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Week 6 Newsletter

July 19, 2012

In your box:

  • Beets
  • Cucumber or Summer Squash
  • Dill 
  • Head lettuce
  • Kale, Red Russian
  • Red onion
  • Sweet onion
  • Beans, cabbage, or tomatoes

In a time when most farmers require hundreds or even thousands of acres of land in order to make a living, it surprises most people that we only have ten acres here at Fox and Fawn Farm (an acre is roughly the size of a football field). Of these ten acres, it surprises even more people that we only plant three acres into crops in any given year. The rest of the land is planted into pasture grasses and clover to build organic matter in the soil, reduce erosion, and hold on to nutrients in the soil. As this mixture grows throughout the year, it has to be cut about once a month to prevent any of the grasses and weeds from going to seed and to lay down fresh growth for worms and soil microbes to begin breaking down. This is essentially the same process as any livestock farmer cutting alfalfa fields for storage hay, except that they bale their cuttings and remove them for feed, while our cuttings break down directly in the field.

Except, of course, that most of these farmers have heavy-duty tractors with gas-guzzling mowers that make quick work of their fields (and my paycheck!). I have a scythe. A scythe is an ancient agricultural hand tool that is now used most often as decoration on old farmhouses and as a prop for the grim reaper at Halloween. A scythe is a long, very sharp blade attached to a five-foot handle called a snath. Years ago, teams of peasants would descend on a hayfield and march slowly in concentric circles, slicing quickly and silently through stands of clover or grasses. Before lawnmowers, most yards would have been cut with scythes. Today, scythes are more likely to pop up in a horror film than a modern farm.

I first came across scything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, in which the wealty landowner joins his peasants in the fields one mowing day: “The old man, holding himself erect, moved in front, with his feet turned out, taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.” I had to look into this tool, so I found an old instructional booklet called The Scythe Book and a manufacturer in Kentucky that still produces scythes and other antique farm tools.

Three years ago I bought a scythe, and now I can’t wait until the fallow fields are grown up enough for me to head out early in the morning and join in this historical act. I’m sure I get some puzzled looks from our neighbors as they fly by on their tractors. But I’m able to catch things that they would never notice from an air-conditioned cab:  eggs, poor areas of soil, rocky areas to be avoided, bountiful regions where the clover is thriving. And without engine noise, I’ve cut so much closer to rabbits, deer, snakes, mice, skunks (!!!!), and pheasants than I would otherwise. It is a beautiful, ancient motion that binds me to our agricultural past, connects me to my fields, and clears my mind from worry in the simple focus on the task at hand. As Tolstoy’s protagonist says to his brother after a day of mowing, “You can’t imagine what an effectual remedy it is for every sort of foolishness.”

Just a couple of new crops this week, but we’re excited to introduce carrots and (hopefully!) sweet corn next week.  Our corn stand is really looking nice this year, and a few of the silks are already starting to dry out. 

In the meantime, we have Dill as our herb this week.  This really suffered from weed pressure, resulting in thinner stalks than we would like.  Now that it is weed-free, it should branch out more for future harvests.  Dill is in the same family as carrots, parsley, parsnips, celery, and fennel, but it has a unique taste that doesn’t always blend well with other herbs.  The green leafy growth is most commonly used in stews, soups, and chilled summer salads (pasta, potato, tuna, and cucumber).  The leaves and yellow head are best known for their role in pickling cucumbers and beets.  Dill does not keep fresh for long, but it can be dried and stored quite easily.  Simply hang it upside down in a cool, dry place until it becomes brittle and then rub the leaves between your fingers into a jar for long-term storage.

Red Onions are arguably more purple than red, but by that argument my hair is arguable more orange than red.  Clearly, people prefer Red to any other option.  These are an indispensable part of any good burger or sandwich, and their sweet flavor is a great addition to salads.  These are still in the “sweet” stage of their growth, so they are not fully grown and their leaves can be eaten.  As long as you receive these with their green tops, they should be kept in the fridge.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Michelle Cameron permalink
    July 19, 2012 10:30 pm

    Dear Orange,
    I am delightfully dumbfounded by the synchronicity of your scything to my 2012 gardening experiences – This year I chucked my Mantis Tiller(s) for a triangular hoe and gardening fork I inherited from my dad, who used them from the 1940’s to 2000’s; and both with the original wood shafts and handles! These two worthy tools carry on in 2012. The satisfaction of seeing, smelling and hearing so many more things than I would have otherwise is amazing, and I thank you for sharing so poetically your larger farming experience while ‘doing the walk’. I thought my newly discovered bit of heaven was limited to those like myself who has an eighth of an acre garden, or less. Oh, not so grasshopper!

    I enjoy reading your weekly so much. Hope to see you this season on the farm.

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