Purslane: The Snobby Weed

Purslane, an annual succulent, has created a lush carpet over the majority of our fields.   While we’ve been pulling it out and tossing it into the compost pile,  it may be time to reconsider this secret nutritional powerhouse.  The juicy succulent contains a large amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, Vitamin A,  iron, and other essential nutrients.   Research even claims that it may have positive effects on depressive brain chemicals due the presence of calcium, tryptophan, and magnesium.

While largely considered a weed in the United States, the plant is cultivated and eaten regularly by many other cultures.   A demand for the slightly lemon and salty flavored greenery is slowly on the rise by some chefs in the Twin Cities, but can we utilize the plant at St. Olaf?  In previous years, when weather has been hard on other vegetable crops, STOGROW has harvested and sold purslane to Bon Appetit.  Turns out, it just ended up wilting in the salad line because students and visitors didn’t know what it was.   Maybe a little educational notation could be placed by it in the salad bar, or the Bon App Chefs can sneak it into stir frys or other dishes.   Okay, maybe “sneaking” isn’t a good method to get students over their food fears. My mom used to try and trick my friends and I into eating vegetables we didn’t like by skinning them.  It didn’t really work on me, (I KNOW that spongy flesh with the beady little seeds and tangy taste is an evil eggplant, NOT zucchini. Nice try.) but one of my veggie-hating friends was fooled into falling in love with “chocolate bread” that was brimming with skinned zucchini.   I’m just saying…it works.

This past week, I’ve experimented with tossing some purslane into a simple mixed salad of kale, rosemary, basil, chinese chives, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, almonds, sea salt, and pepper.   I spent some time doing a bit of serious “educational research” on Pinterest (ha) and found some purslane recipes that I’m curious to try:

Lacinato Kale Roll with Sauteed Purslane - Great use of the booming kale in our personal garden plots!

Potato, Purslane, Caper Salad  –  Capers, enough said.  I’m guessing the lemon/salt flavor of purslane will be a great compliment!

Purslane and Basil Pesto - aww yeayuh. 

Who knew I’d be excited about weeding?

-Hillary

Early August Updates from the Farm

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Hello all!

We know it’s been a while since we’ve written our last post here, so let’s do something to remedy that. In general, this farming season has had some considerable ups and downs, but we’re pretty satisfied with where we’re at, all things considered.

As we’ve mentioned before (and as you might’ve heard if you know a farmer from the Midwest), it was a really cold, wet spring, so we were unable to till our soil to begin preparing it for the season until much later than we would’ve liked. Basically all this meant for us was a shorter growing season… which is a bummer. But being student farmers, we already have a shortened season due to our second semester classes and finals interfering with when we ought to be out in the field preparing for the summer, so this didn’t affect us as much as it did other farmers. It was sort of rattling at the beginning of the summer, though, when we were struggling to fathom our next steps due to cold, rainy weather.

After some time, however, the poor weather abated and we could actually get work done in the field. Initially we started out by manually tilling up the corners of our field, squaring them off. We think this was ultimately a good idea as we’ve managed to save a decent amount of space from being wasted. We still didn’t have our rototiller up and running at this point, though, which could’ve done the job in minutes, but took us hours by hand. We did eventually get it working though!… Only for it to break down again. We got a significant amount of usage out of it before it re-croaked, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. We hope we’ll be able to get it back into working order before this season is over, at least just so we have it right away next year.

Now, finally, as for what’s currently happening on the farm and with all things STOGROW-related: all of our fields are planted (or as planted as they’re going to be), with the exception of about 1/3 of our creatively-named ‘Plot C’ (we have three plots: A, B, and C). Our tiller inconveniently broke down before we were able to finish tilling it, so wild grass and other weeds are freely growing in it for now. We have five rows of a variety of tomatoes, some of which are doing really well, and others which are struggling by. Our farm manager, Dayna, who is a former Ole, co-founder of STOGROW, and founder of Laughing Loon Farm, suspects that the roots of the transplanted tomato plants are having a hard time penetrating the clay soil of our field. Without developed root systems, the plant can’t get much bigger vertically, so it’s hard to say how productive the plants will be at the end of the season… But our clay, nutrient-rich soil is more of a blessing than a curse, and since this season has been hard on everyone, there’s not much that can be said about it. We also have a bunch of beans and beets planted (which we started by seeding directly into the ground), and many of them are doing well. However, some of them further back in our field (in plot B) were washed out by the torrential rains we got in mid-late July. Some plants surely died, but many made it – they were just scattered all over the field amongst tons of weeds, making it really hard to spot them. We’ve been weeding this area of our field heavily for the past several days, and there’s still a lot more work to do until this part of the field looks organized again.

