Monday, July 16, 2012

Week 11, CSA News

Food Farming and Crop Rotation

We get a lot of questions about vegetable growing in general, questions about organic specifically, and questions about farming with both plants and animals.   So, we’ve allotted more newsletter space this season to production issues, and so far have shared details on the soil, insects, watering, weeds, and of course, the weather’s effect on all of it.  Well, why does organic farming work?  One reason is the employment of crop rotation, today’s topic.

The acreage at Elmwood that is suitable to tillage without the risk of erosion is where we plant the food crops (flatter fields, not the hilly ones). Before this disruption of the soil occurs, it must be in the right condition to meet the needs of the ensuing crop.  Everything here starts with alfalfa, commonly referred to as the Queen of forage crops. Alfalfa is a leguminous, tap rooted, broadleaf plant emerging from a seed about half the size of a sesame seed. It is slow to germinate and establish itself when planted in the fall, so we sow a fast growing small-grain like wheat or barley at the same time. This small-grain grass germinates quickly, holding the soil, and helps keeps weeds from trying to grow that would compete with the small alfalfa plants.  In early summer, we harvest the wheat heads, leaving behind the alfalfa.  The wheat is considered a nurse crop, helping to give the alfalfa seed a chance to get established, though eventually it is used in another part of the operation -- just last week, John harvested the wheat grain with a small combine.  We can feed the grain to poultry or use the seeds to plant with alfalfa in a similar method later this fall.   We know this variety of wheat does well on this farm, so saving our own organic seed is a sustainable key.

The alfalfa will be cut for hay numerous times for four years to nourish the cattle and sheep in winter. The taproot of the perennial alfalfa plant will penetrate deep into the soil, breaking up the harder clayey profiles and retrieving nutrients. Each time the plant is cut for hay, an equivalent amount of root mass dies, since there is not enough leaf area to support it all. These dead roots are decomposed by the microbes, releasing a wealth of nutrients for the new roots to feed from. It also opens up channels for air and water to feed the microbes. 
In addition to all of this, the symbiotic relationship the plant has with a beneficial microbe is the dramatic part of the story. Alfalfa seeds are inoculated with a specific strain of microbe before planting. The microbe will attach itself to the root, forming small pink nodules. While the plant is providing safe haven and nutrients, the nodules are extracting nitrogen from the air and feeding it to the plant. Any nitrogen produced that is not need-ed by the alfalfa is made available to other grass plants and soil biota. After four years of this soil building and animal feeding farming, the land is plowed and tilled to prepare for vegetables.

Generally, the high-value, long-season, heavy-feeding crops like tomato, pepper, melons, and sweet corn are the beneficiaries of this vibrant soil. When they are finished being harvested, we will plant some of that wheat seed in the fall to hold the soil, play host to the michorizae fungi, and keep weeds from encroaching. This wheat cover crop is easily tilled the following spring for short season crops like greens, broccoli, lettuce, beets, etc.  Actually, we can get two crops per year from this same acreage, as many of these same crops grow well into winter, and the second planting will hold the soil and provide food for fall CSA shares. The next spring, this land will be planted to the self-feeders. These are legumes like green beans, dry beans, and peas. After they are harvested, in comes the alfalfa and wheat nurse crop, setting up the 7-year cycle to begin anew.  A huge benefit to utilizing crop rotation is that insect pests and plant diseases often get lost in the shuffle, neutering their ability to hurt the crops. 

As members of the Elmwood Stock Farm CSA, you now not only know where your food is coming from for the season; you know where it will be growing next year, and the next, and the next: a testament to the crop rotation planning that is necessary to ensure your produce will be healthy, productive, and wholesome.  Hopefully, it feels pretty good to know where your food will be coming from year after year.

In Your Share

Blackberries- organic
Savoy Cabbage – organic
Sweet Corn - organic
Green Bell Pepper
Tomatoes – organic
Tomatillos – organic
Fennel – organic
Garlic – organic
Kohlrabi - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Roasted Ratatouille, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing, she roasted the veggies on a pan with parchment paper on her gas grill, and mentions that this is a great way to enjoy fennel if you don’t have a lot of experience with it.  Try including your Sungold cherry-type tomatoes if you don’t eat them all fresh!

1 large onion, cut into 12 wedges
12 garlic cloves, peeled
¾ lb eggplant cut in chunks
½ lb zucchini, cut into ½ inch rounds
1 lb plum tomato, cut into 4 wedges
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut in 12 wedges
¼ lb mushroom, cut in quarters
1 sweet red pepper, cut in strips
1 yellow sweet pepper, cut in strips
1 T chopped fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme
1 T chopped fresh rosemary or ½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ C shredded fresh basil or ¼ C chopped fresh parsley
1 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar

Spread onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, fennel, mushrooms, and sweet peppers in large lightly oiled roasting pan.  Sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.  Stirring occasionally, roast vegetables in pre-heated 400° oven for 45 minutes, or until tender and browned.  Toss with basil, olive oil and vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. 

Blue Cheese Coleslaw
Our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this easy, tasty recipe.

¾ head Savoy cabbage, shredded
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 C mayo (light is fine)
4 oz blue cheese crumbles (1 C)
4-5 green onions, diced
red grapes, halved
salt and pepper

Mix lemon juice, mayo and blue cheese crumbles. Stir in cabbage, green onions and red grape halves.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Eggplant Casserole

1 large or 2 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
½ C butter
16 oz canned or frozen tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
5 oz jar Old English Cheese spread
1 C cracker crumbs
Worcestershire sauce
Dried cayenne pepper flakes
1 C breadcrumbs
½ C grated Parmesan cheese

Boil eggplant pulp for 15 minutes.  Drain well.  Sauté onion and green pepper in butter until tender.  Add tomatoes, English cheese, cracker crumbs and pulp.  Season with Worcestershire and cayenne to taste.  Put into casserole dish.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and paprika.  Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes.

Eggplant Involtini, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this new recipe she really enjoyed.

1 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 lb tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 3 large)
½ tsp kosher salt, divided
4 garlic cloves, crushed and divided
12(1/4-inch-thick) lengthwise slices eggplant (about 2 medium)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
cooking spray
2 T pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 oz whole-wheat French bread, toasted and torn into pieces
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 large egg
¾ C chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about ½ C) and divided

Combine oil and tomatoes in a medium saucepan; stir in ¼ tsp salt and 2 garlic cloves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until reduced to 2 C. Cool 10 minutes. Place mixture in a food processor; process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high. Sprinkle eggplant slices evenly with ¼ tsp salt and pepper; arrange slices in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly coat eggplant with cooking spray. Broil 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Cool 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place remaining 2 garlic cloves in a mini food processor; pulse until chopped. Add nuts and bread; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs form. Add ricotta, lemon rind, and egg; process until smooth. Stir in ½ C basil and ¼ C Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Spread 1½ C tomato sauce over the bottom of an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread 2 T ricotta mixture onto each eggplant slice; roll up jellyroll fashion. Place rolls, seam sides down, over sauce in dish. Spoon remaining sauce over rolls. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ C Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining basil to serve.