Meet this week’s vegetables:
- Cabbage — This week we have a classic winter share: cabbage, leeks, and storage crops. People who haven’t experienced seasonal eating often wonder what we eat in December and January, as though those are the challenging months. The reality is that the challenges arrive a little later, in March through May. Soon, our over-wintered greens will really start taking off (thanks to spring daylength and warmth!), providing more green diversity in the share, but in the meantime we are still very much eating winter foods.
- Cooking greens
- Butternut winter squash
- Celery root
- German butterball potatoes — Emily was telling us last week about how several decades ago her mother-in-law put a handful of these potatoes in her pocket and smuggled them home from Germany. Now they are legally available from stateside potato seed producers, but I appreciate the intense desire to have them. They are great for roasting!
Last night I had a dream that I was talking with a man who leads some kind of “tolerance” workshops for a private corporation’s employees. At first in the dream, I thought he was talking about understanding between different ethnic groups, but then he started talking about gophers and how we just don’t understand gophers.
“Do you know,” he said in my dream, “if you look at a gopher’s hands next to a humans, they look remarkably the same?” The implication being that we have much in common at the most basic level.
In my dream, I was irritated by this statement, in part because it’s not true except in the crudest sense that we both have digits. But I also wanted to know what he expected me to do with any newfound tolerance of gophers — like them more? Be happy when they eat our crops? And then I woke up.
Dreams are often silly and random like this — I’m not usually one to make much of them after the first few minutes of being awake, but I kept thinking about this one as I went about my morning routine. Why was I dreaming about gopher tolerance?
“Pests” are a fact of life on the farm — there are animals and insects that share our environment and often use it in ways that conflict with our use. In the case of gophers, the conflict is that they like to eat the things we have planted and can wreak major damage in short amounts of time. Once upon a time, a gopher was feasting on our spring broccoli, and we would lose several whole almost-mature plants a day. We even once saw one being pulled down the hole, shaking as it went.
There are other pests too — slugs that can decimate entire beds of newly germinated seedlings in the spring fields; voles that eat out the bottom of our fall beets, leaving only the greens behind; aphids that stunt our kale and turn its leaves curly, sticky and bitter …
Over the years, we have found ways to avoid losing too many crops to pests and keeping the quality of our harvests high — over-planting helps, but so does careful planting timing, variety selection, crop rotations, use of barrier protections, proper soil prepping, lots of diversity, and adequate fertility and water levels in the soil. Basically, we’ve found that healthy plants are our best bet against most pests (and even rodents get tricked by moving crops around the field), but it’s a constant dance, and we feel ok about the continued minor losses at the margins.
We’ve never actually set a trap for a gopher or poisoned voles (even though there are apparently “safe” and organic approved vole poisons) and used any kind of organic pesticides. Certainly the fact that we perceive these animals and insects as a problem doesn’t mean they have no right to exist in this space. And, honestly, we’d rather continue paying attention to our crops rather than get fixated on having some clean or sterile sense of a farm — really, paying too much attention on “getting rid” of a pest can distract money and time from our real work of growing good food. That is our take on it anyway.
After six seasons of experiences, pests are sort of “old news” around here — we’ve had our headaches and learned how to live more or less comfortably with the pests we have here. So, why the dream?
I wonder if it’s because we’re about to enter a new realm of pests as we add more enterprises. Casey and I spent many hours this weekend working through minute budget details for the upcoming season, planning out penny by penny what animal enterprises we are going to add and how (as well as the cost of a third employee and some important new infrastructure considerations). It was slow-going, important work, and along the way we raised many concerns and fears we both have about the uncertainty of these big changes and plans.
Predators came up more than a few times — how do we protect our new animals from the predators we know live here on the island? So far, the sounds of coyotes in the night has been a pleasant music as I head toward bed, but with laying hens and sheep and cows around, I know I will have new reactions.
Of course, we have plans, mostly involving effective fencing. We feel confident that these are a good place to start, since over the years that we’ve been farming vegetables we’ve been watching our animal farming friends very closely. But every situation is so unique — even what coyotes are “capable” of doing seems different in different settings. No matter how carefully we plan and prepare, ultimately we are just going to have to do our best and see how things pan out.
There are other predators on the island too — hawks, owls, and eagles (we had a hawk take off with our rooster from our home flock a few years back — not a huge loss in that case, but it keeps us aware of aerial attacks!). Dogs can be a problem in places. And there are of course the things we haven’t even thought of yet.
All the fruit and berries we are planting this year will bring new pest experiences too. For example, birds (especially starlings) have never been a huge problem on our farm, except for a few nibbles on certain lettuce varieties. But, we know from watching our neighbors that our strawberries will be attractive to every bird on the island. So, we plan and strategize solutions …
There’s no question we have much to learn over the next few years — things that no one else can teach us ahead of time because our farm will have a unique set of factors (both in terms of strengths and weaknesses). And, we will have to learn new ways of living alongside the wildness of the island. I’m sure we will feel much more strongly if we lose a whole live animal to a predator than we did when watching that broccoli go down, and perhaps the knowledge of that potential future emotion is stirring my dreams.
Whenever we have these intense planning sessions, there is always a moment when one of us (usually me, to be honest) stops and asks if we are crazy to add so much complexity to our farm and lives. But, the answer is always fairly simple: we have one life to live. This is it. And, so we jump back into the fray, knowing that there will be unpleasant (and sad and possibly very expensive) experiences in our future.
There are always the unexpected joys though too — even with animals we consider pests. I wrote last fall about the beautiful music of trees filled with starlings, and this year I’ve found that gopher mounds are a hugely fun experience for our son Rusty (who loves to stomp them down). And, Rusty already knows these words (which he often puts together): “coyotes,” “night,” “cry,” “moon.” This is our world, and we are learning how to live in it every day.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
… and the rest of the farm crew!
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Next week’s vegetables (probably!):
Rapini • Salad mix • Marina di Chioggia winter squash • Rutabaga • Carrots • Parsnips • Potatoes • Onions