Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Saturday, September 26, 2009

CSA Newsletter 9-23-09

Some friends from over Leicester way paid us a visit a few days ago, remarking on how harlequin bugs had nearly wiped out their fall crops and asking us how we kept the harlequins at bay.
I haven’t the slightest idea. They’re just not real big problem for us this fall. I hazard no guess as to why.
We interplant radishes between our kale and our cabbage, which may act as a deterrent. We let the edges of the fields grow up wild, full of nectar producing flowering plants that keep the predatory wasps healthy. There’s always a thick mat of weeds somewhere, providing good spider habitat. We plant our brassicaceae in a different part of the farm every year, hoping to confuse subsequent generations of bugs. All of these things or none of these things are why we have no harlequin bugs right now. I can offer no better explanation, though its tempting to play the farming expert and pontificate on the goldenrod allowed to grow along the fencerow, to look at the spiders and wasps and assassin bugs there-on, and to claim it all as part of my integrated pest management program. Someone would probably invite me to present at a workshop, somewhere. All I can say is that harlequins aren’t bothering us this year, and neither are bean beetles. Imported cabbage worms are creeping around in greater numbers than I’d like, but haven’t killed anything. A caterpillar I haven’t identified yet is making holes in the Swiss Chard, and I wish they’d go away, but we’re having a better Swiss Chard harvest than we’ve had in years. We threw away quite a few Hakerei turnips because of cabbage root maggot holes, but, on the whole, not that many.
The fields allowed to find their own form of balance seem to find that balance and equal everything out. This happens without a tremendous amount of planning from me. I just allow what is already there to express itself. We take action on things that are especially troublesome. Squash vine borers would wipe us out if they had the chance. We spray young squash plants with Bacillus theringiensis, a dried and dessicated bacteria that clogs the gut of a vine borer larvae and kills it. B.t. does the same thing to imported cabbage worm, though we’re yet to use it. If the damage to the fall cabbage gets any worse, we’ll spray with B.t. Once. Maybe. And always on the shelf sits a bottle of Py-Ganic, a certified organic insecticide made from pyrethrum flowers. We haven’t opened it this year, and probably won’t. We just keep it in reserve if it looks we’re going to loose a whole crop. Sometimes I think: we’re just keeping it in reserve in case Nature lets us down. In eleven years of doing this, Nature has never let us down. Everything balances itself out, and we have fun watching it.
Tiny purple fall asters are in bloom right now, and bugs are all over the blooms. We’ve a few sunflowers left in the fields, also, and they host whole insect communities. Wolf spiders scurry across the walking paths as we approach, or await in prey under low-growing leaves. On a far more mystical note, it is proven that a plant, under stress from an insect, can produce pheromones that mimic attractants of bugs that feed on the original bug. The plant, unable to fight off a bug by itself, has learned to lure bugs that eat the bugs that eat it.
Is that why we’ve no harlequin bugs on our arugula right now? I would not be so presumptive as to state yes or no. I merely mention that we keep our habitat diverse, dare I say natural, and let the plants and the bugs work it out for themselves.

Weed of the Week
Burdock! Big, fat American burdock. Tall, towering, big leaved burdock. It’s big leaved, it’s big rooted and it’s a pain in the ass! It’s big fat American burdock! Arctium lappa! And most of you can thank big fat American burdock every time you fasten your shoes! Burdock has, as I say, big leaves. Big enough to completely shadow out anything under it. Big enough to fan a sultan, if you so desired. We cut these big fat leaves in late Spring and mix them into our compost. They’re so big and fat, they must be full of nitrogen and other good stuff. The big fat stems can’t be pulled up. Our garden pruners have a hard time with them and we sometimes resort to a bow saw. The big fat root goes way, waaaaay deep, like I don’t think I’ve ever pulled one up all the way, or even plowed one to it’s fullest bottom of its big fat root depth. And it makes big fat seed pods that stick to everything – your socks, your shirt, your dog, everything. Go outside and find the biggest, fattest weed you can see – that’s burdock. Take a close look at the barbs atop its seed pod. Yes, they inspired Velcro. A poor, embittered, exhausted mad scientist somewhere, after hours and hours of pulling these things from his poor little dog’s coat, hit upon that rare Eureka! moment and book bags and sneakers have not been the same since.

