Middle Way Farm CSA - Week 5
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The rainy weather the past few weeks has made weed control difficult, so I was grateful for a sunny day on Friday and relatively dry soil. During the artist workday in the morning and in the afternoon and evening, we were able to get quite a lot of weeds pulled, cut and killed (I can assure that I did take some time to celebrate the holiday as well). Weed control takes on many forms at the farm. But I should back up and start at the beginning. What makes something a weed anyway and why do I need to control them? This seems like a dumb question to most gardeners but its worth considering. The best definition I've heard of a weed is a "plant out of place". No plant is a weed through and through, its just a weed in particular context, like a garden or landscaped bed. However, its worth noting that certain plants tend to be more "weedy" than others. These are plants that are opportunists, that thrive in disturbed soil (like garden soils that have been rototilled), and grow quickly and aggressively. Annual weeds (with life cycles that take just one season to complete) tend to produce a lot of seeds that germinate and grow very quickly, competing with the planted vegetables for light, water and nutrients, can harbor diseases and pests that attack the planted vegetable and also make harvest and other plant care more difficult. Perennial weeds (that persist for more than one year) cause similar problems for planted vegetables but are more difficult to eradicate, because their roots will often regenerate unless they are completely removed from the soil (think dandelion). Thistles are an example of a very persistent, deep rooted, problematic weed that can plague a farmer for years, decades even. 

Many weeds, though, have edible and useful properties (hence why I offer some through CSA and farmers market) and also play a role in soil health. Certain weeds will pull nutrients from deeper soil and accumulate them in their tissue, so when they are pulled and left on top soil, will decompose and release those nutrients. Growing and decomposing weeds also contribute to the organic matter and biological activity of the soil. Weeds will even act as a de facto cover crop, holding soil in place during rain when nothing else is growing. Nature abhors a vacuum and weeds fill the vacuum left by bare, tilled soil. Weeds also teach us about what is going on in our soil. They are like visual soil tests, indicating what nutrients are abundant or limited, whether the soil is high or low in organic matter, compact or loose, wet or dry. Often, by improving soil, one can get rid of certain types of weeds as they will no longer be triggered to germinate and thrive once the conditions for their proliferation have been removed. 

Despite some of their virtues, controlling weeds is absolutely essential to a productive farm. In conventional agriculture, herbicides have become basically the only tool for weed control. However, there are many tools for controlling weeds besides chemicals (and there are organic herbicides too). At Middle Way Farm, I use mulches likes straw and grass clippings to cover the soil, which prevents weeds from germinating. Black plastic, paper mulch, newspaper, cardboard, and landscape fabric can also be effective at stopping weeds from germinating and also at killing standing weeds by cutting them off from light and air. I also try to use cover crops in rotation with cash crops, which disrupts weed cycles. Understanding which areas of the field are more weedy and which crops are easier to weed helps determine where to rotate certain crops and which areas to leave fallow or put into cover crops. For example, I don't want to plant carrots in the weediest area of the garden, but potatoes might be a good choice because they are easier to weed and will compete better with the weeds than carrots. Mowing weeds when they are larger helps prevent them from growing further and going to seed. Tilling weeds into the soil needs to be done judiciously since often it can result in burying weeds that will grow again (or chopping up perennial weed roots, which only causes them to spread) and bringing up more weed seed, in addition to the other negative effects that soil tillage can cause. The best tool for weed control is frequent, shallow cultivation when weeds are just beginning to germinate. At this early stage, weeds are easiest to kill, soil disturbance is kept to a minimum, and the cash crop doesn't experience any weed pressure. The most important time for weed control is early in the life of the cash crop, when they are most vulnerable to being outcompeted by faster growing weeds. Once a cash crop has reached maturity, they can often shade out smaller weeds and can usually handle some mild competition with more persistent weeds. At that point, the goal of weed control shifts to making sure the weeds do not go to seed and produce problems for subsequent years. 

There are a number of innovative organic techniques that I have also begun to incorporate into my weeding system. Sterile seed bedding is technique where one tills the soil to bring up weed seed and encourage them to germinate. After a week or so, the soil is tilled again to kill the young weeds. This sequence can be repeated several times to exhaust the weed 'seed bank' in the soil. After one or more generations of weeds have been killed, the cash crop is planted, which has a head start on the weeds that have already germinated and been killed. This is an excellent technique for growing carrots, which take longer to germinate (14-21 days, depending on soil temperature and moisture) then most annual weed seeds. Another innovative technique that can be used with carrots (and other crops) is flame weeding. 7-10 days after planting the carrots, before they are germinated, one runs a propane flame torch over the top of the planted row, scorching any young weeds that are just beginning to germinate but leaving the carrots seeds under the soil unharmed. I've used this several times on carrots and it works quite well. The keys are timing (after weeds have germinated but before the carrots emerge) and weed size (large weeds will be damaged but will usually survive a quick burst of heat). Flame weeding is also used in large-scale organic row crops with tractor mounted flame weeders that can do several rows at a time. 

