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?



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!


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.