The greens are looking nice and healthy with all this rain. All the greens this week are good raw or cooked. We like to chop up a variety of greens and radish slices, and let it sit in a marinade over night. Then, once again, eaten raw or cooked.
The long red peppers, once again, are sweet roasting peppers. Cut longwise into thirds and roasted, then topped with cheese and arugula is pretty goshdarn good.

The Rye is Green Like the Promise of Spring

The season is winding down like it started: wet.
It’s rained for ten days strait. The fields are soggy. The road is a river. We clear the drainage ditches and then we clear them again. And the road is still a river. There’s mold on everything. Everything. Mushrooms have sprung up in the most unlikely of places. Trees have fallen down. Frogs are everywhere.
We can’t plant. We can’t even walk in the fields. What’s in the fields already are succumbing to fungus. The leaves get black spots and then they get gooey.
That’s been the theme this year. I could have dated the above paragraph at any randomly selected timed over the past year and it would have been apropos. But the rye and some winter pea got seeded last Tuesday, the day before the rain came. It sprouted three days later, and is growing fast and green and lush. It’s growing like it doesn’t know that winter is coming. It’s growing like it’s getting plenty of water and doesn’t has a care in the world.
That’s a far cry from the past few years. In the past few years it’s taken ten days to get the winter rye to come up, and then it just sits there, barely above the soil, little red sproutlets waiting for water. It hasn’t put on any growth by the time it gets cold, and it just sits there, gradually dieing off until March when t puts on a pitiful little growth spurt. Not this year. This year it’s thick like the Everglades.. We’ll need it. We need to feed the soil this year like we never have before. The fields have been so wet and so waterlogged our bacteria drowned in the spring. The muddy soil became host to evil anaerobic bacteria, and the fields smelled like a sewer. I kid you not. A sewer. We dried out a bit in July/August, enough to turn the soil, enough to provide something of an environment for the desired aerobic bacteria, but the recolonization can be a slow process. We can’t do anything but provide some foodstuff, and that the rain is helping us do. The rye could very well be knee-high by Halloween. There’s a new alternative mantra for you. We’re puttin’ up hay for the actinomycetes and the earthworms. We’re layin’ in stores for the hyphochytriomycota and the oomycota. The rains came and the livestock got fed. It’s time to rest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newsletter 9-16-09

Our corn is ready, well after the summer picnic season but well ahead of the Harvest Moon. The same, I suppose, could be said of the salsa fixin’s we gave you last week. Both events are icons of this cool, wet year. Those events, and the rain I hear falling outside right now. (It’s Wednesday again.) We started to spread cover crops yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll plant our strawberries. The next day, our garlic. This is the first year we harvested corn at the same time we planted our over-wintering crops, another interesting symbol of this year.
In sadder news, we bid farewell to our tomatoes this week. The cool weather and the fungi associated with all this rain finally got the better of them, and they gave up. They sank into the ground in a mushy, pulpy mess and said: See ya next year. While we’re sad to see them go, we’re surprised that we had tomatoes at all this year. The whole year has been cold and wet – anathema to tomatoes – and our attitude all along has been: We’ll take what we can get.
As I said, we’ll get our strawberries and garlic into the ground this week. While those two items would make an incongruous salad, they are fall planted crops, enjoying a long fall of root development and an early spring of greening up. In another few weeks, we’ll plant some spinach. More evidence that farming is not a seasonal or annual phenomena, but a continuum that provides an illusion of yearly divisions.
All the same, we’re starting to think about next “year.” We keep tweaking the way the fields are arranged. More cilantro. More chard, less arugula. More peppers. The same amount of eggplant? Maybe a bit more. Should we give up on winter squash, and use that same space for something else? Like more sunflowers? Or will the deer get it all? The considerations that go into every crop we grow are: profitability, time consumed cultivating and harvesting, market gluts and shortages, and, perhaps most importantly, how it looks in the box. I’ve often thought someone could come up with an elaborate equation – like, one with fractions and slanty lines and xs and ys and all kinds of fancy Einstein symbols – that dictated the profitability of what we grow: The cost is this per linear foot, and the profit is this per linear foot, though it takes this much time to plant and this much time to weed. It costs this much to irrigate – well, you get the idea.
Yes, that is extreme. I used to think about what color everything was, and design the fields so they were giant mandalas. That was a bit extreme, too. That's where we live here at Let It Grow - somewhere between Einstein equations and giant mandalas.

