Tag Archive: Thomas Jefferson

Heirloom West Indian Burr Gherkin

West Indian Burr Gherkin
Cucumis anguria

Planting Depth: 1″ below the soil’s surface
Plant Spacing: 12 inch hills containing 6-8 seeds each
Row Spacing:  18-24 inches
Days to Maturity:  60-65

The West Indian Burr Gherkin is a native of Africa.  It is believed that it was brought to the Caribbean and then the United States through the slave trade during the 1780s.  It was first sold by Minton Collins in his store located in Richmond in 1792.

President Thomas Jefferson grew the West Indian Burr Gherkin in his vegetable gardens at Monticello.  He was also known for keeping a pickleWestIndiaBurrGherkin barrel for guests visiting him at the President’s House in Washington during his two terms as President.

The West Indian Burr Gherkin has an assertive vine and small leaves resembling those of a watermelon.  The resulting gherkins are round, firm fruit approximately 2” – 3” in width.  They are covered with small, blunt spines protecting them from garden pests.

I find that the prickly vine and leaves of this plant provide an excellent deterrent to garden pests.  I often plant it among our heirloom tomato plants.  Tomato hornworms and other crawling pests dislike crawling over the spiny vines and leaves, making our garden a less appealing place to spend a summer day.

Plant the West Indian Burr Gherkin in full sun after the danger of frost has passed. Plants can be fed monthly with a side dressing of compost or fish emulsion to increase yields.  Harvesting the ripe gherkins on a steady basis will encourage the vine to continue setting and producing more gherkins.

I like to create a quick pickle with the ripe gherkins.  I simply slice the gherkins and toss them in a bit of white vinegar with salt and sugar to taste.  In less than an hour, the crisp slices are filled with the bright flavor of the brine.  They’re delicious served with grilled meats or on a burger.

We have been planting the West Indian Burr Gherkin in the heirloom gardens here at 1840 Farm for over five years.  It’s hard for me to imagine our garden without them.  We enjoy them so much that they’re a member of our 1840 Farm Heirloom Seed Collection year after year.  You can rest assured that they’ll be part of the 2016 collection which will be in our Etsy Shop in October.

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2015/09/heirloom-west-indian-burr-gherkin/

Happy Independence Day

1840 Farm FlagI grew up celebrating Independence Day with sparklers and barbecue. We lived in Kansas and didn’t really need the guise of a holiday as an excuse to eat barbecue. Fourth of July parades and celebrations seemed to be as ubiquitous as sunshine on a summer day during those years.

There were opportunities for fun everywhere I looked. Children ran through neighboring yards while flags flapped on front porches. As darkness enveloped the neighborhood, fireflies were caught in jars and held just long enough to marvel at their luminescence before releasing them back into the humid, warm air. Those Independence Day celebrations were filled with family, food and the pride we felt in being Americans.

These days, I celebrate the Fourth of July with my family in New England. Our geography has changed along with the way I view this holiday and commemorate its meaning. Living in a farmhouse that has seen so much of our nation’s history has strengthened my connection to this day.Isis Candy Cherry Heirloom Tomatoes at 1840 Farm

In my opinion, every chicken keeper celebrates their freedom each time they collect an egg from their coop just as every gardener celebrates with each tomato they harvest fresh from the vine. Choosing to raise your own food rather than simply purchase it at the local grocery store is an epic decision. Every meal that consists of fresh food personally raised, harvested and tended is a celebration of an independent spirit and the determination to hold our food supply close at hand.

I don’t take my freedom to make this choice for granted. Instead, I celebrate the opportunity we have been given to live on our farm and learn the real value of the food that graces our dinner plates. Generations ago, Americans learned that lesson by working on their own farms. They had firsthand knowledge of the amazing effort required to raise a baby chick to the day it laid its first egg or tend a crop and bring it to harvest.

Chickens are an integral part of our nation’s long history. When our nation celebrated the first “Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America” in 1777, it was more notable to be an American who didn’t keep chickens. Chickens were easily accessible to the colonists and critically important to their daily survival. They were equally important to our Founding Fathers and the settlers who came before them.

