Aley Chubeza #255, August 3rd-5th 2015

Asaf and Arik, the Minchat Ha’aretz fresh flour grinders, announce an August spelt flour sale. Here are the details (Hebrew):

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Pick a little (talk a little) – Part 1

For the past month or more at Chubeza, all we do is pick, pick, pick. The last of the summer plantings have been completed, and it’s early yet for autumn planting. From time to time, we do need to pay attention to wild weeds that must be cleared, or to some disease or pest that requires punitive action (green, of course), but most of the day we’re bent over the bushes harvesting ripe fruits and vegetables for you. Even in scorching heat…..

We thought this would be a good time to invite you to take a peek at the world of our harvesters. How does the harvester feel? What does s/he see? Smell? Taste? What makes them happy? What upsets them? Which is the least loved harvest and which is the most popular? Over the next two weeks, you get to read the dark secrets (and true confessions) of a harvester. For your eyes only…

Our fields are bursting with produce these days, and our hands filled with harvest chores. It’s always great harvesting veggies that are also fun to nibble on while we’re at it. In Chubeza’s first year, when we still planted small beds for each vegetable, the nibbling actually endangered the quantities of yield… This year, however, even if we hold daily tomato wars, eat pasta with tomato sauce for lunch and feast on salsa all night, we’ll still be able to fill up your boxes with generous quantities of several varieties of tomatoes. As newbies in the farming industry, we learned everything from experience, all at the mercy of our hands, backs, and flesh. In time, the plastic carts where we placed the yield which we had to bend over and pick up as we moved along made way for pails with nice handles which we carry – no need to keep bending over. The bare arms and hands which got cut and dirty and itchy and rashy now wear protective gloves. We alternated growing crops by trellising and by hugging the earth. We changed and adapted the planting schedules and learned the proper frequency for every vegetable and fruit, as well as their individual ripeness signs.

And here you have it, harvest meetings, and the pondering of a harvester as s/he tends to the young ‘uns:

Squash and pumpkins belong to the fast and furious variety of plants. If you happen to come upon a tiny squash still attached to a flower in full bloom on Sunday, chances are that upon your return a week later you will encounter a huge monster squash the length of a baseball bat, and overweight at that. In order to harvest squashes when they’re just right (not too big or not too small), we must visit the squash bed almost every day and harvest the right guys. A good candidate will generally be judged by its thickness (rather than its length) and usually be connected from behind to a withered flower. Chefs and gourmet food lovers who use the flowers are actually using a tiny squash still connected to a big flower in bloom. Aside from the bending down required due to its short demeanor, the squash is basically welcoming to the harvester: though the plants are thorny (aside from the thornless yellow and green zucchinis), their open and systematic growth where the fruit is placed makes harvesting simple. As the plant grows, it expands outward, growing more and more flowers which in turn become individual squashes.

Unlike their disciplined cousins, the open field cucumbers are hippy swingers, the kind who wear their hair in dreadlocks and haven’t used a comb in years. Now imagine yourselves trying to harvest cucumbers in a dreadlock bush… I’m presuming that’s how the little Lilliputians felt when they tried to pick nits out of Gulliver’s head: stop every few steps, bend down over the plant, open the leaves and search for the ripe cucumbers by their size. In order to pick them when they’re not too oversized, we climb Gulliver’s head every other day. Today we have four to five cucumber beds for every planting round, but over time we have become more efficient in harvesting them. Currently it takes us approximately one hour with three people in the cucumber bed. The fakus is similar to the cucumber in its growth habits, but by virtue of its being longer and stranger-looking than the cool cucumber, the fakus is more easily identifiable in the jungle of growth.

The greenhouse cucumbers are a different story. We grow them on a trellis, i.e., standing high atop strings that make the plant nice and tall, allowing light to reach all its various parts and making it grow diagonally as opposed to horizontally. Growing by trellis is a labor-intensive endeavor where attention is demanded for each plant. First we must tie the strings to the top of the metal poles and connect them to each plant. Then, there is the weekly maintenance of coiling the plant and trimming the side branches. A tremendous amount of work. On the other hand, harvesting is super easy! No need to search or bend over – the ripe cucumbers are hanging right there, before our very eyes. Just like that.

