Monthly Archives: August 2008

growing fancy: chioggia beets

Farmflash:

  • Food = Expensive.
  • Kenya questions value of organics. (But did the study they cited test pesticide residue, or just nutritional content?)
  • Even England (not exactly renowned for its cuisine, and I say this with all due affection for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding) is jumping on the local food bandwagon: an author solicits help for a book about local food in Leicestershire.
  • The Times features salt potatoes, an upstate classic — among other local Finger Lake faves.

Growing fancy: Chioggia Beets

I’m going to make an effort to post about some unique veggie at least once a week, with more details than I’ve previously given. For the newly-revised “Growing Fancy” section, expect to learn about the veggie’s history, nutritional content, growing tips, and cooking tips, too! Take one: Chioggia Beets.

History:

Beets are thought to have originated from wild species in the Mediterranean area of Southern Europe. Their botanical ancestors have been cultivated just about as long as anything — as far as historians can tell, since prehistoric times. Those botanical ancestors are also known as chard, a bulbless beet that Aristotle wrote about in the fourth century B.C. (I’m hoping that if I keep writing about chard, maybe I’ll become extraordinarily wise and famous, too.) Early Romans ate only the greens; the root — still hard and fibrous at this point — was considered medicine and only used for treating illness.

In the third and fourth centuries A.D., Roman food writers started to babble about beta vulgaris — a plant that apparently possessed the fleshy, sweet root we’re familiar with today. (It was probably found growing in the wild and subsequently cultivated, but nobody is not too sure about that.) Anyway, not too much was written about the beet for a while after the Romans. (I harbor a sneaking suspicion that beets were largely a peasant food, and peasant diets aren’t often recorded in the history books.) Fast-forward to the fourteenth century: the beet entered European consciousness vis-a-vis written English recipes, where it clearly “took root.” (Groan.)

Linguistic note: as some of our customers have pointed out, Chioggia is technically pronounced key-oh-ghee-ah. The “Ch” in Italy is pronounced as a hard “c,” whereas an Italian “c” is actually pronounced like the English “ch.” Still, I really haven’t heard too many Americans say it this way. (I did take a year of Italian in college, but I’m going to stick to the colloquial parlance on this one.)

Botany:

Any gardener knows a beet seed when she sees it — unless, of course, it’s a chard seed. Chard and beet seeds are pretty much identical, and look a little like extraterrestrials destined for Martian soil; each “seed” is actually a multifaceted seed pod containing multiple viable plant seeds. As I mentioned before, chard and beets are closely related, and will in fact cross-pollinate with one another if given the chance. Ditto goes for sugar beets. Be forewarned: beets are wind-pollinated, and the pollen can travel great distances. If you want to seed-save and get true-to-type Chioggia beets next year, make sure your beets aren’t flowering at the same time as your chard (or at the same time as another beet variety, such as Golden or Bull’s Blood).

Interesting side note: if you leave the pods on the plant too long in a rainy season, you might find tiny little beet plants sprouting mid-air from the parent plant, like rainforest epiphytes. It’s not particularly useful, but it’s pretty cool to see!

Growing:

We follow Johnny’s Seeds’ instructions for these little guys: directly sow them one inch apart, half an inch deep. Water regularly (we drip irrigate every day). Since each seed pod will sprout multiple plants, you’ll have to do a bit of thinning pretty quickly. But since beet seeds aren’t cheap, I really try to get the most out of each sprouted seed: We wait to thin as much as possible until the greens are big enough to use in a salad (yum) — and even then we only thin them to, say, a two-to-three-inch spacing. We thin again for baby beets, which are so tender and tasty and have good-sized greens. Approximately two months after planting (depending on weather — hotter is faster, cooler is slower), the remaining beets should be nice and plump, the bulbs easily visible from the surface. (If you want a perfect-looking beet, you can mound dirt over the bulbs so the skin quality is more uniform. But when you cook it, you end up peeling off the skin anyway, so I don’t bother.)

Chioggia beets have been summering our ninety-degree days quite well, and haven’t found themselves too put out by our clay soil. While some of our other beet varieties (specifically the classic dark red variety) have suffered from mild bouts of beet scab — an unattractive but not fatal condition — Chioggia has proven more resistant. The tasty beet greens haven’t been particularly plagued by pests, either — despite the fact that they’re grown out in the open, without a row cover, in a field rife with leaf-eating cucumber beetles.

