December 6th-8th 2021 – A NEW LEAF

A poster published by the Teachers’ and Kindergarten Council for the JNF. The poster was designed by Iza Hershkovitz and quotes a poem by Levin Kipnis (from the National Library collection)

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This past several weeks, we began harvesting new greens that we’ve been pampering in our net house. In Israel they are marketed as “baby greens” (a mesclun mix) because they are young and tender. Besides being low-calorie and high in nutrition, they are truly delicious, a perfect nosh, great in salads, in your sandwich and even stir-fried (but very lightly).

Here they are:

Growing these specialty greens requires much precision: they grow very fast, and we have to grow them clean, i.e., prevent the greens from getting mud-filled, as they are not to be washed till just before you use them. On the other hand, we cannot wrap up and send you muddy baby greens, especially since they’re so small, and it doesn’t make sense to perform a general cleaning. In the past we attempted to grow such greens as mizuna, cress and others, but only the arugula and the tatsoi survived. And we started growing even those as full-sized greens, not the “mini” varieties. Apparently, the open field is not the place for young greens…

But several winters ago, things changed. We built a net house, whose raison d’etre is to open up growing options which did not exist in the past: growing summer tomatoes over a longer season and with greater success (open field tomatoes are quickly damaged by diseases and viruses, and their season is very short), and growing cucumbers and zucchini in the summertime, protected from the nasty fly and other insect-transmitted viruses. Over time, we have discovered that other crops enjoy the comfort of protection provided by the net house, be it because of warmer temperatures in wintertime or some shade in the summer. The net house protects against insects that nibble on the young plants (the kohlrabi, for example) before they even grow, and protects against flying insects that penetrate the leaves (like in beets and arugula). It now appears that the net house can be more efficient than we ever imagined.

But, of course, the space is very limited, as opposed to the open fields where the rounds easily rotate and there is absolutely no problem (quite to the contrary) to leave a certain field fallow for several months. In the net house we grow fewer varieties of crops, and thus look for the types that can grow in-between seasons, for short periods of time, and have the ability to improve the soil.

And this is where the Brassicaceae’s come into the picture. Members of this family are able to cleanse the earth and purify it from diseases and fungi. It’s still unclear exactly how this process, termed “biological disinfection” or “biofumigation” occurs, but apparently when the green content of the Brassicaceae decomposes inside the earth with the help of enzymes, some volatile matter is set loose that is poisonous to pathogens and decreases their presence. To enjoy these advantages, you can combine the Brassicaceae in your seeding rounds and upon harvest, to plow them under the earth, growing them as green-manure cover crops (i.e., without harvesting, but rather stuffing the whole plant into the soil) or even use the remains of plants that grew in a different bed and were plowed into the earth, in order to cleanse the earth before growing an exceptionally vulnerable crop.

This is a process that occurs naturally, as part of the amazing ability of nature to balance the unbalanced and stabilize conditions. It’s no wonder that we see mustard bushes taking over every available piece of earth. They must be in charge of cleaning, purifying and restoring the earth with its powers and living forces. As farmers, we know we do not work the way nature does. Farming is forever an artificial act forced upon the earth, and yet, as organic farmers we try to learn as much as we can from nature in how to tone down the extreme and bring back some balance.

And thus, several years ago, as we prepared to grow tomatoes in the net house, a newly-available in-between-period of empty soil inspired us to plant young greens from the Brassicaceae family to speedily grow, enjoy a protected and clean environment in the net house, and prepare the earth for our next crops. The endeavor went well, proving itself to be yummy, efficient and successful. Since then, we’ve continued to repeat this process several more times.

These crops grow really fast, and at times we find it hard to keep up. The first “baby greens” we sent you a few weeks ago were indeed true to their name: – babies. But in the meantime, aided by the many sunny days between the last few showers, these babies sprouted, grew, and turned into young teens. So this week, you will be receiving more substantial greens. They are still tender, soft and tasty, though they are quite big.

The mizuna, bok choy, arugula, rucola, garden cress and broccoli leaves are the representatives of this generous Brassicae family. Some of them are of Asian origin. The mizuna is Japanese (Brassica rapa var japonica), and the bok choy is Chinese (rassica rapa var chinensis). The garden cress, arugula and rucola (a species of very thin arugula leaves) grow wild in Israel as well and are popular in Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine. The broccoli leaves are simply that – the first tender leaves of the broccoli plants, which will not reach their peak of glory, as they will be harvested young. The only ones who are non-Brassicae’s in this varied mixture are the Swiss chards (beet leaves) from the Flavesenc group. The broccoli leaves, green mizuna and bok choi are definitely mustardy, but not sharp. Their flavor is exotic and fresh, with a hint of sweetness. The garden cress, arugula, rucola and red mizuna add piquancy to the mix which turns out absolutely delicious!

Bon Appetit!

Wishing you a good week and a gentle settling-back-into-routine,

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

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES? 

Monday: Turnips/daikon/baby radishes, scallions/celery or celeriac, slice of pumpkin/arugula/tatsoi, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach or winter spinach, cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower, lettuce, beets/fennel/kohlrabi, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, parsley/dill/coriander. Free gift for all: “Baby” greens mix.

Large box, in addition: Sweet potatoes, bell peppers/eggplant, Jerusalem artichoke/short Iraqi lubia/Thai yard-long beans (lubia).

FRUIT BOXES: Apples/kiwi, clementinas, avocado, oranges/pomelit, bananas.

Wednesday: Turnips/daikon/baby radishes, slice of pumpkin/cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower, Swiss chard/kale//tatsoi, lettuce, beets/fennel/kohlrabi, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, parsley/dill/coriander, Jerusalem artichoke/short Iraqi lubia/Thai yard-long beans (lubia)/peas, sweet potatoes/bell peppers/eggplant. Free gift for all: “Baby” greens mix/arugula.

Large box, in addition: Scallions, celery or celeriac, New Zealand spinach or winter spinach.

FRUIT BOXES: Apples, clementinas, avocado/kiwi, oranges/pomelit, bananas.