Friday, May 08, 2009

An unkempt sort of Eden

I have kind of a favorite place in the farm right now. The larger of our two growing areas, called Patch field, has a field that was not plowed and planted with a cover crop last fall. For some reason they let the field go past the date when you can reliably plant winter rye and so it was just left to do whatever it would do. This is not ideal from a farming perspective, as a cover crop keeps the soil stable and enriches it (most cover crops are nitrogen-fixing plants that contribute nitrogen back to the soil) when it is plowed back into the ground. These are often called ‘green manures’. Without the cover crop the soil is left relatively exposed to runoff and erosion and there is little replenishment that happens during the off-season.

What happened in this field, field 3 as we call it, is that an unruly jungle of crop plants and weeds has grown up in it. The last planting of 2008 spinach survived the winter and started pushing up new leaves in early spring, which we have been eating almost daily. It is unusually thick, fleshy and sweet, and it is delicious. I don’t know enough about some of the other plants to know whether they have reseeded themselves or whether the plants from last year have simply survived, in their roots or basal leaves, to send up new growth. There is arugula, which has already bolted with flower heads two feet high but is still tasty, spicy and just a little bitter. There is red Russian kale, a beautiful plant of pale green leaves and light red veins. Not my favorite green in the world, but I have been enjoying it both raw in salads and cooked with scrambled eggs. There are parsnips, roots that were never harvested last fall but have frozen and thawed repeated over the winter but seem still crisp and smell earthy and sweet. I have not tried them yet, but I took a few today to maybe try sometime this weekend. There are several species of weedy wildflowers, including the always bold goldenrod and an unknown member of the mint family with ruby and purple flowers. Best of all, there is garlic coming up, now in its young, ‘green’ phase, with a relatively delicate flavor just barely reminiscent of garlic but full of mild, oniony goodness. I made a sort of alfredo pasta tonight, sautéing minced green garlic and the corner of a habanero pepper in butter and tossing that with grated parmigiano and tagliatelle. A dusting of black pepper made it very tasty indeed.

Some of these semi-wild remnants from last season are still present in rows, easily discernible amidst weedy wilderness, and some, like the garlic, just seem to be spread about more or less at random. This is also the favorite field, as far as I can tell, of the savannah sparrows, who especially like to forage on the ground amidst the spinach and fly to a little patch of small trees next to an old house foundation whenever I flush them up.

I love these kind of places, wild, but with a human story in there too, and even a sort of glimpse of the future, of abandonment and the slow (or quick) re-establishment of unobstructed wilderness into the human habitat.

Peace to all, and enjoy your weekend.

No comments: