Farm News

Farming for Bees and Soil

Our CSA is split into two groups which pick up on alternate weeks. To keep things straight, we’ve named these ‘half share groups’ after two of our favorite plants. You might be surprised to learn our favorites aren’t actually crops we grow for sale, but plants we admire deeply for their contributions to the success of our farm ecosystem.

Clovers in general are an absolute necessity to sustaining healthy soils and thereby growing great vegetables.  We use Crimson Clover extensively in our fallow (un-planted) beds as a way to protect against erosion, increase the organic matter of the soil and to capture nitrogen, one of the most fundamental elements for producing food.  It is a fantastic fact that clover fixes atmospheric nitrogen. This means the plants are able to capture nitrogen from the air and collect it in nodules along their roots.  When the clover completes its life cycle, this nitrogen is released into the soil and available as food for our growing vegetables. Chemical based farming relies heavily on a petroleum and energy intensive processes to manufacture anhydrous ammonia which is then sprayed onto fields to supply nitrogen for crops. But clovers, like most all legumes, move nitrogen to the soil quietly, freely, and beautifully.  Clover is an ideal partner to the strategic and patient farmer, and not only because it fixes nitrogen.  Clovers are a much needed food source during spring for our pollinators.  Clover roots till deep into the soil and break up hard layers that would stunt our vegetables’ growth.  Clovers are also a nutrient dense source of food favored by our pigs.  That’s an impressive resume if you ask me!

 

Phacelia, pronounced [fuhsee-lee-uh], is also known as ‘Bees Friend.’  This complex and beautiful plant is a powerhouse, providing abundant nectar and pollen for a wide variety of pollinators and beneficiary insects, all while smelling decadently like honey.  Also spring blooming, phacelia seed was once difficult and expensive to source, so we have slowly built up a seed bank to expand the amount we grow each year. We’re grateful to see now it is available in good quantity from quality regional seed houses like Wild Garden Seed. Phacelia is tough and survives arid dry conditions.   It has tender stems and is easy to turn under, breaking down quickly to provide a clean seedbed for the next crop. We use phacelia in our brassica (cabbage family) beds because the predatory insects it attracts reduce aphid populations that prey on our fall crops.  Phacelia easily reseeds itself and has become a much welcomed addition to our spring high tunnel beds, turning unused corners into rich smelling, self-regenerating, and astoundingly beautiful insectaries.

Read more

Allicin: Garlic’s Superpower

chopped garlic on cutting board

Meet Your Food

In Eating on the Wild Side, Author Jo Robinson explores the tremendous antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anticlotting and anticancer benefits contained in the humble garlic clove. All of these healing properties stem from allicin.

“Raw garlic contains the ingredients needed to make allicin, its most active ingredient, but not the compound itself. Allicin is created when two substances in garlic come into contact with each other. One is a protein fragment called alliin and the other is a heat-sensitive enzyme called alliinase. In an intact clove of garlic, these compounds are isolated in separate compartments. They do not commingle until you slice, press or chew the garlic to rupture the barriers between them.

In 2001, a group of food chemists “discovered that heating garlic immediately after crushing or slicing it destroys the heat-sensitive enzyme that triggers the reaction. As a result, no allicin is created. It takes only two minutes in a frying pan to reduce garlic to little more than a flavorful ingredient. If you microwave fresh chopped garlic for just thirty seconds, 90 percent of its cancer-fighting ability is gone.

You can cook garlic and reap all its benefits if you make a simple change in the way you prepare it. Chop, mince, slice or mash the garlic and keep it away from the heat for ten minutes. During this time, the maximum amount of allicin is created so the heat-sensitive enzyme is no longer needed. Then you can sauté, bake, or fry the garlic and still get all its medicine.”
Read more

Stalk & Stem: Why Do We Trim?

kale stalks image

Each week, I stand for several hours at the packing shed sink cleaning produce for our CSA families. This kind of work provides wonderful contemplation time. Recently, I caught myself trimming the stalks on a crisp bunch of greens. Before the rough ends hit the bottom of the compost barrel, I thought, “Why did I do that? Surely it wasn’t just to make it look neat and tidy?!” Upon further consideration, I remembered my early post-college days and the first kitchen sink I could call my own. Until the farmer’s market opened in the summer, I bought my vegetables at the old Hy-Vee grocery store in the center of town. The browning, wilted ends were a give-away as to the true age of the produce. Having been trucked in from a long way off, the decomposition process was clearly evident. This is where I first picked up the habit of trimming all my produce. I remember cutting inches off the bottoms of winter greens, ‘just to be on the safe side.’ But now I that I have the privilege of cooking with such fresh produce, my engrained behavior serves no purpose.