Weed of the Week
I didn’t want to do this, but it seems as though I gave no choice. I offer this week horse weed, sometimes called giant ragweed, our friend Artemesia trifola. I don’t usually consider it to be a weed – it grows along roadside and in the rougher areas at the edges of the farm, but never becomes too much of a problem in the fields. We leave it along the road; the bees love it. It’s a great nectar/pollen crop in late summer. We leave some in the chicken coop. It grows tall and leafy and strong and provides a bit of shade for the chickens.
It can get up to fifteen feet tall if it gets plenty of water, and a six year old and gather a lot of it and make a teepee. Or a six year old of any age, for that matter.
Alas, though, I now consider it to be a weed. We’ve got it all over our field on Meadow Fork, growing in the potatoes and giving the corn a run for its money. It’s a new field over there, and we should get the horse weed under control in a year or two, when we’ll take away it’s weed designation. Whatever we call it, it has it’s place in the equation. Weed of the Week
I didn’t want to do this, but it seems as though I gave no choice. I offer this week horse weed, sometimes called giant ragweed, our friend Artemesia trifola. I don’t usually consider it to be a weed – it grows along roadside and in the rougher areas at the edges of the farm, but never becomes too much of a problem in the fields. We leave it along the road; the bees love it. It’s a great nectar/pollen crop in late summer. We leave some in the chicken coop. It grows tall and leafy and strong and provides a bit of shade for the chickens.
It can get up to fifteen feet tall if it gets plenty of water, and a six year old and gather a lot of it and make a teepee. Or a six year old of any age, for that matter.
Alas, though, I now consider it to be a weed. We’ve got it all over our field on Meadow Fork, growing in the potatoes and giving the corn a run for its money. It’s a new field over there, and we should get the horse weed under control in a year or two, when we’ll take away it’s weed designation. Whatever we call it, it has it’s place in the equation.

In the Box
Lettuce Mix
Cute Baby Squash
Malabar Spinach
Hakurei Turnips

Why is my corn decapitated?
Every year of organic sweet corn is guaranteed to come with a corn ear worm. The eggs are laid at the top of the ear, and when it hatches the larvae starts to eat down the ear. We’ve thoughtfully removed them all for you, with one swift cut.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Newsletter 9-9-09

If you’ve never bush-hogged a bed of basil, you don’t know what you’re missing.
We mowed down our first basil planting yesterday. The plants had flowered and growth had slowed and the bed was weedy, and our second planting is ready to be picked. We fired up the bush-hog and cut the basil right down to the ground. It’s like riding the tractor through a food processor making pesto.
Our third squash planting is also ready to be picked, just as our second planting is tapering off. Our fall greens are looking stronger and stronger every day, just as our summer crops are beginning to look kind of haggardly.
This business hinges on successful succession planting. We need to keep a variety of vegetables available at all times, both to fill your box with different things every week and to keep our table diverse at our farmer’s market. If we fail, we must give you the same old things every week, like the year we choked everybody with nothing but eggplant and leeks. We go to market with just a few things to offer, and our customers ask where this is and when are we going to have that.
When we time everything right, we’re able to provide you with a diverse selection every week and keep our table full of different colors and shapes. Timing everything right depends on the weather cooperating enough that we can get the equipment into the fields to prepare a new bed. It depends on the equipment not being broken. It depends on an absence of other various catastrophes so that we have time to get the new planting in. In other words, the odds are stacked against us. It’s a lot easier to screw up than to do it right. One bed of green beans peters out and there’s a two week gap before the next bed comes on…. We have way too many sunflowers for a while and then we don’t have any ….
It all starts out in the winter with a nominal plan of what gets planted where and when and in what quantity. We start plowing in March and immediately throw the plan out the window. The carrots were supposed to go here, but it’s too wet so I need to plant them a bit higher up. The lettuce was supposed to go here, but I haven’t had time to get the irrigation set up in that area, so I’ll just stick the lettuce there. The cabbage has got to get out of the greenhouse and into the ground, but the disk is broken and I’m waiting on parts and I’ve got enough room to put the cabbage here.
Into this equation we must throw the concept of crop rotation - we can’t plant the same crop in the same place two years in a row. We try to get crops that mature at the same time in the same irrigation zone – that way we’re never running an irrigation line just to water one row.
Our daily and weekly work schedule must be just as malleable. We start every day and every week with set goals, but our priorities end up changing several times a day. We really need to weed the lettuce but the fields are too wet. We need to plant some arugula, but if we don’t weed the kale now we’ll lose it. We were supposed to trellis the tomatoes today, but a possum got into the chicken coop and we have to drop everything and patch a hole in the fence. It rains for three days straight and so we busy ourselves in the greenhouse and then try to do a week’s worth of field work in two days. I end up driving the interns crazy because they never know what’s coming next, but I never know what’s coming next because the key to keeping the successions coming requires dancing around weather and catastrophes and constantly reprioritizing.
Perhaps you can better understand now why mowing one bed of basil just as another bed is ready for harvest is cause for celebration.