Eat It:

Roasted! This caramelizes the beet’s naturally occurring sugar (which is about 8% of the plant), bringing out the root’s innate sweetness. It also preserves the Chioggia’s striking colors better than boiling, which tends to fade the characteristic candy stripes, at least on the areas most exposed to water.

To maximize the wow factor and minimize the cooking effort, simply slice the beets in half, place them on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt & pepper — maybe some balsalmic if you feel the urge — and put them in an oven until they’re nice and tender. (Cooking length depends on size of beet.) Then simply peel the skins off and serve. (Or, like we do at our house, simply serve and warn people about the skins. Our kitchen is a do-it-yourself operation.)

Chic Chioggia:

  • Doesn’t stain the heck out of everything like the classic purple beet.
  • The stripes are truly stunning, especially for peppermint fans. (Also: Can trick unsuspecting kiddies with promises of ‘candy cane beet’.)
  • It’s Italian, and those people really know how to cook, so chances are they developed a darn good — sweet and succulent — beet variety, too.
  • A good way of getting fiber without becoming The Prune Eater; you’ll also benefit from beets’ high levels of folate and potassium. (Beets contain some calcium, too, but be sure to eat the greens for an extra dose of calcium and Vitamin C.)

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Farming Info

the chicks cometh!

Farmflash:

  • American man can keep farm in Saskatchewan, after all — although his children won’t necessarily be able to inherit it.
  • Prince Charles called GM foods the world’s worst environmental disaster; echoes in India agree. (Sad fact of the day: in the past decade, 200,000 Indian farmers have taken their own lives.)

Foggy River News:

At 7:45 a.m., I received a call from the post office: “Lynda?”

“Yes.”

“Your birds are here.”

With that, Emmett and I took off for the post office — which isn’t technically open at 7:45 a.m. Per the postal worker’s instructions we went around back to the loading dock, where dozens of post office trucks lined up, their drivers just beginning to trickle in for the day’s deliveries. I found a friendly truck driver who bustled through the “Authorized Postal Workers Only” doors to locate my chicks. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself holding a rather unusual cardboard box — one festooned with breathing-holes and cheeping loudly.

As Emmett and I smiled over the noisy box, the helpful truck driver asked, “What kinds of chicks did you get?”

I rattled off the names: Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Araucanas.

“Rhode Island Reds will eat you out of house and home,” the woman informed us. “White Leghorns will lay their hearts out for you. And Araucanas will be your friendliest, nicest birds.”

“I take it you’re a chicken fancier,” I said, a bit surprised by the deluge of advice.

“I used to be,” the lady responded. “Now I’m a truck driver.”

With that, we rushed the babies home, anxious and excited. Did they all survive the trip? Would they be healthy? Were there really thirty chicks in this small cardboard box — was the noise, which flowed intermittently from the trunk of my station wagon, really 30 chicks’ worth of peeping? We pulled into the garage for the moment of truth:

We slid the cardboard box out from between the harvesting coolers, gently put it on the garage floor and knifed through the tape.  Ta-da:  we were, indeed, hearing 30 chicks’ worth of peeping. Thanks to Belt Hatchery (a family-owned operation with an extremely friendly and helpful staff), we are now the proud owners of 30 happy little chicks: 12 Rhode Island Reds, 6 White Leghorns, 10 Araucanas, one mystery chick (which we think is a Buff Orpington), and one Rhode Island Red cockerel (helpfully marked with a daub of paint on his noggin.)

One by one, we moved the birds from the cardboard box into the brooder, dipping each chick’s beak into the waterer so it would know where to get a drink. We didn’t have to tell them where to find the food — they immediately starting attacking the miniature trough, pecking like their little lives depended on it. At first, none too shy, a few of them squeezed the greater part of their little bodies into the trough’s feeding holes like little burrowing chick-gophers. We quickly learned to fill the trough up to the very tip-top so they wouldn’t wriggle themselves in and get stuck.

