Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thyme Flies When You’re Having Fun!

We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist."
― Wendell Berry

Thyme Flies When You’re Having Fun! Herb Packs Are Back!
By Farmer Richard

Back in our early days of CSA, we used to include more herbs in the CSA shares.  We invested time and money to grow a wide variety, spent time harvesting & bunching them, and then heard frequently from members that they were not using all of the herbs in a bunch before they went bad.  As we looked at our cost of production, we quickly realized some of these herbs were not a sustainable venture.  We brought this issue up with our members at a core group meeting.  Dear, sweet Marilyn, a long time CSA member, offered us an excellent solution to this problem.  Give us the herb plants and we can grow and harvest our own herbs as we need them!  What a great idea!  Ever since then, we’ve made herb packs a standard part of our vegetable shares. 

This week we’re delivering herb packs to your sites. They have filled up their little cells in the pack and are ready to be planted, so put on your gardening gloves and have some fun!  You can plant your herbs in a garden space or in pots to keep on your patio, porch or kitchen window sill if you’re limited on space.  Choose good, loose garden soil mixed with lots of compost (up to 1” mixed into the soil if you’re planting into a garden space).  The plants will do best in well-drained soil with full sun.  If you don’t have a space with full sun exposure, partial sun will be OK too.  If you have rabbits or other little herb-loving critters in your yard, you might need to fence your herbs to protect them. 

There are four perennial herbs in your pack:  Oregano, Sage, Thyme and Savory.  These herbs can survive the winter and will consistently come back year after year, so consider where you’d like to establish these herbs in your garden.  Sage and oregano will get quite large, so it is best to give them about 2 square feet of space in the area you plant them in.  Each year I cut off all the old wood from my sage plant to make room for the new growth.  Thyme and savory are a bit smaller and only need about 1 square foot of space. 

The remaining plants in your pack are annuals and include Italian Basil, Chervil, Italian Parsley and Curly Parsley (although the parsley plants in my garden survived the winter last year).  Italian basil and chervil need to be cut back regularly to delay flower and seed formation.  Parsley will continue to produce throughout the season, so don’t be afraid to cut these plants back too.  If you can’t use your herbs as fast as they are growing, cut the extra herbs anyway and preserve them for use later.  Dry them in a low-heat oven or in a food dehydrator and put them to use in the winter.  Later in the season, we’ll be writing a follow-up article about different ways you might preserve your herbs before the last hard frost of the season sets in.  Watch for that information in the fall!

I hope you can find a good place to plant your herbs so you may enjoy them throughout the CSA season this year.  If you need help identifying your plants, refer to the pictures below:


Green Onions & Pea Vine: A Peasful Pair!
By:  Laurel Blomquist & Andrea Yoder

     Onions are a staple of American cuisine for their ability to create layers of flavor in dishes. We strive to include at least one member of the allium or onion family in every CSA box. In the spring, we start with overwintered Egyptian walking onions and potato onions. Later, we move on to spring scallions and green top cipollini onions. Next, sweet onions arrive just before the red and yellow storage onions, which we can utilize all winter.

     The name of this week’s onion variety, Egyptian walking onion, is a bit mysterious. It is commonly known that ancient Egyptians were among the first to cultivate onions, so perhaps the name honors this heritage. The ‘walking’ part of their name takes an active imagination. Most onions, when left in the field, will produce flowers and eventually seeds from which you can plant new onions. These, however, will produce mini-onions, or sets, at the top of the plant. This top-set is so heavy that the plant slowly falls to the ground. Wherever the set lands, a new plant will begin. The process will infinitely repeat itself if given the space, hence over time, it appears as if the onion is indeed walking down the field!

     At this point, I’m sure you’re scratching your head, so I’ll prepare you for next week’s onion variety, potato onions. You may know them by their other name, multiplier onions. Both names imply the same thing: planting one set or bulb in the ground will produce around five onions if given time to multiply. If you know anything about planting potatoes, it’s that we don’t plant potato seeds. Instead, we plant a piece of potato, which sprouts and produces a plant that yields a group of potatoes. Potato onions got their name because they behave in the same way.

     The rest of our onions, including spring scallions, are planted and grown from seed. They are the first thing we plant in the greenhouse every February. Can you believe it takes that many months to produce onions from seed in Wisconsin?

     One bunch of potato onion, Egyptian onion, or scallion equals roughly four ounces, and yields ½ cup when chopped. Their milder flavor means you can use them in raw or cooked applications. Enjoy the first onions of spring!

     Pea Vine is actually an immature pea plant that is harvested before the vine starts to develop blossoms. It has a mild, sweet pea flavor and may be eaten raw or lightly cooked.  While the tendrils and leaves are tender, the main stem can sometimes get tough depending on how mature the plant is at harvest. This week’s pea vine is very young and most of the stem is still tender. Next week’s pea vine may be a bit more mature and you may find some of the lower stem is a bit more coarse. If you find this to be the case, pick the tender leaves, tendrils and thin stems off the main stem. I must admit that I don’t like to spend a lot of time sorting through a bunch of pea vine and I prefer to use as much of the bunch as I there is a lot of flavor in the stem! Thus, when the pea vine is more mature and some of the stems are a bit more coarse, I tend to use pea vine in ways that allow me to blend it in a blender or food processor to make things such as pea vine pesto or pea vine cream cheese (both recipes may be found on our website). 

     The other way I like to use pea vine is in sauces, soups or broth. I generally chop the pea vine into smaller pieces and add it to hot broth or a sauce base. Let the pea vine simmer briefly to extract the flavor, but don’t overcook it or you’ll lose the bright pea flavor. Once you’ve infused the flavor of the pea vine into the sauce or broth, you can strain it out to remove it. If you’d like to extract just a little more flavor, blend the mixture before straining it. Enjoy!


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