The Art of Cultivation (CSA week 2)

If you grow organically, you have to learn to cultivate and there’s a lot to it…hence the art. The term is used pretty generally nowadays to mean “grow” or “nurture” things as in “Target has been cultivating customers through their new marketing plan…” Stuff like that. But in farming cultivation means something quite specific: breaking up the ground with a cultivator to kill weeds. I cultivate in a couple of different ways. One is what’s called “blind cultivation”, where you drag a cultivator right over the top of the bed, including the plants. I do this with our new contraption of the year, a Williams Tool System, which is a kind of tine weeder. I always feel like I’m going to kill all the plants, but the tines are designed to put on enough pressure to take out the little weeds, but leave the rooted plants. It has done great work and things like the corn, onions, and potatoes havn’t looked this weed-free before. The other way we cultivate is with a traditional two-row cultivator, which has these shovels and knives on either side of the row to take out anything between the plants.

This sounds pretty straightforward, but a grower needs to keep a fine eye to details to cultivate well, and, frankly, I’m not that great at it. The timing has to be right (best when a lot of weed seeds have germinated, but still just seedlings), the soil moisture good (too wet and you get clods to last the summer), the shanks and shovels have to be digging at the right depth (not too deep, not too shallow), and all the while you have to run the tractor as straight as the rows you planted in the spring or you take out half the row. So far, so good this year.
When I got to thinking about cultivating, it made me think about a conversation I had with my neighbor Marvin last year. Since he’s farmed all his life, I asked him about how many farmers still cultivate and he figured about 5% since life with chemicals is so much easier…instead of cultivating 3-4 times, you can spray twice and kill off every single weed. I thought that was kind of low, but as I was driving around last year I saw only one person other than Marvin and myself cultivating a field! Keep you eye’s peeled…you may still see some out there.
Weather report….hail last saturday, but not terrible. You will probably see some holes in the lettuce, but I promise it will taste the same.
In the box:
Fresh Basil
Kohlrabi: simply peel, cut, and serve…some recipes call for the greens.
Arugula: can mix in with lettuce for salad or find pasta recipe
Red Sails Lettuce
Green Leaf Lettuce
Garlic Scapes: the tops a garlic plant will send up…like a garlicy green onion. Chop fine, sautee a bit, and throw in mashed potatoes.
Quart o’ Strawberries
Some radishes
Red Russian Kale
Kale Colcannon
St. Paul Farmers Market Produce Cookbook
5 med. potatoes, peeled and quartered 1/3 cup lowfat milk
4-6 cups kale, with stems removed, washed and chopped 1 t. salt, or to taste
2 T. butter or margarine 1/8 t. black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
Boil potatoes until tender. Steam kale separately until tender, about 10 minutes. While potatoes and kale are cooking, heat butter or margarine in a large pot. Saute onion until soft. Mash potatoes, add kale, onion, milk, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Reheat and adjust seasonings.
Makes 4-6 servings.

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