We also have a bunch of pepper (the hot varieties!) and eggplant, generously donated by Eco Gardens in downtown Northfield, as well as some cucumber that we also seeded directly into the ground. Those plants are all doing relatively well, and were already much more established when the violent July rains came.

Sooo what’s left for the season? Well, at this point we’re just watering our plants, harvesting when things are ripe, and keeping the weeds at bay as best we can. If we had things in the ground earlier, we might’ve been able to do a second round of planting, but given that it’s August 5th already, that seems very unlikely at this point.

Which is why we’re doing a bunch of planning for next year! Payne (’15) and Evan (’14) are the two returning farmers for the 2014 season, and they’ve begun collaborating with the departing lead farmers (Sarah ’13 and Hillary ’13) about how to expand STOGROW for the coming years. We won’t spoil the surprise, but we hope that STOGROW will have more of a presence on campus than it has in the past, potentially working with SustainAbilities and other environmental organizations on the Hill.

We’ll hopefully be coming at ya again with more updates in a week or two, depending upon how busy things are at the farm!

-Evan

The Buzz on Campus

The final week of April, students were shocked when they went to post office window to pick up their packages, and saw on the counter a mesh screened box, filled with ten to fifteen thousand honeybees. I had ordered this colony of Italian Honeybees from the Walter Kelley Company in Kentucky and was ecstatic about their arrival.

I kept the bees in a cool, dark basement until the evening, when it was time to release them. Installing a colony of bees is pretty intense. You have to rigorously shake a box of fragile insects that are notorious for stinging. I chose to buy Italian bees because I had read that they were a more docile breed; still I couldn’t imagine they could be in a good mood after three bumpy days in transit. Somehow, I managed to not get stung while doing this!
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So far the bees seem to be doing very well. They are a low maintenance hobby. Once their super (that’s the name of a bee box) is full of pulled honey comb, you stack an empty one on top of the full ones so that the colony can expand and store more honey. Once about three of these are full, the bees have about enough honey to survive through the winter. Anything additional that the bees produce, is surplus which is okay for us to take.

The bees are, generally, pretty friendly. I’ve been stung on four different occasions, usually because I was making distressful swatting motions toward mosquitoes while trying to inspect the hive. I recently got a hive smoker with which you can pump smoke on the bees during a hive inspection. This calms down the bees because it covers up the banana scented “alarm” pheromone which bees release when they feel threatened. This makes me less likely to get stung in case the bees become panicked, thinking that I’m a predator.

In addition to collecting honey, bees are important for farms, gardens, and the ecosystem because they are pollinators. Pollinators are important because they fertilize plants by moving pollen from the male to female species. Common pollinators besides honeybees include butterflies, wasps, dragonflies, and bats.

Payne

Feathered Friends

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It’s July, but I thought I’d catch you up on some of June’s big news. We welcomed 4 pretty ladies to our farm a few weeks ago!  Each of us chose a respective chicken to name (a task that was more difficult for some of us…it’s a big decision that can’t be taken lightly)!  Payne’s … Continue reading

Recent Farm Goings-on

Hey y’all! Evan here, the new member of the STOGROW student farmers, coming at ya with some updates about the farm. As Payne mentioned, we’ve been doing a lot of weeding these first few weeks – in fact, weeding and general farm cleanup is basically what we can expect to be doing for a while longer due to the weather. Prior to being engaged with farm work, I would’ve guessed that all this rain would be a great thing for crops, but actually, due to the late, cold winter/spring we had, many farmers in the area haven’t been able to prep their fields’ soil to get seeds into the ground; it’s been pretty rough for everyone so far. I’ve heard that this spring has been so tough that some professional farmers are simply passing up this year due to cost vs. yield/revenue.

Despite the poor weather so far, we’re still going to give it our best shot! Our field has been tilled twice, our “circle garden”, “free garden” and raspberry bush patch have been weeded and composted, and we’ve been hand-tilling and squaring out some corners of the field so that when we finally do get to start planting, we’ll have some more space to utilize.

