Tag Archives: lettuce

Foraging the Fence Line

Sure, it’s May 12th, but that doesn’t mean we’re wearing shorts and sandals on Colorado’s Front Range. Mother’s Day was snowy, today’s wind is cold, and tonight the temperature will drop into the 20s, putting this season’s apple crop in peril. Our wintered-over crops like spinach and onions are slower than normal this year, although what “normal” means anymore is anyone’s guess. As farmers in these days of climate change, we watch the weather instead of the calendar and plant or pick accordingly.

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I had intended to harvest asparagus this afternoon anyway before tonight’s predicted frost, but my friend Wendy’s blog post about foraged asparagus inspired me to take my camera along. Wendy’s post will tell you how to prepare asparagus without wasting any of the precious bits, so I’ll leave the culinary instructions to her.

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Instead, I’ll share what else I found on my walk around the farm. First, I stopped in the bluehouse—our passive solar greenhouse made from recycled patio doors—to check on the lettuces. We’ve been eating greens like arugula and chard ourselves from the bluehouse all winter, but last Saturday we harvested lettuce for all our members on the first pick-up day of the season. Bluehouse lettuce is never as crisp as outdoor-planted lettuce, but we’re not complaining about fresh lettuce in May, especially in this cool spring.

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Next, I walked the fence line on the west side of our property to find the bird-planted asparagus. I’ll let you figure out how that happens. John had picked a first round a few days ago and some of it was already going to seed, but I foraged a half bag of hearty stalks, enough for a quiche soon and some for salad too (I chop in bite-sized pieces, steam tender-crisp, cool, and add to spinach, lettuce, parsley, chopped boiled eggs, and roasted walnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette). I also found cactus in the only spot they grow on our farm, back along the fence line near where our neighbor pastures his cows.

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Snow is still falling in the mountains; normally we can see Long’s and Meeker from our field. Today, only Steamboat Mountain just outside of Lyons is visible.

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On the way back to the farmhouse with my stash of asparagus, I run into John crossing the bridge by the flower garden. I glance down into the ditch, which is still nearly empty because the repairs following last September’s terrible flood are not yet complete, making yesterday’s snow quite welcome for our fields.

The lack of ditchwater hasn’t prevented the appearance of another spring foraging treat: the saddleback polypore mushroom that grows each year on the stump of our former rope tree over the swimming hole. Today’s find is fifteen inches across; we’ve harvested it just in time for optimal spongy texture. We’ll sauté it tonight for an extra treat, maybe with asparagus over pasta or toast.

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Our vegetable crops may be a little behind schedule right now, but I’m happy to be on the cool side of the weather rather than shooting straight to hot. We’re still worried about the above average snowpack, too, since the flood last fall has changed the river in unpredictable ways, but we’re glad to know water is on its way.

As I write in A Bushel’s Worth, on a farm, we work, we wait, and the land gives again. In this 23rd CSA season, we’ll adapt and change and flex and grow in whatever way the climate demands. We may not always get it right, but we’ll do the best we can, drawing on the knowledge, patience, and faith that, so far, have seen us through.

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For readers in the Boulder/Ft Collins area, I’ll be teaching a free interactive reading at the Estes Park Public Library this Saturday, May 17th, from 3-5 PM, with a special emphasis on writing stories about the September 2013 flood. Come join us!

I’ll also be offering a workshop at the beautiful Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon Coast this September 27-28 on “Writing from Nature’s Artifacts.” Just the scenery will inspire you (and hopefully the class will too!).

 

 

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Our 21st Season Opens and the Greens are Glowing

May 12th was the first pick-up of our 21st CSA season and the biggest opening pick we’ve ever had. With April’s warm weather, many of the crops that normally aren’t ready until a few weeks later were already big enough for harvesting. We knew the fall-planted spinach was ready because we’d been picking it for ourselves for a couple weeks and it was starting to show signs of bolting, which happens when the weather gets warmer and the plant senses that it better go to seed because its days are numbered.  We were also expecting to pick radishes, turnips, and green garlic for opening day, as well as lettuces from the rebuilt bluehouse, two beautiful, big heads per share. Still, we thought the pick wouldn’t take very long and we’d have some extra time for weeding before the subscribers showed up at 11 AM to start the season.

But when we got to the field early Saturday morning and took the row cover off the other garden greens, we discovered that they were ready to pick as well. The bok choi and totsoi especially don’t like warmer weather, which is why it does better in the fall here on the Front Range. We plant it in the spring anyway, just in case the weather is cool, but with April’s high temperatures, those greens were raring to go.

So as the bartering members thinned and harvested pounds and pounds of urgent greens, the bikers rode full trugs into the barn for two of us to weigh as we tried to figure out where it all could go. The lettuces alone filled the shelves of the cool room and we had twice as much spinach as would fit the large bins we’d planned. With the trugs coming in as fast as we could weigh them, we couldn’t believe this was opening day.

When a few members showed up a little before 11 AM, eager for the first of the season’s vegetables, we had to ask them to take a short walk while we finished getting the barn ready for its 21st season. But at the stroke of 11, everything was ready to go. Each type of vegetable was weighed or counted, labeled, and displayed in the barn under the big chalkboards that declare how much of each a subscriber should take.

As we gathered the new members outside the barn for a farm tour and barn talk, we apologized for giving so many greens on opening day. It hadn’t been our intention to overwhelm people with first greens, but the weather had trumped our plans. Besides the beautiful spinach and lettuce, people would weigh and bag greens with which they were probably less familiar, like spicy greens, bok choy, and totsoi. Graciously, everyone assured us that lots of greens on opening day was fine, but I did notice that we had more of the unfamiliar veggies left at the end of the day than the old stand-bys.