We also checked each chick for pasty butt, a rather rude procedure that was met with more than a few disgruntled cheeps. (Note: if, five years ago, you’d have told me that one day I’d be parting the butt-feathers of baby chicks to see if poop was causing their vents to stick together, I would have laughed in your face. But today there’s irrevocable proof that I have, indeed, inspected chick-butts.)

Now some of the babies are sleeping, others are clambering on top of the sleeping ones, still others are eating or drinking or exploring the farthest reaches of the brooder. Already I can tell that the different breeds have slightly different personalities. The leghorn chicks (yellow) are pretty laid back. The Rhode Island Reds (ruddy) are feisty, sassy little things, prone to climbing right over the other chicks and/or trying to eat their sisters’ wingfeathers. (Within fifteen minutes, the chicks had managed to upset the waterer, forming a paper towel swamp and forcing me to transfer all the chicks to our back-up plastic tub. I blame the RIRs.) The Araucanas (black & brown beauties) are somewhere in the middle, and seem particularly content to be hand-held.

The little ones seemed a bit chilled after their journey from Fresno and huddled under the heat lamp for a while before spreading out across the brooder:

I’ll keep you updated on their progress over the next few weeks, and offer any tips or lessons learned in case you find yourself ordering some baby fuzzy butts in the near future. (Warning: they’re addictive. Watching chicks is kind of like watching TV, only better.) For now, I just hope they get big enough, soon enough to eat our surplus crop of chard and beans while the plants are still producing!

1 Comment

Filed under Farm Tales

farmer’s market etiquette

Farmflash:

  • Sonoma County‘s Press-Democrat dives gradually into Slow Food.
  • In California, farmworkers continue to die of heat; OSHA law not helping workers due to lack of enforcement.
  • American man forced to sell Canadian farm that has been in the family for 99 years.

Foggy River Philosophy:

A word of warning: for a while, I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this particular post. I’m a bit afraid I’ll alienate some of my readers here. Some of you, I imagine, will feel the way I do. Others might actually be farmer’s market “offenders.”

But heck, the internet is so blissfully anonymous, I figured why not? Even if you’re one of these people who, in my mind, infringes upon common-sense farmer’s market etiquette, I’ll never know who you are! And maybe it’ll be refreshing for you to hear a farmer’s perspective, even if you dismiss me as easily offended and somewhat huffy. Regardless, I hope you’ll pardon my attempt to lay down the law.

(Translation: My inner sass won the to-post-or-not-to-post battle.)

And now, a few farmer’s market rules of the road:

1. Don’t steal. This should be obvious, but on Sunday I watched people sneak cherry tomatoes out of our selling basket — and then slink away guiltily when they noticed I noticed. We do have samples of cucumbers and apples out for customers to try, bristling with health-code-required toothpicks in an obvious sample bowl. If you ask to try a tomato, I’ll absolutely respond with an emphatic yes. But don’t take them without asking. You wouldn’t bite into an unpaid-for apple in a grocery store, would you?

2. Control your kids. We love children, and I think it’s awesome that parents take kids to the farmer’s market — what a great way to get them excited about eating healthy foods! (I bet you didn’t know this, but I was on a pretty strict picky-eater diet of meat and potatoes until I went to college. When I became a vegetarian as a sophomore, my mom asked pointedly “What are you going to eat?” Anyway, the point being: it’s taken me a long time to learn to eat a healthy variety of vegetables, and if your kids are eating them now, I applaud your parenting skills.) Still, it isn’t okay when one kid eats the entire sample bowl’s worth of apples…. or starts popping cherry tomatoes into his mouth like it’s candy, when we said feel free to take one. So: keep an eye on your kids, encourage them to use ‘please’ and ‘thank-you,’ and we promise to shower these healthy-appetited children with attention and free samples.

