Essex Farm Note
Week 31, 2015
On a farm walk with Mark one hot afternoon this week I noticed that different pollinators had staked their claim in different perennial crops. The raspberries were noisy with the low drone of bumblebees, and only bumblebees. Not two yards away, the asparagus patch was crowded with the honeybees, their saddlebags full of asparagus pollen, and not a bumble to be found. What made them segregate themselves that way, and who had the better deal? As the years tick by I find myself increasingly interested in the intersection between nature and agriculture. I want to know more about what is going on just beyond our sight and out of our meager zone of control, in the hedgerow, underground, in the tangle of grasses in the pasture. Who benefits from our presence here, and who suffers? Would the resident American Bittern have chosen our pond if it weren’t for the fat frogs who eat the copious flies who are attracted to the cows who manure the pasture? But what about the bobolink, whose nestlings had not yet fledged when we mowed the first hay field? I bet she would rather we had never come. Then there are the teaming, invisible residents of the soil, the microbes, the mycelium, the beetles, the worms. I wish I could comprehend, all and once and for an instant, the entire complexity of the web of life around us, and see the force of our choices on it.
Back to the heat. We’ve had very good growing weather this week. The field corn is stretching its leaves high and wide, well composted, well cultivated, and well drained. The first sunflowers are opening in the flower garden. The tomatoes are coming quickly ripe, the first carrots are ready, and the potatoes now range from shooter marbles to pool balls underground. Two months until frost! We brought in 4 tons of winter wheat on Tuesday. Unfortunately it was doused by a storm just before the combine came, so it arrived on the floor of the granary quite wet. Thanks to Mike, Taylor and the team for keeping it stirred to prevent molding.
We are grateful to everyone for working hard in the heat. The vegetable crew has been weeding maniacally to make up for the wet weeks. I am so impressed by what they have accomplished. The fields look better than we could have dared hope for, given the difficult conditions this year. We have over 400 bought-in round bales of hay in the barn. Ben and Jon got 50 of our own up this week, and are out now cutting 50 more. Things look pretty good from the wider angle, too. Sales are up this year. We are producing a lot of food. We are thinking about how to get more land drained, more solar panels up, more resilience into this scrappy regional economy. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this optimistic 31st week of 2015. -Kristin & Mark Kimball
I just love favas. They are the big weirdoes of the bean world. Unlike their bushy, tendrilly cousins, they grow on upright stalks that send out fragrant white flowers from the central stem. The flowers become large, lumpy pods, leathery on the outside, furred with white fuzz on the interior, like the inside-out pelt of a polyester beast. When fresh, young and thoughtfully cooked, fava beans are very tender, almost creamy, with a delicate flavor similar to good english peas, but with enough substance to be the center of a satisfying meal.
The preparation is a little bit fussy, because the fava’s bright green treasure is locked under two coverings: first, the pod, and then the outer skin of each bean. Cut or snap off the end of the pod, strip away the string, pop open the pod, and scrape the beans into a bowl with your thumb. To remove the white outer skin, it is easiest to first parboil the beans. To do so: Boil a pot of salted water, add the shelled beans, return to a boil for two minutes, then cool in a bowl of ice water or under a running faucet. The skins will be slightly split and the bright inner bean will pop out when squeezed – a gratifying tactile experience.
Alternatively, if the beans are small (or if, like us, you are usually hungry and always short on time) you can eat them (boiled or steamed) without peeling each bean. They are a less delicate sort of legume that way but our kids actually preferred them with jackets on. Try them both ways and you will understand. -Kristin Kimball