Monday, September 16, 2013

CSA Week 20, Pests

We have discussed in this posting numerous times before about the intricacies of organic food production systems. Hopefully you have an image of this idyllic scaled down version of a tropical rain forest. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it becomes. We foster and encourage the proliferation of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects, plants, birds, wildlife, domesticated mammals and fowl, and us. When the seasons and weather patterns unfold “normally”, the balanced system has a way of buffering our crops from pestilence. Since there is no such thing as normal weather anymore, it seems there will often be an outbreak of an insect population that harms one crop or another crop when we have an unusually cool wet summer. 

When you sign up to be a shareholder of the Elmwood Stock Farm CSA, you agree to share in the risks of organic food farming in central Kentucky – and crop damage from insects is one such risks. With so many different vegetable crops, it is difficult at best for every single crop to do great, every year. We do our best in managing production, continually making improvements here and there, using our experience in making decisions while continually learning more, and ultimately we hope for the best.  With the farm being USDA Certified Organic, we have the responsibility to provide you wholesome produce consistent with our core organic principles.  Here are a few decisions we have made on your behalf this season, first with your brassica crops, and then sweet corn.

Broccoli, kales, collards, cabbages, and mustards, and bok choy are all in the brassica family. They also represent a valuable part of a healthy diet, so we grow these from early spring until winter kill late in the year. They grow relatively well in our climate though are a favorite of several insect pests.  The main pest is the cabbage looper, which eats holes in the leaves in the larvae stage (a pale green worm most often found on the underside of a leaf of the plant.)  The adults are “cute white butterflies” to the unknowing.  Often a beneficial insect population destroys this pest in either the egg or pupae stage. If there is a significant hatch of larvae, we use a biological control that affects only this species of larvae. This product is derived from plants and has been approved for use on organic farms, because of its narrow range of impact on the environment. This year we saw an invasion of a pest we’ve seen before, but not in such devastating numbers, the harlequin stinkbug. It showed up on brassica crops throughout Central Kentucky, though we’ve heard from one or two lucky farms that haven’t seen it yet.  It devours the plant leaves, sucking out the juices, and wilts and browns the plants, seemingly overnight. There are no biological control measures to control this pest on organic farms, save completely covering them with thin fabric most often used for frost protection -- and this needs to be applied before the beetles move in.  With the fall brassica crops coming on, we will painstakingly keep them covered, knowing we really need to have more of the good greens going into winter.  Cold weather with freezing temperatures should reduce this season’s harlequin beetle explosive population.

The kale or other greens you see at local farmers markets may have been sprayed numerous times by non-organic farmers with a harsh pesticide in an effort to control this pest if they have it at their farms. These are the kind of chemicals that the farmer should wear a respirator and plastic suit for protection while applying it to the food crop.  A couple of farms that we know about had trouble killing this creature with numerous pesticide applications.  We made the decision to not expose our farm and your food to such a toxic compound, but to do without the late season kale until we can grow you a crop organically. We hope you trust our judgment on this.  If we do not have a particular crop and you shop elsewhere, please source USDA certified organic produce for your own benefit.  Look for the logo.  

Now for that pesky worm, actually caterpillar, in the end of the ear of corn. It is a bit unsightly to peel back the husk of an ear of corn and discover a caterpillar already there. We have a few biological tools we can use in organic systems, but by definition they provide limited success and are very time sensitive to the stage of maturity of the ear. The pest only wants to be there the same time you do, not a week before. If the weather conditions are just so-so, some can get past our efforts to keep them out. We scout the fields daily and act accordingly when necessary. We source corn varieties that are known to have a thick husk covering the ear to resist entry. We are not willing to compost an entire corn crop because of a problem at the very tip of the ear. Sometimes we can keep it clean, other times we will cut off the tip to remove the problem as we pack your share, sometimes we just can’t see them when we look over each ear when picking and packing. When you encounter a small nuisance such as this, simply dispose of it with the shucks, wash the tip with running water, or cut away the damaged tip.  Another option is to purchase picture-perfect corn that has had countless amounts of toxic pesticides sprayed to make sure there is no concern. We think the toxic chemical is the concern, not the inconvenience. 

