In your box:
Late last week I was pulling thistle around our elderberry plants when I noticed a massive caterpillar that I assumed could only be one of our kids’ toys. It was incredible—about the size of a cigar. And it was covered in fluorescent hairs and bumps that simply didn’t look natural. Yet when I picked it up it was definitely alive (and harmless thankfully!). I brought it inside to show everyone and to contact a friend who happens to be an invertebrate conservationist. She quickly identified it as a Cecropia moth caterpillar, nearly fully grown and about to enter a cocoon to overwinter. Next summer it will emerge from the cocoon as a gigantic moth—the largest in the U.S. A full-grown cecropia moth has a wingspan of 6 inches (if that sounds small, look at a ruler and now imagine a moth that big!). The adults emerge without any mouthparts or digestive system, so they have only two weeks to live and reproduce before they starve to death.
After showing it to our boys it was time to take the caterpillar back to the orchard. I set her/him back on an elderberry plant and I’ll keep my eyes out this winter for its cocoon. And if we see the adult next summer we’ll definitely try to get some pictures!
This week brings our first Garlic of the season. Garlic is the only crop we grow that overwinters—I plant it in late October so that it can just get its roots started growing. It lies dormant all through the winter and is one of the first green things to sprout in the spring. Garlic grows slowly at first, looking largely like grass. But throughout May it grows taller and branches out, leading to its top scape in late June. In July it finishes its growth and starts to die back, with its leaf tips turning yellow. At this point I dig it all up and bring the whole plant into our greenhouse, where it dries out for a a few weeks and is properly “cured” for storage or fresh eating. Garlic can keep for up to a year in proper conditions, so it’s a staple of our cooking all through the fall and winter.
Garlic is planted from its cloves, which clone themselves and serve as the root base for next year’s garlic plant. Garlic is fairly expensive because of the cost involved—if a particular variety only averages 4 cloves, that means that 25% of the crop has to be reserved for planting to produce the same amount for next year. We grow some varieties with a few large cloves but we also like the varieties with more yet smaller cloves.
The other new entry this week is Beets, which tend to have a polarizing effect on their eaters. These beets are fresh and so the greens are edible and tasty—they are a great substitute for spinach or chard. They can also be blended into a smoothie or cooked down alongside the root itself. To prepare these for fresh eating, we cut off the tops and thoroughly scrub the roots. Cook them in boiling water for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size. At this point you can remove them from the water and use a fork to peel back the skins. Test them for texture now—if they are soft enough then serve them right up. Otherwise, cook them for another 10 minutes or so and they should be finished.
Tomatoes are finally ripening rapidly and we’re able to provide a good amount in the boxes today. In the next few weeks we’re likely to have more than we can stuff in your box, and so we offer some for sale if you’d like to can or freeze them. We sell 10 lb. boxes (mostly meaty varieties but with some heirlooms for flavor) for $25. Please e-mail me if you’re interested and I’ll add you to a wait list as they become available.
Expected next week: Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beans, head lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, sweet onion, potatoes and basil.