Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CSA Share Week 14

(caption: a canteloupe crop damaged by a fast-progressing powdery mildew lies lifeless next to a healthy watermelon crop (front right) resistant to the air-borne fungus)

On hot pink paper we received this notice in the mail a couple weeks ago: DISEASE ALERT! DOWNY MILDEW FOUND IN FULTON, MONTGOMERY AND SCHOHARIE COUNTIES! No sooner had we read the notice from Cornell University Cooperative Extension when, sure enough, we were seeing evidence that an air-borne fungus had landed in our fields.
Our spirits especially sank when we saw it on our winter squash crop—a white to grayish powdery growth on the upper surfaces of the leaves that would quickly penetrate the plant cells and kill the plant. We’d planted our winter squash seeds back in early May and nurtured them in the greenhouse for four to five weeks. Once in the field, we kept them well weeded as the vines stretched and the broad, deep green leaves unfurled forming a dense carpet over the plant beds and spreading across the paths on each side as well. The bees did their work too, pollinating flower after flower so that the plants would successfully produce fruit. All this time, resources and work, and only to have a common fungus show up aggressively shortly before the squash was to be ready for harvest.
It looks like our farm has not been hit with downy mildew but, instead, powdery mildew, a more widespread air-borne fungus. Nonetheless, we heeded Cooperative Extension’s warnings and read their 2-page informational sheet carefully. What we found striking was that the first 1 ½ pages of information were dedicated to a long list of synthetic fungicides that can be applied to control downy mildew (if you’re a conventional farm). Names like Ranman, Revus, and phosphorus acid fungicides. There are detailed instructions as to the amounts and frequency with which these products can or should be used (it’s not as if farmers apply the fungicide once and it’s a fix). It also explains which crops certain chemicals can and cannot be used on or which combination of products can or cannot be used.
And then there’s the organic section to the mailed notice. It’s one paragraph. It starts out, “Downy mildew is challenging to manage in an organically-produced crops due to current lack of adequately effective resistant varieties, cultural practices and approved products.” The organically approved products they did mention were recommended as preventative controls only. None would eradicate the fungus.
Whichever mildew hit our winter squash crop, our cucumbers and our cantaloupe crop, it hit fast. We didn’t even have time to contemplate applying an organically approved spray. For the squash and melons, we’d have needed a boom sprayer—a sprayer that would project over a field. That’s just something we’re not about. And because both of these crops sprawl beyond their beds, we cannot straddle the crops with a tractor and a spray applicator attachment nor reach with a small backpack sprayer.
For us, part of being organic is picking our battles—especially when it comes to applying sprays to crops—even ones that are organic. We’re glad to get what melons we’ve been able to harvest—enough watermelon for everyone this week(!). We’ll take a hit on the cucumbers—but everyone received a good stretch of cucumbers earlier this season, right? And we’ll hope for the best on the winter squash. As it goes, this is farming.

A note from the farm on the national egg recall
You don’t have to pay close attention to the news to know that about a half billion eggs were recalled from two Iowa egg farms in the last month. As we were pulling our farm letter together, the New York Times posted an update reporting that federal inspectors found widespread safety problems, including barns infested with flies, maggot and rodents. “Additional problems included overflowing manure pits, improper worker sanitation and wild birds roosting around feed bins.”
When the outbreak was first reported, we saw a tv news clip that showed images of a bunch of meat birds roaming “freely”—if somewhat packed together—indoors. We figured the news channel probably didn’t want to include images of industry-raised laying hens locked up in skyscraper-like stacks of cages because it’s simply not a camera-friendly image.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with how we raise our hens, it’s a lot different from the factory-like egg farms you’re hearing about in the news. We have about 200 hens and 2 portable homes for them. Other than to lay their eggs in their houses and roost at night, they spend almost all of their day outside on pasture pecking at bugs, eating grass, running towards anything and anyone that provide them some added entertainment. Their laying nests and houses are cleaned daily, although there is not much to clean since they spend little time indoors and because one house has a mesh floor, so manure actually drops right onto the floor ground. We move the birds’ homes through the field regularly so that they’re always on fresh grass. The only time they are confined is at night. This is to protect them from night-prowling predators like fox and coyote.

1 watermelon
1 ½ pounds Tongue of Fire fresh shell beans or 3/4 lbs. edemame*
1 bulb of fennel
1 bunch carrots
2 sweet Italian bell peppers
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch leeks
1 bunch small turnips
1 small white onion and 1 small red onion or 1 large white onion

*If your distribution site received edamame last week, you will receive shell beans this week instead.

Fresh soy beans are hard to find, super easy to prepare, and fun to eat. A real treat. Eat as a snack or serve as an appetizer before dinner (or with dinner). For good instructions on how to cook, go to wikipedia.com and search "how to cook edamame." Really, it's easier than cooking pasta.

Turnip greens are exceptionally high in calcium, and many of the turnips in this week’s share have greens good enough to still eat. To cook, very briefly wilt in a medium-hot pan with olive oil and, if you like, thinly sliced leeks. Stir in some minced garlic (optional) and remove from the heat. Serve with a drizzling of apple cider vinegar cut with a little honey and some cooked Tongue of Fire beans from this week’s share.

*If you don’t think you’ll ever cook your turnip greens, pick a bunch with greens that aren’t in as good of shape so that members who are inclined to try them can enjoy them.

Turnip Parsley Salad with Walnuts and Capers
While a new crop of salad greens at Free Bird has yet to come in, the small, mild-flavored turnips in this week’s share make a nice salad ingredient along with the parsley.

1 bunch turnips
½ cup parsley leaves, packed
2 teaspoons small capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
¼ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim the greens and root ends from the turnips. (Reserve any good-quality greens for wilting separately; see tip). Slice the turnips in half lengthwise, and then very thinly slice into half moons. You should have about a heaping cup of very thinly sliced turnips. Place the turnips in a medium serving bowl.
Loosely tear the parsley leaves and add to the bowl. Add the capers and walnuts. Toss to combine.
Drizzle with the cider vinegar and oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss. Add more vinegar, oil, salt or pepper to taste. The salad should taste lightly dressed.

Recipe by Maryellen Driscoll, Free Bird Farm

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