Friday, May 27, 2011

The Great Flood - May 26, 2011

I had planned on writing this week about Badger Rock Farm's very first CSA share delivery, which occurred on Wednesday, May 25. And I will (please scroll down for this week's CSA newsletter, contents and recipes). But, I believe it is impossible to begin an account of anything that happened in Roundup this week without first speaking to what happened on May 26. As of this writing, the view one block from my home looks like this:

And this:

The farm, which is a mile away from our home, and also--thankfully on high ground--was not affected by the floodwaters. Our near, more low-lying neighbors, however, were inundated. This is the view from the bottom of the hill, near the farm:
That is Highway 87 that is underwater in this picture. The highway would also normally be visible in the first picture of this entry. Boats are the only vehicle traversing it now, however. Happily, the farm's first CSA delivery to Roundup subscribers happened the night before the floodwaters rose. Billings customers, whose first delivery was supposed to take place tomorrow--May 28--will be postponed for one week. Those subscribers can count on getting this week's veggies, as well as next week's share, in one, extra-full bag, to make up for missing this delivery. I am very grateful for their kind understanding, and am (very) hopeful that floodwaters will be a thing of memory a week from now. Of course, that will only be the beginning of the clean-up effort. My thoughts and prayers are with those that have watched their livelihoods and homes disappear underwater :-(.

May 25 & 28 CSA Share Contents, Newsletter and Recipes!

This week, I am very grateful to my garden perennials and fall-planted crops. They have bravely weathered the cold, gray rain that seems to have made up our entire Spring thus far, and are ready for enjoyment. There can be no doubt that everything in the garden is very well-watered at this point. Now we just need some warmth and sunshine to get everything growing at its expected rate. I have been working on garden bed preparation, transplanting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, moving the electrified chicken netting, seeding more spinach and lettuce (greens will be seeded throughout the summer to ensure a constant supply), weeding carrots and placing the drip irrigation system and fabric row covers (and trying to stay dry).
Egyption Walking Onions (also called topset onions) – These hardy plants are one of the first green things to emerge in my garden in early spring. They earn their name because, instead of producing a flower at the top of their stalk as regular onions do, they produce a cluster of bulblets. As these bulblets mature, they weigh down the stalk, causing it to bend. The bulblets, now resting on the ground, root and grow into new walking onions. If left to their druthers, they can “walk” across your garden in this manner! The whole of a walking onion is edible. The hollow greens may be chopped and used raw to garnish salads or they can be cooked in stir fries and soups. The onion at the base of the stalk may be used in any recipe that calls for regular onions.
Green Garlic – Green garlic is simply immature garlic, harvested early for enjoyment in the first days of Spring. To use, chop off the roots and the upper parts of the dark green leaves (where they get tough). Keep the white bulb, the light green middle portion and first couple inches of the dark green leaves (where they are still tender). Having a milder taste than mature garlic, you can chop it up and use it to give a kick to any recipe that calls for green onions or garlic. There are many green garlic recipes available online, but here are a couple that I'd like to highlight.

Green Garlic & Sorrel Chicken

1 bunch green garlic
2 packed cups sorrel leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
6 chicken thighs
salt & pepper to taste

Make a bed of sorrel and chopped green garlic in a baking dish. Place the chicken on top. Salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for an hour and 45 minutes to two hours.
Green Garlic Pesto

Green Garlic Pesto

6 shoots of green garlic, roughly chopped
¼ cup nuts (pine nuts or walnuts)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup warm water
6 tbsp olive oil

Process the green garlic in a food processor until it is minced. Add the nuts, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the food processor and process for approx 10 seconds. In a measuring cup, combine the water and oil and slowly pour the mixture into the food processor while it is on. Process until mixture is incorporated. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Add more oil if you would like a creamier texture (if pesto will be mixed with pasta, for example).

Sorrel – Sorrel is a perennial green with a delicious (in my opinion) lemony tang. It is also one of the first things to emerge after winter begins to loosen its grip. You can use it in a salad, or cooked. Here is a recipe:
Sorrel Quiche
2-3 cups sorrel, coarsely chopped
3 shoots green garlic, chopped
3-4 ounces grated cheese
3 eggs
1½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread grated cheese in the bottom of a piecrust. Cover the cheese with chopped sorrel and green garlic. Beat the eggs, salt and milk together. Pour over the greens. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Chervil – A member of the parsley family, chervil is an herb that loves the moist and cool Spring we've been having thus far. It's lacy, fern-like leaves have a mild, licorice-like flavor. My favorite way to use chervil is raw, added to a salad. It is also great cooked but it is delicate, so to avoid over-cooking only add it to a hot dish at the end of the cooking process.
Chervil and Chives Dressing
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped chervil
salt & pepper to taste

Chives – A member of the onion family, chives are one of my old-reliables in early spring. Chopped and used fresh, they make a great garnish and flavor-enhancer for baked potatoes, soups, egg or fish dishes and, of course, salads.

