From the Farmer

Week 14 – 8/12/2013

Week 14

At the Farm…
In Your Share – Where Have All the Cukes Gone?…
Ferment and Kombucha – This Saturday at the Farm Stand…
Goodbye Katharyn T.

At the Farm

August is a transition time, though you might not even notice it.  We’re still eating summer crops, but the spring crops are out and in their place: summer cover crops or bare fallow. Fall crops are being planted and sown.  Where the potatoes, onions and garlic once stood, you now see buckwheat. 

We like buckwheat because it’s a short summer cover – plant it and it’s done in 35 days.  Perfect for August, because come that last week we’ll be ready to sow early fall and winter cover crops, like Daikon radish and crimson clover, in anticipation of next year’s spring crops: greens, spinach and carrots. 

This stuff is especially on the mind these days.  Since we have so much of it in August, we’ve been spending time considering changes to our plans for this fall and next season.  With another season out standing in our fields, we have a chance to look at our long-term rotations and adjust any of our plans that will benefit.  We’re asking questions like, should we plant cowpeas or radish for an early season seed bed, or rye and vetch for next year’s summer crops?  How did the 2013 crop do here this year? Does the field need more fertility?  What should follow and what kind of cover crop will benefit the next cash crop?  For example, one succession of tomatoes weren’t our best this year, so I want to grow broccoli and cabbage in fall of 2014 to mitigate some disease and insect patterns. Broccoli wants a lot of fertility, so I’m going to follow the tomatoes with two rounds of cover crops: wheat, clover and vetch in fall, winter and spring, and then millet, flowers and cowpeas in summer. All this looking ahead to the 2015 crop of winter squash or sweet potatoes that will like the wheat and vetch cover crop that is seeded into the broccoli and cabbage…

Anyway… In your share this week

Fast as the picklers came they have gone.  All of our cukes crashed this week; many of their relatives, too; we are resuscitating the winter squash to get them to ripening and harvesting a passing crop of melons.  These things (disease) can happen very quickly, and despite regular doses of fish and seaweed, the wet weather has been conducive to foliar diseases.  So no cukes in the share this week and light on the squash, but we expect to have melons for you.

Potatoes this week are Russian Bananas.  You didn’t know that bananas grew in Russia and they don’t; these are seriously nice fingerling potatoes.  They should be soft and creamy. 

Also in your share this week are carrots.  Carrots!  Where have they been all this year?  Sure as heck not in our shares.  I just sowed another round for fall and here’s hoping we have better luck for this springs’ sowings; they are getting watered in as I type.  These carrots are from Tuscarora Organic Growers cooperative (TOG), the group of small-scale organic farmers who had the great idea to work together to sell produce in the DC region.  Truly, some kind of cooperative aggregation is something we need desperately here – this would allow me to grow more, fill the CSA more easily, and have an easy and ready market for extra produce.  As we do it now, we try to match our production with our CSA and Farm Stand demands while balancing available land and hours in a day – a circumstance that works well but is a fair bit more stressful for the farmers.

Point being, I don’t want to be known as the Beet CSA (we have some great looking beets that want you to want them), so we’re mixing things up with the orange things. 

Curry Week!  Finally, some of the summer weirdos made it to your box, too: lemongrass, sweet potato greens and hot peppers.  Together with cilantro, scallions,  potatoes and tomatoes, they form Team Curry.  I say start with a basic curry recipe then add all veggies to taste.  There’s really nothing you’ll get this week that won’t go well in it.

Curry tips: Use the lower stalk of the lemongrass – the leaves you can use to make tea (snip and steep).  Chopping or slicing brings out the strong flavor.  Instead, bruise them with the side of a knife and add to the pan.  It is fibrous and can be removed before serving; it does not make good eating unless finely chopped.

Similar thing with hot peppers.  If you don’t like too much spice you can still use hot peppers to give a little kick or even just for their flavor.  Rather than chopping these, you can likewise put them in whole and then pull them out before serving (mildest), bruise them lightly and again pull out before serving (a little more spice) or cut off the core and seeds and use the flesh (hot but still less hot than using chopping and using the whole thing). 

