Aley Chubeza #16 – April 26-28 2010

Summer is a’ Coming, with harvests anew….

Beekeepers Daniella and Tamir are starting their honey-collecting season in Moshav Sha’al in the Golan, and they already have beautiful white honeycombs. At this point they have 3-3.5 kilo honeycombs, but smaller ones are on the way, and of course, new and fresh honey.

The honeycombs are not as durable as the honey (because of the beeswax, which is more susceptible to temperature changes and insect pests), so we are not sure how many honeycombs to bring for Chubeza customers. Please let me know so I can estimate the required quantities to order from Daniella.

This week you will find in your boxes information (in Hebrew) about organic crackers made in a small factory in Kibbutz Kfar HaNasi. The price per package is 16 NIS. There are wheat, rye and spelt flavored crackers. For questions, please contact Assaf or Zohar (see contact info on information papers). If you wish to order, let me know and we’ll add them to your boxes.


Squash, anyone?

It was only a few weeks ago that we left Egypt. Spring was in full bloom, but now summer is encroaching, bringing great heat, and also the craving for summer vegetables. Wandering through the wilderness this season, relying on supernatural-fast food doesn’t sound like great fun to me, and it surely is no substitute for fresh grown produce…

Oh, I can certainly identify with the Israelites plea: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11, 5-6) Usually they are viewed as ungrateful, ridiculed, (“hey, it’s free and you’re complaining?”) and preached at: “The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin, the people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil…” and yet, I can identify with them. With all the hope and ideals and future in the offing, beginning summer without some juicy zucchini, without their beautiful yellow flowers, sounds too difficult to me. I’m glad we’re done with this wilderness episode.

This week’s newsletter is dedicated to our new squash harvest, happily heralding that the remainder of the summer vegetables will follow. Soon we will joyfully bite into their relatives, the cucumber and fakus, and the rest of their peers: the beans and lubia, the various tomatoes, mint and basil, eggplant, corn and other friends already planted and growing in the field.

Squash season starts at the end of winter, which is when we sow our baladi squash seeds, coined in our field “Mohammed Squash” because he is the one who introduced us to this variety, teaching us to grow it with faith and devotion. These squash are sowed in the beginning of February, when it’s still cold. In order to protect them, we cover the earth with a plastic surface, and cover the seeds with another plastic cover to insulate them from the cold. The result is a sort of tunnel that heats up from the sunrays and acts as a shield from the biting frost and the storms at winter’s end.

Mohammed’s squash are really… winter squash from the vegetable “marrow” clan. They are siblings to the spaghetti squash, but unlike the latter, we pick the baladi squash in their youth, before they have time to mature, harden their skin and turn into hard squash. Their pumpkin-like behavior is evident in the way they grow. Unlike the summer squashes- the green and yellow zucchinis and the white and striped zucchinis which grow out of one center from which the stems project, the Mohammed squash/pumpkins sprawl and curve all around, just like winter squash and pumpkins (and also cucumbers and fakus). Two months later, the result is small, chubby, striped, delicious squash. Their short, stout stature make them perfect to stuff, but even lazy cooks like myself have what to do with them: stir-frying, oven-baked, or a great addition to pasta dishes.

After three years of acknowledging the strength and staying power of these squashes, we decided to test the abilities of the rest of the Chubeza squash roster. Thus, a month after our “Mohammed squash” crop is already acclimated in the field, we introduced them to other squash species: the green squash and the striped squash. In this round, we experimented with transplants and seeds, to determine which option is best.

Some of you may recall that last year our first squash crop suffered a mysterious disappearance due to the young sprouts being eaten, probably by crickets or other earthy inhabitants. This was another reason to test transplants, as opposed to seeds, during this season. These squash were planted and sowed at the beginning of March, given a plastic cover and undercoat treatment. The result: both the plants and seeds were very well-acclimated, were not nibbled away as in the past, and no major difference was noted between the seeds and transplants. These squash, too, are already in your boxes– they only needed two months to ripen and bring joy to our hearts.

But how does a squash move from being a green, impressive plant to actually ripening and bearing fruit? On the way, there are the big and beautiful yellow flowers, lovely to look at and particularly attractive to pests. The squash plant bears flowers of two types: the male and female flowers (everything written about squash holds true for pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, watermelons, fakus and the remainder of the Cucurbita family). The flowers resemble each other from afar, but when you look closely, the differences are evident.

This is what the male flower looks like:



And here it is close up:


And this is what his female counterpart looks like:



close up:


The insects are thrilled by the bright yellow, and they enter the male flower, have their fun and play, and gather some nectar and pollen that look like this:



Then they continue on to frolic in the next nearby playground, the female flower, spreading the male pollen all over. The now-fertilized female flower closes and shrinks, and at the end of the process looks like this:



If you look closely, you will see that at the edge of this flower, a fresh, new little squash is growing. It’ll only take him a few days before he is ready for careful and delicate picking, so as not to scratch or damage the shiny, delicate peel.

Meanwhile, back to our farm, let’s take a step back to the beginning: a third squash round was sowed and planted a month after the previous one, i.e., at the beginning of April. This time it was the familiar light-green Middle Eastern type, as well as the green, yellow and striped zucchinis. This round is growing nicely as well, though here we detect a preference for the sowed rather than the planted crops. But they all are advancing well.

A new round of squash is planned for the beginning of May, which will include a variety of the species. After this, we generally stop sowing zucchini, which is more susceptible to the summer viruses, and continue to sow the regular, light-colored squashes. The various zucchinis will be sowed again from September onwards.

This year, however, we have a major dilemma regarding sowing after May. Over the past years, and even more so this last year, we have noticed bites in our young Cucurbitas, planted from the month of June onward- the cucumbers, fakus and squashes. Our investigations led us to the sad conclusion that it is probably the work of the Mediterranean fruit fly, or Ceratitis capitata, a pest almost impossible to control, specifically in populated areas hosting many gardens with fruit trees, like the pretty gardens of Kfar Ben Nun.

Last year, after all the post-May sowing went down the drain, we were able to pick a miniscule amount of plants. This year we consulted with other farmers and agricultural advisors, and we are attempting to find an effective solution to the problem. If we’re not able to do so, we may stop sowing squash after June. Keep your fingers crossed… we will, of course, report all developments.

So, wishing you a season of “real” food— the kind that grows and breathes the seasonal type that you miss when it’s not around, even though its taste doesn’t change upon demand and it is not ready-made upon gathering…

Have a good, summery week,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

________________________________________ In our box this week – still wintry, but winking towards summer:

Monday: parsley root, leeks, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchinis and squash, beets, cilantro, Swiss chard, tomatoes, New Zealand spinach, kohlrabi.

In the large box, in addition: cabbage, celery, carrots

Fruit box: apples (two varieties – Golden and Starking), avocado (Hass and Nabal varieties), clementines-Ora, Valencia oranges, loquat (two varieties: Yehuda and Akko)

Wednesday: zucchinis and squash, dill, tomatoes, beets, Swiss chard, New Zealand or tatsoi, kohlrabi, lettuce, garlic, cucumbers. Small boxes: fennel/turnips

In the large box, in addition: celery, turnips, fennel, green onions, lemons

Fruit box: small: oranges, loquat, avocado, apples. large: loquat, avocado, apples, watermelon!


Zucchini and Squash Mostly-Easy Recipes:

Zucchini Oven Chips

Grilled Zucchini-and-Summer Squash Salad with Citrus Splash Dressing

Fregola Sarda pasta with Zucchini and Pinenuts

Leek and Zucchini Pasta

Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe