Monday, August 8, 2016

CSA News, Week 15

Patty Pan and Pumpkins are Cousins

Members of the squash family range from big to small, soft to hard, and almost every color of the rainbow. On the farm, these cucurbits each have their own quirks. They are all pretty wimpy when it comes to cold temperatures, high winds and pestilence, but since they are so good, we grow a lot of them.

Generally, we consider the squashes to be in one of two groups: soft or hard, which equates with summer or winter varieties. We start planting the summer varieties—yellow, zucchini and patty pan squash, along with cucumbers—in May, as soon as we can after all fear of frost is past. We look at the long-range forecast on the first of May, and sometimes we gamble a bit and go out early, but when the ground is relatively cold and the nights get close to frosty, the plants are not happy, so we usually just wait a week or so and then go with it. Since the seeds are fairly large, we can sow them directly into the field, either into bare ground that can be mulched with straw, or sometimes through rows of black plastic mulch, as it warms the soil a bit. Sometimes we sow the seeds in the greenhouse to produce small transplants that would be a couple of weeks ahead of direct-seeded plants, but since they grow fast, they can get too big in just a few days and then have to be planted by hand. The trick for winter, or hard, squash (spaghetti, acorn, butternut, buttercup, kabocha, hubbard) is planting them in time for them to reach full maturity before short days and cold nights start shutting them down. Pumpkin-planting timing depends on the size of each variety and when you are selling them.

The summer-squash varieties grow relatively erect, like small bushes, while the winter varieties and cucumbers are viny in nature. When we grow them without  mulch, we can use tractor-mounted cultivation equipment to control weeds. When the big leaves of the bushy types are about to brush up against the equipment and break, we know it's time to stop tilling between the rows. Any additional weeding will be done by hand. The leaves of the viny types are generally smaller and lower to the ground, but when the stems start “running” out away from the plant, we must too stop tilling them, as well.

Plants on plastic have trickle irrigation available, and bare ground plants may need to be irrigated by the traveler, a big sprinkler that rolls across the field, watering many rows in one pass.

One trait all cucurbit varieties share is their male and female flowers. These  flowers are only open one day, and if a pollinator does not carry the pollen of the male flower to fertilize the female flower, no fruit will develop. For this reason, our beekeeping partner establishes colonies of hives adjacent to the squash and melon fields. You can tell the difference between the flower types. The male flowers are atop a thin stem, while the female flowers are supported by a shorter, thicker stem that will actually develop into the fruit. When harvesting squash blossoms to eat, if you only grab males, it should not reduce harvest yields, but do leave a few for the bees.

The leaves and stems of most of these varieties have rough protrusions that are scratchy while harvesting but also seem to repel chewing insects. This doesn't make them immune to pest pressure. In fact, cucurbits were the last crop for us to certify organic because of the insect pressure this family of plants attract. The sucking insects can still extend their proboscis past these structures and suck the juice from the succulent plants. The spotted and stripped cucumber beetles are rather small, but they tend to vector diseases into the plants, causing that familiar afternoon wilting and ultimate death of the plant. We are partnering with University of Kentucky researchers in evaluating fabric row covers that physically exclude the various pests but foster healthy plant growth. A small hive of bumble bees is actually installed under the cover to pollinate the crop. 

We have learned a lot about growing squash and melons, but they continue to challenge us. We can promise you they are not genetically modified, like you might find in the grocery store. Nor are they raised with systemic insecticides that magically kill insects all season long with one simple application at planting time. We can also promise you will get lots of culinary pleasure from the variety of colors, shapes and textures the cucurbit family has to offer. —Mac Stone

Join Mac on a walking tour of the farm to learn about the decisions we make in growing wholesome food without systemic chemicals. Farming for Health and Flavor takes place on August 16, 6 to 8 pm. CSA members are free, and others are $10. Find details and preregister at www.farmingforhealth; CSA members should call (859-621-0755) to reserve your space on the tour.

In Your Share

Sweet Basil

Green Cabbage

Sweet Corn

Bell Pepper

Green Onions


Summer Squash

Heirloom Tomatoes





Roasted Zucchini Burgers, adapted from Half-Baked Harvest

CSA member Kristin clued us in to this delicious-sounding recipe.

6 summer squash (mix of zucchini and yellow squash), cut in 2-in. chunks

1 clove garlic

olive oil

salt & pepper

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)

2 c. cooked quinoa

1 ½ c. panko bread crumbs

¼ c. fresh basil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. On a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss summer squash and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast 45-50 minutes, until squash is softened and golden all over, making sure most of the moisture has been cooked out of the squash. Turn the tray around halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Pureé squash and garlic in a food processor. Put in a large bowl with paprika, cayenne, quinoa, panko and basil. Combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Pat the squash mixture into 10-12 even-sized patties. The mixture will be sticky, but do your best to form the patties. Once all the patties have been formed, place them in the fridge to chill, at least one hour or up to 1 day.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Once hot, add 2-3 patties at a time and cook until lightly browned, about 5-8 minutes. Flip and cook another 5-8 minutes or until firm. Serve on a toasted, artisan bun or over a salad.

Garden Vegetable Panzanella, adapted from Food & Wine

5 c. ½-in. cubes of diced Tuscan bread, crusts removed

2 T. red wine vinegar

salt & pepper

¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-in. pieces

1 small cucumber—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-in. pieces

½ medium bell pepper (red, yellow, green), cut into 1/2-in. strips

1 celery rib, cut into 1/2-in. pieces

3 green onions, thinly sliced

4 oz. button mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced

¼ c. torn basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spread bread on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, until dry but not browned. Let cool, then transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar with 1 teaspoon of salt until salt dissolves. Slowly whisk in olive oil and pepper.

Dip your fingers in water, and flick them over the bread several times, tossing it with your hands until lightly moistened. Add tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, celery, green onions, mushrooms and dressing. Toss until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with basil, and serve.

Salsa Sofrito, adapted from The New York Times

Ingredient measurements in this quick-and-easy recipe are left up to your own taste.

roasted peppers (recipe in last week’s CSA newsletter)

onions, diced

garlic, minced

tomatoes, chopped


neutral oil


red-wine vinegar

Saut√© chopped, roasted peppers, onions and minced garlic in a neutral oil until onions are soft. Add chopped tomatoes and a pinch of sugar. Simmer until the mixture is thick. Stir in oregano and red-wine vinegar. 

Serve over eggs for breakfast, as a taco fixin’ for lunch, with grilled chicken breast for dinner or with tortilla chips as a snack.

Garlic Margherita Chicken and Zucchini, thanks to CSA member Kim for sharing

2 tsp olive, coconut or avocado oil (separated)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed (separated)

1 lb chicken breast, or tenders cut into 1" pieces

Sea salt, to taste

ground black pepper, to taste

1.5 lbs zucchini, cut into half moon shapes

1.5 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup fresh chopped Basil

Parmesan cheese

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

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