3. Don’t treat us like Costco. In my family, “Costco” (or Sam’s Club) basically translates to: free lunch. We hit up all the samples, sometimes a couple of times. But Costco operates on a slightly different scale than we do; it should come as no surprise that the farmer’s market ain’t a bulk warehouse store. Obviously, samples are still free. There’s no requirement to purchase a cucumber once you’ve tried the sample. But it’s not entirely friendly — or in the farmer’s market spirit — to beeline for all of the market’s samples in a slap-dash taste-and-run. Think of farmer’s market sampling as an event along the lines of a fine wine tasting. Hold the Armenian cucumber morsel up to the light, examining the color and consistency. Take a deep whiff, looking for notes of caramel and bouquets of citrus. Swish it around in your mouth five times before swallowing. OK, so you don’t have to take the cucumber that seriously, but a little “mmm, that’s tasty!” or “huh, interesting” goes a long way to making your farmer feel good. And a farmer who feels good is more likely to put out more free samples!

4. Don’t roll your eyes. Ever. Even if my radishes cost more than radishes cost in New York City, it’s not okay to roll your eyes as though you are way too good to buy my ridiculously overpriced, exceptionally unworthy radishes. Remember, I’m not a used car salesman who happens to be hawking roots at the farmer’s market. I grew these things, and growing (e.g., sowing, sprouting, weeding, watering, and harvesting) is hard work!

4a. Don’t mention that grocery stores may be selling Vegetable X cheaper. Safeway’s Vegetable X probably traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to the store, is probably a week old, and was definitely grown by some highly mechanized corporate behemoth. Yes, my vegetables may cost slightly more than Vegetable X, but you get what you pay for: freshness, organic growing procedures, and environmental sustainability. I’ve got photos of the farm on display, and you’re also welcome to visit Foggy River Farm at any time to see where and how your veggies are grown… can you say the same for Vegetable X?

5. Don’t pee on buildings. Walk the extra five minutes to the nearest public toilet. I’ll admit: the person I think I caught doing this was a fellow seller. I won’t repeat who it was — but still, come on, people.

6. OK, time to tone down my sass. How about introducing yourself? I love knowing your name, and I love repeat faces at the farmer’s market. In fact, Emmett and I get ridiculously silly about repeat customers — we’ll save extra beet greens for a regular we know who really likes them, we’ll throw in an extra cucumber destined for the salad of a regular lettuce-buyer, and if we know you have kids, we’ll inquire after them. Be friendly to us, and I guarantee we’ll be friendly in return.

–Lynda.

P.S. I had a great “weekend,” mostly spent grocery shopping, writing, and catching up on errands. We still haven’t unpacked our luggage from the trip, a load of laundry still sprawls across the living room floor… but there are Cheerios in the cupboard, and O.J. and beer in the fridge, and that’s pretty much all a twenty-something needs in life, right? I did enjoy a delightful swim in the Russian River this afternoon, and most excitingly of all, the brooder is ready to go for the arrival of 30 chicks tomorrow morning! (Expect a deluge of cute baby chicken photos in the near future.)

P.P.S. — Gosh, I wish the color quality of uploaded photos weren’t so awful. In RAW format, or even in iPhoto’s exported JPG, these Sungella tomatoes are a brilliant deep orange — picked at the pinnacle of ripeness, I swear!

2 Comments

Filed under Farm Philosophy

why farmers don’t vacation, part II

Farmflash:

  • New York mixes art, ag, and parties — The Times, of course, is there.
  • Sonoma County farmers weigh in on California’s Proposition Two, which would ban veal, sow, and egg operations it deems inhumane. (I’ll dive into this hot-button topic more later…)
  • In the “shrug” category, Alabama ranks #3 in the list of U.S. states with the greatest amount of foreign-owned agricultural land, behind Maine and Texas.

Foggy River Philosophy:

While I briefly mentioned the minor disasters Emmett and I faced on our first visit back to the field, I didn’t really go into the philosophy behind why they occurred. And I want to point out that our caretakers did a wonderful job — we harbor no complaints whatsoever, just immense gratitude for how well our farm was taken care of.

What, then, went wrong?

I have a theory: farming is 49% planning, and 51% reacting. So while our caretaker did a great job watering, weeding, and generally tending the patch — the planned things — he of course wouldn’t think of the tasks that Emmett and I would have undertaken, given changing situations. (E.g., when the salad wasn’t sufficiently sprouted after a week, planting a new bed. Or, when our tomato plants grew top-heavy — we pruned all runners at first but then decided to let the rest of the runners go — reversing our no-prune mandate. Or, when the beans grew too heavy for the fencing, adding in new fence supports or cutting back a few of the plants.)