Aside from the veggies which are pretty much on hold right now, Payne has studied up a bit on beekeeping, and has a hive of about 10,000 Italian bees. Perhaps there will be some updates about them in the future…? We’re also planning on doing chickens again this year, and hopefully we’ll have our fine, feathered ladies on the farm soon.

Anyway, let’s keep our fingers crossed that we’ll get some sunny, dry weather in our futures so that we can get this show on the road! Stay tuned!

-Evan

Why Can’t Weeds be Friends?

For the last week or so that we’ve been farming, weeding has been our primary activity. We began by weeding out a sizable raspberry patch, followed by the weeding of our herb garden, as well as several other small plots. Removing all the unwanted plants surrounding our produce makes our job harvesting immensely easier; at the same time though, weeding makes me feel a little guilty. Why do we have the right to remove all these grasses, flowers, and vines which clearly flourish on the land? At times I feel like a colonial power, planting produce that will benefit my needs, while uprooting the bad native weeds.

So why can’t we just get along with weeds?

It’s because weeds are even greedier than we are. Weeds thrive because they absorb a tremendous amount of water, growing to colossal size, while other plants fall behind. When we pull weeds out of the ground, they shrivel quickly in the sun because they lose this source. Weeds also germinate at a rapid rate, spreading seeds far and plentiful.

We weed diligently, not because weeds are bad plants, but because they do not require nutrient rich soil like our produce does. They can regenerate without our help, whereas the relationship between us and our produce is symbiotic: our vegetables need us to grow, and we need them to eat.

-Payne

Goodbye to August…Hello to Harvest!

Well summer is winding down, but the good news is our crops are not! It’s the end of August but our tomatoes, eggplants, squash, peppers and cucumbers still have quite a bit of life in them that will last for another month or so! We’re harvesting about every other day now, admiring the colorful array of vegetables that are popping up. School will be starting, but thanks to our crops we have an excuse to still sneak down to farm a few times a week to harvest!  

And of course it’s only natural that right as the school year is beginning, more and more things get thrown onto our to-do list. Next weekend two of our farmers will be attending the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association annual conference in Corvallis, Oregon. They’ll be presenting our STOGROW, and hopefully getting some great ideas and inspiration to bring back to the farm with them. We also are in the midst of planning our events for Tour de Farm: Northfield, an event that will be touring the local Northfield farms and ending with a festival at SEEDS farm. The event in being held on Saturday, September 29th from 1-7! Not to mention STOGROW’s annual Harvest Fest will be happening shortly after in October. There’s lots going on, so make sure that you stay posted about what’s happening on the farm and ways that you can get involved or come out for a visit!

 

The Dog Days of Summer?

We’re deep into the month of August but the mercury in the thermometer is barely touching 80 degrees these days!  None of us are complaining at all, of course: this weather makes for some very pleasant mornings out in the field.  Our tasks at the farm now alternate between picking the ever-present blight leaves, weeding, and harvesting.  Hillary recently undertook the incredibly hefty task of uncovering our insanely overgrown raspberry patch.  What used to be a jungle of sky scraping thistles is now a cleanly manicured plot of fruit bushes.  It’s unbelievable how many raspberries were hidden back there! The caf will be gifted a few pints of these gems every now and again for the rest of the season; we could certainly pick them bucketsful, but, well, we get hungry when we’re picking them so…

All of our produce is just beginning to peak, which is perfect because the start of the school year is right around the corner!  Our earlier crops – such as our snap peas and lettuce – are showing signs of waning, but our rows of yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, eggplants, cucumbers, and black cherry tomatoes are now getting into full swing.  A few weeks from now, we will have winter squash to add into the mix, along with a plethora of different peppers.

We might have missed out on the dog days of summer, but we certainly enjoyed every other minute of the season out on the farm.  Our summer is winding down and we’re beginning to shift our focus back up onto the Hill for classes, but we’ve still got a few fun things left out on the farm come the fall.  The first week of school, some of us will be shipping off to the West Coast to partake in a collegiate conference on sustainable agriculture out in Oregon.  Following that, we’ve got a farm tour during Homecoming Weekend, and a Fall Harvest Festival to close out our season before the frost creeps in.  We’re looking forward to everything that’s coming up ahead!