Weeds (like pests) are not the absolute evil they are often made out to be, especially in an industrial agriculture context. Weeds are really part of the holistic natural system that a farm is imbedded in, and the idea that you can triumph over them or get rid of them is hubris. The herbicide resistance that is now widespread in some common row crops weeds is evidence of that hubris. Instead of seeking an impossible goal of weed eradication and absolutely "clean" fields, organic farming systems seek to curtail weeds and limit their competition with cash crops. Weed seeds exist by the millions in the soil, and there is no way to exhaust all of them. The best we can do is create conditions that are unfavorable for weed proliferation and make sure to keep them from getting out of control. Life is more resilient than we can ever know and weeds will circumvent any technological control that is thrown out them. Its only by an intelligent mix of cultural, biological and physical controls that weeds can be "put in their place." 

Amazing difference in weediness between the edge of the new field and the interior. Both parts were tilled in mid-May and have remained fallow since then. The weedier part received weed seed falling from the infrequently mowed lane that bordered the field and thus had more weed seed ready to germinate when it was tilled. The interior part shows a remarkable lack of weeds after 6 weeks of no tillage. 

Weekly Notices:

  • I have two apologies this week for items missing from last week's share:
    • Strawberries were missing from the fruit share last week. After the heavy rain in late June, Keller Berry Farm lost most of the strawberries that were on the plants to decay. This is a common problem with strawberries in wet weather because they are so close to the soil.  
    • Chinese cabbage was also not included in shares of people who ordered it. I made the decision not to harvest them on Wednesday and to wait till next week because I thought they were too small and had too much caterpillar damage. After being able to spray organic pesticide last week and giving them another week to grow, they look good enough to harvest this week. However, I'm still going to wait another week to offer them as part of the standard share.  
  • The peas are petering out as is the first planting of broccoli. The peas are available as extras this week, but that will likely be it for the year. Broccoli should be available again this summer as the second planting matures, and in the fall after the fall planting matures. 
  • Many of you have been returning twist ties and paper containers. I will gladly take these and other packaging items back with your box to reuse provided that they are clean and in good condition. Unfortunately I cannot take plastic bags back, even if they are clean. Please reuse them or recycle them by taking them to a grocery store that accepts plastic shopping bags. 
  • Bulk orders of turnips and kohlrabi are once again available this week. 
Sweet potato trial with black plastic mulch, bare ground, and paper mulch. The sweet potatoes have established themselves but have grown slowly after several weeks of rainy, cooler weather. They should begin to take off and vine out as we get drier, hotter weather in the next few weeks. Sweet potatoes need lots of heat to mature. 

Notes on This Week's Share 

Fresh spring green cabbage is much juicer than storage types of cabbage, which tend to be drier and to lose moisture over time. I have several plantings of cabbage maturing so there should be cabbages for several weeks, including red and savoy types. This week's cabbage will be on the smaller side. Spring cabbage is excellent for cabbage salads, coleslaws, and for sauteing. Hands down our favorite cabbage recipe is Kenyan curry cabbage. I also love to make homemade sauerkraut, which is easier than you might think. The recipe on Sandor Katz's website, Wild Fermentation, is the one I use. 

Spring carrots have arrived! This week, the carrots will be on the smaller side and will get bigger for the next several weeks. These are not the straight long California carrots grown in sandy soil. They are knobby, shorter Iowa carrots, grown in nutrient dense clay loam soil, and thus will have more flavor.  Carrot tops are usually discarded but can be used as an herb or a garnish like parsley (they are in the same family, Apiaceae). Store the carrot tops separately from the roots and use within a few days. 

Green beans require little introduction. The flavor and tenderness of fresh picked local or homegrown green beans can never be replicated by green beans picked by machine and shipped across the country. Green beans, like green garlic and green onions, are just the immature stage of a mature bean, meaning that green bean left on the plant will eventually produce a pod full of dry beans. Typically there are varieties grown specifically for green beans and varieties meant for dry beans, but both types of varieties can be used interchangeably. When I worked at Grinnell Heritage Farm, their CSA was known in some circles as the "green bean CSA". We grew and picked a lot of green beans and I learned some creative ways to utilize the excess. Green bean pate is great as a sandwich spread or a dip. 

I'm now calling the onions fresh because they have begun to mature beyond the green onion or scallion stage and develop bulbs, meaning every week they will continue to get larger until the final harvest of storage onions in early August. The tops are becoming less edible as they get thicker but I'm continuing to bunch the onions out of convenience. 

