This week’s share: Carrots, Celeriac, Cilantro, Daikon, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Jalapeño and NewMex hot peppers, Fingerling potatoes, Vertus radicchio, Shallots, Tatsoi, Butternut winter squash
I have never had a season go according to plan. Which may help explain why I don’t bother with that much planning any more. Once upon a time I created vast spreadsheets that included tasks, quantities and times for every crop. Even on a small farm that is something of an undertaking when you grow seventy or so different crops, have a number (a number grater than one, that is) of varieties of most of them, and do succession plantings of many of them.
Take lettuce, for instance. We grew 18 kinds of lettuce this season. We started a planting of lettuce–somewhere between six and 10 varieties per planting–in trays in the greenhouse every week from the middle of April until the middle of September. To capture that accurately on a spread sheet you would need about 150 lines of information. With somewhere around 40 varieties and three plantings, tomatoes would take up another 80 to 90 lines. 7 plantings and 15 varieties of carrots would require another 40 or so. And on it goes until eventually you have a printout that stretches from my office to somewhere roughly in the middle of the beet patch. And then the ground still has not thawed in the middle of April when you should be plowing and so, before you have put a single plant or seed outside, you take your elaborate spreadsheet and shred it and use it to mulch a fruit tree.
I guess the long dense head of leaves is technically a radicchio (if that actually means something) but it tastes just like an escarole. Which is to say it is a little sweeter and excellent cooked dow, wrung out and sautéed with a good dose of olive oil and garlic an onion, and maybe a bit of hot pepper and a dash of vinegar. I like it on noodles with a little chorizo, on pizza, in soup with beans and chicken stock, in a sandwich (with mozzarella or roast pork or sausages or maybe even all three).
I do not mean to suggest that I just wing it, toss a few seeds here and there, plant a tray in the greenhouse when I feel like it, mix up all the seedlings and put out a random mix of crops. I have done this long enough that I have a fairly good idea of what needs to happen when. Or a good idea of what I would like to try to do a little differently to see if I can refine my sense of timing and tasks in order to grow crops more reliably and efficiently.
Not that I have it all in my head. Or maybe I do somewhere, mouldering away in odd corners, and just can’t recover everything promptly. So occasionally I will realize that I have missed the date for a planting of beans or chosen the wrong seed plate for carrots or put the greenhouse tomatoes a little further apart than necessary.
But most of what goes awry on the farm has nothing to do with my plans or my head. Well, that is not entirely true. In some sense, it all has to do with that. I could plow it all under and let the shrubs take over and that would solve most of the problems we face. But I keep choosing to farm.
And so I keep having to deal with all the things that knock my plans around: the weather, the soil, the climate, the flora and fauna, suppliers, workers, my physical capacity, the number of hours in a day. I suppose theoretically one could plan for all these. But only theoretically. Not in this world. We don’t fully understand how the weather works (let alone how it is going to work) or soil life, or other life for that matter. Put all that into motion in a confined space and you will end up with enough uncertain to make a spreadsheet concocted in the dead season look foolish pretty quickly.
A season of farming is a long series of adjustments and compromises. You start with simple goals–feed people, find some satisfaction in your work, have interesting conversations while you pick beans, remain upright, maybe even make a little money–simple plans and whatever knowledge you have managed to glean and hang onto from previous years. And then you just go out there and start working and see what happens and hope you don’t get too many nasty surprises.
At least, that is what I do. It is not, I admit, a perfect system. But it seems for the most part, I hope you will agree, to work well enough, which is about as much as any sane person should hope for.
Thank you for supporting our farm and giving us a good reason to go out there and muck about.
Vegetable notes: There was a chance when I added another delivery to the season that I was dooming the crew to a week of misery. We could easily have been out there picking tatsoi in the sleet and prying carrots from the frozen ground. Instead, we have had some of the best weather all season, which not only made the work pleasant, but helped the crops too. I don’t know that any of the vegetables actually grew this late in the year. But at least they remained in good condition. Of course, some of them had no chance of growing. We picked the squash, garlic, onions and shallots some time ago, and the potatoes have just been sitting quietly in the ground since the plants died at some point in September. They are patient creatures.
Speaking of the potatoes, you either have yellow Russian Banana or purple Magic Molly. In either case, they are firm, waxy potatoes that are particularly good roasted or fried, though if you are so inclined you can, I am told, make purple mashed potatoes with the Magic Mollys.
Celeriac, the knobby tan thing, is the root form of celery. The white flesh has a sweet celery flavor. You can use it raw, grated into a slaw (you could miked it with grated carrot and daikon) or cut it in chunks and roast it (you could mix it with carrots, potatoes and shallots) or steamed. You can also simmer it in milk with apples until tender and make a nice puree (thin it out with a bit more of the milk, add a little mustard and Calvados, maybe a touch of paprika, and you have a tasty soup).
The Tatsoi (in the bag) is another Asian green, quite like bok choi. Especially at this (cool) time of year, it can be eaten raw since it does not have quite as much mustardy bite as it might. Or you can steam or stir fry it and top it with a little ginger, garlic and soy sauce.