Monday, June 25, 2012

Week 2: Kohlrabi, Radishes, and Lots More Greens

The first week of the season went as smoothly as could be expected, and our workshare members Audrey and Peg are largely to thank for that. If any members out there know Audrey or Peg, be sure to show them some gratitude. They're doing a big chunk of the work harvesting your CSA goodies.

The week 2 share will look similar to week 1. Members will receive a variety of greens along with a few more substantial early season items that compliment the greens in the kitchen.

For week 2 members can expect: Head Lettuce, either Tom thumb (a second planting that is holding better than the first) or Prizehead; French Breakfast Radishes; Kale; Kohlrabi; Mizuna; Braising Mix; Sorrel; and Spicy Salad Mix (arugula and mustard greens).

There are three items this week that members didn't see last week: Radishes, Kale, and Kohlrabi. The radishes and kale should be pretty straightforward for both new and returning members. Remember to remove the tops (and eat them!) from the radishes before storing the roots in the fridge so they will hold longer.

The winterbor kale looks gorgeous right now.

Winterbor kale flanked by late season kohlrabi to the left
and rutabaga to the right.
Members who made it to the last workday and helped spread mulch can be proud. The mulch is working its miracle. For those that didn't make it to the workday, we mulched the kale this year with a mix of old hay and fish scraps from Peterson's Fish Market that we put together last spring.

We built a few layers of hay and fish, then left it to rot for about a year. The result was a nitrogen rich mulch that holds in moisture as it slowly releases nutrients to the heavy feeding kale. The kale loves it and so do we. We're hoping to find time to make an even bigger batch this year.

Kohlrabi might be new to some of the new members.

Lovely purple kolibri kohlrabi, flourishing in the hoophouse.
Kohlrabi is a mild member of the cabbage family that is grown for it's fleshy stem. I'm never really sure what to call kohlrabi as it isn't actually a bulb or a root and kohlrabi stem sounds odd. So I usually just refer to them as kohlrabis. They taste like sweet broccoli stems. I find that the kolibri variety going out this week even has a hint of a fruity flavor to it. The leaves can and should be eaten, like tender kale. The skin is a little tough and should be peeled before you use the kohlrabi.

I prefer to eat kohlrabi raw. Sliced and eaten plain it's great. It's even better with a simple dressing of lime juice and honey. Below you will find a recipe for a substantial kohlrabi salad featuring the leaves and the stem.

Kohlrabi and Chickpea Salad

This recipe makes about eight cups of salad, enough to serve as dinner at our house. If you enjoy the flavors, a nearly identical salad can be made using kale leaves in place of the kohlrabi.

  • 2 16 ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
  • 1 medium kohlrabi
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1 bunch (approximately 20 stems) sorrel
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 - 2 cloves garlic (if you have any scapes still, this is a good use for them) minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place the drained rinsed chickpeas in a large bowl. Chop the kohlrabi leaves into bite sized pieces. Peel the kohlrabi and dice into small pieces, about the same size as the chickpeas. Add the chopped kohlrabi and leaves to the bowl with the chickpeas.

Slice the radishes thinly and add them to the chickpeas and kohlrabi.

Remove the stems from the sorrel and chop or tear the leaves into bite sized pieces. Add the sorrel to the salad bowl. Toss to combine all of the vegetables and chickpeas.

Stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin seed, and salt (you may want more or less salt, depending on how salty your chickpeas are). Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to thoroughly coat the salad with dressing. This salad can be prepared up to a day ahead of time. The kohlrabi leaves and sorrel will soften and the flavors will meld as it sits.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The First CSA Harvest of 2012

It's finally here.

This early heat has been something of a tease, bringing added pest pressures and making members (and farmers) feel like harvest season has been forever in coming.

And yet, things are actually right on schedule. We are, as usual, scrambling to get our most delicate crops transplanted out even as we start the first harvest. Between 80 degree days we had a night that dipped into the 30's (though thankfully no frost was seen at our place) just four days ago. Our last frost this spring was June 1st.