Just like the American chestnut blight of the past century, or the current invasion of emerald ash borer that is decimating the beautiful old ash trees in Kentucky, there are cycles of pests that a natural ecosystem has no control for. We have confidence that in a few years the natural enemies will find a chink in the armor of the harlequin bug, and help us control them during our production cycle. Until then, we will work with row covers, crop rotation, seasonality, variety resistance, and weather patterns, to grow crops without toxic chemicals. Thanks for your trust and support. We think it’s the right way to go.

In Your Share

Dried Beans – organic

Green Beans - organic

Okra - organic

Green Onions and White Onions - organic

Bell Peppers - organic

Yellow Squash

Tomatoes – organic

Fall Sweet Corn - organic

Garlic – organic

Lettuce - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Spaghetti with Eggplant Sauce, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe she adapted from viewing several found online, serves 3 or 4

1 pound eggplant, cut into ½ inch slices

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed

2 springs thyme or oregano, chopped

1 C chicken stock or water

6 leaves basil, sliced thinly

salt and pepper

chopped fresh tomatoes

1 pound spaghetti

Lightly salt the slices of eggplant, stack them back together and let sit for 20 minutes.

Put the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan, add the garlic cloves, and set over low heat. Dry off the eggplant, cut it into chunks. When you start hearing the garlic sizzle a little and can smell it, drop in your eggplant and stir to coat it all with oil. Turn up the heat a little bit to medium high and add the thyme or oregano and stir. When the eggplant is turning translucent and softening, add the liquid, let it come to a boil, and turn it back down to medium-low. Let it bubble for a bit and cover it, leaving a crack for steam to escape. Stir once in a while so that the bottom doesn’t stick.

After about 20 minutes or so, the liquid in the eggplant pan should be mostly evaporated and the eggplant should be soft and melting. Mash it with a fork or spoon, and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Toss the eggplant purée with the spaghetti that you cooked al dente. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and basil.

Roasted Eggplant Burgers, our thanks to a CSA member for adapting this recipe, makes 4 burgers.  

1 medium eggplant

1/2 C rolled oats, toasted

1/2 C walnuts, toasted

1 C fresh corn

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 egg

½ C fresh parsley, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

1 C panko or whole-wheat breadcrumbs
 2 T extra virgin olive oil

4 whole-wheat buns

To make the patties, start with the eggplant. Slice them into 1/2-inch slices and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over each slice; let sit for about 30 minutes. This will draw out the moisture of the eggplant, making for less soggy burgers.

In a small skillet, sauté the corn with the garlic in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Roast the eggplant slices for about 30 minutes, until they start to brown. Remove from heat and cut into chunks. Let cool a little, toss them into a food processor. Add the oats, walnuts, corn, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, then pulse a few times to incorporate everything.

Pour the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. With your hands, create little patties with the eggplant mixture, and pat them into the breadcrumbs.  You can freeze at this point, or refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and cook each patty until nice and browned, about 7 minutes total. Serve with your favorite fixings, mozzarella melted on top is wonderful.  Can be frozen after cooked.

Green Bean Quiche, a Cornelia Adam recipe

6 oz bacon

1 large onion, diced

salt and pepper to taste

pinch of dried thyme

2 eggs

7 oz herbed soft cheese

2/3 C crème fraiche

1 tsp paprika

16-20 oz green beans, trimmed and snapped

9-10 inch premade pie crust

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until most of the fat has melted.  Add onion and cook until translucent.  Season with salt, pepper and thyme.  Remove pan from heat.

In a bowl, blend the eggs, cheese, and crème fraiche.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and paprika.

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Distribute the green beans in a star shape in the crust, and sprinkle with the bacon-onion mix.  Pour the egg-milk mixture on top.  Bake the quiche until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes.