Monday, August 3, 2015

CSA News, Week 14

Quite the Specimens this Year

April showers may bring May flowers, but July monsoons bring weeds! Big beautiful botanical specimens the likes of which we have never seen. Most likely you are seeing them in places you normally don’t, or had a monster appear seemingly overnight. So, it’s timely to share a little bit about weed control strategies at Elmwood Stock Farm and tips for your own encounters.

Biology: It always starts with the biology. Understanding the principles of the basic growth habits of the different “types” of weeds unveils a series of strategies to manage them. The factors are perennial/bienniel/annual (that’s 3) X cold/hot loving (2 more) X broadleaf/grassy (2) X wet/dry (2) X reproductive orientation i.e. seeds/root suckers (2 more). That’s 48 different combinations of growth habits to consider. In practical terms, you need to know what stage of life a plant appears to be in, to know when to implement your strategy.

We can watch the wave of different weeds go through the growing season, and they are actually a pretty good indicator of where in the season we are. We have seen the prevalent weeds in various fields shift over time, as weeds are also a good indicator of soil chemistry. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but plants high in a particular mineral will grow in a site deficient in that mineral. The plant scavenges and mines the soil, accumulating that mineral with its roots, which accumulates it in the soil profile, thus repairing the imbalance and eventually the weed-plant will go away in that field.

While knowing that there are 48 basic plant growth options of the hundreds of weed species looking for a nice organic farm on which to propagate, we really only have two tools to work with, so timing is everything. Let’s start with tool number one, cutting. If you cut the stalk of a broadleaf weed when it is young, it will send out new shoots at the soil level and at any leaf attachment points below the cut. Now, instead of one weed stalk, you will have several. If you let the stalk mature, to where you see the flower forming, and then chop the stalk low to the ground, the hormones will not trigger sprouting since it thinks it made a flower/seed. But sometimes, you really have to grit your teeth watching them, especially this year, waiting for just the right time. Grassy weeds keep the growing point below ground, well out of harm’s way of mowers that clip only the leaves we see. Not until the seed stalk is extended, can you effectively stop its growth before it can produce viable seeds in the self-fulfilling prophecy mandate that weeds seem to have a lot of.

The other basic control strategy, tool number two, is destroying the root system. Ripping them out of the ground in some fashion to let them desiccate on top of the soil, or chewing them up and mixing them in the soil by tilling, releases their nutrients for the next plant. Whether it be a hand hoe, or some type of metal implement that runs along the rows with a tractor, or a rototiller, you have to destroy the weeds’ ability to get moisture, or even to even have a vascular system at all. We have various types of tillage tools designed to get the job done, but only when the soil conditions are right.

The alfalfa hay fields, one foundation of our organic farming program, are cut low to the ground in a way that lets the plants fall cleanly to the ground to dry in the sun, several times each year from 30-50 days apart. This is fairly effective in eliminating weeds attempting to claim that space, which over time reduces the number of weed seeds produced in those fields, which in turn means we will have less weed pressure in that field when it goes into vegetable production. Rotating the cattle through the pasture and other hay fields on 30-40 day cycle is a very effective weed management strategy. Young tender weeds may be just as tasty as bluegrass and clover, so when the cows eat the tops off repeatedly, the reproductive capacity of the plant is disrupted. The plant will use up all its energy trying to make a flower, and then run out of time or energy to actually make a seed. Depending on the rest period between grazings, the livestock actually like to eat the flowers and seed heads on the weeds that almost got away. Sheep are especially known to be good browsers this way. You can mimic this process when mowing your lawn. Let the weeds stick their head above the grass, grit your teeth and look the other way a few days, then go out there and whack ‘em once and for all.

With the tropical forest type of conditions this summer, the soil tillage tools never left the shed. The cattle and sheep have so much to eat in each pasture, their rotation is slowed. Any time available spent on hand-weeding is focused within the vegetable crop rows. Therefore we have some remarkable weed specimens in some out-of-the-way locations. Some renegade horse weeds are about that could be close to 12 feet tall, and some dandy stands of Johnson grass, our nemesis, almost grow before you eyes. The past week’s weather has allowed the mowers, cultivators, and hoes to run hard to reclaim our territory before this week’s rains bring the next wave of weeds.

