The acorns are starting to drop.  As the family lays under the twinkling stars, I fall asleep to the sporadic cadence of the nuts falling upon the shed roof, the deck, the patio.  Ever year, with the first falling of the acorns, begins the rainbow parade of abundance of vegetables and fruits in our home.  Little piles, baskets and tubs of food become part of the decor in the house; striped melons, shiny green cucumbers, fragrant herbs, fuzzy peaches.  Alongside the gratitude for the bounty comes the creative push to get all this food put up so that we may eat again from the land all through the winter.

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Last season we built a solar dehydrator.  Using a plan from this useful book, The Solar Food Dryer , we greatly expanded our capacity to dry the excess fruits and veggies we have from the garden.  In the last few years, we have begun to rely less on canning, and more on dehydrating.  It is a lower carbon footprint, and we have abundant passive solar energy and low relative humidity for so many months here in the Sierra foothills. The dried food also takes up much less space on the pantry shelves than the boxes of canned jars.  For us the transition has made a lot of sense.

It also has relieved me of many hours of standing in a hot kitchen over the canning pot.  Mostly we use the dehydrator for our fruits. I found after many years of observing our eating habits, we rarely reached for the jam that I would make.  I guess I was just making it out of habit!!  We often eat the dried fruits as snacks when we hike or go on long trips, or we rehydrate them in our oatmeal or other breakfast foods during the winter.  I still do have a few special jams that I make for gifts ( like this Lemon Fig jam and this spicy Peach Chutney) , but a majority of the fruit harvest goes through the solar food dryer.

We are blessed with peaches right now.  While we wait for our peach trees to grow larger for harvest, we get a few from a neighbors tree, and some from our friends at Chaffin Family Orchards.  The tree ripened Suncrest and Faye Alberta peaches are absolutely exquisite.  Chaffin Family Orchards has a commitment to truly sustainable permaculture, and we gladly support their farm efforts. 

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Here’s many pounds of peaches loaded into the food dryer.  In just 24 hours, these peach slices will be dry enough to put away for storage. The dryer has the capacity to hold 6 large trays of fruit, but we have to be on top of rotating them up to the top to ensure even drying.  Primarily I simply dry fruit on the top rack, and leave the bottom racks for drying herbs, spices and vegetables.  But if we have a large flush of really ripe fruit, we can put several lugs of fruit into this dryer at once if needed.

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  Our watermelons have been a recent treat as well.  This year we decided to grow the Sweet Dakota Rose, a variety bred and selected by the Podolls in North Dakota.  We have been extremely impressed and pleased with this variety.  There are many folks in our bioregion who are at higher elevations and have a hard time growing good melons.  Our farm is at 2400 ft, and this melon is ripening very early, with perfect 5-9 pound fruits.  The seeds are nice and small, and the fruit has a lovely dark pink flesh that is sweet and of good texture. 

 I prefer the earlier, smaller watermelons as they come into harvest during the hottest days of late July and early August when our bodies are needing the replenishing and cooling watermelon fruits.  Watermelon seed saving is a fun task during the hot work days!!  We truly get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

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Finally the first waves of tomatoes are coming in.  We are growing many unique varieties this year, and it is always a treat to see and taste new fruits.  Diversity in the garden and on the plate is one of our farm’s truest riches.

Some of our most recent favorites have been the Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, the Indigo Apple, and the Cherokee Chocolate.  The Cherokee Chocolate is a improved selection on our longstanding favorite, the Cherokee Purple.  It has much higher productivity and a larger and consistent fruit size, as well as less tendency to crack in the heat. 

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(Indigo Apple on left, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye on right)

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(Cherokee Chocolate)

I also have a new tomato to introduce to our offerings at Sierra Seeds.  Several years back I was growing a tomato called Striped Roman.  Out of many plants, I noticed one plant that was ripening yellow fruits.  I saved these seeds, and after many years of selection for consistent lemon shaped fruits, we now have a Sierra Seeds original, the Lemon Roma.  The fruits have a slight subtle striping, and are very firm and delicious to cook with. They also have a taper on the end like a lemon does.  Look for this new exclusive variety in our fall seed offerings at Sierra Seeds.

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( Lemon Roma)

We have just finished up our potato onion harvest, and next week’s blog will be telling the unique and interesting history of the humble onion. 

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As the moon slowly wanes toward Dark, I leave you with this delightful and delicious offering from one of our treasured poets, Mary Oliver.  Do yourself a favor and read the poem aloud, it will be a delight your ears and senses.  Many blessings to you this week ahead.  

Harvest Moon – The Mockingbird Sings in the Night – 

No sky could hold

so much light–

and here comes the brimming,

the flooding and streaming

out of the clouds

and into the leaves,

glazing the creeks,

the smallest ditches!

And so many stars!

The sky seems stretched

like an old black cloth;

behind it, all

the celestial fire

we ever dreamed of!

And the moon steps lower,

quietly changing

her luminous masks, brushing

everything as she passes

with her slow hands

and soft lips–

clusters of dark grapes,

apples swinging like lost planets,

melons cool and heavy as bodies–

and the mockingbird wakes

in his hidden castle;

out of the silver tangle

of thorns and leaves

he flutters and tumbles,

spilling long

ribbons of music

over forest and river,

copse and cloud–

all heaven and all earth–

wherever the white moon

fancies her small wild prince–

field after field after field.