Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is it summer yet?

What’s going on at the farm right now?

My little welcome to the sun of two weeks ago was a bit premature. We had another almost full week of clouds, intermittent rain and cool weather (60’s) after that. This last week was better, sun on Monday, Thursday and Friday but surprisingly cool all week and heavy rain on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now it is starting to feel genuinely summery, that mix of sun and heat and occasional afternoon and evening showers, but we still haven’t had any really hot weather (I mean in the mid-80’s to 90 or so). Now I would normally welcome this, not being much of a lover of the heat and humidity, but many of our summer plants would really like more than we’re getting. My boss was talking about eggplant in particular, and how they don’t just like the heat but really prosper when there are sustained periods of high temperature, when the nights stay hot through until morning. But it felt very spiriting to work in the sun on Friday; the eggplant’s upper leaves were reaching upwards towards the sun and I felt that we could almost see them growing. There are many plants now with lovely deep blue, purple blossoms and some of our tomatoes are also full of yellow flowers. Some of our summer squash plants already have fruits growing on them; I really enjoy seeing all the produce in miniature.

We took advantage of the drier weather and got the tractors out for a lot of mechanical cultivation this week. Friday afternoon I used an implement I’d never tried before with the John Deere High Crop tractor. They’re called sweeps, and are a set of thin, bladed metal arrowheads about six inches across, and are set at the rear and center of the tractor so that they are lowered into the soil and can cut or uproot most of the weeds in the bed outside of the middle foot and a half or so. We use these just on one-row crops (one row of plants down the center of a five foot width bed – these would be plants that need a bit more space (nutrients and water) to prosper) which include peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, winter squash, summer squash, cucumbers and strawberries, amongst others. It is exciting to see some of these high summer foods developing so well, and makes us all think that our month of rain and clouds won’t end up hurting us too much.

Not that we are without some disappointments. In particular, we have one planting of cucumbers, several bed’s worth, that have all but disappeared. There are probably several factors at work here, but the excessive moisture, cool temperatures and lack of sun probably help them all along by making the plants generally weaker and less likely to survive things like rot and cucumber beetle damage. All of the cucurbits (including summer and winter squash) are very delicate; their stems, especially where they connect to the root growth, are moist and crisp, and break very easily, and if we plant them when they have grown a little too tall (we call it ‘leggy’) they often sustain some damage as well. Most of our other crops have done better, and if they haven’t exactly prospered they’ve held their ground and should now begin to grow in earnest.

We are also now into the stage of farming where we are not just bringing new crops in every week, we are also losing them. Spinach is over a week gone now, peas and strawberries are done, and we are into the very last days of radishes and salad turnips. I don’t think we’ll see much more kohlrabi either unless there is another planting I’m not aware of. We are in the heyday of the smaller cabbages, with beautiful softball (or even baseball) sized green and red cabbages, beautiful savoy cabbages, napa cabbages (my favorite), and a bit of lingering bok choy (I think we have some beds of smaller bok choy coming in soon). The perennial herbs we planted are mostly ready for picking now, mint and thyme and oregano and marjoram. Our shareholders are also harvesting our first plantings of basil, cilantro, dill and parsley.

I made my first batch of kim chi last weekend, and I think it has turned out nicely. I can’t verify exactly how much fermentation is actually going on, but I’m not sure I care as it was a pretty tasty pickled kind of thing even as soon as I had mixed all the ingredients together. I chopped up a napa cabbage into quarters and then into two-inch pieces, salted it with three tablespoons of salt, and let it sit for three or four hours. Then I rinsed and drained it, and mixed it up with minced garlic, red chile paste (I just mixed ground cayenne with some water) and fish sauce. I placed it all in a glass canning jar, and pushed it down, pushing all the air pockets out of the brew and making sure that the liquid covered all the vegetables (you could add a touch of water if necessary, but usually the salted vegetables should produce enough moisture if you squeeze and press them). I was a little unprepared to do the full recipe; next time I want to add pieces of scallion (I think I will salt it along with the cabbage?) and some ginger, and maybe use some chopped fillets of salted anchovy instead of the fish sauce. Once it’s all in the jar your put the lid on, loosely so as to allow any fermentaion gasses to escape, and put it in a cool, shaded place for a couple-few days, then into the fridge while you are eating it. I should get more and more sour and softer as time goes by, and in theory you can eat it indefinitely but I think most people, especially westerners, probably prefer on the fresher and crunchier side. One of my favorite quick, healthy things to eat is a meal of kim chi, rice, a fried egg or two and a steamed vegetable tossed with a little soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil dressing.

Anyway, I hope everybody is doing well this summer. Adios!

1 comment:

Brad Kenney said...

I remember staying over at Ed's house -- his mom is Korean -- and having a serious fear of the huge jars of what looked like brains and pickled bird wings in the fridge. Had no idea what it was (was too afraid to ask) but then that day at dinner, she pushed some on my plate, and as it didn't look much different than anything else, I took a bite. It about burned my mouth off from the inside out, and I loved it!
I'd been converted to Kimchi, and I've never looked back. You will make this for me sometime.