Monday, July 8, 2013

CSA, Week 10, Where Does All the Water Go?

When Elmwood Stock Farm got north of 5 inches of rain in a few days’ time, we witnessed an organic farming system perform admirably, as Mother Nature intended. Farming by definition is manipulating the natural ecosystem to reap an edible product in an efficient manner. But when she throws torrential rain into the picture, that manipulation best be well-planned to protect and preserve the capacity to grow food.

Each field has its own distinct personality with respect to soil type, slope, underlying geologic structure, and historical use. Many of our fields are permanent pasture, as they are not conducive to cultivation without extreme risk of erosion. When cropping a field, these considerations are taken into account to determine which direction the tractor and plow will travel to “open it up”. This term refers to flipping the sod over to decompose the plant material to feed the impending crop. It effectively means the soil is now exposed to the elements and potential erosion from heavy rains, as there is no mat of plant material to soften the impact of the drops, and no plant roots to hold the soil in place. The rows of plants are oriented on the contour as a mechanism to hold back the rainwater every 38 inches like a little blockade. This also encourages the water to soak into the soil uniformly throughout the field. As the plants develop on our rows of crops, they form an underground wall of roots that physically hold the soil particles in place. Since our fields are undulating in their topography, we often have rows going in different directions in the same field. You may also see narrow strips of grass that project up into a field. This is called a sod waterway, where no cropping occurs. This allows for natural surface water drainage from a field with the sod holding the soil, and filtering dislodged soil particles from leaving the field.

While the plants are getting their root system established we depend on a strong soil food web to hold our soil in place during a heavy rain. (Google ‘soil food web’ images to get a mental picture about this.)  The soil food web is an intricate balance of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, algae, micro-flagellates, arthropods, insects at various life stages, earthworms, ants, even mammals living in harmony under the surface of the soil. When a good balance of this underground jungle is achieved, these creatures work in harmony to feed one another, and provide the right physical environment to prosper. Given an opportunity to organize, they will form aggregates of all shapes and sizes that facilitate not only their communal habitat, but the ability for water and air to filter deep into the ground. A healthy soil will use these aggregates to hold together in the event of a large rain, rather than liquefy and run away with the water down the slope. 

Once the crops are established, we also have to cultivate the weeds between the rows, to prevent them from robbing nutrients, water, and sunlight from our crops. This physical destruction of the weeds and top surface of the ground is disruptive to the soil food web. We try to minimize the amount of tillage we employ, and pay it back when we rotate the field back into perennial plants for several years. As a crop nears maturity, we hold off on additional cultivation. While this may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it does not negatively impact the crop in question and helps the soil food web maintain balance. It also minimizes raindrop splatter keeping the crop cleaner and holds people upright better while harvesting. Longer season crops are grown through strips of plastic mulch used for weed control and water retention in dry weather. These strips of plastic shed the rainwater, effectively doubling the amount of water in the area between the strips of plastic. Severe erosion can occur in the instance of a big rain event. We purposely sow ryegrass between the rows of plastic. This mat of plants and their roots hold the soil, preventing erosion and facilitates the work of the harvest crew. Soil that is repeatedly driven or walked on while wet, will become compacted, compromising the soil food web. The sod mat distributes the weight of a vehicle or human over a larger area, thus reducing the impact. The mud stays in the field, versus coming into the packing shed on boots and harvest tubs.

Luckily, the timing of this recent big rain came after most of our crops are established. The cover crop between the rows of plastic is well established. Where the early lettuce and over-wintering spinach had been tilled under for later plantings, only narrow bare strips a few rows wide were exposed to the elements, so no runoff was seen there. Elkhorn Creek did not breach its banks and flood the cucumbers and squash. The alfalfa hay fields could not be cut and baled for hay as planned, which will reduce the protein content, but still hopefully will be enough to meet the needs of the cattle and sheep this winter. The chicken feed stayed wet in the trough, but since chickens like rain better than heat, their strong appetites encouraged them to eat all the feed anyway. The harvest crew never complained and most everything got picked and packed, as if it had been sunny all week. 

