Aley Chubeza #256, August 10th-12th 2015

Pick, Pick, Pick, Talk a Lot, Pick a Little More

Last week I began telling you about the experience of harvesting our field, now bursting with produce, and this week we’ll complete our virtual (and literal) field trip. This Newsletter graduates to Chubeza’s fine motor skills department, utilized to reach the various pods dotting the bushes. We’ll begin with the one that towers over the crowd:

Miss Okra, aka “Lady Fingers” does not treat the harvesters in a ladylike manner at all! Its branches and leaves contain etheric oil, causing anyone who rubs against them to break out in an itchy rash. Which is why okra is only harvested with gloved hands and long sleeve-covered arms, and it’s harvested quite often and over time. We tend to the okra bed every other day to escape the wrath of the long-finger-nailed lady. Harvesting okra is time consuming: the pods must be searched for among the branched, tangled foliage, and then picked at a pace of one-pod-at-a-time. (Each pod needs individual TLC.)

Okra belongs to the Malvaceae family (like our beloved Chubeza), and struts big, beautiful yellow flowers with intense purple centers. But despite her majestic bearing, okra is one of the few crops that does not require us to bend on our knees to harvest. The bushes grow tall very quickly, even reaching the height of 3 meters! At some point, they are taller than we are, and we bend the flexible branches downward to reach the pods.

Our veteran pod is of course the Green Bean. Harvesting Mr. Bean is an exceedingly slooooooooooow task. Beans, too, require individual attention, combing through the bush and slowly harvesting the pods one by one. At some point, the task becomes meditative, and among the bean bushes one can overhear discussions regarding matters of the utmost importance (politics, faith, relationships, childbearing, lunch, and more). Sometimes in the heat of the discussion we need to remind ourselves that we are here, under the scorching sun, holding onto the pails in a crouching position because we are in the midst of bean harvesting. Beans? Oh, right, those pods wagging before our eyes. Back to work it is…

“Crouching position” applies to the bean bushes, not to be confused with the beans we grow on stalks via trellising. The latter is much easier to harvest, with no need whatsoever for bending. The two different types of beans have different yield patterns: the bush-grown bean (like the bush-grown tomato) ripens at once. Usually we can produce two harvests at once, and for the final harvest we simply tear out the whole bush and strip it of its last pods. The trellised bean (again, like the trellised tomatoes) ripens over time and gradually. It yields furiously for a week or two, but before and after that growth spurt, it still manages to give a nice quantity of produce on the average. Sometimes, after the peak of bean harvest where we pick and pick and pick and it never ends, we take a breath of relief when the quantity tapers off. Once again we can look to our left and right or up at the blue skies and do something other than focus on bean bushes for entire days on end…

Last but not least of the summer pods is the Thai bean, sister to the black-eyed pea, which creates a harvesting experience not unlike that of the North Thailand jungles. Thai beans grow by trellis. We plant two rows per bed with 60 cm in between. They are very happy with us and grow well over the trellis. Once they outgrow the pole, these critters start spreading over to the next row’s pole, thus creating a natural arbor of bean thickets. It would be nice if this little dwelling were man-size, but the poles are short. In order to sit in the bean house, one must get down on all fours and begin crawling through an entangled maze, clearing away branches and performing all sorts of complex acrobatics. We’re talking about a real maze. If you manage to look up, you will not be able to see the sky. On terribly hot days, it’s not that bad to reside within this shady bush…

Whereas the okra harvesting rewards those of us who were blessed with height and can reach the pods towering above, in the case of the Thai bean, it is the diminutive harvesters among us who can crawl more easily through the Thai jungle. Of course, beyond harvesting the main thicket created between the two rows, we harvest the outskirts with ease. All we have to do is scout the long green-almost-black snakes and harvest those which have reached the thickness of a pencil. In China, they are sometimes left to harvest even longer, almost to the point of drying up, in order to use the seeds. At that point, these beans can reach the staggering height of one meter apiece! At Chubeza, pencil length is more like 30 cm.

And now, permit me to make an abrupt change of route from the little pods individually harvested and filling up the buckets very slowly while emitting a fragrance of green freshness, to the extreme opposite: chubby, heavy balls of sweet sensual fragrance, each one weighing something like half a bucket of pods. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce our beloved melons. Twice a week we comb through the beds, taking in the intoxicating fragrance of ripe Galia melons, greeting the green melons peeking at us from among the bushes, promising them we’ll return shortly as they sit there and ripen. We also check in on those that have changed their color to yellow, paying close attention to them, gently pressing their bottoms (that dot on the other side of the stem) to ascertain that they’re still flexible. I love harvesting melons, enjoying the detective work employed to make sure the melon has reached its peak of ripeness and sweetness: the changing color, the flexible edge, the strong scent. But by far, the most important sign of a ripe melon is the way the melon responds to its harvest. When we instruct new workers on harvesting Galia melons (the technique differs from melon to melon), we stress the cardinal rule that they cannot use force. Once the level of sugar in the fruit has reached its peak, a rift is created between the stem and fruit, preventing other nutrients to penetrate the melon. If the melon is ripe, it’ll easily snap off the plant. If a mere tug is not enough – well, the melon is simply not ripe, still suckling its nutrition from the plant and still needing it. Let him be, give him a few more days. When he’s ready to let go, he will do so with ease and we’ll all benefit from our patience.

When harvesting melons, we sometimes encounter sooty mold on the plant. Sooty mold is a disease of the leaves which soils the plant and makes it look as if it’s met the exhaust spewed from a great big truck. The disease, transmitted by whiteflies, causes the leaves and melons grow black, sometimes to the point of withering or rotting. When you harvest the melons and touch those leaves, the soot comes off on your fingers, which instantly turn black as if they’ve just replaced a flat tire. This disease is prevalent at the end of the season, when the plants are older and weaker. At this point, we don’t treat it anymore, only harvest the ripe fruits as quickly as possible, and allowing the plants to reach their peaceful demise just a little blacker than they began their lives.

In all our harvests we sometimes encounter vegetables that aren’t suitable for marketing: peppers scorched by the sun, tomatoes perforated by birds, elderly beans or ant-ridden corn. When we find a melon sitting on the ground, instead of the plastic cover, it’s usually somewhat rotten on the bottom. Sitting on the wet earth softens the skin, allowing the earth dwellers to reach the flesh and speed up decomposition. Sometimes ants celebrate the unexpected breach. We meet such a melon with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s disappointing to find a melon that looks great, then lift it and discover that soft rotten area on the other end. But then again, this means a great refreshing melon-half dessert for lunch… just in time to end an exhausting, albeit insightful discussion over the bean bed.

So sometimes it’s not that bad to find a (half) rotten melon…

Wishing you a cooler, refreshing week,

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

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Eggplant/zucchini/potatoes, parsley/mint (nana), basil/spinach, butternut squash/spaghetti squash, tomatoes, corn, leeks/ scallions, red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers. Small boxes only: Thai beans/okra.

Large box, in addition: Onions, pumpkin, coriander, okra.

Wednesday:  Red bell peppers/potatoes, cucumbers, basil/spinach, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, Thai beans/okra, mint (nana)/coriander, eggplant, butternut squash, corn, leeks/ scallions/garlic chives.

Large box, in addition: Onions, pumpkin, 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!