Our next CSA distribution will be Monday July 16 and Thursday July 19. We received not a drop of rain from the cold front that moved through this past weekend, and though temperatures are somewhat cooler, the sun is still intense, the days are still long, and no meaningful respite is in sight with temperatures expected back near 100 by the beginning of next week and little probability of meaningful rain. We’ve been short by 20 hours of employee/worker help this past week (about half with almost no notice), so our personal energy supplies are on empty. Some contents of this share are uncertain, as multiple crops are feeling heat stress and declining rapidly, though others are still coming on and looking good for now. This is the value of diversity: there’s almost always something that’s happy and productive. Also, don’t forget our Food Preservation Demonstration event on the farm this Saturday; it’s a great chance to see, learn, & share techniques for preserving fresh food, and to see the farm in mid-summer. If you’d like to come, please let us know (if you haven’t already). Read on for more on this week’s share and on-farm conditions:
THIS WEEK’S PRODUCE
Thanks to everyone who showed interest in the bulk extras of squash, beans, beets, and cukes over the last week. We were really impressed at how many people were willing to take extras, and are grateful to know everything went to those who wanted it. One of the things we hate most in the current food system is the amount of food waste, and it means a lot to us whenever we can minimize that on our own farm. It was a great feeling to reward our investors with some extra dividends while we could.
NEW! Cipollini onions These small, sweet onions are excellent grilled or sauteed. The flavor is a bit sharp raw, but the sweetness really comes out when cooked.
NEW! Okra Starting to fruit and growing fast. These are an heirloom variety, Burmese, that can grow quite large and still be tender and tasty. We’ll be picking these at a range of sizes so we can reduce our harvest frequency to greatly reduce the workload. Thanks to the tenderness of this variety, the result is still a high-quality product. A note on okra storage: Okra has a short life in the refrigerator, and it is best eaten or preserved within a couple of days of receiving it. It loves heat, and like basil, it is susceptible to chilling injury at refrigeration temperatures. Unfortunately, unlike basil, you can’t just stick okra in a cup of water, so it is best to put it in the refrigerator anyway, just not for long. We store it at its preferred temperature of ~50ºF until distribution. Fortunately, okra is extremely easy to preserve for later use: Just chuck it in a bag in the freezer. We don’t blanch (because the result would be very slimy), and we find the result is of excellent quality for winter stews.
NEW! (maybe) New potatoes We’ll likely dig some new potatoes to round out the share, but distribution quantities will depend on what we find. Test digs have been uneven in terms of yield. It looks like voles robbed a lot of potatoes, possibly just as they were forming.
Cherry tomato mix
Mid-sized slicer tomatoes Yields are picking up. Enjoy these roasted or sliced.
Cucumbers (maybe) Plants are declining fast, see below. This may lead to an increase in incidence of bitterness in the cukes, which unfortunately we can’t identify visually. If a cucumber is bitter, the bitterness tends to be concentrated at the stem end. Sometimes just chucking a bit from the stem end into the compost is enough to avoid bitter flavors, though occasionally entire cucumbers will become bitter. Peeling can help, too. Bitterness seems to be a defense of the plant against insect pests (such as the cucumber beetles). As the season progresses, bitter cucumbers tend to become more common because the plants that are well defended with bitter compounds tend to be the survivors that are still producing.
Summer squash (maybe) Plants are declining fast, see below.
Green beans Likely a mix of filet beans and regular beans, possibly some multi-colored. May be last week for these for a while.
Cured garlic One head of one variety this week, as they’re curing slowly. We’ll update this post with the variety when we’ve decided what it will be. UPDATE: This week is Georgian Crystal again; next week will be something new.
Finished: Beets, scallions, & cabbage.
Peppers (coming soon) These take forever to ripen properly; we’ll be waiting a week to harvest more jalapenos and the other sweet & hot peppers will be coming eventually. These are under shade cloth and still looking healthy for now.
Due to continued heat & shortage of help, we’re going to stick with the smaller quantity of herb bundles this week.
Lime basil: Delicious in cuke salad. Also really yummy when infused into a sugar syrup, and that’s really yummy in this cucumber smoothie recipe. We suspect a lime basil ice cream would be delicious, but haven’t gotten to it yet.
Shiso: Best stored on the counter in a bit of water (as for basil). We’d love to hear how some of you have used this.
Basil: We’re going to list this in the produce section of the survey so you have a chance to request extras. Basil generally does not store well in the refrigerator; it will usually turn brown from the excessive cold & drying. Long stems can be stored in a jar of water at room temperature (as you would a bouquet of flowers). Short stems will store in the refrigerator in a bag or sealed container for a little while.
Kentucky colonel mint
LATEST (LACK OF) RAINFALL STATS
Through May & June we recorded a total of about 5″ of rain, a misleading number since 2.62″ of that fell in one quick, intense storm and mostly ran off rather than soak in; most of the rest fell in small isolated spurts that quickly vanished. Nothing has fallen in July, meaning that we haven’t had meaningful rain since June 16 ( the .02″ on June 21 was worthless). Couple all that with record and near-record heat, consistently for weeks, and you can imagine why we’re run down just from the irrigation management alone.
