It really seems like the season is changing and summer is pushing its way onto the scene. We always find ourselves hoping for a few more mild days just to catch up and extend our spring crops a bit. This time of year though our main focus does become the summer crops, which fall mainly into two crop families: cucurbit and nightshade. Today we will discuss cucurbits; which include summer squash, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons or cantaloupes, and winter squashes. They can grow very well in Virginian summers, as they enjoy heat and sun and as long as they get a proper amount of water and nutrients they can produce abundantly. That being said, they do have some serious pest and disease issues to contend with; which is why in conventional farming there is a lot of insecticides and fungicides used, including a pre-emergent insecticide which is basically pumped into the plant making it toxic to the pests for up to 40 days. Growing these crops with organic methods is a totally different story and often labor intensive. It took us three years to come up with a system. We rotate our cucurbit crops into a different crop field/area every year. Then every succession within a year gets planted at least 10- 15 beds apart with beneficial cover crops planted in between to encourage good bugs (spiders and other predators of the cucumber beetle, squash bugs, and their babies which feed upon the plants) and pollinators (needed for healthy fruiting on the plants) to come into the area. We start all our cucurbit plants in a greenhouse instead of direct seeding them, as they need the extra head start before getting attacked by bugs or out grown by our weeds. When we plant the starts out into the field we run lines of drip irrigation to each row, we spray them with kaolin clay (a natural product that deters insects from eating the leaves and stalks) as well as other amendments that feed the plants and we cover them with a row cover (this allows light and water through but keeps bugs out) for a few weeks until we see flowering on the plants. The drip irrigation is important in that these crops need good amounts of water to produce well, but they are also very susceptible to diseases which can come from having wet leaves, especially in warm and humid conditions. At this point, the row cover is removed and the crop is again sprayed with Kaolin clay. After about a week, depending on the squash bug pressure, we will try to make time for hand removal of squash bugs and their eggs. This is the most time consuming job on our farm and something we will also do for potatoes (Colorado potato beetle), or beans (bean beetle) if we see a real increase in the bug pressure. It is important to do this hand removal before the bug population has jumped significantly. The objective is not to remove all of these predators, as that is impossible; but rather to keep the population limited and the plant growth and health a few steps ahead. In a worst case scenario we will spray these plants with a organic approved insecticide called Pyganic. This is not our first choice and a product we use as seldom as possible; because it kills beneficial bugs as well as predator bugs. When our succession is slowing down in production, we always flame the planting again trying to stop the bug population explosion. Our hope is that we can keep the populations somewhat under control so that our latter successions of squash and cucumbers will thrive. This is crop family that we grow and one system that we have dialed in enough to think it is successful at least on our farm.
This week’s share includes delicious baby spring carrots and hakurei salad turnips. Eat them in a salad, make a quick refrigerator pickle, or put them in a quick stir-fry, they are delicious each and every way. Spigariello is back for a second year as we really like it and it seems to do better than broccoli raab in the fluctuating spring temperatures of Virginia. Spigariello (Cavolo Broccolo), a leafy type of broccoli that doesn’t produce a large head and has similarities to Tuscan kale, is like broccoli raab with less bitter pungency. When cooking it use the stalk, leaves, and floret. Frisee is in the chicory family, so a bit bitter especially after these hot days, but with the right amount of lemon and salt it becomes the most delicious balanced and flavorful salad green. One of my favorite spring salads is a coarse chopped frisee with croutons, bacon, scallions, herbs(dill or parsley), pecorino romano cheese, dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and then a poached egg on top. If you want a fuller meal add any combination of the following finely chopped radish, carrot, salad turnips, potatoes, olives, or nuts. A repeat from last year we have added a few scallion and turnip recipes from the wonderful Japanese Farm Food cookbook. Enjoy the share….Brian and Autumn
Three recipes from Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Young Scallions with Miso
Very thin young scallions
Organic brown rice miso
Clean the scallions. Cut off the root bottoms and any brown tapering of the tops. Peel off the tough or discolored outer layers. Spoon out a dollop of miso onto a medium sized plate. To eat, dip the scallion into the miso, scooping up about the same volume of miso to scallion. This simple dish makes a fresh before dinner appetizer and is especially good with mixed drinks or a beer.
Turnips and Turnip Leaves Pickled in Salt
8 tender turnips with leaves
2 Tbls sea salt
1 meyer lemon or 2 yuzu
2 small fresh or dried red chile peppers
1 tsp slivered ginger
Slice the tops of turnips and reserve. Cut turnips in half vertically, then crosswise into thin half rounds. Slice a couple of small handfuls of leaves into 2 by 1 ¼” pieces. Toss the turnips and leaves together in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Gently but firmly massage the salt in to distribute well, encouraging the turnips to exude a bit of their water. With a very sharp knife or vegetable peeler, shave off the outer yellow zest of the lemon, taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. Stack small slices of zest and slice into very thin strips. Slice the chiles into thin rounds. Slide the zest, chiles, and ginger into the bowl of turnips. Massage one more time and serve immediately. Variation: slice carrots into thin rounds in place of the turnips. Make sure to slice very thin as they have less water content. Add some of the carrot leaves as well.
Clams simmered in Sake with Scallions
8 cups small clams
3 cups sake
4 scallions (both white and green parts cut into a medium dice)
1 tsp salt
2 dried japones or arbol chile pepper, crumbled
1 handful roughly chopped cilantro
cooked Japanese Rice for serving
Scrub the clams in several changes of cold water. Drop the clams into a large heavy pot with a lid. Glug in enough sake to fill the pot about three-quarters the height of the clams, then sprinkle with the scallions, salt, and chile peppers. Replace the lid and cook on high heat until the clams have opened. Stir in the cilantro and cook for about 30 seconds more. Serve in bowls as an appetizer or accompanied with Japanese rice. Discard any unopened clams.