. Mason or Ball jars must be sterilized. And finally, recipes for preserving should be followed exactly.

Preserving is a little science and a little art. You must make sure that preserves are acidic enough to kill any bacteria, which is why it is so important to follow the recipe. Initially, preserving sounds a little complicated and scary, but it’s really an extremely enjoyable and very relaxing activity.  If you are interested in making your own preserves, I recommend that you get a good book that goes over the basics. I am really enjoying a book that my daughter gave me, Preserve It, by Linda Brown. This recipe is adapted from that book. Be brave!  Take a risk!  Learn something new.

Most preserving recipes have just a few ingredients and are made to highlight the season’s fruits or vegetables. So when purchasing or picking fruit, make sure you look for the freshest and most perfect fruits you can find.  When you ar preparing the fruit for this marmalade, trim off the stem end of the clementines, as well as any brown spots.

Satsuma and Bourbon Marmalade


2 lb. Satsumas, scrubbed, rinsed and halved
Juice of 2 large lemons
4 ½ cups sugar
1-2 tbsp. bourbon or brandy




Put the Satsumas in a food processor and chop using the pulse button until they are shredded, but not mushy.  Put the Satsumas in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Pour in 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook gently for 30 minutes or longer, until the rind has softened.  Add the lemon juice and sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil, then keep at a rolling boil for 20-30 minutes or until the setting point is reached.   Start testing for setting when a candy thermometer reaches about 220 degrees.  Stir the bourbon into the marmalade.  The bourbon really makes the flavor of the Satsumas explode.  Ladle the beautiful marmalade into warm, sterilized Mason jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, then seal. Store in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate after opening.


I hope that you give preserving a try. Satsuma and Bourbon Marmalade is one of our favorites and is not only good on toast, it also makes a great glaze for roast chicken or pork.   And it has the added benefit of making your house smell like sunshine!

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