News from the Fields • Week 5
- Well, it is official: the meteorologists and farmers finally agree – we are in a drought. Officially, our region is classified under a “moderate drought” rating, but I tell you what, it seems AND looks a lot worse than moderate around here. Not (yet) as bad as the drought of ‘88, but getting to be worse than the drought of ‘02, we are well on our way to yet another dry and devasting year for the history books. It certainly is the driest year I can remember. It is a wierd thing – this lack of rain thing. A drought is quite different than a flood (of which we’ve experienced two doozies in 2007 and 2008). A flood hits you like a 2×4 straight across the face, swung by a very large and angry man. A drought like this year’s is much more akin to being stabbed in the gut repeatedly by a small and somewhat dull paring knife. One can’t help but wince and start to feel altogether nauseous as he goes about his daily tasks on the farm; watching crops slowly wither and die. I have said before: we irrigate as much as we can, but we just can’t keep up.
So that’s that! Let’s talk a bit about something else that is as equally nasty, yet (in my mind) very fascinating: WEEDS! Weeds are quite possibly the number one reason why organic food “costs” so much more than its conventional counterparts. You see, there is no effective or widely used organic herbicide that exists. Therefore, we have to deal with the many weeds that plague us (and I tell you what, they ARE many) by old fashioned means: the tractor or by the very sweat of our brows. Chemicals be damned, we are ready and willing to fight those weeds to the bitter end.
It goes a little something like this: before planting we prep and de-weed a field as much as weather permits and we have time for. We then plant. We then mechanically cultivate with a host of different sophisticated gizmos and gadgets mounted onto our rusting fleet of tractors. We do this 2-4 times, depending on the crop and how big its gets. Eventually, most vegetable plants will get too big that we can no longer run through the rows with a tractor, so at this point we are limited to hand weeding. Any given crop will be hand weeded at least once. For crops like kale, which is around and growing for most of the season, we’ve been known to hand weed it as many as 4 times. All in all, we generally make 4-6 weed removal sessions per crop. That’s a lot of time spent just on weeds! So, for better or worse, here’s a look at some of our well known enemies:
Lambs Quarters: A prolific weed that is a mainstay of any farm; lambs quarters is easy to remove and therefore considered to be a manageable pest. It is edible as well and a great addition to any stir fry (if you are desperate, that is).
Purslane: Another edible one. Purslane is, for one reason or another, pretty much exclusive to vegetable farms. I liken purslane to the enchanted broom from Disney’s Fantasia: the more Mickey Mouse cut that broom up, the more it mulitplied. Same goes for purslane. If you were to rototill it, every little chunk you just chopped up would become it’s very own plant. In this way, purslane is a devil to control.
Wild Mustard: Yet another edible one (I am beginning to wonder why we don’t just grow weeds for the CSA boxes :). I haven’t seen this one as plentiful as I have on this farm. Wild mustard comes in early and is prolific all season long. It is a bugger to be sure – and the worst part is that it is in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, etc and therefore it hosts the same pests that prey on our precious crops. Therefore, anywhere you have wild mustard, you have hordes of flea beetles and other insects that just love to jump ship so to speak, and chomp on our broccoli, kale, cabbage and so on.
Pig Weed: a type of amaranth, pig weed is one of our worst enemies. I kid you not, it can go from an inch tall to 2 feet in a matter of days. And if you don’t catch it by the time it flowers, you are presented with a large and prickly mess. It especially loves to invade our cucumber and zucchini patches, making the picking of these crops an exceptional nuisance.
Velvet Leaf: another mainstay, but pretty easily to control.
Quack grass: Woe to the farmer who has quack grass in his fields. It spreads underground and therefore is extremely difficuly to control. The only true way to get rid of quack is to dig up each and every little chunk of root and remove it from your fields.
Thistle: Canadian, bull, creeping; you name it, we’ve got it. Thistles, it seems, are as inescapable as death and taxes…
Well, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does includes the weeds that we deal with the most. I meant to include pictures, but ran out of space! I’ll be sure to send them with the online newsletter. Not receiving the online version? I email it out to everyone on the week they are picking up their box. It may be going straight to your junk folder. Well. have a great week everyone! (And please pray for rain!)
