The Alleged Farm News – 23 July 2015

This week’s share: Thai basil, Beans, Beets, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Escarole, Lettuce, Onion, Squash


If you would like some black currants you can come out to the farm this Sunday (or some evening next week) and pick your own. Just email me when you are planning to get here so I can be sure someone is around to show you where to go .

I was talking with another farmer the other day who remarked that the only weed he has not mastered is Galinsoga. My first reaction was to think that he was probably telling the truth. He is fanatical about weed control. The last time I went to his farm he apologized for all the weeds, at least three of which were visible in the several acres of crops around us. If anyone can master a weed, he can.

But something about the idea of mastering a weeds struck me as odd. Maybe it is just me. My own relationship with weeds does not in general include mastery. If anything, I would say the balance of power lies with the weeds. I have a bigger arsenal, but they have the numbers. Every year the early skirmishes tend to go my way. But sooner or latter–well, sooner, to be honest–I get bogged down, sometimes literally. Then the weeds simply overwhelm me. Which is bad enough at the time, but possibly worse in the long run. A big pigweed or lamb’s quarters can make tens of thousands of seeds, and those seeds can lie dormant in the soil for years, just waiting for their chance to rise up.


I am not sure as a practical matter how you would master weeds (a quick glance at my farm makes that amply clear). Even if you had the means–and time and luck with the weather–to rid your fields of all the weeds and weed seeds, more would find their way in, carried on the wind or the fur of an animal or on equipment or in hay mulch or in amongst the seeds you plant.

But I find it more puzzling as a philosophical idea. What would it actually mean to master a weed? Can you bend it to your will? Do we have that sort of a relationship with weeds? Well, we think we do. Most of modern farming is designed to create something like mastery–not just of weeds, but of all nature. We reshape the land, wipe the soil clean of life, blitz the bugs and weeds with sophisticated chemicals, divert rivers for irrigation, even reconfigure plants’ genomes to make them serve our exact purposes–or somebody’s exact purpose anyway.

I don’t mean to suggest this was all done with evil intent. Overwhelmingly, it was done to improve the productivity of farms and the lives of a dwindling population of farmers. That our modern farming techniques have benefitted various sometimes unscrupulous or rapacious companies enormously and tempted us with an unhealthy diet does not change the fact that they allows us to grow huge amounts of food–Washington County dairies produce four times as much milk from four fifths as many cows as they did 75 years ago–and that being able to spray away weeds sounds like a miracle to a farmer.

Interestingly, the farmer I was talking to does not spray away his weeds. His farm is certified organic and has been for years. He has taken on the weeds by sticking almost obsessively to a well crafted plan. It has taken year of diligent effort. Not that he is satisfied, of course. He is planning on adding a flame weeder and doing even more cultivating because he has come to the conclusion that he cannot run a profitable farm if his crew has to do any hand weeding. Hence the need to master weeds.

I would guess that is the conclusion many conventional farmers came to years ago, and herbicides allowed them to achieve that goal (and even profitability from time to time). But it seems like a somewhat new way for an organic farmer to think. Not that organic farmers used to embrace weeds. But they were likely to be more tolerant, seeing them as an inevitable part of the natural system they aimed to work within. They were also less likely to be driven by profit, having gotten into farming for other reasons–plus there was less profit to be had in what was largely considered a kind of weird hippie undertaking.

Now organic farming is serious business, and the farmers are thinking like serious business owners. And one of the possibly inevitable thoughts is that nature has to be mastered to achieve a sustainable level of efficiency. Which may be true, but it will be interesting to see if this leads to better organic farming or to ways of farming that, while they might remain technically with in the limits of organic rules, start to undermine some of the principles that led to modern organic farming in the first place. What, organic farmers will have to ask themselves, does it really mean to master a weed. Assuming that they feel they have any chance of doing so.

As for me, I feel pretty sure I am simply fated to carry on the struggle day after stooped day. Which, when you think about, kind of makes it sound like the weeds, who will be here long after all of us are gone, are the masters of me.


Vegetable notes: I am passing along to you a recipe for Mom’s Easy Pcikles, which Karen Green kindly offered to share. I know I don’t usually include things like actual amounts (or even, sometimes ingredients), but this is an excellent–and easy–thing to do with cucumbers. Actually, you can use a variety of vegetables with this recipe. I think it would work with the squash and beets. You could also add some of the Thai basil. But before I get carried away, here is the actual recipe.

2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced,1 cup thinly sliced onions, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 3/4 cups sugar, 1 T brown suga,r 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp mustard seed, 1/4 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp ground turmeric. Layer sliced cucumbers and onions. Heat liquids, seasonings and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Pour over cucumber-onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. Store in refrigerator up to one month.

I recommend peeling and grilling the eggplant and topping in with onions, Thai basil and vinaigrette.

I do not recommend cooking the beans for more than a few minutes. One of the advantages of fresh beans is their texture (you would not know it based on ones in grocery stores, but they are called snap beans for a reason), and overcooking ruins the textures.