TO TRIM OR NOT TO TRIM

When we pick up the paring knife, we are making a critical decision: we are deciding what is edible and what is not. Unless composted, what we deem to be “not edible” contributes unnecessarily to the painfully large amount of food waste in our country.

In my own kitchen, I chop up stems, (including for instance, that [carefully washed] part of the carrot where root becomes top) and sauté them in the pan at the same time the onions and garlic go in. Just by giving the stems a little longer to cook, they are more than edible. By the time the soup or casserole or pasta is finished cooking, the trimmings are as tender as can be. These ‘vegetable edges’ disappear into background flavor and sometimes make two servings into three.

When I’m not planning to sauté, a grater, blender or thin dicing with a knife reduce my stems and stalks to palatable, non-stringy bites that add crunch, color and/or body to whatever raw dish I’m making.

When I have more stems and stalks than I can use in one recipe, I find a way to preserve them. It is easy to keep cleaned, chopped ends in a gallon ziplock bag in the freezer. On a cold day, you have the makings for a great stock. Likewise, it is easy to let carrot tops or extra parsley stems dry like herbs on your cutting board. I find I use them more frequently this way because the are so visible and accessible.

With corn on our list this week, I’ll offer one more tip a favorite chef taught me. After you cut your corn off, save those cobs! Corn stock is a welcome winter treat in our house. It can be made with the carrot tops, parsley stems or even just water and cobs. The aforementioned favorite chef once made me a corn soup that was simply corn stock, salt, and cream. I can still taste that rich meal!

YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE IT OVER THE TOP

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not overly strict about stems and stalks. There are times when the bitterness of a stem or core is just too much, and I’m certainly not munching on things like grapes stems. The point is to think first, then act so that discarding a part of the vegetable or fruit is more the exception than the rule. Out in the packing shed, back at the sink, every stalk or stem I come across, I think to myself, could my families reasonably be expected to make use of this part of the produce? If not, I keep it at the farm to feed our chickens and to feed our soil. Thanks to my packing shed musings, I’m no longer trimming for looks or out of habit. Nature works hard to feed us. Meal after meal, this is a blessedly simple way we can show our respect.~AJ

Read more

Care of Leafy Greens

Care of Leafy Greens

It is a misconception that all crops want hot, dry weather.  Leafy greens prefer cool, mildly wet weather and tend to taste spicy or bitter when subjected to extended hot, dry spells that are typically of summer.

We always package our leafy green crops in bags.  This is because these crops are 80-90% water by weight.  Once cut from their roots, the plants have a very limited supply of water to keep cell walls rigid (i.e. crisp).  If you leave your greens in a hot car, or on the counter or even in the fridge in an open bag, they will quickly wilt.  The large surface area of leaf crops allows for water to be rapidly pulled out from the plant.  So be diligent and keep your greens in bags, with the tops shut, out of hot weather.

If your greens wilt, they are not bad or un-edible.  Please don’t throw them out.  Remove any damaged, brown leaves.  Fill a bowl or sink with ice cold water (out of direct sun) and allow your greens to soak for up to one hour.  If you are in a rush, just give them a good, ice cold dunking. Then lightly shake off excess water (a little water on your leaves is a good thing) and put in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Make sure the bag opening is folded over or twist tied shut.  Hooray for osmosis!

Alternately, if your greens have been prematurely wilted you can simply eat them that day.  Wilting with heat in a frying pan is really no different than drying herbs on a counter.  Time and heat are just used in different proportions.  Regardless of the amounts of time or heat your leafy greens have been exposed to (within reason, obviously- nothing should be slimy or smell off) they are entirely edible raw or cooked, there is absolutely nothing ‘wrong’ with them.  The only thing we need change is our mindset.
 

Read more