TAFN – 30 June, 2022

The Alleged Farm News – 30 June, 2022

 This week’s share: Bok choi, Carrots, Garlic scapes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radicchio, Scallions, Hakurei turnips

I run a small-scale sustainable vegetable farm. I am supposed to work in harmony with nature. And I try. I plant buckwheat cover crops not just to nourish the soil, but to provide forage for the bees. I don’t use herbicides. I rotate the crops. I welcome spiders. I put out tons of hay mulch as a natural weed barrier that also adds organic matter to my fields. We get our electricity from our solar array. The farm is protected from development forever by a conservation easement. I move toads out of harm’s way.

And to some extent nature works with me. I have fertile soils and enough moisture in the ground to get my crops through dry periods. I have lady bug nymphs predating the potato beetle larvae and barn swallows flitting after all manner of flying insects. I have cool fall days and a killing frost that comes pretty much when I need the relief from picking summer crops.

At least, it’s nice to imagine that nature is working with me, that we have some sort of reciprocal relationship, some level of mutual understanding, and who knows, maybe even respect. Not that I go in much for the whole mother earth tending her children thing. I have not noticed much of a maternal instinct. There’s considerably more indifference than you would hope for from a mother figure, plus the not infrequent moments  that feel like undue punishment. What did I do to deserve hail or thistles?

Still, we could be coworkers or acquaintances. Or at least two beings seated side by side on a long flight finding ways to coexist without causing extra discomfort. A little innocuous chat to start. No hogging the armrest. Maybe even the offer of a magazine or a snack. And perhaps by the end we have even shared a few jokes or commiserated with one another about the general state of things. That would be fine, that level of politeness with the possibility of moments of connection, that mutual understanding that, headed our own ways, we have been put together by chance and the journey will be a little easier for everyone if we do our best not to step on one another’s toes.

I have been starting to wonder lately, though, if nature is tiring of my company. The rain it raineth everywhere but here. A rat went through the first trays we planted and ate almost every seed in one night. We have a plague of groundhogs, including one that lives by the field houses, which really cuts down on its commute to browse on our crops. The deer ate the first flush of zucchini. The potato beetles are out in extraordinary numbers. The kestrels came by again this spring, but they did not choose to nest here this time. A bear has moved into the neighborhood and ate our strawberries. A fisher has been prowling around the farmyard, probably hoping to finish off the last three chickens.

As exciting as it is to catch a glimpse of a fisher, when a notoriously elusive forest creature starts turning up in your farmyard in the afternoon you should probably consider what nature is trying to tell you. It is possible, of course, that nature just thought we would enjoy such an unusual siting.  But it sent a fierce predator and we have already lost four fifths of our chicken flock. It could have sent a swarm of butterflies, a cloud in the shape of a unicorn, a night of soaking rain. A fisher seems more like a warning than a gift.

Maybe I haven’t done enough to work with nature. Maybe I have displaced too many creatures, mowed down too many plants, disturbed the soil unnecessarily, trespassed in some other way I cannot even grasp. I don’t know. The messages are confusing. Sometime nature seems to want to thwart my effort to grow crops, and sometimes it just wants a greater share of them. And maybe nature hasn’t changed, and I am just getting too old to play this odd game. It requires a level of energy and flexibility that’s hard to maintain through the decades.

Hard for me to maintain. Nature obviously has no problem coming up with new tricks. The fisher may just be a warm up act. I will be interested to see what comes next. Interested, but increasingly apprehensive.


Vegetable notes: It’s not going to be lovely cooking weather for the next couple days. Fortunately, most of these vegetables are good raw. Kohlrabi, for instance, which can be steamed or sautéed , but I think is at its best more or less as it is. Well, a little less, as in peel it down to the crisp white flesh. Cut it into thin chips and snack away. You could dip it in some garlic scape pesto if you want to get fancy. Radicchio can be delightful charred on a grill, but it still possesses plenty of charm more or less as it is. Well, more, as in top it with a creamy, lemony  parmesan dressing and perhaps a few toasted nuts and some orange slices (by which I mean the citrus fruit, not American cheese). As for the carrots, after you have eaten the roots just as they are ( no more, no less), you can use the tops in that scape pesto. Or you can put everything in the fridge, make a slushy cocktail, and sit in the shade surviving perfectly happily on that until it is cool enough to cook again.