Scott and Seda planting summer squash in newly plowed garden soil.
Sometimes we're cute when we scramble. 
We take our frost free dates (June 15th to September 15th) very seriously, even when the days are steamy. With the tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash plants each numbering in the hundreds, we don't have the option of throwing a blanket over things to pull them through the last couple frosts.

We do have the luxury of hoophouses though, which house the earliest of early tomatoes this year (a couple fruits are starting to blush red already) and are also the source of much of the produce in the first few shares.

Greens, herbs, and more (plus weeds) in the wonky hoophouse.
Much of this has been growing since mid-march.
The old hoophouse may be wonky, but it gets the job done.
The first share includes: Beets (with tremendous greens - make sure to eat them up), Braising Mix, Dill or Baby Fennel, Sorrel, Mizuna, Parsley, Garlic Scapes, and Tom Thumb Head Lettuce.

Hopefully these items are old favorites for our returning members. Some of our new members may find a few things unfamiliar.

Braising mix might be new to some of you. It's a versatile mix of greens intended for cooking (generally braising, as the name indicates). This week our mix includes baby kale, chard, beet greens, and various mustard greens such as senposi. At our house braising mix is often added to things, like soup, stir fry, or spaghetti sauce, just before the end of cooking time. I also like to chop and handful or two and add it to salad. Many people like to use it as the base for green smoothies. If you want to go for a very traditional southern style braised green, I suggest this recipe.

Dill and fennel may not be new to you, but I'm going to throw out a few suggestions anyway. Both are great with fish or eggs. The addition of chopped fresh dill turns egg salad exquisite. Fennel makes a lovely quiche with onion and sweet Italian sausage (which is flavored with fennel seed) but it will lose its flavor if cooked for a long time. Try chopping the whole thing (bulb, fronds, and all) and adding it to the quiche raw instead of cooking it with the onion. They both make excellent salad herbs as well, chopped finely and sprinkle on top.

Sorrel is a rhubarb relative, with a similar, but more subdued, flavor. It also has an affinity for eggs and fish and makes an excellent salad green. Cooked, it does not lose any flavor, but it does (if cooked with a little liquid) melt down a bit into something like a thick sauce. I like to use this "sauce" as an omelet filling, or cook a handful of sorrel and some onions in the pan when I saute chicken.

If you aren't sure which is the sorrel, taste
until you find a sour green. That's it.
Mizuna is a mild Asian mustard green. It can be used cooked or raw, though, because of it's slightly stringy stems, I tend to prefer it cooked. It is most commonly stir fried. Don't let the fact that it's an Asian green that is generally stir fried make you feel like you have to break out the wok (though you certainly can!). Stir frying can be done any time you have a hot pan. Last night, I threw some roughly chopped mizuna and olive oil in the pan just after I'd finished frying sausages. I stirred it around for a few minutes, just until it was lightly wilted, and viola - stir fried mizuna.

A peak under the row cover at the mizuna.
Garlic scapes are another item that those non-gardeners among you may be unfamiliar with. These are the flower stalks that grow on hard neck garlic plants. Growers pull them to encourage the plants to put their energies toward bulbing rather than flowering, and because they are delicious. Sometimes called green garlic, scapes are like a happy mix of scallions and garlic and can be used any place a sweet fresh garlic flavor is called for. If you are braising or stir frying some of the greens from your share, definitely throw in a finely chopped scape or two. You can also use them in place of the garlic cloves in the beet cream sauce recipe included below.

Serpentine garlic scapes are a little tricky to photograph.
Hopefully this is enough to identify them by.

The hoophouse beets are lovely this year. The greens are tremendous, and the roots, which we have been babying for several weeks now, have put on quite a bit of size. Our field beets, which are fighting dry weather this year, will have some big shoes to fill when they come ready for harvest later in the season. With the beauteous beets we have right now, I couldn't resist a recipe highlighting their virtues.

