Week No. 6 - 2010 Season

Watering thirsty vegetable crops, safeguarding against blight

Like a mugging, drought slams an organic garden to the ground. It does sudden violence to life in every way. It’s frightening. Plentiful, even excessive rain, of the early season left us expecting even 20 percent chance of rain forecasts would come through for us the past 2 weeks. A number of strong rain prospects have passed us by. We’ve gotten less than a quarter inch of rain once or twice – when we needed an inch and one-half minimum each week. Many of our plants are suffering. We drove into Madison Tuesday night after packing our subscriptions so Dela could attend a Madison Area CSA Coalition board meeting and I could shop for irrigation supplies and hose replacements. We’ve been hand watering and hosing, using sprinklers and drip tape in both fields we rent and own for several days. It’s time-consuming work, and in many cases just keeping our crops alive. When we have harvesting and fieldwork to do for fall planting, it stretches us plenty thin. Water is the single-most important determinant to size and yield for almost all vegetable and herb varieties. Please trust that we’re doing everything possible and within our means to get our vegetables back on track for growth – including praying really hard for rain. Blight prevention – We’ve been getting warnings through professional affiliations about guarding against the plant disease that ravaged tomato and potato crops last year. It was also the talk of organic growers and horticulture crop researchers at the field day on a neighboring farm last week. Like so many other growers, we’ve invested months and months of time and expense in establishing thousands of tomato plants in portions of three fields. We’re trying hard to protect these crops from a disease that can destroy them in 3 days. We’re employing the only organic-approved means of guarding against this blight – a copper spray mixed with water. Copper is an essential mineral found in the plant, the ground and the body. Like everything, though, it must be kept in proper balance. In gardening and crop production, it is also effective in preventing plant disease on limited other varieties, such as Brussels Sprouts. We’re trying to be selective in using this spray, but it’s important that everyone who eats our vegetables wash and rinse varieties thoroughly before cooking or eating them. Specialists from Arlington Research Station at the organic field day last week assured us that the copper spray was safe to use, but encouraged us to advise washing to our subscribers.

This Week’s Vegetables are:

  •  First tomatoes (Oregon Spring and Jet Star varieties)
  • Patty Pan yellow squash
  • Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans
  • Oregano
  • Lettuce Mix
  • Zucchini or Hyrdra or Yellow Crookneck squash)
  • Cucumbers
  • End of snow peas (better to stir fry than eat raw at this end of the season)
  • Dela’s cream cheese, a gift from our goat milk

Cooking Tip for the Week

A Dinner of Sautéed Vegetables from Mollie Katzen “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” (1982)

This classic cookbook has simple, detailed instructions for breaking vegetables into three groups and preparing them in a wok. Cabbage, broccoli, snow peas and pole beans fall into the first group, for longest cooking time. Summer squash falls into group 2, adding them second for shorter time length. Greens, sprouts, scallions and tomatoes fall into the third group, cooking almost on contact with the other cooked or hot vegetables. The more thinly a vegetable is sliced the more quickly it cooks, and Katzen emphasizes slicing or dicing everything before you start stir-frying. The basic goal is to cook the vegetables quickly (over high heat, stirring almost constantly) so that each vegetable is done to its own individual perfection. Hover over the wok as you sauté. Stir very much. Keep the heat high and keep the vegetables moving in the wok. Work quickly.