Mint – One of the garden's most refreshing herbs, mint is delicious chopped into a salad, but my favorite way to use it when the weather is cold, gray and rainy is for fresh mint tea. Simply pour boiling water over your fresh mint sprigs, let it steep for five minutes and enjoy! You can increase the mint flavor by adding sprigs. You can also add tea bags to combine the mint flavor with other types of tea.

Bread made from Prairie Heritage Farm Sonora wheat – Jim and I participate in an ancient grain CSA via Prairie Heritage Farm in Conrad, MT. Each fall, we get 100 lbs of various ancient grains. One of those grains is Sonora wheat, which we ground and used to make this bread for you. We hope you enjoy it, and that it helps make up for the rather lean offerings of this very first share. The garden's abundance will kick in soon, and your bags will be overflowing! Until then, if you would like to learn more about Jacob and Courtney Cowgill's grain CSA, you can check out their website at (click on Community Supported Agriculture Programs at the top of the page). I see them fairly often, so if you wanted to subscribe, I would be happy to be the transport person when it comes time for the once a year delivery. 

What We Eat....And What We Use To Nourish It

Preface: I write this little column for Roundup's local paper, the Roundup Record, each month. It is called "What We Eat....". Thought I'd post it here as well.

It was with a sinking feeling that I examined the twisted, cupped and curling leaves and stunted growth of my tomato, potato and pepper plants. Sure that I was witnessing the effects of a malevolent blight or virus, I called the county extension agent to help me diagnosis my problem. After he took a look around, however, he did not rattle off the name of a plant disease. Instead, he asked me if I'd recently added manure to my garden. When I said that I had, he delivered the blow. My garden was not suffering from a plant malady. Herbicide was the culprit.
My immediate question was how that could be, since I'd never once used any sort of chemical on my grounds. And I certainly hadn't used herbicide in my garden beds. Minimizing exposure to such substances is one of the main reasons that I choose to grow my own vegetables. Unfortunately, intentional application is not the only way that herbicides are finding their way into gardens anymore. I learned the hard way that these chemicals are gaining entrance via contaminated manure and compost.

Unfortunately, cases of gardens damaged via this method are becoming increasingly common. Often, the poisonous offender in contaminated manure and compost is found to be from a class of herbicides called pyridine carboxylic acids. Common examples include aminopyralid (Milestone), clopyralid (Stinger), and picloram (Tordon). These substances are used to control a variety of broad-leafed weeds and are approved for use on hayfields and pasture. Animals that graze grass or consume hay that has been treated with these chemicals pass them through their systems largely undigested. After being excreted in the animals' manure, the herbicides can continue to exist at levels high enough to damage gardens for years, even after the manure has been composted. It is also possible for contamination to occur if sprayed plant material is added to a compost pile. As with the manure, the chemicals can continue to persist at damaging levels in the compost for unusually long periods of time.

Symptoms of pyralid contamination typically include poor seed germination, yellowing, cupped and curling leaves, stunted plant growth, misshapen fruit, lowered yields, and a distortion of the plant's growing point that gives it a fern-like appearance. Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans and peas are especially sensitive to this type of herbicide damage, but beets, carrots, lettuces, spinach and other garden crops might also be affected. If you believe your garden has fallen victim to pyralid contamination, Montana State University Extension offers several suggestions via their “Minimizing Pesticide Contaminated Soil Around the Home and Garden” publication. Options include planting non-susceptible crops, such as wheat, corn or berries, moving the location of your garden until its soil passes toxicity tests, incorporating charcoal (one – two pounds/100 sq ft) in the top six inches of contaminated soil, and, in the case of small gardens, removing the contaminated soil and replacing it with soil from a non-contaminated source.

You can also conduct a simple test recommended by Cecil Tharp, the MSU Pesticide Education Specialist. He suggests that gardeners fill five pots with uncontaminated soil and five with soil randomly collected from the garden. Plant the intended vegetables (tomatoes, beans and peas are particularly sensitive to pyridine contamination and will be most likely to exhibit symptoms) in each pot and allow them to grow until they have at least three leaves. Compare the appearances of the plants growing in potentially contaminated soil with that of the plants growing in uncontaminated soil, and examine for the affects of herbicide damage.

To prevent pyralid contamination within your garden, MSU Extension recommends that gardeners question their suppliers of manure, grass clippings and/or compost. If the supplier does not know whether the plant stands or pastures used to produce the manure, clippings or compost were treated with a pyridine herbicide, do not apply it to your garden. MSU Extension also states that you should not use manure from animals that have grazed forage or eaten hay harvested from treated areas within the previous three days. Grass clippings from treated areas should not be used as compost or mulch that will be applied to your garden.

I am happy to report that my own garden contamination occurred a number of years ago, and the test described above has revealed that the soil is finally, once again, herbicide free. Thank goodness. Please learn from my mistake. Manure and compost are very valuable tools within a garden, but herbicide contamination can happen easily. It is incredibly difficult to address after it occurs, so it is worthwhile to be as careful as possible as you consider sources for garden inputs.

If you would like to read more about this issue, you can find useful information within the following articles: