Monday, May 17, 2010

Out With The Old: Flowering Red Cardinal Spinach And Osaka


There comes a time in every plant's life when it's simply time to say goodbye.  No matter how difficult it may be or how much we've grown to love our delicious friends, the plants get too big, the nutrients in the soil diminish and eventually even the phenomenal flavors begin to fade.  After months of harvesting these Red Cardinal Spinach and Osaka mustard green beds, the markets and restaurants were looking for something new and it was time to decrease the number of beds producing these cold-weather loving crops and focus more on the spring and summer varieties.

We've all heard of edible arrangements, but I never thought to eat real flowers until we saw these beauties.  Deep inside the DNA of a plant there is a whole variety of genetic opportunities waiting to be displayed, but sometimes it takes a long time for these plants to flower so you can miss it if you just want the vegetable.  We learned this happens with arugula, bok choy and even carrots to name a few.  Just like shaving, once you harvest the spinach and Osaka (not too low on the stem) it will grow back faster and bigger each time until eventually you get these flowers.

Red Cardinal


The flowers actually taste identical to the vegetable they come from, similar to Swiss chard tasting like beets.  As a team, we had the assignment of pulling this massive bed of red cardinal spinach and Osaka.  Matt dove right in with a plan of his own...

When in doubt, eat your way out.

Although effective, this technique was not quite efficient enough for Captain Jack so we did it his way instead, which involved pulling the plants right from their roots.  This prevents them from becoming unwanted weeds in the next crop rotation.

After continued negotiations on technique, we decided to eat some while we pulled them from their roots, win-win.  

We placed bunches in rows so that we could easily use a wheelbarrow and eventually transport them for composting among other things.  Once the bed was completely pulled, we left both rows alone to allow water to absorb back into the ground as well as evaporate into the air.  This is helpful because although compost likes moisture, the less water, the more "dead" this organic matter becomes and therefore the faster it will decompose.

Leaving the plants in the sun for about an hour or so, there was a noticeable difference as the uncontrollable forces of life took charge wilting the uprooted plants.  This was a sign to start loading up the Kubota.  Matt grabbed this wheelbarrow and we started to pile them on.

The Captain backed up the Kubota and we loaded her up.

Yes, there is someone holding that enormous pile of wilted plants.

In order to be most efficient, we needed to take fewer trips meaning we needed to pile as much of these pulled plants as possible.  There was only one thing for me to do...

Belly flop 

After loading up the Kubota we split up.  Matt and the Captain went to dump the leftovers because as we always say on the farm, there is no trash, only potential and there was plenty of potential for these wilted flowers.  

Some made it to the compost pile while the rest got dropped off as food for the pigs.  

I stayed back to rake and hoe the beds we pulled.  The Captain was going to bring in the rototiller because as we learned a few weeks ago, sometimes when a bed is continuously harvested for a few months, the soil needs a kick-start and a good rototilling can really do the job.

There is no better feeling than leaving the farm on a Saturday afternoon with dirty hands.  It's hard to explain, but I don't even want to wash them.  It's not the same dirty feeling you get when you hold railings in a Manhattan subway or walk around in the streets all day.  It's a dirt I earned, almost like a sign of a job well done.  It's a reminder of my growing connection with the earth and attempting learn how she works.  So after a week in an office full of hand sanitizer, weird pink soap and Lysol wipes, it's good to embrace the dirt we so often attempt to avoid. 


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