The Alleged Farm News – 4 August, 2016

This week’s share: Genovese basil, Bok choi, Cucumber, Eggplant, Fennel, German Red garlic, Lettuce, Walla Wall onion, Radicchio, Squash


People tend to think of farmers as plant whispers, able to coax tender life from the ground and make it blossom. Or maybe plant gurus with a deep mystical understanding of nature and the circle of life. Or just plain experts on growing, steeped in the vast accumulated knowledge of what plants truly want in order to thrive.

We do know something about plants and what makes them grow, some of us because we have grown up on farms, some because we have studied it in school, some because we have paid careful attention over the years to what has works and what failed and we have honed our craft. And then there’s me. But I digress.

Obviously our aim is to produce food, to take seeds and cuttings and tubers and bulbs and somehow turn them into a bounteous harvest. And to do that we have to grow our crops. I could just hand out the potatoes and garlic I plant. But I would either have to hand out very little or buy a lot more–and neither would count as farming or make any business sense. What does is putting them in the ground–ideally in the right ground at the right time and right spacing–and then tending to them while they multiply.

But it’s that tending to them that makes one wonder if we are really at heart growers. I was weeding the carrots yesterday, a task that provides plenty of time for though, both because it takes a long time and is in itself insanely boring. With a little more skill and luck (just a few rainy days, for instance, in the past couple of months) more carrots and fewer weeds would have emerged. But these are hardly unusual carrot beds. And it was hard not to notice that there were a lot more weeds than carrots. So the couple of hours I spent farming those beds, while it will help the carrots grow, mostly involved killing plants.

In fact, I spend a lot of my day killing plants. Whether it is weeding or hoeing or cultivating or flex tining or plowing or tilling or laying our biodegradable plastic or putting out hay mulch or flaming, many of my tasks directly involve killing plants. Even some of the planting I do is intended to kill plants. Among other things, we use cover crops to suppress weeds–with suppress meaning to outcompete for resources and cause to wither away in the shade and die.

Growing is actually the easy part of my job, if by growing you mean sticking something in the ground and getting it to turn into a harvestable crop. The relatively easy part. I can sit on a stool in the greenhouse and listen to music while sowing trays of seedlings. Pushing a seeder up and down the rows does not require much time or effort. Our water wheel transplanter makes putting the seedlings in the fields a simple task–and one done sitting down.

Sure, things don’t always germinate as well as I hope (those carrots, for instance) and sometimes crops take far longer to mature than they should (still waiting for those tomatoes to ripen; I have been giving them quite severe looks but they don’t seem to notice) or some problem with the soil stunts part of a row. I have to think about soil moisture and fertility and temperature and crop rotation and planting depth and tillage depth. But if growing were all I had to do–if I could just make wise choices about what and when and where to plant, prepare the soil well, stick seeds in the dirt, pray for decent weather and walk away until harvest–I would have plenty of time for hobbies.

Unfortunately, there is all this other life out there bent on undoing my work. Viruses and fungi and beetles and gastropods and quadrupeds and avifauna. It’s a jungle out there. Or it would be if I just walked away and played at my hobbies. Everything I worked on would disappear into the bush and soon enough there would be gibbons swinging from towering Lamb’s Quarters where the carrots should have been.

The only way to keep that at bay (though the idea of gibbons holds a certain attraction) is to kill a lot of stuff. So that is what I do instead of hobbies. Whether or not that counts as a deep mystical insight into the nature of things I am unqualified to say. What do I know about insight? I am just a grower.


Vegetable notes: We mostly grow German Porcelain garlic. It has proved more reliable than other varieties and it tastes good (not that I have ever grown a variety that tastes bad). But we keep trying other varieties every year. It seems like a good idea to have a little diversity, and I keep hoping to find a hardy type with more cloves per head. Unfortunately, most of the varieties we have tried have proved disappointing. They don’t size up. There have been years we haven’t even bothered to pick them they are so small. This year (well, we planted it last fall, but we picked it a couple of weeks ago) we grew German Red, which is what you have this week. It certainly did not get as large as the Porcelain, but the plants were reasonably vigorous and they made it through an odd winter. It might be worth trying a second time, but only if it passes the kitchen test. So let me know what you think of it. Mostly likely you will think it tastes like garlic, but sometimes different varieties have notably different flavors.

To really get a sense of what the garlic is like you should really eat a piece raw. But if you do you may just make everything taste like garlic for a day or two. Here’s another idea. Put your eggplant in a hot oven (stick it with a knife in a few places) and roast, turning occasionally, until the skin has blacked and the flesh is very soft. Scoop out the flesh and mash it with lemon juice, olive oil, basil, salt, pepper, perhaps a little hot pepper, and a generous amount of crushed garlic. Stir in some diced onion and let it sit for an hour or two so the flavors blend well. That should give you some idea of how pungent the garlic is, and you get some tasty eggplant mush too.

As for your fennel, I recommend you ask someone else what to do with it. I am not a huge fan and Liz hates it, cannot even abide the swell, so I pretty well never bring it into the kitchen.