Farmers work long hours in the field, but we’re not always digging, hoeing, sowing, or harvesting. In fact, Emmett and I spend a good, say, half-hour each day at the farm doing what would appear to the casual observer to be absolutely nothing. We stroll around the entire place, occasionally squatting in the middle of the row. We glance at the sky. I roll tomato leaves between my fingers; Emmett pops a Sungold cherry in his mouth. It seems like moonshine — and, okay, sometimes it is — but what we’re actually doing is observing. And observation is an important pre-req to that 51% of farming: reacting. So once a day, you’ll find us wandering around the whole farm to make sure that nothing has gone disastrously wrong — trying to catch symptoms of trouble before they turn into a disaster.

Which brings me to my final point: why farmers don’t have a weekend. Number one, at least for direct-market farmers, much of the actual, normal-people’s-weekend is devoted to the farmer’s market. (See photo above.) Since Emmett and I do two weekend markets, we work roughly 26 hours between Saturday and Sunday. By the time Monday rolls around, we’re pretty tired — but we can’t stop, because there’s simply too much to do. After all, we probably haven’t had time to stroll around the field for the past two days, which means something has probably gone wrong in the meantime and needs to be fixed. Or we’ll realize that we’ve just harvested the last of our radishes and have forgotten to plant a new crop. Or it’ll be one of one hundred other things that may not have been on our planned to-do list, but quickly jump to the top of the reactionary list. You can’t stop working, because you’re always reacting.

All that said, tonight is my farm-girl equivalent of Friday night. Ironically, I spent it the way I usually spend real Friday nights: harvesting until 9 p.m. (The beans are mad, mad I tell you! They have to be picked every day, or the next thing we know they’ll be picking fights with the grape vines.) But back to the reason why a Tuesday night is a Friday night — Emmett and I are, on a trial basis (and for the sake of my urban-girl sanity, which does not understand the concept of non-stop farmwork), taking Wednesday as our weekend. NB: we may have gone on a two-week family reunion tour, but this will be our first “actual” weekend since we started attending farmer’s markets in mid June.

It’s not going to be a perfect weekend by any means. Let’s start with the fact that, as I pointed out to Emmett, it’s only one day. “When’s our other weekend day?” I asked. Emmett responded, “We have flexible schedules. We only get one day.” (I’m still not sure what he meant about the flexibility of our schedules; sure, we can take lunch at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., but we work pretty much all the time.)

This “weekend,” we’ll still have to go to the farm to water, and we’ll probably spend much of the day doing other work — be it Emmett’s part-time job, my freelance writing attempts, or normal living things like laundry and showering (I’ve showered once since we got back from our trip… don’t ask) — but gosh darn it, I’ve been meaning to swim in the Russian River all summer.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do it.

2 Comments

Filed under Farm Philosophy

first day of grape & bean harvest

Farmflash:

  • ghosts of an LA farm continue to haunt; community members still protesting its loss.
  • water conference discusses dangers and benefits of wastewater agriculture (yup, that means what you think it does), as well as extent of practice (more common than you think).
  • similar to the ‘county bounty’ program recently discussed on this blog, Boston’s InSeason aims to provide customers with fresh, local food; it’s easy-to-use and guilt-free to boot (delivered not by boot, but by bike.)
  • Canada‘s concerned about the economic feasibility of local ag, given suburban sprawl and a lack of willing farmworkers.

And now for a bit of Foggy River news:

Today was the first day of the grape harvest — sparkling wines only, since they require less sugar and therefore less ripeness than traditional wines — so Emmett and I spent the morning helping out his dad in the vineyard. Translation: two and a half hours of grape picking before heading over to the veggie field to play beat-back-the-jungle.

If you’ve never picked wine grapes, it’s tough work. Apples, plums, cherries, green beans, and berries might be time consuming, but they’re pretty straightforward. Wine grapes actually require a fair bit of concentration and a heck of a lot of finesse. Professional pickers use a Captain Hook knife (curved like a hook, but serrated), reaching behind the bunch, swiftly yanking towards themselves, and letting the grape bunch drop directly into the harvest bin which is placed at their feet.

