It's harvest time. The Asian greens we started from seed on February 20th, transplanted on March 6th, and planted out into the garden on April 3rd, are ready for harvest! They're huge, gorgeous, and absolutely delicious.
And we've got a lot of them. We had the idea of planting Asian greens for farmers market in "succession," meaning that each week we'd start a bunch of seeds, and then, later on, we'd be able to harvest a new group of plants for each week's farmers market. It's a great idea, but we got our timing a little messed up--we started them a few weeks too soon: there are whole rows that are ready now, but farmers market doesn't start until mid-June. So we've got some bok choi, tat soi, arugula, and mizuna to spare!
Anne brought a few heads of bok choi down to the city, and sold them right away to a few of her coworkers. I've been a'googling, and found delicious recipes for kim chee (a spicy fermented cabbage dish, a staple in Korean cuisine) and for lactofermented bok choi, which is kind of like sauerkraut. So we're going to have a busy day harvesting and chopping, chopping, chopping up these greens. What a lovely problem to have: abundance!
We'd had the row covers on until very recently, which helped protect our crops during those crazy windy days in early May. But we finally pulled off the last of the row covers last week, and were just giddy at the flourishing plants we found underneath. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised--we've been nurturing them for months, and they're not tricky to grow. But still it is kind of a wonder to see them in the harvest basket. It might seem like a simple thing: a head of greens. But there is an immense "back story" of care and attention that goes into making that tiny seed into a pound of delicious, nutritious food.
As I started to describe, growing from seeds involves quite a few steps. We started back in the cold days of February, planting seeds in small squares of seed-starting soil, about 1/4" deep under the soil, and then placing the trays of planted seeds in a dark, warm place. After a few days, the seeds sprouted, and were transferred to another room, where they were placed under lights, and left to grow a few inches, and extend their young leaves. We checked them each day, and watered when needed. Once they'd developed a couple sets of leaves, we transplanted the tiny plants into larger pots, and then kept them under lights for another couple weeks. When they'd gotten quite bit bigger, we brought them downstairs, into the room we use as a barn, to "harden them off"--keeping them one week inside the barn, in cooler temps, with little water, and then another week getting acclimated to outdoors (each day, for a few hours more than the last). Finally, they were planted out into the ground, with a row cover on top, and then given some more weeks to grow. We've been checking them periodically for slugs and other pests, and protecting them as best we can.
In our consumer world, we typically are concerned with getting the most for our money, about getting things as cheaply as possible. What farming is doing for me is reframing the "value" of an object. Now, when I see a head of bok choi, I see hours of labor and love and care--and let me tell you, with all that in mind, putting a price tag on those greens is mighty hard. Knowing the "back-story" means that I can't just think in terms of the cost of seed, the "inputs" of the greenhouse soil, the amount of water. Knowing the back-story imbues something as simple as greens with a life history, a context. The Sisters and I have invested our values--our respect for the ecosystem, our concern for health--into this head of bok choi. The greens make those values tangible in the world--knowing the back-story makes these greens a manifestation of the life and the work of the Community of the Holy Spirit, of their commitment to Earth.
And did I mention that they're delicious, too?