Making their 2015 debut this week: ground cherries, also known as Cape Gooseberries. Each one is a present you get to unwrap – the berries are ripe when the husk is dry and the berry is golden yellow. Ground cherries are native to the Americas (Go America), in fact they are quite similar to a common Virginia weed, the Virginia Ground Cherry. If you grow them at home treat them rough – not too much water, not too much fertility. They will fruit small but sweet. These creatures like to fall to the ground before they are ripe (hence: “ground cherry”); collect them when dry and they will store in their husk for several months (months!) in a cool room around 50°F. If you unwrap one that’s not quite golden let it sit at room temperature and it will ripen over the next few days.
Ground cherries are sweet and savory at the same time and we can’t decide what we like to do with them more: add them to salsa or sauce, or make Kat’s Cantaloupe-Ground Cherry Crumple (Pie). Ooh, or just with ice cream. They are part sweet, part savory; part pineapple and part tomatillo. All summertime.
It is possible that we’ll be short on ground cherries this Saturday. If we are, you Saturday folks will see them soon. These are one of those crops that do things their way; we often get a flush, pick them up and then have to wait for another flush.
Speaking of weeds (the segue here is we were working this morning near where the ground cherries were planted two years ago. I know, pretty nice segue), a couple of us were discussing “reading weeds” as indicators of soil conditions. The literature on this kind of thing is unclear, and it occurs to me that one way to figure out what a weed or insect is telling us is to figure out what it means on our own farms, ourselves, to hypothesize and then test: does dandelion indicate a lack of available calcium? Try adding some calcium to the ground and see how things react. What do you notice? There are many variables and many subtle expressions of plant condition: skin color and shape, inter-nodal space, texture and development, turgidity, aroma, root pattern, composition of nearby species. Monks in France might be passing down this knowledge over twelve hundred years and shamans creating ritual around it in the Americas for two thousand. Good farming is being indigenous, intimate with land, knowledgeable about plants, animals, soils and climate; and here we are in the United States, half of new farmers growing up in the suburbs and struggling just to find a piece of land to grow produce on and to start observing for themselves. Farmer Jen tells us what it’s like to not be indigenous quite yet. (Jen, it’s Okay, I think the comfrey will come back).
Farmer Jen Starts a Journal
I started a journal. Pretty much the same day I started at the Farm. Drawings, scribbles, illegible notes and maybe a squished bug or two litter the pages. Except for the latter, each entry was intentionally gathered from overheard conversations erupting from the minds of experienced farmers.
Why use buckwheat as a cover crop? What is vetch? Buckwheat serves as a great summer cover crop because of its ability to establish itself quickly, suppressing summer weeds. Did I know that off the top of my head, dredging it up from beneath grocery lists and vet appointments? Nope. I referred back to that handy journal.
I was recently gifted a set of books. Books filled with pages upon pages of trees and plants, mushrooms and insects. Their job is to teach me to identify the very critters crawling over my feet during tomato harvest and up my arm as I weed. Teach me to identify what I weed. In hindsight, after my decision to graciously eradicate the comfrey from the garden, I probably should have started with that book first (Sorry, Mike).
Yet as much as I want to remember – as much as I want to one day be able to rattle off every bug and plant around me (Wolf’s Bane! Yes, you can tell by its dark green, glossy leaves! Can be used to reduce the pain of rheumatism!) I can’t seem to name the bug currently perched on my finger a mere 24 hours after Deb so easily recalled it (along with the identification of a nearby plant, why it’s a good thing assassin bugs are taking over the Farm Garden, and the reason behind why a Viceroy could be a Monarch’s stunt double in a major motion picture. Swoon.)
So the question remains. If the ability to remember how everything connects to each other – how one thing sustains the next and what the hell is that beetle nesting in my hair – is so important to me, then shouldn’t I be able to recall it at the drop of a hat? Instead, I keep close the book that tells me the insect in my hair is indeed a Japanese beetle, and pray something eventually sticks.
Who knows if my future even holds a special place for all this. I still have a need to know how it’s all connected. Why one thing runs into another and then into another. Now if only I could remember where I put that grocery list.