In the Box
Green Beans Lettuce Mix
Cute Baby Squash Arugula
Tomatoes Peppers
Mizuna Dandelion Greens
Tomatillos Cilantro
Hot Peppers

Weed of the Week
We are pleased to welcome nut sedge (Cyperus esculentus) to our humble little farm. We’ve been free of this scourge, but now it’s here and it’s everywhere. I must admit it’s an attractive little plant, tight and concise with little pom pom-like flowers at the top. But it’s evil. It spreads by underground runners, and they run everywhere. It’s about impossible to pull up, and any little bit left behind will regrow. When plowed or disked it gets cut up into innumerable little pieces that get spread across the field and pop up when they’re good and ready. It’s a heavy feeder, robbing nutrients from other plants. And perhaps worst of all, it has what are called allelopathic effects, which means that it exudes compounds that retard the growth of plants around it. Thus we are pleased to join the ranks of farmers world wide who must deal with this little plant, and realize we’ve had it easy up until now. Our friends in the chemical industry have come up with a substance that will kill nut sedge, reportedly after numerous applications. We’ve never used a chemical herbicide and never will, but we’re tempted to use this one if only because it has such a wonderful name: Sedge Hammer.

Let’s talk about your food.I have to start with the dandelion greens and the mizuna. Both can be eaten raw, by themselves or mixed with salad greens. They can be braised or sautéed. Best, though, is to sautéed some onions and garlic in plenty of olive oil, then drizzle the mixture over the cold, raw greens. Better yet, drizzle hot bacon grease over them.
Most salsa recipes are a variation of throw everything in a blender. The tomatillos are better cooked first – roasted, grilled, or even quartered and boiled – until soft. Mix into a blender with tomato, cilantro, hot pepper and sweet pepper and garlic and there you go …. Mix in anything else you like – mango or pineapple are popular these days, just use your imagination.
The little peppers are hot! Mildest are the big orange banana peppers, followed by the somewhat tame Black Hungarians. The little bright red ones are getting dangerous and the round orange Habaneros are lethal.
Green beans are good steamed and covered in butter. They go well with cold pasta or potato salads. We like to pickle a few green beans every year : half vinegar and half water in a jar, a bit of sugar and salt, and any herb you can think of: thyme is good, so is dill. Some folks like a clove/nutmeg theme. How about Habenero pepper! There’s no need for water bath or pressure cooker; it will last for six months, at least, in the fridge.
Speaking of which, if you don’t use all your peppers in a salsa mix, try cutting just a few into slivers and dropping them into the bottom of a bottle of red wine vinegar. It won’t make the vinegar hot, just add a little zest to your salad dressings and cooking.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Child Is Gone

This is no business for the weak or the meek. It's a business that will rip your heart out and stomp it flat in a minute, and laugh while it walks away.
We're coming back from what was our best market in years, both financially and in the volume we put on the table. Customers were lined up three or four deep, and its a good thing I brought both my interns cause I needed them and more to handle the throngs. It was exhilarating and confidence building; it provided a deep satisfaction. It lasted from the time we looked at all the boxes we had stacked in the walk-in on Friday afternoon through the time we unloaded them all from the van Saturday morning right through to the end of market, when we neatly stacked all the empty boxes in the van and headed home.
But when you get right down to it, we really didn't have that much. No, we had what should have been an average amount, a fair but not too spectacular showing for early September. It was that we have had such piss poor offerings all year, and for the past few years, really, that made Saturday's offerings seem so abundant - for there was no real abundance in what we had.
It's been a tough few years of broken shoulders and burnt up tractors and inconceivable deer devastation that made this week's harvest glow, and that realization brings no satisfaction. It brings with it the thud you feel when your head snaps back on the floor after you've fallen all the way down and after you feel yourself begin to fall and after someone gives that rug a good hard yank.
I can still, if I want to, fool myself into thinking we really rocked it this week, and perhaps I will, after I settle down, but, at this point, our harvest this week only serves to amplify our short coming of the past few years. Perhaps it's either half full or half empty, or perhaps the whole full/empty dichotomy is a distraction. We want neither riches nor glory, just enough of a harvest that can be monetized into paid bills and repaired equipment and perhaps tucked away toward heating oil. We rarely get either, but we do get, on occasion, a glimpse of the possibilies. A distant ship's smoke on the horizon. A taste of what could be if everything was different.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

