Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beauty in the Branches

“Farming is a Profession of Hope” 
― Brian Brett

Beauty in the Branches
By Farmers Richard and Andrea

   You may be wondering why we offer bunches of decorative curly willow and pussy willow every spring with the first two CSA deliveries.  Didn’t I sign up for a vegetable CSA?  Yes, our focus is on growing vegetables, but the willows are an important part of creating biodiversity on our farm thereby adding health and vitality to our vegetable production.  

   One winter back in the early nineties, it was cold and windy with little to no snow cover.  We had had some fields with late fall crops in them and there wasn’t enough time to plant and establish a cover crop after the vegetables were harvested.  Richard remembers seeing precious soil blowing off the fields that winter, so he decided to put in a hedgerow to provide a windbreak and prevent further erosion.  Curly willow and pussy willow varieties were chosen because they also would provide a saleable decorative product.  Little did we know we’d discover much more value from having these plants as part of our ecosystem.  Not only do they add beauty to our landscape and provide a windbreak, they also serve as habitat for birds, beneficial insects and creatures that are an important part of managing pest insects and pollinating our fruit and vegetables crops

Organic systems require more complicated production techniques than simply spraying chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  However, if you let nature do its thing, you don’t really have to do much except let the intricate natural system unfold.  Our willow hedgerows provide a permanent area that serves both as a refuge as well as a habitat.  When you set aside an area as a permanent “refuge,” you provide a place for critters to go when you work the field.  If we can keep them “on the sidelines,” they’ll be ready to move back into the fields after we’ve worked the ground.  We want creatures, such as ground beetles, in our fields because they eat weed seeds and other predatory pests.  The other benefit with having undisturbed ground in the hedgerow is that it provides a place for other creatures to live.  Some, such as goldfinches, may prefer to make nests in the branches.  Many beneficial bees and wasps are often ground dwellers, so they need undisturbed ground to nest in and raise their young. 

Every spring the pussy willow catkins (little fuzzy soft things everyone likes to touch) are buzzing with bees and wasps.  The pussy willows provide these critters with a source of nourishment early in the spring before other spring flowers are in bloom.  Bees are important pollinators for crops such as strawberries, watermelons, melons and squash.  We like to see the wasps because they help to control pest insects by attacking the larval or immature stages of whiteflies, moths, leaf beetles, cabbageworms, slugs and other pest insects that might cause problems with the crops in our fields. 

There’s another cool thing happening with the wasps in the willow. The willow produces a protein-rich sap from its branches.  There is a black aphid that likes to feed on the sap.  The black aphid isn’t a pest in our fields and confines itself to the willow branches.  This aphid consumes the protein in the sap, and exudes a sugary “honeydew” from its back.  Beneficial wasps love to feed on the honeydew on the backs of the aphids.  These predatory wasps help us to control our cabbageworm populations.  They can be seen carrying cabbageworms out of the fields to feed to their young larvae.  Small parasitic wasps also control the worms by injecting their eggs into the cabbageworms.  The cabbageworm then is host to the young wasp larvae that feed on the body of the cabbageworm after they hatch. 

In the winter, after all the leaves have fallen off the branches, we go to the wintry wonderland of our fields and trim the curly and pussy willow trees.  We need to keep them trimmed back so we can maintain our field roads that run alongside the hedgerows.  We also trim them to keep them thinned so there is room for new growth.  We carry out the branches we’ve cut off the trees and bring them into the packing shed, making giant piles in our coolers.  Over the winter our packing shed crew bundles them into the beautiful decorative bunches.  We are careful to take enough to maintain the space and the tree, but also make sure we leave enough branches to ensure it is a welcoming place for birds, bees, wasps and other critters to return to in the spring.  Some years we may have a lot and other years may be more limited.  While we enjoy their beauty in our homes, we have to remember they have to first serve their purpose in the field.

Curly willow and pussy willow branches are a very low-maintenance decoration to enjoy in your home or office.  Display the stems in a vase or container of your choosing.  They don’t require water and can last for years!!  You may add them to a vase of flowers with water for a short time, but they may sprout and produce roots.  If that happens, find a place to plant it in your yard and see what creatures take up residence in your space!


Let's Not Mince Words: Garlic Is Grrreat!
By:  Lisa Garvalia

   Green garlic is young, immature garlic which is harvested before the bulb forms. It looks similar to a green onion or scallion. It has a white bulb and green, flat leaves.  The flavor is more mild than that of green onions or scallions, and it has a pleasant garlic scent. The entire plant may be eaten, from the bulb to the green leaves. Green garlic should be stored in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in your crisper drawer and should be used up within 5-7 days.
   When we harvest mature garlic in July, we put it in the greenhouse to dry. Once dried, we carefully sort the garlic and set aside the bulbs with the largest cloves and no signs of disease.  This is our seed stock for the next crop.  When it’s time to plant garlic in October, we crack the bulbs and separate the individual cloves.  If there are any smaller cloves on a bulb, we set those aside and this is what we plant for green garlic.  We also save small bulbs of garlic and give them a purpose by using them for green garlic seed as well.  The cloves for green garlic are planted just 2 inches apart, in contrast to 6-8 inch spacing for regular garlic that we want to grow to a full-sized bulb.
   Green garlic may be used in many of the same ways regular garlic or green onions are used, either fresh or cooked. Green garlic has a stronger flavor when raw, but mellows a bit with cooking. To use the green garlic, cut off the roots and give it a quick washing. Chopped green garlic tastes great in risotto, adding the chopped greens at the end of cooking. Green garlic can be added fresh to salads, again don’t forget to add the greens. It is also a great addition to soups, or sautéed with mushrooms and onions to eat with grilled beef or chicken. Drizzle a little olive oil on asparagus and whole green garlic stalks, add a little salt and freshly ground pepper and grill. Green garlic also makes a wonderful tasting aioli to add to your favorite sandwich. Green garlic is one of the many spring treats we get to enjoy after a long winter!!


CSA: It's Not Just for Veggies Anymore!

It's not too late to sign up as we do still have shares available!

Yes, we have our hearty Vegetable shares that people have loved for over 20 years. But we also have Organic Fruit, Meat & Coffee shares available, so don't delay! Bring in a friend and you'll receive a referral coupon for each new member who lists you on their sign-up form.

We still have room at all of our CSA sites in all delivery locations  including the Twin Cities, MNMadison, WI; and our local area including Viroqua, La Crosse & Onalaska, WI.

See our Sign-Up Form for share options and pricing.

We look forward to being your CSA farm for the 2017 season!

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