In Your Share

Sweet Corn
Fresh Herb
Sweet Bell Pepper
Yellow Squash
Kale Greens
Lime Cabbage Slaw with Chiles, from Sprouted Kitchen: The dressing is the consistency of a creamy vinaigrette. If you like it to cling to the slaw a bit better, a tablespoon or two more of Greek yogurt or mayonnaise will help with that. You could bulk it up with some cucumbers, and maybe black beans if you need to stretch it. Or if cabbage is a bit harsh for you, you could add in some chopped lettuce to calm down the roughage quality.
zest and juice of two large limes
1 T honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp pasilla chile powder (chipotle or ancho chile work as well)
1/4 cup olive or grapeseed oil
2 T Greek yogurt or mayonaise
1 head green cabbage
1/4 C finely diced red onion
1 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
3/4 C toasted macadamia nuts
1.In a small bowl, combine the zest and juice of the limes. Add the honey, salt and chile powder and whisk to combine. Mix in the yogurt or mayo and the oil and whisk well. Taste and alter as preferred. Set aside in the fridge.
2.Chop the cabbage super thin, using a mandoline if you have one. In a large salad bowl, combine the cabbage, red onion, three quarters of the cilantro, reserving some for garnish and mango. (Everything can be done in advance up to this point and kept covered in the fridge until ready for serving). Add desired amount of dressing and toss to coat. Chop the toasted macadamia nuts and garnish the top with the remaining cilantro and mac nuts. Give it a grind of fresh pepper and serve. The law benefits from a good 10-15 minute rest in the dressing if you have the time. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Tomato Pie, Sheri Castle recipe

one 9-in deep-dish pie shell
1 ½ lb tomatoes
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
¼ C lightly packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped
½ C crisp bacon pieces
¼ tsp celery salt or celery seed
¾ C high-quality mayonnaise
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 ¼ C grated Asiago cheese, divided
½ tsp ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 C crushed cracker crumbs
1.Bake and cool the pie shell.
2. When ready to bake the pie, heat oven to 350°F.
3.Use a serrated knife to cut the tomatoes into ¼ -inch-thick slices. Cover a wire rack with several layers of paper towels and set the rack over the sink to catch the drips. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on the rack. Sprinkle them with the salt and let drain for at least 10 minutes. Pat the tomatoes dry with fresh paper towels.
4.Arrange half of the tomatoes over the bottom of the pie shell. Scatter the basil and bacon over the first layer of tomatoes, and arrange the rest of the tomatoes on top.
5.Stir together the celery salt, mayonnaise, lemon zest and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir in ¾ C of the cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mayonnaise mixture over the tomatoes.
6.Toss together the remaining ½ C of cheese and the cracker crumbs in a small bowl; sprinkle over the top of the pie.
7.Bake until the top of the pie is nicely browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Summer Corn Soup with Shrimp, serves 4 from Sprouted Kitchen. Notes from the author: I strongly suggest making this with fresh corn. I can't really imagine the fresh flavor being duplicated with frozen or canned. If you don't eat shrimp, you could use chicken, black beans, or omit a protein all together.

4 ears sweet corn

3 ½ C vegetable stock

1 T butter

1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin

1 Large gold potato

1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg

red pepper flakes, to taste

1-2 tsp oregano, to taste

salt/pepper, to taste

sour cream, to taste

1 lb shrimp

1 T olive oil

1 avocado

1 poblano or pasilla Chile

juice of one lime

1/4 C finely chopped cilantro or basil or mix

1.Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and saute to coat. Cook until the onions just start to turn light brown. Peel the potato and cut into cubes, add it to the onion. Cut the kernels of corn off the cob with a sharp knife, add them to the soup pot. Add the broth, spices and a few grinds of fresh pepper and allow everything to simmer to cook the corn and potatoes through.

2.If using raw shrimp, toss them in the olive oil and a grind of fresh pepper, and put on a baking pan. Cut the poblano or pasilla chile in half length wise, and place it skin side up on the pan as well. Bake on the upper rack for about 5 minutes for shrimp to cook through. Remove the shrimp and set aside, put the pepper back in until the skin blisters (about 5 more minutes). While waiting, peel the skin and tails from the shrimp and cut into 1'' pieces. Remove the pepper and put it in a ziploc bag to cool, this will make the skin easy to peel off.

3.Check on the soup to make sure potato and corn are cooked through. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, blend the soup to create a puree. I like to leave it a bit chunky, this is up to you.

4.In a separate bowl, combine the shrimp pieces, lime juice, and chopped herbs. Peel and cut the avocado into small cubes, add to the bowl. Rub the skin off the roasted chile, cut into chunks. Toss gently together. Taste the soup for seasonings and adjust as you prefer. Allow people to stir in their sour cream as desired. Serve each portion of soup with a big scoop of the shrimp and avocado mix on top.


Summer Squash Latkes, food on the food

2 medium summer squash

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1 jalapeño, thinly sliced (optional)

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 C all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

4 T vegetable oil

Greek yogurt, for serving

Grate the squash with the large holes of a box grater. Wrap the shredded squash in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze it dry. In a medium bowl, combine the squash with the scallions, jalapeño, egg, flour, and baking powder. Season with salt and pepper. Mix gently just until combined.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 T of the oil until shimmery hot. Spoon 1/3-cup mounds of batter onto the hot pan and press lightly to flatten. Cook over medium heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Flip them and cook 3 minutes more until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter, adding oil as necessary. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Makes six.