This week’s share: Lemon basil, Cabbage, Cucumber, Endive, Eggplant, Garlic, Kohlrabi, Onions, Golden Globe potatoes, Tomatoes, Zucchini
I did not decide to take a week off from writing the newsletter. But I did procrastinate long enough—picking peas, having grumpy old man chats with a visiting friend, snacking, searching online for one-row potato diggers—that I still had not sent out the newsletter by the time a well aimed lightning strike hit the cell tower on Ives Hill and fried all of the equipment that supplies our internet connection.
If I were to skip a week, though, this might be the time of year I would choose to do it. At the start of each week I write out a list of tasks I hope we will accomplish. We were doing pretty well up until the middle of this month. Not that we ever get to all the tasks. But we were doing what had to be done, and sometimes even what we hoped to do. But by mid-July picking starts to take up a lot of the work day, just around the time that weed growth accelerates, the bugs go into overdrive, and essential things start to break, adding unforeseen and unavoidable tasks to the list. Last week, we got to picking, seeding, a bit of weeding, and most of the transplanting. Everything else just moved to this week’s list. Then the delivery van emissions system failed and the AC in the cooler finally gave out, necessitating a trip to the Sprinter dealer and trips to pick up rental trucks, plus a pilgrimage in search of an 18,000 btu unit, which turns out to be either the most popular or least stocked size. A lot of those undone tasks are just going to keep migrating to the next list for a while.
I do not offer this up as a tale of woe. It is possible swear words were uttered, particularly during the trip in search of the air conditioner (visiting three big box stores in a row should count under international law as torture). But this is how farming always seems to go at this time of year. I know that we will not keep up with everything as we go into August, especially with a smaller crew. The crops, the weeds and the bugs all respond to day length and temperature. This is their moment to prosper. To keep up we would have to work into the night, and at some point we would fall over and nothing would get done.
And as surely as you can count on being overwhelmed now, you also know that things fall apart. I could not have predicted exactly what would break, or exactly when. It could have been one of the tractors or the vent fan on the seedling house or a high tunnel cover ripped off in a storm. But that something went awry is no surprise. Certain breakdowns you can ignore (the mold board plow has been out of commission since last year). Some you have to take care of, no matter what else you should be doing. We cannot farm without a cooler and a delivery vehicle. In the moment, it feels a bit like our equipment has it in for us. If it weren’t so cruel it would cut us some slack and break in the offseason. But equipment fails when you need it because that’s when you use it. And to give the air conditioner its due, for more than a decade it has run constantly from June through September, so it was more like the death of a loyal friend than an act of sabotage by a vindictive machine.
Given the time pressure we are under for these five or six weeks—around Fair time, the weather and the work start to moderate—I don’t entirely know why I keep writing the newsletter rather than weeding the beets and spraying some fungicide on the outside tomatoes. Unlike the van or the air conditioner, it’s not essential. Its absence last week did not stop us from delivering shares or curtail our ability to keep our produce fresh. Maybe I just can’t break the habit after 25 years. That my basement office stays pleasantly cool even on the hottest day definitely has something to do with it. Plus I can take breaks from writing to look for new pieces of equipment, and dream, because I do not own them, of how they would save us much needed time in this busy season. Whereas if I actually owned them, sooner or later I would have to use up precious time trying to fix them when we need them. In other words, I may well be wasting time, but I’d choose that any day over driving from mall to mall in search of a vital part.
Vegetable notes: Lemon basil, as you may have guessed, tastes like lemon (or at least some aspect of lemon) and basil. It goes well with fish and grilled vegetables, and in a cocktail, maybe less so with red sauce. It might also be nice on a kohlrabi salad (fairly finely diced kohlrabi and onion, crushed garlic, yogurt or sour cream, lemon juice, perhaps a pinch of paprika and a sprinkling of sumac). You could also use it in eggplant mush (grill or broil whole eggplants until the skin is charred and the flesh quite soft. Scoop out the flesh and mix with crushed garlic, diced onion and tomato, olive oil and lemon juice, and chopped herbs. You could also add some tahini yogurt, hot pepper).
These are small potatoes, but not I hope in the sense that they are insignificant. They just never got any rain while they were sizing up—or rather, not sizing up. They come to you not just small, but also dirty because washing new potatoes—at least with the equipment we have—would damage them. Their life has been hard enough as it is. They don’t need to be bruised and flayed. They would not, however, mind being boiled and eaten with some butter and salt and maybe some garlic, or tossed in olive oil, salt and a generous amount of black pepper, and roasted at fairly high heat until their unblemished skins are browned and crisp.