DYING PLANTS & PEST PRESSURE
The heat stress we discussed last week is now manifesting itself, especially in the cucumbers and summer squash. In the past week, many previously healthy plants have begun rapidly wilting and dying. Frankly, the squash plants are overdue to die (having been producing since May), but the cucumbers are succumbing well ahead of schedule. This coincides with a huge bloom of cucumber beetles and other pests, which attack the plants and spread disease. Under organic management, the best defense against pests & disease is to maintain healthy soils and plants that can resist such attacks, in the same way that a healthy person with a strong immune system can resist and/or recover naturally from many illnesses and injuries. In these conditions, however, plants are heat-stressed and their defenses are down, so are far more susceptible to pests and diseases than normal, just as a stressed-out or unhealthy person gets sick more easily or heals more slowly. Before the heat wave, the cucumber plants were looking great, but they were visibly stressed during the hottest days, and we didn’t have enough hours in the day to get mulch on them as soon as needed. Weak plants also draw in more pests which then reproduce and multiply, leading to a feedback loop that is now underway. Below, a left-to-right sequence of squash plants in different stages of plant health. Wilting can happen as quickly as overnight. (These are all different plants taken at the same time; as you can see, some hardy plants still look great.)
Thus we’re seeing a rapid decline in these crops under pest pressures they ought normally to resist better, and their production may not last much longer. Our next young planting of summer squash is already exposed to these conditions as well, and with those and our young cucumbers we face a very difficult decision: do we put them under row cover, a lightweight fabric that keeps out most insect pests to give them a head start, but may well cook them in 100-degree temperatures? Under these conditions we’d have to keep the row cover vented to allow hot air to escape, but that mostly neutralizes the pest-control benefits. We use row cover in spring and fall to good effect, but under these conditions it’s a much more difficult choice. And managing it is that much more work for us when we’re already as stressed as the plants.
Other pests showing up recently include growing numbers of Japanese beetles, and the especially nasty Blister Beetles, which explode out of nowhere on things like potatoes and defoliate the crops (we’re not the only ones fighting these suckers), while being faster and harder to catch than almost any other pest. Rabbits, coons, and deer also continue to be active. We just moved the goats to a new pasture, and found lots of evidence that hungry deer had robbed much of the best browse already. So far they have not jumped the vegetable fences, but it has been on our list for weeks to reinforce some of the weak points just in case. Rabbits have been attacking young plants, such as the beans shown below. Both were planted at the same time; the ones on the right were eaten down by rabbits and are now trying to set new leaves on the bare stalks. Electric nets and rifles can have some effect, but we can’t guard everything 24/7 from desperate wildlife.
DROUGHT & FIRE DANGER
It’s bone dry here, with dead grass and wilting wild plants & trees everywhere. There have been two brush/grass fires in Boone County this week alone, one only a few miles from here. Yet almost every night we continue to hear people setting off fireworks, not only keeping us from much-needed sleep but making us ever-more afraid of fire in general. Under these conditions, fires can start from something as simple as a mower striking a rock, much less firecracker sparks, and can spread easily through pastures or forests (drought-stressed cedar trees are flamethrowers waiting to happen). Yet there are idiots out there endangering other people’s property and livelihoods for a few cheap thrills. Rural pseudo-libertarians take note: disrespectful stupidity is a common stimulant for overbearing laws.
THE GOOD NEWS
It’s never all bad on a diversified farm, and the good news is that in some ways the dry conditions have their benefits. We don’t have mud or water-based soil erosion, and can effectively use vehicles to move harvests, straw, feed, and other farm materials around. We haven’t had to spend much time doing road maintenance, which in past wet years was a bigger task as heavy rains did repeated damage. Dry conditions help reduce disease on crops like tomatoes and peppers, which are still looking gorgeous (though the heat will still likely affect their ability to set pollinated fruit, and stress may eventually send them the way of cukes & squash). The tomatoes have amazing flavor due to the dry conditions; too much moisture dilutes the flavor significantly and leads to constant cracking/bursting which can ruin the fruit. Day to day, dry conditions are a good thing for us; it’s just the excessive heat and drought that collectively has us and everything else here stressed to the limit. And the food is still good:
Here are a few meals we’ve enjoyed lately; on-farm ingredients listed in italics.
Several uses for fresh-ground goat kid (our recent drought-related culling), which was seasoned with garlic, herbs, dried peppers, and Missouri red wine. Above left, pizza/galette of ground goat, tomatoes, goat ricotta, fresh dough. Above right, true summer meal of burger (ground goat, sweet onion, tomato, aged goat cheddar, fresh-made bun) with cubed new potatoes fried in lard and fresh slaw (cabbage, carrots, beets, scallions, garlic, kohlrabi, homemade dressing). Above left, Joanna’s specialty of fresh flatbread dough repeatedly folded over fresh goat cheese & herbs, cooked in a cast-iron skillet and topped with fresh tomatoes. Above right, organic pasta topped with sauce of roasted tomatoes, garlic, herbs, scallions, sauteed squash/carrots/green beans, topped with shredded aged goat cheese. Another summer favorite is our personal Greek Salad recipe, utilizing lots of summer produce and herbs. The link above is from a few years ago, but still gives the idea.