Both flat leaf (Italian) and curly leaf varieties of parsley are available this week as extras. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten about the parsley (when you grow 30-40 different vegetables, its easier than you think) until I was doing a scouting walk last week and discovered them amongst some weeds looking ready to harvest. They have now been weeded and should be available for rest of the summer.

The fruit share will include another pint of red raspberries from Keller Berry Farm. Possibilities for next week include more red raspberries and possibly the first black raspberries. 

Fall cabbage after being cultivated with the wheel hoe on Friday afternoon. The wheel hoe shallowly cuts through the top inch or so of the soil, breaking up the soil crust and uprooting small weeds while not bringing up more weed seed from deeper in the soil . It is by far my most important weeding tool. It can even slice through the roots of mature weeds. 
CSA Availability For Delivery on Wed, July 2

Orders should be placed at by Tuesday at 6 am. Go to the website and click Member Log-in. If you have any trouble logging in, use the E-mail Verification tool to receive a link to access the store. You can change your password to whatever you want and use your e-mail and password to log in for future orders.Please e-mail me at if you have any problems with access or ordering. 

Standard shares will receive one unit of everything listed under "Standard" automatically. No need to order. If you would like additional standard items (not all standard items will be available for extra ordering), extra items, or plant starts, you will need to order them separately. Whatever you order on the website will be delivered IN ADDITION to your standard share. 

Custom shares need to place an order each week in order to receive delivery ($10/week minimum, no upper threshold). If orders are not received by early Tuesday morning you may not receive your exact order. Some items are more limited than others in terms of availability. 

Fruit shares are pre-determined each week and are only available to those who signed up for the fruit share. They are not available for weekly ordering. 

Storage Tips: Everything in this week's share should be kept in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator for best quality and storage life except garlic & zucchini. Beet greens should be used quickly or discarded. Beet roots, however, will store for several months or more if kept in a sealed plastic bag. Same goes for turnips and kohlrabi. Fresh garlic can be stored on the counter, but DO NOT put it in a sealed container. It is moist and will mold. Zucchini should be stored on the counter and used within a few days. Smaller zucchini in particular decompose quicker than larger, thicker skinned zucchini. Carrots should be stored separately from green tops. Use green tops within a few days or discard. 
  1. Green Beans - ~1/2 lb (depending on harvest) ($3.50/pound)
  2. Beets - 1 pound, no tops ($2.50/pound) 
  3. Green Cabbage - 1 small head ($2/head)
  4. Green-top Carrots - 1 bunch ($2.50/bunch)
  5. Cucumber - 1 or 2 cukes (depending on harvest) ($1/cuke)
  6. Fresh Garlic - 1 plant w/ bulb ($1.00/plant or 3 for $2.50)
  7. Fresh Onions - 1 bunch ($2/bunch or 3 for $5)
  8. Kohlrabi - 2 bulbs without tops, green & purple (no order limit) ($1/bulb or 3 for $2.50) (see BULK for more)
  9. Baby Leeks - 1 bunch ($2/bunch or 3 for $5)
  10. Turnips, Spring - 1 pound, no tops, red & white skin ($2/lb or 3 lb for $5) (See BULK for more)
  11. Zucchini - 1 or 2 squash, green & yellow (depending on harvest) ($1/squash)

Kohlrabi - 5 pounds= 5-10 bulbs ($4), 10 pounds = 10-20 bulbs ($7)
Turnips, Spring - 5 pounds ($6.50), 10 pounds ($10) 
Chinese Cabbage -  1 head ($2.50/head)
Kale - 1 bunch (no order limit) ($2/bunch or 3 for $5) - Choose Winterbor (green, curly), Redbor (red, curly), Lacinato (heirloom green flatleaf) or Red Russian (heirloom red flat leaf)
Parsley (choose flat leaf or curly leaf) - 1 bunch ($2/bunch) 
Peas - ~1/2 lb (depending on harvest ($4/lb) 
Coming Up
More Chinese Cabbage
More Carrots
Red & Savoy Cabbage
New Potatoes

Fruit Share
Red Raspberries - 1 pint (Keller Berry Farm in Toledo)
Byron finished the walk-in cooler this past week and started the air conditioner on Tuesday. It took several days for room to come down to a 40 degree temperature but by this weekend it was holding that temperature very well. The walk-in cooler represents a huge improvement for my operation, allowing me to harvest produce ahead of time instead of only on the day of delivery and also allowing me to harvest and keep storage crops like kohlrabi and turnips in cold storage, rather than leaving them vulnerable in the field. Then I can just pull them out of the cooler to wash them when I am ready to deliver. Having the cooler also improves post-harvest handling, allowing me to cool produce down to a proper temperature quickly and hold it at that temperature, resulting in better quality and longer storage times. Its an essential asset for any vegetable farm.  
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