Beet Cream Sauce

This creamy sauce is meant to showcase the sweet, earthy flavors of beets. It's a little subtle and honestly not so popular among non-beet fans as it compliments beets rather than obscuring them at all. I happen to be a beet fanatic, and find this an ultimate comfort over egg noodles. I am sure it would work over pasta too.
  • 4 - 5 ounces of beets (about 4 golf ball sized, 2 medium, or one very large beet) reserve the greens
  • 1 pound wide egg noodles (I like the Amish style) or other noodle of your choosing
  • 2 cups light cream or half and half
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed, crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  •  Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  1. Wash, but do not peel, the beets and slice them into quarter inch slices. Arrange the beet slices into a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Bake, uncovered, until the beets are just beginning to turn tender, about 20 minutes. 
  2. In the meantime, prepare your noodles according to the package directions.
  3. In a small saucepan over low/medium heat combine the cream, lemon zest, coriander seed, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until small bubbles appear at the edges of the pan, where the cream meets the saucepan. Remove it from the heat before the cream begins to simmer.
  4. Combine the cooked beets and cream mixture in a blender or a food processor and blend until the sauce is bright magenta with small flecks of beet root remaining. 
  5. Return to the pan and reheat as needed, add salt to taste (in my experience about a quarter teaspoon fine sea salt does the trick).
  6. Remove the stems from some, or all, of the reserved greens. Slice the greens into ribbons, about the same width as your noodles. Stir the greens into the sauce and heat until they are just barely wilted.
  7. Combine the sauce with the drained noodles, stirring well to coat the noodles with sauce.

It's best to slurp the noodles as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bt to the rescue!

We've added a new pest control measure to our repertoire.

Here is why:

These guys like to eat tomatoes.

And scallions.

And all kinds of leaves, like this eggplant:

They like to eat the flowers too.
They also like pepper plants, chard, lettuce, and beet greens. We've only found a couple in the mustard greens. 

It's pretty unusual for a pest, particularly a caterpillar, to attack so many different plant families with such voracity. Especially scallions. Who ever heard of a caterpillar eating a green onion?

We first noticed them in the greenhouse, around the time we started setting plants out for the season. We didn't think much of them because 1. we've never had any kind of bad caterpillar issues before this year 2. we've seen these before but their population has never reached a problem level 3. we were kind of busy. 

I thought we'd see a little damage, then they would disperse when the weather warmed and they had access to other vegetation outside. But suddenly they are all over the place. They're in the field, in the hoophouse, and still on the few starts remaining in the greenhouse.

Apparently we have a caterpillar problem.

So far, we can easily bounce back from the damage. But if the population increases there will be some significant losses.

So we started a bit of research. It turns out our caterpillars are a Helicoverpa sp. As you might a imagine, they have about a zillion common names - one for every crop they attack. Some of the more popular are corn earworm, tomato fruit worm, and cotton bollworm.

They are very common agricultural pests, but they don't over winter this far north, which is why we have never seen them in large numbers before. Apparently the moths can fly quite a distance in the spring, spreading north. Our best guess is that this spring was warm enough that they arrived in time to squeeze in an extra early generation of northern caterpillars, resulting in the population boom we are currently witnessing.

We've decided to combat them with an equally common biological control method. Bacillus thuringiensis, usually called Bt. Basically, Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium that, when ingested by caterpillars (and only caterpillars) creates a lethal toxin. If you would like to learn a little more about it, please click here. Normally it lives in the soil. We've simply bought some in a concentrated liquid form. We're spraying the bacteria on our plants so the offending caterpillars are sure to ingest some. This control method is allowed under organic certification.

For some of you, Bt may sound familiar - and a little scary - because of its association with genetically modified crops. I want to be clear that we are not using anything genetically modified, nor are we using a synthetic pesticide, nor something toxic to anything other than caterpillars. Also, if there is a caterpillar nearby that isn't eating our sprayed crops it will not be affected by the Bt because caterpillars have to actually eat the bacteria before they will produce the toxin.

As for the GM connection. You may have heard of Bt corn. Bt corn has been modified so that all parts of the plant produce the toxic proteins that Bt bacterium normally produce when ingested by a caterpillar. Farmers grow this corn to kill European corn borers, another caterpillar pest of corn.

As a result, Helicoverpa caterpillars in general have been exposed to a lot of Bt toxins, in the form of corn plants, and some have developed a resistance to Bt.

Let's hope the caterpillars currently munching our tomatoes have not.