Monday night we experienced our first significant rain in over a month. We got about 0.7 inches here in the rainforest, which was great for the vegetables. Already plants are putting on succulent new growth and drinking up the abundant, evenly distributed soil moisture.
Under dry conditions, we water our crops with drip irrigation. Unlike home and garden scale drip irrigation systems, we use a product commonly called “T-tape” which was originally developed in Israel for water conservation in agriculture. T-tape has the advantage of getting water to the plants’ root zone with very little waste to evaporation. Compared to overhead watering systems like sprinklers, we save a lot of water using T-tape.
It might seem strange that we choose to grow vegetables during the driest months in St. Croix. Cruzan farmers, and farmers worldwide, have long recognized the advantages of growing during the dry season. While rain is a source of life and energy, rainfall can also cause a lot of problems with annual vegetables. Here on St. Croix, rain means bugs and fungal diseases. Some of these critters are harmless, beautiful and beneficial to the farm, but many are nuisances and can be devastating to crops.
Lepidopterans, or moths and butterflies, flourish during the rainy season due to the prevalence of flowers and nectar, which they need for energy. These insects lay their eggs on a variety of crops, and it is their larvae, called caterpillars, that cause damage. Right now our lepidopteran pressure is relatively low, due to the lack of wild flowers, but we expect to see a rise in activity in the summer as the rains return.
Rain also brings disease problems. Just one day of rain has caused an outbreak of mildew, a destructive fungus, to take hold on a small section of our okra. While this will likely not be a problem in the drier weeks to come, prolonged rains can create the moist conditions perfect for fungal growth.
The choice to farm organically means working with nature and ecosystem variations. We can grow a variety of familiar and delicious vegetables during the winter because of favorable environmental conditions. We choose not to use toxic, dangerous pesticides that might allow us to continue growing during this time. This plant-positive approach also means we get good crops without expensive inputs, which is important for the viability of our small farm.
Right now, the plants are vibrant, happy, and clearly healthy, so a little rain was just what they needed. It definitely saves us a lot of time running around and watering everything! I hope you enjoy eating the bounty of produce as much as we enjoyed growing it.
1 pound ripe juicy tomatoes, heirloom varieties if possible 1/2 clove garlic 1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste 2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese handful fresh basil leaves
1. Wash and core tomatoes and cut into thick slices or wedges.
2. Peel the garlic. In the salad bowl or platter you wish to use, rub the garlic, using the tips of a fork, to make a puree. Add the vinegar and oil. Then add the tomatoes, tossing gently to coat with dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Slice mozzarella and tuck decoratively in and around the tomatoes. Scatter top of salad with basil leaves.
Recipe adapted from TheArt of Simple Food by Alice Waters, founder of the restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA which uses seasonal, organic produce.
Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato
1 large eggplant, or two smaller Japanese eggplants
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 pound pasta
1 cup diced tomato
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant in 1/2 inch cubes. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large bowl until they are coated. Place them on a roasting pan in a single layer and roast for 25 or until they are soft.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to instructions on the box. Drain.
Heat a large skillet to medium. Pour in the other 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until they are starting to color. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds, and then deglaze the pan with a splash of Sherry vinegar.
Dump the eggplant into the skillet along with the diced tomato, red pepper flakes, and basil. Bring the mixture to a simmer then add the pasta. Toss until the pasta is coated. Season with salt and sprinkle with the parsley.
Tomatoes - Tomatoes don't like refrigeration- instead of the fridge, keep them in a cool spot (around 55-60 degrees) out of direct sunlight. If your tomatoes are ripe, enjoy them immediately. If they still have green shoulders, they will ripen fully in a day or two. Cucumbers- Store in the refrigerator, however avoid extreme cold temperatures. Cucumbers like to be kept around 45-50 degrees.
Lettuce - loves cool temperatures! Keep it refrigerated.
Eggplant - is best when kept at around 50 degrees, which is warmer than your refrigerator! Try storing in a very cool spot out of direct sunlight, or keep in the fridge, but eat them within a few days.
Tomatoes Eggplant Turnips - Hakurei Cucumbers Bok Choy Arugula Lettuce Basil
Free Farm Stay for CSA Members! (A $125 value!)
Do you ever wonder what life at the farm is like? Well, we would love for you to experience it with us! Please take this opportunity to volunteer in the gardens, join us for a community dinner, and retreat to your private cabana after dark...
Call us at 340.220.0466 to make your reservations. See you soon!
Teres Veho Frederiksted, St. Croix 2-4 pm Saturday
FARM WISH LIST
Got some things laying around that we can re-use in the CSA? Last season we received egg cartons, more reusable bags, a blender, some garden hoses, a trash bin, and other great things that we use and were saved from going to the landfill or rotting in a shed. THANK YOU!
BAGS - plastic, paper and/or re-usable bags
T-posts -- the longer the better!
Good quality scrap lumber -- 2x4's, plywood, etc UNTREATED