I was supposed to take our new farm-stay helpers on an outing to the lake this evening, but after we finished an early supper they told me I looked tired and asked me to stay home and rest. They decided to visit the marina instead, and I went out to side-dress my cucumbers and check water on the recently sowed carrots.

Oddly enough, that was very relaxing. I was just as much outdoors as I would have been at the lake, and one more much-needed task was getting checked off the to-do list. One less thing to worry my mind.

Now is a beautiful time of year: long evenings, warm days, and everything growing quickly. But it’s also a time when mid-season burn-out can happen all too easily.

This week we’re hoping to finish transplanting green onions, transplant edamame and the first of our fall/winter cabbages, sow peas, sow greens and turnips, sow the beets we should have sowed last week, and keep up with our regular biweekly harvesting schedule, plus weeding and odd jobs. It’s that time of year–keep working, keep working, but rest just enough to keep working.

Nevertheless, I find that July comes with a sense of relief. The impossible to-do lists of May and June have been conquered at least in small part, showing that consistent effort does in fact get things done. Summer crops that we transplanted earlier are now yielding their fruit–cucumbers and eggplants were both on the market table this Saturday. There is still work to do, but already we’re making progress and reaping our reward.

This past week, I felt great.  Normally I get to the end of the week with shoulders stiff as baked clay and the feeling that my limbs move only under great resistance.  Farming is great for getting you active, but all that bending and squatting and stressing out about all the stuff that needs to get done certainly takes a toll on your body.  But last week Sunday I went for a swim, and every day thereafter made sure to get in a walk or bike ride every morning.  I couldn’t believe what a difference it made!   Swimming particularly was alot of fun.  I was miffed at first that our local pool doesn’t offer lane swimming at the times I’m able to go, but I think it’s actually better splashing around in the free-for-all of “family swim.”  It makes for great people-watching with all the kids there, and there’s something about not being able to swim back and forth in a straight line that helps me let go of tension.  

This raises a question I’ve often pondered lately: what does it really mean to be efficient?  What does it really mean to be productive?  I might skip my morning walk in favour of farm tasks, but do I really gain in the end when achy muscles slow me down?  

Sometimes more is less and less is more.  Working hard is important, but it’s plain stupidity if you don’t work intelligently.  And sometimes, that means taking time for other things–and not swimming in straight lines.  

It was an odd feeling I had the other day.  I was watering some plants in the greenhouse and realized that many of the rows we planted to our Japanese greens or turnips have already finished being harvested and are ready to turn over to another crop.  Similarly, we are now harvesting only from this year’s sowing of kale, no longer from the overwintered crop.  Overwintered chard is still going strong, but it’s days are numbered.  The new crop is nearly ready in the greenhouse.  This week we harvested the first of our new beets, and our first daikon will likely be ready next week.  

This is a tricky time for us, the changeover from overwintered to newly sowed crops.  I feel a great relief to see the new crops coming in from the field; there is always a danger of not having enough to sell if the overwintered crops run out before the spring crops get going.  

I tend to write blog posts mostly at the junctures of the season.  Perhaps it’s because so much of agriculture is about marking the passage of time, and understanding the the seasons.  “For everything there is a season…”  The key to agriculture is doing each thing in its proper time, not later.  

Tonight a friend and I got talking about local First Nations languages and found ourselves poking around online about Hul’q’umi’num, which is one indigenous language from around here.  It was fun to see just how much was available online.  UVic has a course on Hul’q’umi’num with online resources about grammar and vocabulary (you can learn to count to ten at http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/hulq/vocab/lesson01/vc01_09.htm).  First Voices has alot of neat stuff too.  You can listen to a song about a snail or find vocabulary in various categories.  I’ve often thought it would be neat to learn a bit of a local First Nations language; with so many things to do and to learn I don’t have any plans for that to happen, but I decided to learn one word tonight: spun’um.  So many things around the farm are spun’um, which means “sowed, planted, something that is planted.”

I grew up watching a cooking show called “The Urban Peasant,” hosted by James Barber.  I liked his show because he always talked about making tasty meals with whatever you have on hand, no need to shop for special ingredients.  His motto was “if you have it put it in; if you don’t have it, don’t put it in.”  This has become a big part of how I cook.  I tend to work off basoc templates rather than hardcore recipes.  

One such template is for sautéed greens, prepared as follows:

Wash and chop up leafy vegetables of various kinds.  Preferably, mix greens from different plant families.  For example:

  • brassicas (kale leaves/florettes, broccoli, kakina, komatsuna, cabbage, arugula…)
  • spinach family (spinach, swiss chard, beet greens…)
  • carrot family (parsely, lovage, italian parsely, cilantro, lovage…)
  • lettuce family (lettuce, shungiku…) 

Put some oil in the pan and turn on the heat.  (I like to use coconut oil or olive oil).  Add something aromatic and stir it around a bit.  This could be cumin seeds, minced garlic, curry paste, mustard seeds or something else.  