For Those Of You Who Want To Go Back To The Land

There's bats in the attic and possums in the basement.
The bathroom floor is rotting and about to collapse.
Daily, I sweep my topsoil off the living room floor and fling the dustpan out the window.
The chickens are out again.
There's flies on the monitor.
The greenhouse needs to be watered.
The truck doesn't start.
Daily, I dust my topsoil off the kitchen counter and shake it into the front yard.
Ragweed's flowered.
Tomatoes need to be canned.
Compost stinks.
Daily, I wash my topsoil from my body and watch it swirl down the drain.
Drain's backed up.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Newsletter 9-2-09

Fortunately we have been blessed with a disaster free week thus far. Not that we really anticipated otherwise, but when you’re caretaking the culmination of someone else’s life work, the thought that chaos might ensue looms within a dark alley of the mind. The form of chaos we fret is not so much a loss of order but more along the lines of a barefoot being chewed by the tines of the tiller as we attempt to make weed free paths between rows, no longer being able to find any eggs because a chicken uprising resulted in all wild chickens, or the deer no longer nibbling here and there but hosting weekly potlucks on Tuesday nights in the fields.
Yes, we gave up on being oppressed by order long ago, we still feel somewhat organized though. We know where everything is, except maybe one of the shovels. Time for us is not a linear concept, but cyclical by nature.
To the outside observer our approach to organic farming may seem wild or radical to a degree, but its what makes sense to us. We had friends pay us a surprise visit over the weekend. It’s always good to see old friends but even better when you could use some extra hands harvesting cute baby squash. Needless to say, we put them to work, gave them a crash course in organic agriculture and kept their bellies full. One of our friends couldn’t quite grasp the winter squash growing wildly in between raspberry rows. He thought, “wouldn’t they do better planted in the fields.” And before I could offer any rebuttal, another friend chimed in, “…the name isn’t make it grow, man, its’ let it grow…” This statement pretty much sums up the nature of things here on the farm.
Frank’s absence has kept us on our toes. Harvesting begins much earlier because we can’t pick quite as quick just yet. Weeding isn’t so much a tedious task for us anymore, but a thoughtful meditation. It seems we’ve been meditating more over the weeds lately, in efforts of getting things nice and neat before Frank’s arrival home. Hell, we found ourselves weed eating for fun; well maybe it was just me. Nonetheless, we have been making an earnest effort to keep it together here on the farm. The fall greens are weed free (mostly) and breathing clearly. We thought we would weed the beans too but upon picking them, realized they’re doing just fine the way they are. In making our what to weed list for the days we found ourselves ranting off just about everything growing now. We wanted to show Frank what we could when in charge. However, we had to remind ourselves to not get carried away into obsessive organization. Although we want him to be pleased with our work, we also want him to feel at home upon his arrival.
In The Box:
Head Lettuce
Heirloom Tomatoes
Malabar Spinach
Stuffing Squash
Provider Beans
Hakurei Turnips
Bell Peppers

The unusual green in your box this week is known as Malabar spinach. Technically it is not even spinach as it is in a different family, but it can be cooked in much the same fashion. It is native to India and we love it because it is very heat tolerant, where as we had some trouble with the germination of our traditional spinach. Malabar is traditionally cooked with lentils in many Dal recipes in Indian culture. We love it sautéed with mushrooms & garlic or raw with salads.
The stuffing squash can be stuffed in any fashion. We like to cut them in halves or just remove the tops, scoop out the pulp. Sautee some onions, garlic, leeks, and then add the pulp and spices. Once hot we add a beaten egg, breadcrumbs, and grated cheese. Stuff the squash shells with the mix and bake in the oven.
*The celery in your box is a cooking celery. It’s not your typical ranch dipping kind. Much tastier, in fact.
We hope you enjoy this week’s harvest and just a reminder we sure would appreciate any old CSA boxes that you have lying around. You can bring them to your pick up location. Thanks again!
Be Well…
-Joe & Krystal

Powered by Blogger