That’s okay. The chickens were happy with the leftovers and we’ll slowly educate our members about these other nutritious and delicious greens through our recipe email list and tips in the barn. Eating seasonally takes some getting used to and we’re patient with that change. We don’t want our members to feel guilty for not eating every last leaf. Share with friends, we say, or bring us your compost and we’ll put it back into the soil.

Last Saturday, the greens weren’t quite so urgent, giving members a chance to catch up with the haul the week before. We still gave spinaches and lettuces but we added only bok choy, now bigger with more substance to its toothsome stems. We hope people will adjust to this versatile vegetable, which can be used in similar ways to celery in stir-fries or salads. We like it steamed with sesame peanut sauce, as in the recipe below.

Despite the rush to get everything in that morning, we were glad to offer such bounty on opening day. As a share-the-harvest farm, we want people to know that we don’t base what they get on the market value of the food but instead share what the garden has to offer each week. In the early part of the season, that means quite a few greens–including the best spinach anyone has ever eaten–but don’t worry: the brassicas are on their way!

Sesame Peanut or Cashew Sauce

This sauce is great over steamed vegetables but can also be stirred into rice with raw, slivered veggies and baked in an oiled 9×13 pan, covered with foil, for 45 minutes at 375.

In food processor or blender, mix the following:

1 cup natural, unsweetened peanut or cashew butter, smooth or chunky

¼ cup rice vinegar

6 Tbl honey

2 tsp sesame oil

½ cup water

½ cup tamari or soy sauce

1 Tbl fresh ginger grated or 1 tsp dried

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp thai basil, dried

A few shakes of hot pepper flakes to taste

Warm gently in sauce pan until heated through and drizzle over steamed vegetables.

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Fresh in February

I bought a head of lettuce yesterday, something I haven’t done for years. We grow our own most of the time and when we don’t have lettuce in winter, we usually can find some other green like fall-planted spinach or wintered-over chard or kale to provide something fresh for our meals.

But yesterday the spinach was deep under row cover and snow. I could have foraged for some leaves but I didn’t want to disturb its sleep. Better to let it rest under its blanket until the snow thaws and the days warm up again.

We also normally have greens growing in our smaller unheated greenhouse this time of year, but that building is being renovated right now. Nothing for a salad is growing in the construction zone. So I went to our thirty-year-old local natural food store and purchased a lovely head of organic lettuce.

The Bluehouse renovation with salvaged glass

We were having a guest for dinner; I had planned to put spinach in the lasagna, as I usually do, and to make a spinach salad with our own sundried tomatoes as well. I could go without the spinach in the former but couldn’t completely give up the latter.  I wanted something fresh, despite February’s chill. Remember American Pie: “February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered”? February is the month that can go either way—sun warmed or frigid cold, on any particular day. We’ve had plenty of snow and low temps so far but not like last year when schools closed because of below-zero temperatures. I grew up here and so did my daughter but never did we get a Too Cold Day off from school.

My mother and me sledding in 1965

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of farming in terms of efficiency vs ecology. We’ve just lost the fight against GMO crops on our county open space land and pro-GMO advocates and their big backers are organizing to influence the upcoming county commissioners race. Organic farmers and organic consumers are small potatoes, so to speak, in the world of Big Ag. Even the biggest organic producers still maintain a very small part of the overall market.

It’s not just being smaller, though, that makes us less efficient. Being sustainable—and I mean that in the environmental sense, not the co-opted financial sense purported by the ag industry—brings a commitment to ecology that precludes some kinds of efficiencies such as chemical inputs, i.e., synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

Another efficiency, monocropping, lessens plant diversity and, even more worrisome, the rush to patent all forms of seeds threatens to diminish even the continuance of plant availability. Loosing diversity will bring untold vulnerabilities to our food systems—think Irish potato famine—as well as increased dependency on food and seed monopolies.

None of that is ecological. Industrial agriculture doesn’t support a balanced ecosystem in which farmers work within natural systems as closely as possible to produce food that is healthy and nutritious while preserving soil, water, and air for future generations. Further, the efficiency imperative puts more and more power in the hands of a few biochemical companies, increasing costs for small farmers that is already driving them out of business. It may increase efficiency—bringing down the cost of raising food but not necessarily of food itself– until the point that vulnerabilities to unforeseen consequences (the rise of resistant diseases, for example) or uncontrollable circumstances (our increasingly volatile weather patterns) overwhelm the system.

It’s complex but thinking about how efficiency and ecology can overlap, both on small, organic farms and in the larger scale of agriculture, is helpful to me. Next week John and I are going to the Colorado Big and Small conference. That says it all. How can the actions of Big not threaten the existence of Small? And can Small become any bigger without subscribing to the problems inherent in Big? We’d all like to think we can work together as “good neighbors,” but the stakes seem to be getting pretty high. I’m just not down with world domination of seeds, no matter how efficient that may seem. We’ll see what people have to say.

February is a transition month. Our small starts in the big greenhouse look good, our members are sending appreciative notes, and we’re excited to get back into the fields.  A new season always brings promise. That’s the encouraging thing about ecological farming. We’ll get our “bluehouse” rebuilt and grow some winter greens; the spring will come around; and we’ll get a fresh start once again.

PS Did you notice that today’s date is palindromic?

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