Add a handful of the chopped leafy greens and stir a bit.  Repeat until all the greens are in.  If you like, add some cooked beans.  Add salt or soy sauce or fish sauce or something else salty to taste.  Stir some more until the greens are as cooked as you like them (I err on the side of rather cooked); or put on the lid and lower or turn off the heat and let it sit until the greens are as cooked as you like them.  At the end you can add more oil if you prefer (I often add extra olive oil at the end rather than the beginning since high heat destroys some of olive oils benefits).  

My most recent rendition of this basic recipe was kale leaves, kale florettes, and lovage with cumin seeds and soy beans sautéed in olive oil.  I seasoned it with soy sauce and chinkiang vinegar, and ate it on rice.  

I’ve often wondered how to describe my style of cooking when people ask me for a recipe of some dish I’ve made.  This is one attempt to describe my non-recipe.  Please let me know what you think!

My recent effort to learn more about the mechanics of small farm machinery has often prompted thoughts about women taking traditionally male roles.  For example, I had the chance a couple weeks ago to sit on a panel discussion about farm equipment at the Farmer 2 Farmer conference.  Not surprisingly, I was the only woman on the panel, and not surprisingly, several people commented on that.  

After the conference I dropped by Slegg Lumber to ask about some plastic sheeting we’ve been searching for.  Talking to the guy at the service desk, my first instinct was to play tough, to assume he would think a woman wouldn’t know what she’s talking about, and to make sure to prove him wrong.  

The vibe of our conversation felt really weird until I decided to just relax, to be real about my knowledge and lack thereof, to respect him as a person, and to be myself (I’m not naturally the tough type).  

I’ve decided to take this approach from now on–whether it’s at Slegg Lumber, or Lordco, or Westshore Power Equipment.  If it’s sexist to assume a woman won’t know what to do with a socket wrench, it’s sexist to assume a man won’t admit what a woman is capable of.  If anything, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve heard more from other women than from men about mechanics being a man’s domain.   And most of what I’ve learned comes from men who are more than happy to teach anyone who’s willing to learn.  

 

The Women’s Land Army

A friend shared this link to pictures from Britain’s WWI Women’s Land Army, which was a bid to increase the agricultural labour force and pursue food self-sufficiency.  It’s sad that it takes a war to get us doing things like that.  

Spring has come.  Our daffodils are blooming, weeds are sprouting in the greenhouse, and the days are longer.  However much the wind may blow or the rain may fall, spring has come and any cold or wet the weather may throw at us is just spring being cranky.  

Now I’m glad to see spring, but at first I was more sad to see winter ending, because it meant the end of free time for winter projects.  Winter is a fabulous time for accomplishing all kinds of things we don’t have time for in the main part of the year: organizing remay, making plans and strategies, and learning new information for the year ahead.  

This winter’s big project was learning mechanical skills to help keep our tools and machinery running.  I took a short small engine class with Billy Metcalfe out in Fernwood, and was e-mail coached through cleaning up a starter motor by a very kind and mechanically savvy neighbor.

The garage is still full of mechanical projects not yet finished.  The machine with the starter motor still won’t start, and there’s a lawnmower I took apart that still needs alot of TLC before it will run again, if it ever does.  Many machines are on the TO DO list for the routine maintenance I haven’t previously been routinely performing. 

I hope to continue those jobs here and there (they’ll be needed!), but spring is here.  Time for planting seeds and pulling weeds and planning the crops we’ll grow throughout this year and into the winter to come.  

Sloths who grow their own food

Snails carry their house on their back.  Some sloths carry their farm on theirs.  

A conversation with a friend today led to some Wikipedia exploration of what makes certain foods hot, or pungent.  Basically, some kind of “hotness” can be found in certain members of just three of the plant groups we commonly eat crops from: the brassicas (mustard, wasabi, horseradish), the alliums (raw garlic, raw onion), and Capsicum (hot peppers), plus black pepper (of the genus Piper).  

These food plants don’t all have the same biochemical basis for hotness.  Organosulphur compounds give rise to the hot of raw alliums and the hot of certain brassicas–allicin for the alliums and allyl isothiocyanate for the brassicas.  (I notice that the hotness of raw onion or garlic disappears with cooking, while that of brassicas such as daikon may disappear or leave a taste that is bitter rather than hot.) The hot of black pepper and of hot peppers does not disappear with cooking, and arises from alkaloids, capsaicin and piperine respectively. 

Whatever the compound, all activate the same receptor, TRPV1.  The allium and brassica compounds also activates another chemosensory receptor, TRPA1.   If you enjoy scientific articles, you might take a look at one from 2009 showing that capsaicin and piperine both activate the same receptor, or one from 2005 showing that garlic activates both receptors I mentioned. 

Most of my links are from Wikipedia.  If you like Wikipedia, please consider donating $5 or so (after all, they’re keeping it ad-free).

 

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