Weeks like last, build character, fortitude, and resolve at Elmwood Stock Farm. We can tough out a little rain better than we can force our way through a drought. It feels good to know that in spite of it all, our members are eating wholesome organic food, and the farm held up to Mother Nature’s test. 

In Your Share . . .

Broccoli – organic

Cabbage – organic

Carrots - organic


Lettuce – organic

Green Bell Pepper - organic

Summer Squash Medley

Lacinato Tuscan Black Kale Greens – organic

Recipes to Enjoy . . .

Tangy Coleslaw Quinoa Salad, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this enjoyable recipe!
1 C cooked quinoa
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
2 medium carrots, grated
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 C white vinegar
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 heaping T sugar (or 1 T honey)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
Couple dashes of ground black pepper

Whisk together the last six ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.  In a separate bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrots and onion, then pour the dressing on top.  Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to incorporate.

Combine the quinoa and the slaw in a large bowl & mix well.  If you like a lot of flavor, pour the rest of the dressing into the salad (don't worry, the quinoa will absorb it almost instantly!).  Otherwise, serve on its own or as a nice meatless side dish, and enjoy!

Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage, Our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe originally from the NY Times.  She reports it is mighty tasty and only takes 5 minutes to prepare. Serves 4.

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 star anise, broken in half
2 tsp soy sauce (more to taste)
2 T rice wine or dry sherry
2 T peanut or canola oil
1 small cabbage, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, quartered, cored and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds
1 medium carrot, cut into julienne
Salt to taste
2 T minced chives or cilantro

Combine the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and star anise in a small bowl. Combine the soy sauce and wine or sherry in another small bowl. 

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in the oil by adding it to the sides of the pan and tilting it back and forth. Add the garlic, ginger, pepper flakes and star anise. Stir-fry for a few seconds, just until fragrant, then add the cabbage and carrots. 

Stir-fry for one to two minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt, then add the salt and wine/soy sauce mixture. Cover and cook over high heat for one minute until just wilted. Uncover and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then stir in the chives or cilantro and remove from the heat. The cabbage should be crisp-tender. Serve with rice or noodles.

Summer Squash with Pesto, Bacon and Goat Cheese, adapted from a Farm-Fresh and Fast recipe by Fairshare CSA Coalition

3-4 pieces uncured bacon
2 T olive oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 massive or 4 smaller summer squash, cut in into ¼ inch slices
1 T ground herbes de Provence
2-3 T pesto
1-2 C roughly diced fresh tomatoes
crackers, crumbled or croutons
2-3 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp.  Remove from skillet and set aside to drain on a paper towel.  Break into crumbles when cool.

Without wiping the skillet, add the olive oil, sliced onion, and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium-high heat.  When the onion is starting to caramelize (about 15 minutes), toss in the squash and the herbs.  Brown the squash slices on both sides, then add the pesto, crumbled bacon, tomatoes, and pinch of salt.  Stir everything together over medium heat until the tomatoes are done (skin splits).  Serve topped with cracker pieces or croutons, goat cheese, and black pepper to taste.  Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish.

Sesame Noodle Salad with Cucumbers, recipe from Farm-Fresh and Fast, can be enjoyed as is, or served as a bed for grilled chicken or steak.

16 oz spaghetti, broken into thirds
4 T soy sauce
3 T toasted sesame oil
2 T light olive oil
6 T lime juice
dash cayenne
3 cucumbers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 carrots, grated (optional)
6 radishes, grated (optional)
3 green onions, minced
3 T finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 T toasted sesame seeds

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.  Meanwhile, prepare a dressing by whisking together the soy sauce, oils, lime juice, and cayenne.  When the noodles are cool, toss with the dressing to coat.  Stir in the cucumbers, additional vegetables (if using) and remaining ingredients.