Box #1: The birth of salad season!

Howdy all!

Before I get too far into the details of how the growing has been so far, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to express my thanks to all of you who are supporting us in our farming endeavor this season. Brandon and I recognize that we could not grow food in the way that we love- that is, in a more biodiverse, ecologically restorative, and holistically healthier fashion than most conventional farms- if it were not for your contributions to our project.  While the CSA model may seem anonymous at times (since our farm site is not exactly a stones throw from where many of you live), we do want you all to know that we consider this a team project and not a mere consumer-producer relationship. We prefer to think of it as a combination of your resources, our resources, and nature’s bounty joining together in the collective endeavour of making our food web a more resilient, and healthier, system.

mizuna unveiled from under the row cover

All that aside, ya’ll are probably interested in what’s been going in the fields so far! One big story this spring has been our struggle with our farm’s flea beetle population. The excitement we had entering into our second growing season combined with unusually warm spring temperatures to incite us into seeding and transplanting a variety of brassica plants (“brassica”, “cole”, “mustard”, and “crucifer” are all names for the cabbage family which includes such plants as broccoli, kale, and arugula) as early as we could possibly get them into the ground. Unfortunately, our eagerness coincided with the first population boom for the flea beetles, who emerged after winter’s slumber to find a burgeoning buffet of tasty radish, red mustard, kale, broccoli raab, and kohl rabi leaves (to name a few of the crops affected). The first generation being sufficiently fed, they would go on to eat our young plants quite indiscriminately for the majority of May and into June. We quickly learned to place large pieces of white fabric called “row cover” down after a seeding, which effectively prevented the flea beetles from reaching the covered plants. Fortunately, most of our plants took the trauma in stride, though many of our crops were set back a couple of weeks. We lost the broccoli raab completely (see you next year gai lan!). In the end, we’ve gained a little better understanding of the ecology of the insect populations we harbor in our field, and an important lesson about how to best prepare ourselves for such events next spring.

Besides for all that we have been learning about insect life this year (and I am glad to report that we are seeing an increase in beneficial insects from last season- such as syrphid flies, ground spiders, green lacewings, and lady beetle nymphs), we are also learning a lot about new plant varieties, new companion planting combinations, and new cover cropping strategies. We experimented with a living mulch of buckwheat, which we transplanted some of our broccoli and cauliflower babies into. The idea was that the buckwheat would surpress the weeds, as well as accumulate phosphorus into its roots (it mines for phosphorus deep in the soil, so we seeded it in a field that was low in phosphorus). Then we would clear out holes in the buckwheat area for our transplants, and the buckwheat would turn over that accumulated phosphorous to our brassica transplants as its roots died off. Smooth sailing right?

buckwheat aisles in one of our tomato patches

Wrong! We learned quickly that the surrounding buckwheat was hogging all the phosphorus from the broccoli and cauliflower (indicated by the intense purpling on their leaves), so we were forced to hoe it down immediately. The broccoli quickly regained its color, but many of the cauliflower plants went to head early due to the stress, even despite the heaping of compost tea we sprayed onto it as a foliar feed. We are noticing that the buckwheat flowers are incredible insectary plants- bees and syrphid flies can’t get enough of their nectar- and can be used in a variety of cover cropping and interplanting situations. Our experiment lends us a more nuanced understanding of what the best ways to use this handy plant may be in the future!

Without further ado, here’s what in the box this week:

Image
This week’s share

French Breakfast Radishes

Kale

either Vates, Red Russian, or Redbor varieties

Spinach

Spicy Salad Mix 

includes arugula, red mustard, mizuna, scarlet frills, and ruby streaks

*Our spicy salad mix, composed of our favorite varieties of nutty and peppery spring greens, has quite a zip to it. It is wise to respect the power of the red mustard, in particular. Eaten by itself the spicy salad mix can be too strong for many people, so we suggest either mixing it in with the milder head lettuce in a larger salad, or using it as a garnish on other dishes. Other ways to mild the flavor include throwing them in at the end of a sauteé and letting them cook a bit in the residual heat. A recipe for the spicy salad mix is included below.

Head Lettuce

either buttercrunch, red or green oakleaf, freckles, lolla rosa, or baby buttercrunch varieties

Herbs

mint or oregano

Garlic scapes

*An oft underused part of the garlic plant, scapes are sent out in early summer as the garlic plant goes to flower. Garlic growers will clip these scapes so that the plant uses as little of the energy stored in the roots as possible in order to grow scapes (this would mean smaller roots!) We typically pureé the scapes in a food processor and use the garlicky spread in eggs dishes, salad dressing, and just about anything you would use garlic in. Any left over scape “pesto” can be frozen and summoned for a later meal!

Sorrel

*This perennial plant has a tart, lemonlike flavor that can be overwhelming if eaten on it’s own. We suggest chopping it up and using it as a garnish in salads, or using it to flavor soups and stocks. It can also be used in fish dishes for that fresh lemony flavor that combines so well.


Recipe of the week:

Brandon made the perfect lunchtime salad the other day, and I’d thought I’d share his recipe with you all. Salad season has begun indeed!

He simply added some sliced pears, raisins, and sunflower seeds to the spicy salad mix, but what put it over the top was his special tahini dressing that was drizzled over it all.

Brandon’s special tahini dressing:

⅓ cup Tahini
⅓ cup Olive oil
1 tbsp. White wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Toasted Sesame oil
1 tbsp. Garlic Scapes (pureed)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Puree garlic scapes in a food processor. Mix tahini and olive oil first, adding oil until the consistency that you prefer is found (this will differ based on the consistency of the tahini). Add the rest of the ingredients (including the scapes) and mix. Drizzle over the spicy salad with some fruit and seeds on a sunny afternoon and enjoy!

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