There is a lot of buzz about cultivation these days, to till, or not to till, that seems to be the question. In the world of organic agriculture, there are about as many implements and techniques to address the work of preparing a seedbed and keeping out weeds as there are farms. Some view the plow as great destructor—the cause of the Dust Bowl and the destroyer of the American prairie. Others see it as a great cover-crop management tool that can incorporate tall crops that otherwise would need mowing (or an herbicide *gasp*), other types of tillage, and a planter that could cut through all of the residue that would be left partially decomposed on or near the surface for weeks.
We try to err on the less-is-more side of tillage and cultivation, and even have some new beds that require very minimal (by hand) cultivation or none at all once set up. However, for some larger plantings of field crops, weekly cultivation is still needed if we are to grow a food crop instead of just really nice weeds.
To this end we purchased a new cultivator. It is sort of a compromise between both schools of thought. It uses long springy tines to scuffle the very surface of the soil and uproot weeds as they are just emerging, the white thread stage of root development. We are excited that this will allow for cleaner crops and more timely cultivation. It can be used on several of our tractors, instead of just one, which will invariably have a flat tire/flooded carburetor/ignition issue/or combination nearly every time it is needed.
Around the farm, we have been alternating between worrying and fretting about the many jobs while it is raining, and working like mad when it dries out. We put in another patch of asparagus, which should really scale up our production of this delicious crop in the next few years as it becomes established. The animals have continued in their various wobbly orbits around the farm, sometimes with intersecting paths as we rotate them to fresh pastures. The hens are laying many nestfuls of eggs each day. We appreciate all of our customers who rely on us for their weekly dozen (or 2 or 10!) It would only take a slow market or two and we would be buried in them.
There’s another type of cultivation I should mention. The great, ongoing work of cultivating a market for all of our farm goodies. As much as I sometimes like to hide on the tractor, in the pasture, out in the hayfield or crawling along a vegetable row solitary-style, this is not an endeavor for hermits. The production of a farm must follow the need of the market, otherwise things start to fall apart. That is why we value all of our customers. Sometimes, after a long night finishing up the harvest and market preparation, I am a bit less than gleeful to answer the same question of the same customer, for the third time in a month. Shame on me! Without the market, our CSA and Good Eaton Club customers, where would we be? I know the answer…
Earlier in the week, after racing home from the last market, I hopped on the tractor and headed to the hayfield to do some cutting. It was as perfect an evening as I have ever witnessed. Watching the pollen jump from the ripe seedheads of orchardgrass as the cutterbar laid them down equally into a swath with the various clovers, bluegrass and fescue is mesmerizing sight, worthy of contemplation. But it was the fragrance of the bell-flowered Catalpa trees, tall in the forgotten pastures mingling with the intricate tangles of rampant honeysuckle in the fencerows that held me there like a Siren’s song. I meant to only cut the back field. The shadows lengthened and faded. I finished it, and started on the front. The stars and their mysteries gained luster, while the fragrance only intensified.
For a round or two, I lamented the earplugs and the drone of the iron beneath me that obscured the frog song and crickets seemingly serenading the mute fireflies. I looked over the hood of the tractor, past the ringing muffler to the field end and thought of my great grandfather’s line of sight here, in the very field, looking past pairs of long ears and calling out driving commands over the intricate rhythm of the reciprocating sickle mower snipping and the padded footfalls of Percherons. I finished the round with a bit of gratitude for my eventful evening. How lucky!
I know that without the continued cultivation of our market and the support of our customers evenings like this would be few or absent. And I don’t know of any Catalpa-Honeysuckle scented candles that pass muster.
Jerry and Liz
The Eaton Farm
Community Cooking Spotlight:
Eat Your Greens!
We grow many different types of leafy greens for our CSA members and our market customers, including kale (4 varieties this year!), Swiss chard, spinach, beet tops, mustard greens, and several kinds of Asian greens in the Fall. In addition to the numerous health benefits that these superfoods impart, they can also add wonderful flavors to your cooking. Instead of feeling daunted by the presence of your greens, embrace them! Find ways to eat them every day! The easiest way to prepare greens is to remove the stems, and coarsely chop or tear. The greens can then be steamed or sauteed, and dressed with vinegar and salt for a simple and satisfying side dish. Try different recipes (including the one below submitted by our farm helper, Kelly) or just improvise! One of my secret weapons in the kitchen is to use main dishes to disguise kale and chard, be it tacos, pasta sauce, chili, egg dishes, soups, and stews. My children often don’t even realize they are eating greens! –Liz
Pan-Fried Swiss Chard
- 4 slices bacon, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic or garlic scapes
- 1 bunch Swiss chard stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch pieces (substitute beet greens, kale, or a combination!)
- salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Heat a skillet over medium heat. Place the chopped bacon in the skillet and cook until the fat separates from the meat. Melt the butter in the skillet. Stir in the lemon juice and garlic paste. Add the Swiss chard to the butter mixture. When the leaves begin to wilt, place a cover on the skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Allow the chard to cook while covered for about 4 minutes. Stir the chard leaves to coat with the butter mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!