BerthaChickens arrived in the New World after long voyages to Jamestown in 1607 and Plymouth Rock in 1620. Those chickens helped travelers endure long journeys at sea and set down roots in their new communities in the New World. In those settlements, a chicken was a prized possession and held the promise of the incredible ability to produce food for your family.

In the early 1800s, chickens were a common sight on large plantations, estates and even the yards of modest homes. They were likely to be seen strutting through the streets of the early cities and towns looking for food. In those days, chicken was rarely seen on the dinner plate of average citizens.

Chickens were instead kept for their egg-laying capabilities. An egg-laying hen could supply a family with many meals compared to the single meal a chicken dressed for service on the dinner table provided. The lacking nutritional quality of the bird’s diet was also a contributing factor. Instead of carefully formulated, complete chicken feeds, chickens were fed diets consisting almost entirely of kitchen scraps. While today’s chicks can mature to table weight in as little as 8 weeks, back in the Colonist’s day it could take as long as six months.

At that time in our nation’s history, chickens were kept by Americans of all classes and backgrounds. Slaves were often allowed to keep a few hens at their quarters to supplement their diets or to trade or sell the resulting eggs. Poor families kept hens loose in their backyards to help dispose of kitchen waste and to assist in turning manure piles. Only the wealthy could afford to house their birds in decorative coops within the confines of their manicured gardens and lawns.

Care of the family flock fell mostly to the women in the early days of our country. It was lighter work than tending to the larger livestock and a chore easily managed by a woman and her children. Even the youngest child could gather fresh eggs and bring them into the farmhouse kitchen.

George Washington kept Dominique chickens along with other heritage breeds of livestock at his estate, Mount Vernon. By all accounts, he was captivated by animal husbandry. In fact, he longed to leave both the military and the presidency to return to his beloved farm. Washington carefully selected the breeds of livestock kept on his estate and endeavored to make use of every single product and byproduct of their life cycle.Necessaries at Mount Vernon

Most notably, he aimed to incorporate their manure as rich fertilizer in the cultivation of his gardens and crops. In fact, he didn’t only collect fertilizer from his farm animals. He also constructed and located his “necessaries” within the aesthetic design of the grounds at Mount Vernon. Years ago, when I visited, I noticed these impressive, elevated structures with brick foundations and even photographed them. Only after reading Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners did I learn that they were in fact the outhouses purposely located in the ornamental gardens at Mount Vernon.

Our second president, John Adams’ relationship with chickens was slightly different. Like Washington, he saw himself as a farmer. He returned to Peacefield in Quincy, Mass., after losing a bitter election to Thomas Jefferson in 1800. While he hadn’t left political life willingly, he consoled himself with the work of his farm and lived there happily until his death in 1826.

His wife, Abigail, so loved her chickens and ducks that she tended to their daily needs herself. In fact, she remarked to Thomas Jefferson after living in France and England as a diplomat’s wife that, “I seldom meet with characters so inoffensive as my hens and chickens.” She much preferred the company of her hens to that of the dignitaries in St. James’ Court.

MonticelloA discussion of our nation’s history of farming would be incomplete without mention of Thomas Jefferson. He loved agriculture and believed that its advancement should be our primary national endeavor. His affection for gardening and farming included an affinity for chickens. While living in the President’s House, Jefferson exchanged letters with his granddaughter Ellen regarding a pair of bantams he had sent her. It was his hope that she would have the opportunity to experience the joy of chicken raising.

By the time Jefferson left the President’s House to return home to his famed gardens at Monticello, America had been celebrating its Independence Day for more than three decades. The landscape of the country was expanding, as was its agricultural knowledge. Agricultural fairs began to gain popularity and provided an opportunity for farmers to learn about new techniques, show their prized poultry and livestock, and spend time with other members of their local farming communities.

1840 Farm has stood for more than 170 Independence Day celebrations. This year, we’ll mark the occasion by spending the day together at our farm. The flag will wave from its perch on the front porch as our day begins in the quiet of the barn and garden. There will be homemade food to enjoy for family dinner as dusk approaches.

