The Alleged Farm News – 21 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Napa cabbage, Carrots, Cucumber, Dill, Eggplant,
Garlic, Onions, Peppers, Jalapeño and Hungarian Wax hot peppers, Radicchio, Squash, Cherry tomatoes, Tomatoes


I have seen a lot of cartoon frogs eat a lot of cartoon flies. But until last week I had never seen a real frog eat a real anything.

Not that there was any particular reason I should have seen a frog eating something sooner. While I do run into a fair number of frogs in the course of my work, I generally don’t spend a great deal of time observing them. After all I am in the course of my work–my list of tasks usually does not include watching frogs–and the frogs are mostly in the course of jumping into the nearest body of water to get away from me. Apparently I look like a heron.

I have on occasion paused long enough to count the number of frogs in a puddle or admire a particularly handsome specimen, and when Sam and Will were small we used to try and catch frogs in the pond. But I have never settled in for the long haul to observe our frogs doing all their frog things, whatever those are. I catch sight of them at random moments, and usually only for a moment, and in that moment most often disturb them from what they were doing, which might include having a snack but mostly seems to involve basking.

A week or so ago, however, I did something that actually attracted a frog. In the course of pulling the old dill plants in the small field house, I unearthed a worm. The good sized leopard frog must have been lurking nearby, keeping a bulging eye on me, smart enough to spot an opportunity, because as soon as the worm appeared the frog leap out and snatched it up in her mouth. She sat there, sleek and spotty, a foot a way, staring at me with what seemed like defiance, the worm dangling from her mouth, daring me to try and take it from her. Then she gulped it down and settled in on the spot, no doubt waiting for me to provide another worm.

I am always happy to see frogs, but this seemed somehow like a different sort of encounter, something wilder and more authentic, as though I had caught a glimpse of the previously hidden true nature of frogs. It was like one of those moments in a nature film when the lions, having gotten used to the odd man in the Land Rover who keeps hanging around, let down their guard and go back to their unselfconscious cat ways, lounging and tussling and nuzzling before rousing themselves as the night cools to set a trap for some unfortunate wildebeest calf. Watching that frog eat her prey so matter-of-factly changed my view of frogs a bit, and not just because I did not know they eat worms. A creature that previously seemed purely benign, a little timid and faintly ridiculous suddenly appeared rather more savage, wily and bold.

I am not sure why seeing animals behave as though we are not there is so thrilling. Perhaps it is in part some primal hunting instinct. It is much easier to catch the unwary. But I think it is also that we really don’t see ourselves as part of nature. When we enter nature we disturb it. To see it as it truly is we have to become invisible. I wonder if grizzly bears feel the same way.

We certainly do some odd things to the world, and on a grand scale. But so does influenza. That we can make jet planes and computer games and reality tv shows may distinguish us from other life forms, but it does not separate us from the rest of nature. And the erst of nature gets that. Sure, a lot of it gets nervous when we approach, but that is the effect all big predators have on potential prey. And lots of them time we provide as much of an opportunity as we do a threat. Look at the swallows zooming around the tractor as I mow catching all the bugs I disturb. Or the groundhogs snacking on lettuce in the field houses. Or the bees on the buckwheat flowers. Or the crab grass and thistle taking over plowed ground. Or the potato beetles on our nightshades. Or the predator insects eating the potato beetle larva on our nightshades. Or for that matter, the occasional leopard frog waiting among the dill fronds for me to wrench a worm to the surface. Sure, we have enormous power over our surroundings. More, perhaps, than we can actually handle. But sometimes we are not the lords of nature, just the stooped peons toiling to provide for others.


Vegetable notes: I am not in the habit of writing about the produce not in your box. But I feel I should say something about basil. We usually hand out a lot of basil, particularly during tomato season. In fact, it pains me a little to give you all these tasty tomatoes without basil. But we don’t have any basil . At least, not any that you would want. We have been planting it regularly all season, but the downy mildew has gotten worse and worse. At this point it seems not to respond to the fungicide (except perhaps to chortle demonically) and has started to infect the seedlings before we even get them in the ground. We will keep trying, but this new disease poses challenges that nobody has solved yet.

Fortunately, you can enjoy tomatoes without basil. Make some gazpacho with an onion, a clove or two of garlic, the cucumber and the jalapeño. Or an onion, zucchini and tomato tart (grill the vegetables and layer them in a pastry shell in that order, sprinkling each layer with a little grated cheese, salt and pepper, and perhaps some finely chopped herbs, and back until the crust is nicely browned). Or just cut the tomatoes into wedges and sprinkle them with salt.

The Jalapeño (dark green) and Hungarian (pale yellow) peppers are roughly equally hot, which is to say, noticeable but far from death defying. They would work nicely in salsa or cole slaw or in a yogurt sauce to serve with grilled vegetables.