Monday, June 11, 2012

CSA Week 6

From Water to Wonderful

We all know rain makes the plants grow.  But how does this work and how does it get there?  What if it doesn’t?

The genesis of water supply to the plant is the structure of the soil particles and the amount of organic matter among those particles.  A sandy soil, like the beach, lets any added water run right through and retains some but not much for long.  A clay soil is like pouring water on a magazine, the middle pages don’t even get wet.  But if you soak the magazine in water, it absorbs the water, swells up and almost never dries out.  We are blessed at Elmwood Stock Farm with a nicely balanced soil known by name as “Maury silt loam”, which is a nice mixture of sand, silt, and clay.  Our ‘Maury’ is known for being deep, well drained with a high degree of fertility.  Did you know every square foot of soils in the Commonwealth are named, mapped, and characteristics are described in USDA databases, to aid farmers and civil engineers in planning their work?  Without overworking the topic, a little explanation of how we manage water supply for our crops should be good for you to understand – you will know how much rainfall and drought affects your seasonal local food supply.

Picture the side view of a hole dug about 5 feet deep.  At the top is the topsoil, which is dark brown, crumbles in your hands and has a rich earthy smell.  As you go deeper, the color gets lighter and it no longer crumbles when handled.  The upper zone, known as the root zone, is where most of the soil food web action happens.  The thousands of species of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, arthropods share an ecosystem way more diverse and active than any jungle ever thought about.  This creates the earthy smell and gives life to the soil.  Otherwise it would only be the structural components and nothing could grow.  As this jungle of life evolves and is altered by farming, they form little cavities; roots make paths all through it, worms, ants, and other insects burrow and tunnel through it.  Now we now have a way for the rainwater to reach the roots.  We also have the capacity to retain some of the rainwater in these underground micro reservoirs, for the microbes and roots to access between rains.

To conserve precious rainwater, we mulch some crops with hay or straw.  Other places we plant living mulches between rows to keep the sun off the soil but these plants grow slowly and do not use much water themselves.  We also use thin strips of plastic sheeting to hold moisture in the soil and keep the weeds from growing along the base of the plant rows. 

Since we often have dry spells in KY, at Elmwood, we employ mechanical irrigation techniques to ensure the soil, and then the crop, have access to water to produce the food we all love to eat.  The southern border of the farm is Elkhorn Creek, at a location above an historic mill dam, which forms a deep pool of water for us to draw from.  With electric or tractor driven pumps, we can send water through a series of underground and above ground pipes to the edge of each field.  From there we have two options, t-tape or traveler.  T-tape comes on a 4000’roll, is laid under the plastic when the plastic is put down or is walked out by hand along the plant row.  It has little holes that allow a single drop of water to drip out every 12 inches over a long period of time.  This is a very efficient means of providing water directly to the crop.  Garden kits are available.  The traveler is a big gun sprinkler attached to a large reel.  The sprinkler gun is pulled to the end of the field.  As the pump pushes water out the sprinkler, which covers a 90’ diameter, the water pressure turns a crank that slowly winds the hose around the reel, thus moving the gun the length of the field.  This puts on a lot of water, over the entire field in a fairly short amount of time.

So tillage and planting is our main moisture management plan, and we leave nothing to chance if we can help it to ensure a good crop will be harvested.  But nothing beats a good soaking rain.

Related reading: transpiration, capillary action, fertigation, soil food web, NRCS soils maps and capability classes.
Local Supplies: Kentucky Irrigation, Third St at Midland, Lexington.
In Your Share

Black Turtle Beans – organic 
Here's a TIP:   Beans are usually soaked over night in water before cooking.  If you don’t have that kind of time, take a tip from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom (yes, Julia Child).  For 1 C of beans, bring to a boil in 3 C of water.  Boil exactly 2 minutes, cover, and set aside for exactly 1 hour.  The beans and the liquid should be ready for cooking.
Broccoli – organic

Green Cabbage – organic

Lettuce – organic

Rainbow Swiss Chard – organic   

Yellow Squash and/or Green Zucchini 
Sugar Snap Peas - organic

Purple Top White Turnips - organic

Recipes to Enjoy


Basic Green Soup Recipe, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing one of her “go-to” recipes for including fresh greens in the family meal.  This chard-and-spinach soup gets complex flavor from slowly cooked onions and lemon juice, while a sprinkle of rice gives it body and a velvety texture.  Serve with a swirl of fruity, fragrant extra-virgin olive oil for richness.  Recipe by Anna Thomas for Eating Well.

2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 tsp salt, divided
2 T plus 3 C water, divided
¼ C Arborio rice
1 bunch chard (about 1 lb)
14 C gently packed spinach (about 12 oz), any tough stems trimmed
4 C vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 T lemon juice, or more to taste

Heat 2 T oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and ¼ tsp salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, add 2 T water and cover.  Cook, stirring frequently until the pan cools down, and then occasionally, always covering the pan again, until the onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 C water and ¾ tsp salt in a soup pot or Dutch oven; add rice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Trim the white ribs out of the chard (save for another use, such as to add to a stir-fry or other soup).  Coarsely chop the chard greens and spinach.

When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, stir in the chard greens.  Return to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes.  When the onions are caramelized, stir a little of the simmering liquid into them; add them to the rice along with the spinach, broth and cayenne.  Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes more.
Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth or in a regular blender in batches (return it to the pot).  Stir in 1 T lemon juice.  Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish each bowl of soup with a drizzle of olive oil.

Spaghetti with Broccoli and Crushed Red Pepper, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this fast and easy recipe; you can add your favorite protein if desired:  favorites include cooked  thighs,  turkey breast meat, and peeled fresh shrimp or scallops.
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 to 1 1/4 lbs.), separated in florets, stems peeled and cut in bite sized pieces
2 T finely chopped garlic
6 T olive oil
½ t. crushed red pepper
½ C chicken broth
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 lb spaghetti or linguine, cooked and drained

In large pot of boiling water, cook broccoli for 3 minutes; drain.  Chill quickly under cold running water, drain and set aside.  In large skillet, sauté' garlic in oil without browning.  Add broccoli and cook, stirring 3 to 5 minutes or until heated thoroughly.  Add red pepper, broth and black pepper, bring to a boil.  Toss with hot spaghetti or linguine.  (Yields:  about 8 servings.)

Sue’s Black Bean Soup, our thanks to Wash House Herb Farm in Stamping Ground KY for this easy, favorite recipe that uses all Elmwood ingredients!

3 C cooked organic black beans
3 C organic chicken stock
1 C salsa (have your tried Elmwood’s jarred salsa?)

Put first three ingredients in soup pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat slightly if needed to maintain constant simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring when needed.  Remove from heat and add dash of allspice.  Use an immersion blender to puree, then serve.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, carefully spoon soup into a regular blender and pulse.  Reheat if needed before serving.)

Garlicky Broccoli, adapted from a recipe originally appearing in Cooking Light Magazine, written for 2 pounds of broccoli serving 6 to 8, you can reduce amounts if serving less, similar to our spaghetti recipe for this week but offers the garlic-broccoli-chile recipe as a side dish rather than an entrée.

2 pounds broccoli
1 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ tsp slat
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper

Cook broccoli in boiling water 6 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Drain and plunge broccoli into ice water; drain, chop coarsely.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in broccoli, salt, and peppers.  If you like it hot, double the amount of crushed red pepper.