We’ll attend our town’s fireworks display and then return home to put the farm to bed for the evening. In the end, it will be a celebration filled with family, food and the immense pride we feel in being independent American farmers. Somehow, I think it’s exactly what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2015/07/independenceday/

Tennis Ball Heirloom Lettuce

Tennis Ball Lettuce was found in the United States as early as the eighteenth century.  It was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson.  He grew it in the famed garden at Monticello beginning in 1809.  When describing Tennis Ball, he wrote, “it does not require so much care and attention” as other varieties of lettuce.

Tennis Ball Lettuce is a Butterhead variety of lettuce.  It is considered to be the origin of today’s Boston lettuces.  Heads of Tennis Ball Lettuce grow in tightly formed rosettes.  The leaves are light green in color and have a soft, smooth texture.

Lettuces can be succession planted to be enjoyed throughout the growing season.  They prefer the cooler conditions of spring and fall to summer’s heat.  When sowing in the summer, consider planting lettuce in the shade of larger, established plants.  They can be grown as companions with dill, mint, chives, beets, cucumber, and beans.  Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that can be grown successfully with dill.

In Thomas Jefferson’s day, the leaves of Tennis Ball Lettuce were preserved by pickling them in a salt brine solution.  Doing so allowed the leaves to be stored and enjoyed during the long winter when fresh greens were unavailable.  The leaves were then served as an accompaniment to the main course during a meal.

Here at 1840 Farm, we don’t feel the need to pickle these tender greens.  Instead, we enjoy them dressed lightly and served as a main course or side dish.  They pair wonderfully with roasted potatoes.

Tennis Ball Lettuce is listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.  The Ark of Taste lists 200 foods that are in danger of becoming extinct.  Here’s hoping that we’ll all be able to enjoy delicious Tennis Ball Lettuce from our gardens for many generations to come.

We plant Tennis Ball Lettuce every year in our heirloom garden.  We’ve even included Tennis Ball Heirloom Lettuce in our 1840 Farm Heirloom Seed Collection.  Tennis Ball Lettuce was included in our Easy Keepers Garden Heirloom Seed Collection this year.  You can learn more about all of our seed collections by visiting The 1840 Farm Mercantile Shop on Etsy.

The Easy Keepers Heirloom Seed Collection

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2014/04/tennis-ball-heirloom-lettuce/

Costoluto Genovese Heirloom Tomato

If you’re looking for a tomato to thrive in the summer heat, look no further. The Costoluto Genovese variety hails from the Mediterranean.  For centuries, gardeners living along the Mediterranean found that this tomato loved the intense summer heat and sunshine.  The gardeners loved the fantastic flavor that this tomato brought to their dinner plates.

The Costoluto is also a strikingly beautiful tomato.  It’s fruit exhibits deep fluting along the shoulders.  When used as a slicing tomato, each slice will exhibit a beautiful scalloped edge.  I can’t be sure, but perhaps Thomas Jefferson grew the Costoluto Genovese for its beauty as much as its flavor.  I can only imagine how striking they must have been while growing in his beloved garden at Monticello.

Costoluto Genovese tomatoes are delicious eaten fresh as a slicing tomato.  This tomato also performs well when skinned and used in slow simmered sauces.  The flesh is meaty with an abundance of juice and tart tomato flavor.

At 1840 Farm, we love the Costoluto Genovese for its striking beauty and old-fashioned tomato flavor.  Every summer, we celebrate heirloom tomato season with the Costoluto Genovese.  Somehow, I think that Thomas Jefferson would have wanted it that way.

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2014/03/costoluto-genovese-heirloom-tomato/

Simply Delicious Green Beans and Peas

Prince Albert Pea Flowers

In the summer, the gardens at 1840 Farm dictate what is served for dinner.  If the Purple Top Turnips are ready to be harvested, then dinner is designed around them.  During heirloom tomato season, no one in the family asks “What’s for dinner?”  There’s no point.  The answer is always “tomatoes”.

Each day, I take a stroll through the garden and survey what is ready to harvest.  Over the weekend, it was a beautiful mix of bountiful bush beans, Prince Albert peas from the Monticello collection, and a handful of fresh fava bean pods.

I follow Julia Child’s method for preparing the beans.  It is a simple preparation and doesn’t require any special equipment.  I blanch the beans and peas before sauteing them in a little butter.  The end result is fresh and delicious.