Fish sauce makes the curry world go ‘round.  It is made from fermented or pickled fish and is used instead of salt in Thai cooking.  Added early in the process the fish taste disappears and the salt remains.  You can substitute soy sauce or salt.

Curry paste.  There a several kinds of paste.  Home-made paste takes time but keeps well.  Ready-made paste is good and makes making a curry a breeze.

Any basic curry recipe will do: sub in 2 stalks of lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, 2 cups of chopped greens and anything else you feel like using, and garnish with cilantro.  Goes great with chicken (from Whiffle Tree Farm of course), tofu, seafood… if you don’t have them you’ll want curry paste and coconut milk from the store, and kaffir lime leaves if you can find them (definitely at Lotte Plaza in Ashburn).  

At the Farm Stand this Saturday: MTO Kombucha

When I give talks to school groups about farming I can’t get very far without talking about the importance of microbes, particularly the relationship between microbes and plants.  There’s usually a condensed version of the history of the universe (I think I’ve got it down to seven minutes), one which includes a chapter on the Evolution of Plants.  The short of it is that plants came after microbes and can’t do much of anything without them.  Plants need nutrients and other good things and microbes essentially act as a digestive system in the soil.  Plant asks for compound, biology makes it available.

We’re the same way; our bodies contain more microbes than our own cells (we’re talking 100 trillion them to 1 trillion us).  Like plants, if we didn’t have them we’d be hooked up to the IV and probably that wouldn’t work well either.  Pretty cool stuff and a bit of a brain bender.

Our food, too.  I think we’re starting to come back around to the idea that traditional diets and traditional foods are generally far healthier than the modern diet.  A key feature in any traditional diet is the use of fermentation to make nutrients available, enhance flavors, and preserve foods.  Ferment utilizes microbes to do this work and you may be familiar with some of the results: yeast breads, sourdoughs, cheese, yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, beer and wine and vinegar.  These are superfoods!  A fascinating aspect of the microorganisms used in cultures is that they are usually found in very specific places, with very specific foods – and rarely in nature.  Just as we’ve domesticated dogs and cattle, we’ve co-evolved these useful species over thousands of years, and these have been shared, traded, dropped and forced upon since. 

Kombucha is one of these foods. Kombucha is a sweetened black tea into which a Kombucha culture, called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) is added. Known as “the elixir of long life,” Kombucha’s origins and benefits trace back 2,000 years to ancient China. From there, it found its way across Russia, becoming widely established as an effective folk medicine in rural communities. The drink received international exposure when Soviet doctors discovered entire communities appeared to have been protected from dangerous environmental pollution by a nutritious drink. In recent years, Kombucha has become popular in the United States for helping people with a wide variety of health conditions, from digestive disorders, skin problems, high cholesterol and poorly functioning immune systems as well as people in good health with goals for improved athletic performance, better sleep and higher energy levels.

If you’ve visited the Farm Stand this year, you’ve probably heard us talking about our favorite local brew, MTO Kombucha, or peeked at one of their pamphlets in order to understand why other shoppers are picking it up by the case and half gallon. This Saturday, join us for a tasting and learn all about the popular beverage from the Founder and Master Brewer, Ralph Crafts, himself. Ralph will be sharing the incredible story behind his business from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM.

Goodbye Katharyn

August being a month of transition, there are comings and goings on the farm.  Katharyn T is heading back to school next week.  Back for a second season it’s been a privilege having Katharyn at the farm.  She has an incredible work ethic and an eye for detail, a passion for food, and is the best bean picker I’ve been around.  We appreciate the energy she’s brought to the farm the past two years; she’s quick with a smile and a laugh and always a positive attitude. 

I have a feeling Katharyn will be following her career path off the farm and into a kitchen in future summers.  We’ve been trying to get her to drop out of school to stay with us.  If you see her this week please help us with this.

Be great, Katharyn.


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