Week 2 CSA Newsletter – We, Biocides

This week, we bodyguarded baby plants.

The Field is filled from side to side with rows of fragile plants, some grown from seeds planted right there, others plugged into the outdoor soil after a sheltered childhood in the greenhouse. It’s not an easy place to be a small plant, bred for traits that have little to do with survival.

The day after last week’s CSA harvest, we began to weed.

Weeding is calm, satisfying and meditative work – remarkably enjoyable for a repetitious task. Satisfying moment to moment, and to look back down a row and see a clean row of nothing but crops, and later, satisfying to see those plants flourish and shoot up once freed from competition from wild and wily weeds.

a well-weeded onion row is a delight to behold
a well-weeded onion row is a delight to behold

We methodically deleted the vigorous weeds that had sprung up in a thick climbing canopy over any and every unmulched place. Our fingers traced backward along the cords of bindweed, along grasping twining feelers to the base of the stem, and popped them out by the roots, Ragweed,smartweed, lambs quarter and grasses were plucked up and left laying on the mulched walkways, no longer spreading shadow over the soil. Row by row, foot by foot, pluck by pluck, we brought the emerging little seedlings back into the open sunlight they needed.  That sun grew hot and hammering.

Widget seeks shelter in the shade of a little sunflower
Widget seeks shelter in the shade of a little sunflower

We watered  where we weeded; bare soil dries out readily. Our skin scorched and sometimes burned; we swam in the River. Eventually, clouds blocked the sun… but the heat and humidity remained. We sweated into the dirt in the grayness while we weeded.

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Sometimes, I machine weeded – tilling as close as I dared to the plants, and weedwhipping the fenceline (where weeds love to ascend along the chickenwire and touch the lowest wire in the electric fence, allowing the fence’s zap to be diffused into the ground).

But not all our protective efforts were based upon being organic human herbicides – the second half of the week, we found ourselves spending just as much intensity into being organic human pesticides. Getting pesticidal. Committing mass pesticide.

When you grow organically, there are limited options for dealing with bugs that want to devour and destroy your crops. The option we rely almost exclusively upon is hand picking / bug squishing.

It was a mild winter, which works out well for certain bug populations.

There are swarms of leaf-eating, root-nibblng, disease-spreading cucumber beetles, eating not only the cucumber plants you’d expect them to, but also the squash, the melons, and the zucchini.  Cucumber beetles are tricky ones to squish – they are small, fast, and quick to take flight when approached.We got better at snatching them quickly between finger and thumb and grinding them up, ideally with a bit of sandy soil. We can only hope to put a dent in their numbers, prevent some eggs from being laid. There are always more, but it does seem there are less every trip.

insect "trap crop" - a super-appealing hubbard squash we planted to lure in and destroy the squash vine borers ... turns out they are also a trap crop for cucumber beetles! Can you guess which squash is the hubbard?
insect “trap crop” – a super-appealing hubbard squash we planted to lure in and destroy the squash vine borers … turns out they are also a trap crop for cucumber beetles! Can you guess which squash is the hubbard?

Potato beetles have been out for some time now – we’ve been crunching their big bulbous beetle bodies up for a couple of weeks at least. But now the eggs of the first-wave survivors are hatching out on the potato leaves, and gangs of soft bodied orange larvae are spreading across their birthplants, munching up tender new leaf growth and growing almost visibly larger as they eat. They are smeared across the leaves when tiny, picked off and squished when large enough – pea sized or more. You quickly learn how to aim them down and away from your face when you dispatch them. (My dad and others report that as kids, they were tasked with collecting these marauders and dropping them int a can of kerosene – which was burned at the end of the bug harvest, more for satisfaction than out of need I think.)

The other bug we battled this week were the squash bugs. Yep, they’re on the squash plants … and on the cucumbers, and even some in the melons. Kristin is a woman of steel in most circumstances – however, she shudders, squeaks, screams, and just generally cannot stand squash bugs- especially when they surprise her in numbers …. four huddled together under a leaf tends to do the trick. They have great camo, and are far too aware of human activity, slipping around the backside of a stem to avoid your gaze as you come bug hunting. They are vaguely cockroachesque, and smell like a strange candy flavoring from childhood when squashed … all the more disturbing to find it vaguely pleasant.

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(Not all the bugs are bad though. We saw our first monarch butterfly, and lots of morning cloaks. And some “weeds” are wonderful – spiderwort, calengula,  and valerian are blooming, the anise hyssop is tall and beginning to form their purple flower spikes.)

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So, yeah. This week was weeds and bugs. mostly. Good times, actually! Hope you enjoyed your battles too.

WEEK 2 BOX:

  • Spring Salad Mix 2: Red & green lettuce, pea tips, spinach, baby kale, green and red mizuna, arugula, and some lambs quarter (aka “wild spinach”).

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  • Purslane – this is a succulent edible garden weed – we don’t plant it, but we don’t weed it much – allowing it to grow and spread. It can be cooked but we prefer it raw. Can eat the leaves and the stems as well, although you’ll likely want to chop those up finely. We have enjoyed the crunchy, tart, lemony flavor on sandwiches and in relish. It’s said to be good in pesto but we haven’t tried that yet ourselves. Purslane is more nutritious than unicorn milk.
  • Cilantro – Would go well with the green onions in a salsa, or in a dip, If you want to make a cilantro dip, do it now – this is the most cilantro we’ll get from the field until fall’s second crop comes in.
  • Sweet Basil – This harvest was a salvage operation – the dread Basil Downy Mildew critters found us right away this year, and we had to take out all the basil we’d planted. Perhaps some of the new planting coming next will fare better …
  • Broccoli – a little cute bag of broccoli. As mentioned previously, we had an unexpected late freeze put quite a hurting on our cool weather crops. Many of the broccoli plants managed to survive in spite of losing almost all their leaves … however, they went straight to work forming flower heads the moment the had a few leaves.IMG_4864So the plants and the broccoli are small – but tender and delicious! I’m grateful to have gotten anything from them after the beating they took … so much time and work went into those plants, and while it’s too bad they won’t be providing much return, getting anything at all feels like a positive thing after thinking all were dead!
  • Radishes – better eating quality than last week, thanks to a better weather mix leading up to harvest
  • Radish Greens – try to use them within the frst couple of days for best results! See last week’s newsletter for some ideas on that … but don’t try eating them raw I’ll repeat!
  • Green Onion – aka scallions – the tops are mild, the white bottoms more potent.
  • a Garlic Scape – It’s the curly thing bundled with your onions! You can use this garlc flower like a scallion, chop them into salads or as a topping.

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  • Zippy Sprouts (large shares only) – Grown with special secret powers by Neighbor Marcia – sprouted clover, fenugreek, radish, broccoli, alfalfa

 

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Photos from the Harvest (thanks Nora!)

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