From the Farmer

Week 11 – 8/15/2012
Hello CSA Members,
 
New in Your Share this Week
 
Okay, what’s that green in your share this week? Malabar Spinach (Basella alba), also known as Indian or Ceylon spinach, Lo Kui, and Basella. Malabar spinach is not in the spinach family at all but is used in similar fashion around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. It is a soft-stemmed vine with succulent leaves; in the tropics it is a perennial and grows thirty feet or more. It loves it here in the summer, and we grow it because one can eat only so much Swiss chard. And it’s good for you: it is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and is low in calories but high in protein per calorie. It is a good source of soluble fiber, phenols, and anti-oxidents.
 
I generally let pretty plants win me over as a food, and I like Malabar spinach. It is hard to find good greens this time of year, our bodies crave them, and Malabar spinach is here for us. You may find that it’s a love or hate veggie in your family. You will find that we have left the leaves on the stem: generally, use the leaves, but many traditional recipes call for the tender part of the stem, too. Malabar spinach is good in soups and stir-fries and seems to like garlic and chili peppers. I recommend using it in a mild curry or even in a tomato and roasted red pepper soup: ask your kids to separate the leaves from the stem, and then add mid-way through cooking. The leaves hold up well and are a good thickening agent. If you make curry, use a little coconut water instead of plain water when you make the rice, to sweeten it some.
 
August is For Strawberries
 
I like to plant strawberries in the summer. It’s a little different than the traditional approach but one that’s been picking up steam in recent years: it saves space for other crops early in the year, and the production can be very good. But it is easy to lose sight of strawberry planting in the rush of August, and I have to discipline myself to think of planting strawberries as if it were an email—if you don’t respond immediately, the plants will get left in the inbox for the day that you’ll have time for them. You won’t for another month. So when the plants arrive, it’s important: plant them now, right away! They arrived last Wednesday afternoon, and were in the ground by dusk.
 
Yes, August is busy. This is a transitional time here in the Mid-Atlantic. It doesn’t feel like it; it’s still summer, and it will be into September. But August finds us looking at the present, with all the crops of summer to harvest, and also at the future, both forward to fall and even beyond to next spring and summer. 
 
There are noticeable changes in the Farm’s fields now. We’ve begun planting the first of this Autumn’s crops: broccoli, cabbage, kale and greens; beets and carrots and turnips, and will continue to plant successions throughout the next month and some. We’re also taking care to clean out any fields or beds from the first half of the season where we’ve let the weeds grow after harvest. It is now time to plant a new round of “cover,” or soil-nourishing crops. I had a mentor farmer who would say to me, as I left for the weekend to visit my girlfriend, “Sow your oats in the winter, Mike.” He was right about many things, but not this one. Cover crops should be sown throughout the year and especially in the summer, when they’re underutilized by farmers. So in some fields now, we’re planting polycultures of cowpeas, sudangrass, sunflowers, and buckwheat.
 
We do this for many reasons. Cover crops catch and cycle nutrients, keeping them on the farm and out of the Chesapeake Bay. They cover the soil, they feed soil organism, suppress disease, provide habitat for insects and other critters, and they give the farm a healthy, vibrant feeling. 
 
Essentially, we are taking our cue from Nature, which almost never plants just one species at a time. Nature digs diversity and Nature is the standard to which I compare the farm—ecosystem vs agroecosystem. By planting cover crops, and by rotating our crops around the farm, we can mimic that diversity in time, if not in space. We end up planning one, two, even three years into the future (even more!) what crops will go where, and we plant cover crops to feed the soil, so the soil will feed those crops. Cover crops, crop rotation, and the use of compost and mineral amendments, these all drive the fertility and pest control cycles here at the farm. We decided to grow a full year’s cover crop to improve conditions there. So after a healthy dose of compost and soil minerals, we planted strawberries last Wednesday in an old cucumber patch.
 
You can see we do a lot of juggling in August, and this is why we don’t usually take a vacation around now. There are summer crops to harvest, fall crops to plant, and fields to prepare for the cover crops that will make way for next year’s veggies. And of course strawberries to plant, we wouldn’t want to forget those.
 
Ciao, Katharyn Tupitza
 
We say farewell, Katharyn and thank you. Katharyn joined the farm team early this summer and has left for Virginia Tech, where she is entering her second year. Those of you who pick up on Saturdays will remember Katharyn from the farm stand. Katharyn, your memory will live on in the cantaloupe-ground cherry crumble of my heart. Have a good year and visit us.
 
Have a good week and be great,
 
Mike
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