Week No. 5 - 2010 Season

What it takes to grow organic food in healthful ways for the Earth

Visiting an organic farm 5 times bigger than we are (as I did this week) was sobering. Plant disease and insect specialists from a research station also attended this field day. They were not at all quiet about signs of pests and blight they discovered in almost every vegetable bed we walked with the host farmers. The growers in turn described all the many things they do to combat the aphids, worms, fungus, moths, beetles and bacteria that intensify when one grows volumes of crop varieties in huge blocks such as I saw at this farm. It tests every skill, knowledge and ability of an organic grower. I returned to Scotch Hill convinced of the importance of many things we do here to break up plant pest and disease cycles. I was challenged to think, think, think with Dela, our family and friends of how to be better organic growers. First cutting of hay – Right through the July 4th weekend, we cut, raked, dried, baled and stored more than 1,300 bales of hay. We completed this work even as we harvested, tended and planted vegetables. Some hay compensated a couple who rent us machine shed space for our equipment near fields we also rent a mile from our farmstead. Some was sold to help pay machinery, gasoline and haymaking expenses. Some hay is already feeding animals here at Scotch Hill. It was a beautiful week for putting up hay, and many folks helped out before heat and storms of this week. Thank you! Anti Cancer: A new way of Life – Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s experience and insight in this book, from surviving two bouts of cancer, resonates with us here at Scotch Hill. Dela had surgery for malignant melanoma about 12 years ago. We commend this book to you for all its research-based information. It can help us fend off cancers that afflict so many in the Western world because of our diet, lifestyle and use of so many chemicals. In one University of Montreal study, researchers found that “The more fruits and vegetables these genetically at-risk women ate, the lower their risk of developing cancer. Women who consumed up to 27 different fruits and vegetables a week (and variety does seem to be important here) saw their risk diminished by fully 73 percent.” What is your health and that of those you feed worth? Is it worth the time and expense we all invest in growing, cooking, eating organic vegetable varieties? Keep working what we grow into your diet. It’s vital! Coming soon – Summer squash, eggplant and peppers are forming on plant and vine now. Look for them in your share bags soon. And get ready for tomatoes! Please keep recycling brown paper grocery bags our direction. We need plastic 5-gallon buckets and yellow bowls of any size, too.

This Week’s Vegetables are:

  •  Lettuce mix
  • Cabbage
  • Beans (1/2 lb.)
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli (Marathon and Green King varieties)
  • Cucumbers
  • Chives
  • Celery (Red Venture heirloom variety; use the leaves in soups and stir fry; add great flavor to salads with the stalks)

Cooking Tip for the Week

Cucumbers with Cream and Mint from Alice Waters “The Art of Simple Food” (2007):

There are many varieties of cucumbers, each with its own flavor and texture. I especially like Armenian, Japanese and lemon cucumbers (Your varieties this week at Scotch Hill include “Parade” from Seed Savors and H19 Little Leaf – trellising toward the sky in our hoop house) For this dish, peel and slice up to 2 cucumbers. If the seeds are large and tough, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with as spoon before slicing. Place in a medium-size bowl and sprinkle with salt. In another bowl, combine ¼-cup heavy cream, 3 tablespoons olive oil, juice of ½-lemon and fresh-ground black pepper to taste. Stir well. If water has accumulated with the cucumbers, drain it off. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and combine. Coarsely chop 3 mint sprigs, leaves only (you can substitute basil from our farm). And toss with the cucumbers. Taste and add just the salt as needed. Serve cool.

Cabbage – We grow Copenhagen and Early Jersey Wakefield varieties. Try braising your cabbage with other vegetables, with a favorite meat if you prefer. Or, make up a cool coleslaw. Beans this week are Kentucky Wonder, grown in the ground and climbing to the sky in our high tunnel greenhouse, and Provider, just starting to yield in beds we weeded this week by hand outside.