So far, so good. And while the bunches sometimes hang just so, right out there in the open to swipe and drop, with nice thin vines that cut through like butter — more often than not, they don’t. Sometimes two or three bunches will grow and tangle into one; the mega-bunch requires two or three passes of the knife. Sometimes the bunch will grow unfortunately around another vine, making it extremely difficult to find and sever the attachment point. Sometimes the vine is especially woody and tough to cut through — which means you have to apply a large amount of pressure with a sharp knife, endangering your other hand (which is positioned nearby, ready to funnel the grape bunch into the bin.) Sometimes the bunch will wrap around a supporting wire and you have to wrest it free, shattering a number of grape berries in the process.

Which brings me to my next point: harvesting wine grapes is extremely sticky work. The skins are thin, and it’s impossible to harvest without popping some of the berries. Each popped grape results in a miniature explosion of clear, sticky juice. Your hands become coated first; then the knife; then your shirt, face, hair — anything you touch. (So much for last night’s shower.)

After working for just a few hours, I developed a huge amount of appreciation for the men who harvest the grapes. The speed with which they harvest puts my clumsy attempts to shame. Not only are they quick with the knife, but they actually run — carrying full bins of grapes, which are quite heavy — to the tractor that follows them along the rows. They deposit their load and then run back to the vine where they left off. They’re paid by the bin, and work in teams, so everyone wants to harvest as quickly as possible. One team’s harvest is split equally among the men, and nobody wants to be the weakest link.

Speaking of the weakest link, Emmett and I spent the rest of the morning beating back the bean jungle — pounding two more posts into the fence to try and support the miscreant Blue Lake beans, and then harvesting the heck out of the insanely prolific Dow Purple Podded Snaps. It was our first time harvesting the beans (Emmett’s parents had harvested them on Friday for the market), and ooooowee was it an eye-opening experience. It took two of us one hour to harvest half a row of purple beans. (I think we’re going to have to do a cost-benefit analysis on our pole beans, or maybe pick a certain section to “let go” and harvest for soup beans.)

For now, I leave you with this thought: the next time you take a sip of wine or bite into a tender, tasty string bean, be grateful. Very grateful.

Leave a comment

Filed under Farm Tales

the jungle

I’ve dug up a few interesting farming-related articles from around the web: how high food prices can hurt — or at least not help — third world farmers, what Wal-Mart, cancer, and organic produce have to do with local farming in my hometown of San Diego, and when agricultural conservation gets contentious in New Jersey.

And finally, as promised, the optimist’s version of our two-week vacation from the farm:

In our absence, the farm went from a vegetable patch to a vegetable jungle. The quinoa now towers as tall as I do, brimming with proto-grain. Remember when, three months ago, I dreamed of a bean thicket? Well, now I’ve got one — an impenetrable green mass whose weight has managed to partially collapse its fencing. And the winter squash field — oh, the winter squash field! Green jack-o-lanterns, three times the size of my head, lie casually in the dirt. A French variety of yellow pumpkin — which looks as if you took a bright yellow globe and squeezed it at the poles, so it’s slightly wider than it is tall — bursts through the green vines with an unexpected splash of color. The textures, colors, and sizes of the squash are all different, all energizing: the ribbed delicata; the smooth, ovular spaghetti; the pear-shaped butternut; the pleasingly round kuri. (There are also a few mysterious hybrids, such as the one that’s shaped precisely like a spaghetti squash but is ribbed and dark green, like an acorn. What will it taste like? Only time will tell.)

Yes, a few of the mysteriously diseased squash plants died, but a couple of them are reminding me of… oh, I don’t know, pick some great hero, Hercules in the Augean Stables myth, or Queen Elizabeth I resolutely refusing to wed, or Mel Gibson in Braveheart, or something.

This one could not be more gallant, stolidly hanging on just long enough to put all of its energy into a small-but-perfect kuri squash:

So these are the upsides. And more good news: at today’s market in Windsor, we made more money than we ever have before. We still haven’t added up all of our numbers to see if we’ve actually paid off our investment costs yet, but I’m not going to let that dampen my spirits! Instead, I’m going to drink a locally-brewed beer and toast to all of the wonderful customers who’ve helped us out — by coming back every week to see what we have, by telling friends, and for all the little things, too, like getting excited about purple bean recipes and armenian cucumbers.

