This week’s share: Basil, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Radicchio, Radishes, Squash, Yukina savoy
I really ought to train myself to sleep less. All that time lying there dreaming really gets in the way of my plans to accomplish various farm projects.
Oh, I suppose I could do a lot more weeding too if I only required, say, four hours of rest a day. But I am not particularly looking for more chances to weed. I feel like I get enough as it is. Not enough, it must be said, to get rid of all the weeds. But to have a weed-free farm I would probably have to give up sleep altogether, and while I do like the idea of a weed-free farm I am not quite prepared to stay up night and day to achieve that.
Plus some weeds have their uses. For instance, Sean eats a number of them. He has pickled purslane stems and steamed a lot of Lamb’s Quarters, which taste a bit like spinach (a slightly hairy, weedy spinach), and just the other day he gave me some buttered burdock stems to try. Not that he would starve without weeds. He’s perfectly happy to eat cultivated crops. But he does enjoy gathering his wild edibles. And some of the weeds provide food for bees and habitat for beneficial insects (ladybugs seem to like thistles, which is the only thing I can say in favor of what are otherwise profoundly evil plants). Weeds will also cover bare patches of ground, which helps hold the soil and nutrients in place and boost soil life, and then I can till them in like a cover crop, adding organic matter to the soil.
Not that any of that makes up for the troubles weeds cause. They are just too well adapted, capable of outcompeting almost any crop we grow in the race for nutrients, moisture and sunlight. Even though we give all our crops a head start, the weeds quickly surpass them. Particularly at this time of year. A minuscule pigweed that hardly seems worth the effort to pull up–what could such an insignificant thing do?–will be a two foot tall shrub the next time you look.
Perhaps I should at least stay up a little later thinking of better ways to combat the weeds. That would seem like a fitting farm project to lose sleep over–and certainly far better than actually weeding. And I suppose I do spend some time on this, though mostly while I am actually doing something on the farm, such as weeding. Thinking about useful farm tools–tractor-mounted flame weeders, between row rotovators steerable cultivators, hay mulch spreaders–is a good way to occupy your mind while your hands pull up those little pigweed seedlings. In fact, I spend a lot of time while farming thinking of things that would make the work easier, many of them completely impractical.
But that’s not the sort of project I would like to have more time for. That’s just my job. I am dreaming of getting to all the extra stuff, the things that have more to do with farm life than farm efficiency. Such as raising ducks or building an outdoor wood-fired oven or fixing the old smoke house and making my own bacon or building a cabin by our upper pond. A lovely old farmer, Louie Marchaland, used to stop by and reminisce about butchering pigs and shelling nuts in the evenings and all the other activities that went on on the farm along with actual farming. Those are the things I feel I ought to be getting done.
Or maybe I am just suffering a little farm nostalgia. It is precisely these extra parts of farm life that people tend to think of fondly when they think of farming from a nice safe distance. I don’t hear a lot of people expressing a longing to milk cows every morning before dawn or pack thousands of bales into the hay mow on a hot afternoon. Those are the sorts of tasks that got people off farms in the first place, the tasks that made working in a cotton mill sound good.
What I am doing suffering from farm nostalgia I cannot say. I have no farming history I know of to hark back and I spend my days weeding. I ought to know better. But there’s something immensely attractive about pottering around on a farm, tending a small flock of ducks, checking on the hams hanging in the smoke house, who knows, maybe adding another pane to the quilt or setting a raspberry pie out to cool on the sill. Farm life sounds great. Too bad farming does not leave enough time for it.
Vegetable notes: I understand that some people object to kohlrabi (the large, round, pale green object), but I don’t understand why. It is unobjectionable. And easy to use. Just peel it down to its crunchy, mild white flesh and you can cut off a slice and eat it. Or you can dice it and mix it with garlic, yogurt and lemon juice. Or shred it and add it to coleslaw.
Radicchio (the dense red head of leaves) is usually just put in salad, which is fine (a slightly sweet dressing counterbalances the radicchio nicely). But you can cook it. You can treat it like escarole, or you can cut it in half, brush it with oil, and grill it.
The Yukina (the bunched dark green plants with saved leaves) is somewhat like bok choi and can be dealt with the same way, though the leaves can also be used raw in salad.
You could, I suppose, eat leeks raw if you chopped them into very small pieces. Certainly, if you can eat any leeks raw it would be these young ones. But I would really recommend cooking them. You can use them as you would an onion, though they have a sweeter, milder flavor. Even better, cook them down with a little butter and salt and put them in an omelet or with some bacon in a quiche or with some sautéed mushrooms in a tart or use them in a soup (a cold, pureed cream of zucchini and basil soup, for instance).