Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

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.


  • At September 14, 2009 7:09 AM, Anonymous John Burkhart said…

    Hey Frank,

    That nutsedge is also deliciously edible- it it's growing voluntarily maybe you should try to develop a market for it. The tubers are the edible part- they are usually soaked in water and then roasted. Excellent nutritional profile, as it is high in potassium and fat. Shit man, the name gives it all away, Cyperus esculentus- with esculentus meaning edible.


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