Rather than sound like a broken record and complain about the current round of hot, sticky weather, or the fact that our pepper crop is delayed three weeks because the flowers dropped during the super hot July weather, or that our corn ears are on the small side because they developed during the monsoon a few weeks back, I’ve decided to look to the positive side and write about a couple of crops that are making a rebound. Rebecca, always the optimist, has been dutifully sowing new plantings of spinach, arugula, tatsoi, and broccoli raab, and so far they look good! The crew has been dropping lettuce transplants in the ground each week and they seem to be maturing into decent-sized, tasty heads of lettuce! But by far the biggest bright spot as August turns to September, is that we have basil. Bright green, tasty, basil. Now for years basil was one of our most dependable crops. Drop some seeds or transplants in the ground, water once a week, weed a few times, and you got basil a couple months later. Then about 8 years ago we started noticing a mustard brown color in the leaves, that on closer inspection turned out to be a disease called basil downy mildew (BDM). Since 2010, this disease would always show up by July, and in some years even infected the starts in the greenhouse before we could even plant them. Sometimes we could eke out one crop in the high tunnel, but after that, they were toast. Organic growers have very few effective fungicides, and even conventional growers with their arsenal of pesticides were having a hard time dealing with BDM because it grows on the underside of the leaves, making it very difficult for spray to reach.
Enter the unsung heroes of our story, the plant breeders. These dedicated folks are one of the pillars that make modern agriculture work. James Simon and Robert Pyne, Researchers at Rutgers University, noticed that some types of basil, like lemon or Thai, were resistant to BDM. They worked over several years to make a cross between these types of basil and the more common Genovese basil, which is highly susceptible to BDM. They repeatedly crossed back to Genovese basil and in the end came up with some great varieties that have the taste and look of Genovese basil but have resistance to BDM (see https://sebsnjaesnews.rutgers.edu/2018/07/rutgers-njaes-team-releases-new-varieties-of-downy-mildew-resistant-sweet-basil/ for the full story).
So all farmers and eaters owe a debt of gratitude to plant breeders, who offer us varieties that are one step ahead of the pathogens that can wreak havoc on an organic farm or garden. And next time you hear about budget cuts to university programs in basic and applied plant science, remember all the good things that come out of increasing our knowledge of how plants work, and tell your legislators to fund this important work!
We hope you enjoy the farm and the harvest and the basil,
Paul, for Rebecca, Elliott, and the Fort Hill Farm crew
Featured this week:
Basil: hurray for a nice crop of basil in September! We are thrilled to have this aromatic staple back in our lives for the longterm, as it is free of a very devastating disease that wiped out most of our crops for nearly a decade. Basil stores best like a bunch of flowers—put in a vase in indirect light (if bagged, wrap loosely in a damp cloth). DO NOT put in the fridge.
sweet corn, arugula, salad mix, tatsoi, pea shoots, sunflower sprouts, microgreens, head lettuce, garlic, chioggia, gold, and red beets, carrots, rainbow chard, fresh herbs, curly green and lacinato kale, heirloom, beefsteak, & plum tomatoes, sungold and red cherry tomatoes, trickles of eggplant and peppers, red, tender sweet, and Savoy cabbage, Blue Gold, Red Gold, Satina Gold, Kennebec, and Dark Red Norland potatoes, celeriac, leeks, and the start of our fresh baby ginger! (…prices will be higher since we are pulling the crop very early….there will be plenty of ginger in the coming months at the lower price.)
Pick Your Own:
Flowers – still going! Pick up a Flower Ring in the barn for bunch size.
Fresh Herbs: Italian and curly parsley, thyme, sage, oregano, and cilantro. Feel free to mix and match for your bunch. Some herbs are available in the barn, others are available for PYO only. Pick up an Herb Ring in the barn for bunch size. Please pick only the herbs with signs directly in front of them, as some young herbs are still growing! …
… and NEW for 2018: CSA members may pick 1 small PYO bunch of herbs (mixed or not) each week for FREE! One bunch per share. PYO only. Please see samples in the barn for bunch size.
PYO begins 30 before and goes 30 minutes beyond barn hours.
Recipes, suggested by Rebecca Batchie. For more recipes, check out the Fort Hill Farm Recipe Database
Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 large acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup finely chopped celeriac
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Arrange squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until tender. Dissolve the sugar in the melted butter. Brush squash with the butter mixture, and keep squash warm while preparing the stuffing.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, celeriac, and carrots, and cook 5 minutes. Mix in the garbanzo beans and raisins. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper, and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender.
Pour the chicken broth into the skillet, and mix in the couscous. Cover skillet, and turn off heat. Allow couscous to absorb liquid for 5 minutes. Stuff squash halves with the skillet mixture to serve.
Potato Basil Frittata
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups peeled and 1/2-inch diced boiling potatoes (4 potatoes)
8 extra-large eggs
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3/4 pound Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch ovenproof omelet pan over medium-low heat. Add the potatoes and fry them until cooked through, turning often, about 10 to 15 minutes. Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter in a small dish in the microwave.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, then stir in the ricotta, Gruyere, melted butter, salt, pepper, and basil. Sprinkle on the flour and baking powder and stir into the egg mixture.
Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake the frittata until it is browned and puffed, 50 minutes to 1 hour. It will be rounded and firm in the middle and a knife inserted in the frittata should come out clean. Serve hot. Serves 8.