One of the difficulties in harvesting cucumbers is that their green color make them hard to distinguish among the leaves and branches. In that regard, however, their salad partners are made of totally different material. The extrovert tomatoes stand out in the bush, blushing away against the green backdrop and very easy to harvest. Some of our tomatoes are trellised while others grow on a low bush, but they’re all relatively undemanding to harvest. The pails fill up quickly, so the hard work here is leaving the rows over and over again to empty the heavy, overflowing pails. Now we all harvest with gloves, but those of us who remember harvesting bare-handed can’t forget the oily greenish residue left on our hands after coming in contact with the plant. This accumulates and becomes very dark, almost black, and sometimes it burns or itches, even leaving a burn mark. A cool trick to get rid of this “tomato seraph” is to slice a tomato and rub its juice on your hand, lathering it with the juice, then washing your hands. The grease and dirt simply disappear! Tomatoes from the supermarket or even the shuk are usually harvested while they’re still greenish, and they redden over the next few days till they assume their places on the supermarket shelves. The idea is to increase their shelf life, but then you pay the price of flavor, as the sugar level does not reach its peak and they’re still somewhat bitter. We harvest the tomatoes right into your boxes, which is why we can afford to pick them when they’re bright red, and leave the orangish-pinkish ones on the vines till they redden up a bit.

Our peppers are also harvested when they’re nice and red, but we start harvesting them when they’re still young and green. Harvesting peppers also takes care of thinning out the bushes. In an ideal world and perfect field, it would be nice if we could thin out the flowers on the pepper bushes, removing two to three flowers and allowing the bushes to turn their energy towards further growth and  branching out. The first flowers will usually appear in the center of the plant, and after they are thinned out, more will appear in the periphery. We don’t usually manage to thin them out when they’re still flowers, which is why this is done while we harvest the green peppers. We harvest a few fruits from each bush, attempting to pick them from the more crowded areas in order to allow breathing space for the rest. Upon ripening, the green fruits turn red, first one cheek, then the other till a red blanket envelops the entire fruit. This whole process takes approximately three weeks. Now when we harvest the peppers, we remove the thin agril layers spread over the beds and select to harvest only  those peppers which have turned completely red. At the end of the harvest, the bushes remain with green peppers and half-red peppers awaiting their turn until they’re red and ready.

The third member of the summer nightshades (tomato-peppers-eggplant) is judged by its size and not color. We prefer to harvest them medium-sized (300 gr, 20 cm long) and not wait for huge fruits that have surpassed their peak. In order to see if it is ready, you measure the eggplant by its size but also give it a gentle squeeze to see how soft it is. An unripe eggplant will be hard and will not “respond” to the pressure of your fingers. A ripe eggplant will be lithe, but not soft. It is important to us to harvest them medium-sized, as we grow eggplants without any trellising or support, and if they’re too big their weight is liable to bend the bushes, make them grow crooked or even break.

And last but not least, the star in your boxes and a unique fella in the field: corn! Corn belongs to the Gramineae family, which is why it has a unique look reminiscent of a great big blade of grass or a stalk of grain. This stalk is actually the inflorescence of the corn, and the cobs themselves appear halfway between it and the earth. As the corn grows, little “piggies” appear (small branches emerging from the base of the stem), and it’s important to remove them in order to allow all the plant’s energy to focus on the main stem. When the silk on top of the cobs dries out, we know the corn is ripe. During this season, when their hue changes from green to dry, the gong chimes and we start the race against the birds and the ants. The latter wish to climb on the corncob and penetrate the leaves, while the birds simply want to take little nibbles at the edges. When we first start harvesting, these pests are not as harmful, probably since they’re less active earlier in the season. At that point we take our time and harvest the corn over a few weeks. During this season, the corn ripens faster due to the heat, and the competition between us and the birds and animals forces us to harvest the corn all at once to prevent the corncobs from drying up and being harmed. Upon arriving at the peak of its sugar and juiciness, the corn begins drying up and turns milky and starchy, as the sugar begins turning to starch. Usually each corn stalk will grow two cobs: a bigger and smaller one. We try to fertilize it well in order to arrive at two largish-sized cobs. Harvesting the corn is particularly joyful. As opposed to most harvests, here you can actually stand, put out your hand and break the cob off the stem. Pretty soon, the pail fills up with chubby, inviting corncobs, and it may surprise you, but corn is also a great nosh: fresh corn off the plant is sweet and soft and juicy and can be eaten blissfully. No need to cook it. Believe us, we have tried once and again, and we love it!

That’s it for now! Next week we’ll share the joy of harvesting pods and melons, maybe even some spices, if there’s room…

Wishing us a quiet, peaceful week, focusing on tender emotions of love and acceptance. Keep cool and drink up!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza harvesters

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Eggplant, coriander/mint (nana), lettuce/spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes, onions, leeks/ scallions, Thai lubia/okra, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes. Small boxes only: red bell peppers. Special gift: tomatoes

Large box, in addition: Zucchini/corn, acorn squash/butternut squash, basil, parsley.

Wednesday: red bell peppers, cucumbers, lettuce/New Zealand spinach, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, okra, basil/cilantro/nana (mint), eggplants, slice of pumpkin, onions, scalions/leek/garlic chive.

Large box, in addition: zucchini/corn/spaghetti squash, yard long beens/butternut squash, parsley

And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!