Monday, June 8, 2015

CSA News Week 6

Controlled Cohabitation

Biodiversity is a tenant of the organic certification regulations, and frankly it is a backbone of being a good organic farmer. Be it the microscopic mix of bacteria, fungi, and yeasts - to the insect jungle - to the vascular plants – to the birds and mammals that live among them, organic farms host a richness of diversity not possible on chemical intensive landscapes.

We speak often of the benefits of a healthy soil food web and its ability to produce healthy crops, which in turn enriches our bodies with healthy food for our microbiome. We enjoy relaying stories about how tiny beneficial insects rule the roost by eliminating insect pests at their most vulnerable stage of life. We probably don’t talk enough about how covering the leaves on some plants with a compost tea of sorts, reduces the ability of plant pathogens to get a toe-hold and degrade plants. The songbirds we see, and hear, represent all colors of the rainbow and spectrum of sounds! We manage our fields to encourage this diversity to work in our favor, and the Organic Certification Agency’s inspector looks to verify that we in fact are doing so. You are probably beginning to see some of the thoroughness of attention necessary for organic production with a proactive approach to farming, and less dependency on reactive methods.

While we encourage diversity, cohabitation with Birds of Prey, and many mammals, sets the stage for strange bedfellows. Elmwood Stock Farm trees are nesting sites for Red-Tailed Hawks and Great-Horned Owls, and home to Wiley Coyote(s), an untold number of Rocky Raccoons, Gangs of Groundhogs, Passels of Pepe Le Pews, mice and voles galore.

So, in order to have sweet corn, at all, we employ two primary techniques to keep critters out of it. To keep Heckle and Jekyll out, we inflate balloons with an eye painted on them and put them on top of 15’ long poles scattered through the patch. We have also found decorative Mylar helium balloons to work in a pinch (one time it was a flying pink pig.) Thanks to some modern technologies like the electrified fence netting, we can encircle the corn patch with several lengths of the 18” tall netting; hook up a solar powered fence charger that shocks the raccoons if they touch it. Since they cannot climb it, and they don’t jump well, we win by having sweet corn available for you! The fence charger is designed to give the animals a ‘jolt’, not inflict harm. These electric fencing systems, known as mental barriers as opposed to permanent rigid fence physical barriers, are key animal husbandry tools for poultry, beef, and sheep production. Thankfully we have limited deer pressure where we plant the sweet corn, so we don’t have to have an elaborate tall and wide fencing system above the low netting.

Our relationship with the hawks and owls goes back several generations as we watch the fledglings emerge from the trees each spring. It is fascinating to see them soar in the sky, it is harder to watch as they swoop down for chicken dinner. It is only fair that we limit the temptation by designing poultry systems that lessen the interest in interaction. Big turkeys, no problem. They usually only need a 30” tall ground-predator electric netting. Laying hens, only need more than ground-predator netting for a short window in the year when the young owls and hawks are sizing up. Then we make a spider web of sorts with 20# test fishing line from the house out to the netting, which alters the flight pattern of the raptors, so they don’t even try to get in. It does add quite a bit of time to weekly moves and chores when this is necessary.

Smaller turkeys must have flight netting over their heads in addition to the perimeter netting. We use a lightweight, ¼ inch plastic mesh that radiate out from their shelter to posts out at the perimeter. We have to be sure the flight netting cover is high enough so the turkeys can run and hop and flap about the way they love to do. It also takes quite a bit of time to move every few days. In order to win the race with these predators, the broiler chickens enjoy a shaded courtyard between two houses about 30’ apart. The solid plastic roof also keeps out the rain, mid-day sun, along with the raptors. The sides of the courtyard are customized lengths of the electric net, so the chickens are well protected from the birds of prey and ground predators.

Mice come into the barns each fall to secure their winter home and food supply. By keeping feed and seed in tamper-proof bins, we limit the access. Several of the barns have resident cats that help out as well. Since we see little or no evidence of invaders and have healthy cats, it must be working.

Just like your image of the jungle, the diversity of plants, animals, and microbes define a place. The more diverse an ecosystem, the more stable it is. We work hard to encourage biodiversity, even though some of that diversity costs us a lot of time and money when it comes to outdoor poultry production. Such intimacy with nature and encouragement of biodiversity is what it means to be an organic farm. Thanks for your support and partnership to make it all happen!

In Your Share

Kale Greens
Sugar Snap Peas
Garlic Scapes
Mixed Beets 


Snap Peas with Chile and Mint, serves 4 from Gourmet Magazine
¼ tsp red curry paste
3 T water
1 T oil
½ C thinly sliced shallots
1 lb sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and strings removed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lime juice
½ C loosely packed, thinly sliced fresh mint
Stir together curry paste and 2 T water in a small cup. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and sauté shallots, stirring, until edges are starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Add snap peas and salt and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add curry paste mixture and stir-fry until peas are just tender and beginning to brown in spots, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining water, scraping up brown bits from bottom of skillet. Transfer snap peas to a bowl and stir in lime juice and mint. Serve immediately.

Asparagus, Peas, and Basil, serves 4
¼ C finely chopped shallots
3 T unsalted butter
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
¾-1 lb fresh peas, trimmed and strings removed
¼ tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
handful of torn basic leaves (about half-cup)
Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in asparagus, peas, salt, and pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes. Stir in basil and salt to taste if needed. Serve immediately.

Pea Salad with Meyer Lemon Dressing, serves 6 to 8, from Steven Satterfield’s Root to Leaf
1 + 2 garlic scapes, blanched or grilled
1 Meyer lemon, quartered and seeds removed (organic if available since using the whole lemon including the skin)
Olive oil
1 pound snow peas or snap peas, strings removed and ends trimmed
Freshly ground black pepper
To make dressing: combine lemon, 1 garlic scape coarsely chopped, ½ tsp salt and 4 T olive oil in a blender until smooth. The Meyer lemon is less acidic than a regular lemon so the resulting dressing is not too tart.
To make salad: thinly slice the peas lengthwise and transfer them to a large bowl. Slice the 2 remaining garlic scapes crosswise and add to the bowl. Toss with 2 T of the lemon dressing, 2 T olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper to taste.