Trees of the Bluegrass have played a tremendous role in defining the culture and fabric of the region. From the venerable beauties that dot the landscape to the stout trees in the active fencerows and the younger trees throughout small wood lots, managing the trees is foundational to our land-stewardship principles. It is also integral to our organic way of living within an ecosystem, not forcing our will upon the land we have been entrusted with.
Looking around Elmwood Stock Farm, one thing that may catch your eye is the huge trees, randomly scattered in a pasture or near dwellings. These are the venerable, or pre-settlement trees, unique to the region we farm. As the land was settled, writings tell of finding native grasslands with these big beauties interspersed, probably evolving with bison herds and wildfires. Settlers built their farms among them, with reverence. It is mind-boggling to think what these trees may have witnessed, back when Native Americans chose to encourage their growth. We find quite a few arrowheads, or pieces of arrowheads, on the farm each year. Those hunters may have counted on these same trees for food and shelter.
Trees for Wildlife
Really big trees often act as anchors of fencerows, even being named in deeds of properties. Fencerows are an active part of our management schemes and provide a host of resources. Not only do they provide shade or a wind break for livestock and crops, the microclimate they form has a tremendous impact on the wildlife they foster. Obviously, the birds seek refuge there to rear their young, but those same birds forage on insects, which helps keep the populations in check. Birds also eat weed seeds, of which we have our share.
Additionally, fencerows with a good diversity of plant species is the over-wintering habitat for the many beneficial insects we cohabitate with. We actually purchase and release various types of beneficial parasitoids or predatory insects to help keep the bad bugs at bay.
Underneath all of this, fencerows are like highways for wildlife, such as raccoons, fox, coyotes, skunks and the like, to access water from Elkhorn Creek, which borders the farm. Invasive plant species, such as bush honeysuckle and spotted hemlock, are threatening the diversity of many fencerows in the region. We fight them back a little every year.
The Challenge of Trees
Our interaction with the trees is considerable within our farming business. Each spring, or often after big summer storms, we have to cut up fallen limbs, if not whole trees. These trees do provide firewood for one greenhouse and for our homes, but the clean-up—essential though it may be—takes a lot of time that could be used for other projects or jobs on the farm. Running up on a hidden limb can damage hay-making equipment. Limbs left in fields can allow weeds to grow up around them. Fallen limbs and trees will quickly damage a wire and post fence, as you might guess.
We have lots of Wild Cherry trees on Elmwood, which when damaged in a storm, the wilted leaves are very toxic to livestock (but not when fresh). Wild Cherry are also home to the dreaded tent caterpillars of such concern to horsemen in the region. Cattle do keep the lower branches pruned back while they browse as part of their eating habits, making it easier to actually access the fence for which it is so named.
Since cattle seek the shelter and security of trees in herds, they can compact the soil under these trees, if allowed to congregate over long periods of time. The roots are starved of oxygen in these conditions. The quick rotational-grazing management plan we employ allows smaller plants to regrow under the trees between grazings, which loosens up the soil again. We are seeing the benefit to the trees already.
Trees of the BluegrassOn June 9th, we will look more closely at the trees of Elmwood Stock Farm on our Trees of the Bluegrass farm tour. Please join us to learn how our tree-stewardship program is integral to our organic-farming systems. See how the venerable trees strive to regain the shape they are genetically coded to, even after losing limbs years or decades ago. (You can register for the event on Eventbrite.com by going HERE or through a link on our Facebook page. Two children are free with each adult ticket.)
We feel a strong sense of responsibility for these trees, as they have watched over many changes since this land was settled. We want the growth rings to reflect how respectful we are of them. It is obvious to us where the word tremendous came from.
In Your Share:
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Sugar Snap Peas
Asparagus Pesto, adapted from The New York Times
Pesto goes far beyond the traditional Genovese basil pesto that we are often first introduced to in life. You can make pesto with just about any vegetable-nut-cheese-oil combination.
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
1 clove garlic, or more to taste
¼ c. pine nuts
¼ c. olive oil, or more as desired
¾ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the asparagus and cook until fully tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and let the asparagus cool slightly. Transfer the asparagus to a food processor and add garlic, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of cooking liquid. Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container, if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten, if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time, and serve over pasta, fish or chicken (or cover and refrigerate for up to a day).
Strawberry Sorbet, adapted from Local Flavors
1 quart strawberries
grated zest and juice of 1 blood orange, orange or tangerine
⅔ cup sugar
Combine zest, juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Reserve a few strawberries for garnish. Remove leaves and stems from remaining berries. Purée in a food processor. Stir into citrus syrup. Process in your ice-cream maker according to machine directions. If you do not have an ice cream maker, freeze mixture in a loaf pan. To serve, break sorbet into chunks and process in food processor. Serve with a strawberry or two on top.
Garlic Scape Yogurt Dressing, adapted from Food52
1 c. plain yogurt
2 T. white-wine balsamic vinegar (or white-wine vinegar)
4 garlic scapes, minced
1-2 T. fresh herbs, chopped
1-2 T. extra-virgin olive oi
½ tsp. sea salt
pinch of black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, white wine balsamic vinegar, garlic scapes and basil. Slowly stream in olive oil while stirring, then season with salt and black pepper. Serve over a green salad or steamed spring vegetables.
Black Bean and Swiss Chard Burger, adapted from Not Eating Out in New York
If you’ve used up all of the garlic scapes in your share, substitute leeks, green onions, onions or garlic for the scapes in this recipe.
1 bunch Swiss chard, finely shredded
1 bunch green garlic, minced
3 cups black beans
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 T. grated parmesan cheese
2-3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Heat 1 T of the olive oil on a sauté pan and cook the garlic scapes and Swiss chard, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until all moisture from the chard has evapor-ated, about 5-6 minutes. Slightly mash the cooked beans with a fork in a large mixing bowl. (Mash more thoroughly for an even, creamy consistency, or mash just slightly for a chunkier, bean-ier consistency.)
Stir in the beaten egg, salt, pepper, spices and cheese. Stir in the cooked and cooled Swiss chard mixture. Combine with hands until thoroughly distributed. Form into four patties. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pan over medium and coat the bottom thoroughly with about 2 T of olive oil. Place down the patties. Don’t move for 1-2 min., then push them around a bit to make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. (Add more oil, if necessary.) Cook 2 more min., and carefully flip the patties. Cook on this side 1-2 min. Transfer to the oven to cook another 8-10 minutes. Serve on a bun, lettuce wrap or salad.