To prepare the beans and peas, bring a large pot of water to a roiling boll over high heat.  Once the water is boiling, add a generous Tablespoon or two of salt.  Wash the beans and cut them into 2 inch lengths.  Remove the peas and favas from their pods and add them to the pot of boiling water with the beans.

Immediately cover the pot to allow the water to rapidly return to boiling.  Once the water has come back to a boil, remove the lid and blanch the vegetables for 2-4 minutes.  Check often for doneness, removing the vegetables from the boiling water while they are still crisp.

Remove the beans and peas using a slotted spoon and place them immediately into a bowl of ice water.  Shocking the peas and beans in ice water will stop the cooking process and help to set the brilliant bright green color.  At this point, the completely cooled vegetables can be drained and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When you are ready to finish the beans and peas, warm a saute pan over medium heat and add a pat of butter.  Using your thumb and index finger, slip the outer skin from the fava bean by pressing lightly on the bean.  The bright green fava will emerge from its papery skin rather easily.  Add the favas into the pan with the rest of the beans and peas and stir to combine.

Saute the beans and peas for a few minutes, seasoning to taste with sea salt and pepper.  As soon as the vegetables are warmed through, serve them alongside your farm fresh dinner.  You’ll have a side dish that is simple, beautiful, and delicious.  One taste and you’ll understand why Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable was the humble garden pea.

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Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2012/07/simply-delicious-green-beans-and-peas/

1840 Farm Seed Exchange

This week, the day finally arrived and the 1840 Farm Seed Exchange began.  In the next days and weeks, over 80 participants will be exchanging seeds with each other.  Seed packets will literally be traveling from Okinawa, Japan and Caribou, Maine.  I never imagined that a gardener who lives over 10,000 miles from 1840 Farm would be eager to participate in the seed exchange, but I was thrilled to have them join in!  By visiting the Google Map for the 1840 Farm Seed Exchange, you can see where the participants call home.

I was inspired to start the seed exchange after reading Andrea Wulf’s book Founding Gardeners.  As I read, I learned how important this seemingly simple act was to the men who were the Founding Fathers of our country.  Men the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison took part and wanted to be remembered not as statesmen, but as farmers.  These men believed strongly that our country’s agrarian strength should be our most treasured asset.  I am willing to bet that there were just as many women and children who felt the same way.

They all took great pride in their gardens and shared seeds from their posts in Europe and eventually, The White House.  By several accounts, President Thomas Jefferson chose to push aside state matters in order to personally write to each citizen who had requested gardening advice or the exchange of a few seeds.  While it might not have been a strong political strategy, it certainly illustrates his belief that “The greatest service which can be rendered to one’s country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”

The Founding Fathers weren’t solely responsible for my decision to propose the seed exchange.  I was motivated by the thought of my great grandparents tending to their own farm and garden fifty years ago.  While half a century has passed, I find myself tending our garden at 1840 Farm a mere 100 miles from where their farm was nestled in the mountains of New Hampshire.  I was also inspired by my children who I hope will continue to cultivate not only their gardens, but the pride that comes from holding their food supply firmly in their own arms with fresh garden soil under their fingernails.

Gardeners of every skill level are participating in this exchange.  There are Master Gardeners with years of botanical knowledge as well as participants who are gardening for the first time.  No matter the level of expertise, we are all hoping to experience the wonder of tending a small seed as it grows into the plant that nature had intended.  There is something incredible about planting a small, seemingly lifeless seed and then watching it reach for the sunlight and grow stronger every day.

Thanks again to everyone who took part in the 1840 Farm Seed Exchange.  The participants are helping to keep a long-held gardening tradition alive.  For centuries, gardeners have been exchanging seeds with each other with the hope that their gardens would be made more diverse, more successful, and more communal.   I hope that they will all enjoy exchanging their seeds and receiving seeds from another gardener in the exchange.  I know that I will.

Congratulations to Connie from Boise, Idaho.  She was randomly selected as the winner of the 1840 Farm Seed Collection.  She will receive seeds to grow Bloomsdale Spinach, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Cherry Belle Radishes, Chioggia Beets, Genovese Basil, Kentucky Wonder Beans, Purple Beauty Bell Peppers, and Sugar Baby Watermelon.