4 Comments

Filed under Farm Tales

why farmers don’t vacation…

…at least in the summertime.

Coming back to the field this morning was, erm, ahem, <choke>, a bit of a shock. There was good news, and there was bad news.

I’m a realist. Let’s start with the bad.

First of all, in two weeks, dawn has changed noticeably. Emmett and I arrived on the field at 5 a.m. in the pitch black, figuring we were just a bit before the blue stage of the morning — and that, at any moment, dawn would grab hold of the horizon with her rosy fingers and illuminate the greens for our timely harvest.

Newsflash: in San Francisco on August 16, the sun doesn’t rise until 6:25 a.m. Which means that civil twilight (when the sun is within six degrees of the horizon, aka “bright twilight”) doesn’t get going until 6. Which means we were yanking, washing, and sorting beets, not to mention harvesting chard, when it was utterly, absolutely, one hundred percent dark. Also: truck headlights do not work very well as a light source. They tend to blind you, and cast all sorts of horrible shadows which make it exceptionally difficult to actually distinguish the vegetables you’re picking from one another. We only had one headlamp between the two of us. The going was slow.

The next bad news came with the dawn (aka, when we could actually see things). The salad we’d sown three weeks earlier has barely germinated. Where we had expected to see densely-packed, decently-sized leaves ready for next weekend’s harvest, there were only tiny, itsy-bitsy lettucelets sparsely strewn across the damp earth. And the only harvestable salad (one that had been in seedling stage before we left) was bolting.

Crouching down to the overgrown lettuce, Emmett announced, “I’m going to cut like there’s no tomorrow.”

I interrupted. “…because there isn’t one for the salad?”

Emmett grimaced. “Because it’s really big, and it needs to be cut back.”

I mentally estimated the cost of our lack of harvestable lettuce. For this weekend’s markets, we’ll have lettuce (salvaged from the patch that was partly bolting), but next weekend we won’t. We make, conservatively, $200 a week off our lettuce and baby brassica mixes. So by the time we get our salad rotation back up and going — it’ll take another three weeks minimum — that’s a $600 loss to tack on to the cost of our “vacation.” (We did some non-farm work on our vacation, and family reunions aren’t exactly “vacations” anyway…)

That loss was a lot to swallow that early in the morning. Still, the worst news came from the corn patch, when we tried to determine whether or not the corn was ripe.

Emmett wrested an ear of corn from its stalk, and gently pulled back the silk. The kernels were still slightly transparent and watery-looking, suggesting the ear wasn’t quite ready yet. Emmett shucked the rest of it anyway just to try a taste — revealing two fat green bastard worms chowing down on our pre-natal, organic, well-watered, well-tended, well-fertilized corn.

We went to a different plant, a different ear, and pulled back a bit of its silk — revealing another fat bug.

“Well, I guess this is all chicken feed,” Emmett said. He shrugged. “Crop failure.” Matter-of-fact destruction: It was just that kind of morning. (Our chicks, by the way, will arrive Wednesday. Perfect timing, right?)

Emmett flicked off the green bastards off the first ear, and we each gingerly took a bite far away from where the grubs had been dining. Not even Emmett — a true king of eating disgusting things — would eat the rest of the damaged ear. I don’t have a problem with buying spotted apples, cracked tomatoes, or funky three-legged carrots. But there’s no way I would buy wormy corn, so there’s no way I’m selling it.

Was there good news? Right, I’ll get to that part tomorrow.

-Lynda

p.s. — OK, this morning I mentioned I was going to snazz up the blog. Here’s the plan: I’ll comb through the daily online media onslaught and try to find relevant articles about local food, organic agriculture, pastured poultry, integrated pest management — whatever seems relevant. Then I’ll post links for you guys to peruse, so this blog won’t just be about Foggy River Farm, it’ll also be a portal for all kinds of interesting farm news.

I’m also going to (once I plant some salad, stake tomatoes, and generally catch up on the farmwork) try to offer more complete, detailed instructions for planting and maintaining some of my favorite, most successful crops. Which, as of now, does not include corn!

3 Comments

Filed under Farm Tales