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).
A friend shared this link about working hours in pre-industrial Britain/Europe: http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_workweek.html
We are now well into the Dark Quarter, which is what I call the period between the midpoint of autumn-equinox-to-winter-solstice and the midpoint of winter-solstice-to-spring-equinox, roughly November 5-February 5. It is that period in which daylength is short and varies little. We still have work to do, but for the most part we work more leisurely for fewer hours per day.
Normally I dread this time of year. The dark and the cold all too predictably bring on bad cases of the winter blues. So far it’s been so sunny that I can hardly feel that threat, and besides, I’ve been looking forward to the Dark Quarter for some time now. It’s the time of year when we can really rest. I often think about the need to deliberately and aggressively seek out rest while I can. Last winter I read a short book by Dr W.C. Tan about agriculture in the Chinese classics. These days, a bit from his translation/commentary on Sage Hou Ji frequently comes to mind:
Do not miss the farming timing and do not perform any farming activities at an inappropriate time. It is absolutely critical to know the difference between the way that leads to prosperity and the way that leads to poverty. And that is, once farming season has started, work hard period [sic]. And once the farming season is over, rest from labour. …There are those who do not understand the principle of farming, who prior to the arrival of the farm-season have already started doing things. These same people, after the farm-season is over still preoccupy themselves with farming. And after they have missed the precious period, they begin to regret. This is a clear case of not adhering to the proper timing. ~from The Tao of Traditional Chinese Agriculture by Dr. W.C. Tan
This is the precious period in which we can rest. All too often I have missed the proper timing, and then been hampered by a need for rest during the growing season. But resting is tricky. There is still alot that I want to get done: reading up on various farming topics, dealing with statistics/paperwork for government and certifying bodies, various organization and repair jobs, and–importantly–catching up on socializing. I look forward to all that (except perhaps the paperwork!), but rest needs to get high priority. By the time March arrives, we’ll already be busy again. But let’s not speak of that! It’s still November, near the beginning of the Dark Quarter, and I’m already enjoying it.
I have nothing against Mondays. Nevertheless, some recent Mondays have brought challenges. First, we heard a few Mondays ago that Dayspring Tofu is moving to Cloverdale. This would not be a problem except for the fact that we rely heavily on okara (the soybean pulp leftover from tofu production) as a fertilizer. Of course, there are other options for organic soil nutrient management—but the all cost more time, more money or both. I will likely have more to say about how we manage this challenge in future posts.
Next, last week Monday we found the rat. Or shall I say, the whole family of rats that was living in our storage area. We’d previously found signs of rats nearby, which was a rare thing for us since our colourful cast of cat characters usually takes care of those sorts of problems. But when my colleague heard noises in the storage area, and we looked more carefully inside, we found a mess that took at least four hours to clean up and costed us more than I care to think.
All this notwithstanding, life is good. The rains that fell in late September thoroughly soaked the soil and were followed by mild or sunny weather, excellent for crop growth. Even inside the greenhouse where the rain can’t fall, it has seeped in under the ground, and the greens I’d previously been worried about are now growing luxuriously. Even our outdoor kale, which still shows signs of damage from the hail that fell a few Mondays ago, is producing enough, and our eggplants are still producing even now, to our happy astonishment.
Monday or any day, it’s good to be alive.
I was interested to read an article about an organic farm in Taiwan, which (like many around the world) relies heavily on Facebook and other social media to make the farm profitable. The interesting point was that the farmer didn’t even know how to turn on a computer until quite late in life, yet she is now running her business based on smartphones and social media.
Here at Uminami Farm, we’re quite the opposite. We have no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter. You could count this blog, but it’s more my personal blog than the farm blog. Our one concession to online communication is our e-mail account, which is hardly avant-garde. This is partly our collective dispreference for spending time at the computer, and partly the fact that we can sell what we grow without social media. But that’s business–you do what you need to do to succeed, and don’t do what isn’t necessary to thrive.
This past winter I read a book called “The Tao of Traditional Chinese Agriculture” by the late Dr. Wee Chong Tan, a strong promotor of organic agriculture on both sides of the Pacific. In this book, Dr. Tan weaves together references from the Chinese classics to paint a picture of traditional Chinese (organic) agriculture. Much of what this book had to say was not applicable, due to differences in crops and climate, but one point in particular has stayed with me through the year. The emphasis on making every minute count, capturing the opportunity of the season, was repeatedly emphasized. This includes resting in winter, and refraining from non-farming activities during the growing season. ”Thus we must adore every hour, and cherish every day.” (It is a little ambiguous in the book, but this quote appears to be attributed to Sage Hou Ji).
This year I’ve thought alot about timing: the timing of tilling relative the soil’s readiness, the timing of tasks to coincide with labour availability, the timing of sowing a green manure crop to catch the optimal combination of sun and rain. Many things–like sowing that green manure crop–did happen in perfect timing.
Sometimes, though, I see mainly the ways in which the correct timing has been lost. For example, I spent part of yesterday afternoon laying landscape fabric under melon vines. We do this to protect the fruits from contact with the soil, to prevent pest damage and ensure a better shape and colour. Ideally, we would have done this while the plants were still small. But since the correct timing was missed, there we were taking time to pull out weeds that the landscape fabric would have suppressed, and breaking or crushing melon vines that would not have been disturbed had we done this earlier. Not to mention that it’s alot slower laying landscape fabric when you have to lift vines carefully every metre of the way.
That being said, I don’t feel discouraged or see any need to be down on ourselves. The season is not captured by despair at the past, but rather by hope for the future. Keep working, keep trying. Every day is a fresh start.
Now is a time of year when it’s hard to say whether it’s winter or spring. The weather certainly varies from day to day. On the winter side of things, the crops we’re harvesting (and the weeds we’re pulling) are those that sprouted last autumn and grew through the winter. On the other hand, we’ve started our weekly cycle of seed planting. The frogs have begun their evening chorus and the weed seeds are beginning to poke through the soil–a little reminder of the very big amount of work that is soon to come.
However, the time of spring crops and spring weeds is not yet really here. Much of my attention is still focused on things other than crop management. Alot of the organization work I’d hoped to do this winter is now done, and I’m turning my attention to greenhouse repair, knowing that once the crops–and the new crop of weeds–are in full swing, there won’t be time for much else.
Published in 1910, this little essay on cheese is a beautiful ode to local food. (Sorry, it expresses in passing certain opinions which I expect most including myself find offensive. But please enjoy what it does have to offer.)