What’s in the Box?
Arugula – very spicy!!! – because of its heat, you might want to mix it with some other greens, grated carrots, fennel leaves, & cucumbers & serve it with a very sweet & sour dressing (like honey mustard or honey-lemon). Or top pizzas with it (pile it on fresh after it comes out of the oven), or wilt it in stir-fries or eggs.
Bunched Baby Leeks – don’t mistake these for large green onions – they are much milder in flavor. You can eat them raw, but cooking really brings out their sweetness – try sautéing them in butter or adding them to a stir-fry. Unlike big leeks, baby leek greens are nice to eat, too.
Broccoli or Cauliflower – it’s a small miracle that we have cool-weather loving broccoli & cauliflower during this heat-wave, so enjoy it! In a normal year we would have been inundating you with it for the last few weeks. Blanch & cool either one & add them to pasta salads, steam & serve with sauce or drizzle with lemon, or sauté in olive oil & garlic, or add to stir-fries.
Cilantro – is such a versatile yummy herb, at least to those of us who like it. I have to admit that the first time I ever had it I hated it – it totally tasted like soap. Now I love it! It keeps best in a plastic bag with a paper towel in the fridge & should be used within 5 days or so.
Cucumbers – the first of the year! Remember – there’s no need to peel a fresh organic cucumber! Most of a cuke’s nutrients lie in or just under its skin. Try on salads or make some fresh spring rolls or nori rolls with long strips of cucumbers, blanched beans, sweet peppers, & red onions. Or use slices of cukes instead of crackers as vehicles for seafood salads, soft cheeses, etc.
Fennel – both the bulb & the stems are delicious thinly sliced & added to salads, stir-fries, or pasta sauce. The leaves make nice garnish & are tasty on salads or in soups.
Garlic – Our cured “German” variety. Store on your counter or pantry.
Green Beans – The green beans are loving this heat and going like gangbusters right now. Delicious sauteed in olive oil with garlic & chopped fresh tomatoes, or in toasted sesame oil with garlic & tamari. Or steamed & topped with olive oil or butter & lemon juice. If you can’t keep up, beans are super easy to freeze – you don’t even have to blanch them like the broccoli. Simply snap off the stems put into freezer bags either whole or cut into a few pieces (I usually chop them the right size to throw right into winter time soups and stir-fries) – that’s it! Frozen this way, they should be used within six months. Don’t forger to write the date on the bag!
Green Top Carrots – so sweet & crunchy! The keep best in plastic in the fridge with the greens removed (you can eat or juice the greens if you wish – they are nutritious but very very bitter – I prefer to feed them to the chickens or the compost!).
Green Zucchini – is nice with black beans, either cooked into them or sauteed or grilled on the side. A great filler for fajitas! Try roasting zucchini with fresh onions, garlic, & green beans tossed in a bit of sunflower oil & white wine vinegar in tinfoil packets on the grill. Store on the counter for a few days or in the crisper drawer for over a week.
Lacinato Kale – our favorite kale – a dark-leaved Italian heirloom variety. Sweeter & more tender than other kales. .
Romaine Lettuce – outer leaves are great as lettuce wraps/boats for holding grain, chicken, tuna, or egg-salads.
Sweetheart Cabbage – A unique looking cabbage that we’ve nicknamed conehead. I think you will find this is some of the best tasting cabbage around. Great in coleslaws or as a taco-topping. Will store in your crisper for a couple of weeks.
Sweet Onions – yea! Sweet onions! Best eaten fresh on sandwiches, burgers, & salads but are also delicious cooked in stir-fries or kebabs.
Yellow Summer Squash – Summer squash is such a versatile veggie. Use them in pasta sauces, stir-fries, fajitas, omelets/scrambled eggs, on pizzas, or roast them with garlic & herb of choice (I like marjoram or oregano). For a tasty sandwich addition, slice them thinly lengthwise, rub them with olive oil & salt, & roast them (flipping once) until starting to brown but still soft. The roasted strips last for several days wrapped up in the fridge to add to weekday sandwiches.