Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Week 10, CSA

Plants Out of Place

In academia, a weed is simply a plant out of place. A corn plant in a soybean field is considered a weed. In practicality, weeds complicate almost every aspect of our farming business. Some weeds are actually a useful indicator of pH or fertility issues. We know how to get rid of them, if the timing is right. Much of what we do as organic farmers is managing the soil weed-seed bank with our farming systems, but we have steel for the ones that get by us.

To understand weed-control options, we must start with the weeds' biology and reproductive capacities. In general, annual weeds produce lots of seeds; biennials less. Perennials use shoots and roots to reproduce, but there are exceptions. Some are monocots (grasses), some dicots (broad leafs).  Some germinate in cool soils, others as the soil warms. Some like it wet, some dry. All shades of gray come in for soil pH and fertility. When you put all these combinations together, there is something for us to combat throughout the year.

Most seeds have a protective coating and are programmed to stay dormant until conditions are right. They can sit idle in the soil for years—even decades. This accumulation of seeds is called the seed bank. Researchers have found that in perennial pasture soils, there may be as many as 150,000 seeds per square meter.

We can reduce the number of seeds that germinate by not disturbing the soil and by preventing the animals from overgrazing the perennial plants, which shade out the weeds and out-compete their roots for soil nutrients and moisture. In crop fields, the seed bank is awakened by cultivation, which exposures weed seeds to light and places them at the right depth to sprout and grow. How the seeds know this is a bit of a miracle in itself. Knowing we have stimulated them to grow, we quickly plant our desired crop with the idea that it will quickly emerge and shade out the slower-growing weeds. Some more than others, but all plant roots exude compounds that tell weed seeds not to germinate because there is too much competition. This is called allelopathy—part of the miracle we work with.

When our plants are in wide rows, like in the vegetable fields, we assume the responsibility of eliminating the weeds around them. For direct-seeded crops, like beets, beans and corn, we often create a stale seed bed. We get the field ready to plant but then wait for the opportunistic weed seeds to sprout and grow. With very shallow cultivation, we destroy them, then plant our crop, knowing there will be less competition since we killed off a lot of the weeds already. 

Cattle and sheep will eat lots of weeds. In fact, they seem to like the diversity. Livestock may consume small quantities of some weeds considered toxic, which leads us to think it may be part of their innate behavior to ward off internal parasites. Other weeds provide good nutrients when young and tender but not when they get mature and rank. Cattle and sheep can be seen stripping the seeds off the stems. It is a thing of beauty to see a patch of spiny pigweed in a field with no viable seeds attached, knowing they have been consumed, degraded and digested by an animal. Blackbirds and songbirds can eat a lot of seeds in a years’ time, as well.

The Worst of the Weeds
Two of the more insidious invaders we must thwart are thistles and Johnson grass. We have two options to control thistles. They can be chopped out with a hoe, but you have to cut just below the soil surface to separate the crown from the root, otherwise they will sucker out and send up numerous small shoots. The second control method requires the right timing. If we cringingly wait for the classic purple thistle flowers to develop before we mow the field, the plant hormones think seeds were produced and do not tell the plant to sucker out and try again, but boy, it can get ugly out there for a while.
Johnson grass is the toughest of all for us to manage, much less control. It is a perennial that both aggressively sends out root rhizomes and makes lots of seeds if left unattended. The rhizomes can run out many feet in all directions and are segmented into nodes. If left untouched, one node will become dominant and send up a new shoot. If the rhizomes are cut by cultivation, several of the nodes will become dominant, sending up several shoots. If you mow the tops to prevent seed development, it stimulates the plants to send out more rhizomes. We do not see much Johnson grass in pastures, as repetitious grazing will deplete root reserves over time, but this is hard to duplicate in crop fields.

So, the weeds-arms race is on. We can predict what weeds we will see each year and when they will show up. We have a plan and the knowledge and tools to implement our weed-control strategies. We have been doing it for generations, yet here they come again. We are making some headway in some areas with our organic-farming techniques, but it’s tough to break the weed-seed bank.  Mac Stone

In Your Share

Green Beans


Kale Greens


Gold Potatoes


Summer Squash

Heirloom Tomatoes



Garlic Margherita Chicken and Zucchini
Thanks to Kim, a long-time CSA member, for sharing this recipe with us! You can substitute cherry tomatoes or a cut-up regular-sized tomato for the grape tomatoes and any type of summer squash for zucchini here.

1 lb. chicken breast, or tenders cut into 1" pieces
2 tsp. olive, coconut or avocado oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
salt & pepper
1 ½ lb. zucchini, cut into half moon shapes
1 ½ c. halved grape tomatoes
¼ c. fresh chopped basil
Parmesan cheese

Preheat skillet on medium heat. Add half of oil to coat. Add half of garlic and cook for just 10 seconds. Add chicken, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Cook zucchini the same way as chicken but for 6 minutes, adding tomatoes during the last 3 minutes. Add chicken back to skillet and stir just to warm. Remove from heat, sprinkle with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Serves 4 to 6

Easy Lettuce Pesto, adapted from Suburbia-Unwrapped.com

4 c. lettuce, packed
⅓ c. fresh parsley
3 cloves garlic
½ c. Parmesan cheese
½ c. walnuts
½ tsp. salt
¼ to ½ c. olive oil

Place lettuce, parsley, garlic, Parmesan cheese, walnuts and salt in a food processor. Pulse as you drizzle olive oil to reach the desired consistency. To serve, spread on bread or toss with pasta. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze for later use.

Potato Salad with Kale and Mustard, adapted from With Food + Love
This healthy upgrade to a heavy, mayo-based potato salad is a staple potluck dish for one of our farm employees. Serve it warm or cold.

8 - 10 small potatoes, quartered
3 c. kale, finely shredded
½ T. fresh lemon juice
3 T. olive oil, divided
¼ c. stone-ground grainy mustard
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 T. fresh chives or scallions, chopped
salt & pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender, drain, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss kale with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt. Massage with your hands for 3 minutes--it will turn slightly wilted and bright green.

In a small mixing bowl combine the remaining olive oil, mustard, garlic powder, chives, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well until the dressing is smooth and creamy. In a large bowl combine the potatoes, kale and grainy mustard dressing. Combine well and serve warm, or refrigerate until desired temperature has been reached.

Ginger-Sesame Green Beans, adapted from Joy of Kosher

1 lb. green beans, ends snapped off
1 T. olive oil
1 T. tamari or soy sauce
2 T. honey
1 T. minced garlic
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spread beans in a 9x13 baking dish; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Toss to coat beans evenly, and roast for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tamari or soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Remove beans from oven. Pour tamari-sesame mixture over beans and toss to coat evenly.  Return beans to oven and roast for 10-12 additional minutes, until browned and starting to shrivel. Transfer to serving plate and sprinkle with additional salt, black pepper and sesame seeds.