Week No. 4 - 2010 Season

Learning to make our world safe in the places our food is grown

Life is good and bad, birth and death, success and defeat. We all strive for balance. We know it’s unhealthy to dwell on even normal struggles and turmoil. We also know very bad things can and do happen to those who live in denial of truths we must face to survive. I was not surprised to hear this week that modern herbicides are becoming ineffective as weeds build resistance. For this reason, many corn and soybean farms are reviving use of powerful sprays from the WWII era. With mass production of cheap foodstuffs come dangers to health and safety, as well as imbalances to Nature. Organic farmers, along with consumers, have sets of challenges to face, too. Many letters regarding our 15- and 10-week subscriptions, which we mailed last week to past and present customers, came back. So many people have moved in search of jobs and affordable places to live. Just before the economic crisis really hit America, 44 people turned out for our Wine, Weeds and Cheese volunteer workday and potluck. Just after the big crash, only one person out of more than 200 subscribers showed up. This year, ten people came to our first scheduled workday. Together, we weeded squash, celery, cabbage. We harvested snow peas. We even worked to resolve problems with a tractor generator and a 50-inch tilling machine. These subscribers experienced miracles and challenges of an organic farm, firsthand. They witnessed our family’s joys and difficulties at Scotch Hill. They saw the real, deep, complex dimensions behind a bag of fresh produce. I wish you all could see the ground you protect here. I wish you could ride round the field we planted to prairie grass, which I mowed last week with tractor and rotary mower. The mowing helps establish the switch grass (a 3-year process). It helps this grass overcome an infinite seed bank of weeds. This field is part of a national study comparing oat, wheat and prairie grass straw mulch. We’ve rented and planted fields to those small grains, too. The oats and wheat are turning golden and near ready for harvest. Tending them is as stressful as it is rewarding. It’s hard to manage these other crops and do a good job at growing vegetables, too. I caught the weeds in the switch grass field just before they’d gone to seed. My little 1940s combine for harvesting small grains is broken down and not ready for oat and wheat harvest fast approaching. Yet tending these other crops is essential to grow vegetables for you, too. For an organic system to work, one should plant at least 5 acres of other crops for every acre planted to vegetables. Rotating crops through these fields breaks up plant disease and pest cycles. It restores fertility that vegetables rob from the soil. It feeds goats, sheep and poultry, which help sustain the farm, too. The switch grass will provide bedding for our animals in winter, mulch to keep down weeds in acres of vegetables and extra income for our farm. Last week, I left a cluster of tall prairie grasses where I saw a nest that nervous birds were circling. Again this week, as I finally got a break from wet weather to cut our hay, I watched the tall Timothy, sweet rye grass and alfalfa in yet another field, for signs of nesting birds. I was relieved to see the young there were up and taking flight. I hate to disturb their habitat, yet I need to harvest that hay. Soil recovers so well (from crops that deplete it) with the help of perennial grasses and their massive root systems. So much is going on in an organic farming system. Nature is teaching us all the time. Insects and birds, plants and animals are interacting with the safe crops we grow without chemicals.  

This Week’s Vegetables are:

  •  Lettuce mix
  • Fennel
  • Greens
  • Basil
  • Radishes
  • Broccoli (Marathon and Green King varieties)
  • Cucumbers
  • Snow Peas

Cooking Tip for the Week

Broccoli dipped in wonderful peanut sauce (from Vegetable Dishes I can’t live without” by Mollie Katzen):

 Broccoli can be cooked up ahead of time. Serve it at any temperature with room-temperature or warm sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Trim and discard tough stem ends of one large bunch of broccoli (1.5 lbs.). Slice the rest lengthwise into about 6 to 8 hefty spears. When the water boils, lower the heat to a simmer and plunge in the broccoli for 2 minutes if you like it tender-crisp, and 3 minutes if you like it tender-tender. Drain in a colander, then put the broccoli under cold running water to cool it down. Drain thoroughly. Dry the broccoli by first shaking it emphatically, then by patting it with paper towels. Transfer to a zip-style plastic bag, seal and store until use. Place 1 cup smooth peanut butter and 3 to 4 tablespoons light-colored honey in a bowl with  1 cup hot water. Mash and stir patiently with a spoon or a small whisk until uniformly blended. Stir in  2 to 3 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce, 1 ½ teaspoon minced or crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons cider vinegar, 3 to 4 tablespoons finely minced cilantro. Add salt and Cayenne pepper to taste. Serve right away, surrounded by steamed broccoli.