This week’s share: Chard, Dill, Eggplant, Leeks, Lettuce, Highlander and Red Marble onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Nicola potatoes, Sage, Tomatoes, Squash, Acorn winter squash
We spent all Monday preparing for the first fall frost. That involved taking in the last of some crops that would die in the freeze and protecting others from the cold. In other words, we were both preparing for and delaying–at least for a little while–the end of the summer growing season.
Which is an accurate reflection of a farmer’s feelings about that first frost. You put a lot of work into your crops and you want to keep them going as long as possible. But you put a lot of work into your crops and you would not mind a break, especially from picking squash. So you have to choose what you really want to protect, and what you can give up on. Or sometimes you split the difference. For instance, we picked the eggplants down to a size we normally would not just in case, and then covered half the patch to see if we could keep the plants going long enough to size up all the fruit too small to pick, but we had a lot else to do before dark that seemed more important than trying to save all the eggplant so we left the other half to fend for itself.
While we worked to protect a lot of plants from the frost, we did nothing to help a lot of others. In fact, we looked forward to the freeze doing them in. I am talking, of course, of the squash. Well, them and the weeds. We still have a lot of fall crops out there, and when the frosts come and kill the weeds they do us a great favor.
Not, sadly, that all weeds are frost sensitive. But they certainly notice the change in weather. And most of them rush to produce as much seed as possible, knowing they will be out of luck if they put off that task any longer. They are certainly not bothering to grow much this late in the season. In fact, they have pretty well shut down for the year.
Except chickweed. Apparently at some point in its evolution chickweed looked around and noticed that all the other guys quit around the beginning of October and saw a nice opportunity for a low growing plant willing to put up with the cold. So now as the other plants drop their leaves and sunlight starts to filter through to the ground again, chickweed is there to make the uncontested most of it. It seems like a risky strategy, lurking about during the growing season while everyone else prospers in the long days and warm soil, just so you can have the bitter short days of late fall to yourself. But it works. And with a good root system in place from the late fall growth and a remarkable indifference to cold, chickweed’s also ready to grow earlier in the spring than almost anyone else. It will often carpet whole fields in March, long before even the dandelions have dared to pop up.
I find the chickweed incredibly annoying. Just when I think I am finished with weeds, it starts to spread, and if you let it go it grow into clumps you have to dig out with a shovel. It has a particularly fine time in the greenhouses, where it can grow all winter, and sometimes I have to tromp out through the snow (at least in winters when it snows) to go weed, which just seems wrong. But I also admire it’s guile. It’s hardly a prepossessing plant, and it lacks the brute force of pigweed or thistles. But it has found a simple trick that allows it to flourish: just sit and wait. It’s nice to see patience and modesty rewarded sometimes, and nice to see that someone else does not believe the growing season has ended just because some cold killed your summer crops. The chickweed just carries on, and so, for the moment, do we.
Vegetable notes: This is the last summery share of the season. Not that it is sumer any longer. But these summer crops in your box managed to hang on until now. After this it is all kale, which I guess actually does not sound like a threat any more. 10 year ago people would have groaned about having to eat this odd hippie roughage. But kale is having its day, and its imminent arrival might actually be cause for celebration in some households.
Well, it won’t actually just be kale for the rest of the season (the rest of the season being the next three Thursdays). We do have other fall crops, some of which may have fans of their own.
I am not sure we have had really heavy rain since July 1st. For the most part this has not been a huge problem. In fact, it is possible a lot of the time to forget just how dry it has been this season. But we are reminded from time to time. Such as when we dig potatoes. The plants managed to make a more or less normal number of tubers, but without much moisture those tubers never sized up. Not that Nicolas are huge potatoes, but they should not be this small. They still taste good (I think Nicolas are particularly tasty, and they have an excellent firm texture), but the yield is pretty poor.
Fortunately the peppers have not minded the lack of rain at all. I have been putting whole peppers on the grill to char the skin and then sticking them in a sealed contained in the fridge (where they keep for a couple of weeks) so that any time I feel like adding roasted pepper to a dish I can just pull one out and peel it and use it. Plus it is an easy way to deal with a pile of peppers if you are not sure what else to do with them.