The Alleged Farm News – 15 September, 2022
This week’s share: Basil, Beans, Beet greens, Fennel, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Potatoes, Shallots, Tomatillos, Tomatoes
While picking potatoes the other day I noticed that along with the potatoes I had also plowed up a mouse nest. A neat little cup of dry grass was lying in the dirt with tiny hairless baby mice spilling out of it, and an agitated mouse parent next to it. As I leant over to look the adult rushed at me—for a moment I thought it meant to attack me—and shot between my legs, disappearing into the adjacent potato row. I picked up the nest, scooped up the babies as gently as I could, and placed the nest and babies out of harm’s way. Well, further harm. I didn’t check on them again, but I suspect I had already done a fair amount of harm. I would like to think the parents, or at least parent (I don’t know how mouse couples handle child rearing), returned when it seemed safe and managed to salvage the situation. But it seemed fairly dire. Moving the babies was probably an empty gesture of contrition.
Why I felt contrite I cannot really explain. Yes, I plowed up the nest, but incidentally in the normal course of my work. I cannot get to the potatoes without digging (I trust it comes as no surprise that potatoes grow underground), and leaving the potatoes in the ground to avoid disturbing any rodents would be an odd choice. If leaving rodents unmolested were the goal, I should skip planting the potatoes in the first place. Except that the potatoes provide a food source for rodents. Which is one of a number of reasons I shouldn’t feel bad about reducing the rodent population, intentionally or accidentally.
I recognize that lives are interconnected, and that removing rodents from the farm would no doubt have some unforeseen and unwelcome consequences. We have all sorts of rodents here, and I suppose some of them must do things that help me. I just haven’t noticed this behavior. I have, however, noticed the seedling trays wrecked, the crops eaten, the fruit trees girdled, the wires chewed, the insulation destroyed. The most positive things I can say about our rodent population is that it provides food for kestrels, and I like kestrels. It would be a shame if they had to restrict their diet to bugs and small birds. It would get a bit boring for them.
You would think that as a farmer I would, if not rejoice at the destruction of a mouse nest, at least feel no qualms about it. But apparently I am a bit of a softie. Though I knew that already. I plow around Killdeer nests, mow around spider webs, make sure to move the toads in the greenhouses out of the way before I hoe.
Not that I am like a Jain. In fact, most of the creatures around here probably think of me as a crude killer. I may not specifically be after them—except in a few cases. But I bash around the place with my equipment, flipping dirt and smashing down plants, driving wherever I want as if I were in a mall parking lot. I am clumsy and heedless and self-centered. If they accidentally dug up my nest I doubt they would choose to move me out of harm’s way. All they would say in my favor is that my behavior creates opportunities. Without aiming to, I provide an abundance of tasty food, create useful habitats, flush out prey, keep a few predators at bay. I suppose that’s why they put up with me. The occasional acts of mercy, while they demonstrate that I am not just bent on doing harm, cannot atone for my sins. It’s just a bit of silly human sentimentality, and I doubt it misled the mice about my true nature for a moment.
Vegetable notes: Obviously we are not done with summer vegetables. We may have tomatoes and peppers through the middle of October, and there’s a new flush of eggplants that might get to a useable size before it’s too cold. But fall is coming. And this week it turns up in the form of a Delicata squash and a rutabaga.
I would recommend roasting the squash whole in a fairly hot oven until it is soft. Then you can scoop out the flesh, mix in salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and sage, maybe some butter. Or cut the squash in half, slice thinly, toss with oil, maple syrup, paprika, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, salt and pepper, and roast in a single layer in a hot oven until it softens and caramelizes.
As for the rutabaga, surprisingly it may be best raw. You can boil and mash it, roast it, put chunks of it in soup, add it to a potato gratin. But you can also shred it and make a slaw with some onion, maybe a little celery, and a creamy, slightly sweet dressing.