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2012/03/1840-farm-seed-exchange-2/

1840 Farm Seed Exchange

The 1840 Farm Seed Exchange has been extended!
Sign up before midnight on Monday, March 26, 2012!

For the last two weeks, I’ve been deep in the midst of a great read.  A truly fascinating tale of the men who shaped our nation and their overpowering love of agriculture.  There’s no need for a spoiler alert warning here:  I won’t be divulging the best bits from the text.  I’ll let you discover the wonder that is this read for yourself.

I will tell you that reading this book got me thinking.  I had known that the men of the Constitutional Convention put quill to parchment and drafted a plan for our fledgling nation.  What I hadn’t realized was that they were writing the future of our nation in the soil at the same time.

These men who would become President believed that our agrarian tendencies were our greatest asset.  George Washington spent his evenings as the leader of the Continental Army planning his beloved tree grove at Mount VernonThomas Jefferson spent every waking moment planning and surveying not only his gardens at Monticello, but the natural landscape of the most respected gardens in the world with James Madison often at his side.  Benjamin Franklin, though he would never become President, smuggled seeds out of Europe in correspondence to his wife and son back in the colonies for fear that the British government might attempt to limit the seeds available to colonists.

These men gathered together to discuss the course that our nation would take and found themselves talking about planting crops instead.  They shared seeds with each other and hoped that together they could learn how to be more capable gardeners, more successful farmers.  Farming was their passion, their chosen profession.  In fact, on a visit to Monticello last year, the tour guide proudly told my daughter that Thomas Jefferson, on the occasion of the first census of this country proudly listed his occupation as “farmer”.  It’s worth noting that he was serving as the Secretary of State at the time.

More than two centuries have passed since then.  I find myself living on a farm that dates back to within fifteen years of the death of Jefferson.  When we moved here, it had been abandoned for several years.  No one had been tending to its gardens.  No one had been growing anything on its grounds.  It was a lonely and desolate place.

Six years later, we are cultivating not only a garden that feeds our family, but a lifestyle that brings us closer together every day.  1840 Farm has literally come back to life.  Last October, when three goats were born within the walls of our beloved barn, we knew that we had proudly proclaimed to all who were listening that we were farmers as well.  We had fed our souls and breathed life back into the farm that we call home.

Reading Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners made me look at our farm differently.  In fact, I started to look at farming differently.  It made me want to run outside and plant our gardens, tend to the soil, and feel the sun on my face.  Glancing at the calendar, I was reminded that planting season has yet to arrive.  The ground is frozen solid and snow is blanketing the gardens and grounds.  Planting would have to wait.

But why couldn’t we emulate the best of our founding fathers and spend time planning our gardens, sharing our gardening knowledge, and dreaming of the sunny days to come?  If you ask me, an old-fashioned seed exchange is in order.  For the cost of a stamp, we can all look forward to receiving a packet of seeds from another gardener who is also counting the minutes until spring finally arrives.

Heirloom Tomatoes at 1840 FarmOn the first day of spring, Tuesday, March 20, 2012Tuesday, March 27, 2012, I will send an Email to each participant with the name and address of the person their seed packet should be mailed to.  If you would like to receive more than one seed packet (and send more than one packet) simply fill out the form as many times as you would like to participate.  The seeds you share can be saved from your garden or purchased from a store.  Gardeners and farmers of all ages and skill levels are welcome (end encouraged) to participate.

Encourage your friends and family to join in.  The more people we have sharing seeds, the more interesting this seed exchange will be!  To make things a little more interesting, I’ll be awarding one lucky participant an extra prize:  a collection of heirloom seeds for planting in their garden.  The collection will include some of the beloved varieties grown here at 1840 Farm.

Good luck to all of you who participate.  I’ll announce the winner of the 1840 Farm Seed Collection on March 20 March 27!


The spring 1840 Farm Seed Exchange has closed for 2012.  If you are interested in participating in the 2013 Seed Exchange, leave a comment below and I will contact you next spring when the details are available.

The spring 1840 Farm Seed Exchange has closed for 2012.  If you are interested in participating in the 2013 Seed Exchange, leave a comment below and I will contact you next spring when the details are available.

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2012/03/1840-farm-seed-exchange/